The Johannine Dualism
by George Eldon Ladd
The Two Worlds
The most difficult problem in the Johannine theology is its apparently different dualism from that of the Synoptics. The dualism in the Synoptic Gospels is primarily horizontal: a contrast between two ages -- this age and the Age to Come. The dualism of John is primarily vertical: a contrast between two worlds -- the world above and the world below. "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world" (Jn. 8:23). The Synoptics contrast this age with the Age to Come, and we know from the Pauline use that "this world" can be an equivalent of "this age" in an eschatological dualism. But in John, "this world" almost always stands in contrast with the world above. "This world" is viewed as evil with the devil as its ruler (16:11), Jesus has come to be the light of this world (11:9). The authority of his mission does not come from "this world" but from the world above -- from God (18:36). When his mission is completed, he must depart from "this world" (13:1).
The same dualism is obvious in the language of Jesus descending from heaven to earth and ascending again to heaven. "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven" (3:13). Jesus has come down from heaven to fulfill a mission that he received from God (6:38). He has come down from heaven as the "living bread." If anyone eats of this bread, she or he shall never die but have eternal life (6:33, 41, 50, 51, 58). When his mission is fulfilled, he must ascend to heaven whence he had come (6:62). After the resurrection, when Mary would cling to him, he told her not to hold him, for he had not yet ascended to the Father. She was instead to go to the disciples and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (20:17).
Darkness and Light
The world below is the realm of darkness, but the world above is the world of light. Christ has come into the realm of darkness to bring the light. Light and darkness are seen as two principles in conflict with each other. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (1:5). Jesus is himself the light (8:12) and has come that people may not remain in darkness but may have the light of life and be enabled to walk in the light so that they may not stumble (8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:35, 46). Those who receive the light become children of light (12:36). However, in spite of the fact that the light has come into the world, people loved darkness rather than light and refused to come to the light because their deeds were evil. Whoever "does the truth" comes to the light that his or her true nature may be disclosed (3:19-20). In John the crowning evil is hatred of the light -- unbelief in Jesus.
Flesh and Spirit
Another contrast in this dualism, although of more limited usage, is that between flesh and Spirit. Flesh belongs to the realm below; Spirit to the realm above. The flesh is not sinful, as in Paul, but represents the weakness and impotence of the lower realm. Ordinary human life is "born ... of the will of the flesh" (1:13), i.e., by natural human procreation. The flesh is not sinful, for "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (1:14). Flesh is synonymous with humanity -- humankind. However, the flesh is limited to the lower realm; it cannot reach up to the life of the world above. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (3:6); people must be born from above. Being born from above is further described as being born of the Spirit. Humans in and of themselves are weak and mortal; only by an inner work of God's Spirit can they either understand or experience the blessings of the heavenly realm (3:12). Eternal life is the gift of God's Spirit; in the light of eternity, the flesh is of no avail. It cannot enable a person to attain to life eternal (6:63).
A different dimension is interjected into the Johannine dualism in the saying about worship. "God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (4:24). "Worship in spirit" does not mean worship in the human Spirit in contrast to worship by the use of external forms and rites; it means worship that is empowered by the Spirit of God. The contrast here is not so much between the world above and the world below as between worship in the former time and worship in the new era inaugurated by Jesus. The contrast is between worship in Spirit and truth as compared with worship in Jerusalem or Gerizim. Here is an "eschatological replacement of temporal institutions like the Temple." The "Spirit raises men above the earthly level, the level of flesh, and enables them to worship God properly." Here we meet for the first time the joining of the vertical with the horizontal. Because Jesus has come into the world from above, he has instituted a new order of things.
In carrying out our study of Johannine theology, it is important to understand his use of the word "world," kosmos. This term is used in several distinct ways. Sometimes paralleling the Synoptic usage, kosmos, as in Greek philosophical idiom, can designate both the entire created order (Jn. 17:5, 24) and the earth in particular (Jn. 11:9; 16:21; 21:25). The earth is frequently referred to as the dwelling place of humanity in language that is paralleled in Jewish idiom: coming into the world (6:14; 9:39; 11:27; 18:37), being in the world (9:5a), departing out of the world (13:1; 16:28b). While some of these sayings acquire theological significance because of the context in which they are used, the idiom itself is familiar Jewish terminology. To come into the world means merely to be born; to be in the world is to exist; and to depart from the world is to die.
There is no trace of the idea that there is anything evil about the world. "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (1:3). There is no element of cosmological dualism or of world denial in John. The created world continues to be God's world.
By metonymy, kosmos can designate not only the world but also those who inhabit the world: humankind (12:19; 18:20; 7:4; 14:22). A study of these verses shows that kosmos is not specifically intended to designate all the people who inhabit the earth, but simply humanity in general. "The world has gone after him" (12:19) means that Jesus has secured a large response. That Jesus has spoken openly to the world (18:20) means that he has engaged in a public ministry. This is a use John shares with Hellenistic and LXX Greek that was not usual in classical Greek. It is found also in the Synoptics in Matthew 5:14 and 18:7.
The most interesting use of kosmos for humanity is found in the sayings where the world -- humankind -- is the object of God's love and salvation. God loves the world (3:16) and sent his Son to save the world (3:17c; 12:47). Jesus is the Savior of the world (4:42); he came to take away the sin of the world (1:29) and to give life to the world (6:33). Like the first group of references, these sayings carry no distinctively universalistic emphasis but merely designate humanity at large as the object of God's love and saving action.
Kosmos: Humanity at Enmity with God
Thus far the Johannine use of kosmos is paralleled in the Synoptics. However, John has a distinctive use of kosmos that is lacking in the Synoptics. Human beings are viewed not simply as the inhabitants of the earth and the objects of God's love and redeeming acts, but in contrast to God, as sinful, rebellious, and alienated from God, as fallen humanity. The kosmos is characterized by wickedness (7:7), and does not know God (17:25) nor his emissary, Christ (1:10). This is not so because there is something intrinsically evil about the world. When John says that "the kosmos was made through him" (1:10), the context suggests that kosmos here is humankind and not simply the universe or earth. What makes the kosmos evil is not something intrinsic to it, but the fact that it has turned away from its creator and has become enslaved to evil powers. The alienation of the world from God is shown in its hatred for God's emissary (7:7; 15:18), who came to save it. The evil power that has enslaved the world in its rebellion to God is three times referred to as the ruler of this world (12:31; 14:30; 16:11; see 1 Jn. 5:19). The world stands in sharp contrast with Jesus' disciples. They formerly belonged to the world, but have been chosen out of the world to belong to Christ (17:6), even though they are to continue to live in the world (13:1; 17:11, 15). They no longer share the same character as the world because they belong to Jesus Christ, having received his word (17:14). Even as Jesus' purpose is to live in accordance with his Father's will rather than to live for purely human goals and he is therefore not of the world although in the world, so can it be said of his disciples, who have changed their affections from merely human goals to God, that they are not of the world (15:19; 17:14). The coming of Jesus has in effect created a division among human beings even though they continue to live together. God has chosen people out of the world (15:19) that they should form a new fellowship centering around Jesus (17:15). Since the world hated Jesus, it will also hate the followers of Jesus (15:18; 17:14).
The disciples' reaction is not to be one of withdrawal from the world, but of living in the world, motivated by the love of God rather than the love of the world. The disciples are to carry out a mission in the world that is nothing less than a continuation of Jesus' mission (17:18). As Jesus had devoted himself to fulfilling his Father's will in the world and carrying out his redemptive purpose, so his followers are not to find their security and satisfaction on the human level as does the world, but in devotion to the redemptive purpose of God (17:17, 19). They are to keep themselves from the evil (17:15) of the world by centering their affection on God.
This separation of humanity into the people of God and the world is not, therefore, an absolute division. Men and women may be transferred from the world to God's people by hearing and responding to the mission and message of Jesus (17:6; 3:16). Thus the disciples are to perpetuate Jesus' ministry in the world that people may know the gospel and be saved (20:31) out of the world. The world cannot receive the Spirit (14:17) or it would cease to be the world; but many in the world will accept the witness of Jesus' disciples (17:21), and will believe on him without ever having seen him (20:39).
In the Fourth Gospel, as in the Synoptics, the world is seen to be in the grip of an evil supernatural power called the devil (8:44; 13:2) and Satan (13:27). He is described in language very similar to that of Paul as the "ruler of this world" (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The Synoptics speak of him as the "prince" (archon -- ruler) of demons (Mt. 12:24). John does not speak of his rule over demons, but, like Paul, says "the whole kosmos is ruled by this archon." It is his purpose to frustrate the work of God. When Judas was on the point of betraying Jesus, "Satan entered into him" (13:27). The Jews claimed that they were the children of Abraham and for that very reason were heirs of the blessings promised to Abraham. Jesus replied that their hatred for him proved that they were not children of Abraham, indeed, they were the children of the devil, for the devil was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him (8:39ff.). Jesus came to bring people the truth (1:17); but the devil is a liar and the father of lies.
Although John, unlike the Synoptics, does not relate Jesus' struggle with demons, it is clear that his mission involves the same conflict with supernatural powers. As the ruler of this world, Satan tries to overcome Jesus (14:30), but is powerless to do so. On the contrary, Jesus is to emerge victorious over his enemy. In his cross Jesus effects a victory over Satan so that he can be said to be "cast out" (12:31). In other words, this victory can be described as the judgment of the ruler of this world (16:11). John does not speculate about the origin of Satan or his nature. He is simply pictured as an evil supernatural power who is master of this world but who is overcome by Jesus in his cross.
Many modern scholars cannot accept the idea of such a supernatural power, especially Jesus' words about the Jews being children of the devil. "It is simply inconceivable that Jesus of Nazareth ever said these words." They are held to reflect not the teachings of Jesus but a vigorous anti-Semitic polemic by the author of the Gospel. However, it must be admitted that the words are in character with the total teaching of the Fourth Gospel. "(The Jews) cannot claim divine parentage, for their deeds deny it. Their attitude to him in resisting the truth which he revealed to them from the Father, and in resolving to put him to death was quite consistent with the character of their father, the Devil, who rebelled against God whose kingdom is truth, and who was a murderer from the beginning. He is essentially false, and his native tongue is falsehood. His envy and malice brought disobedience and death to the human race. His children cannot welcome the revelation which comes from the only true God, and they are bent on compassing the destruction of the Son whom the Father has sent to bring light and liberty to the world of men."*
In the Synoptics hamartia was employed of acts of sin, manifestations of sin. In John there is a greater emphasis placed upon the principle of sin. The Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin (not sins) (16:8). Sin is a principle that in this instance manifests itself; in unbelief in Christ. Everyone who lives in the practice of sin is in bondage -- she or he is a slave of sin (8:34). "Human sin is servitude to demonic power and therefore complete separation from God." Unless people believe that Jesus is the Christ, they will die in their sins (8:24).
Sin is darkness; and the character of the sinful world is darkness. But God has not abandoned the world. The light is shining in the darkness, i.e., through the Logos God has pierced the darkness with the light of supernatural revelation; and black as the darkness is, it has failed to quench the light (1:5). Jesus refers to his mission in similar terms. He tells people that the light is to be with them a little longer and they must walk while they have the light, lest, by refusing the light, the darkness engulf them (katalambano). The person who refuses the light stumbles blindly in darkness, not knowing where he or she is going. Only by believing in the light can people become children of the light (12:36).
Sin is Unbelief
Unbelief in Christ is a further manifestation of a basic hatred for God. Jesus' presence among men and women brought their hatred for God to a crisis so that it became clearly manifest as hatred for Christ (3:19-21). If one renders this decision against Christ, that person will die in his or her sins (8:24). In this context is probably to be understood the saying in 1 John 5:16f. about the sin that is unto death, i.e., the sin of inflexible unbelief that of itself condemns a person to everlasting separation from God. For this reason, belief in Christ (pisteuo eis) receives strong emphasis. In the Synoptics the phrase is found only once (Mt. 18:6). In John the phrase is found thirteen times in Jesus' words and twenty-one times in John's interpretation. Unbelief is of the essence of sin (16:9). Unless people believe, they will perish (3:16), and the wrath of God rests upon them (3:36).
John does not say much about death except as a fact of human existence in the world. He offers no speculations about the origin of either Satan, sin, or death. Apart from the life brought by Christ, the human race is given up to death, and it is responsible for this because it is sinful. Death is the characteristic of this world; but life has come into this world from above that all may escape death and enter into eternal life (5:24).
Thus far we have traced the dualism of John in its vertical dimension. The world below is the realm of darkness, of satanic power, of sin, and of death. The world above is the world of the Spirit, of light, and life. In Jesus' mission light and life have invaded the darkness to deliver people from darkness, sin, and death, to give them the life of the Spirit. This, however, is not the whole story. The fact is that there appears in John a tension between vertical and horizontal eschatology. John not only is conscious of the invasion of the world above into the world below. It is an invasion into history. Bultmann interprets Johannine dualism as a Gnostic, cosmological dualism that has been translated into a dualism of decision, and Dodd interprets it in terms of platonic dualism, in which "things and events in this world derive what reality they possess from the eternal ideas they embody." It is therefore important to determine whether John has a sense of redemptive history.
Cullmann has defended the thesis that the Johannine theology must be viewed in the context of redemptive history. While some of the Johannine idiom does indeed occur in Gnostic thought, and while it is probably true that John deliberately used this terminology to interpret the gospel to people with Gnostic leanings, we no longer need to feel that the Johannine idiom is derived from Gnostic thought. This idiom is also found in Palestinian thought, in particular the Qumran writings. Equally important is the fact that John places the coming of the Logos in the midst of history. To be sure, John does not use the Old Testament to the same degree that the Synoptics do to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation, but on numerous occasions he does quote prophecy to show that it is fulfilled in the events of Jesus' life. John was the voice preparing the way of the Lord, as Isaiah said (1:23). Jesus' sovereignty over the temple fulfills the word of Psalm 69:9. That Jesus has inaugurated a new day when all people may have a more immediate knowledge of God than in the old order fulfills the prophets, probably Isaiah 54:13 (6:45). The final entry into Jerusalem is the visitation of Israel's king, as foretold in Psalm 118:25 and Zechariah 9:9 (12:13-15). Jesus' rejection by Israel is foreseen in Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10 (12:38-40). An anticipation of Jesus' betrayal is seen in Psalm 41:10 (13:18). Even the events of his death fulfill Psalm 22:19; 34:20, and Zechariah 12:10 (19:24, 36-37). However, more impressive than specific quotations is the general tone of the Gospel and its attitude toward the Old Testament as a whole. "It was not (in general) his method to bolster up the several items of Christian doctrine and history with supports drawn from this or that part of the Old Testament; instead the whole body of the Old Testament formed a background or framework, upon which the new revelation rested." Supporting this is the fact that the whole historical setting of much of the Gospel is the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem.
John is very conscious that Jesus has inaugurated a new era that provides the reality anticipated in the Old Testament order. He sounds this as one of his major chords in the prologue. The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth (the equivalent of the Old Testament hesed and ’emet) came through Jesus Christ (1:17). In the rather frequent references to Moses (11 times) and the debate over the meaning of descent from Abraham (8:33-58), Jesus asserts that he has come to offer the true freedom that the Jews thought they had in Abraham (8:33, 36). He even affirms that "Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (8:56). However we exegete this verse, it is an affirmation that Jesus has fulfilled Abraham's hope, which he found in the promises of God.
That Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic hope is seen in the fact that the same terms are used of him as in the Synoptics -- Messiah, King of Israel, Son of Man, and Son of God -- even though the terms may be used somewhat differently. It is not unimportant that Jesus never represents himself as the Logos of God. This is John's own distinctive witness to Jesus.
There can be little doubt but that many of the events related by John have a symbolical significance that places Jesus' ministry in the stream of redemptive history. The first miracle -- the changing of water at the wedding in Cana -- is a sign (2:11). A wedding is a symbol of the messianic days (Isa. 54:4-8; 62:4-5), and both a wedding and a banquet appear in the Synoptics as symbols of the messianic era (Mt. 8:11; 22:1-14; Lk. 22:16-18). Revelation pictures the messianic consummation in terms of a wedding (Rev. 19:9). In our Gospel, the wedding at Cana symbolizes the presence of the messianic salvation; wine symbolizes the joy of the messianic feast (see Mk. 2:19); the six stone jars used for Jewish rites of purification symbolize the Old Testament era that is now ending; and Mary's statement, "they have no wine," becomes a pregnant reflection on the barrenness of Jewish purification, much in the vein of Mark 7:1-24.
John deliberately places the cleansing of the temple at the very beginning of his Gospel, much as Luke places Jesus' rejection at Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus' ministry" as another sign (2:23). John interprets this to represent the Messiah's lordship over the temple. It will be destroyed and replaced by all that is represented in Jesus' resurrection (2:19-20). The idea that the temple worship, both in Jerusalem and in Samaria, is to be displaced by worship inspired by the Spirit is overtly asserted in 4:20-24.
Two of John's favorite words are truth (aletheia) and true (alethinos). When John speaks of what is true or genuine, he usually contrasts the revelation in Christ not only as heavenly blessings in contrast to earthly, but as blessings of the new age in contrast to what has gone before. "The true light" (1:9) contrasts indeed with the darkness of earth; but the contrast is not with the false lights of pagan religions but with the partial and imperfect light that preceded him. John was in a sense a light (5:35), but Jesus was the full light. The "true bread" (6:32) is that which satisfies spiritual hunger; but it is not contrasted with daily food but with the manna provided by God through Moses that could only sustain bodily life. Christ is the true vine (15:1) because he provides the source of real life for those who abide in him in contrast to membership in Israel as the vine of the former dispensation (Jer. 2:21; Ezek, 15:1-8; Ps. 80:8-16).
The centrality of Jesus in salvation history is further emphasized by the "hour" of which we hear so much in John (2:4; 8:20; 12:23, etc.). It is the hour of Jesus' passion, death, resurrection, and ascension as the culminating hour in the long history of God's dealings with humanity. The same emphasis is found in the repeated use of "now" (nyn). "The hour is coming and now is" (4:23; 5:25). "Now" the mission of Jesus will come to its climax, which will mean victory over the devil and the world (12:31), his own glorification in death (17:5), and his return to the Father (16:5; 17:13). The climax of redemptive history is also an anticipation of the eschatological consummation. "Already in this nyn of the Fourth Gospel ... there is awareness of being in transition, of being almost completely absorbed into the realization that in the Now of Christ the end, the consummation is present. But the Johannine nyn ... is not unique. It is simply an enhanced form of the general view of primitive Christianity.
John also looks into the future. Although John has no explicit doctrine of the church, he foresees a mission for Jesus' disciples. It is his mission "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (11:52). This clearly reflects the Gentile mission, as does the saying that as the Good Shepherd he must bring "other sheep that are not of this fold" (10:16).
As we shall see, John has the elements of a realistic, futuristic eschatology. While eternal life in John is usually a present life of "realized eschatology," it is sometimes future and eschatological (3:36; 5:39). One saying reflects the eschatological dualism of the two ages, even if the distinctive idiom is not used, more clearly than the parallel saying in the Synoptics: "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal" (12:25). Life is the life of the Age to Come, and in this saying, "this world" is synonymous to "this age" of the Synoptics.
We conclude with R. E. Brown that "the Johannine view of salvation is both vertical and horizontal. The vertical expresses the uniqueness of the divine intervention in Jesus; the horizontal aspect establishes a relationship between this intervention and salvation history." The question remains whether this is a truly biblical way of thinking which is not inconsistent with the Synoptics, or whether it represents a blending of the Hebrew and the Hellenistic approaches to salvation that in effect distorts the gospel.
The dualism of John must be discussed against the background of Greek dualism including gnosticism and the newly discovered Jewish dualism as represented by the Qumran literature. As noted above, some scholars, of whom Bultmann is the most outstanding, using the Religionsgeschichte ("history of religions") method, feel that gnosticism is not primarily the result of a synthesis of Greek dualism with the gospel but is the final product of a syncretistic Eastern religious movement whose beginnings antedate Christianity. However, until pre-Christian Jewish or Eastern sources are found that clearly reflect this dualism, it is safer to conclude that "Gnosticism ... was in reality only the development of a deeply rooted Greek tendency of thought."
That dualism was deeply rooted in Greek philosophical and religious thought is proven by a survey of such diverse writers as the philosopher Plate, the litterateur~- Plutarch, and the Jew philo. It is by no means insignificant that the Jew Philo, who accepted the Old Testament as the divine revelation, interpreted it in terms of a thoroughgoing philosophical dualism. In this view, there are two realms of existence -- the phenomenal and the noumenal: the changing, transitory, visible world and the invisible, eternal realm of God. Ultimate reality belongs only to the higher world. Human beings, like the universe, are a duality: body and soul. The body belongs to the phenomenal world, the soul to the noumenal. The visible world, including the body, is not considered evil in itself, but it is a burden and hindrance to the soul. The famous idiom describing the relation between the two is soma-sema: the body is the tomb or prison house of the soul. The wise person is he or she who succeeds in mastering the bodily passions and allowing the nous (mind) to reign over the lower desires. "Salvation" is for those who master their passions; and at death their souls will be liberated from their earthly, bodily bondage and set free to enjoy a blessed immortality. Salvation is a human attainment -- by knowledge. Plato taught that human reason can apprehend the true nature of the world and of one's own being, and thus master the body. Philo also taught that liberation from earthly bondage was by knowledge of God and the world; but while Plato achieved this knowledge by dialectical reasoning, Philo substituted prophecy, revelation in the Law of Moses.
The most important early sources for gnosticism are the Hermetic writings, which reflect a synthesis of Platonism with other philosophies. We have already noted that striking similarities exist between John and the Hermetica.
God is called mind, light and life. The first tractate, Poimandres, starts with a vision of infinite light, which is God. Over against the primal light stands a chaotic ocean of darkness. A holy word (logos), the Son of God, comes forth from the light and separates the higher elements from the lower. From the lower elements, earth and water, the cosmos is formed -- the lower elements of nature being left without reason so that they were mere matter. Humanity was made in the likeness of nous, who is light and life, but falling in love with the creation, fell and became mingled with the nature that was devoid of reason. Humans are twofold: mortal through their bodies, immortal in their essential being. Salvation can be achieved after death when they, by stages, strip off the elements of their sensuous nature and, by attaining gnosis, become deified. Here the divine realm is light and life, the lower realm is chaotic darkness.
In fully developed gnosticism matter is ipso facto evil, and people can be saved only by receiving the gnosis imparted by a descending and ascending redeemer.
The Qumran writings embody a very different dualism. A good representative passage containing all the essential elements of this dualism is the Scroll of the Rule (1QS) 3:13-4:26. There are two spirits that war with each other -- the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Perversity. The Spirit of Truth comes from a fountain of light, the Spirit of Perversity from a fountain of darkness. Each of these two spirits rules over a part of humanity, which is divided sharply into two camps -- the children of light and truth and the children of perversity. However, both spirits wage their warfare also in the hearts of humans -- a concept paralleled in rabbinic thought that every person has two tendencies in her or him -- the good tendency (yeser hattob) and the evil tendency (yeser hara‘). The Spirit of Truth is dominant when people -- like the Qumranians -- devote themselves in strict obedience to the Law as the Teacher of Righteousness had interpreted it. All others are ruled by the Spirit of Perversity. The conflict is not only limited to the hearts of human beings, but also has a cosmic dimension. This is evident in that the conflict between the two spirits will be resolved only in an eschatological conflagration. In the day of judgment God will banish the Spirit of Perversity, and the angels of destruction will vent the wrath of God both on the evil Spirit and upon all who walk in this Spirit. Another scroll (The Scroll of the War Rule) describes the eschatological battle in detail (1QM). The Gospel and the passage from Qumran under discussion share certain linguistic formulae: the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, children of light, eternal life, the light of life, to walk in darkness, the wrath of God, blind eyes, fullness of grace, the works of God.
Comparison with John
What use can be made of Hellenistic and Jewish dualism in interpreting the Johannine dualism? In spite of the weightiness of Bultmann's scholarship, it is difficult to think that John is influenced by Gnostic dualism.· On the contrary, John seems to oppose a Gnostic type of dualism. When John emphasizes that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (1:14), he is deliberately opposing Gnostic ideas that placed a gulf between the Spiritual and the material worlds. Furthermore, although John "plays down" eschatology, salvation for him does not mean the flight of the soul from the world and history as for the Gnostics but a living fellowship with God in the world and in history, which will ultimately be consummated in the resurrection. The discovery of the Qumran dualism has robbed the similarities between John and the Hermetica of their force. "The scrolls showed that the dualism of the Fourth Gospel has nothing to do with Gnosis but is, rather, Palestinian in origin." Jeremias goes on to point out that the Johannine dualism is like the Essene in that it is monotheistic, ethical, and eschatological, expecting the victory of the light.
However, there are striking differences between the Johannine and the Qumranian dualism. In Qumran the conflict is between two spirits, both of whom were created by God; in John the conflict is between the world and its ruler, and the incarnate Jesus. While there is admittedly a verbal similarity between light and darkness, the children of light and children of perversity (darkness), in John these do not represent two spirits ruling over two distinct classes of people; but the incarnate Logos is the light, and all men and women are in darkness but are invited to come to the light. Furthermore, the coming of light into the darkness of the world is a piece of realized eschatology, utterly different from anything in Qumran theology. Again, the theology of sin is very different. In Qumran the children of light are those who dedicate themselves to keep the Law of Moses as interpreted by the Teacher of Righteousness, who separate themselves from the world (sons of perversity). In John the children of light are those who believe in Jesus and thereby receive eternal life. For Qumran darkness is disobedience to the Law; for John darkness is rejection of Jesus. These differences lead to the conclusion that any influence of Qumran on John is in the area of idiom and terminology and not in fundamental theology.
At one point a similarity exists between Qumran and John that is important in understanding the Johannine dualism. Qumran has both an ethical dualism—light versus darkness—and an eschatological dualism that looks forward to the final eschatological triumph of the light. The Qumran scrolls -- no more than John -- make use of the dualistic language of the two ages. But it is clear that the Qumranians looked for a day of judgment -- of divine visitation upon the powers of darkness --when the wicked would be destroyed in a great eschatological battle, when rewards and punishments would be meted out. Some scholars think the Qumranians looked for a bodily resurrection; and fragments that appear to describe a new Jerusalem suggest that the Qumranians expected the creation of a new World.
The blending of a vertical and a horizontal dualism is evident in Jewish apocalyptic writings. 1 Enoch contains many revelations of secrets hidden in heaven in the presence of God; but its main concern is with the eschatological consummation in the day of divine visitation. The apocalypses of Ezra and Baruch know of a heavenly Jerusalem that was revealed to Adam and to Moses, and, together with Paradise, will be revealed after the final judgment.
The same twofold dualism characterizes the biblical writings. While the basic structure of the Synoptic Gospels is an eschatological dualism -- the message of an eschatological Kingdom that has broken into history in Jesus -- they reflect also a vertical dualism. Heaven is conceived of as the dwelling place of God to which Jesus' disciples become dynamically related. Those who know the blessedness of God's reign and suffer for it have great reward in heaven (Mt. 5:12). Jesus urges people to lay up treasure in heaven (Mt. 6:20). If the rich young ruler would shake off his love for earthly things and follow Jesus, he would have treasure in heaven (Mt. 19:21). The most vivid illustration is the New Testament apocalypse where John is caught up in vision into heaven to witness the denouement of God’s redemptive plan for history. While he sees the souls of the martyrs under the heavenly altar (Rev. 6:9ff.), the consummation means nothing less than the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem to earth (Rev. 21:2). The basic structure of the biblical literature is that there is a God in heaven who visits human beings in history and will finally visit them to transform a fallen order and dwell among them on a redeemed earth. It is utterly different from Greek dualism, which finds salivation in the flight of the soul from history into the heavenly world. John’s dualism is biblical, for its message is the proclamation of the divine visitation of human beings in history in the person of the incarnate Jesus; and the final goal is resurrection, judgment, and life in the Age to Come. If the emphasis is different in John than in the Synoptics, the fundamental theology is not. The Synoptics proclaim salvation in the eschatological kingdom of God that has broken into history in Jesus’ person and mission. John proclaims a present salvation in the person and mission of Jesus that will have an eschatological consummation.
Excerpt from A Theology of the New Testament George Eldon Ladd
Revised edition Edited by Donald A. Hagner
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan