The Mother of Jesus in the Gospel according to John: A Narrative-Critical and Theological Perspective

This study attempts to analyse the narrative function and the theological significance of Jesus’ mother for the overall theology of the fourth gospel, mainly based on the exegetical method of narrative criticism.In the first part, the problem of the anonymity of Jesus’ mother in juxtapposition with the anonymity of the beloved disciple is dealt with. The second part consists of a detailed exegetical approach to the narrative of Jesus’ first sign in Cana within the Johannine narrative context as a whole. On this basis, in the third part a response to further relevant questions about the significance of Jesus’ mother according to the overall fourth gospel’s witness is attempted. The article is concluded with a summary of exegetical and theological positions, including a hypothesis about a possible Johannine background of the current Orthodox understanding of Theotokos.

The fourth evangelist presents the mother of Jesus quite differently from the synoptic gospels. Specifically, he never mentions her name, and omits the nativity stories altogether, although apparently having some knowledge of at least parts of the synoptic tradition.1  Instead, he refers to her in two incidents that are unknown to the synoptic gospels, namely the miraculous change of water into wine at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11), and her presence along with the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross (John 19:26-27). Through these two stories the fourth evangelist apparently complements the synoptic tradition and at the same time interprets it anew. The obvious question arising from these observations regards the particular significance of the ‘mother of Jesus’ in the Johannine narration and theology. In my attempt to answer to this question, I will base my analysis on a relatively new method in New Testament studies, namely narrative criticism.2

1  For the problem of John’s knowledge of the synoptic tradition, see for instance Ian D. Mackay, John’s Relationship with Mark: An Analysis of John 6 in the Light of Mark 6–8, WUNT 2/182 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004); John Amedee Bailey, The Traditions Common to the Gospels of Luke and John (Leiden: Brill, 1963); Andrew Gregory, ‘The Third Gospel? The Relationship of John and Luke Reconsidered’ in Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, WUNT 2/219, ed. John Lierman (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 109–134.

2  On the use of narrative criticism in New Testament studies, see for instance James L. Resseguie, Narrative Criticism of the New Testament. An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2005).

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