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Sept 11, 2010

Alford: John's Style

Excerpt from: H. Alford, The Greek Testament, Critical & Exegetical Commentary, Vol. I, Ch V, S.7, p.70 fwd (London, 1863)

Page Index

Alford: - John's Style and Character
    John's Structure - thematic organization
    Lucke's Divisions - Basic Gospel Structure
    Luthardt's Divisions - Thematic Blocks
    John's Literary Style - linguistic features

    Style of 1st John - John's 1st Epistle

Chapter V, Section 7

John's Style and Character

Themes and Vision

1. This is the only one of the four Gospels to which a pre-arranged and systematic plan can with any certainty be ascribed. 1 That such does not exist in the other three, any farther than the circumstances under which they were each respectively written have indirectly modified their arrangement, has been already shewn. But that such a plan is proposed and followed out by the Writer of this Gospel, will become evident by an examination of its contents.

2. The prologue contains a formal setting forth of the subject-matter of the Gospel : - 'that the Eternal Creator Word became Flesh, and was glorified by means of that work which He undertook in the flesh.' [Luthardt?] This glorification of Christ he follows out under several heads :

(1) the testimony borne to Him by the Baptist ;

(2) His miracles ;

(3) His conflict with the persecution and malice of the Jews [Judaeans];

(4) His own testimony in His discourses, which are very copiously related;

(5) His sufferings, death, and resurrection.

And this His glorification is the accomplishment of the purpose of the Father, by setting Rim forth as the Light and Life of the world, - the One Intercessor and Mediator, by whose accomplished Work the Holy Spirit is procured for men; and through whom all spiritual help, and comfort, and hope of glory, is derived.

Modern Footnote:

1. Since Alford's time, structural features and deliberate chronological arrangments (and rearrangements) have been found in the other Synoptic gospels. See our Synoptic Section.

Lucke's Division

Gospel Structure

3. Several subdivisions of the Gospel have been proposed, as shewing its arrangement in subordination to this great design. The simplest and most satisfactory is that adopted by Lucke:

(1) the prologue, Jn. 1:1-18 ;

(2) the first main division of the Gospel, Jn. 1:19 - Jn. 12:50;

(3) the second main division of the Gospel, Jn. 12:1 - Jn. 20:31;

(4) the appendix, Jn. 21:1-end.

4. Of these divisions, I. the prologue, contains a general statement of the whole subject of the Gospel.

II. The first main division treats of the official work of the Lord in Galilee, Judaea, and Samaria, His reception and rejection, and closes with the general reflections of the Evangelist, Jn. 12:37-43, and summary of the commission of Jesus, Jn. 12:44-50: - its foundation in the will of the Father, and purposes of grace and love to men.

III. The second main division may be subdivided into two parts, (1) the inner glorification of Christ in His last supper and His last discourses, (2) His outer and public glorification by His Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection. Then IV. the appended chapter xzi. relates, for a special purpose, an appearance of the Lord, after His resurrection, in Galilee : - see notes there.

5. In all these divisions, except the last, the great leading object of the Gospel is kept in view, and continually worked out more fully. After having stated it in the prologue, he relates the recognition of Christ's glory by the testimony of the Baptist ; - then by the disciples on their being called ; - then the manifestation of that glory by His miracle in Cana of Galilee, - by His cleansing of the temple, - by His declaration of Himself to Nicodemus, - and so onwards.

But the more this is the case, the more is He misunderstood and withstood : and it becomes evident by degrees, that the great shewing forth of His glory is to be brought about by the result of this very opposition of His enemies. This reaches its height in the prophetic testimony of Caiaphas, Jn. 11:47 ff. ; and the voice from heaven, Jn. 12:28, εδοξασα και παλιν δοξασω, seems to form the point of transition from the manifestation of His glory by His acts, discourses, and conflict with the Jews, in Part I. - to that by His Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection in Part II. Thus, as Lucke remarks, these words form the ground-tone of the whole Gospel,

'The public working of Christ manifested His glory; but at the same time led on to His Death, which Death again manifested His glory.'

6. In the course of the Gospel the Evangelist steadily keeps his great end in view, and does not turn aside from it. For its sake are the incidents and notices introduced, with which his matter is diversified ; but for its sake only. He has no chronological, no purely historical aims. Each incident which is chosen for a manifestation of the Lord's glory, is introduced sometimes with very slight links, sometimes with altogether no links of connexion to that which has preceded. So that while in the fulfilment of its inner design the Gospel forms a closely connected and perfect whole, considered in any other view it is disjointed and fragmentary.

Luthardt's Division

Gospel Structure

Luthardt's division is :

I. Jesus the Son of God : ch. 1-4

1. The Christ, ch. i. 1 - 18.

2. The introduction of Jesus into the world (L 19 - ii. 11) by the testimony (a) of the Baptist (i. 19-40); (b) of Himself (L 41 - it 11).

3. First revelation of Himself as the Son of God (ii. IS - iv. 54), (a) in Jerusalem and Judaea (ii. 12 - iii. 86), (b) in Samaria and Galilee (iv. 1 - 64).

II. Jesus and the Jews: ch. V. - xii.

1. Jesus the life. Opening of the conflict, ch. v. vL (a) His divine working aa Son of God - beginning of opposition (v. 1 - 47) : (b) Jesus the Life in the flesh, - progress of belief and unbelief (vL 1 - 71).

2. Jesus the Light. Height of the conflict, ch. vii. - x. (a) He meets the unbelief of the Jews at Jerusalem (vii. 1 - 62) : (b) opposition between Jesus and the Jews at its height (viii. 12 - 59) : (c) Jesus the Light of the world for salvation, and for judgment (ix. x.).

3. The delivery of Jesus to death is the Life and the Judgment of the world, ch. xi. xii. (a) The raising from the Dead (xi. 1 - 57) : (b) Prophetic announcements of the Future (xii. 1 - 86) : (c) Final judgment on Israel (ib. 87 - 60).

III. Jesus and His own : ch. xiii. - xx.

1. Jesus' Love and the belief of His disciples, (a) His Love in condescension (xiii. 1 - 30) : (b) His Love in keeping and completing the disciples in the faith (xiii. 81 - xvi. 88) : (c) His Love in the exaltation of the Son of God (xvii.).

2. Jesus the Lord : the unbelief of Israel, now in its completion : the belief of His own (ch. xviii. - xx.). (a) His free self-surrender to His enemies, and to the unbelief of Israel (xviii. 1 - xix. 16) : (b) His self-surrender to Death, and divine testimony in death (xix. 16 - 42) : (c) His manifestation of Himself as passed from death into liberty and life, and the completion of the disciples' faith worked thereby (xx. 1 - 29).

The Appendix : ch. xxi. The glimpse into the future, (a) The symbolic draught of fishes (1 - 8) : (b) the symbolic meal (9 - 14) : (c) The calling and its prospect (16 - 23) : (d) conclusion.

These leading sections he follows out into minor detail in other subdivisions of much interest.

John's Literary Style

7. With regard to the style of this Gospel, it may he remarked,

(1) that Dionysius of Alexandria, as cited by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. vii. 25), remarked the purity of its Greek as compared with that of the Apocalypse, τα μεν γαρ (the Gospel and First Epistle) ου μονον απταιστως κατα την των Ελληνων φωνην, αλλα και λογιωτατα ταις λεξεσι, τοις συλογισμοις, ταις συνταξεσι της ερμηνειας γεγραπται. πολλου γε δει βαρβαρον τινα φθογγον, η σολοικισμον, η ολως ιδιωτισμον εν αυτοις ευρεθηναι.

(2) That without subscribing to the whole of this eulogy, if classical authors are to be the standard of comparison, the same will hold good of this Gospel as compared with the other three.

(3) That the greater purity of its Greek is perhaps mainly owing to its far greater simplicity of style. While the deepest truths lie beneath the words, the words themselves are almost colloquial in their simplicity ; the historical matter is of small amount as compared with the dialogue.

(4) That while the language is for the most part unobjectionable Greek, the cast of expression and thought is Hebraistic:

'Sermo quidem Graecus sed plane adumbratus ex Syriaco illius saeculi'


There is, both here and in the Epistle, very little unfolding or deducing one proposition from another: different steps of an argument, or sometimes different conclusions from mutually dependent arguments, are indicated by mere juxtaposition : - and the intelligent reader must be carrying on, as it were, an undercurrent of thought, or the connexion will not be perceived.

(5) That in this respect this Gospel forms a remarkable contrast to those parts of the New Testament written by Hellenistic Christians ; e. g. the Epistles of Paul, and that to the Hebrews ; in which, while external marks of Hebraistic diction abound, there is yet an internal conformation of style, and connexion of thought, more characteristic of the Grecian mind : - they write more in periods, and more according to dialectic form.

In observing all such phenomena in our sacred writings, the student will learn to appreciate the evidence which they contribute to the historic truth of our belief with regard to them and their writers : - and will also perceive an admirable adaptation of the workman to his work, by Him whose one Spirit has overruled them all.

8. The reader will find a very elaborate and detailed account of the peculiarities of diction and style of this Gospel in Luthardt's work referred to above, vol i. pp. 21 - 69.

1st Epistle of John

Language and Style (Vol. 4, p.177 fwd.)

1. The questions of language and style, which in other sections of the Prolegomena have required independent treatment, have in this case been already discussed by implication under other heads. Still it will be well to devote a few paragraphs to the separate consideration of these.

2. The style of the Epistle has been often truly described as aphoristic and repetitive. And in this is shewn the characteristic peculiarity of St. John's mode of thought. The connexion of sentence with sentence is slightly, if at all, pointed out. It depends, so to speak, on roots struck in at the bottom of the stream, hidden from the casual observer, to whom the aphorisms appear unconnected, and idly floating on the surface. Liicke well describes this style as indicating a contemplative spirit, which is ever given to pass from the particular to the general, from differences to the unity which underlies them, from the outer to the inner side of Christian life. Thus the Writer is ever working upon certain fundamental themes and axioms, to which he willingly returns again and again, sometimes unfolding and applying them, sometimes repeating and concentrating them: so that we have side by side the simplest and clearest, and the most condensed and difficult sayings: the reader who seeks merely for edification is attracted by the one, and the "scribe learned in the Scriptures" is satisfied, and his understanding surpassed and deepened by the other.

3. The logical connexion is not as in the Epistles of St. Paul, indicated by the whole superficial aspect of the writing, nor does it bear onward the thoughts till the conclusion is reached. The logic of St. John moves, as Diisterdieck has expressed it, rather in circles than straight onward. The same thought is repeated as seen from different sides: is transformed into cognate thoughts and thus put into new lights, is unfolded into assertion and negation, and the negation again closed up by the repeated assertion (ch. i. 6 f., 8f., ii. 9 f., &c). Thus there arise numerous smaller groups of ideas, all, so to speak, revolving round some central point, all regarding some principal theme ; all serving it, and circumscribed by the same bounding line. Thus the Writer is ever close to his main subject, and is able to be ever reiterating it without any unnatural forcing of his context: the train of thought is ever reverting back to its central point.

4. Now if we regard the actual process of the Epistle with reference to these characteristics, we find that there is one great main idea or theme, which binds together the whole and gives character to its contents and aim ; viz. that fellowship with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, in which our joy is complete ; in other words, that right faith in the Son of God manifest in the flesh, in which we overcome the world, in which we have confidence in God, and eternal life.

5. This idea, which pervades the whole Epistle, is set forth in two great circles of thought, which have been already described as the two portions of the Epistle. These two, both revolving round the one great theme, are also, in their inner construction, closely related to each other. God is light:—then our fellowship with Him depends on our walking in the light: God is righteous :—then we are only manifested as children of God, abiding in His love and in Himself, if we do righteousness. But for both—otir walking in light, and our doing righteousness, there is one common term,—Love: even as God is Love, as Christ walked in Love, out of Love became manifest in the flesh, out of Love gave Himself for us. On the other side,—as the darkness of the world, which can have no fellowship with God, who is Light, denies the Son of God and repudiates Love,—so the unrighteousness of the children of the world manifests itself in that hatred which slays brethren, because love to brethren cannot be where the love of God in Christ is unknown and eternal Life untasted.

6. Such a style and character of the Epistle, not bound by strict dialectic rules, not hurrying onward to a logical conclusion, but loving to tarry, and to repeat, and to limit itself in smaller circles of thought, shews us the simple heart of a child, or rather the deep spirit of a man who, in the richest significance of the expression, has entered the kingdom of heaven as a little child, and, being blessed in it himself, yearns to introduce his brethren further and further into it, that they may rejoice with him. In his Epistle Christian truth, which is not dialectic only but essentially moral and living, is made to live and move and feel and act. When he speaks of knowledge and faith, it is of a moral existence and possession: it is of love, peace, joy, confidence, eternal life. Fellowship with God and Christ, and fellowship of Christians with one another in faith and love, each of these is personal, real; so to speak, incarnate and embodied.

7. And this is the reason why our Epistle appears on the one hand easy intelligible to the simplest reader, if only his heart has any experience of the truth of Christ's salvation,—and on the other hand unfathomable even to the deepest Christian thinker: but at the same time equally precious and edifying to both classes of readers. It is the most notable example of the foolishness of God putting to shame all the wisdom of the world.

8. But as the matter of our Epistle is rich and sublime, so is it fitted, by its mildness and consolatory character, to attract our hearts. Such is the power of that holy love, so humble and so gentle, which John had learned from Him in whom the Father's love was manifested. He addresses all his readers, young and old, as his little children: ho calls them to him, and with him to the Lord: he exhorts them ever as his brothers, as his beloved, to that love which is from God. The Epistle itself is in fact nothing else than an act of this holy love. Hence the loving, attracting tone of the language; hence the friendly character and winning sound of the whole. For the Love which wrote the Epistle is but the echo, out of the heart of a man, and that man an Apostle, of that Love of God which is manifested to us in Christ, that it may lead us to the everlasting Fount of Love, of joy and of life.

9. I may conclude this description, so admirably worked out by Diisterdieck, with the very beautiful words of Ewald, which he also cites: speaking of the "unruffled and heavenly repose" which is the spirit of the Epistle, he says,

" it appears to be the tone, not so much of a father talking with his beloved children, as of a glorified saint, speaking to mankind from a higher world. Never in any writing has the doctrine of heavenly Love, of a love working in stillness, a love ever unwearied, never exhausted, so thoroughly proved and approved itself, as in this Epistle."

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