Posted by: Ken Brown | April 6, 2010

Temple Christology in the Gospel of John

After an exhausting month, I finally sent off the penultimate draft of my thesis this morning, along with the official abstract. The display copy is due on the 12th, and I’ll defend it on the 19th. In the mean time, I figured some here might be interested in the abstract, so here it is:

Temple Christology in the Gospel of John:
Replacement Theology and Jesus as the Self-Revelation of God

The past decade has seen remarkable interest in John’s view of the Temple, marked by the publication of several monographs and numerous articles. Many of these have been produced independently of one another and reflect a variety of approaches, but all of them find in the traditions and expectations of the Temple vital background to John’s presentation of Jesus. Most of these studies, however, continue to assume that John’s Temple theme is primarily a reaction to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and conclude from this that Jesus (or the church) in some sense “replaces” the Temple and its festivals, taking their place as the locus of God’s presence. This “replacement” has been understood and qualified in a various ways, from supersession to fulfillment, symbolism to typology, but the common assumption is that the Jerusalem Temple has become “defunct,” with Jesus taking its place completely and finally.

A few more recent studies, however, have begun to call this replacement paradigm into question. Often arguing on sociological grounds, scholars such as Judith Lieu, Jonathan Klawans, Kåre Fuglseth, and most recently Mary Spaulding have noted that reapplications of Temple language and imagery—in John and elsewhere—can be better understood as positive attempts to extend the meaning of the cult to other realms, than as attempts to replace it. They note that reapplications of Temple language were common in the period, especially among those loyal to the Temple, and in John itself a number of details imply that Jesus and his disciples were Temple participants (e.g. 2:13; 4:45; 5:1; 7:10, 37; 8:20; 10:22-23; 18:20). If this raises the possibility of a non-replacement reading of John’s Temple theme, however, no one has yet attempted as comprehensive an exegetical treatment of that theme from that perspective as previous studies have provided within the replacement paradigm. As such, it remains to be seen not just whether a non-replacement paradigm can be maintained throughout the whole of John, but whether it might actually provide a more fruitful reading of John’s Temple theme than has previously been offered. Such will be the question this thesis seeks to answer.

It will be argued that John’s many references and allusions to the Temple and its festivals are not to be understood merely as a reaction to 70 CE, but rather serve an essential purpose in advancing John’s more fundamental Christological agenda (cf. 20:31). Focusing primarily on John’s prologue (esp. 1:14-18), the Temple incident (2:13-23), Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (esp. 4:4-26), the festival cycle (5:1-10:42) and Jesus’ death and resurrection (esp. 17:1-20:31), it will be argued that the imagery, traditions, rituals and expectations of the Temple, festivals and priesthood are given a persistent and vital role in John’s presentation of Jesus, and are consistently focused on his identity as the incarnation of the self-revelation of God. In short, Jesus embodies the Wisdom, glory, presence and name through which God has always been known, including in the Temple. He “tabernacles” among us, and his death and resurrection are tied to the destruction and raising of the Temple. “True worship” depends on knowledge of his true identity, and he fulfills the hopes for the restoration of Israel celebrated and anticipated by the Temple festivals, preeminently in his death and resurrection.


  1. Your thesis sounds great. I’m doing a short MA thesis on John 7:37-39 and this is exactly the frustrating part of the present historical reconstruction of the Johanine community story: that his gospel is simply the result of a fight, a polemic between he and the Jews at the synagogue. There is little consideration that John is putting forth a positive theology of who Jesus is. Thanks for this post. Very exciting.

    I wonder if you would consider sending me a copy of your thesis?

  2. Which book from Judith Lieu were you referring in your post?

  3. Thanks Jeremy!

    I might be able to email you a copy of the thesis after it’s submitted.

    And it’s not a book by Lieu; it’s an article (but an influential one):

    “Temple and Synagogue in John.” New Testament Studies 45 (1999): 51-69

    • I was wondering if you’d be able to send me a copy of your thesis?

      priestermeister at gmail . com

  4. That would be great, Ken. Let me know how it’s received.

  5. (With no need here to defend the assumptions of Christian theology and metaphysics …)

    All that is made is made by Christ and through Christ and for Christ. All (that is not-God) that exists, exists and “holds together” because Christ upholds and sustains its existence.

    Does it not follow from these two axioms of Christian metaphysics that Christ has *always* been sacrificing himself for his creation’s sake, and not merely when he came amongst us and we murdered him? Does it not follow that the Temple cult *always* prefigured the Incarnation and the Crucifixion? Does it not follow that God’s self-revelation shall be more, rather than less, than the cult? That it shall extend, rather than falsify?

    • Yes, yes and yes! 🙂

  6. … “nullify” would have been a better word in that last sentence.

  7. Typically how many pages for the Master’s Thesis?
    And is the Papyri internal or external evidences of the Gospel of John.

  8. My thesis was about 150 pages long, which is fairly typical for my university (though they are trying to encourage people to write shorter ones, more like 90 to 100 pages).

    I don’t understand the second question.

  9. Would you be willing to send me a copy of your thesis? Thanks!

  10. I would like to receive a copy as well.
    -Jeremy Priest

  11. Inspired by this post, I have read Judith Lieu, Temple and Synagogue in John. I am most of the way through Jonathan Klawans, Purity Sacrifice and the Temple, I have started Kåre Fuglseth, Temple and Social Relationships in the Gospel of John, I can’t find Mary Spaulding. And, Inter Library Loan says your university does not give out copies of dissertations, though they said sometimes individual authors (meaning you) might.

    The study has been extremely interesting. Thank you for the leads. But, I have three questions. 1) Do you have a pdf or electronic version of your dissertation I can read? 2) Can you point me to articles / books by Mary Spaulding? and 3) Are there other articles / books by Lieu, Klawans, or Fuglseth I should look at?

    Anyway, thanks for lighting a fire in my study.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dean!

      I’ve emailed you directly, but in case anyone else wonders: Mary Spaulding’s book is called Commemorative Identities: Jewish Social Memory and the Johannine Feast of Booths.

  12. Ken,

    My name is peter and I am a student studying Biblical Linguistics at Morthland College. I’d love to receive a copy of your thesis! My email is

  13. I am a friend of Dean H. (above) whom you sent an electronic copy of your thesis. I too would like to read your work. Do you still have it in eformat? I so please send me one.

    Dan Bachman

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