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Paul Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John (Minneapolis:

Fortress, 2011). Reviewed by Jim West

Anderson lays out his purpose in the Preface, noting that he is aiming here to … focus …
on the perplexing literary, historical, and theological issues one runs into when taking the
Gospel of John seriously (p. xi). He unpacks this sentence in a 296 or so page volume
comprised of four major parts-

Introduction: Navigating a Stream in Which a Child Can Wade


Part One: Outlining the Johannine Riddles
Part Two: Addressing the Johannine Riddles
Part Three: Interpreting the Johannine Riddles
Conclusion: Navigating the Living Waters of the Gospel of John

The present review will consist of five parts, one for each of the major sections. This, the
first installment, will be the briefest as it covers the Introduction (6 pages of the volume).
Each of the following parts will then be covered in order in due time.

Having set the stage by succinctly stating his goal, Anderson moves immediately to
achieve it.

In the Introduction Anderson admits that the Gospel has been read differently by
different people. He promises to work through the issues but makes a plea to his readers
that they engage the biblical text for themselves:

Therefore, the reader is encouraged actually to read the texts under discussion; stimulating
personal engagement with the Fourth Gospel is the most important purpose this book can
serve (p. 2).

Such a plea may seem unnecessary but in fact there are many who read such volumes and
skip right over the biblical texts scholar’s reference. I would even suspect that people
reading this review have done the same (as have I). Yet if the aim of such monographs is
to help people understand the biblical text, it only makes sense that readers engage the
text at first hand. So Anderson is to be thanked for a reminder of that fact. A fact, as
stated above, we too often take for granted.

But Anderson’s work is also to be appreciated because he recognizes, and admits, that the
Gospel is at its heart a summons to faith:

Rather than simply making claims about Jesus as the Jewish Messiah (savior or deliverer), it
invites people into a transformative encounter with the love of God as revealed in the
mission and message of the prophet from Nazareth (p. 3).
Is such an attitude appropriate for scholars? Is it useful to approach a text with such a
presupposition? While many would assert or insist that biblical scholars must be
‘scientific’, ‘dispassionate’ or even ‘sterile’ Anderson is right to highlight, at the very start,
the theological dimension. These texts are not dry historical bones; they are living
theological spirit.

Nonetheless, Anderson is a scholar and he also approaches the Gospel from that point of
view as well.

In truth, the issues scholars seek to address are most often the very things that waders also
notice; they just seek to provide a fuller explanation for how the tensions came into being,
laying out a road map for how to cover the territory. However, the road map is not the
territory. Therefore, the best way forward is to move back and forth, between wading and
swimming, grasping fuller understandings while returning to familiar meanings with fresh
awareness and deeper levels of insight (p. 5).

Anderson distinguishes ‘waders’ and ‘swimmers’ – beginners in study of the Gospel and
more experienced. And he writes his book for both. Anderson ‘jumps in’ the ‘pool’ of the
Gospel and invites those readers all to do the same.

So far as introductions go, Anderson’s is better than average. He doesn’t merely state his
purpose but he explains why he’s about to do what he’s about to do.

So to Part One next.