Review: Paul A. Rainbow’s Johannine Theology


In both the church and the academy, the Johannine corpus stands in the shadows of the Pauline. From the pulpit, preachers proclaim Paul’s primacy having composed one-third of the New Testament. I’ve wondered why the same voices didn’t marvel at John’s contribution of one-fifth. In the scholarly literature, it may seem like books and articles dealing with the New Perspective on Paul alone surpass the treatments on Johannine theology.

Not only did John contribute as much to the canon as Paul, but the former’s biblical writings span three different genres (gospel, epistle, and apocalypse) whereas all of Paul’s are epistles. This is not to downplay the Pauline corpus or to pit the two against each other. They both are the inspired Word of God. Both are profitable to the soul and necessary to study. It does point out the surprising disparity in attention. Whereas treatments of Pauline theology that deal with his entire corpus abound, the same cannot be said of Johannine theology. In contemporary New Testament scholarship, a Johannine theology covering the entire corpus is missing.

Paul Rainbow’s Johannine Theology: The Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse fills this lacuna. In the introduction (Chapter 1), he summarizes the main approaches to doing biblical theology, and Johannine theology in particular—biblical theology, historical-theological approach based on the Jewish matrix, topical approach, literary-theological approach, and organization around main characters. Rainbow also provides an overview of issues such as the nature and purposes of Johannine literature, authorship, the Johannine Question, John and Judaism, and history and theology of the Fourth Gospel.

Rainbow’s approach in this volume “sets forth the Johannine theology according to the relations among the divine persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and the world made up of its various constituents” (28). He moves theme by theme, examining what the entire Johannine corpus has to say about each given topic. Rainbow begins in Chapter 2 with theology proper, for while up until recently Johannine thought centered on Christology, Rainbow asserts, “at the center of the Johannine theology is God the Father, specifically the revelation of God’s love for the world by sending his Son” (72). Chapter 3 deals with the world-system. In this chapter Rainbow broaches the topic of the scope of salvation (Calvinist versus Armininian), to which he returns in a later chapter.

In Chapters 4 and 5 Rainbow turns to Christology. He addresses the question of who Jesus was in the former and what he did in the latter. A significant portion of chapter 4 is devoted to the deity of Christ; however, his humanity, incarnation, and offices are also addressed. Chapter 5 surveys “all aspects of Jesus’ work as presented in John’s writings: Jesus’ teaching and miracles (called ‘signs’ in the Fourth Gospel); his climactic ‘glorification,’ including his crucifixion, burial, resurrection, breathing out of the Holy Spirit and return to the Father; and the awaited events that will bring this world order to an end and usher in the age to come” (191). Chapter 6 deals with Johannine pneumatology, covering terminology, the relation of the Spirit to the Father and Son, the coming of the Spirit in salvation history, and the work of the Spirit in believers.

In the remaining chapters having dealt with John’s theology of the divine persons and intra-trinitarian relations, Rainbow addresses believers and their relation to the risen Christ (Chapters 7-8), each other (Chapter 9), and the world (Chapter 10). Interestingly, Chapter 7 brings up both union with Christ and ordo salutis, two topics typically associated with Pauline theology rather than Johannine theology. In this chapter, Rainbow mentions the doctrines of grace and predestination again. In Chapter 9 on Johannine ecclesiology, Rainbow provides insights on the Church in salvation history, the inclusion of Gentiles into the one people of God, the embodying of divine virtues of truth, love, unity and catholicity, and practices such as worship, offices, and sacraments. The concluding chapter looks at how the Johannine conception of the church and the world relate to each other.

Paul Rainbow’s Johannine Theology fills a gap in scholarship. He provides a comprehensive and critical overview of John’s theology, taking into account his Gospel, epistles, and apocalypse. In terms of audience appeal, this book achieves something difficult—it’s accessible to the layperson (with the main body uncluttered by overly technical analysis) but still beneficial to the formal student of Johannine literature (due to detailed footnotes that interact with seminal scholarship and the most influential journal articles, monographs, and books). Johannine Theology is a must-read for everyone looking for an introduction to the theology of John’s New Testament writings.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Jennifer Guo counts beans by day and eats books by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. She also loves the arts and is part of a performing arts ministry that uses a variety of mediums to communicate the gospel, God’s heart, and His design for sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Jennifer also loves running and cooking (and not because running allows her to eat more). You can follow her @JenniferGuo and read more of her thoughts at Jennifer Guo.