Mirror-reading the Gospel and Letters of John to discern the origins and evolution of a particular Johannine “community” has been a popular approach. For instance, there is the two-level reading of the Gospel where the text is both a window into the lifetime of Jesus and a mirror into a later Christ-believing community that no longer found itself welcome in the local synagogues due to its Christological confession, which older scholarship often connected to the birkat ha-minim or a liturgical malediction cursing heretics that was allegedly introduced at the Council of Jamnia in the late first century CE. The major proponent of the influential two-level reading is J. Louis Martyn’s History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. The epistles, then, are viewed as the next stage in the development of the community when it was undergoing an internal schism, for some members had such a high view of Jesus that they either denied that Jesus had a literal corporeal body capable of physical suffering or Jesus’s body was a temporary vessel for a divine entity. At the very least, Jesus’s human ministry and suffering was minimized. Conflicting interpretations of the Johannine legacy continue into the second century and beyond among so-called “proto-Orthodox” and “Gnostic” exegetes. Here is a brief bibliography:
- Brown, Raymond E. The Epistles of John. AB 30. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982; The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist, 1979.
- Hengel, Martin. The Johannine Question. Translated by John Bowden. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989.
- Wahlde, Urban C. Von. A Commentary on the Gospel and Letters of John. 3 Volumes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010; Gnosticism, Docetism, and the Judaisms of the First Century: The Search for the Wider Context of the Johannine Literature and the Johannine School and Why It Matters. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.
- Anderson, Paul N. “the Community that Raymond Brown Left Behind: Reflections on the Johannine Dialectical Situation” in Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles. Edited by R. Alan Culpepper and Paul N. Anderson. ECL 13; Atlanta: SBL, 2014, 47-93. The pre-publication version is available at the website Bible and Interpretation.