The Fourth Gospel is deeply shaped by its
remarkably high Christology. It depicts the earthly Jesus, the incarnate one, as
fully divine. This unrelenting Christology has led interpreters, both ancient
and modern, to questionthe historical value of John’s Gospel. For many, the
Gospel is just theology. It is to the vexed relationship between history and
theology that Jorg Frey turns in Theology and History in the Fourth
John’s theological obsession with Christology might suggestthat history counts for little in the Gospel. But, as Frey argues, the Gospel’s clear andcentralclaim is that John narrates the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his ministry, and his death, as "factual," and that this narrated "history" is foundational for the Christian message.Frey tracesthe Gospel’s use of the available historical tradition by chiefly drawing from Mark and the Johanninecommunity. Even if the Gospel ofJohn used this receivedwitness in a remarkably free manner,replotting and renarrating traditional episodes and even creatively staging new episodes, Frey contends thatthe historical life and person ofJesus remain central to John’s enterprise.
In the end, Frey warns that Johannine interpretation will miss the intention of the Gospel and the interpretive perspective of the evangelist if it remains preoccupiedmerely withquestions ofhistorical accuracy. The interpretivegoalis to "let John be John," and, as Frey shows, readers will always yield to the priority of theology over history in the Fourth Gospel. In John's telling of the Christ story, the significance of history lies precisely in its disclosure of theological meaning, just as the significance of the historical Jesus is only understood in the theological language of Christology.