A study of the background of the concepts "Life" and "Light" in the prologue of the fourth gospel
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The concepts of "Life" and "Light" are prominent in the prologue of the fourth gospel (cf. John 1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9) and have been studied by various scholars as important themes. In the past years, the quest for the conceptual background of the prologue and the entire Gospel has led to converging and diverging opinions. But are all the proposed backgrounds important to the reader to understand and interpret the fourth gospel? Should we find the relevant religious background, could it help us understand and interpret the "Life" and "Light" concepts in the prologue and the rest of the Gospel? The aim of this study is to identify the most appropriate background against which to read and explore the concepts of "Life" and "Light" in the fourth gospel. We also wish to study other selected passages from the fourth gospel that relate to "Life" and "Light". The reason for doing this is to find out if they can add meaning to our understanding of "Life" and "Light" in the prologue. The study reviews and compares crucial literature on the fourth gospel. Attention is given to the development of the debate on the religious background that influenced John. It also seeks to discover if there are any fresh ideas on the religious background of the fourth gospel. Reference will be made to primary material like the Dead Sea Scrolls, first century Palestinian Judaism, Josephus, and Philo of Alexandria. The following proposed backgrounds will be reviewed: Hellenistic Judaism, Philo of Alexandria, Gnosticism, Hermetic Literature, Mandaism, the Old Testament, Rabbinic Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Samaritan background. This research is undertaken within the reformed evangelical tradition, and is informed by the historical critical method. The author argues that the Old Testament and its development in first century Palestinian Judaism is the most plausible background against which to understand the "Life" and "Light" concepts in the fourth gospel. The study concludes that "Life" in the fourth Gospel is understood as eternal life characterized by quality, happiness, blessedness and many other good characteristics. Believing in Jesus who is the true life leads one to enjoy the authentic life. The life that he gives triumphs over death through the resurrection. Concerning "Light" the study also concludes that to receive the light (Jesus) is to receive salvation accompanied by enlightenment, joy, blessings and victory. It is impossible to receive the "Light" that Jesus gives and to fail to have the "Life" that he gives. The absence of the "Life" and "Light" from him leads to suffering, hopelessness and death without hope. Thus, the Old Testament and Pharisaic Judaism meaning of these two concepts is fulfilled in Jesus the "Life" and the "Light" in the fourth Gospel.
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