A New Study of the "I Am" Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel
(Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014)
Investigating various contexts of the "I am" sayings in Jewish and Hellenistic traditions, including the immediate context of the Johannine community, this book seeks to explore the themes and structure of the "I am" sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel and looks into the aspects of transformation in the Johannine community.
“For many who turn away from the Gospel of John because of its exclusivism, this deceptively slim volume can be—as its title hints—transformational. Plunging directly to the “I am” sayings, and to John 14:6 in particular, Kim sketches a new “way” to truth and life by reading John metaphorically and historically in a Jewish context and showing how the meaning of the “I am” sayings changes when they are read functionally, as descriptions of Jesus’ work. The result is a serious challenge to traditional views of Johannine theology.”
-- R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University
"Yung Suk Kim’s fresh reading of the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel in the pluralistic context of America today is characterized by an exceptional combination of methodological creativity and exegetical rigor. Yung Suk Kim courageously engages the Gospel of John, from which interpreters have traditionally derived proof-texts for Christian claims to exclusive possession of the truth. Building upon earlier reconstructions of the socio-cultural context of the Johannine community, Yung Suk Kim establishes that the audience addressed by John’s gospel was struggling with a crisis of identity precipitated by expulsion from the synagogue, with the attendant experiences of isolation and marginalization. Read in this context, the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel are revealed as affirmations of a new subjectivity among the marginalized, a subjectivity capable of including others in the embrace of divine love. This extraordinarily fresh reading of the communal psychology of the self in John’s Gospel is mediated by Yung Suk Kim’s engagement with recent work in the field of “psycho-theology.” Yung Suk Kim conveys the social and ethical implications of his reading by appropriating the insights of political theology. In his capacity to synthesize critical theory and to apply the results to the biblical text, Yung Suk Kim has few peers among contemporary New Testament scholars. Yung Suk Kim deploys the most challenging philosophical frameworks with facility, and communicates the results simply and clearly. Throughout, Yung Suk Kim keeps his focus on the real-life struggles of Christian readers in a pluralistic context."
--Laurence Welborn, Professor of New Testament, Fordham University This book would be worth reading just for the critical interrogation of numerous cherished assumptions in Johannine interpretation, including: a high Christology where Jesus is God; penal substitutionary atonement in which Jesus’ death is vicarious; the Fourth Gospel as inevitably supporting exclusivism; and salvation construed as primarily personal. Kim challenges them all but, in addition, offers a constructive theological interpretation that sets Jesus squarely in his own historical Jewish context; attends to the nuanced ways the text transforms the reader; and commissions the reader to live abundantly in a globally, radically inclusive way. --Jaime Clark-Soles, Associate Professor of New Testament, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
Yung Suk Kim's Truth, Testimony, and Transformation strikes a delicate balance between genuine piety and rigorous biblical scholarship according to the conventions of the academic discipline. Such faithful, accessible exposition makes the Fourth Gospel sayings much more useful as an instrument for empowering devotion rather than as a tool of empire. This work is lyrical in its tone and liberative in its scope. --JoAnne Marie Terrell, Associate Professor of Ethics, Theology, and the Arts, Chicago Theological Seminary
If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (John 8:31-32)
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:17-18)
I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37)
STUDY QUESTIONS OF THE BOOK PREFACE was taken from the book
1. Is John's Gospel close to the historical Jesus? How can we compare with the Synoptics?
2. Who are the Johannine Christians? Why was this Gospel written?
3. How is Jesus portrayed in the Gospel? What is his primary work to do? For example, Jesus never claims that he is God. The oppostie is obvious. What does he say that his work is? Look what he says: “If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. But if I do them, and you don’t believe me, believe the works so that you can know and recognize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37–38, Common English Bible).
4. What is Jesus' relationship to the Father? He seems like a new Moses! In what sense?
5. What relation is there between Jesus and the Logos in the Prologue and in the entire Gospel? The prologue does not say that Jesus is the Logos. Then, what does he have to do with the Logos? What is the Logos? Can we say the Logos is God's?
6. How can we understand incarnation theology in 1:14: “The Logos became flesh”? John 1:14 must be understood through metaphoric sense. What does flesh represent?
7. How can we understand the “I am” sayings of Jesus? There are seven "I am" sayings of Jesus with the predicate.
8. Does John 14:6 exclude other religions?
9. In what sense is Jesus the way, the truth, and the life?
10. How is spiritual birth different from physical birth?
When Jesus says in the Fourth Gospel, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” does he mean that Christianity is the only true religion, or did he mean something else? As we know, Jesus did not found a new religion nor did he pave a new way to salvation or truth. Rather, Jesus worked for God, by showing the way of God, testifying to the truth, and engaging in the work of liberation. Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, like Moses, is sent by God to liberate people from darkness. Unlike today’s triumphant Christianity, the Johannine community was a small, marginalized, expelled community that struggled because of their faith. It will be very interesting to see how this struggling community was transformed into a loving community, following the model of Jesus.
I wrote this book out of my hope that the Fourth Gospel and John 14:6 in particular could be the scripture of engagement, embodiment, and empowerment for Christian readers. I hope this book will help the reader rethink the role of the Logos or the “I am” sayings in the Fourth Gospel. In a pluralistic society, the focus of the gospel shifts from conversion or theological doctrine to empowerment of people. I dream that this book will contribute to theological education in that the “I am” sayings of the Fourth Gospel give a voice of inclusivism rather than exclusivism, solidarity rather than marginalization, and liberation rather than oppression. In the pluralistic life contexts of America today, the theology that accepts others as friends is very important; it engages others on the basis of God’s love and justice. With a focus on the language of embodiment and empowerment, theological education can be more inclusive to others and help students to reorient their attention to the present life in the world. More importantly, by extending the horizons of biblical theology to aspects of psycho-theology and political theology, theological education can be more holistic and fruitful.
Likewise, I hope this book will inform the life of the church so that Christians can be ethically more sensitive to others and/or other views of life by focusing on Jesus’ embodiment. Other religious people should not be the target of the Christian mission but partners in dialogue through mutual challenge and encouragement because of the divine presence in the world. As a result, Christian life or discipleship is more focused on the embodiment of the divine presence manifest in Jesus.
Certainly, I hope this book will develop a greater public voice for theology in society in that a just, livable, lovable society is more important than the mere theology of divine identity. Understood in this way, Christian theology is not different from Christian ethics because theology can engage in the real world. This congruence of theology and ethics is possible because the “I am” sayings are Jesus’ embodiment of God’s love at all costs. That is how the Johannine Christians understood the Logos and applied it to their lives. This idea offers new perspectives on Christianity in a pluralistic setting because now the “I am” sayings are no longer exclusive; rather, they may serve as a stimulus for interracial, intercultural, and interreligious dialogue. As Jesus embodied the divine presence through the “I am” saying of God, Christians need to embody the “I am” sayings of Jesus. When this happens, there is a true dialogue, mutual understanding, and ethical sensitivity to others. The more important thing is not a mere personal identity but an actual living of the Logos. This means that belief in Jesus is not enough. Accepting Jesus as the Logos incarnate means risking one’s life; only then, Christians are given the power of becoming the children of God (John 1:12).