When 'farewell' is not 'goodbye' : a rhetorical reading of the farewell discourse, John 13-17
The Farewell Discourse is a unique and climactic portion of John's Gospel which
serves as a hinge on which the entire Gospel narrative pivots from Jesus' public ministry to
his Passion. Shallow readings of this Discourse often pass over or ignore significant
aspects of the text, especially the instruction and preparation Jesus was giving by word and
action to make ready his disciples to continue his mission to the world after his departure.
Other readings (notably form-critical) see the text as disarranged and therefore not a
A thorough analysis employing the elements of Greco-Roman rhetoric has shown
that there is a rhetorical dimension to the Discourse which makes sense of the text as a
coherent whole. The Farewell Discourse was found to follow a rhetorical arrangement
which gives a literary explanation to some assumed form-critical problems such as the
ending at 14:31. Not only does this rhetorical structure give appropriate closure and
transition with movement from one topic to another, it does so with a chiastic arrangement
of the major topics.
This thesis demonstrates that assumed disarrangements, repetitions and
amplifications that have appeared problematic to other approaches do not detract from, but
actually enhance the ability of the text to move and persuade. Rhetorical analysis is thus
capable of giving insights into the text that otherwise might be overlooked or ignored.
Throughout the Discourse, Jesus' ethos (character) as the divine one who "knows" stands
out boldly and his persuasive appeal (logos) to the pathos (emotional response) of the
disciples is strong, both as he seeks to move them beyond their present sorrow and distress
and as he prepares them to face the future realistically and with confidence. The fourth
evangelist thus presents Jesus operating rhetorically (in act as well as speech) and
strategically uses Jesus' interaction with his disciples to seek a rhetorical outcome with his
This rhetorical approach provides a bridge between literary approaches on the one
hand (which can proceed at the expense of taking into account the historical context) and
historical critical approaches on the other (which can proceed at the expense of hearing the
text speak as text). A rhetorical reading accounts for both literary and historical dimensions
of the text. This thesis demonstrates that it is an effective interpretive methodology which
elucidates dimensions of the text not adequately accounted for by other approaches.