The struggle for language : John's Gospel as a witness to the development of the early Christian language of faith
This thesis attempts to develop an approach to the New Testament which does justice to the New Testament as both sacred scripture of Christianity and historical human document. Based on the Lutheran and German Existentialist hermeneutical tradition language is viewed as the bearer of meaning rather than as a pointer to meaning which is to be found behind the text. This approach is relevant for the discussion of neo-Barthian as well as post-modem hermeneutics. It demands a consistent application of historical criticism, leading to a hermeneutical theology rather than the ruling of theology over against biblical interpretation. The first main part of the thesis is dedicated to the development of a theological theory of language. The thesis starts with an assessment of the Barth-Bultmann debate, where the underlying differences in their respective theories of language are analysed. It proceeds to a critical discussion of Rudolf Bultmann's hermeneutical theory, in the course of which Bultmann's theology and hermeneutics are identified as leading to a theocentric personalism. In addition, his hermeneutics are found to have important deficits in the underlying theory of language namely to ignore the role language plays as the bearer of meaning. In order to develop a theological theory of language which is based on the assumption that language is the bearer of meaning while avoiding Bultmann's shortcomings, the argument will follow the further development of existentialist hermeneutics and enter a discussion with the later Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur. As a result, the concept of Christianity as Struggle for Language will be introduced. Here, Christianity and the New Testament in particular is understood as the continuing endeavour to translate the Christian kerygma so that it is meaningful in present discourse. The second part of the thesis is dedicated to the application of the main thesis to selected texts from John's Gospel, namely the hymn underlying the prologue John 1:1-18, the Nicodemus-discourse John 3:1-21 and the final prayer John 17.