Going up and coming down in Johannine legitimation

James F. McGrath, Butler University


In his important study of Johannine christology from a sociological perspective, Wayne Meeks stressed the importance of understanding the ascent-descent schema in any attempt to understand this christology or explain its origin. The work of sociologists Berger and Luckmann on legitimation has the potential to shed light on an earlier stage in this development. An examination of key passages in John shows that ascent-descent language is linked to the motifs of the Son of Man and Wisdom, and suggests that John has developed these two traditional aspects of christology in response to objections and conflict over Jesus' qualifications to be the revealer, and his relationship to God and monotheism. Conflict and the ensuing legitimation can thus help us to understand something of the reason why Johannine christology developed along the distinctive path that it did. 1