Carlos Raúl Sosa Siliezar. Savior of the Word: A Theology of the Universal Gospel. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2019. 254 pages. $39.95 (Hardback).
Dominant in the critical stream of Johannine studies is the idea of a secluded group of Jewish Christians called the “Johannine Community” who lived in isolation from the rest of society. Following the lead of scholars such as J. Louis Martyn and Raymond Brown, some see the Gospel of John as a sectarian text “intended to reinforce the [Johannine] community’s social isolation” (197). In Savior of the World, Carlos Raúl Sosa Siliezar, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, counters this idea by arguing that the Gospel of John is a universal text intended to be read by all people in order that they might believe that Jesus is the Messiah (John 20:31).
The book has a tripartite structure, offering a sequential reading of the text in parts 1 and 2 and an analysis of Johannine literary and rhetorical devices in part 3. For Sosa Siliezar, the opening prologue signals the themes that are present throughout the rest of the narrative. Since the Word created all things, “nothing is outside the scope of the Word’s creation” (6). One of the implications of this is that the Word has authority over all people and creation to fulfill “his unique role as the one who comes from the Father to offer a proper relationship with God” (42). Since he created all things, his mission is universal. This mission “is continued by the Spirit” who bears witness and “acts through the disciples” (192) to manifest the “cosmic conquest” (122) of Jesus. This “cosmic conquest” is accomplished in his death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. Therefore, John presents not a sectarian Jesus but one who is the Savior of the world.
While Sosa Siliezar recognizes the Jewish core of John’s Gospel (193–95), he tends to overemphasize instances of universal intent in order to prove his thesis. While many of his arguments are persuasive, some appear to read too much into the text. In certain places, he advocates universality where a more localized (Jewish) reading of the text is more likely. For instance, he argues unconvincingly that the rejection of the Word by “his own” in John 1:10–11 primarily refers to all of humanity and not specifically the Jews (9–10). Thus, at times his exegesis illustrates the risks involved in taking a single theme and sequentially running it through an entire book: meanings can be oversimplified and one’s interpretive focus narrowed to the exclusion of other important hermeneutical factors.
Nevertheless, the author’s argument for universality in John’s Gospel is well developed throughout the book. It is not difficult to understand his argumentation, and the argument is easy to follow. The synthesis at the end of each chapter is particularly helpful in understanding how the content of that chapter fits together. Overall, this book is an excellent example of how going back to the text is a better methodological choice than postulating hypothetical theories on scanty historical evidence and selective eisegesis.
CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Quinn Mosier, an M.Div. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary