Jesus’ Emotions in the Fourth Gospel: Human or Divine?

Jesus’ Emotions in the Fourth Gospel: Human or Divine?

David Konstan

Jesus’ Emotions in the Fourth Gospel: Human or Divine? By Stephen Voorwinde. London, UK: T&T Clark, 2005. Pp. xiii + 344. Cloth, $125.

Human beings have emotions; emotions are attributed to God as well in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and, in the Gospels, to Jesus. Are Jesus’ emotions the same as, or similar to, God’s, or more akin to those of humankind? Do the Gospels agree or differ in the way they assign emotions to Jesus? Are indications of Jesus’ emotions distributed evenly throughout the texts, or do they cluster–and what is the significance of their allocation? These are questions that Stephen Voorwinde addresses in this clear, sober, and meticulously researched study.

As it turns out, there are major differences between Jesus’ emotions as described in the Synoptic Gospels and in John. Moreover, whereas in the Synoptic Gospels there is no overlap between God’s emotions and those of Jesus (at least within a single Gospel), in John both God and Jesus feel love (the Hebrew Bible scarcely distinguishes between human and divine emotions, nor does the Septuagint, on the whole, though an occasional qualm is manifested in the translation, as with God’s feeling of fear). Great issues concerning the nature of Jesus’s divinity and human incarnation–his “two natures”–have hung on how his emotions are interpreted. Voorwinde is fully aware of these questions, but his book is not a study of dogmatics or of the historical Jesus; rather, for each emotion he seeks to “determine its place in the flow of the narrative and in the development of John’s major themes” (19), always against the backdrop of biblical literature as a whole (including the Dead Sea scrolls and the apocrypha).

Identifying what counts as an emotion is not always easy, especially given the nuances of Greek terms, but Voorwinde’s list is reasonable (more attention might have been paid to inventories provided by classical Greek thinkers). Syntax too can matter: what is the precise sense of the odd phrase, etaraxen heauton (11.33), and how is it different from the perfect tetaraktai, “was troubled” (12.27; cf. etarakhthe at 13.21)? Does the aorist–always a problematic tense or aspect–have special significance? It is easy to be oversubtle in drawing such distinctions (cf. 264, summarizing uses of agapao), but it is necessary to discuss them.

Turning to context, in the Hebrew Bible God’s emotions, such as anger or jealousy, “are set within a covenant framework” (41). Mark and Matthew tend to emphasize Jesus’ compassion (Matthew’s verb is splanchnizomai), though they also register his anger, grief, amazement, and joy; Luke’s Jesus is the least emotional of all. But here too, Voorwinde argues, there is a strong link with the covenant; and John is careful to represent Jesus as fulfilling themes adumbrated in the Pentateuch. It is John, however, who provides the best case for seeing Jesus’ emotions “as reflective of both his divinity and his humanity” (73). Here, references to Jesus’ emotions “are largely confined to two major events–the raising of Lazarus and the Farewell Discourse” (81-82). In John 1-10, “the only reference to an emotion of Jesus is the zeal which impels him to cleanse the temple” (116).

A close examination of context and background suggest “the paradox of Jesus’ person. The zeal he expresses is that of God, but it is to result in his death” (137). This gives a good idea of Voorwinde’s exegetical approach. With respect to Lazarus, Jesus’ emotions are varied: “He loves, rejoices, is troubled, weeps, and is deeply moved” (139). Once again, Voorwinde concludes that “there is far more to Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus than merely the ties of human friendship” (153), though this does not negate the human aspect of his love. Contrariwise, the evidence “suggests that Jesus’ weeping in John 11.35 expresses a purely human emotion” (183); nevertheless, in John’s representation “the person of Jesus is beyond comprehension in its depth” (218), thanks partly to his foreknowledge and the intensity of his feelings–matters that may strike other readers differently.

Ten appendices tabulating the distribution of emotion terms conclude the volume. In sum, this is a first-rate study; whether or not one agrees with all of Voorwinde’s exegeses, his learned and even-handed presentation of the evidence will be essential to any future analysis of Jesus’ emotions.

David Konstan

Brown University

Providence RI 02912

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