Light and Darkness Motif: 3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5
The main passage to discuss for the light and darkness motif is 3:19–21. It was very convenient for Bing (“John’s Gospel,” 4) to consider 3:14–15, but not mention 3:16–21. While 1:4–9 uses similar terms to 3:19–21, this latter passage can be distinguished since light and darkness in John 3 “have clear moral connotations” (so Köstenberger).
3:19–21 comes at the end of the Nicodemus narrative with the Evangelist reflecting upon believing in Jesus, which leads to eternal life. Jesus is the Light who has come into the world so that people could have eternal life, rather than judgment. However, people love darkness. Why? Because by staying in darkness the evil deeds that they practice can stay hidden. They did not want their life to be examined and shown wanting; they did not want to cease from these deeds. This reflection by the Evangelist tells why Nicodemus’ belief was inadequate, and consequently, why those in 2:23–25 had an unacceptable faith: men love the darkness rather than the light. Rather than coming to the Light (Jesus), they flee from it so they do not have their sins exposed. The word elegxo refers to “not only exposure but shame and conviction” (Carson, John, 207). The Evangelist continues (3:20) by saying that those who refuse the Light actually hate the Light. This is followed by a contrast with those who “practice the truth.” These one’s do not flee from the Light because their life is full of deeds “worked in God.” The comparison is between those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. The description of those who believe is that they are obedient, abiding, and following the commands of Christ (thereby loving Him). The description of those who do not believe is that they have refused to turn from their evil ways: this is a description of those who have refused to repent. They do not turn from their sins and turn to God in belief. Therefore, one who believes is characterized as having turned from their evil ways and is living a life where their deeds are “accomplished in God.”
This passage is paradigmatic for the concept “believing” in the FG. Whenever the concept of believing is discussed, readers of the FG would (at least from this point on) understand that one who believes is one who has changed his life, been radically transformed. Also, future passages that refer to light (8:12; 9:5) should be viewed alongside this passage: Jesus, as the light of the world, causes people to choose sides. Some walk in darkness and are judged; others do not walk in darkness and possess eternal life.
A verse that may not seem connected on the surface to believing and the motif of light and darkness is 16:9. While the FG describes sin in 15:21–25, it is now explicitly defined in 16:9 as unbelief: Bultmann aptly notes: “The world reacts to Jesus by clinging on to itself, by menein en te skotia.” In 16:9, the problematic elegxo occurs: “in every instance the verb has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance” (Carson, John, 537). Therefore, to convict the world is shaming it and attempting to persuade it of its guiltiness, and in this way “calling it to repentance” (ibid.). The goal of the Holy Spirit is to convince the world that it is guilty in sin so that it will turn to God and stop sinning. Repentance is always turning from sin; the FG defines sin as unbelief. Therefore, when one is said to believe, they have repented from the unbelief, the sin. The concept of repentance in the FG is turning away from unbelief.
When a character in the FG is portrayed (positively) as believing, there is always a description of action in the context to communicate to the reader what Johannine belief demands of one who responds to Jesus. Those who are portrayed negatively are not described as having these actions; therefore, their response of belief is less than what Jesus was demanding. John 3:19–21 connects the ideas of believing and moral actions. Those who do not believe have their “moral actions” described as “evil deeds.” Those who believe have ceased from doing “evil deeds” and now are doing works “wrought in God.” They have turned away from their sinful lives; in John 3 terminology, they are now born from above, born of water and spirit. They have been cleansed and have a new heart; this has been evidenced by their changed life (see Ezek 36:27). These words are reminiscent of John the Baptist’s preaching in Matthew 3: “bring about fruit worthy of repentance.” Those who the FG describes as pisteon are also described as having a changed life (not just mind). No one is portrayed positively as believing when this component is missing. Therefore, the concept of repentance has now been located in the Fourth Gospel. Any challenges?