In Text, Context and The Johannine Community: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the Johannine Writings, David A. Lamb considers the overall context of the situation of these Writings, he proposes that a group or groups formed around the completed or nearly going to complete Gospel. He also speculates that it is a loose network among them rather than a specific closed community or School. Lamb argues that for scholars to persevere with monographs and articles on this or that aspect of ‘the Johannine Community’ as a context for the composition of the John Writings and /or their intended audience, without any explanation as to what is meant by this expression ‘sectarian group’, it does not seem to him the best form of scholarship. (p 209)
Lamb offers a fascinating look at the interactions of scholars and other dynamic studies of the Johannine Community, depicted by some scholars as a sectarian group, opposed both to wider Jewish society and other Christian groups. He carefully traces the implications of these interactions of the current debate about the community of John in the New Testament. He has given over a detailed summary and critique of Raymond Brown’s influential model of the Johannine Community. Lamb provided a critique of those scholars, starting from Raymond Brown, who have been insufficiently meticulous to support their particular sectarian view of the Johannine Community.
Sociolinguist David Crystal initially uses ‘register’ for the language of a particular group in the sense of a professional jargon or technical language. Sociolinguist Michael Halliday defines the understanding of ‘register’ as ‘dialect’. (p 63)Lamb utilizes the modern sociolinguistic theory to argue whether there was a sectarian community. He has selected some texts from the John writings to determine whether it is a sectarian community behind the texts. He has examined the sociolinguistic approach working to the relationship between text and their context of culture and situation.
With the previous studies, he concentrates on ‘register’, one of the developments of Halliday’s antilanguage (language of antisociety), putting into his analysis of the existence of the Johannine Community. He suggested that genre is a type of discourse by a specific culture, in which different registers can be embedded. It will be helpful to compare different registers within the text for the characteristics of any individual register become much more apparent when it is compared with other registers. According to register, the interpersonal function of the John discourse and the tenor of the discourse situation. In conclusion, he speculates that it is a loose network among them rather than a specific sectarian or isolated community.
Lamb shows us that it was not merely a historical-critical methodology on discussion of the Johannine community but through a sociolinguistic analysis to the Johannine Writings, it can come up with a different conclusion. The sociolinguistic analysis seems to give us a better understanding of the text and opens up a new dimension to the text. Perhaps this fresh approach could be an influential hermeneutic stance at studying the NT for the decades to come.
Although sociolinguists such as Halliday and Biber are convinced that ‘register’ analysis is appropriate for all form of text, we have to be particularly careful in reaching a decision about what situation is reflected in a literary text. And the question whether the modern linguistic theory can be persuasively applied to ancient language and texts such as Koine Greek or even Hebrew writings. However it is vital to realize that the sociolinguistic analysis, emphasizing on genre, register, style and dialect, that contributes to our understanding of the mood and the tenor of a text enormously.
Lamb masterfully brings to bear New Testament scholarship into conversation with historical-critical or literary-critical approaches and sociolinguistic analysis of the Johannine Writings. Through the studies and analysis of the relevant theories and biblical texts, Lamb investigates the subject of Johannine Community on different scholars’ research and exploration. I believe that David A. Lamb’s book is accessible to biblical scholars and any interested lay person in many ways.
Cheung Sau Ming, Kenny ( abstract, Dec. 10, 2015)