Mixed Metaphors: Resolving the Eschatological Headache of John 5

Hugo Méndez
Journal of Biblical Literature, 137 (2018): 711

Exegetes have long puzzled over the purported clash of eschatologies in John 5:19–30—one framed by an apparent shift between figurative and literal speech in the passage. In this article I argue that the evidence for such a shift—most of it rooted in inconsistencies in the imagery and language of verses 24–25 and 28–29—is weak. Literary-oriented studies of the Fourth Gospel have called attention to the dynamism and fluidity of its imagery. Metaphorical vehicles, once introduced into a given discourse, are often further developed, modified, or altogether reimagined in successive lines—a technique known as “metaphor shifting.” I identify this technique as the best explanation for the discrepancies observed between verses 24–25 and 28–29. When the entire passage is read as a continuous stream of shifting and interpenetrating metaphors, it contains no sudden clash of eschatologies and no tensions for the interpreter to resolve. Rather, the passage reads as a coherent and more complete exposition of the gospel’s realized eschatology.