Love in the Gospel of John

An Exegetical, Theological, and Literary Study

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The command to love is central to the Gospel of John. Internationally respected scholar Francis Moloney offers a thorough exploration of this theme, focusing not only on Jesus's words but also on his actions. Instead of merely telling people that they must love one another, Jesus acts to make God's love known and calls all who follow him to do the same.

This capstone work on John's Gospel uses a narrative approach to delve deeply into a theme at the heart of the Fourth Gospel and the life of the Christian church. Uniting rigorous exegesis with theological and pastoral insight, it makes a substantive contribution to contemporary Johannine scholarship.

1. Entering the World of John's Gospel
2. The Mission of Jesus: To Make God Known
3. The Hour Has Not Yet Come
4. Love in Action, Discourse, and Prayer: John 13:1-38; 15:12-17; 17:1-26
5. "It Is Finished": John 18:1-19:42
6. "Love One Another as I Have Loved You": John 20:1-31; 21:1-25
7. "Those Who Have Not Seen and Yet Believe": John 20:29


"Francis J. Moloney is one of the most distinguished Catholic scholars of John's Gospel in the English-speaking world today. In his latest work on the Fourth Gospel, he displays his fine gifts as an able teacher. Having absorbed a vast amount of literature on the topic of love in John's Gospel, he presents his own argument in a clear, orderly form that even the uninitiated can grasp."

John P. Meier, Warren Chair Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

"Francis J. Moloney is well known for his narrative commentaries on the Gospel of John. In Love in the Gospel of John, he uses his understanding of narrative to explore and interpret the theology of the Gospel. He sees that John tells the story of Jesus as the story of God, who, for love of the world, gave his Son to save the world, and argues that this reality is integral to the Gospel and the source of Jesus' command to 'love one another as I have loved you.' Readers interested in John will want to read this book."

John Painter, professor of theology, School of Theology, Charles Sturt University

"Decades of study of the Fourth Gospel have uniquely qualified Frank Moloney to write this book about love in the Gospel of John. What he has written is a story of God's love for the world, manifest in Jesus' love for his own until the end and proclaimed in the Gospel according to John. The evangelist's story has all the twists and turns of any real love story. Moloney sheds light on these several twists and turns as only he, among contemporary English-language scholars, can do."

Raymond F. Collins, visiting scholar, Department of Religious Studies, Brown University

"What better way to crown a lifetime of research and writing on the Gospel of John than to produce a book on its major theme of love! Francis Moloney, one of the world's leading experts on the Gospel, has brought to bear his keen analysis of the text and vast knowledge of the secondary literature in this comprehensive study. Moloney not only illuminatingly treats God's love for the world in the giving of the Son, the love commandment, and the Beloved Disciple but also embeds the discussion of such topics in the developing narrative as it moves towards Jesus' hour of glory. In showing how love pervades this Gospel and is integrally related to its other major themes, Moloney's engaging book is bound to become indispensable reading for all students of John's Gospel and its theology."

Andrew T. Lincoln, Portland Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Gloucestershire

"'Love in Action' could be the subtitle of this very fine study of John's Gospel. Frank Moloney focuses not only on the relational aspects of love--between Father and Son, God and the world, Jesus and disciples, disciples and one another--but also on the performative consequences of this love: what love looks like, particularly in the Johannine Passion. This book reads as the culmination of a lifetime of exegetical skill, research, and lived discipleship, enabling Moloney to express the heart of the Gospel's message in the one word love."

Mary L. Coloe, associate professor, MCD University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia

"Love plays a central role in the Gospel of John, and in this fine volume Frank Moloney offers a richly textured interpretation of the theme. With insights gained from a lifetime of engagement with this Gospel, Moloney invites readers to see the many facets of love that are disclosed by John's narrative and to discover anew the ways in which love's many dimensions cohere in the self-giving actions of Jesus. Scholars and students, theologians and pastors will welcome this compelling treatment of the idea that shapes John's understanding of God, Jesus, and the path of discipleship."

Craig R. Koester, Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota

"The reader soon discovers that this is not a narrow treatment of the love command in the Gospel of John but a full-scale expedition into the heart of the Gospel's theology. Along the way it offers fresh and insightful interpretations of Jesus' mission, his work, and the centrality of the cross in the Gospel. Moloney knows this theological terrain so intimately that he makes sure the reader does not miss the grand vistas it offers."

R. Alan Culpepper, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University

"Love in the Gospel of John is unique; it is not a semantic study of the words for love in the Fourth Gospel but a study of love in action. According to Moloney, in the Gospel of John it is Jesus' task, his mission, 'to make love known' in the world. The culmination of the revelation of love is seen in the death of Jesus on the cross, where Jesus himself enacts what he says in John 15:13: 'No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.' Moloney's interpretation of John cannot leave us indifferent, and his book has the rare quality of calling us to actions of love not with moralizing appeals but with rational insight and narrative transformation. A much-needed book that will appeal both to scholars in the field of Johannine studies and to interested nonspecialists."

Reimund Bieringer, professor of New Testament exegesis, Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven), Belgium

"Love in the Gospel of John is a real contribution to Johannine scholarship--in many ways. The book is ideal for seminary or graduate students, providing a balanced overview of the best past and current work on the Gospel, and especially shedding new light on the love theme in John. The relation between the love theme and Jesus's glorification is, in my opinion, absolutely on target and truly enlightening. I learned something on every page."

Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM, professor emerita of New Testament studies and Christian spirituality, Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University

The Author

  1. Francis J. Moloney SDB
    © Peter Casamento

    Francis J. Moloney SDB

    Francis J. Moloney, SDB (DPhil, University of Oxford), is Senior Professorial Fellow at Catholic Theological College, University of Divinity, in Melbourne, Australia. He is the former Provincial Superior of the Salesians of Don Bosco for Australia and the...

    Continue reading about Francis J. Moloney SDB


"Here [Moloney] brings to us a mature study of the love theme in the Gospel of John. . . . As in all his work, Moloney writes clearly and marshals his case winsomely. This book provides many stimulating insights into Johannine theology."

D. A. Carson,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"As one has come to expect from Moloney's various contributions on John's Gospel, this splendid volume mixes clarity and accessibility with an acute perceptiveness of the literary, theological, and historical dimensions of the text. The study never loses sight of its primary theme, even though readers will recognize it as the gathering together of reflections and insights that have taken shape over many years of sustained engagement with John's Gospel. . . . The foremost contribution of this multilayered study--and what certainly sets it apart from other related treatments--lies in its richly integrated approach to what John has to say about love, particularly about loving actions. Moloney not only argues convincingly for the pervasiveness of the love theme within John's narrative, but he demonstrates the crucial importance of this theme for understanding the Gospel's message about the relationship between God, Jesus, and believers. Those interested in John's theology will, as a result, gain much from reading this valuable study."

Catrin H. Williams,

Review of Biblical Literature

"Moloney brings a lifetime of studying the Gospel of John with literary, theological, and spiritual sophistication to this slim volume that is a testament to his own body of work as well as his careful reading of other Johannine scholarship. Focused and accessible, his investigation of the love theme in the Fourth Gospel is a careful academic analysis of the material, with Moloney's familiar emphasis on how literary structure reveals theological meaning. Like a good teacher, Moloney knows how to engage an audience with a captivating story. . . . Moloney's contribution here is primarily twofold: first, to show the intimate association between the love theme and the 'hour' of Jesus, and second, to balance an overemphasis on Jesus' words about love in the Fourth Gospel with attention to his actions that reveal love, not only for the Johannine community but also for the world. Moloney accomplishes these objectives by a deft combination of attention to both overarching literary structures and specific exegetical detail. . . . [A] major contribution to Johannine studies."

Pamela E. Hedrick,

Theological Studies

"The great achievement of this book is to be found primarily in the interconnectedness it reveals between central Johannine themes long known . . . and the central theme of love. Each chapter--well crafted atop a lifetime of Johannine scholarship--aptly sets the broader theological and literary context while reserving the majority of space for more specific, detailed, and critical examinations. In this way Moloney's exploration bounces back and between the particular and the general, laudably losing sight of neither. Time and again Moloney shows his talent for analyzing the trees while regularly reminding the reader of the forest in which they are planted."

Michael G. Azar,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"Francis Moloney has written on the Gospel of John for much of his career. This book is in many ways a synthesis and beautiful summary of this lifelong study. . . . Rather than focusing simply on an analysis of individual passages in which the love command is explicitly stated, he considers the whole Johannine narrative, including the actions of Jesus portrayed in the gospel, as illustrative of John's underlying motif. The love command expressed as the command to love 'one another,' Moloney contends, does not mean that John's gospel expresses a sectarian viewpoint, as some have contended, but is, in fact, a profound distillation of the message of Jesus in all its scope and beauty. This is a wonderful and sound synthesis of Johannine theology."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"Moloney guides readers into how the fourth Gospel works--not as a discourse about love and relationship in the abstract but as a demonstration of love performed in Jesus' self-giving behavior and especially his death. . . . This book encompasses and integrates John's entire narrative and overarching theological vision."

Matthew L. Skinner,

Christian Century

"[This book] offers much substantive scholarship. . . . The author's copious and meticulous footnotes, plus a twenty-page bibliography, demonstrate his mastery of the field of Johannine studies. . . . His warm faith and fresh insights, however, will reward any diligent reader."

Lamar Williamson,


"Moloney, who has written extensively on John, has accurately produced a theology of the Gospel of John with an emphasis on love. . . . The reader will discover many gems among the exegetical observations and come away with a clear understanding of several prominent themes and motifs in the gospel. . . . The book seems intended for a scholarly audience with the presence of untransliterated Greek and extensive footnotes, but any interested person can profit with careful study."

R. Jackson Painter,

Religious Studies Review

"Moloney accomplishes successfully what he claimed: 'appreciation of the whole story enables a better interpretation of its single parts.' He has exquisitely shown both the complexity and development of the love theme in John and has rediscovered what is often neglected in Johannine scholarship."

Josaphat C. Tam,

Expository Times

"A helpful, readable study by a leading Catholic scholar. Appropriately, he does not limit himself to occurrences of words for love, but focuses on deeds of love, especially the cross and resurrection."

Ray Van Neste,

Preaching (The Best in Bibles & Bible Reference for 2014)

"Moloney offers a helpful thematic study for several reasons. First, he models a thematic study that describes the meaning of words within their larger events in the story. This proposes a comprehensive way to evaluate the meaning of individual sections within the whole discourse. Second, he judiciously traces out several significant components in the story like 'the hour' of Jesus and 'gathering' his followers then shows how these components thread through the entire Gospel until they culminate in God's focal loving act, the cross and resurrection events. As a result, he advances a rich texture of several thematic aspects that develop toward a goal. Overall, Moloney offers a careful study that outlines how John conceived of Jesus's whole mission as an act of love."

Seth Pollinger,

Trinity Journal

"Love in the Gospel of John should be commended. Moloney shows how John brings God's love for the world to bear on the various aspects of the Gospel. A student who relies on a concordance to study John's concept of love will be just as confused as many of the people in the book who misunderstand Jesus. To grasp John's concept of love, one must enter his literary world. . . . Moloney, a Johannine expert, has provided an excellent volume to help show how the artistry of the Gospel unfolds."

Benjamin I. Simpson,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"Johannine scholar Francis Moloney brings his wealth of knowledge and expertise to bear on one of the central themes of the Fourth Gospel: love."

Arthur M. Wright Jr.,

Review and Expositor