The Gospel of John is often the object of theological inquiry, which is proper given its overtly theological nature. Even so, the focus on John’s theology has often left other important issues overlooked. For example, scholars have historically neglected questions regarding how John’s message relates to his audience’s socio-political situation. While recent scholarship on the fourth gospel has begun to rectify this neglected area of study, one issue that still warrants further exploration is the socio-political implications of John’s concept of divine childhood. This theme appears most clearly in John 1:9-13 and John 3:1-21, though it is identifiable throughout the gospel. Most discussion of this theme relates to the transformation of individuals that occurs at salvation. Yet, very few studies have sought to elucidate the implications of such a transformation in terms of its social and political ramifications.
In this paper, I will explore how John develops his concept of divine childhood in the Gospel of John, applying M. A. K. Halliday’s concept of anti-language to identify the network of linguistic terms used to forge a new social identity for John’s audience as children of God. As the use of Halliday’s concept of anti-language implies, I will attempt to show the concept of divine childhood is far from neutral but involves implicit challenges to the dominant imperial ideologies of John’s time. Thus, I will argue that John’s concept of divine childhood calls his audience to embody certain claims about themselves and God, claims that conflict with the claims of the Roman Imperial ideology. I will then conclude with suggestions for what such an identity might mean for readers today in terms of how we ought to see ourselves in relation to God and the world.