A broader friendship: the Johannine transformation of Philia into a 'fellowship of truth and love'
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 01:38 by Mark Kulikovsky
In the ancient world Plato and Aristotle argued that friendships were normally formed on the bases of virtue, utility, or pleasure. In the first century AD Graeco-Roman world, many facets of Graeco-Roman society - political alliances, patron-client arrangements, acts of beneficence for the civic good, and even the operation of households - were still based on these tenets and the friendships thus formed were characterised by practices such as reciprocity, obligation, civic duty, loyalty, gratitude, and frank speaking, though to different degrees dependent upon the different 'relationships' in which people found themselves. When Jesus called his followers 'friends' and told them that he had revealed everything that he had learned from the Father to them (Jn. 15:14-15), they were forced to reinterpret their current understanding of friendship. Their understanding was shaped by both Graeco-Roman ideas and Hebraic ideas of covenant and community, and this was challenged by what Jesus taught and demonstrated - an acceptance of and love for all people, even one's enemies. As the Johannine author reflects on the traditions of Jesus' sayings and action, he came to understand that the kingdom of God preached by Jesus was a community which needed to reshape its relationships. The tiered friendships of the Graeco-Roman world with their different bases were not appropriate in the community of Christ-followers. This thesis argues that the Johannine author reshaped the Graeco-Roman idea of friendship (φιλία). While still keeping many of the characteristics of Graeco-Roman friendships, a new basis and motive were needed. What the Johannine author came to understand was that friendship (φιλία) needed to be transformed into fellowship (κοινωνία) and this in turn was to be grounded in 'truth' (ἀλήθεια) and 'love' (ἀγάπη); furthermore, these concepts needed to be understood in the light of the person and work of Jesus who is the embodiment of truth and love. The Johannine author's Gospel and Letters were written to communicate how this transformation was to be effected, how friendship needed to be broadened and reframed.