Kelber considers Walter Ong’s work with the Logos concept to be foundational to bridging the gap between the humanities and the sciences. He therefore considers the concept of Logos in the fourth Gospel and as a metaphysical idea (Kelber 1987, 108).
Kelber notes that much recent scholarship has focused on the Logos as an element of Jewish Wisdom literature and mystic thought. However, Kelber wonders why John would choose a Wisdom model, as well as why John, possibly with a Wisdom model in mind, would discuss Jesus as Logos rather than as Wisdom (Kelber 1987, 109). Kelber finds in John’s Gospel a use of “words” spoken prophetically and having intrinsic power. This continued in early Christianity. Further, “in this essentially oral sense the logoi are endowed with sacral quality” (Kelber 1987, 110). The problem, seen by Polycarp, was that such an emphasis on the “words” could erode the attention given to Jesus as the incarnate, singular Logos.
Kelber recognizes that the sayings of Jesus are of immense importance. They make up a significant majority of the content of John’s Gospel. And not only the volume, but also the function, seems to matter. “The words, when spoken, are primarily regarded not as carriers of ideas or records of information, but as manifestations of power. They grant access to what is perceived to be real, and pose concomitant threats and danger” (Kelber 1987, 111). At heart, Jesus’ words are representated as giving life (Johyn 6:68).
The authority shown in Jesus’ speech is not unlike that of prophets. Kelber observes that in Judaism and the other religions of the time, prophets would make claims to authority which was based on their identity (Kelber 1987, 112). Jesus likewise makes claims to authority and bases those claims on the aspects of his identity which he has just stated. Kelber also considers the narrative to show signs of prophetic call. “As the baptizer is sent in prophetic fashion, and as Jesus is sent following him, so also will the Paraclete be sent when he comes to replace Jesus” (Kelber 1987, 113). The work described of the Paraclete is specifically that of guiding and teaching. Kelber, interestingly enough, sees the concept of vivid prophetic consciousness as a projection from “the Johannine community” rather than a description of reality as observed (Kelber 1987, 114).
Kelber proceeds to take ideas beyond the sending narratives out of context as well. He finds John 3:13 as a prohibition of pursuit of ascent into heavenly realms rather than Jesus’ affirmation that he came down from heaven (Kelber 1987, 114). He takes John 1:18 as a prohibition of hoping for a vision of God, rather than as John’s comparison of Jesus’ view of the Father when compared to our view (Kelber 1987, 115). Despite these failings, Kelber does note that John depicts Jesus as the one who works as a mediator to provide acess to the Father.
Kelber pulls his ideas together when he concludes that “the overall function of this [John’s] gospel is used not to produce an unedited version of oral verbalization, but to recontextualize orality, and to devise a corrective against it” (Kelber 1987, 116). Because Jesus is depicted as coming from above, Kelber says, the idea of a mystical ascent is prohibited. Jesus is the one who ascends, though there is no ascent story. Kelber considers the description of glorification to take the place of ascent in John’s Gospel, and further says, “In this gospel ascent is synchronized with death, and death serves to consummate the prophetic ego eimi identity of the Son of Man” (Kelber 1987, 116). Further, Kelber considers John 13:16 and 15:20 to be spoken in a context of “differentiating legitimate from illegitimate successorship” (Kelber 1987, 117). He clearly sees the future of the followers of Jesus as a likely struggle for power and authority, especially during and possibly after the time of the Paraclete. Kelber reinterprets historic Christian thought by removing the idea of a resurrected, present Christ. “The time of the presence of the Paraclete is [thus] also a time of the absence of Jesus who is with the Father. For the time being, the disciples are orphaned (14:18)” (Kelber 1987, 118). They are, however, reminded of what Jesus said, a statement Kelber takes to mean the disciples would depend on the words which were eventually written by the evangelist, leaving much of orality behind (Kelber 1987, 118). This conclusion makes only limited sense, as it draws a sharp distinction among oral communication, written communication, and memory or emotive concept. However this is conceived, though, Kelber then describes John placing words of power into Jesus’ mouth so as to make Jesus the Logos who could then be used to express authoritative ideas (Kelber 1987, 119).
Kelber moves on to discuss the concept of Logos taken philosophically in John’s Gospel. The Logos is separate from the text, being given a pre-existence, from “the beginning.” “Subordinated to the metaphysical authority of the Logos, the text is but a transition, a detour even, toward what is considered o be real” (Kelber 1987, 119). It is the living Logos of God which is real. Kelber cites Derrida for the idea of logocentrism, where there is a Logos corresponding to Platonic Form, and all other words are shadows of this form (Kelber 1987, 120). Kelber addresses three ways in which the logocentrism possibly shown in John is eroded.
First, Rabbinic hermeneutics after the fall of Jerusalem became a practice of interpreting and reinterpreting texts, adding multiple layers of commentary. By this method, Judaism came to be understood as based on texts (Kelber 1987, 120) rather than on the presence of God or the sacrificial system. Kelber finds that this prevents a move from the plural Logoi to the singular Logos, as found in John.
Second, the New Criticism of the 20th century held “a formalist understanding of language which, when reduced to a single formula, states that language, above all written language, has a life of its own. Culture and history are no longer taken seriously as a causal or contributing factor in the making of exts (Kelber 1987, 121). Text comes from other text, and tradition is found only in texts. There is no concept, in this philosophy, that spoken words are relevant in any way (Kelber 1987, 122). Kelber, following Ong, suggests that the textuality in this time period is related to an erosion of the influence of the originator, or speaker, of an idea. Rather, it focused on the fixed, printed record as the ultimate authority.
Third, in the work of Derrida, texcentrism completely replaces logocentrism, though it apparently has some difficulty shedding it entirely (Kelber 1987, 123). In Derrida’s philosophy texts never refer to any overarching concept outside of texts. Traditional Western understanding has been that a text refers to an idea, which may have been at least partially explicated orally prior to being “reduced” to writing. Derrida, takes the text to be the beginning and end (Kelber 1987, 124).
Kelber returns to the presupposition of John’s Gospel, that of “divinity incarnated in a person” (Kelber 1987, 126). He communicated that divine nature through oral utterance. His words pointed to the one Logos. John’s Gospel, a text, contains a tremendous bulk of recorded oral interactions. Kelber considers much recent scholarship to be overly concerned with textual elements rather than oral expression (Kelber 1987, 127). The fact is, the Gospel accounts are written accounts of events communicated orally. There is a level of textcentrism which may be appropriate. However, through most of history, a logocentric reading was the norm (Kelber 1987, 128). Kelber concludes that our interpretation needs to seek the trascendence apparently intended in John’s use of Logos. He finds that divine presence manifested in verbal action, and thus elusive (Kelber 1987, 129).