GNOSIS AND JOHANNINE CHRISTIANITY AS ANALYTICAL CATEGORIES. A CONTRIBUTION TO THE
CREATION AND USE OF CATEGORIES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
Abstract: We propose a conception of social scientific categories based on a critical reflection and
discussion of two categories used in the study of early Christianity and the religion of late antiquity:
Gnosticism and Johannine Christianity. We evaluate three recent theoretical discussions regarding
the category of Gnosticism: the issue of the analytical inaccuracy of the category (M. A. Williams),
deriving and using of categories that are based on the self-designation of the analysed subject (B.
Layton, D. Brakke) and finally the negative connotations of the category (K. L. King). Since there
is minimal theoretical (meta)reflection on the category of Johannine Christianity in Johannine
research, we critically define the problems of prevailing unreflected consensus (e.g. R. E. Brown or
Each sub-point generates questions of a general nature, which we address in the next part of the
text. We present the answers in the following structure: first, we deal with how we create categories;
then, with their status; and finally, we focus on how we work with categories and according to what
criteria we evaluate them.
We summarised the results as follows: Adequate legitimate analytical categories are those that
are of the second order, i.e. they are not primarily based on self-labelling / self-understanding,
they are not understood as true or false representations of reality, but as utilitarian schemes to
understand a fact, and they are appropriately defined and justified.
Concerning the fragmentary nature and number of preserved sources used in the study of early
Christianity, such a concept has several advantages. Ad 1) The categories of the analysis are
separated from the potentially normative first order categories. Ad 2) Although we strive for the
most adequate knowledge/grasp of the researched facts, we are aware that the data we work
with do not have any independent existence, but their form depends on what conceptual tools we
use. Ad 3) The interpretation of a specific material without a proper and reflected definition of the
category easily results in ideological distortion. E.g. the category Johannine Christianity distorts the
sources (in our case, John‘s corpus) and distorts the broader interpreted context (early Christianity).
Therefore, not correctly defining the researcher‘s category to analyse a group of texts can have farreaching
consequences for interpreting other texts.
Keywords: Gnosticism; Johannine Christianity; early Christianity; category formation
THEOLOGICAL REVIEW, Vol. 92, 2021, No. 2, Number of Article 1, p. 120 – 149.