Gospel of John
The Gospel according to John (Greek: Εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ἰωάννην, romanized: Euangélion katà Iōánnēn, also known as the Gospel of John, or simply John) is the fourth of the four canonical gospels. It contains a highly schematic account of the ministry of Jesus, with seven "signs" culminating in the raising of Lazarus (foreshadowing the resurrection of Jesus) and seven "I am" discourses (concerned with issues of the church–synagogue debate at the time of composition) culminating in Thomas' proclamation of the risen Jesus as "my Lord and my God". John's account contains Jesus' Farewell Discourse, in which he speaks plainly to his apostles before his crucifixion. The gospel's concluding verses set out its purpose, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name."
John reached its final form around AD 90–110, although it contains signs of origins dating back to AD 70 and possibly even earlier. Like the three other gospels, it is anonymous, although it identifies an unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" as the source of its traditions.
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The gospel of John, like all the gospels, is anonymous. John 21:24-25 references a Beloved Disciple, stating of him: "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true; but there are also many other things that Jesus did; if all of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." Early Christian tradition, first attested by Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 AD), identified this disciple with John the Apostle, but most scholars have abandoned this hypothesis or hold it only tenuously – for example, the gospel is written in good Greek and displays sophisticated theology, and is therefore unlikely to have been the work of a simple fisherman. These verses imply rather that the core of the gospel relies on the testimony (perhaps written) of the "disciple who is testifying", as collected, preserved and reshaped by a community of followers (the "we" of the passage), and that a single follower (the "I") rearranged this material and perhaps added the final chapter and other passages to produce the final gospel. Most scholars estimate the final form of the text to be around AD 90–110. Given its complex history there may have been more than one place of composition, and while the author was familiar with Jewish customs and traditions, his frequent clarification of these implies that he wrote for a mixed Jewish/Gentile or Jewish context outside Palestine.
Setting: the Johannine community debate
For much of the 20th century, scholars interpreted the Gospel of John within the paradigm of a hypothetical "Johannine community", meaning that the gospel sprang from a late-1st-century Christian community excommunicated from the Jewish synagogue (probably meaning the Jewish community) on account of its belief in Jesus as the promised Jewish messiah. This interpretation, which saw the community as essentially sectarian and standing outside the mainstream of early Christianity, has been increasingly challenged in the first decades of the 21st century, and there is currently considerable debate over the social, religious and historical context of the gospel. Nevertheless, the Johannine literature as a whole (made up of the gospel, the three Johannine epistles, and Revelation), points to a community holding itself distinct from the Jewish culture from which it arose while cultivating an intense devotion to Jesus as the definitive revelation of a God with whom they were in close contact through the Paraclete.
John's "high Christology" depicts Jesus as divine and pre-existent, defends him against Jewish claims that he was "making himself equal to God", and talks openly about his divine role and echoing Yahweh's "I Am that I Am" with seven "I Am" declarations of his own.[Notes 1]
The portrayal of Jesus' death in John is unique among the four Gospels. It does not appear to rely on the kinds of atonement theology indicative of vicarious sacrifice but rather presents the death of Jesus as his glorification and return to the Father. Likewise, the three "passion predictions" of the Synoptic Gospels are replaced instead in John with three instances of Jesus explaining how he will be exalted or "lifted up". The verb for "lifted up" (Greek: ὑψωθῆναι, hypsōthēnai) reflects the double entendre at work in John's theology of the cross, for Jesus is both physically elevated from the earth at the crucifixion but also, at the same time, exalted and glorified.
Scholars disagree both on whether and how frequently John refers to sacraments, but current scholarly opinion is that there are very few such possible references, that if they exist they are limited to baptism and the Eucharist. In fact, there is no institution of the Eucharist in John's account of the Last Supper (it is replaced with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples), and no New Testament text that unambiguously links baptism with rebirth.
In comparison to the synoptic gospels, the fourth gospel is markedly individualistic, in the sense that it places emphasis more on the individual's relation to Jesus than on the corporate nature of the Church. This is largely accomplished through the consistently singular grammatical structure of various aphoristic sayings of Jesus throughout the gospel.[Notes 2] Emphasis on believers coming into a new group upon their conversion is conspicuously absent from John, and there is a theme of "personal coinherence", that is, the intimate personal relationship between the believer and Jesus in which the believer "abides" in Jesus and Jesus in the believer.[Notes 3] The individualistic tendencies of John could potentially give rise to a realized eschatology achieved on the level of the individual believer; this realized eschatology is not, however, to replace "orthodox", futurist eschatological expectations, but is to be "only [their] correlative."
John the Baptist
John's account of the Baptist is different from that of the synoptic gospels. In this gospel, John is not called "the Baptist." The Baptist's ministry overlaps with that of Jesus; his baptism of Jesus is not explicitly mentioned, but his witness to Jesus is unambiguous. The evangelist almost certainly knew the story of John's baptism of Jesus and he makes a vital theological use of it. He subordinates the Baptist to Jesus, perhaps in response to members of the Baptist's sect who regarded the Jesus movement as an offshoot of their movement.
In John's gospel, Jesus and his disciples go to Judea early in Jesus' ministry before John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed by Herod. He leads a ministry of baptism larger than John's own.
Synoptic gospels and Pauline literature
The Gospel of John is significantly different from the synoptic gospels in the selection of its material, its theological emphasis, its chronology, and literary style, with some of its discrepancies amounting to contradictions. The following are some examples of their differences in just one area, that of the material they include in their narratives:
|Material found in the Synoptics but absent from John||Material found in John but absent from the Synoptics|
|Narrative parables||Symbolic discourses|
|The Kingdom of God||Teaching on eternal life|
|The end-time (or Olivet) discourse||Emphasis on realized eschatology|
|The Sermon of the Mount and Lord's Prayer||Jesus's "farewell discourse"|
|The baptism of Jesus by John||Interaction between Jesus and John|
|The institution of the Lord's Supper||Jesus as the "bread of heaven"|
|The Transfiguration of Jesus||Scenes in the upper room|
|The Temptation of Jesus by Satan||Satan as Jesus's antagonist working through Judas|
|Exorcism of demons||No demon exorcisms|
In the Synoptics, the ministry of Jesus takes a single year, but in John it takes three, as evidenced by references to three Passovers. Events are not all in the same order: the date of the crucifixion is different, as is the time of Jesus' anointing in Bethany and the cleansing of the Temple, which occurs in the beginning of Jesus' ministry rather than near its end.
Many incidents from John, such as the wedding in Cana, the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the raising of Lazarus, are not paralleled in the synoptics. The gospel makes extensive use of the Jewish scriptures: John quotes from them directly, references important figures from them, and uses narratives from them as the basis for several of the discourses. The author was also familiar with non-Jewish sources: the Logos of the prologue (the Word that is with God from the beginning of creation), for example, was derived from both the Jewish concept of Lady Wisdom and from the Greek philosophers, John 6 alludes not only to the exodus but also to Greco-Roman mystery cults, and John 4 alludes to Samaritan messianic beliefs.
John lacks scenes from the Synoptics such as Jesus' baptism, the calling of the Twelve, exorcisms, parables, and the Transfiguration. Conversely, it includes scenes not found in the Synoptics, including Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and multiple visits to Jerusalem.
In the fourth gospel, Jesus' mother Mary, while frequently mentioned, is never identified by name. John does assert that Jesus was known as the "son of Joseph" in 6:42. For John, Jesus' town of origin is irrelevant, for he comes from beyond this world, from God the Father.
While John makes no direct mention of Jesus' baptism, he does quote John the Baptist's description of the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove, as happens at Jesus' baptism in the Synoptics. Major synoptic speeches of Jesus are absent, including the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse, and the exorcisms of demons are never mentioned as in the Synoptics. John never lists all of the Twelve Disciples and names at least one disciple, Nathanael, whose name is not found in the Synoptics. Thomas is given a personality beyond a mere name, described as "Doubting Thomas".
Jesus is identified with the Word ("Logos"), and the Word is identified with theos ("god" in Greek); no such identification is made in the Synoptics. In Mark, Jesus urges his disciples to keep his divinity secret, but in John he is very open in discussing it, even referring to himself as "I AM", the title God gives himself in Exodus at his self-revelation to Moses. In the Synoptics, the chief theme is the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven (the latter specifically in Matthew), while John's theme is Jesus as the source of eternal life and the Kingdom is only mentioned twice. In contrast to the synoptic expectation of the Kingdom (using the term parousia, meaning "coming"), John presents a more individualistic, realized eschatology.[Notes 4]
In the Synoptics, quotations from Jesus are usually in the form of short, pithy sayings; in John, longer quotations are often given. The vocabulary is also different, and filled with theological import: in John, Jesus does not work "miracles", but "signs" which unveil his divine identity. Most scholars consider John not to contain any parables. Rather it contains metaphorical stories or allegories, such as those of the Good Shepherd and of the True Vine, in which each individual element corresponds to a specific person, group, or thing. Other scholars consider stories like the childbearing woman or the dying grain to be parables.[Notes 5]
According to the Synoptics, the arrest of Jesus was a reaction to the cleansing of the temple, while according to John it was triggered by the raising of Lazarus. The Pharisees, portrayed as more uniformly legalistic and opposed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, are instead portrayed as sharply divided; they debate frequently in John's accounts. Some, such as Nicodemus, even go so far as to be at least partially sympathetic to Jesus. This is believed to be a more accurate historical depiction of the Pharisees, who made debate one of the tenets of their system of belief.
In place of the communal emphasis of the Pauline literature, John stresses the personal relationship of the individual to God.
The Gospel of John and the three Johannine epistles exhibit strong resemblances in theology and style; the Book of Revelation has also been traditionally linked with these, but differs from the gospel and letters in style and even theology. The letters were written later than the gospel, and while the gospel reflects the break between the Johannine Christians and the Jewish synagogue, in the letters the Johannine community itself is disintegrating ("They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out..." - 1 John 2:19). This secession was over Christology, the "knowledge of Christ", or more accurately the understanding of Christ's nature, for the ones who "went out" hesitated to identify Jesus with Christ, minimising the significance of the earthly ministry and denying the salvific importance of Jesus's death on the cross. The epistles argue against this view, stressing the eternal existence of the Son of God, the salvific nature of his life and death, and the other elements of the gospel's "high" Christology.
- The declarations are:
- Bauckham 2015a contrasts John's consistent use of the third person singular ("The one who..."; "If anyone..."; "Everyone who..."; "Whoever..."; "No one...") with the alternative third person plural constructions he could have used instead ("Those who..."; "All those who..."; etc.). He also notes that the sole exception occurs in the prologue, serving a narrative purpose, whereas the later aphorisms serve a "paraenetic function".
- See John 6:56, 10:14–15, 10:38, and 14:10, 17, 20, and 23.
- Realized eschatology is a Christian eschatological theory popularized by C. H. Dodd (1884–1973). It holds that the eschatological passages in the New Testament do not refer to future events, but instead to the ministry of Jesus and his lasting legacy. In other words, it holds that Christian eschatological expectations have already been realized or fulfilled.
- See Zimmermann 2015, pp. 333–60.
- Lindars 1990, p. 53.
- Witherington 2004, p. 83.
- Edwards 2015, p. 171.
- Burkett 2002, p. 215.
- Lincoln 2005, p. 18.
- Hendricks 2007, p. 147.
- Reddish 2011, pp. 13.
- Burkett 2002, p. 214.
- O'Day 1998, p. 381.
- Reddish 2011, p. 41.
- Lindars, Edwards & Court 2000, p. 41.
- Kelly 2012, p. 115.
- Lamb 2014, p. 2.
- Hurtado 2005, p. 70.
- Köstenberger 2006, p. 72.
- Lamb 2014, p. 2-3.
- Bynum 2012, p. 7,12.
- Attridge 2006, p. 125.
- Bible, John 5:18
- Hurtado 2005, p. 51.
- Harris 2006, pp. 302–10.
- Bible cf. Mark 10:45, Romans 3:25
- Bible Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33–34 and pars.
- Bible, John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32
- Kysar 2007a, p. 49–54.
- Bauckham 2015b, p. 83-84.
- Bauckham 2015b, p. 89,94.
- Bauckham 2015a.
- Moule 1962, p. 172.
- Moule 1962, p. 174.
- Cross & Livingstone 2005.
- Barrett 1978, p. 16.
- Harris 2006.
- Burge 2014, pp. 236–237.
- Köstenberger 2013, p. unpaginated.
- Burge 2014, pp. 236–37.
- Reinhartz 2017, p. 168.
- Reinhartz 2017, p. 171.
- Funk & Hoover 1993, pp. 1–30.
- Williamson 2004, p. 265.
- Michaels 1971, p. 733.
- Bible John 6:42
- Fredriksen 2008.
- Zanzig 1999, p. 118.
- Brown 1988, pp. 25-27.
- Pagels 2003.
- Thompson 2006, p. 184.
- Walvoord & Zuck 1985, p. 313.
- Ehrman 2005.
- Carson 1991, p. 117.
- Moule 1962, pp. 172–74.
- Ladd & Hagner 1993, p. 56.
- Bible, 16:21
- Bible, 12:24
- Neusner 2003, p. 8.
- Van der Watt 2008, p. 1.
- Moloney 1998, p. 4.
- Watson 2014, p. 112.
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- Walvoord, John F.; Zuck, Roy B, eds. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. David C Cook. ISBN 978-0-88207-813-7.*Watson, Duane (2014). "Christology". In Evans, Craig (ed.). The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus. Routledge. ISBN 9781317722243.
- Williamson, Lamar, Jr. (2004). Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0-664-22533-9.
- Witherington, Ben (2004). The New Testament Story. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-2765-4.
- Yu Chui Siang Lau, Theresa (2010). "The Gospels and the Old Testament". In Harding, Mark; Nobbs, Alanna (eds.). The Content and the Setting of the Gospel Tradition. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802833181.
- Zanzig, Thomas (1999). Jesus of History, Christ of Faith. Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-530-5.
- Zimmermann, Ruben (2015). Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-1-4514-6532-7.
Online translations of the Gospel of John:
Gospel of John
| New Testament
Books of the Bible
of the Apostles
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