The Gospel of John



Author and Date

The Gospel of John was written anonymously in about 90-100 A.D. The earliest manuscripts do not have the title “The Gospel According to John.” It wasn’t until the second century that the name of John the Disciple and Apostle was associated with this gospel. Scholars continue to use the name John to refer to the author of this gospel for convenience, even though most scholars don’t believe he actually wrote it.

John, like all the other New Testament writers, wrote in Koine (i.e. common) Greek, which was the main written language of the eastern Roman Empire. Since the literacy rate was so low, almost all Christians heard texts read aloud. 

The author of the Gospel of John knows Jewish scriptures and traditions. He is familiar with geography of Judea, Samaria, & Galilee. John's frequent focus on the Jewish authorities and their controversies with Jesus suggests that the Gospel of John was produced in a Jewish Christian community that was struggling with its relationship with other Jewish groups. The author of the Gospel of John also seems to have been influenced by some Hellenistic (i.e. Greek) ideas, similar to the Jewish Platonist philosopher Philo of Alexandria. For example, the extensive use of the concept of the Logos (Greek for "Word") found in the first chapter.

Many scholars believe that the Gospels were produced by communities. In other words, the theology of each gospel represents the theology of a certain kind of Christianity: perhaps a group of related churches with the same founder or founders (like the way the Apostle Paul started a network of churches).


Sources

The Gospel of John claims to be based on the teachings of the Beloved Disciple (i.e. "the disciple whom Jesus loved"). It is also claimed that the Beloved Disciple was an eyewitness or had access to eye witness material from Jesus' life (21:20-24).

Scholars do not agree about whether or not John used any of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) as sources. John is so different than the other Gospels that there is not much evidence that could point in either direction. Some scholars believe that John used one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. Others think that John did not use any of the Synoptic Gospels as sources and the similar to material found both in John and the Synoptics comes from oral traditions.

The Passion Narratives (the stories of Jesus arrest, trial, & execution) are the places where John is closest to the Synoptic Gospels. Some scholars believe that the similarities indicate that John used one or more of the Synoptic Gospels as a source. Other scholars believe that there was a written source of the Passion Narrative that predates all the Gospels. Still others believe that the similarities between John and the Synoptics are due to common oral traditions. The narrative about the Passion of Jesus may be the earliest narrative constructed about Jesus.

Another possible source used in the writing of the Gospel of John is what scholars describe as a Signs Source or Signs Gospel. In John, Jesus' miracles are signs or evidence of his identity. There are a series of numbered signs, but the numbers do not actually fit the numbers of miracles in the texts (In 2:11 Jesus performs his "first sign," then he performs more signs in 2:23, and then he performs "his second sign" in 4:54) There are also other literary seams such as repetitions, inconsistencies, and contradictions (e.g. In 13:36 Peter asks where his is going, but in 16:15 Jesus says that nobody has asked him where he is going), which suggest that multiple sources are being used.

One major argument for multiple authors is based on Chapter 21. This section appears to be an extra ending added to the text later. Chapter 21 has significant differences in language and style, which suggests a different author or editor added this chapter to the end of John. The Narrator also refers to the Beloved Disciple in the third person, which indicates a second author/editor. We can assume that there was probably more than one edition of the Gospel of John.


Theology

The most distinctive feature of the Gospel of John is its high Christology (i.e. theology about the person of Jesus Christ). The higher the Christology, the more divine Jesus is and the lower the Christology, the more human he is. The Gospel of John has the highest Christology in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark probably has the lowest Christology. The Apostle Paul's Christology is somewhere in between.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ is equal to God. Jesus says "I and the Father are one" (10:30). Yet they are also separate and Christ is subordinate to God: "The Father is Greater than I" (14:28). Christ existed before the creation of the world. John uses the name Logos (i.e. Word) for Christ in the first chapter. In John, Christ/the Logos/the Word was with God and was God. God created the world through Christ.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus also claims to be God by taking on God's personal name revealed by God to Moses: "I am" (Exodus 3:14). Jesus uses the phrase "I am" of himself multiple times in John and in 8:54 Jesus says "Very truly I tell you before Abraham was I am." (People then grab some stones to try to execute him for blasphemy: they recognize that Jesus is claiming to be God).

The reason Christ/the Word can be God and one with God, as well as separate and subordinate to God is because Christ/the Word is an emanation of God. To emanate means to "flow from." God extends himself into the world, like a beam of sunlight extending to the earth. In the Gospel of John, Christ is a part of God, an extension of God into the World. Emanation allows God, who is perfect, to be separate from the flawed material world and yet also be involved in the world. As an emanation Christ/the Word is a mediator between God and the world.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ is the descending and ascending Savior. Christ the Son descends from heaven, becomes a flesh and blood human being, and reveals God the Father to people through his teachings and his actions. He performs symbolic miracles and then interprets their spiritual meaning in long theological speeches. He teaches people they can be saved by believing in him, and then ascends back to Heaven after his death and resurrection.

There is also a strong dualism between light and darkness, good and evil, in the Gospel of John. The world is good, but corrupted by sin. Satan or the Devil is the ruler of this world. People walk in either light or darkness, there is no in between. Christ comes into the material world to rescue people from the world so they can ascend to the spiritual world (heaven) to be with God and have eternal life.


Story

The Gospel of John begins with Jesus Christ's preexistence as the Word of God before creation. God creates the world through the Word. John the Baptist then tells people about Jesus, but there is no story about Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. There is not a story of Jesus miraculous birth (Mark does not have a story about Jesus' birth either, but Matthew and Mark do).

Jesus then goes to the Temple in Jerusalem and causes a disturbance in the Temple (Matthew, Mark, and Luke also place this incident at the temple at the beginning of Jesus' ministry). Jesus teaches about himself, heals, and does other miracles in both Galilee and Jerusalem.

Jesus then goes to Jerusalem where he teaches and predicts his death. Next comes the story of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion. John ends with the resurrection appearances of Jesus.


For Further Reading

Gerard Steven Sloyan, What Are They Saying about John?
  • A brief overview of contemporary biblical scholarship about the Gospel of John.

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the Gospel of John
  • An introduction by the most important scholar of the gospel and letters of John.

R. Alen Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts)
  • A concise, easy to understand commentary on the gospel and letters of John.

Bruce J. Malina & Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John
  • A commentary that uses the social-sciences to help people to understand the cultural world of the Gospel of John.

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel and Epistles of John: A Concise Commentary
  • A concise and updated version of the most important commetaries on the gospel and letters of John.

Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times
  • A history of the Christian community that produced the gospel and letters of John.






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