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Gospel Of John Essay, Research Paper

The genius of the Apostle John resides in his ability to penetrate to the theological

foundations that undergird the events of Jesus’ life. He reaches to the deeper

baptism and the calling of the Twelve are doubtless presupposed, they are not

actually described. Even themes central to the Synoptics have almost disappeared:

in particular, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, so much a part of the

preaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and the central theme of His narrative

parables, is scarcely mentioned as such (cf. 3:3, 5; 18:36).

meaning of the events, to the relationships of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

in the work of redemption, and to the Trinitarian love for humanity which generated

that work and which seeks through the gospel to bring within that sublime circle of

indwelling love all who respond by faith to Jesus as the great “I AM.”

John deals with the same revealed truth as Mathew, Mark, Luke and Paul. But

his way of approaching that truth is different–very different. Like waters from the

same source, Johannine, Pauline and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and

Luke) all flow from the same historical Jesus, but flow through different lands,

picking up different textures, and emerge as observably different rivers.

The Johannine river, as a preceptive reader will quickly realize, flows through

a profoundly different world of its own: a world with its own language, its own

symbolism, and its own unique theological view point. The reader who enters this

world senses immediately how different it is from the world of Paul and the Synoptic

Gospels. And thus, a few words are needed to help to guide our way.

First, John’s Gospel leaves out a great deal of material that is characteristic of

the Synoptic Gospels. There are no narrative parables in John, no account of the

transfiguration, no record of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, no report of Jesus

casting out a single demon, no mention of His temptations. There are fewer brief,

pithy utterances, but more discourses; but even here some major discourses found

in the Synoptics (e.g. the Olivet Discourse) are not found in John. Although Jesus’.Page 2 Introduction

Second, John includes a fair amount of material of which the Synoptists make

no mention. All of the material in John chapters 2 thru 4, for instance, including His

miraculous transformation of water into wine, His dialogue with Nicodemus and His

ministry in Samaria, find no Synoptic counterpart. Further, the resurrection of

Lazarus, Jesus’ frequent visits to Jerusalem, and His extended dialogues or dis-courses

in the Temple and in various synagogues, not to mention much of His private

instruction to His disciples, are all exclusive to the Fourth Gospel.

No less striking are the forcefully presented themes that dominate John but that

are largely absent from the Synoptics. Only in John is Jesus explicitly identified with

God (1:1, 18; 20:28). Here, too, Jesus makes a series of important “I am” statements

which are qualified: I am the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the good

shepherd, the vine, the living water, the way, the truth and the life. These culminate

in a series of absolute (unqualified) “I AM” statements that are redolent of God

Himself (cf. 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58). Furthermore, the Fourth Gospel maintains a series

of “opposites,” dualisms if you will, that are much stronger than in the Synoptics: life

and death, from above and from below, light and dark, truth and lie, sight and

blindness, and more.

Third, these themes become still more problematic for some readers when,

formally at least, they contradict the treatment of similar themes in the Synoptic

Gospels. Here, for instance, John the Baptist denies that he is Elijah (1:21), even

though according to the Synoptists Jesus insists that he is (Mk. 9:11-13). What shall

we make of the bestowal of the Spirit (Jn. 20:22) and its relation to Acts 2? Above

all, how do we account for the fact that in the Synoptics the disciples seem to grow

from small beginnings in their understanding of who Jesus is, with various high-points

along the way, such as Caesarea Philippi (Mk. 8:27-30), while in John the very

first chapter finds various individuals confessing Jesus not only as Rabbi, but as

Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb of God and King of Israel?

Fourth, there are several chronological difficulties that must be addressed. In

addition to the obvious questions, such as the relation between the cleansing of the

Temple at the beginning (Jn. 2:14-22) and at the end (Mk. 11:15-17) of Jesus’ public

ministry, or the length of that ministry as attested by the number of Passovers it

embraces (John reports at least three, the Synoptists only one); there are one or two

questions of great difficulty that are precipitated in part by a knowledge of

background ritual and circumstance. In particular, the chronology of the Passion in

the Fourth Gospel, as compared with that of the Synoptics, seems so idiosyncratic

that it has generated complex theories about independent calendars, or about.Introduction Page 3

theological motifs that John is self-consciously allowing to skew the naked chronol-ogy.

Did Jesus and His disciples eat the Passover, so that He was arrested the evening

of Passover and crucified the next day, or was He crucified at the same time the

Passover lambs were being slaughtered? And how does one account for the fact that

the Synoptics picture Jesus being crucified about the third hour (9:00 a.m.), while in

John Pilate’s final decision is not reached until the sixth hour (19:14)?

Fifth, students of Greek, perhaps more readily than those who read John’s

Gospel only in a translation, observe that the style of writing is quite different from

that of the Synoptics. For instance, the vocabulary is smaller, there is frequent

parataxis (the use of co-ordinate clauses instead of subordinating expressions, which

elegant Greek much prefers), peculiar uses of pronouns (e.g. “that one”), and many

instances of asyndeton (simply laying out clauses beside each other, without

connecting them with particles or conjunctions, as Greek prefers). More impor-tantly,

there is little discernible difference in style between the words that are

ascribed to Jesus and the Evangelist’s own comments (Jn. 3:16 ff.).

With all these examples of the differences between the Synoptics and John’s

Gospel, the Gospel of John has been used by Christians in every age, and for the

greatest array of purposes. University students distribute free copies to their friends

in the hope of introducing them to the Savior. Elderly Christians on their deathbed

ask that parts of this Gospel be read to them. Very often, this Gospel is the first of

all Scripture to be translated in a newly evangelized part of the world. Children

memorize entire chapters, and sing choruses based on its truth (e.g. “For God So

Loved The World”). Countless Bible courses and sermons have been based on this

Book or on some part of it. It stood near the center of Christological controversy in

the fourth century. And perhaps the best known verse in all the Bible is John 3:16:

a toddler can even recite it. In this Gospel the love of God is dramatically mediated

through Jesus Christ, so much so that Karl Barth is alleged to have commented that

the most profound truth he had ever heard was “Jesus loves me, this I know/For the

Bible tells me so.”

Before entering this world, something must be

said about the date and the author. In addition,

something must be said about the audience and

purpose of the author, and especially his literary

techniques, and the structure of his Gospel. These

points belong to what is known as introduction. The

better they can be established and described, the easier it is to understand and

appreciate the Gospel.

Internal evidence suggests that the Gospel was written after 85 A.D. External

evidence points to a date no later than 110 A.D. The allusion to Peter’s martyrdom

in 21:18-19 demands a date after 64 A.D. Three references to excommunication

from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2) allude to the Birkat ha-minim, a “Test

Benediction” used by the rabbis to exclude from the synagogue all heretics and

perhaps especially Christians. Since the “Test Benediction” was instituted in the mid

eighties, it is reasonable to conclude that the Gospel was composed sometime after

85 A.D.

How long after is impossible to determine. But external evidence in the form

of papyrus fragments found in Egypt suggests some ten or fifteen years later, i.e.,

between 85 and 100 A.D. The Rylands papyrus, the papyrus Egerton 2, P66, and

P75 all date to approximately 150 A.D. These papyrus finds prove that the Gospel

existed in Egypt in the first half of the second century. If one allows forty or fifty years

for the Gospel to become known and copied in Egypt, one comes on the basis of

external evidence to the same conclusion suggested by the internal evidence, i.e., 85-

100 A.D. for the date of the Gospel.

By the end of the second century, the Fourth Gospel was accepted, along with

the three Synoptics, as canonical in Gaul (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1-2), in

Egypt (Clement of Alexandria, so Eusebius, Church History 6.14.5), in North Africa

(Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.2), and in Rome (Muratorian fragment).

The Author

Whoever the author of the Fourth Gospel was, one thing is certain: he wanted

to remain anonymous. He wanted only to be known as the disciple whom Jesus

loved. He speaks about himself in 13:23 as the one who at the Last Supper “was

reclining on Jesus’ breast . . . whom Jesus loved.”; in 19:23-26, 35, as the disciple

who stood beneath the cross, was given the care of Jesus’ mother, and witnessed the

death of Jesus; in 20:2-10, as the disciple who ran with Peter to the tomb on Easter

morning and, upon seeing the burial cloths, believed; in 21:7, as the disciple who

alone recognized the stranger on the shore as Jesus; and in 21:20-23, as the disciple

about whom Jesus said to Peter: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that

to you? Follow Me!”.Introduction Page 5

It is probable that he is the “disciple . . . known to the high priest” who spoke

to the maid and had Peter admitted to the court of Annas (18:15-16). It is quite

probable that he was one of the two unnamed disciples of John the Baptist who

followed Jesus at the beginning of His public life (1:35-39), and equally probable that

he was one of the two unnamed disciples who accompanied Peter in the boat on the

Lake of Galilee after the resurrection (21:2).

What is certain is that the Gospel itself declares the Beloved Disciple to be “this

is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we

know that his witness is true” (21:24). The meaning of this statement is hotly

debated. It asserts at a minimum that the Beloved Disciple is the author of at least

chapter 21; at a maximum, it asserts that he is the author of the entire Gospel. The

reasons for these conclusions will be explained in the commentary on 21:24-25.

However much the Gospel says about the Beloved Disciple, it nowhere

identifies him by name. Tradition, via

Polycarp, Polycrates, and Irenaeus, tes-tifies

to the belief of the Church in the

early second century that John, the son

of Zebedee, was the Beloved Disciple.

This belief perdured until the twentieth

century and was defended as recently as

the sixties by such renowned Johannine scholars as R. Schnackenburg and R. E.

Brown. Brown, however, in his more recent The Community of the Beloved

Disciple, has abandoned it and now goes along with the modern trend of dissociating

John, the son of Zebedee, and the Beloved Disciple.

Contemporary scholars see the Beloved Disciple as a disciple of Jesus, but not

one of the Twelve, a disciple who formed and led his own Christian community

sometime after the resurrection and became for that community a living link with the

teaching of Jesus. They see him also as the leading figure in a school of interpreters

who preserved his teaching and expanded it as the years went on, until a genius

member of the school at the end of the first century authored the Gospel as we know

it now. His identity, however, remains a mystery. Considering the paucity of the

evidence, it will probably always remain a mystery.

supports an evangelistic purpose: that you may come to faith, come to believe. The

former, then supports and edificatory purpose: that you may continue in faith,

continue to believe. In fact, it can easily be shown that both expressions are used

for both initial faith and continuing in faith, so that nothing can be resolved by the

appeal to one textual variant or the other.

It is worth comparing these verses with the stated purpose of 1 John: “These

things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that

you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). This verse was clearly

written to encourage Christians; by the contrasting form of its expression, John

20:30-31 sounds evangelistic.

This impression is confirmed by the firm syntactical evidence that the first

purpose clause in 20:31 must be rendered literally, “that you may believe that the

Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus.” Thus the fundamental question the Fourth Gospel

addresses is not “Who is Jesus?” but “Who is the Messiah? Who is the Christ? Who

is the Son of God?” In their context, these are questions of identity, not of kind: i.e.

the question “Who is the Christ?” should not here be understood as “What kind of

‘Christ’ are you talking about?” but “So you claim that you know who the Christ is.

Prove it, then: Who is he?”

Support for this is simply common sense. Christians would not ask that kind of

question, because they already knew the answer. The most likely people to ask that

sort of question would be Jews and Jewish proselytes who know what “the Christ”

means, have some sort of messianic expectation, and are perhaps in personal contact



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