THE GOSPEL OF JOHN



1. Who wrote the Gospel of John?

Of all the gospels, the Gospel of John is the most disputed concerning authorship. The data to assess are greater in quantity than the data relevant to the authorship of the synoptic gospels.

1.1. Internal, Direct Evidence

1.1.1. There are two pieces of internal, direct evidence to consider, both of which were probably written by someone other than the author and added to the text. What is said about the author of the Gospel of John in the following two passages?

A. John 21:20-24

20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on his breast at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays you?" 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" 22 Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me." 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

In John 21, the postscript of the gospel, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is said to be the one who witnessed to these things and who wrote these things (21:24); he is, in other words, not only the author but the apostolic authority standing behind the gospel. The disciple whom Jesus loved is said to be the one who leaned back on Jesus' breast to talk to Jesus during the meal. Since he asks Jesus about this disciple, Peter is eliminated as a candidate for "the disciple whom Jesus loved."

B. John 19:25-35

25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty." 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to his mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished." And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

The author identifies "the disciple whom he [Jesus] loved" as the one whose testimony is true and worthy of belief. When Jesus was dying on the cross, around him stood four women and one man, identified as the one whom Jesus loved (19:25-26). Later, the author affirms that the testimony of the man who witnessed Jesus' death is true (19:35); the testimony refers most likely to the traditions about Jesus that have been  incorporated into the Gospel of John. This man most likely is "the disciple whom he [Jesus] loved" mentioned earlier, since he is the only man present at Jesus' crucifixion (19:26).

1.1.2. The two individuals referred to in John 19:35; 21:24 are no doubt the same man, since they bear the same designation, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." If it is possible to put a name to this man, then the author of the gospel of John can be identified. Two other references to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" occur in the Gospel of John. What further information do these references give about the author?

A. John 13:23, 25

23 There was reclining on Jesus' breast, one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, "Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking." 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus' breast, said to him, "Lord, who is it?"

The "one whom Jesus loved" reclined at the breast of Jesus and leaned back to speak to him. He could not have been Peter, since he spoke to him (see 21:20).

Incidentally, the description of the disciple whom Jesus loved as reclining "on Jesus' breast" (13:23) and who leaned back on Jesus' breast at the supper to talk to him (13:25) refers to the fact that this disciple was sharing a triclinium (couch on which two or three people reclined to eat) with Jesus and was positioned in front of Jesus on the triclinium; thus he was reclining "on Jesus' breast." In order to to talk to Jesus discreetly, this disciple would be forced to lean backwards "on Jesus' breast."  There may have been another disciple behind Jesus on the same triclinium, but this one is not identified.

B. John 21:2-7

2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered him, "No." 6 And he said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.

The "one whom Jesus loved" was one of the disciples who went fishing with Peter. He was one of the disciples named or one of the two unnamed disciples, but he was not Peter (see 21:20).

1.1.3. It should be added that, since in 20:2 the designation "the one whom Jesus loved" is set in apposition with "the other disciple," it is possible that the reference to "another disciple" in 18:15-16 could be a self-designation of the author. If so, then the author was known to the high priest.

1.1.4. In summary, one can speculate that the following took place. The author, one of the twelve disciples, wrote the gospel designating himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," but refrained from identifying this disciple by name in any of the narratives in which he appeared. His original readership presumably knew his identity, but an editor, concerned that there might be some future readers who would not know the connection between the author and "the disciple whom Jesus loved," added 21:24 and 19:35 to ensure that this connection was made explicit in the text. It seems that the editor did this in order that the readers might know that the author was an eyewitness to the events described, thereby rendering the accounts credible.

1.2. Internal, Indirect Evidence

There is some internal, indirect evidence to consider with respect to the authorship of the Gospel of John.

1.2.1. The author is familiar with the geographical features of Palestine.

A. He is familiar with Galilee, Samaria and Judea (see 1:28 [11:1]; 2:1, 12; 3:23; 4:20; 11:54; 12:21).

B. He is also familiar with the city of Jerusalem (see 5:2; 9:7; 11:18; 18:1, 28; 19:17) and the Temple (2:14, 20; 8:2, 20; 10:23).

What does this familiarity with the geographical features of Palestine imply about the author?

The fact that the author possessed such detailed geographical knowledge about Palestine implies he was a resident of Palestine, who had frequented these places.

1.2.2. The author is acquainted with the social and religious conditions of Palestine (see 4:9; 7:35; 11:49; 18:13, 28, 31, 39). Likewise, he is also familiar with Jewish and Samaritan religious beliefs (see 1:41, 46; 4:9, 25; 6:15), and he is well acquainted with how Jewish festivals were celebrated at the Temple and with purification rites: Passover (2:13, 23; 6:4; 13:1; 18:28); Tabernacles (7:2, 37); Dedication (10:22); Purification rites (2:6; 3:25; 11:55; 18:28; 19:31). What does the fact that the author has such knowledge imply about him?

To have such detailed knowledge of the social and religious conditions of Palestine and Jewish and Samaritan religious beliefs implies that the author had first-hand experience of Jews and Samaritans, which suggests that he is from Palestine. His good knowledge of the Temple and Jewish festivals implies that he was a participant in the various Jewish festivals, which suggests that he was a Palestinian Jew. His knowledge of Jewish purification rites is consistent with first-hand experience.

1.2.3. The author seems to have been an eyewitness to the events that he is describing; this is debatable, but the general impression is that the accounts derive from an eyewitness (see 1:29, 35, 39; 7:14; 11:6; 12:1; 13:1-2; 19:14, 31; 20:1, 19, 26). Similarly, the author has a good knowledge of the apostolic group (see 2:11, 17; 4:27, 33; 6:19, 60-61; 16:17; 20:25; 21:3, 7). What does the fact that the author has such knowledge imply about his identity?

To be an eyewitness and to have a good knowledge of the apostolic group implies either that the author himself was one of the twelve or that at least he was a follower of Jesus who had much contact with the twelve.

1.2.4. The author seems to have written his gospel in Aramaic or a very Semitic type of Greek. Concerning the details relating to the Aramaic/Semitic features of the gospel there is much dispute; the following is a list of those grammatical features of John that most scholars agree suggest that the text is translated Aramaic or bears the influence of an author who thought in Aramaic but wrote in Greek.

A. Transliterated Aramaic words (1:38, 41, 42; 4:25; 9:7; 11:16; 19:13, 17; 20:16; 21:2)

B. Parataxis: the joining together of main clauses with "and" (kai), corresponding to the waw-consecutive construction in Aramaic/Hebrew (e.g., 9:6-7)

C. Asundeton construction: the lack of coordinating conjunctions between clauses (e.g., 4:6, 7)

D. Beginning sentences with verbs (not seen in English translation) (It is standard feature of Hebrew/Aramaic to begin a sentence with a verb.)

E. Excessive use of the Greek conjunctions hoti and hina, which corresponds to the frequent use of the Aramaic de, i.e., as a conjunction

F. The exceptional simplicity of the Greek and the limitations of its vocabulary

What do these linguistic data suggest about the author's identity?

These linguistic data suggest that the author's mother tongue was not Greek, but Aramaic. Such an author would have the tendency to cite Aramaic words and be influenced by Aramaic syntax when writing in Greek (parataxis, asundeton, beginning sentences with verbs and the use of the Greek equivalents of the much used conjunction de in Aramaic). Also, an author whose first language was Aramaic may have a limited Greek vocabulary and be unable to write Greek except with a simplicity of style.

1.3. External Evidence

The external evidence identifies John the son of Zebedee as the author of the Gospel of John. In fact, when one leaves out of consideration the heretics mentioned by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.11.9) and Epiphanius (Haer. 51.3), no one in the church seriously questioned the authenticity of the Gospel of John until the rise of biblical criticism in the eighteenth century.

1.3.1. In his rebuttal of Autolycus, Theophilos of Antioch c. 181 attributed the Gospel of John to John, by whom he no doubt meant the apostle John, the son of Zebedee (Autol. 2.22).

You will say, then, to me: "You said that God ought not to be contained in a place, and how do you now say that He walked in Paradise? "Hear what I say. The God and Father, indeed, of all cannot be contained, and is not found in a place, for there is no place of His rest; but His Word, through whom He made all things, being His power and His wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God, and conversed with Adam. For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. But what else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also His Son? Not as the poets and writers of myths talk of the sons of gods begotten from intercourse [with women], but as truth expounds, the Word, that always exists, residing within the heart of God. For before anything came into being He had Him as a counsellor, being His own mind and thought. But when God wished to make all that He determined on, He begot this Word, uttered, the first-born of all creation, not Himself being emptied of the Word [Reason], but having begotten Reason, and always conversing with His Reason. And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, "The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence." The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place.

1.3.2. Irenaeus (130-c. 200) identifies John the apostle, the son of Zebedee, as the author of the Gospel of John.

A. Eusebius quotes two passages from Irenaeusís Against Heresies to prove that John, the disciple of the Lord, resided in Ephesus after Paul's death. Ireneaus says that John was a "true witness" of the apostolic tradition there, calls John "the disciple of the Lord" and identifies him as an apostle. Eusebius identifies the John to whom Irenaeus refers as John the apostle and evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved (H.E. 3. 23).

Adv. Haer. 2.22.5. They, however, that they may establish their false opinion regarding that which is written, "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord," maintain that He preached for one year only, and then suffered in the twelfth month. [In speaking thus], they are forgetful to their own disadvantage, destroying His whole work, and robbing Him of that age which is both more necessary and more honorable than any other; that more advanced age, I mean, during which also as a teacher He excelled all others. For how could He have had disciples, if He did not teach? And how could He have taught, unless He had reached the age of a Master? For when He came to be baptized, He had not yet completed His thirtieth year, but was beginning to be about thirty years of age (for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: "Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old," when He came to receive baptism); and, [according to these men, ] He preached only one year reckoning from His baptism. On completing His thirtieth year He suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age. Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles, and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle?
 

Adv. Haer. 3.3.4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he remained [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,-that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Do you know me? ""I do know you, the first-born of Satan." Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself." There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.

B. In another place, Irenaeus, as Eusebius points out (H.E. 5. 8. 4), states that John, the disciple of the Lord, the one who rested on Jesus' breast (ho kai epi to stÍthos autou anapesŰn), produced his gospel while living in Ephesus (H.E. 5.8.4; Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4). Since he is identified in the Gospel of John as the one who reclined at Jesus' breast, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" must be John the disciple, the author of the Gospel of John. (Polycrates, in a letter dealing with the Quartodeciman controversy, also identifies John as the one leaned back on Jesus' breast and situated him in Ephesus [H.E. 5.24.3].)

Adv. Haer. 3.1.1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. 2 For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews3 in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

C. The source for Irenaeus's knowledge of the origins of the Gospel of John seems to be Polycarp (69-155), whom Irenaeus knew in his youth and who knew the apostles, including John. Polycarp is a bridge between the generation of the apostles and that of Irenaeus:

1. Eusebius quotes from a letter that Irenaeus wrote to Florinus; in which he states that he used to listen to Polycarp speak about what the apostles did and said, including John (H.E. 5. 20. 4-8).

2. As Eusebius points out (H.E. 4. 14. 1-8), Irenaeus claimed that Polycarp knew the apostles, was appointed bishop of Smyrna by the apostles and communicated what he had learned from the apostles to the younger generation. Irenaeus said that he saw (and presumably heard) Polycarp in his early youth (Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4).

D. Some have disputed the accuracy of Irenaeus' claim that John the apostle, the son of Zebedee, wrote the fourth gospel, arguing that the gospel was written by another John who also resided in Ephesus. In H.E. 3.39.1-6, Eusebius rejects Irenaeus' assertion that Papias was "a hearer of John" (Adv. Haer. 5.23.4), meaning John the apostle, since Eusebius claims that he knows for a fact that Papias had no contact with the apostles. Immediately following, Eusebius quotes a passage from Papias in which he makes mention of two Johns; he interprets this to mean that there were two Johns associated with Ephesus: John the apostle and a John referred to as the elder. (In Eusebius' view, the fact that there are two tombs in Ephesus bearing the name of John confirms his theory.) Combining these two data, some scholars have suggested that Irenaeus confused these two Johns, wrongly assuming that the John to whom Polycarp referred was John the apostle, when he was really John the elder. It is argued that it was this other John who actually wrote the fourth gospel and he later became confused and identified with John the son of Zebedee. But, even assuming that Irenaeus was mistaken when he affirmed that Papias was a hearer of John the apostle, this argument is too conjectural to be convincing. It has also been argued that the disciple known as the disciple whom Jesus loved in the Gospel of John is another John than John the son of Zebedee, who, although not one of the twelve, had a special relationship with Jesus, which explains the epithet "the disciple whom Jesus loved" or "the beloved disciple." This other John was present with Jesus at his last Passover meal and even shared a triclinium with Jesus, which explains why he is identified in the Gospel of John and then in the early church as the one who leaned back on Jesus' breast. The only known reference to this other John is said to occur in Papias' work The Sayings of the Lord, who calls him John the elder, thereby distinguishing him from John the son of Zebedee, identified as a "disciple of the Lord" (H.E. 3. 39. 4). It is argued that this John later known as the elder made his way to Ephesus and there wrote his gospel. Eventually the two Johns became identified in the early church. Given all the evidence, it is difficult to believe that the obscure figure of John the elder was the author of the fourth gospel and not the better known John the son of Zebedee. Two apocryphal works explicitly identify John the author of the fourth gospel with John the son of Zebedee (Acts of John 88-91; Acts of the Apostles), which reveals the presupposition of the early church that there were not two Johns associated with Jesus but only one.

1.3.3. Other second-century sources confirm the Irenaeus' testimony to the Johannine authorship of the fourth gospel.

A. As quoted by Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria (150-c.215) wrote in his Hypotyposeis, "But that John last of all, conscious of the outward (lit. "bodily") facts that had been set forth in the gospels was urged on by his disciples, and, divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel" (H.E. 6.14.7).

B. The Muratorian canon also attributes the gospel to John the apostle: "The fourth gospel is that of John, one of the disciples....When his fellow-disciples and bishops exhorted him, he said, 'Fast with me for three days from today, and then let us relate to one another whatever may be revealed to each of us.' On the same night it was revealed to Andrew one of the apostles that John should narrate all things in his own name as they remembered them..."

1.3.4. Is the external evidence consistent with the internal evidence?

The external evidence is fully consistent, since John was one of the disciples, and could easily have been "the beloved disciple."

1.4. What do you conclude about the authorship of the Gospel of John? Is the dispute about the authorship of the gospel justified?

The author of the Gospel of John was John the son of Zebedee, the apostle. There are no grounds for doubting this.

1.5. In spite of the internal and external evidence, many scholars believe that John the son of Zebedee could not have written the fourth gospel because, as an account of the life of Jesus, it is unhistorical and as such is incompatible with having an eyewitness origin. While it is sometimes conceded that some events described in the gospel have an historical basis, many scholars hold that the Johannine discourses are historical fabrications, reflecting the theological views of the anonymous community that produced it. The main reason for rejecting the historicity of the discourses is that the Johannine Jesus says things about himself that the historical Jesus allegedly would never have said. He makes statements that presuppose his pre-existence with God (3:11-13; 6:32-33,41-42, 46; 7:33-34; 8:23, 26, 29, 38, 42, 56-58; see 1:15). In addition, he understands himself as the unique son of God, having a relationship with the Father that no human being can have (5:17-47; 8:19, 28; 10:31-39). His opponents even interpret his claim to have God as his Father as making himself equal to God (5:18). This line of argumentation, however, begs the question because it presupposes what the historical Jesus could have believed and said about himself. It would seem that the evidence best supports the position that John the son of Zebedee, as a supplement to the synoptic gospels, chose to include in his gospel accurate summaries translated into his distinctive Greek of what Jesus said in some of his more extended and private conversations with other people. Besides, Jesus twice refers to himself as "son" in the synoptic gospels, so that the Gospel of John is not exclusive in this regard (Mark 13:32; Luke 10:22 = Matt 11:27).


2. For whom was the Gospel of John written?

As already indicated, early tradition places John the son of Zebedee in Ephesus when he composed his gospel. What do you conclude from this about the intended readership?

John probably wrote for the Ephesians or maybe the churches in Asia Minor in general.
 

3. When was the Gospel of John written?

Dating the Gospel of John is difficult, if not impossible; some place it before 70 and others as late as the 90's. The evidence is insufficient to draw a firm conclusion. The Monarchian Prologue to the Gospel of John Fourth Gospel states that John wrote the gospel sometime after his exile of the island of Patmos (He is considered to be the author of the Book of Revelation): "He [the Apostle John] wrote this Gospel in the Province of Asia, after he had composed Revelation on the Island of Patmos." Whether this is true is difficult to know. It should also be noted that it was once thought that the Gospel of John was written well into the second century, but the discovery of a fragment of a copy of the Gospel of John, known as Rylands Papyrus 457, which is dated to no later than 150, suggests that the gospel was written earlier than the second century, since it would take some time for the gospel to have a wide circulation.

Rylands Papyrus 457 (P52)

The Rylands Papyrus 457 (a.k.a. P52) was discovered in Egypt; paleographically it is to be dated not later than 150. Its present location is John Rylands Library in Manchester. The recto contains John 18:31-33, while on the verso is found John 18:37-38.

 

4. Where was the Gospel of John written?

From what has been concluded so far, where was the Gospel of John written?

The Gospel of John was written in or near Ephesus.
 

5. What is the Gospel of John?

5.1. Introduction

5.1.1. The Gospel of John has quite a different chronology from the synoptics. (To be more accurate, the Gospel of John has a chronology.)   From the fact that there are at least three Passovers mentioned (John 2:13-3:21; 6:5-65; 13:1-19:42), what do you conclude about the length of Jesus' ministry? (There is an unidentified feast mentioned in John 5:1, which may also have been a Passover.)

Jesusí ministry lasted last 2+ years.

5.1.2. The Gospel of John can be divided into six major sections of unequal lengths: Prologue (1:1-18); Introductory Events (1:19-2:11); Jesus' Public Ministry (2:12-12:50); Jesus' Last Supper and Upper Room Discourse (13:1-17:26); Passion and Resurrection Narratives (18:1-20:30); Postscript (21:1-25). Unlike the synoptics, the Gospel of John has Jesus moving back and forth from Judea to Galilee over a period of 2 + years.

5.2. Outline of the Gospel of John

A. 1:1-18 The Prologue

This is a description of Jesus' pre-existence as the Word, the light, which comes into the world, becoming flesh. John the Baptist's role is said to that of a forerunner. It is also said that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ, who as God's unique son, has made known the Father.

B. 1:19-2:11 Introductory Events

1. 1:19-28

John the Baptist testifies about himself that he is not the Messiah, Elijah or the prophet, but he who fulfils Isa 40:3. He says that he is not worthy to untie the sandals of the one who comes after him.

2. 1:29-34

Upon seeing him, John the Baptist's testifies that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and that he saw the Spirit alight on Jesus as a dove as an sign that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Spirit.

3. 1:35-51

After hearing John's testimony about Jesus, two of John's disciples leave John and follow Jesus. One of these, Andrew, tells his brother Simon (Peter), who also begins to follow Jesus and whom Jesus renames Cephas (rock = Peter). The next day, Jesus tells Philip to follow him and, Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets spoke. When Jesus tells him what he was doing before he came to Jesus, Nathanael is amazed and believes.

4. 2:1-11

Jesus turns of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, at the request of his mother. It is said that this is Jesus' first sign and that his disciples believe in him because of it.

C. 2:12-12:50 Jesus' Public Ministry

This section consists mainly of Jesus' miraculous signs and long discourses. The section 11:44-12:50 prepares for the transition from the public ministry to the Last Supper and Jesus' Upper Room Discourse.

1. Jesus' Miraculous Signs and Discourses

a. 2:13-22

Jesus drives livestock dealers and money changers from the Temple, protesting that such activities make the Temple into a market. When challenged to produce a sign authorizing his action, Jesus responds enigmatically that, if they destroy the Temple, he would raise it up again in three days. Only after his resurrection, do disciples realize that he is referring to the Temple of his body.

b. 2:23-25

It is said that Jesus performs many signs during Passover and that people believe in him. Nevertheless, Jesus does not entrust himself to man because he knows what was in man.

c. 3:1-21

Jesus converses with Nicodemus, teaching him that a man must be born again before he can see the Kingdom of God. He adds that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and of the Spirit. Nicodemus does not understand because he takes Jesus literally, and Jesus chides him for his slowness. Jesus also says that, just as Moses lifted up the bronze snake, so the son of man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. John 3:17-21 contains a discourse that may be intended either as a continuation of Jesus' words or as a narrative insertion. In it, it is said that God loved the world so much that he gave his unique son that whoever believes in him has eternal life. Those who do not believe are condemned because they have rejected the light that has come into the world; such love darkness because their deeds are evil.

d. 3:22-36

A dispute between the disciples of John the Baptist and those of Jesus arises over Jesus' growing popularity. John responds that it is necessary that Jesus must increase and he himself must decrease, comparing himself to the friend of a bridegroom. John 3:31-36 may be intended as a continuation of John's discourse or as another narrative insertion. In this section, Jesus is described as from above and from heaven, being above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, speaking the words of God, who gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son is under God's wrath.

e. 4:1-42

Returning from Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples pass through Samaria, where Jesus discourses with a Samaritan woman. He promises to give her water, from which she may drink and never again be thirsty; this water will be like a spring gushing up to eternal life. The woman misunderstands Jesus, because she takes him literally. Jesus then tells her about her past, and because of Jesus miraculous knowledge, she comes to believe that he is a prophet. Jesus explains to her that true worship is in spirit and in truth and is not tied to a particular locale, and he tells her that he is the Christ. The woman believes him and goes to bring others to hear Jesus. During this time Jesus tells his disciples, who have recently arrived, that his food and drink is to do the will of the one who sent him and that the fields are ripe for harvesting.

f. 4:43-54

Jesus returns to Cana in Galilee, where he heals an official's son. The father and whole household believe.

g. 5:1-18

Having gone to Jerusalem, Jesus heals a lame man at the pool of Bethesda. Although it is the Sabbath, Jesus orders the man to carry his mat, which offends some who think that carrying a mat violates the Sabbath commandment. Jesus defends himself by saying that just as his Father works, so does he. The Jews seek to kill Jesus because he breaks the Sabbath and he makes himself equal to God by calling God his Father.

h. 5:19-47

Jesus discourses about himself as the Son. The son works as the Father works (5:17), and only does what his sees his Father do (5:19). The Father loves the son and shows him all that he does (5:20). The son gives life to whom he will (5:21), and the Father has entrusted all judgement to the son (5:22). The dead will hear the voice of the Son and be raised from the dead, some to life and others to judgment (5:29). Jesus does not testify of himself; rather God testifies of him, a testimony greater than John's (5:31-35). The son does the work that the Father has given him to do, and this testifies that the Father has sent him (5:36). Jesus rebukes his hearers for not believing in him, since the scriptures speak of him (5:39-47).

i. 6:1-15

On the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus feeds a large crowd with a few fish and loaves of bread. The people respond by acclaiming Jesus as the prophet, and, when they try to make into a king, Jesus eludes them.

j. 6:16-21

Jesus sends his disciples by boat out to cross the Sea of Galilee. After a storm has come up, Jesus walks on the water to reach the boat. His disciples are terrified.

k. 6:22-71

Jesus discourses about himself as the bread of life. Using metaphor, Jesus tells the crowds to seek the food that leads to eternal life, which the son of man will give to them, rather than for food that perishes. To do the work of God is to believe in him whom God has sent. In response to a demand for a sign like that the manna that God gave to the generation of the exodus, Jesus says that he is the bread of life that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. When the Jews begin to complain about this saying, Jesus says that no one comes to him unless the Father draws him. He then gives an even harder saying: that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood will have eternal life. He adds that the spirit gives life—the flesh is useless—and that his words are spirit and life. Because of this difficulty of his teaching, many of his disciples desert him. But the twelve do not; Judas, however, will later betray Jesus.

l. 7:1-53a

At the festival of Tabernacles, Jesus, having remained in hiding for the first part of the festival, goes to the Temple and begins to teach. He says that his teaching is given to him by God, and defends himself against his alleged breaking of the Sabbath by healing on the seventh day. Jesus announces that he will not be with them much longer, but will be going to him who sent him. There is a dispute about whether Jesus is the Messiah or not, and the chief priests and the Pharisees attempt to have Jesus arrested. On the last day of the festival, Jesus teaches that whoever is thirsty should come to him and drink because out of the believer's stomach will flow rivers of living water. Jesus is referring to the Spirit. As a result, there is more disputing about Jesus' identity.

m. 7:53b-8:11

Jesus forgives a woman caught in adultery, arguing that her accusers can scarcely call for her to be stoned when they themselves have sinned.

n. 8:12-59

Jesus says that he is the light of the world and that anyone who follows him will not walk in darkness. In response to the accusation that he is merely testifying of himself, Jesus says that his testimony is valid, because he knows from where he has come and where he is going. The Father testifies on his behalf, but his accusers do not know his Father or else they would know him. Later, he says that he is going away, that he is from above, not from below, as his accusers are. Unless they believe in him, they will die in their sins. Because his opponents do not understand him, Jesus says that when the son of man is lifted up, they will understand who he is. To those who have believed in him, Jesus says that if they continue in his word, they are truly his disciples and they will know the truth and the truth will set them free. In spite of being descendents of Abraham, they can be slaves to sin, from which the Son can set them free. When his critics claim that they have Abraham as their father, Jesus demurs, saying that the devil is their father, because, otherwise, they would accept his words. Jesus also says that whoever keeps his word will not see death. When challenged about the possibility of his not seeing death, Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I am." His opponents seek to stone him.

o. 9:1-41

Jesus heals a man who was born blind on the Sabbath. Not believing that the man was born blind, the Pharisees interview his parents, who reluctantly confirm this fact. The Pharisees claim that Jesus is a sinner. Jesus later finds the man he healed and discloses himself to be the son of man, in order that the man may believe in him. He says that he has come into the world for judgment so that those who are blind may see, whereas they who see may become blind.

p. 10:1-19

Jesus says that he is the good shepherd who cares for his sheep. Altering the metaphor, he says that he is the gate of the sheepfold through which the sheep enter and are saved. He continues by saying that he is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep and that he has other sheep that he must bring into the fold.

q. 10:20-42

At the festival of Dedication, while in the Temple, Jesus is asked whether he is the Messiah, to which he responds that the works that he does in his Father's name testify to him. When the Jews attempt to stone him for claiming that he and the Father are one—which his opponents take to be a claim to deity—Jesus argues that if human beings can be called "gods" (Ps 82:6), how much more should the one whom God has sent into the world be called the son of God. He asks them to believe his works, in order that they may understand that the Father is in him and he is in the Father. Jesus leaves Jerusalem and crosses over to the other side of the Jordan.

r. 11:1-45

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, calling him forth from his tomb four days after he died.

2. Preparation for the Transition to the Last Supper and Upper Room Discourse

a. 11:46-57

In response to the resurrection of Lazarus, the chief priests and the Pharisees call a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and decide to put Jesus to death for fear that his signs will cause everyone to believe in him. They are afraid that, because of Jesus, the Romans will come and destroy both the Temple and the nation. Jesus, however, no longer appears publicly. The Passover is near and many who have come to Jerusalem for Passover are seeking Jesus. The chief priests and the Pharisees have given an order that anyone who knows of Jesus' whereabouts should notify them, in order that Jesus may be arrested.

b. 12:1-11

Six days before Passover, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, in Bethany, anoints Jesus. In response to criticism by Judas that this is a waste of money, Jesus says that Mary is preparing him for his burial.

c. 12:12-19

The next day, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Zech 9:9. He is received by the crowds with shouts of "Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Ps 118:25-26)—the king of Israel."

d. 12:20-36

Jesus says that his hour has come when he will be glorified. He compares his death to seed that falls to the ground but produces much fruit, and he warns that the one who loves his life will lose it, but the one who hates his life will keep it for eternal life. When Jesus prays to God, asking him to glorify his name, a voice is heard saying, "I have glorified it and I will glorify it again." Jesus describes his hour as the time when the ruler of this world will be driven out; he adds that when he is lifted up, he will draw all people unto himself. He says to his disciples that the light is with them for only a short time longer, so that they should believe in the light and be sons of light.

e. 12:37-42

The failure of the majority of Jesus' contemporaries is explained as a fulfillment of Isa 53:1 and Isa 6:10. Nonetheless, many do believe in Jesus, but are afraid to confess him publicly.

f. 12:44-50

Jesus makes some final public statements. He says that whoever believes in him believes also in the one who sent him and that he has come into the world as the light. He says that he has come to save the world, not to judge it, but that the one who rejects him will be judged. He speaks only what the Father tells him, which is eternal life.

D. 13:1-17:26 Jesus' Last Supper and Upper Room Discourse

1. 13:1-17

As an example of how to be a servant, Jesus' washes his disciples' feet before their last meal together.

2. 13:18-30

Jesus predicts that he will be betrayed, in fulfillment of scripture (Ps 41:9). The disciples ask who the betrayer will be, and Jesus says that one who will betray him is the one to whom he gives a piece of food after dipping it. He gives the piece of food to Judas, who then departs.

3. 13:31-38

After Judas' departure, Jesus discourses about the imminent glorification of himself, the son of man. He tells his disciples that he is leaving and they cannot come with him, and gives them a new commandment to love one another as he has loved them. Jesus also predicts that Peter will deny him three times.

4. 14:1-4

Jesus' promise to the disciples that rooms are prepared for them in his Father's house and that if he leaves he will return to take them to himself.

5. 14:5-15

In response to Thomas' objection that they do not know the way to where he is going, Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through him. When Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. He adds that the one who believes in him will do greater works than he has done. He says that if they love him, they will keep his commandments.

6. 14:16-26

Jesus promises that he will ask the Father to send another Counselor, the Spirit of truth, who will be in the disciples. On that day the disciples will know that he is in his Father, they in him and he in them. Jesus stresses that those who keep his commandments or his word are those who love him, and are loved by the Father; he and his Father will come to them and dwell with them. He adds that the Holy Spirit will teach the disciples and remind them of what Jesus said to them.

7. 14:27-31

Jesus says that he gives the gift of peace to his disciples, who are not to be troubled that Jesus is to return to the Father. He tells this to his disciples in advance in order that they will believe when it happens; Jesus adds that he is doing what his Father has commanded.

8. 15:1-17

Jesus compares the relationship between him and his disciples to a vine and its branches. Just as the branches must remain in the vine to be fruitful, so the disciples must remain in Jesus to be fruitful. Whoever does not remain in him is thrown away like a branch detached from its vine. Jesus adds that his Father is glorified by his disciples' bearing much fruit. Jesus also gives them the commandment to love another and says that his love for them is so great that he will give his life for them. He tells them that he now calls them friends and that he chose them to bear fruit. He concludes by promising them that the Father will give to them whatever they ask in his name.

9. 15:18-27

Jesus warns his disciples that, because they are not of the world, the world will hate them, as it has hated him. Those who reject Jesus have sin, because they witnessed Jesus' works but did not believe, but hated him, in fulfillment of Ps 35:19 and 69:4. He adds that when he comes, the Spirit of truth will testify of him, and disciples are also to testify.

10. 16:1-4

Jesus warns his disciples about the persecution they will suffer.

11. 16:5-15

Jesus teaches further about the Spirit. It is to his disciples' advantage that he go away, because only then will the Counselor come, who will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. When he comes, the Spirit of truth will guide the disciples into all truth, and will glorify Jesus.

12. 16:16-33

Jesus says that in a little while his disciples will no longer see him, but after another little while they will; the disciples do not understand. He compares what they will experience to a woman giving birth, who has pain followed by joy. On the day of their rejoicing, Jesus promises them that they can ask anything of the Father in his name and the Father will give it. Jesus tells of a time when he will speak plainly of the Father, and says that the Father loves the disciples because they have loved him. He repeats that he is soon returning to the Father. Jesus predicts that the hour is coming when the disciples will be scattered, and leave him alone. But the Father will be with him. Jesus tells them to have courage, because he has overcome the world.

13. 17:1-26

Jesus prays for his disciples. He begins by asking God to glorify the son in his death, to whom the Father has given all authority to grant eternal life to all whom He has given the son. Jesus asks that the disciples be kept in Jesus' name, that they may be one. He asks not the Father remove them form the world, but that he protect them from the evil one; he also asks the Father to sanctify them in his truth. Jesus says that he asks not merely for the disciples, but for all who will believe in him through their words, that they may be one. He concludes by asking the Father that those whom he has given him may be with him where he is going.
 

E. 18:1-20:30 Passion and Resurrection Narratives

1. 18:1-12

Jesus and his disciples go across the Kidron valley to a garden. Judas brings a detachment of soldiers, who arrest Jesus. Peter resists and cuts off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest, but Jesus heals him.

2. 18:13-27

Jesus is taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas the high priest. Peter and another disciple stand in the courtyard of the high priest, where Peter denies Jesus, after being identified as one of his followers. Annas asks Jesus about his teaching, and then send him to Caiaphas. Peter then denies Jesus again.

 3. 18:28-19:16

From Caiaphas, early in the morning, Jesus is sent to Pilate, who inquires as to the charges brought against Jesus. The Jews want Pilate to execute Jesus, but Pilate, after interviewing Jesus, can find no basis for such a sentence. In the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, Jesus says that he is a king, but that his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate then has Jesus flogged, and again tells the Jews that he finds no grounds for execution, but the mob shouts for his crucifixion. When he hears from Jesus' accusers that Jesus claims to the son of God, Pilate becomes concerned and tries to release Jesus, but Pilate is coerced into condemning Jesus to death.

4. 19:17-37

Jesus is taken, and crucified between two criminals; the titulus states that Jesus is the king of the Jews. The soldiers divide up Jesus' clothing and throw lots for his robe, in fulfillment of Ps 22:18. On the cross Jesus gives the disciple who he loved charge over his mother. Since he dies quickly, it is unnecessary for the soldier to break his legs to hasten death, in fulfillment of Exod 12:46. Instead on of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, in fulfillment of Zech 12:10.

5. 19:38-42

Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

6. 20:1-31

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene discovers that Jesus' body is missing, which Peter and John confirm to be true. Later Jesus appears to the distraught Mary outside of the tomb, who reports this to the disciples. In the evening, Jesus appears to the disciples inside of a house, showing them his hands, feet and side. He also breathes upon the disciples the Holy Spirit. Thomas, not being present for Jesus' appearance, does not believe the disciples' testimony; a week later Jesus appears to Thomas to allay his doubts.

F. Postscript

1. 21:1-23

Jesus appears to the disciples in Galilee, while Peter and some other disciples are fishing. Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves him, and after each positive response instructs Peter to feed his sheep. Jesus predicts the type of death that Peter will die.

2. 21:24-25

The truth of what is written in the gospel is said to be verified by having originated with the disciple whom Jesus loved.
 

The Gospel of John differs significantly from the synoptics in content.  It is so different that one may justifiably suspect that John wrote to supplement the synoptic portrayal of Jesus, including material omitted by them, in order to round out the picture of Jesus presented. The following are differences between John and the synoptics:

2.1. Unlike the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as moving back and forth from Galilee to Judea over a period of at least two + years. There is no major transition when Jesus leaves Galilee for Jerusalem. (Matt 23:37-39 = Luke 13:34 implies that Jesus appeared in Jerusalem frequently before his final visit to the city for Passover.)

5.3. Differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels

The Gospel of John differs significantly from the synoptics in content.  It is so different that one may justifiably suspect that John wrote to supplement the synoptic portrayal of Jesus, including material omitted by them, in order to round out the picture of Jesus presented. The following are differences between John and the synoptics.

5.3.1. Geographical and Temporal References

As indicated already, unlike the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as moving back and forth from Galilee to Judea over a period of at least two + years. There is no major transition when Jesus leaves Galilee for Jerusalem. (Matt 23:37-39 = Luke 13:34 implies that Jesus appeared in Jerusalem frequently before his final visit to the city for Passover.) See Appendix E: Geographical and Temporal References in John 1:19-17:26.

5.3.2. Unlike the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John has no exorcisms.

5.3.3. Unlike the synoptic gospels the Gospel of John has no parables and no short, pithy sayings. Rather, the bulk of the material in the sections "Introductory Events" and "Jesus' Public Ministry" consists of seven long discourses interspersed with seven miraculous signs.

2:1-11 First Sign
6:1-15 Fourth Sign
------------------
6:16-21 Fifth Sign
3:1-21 First Discourse
6:22-71 Fourth Discourse
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7:1-53a Fifth Discourse
4:1-41 Second Discourse
------------------
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8:12-59 Sixth Discourse
4:46-54 Second Sign
9:1-41 Sixth Sign
5:1-18 Third Sign
10:1-42 Seventh Discourse
5:19-47 Third Discourse
11:1-45 Seventh Sign

This is followed by more long discourses in "Jesus' Last Supper and Upper Room Discourse."

5.3.4. In contrast to the synoptic gospels, there are very few references to the Kingdom of God (or heaven) in the Gospel of John. There are only five such references in two different contexts:

A. John 3:2, 5: Jesus says to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, that unless a person is born anew/from above (anothen) that he or she cannot see the Kingdom of God (3:2). Jesus means that something must first happen to a person—described as being born anew / from above—before the possibility of entering the Kingdom of God can exist. Jesus elaborates that unless a person is born of water and the Spirit that he or she cannot enter the Kingdom of God (3:5), which is intended to explain the meaning of being born anew/from above. Being born of water and of the Spirit probably refers to undergoing John the Baptist's baptism of repentance and the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus' point is that the Spirit is operative in bringing people to the point of entering the Kingdom of God. He chastises Nicodemus for not knowing this, even though he is a "teacher of Israel."

    It should be pointed out that something similar to the idea notion that the possibility of entering the Kingdom of God is given to human beings is also found in the synoptic gospels. God discloses hidden knowledge to whom he wills.

1. Matt 11:25-27 = Luke 10:21-22 (Q): Jesus praises God that God has hidden things from the wise and learned and has revealed them to little children. He continues by saying that all things have been delivered over to him and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

2. Matt 16:17: Jesus says that Peter is blessed because God revealed to him Jesus' messianic identity. (See also the purpose of parables)

B. John 18: Pilate asks Jesus whether he is a king, to which he responds affirmatively. He says, however, that his kingdom is not of this world; if it were, then his followers would not have allowed him to be delivered over to "the Jews." Jesus says that his kingdom is from elsewhere. Jesus' point is that his kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms in that it has its origin in God. Ironically, the arrest and execution of the king will not hinder the emergence and maturation of the Kingdom of God.

5.3.5. Rather than speaking about the Kingdom of God, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks much more frequently about himself as the mediator of eschatological salvation. There are seven "I am" sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Most of these self-designations are metaphors, which Jesus uses to express his role as such a mediator.

A. 6:35, 41, 48, 51 Jesus calls himself "the bread of life" (6:35, 48), "the bread that came from heaven" (6:48) and "the living bread from heaven" (6:51)

B. 8:12; 9:5 Jesus calls himself "the light of the world."

C. 10:7, 9 Jesus calls himself "the door for the sheep" (10:7) or simply "the door" (10:9).

D. 10:11, 14 Jesus calls himself "the good shepherd."

E. 11:25 Jesus calls himself "the resurrection and the life."

F. 14:6 Jesus calls himself "the way, the truth and the life."

G. 15:1, 5 Jesus calls himself "the true vine" (15:1) or simply "the vine" (15:5).

5.3.6. Unique to the Gospel of John is the prologue, which contains an interpretation of Jesus as the logos ("word") made flesh (1:1-18). Many scholars suspect that the prologue or parts thereof is a hymn that author of John prefaced to his gospel. R. Brown, for example, proposes that the original hymn was composed of four strophes (1:1-2; 1:3-5; 1:10-12; 1:14, 16), into which the author of John interpolated 1:6-9 and 1:15 (The Gospel According to John, 1.3-4, 21-23). What Brown and others claim is possible, but not necessarily the case; John could even have composed the hymn himself and then adapted it as a prologue to his gospel. In fact, all suffer from the fault of excess supposition.

John 1

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God;

3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.

8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.

11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;

13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten son of the Father.

15 (John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'")

16 And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

    The religious-historical background to the prologue is found in the Old Testament, where God's word, as his communication to human beings, assumes a sort of quasi-independent existence (e.g.'s, 1 Kings 17:2; 18:1; Isa 38:4; Jer 1:2, 4; 2:1; 11:1; Ezek 3:16; 11:14; 12:1; see Ps 148:18).  In addition, the personification of God's attribute of Wisdom is found in Prov 8; Wis 7:22-8:1; Sirach 1; 24; Baruch 3-4, so that Wisdom is conceived as both independent of God and identical with God. Thus, religious-historically, it is understandable how the concept of God's attribute of "word" (divine communication) could become the conceptual vehicle by which John expresses his christology, his understanding of Jesus. Unlike his religious-historical precedents, however, John conceives Jesus as the word as more than just the personification of an attribute of God, but as independently existent and made flesh.  One could say that rather than personifying the word, John hypostasizes the word, i.e., he makes the word into a hypostasis or an entity, but without ever denying the word's divine status.

    In the prologue John begins by identifying Jesus in his pre-incarnate state as the word who was with God and who was God (1:1-2); this word was he through whom all things came into being. The word is then said to be the means by which all things were made, so that nothing came into being except through him. A new idea is found in 1:4a: "In him [the word] was life and the life was the light of man." For life to be in the word means that the word was the means of obtaining eternal life. In its next occurrence life takes the definitive article ("the life"), so that life now is the word and, as the life, he is the light of human beings, the means by which human beings understand correctly. John 1:5 says that the light shines in the darkness; this is the first encounter with the Johannine dualism. The word as the light enters the world, the realm of humanity, which is in darkness.

    In 1:6-9 the prologue relates the word to the historical figure of John the Baptist, using the term light: Jesus, the word, is the light, whereas John is a witness to the light. As light, the word comes into the world, which came into being through him, but the world did not know him. To those who did receive the light was given the right to be called the children of God; such are said to be born of God (1:10-13).

    In 1:14 it is said that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. The incarnate word is called "the only-begotten from the father" (monogenous para patros), which means the unique or only son. In 1:16-17, the Jesus is interpreted in relation to Moses, thereby sketching for the readers a salvation-historical context in which to understand Jesus. In 1:16 it is said that from the fullness of the word we have received grace upon grace, meaning that in salvation-history it is through the word that grace comes in abundance to the world—it is a grace upon grace. The word in terms of his role in salvation-history is then contrasted with Moses: whereas the law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (1:17). To say that truth came through Jesus is to say that salvation came through him. In 1:18 John concludes by again affirming the unique status of the word, whom he calls the son. This is especially true with respect to the son’s relation to the Father. The son has the role of coming into the world and making the Father known.


6. Why was the Gospel of John written?

6.1. What does John 20:31 indicate about the purpose of the Gospel of John?

It indicates that the Gospel of John was written for evangelistic purposes: to convince its readers that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing they may have life in his name.

6.2. The Muratorian canon describes the process by which the Gospel of John came to be written as follows:

"The fourth gospel is that of John, one of the disciples....When his fellow-disciples and bishops exhorted him, he said, 'Fast with me for three days from today, and then let us relate to one another whatever may be revealed to each of us.' On the same night it was revealed to Andrew one of the apostles that John should narrate all things in his own name as they remembered them...."

Do you think that this explanation is believable?

It could be true, but it cannot be proven.


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