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The Gospel According to John, An Introduction

Updated on August 27, 2014
From the Tyndale Bible, First Page of the Gospel According to John
From the Tyndale Bible, First Page of the Gospel According to John

John, The Other Gospel

The earliest manuscripts have as their title “The Gospel According to John.” That this John is the brother of James and the beloved apostle of Christ is beyond serious question (13:23; 19:29; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24). The Apostle John figured paramount in the early church and the synoptic Gospels, but is not mention by name in this gospel - which would be natural if he was the author and rather hard to explain if he was not. The evidence of the gospel gives testimony that the author was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus and one who was intimately versed in Jewish customs and the geography of the holy land. For example, he records that the house in Bethany was filled with the fragrance of the spikenard (12:3); he knew that the duty to circumcise on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:3) took precedence over the prohibition of working on the Sabbath (see 7:22); he alone, mentions Cana, a city of Galilee (2:1; 21:2), and that Jacobs well was deep (4:11). Moreover, both Irenaeus and Tertullian testify that the author of this Gospel was John the Apostle.


The Outline

The book can be divided into four parts:

  1. Prologue(1:1–18)
  2. The Book of Signs (1:19 – 12:50)
  3. The Book of Glory (13:1 – 20:31)
  4. Return to Galilee (21:1–25)

Notice how the passion narrative comes within the Book of Glory.


Date

A long held view places the date of this gospel at a rather late period (A.D. 85 or later). But more recent scholarship suggests an earlier date of the 50s, but not later than A.D. 70.

The argument for a late date rests upon the statement of Clement of Alexandria that John wrote to supplement the accounts found in the synoptic Gospels (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6 .14 .7); and, therefore, must have been written after them. Plus, the highly developed theology of the Fourth Gospel indicates to some that it originated late in the first century.

However, the arguments for the early date seem to carry the day. Consider the following: There is no indication that this gospel utilized any of the synoptics, as did Mathew of Mark and Luke of both Mark and Matthew. John wrote independent of the other three. Well over 90% of John’s Gospel is unique (i.e. not contained any other account). Whereas the Synoptics are straightforward accounts of Christ life and ministry, the Gospel According to John is highly literary and symbolic. The well-developed theology of this gospel is no reason to argue for a late date, in that the theology of Romans (written A.D. 57) is in every way just as developed. Besides all this, there is John’s reference to the pool of Bethesda (5:2); he says: “There is at Jerusalem, by the sheet market, a pool.” If this gospel was written any later then A.D. 70 the author would have said: “There was at Jerusalem, by the sheet market, a pool.” For both the pool and sheep market (gate) were destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans.

There is little doubt that John’s original has been enlarged: chapter 21, for example, which seems to be a second ending for the book; and, perhaps the prologue, which contains an independent hymn, subsequently, adapted to serve as a preface to the Gospel. So it is quite possible that the fourth Gospel, in its present form, could date as late as A.D. 85-90. The editing, however, was most likely done by John himself: because of the similarity between versus 1:1-5, 10-11, 14 and 1 John 1:1-4 which strongly suggest the same author.


Purpose and Literary Content

John states his purpose for writing in 20:31 “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Some important very early manuscripts read “continue to believe,” suggesting that John’s audience consisted of Christians whose faith is to be deepened by the book: compare 19:35. Surely, both the evangelistic and pastoral nature of the Gospel is evident.

The Gospel of John begins with a masterful prologue which introduces many of the major themes and motifs of the Gospel; in much the same way as an overture does for a musical work. The prologue introduces Jesus as the incarnate Word of God manifesting to the world Father God in fleshly form. John reaches with one hand to the western thought of logos and with the other hand he reaches for the eastern thought of phos (light) and draws them both into Jesus of Nazareth - the Christ of God. John introduces the superseding of the Old Covenant by the New, in verse 17 - which sets the tone for the theme of his Gospel.

The Johannine River: Water is central to this gospel. The Johannine river of the Water of Life begins with water being turned to wine at the marriage in Cana (2:1-12); and, continues to flow into the third chapter with the instruction to Nicodemus to be “Born of the water” (3:3-5); after which the Living Water is offered to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (4:4-26); then, the Living Water is troubled for the healing at the pool of Bethesda (5:1-9); Jesus walks on the sea of Galilee (6:16-26); further, Jesus announces that He is the river of Living Water at the feast of Tabernacles (7:37-39); there is the healing of the blind man as he washed in the pool of Siloam (9:1-7); the washing of the disciples feet (13:4-17); water (with blood) came from the side of the crucified Christ (19:31-37); and finally, the post resurrection appearance of Jesus by the sea of Tiberius (chapter 21).

Signs: The word “sign” (Grk sēmainō, Strongs’ #G4591) is used in this gospel for miracle - the author lists seven of them. Each “sign” has been carefully chosen to guide the reader along the path of discovery to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. These particular “signs” serve a specific didactic purpose. The first “sign” is the transformation of water into wine (2:1-11); presaging the replacement of ceremonial washing of the Jews with the sanctifying properties of the blood and Spirit of the New Covenant. The second “sign” was the healing of the nobleman’s son (4:46-54) by the word of Jesus from a distance, which demonstrates Jesus as the Word of Life. The third “sign,” the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda in chapter 5. draws the readers attention to the words of Jesus and compares them to the healing waters of the pool (5:1-9). The fourth “sign,” the feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves and two fish (6:1-14), recalls the feeding of Israel in the wilderness with the manna and looks forward to the Eucharistic ministry of the Lord’s church. The fifth “sign,” walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (6:18-20), recalls the crossing of the Red Sea by the children of Israel. These last two “signs” (feeding the 5,000 and walking on the water) symbolize a new Exodus (which is being led by Jesus - the prophet like unto Moses [De 18:15]) out of Judaism. The sixth “sign,” of the healing of the young man born blind (chapter 9), demonstrates the triumph of the Light of the World over darkness. The seventh “sign,” the raising of Lazarus (Chapter 11), demonstrates Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life.

Before we pass on from this section, a word must be said concerning a few of the events that are only recorded by John. First, it is interesting to this writer that only John mentions the ministry of Jesus spanning four passover seasons (see 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; and 11:55). This gives Jesus a public ministry that lasts three and one half years and manifests Him as the Lamb of God; which title is given Him in the very first chapter, v29. Second, only the writer of the Fourth Gospel records the first cleansing of the temple, which took place at the beginning of Christ’s ministry (2:13-22). This first cleansing was to cleans the temple for His ministry and the second cleansing (Mt 21:12ff; Mk 11:15-18; Lk 19:45-47) for His sacrifice. Both cleansings occurred during a passover season. Third, only John records the washing of feet after the Last Supper (see 13:4-17). By recording this event John is giving us a portrait of Jesus as the servant King. Christians forever afterward have learned the lesson of servant leadership. The unique material of this Gospel makes up 92% of its content; therefore, to speak to it all would require a full commentary of the Gospel. I only wanted to mention these three events because they give the Gospel hues of color that do not grace the synoptics.

John and Women: As does Luke, John is concerned with the position of women in the New Israel. This Gospel presents the Woman at the Well in Samaria (chapter 4) as a prototype of a missionary (4:4-42): she goes into the city and tells the story of Jesus and brings many people to Him. It is here, in Samaria, that Jesus is first said to be the Savior of the World. Further, the first to proclaim the message of the Resurrection is a woman, when Mary Magdalene took the good news to the apostles (20:11-18).

Symbolic Use of the Number Seven: Moreover, John employs the sacred number 7 in his Gospel (as he also did in the Apocalypse):

The Seven Discourses of the Fourth Gospel

  1. The New Birth (3:1-36);
  2. The Water of Life (4:1-42);
  3. The Son of Man (5:19-47);
  4. The Bread of Life (6:22-66);
  5. The Rivers of Living Water (7:1-57);
  6. The Light of the World (8:12-59);
  7. The Good Shepherd (10:1-42).

The Seven Miracles (Signs) of the Fourth Gospel

  1. Transforming the water into wine (2:1-11);
  2. Healing the nobleman’s son by His word (4:43-54);
  3. Healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (5:1-16);
  4. Feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children (6:1-14);
  5. Walking on the Sea of Galilee (6:16-21);
  6. Healing of the blind man (9:1-12);
  7. Raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-46).

The Seven “I Am” Statements

  1. I am the Bread of Life (6:35-51);
  2. I am the Light of the World (8:12-9:5);
  3. I am the Door of the Sheep (10:7-9);
  4. I am the Good Shepherd (10:11-14);
  5. I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:35);
  6. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6);
  7. I am the True Vine (15:1-5).

The symmetry of this Gospel will escape most who read it, but let us bow before its unique unity and stand at awe of its profound message as being from the realm eternal.


Deity of Jesus

Lastly, it is evident throughout the fourth gospel that Jesus is to be accepted as being fully divine. The Apostle Paul lets us know that Jesus’ deity was veiled while He was here in the flesh (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus, Himself, admits to His disciples that He had spoken of (His oneness with) the Father in cryptic terms but would later make all things concerning the Father and Himself clear (John 16:25). This promise was fulfilled when John quoted Jesus saying: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). Thus, the full deity of Christ Jesus is revealed. John writes of the divinity of Christ in, at least, seven places in his Gospel. These seven declarations of Jesus’ deity are listed here for the reader’s consideration.

1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

1:14 “And the Word (which is God, see v1) was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” ∼ First parenthesis mine.

8:24 “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” ∼ The word “he” is not part of the Grk text, and is, therefore, an interpolation. Jesus actually said: “Unless you all believe I am the I AM you will die in your sins.”

8:58 “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” ∼ Here, again, if words mean anything at all, Jesus is saying He is the I AM that spoke to Moses from the bush (Ge 3:14).

10:30 “I and my Father are one.” ∼ The Jews understood Him to be saying that He was homoousios (same as) the Father ontologically. They were so scandalized by this statement that they pick up stones to stone Him “because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God,” they said.

14:8-9 “Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (NKJV)

20:28 “And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!””

There is much more that can (and no doubt should) be said concerning the Fourth Gospel; but, we must leave it here, for the moment. We are prayerful that your interest in this unique Gospel has been excited, and that you will study it for all it is worth.


Apostolically Speaking

☩ Jerry L Hayes


The Gospel of John, Visual Bible

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Letters to my Children on Apostolic Kingdom Theology: An Apostolic Answer to Dispensationalism Concerning the Mission of the Lord's Church and End-Time Events
Letters to my Children on Apostolic Kingdom Theology: An Apostolic Answer to Dispensationalism Concerning the Mission of the Lord's Church and End-Time Events

After spending over forty years in the dispensational doctrine, and having raise my children in that theological framework, I became a convinced adherent to a "kingdom" theology that recognizes the Church as the Israel of God, and that the first century actually saw the fulfillment of most of Matthew chapter 24. "Letters to My Children on Apostolic Kingdom Theology" is a compilation of twenty four letters written to my children explaining my journey, and showing how we were led astray from the apostolic teaching of Scripture to embrace a view recently come into the Lord's church, of which the apostles knew nothing. These "Letters" provide a systematic approach to Apostolic Eschatological study of Scripture. It is sure to interest all students of Scriptures.

 

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    • Bishop J L Hayes profile image
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      Jerry Lynn Hayes Sr 2 years ago from Texas City, Texas

      andre

      Thank you for the suggestion. It is amazing how a typo can escape for so long.

    • profile image

      Andrej 2 years ago

      Great post! Loved it!

      One thing, you may want to correct the typo "Their was at Jerusalem", but i am only mentioning it because some may find it irritating.

    • Bishop J L Hayes profile image
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      Jerry Lynn Hayes Sr 3 years ago from Texas City, Texas

      Searchinsany, Wow, that is a very kind thing to say. It is my prayer that God breathes on all of our hubs that seek to exalt His word.

      Peace to your house.

    • searchinsany profile image

      Alexander Gibb 3 years ago from UK

      This is a wonderful introduction to the Gospel of John, one of the best I have read.

    • Bishop J L Hayes profile image
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      Jerry Lynn Hayes Sr 3 years ago from Texas City, Texas

      Thank for looking at it. This Gospel has always been special to me. Again, I really enjoyed your article on john. Keep up the good work.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      A lot of good background information and I love the way the book points to Jesus, the Son of God. There's something special about this book. I can't quite put my finger on it, but you pointed out many things that add up to SPECIAL. Thanks for the time you invested in this article.

    • Bishop J L Hayes profile image
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      Jerry Lynn Hayes Sr 3 years ago from Texas City, Texas

      The Apostle John figured paramount in the early church and the synoptic Gospels, but is not mention by name in this gospel - which would be natural if he was the author and rather hard to explain if he was not.