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INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

 

 

Dr Grant C Richison

 

 

IMPORTANCE

The book of John has been one of both the most praised and also the most maligned books of the Bible.

More than any other book in the Bible, John argues for the deity of Christ.

The apostle John had the burning conviction that the eternal destiny of each person was bound up with his belief in Jesus (1 Jn 5:11-12).

While the theme of belief is prominent, belief is regarded as a means to an end (Jn 20:31)—the discovery of Life as available in Christ.

 The overarching issue with which this book deals is LIFE.

The concept of life with which this author operates is that of existence that originated before time and extends beyond time.

This life finds its most concrete and explicit expression in a Person, a Person discernible to the inhabitants of the planet earth in a human life.

As the author contemplated the appearance of this Life among men, he compressed his awareness of it into one sentence of wonder, love, and praise. (Jn 1:14) 

With the possible exceptions of Psalms and Romans, the gospel of John has exerted a greater influence on more people than any other book in the Bible.

The Roman emperor called Julian the Apostate, the emperor who tried to bring the Roman Empire back to its pagan state, said, “It was this John who (by declaring that the Word was made flesh) wrought all the mischief.”

This gospel has challenged both the most sophisticated minds as well as the simplest. 

You might compare John’s gospel to a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound.

Many have testified to the vast influence of this book upon them personally and upon the world.

No other book has played a greater part in shaping the doctrinal foundation of Christianity during the first five centuries, especially with reference to the Trinity.

The most eloquent preacher of the ancient church was John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople. While pastor in Antioch, about 390 AD, he preached a series of 88 homilies on John’s gospel. 

The gospel of John is at the center of the current revolution in NT studies.

Irenaeus (at the end of the second century) related an incident revealing John’s firm belief that God’s judgment is certain upon those who reject it:

“And there are those who heard from him (Polycarp) that John the disciple of the Lord went in Ephesus to bathe and, when he saw Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath house without having bathed, saying: ‘Let us flee lest even the bath house cave in, for Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is within.’”

GENRE

The genre of the gospel of John is not biography, which tells a story, usually chronologically. All biblical genres focuses on theological themes. The emphasis is on the teaching and deeds of Jesus. What He did and said and its impact on his culture is the point. The genre of John shows the deity of Christ and its impact as the author presents it.

CHARACTERISTICS

Language of the simplest Greek.

Avoids idiomatic expressions

The literary style is distinctive. 

Hebraic and oriental rather than Hellenistic and occidental.

Pure Greek in vocabulary and grammar but thoroughly Hebrew in temper and spirit. 

Instead of a swiftly moving narrative of major events as remembered by the apostles, there is a rather leisurely and dramatic treatment of relatively few events.

John alone gives information about the early Judean ministry of our Savior.

Were we left to the synoptics alone for information, we would never certainly know that our Lord’s ministry was longer than one year, but John mentions four Passovers (2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 13:1).

From this we know that His ministry extended over three years.

Of the 62 sections in John’s gospel, 32 contain matter not recorded elsewhere.

Most of John has new material that is peculiar to John:

                        New birth, 3

                        Woman at well, 4

                        38-year-old cripple, 5

                        Bread of life message, 6

                        Woman taken in adultery, 8

                        Blind man, 9

                        Shepherd and sheep, 10

                        Lazarus raised, 11

                        All from chapters 13-17

This gospel most depicts Jesus as God.

Simplicity of style and diction but profundity as well.

            Marked by depth.

Life and light are two preponderate ideas that are embodied in Christ.

There are only eight miracles in John (18 in Mark; 20 in Matthew; 20 in Luke)

Of the eight miracles, only two occur in the synoptics (feeding of 5,000 and walking on water).

                        These miracles are “signs” pointing to Christ.

John makes frequent use of contrasts:

light/darkness; truth/lie; kingdom of God/Devil; good/evil

John abounds in symbolism.

John focuses on the passion of Christ.

Almost 1/3 of the gospel is devoted to one day in the life of Christ (13-19, the day before the crucifixion).

John mentions three Passovers in the life of Christ (4 Passovers if the feast in 5:1 is taken to be a Passover).

The synoptics mention only two.

John is called the gospel of “believing.

The verb occurs 98 times; the noun does not occur.

Along with “believe” comes a number of synonyms

receive” (1:12),

drink” (4:14),

eat” (6:51),

come” (6:37),

enter” (10:9).

John makes no reference to demon possession.

John gives more “interpretive” and less “factual” information on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

There is a significant usage of the term “life” in John.

This is more than physical life; it is the impartation of a new nature, an element that restores one to fellowship with God. This divine life comes to the person who places his trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for him and rose again.

The emphasis on miraculous “signs” in John is unique.

The purpose of a sign is to point to a lesson of spiritual import.

The emphasis on “I am” is unique.

Using seven natural figures, Jesus claims for Himself qualities that are clearly supernatural in character.

In addition, the absolute use of “I am” occurs three times in chapter eight: 8:24, 28, 58.

There are 27 interviews.

These interviews depict the contacts of Jesus with those around Him.  When people came face-to-face with Jesus, they either accepted or rejected him; belief or unbelief was exhibited.

There is more of our Lord’s teaching on the Spirit in this gospel than in any other.

The prevalence of great themes.

Signs = revelation

Belief = reaction produced by signs

Life = result that belief brings

Witnessing

34 times as verb

13 times as noun

                                    Total = 47 occurrences

Only 16 in all other gospels

The author does not assume the role of an instructor, as does Luke; rather, he is a witness of the things he has seen and heard. He does more than marshal evidence and argue the case; he is also witnessing to a life he has experienced.

Belief

Noun (pistis) is not used in John’s writings except in 1 John 5:4.

Pisteuo, the verb, is used 98 times in the gospel

This emphasizes the act of believing rather than having faith, as in the synoptics. The term denotes committal to a person. It goes beyond acceptance of testimony as to the truth of a proposition; it is a choice against the world for the light as seen in Jesus Christ. This is a belief that calls for renunciation of trust in self-sufficiency and for committal to God’s incarnate Son. 

Logos

“Logos” conveys the idea of communication of a thought.

The Stoic logos is impersonal but, in John, it is personal. 

 Light

Is often linked with judgment.

Life

This is probably the most important word in John’s gospel. It is more basic than love, for love cannot exist without life. John’s emphasis on belief is only a means to the end—life, Jn 20:31.

BIOS = physical life

ZOJ: has an ethical connotation. It connotes all that is the highest and best in the association of the saints with God. It is this term that is usually associated by contrast with death. The ethical content of ZOJ derives from the fact that it is the opposite of death.  Since in the Bible death is linked with sin, life implies victory over sin and freedom from its power. The term often means spiritual life

PSUCHJ: its meanings are complex:

(1)  the animating principle in physical organisms,

(2)  earthly life as distinct from spiritual life,

(3)  the soul as center of the inner life that transcends the earthly,

(4)  that which possesses life.

Compare John 12:25: contrast use of ZOJ and PSUCHJ. The former is a higher type of life.

It is the concept of eternal life that John’s contribution is most distinctive and important. 

AIWNIOS is used 150 times and usually means age-lasting rather than endless.

The contribution of the fourth gospel is that life eternal is thought of in qualitative terms, not merely as a continuation but rather as a superior quality of life that begins with the believer now (Jn 5:24-26; 6:54; 17:3).

Eternal life is not a matter of time alone but is a new kind of life, different in nature, which will last beyond the dissolution of the body. It was “life from above,” from God, and given only through Christ (Jn 3:5; 5:26; I Jn 5:19). 

This life becomes available to the believer as he enters into an experiential “knowledge” of God through the Son (Jn 17:3;1 Jn 3:14; 5:11,12). The issues of life and death are settled not simply as a final day of reckoning, therefore, but are determined momentarily according as one believes or disbelieves (5:24).

Animal life can reproduce its own kind; spiritual life must come from above, from God (3:5). Hence, the Spirit is the regenerative principle in human life. Worship of a spiritual being is impossible apart from the Spirit of God (4:25). The Spirit is linked with life. Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (Jn 6:63). Words are “life” in this context. The Holy Spirit causes life to flourish and grow (7:38).

Glory

            This term is closely aligned to the term light.

noun 19 times

verb 22 times (more than the synoptics combined)

Verb means to recognize

In John “glorify” means a revelation of God’s nature, particularly in Jesus Christ  (17:1,4; 13:31; 14:13).

The “Shekinah” of God’s presence is to be seen in the incarnation, as a “new temple.”

Self-glorification, or the glorification of the creature rather than God, amounts to spiritual suicide, as both Paul and John agree (Rom 1:21; Jn 5:41-44).

The most distinctive and most important connotation of “glory” emerges paradoxically out of the ignominy of death (11:4; 12:33; 21:19). The connotation of “glory” includes the complex of death, resurrection, ascension, and session of the Son. It is the glory of bringing triumph out of tragedy, honor out of disgrace, lasting victory out of apparent defeat. (Compare 17:5—”glorify thou me”—with the emphasis on the resurrection and session of the Son.) Cf. 12:27,28, 28-33; 21:19.

Although Paul places in contrast the suffering and the glory of Christ (Php 2:5-11), John puts the two together. Humiliation and suffering are a part of glory. “Glory” in this gospel is presented as a climax in the redemptive process when the Savior and the Redeemer share the divine glory in the presence of the Father (17:24-26).

There is a large amount of discourse communication in the synoptics but very little in John.

John is not primarily interested in movements or events for their own sake.  He concentrates on their significance. This book is in no sense autobiographical.  John is reflective in mood.

More of the inner consciousness of Jesus is revealed here, and this reaches a climax where He prays aloud in John 17.

The logos doctrine is unique to John.

The Greek particles OUN and HINA occur with unusual frequency.

OUN = 120 times

HINA = 130 times

John has at the most an account of but twenty days of our Lord’s ministry.

237 of 879 verses, or 1/3 of the gospel, covers but one day in the life of Christ.

John has many themes or motifs, as in an oratorio, which become dominant and then recessive several times during the composition.

            “Came down from heaven” used more than 40 times

21 chapters; 879 verses; 19,099 words in the KJV

 

WHY FOUR GOSPELS?

 

The first three gospels are called synoptics because they present a synopsis of the same series of events but with different themes. The fourth gospel presents a different narrative and discourses.

Contrasts between three synoptics and John:

Synoptics:  primarily Galilean ministry

John:  primarily Judean ministry

Synoptics: public life

John: private life

Synoptics: works

John: words

Synoptics: humanity

John: deity

Similarities to & differences from the synoptics

Similarities

All the records include narratives and comments about John the Baptist, the call of the disciples, the feeding of the 5,000 and the sea trip of the disciples, the confession of Peter, the entry to Jerusalem, the last meal, and various sections of the passion narrative. Yet they contain very little verbal agreement.

In common with the synoptics, John records samples of both healing and nature miracles of our Lord, although he treats them differently.

Differences

There are many more differences. Differences include:

(1)  material that John does not record,

(2) material additional to that of the synoptics,

(3) the way John presents material,

(4) historical and chronological problems John such as the cleansing of the temple

John stresses the deity of the incarnate Son of God with his seven “I am” statements (6:35; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).

Seven unique miraculous signs demonstrate the deity of Christ (1–12).

50% of John’s gospel, that is 419 verses out of the total of 879 verses, contain the spoken words of Jesus.

About 93% of John’s gospel does not appear in the synoptics, making the gospel of John unique among the gospels.

John has 20 quotations and 105 allusions from the Old Testament.

Son” occurs 17 times and “Son of God” eight times, “only Son” three times, “only Son of God” once. Son is obviously a central thought in John.

Only” (μονογενὴς) occurs four times to modify “Son” (1:14; 3:16, 18).

The words “verily, verily” (ἀμήν ἀμήν) is equivalent to an oath or promise. The repetition of these words occurs only in the gospel of John. The word “amen” means so be it, indicating an affirmation of a truth.

The repetition of “verily” is an emphatic statement calling attention to the veracity of the statement that follows. This doubling of amen occurs 25 times in the gospel of John and nowhere else in the New Testament: 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18.

John uses “verily, verily” in reference to Christ in 1:51 about His glory, in 8:58 of His eternity, in 10:1,7 of His uniqueness, of 6:32 of His mission, in 13:21 of His betrayal and in 12:24 of His death.

Jesus uses “verily, verily” in reference to spiritual bondage in 8:34, spiritual darkness in 6:26, need of new birth in 3:3, 5, guarantee of salvation in 5:24, 25; 6:47, 53; and trust in His word in 8:51.

Jesus uses “verily, verily” about Peter’s denial of Christ in 13:38, the believer’s greater work, in 14:12, mission in 13:16, 20, confidence in prayer in 16:23, in His challenge to Peter to follow Him in 21:18.

 

MANUSCRIPTS

 

John is found in the “Rylands Fragment”—AD 125-150, papyrus.

Major parts of the gospel are preserved in early papyrus manuscripts.

John 7:53-18 is not in older manuscripts.

 

STRUCTURE

 

1:1–18, prologue to the gospel.

1:19 through chapter 12, Jesus’ public ministry

Chapters 13 to 20, Jesus’ private ministry

Chapter 21, the appendix

 

DISTINCTIVE THEOLOGICAL FEATURES

 

John is distinctively different than the synoptics of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Jesus is attested by His miraculous “signs.”

Very little ethical instructions.

 

CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND

 

Gospel of John was composed for Jewish Christians

Community was Jewish in origin but excommunicated for belief in Jesus.

Thoroughly Jewish in character and vocabulary.

The Greek word “Jews” (word Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios) occurs over 70 times with three uses:

Ethnic, national, religious to refer to the inhabitants of the nation

Inhabitants of Judaea

Religious authorities who opposed Jesus.

 

PLACE OF COMPOSITION

 

In or near Ephesus.

 

CANONICITY

 

Direct quotations:

Ignatius, 115

The Epistle to Diogetus, 117 (clearly has a reference to Jn 3:16)

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 115

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 120

Papias, 120-130, according to Irenaeus

Basilides, 125

Marcion, 130

Valentinus, 140

Heracleon, 150, wrote a commentary on it, which Origin quotes

Ophites ascribed scriptural authority to it, 220

Naassenes and Peratici used it

Justin Martyr, 145 used it

Tatian, 150-170 quotes 1:5; 4:24

Irenaeus, 177

Irenaeus, who had known Polycarp (martyred in AD 155 or 156), the friend and companion of the Apostle John, speaks of the gospel of John as the work of the apostle John; he treats the entire fourth gospel as a well-known and long-used book in the church. 

“When Irenaeus who had conversed with Polycarp, the friend of the Apostle John, quotes this gospel as the work of the Apostle, we may fairly presume that he had assured himself of this by the testimony of one so well capable of informing him.” Irenaeus, 177.

For more than 50 years after the death of John, Polycarp was one of the trustees and guardians of John’s memory. John must have written the book of John.

From Irenaeus on, there is virtual unanimity in the church on the canonicity and authorship of the fourth gospel.

Implications

Only one obscure sect rejected the gospel because 1:1 conflicted with their peculiar ideas.

The gospel of John gained wide acceptance as trustworthy before the middle of the second century. 

Canonicity may be stronger than any other NT book.

 

AUTHORSHIP

 

External evidence

Early church was unanimous that it was John who wrote the book.

Internal evidence

Author was a Jew.

Author was a Palestinian Jew.

An eyewitness of the events: 1:29, 35-40; 2:1; 5:7; 8:20; 9:17; 10:20; 18:1); cf 1:14.

Author was an apostle.

The apostle, son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of James (Mk 1:19, 20; Mt 20:20; Jn 21:20, 24). 

Author was John

No name given

Same for 1, 2, 3 John.

Name found in Revelation (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8)

Proof

Familiar with Jewish opinions

Hatred of Samaritans, 4:9

Language, 1:38, 41, 42; 19:13,17

Purification, 2:6

Sabbaths, 19:31

Feasts, 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22; 11:55

Embalming, 19:40

OT imagery

Lamb, 1:29, 36

Serpent, 3:14

Living water, 4:13, 14

Manna, 6:31

Shepherd, 10:11

Vine, 15:1

Topographical knowledge

Bethabara, 1:28

Bethsaida, 1:44

Aenon, 3:23

Sychar, 4:5

Bethany, 11:18, 54

His knowledge of Jerusalem

Bethesda, 5:2

Solomon’s porch, 10:23

City and Temple, 8:20; 18:1; 19:20, 41

Author was an eyewitness, 1:14; 19:35

Exact days stated, 1:29, 35, 43; 2:1; 4:40; 7:37; 11:6, 17, 39

Exact hours stated, 1:39; 4:6; 19:14

Exact number of persons, 1:35; 6:10

Exact number of objects, 2:6; 6:9,19; 19:39; 21:8, 11

Author was an apostle

He knew the thoughts of disciples, 2:11, 17, 22; 4:27; 6:19, 60; 12:16; 13:22, 28; 20:9; 21:12

He knew the words spoken by disciples in private, 4:31, 33; 9:2; 11:8, 12, 16; 16:17, 29

Author was the apostle John

Peter, James, and John—inner three of Jesus’ disciples.

Peter and James died before the fourth gospel written

Disciple whom Jesus loved wrote it, 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24

 

TO WHOM WAS JOHN WRITTEN

 

Tradition says John was written at the request of Christians at Ephesus.

It was written for the benefit of Christians in general.

 

OCCASION

 

There was no specific occasion. It may have been the rise of Cerinthianism.

“Cerinthus claimed that Christ was possessed by the Christ-spirit at the baptism of Christ and who relinquished his spirit on the cross.” (Against Heresies 1.26.2)

John was written to bring forth into the clearest light the deity of Christ (20:30-31).

The early church fathers thought that John was to be supplemental to the synoptics. But this was not the primary design of the Apostle. This gospel was meant more to establish truth than to assail error.

 

DATE

 

AD 90-100

 

DIFFERENCE FROM SYNOPTICS

 

The first three gospels are called synoptic gospels because they are written according to a similar pattern.

Matthew and Mark emphasize the miracles of Jesus, and Luke gives attention to the parables; John does neither.

The miracles of John are given as signs and were chosen with a great deal of discrimination in order to interpret certain great truths (e.g., Jesus fed the 5,000, and then there follows His discourse on the Bread of Life).

            There are eleven specific signs in John.

            There are no parables in John. 

The word “parable” occurs one time (10:6), but is not the regular Greek word (parabole) but (paroimia). The story of the Good Shepherd is not a parable but a discourse. The record of the lost sheep in Luke 15 is a parable. In John the figures that Jesus uses are in the nature of metaphors.

The simplicity of language has caused some to label John’s record as the “simple gospel.” 

The fact that so many monosyllabic and disyllabic words occur has deceived many.  This is the most profound gospel and the most difficult to fathom in meaning.

John gives both a logical and chronological sequence.

Although the Deity of Christ is in the foreground, the humanity of Christ is not lost sight of but is peculiarly emphasized.

The name “Jesus” is used almost entirely to the exclusion of “Christ.”

This seems strange in the gospel that sets forth His deity. 

 

PURPOSE

 

The purpose of the gospel of John is found in the author’s own statement: John 20:31f. This is the announced purpose.

John was recorded to beget faith in the heart of man.

“Believe” is used 98 times in John’s gospel. It occurs less than 40 times in the synoptics. The noun “faith” does not occur in John, but is used in the other gospels. 

The gospel throughout focuses on the deity of Jesus Christ more than any other gospel. It is clear that God in Christ has revealed Himself (1:1–18). God is active in Christ, the Savior of the world, bringing about the salvation He has planned (4:42).

 

THEME

 

The deity of Christ is the paramount theme of the gospel of John.

The Messianic character also holds priority.      

Eternal life” occurs 35 times, but only 12 times in the synoptics.

As the prologue puts it (1:1-18), Jesus is the eternal Word of self-revelation of God, expressed in many ways at various times, but finally incarnated in a human life. As the whole gospel emphasizes, Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, sent into the world for the world’s salvation.

The revelation of the Father that he imparts means the salvation of the world: the revelation and the salvation are consummated together in Jesus’ laying down his life on the cross.

The relationship that the Father and Son eternally bear to each other is declared to be a conference or mutual indwelling of love. Jesus is in the Father; the Father is in him. And the purpose of Jesus’ coming to reveal the Father is that men and women may, through faith in him, have eternal life—in other words, be drawn into His divine fellowship of love, dwelling in God as God dwells in them.

 

PORTRAIT

 

The gospel of John is distinctive in portrait—the purpose of the gospel determines the nature of John’s selection of materials, which are very different from the synoptic gospels.

He omits the birth, baptism, genealogy, temptation, exorcising demons, parables, transfiguration, institution of the Lord’s Supper, agony in Gethsemane, and ascension.

John selects seven signs or miracles that demonstrate that Jesus is God almighty (chapters 2-12).

The discourses that Jesus gives following these signs explain their significance.

John places stress on Jesus’ claims that occur in the unique “I am” statements (6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5).

 

RECIPIENTS

 

None specified.

But the book has the whole world in view (1:9-12; 3:16; 17:18,21,23).

“World” used 78 times.

Intended for the widest possible audience. It is safe to assume that the author had in mind the Jews of the dispersion—people of Jewish background and belief who were scattered throughout the Levantine countries.

            John was a witness not of but to Greek ideas.

John is more a theological treatise rather than a historical narrative. It is more theological and more cosmopolitan than the synoptics. It is not necessarily less Jewish. The gospel of John appealed to the enlarging Gentile constituency, more so than the synoptics.

The church at this time was composed of second- and third-generation Christians who needed more detailed instruction about Jesus and new defenses for the apologetic problems raised by apostasy within the church and the growing opposition from without. Doctrinal variations had begun to appear, and some of the basic Christian truths had been challenged. A new presentation was necessary for the changing times. 

 

KEY WORDS

 

Father, 121 times

Love, 57 times

World, 78 times

Son (Christ), 42 times

Believe, 98 times

Life, 52 times

 

TWO SETS OF SEVEN

 

Seven signs: 

Water to wine 2:1-11

Nobleman’s son healed, 4:46-51

Impotent man healed 5:1-9

Feeding 5000 6:1-14

Walking on water 6:16-21

Healing of blind man 9:1-7

Resurrection of Lazarus 11:1-46

Seven “I am” statement

Bread of life, 6:35

Light of the world, 8:12

Door, 10:9

Good Shepherd, 10:11

Resurrection and life, 11:25

Way, truth and life, 14:6

Vine, 15:1

 

OUTLINE

 

PROLOGUE 1:1-18

The Word is God, 1-3

The Word Became Flesh, 14

The Word Revealed by God, 18

INTRODUCTION 1:19-51

The Witness of John the Baptist, 1:19-36

Jesus is the revealer of God, 36, and redeemer of man, 29

The Witness of Andrew, 1:37-42

Jesus is the Messiah, 41

The Witness of Philip, 1:43-46

Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT, 45

The Witness of Nathanael, 1:47-51

Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel, 49

THE WITNESS OF WORDS AND WORKS, 2-12

THE WITNESS OF JESUS TO HIS WITNESSES, 13-17

WITNESS TO THE WORLD, 18-20

EPILOGUE—GLORIFICATION, 21

 

SIMPLE OUTLINE

 

INTRODUCTION, 1

PUBLIC MINISTRY, 2-12

PRIVATE MINISTRY, 13-17

DEATH AND RESURRECTION, 18-20

CONCLUSION, 21

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