The Gospel of John
- John was one of the original 12 Apostles.
- He was probably the youngest of the Apostles.
- His brother, James, was also one of the original 12 Apostles.
- He was one of the leaders of the early Christian movement and was present at the Council of Jerusalem in the year 50. (More on that in the book of Acts.)
- We do not know what he did from the years 50-90.
- He was arrested around the year 95 and placed on the island of Patmos by the Roman emperor Domitian.
- He was released the next year (after the death of the Domitian) and traveled to Ephesus.
- He was the only original Apostle to die a natural death, which happened around the year 100 in Ephesus.
- He is the author of 5 books in the NT:
- The Gospel of John
- I, II, and III John
- Note about John writing these five books: Much disagreement exists amongst NT scholars as to whether or not John wrote all or any of these books. Many arguments exist on both sides of the question of John's authorship. Since this is an introduction class, I will not discuss these different ideas and I will instead write these notes as if John wrote all these letters (and I believe he did). But I did want you to know that scholars disagree.
Place and Time of Writing
- John wrote this Gospel while in Ephesus before he was arrested and taken to Patmos.
- Probably written around the year 90.
- The Gospel of John is not a Synoptic Gospel, but instead contains mainly new information about Jesus.
- Most NT scholars believe that John was aware of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Therefore, instead of repeating information found in the other Gospels, John decided that most of his information would be unique information.
- The Synoptic Gospels include parables; John does not.
- The Synoptic Gospels each mention one Passover; John mentions three Passovers.
- Note: We know that Jesus’ ministry (the time when he traveled and preached, taught, and healed) was around three years in length only because John mentions three Passovers. Since Passover occurred once a year, and there were three of them, that meant that Jesus’ ministry lasted for about three years. This is what it looked like:
- Jesus was baptized
- The next year a Passover
- The next year a Passover
- Jesus was crucified
- So, Jesus' ministry lasted around 3 years.
- The Synoptic Gospels describe Jesus as frequently traveling from place-to-place; John mainly focuses on speeches by Jesus or answers that Jesus gives to questions.
- The Synoptic Gospels include a discussion of the Lord’s Supper (the bread and wine); John does not. Instead, John discusses the footwashing that took place at the meal, which the Synoptic Gospels do not discuss.
- The Synoptic Gospels each include one trip to Jerusalem; John mentions that Jesus went to Jerusalem multiple times. Note: this does not mean that the Synoptic Gospels were wrong, only that they focused on Jesus’ ministry in northern Israel and so only mentioned his final trip to Jerusalem, whereas John included information about the numerous trips Jesus made to Jerusalem.
- Everyone. John includes aspects that Jews would recognize and that Gentiles would recognize.
- John shows that Jesus is God.
Note on the Four Themes of the Four Gospels
The early church leaders (meaning in the period up to the year 400) recognized that the four Gospels presented four different and necessary understandings of Jesus. One attempt to unite the four Gospels into one Gospel was made (It was called the Diatessaron and was compiled in the mid- to late-100s by Tatian.). But the early curch leaders thought that it was unnecessary, and the four Gospels were used instead since they gave a complete picture of Jesus:
- Matthew: Jesus is a Spiritual Messiah
- Mark: Jesus is a Servant and Redeemer
- Luke: Jesus has Compassion and is open to common people
- John: Jesus is God
Details about the Gospel of John
Two example of Jewish aspects found in John:
- John includes 7 "I am" statements by Jesus. This means that Jesus made 7 statements that began with the phrase "I am":
- The 7 "I am" statements:
- 6:35: "I am the bread of life."
- 8:12: "I am the light of the world."
- 10:9: "I am the gate."
- 10:11: "I am the good shepherd"
- 11:25: "I am the resurrection and the life."
- 14:6: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
- 15:5: "I am the vine; you are the branches."
- This was significant to the Jews of Jesus' day for two reasons.
- Seven was a significant number among the Jews (for example, Genesis says that God created everything in 6 days and then rested on the 7th day).
- Concerning the phrase “I am.” In the Old Testament (in the book of Exodus), Moses asked God what God wanted to be called. God said, "Yahweh," which, in Hebrew, means "I am." Now this may sound a bit odd: why would someone want to be called “I am”? The answer is significant: Think about it this way: try to make an action sentence without using the verb “to be.” It is hard if not impossible: for example, “they are walking,” “he is working,” “she is writing.” So the verb “to be” is basic to language. In giving his title as “I am,” (“Yahweh” in Hebrew), God in the OT was saying that he was the basis or foundation to existence. God is not something among a lot of somethings, but God is the basis of everything. This was the understanding that the Jews had of God during the time of Jesus.
An example of a Gentile aspect found in John.
- For many Gentiles, the Greek idea “logos” described a something that was not a god but a force that held the universe together. (Optional: For more information go here.) Therefore, John used this Greek word at the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1) to describe Jesus.
- John 1:1: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” In the original Greek, "logos" means word. John shows Greeks that this force they called "Logos" is really Jesus. Therefore, in this first sentence in the Gospel of John, John describes Jesus as living as far back as the “beginning,” that Jesus was with God, and was also God. Gentiles who were religious would understand this connection between “logos” and Jesus.
- Basically he was saying: “You believe in this force, and I will tell you who this force is: Jesus.”
John 3:16: The most quoted verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.”
This verse is actually complex and can lead to misunderstandings.
- “His only son.”
- Previously the lesson discussed the Christian idea of the Trinity, in which the “son” is one part of God, but now the idea will be discussed in more detail. This language is meant as a metaphor or imagery or poetry and is not to be taken as a literal son that God had like a man would have a son on earth. Think about it this way: God did not have a son who, after he died, God would not see anymore. That is the way of humans on earth: if a couple has a son who dies, than the parents no longer sees the son on earth. But that is not the way of the Trinity. After Jesus died on the cross, he ascended to heaven where he rejoined God the Father.
- This is one way to look at the Trinity: God is one, but has different roles or responsibilities or parts. Some theologians use the word “persons”: “God is one in three persons." Some people like to use water as an example of the Trinity: water can be in the form of steam, a liquid, or ice. Other people like to use an egg as an example of the Trinity: an egg consists of three parts, the shell, the yoke, and the yellow.
- The New Testament also uses the terms “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The Father can be understood as the part of God that makes decisions. The Son can be understood as the part of God that does the action. A bad example, but one that is OK, is that the Father is the brains behind God and Jesus, the Son, is the body. Just like your brain makes a decision and your body does what it is told, the Father makes decisions and Jesus, the Son, does the action. To help prove this: Jesus frequently said he was doing the will of the Father or trying to please the Father. The Holy Spirit can be understood as the part of God that interacts with humans after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Therefore, God the Father decided that God needed to come to earth in human form, and God the Son did that, which we call Jesus. They are still one God, but one part of God told another part what to do, just like you are one person, but your mind can make a decision to run and your body will follow that instruction and run.
- If a Christian talks about pleasing God, they really mean the Father (whether they know it or now!). If a Christian talks about something that God did, such as come to earth, that is Jesus, the Son. If a Christian talks about learning something about God, that is called the Holy Spirit.
- “Not perish but have eternal life.” This phrase implies that some people will not live forever after death. That is a misunderstanding, because the NT teaches that everyone lives forever after death. The idea is that some people live with God and some people go to hell (apart from God). In NT language, to live apart from God is like death, and so that idea is used in this verse. A person will live forever, but apart from God, which is like a type of death.
- A potential problem in the idea of the Trinity.
- I have heard this asked in many classes and conversations: “If Jesus was God, then why did he pray to God?” I discuss this in all Bible classes I teach and so I will share it here:
- Let me use this example: Think back to when you woke up this morning. What did you really want to do? Probably stay in bed. But you said to yourself, “You have to get up and get ready for work/help the kids/etc.” You wanted to stay in bed but you had this conversation in your head in which you convinced yourself to get up. And we do this all day long: "I want to eat that/no, I shouldn’t eat that, etc."
- I see the same thing happening with Jesus. From the biblical idea of the Trinity, we have discussed that God is one but is also called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son (Jesus) was on the earth and needed to talk with the Father, just like we talk to ourselves. So Jesus prayed to God, or another way of looking at it was that God the Son was talking to God the Father, or that God was talking with Himself, just like we talk to ourselves.
- Let me mention one specific case: Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night that he was to be arrested. He knew he was going to be arrested and that he would end up being crucified. That was going to be very painful, and so God on earth (Jesus) had a conversation with God the Father: “I don’t want to go through this. If there is anyway that this can be avoided, I will do that.” Just like we say to ourselves in the mornings when we are in bed. But, just like we get up, Jesus decided to follow through and be arrested and crucified.
- So, yes, Jesus did pray to God, but another way to look at it was that God was talking with himself. (God the Son talking with God the Father.) Actually, I believe this is the most intimate story about God, becausee we are allowed to see God discussing with an idea Himself (Father <=>Son).
Outline of John (chapters)
- 1: Prologue describing Jesus; John the Baptist denies being the Christ; Jesus is baptized and calls his first disciples.
- 2: Jesus performs a miracle and clears the Temple of moneychangers.
- 3: Jesus has a conversation with a Jewish leader; John the Baptist discusses Jesus.
- 4: Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman and performs a miracle.
- 5: Jesus heals a man and answers a question.
- 6: Jesus performs a miracle and answers questions.
- 7-8: Jesus in and around Jerusalem where he answers questions.
- 9: Jesus heals a man.
- 10: Jesus discusses himself.
- 11: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and the Jewish leadership tries to kill Jesus.
- 12: The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and Jesus predicts his death.
- 13-21: Jesus is in and around Jerusalem. John describes the last week of Jesus’ life in chapters 12-19.
Comparing the amount of chapters by the 4 Gospels on the last week of Jesus’ life:
- Matthew: 7 out of 28 chapters = 25%
- Mark: 5 out of 16 chapters = 31%
- Luke: 5 out of 24 chapters = 21%
- John: 8 out of 21 chapters = 38%
The Gospels dedicate from 1/5 (Luke) to more than 1/3 (John) of their writings to the last week of Jesus’ life. In Christianity, this signifies the importance that the crucifixion has in understanding why Jesus came.
Timeline up to the Gospel of John
|63 B.C.||Romans conquer Israel.|
|27 B.C.||Pax Romana began and lasted until A.D. 180.|
|4 B.C.||Jesus born.|
|All dates after this are A.D. ["c." means "about"]|
|c.30||Jesus crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven.|
|64||Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero; Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.|
|c.67||Gospel of Mark written.|
|70||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).|
|c.80||Gospels of Matthew and Luke written.|
|c.90||Gospel of John written.|
|95||Christians persecuted by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.|
|96||Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.|
|c.100||Apostle John died; he was the last Apostle to die.|
|390's||New Testament canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).|
|1200's||Chapters added to the New Testament.|
|1500's||Verses added to the New Testament.|
©2012 Mark Nickens