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published: 7/2/13

The Gospel of John



Overview of the Book of John

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The Book of John is the 4th book of the Christian New Testament and is one of the four gospels. Christian tradition holds that it was written by the Apostle John, sometime between 90-100 A.D., although some scholars argue for a later date. The gospel is 21 chapters long. It's believed that John wrote the book from Ephesus and that the original recipients were probably Gentiles, though the author's desire is that all people believe. The purpose of John is to win converts to Christ and build up believers in Christ, so it emphasizes the incarnation of the Word (i.e. God becoming a human being), in the person of Jesus Christ.

Ephesus, after Jerusalem's fall, A.D. 70, took a chief place in the early church. Containing a large Christian church, a synagogue of zealous Jews, and the most famous of pagan temples that of Artemis or Diana, it was a common meeting ground for widely diverse creeds. Its commercial position on the sea linking the East and West adapted it as an admirable center for the diffusion of gospel truth. John sets forth the positive truth which indirectly yet effectively counteracts Gnosticism, Ebionitism, and docetism.

John writes with a specification of times and places, and a freshness, which mark an eye-witness (John 1:29,35,37-40; 2:1; 3:1; 4:40,43; 6:22; 13:1-11; 18:10-16; 19:26; 20:3-10,24-29). That the "beloved disciple" was the writer appears from John 19:25-27,35; 21:24; 1:14.


Place and time

His allusions in the peculiar terms of his prologue to the theosophic notions prevalent at Ephesus accord with that city being the place of his writing the Gospel. Acts 18:24 implies the connection between Alexandria, the headquarters of Gnosticism, and Ephesus. John 21 is an appendix written subsequently to John 20:30,31 (which at first completed the Gospel), perhaps after the martyrdom of Simon Peter.

The Gospel cannot have been written at the same time and place as Revelation, the styles are so different, His mode of counting the hours as we do was Asiatic (see Townson, Harmony, 8:1, section 3), and accords with Ephesus being the place of writing.

His not feeling it necessary to explain Jesus' prophecy that John should tarry until He came (John 21) shows that he wrote soon after the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), when that event was generally understood as being the Lord's coming, namely, in judgment upon the Jews. In John 5:2 the sheep market with five porches is spoken of as still standing, perhaps spared as some other things for convenience by Titus (Josephus, B. J., 7:1, section 1).

Testimonies of authenticity

If John 21:24,25 came from some Ephesian disciples this is the oldest testimony to it. 2 Pet. 1:14 alludes to (John 21:18) Christ's prophecy of Peter's crucifixion, taking for granted his readers' acquaintance with the Gospel, the strongest kind of testimony as being undesigned.

Ignatius (his Epistle to the Romans), Polycarp (his Epistle to the Philippians), the Epistle to Diognetus, Justin Martyr (Apol. 1:61, Dialogue with Trypho 63,88), contain implied quotations of it; their not expressly quoting it is due to the prevalence of oral more than written teaching at first; while the inspired preachings of apostles were fresh in memory definite appeals to writings are less to be expected than in the following age.

The general references of the former and the definite quotations of the latter are just what we might expect presuming the Gospel genuine. Papias (Eusebius H. E. iii. 39) used the first epistle of John which is closely related to the Gospel. Tatian's Diatessaron opens," In the beginning was the Word"; he quotes this Gospel in Orat. contra Gentil. Thus, its currency A.D. 170 is proved. Theophihs of Antioch (Autol. 2) first expressly attributes it to John; he wrote a commentary on the four and a harmony (Jerome Alg. 53, Vir. Illust. 25).

He and Tadan therefore, in the second century, considered the four the exclusively canonical standard. Irenaeus, a hearer of Polycarp, the disciple of John, argues for the propriety of the number four; his argument proves their long and universal acceptance by the church more conclusively than if it had been his aim to demonstrate it. The Alogi of Asia Minor were the only sect that rejected this Gospel, owing to their opposition to Montanus, whose heresies they thought were favored by it.

The diversity of the scene and incidents of Christ's ministry in it, as compared with the three preceding Gospels, is just what we might expect if the author were acquainted with them. For while as an independent witness he does not with formal design supplement them, yet he generally omits under the Spirit those particulars already handled by his predecessors. Excepting the crucifixion and resurrection, respecting which he gives new information, he has only two sections in common with the Synoptists (John 6:1-21; 12:1).

He omits Christ's baptism, temptation, mission of the twelve, transfiguration (of which he was one of the three selected eye witnesses), the Lord's supper, and the agony in Gethsemane, yet incidental hints show his taking them for granted as known already (John 1:14,32; 13:2; 14:30; 18:1,11), which last refers to the very words of His prayer during the agony, recorded by the synoptists, an undesigned coincidence and so a proof of authenticity; 14:30 is the link between the temptation (Luke 4:13) and His agony (Luke 22:40-53); John 11:1 assumes the reader's acquaintance with Mary and Martha, from Luke 10:38. So John 4:43,44; 7:41, tacitly refer to the facts recorded in Mt. 13:54; 2:23; 18:33 takes for granted the fact recorded in Luke 23:2.

John 6, wherein he repeats the miraculous feeding of 5,000 recorded by the synoptists, is introduced to preface the discourse which John alone records. In John 12 the anointing by Mary is repeated for its connection with Judas' subsequent history.

The objections to John's acquaintance with the synoptical Gospels are based on the presumption that in that case he was bound to slavishly supplement them and guard against the appearance of discrepancies between him and them. But he was an independent witness, not formally designing to supplement; yet as knowing their Gospels he would mostly use materials heretofore not handled. As they presented Jesus' outer and popular life, so it remained that he should represent the deeper truths of His divine mission and Person.

They met the church's first needs; he, its later wants. Luke's Gospel was written under Paul's superintendence at least 20 years before John's. Considering the intercourse between the Christian churches it is incredible that his Gospel should have been unknown at Ephesus, John's and previously Paul's scene of labours, and this to John a "pillar" of the church.

Design

John, the last surviving apostle, would surely be consulted on the canonicity of New Testament Scriptures which by God's providence he lived to see completed. Theodore of Mopsuestia, 4th century (Catena Johann. Corder. Mill New Testament) says John did attest it. Clement Alex. (Eusebius, H. E. vi. 14) states on the authority of old presbyters (and the Muratorian Fragment, Ant. M. Aev. 3, confirms the statement) that John wrote at his friends' request to give Christ's "spiritual" aspect, the former Gospels already having given His "bodily" aspect. John, who leant on Jesus' breast, His closest intimate, was the fittest to set forth the deeper spiritual truths of the Son of God. Thus the "ye" (John 19:35; 20:31) will refer to John's "friends" primarily, the general church secondarily.

To prove "that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God" is this Gospel's declared design, that men so "believing might have life through His name." A continued polemic reference is not likely, considering John's contemplative and usually loving spirit. An incidental guarding of the truth against incipient heresies in that region certainly there is in the prologue and John 19:34; 20:20,27; compare 1:14. Paul in epistle to Colossians alludes to the Judaizing form of Gnosticism. Oriental and Grecian speculations combined at Alexandria to foster it. As the Docetae denied that the divine Word assumed a real body, so the Ebionites denied His real Godhead. John counteracts both incidentally in subordination to his main design. He uses in a sense congruous to Old Testament, and sanctioned by the Spirit, the terms used by gnostics in a false sense.

The prologue gives the keynote of the Gospel: the eternal Godhead of the Word who was made flesh that, as He created all things, so He might give light and life to those born again of His Spirit; on, the other hand Satan's counterwork, His rejection by His own countrymen, though in His own person fulfilling all their law. His adversaries are called "the Jews," the nation by the time of John writing having become through continued resistance of the truth identified With their hierarchical chiefs, Jesus' opponents; whereas in the synoptists the several classes of opponents are distinguished, "Pharisees," "scribes," "lawyers," "chief priests," etc.

After Jerusalem's fall Jehu living among the Gentiles regarded the Jews as no longer the people of God; an undesigned confirmation of authenticity. That the writer was a Jew appears from his quoting the Hebrew Old Testament (not Septuagint): John 12:40; 19:37. His own brother James he never names; a pseudo John of later times would have been sure to name him. The synoptists and Acts similarly never introduce him individually. John dwells most on the deep spiritual truths, Christ's essential oneness with the Father, His mystical union with believers, the promise of the Comforter, and love the "new commandment." Yet Matthew, Mark, and Luke have the germs of them, and Paul further develops them (Mt. 5:44; 11:27; 16:16; 28:20; Luke 10:22; 24:49). Matt. 26:11 verbally agrees with John 12:8. Compare 1 Cor. 13; Col. 1:15,16; 2 Cor. 5:17.

As John, though mainly treating of Jesus' ministry in Judea, yet has occasional notices of that in Galilee (John 1:43--2:13, after the temptation, recorded by the synoptists as following the baptism, John 1:32; namely, the Galilean ministry before John's imprisonment, John 3:24, whereas they begin with it after John's imprisonment: Mark 1:14), so they, though mainly treating of the Galilean ministry, plainly hint at that in Judaea also (Mt. 4:25; 23:37; 27:57; Luke 10:38; 13:34; Mark 3:7,8).

Thus, John 4:1-3 is the introduction to the Galilean ministry described by them. John 7:1,9, intimates a transfer of Jesus' ministry to Galilee after the second last Passover (John 6:4,5). The feeding of the 5,000 links him to Mt. 14:15. This Passover He did not attend, but in the same year attended the feast of tabernacles, six months before His death (John 7:2,10). John 10:22,40, Jesus' retirement to beyond Jordan after His visit to Jerusalem at the feast of dedication, answers to Mt. 19:1.

The continuous Galilean ministry of two years and a third (excepting the Jerusalem short visit, John 5) was naturally first recorded as having most internal unity. John's later record dwells on the omitted parts; this accounts for the Gospel being fragmentary, but possessing spiritual unity. It is significant that in the Gospel setting forth the glory of the Son of God the Judaean ministry is prominent, for there is the appointed "throne of the great King"; whereas in the Gospels setting forth the Son of man the scene is "Galilee of the Gentiles." In John, as in the Synoptists, Jesus sets forth His divine Messiahship not so much by assertions as by acts: John 5:31,32; Mt. 7:28,29; Luke 4:18,21; compare John 9:36; 10:24. His disciples' vacillation arose from the conflict between faith resulting from His miracles and disappointment at His not openly setting up His Messianic kingdom.

The sameness of John the Baptist's style and John's (John 1:16; 3:31-36) is just what was to be expected, the evangelist insensibly catching his former master's phraseology.

The synoptists having already recorded the parables which suited the earlier ages of the church, it remained for John to record the parabolic allegories: John 10:1-6 (parabolee nowhere occurs in John, but paroimia), John 3:8; 15:1 ff; 4:35,38; compare Mt. 9:38.

The language is pure Greek, but the thought is Hebraic, especially the mode of connecting sentences by conjunctions, "and," "but," "then," etc. The periodic sentences of the logical Paul, and John's simplicity of style, clothing the profoundest thoughts, answer to their respective characters. His characteristic phrases are testimony or witness, glory, the truth, light, darkness, eternal life, abide, the world, sin, the true (i.e. genuine, aleethinos) God, the Word, the only-begotten Son, love, to manifest, to be begotten or born of God, pass from death, the Paraclete or Comforter, flesh, spirit, above, beneath, the living water, the bread of life. Authorized Gospel terms were most needed in the matured age of the church when John wrote, and were adopted by John from Jesus Himself. Peculiar to John are "verily, verily" (Amen, Amen) beginning a sentence (others use it at the end of a sentence, Jesus alone at the beginning), John 1:51; "little children" (John 13:33), as in 1 John; "in the name" (John 5:43), i.e. representing the person; "lay down life" (John 10:11,17).

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Source: ISBE (in the public domain)