Gospel of John

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Immaculate Conception with St John the Evangelist by El Greco

Contents

Contents and Scheme

The Gospel of St. John is the last of the four canonical Gospels. Its content is a narrative of the life of Jesus from His baptism to His Resurrection and His manifestation of Himself in the midst of His disciples. The Gospel is in four sections:

  • The prologue (1: 1-18), containing what is in a sense a brief epitome of the whole Gospel in the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word.
  • The first part (1:19-12:50), which recounts the public life of Jesus from His baptism to the eve of His Passion.
  • The second part (13-21:22), which relates the history of the Passion and Resurrection of the Savior.
  • A short epilogue (21:23-25), referring to the great mass of the Savior's words and works which are not recorded in the Gospel.

The arrangement follows the historical order of events.

Distinctiveness

The Fourth Gospel is written in Greek, and even a superficial study of it is sufficient to reveal many peculiarities, which give the narrative a distinctive character. His vocabulary is, it is true, less rich in peculiar expressions than that of Paul or of Luke: he uses in all about ninety words not found in any other hagiographer.

Even more distinctive, the vocabulary is the grammatical use of pronouns, prepositions, and verbs. The Evangelist reveals a deep knowledge of Hellenistic speech of the first century AD, which are flavored with certain Hebrew expressions. His literary style is lauded for its noble, natural, and artistic simplicity. He combines in harmonious fashion the rustic speech of the Synoptics with the urban phraseology of St. Paul.

What first attracts the reader's attention is the subject matter of the Gospel; the confinement of the narrative to chronicling events which took place in Judea and Jerusalem. The Savior's labors in Galilee relates a few events, without dwelling on details, and of these events only two -- the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (6: 1-16), and the sea-voyage (6: 17-21) -- are already related in the Synoptic Gospels.

Compared with the other Evangelists, John chronicles fewer miracles but concentrates more attention to the discourses of Jesus. The events depicted form a frame for the words, conversation, and teaching of the Savior and His disputations with His adversaries. In fact it is the controversies with the Sanhedrists at Jerusalem which seem especially to claim the attention of the Evangelist. John's interest is a highly theological one.

Even in the earliest ages of Christianity, the honorary title of the "theologian" was bestowed on John. There are certain great truths, constantly referred to, in the Gospel which are regarded as his governing ideas, special mention should be made of such expressions as the Light of the World, the Truth, the Life, the Resurrection.

From his very opening sentences John looks to the deepest of eternity; the Divine Word in the bosom of the Father. He never tires of portraying the dignity and glory of the Eternal Word Who took up His abode among men. As evidence of the Divinity of the Savior the author chronicles some of the great wonders by which Christ revealed His glory, but he is far more intent on leading us to a deeper understanding of Christ's Divinity and majesty by a consideration of His words, discourses, and teaching, and His Divine Love.

Much more than in the Synoptics, the whole narrative of the Fourth Gospel centers round the Person of the Redeemer. The Gospel of John is unique in not recounting any of the parables.

Author

According to the The New Oxford Annotated Bible,

tradition says [the author] was the apostle John. Most scholars, however, suggest a disciple of John who recorded him preaching as Mark did that of Peter. In any case, the historic basis of the Gospel has become increasingly recognized.[1]

Evidence for authorship by the apostle John

The ancient manuscripts and translations of the Gospel constitute the first group of evidence. In the titles, tables of contents, signatures, which are usually added to the text of the separate Gospels, John is in every case named as the author of this Gospel.

Its author can be discerned from the contents. Judging by the language, the author was a Palestinian Jew, who knew the Hellenic Greek of the upper classes. He displays an accurate knowledge of the geographical and social conditions of Palestine. He must have enjoyed personal intercourse with the Savior and must even have belonged to the circle of his intimate friends. The Gospel shows the writer to have been an eyewitness of most of the events. He speaks of John nine times without giving him the title of "the Baptist", as the other Evangelists invariably do to distinguish him from the Apostle. All these indications point clearly to the conclusion that the Apostle John must have been the author of the Fourth Gospel.

And, The Gospel of John never mentions John by name, referring to him as "the disciple that Jesus loved". This is understandable if John is the author, but would be hard to explain otherwise.

Date

According to the general opinion, the Gospel was the last to be released in John's old age. Dates of A.D. 85 or beyond are usually conjectured. The grounds for this opinion are briefly as follows:

  • According to Clemente of Alexandria, the Fourth Gospel was released after the three Synoptics.
  • It was probably completed after the death of Peter, since the last chapter - especially 21:18-19 presupposes his death. Peter died in A.D. 64.
  • It was completed after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, for the Evangelist's references to the Jews (cf. particularly 11:18; 18: 1; 19:41) seem to indicate that the end of the city and of the people as a nation is already come. Jerusalem fell in 70 AD.
  • The text of John 21:23, might imply that John was already old when he completed and released the Gospel.
  • Those who denied the Divinity of Christ, the very heresy to which St. John devotes special attention throughout his Gospel, are believed to have disseminated this view near the end of the first century.

There is also a school of thought that John, and the entire New Testament for that matter, were written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 believing that heresies had always been around. John 5:2 is cited, where John speaks of a pool with "is" instead of was, even though it was destroyed in A.D. 70. (It should be noted that John sometimes uses the present tense to describe situations that have passed in other instances.)[2]

Composition

The great contrast between John and the Synoptics is the choice and arrangement of materials. The first three Gospels show us the Savior almost exclusively in Galilee, laboring among the common people. John, however, devotes himself chiefly to chronicling Christ's work in Judea, and His conflicts with members of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. John supplements the evangelical story in such a manner as to lead to a deeper knowledge of the Person and Divinity of the Savior. But it was chiefly in Jesus' discussions with the Scribes and Pharisees at Jerusalem that Christ had spoken of His Person and Divinity. In his Gospel, therefore John made it his primary purpose to set down the sublime teachings of Jesus, to safeguard the Faith of the Christians. Two major differences:

  • The duration of Christ's public ministry extends in the Fourth Gospel probably over three years, and some months. The three earlier Evangelists also suppose the space of at least two years and some months.
  • The purification of the Temple is referred by John to the beginning of the Savior's ministry, while the Synoptists narrate it at the close.

Presentation

The great sublimity of the Fourth Gospel stands in sharp contrast to simplicity of the Synoptics. But there were great differences in the circumstances under which the Gospels were written. Saint John was forced to adopt an entirely different style from that used in the Synoptics, writing for the newly-converted Jews.

The peculiar style of John is found not only in the narrative portions of the Gospel, but also in the discourses of Jesus and in the words of the Baptist and other people. The discourses had to be transliterated from Aramaic into Greek, and in this process received from the author their distinctive style. The leading ideas alone are set forth in exact accordance with the sense and they come to reflect the style of the Evangelist. Finally, the disciple surely received from his Master many of the distinctive metaphors and expressions which imprint on the Gospel its peculiar character.

General Character

Also, having mentioned in his account of the Crucifixion that the disciple whom Jesus loved stood beneath the Cross beside the mother of Jesus (John 19:26 ), he adds, after telling of the death of Christ and the opening of His side, the solemn assurance: "And he that saw it hath given testimony; and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you also may believe" (19: 35). John calls himself the "disciple whom the Lord loved". He assures us, not merely that this testimony is true, but that he was a personal witness of its truth. In this manner he identifies himself with the disciple beloved of the Lord who alone could give such testimony from intimate knowledge. This is repeated at the end of his Gospel. After again referring to the disciple whom Jesus loved, he immediately adds the words: "This is that disciple who giveth testimony of these things, and hath written these things; and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24).

The Doctrine

John makes his teaching center around the Person of Jesus, while the Synoptics bring into relief rather the Kingdom of God. At the end of the first century there was no need for the Evangelist to repeat the lessons concerning the Kingdom of Heaven. His task was to emphasize the fundamental truth of the Divinity of the Founder of this Kingdom. By chronicling those words and works of the Redeemer in which He Himself had revealed the majesty of His glory.

See also

External Links

Notes and references

  1. May, Herbert G. and Bruce G. Metzger, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 1286
  2. NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1985
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