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by James Martin Gray
The first three Gospels are called the synoptics, from two Greek words which means “a view together,” the idea being that they set forth the same general view of the story of Jesus Christ, and contain much the same material although differently arranged. They were the earliest gospels, in circulation within twenty-five or thirty years of the Ascension, and did the work of an evangelist in carrying the knowledge of Jesus to peoples theretofore ignorant of Him. From among these peoples thus converted to Jesus, Jews, Romans and Greeks, the Christian church was founded, and to this latter body, composed of all three classes, the Gospel of John was addressed.
THE REASON FOR JOHN’S GOSPEL
Thirty years, more or less, had elapsed since the synoptics, and with the growth and development of the church had come up questions for settlement that the fourth gospel was designed to meet. These touched on the Person and work of Jesus as the Messiah, his nature and the significance of His death, so that in answering them John reveals the profoundest truth found in the gospels. For the same reason John’s Gospel is nearly altogether new as compared with the synoptics. This is not to say that John invented what he wrote, or that the substance of his Gospel was unknown to the other writers, but only that, in the wisdom of God, the relation of such things as he records was held back until the period when it was particularly needed and could best be understood and appreciated. John was the last survivor of the twelve, dying near the close of the first century, kept on the earth by divine Providence, until, like his Master, he, too, had finished the work given him to do.
PROOF OF LATER DATE
The proof of the later date of John’s Gospel is in such references as John 1:32 , and John 3:24 , which assume a previous knowledge of the facts on the part of his readers. It is found also in the omissions of all the material of the synoptics down to the passion. There is only one exception to this, the feeding of the five thousand, which was retained in John probably in order to introduce the discourse on the Bread of Life (chap. 6).
There is a further evidence of the later date of John in that which, at the same time, affords an illustration of its profounder character, viz., the prevailing use of words belonging to the later rather than the earlier experiences of Christianity such as: sinner, repent or repentance, righteous, justify, believe, love, God as Father, world as renewed, humanity, truth, true, light, life and eternal life.
DEPTH OF ITS TEACHING
Further illustration of its great depth is found in the miracles it records, which show a higher degree of power than those in the synoptics, and testify the more emphatically to the divine origin of Jesus’ message, and by inference to the Deity of the Messenger. Witness the turning of the water into wine (chap. 2), the healing of the nobleman’s son in the same chapter and that of the impotent man in chapter 5. Also, the man born blind (chap. 9), and the raising of Lazarus (chap. 11).
The nature of the discourses in John’s Gospel illustrates the same thing. They are on the profoundest themes which fell from the lips of our Lord. For example: The New Birth, The Living Water, The Honor of the Son, The Living Bread, The Good Shepherd, The Farewell Discourse.
Consider also the doctrines emphasized in John’s record. Take those related to the Godhead alone. Observe how he speaks of God in the abstract, John 1:18 ; John 4:24 ; John 5:37 . No such teaching about God is found anywhere in the Bible outside of the epistles of this same evangelist and those of Paul. Observe how he speaks of God as Father: John 3:16 ; John 5:36 ; John 6:37 ; John 8:18 ; John 10:30 ; John 17:11 . Of the person of Jesus Christ as related to the Father: John 1:1 ; John 14:0 ; John 18:0 ; John 5:17-18 ; John 5:26 ; John 14:9-10 ; and as related to man, John 1:4 ; John 6:46 ; John 8:40-46 . Of the Holy Spirit: John 3:5 ; John 4:14 ; John 7:38 ; John 14:12 ; John 14:16 ; John 14:26 ; John 15:26 ; John 16:7 . Of course, in these instances it is often Christ Himself who is speaking and John simply reporting or quoting Him, but the point is, it was left for John to do this, to report Him in these deeper and profounder utterances which are so important for the church to know.
1. Why are the other gospels called the synoptics?
2. What was their accomplishment?
3. How much later than they was this gospel written?
4. What was the particular object of this Gospel?
5. How does it compare in character and contents with the others?
6. What was the date of John’s death?
7. Have you examined the proof texts as to the date of this Gospel?
8. What further evidence of a late date can you indicate?
9. Give one or two illustrations of the profundity of this Gospel.
10. Name some of its great discourses.
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