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John, the Gospel of

Holman Bible Dictionary

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According to tradition the fourth Gospel was written by John the apostle in Ephesus, toward the end of his life. Perhaps because it is so different from the Synoptic Gospels, Clement of Alexandria called it the “spiritual Gospel.”

Since the beginning of the modern era, scholars have debated the authorship and historicity of this Gospel. The Gospel itself says only that it was written by the beloved disciple (John 21:20-24 ). Although this disciple is traditionally identified as the apostle John, the Gospel itself does not make this identification. See John 1.

Part of the enigma of John is its distinctiveness from the other three canonical Gospels. John does not tell of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. Jesus tells no parables, and there is nothing like the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus heals no lepers, and demons are never mentioned. The kingdom of God, which is the primary theme of Jesus' preaching in the Synoptics, is scarcely mentioned in John. Instead of the short, pithy sayings that characterize Jesus' words in the Synoptics, one finds in John extended discourses. There is no list of the twelve disciples, and “the twelve” are mentioned only at the end of John 6:1 and once later ( John 20:24 ). The bread and the wine are not mentioned at the last supper. Instead, Jesus washes the disciples' feet. There are also differences in chronology. In the Synoptics Jesus spends His entire ministry in and around Galilee and makes one trip to Jerusalem, just a week before His death. According to John, however, Jesus made four trips to Jerusalem (John 2:13; John 5:1; John 7:10; John 12:12 ) and spent a significant part of His ministry in Judea.

The Gospel of John, therefore, gives a distinctive account of Jesus' “signs,” His words, and His ministry. Parts of the Gospel are remarkably parallel to the synoptic accounts, but the distinctive elements should not be overlooked as one ponders its mystery and message.

A widely accepted theory holds that the Gospel makes use of an account of the signs Jesus performed. The first two of these are numbered (John 2:1-11; John 4:46-54 ). At other points one can also see evidences of earlier stages in the Gospel's composition. In John 14:31 Jesus said, “Arise, let us go hence.” The next three chapters, however, continue the farewell discourse. Only at John 18:1 do we read the natural continuation of John 14:31 : “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples.” Many Bible students regard John 15-17 as a longer version of the discourse material contained in John 14:1 . Similarly, the Gospel seems to reach its conclusion at the end of John 20:1 . Jesus appeared to the disciples, comforted them, commissioned them, and consecrated them with the Holy Spirit. Thomas's doubt was overcome, and Thomas voiced the Gospel's climactic confession: “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28 ). Jesus pronounced a beatitude on all who would later believe, and the evangelist stated the purpose for which the Gospel was written (John 20:30-31 ). To many Bible students the end of John 20:1 appears to be the original ending of the Gospel. No ancient manuscript, however, lacks the last chapter, which these Bible students think was probably added shortly later by the final editor. Regardless of the whether material in the Gospel was added early or late in the process of composition, it all derived from the witness of the Beloved Disciple as his teachings were developed and used in the worship of the community that gathered around him. It is the inspired Word God has given us “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” ( John 20:31 ).

The earliest period of the history of John's community took place within a Jewish synagogue. The account of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, which makes frequent allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures, was probably shaped during this period. Other sections of the Gospel, such as the calling of the first disciples (John 1:35-51 ) may also reflect the preaching of this group at a time when they were appealing to fellow Jews.

As a result of their confession of Jesus as the Christ, these Christian Jews were expelled from the synagogue and persecuted by the Jewish community. The Gospel reflects conflict with the Jewish authorities both during the ministry of Jesus and at the time of the writing of the Gospel. By telling about the life of Jesus in such a way that later believers saw similarities with their own struggles, the Gospel's message took on greater significance for the Christian community. The expulsion from the synagogue is referred to in John 9:22; John 12:42; and John 16:2 , and other passages speak of “fear of the Jews” (John 7:13; John 20:19 ).

The Gospel was written after the separation from the synagogue to proclaim the gospel message that gave the Christian community its identity and purpose. The Gospel of John features episodes in which individuals are caught between Jesus' call for faith and the Jewish authorities' rejection of His claims (Nicodemus, John 3:1; the man at the Pool of Bethesda, John 5:1; the crowds in Galilee, John 6:1; and the man born blind, John 9:1 ). The purpose of the Gospel, therefore, was twofold: (1) to call believers to reaffirm their faith and move on to a more mature faith, and (2) to call the “secret believers” (John 12:42; John 19:38 ) to confess Jesus as the Christ and join the Christian community.

Eventually, a dangerous belief that either denied or diminished the significance of the incarnation began to develop. Some Johannine Christians taught that Jesus was certainly the Christ, but they denied that the Christ had come “in flesh” (see 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7 ). Finally, the community was divided. See John, The Letters of .

We do not know what happened to the Johannine community after the writing of the epistles, but we may conjecture that the remnant that followed the elder was assimilated into the emerging church of the second century while the elder's opponents, with their Docetic Christology, probably found their way into the developing Gnostic groups.

The roots of the Johannine tradition reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and the Gospel stands on eyewitness testimony (John 19:34-35; John 21:24-25 ). The composition of the Gospel, described above, probably stretched over several decades, with the Gospel reaching its present form around A.D. 90-100. Its place in the New Testament, following the other three Gospels, may reflect the memory that it was the last of the four Gospels.

The Gospel of John draws a portrait of Jesus as the divine Logos, the Christ, the Son of God. Its message is thoroughly Christological. Jesus has a dual role as Revealer and Redeemer. He came to reveal the Father and to take away “the sin of the world” (John 1:18 , John 1:29 ). As the Logos, Jesus continued God's creative and redemptive work, turning water to wine, creating eyes for a blind man, and breathing Holy Spirit into His disciples. As the Revealer, Jesus revealed that he and the Father were one (John 10:30 ), so those who saw Him (that is, received Him in faith) saw the Father (John 14:9 ). All that Jesus does and says points beyond and above to the knowledge of God. Through Jesus' revelation of the Father, which reaches its fulfillment in His death on the cross, Jesus delivers the world from sin. Sin is understood in the Gospel of John primarily as unbelief (John 16:9 ).

John contains a profound analysis of the experience of faith. The human condition apart from God is characterized in John as “the world,” which is under the power of sin. Some never believe because they love the darkness and the glory of men rather than the glory of God. All who believe are called, drawn, and chosen by the Father (John 6:37 , John 6:44; John 10:3 , John 10:27; John 17:6 ). Some believe only because of Jesus' signs. The Gospel accepts this response as faith but calls believers on to faith that is based on Jesus' words and on the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus.

Those who believe in His name are born “from above” (John 3:3 NRSV). They are the “children of God” ( John 1:12 ), whose life is sustained by living water and the bread of life. They live in community as His sheep (John 10:1 ), the branches of the true Vine (John 15:1 ). Jesus' disciples are to live “just as” he lived. The twin commands of the Johannine community were to have faith and to love one another (John 14:1; John 13:34; 1 John 3:23 ). Those who believe already have eternal life, here and now (John 17:3 ). They have already crossed from death into life (John 5:24 ), and the judgment occurs in one's response to Jesus (John 3:19 ). John emphasized the present fulfillment of future expectations. Believers, however, will also be raised “at the last day” (John 6:39-40 ,John 6:39-40,6:44 ,John 6:44,6:54 ).


I. The Prologue (John 1:1-18 )

II. Jesus Before the World (John 1:19-12:50 )

A. Calling Disciples (John 1:19-2:11 )

B. The Temple and Nicodemus (John 2:12-3:21 )

C. An interlude in Judea (John 3:22-36 )

D. The Samaritan woman and the nobleman (John 4:1-54 )

E. The man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-47 )

F. Feeding the multitude (John 6:1-71 )

G. Confrontation in Jerusalem (John 7:1-8:59 )

H. The blind man and the shepherd's sheep (John 9:1-10:42 );

I. The raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-54 )

J. Preparations for the Passover (John 11:55-12:50 )

III. Jesus with His Own (John 13:1-20:31 )

A. The Farewell Discourse (John 13:1-17:26 )

1. The footwashing (John 13:1-30 )

2. The Farewell Discourse: Part 1 (John 13:31-14:31 )

3. The Farewell Discourse: Part 2 (John 15:1-16:4 )

4. The Farewell Discourse: Part 3 (John 16:5-33 )

5. The high priestly prayer (John 17:1-26 )

B. The trial of Jesus (John 18:1-19:16 )

C. The death of Jesus (John 19:16-42 )

D. The resurrection of Jesus (John 20:1-29 )

E. Conclusion (John 20:30-31 )

IV. Epilogue (John 21:1-25 )

See John, The Letters of; John the Apostle; and Logos .

R. Alan Culpepper

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'John, the Gospel of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​j/john-the-gospel-of.html. 1991.
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