The Gospel of John

Writer: 
Erkki Koskenniemi
Translator: 
Elina Salminen

Read or listen The Gospel of John (esvbible.org)


Introduction to the Gospel of John

In addition to three synoptic Gospels, the New Testament includes the Gospel of John, that is considered as the youngest of the Gospels. It is distinctively different from the other Gospels.

When interpreting the Gospel of John, it is crucial to consider the traditional knowledge behind the book because it will determine how we approach the gospel; either as a late work reflecting the message of the Early Church, or as path of tradition reaching back to Jesus's times and influenced by a significant figure of the Early Church.
 Early sources mention "the giant of the Early Church". Bishop of Asia Minor, Polykrates (~190), tells about John, "who leaned against God's chest and became a shield-carring priest, witness and a teacher who now rests in Efesos". Polykrates was born approximately in 125 and had vast knowledge of Asia Minor tradition. According to Polykrates, John mentioned above is not an apostle (unlike he says is the case with Filippos whom he also mentions).
 According to Eirenaios (Irenaeus), also John "the disciple of the Lord who also leaned against His chest composed a gospel of his own while living in Efesos in Asia Minor". Eirenaios doesn't either call this John an apostle.
 It seems that around 130, the bishop of Hierapolis mentioned two Johns: "what Andreas or Peter said, or Philippos, Thomas or Jacob, or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord said, or what Aristion or the old John, the disciples of the Lord will say".
 The first John seems to be an apostle while the latter, "the old John", was probably someone remembered by contemporary people.  According to the Gospel of John, John relies on the firm authority of the Early Church that dares to set itself beside Peter and even above him. We should concern the tradition seriously even though it is difficult to estimate whether it reveals us one John or two separate Johns; John the apostle, and the old respected teacher John.

Gospel of John and Epistles of John 1-3 (and partly also Revelation) has a lot in common, and it is easy to think they are same written tradition of John, though it is risky to claim them to have been created by the same author (Revelation not very likely is). Anyhow, the epistles reveal that there was prevailing doctrinal disintegration, to which they strongly react.

The Gospel of John is the youngest of the gospels, and it has traditionally been assumed that John knew and utilized the writings of his predecessors. The assumption is probably correct, though many scholars of today consider that John didn't know the Synoptics. However there are many common elements, though John uses them differently (e.g the cleansing of the temple in the beginning of Jesus's activity, John 2:13-16; the confession of Peter, John 6:67-71; the anointing at Bethany, 12:1-8; the miraculous draught of fish, 21:1-14).

According to all of the evangelists, Jesus's activity began at the neighbourhoods of John the Baptist. Markus and other Synoptics describe how Jesus first taught in Galilee and its surroundings, and then went on His fateful journey to Jerusalem. In the Gospel of John, Jesus visits Jerusalem often (2:13; 5:1; 7:10). Hence, His activities are being described through a remarkably vast time period (John mentions three Passover Festivals: 21:13; 6:4; 11:55).

Placing the events on a map is not straightforward: in 3:22 Jesus goes to Judea where, according to 2:23, He already was, and in chapter five He is in Jerusalem but in chapter six in Galilee. Also the transition after 14:31 into chapter episodes 15 and 16 imply that the work has not been carefully structured. Some scholars assume the contradictions resulted from a complicated and prolonged editing process while others state they were due to several different sources.

Right from its prologue, the Gospel of John is strongly a theological work. Several elements reveal this; both conversations (Jesus and Nicodemus, John 3) and the miracle stories (e.g. healing the blind, John 9), and of course the Passion of the Christ. John links The Last Judgement (5:28-29; 12:48) and so called "present eschatology" together: who has found Jesus, has already been brought from death to life (4:23; 11:25-26). Baptism (chapter 3) and the Holy Communion (chapter 6) are referred to, but only between the lines.

Chapters 1-12 tell about the things Jesus taught,
Chapters 12-20 tell about the suffering and death of Jesus.
Chapter 21 is the epilogue.