As I mentioned at our worship service yesterday, we’re really looking forward to what God will teach us during our new Sunday message series, I Am! For the next eight weeks the Gospel according to John will be the text from which all the messages will be taken. Specifically, we’re going to unpack the seven metaphorical and one general I Am statements Jesus made in John. Each week I’ll post some background information and resources on the Fourth Gospel. This week the featured resource is one of several text books I was assigned to read for my grad school class this summer.
Remember the three goals we have at TP this fall: 1. Deepen our belief in Jesus 2. Deepen our unity and love for each other 3. Deepen our conviction about moving people toward Christ. Here we go…
Edwin A. Blum
In the strict sense of the term, the Fourth Gospel is anonymous. No name of its author is given in the text. This is not surprising because a Gospel differs in literary form from an epistle or letter. The letters of Paul each begin with his name, which was the normal custom of letter writers in the ancient world. None of the human authors of the four Gospels identified himself by name. But that does not mean one cannot know who the authors were. An author may indirectly reveal himself within the writing, or his work may be well known in tradition as coming from him.
Internal evidence supplies the following chain of connections regarding the author of the Fourth Gospel. (1) In John 21:24 the word “them” refers to the whole Gospel, not to just the last chapter. (2) “The disciple” in 21:24 was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:7). (3) From 21:7 it is certain that the disciple whom Jesus loved was one of seven persons mentioned in 21:2(Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the two sons of Zebedee, and two unnamed disciples). (4) “The disciple whom Jesus loved” was seated next to the Lord at the Last Supper, and Peter motioned to him (13:23-24). (5) He must have been one of the Twelve since only they were with the Lord at the Last Supper (cf. Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14). (6) In the Gospel, John was closely related to Peter and thus appears to be one of the inner three (cf. John 20:2-10; Mark 5:37-38; 9:2-3; 14:33). Since James, John’s brother, died in the year a.d. 44, he was not the author (Acts 12:2). (7) “The other disciple” (John 18:15-16) seems to refer to the “disciple whom Jesus loved” since he is called this in 20:2. (8) The “disciple whom Jesus loved” was at the cross (19:26), and 19:35 seems to refer to him. (9) The author’s claim, “We have seen His glory” (1:14), was the claim of someone who was an eyewitness (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).
Putting all of these facts together makes a good case for the author of the Fourth Gospel having been John, one of the sons of a fisherman named Zebedee.
The external evidence is the traditional ascription of authorship which has been well known in the church. Polycarp (ca. a.d. 69-ca. a.d. 155) spoke of his contact with John. Irenaeus (ca. 130-ca. 200), the bishop of Lyons, heard Polycarp and testified that “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, had himself published a Gospel during his residence in Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies3. 1). Polycrates, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and other later fathers support this tradition. Eusebius was specific that Matthew and John of the apostles wrote the two Gospels which bear their specific names (The Ecclesiastical History 3. 24. (3-8).
Place of Origin
Place of Origin
The external tradition is strong that John came to Ephesus after Paul had founded the church and that he labored in that city for many years (cf. Eusebius The Ecclesiastical History 3. 24. 1). Supporting this tradition is the evidence of Revelation 1:9-11. When John was in exile on Patmos, an island off the coast of Asia Minor, he wrote to seven Asian churches, the first of which was Ephesus. That the Fourth Gospel was originally published at Ephesus is a good probability.
The date for the Gospel of John was probably between a.d. 85 and 95. Some critics have attempted to assign a date as late as a.d. 150 on the basis of the book’s alleged similarities to Gnostic writings or because of a supposed long development of church theology. Archeological finds supporting the authenticity of the text of John (e.g., John 4:11; 5:2-3), word studies (e.g., synchrōntai, 4:9), manuscript discoveries (e.g., P52), and the Dead Sea Scrolls have given powerful support to an early dating for John. So it is common today to find nonconservative scholars arguing for a date as early as a.d. 45-66. An early date is possible. But this Gospel has been known in the church as the “Fourth” one, and the early church fathers believed that it was written when John was an old man. Therefore a date between 85 and 95 is best. John 21:18, 23 require the passing of some time, with Peter becoming old and John outliving him.
The purpose of the Gospel of John, stated in 20:31, was to record Jesus’ “signs” so that readers would come to believe in Him. Doubtless the author had other purposes as well. Some have argued that John wrote against synagogue Judaism, or the Gnostics, or the followers of John the Baptist. Some think John wrote to supplement the other Gospels. John’s Gospel has a clear evangelistic purpose (as do the other Gospels), so it is no accident that it has been greatly used in the history of the church for that purpose.
The Glory of the Fourth Gospel
The Glory of the Fourth Gospel
In introductions to the Fourth Gospel many writers have a section entitled “The Problem of the Fourth Gospel.” The Fourth Gospel has been thegreat problem in modern New Testament studies. But what is that problem? One critic claimed many years ago that Jesus in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) is historical but not divine, and that in the Fourth Gospel He is divine but not historical. This, however, is clearly an unwarranted distinction, for the Gospel of John begins with a plain statement of the full deity of the Word made flesh (1:1, 14). And the Gospel nearly ends with Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God” (20:28). Jesus Christ is both “divine” (Deity) and historical (One who actually lived on the earth). So what is a problem to many critics is actually the chief glory of the church.
Also, contrary to what some have argued, the Synoptic writers, as well as John, present a divine Messiah. But John’s Gospel is so clear and pointed in his Christology that his theology has greatly enriched the church. The text, “the Word became flesh” (1:14), became the central focal point of the early church fathers’ meditation and study. John presented the Incarnation—God manifest in the flesh—as the foundation of the gospel. This is the “glory,” not the “problem,” of the Fourth Gospel.
John’s Distinctive Portrait
John’s Distinctive Portrait
When one compares the Gospel of John with the other three Gospels, he is struck by the distinctiveness of John’s presentation. John does not include Jesus’ genealogy, birth, baptism, temptation, casting out of demons, parables, transfiguration, instituting of the Lord’s Supper, His agony in Gethesemane, or His Ascension. John’s presentation of Jesus stresses His ministry in Jerusalem, the feasts of the Jewish nation, Jesus’ contacts with individuals in private conversations (e.g., chaps. 3-4; 18:28-19:16), and His ministry to His disciples (chaps. 13-17). The major body of the Gospel is contained in a “Book of Signs” (2:1-12:50) which embraces seven miracles or “signs” which proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This “Book of Signs” also contains great discourses of Jesus which explain and proclaim the significance of the signs. For example, following the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-15), Jesus revealed Himself as the Bread of Life which the heavenly Father gives for the life of the world (6:25-35). Another notable and exclusive feature of the Fourth Gospel is the series of “I am” statements that were made by Jesus (cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5).
The distinctiveness of this Gospel must be kept in perspective. The Gospels were not intended as biographies. Each Gospel writer selected from a much larger pool of information the material which would serve his purpose. It has been estimated that if all the words from the lips of Jesus cited in Matthew, Mark, and Luke were read aloud, the amount of time taken would be only about three hours. Since the ministry of Jesus lasted about three years, a three-hour sample of His teaching is a small amount. Each Gospel records certain miracles or parables and omits others. The focus of the Gospels is the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gospels have been called “Passion narratives with extended introductions.” That is, they center on Christ’s death (e.g., Mark 11-16) with only enough information (e.g., Mark 1-10) to explain the nature of the One who ministered and died.
The following facts are known about John’s relationship to the Synoptic Gospels. John, Zebedee’s son, was Peter’s co-worker in Jerusalem during the early years of the church (Acts 3:1-4:23; 8:14; 12:1-2). Further, John was called one of the “reputed… pillars” of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9). The Jerusalem church was led by the apostles, and James the brother of Jesus with Peter and John often took the initiative (Acts 3:1; 4:3-21; 8:14-24; 15:7-11, 13-21). During the early years of the Jerusalem church a certain fixed core of apostolic teaching and preaching developed. After a great multitude were converted, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Later the number of men who believed grew to about 5,000 (Acts 4:4). It would be necessary for a system of instruction to be set up. This would center around Jesus’ messianic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, particularly His ministry and Passion. In particular the commands of Jesus—His “oral Torah”—were to be taught (Matt. 28:20).
According to fairly strong church tradition, Mark’s Gospel is directly related to Peter’s preaching. Acts 10:36-43seems to reinforce this tradition, for many have seen the Marcan outline in this example of Peter’s preaching. Since Peter’s preaching is basically the outline and content of the Gospel of Mark, John—having been with Peter for many years—would have been completely familiar with this body of truth.
This core of early apostolic Jerusalem preaching and teaching came to be written down by Mark who helped Peter in his later ministry. After John was in Jerusalem for many years (perhaps 20) he went to Asia Minor and settled in Ephesus. When John wrote his Gospel he provided, by the Spirit of God, a rich supplement to the early Jerusalem core. Thus John’s distinctive portrait of Jesus contains 93 percent original material in comparison to the Synoptics. As John wrote, he was aware that even his contribution contained only a small fraction of what could be said (John 20:30-31; 21:25). (For more on the interrelatedness of the Gospels see the Introduction to Matthew and the Introduction to Mark.)
Chart, Jesus’ Seven “Signs” in the Gospel of John
Jesus’ Seven “Signs” in the Gospel of John
|1. Changing water into wine in Cana (2:1-11)
2. Healing an official’s son in Capernaum (4:46-54)
3. Healing an invalid at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (5:1-18)
4. Feeding the 5,000 near the Sea of Galilee (6:5-14)
5. Walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee (6:16-21)
6. Healing a blind man in Jerusalem (9:1-7)
7. Raising dead Lazarus in Bethany (11:1-45)
Chart, Jesus’ Seven “I Am’s” in the Gospel of John
Jesus’ Seven “I Am’s” in the Gospel of John
|1. “I am the Bread of Life” (6:35).
2. “I am the Light of the world” (8:12).
3. “I am the Gate for the sheep” (10:7; cf. v. 9).
4. “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14).
5. “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25).
6. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14:6).
7. “I am the true Vine” (15:1; cf. v. 5).
The Greek text of the Fourth Gospel, as well as that of the entire New Testament, is in very good condition. The reader of the niv will notice certain changes in some places in comparison to the kjv. This reflects the fact that in the years since the publication of the kjv in 1611 new manuscripts and new theories pertaining to textual transmission have enabled scholars to do a better job in ascertaining what the original writings, though not extant, actually said. The two most notable places where the niv varies from the kjv in John are 5:3b-4(which is in the niv marg.) and 7:53-8:11(which is set off from the main body of the niv text). These will be discussed in the commentary.
The Structure and Theme
The Structure and Theme
The key word in the Gospel of John is “believe” (pisteuō), which occurs 98 times. The Greek noun “faith” (pistis) does not occur. (A few times, however, the niv translates the Gr. verb with the Eng. “put… faith in.”) The Greek verb pisteuō is frequently used in the present tense and in participial forms. Apparently John wanted to stress an active, continuous, and vital trust in Jesus. The book can be divided into the following main sections: Prologue (1:1-18), Book of Signs (1:19-12:50), Farewell Instructions (chaps. 13-17), Passion and Resurrection (chaps. 18-20), Epilogue (chap. 21). The Prologue sets forth the theological introduction, which enables readers to understand that the words and deeds of Jesus are the words and deeds of God manifest in the flesh. The Book of Signs records seven miracles which reveal the Father’s glory in the Son. The miracles with their explanatory discourses progressively draw out two responses: faith, and unbelief and hardening in sin.
As Jesus’ public ministry closed, irrational unbelief was the people’s major response (12:37). Jesus in His farewell instructions prepared His own for His coming death and His followers’ future ministry. The culmination of unbelief is evident in the Passion section, and the faith of the disciples is evident in the Resurrection account. The Epilogue completes the Gospel by showing the plans of the Lord for His disciples.
—Bible Knowledge Commentary