Gospel of John, Introduction and Overview

The Gospel of John presents a number of problems in determining who wrote it and when (our usual starting place for trying to understand a book of the bible).  First it does not give us any direct indication as to its author other than saying it was written by the Disciple whom Jesus loved.  Traditionally this is assumed to be John the Apostle because John is referred to in this manner elsewhere in scripture.

Current theories as to its authorship in secular and non-conservative circles reference a Johannine School.  A school of thought reflective of the theology of the Gospel of John through which the gospel was written in layers, over time, in the late first or early second century.  These writers had access to the Synoptic gospels and recast stories from the synoptics to fit their theological predilections.

There are probably as many other theories about the writing of John as there are professors to write on the subject and finding a line of reasoning I felt satisfied with was difficult.  I am not one to generally rely on Catholic tradition but I found that position on both the authorship and dating of John to be persuasive.  It is based on the testimony of Iranaeus of Lyons who was directly linked to the Apostles through Polycarp who himself knew and was taught by the Apostle John.  In his writings, Iranaeus cites the Gospel of John more than 100 times often with the remark “as John the Disciple of the Lord says”.  If Iranaeus is to be believed then the book was written late in the 1st Century, around 90 AD, after the fall of Jerusalem.

There is also a significant amount of internal evidence to support John as the author, among the most persuasive is B. F. Westcott’s “concentric circles of proof”.  Here is a link to an article that contains (among other things) an outline of the concentric circles with complete scripture references.  http://bible.org/book/export/html/6341

So why did John write?  Luke tells Theophilus that his intent was to write an orderly account, an historiography.  John announces his purpose in John 20:31 where he says,”But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

So the purpose of John is not to provide a blow by blow account of Jesus life in order from the beginning to end, or even to present events in the order they occurred, but to use selected events from Jesus life to show that He was the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah.

So here’s a great chart I stole shamelessly from John Stevenson, who’s excellent intro to John can be read here, that outlines some of the major differences between John and the synoptics:

Synoptics John
Emphasize the kingdom inheritance Emphasizes eternal life inheritance
Relates many of the short sayings of Jesus Gives us more of the long discourses of Jesus
Emphasize future prophecy Very little about future prophecy

The  and book revolves around 7 selected and one supreme sign of Jesus’ Messiahship.  Water to wine, Healing of a son, the lame man at the pool, feeding the 5,000, walking on water, healing a blind man, the resurrection of Lazarus and, ultimately, Christ’s own resurrection.

Jumping In John 1:1-18

John starts with what is often referred to as “The Hymn to the Logos”.  The Greek word logos is translated word, but in the Greek it was not a reference to a word, as in a part of language, but according to Plato the logos was an impersonal force, a logical principle that allowed man to understand the world.  In contrast “word” in a Hebrew was both the designation of an object and it motivating force, so that the word of the Lord was the a personified will and power of God.

So which was most like John’s understanding?  Both, I think.  We have talked before about God as being both transcendent and immanent, as being above and beyond us and time and creation and with us at one and the same time.  So the Greek Logos, the ultimate source of understanding and knowledge serene and untouchable and ultimately unknowable is personified, made flesh and blood and lives in space and time with us.

He also says several other things about the Logos:

  • The word is eternal — it did not start in the beginning it already was in the beginning.
  • The word was with God – this does not merely indicate physical proximity, but being the same in nature with God, of the same kind and substance.
  • The word has always been God – the word did not just exist in eternity it existed in eternity as God.

How does this hymn advance John’s thesis that Jesus is the messiah?  What does it mean (if anything) to us?