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The Gospel of John

John 1-3 ] John 4-6 ] John 7-8 ] John 9-12 ] John 13-17 ] John 18-21 ]

This gospel is also anonymous. Church tradition attributes it to the apostle John, one of the sons of Zebedee, who shared leadership of the church in Jerusalem with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. The fourth gospel shares only a little material with the first three New Testament gospels, presents this material differently, and includes teachings attributed to Jesus that are in striking contrast to the teachings in the synoptic gospels.

In this gospel Jesus travels to Jerusalem several times during his ministry, whereas in the synoptic gospels Jesus only goes to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry. The gospel of John records discourses by Jesus on various issues and contains no parables, whereas the first three gospels report sayings and parables but have few discourses. In the synoptic gospels Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples and is crucified the next day, but in the gospel of John the last supper Jesus eats with his disciples occurs before the Passover and the crucifixion takes place on the Passover.

The church that accepted this gospel into the canon of the New Testament was well aware of these factual discrepancies, but affirmed that the Spirit of God was speaking through the gospel of John as well as through the synoptic gospels. This is why it is fair to conclude that the gospels of the Christian Bible are not best understood as biographies or as factual reports of history, but as narrative affirmations of faith.

The gospel of John combines Greek philosophy with accounts of Jewish festivals. It presents Jesus as the word with God at the time of creation and as a Rabbi arguing in the Jewish temple. It has Jesus teaching in Jerusalem rather than in Galilee, and puts words into his mouth that are not confirmed by any of the other New Testament gospels. It ignores the role of the James, the son of Zebedee, who is a central character in the other gospels in the New Testament, and gives major roles to other disciples. It brings Mary and Martha to center stage, and tells us about "the disciple Jesus loved" without using his name.

In the gospel of John, Jesus avoids parables and instead carries on dialogues with his adversaries. He heals but, more importantly, gives signs that he is the Son of Man and the Son of God and speaks for the Father. Jesus confronts "the Jews" who deny his authority to speak for God, and condemns those who believe in his teaching but are unable to accept that his flesh and blood must be eaten to gain eternal life. He is a source of division among those who hear him, including his own disciples.

The gospel of John may be the witness of an author and his community to their rejection by one or more Jewish synagogues. The understanding of Jesus as the Messiah in this early Jewish church is not acceptable to the Jewish authorities, even to those who find no fault with much of the teaching of Jesus. The vicious attack on "the Jews" in the gospel of John should not be read to justify the condemnation of the Jewish people. This is the self-serving rhetoric of the author and not a divine judgment. In an effort to defend his community and rally other Jews to his cause, the author of the fourth gospel indulges in harsh language about "the Jews" opposing his faith community. The terrible misuse of this language throughout history should elicit shame and repentance among Christians.

The gospel of John is filled with teachings that inspire and comfort. It offers a way of coming to God the Father through faith in his Son that has given courage and hope to millions of Christians. If the churches repent of the hatred that the gospel of John has fostered against "the Jews," then Christians may proclaim the good news of this gospel for all to hear. We are not alone, Jesus tells us, because the Spirit of truth is with us. We need not be afraid, Jesus says, because he is preparing a place for us. We will find peace, Jesus promises, if we trust in him and in the Father who is revealed through him.

The gospel of John is quite similar to the synoptic gospels in reporting the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, but there are striking differences in the four accounts of the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus to his followers. The gospels vary in naming the first witnesses at the tomb. Those who, in the gospel of Mark, flee in fear are, in the gospel of Matthew, filled with joy. In the gospel of Mark those who went to the tomb tell no one, but in the other gospels they tell the disciples. In the gospel of Luke the disciples do not believe the women who return from the empty tomb, but in the gospel of John two disciples respond to Mary's story by hurrying to the tomb. In the gospel of Mark a young man is seen at the tomb, in the gospel of Matthew there is a single angel, in the gospel of Luke there are two men in "dazzling garments," in the gospel of John we read that Mary Magdalene sees two angels. In the gospel of Matthew the women touch the feet of Jesus and worship him. In the gospel of John a risen Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to him.

In the gospel of Mark the young man present at the empty tomb tells the women that Jesus will meet them and the disciples in Galilee. In the gospel of Matthew a risen Jesus appears to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee. In the gospel of Luke the risen Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem, leaves them in Bethany, and we are told that the disciples remain in Jerusalem. In the gospel of John the risen Jesus also appears to the disciples in and around Jerusalem, but later he appears to some of them in Galilee. The gospel of Matthew and the gospel of John end with the disciples in Galilee. The gospel of Luke ends with the disciples in Jerusalem worshipping in the temple.

Any attempt to reconcile these accounts into a single, factual narrative is not only doomed to failure, but misunderstands that the witness of the gospels is not to facts but to faith. In the life of the early churches there is no question that Jesus has risen, because Paul and Peter and others have had experiences of the risen Christ. The fact of the resurrection experience—however that fact may be understood—is accepted by all those who have found new life in a Christian community. That is what is important to the first Christians, not the details concerning his appearances. The four gospels in the New Testament witness to the experience in the early churches of the power and mystery of the risen Christ. They relate stories about the rising of Jesus in order to communicate to others the personal experience of Christ within the church.

The good news of the gospels in the New Testament is the good news proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles to Greek-speaking Christian communities. In the death and resurrection of Jesus and in the continuing presence of the risen Christ, who abides with those who have faith and who love God and their neighbors, anyone may find forgiveness. In Christ one may be born again, one may enter the kingdom of God (heaven), one may have eternal life.

John 1-3 ] John 4-6 ] John 7-8 ] John 9-12 ] John 13-17 ] John 18-21 ]

 

 

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1 in Faith: A Christian Bible Study Copyright © 2000 by Robert Traer