The Gospel of John

This gospel is also anonymous.  Church tradition attributed it to the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, who with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, was among the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.  The gospel of John shares material with the first three gospels in the New Testament, but it presents this material differently and includes teachings attributed to Jesus that contrast in both form and content with the teachings in the synoptic gospels.  The author of the gospel of Luke edits the gospel of Mark more freely than the author of the gospel of Matthew, but the author of the gospel of John is the most radical editor of the story of Jesus 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 do not include discourses by Jesus.  Finally, in the synoptic gospels Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples and is crucified the day after, 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 inconsistencies, but affirmed that the Spirit of God was speaking through the gospel of John as well as through the synoptic gospels.  The gospels of the Christian Bible, should not be understood as biographies or factual reports of historical events, but as confessions of faith that are presented in the form of narratives.

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 the first three 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, as the brother of John, and gives major roles to other disciples that are silent in the synoptic gospels. It brings Mary and Martha to center stage, and tells us about "the disciple Jesus loved" without telling us his name.

In this gospel Jesus heals but, more significantly 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 he 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.

Perhaps the gospel of John may best be read as the witness of an author and his community of faith to their rejection by one or more Jewish synagogues. The understanding of Jesus as the Messiah in this early Jewish Christian church is not acceptable to the Jewish authorities, even to those who are sympathetic to much of the teaching of Jesus. The vicious attack on "the Jews" in the gospel of John should not be read, as has been the case historically, to justify the condemnation of the Jewish people. It is the self-serving rhetoric of the author and not the words of Jesus or a divine judgment. In an effort to defend his community and rally other Jews to his cause, the author of the gospel of John indulges in harsh language about "the Jews" that now should elicit repentance among Christians for the history of persecution of Jews by Christians.

The gospel of John is filled with teachings that inspire and comfort. It offers a way of coming to God 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.

John 1-3

John 4-6

John 7-8

John 9-12

John 12-17

John 18-21 © Robert Traer 2016