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NEW TESTAMENT SURVEY NewTestament Survey


STUDY 8 - THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.188-201; R.H.Gundry, pp.252-293. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.135-179.


1. AUTHORSHIP, DATE AND PLACE OF THE GOSPEL

Authorship
"Who was the author? Evidently he was with Jesus from the beginning of his career, for he mentions episodes that antedate the opening of the account of Jesus' ministry in the Synoptics. He must have belonged to the group of disciples mentioned in the narrative. According to the final chapter, he is to be identified with the 'beloved disciple' who was a close associate of Peter, and who had been very near to Jesus as the last supper (13:23), at the trial (18:15-16), and at the cross (19:26-27). Only one of Jesus' most intimate associates would fit these circumstances" (M.C.Tenney). [1] It is possible from the Gospel's internal evidence to argue for apostolic authorship, and to say that this points to the apostle John, as Tenney does.  The earliest external evidence comes from Papias, who alludes to John, one of the disciples of the Lord - but he also mentions a second John (John the elder) which has led to some confusion.  However, from the time of Irenaeus the Fourth Gospel has been attributed to John the son of Zebedee.

Place of writing
"The best solution seems to be that John was produced in Asia minor, possibly in Ephesus, toward the close of the first century, when the church had achieved a measure of maturity, and when there was need for an advance in the teaching concerning the nature of faith". [2] Gentile surroundings are intimated by the way feasts and usages of the Jews are explained, as when the evangelist says that Jews did not associate with Samaritans (4:9; cf., 2:13; 19:31).

Date of writing
Dating is often said to be between A.D. 90 -100, but estimates run from c.A.D. 40 -140.  The Rylands fragment, which contains Jn.18:31- 33,37- 38, is dated c.A.D. 120.  Controversially, J.A.T.Robinson has argued for an early date: A.D. 40-65. [3]


2. CONTENTS OF THE GOSPEL

The purpose of the Gospel is stated in Jn.20:30-31.  The verses also give a key to its contents. Tenney underlines the words 'signs', 'believe' and 'life'.  He sees the Gospel arranged around its seven signs (Gk. sēmeia), which illustrate different areas of the Lord's power. [4]

The seven 'signs' of the Fourth Gospel

  1. The changing of water into wine (2:1-11):      involving quality

  2. The healing of the nobleman's son (4:46-54):  involving space

  3. The healing of the impotent man (5:1-9):       involving time

  4. The feeding of the five thousand (6:1-14):     involving quantity

  5. The walking on the water (6:16-21):             involving natural law

  6. The healing of the blind man (9:1-12):           involving misfortune

  7. The raising of Lazarus (11:1-46):                  involving death.


M.C.Tenney's Gospel outline ascertains a development on the theme of faith or belief.

  • The Gospel of John: A Gospel of Belief

  • The prologue (1:1-18). The Logos                     The Gospel has a definite

  • The period of consideration (1:20-4:54)             structure, as Tenney says

  • The period of controversy (5:1-6:71)                 "The inspired writer                            2

  • The period of conflict (7:1-11:53)                     has selected certain episodes

  • The period of crisis (11:54-12:36a)                   and teachings that represent

  • The period of conference (12:36b-17:26)           the character and progress

  • The period of Consummation (13:1-20:31)          of "the revelation"

  • The epilogue (21:1-25).                                  of "God in Christ". [5]

3. THE EMPHASIS OF THE GOSPEL

John's Gospel, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, has a different perspective - it begins in eternity and not in time.  Immediately we are introduced to the Word or Logos, who is equal with God, and who made everything in the cosmos (1:1-3).

The Gospel of the Son of God
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (Jn.1:1-3).  The Fourth Gospel emphasises the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  His humanity is clearly seen, but his deity is represented from the very first verse (1:1; cf., 1:18; 10:30; 14:9; 20:28).

Jesus as the I AM
One of the features of the Gospel is the seven I AM compound sayings which see Jesus as: the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12), the door (of the sheepfold) (10:7), the good shepherd (10:11,14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way, the truth and the life (14:6) and the true vine (15:1). These stress Christ's uniqueness and deity.  He is the 'I AM' (Jn.8:58 and 18:5-6 need to be studied with reference to Ex.3:14).

The humanity of Jesus
The Gospel clearly portrays the reality of Christ's humanity in order to combat the heresy of docetism.  The statement, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (1:14) is simple, yet profound.  In the Gospel Jesus is pictured as weary, thirsty, impatient, wistful, severe, sorrowful, appreciative, troubled, loving, loyal, and courageous (see 4:6; 4:7; 6:26; 6:67; 8:44; 11:35; 12:7; 12:27; 13:1; 18:6; 18:23). These are human characteristics.

4. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GOSPEL

The sayings of Jesus
There are more sayings of Jesus in this Gospel than in the Synoptics.  This makes it a good 'first book' for a new Christian.  The Father features in many of the Lord's sayings.  The Paraclete Sayings, which supply unique teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, are unique to the Gospel (see Jn.14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7-11).  Solemn sayings are introduced by a double 'Amen' or 'truly' (e.g., 3:3,5; 6:26), and compare with those in the Synoptic Gospel which only feature one 'Amen' (e.g., Mt.6:2,5,16).

The Gospel is one of relationships
Jesus is seen relating to people of different lifestyles and backgrounds.  Some twenty-seven interviews are noted involving John the Baptist and his disciples, a devote Jew, a member of the Sanhedrin, a woman of Samaria, a nobleman, a paralysed man, a blind man, Greeks, Pilate, and others. [6]

Keywords and concepts
A number of words reoccur and are important as they represent theological concepts, such as: 'life', 'light', 'love', 'hour', 'know', 'abide', 'world', 'glory' and 'believe'.  Some words are opposites, for example 'light' and 'darkness' - and can assume a dualistic role.  'Believing in' (pisteuōn eis) is an important phrase, which intimates a personal trust in the one related to (e.g., 3:16). The idea of revelation is important to John as: The Word reveals himself to the world (1:19-12:50), then reveals himself to his own (13:1-21:25).

Character studies
There are some good character studies in John beginning with Nicodemus (3:1-15; 7:50-52; 19:39), Philip (1:43-46; 6:5-7; 14:8-11), Thomas (11:16; 14:5-6; 20:24-29), Mary and Martha (11:1-40; 12:2-8) and Mary the mother of Jesus (2:1-5; 19:26-27).  Some details are supplied by John which fill in details from the lives of other people featured in the Synoptic Gospels, such as Peter, John and Judas Iscariot.

5. THE PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL

The purpose of the Fourth Gospel is given in 20:30-31.  It may also be intimated by Philip's request: "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (Jn.14:8). The way that John supplements the material in the Synoptics may help us answer the question: "Why four Gospels?".  John's Gospel is a 'spiritual Gospel'.

The Judean ministry
The Fourth Gospel is important as it supplies details of the public ministry of Jesus absent from the Synoptic Gospels.  Miracles such as the changing of water into wine, and the raising of Lazarus are unique to John (chpts.2 & 11). It focuses on the Judean ministry of Jesus - Jerusalem being central to many stories and sayings.  The Gospel enables us to appreciate that the Lord's public ministry lasted for more than a year - probably for three to four years.  (This awareness is supported by the record of the Lord's attendance at major Jewish feasts or festivals.) [7]



ENDNOTES

1. M.C.Tenney, p.190.

2. M.C.Tenney, p.192.

3. J.A.Robinson, The Priority of John, London, SCM, 1985.

4. The three Greek words for miracles are to be found in Acts 2:22: "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs" (dunamesi kai terasi kai semeiois).

5. M.C.Tenney, pp.193-194.

6. This makes the Fourth Gospel an excellent book of instruction for friendship evangelism.

7. Textbooks will make you aware of topological and chronological questions. Archaeology has confirmed some Gospel details, such as the presence of the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate (Jn.5:2).



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