Gospel of John Current Hot-Button Issues And Cultural Debates In Practice
Getting Biblical in Daily Life
John's Gospel has one goal: to make you believe in Jesus Christ and the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. Sound heavy? It is. And of the four gospels, John is the heaviest on theological reflection. That means there are fewer miracles and parables, and more long passages where Jesus goes on and on about himself for three chapters. He has to be at least the second most interesting man in the world.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke make up the original Jesus trilogy. They were all written years before John's gospel, which was probably composed starting around 90 CE, about sixty years after Jesus's death (source, p. 334). The authors of John's gospel are the farthest removed from the actual events of Jesus's life, so it's no surprise that their account tends to be a bit different than the others.
But even though this is the fourth installment, the Gospel of John is no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. No offense to Harrison Ford, but Jesus looks just as spry in John as he did in the first three.
The Original Mash-Up
Get ready to have your world rocked: the Gospel of John wasn't written by John. Gasp! That's right—John's gospel was most likely written in stages by various different people. One person probably laid down the original story, and then other writers and editors came around afterward and made some changes. Hey, we're all for peer-editing.
How can we tell? Well, there's quite a bit of repetition and a lot of awkward transitions. Here are a few examples:
- Jesus talks about being like water twice, once in Chapter 4 and again in Chapter 7.
- Sometimes, the gospel says that Jesus is alone and then a crowd suddenly appears (Chapter 8).
- At the end of one of his famous discourses, Jesus tells the disciples they should get up and go, but no one moves and Jesus starts in on yet another long speech (Chapter 14).
But don't get any ideas. If you try to turn in a paper like the Gospel of John, you'll get it back covered in red marks. And we're pretty sure your teachers won't be too impressed with the but-the-Bible-does-it defense.
The authors of John didn't care so much about putting together a tightly edited little tale about Jesus. Keeping the stuff that came before them was important, so it didn't matter too much if there was some repetition or if the action of the story didn't make complete sense.
Besides, well-organized narrative structure is so overrated.
When the Gospel of John was being composed, a lot was going on in the world that colored the authors' views.
Some Jewish people who had professed faith in Christ were being banned from the synagogues for believing in Jesus, which was heresy in the opinion of the powers that be (source, p. 374). Around 66 CE, the Jewish people in Judea also staged a revolt against Rome. Rome was not amused, and they marched in, squashed the rebellion, and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70. Hmmm, sounds exactly like what the religious authorities in the Gospel were afraid would happen if they let Jesus run amuck (11:50). Prophecy or hindsight?
By the 90s, many of the main figures in the Gospel of John were already dead. Jesus, of course, was no longer on the scene, and Peter had been executed by Rome around 64 CE. Lots of the other disciples would have probably been martyred by the time the Gospel was being written, too (source, p. xl). So, with no one around to verify their stories, the authors of John's Gospel give themselves a little more poetic license.
The Other Guy
Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to give you the rundown. John is the only gospel that
- tells how Jesus preexisted the world with God.
- takes place over three years, as opposed to one year.
- shows Jesus moving back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem.
- has a no-parables-allowed policy. (This one's kind of a bummer.)
- contains no stories about demonic possession. Come on, Jesus.
- doesn't say much about the poor or the kingdom of heaven.
- has Jesus talk about himself nearly non-stop.
- repeatedly refers to Jesus as God's "son." The term is used over 20 times in John's Gospel, but only three times in the others. (Source, p. 1013)
It's pretty clear the authors of John are doing their own thing. Maybe it's because they don't know about the other gospels. Or maybe they read them and thought they could do better. Either way, they've definitely managed to carve out their own little Jesus niche.