The Gospel of John
Topic: The Gospel of John
In this session, we look at the Gospel of John.
Speaker: Matt Fell
Matt is based in Cambridge and head up the year team project for the Relational Mission churches, part of the New Frontiers family. In this session he talks us through the Gospel of John.
The Gospel of John
The Date of the Gospel of John
50 years ago, the typical academic biblical scholar would tell the following story:-
“St John’s Gospel is clearly written in the second century. It’s not by an eyewitness. It is a piece of textual composition with quite a complicated history where an early level of very, very speculative and rather unorthodox theology has been uneasily married to a later editor’s work smoothing it all out. It was very, very popular with Gnostic heretics in the second century and the mainstream church took quite a long time to accept it in it’s full integrity. As a source for history, it’s very unreliable and it presents us with a highly complex theology whose relationship with the synoptic gospels and with St Paul is very difficult to work out.” Rowan Williams, ‘An Introduction to St. John’s Gospel’, take from a lecture series at St Paul’s Theological Centre, London, January 2009. (http://aoc2013.brix.fatbeehive.com/articles.php/1204/an–introduction–to–st–johns–gospel–st–pauls–theological–centre)
Thankfully we can ignore that nonsense! Why?
– Textual evidence
– Shifts in New Testament studies
It is likely that the fourth Gospel was written sometime between 70AD and 100AD
Who Wrote it and Why?
‘These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ John 20:31
- John Son of Zebedee, or Elder of Ephesus?
- John the Elder?
Ultimately the question of authorship is of secondary importance. The true author of scripture is the Holy Spirit and either way the gospel was evidently penned by someone who had been close to Jesus.
‘The Disciple whom Jesus loved’ John 21:20 – and who outran Peter!!
A Unique Gospel
- John’s Gospel is notably different to Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s (the Synoptics). In particular:-
- The order of events is different
- Key events are narrated differently
- There are no mentions of the virgin birth, the transfiguration or the institution of the Lord’s Supper
- John only describes a few of Jesus’ healings/miracles
- John recorded long dialogues from Jesus’ teaching and interaction with others and during which the gospel offers profound and explicit theological statements about Jesus identity, i.e. ‘I and the Father are one’ John 10:30
Commentary from Early Church History
(these quotes are taken from the introduction to The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament IVa, John 1-10, Edited by Joel C Elowsky.
The following quote is taken from the Muratorian Fragment, a copy of what is thought to be the earliest list of New Testament books. The list makes comments on why particular books are included and says this about the Gospel of John : ‘The Fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow disciples and bishops entreated him, he said “Fats now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to us.” On the same night was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind. And so, although different points are taught to us in the several books of the Gospels there is no difference as regards the faith of the believers since in all of them everything is related under one imperial spirit …… John professes himself to be not only the eye-witness but also the hearer: and besides that the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning our Lord in their order. ”
In the fourth century the Bible translator, theologian and church historian, Jerome recounted that John the Apostle had been asked by bishops in Asia to write an account of Jesus’ life’against Cerinthus and other heretics and especially against the then growing dogma of the Ebionites, who assert that Christ did not exist before Mary. On this account [John] was compelled to maintain [Christ’s] divine nativity. “There is good evidence from the second century that John was involved in disputes with heretics and particularly Cerinthus. Theologian Iranaeus (130-202AD) recalls in his writings a story he was told by his mentor, Polycarp (69-156AD), who was in turn directly mentored by John, that John was once bathing in the Ephesian bath house when the Gnostic Cerinthus entered John quickly fled the scene and told others that he feared that ‘the bath house would fall down since Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, was within.”
Later, Augustine would say “the other evangelists instruct us on their Gospels on the active life; but John in his Gospel instructs us also on the contemplative life.” John Chrysoston, the Arch Bishop of Constantinople in the fifth century, stated of the fourth Gospel that “If people actually had the capacity to receive and retain these words they would no longer exist as mere mortals or remain on the earth.”
“So That You May Believe…”
- The Gospel was written by an eye witness. Either the Apostle John or John the Elder.
- It is slower paced than the Synoptic Gospels.
- John takes time to remember and reflect upon just some of the things Jesus said and did.
- The Gospel is very precious for the insight it gives us of Jesus understanding of his own identity.
Prologue: “In the beginning was the Word”
He Came to HIs Own and His Own People Did Not Receive HIm: Jesus and the Jews
There is a complicated and distressing history concerning John’s gospel and anti-semitism.
Throughout the Gospel the author is explicit in naming ‘The Jews’ as those who plot against Jesus and killed him. Consequently this Gospel has been used to justify anti-semitism throughout history.
Linked with this issue is a particular theological conundrum.
In vers 17 of this prologue John states: “The Torah (the Law) was given through Moses; Grace and Truth come through Jesus Christ.”
Q. Does this mean that the Gospel of Jesus – and the Christian faith in general – does away with the Jewish religion and renders it inferior?
John 5:39 “They that bear witness about me…”
37And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41I do not receive glory from people. 42But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.44How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.47But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
We Have Seen HIs Glory…Full of Recieved Grace and Truth.
The climax of John’s prologue is verses 14-18. God’s glorious presence has returned to his people, but this time not in the temple (or any other man made structure), but rather in human flesh. John wants to share his glory with us: “We have seen his glory”. Just as John the baptist was witness to light, one through whom the true light shined, John the author rights his gospel so that the light of Jesus’ glory might shine through it. John wants us to see this glory, know the truth, and receive from Jesus Christ grace upon grace.
Lets think on what these three words mean in John’s Gospel:-
Beholding the Glory
To appreciate how John witnesses to Jesus by showing us how he fulfils the features of Jewish religion, we are going to break into groups and look at specific motifs in the gospel such as the light the world or the bread of life.
For each one, we will be asking the following;
- How does the motif use Old testament Themes to display Jesus’ glory i.e how do we see jesus’ authority, beauty and fame through this motif?
- How does a motif reveal the truth about Jesus and our salvation? i.e what does this motif teach us about how we are saved?
- How does this motif communicate grace to us? i.e what does this motif teach us about what we receive in salvation?
Read the passages of scripture for each motif. Make sure you read them in order.
1:14, 1:51 (take a look at Genesis 28:10-17), 2:13-22, 10:22-39, (maybe grab a smart phone and search the Jewish Feast of Dedication; why ight it be significant that Jesus is in the temple at this time? What is ironic about how the Jews want to stone Jesus?)
The Light of the World
1:3-5, 3:19-21, 8:12-18, (maybe look up the Feast of Booths; why might it be significant that Jesus makes this claim during this feast?)
The Bread of Life
6:1-59 (A question to help: What time of year is it? Why is bread significant at this time of year? Perhaps give verse 55 a read alongside 1:29). Also take a look at Exodus 25:9 and 23-30.
Exodus 17:1-7, 7:2 and 37-39, 19:31-37. Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1 and 14:8.
The Lamb of God
1:29, 6:55, 19:14 and 31-36 (Also take a look at Exodus 12)
3:27-30, 2:1-12, Ruth 4:1-8, 1:27, 4:4-10 (Does this remind you of anything? Take a look back at Genesis 29:1-3 and 9).
The King of Israel
1:49, 10:11-18, Ezekiel 34:15-16 and 23-24, 12:12-15, 18:33-40
Son of God
Exodus 4:22 (Q-Who is God’s Son in this passage?), Psalm 2:1-7 (Q-Who is God’s Son in this passage? How might this passage relate to the Exodus passage?, 1:49, 1:11-14, 5:19-27, 10:22-30
Word of the Father
1:1, 1:18, Genesis 15:1, 8:58, Ezekiel 1:1-3, 12:37-43
The Great I Am
Exodus 3:14, 6:35, 8:12, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1, 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 8:28, 8:58, 13:19, 18:5
Son of Man
Daniel 7:9-14, 1:51, 3:12-21, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, 5:25-30, 12:20-33
The Resurrection and the Life
11:23-26, 3:16, 4:14, 5:25-29, 6:50-51, 10:27-28, 20:30-31
The Missing Pieces:
John’s Gospel misses several important moments from Jesus’ life that are recorded in the other Gospels. Having looked at the ways in which John does present Jesus, we might be in a better position to understand why he kept those moments out of the Gospel.
- The Virgin Birth
- The Transfiguration
- The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Reflecting on the Glory
Having worked through the various motifs of John’s presentation, how would you answer the following questions?
- What does Jesus’ Glory look like?
- What Truth/Truths have we learnt today?
- What fresh revelation of God’s grace have I had from looking at John’s Gospel today?
Witnessing to the Glory
John the Apostle tells us that John the Baptist was a witness to the light. The light of Christ shone in and through him. Later in the Gospel Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come upon the Christian Church to make us – including you and I – his witness.
- John tells us that John the Baptist was not himself the light but a witness to the light. Do we ever feel like we need to be the saviour of others? i.e. the person who brings them to God?
- How could our lives bear witness to the light of Christ?
- John used the Jewish culture to witness to Jesus. Are there ways we could use our culture to show how Jesus fulfils our desires and hopes?
Meditation: Abide, Love, Pray
Give John 15 a read. The Christian life is here described as being a blossoming branch in the life giving vine of Jesus.
- Why do you think that Jesus used the image of a vine, fruit and branches?
- In verse 13 Jesus says ‘Greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ What does it mean to abide in Jesus’ death and resurrection?
- The New Testament gives 3 practical ways that the church can abide in Jesus love – they are baptism (see Romans 6), the bread and wine (see John 6:53-56) and the Bible (John 8:31). How can we experience Jesus’ love in these things?
- In verse 10 Jesus says ‘If you keep my commands you will abide in my love’; then in verse 12 he explains ‘this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ Why is it that we must love others in order to abide in Jesus’ love?
- Verses 7-8 make a remarkable promise about prayer: ‘If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you, By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’ Why is this promise conditional on us abiding in Christ and having his word abide in us?
- The fruit of abiding in Jesus’ love is that we ourselves become more loving. Let’s make 2019 a fruitful year of Christ like love and service! Read John 15:7-8 and pray for love in our churches. As you do so, see how the Spirit leads you to pray for specific situations and people – be expectant!