Gospel of John

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The Gospel of John is the fourth gospel in the canon of the New Testament, traditionally ascribed to John the Evangelist. Like the three synoptic gospels, it contains an account of some of the actions and sayings of Jesus, but differs from them in ethos and theological emphases. The purpose is expressed in the conclusion, 20:30-31: "...these [Miracles of Jesus] are written down so you will come to believe that Jesus is the Anointed, God's son — and by believing this have life in his name." (SV)


Major events covered

Some of the major events covered by the Gospel of John, in order:


Main article: Authorship of the Johannine works

The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view.

The text itself is unclear about the issue. John 21:20-25 contains possibly autobiographical information. Christian scholars generally assume I (v. 25), the disciple (v. 24) and the disciple whom Jesus loved (also known as the Beloved Disciple, v. 20) are the same person;[1][2] they further identify all three descriptors with the Apostle John through a combination of external and internal evidence.[3] Critics point out that the abrupt shift from third person to first person in vss. 24-25 indicates that while the author of the epilogue, who is supposed a third-party editor, claims the preceding narrative is based on the Beloved Disciple's testimony, while he himself is not the Beloved Disciple.[4][5]

Ancient testimony is similarly conflicted. Attestation of Johannine authorship can be found as early as Irenaeus.[6] Eusebius wrote that Irenaeus received his information from Polycarp, who is said to have received it from the Apostles directly.[7] Epiphanius, however, takes note of an early Christian sect, sometimes called the Alogi, which believed the Gospel was actually written by one Cerinthus, a second-century Gnostic (Panarion 51.3.1-6). In corroboration with this evidence is a quotation by Eusebius of Caesarea (History of the Church 7.25.2) in which Dionysius of Alexandria (mid-third century) claims the Apocalypse of John (known commonly as the Book of Revelation) was believed by some before him (7.25.1) to also have been written by Cerinthus.

Critical scholarship starting in the 19th century further questioned the apostle John's authorship, arguing that the work was written decades after the events it describes. The critical scholarship argues that there are differences in the composition of the Greek within the Gospel, such as breaks and inconsistencies in sequence, repetitions in the discourse, as well as passages that clearly do not belong to their context, and these suggest redaction.[8]

Raymond E. Brown, a biblical scholar who specialized in studying the Johannine community, summarizes a prevalent theory regarding the development of this gospel.[9] He identifies three layers of text in the Fourth Gospel (a situation that is paralleled by the synoptic gospels): 1) an initial version Brown considers based on personal experience of Jesus; 2) a structured literary creation by the evangelist which draws upon additional sources; and 3) the edited version that readers know today (Brown 1979).


It is typically accepted that John's Gospel was written in or about 100, though dates as early as the 60s or as late as the 140s have been advanced by a small minority. Christian and non-Christian scholars are divided in opinion, with the former accepting a range of c. 90-100 and the latter accepting a range of c. 90-120.

Traditional views of the date

The traditional view is supported by reference to the statement of Clement of Alexandria that John wrote to supplement the accounts found in the other gospels (Eusibius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.7). This would place the writing of John's gospel sufficiently after the writing of the synoptics.

Other views of the date

Conservative scholars consider internal evidences, such as the lack of the mention of the destruction of the temple and a number of passages that they consider characteristic of an eye-witness (John 13:23ff, 18:10, 18:15, 19:26-27, 19:34, 20:8, 20:24-29), sufficient evidence that the gospel was composed before 100 and perhaps as early as 50-70. Barrett suggests an earliest date of 90, based on familiarity with Mark’s gospel, and the late date of a synagogue expulsion of Christians (which is a theme in John).[10] Morris suggests 70, given Qumran parallels and John’s turn of phrases, such as "his disciples" vs. "the disciples".[11] John A.T. Robinson proposes an initial edition by 50-55 and then a final edition by 65 due to narrative similarities with Paul.[12]

Critical views of the date

There are critical scholars who are of the opinion that John was composed in stages (probably two or three), beginning at an unknown time (50-70?) and culminating in a final text around 95-100. This date is assumed in large part because John 21, the so-called "appendix" to John, is largely concerned with explaining the death of the "beloved disciple," supposedly the leader of the Johannine community that would have produced the text. If this leader had been a follower of Jesus, or a disciple of one of Jesus' followers, then a death around 90-100 is reasonable.

P52: earliest manuscript

Main article: Rylands Library Papyrus P52

One of the earliest known manuscripts of the New Testament is a fragment from John. A scrap of papyrus roughly the size of a business card discovered in Egypt in 1920 (now at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, accession number P52) bears parts of John 18:31-33 on one side and John 18:37-38 on the other. The dating of the papyrus is by no means the subject of consensus among critical scholars, with dates as early as before 100 to into the 3rd century. The fragment contains so few lines that it is not useful for attestating the early form of John's Gospel when compared to later, more complete manuscripts.


A hypothesis elaborated by German theologian and biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann in Das Evangelium des Johannes, 1941 (translated as The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 1971), suggested that the author of John depended in part on an oral miracles tradition or a manuscript of Christ's miracles that was independent of the synoptic gospels, whose authors did not use it. This has been labelled a "Signs Gospel" and alleged to have been circulating before 70; evidently, if it ever existed, it is lost. Even readers who doubt that such a document can be precisely identified have noticed the remnants of a numbering associated with some of the miracles that appear in the canonical Gospel of John. Textual critics have noted that, of the miracles that are mentioned only by John, all of them occur in the presence of John 12:37; that these signs are unusually dramatic; and that these "signs" (semeia is uniquely John's expression) are accomplished in order to call forth faith. These miracles are different, not only from the rest of the "signs" in John, but also from all of the miracles in the synoptic gospels, which, according to this interpretation, occur as a result of faith.

These characteristics may be independently assessed by a reader who returns to the text. One conclusion is that John was reinterpreting an early Hellenistic tradition of Jesus as a wonder-worker, a "magician" that would fit within the Hellenistic world-view. These ideas were so hotly denied that heresy proceedings were instituted against Bultmann and his writings. (See more detailed discussions linked below.)

Further arguments that Jesus was also known as a "Divine Man, Wonder-worker (One who is favored by the Gods), or even a Sorcerer" in the late 3rd and 4th centuries have also been given as an explanation of artistic representations of Jesus with a magic wand. Since these representations exist only in the Western part of the Roman Empire, it has been suggested that this has a relation with Arianism. Peter is the only apostle portrayed in early Christian art who also carries a wand. These wands or staffs are thought to be symbols of power. This art, since its discovery, has not been kept secret.

The mysterious Egerton Gospel appears to represent a parallel but independent tradition to the Gospel of John, though having been dated into the late 2nd or 3rd century, does not seem to have bearing on the origin of John.

Handling of source material

It is notable that the Gospel's opening prologue in John 1:1-18 consciously echoes the opening motif of Genesis, "In the beginning". Beyond this, there has been much debate over the centuries on the theological background of the prologue: is it a formula of Hellenistic rhetoric, traditional Jewish wisdom, or some type of Qumran-like Dead Sea scrolls metaphysic?

By the beginning of the 21st century, the pendulum of scholarly opinion has swung back to a traditional Jewish background. While Genesis 1 focuses on God's creation, John 1 focuses on the Word (or Logos in the Greek) and the significance of the Word coming into the already created world.

The Johannine gospel identifies the Logos with Jesus. Compare this with the Second Adam as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 where he states that the First Adam (of Genesis) was a body who became "a living being", while the Second Adam (Jesus) is "a lifegiving spirit." Perhaps with Paul's previously distributed epistle in mind, John aims not only to show Jesus as the Word of God Incarnate, as many believe, but also to confound "the Jews" by superseding the incipit of their earliest historical book. John was also believed to be homosexual but we have no data that proves this 100%.


After the prologue (1:1-5), the narrative of this gospel begins with verse 6, and consists of two parts. The first part, called "The Book of Signs" (1:6-ch. 12) contains the story of Jesus' public ministry from the time of his baptismal initiation by John the Baptist to its close. In this first part, John chooses seven of Jesus' miracles, always calling them "signs." The second part, called "the Book of Glory" (ch. 13-21) presents Jesus in the retirement of private life and in his dialog with his immediate followers (13-17), and gives an account of his sufferings and crucifixion and of his appearances to the disciples after his resurrection (18-20). Chapter 21 the "appendix" recounting the death of the "beloved disciple", follows.

Popular Passages in the Gospel

John 3:16 is one of the most widely known passages in the New Testament: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. According to the professional men's and Bible distribution society Gideons International, John 3:16 has been translated into more than 1,100 languages.

Another popular passage from John is John 4:13-14. Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.' Jesus had said this to a Samaritan woman whom he met at a well, and he told her about the living water that he offered. This saying was based partially on Isaiah 55:1-2.

Characteristics of the Gospel of John

The Greek of this gospel is elegant, and its theology subtle and sophisticated, with many parallels in Hellenistic thought.

The Gospel of John is easily distinguished from the three Synoptic Gospels, which share a more considerable amount of text and describe much more of Jesus' life. By contrast, the specific distinctions of John are notable, especially in their effect on modern Christianity.

John gives far more focus in his work to the mystical relation of the Son to the Father. Many have used his gospel for the development of the concept of the Trinity while the Synoptic Gospels had focused less directly on Jesus as the Son of God[citation needed]. John includes far more direct claims of Jesus being the only Son of God in favour of Jesus as the Son of Man. The gospel also focuses on the relation of the Redeemer to believers, the announcement of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter (Greek Paraclete), and the prominence of love as an element in the Christian character[citation needed].

The Gospel’s treatment of the role of the Jewish authorities in the Crucifixion has given rise to allegations of anti-Semitism. The Gospel often employs the title "the Jews" when discussing the opponents of Jesus. The meaning of this usage has been the subject of debate, though critics of the “anti-Semitic” theory cite that the author most likely considered himself Jewish and was probably speaking to a largely Jewish community. Hence it is argued that "the Jews" properly refers to the Jewish religious authorities (see: Sanhedrin), and not the Jewish people as a whole. It is because of this controversy that some modern English translations, such as Today's New International Version, remove the term "Jews" and replace it with more specific terms to avoid anti-Semitic connotations, citing the above argument. Most critics of these translations, conceding this point, argue that the context (since it is obvious that Jesus, John himself, and the other disciples were all Jews) makes John's true meaning sufficiently clear, and that a literal translation is preferred.

Other critics go further, arguing that the text displays a shift in emphasis away from the Roman provincial government, which actually carried out the execution, and to the Jewish authorities as a technique used to render a developing Christianity more palatable in official circles.[citation needed] Nonetheless, these passages have been historically used by some Christian groups to justify the persecution of Jews.

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, elements of Gnosticism have been recognized by some readers in the Gospel of John though it is not generally regarded as a "Gnostic gospel". In order to find passages that refute Gnosticism—by stating that Christ is approachable even as Spirit—readers only need to turn to the First Epistle of John, in passages such as 1 Jn 2:1-2; 3:8, 3:16 and 4:2-3. The earliest copies of the Gospel of John are also from sources that include overtly Gnostic writings, implying that John was read by Gnostic groups. One school of interpretation distinguishes between "Johannine Christianity" and "Pauline Christianity". The gnosis in Gnosticism is secret information that is available only to initiates. In the Gnostic view, salvation comes through special "knowledge" or "wisdom" -- those who attain this are saved, those who don't "stand condemned already."

Though John is not a "secret" gospel—as other surviving apocryphal ("secret") gospels and fragments claim to be—the narrative is interrupted at an important turn of events just before the Crucifixion, for nearly five chapters (John 13, 18) of private discourse and teachings that Jesus shares only with the disciples, the "farewell discourses", which are without parallel in the synoptic gospels, in their present version (but compare the Secret Gospel of Mark).

Differences from the Synoptic Gospels

John is significantly different from the Synoptic Gospels in many ways. Some of the differences are:

  • The Gospel of John contains 3 passover feasts, suggesting Jesus' ministry lasted between 2 and 3 years, where in the synoptic gospels, it is only one.
  • The Kingdom of God is only mentioned twice in John (3:3-5). In contrast, the other gospels repeatedly use the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven as important concepts. John's Jesus claims a kingdom of his own, not of this world: 18:36. See also New Covenant (theology).
  • Technically, the Gospel of John does not contain any parables.[13] It does, however, contain metaphoric stories, such as The Shepherd and The Vine. Synoptic parables are poetic stories each of which implied a single message or idea. John's metaphoric stories are allegories in which each individual element corresponds to a specific group or thing. Medieval Bible exegetes sometimes assigned allegorical meanings to elements in synoptic parables, but modern scholars reject these interpretations. John 10:1-5 is potentially a stand-alone parable of Jesus, which UBS calls "Parable of the Sheepfold", John 10:6 calls it a "figure of speech", Strong's G3942, however, John 10:7 states I am the gate, which makes it a metaphor.
  • The saying "He who has ears, let him hear" is absent from John.
  • The

    Critical scholarship on the differences between John and the synoptics

    Critical scholars have often concluded that, unlike the synoptics, the gospel of John is almost entirely inauthentic in its portrayal of Jesus. This view was nearly universal among critical scholars in the 19th century (see

    Other characteristics unique to John

    • The Apostle Thomas is given a personality beyond a mere name, as "Doubting Thomas" (John 20:27 etc).
    • Jesus refers to himself with "Ego Eimi(gk)" "I am" seven times (John 6:35) (John 8:12) (John 10:9) (John 10:11) (John 11:25) (John 14:6) (John 15:1), beyond the common meaning, many see this as an allusion to Exodus 3:14 and thus a claim to divinity.
    • Each "sign" corresponds to one of the metaphoric "Ego Eimi(gk)" "I am" sayings (John 6:1-11) (John 9:1-11) (John 5:2-9) (John 11:1-45) (John 4:46-54) (John 2:1-11) For example, the multiplication of bread corresponds to "I am the bread of life"
    • Two "signs" are numbered (John 2:11) (John 4:54), cf. Mark 8:10–12.
    • There are no stories about Satan, demons or exorcisms, no predictions of end times, though there is mention of the "Last Day" (6:39-40, 6:44, 6:54, 11:24, 12:48), no Sermon on the Mount, no ethical teachings such as the Expounding of the Law other than "Love one another" (13:31-35), or apocalyptic teachings other than perhaps 15:18-16:4.
    • The hourly time is given: Greek text: about the tenth hour, translated as "four o'clock in the afternoon" [first hour is 6 AM, sundial time] (John 1:39)
    • When the water at the Pool of Bethesda is moved by an angel it heals (John 5:3-4)
    • Jesus washes the disciples' feet (John 13:3-16)
    • At Chapter 13 there is the description of the Last Supper but, unlike the Synoptic Gospels (Mat 26:26-29; Mar 14:22-26, Luk 22:14-20) there is no formal institution of the Eucharist, whereas the prediction of Judas' betrayal is amply reported (13:21-32). The Transubstantiation is mentioned earlier (6:48-71).
    • No other women are mentioned going to the tomb with Mary Magdalene. (John 20:1)
    • Mary Magdalene visits the empty tomb twice. She believes Jesus' body has been stolen. The second time she sees two angels. They do not tell her Jesus is risen. They only ask why she is crying. Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. He tells Mary not to touch or cling to him. (John 20:17). That very evening, in the same chapter (John 20:28), Jesus asks Thomas to touch him and to place his fingers and hand in Jesus' still open wounds. At the sight of Jesus, Thomas gives an exclamation of faith but if he follows Jesus' direction, it is not in the text.
    • Some of the brethren thought the "disciple whom Jesus loved" would not die, and an explanation is given for his death. (John 21:23)
    • The "disciple whom Jesus loved" wrote down things he had witnessed, and his testimony is asserted by a third party to be true (John 21:24)
    • The beloved disciple (traditionally believed to be the Apostle John) is never named.
    • When speaking, prior to his message, Jesus says "verily" (John 5:24) (amen) twice, rather than just once in the Synoptic Gospels.
    • Jesus carried his own cross (19:17), in the synoptics the cross was carried by Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21, Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26).

    See also

    • Egerton Gospel
    • John 3:16
    • Pericope Adulterę
    • Gospel of Mark
    • The Gospel of John (film)
    • Images of Jesus
    • Signs gospel


    1. ^
    2. ^
    3. ^
    4. ^
    5. ^
    6. ^
    7. ^
    8. ^ Ehrman 2004, p. 164-5
    9. ^ Brown, Raymond E. (1997). Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Anchor Bible, p. 363-4. ISBN 0-385-24767-2.
    10. ^ Barrett, C. K. The Gospel According to St. John., p.127-128
    11. ^ Morris, L. The Gospel According to John p.59
    12. ^ Robinson, J. A. T. Redating the Gospels, pp. 284, 307
    13. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Parables: "There are no parables in St. John's Gospel."

    Further reading

    • Ehrman, Bart D. (2004). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-515462-2.
    • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John Anchor Bible, 1966, 1970
    • Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple Paulist Press, 1979
    • Robin M. Jensen, The Two Faces of Jesus, Bible Review Oct 2002, p42
    • J.H. Bernard & A.H. McNeile, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary On The Gospel According To St. John. Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1953.

    This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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