Gospel of John 2015 – 00 Introduction



Anderson, Paul. N.  The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John.  (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2011).


Brown, Raymond E.   The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times.  (Paulist Press, New York, 1979).


________________.   The Gospel According to John I – XII.    Volume 29 of the Anchor Bible Series, Series edited by W.F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman.   (Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1966).


________________.   The Gospel According to John XIII – XXI.    Volume 29A of the Anchor Bible Series, Series edited by W.F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman.   (Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1970).


Elowsky, Joel C. editor.  John 1 – 10.  Volume IVa of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series edited by Thomas C. Oden.  (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2006).


__________________.  John 11 – 21.  Volume IVb of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series edited by Thomas C. Oden.  (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2007).


Keener, Craig S.   The Gospel of John: A Commentary  Volume One(Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody MA, 2003).


_____________  The Gospel of John: A Commentary  Volume Two(Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody MA, 2003).


Lewis, Scott M.  The Gospel According to John and the Johannine Letters. Part of the New Collegeville Bible Commentary series edited by Daniel Durkin O.S.B.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 2005).


Maloney S.D.B., Francis J.   The Gospel of John.   Volume 4 of the Sacra Pagina series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J.   (Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 1998).


Martyn, J. Louis.  History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel.  One of the Classics in the New Testament Library series whose editorial board is C. Clifton Black, John T. Carroll, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa.  Third Edition.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003).


O’Day, Gail R.  The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.  In Volume IX of the New Interpreter’s Bible whose editorial board is convened by Leander Kick.  (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995).


Sloyan, Gerard.   John.   Part of the Interpretation series edited by Mays, Miller, Achtemeier.

(John Knox Press, Atlanta GA, 1988).





The Gospel according to John is quite different in character from the three synoptic gospels. It is highly literary and symbolic. It does not follow the same order or reproduce the same stories as the synoptic gospels. To a much greater degree, it is the product of a developed theological reflection and grows out of a different circle and tradition. It was probably written in the 90s of the first century.


The Gospel of John begins with a magnificent prologue, which states many of the major themes and motifs of the gospel, much as an overture does for a musical work. The prologue proclaims Jesus as the preexistent and incarnate Word of God who has revealed the Father to us. The rest of the first chapter forms the introduction to the gospel proper and consists of the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus (there is no baptism of Jesus in this gospel—John simply points him out as the Lamb of God), followed by stories of the call of the first disciples, in which various titles predicated of Jesus in the early church are presented.


The gospel narrative contains a series of “signs”—the gospel’s word for the wondrous deeds of Jesus. The author is primarily interested in the significance of these deeds, and so interprets them for the reader by various reflections, narratives, and discourses.


  • The first sign is the transformation of water into wine at Cana (Jn 2:1–11); this represents the replacement of the Jewish ceremonial washings and symbolizes the entire creative and transforming work of Jesus.
  • The second sign, the cure of the royal official’s son (Jn 4:46–54) simply by the word of Jesus at a distance, signifies the power of Jesus’ life-giving word. The same theme is further developed by other signs, probably for a total of seven.
  • The third sign, the cure of the paralytic at the pool with five porticoes in chap. 5, continues the theme of water offering newness of life. In the preceding chapter, to the woman at the well in Samaria Jesus had offered living water springing up to eternal life, a symbol of the revelation that Jesus brings; here Jesus’ life-giving word replaces the water of the pool that failed to bring life.
  • Jn 6 contains two signs, the multiplication of loaves and the walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. These signs are connected much as the manna and the crossing of the Red Sea are in the Passover narrative and symbolize a new exodus. The multiplication of the loaves is interpreted for the reader by the discourse that follows, where the bread of life is used first as a figure for the revelation of God in Jesus and then for the Eucharist.
  • After a series of dialogues reflecting Jesus’ debates with the Jewish authorities at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jn 7; 8, the sixth sign is presented in Jn 9, the sign of the young man born blind. This is a narrative illustration of the theme of conflict in the preceding two chapters; it proclaims the triumph of light over darkness, as Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. This is interpreted by a narrative of controversy between the Pharisees and the young man who had been given his sight by Jesus, ending with a discussion of spiritual blindness and spelling out the symbolic meaning of the cure.
  • And finally, the seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus in chap. 11, is the climax of signs. Lazarus is presented as a token of the real life that Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who will now ironically be put to death because of his gift of life to Lazarus, will give to all who believe in him once he has been raised from the dead.


After the account of the seven signs, the “hour” of Jesus arrives, and the author passes from sign to reality, as he moves into the discourses in the upper room that interpret the meaning of the passion, death, and resurrection narratives that follow. The whole gospel of John is a progressive revelation of the glory of God’s only Son, who comes to reveal the Father and then returns in glory to the Father. The author’s purpose is clearly expressed in what must have been the original ending of the gospel at the end of Jn 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”


Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. Jn 21 seems to have been added after the gospel was completed; it exhibits a Greek style somewhat different from that of the rest of the work. The prologue (Jn 1:1–18) apparently contains an independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel. Within the gospel itself there are also some inconsistencies, e.g., there are two endings of Jesus’ discourse in the upper room (Jn 14:31; 18:1). To solve these problems, scholars have proposed various rearrangements that would produce a smoother order. However, most have come to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were probably produced by subsequent editing in which homogeneous materials were added to a shorter original.


Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (Jn 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (Jn 5; 6); and the sayings of Jesus have been woven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.


The gospel contains many details about Jesus not found in the synoptic gospels, e.g.,

  • that Jesus engaged in a baptizing ministry (Jn 3:22) before he changed to one of preaching and signs;
  • that Jesus’ public ministry lasted for several years (see note on Jn 2:13);
  • that he traveled to Jerusalem for various festivals and met serious opposition long before his death (Jn 2:14–25; 5; 7–8); and
  • that he was put to death on the day before Passover (Jn 18:28).

These events are not always in chronological order because of the development and editing that took place. However, the accuracy of much of the detail of the fourth gospel constitutes a strong argument that the Johannine tradition rests upon the testimony of an eyewitness. Although tradition identified this person as John, the son of Zebedee, most modern scholars find that the evidence does not support this.


The fourth gospel is not simply history; the narrative has been organized and adapted to serve the evangelist’s theological purposes as well. Among them are:

  • the opposition to the synagogue of the day and to John the Baptist’s followers, who tried to exalt their master at Jesus’ expense,
  • the desire to show that Jesus was the Messiah, and
  • the desire to convince Christians that their religious belief and practice must be rooted in Jesus.

Such theological purposes have impelled the evangelist to emphasize motifs that were not so clear in the synoptic account of Jesus’ ministry, e.g., the explicit emphasis on his divinity.


The polemic between synagogue and church produced bitter and harsh invective, especially regarding the hostility toward Jesus of the authorities—Pharisees and Sadducees—who are combined and referred to frequently as “the Jews” (see note on Jn 1:19). These opponents are even described in Jn 8:44 as springing from their father the devil, whose conduct they imitate in opposing God by rejecting Jesus, whom God has sent. On the other hand, the author of this gospel seems to take pains to show that women are not inferior to men in the Christian community: the woman at the well in Samaria (Jn 4) is presented as a prototype of a missionary (Jn 4:4–42), and the first witness of the resurrection is a woman (Jn 20:11–18).


The final editing of the gospel and arrangement in its present form probably dates from between A.D. 90 and 100. Traditionally, Ephesus has been favored as the place of composition, though many support a location in Syria, perhaps the city of Antioch, while some have suggested other places, including Alexandria.


The principal divisions of the Gospel according to John are the following:

I.Prologue (1:1–18)

II.The Book of Signs (1:19–12:50)

III.The Book of Glory (13:1–20:31)

IV.Epilogue: The Resurrection Appearance in Galilee (21:1–25)




Gospel of John: Love as the center of our faith.  God’s love for us.  God’s love for Jesus.  Jesus’ love for the Father.  Jesus’ love for us.  Our love of the Father, our love for Jesus, our love for one another.


Approach this study:

  • With a sense of expectation – to learn and to come closer to Jesus
  • Use the time-tested tools – the commentary, footnotes etc. and prepare in advance
  • All the scriptures, especially John, a place to encounter God


John is unique

  • A much later gospel (90AD) than the Synoptics (65 – 75AD)
  • Highly organized
  • Focuses extensively on the relationship of Jesus to the Father


Audience = mix of Jews, Greeks, Samaritans within the Hellenistic world


Characteristics of the gospel:

  • Poetic
  • There is no traditional genealogy, but there IS a divine one.
  • Extensive narrative with extensive dialog.  Often a whole chapter is devoted to one event where the other gospels might have 6 or 8 events.
  • Teaching discourses lead to questions
    • which lead to dialog
      • which leads to and ends with a monolog from Jesus.
      • Constantly reinforcing the idea that Jesus requires people then and today to CHOOSE.  There are lots of contrasts (light/dark, goodness/sin, etc.) and little gray area.
      • Lots of images / symbols / symbolic actions.  Layers of meaning.
      • A symbol pulls us into mystery where there is power to change us.  Also true of literature and art.
      • Jesus speaks of himself:
        • “I AM”  (8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 13:19)
        • I am –
          • The bread of life
          • The light of the world
          • The door
          • The gate for the sheep
          • The vine
          • The way, the truth, and the life
          • Jesus has an intimate relationship with the Father.  We are invited into this same intimacy.
          • This gospel has lots of questions.  Literary device but also more – communicates that things are rarely as they seem, that there is always more than we grasp here and now.  We need to search, be filled with awe, not demand (or settle for) pat answers.
          • Some of the gospel questions:
            • Followers:
              • How can someone be born again?
              • What good are these few fish…?
              • A hard teaching, who can accept this?
              • Master, are you going to wash my feet also?
  • Detractors:
    • Who is your father?
    • Who is this Son of Man?
    • Surely, we are not blind, are we?
    • Can this be the Messiah?
    • What is truth?
  • Jesus:
    • Do you want to be well?
    • Who are you looking for?
    • Do you love me?
    • A disciple is one who follows, follows closely, in a deep personal relationship.  The beloved disciple may have been an actual person but functions now as the embodiment of ALL believers.
    • The HS as the ongoing presence of Jesus to and through the church.
    • Make prayer part of this study, every day.
    • John 20:30,31:


“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”






Sloyan p. 10: “(John’s gospel) gives us the significance or meaning of Jesus Christ as one author and his community perceived it.  The Fourth Gospel gives us no raw data in the historical order on Jesus of Nazareth.  All the data are processed.  Given our modern historical mindset, we may think we are the poorer for that. John was convinced that we are the richer for the way he told the story, namely, that his community’s defeats and victories were totally co-incidental with those of Jesus.”


Lewis p. 5: “John is a master of irony, and as the privileged readers we are in a position to appreciate the irony-laden words and actions of the Gospel’s characters.  John’s Jesus uses ordinary words in a manner charged with different layers of meaning, which his listeners usually misunderstand.  Water is not just water, nor is bread only bread.”


Sloyan p. 28: “This is a terribly contentious Gospel.  Its polemical character is as strong as its mystical strain.  Our modern tragedy is that we know fragments of what the struggle was about but not the whole story.  This gospel reports on thought worlds in collision.  Exactly what positions were held by the Evangelist’s opponents, however, or what he thought they were and how legitimately they held them from their own standpoint, we cannot be sure.”


Sloyan and others now tend to deal with “the Jews” this way: don’t translate it.  Leave it as the Greek “hoi Judaoi”.  It refers to some group within Judaism about which we know next to nothing and translating it as “Jewish authorities”: or in other ways is not true to the text.  Keener says – both Christians and Jews were claiming to be authentically Jewish, use of irony in John’s use of “the Jews” was understood then, nowadays has to be footnoted.


Sloyan p. 49: No new themes appear after chapter 3 – the rest of the gospel reworks the themes presented here.  “(John) creates a full-scale drama of legal process.  It is not of the formal courtroom kind but of witnesses summoned for and against Jesus the accused, who is a surrogate for his faithful followers in the John community.  Jesus is allowed to speak.  He proves to be the most effective witness of all because of his credentials.  These turn out to be his origins, his pedigree.”


Keener p. 41:  “Although some argue that John used the Synoptics, probably a greater number of scholars still hold that he simply used independent traditions that have contacts with the Synoptics.”


Keener p. 83: “The authorship of the Fourth Gospel has been vigorously debated, although the traditional consensus from early Christian centuries that the Apostle John wrote it has now given way to a majority scholarly skepticism toward that claim.”


Questions / puzzles to ponder as we read.  Having an answer to them is not required:


  • Who is the beloved disciple?
  • Who is the author?
    • Are they one and the same?
    • With regard to beloved disciple:
      • Thomas, Lazarus, one of the 12 or not one of the 12?
      • Some suggest it is John’s community as a whole.
      • Lots of speculation and theories – none convince those who have their own theory.
      • With regard to the author: Keener concludes, after 50 pages of analysis, that John son of Zebedee is the author / responsible party for the tradition.


Written from a Jewish and Galilean point of view.



Lewis p. 5: “In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) we see much more of the humanity of Jesus.  In John, Jesus is a majestic, serene figure, omniscient and totally in control of his destiny at all times.”


The structure of the gospel:

  • PROLOGUE (John 1:1 to 1:18)
  • BOOK OF SIGNS (7) (John 1:19 to 12:50)
    • Wedding feast of Cana in Galilee- water becomes wine
    • Healing the royal official’s son from a distance in Galilee
    • Healing of the paralyzed man by the pool in Judea/Jerusalem
    • Multiplication of the loaves to feed 5,000
    • Walking on the water / Sea of Galilee
    • Healing of the man born blind in Judea
    • Raising Lazarus from the dead in Judea
  • BOOK OF GLORY  (John 13:1 to 20:31)  The ‘hour’ has come, passion
  • EPILOGUE (John 21:1 to 21:25) – contains a post-resurrection sign – the great catch of fish




  • Read the introduction in the commentary pages 5 and 6 as a summary of this week.
  • Read and pray over John chapter 1 several times
  • Read the text, footnotes, and commentary in the commentary pages 7 to 14 on John chapter 1
  • Pray over, think about, make notes from the questions on pages 8 – 11 of the workbook.  Especially:
    • #3: Why would a superficial reading of John possibly be dangerous?
    • #8: Role of John the Baptist?  Why was it important to the early church to define John’s role?

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