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Gospel of John

New Testament
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The Gospel of John is the fourth gospel in the usual sequence of the canon as printed in the New Testament, and most agree it was the fourth to be written. Like the other three gospels, it contains an account of the life of Jesus. The Gospel of John is the most divergent of the four. While the "beloved disciple," who is traditionally identified as John the Apostle, has traditionally been regarded as the author, this is now disputed (see also Authorship of John).


Authorship and date

Main article:Authorship of the Johannine works

Almost all critical scholars place the writing of the final edition of John at some time in the late first or early second century. The text states only that the Fourth Gospel was written by an anonymous follower of Jesus referred to as the Beloved Disciple. Traditionally he was identified as John the Apostle, who was believed to have lived at the end of his life at Ephesus.

The dating is important since John is agreed to be the last of the canonical Gospels to have been written and thus marks the end date of their composition.

Scholarly research since the 19th century has questioned the apostle John's authorship, however, and has presented internal evidence that the work was written many decades after the events it describes. The text provides strong evidence that it was written after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and after the break between Judaism and Christianity. F.C. Baur asserted a date as late as AD 160. Today, most critical scholars are of the opinion that John was composed in a number of stages (probably two or three) beginning at an unknown time (AD 50-70?) and culminating in the final edition (our Gospel of John) around AD 95-100. This final date is assumed in large part because the so-called "appendix" to the Gospel, chapter 21, is largely concerned with explaining the death of the "beloved disciple," probably the leader of the Johannine community that produced the gospel. If this leader had been a follower of Jesus, or a disciple of one of Jesus' followers, then a death around AD 90-100 is expected.

Like the other Gospels, John was certainly based on previous works that are now lost. The contemporary scholar of the Johannine community, Raymond E. Brown, in The Community of the Beloved Disciple (Paulist Press, 1979) identifies three layers of text in the Fourth Gospel (a situation that is paralleled by the synoptic gospels): an initial version based on personal experience of Jesus, a structured literary creation by "the evangelist," which draws upon other sources, and the edited version that we know today.

A scrap of a papyrus fragment discovered in Egypt in 1920, now at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, accession number P52 (see link below), bears parts of John xviii:31 - 33 and xviii:37 - 38 on the other side. If it has been correctly dated in the first half of the second century, it ranks as the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language. Fuller details are at the entry on the Rylands Library fragment, Papyrus 52 (P 52).

Skepticism about the date (not about the fragment's authenticity) is based on two issues. First, no other scrap of Greek has ever been so narrowly dated based on the handwriting alone, without the support of textual evidence. Second, this fragment is not a scroll but a codex; a book not a roll. If it dates to the first half of the second century, this fragment would be an uncharacteristically early example of a codex, the form that superseded scrolls. Since this fragment is small—about the size of a thumb nail— it is uncertain whether it comes from a full copy of John as we know it. Nevertheless, while some experts in paleography have objected to the dating, it is agreed that this piece of papyrus is the earliest text for any portion of the New Testament. Its closest rival in date is the Egerton Gospel, a mid-second-century fragment of a codex that records a gospel not identical to any of the canonical four, but which has closer parallels with John than with the synoptic gospels. Thus the Egerton Gospel may represent a less-developed example of the same tradition (though in a slightly later example).

There are other theories of authorship. One of the most dramatic is the claim by Ramon K. Jusino that it was written by Mary Magdalene. "Mary Magdalene, author of the Fourth Gospel?' , 1998, available on-line.


A hypothesis elaborated by 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 written 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 AD 70: evidently 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 before 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 three 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, the "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.)

Arguments that Jesus is also known as a "Divine Man" in the late 3rd and 4th centuries have also been given as an interpretation of the art portraying Jesus with a magic wand. Since this art exists only in the western part of the Roman empire it has been suggested this is a tie to Arianism.

Handling of source material

It is notable from the Gospel's opening phrase that John 1 consciously echoes the opening of Genesis, though he sets it within a formula of Hellenistic rhetoric. Genesis 1 focuses on what God did to create the world, and John 1 focuses on the Word and all that the Word accomplished (Jesus). This internal contrast and comparison implies that John is starting with another beginning that is true and implies that Jesus is the Second Adam. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 states the First Adam of Genesis as a man who became "a living being", while the Second Adam (Jesus) is "a lifegiving spirit." With Paul's previous epistle in mind, John aims not only to show Jesus as the Son of God but also to include the Jews by echoing the beginning of their earliest historical book.


After the prologue (1:1-5), the narrative of this gospel begins with verse 6, and consists of two parts. The first part (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. The second part (ch. 13-21) presents Jesus in the retirement of private life and in his intercourse 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 (18-21).

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 peculiarities 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. As a Gospel writer, he essentially developed the concept of the Trinity while the Synoptic Gospels had focused less directly on Jesus as the Son of God. John makes 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 Ghost as the Comforter (Greek Paraclete); and the prominence of love as an element in the Christian character.

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 begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. According to Gideons International, John 3:16 has been translated into more than 1100 languages.

Other characteristics of the Gospel of John

Some of the passages in this book are anti-Semitic, it is charged, mainly due to the emphasis placed on the responsibility of the Jews for the Crucifixion. However they were intended by the author, these passages have certainly shaped the negative way that Christians historically viewed Jews, for they were often quoted to justify odium theologicum. Other critics read this shift of emphasis to the Jewish public enemies of the Roman imperium and away from the Roman authorities, who actually carried out the execution, as a technique of rendering a developing Christianity more palatable in official circles.

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". The earliest copies of the Gospel of John are also from Gnostic sources, implying links to these groups. This school of interpretation distinguishes between "Johannine Christianity" and "Pauline Christianity". Gnosticism requires secret information that is available only to initiates. In the Gnostic view, salvation comes through "knowledge" that Jesus is the Christ -- those who understand his true nature are saved, those who don't "stand condemned already".

See also


Robin M. Jensen, The Two Faces of Jesus , Bible Review Oct 2002, p42

External link

  • A textual commentary on the Gospel of John Detailed textcritical discussion of the 300 most important variants of the Greek text (PDF, 376 pages)
  • The Pericope Adulterae Detailed textcritical description of the evidence, the manuscripts, and the variants of the Greek text (PDF, 23 pages)
  • Read John at Bible Gateway
  • "Signs Gospel" . a hypothetical written source for miracles in the Gospel of John: discussion
  • Papyrus fragment of John at the John Rylands Library; illustrated.
  • John Rylands papyrus: text, translation, illustration and a bibliography of the discussion
  • The Egerton Gospel: text. Compare it with Gospel of John
Wikibooks has a textbook about Gospel of John.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 21:56:05
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55