The Gospel According to John
The Gospel According to John,
commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often
referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account
of the public ministry of Jesus. It begins with the witness and affirmation
by John the Baptist and concludes with the death, burial, Resurrection, and
post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. This account is fourth of the
canonical gospels, after the synoptics Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The Gospel's authorship is anonymous. Its Chapter 21 states it derives from
the testimony of the 'disciple whom Jesus loved.' Along with Peter, the
unnamed disciple is especially close to Jesus, and early-church tradition
identified him as John the Apostle, one of Jesus' Twelve Apostles. The
gospel is closely related in style and content to the three surviving
Epistles of John such that commentators treat the four books together, yet,
according to most modern scholars, John was not the author of any of these
Raymond E. Brown did pioneering work to trace the development of the
tradition from which the gospel arose. The discourses seem to be concerned
with the actual issues of the church-and-synagogue debate at the time when
the Gospel was written c. AD 90. It is notable that, in the gospel, the
community still appears to define itself primarily against Judaism, rather
than as part of a wider Christian church. Though Christianity started as a
movement within Judaism, gradually Christians and Jews became bitterly
John presents a "higher" Christology than the synoptics, meaning that he
describes Jesus as the incarnation of the divine Logos through whom all
things were made, as the object of veneration, and more explicitly as God
incarnate. Only in John does Jesus talk at length about himself and his
divine role, often shared with the disciples only. Against the synoptics,
John focuses largely on different miracles (including resurrecting Lazarus),
given as signs meant to engender faith. Synoptic elements such as parables
and exorcisms are not found in John. It presents a realized eschatology in
which salvation is already present for the believer. The historical
reliability of John is debated, particularly by secular scholarship. In
contrast, Grace-oriented churches argue for the total pre-eminence of John.
The gospel identifies its author as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The
text does not actually name this disciple, but by the beginning of the 2nd
century a tradition began to form which identified him with John the
Apostle, one of the Twelve (Jesus's innermost circle). Today the majority of
scholars do not believe that John or any other eyewitness wrote it, and
trace it instead to a "Johannine community" which traced its traditions to
John; the gospel itself shows signs of having been composed in three
"layers", reaching its final form about 90-100 AD. According to the Church
Fathers, the Bishops of Asia Minor requested John, in his old age, to write
a gospel in response to Cerinthus, the Ebionites and other Hebrew groups
which they deemed heretical. This understanding remained in place until the
end of the 18th century.
The Gospel of John developed over a period of time in various stages,
summarised by Raymond E. Brown as follows:
An initial version based on personal experience of Jesus;
A structured literary creation by the evangelist which draws upon additional
The final harmony that presently exists in the New Testament canon, around
In view of this complex and multi-layered history it is meaningless to speak
of a single "author" of John, but the title perhaps belongs best to the
evangelist who came at the end of this process. The final composition's
comparatively late date, and its insistence upon Jesus as a divine being
walking the earth in human form, renders it highly problematical to scholars
who attempt to evaluate Jesus' life in terms of literal historical truth.
Among others, Rudolf Bultmann suggested that the text of the gospel is
partially out of order; for instance, chapter 6 should follow chapter 4.
4:53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus
said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.
4:54 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out
of Judaea into Galilee.
6:1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea
6:2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which
he did on them that were diseased.
Chapter 5 deals with a visit to Jerusalem, and chapter 7 opens with Jesus
again in Galilee since "he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought
to kill him" a consequence of the incident in Jerusalem described in
chapter 5. There are more proposed rearrangements.
One possible construction of the "internal evidence" states that the Beloved
Disciple wrote an account of the life of Jesus.[21:24] However, this
disciple died unexpectedly, necessitating that a revised gospel be written.
It may be that John is the source" of the Johannine tradition but "not the
final writer of the tradition." Therefore, scholars are no longer looking
for the identity of a single writer but for numerous authors whose
authorship has been absorbed into the gospel's development over a period of
time and in several stages.
The hypothesis of the Gospel being composed in layers over a period of time
had its start with Rudolf Bultmann in 1941. Bultmann suggested that the
author(s) of John depended in part on an author who wrote an earlier
account. This hypothetical "Signs Gospel" listing Christ's miracles was
independent of, and not used by, the synoptic gospels. It was believed to
have been circulating before the year 70 AD. Bultmann's conclusion was so
controversial that heresy proceedings were instituted against him and his
Nevertheless, scholars such as Raymond Edward Brown continue to consider
this hypothesis a plausible possibility. They believe the original author of
the Signs Gospel to be the Beloved Disciple. They argue that the disciple
who formed this community was both an historical person and a companion of
Jesus Christ. Brown goes one step further by suggesting that the Beloved
Disciple had been a follower of John the Baptist before joining Jesus.
The author may have used a source consisting of lengthy discourses, but this
issue has not been clarified.
The author has Jesus foretell that new knowledge will come to his followers
after his death. This reference indicates that the author may have included
new information, not previously revealed, that is derived from spiritual
inspiration rather than from historical records or recollection.
The Trimorphic Protennoia:
In terminology close to that found in later Gnostic works, one tract,
generally known as "The Trimorphic Protennoia", must either be dependent on
John or the other way round."
The gospel was apparently written near the end of the 1st century. Bart
Ehrman 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 he believes clearly
do not belong to their context, and believes that these suggest redaction.
The so-called "Monarchian Prologue" to the Fourth Gospel (c. 200) supports
AD 96 or one of the years immediately following as to the time of its
writing. Scholars set a range of c. 90100. The gospel was already in
existence early in the 2nd century. John was composed in stages (probably
two or three). Since the middle of the 2nd century writings of Justin Martyr
use language very similar to that found in the Gospel of John, the Gospel is
considered to have been in existence at least at that time. The Rylands
Library Papyrus P52, which records a fragment of this gospel, is usually
dated to the first half of the 2nd century.6]
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 eyewitness, sufficient evidence that the
gospel was composed before 100 and perhaps as early as 5070: in the 1970s,
scholars Leon Morris and John A.T. Robinson independently suggested earlier
dates for the gospel's composition.
The noncanonical Dead Sea Scrolls suggest an early Jewish origin, parallels
and similarities to the Essene Scroll, and Rule of the Community. Many
phrases are duplicated in the Gospel of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls. These
are sufficiently numerous to challenge the theory that the Gospel of John
was the last to be written among the four Gospels and that it shows marked
Textual history and manuscripts:
The Rylands Papyrus is perhaps the earliest New Testament fragment; dated
from its handwriting to about 125. Probably the earliest surviving New
Testament manuscript, Rylands Library Papyrus P52 is a Greek papyrus
fragment discovered in Egypt in 1920 (now at the John Rylands Library,
Manchester). Although P52 has no more than 114 legible letters, it must come
from a substantial codex book; as it is written on both sides in a
generously scaled script, with John 18:3133 on one side and 18:3738 on the
other. The surviving text agrees closely with that of the corresponding
passages in the Gospel of John, but it cannot necessarily be assumed that
the original manuscript contained the full Gospel of John in its canonical
form. Metzger and Aland list the probable date for this manuscript as c.
125, but the difficulty of estimating the date of a literary text based
solely on paleographic evidence must allow potentially for a range that
extends from before 100 to well into the second half of the 2nd century. P52
is small, and although a plausible reconstruction can be attempted for most
of the fourteen lines represented, the proportion of the text of the Gospel
of John for which it provides a direct witness is so small that it is rarely
cited in textual debate. Other notable early manuscripts of John include
Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75, in consequence of which a substantially complete
text of the Gospel of John exists from the beginning of the 3rd century at
the latest. Hence the textual evidence for the Gospel of John is commonly
accepted as both earlier and more reliable than that for any other of the
Much current research on the textual history of the Gospel of John is being
done by the International Greek New Testament Project.
The mysterious Egerton Gospel appears to represent a parallel but
independent tradition to the Gospel of John. According to scholar Ronald
Cameron, it was originally composed some time between the middle of the 1st
century and early in the 2nd century, and it was probably written shortly
before the Gospel of John. Liberal scholar Robert W. Funk and the Jesus
Seminar place the Egerton fragment in the 2nd century, perhaps as early as
125, which would make it as old as the oldest fragments of John.
Position in the New Testament:
In the standard order of the canonical gospels, John is fourth, after the
three interrelated synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the earliest
surviving gospel collection, Papyrus 45 of the 3rd century, it is placed
second in the order Matthew, John, Luke and Mark, an order which is also
found in other very early New Testament manuscripts. In syrcur it is placed
third in the order Matthew, Mark, John and Luke.
After the prologue,[Jn 1:15] the narrative of the gospel begins with verse
6, and consists of two parts. The first part[1:6-12:50] relates Jesus'
public ministry from John the Baptist recognizing him as the Lamb of God to
the raising of Lazarus and Jesus' final public teaching. In this first part,
John emphasizes seven of Jesus' miracles, always calling them "signs." The
second part presents Jesus in dialogue with his immediate
followers and gives an account of his Passion and Crucifixion and of
his appearances to the disciples after his Resurrection. In the
"appendix", Jesus restores Peter after his denial, predicts Peter's
death, and discusses the death of the "beloved disciple."
Raymond E. Brown, a scholar of the social environment where the Gospel and
Letters of John emerged, labeled the first and second parts the "Book of
Signs" and the "Book of Glory", respectively.
Hymn to the Word:
This prologue is intended to identify Jesus as the eternal Word (Logos) of
God. Thus John asserts Jesus' innate superiority over all divine messengers,
whether angels or prophets. Here John adapts the doctrine of the Logos,
God's creative principle, from Philo, a 1st-century Hellenized Jew.
Philo had adopted the term Logos from Greek philosophy, using it in place of
the Hebrew concept of Wisdom (sophia) as the intermediary (angel) between
the transcendent Creator and the material world. Some scholars argue that
the prologue was taken over from an existing hymn and added at a later stage
in the gospel's composition.
This section recounts Jesus' public ministry. It consists of seven miracles
or "signs," interspersed with long dialogues and discourses, including
several "I am" sayings. The miracles culminate with his most potent, raising
Lazarus from the dead. In John, it is this last miracle, and not the temple
incident, that prompts the authorities to have Jesus executed.
Last teachings and death:
This section opens with an account of the Last Supper that differs
significantly from that found in the synoptics. Here, Jesus washes the
disciples feet instead of ushering in a new covenant of his body and blood.
This account of foot washing might refer to a local tradition by which foot
washing served as a Christian initiation ritual rather than baptism. John
then devotes almost five chapters to farewell discourses. Jesus declares his
unity with the Father, promises to send the Paraclete, describes himself as
the "real vine," explains that he must leave (die) before the Holy Spirit
comes, and prays that his followers be one. The farewell discourses resemble
farewell speeches called testaments, in which a father or religious leader,
often on the deathbed, leaves instructions for his children or followers.
Verses 14:30-31 represent a conclusion, and the Jesus Seminar says the next
three chapters were inserted later and the discourses assembled over time,
representing the theology of the "Johannine circle" more than the message of
the historical Jesus.
John then records Jesus' arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection
appearances, including "doubting Thomas." Significantly, John does not have
Jesus claim to be the Son of God or the Messiah before the Sanhedrin or
Pilate, and he omits the traditional earthquakes, thunder, and midday
darkness that were said to accompany Jesus' death. John's revelation of
divinity is Jesus' triumph over death, the eighth and greatest sign.
Chapter 21, in which the "beloved disciple" claims authorship, is commonly
assumed to be an appendix, probably added to allay concerns after the death
of the beloved disciple. There had been a rumor that the End would come
before the beloved disciple died.
The major events covered by the Gospel of John include:
Hymn to the Word
Jesus is the word become flesh [Jn 1:1-18]
Book of Signs, Seven Signs
John the Baptist[1:1928]
Jesus is the Lamb of God[1:2934]
The calling of Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael[1:3551]
Marriage at Cana: the first sign[2:112]
Jesus and the Money Changers [2:1325]
Nicodemus the Pharisee[3:121]
The need to be born again[3:16]
Jesus surpasses John[3:22-4:4]
Samaritan woman at the well: Jesus as the Water of Life [4:5-42]
Healing the royal official's son: the second sign[4:43-54]
Healing the paralytic at Bethesda[5:1-18]
Authority of the Son[5:19-23]
Resurrection of the Dead[5:2429]
Witnesses to Jesus[5:30-47]
The feeding of the five thousand [6:115]
Walking on water[6:1621]
Bread of Life Discourse[6:2259]
Jesus deserted by many disciples[6:6071]
Feast of Tabernacles[7:152]
Jesus and the woman taken in adultery[7:538:11]
Jesus is the Light of the World [8:1220]
Where I'm going, you can't come[8:2130]
The truth will make you free[8:3138]
Your father is the Devil[8:3947]
Jesus existed before Abraham[8:4859]
Healing the blind at birth
Jesus rejected by the Jews[10:2242] [12:3743]
Raising of Lazarus[11:144]
Let's return to Judea[11:7]
Plot to kill Jesus [11:4557]
Mary anoints Jesus[12:18]
Plot to kill Lazarus[12:911]
Triumphal entry into Jerusalem [12:1219]
Son of Man[12:2036]
Book of Glory, Last Teachings and Death
Love one another[13:3135]
Peter's denial [13:3638][18:1518][18:2527]
Jesus is the only Way to the Father [14:114]
Promise of the Paraclete [14:1531] [15:1816:33]
Jesus is the true vine [15:117]
High Priestly Prayer [Jn 17]
That they all may be one[17:21]
Before the High Priests [18:1214] [18:1924]
What is truth?[18:38]
Joseph of Arimathea[19:3842]
Empty tomb [20:110]
Mary don't hold on to me[20:1118]
Appendix to the Appendix
Catch of 153 fish[21:114]
Prophecy of Peter's crucifixion[21:1519]
Disciple whom Jesus loved[21:2025]
Characteristics of the Gospel of John:
Though the three Synoptic Gospels share a considerable amount of text, over
90% of John's Gospel is unique to him. The synoptics describe much more of
Jesus' life, miracles, parables, and exorcisms. However, the materials
unique to John are notable, especially in their effect on modern
As a gospel, John is a story about the life of Jesus. The Gospel can be
divided into four parts:
The Book of Signs
The Passion narrative
The Prologue[Jn. 1:1-18] is a hymn identifying Jesus as the Logos and as
God. The Book of Signs[1:19-12:50] recounts Jesus' public ministry, and
includes the signs worked by Jesus and some of his teachings. The Passion
narrative[13-20] recounts the Last Supper (focusing on Jesus' farewell
discourse), Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, his burial, and resurrection. The
Epilogue[John 21] records a resurrection appearance of Jesus to the
disciples in Galilee.
Following on from "the higher criticism" of the 19th century, Adolf von
Harnack and Raymond E. Brown have questioned the gospel of John as a
reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.
According to one scholar, John portrays Jesus Christ as "a brief
manifestation of the eternal Word, whose immortal spirit remains
ever-present with the believing Christian." The book presents Jesus as the
divine Son of God, and yet subordinate to God the Father. The gospel gives
far more focus to the relationship of the Son to the Father than the other
gospels and it has often been used in the Christian development and
understanding of the Trinity. John includes far more direct claims of Jesus
being a Son of God than the Synoptic Gospels. 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.
Jesus' divine role:
In the synoptics, Jesus speaks often about the Kingdom of God; his own
divine role is obscured (see Messianic secret). In John, Jesus talks openly
about his divine role. He says, for example, that he is the way, the truth,
and the life. He echoes Yahweh's own statements with several "I am"
declarations that also identify him with symbols of major significance:
"the bread of life"[6:35]
"the light of the world"[8:12]
"the gate of the sheep"[10:7]
"the good shepherd"[10:11]
"the resurrection and the life"[11:25]
"the way, the truth, and the life"[14:6] and
"the real vine"[15:1]
Critical scholars think that these claims represent the Christian
community's faith in Jesus' divine authority but doubt that the historical
Jesus actually made these sweeping claims. Spong argued that the "I Am"
statements are in reference to YHWH, and interpreted John 12:44 as meaning
that Jesus expressly denied being God.
John also promises eternal life for those who believe in Jesus.[3:16 and
In the Prologue, John identifies Jesus as the Logos (Word). A term from
Greek philosophy, it meant the principle of cosmic reason. In this sense, it
was similar to the Hebrew concept of Wisdom, Yahweh's companion and intimate
helper in creation. The Jewish philosopher Philo merged these two themes
when he described the Logos as God's creator of and mediator with the
material world. The evangelist adapted Philo's description of the Logos,
applying it to Jesus, the incarnation of the Logos.
The opening verse of John is translated as "the Word was with God and the
Word was God" in all orthodox and historical Bibles. There are alternative
views. The explicit statement that Jesus was himself the Arche does not come
from John's gospel but from the Letter to the Colossians.[Col. 1:18] The
Scholar's Version of the gospel, developed by the Jesus Seminar, loosely
translates the phrase as "The Logos was what God was," offered as a better
representation of the original meaning of the evangelist.
John the Baptist:
John's account of the Baptist is different from that of the synoptic
gospels. John is not called "the Baptist." John's ministry overlaps with
Jesus', his baptism of Jesus is not explicitly mentioned, but his witness to
Jesus is unambiguous. The evangelist almost certainly knew the story of
John's baptism of Jesus and he makes a vital theological use of it. He
subordinates John to Jesus, perhaps in response to members of the Baptist's
sect who denied Jesus' superiority.
In John, Jesus and his disciples go to Judea early in Jesus' ministry when
John has not yet been imprisoned and executed by Herod. He leads a ministry
of baptism larger than John's own. The Jesus Seminar rated this account as
black, containing no historically accurate information. Historically, John
likely had a larger presence in the public mind than Jesus.
Antisemitism in the New Testament:
In his Jerusalem speeches, John's Jesus makes unfavorable references to the
Jews. These references may constitute a rebuttal on the part of the author
against Jewish criticism of the early Church.
The author likely considered himself Jewish, did not deny that Jesus and his
disciples were all Jewish, and was probably speaking to a largely Jewish
community. While passages in John have been used to support anti-semitism,
these passages reflect a dispute within Judaism, and it is highly
questionable whether the evangelist himself was anti-semitic.
Though not commonly understood as Gnostic, John has elements in common with
Gnosticism. Christian Gnosticism did not fully develop until the mid-2nd
century and 2nd-century Christians concentrated much effort in examining and
refuting it. To say Johns Gospel contained elements of Gnosticism is to
assume that Gnosticism had developed to a level that required the author to
respond to it. Comparisons to Gnosticism are based not in what the author
says, but in the language he uses to say it, notably, use of the concepts of
Logos and Light. Gnostics read John but interpreted it differently than
non-Gnostics. Gnosticism taught that salvation came from gnosis, secret
knowledge, and Gnostics did not see Jesus as a savior but a revealer of
knowledge. Some scholars assert that the gospel teaches that salvation can
only be achieved through revealed wisdom, specifically belief in (literally
belief into) Jesus.
Raymond Brown contends that "The Johannine picture of a savior who came from
an alien world above, who said that neither he nor those who accepted him
were of this world,[17:14] and who promised to return to take them to a
heavenly dwelling[14:2-3] could be fitted into the gnostic world picture
(even if God's love for the world in 3:16 could not)." It has been suggested
that similarities between John's Gospel and Gnosticism may spring from
common roots in Jewish Apocalyptic literature.
Historical reliability of John:
The differences between the Synoptics and John were acknowledged in the
early Church. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria noted that John's gospel
was a "spiritual gospel", distinct from the Synoptics. However, there is
some degree of debate regarding Clement's exact meaning of "spiritual
gospel"; care must be taken not to ascribe to his phrase modern prejudices
or expectations. Critical scholarship in the 19th century distinguished
between the "biographical" approach of the synoptics and the "theological"
approach of John, and began to disregard John as a historical source.
Current scholarship, however, emphasizes that all four gospels are both
biographical and theological.
According to the majority viewpoint for most of the 20th century, Jesus'
teaching in John is largely irreconcilable with that found in the Synoptics,
and scholars have chosen the version found in the Synoptics as representing
the teaching of the historical Jesus. The teachings of Jesus in John are
distinct from those found in the synoptic gospels. Thus, since the 19th
century many historical Jesus scholars have argued that only one of the two
traditions could be authentic. J. D. G. Dunn comments on historical Jesus
scholarship, "Few scholars would regard John as a source for information
regarding Jesus' life and ministry in any degree comparable to the synoptics."
E. P. Sanders concludes that the Gospel of John contains an "advanced
theological development, in which meditations of the person and work of
Jesus are presented in the first person as if Jesus said them." Sanders
points out that the author would regard the gospel as theologically true as
revealed spiritually even if its content is not historically accurate and
argues that even historically plausible elements in John can hardly be taken
as historical evidence, as they may well represent the author's intuition
rather than historical recollection. The scholars of the Jesus Seminar
identify the historical inferiority of John as foundational to their work.
Geza Vermes discounts all the teaching in John when reconstructing his view
of "the authentic gospel of Jesus."
While a large number of 20th century biblical critics argue that the
teaching found in John does not go back to the historical Jesus, they
usually agree that the gospel is not entirely without historical value.
Several of its independent elements are historically plausible, such as
Jesus having been executed before Passover, as John reports. Former
followers of John the Baptist probably joined Jesus' movement. It has become
generally accepted that certain sayings in John are as old or older than
their synoptic counterparts, that John's knowledge of things around
Jerusalem is often superior to the synoptics, and that his presentation of
Jesus' agony in the garden and the prior meeting held by the Jewish
authorities are possibly more historically accurate than their synoptic
Recent discoveries and trends have cast doubt on the certainty that many
mid-20th century biblical scholars had about the historical inferiority of
John's Gospel. A prominent example is the archaeological discovery of the
pool of Siloam in Jerusalem in 2004a discovery that in a small way
undermines much of the criticism leveled at John during the 20th century.
Recent evidences such as the pool and a turn away from the vestiges of
positivism as evidenced by the growing number of books addressing the
historicity of John reveal that the final word has not been said on how much
of the historical Jesus inhabits John's gospel.
Throughout the 20th century a minority of prominent scholars, such as John
A.T. Robinson, have argued that John is as historically reliable as the
synoptics. Robinson wrote that, where the Gospel narrative accounts can be
checked for consistency with surviving material evidence, the account in the
Gospel of John is commonly the more plausible; that it is generally easier
to reconcile the various synoptic accounts within John's narrative
framework, than it is to explain John's narrative within the framework of
any of the synoptics; and that, where in the Gospel Jesus and his disciples
are described as travelling around identifiable locations, the trips in
question can always be plausibly followed on the ground, which he says is
not the case for any synoptic Gospel. Scholars such as D. A. Carson, Douglas
J. Moo, and Craig Blomberg, often agree with Robinson. Henry Wansbrough
says: "Gone are the days when it was scholarly orthodoxy to maintain that
John was the least reliable of the gospels historically."
Development of the gospel:
Some scholars today believe that parts of John represent an independent
historical tradition from the synoptics, while other parts represent later
traditions. The Gospel was probably shaped in part by increasing tensions
between synagogue and church, or between those who believed Jesus was the
Messiah and those who did not.
The chronology of Jesus' ministry in John:
A distinctive feature of the Gospel of John, is that it provides a very
different chronology of Jesus' ministry from that in the synoptics. E.P.
Sanders suggests that John's chronology, even when ostensibly more
plausible, should nevertheless be treated with suspicion on the grounds that
the Synoptic accounts are otherwise superior as historic sources. C.H. Dodd
proposes that historians may mix and match between John and the synoptics on
the basis of whichever appears strongest on a particular episode. Robinson
says that John's chronology is consistently more likely to represent the
original sequence of events.
Robinson offers three arguments for preferring the chronology of John's
Gospel to that of the synoptics. First, he argues that John's account of
Jesus' ministry is always consistent, in that seasonal references always
follow in the correct sequence, geographical distances are always consistent
with indications of journey times, and references to external events always
cohere with the internal chronology of Jesus' ministry. He claims that the
same cannot be claimed for any of the three Synoptic accounts. For example,
the harvest-tide story of Mark 2:23 is shortly followed by reference to
green springtime pasture at 6:39. Again, the historically consistent
reference to the period of the temple construction in John 2:20, may be
contrasted with the impossibility of reconciling Luke's account of the
census of Luke 2:2 with historic records of Quirinius's governorship of
Syria. Second, Robinson appeals to the critical principle, widely applied in
textual study, that the account is most likely to be original that best
explains the other variants. He argues that would be relatively easy to have
created the Synoptic chronology by selecting and editing from John's
chronology; whereas expanding the Synoptic chronology to produce that found
in John, would have required a wholesale rewriting of the sources. Third,
Robinson claims that elements consistent with John's alternative chronology
can be found in each of the Synoptic accounts, whereas the contrary is never
the case. Hence, Mark's explicit claim that the Last Supper was a Passover
meal is contra-indicated by his statement that Joseph of Arimathea bought a
shroud for Jesus on Good Friday; which would not have been possible if it
were a festival day.
A two-year ministry:
In John's Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus extends over rather more than
two years. At the start of his ministry Jesus is in Jerusalem for
Passover,[Jn 2:13] then he is in Galilee for the following Passover,[6:4]
before going up to Jerusalem again for his death at a third Passover.[11:35]
The synoptics by contrast only explicitly mention the final Passover, and
their accounts are commonly understood as describing a public ministry of
less than a year. Recent studies in ancient narrative historiography argue
that it is possible for John's Gospel to record multiple Passoversas
historical testimony not theological literary-devicesand yet not represent
three years as it was not uncommon for ancient historians to organize their
histories without an absolute timeline. If true this would mean John's
chronology is much closer to Synoptic chronology than often assumed.
In favour of the Synoptic chronology, E.P Sanders observes that a short
ministry accords with the careers of other known prophetic figures of the
timewho appear in the desert, raise large scale public interest, but soon
come to a bloody end at the hand of the Roman military. In favour of the
two-year ministry, John Robinson points out that both Matthew and Luke imply
that Jesus was preaching in Galilee for at least one Passover during his
ministry. The Temple tax[Jn 17:24] is only collected at Passover; moreover,
the massacred Galileans of Luke 13:1 would appear to have been in Jerusalem
for Passover, as this was the only pilgrim feast where the faithful
slaughtered their animals themselves.
The cleansing of the Temple:
In John, Jesus drives the money changers from the Temple at the start of his
ministry, whereas in the Synoptic account this occurs at the end,
immediately after Palm Sunday. In favor of the later dating of the synoptics,
Geza Vermes says that this event provides a clear context and pretext for
Jesus' arrest, trial and execution. It makes more sense to suppose that
events proceeded quickly. Robinson says that all three Synoptic accounts
explain the reluctance of the Temple authorities to arrest Jesus on the
spot, as being due to their fear of popular support for John the Baptist.
This would make more sense while the Baptist was still alive.
An earlier baptizing ministry in Judea:
In chapters 3 and 4 of the Gospel of John, Jesus, following his encounter
with John the Baptist, undertakes an extended and successful baptizing
ministry in Judea and on the banks of the River Jordan; initially as an
associate of the Baptist, latterly more as a rival. In the Synoptic
accounts, Jesus retreats into the wilderness following his baptism, and is
presented as gathering disciples from scratch in his home country of
Galilee; following which he embarks on a ministry of teaching and healing,
in which baptism plays no part. In favour of the Synoptic account is the
clear characterisation of Jesus and his disciples in all the Gospels as
predominantly Galilean. Against this, Robinson points out that all the
synoptics are agreed that, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem in the week
before his death, he already has a number of followers and disciples in the
city, notably Joseph of Arimathea, and the unnamed landlord of the upper
room, who knows Jesus as 'the Master'.
Repeated visits to Jerusalem:
In John, Jesus not only starts his ministry in Jerusalem, he returns there
for other festivals, notably at John 5:1 and at 7:2. As noted above, E.P
Sanders regards the short, sharp prophetic career as having greater
verisimilitude. Against this John Robinson notes the numerous instances in
the Synoptic account of Jesus' final days in Jerusalem, when it is implied
that he has been there before. In two of the synoptics (Matthew 23:37 and
Luke 13:34), Jesus appears to recall several previous preaching ministries
in Jerusalem, when his message had nevetheless been generally spurned.
The date of the crucifixion:
In the Jewish calendar, each day runs from sunset to sunset, and hence the
Last Supper (on the Thursday evening), and Jesus's crucifixion (on Friday
afternoon), both fell on the same day. In John, this day was the 14th of
Nisan in the Jewish calendar; that is the day on the afternoon of which the
Passover victims were sacrificed in the Temple, which was also known as the
Day of Preparation. The Passover meal itself would then have been eaten on
the Friday evening (i.e. the next day in Jewish terms), which would also
have been a Sabbath. In the Synoptic accounts, the Last Supper is a Passover
meal, and so Jesus's trial and crucifixion must have taken place during the
night time and following afternoon of the festival itself, the 15th of
Nisan. In favour of the Synoptic chronology is that in the earliest
Christian traditions relating to the Last Supper in the first letter of Paul
to the Corinthians, there is a clear link between Passion of Jesus, the Last
Supper and the Passover lamb. In favor of John's chronology is the near
universal modern scholarly agreement that the Synoptic accounts of a formal
trial before the Sanhedrin on a festival day are historically impossible. By
contrast, an informal investigation by the High Priest and his cronies
(without witnesses being called), as told by John, is both historically
possible in an emergency on the day before a festival, and accords with the
external evidence from Rabbinic sources that Jesus was put to death on the
Day of Preparation for the Passover. Astronomical reconstruction of the
Jewish Lunar calendar tends to favor John's chronology, in that the only
year during the governorship of Pontius Pilate when the 15th Nisan is
calculated as falling on a Wednesday/Thursday was 27 CE, which appears too
early as the year of the crucifixion, whereas the 14th of Nisan fell on a
Thursday/Friday in both 30 CE and 33 CE.
John and the synoptics compared:
The Book of John is significantly different from the Synoptic Gospels:
Jesus is identified with the divine Word ("Logos") and referred to as theos
The gospel of John gives no account of the Nativity of Jesus, unlike those
of Matthew and Luke, and his mother's name is never given.
In Chapter 7:41-42, and again in 7:52, John records some of the crowd of
Pharisees dismissing the possibility of Jesus's being the Messiah, on the
grounds that the Messiah must be a descendent of David and born in
Bethlehem, stating that Jesus instead came out of Galilee (as is stated in
the Gospel of Mark); John made no effort to refute or correct (nor did he
affirm) this, and this has been advanced as implying that John rejected the
synoptic tradition of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem.
The Pharisees, portrayed as more uniformly legalistic and opposed to Jesus
in the synoptic gospels, are instead portrayed as sharply divided; they
debate frequently in the Gospel of John's accounts. Some, such as Nicodemus,
even go so far as to be at least partially sympathetic to Jesus. This is
believed to be a more accurate historical depiction of the Pharisees, who
made debate one of the tenets of their system of belief.
John makes no mention of Jesus' baptism, but quotes John the Baptist's
description of the descent of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist publicly
proclaims Jesus to be the Lamb of God. The Baptist recognizes Jesus secretly
in Matthew, and not at all in Mark or Luke. John also denies that he is
Elijah, whereas Mark and Matthew identify him with Elijah.
The Temple incident appears near the beginning of Jesus' ministry. In the
synoptics this occurs soon before Jesus is crucified.
John contains four visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, three associated with the
Passover feast. This chronology suggests Jesus' public ministry lasted three
or two years. The synoptic gospels describe only one trip to Jerusalem in
time for the Passover observance.
Jesus washes the disciples' feet instead of the synoptics' ritual with bread
and wine (the Eucharist).
No other women are mentioned going to the tomb with Mary Magdalene.
John does not contain any parables. Rather it contains metaphoric stories or
allegories, such as The Shepherd and The Vine, in which each individual
element corresponds to a specific group or thing.
Major synoptic speeches of Jesus are absent, including the Sermon on the
Mount and the Olivet discourse.
While the synoptics look forward to a future Kingdom of God (using the term
parousia, meaning "coming"), John presents an eschatology that has already
The Kingdom of God is mentioned only twice in John. In contrast, the other
gospels repeatedly use the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven as
The exorcisms of demons are never mentioned as in the synoptics.
John never lists all of the Twelve Disciples and names at least one disciple
(Nathanael) whose name is not found in the synoptics; Nathanael appears to
parallel the apostle Bartholomew found in the synoptics, as both are paired
with Philip in the respective gospels. While James and John are prominent
disciples in the synoptics, John mentions them only in the epilogue, where
they are referred to not by name but as the "sons of Zebedee."
Thomas the Apostle is given a personality beyond a mere name, as "Doubting
John was written somewhere near the end of the 1st century, probably in
Ephesus, in Roman Asia. The tradition of John the Apostle was strong in
Asia, and Polycarp of Smyrna reportedly knew him. Like the previous gospels,
it circulated separately until Irenaeus proclaimed all four gospels to be
The Church Fathers Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr did not
mention this gospel, either because they did not know it or did not approve
In the 2nd century, the two main, conflicting expressions of Christology
were John's Logos theology, according to which Jesus was the incarnation of
God's eternal Word, and adoptionism, according to which Jesus was "adopted"
as God's Son. Christians who rejected Logos Christology were called "Alogi,"
and Logos Christology won out over adoptionism.
The Gospel of John was the favorite gospel of Valentinus, a 2nd-century
Gnostic leader. His student Heracleon wrote a commentary on the gospel, the
first gospel commentary in Christian history.
In the Diatesseron, the content of John was merged with the content of the
synoptics to form a single gospel that included nearly all the material in
the four canonical gospels.
When Irenaeus proposed that all Christians accept Mark, Matthew, Luke, and
John as orthodox, and only those four gospels, he regarded John as the
primary gospel, due to its high Christology.
Jerome translated John into its official Latin form, replacing various older
Although harmonious with the Synoptic Gospels and probably primitive (the
Didascalia Apostolorum definitely refers to it and it was probably known to
Papias), the Pericope Adulterae is not part of the original text of the
Gospel of John.