A Bible Introduction to the Gospel of John

The IVP Introduction to the Gospel calls John ‘the different story’. It is different in several ways:

  • It begins with an unequivocal statement of who Jesus is and what he has come to be. The other Gospels build up to Caesarea Philippi.
  • It has a fuller timeframe of three years rather than the 20 months of Mark
  • It shows a ministry that goes back and forth from Galilee to Judaea many times over – the other gospels give all the Galilean ministry followed by the Judaean ministry.
  • It has only one parable (The Good Shepherd in chapter 10) whereas the other Gospels say ‘He spoke to them in parables and except in parables he did not speak to them’.
  • There are very few miracles, but those that are are dramatic and significant in the telling with large tracts of teaching.
  • The Baptism and the Institution of the Lord’s Supper are talked about or at least assumed in chapters 1 and 13 but never actually mentioned.
  • There are four full chapters of teaching at the table in the Upper Room, unparalleled in the other gospels.
  • Many of the stories are unique to John yet their ‘significance’ makes it surprising they have not previously been told – The Samaritan Woman, The Raising of Lazarus, the visit of Nicodemus among them.
  • Though John was present, there is no account of the transfiguration.
  • There are multiple divine claims including the ‘I am’ statements but going much further than them. They were, by their reaction, clearly seen as divine claims.

The reason for the Gospel and for its form is clear in John’s own statement as to why he wrote in 20:30-31. Clearly by the time this gospel was written many are asking ‘Is Jesus God?’ Did he become God?’ How did he become human and was it a real humanity?’ ‘What is the relationship between Jesus and God and how does it differ from our relationship with God?’

The date for the gospel is hotly disputed but most follow Clement of Alexandria’s statement that John wrote after the other Gospels to supplement them, writing a ‘spiritual gospel’. This favours a date around 85AD. If, as most assume, the writer is John, the son of Zebedee, it is likely written from Ephesus. Some claim a much earlier date, even as early as 50, saying it was written independently of, and without knowledge of, the other gospels. Some, denying John the Disciple’s authorship, have propounded dates as late as 110AD. There are, however, few compelling arguments not to assume John as the Author and Clement to be right about it following the others.

What is clear is that his understanding and portrait of Jesus are profound and wide ranging – we would be infinitely poorer without it.

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