The Gospel of John

The contents of the Gospel of John is also divided into five parts:

I. The Advent and Incarnation of the Word, 1: 1-13. John takes his point of departure in the pre-existence and divine origin of Christ, and points out that He was heralded by John the Baptist, was the light of the world and gave believers the power to become the children of God.

II. The Incarnate Word the only Life of the World, 1: 14 -- 6: 71. The evangelist records the testimony to the grace and truth of the incarnate Word given by John the Baptist and by Christ himself in word and deed, 1: 14 -- 2 :11; and the self-revelation of Christ in the cleansing of the temple, 2:12-32; in the conversation with Nicodemus, 3:1-21; followed by the public testimony of John 3: 22-36; in the conversation with the Samaritan woman, 4:1-42; and in the healing of the nobleman's son, 4: 43-54. More particularly he shows, how Christ reveals himself as the author and sustainer of life in the healing of the impotent man and its vindication, 5:1-47; and in the miracle of the loaves with the following discourse, leading to desertion on the one and to confession on the other hand, 6:1-71.

III. The Incarnate Word, the Life and Light, in Conflict with Spiritual Darkness, 7:1 -- 11: 54. On the feast of tabernacles Christ reminds the Jews of the fact that He is the life of the world, and presents himself to them as the water of life, wherefore officers were sent to take him, 7:1-52. The following day He brings out the spiritual darkness of the Jews in connection with the adulterous woman, and declares that He is the light of the world, the only light that can truly enlighten them; and that He only could liberate them from their spiritual bondage; which leads to an attempt to stone him, 8:1-59. On a subsequent occasion He proves himself to be the light of the world by healing the blind man and speaks of himself as the good Shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep; thereby provoking unbelief and rage, 9:1 -- 10: 21. At the feast of the dedication He declares that He and the Father are one, which again leads to an attempt to stone him, 10: 22-42. In raising Lazarus Jesus presents himself as the resurrection and the life, thus leading some of the people to believe in him, but his enemies to the settled purpose to kill him, 11:1-54.

IV. The Incarnate Word saving the Life of the World through his Sacrificial Death, 11: 55 -- 19: 42. The enemies plan to kill Jesus, but Mary of Bethany anoints him and the people meet him with glad hosannas; the Greeks seek him at Jerusalem, but the multitude turns from him in unbelief, 11: 55 -- 12: 50. He sits at the Paschal supper with his disciples, gives them a lesson in humble service, exposes the traitor and announces that the time has now come to leave his disciples, 13:1-38. He discourses on the significance of his departure and on the new life in communion with the Father, 14:1 -- 16: 33; and offers the intercessory prayer committing his followers to the Father, 17:1-26. In Gethsemane He is taken captive, and after a preliminary hearing before the high priest is brought before Pilate who, though finding no guilt in Jesus, yet delivers him into the hands of the Jews to be crucified, 18:1-16. After his crucifixion He is buried by Joseph and Nicodemus, 19:17-42.

V. The Incarnate Word, risen from the Dead, the Saviour and Lord of all Believers, 20:1 -- 21: 25. Having risen from the dead, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalena and on two successive Lords days to his disciples, 20:1-31. Later He is seen by some of his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, where He restores Peter and points significantly to the career of John, the writer of the Gospel, 31:1-25.


Of the characteristics that mark the fourth Gospel the following especially are to be noted:

1. The gospel of John emphasizes more than any of the others the Divinity of Christ. It has no historical starting-point, like the Synoptics, but recedes back into the depths of eternity, and starts out with the statement sublime in its simplicity: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Positively, the Logos-doctrine is peculiar to this Gospel; negatively, every indication of Christs human development and of his gradually awakening self-consciousness is strikingly absent from it. We find no genealogy here, no description of Christ's birth with it's attendant circumstances, and no narrative of his baptism and temptation. John the Baptist testifies to his Divinity, as soon as He enters on the scene, and He himself publicly claims this prerogative almost from the beginning of his public ministry, cf.3:13; 5:17 if; 6: 32, 40 if., etc. The miracles of the Lord, narrated in this Gospel, are of such a character that they give great prominence to his divine power. The noblemans son was cured from a distance, 4:46 ff.; the man at Bethesda had been infirm thirty-eight years, 5: 5; the blind man at Jerusalem had been born blind, 9:1; and Lazarus had already lain in the grave four days, 11:17.

2. The teaching of Christ greatly predominates in Johns Gospel, but this is quite different from that contained in the Synoptics. We find no parables here but elaborate discourses, which also contain a couple of allegories. The all absorbing topic is not the Kingdom of God but the Person of the Messiah. The simple rudimentary teaching regarding the Kingdom is here replaced by a more penetrating (though not developed) instruction in the deeper realities of faith. In connection with his miracles or other historical facts Christ presents himself as the source of life, 4: 46 -- S : 47; the spiritual nourishment of the soul, 6: 22-65; the water of life, 4: 7-16; 7: 37, 38; the true liberator, 8: 31-58; the light of the world, 9: 5, 35-41; and the living principle of the resurrection, 11: 25, 26. The farewell discourses of the Saviour, besides containing many profound truths respecting his personal relation to believers, are also significant on account of their clear references to the coming Paraclete.

3. The scene of action in this Gospel is quite different from that in the Synoptics. In the latter the work of Christ in Galilee is narrated at length, while He is seen at Jerusalem only during the last week of His life. In the Gospel of John, on the other hand, the long ministry of Christ in Galilee is presupposed rather than narrated, while his work and teaching in Judea and particularly at Jerusalem is made very prominent. The great feasts afforded the occasion for this work and are therefore distinctly mentioned. John speaks of three, possibly four, Passovers, 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 13: 1; of the feast of Tabernacles, 7: 2; and of the feast of the Dedication, 10: 22.

4. The Gospel of John is far more definite than the Synoptics in pointing out the time and place of the occurrences that are narrated; it is in a certain sense more chronological than the other Gospels. We are generally informed as to the place of Christ's operation. Definite mention is made of Bethany, 1:28; Cana, 2: 1; Capernaum, 2:12; Jerusalem, 2:13; Sychar, 4: 5; Bethesda, 5 : 2, etc. The designations of time are equally distinct, sometimes the hour of the day being given. The chronological framework of the gospel is found in its reference to the great feasts. John the Baptist sees Christ coming to him the day after he had met the delegation from Jerusalem, 1: 29; and again on the following day, 1: 35. A day later Christ called Philip and Nathanael, 1: 43-51; on the third day there was a marriage in Cana, 2: 1; it was at the sixth hour that Christ sat down at the well, 4: 6; at the seventh, that the nobleman's son was cured, 4: 52; in the midst of the feast that Jesus went into the temple, 7:14; and again on the last great day, 7: 37; and about the sixth hour that Christ was delivered unto the Jews by Pilate, 19:14.

5. The style of the fourth Gospel is not like that of the other three. It is peculiar in that "it contains, on the one hand, except in the prologue and chara chaireiin 3:29, hardly any downright Hebraisms," Simcox, The Writers of the New Testament p.73, while, on the other hand, it approaches the style of Old Testament writers more than the style of any other New Testament writing does. John evidently commanded a fairly good Greek vocabulary, but does not attempt any elaborate sentences. Rather than do this, he will repeat part of a previous statement and then add a new element to it. His sentences are generally connected in the most simple way by kai, de or oun, and his descriptions are often elaborate and repetitious. He exhibits a special fondness for contrasts and for the use of the parallelismus membrorum. A very characteristic expression of his is zoe aio'nos, which occurs 17 times in the Gospel. For other phrases and expressions see Simcox. He also employs several Aramaean words, as rhabbi, kephas, messias, Gabbatha, Golgotha, amen anen.


The voice of antiquity is all but unanimous in ascribing the fourth Gospel to John. The Monarchian sect, called by Epiphanius, "the Alogi," forms the only exception. Little is known of this sect, except that it rejected the doctrine of the Logos. Salmon says: "In fact I now believe that "the Alogi" consisted of Caius and, as far as I can learn, of nobody else." Introd. p.229. The internal evidence for the authorship of the Gospel is now generally arranged under the following heads:

1. The author was a Jew. He evidently had an intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament, had, as it were, imbibed the spirit of the prophetical writings. He knew them not only in the translation of the LXX, but in their original language, as is evident from several Old Testament quotations. Moreover the style of the author clearly reveals his Jewish nationality. He wrote Greeks it is true, but his construction, his circumstantiality and his use of parallelism, are all Hebraic. "There is a Hebrew soul living in the language of the evangelist." Luthardt, St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel, p.166. Ewald comes to the conclusion, "that the Greek language of the author bears in itself still the clearest and strongest mark of a genuine Hebrew, who born among the Jews in the Holy Land, and grown up in this society without speaking Greek, carries in himself the whole spirit and breath of his mother-tongue even in the midst of the Greek raiment that he afterwards learnt to cast about him, and has no hesitation to let himself be led by that spirit." Quoted by Luthardt, p.167.

2. The author was a Palestinian Jew. He clearly shows that he is well at home in the Jewish world. He is intimately acquainted with Jewish customs and religious observances and with the requirements of the law, and moves about with ease in the Jewish world of thought. He knows that, according to the strict Jewish conception, it was unlawful to heal on the sabbath, 5: 1 ff.; 9:14 ff.; and also that circumcision was allowed, 7: 22 ff. He is aware of the Jewish expectation of Elijah, 1: 21; and of the ill-feeling between the Jews and the Samaritans, 4: 9. He understood that the Jews regarded a misfortune as the result of some particular sin, 9: 2; and that they considered one unclean who had entered the house of a Gentile, 18: 28. He is thoroughly acquainted with Jerusalem, 5 : 2; with the valley of Sichem and mount Gerezim, 4: 5 ff.; with the temple, 8: 20; and with Capernaum and other places around the sea of Galilee, 7.

3. The writer was an eyewitness of the events he relates. He claims this explicitly, if not already in 1: 14, "we beheld his glory" (Cf. I John 1:1-3), certainly in 19:35. "And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe." This claim is corroborated by the lively and yet simple manner in which he pictures the events; by the many definite chronological data and naming of localities, to which we have already referred; and by the great prominence given to certain individuals with whom Jesus came in contact.

4. The author was the apostle John. He often makes mention in his Gospel of a disciple whom he never names, but to whom he constantly refers as "the (an) other disciple," or as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Cf.13: 23; 18:15; 19:26; 20:2, 3, 4, 8; 21:7. At the close of his Gospel he says of him: "This is the disciple which testifieth these things; and we know that his testimony is true," 21: 24. Who was this disciple? The evangelist names only seven of the disciples of the Lord, the five that are not named being John and his brother James, Matthew, Simon the Canaanite and James the son of Alpheus. Now it is evident from 1: 35-41 that said disciple was one of the first ones called by the Lord, and these according to Mark 1: 16-19 were Peter, Andrew, John and James. The first two are explicitly named in John 1: 41-43, so that the one whose name is suppressed must have been either John or James. But we cannot think of James as the author of this Gospel, since he died a martyrs death as early as A. D.44. Therefore John must have been the writer.

According to Mt.27: 56 and Mk.1:20; 15: 40, John was the son of Zebedee and Salome who probably belonged to the middle class of society. His mother was among the faithful followers of the Saviour, Mt.27: 56; Mk.16:1. He was one of the very first followers of Jesus and soon appears as one of the innermost circle of the disciples, one of the three that always accompany the Saviour. With the Lord he enters the dwelling of Jairus, ascends the mount of transfiguration and penetrates into the dark recesses of Gethsemane. As he stands by the cross, the mother of Jesus is entrusted to his care. On the morning of the resurrection he is one of the first to visit the grave of the Saviour. In the first part of the Acts of the Apostles he appears as one of the faithful witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord. After that we lose sight of John in Scripture, but tradition tells us that he spent the last part of his life in Asia Minor, especially at Ephesus, where he died in venerable age.

There is an apparent contradiction between the synoptical data regarding the character of John and the conception of it derived from his own writings, but this is easily explained. The very first indication of his character we glean from the statement in Mk.3:17, that the Lord named him and his brother James "Boanerges, which is, the sons of thunder." This conveys the idea of an ardent temper, of great strength and vehemence of character. And on two occasions we find that they reveal just such traits, viz. when they peremptorily forbade one who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus to continue this, Mk.9: 38; Lk.9:49; and when they desired permission to command fire to come down from heaven to devour the Samaritans, Lk.9: 54. In both cases the Lord reproves their show of temper. Another trait of their character is revealed in their request to sit in the places of honor in the future Kingdom of Jesus, Mt.20: 20-24; Mk.10: 35-41. Their ambition was such as to offend the other disciples and to call forth a severe rebuke from the Lord. John was, no doubt, zealous for the Lord, but his zeal was mistaken; he had a passionate desire to be near his Master, but he showed this in a manner that was not free from selfishness and pride. The Lord directed his zeal and ambition into other channels by pointing out their unspiritual character and by teaching him that one can be great in the Kingdom of God only by being the servant of ones brethren. This undoubtedly made a profound impression on the sensitive John and begot within him the habit of introspection, of self-examination. He became more quiet, more reserved with an inclination to ponder on the mysteries that he encountered in his daily association with the Lord, and penetrated farther than the other disciples into the hidden depths of the mysterious life of Christ. As a result John, as he reveals himself in his writings, is quite different from the John of the Synoptics. From his Gospel and Epistles we learn to know him as a man of deep religious feeling, beloved of Christ; a man that lived in close communion with his Lord, a communion more spiritual, however, than he desired in his youthful years. His exclusivism has made place for a love that would embrace all; his zeal is still operative, but it has been sanctified and led into proper channels; his strength has become a tower of defense for spiritual truth.

Not until the last part of the eighteenth century was the authorship of John attacked on critical grounds, and even then the attacks were of small significance. Bretschneider in 1820 was the first to assail it in a systematic way. But he was soon followed by others, such as Baur, Strauss, Schwegler, Zeller, Scholten, Davidson, Wrede e. a. It has been their persistent endeavor to show that the Gospel of John is a product of the second century. Some would ascribe it to that shadowy person, the presbyter John, whose existence Eusebius infers from a rather ambiguous passage of Papias, but who, in all probability, is to be identified with John the apostle. Others positively reject this theory. Wrede, after arguing that the authorship of John cannot be established, says: "Far less can the recent hypothesis be regarded as proven which purports to find the author of the Gospel in John the presbyter." The Origin of the New Testament p.89.

The most important considerations that led many rationalistic critics to the conclusion that the fourth Gospel was written in the second century, are the following: (1) The theology of the Gospel, especially its representation of Christ, is developed to such a degree that it points beyond the first and reflects the consciousness of the Church of the second century. (2) The Gospel was evidently written under the influence of the philosophic and religious tendencies that were prevalent in the second century, such as Montanism, Docetism and Gnosticism. (3) The great difference between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics appears to be the result of second century cavilling respecting the nature of Christ, and of the Paschal controversy.

But the idea that the Gospel of John is a second century product goes counter to both the internal evidence to which we already referred, and to the external testimony, which is exceptionally strong and which can be traced back to the very beginning of the second century. Some of the Epistles of Ignatius show the influence of John's Christology, and the writings of both Papias and Polycarp contain allusions to the first Epistle of John, which was evidently written at the same time as the Gospel. The latter was in existence, therefore, in the beginning of the second century. The theology of the Gospel of John is no more developed than that of Paul's Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, that were written between A. D.61 and 63. Critics generally ceased to place any reliance on the so-called Montanistic features of the Gospel, and although they still maintain that some passages contain traces of a Docetic Gnosticism, these are purely imaginary and readily vanish, when the light of exegesis is turned on. The connection of the Gospel with the Paschal controversy is now admitted to be very dubious. And the difference between it and the Synoptics can be satisfactorily explained without regarding it as a work of the second century. Cf. above p.19 ff.

Critics of the Tubingen school, who accepted the Johannine authorship of the Apocalypse, were wont to deny that John had written the Gospel, because it differed in so many respects from the former work. At present this argument is not insisted on, because scholars are not so sure as they once were, that John wrote the book of Revelation. Reuss, who still argues in that fashion, says: "It must be admitted that even in the most recent times the decision of the question as to the apostolic genuineness of the Apocalypse has by both sides been made to depend upon a previously formed judgment as to the fourth Gospel." History of the N. T., I p.161.


1. Readers and Purpose. The Gospel of John was in all probability written primarily for the Christians of Asia Minor, among whom especially the heresy of Cerinthus had arisen. Early tradition has it that John wrote it at the request of the bishops of Asia to combat that heresy. Internal evidence certainly favors the hypothesis that it was composed for Greek readers. The author carefully interprets Hebrew and Aramaeic words, as in 1: 38, 41, 42; 9:7; 11:16; 19:13, 17; 20:16. He makes it a point to explain Jewish customs and geographical designations, 1:28; 2:1; 4:4,5; 11:54, . . .7:37; 19:31,40,42. Moreover,notwithstanding his characteristically Hebrew style, he usually quotes from the Septuagint.

It was not John's purpose to furnish a supplement to the Synoptics, though his Gospel certainly contains a good deal of supplemental matter; neither did he mean to produce a direct polemic against the Cerinthian heresy, even if this did to a certain degree determine his special way of stating the truth. He did not aim at conciliating the discordant parties of the second century by leading them up to a higher unity, as the Tubingen school asserted; nor at refuting "Jewish objections and invectives," and at providing "his fellow-Christians with weapons ready to hand ;" a hypothesis of which Wrede asserts: "This view is on the whole a recent one, but it is making victorious progress among scholars." The Origin of the New Testament, p.84.

The apostle himself gives expression to his purpose, when he says: "These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life in his name," 20: 31. His aim is twofold, therefore, theoretical and practical. He desires to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to lead believers to a life of blessed communion with him. The means he employs to that end are: (1) The miracles of the Lord, on which special emphasis is placed, cf.20:30; 31:25; and which are contemplated as semeia, as signs of the divine glory of Christ. (2) The long discourses of the Saviour, which serve to interpret his signs and to describe the unique relation in which He stands to the Father. And (3) the narratives touching Jesus dealing with individuals, such as Nathaniel, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Philip, Mary Magdalena and Thomas, showing, how He led them to faith, a faith culminating in the confession of Thomas: "My Lord and my God."

2. Time and Place. Since John was undoubtedly the writer of the fourth Gospel, we have a terminus ad quem in A. D.98, for Irenaeus says that John lived to the time of Trajan, who began his reign in that year. The testimony of Jerome is to the same effect: "The apostle John lived in Asia to the time of Trajan, and dying at a great age in the sixty-eighth year of our Lords passion, was buried near the city of Ephesus." The same writer places the death of John in A. D.100. In all probability, however, John wrote his Gospel several years before his death, since its style is, as Alford remarks, "that of a matured, but not of an aged writer." Prolegomena to the Gospels Ch. V., Sec. VI, 10. It is not an easy matter to find a terminus a quo. We may be sure that the apostle did not compose the Gospel until after the death of Paul in A. D.68. The congregations of Asia Minor were the special charge of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and he never makes any mention in his Epistles of Johns being in their midst, nor does he send him a single salutation; and when he parted from the Ephesian elders, he evidently did not anticipate the coming of an apostle among them. Moreover we infer from 21:19 that John knew of the manner in which Peter died, and presupposes this knowledge in his readers. Therefore it is unlikely that the Gospel was written before A. D.70. Bengel in his Gnomon infers from the use of the present tense in 5: 2 that Jerusalem was still intact. But this argument is not conclusive, since the city was not completely demolished by the Romans, and because we can with equal propriety conclude from 11:18 that both Jerusalem and Bethany had been swept off the face of the earth. John's utter silence regarding the destruction of the city favors the idea that he wrote the Gospel several years after that calamity. Zahn would date the Gospel after A. D.80, his terminus ad quem for the composition of Luke's Gospel, since tradition teaches that John wrote later than the Synoptics. Among rationalistic critics the most divergent dates are suggested. Baur held that the Gospel was composed between A. D.160 and 170. At present the tendency is to revert to some date nearer the limits indicated above. Thus Pfleiderer dates it A. D.140; Hilgenfeld believes that it originated between A. D.130 and 140. Harnack and Julicher are not inclined to place it later than A. D.110, and the former even admits that it may have been written as early as A. D.80.

Tradition points to Ephesus as the place of composition. Origen testifies "that John, having lived long in Asia, was buried at Ephesus." This is confirmed by Polycrates, a bishop of Ephesus. Jerome says: "John wrote a Gospel at the desire of the bishops of Asia." And Cosmas of Alexandria informs us definitely that John composed his Gospel, while dwelling at Ephesus. There is no reason to doubt this testimony.

3. Method. John's Gospel is evidently of an autoptic character. He may have read the Synoptics before he composed his work, but he did not use them as sources from which he drew a part of his material. In several places the author indicates that he related what he had seen and heard, cf.1:14; 13:23; 18:15; 19:26, 35;20:2. Compare what he says in his first Epistle 1:1-3. While the Synoptic Gospels were in all probability based to a great extent on oral tradition and written sources, neither of these played an appreciable part in the composition of the fourth Gospel. John, who had carefully stored in memory the profound discourses of the Lord regarding his own Person, discourses that made a deep and lasting impression on the beloved disciple, drew on that fountain of knowledge and, guided by the Holy Spirit in all the truth, supplied us with an exact record of the signs and words of the Saviour.

It has often been remarked that there is a great difference between the style of Christ's discourses in the Synoptics and that of those contained in the fourth Gospel; and that in this gospel there is so much similarity between the narrative of the evangelist and the discourses of the Saviour that it seems as if John clothed these in his own language. But the Synoptics and John have so little such matter in common that we cannot safely build a conclusion on it, and in the discourses of Christ which they do have in common no great difference of style in observable. And as far as the second point is concerned, it may be, as Alford thinks probable, that the Lord influenced John so profoundly that the latter's style became very similar to that of the Master. But even if John did reproduce the discourses of the Saviour in his own style and language, we may rest assured that he gives us the exact teaching of the Lord.


The Gospel of John was accepted as canonical in all parts of the Church from the earliest time, the only exceptions being the Alogi and Marcion. It is true, the apostolic fathers do not quote it, but the writings of three of them show traces either of it or of the first Epistle. Among the Church fathers Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Justin Martyr, Jerome e. a. either freely quote it, or refer to it as an integral part of the Word of God. Moreover it is included in Tatian's Diatessaron, the Muratori canon, and the Syriac and old Latin Versions. In all at least nineteen witnesses testify to the use and recognition of the Gospel before the end of the second century. The great significance of this Gospel in Holy Writ is that it places prominently before us the Son of Man as the Son of God, as the eternal Word that became flesh. According to this Gospel Christ is the Son of God, who descended from the Father, stood in a unique relation to the Father, had come to do the Father's will on earth, and would return to the glory that He had eternally possessed with the Father, that He might send the Holy Spirit from the Father to abide with his Church throughout all ages. In that Spirit He himself returns to his followers to dwell in them forever. He is the highest revelation of God, and our relation to him, either of faith or of unbelief, determines our eternal destiny. Before this Christ the Church bows down in adoration with Thomas and calls out: "My Lord and my God."

the gospel of luke
Top of Page
Top of Page