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Gospel of John--High Christology

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The "Johannine" books--the Gospel of John, Revelation, and the 3 letters of John--are something of an enigma. Only in Revelation does the author identify himself as John; nowhere in the Gospel or letters does he do so. Instead, two different anonymous statements self-describing the author are made:


--"The one whom Jesus loved" (see John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20 for the description, then 21:24 for the statement that this "Beloved Disciple" is the author.)


--"The elder" (see opening statements of 2nd and 3rd John).


It is Church tradition that has placed these five works together, and likewise Church tradition that has identified both the Beloved Disciple and the Elder as John, the Apostle of Jesus. Between the Gospel and the letters, there is certainly a common style (especially among the letters), and much of the Christology is the same. Yet even granting that these four works share a common author, why do we believe that author was John? A little detective work is in order.


The identity of the author of the Gospel is most closely narrowed down in the 21st chapter. It is there we have a gathering of a small group of people, each specifically named in verse 2: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and "the sons of Zebedee" (who are identified in the other Gospels as James and John; see Matthew 4:21). As the author makes very deliberate efforts NOT to identify himself by name, we can rule out those in this group who are elsewhere in the Gospel mentioned by name. That means Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael are not likely to be the author--in the Gospel, these three receive considerable attention. Why would the author in some passages refer to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved", but inconsistently in other passages refer to himself by name?


Within this small group of John 21, only two remain, James and his brother John, and there is a fascinating aspect to these two men: in this Gospel, neither of these two are ever mentioned by named. With the exception of this very chapter (and even here, not by name), these two receive absolutely no mention whatsoever. This is especially odd when we note that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray these two as being part of Jesus' inner core; they play an invaluable role! Why would they not even be mentioned in this gospel unless, in his humility, the author is deliberately trying not to draw attention to himself. It is entirely plausible that either James or John is the author of the Gospel; and as James dies early (see Acts 12), the remaining candidate is John.


There has been, of course, some scholarship calling this identification into question, and some who question whether the author of the Gospel and the letters is the same. However, the similarities are strong; this, coupled with the early tradition of the Church identifying the author as John, seems enough for us to make at least an assumption of Johannine authorship.


John the Apostle


John and his brother James were fisherman, working with their father, Zebedee. They chose to leave this, though, and become Apostles of Jesus. And not just any Apostles--as mentioned above, they were part of that "Inner Circle" of Jesus. From time to time, Jesus would bring only three of His disciples with Him to special events: Peter, and John and James (Andrew, on occasion, appears to have come as well, though certainly not as frequently). They were there when Jesus resurrected a 12 year-old girl (Mark 5:37); they were there for Jesus' Transfiguration (Luke 9:28); and they were there when Jesus was praying in the garden, just before He was betrayed and arrested (Mark 14:33).


One of the interesting trademarks of John and James in the Synoptics was their fiery temper (see Luke 9:54 for an example). To this end, Jesus even nicknamed them "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17). Yet the author of the Gospel and the letters seems instead to be a Child of Love; it would seem that the love and grace of Jesus Christ's ministry transformed John. No doubt John was especially affected by witnessing Christ's crucifixion (John 19:26), and perhaps also his brother's martyrdom.


This is the background on the author of the Gospel of John. Next week we look at the unique aspects of the Gospel. An outline is available here.


See you then!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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Last modified date:
January 1, 2018