Word Study
Gospel of John--High Christology

Home | Word | Contact Us


Relationship with the Other Gospels


There is an interesting relationship between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The similarities between the three are so striking, most modern scholars accept that some sort of a literary relationship between them exists. The most likely explanation is that Mark wrote his Gospel first; Matthew and Luke then added on to it. Indeed, Luke begins his Gospel by acknowledging prior written sources ("Many have undertaken to draw up an account," 1:1) and further acknowledging that he drew from these sources ("since I myself have carefully investigated," 1:3). These three Gospels have been dubbed the "Synoptic" Gospels, in that they can be compared side-by-side. Not only do they contain parallel teachings and narratives, but said passages are often identical word-for-word.


It is these similarities which make the Gospel of John unique, and a bit of an enigma to scholars. Absent from John's Gospel are stories so prevalent in the Synoptics: Jesus' baptism, His transfiguration, the parables He told, the words of institution at the Last Supper--indeed, a cursory reading of John almost gives the impression that the Last Supper is absent altogether. Not found in the Synoptics, yet prevalent in John, are lengthy and important discourses, popular and powerful miracles (such as turning water into wine or the raising of Lazarus), a farewell discourse which spans several chapters, and the reinstatement of Peter after his denial of Jesus. Even when we find parallels between John and the Synoptics, there are notable differences as well: John goes into considerable detail about John the Baptist not found in the Synoptics; while we don't see the calling of the Twelve (apostles), we do see much more attention given to individuals within the Twelve (Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Thomas); like the Synoptics, John tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand, but only John tells us that this was near the time of Passover, and only John tells us that in relation with this miracle does Jesus declare Himself the "bread of life" (6:35).


If a literary connection exists between the Synoptics, the question with John is this: was John written independent of the Synoptics (i.e., John was essentially unaware of their existence), or was John written with the Synoptics in mind? The latter seems the better explanation, for at least five reasons:


--Generally Mark, the earliest of the Synoptics, is dated around 70 A.D.--and a strong case can be made for an even earlier date. Matthew and Luke were written not long after this. John, on the other hand, is generally dated in the 90's. This provides more than enough years for the Synoptics to circulate, and for John to become familiar with them.


--Several statements in John presuppose knowledge of events that are recorded in the Synoptics. For example, John 3:24 makes a parenthetical mention of John the Baptist's imprisonment, apparently assuming the reader is already aware of the event (even though John has not recorded it; see Mark 6:17). In 11:2, John identifies Mary as the woman who "poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair," even though he has not yet told this story. However, the story would already be known to those familiar with the Synoptics (see especially Mark 14:9).


--Some differences between the Synoptics and John are best explained not as John writing about different events, but rather as John providing extra information, or clarifying information, from the Synoptics. For example, the Synoptics would seem to portray Peter and Andrew as accepting Christ's sudden call without a moment's hesitation (see Mark 1:16 - 20). John 1:35 - 42, however, tells us that not only did Peter and Andrew have some lead time to make this decision, but also that John the Baptist had given Peter and Andrew a strong endorsement of Jesus.


--Other differences are best explained as a reflection of changing circumstances. John offers some of the strongest polemics against Jewish leadership of all the Gospels. However, polemics by the Jewish leadership against Christianity had likewise been increasing: Judaism even introduced a curse against Christianity into its liturgy. Furthermore, at the time of John's composition we see hints of emerging Gnosticism, a religious belief which would try to adopt--and distort--orthodox Christianity. John's polemics against Gnosticism are stronger in his epistles (1st - 3rd John), but they are evident in the Gospel as well.


--Early Church tradition confirms that John's Gospel was meant to be a supplement to the Synoptics, aware of what the Synoptics had already provided. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, quotes Clement of Alexandria in saying: "Last of all John, perceiving that the bodily [or external] facts had been set forth in the Gospels, at the instance of his disciples and the inspiration of the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel."


Miracles, Discourses, and Festivals


Much like the Synoptics, John is filled with stories of miracle-working and didactic (teaching) discourses. In John, however, the discourses are usually in conjunction with a particular miracle; John calls these miracles "miraculous signs," and indicates that they are meant to instill faith on the part of the disciples. Furthermore, the miracles serve certain Christological purposes--to demonstrate an aspect of the identity of the Christ.


In addition to the link between miracles and discourses, there is also prevalent in John various Jewish Festivals. As we shall see, Jesus' famous "I am" statements are given not only in conjunction with a particular Festival, but indeed are meant to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of that particular Festival. It is, again, a Christological focus John gives: who the Christ is often will be demonstrated in conjunction with a miracle, and as a representation of the fulfillment of Festival. The didactic discourses further illuminate these principles.


This is the background of the Gospel of John. Our study begins in earnest next week. An outline is available here.


See you then!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


If you have anything of interest to add to this site,
or you have general comments, questions, or ideas,
we welcome your response.

Pages Created by Dan Russell
copyright 2003 - 2018
Last modified date:
January 1, 2018