Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Gospel of John

Introduction to the Gospel of John

Written by George Goldman

What was Jesus really like?

This was the question many people were asking in 90 A.D. The writer of the fourth gospel writes the answer. Never has a book paid a greater tribute to its “hero.” The very opening verse claims the “hero” is God, Himself.

Cerinthus, a man who lived in John’s lifetime, was teaching that Jesus was not really God and that Christ had not actually come into the flesh. According to Cerinthus, at Jesus’ baptism the “Christ” in the form of a dove descended on Jesus. This same “Christ” left him again just before Jesus’ suffering. Therefore, it was not really Christ who suffered, died, and rose again but Jesus.

John denies this teaching by saying, “The Word (God) became flesh (Jn. 1:1, 14). Jesus Christ was one person. “Now, Jesus, to be sure, in the presence of the disciples, also performed many other signs that are not written in this book. But these are written in order that you may continue to believe the Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and in order that believing you may continue to have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30f written showing the action of the Greek verb tenses).

This gospel of John was written after the other gospel of accounts. Much of what is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is omitted by John: no virgin birth, no baptism of Jesus, no temptation, no transfiguration, no cure of any demoniacs or lepers, no parables, no Lord’s supper, no agony in the garden, and no ascension into heaven.

A Jew wrote this gospel. He quotes from the Hebrew rather than the Greek Bible. He is acquainted with the Jewish Feasts (Jn. 7:2; 10:22). He also knows Jewish customs (Jn. 18:28; 2:6; 11:44; 19:38-42). He knew that Jews did not leave bodies on crosses over the Sabbath (Jn. 19:31).

The author of this gospel had a geographical knowledge of Palestine. He was familiar with the five porches around the pool of Bethzatha (Jn. 5:2). He knew of the pool of Siloam and the Kidron Valley (Jn. 9:7; 18:1). He was aware of the paved area outside Pilate’s judgment hall (Jn. 19:13). He knew of the two Bethanys (Jn. 1:28; 12:1). He knew of an alternate name for the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 6:1). He knew that Sychar was near Jacob’s well (Jn. 4:5).

The author was also an eyewitness (Jn. 1:14; cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-4). He tells of how he first met Jesus and became his disciple. He still remembered that it was about four o’clock in the afternoon (Jn. 1:35-39). He is the only writer to mention the spear wound (Jn. 19:34F). He knew there were six water pots at Cana (Jn. 6:19). He knew the number of fish they caught after the resurrection (Jn. 21:11).

In the last chapter of this gospel there is evidence that the author was an apostle. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” and who wrote these things must be identified in the context of this chapter. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two others are mentioned (Jn. 21:2). The author must be in the unnamed group. The most likely candidate is John, the son of Zebedee. James, the other son of Zebedee, suffered an early death (Acts 12:1f), while this gospel’s author survived even Peter (who survived James). The author of the fourth gospel was alive and bearing witness though Peter had already attained the martyr’s crown (Jn. 21:19-24).

The oldest existing portion of the New Testament is a fragment of the gospel of John (Jn. 18:31-33, 37-38). It is written in a style suggesting a date of about 150 A.D. It was discovered in 1934 and is about three by four inches in size. It can be seen in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England.

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