Survey of The Life and Teachings of Jesus
© L.D. Underwood 2010
Introduction to John's Gospel
When it comes to John’s Gospel, you have all kinds of possibilities as to who the human writer, or the author might have been. I took some courses at the University with regard to the NT and one of the signs of scholarship was to say that John the apostle did not write the book of John, we don’t know who did, but John didn’t. That was supposedly scholarship. Well, John the son of Zebedee, the Apostle certainly is the traditional view, and the one to which I hold, but there are other options that people have recommended or suggested as possibilities.
For example, there is an unknown Mr. X.--some Greek person who wrote from a Greek viewpoint sometime in the second century. That is not really held today by many scholars, it is a declining view. There are some who say it was John the elder, or John the presbyter. This is the view of a historian in the fourth century named Eusebius. He based his theory on a statement by one of the earlier church fathers named Papias. Now this is what Papias said, “If then anyone came who had been a follower of the elder, I question him in regard to the words of the elder –what Peter said, or what Andrew said or what was said by Phillip or by Thomas or by James or John or by Matthew or by any other of the disciples of the Lord. What things Aristiona, and the Presbyter John the disciple of the Lord say.”
John is mentioned twice in that quotation, and therefore Eusebius assumed there must have been two Johns. So modern critics go even a step further and they say John the presbyter or John the elder was the only John in Ephesus and therefore he and not the apostle wrote this fourth gospel. Now I personally don’t think it is necessary to think there were two Johns because John could have been both an apostle and an elder, just as Peter was. And we know that John outlived the other Apostles and thus he is mentioned a second time because he is still living. It is what these Apostles said, or what John the Presbyter says. So, it may indicate that John, the same John who was an apostle and also an elder, was one who was living and who is still living it may mean the same person. And even if there were two Johns, there is no evidence that this so called elder did the writing of this fourth gospel.
There are other suggestions: some think he was an anonymous Alexandrian Christian, or because he is referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved, perhaps it was a reference to Lazarus. Some think John Mark, and there is a whole host of other suggestions as well. Now I contend that it was written by John the son of Zebedee, the apostle John, and let based on the internal evidence to that fact. First of all, we know that whoever the writer John was, he was a Jew. You can tell that by the vocabulary he uses and by the Jewish style. The vocabulary is Greek, but it is rich in Old Testament expressions. It has a Hebrew style. He writes about the Kingdom of God, about Manna, about the scriptures, about the vine, the life, the darkness, the flesh, the spirit, the shepherd.
Terminology that would be very Jewish in its background. He had an acquaintance with the OT very thoroughly, he knew Jewish opinions of the day; he makes all kinds of Jewish observances that are found in abundance in his Gospel account. So, without question, whoever the author was he must have been a Jew. Secondly, he was a Jew of Palestine of the first century. That is he wasn’t one who was scattered in the dispersion throughout other countries, but he was one of the homeland in that first century. And we know that because he speaks with precision when it comes to geography. He has a detailed knowledge of Palestinian topography. He knows individual locations not just those mentioned in other gospels but specific ones, geographical allusions which are more exact, which are more numerous than you find in the synoptic records. For example he knows that there are two Bethany’s. One that was beyond the Jordan and another Bethany. He knows exactness of the city of Jerusalem. And we know that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed in what year? AD 70. And it was destroyed by the Romans at that point—that was before this book was written. So, the author must have known it pretty well before that date to be able to call forth specific instances. He has almost street by street knowledge of Jerusalem. He talks about the pool of Silom, Solomon’s Porch, he knows it like the back of his hand.
Thirdly it is quite obvious that he was an eye-witness he knew exact persons by name. He knew exact times. He knew exact places. He was also an apostle. He was acquainted with the feelings of the twelve disciples. He knew some of the words that they spoke privately which would not have been known by an outsider. He knew about the secret resorts to which they would go. In fact, he even partakes of the last supper in the thirteenth chapter of John. So he writes obviously from the inside as an apostle. He was also part of the inner circle. That is not just one of the twelve, but among the twelve as one of the inner three—Peter, James, and John all at the mount of transfiguration, those who were closest and more intimate to Christ.
And we also know he was alive when that gospel was first published. For example, he tells us in John 21, the very end of his gospel account, and makes reference to the disciple whom Jesus loved. Now it couldn’t be James, because James was martyred in the year 44, that is described in Acts 12. And it couldn’t be Peter, because Peter is distinguished from the disciple whom Jesus loved. We know that Peter died in the 60’s. So, John is about the only candidate left if he is one of the inner circle, one of those three, and he is distinguished from Peter, and James has already died. Then John must be the one whom Jesus loved. And you have and endorsement at the end of John 21 where we have either his own statement or the statement of the church, saying we know that this man is accurate in what he is saying.
Not only that, but he mentions the other apostles by name quite distinctly in his gospel, whereas he omits the name either James his brother, or himself. And that is of course fitting because he is a witness and as a witness it is fitting to keep himself in the background as he is constantly pointing people toward Jesus. Numerous documents as well as church fathers verify the apostle John as the author of this particular gospel. For example, we have the Didache which is a manual of church government from about the second century or so. We have the Diatessaron which we have already become familiar with as the surviving harmony we have of the four gospels. there is a Muratorian canon—or a list of books that were inspired for which John is mentioned as the author. Then we have a whole series of church fathers. The explicit testimony of both external and internal evidence favors the apostle John. The only exceptions include a small group known as the “Allogoi” and also a man named Gaius of Rome. Those apparently were the only heretical people or those who felt the fourth gospel should be as ascribed to a heretic by the name of Saerenthis. This is in the second or third century or so, but those are the only exceptions down through the history of the church.
What do we know about John the man? We know that his known family at least consisted of four members: Zebedee, his father was a fisherman on the sea of Galilee. We know that his mother’s name Salome may have been a sister of Mary the mother of Jesus. And if that is the case then that would make John the Baptist a cousin of Jesus. There was James his brother, who was probably older than John, and the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred—martyred by Herod Agrippa I in about the year 44. We read of that martyrdom in the book of Acts 12:2. Zebedee and Salome, father and mother; James his brother and John.
The family occupation was fishing on lake Galilee and apparently the men were in partnership with Simon and Andrew, sons of Jonah. Additionally, it seems, his family was well to do, quite prosperous, we know that they had hired servants and we know also from the gospels that Salome was one who ministered to Christ of her substance, which would indicate that she was fairly well-to-do. Also, John seems to have been acquainted with the High Priest, and if that is the case then that would imply at least a great deal of social importance—and probably some degree of economic prosperity as well.
The family of John were Galileans and the Galileans were of course simpler people than those who were in the south and Judea they were freer from traditionalism. We know that John was a disciple of the forerunner of Jesus, that is he was a disciple of John the Baptist and then subsequently became a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry.
John’s relation to Christ developed as a very intimate companionship. That is John was among the inner three of the disciples and also the nearest one of all the disciples to Jesus in fact there is expression used frequently that he was, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The one who leaned on Christ’s breast at the last supper, the one who was given the responsibility for Mary, the mother of Jesus by Christ. He was also quite young in age and so there was this close intimacy which we pick up in the Gospel account itself in terms of the way he talks about Christ. In character he was clearly a turbulent, ambitious young man. In fact, Jesus gave to him and his brother the name Boanerges which means the “sons of Thunder.” Probably implying that they had a very impetuous temperament that they were exclusive and intolerant and ambitious. Remember that so violent was their temper that they were prepared to blast the whole Samaritan village out of existence, because they would not provide hospitality when they were taking their trip on their journey to Jerusalem.
Remember also that both of these boys asked their mother to ask Jesus for top cabinet posts in the new administration. We also know of John’s capability of indignation, which he used in very plain language which he uses in his writings. For example he talks about Judas being a devil and a son of perdition and the Jews were called the children of the devil and every anti-Christ is a liar. Yet John is the one who becomes known for his gentleness and love, the one disciple whom Jesus loved.
In the synoptic gospels he appears as the leader of the apostolic band and after Pentecost John appears with Peter on two occasions described in the book of Acts the third chapter and again in Acts 8. Apparently John was somewhat of assistant to Peter in that time subsequent to the day of Pentecost. Interestingly he is mentioned only once in Paul’s letters and that is in the book of Galatians 2 where he is recognized as one of the Pillars of the church in Jerusalem.
Tradition tells us that John accomplished his apostolic ministry in Asia Minor after the year sixty-seven especially in and around Ephesus. Now that is a tremendous church that was developed in Ephesus and of course with the deaths of Paul and Peter and Timothy and Titus the Asian churches would have been without leadership. And so apparently he provided that leadership for a period of time. Later John was banished to the isle of Patmos during the reign of the emperor Domitian. Domitian ruled in the 90’s, so this was around 95 or 96 somewhere in that time frame. He was banished to the isle of Patmos, there to write the book of the Revelation. And then he apparently survived that and was later returned back to Ephesus where he became the Pastor emeritus of that Assembly. So he is the writer of three different kinds of books. He is the writer of this gospel, he is the writer of three epistles John 1, 2, and 3. We also believe him to be the writer of the book of the Revelation. So, we have one theme—Jesus Christ—but expressed in three different ways. John lived to be extremely old and apparently died a peaceful death in Ephesus. One of the few apostles who died a natural death in old age. There are some traditional legends which are very interesting and while they are probably not totally accurate, they at least seem to harmonize with what we have in scripture. For example it is said that John wrote the gospel at the request of Christian friends, and that he agreed to do so only after the church had fasted and prayed about the matter for three days.
Eusebius, church historian from early times, relates a story that shows something of the love of John and his courage. According to the story John visited one of the churches near Ephesus where he saw a tall young exceptionally fine looking young man and he turned to the elder of that church and he said, “I commit that young man to your charge and care. And I call this congregation to witness that I am doing so.” So the elder took the man into his own home cared for him; he instructed him; he baptized him; he received him into the church; he made him a virtual intern, and later as the story goes; the man fell in with vicious and evil friends and embarked on a career of crime and ended up becoming a leader of a band of murdering bandits.
Sometime later when John returned to that assembly, he said, “Restore to me the trust which I and the Lord committed to you and to the church of which you are in charge.” And the elder is said to have responded, “Alas, he is dead to God. He fell from grace he was forced to flee from the city for his crimes and now he is a bandit in the mountains. John apparently ran to the mountains immediately, and deliberately allowed himself to be captured by this robber band and brought before the feet of this young man. And in his shame, the man ran away from John and even though John is old at this time in his life, the apostle runs after him, and pursues him cries out, “My son, are you running away from your father? Fear not, there is yet hope of salvation for you. I will stand for you before the Lord Christ. If need be I will gladly die for you as he died for me. Stop stay believe Its Christ who sent me to you.” That appeal apparently broke the heart of that young man who stopped and threw away his weapon and they wept through to repentance again. Together they came down from the mountainside. The man was restored to the church again, and brought into a position of leadership.
Again, whether that story is true or not, it seems to harmonize with what we have in scripture as to the kind of man, John was. Again Eusebius tells us a story about John’s temper. Apparently, he once entered a public place to bath and when he learned that a man named Cerinthus was inside who was the leader of the Gnostic heresy, he rushed outside because he couldn’t bear to remain under the same roof with that heretic. He advised others, and he said, “Let us flee, lest the bath fall or Cerinthus, the enemy of truth is within.”
Or take this legend which Gerome one of the leaders of the church wrote. Gerome said that when John was dying, his disciples came to him and asked him if he had one last message to leave them. And he said “Yes, little children, love one another.” And they said that is very nice John, is there anything else you would like to tell us because you have said that before. He said yes, little children, love one another. And they said “Is that all?” And he is supposed to have responded, “It is enough, for it’s the Lord’s command.”
Again, whether these stories are in fact what took place or legends at least they seem to give us the image and picture we have of both temper and courage on the one hand and love and tenderness on the other hand. It is interesting that John is very reticent about discussing himself. He mentions his name only five times and all of them are found in the book of the revelation. None of the times are mentioned in the gospel account which he writes. And while the fourth gospel does not mention him by name, it does mention the disciple whom Jesus loved or the witness, several adjectives that describe him as the author. But certainly, a picture of his humility.
Now as far as the period and place of writing are concerned we say that the date of the composition its generally agreed that John wrote after the other three synoptic gospels were written, that is universally agreed upon, that it was the last of the four gospels to be written. And there are several items that help us in setting the latest possible date for the writing of this gospel. It is interesting that it used to be insisted upon by higher critics that the gospel was written sometime in the second century around 150 or later. However back in 1920 there was a very famous archeological discovery called the John Rylan’s Papyrus—abbreviated ‘p-52.’ This was found in a little provincial town in Egypt and this manuscript portion contained a little segment of the Gospel of John 18. Since it was not the original, the original must have been written quite a bit earlier to what they estimate this document to be around 125 or so; and if that was not the original then the original must have been written quite a bit earlier than the 125 in order for this little fragment to have been carried all the way from Ephesus to this little out-of-the-way town in Egypt where they found it. And so this papyrus discovery demands a date somewhere either just before or around 100 AD. So that would probably be the latest possible date. The earliest possible date would be about the year 80. We know that Peter about this time had received his inheritance; we know that Paul by this time had received his crown; John didn’t come to Ephesus we know until about 70 or thereabouts, so the gospel could not have originated before that time, and the fact that he doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in AD 70, would seem to mean that he places the date of writing at some ten or fifteen years later. So probably the earliest period would be about 80; the latest would be about 100. To be more precise than that, we would have to answer the question, “Was this fourth the gospel written before or after John was banished to the island of Patmos when he wrote the book of the Revelation?” Was it earlier, or was it later than when he wrote Revelation. He wrote Revelation somewhere around 95 or 96. And so if he wrote this perhaps a year or two or three earlier than that, towards the end of his life, then it would place it somewhere in the 90’s.
The place of composition traditionally has been Ephesus, but there have also been other suggestions given such as Alexandria or some place in Palestine or in Syrian Antioch. I am more concerned however with the primary precise purpose with the writing of this gospel. We will find the chief aim that John has in mind set forth in chapter 20:30, 31. If we were going to enter somebody’s home, we would either use a key or we bang the door down. We usually will go in the front door. But usually most houses have back doors to them as well. And John is quite a good teacher in the way that he composes his book because he does not tell us what his purpose was in writing this gospel until we reach the back door in John 20:30-31. Luke tells us his purpose in the opening few verses of his gospel. John on the other hand puts his at the end of the gospel account. He gives us simply the facts in order that we may draw some conclusions and he wishes us to draw those kinds of conclusions so he reveals the facts on which his doctrines are based. Verse 30 gives us the negative purpose of writing, “Many other signs did Jesus therefore in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” But positively, “These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and by believing, you might have life in his name.”
There a few features in there that a casual reader might not notice. For example, we are told of the person of the Gospel in both of these verses. Where Jesus is mentioned in both in verse 30 and in verse 31. It is the signs that Jesus did and this is written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ. Notice the two-fold aspect of Jesus’ ministry: What Jesus did verse 30; and who Jesus is, verse 31. That is his work, what he did, and his person, who he is. Both his works and his worth, both his action and his character.
John employs what we might call the principal of selectivity. That is, he says, there are many other signs we could talk about, but these were written. So, he is just selecting not an exhaustive amount, but out of that abundance of material, he is making a very careful selection. Therefore, what John leaves out, or omits may be as significant as what he includes, because intentionally, he is leaving out much that has been recorded in the other writings. When he says, “These are written that you might believe and these other signs have been done in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book” (John 3:30) –which would seem to imply there were other books, namely the synoptic accounts that had previously been written.
He has an evangelistic thrust as well. For his purpose is that the reader might come to believe. To illustrate how significant this is, the word ‘believe’, the verb ‘believe’ is found about ninety-eight times in this gospel of John. By way of comparison, we can talk about Matthew having eleven times; Mark fifteen times; Luke nine times, and John ninety-eight times. So it is obviously an important stress in this particular book. When he talks about belief, he is not talking about a mental assent to some proposition. But rather speaking of a simple trust which is exercised towards a person: “As many as believe him, to them gave he the power and authority to become the children of God” (John 1:12, KJV).
So, it includes both the had and the heart, which is the only kind of real conversion anyway. And there is much about this word believe that we’ll come to see through the semester, for example we’ll find it excludes any effort on our part. Some of us have problems when we are learning how to float on water and we tighten our muscles and we hold our breath and we struggle and all that results in floating to the bottom of the pool. We have to come to a place where we learn to trust the water to sustain our weight. True faith, true belief excludes effort, but it does imply commitment. That is why it is hard to rescue somebody who is in danger of drowning until they have said help for the last time and then will stop kicking and fighting so the rescuer can bring them back to shore. It implies commitment.
And it requires action. This is not just something passive, it is active its not just an attitude its an action. And by the way we are going to find through the semester as we go through John’s gospel, that there is a whole series of words that are equivalent to the word ‘belief.’ Just to give you an idea, I’ve listed a few of them for you here, these are all verbs used as equivalence to the word ‘belief:’ to receive, to follow, to obey, to look, to drink, to will, to eat, to continue, to come, to keep, to abide, to worship, to hear, to perceive, to enter, to serve, to love, to ask, many, many different verbs that John uses in addition to these ninety-eight times he used belief, to show us that John is by far and away the gospel of belief. There is no question about it.
Back to our verses in 30 and 31, notice the twofold object of this belief. First of all, he says, “I am writing these signs to you that you might believe”—believe what? “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” In other words, he is trying to create a particular intellectual conviction, to convince the Jew that the historical Jesus was the Christ. What does Christ mean? Messiah. To convince the Jews that the historical Jesus was the Messiah, in whom all of those types and prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled. And the second thing he wants to convince all mankind that Jesus is not only the Christ but that He is the Son of God. So that is the first object that he has in mind—to create a particular intellectual conviction of who Christ is—messiah, son of God.
Secondly, he wishes to precipitate a particular moral experience of surrender. The mind is convinced, now the heart must drop to its knees and surrender. That is why he not only wants us to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, but by believing we might have life. Belief in his name, imprints life. The chief source of his argument, the basis of his argument, the basis of his whole argument is that word sign in verse 30. We will address the signs in John’s gospel which we can think of for now as simply miracles and more—or miracles with significance to it. These signs were attested, that is they were done in the presence of his disciples, they were not done in a corner some place; they were not just the pious imagination for credible witnesses could verify their validity. This was done out in the open, it was done before and in the presence of his disciples. Now notice the red words—these signs are the basis for belief and the believing leads to life. Incidentally, the way the word he uses for life there is not the word from which we get our word biology, but rather that gives us our word ‘zoology.’ He is talking about a quality of life—of union and communion.
So signs are the basis of belief, the person of Christ and the work of Christ are the objects of that belief and the result is eternal life. In other words John has said a great deal in theses two verses about his purpose in writing. That is very clearly the primary aim and purpose that he has in mind.
But we move now to some peripheral aims some secondary aims in writing. The first of these we can call polemical, that is the word polemics is the word for ‘warfare’ or ‘fighting.’ One of the things he is doing is fight back against some of the heresies of his time. There were certain heresies that were plaguing the church compelling this Christian evangelist among others to stress some remedial doctrines to combat that error. And one of those heresies is the word Gnosticism. We need to look at this term and see something at least of what Gnosticism entailed. Gnosticism can be defined as an intellectual and philosophical heresy based upon mystical knowledge and the word ‘gnosis’ is the word for knowledge in Greek by which initiates were brought to an understanding of the universe and saved from the world of evil matter. This ‘ism’, was a synchronistic combination of western intellectualism, couple together with eastern mysticism. This was the dominant force during the first two centuries creating probably the most serious crisis for Christianity since the first battle that the church had against legalism in its battle for freedom from the law.
So here is a pseudo science, here is a form of philosophy and intellectualism and mysticism all sort of put together in a synchronistic package; this is a predominate force during the first couple of centuries, and it brought before the church its most serious crisis—the second greatest crisis in the history of the church. Now we can find traces of Gnosticism even today because most heresies today are simply resurrections of earlier heresies. There are very few innovative or completely novel ideas today that come out in that way. For example, within Christian Science, or Unitarianism, or universalism, even some forms of Islam, we find elements of Gnosticism still with us today. They will even come closer home than that as I will try to indicate.
Lets look at a couple doctrines held by this Gnostic heresy. First of all look at God and creation. It was believed that two things existed in the beginning of time. The unknown God who was pure spirit, and matter, which was evil. Matter was simply the raw material out of which this world was made. And matter was evil and therefore imperfect and that means the world got off to a bad start. It was made up of material which had the seeds of evil and corruption in it. Since the high God was pure spirit, he could not in any way touch matter. So instead he sent out from himself., according to Gnosticism, a series of, what they called, emanations. A series of sunrays as it were. The farther away those emanations got from him, the high god, pure spirit, the less they knew about him. Half way down the series they knew nothing at all about God and beyond that time they even became hostile.
Perhaps we could picture it this way: With the high god being pure spirit and therefore good, matter being evil at the other end of the spectrum, and then a stair step of angelic beings as they would come down the ladder, and therefore Christ would be lower than the God of creation a different God, or an inferior being below the high god of Gnosticism, because he came into contact with this earth and therefore matter and therefore and therefore it was contaminated and Jehovah is even put lower on the scale because he was the one who created this world of matter, so he is even farther away from that pure spirit God.
Therefore, this world was created by an imperfect god. By one of these emanations or what they called “demi-urges.” This is an inferior Jehovah of the Old Testament. And Christ was supposed to have emanated from the high god, and taught a special kind of knowledge that would help save the world by an intellectual process if we know the key, the password, we get in.
What about its doctrine of salvation? We said that the world of matter was evil God was good. Man being part of matter has to be saved by freeing himself from this visible world. There is a seed of divine spark in human beings which will enable him to rise out of this material world and go back to the high God since the true part of man is spiritual and not physical. Ever heard that before? Therefore if the material is unimportant and evil and the true thing that you want to do is have the spirit have a release from the bondage of this body, that means that the means of man’s freedom is through knowledge. It is salvation through matter by knowledge, as opposed to salvation from sin by grace. And this release of this one’s inner-spirit gave rise to increasing monasticism and was only for select few—that is it had snob appeal. Now in addition to this kind of dualism between matter and spirit there was all kinds of synchronism, all kinds of mystical magical ideas mixed with some philosophical ideas, and it became an eclectic or synchronistic combination of weird ideas. For example, the Gnostics believed that God could not express himself in human form, or even in positive form, we could only talk about God in negative terms. God is not the one who is, he is the one who was not. He is not the one who has made himself known; he is the unknown one. Since the flesh does not exist, we can live any way we want to live. If we deemphasize the body which—is not Christian, but Gnostic—if we deemphasize the body and see this as the prison house of the soul, and the important thing is to have your spirit rise out of your body, that is a sub-Christian view—it is heretical; God thought the body so important, he raised it the third day. We are not ourselves without a body. That is why there might be a negative reaction amongst Christians against theologians who talk about whether we are dichotomist or trichotomist—whether we are made up of material and immaterial or whether we’re made up of body soul and spirit. That may be helpful in terms of some passages of scripture, but it seems to clear that man is a unity. We are not truly human if all of that makeup is not part of one united whole.
So, the contrasts are obvious between this and Christianity. We have the creation of the world by a lesser god according to Gnosticism. Whereas Christianity says the same God who redeems man is also the creator of the world. The Gnostics would say that ignorance is the basis of sin. The Bible does not say that people sinned because they are ignorant, it says they are sinning because they are disobedient, they are rebelling against truth. The Gnostics said this is only for a special few, the gospel says “whosoever will.”
Gnosis (knowledge) was not a Christian term, but there was a problem of communication of this time. The Gnostics would use terms used by the church for Christ, and the Christian philosophers were trying to use Gnostic terms within the Christian setting and if Christianity would have accepted this compromise, it would have died with the culture. If we get rid of all offense to the gospel, there is nothing left. And the Christian church came realize that the power of the Christian church was not in philosophy, but in the power of God. And the subject matter of the church must not be turned into intellectual theories for speculation, we do not base an upright life on philosophical concepts, if we are going to have an upright life, it must be based on the experience with the living Christ who alone is the truth.
Because the Gnostics professed to live by knowledge, while other ordinary Christians were only living by faith, John has to stress the importance of belief. Now just to show the contrast involved with Gnosticism, we can say that there were basically two kinds of Gnosticism that were present during this time. One went by the name “Docetism” or “Docetic Gnostics.” The world ‘docetic’ comes from a word that means to seem, or to appear. Apparently, these most radical Gnostics believed the Jesus’ humanity was not real. He only seemed to be like a real human being. He only was that in appearance, not in actual point of fact.
This species of Gnosticism believed matter and spirit could not touch without the spirit being polluted. God is spirit, therefore God cannot be both God and man. How can we harmonize these two opposites? That is why in the Gospel of John particularly along with some of the epistles, you have this emphasis of Jesus in the flesh. A real flesh and blood antagonist. A real person—not someone who just appears to be human. The other form of Gnosticism, which was much more subtle went by the name cerinthianism. This is from the heretic Cerinthus, who was an Egyptian Jew and taught that there were two distinct beings in Christ. Perhaps we could picture it this way: According to cerinthianism, it taught that Jesus was not really divine. Christ was not really human. How do they arrive at that? They say that Jesus had an actual start at his birth as a man. At his baptism, the spirit of Christ came into the human Jesus and dwelt with him during his life on earth, but at the point of death, Jesus the man died. But the spirit of Christ lives on to inhabit perhaps other people.
So Jesus was not really God, Christ was not really human. You simply have the Christ spirit entering into the human Jesus from the baptism to his death, according to this view. Well you can see why these ideas are akin to Christian Science, and Islam and even some Bultmannian theology. And that is why the Gospel of John tries to provide a balance for who Christ is; he is both God and man, he is the God-man. That is a very important emphasis we will see in this gospel. He is combating this heresy, by stressing the fact that he was in the flesh—that he was both God and truly human. Now he has secondary aims as well, supplementary aims, which would be to add further details to the gospel account that were not included by the synoptic writers, to interpret much of the material already set forth in the synoptic gospels. Putting it forth very profoundly, and very fully and very spiritually.
What is the plan of construction of the Gospel of John? That is, how is this book of John put together? We can say simply that this type of structure that we find in the Gospel of John has been mentioned and referred to by a number of authors as being symphonic in nature, because it is very similar to a symphony. A symphony is a musical composition having several movements, that all relate to one subject. Yet they vary in their form and execution. Usually, a symphony will begin with a dominant theme and then there will be variations that will be introduced into that theme at different intervals and those variations seem to be developed independently of each other; yet as the music is played, they modulate together, until they are finally brought forth into a climax. That is the way John seems to write his gospel account, like a symphony, and that means it is very difficult to analyze its nature, it is not as neat and formal and logical as one would find in some of the other writings. There are also different ways to outline the gospel of John. It can be done on the basis of geography, as Jesus moved.
What are the peculiarities of John’s gospel? Basically, any differences between the synoptics and the Gospel of John are complementary differences and not contradictory in any way. There are some things that John omits—that is there is no mention of the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of the first thirty years of Christ’s life, there is no mention of his baptism or his temptations or the transfiguration or the institution of the Lord’s supper casting out demons the list of twelve disciples, there is no sermon on the mount, there is a lot of things that are missing from the Gospel of John, but to compensate for those omissions, John’s material we said is approximately 92 percent peculiar to himself. So, he is the only one who tells us about people like Nicodemus and New birth, and the wedding at Cana and the “I Am” statements, and a lot about the Holy Spirit and prayer and the like.
The style of John is very simple yet sublime. None of the evangelists has so limited a vocabulary as John does, and none makes better use of what he has. His key words are just loaded with meaning. For example, he will use the word ‘witness’ something like thirty-four times in its verbal form and thirteen times as a noun. So, forty-seven times for the word ‘witness’ as compared to sixteen uses of that word in other gospel accounts.
The language is Greek, obviously, but the thought pattern is Hebrew. In fact, some people, like professor Albright called John’s gospel the most Jewish book in the New Testament. Despite the strong Jewish flavor in Matthew and Hebrews and several other of the New Testament books. His sentences can carry several ideas simultaneously that sort of focus and recede and then recur later again. The shorter the statement, the weightier it is. Jesus wept. Some might learn that for contest purposes, but it is profound, it has a tremendous amount of meaning to it. He’ll repeat a word or a sentence to underline the thought that he is communicating. For example: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness is not able to overpower it. Or: “He came to his own, and his own received him not, but as many as received him.” He will use repetitious expressions, He’ll use contrast; contrast between light and darkness, ascending and descending increasing, decreasing, flesh spirit, death, life hireling shepherd, day/night; servant/lord; sorrow/joy; peace/tribulation; all these contrasts back and forth of which John makes such a good use.
He even uses a great deal of symbolism in what he writes. We’ll see more of that when we take the Book of Revelation, but even here in the Gospel of John, there is symbolism behind the seven sign miracles; or the seven I am statements; or the some of the other things that we will find in the book.
John’s style as a whole is quite contemplative, rather than controversial. He is calm, not militant, he is simple, yet profound. Many have called his writings the spiritual book. The spiritual gospel, where he brings heaven and earth together. In fact, sometimes it is difficult to detect the difference between what John himself said, and what he had Jesus say, because John talked so much like Jesus being around him and so close to him. It is difficult to know where he stops and the other person (Jesus) starts.
There is a parallel between the Gospel of John and the Old Testament tabernacle. But there is a very close connection at least between the tabernacle and the various articles of furniture or patterns of worship found there as you find in the Gospel of John. Just to give an idea, this could be placed over it, and we have for example in chapter one, the entrance, the brazen alter, the sanctification in the third chapter the lance and the tabernacle which would speak of shining or witnessing; chapters 4-6 where he talks about sustenance where he is the bread of life. In chapters 14-17 where he is praying for his disciples and we have supplication. Finally, in chapters 18 and 19 where he makes satisfaction for the people by his death upon the cross.
With the exception of the Psalms in the Old Testament, and the book of Romans in the New Testament the probably the fourth gospel has exerted more influence on more people than any other book of the Bible. For example, between the years 1920 and 1965, there were something like 3100 books and articles published on the Gospel of John. So it has tremendous interest to people, and there is this tremendous tribute of praise and we can give you a lot of quotations from various individuals where Martin Luther said, “If all the Bible were lost except for the Gospel of John and the letter to the Romans, Christianity would be saved.”