Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is the fourth Gospel in the New Testament. It contains a variety of statements and information about Jesus not contained in the Synoptic Gospels. While John's content may be unique, he presents a different side of Jesus that is complimentary to the other three Gospels and helps provide its readers with a clearer understanding of his divinity and pre-existence.



The only internal clue to the authorship of Gospel is John 21:20-24, which attribute the source of the account to ‘the Beloved Disciple’. ‘The Beloved Disciple’ is not named anywhere in the Gospel, but he is mentioned a few key times; he is beside Jesus at the last supper (John 13:22-25), is present at the crucifixion and is told to care for Jesus’ mother (John 19:25-27) and sees the empty tomb (John 20:1-8). The traditional identity of this disciple is John the Apostle. Theophilus of Antioch (c. 170) quotes the prologue of the Gospel and attributes it to John.[1] Eusebius of Caesarea quotes Irenaeus as saying that the disciple John, ‘who reclined on his bosom’, wrote a Gospel in Ephesus.[2] The Muratorian fragment (c. 170) also attributes the Gospel to John the Disciple.[3]

There is no direct evidence that this John is the son of Zebedee, and some scholars have suggested an alternative ‘John the Elder’. However, there is no direct evidence for the existence of this alternate John, and it is reasonable to assume that early church writers would specify if ‘John the Disciple’ was different to ‘John of Zebedee’, since the latter is so prominent in the Synoptic Gospels.[4]

One may accept the internal biblical data and the external evidence as proof that John, son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel. However, one may later change one's opinion like Raymond E. Brown, author of the Anchor Bible commentary, who rescinded his earlier commentary opinion: "I now recognize that the external and internal evidecne are probably not to be harmonize" (Brown, 1979, p. 34).--Rcnabi260 23:33, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

Anyway, we must admit there is, however, no direct scriptural evidence that the author was John the disciple. We may conjecture that the author connected with John the Baptist and the community, itself. , only that it was a disciple who was very close to Jesus and an eye-witness. Some scholars suggest that the disciple might be Lazarus, who is the only male in the Gospel specifically described as being loved by Jesus (John 11:3-5).[5] Additionally, the phrase “we know that his testimony is true” in John 21:24 suggests that some form of editorial process has occurred after the initial writing. One possibility is that 24b was added on by the original community as a form of signature at the end of the document. A second possibility is that the entire chapter 21 was add to the original text (note the possible conclusion at John 20:31, potentially to explain the death of the ‘Disciple whom Jesus Loved’, who was rumoured to never die.[6]

The convention is to talk about the author as ‘John the Evangelist’, or just ‘John’, leaving open the question of whether it is John the son of Zebedee, or another close disciple who is the source and primary author of this Gospel.


There are two views concerning the date of John's Gospel:

1) The traditional view places the writing of John around A.D. 85 or later. This view is supported on two types of evidence.

First, we note that "indeed, the action of expulsion mEighay be connected with the reformulation ca. A. D. 85 of one of the Eighteen Benedictions (Shemoneh Esreh)which were recited in the synagogues. The reformulation of the Twelfth Benediction involved a curse on the minim, i.e., on deviators who seemiongly included the Jewish Christians" (Brown, 1979, p. 22).--Rcnabi260 23:48, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

Second, this view is supported by a statement from Clement of Alexandria that John wrote to supplement the other Gospel accounts. This would place his writings later in the first-century, considering the traditional view that the other Gospel writers wrote before A.D. 70. It is also argued that John's theology appears more developed, giving suspicion for a later date.

2) Recently, interpreters have suggested an earlier date, somewhere around A.D. 50 but no later than A.D. 70. It is argued that this view does not contradict Clement's statement. Furthermore, a more developed theology does not imply a later date. For example, the theology of Romans is very developed, nevertheless it is dated around A.D. 57. Lastly, attention is given to John 5:2 where John uses "is" rather than "was" concerning the pool near the Sheep Gate. This may suggest a time before 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed.


“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31 HCSB)

John 20:30-31 gives a starting point for considering the purpose for John’s writing this Gospel. Clearly, believing in Jesus is the source of salvation. Not only that, but believing certain facts about Jesus – that he is the Christ (or Messiah) who is the Son of God. In the “upper room discourse” (chapters 13-17), Jesus give a wide description of the nature of faith, which includes obeying Jesus’ commands (John 14:12, 15, 21-24, 15:10), loving each other (John 13:33-34; 15:12-17) and proclaiming the message of Jesus (John 15:26-27). This is a strong theme throughout the whole Gospel (see Themes below).

However, there is a question over the verb “believe” (???????, pisteuo). Ancient witnesses are evenly divided between two tenses of the verb - aorist active and present active. The former implies starting to believe, whilst the other implies continuing to believe.[7] Thus the purpose of John could either have been purely evangelistic, telling people about Jesus so that they may come to believe, or for edification of Christians, reminding them about Jesus so that they might continue to believe in him.

The narrative and theological distinctiveness of John from the Synoptics leads many scholars to consider not just why John was written, but why it was written so differently. Outside of the passion narratives, there are remarkably few common events with the Synoptics. This suggests that he was aware of the other three and deliberately wrote a complementary Gospel to add extra information and reflection rather than reiterate the existing content. Eusebius quotes Clement stating something similar:

But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.[8] John 7:42 gives an interesting addition to this theory. The crowds are clearly expecting the Messiah to have come from Bethlehem, which is founded in scripture (Mic 5:2). However, John does not clarify the fact that Jesus did indeed come from Bethlehem. It is quite possible that John expected his readers to know this fact, and to understand the irony of the crowd’s deliberation.[9] This suggests that John was writing pastorally to existing Christians, to keep them strong in their faith.

Chapters 13-17 also support the theory that John wrote to Christians. The “upper room discourse” is a pastoral speech to people who follow Jesus. They are described as branches coming from him, and as being united with him as he is to God (John 15:1-17). They are also called to self-sacrificial love for each other and obedience to Jesus’ commands (John 13:33-34; 14:12, 15, 21-24; 15:10-17). Thirdly, Jesus warns them of the persecutions that they will face once he leaves (his death, resurrection and ascension) and encourages them to stand firm in the faith throughout them (John 15:18-23; 16:1-4). Finally he promises them the support of the Holy Spirit who will comfort and guide them in their persecution, and will teach them and lead them into all truth concerning Jesus (John 14:15-27; 16:5-15). This extensive passage seems to be directed to pastoral care for existing Christians who are currently, or about to face persecution.

However, there is also support for the theory that John was an evangelistic book. The Gospel has a very strong theme of judgement and witness, which is highlighted by the many characters (including “the crowds”) who are considering who Jesus is. As the Gospel narrative develops, there are many witnesses to who Jesus is, and many people choose to follow Jesus while many others choose to reject him. This is highlighted by the court cases where Jesus is unjustly condemned, and by his resurrection which vindicates him – and vindicates all the people who chose to follow him. However, through the Gospel, the theme of judging Jesus is constantly subverted as Jesus proclaims that he is the Judge (or that his Word is the Judge). This shows that, rather than judging about Jesus, the people are judged based on their decision about Jesus. Those who follow him are vindicated while those who reject him are judged. This shows a very strong evangelistic edge to the gospel.[10]

Of course, there is no need to present an either-or situation. Even though parts of the Gospel seem to be clearly written with Christians in mind, any account of who Jesus is acts as an evangelistic tool.[11] It is important to note that the most quoted and translated evangelistic passage in history (John 3:16) comes from this Gospel.

Other parts of the gospel raise the question of what secondary purposes the Gospel has. The first part of the Gospel has an unusually large focus on the shift from John the Baptist to Jesus, as John’s disciples and followers leave him to follow Jesus. The Baptist’s statement in John 3:30 is the pinnacle of a theme introduced in the Prologue – that John is not the Messiah, simply a witness to him (John 1:8, 19, 27). This raises the possibility that John the Evangelist was aware of some form of “Baptist cult” and was deliberately targeting it as part of his purpose in writing the Gospel. Equally, part of the final chapter seems interested in explaining why a rumour, that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” would not die, is not true (John 21:22-23). This section could have been written in light of the death of this disciple (see Author above).

Relationship to the Synoptic Gospels

Narrative Differences

The narrative of the Gospel of John is different from the Synoptic Gospels in a number of ways.[12] Very few of the events which are common in the Synoptics are present in John, and John contains many incidents which are not in the Synoptics. Some of the major narrative events which John does not relate are Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation, Gethsemane, and Jesus' Ascension. There are also very few miracle and healing accounts in John, and no healings of those who are possessed by evil spirits. John also includes miracles that the Synoptics do not such as the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) and the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11). The only two miracles that are certainly the same as Synoptic events are the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-14) and Jesus walking on water (John 6:15-21), although a number of healings are similar to Synoptic accounts (John 4:46-54, 5:1-18, 9:1-7).

In general, John does not have the same emphasis on the many acts of Jesus that the Synoptics do. Instead there is an emphasis on the teachings of Jesus, with some very lengthy discourses recorded. With this emphasis, it is surprising that John contains no parables, which are one of the most common methods of Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptics. Nor does John include the Sermon on the Mount or any of Jesus other ethical ‘sayings’. Instead, Jesus' speeches tend to revolve around himself and his identity. The account of the Last Supper does not have the “communion” speech of the Synoptics (ie. Mark 14:22-25). Instead, there is a description of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and a very long discourse from him comforting the disciples and foreshadowing the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The narrative arc of John is also different to the Synoptics. John portrays Jesus’ ministry as being three years long, and covering three separate Passover festivals (John 2:13, 6:4, 19:14) while the Synoptics only describe one Passover. In John, Jesus’ ministry alternates between Jerusalem and Galilee a few times (see Structure), while the Synoptics describe a period of ministry in Galilee followed by a single journey to Jerusalem where Jesus dies. John also portrays a number of events in a different sequence to the Synoptics, most notably with Jesus clearing the temple at the start of his ministry, not the end (John 2:12-25 cf. Mark 11:12-19).

The passion narrative is also remarkably different. Jesus stands before Annas as well as Ciaphas at trial, and not the Sanhedrin. The trial before Pilate is very different, and Jesus holds a long conversation with Pilate. Details of the crucifixion are different or new; Jesus carries his own cross, he asks for a drink, his side is pierced by a spear and his final words – “it is finished” – are different. Finally, John includes very different resurrection narratives.

Theological Differences

_This is a section stub. Please edit it to add information._ The theological themes of John are discussed in more detail below, but there are some notable differences with the theology of the Synoptic Gospels. The most obvious is the very clear and ‘high’ Christology, where Jesus is clearly shown to be divine, and he makes claims to divinity and authority that are much stronger than those in the Synoptics. John shows little evidence of the messianic secret that the Synoptics display, and the people’s discussion of whether Jesus is the Messiah, and his admission of that fact, form a key structure to the narrative.


Regardless of these differences, there are many similarities between John and the Synoptics. The general narrative arcs are the same; Jesus is baptized by John, teaches, performs miracles and healings, feeds 5000, walks on water, travels to Jerusalem, enters triumphantly, has a final meal with his disciples where he teaches them, is betrayed by Judas, tried by the Jews and Pilate, executed between two others and rises from the dead. Additionally, Jesus is shown to fulfill OT scripture, is declared to be the Messiah and calls himself the Son of Man. The general principle of his teaching is the same, as is the reason for and meaning of his death and resurrection.


It is generally accepted that John is divided into two halves, chapters 1-12 and chapters 13-21. Raymond Brown described these halves as 'The Book of Signs' and 'the Book of Glory'.[13] These terms are the most common descriptions for the two halves today. Beyond this, there are many more detailed break-downs of the structure, the most varied are the arrangement of the contents of the 'Book of Signs'. Many scholars have highlighted the various elements of this section, including the geographical locations, signs, "I am" sayings and festivals, and have divided the "Book of Glory" up based on them. However, none of these schemes fully account for many the parallels and concentric structures found in the book. The table below sketches out the main events in the Book of John, and highlights a few of the main structural clues. [14]

Ch V Section Theme Sign Time / Festival "I Am" Sayings Location 1 1 Prologue Book of Signs 19 John's Testimony Day 1-3 Across Jordan 35 Jesus calls disciples 43 Phillip and Nathaniel Day 4 2 1 Wedding at Cana Water to wine Day 7 Cana, Galilee 12 Return to Capernaum Capernaum 13 Clearing the Temple Clearing the Temple Passover Jerusalem 3 1 Nicodemus Rebirth 22 John's testimony 4 1 Samaritan woman Water Samaria 43 Official's Son Official's son (4:54) Cana, Galilee 5 1 Lame man at the pool Lame Man Sabbath Jerusalem 16 Jesus teaches Life 31 Testimony 6 1 Feeding 5000 Feed 5000 (6:14) Passover (6:4) Galilee 16 Walks on Water 25 Jesus Teaches Bread Bread of Life
Bread from heaven 7 1 At the feast of Tabernacles Tabernacles (7:2) Jerusalem 14 Jesus Teaches Moses 25 Is Jesus the Christ? Water 45 Unbelief of Leaders 8 1 Woman in Adultery 12 Jesus Teaches Light
Testimony Light of the World 31 Abraham 9 1 Man born blind Seeing Blind man Light of the World 35 Jesus Teaches Seeing 10 1 Shepherd Gate for the Sheep
Good Shepherd 22 Unbelief of Jews Scripture Dedication 40 Many Believe Across Jordan 11 1 Lazarus Resurrection Lazarus(12:18) Before Passover (11:55) Resurrection and life Bethany? 45 Plot to Kill Jesus 12 1 Jesus Annointed Jerusalem 12 Triumphal Entry 20 Predicts Death 37 Opposition Scripture Book of Glory 13 1 Washes feet Passover Jerusalem 18 Predicts betrayal 31 New commandment 14 1 The way to the Father Way, truth, life 15 The Spirit Spirit 15 1 True Vine Vine True Vine 18 Spirit and Disciple's Witness Spirit 16 1 17 1 Departing prayer 18 1 Betrayal and arrest 12 Questioned and denied 28 Before Pilate 19 1 16b Crucifixion and burial Crucifixion 20 1 Empty tomb Resurrection 11 Appears to Mary M 19 Appears to his disciples 24 Appears to Thomas 30 These things were written… Epilogue 21 1 Appears to 7 disciples 15 Jesus and Peter 20 Jesus and Beloved Disc 24 Testimony of the Evangelist



Light and darkness, day and night

"I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." (12:46) Jesus is the light of the world. Those who enjoy the presence of the light are to, as Jesus exhorts, make the most of his presence and follow him. Only then will they have the "light of life". The presence of the light of Christ allows for a special work. "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work." (John 9:4; 1:4-9, 3:19, 9:5, 11:9-10, 12:46) It is of note that Nicodemus comes in the night, and Judas betrays Jesus in the night.

_This is a section stub. Please edit it to add information._

I AM statements

Jesus is found frequently in John's Gospel with "I AM" statements (cf. Exodus 3:14).

  • "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35)
  • "I am the light of the world" ( John 8:12; 9:5)
  • "I am the gate for the sheep" (John 10:7, 9)
  • "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:14)
  • "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25)
  • "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6)
  • "I am the true vine" (John 15:1, 5)


From the very outset one is called to believe (1:7) and John ends his gospel stating that his purpose in writing it is that his readers would believe (20:31). No other gospel accentuates belief like John's. The Greek verb used for belief, pisteu? (_Strong's #4100)_ is found 98 times in his gospel. It is no coincidence that he uses the verb form so often. This points to the fact that faith is an action (just as a verb is), and John uses it to reiterate to his readers that belief does not remain stagnant. It is alive and dynamic, bearing fruit and abiding in Christ (15:1-11).

The "hour"

The narrator noted Jesus' reference to the "hour" (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). From these references we note that the "hour" referred to Jesus' glorification through his death, burial, and resurrection.


Eternal life

_See main page: Eternal life_


Miracles in the Gospel of John are referred to as "signs", pointers to the identity of Christ as the one sent by the Father. Some scholars identify John 2-11 as the "book of signs". Just as there are seven "I am statements" there are also seven signs.

  • Turned water into wine (John 2:1-11)
  • Heal's an official's son (John 4:46-54)
  • Healed a lame man (John 5:1-18)
  • Fed 5,000 (John 6:1-14)
  • Jesus walks on water (John 6:16-21)
  • Gave sight to a blind man (John 9:1-41)
  • Raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-57)


_This is a section stub. Please edit it to add information._ There are many ways of examining John's teaching about the nature of Jesus The two main methods are to consider the titles and ways that John refers to Jesus, and to consider the evidence supporting Jesus' humanity and his divinity in the Gospel

Titles of Jesus

Humanity and Divinity of Jesus


Eschatology in the Gospel of John

Trial and Witness

Trial and Witness in the Gospel of John

The Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John


  1. Apologia ad Autolycum, ii.22. http://www.logoslibrary.org/theophilus/autolycus/222.html
  2. Historia Ecclesiastica, v.8.4. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.ix.html
  3. http://www.bible-researcher.com/muratorian.html
  4. Edwards 21 ff.
  5. Edwards, Ruth B., Discovering John. London: SPCK,
    1. 20
  6. Edwards 19
  7. Beasley-Murray. 387
  8. H.E. vi.14.7 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.xi.xiv.html
  9. Kostenberger. 242
  10. Edwards. 37 ff.
  11. Beasley-Murray. LXXXIX
  12. Much of the content of this section comes from Ruth Edwards - Edwards, Ruth B., Discovering John. London: SPCK, 2003.
  13. Raymond Brown, John. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
  14. Some of the structural details are derived from Köstenberger and Beasley-Murray. Cf. Köstenberger, Andreas J., John. Edited by Robert Yarbrough, Stein, Robert H. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004. Beasley-Murray, G. R., John. Edited by David A. Hubbard, Barker, Glenn W, Martin, Ralph P. 59 vols. 2nd ed. Word Biblical Commentary 36. Dallas: Word, 2002.

Further reading



General studies

See also