The Book of John

I. Title

        The title of the book is taken from the name of the traditional author, the apostle John.

II. Author and Setting

A. Author and Date

        The most important witness in the early Church to the authorship of the gospel is Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the last quarter of the second century. That Irenaeus would affirm John's authorship is significant because he was acquainted with Polycarp, who had been a companion of John. Other early church fathers who affirmed John's authorship include Eusebius, Polycrates and Clement of Alexandria.
        Westcott's presentation of the internal evidence relating to the authorship of the gospel is famous and follows the following five steps: 1) the author was Jewish, 2) he lived in Palestine, 3) he was an eyewitness 4) he was an apostle, and finally, 5) he was the apostle John.
        John 21:24 makes the statement "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true." Westcott took this verse to be an addition by the elders of the church in Ephesus, bearing witness to the authorship and authenticity of this gospel.
        The majority opinion among evangelicals, and even among a large number of non-evangelicals, is that John, the son of Zebedee is the author of the gospel which bears his name.
        As for the date of the book, it is generally suggested by evangelicals that he wrote it sometime between AD 85 and 90, although dates as early as 45 and as late as 110 have sometimes been suggested. Tradition, based upon the statements of Irenaeus and Eusebius, suggests that the book was written at Ephesus.

B. John's Relationship to the Synoptics

        Although there is much that John's gospel and the other three have in common, there are some significant differences. Regarding these differences, Merrill C. Tenney writes:

        On the other hand, John the Baptist's introduction of Jesus to his disciples is highlighted rather than his general preaching-of-repentance ministry. Jesus' initial contact with the disciples is quite different from the calling of the first four disciples as reported elsewhere. The discourses of Jesus in John are mainly apologetic and theological rather than ethical and practical, as in the Sermon on the Mount. Only seven miracles are recounted, and of these only two duplicate those of the Synoptic Gospels. Chronological order is different, for John places a cleansing of the temple early in Jesus' ministry, whereas the Synoptics locate it in Passion Week. The events of the Last Supper, the betrayal, the hearing before Pilate, and the Crucifixion are reported quite differently from the other three Gospels; and the Resurrection account has only slight resemblance to the others.
        These phenomena have evoked many questions, and various theories have been advanced to account for them. (Merrill C. Tenney. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981, p. 19) See Matthew for more on the synoptic question.

        The seemingly out-of-order quality of the Book of John has been mentioned and speculated about by many commentators. Some speculate that the text has suffered some sort of disarrangement over its history, as if at some point the pages fell out of the book and someone put them back in, but not in quite the right order. However, there is no objective evidence to suggest that this has happened, and it is an unlikely explanation. Others simply discount the historicity of much of what is recorded in John, and view it as simply an inaccurate and poorly produced attempt at a life of Christ, done by someone several years after the time of John.
        However, an understanding of Semitic structuring techniques take care of the problem; as is clear from a study of the Old Testament, chronology is not the primary structuring principle in a Semitic text. Instead, theme takes precedence. Therefore, although John is written in Greek, it was not written by a Greek. It may be useful to repeat the discussion of Semitic structuring techniques.

Topical Expansion in Hebrew Poetry and Narrative

        Not uncommonly in the Bible, the structure of the text is similar to that of a newspaper article, where the first line or paragraph summarizes the rest of the story. Look at the following examples to get a sense of how this works in the Bible.

       1. Genesis 1:1-3:25

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

1:2-2:4a How God created the heavens and the earth.
2:4b-3:25 How God created man and woman.

       2. Jonah 3:5-9

3:5 Summary of the response of the city to Jonah's preaching.
3:6-9 Specific details of what happened and how.

       3. Proverbs 1:10-19

1:10 My son, if sinners entice you
do not go.

1:11-14 How sinners entice.
1:15-19 Do not go with them.

       4. Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

2:1 I spoke in my heart, "Come now, I will test pleasure
and examine good."
Behold: all of it is also meaningless.

2:2-10 Testing with pleasure to discover what's good.
2:11-26 Everything is meaningless.

        The apparent repetition or backtracking is extremely common and is a development or aspect of standard parallelism; the book of Joshua clearly is not in chronological order; a comparison of Joshua 15:13-19 and Judges 1:1-15 shows that the two events are the same, yet in actual fact Caleb's conquest occurred some while after Joshua's death, although in the book of Joshua, it is recorded several chapters before Joshua's death is recorded. The reason is obvious: the story of Caleb fit with the context and theme of Joshua 15 and so it was inserted there, despite the fact that chronologically it hardly belonged.
        The same sort of thematic structuring apparently occurs in the book of John. See the article The Thematic Arrangement of Biblical Texts in Quartz Hill Journal of Theology for more information.

III. An Outline of John

I. Prologue 1:1-18
II. The Public Ministry 1:19-12:50
III. The Private Ministry 13:1-20:31
IV. The Epilogue 21:1-21:25

IV. Questions on the Four Gospels

1. How can you reconcile the genealogies in Matthew and Luke?
2. Discuss the synoptic problem.
3. Who was Matthew?
4. Who was Mark?
5. Who was Luke?
6. Who was John?
7. Is doing good for someone dependent upon them doing good to us? Discuss.
8. Discuss the Lord's prayer.
9. Discuss the Sermon on the Mount.
10. What was the purpose of the miracles that Jesus performed?
11. When was Jesus born? Give evidence.
12. How would you reconcile the various accounts of Jesus resurrection?
13. How does the Gospel of John differ from the other three Gospels?
14. In Matthew 27:9-10 the author quotes Zechariah 11:12-13 but attributes it to Jeremiah. How do you explain this?
15. Explain Matthew 24. What is its relationship to Luke 21 and Mark 13. When are these events fulfilled?
16. List the twelve apostles and tell something about each of them.
17. Give a biography of each of the following:
a. Joseph
b. Mary
c. Martha
d. Mary Magdalene
e. Nicodemus
f. Joseph of Aramathea
g. Pilate
h. Herod (at Jesus birth)
i. Herod (during the rest of Jesus life)
j. Annas
k. Caiaphas
l. John the Baptist
m. Elizabeth
j. Zechariah
k. Simeon
l. Anna, the daughter of Phanuel