The last Gospel composed is also the last in the canonical collection. John, sometimes referred to in the scholarly literature as "The Fourth Gospel", was composed sometime around the end of the first century. The author is an anonymous Christian who utilized at least two sources in the composition of his book: 1) a "signs" source and 2) a "sayings" source. To these sources he added some independent traditions and rounded off his Gospel with the opening and closing chapters.
The reader will notice that John, unlike Matthew and Luke, did not use Mark or Q as a source. That is the reason that John is so different in character and content from Matthew, Mark and Luke. Over the centuries many have attributed this difference to the fact that John is the "spiritual" Gospel while the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are more "earthly" in nature. This characterization is, nevertheless, incorrect. It is much more likely that these differences come about because of the sources used by John vis a vis the Synoptics.
Though the author is anonymous, we can still know some things about him from his own writing. He claims to be a disciple of the "beloved disciple" (whoever that was). He was a speaker of Greek and he most likely lived in the area of Ephesus. The text is fairly well preserved (meaning that modern translations are based on ancient documents) but the story of the adulterous woman (7:53-8:11) is not attested in any manuscript of the Gospel until the fourth century.
As mentioned above, the author combined a signs source and a sayings source with a version of the passion narrative and added the opening and closing chapters. In these opening and closing segments we find the clearest statements of the purpose of the work. In 1:1 we read "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God". Like Matthew, then, John writes to demonstrate that Jesus is God himself. But, unlike Matthew, who wrote for Jews, John is writing for Gentiles. At the end of the Gospel we have another clear indication of the purpose of the book. At 20:31 we read "now these things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing might have life in his name".
The outline of the Gospel demonstrates how this purpose is fleshed out.
1- Introduction (1:1-18)
2- God becomes Flesh -- shows Himself by Signs (1:19-12:50)
3- God in the Flesh Is Glorified by His Disciples (13:1-20:30)
4- Concluding Comments about God in the Flesh (21:1-25)
ASSIGNMENT: Read Acts, and Brown’s Introduction, chapter 10.
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