Think about how often you surf the net when you have a question about something.
It’s just second nature, isn’t it? “I’ll Google it,” you might say, as you thumb your phone, knowing you will have an answer in seconds.
When I was a kid in the 1960s, I always went to our Encyclopedia set—which took up a couple of shelves in our living room—or the library. But today, even elementary school teachers often require the kids go to the internet. And, incredibly, every topic seems to have a few million sites to choose from.
But here’s the Big Question: how reliable is the website?
Anybody can set up a site, and make it look and sound good.
But you and I want something that does more than sound good, or seem authentic and legitimate. The reliability of the source is important because you and I want to know what is true. We want to be sure what we are reading is really the facts, and that it pertains to the subject we are interested in.
The truth affects our real lives. We act on the facts when we are certain they are true.
Which brings us to the Gospel of John.
- Is it authentic and reliable?
- Is it relevant and true?
- If it is, then what should you and I do about it?
It is going to take a little bit of time to do this, so I have gridded it out into three basic questions: What is the gospel of John? Who wrote it and why? And why should we study it?
What is the Gospel of John?
The word “gospel” means good news in Greek. In ancient times, this book would have been called the gospel, or the good news, of Jesus Christ according to John (the other three “good news” books, which end up being biographies of Jesus, are found in Matthew, Luke, and Mark)
It is only one of 66 books in a larger work, the Bible. Even the word “Bible” is old, the name itself stems from the city of Byblos, where the first alphabet was invented—you can pursue the origins of the Bible in this great book called: “Cities that Built the Bible”
The Bible is an old, old book, a collection written by more than 40 human authors. These writers made up all kinds of people:
- a farmer (Amos)
- a doctor (Luke)
- ministers (such as Ezra and James)
- political leaders (David, Solomon)
- political prisoners (Daniel, John himself)
- a musician (Asaph)
- a fisherman (John)
- and a tax collector (Matthew)
. . . to name just a few. The Bible writers were rich and educated, poor and not‑so‑educated. They came from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds. There are even several pieces written by women! The latest books are two thousand years old. The earliest books could originally have been three thousand years old and more.
Part of understanding scripture is knowing that though humans did the writing, it is still God’s unique revelation of Himself to human beings. In some way God the Holy Spirit inspired human writers to reveal God’s mind, heart, and character, even while using their own personality and gifts, as God breathed out the words.
During the first 25 to 30 years after Jesus ascended there was no written gospel. People of that day routinely memorized whole books, so the disciples’ memories were well accustomed to remembering accurately. Added to this, John wrote about how Jesus told the disciples the Holy Spirit would supernaturally enable them to remember everything Jesus had taught them, and showed them, and they would be able to tell His story.
And that is what they did, beginning at Pentecost, for the next thirty years.
But as the apostles grew older, they began to realize that an accurate account needed to be recorded to prevent legends and myths from forming. Before, the apostles were always there to corroborate anyone’s story. Now, Paul had already begun to write letters to the various churches he had planted and was teaching and shepherding long-distance. As the churches increased and the apostles aged, the need increased for consistent teaching, so the gospels began to get written down.
By 69 A.D. at the latest, the first three gospels were written and being circulated, and by 80 A.D. all the epistles had been written, the books that explain the teachings of Jesus found in the gospels. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, the temple along with it, so that all sacrifices and the practice of temple Judaism ceased. The apostles and the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem scattered, many to northern Palestine, Asia, and to the west.
After that time, a variety of sects adjacent to Christianity—but not actually Christian—began to teach that Jesus was not the promised Messiah, because of the destruction of Jerusalem, and they denied that Jesus was the Son of God. So, John wrote his gospel particularly to oppose this kind of teaching by bringing in the accounts of eye witnesses, and carefully choosing the signs he would write about, which were the key works that revealed Jesus’ divine power and glory, and words that prove Jesus’ deity.
But! Is what we have in our hands today authentic? Reliable? Trustworthy?
Those were my first questions, years ago, when I got serious about studying the Bible. Why would I even want to, if the Bible is just a pile of old myths and legends? I mean, yeah, it might make for an interesting read, but why reorient my whole life based on what is written inside there?
If this is a question you want to have answered, then follow this link to how I answered it for myself. After that, buh-lieve me, there is a lot of exhaustive research out there that answers that question really well. Here’s a book that helped me, tremendously: “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”
As an interesting aside, the basic format of the Christian Testament mirrors that of the Hebrew Testament.
- It begins with historical, foundational material: The Gospels are like the Mosaic books, the Pentateuch.
- Next comes the history of the birth of the church in the book of Acts, similar to the historical books of Joshua through the Chronicles
- The apostles’ epistles provide wisdom and teaching just as the wisdom literature found in Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Job, and Ecclesiastes provide.
- Finally, the Revelation speaks prophetically in much the same way the prophets of old spoke.
The early church didn’t choose the books they wanted to put in the Bible. They eventually recognized the books that God had chosen. Christians had all along been recognizing works that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. These were, as the apostles Paul and Peter had described, “God-breathed” and were treated as scripture as soon as they were read.
[The Gospel of John | Oarabile Mudongo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]