The gospel of John is unique among the four gospels.
The first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are called the synoptic gospels—syn for “alike” optic for “look” because these three gospels look alike, they correspond to each other in many ways, each with its own nuance, or emphasis.
John’s work is called the supplementary gospel because his goal was not so much to add facts to the account of Jesus’ life and ministry, but to supplement the facts already written with spiritual insight.
There is quite a bit of debate about who wrote what.
Traditionally, it is said that
- John Mark, who had become like a son to Peter, wrote Peter’s testimony down in the gospel that bears his name.
- Matthew, the tax collector whom Jesus selected as one of His twelve disciples, is said to have written the gospel with his name on it.
- The Gospel of Luke is attributed to a physician and companion of the apostle Paul named Luke.
- And finally, John is said to have written the Gospel of John.
I’ll give you my opinion, based on what I’ve read. I think the Mark and John gospels were the first to come out, both were told over and over again by many, but originated with Peter and John. I have no problem attributing the gospel of Mark to John Mark, who recorded one of the many similar oral gospels that had first come out. I think the apostle John set pen to paper early on, too, with his more thoughtful approach.
I think Matthew used Mark’s gospel as a template to teach from, and I think Luke used both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel to work with when he set down his documentary for his friend Theophilus. I think some form of John’s gospel was also in circulation, even though it isn’t much referenced in the other gospels.
I also think John’s gospel was edited at least once, if not a couple of times, and -at least- the epilogue was added after he died, if not also the prologue.
The Gospels are not biographies in the way we think of biographies today, but rather different portrayals of the same person as seen through the eyes of four different writers. They are complementary, not contradictory.
Matthew speaks of the coming of a promised savior
Mark speaks of the life of a powerful savior
Luke speaks of a perfect savior
John speaks of a personal savior
What are the differences between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John?
For the most part, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are set in Galilee, while John is mostly in Judea.
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is in action, addressing multitudes, performing miracles, giving teaching and parables. Whereas in his gospel John records his own reflections. For example, John depicted Jesus as often in meditation, speaking to His disciples, or in prayer with the Father.
The synoptics include many stories John omitted. John’s gospel does not discuss much of Jesus’ early years of ministry, he did not record the institution of the Lord’s supper, and he did not describe Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
In fact, the feeding of five thousand is one of the few events found in all four gospels, it was that important, but John is the only one who explains the spiritual significance, which brings us to what seems to have been John’s motivation for writing his gospel the way he did. John had been the closest to Jesus, sensitive to Jesus’ thoughts and meaning. Now, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write a reflective gospel, one that would bring out the deeper truths that Jesus had taught.
John presented Jesus not just as the Son of Man, but as the unique Son of God. So, his gospel began not at Jesus’ birth but in eternity, time before time, when Jesus eternally existed as God.
John set out to write a deeper story, one that brought out the wisdom of Messiah Jesus, a spiritual gospel that revealed Christ’s divine nature and would stir readers to believe in their hearts that He was God. The final version of John’s gospel, the one you and I have in the Bible, was completed sometime between 80 and 90 A.D. and concludes with the promise of Christ’s return.
As I go through this study, I want to read John in the context of the Bible itself. Understanding one book in its context of the whole Bible keeps us from distorting the truth. I will be asking, throughout this study,
- What does the Bible say in its historical context, from the position of the writer?
- What does the Bible teach?
- What does each passage teach about God, people, and the relationship between people and God?
- What principles of truth does it teach for all ages, all times and all cultures?
- And, what is God saying to you and me, personally, through the Bible so we can apply these truths to our lives?
We learn Who Jesus is through the gospel accounts recorded in the Bible
That’s not everything, of course, Jesus is a Person, and having a relationship with Jesus is the goal. Knowing Jesus comes from, well, getting to know the Person, Jesus.
The Gospel of John acts as something of a love letter from God to His people, a book that has changed more lives than possibly any other book written. It presents Jesus as a man with personal warmth, intimacy, human emotions, and relating to people.
But, it is still a book, written words. It is my hope that this book will act more like a portal for me, and for you, too, a gateway between our three-dimensional planet and the many-dimensioned spiritual realm Jesus now dwells.
It is my hope you and I are able to be transported by this word into a deeper union with the Word Himself.
[Byzantinischer Maler um 1020 / Public domain]