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An Introduction to John

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An Introduction to the Gospel of John, including authorship, setting, overview, and interpretive challenges.

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Toward the End of John’s Life

John, one of the first disciples of Jesus, lived his final years in Ephesus—in present day Turkey. Nearly seventy years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he was compelled to write down his witness of Jesus. Between A.D. 90 and A.D. 98, John wrote the Gospel, three letters, and Revelation.
These simple facts will help us to understand “the Gospel according to John.”
John was one of the last eye-witnesses to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Although these facts were already communicated through the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—and Paul’s many letters to the church—and others—John, as his life began to ebb wrote of his account of Jesus—but from a different perspective.

The Gospels and the New Testament

It is important to note that the New Testament books are not in chronological order (the order they were written and circulated among the early churches).
Most biblical scholars agree that the letter of James (the Lord’s brother) was written first, at about A.D. 50 (some twenty years about Jesus’ resurrection). Then came 1 and 2 Thessalonians in A.D. 52 (54) and Galatians (55). The account to the life of Jesus was written by Matthew or Luke in A.D. 60, with Mark writing his account in about A.D. 64). In what order the Synoptic Gospels were written is highly debated.
John had the perspective of living a long life—seeing the ministry of Jesus first-hand—and being one of the Apostles the led the church through its inception, growth, persecution, heretical battles, and maturity. It is no wonder that his account of the life and ministry of Jesus is unique.

Authorship

Historically, few have challenged the concept of John as author of the Fourth Gospel.
As early as A.D. 180, Theophilus referred to John as the author, and ten years later Irenaeus (a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John) used 100 quotes from the Fourth Gospel, mentioning John.
At the turn of the century in A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria used John’s name frequently in connection with this Gospel.
And Tertullian cited passages from almost every chapter, attributing them to the apostle.
Internally, the author of this book refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20, 24).
The absence of John’s name in this Gospel also, interestingly, attests to his authorship. In all of the other Gospels, John is listed my name and included in the senior group of disciples (along with Peter and James).
However, in the Fourth Gospel, John’s name—intentionally—is never mentioned. This follows a characteristic demonstrated by other close followers of Jesus—humility!

John - Son of Zebedee

John and James, his older brother (), were known as “the sons of Zebedee” (), and Jesus called them “Sons of Thunder” ().
John was an apostle () and one of the three most intimate associates of Jesus (along with Peter and James), being an eyewitness to and participant in Jesus’ earthly ministry ().
After Christ’s ascension, John became a pillar in the Jerusalem church (). He ministered with Peter (; ; ) until he went to Ephesus (tradition says before the destruction of Jerusalem).

Background and Setting of the Gospel

Strategic to John’s background and setting is the fact that, according to tradition, John was aware of the Synoptic Gospels. Apparently, he wrote his Gospel in order to make a unique contribution to the record of the Lord’s life (a spiritual Gospel) and, in part, to be supplementary as well as complementary to Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
First, John supplied a large amount of unique material not recorded in the other Gospels
Second, he often supplied information that helps the understanding of the events in the Synoptics.
Third, John is the most theological of the Gospels, containing, for example, a heavily theological prologue (1:1-18), larger amounts of teaching and discourse material.
Although John was aware of the Synoptics and fashioned this Gospel with them in mind, he did not depend upon them for information.
John expresses why he wrote the Gospel:
John 20:30–31 ESV
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:
John had two primary purposes: evangelistic and apologetic.
Reinforcing the evangelistic purpose is the fact that the word “believe” occurs approximately one hundred times in the Gospel (the Synoptics use the term less than half as much). John composed his Gospel to provide reasons for saving faith and, as a result, to assure readers that they would receive the divine gift of eternal life.
John wrote to convince his readers of Jesus’ true identity as the Incarnate God-man whose divine and human natures were perfectly united into one person who was the prophesied Christ (“Messiah”) and Savior of the world.
John organized his whole Gospel around eight “signs,” or proofs that reinforce Jesus’ true identity, leading to faith.
The first half of his work revolves around seven miraculous signs selected to reveal Christ’s person:
Turning water into wine
Healing the royal official’s son
Healing the lame man
Feeding the multitude
Walking on water
Healing the blind man
Raising Lazarus from the dead.
The eighth sign is the miraculous catch of fish after Jesus’ resurrection.

Themes

The overall message of the Gospel: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31)
Three predominant words: “signs,” “believe,” and “life” receive constant emphasis throughout the Gospel to enforce the theme of salvation in Christ.
John provides the record of how people responded to Jesus Christ and the salvation that He offered.
Summing up, John’s Gospel focuses on:
Jesus as the Word, the Messiah, and Son of God;
Who brings the gift of salvation to people;
Wo either accept or reject the offer.

Next Wednesday

Session 1: The Incarnation of the Son of God
Text:
Study Guide: Pages 5 - 10
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