Many people recommend the Gospel of John as the first book of the Bible for a new Christian to read. Its purpose is clear (John 20:30-31). It does not hold back in presenting Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the World.
For these reasons I am beginning my series of introductions to the books of the Bible with the Gospel of John. The theme of this book also goes well with the post I wrote yesterday describing the theology of the gospel message.
The author of the Gospel of John
From the title of the book we can gather that the author is John. Though it must be noted that John is not the one who originally wrote the title to this book. Like the rest of the books of the Bible the title was added later. In most English versions today it reads, The Gospel According to John. This title reflects a couple of things. First there were other Gospel accounts recorded and edited from other people’s perspectives. Second, this Gospel was believed to have been written by John. It is interesting to note that in Greek the title simply reads, ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ or According to John. As books of the Bible were passed around their titles would grow.
John never names himself in his Gospel as the author, at least by name. But Irenaeus claims in the second century in his work Against Heresies (3.1.2) that John was the author. Within the Gospel of John the author tells us that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:24; 13:23-24). The beloved disciple must have been one of the special three that were part of Jesus’ inner circle. Because this disciple was with Peter (John 13:23-24) we know that he could not have been Peter. Also since we know that James died very early on in the life of the Church (Acts 12:2), he could not have been the author because this Gospel was written at a much later date.
The Gospel of John is very different from the other three Gospels. These Gospels, because of their similarities, are called the synoptic Gospels. One of the major differences between them and the Gospel of John is its well developed christology. Which is to say that the nature of Christ was made much more explicit in this Gospel than it was in the others or even in Paul’s epistles.
It’s developed christology is one reason for pushing its date back past the dates for the other Gospels and Paul’s letters. Most scholars, both conservative and liberal, date the Gospel of John from sometime between A.D. 85-95. The reason even liberal scholars hold to the same date is because a fragment of the Gospel of John was discovered in the early twentieth century. It is known as fragment P52 and it is the oldest New Testament fragment dating all the way back to A.D. 130.
The Gospel of John is perhaps the easiest book in the Bible to determine the purpose. John writes in 20:21 “ 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” (ESV). The purpose of the Gospel of John is evangelistic. But there are other reasons why John wrote his Gospel.
There were already three Gospels in circulation by the time John wrote his. They had been around for at least two or three decades by the time John’s Gospel was written. They each bare a striking resemblance to each other. So the question arises, why did John write his?
John probably thought it best to include other teachings of Jesus that the other Gospel writers left out or where unaware of (see 20:30; 21:25). Jesus and Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the high priestly prayer are just a few of the stories and speeches that are found in the fourth Gospel and not the others. Sadly the story of the woman caught in adultery was probably not originally part of the Gospel of John.
Moving from a strict monotheism to a trinitarian monotheism was a significant shift. It took several centuries for the Church to make this move. But we can see the change of thinking beginning in the life of the Church when we compare John’s Gospel to the others. In his Gospel Jesus is much more explicitly exalted, even to the level of God (John 1:1). This theme of explicit high christology is probably another reason why John wrote his Gospel.
If you have been feeling distant from God the Gospel of John is the book for you. Or if you know someone who is new to the faith perhaps studying the fourth Gospel together would be a good starting point in their Christian walk.
Let me know what you think of this introduction to John’s Gospel in the comments section below. If you’ve enjoyed this post subscribe to the newsletter so you’ll be up-to-date on everything that is going on here at Strong Sword.