Why is the Gospel of John so Different?

It’s obvious to anyone who reads the Gospels that the Gospel of John (GoJ) is far different from the first three, which we call the Synoptic Gospels since they present the same basic view. Scholars believe the first three present the same view because the authors of Matthew and Luke used the earliest Gospel, Mark, as a source; however, the GoJ is not based on the Gospel of Mark (although it’s possible the author was familiar with it).

The GoJ was probably written around AD 95, and the author did not give his name. It is called the Gospel of John because Irenaeus, a second-century Greek cleric, said the writer was “John”; few New Testament scholars, however, consider the Apostle John to be the author of the 4th Gospel. (In fact, it’s unlikely any of the NT books were written by the 12 Apostles.) New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham thinks Irenaeus was referring to the aged disciple John, not John the son of Zebedee. Ben Witherington has suggested the author of the 4th Gospel, the “beloved disciple,” was probably Lazarus. Others have suggested someone associated with the priesthood in Jerusalem or a member of a Johannine community in separation from the synagogue and in the diaspora.

Although we can’t be sure of the writer, we can affirm some of the author’s views do not align with views presented in the earlier Synoptic Gospels.

First, the most significant addition we see is Jesus described as a heavenly being united with Yahweh (John 10:30) but distinguished from Yahweh (John 14:28). Scholars say the Logos Christology presented in the GoJ appears to be based on earlier depictions of Yahweh’s wisdom, which we see personified in the Old Testament and in intertestimental wisdom literature; it may also have been shaped by early Targums (ancient Aramaic paraphrases or interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, of a type made from about the 1st century AD when Hebrew was declining as a spoken language).

The Early Gentile Church Fathers developed the Johannine concept of logos (along with the personalized role and status the GOJ gives to the Holy Spirit) into their trinitarian doctrine which became one of the main tenets of Christianity.

Second, the writer seems to believe in a resurrection of both the righteous and unrighteous: “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). This is a view we also see in Acts and in Revelation.

Finally, the writer of the GoJ appears to have given up on the idea of Jesus’ imminent return to earth to reign in Israel. Instead, he writes of the present reality of the kingdom with the reign of Jesus beginning when he was lifted up on the cross and continuing from heaven. Those who believe and are baptized receive eternal life.

And while we can’t know for certain why the writer of the GoJ no longer has Jesus talking about the coming kingdom as he does constantly in the Synoptics, we can guess that it has to do with the fact that the writer is penning his letter 65 years after Jesus’ death and 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. At this point in history, Christians were struggling with the fact that Jesus hadn’t returned. And with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, it was likely impossible for most Jews to envision the establishment of the great prophesied messianic kingdom in their lifetime.

1. While the Gospel’s prologue seems to be declaring Christ’s literal heavenly preexistence, some New Testament scholars argue this is poetic language that should be understood metaphorically.

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