Author: St. John, Son of Zebedee
Date Written: 90 AD
Date of Narrative: 26-30 AD
The gospel of John is dramatically different than the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Instead of organizing historical events into a chronology, John presents Jesus in all of his theological grandeur. He gives us fewer stories than the other gospels, but those he does present are rich with detail. Scenes in John that are not in the synoptics include the discussion with Nicodemus, the conversation with the woman at the well, the raising of Lazarus.
John begins with a poetic prologue (1:1-18) that many have dubbed the “overture” to the whole work. From chapters one to twelve the narrative crescendos to the climax of the Last Supper, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in Ch. 13-20. Chapter 21 is like an addendum or afterword in which Jesus appears again to the apostles and has the memorable “Do you love me?” discussion with Peter over a fish breakfast.
John weaves a couple helpful threads into his gospel which help the reader follow the narrative. First, John presents seven signs (semeia in Greek) to show Jesus’ divinity. The seven signs precede and foreshadow the great “Eighth Sign” of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Next, we find seven “I AM” sayings in which Jesus declares his divinity and Messiahship. The instances of each thread are presented in the following chart:
The Seven Signs
Ch. 2 – Cana: water into wine
Ch. 4 – Raising the son of the royal official
Ch. 5 – Paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda
Ch. 6 – Multiplication of the loaves
Ch. 6 – Walking on the water
Ch. 9 – Healing of the man born blind
Ch. 11 – Raising of Lazarus
The Seven “I AM” Sayings
6:35 – I am the bread of life
8:12 – I am the light of the world
10:7 – I am the gate for the sheep
10:11 – I am the good shepherd
11:25 – I am the resurrection and the life
14:6 – I am the way, and the truth and the life
15:1 – I am the true vine
Unlike the authors of the synoptic gospels, John steeps his gospel in abundant symbolism, both theological and sacramental. Images like bread, light, sheep, water and world suffuse the text providing rich food for meditation. John presents no parables and relatively few stories of healings. Instead, Jesus gives several long discourses which are teeming with theological content.
In the synoptics, Jesus only makes one visit to Jerusalem, but in John he makes at least four visits to Jerusalem for Jewish feasts. John thus places the life of Jesus in the context of ancient Jewish worship and emphasizes the length of his ministry.
The gospel of John is a delightful book, full of theological insight and spiritual life. While intense scholarly debate surrounds the book, Christians can benefit immensely from a prayerful reading led by the Holy Spirit. John, more than any of the evangelists, leads his readers to the deep waters of the mystery of God. Thus the Johannine Jesus cries, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” (7:37)
By Mark Giszczak