Why is the Gospel of John different from others?

saron mahari asks in Start a New Thread:

why is the gospel of john [different] from others?

“Gospel of John” by Father Raymond Brown talks about how the Johannine community’s controversies with other groups helped shaped their Gospel. In “From Jesus to Christianity”, Dr. Michael White talks about how proto-Christians identified themselves less as Jews as time progressed, and as Jews became more reviled throughout the Roman Empire. John was was written at a time when Christians no longer considered themselves Jews, but rather they considered themselves in league with Rome in being opposed to the Jews. Theologians point to John as the “spiritual” Gospel that is less concerned with recounting specifics of Jesus’ life and more concerned with expressing the spiritual significance of the events of the ministry. I think these views are in sync.

Christians who hold that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God have a tougher time with this question since they have to resolve some of the glaring contradictions, like: when Jesus was crucified relative to when Passover begins? Or, who found the empty tomb and who did they find at the tomb?


8 Responses to Why is the Gospel of John different from others?

  1. Dan says:

    There are more than just those theories. Rita Nakashima Brock was telling me about someone, I think John Dominic Crossen, who suggests that John could have been written by Samaritans, which would have explained the presentation of Jesus talking to and about Samaritans in a good light, all while being pretty anti-Jew. It’s also not impossible that if it were not written after the schism of Jews and Christians, which the other interpretation requires, that its date of writing could predate the other gospels, or at least have been written concurrently.

  2. The Atheist says:

    No doubt there are many theories! :)

    John makes only 2 references to the Samaritans: 1) the woman at the well in John 4 which is a somewhat flattering reference, then 2) the demon-possessed Samaritan epithet in John 8.

    In John 4, Jesus says “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” – hardly a comment you would expect from a Samaritan scribe! The Jews say of Jesus in John 8 that he is “a Samaritan and demon-possessed.” I think this reflects the Jews’ disdain for Samaritans and for Jesus. It’s also not very flattering for the Samaritans since Jesus has nothing to say about the Jews’ implication that Samaritans are demon-possessed. He defends himself against the charge by saying that he personally is not demon-possessed but he says nothing in defense of the Samaritans.

    As far as an authorship that predates the synoptics, I haven’t seen any theories that looked very compelling, have you?

  3. Well, at least the post is not a rant. As a student of scripture who is very familiar with the Gospel of John (let’s say I’ve read it a dozen times or so), I don’t know why it is referred to as the “spiritual” gospel. This comes from the Tubingen school referring to John as th gnostic gospel, since John chapter 1 has a sort of poetic introduction referring to Jesus as the Word and as being co-existent with the Father.

    Now, if you move beyond chapter one, you have a series of accounts that are longer than the stories in the Gospels and do not include many parables. This is fairly easy to explain. John was written after the synoptics, which is nearly universally acknowledged by critics and apologists of Scripture. John certainly felt no need to re-hash the parables when they were already repeating themselves in Mt, Mk and Lk.

    So he rather artfully linked together seven miracle accounts (hence, the Book of Signs, or miracles) in John chapters 2 through 11.

    Christians say the accounts are historical, critics, like J.D. Crossan say they are not. But literary anlaysis does not really assit in proving either thesis. Actually, the scholarship of the tubingen school is pretty bad, and inconsistent, which is why many contemporary scholars of Scripture are stepping away from “historical criticism.”

  4. The Atheist says:

    I think the reason that John is called the “spiritual gospel” is because Clement of Alexandria says that the Apostle John, the last of the Evangelists, “filled with the Holy Ghost, had written a spiritual Gospel”. He may have noticed that John’s gospel recounts the story of Jesus in symbolic ways which often differ from the stories in the Synoptics.

    I’m a bit skeptical of the easy explanation you offer about why John’s account would differ. It seems you are saying that the reason John would choose not to retell a story is because it had already been told by the time he wrote. But Matthew and Luke did precisely that: they not only recounted existing stories, but they embellished them to boot. So the fact that a story already exists doesn’t seem to be a reliable explanation for a writer’s choice to omit it in his own accounts.

  5. The gospel of John was written by someone who is clearly influenced by Greek Philosophical thought. It is only in John’s gospel that Jesus is referred to as the ‘logos’, which is a philosophical term that has been used since the days of Socrates…

    The Greeks and Gentiles also had a habit of seeing the divine in ordinary men. for example Alexander the great, Julius Caesar were considered deities. i think that John converted to Christianity from a pagan religion, and his background influenced his highly divine portrayal of Jesus.

    Matthew on the other hand is clearly more Jewish in nature and his Jesus is considerably less divine…what do you think??

  6. The Atheist says:

    I think you’re right that John is much more heavily influenced by Greek philosophy than the other Gospels, and maybe Greek mythology as well. In many contexts, logos means simply logic or reasoned discourse. In Stoic circles, it had a more mythical meaning and referred to the way the cosmos worked, similar in certain ways to the concept of Tao.

    Some Bible scholars, like Raymond Brown, make a good case that John was the most Jewish of the gospels, based on the authors knowledge of Palestinian geography and Jewish customs. This may not be in conflict with the earlier observation – that John is also a Greek thinker. When we think of “the Jews” in the first century bce, it’s tempting to think of Jerusalem and the Jewish disdain for everything Roman. But very large populations of Jews were dispersed throughout the Empire and were quite integrated into the Hellenistic culture and thought. This is where early Christian writing takes root and where the first Churches were established. It’s no small coincidence the first Christian writings were in Greek and not in Aramaic.

  7. I would have to disagree with Brown on that point. Although of course there had been a tendency towards amalgamating Judaism with Greek philosophy (eg Philo), the gospel of John is clearly way beyond Judaism. John’s Jesus is positively showy about his divinity – something that infringes the very basics of Jewish monotheism. If I had to make a guess, I would say that John represents a Godfearer – thus he was originally Gentile, possibly attended synagogue but was still free to practice in the pagan cults.

    I would say that Matthew is the most Jewish of the gospels and John is the least Jewish. Matthew mentioned the Kingdom of Heaven because as a Jew he would have been wary of using the name of God. Also if you look at Matthew 5:17-20 he is still in favour of keeping the Jewish law.

    Anyway, I’m a big fan of your blog. Keep up the good work, and please stop by my own blog…http://god-proof.com/blog/

  8. The Atheist says:

    Philo of Alexandria is a good example of a Jew who embraced Hellenistic thought and religious concepts. Another bit of evidence is the Dead Sea Scrolls. Even though the group at Qumran was clearly Jewish, their Judaism seems Hellenized and almost Christian when compared with the earlier Jews as they are portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. I think our view of “The Jews” in Jesus’ day comes primarily from the stories in the Gospels and Acts. I think that most of the Jewish population of that period, especially those in the diaspora, were much more culturally and religiously integrated with the predominant Hellenistic culture then we tend to imagine.

    Thanks for the kind words about this blog – I hope you’ll continue to comment! I’m on my way over to check out your blog now!

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