The Structure of the Fourth Gospel

The Fourth Gospel is widely viewed as divided into two segments: the "Book of Signs" (chap 1-12) and the "Book of Glory" (chap 13-20). The first division treats of Jesus' public ministry. Jesus is seen performing a number of miracles and engaging his opponents, all the while moving from Galilee to Judea and back. in the Book of Glory Jesus is found discussing matters with his disciples (13-17) and subsequently undergoing the Passion (18-21). Throughout the breadth of the Gospel, Jesus' "hour" -- his death and resurrection -- looms large. From yet another angle of vision the Gospel has been seen as falling into two major divisions which are, first of all, Jesus' preparation for the "hour" and the second segment, viz., a depiction of the "hour" itself. There is a marked buildup: in chap. 1-11. On several occasions, it is asserted that Jesus' "hour" has not yet come (2:4, 7:30, 8:20). In 12:23 the imminence of the time of revelation is remarked. The presence of the "hour" is noted in 13:1 and 17:1.

Comparable to the forecast of the "hour" and its eventual dawning is the related concept of "glorification". At the outset (7:39; 12:16) glorification is viewed as future. In 13:31 and 17:5 it is asserted as present.

The Prologue -- a classic in its own right -- functions as a kind of overture. It picks up themes which later in the Gospel will be once again encountered and ultimately fleshed out. In the Prologue, the identity of Jesus is set out and his role in salvation is declared. Right from the start, the reader is made aware of the identity of Jesus and of his lofty mission.

The "Gnostic" Cast of John's Gospel

It was fashionable at one point in time to doubt the Jewish background of John's Gospel. Certain characteristics of John's work were adduced in an effort to establish the Gnostic origin of some Johannine ideas. It must be acknowledged that there is an unquestionable likeness between John and some alien ways of thought. John surely was aware of the Hellenistic tone of the world in which he moved and within which his Gospel would be read and construed. That is almost certainly the only link between John and the Hellenistic milieu he lived and wrote in.

When in 1946 a complete Gnostic library was discovered in Chernoboskian in Upper Egypt it became possible to ascertain in what specific ways, if any, Gnosticism impacted on the Fourth Gospel. The considered judgment of most scholars, based on a careful study of the Chernoboskian finds, is that John's Gospel does not depend on Gnostic literature. In other words the presumed "Gnostic" coloration of John's Gospel is as authentically Jewish as any other Gospel. The Synoptics on the one hand and John on the other accent different facets of the Judaism current at that time. John speaks in an authentically Jewish idiom of first century Palestine.

John's Gospel vis à vis the Synoptics

Since Patristic times, John's Gospel has been viewed as filling in the gaps in the other Gospel accounts. There is something to be said for this estimate of things. John clearly presumes the Synoptic tradition. He assumes his readership will know the identity of the Twelve. He makes no effort to identify them. In recording the Baptist's witness he presumes his readers' awareness of John's baptism of Jesus. As to whether John used the written Synoptics, there is division among scholars. Some have drawn attention to the fact that John was obviously aware of Mark's Gospel and followed the order Mark used. At times he is found even using the same words Mark employed. There is however another school of thought that maintains that what John and Mark have in common derives from a common oral tradition. An attempt has been made to view the parallels between John and the other three Gospels as resulting from a harmonization of both but conclusive evidence of this has eluded scholars.

A comparison of John with the Synoptics reveals a raft of divergences. The numerous miracles reported by the Synoptics are counterbalanced by just seven miracles in John. John's strong accent on the discourses of Jesus and his doctrine contrasts with the Synoptic portrayal.

Clement of Alexandria has helpfully noted that whereas the Synoptics conveyed the corporeal aspects of Jesus, John sought to present Jesus' spiritual reality. Perhaps this is more aptly expressed by asserting that John sought to offer a more theological view of Jesus than the Synoptics aimed to present.

Some Characteristics of the Fourth Gospel

Several of the expressions common to the Synoptics occur seldom if at all in John. Some examples follow: "tax collectors", "Kingdom of God", "demons". On the other hand one must take note of a distinctive Johannine terminology e.g, "life", "light, "darkness", "truth", "him who sent me", "amen, amen" and perhaps most notable is the "I am" formula (6:20.35,51; 8:24; 15:5).

One very notable difference between John and the Synoptics is that he recounts the ministry of Jesus as spanning across three Passover Feasts. The upshot of this is that in John the ministry of Jesus in Judea is seen to be more extensive than would appear from the Synoptic accounts.

In any comparison struck between John and the Synoptics it must be noted that several episodes that find a place in the Synoptic accounts are not referred to in John. Among those missing in John are: the temptation of Jesus, Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi, the Transfiguration, and Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemani. The sequence of events in John viewed from the standpoint of the Synoptics can sometimes seem to be skewed. However, as can be gathered from the video lectures, John's transpositions often have a transparent purpose behind them. A clear cut instance of this is found in John's placement of the cleansing of the Temple incident right following the account of the miracle at Cana and just before Nicodemus' visit. Quite probably this was done to show by this line-up varying responses to Jesus. Cana elicited from the witnesses a positive faith response -- "by it he manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him". This is followed in John by the account of the cleansing of the Temple which provoked a very negative reaction from the bystanders. The Nicodemus visit on the other hand appears to illustrate an in-between response to Christ: Nicodemus comes under the cover of darkness because at this point in time he is not prepared to publicly declare his commitment to Christ. Yet when all is said and done he DOES come. Such rearrangements of the time slots for the various incidents in the story of Jesus seem to show that there was "a method to John's madness."


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