John – why is it so different?

“[Gospel of John] the widely accepted date for a reasonably “final” form of the gospel is the late first or early second century”. (Harold Attridge – Professor Yale)

To illustrate the explanation of the “woman at the well” episode I have chosen three works published within the last decade:  a doctoral thesis by a Nigerian sister… … … Teresa Okure, alone among present-day exegetes, regards the evangelist [John] as an eye-witness of the events she records.  (John Ashton – Oxford)

A major difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John is that, whereas in the Synoptics Jesus is notably reticent about his identity, in John he frequently speaks explicitly about who he is and his relationship with God.  (Richard Bauckham – Professor St Andrews, Cambridge)

“Even its first generation of readers (c. 90 to 150 CE) disagreed about whether John was a true gospel or a false one”.  (Elaine Pagels – Professor Princeton)

The differences between John and the Synoptics are obvious and for this exercise, require only a quick reminder. The length of Jesus’ ministry differs: it is one year in the Synoptics and three years in John. The place of Jesus’ ministry is distinct: in the Synoptics, it centres in Galilee, in John Jesus works mainly in Judaea, with short trips to Galilee. The placement of events differs: in John, the cleansing of the temple occurs at the start of Jesus’ ministry rather than at the end; in John, Jesus’ Eucharistic words occur after the feeding of the multitude, not at the last supper. Even the date of Jesus’ death is different: in the Synoptics, it takes place on Passover, in John on the day of preparation for the Passover. The roles played by disciples differ: in the Synoptics, Peter is the chief spokesperson; in John, Nathaniel, Thomas, Philip, and especially “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. …Synoptics…short aphorisms…[instead John has] longer discourses… [John contains] no parables…[but it contains] monologues…[and it contains] no exorcisms at all”. (Luke Timothy Johnson – Professor Candler, Yale)

“The similarity among the first three gospels is best seen by contrast to John.  The geographical outline is different:  in the first three gospels Jesus goes to Jerusalem only once during his ministry, for the final week, whereas in John he pays several visits to Jerusalem.  The order of events is different, for example the cleansing of the temple comes early in John, introducing Jesus’ ministry, whereas in the other three gospels it forms the climax.  John related many fewer miracles, but almost invariable these are developed by means of a subsequent long discourse of Jesus or by a controversy that brings out the sense and meaning of the event… While the Jesus of the first three gospels turns attention away from himself to the kingship of God, in John the kingship of God is mentioned only in 3:3-5; the Johannine Jesus teaches about his kingship only in 18:6, and otherwise concentrates rather on his gift of eternal life.  In the first three gospels story-parables are ain important vehicle of teaching, whereas the fourth gospel barely uses them, preferring instead extended images such as that of the Good Shepherd……[but] in detail the links between John and the synoptics are diverse… some stories are closely similar…In other cases Johannine miracle stories are based on stories of the same type…. There are sayings go close they may simply be different translations… Some sayings in John appear in the form of stories in the synoptics”. (Henry Wansbrough – Oxford)

“John’s gospel leaves out an account of the last supper in which Jesus tells his disciples to eat bread as his body and drink wine as  his blood – that scene which Matthew, Luke, and Paul all regard as central”.  (Elaine Pagels – Professor Princeton)

“… when the Gospel of John views Jesus under the image of God’s pre-existent Word, his co-partner in the work of creation itself, thus drawing on a symbol current in Judaism, there is nothing to suggest that Jesus himself made use of that category of thought”.  (Leslie Houlden – Professor Kings, Oxford)

“…the greatest difference of all:  in the Synoptic gospels the subject of revelation is the kingship or reign of God, of which Jesus is the messenger.  In John the primary object of revelation is Jesus himself and his glory, or rather the revelation of God’s glory in him, climaxing in the hour of the exaltation and glorification of Jesus, the cross and resurrection.  The crucifixion is no longer a shameful humiliation which has to be explained as the will of god expressed in Scripture’,  it is a royal progress which enables the divinity of Jesus to shine  through, and leaves Jesus reigning from the cross until he himself triumphantly signifies that all is fulfilled”.  (Henry Wansbrough – Oxford)

[John]  The double conclusion to the book is unmistakable. John 20.30f once concluded the Gospel.  Chapter 21 is a supplement at the end of which a group of editors mentions as the author of John 1-20 the Beloved Disciple, whose unexpected death immediately beforehand (21:20-23) is specifically discussed.  In 21.25 there follows a second conclusion to the book by an individual redactor which is based on 20.30.  It seems natural to infer further insertions by the same redactional hand in the text of the Gospel, but there is no consensus about their number and extent.  (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

While the portraits of the disciples in the fourth gospel score points about titular leaders and by implication their followers, the image of Peter in the last chapter takes on special significance.  Rehabilitated from his triple denial of Jesus by a triple protestation of love (John 21:15-17), he is finally commissioned to “feed the sheep” (John 21:17).  This chapter acknowledges that, however much the apostle Peter and perhaps other ecclesiastical leaders were inferior to the Beloved Disciples, their authoritative position should be respected.  John 21 then suggests that Johannine believers were becoming reconciled with the wider church of the second century.  (Harold Attridge – Professor Yale)

[John] It seems highly likely that the gospel did develop over time and therefore shows signs of rewriting and expansion.  (Harold Attridge – Professor Yale)

[John] The writers responsible for the gospel no doubt knew of the stuff of which the Synoptics and other gospels were made, and may have even known one or more in its final form, but freely adapted both oral traditions and literary productions.  (Harold Attridge – Professor Yale)

The gospel of John has several endings, added over time in new editions.  (Margaret M. Mitchell – Professor Birmingham)

In the book of John, Jesus talks about himself and proclaims who he is, saying “I am the bread of life.” Whereas in Mark, Jesus teaches principally about the coming kingdom and hardly ever mentions himself directly. These differences offer clues into the perspectives of the authors, and the eras in which they wrote their respective Gospels, according to Ehrman. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not interested in teaching about himself. But when you read John’s Gospel, that’s virtually the only thing Jesus talks about is who he is, what his identity is, where he came from,” Ehrman says. “This is completely unlike anything that you find in Mark or in Matthew and Luke. And historically it creates all sorts of problems, because if the historical Jesus actually went around saying that he was God, it’s very hard to believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke left out that part — you know, as if that part wasn’t important to mention. But in fact, they don’t mention it. And so this view of the divinity of Jesus on his own lips is found only in our latest Gospel, the Gospel of John.”  (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

When you read Mark’s Gospel, which was probably our first Gospel, Jesus says very little about himself. He talks about how he must go to Jerusalem and be rejected and be crucified and then raised from the dead. But he never identifies himself as divine, for example. He never says, I am the son of God. The only time in Mark’s Gospel that he admits that he’s the Messiah is at the very end, when he’s put on trial, and the high priest asks him, are you the Messiah? And he says yes, I am. So in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not interested in teaching about himself. But when you read John’s Gospel, that’s virtually the only thing Jesus talks about -is who he is, what his identity is, where he came from – he came from above with the Father – where he’s going – he’s returning to the Father. And he, himself, is in some sense, divine.   As he says in John Chapter 10: I and the Father are one. Or as he says in Chapter 8: Before Abraham was, I am. Abraham was the father of the Jews, who lived 1,800 years before Jesus. And Jesus actually appears to be claiming to be a representation of God on Earth. This is completely unlike anything that you find in Mark or in Matthew and Luke. And it – historically, it creates all sorts of problems because if the historical Jesus actually went around saying that he was God, it’s very hard to believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke left out that part – you know, as if that part wasn’t important to mention. (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

The gospel of John is now generally recognized to contain more accurate historical
information (such as on points of geography) than was once thought, but it must
nevertheless be recognized that the Jesus who speaks in the gospel of John has
been thoroughly transformed by the creative theological treatment of the
traditions on which the gospel draws. In place of parables concerning the
kingdom of God and short, pithy replies to questions, often based on the
quotation of Scripture, for example, one finds in the gospel of John long
metaphorical and allegorical discourses about the person of Jesus himself.
(W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and E.P. Sanders Professor Oxford)

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