John was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and his gospel is an outstanding example of Christianity’s distancing itself further and further from Jewish traditions, often viewing them as antagonistic to its mission.
He writes to foster faith in Jesus Christ and demonstrate how His Word became flesh and created eternal life.
1. The Gospel of John
The Gospel of John is one of four Biblical accounts detailing Jesus Christ’s life and teachings, often considered one of the most theologically and philosophically profound of all Gospels. John begins with an opening prologue establishing Jesus as both eternal Word (John 1:1) and flesh in his incarnation (chapters 1-18). John shows Jesus’ identity from eternity past while offering up an expansive view of him as both fully God and fully man; furthermore, his Gospel also portrays him as a Jewish Messiah fulfilling Old Testament themes, sent by His Father to facilitate new relationships between humans and Him!
The Gospel of John stands apart from its Synoptic counterparts in many ways. First and foremost, it excludes specific miracle stories and details found elsewhere, offering instead more spiritual or symbolic interpretations for such miracles and events that occurred. Furthermore, John provides unique insight into how the Holy Spirit would operate after Jesus ascended into heaven.
John’s Gospel also represents a distinct theological imagining prevalent at the end of the first century. John often presents Jesus as being more challenging of Jewish tradition than other Gospel writers, writing that Jesus must “eat and drink to have life” (John 6). Furthermore, John uses drinking blood as a symbol of spiritual transformation.
John’s Gospel provides an unrivaled account of Jesus’ ministry and death, most famously through John 3:16, which states, “Whoever believes in him (Jesus) has everlasting life.” Additionally, this gospel emphasizes Jesus’s love for his disciples as an example of how they should love one another and God.
The Gospel of John likely dates to between AD 70, when Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed by Roman forces, and AD 100, when its author is believed to have passed away at Ephesus in Asia Minor, one of the critical urban centers at that time.
2. The Synoptic Gospels
The first three Gospels of the New Testament are commonly known as “synoptic Gospels” due to their close relation. All three books share similar outline structures; approximately 90 percent of what was present in Mark appears in Matthew and Luke as well. John’s gospel does not belong among this group because its material differs considerably.
The Gospel of John presents a unique perspective of Jesus that differs significantly from that offered in other Gospels. Many events found only in John cannot be found anywhere else (and some were left out). Additionally, John doesn’t contain as much of the same material found elsewhere, and when it does, it often features very different wording; for instance, John tells his version of the feeding of 5,000 differently and even uses an entirely different Greek word for fish!
However, John does contain material similar to that found in other Gospels, most notably Mark’s Gospel. Some have proposed this is because Mark was written first and used by Matthew and Luke as sources; however, this theory cannot account for all differences between their material and Mark’s.
An alternate explanation could be that all four Gospels were independently compiled at roughly the same time and used similar sources. But this still leaves open the question of how Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate to one another – this issue is known as the Synoptic Problem.
Undoubtedly, Matthew, Mark, and Luke offer us the most total picture of Jesus’ life that can be obtained anywhere else – even through John’s Gospel! Collectively, they give an in-depth account of Christ’s ministry, Passion, and death – showing why believing in him matters so much for salvation.
3. The Letters of Paul
These three epistles have long been associated with John’s Gospel. Traditionally known as “Johannean letters” or the “catholic epistles,” they have also been incorrectly associated with Paul’s writings (despite 1 John being quite different in style and idea), though traditionally attributing all three letters to one author – John, the son of Zebedee, was the traditional choice – however modern scholarship considers all three letters independent works written later than its source text – something no longer accepted by tradition.
These letters address deceivers and false teachers who seek to cause division among Jesus’ followers. They emphasize the need for believers to live truthfully and love one another sacrificially. Additionally, the letters advise believers to welcome faithful missionaries while rejecting those teaching false doctrines; finally, they caution believers not to believe gnostic teaching that denies Christ as both God and man; this would constitute antichrist teaching, which ultimately leads to fellowship with Satan.
Typically, John’s letters echo his gospel’s emphasis on light and love. They also warn against greed for wealth, pride, and power and encourage believers to live a life that demonstrates purity and truthfulness. Further, they caution that any believer who does not share Christ’s sufferings does not belong to Him.
Additionally, these letters present an overview of critical theological concepts such as high Christology, death and glorification of Jesus, the Paraclete-Spirit as a teacher, and the significance of prophecies to salvation history. Furthermore, these works constitute some of the earliest works dealing with eschatology, although likely written independently as part of a debate on its interpretation in relation to the Gospel interpretation.
The first letter is directed toward early Christians attending house churches in Asia and Rome; it encourages them to be wary of false prophets, to test the spirits, and not associate with evildoers or slanderers. It warns them against associating with any who preach a different message or create anything that exalts itself above Christ’s cross. Meanwhile, letters two and three address broader groups, including Asia and Rome, and encourage them to welcome those who teach the truth and love their neighboring Christians while discouraging any associates that preach a different message or make idols out of anything that exalts itself above Christ’s cross.
4. The Letters of Peter
The Letters of John are three epistles (letters), written sometime around 100 CE and commonly attributed to St. John, son of Zebedee and disciple of Jesus. These letters stand out for their emphasis on true fellowship and deep concern for spiritual purity, with tradition also ascribing authorship of these writings to the Gospel of John and Revelation, respectively.
The First Epistle of John was likely written to a church where false teachings had caused division among its members, leading them to seek refuge elsewhere. It attacks heretics as antichrists, condemns their denial of Christ’s incarnation, and advises believers not to follow them.
Contrary to other epistles, John’s First Letter does not provide a treatise on Christian doctrine; its central ideas consist of encouraging readers to love one another and discouraging those following Diotrephes’ teachings (whom John refers to as his “deceitful brother”).
Scholars remain divided as to whether or not 3 John was written directly for one congregation or, more generally, though many see it as being addressed to multiple audiences. One convincing theory suggests it was written as a response to Gnostic teaching, which claimed exclusive knowledge of God, something the writer found offensive and rejected outright as being heretical. As in 2 and 3 John, 3 John serves both to warn against heretics while offering encouragement in faith and loyalty.
The third letter is an informal note directed towards Gaius, an acquaintance of Paul and presbyter of the Johannine community. It criticizes him for failing to welcome missionaries properly, while Diotrephes lies and puts himself first rather than acknowledges the authority of this writer. The writer refers to himself as an elder of the church and implies that gnostic teaching has become a severe threat. Bauckham makes a compelling case for isolating John as the author of his Letters; however, his arguments rest upon highly debatable readings of Papias and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. Unfortunately, he fails to see that this decision was highly unwise; neither himself nor his followers accepted Irenaeus and Polycarp’s testimony that they believed authorship lay with John himself.