In this opening lesson (15 minutes), we will consider the nature of John's gospel, and then probe the important prologue (1:1-18), which sets the stage for the entire gospel.

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The Gospel of John: Introduction

  • John's is the most universal focus of the four gospels.
    • Mark—the Roman world. Caesar is not the true emperor—Jesus is!
    • Matt—Jews, though ends with command to launch Gentile mission. Jesus is Messiah.
    • Luke—the entire Gentile world. Jesus as ideal human, bringing the message from Galilee to Jerusalem. (And in Acts, from Jerusalem to Rome -- omitting Egypt, parts of Syria, and much more.)
    • Jesus is savior of the whole world, as the villagers of Sychar proclaim (John 4).
  • 90% of John’s material is unique, and mainly set in Jerusalem, as opposed to Galilee. 
  • Further, there are numerous locations in John not found in the synoptics: Aenon near Salim, Bethany beyond the Jordan, Cana, Ephraim, Gabbatha, the Garden where Jesus’ tomb was located, the House of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jacob’s Well, Joseph’s field, Mount Gerizim, Pool of Siloam, Pools of Bethesda, Solomon’s Portico, Sychar, Tiberias, Tomb of Lazarus, and the Wadi Kidron.
  • Unlike the Synoptics, John is not structured around the Caesarea-Jerusalem trek, following Peter’s confession (Mark 8).
  • Antitheses: simple yet effective use of paired opposites, combined with physical and spiritual levels (and frequent misunderstanding), like light & darkness, life & death, heaven & earth, and above & below.
  • John's gospel is a highly theological gospel, although it is easy to understand because of the large amount of narrative and simple themes.
  • Jesus
    • John heavily emphasizes Jesus’ incarnation
    • Humanity: fatigue 4:6; anguish 12:27, 13:21; weeping 11:33-35; irritation 2:4; friends 11:11.
    • Same in letters of John
  • The structure of John
    • Multiple Passover visits, thus a ministry spanning 3 years
    • Triple-seven:  7 signs, 7 confessions, 7 I AM statements.
  • Purpose -- 20:30-31 is the author's statement of purpose.
  • For more, see NT chapter notes, esp. the Advanced section (c. 400 pages)
  • In this series, we will be reading the NRSV.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

  • The opening of John clearly harks back to Genesis 1:1. It is also nearly identical to 1 John 1:1 -- especially when you read both passages in the Greek.
  • In the beginning was the logos: word, saying, message, talk, conversation, question, preaching, account, value, reason, grounds, charge, matter, or thing
    • The alpha point of creation involves reason, not just feeling; logic, not just sensation. Just as "in the beginning," God is again going to speak, this time through his Son.
    • The beginning point for understanding of God, including communication of the word of God to those who do not know him, is reason, words, not mystical (wordless) experience.
  • The complete union of God and man in one being -- one God, two natures -- was the conclusion of hundreds of years of discussion among Christian leaders and intellectuals from the 2nd to 4th centuries.
  • In verse 1 theós is rendered God -- just as it is every other time it appears in John 1.
    • Groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong when they claim that the word means "a god," simply because it is lacking the definite article.
    • This is a common construction in NT Greek.
    • The Jewish ear would be offended if John’s gospel taught there was a second god. Jesus wasn't god, but God (in the flesh, v.14).
  • The Word was involved in the creation itself (v.3). See also Colossians 1:15ff.
  • In the Word was life (v.4). This is not biological life, but spiritual life, as opposed to darkness (v.5).
  • The darkness did not overcome, or understand. But how did mankind react to light?

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 

  • John the Baptist – all 4 gospels record his ministry before Jesus, preparing the way. John is prophesied in Mal 3, Mal 4, and Isa 40.
  • John warned mankind, prepared the Jews, and testified to the light (v.6). This is John the Baptist, not John the apostle. He selflessly pointed people to Jesus (3:30). He did not want glory for himself or his own ministry.
  • We dare not preach ourselves (2 Cor 4:5) – trying to impress others with how together we are.
  • The light is not something divine within us – eastern or New Age concepts. Even the Quaker notion isn't too far removed from this misunderstanding.
  • The Word was the true light. See 8:12; 9:5. It refers to Jesus Christ.