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The Gospel of John: A whistle-stop tour

Author: Bible Society, 8 August 2019

John's Gospel is the odd one out. The others – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are called the 'synoptics', from the Greek meaning 'with the same eyes' – they share many of the same stories and sometimes even tell them in the same words. John is different. There are long passages where Jesus speaks in the first person, like chapters 14 to 17. The order of events around his betrayal and crucifixion appears to be different.

But John doesn't contradict the other Gospels – he complements them. Sometimes it's that he uses different sources, while sometimes he arranges his material to highlight different truths.

Some of the most striking and beautiful stories in the whole of the Gospels are in John, like the moment Mary sees him in the garden after his resurrection (20.10–18) and the story of Doubting Thomas (20.24–30). One of the best-known, the story of the woman taken in the act of adultery (7.53–8.11) is not in the original manuscripts at all, though many believe it is a genuine 'Jesus story'.

John arranges his Gospel in sevens. Most scholars see seven 'signs' – changing water into wine (2.1–11), the healing at Capernaum (4.46-54), the healing at Bethesda (5.1–15), feeding the 5,000 (6.1–14), walking on water (6.16–24), healing the man blind from birth (9.1–7), and the raising of Lazarus (11.1–45).

The 'I am' sayings are:

  • 'I am the bread that gives life! (6.35)
  • 'I am the light for the world' (8.12)
  • 'I am the gate' (10.9)
  • 'I am the good shepherd' (10.11)
  • 'I am the one who raises the dead to life!' (11.25)
  • 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' (14.6)
  • 'I am the true vine' (15.1)

The book begins with the most profound meditation on the divine nature of Christ in the whole of Scripture: 'In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God...' (1.1). It ends with an expression of wonder at his earthly ministry: 'Jesus did many other things. If they were all written in books, I don’t suppose there would be room enough in the whole world for all the books' (21.25).

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