With Dale Ratzlaff
Based upon the New American Standard Bible
This week we start a new study of the Gospel of John. I have been teaching John in our Sunday school class for a number of months and find the study very enlightening and filled with life-changing truth. Once again I find that until I teach something, I have not fully understood it. John is like a pool of water where children can wade without fear of drowning, yet at the same time it is so deep that theologians have never touched the bottom.
I invite you to come with me, and lets “swim” in the pool of Living Water!
Introduction to the Gospel of John
Who wrote the Gospel of John?
I agree with most conservative scholars who believe that the disciple John wrote the gospel bearing his name. The biblical evidence for this belief is strong:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!” Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written (Jn. 21:18-25).
The “we” in the underlined sentence above has caused some to believe that more than one person was involved with the writing of this Gospel. And doubtless this possibility is true. Paul, on several occasions, mentions the person that actually penned his letters. In the closing chapter of Romans, for example, we read,
I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord (Rom 16:22).
Apparently, Paul and probably other writers of the New Testament dictated their letters to a scribe who would then put pen to the parchment. Paul would personally sign the greeting near the end of the letter.
The greeting is in my own hand—Paul (1 Cor. 16:21).
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you (Col. 4:18-1:1).
Peter did the same thing.
To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! (1 Pet. 5:11-12).
Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) said John, who
…was urged on by his disciples, and divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel (http://www.thesacredpage.com/2011/12/did-john-write-fourth-gospel.html).
Clearly the unanimous testimony of the early Church was that John the Apostle wrote the book. Two of the clearest references are found in Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment.
Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.—Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4 (~180 A.D.) [Ibid.]
Regarding the Gospel of John, we have this record found in the Muratorian Canon.
… When his [John’s] fellow-disciples and bishops urged him, he said: Fast with me from today for three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us relate to one another. In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that, whilst all were to go over (it), John in his own name should write everything down.—Muratorian Canon (late 2nd cent.) [Ibid.]
When was the Gospel of John written?
Scholars have dated the gospel of John from shortly after the resurrection to about AD 100. Now some Evangelical scholars believe it was written about AD 68, before the destruction of Jerusalem(See Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 32-35). Evidence for an early writing date is below:
1. This gospel contains no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem or of the deaths of Peter and Paul.
2. John 5:2 states,
Now there is [present when this Gospel was written] in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes (Jn. 5:2).
This sentence leads some to conclude the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Otherwise the writer should have said, “there was…”
3. There are few if any quotes from the other gospels.
4. The Qumran community, which was destroyed AD 68-70, has many points of contact with the Gospel of John.
On the other hand, others feel that the Gospel was written about AD 80-85 (R.C. H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament, John, p. 20). Some of the reasons for the late date are:
1. The theology in John appears to be written to counter certain heresies that were coming into the church in the later years of the first century.
2. The first century bishop, Clement of Rome, testified that John’s Gospel was written after the other gospels (according to Eusebius’ History of the Church, Book 4, Chapter 14.7), and Irenaeus, the ancient Bishop of Lugdunum, also affirmed this dating to be the case (see Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 1). Later church fathers (like Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome) repeated this claim.
3. Some feel that John takes for granted that his readers have read the other gospels.
4. The other gospels do not seem to mention many of the incidents in the Gospel of John.
When all is said and done, we can at least say this much about the date of authorship: there is little definite information, but we can say that as far as our knowledge goes, there is nothing in John on this subject which demands a late date (Morris, p. 32).
Why was the Gospel of John written?
We have strong internal evidence about why John was written:
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (Jn. 20:30-31).
John is the most evangelistic of the gospels. His goal is to give evidence on which to build a saving faith. John records seven witnesses and seven signs that together make a solid foundation for faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world.
Several themes run through John including Jesus’ divinity and his real, sinless humanity.
Characteristics of the Gospel of John
As mentioned earlier, John’s gospel was said to be a “spiritual” gospel. Just what is meant by “spiritual” is unclear. However, John is very fond of using terms and words that have either a dual or symbolic meaning.
For example, John states,
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; (Jn. 20:30).
The events John chooses to record are written more for theological purposes than for an orderly account such as the writer of Luke does. For example, in John 3, Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who was “the teacher of Israel” and tells him he must be “born again”, meaning a new “spiritual birth” “from above”. Nicodemus does not immediately believe until near the end of Christ’s ministry. Then in John 4 we have the story of the Woman of Samaria at the other end of the social, religious spectrum. She is a hated Samaritan woman living in sin and seen by her own people as an outcast. She, however, drinks of the “living water” which results in a “spiritual harvest”. Jesus refuses the food his disciples went to get because he has “spiritual food”. So right at the beginning of the Gospel we see that God’s love and grace is available to both the learned Pharisee and to the sinful Woman of Samaria. This demonstrates the truth which is mentioned over and over again that whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, has eternal life.
The terminology of John is far different from that of Paul. John does not use “justify,” “redemption”, or “repentance”. Nevertheless one can safely assume that these concepts, while not stated, are included in John’s concept of “believe”.
John wants his readers to know they have eternal life and gives some of the most powerful statements of Jesus to make this clear:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (Jn. 5:24).
In the next lesson we will dive deeply into the first few verses of this wonderful Gospel. They are filled with amazing truth. This truth will not only place our feet on the solid Rock of Christ Jesus, they will also shine a bright light which will point out error that may be lurking in our belief system.
For this lesson carefully read John 5:24 above. Let the truths of this powerful statement of Jesus sink in. Note well that the believer does NOT come into judgment or condemnation; the Greek word means both. Rather he “has passed” out of death into life. “Has passed” is in the perfect tense meaning that the believer not only does not come into judgment, but has passed from the condemned family of Adam once and for all into the justified or saved family of Christ.
Father, help me to fully understand and experience the truth of John 5:24. I have heard the good news of Christ and I believe it, so help my faith to accept the reality of your promise.
In Jesus name.