Episco-Fact #46
May 14, 2017

The Gospel of John seems like a different Gospel. Who wrote it and why does it seem so different?

The Gospel of John, or the "Fourth Gospel" is different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels, meaning they "see the same"). It has a different chronology for Holy Week, there is no birth narrative, and Jesus takes multiple trips to Jerusalem, as opposed to one in the other Gospels.

Because it is so different, it becomes, "the other Gospel" in the cannon. Instead of having a year devoted to telling the Gospel the way John wants it to be told, the lectionary breaks it up into parts and inserts its stories into the years of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

It is, however part of a group of books and letters that appear to have a common perspective, possibly being written in one community of followers of Jesus who share a perspective of a more charismatic community with a simpler structure. It is also a community deeply affected by the eventual casting out of Jesus followers from synagogues, their home, at least for a time after the followers of Jesus were becoming the Church. That this community faced some sort of deep persecution would be borne out by visions and stories of the Book of Revelation. The Johanine Canon is The Gospel of John, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Letters of John, and the Book of Revelation.

One of the reasons that the community of John may have been "cast out" was their high Christology. Of all the Books of the New Testament, Jesus is most certainly portrayed as one with God in a way that is less certain in the Synoptics. There is the Logos hymn at the beginning of the Gospel (read on the Feast of the Nativity or the 1st Sunday after), the "I am" statements (using the same Greek words as used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures for God's Holy name), the book of signs where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and the book of glory where Jesus is raised to his throne upon the cross. All in all, the stories, except for the feeding of the five thousand do not quite match up with the Synoptic Gospels.

Who wrote the book? Traditionally, the Gospel is attributed to John, the brother of James and one of the sons of Zebedee. Whether that is true, there are hints in the Gospel that the founder of this community and the conveyor of the Gospel was a close disciple of Jesus, was present at the "last supper," was the disciple who got Peter into the courtyard of the High Priest for Jesus' hearing, and lived on past the death of Peter. A remarkable trajectory for a man and the community he founded, and without whom Western Christianity would quite different.


The Rev. David Lucey