Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


9. John

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of John’s Gospel, followed by discussion of historical background, distinctive features, and major themes.

In terms of historical background, John’s Gospel is often thought to have been written in stages, with the earliest version produced by a “beloved disciple” of Jesus. The version we now possess, however, is thought to have been produced by later editors some time near the end of the first century. There is indecisive discussion among scholars concerning what sources the author or editors of John’s Gospel may have used, including the question of whether they were aware of the other New Testament Gospels.

Most of the material in John’s Gospel is unique, relaying stories about Jesus and words attributed to him that are not reported anywhere else. In general, John describes Jesus’s ministry as extending over a longer period of time and as having more of a concentration in and around Jerusalem than would be surmised from the other Gospels. Most notably, Jesus teaches in a very different style than he does in the other Gospels (philosophical discourses rather than parables and aphorisms) and the content of his teaching focuses much more heavily on his own role and identity.

John’s Gospel presents Jesus as the true revelation of God, the one whose words, deeds, and very person make God known. Without denying the humanity of Jesus, this Gospel emphasizes the divine identity of Christ as one who can actually be called God. The crucifixion of Jesus is presented as an exaltation by means of which God’s love is supremely revealed. Salvation is construed as an experience of abundant life that is eternally valid and meaningful—such life transcends death but can be experienced already in the present. Believers experience this life as a relationship of love in which they are mystically joined with Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, who is here called “the Paraclete.” Opposition to Christ and those who follow him comes from the world in general and from the Jews in particular, and such hostility necessitates the communal love that believers should have for one another.

Study Questions

  1. Who might the “beloved disciple” be? Explain why some scholars identify this figure with the apostle John and why other scholars think that identification is unlikely.

  2. Summarize in broad terms the process through which John’s Gospel might have been composed, citing evidence from the text that suggests it has undergone some type of editorial revision.

  3. List at least five stories from John’s Gospel that are not found in any other New Testament book and five traditions about Jesus common to the other Gospels that are not found in John. What do these comparisons tell us about John’s distinctive priorities?

  4. Describe three ways in which John presents Jesus as the true revelation of God.

  5. Explain how and why John presents Jesus’s death as a glorification and indicate how that presentation might correlate with his understanding of salvation as abundant life.

  6. Contrast the Gospel of John’s vision of life within the believing community with its vision of what believers will experience outside that community.

Video: Signs in John