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John Collected Notes

Theology Notes > The Gospels of Matthew and John Notes

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John General important questions How human or divine is John's Jesus?
What can we know of John's community? Where/when was the gospel composed?
How far can we be sure the Johannine community had links with the Qumran sects?
What links appear to exist between John's portrayal of Jesus and the Gnostic redeemer myths?
What makes John's gospel different from the synoptics?
Background to the Gospel Written prior to 125AD (Papyrus 52), presumably around 90-100AD. Mentioned by Justin Martyr, who quotes 3.3-5 (unless it was a separate oral tradition). Mentioned by Irenaeus, who was sure John the Evangelist wrote the Gospel in Ephesus. Dead Sea Scrolls appear to show that John's linguistic dualisms and particular expressions are more closely related to Jewish monasticism than a Hellenistic environment. Possibly constructed from separate sources e.g. the 'signs source' that is the reason for the enumeration in

2.11 and 4.54, and a sayings source. Modern study of John has been involved with 'myth', and the notion of 'demythologising' Biblical texts to assess their historical reliability. Lindars: the language and style are consistent, thus probably one author, but there are abrupt transitions and disruptions, thus likely not all written at once. Brown: five layers of tradition, reflecting the development of the Johannine community. These comprise an independent, non-synoptic tradition regarding Jesus (although clearly not just another angle on his 'life and works', but a completely different style), the committing of this tradition to writing, and a number of revisions of this written Gospel. John's Gospel is 'the keystone to the arch of the early Church'?
The Johannine community had 'sectarian tendencies', but hoped ultimately for unity with Christians: was not a backwater sect. Structurally, the FG consists of four major sections:

1. the prologue (1.1-18), which establishes and announces the major themes of the gospel

2. the Book of Signs (1.19-12.50), which might have originally ended with 20.30-31, and which dramatises the proposition in the prologue that 'the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot accept it' (1.5).

3. the Book of Glory (13.1-20.31) which consists in two parts itself: the revelation by Jesus to his disciples through his teaching (13.1-17.26) and the manifestation of Jesus' glory and vindication of his teaching through his death (18.1-20.31).

4. the appendix (21.1-25), which recounts Peter's restoration after his betrayal, and a guide to the interpretation of the Beloved Disciple's death. The FG is not interested in linear plot development as the synoptic gospels are - rather the gospel 'circles' around the figure of Jesus, describing first the outer circle of figures that surround Jesus, and then the inner, culminating in the revelation and vindication of the figure of Jesus himself. What is the goal/purpose of the FG?

1. Demonstrating Jesus' Messianic credentials? (5.39-47; 7.21-52; 13-37-50)

2. Apologetic function, asserting Jesus' superiority over John the Baptist? (1.6-8, 15, 19-28; 5.33)

3. Conversion/persuasion mission? (1.9, 41; 4.21-26; 7.35; 10.16; 11.52) Ultimately, it is unlikely a document of such rich and varied composition can be reduced to a single function - even the FG's own stated intention at 20.30-31 is not entirely unambiguous - does 'that you may believe' mean reinforcement of faith, or conversion to faith? The tone of the gospel generally suggests a work of pastoral concern for the converted, not a document for proselytism.

Rensberger: the nature of the gospel as full of haunting profundities and barely-graspable meanings means that John's gospel, more than any other, is interpreted in light of its ideas above anything else. The abstract nature of the gospel's language easily leads one to work only in relation to seeking out the basic principles from which these abstractions come, which, while crucial to understanding the gospel fully, can obscure recognition of other social or historical influences behind the gospel. Some basic clashes with Mark - such as regarding the Temple cleansing in the chronology of Jesus' ministry - have led to the Synoptics being considered more historically accurate than John (ultimately it must be conceded that John is not a viable source of historical knowledge in the same way as the Synoptics can be), but this is not the main problem, when placed next to Jesus' teachings and the gospels' Christology as presented in the synoptics and in John. In John, short sayings and parables are replaced, and the focus shifts to Jesus' relationship with and to God, rather than being on the Kingdom of God, or on ethics. Increasingly unlikely that the apostle John, son of Zebedee, was the author. For some, Paul seems the natural bridge between Jesus and John, but it seems increasingly more likely that it was the Qumran sects that influenced John, and there seems less need to attempt to conclude that the Johannine author had sustained contact with Gnostics or Hellenists. John is also now considered NOT to have been influenced by the Synoptics, but by independent but related traditions. Lindars: the Gospel is arranged by Jewish feasts, by which Jesus is repeatedly drawn back to Jerusalem - an attempt to give form to otherwise shapeless source material?

1. John had collections of writings that closely paralleled the sources of the synoptics, if not the synoptics themselves, e.g. Jn 6.1-21 has affinities with Mk 6 and Mk 8, but is not dependent upon them.

2. Synoptic-style sayings are in fact more important to the gospel than previously thought: John's 'verily, verily, I say to you' clauses almost always precede the use of a traditional saying, e.g. 1.51, 3.3, 5.19, 24, 6.32, 47, 8.51, 58(traditional?), 10.1, 12.24, 13.16(David parallel), 38, 14.12, 16.23. These hint at the preservation of primitive sayings which are, for the most part, authentic tradition of the words of Jesus. John is the outcome of a complicated process of composition and redaction. Lindars argues for less likelihood of a unified apostolic eyewitness at the inception of the gospel, but either way it is clear that the Johannine tradition and its development into written gospel is a process almost entirely independent within early Christian history, sharing almost nothing with the traditions that have produced the synoptic gospels. JL Martyn: John was written late-1 st century in a community of Jewish Christians being slowly expelled from the Jewish community by means of the benediction against heresies recently introduced into the synagogue liturgy. John's gospel was written for those who were faced with this decision and explores the communal and theological dimension of it by means of a story wherein the stories about Jesus reflect the experience and convictions of the Johannine church.

Differences between John and the Synoptics Where Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus' human origin through Mary and Joseph. John's prologue gives an account of Jesus' divine origin as the logos or 'word'. The geography of the Synoptics is vastly different to that of John, who has Jesus moving back and forth between Galilee and Judea, visiting Jerusalem a number of times before the climactic 'passion' narrative - in the Synoptic tradition, Jesus makes just one, fatal visit to Jerusalem. In John, Jesus' ministry lasts for three years to the Synoptics' one, and is based in Judea, rather than Galilee, as in the Synoptics. In the FG, Jesus' ministry is inextricably connected to the observance of the pilgrimage feasts of Judaism. The timing of Jesus' death is different too, since in the FG Christ is crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, and so the last supper is no longer a Passover meal.

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