Gospel Of John – Advance Study (Part 1)

The Study entitled ‘Advance Studies in the Gospel of John’ is designed to minor on a verse by verse exegesis and to major on doctrinal truths found in the book’s passages. We will proceed in a verse by verse (or passage by passage) commentary, but will spend the majority of our time focusing on the ‘doctrine’ presented therein.

Some have called the Gospel of John the greatest book in the world. More copies of this book have been printed than any other book of the Bible. Thousands of people have come to know the Lord through reading John’s gospel. The most familiar and famous verse of Scripture is found in this book: JOHN 3:16. The Gospel of John is so wonderfully simple and so clearly reveals how a person can have eternal life.  Because of this, when people ask where they should begin reading the Bible they should be told to start with John.  On the other hand, John’s gospel is so deep and rich with truth that the oldest believer will not grow tired of reading its pages. (Middletown Bible Church)


In the strict sense of the term, the Fourth Gospel’s [authorship] is anonymous. No name of its author is given in the text. This is not surprising because a Gospel differs in literary form from an epistle or letter. The letters of Paul each begin with his name, which was the normal custom of letter writers in the ancient world. None of the human authors of the four Gospels identified himself by name. But that does not mean one cannot know who the authors were. An author may indirectly reveal himself within the writing, or his work may be well known in tradition as coming from him.

(Bible Knowledge Commentary)

Early tradition is almost unanimous that “John” wrote the Fourth Gospel. The Gospel itself claims to come from an eyewitness (19:35), whom the internal evidence suggests is the “beloved disciple,” whose role best fits John, son of Zebedee, in the other Gospels.

John 19:35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.

Archaeological discoveries since Westcott have further demonstrated the appropriateness of the Fourth Gospel’s traditions to a Palestinian Jewish milieu — that is, the place where both Jesus and John had lived.

(IVP Bible Background Commentary)

The external evidence is the traditional ascription of authorship which has been well known in the church. Polycarp ( ca. A.D. 69 – ca. A.D. 155) spoke of his contact with John. Irenaeus ( ca. 130 – ca. 200), the bishop of Lyons, heard Polycarp and testified that “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, had himself published a Gospel during his residence in Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies 3. 1 ). Polycrates, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and other later fathers support this tradition. Eusebius was specific that Matthew and John of the apostles wrote the two Gospels which bear their specific names (The Ecclesiastical History 3. 24. 3-8 ). (Bible Knowledge Commentary)

The two strongest objections to John’s authorship of this Gospel are its date and its differences from the other extant Gospels. The argument based on date objects that the son of Zebedee would have been in his eighties or nineties when the Gospel was written [i.e. if he was 30 when Jesus was alive, then he would have been about 90 when this was written].

The other objection, based on differences from Matthew, Mark and Luke, is more persuasive but would lose most of its force if John represents an independent tradition or witness to Jesus, writing in his own style. (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

Over the last 150 years Biblical criticism (liberalism) has soared and the vast majority of so-called theologians regard in question the canonicity of the Gospel of John. However, in recent years, with new discoveries from ancient documents (i.e. manuscript “52” by C.H. Roberts, dated at 150 A.D.), this fourth gospel is returning as a legitimate source for information about Jesus’ life and ministry.

The authorship is still quite debatable in those circles, though. Other than the apostle John, choices for its authorship include: John of Jerusalem, John Mark, John the Elder, or Lazarus.

(summarized from W. Hall Harris III)


John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

John’s theme is Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God. His book deals with the signs Christ gave during His ministry, signs that prove His deity. These signs were seen by dependable witnesses (His disciples and others) and therefore are trustworthy. John wants men to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and receive new life through His name. (Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament)

The key word in the Fourth Gospel is “believe.” The verb “believe” (pisteuo) occurs 98 times. (Church of the Servant King)

The Fourth Gospel stands as a monumental literary work of incredible genius in its own right. Any Bible student who has taken more than a superficial glance at John’s Gospel realizes it is filled with language, metaphor, and imagery which grips the readers and transports him or her to the world of the Evangelist. At the same time the text engages the reader with a subtle pressure to adopt the viewpoint of the Evangelist about who Jesus is, forcing the reader to see the decision for or against Jesus Christ as an either/or which ultimately determines one’s eternal destiny. As the characters in the narrative choose to follow Jesus Christ and thus choose eternal life (like the Samaritan woman and the royal official from Capernaum in chapter 4 and the man born blind in chapter 9), or reject him and choose eternal darkness (like the obtuse paralytic in chapter 5 or the Pharisees at the end of chapter 9), so the reader of the Gospel is also drawn to make this incalculable choice. (W. Hall Harris III)

Date of Writing

Most conservative scholars date this Gospel around A.D. 85 to 95. If the Gospel were written before the end of the first century, or even by A.D. 85, it would have been read by men only one generation removed from the contemporaries of Jesus. Therefore, it could have been verified or contested by those who had authentic information concerning the Fourth Gospel’s contents and author.

Place of Writing

Tradition holds that John wrote from Ephesus, where he had settled after leaving Palestine subsequent to the war of 66-70. Ephesus was a large cosmopolitan center of the ancient world, where the cultures of East and West mingled. The apostle Paul previously had founded an active church in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20), having spent more than two years there, during which time he evangelized most of the province of Asia (v. 10).


The intended recipients of John’s Gospel are not clearly identified. However, based upon the writer’s habit of explaining Jewish usages, translating Jewish names, and locating Palestinian sites, it would appear that he was probably writing for a Gentile church outside Palestine.

It is very probable that the primary recipients were Gentile Christians who were beset by persecution from unbelievers and who were facing heretical teaching concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. Because of the rather defensive doctrinal position it takes, it may well have been written to combat the rising tide of Cerinthianism, which threatened the theological foundation of the church. “According to Irenaeus, Cerinthus was a teacher who contended that Jesus was merely a human personality who was possessed by the Christ-spirit at his baptism and who relinquished this spirit on the cross” (Against Heresies 1.26.2).

Other heresies in the early days of the church with which John contended included Gnosticism and a related heresy called Doceticism. In brief, Gnosticism was based upon the premise that matter is evil and spirit is good, thus how could a truly good God create matter? How could the divine take on human flesh? The dualistic views of Gnosticism were expressed in Doceticism which claimed that Jesus did not have a physical body, therefore He did not suffer pain and death on the Cross. Thus, Gnosticism and Doceticism challenged the humanity of Jesus. John deals with these hereies more fully in 1 John.

(Church of the Servant King)

Comparison to the Synoptic Gospels

[It is important] to understand that the gospels are not really biographies so much as they are thematic portraits of Jesus. They really give us portraits that come out of the same Person from different angles. It’s like looking at a gem from different perspectives and you’re looking through the various prisms of that one gem and the total is greater than the sum of the parts. When we put these four gospels together we see various aspects of our Lord’s life.


[The Gospel of John] truly can be regarded as a supplement to the three synoptic gospels. Synoptic comes from two Greek words, sune which means ‘together’ and optikos which means ‘to see’. So it’s a way of ‘seeing together’. The synoptic gospels see through one point of view together. The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are supplemented by this fourth gospel that gives us an account of Jesus’ life and ministry from a totally different perspective.

(Ken Boa)

Matthew pictures Christ as the King of the Jews.

Mark shows Christ as the Servant, and writes for the Romans.

Luke views Christ as the Son of Man, writing for the Greeks.

John presents Christ as the Son of God, and writes for the whole world.

While the first three Gospels deal primarily with the events in Christ’s life, John deals with the spiritual meanings of these events. He goes deeper and presents truths that are not emphasized in the other Gospels. For example, all four Gospels record the feeding of the 5,000, but only John gives the great sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6) that explains the meaning of the miracle. This is why John uses the word “sign” instead of “miracle,” for a “sign” is a miracle that carries a message with it. (Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament)

In Matthew only 42% of the material is unique to Matthew. In Luke only 59% is unique to Luke. In Mark only 7% is unique to Mark. In other words only 7% of the verses in Mark are found only in Mark. John’s material by contrast contains 92% of material not to be found in the other three gospels. We clearly have only an 8% overlap here.

John is a subtle writer. His Greek is so simple. He uses the vocabulary of a child. That’s why if you ever take New Testament Greek, you’ll start with John. You won’t start with Luke or Paul. Their sentence structure is quite complex. Their vocabulary is more sophisticate. John’s Greek is very simple. It’s an easy one to translate.

(Ken Boa)