Four Views of good News, Part Four
This is the fourth in a series of posts about the four gospels. Click below for the other three:
- Day 276: Matthew: The Most Jewish Gospel
- Day 277: Mark: The Most Roman Gospel
- Day 278 Luke: The Most Gentile Gospel
If you read the gospels sequentially in the order they appear in the Christian Bible, you get to the fourth gospel, and immediately you know something is different. One of these things is not like the other. The stories are different. The chronology is different. The language is different.
Scholars call the Matthew, Mark, and Luke the Synoptic Gospels. Break down that word: syn— one, or together (think synchronized, synonymous) + optic, view.
One view. So if the first three are synoptic, then John is anoptic (ok, I just made that up). John is coming from another place. In fact, one analysis says that John omits about 90% of the material found in the other gospels.
Let’s review the matrix my New Testament professor gave us:
- Matthew: a Jew, writing to Jews, about the Jesus the Jewish Messiah
- Mark: a Roman, writing to Romans, about Jesus the perfect Son of Man.
- Luke: a Gentile writing to Gentiles about Jesus the Light to the Gentiles.
Now we have John: A disciple, writing to the disciples, about Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity.
In a 2018 article, Professor of Religion Bryan A Stewart does a much better job outlining the contribution of John’s gospel to Christian doctrine and theology than I ever could. I’ll summarize in this post, but you can click here for the full article (trust me, it’s worth it!) Here are the main points.
With God, Was God
St. Augustine wrote that “John spoke about the Lord’s divinity in a way that no one else ever did.” John begins with a stunning prologue:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God.”
John called Jesus God, establishing for all time his full divinity.
But John didn’t just say Christ was God. He also said he was with God. This got Christian theology two-thirds of the way toward the doctrine of the Trinity.
Tertullian of Carthage born in 155 AD, wrote: “There is one who exists from the beginning and another with whom he existed—one is the Word of God; the other is God. Of course the Word isGod, but only as the Son of God, not as the Father.”
There is no doubt in John’s gospel that Jesus is presented as God. It is not that He was misunderstood by His critics. He said it of Himself:
30 I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”John 10:30-38
Was God, Was Man
Although John clearly presents Jesus as fully God, he also presents Jesus as fully man. He is the word (logos) made flesh (sarx) and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This was a huge issue for the early church. One of the earliest Christian heresies was docetism, which taught that flesh was evil and therefore God could not have come in the flesh. Docetism held that Jesus only appeared to be human. All the gospel writers refuted this heresy, but none more clearly than John. In John’s gospel, Jesus got tired and thirsty (John 4:6-7; 19:28). He wept, and was deeply moved in his spirit (John 11:35). Even after the Resurrection, He had a corporeal body (John 20:27-28), one which still bore the wounds from the crucifixion. He ate breakfast with Peter (John 21:15).
Moreover, John also wrote the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John, which explicitly refuted docetism:
4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.1 John 4:1-3
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.2 John 7
Written for the Church?
One of the most interesting theories about why John is so different is that by the time John was written, Christianity was no longer being seen as a sect of Judaism. At some point, possibly as early as 73 AD, Christians were expelled from the synagogue as apostates. A curse on heretics, called the Birkat ha-Minim read,
May the Nazarenes (ha-naẓarim) and the sectarians (minim) perish as in a moment. Let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be written together with the righteous. You are praised, O Lord, who subdues the arrogant.
If the 73 AD date is accurate, this would have been well within John’s lifetime, who probably died around 90AD. This would explain why “the Jews” are portrayed as antagonists to Jesus more in John than in any of the Synoptics (of eighty-three references to “the Jews” in the Gospels, there are five in Matthew, six in Mark, five in Luke, and sixty-four in John. John has the long account of the man born blind put out of the synagogue in John 9. Notice the narrator’s parenthetical commentary:
22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus[b] to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)John 9:22
By the way, John also wrote Revelation. It’s hard not to see the echo of the Birkat Ha-Mimin in Revelation 3:5:
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
Beloved, no matter which gospel you read, the gospel is clear. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the perfect Son of Man. He is the Light to the Gentiles. And He is the holy Son of God. The gospels are four distinct views of one Good News!