I’ve been thinking for several weeks about where to go after my study of Ecclesiastes was finished. I’ve thought about several books, but this one is the one that keeps coming back to mind, and that draws me more all the time. So todays’s post is by way of introduction to the Gospel of John.
Of course we do not know what John looked like. We do know that he lived to be very old, and I like this portrait because it shows strength and determination:
I’ve referred to several of my favorite commentators, and here I present you with a summary of what I have learned:
He would also have been familiar with Palestine before the destruction of the temple in AD 70, and he would have been familiar with the Jewish way of life. John the Apostle does fit the description, but he is not the only one who does.
Early traditions help to identify the author as John. Irenaeus was a disciple of John’s disciple Polycarp. He is one of the earliest sources whose work is extant today to associate John with the fourth Gospel.
Finally, like the other Gospels, the title “According to John” (KATA IWANNHN) is found in the earliest manuscripts.
The story of the calling of John and his brother James is familiar even to children who have been brought up in Sunday school. Accompanied by their father Zebedee, they were preparing their nets in a boat when Jesus called them. Both James and John left the boat and their father to follow Jesus (Matt 4:18-22).
Jesus often took Peter, James, and John aside, setting them apart as an inner circle of disciples (13:23-24; 20:2-10; 21:2, 7, 20ff.). Not only is John counted among this select group, but he also refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved (13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20). He was not boasting. Rather, I believe that he had such a tender affection for Jesus that it was fully returned, and of course Jesus knew what John’s future would hold.
After the resurrection of Jesus, John continued to play an important role in the early church. Paul referred to Peter, James, and John as the pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9). John is found with Peter going to the temple when Peter healed the crippled man (Acts 3:1-11). As a result both men went before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1-23). Peter and John later traveled up to Samaria to confirm the work that was going on there (Acts 8:14-24).
The date and location are generally accepted to have been between a.d 90-100. Of course there is some dispute, as always, but in view of John’s own life span this seems to make the most sense. The location was most likely either Syria or Asia Minor. Irenaeus’ manuscripts tend to place it in Ephesus of Asia.
John 20:31 is the verse in which John himself tells his purpose: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Simply put, his purpose was to edify believers and reach others with the gospel.
The specific audience isn’t clearly stated, and truly this book has become a message to the entire world of the reality that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.