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How the Gospel of John Differs From the Style of the Synoptic Gospels

The Gospel of John, the last of the four gospels in the Bible, is a radical departure from the simple style of the synoptic gospels. It is the only one that does not use parables as a way of showing how Jesus taught, and is the only account of several events, including the raising of Lazarus and Jesus turning water into wine. While essentially the gospel is written anonymously, many scholars believe that it was written by the apostle John sometime between the years 85 and 95 CE in Ephesus. The basic story is that of a testimonial of one of the Apostles and his version of Jesus’ ministry. It begins by telling of the divine origins of the birth of Jesus, then goes on to prove that He is the Son of God because of the miracles he performs and finally describes Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Of course the most prominent part of the Gospel are the miracles. A number of the miracles that are described in John are not mentioned at all in the other three Gospels. For example, the aforementioned raising of Lazarus. In this miracle, Jesus goes to the tomb of one of his followers who was stoned to death. Once he sees that Lazarus has been entombed for four days, he has the stone removed from the entrance to the cave and commands “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). This is one of the most famous miracles, but it only appears in the one Gospel. Another example of a very well known miracle that is only present in John is his ability to turn water into wine at the wedding at Cana. This is a story that tells how Jesus was able to take not only water, but also inferior wine and turn them into quality wine. This is also a very interesting passage because in it, Jesus is promoting alcohol use and being intoxicated at a party.

Other major issues in the Gospel include a somewhat first hand account of Jesus’ ministry. With phrases like “We beheld His glory” (1:14) and knowing the number of pots at the wedding at Cana (Malick, 1996), it is well supported that this is an eyewitness account of the event, even though some scholars place the authorship of John as late as 270 BCE. Most of the evidence that points to the “eyewitness account” theory are minor details that would be left out had the author not actually been there. Such details include specific numbers (six water jars [2:6], 100 miles [6:19], 153 fish [21:11] [Malick, 1996]) and names that would normally have been forgotten such as Nicodemus, Lazarus (as can be noted from the lack of his story in the synoptic gospels) and Beth-zatha.

It is also interesting to note that even though John makes it very clear that the author is Jewish, the Gospel is written primarily for a Greek audience. Because of his knowledge of the Old Testament, which he continually quotes, his understanding of Jewish ritual and culture and he knew and understood the prophesy of the coming Messiah, there is no doubt that either John was Jewish himself or he studied Judaism very well. However, the lack of concern for proving the prophecies set down in the Book of Isaiah supports evidence that this was not a testimony to a Jewish audience. Throughout the gospel, Jesus is shown as being both fully God and fully human, a concept that is more synonymous with Greek culture. Also, the very beginning of John states that Jesus was with God since the creation: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1:2-3). This puts Jesus as a very cosmic and powerful being as opposed to the suffering servant that he is portrayed as being in the synoptic gospels. It is also interesting to note that the crucifixion is described in such a way so as to be appealing to a Greek audience. The notion of the saviour being sentenced to a criminal’s death is less than inviting to an audience that believes that all gods are immortal. Not only that, but also the idea that the person could die is enough to turn away a lot of people. The way that Jesus finally dies is quite clearly different from the synoptic gospels. In those, Jesus is portrayed as a man who is the Son of God, but a man none-the-less. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is shown as shouting in Aramaic “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 28:45) which is a very human cry to make. It is the cry of someone who is in pain, who is scared, who is unhappy with where he is in life. On the other hand, in John, Jesus is shown as not feeling pain, and also doing things specifically to meet the scriptures like telling the Roman soldier at his crucifixion that he was thirsty. He then drinks quietly the sour wine given to him, and then dies. This is a far cry from the screaming suffering servant of the other gospels.

Another major point that is only found in John is the action of piercing Jesus’ side after his death. According to the gospel, the soldiers go around to the various bodies hanging on crosses and proceed to break their legs and remove their bodies. However, when they get to Jesus’ body and they find that he was already dead, one of the soldiers pierces his side with his spear. Instead of nothing happening, “blood and water came out” (John 19:34). Whether this is in a slow dribble or a burst is not clear. However, it is stated that this occurred so that the prophecy might be fulfilled, so as to prove that Jesus was the messiah. It is also interesting to note that verse 35 is in parentheses and is a statement saying that the person who saw the incident has testified to its truth, almost as a way of further trying to prove that the events were real.

Of the four gospels, John is by far the most poetically written and the most distinct in terms of style, narrative and approach. While there are varying theories about who wrote it and when, it can be agreed on that the Gospel of John was written for not only a very different audience than the synoptic gospels, but also written independently of them. This can be seen in the basic language that it is written in, and can also be seen because there is no mention anywhere of the parables, Jesus’ primary teaching method according to the synoptic gospels. Instead, John makes use of miracles and uses examples from Jesus’ ministry to demonstrate his power and divinity. He uses his power over nature to raise people from the dead, heal a blind man and feed 5000 people with the physical amount of food for only a few.

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