For an introduction to this series, click here.
April 10, 2007
John's Gospel is probably the most beloved of the four Gospels. John is probably easier to read than any of the other Gospels, which is why his Gospel is often recommended for young Christians wanting to learn the basics of the faith.
The most significant fact to remember about the book of John is that it was written much later than the other three Gospels, 20-30 years later. When Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote, the church was still very young, and the most important thing was to get the facts out about Jesus. But by the time John wrote, the church was more mature, more diversified, and there were doctrinal errors to confront.
The most serious error was Gnosticism, the idea that everything physical in the world is evil, and that everything spiritual is good. This led many to believe that Jesus was only a spiritual being, and did not possess a physical body. This is the significance of 1:14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." This fact also sheds a lot of light on a couple of passages in I John. In I John 1:1, John mentions that his hands touched Jesus. In I John 4:2 we find, "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." In fact, if you read I John and John's Gospel together, you will see that they are very complimentary. I will probably refer to I John a few times as we go through John's Gospel.
Since John is writing at a later date and is confronting evil teachings in the church, he editorializes more than any other Gospel writer. By editorializing, I mean that he explains what is going on. For example, at one point many people were trying to make Jesus become a king, and John writes: "But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (2:24-25, ESV) Now as a journalist, I should not editorialize - meaning I should not inject my opinion or tell my readers what to think. But as an apostle writing under the inspiration of God, John had every right to editorialize, and did so effectively. But the point is, you will never read Matthew, Mark or Luke telling you what Jesus is thinking or stating a fact about Jesus that has nothing to do with the narrative. But John does it all the time. John's Gospel reads more like an epistle than any of the other three Gospels. John starts with an introduction and closes with a conclusion that we will discuss more later. The other Gospels jump right into the story, with the exception of Matthew's genealogy, and just end abruptly.
This is not to say that John is any more or less inspired or anything like that; it is just different, and it is important that you understand the difference and why John wrote the way that he did. It was not by accident.