This week we begin with a quick overview of the Gospel, before diving into the Prologue (John 1:1-18) that opens John.
Overview of the Gospel of John
- Completed somewhere between 75 and 100AD, John was written in several stages, with one final revision after the death of the witness whose testimony is the basis of the Gospel (John 20:30-31 & 21:20-25 notice how John has two endings).
- John is quite different from the other three Gospels in style and in content. While much of Matthew, Mark and Luke, occurs in and around Galilee (in the north of Israel) where Jesus lived and spent most of his ministry, most of John takes place in Judea (in the south) in and around the city of Jerusalem as Jesus comes and goes to the major Jewish religious festivals.
- The eye witness is named only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel itself (I’ll normally refer to him as the Beloved Disciple). Traditionally this person was identified as the Apostle, John son of Zebedee. Yet there are a number of reasons to question this identification, and John (Hebrew: Yohanan) was a very common Jewish name in the 1st Century AD (there are at least four significant Johns in the New Testament).
- The thing to take away from this, is that the Gospel of John is based on eyewitness testimony, even though it is often quite different from the other three Gospels. There is a lot in common between them (including events and sayings of Jesus), yet each sees some things the others do not see. We can see it as Matthew, Mark and Luke being on one side of the street, with John standing by himself on the other.
- The Gospel writer and his church were deeply Jewish, yet were profoundly alienated from the mainstream Jewish community at the time the Gospel was written. Passages like John 12:42 & 16:2 suggest that they had been forced out because of their beliefs about Jesus. Therefore we must be careful in how we interpret the term ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John. Most often this term refers to the Jewish leaders who were opposed to Jesus and then later to the early Jewish Christian movement, rather than the Jewish people as a whole.
- The Gospel of John is far from the only part of the New Testament to express the belief that Jesus existed with God prior to his human life. Read Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-5 and compare them to John.
- The Gospel of John draws on a number of different sources for his reflection on Jesus as the Word of God. Read Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 33:6 and Isaiah 55:10-11 which speak of God’s Word in Creation. What John has to say about the Word also applies to another key Old Testament concept – Wisdom. Read Proverbs 8:22-36 and if you have a Bible with the Apocrypha look up the Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-4 and Sirach 24:1-7 (you can also find these books online at https://www.biblegateway.com/). What do all these things suggest about who Jesus is?
- If all of that reading seems overwhelming, just read John by itself and take some time to reflect on how John invites us into the mystery of who Jesus is, and what God has done in him. Look especially at John 1:14. Consider how radical an idea this is and what it says about the kind of relationship God has with Creation, and with you and me.
- Finally, take note of the words and phrases John uses here (ie. light & darkness, truth, grace, glory, Son, Father, among others). The Prologue includes all of the major ideas that John will explore later in the Gospel. Watch for these words and phrases as we go on our way.
Finally, there is a new visual production of Gospels out called the Lumo Project. The full version of the Gospel of John in the both the King James and 2011 New International Version is available on Netflix. But Bible.com has a number of clips, including John 1:1-18. See it here: https://www.bible.com/en-GB/videos/250