Monthly Archives: March 2011

How John’s gospel differs from the synoptics

John the Evangelist, Russian icon from first q...

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The Gospel of John, I find, is far more accessible than I expected, yet every bit as profound.

Given the richly layered poetry of the familiar prologue—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God—I assumed the rest of the gospel would be complex. It is, but it also is simple. That is, much of it can be read at different levels of meaning. The evangelist tells a story, as do the writers of the synoptic gospels, and even a casual reader can follow the narrative. But many of the plot points are symbolic or have double meanings—earthly and spiritual.

And it’s a very different story than the other gospels. They can be compared to each other side by side, but not to John.

So what’s so different? Instructor Gene Giuliano laid it out for us.

  • No temptation scene. Three Passover journeys, not just one. Emphasis on ministry in Jerusalem, not in Galilee. Only one use of the term “Kingdom of God.” The temple is cleared at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not the end.
  • No parables. Instead, John makes his point in lengthy discourses in solemn language. Jesus even has a farewell discourse.
  • No moral teachings, per se. John emphasizes only one commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
  • No exorcisms. No large crowds gathering and frequent cures. Instead John organizes his account on seven signs, from the marriage at Cana to the resurrection of Lazarus at Bethany.
  • Jesus, always, is in control. This is not the deeply human Suffering Servant of Mark, betrayed, anguished, unable to cure disbelievers in his hometown. John’s Jesus speaks calmly at the moment of death: Woman, behold your son. … I thirst … It is finished.

On a more profound level:

  • Jesus is pre-existent with the Father.
  • The future is now. The other evangelists speak of the second coming, the judgment. In John, all is realized. Judgment is now.
  • Everything reveals Jesus. It’s a “high christology,” emphasizing his divinity. In the other gospels, readers are led to an understanding of Jesus as Christ. In John, his identity is clear from the beginning, laid out in a series of “testimonies” by John the Baptist, his followers, and disciples: Lamb of God. Messiah. “The one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets.” Son of God. King of Israel.