Intro to the Gospel of John

As we move into our study of the Gospel According to John, we must first lay some necessary groundwork. In order to properly understand and apply the Bible to our lives, we must first understand what it means. Studying the Bible isn’t simply opening it up randomly and praying for interpretation from the Spirit. It requires careful reading and study. This doesn’t mean that we have to be Biblical scholars to understand the Word, but we must be sure not to take it out of context or project our own desires and wants into it. God spoke to us through His word by the Holy Spirit through people in a specific time and place to a specific people. The Spirit now speaks to us through those writings and opens our hearts to understand and apply the truths contained therein. This isn’t a random exercise, it’s a thoughtful, prayerful journey we take when reading our Bibles and praying. Let’s cover some basics of the book of John so that we can best apply and engage the Bible in a way that’s meaningful and helpful.

Author and Date

Although he is never explicitly named in the book itself, the majority of biblical and traditional evidence points to John the Apostle as the author of the gospel bearing his name. Irenaeus, an early church father and disciple of Polycarp (who was a disciple of John) testified that John wrote his gospel while he was in Ephesus. In addition to Irenaeus’ testimony, all the other church fathers affirmed that John was the author of this book. The internal evidence within the gospel itself reinforces these conclusions as well. Although the synoptic gospels name John the apostle by name over 20 times, the book of John never mentions him by name; instead he is referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The anonymity of the author reinforces the argument that the author must have been widely known as John for only someone widely known and trusted could have authored such an account. Reading through the book we can see that the author must have been an eyewitness to the events and must have been present with Jesus in many of the intimate situations portrayed in the gospel. We can conclude from reading through chapters 20-21 of John that John the Apostle must have been the author. John most likely wrote his gospel between 80-90 AD. Liberal scholars and critics will attempt to date the gospel in the late second century in an effort to discredit the account written, however, the evidence, both internal and external point to a late first century date.

Romans 5:1-5

The structure of the book of John is a tougher task to pin down than authorship. John has consistent themes running throughout his book and it is not easily broken into chunks. When reading through the Bible we must be aware of what genre of literature we are reading. We don’t read the letter to the Romans in the same way that we read the Proverbs much in the same way that we don’t read a poetry book like we read a newspaper. The type of literature we are reading dictates how we interpret it. The gospel according to John is primarily narrative. When reading through the book we need to be looking at wide themes and not get bogged down in the weeds in single verses without looking at the broader context and flow of the book itself.

My preferred view of the breakdown of the structure of the book of John is found in D.A. Carson’s commentary on the book of John.

  • The Prologue (1:1–18)
  • Jesus’ Self-Disclosure in Word and Deed (1:19–10:42)
  • Transition: Life and Death, King and Suffering Servant (11:1–12:50)
  • Jesus’ Self-Disclosure in His Cross and Exaltation (13:1–20:31)
  • Epilogue (21:1—25)

John’s gospel is chock full of language contrasting two absolutes: light and darkness, life and death, Spirit or Flesh, above and below, those who practice righteousness and those who practice evil, those who are blind and those who can see, etc. These larger themes are present throughout the narrative and they point to the vital need to believe in Jesus.

Audience and Purpose

Leon Morris rightly states that “John says plainly that he is out to show Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. And he does this not in order to give his readers some interesting new information but in order that he may bring them to a place of faith and accordingly to new life in Christ’s name.” Although there is much debate over the exact purpose of John’s gospel, the majority of the evidence (and church history) points to it being an evangelistic gospel written primarily to those in the Jewish Diaspora. John’s language and his assumptions of the knowledge level of his readers lead us to believe that he was writing to convince those who knew the Messiah was coming but weren’t convinced that it was Jesus of Nazareth.

John MacArthur points out the Christocentric nature of the book. The book centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. “Signs,” “believe,” and “life” are all contained in 20:30-31 and throughout the book. They point to salvation through Jesus. MacArthur makes the observation that the Gospel of John focuses on Jesus as the Word, the Messiah, and Son of God who brings the gift of salvation to all mankind who either accept or reject the offer of salvation.

2 Elements

There are two elements that D.A. Carson points out in his commentary on the book of John. He mentions that John illustrates 1) Why and how to become a Christian and 2) What it means to become a Christian. As he is moving through his gospel, he is illustrating to the Jews (and, by extension, to us) why they should become followers of Christ as the Messiah and how that is made possible. He shows this by highlighting the divinity of Christ in the many signs and “I AM” statements, and he points to the consequences of those who reject the call to salvation through belief in Christ. John also explains what it means to be a Christian. He shows the benefits of the Spirit and the sacrifice required in order to follow Him. This message is meaningful for us today as well. We must understand what it means to be a believer and also how and why that is possible. Christ’s work on the cross was loving and gracious, we must embrace it and embrace a life of following Him.