Revealing the Gospels (Part four): The Gospel of John
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of only the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The last Gospel we studied as first-year theological students was John. Our professor, Dr. Moore, asked us to understand the word, “Word.” This was kind of a speed bump for first-year theological students, who had to read hundreds of pages and write many papers each week. To have to stop and study one word created a lot of consternation. This exercise was laborious but very important in understanding this Gospel. Once unlocked, the Gospel would flow and the essence of God was revealed. Just through the study of one word.
So, what did “Word” mean? It was a reference to Jesus. After much reading and deciphering of the ancient Greek word “logos”, most came to this conclusion. Others got there after being encouraged by our professor.
If you take out “Word” and replace it with “Jesus,” John 1:1 takes on a powerful new meaning: In the beginning, was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.
There is a lot to this first sentence of the Gospel of John. Notice the similarity to the first line of Genesis, “In the beginning….” This indicates that Jesus was not created but was there at the start. This is also remarkably similar to Jesus’s famous saying: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (Omega being the end and Alpha the beginning.) Then it says: “the Word was with God.” So, Jesus was there at the beginning as the creator. Finally, it says “the Word was God.” Jesus was part of the Holy Trinity from the start.
In a later verse in the opening chapter it says, “and the Word became flesh.” This tells us that Jesus descended to earth in human form. In these two sentences from John 1:1 and John [1:14], we are shown the essence of Jesus and his arrival on earth. These critical statements make the book of John a more philosophical Gospel than the first three.
John was written very late in the first century and perhaps even in the early second century. At the time of its writing, it is likely that the early Jewish Christians had separated from Judaism and were no longer a sect but an independent belief structure. Also at that time, Greek philosophy dominated the Roman Empire, and its influence is evident in the Gospel.
Who the author was is very much in debate. Tradition holds it was John—one of the twelve apostles. Scholars hold that this is unlikely. So, like the other three Gospels, John’s authorship is disputed.
The Gospel of John is sometimes called “the book of signs.” There are seven of these signs, or miracles, demonstrating Jesus’s power and authority. The first one occurs in John 2 when Jesus turns water into fine wine. The last sign is the resurrection.
The Gospel is also very specific about the Holy Spirit. For instance, in John [14:15]-17 it quotes Jesus as saying, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” While this is not the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned, it is a very complete theology of the purpose and residence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is humankind’s advocate and source of wisdom and resides within each of us.
Later in my studies, I began to become focused on the actual words of Jesus. Fortunately, you can get a copy of the Bible that print Jesus’s actual words in red. The book of John has far more red-lettered words than the other Gospels. With one of these Bibles, a wonderful Bible study is to read only the words of Jesus. This allows you to get a complete and accurate depiction of Jesus’s values.
Personally, I find John to be a wonderful book because of its intimate connection to Jesus and its many sayings that came directly from Jesus. But this book is so rich in the philosophy of Christianity that it is very accessible to different points of view. Some can read this book and have the Spirit give very different meanings. All different walks of life will see that Jesus is available to all.
So ends this four-part series on the Gospels. Perhaps starting with Mark, read all four consecutively, taking just fifteen minutes a day. Within a month you will have read them all and will have a wonderful understanding of Jesus and Christian beliefs.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.
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