I am the least familiar with John’s Gospel. I think this is at least in part because Methodists don’t tend to emphasize it as much as the evangelical denominations do, instead preferring the more pragmatic synoptic gospels. But it’s definitely also at least in part because I avoid it. John is a lot less straight forward than the other three, and I am not the kind of person who likes to read in to things. One of the reasons I dislike poetry so much is because you can rarely take it at face value. I want to take everything at face value. So I’ve avoided John.
But it’s time.
The Gospel According to John was named such because it was originally thought to be written by John, the “beloved disciple”, in addition to 1 2 and 3 John and the book of Revelation. However, it is more likely that the book was written based on John’s accounts, as it was probably written around 90 CE when John would have been much too old, and because the style is too educated for what history tells of John.
Regardless of author, this book was probably much more influential in the early days of Christianity than the other three. It is different from them in several ways. First, the synoptic gospels attempt to chronicle Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection as completely as possible. John, however, acknowledges that it is leaving a lot out. Secondly, the synoptic gospels deal with things in a very factual manner, with occasional allusions to preexisting scripture being the main persuasive effort. The author of John writes mainly in persuasive tones, often interjecting his own thoughts or theology to Jesus’s story. It also uses a lot of symbolic language as an effort to engage the readers feelings. Third, in the synoptic Gospels Jesus attempts to keep His identity hidden until the end, but in John He is very open about His divinity throughout the book. Finally, John seeks to set Christians apart from the Jewish culture, urging followers of Christ to adopt new practices and ways of life, while the synoptic gospels, especially Matthew, portray Christianity as growing out of Judaism.
Scholars split to Gospel of John in to four clear parts.
1. The Prologue. In the beginning was the word, and the word was God, etc. This sets the tone and motifs for the rest of the Gospel.
2. The Book of Signs. John deals with different miracles than the other gospels, called signs, that have a deeper symbolic meaning, which the author expands upon.
3. The Book of Glory. As far as I can tell this includes a lot of Jesus’s teaching, as well as the narrative that leads Him into Jerusalem and to His death. There is a lot of focus on Jesus as divine in this part. Hence Glory.
4. Epilogue. This is his resurrection and everything that happens after that. John has a lot more to say than the other Gospels do about what happened after Jesus came back.
Hopefully I’ll understand this better than I have in the past. I’ve had three other Gospels and three whole years (I can’t believe it’s taken me THREE YEARS to read the synoptic Gospels. Shame.) to warm up for this. Maybe send a few prayers my way, and please feel free to comment when I get things wrong.