John, Gospel according to Saint

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

John, Gospel according to Saint

Gospel according to Saint John, fourth book of the New Testament. This account of Jesus' life is clearly set off from the other three Gospels (see Synoptic Gospels), although it is probable that John knew and used both Mark and Luke as sources. The Gospel opens with a prologue in which Jesus is identified with the Word (see Logos). This term echoes usages of the Old Testament ( "Word of God" ), contemporary Jewish Wisdom speculation, and contemporary Hellenistic philosophy, and designates a figure that mediates between God and the cosmos. Hence "the Word was made flesh" is the classic formulation of the Incarnation. The Gospel is also concerned with the dualism of darkness and light, a theme found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Gospel falls into two main sections. The first narrates a series of selected events from Christ's ministry. Lengthy monologues, often polemical in tone, reveal his claim to divine status, underscored by his performance of "signs." In chapter 9, for example, he heals a blind man, who is then expelled from the synagogue for declaring Jesus a prophet. This has been interpreted as reflecting a dispute between Christians of 1st-century Palestine and Jews who denied Jesus' significance. Hence the Gospel's presentation of Jesus, who repudiates all religious tradition not founded on him and asserts that no one can have access to God the Father except through him. The second section of the Gospel consists of a long account of the Last Supper, followed by the Passion and the Resurrection. The traditional date of composition is c.AD 100; according to 20th-century scholarship it was composed probably between AD 95 and 115. Writers of the late 2d cent. ascribed the work to John, son of Zebedee, who according to tradition lived in Ephesus. However, it is unlikely that this John was the author. Most modern scholars agree that a brief passage in chapters 7 and 8 was not part of the Gospel as originally composed; otherwise the book is usually considered to have been written almost exactly as it stands. The influence of the Gospel of St. John in Christianity has been great. It is an early and articulated statement of Christ's unique position in Christian theology as God and man—a doctrine central to the dogmas of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement.

See studies by R. E. Brown (2 vol., 1966–70); J. L. Martyn (rev. ed. 1979); D. Moody-Smith (1984); J. Ashton, ed. (1986); R. Kysar (1986); R. Price, Three Gospels (1996).

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