A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek text


"The Fourth Gospel has attracted the interest of an overwhelming number of scholars, because of the range and intricacy of the problems which it presents. But for most people its attraction lies in what it is in itself - a strange but compelling picture of the irruption of Jesus Christ on to the stage of history to claim the allegiance of men", Barnabas Lindars.

The structure of John

The prologue and Testimonies, 1:1-1:51

i] The Word was made flesh, 1:1-5, 9-13

ii] He who comes after me stands among you, 1:14-18

iii] John the Baptist and the Pharisees, 1: 6-8, 19-28

iv] The Lamb of God, 1:29-34

v] We have found the Messiah, 1:35-42

vi] Philip and Nathaniel, 1:43-51

The signs of the Messiah, 2:1-12:50

1. Jesus and the new order of things, 2:1-4:42

i] The wedding at Cana, 2:1-12

ii] Jesus cleanses the temple, 2:13-25

iii] Nicodemus and the new birth, 3:1-15

iv] God's love in Christ, 3:16-21

v] Jesus and John the Baptist, 3:22-36

vi] Jesus and the woman at the well, 4:1-42

    a) The water of life, 4:1-26

    b) Reflections on mission, 4:27-42

2. Jesus the mediator of life and judgment, 4:43-5:47

i] The officers son, 4:43-54

ii] A Sabbath sign - a lame man healed, 5:1-15

iii] The Divine son, 5:16-47

3. Jesus the bread of life, 6:1-71

i] Jesus feeds the five thousand, 6:1-21

ii] Bread from heaven, 6:22-34

iii] The living bread, 6:35-50

iv] The flesh and blood of the Son of Man, 6:51-59

v] The words of eternal life, 6:60-71

4. Jesus the light of the world, 7:1-8:59

i] Back to Jerusalem, 7:1-13

ii] Moses and Christ, 7:14-24

iii] Jesus' messianic claims, 7:25-36

iv] The life-giving Spirit, 7:37-52

v] Neither do I condemn you, 8:1-11

vi] I am the light of the world, 8:12-20

vii] Jesus' challenge to the Jewish leaders, 8:21-30

viii] Christ the true seed of Abraham, 8:31-59

5. Jesus the shepherd of humankind, 9:1-10:42

i] That God might be glorified, 9:1-41

ii] The Good Shepherd, 10:1-21

    a) Jesus is the gate for the sheep, 10:1-10

    b) Jesus is the good shepherd, 10:11-21

iii] Who is Jesus? 10:22-42

6. Jesus the resurrection and the life, 11:1-54

i] I am the resurrection and the life, 11:1-44

ii] The plan to kill Jesus, 11:45-54

7. Jesus the triumphant king, 11:55-12:50

i] Mary anoints Jesus for his burial, 11:55-12:11

ii] The triumphal entry, 12:12-19

iii] Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground, 12:20-36

iv] A final call for belief, 12:37-50

The glory of the Messiah, 13:1-20:31

1. The farewell discourses, 13:1-17:26

i] Perfect love -Jesus washes the disciples' feet, 13:1-17

ii] One of you will betray me, 13:18-30

iii] The new commandment, 13:31-38

iv] The way, the truth and the life, 14:1-14

v] The Spirit of truth, 14:15-21

vi] The Holy Spirit will teach you everything, 14:22-31

vii] The true vine, 15:1-8

viii] The true vine explained, 15:9-17

ix] The hatred of the world, 15:18-16:4

x] The Spirit's judgment of the world, 16:5-15

xi Perplexity and joy, 16:16-33

xii] Witnesses to the resurrection, 17:1-11a

xiii] One with the Father and the Son, 17:11b-19

xiv] Jesus prays for all who will believe, 17:20-26

2. The trial and passion of Jesus, 18:1-19:42

i] The arrest of Jesus, 18:1-11

ii] The pretrial and Peter's denial, 18:12-27

iii] Jesus before Pilate, 18:28-40

iv] The humiliation of Jesus, 19:1-16a

v] The crucifixion of Jesus, 19:16b-30

vi] The burial of Jesus, 19:31-42

3. The resurrection of Jesus, 20:1-31

i] The empty tomb, 20:1-10

ii] Jesus appears to Mary, 20:11-18

iii] Jesus appears to his disciples, 20:19-31

The epilogue, 21:1-25

i] The risen Christ beside lake Galilee, 21:1-14

ii] Feed my sheep, 21:15-25


Most scholars agree that the gospel of John is not as originally composed since it is the product of editorial reconstruction, cf.21:24. Of course, theories abound as to the shape of the original document/s, although it matters little since God's word to us is the document as received, not as originally conceived. One likely theory is that John's gospel draws on a series of homilies crafted by John the apostle over many years, even possibly some 30 years. These homilies draw on literary devices of the time, eg. ring compositions, inverted parallelism, divisions of three, or seven, .... These compositions have then been worked over by an editor who has deconstructed them somewhat in trying to unify them into a singe document - the gospel as we have it today. So, coming up with an acceptable structure is inordinately difficult.

Dodd focuses on the signs, arguing that John links the thematic discourses with the different miracles/signs/events forming a series of individual gospel presentations. Dodd's work is substantial and is still influencing studies on John's gospel today. So, commentators tend to follow this thematic approach, although each with their own spin. Some weight is given today to the circular itinerary division of the Book of Signs, Cana to Cana, 2:1-4:54, Jerusalem to Jerusalem, 5:1-10:42; Conclusion, 11:1-12:50, eg. Kostenberger, cf. "John - Readings", JSOT, Mark Stibbe, 1993. Dodd's sevenfold thematic division and titles for the Book of Signs is worth noting, cf. "The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel", C.H. Dodd, 1953. The episodes are as follows:

1. The New Beginning, 2:1-4:42

2. The Life-giving Word, 4:46-5:47

3. Bread of Life, 6:1-71

4. Light and Life: Manifestation and Rejection 7:1-8:59

5. Judgment by the Light, 9:1-10:21 (Appendix, 10:22-39)

6. The Victory of Life over Death, 11:1-53

7. Life through Death. The Meaning of the Cross, 12:1-36 (Epilogue 12:37-50)

Beasley-Murray's thematic titles follow Dodd's 7 episodes in the Book of Signs and are reflected in these notes. In each episode one or two miracles/signs, or significant events, prompt an extended thematic discourse. The first episode, 2:1-4:42 possibly consists of two separate discourse themes. In the first episode the Nicodemus discourse works off the first miracle/sign/narrative of water into wine, and the discourse with the Samaritan woman works off Jesus' cleansing of the temple. None-the-less, it can be argued that John is working one theme. The other episodes exhibit a single theme, although not always as pointed as the third episode, "Jesus the bread of life" - sign: the feeding of the 5,000, 6:1-71. Each of these themes is gospel centric, consisting of an exposition of the gospel from a particular angle. So, The Signs of the Messiah, chapters 2-12, explains the gift of eternal life in Christ through faith, 3:16, while The Glory of the Messiah, chapters 13-21, explains how faith issues in love, chapter 13-17, and how faith rests on the faithfulness of Christ, chapters 18-20.

The simplest way of viewing the structure of John's gospel is as follows:

The prologue, chapter 1.

The main section of the gospel - the book of signs, chapters 2-12. This section is virtually a constant restatement of John 3:16. Each sign, with its related discourse, presents the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.

The upper room discourse, chapters 13-17. This section concerns living by faith, which faith, in the power of the indwelling compelling of Christ, prompts brotherly love.

The glorification of Christ, chapters 18-20.

Postscript, chapter 21.


The specific purpose of John's gospel is stated in 20:21: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." This, of course, is a very Jewish way of seeing salvation. The term, "Christ, the Son of God", defines the person of the Jewish Messiah. In him is the hope of Israel. So, John writes this work so that his fellow Jews (probably of the dispersion and therefore, Greek speaking Jews) might see that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that they might then believe in him, and so find in him life eternal.


These notes, as with most commentaries on this gospel, will constantly refer to John as the author of the gospel. Of course, as with the Synoptic gospels, the author is unstated. The designation John is probably as good as any, given that the author / editor states that the particular gospel tradition he/she draws on originates from the beloved disciple, John, Jn.21:24.

Bibliography: Commentaries - John

Abbott - Johannine Grammar, London 1906. Barrett, SPCK. Beasley-Murray, Word. Bernard, ICC, 1928. Brown, Anchor. Bruce, Pickering & Inglis. Carson, Pillar. Dodd, "Interpretation of the 4th Gospel", CUP, and The Parables of the Kingdom, Nisbet, 1935 (rev. 61) Fenton, New Clarendon. Filson, Layman's. Grayston, Epworth. Haenchen, Hermeneia. Hamilton, Associated Press. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth. Hoskyns, Faber & Faber, 1950. Hunter, CBC. Kostenberger, BECNT. Lightfoot, R.H. Oxford University Press, 1956. Lindars. NCB. MacRae, Doubleday. Marsh, Penguin. McHugh, ICC (ch. 1-4), 2009. Morris, NICNT. Neyrey, NCBC, 2006. Pallis, Greek notes on John and the Apocalypse, 192?. Pfitzner, ChiRho. Richardson, Torch. Ridderbos, Eerdmans. Sanders & Mastin, Blacks. Schnackenburg, Burns & Oats, etc. Sloyan, Interpretation, 1988. Stibbe, Sheffield. Tasker, Tyndale, 1960. Thompson, NTL. Westcott, John Murray, 2 vol. Gk. edition, 1908.


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