An verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the Greek New Testament



"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, 1:1-18

i] The Word was made flesh, 1:1-13/14

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

The Testimonies, 1:19-2:12

i] John the Baptist and the Pharisees, 1:19-28

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

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

iv] Philip and Nathaniel, 1:43-51

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

The Signs of the Messiah, 2:13-12:50

The good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Jn.3:16

1. Jesus and the new order of things, 2:13-3:36

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

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

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

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

2. Jesus the source of life, 4:1-54

i] 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

ii] The officers son, 4:43-54

3. Jesus and his authority, 5:1-47

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

ii] The Divine son, 5:16-47

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

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

ii] Bread from heaven, 6:22-33

iii] The living bread, 6:34-51

iv] The flesh and blood of the Son of Man, 6:52-59

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

5. Jesus the water of life, 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

6. Jesus the light of the world, 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

7. 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

8. 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 Farewell Discourse, 13:1-17:26

Love is the fruit of faith and is empowered by the indwelling Spirit of Christ

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] Kept in the Father, safe from the Evil One, 17:11b-19

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

The Glory of the Messiah, 18:1-20:31

The focus for faith is the faithfulness of Christ

1. 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

2. 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 the author of John's gospel draws together into one book a series of homilies. These may well have come from John the apostle, the beloved disciple, crafted 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, .... The compositions have then been stitched together by an editor who has deconstructed them somewhat in trying to unify them into a singe document - the gospel as we have it today.

Dodd focuses on the signs / miracles / events, arguing that these are linked to thematic discourses which form a series of individual gospel presentations. Dodd's work is substantial and is still influencing studies on John's gospel today. Many commentators tend to follow this thematic approach, although each with their own spin. 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. Each episode a miracle / sign, or significant event, prompts an extended thematic discourse. Dodd / Beasley-Murray have the first episode covering 2:1-4:42, but they present as two separate discourses. 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 the Wedding at Cana is part of the introductory testimonies to Christ. The other episodes do tend to exhibit a single theme which works off a particular miracle / event, although not always as pointed as the third episode, "Jesus the bread of life" - the feeding of the 5,000, 6:1-71. Each of these themes is gospel centric, consisting of an exposition of the gospel with a particular thematic approach.

The idea that our author / editor develops a thematic gospel-focused discourse around a particular sign / miracle, or event, is widely accepted by commentators. Yet, due to the obvious problems with the first few episodes, some commentators to move away from Dodd's sevenfold division to a larger number of sign / discourse divisions. This is evident in Lindars rather dated, but excellent commentary on John. So, his first division is 1:1-2:12 incorporating the Marriage at Cana, then 2:13-3:36, the cleansing of the temple + discourses, then 4:1-54, the healing of the officials son + discourses, ........ and so on. Lindars approach has more going for it than say Wyller's idea that Plato's Simile of the Cave is the key to the gospel, as focused on John's "structural summit", 10:22-29.

There is much to support the view that the editor / author seems largely unconcerned with the way he has stitched together his source material, simply giving us a prologue, testimonies, a Cana to Cana mission cycle, a Jerusalem to Jerusalem mission cycle, and a mission in Jerusalem cycle, upper room discourses, Jesus' final days and a postscript. Carson stands with a growing group of commentators who give more weight to the movement of the narrative / circular itinerary divisions, than to themes, cf., Kostenberger, cf. "John - Readings", JSOT, Mark Stibbe, 1993. In the end, we simply have to admit that there is no agreement as to the author's intended structure for his gospel.

For the sake of providing a structure to work off, these notes will follow Lindars division of The Book of Signs. The simplest way of viewing the overall structure of John's gospel is as follows:

The prologue, 1:18. The thesis for the book as a whole.

The testimonies to Christ, 1:19-2:12. Witnesses to the person of Jesus.

The book of signs, 2:13-12:50. This section is virtually a constant restatement of John 3:16. Each sign, with its related discourses, presents the good news of salvation / eternal life through faith in Christ - signs / events + discourses.

The upper room discourse, 13:1-17:26. This section concerns living by faith, which faith, in the power of the indwelling compelling of Christ, prompts brotherly love.

The glorification of Christ, 18:1-20:31. This section explains how faith rests on the faithfulness of Christ.

Postscript, 21:1-25.


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, cf., Jn.21:24. Unlike the synoptic gospels, the gospel of John does have the feel of an eyewitness about it. Of course, it's all guesswork, but there is much to support the theory that our author / editor has gathered together the sermons / homilies of John the apostle and shaped them into one book. The heart of the book is the set of sermons / homilies linked to a miracle or event in Jesus' life. Next to this is the set of sermons / homilies related to Jesus' farewell to his disciples. Then there are the stories related to Jesus' last days, stories which share many similarities with Luke, possibly indicating a common oral source. As for the opening of the book, 1:19-2:12, we seem to have an introductory assembly of gospel tradition (oral source???). As for the prologue, 1:1-18, some commentators have argued that it is a later addition to the original text, but given the thematic links with the gospel as whole, it seems more likely that it was composed by the author as a partitio (summary thesis) for his/her gospel; see Carson.

Over the years numerous authors have been proposed. Although we really don't know who the author was, the two favorites are:

John the apostle, son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He is obviously not the author of the gospel itself, but may well be its main source, cf., Jn.21:24, see Brown, Schnackenburg.

John the Elder. Identified by Eusebius, quoting from Papias who wrote toward the end of the first century. Two Johns are identified, one the apostle, deceased at the time, and the other the Elder (possibly John of Ephesus), still alive. Although Eusebius assumes that the apostle wrote John (and the Elder wrote the Apocalypse), Jerome, writing years latter, argues for the Elder, suggesting he also authored 2 and 3 John.


The gospel was probably composed late in the first century, say AD80-95. It is strange that both Ignatius and Polycarp, writing early in the second century, AD110-120, fail to mention the gospel, yet one of the earliest fragments of the New Testament so far discovered is the papyrus P52, a fragment of John's gospel found in Egypt and dated to around AD110.

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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