An exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek textPDF eBook
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"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 onto the stage of history to claim the allegiance of men", Barnabas Lindars.
The structure of John
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it
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
Witnesses to the Christ, 1:19-51
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
Argument Proper - Part I
The light shines in the darkness
The Ministry / Mission of Messiah, 2:1-12:50
The good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Jn.3:16
Jesus ministers from Cana to Cana
1. Jesus offers abundant new life, 2:1-3:36
He gives the Spirit without measure
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
2. Jesus the source of life, 4:1-54
Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again
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] Jesus heals a royal official's son at Cana, 4:43-54
Jesus ministers from Jerusalem to Jerusalem
3. Jesus the giver of life, 5:1-47
The Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it
i] A Sabbath sign - a lame man healed, 5:1-18
ii] The Divine son, 5:19-30
iii] The evidence of Jesus' authority, 5:31-47
4. Jesus the bread of life, 6:1-71
I am the bread of life
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, 7:1-8:11
Whoever believes in me, a river of living water will flow from within them
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
6. Jesus the light of life, 8:12-10:42
I am the light of the world
i] The authoritative testimony of Jesus, 8:12-20
ii] Jesus' passion encapsulates his testimony, 8:21-30
iii] The true seed of Abraham, 8:31-59
iv] That God might be glorified - Jesus heals a man born blind, 9:1-41
v] 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
vi] Who is Jesus? 10:22-42
Jesus returns to Jerusalem
7. Jesus the resurrection and the life, 11:1-12:36
I am the resurrection and the life
i] I am the resurrection and the life - Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, 11:1-44
ii] The plan to kill Jesus, 11:45-57
iii] Mary anoints Jesus for his burial, 12:1-11
iv] The triumphal entry, 12:12-19
v] Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground, 12:20-36
An overview of Messiah's ministry
A final call for faith, 12:37-50
Argument Proper - Part II
The Glory of Messiah, 13:1-20:31
The darkness did not overcome it
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] One with the Father and the Son, 17:11b-19
xiv] Jesus prays for all who will believe, 17:20-26
The Passion Narrative, 18:1-20:31
Faith rests on the faithfulness of Jesus
1. The arrest, trial and crucifixion 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 Appendix, 21:1-25
i] The risen Christ beside lake Galilee, 21:1-14
ii] Feed my sheep, 21:15-25
John's gospel, as an example of Greek religious literature for Hellenistic Jews, reflects the rhetorical traditions of the first century. Its style of rhetoric (of making an argument) is hypsos, elevated, and its form is primarily judicial, it seeks to persuade the reader of a truth, namely, that Jesus is Israel's messiah and that in him is found the full realization of God's covenant promises, but it is also deliberative in that it seeks to persuade the reader to act on this truth, namely to believe. In making this argument John adopts a simple approach: a partitio (proposition, thesis), the prologue, 1:1-18, and an extended probatio (proofs, witness / evidence to the truth) systematically advanced in the rest of the gospel. John transitions (a transitus) from his thesis to his main argument with an exordium which introduces the subject matter while eliciting the sympathy of the audience. John does this by means of a series of testimonies / witnesses to the Christ.
So, the structure of the gospel falls into four main parts:
The prologue / thesis, 1:1-18;
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it, 1:5.
Introduction / testimonies to the Light, 1:19-51.
The central argument (the proof is in the pudding):
Part 1: The Book of Christ's public ministry - The light shines in the darkness. 2:1-12:50;
Part 2: The Book of Christ's Glory - The darkness did not overcome it. 13:1-20:31;
Conclusion / Epilogue, 21:1-25.
C.H. Dodd in The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 1953, has set the groundwork for the study of John's gospel today and Brown, Kostenberger, Beasley-Murray, ..... have all built on his work. Dodd argues that The Book of the Signs, 2:1-12:50, consists of a series of seven significant events / signs related to thematic discourses, each serving as individual gospel presentations. Dodd's sevenfold thematic division for the Book of Signs is 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
Dodd's 7 episodes in the Book of Signs, with each sign / significant-event prompting an extended thematic discourse, is accepted by many commentators today, eg., Beasley-Murray. The thesis works well with say the feeding of the five thousand / The Bread of Life, 6:1-71, but struggles with the first episode, The New Beginning, 2:1-4:42. Here we have a jumble of signs, dialogues and discourses. It's a stretch holding all the elements together, but it can be argued that the Nicodemus discourse works off the first miracle / sign of water into wine, and the discourse with the Samaritan woman works off Jesus' cleansing of the temple. The other episodes do tend to exhibit a single theme which works off a particular significant event / sign, although not always as pointed as the feeding of the 5,000.
Of course, other thematic arrangements have been proposed suggesting that more weight be given to the miracles themselves, eg.:
Water into wine - A new beginning;
Healing of the officer's son - Faith is the answer;
Healing of the cripple - Christ restores the broken;
Feeding the five thousand - Christ is the bread of life;
Walking on water - Christ is our guide;
Healing of the man born blind - Christ is our light;
Raising of Lazarus - Christ is our life.
Schnackenburg argues that in the first part of John's argument proper we have a collection of sermons / homilies linked to a particular significant event in Jesus' ministry. Arguments abound as to whether these homilies always consisted of the sign + the discourse, or whether an editor brought them together in the gospel as we know it. Either way, in chapters 2 to 12 we do seem to have a series of thematic packages, with 2:1-4:42 presenting as a complex intertwining of source material.
The idea that our author-editor develops a thematic gospel-focused discourse around a particular event in Jesus' ministry is still widely accepted by commentators today. Yet, due to the obvious problems with the first few episodes, and also chapters 7-10, some commentators have moved away from Dodd's thematic divisions to a larger number of sign / discourse divisions. This is evident in Lindars rather dated, but excellent commentary on John. His first division is 1:1-2:12, testimonies + the Marriage at Cana, then 2:13-3:36, the cleansing of the temple + discourses, then 4:1-54, dialogue and discourse + the healing of the officials son, then 5:1-47, healing of the lame man on the Sabbath + dialogue and 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 a shift today toward the view that the editor / author is pragmatic in the arrangement of his material, so Carson. There is the first sign / miracle at Cana, water into wine, concluding with the second sign / miracle, again at Cana in Galilee, the healing of the officers son, 2:1-4:54. This is followed by journeys to Jerusalem which further define a block of gospel teaching. This narrative / itinerary division of the gospel may well be the structure intended by the author-editor: prologue, testimonies, a Cana to Cana mission cycle, a Jerusalem to Jerusalem mission cycle, Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem, upper room discourses, Jesus' final days and a postscript. It could well be that the author-editor of the gospel has loosely used the travel cycles as a frame to stitch together his collection of gospel focused homilies - narrative + sermon. The gospel of John itself implies that it is an editorial reconstruction of the apostle's gospel tradition, 21:24, cf., Carson, Thompson, "John - Readings", JSOT, Mark Stibbe, 1993, Barrett, Klink, .....
However we handle John's argument Proper Part I, it is certainly true that the The Book of Glory, chapters 13-20, presents as two parts: The farewell discourses, 13:1-17:26, and the passion of Jesus, 18:1-20:31.
The simplest way of viewing the overall structure of John's gospel is as follows:
The prologue, 1:1-18. The thesis for the book as a whole.
The testimonies to Christ, 1:19-51. Witnesses to the person of Jesus.
The ministry of Messiah, 2:1-12:50. Each episode is focused on a dialogue / discourse + a related illustrative event / sign, and each presents the good news of salvation / eternal life through faith in Christ.
The upper room discourse, 13:1-17:26. This section concerns living by faith, which faith, in the power of the indwelling compelling of the Spirit, prompts brotherly love.
The glorification of Christ, 18:1-20:31. This section explains how faith rests on the faithfulness of Christ.
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. The heart of the book is the set of sermons / homilies linked to a miracle or event in Jesus' life - Argument Proper Part I. The discourses / dialogues in this part of the gospel are aimed at Hellenistic Jews of the dispersion. Their intent is evangelistic; they argue that Jesus is Israel's messiah. Next to this is the set of sermons / homilies related to Jesus' farewell address to his disciples. The intent of these discourses is more pastoral. 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???). When it comes to 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-editor as a partitio (summary thesis) for his/her gospel; see Carson.
We have to accept that even an eyewitness would not be able to recount verbatim Jesus' dialogues / discourses, as recorded in this gospel. So, it seems likely that our author-editor has built up his collection of sermons / homilies around a remembered / known saying of Jesus by channeling the mind of Christ. There would be many disciples at the time capable of doing this, but the apostle John has to be at the top of the list.
Over the years numerous authors have been proposed, although in the end, we really don't know who the author is. The main contenders are as follows:
John the apostle, son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved. It was only in the nineteenth century when doubts were first raised about the apostle's authorship of the fourth gospel. Up till then the testimony of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna (he died in 155AD and had met the apostle John), which testimony was confirmed by Irenaeus the bishop of Lyons (John "published a gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia", c.180AD), was widely accepted.
John the Elder. It is argued by some that Eusebius, quoting from Papias who wrote toward the end of the first century, got his John's mixed up. 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.
A disciple / friend of the apostle John, member of a Johannine circle / school. Arguments abound as to this person's association with the apostle, but presumably knew John and had access to his writings. It seems highly unlikely that the gospel is the creation of a theologian devoid of contact with the apostle John or his writings.
So, the author of this gospel remains hidden in the mist of time, but it is not unreasonable to argue that an editor, a friend or colleague of the apostle John has, on his demise, drawn together his teachings, oral and written, and compiled them into a single gospel. The apostle John may not be the author of the final product, but there is a good chance that he is its main source, cf., Jn.21:24, see Brown, Schnackenburg.
Many scholars hold the view that the gospel of John is not as originally composed, being the product of editorial reconstruction (cf., 21:24), although this doesn't mean that the original material which makes up the gospel is not from the hand of John the apostle himself. 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. The most likely theory is that an editor has drawn together into one book a series of homilies / sermons / writings of 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 editor of the gospel has drawn together these compositions into the gospel as we know it, deconstructing them somewhat in order to produce a unified work.
Unlike the synoptic gospels where the gospel writers are loath to interfere with the received tradition (probably oral and in Aramaic) and so make their point by the arrangement of that tradition, John writes from the perspective of Christ's glorification, from the perspective of his lifting up on the cross, his ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. So, what we have in the discourses, is not only Jesus' words, as remembered by John, but John's reflection on those words in light of the outpouring of the Spirit and the church's appreciation of their full import. This being the case, it is not possible to separate one from the other, together they are God's word to us.
So, these notes give weight to the theory that the gospel is an editorial arrangement of Johannine source material.
John states the purpose of his gospel in clear terms: "these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life through his name", 20:31. Belief in Christ is often taken to express the act of coming to faith, in which case the purpose of the gospel is evangelistic. Yet, the act of believing can also be viewed as an ongoing reliance on Christ, in which case the purpose of the gospel is pastoral. Interestingly, the verb "to believe", pisteuhte, pres. subj., expressing durative action, has an aorist variant, pisteushte, expressing punctiliar action. If this is original, then it is possible that the act of coming to faith is in John's mind. Yet, an aorist verb can simply state a fact about an action, here the act of believing.
So, John's purpose is both evangelistic and pastoral; In the first part of the Argument Proper John's purpose is evangelistic, the recipients being primarily Hellenistic Jews of the dispersion. Through the dialogues and discourses John presents an apologetic for Jesus' messiahship. By argument and counterargument, John presents Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. He does this in the voice of Jesus (either by remembering Jesus' words, or tapping into the mind of Christ - either way, it is God's word to us). In the Argument Proper, Part II, John's purpose is pastoral. For John, the Christian life is all about the appropriation of the grace of God ("eternal life") through perseverance of faith in Christ, with the fruit of faith being love.
The gospel was probably composed late in the first century, say AD80-95. 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.
The intended readers
It has been argued that John wrote his gospel for Gentiles, but as already indicated, it is really a very Jewish book, a book written for Greek speaking Jews. Given that the gospel was probably written after the fall of Jerusalem, we have here a gospel to Jews of the dispersion which presents Jesus as the Messiah who has superseded and surpassed all the religious institutions of Israel (eg., the temple, feasts, law, ...), releasing in his life, death and resurrection, the promised blessings of the covenant.
The Synoptic tradition in John
Whereas the synoptic gospels draw on the Aramaic oral traditions of Jesus, John's gospel draws on the reflections of an eye witness. The editor who finally assembled these reflections into the gospel as we know it, is probably well aware of the synoptic tradition, as was John himself, even possibly in written form; Lightfoot believed he knew of all three gospels. John doesn't ignore the synoptic tradition, rather, within the synoptic framework of Jesus' life, John tells the story in his own way, building on the accepted tradition of Jesus' life. Note how John's record of numerous visits to Jerusalem for the Passover and other festivals provides the background for the growing opposition of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The synoptic tradition packages Jesus ministry as a year long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but it is John that gives us an insight into the extent of Jesus public ministry (some three years) and its focus on Jerusalem.
Referenced Commentaries on John
Abbott - Johannine Grammar, London 1906. Barrett, SPCK, 1967. Beasley-Murray, Word, 1999. Bernard, ICC, 1928. Blank, NTSR, Crossroad, 1981. Brown, Anchor, 1970. Bruce, Pickering & Inglis, 1983. Carson, Pillar, 1991. Dodd, "Interpretation of the 4th Gospel", CUP, and The Parables of the Kingdom, Nisbet, 1935 (rev. 61) Fenton, New Clarendon 1970. Filson, Layman's, 1966. Grayston, Epworth. Haenchen, Hermeneia, translated 1984. Hamilton, Associated Press. Harris, EGNT, 2015. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth. Hoskyns, Faber & Faber, 1950. Hunter, CBC, 1965. Keener, Hendrickson, 2003 / Baker Academic, 2010. Klink, ZECNT, 2017. Kostenberger, BECNT, 2004. Lightfoot, R.H. Oxford University Press, 1956. Lindars. NCB, 1972. MacRae, Doubleday. Marsh, Penguin, 1968. McHugh, ICC (ch. 1-4), 2009. Moloney, Sacra Paginia, 1998. Morris, NICNT. Neyrey, NCBC, 2006. Novakovic, HGT, 2020. Pallis, Greek notes on John and the Apocalypse, 192?. Pfitzner, ChiRho, 1988. Richardson, Torch, 1955. Ridderbos, Eerdmans, translated 1997. Sanders & Mastin, Blacks. Schnackenburg, Burns & Oats, etc., translated 1979. Sloyan, Interpretation, 1988. Stibbe, Sheffield Readings, 1993. Tasker, Tyndale, 1960. Thompson, NTL, 2015. Westcott, John Murray, 2 vol. Gk. edition, 1908.