The Fourth Gospel was already in existence early in the 2nd cent. The tradition that it was written by St John the Apostle goes back at least to the end of the 2nd cent.; it is attested by St Irenaeus, who perhaps derived his information from St Polycarp. Polycarp may, however, have been referring to another John, namely John the Presbyter. The Gospel is not a plain account of the Lord's miracles and teaching, but rather a deeply meditated representation of His Person and doctrine; direct apostolic authorship therefore seems unlikely. Good sources or historical traditions at many points are probable, and the author claims to be witnessing to what ‘we’ have seen (1: 14).
The Fourth Gospel differs widely from the Synoptics in content, style, and outlook. For instance, the Lord's ministry extends over three Passovers and alternates between Jerusalem and Galilee; the expulsion of the money-changers from the Temple is placed not at the close but at the beginning of His ministry; and the Last Supper is not a Passover Meal. There is no mention of some important events such as the institution of the Eucharist, and no parables of the familiar kind. On the other hand John includes some incidents, such as the Raising of Lazarus, about which the Synoptics say nothing. Above all, Jesus speaks openly and frequently of His unique Sonship to God and His saving mission, whereas in the Synoptics such claims are rare.
The structure is clear:
The central teaching is Christological. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who has been given everything the Father has, including authority to give life and execute judgement. His deeds and words are regularly rejected or misunderstood by His opponents, but to those who accept and believe they are the revelation of God. His message and mission for the salvation of all of humanity are expounded in terms of ‘light’ and ‘life’. The Christian teaching that salvation is dependent on the death (and resurrection) of Christ is spelt out, and special emphasis is put on the gift of the Holy Spirit consequent on these events.
Subjects: Biblical Studies.