Gospel Of John Essay, Research Paper
The genius of the Apostle John resides in his ability to penetrate to the theological
foundations that undergird the events of Jesus’ life. He reaches to the deeper
baptism and the calling of the Twelve are doubtless presupposed, they are not
actually described. Even themes central to the Synoptics have almost disappeared:
in particular, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, so much a part of the
preaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and the central theme of His narrative
parables, is scarcely mentioned as such (cf. 3:3, 5; 18:36).
meaning of the events, to the relationships of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
in the work of redemption, and to the Trinitarian love for humanity which generated
that work and which seeks through the gospel to bring within that sublime circle of
indwelling love all who respond by faith to Jesus as the great “I AM.”
John deals with the same revealed truth as Mathew, Mark, Luke and Paul. But
his way of approaching that truth is different–very different. Like waters from the
same source, Johannine, Pauline and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and
Luke) all flow from the same historical Jesus, but flow through different lands,
picking up different textures, and emerge as observably different rivers.
The Johannine river, as a preceptive reader will quickly realize, flows through
a profoundly different world of its own: a world with its own language, its own
symbolism, and its own unique theological view point. The reader who enters this
world senses immediately how different it is from the world of Paul and the Synoptic
Gospels. And thus, a few words are needed to help to guide our way.
First, John’s Gospel leaves out a great deal of material that is characteristic of
the Synoptic Gospels. There are no narrative parables in John, no account of the
transfiguration, no record of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, no report of Jesus
casting out a single demon, no mention of His temptations. There are fewer brief,
pithy utterances, but more discourses; but even here some major discourses found
in the Synoptics (e.g. the Olivet Discourse) are not found in John. Although Jesus’.Page 2 Introduction
Second, John includes a fair amount of material of which the Synoptists make
no mention. All of the material in John chapters 2 thru 4, for instance, including His
miraculous transformation of water into wine, His dialogue with Nicodemus and His
ministry in Samaria, find no Synoptic counterpart. Further, the resurrection of
Lazarus, Jesus’ frequent visits to Jerusalem, and His extended dialogues or dis-courses
in the Temple and in various synagogues, not to mention much of His private
instruction to His disciples, are all exclusive to the Fourth Gospel.
No less striking are the forcefully presented themes that dominate John but that
are largely absent from the Synoptics. Only in John is Jesus explicitly identified with
God (1:1, 18; 20:28). Here, too, Jesus makes a series of important “I am” statements
which are qualified: I am the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the good
shepherd, the vine, the living water, the way, the truth and the life. These culminate
in a series of absolute (unqualified) “I AM” statements that are redolent of God
Himself (cf. 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58). Furthermore, the Fourth Gospel maintains a series
of “opposites,” dualisms if you will, that are much stronger than in the Synoptics: life
and death, from above and from below, light and dark, truth and lie, sight and
blindness, and more.
Third, these themes become still more problematic for some readers when,
formally at least, they contradict the treatment of similar themes in the Synoptic
Gospels. Here, for instance, John the Baptist denies that he is Elijah (1:21), even
though according to the Synoptists Jesus insists that he is (Mk. 9:11-13). What shall
we make of the bestowal of the Spirit (Jn. 20:22) and its relation to Acts 2? Above
all, how do we account for the fact that in the Synoptics the disciples seem to grow
from small beginnings in their understanding of who Jesus is, with various high-points
along the way, such as Caesarea Philippi (Mk. 8:27-30), while in John the very
first chapter finds various individuals confessing Jesus not only as Rabbi, but as
Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb of God and King of Israel?
Fourth, there are several chronological difficulties that must be addressed. In
addition to the obvious questions, such as the relation between the cleansing of the
Temple at the beginning (Jn. 2:14-22) and at the end (Mk. 11:15-17) of Jesus’ public
ministry, or the length of that ministry as attested by the number of Passovers it
embraces (John reports at least three, the Synoptists only one); there are one or two
questions of great difficulty that are precipitated in part by a knowledge of
background ritual and circumstance. In particular, the chronology of the Passion in
the Fourth Gospel, as compared with that of the Synoptics, seems so idiosyncratic
that it has generated complex theories about independent calendars, or about.Introduction Page 3
theological motifs that John is self-consciously allowing to skew the naked chronol-ogy.
Did Jesus and His disciples eat the Passover, so that He was arrested the evening
of Passover and crucified the next day, or was He crucified at the same time the
Passover lambs were being slaughtered? And how does one account for the fact that
the Synoptics picture Jesus being crucified about the third hour (9:00 a.m.), while in
John Pilate’s final decision is not reached until the sixth hour (19:14)?
Fifth, students of Greek, perhaps more readily than those who read John’s
Gospel only in a translation, observe that the style of writing is quite different from
that of the Synoptics. For instance, the vocabulary is smaller, there is frequent
parataxis (the use of co-ordinate clauses instead of subordinating expressions, which
elegant Greek much prefers), peculiar uses of pronouns (e.g. “that one”), and many
instances of asyndeton (simply laying out clauses beside each other, without
connecting them with particles or conjunctions, as Greek prefers). More impor-tantly,
there is little discernible difference in style between the words that are
ascribed to Jesus and the Evangelist’s own comments (Jn. 3:16 ff.).
With all these examples of the differences between the Synoptics and John’s
Gospel, the Gospel of John has been used by Christians in every age, and for the
greatest array of purposes. University students distribute free copies to their friends
in the hope of introducing them to the Savior. Elderly Christians on their deathbed
ask that parts of this Gospel be read to them. Very often, this Gospel is the first of
all Scripture to be translated in a newly evangelized part of the world. Children
memorize entire chapters, and sing choruses based on its truth (e.g. “For God So
Loved The World”). Countless Bible courses and sermons have been based on this
Book or on some part of it. It stood near the center of Christological controversy in
the fourth century. And perhaps the best known verse in all the Bible is John 3:16:
a toddler can even recite it. In this Gospel the love of God is dramatically mediated
through Jesus Christ, so much so that Karl Barth is alleged to have commented that
the most profound truth he had ever heard was “Jesus loves me, this I know/For the
Bible tells me so.”
Before entering this world, something must be
said about the date and the author. In addition,
something must be said about the audience and
purpose of the author, and especially his literary
techniques, and the structure of his Gospel. These
points belong to what is known as introduction. The
better they can be established and described, the easier it is to understand and
appreciate the Gospel.
Internal evidence suggests that the Gospel was written after 85 A.D. External
evidence points to a date no later than 110 A.D. The allusion to Peter’s martyrdom
in 21:18-19 demands a date after 64 A.D. Three references to excommunication
from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2) allude to the Birkat ha-minim, a “Test
Benediction” used by the rabbis to exclude from the synagogue all heretics and
perhaps especially Christians. Since the “Test Benediction” was instituted in the mid
eighties, it is reasonable to conclude that the Gospel was composed sometime after
How long after is impossible to determine. But external evidence in the form
of papyrus fragments found in Egypt suggests some ten or fifteen years later, i.e.,
between 85 and 100 A.D. The Rylands papyrus, the papyrus Egerton 2, P66, and
P75 all date to approximately 150 A.D. These papyrus finds prove that the Gospel
existed in Egypt in the first half of the second century. If one allows forty or fifty years
for the Gospel to become known and copied in Egypt, one comes on the basis of
external evidence to the same conclusion suggested by the internal evidence, i.e., 85-
100 A.D. for the date of the Gospel.
By the end of the second century, the Fourth Gospel was accepted, along with
the three Synoptics, as canonical in Gaul (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1-2), in
Egypt (Clement of Alexandria, so Eusebius, Church History 6.14.5), in North Africa
(Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.2), and in Rome (Muratorian fragment).
Whoever the author of the Fourth Gospel was, one thing is certain: he wanted
to remain anonymous. He wanted only to be known as the disciple whom Jesus
loved. He speaks about himself in 13:23 as the one who at the Last Supper “was
reclining on Jesus’ breast . . . whom Jesus loved.”; in 19:23-26, 35, as the disciple
who stood beneath the cross, was given the care of Jesus’ mother, and witnessed the
death of Jesus; in 20:2-10, as the disciple who ran with Peter to the tomb on Easter
morning and, upon seeing the burial cloths, believed; in 21:7, as the disciple who
alone recognized the stranger on the shore as Jesus; and in 21:20-23, as the disciple
about whom Jesus said to Peter: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that
to you? Follow Me!”.Introduction Page 5
It is probable that he is the “disciple . . . known to the high priest” who spoke
to the maid and had Peter admitted to the court of Annas (18:15-16). It is quite
probable that he was one of the two unnamed disciples of John the Baptist who
followed Jesus at the beginning of His public life (1:35-39), and equally probable that
he was one of the two unnamed disciples who accompanied Peter in the boat on the
Lake of Galilee after the resurrection (21:2).
What is certain is that the Gospel itself declares the Beloved Disciple to be “this
is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we
know that his witness is true” (21:24). The meaning of this statement is hotly
debated. It asserts at a minimum that the Beloved Disciple is the author of at least
chapter 21; at a maximum, it asserts that he is the author of the entire Gospel. The
reasons for these conclusions will be explained in the commentary on 21:24-25.
However much the Gospel says about the Beloved Disciple, it nowhere
identifies him by name. Tradition, via
Polycarp, Polycrates, and Irenaeus, tes-tifies
to the belief of the Church in the
early second century that John, the son
of Zebedee, was the Beloved Disciple.
This belief perdured until the twentieth
century and was defended as recently as
the sixties by such renowned Johannine scholars as R. Schnackenburg and R. E.
Brown. Brown, however, in his more recent The Community of the Beloved
Disciple, has abandoned it and now goes along with the modern trend of dissociating
John, the son of Zebedee, and the Beloved Disciple.
Contemporary scholars see the Beloved Disciple as a disciple of Jesus, but not
one of the Twelve, a disciple who formed and led his own Christian community
sometime after the resurrection and became for that community a living link with the
teaching of Jesus. They see him also as the leading figure in a school of interpreters
who preserved his teaching and expanded it as the years went on, until a genius
member of the school at the end of the first century authored the Gospel as we know
it now. His identity, however, remains a mystery. Considering the paucity of the
evidence, it will probably always remain a mystery.
supports an evangelistic purpose: that you may come to faith, come to believe. The
former, then supports and edificatory purpose: that you may continue in faith,
continue to believe. In fact, it can easily be shown that both expressions are used
for both initial faith and continuing in faith, so that nothing can be resolved by the
appeal to one textual variant or the other.
It is worth comparing these verses with the stated purpose of 1 John: “These
things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that
you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). This verse was clearly
written to encourage Christians; by the contrasting form of its expression, John
20:30-31 sounds evangelistic.
This impression is confirmed by the firm syntactical evidence that the first
purpose clause in 20:31 must be rendered literally, “that you may believe that the
Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus.” Thus the fundamental question the Fourth Gospel
addresses is not “Who is Jesus?” but “Who is the Messiah? Who is the Christ? Who
is the Son of God?” In their context, these are questions of identity, not of kind: i.e.
the question “Who is the Christ?” should not here be understood as “What kind of
‘Christ’ are you talking about?” but “So you claim that you know who the Christ is.
Prove it, then: Who is he?”
Support for this is simply common sense. Christians would not ask that kind of
question, because they already knew the answer. The most likely people to ask that
sort of question would be Jews and Jewish proselytes who know what “the Christ”
means, have some sort of messianic expectation, and are perhaps in personal contact
with Christians and want to know more. In short, John’s Gospel is not only
evangelistic in its purpose (which was a dominant view until this century, when only
a few have defended it), but aims in particular to evangelize Jews and Jewish
proselytes. This view has not been popular, but is gradually gaining influence, and
much can be said for it. It may even receive indirect support from some recent studies
The Purpose and Audience of the Gospel
The proper place to begin when we discuss John’s purpose for writing his Gospel
is with his own statement: “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the
presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that
believing you may have life in His name” (20:30-31). The words rendered “that you
may believe” hide a textual variant: either hina pisteuete (present subjunctive) or
hina pisteusete (aorist subjunctive). Some have argued that the latter expression.Introduction Page 7
that try to interpret the Fourth Gospel as a piece of mission literature.
The commentary that follows occasionally pauses to show how one passage or
another fits nicely into this purpose. Some have argued, for instance, that John
chapters 14–17 cannot possibly be viewed as primarily evangelistic. Such judgment
is premature, for at least two reasons. First, the evangelism of the early church was
not merely existential. It had to explain, as it were, “how we got from there to here,”
especially if the targeted audience was Jewish. Second, the best evangelistic
literature not only explains why one should become a Christian, but what it means
to be a Christian. John chapters 14–17 addresses those concerns rather pointedly,
and numerous details within those chapters likewise suggest an evangelistic thrust
In addition, the Gospel seems to be polemic. But who would need such
warnings, refutations, encouragement, and strengthening? We come to one reason-able
conclusion from looking at the question from a historical perspective: John
wrote his Gospel primarily for Jewish Christians whose faith was wavering, who
were under attack by the synagogue for believing in Jesus, and who, because of
Jewish persecution, were tending to either remain in or return to the synagogue and
thereby apostasize from their faith in Jesus (i.e. in Paul’s terminology, “fallen from
grace,” Gal. 5:4). In brief, John’s primary audience among Christians was that group
of Christian Jews who were straddling the fence between the Christian community
and the Jewish synagogue (cf. the Book of Hebrews).
John’s secondary audience was that group of Jewish Christians who belonged
to Christian communities but who were wavering in their faith because of persecu-tion
and the threat of death (16:1-4). For these he records the words of Jesus: “These
things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling” (16:1).
Therefore, in conclusion, the Gospel as an edificatory piece, we may be
reasonably sure that John wrote his Gospel for weak Christians both in his
community and in the synagogue. His Gospel encourages Christian Jews who were
straddling the fence between Jesus and the synagogue (1) because they feared
excommunication from the synagogue (cf. 9:22; 12:37-43; 16:2); (2) or because they
found Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist a hard saying and could not accept it (cf.
6:59ff.) (3) or because they could not accept the high Christology of John and his
community (cf. 5:1-47; 7:–8:59, especially 8:31; 10:22-29; and perhaps 2:23-25;
11:46); (4) or, possibly but not certainly, because they had been disciples of John the
Baptist and could not easily accept Jesus as greater than the Baptist (cf. 1:19-34;
3:22–4:3). For all of these, the Gospel as a whole, with its massive emphasis on.Page 8 Introduction
witness to Jesus and response of faith in Jesus, provided a powerful appeal for a
definitive decision concerning the Messiah (”the Christ”). To all of these equally, the
words of Jesus would certainly apply: “These things I have spoken to you, that you
may be kept from stumbling” (16:1).
Few things are more helpful for readers of John’s Gospel than an appreciation
of his literary techniques. These are for the most part the techniques of a dramatist.
They include the technique of using stories to set up scenes; the use of discourses,
dialogues, and monologues to expound Jesus’ teaching; the use of misunderstanding
and double-meaning words to emphasize important elements of Jesus’ teaching; and
the use of such other techniques as the rule of two, explanatory comments, irony,
foreshadowing, inclusion, and the chiastic arrangement of parts, sequences, and
sections of the Gospel. All of these call for a brief explanation.
John uses stories to set up scenes, discourses, and dialogues. The following are
good examples. In John 1:19-51, the story of Jesus’ coming to John the Baptist at
the Jordan sets the scene for the parade of witnesses who testify successively to Jesus
as the Lamb of God, Messiah, King of Israel, Son of God, and Son of Man.
In 2:13-25, the story of the cleansing of the temple sets the scene for Jesus’
dialogue with the Jews concerning His words “Destroy this temple [He means His
body], and in three days I will raise it up.” In 3:1-21, the story of Nicodemus’ coming
to Jesus at night sets the scene for Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus about being “born
again” (3:5), just as in 4:4ff., Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman sets the scene
for His dialogue with her about the water that will become “a well of water springing
up to eternal life” (4:14).
John uses the same technique in chapter 5, where the cure of the paralytic (5:1-
18) sets the scene for the long monologue of 5:19-47; in chapter 6, where Jesus’
discussion with the Jews about signs (6:22-31) sets the theme for Jesus’ homily on
“the true bread from heaven” (6:32-58); in chapters 7–8, where Jesus’ secret trip to
Jerusalem sets the scene for a series of debates with the Jews; in chapter 9, where
the cure of the man born blink sets the scene for the discourse on the good and the.Introduction Page 9
bad shepherds (10:1-21); in 10:22-39, where Jesus’ appearance at the feast of the
Dedication leads to His final dispute with the Jews; and lastly in chapters 13–17,
where the washing of the feet (13:1-32) sets the scene for Jesus’ Last Supper
discourse. In all these examples, the stories are secondary to the dialogues,
monologues, and discourses for which they prepare the way. They are clearly the
work of a superb dramatist.
2. Discourses, Dialogues, and Monologues
As C. H. Dodd has pointed out, the typical Johannine discourse (e.g., in 3:1-21;
4:4-38; 5:1-47; 6:22-58; 9:39–10:21; 10:22-39; 13:33–16:33) follows a distinctive
pattern: (a) it begins with a solemn declaration by Jesus, often in lapidary terms (e.g.,
3:3; 4:10; 5:17; 6:32; 7:16; 9:39; 10:25; 13:13); (b) it is frequently followed by an
objection or question based upon a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words (e.g.3:4; 4:11;
5:18; 6:41-42; 7:20; 9:40; 10:6; 10:31; 13:36); (c) there then follows Jesus’ discourse
clarifying the misunderstanding or the objection. The discourse is sometimes
interrupted by further questions and objections (e.g., 4:4-38; 6:33-58; 15:33–16:33)
and at other times consists entirely of a long monologue (e.g., 3:11-21; 5:19-47; 10:7-
John records certain persons, most frequently opponents of Jesus that make
statements about Jesus that they think are correct and that John’s readers know are
correct, but in a different and sometimes far deeper sense. The following are good
examples. In 4:12, the Samaritan woman asks Jesus, “You are not greater than our
father Jacob, are you, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and
his cattle?” She thinks not; the reader knows that Jesus is inestimably greater than.Introduction Page 11
Jacob–for He is the one that gave it to Jacob (cf. 8:58).
The Jews ask, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the
offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (7:42).
Their question implies that they deny Jesus’ Davidic descent and birth in Bethlehem.
The reader knows the opposite is true.
Caiaphas declares, “nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that
one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish”
(11:50). Caiaphas means that the execution of Jesus as a revolutionary will save the
Jews from the wrath of Rome. The reader knows that Caiaphas (the high priest),
without being conscious of it, has prophesied the death of Jesus for the spiritual
redemption not only of the Jews but of the whole world!
When Pilate asks, “What is truth?” (18:38), his question implies that one cannot
find the truth. John’s readers know that the truth Pilate despairs of finding stands
before him in the person of Jesus, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).
Finally, when the soldiers mock Jesus as king (19:2-3), John’s readers grasp the
double irony: He whom the soldiers ironically declare to be king is, ironically, truly
This is a narrator’s technique whereby knowledge of the future is given in
advance in order to arouse anticipation and suspense, and at the same time prepare
the audience to look for an interconnection of the parts of the story with the whole.
There are several excellent examples of foreshadowing in John’s Gospel. In the
Prologue, John says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not
receive Him” (1:11). Hearing these words, the reader is led to anticipate both the
rejection of Jesus by the Jews and His eventual death on the cross.
When Jesus looks at Peter and says to him, “‘You are Simon the son of John; you
shall be called Cephas’ (which translated means Peter)” (1:42), the reader, who
already knows the significance of Simon’s nickname, Peter (cf. Matt. 16:17-19), is
led to anticipate what actually only happens at the end of the Gospel, namely, Jesus’
designation of Peter to be vicar-shepherd in charge of His flock (21:15-19)..Page 12 Introduction
A classic example of foreshadowing occurs in 11:4. Jesus responds to Martha
and Mary’s message about Lazarus’ illness by declaring, “This sickness is not unto
death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Lazarus’
illness is not unto death because Jesus will raise him. And because Jesus raises him,
the Jewish leaders will plot and bring about Jesus’ own death. Thus, Lazarus’ illness
is “for the glory of God,” because it leads to Jesus’ death-glorification on the cross.
Simpler foreshadowings are found in 11:50; 12:33; 13:36; 16:32; 21:18.
Known among classical scholars as “ring composition,” inclusion is a narrator’s
technique in which was is said at the beginning of a piece is repeated at the end. The
repetition forces the reader’s attention back to the beginning and thus serves as a
frame for the piece as a whole. John frames his whole Gospel by repeating in chapter
21 words and names used in 1:19-51 (note the return in chapter 21 of the names
Simon son of John, Nathanael, the two unnamed disciples, the words “follow me,”
and the commissioning of Peter as vicar-shepherd of the sheep, a commissioning
already implicit in the change of Simon’s name to Peter in 1:42).
In addition to framing the Gospel as a whole, John frames each individual
sequence of his Gospel. Two examples will suffice: 2:1-12 (note how verses 11-12
repeat names and places in verses 1-2); 20:1-18 (note how the sequence begins and
ends with the full name of Mary Magdalene). Recognition of inclusions is important
for the interpreter. More than anything else, inclusions clearly indicate beginnings
and endings and thus help the exegete to divide the Gospel into distinct parts,
sequences, and sections. In modern terms, inclusions divide the written Gospel into
parts, chapters, and paragraphs. The importance of this becomes obvious when the
reader realizes that ancient manuscripts like John’s Gospel were regularly written
almost entirely without indications of, or divisions into parts, chapters, and sections.
Recognition of John’s inclusions becomes all the more important when one
realizes that the present division of the Gospel into twenty-one chapters, as found
in all modern Bible translations, goes back to the twelfth century and was done with
complete disregard for John’s use of inclusions to divide his Gospel into individual
parts, sequences, and sections. As we shall see in this study, when we deal with the
structure of the Gospel, John uses inclusions regularly, skillfully, and abundantly in
the composition of his Gospel.
Structure of John’s Gospel
The search for the structure of John’s Gospel has been long and dishearteningly
unsuccessful. Forty years ago, Bultmann proposed that the Gospel as it stands is not
the Gospel as it came from the hand of the author, but the poor attempt of editors to
put back in order an originally well-arranged manuscript that was either damaged or
disarranged as early as the autograph stage.
In 1963, D. M. Smith, Jr., made a study of Bultmann’s thesis regarding the order
of John and came to the conclusion that in almost every instance Bultmann’s
reconstruction raised as many problems as it provided solutions. Smith himself came
to the conclusion that it was “quite possible, indeed probable, that the Fourth Gospel
has been left to us in an unfinished stage.”
Brown begins his section on the unity and composition of the Gospel with the
question: “Is the fourth gospel as it now stands the work of one man?” His answer,
like that of all modern commentators with the exception of Lagrange and Hoskyns,
is an emphatic denial. Despite the fact that there is absolutely no textual witness to
any other order than the one we find now in the Gospel, almost all commentators take
for granted that there were at least two hands (or “schools”) at work in the
composition of the Gospel and that the Gospel as it stands now is in a state of great
The great commentators since Bultmann (Dodd, Barrett, Brown, Schnacken-burg,
Lindars, and Marsh) all call attention to the difficulties with Bultmann’s
reconstruction but do little more toward reconstructing the so-called original Gospel
beyond suggesting a series of inept redactors or editors who have distorted the
original order of the Gospel by introducing new material at several points and by
adding to what is considered the original ending of the Gospel (20:30-31) a new
concluding chapter (21).
To explain the alleged disorder, they propose variant versions of the following
hypotheses: (a) hypotheses of accidental displacements; (b) hypotheses of multiple
sources ineptly melded together; (c) hypotheses of successive editions of an earlier
Gospel supplemented and re-edited later by incompetent editors. Despite these and
other hypotheses, what H. M. Teeple said in 1962 remains true: “No one yet has
demonstrated convincingly that the gospel has been disarranged.”.Page 22 Introduction
What follows is a proposed hypothesis that the Gospel of John has suffered
neither displacements nor disarrangements but stands now as it came from the
hand of the author. This proposition is based on the contention amply demonstrated
that the Gospel was composed according to the laws of chiastic parallelism rather
than according to 20th century Western literary devices.
The Gospel appears to be in a state of disarrangement only if one presupposes
that the author composed it according to the ordinary principles of narrative
composition. If one presupposes, on the contrary, that the Gospel was composed
according to the principles of chiastic parallelism, every part, sequence, section, and
element is precisely where it belongs.
It is my belief that the Gospel as it now stands is the work of one individual; that
it has suffered no displacements; that it has a clear and easily demonstrable chiastic
structure from beginning to end; and that it exists now in our New Testament (with
the exception of the adulteress account) exactly as it came from the author. I agree
wholeheartedly with Strauss who concluded many years ago when he declared that
the Gospel “was like the seamless robe of which it spoke (John 19:23-24), which one
may cast lots for, but cannot divide.”
The heart of my argument resides in this fundamental presupposition–a presup-position
diametrically opposed to the fundamental presupposition of all previous
authors: John wrote his Gospel according to the laws of chiastic parallelism and not
according to the laws of narrative. If the Gospel had been written according to the
principles of narrative, one would rightly expect a logical and chronological
succession of events without violent changes of geography, situation, time, and
content. If this narrative presupposition is true, scholars would be correct in
deducing that John’s Gospel has suffered displacements, rearrangements, supple-mentary
interpolations, and even several redactions.
The following would be the most obvious of these displacements and rearrange-ments:
(1) the cleansing of the Temple (2:13-25), which is out of place and should
be transposed to some point closer to the Passion account; (2) 3:27-36, which is
misplaced and should be rearranged to follow either 1:19-34 or perhaps 3:19; (3)
chapters 5–7, which are not in correct order and should be rearranged so that chapter
5 and chapter 7 go together, with chapter 6 preceding them; (4) parts of 10:22-39 (the
shepherd and sheep parts), which are misplaced and should go somewhere in 10:1-
21; (5) 12:44-50, which floats and can find no good resting place anywhere in the.Introduction Page 23
Gospel; (6) chapters 15–17, which should be treated as supplementary material
added to the Last Supper discourse by one or more editors; and (7) chapter 21, which
gives the appearance of being a supplement added to the Gospel as an epilogue by
the final editor.
The above-mentioned displacements and rearrangements have been hypoth-esized
on the premise, rarely if ever questioned, that the Gospel was written
according to the laws of narrative. If this premise were true, logic would demand that
some hypothesis of displacements, rearrangements, and editions must be found,
even though it reduces the Gospel as it stands to a hodgepodge of material put
together by remarkably incompetent authors and editors. Reflecting on this
situation, C. H. Dodd thirty years ago remarked, “Unfortunately, when once the
gospel has been taken to pieces, its reassemblage is liable to be affected by individual
preferences, preconceptions, and even prejudices” (The Interpretation of the Fourth
Gospel, p. 290).
If, on the other hand, the premise is false, then the situation is entirely different.
There remains the possibility that the Gospel was indeed written according to the
principles of parallelism rather than according to the principles of narrative. That this
is more than a mere possibility may be deduced from the fact that chiastic parallelism
as a structural principle in ancient Middle Eastern books has been amply documented
in the last fifty years for both classical and biblical authors. C. H. Talbert is
undoubtedly correct in his contention that books in the ancient Middle East were
frequently written according to the laws of chiastic parallelism, and in his subsequent
judgment that “. . . the very law of duality (i.e., parallelism) by which one part is made
to correspond to another by being either analogous or contrasting seems deeply
rooted in Near Eastern mentality” (Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the
Genre of Luke-Acts, p. 74).
In addition, I believe that John’s Gospel is not simply constructed according to
the principles of chiastic parallelism, but also that each of its parts, numbering five,
and each of the twenty-one individual sequences of the Gospel is constructed
according to the principles of chiastic parallelism.
The following study will demonstrate that John creates his parallelism most
often by repeating either the same words or the same content. Occasionally he
creates parallelisms by means of antithetic parallelism, i.e., by contrasting a negative
with a positive or a positive with a negative situation or concept. On rare occasions
he not only parallels words and content, but even the literary form of a sequence..Page 24 Introduction
Chiastic Structure of the Gospel
In the following outline of the Gospel, the reader will notice that the Gospel is
divided into twenty-one sequences, with the first mirrored back by the twenty-first,
the second mirrored back by the twentieth, the third by the nineteenth, and so through
the entire Gospel, with the eleventh sequence (6:16-21) standing starkly alone in the
center. This has been done because each sequence constitutes a well-defined unit
either because of unity of place or time or theme or situation. Ideally these sequences
should take the place of the old chapter arrangement of the Gospel that comes from
Stephen Langton, who in 1226 divided the Gospel into its present very poor
arrangement of chapters and verses.
The original Gospel, like almost all ancient books, contained neither chapters
nor verses nor even paragraphs. Scholars are agreed that Langton’s division is almost
entirely arbitrary, and they have attempted to rectify the situation by retaining
Langton’s chapters and verses but adding titles or headings to indicate where they
believe John would have begun new chapters and paragraphs if he were writing his
In the following outline, because of limitation of space, only the most obvious
parallels of persons, places, and situation can be indicated in bold type. Following
the commentary on each sequence, beginning with the fourth, the reader will find a
listing of the full range of parallels John has created in order to compose his Gospel
according to the laws of parallelism.
Commentators down through the centuries have been all too content to laud
John’s Gospel for its theological depth and for its occasional brilliant literary sorties.
But on the whole, they apologized for the seemingly pedestrian literary gifts of the
author. When John is seen through the focus of chiastic parallelism, this judgment
has to be revised. Any author who could compose so elaborate a structure with such
artistic attention to detail and over so long a work deserves to be ranked with the best
of antiquity’s literary artists.
As you study John’s chiastic structure on the next
page, note particularly how he has paralleled part
with part, sequence with sequence, and section with
section. The total effect of such a structure when
presented to the eye is similar to the effect of an
elaborate mosaic or a large Persian rug.
The Rewards of Parallelism
Studying the chiastic outline of John’s Gospel on page 25, the reader will notice
that the author has paralleled in a chiastic structure PART for PART, SEQUENCE
with SEQUENCE, and SECTION with SECTION. With the relative ease which the
literary style of John can now be detected, this study will make it a key that virtually
anyone can use to gain access to the all too often “hidden” treasures of the Scriptures.
Richard Greene Moulton emphasizes the importance of printing the text in such
a way that the chiastic structure can be seen visually and thus adverted to: “The
essential thing is that the verse structure should be represented to the eye by proper
printing of the text. Where this is done further explanation is superfluous; where
structural arrangement is wanting, no amount of explanation is likely to be of much
Admittedly, such a structure is alien to modern experience and difficult to
appreciate. But for the reader who is willing to study the principles of parallel
structure and apply them to the Gospel of John as a whole, the aesthetic, literary, and
theological rewards are considerable.
Leaving aside the aesthetic rewards, which are too subjective to be adequately
described, and leaving until later the theological rewards, the literary rewards can be
described briefly..Page 28 Introduction
First, sequences of the Gospel and sections of sequences which seem to
Bultmann and others to be out of their original place in the Gospel and which they
accordingly move either backward or forward in the Book to achieve a more flowing
and continuous narrative are seen to be precisely where the principles of chiastic
parallelism require them to be (e.g., 2:13-25; 3:22-36; chapters 5, 6, 7).
Second, sections of the Gospel which are considered by many to be doublets of
earlier sections, and which are therefore deduced to be the work of inept editors, are
seen to be artistic and necessary parallels of their chiastic counterparts when judged
according to the principles of chiastic parallelism (e.g., 3:22-36 parallels 1:19-31
and chapters 16–17 parallel 13:1–14:31).
Third, individual sequences and sections of sequences whose beginnings and
ends are difficult to determine when one expects them to follow the principles of
narrative are seen to have clear and definite beginnings and endings when one reads
them according to the principles of chiastic parallelism.
Fourth, such pericopes as 2:13-25 (the cleansing of the Temple), 11:1-54 (the
Lazarus story and the priests’ plot), to name but two, have always posed problems
for those who read John according to the principles of narrative. According to the
principles of parallelism, both pericopes are exactly where they belong, the Temple
pericope balancing the Passion narrative (the destroying of the body of Jesus) and
the Lazarus pericope balancing the “bread of life” promise in 6:32-58.
Lastly, many have adverted to what has been called the “spiral” movement of
John’s thought. They have seen this spiral movement, however, as peculiar,
confusing, and repetitive. When the spiral movement is seen as part and parcel of
John’s chiastic parallelism, it ceases to be peculiar and becomes artistic; it ceases to
be confusing and serves to clarify; it ceases to be repetitious and becomes balanced
There may be no more effective way to promote an ongoing renewal in biblical
studies today than to teach and encourage Christians to read the Scriptures according
to the same principles by which they were composed.
Finally, one may ask, why John intentionally arrange his composition according
to the principles of parallelism? Some possible answers are: (1) in order that the work
might be the more easily memorized; (2) in order that corresponding parts might help
to interpret one another; (3) in order to give to his grand theme a suitable artistic form.Introduction Page 29
in the same way that Vergil chose dactylic hexameters for his theme; (4) in order to
present his work to the world in the same parallel literary pattern used so extensively
in the Old Testament and other epic works of the Middle Eastern authors.
We conclude, therefore, that neither interpreters of the Fourth Gospel nor
translators should ignore the help given to them by an author when he chooses
parallelism as his method of composition.
After a close study of John’s Gospel, the reader will be awe struck by his literary
genius. Rarely in Western literature has form been woven into content, pattern sewn
into meaning, structure forged into theme with greater subtlety or success. The result
is a Gospel of profound paradox that first reveals then resolves itself in absolute
symmetry. To look closely at the major patterns of paradox is to discover how the
literal level of the Gospel fully engenders the meaning and how pattern finally
The Gospel of John is the most intricately composed, complex and relatively
long opus in the New Testament. The author did not mind, however, breaking his
Gospel up into manageable pieces. Even in the central part of his composition, which
is strictly coherent, he has paid the greatest attention to the individual sequences and
sections. The grand effect of the Fourth Gospel is due to its parts melting into one