[This was originally posted here.]

Saint John and the Fourth Gospel

The Gospel of John is a document written partly to supplement the Synoptic gospels. The author of the Fourth Gospel has access to the Jesus tradition, and this is evidenced by the level of detail, by the Jesus sayings that are shared with the Synoptics, and by the appeal to third-party testimonies. The Gospel of John is also a polemic document as well as a persuasive document designed to evoke a confession from its audience.

As Brian noted in his post on the Synoptic confession, Matthew, Mark, and Luke present Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and expect a response—namely, to confess what has been portrayed. John does the same thing as well:

But these things have been written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31)

Thus, one of the first things we find is that John expects one to understand something about Jesus. One is to grasp certain things about Jesus. While the question of whether faith must precede theology, or vice versa, is a relevant question, John’s purpose here is not to debate that question. John’s aim is to get the audience to respond to what has been revealed about Jesus. This content at the onset of John reveals much:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This one was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and apart from Him, was not one thing made. (John 1:1–3)

Jesus existed before the beginning with God and is by nature God. Jesus is the Son of God because He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). So the preexistence and heavenly origins of Jesus comprise part of the content of what one believes concerning Christ.

John 21 is considered a later addition to the Gospel, and so the original ending is believed to be John 20:30–31. If this is the case, then Thomas’s confession serves as a nice bookend to the earlier edition. Here is what takes place:

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

The second thing we find is that we must declare something about Jesus. In this case, Thomas’s confession is that Jesus is Lord and God; this confession is in line with what John reveals to us at the beginning of the Gospel. We also find Peter’s confession about Jesus:

“And we have believed and have known that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69)

This confession is interesting because it is Peter’s only confession about Jesus in John. In all four gospels, Jesus is never addressed by any other human being as “the Holy One”; instead, the demons are the ones who make this confession. This serves to highlight some sort of other-than-human quality of Jesus.

The third aspect of John’s purpose is that the one who believes might have life in Jesus’ name. As one responds to what one knows of Jesus by declaring it in word, one then declares belief in Christ in one’s manner of living. After Thomas and Peter responded to what they knew about Christ and declared it, they lived without questioning the Lord when He appeared (21:12). According to church tradition, Thomas spread the gospel of Christ into India where he was martyred. Peter was instated as one who would feed Jesus’ sheep, and then invited to follow him (21:19).

Possibly the most significant story of content, declaration, and ethic in John is the blind man of John 9. He understood that Jesus made mud and instructed him to wash in the Pool of Siloam so that he could see (9:6–7). When questioned by the Pharisees, the now-seeing man made a declaration about Jesus from the best that he knew: that Jesus is a prophet and that Jesus was from God (9:17, 33). Later, when approached by Jesus, the man once again believes that Jesus is the Son of Man (9:35, content), makes his declaration of Jesus as Lord (9:38a, declaration), and responds with worship (9:38b, ethic).