Unger's Bible Dictionary: John



JOHN, THE GOSPEL OF. The fourth gospel, regarded by many as the deepest and most wonderful book in the NT. Although in one sense it is simple, direct, penetrating, and to be understood by common people, yet in another respect it is a sublimely profound revelation fathomed only by spiritual scholars. Some have called it "the greatest book in the world."


Purpose. The aim of the gospel of John is spiritual. Although many different opinions have been advanced, the purpose is stated clearly and unequivocally in John 20:30-31: "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." It is evident from this statement that the author's intent was to conduct men to saving faith in Christ as the Son of God and so enable them to obtain eternal life. The deity of Christ is thus proved by miraculous signs consisting of a selective group of miracles, which he enumerates as demonstrating Christ's messiahship. A careful reading of the gospel will also disclose that the author seeks to accomplish this in various other ways by presenting the true Person and work of the Savior and by a variety of telling figures describing Christ as the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Truth, the Way, the Life, and the Vine. To accomplish his spiritual aim, John records eight miracles. All but two-the feeding of the five thousand (6:4-14) and the walking on the water (6:15-21)-are peculiar to John. This wondrous book has a literary unity; the miracles, the discourses, the imagery, and the figures are all selected in order to attain its purpose. In the synoptic gospels the miraculous works of Jesus are frequently performed out of mercy, but in the gospel of John they are presented as attestations of His messiahship.


Author. Internal evidence that the author is "the disciple whom Jesus loved," who also leaned on His breast at supper (John 21:20, cf. 21:7), and that this is the apostle John, is supported by numerous lines of evidence. (1) He was a contemporary of the events described. The writer was known to the high priest and entered the high priest's residence in company with Jesus (18:15). He alone narrates the fact that it was the high priest's servant whose ear Peter cut off (18:10). He deals with questions about the period before the destruction of Jerusalem and not with controversies of the second century when Gnostic and Ebionite defections were active (cf. 6:15; 11:47-50). Numerous other details point to the contemporary scene. (2) He was a Jew of Palestine. He shows acquaintance with Heb., as is shown by the book's opening words (cf. Gen 1:1). Three times he quotes from the Heb. (12:40; 13:18; 19:37). He knows intimately the Hebrew festivals, that of Passover (21:13,23; 6:4; 13:1; 18:28), the Feast of Booths (7:2; Tabernacles, studybible), and the Feast of Dedication (10:22). Jewish customs and habits of thought are familiar to him, such as questions of purification (3:25; 11:55), marriage customs, especially the way of arranging waterpots (2:1-10); Jewish burial customs (11:38,44; 19:31,40). He shows firsthand knowledge of Palestine, that there is a descent from Cana to the Sea of Galilee (2:12) and that Jacob's well is deep (4:11). He is familiar with such places as Ephraim (11:54), Aenon (3:23), Mt. Gerizim (4:20), Jerusalem and the Kidron (18:1), Bethesda and Siloam (5:2; 9:7), and Golgotha (19:17; etc.). (3) He was John, the beloved apostle. This is a general deduction sustained from the above facts. He indicates the hours of events recounted (1:39; 4:6,52; 19:14). He reports quotations of Philip (6:7; 14:8), Thomas (11:16; 14:5), Judas (14:22), and Andrew (6:8-9). He leaned on Jesus' breast at the Last Supper (13:23-25) and was numbered among the three, Peter, James, and John. Moreover, Peter is distinguished from the author by name, as in 1:41-42; 13:6,8, and James had suffered martyrdom long before the writing of the gospel (Acts 12:2). He characteristically introduces himself (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). These general facts make it difficult to escape the conclusion that John the apostle wrote the fourth gospel.


Authenticity. External evidence for the early date and apostolic authorship of the gospel of John is as substantial as that for any NT book. Early evidence is found in the epistle of Barnabas. Tatian quotes the fourth gospel in his Diatessaron, as well as Theophilus of Antioch. The Muratorian Canon says, "John, one of the disciples, wrote the fourth book of the gospels." From the time of Irenaeus the evidence becomes indisputable. He frequently quotes the gospel and in such a way as to show it had been used for a long time in the churches. This testimony is perhaps most important considering he was a pupil of Polycarp, and Polycarp was a friend of the apostle John. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian of Carthage often quote from the gospel of John.


Date. The date of the fourth gospel is to be assigned between A.D. 85 and 95. A papyrus bit containing two verses of the gospel of John has been discovered; it belongs to the Papyrus Rylands and is dated c. A.D. 140 AD. This bit of evidence suggests that the fourth gospel was in existence as early as the first half of the second century and at that time was already in wide use.



BIBLIOGRAPHY: F. L. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2 vols. (n.d.); S. Lathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ (1870); C. E. Luthardt, St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel (1875); id., St. John's Gospel Described and Explained . . . , 3 vols. (1876-78); T. Whitelaw, The Gospel of St. John (1888); G. B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology (1894); W. F. Howard, The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation (1935); id., Christianity According to St. John (1943); M. C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief (1948); B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (1950); J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (1951), vols. 3-4; W. Hendricksen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John (1953); R. H. Lightfoot, St. John's Gospel, a Commentary (1956); R. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible, 2 vols. (1966); J. Marsh, Saint John (1968); L. L. Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (1969); id., The Gospel According to John (1971); H. A. Kent, Jr., Light in the Darkness (1974); J. M. Boice, The Gospel of John, 5 vols. (1975-79); C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (1978); W. R. Cook, The Theology of John (1979); C. K. Barrett, Essays on John (1982); A. Jukes, Four Views of Christ (1982), pp. 90-110; R. Govett, Govett on John (1984); J. H. Bernard, The Central Teaching of Christ, John 14-17 (1985).

(from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)

New Testament Books and Authors

Bible History Online


The New Testament Books and Their Authors

New Testament Books and Authors The Book of Matthew The Book of Mark The Book of Luke The Book of John The Book of Acts The Book of Romans The Book of 1 Corinthians The Book of 2 Corinthians The Book of Galatians The Book of Ephesians The Book of Philippians The Book of Colossians The Book of 1 Thessalonians The Book of 2 Thessalonians The Book of 1 Timothy The Book of 2 Timothy The Book of Titus The Book of Philemon The Book of Hebrews The Book of James The Book of 1 Peter The Book of 2 Peter The Book of 1 John The Book of 2 John The Book of 3 John The Book of Jude The Book of Revelation Books of the New Testament The New Testament

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. Heb. 8:6 (The Book of Hebrews)


image\bible_persp9.gif The New Testament is the most wonderful book. It reveals how God has kept every promise that He made to the nation Israel and ultimately fulfilled His covenant with them in One Man, Jesus Christ. It contains an accurate account of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His life, His history on earth, His Words, and His plan for all nations including Israel. It reveals how God used a single man, a Jew, who courageously went out to the farthest parts of the known world, to preach the gospel, and would eventually die for his faith in Jesus Christ. It reveals the end of the world, and how Jesus Christ would receive the kingdom that God had promised Him from the beginning.


The New Covenant - A Heart Message



The New Testament

A Heart Message


List of New Testament Books


Matthew Mark Luke
John Acts Romans
1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians
Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 John
3 John Jude Revelation


Charts and Information




Related Content