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Provenance of John

c 90-110 AD. This would make John the last of the Gospels, and pretty late in general for the New Testament. Because of its high Christology (theology of Christ) and its familiarity with Greek and Jewish philosophy and later Gnosticism, some scholars have dated it very late in the second century. But in 1920, a piece of papyrus came to light that is a fragment of the gospel of John written sometime 125-175 AD. This is the John Rylands Papyrus 52. (In textual criticism, the blackletter 'P' indicates that it is a papyrus, while the number indicates which papyrus it is.)
Somewhere like Ephesus. The audience seems to be Jewish Christians who are in the process of separating from the synagogue. John has some of the harshest language in the New Testament about "the Jews," making the gospel of love sound surprisingly anti-Semitic. The background for this is the final split between church and synagogue. The split was problematic for the church because Rome recognized established religions but suppressed new religions. If Christians could convince the Roman government that they were a sect of Judaism, they could avoid persecution. But the synagogues weren't going along with that plan.

The Structure of John

  1. Introduction (Prologue): The Word Made Flesh in Jesus Christ (1:1–18)
  2. The Gospel Proper: From John’s to the Evangelist’s Witness (1:19–20:31)
    1. The Book of Signs: The Messiah’s Signs and Rejection by His Own (1:19–12:50)
      1. From John to Jesus: The Beginnings of Jesus’ Ministry (1:19–50)
      2. From Cana to Cana: The Cana Cycle (2:1–4:54; Signs 1–3)
        • SIGN 1: The changing of water into wine (2:1–11)
        • SIGN 2: The clearing of the temple (2:13–25)
        • SIGN 3: The healing of the nobleman’s son (4:46–54)
      3. From Jerusalem to Bethany: The Festival Cycle (5:1–10:42; Signs 4–6)
        • SIGN 4: The healing of the lame man (5:1–15)
        • SIGN 5: The feeding of the multitude (6:1–15)
        • SIGN 6: The healing of the blind man (9:1–41)
      4. From Bethany to Jerusalem: The Climactic Sign (11:1–12:36; Sign 7)
        • SIGN 7: The raising of Lazarus (11:1–57)
      5. Conclusion: Jewish Rejection of the Messiah despite His Many Signs (12:37–50).
    2. The Book of Glory: The Messiah’s Passion and Preparation of His Own (13:1–20:31).
      1. Jesus Anticipates His Exaltation:
        • The Foot washing
        • the Farewell Discourse
        • Jesus’ Final Prayer (13:1–17:26).
      2. The Passion Narrative (18:1–20:29)
      3. Conclusion: Believe in Jesus the Messiah on Account of His Signs (20:30–31)
  3. Epilogue: Jesus’ Third and Final Resurrection Appearance and His Commissioning of Peter and “the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved” (21:1–25)


In Heraclitus

Behind the universal flux of things there are invariable relations of regularity and succession that law like govern the order of the world: an order that is uncreated and which is common to all. It is this law, common to all, this underlying genus which Heraclitus calls Λόγος. It is the hidden structure or formula of all things which lies behind the flux of appearances. The unity of all things is expressed by the logos which hold forever whether we hear it or not, in a sense it is the speech of things, or of the cosmos. Even after we have heard of the logos we cannot comprehend it. Logos is that which is ‘common’, or perhaps public, but though common to all it is by no means easy to know. Knowledge is knowledge of the logos and though difficult it is not impossible. The failure to understand is the failure to see and understand the connection between things: to grasp what is common, the logos. Though men are physically present in the world, not all of them are connected with it, they are absent, though present, inexperienced, though experiencing. Understanding for Heraclitus is a kind of mindfulness, an insight into the nature of things, which grasps oppositions and change in the phenomenal world as well as unity which lies behind them. The senses are a tool towards such understanding , they act as a sign, but the logos is beyond them. The unity of things is not the unity of opposites but connected to the thesis that opposites go together in a regulated way: there is an harmony, even if it is hidden. It is the harmony of opposites the cause of the-world-as-we-know-it. In Heraclitus we also see the use of fire. . . . It is also the claim that all change is bounded, and behind the apparent opposition of things there is the principle of change, the logos, that men must know if they want to understand the world. The logos of the world is unity and difference, without benefit of any specific connectives of conjunction or disjunction or inclusion.

In Stoicism

In Philo of Alexandria

Jewish philosopher Philo's doctrine of the Λόγος is blurred by his mystical and religious vision, but his Logos is clearly the second individual in one God as a hypostatization of God's Creative Power - Wisdom. The supreme being is God and the next is Wisdom or the Logos of God (Op. 24). Logos has many names as did Zeus (LA 1.43,45,46), and multiple functions. Earthly wisdom is but a copy of this celestial Wisdom. It was represented in historical times by the tabernacle through which God sent an image of divine excellence as a representation and copy of Wisdom (Lev. 16:16; Her. 112-113). The Divine Logos never mixes with the things which are created and thus destined to perish, but attends the One alone. This Logos is apportioned into an infinite number of parts in humans, thus we impart the Divine Logos. As a result we acquire some likeness to the Father and the Creator of all (Her. 234-236). The Logos is the Bond of the universe and mediator extended in nature. The Father eternally begat the Logos and constituted it as an unbreakable bond of the universe that produces harmony (Plant. 9-10). The Logos, mediating between God and the world, is neither uncreated as God nor created as men. So in Philo's view the Father is the Supreme Being and the Logos, as his chief messenger, stands between Creator and creature. The Logos is an ambassador and suppliant, neither unbegotten nor begotten as are sensible things (Her. 205). Wisdom, the Daughter of God, is in reality masculine because powers have truly masculine descriptions, whereas virtues are feminine. That which is in the second place after the masculine Creator was called feminine, according to Philo, but her priority is masculine; so the Wisdom of God is both masculine and feminine (Fug. 50-52). Wisdom flows from the Divine Logos (Fug. 137-138). The Logos is the Cupbearer of God. He pours himself into happy souls (Somn. 2.249). The immortal part of the soul comes from the divine breath of the Father/Ruler as a part of his Logos.

In John

John’s use of the term "Logos" (1:1-2; most frequently rendered "Word" in modern English translations) continues to draw much attention. A survey of commentaries suggests that the term is deeply rooted in Old Testament thought (e.g. Genesis 1, Proverbs 8). Further, the role of the Johannine Logos parallels in some ways that of personified Wisdom in a number of traditions within Judaism (e.g. Sirach 24). As Ridderbos points out, however, Wisdom and the Logos cannot simply be identified with each other, since the former is a creation of God (Sirach 1:9), while the Logos is said to be pre-existent and Divine.7 At the same time, the Evangelist’s use of such language within a first century Mediterranean setting could scarcely have avoided associations with current Hellenistic thought, where the term "Logos" played a key role both in Stoic thought and in the work of Hellenistic Jewish thinkers such as Philo.

The Greek world provides a significant source for its interpretation. Indeed, Bultmann stresses Hellenistic sources to the virtual exclusion of Hebraic antecedents for John’s use of the word "Logos."8 While recognizing both influences, C. H. Dodd argues that John’s adoption of the term deliberately reflects the ambiguity of the word in Judaism, employing a Greek philosophical term that captures both immanent and transcendent dimensions of meaning, all within a decidedly Christian framework.9 Others, such as Ladd, Morris, Beasley-Murray, and Ridderbos, extensively develop Old Testament and Wisdom backgrounds.10

They argue, moreover, that while the Hellenistic connotations are inevitable and useful for drawing the attention of a wide range of first-century audiences, these associations are secondary and in some respects incidental, since the Fourth Gospel’s employment of the term turns out to be quite contrary to a Hellenistic worldview, as well as in some ways quite distinct from previous Jewish uses. Leon Morris puts it this way:

John could scarcely have used the Greek term without arousing in the minds of those who used the Greek language thought of something supremely great in the universe. But though he could not have been unmindful of the association aroused by the term, his thought does not arrive from the Greek background. His Gospel shows little trace of acquaintance with Greek philosophy and even less dependence on it. And the really important thing is that John, in his use of the Logos, is cutting clean across one of the fundamentals of Greek ideas.11

Beasley-Murray agrees, and sees Johannine usage as indicative of the Evangelist’s acumen in communicating the Gospel and its distinctive message within the philosophical and cultural context of his time:

The remarkable feature of this presentation is that it employs categories universally known, possessing universal appeal, which would attract and have attracted alike Jews, Christians, pagans, Hellenists and Orientals in their varied cultures, followers of ancient and modem religions, philosophers and people of humble status who were seekers after God.12

Here we might also notice the relationship of the Prologue to the rest of the Gospel. It is unmistakable that a number of Johannine terms are being introduced here ("life," "light," 1:5; "believe," 1:7; "world," 1:9; "children of God," 1:12; "flesh," 1:1:14; "truth," 1:14). The author of the Prologue incorporates these important concepts in an introductory fashion, and also identifies their relationship to the Logos, whose portrayal is decidedly at the centre of his concern.

The Prologue also introduces the figure of John the Baptist (1:6). He is apparently known by the community being addressed and held in high regard by them, so that a clear delimitation of his role and status in relationship to the Logos is needed (1:6-8, 15, and later 1:19-28). Yet in some ways these explanatory comments interrupt the flow of the earlier liturgical sections, raising questions of composition. If we accept Brown’s explanation that the Gospel was composed in several stages,13 and see the hymn material of the Prologue (1:1-5, 10-12, 14, 16) as a late addition of a final redactor to a work that originally began with 1:6 and 19, a possible explanation emerges. That is, it becomes possible to see the interspersing of these comments regarding the Baptist within the hymn-like material of the Prologue as an attempt to interweave together the earlier and later introductory materials. While such a proposal is necessarily speculative, the logical progression of thought between 1:6-8 and 19 appears to support such a suggestion.14 In addition, there are Old Testament parallels for beginning narrative accounts with a construction similar to the one we find in 1:6 (e.g., Judges 13:2; 1 Sam 1:1). This leaves open the possibility that in its earliest form, the introduction to John’s Gospel may have begun with 1:6-8.


1.    The Word in the Beginning (1:1-5)

A.    1:1-2 The Word and God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.15

While the focus of the Prologue is on God in relation to humankind, rather than God in relation to Himself, the first two verses are the closest to an intra-Trinitarian description that we have in this material. Even here, however, the reference to the "Word" is difficult to separate from the language of Genesis 1, with its echoes of "in the beginning" and a creative "Word" which called all things into being. Cullmann argues that their common interest in the self-communication of God establishes a clear relationship between these two texts.16 It is also quite possible, given John’s tendency to use expressions that are intended to be taken in more than one way, that the phrase "in the beginning" combines both a temporal sense ("in the beginning of history) and a cosmological sense ("at the root of the universe").17

According to Ridderbos, however, the scope and implications of the Johannine introduction move well beyond Genesis:

one can say that the words "in the beginning" in John 1 have a broader meaning than they do in Genesis 1 and they refer to something "behind" Genesis, so to speak. They refer to the Word and to the Word’s existence "before the world was made," as a being distinct from God. This also implies, meanwhile, that the "in the beginning" of Jn 1:1ff. transcends by far that of Genesis 1:1ff., and cannot be explained on the basis of Genesis 1. For between Genesis 1 and John 1 lies the Christ event.18

In summary, the opening verses leave little doubt that the Logos is identified as being equal in divine status to that of God, and is fully God, so that what will be said about the Logos will be said, in the fullest sense, of God.

B.    The Word and Creation (1:3-5)

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The remainder of this first section (1:3-5) is introduced by panta, a Greek word that figures prominently in several other New Testament hymn-like passages (Rom 11:36; Col 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6), all of them Pauline. These passages all describe the comprehensive character of Christ’s work of redemption: here, the phrasing of 1:3 is best seen as an expansion of the activity of the Logos in creation, with the restatement of 1:3b emphasizing the all-inclusive character of the involvement of the Logos.

The word "life" (zoe) is one of a number of terms laden with meaning in John.19 While the sense of "eternal life," its most common meaning in the Gospel, seems at first difficult to apply here, a consideration of the creational basis for this concept makes it quite acceptable, for the Logos is from the beginning, the source of all life (cf. Gen 2:7, 9; 3:22; also Rev 22:2). The use of the word directs us to the close connection between life and light in the giving and sustaining of life (John 8:12; cf. Ps 13:3; 27:1; 56:13; 89:15).20

The translation of the following verse (1:5) requires some discussion. The NIV translates the verb katalambano as "understood" ("and the darkness has not understood it"). While this is certainly within the range of word’s meaning21, it may be difficult to attribute the predicate "understanding" to darkness. The sense of "mastering" (NEB) or "overcoming" the darkness (so Brown, Delling) is probably better here.22 Despite the fall of the creation into rebellion and sin, the work of the Logos was not extinguished, but rather continued. Taken in another sense, the word may refer to the opposition experienced by Jesus during his ministry, and the inability of his opponents to thwart his mission.

II.    The Coming of the Word as the Light of the World (1:6-13)

A.    1:6-9 The Word and John the Baptist

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.


With 1:6-8, we move to material that many, including Brown, see as an explanatory insertion displaced from its original position prior to the material of 1:19ff. Brown argues that one of the main reasons for the writing of the Fourth gospel was in order to correct a sectarian group within the writer’s audience who regarded John the Baptist as the Messiah, or at least as being equal in status to him.23 This is clearly the force of the argument presented in this section and further developed in the latter part of the chapter. This is not to say that the Gospel does not at the same time accord John and his role appropriate recognition and respect; nor should this polemical purpose be seen to eclipse other, equally important motivations for the Evangelist’s writing.24

While providing a transition into the hymn materials to follow, 1:9 also draws attention once more to "light," a prominent Messianic theme in the Old Testament prophetic tradition (esp. Isa 9:2; 42:6; 40:1-2; cf. Matt 4:16). As one commentator notes, the description of the light as "true" (Gr., alethinon) is at first puzzling, since the term has no foil in the Fourth Gospel; that is, a "false" or lesser light. Perhaps the best explanation for John’s use of this description is the well-established tradition in Judaism that regarded the Torah as symbolized by light, to which the evangelist now contrasts the final and true (that is, the real and eternal) revelation of God’s light.25

B.    1:10-13 The World’s Response to the Word

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Interpreters have understood 1:10-12b in a number of quite different ways. If the passage is read as referring to the Old Testament presence of the Logos among his people (whether in the Torah or through divine spokespersons such as prophets and leaders), it forms a chronological bridge between the Creation strophe of 1:1-5 and the Incarnation reported in 1:14. Yet such a reading would interrupt the chronological sequence of the Prologue, since John the Baptist has already been mentioned in 1:6-8. It would also seem to suggest that the final redactor (rather surprisingly) misunderstood 1:10-12b when he placed it here. A further problem, as Ridderbos points out, has to do with believers becoming "children of God," which elsewhere in John’s Gospel seems to be exclusively connected to the coming of Jesus. If this is the case, this section cannot refer to anyone other than believing Christians in John’s own audience, and certainly not to Old Testament believers.26 On the other hand, Dodd argues that the Old Testament does sometimes identify the people Israel as the "children" (Deut 14:1) or "son/sons" of God (Ps. 82:6, Hos 1:1 0), or collectively as his "Son" (Hosea 11:1). Moreover, the concept of sonship in the Old Testament is closely related to obedience and faithfulness, not merely to filial relationships themselves.

A second possibility is that we find here an initial reference to the career of Jesus of Nazareth, and in particular to the contrast between lack of recognition on the part of Jesus’ enemies and detractors (e.g. John 9:35-41) and recognition of the Incarnate Word among the Johannine circle (as in the classic statement of 1:14). On such a view, verses 10-12b parallel the career of Jesus (e.g. compare 1:11b with 4:44; 12:37) and provide a short summary of both the Book of Signs (John 2-12) in 1:11, and the Book of Glory (John 13-20) in 1: 12. The objection that such a reading of the poetic materials ignores Old Testament background material is not as telling as it first sounds, since both Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20 do much the same thing. This is a difficult problem, and both readings appear possible. If one sense must be chosen, the second proposal seems the stronger of the two, though it is also likely that the writer did not have the first very far from his mind. Those who argue that the evangelist had a dual purpose, referring simultaneously both to the relationship of the Logos with creation and Israel, and to its Incarnation in the ministry of Jesus, may well be right.27

The word kosmos ("world"), first introduced in 1:9, is now explained further, in a resumption of the staircase poetic structure from 1:1-5. The word is repeated three times, in order to explain that the creation of 1:3 (and here particularly the human domain of that creation) rather painfully and inexplicably rejected the Logos on his appearance.28 This lack of recognition (not "seeing"), by some in Jesus’ audience will be an important theme later in the Gospel (e.g. 9:35-41; 11:9, 40; 12:37-45; also 1:14). In contrast to the Gnostic conception of "kosmos" as inherently evil in its very existence and origins, John has in view a qualitative or ethical interpretation of the kosmos both here and in reference to darkness (Gr. skotia) in 1:5:

Rather, men are kosmos and skotia by virtue of their being God’s creation and the place and object of the saving revelation; they are kosmos and skotia because they have made themselves independent of God, and correspondingly the skotia is the darkness of lies and sin.29

The remainder of the middle section (1:11-13) expands on this theme and narrows the focus of the "rejection" motif. The term "his own" (Gr. idia, idioi) is used in two senses. The first reference in the neuter plural ("that which was his own," NIV; "his own things," NRSV) refers in a general way to the place which he has made, the creation. The second use is in the masculine plural, i.e. "his own (people)" — either humanity (1:3, 4) or, more specifically, Israel — who were brought into being through him (2 Sam 5:2, Ps 33:12, Isa 1:3, Jer 31:33).30 But Jesus’ coming will not be met with complete rejection. The section concludes on the note of hope, emphasizing the possibility for those who believe to be born anew and recreated through the same God who brought all of creation into being. The triple negative construction ("not of human descent, nor of human decision, nor a husband’s will" in 1:13, NIV) heightens the contrast between conventional, natural processes of the created world, and the newness which Jesus’ ministry and salvation program brings into the world (cf. 3:3-8). It should also be noted that the term "believe in" (pisteuein eis) is typically Johannine and appears almost 40 times in the Gospel, most often in connection with Jesus (31 times), and usually in reference to saving faith, as it does here in 1:12.31 Those who believe in the Son will thus form a new community of people who will be "his own," in contrast with those who — though they were already his own — did not recognize or believe in him.32

Many interpreters, including Brown, see 1:13 as an editorial expansion of the original hymn on the basis of its apologetic interest and differing style, together with its focus on the believer, which contrasts with the Logos-centred emphasis of 1:1-5, 10-12 and 14. On the other hand, the content of 12c and 13 are closely connected and reinforced elsewhere in the Johannine writings (cf. 1 John 5:1).

III.    The Glory of the Word in the Flesh (1:14-18)

A.    1:14 The Incarnation of the Word

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The final section of the Prologue draws together the various elements introduced to this point. Attention now shifts to the centrality of the Incarnation and its implications. For the first time since 1:1, the term Logos, "Word," is restated, emphasizing the movement from the cosmological dimensions of the term (in 1:1) to the temporal experience and conviction of the present Johannine community. This movement is also apparent in John’s use of the verb "to become" (ginomai) in place of "to be," signalling that the Word has taken on a new form in a dramatic and comprehensive way. Beasley-Murray takes this language to imply a flat rejection of any sort of docetism, whether ancient or modern.33

The meaning of "flesh" (Gr. sarx) has received much attention. Bultmann has contended rather forcefully for the view that the flesh is significant as the only locus for the glory of the Logos, much of which thus remains in a certain hiddenness.34 However, the emphasis seems to be more on a juxtaposition in l:lc and 1:14a of the Logos in its two different settings: paradoxically, the Word was fully God and is now completely "flesh," but both are equally true.35 A second parallel can be discerned between l:lb (" was with God") and 1:14b ("made his dwelling among us")." The verb used here — "to make one’s dwelling" (Gr. skenoo) — draws on the Exodus traditions of a God who once lived among his people in the Tabernacle (Exodus 33) and made his glory visible to his people there (Exodus 40:34; cf. 1 Kings 8:11, regarding the temple dedication). This theme continues in prophetic literature (Joel 3:17, Zech 2:10, Ezek 37:27, 43:7) and is weighted with associations grounded in the entire history of the Old Testament covenant with Israel.36

In addition to seeing/recognition (1:10), the important concept of "glory" (doxa) is now introduced. This is another of the special terms that Brown identifies in the Fourth Gospel, occurring here 35 out of a total 185 instances in the New Testament. It is also deeply rooted in the Old Testament (Hebrew kabod), and embodies the dual sense of God’s ruling divinity made visible through observable actions of great power.37 While for John this glory is visible in Jesus’ statements and signs (many of which fulfill or supercede important elements in the Old Testament), it is most evident in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension in the second Book of Glory.38 Moreover, a close linkage here between skenoo and doxa ("the Word... dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory") may allude to the fulfilment of the "new covenant" promises regarding the coming nearness of God to his people in a way that will replace both tabernacle and temple. Such images carry through into the apocalyptic New Testament hope (Ezek 44:4, Rev 7:15, 21:3).

The word monogenous has long been translated "only begotten," an expression linked closely to Trinitarian procession theology. It has recently come to be seen more in terms of Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father, emphasizing obedience and faithfulness to his purpose more than ontological relationship, important as the latter may be for other New Testament texts and early Christian thought in general. The NIV renders it as "the One and Only," capturing the incomparable status of the Son in the eyes of the Father.39 Together with "son" (huios), it reflects a characteristically Johannine way of referring to Jesus.

The couplet "grace and truth" (charitos kai aletheias; also in 1:17) contains the last of the richly connotative words employed in this decisive statement. The two terms echo the Hebrew pairing of "steadfast love" and "truth" (Heb. hesed, emet) which are central in the covenantal self-disclosure of God in the Old Testament. A full consideration of these terms is beyond the scope of the present study. Nonetheless, the fact that for a third time the writer uses terminology that is of signal importance in Exodus (cf. 34:6) and used throughout the Old Testament covenant (cf. also Ps 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13), alerts us to his intentions in presenting Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s previous revelation to Israel and of the hope of a second Exodus revelation.40 Taken cumulatively, the language of 1:14 certainly validates the observation made by several that in an important sense, the writer is accomplishing here what the Synoptic gospels will set forth in their own accounts by means of the Transfiguration.41

John 7:53-8:11 — Textual Apparatus

See A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants

Manuscript Families

  1. The Alexandrian text-type. These manuscripts center in Alexandria, Egypt. They are the product of highly trained scribes associated with the library and schools there.
  2. The Western text-type. These mss (manuscripts) center in Rome and the western empire. The text-type is much less controlled than the Alexandrian text-type. The scribes make changes freely; adding, deleting, and changing words and phrases. It's possible the scribes were less well-educated and not as adept at Greek as the Alexandrians. The epistles tend to be closer to other font-families than the gospels.
  3. The Caesarean text-type. These mss center in Caesarea, a Roman colony on the coast near Jerusalem. Family 1 & Family 13 follow this type. One unusual reading is that they give the name "Jesus Barabbas" for the thief rather than "Barabbas" as in the other families.
  4. The Byzantine text-type. The bulk of mss follow this text-type. It is the one followed by the Greek Orthodox Church and underlies the textus receptus used by Reformation-era translations. It's marked by the Blackletter 'M' (M for majority) or Byz. They tend toward smooth Greek; they may improve poor Greek from earlier mss. They also tend to harmonize differences between the Synoptics.


Based on Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009, 170.

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