In my previous post, I wondered why the Gospel of John is considerably different than the other three Gospels. One of the reasons that the Gospel of John seems so different is that the three synoptic gospels are so similar. Because of the similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke some theory of literary dependence must be given to explain the close relationship. For example, there is no birth, baptism or temptation in John.
While Jesus does seven miracles, they are called “signs” and there are no exorcisms. There are no parables, despite Mt 13:34 and Mk 4:34 which indicate that Jesus primarily spoke in parables in the second half of his ministry. The Last Supper is not described as an ongoing celebration, rather, John describes Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (13:1-16). While the arrest and crucifixion is described in similar ways to the synoptic gospels, there is no agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Andreas J. Köstenberger provides a reasonable “working hypothesis” to account for the differences in his recent A Theology of John’s Gospel and his Letters (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2009). Köstenberger follows B. F. Wescott’s observation that John’s Gospel was written after the success of the (Pauline) Gentile Mission, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and at the same time as the emergence of Gnosticism as competitor to Apostolic Christianity.
For Köstenberger, the Fall of Jerusalem is the most important factor. I am sure that the development of Gnosticism was factor, but I am not sure that the success of the Gentile mission is as much of a factor than sometimes assumed. John wrote the gospel some thirty years after the death of Paul, from Ephesus, the city where Paul had his most success among Gentiles. Yet the Gospel has very little to say about Gentiles. The Samaritan Woman (John 4) is a possible example, but Samaritans are in many ways “neither Jew nor Gentile.” The healing of the official’s son in John 4:46-54 is sometimes offered as an example of a Gentile who encounters Jesus, but if he is John certainly does not make this explicit.
The Gospel of John is therefore a window into the end of the apostolic era. On the one hand, the Gospel is evangelistic. John wrote to Jewish readers who might be open to Jesus as an alternative to the Temple and the festivals. Given the number of allusions to the Hebrew Bible and the importance of the Jewish story of redemption, it is clear that the main target of the Gospel is Jewish.
On the other hand, the Gospel is apologetic. John wrote to Christians (either Jewish or Gentile) in order to clarify who Jesus was as an answer to growing questions raised by developing Gnostic theology. This is why I said (in class 11/26) that John’s Gospel is a kind of “insider literature” aimed at answer questions which might be asked by second and third generation Christians about the validity of their faith. The primary apologetic thrust the the Gospel is to strengthen the faith of the faithful, in the face of growing persecution as well as misunderstandings about who Jesus was.