Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels

It is well known that the Gospel of John differs considerably from 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.

Gospel of JohnFor example, John has no birth, baptism, or temptation. While Jesus does seven miracles, they are called “signs,” and there are no exorcisms. Despite Mt 13:34 and Mk 4:34, there are no parables, which indicate that Jesus primarily spoke in parables in the second half of his ministry.

Several extended dialogues have no real parallel in the synoptic gospels. Jesus does not re-interpret the Mosaic law, as in the Sermon on the Mount, nor does he predict the fall of Jerusalem (cf. Mark 13 and parallels.)  In fact, there is no prediction of a second coming in John, although Jesus does promise to send the Paraclete to the disciples after he returns to heaven (14:25-26, 16:7-15).  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 are described similarly to the synoptic gospels, there is no agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

I am following Andreas J. Köstenberger’s A Theology of John’s Gospel and his Letters (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 a competitor to Apostolic Christianity.

For Köstenberger, the Fall of Jerusalem is the most important factor.  I am sure that the rise of Gnosticism is a major factor, but I am not sure that the success of the Gentile mission is as much of a factor as 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.

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.  But a few stories could be described as drawing Gentiles to Jesus.  The story of the blind man who is healed in John 5 may show that Jesus is superior to Asclepius, a Roman god of healing.  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) to clarify who Jesus was as an answer to growing questions raised by developing Gnostic theology. There is a serious theological challenge developing in the church, John must address this as insufficient for explaining who Jesus was.   John describes Jesus as the Word, equal with God because he is God. But Jesus is also flesh, fully human. These two facts are stated in the prologue and supported throughout the Gospel of John.

Therefore, the Gospel of John is a window into the end of the apostolic era. Christianity was progressing against paganism but needed to develop a theology of Jesus in the face of an internal challenge. Can we draw other implications from the differences between John and the Synoptics?

20 thoughts on “Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels

  1. I think at this point, if we look at the Gospel of John, all we really can do is speculate as to the meaning behind why it was written. We can obviously make arguments for both sides of the coin. It could be plausible that John wrote it for ‘Jewish readers who might be open to Jesus as an alternative to the Temple’; it could also be that John clarified who Jesus was to avoid the growing popularity of Gnosticism. There is also a chance that the original writings of John were passed down by way through stories and someone along the way tried to piece it altogether into the book of John. At this point, in my opinion, we can just analyze it for what we see and the possible implications behind it. In the end, I would say that it could be a combination of all of these things. We have the Scriptures to interpret for ourselves and to seek the Lord’s wisdom as to wether the interpretation is right. Because of the way that we have analyzed scripture in class, it has taught me to question what I am reading and why, but like I said previously, it is important to take it as it is.

  2. In this article there was a few things that I found to be very interesting and these things I haven’t thought much about. While reading this article it made me want to go back and re-read the book of John for the fact that it doesn’t have the stories or ideas that the other Gospels, Mathew, Mark and Luke have. For example, the article states this, “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.” (Long, Para. 2). There Is another idea that struck me as well in this article and that idea would be the gospel of John never talks about end time while the other gospels give brief hints about the end times. With this I think that John was written more maturely to understand what Jesus was trying to say and make point of. He put in the main points that we can follow that Jesus was and is fully God and fully man. While reading the chapter in Kostenberger’s book Encountering John he writes this, ““everything Jesus does is revelation, his works, as well as his words point to the very appearance of who Jesus is.” I think that John had a strategy while writing his gospel to point out that Jesus was fully man but at the same time while he was on earth he was fully God as well.

  3. The differences surrounding John in comparison to the Synoptics is certainly something that is intriguing. You have three versions of the same story, with very few variations between content, and one that tells the same story, but does not include some of the stories and puts an emphasis on different aspects. John excludes some stories that many people would feel showed important aspects of who Jesus was, and, in part, some of the powers that He had. According to Kostenberger, “John is more overtly interested in the theological underpinnings of Jesus’s person and work than are the Synoptics” (Kostenberger, 23). While the Synoptics focused on the life of Jesus and presented the historical facts of his life, John chose to focus on the theological side, specifically the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. John states that “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…” (John 20:31, NIV). This next part will dive into my own observation and is not based on any evidence, but rather, as stated, my own observation. It seems that several things that John excluded from his Gospel have to do with things that showed more of Jesus’ human side than of His divinity. It took away His birth story, His temptation, and His pain in the garden. Some would say that these stories show aspects of Jesus humanity. The question that comes to my mind is did John leave out some of these details because he was presenting Jesus as the Son of God, so people would not expect Him to go through these things, thus they would hurt the truth he was trying to share? Or rather, were these details not pertinent to what John was doing, and thus the Holy Spirit did not want John to write about them? Either way, what John wrote is what God ordained for John to include in his Gospel, and they point to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

  4. Jordan, you make a really good point that John’s gospel is the one that has the most material pointing towards the redemption that Jesus provides. While the other gospels seem to point to Jesus’s overall life on earth, John points more to the purpose of why Jesus came to the earth reflecting John 3:16. Kostenberger mentioned in his book that John was more selective with the information that he put into his gospel. He states, “According to his purpose statement in 20:30-31, John selects certain signs performed by Jesus to prove that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah” (Kostenberger, 16). It is pretty clear that John wanted his gospel to be one that didn’t just tell the story of Jesus and everything he did, but show that Jesus is indeed very important as the redeemer of the world.
    John’s gospel is important with the uniqueness that it has. However, I find it interesting that you alluded to the idea of the book of John being a little more important of the four gospels. Each gospel is unique in its own way and each has their own little pieces that are not in any of the others. That is what is so beautiful about each gospel, we get the same story but it is being told from four different perspectives. With that being said, even though the synoptic gospels are quite uniform with their information, does that mean that they are any less valuable than John’s gospel? Without them, we wouldn’t have the early life of Jesus or may of the miracles or parables. Also, they keep each other creditable as they all hold the same or similar information. Just food for thought.

  5. The synoptic Gospels are different than the Gospel of John, that is seen clearly. So, why is there such a big difference between the different books of the Bible? Well for starters one can take a look at Matthew, Mark, and Luke and see that all three books tell the same story. But even those three books vary from each other. For instance Matthew’s Gospel starts with the genealogy and birth of Jesus. And follows Jesus’s live and ministry and ends with him resurrecting at the end. Matthew follows a flowing structure from beginning to end. While Mark’s Gospel paints a more dramatic picture of the suffering servant, Jesus. And Yet Luke’s Gospel is based around Jesus being the savior to all people including the Gentile’s. What makes John’s Gospel unique to the others is that his is more theologically based. the main theme of John is about showing and proving how Jesus is the divine son of God as well as being the son of Man. Why does John’s Gospel vary so much? His Gospel is different for many reasons. One reason may be that he didn’t see it fit to have four separate accounts of the same events, because that’s what the synoptic gospels do. Perhaps it was because John was writing to a different audience than the writers of the synoptic gospels. His intended audience was Gentile’s who believed in Christ and those who weren’t believers yet but wanted to know more. And then for those who were believers. John purposely wrote about Christ being fully God and fully man. And to assure Christ’s status, and being the only way for salvation.

  6. As with many other puzzling things in the Bible it is impossible to know what happened exactly and why John ended up so very different from the rest of the Gospels. What we do know is that John is clearly different and it is meant to be different than the Synoptic Gospels. The disciple John, who I believe to be the author, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to go a different direction than the other Gospels, which John may or may not have been aware of.To me this just proves that there is way more to the life of Jesus than what was recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John writing to what seems to be a primarily Jewish audience would have assumed that they know some of the context in which we are missing, and left in it out of the text. It would also make sense to leave things out, like the birth of Jesus, if John was writing to “Christians” who already knew those stories and decided to to take a different approach and describe the Sovereignty of Jesus. How Jesus, the Messiah, connects with God. Which is why John would start out his book with John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” implying that Jesus was the Word and that He was with God (the Father) in the beginning. While many people for many years have tossed John aside and claim that it was not as important as the Synoptic Gospels, I would argue the opposite. That John is more important today the the Synoptic Gospels because of the way John portraits Jesus, as the redeemer, the Messiah, the Savior of the World. There are a great many people who know about what Jesus did as a man, but many today are confused at what Jesus did as God the Son.

  7. It is super clear that John is not like any of the Synoptic Gospels; where there are some things that are the same, there are important things that are not. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus participates in Passover before he dies yet in John he does not. While reading Scripture, Jesus partook in Passover before it even started. The actual one took place after the crucifixion; it is usually celebrated on the end of the week but as Scripture shows Jesus was speaking and said to his disciples in Matt 26 “As you know, the Passover is two days away-and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then with following in Matt 27:62 with “The next day, the one after Preparation Day the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.” Why is the Synoptic Gospel so different from John? In John 19:31 it goes on to read “Now it was the day of Preparation and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses doing the Sabbath they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.” Thus supporting that Jesus died before the actual festival began unlike in the Synoptics when he had been crucified the day after Preparation Day. Though there are slight sillimanites between them there are also huge differences as well.

  8. When we take the time to look around and observe the world in regards to politics, preferences, and policies, we begin to notice, as Christians, just how far we have strayed from the Truth found in the Word of God. The paganism found in the Old Testament seems to be making a resurgence. Homosexuality, abortion, and false explanations of God and the Bible seem to be more abundant now than ever before. Why is this happening? I believe it is because we are turning to other sources for the answers that can truly only be found in the Word of God itself.

    According to Köstenberger, it seems likely that the Gospel of John was written sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, but not necessarily right away (p. 8). The fall of Jerusalem was a tragic event that must have placed fear and doubts into the hearts of many Jews. The fact that the Gospel of John is predicted to have been written shortly after, proves there was a reason behind the timing of his Gospel. Alongside the fall of Jerusalem Gnosticism was also rising in popularity and challenging the views of Apostolic Christianity (Long, para. 4). John wrote his Gospel among the Jews and Gentiles, yet the correlation between his Gospel and the Old Testament proves his main audience to be the Jews (Long, para. 10). This is significant because the Jews seem to be in a place where encouragement and Truth is desperately needed. While the synoptic Gospels are useful for explaining details and information relevant to the life of Jesus, the Gospel of John is unique in the sense that it brings revelation to the hearts of its readers in a spiritual sense (Köstenberger, p. 15).

    We need this kind of revelation in our world today. Instead of falling captive to the world’s desires and schemes, we should be falling into the Word of God to seek the answers God has already blessed us with. What is an area in your own life where you feel God is needing to reveal Truth, and are you actively seeking that Truth?

  9. Being someone that grew up in the church, and accepted Christ at a young age, it was truly interesting to me during my teenage years to discover for the first time that the Gospel of John had such vast differences from the other gospels. I remember this first occurring to me during Christmastime when I realized that the story of the birth of Jesus was nowhere to be found in John. But later on in my teenage years, I was at a Christian summer youth camp. During one of the evening sermon sessions John 1 was preached to me, and for the first time ever and it truly opened my eyes and changed my perspective on Jesus. The whole concept of the Word being the light in the darkness was a “game-changer” for me. Looking back at this moment, it makes me incredibly grateful that John is so incredibly different. This apologetic aspect of this gospel is much needed and provides such needed context that just isn’t there in the other gospels. God of course in His awesome perfect ways gives us a rounded, well-thought out view of Jesus and trinity through the gospel of John with this explanation in John 1. Verse 5 tells us that The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, NIV). This theological, apologetic statement speaks volumes to a young believer that God is light, His Word is light, and that in a world of darkness, it will shine bright and nothing will overcome it. The book of John as a whole provides with the gem of a verse that is John 14:6, where Jesus claiming He is the only way to heaven, this exclusive statement is a theological and apologetic statement, and further explanation of the trinity all in one. All in all, the differences in John from the other gospels are a cause for celebration and thanksgiving.

  10. Knowing that the gospel of John was specified around explaining who Jesus was and what overall His mission was, I think it is interesting that it leaves out multiple staples of Jesus’ ministry. Yet at the same time, what is that saying? I believe that John wanted us to focus more on who Jesus simply was. Jesus was (and still is…) intentional about relationships. The gospel of john talks a lot about Jesus and His disciples, allowing the readers to see what kind of relationship they had. Yes, you can find this in the synoptic gospels as well, but I believe there was a special feeling of intentionality as John wrote, specifically aiming to focus on the relational aspect of Jesus. Specifically with those that He met along the way, Jesus shows His heart for others as he interacts with the blind man (ch 9), Lazarus (11), the Samaritan woman (4), etc. Even John 11:35 “Jesus wept” – this shows the relational side of Jesus as He suffered the loss of His friend. I know there are a lot of factors such as ‘why didn’t John mention this or that?’, and I am still trying to figure those out, but the one thing that has truly stuck out to me is the intentional relationships Jesus built, and His heart for those he met along the way. If John’s message was toward Jewish readers “who might be open to Jesus as an alternative to the Temple and the festivals”, what better way to convince them than explaining the caring heart of Jesus, something that the temple couldn’t give you?

  11. it was interesting to me to discover that the Gospel of John is different from the three synoptic gospels because of the fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are incredibly similar. They share roughly the same accounts of Jesus’ ministry, and they include the same sort of literary values throughout them. They also have the same discourses and parables throughout them. There are more specific examples, but these are just a few of the main reasons that the synoptics are so similar. John, as stated above and all throughout this blog, is considerably different. There are no parables or demon exorcisms. There also is a definite lack of aphoristic phrases. This was interesting to find out.

    I also found it incredibly interesting to read that there is no prediction of the second coming in John’s Gospel. He does however tell of how he will send the Paraclete after He ascends to Heaven. It is just interesting to me because argument has been made that the same John that wrote Revelation, wrote the Gospel of John. It seems to me like he would go into more detail about this as he did in Revelation. Why is it that John did not write an account of Jesus’ second coming if he talked about it so much in Revelation? Is it because he did not want to take away from the Christology in the book John? One of the main themes in John’s Gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah to the Diaspora Jews, but why did he not want to give some hope to his fellow believers after all that they had gone through? Overall, I appreciated learning more and gaining a better understanding of the differences in John from the rest of the gospels. Thanks!

  12. I find the address of Gnosticism a very interesting aspect of John. Like you said, with John mainly focuses in on Jewish christians (with some possible focus on Gentiles), which creates further interest in how it deals with Gnosticism. Being that Gnosticism stems from Greek thought (namely platonism), it seems rather interesting that John can address such a broad audience. Furthermore, I found it interesting that Gnosticism got any ground with a high view of God. Look at it this way, if Gnostics believe that the physical realm is bad, then God must be a poor God for creating a physical universe. They essentially echo the work of Douglas Adams 2000 years before he writes “In the beginning the Universe was created.
    This had made many people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” (Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe). But, it somehow managed to gain enough traction to get addressed by an apostle. But, with such a theologically rich Gospel, pointing to the full humanity of Jesus along with his divinity, these poorly thought out claims of the physical being evil, and a lack of humanity in Christ can be put away.

  13. So far, there has been much discussion about the differences between John and the Synoptic gospels. The Synoptic gospels are full of very detailed accounts of Jesus’ life, including re-interpretations of Mosaic Law and Jesus’ mentions of the Second Coming. So, when looking at the gospel of John, it becomes very clear that this gospel is different from the rest. The gospel of John does not include a majority of these details, such as the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the story of Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross. Why is this? Why is the gospel of John so starkly different in comparison to 3 very similar gospels? From the evidence that I have read, the answer seems to lie within the audience that John is targeting with his gospel. Evidence suggests that John’s primary audience are the Jews, which we can see in John’s emphasis on the Hebrew Bible and the redemption narrative that lies within it. John’s description of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the sacrificial law, i.e. his atonement for humanity’s sin by becoming the sacrificial lamb implies that John is using this information to tell a story that will be widely understood by Jews. Another piece that sets John’s gospel apart from the Synoptics is his emphasis on refuting Gnostic ideas by describing Jesus’ divine nature as well as his complete humanity. During the time that John’s gospel was written, there was an increase in Gnostic theology forming. So, another motive for John’s gospel was to shed clarity into these theological questions and emphasize the real Jesus. So, we see a much larger emphasis on the incarnation of Jesus than that that is seen in the Synoptics- since John was writing to address this very topic.

  14. John’s gospel is notably different from the synoptic gospels in many ways, Köstenberger puts together two lists and compares the two gospels. Even though there are many differences, John’s writing infers that he knew of the synoptic gospels. John’s writing excludes many important parts of Jesus’ teachings; i.e. the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ baptism, and others. But we can see that this was all for a very specific purpose, John wanted to emphasize a different message to us that might get overlooked by the synoptic gospels. John’s gospel is used as a tool for evangelism, it is used to teach those of Jesus’ journey as well as the future. On another note even though some believed that John was defending the Gnostics, we can see many examples of how John is not defending their beliefs. Köstenberger talks about how the Gnostics don’t believe in Jesus’ incarnation, Human sinfulness, and the need for atonement. John emphasizes these many times and is therefore defending these beliefs during a time when the Gnostics theology was in question, as stated in your blog. Understanding that John wrote in a time after Paul and during a rise in the Gnostics helps us to understand where John was coming from. John did not specifically write to the Gentiles, but mainly to Jewish readers. But this does not mean that some of what he wrote about does not help all Christians. As stated in your blog, John wrote to all Christians “to clarify who Jesus was,” this is an important message that he wanted to make sure everyone understood. John is the only gospel to write that Jesus is God and to really break it down for us.

  15. There are differences between John’s gospel and the synoptic gospels. Looking at Johns gospel he does not talk to much about the gentiles. When “John wrote the gospel some thirty years after the death of Paul, from Ephesus, the city where Paul has his most success among the gentiles” (Long). One example of the gospel talking about the gentiles is the healing of the officials son. Another things to look at is that the gospel is evangelistic and apologetic. John is addressing more of the jewish readers about the temple and festivals. It talks about the healing of the blind man but when you read johns gospel it is more towards the jewish readers. Along with that it is apologetic and John’s gospel is good at answering questions. Though Johns gospel was more towards jewish readers it still did have some help for christians. Gnostics was a way for John’s gospel to be used for sharing Christ and to teach those in the future, though gnostics did not believe in Christ. This was a way that John could look at it and question it and be able to understand what God was trying to show John.

  16. Johns gospel is by far the most unique gospels out all the books.In krosterberger he goes on to show how John doesn’t retell the whole story of how Jesus is to come but kind of goes back to what seems like Genesis. He starts off by saying that “In the beginning was the word and with the word was God and the word was God” it seemed like John wanted to focus on who God was and not the life of God like all the other Gospel for example throughout the text teaches the incarnation of the word but it doesn’t go talk about the Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus. So it seemed that John wanted to go a different route tell and different side of God while letting the other Gospel explain the life of Jesus. Where John breaks down the kind of who God is and his power.

  17. I think at this point, if we look at the Gospel of John, all we really can do is speculate as to the meaning behind why it was written. The differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do certainly have essential significance for the growth of Christian theology and its interaction with the difficulties of the time. whereas the most important concentrate of the differences is repeatedly attributed to theological and literary factors, they have the ability to be comprehended within the historical context of beforetime Christianity, where the nascent belief was both progressing against paganism and coping with inner obstacles. One of the top remarkable differences between John and the Synoptics is the emphasis on the divinity of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed utilizing elevated Christological verbal communication as the “Word”(Logos) who was with God and was God (John 1: 1) . This emphasis on Jesus as the divine term made flesh plays a role to the growth of a strong theology of the Incarnation. This theological emphasis was essential in countering obstacles from diverse devout and philosophical traditions that impeached Jesus ‘divine natural world or sought to downplay it.

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