Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels

It is well known that 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.

Gospel of JohnFor 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.

There are several extended dialogues which 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 is described in similar ways to the synoptic gospels, there is no agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

I am following Andreas J. Köstenberger, 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 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 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 a 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 there are a few stories which are 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) in order 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.

The Gospel of John is therefore a window into the end of the apostolic era. Christianity was making progress against paganism, but needed to 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?

27 thoughts on “Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels

  1. After being in the class Jesus and the Gospels all semester I read John in a whole new light today. Starting out the semester talking about source criticism and how each author of each gospel wrote with a certain goal in mind. Each man was trying to accomplish a certain clarification to the world he was living in. John’s gospel was written last of all the other gospels. He had no need to repeat the things which had already been written. The time of his writing was, as you’ve stated, different than when the other three wrote. The perception of what Jesus’ sayings meant was different. John was believed to be an old man when he died, so the disciples’ belief that Jesus would come again in their life time was obviously wrong. Jesus’ words remain true, but they mean something different than initially believed. Because of this, John wrote with a more matured understanding of what Jesus’ words meant. In his gospel he put them in different orders than the other three to show Jesus’ mission in a different way.

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  2. Before studying the dating of the gospels, I was unaware at just how late John was written in comparison to the other gospels. In fact, as naive as it probably is, I bet most people who do not study the dating of the New Testaments books would be pretty surprised to find out that John was written after all of Paul’s epistles.

    The biggest implication for this is definitely how developed the christology of the Church was at the time of the writing. Since John’s epistles make clear of a lot of deeper theology, especially in his later writings, the Gospel of John should be viewed in light of that.

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  3. Before I took this class this semester I never really studied the book of John. I read bits and pieces of it, but never really looked into it or study it. Now since I have I am a little shocked at how big of a difference the book of John is compared to the synoptic gospels. To see that John left out a few areas that the synoptic gospels have, or to see how John uses different wordings compare to the synoptic gospels shows that John had a completely different goal and a different target audience for his book compared to the others. As Jessica said in her post John wrote more of a mature understanding of Jesus’ words, and with that he was aiming towards a different audience than the synoptic gospels.

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  4. Before I took this class, I never really studied the book of John a whole lot. Like Eric, I was completely unaware of how much later it was actually written compared to the other gospels. John wrote this book on a more mature level than the other books were written. He was writing it to target a whole different audience and was writing it to let people know who exactly Jesus was. I like how Jessica explained how John wrote this gospel in a different order. He wanted to explain the mission of Jesus in a different way compared to what the others had written.

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  5. 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.

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  6. We all know that John is different than the synoptic gospels and there are multiple theories why. I think that one of the reasons, as mentioned in class, was that John wanted to give the people what they hadn’t’ already heard. There was a chance that the author may have never heard of the other three gospels but if he had then that would make this a great possibility. If he hadn’t he may have simply been telling it based on the information that he had, he may have not heard or witnessed all of the same events. As Ben and the text said, there is information that suggests that the author could have been writing for either the Jews or the Gentiles. Either way, we have the information that we have and no matter how it came about we need to take it seriously because it is all the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This book is important, just as any other book in the Bible and no matter how it came to be it we still need to few it as a vital and important part of the Bible.

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  7. There are most likely many different reasons as to why John chose to leave out crucial and pivotal moments. Like mentioned in Eric’s post, John had written well after the other synoptics ,as well as after Paul’s epistles. Is it possible that John had left out specific moments of Jesus’s life (Jesus’s baptism, birth, and temptation) in order to essentially “highlight” another theme? Maybe John was more concerned with the miracles that Jesus performed…maybe his overall “theme” or goal was to enhance the concept of Jesus’s divinity in the flesh. Was his main purpose to convey a Lord who was not only human, but fully God? Maybe John found this fundamental concept to be more outstanding than other events of Jesus’s life on earth.

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  8. It is so interesting to think of the crafting and editing process that must have gone into John’s Gospel. While certainly all of the Gospels were tailored to emphasize certain themes and truths, John is fascinating simply because of its completely different perspective on Jesus’ life and ministry. Like we discussed in class, it’s difficult to know exactly what kind of impact the other Gospels had on John’s writing, but to me it seems very difficult to believe that John would have written what he did had he not known at least a framework of what was included in the Synoptics and intentionally avoided it. Yet John’s Gospel doesn’t come across as a book that is simply trying to “fill in the gaps” from the other three Gospel accounts. Rather, it seems intent to communicate clearly Jesus’ humanity, divinity, and Messianic nature.

    One thing that seems noteworthy to me when comparing John with the Synoptics is how John tends to simply skip over details which may have been stumbling blocks for his audience. Although in the other Gospels we see genealogies and birth accounts of Jesus, John avoids anyone being confused regarding Jesus’ origins (like they were in John 6:42) by simply stating that Jesus was in the beginning with God (and that He, in fact, *was* God). While the Synoptics tell of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, John avoids any unnecessary confusion this may cause and skips this narrative, although he does give a somewhat veiled reference to it in 1:32.

    While we could get caught up on all of the differences between John and the Synoptics, of equal (or, arguably, much greater) value are the events which all of the Gospels have in common. Most noteworthy, of course, are the events surrounding Passion Week, which are truly the cornerstone of the Gospels. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the heart and soul of the Gospel message.

    “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

    But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”
    (I Corinthians 15:3-4,14,17,19-20)

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  9. I think that it is so interesting how God could use different men to write different books of the bible. I was always taught that each book of the bible is different because God used the different personalities of the authors to carry out his work and to reveal God and His good news. I think that John did not include a lot of details because he was trying to highlight Jesus’ interaction with people and His mercy towards people. The notes we took in class indicate that John was targeting a certain kind of audience that maybe the synoptics were not targeting. Overall, John’s purpose of writing the book was to preach the gospel and to show people what Jesus was like towards people, and to show them that He is a God of mercy.

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  10. We can only speculate as to why John is so much different than the synoptic gospels. However, I think one main reason is because it was written after the others were written. John may have left out the “big” stories, like Jesus’ birth, baptism, and the temptation of Jesus. Yet, John provides a more theological look on Jesus’ life than the other gospels. Maybe John was telling us reader’s parts of Jesus’ story that we had not already heard in the other three books. If this is the case, this makes John all the more interesting to study, because it provides a different perspective than the synoptic gospels.

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  11. One implication that the Gospel of John reveals to us is the reality of the inspiration through the Holy Spirit. Had all the gospels been similar and in some areas identical, it would be easy to believe that the authors just fed off of each other, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit to infuse their mind and heart with what He wanted written. It is encouraging to know that the Bible is inspired by God and that we can trust the truths in them. The Gospel of John is a good reminder of the power of this inspiration.

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  12. I honestly believe that John knew what he was doing when making his gospel so much different than the Synoptics. Although there is a possibility that John just didn’t want to include the other similar information that the Synoptics hold, I find that he must have wanted to show the “important” information. My honest opinion was that John decided to make this gospel much different because he wanted to focus more on the revelation that came from the life of Jesus. While following Jesus around it must have taught John so much about who Jesus is, and what exactly he is on Earth to do. John saw that through his life. He was learning and wanted to write it down, and be able to tell others about what he was learning. This was very much an experiential way of learning, because he learned while following Jesus. Kostenberger says “everything Jesus does is revelation, his works, as well as his words point to the very appearance of who Jesus is.” Kostenberger is saying that Jesus himself is a book of knowledge and wisdom, and from his lips flow the theological context to which we base our entire religion. John knew that he needed to focus more on what he learned from Jesus, as opposed to what may have already been known to him. This is just a little bit why I think John went a different route with his gospel, he knew he needed to address a topic everyone needed to hear.

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    • 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.

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  13. 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.

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  14. We see in the gospel of John, how this gospel is different than the other synoptic gospels. In the blog post above you mentioned, “… there is no birth, baptism or temptation in John,”(Long, 2014). In this post, you wrote how there are other dialogues in the book of John that have no other parallel in the other synoptic gospels. This is good to keep in mind when reading the Bible.
    I love how John’s book about what he witnessed brings more details to the events that happened in the Jesus’ time.
    In the book, Encountering John, I really appreciate how the author discusses how we should not minimize John’s gospel. He discussed how we should not minimize it in a way that our motive in reading John’s book is just to fill in the “gaps” of the others. The author says, “… we should not read it (John’s Gospel) with constant reference to how it supplements the Synoptic Gospels- that would be to reduce John’s gospel to the mental task of filling in gaps in the other gospel writings,”(Kostenberger, 23-24). When we read John’s gospel, let us read it with the motivation of knowing God more deeply. When we read the Bible with this heart posture, the desire to know the Father, to love Him with our WHOLE BEING, we will have the fullness of joy!

    John 15:9-11
    “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
    Now remain in my love.
    If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love,
    just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
    I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

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  15. 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.

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  16. While the other three Gospels are similar in one way or another, John is written in a different way. One theory is because the author had a different type of relationship. A few times in John, there is a disciple who is referenced as the one whom Jesus loved. Another theory is that the author was very close to Peter who was close to Jesus. The author said he witnessed all of the events, but the other three Gospels had anonymous authors and they said Jesus spoke in mostly parables. While the author may be the one whom Jesus loved, he may not have been within the closest of the disciples because John does not include Jesus’ predictions of his death nor does he include the suffering in the garden. Instead, the Gospel of John continuously includes Jesus saying he is the Son of God who is the God of Abraham. The author wanted the readers to know about the Jewish customs and to also grow into their faith by telling them about each custom. My last thought is the author of John was really trying to bring both Jews and Gentiles together in their beliefs.

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    • I completely agree with you in this post, my only question to you, is who do you think the author of John is? Or at least who could it be who did Jesus Love enough to be called, “the one whom Jesus loved”? Could it be John, the apostle, or was it someone else?

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  17. 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.

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  18. 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.

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  19. 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.

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  20. While reading the Gospel of John, the mystery of the trinity and the Gospel are on full display. In John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son all work together seamlessly to tell stories of the signs Jesus gives of His holiness and deity. While the synoptic Gospels tell incredible testimonies of the miracles of Jesus, John’s Gospel pulls back the curtain to show us how these acts reveal the true nature of Christ as the Messiah. I do not think it is coincidence at all that John chooses the word “signs” to describe Jesus’s miracles in his Gospel, (Long, paragraph 2), I think that this word is chosen to drive the point further home that Jesus’s ministry was all pointing back to the Father and back to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy!

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  21. I think that when John the son of Zebedee was writing this book, he knew exactly what he was doing. even if we as mere humans that have been tainted by sin look at Johns work and think that it is not complete and that it needs to include the other works of the other apostles. we would be wrong because if we are really being true to our faith, we should believe, and know that Johns book is the inherited words from the Holy Spirit. John is in all reality, not the focus. as we know from the beginning of the Book of John, God is the word at the beginning, and if Gods words were powerful and true enough to speak life into existence at the beginning of time, we better believe that Gods word was true enough to speak true word for Johns book.

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    • Alan, I love your point about scripture being directed by the Holy Spirit. I would totally agree that we can trust God’s sovereign word to us because he is sovereign over everything. I think we can expect the gospels to have differences because they were all different eyewitnesses to Jesus and his ministry on earth. I would be more concerned if they were all the same to be completely honest because that would lead me to believe that the authors collaborated together to form the exact same report.

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  22. As I have previously said we as humans love to see and point out contradictions especially critics of the Bible. It all comes down to our trust in God, he is God and we are not. He sees the whole picture and knows all things and nothing catches him by surprise. So just because critics view John’s differences from the synoptic gospels as a problem is not. I would even say that the differences between the synoptic gospels and John’s gospel leads to the idea that John’s audience was unique. If John’s gospel was truly written to Jews and gentiles interested in converting to Judaism after the Temple fell than the details he shared and how he wrote his gospel would have been different then the synoptic gospels. Different witnesses have different things that stick out to them and John’s witnessing of Jesus’ ministry would and was different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

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