John the Apostle

Gospel of John

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Gospel of John Summary

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The Gospel of John, probably written sometime before CE 110, is one of the four “canonical” gospels that narrate the life and teachings of Jesus and form the bulk of the New Testament. Within the text of the Gospel of John, its author is identified as “a disciple whom Jesus loved.” Christian tradition holds that this disciple is John the Apostle, although the majority of academic historians believe that this is unlikely. The Gospel of John is one of the central texts of the Christian religion, and consequently one of the most important books in world literature.

The Gospel of John is markedly different from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (known as the “synoptic” gospels). It is more concerned with Jewish tradition than the synoptic gospels, and many episodes in The Gospel of John, such as the wedding feast at Cana, do not appear in the other gospels. For this reason, scholars have generally concluded that The Gospel of John was written by an author who was unfamiliar with the synoptic gospels. Recently, however, some scholars have argued that the author may have been familiar with the gospels of Mark and Luke. However, they agree that The Gospel of John represents a different Christian tradition from the synoptic gospels and that its author felt free to disregard the authority of the other gospels.

The Gospel of John opens: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” By identifying Christ with the “Word” of God, The Gospel introduces one of its major themes: far more than the synoptic gospels, The Gospel of John identifies Christ with God, rather than according him a secondary status.

The first eighteen verses—sometimes known as the “prologue”—summarize the story of Jesus. This summary gives a central place to Christ’s “rejection” by the Jews. Relations between the Jews and the fledgling Christian community is another of The Gospel of John’s central concerns.

The Gospel begins its account of the life of Jesus with his baptism by John the Baptist and his recruitment of the disciples. The next episode is the Wedding at Cana: Jesus performs his first miracle when he transforms water into wine for the feast.

Jesus begins to travel with his disciples, talking to crowds and individuals. In conversation with a Pharisee (a Jewish religious authority) named Nicodemus, Jesus pledges “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He performs his second miracle: healing the dying son of a nobleman.

In Jerusalem, Jesus heals the sick and comes into conflict with the Jewish religious authorities, who accuse him of violating the law prohibiting Jews from working on the Sabbath, a holy day. The narrator of the Gospel notes that from this moment, the Jews “sought to slay” Jesus.

A huge crowd follows Jesus over the Sea of Galilee. Jesus miraculously feeds them with five barley loaves and two fish. Excited by this miracle, the crowd tries to proclaim Jesus king. He withdraws by himself. As they sail away, his disciples are terrified by the sight of Jesus walking across the water to join them.

The next time Jesus addresses a crowd, he encourages them to focus not on his miracles but on his spiritual teaching. However, his spiritual teaching, that “every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life,” further angers the Jewish authorities. Jesus retreats to Galilee, fearing that he will be killed if he stays near the Jewish stronghold of Jerusalem. Jesus is proclaimed by many of his hearers as the “Christ,” the savior promised in Jewish scripture.

The Jewish religious authorities attempt to trap Jesus by setting him a moral problem. They bring to him a woman found guilty of adultery, pointing out that the scriptural law requires that she be stoned to death. Jesus evades the trap by inviting “He that is without sin amongst you” to cast the first stone. At the Temple in Jerusalem, the seat of the Jewish religion, Jesus declares, “I and my Father are one.” Jews in the audience threaten to stone him for blasphemy. He and his disciples escape to Jordan.

Despite the danger posed by the Jewish authorities, Jesus soon returns to the Jewish territory of Judea. His friend Lazarus is mortally ill. When he arrives at the house where Lazarus lives with his sisters Martha and Mary, Lazarus is dead. Jesus resurrects him.

As the Jewish feast of Passover approaches, Jesus returns to Jerusalem. The townspeople greet him with the branches of palm trees, in the style befitting a ruler, although Jesus rides into the city not on a warhorse but on a donkey. The narrator notes that this fulfills a scriptural prophecy: “Fear not, daughter of Sion, behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.”

At the Passover feast, Jesus knows that his disciple Judas Iscariot intends to betray him to the Jewish authorities. He washes his disciples’ feet and offers them further teaching, to prepare them for life after he has gone. After dinner, he goes to pray in a garden, where the soldiers of the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, arrest him.

Caiaphas hands Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate refuses to sentence him. Instead, he offers the assembled crowd of Jews a choice: he will release either Jesus or a robber named Barabbas. They choose Barabbas.

Pilate orders Jesus to be whipped and crucified. Jesus is mocked by his executioners and forced to carry his cross to the place of execution, Golgotha. With the words, “It is finished,” Jesus dies. His body is taken to the tomb of one of his disciples, where it is anointed and sealed behind a heavy stone.

Three days later, Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus, comes to the tomb, where she finds that the stone has been rolled away. In the tomb, she finds two angels. Turning away, she encounters a man who asks her why she is weeping. As she explains, she recognizes the man as Jesus. He instructs her to go and tell his disciples that she has seen him.

That evening, he appears to his disciples. One of them, Thomas, refuses to believe in Jesus’s resurrection unless he can touch Jesus’s wounds. Jesus invites him to do so, and Thomas is convinced. Jesus appears once more to his disciples. The gospel concludes by identifying one of these disciples as its author.