The gospel of St. John

If you ask a Christian in modern America which if the four gospels they like the most the chances are they will tell you that far and away it is the Gospel of St. John.

There are many reasons for this. There are beautiful passages about loving others, miracles, and great stories of compassion. Especially notable are the passages found at the Last Supper where Jesus washes the feet of the other disciples, an act not found in the other gospels.

Perhaps the biggest reason is that the gospel of John fits the modern Christology of Jesus more accurate than the others. For example, compare John to Mark. In Mark, Jesus doesn’t want anyone to know who he is. In John Jesus tells people he is the long awaited Messiah. (First seen one chapter 4 with the woman from Samaria at the well). In Mark Jesus talks about the Son of Man coming, not really claiming that he himself is the son of Man. In Mark Jesus is baptized of John the Baptist. In John Jesus only comes to see him and John confesses he is the one that must become greater while he, John the Baptist lessons his role.

These parts in John fit more with how most Christian churches see Jesus: the son of God, the promised Messiah. Many even teach that the gospel of John was written by The apostle John the Beloved, a humble peasant fisherman from Galilee himself.

I find this all very unlikely. From a literary standpoint, I am amazed. The Gospel of John is an incredible masterpiece. However , from a truth standpoint, the Gospel of John is much farther away from the real Jesus of Nazareth than the Gospel of Mark. Look at the conversation in John 3 with Nicodemus. An incredible story. But probably something that never happened. Nicodemus is puzzled when Jesus says he must be born again, quipping, can a man enter back into his mother’s uterus? This is a play on words in Greek. The word in Greek can either mean ‘anew’ or ‘from above’. It’s a great pun in Greek, the language the earliest gospel manuscripts are found in. The problem is that we have no proof that these humble Galileans, who natively spoke Aramaic could actually speak Greek.

It is also believed that John was written much later than Mark. In fact the author probably had never met Jesus in person and these are stories that had been told to him in his early Christian community. This may be true about Mark as well, but he seems to be closer to those who knew more about him.

So while I love John from a literary point of view, and as an ethical work I can’t help but think the God they worship is not the same that Jesus of Nazareth did.

One thing most people may not be aware of is that this back country peasant named Jesus was virtually unknown while he was alive. His followers all left him when he was captured. None of the gospels talk about Jesus being crucified with his followers. No one in the Roman Empire even noticed him. It wasn’t until 20 years later that we get the first gospel, the Gospel of Mark. Then 50 years until John comes out. Lots can happen in 70 years. Peoples ideas change, generations change over, and culture can form opinions that become religion. There are many people who followed Jesus in that first century after his death and their interpretations varied then as widely as they do today. Mark and John are just two of those opinions.

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