St John’s Gospel is a ‘gospel’, just as the preaching of the earlier Church was a ‘gospel’; it proclaims that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God, and its teaching, based on the ‘signs’ that Jesus gave, aims at bringing men to believe in the Messiah and so to attain life. The fourth gospel, therefore is spite of all the clues to its late composition, is not unrelated to the most primitive Christian ‘kerygma’, or message, e.g. the Holy Spirit descends, as the Baptist testifies, to point out Jesus as Messiah, 1:31-34; Christ’s ‘glory’ is manifested in his work and word, 1:35-12:50; his death, resurrection and subsequent apparitions are described, 13:1-20:20; the apostles are sent out with the gift of the Spirit and the power to forgive sins, 20:21-29.

There are some features however that mark it off sharply from the Synoptics. In the first instance, its author seems to have been influenced to a considerable extent by ideas current in certain sections of Judaism: the emphasis on knowledge, contrasting pairs ‘light-darkness’, ‘truth-lies’, ‘angel of light-angel of darkness’ etc with a particular stress laid both on the need for unity and the necessity for mutual love. All these ideas which recur in St John’s Gospel are characteristic of the Judaeo-Christian milieu in which St John’s Gospel must have originated.

In the second instance St John is more concerned than the Synoptics to bring out the events of Christ’s life and of all that he did and said. The things Christ did were ‘signs’; their meaning, hidden at first, could be fully understood only after his glorification, 2:22; 12:16; 13:7. The things he said had a deeper meaning not perceived at the time, cf. 2:20+; it was the business of the Spirit who spoke in the name of the risen Christ, to remind the disciples of what Jesus had said, to deepen their understanding of it, and to ‘lead’ them ‘into the whole truth’, cf. 14:26+. St John’s Gospel is revelation at this stage of development.

This Gospel is, moreover, far more interested than the Synoptics in worship and sacraments. It relates the life of Jesus to the Jewish liturgical year, and associates his miracles with the principal feasts: the Temple is often given as the setting both for them and for Christ’s discourses.

(Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 1966)

(to be completed)