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Textual Criticism and Exegesis of the Gospel of JOHN

by Robert Randle  
9/28/2009 / Bible Studies

One of the things that stand out in the Gospel of JOHN is the silence on "Hell" ['gehenna'] or unquenchable/eternal fire, of which Matthew is abundant with, and all the other writers refer to it at least twice. There are almost no Parables, very few miracles/healings as compared to the other narratives, and scant mention about the Kingdom of God/Heaven or Son of Man. In quite a few instances the setting is in the region of Judea instead of Galilee. The Samaritans are to be avoided
(Cp. Matthew 10: 5-6, 21-28 [esp. 24]; Mark 7: 20), but in this book the hated 'Samaritans' are the very first ones to accept Jesus as the Christ ['Messiah'] in the fourth chapter.

In the "Synoptic Gospels" (MATTHEW-MARK-LUKE), Peter, James & John the sons of Zebedee form the nucleus of Jesus' inner circle among the 'Twelve,' but in JOHN's version there doesn't appear to be any central person, group or trio among His disciples. Another observation is the frequent reference to 'the Jews;' either as a social/religious class or race, which includes their religious observances such as the Feast days. Outside of the book of ACTS which mentions the word, 'Jew,' a total of 66 times; of which 36 is in a negative context (54.5%). JOHN uses the word 57 times; 23 out of that total is also negative (40%). He uses the term, "for fear of the Jews" 4 times (Cp. 7: 13; 9: 22; 19: 38; 20: 19). The last reference is most intriguing for two reasons, namely: 1) The is no reason suggested to explain why the disciples are hiding behind shut doors in fear of the Jews after Jesus Crucifixion/Resurrection, and, 2) None of the other gospel writers mention this state of mind by Jesus' disciples.

The following is a list of Significant Omissions:

The Temptation in the Wilderness (Cp. Matthew 1: 4-11; Mark 1: 12-13; Luke 4: 1-13)

John the Baptist taken into Custody (Cp. Matthew 4: 12-27; Luke 3: 20)

John the Baptist in Prison (Cp. Matthew 11: 1-5; Luke 7: 18-22)

Jesus Choosing His Twelve Disciples/Apostles and their Names (Cp. Matthew 10: 1-8; Mark 6: 7-11; Luke 9: 1-6)

NOTE: It is only near the end of JOHN that 'Twelve,' as in the number of Apostles/Disciples, is mentioned (20: 24).

Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration
(Cp. Matthew 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-10; Luke 9: 28-36)

The Sign of the Times/ Destruction of the Temple/End of the Age
(Cp. Matthew 24: 1-31; Mark 13: 1-33; Luke 21: 5-36)

The Lord's Supper (Cp. Matthew 26: 26-30; Mark 14: 22-26; Luke 22: 14-20)

NOTE: Instead, Jesus institutes the rite of "Foot washing." (13: 3-15)

JOHN does present several major themes such as: Believe (66 times); Jesus as the Son of God (38 times); Everlasting/ Eternal Life (22 times) in contrast to Condemnation (4 times); Water/wash/baptizing (20 times); Light/Darkness (13 times); The 'Spirit'
(13 times); Glorifying God (13 times); and Jesus [Yeshua] as the King of Israel/Messiah ['Christ'](11 times). Even in 1: 1; it starts out like the book of GENESIS and not some list of Jewish genealogy and although MARK uses the introductory phrase, "The Gospel of the Son of God," that theme is not expanded upon to its fullest extent; and even then it is only mentioned 7 times.

In JOHN, the author seems a firsthand witness because of the use of 'the next day; again the next day; the following day; on the third day,' etc. (1: 29, 35, 43; 2: 1). MATTHEW thru LUKE indicate that Jesus presumably started His public ministry after the arrest of John the Baptist (Cp. Matthew 4: 12; Mark 1: 14; Luke 3: 20, 23), but there was a period of time when their ministries were concurrent (3: 22-25; 4; 1; 9: 14). In fact, some of the first and earliest followers of Jesus were disciples of John the Baptist (1: 35-37).

A little attention should be reserved for one of the more interesting of the followers of Jesus at the start, and that is Nathanael. He is told by Jesus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, 'hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (1: 51).'" This is quite similar to what Jesus told some of the 'Disciples' [Peter, James, and John??], "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom."
(Cp. Matthew 16: 28; Mark 9: 1; Luke 9: 27)

Also, if this is not enough of a mystery, remember the wedding in 'Cana' (2: 1-5, 12) where Jesus, His disciples, mother, and brothers were invited? It seems that Mother Mary was actively involved and participated in the celebration which would be quite unusual if it were not some very close friends or a relative; not to mention that the identity of the bride and bridegroom is not revealed. It is only in the very last chapter of the book is Nathanael's city finally disclosed, but why wasn't it earlier as with his other acquaintances,Philip, Andrew, and Peter
('Bethsaida;' 1: 43??).

This will serve as a nice transition to introduce the "Beloved" Disciple, who, as it is recorded: Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also leaned on His breast at the supper. Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me (21: 21-23)." Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?" JOHN reveals the close intimate social relationship that Jesus had with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary and His 'love' for them
(11: 3, 5, {'Lazarus'} in particular; esp. 35-36). LUKE mentions a little bit about this special bond also.

While Jesus hung on the Cross of Crucifixion, He seemed to entrust the care of His mother to one of His followers, where the Scripture says: And from that very hour he took her to his own home (19: 27). This would seem to be an egregious violation of the social and religious customs of the Jews to allow a woman to be taken into the home of a man who is not her relative or betrothed husband. Not only that, but Jesus had brothers (Cp. Matthew 13: 55 {James, Joses ['Joseph'], Simon, and Judas}, and sisters {v. 56}, but JOHN mentions only brothers (2: 12). It is of course a long shot and purely conjecture, but entirely plausible that the 'other' Judas ['not Iscariot'] in John 14: 22a, could be Jesus' younger brother; solving the riddle rather nicely of the disciple leaning on Jesus' breast and of His words to the onlookers at the Cross to whom were told, "Mother behold thy son, Son behold the mother." Interestingly, in the last chapter (21: 1-2, 7-8), 'Nathanael' is mentioned but 'Judas' is not listed.

Continuing further:
Let's finalize one last little bit of information regarding the disciples. Besides the ones already mentioned, Philip, Andrew, Peter, and Nathanael (1: 40-41, 43-44, 45); there is Judas Iscariot son of Simon (6: 71); Thomas who is called 'Twin' {'whose'??} (11: 16a); and Judas ['not Iscariot'] (14: 22a). It is only in the 20th chapter is the number of Jesus' inner circle of Apostles numbered as twelve, and even the last chapter only mentions the sons of Zebedee ('unnamed'??), 'two' other of His disciples were together, and the 'other' disciples came in the little boat (21: 2, 8).

Now it is time to identify the disciple who was known to the high priest, accompanying Jesus into the courtyard; and also afterward, brought in Peter who had been waiting by the door outside. (18: 15-16). This person in all probably was not 'Galilean,' and the stronger internal evidence seems to point in the direction of 'Joseph of Arimathea,' who was a "secret" disciple and member of the 'Sanhedrin' ["Jewish Supreme Court"].
(Cp. Matthew 27: 57: Mark 15: 43; Luke 23: 50-51; John 19: 38)

Lastly, where John the Baptist did his preaching and baptizing was located in the vicinity of 'Qumran,' where a Bedouin youth found the "Dead Sea Scrolls" in the 1940's; and coincidentally, this is the place where the community of ascetic Jews called 'Essenes' practiced their religious observances and rituals. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to envision John the Baptist as a member of this radical 'sect' of Judaism. Even John the Baptist had some doubts about Jesus as the 'Messiah' because it is recorded in Matthew 11: 2-3: And when John in prison heard about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him ['Jesus'], "Are You the 'One' or should we look for 'Another'?"

Be that as it may, this Gospel is so different from the others in style, content, and meaning. JOHN explores much richer and deeper themes, and the deity of Jesus is in full view. In this account, Jesus is not just a miracle-working rabbi who heals the sick and casts out demons, but rather, He is the very Son of God. Curiously, as a side note, this Gospel doesn't record any instance of Jesus [Yeshua] casting out a demon or unclean spirit, and although the LORD mentioned about 'eating His flesh and drinking His blood,' this more or less referred to feasting on the Word (Cp. John 6: 51-63) as opposed to celebrating His sacrifice; which is to be done in remembrance of Him as in the "LORD'S Supper."

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