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Analysis of John’s Gospel Narrative

Discuss how John’s prologue sets the agenda for the rest of John’s narrative.

Plan:

1)     Introduction

2)     Purpose of John’s Gospel

3)     Identity and character of Jesus: The Word and Wisdom of God

4)     Light and Darkness

5)     Introduction to John the Baptist

6)     Relationship between Jesus and God

7)     Glorification

8)     Conclusion

Introduction

 

John’s prologue consists of 18 verses which introduce the key themes of his gospel. ‘Numerous commentators see it functioning rather as an overture to an opera’.[1] This suggests its importance in foreshadowing what is to come and drawing the reading in for the rest of John’s narrative. The key themes that we will be exploring are: the identity of Jesus, introduction of John the Baptist, light and darkness and the glorification of Christ.

Purpose of John’s Gospel

John makes it clear what the purpose of the overall gospel is from the start. ‘To believe’ …

Identity of Jesus

One of the main themes that the prologue addresses is the identity of Jesus. In the very first sentence of the Prologue, John introduces a new way of viewing God: ‘the Word’. ‘In the beginning was the word’(1:1) The other gospels start with Jesus’ birth when he is incarnate but ‘John takes us back into the mists of eternity’[2]. John reminds the readers from the start that he existed before time, mirroring Genesis 1. However, he goes even further and introduces the concept of God being the word ‘and the word was God’. ‘The word was with God’ is referring directly to when God says ‘let there be light’ in Genesis and it connects God, the creator of all things with Jesus saviour of the world. Context?

The Greek for “word” is “logos” used as a Christological title has connotations with Greek Philosophy. ‘In Stoic thought, Logos was Reason, the impersonal rational principle governing the universe’[3]. However as readers today we can assume that John is referring to Jesus rather than just a concept.

‘Logos’ is repeated a total of three times in the first sentence. This emphasises God’s desire to speak literally through his word and the power to speak to humankind as shown later on throughout John. For example, Peter says to Jesus ‘You have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68). When John says ‘the word became flesh’, he makes it clear that ‘the word’ is Jesus.

John does not refer directly to ‘the word again later in the gospel. However, ‘The theology of the word dominates the gospel’[4]. We see ‘the word’ being lived out through the stories he tells of Jesus, which are important to his character and identity. STORY EXAMPLE

Not only is there a focus on Jesus’ character but also on his identity and the way he views himself. ‘It reveals the Word of God not merely as an attribute of God, but as a distinct Person within the Godhead’[5] This is unique to John as the other gospels focus on just his character. Jesus’ identity is very much at the centre of the gospel and John makes this clear. One example of this is through the well-known ‘I am sayings. This is something particularly unique about John, the seven statements that Jesus makes about himself t, known as the ‘I am’ sayings’. Such as ‘I am the living bread’ and ‘I am the door’. Not only is Jesus telling us directly how he views himself but ‘all the sayings in one way or another make it clear that Jesus is the way of life’[6] reiterating verse 4 of the prologue: ‘In him was life’. It is also important as Jesus identifies himself as God which reiterates what is says about the word, God and Jesus being interchangeable in the prologue as well as his purpose.

O’Grady goes further and says ‘Jesus is not only the Word of God Incarnate but also the Wisdom of God incarnate’.[7] This concept is related to Proverbs which glorifies God’s wisdom. ‘For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’ This verse shows how we can see ‘the word’, ie Jesus, revealing the wisdom of God. His wisdom is shown throughout the gospel. An example of this in John is when Jesus says “everything that l learnt from my Father I have made known to you.” (15:15)

Light and Darkness

 

‘John’s great prologue… repeatedly applies the mystical language of light to Christ’[8]

This suggests the significance of the word ‘Light’ representing God through it being repeated a total of seven times in the prologue alone. One key example that demonstrates this is ‘The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world’ (1:9). In this verse and throughout the prologue we see Jesus presented as the light entering the world. This sets the agenda for the rest of John’s narrative as this language is used throughout it.

A key example of this can be seen in one of the “I am sayings” when Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (8:12) This particularly significant as Jesus directly tells us that he is the light of the world, so we know that it is not John’s own words. This occurs again when Jesus says, “I have come as light into the word, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness” (12:46).

Community of Light?

 

Introduction to John the Baptist

 

John set’s out in the prologue the significance of John the Baptist being a key character. ‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John.’ (1:6)

The fact John was ‘sent from God’ (1:1) suggests his authority and calling and his ultimate purpose of preparing the way for Jesus. However, despite his importance, John makes it clear in verse 7 and 8, that he came only as a ‘witness’ to the light (Jesus).  He makes this point twice emphasising that Jesus is central to the prologue as well as the whole gospel.

John’s testimony starts straight after the prologue from verse 19. ‘The story reads as if the Baptist were telling this in retrospect and John the author is letting the Baptist now have the spotlight’.[9] Although the focus turns to John it is on in order for him to prepare the way for Jesus, so the listeners can focus on Jesus through hearing his testimony. Throughout John’s gospel we hear of people’s testimonies. They are important in pointing people to Jesus as ‘witness establishes the truth’[10]. A key example of this in John’s testimony is when he proclaimed ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the word!’ (1:29). He speaks with authority and is confident of Jesus’ identity. When John says ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’(1:35), two of his disciples follow Jesus and become Jesus’ first converts. This shows the impact John the Baptist had in leading others to Jesus. And throughout the rest of the gospel we see him lifting up Jesus. For example, when he says ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (3:30). He makes it clear that it is not about himself but rather making Jesus’ name known and instead humbling himself before Jesus.

Bruner explains it like this: ‘John is the law of God in person; Jesus is the gospel of God in person.[11] This portrays the importance of John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus and lifting him up and also highlights Jesus’ role in lifting up God his father, similar to as John does. This is a particularly interesting perspective which leads us onto our next theme: Jesus the son of God and the relationship he has with his father.

Jesus the Son of God in close relationship with his Father

 

This theme is seen in the prologue with John referring to Jesus as ‘the one and only Son’ on two occasions. John also makes the connection between God and Jesus clear. He explains that Jesus‘…came from the father’ (1:14) and that he ‘… is himself God’ (1:18). This sets the agenda for when Jesus is referred to being the son of God in other places in the gospel.

However, not only does John explain their physical relationship but he goes further when he says that Jesus ‘is in closet relationship with the Father.’(1:18) We can see this being demonstrated throughout John’s gospel. ‘The Son of can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing…’(5:19). This example ‘stress(es) the dependence of the Son upon the Father, but other texts imply equality’[12]. This suggests that they are interchangeable and connected. One example of this is ‘the son, like Father, gives life’ (5.21). This suggest the tight bond between the son and the father, not only reiterating verse 18 of the prologue but also verse 1 with the ‘logos’ concept.

We see Jesus communicating to God through prayer on several occasions portraying their close relationship. Jesus says to God “Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (12:28).  Jesus proclaiming this to God suggests the trust and belief that he has in him. The fact Jesus responds almost immediately again emphasises their close connection.

As the time draws closer to Jesus death he looks towards heaven and prays. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”. (17:1) The yet again portrays their relationship and shows that he intends the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross to glorify Jesus in order for God to be glorified. This prayer also ‘contributes to the climax of the movement that brings Christ back to God’[13] Pointing to the time that Jesus and God will be reunited after he raises from the dead.

 

Glorification of Christ 

 

Another theme in the prologue which sets the agenda for the rest of the Gospel is the glorification of Jesus. Unlike the other gospels rather than giving us a family tree of Jesus’ ancestors, ‘John begins with a divine genealogy’[14] This draws the reader towards God’s glory and remind us that Jesus is divine as opposed to focusing on his human ancestors.

John’s use of the word ‘flesh’ meaning ‘sarx’ in greek in verse 14, not only suggests that the ‘word’ entered the world in human form through Jesus, but carries a ‘sacrificial undertone.’[15] This is later revealed through the sacrifice and offering of Jesus Christ on the cross as shown in chapter 19 leading to his resurrection in chapter 20 portraying his glory.

Bibliography

  • Milne, B, The Message of John: Inter-Varsity Press:  1993
  • Tasker, R.V.G. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. John: Inter-Varsity Press: 1960
  • Köstenberger, A J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary and Theological Perspective: Baker Academic: 1999
  • Burge, G M, The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical text… to contempary life: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000
  • O’Grady, J, According to John: The witness of the Beloved Disciple: Paulest Press
  • Maclaren, A, The Gospel According to St. John, Issue 3

Ryken, L, Wilhoit, J C, Longman III, T: Dictionary of Biblical imagery: InterVasity Press: 1998

  • Fredrick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: A Historical/Theological Commentary (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), vol. 1,
  • Carson, D.A, The Gospel According to John: Apollos: 1991
  • Morris, L, The New International Commentary on The New Testament: The Gospel According to John: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Complany: 1971
  • Wenham, D. and Walton, S. (n.d.). Exploring the New Testament: Volume 1: 2001

[1] Bruce, John, 29

[2] A, Maclaren, Gospel, 1

[3] Kostenberger, A, John, 51

[4] O’Grady, According to John, 9

[5] Tasker, Tyndale, 42

[6] Wenham & Walton, NT, 251

[7] O’Grady, John, 57

[8] Ryken, Wilhit, Longman, Biblical imagery

[9] Burge, Application, 71

[10] Morris, John, 90

[11] Bruner, Christbook, 70

[12] O’Grady, According to John, 10

[13] Carson, John, 551

[14] Ryken, Wilhit, Longman, Biblical imagery, 456

[15] O’Grady, According to John, 64



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