The Word Became Flesh: Gospel Analysis
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 1.
THE LARGER CONTEXT: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
We will discover that the book of John is very different than the first three Gospels. One of the purposes of this class will be to explore the differences between John and the first three gospels. We need to learn to accept the differences and contrasts between John and the first three gospels (which are called “the Synoptics.”). We need to stop trying to reconcile these differences e.g. the placement of the call of the first disciples, the cleansing of the temple, or what happened at the Last Supper.
We will discover that the Gospel of John is highly philosophical. John will use philosophical categories like “the Logos, life and light.” He will not use "down to earth" parables and "down to earth," short, pithy moral teachings but will give us long, philosophical discourses.
The Gospel of John is the Book of Sign. In John, the miracles are called “signs.” This is the Book of Signs, the miraculous events which are usually followed by a lengthy teaching discourse. The words “sign” and “signs” are used seventeen times in the Gospel of John
We will discover that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness who actually “hung out” with Jesus and closely watched his every move. We will be surprised at the numerous pithy little details from historical situations that John tells us. We will discover that the Apostle John is our “reporter on the scene,” who reports to us eyewitness coverage that could only be seen by someone who “had been there.” This gospel consistently provides little touches and details of historical anecdotes that make this gospel more alive.
In our contemporary analogy, John is to be compared to a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, and he is writing for university students and professors all over the world.
FOUR DIFFERENT AUTHORS: FOUR DIFFERENT AUDIENCES
Each of the four gospels related more effectively to different sets of people. For example, the Gospel of Matthew related better to Jewish people with Jewish language and Jewish thought patterns. The Gospel of Luke related to non-Jewish people called Gentiles. As the Christian religion spread away from its geographic basis in Israel, new vocabulary and new thought patterns were called for. The Gospel of Luke adapted its message to the needs of non-Jewish people.
Meanwhile, the Gospel of John was much more philosophical. The philosophy of Hellenism was in vogue, and so the language of Hellenism (Logic, light, life) was employed in order to tell the story of Jesus to another set of people. In the Jewish Gospel of Matthew, the central category is the ”kingdom of God” which was familiar to the Jewish race of people. In the Gospel of John, the kingdom of God is mentioned only twice; rather, we hear about finding life and finding life abundantly. The “kingdom of God” spoke primarily to Jewish people; “life” spoke to non-Jewish people who were Greek speaking and thinking.
Distinct authors; distinct audiences. Each of the four gospels tells the story of Jesus in a different and distinct way. By analogy, it would be like four different and distinct people closely watching the election of the President of the USA. Each person would see the event differently and report that event from his or her own distinct point of view with his or her own distinct vocabulary. So it is with our four gospels. They are four distinct interpretations of the same event; therefore the four stories have their similarities, their differences, and their own uniqueness.
We need to create a contemporary analogy. Four different authors watch the event and they report their stories to four different audiences.
- One reporter is a Jewish rabbi/businessman who reports the story of Jesus to his fellow Jews living in New York. (Matthew)
- The second reporter is a doctor turned TV reporter who reports the story through CNN World News to the world-wide community. (Luke)
- The third reporter is a university professor who teaches philosophy at the University of Chicago and he reports his observations to students and faculty of all colleges and universities around the globe. (John)
- The fourth report is a fisherman from Ballard, Washington, who reports simply to other fishermen what he heard about Jesus. (Mark)
So we have different reports from four different people who addressed four different audiences with different needs.
There are different theories of inspiration of the Bible. Some theories of inspiration want four identical messages in four gospels, so in all four gospels, the authors will report identical stories.
But that is not the way it happens in the Bible. Our theories of Biblical inspiration are helped when we comprehend and appreciate the differences and uniqueness of each author and audience. The diversity of authors and diversity of audiences helps us appreciate the various nuances of the Biblical message.
#1. PROLOGUE John 1:1-18
-In the beginning was the Word, In the beginning before there was time and matter, there was the Logic, the Intelligence, the Logical Intelligence, the Grand Designer, the Super Computer.
-And the Word was with God, This Logic was with God. In the beginning before there was time and matter, this Logic was distinguished and different than God.
-And the Word was God. But this Logic was God.
John’s Gospel is more philosophical. In the first five verses, there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth, but to the Word. In Greek, the Word is “logos” from which we receive our word, “logic.” So the translation could have read, “In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God.” “All things were made in the beginning through this logic.” The Logic was a personal pronoun; that is, the Logic was him. The Logic was life and light.
-He was in the beginning with God. Jesus existed in the beginning, before the universe and time came into being. In the Gospel of John, we will hear much more about the “pre-existence” of Jesus; that Jesus existed before Father Abraham. From the opening verse of John’s gospel, the reader is to understand that Jesus was and is fully God.
-All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. The Word (the Logic of God, the Mind of God, the Intelligence of God) was the designer and creator of the entire universe. We hear similar themes in the Book of Colossians 1:14-16: “He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
-What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. This Logic created life. Knowing that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, at some moment before time, life miraculously began. Whether a person believes in the evolutionary schemas or not, there was a miracle on this Earth which distinguishes this Earth from other matter in the ever-expanding universe. What distinguishes Earth above all matter was that life was born on this Earth. The creation of matter is one thing. There is plenty of matter in the whole and ever-expanding at the speed of light universe. But the creation of life is what distinguishes Earth from all matter in the universe.
The Gospel of John is highly philosophical and uses philosophical categories of his day such as “life” and “light.” In the Gospel of John, the word, “life,” is used 36 times and the word, “light,” is used 22 times. Similarly, light is contrasted with darkness. These philosophical and theological categories were familiar to the thought patterns of the Stoics and Hellenists of the day. Yet John also knew the Old Testament and Jewish thought. Jesus came into the world that the world may have life and eternal life and the fullness of life.
In the first three gospels, the word, “kingdom,” is used 113 times but in the Gospel of John, the word, “kingdom,” is used only twice. In John, the concept of “life” replaces the concept of “the kingdom” which is repeatedly used in the first three gospels.
-The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Jesus will shine in the dark world. Darkness could not overcome Jesus. This is a word of hope. Underline it. Circle it. Write this verse into the memory page on page 362. Near the word “did,” write the word, “can.” The darkness can not overcome the light. In our depression and wanting to give up, we are reminded that God’s light will never be snuffed out from the world.
-There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. Underline the phrase, “sent from God.” John repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus was “sent from God.” We will hear that the word, “apostles,” means to be “sent” and Christians are to be “sent from God into the world.”
-He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. Circle the word, “believe.” As we move into the Gospel of John, we will hear that what John wants is to believe in Jesus Christ more than anything else.
-He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John the Baptist was not the light but pointed to the light. We are the same: we point to the greatest light in the whole world, Jesus Christ.
-The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. Circle the word, “true.” We are going to find out that Jesus was/is the true light that beckons for people in the world to follow him. There are thousands of other lights beckoning for the human race to follow, but only Christ is the true light, the true beacon, the true radiance who guides our life.
-He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. In this gospel, we will repeatedly hear that the world did not know Christ and did not follow him. The word, “world,” is a symbolic word, that symbolizes all who do not follow the light of God in Christ.
-He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. The Gospel of John will lay out the basic tragedy in Jesus’ life: his own people did not follow him.
-But to all who received him, who believed in his name, Circle the word, “receive.” What is it to receive Christ? It is to believe in his name. To believe in his name means to believe in his powerful Presence. As we move into this course, we will gradually discover what the word, “believe,” means to the John.
-He gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Jesus gives us the power to become children of God. Who are the children of God? The children of God are those people who believe in his name.
People are children of God not because of blood or inheritance or nationality or belonging to a religious group.
People are children of God not because of the will power within their psyche. We humans do not will to become children of God. Becoming children of God is not a result of will power.
People become children of God because they are born of God. Just like a person’s biological birth is not the result of will power but is purely a gift from God, so also our rebirth is not the result of will power within but is purely a gift from God. We will hear about this during the story of Nicodemus in John 3 and his being “born again” and” born from above.”
-And the Word became flesh and lived among us, The Logic of God became flesh, became a human being. Jesus was God in the flesh. The word, “incarnation,” means “in the flesh.”
He lived among us, or tented among us or tabernacled among us. Jesus was the flesh of God and he lived among us here on earth. That is what this story about Jesus in the Gospel of John is all about: God living in the human body, mind and spirit of Jesus.
-And we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. Circle the word, “we.” The word, “we,” refers to the Apostle John and all who witnessed the life of Jesus on earth. “Glory” refers to the glorious radiant presence of God in Jesus. In the Old Testament, the Jews saw God’s glorious radiant presence in the pillar of fire by night and now they could see God’s glorious presence in the life of Jesus.
Jesus was the Father’s only son. The Greek word for “only” is “monogenesis,” which means mono-genetic Son of God. All the rest of us are the adopted children of God. God has only one, “mono-genesis,” Son and that was/is Jesus.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Circle the three words, “full,” “grace” and “truth.” “Full” means like a cargo ship was full to the brim with cargo. “Grace” means free gift of love. “Truth” means that Jesus was full of the reality and authenticity of God.
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