Berean Bible Study Notes
Introduction to John
The Gospel of John, Introduction
This is the Berean Bible Study of the Gospel of John. If you are new to the idea of being a "Berean," it's based on this verse:
Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
As we get closer to the end and Jesus' return, our world is going to get more and more confusing. Deception is going to grow, and things we have taken for granted may very well change. These days, you cannot just walk into a Christian bookstore and pull something off the shelf and trust that it is going to be biblical (if you ever could). People you've probably heard of are suddenly spouting things that don't mesh with what the Bible says.
We all need to take responsibility for checking things out according to Scripture. The Bible says "Test everything." Not just some things - everything. That includes things with the label "Christian." That includes people on the radio and TV that you may have listened to for years. That includes your churches, your pastors and especially, ME.
That means digging into God's Word for yourself. God is preparing you for whatever lies in your future. I don't know what that is, but I can assure you that God wants a closer relationship with you. He wants your faith to grow, and how does that happen?
Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
I really think of all these studies as a "train the trainers" kind of thing. Getting into God's Word will help prepare you to help others. You'll certainly get some from this study directly, but I'm really hoping you'll take this opportunity to dig in on your own, also. Trust the Holy Spirit. He knows where you're at and where you need to get to. Best of all, He knows how to get you from one to the other. If you'd like to read more about "Why study the Bible?" please review our first study: Why study the Bible?
Introduction to the Gospel of John
Today we're going to start taking a look at the Gospel of John, the book that some consider the most precious book of the New Testament.
People have said that "John" is a book both for wading and for deep sea diving. Jesus is presented as God and man so clearly that even unbelievers cannot deny that that is what the text says. Yet, this Gospel also contains some of the deepest concepts of Christianity, enough for a lifetime (and more!) of study.
Who wrote the Gospel of John?
The early church had no question that the "Gospel of John" was written by John the Apostle, one of the Twelve. Many very early writers bear witness of that, including Irenaeus, a student of John's disciple Polycarp, who was certainly in a position to know. (John taught Polycarp who taught Irenaeus).
It is really only proponents of the "Higher Critical Method" that have any doubts. Since these men cannot handle Jesus being God, they need to find ways to discredit this very clear presentation, so they try to push it far past early church days. You can study it and prove pretty conclusively that it was John, one of Jesus' first disciples. William Hendriksen, in Exposition of the Gospel According to John, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1953, spends 30 plus pages doing exactly that.
If you believe the Bible, there is a much easier way. What does the Gospel say?
John 21:20 (NKJV) Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?"
22 Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me."
23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?"
24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. NOTE: Many commentators believe that these last two verses were written by an elder of the church at Ephesus, as a witness that the entire church at Ephesus was verifying that "Yes, this was written by the Apostle John." John was elderly by this time, and may have dictated this Gospel, as the Apostle Paul often did with his letters.
25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
It was obviously "the disciple whom Jesus loved" who wrote the book, and a process of elimination makes that person the Apostle John. John's Gospel was written somewhere around 85 to 90 AD, probably while John was in Ephesus. Ignatius was already quoting concepts from the book before 110 AD. A papyrus fragment of a copy of John's Gospel, called P52, was found in Egypt and dated to 120 to 150 AD. For a copy of the Gospel to have gotten as far as Egypt by 120 AD, it would have to have been written quite a bit earlier. So much for the higher critics.
P52: A Fragment of the Gospel of John
What is the purpose of the Gospel of John?
John tells us why he wrote the Gospel:
John 20:30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
In The People's Bible: John, Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1997, Gary Baumler says,
Some scholars say that the author wrote his Gospel particularly to address the needs of non-Jewish, Greek-speaking Christians of his day. To the Greeks, the idea of the Word (Greek: Logos) already had philosophical meaning ("the principle governing the cosmos") that would cause them to pay attention to John's use of it. Other scholars say that the author wrote it to counteract heresies of the day that denied either the full divinity of Jesus or the full humanity of Jesus. The author answered both heresies: "The Word was God" (1:1) and "The Word became flesh" (1:14).
Nevertheless, the only purpose that today's readers need to know for this Gospel is the one the author himself gave: "These [miraculous signs} are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (20:31).
John's Gospel seems to be the last of the Gospels to be written. The other Gospels were apparently already widely distributed in the church. The other three are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share many things in common. John's Gospel is very different and only rarely repeats information that is found in the other three.
John's purpose is two-fold. First, he writes that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Accepting Jesus as God can be a stumbling block. Even if they don't believe it, people have to admit that the Gospel of John clearly portrays Jesus as God. That's why the Jehovah Witnesses need their own corrupt Bible version of John, where Jesus is just "a God."
The second reason is very profound: and that believing you may have life in His name. While unbelievers may gain something from this Gospel (God's Word does not return in vain!), it is written primarily for believers.
Matthew was written to Jews, to help them believe in Jesus as their Messiah. Mark is fast-paced, full of action, and presents Jesus as the suffering servant. Luke seems to have been written for Gentiles. Some people believe that Luke and Luke II (otherwise known as Acts) were actually the court documents that preceded Paul's trial in Rome. Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man. John, more than any other of the Gospels, was written for the edifying of the church. As he says in his purpose for writing, John presents Jesus as the Son of God, in whom we have life. He seems to be writing for both Jewish and Gentile believers.
The Apostle of Love
John was known in the early church for his emphasis on loving one another. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, New Testament (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2003) says:
The writer of the Gospel before us went through an incredible transformation himself. You see, John is known as the "apostle of love" because more than anyone else in Scripture, John both preaches and personifies love. This can be seen even in his initial call.…
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. Matthew 4:18–21
When called by Jesus, Peter was casting his net, for he would become an evangelist who would bring so many people into the kingdom that three thousand-plus were saved the first time he preached (Acts 2:41). John, however, was mending his net when called by Jesus, for his ministry would be one of restoring relationships and knitting people together in love.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. 1 John 2:8–10; 3:14
This was the message of the one who was mending nets, the one who was trying to keep believers from fragmenting and splitting. John was a man whose message was love.
The church historian Eusebius (who wrote at the time of the Emperor Constantine, around 325 AD) said that John's sermons in the churches of Asia were usually, "Children, love one another." Perhaps because John's Gospel and Epistles do emphasize love, paintings of John, such as Leonardo DaVinci's "Last Supper," show John as slight, almost feminine. In real life, that could hardly be true. Before being an apostle, he had made his living as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Chances are, he probably had deeply tanned skin and bulging muscles. Jesus referred to John and his brother James as "Sons of Thunder," maybe somewhat because of their appearance, but also because of their early tendency to shoot off their mouths:
Luke 9:51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"
55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." And they went to another village.
Just another example of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit - from a "Son of Thunder" to the "Apostle of Love!"
John and his brother James were the sons of Zebedee, probably a man of means and influence. He had a profitable fishing business, with hired employees, and he was known to the High Priest. John's mother was Salome, who may have been the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If that's true, it would make John a first cousin of Jesus, probably someone he had known all his life. Again, if that's true, it would make John's Gospel all the more remarkable, that he had come to know Jesus, his carpenter cousin, as Yahweh, creator of heaven and earth, the "I AM THAT I AM" of Scripture.
Here is one article that presents that argument: Cousins?
According to legend, the Roman emperor, Domitian, ordered John put into a cauldron of boiling oil, and he miraculously survived. Several early church fathers wrote that John was sent into exile on the island of Patmos by Domitian. It was there that he wrote the Book of Revelation around 95 AD. Eusebius says that after his release, when John was nearly 100 years old, he was carried from church to church on a stretcher. Some believe that it was during this time that he wrote his final epistles before his death around 100 AD.
Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, translated by C.F. Cruse, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Massachusetts, (1850) reprinted 1998, relates a funny story:
The same Polycarp, coming to Rome under the episcopate of Anicetus, turned many from the aforesaid heretics to the church of God, proclaiming the one and only true faith, that he had received from the apostles, that, which was delivered by the church. And there are those still living who heard him relate that John, the disciple of the Lord, went into a bath at Ephesus, and seeing Cerinthus within, ran out without bathing, and exclaimed, 'Let us flee lest the bath should fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth, is within'
If that's true, perhaps John retained just a bit of that "Son of Thunder" inclination. We'll learn more about "the disciple that Jesus loved" as we get further into the book.
The text of the Gospel of John
As we begin to get into the text of the Gospel of John, there are some things that we can begin to notice. There are no mysteries revealed in John. Remember that a biblical mystery is something that was not revealed in the Old Testament, but is explained in the new. The Greek word, musterion (moos-tay'-ree-on), is used 28 times in the New Testament, including each of the other three Gospels, but not in John. It is used four times in the Book of Revelation, which was written even later, so it's not that all the mysteries had been revealed. In the other three Gospels, the word is used when Jesus is explaining the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. John leaves all that out.
There are no parables in John. If you remember the purpose of parables, it was to conceal, not reveal:
Matthew 13:10 And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"
11 He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
John certainly heard many, many parables. Yet, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he chooses to completely leave them out of his Gospel. Why? Perhaps since this Gospel is written primarily for the church, of whom Jesus said, it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, there is no reason to conceal anything. I'm sure there are deeper reasons also.
Just like the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of John is structured in sevens. They're just not as obvious as in Revelation. There, you have seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets and so on, all spelled out. John is based on sevens also, but they're not as obvious. There are seven miracles:
John 2:11, Water into Wine
John 4:43-54, Healing the Official's Son
John 5:1-9, The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda
John 6:1-5, The feeding of the 5000
John 6:16-25, Walking on the Water
John 9:1-4, Healing The Man Born Blind
John 11:1-44, Raising Lazarus From The Dead
There are seven "I AM" statements:
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the door.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
I am the true vine.
There are seven main discourses. The sevens continue even down to the words chosen. This was the book that caused Ivan Panin to begin looking into the hepatic structure of Scripture. I'll tell you right now that there is way more in the Gospel of John than I'll ever understand this side of heaven. We'll probably just be getting our feet wet here, not any deep sea diving.
Next time, we'll begin John, chapter 1. There are many things packed into simple, little words. Should be interesting!
For more introduction to the Gospel of John, you might want to check out the following links. Remember, that as a good Berean, you always take extra-biblical stuff with a grain of salt. As we get more into the book, I'll have additional links on the specific subjects we cover.
THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Gospel of John: The Son of God
“The Search for the Twelve Apostles” by William Stevart McBirnie, Ph.D.
The Berean Bible Study of the Gospel of John
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11
© 2012 This study was written by Jacqui Komschlies and last updated 2/1/2012. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.
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