Episode 75: Introduction to John’s Gospel

In this episode Dan and Paul embark on an exploration of John’s Gospel, unraveling its sense of majesty and mystery right from the opening verses. They discuss the unique structure and content of John’s Gospel, comparing it to the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—highlighting its distinct opening, key themes, and the explicit purpose stated in John’s narrative. They delve into the significance of belief, the role of witnessing, and the powerful symbolism of water and blood, offering a compelling argument for understanding John’s Gospel as a carefully selected collection of events aimed at strengthening the reader’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Tune in to this episode for an insightful high-level overview of one of the most profound texts in the New Testament.

Show Notes

After a reading of John’s majestic opening prologue courtesy of David Suchet, (see episode credits below – thanks David!), Paul and Dan begin by musing on many differences between John’s gospel and the so-called Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. The prologue itself is unique and profound, and Paul is keen to suggest a musical equivalent in the solo trumpet and pounding drums of “Thus spoke Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss.

The effect of these opening words are to put the reader in no doubt that Jesus is “the light” (John 1:9) and the “Christ” or Messiah (John 1:17). The reader is therefore ready to consider the remaining gospel narrative, knowing that the author intends to demonstrate how Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. This is indeed the clear purpose of the fourth gospel, as John 20:30-31 says; “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”.

The author of the Gospel of John

Making clear the aims of this episode, Dan directs listeners to specific podcasts that have been on Christological questions in John, such as “I and the Father are one” and the one with guest Tom Gaston about John 1. However, this introduction episode is an overview of the whole gospel, and there is much more to John than just debating the nature of Jesus in relation to the Father.

Paul discusses the traditional understanding that John the son of Zebedee was the author of this gospel, whether directly or via his close disciples. However the main point is that this gospel claims to be based on close eye witness testimony, (e.g. John 21:24).

The structure of John’s Gospel

The differences between the four gospels really become apparent when looking at how they are structured. Paul describes how John is structured in two distinct halves. After the opening prologue, the first major section of the book continues to chapter 10 and culminates in chapters 11 and 12, which are about the raising of Lazarus and the subsequent aftermath. Building up to this point, the narrative has been walking the reader through six “signs” (as they are called in the text), and long conversations that take place around these miraculous events.

Once the raising of Lazarus, the seventh sign, has taken place, the next section of the book begins in chapter 13, which describes the upper room on the night before Jesus was crucified. Five long chapters recount much of Jesus’ words to his disciples and a moving prayer to God before his is arrested. The subsequent chapters from 18 to 21 are the trial, crucifixion and resurrection.

Key words in John’s Gospel

Paul and Dan explore some of the key words in John’s gospel that help to highlight the main themes. These include “believe” and the notion of “witnessing”. So many people throughout the book believe that Jesus is the Christ, and others are also pointedly marked as not believing. This theme fits the overall mission statement of the gospel. The reader is being invited to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and here are many examples of people who interacted with Jesus and who came to belief in different ways.

Paul explains how a later text in John’s letters may be summarising these themes through the gospel narrative. 1 John 5:6-10 says that Jesus “came by water and blood” and that these, along with the Spirit, “testify”. Interestingly, the first half of the book of John is full of references to water. Jesus turns water to wine, he describes the need to be born of water and the spirit, he offers water of life to a Samaritan woman by a well, he heals a man who was waiting by the pool of water in Bethesda, he walks on water and calls out in a feast in Jerusalem that “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38). The second half of the gospel, of course, is about the blood – the death of Jesus. Indeed, when he is dead and the soldier pierces his side, “at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:34).

Other themes in John’s gospel

To conclude, Paul briefly mentions several other themes that form part of the narrative flow of the gospel of John. This includes a discussion about the timing of the crucifixion of Jesus to fit the exact moment when the Passover Lamb would have been killed across Jewish homes that evening. They discuss whether this sets up John as contradicting the other gospels, but are careful to recognise instead that John is telling the story in a way to teach theological truths, all to advance the purpose of the gospel – to help you and I believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Related content

Previous episodes and blogs that relate to the gospel of John:

And for those who want the theological discussion about Christology:

Episode Credits

Introductory reading of John 1:1-5: Excerpt from the Complete NIV Audio Bible read by David Suchet; Hodder & Stoughton; Unabridged edition; April 2014