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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

John - Introduction

In comparison with the Synoptics, John's gospel is much more unified in content and style. It has sometimes been called ‘seamless, woven in one piece’ (cf. Jn 19:23 ). The differences between John and the Synoptics have been used in both positive and negative ways, especially concerning their reliability. But one should not forget all that unites John with the other gospels: it is about Jesus' public life, death, and resurrection, with concrete biographical indications that may not always satisfy a modern historian.

My view is that John in his structure and in many details has been inspired by Mark, perhaps even by Luke (or common traditions behind Luke and John). But John also has his own information, which allows him to treat his material in a sovereign way (Kieffer 1987–8; 1992 ). He wants primarily to show that Jesus really is the Messiah and the Son of God (cf. Jn 20:31 ). Matthew has already dared to group Jesus' preaching into five or six longer discourses in order to favour his own theological purpose; John is even bolder when he freely organizes his material according to his theological views, making no stylistic difference between what Jesus, the Baptist, or he himself has to say.

The Johannine presentation is permeated with contrasts between light and darkness, life and death, truth and falsehood, heaven above and the earth below. Ambiguous expressions are used to create a kind of suspense. Subtle ironic devices suppose that the reader is shrewder than those who meet Jesus without understanding. The Master who stands in the centre of the text is described with the help of lively metaphors. His encounters, his words, and his miracles often have both a concrete and a metaphorical meaning. One could speak of a kind of progressive ‘metaphorization’ of words and deeds in the Johannine text (Kieffer 1989 ). Sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, and even in the Gospel of Thomas, are stamped by simple images and parables. In John these give way to long and complicated monologues and dialogues, with a rather limited vocabulary used very skilfully.

In the Prologue Jesus Christ is identified with the Word of God. Already in the beginning of his activity he cleanses the temple, a symbolic action that, like the miracle at Cana in ch. 2 , announces that the new cult around the risen Christ will replace Jewish feasts and ceremonies. In chs. 3–4 the discussions with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman show that the Son of Man, who comes from above and will be elevated on a cross, will give his Spirit, independently of Jewish and Samaritan places of worship. In chs. 5–6 the reader is informed about Jesus' life-giving power. The polemic with the Jews in chs. 7–8 and the healing of the blind man in ch. 9 concern Jesus' identity, a subject that continues throughout chs. 10–12 . In the farewell discourses in chs. 13–17 Jesus finally reveals for his disciples his deep connection with his Father and the Spirit whom he will send after his death and resurrection (chs. 20–1 ). Despite his main theological purpose, the evangelist shows a vivid interest in geographical and historical details, which makes his gospel sometimes a better source of historical information than the Synoptics.

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