Formation of the Gospel of John


We shall very briefly understand the relationship between Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John before identifying the historical moments in the process of its formation.

1.      Synoptic Gospels and Gospel of John

What is the relationship between Synoptic Gospels and Gospel of John?

The Gospel of John being the last one to be written could have used the Synoptic Gospels. But today, there is almost consensus among the scholars that Gospel of John has no literary dependence on Synoptic Gospels. The similarities that exist between them come from the dependence of both on the same fundamental source, namely, “Jesus Tradition”. The shades of Johannine language reflected in Matthew 11: 25-27 (Lk 10: 21-22) is an example of the similarity. There was a time when the Gospel of John was considered more theological and less historical in comparison with the Synoptic Gospels. That trend is no more prevalent. All accept that the Synoptic Gospels and Gospel of John are equally historical and theological. There are traditions in the Gospel of John which are common to the Synoptic Gospels both in content, language, and style (example: Mk 8: 34-37; Jn 12: 25-26). There are traditions which are common in message. But Gospel of John uses special language and style in their presentation. Let us look at a few examples.

In Mark, we have three passion predictions in Mark 8: 31; 9: 31; and 10: 32. John 3: 14; 8: 28 and 12: 32 are parallels in message but different in the linguistic form and articulation. Synoptic Gospels use the following formula in the passion prediction: “the son of man must be handed over… They will kill him… On the third day he will rise”. There are three essential elements, namely, passion, death, and resurrection. The Johannine tradition brings these three elements in one expression, namely, “the lifting up of the Son of man”. According to the Gospel of John, when Jesus is crucified and the cross is lifted up with Jesus, he is already being glorified. So, passion, death, and resurrection are implied in the “lifting up” of Son of Man.

Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane according to Gospel of Mark in Mark 14: 32-42. In the Gospel of John, we do not find a prayer of Jesus similar to this in context and language. But, content-wise John 12: 27-28 is the same prayer.

We find in Mark 14: 32-36: “He took with him… and began to be distressed and agitated… And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved…even to death. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible, remove this cup from me, yet not what I want, but what you want”.

John 12: 27-28: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say” – Father save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason, “I have come to this hour. Father glorify your name.”

Now, there are traditions which are special to Gospel of John without parallels both externally and internally in the Synoptic Gospels. Examples: The dialogue with Nicodemus (Jn 3); Encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jn 4).

To have an idea of the different perspectives used by Gospel of John in the general presentation of “Jesus Tradition,” it is enough to have a look at the geographical movements of Jesus in comparison with the Synoptic narrations. According to Synoptic Gospels, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee and made only one journey to Jerusalem, to suffer, to die, and to be risen. Whereas, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus began the ministry at Cana and moved between Galilee and Jerusalem. At the beginning of John 2, Jesus is in Galilee. But, at the end of John 2, Jesus is in Jerusalem (Jn 2: 1-12; 2: 13-25). In John 4, Jesus is in Galilee (Jn 4: 43-54). But, in John 5, Jesus is in Jerusalem. In John 6, Jesus is in Galilee, but in John 7 – 10, he is in Jerusalem. In John 13 onwards, Jesus is in Jerusalem.

So, we find a basic similarity of perspective among Synoptic Gospels, and the Gospel of John stands alone and is different.

To summarise, the relationship between Gospel of John and Synoptic Gospels is not one of dependency on the literary level. But, Gospel of John seems to have known the Synoptic tradition. The evangelist of the Gospel of John could have expected from his readers awareness about the same. It is possible that Johannine tradition had similarities with Lukan special sources.

2.      Stages in the Development of Johannine Tradition

The proposal placed by Raymond Brown seems to be a more comprehensive and probable one. According to him there are four stages of development. They are:

  1. The existence of traditional materials.
  2. These materials are presented in Johannine style and language.
  3. They were formulated in the form of a Gospel.
  4. They were finally edited.

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