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When you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, also known as the Synoptic Gospels, and the Gospel of John, you will notice that John is considerably different from the others. “Each of the evangelists tells essentially the same story, but the plots and emphases of the writings differ greatly. The difference is due not only to the vigorous creativity of the evangelists but to the peculiar social and religious struggles of their intended readers.” [1] Each Synoptic author targets a specific audience, and each strives to present the material, while it is similar to the other four books telling of Jesus, in such a way that his reader will best understand. Matthew targets the Jewish audience, and this is obvious when he begins with the genealogy of Jesus, shows the relationship between Jesus, Abraham, and David, and structures his writing in five parts similar to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.

Mark pays more attention to the secret of Jesus’ messianic role and the relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Luke, in the role of a historian, purposes to give an accurate rendition of the life of Jesus and details the life of Jesus from Bethlehem to His final trip to Jerusalem. As a note, the narrative of Luke continues in the same vein in the books of Acts. In contrast to the Synoptic Gospels, much of what is found in these writings is not to be found in the fourth. Conversely, there is considerable material in John's gospel not found in the other three, but there is a sufficient degree of similarity and, more importantly, collaborating details to conclude the fourth gospel is valid testimony of the earthly ministry of Jesus. Some exploit these differences attempting to cause discord and doubt about the message of the four. However, an examination of the four books reveals many instances where the accounts support one another through collaborating details and insights.

In John, there are no parables, no accounts of Jesus casting out demons, and no mention of His birth, baptism, or temptations. It does not include the Beatitudes or the Lord’s Prayer, nor does it mention the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, or the Ascension. If John had included this material, it would be synoptic with the other three. Interestingly, though it is one of the central themes of the other gospels, John only briefly mentions the kingdom of heaven, almost as an afterthought. To be fair, there is considerable material in John not found in the Synoptics. In addition to these differences, “John mentions Moses almost twice as frequently as any other gospel. The whole story of Moses and the Exodus is a very dominant motif.” [2] There is no mention in Matthew, Mark, or Luke of the witnesses of Jesus, the turning water into wine, Nicodemus, the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the Sychar well, or the resurrection of Lazarus.

John does contain more discourses than does Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Notable examples are the vine and the branches, the high priestly prayer, and several significant discourses, some of which encompass entire chapters. In contrast, several discourses in the Synoptic Gospels are not found in the fourth gospel. Not only are there discrepancies between the Gospels about the discourses, there are subtle differences or a change in focus in the four accounts. “The discourses of Jesus in John suggest a different understanding of the Christ figure and a different view of His teachings.” [3] This is one of the reasons this gospel is so different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, part of the reason it is known as the “spiritual” gospel, and also why critics savage this book. Finally, the o the other gospels do not tell of the appearance of Jesus to the disciple Thomas or the encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter in which Jesus commissions him to feed His sheep. There are only a few signs found in John's Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels share in common, the notable exceptions being the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee. We should note that, while the four gospels do not share many miracle accounts, the wording and behavior of Jesus are correlative in all of the signs the gospels record.

Despite all of these seeming differences, John’s gospel contains fascinating details of events found in the other gospels. A good example is in the feeding of the 5,000 where he identifies the type of bread the young boy offers to Jesus: barley. This gospel notes the disciples have travelled in the boat between three and four miles on the Sea of Galilee before Jesus comes to them. The gospel recounts the four Romans soldiers throwing lots for the outer tunic of Jesus rather than tearing the garment into pieces. Finally, at the burial of Jesus, John mentions the one hundred pounds of myrrh and incense to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. John “often displays a detailed knowledge of the events he narrates, events we do not know about from elsewhere in the known tradition. This is true not only of the narrative material themselves but also of the historical and geographical framework in which he places his material.” [4] These details mutually support the other gospels and add validity to the truthfulness of the fourth gospel. John is the one gospel that records the explicit claim of Jesus to be God and the seven great “I Am” statements.

An examination of the book of John reveals there “are many places where four books represent an interlocking tradition, i.e., where they mutually reinforce or explain each other, without betraying overt literary dependence.” [5] For example, Mark 1:16-20 tells of the abrupt call by Jesus to the first disciples and how they immediately left their tasks to follow. The account in Mark seems abrupt. However, John “makes their response more intelligible: several of them had already met and been impressed by Jesus earlier.” [6] John reports Jesus ministering in the area of Jerusalem at a level of intensity greater than the other writers record. Mark 14:49 affirms John on this point. Luke 10:38-42 reports Jesus being friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whose home was in Bethany, a few miles from Jerusalem. This would only be possible if Jesus had spent considerable time in the region as John explains. Why else would the religious leaders be so hostile toward Jesus and even plot His death unless He spent considerable time in Jerusalem to attract their animosity?


Copyright 2015 © Craig B. Manning. All Rights Reserved.