Ben Witherington III offers a similar analysis of the structure of the fourth gospel. He suggests the ministry of Jesus should be seen as representative of wisdom. Jesus came from heaven, spent time among men, was crucified, rose from the dead, and then ascended to heaven, following the same path as wisdom. He views the claim of Jesus to be the Logos also to mean wisdom, the same wisdom found in the Proverbs and the Apocryphal books. “In other words, recognizing that Jesus is being portrayed as God’s wisdom. Indeed wisdom incarnate, in this gospel is the key to understanding the presentation of the central character of this story.” [1] He cites 1 Enoch and other passages in the Apocryphal books and draws a parallel between the Wisdom of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ ministry. Witherington also sees the Apocrypha as a source for some of the puzzling statements of Jesus. The problem is that these writings were not part of the Hebrew Old Testament nor were they brought into the Septuagint. The Jews did not accept these books as Scripture nor did Jesus or His disciples accept, quote, or offer a hint or remez to these books. The Jewish council at Jamnia (90 CE) rejected the Apocryphal books as did early theologians such as Origen, Jerome, and Tertullian. Thus, while interesting, the commonality between Jesus and wisdom is more coincidental than intentional. Also, to advance this concept too strongly makes Jesus and wisdom into a single entity, which is incorrect.

Kostenberger provides another analysis of the structure of the fourth gospel. The first eighteen verses prepare the stage. The first half of the gospel presents the proof of Jesus’ messianic claims through the seven signs, seven teachings, and seven witnesses. All of these are meant to lead the reader to believe Jesus is the Christ. The second half of the gospel reveals how Jesus prepared His followers to continue the ministry after His ascension. Before He departed, He cleansed the disciples, told them of the impending Holy Spirit, elevated them to the status of being His friends, and finally prepared them to continue the great commission of spreading the Good News.

I. Prologue (1:1-18)

II. Book of Signs (1:19-12:50)

  1. Jesus’ inaugural signs (1:19-4:54)
  2. Signs and mounting unbelief (5:1-10:42)
  3. Final Passover / Resurrection of Lazarus (11:1-12:19)
  4. Conclusion (12:30-50)

III. Book of Glory (13:1-20:31)

  1. Cleansing and instruction of community (13:1-30)
  2. Passion narrative (18:1-19:42)
  3. Resurrection and commissioning (20:1-19)
  4. Signs witnessed by new community (20:30-31)

IV. Epilogue

  1. Jesus appears to seven disciples (21:1-14)
  2. Jesus and Peter (21:15-19)
  3. Jesus and the John (21:20-25)

Another way to look at the gospel is to divide it into two sections. Chapter one through twelve covers the greater part of the ministry of Jesus. In the second half, time dramatically slows downs so as to focus on the last few weeks. The first six chapters compose a subsection and proclaim the Son of God who became a man and who revealed Himself to a widening group of people, but was rejected. The first rejection was in Judea (chapter 5) and the second in Galilee (chapter 6). This sub-section of the gospel, following the prologue (1:1-18), covers a period of about two years and four months from December of 26 CE to the Passover of 28 CE. The second subsection consists of chapters seven through ten. This period is from October to December, 29 CE, which is the Feast of the Tabernacles to the Feast of Dedication. The close of chapter ten is seen as a natural break in the narrative. The third subsection of the first major section of the Gospel comprises chapters eleven and twelve. This contains the high moments of His ministry, which are the resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This section brings the story to the beginning of the Passion Week. The rest of the gospel, chapters thirteen through twenty one, is seen as the second major division of the material. Chapter thirteen is the first subsection of this division, although it does lead into the Upper Room discourses so that this chapter could be grouped with chapters fourteen through seventeen. The next subsection is chapters fourteen through seventeen. This portion contains His discourses at the Last Supper and the High Priest prayer of Jesus for the disciples and future generations of believers. Some have thought this section does not belong in the gospel.

In defense of chapter fourteen belonging to the fourth gospel, Frederic Manns details a three-part parallelism in the statement of Jesus. While not perfect, the structure illustrates the repeating thoughts in the passage.

1 – Let not your heart be troubled
3 – I will come
10 – I am in the Father
12 – I go to the Father
15 – If you love Me, you will keep My commandments
16 – The Helper

18 – I will not leave you as orphans
18 – I will come
20 – I am in My Father
21 – He who has My command-ments and keeps them
26 – The Helper

27b – Let not your heart be troubled
28 – I will come to you
28 – I go to the Father
31 – I love the Father
30 – The ruler of the world

Brown notes, concerning the Farewell Discourses, as chapters fourteen through seventeen, are known, that “literary criticism makes it most implausible that the Last Discourse consists to any great extent of complete speeches given on other occasions and simply transferred to the setting of the Last Supper.” [2] Keener notes a chiastic structure in the farewell discourse supporting the idea of these chapters being a unit and part of the fourth gospel.

A – 14:1                                        17:1-26 – Aʹ

B – 14:2 – 15:17                 16:13-33 – Bʹ

                                                                         C – 15:18-16:12

a – 15:18-25                   16:1-4 – aʹ

b – 15:26-27         16:5-12 – bʹ

While the chiastic order is not tight, it is fairly strong.  “If this basic structure is correct, unity (17:21-23) and love (13:44-45) are essentially synonymous images; sessions from the community, as in 1 John, would thus prove equivalent to hatred and death.” [3] The third subsection of the second major portion of the gospel includes chapters eighteen and nineteen telling of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Chapters twenty and twenty-one, the fourth and last subsection of the second major section, contain the resurrection and appearances to the disciples and others.

Merrill Tenney offers another interesting analysis of the structure of the gospel. Chapter 1:1-18 is the prologue that is virtually universal in all studies of the fourth gospel. The next section, 1:19 through 4:54 is the period of consideration. Next is the period of controversy and is in 5:1 through 6:71. The period of conflict, 7:1 through 11:53, follows. The period of crisis is from 11:54 through 12:36. The period of conference marks the end of His ministry in 12:36 through 17:26. The last few chapters telling of Jesus, 18:1 - 20:31, is the period of consummation. According to Tenney, the last period is the epilogue, which closes the gospel.


Copyright 2016 © Craig B. Manning. All Rights Reserved.