I listened to a podcast this week in which the topic of discussion was the difference between John’s Gospel and the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Some people say the Gospels are so different that they couldn’t have all been written by people who followed Jesus. People say that John’s Gospel, which was written latest in time, includes theological progression and embellishment.
NT Wright, on the other hand, points out that John’s words echo words found in the other Gospels, though it is very different in its emphasis. He also observes that since John’s Gospel was written latest, he would have had access to the other Gospels. There would have been no need for him to cover the same ground the other Gospels already covered.
Wright’s observation about John not wanting to cover ground already covered by the other Gospels, or not wanting to cover it in the same way, makes sense to me. John also had more time to think over and chew on the words of Jesus because he lived long, and he wrote his Gospel later than the others.
John’s Gospel is more philosophical and theologically developed in an obvious sort of way (not that the other Gospels are lacking in theology). Did he embellish on what Jesus said? We don’t know. Would embellishment make it any less “scripture”? I don’t think so.
John was one of the three apostles who spent the most time with Jesus and was most intimate with him. He was part of the inner circle of disciples who were closest with Jesus. He may have gained more insight into what Jesus said in that intimacy and the luxury of a long life to reflect on what Jesus said than the other Gospel writers.
I probably like John’s Gospel the best because it is so philosophical, beginning with some of the most poignant words found in writing anywhere:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Fast forward a few days: A friend texts me and a group of people a Bible verse or two every morning. I always read it as part of my morning Bible reading. Sometimes the things that I am reading tie together with other things I am listening to and thinking about.
That was the case this morning. The verses sent in the text reminded me of NT Wright’s statements about the echoes of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in John’s Gospel. The verses in the text from my friend this morning are as follows:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
1 John 3:2-3 NIV
These words are not from the gospel of John, but from the first epistle of John. As I read them, I immediately heard echoes of the words of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, which was likely written earlier than John. In that letter, Paul said:
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:10-12 (NIV)
1 Corinthians 13, of course, is the famous “love chapter”, ending with the statement: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) John’s first letter is all about love. Just as Paul focuses on love in 1 Corinthians 13, John focuses on love in 1 John, and both of them speak in that context about the present limitations on our knowledge and knowing more fully when we see Christ face to face.
The statement that caught my attention is that we do not know what we will be until Christ appears; then, we will be like him, and we will see him as he is. These words of John echo Paul’s words when he says for now we know in part, but then we will know as we are fully known. Now we see only as a reflection in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face and we shall know fully even as we are fully known.
The similarities between these passages are striking to me., and all the more that they are both spoken in the context of love. They emphasize transformation that will take place in us in the context of our relationship to God. They emphasize that we see and know only partially in this life, and we cannot see or know exactly who God is or exactly what God has created us to be at this point.
Both passages speak to a future in which we shall know fully even as we are fully known (Paul) and see God as He actually is (John).
Now, though, we do not see clearly. The King James says we see only as “through a glass darkly”. I am struck by the implications of these things: both the fact that John echoes Paul, and Paul echoes John, and by the emphasis on love because we do not know what we do not yet know.Continue reading “Echoes of Paul in John and the Priority of Love over Knowledge”