The Triumph of the Gospel of John in American Evangelicalism: Introduction
1.) In contrast to the synoptic portrait of a Jesus who proclaims the coming of God's kingdom (Mk1:15/Mt 4:17; Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27, Lk 21:31, cf Mk 13), the author(s) of John's Gospel depict a Jesus who constantly proclaims himself (e.g., Jn6ff; 7:38; 8:12,58; 10:7-10; 11:25-26; 14:6; 15:1-6) as the means to salvation. To provide a bit more of a perspective consider the synoptic data concerning the occurances of "kingdom of God" and its equivalent Matthean version "kingdom of heaven" versus the gospel of John's data:
Synoptics-92 (59 "kingdom of God" and 33 "kingdom of heaven")
Gospel of John-2 (both of which occur in the context of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in chapter 3)
The gospel of John's use of the phrase(s) occurs about 2 percent of that of the synoptic's usage.
2.) The chronology of the synoptics and John are quite different. Whereas the synoptics present Jesus' mission as lasting at about a year, John 's presentation seems to indicate a possible two or even three year ministry. One of the major examples of a diachronic discrepancy between the synoptics and John includes the relocation of the temple incident during the passion week in the synoptic versions (Mk 11:12-19 and par.) to the beginning of Jesus' mission (Jn 2:20-22). Another major example is the difference concerning the time of Jesus' death. The synoptics indicate that Jesus died on the day of passover (Mk 14-15 and par.) after the meal but the gospel of John places Jesus' death at the time the passover lambs were being slaughtered, i.e. before the actual passover meal. (Jn 18:28; 19:14)
3.) The method of teaching is quite distinct between the synoptics and John. The synoptics present a Jesus who instructs through parables, aphorisms, riddles, etc. However, John's Jesus regularly engages in lengthy monologues and lacks the forms of teaching found in the synoptics.
4.) The gospel of John is significantly more theologically colored. One prime example is the difference in interpretation of the feeding of the 5000. When one compares the synoptic verisons (Mk 6:38ff and par.) with John's own account (Jn 6ff) the theological elaboration in the latter's account is striking.
It is this last point that is particularly troublesome since it exhibits the extent that the post-Easter proclamation has been retrojected into the Jesus tradition by the author(s) of John. Of course the synoptics are not entirely free of this element but John seems infused at every point in his gospel by a post-Easter reflection of the exalted Christ. Because of this those who are not of a conservative bent tend to dimiss the gospel of John as containing valuable history. Any history that is contained in John's gospel would be minimal at best and even harder to retrieve. Those who would wish to use the gospel of John as a source for reconstructing the historical Jesus should pay account to the late Raymond Brown's words:
"...subsequent development, no matter how homogeneous, is something that is refractive when one's purpose is to establish scientifically the exact circumstances of the ministry of Jesus. And so, although I think that the Fourth Gospel reflects historical memories of Jesus, the greater extent of the theological reshaping of those memories makes Johannine material harder to use in the quest for the historical Jesus than most Synoptic material." (Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the Gospel of John, p. 107)
However, though the synoptics differ considerably from the gospel of John and probably contain more information historically in regards to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, this gospel has held a place of dominance throughout history in regards to the formulation of Christian faith. For example, its importance for the first few centuries of Christianity in the ensuing Christological debates cannot be understated (though it had to be wrestled constantly from the hands of Gnostic Christians). But even today, especially among American Evangelicalism, the presentation of Jesus found in the gospel of John is by far the dominant one. And so in this new series of posts (which may or may not be posted consecutively) I will look at the evidence which I believe indicates this and then explain why I have some problems with this particular appropriation of one aspect of the Jesus tradition by a majority of Christians today, namely, the one found in the gospel of John.