Flow of events
Discuss the differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels?
Introduction: From the very beginning of the modern era, doubts have been expressed by scholars regarding everything ranging from the authorship to the purpose of the fourth Gospel. Therefore, these doubts also include the doubts among the scholars regarding the relationship of the gospel of John with synoptic Gospels. The debate regarding this issue has been going on since long in history. Therefore the relationship of the Gospel of John with synoptic Gospels is not the problem faced by the two centuries of modern critical scholarship, but it has been experienced by Christian theologists for a much longer time (Throckmorton, Jr., 1979). While until the Second World War, it was made him believe that John was aware of and also used one or more synoptic Gospels at the time of writing his own account. However another trend contrary to the dependence theory was started by P Gartner-Smith when two shortcomings of this theory were highlighted by him. First of all the presence of continuing oral tradition at the time of writing the gospel renders the argument related with the dependence of John on Synoptic gospels less compelling. In the same way, the concentration of the critics regarding the points of agreement present among the fourth Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels and at the same time, the fact that critics have overlooked the significance of the differences that are present among them is also a shortcoming of this theory (. Filson, 1991).
In this regard, it becomes important to note that there are some significant differences present between the synoptic Gospels or the first three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the Gospel of John. It also needs to be rooted in this regard that the Gospel of John contains around 90% of material related with the life of Jesus that is not present in other Gospels. Therefore while all the four Gospels complement each other and all of them basically tell story regarding Jesus Christ however it cannot be denied that the Gospel of John is significantly different from the synoptic Gospels in content and tone (Miller, Ed., 1992p249). Therefore, several conspicuous differences are present between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. For example, one major difference between the two is related with the flow of various events in the life of Jesus. Except for a few differences that are present in their style, generally the synoptic Gospels are related with the same events in Jesus's life and ministry. All three of them focus on the period of the public ministry of Jesus in the areas of Galilee and Jerusalem as well as several areas present in between, including some miracles, major proclamations, discourses and confrontations. Although the writers of synoptic Gospels have generally arranged these events in a different order as a result of their own preferences and goals but it can be said that Matthew, Mark and Luke's books are in accordance with a similar wider script. On the other hand, the same cannot be said regarding the Gospel of John. On the other hand, it is significantly different in terms of the events described by it (Halley, 1965).
Style of writing
Particularly, there are four major units in which the Gospel of John can be divided. These are the introduction; The Book of Signs focusing on the messianic signs of Jesus; The Book of Exaltation in which the exaggeration of Jesus with the father has been anticipated after His crucifixation and resurrection and An Epilogue in which the future ministries of Peter and John have been unfolded. In this way, the result is that while a large part of the content in synoptic Gospels is common in terms of the events that have been described by them, a large part of the content present in the Gospel of John is unique in itself. In fact, there is nearly 90 percent of the content present in the Gospel of John that is unique to it and is not present in other Gospels (Wilmington, 1997).
In such a case, a question arises that hard to explain the fact that the Gospel of John does not include the same events that have been recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Is it possible that John remembered something different regarding the life of Jesus or even a question can be asked that were Matthew, Mark and Luke were not correct regarding what was said and did by Jesus.
However this is not the case, and in this regard it needs to be noted that John's Gospel was written nearly 20 years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote their own Gospels. As a result, John decided to skim and skip some ground that was already included in synoptic Gospels. It was the desire of John to fill some gaps and also to offer new material. At the same time, much of his content is related with describing different events dealing with the Passion Week before the crucifixion of Jesus as the significance of this week is now recognized by the scholars (Douglas, Ed., 1990).
Apart from the flow of events, there is also a difference between the style used by John and the style used by the authors of Synoptic Gospels. A narrative approach has been used by Matthew, Mark and Luke and they also feature geographical settings, proliferation of the dialogue and similarly, a large number of directors have been used by them. At the same time, in case of synoptic Gospels, primarily Jesus has been recorded by teaching through parables and also with the help of short bursts of proclamation. On the other hand, the Gospel of John is more introspective and protracted. The content of John's Gospel is full of long discourses, mainly from the mouth of Jesus. On the other hand, there are very few events that can be said to be "moving along the plot" and in the same way, the theological explorations are also very few (Laymon, 1991).
For example, a significant chance is provided to the readers by the birth of Jesus in which we can observe the difference that is present in the style used in the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. The story related with the birth of Jesus has been told by Matthew and Luke in a way that it is possible to reproduce it with the help of a nativity play, with costumes, characters sets and the same. Similarly, specific events have also been described by them in chronological order. But in case of the Gospel of John, there are no characters whatsoever. On the other hand, a theological proclamation has been offered by John of Jesus as the divine Word, the light shining in the darkness of the world although there are many who do not want to recognize Him. Therefore the words used by John are poetic and powerful and in the same way, the writing style of John is also entirely different as compared to the synoptic Gospels (Benware, 1990).
Therefore while ultimately the Gospel of John also tells the same story as told by the synoptic Gospels, however there are certain major differences between the two regarding the approach adopted by them. In such a case, it becomes significant to explain these differences. A question can also be asked in this regard that why there are so many differences present between the written record of the life of Jesus presented by John and the other three Gospels. A number of legitimate explanations can be offered regarding the significant differences related with style and content present between the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels. The first such explanation which is also the simplest one is related with the dates of the recordings of these Gospels. It is believed by a large number of contemporary Bible scholars that the first gospel was written by Mark, perhaps between A.D. 55 and 59. As a result, Mark's gospel provides a comparatively fast paced portrayal of the life and ministry of Jesus. As it was mainly written for a Gentile audience, this gospel provides a brief yet powerful introduction to the story of Jesus and also its staggering implications. On the other hand, the modern scholars are not sure if the Gospel of Mark was followed by Matthew or Luke however they are sure that both of them have used the work of Mark as the foundation for their work. The result is that nearly 95% of the content present in the Gospel of Mark can be compared to the combined content that can be found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Therefore, irrespective of the fact that who wrote after Mark, it is possible that Matthew and Luke have written their Gospels sometime between late 50s and 60s AD (Shorto, 1997).
In this way, we come across the fact that synoptic Gospels have been written nearly 20 or 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus which is only a generation. This reveals that Mark, Matthew and Luke faced the pressure due to which they have to record major events of the life of Jesus as a full generation had passed between the occurrence of those events and their recording and as a result, the eyewitness accounts and sources were also likely to grow scarce very soon. For example, this reality has been openly mention that the beginning of Luke's Gospel. Due to these reasons, it is possible that Matthew, Mark and Luke had to follow the same style and pattern and similarly the approach adopted by them was also similar. All these three Gospels were written with a view to intentionally publish the life of Jesus before it was too late and aimed at a particular audience (Smith, 1988 p1044).
However the circumstances related with the John's Gospel were not the same. The account of the life of Jesus was written by John after one generation had passed since the synoptic Gospels have been written, perhaps even later. As a result, John was writing his gospel when detailed accounts regarding the life and ministry of Jesus were already present for decades and these accounts have also been copied, studied and debated for several years. As a result, while there was the pressure on Matthew, Mark and Luke two officially codified the story of Jesus, no such there was present on John to preserve the historical record of the life of Jesus because this purpose had already been fulfilled by the synoptic Gospels. The result was that John had the liberty to construct his gospel in a way that was able to reflect various needs of the culture and time (Funk, 1993).
Significance of differences
There is also another explanation for the difference that it doesn't between John's Gospel and the synoptic Gospels. This explanation is related with the purposes for which each of the Gospel has been written and also the major themes that have been explored by the writers in each Gospel. Therefore while the Gospel of Mark was mainly written with a view to communicate the story of Jesus to Gentile Christians who had not witnessed the events in the life of Jesus. As a result, the main theme in this gospel was to identify Jesus as the “Son of God”. It was desired by Mark revealed to the new generation of Christians that in reality, this is what the Lord and Savior of all even if He was not physically present (Funk, 1993).
In the same way, the Gospel of Matthew has been written with a different purpose and it was also aimed at a different audience. Particularly, the Gospel of Matthew was primarily aimed at a Jewish audience during the first century which makes perfect sense when keeping in mind the fact that a large part of the early converts to Christianity were the Jews. Therefore among the major themes of the Gospel of Matthew is the connection that is present between Jesus and the prophecies and predictions made in being in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah. Therefore, if the purpose for Matthew was to establish that Jesus was the Messiah and He was rejected by the Jewish authorities of those days (Douglas, Ed., 1990).
The same is the case with Mark's Gospel; the Gospel of Luke was also mainly intended for a Gentile audience, probably due to the reason that the author of this gospel was also a Gentile. While the major events taking place in the life of Jesus have already been explained by the Gospel of Mark to a Gentile audience, the Gospel of Luke was written with a view to provide an account of the birth, life, ministries, death and resurrection of Jesus that is accurate and reliable. Therefore while it was the intention of Mark and Matthew to collate the story of Jesus for a particular audience, Gentiles and Jews, the purpose of Luke was more apologetic. He also wanted to establish that the story of Jesus was true (Wilmington, 1997).
Therefore, it can be said that the purpose of the writers of synoptic Gospels was to solidify the story of Jesus in historical and apologetic way. As the generation that was in my witness to the story of Jesus was dying off, the writers of synoptic Gospels wanted to provide credibility and lasting power to the foundation of the Church, particularly due to the reason that before the fall of Jerusalem, church was still present mainly in the shadow of Jerusalem and also under Jewish faith. On the other hand, the major purpose and themes were defending case of Gospel of John as can help in explaining the uniqueness of the text of John's Gospel. Particularly, the Gospel of John was written after the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore, John was writing for a culture where severe persecution has been experienced by the Christians not only from the Jewish authorities but also at the hands of the Roman Empire (Wilmington, 1997).
Therefore, it can be said that the purpose of the writers of synoptic Gospels was to solidify the story of Jesus in historical and apologetic way. As the generation that was in my witness to the story of Jesus was dying off, the writers of synoptic Gospels wanted to provide credibility and lasting power to the foundation of the Church, particularly due to the reason that before the fall of Jerusalem, church was still present mainly in the shadow of Jerusalem and also under Jewish faith. On the other hand, the major purpose and themes were defending case of Gospel of John as can help in explaining the uniqueness of the text of John's Gospel. Particularly, the Gospel of John was written after the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore, John was writing for a culture where severe persecution has been experienced by the Christians not only from the Jewish authorities but also at the hands of the Roman Empire.
B.H. Throckmorton, Jr., 1979, "Gospel Parallels: A Synopsis of the First Three Gospels," Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN
C.M. Laymon 1991 "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN
D.M. Smith, 1988, "John." Essay in J.L. Mays, Ed., "Harper's Bible Commentary," Harper & Row, Page 1044.
F.V. Filson, 1991, "The Literary Relations among the Gospels," essay in C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN
H.H. Halley, 1965, "Halley's Bible Handbook," Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI
H.L. Wilmington, 1997, "Wilmington's Bible Handbook," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL
J.D. Douglas, Gen. Ed., 1990, "New Commentary on the Whole Bible," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL
P.N. Benware, 1990, "Survey of the New Testament," Moody Press, Chicago, IL
Shorto, 1997, "Gospel Truth," Riverhead Books, New York, NY
R.W. Funk, 1993, "The Five Gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus,"MacMillan, Page 10
Robert J. Miller, Ed., 1992, "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma CA, P. 249-300.
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