Bible Reading Plan
This week our Bible Reading Plan turns to John’s gospel. John stands out among the gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called “synoptic” gospels—meaning they see and understand Jesus in similar ways. John is about the same Jesus, but understands who he is and what he means in very different ways. Here are just a few of these differences to notice as you read John:
- There are no parables in John. Instead there are “I AM” Statements, metaphors for Jesus’ identity. (Bread of Life-6:35; Light of the World-8:12; Gate-10:7-9; Good Shepherd-10:11-14; Resurrection and Life-11:25; Way, Truth and Life-14:6; True Vine 15:1-5). As God’s name in the Old Testament, “I AM” is also a claim of divinity for Jesus.
- The synoptic gospels consist of fairly brief sayings and stories. John consists of much Longer Speeches and Encounters (Nicodemus-3, the woman at the well-4, a man born blind-9, Lazarus-11).
- The word “Believe” occurs 29 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke combined. It occurs 91 times in John alone. You could say that in the synoptic gospels people either follow Jesus or not—they either deny themselves, take up their cross and live like Jesus, or they don’t. In John, people either believe who Jesus is or they don’t—they either “get it” or not. This either/or imagery permeates John—light v. darkness, life v. death, seeing v. blindness.
- There are fewer, but longer, miracle stories in John. In the synoptic gospels, while miracles do demonstrate Jesus’ authority, he also performs miracles out of compassion for the sick and hungry. In John, miracles are referred to exclusively as “Signs,” and their purpose is not compassion, but to reveal who Jesus is and cause people to believe. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus invites the disciples to participate in healing and casting out demons; in John, only Jesus does such things.
- In the synoptic gospels, Jesus has conflict with religious/political leaders called Scribes, Priests, Pharisees and Sadducees. In John, Jesus’ opponents are called “The Jews.” There is much debate about what John meant by this. It probably reflects the fact that by the time John was written (later than the other gospels), followers of Jesus had separated from Jewish synagogues due to conflict. We may have to acknowledge that anti-Jewish prejudice is present in the New Testament. It is critical to see that Jesus and his followers have faced opposition, without turning that into anti-Semitism.
- One might say the synoptic gospels tell the story of Jesus as one of courageous love, unjust suffering and tragic death--all vindicated by Resurrection. But John’s story is of the eternal Word of God who came down from heaven, was glorified on the cross, and returned to heaven—his death was not tragedy but Destiny. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus can be weak and suffer; in John, Jesus is the One in charge at every moment.
As you read John’s magnificent gospel, ask yourself:
- Who is Jesus?
- What does he want me to know and believe?
- If I believed that, how would it change the way I live?