Friday, November 12, 2010

Studying the Scriptures - Start with the Fourth Gospel

Jesus healing the blind man, by Norma Boeckler


Sometimes people read through the Bible by starting at Genesis and lose interest. The purpose of the Scriptures is to convey Christ to us. As Luther said, the Bible holds Jesus the way a cradle holds a baby.

Therefore, the entire Bible is one, unified truth, the Book of the Holy Spirit. The culmination of the Gospel message can be found in the Gospel of John, which unifies Matthew, Mark, and Luke by providing the sermons of Jesus and additional material not found in the Synoptic Gospels.

The Gospel of John assumes knowledge of the first three Gospels. As great as they are in their own way, the Fourth Gospel is even better.

John has the simplest Greek, the simplest language. The best way to learn Greek, Latin, French, or Spanish is to read John in that language, translating the known (and often repeated words) and guessing the rest. Grammatical knowledge is derived from use, so most of those mothball-smelling terms can be abandoned. (I never say to myself when writing, "It's time for a conditional clause, and why not add a contrary to fact statement.")

John was not only close to Jesus. His Gospel reveals a closeness to Judaism (references to the Exodus and the Burning Bush) and to the events. The narrative betrays an eye-witness who modestly called himself, "the disciple Jesus loved." I noticed that just as much in Latin as in Greek. Outside the empty tomb, when Jesus says "Mary" and she responds "Master!" at the sound of his voice, I get goosebumps.

Because John integrates the first three Gospels, the content of the Fourth Gospel should be studied with special attention. The traditional symbol of John is the eagle, because that Gospel soars above the rest. That is even expressed in the repetition of terms. A phrase like "bread of life" is used repeatedly, with more meaning added each time.

John is also poetic, easy to memorize. The words are simple but the message is profound, with many passages worth a day's meditation.

John's timeline is the most accurate. He alone shows a three-year ministry for Jesus. I am not saying the first three Gospels are in error. They are preaching pericopes. The Biblical authors were not journalists--thank heavens--so the Holy Spirit did not have them write biographies.

John's geography is quite accurate.

The earliest fragment of a Gospel is from John, showing the Gospel was written and in circulation rather early. I am not convinced that a scrap can be dated, but those who think so believe the Rylands Fragment is the earliest. I always look for the copyright.

Most importantly, John's Gospel features:
  1. The "I AM" sermons, which reflect the I AM of the Burning Bush, the Angel of the Lord (pre-incarnation Son of God).
  2. The Little Gospel, John 3:16.
  3. Water turned into wine.
  4. Jesus and the woman at the well.
  5. The Bread of Life.
  6. The Keystone Kops chapter of the Bible. This is the funniest chapter of the entire Bible, John 9, where the Pharisees are portrayed as bumbling Keystone Kops from the silent films.
  7. The Good Shepherd in John 10.
The fanatics cannot find their precious UOJ, because no book of the Bible is clearer about justification by faith alone. Forgiveness of sin only comes through faith and never precedes faith. John is certainly the capstone of the four Gospels, and the central book in content among all the books of the Bible. Why did the Holy Spirit move the Apostle John to write his Gospel late in life? KJV John 20:30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name.
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