Tips for Reading the Gospel of John
The Gospel of John has been described as, "a pool that is shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in." John's Gospel was written a number of years after the three synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John does not try to present the story of Jesus in the same way that the synoptic writers do.
It is not that John writes a different story from the other Gospels. He still tells the story of Jesus' life, ministry, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection. The main difference in the way that John tells the story is in his selectivity and in how he crafts the narrative. Looking at some of the differences between John and the Synoptics will provide us with a few guides that will help us in our study of John's Gospel.
1. John's Use of the Miracles as Signs
All of the gospels show Jesus performing miracles. Some of these are physical healings and the raising of several people from the dead. Others are nature miracles, such as the calming of the storm or the multiplication of the fish and bread. Other miracles occur when Jesus sets someone free who is possessed or controlled by evil spirits.
The synoptic writers use the Greek word, "dunamis," when they talk about miracles. This Greek word is where our English word, "dynamite," comes from. The synoptic writers saw the miracles as an explosion of divine power. John, on the other hand, uses the Greek word, "semeion," or "sign," translated into English, whenever he talks about Jesus' miracles. John understood that while the miracle itself was important, it also pointed to a greater meaning and significance.
John only presents seven miracles, or signs, in his Gospel. The first one is the Turning the Water into Wine in chapter two and the last one is the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead in Chapter eleven. An excellent study would be to take a closer look at each of these seven signs. What are these signs pointing to? What is the meaning that John is wanting us to find in each one?
2. Jesus' Conversations
Each of the four gospels shows Jesus in conversations from time to time. John, however, makes these individual encounters central to his gospel. Two examples of these conversations found in chapters three and four. The first one is Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was an esteemed Jewish leader who wanted to find out what Jesus was all about. Jesus turned the conversation around and challenged everything Nicodemus believed. The second encounter was with the Samaritan woman. Jesus does the unthinkable and engaged a Samaritan woman in a conversation about her life and the spiritual thirst that she was experiencing. In each of these conversations, Jesus' goal seemed to be to lead that person to faith in Him. Studying these encounters are another excellent way to study this book.
3. The "I Am" sayings of Jesus
John provides us with seven of these statements that provide us with insight about Who Jesus was. "I am the Bread of Life," and "I am the Light of the World" are two of these statements. Each of the "I am" statements highlights a different aspect of Jesus' ministry. By locating and studying each of the statements in its context, the reader will gain valuable insight into the person and ministry of Jesus.
These are just three tips for studying John's Gospel. By taking the time to dig under the surface of the Scriptures, there is a wealth of riches to be discovered. Our lives are enriched by meditating on God's Word.
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