The Bible is an amazing book. Its formation is no less than extraordinary. Consider the Bible’s unique characteristics. Thirty to 40 authors penned its words, using three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), over a period of 1,500 years (60 generations). No other book in history comes close to equaling these remarkable characteristics.
The conditions in which the Bible was written vary as widely as do the backgrounds, personalities and professions of the various authors. From the king’s palace in Jerusalem (David and Solomon) to a Roman prison cell (Paul), from the quill of a well-educated priest (Zechariah) to that of an uneducated fisherman (Peter), from Babylon (Daniel) to Rome (Peter and Paul), from a murderer (David) to a physician (Luke) comes the Word of the Lord.
Despite the wide differences of time, language and circumstance, the Bible presents a united, progressive revelation from God to all who will listen. William Ellery Channing sums it up well: “The incongruity of the Bible with the age of its birth; its freedom from earthly mixtures; its original, unborrowed, solitary greatness; the suddenness with which it broke forth amidst the general gloom; these, to me, are strong indications of its Divine descent; I cannot reconcile them with a human origin.”
Of all the 66 books of the Bible, the Gospel of John is a favorite for many. Throughout his singular work, John alone records the eight cryptic declarations of Jesus that begin with the phrase, “I Am …”
Key to understanding the distinctive content of John’s Gospel is an appreciation of the author’s unique relationship to Jesus. A comparison of the Gospel accounts of the women gathered at the foot of the cross (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, 16:1 and John 19:25) reveals that John’s mother, Salome, was likely Mary’s sister, making John and Jesus first cousins. The key to this deduction is John 19:25, which lists the same group of four women named by Matthew and Mark, substituting [Jesus'] mother’s sister” for “the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew) and “Salome” (Mark). It is likely that these three references describe one person—Salome, John’s mother and Jesus’ aunt.
JOHN CLEARLY STATES THAT
HIS WORDS WERE “WRITTEN
THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE…”
John’s Gospel is different from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The uniqueness of his Gospel is doubtless due to his close relationship with Jesus. Not only was John likely Jesus’ cousin, but he was also a member of the “inner circle” of disciples that included Peter, James and John (see Mark 5:37, 14:33 and Matthew 17:1). At the conclusion of his Gospel, John clearly states his purpose in writing. He declares that his words were “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The Gospel of John is noted for what it omits and for what it includes. More than 90 percent of John’s record is unique to his Gospel. For example, of the eight miracles recorded by John, six are found only in his Gospel.
Written in the last decade of the first century, John’s Gospel does not include stories that were well known by that time. He omits a description of Jesus’ birth and the first 30 years of His life, as well as His baptism by John the Baptist and His temptation in the Judean wilderness. John does not mention the institution of the Eucharist or Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. The “Great Commission” and the account of Christ’s ascension into heaven are also absent.
John includes accounts that are not contained in the other Gospels. The marriage feast at Cana (2:1-11), the coming of Nicodemus to Jesus at night (3:1-15) and Jesus’ profound conversation with the woman of Samaria (4) are recorded only by John. It is John alone who recounts the raising of Lazarus from the dead (11), the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (13:1-17) and Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit (14-17).
John’s Gospel brings the disciples to life. Thomas speaks (11:16; 14:5; 20:24-29); Andrew (1:40,41; 6:8,9;12:22) and Philip (6:5-7; 14:8,9) are described in such a way that they become for the reader recognizable personalities.
John also provides details not found in the synoptic accounts. For example, he meticulously records that there were six stone water pots at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (2:6), that the bread the boy brought to Jesus consisted of barley loaves (6:9), that there were four soldiers gambling for Jesus’ seamless robe (19:23), that the exact weight of the myrrh and aloe used to anoint the dead body of our Lord was 75 pounds (19:39) and that Jesus prepared breakfast for His weary disciples on a charcoal fire (21:9).
Most striking among the statements that only John records are the occasions when Jesus uses the self-revealing phrase, “I Am …” Eight times Jesus uses this phrase with a sentence structure that conspicuously parallels God’s direction to Moses. In the midst of the burning bush, God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you”‘ (Exod. 3:14).”
Subsequent articles in this series will ponder Jesus’ startling assertions: I Am the Bread of Life (6:35, 48,51), the Light of the World (8:12, 9:5), the Door of the Sheep (10:7,9), the Good Shepherd (10:11,14), the Son of God (10:36), the Resurrection and the Life (11:25), the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6) and the True Vine (15:4,5).
Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.