In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gospel of John

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • The Text of John
  • Reception History
  • The Beloved Disciple and the Author of the Fourth Gospel
  • John and the Synoptics
  • The Johannine Community
  • John and the Historical Jesus
  • Structure of the Gospel
  • Style and Language
  • Symbolism and Imagery

Biblical Studies Gospel of John
Gilbert Van Belle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0033


According to ecclesial tradition, the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament is attributed to the apostle John, the son of Zebedee and younger brother of James the Great. However, the Gospel itself does not make use of the name John, and its author is not immediately identifiable. Repeated reference is made to an anonymous disciple characterized as the one “whom Jesus loved” or “the other disciple” and is consistently mentioned at Peter’s side during crucial moments in the life of Jesus. Scholars tend to divide the Gospel of John into two major parts, preceded by a prologue. The first part describes Jesus’ public activity and is generally designated “the book of signs.” These miraculous “signs” of Jesus’ identity as the Word become flesh are often followed by lengthy dialogues between Jesus and other characters that highlight key aspects of Jesus’ identity and/or mission. The second part is referred to as “the book of the passion” or “the book of glory,” in which Jesus reveals himself to his disciples. This section opens with Jesus’ “Farewell Address” to the disciples on the last night of his life and proceeds to narrate the events of Jesus’ arrest, Jewish and Roman trials, crucifixion, and resurrection. In his conclusion (20:30–31), the evangelist looks back at what he has written and reflects on the purpose of his Gospel. A further epilogue follows the conclusion in chapter 21, with the so-called “second conclusion” in verse 25. John 5:3b–4 and the narrative of the adulterous woman in 7:53–8:11 do not belong to the original Gospel. The question of the sources of the fourth Gospel remains a point of scholarly debate to the present day. Some recent exegetes have returned to the argument that John was dependent on the Synoptic Gospels, pointing out that they share a significant number of texts in common. Other exegetes believe that John is based on different nonsynoptic sources or traditions and that the Gospel was written in various stages, reflecting the history of the Johannine community. There is also no agreement on the cultural and religious background. Using a limited vocabulary and implementing an array of literary techniques, the evangelist was able to create the most “spiritual,” most “theological,” and most “enigmatic” Gospel.

General Overviews

For a general look at the Gospel of John, a wide range of resources are available: Dictionary Treatments, introductions to The New Testament, and Monographs, mostly written by Johannine scholars. More exhaustive treatments can be found in the introductory sections of the standard Commentaries on John’s Gospel. For students who want to study the history and development of Johannine research, Anthologies are useful.

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