Bible Review 20:5, October 2004

John—Historian or Theologian?

By D. Moody Smith

Was John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, a historian or a theologian? Even in antiquity John was known as a theologian. Early Christians could easily see the differences between his gospel and the other three. John’s gospel deals explicitly with theology and Christology (the doctrine of Christ) in a way the others do not. But is John’s account also historical?

Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they see Jesus’ ministry together. That is what syn-optic means in Greek: “seen together.” John, however, goes his own way. Even the chronological framework of Jesus’ ministry is different in John. Jesus’ ministry lasts longer, and Jesus visits Jerusalem more often. In John,

Jesus’ miracles, though fewer, are more astounding. They are called in John “signs”; they signify who Jesus is. In John, Jesus proclaims himself—“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)—instead of proclaiming the coming kingdom or the rule of God, as he does in the Synoptics.
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