Here is another post inspired by my class on John.
Our professor regularly posts questions for thos of us in the class to discuss. The particular question we are to respond to currently reads as follows:
It is often said that John is the Gospel to the world (Matthew to the Jew, Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Greeks). But in 1924 Israel Abrahams said, â€œTo us Jews, the Fourth Gospel is the most Jewish of the four!â€ How is that so? If it is so, why do many people tell new converts to begin reading this Gospel? Consult resources and discuss this statement.
Here’s how I answered it.
What are we to make of Israel Abrahams’ statement? Very much I would say.
In reading the Gospel of John one is immediately confronted by the Jewish context of not only that particular book but also the entire faith called Christianity. As one commentator noted, “The author was acquainted with Jewish opinions and learning and with the details of Jewish customs. His vocabulary and general style are Semitic, even though the gospel was written in Greek. The OT is freely quoted, and the necessity of prophetic fulfillment is emphasized.” (1) And does it not make sense that a Jew writing a book about the Jewish Messiah would do so? Surely it does.
John begins with the well-recognized reference to Genesis 1 and continues to offer a perspective of Jesus firmly entrenched in a worldview well accustomed to the ways of 1st century Judaism. For example, John offers us scenes from the life of Christ involving the cultural and religious differences between the Jews and Samaritans of the day, a late night instructional session given to a “teacher of Israel,“ and even makes use of an internal dating system based on the Passover festivals. Indeed, this is a book that those well versed in Jewish religious and cultural thought should find quite accessible.
And what of the tradition of training young Christians with the Gospel of John? It only seems logical that we would do so strengthened in our resolve to make use of this Gospel precisely because it is so Jewish. We, as Gentile believers, must remember that we are the “ingrafted branches“ of Romans 11. It must be before us that we came to be known by God because of the gospel “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Indeed, we Christians worship the one to whom the Jewish faith pointed, the Jewish Messiah. Even to know of Him we depend on the inspired writings of Jewish men who were the first to share the gospel with our Gentile forerunners. Considering how closely the faith itself is tied to Judaism it only makes sense to launch new Christians into their new lives from the pages of a Gospel with such strong Jewish overtones.
And this Judaistic flavor by no means removes the accessibility of John’s Gospel. John Calvin, speaking of the fourth Gospel, writes, “I am accustomed to say that this Gospel is a key to open the door for understanding the rest [of the Gospels]; for whoever shall understand the power of Christ, as it is here strikingly portrayed, will afterwards read with advantage what the others relate about the Redeemer who was manifested.” (2)
A primer on that which birthed our Savior, readily accessible to readers of all stripes, and a tool of instruction by which the other Gospels might be better understood? Really, in answering the question put before us by our professor, we find it hard to find a better alternative by which to disciple new believers.
So what say you? Is John the book to use when discipling young believers? Do you have one you prefer over the Gospel? I’d love to hear from you.