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Introduction to Gospel of John

Let us state right up front that the Gospel of John has specific hallmarks of being an eyewitness account. Even though John arguably couldn't write, it was common for such folk to dictate their material to a scribe. The following are the points to support this gospel being a first hand eyewitness account:

  1. The document is clearly well structured, deals with the ultimate issues, and does not smack of being a collection of pieces or a compilation.
  2. The author refers to himself as "the disciple that Jesus kept on loving", the implication being that was so despite his foibles.
  3. The author states, "Jesus and his disciple went...; there he remained with them, and baptized" and "Jesus was making and baptizing more followers than John." He then  corrects himself by inserting a remark that assures us that Jesus himself was not personally baptizing. This is not only a strong indication of eyewitness origin, but also and understanding that Jesus would never actively endorse this old symbolic rite.
  4. Even the Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby, who has a clear anti-Christian agenda and who uses some very sophisticated and disingenuous arguments to discredit, admits that this gospel is faithful to the historical tenor of the times—something that is lacking in the synoptic gospels.
  5. The document is clearly written to countermand certain existing misconceptions engendered by the somewhat superstitious early Christian movement following the crucifixion of Jesus.
  6. The disagreements with the prevailing stories and accounts would naturally be more ascribable to an eyewitness individual.
  7. The narrative describing several events seems to be genuinely that of an eyewitness.
  8. The striking and major message of the gospel, one of living and the continuation of physical life, is consonant with that of the Gospel of Thomas, another eyewitness account.
  9. Finally, the narrative vocabulary used by the author is restricted to common-folk usage, is consonant with John being the son of a fisherman, and does not reflect that of a scribe or scholar.

The Gospel of John can be reasonably divided into five parts, a prologue, three middle parts, and a small epilogue.  The first part, the prologue (John 1:1-18), deals with the central, critical issue of our having everlasting life now by making four major assertions which are affirmed later:

(1)   Jesus is the LOGOS (Source of Wisdom, Expression of Logic and Reason).
(2)   Mosaic law CONTRASTS with truth and grace.
(3)   We can now fully UNDERSTAND God because Jesus "has made Him plain".
(4)   We can BECOME true children of God in a most literal, significant way by UNDERSTANDING, through his life and message, the true character and purpose of God.

These assertions are fully supported in the conversations of Jesus selected by John to reveal the good news in the balance of his text.

The second part (John 1:19-12:50) begins with an account of John the Baptizer introducing the public ministry of Jesus as the Messiah (not totally legitimate) and ends with Jesus claiming his words to be the light of the world and God's will, to be life that now lasts forever. This is truly the grand truth of Jesus according to John in his Gospel and Thomas in his Gospel! The six carefully chosen public miracles included in this section relate to the three issues of 1) worship, 2) the restoration, 3) sustenance and enhancement of life.

The first significant miracle has Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.  This account has a conversation where the implication is strongly made that when we have a legitimate need we are not to be put off even by God, and that he operates on an agenda that can be justified and determined by the believer’s true needs and desires versus some "sacred" preset chronological agenda.

The following accounts of cleansing the temple in Jerusalem and the night time visit of Nicodemus are undoubtedly out of chronological order, and show that, where it doesn't affect the spiritual message, such things as chronology are not that important to the ancient writer.  In his conversation with Nicodemus after having first declared that he, right then and there as he is talking, is in the Kingship of the heavens, John has Jesus introducing the "piece de resistance" where he avers that choosing what you believe within the meaning, context and limits of what he says and does will produce life that lasts forever (John 3:15).  John then gives his first summation about Jesus and his purpose (John 3:16-21).

Next, with the woman at the well Jesus quotes the common mythos literature of the day when he says, "He would have given you living water" and "fountain of water leaping up to blessed life." While the woman at the well of Samaria is gone, Jesus tells his disciples to "raise their sights" to consider entering the kingship and reaping the reward of real living instead of dying, our life under the human condition. With the second miracle, dealing with the official of the king, Jesus makes it clear that God wants us to believe in his goodness without tangible proof and that we as believers in need are not to be put off even by God himself (John 4:47-51).

Miracle three has Jesus healing an invalid (John 5:2-9) at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.  Upon doing this Jesus equates being saved with being healed and given real life, passing from dying to living.  In the middle of this discourse is the paragraph (John 5:25-29) where we have Jesus talking about the resurrection at the end of that age and the resurrection at the end of the next (our) age, the only reliable verification about the two resurrections we have.  This significant speech ends with Jesus averring that, if the Jews were able to believe what Moses had written, they should be able to believe him, Jesus.

The fourth major sign is Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14) which reveals the freedom to create fulfillment in the kingship or realm of goodness.  Jesus' hearers misunderstand his intent and the crowd winds up trying to make him their king, not realizing that his "kingship is not OF this world" (John 18:36) but may be IN this world.  When Jesus tells them directly that they missed the real significance and they should shift their focus to labor "for the food enduring to life that lasts forever", they ask Jesus the all important question, "What must we do, to be doing what God wants us to do?"  Jesus gives them THE answer (John 6:29) in a discourse in which the reward is stipulated and reiterated to be "not dying", but having everlasting life now in their age (John 6:47-51,57,58).  His conversation with them ends with him cutting through all symbolism by defining his use of the word PNEUMA and telling them that by understanding his words and the meaning of his message they would receive this fulfilled, lasting life (John 6:63). [1]

Jesus in the fifth major sign restores sight to a man blind from birth (John 9:1-41), a cure revealing the availability of tangible healing for those who choose what to believe within the contextual limits of his words and deeds.  Those like the Pharisees who deny his Messiahship and more, and who misunderstand the nature of the Kingship or realm of goodness and empowerment remain religiously blind.  Again in the following allegorical discourse Jesus plainly reiterates that he came to lead us directly into the Kingship of fulfilled life without dying by listening to specifically HIS words (John 10:10,27,28).

In the sixth major miracle scenario Jesus deliberately waits until Lazarus is quite dead and then punctuates his message of not dying and having everlasting life—NOW—to Martha and his disciples by raising Lazarus from having been dead in the grave for four days.[2]

The Passover now being close at hand, Jesus returns to Bethany, where at a party he is anointed by Mary, symbolizing his preparation to go all the way.  In returning to Jerusalem the next day he is ushered in as the prophesied King of Israel with urgent Hosannas.  He then says that he must be "lifted up from the earth" in order to "draw all men" to himself (John 12:31-33), pointing to his crucifixion and implying the future conversion of all people.  Jesus' public ministry ends with him again reiterating that God's true will is life that lasts forever (John 12:50).

The third part (John 13:1-19:42) begins with an account of the last supper, covers the arrest, interrogations, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus and ends with his statement closing that spiritual age, and his entombment.  This section includes Jesus' confirmation of his nature as servant as he performs the menial task of washing his disciples' feet, and his personal prayer authorizing unity among the believers.  The long, private discourses define discipleship, understanding God, how to deliver or minister love to Jesus, the role of the Holy Spirit, the definition of sin, the great need for unity between us and with us, and the attendant promise of authorized corporate prayer being answered. 

Jesus defines discipleship in John 13:35, makes his sweeping claim of "I AM the way, the truth and the life source", declares that to understand him is to understand God, declares his unity with God, and assures fulfillment of that which he has authorized.  He promises to inaugurate the Paraclete, the Counselor or Real meaning of truth (John 14:16,17), defines loving him as cherishing his word and directions (John 14:23,24), assures them the Holy Spirit will teach them ALL things (John 14:26) and lead them into ALL the truth (John 16:13), gives them the condition for the unlimited fulfillment latitude of the Kingship (John 15:7), and defines how he uses the word sin.[3] (John 15:22,24 and 16:9).

Jesus continues by explaining that it is to the disciples' advantage that he go away (John 16:7), and reiterates the role of the Holy Spirit as guiding us into all the truth—both a description and a promise.  Finally these discourses are ended by Jesus' personal prayer(John 17:1-26), in which he uses the ultimate Hebrew communication emphasis technique, saying something three times and then saying it differently a fourth time, to delineate his primary desire for his people.

Chapters 18 and 19 record Jesus' arrest (John 18:1-11), his trials before the high priest and Pilate (John 18:15-19:16) where he declaims being a king (John 18:37) by saying "You say that I am a king.  But for this I was born,... to testify about the truth".  Finally, hanging on the cross with the truth about the character of God blossomed out and fully realized or revealed (the Apocalypse) Jesus utters his spiritual age ending "It is finished" and is entombed.

The fourth part (John 20:1-21:19) opens with Mary Magdalene coming early to the empty tomb, includes his appearances to the disciples, and ends with Jesus once more trying to turn Peter into the right direction.  During his dialogue with Mary, Jesus, for the first time, refers to some of the disciples as his brothers now that they are able to believe because of his resurrection, and bids Mary, "Say to them, 'I am ascending to my father and YOUR father, to my God and YOUR God.'"

The resurrection—the seventh major sign—the focal point of them all—ushers in the new spiritual age and is first discovered by Mary at the open tomb, secondly by John who now is able to believe the incredible things that Jesus has been saying.  Jesus now begins appearing to his close disciples in the upper room, encouraging and directing the believing ones to enter the kingship and not be afraid by saying "Peace be with you".  The second time he appears in the upper room, Thomas, reluctant but still capable of believing, is present and is now able to believe like John.  Jesus reminds him that there will be "those who have not seen and yet choose to believe', and on that note John explains why he has written his Gospel.

The eighth and last major sign takes place at Jesus' third appearance after seven disciples led by Peter return to their occupation of seine fishing naked at night.  After they have miraculously had their net filled full of the finest, largest fish they have ever caught, they recognize that it is Jesus on the shore.  Once again Jesus tries to elevate their thinking and redirect their focus by calling their large fish "little", symbolizing the rewards of the old occupations as puny compared to what the believing ones are now authorized to do after entering the Kingship.

The fifth part, a short epilogue, has the author verifying his discipleship and reiterating that there were many other significant things that Jesus said and did.

Quality and Focus of John's Gospel

The gospel of John is qualitatively superior to the synoptic gospels for at least five primary reasons among many others:

(1)   It is an eyewitness account and therefore best evidence.
(2)   It deals with the crucial issues of truth and aspects of paradigm in a somewhat systematic way.
(3)   It has the really good enough news repeated by Jesus many times in positive mode statements reinforced by negative mode statements.
(4)   It is the most spiritual and inspiring of the gospels by emphasizing and being focused on the relevant, the divine, and not just incidentals.
(5)   In Christianity many of the traditional symbols of Jesus—Word, bread, light, salt, water, shepherd, etc.—were practically universal in the religious mythos of the day, and have celestial ramifications, if not a celestial origin. John highlights these symbols in a special way. He takes great pains to define/describe the "Logos". He lets us know that Jesus did NOT baptize with water features Jesus CHANGING it to wine, and walking on/above it. The bread to feed the five thousand was NOT harvested from what fell from heaven, but came directly from Jesus. John discloses that the "true bread" was the message of Jesus, and the man that eats of it has immortality. John declares not that Jesus HAS the light but IS the light. In the one instance of dealing with the shepherd symbolism, John recalls Jesus transcending this symbol by being the "door to the sheepfold". All in all, not the usual treatment of these sacred symbols!

Nothing made clear by Jesus in the gospel of John should be overridden by anything reported in the synoptic gospels, which were compiled by professional men commissioned by certain Christian communities.  These professional men had to use second, third, and fourth hand sources, and were highly influenced by Peter and his followers, for their stories.

The other biblical gospel accounts preserve a lot of somewhat interesting but incidental information and parables, and that is somewhat useful, but John writes a gospel of strong thematic focus explaining the real meaning of the Jesus incident.  The author of this Gospel is not much interested in presenting mundane facts about the historical Jesus but can be seen to be writing to correct some important perspectives and to contrast with the gist of the Synoptics by explaining the true theological significance of Jesus.  He is definitely grinding a different spiritual ax than the Synoptics.  "These <significant things> have been written that you may choose to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life by his authority." (John 20:31).

     This gospel writer does not stress a second coming because he understands the Parousia and Apocalypse were finished at the cross and the empty tomb, and that the full, complete "Kingship" has already come.  Here the emphasis on creating belief in having life now is paramount versus just believing such things that are interesting or factual.  For John, not choosing to believe this good news of Jesus and not understanding God by seeking the truth in the specific message of Jesus is clinging to sin, being aimless and imprudent.  "And this is the life source of the ages, that they may UNDERSTAND YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent." (John 17:3)

Early in his writing John gives four laments, and in these is his answer to one of the most important questions we can ask, which is: Why are we still here dying in this sordid world 2000 years later?   See John 1:10,11,17,18  3:17-19,31-33.  Many scholars accept that John is writing his Gospel to contrast with and to correct the view given in the synoptic gospels, which apparently were largely copied from the same original source, called by scholars the "Q" document.  A bigger reason is that John is writing to contrast with the direction most of the other twelve disciples have taken with their inadequate understanding of Jesus and his message.

Purpose and Aspects of this Translation

This translation is an attempt to get closer both to the technical accuracy and the spirit or true meaning of what Jesus said and did as recorded by the one eyewitness whose account is included in the New Testament canon.  Even so, the author John's commentary passages are not considered absolutely authoritative nor as reliable as his witness passages, and is differentiated for the reader by being italicized.  Comment inclusions by the translator are put in <> brackets.  The terms "Sir" and "Master" instead of "Lord" have been used throughout because these terms can now denote one to whom you respect or gladly come to for instruction, rather than one who dominates through demands.  The translator has taken the liberty of using all-caps for certain words or phrases for importance or emphasis.  The symbol {pl} indicates the plural form of the word "you".

[1].  Other Gnostic and Christian concepts are based on misunderstanding the word pneuma—especially in "It is the 'pneuma' that gives life, the flesh is of no avail" and other passages—to mean a living entity instead of signifying the true meaning of Jesus' message or words.

[2].  The question should be asked, if Jesus did not raise Lazarus to immortality or at least possible immortality, whether he did Lazarus any favor in resurrecting him to just age and die all over again. See: Weeping for Lazarus

[3].  Understanding how Jesus defines sin is a very crucial part in understanding the character of God, what is wrong with the world or in humanity, and what can ad should be done about it.

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