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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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Donald Senior

Pheme Perkins

Before Beginning …

The Fourth Gospel has a double conclusion. After the Resurrection stories in Jerusalem, we are told that Jesus did many other signs but that those in the book seek to lead to belief in Jesus as Son of God ( 20, 30f ). After the Resurrection stories in Galilee, we learn that the Beloved Disciple was the source of the Johannine tradition and that all the things Jesus did could not be written down ( 21, 24f ). Expanded or revised editions of a book were not uncommon in antiquity. Both conclusions remind readers that the Gospel has been written to inspire and confirm their faith in Jesus.

Composition of the Fourth Gospel

The double ending indicates that John's Gospel has revised an earlier version. Other additions to the narrative and awkward transitions between sections also lead to this conclusion (see introduction to John, New American Bible). For example, John 14, 31 brings the discourse to an end. Yet the Gospel as we have it contains three more chapters of discourse material. John 12, 44–50 appears to be tacked on at the end of chapter 12 . Some of the additional material may have been added to the Gospel by later disciples of the author. As you read the Gospel, you will also see that Jesus often identifies with great religious symbols like light, life, water, bread, shepherd, and vine. The author of the Gospel assumes that its readers will recognize that these symbols have roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. This symbolic way of speaking about Jesus was probably developed within a community of Christians, which included the Beloved Disciple, followers who compiled the final edition of the Gospel, and another teacher who wrote the Johannine letters.

The Fourth Gospel and the Other Gospels

John is very different from the other Gospels. You will immediately notice that Jesus speaks in long symbolic discourses, not in short sayings and episodes that end in sayings. The only piece of ethical teaching in the Fourth Gospel is the love command. There are also major differences in the order of events. John pictures Jesus' ministry extending over three Passovers. The cleansing of the Temple comes at the beginning ( 2, 13–22 ), not at the end of Jesus' ministry. Jesus' death is attributed to the following that he gained when he restored Lazarus to life. John attaches symbolic discourses to many of the miracles so that the miracle becomes a claim about Jesus' relationship to God. Most scholars think that John draws on traditions about Jesus that were independent of those preserved in the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Gospels.

Symbols, Irony, and Misunderstanding

The Fourth Gospel uses symbols to present its message that Jesus is the unique Son of God. No one who persists in taking Jesus' words literally can understand the truth that Jesus reveals (see the rejection of literal understandings of Jesus' words and deeds in 3, 4–10; 4, 10–15; 6, 26–33 ). The reader knows the true meaning of Jesus' words when the characters in the story do not.

The Fourth Gospel and the Jews

Though some Jews, like Nicodemus, are sympathetic to Jesus ( 3, 1–11; 7, 50–52; 12, 42 ), the Gospel often uses the expression “the Jews” as a symbol for all those who oppose Jesus. They display a murderous desire to kill God's envoy and will be condemned by the founders of their own tradition, who testify to Jesus (Moses, 5, 41–47; Abraham, 8, 48–59). The hostility in the Johannine account may have had its roots in the expulsion of Christian Jews from the synagogues, referred to in John 9, 27 and ">16, 1–4a (see introduction).

if you read carefully, you will notice that John often does not bother to distinguish the various groups within Judaism of Jesus' day, such as Sadducees, Herodians, scribes, lawyers, and Pharisees. He often speaks of “the Jews” as though summarizing a story in which Jesus is facing “the bad guys.” This habit creates a tension between the fact that Jesus and his followers were also Jews and the way in which the Gospel is using “Jews” as a term for a role in the story. John 18, 35f illustrates this tension. Pilate treats Jesus with scorn because Jesus is a Jew, handed over by fellow Jews. Jesus' answer distinguishes himself and his followers from “the Jews,” that is, the group opposed to him. John is not making a statement about the Jewish people when he uses “the Jews” to fill the role of “bad guys.” The Vatican has reminded Catholics that anti‐Semitism is one of the worst forms of racism. We must acknowledge that in the past people have not distinguished between John's use of “the Jews” as characters and the Jewish people. Today, we must be very careful not to continue that misreading. In some contexts, it might be appropriate to substitute another phrase like “Jesus' enemies” or a more literal rendering of the term used for “the Jews,” “the Judeans,” when retelling the Johannine story in order to avoid confusion. Such substitutions are particularly important when working with young children who cannot make the distinction easily between “the Jews” as characters in a story and their Jewish classmates and neighbors.

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