Lesson 3 of 5
In Progress

Background of John

John’s Gospel was composed in a context where the identity of Jesus was disputed. Some considered claims that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God to be incompatible with Jewish tradition, creating friction between Christians and synagogue members who did not share their views (John 9:24-34). A central issue in the debate was whether Jesus was really from God or whether his claim to be one with God was blasphemy (10:30-33). Accordingly, the Gospel emphasizes that Jesus works in harmony with God by giving life to people as the Creator does. Therefore, Jesus speaks the truth about his relationship with God when he uses the divine name “I Am” for himself. The experience of conflict is reflected in the attention the Gospel gives to questions about Jesus’ identity. The Gospel allows readers to hear people challenge Jesus’ claims and to listen to Jesus’ replies. There are intense discussions of what it means to testify rightly and to judge with right judgment. The experience of conflict helped to shape a Gospel that is passionately committed to the question of truth (8:32; 14:6).

At the same time, the Christian community had become more ethnically diverse by the time this Gospel was written, including now people of Jewish, Samaritan, and Greek background (1:35-51; 4:39-42; 12:20-21). Distinctions between Jews and Gentiles fade as the Gospel speaks broadly of the opposition that comes from “the world” (15:18) and of God’s love for “the world” (3:16). In order to communicate Jesus’ identity to a widening readership, the Gospel uses language that would have been broadly accessible. Jesus is identified as the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, and the true vine–imagery that was rooted in Israel’s Scriptures yet engaging to a diverse readership. This helps the Gospel remain a compelling book for readers today.