In the beginning…
Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates, “At the very outset, John’s gospel claims to represent apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’s earthly ministry,” yet only eight percent of John’s Gospel is found in the Synoptic counterparts. Köstenberger also illustrates recent interpretation and criticism focused on two stereotypes: “first, the Synoptic Gospels were interested in history, whereas John, as the ‘spiritual Gospel’ (Clement of Alexandria’s term), favored theology; and second, that John was a product of Hellenistic Christianity, whereas the Synoptic Gospels, in particular Matthew, came from a Jewish milieu.” The debate continues today, but there is no denying the Gospel of John, as Köstenberger substantiates, “contributes an accurate, trustworthy account of Jesus’s life, not merely with regard to theology, but also in terms of history.”
The differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel are overwhelming, but perhaps the biggest difference is John’s interest in drawing out the theological implications of Jesus’s ministry. Leo Percer emphasizes, “the Gospel of John was written to explain further the Johannine view of Christ being divine.” In the Synoptic Gospels, one will find parables and short stories where Jesus conveys a central point, but John’s Gospel contains no parables. Instead, John comprises long discourses where Jesus explains His perspectives. The Synoptic Gospels have the Last Supper, the baptism of Jesus, but in John’s Gospel there is no specific mention of His baptism or the Last Supper. Overall, John portrays Jesus as being divine, the Son of God, and God Himself. While there is a garden prayer found in John, it is not the same Garden of Gethsemane prayer found in the Synoptic Gospels. Lastly, in the Synoptic Gospels, one will see teachings on the kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration account, yet in John’s Gospel; there is no temptation by Satan in the wilderness and no exorcisms. Instead, John focuses on Jesus’s teachings on life and not the kingdom of God, which is found throughout the Synoptic Gospels. D. A. Carson concludes, “[John] wrote not to supersede or correct Gospels that were already circulating, but because he found them inadequate for his purpose.”
John presents God as the one who sent Jesus, the Father of Jesus, the Christ, and the Messiah. Additionally, while salvation is mentioned in all Gospels, substitutionary atonement is unique to John’s Gospel. Christ had come to take away the sins of the world, so John portrays a divine Messiah and not a crucified Christ. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection, so John writes his Gospel as though the resurrection had already taken place, encouraging his readers to believe in Christ who was raised from the dead, not just because of His Messianic claims, but also because of His divine status.
John’s use of “Word” in the prologue sets the stage for the following twenty chapters and provides a lens to view them through. John takes the reader back to creation to show everything, which had come into being, came through this “Word.” John further demonstrates Jesus is bigger than the universe and the source, but then he switches gears to show how God became flesh and dwelt among us. This transition was profound, since Jesus’s coming had an impact not just on specific souls being saved, but it had an impact on all of creation. God becoming flesh and dwelling among His creation made Him an active participant in the history of creation.
“Word” is the Greek word for logos, but in this occurrence and the one found in Genesis 1, it is so much bigger. God’s “Word” was the divine vehicle for action that brought the world into existence. Logos is only used in the prologue and it is used as a Christological title. There are several potential sources where John could have rooted his use of “Word” in. Logos in stoic thought was reason, the impersonal principle, which governed the universe. Stoics believed everything was ordered by a divine logos and there was no way to avoid it, so all one could do was try to live in harmony with it. Philo understood logos as a representation of God Himself, but John’s logos was not merely another aspect of God; the logos was God. Logos had Jewish and Greek roots as well as linkage to a personified wisdom, however wisdom literature does not view wisdom as part of God, but rather a tool He uses. John’s witness to the incarnation of the Word is perhaps the most important thing for Christians to consider, as Christ became flesh, to provide salvation. Isaiah 55:9-11 demonstrates the word of God always accomplishes the task for which it was sent and never returns void. John Oswalt further demonstrates this principle:
God has spoken to reveal his plans and purposes in the context of human history, and what He has said will be accomplished. Above everything else, these plans and purposes are for good. God intends to bless the human race, to forgive its sins, to redeem its failures, and to give permanence to its work. All this will be accomplished through his revelatory word.
Explaining the role of Jesus in John 1 to a modern reader would begin by showing if someone truly wanted to know God, all he or she would need to do is look at the life and ministry of Jesus. As Percer illustrates, being precedes doing and for Jesus to do the things He did, He had to be God and this is John’s central point. Secondly, essence precedes action, so who He his is revealed by what He does. Jesus told those who challenged His ways and teachings to not judge him by His words, but by His works. Hebrews 1 says Jesus is the exact representation of the godly nature and essence of God. Lastly, John’s detail of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection details how freedom is found through salvation, which only comes through Jesus. Jesus conquered death by dying, which allows believers to not fear death, since Jesus had overcome the grave. John’s primary focus in the prologue is to remind us that our hope and our salvation comes through Jesus who became flesh to provide salvation to all who would believe.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.
Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.
Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Percer, Leo. Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Two Presentation, “Literary Characteristics and Major Themes of John’s Gospel,” (Video), 2012, 14:34, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789632_1 (accessed September 7, 2016).
 Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 4.
 Köstenberger, Encountering John, 201.
 Leo Percer, Liberty University, NBST 615, Week Two Presentation, “Literary Characteristics and Major Themes of John’s Gospel,” (Video), 2012, 14:34, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789632_1 (accessed September 7, 2016).
 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 93.
 Percer, “Literary Characteristics and Major Themes of John’s Gospel.”
 Isaiah 53:10
 Jeremiah 29:11