What are the key themes contained in the Gospel of John? There are quite a few. More than you might initially think.
Key themes in the Gospel of John include the following:
Included in the themes of John’s Gospel is the genre, or type of literature, which we find to be this fourth gospel. The main genre is gospel or ancient biography. Ancient biographies, and John’s Gospel in particular, contained three ingredients—what the subject (Jesus) did, what the subject (Jesus) said, and people’s responses to the subject (Jesus). Within this format the usual gospel subgenres are found in the Gospel of John. These include calling stories, recognition stories, witness stories, conflict stories, encounter stories, miracle stories, discourses, proverbs or sayings, passion stories, resurrection stories, and post-resurrection appearances.
One biblical scholar explains, “Balancing the narrative richness are expanded discourses by Jesus. The Gospel of John also frequently employs symbolism, especially with reference to Christ, who is portrayed by images such as light, bread, water, and a shepherd. As an extension of this, the first half of the book is built around seven great “signs” that Jesus performed as proof of his messianic identity (see 2:1–11; 4:46–54; 5:1–15; 6:5–13; 6:16–21; 9:1–7; 11:1–44). Then, in a further intricacy, John often links a “sign” or other great symbol with a corresponding statement made by Jesus in the form of either a conversation or full-fledged discourse. For example, Jesus feeds 5,000 (6:1–13), which is followed a few verses later by Jesus’ discourse on being the bread of life (6:25–40).”
Literary styles which frequently occur motifs include: (1) statements that are misunderstood—in which Jesus makes a pronouncement, a bystander expresses an unduly literal understanding of Jesus’ words, and Jesus explains the true, spiritual meaning of his original statement (nine instances:3:3–8; 4:10–15; 4:31–38; 6:47–58; 7:33–36; 8:21–30; 8:31–47; 8:56–58; 11:11–15), (2) events or statements that occur in threes (e.g., three denials of Jesus; three utterances from the cross) and statements that occur in sevens (including seven great signs and seven “I am” statements by Jesus; see notes on 2:11; 6:35), and (3) heightened contrasts scattered throughout the book (e.g., light vs. darkness; life vs. death; the fleeting vs. the eternal; disease vs. health; love vs. hate).
Finally, what is the setting for John’s Gospel? One introduction to John’s Gospel explains it this way: “The events of the Gospel of John take place in Palestine, incorporated into the Roman Empire in 63 b.c. Appointed by the Romans as king over the Jews in 37 b.c., Herod the Great ruled until his death in 4 b.c. The Romans divided his kingdom among his descendants. The predominantly Gentile region of the Decapolis, or “Ten Cities,” was a loose confederation of semiautonomous cities administered by the Roman legate of Syria.”
Okay. I think that is enough background information for one day. Tomorrow we will begin to examine John’s Prologue in 1:1-18. I encourage you read this section prior to our next time together. Let me leave you with this question: can you identify the four basic components of the gospel of salvation in John 1:1-18?
Soli deo Gloria!