A consideration of the uniqueness of the Gospel of St. John compared to the other three Gospels.
St. John has a style all his own.
St. John relates more years of Jesus' public ministry.
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Catholic Commentary on the Gospel of St John
Following the great saints and Catholic theologians
Session 5 – Gospel of John compared to the Synoptic Gospels
I. John and the Synoptics
A. By “the Synoptic” Gospels, we mean Matthew, Mark, and Luke
B. These three “see with the same eye” – syn, optic
C. St. John has a character wholly divers from the other three
“John has a style peculiar to himself, entirely different from that of the other Evangelists and sacred writers. For as an eagle at one time he raises himself above all, at another time he stoops down to the earth, as it were for his prey, that with the rusticity of his style he may capture the simple. At one time he is as wise as the cherubim, at another time he burns as do the seraphim. The reason is because John was most like Christ, and most dear to Him; and he in turn loved Christ supremely. Therefore at His Last Supper he reclined upon His breast. From this source, therefore, he sucked in, as it were, the mind, the wisdom, and the burning love of Christ. Wherefore, when thou readest and hearest John, think that thou readest and hearest Christ. For Christ hath transfused His own spirit and His own love into S. John.” (Cornelius a’ Lapide)
D. Matthew, Mark and Luke focus on the actions of Christ in his humanity, John on the proofs of Jesus’ divinity.
“John is symbolized by an eagle. The other three Evangelists, concerned with those things which Christ did in his flesh, are symbolized by animals which walk on the earth … But John gazing on the very deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he is equal to the Father, has striven in this Gospel to confide this above all.” (St. Thomas)
“John abounds more in the discourses and disputations of Christ with the Jews than in the things that were done by Him. Not that he relates all the discourses and disputations of Christ, but such as were of greater importance. Especially he gives a compendious account of those in which Christ proved that He was God as well as man.” (Cornelius a’ Lapide)
E. In addition to recording many sayings of our Lord, John also records certain miracles which the others did not.
“The miracles of Christ which John alone records are as follows:- The conversion of water into wine, chap. 2. The first expulsion of the sellers from the Temple, in the same chapter. The healing of the sick child of the nobleman, 4:47. The healing of the paralytic at the pool in the sheep-market, chap. 5. Giving sight to the man born blind, chap. 9. Raising Lazarus from the dead, chap. 11. The falling of Judas and the servants to the earth, when they came to take Jesus, 18:6. The flow of blood and water from the side of Christ after He was dead, 19:34. The multiplication of the fishes, 21:6.” (Cornelius a’ Lapide)
II. The Chronology of St. John’s Gospel with the Synoptics
“Matthew, Mark, and Luke record for the most part the acts of the last year, and the last but one of Christ’s ministry, that is to say, what He did after the imprisonment of St. John the Baptist. But St. John’s Gospel for the most part gives an account of the two preceding years. This consideration will solve many seeming discrepancies between St. John and the other Evangelists. So St. Augustine in his preface.” (Cornelius a’ Lapide)
The timeline of Jesus’ public ministry
St. John records three Passover feasts during Jesus’ public ministry. From this, it is clear that our Savior’s public life (from his baptism to his Crucifixion) extended about two and a half years.
The first Passover, John 2:3ff. – Jesus cleanses the Temple.
Near the time of the second Passover, John 6:4ff. – Jesus (in Galilee) feeds the five thousand with five loaves, walks on water, gives the Bread of Life Discourse.
The third Passover, John 11:55ff. – Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and dies upon the Cross.
The time after Jesus’ baptism and before John’s arrest
A full year passes between the fast in the desert and the arrest of the Baptist. This time period is recalled only by St. John, comprising the first three chapters of St. John’s Gospel. Consider the commentary of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide on Matthew 4:12:
“Matthew, Mark, and Luke all omit the embassy of the Jews to John the Baptist, asking him if he were the Messiah. To this first year of Christ’s ministry pertain also the turning water into wine, the driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and the discourse with Nicodemus. These all took place before the imprisonment of the Baptist, and are related only by S. John. For before his imprisonment Christ had committed to John the work of preaching, but now He took that office upon Himself.”
And, speaking of the passage of a year between Mark 1:13 and 14, St. Bede the Venerable (cited in the Catena Aurea) writes:
“Let no one, however, suppose that the putting of John in prison took place immediately after the forty days' temptation and the fast of the Lord; for whoever reads the Gospel of John will find, that the Lord taught many things before the putting of John in prison, and also did many miracles; for you have in his Gospel, This beginning of miracles did Jesus; and afterwards, for John was not yet cast into prison. Now it is said, that when John read the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he approved indeed the text of the history, and affirmed that they had spoken truth, but said that they had composed the history of only one year after John was cast into prison, in which year also he suffered. Passing over then the year of which the transactions had been published by the three others, he related the events of the former period, before John was cast into prison.”
Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke pick up the story
The synoptic Gospels, however, only record a single Passover. In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke only record the final year of Jesus’ public ministry.
After giving the account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, these writers jump ahead to the period after John’s arrest – though, it is clear from the Gospel of St. John, the Baptist was not arrested until over a year after the baptism.
It is clear that significant time must have passed between our Savior’s baptism and John’s arrest because St. John the Evangelist records a number of significant events (including the wedding at Cana, the cleansing of the Temple, the discourse with Nicodemus, etc.) which occurred during this period. Further, there was a time when John and his disciples were baptizing and Jesus and his disciples were also baptizing (that is, the disciples were baptizing in his Name) – consider John 3:22-25
After these things Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea: and there he abode with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Ennon near Salim; because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. And there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews concerning purification:
It was only after John the Baptist was arrested that Jesus began to call his Apostles. Hence, Peter and Andrew (as well as John) were called at least twice by Christ – once in the first year, when they were still with John the Baptist (cf. John 1:36ff.); and a second time when they were returned to Galilee and in their fishing boats (cf. Matthew 4:18ff.).
Another example: Nathanael and Bartholomew
“Rupertus and Jansen in this passage think Nathanael is the Apostle Bartholomew. They show this, firstly, because the other Evangelists always join together Philip and Bartholomew, as John here joins Philip and Nathanael.
“Secondly, because we nowhere read of Christ’s calling Bartholomew, unless it were this call of Nathanael.
“Thirdly, because the other three Evangelists who make mention of Bartholomew make no mention of Nathanael, and vice versâ with S. John.
“Fourthly, because S. John (xxi. 2) associates Nathanael with the Apostles Peter, Thomas, James, and John in fishing, and the vision of Jesus. It would seem therefore that he was an Apostle, and yet it is not apparent who else he could be if he were not Bartholomew.
“Fifthly, because Bartholomew does not seem to be a proper name, but only to signify that he was the son of Tolmai; and his proper name seems to have been Nathanael.
“Sixthly, because Christ said of Nathanael, Behold an Israelite indeed, it whom is no guile. And then Christ promises him a vision of angels ascending and descending upon Himself. Christ therefore seems to have specially loved him, and to have chosen him for a friend and Apostle.” (Cornelius a’ Lapide)