Article 3 – Why Include The Gospel of John?

One might ask;

"Why is The Gospel of John included in The Synoptic Gospel?"

or, "Why include John in any harmonization or merger of the New Testament Gospels?"

One might ask this because John's Gospel has not traditionally been held to be truly "synoptic" with the other three accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The major reason for this is that less than 10% of The Gospel of John overlaps, repeats, or parallels, the sayings, teachings and events that are chronicled within the other three accounts.  Among the three "synoptic" accounts, some 65% of The Gospel of Matthew is paralleled within Mark and Luke, and 80% of Luke is found in Mark and Matthew, and fully 93% of Mark's material is shared by the other two.

Another distinction of John's narrative is its theology, which confirms Jesus not only as the Messiah (Christ) and Son of God, and also uniquely as the Divine "Word" (Greek: logos) of God.  A further distinction that some have noted is that John’s Gospel does not appear to contain any "true" parables, which are sayings and stories that use the symbolic language of allegory and allusion to represent deeper spiritual truths and hidden meanings.

So, if The Gospel of John is so different from the other three, why include it in a textural merger with them?  Part of the answer is that because only 10% of John’s Gospel overlaps and parallels the other three, John therefore contributes the most unique material to the combined Gospel story of the life of Jesus.  This being the case, to exclude it would produce a short and very incomplete account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  If a Gospel must be excluded, it would be more logical to exclude The Gospel of Mark, which overlapping 93% of its content with the other three only contributes 7% new stories and material to the combined Gospel story.

As for the authenticity of the Gospel that bears the name of John, though it was likely the last of the four accounts to be written, it has always since its completion been accepted by the early Church as a reliable record of the "good news" message of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Some seventy or so years after The Gospel of John was completed, in about the year 160 CE, a Syrian student of Justin Martyr named Tatian, created a merger of the four Gospel texts which he called Diatessaron, meaning "out of/from/through" "four".  In his work, Tatian used 96% of The Gospel of John as a backbone, to which he then added additional material from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke that was not mentioned within John.

Being more complete than reading even any two of the Gospel accounts, Diatessaron was used throughout the early Church, and exclusively by the eastern Coptic Churches, for more than two hundred years, until the Latin Vulgate New Testament was completed by Jerome on appointment from the Roman Catholic Church in 405 CE.  Perhaps because Tatian was eventually branded as a heretic, the Vulgate Bible did not use the Diatessaron, but included the same four Gospel accounts that Tatian had used.

In the Vulgate Bible, The Gospel of John was placed in sequence after the other three, as most New Testaments still arrange the Gospels to this day.  However, being the fourth of four Gospels does not mean a position of lesser importance, but it was placed as the fourth because it was known to have been written last, and because in many ways it differs the most from the closer synchronicity of the other three.  Interestingly, some versions of The Bible have put John as the first Gospel and book of their New Testament canons.

As for the writer of this record of the life of Jesus, it has traditionally been held that the author was John Zebedee, who, along with his elder brother James, were, according to some traditions, possibly related to Jesus as cousins through His mother Mary, and their mother Salome.  James and John were among the twelve men that Jesus called to serve as His apostles, which means something like "one who is sent [forth]" as with a message.  Jesus named James and his younger brother John, Boanerges, which means "sons of thunder." 1.

Of the twelve apostles, John may have been the closest to Jesus, and "the one that Jesus loved," 2. who, along with his brother James, and also Peter, were the only witnesses on several significant occasions during the ministry of Jesus, such as when He was transfigured on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, and when He resurrected to life a little girl who had died, and also during His final prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night that He was arrested.

It can be debated about whether or not the writer or dictator of The Gospel of John is actually this John Zebedee, the beloved apostle of Jesus, but there is too much unique material and important details in his account that could only have been known by an actual witness to the events.  And where John's account does parallel and overlap stories and content from the other three Gospels, in several places it may do so specifically to add details that were lacking within the others.

While some believe that John was a simple fisherman who could not read or write, he could still have dictated his version of the sayings of Jesus, and the events from His life, to a scribe, or to whomever it was who wrote the original Greek words of the account that bears his name.  It is likely however, that John the apostle could read and write, and even in Greek, or that he had learned to do so by the end of his life, as John "the evangelizer" was a leader of the early Church, and especially after James the Just, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem Church, had been put to death around 62 CE, followed shortly after by Peter in 64 CE.

This same John likely authored at least the first two of the three letters that bear his name (1st, 2nd and 3rd John), and some people believe that he may have also written the Book of Revelation (Greek: apocalypse).

As a leader of the early Christian Church, John the Apostle himself had disciples, and he taught the young Polycarp, who became the bishop of Smyrna (c. 69 - 155 CE); who went on to disciple the bishop Irenaeus of Gaul (c. 130 - 202 CE); who tutored the early third century Roman theologian Hippolytus (c. 170 - 235 CE).

As a leader of the mother Church in Jerusalem, John would have seen and had access to all of the Gospel accounts that would have existed after 80 CE, the period around when John's Gospel appears to have been written.  By that time, some fifty years after the death of Jesus Christ, there were at least a dozen accounts in circulation of the sayings, teachings, and stories of His life and ministry; and many more such "gospels" would continue to be written for the next one hundred years or so.  Interestingly, some of these later accounts would be influenced by the style and/or the theology of John's Gospel, and also by the writings and teachings of those whom John had taught, and by those who had been taught by them.

That more than 90% of The Gospel of John is unique, unparalleled material not shared with the other three New Testament Gospels may be due to the fact that John decided to not repeat stories about the life of Jesus for which he perhaps felt he could not add much new or significant information.  Being a later account of the life of Jesus, it appears that perhaps John chose to tell his unique stories precisely because they were not already mentioned within any of the other Gospel accounts that existed at that time, and because there were few other people still alive who had witnessed those momentous events.  The content of John’s Gospel includes, with the exception of the last Passover, all of the other Feasts and Festivals that the Gospels mention that Jesus attended in Jerusalem, along with most of the other events that occurred in Judea during His ministry, and particularly during the final year of His life.

As less than 10% of John's account parallels the content of the other three, it appears that perhaps as John neared the end of his long life he chose to retell certain stories that were already mentioned in order to specifically add important details and information which the other accounts, for whatever reason, did not include.

As a leader in the early Jerusalem Church, it appears that John may have also chosen to compose his account to address certain issues of importance to the Church at that time, such as questions about the station of Jesus Christ in relation to God, and the purpose of His mission as the Word of God, and the promised Messiah and King of the Jewish peoples.

As to whether the author of John’s Gospel could be someone other than John Zebedee, the apostle chosen by Jesus, who led the early Church at Jerusalem, it is unlikely that someone could write a "strange" or different Gospel, and then put the name of "John", the great apostle on it, and have the early Church approve and accept it as such.

For all of these reasons, as a final thought on the importance of John’s Gospel, even for inclusion in this book, no one would say that John's account is the least of the four, and many people would say that if they could have only one Gospel account, then they would likely choose The Gospel of John.

In conclusion, John's account has always has been accepted as a fine, true Gospel record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and it has been included in the Four Gospel Harmony of FIVE COLUMN and the word-for-word fifth column Merger of The Synoptic Gospel because more than 90% of it is unique, unparalleled material that is not shared by the other three New Testament Gospel accounts.  As such, in the end, to not include The Gospel of John in any merged harmonization of the Gospel accounts would produce a very short and incomplete picture of the teaching life and healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

  1. Mark 3:17
  2. John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20

Click to see the next Article, Article 4: Parallel Wording Differences