Sunday, 18 November 2012

John's Audience

      The Gospel of John was written by a Palestinian Jew, exhibiting detailed knowledge of the topography of Palestine (cf. 1:44; 2:1; 4:5-6, 21; 9:7; 11:18; 18:1) and reflecting personal acquaintance with features of conservative Judaism and Jewish tradition (e.g. 1:19-28; 4:9, 20). He was also accustomed to thinking in Aramaic, as few subordinate clauses appear in the text, Aramaic terms are frequently used (1:42; 5:2; 9:7; etc.), and Old Testament quotations are closer in form to the Hebrew than to the Greek (cf. 12:40; 13:18; 19:37).1
     Nevertheless, John’s Gospel appears to have been written with a Gentile audience in mind, seeing that Jewish conventions are explained presumably for the benefit of those who were unfamiliar with them. Certain feasts are particularly identified as Jewish, i.e. "the Passover, the feast of the Jews" (6:4; 11:55), and "the Tabernacles, the feast of the Jews" (7:2). Jewish customs are noted and clarified, i.e. purification (2:6; cf. 11:55), ethnic exclusivism (4:9), and the Sabbath (19:31). Aramaic words are both transliterated and translated into Greek, i.e. Kēphas (1:42), Bēthzatha (5:2), Silōam (9:7), Gabbatha (19:13), Golgotha (19:17), and rabbouni (20:16). Palestinian geographical features are carefully described, i.e. "Bethany . . . across the Jordan" (1:28), "Cana of Galilee" (2:1, 11; 4:46; 21:2), "Aenon near Salim" (3:23), "Bethany near Jerusalem" (11:18), and "Bethsaida of Galilee" (12:21). The Sea of Galilee is identified as "the Sea of Tiberias" (6:1; 21:1), the name used in the latter part of the first century and employed in Greco-Roman texts.
     It has been suggested that something about the destination of the Fourth Gospel may be indicated by the way John the baptizer is depicted – quite different from the Synoptics. He is presented in the role of the Messiah’s forerunner and thus in a subordinate position. He is not the light but bears witness to the light (1:6-8); he is not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet (1:20-21); he is merely the friend of the bridegroom who must decrease while the bridegroom must increase (3:28-30); and Jesus’ testimony is greater than his (5:33-34). This comparative and humbling presentation has sometimes been explained as an awareness of and/or response to a group of followers whose evaluation of John the baptist was exaggerated and misdirected. Interestingly, long after the death of the baptizer, disciples who were loyal to his teachings were reported in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-3). W. J. Harrington notes further that there were disciples of John the baptist in Ephesus as late as the third century (Explaining the Gospels 131).2
     Early and consistent testimony places the Gospel’s provenance in Asia Minor, particularly at Ephesus. The writing was reportedly at the request of area congregations as a summary of the apostle John’s teaching about the life of Jesus to meet needs that had grown up in the church near the close of the first century.3 Accordingly, the Gospel of John is best read and interpreted through the lense of late-first-century Gentile readers.
–Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
      1 See also Authorship of NT Gospels. Scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
        2 Contra F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts 363 n. 7; Donald Guthrie, NT Introduction 279-80; et al., who dismiss the idea that the Fourth Gospel polemicizes against such a group.
        3 Sources include Clement of Alexandria (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14), the Muratorian Canon, the Anti-Marcionite Porlogue, Jerome (Comm. Matt. Prol.), Epiphanius of Salamis (Adv. Haer. 41.12), Irenaeus of Lyons (Adv. Haer. 3.1.2), and Eusebius of Caesarea (Eccl. Hist. 3.1.1; 3.24).

Related Posts: Matthew's AudienceMark's Audience, Luke's Audience

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