It is often said that John is the Gospel to the world (and Matthew to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, and Luke to the Greeks). But in 1924, Israel Abrahams said, “To us Jews, the Fourth Gospel is the most Jewish of the four!” How is this so? What is in the Gospel of John that would cause a Jewish scholar to say this? If it is true, why do many people tell new converts to begin by reading John?
Israel Abraham’s comment on the Gospel of John being the most Jewish of the four is an interesting one. As noted in Leon Morris’ book, Jesus is the Christ, a “plurality of the signs and discourses are done to inhabitants in Jerusalem” (Morris 6). In this Gospel, there is a great emphasis placed on Christ’s Judean ministry rather than His Galilean ministry, as seen in the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John also is unique, as briefly mentioned earlier, in its description of Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels only record one visit to Jerusalem in Christ’s public ministry (Matthew 23:37), though others may be implied. It is in John that the Jews overwhelmingly reject Christ while He is generally received in the Synoptic Gospels. Elmer Towns, in his book The Gospel of John: Believe and Live, notes that the “I am” statements of Christ are emphatic statements that have a particular connotation with Jews (Towns XIV). With these “I am” statements, Christ is identifying Himself with Jehovah of the Old Testament. These powerful “I am” statements are found in John 6:35; 8:12; 9:5; 10:9,11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:5. G. Campbell Morgan supposes that the literary techniques, briefly mentioned above, reflect strong Jewish worldview (Morgan 21). Morgan uses as an example of this technique the language in John 1:14. The preeminence given to Christ in this text along with the subordination to the Father is used to show that the Jew would understand this relationship more so than the Christian as it relays familiarity found in the beginning of Genesis. Walvoord and Zuck note that John stresses the importance of the Jewish feasts, especially as Christ keeps Jewish custom (Walvoord and Zuck 268). These things could prompt an assertion like Abraham’s has made. All new converts are told to begin reading the Bible with the Gospel of John because it seems to be the simplest of all books in the Bible to understand. It is also theologically rich. It portrays Christ’s humanity and exalts His deity as the Living God. The Gospel of John clearly, but uniquely from the Synoptic Gospels, communicates the truths of Christ’s rejection, His death and His resurrection.