Gospel of John
| Light iron-age reading|
|Gabbin' with God|
John was the last gospel to be written, and therefore it has the most developed Christology. None of the synoptic gospels hint that Jesus is God. The gospel of John does so in several passages, equating the Word who became flesh with God, having Jews attempt to kill him for his attempted apotheosis, having Jesus call himself "I AM", and having St. Thomas fall to his knees, calling Jesus, "My Lord and my God".
John is written not so much as an exhaustive biographical narrative, but a collection of incidents strung together to make a set of theological points. The other three gospels, the synoptic texts, all tell essentially the same story (often word-for-word), while John doesn't seem to have tried very hard to cross-check his version of Jesus with the Q document. As early as 1800 years ago, Clement of Alexandria implied that it should not be taken as a literal biography. The Gospel of John was a favorite of gnostics and other branches of early Christianity which favored mysticism and internal revelation. These factions eventually conquered the ideology that Jesus was in fact an ordinary man who was "adopted" as a Son of God.
The Gospel of John actually does not explicitly state that its author was John the Apostle. Rather, it claims to be composed by "the disciple whom Jesus loved," who might have been John, or Mary Magdelene, or a secret gay lover for that matter. Scholarly consensus is that it was not even written directly by this person, but rather a group of their followers after their death. Hence, like the other gospels, it is not a first-hand account of someone who personally knew Jesus.
One particular verse in the Gospel of John, John 3:16, has gained much notoriety because it nicely sums up one of the central tenets of Christianity. Some of the notoriety associated with John 3:16 comes from its interpretation or use by some Christians as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card - no how awful one's behavior here on Earth, and no matter what crimes one has committed against one's fellow human being, an awesome afterlife is guaranteed if you just throw in with J. Christ. Thus, John 3:16 provides strong incentive to potential converts to Christianity. One recent example is former professional football player Aaron Hernandez who, after murdering at least 3 people, parlayed the John 3:16 card into eternity in Heaven..
The opening of John, known as the Hymn of the Word, forms one of the most important pieces of mainstream theology: that Jesus is God, God is Jesus, separate yet in unison, so on and so forth. The splinter religion or denomination known as Jehovah's Witnesses has caused much consternation by deliberately choosing the translation "and the Word was a god" over "and the Word was God" -- a legal translation, given the dual purpose of the word theos in Greek writing, but contrary to how that word is used everywhere else in the New Testament. This tiny change completely alters one's understanding of the divine nature of Jesus, yanking out support for the Trinity and instead installing Jesus as a powerful but not omnipotent distinct entity.
Dating the Gospels is a complex issue, but a quick and dirty summary of one scenario  is:
- Mark: 71 CE, gloating over the destruction of the Temple (70 CE): Hey everybody, this was prophesied by Jesus! The kingdom of God is at hand! For Mark, Jesus is the "Son of David" in the metaphorical sense of a wonder worker. Mark contains magical elements: Jesus makes an ointment from his spit to apply to the eyes of the blind, and Aramaic utterances within the Greek text have the feeling of spells cast in a magical language (these elements missing from the other three canonical gospels). The parables mask a secret teaching that is only revealed to the disciples, and Jesus's identity as the Messiah is kept secret until the very end, when it is revealed to Pontius Pilate, so there. Thanks, Romans!
- Matthew: 75 CE, adds more details to Mark. A genealogy for Jesus is constructed to present him as a "Son of David" in the generally understood sense. Hyperlinks to Psalms and other passages from the Tanakh are generated to appeal to Jews, and a number of sayings that go beyond Jewish ethics are gathered into the Sermon on the Mount. The parables still mask a secret teaching; secrecy is important because Jewish members of the Jesus movement still wannabe full-fledged members of synagogues.
- Expulsion of Christians from synagogues: c.83 CE (open to argument; but clearly this happened at some point).
- Gospel of John: late 80s or early 90s; expresses the pain of expulsion particularly in chapter 9, in which a man born blind is healed by Jesus and then expelled from the synagogue. Throughout John, this is pain is expressed in a way that makes the gospel a blueprint for Christian antisemitism. Beginning with the logos doctrine, the Gospel of John offers a new approach that eliminates the need for gentiles to know anything about Hebrew scriptures or Judaism. There are no parables with an inner meaning restricted to a chosen few. Many long discourses that create a feeling of intimacy, but no Sermon on the Mount. Having demonstrated the persuasiveness of a gospel unhinged from history, John ends (v 21:25) by saying that "there are many other things that Jesus did," inviting others to invent even more gospels, which is okay because in the beginning was the Mansplaining. The last chapter also mentions the number 153 enigmatically so as to invite numerological speculation.
- Gospel of Luke: 110s; claims to have been well-researched; reasserts the "synoptic" historical approach of Mark and Matthew. Thus, while clamping down on the stories that John invited others to invent, proceeds to invent stories that appeal in particular to gentile women, and that also harmonize with the practices of the Pauline community of Christians based in Greece, Anatolia, and northern Syria; this requires some skill, because that community is already moving in a fully misogynistic direction (one reason to date Luke after the Pastoral Epistles). The Sermon on the Plain echoes Matthew's Sermon on the Mount; elimination of Johannine intimacy suggests that there are now bishops who are jealous of inspired lay believers. Luke tones down the apocalyptic expectations of a Second Coming almost to zero, while retaining its dramatic force for sermons (another reason for the late date).
- Possibly the last, that is - dating biblical texts is notoriously tricky and the Dead Sea Scrolls make a mess of things.
- BREAKING: God Admits Aaron Hernandez to Kingdom
- Marcus J. Borg. The Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written (2012, HarperOne).
- Mark 15:2.