Most of the details of life and Ministry of Jesus Christ are contained in the four Gospels: Luke, Mathew, Mark, and John. Gospel is English equivalent of Greek word, ‘evangelion’ that has the meaning,’ good news.’
There were many gospels written in the 1st and 2nd CE; each was regarded as accurate by various early Christian groups. Among them, four (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) came to be accepted by early orthodox Christian movements as written with inspiration from God. These four gospels were accepted as official canon during the 4th century C.E. Today, they are found in all Bibles.
Luke, Mathew and Mark are called as the ‘synoptic gospels.’ Synoptic is a word that means in Greek, “having a common view.” There are major differences in John from the synoptic gospels in terms of content, theme, order of events, style and time duration. John’s gospel has only 8% content common with the Synoptic Gospels. It was very popular with Gnostic Christians but rejected by certain early Christian movements. However, it was at last accepted as official canon. Today, it is a favourite with conservatives and unpopular with liberals.
Some major differences between John and the Synoptics Gospels are:
- The omission of material: John’s gospel omits certain important elements found in Synoptic gospels like Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus’ temptation, and the Lord’s Supper.
- The inclusion of material not cited in Synoptics: A lot of material is found in John that is not found in the Synoptics. Accounts of Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem before the Passion Week are exclusive to the Gospel of John.
- The Length of the Ministry of Jesus: As per John, the Public Ministry of Jesus was of 3 to 4 years. In this period, Jesus is said to travel from Galilee to Jerusalem. In Synoptics, Jesus travels to Jerusalem only for a once and for all time and his ministry was for one year.
- Literary style: The Synoptics have a descriptive style. The authors are reporting whatever they saw during their lifetime. John’s gospel is written from the view of a third person and is considered as a ‘reflective’ account. John distances himself from his account with great care. He was surely a witness of the life of Jesus but looks back at the events, at a temporal distance. He tries to provide a unique perspective to the events.
- Less proverbial sayings and more dialogues and discourses: John presents his gospel in the form of discourses and dialogues than pithy and proverbial sayings found in the Synoptics. For instance, the ‘meeting with the Samaritan woman’ (John 4) and the ‘Farewell Discourse’ (John 13-17).
- Use of double meaning and symbolism: John makes use of such literary techniques while the Synoptics do not. Dualistic terms like light/ dark, truth/ falseness, life/death, above/ below, etc. are abundant in John.
- Misunderstood statement: This is a literary technique used by John. For instance, there is the story of the Samaritan woman who misunderstood ‘living water’ offered by Jesus as drinkable water.
- Actual word versus paraphrased words: The long discussions of Jesus in John are not in his exact words but a faithful summary and a meaningful paraphrase of his exact words.
- Eternal life versus the Kingdom of God: The term Kingdom of God is common in Synoptics but rare in John. The concept of ‘eternal life’ in John is closer to letters of Paul than to the synoptic gospels.
Here are some concrete differences between Gospel of John and the Synoptics;
- The event described first in the Synoptics is the birth of Jesus (baptism in Mark) while Gospel of John refers to the Creation.
- Authors of synoptic are Luke, Mark, apostle Mathew and co –workers of Paul. John’s gospel is written by Apostle John.
- Virgin birth of Jesus: It is mentioned in Luke and Mathew. John is regarded by some to deny this.
- Jesus referred to as “Son of God”: In the Synoptics, this is done from the time of his baptism and birth. In John, this reference is done from the moment of creation.
- Reference to Jesus: In the Synoptics, there is a stress on the humanity of Jesus. In John, there is a stress on the deity or divinity of Jesus.
- In the Synoptics, there is a reference to the baptism of Jesus, but it is not mentioned in John.
- Style of the preaching of Jesus in the Synoptic is in ‘one liners’ or parables but in John, it is in long discourses.
- Jesus teaches like a mystic or philosopher in John while he is a sage in the Synoptics.
- Exorcising of evil spirits is a main activity of Jesus in the Synoptics but is not mentioned in John.
- In the Synoptics, the main theme of the teaching of Christ is the Kingdom of God. In John, the central focus is Jesus himself and Kingdom of God is a background theme.
- In the Synoptics, the theology of Jesus was similar to the liberal Judaism of 1st century CE. John’s Gospel does not include tenets of Judaism and is, in fact, opposed to them.
- Close association with poor and suffering was central to Ministry of Jesus in the Synoptic bible. It is not mentioned much in the Gospel of John.
- In the Synoptics, there is a reference to Jewish scribes or teachers around 26 times, who are hostile to the teachings of Jesus. There are no references to scribes in John’s gospel.
- In Synoptic Gospels, Jesus performs many exorcisms, healings, and ‘natural miracles.’ In John, miracles of Jesus are few and are all ‘natural miracles’.
- In Synoptic Gospels, references to Jesus to himself are rare. In John, such references are the focus of the gospel with many, ‘I am statements’.
- In Synoptic gospels, criteria of personal salvation are good works like helping the poor and needy. In John, it is a belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
- In the Synoptics, the main location of Ministry of Jesus is primarily Galilee. In John, it is mainly Judea near Jerusalem.
These are some of the differences between Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels.