Conflicts between the Gospel of John and
the remaining three (Synoptic) gospels
Almost all of the biblical information about the earthly ministry of
Jesus is contained in the four gospels Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. The
word "Gospel" is a translation into English of the
Greek word "euangelion" which means "good news."
Many dozens of gospels were written in the first and second century
CE; each was believed to be
accurate by various groups within the early Christian movement and was
extensively used by them. Four of them (Mark,
Matthew, Luke and John) were eventually accepted by the early
orthodox Christian movement as
inspired by God. They were approved for inclusion in the official canon during the 4th
century CE, and are found today in every Bible.
All of the original copies of the four gospels in the Christian Scriptures have been lost. We must rely upon
hand-written copies which are an unknown number of hand-copied replications removed from the
originals. The oldest known surviving part of a gospel dates from about 125 CE. It
consists of about 50 lines from the Egerton gospel -- one of the 40 or so
gospels that never made it into the official canon, and whose author is unknown. Another
portion of an ancient manuscript, containing part
of the Gospel of John, is also dated to about 125 CE. The remaining manuscripts date to
the second half of the second century CE or later.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are often called the "synoptic" gospels. "Synoptic"
is a Greek word meaning "having a common view." 1
John differs significantly from the synoptic gospels in theme, content, time duration,
order of events, and style. "Only ca. 8% of it is parallel to these other
gospels, and even then, no such word-for-word parallelism occurs as we find among the
synoptic gospels." 2 The Gospel of John reflects a Christian
tradition that is different from that of the other gospels. It was rejected as heretical
by many individuals and groups within the early Christian movement. It was used
extensively by the Gnostic Christians. But it was ultimately
accepted into the official canon, over many objections. It is now the favorite gospel of many conservative
Christians, and the gospel least referred to by many liberal Christians.
||Matthew, Mark, Luke
|First event mentioned
||Jesus' birth (baptism in Mark)
||Creation of the world
|Authors: according to conservative Christians
||Apostle Matthew; Mark and Luke, co-workers of Paul
|Authors: according to liberal Christians
||2 or more unknown authors
||Mentioned in Matt, Luke
||Some interpret John 1:45 as denying the virgin birth
|Jesus as Son of God...
||From the time of his birth or baptism
||From the time that the universe was created
|Description of Jesus
||Jesus' humanity emphasized
||Jesus' deity emphasized
||Brief one-liners; parables
|Jesus teaches as:
||A philosopher and mystic
||A main function of his ministry
|Theme of his teaching:
||Kingdom of God
||Jesus himself. Kingdom of God is a background theme.
||Deviated little from 1st century CE liberal Judaism. Similar
to beliefs taught by Hillel.
||Largely independent of Judaism and in opposition to much of its
|Response expected from the reader 20
||Respond to God's will as expressed in the Mosaic law
||Respond to Jesus as the definitive expression of God's will
|Exorcism of demons
|Involvement with the poor and suffering
||Focus of his ministry
|Involvement with Scribes (Jewish teachers)
||26 references to scribes, who are puzzled and angered by
||No references at all.
|Miracles performed by Jesus
||Many "nature miracles," healings, and exorcisms
||Few; all "nature miracles"
|Jesus references to himself
||Focus of the gospel, including the many "I am" sayings
|Basis of personal salvation
||Good works, helping the poor, sick, imprisoned, and needy
||Belief in Jesus as the Son of God
|Duration of ministry
|Location of ministry
||Mainly Judea, near Jerusalem
|Aggravated assault committed in the Temple courtyard:
||Near the end of his ministry
||Near the start of his ministry
|Date of the Last Supper
||Night before Passover eve
|Ceremonial event at the Last Supper:
|Who carried the cross?
|Visitors to the tomb on Sunday with Mary Magdalene?
||One or more additional women
||None; Mary Magdalene went alone
|Who was present in the tomb?
||One angel or two men
||A single piece of cloth
||Multiple pieces of cloth, as was the Jewish practice at the
time. (John 20:5-7)
|Jesus' first appearance to disciples
||At Emmaus or Galilee
How the differences are resolved/explained:
|Liberal theologians generally accept the books of the Bible
as historical documents, written by authors who were each motivated by a desire
to promote their group's evolving spiritual and theological beliefs. Many have concluded that these two
gospel traditions are so different that
they must largely reject one as a useful source of information about the actual life and teachings of Jesus.
They typically regard John as containing few or none of Jesus' actual sayings; they concentrate on the synoptic gospels for meaningful information. Many supplement
the canonical Gospels with other writings which were widely circulated within early Christian
movement: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Q, etc. |
For example, R.W. Funk and others in the Jesus Seminar comment:
|"The two pictures painted by John and the synoptic gospels cannot
both be historically accurate."|
|"In sum, there is virtually nothing of the synoptic sage in the
Fourth Gospel. That sage has been displaced by Jesus the revealer who
has been sent from God to reveal who the Father is."|
|"The words attributed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel are the creation
of the evangelist for the most part, and reflect the developed language
of John's Christian community." 12|
|"The Fellows of the [Jesus] Seminar were unable to find a single
saying they could with certainty trace back to Jesus in the Gospel of
|They did find one sentence in John that
they felt was similar to something that actually Jesus said. It is John
4:44 where Jesus commented that a prophet is given no respect in his
home territory. This paralleled in Mark 6:4, Matthew 13:57 and Luke
|They did find two short passages that they
felt was not said by Jesus but which contained ideas close to his own:|
|John 12:24 where Jesus discusses the
kernel of wheat that dies to produce a great harvest.|
|John 13:20 where Jesus swears to God
that if the public welcome his apostles, they are welcoming him as
well. This is paralleled in Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16.|
|They believe that all of the other
hundreds of sentences that the author(s) of the Gospel of John
attributed to Jesus -- including the "I Am" statements -- were not said
by Jesus. They represent "...the perspective or content of a later or
|Conservative theologians generally accept the Bible as inerrant
in its original, autograph, form.
They believe that its authors were directly inspired by God to write
error-free text. They view both John and the synoptic
gospels as being completely accurate, infallible, true, with every passages
useful for their spiritual development. For example, they believe that
the quotations of Jesus sayings and the descriptions of his acts in the
four gospels are accurate. However, they believe that John emphasized one aspect of Jesus'
ministry -- that spent near Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the synoptic gospels
concentrated on his ministry in Galilee. With some effort, all apparent
discrepancies can be resolved. For example, considering five of the apparent
discrepancies listed in the above table:
|Jesus' aggravated assault on people in the temple may have happened at
any point in his ministry. The stories within each gospel are all
accurate and true, but not necessarily in chronological order.|
|Jesus ministry was partly in Galilee and partly in Judea. John
reported mainly on the former; the synoptic gospels on the
|Both the last supper and foot washing happened at Jesus' last
meeting with his disciples; John reported on only one event; the other
gospels reported on only the other.|
|Jesus may have carried the cross partway to the execution location,
and Simon could have carried it the rest of the way.|
|There were many visits by women to Jesus' tomb on Easter Sunday
morning: one by Mary Magdalene alone, and later visits by Mary accompanied by
additional women. Each of the gospel writers described only one of the
Religious conservatives frequently concentrate on the Gospel of John, because:
emphasizes Jesus' deity, |
|It is the basis of many of the historical, fundamental Christian
|It bases an individual's salvation on faith rather than works.|
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
- B.H. Throckmorton, Jr., "Gospel Parallels: A Synopsis of the First Three
Gospels," Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, (1979).
- F.V. Filson, "The Literary Relations among the Gospels,"
essay in C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on
the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)
- Robert J. Miller, Ed., "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma
CA, (1992), P. 249-300.
- Rev. C.I. Schofield, "The Schofield Reference Bible," Oxford
University Press, New York, NY
- H.H. Halley, "Halley's Bible Handbook," Zondervan, Grand
Rapids, MI, (1965)
- H.L. Wilmington, "Wilmington's Bible Handbook," Tyndale,
Wheaton, IL, (1997)
- J.D. Douglas, Gen. Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible,"
Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1990)
- C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible,"
Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991).
- P.N. Benware, "Survey of the New Testament," Moody Press, Chicago, IL,
- R. Shorto, "Gospel Truth," Riverhead Books, New York, NY,
- D.M. Smith, "John." Essay in J.L. Mays, Ed., "Harper's
Bible Commentary," Harper & Row, (1988), Page 1044.
- R.W. Funk et al., "The Five Gospels: The search for the authentic words of
Jesus,"MacMillan (1993), Page 10.
Copyright © 1996 to 2008 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAR-31
Author: B.A. Robinson