The Fourth Gospel: The Most Jewish of them All

Question: 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!”  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?

It is no surprise that Israel Abrahams would say, “To us Jews, the Fourth Gospel is the most Jewish of the four!”  In fact, I would agree with Abrahams.  The Gospel of John comes with the purpose to show that Christ is indeed the Messiah that was promised to the Jews.

John 4:25-26 states:

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”” (John 4:25–26, NIV)

Very early in the book Jesus has already claimed Himself to be the one that the Jews are looking for.  He establishes His deity through the signs of the book and His challenges with the Pharisees.

John 20:31 says:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31, NIV)

These two examples from the book itself make it clear that John is trying to show the Jews that Jesus is their Messiah and has come to save them.

There have been several other commentaries written to support that John is a great Gospel presentation for the Jews.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1964-) (Kittel, Bromiley, & Friedrich, 1964)states: The Fourth Gospel refers to secret disciples of Jesus, e.g., Joseph of Arimathea (ὢν μαθητὴς τοῦ Ἰησοῦ κεκρυμμένος, 19:38 ). The sense seems to be the same when Nicodemus is called the one who came to Jesus by night ( 3:2; 7:50 ; 19:39). It should be noted, however, that the intention is not to blame the two men for their timidity. It is rather recognised and stressed that their reserve is understandable in a difficult situation and that they abandoned it at the decisive moment. Their example should be followed in the days of the Evangelist by Jews who honour Christ but are ashamed to confess Him. In this respect the Fourth Gospel is written with a view to winning the Jews.

The ESV Study Bible (2008) (ESV Study Bible : English Standard Version, 2008)states: But John also shows awareness of Jewish readers as he demonstrates Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of many OT themes, and the Son of God who was sent by God the Father to reveal the only true God and to provide redemption for humanity.

Both of these writings indicate that the book of John was written for the Jews, and this is the reason why a Jewish scholar would state this as his finding about the book.

But why would we then say that a new believer should start with John?  To put it simply, that they may know why they believe. Leon Morris writes that it is clear that the book is written for the purpose of showing the signs of Christ. (Morris, 1989)Townes says that they book seems to be the simplest of all the books in the Bible to understand. (Towns, 2002)

These reasons answer the questions of how some can claim that the Fourth Gospel is written for the Jews, and also for the evangelism of new believers.


ESV Study Bible : English Standard Version. (2008). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles.

Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (1964). Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.,: Eerdmans.

Morris, L. (1989). Jesus is the Christ : studies in the theology of John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Towns, E. L. (2002). The Gospel of John : believe and live. Chattanooga, TN.: AMG Publishers.

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9 thoughts on “The Fourth Gospel: The Most Jewish of them All

      • I found your site because I am doing a paper for school on the reasoning of why the “Fourth Gospel is the most Jewish.” I mean no disrespect what so ever but I have a question, if this Gospel is the most Jewish why didn’t they accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah He is? I am at a loss at this view. I am a Christian, I do stand for the Jewish Christian who has accepted that Jesus is our Messiah. Thank you. Susan Please get back with me on this, it would help me understand better.

  1. John does address Jews, yet Jesus here is much more than the Jewish Messiah. In 4:25-26, the woman he tells he is their Messiah is a Samaritan (who hated Jews). In Jn. 3, after Nicodemus misunderstands and refuses to believe Jesus, he says he will be “lifted up” so whoever is believing in him may have eternal life; for God so loved the world . . . that whoever . . . The mention of Joseph of Arimathea (and Nicodemus) as a secret disciple points back to 12:42-43 (many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God). Burying Jesus was not showing their secret sympathies, for the Jews wanted the body buried quickly. And when the people who ate Jesus’ miraculous bread want to make Jesus their (national) king (Messiah) in Jn. 6, Jesus refuses and tells them he is the bread of the world. Jesus does fulfill Jewish “forerunners,” but the fulfillment is much greater than they expected.

  2. I have long been reading this interesting quotation allegedly made by Dr. Israel Abrahams, throughout the internet. Yet, not one writer has provided the appropriate scholarly citation or reference. Scholars cannot and must never post, publish or rely upon information that is hearsay, allegation, or simply implication. Therefore, I am challenging anyone to validate Dr. Abrahams’ quotation with a proper, scholarly citation. Oh yes, the quote: “To us Jews the Fourth Gospel is the most Jewish of the four.” Any takers on my challenge? Thanks, and God bless.

  3. I agree that quotes like this should really be cited so I’ll take up the challenge. Leon Morris includes this quote in a footnote (25) on page 10 of his commentary: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised Edition (Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1971), 10. He first quotes from page 135 of Abrahams’ book “Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels” (Cambridge, 1917), in which Abrahams speaks of “the Fourth Gospel’s acquaintance with Hebraic traditions.” Morris then cites page 315 of “The Interpretation of the New Testament” (London, 1964) where Stephen Neill reports that Israel Abrahams said, “To us Jews, the Fourth Gospel is the most Jewish of the four.” So these are words that Abrahams never published, but likely said in the classroom or during a public lecture; so the best way to cite him is to cite him in Neil.

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