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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.

References:

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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