The Gospels of the New Testament can be broken down into two groups: the synoptic gospels and John. Why does John stand out? Synoptic is defined by Merriam-Webster as “affording a general view of a whole” or “manifesting or characterized by comprehensiveness of breadth of view.” John is distinctive from both the synoptic gospels in both content and style. In John we do not see stories that appear in the synoptic gospels, such as Satan tempting Jesus, Jesus’s transfiguration, the Lord’s Supper, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Lord’s Prayer. There are also stories found distinctly in John. Only in the gospel of John do we find the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus halting the stoning of an adulterous woman, or an extended farewell discourse (John 13-17).
John also appears to disagree with the synoptic gospels about how long Jesus’s ministry was. Matthew, Mark, and Luke imply that Jesus’s ministry only lasted a year because Jesus only made one trip to Jerusalem for the Passover in all three of them. Also, in Luke, Jesus is reciting a scripture in Isaiah that alludes to a year, not multiple years, of the Lord’s favor. This is supposed to be the year of Jesus’s ministry leading up to his crucifixion. John, however, records three Passover visits spanning a time of at least two years and one month.
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus taught exclusively in parables. John, again, disagrees with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and we see Jesus teach mostly in long speeches and dialogue with no parables. There are three theories that address why parables are absent in John: some say that different situations call for different avenues of speech and reaction. Others say that the author of John was trying to emphasize Jesus’s presence as God incarnate- a deity walking on earth, so different forms of speech are meant to show different personality traits than are shown in the synoptic gospels. The most commonly accepted theory is that the lack of parables are a byproduct of John being written in stages. The first stage is the writing of the first manuscript of John. The first manuscript written is believed to have been a short narrative of stories passed down from eyewitnesses, and it probably would have looked much more like the synoptic gospels. The second stage of writing John is editors that were trying to introduce new ideas. They inserted long speeches, added concepts, and could have possibly even omitted content to emphasize certain traits of Jesus. This theory would explain why a later brand of spirituality oozes from John and why Jesus’s speech in John differs so much from the synoptic gospels.
If John, then, has been revised to fit a doctrinal agenda, can it be read as a historical account of Jesus’s time here on Earth? Because John is a product of revision, it is more profound, spiritual, and reflective than the synoptic gospels, but can’t we assume it is less historically accurate? Oral tradition played a major role in the writing of, not only John, but all of the gospels. Many believe that oral tradition is how we get the story of the adulterous woman (John ch 8) since the story cannot be found on the earliest of manuscripts. Since the words and style of Jesus are different than the very consistent content of the synoptic gospels, historians agree that the book is rendered Ipsissima Vox, or only meant to capture Jesus’s temperament and the concept of his teachings rather than his exact words.
Additionally, John’s style differs from the synoptic gospels. We see an interesting contrast in the synoptic gospel’s “kingdom of God” and the gospel of John’s “eternal life.” We see symbolism running abound in John as opposed to not nearly as much in the synoptic Gospels. We’re given, in John, thirst for water resembling thirst for spiritual fruition, one’s body representing a temple, and the metaphorical “I am” sayings. John uses asendyton, or the omission of words, phrases, or clauses, while the synoptic gospels only uses it in parables.
The Gospel of John is in a separate category from the synoptic gospels because it differs from them in nearly every possible way. It is a different, less literal and more spiritual, take on Jesus Christ that is a byproduct of the era in which it was written, or revised.