by H.H. Pope Shenouda III
This short article provides an excellent overview of the spirituality of the Gospel according to St. John the Beloved.
Before speaking on this subject, I wish to say that the
three other gospels by St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke are called the
"synoptic gospels", which means gospels of one vision and similarity.
But St. John's gospel is a unique gospel.
The first gospel that was written was the gospel of St. Mark. It was written in Rome or Alexandria for the people of Rome. All the Biblical studies scholars say that it was written around the year 56 A.D. The second written gospel is the gospel of St. Matthew. It was written before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70 A.D., because this gospel has many prophecies about that destruction. Scholars agree that it was written in Jerusalem between 56 and 58 A.D. The gospel of St. Luke is the third gospel to be written. Scholars believe that it was written in Caesarea during the captivity of St. Paul around the years 59 or 60 A.D.
The last gospel is the gospel of St. John. Scholars believe it was written in Ephesus in the year 95 A.D. The other gospels being widely distributed, St. John obviously did not want to repeat what was written in the other gospels, so he elected to write about some of the miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ that were not mentioned by the other evangelists (except the miracle of blessing the five loaves and the two fish, which is the only miracle written in all four gospels, and the miracle of walking on the water).
What is the key to St. John's gospel? Why did he write the gospel? What was his goal? This key is found in the last chapters of his gospel - in chapters 19, 20, and 21. After mentioning (or recording) all the miracles, he wrote, "and many others are not written in this book, but these were written that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that you might have life through Him." (John 21) These miracles were written in order for the reader to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to believe that through Him, we will have life. This is the purpose of the gospel: to prove that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, which is a theological purpose. And, in believing in Him, you will have life, which is a spiritual purpose.
So we have two purposes for this gospel: theological and spiritual. This gospel was written by St. John, who is called "the beloved", and sometimes "the theologian". God teaches everyone that spirituality may also be the way of theology. Theology is not the work of the mind only, but theology is also how to know God, how to live in Him, and how to believe in Him. This is the true theology, not merely philosophy. Theology is to know God and to love Him. How did St. John prove this?
First, the gospel according to St. John is talking about Christ, the Son of God. The word "Son" is repeated so many times. St. Peter said that Christ is the Son of God: "And Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" (Matthew 16:16). And many others said that our Lord is the Son of God. But St. John, in his gospel, was the only one who seemed to say definitively that Christ is the ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. This proclamation is not found in the other gospels.
I will give you some examples. St John says: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). And one verse later, he says: "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18). A person may say, "Are we not all 'Sons of God'? Do we not all pray saying 'Our Father who art in heaven'"? Sure, we all are children of God. But, Jesus is the Only Begotten Son. Why? We are sons through love, and through faith. We are "adopted" sons and daughters, but Jesus Christ is the only Son of God - of His Divinity, of His Nature, and of His Essence. No one can be son of God in this way other than Jesus. No one can be of the same nature or divinity of God. We are sons, and at the same time, we are servants of God and are creatures, created by God. Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son before all generations, before the whole world was created.
"No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." (John 1:18). "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). These are quotations from the first chapter of St. John's gospel. We can read the same in the first epistle of St. John: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10).
When we read about the miracle of the blind man, we read the following: "Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, 'Do you believe in the Son of God?' He answered and said, 'Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?' And Jesus said to him, 'You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.' Then he said, 'Lord, I believe!' And he worshiped Him." (John 9:35-38). The disciples are, of course, extraordinary sons of God, but when this man asked who is HE - who is the Son of God - it had a special meaning, namely, who is He, the divine Son of God? This blind man said: "Lord, I believe" and he "worshipped" Him. In his gospel, St. John repeats this word "Son of God" to imply the divine Only Begotten Son of the Father.
*This commentary is an abridged version of a larger commentary appearing in in the Coptic Theological Journal, Fall 1994.
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