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!" How is this so? 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?
The Gospel of John is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It has profound statements of faith and a true, yet bold story line throughout Jesus’ ministry. It makes some of the most simple and true statements regarding our faith, but also like the rest of the Bible can get complicated at the drop of a hat. How much we read into and understand allows us to dive deeper into the Gospel of John. For these reasons it is one of the most important books a new convert could read. In the introduction of the book The Gospel of John: Believe and Live by Elmer Towns, Towns refers to the book of John being important by saying,
“The Gospel of John seems to be the simplest of all books in the Bible to understand. That is why most new Christians are told to begin studying the Bible by reading the book of John. But at the same time, it is the most profound book in the Bible. Scholars have spent many years investigating its terms and their implications.”
It is apparent to Dr. Towns that the book of John is essential to the new Christian to experience in reading. I believe that what is stated in his book here in his introduction is pure truth and coming from one of the leading Theologians of his day, Dr. Towns gives a good synopsis of the book of John.
My main belief for why Mr. Abrahams might have said what he did about the Gospel of John being the most Jewish of the four was possibly out of his own sarcasm. Many refer to the book of John to be very anti-Semitic and anti-Jew. This is in part due to the hostility and blame towards the Jews for the death of Jesus. An article summarizing the anti-Semitic nature of some of the New Testament Scriptures said this,
“Likewise, a literal reading of the usually virulent anti-Jewish rhetoric found in the Gospel of John has also encouraged and justified the historical marginahzation and demonization of Jews. For instance, the author of this Gospel records Jesus denouncing a grout) of Jews with the words,’You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do’ (Jn 8:44).12” (Marendy p.291)
This expression of sarcasm is strongly backed not only by articles, but also possibly by many scriptures that are in many of the Gospels of the New Testament. By default many of these hard to grasp realities and statements are made in the Gospel of John. Scriptures sometimes command the respect of its believers, so it may simultaneously make other bodies of faith upset. The truth is because of Jewish Persecution, mainly due to the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus was crucified. The scriptures speak for themselves. Sometimes the truth is just hard to swallow. Its scriptures like John 5:16 that upsets some Jews which says, “16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.” My second most convincing reason that Mr. Abrahams would have been sarcastic in his statement is possibly due to the support of John in the relationship of Jesus in regards to, “Christ's two natures acting as one ‘ego’ (McLeod p.115) To the Jews, Jesus was simply a man, while to Christians he was both.
Another possible reason for the book of John being referred to as the “most Jewish” by Israel Abrahams is possibly due to its references to several of the names given to Jesus in the book. Many names are referenced that were traditionally just names of respect and human honor for someone who understood the scriptures such as: “A Man, Rabbi, Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Joseph, and Jesus” (Towns p.6). While these names could command much respect and reverence in the Jewish community, they did not always reflect the deity of Jesus in the eyes of the Jews. Jesus also denies being the literal person of Elijah in John 1:21. Since he did this, the fact that the denial is there gives some Jews enough evidence to show that Jesus of Nazareth did not have the fore-running individuals necessary for him to have been the Messiah, so any claims regarding Jesus being the Messiah could be overlooked. Since there are also enough substitute names used in the Book of John, it makes it easier for the Jews to read it while still denying the deity of Christ. I believe personally that maybe the Jews agree with most of the points of the book of John, but just disagree with his choice of the Messiah.
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McLeod, Frederick G. 2012. "THE CHRISTOLOGY IN THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA'S COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN." Theological Studies 73, no. 1: 115-138. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed October 23, 2012).
Marendy, Peter M. "Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church: Origins, Consequences, and Responses." Journal Of Church & State 47, no. 2 (Spring2005 2005): 289-307. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost