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Is This the Same Teacher? Jesus in John and the Synoptics.

I have been talking about the differences between John and the Synoptics, and have discussed the overall contents of John and its unusual take on Jesus’ deeds.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in Jesus’ teachings, whichy are very different here from what you find in the other three Gospels. Here is how I explain it in my New Testament textbook.


John’s unique understanding of Jesus’ miracles is matched by his distinctive portrayal of Jesus’ teachings. In the Synoptic Gospels, you will have noticed that Jesus scarcely ever speaks about himself. There his message is about the coming kingdom of God and about what people must do to prepare for it. His regular mode of instruction is the parable. In John, however, Jesus does not speak in parables (which he never uses), nor does he proclaim the imminent appearance of the kingdom (which he never mentions). He instead focuses his words on identifying himself as the one sent from God.

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus…

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Reasonable Doubts – How Jesus Became God
Jesus’ Miracles in John and the Synoptics



  1. Avatar
    Hank_Z  October 4, 2017

    Happy birthday, Bart. Most of us can do even better than a one-time donation.

    I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian missionary family and left those religious beliefs behind 51 years ago. Some of those core values, such as helping those in need, remain my values. My 98-year-old spinster Aunt Mae was also a missionary and has loved me her entire life.

    She now lives alone and remains active in her extremely fundamentalist Christian church in Indiana. Though her only income is a $500 monthly check from Social Security, Aunt Mae continues to “double-tithe” $100 of that to her church each month. And she does this as cheerfully as she lives the rest of her life.

    I believe in what your blog’s charities are doing to help people who direly need it. I’m living on Social Security and income from part-time work. When I began writing this comment, I planned to donate $50 per month. Having reflected on my values in light of what I have written, I’m increasing my monthly donation to your blog’s charities to $100. Giving anything less would make my words about helping those in need feel hollow.

    To each of you who also loves Bart’s blog and believes in helping those in need, I encourage you to donate whatever monthly amount reflects that. Whether it be $5, $10, $25, $100, or more, your monthly donation will support Bart’s blog and the charities that receive 100% of your donations to help others.

    Even a $10 monthly donation is equivalent to gaining almost five additional subscribers to Bart’s blog and would make a real difference in the lives of real people suffering from hunger, poverty, and homelessness.

  2. Avatar
    Todd  October 4, 2017

    Today’s discussion gave a good answer to a question I asked a few days ago regarding the meaning of “eternal life” in contrast to other descriptions of the after life, that is, eternal life in the here and now…the “Eternal now.” Thank you for the references to that concept in John’s gospel. Most appreciated.

  3. Lev
    Lev  October 4, 2017

    May I say how much I appreciate your blog, Bart – I’m learning so many new, thoughtful insights and it’s tremendously helpful. Thank you!

  4. tompicard
    tompicard  October 4, 2017

    Dr Ehrman,
    I am not 100% sure what YOU mean when you write
    >. . .believe in the one sent from heaven so as to have eternal life in the here and now. . .
    do you mean believing in Jesus so I have eternal life [physically] in the here [on the earth] and now?
    I suppose, rather, you mean, believe in Jesus and have eternal[non-pysically] life in someplace [the realm where God dwells??].
    Now if I don’t know for sure when you are speaking literally of figuratively how much more difficult is it for me to interpret John’s quotations of Jesus speaking of ‘eternal life’?

    So what exactly did john/Jesus mean by ‘life’/’eternal life’?

    returning to the question of Jesus’ understanding of afterlife (cause this is what interests me):
    The point being:
    If I come up with an understanding of how ‘life’/’eternal life’ is used by John, shouldn’t I at least until I get good evidence otherwise accept the same [symbolic?] meaning for ‘life’/eternal life’ when used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      I think in the broader context of John’s Gospel he meant that a person will live forever if they believe in Jesus, and that life has started already (and will never end).

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 7, 2017

        When I was involved with the charismatic Jesus movement of the 70’s, this question came up among my group — if eternal life has already begun for those who truly believe, does that mean those true believers will never die because they have already entered into “resurrection life?” There was an “apostle” in Miami named Sam Fife who taught that this was literal for those (meaning us) living in the “last days.” The leadership of our community in Greenville, SC, thought that was heresy, but some among us clung to the idea.
        The author of John deals with that in ch. 21:21-23, interpreting Jesus’ words not as a prediction, but as advice to Peter to mind his own business. But, if Jesus was an apocalypticist and believed he was the anointed King of Israel, wouldn’t he believe exactly that, that the resurrection was for those who died before his revealing of himself, but that his followers would not die (of natural causes, at least) at all, because they had been spiritually resurrected in this life?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 8, 2017

          I think it’s important to differentiate between what Jesus thought and said and what the Gospel of John *says* he thought and said. Jesus himself probably thought that his followers would never die. John’s Gospel decidedly does not think that.

          • Avatar
            llamensdor  October 10, 2017

            Is this a misprint? Are you truly saying that Jesus really thought his followers would never die?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 10, 2017

            Apparently so. But that’s no weirder than to say that his disciples thought he would never die again.

    • DestinationReign
      DestinationReign  October 6, 2017

      The Messianic references to “eternal life” in Mark and Luke are not really symbolic; not at all, in fact. Both of those Gospels give a specific definition of eternal life as the AGE to come. That is the Kingdom Age that follows the Church Age.

      So much of the confusion and ambiguity on this issue can be cleared up when accepting that the “never-ending” (“forever”) application to eternal life is NOT CORRECT. What most mainstream Bibles render as “forever,” Young’s Literal renders as “to the AGE.” Or, in the case of “for ever (TWO words) and ever” as in the KJV, Young’s renders it as “to the ages of the ages.”

      It is not difficult to see that the phrase “for ever and ever,” or “forever and ever,” is linguistically nonsensical hyperbole. “Forever,” as we understand it, is sufficient to convey “never-ending.” There is no need to add this etymological redundancy “and ever.” This clues us in that translators have generally gone astray here. A true and literal rendering of the Greek phrase is more in line with the Young’s rendering – pertaining to coming ages. Again, if there is no debate that “aion” pertains to an age, then it should be obvious that derivatives of that word pertain to the same. (This widespread misconception has all been an element of the age of blindness we have been in. The Truth has been hidden in plain sight.)

      All of this does not nullify that the idea of “forever” CAN BE ENCAPSULATED in the notion of coming ages. For instance, those who have eternal life in the Kingdom Age will never lose it (John 5:24). But this does not mean it is correct to say that the word “eternal” means “forever.” This is taking 1 +1 and getting 3. Again, the coming of the Kingdom is NOT the grand finale! There are many unimaginable things to transpire in coming ages after that!

      • tompicard
        tompicard  October 8, 2017

        why do you say
        > “eternal life” in Mark and Luke are not really symbolic; not at all, . .?

        Mark 8
        “whoever loses their life for me and the gospel will save it”
        the word ‘life’ is used symbolically either in the losing or in the saving, I figure “eternal life” is also used symbolically

        • DestinationReign
          DestinationReign  October 12, 2017

          That is true for that particular passage (Mark 8:35), in that when talking about “losing” one’s life, it pertains to one’s WAY of life. (See also Mat. 16:25 and Luke 17:33.) But when dealing specifically with the phrase ETERNAL life, it is defined in Mark and Luke as the “age to come.” That would be the Kingdom Age, which will not be “eternal” as in forever. There will come other ages after that.

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 4, 2017

    So I assume that means that for John, a believer who died would immediately go to “Heaven”?

    If so, what was the alternative supposed to be? For people who’d heard about Jesus and rejected him? And for those – in his lifetime and for all the humans who’d *already* lived and died – who’d simply never heard of him?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      I think the alternative is that the person would be judged and annihilated.

      • Avatar
        Eric  October 6, 2017

        So to an earlier post I recommended in your book you draw a distinction between ancient concepts of “heaven” as the abode of deities (Asgard, Olympus, etc) and the modern idea of heaven as a place you go when you die.

        It sounds like John has some concept like the Modern one?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 8, 2017

          John thought heaven was the abode for the deities — the striking thing is that he things humans can go there too!

  6. Avatar
    flshrP  October 4, 2017

    As I understand it, the author of this Gospel is generally thought to have been a member of a persecuted sect of Jews living in Jerusalem around the year of destruction (70 CE), a sect who believed that Jesus is the Messiah. And this Gospel was written largely to pound home that idea and to raise the ante by having the Jesus character in this Gospel announce that he is far more than the Jewish Messiah, i.e. that he is God Himself.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      I don’t think most scholars think he was in Jerusalem — probably out in Greek-speaking lands somewhere, and some time after 70.

  7. Avatar
    Pegill7  October 4, 2017

    It is interesting that Martin Luther took many of Jesus’ “I am” statements as metaphors except for the one where at the Last Supper Jesus identifies the elements of bread and wine as his actual body and blood. After the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 when he had been unable to convince Zwingli of his position he is said to have remarked, “I would sooner drink blood with the Papists than wine with the Zwinglians.”

  8. Avatar
    wannes  October 4, 2017

    I don’t know if it is me, but I always found the “good shepherd” analogue strange: Isn’t the goal of a shepherd to herd and protect the sheep but with the ultimate goal of them being sacrificed/slaughtered and ultimately being eaten?
    It’s such an important part of the whole deal, that it looks hard to me to just ignore that part of the shepherd – sheep relationship?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      Well, I guess the idea is that he will save the sheep from dying/being killed, whatever it takes.

      • dschmidt01
        dschmidt01  October 6, 2017

        The Shepard protects the fleeced sheep so they can be sheared 😁

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 7, 2017

        Or he could just want to keep them around to shear every now and again.

  9. Avatar
    caesar  October 4, 2017

    OK, 3 possibilities come to mind here. Do you think any of these represents John’s understanding about eternal life?

    1) Jesus’ true followers would never literally die
    2) There was ‘eternal’ (as in amazing) life now, and eternal (as in amazing + forever) life after death as well
    3) Jesus’ followers would die, but just like Lazarus, Jesus would resurrect them at some point

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 4, 2017

    For reader’s new to this blog, I strongly recommend Dr. Ehrman’s textbook on the New Testament. It is an excellent book written clearly.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 4, 2017

    This makes me wonder about the Christian church or culture that produced the author of John. Where in the world was it? It does not seem to be the church of Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, nor the church of Paul. So, where was it, what was it, and where did it go? Are there any other ancient Gospels or books that express views similar to the views expressed in the Gospel of John?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      The Johannine epistles; and to *some* extent the book of Revelation. Traditionally the community is located in Ephesus, but I think it’s just an educated guess.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 7, 2017

        Is there anything in the pseudo-Pauline letter to the Ephesians to indicate that author was familiar with John? I’ve read some textual critics doubt it was originally addressed to Ephesus — that a scribe inserted that later. Do you have an opinion on that and whether Ephesians was written to support or oppose the Johannine view?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 8, 2017

          No, not really. And yes the words “in Ephesus” were probably not originally part of Eph. 1:1.

  12. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  October 4, 2017

    I’m confused what John believed exactly. If he thought eternal life began in the present, then what happened after death?

    If he didn’t believe in a Second Coming, what did he mean by these verses?
    John 5:28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      Yes, these verses are often seen as a fragment from a source that had a different view. At death, teh believer goes to heaven to live with God (see 14:1-3).

    • DestinationReign
      DestinationReign  October 6, 2017

      The companion text to John 5:28-29 is the entirety of Revelation 20. This does not pertain to the second coming, as in the coming of the Kingdom, but to what is to take place AFTER the Kingdom Age. At the coming of the Kingdom, only those worthy to reign will be “resurrected.” All remaining will be brought forth from the realms of death AFTER the millennial reign. Again, this is all VERY clearly laid out in Revelation 20:

      “They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead didn’t live until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:4-5)

      “And after the thousand years”…(Rev. 20:7)

      “The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works.” (Rev. 20:13)

      So then: “And after the thousand years, a time is coming when ALL who are STILL REMAINING in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

      It requires more than just having “done good” to take part in the Kingdom Age. Only the overcomers, those who have transcended the earth-matrix, will reign. Those who have merely “done good” will rise after the Kingdom Age.

  13. Avatar
    ardeare  October 4, 2017

    Einstein once said, “Keep things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Or did he? I wrote this quote from memory and was going to build a comment around it but decided to confirm it’s authenticity before proceeding. One site claims that it is the most queried of all Einstein’s quotes. To be brief, I found several different versions of this quote ranging from the years 1933 to 2010. The sources of publication are remarkably credible and diverse with the likes of Princeton Press, USC Press, and Readers Digest to name a few. I came away with a few different thoughts.

    Foremost, there is no direct evidence that Einstein ever made the remark. Secondly, when studied, the remark is so ambiguous that it would have been lost through the annals of time had it been attributed to almost any other person. Lastly, I think anyone who holds a view of the inerrancy of the bible, especially with a writing such as the Gospel of John, has either never used the tools that are available to them, are unaware of the tools that are available, or have just found a comfortable place where they can rest. BTW, I know this comment has nothing to do with today’s topic but I got thrown off-track.

  14. DestinationReign
    DestinationReign  October 5, 2017

    Very nice observation regarding the “I am” phraseology, in comparing John to the Synoptics.

    There are two general ways that we can assess all such Gospel differences – through the Gospel/Timeline application, or some other way; which, in essence, is any number of ways. And that is precisely what validates the Gospel/Timeline application!

    Countless speculations, with no answers of finality, are required when trying to resolve these Gospel conundrums with only conventional/historical theorems. (Who actually authored the Gospels; How many authors were involved; Were they aware of each others’ existence; What belief systems were they influenced by; etc.) But when the Gospel/Timeline application is accepted, the conundrums all snap back like an elastic band to the ONE interpretative methodology that resolves them with a consistent and harmonious Truth.

    When accepting that John pertains to the Kingdom Age, it becomes self-evident why there is a distinction between those who are from “above” and those who are from “below.” In that coming age, the age of “eternal life,” those glorified in the Kingdom will have transcended the “world below” – the 3D earth plane matrix construct. They will have returned to their divine essence. Those who have not will be subservient to the glorified ones throughout that dispensation. This will be the natural order of things.

    Now, this does not mean they will be burning in some giant cauldron of fire, though they will endure suffering merely by the nature of the habitat-construct they are confined to. Thus, the mission of those who reign will be to GUIDE ALL THOSE OUTSIDE OF THE KINGDOM TO RESTORATION. (This is all covered in Revelation 22:1-15.)

    Of course, this is a Truth to which conventional Christian understanding is blind. Christianity speaks without knowledge; it preaches a Kingdom that it does not know or understand.

  15. Avatar
    ardeare  October 5, 2017

    This post will be more topical. I just watched your debate with Craig Evans. I have to say that this was one of my favorites. Although the Gospel of John was not the topic, it was discussed quite a bit. To my surprise, he agreed that John’s gospel is not an accurate account of the historical Jesus in terms of what Jesus may have or may not have actually said. For example, the “I am” verses. Of course, he still considers it relevant but of a completely different genre. At least that was my take.

  16. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  October 5, 2017

    No one bothered to tell me Jesus returned. At least Fox News cares.


    • Avatar
      Wilusa  October 6, 2017

      I’ve occasionally wondered about the man in *New Zealand* (mentioned in the blog) who claimed not only that he was the reincarnation of Jesus, but that his fiancee was the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene! I’ve also heard about a woman (undoubtedly a fraud) who claimed *she* was the reincarnation of Jesus.

      BTW, while I believe in reincarnation, I don’t think anyone whose (probably many) previous incarnations included Jesus would be likely to remember it. And I think it’s quite likely that *more than one* person alive today has that among his or her incarnations. I’m guessing that if they really did remember it, they’d keep their mouths shut.

    • Avatar
      Jim  October 6, 2017

      Well, it only took me 10 (ok 20) minutes to figure out that this was a false Jesus. After all, would the true Jesus wear socks in his sandals?

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  October 8, 2017

        lol I know right? Or have two wives and a profit making business!
        The article said he’s attracted 5,000 followers. I don’t see how.

  17. tompicard
    tompicard  October 5, 2017

    That is a good explanation, but where in John does it most clearly indicate this spatial dualism?
    by spatial dualism do you mean our traditional understanding of heaven hell ?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      I mean God up there and us down here. It can be seen in most of the sayings of John where Jesus talks about coming down so that he might take others up. As one example: John 3:13-15.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  October 7, 2017

        so historical Jesus probably believed in a spatial dualism in addition to a temporal dualism, as he likely had read or heard and shared the understandings in Wisdom chapter 2

        Synoptics emphasized his teaching in regards to temporal dualism; and John, spatial.

        No reason so far as you have presented as yet, to believe in Jesus’ rejection one dualism type and that he held exclusively the other.

  18. Avatar
    godspell  October 5, 2017

    “Whereas Jesus scarcely ever talks about himself in the Synoptics, that is virtually all he talks about in John”

    This would definitely be the President’s favorite gospel.

    (If he ever read one.)

    There are so many beautiful passages in John, in some ways he’s the best writer of the four. But his Jesus is oddly passionlesss (even though there’s a disciple that he particularly loves, guess who?). And even while he commands us to love each other, he tells us to reject anyone who does not love and accept him, which is to this very day, most people on the planet.

    One can understand ‘John’ rejecting the original preaching regarding the Kingdom, because after all, the Kingdom had not come. Since Jesus could not have been wrong, he must have been misunderstood. That’s not hard to figure out. But why ditch the parables? Too subtle?

    Maybe because the parables suggest that the way to salvation is simply to humble yourself, live honestly, and do as much good as you can to those around you. Nobody in the parables is saved or damned because of Jesus, because nobody in the parables ever heard of him. Jesus didn’t simply preach humility, he lived it (most of the time, nobody’s perfect).

    If the author of John had ever met Jesus, he’d have been very disappointed. Well, they do say never meet your heroes.

    • Avatar
      heronewb  October 7, 2017

      Can you keep your politics in your pants?

  19. Avatar
    rivercrowman  October 5, 2017

    Happy Birthday Bart, it’s been on my calendar for months. I just donated too.

  20. Avatar
    nbraith1975  October 5, 2017

    Bart –

    I have to disagree with your assessment that the gospel of John, or any other NT writings, either implies or confirms that Jesus existed before he came into the world, that he literally came down from Heaven or that he is equal with God.

    This is a ‘Trinitarian’ view of Jesus that has been debunked by many reputable biblical scholars.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      I’m not sure why you think that. Check out John 1:1-3, 14; 3:13; and so on. I certainly don’t think John taught the Trinity: but he did teach that Christ is the one who came from above, having existed before his appearance in the world.

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 7, 2017

      I was raised Catholic, and we were absolutely taught that Jesus was consubstantial with God, even though he was also human. That has been the consensus Christian view for most of Christian history. It’s in the Apostle’s Creed. To the point where if you don’t believe that (and I don’t) it’s debatable whether you are still a Christian, in the devotional sense of the word.

      ‘John’ was one of the people who made that happen. But Paul was already well along the road to that conclusion. I fully agree with Bart’s suggestion that Paul thought of Jesus as an angel incarnated in a human body, and therefore someone who existed before the dawn of history. However, Paul never put words in Jesus’ mouth. ‘John’ did.

      And so did all the gospel authors, because you couldn’t write that kind of story without doing that. It’s not like they had transcripts to work from, and they all had ideas of their own about who Jesus was, and what he meant.

      Difference with John’s gospel, I think, is that he’s much less willing to work with the material at hand. If Jesus says or does something that conflicts with his view of Jesus, he just willfully ignores it. If his had been the only gospel that survived, we’d have no way of ever knowing who Jesus was, or what he meant. Which is why I strongly agree with Bart’s assertion that you don’t teach this gospel towards that end.

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