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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
    Tempo1936  October 5, 2017

    Do you think conservative Seminaries teach these important differences between Jesus in the Synoptics and john’s gospel?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      They may teach the distinctiveness of John, but they certainly would not teach that there are actual discrepancies between John and the others.

  2. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 6, 2017

    I have heard of various modern Christian sects claiming John as “their gospel,’ i.e. the one that best portrays their vision of Christ. Have any ever claimed Mark, Matthew, or Luke, as theirs in that sense, that you know?

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  October 6, 2017

    It seems to me that John dispenses with the Jewish concept of the paradisal earth, in which the “down here” is re-made and refined into a new Eden, where there is no corruption (i.e. disease and death), no misery, and no evil. Instead, the resurrected bodies of the righteous go up to “heaven” to be with God and the angels, while the bodies of wicked stay down here to burn in a literal living hell on earth.

  4. tompicard
    tompicard  October 6, 2017

    certainly John’s Gospel is very different,
    > For John, eternal life is not a future event. . . .
    > using the present tense:
    > “Whoever BELIEVEs IN THE SON has eternal life” (Jn 3:36).
    > Eternal life is here and now, for all who believe in Jesus.

    I don’t see as big a difference as you do, and there is absolutely no inconsistency
    From Matthew chapter 19
    A man asked, “…, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
    Jesus “keep the commandments.”
    The man “All these I have kept, What do I still lack?”
    Jesus “. . sell your possessions and give to the poor, . .. Then COME FOLLOW ME.”

    Matthew – COME FOLLOW ME (following a person likely encompasses believing in that person)
    is it that important (well at least when comparing these two sets of verses) ‘has eternal life’ vs ‘gain eternal life’.

  5. Avatar
    ddorner  October 7, 2017

    I know many Christian fundamentalists who believe in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. But obviously, just a few horizontal readings of the gospels will reveal this not to be true. And the Bible itself doesn’t seem to make the claim of inerrancy.

    Do you know when the idea of absolute inerrancy originated, is it a relatively recent development? It seems rather problematic.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2017

      It first developed at the end of the 19th c. at the “Niagara Conferences” (google them)

      • Avatar
        ddorner  October 8, 2017

        Thank you! Just what I was looking for. Looks like they even developed their own “Niagara Creed.”

  6. Avatar
    heronewb  October 7, 2017

    I had heard that the “I Am” incident was just Christians translating it a certain way to try to create connections that aren’t there, and that it should have simply been translated as “I have been” or the like. What I heard is that it was simply an issue of how that Greek was written when it came to tenses, and that in other cases, they correctly adapted to English, except there when they had the opportunity to benefit from the mistranslation. An example used was ithe verse where it says “you have been with me from the beginning” (referring to the apostles), and that they could have equally applied the trickery there since a mechanical translation would have been “you are with me from the beginning”. Further evidence of this is that apparently Jesus quoted the wrong “I Am” if he was trying to quote the “I Am” from exodus. In exodus, the verse goes ” I am that I am… you shall say that I Am has sent you”. In the Septuagint, the first I am and second I am are different (for example, saying “I am the one that exists”), and then finally is left as a singular “I Am” (then left as “the one that exists”). Jesus quotes the “I am” that was not the second, nor the remaining “I am” but rather the first one that merely points to “what he is” (I believe HA OHN). That would be like Jesus saying “I am” when the exodus verse went “I am the one that’s exists, furthermore you shall say ‘the one that exists’ has sent me). The I am that Jesus quotes is the wrong one (eimi rather than ha ohn).

    As far as “so, what was the outrage about?” It could have simply been his claim that he either pre-existed, or that he was greater than Abraham.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  October 10, 2017

      I love the “I am that I am,” as both more mysterious and compelling than “I am who I am,” which seems rather weak to me.

  7. Avatar
    nigel101  October 8, 2017

    Hi Dr Ehrman, a bit off topic but are any legit scholars willing to debate you on inerrancy? I think inerrancy is ridiculous and am baffled as to how scholars like Daniel Wallace or Darryl Bock hold to these views in good conscious.

    Do you foresee any debates on this topic in the future?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2017

      I”ve had debates about the discrepancies in the Gospels (related, of course, to the question of inerrancy) with Craig Evans (who has a conservative view of Scripture, but not inerrancy) and others, usually under the rubric of “Are the Gospels Reliable.” That’s the closest I think I’ve come.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  October 8, 2017

      I didn’t know that Dan Wallace held to the view of inerrancy. I have a FB acquaintance who is a conservative NT scholar and believes the Bible is inerrant. Part of his studies included Coptic papyrology and theory translation, so he’s no dummy. He says the contradictions are apparent but judgement should be reserved until further light is shed. 🤷‍♀️

  8. Avatar
    lawyerpoet  October 18, 2017

    It would be interesting to know why the author or community of authors of the Fourth Gospel made this transition to Jesus as a divine being. What drove it, given its radical departure from the depiction of Jesus in the Synoptics?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2017

      the most popular theory is that the group had been kicked out of their synagogue, became a sectarian community of their own, developed a fortress mentality of us-versus-them, leading to a kind of dualism that included down here-versus-up there, that led to an understanding of Jesus-is-from-up-there-verses- from down here. In a nutshell!

  9. Avatar
    boriswang28  April 8, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think that the Gospel of John could of been written by multiple authors due to the internally inconsistent Christology?

    For example, verses like John 1:18 and 8:58 suggest that the author believed that Jesus IS God:

    John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him know.”

    John 8:58: “‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!'”

    Whereas verses like 14:28 and 17:3 suggest the author believed a subordination Christology.:

    John 14:28: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

    John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2018

      Yes, in my chapter on John in my New Testament textbook I argue that the various Christological statements (that embody different perspectives) arose in different periods of the Johannine community prior to the writing of the Gospel (a common view among scholars)

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