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Jesus’ Miracles in John and the Synoptics

I’m trying to explain how John is so very different from the other three Gospels in its presentation of Jesus’ words and deeds.  As I have shown, John tells different stories from the others. More striking when it tells the same kinds of stories, there are stark and compelling differences.  Here is how I explain it in my New Testament textbook.

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The differences between John and the Synoptics are perhaps even more striking in stories that they have in common. You can see the differences yourself simply by taking any story of the Synoptics that is also told in John and comparing the two accounts carefully.  A thorough and detailed study of this phenomenon throughout the entire Gospel would reveal several fundamental differences. Here we will look at two differences that affect a large number of the stories of Jesus’ deeds and words.

First, the deeds. Jesus does not do as many miracles in John as he does in the Synoptics, but the ones he does are, for the most part, far more spectacular. Indeed, unlike in the Synoptics, Jesus does nothing to hide his abilities; he performs miracles openly in order to demonstrate who he is. To illustrate the point, we can compare two stories that have several striking resemblances: the Synoptic account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:21–43) and John’s account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1–44).   Read them for yourself. In both, a person is …

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Is This the Same Teacher? Jesus in John and the Synoptics.
(Birthday) Gifts and (Speaking) Gigs

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    John Uzoigwe  October 3, 2017

    “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”
    This is ridiculous the same Jesus warned people not to be decieved by the miracles of false prophets and here we are told Jesus did all these miracles so that we may believe… And those that believe will do more miracles. By what then are we to know the truth?

    • Avatar
      epistememe  October 4, 2017

      Excellent point.

    • Avatar
      garytheman  October 4, 2017

      Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Research, ask your pastor to explain if you cannot a accept or truly understand the Gospel of John. John is a theological book whereas the Synoptics are meant to be a historical guide.

    • Avatar
      heronewb  October 7, 2017

      Not only that, but the entire time, Jesus claims to be performing miracles to prove (and many believed unto him after that) despite the fact that Deuteronomy states that just because someone performs great signs and accurately predicts the future, it doesn’t mean they are to be obeyed. I even get this to this day. The first thing Christians respond with when I tell them “if Jesus was a human, and you still think he was god, how do you know I’m not god? Would you believe I was god if I told you I was?”, and they reply “well, can you do miracles?” This means that not only would they follow my commands if I could turn water into wine, but I’d be able to convince them I created the universe and was the God of the OT if could turn water into wine. That is grossly anti-biblical.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  October 3, 2017

    ‘John’ is far enough away from the events described, and the people who witnessed them, that he can change the stories like this (meaning that he does have many if not all the stories from the previous gospels, and he may have intentionally left out stories that displeased him in some way). He can’t imagine someone who could work miracles not wanting all the world to see–but this leads him to a different problem. If Jesus was doing all these marvelous things, in full view of hundreds of witnesses, why did so few people follow him?

    And the answer, of course, has to be that most of the witnesses were Jews, and the Jews, with few exceptions (all of whom have by now converted) are an evil faithless people. Children of Satan.

    ‘John’ had a fair few devils in him, I’d say.

    Best reason to not teach this gospel as a way of understanding the historical Jesus? The historical Jesus would have loathed it with every fiber of his being.

  3. Avatar
    nbraith1975  October 3, 2017

    These posts on resurrection and the afterlife made me think about a passage in Matthew 27 that I always wondered about.

    50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

    First, a bunch of dead people raising out of tombs and walking into Jerusalem seems like a pretty big deal to me.

    Second, why would such a miraculous event only be recorded in Matthew? Did Mark, Luke and John not find this case of multiple resurrections important? I mean really, at the ‘moment’ Jesus dies ‘many’ people walk out of their tombs and into Jerusalem and that’s not a big deal to Jesus’ apostles?

    And thirdly, if this actually happened, why is it not recorded anywhere else in history. And if these persons were ‘holy (Jewish) people’ as Matthew says; wouldn’t they eventually go to the Temple and be seen by the Jewish leaders? And wouldn’t word quickly spread of their resurrection? And wouldn’t these people have some important information to share about the ‘afterlife’ – like where they had been and what was it like and did they see Jesus going in as they were on their way back?

    It seem that those people would be the ones to talk to about the afterlife because they were eyewitnesses.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      Yes, it’s one of the most bizarre passages in the NT!

  4. John4
    John4  October 3, 2017

    For those having difficulty finding Matt 11:38, lol, the scribes and Pharisees ask our Lord for a sign at Matt *12*:38, Bart.

    Many thanks, as always! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Pattylt  October 3, 2017

    I’m curious as to why John has the signs be public vs. the hidden miracles of the Synoptics? Do you think it is possible that enough time has passed and no living witnesses are alive that John’s point is that there WERE witnesses (too bad you didn’t see them) while Mark was writing when living (even if few of them) witnesses could have denied ever seeing such miracles (thus they were always in private)? In other words, John has no one to gainsay the stories but Mark did?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      John wants to stress that Jesus’ divinity was available for all to see — very different from the Synoptics!

  6. Lev
    Lev  October 3, 2017

    Very interesting analysis, Bart. Thank you!

    What are your thoughts on the historical Jesus – was he a synoptic miracle worker careful to conceal his works, or was more of a Johannine exhibitionist? Or maybe a mixture of the two?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      I don’t think either is probably accurate, historically

  7. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  October 3, 2017

    When I first joined the blog, I pretty much pointed out every single spelling error I found. (haha!) And with your last book too. I thought you could just tell your publisher to correct it and print new books. (ignorance is bliss!) God only knows how many other ridiculous things I’ve said on here. I’m sure there’s plenty and many more to come!

    Anyway, a friend of mine and I decided to create our own blogs, and we quickly realized that it was a real chore to proofread and edit, edit, edit. Kinda took the fun out of blogging. My friend’s boyfriend would nitpick her blog over the spelling and grammar mistakes. She found that extremely annoying. It’s practically impossible to not have errors when blogging unless one wants to proofread one’s life away. But part of the fun on *this* blog are the errors. It shows that you’re human, and some of them are just plain funny.

    But back to my question: In re to the above reference for Matthew 11:38, is that one of those Gnostic-type scriptures that only a select few understand? Like, if I sit and meditate, the words will appear in my mind? 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      I normally have time to type a post and proof-read it once. But that’s it. Or itt.

      • Avatar
        nbraith1975  October 4, 2017

        Good to know Pattycake qualifies your humanity with spelling/grammatical errors. Made for a nice chuckle.

  8. Avatar
    Matt7  October 3, 2017

    Referring to the last sentence of your post, is having “life in his name” the same as being saved? And are people saved (or given life), according to Christian orthodoxy, by believing in Jesus as Messiah based on evaluating the evidence (signs) or by having “faith” that he is the Messiah, without needing any signs/evidence?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      For John, “being saved” means “having eternal life” by believing that Jesus is the one sent from God; and the signs are what inspire belief.

  9. Avatar
    ardeare  October 3, 2017

    The audiences of Mark and John must have been very different.

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 5, 2017

      It’s not like there would have been a lot of books you could read about Jesus. If you were a literate Christian in that era, you’d read anything about your religion that you could lay your hands on, and it wouldn’t take much time to read all of it, assuming you could find all of it, which is assuming a lot.

  10. Avatar
    anthonygale  October 3, 2017

    Were the differences between John and the Synoptics discussed when considering whether John should be in the canon? If so, I am wondering why they weren’t considered more of a problem.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      John was thought to be the “spiritual Gospel”; the others were thought to be giving more the nuts and bolts of what Jesus said and did.

  11. Avatar
    HawksJ  October 3, 2017

    “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

    I always thought it was interesting that Jesus himself acknowledged that it was reasonable for humans to require ‘proof’ in the form of miracles performed right before their eyes, but every generation since should believe based solely on hearsay.

  12. Avatar
    JR  October 4, 2017

    What do you make of the claims in the early church that church fathers like polycarp had been directly appointed by the Apostle John? Is there evidence?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      I don’t think there’s good evidence of it. It’s interesteing that we have a writing from Polycarp, and he quotes Matthew and Luke and other books of the NT. But never John!!

  13. Avatar
    Stephen  October 4, 2017

    I’ve become interested in the dynamics of the spread of the early church and I expect you deal with this in your new book, but a question. I believe you have said you do not think “John” knew the Synoptics. This means that even by the end of the first century you would still had Christian communities, Jewish and Gentile, developing in isolation from one another. Hence the diversity of views. So at what point in the process of the spread of the movement do we first see the appearance of the consciousness of the Church being more than just me and my individual community of believers? Was this a second century phenomenon? Later?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2017

      Already with the letters of Paul — our earliest Christian writings!

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 5, 2017

      I personally am not convinced John didn’t know the synoptics.

      He might have known them, and rejected large parts of them. His gospel is revisionist in nature. He’s trying to reshape the growing cult, and to a certain extent, he succeeded. More and more, justification will come through faith, not deeds. Not that he was the only factor in that. But certainly the most influential.

      If he didn’t read the synoptics, he certainly was familiar with many of the same elements that went into them.

  14. Avatar
    wannes  October 4, 2017

    I’m a bit at loss with the timing in the story of John: When Jesus hears about Lazarus he stays two more days, but when he finally arrives Lazarus is already dead for four days. Did the travel take that long, or did Jesus wait another two days for good measure?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2017

      The text indicates he stayed away longer *so that* he could do a great miracle!

  15. dschmidt01
    dschmidt01  October 6, 2017

    Is it possible John was written by Stan Lee? He looks old enough. Maybe Jesus was his first superhero?

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 8, 2017

      I have my little issues with Stan Lee (as did Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko), but the man has a sense of humor about himself. I don’t think ‘John’ had any sense of humor at all.

  16. Avatar
    reevecj  April 29, 2019

    Where can I find an article on what was going on historically when the author wrote John?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 30, 2019

      Any decent modern commentary on John will discuss this, e.g., Raymond Brown’s. Or you might try Brown’s classic, The Community of the Beloved Disciple.

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