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What evidence is there that John was aware of the Synoptics when he wrote the Fourth Gospel?

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Food for thought, but if we ask a wrong question, we are unlikely to get the right answer. Just as the blinders of tradition can lead one to demand an answer that fits the usually hand-me-down ideas on a subject, your question rules out any biblical evidence indicating the writers of the Synoptics were aware of the content of the beloved disciple's gospel. – user419 Feb 10 '12 at 17:28
@Bible student: On the contrary, "any biblical evidence indicating the writers of the Synoptics were aware of the content of the beloved disciple's gospel." would stand as evidence that John did not know about the Synoptics. – Jack Douglas Feb 17 '12 at 13:37
up vote 14 down vote accepted

One thing we might note is the familiarity with parts of the Synoptic tradition which the author assumes of his reader. For instance, in John 1:40, the author introduces Andrew as Simon Peter's brother before having introduced Simon Peter. In 2:1f the author speaks of Jesus' mother, never introducing her as Mary. And in John 11:1-2 Lazarus is introduced as being from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. The author elaborates that it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair - a story which isn't recounted in the same Gospel for another chapter.

Andreas Köstenberger in his Theology of John's Gospel and Letters makes what is in my opinion a strong argument that John positions himself (also cf. John 1:18 and 13:23) to give a supplemental view to the Synoptics which plays out in the transposition of many of the major Synoptic themes:

  • Absence of birth narrative to highlight preexistence of the Word with God
  • Absence of demon exorcisms to highlight Satan as chief antagonist
  • Last Supper transposed into Bread of Life discourse
  • Absence of eschatological discourse to highlight realized/inaugurated eschatology
  • Emphasizes Roman trial as opposed to Jewish trial

He lists about twenty or so of these transpositions, some more convincing, some less. But the overall effect is to build a persuasive case that the author of the gospel intentionally wrote the gospel to supplement what was already in the Synoptic tradition. Essentially the Fourth Gospel's silence on so many of the key events and themes in the Synoptics diminishes the chances that it could be accidentally different.

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I need to get a copy of Köstenberger's (note there is an umlaut over the o) since it sounds like he's got an interesting argument. It sounds like it must be built up with lots of little hints rather than one definitive piece of evidence. (Congratulations on reaching 3,000, by the way!) – Jon Ericson Feb 17 '12 at 17:15
@JonEricson He only spends a couple of the 600+ pages on this question, so I wouldn't get it just for that; but overall I do recommend the book. (And thanks!) – Soldarnal Feb 17 '12 at 17:51
@Soldarnal....What is "Absence of eschatological discourse to highlight realized/inaugurated eschatology" which is mentioned above? I do not understand this...Perhaps you could elaborate as a comment or in your answer. I found your answer very, very helpful! Thankyou. – user5197 Aug 22 '13 at 23:01
@user5197 There is no speech in John that matches up with Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 (i.e. the Olivet Discourse). Instead, there is an emphasis that in some sense at least eternal life has already begun for those who believe (e.g. John 5:24f, 11:25-26). Hope that makes sense. I'm glad you found this answer helpful. – Soldarnal Aug 23 '13 at 0:15

The fourth evangelist must have known the basic literary structure of Mark's Gospel: Starting with John the Baptist, baptism of Christ, the call of the disciples (Joh 1:35-51) and ending with Passion and Resurrection of Christ.1

Some more compositional analogies:

  1. Feeding of the crowd: Mk 6:30-44, Mk 8:1-9, Joh 6:5-13
  2. Jesus on the lake: Mk 6:45-52, Mk 8:10, Joh 6:16-23
  3. claim for a sign: Mk 8:11-13, Joh 6:30
  4. Discussion about the bread: Mk 8:14-21, Joh 6:32-59
  5. Peter's confession: Mk 8:27-30, Joh 6:66-70

There are also some analogies with Luke:

  1. Story of the rich haul: Lk 5:1-11, Joh 21:1-11
  2. Mary and Martha of Bethany: Lk 10:38-42, Joh 11:1
  3. Lazarus: Lk 16:19-31, Joh 11:1-44
  4. … parts of the Passion narrative

Though there are some who try to give reasons for a chronological priority of John before the synoptics2, a majority assumes that John had known the synoptics.

1: Petr Pokorný, Ulrich Heckel, ''Einleitung in das Neue Testament'' , 547ff.
2: e.g. J.A.T. Robinson, ''The priority of John'' (1985)

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Concerning the structure of the gospels, I'm not sure what other order would be possible either chronologically or thematically. If the elements you listed are included at all, it seems the baptism and calling of disciples must be near the beginning and the Passion and Resurrection at the end. Even the order of the stories is logically locked. (Resurrection must follow the Passion if it is included at all, for instance.) Could not the convergence on a single structure indicate John and Mark are both familiar with the same historical events rather than with each other? – Jon Ericson Oct 10 '11 at 19:00
If the order is Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, the additions appear to be related to sensus plenior. Mark starts with John the Baptist. Matthew starts his record with Abraham, Luke with Adam, and John with the pre-incarnate Word. Mark is the least sophisticated in the use of hidden patterns and John is the most. So it looks like as they became more accustomed to reading the OT in their unique way, each gospel records their progress. – Bob Jones Nov 14 '11 at 1:49

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