translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 20: 30
So Jesus did many other signs in the sight of his disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God; and that so trusting, you may have life in his name.
I’ve taken this little note to the reader on its own, because of its direct statement of the purpose of the gospel: this writing is an evangelical action, aimed at an audience of believing assemblies and perhaps those attracted to them. Scholars who have probed the “Johannine” literature of the New Testament, the Gospel, the Letters of John and The Revelation, think that a tradition of faith in Jesus which bears the name of the beloved disciple John, was important in parts of Palestine and in the cities of Asia Minor in the first century after Jesus’ ministry. Paul had been active in this area, especially in Ephesus, in the very early days of the Christian mission. Perhaps the influence of the John tradition came slightly later. The continuous polemic in the Gospel against the “Judaeans” has led most scholars to place the gospel in the era after the destruction of the Temple, when Jewish leaders were forging a Judaism for the diaspora which rejected faith in Jesus Messiah as unorthodox, and forced the Jesus assemblies out of the synagogues. The occasionally sectarian tone of the Gospel may be explained by this enmity.
Members of house churches around 100- 120 CE would have perhaps listened to this Gospel being read aloud in their gatherings.
The author disclaims any attempt at a full history of Jesus’ ministry. There was an oral tradition of Jesus’ deeds and words which teachers and missionaries would have memorised, and there may have been other written Gospels, as well as apostolic letters held in particular churches. This author explains that his story has a clear aim:
- to bring people to trust in Jesus as the true Messiah, that is as the culmination and interpreter of Israel’s faith; and the ruler of God’s people. AND
- To trust in Jesus as Son of God, that is, as the definitive revelation of God’s nature to human beings.
I have chosen to translate Greek pistein by “trust” because I think it always indicates a relationship. But the relationship is specific: believers trust this Jesus who initiates them into the full inheritance of Israel’s faith in God; and who by his obedience to the father, “unconceals” his love for the world. The title Messiah claims the rule of Jesus over Israel, while the title Son of God claims his rule over the Caesars who called themselves divine. He is the creative wisdom made flesh The believers’ relationship with Jesus is based on trust but it has a cognitive element, which is indicated by the expression, “the name” of Jesus or of God, meaning character as revealed in relationship. The Hebrew verb yada, to know, which becomes ginosko in Greek means both cognitive and relational knowledge. That sort of knowing has a place within the fundamental relationship of trust between believer and Jesus/ God.
But trust in Jesus is not final purpose of this gospel; the author desires that through this trust in Jesus women and men may have “life in his name”, that is, abundant life in the character of Jesus, life which is not dissipated by evil or death. The author has no trust in “the world” but does have a great expectation that believers may live splendidly and victoriously in the world. It is a robust hope.