Literary Features of the Fourth Gospel
compiled by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Greater Focus on Jerusalem:

Most of the action in the Fourth Gospel takes place in and around Jerusalem (all except the first half of chapter 2 and all of chapters 4 and 6); in contrast, the Synoptic Gospels tell of Jesus being in Jerusalem only for less than one week, just before he is arrested and executed. The Fourth Gospel mentions several people, places, architectural and historical details not mentioned in the other three Gospels:

Literary Genres:

Simple but Highly Symbolic Language:

Dualistic Opposites:

P52Poetic Format:

Misunderstandings and Multiple Meanings:

One of the most interesting literary features of the Gospel according to John is that the dialogues between Jesus and other characters often revolve around words and phrases that have multiple meanings. The literary pattern is frequently the same: the Johannine Jesus says something, one or more other characters misunderstand him, and Jesus slowly brings the dialogue partner(s) to a deeper understanding. Often the misunderstanding is because people interpret Jesus' words on a plain or physical level, whereas he is really speaking on a more symbolic or spiritual level.

Ironic Statements and Broader Irony Conveying Deeper Truths:

Parenthetical Explanations:

Literary Threads:

Inclusions and Transitions:

Samaritan WomanRepresentative Named Individuals:

Many characters that are anonymous and/or appear in groups in the Synoptic Gospels are replaced by named individuals in John:

Conventions of Ancient Theater:

Only two "active characters" (individuals or groups) are on stage at any one time; other characters may be nearby but not engaged in the dialogue or action. This convention helps the readers determine the "scenes" into which a larger story can be subdivided.

Chiasms (Chiastic Structures):Greek Chi

Related Webpages on other Literary Features of John's Gospel:

Return to the Introductory Materials for the Fourth Gospel


Return to the Johannine Literature Homepage

This page was last updated on December 7, 2015
Copyright © 2011--2013 by Felix Just, S.J.