The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel Part I -- By: W. H. Griffith Thomas
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The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel
[W. H. Griffith Thomas, Noted Anglican scholar, One of the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary, Now deceased.]
[Editor’s note. This article is a hitherto unpublished work of the noted Anglican scholar, Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas, who was one of the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary. The article was submitted to us by his daughter, Mrs. Winifred G. T. Gillespie. A second installment on the Gospel of John will appear in the next issue of Bibliotheca Sacra.]
The fourth Gospel is unique in many respects, among which is its clear statement of the author’s precise purpose in writing: “But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (20:31). None of the other Gospels has anything so definite in this respect. Luke’s preface (1:1–4) is the nearest approach, but there is a marked difference between this and John’s more definite statement. Luke reveals the facts on which the doctrines are based. John reviews the facts and then deduces his doctrines. In the Synoptic Gospels we are given a narrative only and are left to form our own impressions and formulate our own theory of the contents. In John the narrative itself is given in proof of the theory mentioned in the verse quoted above (20:31). While the Synoptists give us facts and leave us to draw our own conclusions, John gives us facts in order that we may draw the conclusion he wishes and intends us to draw.
The fourth Gospel may therefore be termed a work of art (though without any artificiality) and everything is subservient to the precise purpose stated by the writer. This purpose is not merely historical, though the materials of the Gospel are all historic; nor is it merely doctrinal, though the Gospel is full of definite doctrine; nor is it philosophical, though it is full of what may be called Christian philosophy. The purpose is devotional, spiritual, practical: it is that the
BSac 125:499 (Jul 68) p. 255
record here given may lead to a definite relationship between the reader and the One whose life and work are here depicted. “But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (20:31). The fourth Gospel, therefore, is not a history, or a theology, or a philosophy, or ethics; it is a gospel, a message of grace for the heart and life of man.
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