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Fr. Joe Answers:
John’s gospel is different in many respects from Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are called “synoptic gospels” because they share so much in common. John’s gospel was probably written at a later date than the others and appears to be not a history but an extended theological and spiritual reflection on the meaning of Jesus within the particular community for which it was written.
One difference: in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus uses parables or stories as a main form of teaching. In John’s gospel he tells NO parables, and speaks in a poetic style very different from his “voice” in the synoptic gospels. Another difference: in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the central moment of Jesus’ “last supper” comes when he takes bread and wine and says “This is my body, this is my blood.” This event isn’t even mentioned in the gospel of John, which instead speaks of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet as the significant moment of this final meal. John’s gospel is not so much interested in exactly what happened but in the MEANING of what happened.
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus; “last supper” is clearly a Passover meal (Matt.26:17-20, Mark 14:12-17, Luke 22:7-16). Therefore, the crucifixion and death of Jesus takes place AFTER the passover meal. In John’s gospel, the “last supper” is described as a meal that takes place BEFORE the Passover (John 13:1). In John’s gospel, Jesus dies on the cross ON Passover. This enables John to make the theological and spiritual point that Jesus, the true “Lamb of God,” dies at the exact hour that the lambs that will be used for the Passover meals are being sacrificed in the Temple.
Some Scripture scholars have tried to reconcile this difference by pointing out that some groups of Jews in Jesus’ time, such as the Essenes, celebrated the Passover on a slightly different date–just as some Eastern Christians today celebrate Christmas on January 6 while Western Christians observe the feast on December 25. Thus all Jews in Jerusalem would not have been eating their Passover meal on exactly the same evening.
However, the discrepancy in dating is perhaps best explained with the realization that the author of the gospel of John was not concerned about dates in the way modern historians are, but was giving a testimony of faith about his community’s experience of the risen Lord.
While no one truly knows the exact YEAR of Jesus’ death, based on the information we have from the gospels most scholars fix the date at around 30 A.D.