There is a reason Dorothy L. Sayers chose the gospel of John when she wrote her series of 12 radio plays in 1943 depicting key events in the life of Jesus titled, “The Man Born to Be King.”
And, there is a reason that director Franco Zeffirelli, who co-wrote the script to the 1977 television series, Jesus of Nazareth, chose the gospel of John for the script. In fact, the gospel of John is used as the basis for the script of most movies and television shows about the life of Jesus.
The reason that the gospel of John, not the gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke is most often used was at the heart of of Mark Goodacre’s first of two talks Nov. 9 during the annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University.
“John,” Goodacre said, “more than the other three is a drama.”
Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University. Born in England, Goodacre earned two master’s degrees and his doctorate at the University of Oxford and was a senior lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (England) until 2005, when he joined the faculty at Duke.
In his first lecture, Goodacre spoke on, “John’s Dramatic Transformation of the Synoptics.” Title of the second lecture was “John’s Christological Transformation of the Synoptics.”
Goodacre distributed a handout with parallel passages from John and the other gospels that proved his point. For example, Mark 6:42 reads, “And they all ate and were satisfied.”
The parallel passage in John, Chapter 6, verse 26, reads, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, ‘You are seeking me not because you see signs but because you ate from the bread and were satisfied.'”
Another way John shows his dramatist side is by reducing anonymous people or crowds to a named person. An example is Matthew 28:17, which reads, “Some doubted,” compared to John 20:24-28, which reduces that to “Thomas.”
“John, like a good dramatist,” Goodacre said, “makes sure his characters have names.”
Goodacre also addressed the question of whether John presupposes that the readers of his gospel were familiar with the synoptic gospels. Goodacre suggested that John is best read alongside the other gospels for that very reason. In fact, he said, some of John only makes sense if the reader already knows details from the other gospels.
As an example, he cited John 11:1, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” The verse presupposes that the reader knows who Mary and Martha are from reading the synoptic gospels.
In a question and answer session following the lecture, a man asked whether, because of its dramatic style, the gospel of John was meant to be performed. Its wording has been used, sometimes in whole, by script writers, but Goodacre stopped short of saying it was written to be performed.
“I don’t think they acted it out,” he said.