The Apparent Soteriological Dissimilarity

John, more so than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, highlighted the correlation between believing in the Son—who exists in eternal relationship with the Father (Jn 1:18) and entered redemptive relationship to mankind through the incarnation (Jn 1:14)—and receiving eternal life from Him (Jn 1:12). Jesus proclaimed, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον), and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).

Jesus announced to His audiences, “I am…the life (ἡ ζωή)” (Jn 11:25). “I am…the life (ἡ ζωή)” (Jn 14:6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [in the Son] has eternal life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον)” (Jn 6:47). Jesus further revealed to His disciples in the John 17 prayer that the Father had “given him [the Son] authority over all flesh, to give eternal life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) to all whom you have given him” (Jn 17:2).

 

The “Eternal Life” (Ζωὴν Αἰώνιον) and “[The] Life” (Ἡ Ζωή) Synoptic Anomaly 

John stressed core soteriological content—believing in the Son to receive eternal life from Him. “Whoever believes in him [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18).

In contrast to the Johannine Jesus, the Synoptic Jesus does not place “believing in the Son” as a prerequisite to receiving eternal life. The Synoptic authors virtually bypassed the Johannine “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) and “[the] life” (ἡ ζωή) sayings of Jesus with the emphasis John placed upon believing in the Son to receive eternal life. Believing in the Son and receiving eternal life from Him is not the soteriological stress in the Synoptic Gospels. Whereas John shows in his writings that ζωή resides in the Person of Jesus as an important aspect of His unique relationship to the Father as the Son, the synoptic writers tend to merely emphasize how deeds done in this life, good or bad, affect the quality of the afterlife to come, particularly in relation to Mosaic Law observance.

Matthew reported three “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) sayings from the ministry of Jesus (Mt 19:16-23, 19:28-30, 25:41-46). Mark essentially repeated the Matthew 19:16-23 saying in Mark 10:17-23; the Matthew 19:28-30 saying in Mark 10:28-31. Luke posted three “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) passages in his gospel. Two are questions about how to obtain eternal life, one by “a lawyer” (Lu 10:25-29) and the other by “a ruler” (Lu 18:18-25), similar to the “a man” questions reported in Matthew 19:16-23 and Mark 10:17-23. The third Lucan eternal life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) passage is in Luke 18:28-30 and is essentially the same as Matthew 19:28-30 and Mark 10:28-31. In addition, the Synoptic Gospels include two “[the] life” (ἡ ζωή) sayings of Jesus—Matthew 7:13-14 and18:8-9. Mark repeated the Matthew 18:7-9 saying in Mark 9:42-48. Not one of the Synoptic “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) or “[the] life” (ἡ ζωή) recordings expressly makes believing in Jesus the prerequisite to receiving eternal life.

 

The Resurrection (Ἡ Ἀνάστασισ) Johannine Amplification

Jesus revealed more about Resurrection in the Fourth Gospel than He did in the Synoptic Gospels as shown in the three resurrection vignettes in John 5:16-29, 6:35-51, and 11:23-27. The point made in these three resurrection discourses is that the Son shares equally with the Father the divine prerogatives of resurrection (ἀνάστασις) and life (ζωή). “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will…. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (Jn 5:21, 26).

According to John, there can be no resurrection apart from the Son. The Son will raise from the grave the dead bodies of those who have believed in Him. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…. those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5:25, 29). “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40). In the Soteriology of John, those believing in the Son have the expectation that Jesus will one day raise their bodies from the dead.

Resurrection and life express companion ideas in the Soteriology of John. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή). Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26). He then asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26) Martha responded by professing, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). Jesus then raised her brother Lazarus from the dead to substantiate that claim (Jn 11:38-44).

 

The Resurrection (Ἡ Ἀνάστασις), the Synoptic Limitation

The Synoptic penmen tell of the resurrection of Christ, the healing of sick people including raising recently deceased individuals from the dead, and the future (eschatological) resurrection when all people will be raised, but are silent in regards to the shared relationship of the Son and the Father to resurrection.

“Resurrection” (ἀνάστασις), with and without the article, appears twelve times in the Synoptic Gospels—ten combined times in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20 about a question posed to Jesus by the Sadducees about the plausibility of a future, eschatological resurrection.

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question…. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. (Mt 22:23, 31-33)

The Synoptic Gospels affirm an eschatological resurrection in accord with the teachings of the Old Testament prophets, especially the resurrection of faithful Jews in Israel, but do not identify Jesus as the One, who will resurrect from the dead those believing in Him, as did John. When invited to the “house of a ruler of the Pharisees” (Lu 14:1) to dine on a Sabbath day, Jesus “told a parable” (Lu 14:7) wherein He advised those present, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection (ἡ ἀνάστασις) of the just” (Lu 14:14). The emphasis in the parable is reimbursement in the afterlife for charitable deeds done for the poor and needy.

[1] Roy B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 231.