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May 21, 2010

Edwin Abbott:
Johannine Vocabulary

Excerpt from: Edwin Abbott, Johannine Vocabulary, Book II, (Princeton, 1905)

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Johannine and Synoptic Disagreements

Preface: - Edwin Abbott:

Chapter IJohannine Deviations - from Synoptic Vocabulary

Introductory Remarks: [§ 1665-1671]
1665   Markan words omitted
1666   omission of demonology, divorce, sects
1667   hypocrisy, wealth, repentance, prayer
1668   Many detailed ideas unexpressed
1669   proverbs & signs, vs. parables & works
1670   "faith" vs. "believe in"
1671   "angels", "children"

Chapter IISynoptic Deviations - from Johannine Vocabulary

Introductory Remarks: [§ 1697-1706]
1697   "Father", "love", "gospel"
1698   Kingdom as Family, "children"
1699   Family, Prayer, Law, Will
1700   Kingdom vs. "Nature", Fellowship
1701   "Brother"
1702   Israel, Gentiles, Romans, Greeks
1703"knowing", "seeing", Truth
1704   Pronouns and "the Son of Man"
1705   Usage of "eternal", "testimony", "fear"
1706   "trouble" vs. Epictetus, & "for the sake of"

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Edwin Abbott's Johannine Vocabulary and Johannine Grammar is perhaps the first systematic and comprehensive attempt to describe the distinctive features of John's Gospel, and its stylistic, lexical and grammatical differences from the Synoptics.

It remains an indespensible reference and a goldmine of ideas and observations regarding all the Gospels. It placed for the first time in the hands of English readers a clear picture of the essential elements of Johannine writing, which would later allow intelligent assessments of arguments regarding the vocabulary and style of disputed passages such as the Pericope de Adultera (PA, John 7:53-8:11).

Abbott's work would only be supplemented (not surpassed) by such later works as Nigel Turner's Volume IV, Style (click here) from A Grammar of NT Greek (1976). Such works singularly advanced both Johannine and Synoptic studies and placed them on a more sure scientific footing.

Abbott's complete work is available online at


... The Johannine Grammar which will form the Second Part of this work, could hardly be made intelligible to a reader unacquainted with Greek. But the Johannine Vocabulary stands on a different footing. There is nothing to prevent an "unlearned" reader from understanding, for example, that a difference is intended (as Origen says there is) when the Fourth Gospel describes some as "believing in" our Lord, and others as "believing in His name" ; and that a play on words describes the people in Jerusalem as "trusting in His name" whereas Jesus "did not trust Himself to them" ; and that a contrast is drawn between "the beloved disciple" and Thomas, both of whom "saw and believed" - but in what different circumstances ! These, and a score or so of other distinctions, relate to a single word () "believe" and can all be understood without any knowledge of Greek.

For this reason I decided to publish the Johannine Vocabulary as a separate volume less costly, and more intelligible to the general reader than the Johannine Grammar which, I trust, will speedily follow. I am indebted to several friends in particular to Mr W. S. Aldis and Mr H. Candler for corrections of proof and useful suggestions of a general character, and to Dr Joseph B. Mayor for valuable criticism on points of Greek. Nor must I omit thanks, due to all connected with the Cambridge University Press, for their admirable printing of the work and their arrangement of the Vocabularies.

24 May 1905

Chapter I:

Johannine Deviations from Synoptic Vocabulary

I. Introductory remarks [§ 1665-1671]

[1665] In order to use to the best advantage the following English alphabetical list placed here for future reference as well as for an immediate cursory glance, the reader should bear in mind that this Vocabulary deals almost entirely with such words as are common to all Three Synoptists but omitted or rarely used by John1

It omits, for example, the words "blessed", "confess", "devil"2, "judge", because they are not used by Mark. These must be deferred till we discuss the vocabulary of the Double Tradition of Matthew and Luke in its relation to that of John.

omission of demonology, divorce, sects

[1666] This greatly restricts the scope of the present list which, at the first glance, seems to teach us little but what we knew before, namely, that John excludes from his Gospel a great deal that may have interested the Churches in Galilee and Jerusalem in the last half of the 1st century much more than it appealed to the churches of Asia Minor, and to the Roman world in general - and perhaps, in particular, to fairly educated inquirers after moral truth, such as the followers of Epictetus - at the beginning of the 2nd century.

Under the heading "devils" for example, we note without surprise that John omits all reference to "casting them out."

Many, too, will be prepared to find in his Gospel no mention of several forms of disease such as "leprosy" "deafness" "dumbness" & "paralysis".

John's desire to subordinate the individuality of John the Baptist to his instrumentality in testifying to Christ will also explain why he is silent about "Herod Antipas" and his brother "Philip".

For this, and for other reasons, "divorce" & "adultery" (which are connected directly with the names of these two princes and indirectly with the murder of John the Baptist) are nowhere mentioned by him. [except "adultery" in Jn 7:53-8:11, and indirectly along with subject of divorce also in Jn 4:6-30]

Even the distinctive names of "Sadducees" "Publicans" "Scribes" - so important to Jews - nowhere find mention in his cosmopolitan Gospel. [except "scribes" again in Jn 7:53-8:11]

1. Occasionally the Vocabulary will give a typical word used by two of the Synoptists and not by Jn, e.g. "to make common," used by Mk-Mt. but not by Lk. See 1671 c.

2. [1665 a] i.e. διαβολος, "the devil." Δαιμονιον "a devil," in the sense of an "unclean spirit," is freq. in Mk. "Blessed," μακαριος (not ευλογημενος etc.) is denoted above.

hypocrisy, wealth, repentance, prayer

[1667] At these omissions we cannot be surprised, and we learn comparatively little from them. We learn more from the absence of words denoting special sins or temptations - for example, "hypocrite" "hypocrisy" "rich" "riches" "possessions" "money" "treasure" and the word "temptation" itself.

And, as we proceed in our examination, we find omissions of such a kind as to convince us that they do not in all cases indicate omission of the subject but only variation in the manner of expressing it. For example, it has been pointed out that the 4th Gospel does not contain the words "repent" "repentance" "forgiveness" "watch" "pray". But who can believe that the author did not recognise the necessity of these things, and the necessity that every Gospel should indirectly, if not directly, inculcate them?

Many Detailed Ideas Unexpressed

[1668] It would not be easy always to distinguish those things which John really omits from those things which he expresses variously; still less would it be possible to assign in each case his motive for the omission or variation of expression. But an attempt has been made in several instances to indicate, in footnotes to the following lists, the Johannine substitute for a Synoptic word, and, in some few instances, to suggest the motive.

Generally, we may say that John prefers to pass over local distinctions of sects, classes, and rulers, material distinctions of physical evil, and moral distinctions of various sins, in order to concentrate the mind on the elements of the spiritual world, light and darkness, spiritual life and death, truth and falsehood.

Comparisons and discussions as to "greatest" / "least" and even the mention of the "little ones" so common in the Synoptic Gospels, are absent here. The word "righteous" is never used except in the words, " O righteous Father."

The Synoptists contrast the "old" and the "new": the latest Gospel never uses the word "old". The Synoptists frequently represent Jesus as "rebuking" "commanding" "having compassion" "being filled with indignation" : John dispenses with these words, mostly thinking it enough to say that Jesus "said" "spake" or "did" this or that, and leaving the words and deeds of the Messiah to speak for themselves. 1

1. [1668 a] In the case of Lazarus, the Lord's " friend," John describes an affection and a mysterious "self-troubling" of the Lord accompanied with tears; and on two other occasions he mentions "trouble" (1727 b); but this is exceptional.

proverbs & signs, vs. parables & works

[1669] Apart from these general Johannine equivalents, it is occasionally possible to point out the definite Johannine equivalent of a Synoptic term. For example, instead of the word "parable (παραβολη)" John uses "proverb" (παροιμια) (rendered by some, "dark saying"); and instead of "mighty works (δυναμεις) he uses "signs" (σημεια).

In the footnotes to these terms in the several English Vocabularies in which they appear the reader will find explanations of these deviations. The motive, in both cases, seems to have been a desire to prevent spiritual truth from being buried under religious technical terms or obscured by heated discussions that had attached themselves to special terms.

And in making the second of these two changes (the change of "mighty work" to "sign") John is consistent throughout his Gospel. For he avoids the word δυναμεις not only when meaning a "mighty work," but also in the sense of "power."

He abstains also from the kindred word "powerful" and from the synonymous words "strength" / "strong". He seems to desire to show that heavenly power is far above mere "might" and deserves a higher name. Accordingly, he calls it by the term discussed in a previous chapter (1562-94), "authority".

"faith" vs. "believe in"

[1670] These remarks will suffice to guard the reader against being misled by a mere statistical and superficial view of the words and numbers in the appended Vocabulary. The words are sometimes grouped together to prevent such a danger. For example, under the head of "faith" it will be found that, although John never uses this noun, he compensates for it by using the verb, "have faith," or "believe," far more often than the Synoptists.

Similarly, lest the reader should be misled by being told that Luke never uses the noun "Gospel" (ευαγγελιον), it will be pointed out that he uses the verb "evangelize" / "preach the Gospel" (ευαγγελιζω) with a compensating frequency.

"angels", "children"

[1671] As a rule, where a word is only once or twice used by one Evangelist and often used by other Evangelists, the one or two passages are quoted in a footnote.

Thus, under the word "angels" a footnote, giving the three instances of Johannine use, shews that it is only once used in an utterance of our Lord, and there about angels "ascending and descending on the Son of man" - a different aspect from any mentioned by the Synoptists.

So, another note on "children" giving all the Johannine uses of the word, suggests a parallelism between John's tradition about "becoming children of God" and Matthew's tradition about "turning and becoming as children."

On every page, facts will be alleged, and passages quoted, to shew how unsafe it is to draw an inference from rarity of usage in one Gospel, and from frequency of usage in others, without some reference to the passages themselves 1

1 [1671 a] The need of discrimination in dealing with the statistical results of the following Vocabulary may be illustrated by the facts collected under the words (1) "Astonish(ment)" and (2) "Twelve, the."

(1) Several of the words used by the Synoptists apparently in a good sense to express the amazement or astonishment of the multitude at Christ's miracles are altogether omitted by Jn ; and he nowhere applies any such word to our Lord Himself (as the Synoptists do). Jn does use one of these words {Bavixd^a) rather frequently. But it will be shewn that he appears to use it in a bad sense to describe unintelligent surprise.

[1671 b] (2) "The Twelve" are mentioned - as will be shewn by the note - four times by Jn, but always in connexion with some mention of treachery, possible desertion, or unbelief. Again, whereas Matthew (x. 40, and sim. Lk. x. 16) represents Jesus as saying, apparently to the Twelve, "He that receiveth you receiveth me," Jn, in the corresponding saying, instead of "you" has (xiii. 20) "whomsoever I shall send." Also, while omitting the names of many of the Twelve as given (with some variations) by the Synoptists, Jn records the calling of Nathanael, and his subsequent presence at the Eucharist of the Seven, in such a way as to suggest that he must have been if not identical, at all events on a level, with one of the Synoptic Twelve. These facts seem to point to some consistent purpose, although its exact nature (whether supplementary, or corrective, or both) may be difficult to determine.

In any case the fact remains that the Johannine mentions of "the Twelve" are divergent from those of the Synoptists, except where the latter use the phrase "Judas one of the Twelve."

[1671 c] As the first Vocabulary is constructed largely for the purpose of giving an English reader a general view of the Gospel words that Jn does not use, I have inserted in it some words that do not occur in all three Synoptists. So, too, in the later Vocabularies, matter will be occasionally inserted that may not fall strictly under their several headings, if it will be useful for further reference, and if it can be given with such numeral statistics, or annotations, that the reader cannot possibly be misled. See, in particular, 1838.

Chapter II:

Synoptic Deviations from
Johannine Vocabulary

§ I. Introductory remarks

[1697] In the following list of words characteristic of the Fourth Gospel and comparatively seldom (or never) used by the Synoptists, one of the most noteworthy among many noteworthy facts is that Mark only once mentions the word "Father" as expressing God's fatherhood in relation to men 1

The noun "love" too, never occurs in Mark. Matthew uses the word once in a prediction that " the love of the many shall wax cold." Luke speaks once of " the love of God " where the parallel Matthew omits it. 2

Mark's deficiencies are to some extent filled up by the two later Synoptists: but if we put ourselves in the position of an early evangelist trying to convert the world with nothing but Mark's Gospel in his hands, we shall be all the better able to understand the attitude of John towards Christian doctrine in general and Mark's version of it in particular.

Mark, for example, mentions God as the Father of men once, and God the Father, in all, four times: John uses the term a hundred and twenty times. Mark abundantly uses the term Gospel, or Good News, but nowhere tells us what the "good news" is: John nowhere uses the term, but everywhere exhibits the Son of God as bringing to mankind the best of good news, namely, that God is a loving Father, and that men can find an eternal home in His love.

1. Mk 11:25. Mk 8:38, 13:32, 14:36 mention the word in relation to the Son of man, but not in relation to men in general.

2. Mt. 23:23 "Ye have left [undone] the weightier matters of the Law namely, [righteous] judgment and kindness and faith," Lk. 11:42 " Ye pass by [righteous] judgment and the love of God."

Kingdom as Family, "children"

[1698] Where the Synoptists speak of a Kingdom, there John implies a Family. That is the great difference between the Three Gospels and the Fourth. The latter nowhere mentions the Kingdom of God except to represent Jesus as warning a great Rabbi that it cannot be seen or entered except after a new birth; and in the first of these warnings, the words "born from above" indicate that one must become a child of the Family of Heaven. Something of this kind appears to be latent in the Synoptic doctrines about "little children" and "little ones".

In this connexion the Synoptists inculcate two distinct duties. One is the duty of "receiving" little children; the other is that of "receiving the Kingdom of God as a little child", meaning, apparently, with an innocent, pure, and sincere heart.

A great deal is implied in each of these precepts, and both are liable to be misunderstood. The second, for example, might encourage some to suppose that they were to become "as a little child" in understanding, and these would require the Pauline warning,

"In malice be ye babes, but in understanding be ye men"

(1st Cor. 14:20)

Against an error of this kind, men would be fortified by the Johannine doctrine that "little children" meant "the children of God", and that this was a title of "authority" - but authority in a new sense, the "authority to lay down one's life" for others (1586 - 94).

Family, Prayer, Law, Will

[1699] John teaches that, as there is an eternal unity in the divine Family, namely, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, so there is a foreordained unity for the human Family (namely, those who receive the Spirit of the Father by receiving the Son). Into that Family they must first be "born" from above. Then they must "abide" in it. Or, from another point of view, it must "abide" in them.

They must "eat the flesh" of the Son, so that the Son may be in them, even while they are in the Son. They must also "drink His blood".

Other metaphors describe the members of this Family as eating the "bread" that "descends from heaven," the "bread of life," as "drinking" of the "water of life," as "coming to the light," and as "walking in the light."

In a family, "prayer" from the children to the father is out of place. Hence John never uses the word "pray". The Son speaks always of "requesting" / "asking", and He bids the disciples "ask" what they will in His name.

The Father's "will" is the sole "law" for Him. If the Fourth Evangelist mentions the Law, it is as being the Law of the Servant ("the law of Moses") or the Law of the Jews ("your law " etc.). The Son never says, in this Gospel, "I have come to fulfil the Law", but

"I have come to do the will of him that sent me."

Kingdom vs. "Nature", Fellowship

[1700] Instead of a Kingdom and instead of the laws of a King, the Fourth Gospel proclaims Nature ; only, of course, not materialistically, not a mere machinery, but, as we might put it, Mother Nature. According to Epictetus,

"Nature is of all things the most powerful in man and draws him to her desire"; 1

- and he says elsewhere that there is nothing to which man is so much drawn as to the Eu-Logon; 2 and man is by Nature created for "fellowship".

John represents the Eu-Logon, or Good Logos, as one with the Father in the Spirit of Fellowship. But he also represents Him as incarnate and as revealing the Spirit of Fellowship at a height never before reached. The beast dies for the herd fighting against wolves, and man dies for his country against foreigners.

Both are inspired by Mother Nature, the Spirit of Fellowship. But the incarnation of the Good Logos dies as a Jew, crucified by Jews, for "all men" alike, with the prediction,

"I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me"
- i.e. I will draw all men into harmony with Nature.

1. [1700 a] Epict. ii. 2o. 15. He is arguing against Epicurus, who, he says, desired to eradicate the belief in (ib. ii. 20. 6) "natural human fellowship την φυσικην κοινωνιαν ανθρωποις προς αλληλους" and yet was forced by Nature to act inconsistently with his own theory.

2. [1700 b] Epict. i. 2. 4 το ευολογον. "That which is reasonable" does not fully express the Greek. It might be rendered "good Logos" (as το ευτυχες might be rendered "good fortune", το ευγενες "good birth" etc.) so as to give play to the many meanings of Logos.


[1701] These remarks may be of use in preparing the reader for a prominent feature in the following Vocabulary, namely a predominance of simple terms such as a child might use to describe family life. The one term wanting is "brother". This, in the Fourth Gospel, is merged in the relationship between the Father and His children, and it is not used till after the Resurrection:

"But go unto my brethren, and say unto them I ascend unto my Father and your Father."

Israel, Gentiles, Romans, Greeks

[1702] Where the 4th Gospel deals with history, it is in a cosmopolitan spirit. Not only do the Synoptic distinctions of "publicans" "sinners" "scribes" "Sadducees" disappear, but, instead of the old fundamental demarcation between "the people" i.e. Israel, and "the nations" i.e. the Gentiles, we find the term "Jews" used, almost as Tacitus uses it, as the embodiment of narrow hostility to all that is humane and truthful. 1 Both the Romans and the Greeks - never mentioned by the Synoptists - are introduced by John, the former as destined to "take away" the "place" of the unholy "nation", 2 the latter as exemplifying the devout and intelligent world awakening to the truth - the "coming" of the "isles" as Isaiah 3 predicted, to the light of God's glory. 4

1. [1702 a] On the corrupt attribution to Jesus of the words, "Salvation is from the Jews", see [1647] - 8. On the other hand Jn 1:47 [Jesus] alone uses "Israelite" as synonymous with "upright".

2. xi. 48.

3. Is. Ix. 9. See Jn xii. 20 - i, comp. vii. 35.

4. [1702 b] This cosmopolitan view of things may, in part, explain Jn's omission of many of the names given by one or more of the Synoptists, e.g. Matthew, Bartholomew, Lebbaeus, or Thaddaeus, and the names of the brethren of the Lord.
[1702 c] But on the other hand "Cephas" appears for the 1st time in the 4th Gospel as the equivalent of the Synoptic "Peter" and we cannot feel sure that Synoptic names may not be latent under "Nathanael" whom our Lord calls "An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile."
[1702 d] Jn and Lk alone mention "Annas", Lk in the phrase "Annas and Caiaphas being High Priests." John explains that he was not High Priest but the High Priest's influential father-in-law. Other names that Jn has, in common with Lk. alone, are Martha, Mary, Lazarus, Siloam. The whole group requires careful investigation, as also do the names peculiar to Jn - Aenon, Bethany beyond Jordan, Bethesda (?) Salim, Sychar, etc.

"knowing", "seeing", Truth

[1703] Since the Johannine Gospel deals with Nature (in the higher sense) and not with books or written codes of laws, it naturally speaks of things that can be seen and known by any one that will use his natural powers.

The three Greek words most commonly used to mean "know" and "see" (οιδα, γινωσκω, οραω) are used more often in the 4th Gospel than in the Three taken together 1 The same statement applies to the word "testify" or "bear witness" (μαρτυρεω).

The Evangelist regards the Gospel not as a message proceeding from a prophet, but as a "testimony" to what the Son of God "sees" the Father doing in heaven ; and what He sees He can enable all the children of God to see.

Hence comes a great insistence on "the truth", a word never used by the Synoptists in the modern and Johannine sense of truth in the abstract. By "knowing truth" John means a correspondence of the human mind to divine facts (that is to say, to the divine facts of love and self-sacrifice), analogous to that correspondence between a man's words and his thoughts which is called "sincerity" or "veracity" and to that correspondence between his words and external actualities which implies knowledge and is called "truth."

1. [1703 a] The exact statement about οραω is that, including forms of οφομαι and ωφθην, it occurs in Jn 30 times, and in Mk-Mt-Lk. 32 times. The Perfect, εωρακα occurs as follows, Mk (none), Mt. (none), Lk. (2 or 3x), Jn (19x)

Pronouns and "the Son of Man"

[1704] What some have called "the egotistic element" in the 4th Gospel will be found reflected in its abundant use of "I" "my" "myself" etc. as shewn below. It must not be supposed, however, that these pronominal forms exclude the impersonal phrase "the Son of man". This is found in John almost as often as in Mark, and he employs it towards the close of his account of Christ's public teaching in a passage that may perhaps explain in part why he substituted for it, as a general rule, the first person (12:34):

"How sayest thou 'The Son of man must be lifted up' ? Who is this Son of man ?"

This is the last utterance of the bewildered "multitude". Other causes - moral causes especially - beside the various meanings of "Son of man", caused their bewilderment.

But still it may have occurred to an Evangelist writing largely for educated Greeks that this Jewish technical term - even though it was actually and habitually used by our Lord instead of the first personal pronoun, to denote ideal humanity as created in God's image - ought to be sparingly used in a Gospel intended mainly for Gentiles.

Usage of "eternal", "testimony", "fear"

[1705] Instances will be found where John appears to be alluding to words, names, or phrases, that might (1811) cause difficulty to the readers of Mark and Matthew, as, for example, John's use of the word translated "groaning" in the Raising of Lazarus.

It will also be noticed that the epithet(s) "eternal" or "everlasting" applied sometimes by Mark and Matthew to "sin" "fire" etc., is applied by John to nothing but "life" and that John's doctrine about "fire" is confined to one brief metaphorical passage.

Occasionally, attention will be called to passages where John may be alluding to doctrines like those of Epictetus. For example, the conception of the Son as "testifying" or "bearing witness" to the Father, can be illustrated far more fully from Epictetus than from the Prophets.

Negatively, too, John's avoidance of the word "humble" and his condemnation (in the Epistle) of "fear" indicate that he may have been impelled by Greek influence to discard these and other Biblical terms that conveyed to the Greeks a suggestion not of good but of evil.

"trouble" vs. Epictetus, & "for the sake of"

[1706] Under the head of "trouble" however, reasons will be given for thinking that John is allusively dissenting from Epictetus, with whom "freedom from trouble" was the highest of blessings. Not improbably, many things in the Fourth Gospel imply a similar dissent.

For example, John lays great stress (1226) upon the fact that the Son does all things "for the sake of" the Father or "for the sake of" the disciples. But Epictetus says (i. 19. 11):

"Whatever lives has been so framed as to do all things for its own sake (αυτου ενεκα). For even the sun does all things for its own sake, and, indeed, so does Zeus Himself."

Of course Epictetus could prove philosophically that this is consistent with real unselfishness. But from the point of view of a plain man with no pretensions to philosophy, this means either selfishness or solitude. And, since God cannot be selfish, it reduces Him to a solitary Being.

John teaches that God was from the beginning not alone, because the Word, or the Son, was with Him: and instead of "doing all things for His own sake", He is revealed in the Washing of Feet as making Himself - in the person of His Son - the Servant of His creatures, doing all things "for the sake of" others.

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