St. John is call an evangelist, which means a person who wrote a Gospel. He is the first saint to be called a theologian because of the depth and breadth of theological wisdom in his Gospel and other writings.
The first three Gospels by Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels. This word comes from the Greek and means that they can be viewed together. In other words, if you set these Gospels in columns next to each other you will find they often agree on the order of our Lord’s words and deeds, often to the extent of quoting our Lord in the same words. This shows there is a connection among these Gospels.
In the first three Gospels our Lord characteristically speaks in short, pity sayings such as “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 6:21) or “with men this is impossible but with God all things are possible:” (Mt 1:26). Our Lord uses parables, short stories with profound meaning; we might think of the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) or the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32).
When we get to the fourth Gospel things look different. Jesus is not teaching in short sayings and parables, but in long theological speeches. This had led many people to say that this Gospel is so different than the first three it couldn’t have possibly been written by an eyewitness such as St. John, but it must have been written much later by someone who did not know Jesus personally. What can we say about this? First of all, scholars and the Fathers of the church agree that St. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written perhaps decades after the first three. This means that St. John, a brilliant theologian and teacher, had all this time to meditate on Christ’s words and deeds and often sees theological depth in them not clearly expressed by the other three evangelists, so when he wrote his Gospel he incorporated the fruit of his teaching and meditation and seamlessly weaves together Christ’s own words with his own. In other words, St. John is making explicit what is implicit in Mathew, Mark and Luke.
Also, we should mention that the first three Gospels focus on Christ’s preaching in Galilee where he was preaching for simple, everyday people, so he taught in parables and short sayings. But St. John lays special focus on Christ’s ministry in Jerusalem where Our Lord is often teaching to highly educated scribes, Pharisees and priests, so his teaching has a more formal character.
In addition, much of the fourth Gospel was material our Lord was using to teach his apostles and they obviously needed more formal teaching that farmers and fishermen in Galilee.
So when we read St. John’s Gospel, we should remember that it is based on Christ’s words and deeds as presented by a profound, theologian who was also a disciple of Christ.
Troparion — Tone 2
O beloved Apostle of Christ our God, / Come quickly to deliver your helpless people. /
He on whose breast you leaned, will accept you as intercessor. / Entreat Him, O
Theologian, to disperse the clouds of darkness, / Granting us peace and great mercy!
Kontakion — Tone 2
Who shall declare your greatness, O Virgin disciple? / For as a fountain of healing you
flow with miracles, / Interceding for our souls as Theologian and friend of Christ.