April 19, 2017

Why We Read the Gospel of John After Pascha and Not Before

By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides

It is a fact that the Gospel of John is not occupied with the casting out of Satan and the demons in the systematic manner of the Synoptic Gospels. In the fourth Gospel, at first glance, Satan does not appear to hold the central position he has in the Synoptics. But this can be explained if O. Cullmann's conclusions[1] regarding the character of the fourth Gospel are taken into account and related to the ancient Church's practices pertaining to catechumens.

O. Cullmann clearly states that the Gospel of John has the mysteries as its basis and as its purpose the correlation of the historic life of Christ with the present mysterial life in Christ and experience of the community. When we take into account that the Christians carefully and systematically avoided all discussions of the deeper meaning of the mysteries, not only with the hostile outside world but even with the catechumens,[2] then we are able to understand the use of the Gospels in the first Church, and many of the problems raised by biblical criticism are solved. Since the baptized Christians did not discuss the mysteries even with catechumens, it is sufficiently clear that the fourth Gospel was used in the ancient Church for completing and finishing the catechism of the recently illumined, that is, newly baptized.[3] It was particularly suited to this purpose and distinguished from the other Gospels mainly because of its clear dogmatic, mysterial, and apologetic tone. We do not find in John the systematic preparation of catechumens for baptism that is found in Matthew and Mark. This is why John does not begin with the baptism of Christ but with "In the beginning was the Logos...and the Logos was made flesh."[4] Since the newly illumined Christians defeated Satan through baptism, there was no need for this Gospel's main theme to pertain to the casting out of demons. Rather, it attends to making firm the baptized Christians and steeping them more deeply in the faith and the mysteries. This explains the difference in character of this Gospel from the others.

This view is further supported when we consider that, among the four Gospels, there is only one Gospel which has the purpose of providing a deeper understanding of the mysterial actions and dogmas of the Church. The uniqueness of this Gospel proves the universal agreement of the first Christians as regards the meaning of the mysteries. The differences between the other Gospels are explained quite adequately by the various catechetical requirements that the apostolic preachers labored under. Preparation for holy baptism, as St. Irenaeus informs us,[5] varied according to the religious requirements of the individual catechumens. Once the catechumens were baptized, however, the method of teaching and interpreting the mysteries and dogmas was one.[6]

It is especially significant for us that the catechesis about Satan and the demons has the same tone and place in the three Synoptic Evangelists. This clearly shows that the practice of casting out demons before baptism is deeply rooted in Christ Himself. Even though it appears that demonology does not have the same position in John as it has in the Synoptics, it does, however, form the indispensable premise not only of the fourth Gospel but of the life and theology of the entire ancient Church.


1. Les Sacraments dans l'Evangile Johannique, La vie de Jesus et le culte de l'eglise primitive, Paris, 1951.

2. "... and [Athanasius' accusers] are not ashamed to theatricize the mysteries to catechumens or, worse yet, before the heathens... It is not proper to speak of the mysteries to the uninitiated lest the heathens ridicule them and the catechumens, in their curiosity, become scandalized." "Encyclical Letter of the Synod of Egypt in Defense of Athanasius the Great," in Apology Against the Arians, 11, P.G. 25, 268. Cf. also J.N. Karmiris, Δογματικά Μνημεία, Vol. 1, pp. 41-42.

3. This is clear from the position it holds in our ecclesiastical year. The oldest testimony to the use of the fourth Gospel at Pascha is by Meliton of Sardis (190). G. Dix attributes its Paschal use to even earlier times. Shape of the Liturgy, Glasgow, 1949, p. 338.

4. Jn. 1:1-14.

5. Op. cit., 4, XXIII, 2; and Fragment 28, Βιβλιοθήκη Ελλήνων Πατέρων, Athens, 1955, Vol. 5, p. 180.

6. The differences between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John, therefore, are not disagreements as many maintain. On the contrary, they clearly pertain to a difference in depth and fulfillment of the Synoptics by the fourth Gospel in accordance with the catechetical needs of the Church. Therefore, the theory of F. Loofs regarding the existence of a distinct Asia Minor School of Church Fathers and writers founded upon the fourth Gospel and different from the rest of the theology of the ancient Church is untenable. (Op. cit., pp. 98f., 102f., 127, 139-151.).

From The Ancestral Sin, Zephyr Publishing, 2002, pp. 72-74.