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Gospel of John
JOHN, GOSPEL OF.
I. Authorship, Date, Place. Never was there a book written that made higher claim for its “hero.” To the Jesus of history its author gives the most exalted titles. In fact, in the very opening verse he calls him God. This becomes even more remarkable when we note that the author describes himself as one who belongs to the same race, stock, and family as Jesus, in fact as an eyewitness of the scenes that he so vividly portrays. No one knew Jesus better than he did. John walked with Jesus from day to day. He reclined on his bosom. He stood by his cross. He entered his tomb (
Tradition holds the apostle John to be this author and that the date and place of authorship was sometime toward the close of the first century a.d., Asia Minor. This tradition can be traced back from Eusebius (the church historian) at the beginning of the fourth century to Theophilus, who flourished about 170-180. The major witnesses, besides Eusebius, are Origen, , Tertullian, Irenaeus, the writer of the , and Theophilus. Irenaeus, one of the earliest of these witnesses, was a disciple of Polycarp, who, in turn, had been a disciple of the apostle John. The inference seems to be legitimate that this tradition can be traced back to the disciple whom Jesus loved. Moreover, because of his wide travels, the witness of Irenaeus may be called a representative testimony, the firm conviction of the early church this Greek church father knew so well. In fact, the early writers (mentioned above) show us that in the last quarter of the second century the Fourth Gospel was known and read throughout Christendom—in Africa, Asia Minor, Italy, Gaul, Syria—and that it was ascribed to the well-known apostle John.
Among even earlier witnesses,
We are not saying that this external and internal evidence constitutes absolute proof. In the final analysis we accept it by faith, a faith that takes account of the facts, namely, that toward the close of the first century a.d. (probably sometime between 80 and 98), at or near Ephesus, the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel. Radical criticism has not been able to present any evidence whatever that demolishes this well-established position.
III. Characteristics. In harmony with John’s aim, as described above, this Gospel has the following characteristics:
2. In close connection with the above paragraph is the fact that here it is not the kingdom (as in the other Gospels) but the King himself on whom the emphasis falls. This also accounts for the seven “I Ams” (
3. This Gospel, far more than the others, records Christ’s work in Judea.
4. It is far more definite than are the others in indicating the time and place of the events that are related.
5. It abounds in nonparabolic teaching.
6. It dwells at great length on the events and discourses that belong to a period of less than twenty-four hours (
7. It records with special emphasis the promise of the coming and work of the Holy Spirit (
8. Its style, especially in the prologue, is rhythmic. Both the manner in which the clauses are coordinated, so that often a truth is stated first positively, then negatively or vice versa (
Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God
I. During His Public Ministry
A. Revealing himself to ever-widening circles, rejected (chs. 1-6).
B. Making his tender appeal to sinners, bitterly resisted (chs. 7-10).
C. Manifesting himself as the Messiah by two mighty deeds, repulsed (chs. 11-12).
II. During His Private Ministry
A. Issuing and illustrating his new commandment (ch. 13).
B. Tenderly instructing his disciples and committing them to the Father’s care (chs. 14-17).
C. Dying as a substitute for his people (chs. 18-19).
D. Triumphing gloriously (chs. 20-21).
Bibliography: R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (AB), 2 vols., 1966-70; L. L. Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 1969, and The Gospel According to John (NIC), 1971; B. Lindars, The Gospel of John (NCB), 1972; C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 1978 (on the Greek text); S. S. Smalley, John: Evangelist and Interpreter, 1978; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 1983.——SB
The history of the interpretation of the gospel of John shows that until the middle of the twentieth century the major concern of critics has usually been with the identity of the fourth evangelist. During the nineteenth century, for example, radicals like A.F. Loisy* regarded this gospel as an unhistorical, theological reconstruction of the first three gospels, having no connection with ; whereas conservative scholars like B.F. Westcott* maintained that the fourth gospel was mainly if not entirely an apostolic work. At the turn of the twentieth century, and under the influence of the religio-historical method of biblical exegesis, the gospel of John was viewed as representative of a late stage in the process of hellenizing Christianity (O. Pfleiderer; cf. R. Bultmann, who claims that John used ideas current in Gnostic circles to give expression to Christian truth). Later, scholars such as A. Schlatter* and C.F. Burney,* taking serious account of the Semitic background to the language and ethos of the gospel, began to assert its Jewishness. Tradition. Johannine criticism since 1950 has tended to find the key to the problem of the fourth gospel (namely, the apparently large differences between John's gospel and the synoptic gospels) in the issue of tradition rather than authorship. The “old look,” represented by the work already mentioned, assumed that the fourth evangelist's tradition was derived directly from the synoptic gospels and was either John's own work of history (in which case the supposed conflict between the two versions presented a difficulty) or a later, theological reshaping of the so-called historical tradition of the synoptists by someone other than the apostle. But the more recent “new look” on the gospel of John recognizes that a sharp division of this kind between history and theology in the gospels is invalid; and also that there probably lies behind the fourth gospel a reliable and primitive Christian tradition, parallel to that behind the synoptic gospels and independent of it.
The likelihood that the synoptic and Johannine traditions are related in this way (at the substructural level, rather than by direct literary dependence) has been confirmed in three directions. First, it is suggested by a straight literary comparison between John and the other gospels (P. Gardner-Smith). Secondly, the evidence of the a.d. 85); cf. its developed theology, and especially its high Christology. Purpose. Like all the evangelists, John wrote his gospel to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ. He expresses his intention directly in John 20:31. The background and character of the gospel suggest that he is in the first place addressing a group of Hellenistic Jews, probably in the diaspora. This accounts for the shaping of a basically Palestinian tradition in a Greek direction, and suggests that the Hellenism of the fourth gospel belongs to the environment in which it was published rather than to its original tradition; although the Hellenistic elements in John (concepts such as Logos, light, and knowledge) also have their own Hebraic background which a Jew could appreciate. But the fact that the writer explains Jewish terms (such as “Messiah,” John 1:41) and customs (such as the Passover, 6:4), which cannot have been unfamiliar to the most hellenized Jew, indicates that ultimately the scope of John's audience was probably without limit. He is anxious that any reader of the gospel should “see” who Jesus is, and receive the life He came to give (20:29-31).makes it likely that a religious setting which could have influenced the writing of John's gospel existed before the Christian tradition began. In this milieu, Jewish and Greek (even pre-Gnostic) ideas and terms were combined in a way that was previously known outside the fourth gospel only from late, Hellenistic literature. Thirdly, archaeological excavation in and around Jerusalem has established the probability that John's gospel drew on a genuinely historical tradition which was originally transmitted in a S Palestinian setting. Composition. The “new look” on John's tradition, which is accepted by many but not all contemporary writers on the fourth gospel, clearly affects the question of the composition of this gospel, and the extent to which the John the Apostle (traditionally regarded since Irenaeus as both “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the Fourth Evangelist) is associated with it. The beloved disciple plays the role in the fourth gospel that John the Apostle does in the synoptic gospels, and also appears as a witness to the tradition being recorded (cf. John 19:35; 21:24). It is possible therefore that John was responsible for the tradition behind the fourth gospel, which explains why the church eventually accepted the gospel as his; but that he did not write the gospel in its final form, which explains why there was hesitation at first to accept it as coming from an apostolic hand. In this case three basic stages may have been involved in the composition of the gospel. At the first stage, the tradition about Jesus, mostly in oral form, would have taken shape in Palestine in association with John the Apostle himself. Secondly, this tradition may have been recorded by a disciple-friend of John in later life, at Ephesus (traditionally the place where the apostle ended his days, and where his gospel was published). This writer may be called the fourth evangelist. Finally, after John's death the fourth evangelist, in the context of a Johannine school perhaps, may have edited the gospel material so far written down, adding the epilogue (John 21) and prologue (1:1-18) in that order, and drawing out the implications of its distinctive theology already present in seminal form at the second stage (R.V.G. Tasker, R.E. Brown; cf. R. Bultmann, R.T. Fortna). Despite the early background to the fourth gospel just suggested, it was probably still the fourth to be written (c.
For this purpose the writer selects seven “signs,” beginning with the Incarnation (1:14), which reveal the true nature of Jesus as the Savior of the world (4:42), and point toward the fulfillment of the salvation in His glorification (13:31). Thus John 1-12 deals with the revelation of the Word to the world, and 13-21 with the glorification of the Word for the world. A theological development of this kind makes better sense of the structure of the fourth gospel than sacramental (O. Cullmann) or liturgical-lectionary (A. Guilding) theories. The gospel in the early church. The fourth gospel seems to have been used by Gnostics, especially the Alexandrians, before it was used by the orthodox; and it was the Valentinians (e.g., Ptolemaeus and Heracleon, the first commentator on the gospel) who first ascribed it to “John,” presumably wishing to secure apostolic authority for their teaching. Evidently the heretics found that the doctrinal diversity in the gospel favored their dualist and docetic theology. The gospel probably influenced as well the Valentinian Gospel of Truth and the apocryphal(c.150). The Apologists, beginning with (mid-second century), are the first orthodox writers to show any likely knowledge of the gospel, although there are possible traces in Ignatius (c.115), and Tatian used the gospel in his Diatessaron (c.150); but it is not until Theophilus of Antioch (late second century) that any certainty about its authenticity is reached. Theophilus quotes the opening phrases of the prologue to the fourth gospel as the words of John, implying but not stating that this John was the apostle.
Thereafter the gospel is attributed directly to John the Apostle, the beloved disciple, who died at Ephesus where the work was published (cf. the, Irenaeus, Polycrates, and , who gives us the famous description of John as the “spiritual gospel”; also the anti-Marcionite prologue to the gospel of John, although its date is uncertain). Papias, described by Irenaeus as a disciple of John, and Polycarp his companion, are strangely silent about the gospel; so also is the third century apocryphal document, the ,* where allusion to the gospel would have been natural. From the beginning of the third century the apostolic authorship of the fourth gospel was denied by the church, probably because of its use by Gnostics (cf. the Alogi in the late second century, who went so far as to ascribe the gospel and to the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus); and it was not until much later that the fourth gospel was accepted back into the NT canon as genuinely apostolic. The history of the gospel of John in the early church accords with its origin as suggested above.
Ancient commentaries: Cyril of Alexandria (ed. P.E. Pusey, 1872); Chrysostom (ed. J.P. Migne, PG LIX); Heracleon (fragmentary; see Texts and Studies I , pp. 50-103); Origen (ed. A.E. Brooke, 1896);(Syriac in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium: Scriptores Syri, IV.3, 1940); Augustine (Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina XXXVI, 1954); also J. Calvin (1553).
Modern commentaries: B.F. Westcott (1882); B. Weiss (4th ed., 1902); A. Loisy (2nd ed., 1921); J.H. Bernard (1928); E.C. Hoskyns (2nd ed., 1947); C.K. Barrett (1955); R.H. Lightfoot (1956); R. Bultmann (4th ed., 1959); R.V.G. Tasker (1960); R. Schnackenburg (1965); R.E. Brown (1966-70); J. Marsh (1968); J.N. Sanders (1968); L. Morris (1971); B. Lindars (1972).
Special studies: W. Sanday, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel (1905); C.F. Burney, The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (1922); P. Gardner- Smith, St. John and the(1938); R.H. Strachan, The Fourth Gospel: Its Significance and Environment (3rd ed., 1941); J.N. Sanders, The Fourth Gospel in the Early Church (1943); O. Cullmann, Early Christian Worship (ET 1953); C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953); W.F. Howard, The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation (4th ed., 1955); A.E. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (1960); M.F. Wiles, The Spiritual Gospel (1960); C.H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (1963); A.M. Hunter, According to John (1968); J.L. Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (1968); L. Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (1969); R.T. Fortna, The Gospel of Signs (1970); T.E. Pollard, Johannine Christology and the Early Church (1970); B. Lindars, Behind the Fourth Gospel (1971); C.K. Barrett, The and Judaism (1975).
JOHN, GOSPEL OF. The “Fourth Gospel,” as it is often called, prob. has influenced Christian thought of the first four centuries more decisively than any other book of the NT. It was accorded a place of apostolic authority from the first as witnessed by several patristic writers. After Augustine, however, Pauline writings made the major contribution to Christian theology. In recent times it often has been the center of controversy, occasioned more often by dogmatic considerations than historical or literary data. A major factor in the discussion is the relationship of this to the other three gospels. In this article consideration is given first to the data on which conclusions must be based, reserving for later consideration matters of interpretation. In this procedure a greater objectivity is sought.
No two students of John’s gospel will agree as to the best way to exhibit the train of thought conveyed therein. The following skeleton outline is presented as the result of careful study, but not necessarily as the author himself would have displayed it.
In structure, the fourth gospel differs from the other three in several respects: (1) there is no mention of Jesus’ birth and youth; (2) relatively little is said about Jesus’ early Galilean ministry, the stress being on His Jerusalem ministry; (3) in this account Jesus visits Jerusalem for the Passover three times, in the synoptics once; (4) in this gospel much more attention is given to Jesus’ last words with His disciples; and (5) the book is introduced by what is often called a prologue (1:1-
The characteristic Johannine vocabulary is an important clue to the meaning of the gospel. Even the casual reader of the fourth gospel will be impressed by the remarkable paradox of a simple diction and profound thought. The most characteristic terms in the Johannine vocabulary are common. Many of them, to the Eng. reader, are monosyllabic. These include word, world, light, life, know, love, hate, and truth. Also prominent are glory, darkness, belief and evil. Although the words are very commonplace, they carry an enormous weight of theology. Who can fathom the depth and breadth of such concepts in this gospel as life, light, glory, love, and truth? It is characteristic also of this author to use bold contrasts, such as between God and the devil, the believer and the world, light and darkness, truth and error, life and death. Probably the most important single term in this gospel is the word “life.” This is the central theme of the book. Although love is prominent here also, before there is love there must be life. However, in light of the Johannine prologue and its antecedents in the Genesis account of creation, it may well be that in a cosmological sense light comes before life. The basic theme of this gospel is that in Christ is life and “the life is the light of men.” The purpose of the gospel is also summed up in terms of life. The end in view is eternal life and the means to that end is belief in the
Most of the events reported in this gospel are found nowhere else. Only one miracle, the feeding of the 5,000, is common to all four gospels. John alone records the initial encounter between Jesus and the disciples of John in Judea. This is followed by the wedding in Cana, which John calls the first miracle, or “sign.” The cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem is reported in connection with the first Passover visit, creating the problem of whether there were two cleansings or one; if the latter, then John’s account places the event at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, whereas the synoptics state that it comes at the close. The interview with Nicodemus in Jerusalem is reported at length, followed by a discourse concerning John and his relation to Jesus.
The scene then shifts to Samaria with a lengthy report of Jesus’ interview with the woman of Sychar. In
The third Passover brought Jesus again to Jerusalem, or rather to His Bethany headquarters at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. At a supper honoring Lazarus, Mary anointed Jesus with costly ointment, much to the disgust of Judas. The Passover feast, meanwhile, had brought many hundreds of people to the Holy City, and it was then that the triumphal entry occurred with three groups of people centering on Jesus: a group who had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, another group of pilgrims from the N, and a third group residing in Jerusalem (
John devotes more attention to the last days of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem than any of the other writers. Following the triumphal entry was the feast with the disciples and the announcement of the betrayal by Judas, the departure of Judas for this purpose, the washing of the feet of the Twelve by the Master and the extended discourse concerning the future followed by the high priestly intercessory prayer of Christ (
In the events that follow, John’s account parallels closely that of the synoptists. This includes the arrest in the garden, the trial before the Jewish authorities, then the trial before Pilate, the sentence to death, the crucifixion and burial. In the accounts of the Resurrection, John’s account supplements that of the others and presents events otherwise unknown. These include the appearance to, to Thomas, and to seven disciples in Galilee, ending with Jesus’ dialogue with Peter.
One of the problems of the fourth gospel is the large number of important events mentioned in the other gospels but ignored in John. These include the nativity stories, which are familiar from the chs. in Matthew and Luke, and the parables featured by the synoptists. There is no mention in this gospel of the exorcism of devils, even though Jesus is thrice accused of being demon possessed. In this gospel no attention is paid to publicans, lepers, or children, as is characteristic of the other three. No mention is made of naming of the twelve apostles. There is no “sermon on the mount,” such as Matthew and Luke report. The calling of sinners to repentance is notably absent in this account. The apocalyptic features of the synoptists, including eschatological themes and the warnings against the judgment of hell, are not specified in this gospel. Many of Jesus’ characteristic apothegms and proverbs, such as “you are the salt of the earth” are not included in this account. No mention is made of the institution of the Eucharist, although it is implied in
As noted previously, John’s major concern is with divine life, the life that is in God and which, under certain conditions can be shared by men. The basic condition to this sharing is belief in Jesus as the Son of God. This overarching concern dominates the gospel from the first v. to the last. Unlike Luke, this author is not primarily concerned to set down an orderly account of the actual events. Instead, he is very selective in his choice of events, his choice being dictated by a didactic purpose; for John is interested not only in the events, but also in their significance.
One of the most distinctive features of the fourth gospel is the emphasis upon witness. The term “witness” occurs thirty-four times in verb form and thirteen times as a noun, a total of forty-seven occurrences as compared with sixteen in all of the other three gospels. The author classifies himself primarily as a witness (
Witnessing is designed to induce belief, belief in Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the only source of spiritual life. The noun faith (pistis) is not mentioned, but the emphasis is upon the verb (pisteuein). Belief, or faith, is not the confidence in the final outcome—as in Hebrews, nor trust for personal salvation—as in Paul, but rather, committal to the person of
Although the theme of love is prominent in all Christian writing, it is esp. conspicuous in the Johannine writings. The relation of God to the hostile world is basically that of love (
The appeal of this gospel to the world dominated by Gr. culture is perhaps reflected by the emphasis on truth. God’s revelation is equated with truth. The prologue points out that whereas the law was mediated through Moses, Jesus Christ mediated a twofold blessing—the Hebraic benefit of grace and the Gr. benefit of truth. Both the Hebraic and Hellenistic spiritual blessings converge in Jesus, the Son of God. Later, Jesus assured His disciples that obedience to His word would assure them of the truth that emancipates (
These are some of the main ideas that constitute the fabric of this gospel. John is not content simply to record historical events; he is selective in the events he chooses to illustrate some of these themes. The themes are like the themes of great symphonies, many of them introduced in the prologue, or prelude, and woven throughout the fabric, one coming to prominence now, another later. John’s thought is often described as cyclic. It is something like a circular staircase or a spiral, in which a theme will appear and then recede to appear later at a higher level. John does not treat one topic in one place and then go on to another topic, but keeps them in suspension through his narrative. The author, for example, takes care to point out hindrances to belief, such as an attitude of undue appreciation for the esteem of one’s fellow men (
Data peculiar to John.
The relationship between John and the other gospels is seen not only in what John omits, but also in what John includes and the others omit. The prologue is found nowhere else in the Scriptures, and the distinctive contribution is John’s use of the term logos and its application to Christ. The great affirmation is that the eternal word became flesh in time. This is John’s way of referring to the Incarnation, which parallels Paul’s description of the kenosis (
Only John reports the episode at Cana, the significance of which is that it strengthened the disciples’ belief in the adequacy of their master (
In addition to the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda, John alone reports the dialogue between Jesus and His critics on the issue of belief and the witnesses (
John is the only evangelist who employs the analogy of sheepfold and shepherd, although the “lost sheep” is found elsewhere (
The raising of Lazarus is presented as a historical event, but the account leaves the reader wondering why it was not mentioned in the other gospels. Whereas the synoptic gospels view the cleansing of the Temple as the immediate cause of the steps to kill Jesus, in John’s account it is the raising of Lazarus that brings events to a head (12:10,
Especially prized by readers of the gospel are chs. 14-17, which reflect the intimate conversation between Jesus and the worried disciples. The role of the Paraclete—Comforter, Counselor, or Advocate—is found nowhere else in the Scriptures except in the first epistle of John (
Altogether, John reports fourteen dialogues that are characterized by (1) a question from the hearers, (2) the Master’s answer in enigmatic form, (3) the misunderstanding of His answer and (4) Jesus’ clarification of the issue. The conversation with Nicodemus well illustrates this sequence. Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” Jesus replied, “That which is born of flesh is flesh....” The response was, “How can this be?” Then Jesus explained further...(
In this gospel, Nathanael and Thomas are given special attention. The relation of the beloved disciple and Peter is given prominence, with the beloved disciple on at least three occasions being the first to perceive the spiritual significance of what was being said and seen, and then sharing it with Peter (
John alone reports the committal of Jesus’ mother to the beloved disciple and the emergence of blood from the side of Jesus (
In John’s account of the burial and Resurrection, Mary Magdalene receives special prominence, as does Nicodemus. Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John and nowhere else in the NT. He appears first as a seeker, then as a defender in the Sanhedrin of justice and of Jesus, and finally as one of the last to place Him in the tomb (
These indicate that the fourth gospel presents an independent report from that of the other three. Although some scholars view this as a protest or a correction to the other three, most agree that it is designed to supplement rather than to alter the report of the other gospels. Luke and John appear to have the most in common, but both show independence in presentation. All four evangelists drew on a common oral tradition.
Comparison with the synoptics and Acts.
The fourth gospel is designed for the world at large, to convince the uncommitted (
The eschatological element is not stressed in John. In the synoptics, John the Baptist predicts a coming judgment with the Messiah serving as judge, gathering the wheat and burning the chaff. This eschatological motif of judgment is lacking in the fourth gospel. In the synoptics, many of the parables deal with the last judgment, such as the parable of the tares and of the fish; John has nothing comparable. The warning against hell fire, where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched, prominent in the synoptics, is completely lacking in John. The synoptists, esp. Luke, have parables that stress repentance (
In John is no specific mention of the ascension into heaven as is true of the synoptics and Acts. The nearest approach to this is Jesus’ statement to Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father (
Comparison with the epistles
The concept of righteousness is less prominent in John than in Paul. Whereas Paul speaks of the righteousness of God as the dominant factor with which man must reckon, John stresses such attributes of God as love and light. Both stress God’s love to man (
Because Paul thought in terms of law, his nomenclature is that of a court of law; hence his terms are adoption, justification, propitiation, and reconciliation. John prefered the biological analogy of birth (
Both are in agreement with reference to the basic tenets of the Christian faith: upon the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death, His vicarious atonement, bodily resurrection, appearances and ascension.
In eschatology, Paul gives much greater prominence to the return of Christ, the last judgment, and the restoration of all things to the jurisdiction of Christ. John seems less influenced by Jewish apocalypses.
Both the gospel of John and the first epistle of Peter stress the concept of persecution and suffering for the sake of the Gospel. According to 1 Peter, the suffering is caused by external pressures, reflecting a period of persecution, presumably by the leaders of the Rom. world. In the fourth gospel, however, the persecution is anticipated in the future and its similarity to the persecution of Jesus by the Jews is pointed out. In John, the chief antagonists of the Gospel light are the Jewish leaders, whereas in Peter, the opposition is not pinpointed, but presumably it is the pagan world. In John, the hostility is portrayed more in general principles, as the conflict between light and darkness, the two being mutually antagonistic. This is esp. prominent in
Common to the first epistle of Peter and the fourth gospel is the concept of the new birth. In John, the birth is by water and spirit (
Another concept common to both John and Peter is that of shepherd. In John, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep; likewise in Peter, “the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” is He who “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (
In John, the prime virture is spiritual insight that leads to belief and hence to life and witnessing. In Peter, the virtues most urgently needed are those of constancy, of patience under test, of submission to authority, and of quiet continuing witness in a hostile world (
The eschatological emphasis in 2 Peter is not paralleled in the fourth gospel, nor does the gospel give a great deal of attention to the matter of growth in grace of the believer as is true of 2 Peter (
Although C. H. Dodd and others doubt whether the same person wrote both the gospel and the epistle, the preponderance of evidence favors a common authorship of both. Even a superficial examination indicates the prominence in both gospel and first epistle of such elemental concepts as witness, light, love, truth. Common to both is the simplicity of diction linked with profundity of thought. Common also to both is the concept of the believer’s relation to God in biological terms. Thus in the epistle, the children of the devil and the children of God are in marked contrast not only with reference to their source of life, but in their relation to sin (
The central theme of both is spiritual life: it is not merely something temporal, or a continuation of the present life; it is rather a life that is different in nature. Because it is essentially spiritual rather than mental or physical, eternal life begins in the believer when he receives Christ (
Brotherly love is stressed in both, esp. in
Among the differences is the fact that in the epistle there is no expressed concern for the apostasy of the nation of Israel. The Christology is different as well. In the gospel, the stress is on Jesus as the Son of God; in the epistle, the stress is on His being the Son of man—to refute the heresy of docetism, the doctrine that Jesus’ humanity was not real.
Both these writings contain the term paraclete (comforter), a term found nowhere else in the NT (
a. Hebrews. Although the form and nomenclature is strikingly different, the basic theology of both the epistle to the Hebrews and the fourth gospel is the same. In both there is stress upon Jesus as the Son of God; in both there is stress upon His condescension in taking human nature. The incarnation is spelled out more in detail in Hebrews, noting that incarnation involves sharing death with the rest of mankind (
Both John and Hebrews lay stress upon the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness. This appears in Hebrews (
However, whereas John stresses belief as that which leads to life—a belief centering in Jesus as the Son of God; in Hebrews, faith is paradoxical in nature in that it is a conviction of realities visible only to spiritual eyes. It is this that enabled the heroes and heroines of old to survive obstacles and inherit life. Thus the readers of this epistle are taught that faith involves confidence in God’s availability and in His capability of seeing things through to a successful conclusion.
The humanity of Jesus is stressed perhaps more in Hebrews than in John. In Hebrews, the stress is upon His work as mediator, thus stressing the incarnation and Jesus’ experience as a real person, “he learned obedience through what he suffered” (
b. James and Jude. Parallels between the fourth gospel and the epistle of James are rare. Whereas John speaks of being born of the Spirit, James speaks of being brought forth by the word of truth—a different metaphor, but the same idea (
Jude, like 2 Peter, is preoccupied with heresy and the. The need for sound doctrine is stressed more prominently than in the gospel of John.
The fourth gospel contains phrases and ideas that make an understanding of its background more important and indispensable for adequate understanding of its message.
For several decades debate concerning the predominant external influences on this gospel have been current. A generation ago, the prevailing view among critical scholars was that Gr. influence was dominant in this gospel. Recently there is a growing recognition that the prevailing influence was Hebraic. This position has been vastly strengthened by the discovery of lit. of the Qumran area that has many words and ideas paralleling that of John and that provides evidence that many of the assumed Hel. phrases and ideas were already in Pal. during the 1st cent.
The influence of the OT is very pronounced from the opening words of this gospel. The prologue is evocative of the Genesis account of creation with its account of the origin of light and life. Both Genesis and this gospel speak of all things originating with God through His word. The link between Genesis and John is doubtless
In the epistle to the Hebrews, the “Christ-event” excels the OT by its greater amplitude and efficacy. In Paul, the Gospel replaces the Torah both in time and in splendor. In John, the OT themes of glory, light, water and manna are simply eclipsed by the splendor of the incarnate Son. Whereas Matthew goes from the OT to its fulfillment in Christ, John goes from the Incarnation back to its antecedents in the old covenant.
The difficulty in ascertaining the extent of rabbinic influence on the fourth gospel arises from the fact that doctrines of the rabbis were not put in written form until the codification of the Mishnah about a.d. 200. There is reason to believe, however, that the oral tradition behind this document extended, essentially in its extant form, back to the time of Jesus. The evidences that indicate a knowledge of Jewish exegesis on the part of the author of this gospel are quite impressive. The sentence structure of this gospel is notably akin to that of the rabbis. This may be explained as due to the influence of the Aram. language or to the influence of the OT. But, in any case, the Sem. influence can be seen clearly in the syntax of this gospel. In this respect, the evangelist stands closer to rabbinic usage than does either Paul or James. For example, in the use of the term “law” (Heb. Torah), John treats the term much the same as it is treated in writings of the rabbis—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (
The author’s acquaintance with rabbinic exegesis is reflected also, for example, when Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath (
In a similar manner, the rabbis agreed that in His capacity as judge, God did not rest on the Sabbath day; God maintains His judicial activities continuously. In a similar fashion, Jesus said, “My Father is working still, and I am working,” indicating that it was in His role as judge that He worked on the Sabbath (
The rabbis taught that when the Messiah came, He would be hidden during His childhood and suddenly appear as a mature man ready to take control. Some thought He would be hidden in Rome, others, the N, or Paradise, or in the sea. Familiarity with this doctrine is reflected in the rabbinic statement, “When the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from” (
Scholars have been particularly intrigued by numerous parallels of thought and word between Philo and the fourth gospel, esp. the use of the term logos (word). Philo of Alexandria, who flourished during the time of Paul, reflects an intimate knowledge of Hel. lit. and also of the OT. His concern was to combine the two by means of allegorization of the OT. The factors that have led many to conclude that the fourth gospel derived many of its ideas from Philo includes the following considerations. Both the evangelist and Philo emphasize light as symbolic of God. In Philo, the light of God is said to be the archetype of every other light (De Somn. 1, 75) reminiscent of the logos as the true light (
The conflict between light and darkness is also common to both. Philo observes that the Creator was aware of the essential conflict between light and darkness and parted them one from another by a wall of separation, evening and dawn being the boundary lines (Philo, On the Creation IX, 33, 34). Although both could have received the emphasis upon light from the OT, the conflict between light and darkness is less prominent in the OT than it is in either John or Philo. Both John and Philo spoke of water as symbolic of life. Both emphasized the role of God as Shepherd and King, perhaps because both were influenced by the OT. Many of the parallels can best be explained as both authors drawing from a common source, rather than the evangelist borrowing from Philo.
The differences are far more extensive than the similarities. The logos in Philo is impersonal; in John, personal. There is nothing in Philo comparable to the concept of the logos becoming flesh. Whereas John is interested in symbolism, he did not allegorize as did the Alexandrian philosopher. After weighing the evidence, it seems clear that the significance of Philo is not that of a source for the thought of the fourth gospel, but rather as an evidence of an audience to which the fourth gospel sought to appeal. John, therefore, was a witness not of Greek ideas but to Greek ideas.
The discovery of the a.d. 70, when the community was destroyed, presumably by the Romans. The numerous similarities between these people and their lit. with that of the Essenes described by Josephus and others, has led a majority to conclude that the producers of the scrolls were in reality Essenes, the third of three sects mentioned by Josephus. The Essenes at Qumran believed themselves to be children of light and members of the who were preparing in the desert for the coming of the Lord as urged by Isaiah (
It has been the contention of Rudolph Bultmann that the chief external factor in the fourth gospel is Gnosticism of the early 2nd cent. Gnosticism was a complex eclectic system of religious thought. It was widespread throughout the Near E, esp. during the 2nd cent. a.d. Previously, our knowledge of Gnosticism was dependent almost entirely upon the Christian apologists who looked upon it very negatively. Recent discoveries in Egypt, esp. near , have yielded Coptic papyri written by the Gnostics themselves. There are many verbal similarities—but few ideological similarities between the Gospel of Truth, discovered in 1945, and the gospel by John. One similarity is in the concept of the logos who, in John, enables the believer to know the Father and who is called the Savior because His work is that of redemption. The logos of these writings, however, redeems not from sin but from error. The “Secret Book of John” states that foreknowledge gazed intensely into the pure light and gave birth to the spark of light, the only begotten who revealed Himself to the Father, the self-born. This work appeared before the end of the 1st cent. and provides additional evidence that the fourth gospel could easily have been produced within the 1st cent. In both cases, creation by way of the logos is affirmed. Common to both John and the Gnostics is the emphasis upon knowledge. Synonyms for knowledge appear frequently both in the first epistle of John and the gospel. Divine life is said to come through the knowledge of God (
This obscure Mesopotamian sect came to the attention of Ger. scholars about 1920. The Mandeans professed to be disciples of John the Baptist.and Rudolph Bultmann compared statements in the three extant books attributed to them—the Book of John, The Ginza, and the Qulasta—with the fourth gospel, and concluded that John had borrowed from the Mandeans the concept of a Redeemer who descends and ascends for the salvation of mankind. Other parallels include that of the unity of Father and Son, the concept of the divine Shepherd, and the role of Son in bringing light. The parallels are rather impressive until one considers the contexts. Bultmann assumes that the Mandeans came from Pal. and that their writings antedate Christianity. F. C. Burkitt, C. H. Dodd, and others, however, have shown that neither of these assumptions is true. The evidence demonstrates that this lit. came into existence after the rise of Islam (the spelling of John the Baptist follows the Koran rather than the NT). It is best viewed as an eclectic Gnosticism that borrowed elements from both Christianity and Islam, and therefore could not have influenced John’s gospel.
Purpose, date and author
In recent discussion of the Johannine problem, interest has shifted from authorship to purpose. The ostensible purpose is clearly stated: it is to provide evidence upon which to base faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God with the view of obtaining life eternal (
Beyond this explicitly stated purpose of the fourth gospel, modern scholarship has pressed further into the underlying purpose. Oscar Cullmann, for example, believes that the gospel was designed primarily for Palestinian Jews who were influenced by Gr. culture. This argument is based upon the consideration that both the Hellenists and John’s gospel had little enthusiasm for the Temple and its worship (
W. C. Van Unnik argues that the gospel is designed primarily for the Jews of the dispersion—a missionary book designed to convince Jews outside of Pal. that Jesus is the Messiah. He notes that the Johannine use of the term Messiah agrees with that of Paul, Apollos, and other evangelists as they labored among the Diaspora (
However fascinating these theories may be or however eager an innovator may be to devise some new theory in the light of recent literary and archeological evidence, a mature scholar is likely to be reticent. A sounder and more mature perspective is likely to be similar to that of Alan Richardson, who sees the author’s purpose as that of supplementing the work of the synoptics rather than providing an alternative. The fourth gospel is a product of long reflection upon the synoptic tradition. John’s purpose is not so much to present new evidence as it is to clarify the issues upon which the evidence will be either accepted or rejected. He writes not so much to inform the reader as to confront him with the necessity for a decision. He is concerned with the moral and spiritual relevance of Gospel history to the issues of life for the reader and the world in general. John points up the issues on a “take it or leave it” basis, employing all his ardor and skill in the hope that the reader will accept the incarnate Son who lived among men and who now provides life for those who accept it.
Christian tradition usually considered the gospel to have been written during the latter decade of the 1st cent. This is based both upon internal evidence and patristic writings. The tradition is that John the elder lived in Ephesus until a very old age (Irenaeus). The internal evidence is that the author had pondered for some time upon the mission and message of Jesus and then wrote an interpretive history based upon careful selection of Jesus’ deeds and words.
Critical scholarship for the most part came to favor a later date, early in the 2nd cent. This was a result of a new understanding of contemporary lit. from the early centuries. Scholars as E. F. Scott, Rudolph Bultmann, and C. H. Dodd, after noting words and ideas that seem more congenial to Hel. ideas of the early 2nd cent., believed that the gospel was written by an unknown religious mystic and thinker who endeavored to present a Hellenized vs. of early Christian tradition. The high percentage of theological material in this gospel, in contrast to the relative paucity of this in the gospel by Mark, was explained as the result of the growth of tradition away from its historical source. Thus, in the words of F. C. Grant, the author “determined to make Jesus as un-Jewish, even as anti-Jewish, as possible” (The: Harper’s Annotated Bible ). A similar view is the basis for a revised edition of the gospel by D. D. Runes (The Gospel According to St. John, New York ).
A reaction to this extreme led to another extreme in which some scholars as early as 1922 thought of John as among the earliest of the gospels because of its alleged Aram. influence. Before the recent scroll discoveries, scholars like W. F. Howard (Christianity According to St. John ) were pointing out the relative prominence of OT influence on this gospel. The Qumran lit. proves that there is nothing in the fourth gospel that could not have been written in Pal. before a.d. 70 (R. M. Grant, Earliest Lives of Jesus ). The independence of the fourth gospel is also indicated.
Another factor that argues strongly for an early date is the reflection in the gospel of the intense rivalry between church and synagogue. The hostility of the world that is luminous in every page, is not the pagan world as such, nor is it the synagogue exclusively, but it is a basic hostility to the Gospel which is seen first to stem from among the Jewish religious authorities, and which can be equally true of the Gentile world. It seems unlikely that the issues that are so prominent in this gospel, namely, the Jewish hierarchy and the Temple, could be so prominent had the gospel been written after the fall of Jerusalem and the termination of Temple worship. Prior to a.d. 70, these were the prime issues upon which the author of this gospel focused attention—in such a manner as to stress basic issues that have universal and perennial relevance.
Among the authors that have been suggested from time to time are: Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead; Nicodemus, the young man whom Mark reported as having fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest (
Evidence from patristics, specifically Papias and Irenaeus, favor the elder of Ephesus who may well have been the apostle himself.
When both internal and external evidence is weighed, there seems no compelling reason to deny to John the son of Zebedee the honor of being its author. From internal evidence it is apparent that the author was intimately acquainted with the Pal. of the 1st cent., prob. prior to the War of Rebellion of a.d. 66 to 70. This is confirmed by the Qumran lit. That the author was an eyewitness to the events reported is indicated by the inclusion of details that are not strictly relevant to the story. Psychologically, they can best be explained as reminiscences rather than the result of historical imagination. If an eyewitness, a process of elimination leaves the son of Zebedee as the most probable candidate. Another plausible theory is that a companion of the apostle wrote down his master’s thought. This would help explain the writer’s intimate acquaintance with Hel. thought forms. In any case, whether it represents the apostle’s actual words, or the apostle’s witness as recorded by a disciple, the fourth gospel does bear the evidences of apostolic authenticity.
However, its acceptance by the Early Church and its claim to credence rests on the “sheer power and attractiveness of its testimony to Christ” (Alan Richardson). In competition with it were many apocryphal gospels. In other words, it has won its way, not so much on the basis of its alleged apostolicity as upon its intrinsic worth.
John’s gospel as history.
To what extent is the portrait in the fourth gospel historically reliable? The older critics widely assumed that since John has more narrative, with less emphasis on activity than the synoptics, esp. Mark, it was more subjective and proportionately less valuable as history. More recently, existential hermeneutics has said that historicity is less important than the kerygma, or proclamation of faith. John, like other writers of the NT, demanded a faith based upon fact, upon observable and verifiable data (
Scholars often have stressed the contrast between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Recently, as a reaction against existential hermeneutics, there has been a renewed demand to ascertain the historical facts surrounding Jesus. Some currently argue that the important factor is the life of Jesus, bypassing the passion and resurrection; others emphasize that the “Easter faith” is not dependent upon the actual events of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection. The gospel according to John is careful to stress both the historical Jesus and the Christ-centered faith that emerges. This gospel is even more Christological than the other three. Whereas the synoptic accounts all agree as focusing upon Jesus’ actual deeds and words, this one demands that the reader recognize the personality behind the deeds and words. For this reason attention is called not only to the idea of resurrection but to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the life. Christianity is not only “the Way” (as in Acts) but here Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Commentaries: B. F. Westcott (1882, 1908); E. F. Scott (1906); M. J. Lagrange (1924, 1936); J. H. Bernard (ICC) (1928); W. Bauer (1933); A. Plummer, CGT (1938); E. C. Hoskyns, ed. F. N. Davey (1940, 1947); R. Bultmann (1941, 1953); W. F. Howard and A. J. Gossip, IB (1952); Wm. Hendriksen (1953); C. K. Barrett (1955); R. H. Lightfoot, ed. C. F. Evans (1956); W. Barclay (1956); A. Richardson (1959, 1962); R. V. G. Tasker, TNTC (1960); G. A. Turner and J. R. Mantey (1964); R. E. Brown, Anchor Bible (1966, 1970); R. T. Fortna (1970); L. Morris (1971). Other Books and Articles: G. B. Stevens, The(1900); E. F. Scott, The Fourth Gospel (1906); C. F. Burney, The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (1922); H. Odeberg, The Fourth Gospel Interpreted in Its Relation to Contemporaneous Religious Currents in Palestine and the Hellenistic-Oriental World (1929); P. Gardner-Smith, St. John and the (1938); W. F. Howard, Christianity According to St. John (1946); E. K. Lee, The Religious Thought of St. John (1950); C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953); W. F. Howard, ed. C. K. Barrett, The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation (1955); W. F. Albright, “Recent Discoveries in Palestine and the Gospel of St. John,” The Background of the and its Eschatology, ed. Davies and Daube (1956); F. L. Cross, ed., Studies in the Fourth Gospel (1957); J. A. T. Robinson, “The New Look on the Fourth Gospel,” Studia Evangelica (1959); J. M. Robinson, “Recent Research in the Fourth Gospel,” JBL, IXXVIII (1959), 242-252; P. Parker, “John, the Son of Zebedee, and the Fourth Gospel,” JBL, LXXXI (1962), 35-43; G. A. Turner, Aldersgate Biblical Series: John (1962); D. M. Smith, “The Sources of the Gospel of John,” NTS, X (1964), 336-351; R. Schnackenburg, “Der Menschensohn im Johannes-evangelium,” NTS, XI (1965), 123-137; H. M. Teeple, “The Origin of the Christology,” JBL, LXXXIV (1965), 213-250; C. Bekker, “Grundschrift und Redaktion im Johannes-evangelium,” NTS, XIII (1966), 66-80; R. E. Brown, “The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” NTS, XIII (1967), 113-132.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
|| I. INTRODUCTORY
1. Scope of Gospel
2. State of Opinion as to Date of Appearance, etc.
II. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE fOR THE FOURTH GOSPEL
1. At the End of 2nd Century
3. Middle of 2nd Century
4. Ignatius, etc.
5. John the Presbyter
III. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GOSPEL: INTERNAL EVIDENCE
1. General Lines of Attack and Defence
2. Unwarrantable Critical Presuppositions
3. Real Aim of Gospel--Results
(1) Relation to Synoptics
(2) Time Occupied in the Gospel
(3) A Personal Record
(4) Reminiscences of an Eyewitness
(5) Reminiscence Illustrated
IV. PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE GOSPEL
1. The Presentation of Jesus in the Gospel
(1) Alleged Absence of Development in Character of Jesus
(2) Alleged "Autonomy" of Jesus
(3) "Inconceivability" of Logos-Presentation
2. The Logos-Doctrine of the Prologue
3. Growth of Faith and Development of Unbelief
(1) Early Confessions
(2) Growth of Faith in the Disciples
(3) Gradual Disclosure of Messiahship: Growth of Unbelief
1. Scope of Gospel:
The Fourth Gospel has a form peculiar to itself, as well as a characteristic style and attitude, which mark it as a unique document among the books of the.
(1) There is a prologue, consisting of
(2) There is a series of scenes and discourses from the life of Jesus, descriptive of Himself and His work, and marking the gradual development of faith and unbelief in His hearers and in the nation (1:19-12:50).
(3) There is a more detailed account of the closing events of the Passion Week--of His farewell intercourse with His disciples (
(4) There are the resurrection, and the manifestations of the risen Lord to His disciples on the resurrection day, and on another occasion eight days after (20:1-29). This is followed by a paragraph which describes the purpose of the Gospel, and the reason why it was written (
(5) Finally, there is a supplementary chapter (21), which has all the characteristic marks of the Gospel as a whole, and which probably, therefore, proceeds from the same pen (thus Lightfoot, Meyer, Alford, etc.; some, as Zahn, prefer to take the chapter as the work of a disciple of John). The concluding verses (21:24,25) read: "This is the disciple that beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did," etc. "We know that his witness is true" seems to be a testimony on the part of those who knew as to the identity of the disciple, and the trustworthiness of his witness. Nor has this earliest testimony been discredited by the attacks made on it, and the natural meaning has been vindicated by many competent writers. The present tense, "beareth witness," indicates that the " disciple" who wrote the Gospel was still alive when the testimony was given.
2. State of Opinion as to Date of Appearance, etc.:
As to the time of the appearance of the Johannine literature, apart from the question as to the authorship of these writings, there is now a growing consensus of opinion that it arose at the end of the 1st century, or at the beginning of the 2nd century. This is held by those who assign the authorship, not to any individual writer, but to a school at Ephesus, who partly worked up traditional material, and elaborated it into the form which the Johannine writings now have; by those also, as Spitta, who disintegrate the Gospel into a Grundschrift and a Bearbeitung (compare his Das Johannes-Evangelium als Quelle der Geschichte Jesu, 1910). Whether the Gospel is looked on as a compilation of a school of theologians, or as the outcome of an editor who utilizes traditional material, or as the final outcome of theological evolution of certain Pauline conceptions, with few exceptions the appearance of the Johannine writings is dated early in the 2nd century. One of the most distinguished of these exceptions is Schmiedel; another is the late Professor Pfleiderer. One may respect Pfleiderer in the region of philosophical inquiry, but in criticism he is a negligible quantity. And the writings of Schmiedel on the Johannine question are rapidly passing into the same category.
Thus, the appearance of the Johannine writings at the end of the 1st century may safely be accepted as a sound historical conclusion. Slowly the critics who assigned their appearance to the middle of the 2nd century, or later, have retraced their steps, and assign the emergence of the Johannine writings to the time mentioned. This does not, of course, settle the questions of the authorship, composition and trustworthiness of the Gospel, which must be determined on their merits, on the grounds of external, and still more of internal, evidence, but it does clear the way for a proper discussion of them, and gives us a terminus which must set a limit to all further speculation on matters of this kind.
II. External Evidence for the Fourth Gospel.
Only an outline of the external evidence for the Fourth Gospel, which concerns both date and authorship, can be given in this article. Fuller information may be sought in the Intros to the Commentaries on the Gospel, by Godet, Westcott, Luthardt, Meyer; in Ezra Abbot’s The Fourth Gospel and Its Authorship; in Zahn’s Introduction to the New Testament, III; in Sanday’s The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel; in Drummond’s The Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel. All these and many others defend the Johannine authorship. On the other side, reference may be made to the author of Supernatural Religion, of which many editions have appeared. Among recent works, Moffatt’s Introduction to the New Testament, and B.W. Bacon’s Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, may be mentioned as denying the Johannine authorship.
1. At End of 2nd Century:
The external evidence is as follows. At the end of the 2nd century, the Christian church was in possession of four Gospels, which were used as sacred books, read in churches in public worship, held in honor as authoritative, and treated as part of a Gospels). One of these was the Fourth Gospel, universally ascribed to the apostle John as its author. We have the evidence on this point of Irenaeus, of Tertullian, of , a little later of Origen. Clement is witness for the belief and practice of the church in Egypt and its neighborhood; Tertullian for the church in Africa; and Irenaeus, who was brought up in Asia Minor, was a teacher at Rome, and was bishop of Lyons in Gaul, for the churches in these lands. The belief was so unquestioned, that Irenaeus could give reasons for it which would of themselves have convinced no one who had not already had the conviction which the reasons were meant to sustain. To discount the evidence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement on the ground of the desire to find apostolic authorship for their sacred books, is not argument but mere assertion. There may have been such a tendency, but in the case of the four Gospels there is no proof that there was necessity for this at the end of the 2nd century. For there is evidence of the belief in the apostolic authorship of two Gospels by apostles, and of two by companions of the apostles, as an existing fact in the churches long before the end of the 2nd century.(see
The importance of the testimony of Irenaeus is measured by the efforts which have been made to invalidate his witness. But these attempts fail in the presence of his historical position, and of the means at his command to ascertain the belief of the churches. There are many links of connection between Irenaeus and the apostolic age. There is specially his connection with Polycarp. He himself describes that relationship in his letter to Florinus, a fellow-disciple of Polycarp, who had lapsed into Gnosticism, in which he says, "I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and the others who had seen the Lord" (Euseb., HE, V, 20: McGiffert’s translation). We cannot say what was the age of Irenaeus at that time, but he was of sufficient age to receive the impressions which, after many years, he recorded. Polycarp was martyred in 155 AD, and he had been a Christian for 86 years when he was martyred. Thus there was only one link between Irenaeus and the apostolic age. Another link was constituted by his association with Pothinus, his predecessor in Lyons. Pothinus was a very old man when he was martyred, and had in his possession the traditions of the church of Gaul. Thus, Irenaeus, through these and others, had the opportunity of knowing the belief of the churches, and what he records is not only his own personal testimony, but the universal tradition of the church.
With Irenaeus should be adduced the apologist Theophilus (circa 170), the earliest writer to mention John by name as the author of the Gospel. In prefacing a quotation from the commencement of the prologue, he says, "This is what we learn from the sacred writings, and from all men animated by the Spirit, amongst whom John says" (Ad Autol., ii.22). Theophilus is further stated by Jerome to have composed a Harmony of the four Gospels (De Viris Illustr., 25).
3. Middle of 2nd Century:
From Irenaeus and Theophilus we ascend nearer to the middle of the 2nd century, and here we encounter the Diatessaron of Tatian, on which much need not be said. The Diatessaron is likewise a Harmony of the four Gospels, and this Harmony dates not later than 170. It begins with the 1st verse of the Fourth Gospel, and ends with the last verse of the appendix to the Gospel. Tatian was a pupil of, and that fact alone renders it probable that the "Memoirs of the Apostles," which Justin quotes so often, were those which his pupil afterward combined in the Diatessaron. That Justin knew the Fourth Gospel seems clear, though we cannot argue the question here. If he did, it follows that it was in existence about the year 130.
4. Ignatius, etc.:
But there is evidence that helps us to trace the influence of the Fourth Gospel back to the year 110. "The first clear traces of the Fourth Gospel upon the thought and language of the church are found in the Epistles of Ignatius (circa 110 AD). How unmistakable these traces are is shown by the fact that not infrequently this dependence of Ignatius upon John has been used as an argument against the genuineness of the Ignatian letters" (Zahn, Introduction, III, 176). This argument may now be safely used since the Epistles have been vindicated as historical documents by Lightfoot and by Zahn. If the Ignatian Epistles are saturated with the tone and spirit of the Johannine writings, that goes to show that this mode of thought and expression was prevalent in the church of the time of Ignatius. Thus at the beginning of the 2nd century, that distinctive mode of thought and speech which we call Johannine had an existence.
A further line of evidence in favor of the Gospel, which need only be referred to, lies in the use made of it by the Gnostics. That the Gospel was used by the Valentinians and Basilides has been shown by Dr. Drummond (op. cit., 265-343).
5. John the Presbyter:
To estimate aright the force of the above evidence, it is to be remembered that, as already observed, there were many disciples of the John of Ephesus, to whom the Johannine writings were ascribed, living far on in the 2nd century--bishops like Papias and Polycarp, the presbyters" so often mentioned by Irenaeus--forming a chain connecting the time of the origin of the Gospel with the latter half of the century. Here arises the question, recently so largely canvassed, as to the identity of "the presbyter John" in the well-known fragment of Papias preserved by Euseb. (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39). Were there, as most, with Eusebius, understand, two Johns--apostle and presbyter (compare e.g. Godet)--or was there only one? If only one, was he the son of Zebedee? On these points wide difference of opinion prevails. Harnack holds that the presbyter was not the son of Zebedee; Sanday is doubtful; Moffatt believes that the presbyter was the only John at Ephesus. Zahn and Dom J. Chapman (John the Presbyter and the Fourth Gospel, 1911) think also that there was only one John at Ephesus, but he was the son of Zebedee. It is hardly necessary to discuss the question here, for the tradition is explicit which connected the Gospel with the apostle John during the latter part of his residence in Ephesus--a residence which there is no sufficient ground for disputing (see John, the Apostle).
On a fair consideration of the external evidence, therefore, we find that it is unusually strong. It is very seldom the case that conclusive proof of the existence and influence of a writing can be brought so near to the time of its publication as in the case of the Fourth Gospel. The date of its publication is at the end of the 1st century, or at the latest in the beginning of the 2nd. Traces of its influence are found in the Epistles of Ignatius. The 1st Epistle of John is quoted in the(chapter 7). The thought and style of the Gospel had influenced Justin Martyr. It is one of the four interwoven in the Diatessaron of Tatian. It was quoted, commented on, and interpreted by the Gnostics. In truth the external evidence for the early date and Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel is as great both in extent and variety as it is for any book of the New Testament, and far greater than any that we possess for any work of classical antiquity.
The history of the controversy on the Johannine authorship is not here entered into. Apart from the obscure sect of the Alogi (who attributed the Gospel to Cerinthus!) in the 2nd century, no voice was heard in challenge of the authorship of John till the close of the 17th century, and serious assault did not begin till the 19th century (Bretschneider, 1820, Strauss, 1835, Weisse, 1838, Baur and his school, 1844 and after, Keim, 1865, etc.). The attacks were vigorously repelled by other scholars (Olshausen, Tholuck, Neander, Ebrard, Bleek, etc.). Some adopted, in various forms and degrees, the hypothesis of an apostolic basis for the Gospel, regarded as the work of a later hand (Weizsacker, Renan, etc.). From this point the controversy has proceeded with an increasing dogmatism on the side of the opponents of the genuineness and trustworthiness of the Gospel, but not less firmness on the part of its defenders. The present state of opinion is indicated in the text.
III. Characteristics of the Gospel: Internal Evidence.
1. General Lines of Attack and Defence:
The external evidence for the Fourth Gospel is criticized, but it is chiefly on internal grounds that the opposition to the Johannine authorship and historical trustworthiness of the Gospel is based. Stress is laid on the broad contrast which admittedly exists in style, character and plan, between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptics; on its supposed philosophical dress (the Logos-doctrine); on alleged errors and contradictions; on the absence of progress in the narrative, etc. The defense of the Gospel is usually conducted by pointing out the different aims of the Gospel, rebutting exaggerations in the above objections, and showing that in a multitude of ways the author of the Gospel reveals his identity with the apostle John. He was, e.g., a Jew, a Palestinian Jew, one familiar with the topography of Jerusalem, etc., an apostle, an eyewitness, the disciple whom Jesus loved (13:23; 20:2; 21:7,20). The attestation in 21:24 of those who knew the author in his lifetime is of the greatest weight in this connection. Instead of following these familiar lines of argument (for which see Godet, Luthardt, Westcott, Ez. Abbot, Drummond, etc., in works cited), a confirmation is here sought on the lines of a fresh comprehensive study.
2. Unwarrantable Critical Presuppositions:
The study of the Johannine writings in general, and of the Fourth Gospel in particular, has been approached in many ways and from various points of view. One of the most common of these ways, in recent works, is that which assumes that here we have the product of Christian reflection on the facts disclosed in the other Gospels, and that these facts have been modified by the experience of the church, and reflect the consciousness of the church at the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the 2nd century. By this time, it is assumed that the church, now mainly a Gentilechurch, has been greatly influenced by Greek-Roman culture, that she has been reflecting on the wonder of her own history, and has so modified the original tradition as to assimilate it to the new environment. In the Fourth Gospel, it is said, we have the highest and most elaborate presentation of the outcome of the process. Starting with Paul and his influence, Professor B.W. Bacon traces for us the whole process until a school of theologians at Ephesus produced the Johannine writings, and the consciousness of the church was satisfied with the completeness of the new presentation of Christianity (compare his Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate). Hellenistic ideas in Hebrew form, the facts of the Gospel so transformed as to be acceptable to the Hellenistic mind--this is what scholars of this class find in the Fourth Gospel.
Others again come to the Gospel with the presupposition that it is intended to present to the reader a complete view of the life of Jesus, that it is intended to supplement and to correct the statements of the Synoptics and to present Christ in such a form as to meet the new needs of the church at the beginning of the 2nd century. Others find a polemical aim in the Gospel. Weizsacker, e.g. finds a strong polemic aim against the Jews. He says, "There are the objections raised by the Jews against the church after its secession has been consummated, and after the development of the person of its Christ has passed through its most essential stages. It is not a controversy of the lifetime, but that of the school carried back into the history of the life" (, II, 222). One would have expected that a statement so forcibly put would have been supported by some evidence; that we might have some historical evidence regarding a controversy between Jew and church beyond what we have in the Fourth Gospel itself. But nothing is offered by Weizsacker except the dictum that these are controversial topics carried on in the school, and that they are anachronisms as they stand. As it happens, we know from the Dial. between Justin Martyr and Trypho what were the topics discussed between Jew and Christian in the middle of the 2nd century, and it is sufficient to say that these topics, as reported by Justin, mainly regarded the interpretation of the , and are not those which are discussed in the Fourth Gospel.
Perhaps the most surprising of all the presuppositions with regard to the Fourth Gospel is that which lays great stress on the supposition that the book was largely intended to vindicate a Christian doctrine of the sacraments which flourished at the beginning of the 2nd century. According to this presupposition, the Fourth Gospel set forth a doctrine of the sacraments which placed them in a unique position as a means of salvation. While scarcely contending that the doctrine of the sacraments held by the church of the 2nd century had reached that stage of development which meets us in the medieval church, it is, according to this view, far on the way toward that goal afterward reached. We do not dwell on this view, for the exegesis that finds sacramentarianism in the Fourth Gospel is hopeless. That Gospel does not put the sacraments in the place of Christ. Finally, we do not find the contention of those who affirm that the Fourth Gospel was written with a view of making the gospel of Jesus more acceptable to the Gentiles any more satisfactory. As a matter of fact, the Gospel which was most acceptable to the Gentiles was the Gospel according to Mt. It is more frequently quoted than any other. In the writings of the early church, it is quoted as often as all the other Gospels put together. The Fourth Gospel did not come into prominence in the Christian church until the rise of the Christological controversies in the 3rd century.
3. Real Aim of Gospel--Results:
When, after dwelling on these ways of approaching the Fourth Gospel, and reading the demands made on the Gospel by those who approach it with these presuppositions and demands, we turn to the Gospel itself, and ask regarding its aim and purpose, we find a simple answer. The writer of it expressly says: "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the
(1) Relation to Synoptics.
In relation to the Synoptics, the differences are great, but more surprising is the fact that the points of contact between these Gospels and the Fourth Gospel are so few. The critics to whom reference has been made are unanimous that the writer or the school who compiled the Johannine writings was indebted to the Synoptics for almost all the facts embodied in the Fourth Gospel. Apart, however, from the Passion Week, only two points of contact are found so obvious that they cannot be doubted, namely, the feeding of the 5,000, and the walking on the sea (
(2) Time Occupied in the Gospel.
Accepting this principle for our guidance, we turn to the Gospel, and the first thing that strikes the reader is the small amount of the real time filled up, or occupied, by the scenes described in the Gospel. We take the night of the betrayal, and the day of the crucifixion. The things done and the words spoken on that day, from one sunset to another, occupy no fewer than 7 chapters of the Gospel (John 13-19). Apart from the supplementary chapter (21), there are 20 chapters in the Gospel, containing 697 vs, and these 7 chapters have 257 verses. More than one-third of the whole given to the ministry is thus occupied with the events of one day.
Again, according to
(3) A Personal Record.
Obviously the book professes to be reminiscences of one who had personal experience of the ministry which he describes. The personal note is in evidence all through the book. It is present even in the prologue, for in that verse in which he describes the great fact of the incarnation he uses the personal note, "We beheld his glory" (
The Gospel then is professedly reminiscences of an eyewitness, of one who was personally present at all the scenes which he describes. No doubt the reminiscences often pass into reflections on the meaning and significance of what he describes. He often pauses to remark that the disciples, and he himself among them, did not understand at the time the meaning of some saying, or the significance of some deed, of Jesus (
(4) Reminiscences of an Eyewitness.
(5) Reminiscence Illustrated.
The Gospel receives powerful confirmation from reflection on the nature of reminiscence generally. A law of reminiscence is that, when we recall anything, or any occurrence, we recall it in its wholeness, with all the accessories of its accompaniments. As we tell it to others, we have to make a selection of that only which is needful to convey our meaning. Inartistic natures do not make a selection; they pour out everything that arises in the memory (compare Dame Quickly in Shakespeare). The finer qualities of reminiscence are abundantly illustrated in the Fourth Gospel, and furnish an independent proof that it is from the pen of an eyewitness. It is possible within reasonable limits to give only a few examples. Observe first the exact notes of time in John 1 and the special notes of character in each of the 6 disciples whom Jesus met on the first 4 days of His ministry. Mark the peculiar graphic note that Nathaniel was under the fig tree (1:50). Pass on to notice the 6 water-pots of stone set at Cana after the manner of the Jews’ purifying (2:6). We might refer in this connection to the geographical remarks frequently made in the course of the narrative, indicative of an intimate knowledge of Palestine, and to the numerous allusions to Jewish laws, customs, beliefs, religious ceremonies, usually admitted now to be accurate, and illustrative of familiar knowledge on the part of the writer. Our main object, however, is to call attention to those incidental things which have no symbolical significance, but are set down because, as the main happening was recalled, these arose with it. He again sees the "lad" with the 5 barley loaves and 2 fishes (6:9); remembers that Mary sat still in the house, when the active Martha went forth to meet the Lord as He approached Bethany (11:20); recalls the appearance of Lazarus as he came forth bound hand and foot with grave-clothes (11:44). He has a vivid picture before him as he recalls the washing of the disciples’ feet (13:1-15), and the various attitudes and remarks of the disciples during the whole of that eventful night. He still sees the attitude of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (18:3-8), the flashing of Peter’s sword (18:10), the share of Nicodemus in the burying of Jesus, and the kinds and weights of the spices brought by him for the embalming of the body (19:38-40). He tells of the careful folding of the linen cloths, and where they were placed in the empty tomb (20:4-8). These are only some of those vivid touches due to reminiscence which none but an eyewitness could safely make. Looking back on the past, the evangelist recalls the various scenes and words of the Lord in their wholeness as they happened, and he chooses those living touches which bear the mark of reality to all readers.
These touches of vivid reality warrant the conclusion that the writer in this Gospel is depicting scenes in a real life, and is not drawing on his imagination. Looking back on his own spiritual history, he remembered with special vividness those words and works of Christ which determined his own life, and led him on to the full assurance of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. The Gospel can be understood from this point of view: it does not seem to us that it can be understood from any other, without ignoring all the phenomena of the kind now indicated. When the Gospel is approached from this point of view, set forth by itself, one can afford to neglect many of the elaborate discussions which have arisen regarding the possible displacement of certain ehs (Spitta, etc.). Much, e.g., has been made of the sudden transference of the scene from Galilee to Judea as we pass from John 4 to John 5, and the equally sudden transference back to Galilee (6:1). Many suggestions have been made, but they all proceed on the supposition that the reminiscences were meant to be continuous, which it has been seen is not the ease. While it is very likely that there is a sequence in the writer’s thought, yet this need not compel us to think of displacements. Taken as they are in the Gospel, the selected proofs, whether they occur in Judea or in Galilee, in all instances indicate progress. They illustrate the manifested glory of Jesus, on the one hand, and the growth of faith and the development of unbelief on the other. This, however, opens up a separate line of objection and inquiry to which attention must now be given.
IV. Progress and Development in the Gospel.
It is an objection often urged against the view of the apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel that in it there is no progress, no development, no crisis, nothing, e.g., to correspond with the significance of the confession of Peter at
1. The Presentation of Jesus in the Gospel:
The objection from the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel takes different forms, which it is desirable to consider separately.
(1) Alleged Absence of Development in the Character of Jesus.
It is affirmed, first, that there is no development in the character of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, none of those indications such as we have in the Synoptics of widening horizons, no recognition of the fact that the meaning, purpose and issue of His calling became clearer to Him as the days passed by. To this assertion there are two answers. The first is, that in a series of scenes from the activity of Jesus, selected for the definite purpose set forth in the Gospel, there is no need to demand a continuous history of His ministry. Selection is made precisely of those scenes which set forth His insight into human character and motive, His power of sympathetic healing, His command over Nature, and His supreme authority over man and the world. The other remark is, that even in the Fourth Gospel there are hints of a crisis in the ministry of our Lord, during which He came to a clearer recognition of the fuller meaning of His mission (e.g. the visit of the Greeks, John 12). It will be seen further, below, that it is not true in this Gospel, any more than in the Synoptics, that Jesus is represented as publicly proclaiming Himself as the Messiah from the first.
(2) Alleged "Autonomy" of Jesus.
(3) "Inconceivability" of Logos-Presentation.
A further objection, which aims at showing that this Gospel could not be the work of "a primitive apostle," may be noticed, partly from the eminence of him who makes it, and partly from the interest of the objection itself. In his work on The Apostolic Age, Weizsacker says, "It is a puzzle that the beloved disciple of the Gospel, he who reclined at table next to Jesus, should have come to regard and represent his whole former experience as a life with the incarnate Logos of God. It is impossible to imagine any power of faith and philosophy so great as thus to obliterate the recollection of a real life and to substitute for it this marvelous picture of a Divine being. We can understand that Paul, who had not known Jesus, who had not come into contact with the man. should have been opposed to the tradition of the eyewitnesses, the idea of the heavenly man, and that he should have substituted the Christ who was spirit for His earthly manifestation, pronouncing the latter to be positively a stage above which faith must rise. For a primitive apostle it is inconceivable. The question is decided here and finally here" (II, 211). It is easy to say, "For a primitive apostle it is inconceivable," yet we know that a primitive apostle believed that Jesus rose from the dead, that He was exalted a Prince and Saviour, that He was seated at the right hand of God, that He was Lord of all (
2. The Logos-Doctrine of the Prologue:
It is proper at this point that a little more should be said on the Logos-doctrine itself, in its bearing on the presentation of Christ in this Gospel (for the philosophical and historical aspects of the doctrine, see Logos). Obviously the great interest of the author of the reminiscences and reflections in the Fourth Gospel is in the personal life of the Master whom he had known so intimately. To him this real historical life was everything. On it he brooded, on it he meditated, and he strove to make the significance of it ever more real to himself first, and to others afterward. How shall he make the reality of that life apparent to all? What were the relationships of that person to God, to man, and to the world? What Jesus really was, and what were His relations to God, to man, and to the world, John endeavors to make known in the prologue. This real person whom he had known, revered, loved, was something more than was apparent to the eyes of an ordinary observer; more even than had been apparent to His disciples. How shall this be set forth? From the Gospel it is evident that the historical person is first, and the attempt to set forth the meaning of the person is second. The prologue is an attempt to find language to set forth fitly the glory of the person. The Logos-doctrine does not descend on the historic person as a garment from without; it is an endeavor to describe what John had grown to recognize as the essential meaning of the person of Jesus. It is not a speculative theory we have here, not an endeavor to think out a theory of the world or of God; it is an attempt to find suitable language for what the writer recognizes to be a great fact. We need not, therefore, seek an explanation of John’s Logos-doctrine in the speculation of Heraclitus, in theories of the Stoics, even in the eclecticism of Philo. The interests of these men are far removed from the atmosphere of the Fourth Gospel. They desired a theory of the universe; John sought to set forth the significance of a personal historical life. In the prologue he set forth that life, and he chose a word which he filled up with concreter meaning, a meaning which included the deepest teaching of the Old Testament, and the highest thought of his contemporaries. The teaching of Paul, especially in the epistles of the captivity, approaches very closely to that of the Fourth Gospel. Thus it is not a right method to bring the Logos-doctrine to the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, and to look at all the phenomena of the Gospel as mere illustrations of that doctrine. The right method is the reverse. The Logos-doctrine has no concreteness, no living reality, taken apart from the personal life which was manifested to the apostle. The prologue represents what John had come to see as to the meaning of the personality he had historically known. He sets it forth once for all in the prologue, and never once in the Gospel does he refer to it again. We can understand that Logos-doctrine when we look at it in the light of those manifestations recorded in’ the Gospel, manifestations which enabled John to behold His glory; we cannot understand the manifestations if we look at them merely as illustrations of an abstract philosophical theorem. In brief, the Fourth Gospel is concrete, not abstract; it is not the evolution or the demonstration of a theory, but the attempt to set forth a concrete personality, and to find fitting words to express the significance of that personality as John had grown to see it.
3. Growth of Faith and Development of Unbelief:
As it is with the character of Jesus, so it is with the alleged absence of development in the faith of the disciples. Careful inquiry shows this objection also to be unfounded.
(1) Early Confessions.
(2) Growth of Faith in the Disciples.
Apart from what may be made of these early confessions, it may fairly be said that there are many signs of a growth of faith on the part of the disciples. Carrying with us the fact that each of these confessions had its ground in a particular manifestation of the glory of Christ, we go on to passages which prove how imperfect was the faith of the disciples. It is to be remembered also that John has only one word to describe all the phases of faith, from the slightest impression up to whole-hearted conviction and thorough surrender. We may refer to the careful and exhaustive treatment of the meanings of the word "believing" by E. A. Abbott in his work, Johannine Vocabulary. In the Fourth Gospel the verb is always used, and never the noun. As the word is used, it denotes the impression made, whether that impression is slight and transient, or deep and abiding. Successive steps of acceptance are seen as the disciples advance to complete and absolute faith.
As we read the Gospel, we perceive that Jesus did test and try the faith of His disciples, and made His deeds and His words both tests of faith, and a means for its growth. As the result of the words on the bread of life, we find that many of His disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" (
(3) Gradual Disclosure of Messiahship: Growth of Unbelief.
On the other side, there is as manifestly an evolution of unbelief from the passing doubt of. the moment on to the complete disbelief in Jesus, and utter rejection of Him.
It is only fair here to the Gospel to observe that the confessions to which we have already referred are on the part of individuals who came into special relationship with Jesus. Such is the case with regard to Nathaniel, Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria and the Samaritan people, and the writer places the reader in that close relationship so that he who reads may believe. But such close relationship to Jesus is only the lot of a few in this Gospel. It is not true, as already remarked, that in this Gospel Jesus is represented as definitely proclaiming Himself as the Messiah. There is something of the same reserve here as there is in the Synoptics. He did not assert His claim; He left it to be inferred. His brethren hint that He ought to put His claims really to the test (
Besides Comms. and other works mentioned in the article, with valuable articles on the Gospel in Dicts. and Encs, the following may be consulted: M. Dods, common. "Fourth Gospel" in Expositor’s Greek Testament; Julicher, Eintleitung in das NT6 (1906, English Translation); E. A. Abbott, Johannine Vocabulary (1905), and Johannine Grammar (1906); H. J. Holtzmann, Evangelium, Briefe und Offenbarung des Johannes, besorgt von W. Bauer (1908); Essays on Some Biblical Questions of the Day by Members of the University of Cambridge, edited by Dr. Swete (1909), Essay IX, "The Theology of the Fourth Gospel," by W.H. Inge, and Essay X, "The Historical Value of the Fourth Gospel," by C.E. Brooke; Schmiedel, The Johannine Writings (English translation, 1908); J. Armitage Robinson, The Historical Character of John’s Gospel (1908); Askwith, The Historical Value of the Fourth Gospel (1910); Ezra Abbot, External Evidence of the Fourth Gospel, edited by J.H. Thayer (1891); Lowrie, The Doctrine of John (1899).