Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges


Book Overview - John Note: The original text contained a number of Appendices at the end of John. The verse comments occasionally reference the Appendices. The Appendices are presented at the end of the Book comments for John (scroll do the bottom of this window).



THE General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.

Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.


IN undertaking an edition of the Greek text of the New Testament with English notes for the use of Schools, the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press have not thought it desirable to reprint the text in common use[1]. To have done this would have been to set aside all the materials that have since been accumulated towards the formation of a correct text, and to disregard the results of textual criticism in its application to MSS., Versions and Fathers. It was felt that a text more in accordance with the present state of our knowledge was desirable. On the other hand the Syndics were unable to adopt one of the more recent critical texts, and they were not disposed to make themselves responsible for the preparation of an entirely new and independent text: at the same time it would have been obviously impossible to leave it to the judgement of each individual contributor to frame his own text, as this would have been fatal to anything like uniformity or consistency. They believed however that a good text might be constructed by simply taking the consent of the two most recent critical editions, those of Tischendorf and Tregelles, as a basis. The same principle of consent could be applied to places where the two critical editions were at variance, by allowing a determining voice to the text of Stephens where it agreed with either of their readings, and to a third critical text, that of Lachmann, where the text of Stephens differed from both. In this manner readings peculiar to one or other of the two editions would be passed over as not being supported by sufficient critical consent; while readings having the double authority would be treated as possessing an adequate title to confidence.

A few words will suffice to explain the manner in which this design has been carried out.

In the Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation, wherever the texts of Tischendorf and Tregelles agree, their joint readings are followed without any deviation. Where they differ from each other, but neither of them agrees with the text of Stephens as printed in Dr Scrivener’s edition, the consensus of Lachmann with either is taken in preference to the text of Stephens. In all other cases the text of Stephens as represented in Dr Scrivener’s edition has been followed.

In the Gospels, a single modification of this plan has been rendered necessary by the importance of the Sinai MS. (א), which was discovered too late to be used by Tregelles except in the last chapter of St John’s Gospel and in the following books. Accordingly, if a reading which Tregelles has put in his margin agrees with א, it is considered as of the same authority as a reading which he has adopted in his text; and if any words which Tregelles has bracketed are omitted by א, these words are here dealt with as if rejected from his text.

In order to secure uniformity, the spelling and the accentuation of Tischendorf have been adopted where he differs from other Editors. His practice has likewise been followed as regards the insertion or omission of Iota subscript in infinitives (as ζῆν, ἐπιτιμᾶν), and adverbs (as κρυφῆ, λάθρα), and the mode of printing such composite forms as διαπαντός, διατί, τουτέστι, and the like.

The punctuation of Tischendorf in his eighth edition has usually been adopted: where it is departed from, the deviation, together with the reasons that have led to it, will be found mentioned in the Notes. Quotations are indicated by a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence. Where a whole verse is omitted, its omission is noted in the margin (e.g. Matthew 17:21; Matthew 23:12).

The text is printed in paragraphs corresponding to those of the English Edition.

Although it was necessary that the text of all the portions of the New Testament should be uniformly constructed in accordance with these general rules, each editor has been left at perfect liberty to express his preference for other readings in the Notes.

It is hoped that a text formed on these principles will fairly represent the results of modern criticism, and will at least be accepted as preferable to “the Received Text” for use in Schools.




Chapter I. The Life of S. John

Chapter II. The Authenticity of the Gospel

Chapter III. The Place and Date

Chapter IV. The Object and Plan

Chapter V. The Characteristics of the Gospel

Chapter VI. Its Relation to the Synoptic Gospels

Chapter VII. Its Relation to the First Epistle

Chapter VIII. The Text of the Gospel

Chapter IX. The Literature of the Gospel

Analysis of the Gospel in Detail











THE life of S. John falls naturally into two divisions, the limits of which correspond to the two main sources of information respecting him. [1] From his birth to the departure from Jerusalem after the Ascension; the sources for which are contained in N.T. [2] From the departure from Jerusalem to his death; the sources for which are the traditions of the primitive Church. In both cases the notices of S. John are fragmentary, and cannot be woven together into anything like a complete whole without a good deal of conjecture. But the fragments are in the main very harmonious, and contain definite traits and characteristics, enabling us to form a portrait, which though imperfect is unique.

(i) Before the Departure from Jerusalem

The date of S. John’s birth cannot be determined. He was probably younger than his Master and than the other Apostles. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of James, who was probably the older of the two. Zebedee was a fisherman of the lake of Galilee, who seems to have lived in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44), and was well enough off to have hired servants (Mark 1:20). He appears only once in the Gospel-narrative (Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20), but is mentioned frequently as the father of S. James and S. John. Salome (see on John 19:25) was probably the sister of the Virgin, and in that case S. John was our Lord’s first cousin. This relationship harmonizes well with the special intimacy granted to the beloved disciple by his Lord, with the fact of S. James also being among the chosen three, and with the final committal of the Virgin to S. John’s care. Salome was one of those women who followed Christ and ministered to Him of their substance’ (Mark 15:40; comp. Matthew 27:55; Luke 8:3). This was probably after Zebedee’s death. S. John’s parents, therefore, would seem to have been people of means; and it is likely from John 19:27 that the Apostle himself was fairly well off, a conclusion to which his acquaintance with the high-priest (John 18:15) also points.

S. John, therefore, like all the Apostles, excepting the traitor, was a Galilean; and this fact may be taken as in some degree accounting for that fieriness of temper which earned for him and his brother the name of ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17). The inhabitants of Galilee, while they had remained to a large extent untouched by the culture of the rest of the nation, remained also untouched by the enervation both in belief and habits which culture commonly brings. Ignorant of the glosses of tradition, they kept the old simple faith in the letter of the Law. Uninterested alike in politics and philosophy, they preferred the sword to intrigue, and industry to speculation. Thus, while the hierarchy jealously scrutinise all the circumstances of Jesus’ position, the Galileans on the strength of a single miracle would ‘take Him by force’ (John 6:14-15) and make Him king. Population was dense and mixed, and between the Syrians and Jews there were often fierce disputes. To this industrious, hardy, and warlike race S. John belonged by birth and residence, sharing its characteristic energy and its impatience of indecision and intrigue. Hence, when the Baptist proclaimed the kingdom of the Messiah, the young fisherman at once became a follower, and pressed steadily onwards until the goal was reached.

Christian art has so familiarised us with a form of almost feminine sweetness as representing the beloved disciple, that the strong energy and even vehemence of his character is almost lost sight of. In his writings as well as in what is recorded of him both in N.T. and elsewhere we find both sides of his character appearing. And indeed though apparently opposed they are not really so; the one may beget the other, and did so in him. The calmness of suppressed emotion leads naturally to passionate utterance, when the fire kindles and at last the tongue speaks.

In yet another way his Galilean origin might influence S. John. The population of the country, as has been said, was mixed. From a boy he would have the opportunity of coming in contact with Greek life and language. Hence that union of Jewish and Greek characteristics which are found in him, and which have led some to the conclusion that the author of the Fourth Gospel was a Greek. We shall find as we go along that the enormous preponderance of Jewish modes of thought and expression, and of Jewish points of view, renders this conclusion absolutely untenable.

The young son of Zebedee was perhaps never at one of the rabbinical schools, which after the fall of Jerusalem made Tiberias a great centre of education, and probably existed in some shape before that. Hence he can be contemptuously spoken of by the hierarchy as an ‘illiterate and common’ person (Acts 4:13). No doubt he paid the usual visits to Jerusalem at the proper seasons, and became acquainted with the grand liturgy of the Temple; a worship which while it kindled his deep spiritual emotions and gave him material for reverent meditation, would insensibly prepare the way for that intense hatred of the hierarchy, who had made the worship there worse than a mockery, which breathes through all the pages of his Gospel.

While he was still a lad, and perhaps already learning to admire and love the impetuosity of his older friend S. Peter, the rising of ‘Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing’ (see on Acts 5:37) took place. Judas, like our own Wat Tyler, raised a revolt against a tax which he held to be tyrannical, and proclaimed that the people had ‘no lord or master but God.’ Whether the boy and his future friend sympathized with the movement we have no means of knowing. But the honest though ill-advised cry of the leaders of this revolt may easily have been remembered by S. John when he heard the false and renegade priests declare to Pilate, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:15).

There was another movement of a very different kind, with which we know that he did sympathize heartily. After centuries of dreary silence, in which it seemed as if Jehovah had deserted His chosen people, a thrill went through the land that God had again visited them, and that a Prophet had once more appeared. His was a call, not to resist foreign taxation or to throw off the yoke of Rome, but to withstand their own temptations and to break the heavy bondage of their own crying sins: ‘Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ S. John heard and followed, and from the Baptist learnt to know and at once to follow ‘the Lamb of God’ that was to do what the lambs provided by man in the Temple could never do—‘take away the sin of the world.’ In the Baptist’s teaching, as in that of Christ, S. John gives us a profounder element than that set forth by the Synoptists. They give repentance as the substance of his preaching. S. John insists rather on his heralding the Messiah. Assuming that the unnamed disciple (John 1:40) is S. John, we infer (John 1:41) that he proceeded to bring his brother S. James to Jesus as S. Andrew had brought S. Peter. But from ‘that day’ (John 1:39), that never to be forgotten day, the whole tenour of the young man’s life was changed. The disciple of the Baptist had become the disciple of Christ.

After remaining with Jesus for a time he seems to have gone back to his old employment; from which he was again called, and possibly more than once (Matthew 4:18; Luke 5:1-11), to become an Apostle and fisher of men. Then the group of the chosen three is formed. At the raising of Jairus’ daughter, at the Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Peter, James, and John’ are admitted to nearer relationship with their Lord than the rest; and on one other solemn occasion, when He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:3), S. Andrew also is with them. In this group, although S. Peter takes the lead, it is S. John who is nearest and dearest to the Lord, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’

On three different occasions the burning temper of the ‘sons of thunder’ displayed itself. [1] ‘And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us’ (Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49); a touch of zealous intolerance which reminds us of Joshua’s zeal against Eldad and Medad (Numbers 11:28), as Christ’s reply recalls the reply of Moses. Probably his brother S. James is included in the ‘we forbad him.’ [2] When the Samaritan villagers refused to receive Him, ‘because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem,’ His disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ (Luke 9:54). Once again their zeal for their Master makes them forget the spirit of their Master. [3] On the last journey to Jerusalem Salome, as the mouthpiece of her two sons (Matthew 20:20; Mark 10:35), begs that they may sit, the one on the Messiah’s right hand, and the other on His left, in His kingdom. This is their bold ambition, shewing that in spite of their close intimacy with Him, they are still grossly ignorant of the nature of His kingdom. And in their reply to His challenge the same bold temper and burning zeal are manifest. They are willing to go through the furnace in order to be near the Son of God. When S. John and his mother stood beside the Cross, and when S. James won the crown of martyrdom, Christ’s challenge was taken up and their aspiration fulfilled.

It will not be necessary to recount at length the history of the last Passover, in which S. John is a prominent figure. As he gives us so much more than the Synoptists about the family at Bethany, we may infer that he was a more intimate friend of Lazarus and His sisters. He and S. Peter prepare the Last Supper (Luke 22:8), at which S. Peter prompts him to ask who is the traitor; and after the betrayal S. John gets his friend introduced into the high-priest’s palace. He followed his Master to judgment and death, was the one Apostle who dared to stand beside the Cross, and received His Mother as a farewell charge (John 18:15, John 19:26-27). His friend’s fall does not break their friendship, and they visit the sepulchre together on Easter morning. (On the characteristics of the two as shewn in this incident see notes on John 20:4-6.) We find them still together in Galilee, seeking refreshment in their suspense by resuming their old calling (John 21:2); and here again their different characters shew themselves (see notes on John 21:7). S. Peter’s thought is ever ‘What must I do?’ S. John’s is rather ‘What will He do?’ The one acts; the other watches and waits. S. Peter cries, ‘Let us make three tabernacles!’ ‘Shall we smite with the sword?’ S. John sees and believes. And the Gospel closes with Christ’s gentle rebuke to S. Peter’s natural curiosity about his friend.

In the Acts S. John appears but seldom, always in connexion with, and always playing a second part to his friend (Acts 3:4; Acts 8:14-25). We lose sight of him at Jerusalem (Acts 8:25) after the return from Samaria; but he was not there at the time of S. Paul’s first visit (Galatians 1:18-19). Some twelve or fifteen years later (c. A.D. 50) he seems to have been at Jerusalem again (Acts 15:6), but for how long we cannot tell. Nor do we know why he left. Excepting his own notice of himself, as being ‘in the island called Patmos for the word and testimony of Jesus’ (Revelation 1:9), the N.T. tells us nothing further respecting him.

(ii) From the Departure from Jerusalem to his Death

For this period, with the exception of the notice in the Apocalypse just quoted, we are entirely dependent upon traditions of very different value. The conjecture that S. John lived at Jerusalem until the death of the Virgin, and that this set him free, is unsupported by evidence. Some think that she accompanied him to Ephesus. The persecution which followed the martyrdom of S. Stephen would loosen S. John’s attachment to Jerusalem. From that time it became less and less the heart of Christendom. It would be during this prolonged residence at Jerusalem that he acquired that minute knowledge of the topography of the city which marks the Fourth Gospel.

It is quite uncertain whether the Apostle went direct from Jerusalem to Ephesus; but of two things we may be confident: [1] that wherever he was he was not idle, [2] that he was not at Ephesus when S. Paul bade farewell to that Church (Acts 20), nor when he wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians, nor when he wrote the Pastoral Epistles. That S. John did work at Ephesus during the latter part of his life may be accepted as certain, unless the whole history of the subapostolic age is to be pronounced doubtful; but neither the date of his arrival nor of his death can be fixed. He is described (Polycrates in Eus. H. E. III. xxxi. 3, v. xxiv. 3) as a priest wearing the sacerdotal plate or mitre (πέταλον) which was a special badge of the high-priest (Exodus 39:30); and we learn from the Apocalypse that from Ephesus as a centre he directed the churches of Asia Minor, which, after the fall of Jerusalem, became the most living portion of Christendom. What persecution drove him to Patmos or caused him to be banished thither is uncertain, as also is the date of his death, which may be placed somewhere near A.D. 100.

Of the traditions which cluster round this latter part of his life three deserve more than a passing mention. [1] John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, crying out, ‘Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall on us, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within’ (Iren. III. iii. 4). Epiphanius (Haer. xxx. 24) substitutes Ebion for Cerinthus. Both Cerinthus and the Ebionites denied the reality of the Incarnation. This tradition, like the incidents recorded, Luke 9:49; Luke 9:54, shews that in later life also the spirit of the ‘son of thunder’ was still alive within him.

[2] After his return from Patmos he made a tour to appoint bishops or presbyters in the cities. In one place a lad of noble bearing attracted his attention, and he specially commended him to the bishop, who instructed and at last baptized him. Then he took less care of him, and the young man went from bad to worse, and at last became chief of a set of bandits. The Apostle revisiting the place remembered him and said, ‘Come, bishop, restore to me my deposit,’ which confounded the bishop, who knew that he had received no money from S. John. ‘I demand the young man, the soul of a brother;’ and then the sad story had to be told. The Apostle called for a horse, and rode at once to the place infested by the bandits and was soon taken by them. When the chief recognised him he turned to fly. But the aged Apostle went after him and entreated him to stay, and by his loving tears and exhortations induced him to return with him to the church, to which in due time he restored him (Eus. H.E. III. xxxiii. from Clement of Alexandria).

[3] Towards the very end of his life, when he was so infirm that he had to be carried to church and was too weak to preach, he used often to say no more than this, ‘Little children, love one another.’ His hearers at last wearied of this, and said, ‘Master, why dost thou always say this?’ ‘It is the Lord’s command,’ he replied, ‘and if this alone is done, it is enough’ (Jerome, Comm. in Ep. ad Gal. VI. 10).

Other traditions may be dismissed more briefly; but the first rests on respectable authority: that he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil at Rome and was none the worse (Tertullian, Praescr. Haer. xxxvi.); that he drank hemlock without being harmed by it; that in his old age he amused himself with a partridge, and pleaded that a bow could not always be bent, but needed relaxation; that after he was buried the earth above him heaved with his breathing, shewing that he was only asleep, tarrying till Christ came. This last strange story S. Augustine is disposed to believe: those who know the place must know whether the soil does move or not; and he has heard it from no untrustworthy people. The belief bears testimony to the unique position held by the last surviving Apostle. Even when he was in his grave Christians refused to believe that they had lost him.

These fragments form a picture, which (as was said at the outset) although very incomplete is harmonious, and so far as it goes distinct. The two sides of his character, tender love and stern intolerance, are the one the complement of the other; and both form part of the intensity of his nature. Intensity of action, intensity of thought and word, intensity of love and hate—these are the characteristics of the beloved disciple. In the best sense of the phrase S. John was ‘a good hater,’ for his hatred was part of his love. It was because he so loved the truth, that he so hated all lukewarmness, unreality, insincerity, and falsehood, and was so stern towards ‘whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.’ It is because he so loved his Lord, that he shews such uncompromising abhorrence of the national blindness that rejected Him and the sacerdotal bigotry that hounded Him to death. Intolerance of evil and of opposition to the truth was sometimes expressed in a way that called for rebuke; but this would become less and less so, as his own knowledge of the Lord and of the spirit of the Gospel deepened. With his eagle gaze more and more fixed on the Sun of Righteousness, he became more and more keenly alive to the awful case of those who ‘loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil’ (John 3:19). With all such men compromise was impossible; and to S. John’s character compromises of all kinds were foreign. To others sin may seem weakness; to him it is simply evil. Eternity for him was a thing not of the future but of the present (John 3:36, John 5:24, John 6:47; John 6:54); and whereas the world tries to make time the measure of eternity, he knows that eternity is the measure of time. Only from the point of view of eternal life, only from its divine side, can this life, both in its nothingness and in its infinite consequences, be rightly estimated: for ‘the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’ (1 John 2:17).

We thus see how at the end of a long life he was specially fitted to write what has been well called ‘the Gospel of Eternity’ and ‘the Gospel of Love.’ It is at the end of life, and when the other side of the grave is in sight, that men can best form an estimate both of this world and of the world to come. If that is true of all men of ordinary seriousness, much more true must it have been of him, who from his youth upwards had been an Apostle, whose head had rested on the Lord’s breast, who had stood beside the Cross, had witnessed the Ascension, had cherished till her death the Mother of the Lord, had seen the Jewish dispensation closed and the Holy City overthrown, and to whom the beatific visions of the Apocalypse had been granted. No wonder therefore if his Gospel seems to be raised above this world and to belong to eternity rather than to time. And hence its other aspect of being also ‘the Gospel of Love:’ for Love is eternal. Faith and Hope are for this world, but can have no place when ‘we shall see Him as He is’ and ‘know even as we are known.’ Love is both for time and for eternity.

“They sin who tell us Love can die,

With life all other passions fly,

All others are but vanity.

In heaven ambition cannot dwell,

Nor avarice in the vaults of hell;

Earthly, these passions of the earth

They perish where they had their birth.

But love is indestructible,

Its holy flame for ever burneth,

From heaven it came, to heaven returneth.

Too oft on earth a troubled guest,

At times deceived, at times oppressed,

It here is tried, and purified,

Then hath in heaven its perfect rest:

It soweth here with toil and care,

But the harvest-time of Love is there.”




The Fourth Gospel is the battle-field of the New Testament, as the Book of Daniel is of the Old: the genuineness of both will probably always remain a matter of controversy. With regard to the Gospel, suspicion respecting it was aroused in some quarters at the outset, but very quickly died out; to rise again, however, with immensely increased force in the eighteenth century, since which time to the present day the question has scarcely ever been allowed to rest. The scope of the present work admits of no more than an outline of the argument being presented.

i. The External Evidence

In this section of the argument two objections are made to the Fourth Gospel: [1] the silence of the Apostolic Fathers; [2] its rejection by Marcion, the Alogi, and perhaps another sect.

[1] The silence of the Apostolic Fathers, if it were a fact, would not be an insuperable difficulty. It is admitted on all sides that the Fourth Gospel was published long after the others, and when they were in possession of the field. There was nothing to lead men to suppose that yet another Gospel would be forthcoming; this alone would make people jealous of its claims. And when, as we shall see, it was found that certain portions of it might be made to assume a Gnostic appearance, jealousy in some quarters became suspicion. The silence, therefore, of the first circle of Christian writers is no more than we might reasonably expect; and when taken in connexion with the universal recognition of the Gospel by the next circle of writers (A.D. 170 onwards), who had far more evidence than has reached us, may be considered as telling for, rather than against the authenticity.

But the silence of the Apostolic Fathers is by no means certain. The EPISTLE OF BARNABAS (c. A.D. 120–130) probably refers to it: Keim is convinced of the fact, although he denies that S. John wrote the Gospel. The shorter Greek form of the IGNATIAN EPISTLES (c. A.D. 150) contains allusions to it, and adaptations of it, which cannot seriously be considered doubtful. Bishop Lightfoot[2] says of the expression ὕδωρ ζῶν (Romans 7) “Doubtless a reference to John 4:10-11, as indeed the whole passage is inspired by the Fourth Gospel,” and of the words οἶδεν πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει (Philad. vii.), “The coincidence (with John 3:8) is quite too strong to be accidental;” and “the Gospel is prior to the passage in Ignatius;” for “the application in the Gospel is natural: the application in Ignatius is strained and secondary.” Again, on the words αὐτὸς ὢν θύρα τοῦ πατρός (Philad. ix.) he says, “Doubtless an allusion to John 10:9.” Comp. ὁ κύριος ἄνευ τοῦ πατρὸς οὐδὲν ἐποίησεν (Magn. vii.) with John 8:28, Magn. viii. with John 8:29, Trall. viii. with John 6:51. The EPISTLE OP POLYCARP (c. A.D. 150) contains almost certain references to the First Epistle of S. John: and as it is admitted that the First Epistle and the Fourth Gospel are by the same hand, evidence in favour of the one may be used as evidence in favour of the other.

Besides these, PAPIAS (martyred about the same time as Polycarp) certainly knew the First Epistle (Eus. H. E. III. xxxix.). BASILIDES (c. a.d. 125) seems to have made use of the Fourth Gospel. JUSTIN MARTYR (c. A.D. 150) knew the Fourth Gospel. This may now be considered as beyond reasonable doubt. Not only does he exhibit types of language and doctrine closely akin to S. John’s (e.g. ὕδωρ ζῶν, λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ, μονογενής, σαρκοποιηθῆναι), but in the Dialogue with Trypho, LXXXVIII. (c. A.D. 146) he quotes the Baptist’s reply, οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἀλλὰ φωνὴ βοῶντος (comp. John 1:20; John 1:23) and in the First Apology, LXI, he paraphrases Christ’s words on the new birth (John 3:3-5). Moreover Justin teaches the great doctrine of S. John’s Prologue, that Jesus Christ is the Word. Keim regards it as certain that Justin knew the Fourth Gospel.

When we pass beyond A.D. 170 the evidence becomes full and clear: TATIAN, the EPISTLE TO THE CHURCHES OF VIENNE AND LYONS, CELSUS, the MURATORIAN FRAGMENT, the CLEMENTINE HOMILIES, THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH (the earliest writer who mentions S. John by name as the author of the Gospel—c. A.D. 175), ATHENAGORAS, IRENAEUS, CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, and TERTULLIAN. Of these none perhaps is more important than IRENAEUS, the pupil of Polycarp, who was the friend of S. John. It never occurs to him to maintain that the Fourth Gospel is the work of S. John; he treats it as a universally acknowledged fact. He not only knows of no time when there were not four Gospels, but with the help of certain quaint arguments he persuades himself that there must be four Gospels, neither more nor less (Haer. III. i. 1, XI. 8: comp. v. xxxvi. 2). So firmly established had the Fourth Gospel become considerably before the end of the second century.

[2] The rejection of the Fourth Gospel by Marcion and some obscure sects is of no serious importance. There is no evidence to shew that the Gospel was rejected on critical grounds; rather because the doctrines which it contained were disliked. This is almost certain in the case of Marcion, and probable enough in the other cases.

Whether the obscure sect mentioned by Irenaeus (Haer. III. xi. 9) as rejecting the Fourth Gospel and the promises of the Paraclete which it contains are the same as those whom Epiphanius with a contemptuous double entendre calls Ἄλογοι (‘devoid of [the doctrine of] the Logos’ or ‘devoid of reason’), is uncertain. But we can easily understand how a party might arise, who in perfectly good faith and with good but mistaken motives might reject the Fourth Gospel both for the doctrine of the Logos and for other peculiarities which seemed to favour the Gnosticism of Cerinthus. None of the Synoptists, none of the Apostles, had thus far used the term Λόγος; and the fact that Cerinthus made use of it must have made its prominence in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel doubly suspicious. Cerinthus maintained that Jesus was a mere man on whom the Logos or Christ descended in the form of a dove at his baptism: and the Fourth Gospel says nothing about the miraculous conception of Christ, or about the wonders that attended and attested His birth, but begins with the Baptism and the descent of the Spirit. The Evangelist pointedly remarks that the miracle at Cana was the first miracle: perhaps this was to insinuate that previous to the Baptism Jesus (being a mere man) could do no miracle. This Gospel omits the Transfiguration, an incident from which a participation of His Human Body in the glory of the Godhead might be inferred. The ‘prince’ or ‘ruler of this world,’ an expression not used previously by any Evangelist or Apostle, might possibly be understood to mean the Demiurgus of the Cerinthian system, the Creator of the world, and the God of the Jews, but inferior to and ignorant of the Supreme God. Again, the Fourth Gospel is silent about the wonders which attended Christ’s death; and this also harmonizes with the system of Cerinthus, who taught that the Logos or Christ departed when Jesus was arrested, and that a mere man suffered on the Cross; for what meaning would there be in the sympathy of nature with the death of a mere man[3]? All this tends to shew that if the Fourth Gospel was rejected in certain quarters for a time, this tells little or nothing against its genuineness. Indeed it may fairly be said to tell the other way; for it shews that the universal recognition of the Gospel, which we find existing from A.D. 170 onwards, was no mere blind enthusiasm, but a victory of truth over baseless though not unnatural suspicion. Moreover, the fact that these over-wary Christians assigned the Gospel to Cerinthus is evidence that the Gospel was in their opinion written by a contemporary of S. John. To concede this is to concede the whole question.

ii. The Internal Evidence

We have seen already that there are some features of this Gospel which would seem to harmonize with a Gnostic system, and that it need not surprise us if some persons in the second century hastily concluded that it savoured of Cerinthus. It is more surprising that modern critics, after a minute study of the Gospel, should think it possible to assign it to a Greek Gnostic of the second century. To say nothing of the general tone of the Gospel, there are two texts which may almost be said to sum up the theology of the Evangelist and which no Gnostic would even have tolerated, much less have written: ‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22). That the Infinite should limit itself and become finite, that the ineffable purity of the Godhead should be united with impure matter, was to a Gnostic a monstrous supposition; and this was what was implied in the Word becoming flesh. Again, that the longed-for salvation of mankind should come from the Jews was a flat contradiction of one of the main principles of Gnosticism, viz. that man’s perfection is to be looked for in the attainment of a higher knowledge of God and the universe, to which the Jew as such had no special claim; on the contrary (as some Gnostics held), the Jews had all along mistaken an inferior being for the Supreme God. While much is promised in the Fourth Gospel to faith in Jesus Christ and union with Him, no rewards are offered to knowledge. On the contrary, knowledge is the fruit of loving obedience (John 7:17). Other passages in the Gospel which are strongly adverse to the theory of a Gnostic authorship will be pointed out in the notes (see on John 3:14, John 6:21, John 10:35, John 19:35, John 20:31). And here the Gnostics themselves are our witnesses, and that in the second century. Although the Fourth Gospel was frequently used against them, they never denied its genuineness. They tried to explain away what told against them, but they never attempted to question the Apostolic authority of the Gospel.

But the Gospel not only contains both direct and indirect evidence which contradicts this particular hypothesis; it also supplies both direct and indirect evidence of the true hypothesis.

[1] There is direct evidence that the author was an eyewitness of what he relates. In two places (according to far the most reasonable, if not the only reasonable interpretation of the words) the Evangelist claims for himself the authority of an eyewitness: in a third he either claims it for himself or others claim it for him. ‘We beheld His glory’ (John 1:14), especially when taken in conjunction with ‘which we beheld and our hands handled’ (1 John 1:1), cannot well mean anything else. Scarcely less doubtful is ‘He that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true, &c.’ (John 19:35). ‘This is the disciple who witnesseth concerning these things, and who wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true’ (John 21:24), even if it be the addition of another hand, is direct testimony to the fact that the Evangelist gives us not second-hand information, but what he himself has heard and seen. (See notes in all three places.)

Of course it would be easy for a forger to make such a claim; and accomplices or dupes might support him. But it would also be easy in so wide a field of narrative to test the validity of the claim, and this we will proceed to do by examining the indirect evidence. First, however, it will be well to state the enormous difficulties which would confront a writer who proposed in the second century to forge a Gospel.

The condition of Palestine during the life of Jesus Christ was unique. The three great civilisations of the world were intermingled there; Rome, the representative of law and conquest; Greece, the representative of philosophical speculation and commerce; Judaism, the representative of religion. The relations of these three elements to one another were both intricate and varied. In some particulars there was a combination between two or more of them; as in the mode of conducting the census (Luke 2:3) and of celebrating the Passover (see on John 13:23); in others there was the sharpest opposition, as in very many ceremonial observances. Moreover, of these three factors it was exceedingly difficult for the two that were Gentile to comprehend the third. The Jew always remained an enigma to his neighbours, especially to those from the West. This was owing partly to proud reserve on his part and contempt on theirs, partly to the inability of each side to express itself in terms that would be intelligible to the other, so utterly different were and still are Eastern and Western modes of thought. Again, if a Greek or Roman of the first century had taken the pains to study Jewish literature with a view to becoming thoroughly acquainted with this strange people, his knowledge of them would still have remained both defective and misleading, so much had been added or changed by tradition and custom. To a Gentile of the second century this difficulty would be very greatly increased; for Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jewish nation had been once more scattered abroad on the face of the earth. With the destruction of the Temple the keeping of the Mosaic Law had become a physical impossibility; and the Jews who had lost their language in the Captivity had now to a large extent lost the ceremonial law. Even a Jew of the second century might easily be mistaken as to the usages of his nation in the early part of the first. How much more, then, would a Gentile be likely to go astray! We may say, therefore, that the intricate combination of Jewish and Gentile elements in Palestine between A.D. 1 and A.D. 50 was such that no one but a Jew living in the country at the time would be able to master them; and that the almost total destruction of the Jewish element in the latter part of the century would render a proper appreciation of the circumstances a matter of the utmost difficulty even to a careful antiquarian. Finally, we must remember that antiquarian research in those days was almost unknown; and that to undertake it in order to give an accurate setting to a historical fiction was an idea that was not born until long after the second century. We may safely say that no Greek of that age would ever have dreamed of going through the course of archæological study necessary for attempting the Fourth Gospel; and even if he had, the attempt would still have been a manifest failure. He would have fallen into far more numerous and far more serious errors than those which critics (with what success we shall see hereafter) have tried to bring home to the Fourth Evangelist (see on John 11:49).

[2] There is abundant indirect evidence to shew that the writer of the Fourth Gospel was a Jew, and a Jew of Palestine, who was an eyewitness of most of the events which he relates. If this can be made out with something like certainty, the circle of possible authors will be very much reduced. But in this circle of possible authors we are not left to conjecture. There is further evidence to shew that he was an Apostle, and the Apostle S. John. (See Sanday, Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, Chap. xxi.)


He is perfectly at home in Jewish opinions and points of view. Conspicuous among these are the ideas respecting the Messiah current at the time (John 1:19-28; John 1:45-49; John 1:51; John 4:25; John 6:14-15; John 7:26-27; John 7:31; John 7:40-42; John 7:52; John 12:13; John 12:34; John 19:15; John 19:21). Besides these we have the hostility between Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9; John 4:20; John 4:22; John 8:48); estimate of women (John 4:27), of the national schools (John 7:15), of the uneducated (John 7:49), of the ‘Dispersion (John 7:35), of Abraham and the Prophets (John 8:52-53), &c. &c.

He is quite familiar also with Jewish usages and observances. Among these we may notice baptism (John 1:25, John 3:22-23, John 4:2), purification (John 2:6, John 3:25, John 11:55, John 18:28, John 19:31), the Jewish Feasts, especially the F. of Dedication which is mentioned neither in O.T. nor in the Synoptics (John 2:13; John 2:23, John 5:1, John 6:4, John 7:2; John 7:37, John 10:22, John 13:1, John 18:28, John 19:31; John 19:42), circumcision and the Sabbath (John 7:22-23), law of evidence (John 8:17-18), embalming (John 19:40).

The form of the Gospel, especially the style of the narrative, is essentially Jewish. The language is Greek, but the arrangement of the thoughts, to some extent the structure of the sentences, and a great deal of the vocabulary are Hebrew. And the source of this Hebrew form is the O.T. This is shewn not only by frequent quotations but by the imagery employed;—the lamb, the brazen serpent, the living water, the manna, the shepherd, the vine, &c. And not only so, but the Christian theology of the Evangelist is based upon the theology of the O.T. ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22); Moses wrote of Christ (John 5:46; John 1:45); Abraham saw His day (John 8:56); He was typified in the brazen serpent (John 3:14), the manna (John 6:32), the paschal lamb (John 19:36); perhaps also in the water from the rock (John 7:37) and the pillar of fire (John 8:12). Much that He did was done ‘that the Scripture might be fulfilled’ (John 13:18, John 17:12, John 19:24; John 19:28; John 19:36-37; comp. John 2:22, John 20:9): and these fulfilments of Scripture are noticed not as interesting coincidences, but ‘that ye may believe’ (John 19:35). Judaism is the foundation of the Christian faith. No one but a Jew could have handled the O.T. Scriptures in this way.


This is shewn chiefly by his topographical knowledge, which he uses both with ease and precision. In mentioning a fresh place he commonly throws in some fact respecting it, adding clearness or interest to the narrative. A forger would avoid such gratuitous statements, as being unnecessary and likely by being wrong to lead to detection. Thus, one Bethany is ‘nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off’ (John 11:18), the other is ‘beyond Jordan,’ (John 1:28); Bethsaida is ‘the city of Andrew and Peter’ (John 1:44); ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth’ (John 1:46); Cana is ‘of Galilee’ (John 2:1, John 21:2), and one ‘goes down’ from Cana to Capernaum (John 4:47); Aenon is ‘near to Salim,’ and there are ‘many waters’ there (John 3:23); Sychar is ‘a city of Samaria, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there’ (John 4:5); Ephraim is a city ‘near to the wilderness’ (John 11:54). Comp. the minute local knowledge implied in John 6:22-24, John 4:11-12; John 4:20, John 2:12.

This familiarity with topography is the more remarkable in the case of Jerusalem, which (as all are agreed) was destroyed before the Fourth Gospel was written. He knows of the traffic in the Temple and of what it consisted (John 2:6); Bethesda is ‘a pool by the sheep-gate, having five porches’ (John 5:2); Siloam is ‘a pool, which is by interpretation Sent’ (John 9:7); Solomon’s porch is ‘in the Temple’ (John 10:23). Comp. the minute knowledge of the city and suburbs implied in John 8:20, John 11:18, John 18:1; John 18:28, John 19:13; John 19:17-20; John 19:41-42.

The way in which the author quotes the O.T. points to the same conclusion. He is not dependent on the LXX. for his knowledge of the Scriptures, as a Greek-speaking Jew born out of Palestine would very likely have been: he appears to know the original Hebrew, which had become a dead language, and was not much studied outside Palestine. Out of fourteen quotations three agree with the Hebrew against the LXX. (John 6:45, John 13:18, John 19:37); not one agrees with the LXX. against the Hebrew. The majority are neutral, either agreeing with both, or differing from both, or being free adaptations rather than citations. (See also on John 12:13; John 12:15.)

The Evangelist’s doctrine of the Logos or Word confirms us in the belief that he is a Jew of Palestine. The form which this doctrine assumes in the Prologue is Palestinian rather than Alexandrian. (See note on ‘the Word,’ John 1:1.)


The narrative is crowded with figures, which are no mere nonentities to fill up space, but which live and move. Where they appear on the scene more than once, their action throughout is harmonious, and their characteristics are indicated with a simplicity and distinctness which would be the most consummate art if it were not taken from real life. And where in the literature of the second century can we find such skilful delineation of fictitious characters as is shewn in the portraits given to us of the Baptist, the beloved disciple, Peter, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, Pilate, Nicodemus, Martha and Mary, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind? Even the less prominent persons are thoroughly lifelike and real; Nathanael, Judas not Iscariot, Caiaphas, Annas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph.

Exact notes of time are frequent; not only seasons, as the Jewish Feasts noticed above, but days (John 1:29; John 1:35; John 1:43, John 2:1, John 4:40; John 4:43, John 6:22, John 7:14; John 7:37, John 11:6; John 11:17; John 11:39, John 12:1; John 12:12, John 19:31, John 20:1; John 20:26) and hours (John 1:39, John 4:6; John 4:52, John 19:14; comp. John 3:2, John 6:16, John 13:30, John 18:28, John 20:1; John 20:19, John 21:4).

The Evangelist sometimes knows the exact or approximate number of persons (John 1:35, John 4:18, John 6:10, John 19:23) and objects (John 2:6, John 6:9; John 6:19, John 19:39, John 21:8; John 21:11) mentioned in his narrative.

Throughout the Gospel we have examples of graphic and vivid description, which would be astounding if they were not the result of personal observation. Strong instances of this would be the accounts of the cleansing of the Temple (John 2:14-16), the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:5-14), the healing of the man born blind (John 9:6-7), the feet-washing (John 13:4-5; John 13:12), the betrayal (John 18:1-13), almost all the details of the Passion (18, 19), the visit to the sepulchre (John 20:3-8).

To this it must be added that the state of the text of the Gospel, as we find it quoted by early writers, shews that before the end of the second century there were already a great many variations of readings in existence. Such things take time to arise and multiply. This consideration compels us to believe that the original document must have been made at a time when eyewitnesses of the Gospel history were still living. See notes on John 1:13; John 1:18, John 7:8 and John 9:35.


He knows the thoughts of the disciples on certain occasions, thoughts which sometimes surprise us, and which no writer of fiction would have attributed to them (John 2:11; John 2:17; John 2:22, John 4:27, John 6:19; John 6:60, John 12:16, John 13:22; John 13:28, John 20:9, John 21:12). He knows also words that were spoken by the disciples in private to Christ or among themselves (John 4:31; John 4:33, John 9:2, John 11:8; John 11:12; John 11:16, John 16:17; John 16:29). He is familiar with the haunts of the disciples (John 11:54, John 18:2, John 20:19). Above all, he is one who was very intimate with the Lord; for he knows His motives (John 2:24-25, John 4:1-3, John 5:6, John 6:6; John 6:15, John 7:1, John 13:1; John 13:3; John 13:11, John 16:19, John 18:4, John 19:28) and can bear witness to His feelings (John 11:33; John 11:38, John 13:21).


The contents of the two previous sections are almost sufficient to prove this last point. We know from the Synoptists that three disciples were specially intimate with Jesus, Peter, James, and his brother John. S. Peter cannot be our Evangelist: he was put to death long before the very earliest date to which the Fourth Gospel can be assigned. Moreover the style of the Gospel is quite unlike the undoubted First Epistle of S. Peter. Still less can S. James be the author, for he was martyred long before S. Peter. Only S. John remains, and he not only entirely fits in with the details already noticed, but also having long outlived the rest of the Apostles he is the one person who could have written a Gospel considerably later in date than the other three.

But we have not yet exhausted the evidence. The concluding note (John 21:24) declares that the Gospel was written by ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (ἠγάπα, John 21:20). This disciple is mentioned in three other places under the same title (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 21:7;—John 20:2 is different). He is some one who is intimate with S. Peter (John 13:24, John 21:7; comp. John 18:15, John 20:2), and this we already know from the Synoptists that S. John was, and we learn from the Acts that he remained so (John 3:1; John 3:3; John 3:11, John 4:13; John 4:19, John 8:14). He is one of those enumerated in John 21:1, and unless he is one of the two unnamed disciples he must be S. John.

One more point, a small one, but of very great significance, remains. The Fourth Evangelist carefully distinguishes places and persons. He distinguishes Cana ‘of Galilee’ (John 2:1, John 21:2) from Cana of Asher; Bethany ‘beyond Jordan’ (John 1:28) from Bethany ‘nigh unto Jerusalem’ (John 11:18); Bethsaida, ‘the city of Andrew and Peter’ (John 1:44), from Bethsaida Julias. He distinguishes also Simon Peter after his call from others named Simon by invariably adding the new name Peter, whereas the Synoptists often call him simply Simon. The traitor Judas is distinguished as the ‘son of Simon’ (John 6:71, John 12:4, John 13:2; John 13:26) from the other Judas, who is expressly said to be ‘not Iscariot’ (John 14:22), while the Synoptists take no notice of the traitor’s parentage. S. Thomas is thrice for the sake of additional clearness pointed out as the same who was called Didymus (John 11:16, John 20:24, John 21:2), a name not given by the Synoptists. Comp. the careful identification of Nicodemus (John 19:39) and of Caiaphas (John 11:49, John 18:13). And yet the Fourth Evangelist altogether neglects to make a distinction which the Synoptists do make. They distinguish John the son of Zebedee from his namesake by frequently calling the latter ‘the Baptist’ (more than a dozen times in all). The Fourth Evangelist never does so; to him the Baptist is simply ‘John.’ He himself being the other John, there is for him no chance of confusion, and it does not occur to him to mark the distinction.

iii. Answers to objections

We are now on too firm ground to be shaken by isolated difficulties. It would take a great many difficulties of detail to counterbalance the difficulty of believing that the Fourth Gospel was written by some one who was neither an Apostle nor even a contemporary. But there are certain difficulties supposed to be involved in the theory that the Evangelist is S. John the Apostle, some of which are important and deserve a separate answer. They are mainly these;—

[1] The marked dissimilarity between the Fourth Gospel and the three others.

[2] The marked dissimilarity between the Fourth Gospel and the Revelation.

[3] The difficulty of believing that S. John (a) would have “studiously elevated himself in every way above the Apostle Peter;” (b) would have magnified himself above all as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’

[4] The use made by S. Polycarp of S. John’s authority in the Paschal controversy.

[1] The answer to the first of these objections will be found below in Chapter 6 of the Introduction, and in the introductory note to Chapter 3 of the Gospel.

[2] The answer to the second belongs rather to the Introduction to the Apocalypse. The answer to it is to a large extent a further answer to the first objection; for “the Apocalypse is doctrinally the uniting link between the Synoptists and the Fourth Gospel” (Westcott). The Gospel is a summary of Christian Theology; the Apocalypse is a summary of Christian Politics. The one exhibits the ideal life in God in the perfect Man, the other exhibits it in the perfect community. Great as are the differences between the two, the leading ideas of both are the same. The one gives us in a magnificent vision, the other in a great historic drama, the supreme conflict between good and evil and its issue. In both Jesus Christ is the central figure, whose victory through defeat is the issue of the conflict. In both the Jewish dispensation is the preparation for the Gospel, and the warfare and triumph of the Christ is described in language saturated with the O.T. Some remarkable similarities of detail will be pointed out in the notes (see on John 1:14; John 4:6; John 7:30; John 11:44; John 13:8; John 15:20; John 19:13; John 19:17; John 19:20; John 19:37). Difference of date will go a long way towards explaining the great difference of style. And there are good reasons for believing that the Apocalypse was written early in S. John’s life, before he had mastered the Greek language, and the Gospel and Epistle late in his life, after he had done so.

(3 a) The question, ‘How could S. John have studiously elevated himself in every way above the Apostle Peter?’ reminds us of the famous question of Charles II. to the Royal Society. The answer to it is that S. John does nothing of the kind. In his whole narrative he speaks only thrice, and then very briefly; ‘Rabbi, where abidest Thou?’ (John 1:38); ‘Lord, who is it?’ (John 13:25); ‘It is the Lord!’ (John 21:7). S. Peter takes the lead in the Fourth Gospel as in the other three. His introduction to Christ and significant naming stand at the very opening of the Gospel (41, 42); he answers in the name of the Twelve (John 6:68); he is prominent if not first at the feet-washing (John 13:6); he directs S. John to find out who is the traitor (John 13:24); he takes the lead in defending his Master at the betrayal (John 18:10); the news of the Resurrection is brought to him first (John 20:2); his companion does not venture to enter the sepulchre until he has done so (John 20:6-8); he is mentioned first in the list of disciples given John 21:2, and there takes the lead (John 21:3); he continues to take the lead when Jesus appears to them (John 21:7; John 21:11); he receives the last great charge, with which the Gospel concludes (John 21:15-22).

(b) To suppose that the phrase ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ implies self-glorification at the expense of others is altogether to misunderstand it. It is not impossible that the designation was given to him by others before he used it of himself. At any rate the affection of the Lord for him was so well known that such a title would be well suited for an oblique indication of the author’s personality. Besides thus gently placing us behind the scenes the phrase serves two purposes: [1] it is a permanent expression of gratitude on the part of the Evangelist for the transcendent benefit bestowed upon him; [2] it is a modest explanation of the prominent part which he was called upon to play on certain occasions. Why was he singled out (John 13:23) to be told who was the traitor? Why was the care of the Lord’s Mother (John 19:26) entrusted to him? Why was he allowed to recognise the Lord at the sea of Tiberias (John 21:7) before any of the rest did so? The recipient of these honours has only one explanation to give: Jesus loved him.

[4] In the controversy as to the right time of keeping Easter S. Polycarp defended the Asiatic custom of keeping the Christian Passover at the same time as the Jewish Passover, viz. the evening of the 14th Nisan, “because he had always (so) observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the Apostles, with whom he associated” (Eus. H. E. v. xxiv. 16). On this ground he refused to yield to Anicetus, Bishop of Rome, though he did not require Anicetus to give way to him. But, as we shall see (Appendix A), the Fourth Gospel clearly represents the Crucifixion as taking place on the 14th Nisan, and the Last Supper as taking place the evening before. Therefore, either Polycarp falsely appeals to S. John’s authority (which is most improbable), or the Fourth Gospel is not by S. John. But this objection confuses two things, the Christian Passover or Easter, and the Last Supper or institution of the Eucharist. The latter point was not in dispute at all. The question debated was whether the Christian Churches in fixing the time of Easter were to follow the Jewish Calendar exactly or a Christian modification of it. S. Polycarp claimed S. John as sanctioning the former plan, and nothing in the Fourth Gospel is inconsistent with such a view. Schürer, who denies the authenticity of the Gospel, has shewn that no argument against the authenticity can be drawn from the Paschal controversy.



Tradition is unanimous in giving Ephesus as the place where S. John resided during the latter part of his life, and where the Fourth Gospel was written. There is no sufficient reason for doubting this strong testimony, which may be accepted as practically certain.

There is also strong evidence to shew that the Gospel was written at the request of the elders and disciples of the Christian Churches of Asia. We have this on the early and independent authority of the Muratorian Fragment (c. A.D. 170) and of Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 190); and it is confirmed by Jerome. No doubt S. John had often delivered the contents of his Gospel orally; and the elders wished before he died to preserve it in a permanent form. Moreover, difficulties had arisen in the Church which called for a recasting of Apostolic doctrine. The destruction of Jerusalem had given altogether a new turn to Christianity: it had severed the lingering and hampering connexion with Judaism; it had involved a readjustment of the interpretations of Christ’s promises about His return. Again, the rise of a Christian philosophy, shading off by strange compromises and foreign colouring into mere pagan speculation, called for a fresh statement, in terms adequate to the emergency, and by a voice sufficient in authority, of Christian truth. There is both external and internal evidence to shew that a crisis of this kind was the occasion of the Fourth Gospel.

The precise date cannot be determined with certainty. There are indications in the Gospel itself that it was written late in the author’s life-time. In his narrative he seems to be looking back after a long lapse of time (John 7:39, John 21:19). And as we study it, we feel that it is the result of a larger experience of God’s Providence and of a wider comprehension of the meaning of His Kingdom than was possible at the time when the other Evangelists, especially the first two of them, wrote their Gospels. As compared with them, it exhibits a marked development of doctrine. All this induces us to place the date of the Fourth Gospel as late as possible; and tradition (as we have seen pp. xvii, xviii) represents S. John as living to extreme old age. S. John would not begin to teach at Ephesus until some time after S. Paul left it, i.e. not much before A.D. 70. If Irenaeus is right in saying that S. Luke’s Gospel was not written till after the death of S. Peter and S. Paul (Haer. III. John 1:1), this would again place the writing of the Fourth Gospel considerably later than A.D. 70. It is not improbable that the first twenty chapters were written a considerable time before the Gospel was published, that the last chapter was added some years later, and then the whole given to the Church (see introductory note to chap. 21). S. John may have lived almost if not quite to the end of the century; therefore from A.D. 80 to 95 would seem to be the period within which it is probable that the Gospel was published.

Those who deny that S. John is the author have tried almost every date from A.D. 110 to 165. Dividing this period into two, we have this dilemma:—If the Gospel was published between 110 and 140, why did not the hundreds of Christians, who had known S. John during his later years, denounce it as a forgery? If it was not published till between 140 and 165, how did it become universally accepted by 170?



i. The Object

These two subjects, the object and the plan, naturally go together, for the one to a large extent determines the other: the purpose with which the Evangelist wrote his Gospel greatly influences the form which it assumes. What that purpose was he tells us plainly himself: ‘These have been written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name’ (John 20:31). His object is not to write the life of Christ; if it were, we might wonder that out of his immense stores of personal knowledge he has not given us a great deal more than he has done. Rather, out of these abundant stores he has made a careful and self-denying selection with a view to producing a particular effect upon his readers, and by means of that effect to open to them an inestimable benefit. In this way his object manifestly influences his plan. He might have given himself the delight of pouring forth streams of information, which he alone possessed, to a community ardently thirsting for it. But such prodigality would have obscured rather than strengthened his argument: he therefore rigidly limits himself in order to produce the desired effect. His narrative, most fragmentary as a biography, is complete as a Gospel.

The effect is twofold: [1] to create a belief that Jesus is the Christ; [2] to create a belief that Jesus is the Son of God. The first truth is primarily for the Jew; the second is primarily for the Gentile; then both are for all united. The first truth leads the Jew to become a Christian; the second raises the Gentile above the barriers of Jewish exclusiveness; the two together bring eternal life to both.

To the Jews the Evangelist would prove that Jesus, the Man who had been known to them personally or historically by that name, is the Christ, the Messiah for whom they had been looking, in whom all types and prophecies have been fulfilled, to whom therefore the fullest allegiance is due. To the Gentiles the Evangelist would prove that this same Jesus, of whom they also have heard, is the Son of God, the Only God, theirs as well as His, the Universal Father, their Father as well as His; whose Son’s mission, therefore, must be coextensive with His Father’s family and kingdom. Long before the promise was made to Abraham ‘all things came into being through Him’ (John 1:3): if therefore the Jews had a claim on the Christ, the Gentiles had a still older claim on the Son of God.

These two great truths, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Jesus is the Son of God, being recognised and believed, the blessed result follows that believers have life in His name, i.e. in Him as revealed to them in the character which His name implies. There is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all; all are one in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28).

There is no need to look for any additional object over and above that which the Evangelist himself states; although this is frequently done. Thus from the time of Irenaeus (Haer. III. 11.) it has been common to say that S. John wrote his Gospel against Cerinthus and other heretics. By clearly teaching the main truths of the Gospel S. John necessarily refutes errors; and it is possible that here and there some particular form of error was in his mind when he wrote: but the refutation of error is not his object in writing. If his Gospel is not a life of Christ, still less is it a polemical treatise.

Again, from the time of Eusebius (H. E. III. xxiv. 11) and earlier it has been maintained that S. John wrote to supplement the Synoptists, recording what had not been recorded by them. No doubt he does supplement them to a large extent, especially as regards the ministry in Judaea: but it does not follow from this that he wrote in order to supplement them. Where something not recorded by them would suit his purpose equally well he would naturally prefer it; but he has no hesitation in retelling what has already been told by one, two, or even all three of them, if he requires it for the object which he has in view (see introductory note to chap. 6).

ii. The Plan

In no Gospel is the plan so manifest as in the Fourth. Perhaps we may say of the others that they scarcely have a plan. We may divide and subdivide them for our own convenience; but there is no clear evidence that the three Evangelists had any definite scheme before them in putting together the fragments of Gospel history which they have preserved for us. It is quite otherwise with the Fourth Evangelist. The different scenes from the life of Jesus Christ which he puts before us, are not only carefully selected but carefully arranged, leading up step by step to the conclusion expressed in the confession of S. Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God.’ But if there is a development of faith and love on the one side in those who accept and follow Jesus, so also there is a development of unbelief and hatred on the other in those who reject and persecute Him. ‘The Word became flesh;’ but, inasmuch as He was not generally recognised and welcomed, His presence in the world necessarily involved a separation and a conflict; a separation of light from darkness, truth from falsehood, good from evil, life from death, and a conflict between the two. It is the critical episodes in that conflict round the person of the Incarnate Word that the Evangelist places before us one by one. These various episodes taken one by one go far to shew,—taken altogether and combined with the issue of the conflict irrefragably prove,—‘that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.’

The main outlines of the plan are these:—


1. The Word in His own Nature (John 1:1-5)

2. His revelation to men and rejection by them (John 1:6-13)

3. His revelation of the Father (John 1:14-18)


a. The Testimony (John 1:19-51)

1. of John the Baptist (John 1:19-37)

2. of the disciples (John 1:38-51)

3. of the first sign (John 2:1-11)

b. The Work (John 2:13 to John 11:57)

1. among Jews (John 2:13 to John 3:36)

2. among Samaritans (John 4:1-42)

3. among Galileans (John 4:43-54)

(The work has become a Conflict) 4. among mixed multitudes (John 5-11)

c. The Judgment [12]

1. of men (John 12:1-36)

2. of the Evangelist (John 12:37-43)

3. of Christ (John 12:44-50)

Close of Christ’s public ministry


d. The inner Glorification of Christ in His last Discourses (John 13-17)

1. His love in humiliation (John 13:1-30)

2. His love in keeping His own (John 13:31 to John 15:27)

3. The promise of the Comforter and of His return (John 16)

4. The prayer of the High-Priest (John 17)

e. The outer Glorification of Christ in His Passion (John 18, 19)

1. The betrayal (John 18:1-11)

2. The ecclesiastical trial (John 18:12-27)

3. The civil trial (John 18:28 to John 19:16)

4. The crucifixion and burial (John 19:17-42)

f. The Resurrection (John 20)

1. The manifestation to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18)

2. The manifestation to the ten (John 20:19-23)

3. The manifestation to S. Thomas with the ten (John 20:24-29)

4. The conclusion (John 20:30-31)


It is worth noting that, unlike the Synoptists, S. John begins and ends his narrative with personal experiences; the first great crisis in his life, when from the Baptist he passed to the Christ, and the second, when ‘he saw and believed;’ or, if we include the Appendix, when he received the commission to wait for his Lord.



Here again, only a few leading points can be noticed: the subject is capable of almost indefinite expansion.

1. From the time of Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 190) this Gospel has been distinguished as a ‘SPIRITUAL GOSPEL’ (Eus. H. E. VI. xiv. 7). The Synoptists give us mainly the external acts of Jesus Christ: S. John lays before us glimpses of the inner life and spirit of the Son of God. Their narrative is chiefly composed of His manifold and ceaseless dealings with men: in S. John we have rather his tranquil and unbroken union with His Father. The heavenly element which forms the background of the first three Gospels is the atmosphere of the Fourth.

It is quite in harmony with this characteristic of the Gospel that it should contain such a much larger proportion of Christ’s words than we find in the others: discourses here form the principal part, especially in the latter half of the Gospel. Not even in the Sermon on the Mount do we learn so much of ‘the spirit of Christ’ as in the discourses recorded by S. John. And what is true of the central figure is true also of the numerous characters which give such life and definiteness to S. John’s narrative: they also make themselves known to us by what they say rather than by what they do. And this suggests to us a second characteristic.

2. No Gospel is so rich in TYPICAL but thoroughly REAL AND LIFELIKE GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS as the Fourth. They are sketched, or rather by their words are made to sketch themselves, with a vividness and precision which, as already observed, is almost proof that the Evangelist was an eyewitness of what he records, and an eyewitness of immense receptive power.

Among the groups we have the disciples strangely misunderstanding Christ (John 4:33, John 11:12) yet firmly believing on Him (John 16:30); His brethren, dictating a policy to him and not believing on Him (John 7:3-5); John’s disciples, with their jealousy for the honour of their master (John 3:26); the Samaritans, proud to believe from their own experience rather than on the testimony of a woman (John 4:42); the multitude, sometimes thinking Jesus possessed, sometimes thinking Him the Christ (John 7:20; John 7:26; John 7:41); the Jews, claiming to be Abraham’s seed and seeking to kill the Messiah (John 8:33; John 8:37; John 8:40); the Pharisees, haughtily asking, ‘Hath any one of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?’ (John 7:48) and ‘Are we also blind?’ (John 9:40); the chief priests, professing to fear that Christ’s success will be fatal to the national existence (John 11:48), and declaring to Pilate that they have no king but Caesar (John 19:15). In the sketching of these groups nothing is more conclusive evidence of the Evangelist being contemporary with his narrative than the way in which the conflict and fluctuations between belief and unbelief among the multitude and ‘the Jews’ is indicated.

The types of individual character are still more varied, and as in the case of the groups they exemplify both sides in the great conflict, as well as those who wavered between the two. On the one hand we have the Mother of the Lord (John 2:3-5, John 19:25-27), the beloved disciple and his master the Baptist (John 1:6-37, John 3:23-36), S. Andrew and Mary of Bethany, all unfailing in their allegiance; S. Peter falling and rising again to deeper love (John 18:27, John 21:17); S. Philip rising from eager to firm faith (John 14:8), S. Thomas from desponding and despairing love (John 11:16, John 20:25) to faith, hope, and love (John 20:28). There is the sober but uninformed faith of Martha (John 11:21; John 11:24; John 11:27), the passionate affection of Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18). Among conversions we have the instantaneous but deliberate conviction of Nathanael (John 1:49), the gradual but courageous progress in belief of the schismatical Samaritan woman (see on John 4:19) and of the uninstructed man born blind (see on John 11:21), and in contrast with both the timid, hesitating confessions of Nicodemus, the learned Rabbi (John 3:1, John 7:50, John 19:39). On the other side we have the cowardly wavering of Pilate (John 18:38-39, John 19:1-4; John 19:8; John 19:12; John 19:16), the unscrupulous resoluteness of Caiaphas (John 11:49-50), and the blank treachery of Judas (John 13:27, John 18:2-5). Among the minor characters there are the ‘ruler of the feast’ (John 2:9-10), the ‘nobleman’ (John 4:49), the man healed at Bethesda (John 5:7; John 5:11; John 5:14-15).

If these groups and individuals are creations of the imagination, it is no exaggeration to say that the author of the Fourth Gospel is a genius superior to Shakspere.

3. From typical characters we pass on to typical or symbolical events. SYMBOLISM is a third characteristic of this Gospel. Not merely does it contain the three great allegories of the Sheep-fold, the Good Shepherd, and the Vine, from which Christian art has drawn its symbolism from the very earliest times; but the whole Gospel from end to end is penetrated with the spirit of symbolical representation. In nothing is this more apparent than in the eight miracles which the Evangelist has selected for the illustration of his Divine Epic. His own word for them leads us to expect this: to him they are not so much miracles as ‘signs.’ The first two are introductory, and seem to be pointed out as such by S. John (John 2:11, John 4:54). The turning of the water into wine exhibits the Messiah’s sovereign power over inanimate matter, the healing of the official’s son His power over the noblest of living bodies. Moreover they teach two great lessons which lie at the very root of Christianity; [1] that Christ’s Presence hallows the commonest events and turns the meanest elements into the richest; [2] that the way to win blessings is to trust the Bestower of them. The third sign, healing the paralytic, shews the Messiah as the great Restorer, repairing the physical as well as the spiritual ravages of sin (John 5:14). In the feeding of the 5000 the Christ appears as the Support of life, in the walking on the sea as the Guardian and Guide of His followers. The giving of sight to the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus shew that He is the source of Light and of Life to men. The last sign, wrought by the Risen Christ, sums up and concludes the whole series (John 21:1-12). Fallen man, restored, fed, guided, enlightened, delivered from the terrors of death, passes to the everlasting shore of peace, where the Lord is waiting to receive him.

In Nicodemus coming by night (John 3:2), in Judas going out into the night (John 13:30), in the stormy weather at the Feast of the Dedication (John 10:22), in the dusky ravine through which the Messiah goes to meet His Passion (John 18:1), in the dividing of Christ’s garments, and the blood and water from His side (John 19:24; John 19:34), &c. &c., we seem to have instances of the same love of symbolism. These historical details are singled out for notice because of the lesson which lies behind them. And if we ask for the source of this mode of teaching, there cannot be a doubt about the answer: it is the form in which almost all the lessons of the Old Testament are conveyed. This leads us to another characteristic.

4. Though written in Greek, S. John’s Gospel is in thought and tone, and sometimes in the form of expression also, thoroughly HEBREW, AND BASED ON THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES. Much has been already said on this point in Chapter II. ii. [2] in shewing that the Evangelist must have been a Jew. The Gospel sets forth two facts in tragic contrast: [1] that the Jewish Scriptures in endless ways, by commands, types, and prophecies, pointed and led up to the Christ; [2] that precisely the people who possessed these Scriptures, and studied them most diligently, failed to recognise the Christ or refused to believe in Him. In this aspect the Gospel is a long comment on the mournful text, ‘Ye search the Scriptures; because in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me. And ye will not come to Me, that ye may have life’ (John 5:39-40). To shew, therefore, the way out of this tragical contradiction between a superstitious reverence for the letter of the law and a scornful rejection of its true meaning, S. John writes his Gospel. He points out to his fellow-countrymen that they are right in taking the Scriptures for their guide, ruinously wrong in the use they make of them: Abraham, Moses and the Prophets, rightly understood, will lead them to adore Him whom they have crucified. This he does, not merely in general statements (John 1:45, John 4:22, John 5:39; John 5:46), but in detail, both by allusions; e.g. to Jacob (John 1:47; John 1:51) and to the rock in the wilderness (John 7:37), and by direct references; e.g. to Abraham (7:56), to the brazen serpent (John 3:14), to the Bridegroom (John 3:29), to the manna (John 6:49), to the paschal lamb (John 19:36), to the Psalms (John 2:17, John 10:34, John 13:18, John 19:24; John 19:37), to the Prophets generally (John 6:45, [John 7:38]), to Isaiah (John 12:38; John 12:40), to Zechariah (John 12:15), to Micah (John 7:42).

All these passages (and more might easily be added) tend to shew that the Fourth Gospel is saturated with the thoughts, imagery, and language of the O.T. “Without the basis of the Old Testament, without the fullest acceptance of the unchanging divinity of the Old Testament, the Gospel of S. John is an insoluble riddle” (Westcott, Introduction, p. lxix.).

5. Yet another characteristic of this Gospel has been mentioned by anticipation in discussing the plan of it (chap. IV. ii.);—its SYSTEMATIC ARRANGEMENT. It is the only Gospel which clearly has a plan. What has been given above as an outline of the plan (IV. ii.), and also the arrangement of the miracles in section 3 of this chapter, illustrate this feature of the Gospel. Further examples in detail will be pointed out pp. lxi.–lxiv. and in the subdivisions of the Gospel given in the notes.

6. The last characteristic which our space will allow us to notice is its STYLE. The style of the Gospel and of the First Epistle of S. John is unique. But it is a thing to be felt rather than to be defined. The most illiterate reader is conscious of it; the ablest critic cannot analyse it satisfactorily. A few main features, however, may be pointed out; the rest being left to the student’s own powers of observation.

Ever since Dionysius of Alexandria (c. A.D. 250) wrote his masterly criticism of the differences between the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse (Eus. H. E. VII. XXV.), it has been not uncommon to say that the Gospel is written in very pure Greek, free from all barbarous, irregular, or uncouth expressions. This is true in a sense; but it is somewhat misleading. The Greek of the Fourth Gospel is pure, as that of a Greek Primer is pure, because of its extreme simplicity. And it is faultless for the same reason; blemishes being avoided because idioms and intricate constructions are avoided. Elegant, idiomatic, classical Greek it is not.

(a) This, therefore, is one element in the style,—extreme simplicity. The clauses and sentences are connected together by simple conjunctions co-ordinately; they are not made to depend one upon another; ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τ. ἀνθρώπων, not ἣ ἦν τ. φῶς. Even where there is strong contrast indicated a simple καί is preferred to ἀλλά, καίτοι or ὅμως; εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν, καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι οὐ παρέλαβον (John 1:11). In passages of great solemnity the sentences are placed side by side without even a conjunction; ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦςἀπεκρίθη ὁ Πιλάτοςἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς (John 18:34-36). The words of others are given in direct not in oblique oration. The first chapter (19–51), and indeed the first half of the Gospel, abounds in illustrations.

(b) This simple co-ordination of sentences and avoidance of relatives and dependent clauses involves a good deal of repetition; and even when repetition is not necessary we find it employed for the sake of close connexion and emphasis. This constant repetition is very impressive. A good example of it is where the predicate (or part of the predicate) of one sentence becomes the subject (or part of the subject) of the next; or where the subject is repeated; Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός· ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς τ. ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ τίθησιν ὑπὲρ τ. προβάτων (John 10:11); τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν (John 1:5); ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1). Comp. John 13:20, John 15:19, John 17:9; John 17:16, &c. Sometimes instead of repeating the subject S. John introduces an apparently superfluous demonstrative pronoun; ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο (John 1:18); ὁ δὲ ζητῶν τὴν δόξαν τοῦ πέμψαντος αὐτὸν οὖτος ἀληθής ἐστιν (John 7:18). Comp. John 5:11; John 5:39, John 14:21; John 14:26, John 15:5, &c. The personal pronouns are frequently inserted for emphasis and repeated for the same reason. This is specially true of Ἐγώ in the discourses of Christ.

(c) Although S. John connects his sentences so simply, and sometimes merely places them side by side without conjunctions, yet he very frequently points out a sequence in fact or in thought. His two most characteristic particles are οὖν and ἵνα. Οὖν occurs almost exclusively in narrative, and points out that one fact is a consequence of another, sometimes in cases where this would not have been obvious; ἦλθεν οὖν πάλιν εἰς τὴν Κανά (John 4:46), because of the welcome He had received there before; ἐζήτουν οὖν αὐτὸν πιάσαι (John 7:30), because of His claim to be sent from God. Comp. John 7:40; John 7:45, John 8:12; John 8:21, &c. &c.—While the frequent use of οὖν points to the conviction that nothing happens without a cause, the frequent use of ἵνα points to the belief that nothing happens without a purpose. S. John uses ἵνα not only where some other construction would have been suitable, but also where another construction would seem to be much more suitable; οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος ἵνα λύσω (John 1:27); ἐμὸν βρῶμά ἐστιν ἵνα ποιήσω τὸ θέλημα (John 4:34); τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ ἔργον τοῦ θεοῦ ἵνα πιστεύητε (John 6:29); τίς ἥμαρτενἵνα τυφλὸς γεννηθῇ; (John 9:2). S. John is specially fond of this construction to point out the working of the Divine purpose, as in some of the instances just given (comp. John 5:23, John 6:40; John 6:50, John 10:10, John 11:42, John 14:16, &c. &c.) and in particular of the fulfilment of prophecy (John 18:9, John 19:24; John 19:28; John 19:36). In this connexion an elliptical expression ἀλλ' ἵνα (=but this was done in order that) is not uncommon; οὔτε οὗτος ἥμαρτεν οὔτε οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ, ἀλλ' ἵνα φανερωθῇ κ.τ.λ. (John 9:3; comp. John 11:52, John 14:31, John 15:25, John 18:28). Of the other very numerous Greek particles he uses but few; chiefly καί (very frequent), δέ, ὡς and καθώς (frequent), μέν (rather rare).

(d) S. John, full of the spirit of Hebrew poetry, frequently employs that parallelism which to a large extent is the very form of Hebrew poetry: ‘A servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him’ (John 13:16); ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful’ (John 14:27). Sometimes the parallelism is antithetic, and the second clause denies the opposite of the first; ‘He confessed, and denied not’ (John 1:20); ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (John 10:28). Comp. John 3:11, John 5:37, John 6:35; John 6:55-56, John 15:20, John 16:20.

(e) Another peculiarity, also of Hebrew origin, is minuteness of detail. Instead of one word summing up the whole action, S. John uses two or three stating the details of the action; ἠρώτησαν αὐτὸν καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ (John 1:25); ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων (John 1:32); ἔκραξεν οὖν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ διδάσκων καὶ λέγων (John 7:28). The frequent phrase ἀπεκρίθη καὶ εἶπεν illustrates both this particularity and also the preference for co-ordinate sentences (a). Ἀπεκρίθη καὶ εἶπεν occurs thirty-four times in S. John, and only two or three times in the Synoptists, who commonly write ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν or ἀπεκρίθη λέγων.

(f) In conclusion we may notice a few of S. John’s favourite words and phrases; μένειν especially in the phrases expressing abiding in one another; πιστεύειν εἴς τινα, ἀληθής, ἀληθινός, ἀληθῶς, ἀλήθεια, σκοτία of moral darkness, τὸ φῶς of spiritual light, ζωή, ἀγάπη, ἀγαπᾷν, φανεροῦν, μαρτυρία, μαρτυρεῖν, ζωὴ αἰώνιος, παρρησίᾳ, τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐμὸν τηρεῖν, οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι of the opponents of Christ; ὁ κόσμος, of those alienated from Christ. The following words and phrases are used by S. John only; ὁ παράκλητος of the Holy Spirit, ὁ λόγος of the Son, μονογενής of the Son, ἐξελθεῖν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ or παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ or ἀπὸ θεοῦ of the Son, τιθέναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὑτοῦ of Jesus Christ, ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου of Satan, ἡ ἐσχάτη ἡμέρα, ἀμὴν ἀμήν.

These characteristics combined form a book which stands alone in Christian literature, as its author stands alone among Christian teachers; the work of one who for threescore years and ten laboured as an Apostle. Called to follow the Baptist when only a lad, and by him soon transferred to the Christ, he may be said to have been the first who from his youth up was a Christian. Who, therefore, could so fitly grasp and state in their true proportions and with fitting impressiveness the great verities of the Christian faith? He had had no deep-seated prejudices to uproot, like his friend S. Peter and others who were called late in life. He had had no sudden wrench to make from the past, like S. Paul. He had not had the trying excitement of wandering abroad over the face of the earth, like most of the Twelve. He had remained at his post at Ephesus, directing, teaching, meditating; until at last when the fruit was ripe it was given to the Church in the fulness of beauty which it is still our privilege to possess and learn to love.



The Fourth Gospel presupposes the other three; the Evangelist assumes that the contents of his predecessors’ Gospels are known to his readers. The details of Christ’s birth are summed up in ‘the Word became flesh.’ His subjection to His parents is implied by contrast in His reply to His mother at Cana. The Baptism is involved in the Baptist’s declaration, ‘I have seen (the Spirit descending and abiding on Him) and have borne witness’ (John 1:34). The Ascension is promised through Mary Magdalene to the Apostles (John 20:17), but left unrecorded. Christian Baptism is assumed in the discourse with Nicodemus, and the Eucharist in that on the Bread of Life; but the reference in each case is left to speak for itself to Christians familiar with both those rites. S. John passes over their institution in silence.

The differences between the Fourth Gospel and the three first are real and very marked: but it is easy to exaggerate them. They are conveniently grouped under two heads; [1] differences as to the scene and extent of Christ’s ministry; [2] differences as to the view given of His Person.

[1] With regard to the first, it is urged that the Synoptists represent our Lord’s ministry as lasting for one year only, including only one Passover and one visit to Jerusalem, with which the ministry closes. S. John, however, describes the ministry as extending over three or possibly more years, including at least three Passovers and several visits to Jerusalem.

In considering this difficulty, if it be one, we must remember two things: (a) that all four Gospels are very incomplete and contain only a series of fragments; (b) that the date and duration of Christ’s ministry remain and are likely to remain uncertain. (a) In the gaps in the Synoptic narrative there is plenty of room for all that is peculiar to S. John. In the spaces deliberately left by S. John between his carefully-arranged scenes there is plenty of room for all that is peculiar to the Synoptists. When all have been pieced together there still remain large interstices which it would require at least four more Gospels to fill (John 21:25). Therefore it can be no serious difficulty that so much of the Fourth Gospel has nothing parallel to it in the other three. (b) The additional fact of the uncertainty as to the date and duration of the Lord’s public ministry is a further explanation of the apparent difference in the amount of time covered by the Synoptic narrative and that covered by the narrative of S. John. There is no contradiction between the two. The Synoptists nowhere say that the ministry lasted for only one year, although some commentators from very early times have proposed to understand ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19) literally. The three Passovers of S. John (John 2:13, John 6:4, John 11:55; John 5:1 being omitted as very doubtful) compel us to give at least a little over two years to Christ’s ministry. But S. John also nowhere implies that he has mentioned all the Passovers within the period; and the startling statement of Irenaeus (Haer. II. XII. 5) must be borne in mind, that our Lord fulfilled the office of a Teacher until He was over forty years old, “even as the Gospel and all the elders bear witness, who consorted with John the disciple of the Lord in Asia, (stating) that John had handed this down to them.” Irenaeus makes the ministry begin when Christ was nearly thirty years of age (Luke 3:23); so that he gives it a duration of more than ten years on what seems to be very high authority. All that can be affirmed with certainty is that the ministry cannot have begun earlier than A.D. 28 (the earlier alternative for the fifteenth year of Tiberius; Luke 3:1) and cannot have ended later than A.D. 37, when Pilate was recalled by Tiberius shortly before his death. Indeed as Tiberius died in March, and Pilate found him already dead when he reached Rome, the recall probably took place in A.D. 36; and the Passover of A.D. 36 is the latest date possible for the Crucifixion. Chronology is not what the Evangelists aimed at giving us; and the fact that S. John spreads his narrative over a longer period than the Synoptists will cause a difficulty to those only who have mistaken the purpose of the Gospels.

[2] As to the second great difference between S. John and the Synoptists, it is said that, while they represent Jesus as a great Teacher and Reformer, with the powers and authority of a Prophet, who exasperates His countrymen by denouncing their immoral traditions, S. John gives us instead a mysterious Personage, invested with Divine attributes, who infuriates the hierarchy by claiming to be one with the Supreme God. It is urged, moreover, that there is a corresponding difference in the teaching attributed to Jesus in each case. The discourses in the Synoptic Gospels are simple, direct, and easily intelligible, inculcating for the most part high moral principles, which are enforced and illustrated by numerous parables and proverbs. Whereas the discourses in the Fourth Gospel are many and intricate, inculcating for the most part deep mystical truths, which are enforced by a ceaseless reiteration tending to obscure the exact line of the argument, and illustrated by not a single parable properly so called.

These important differences may be to a very great extent explained by two considerations: (a) the peculiarities of S. John’s own temperament; (b) the circumstances under which he wrote. (a) The main features of S. John’s character, so far as we can gather them from history and tradition, have been stated above (chapter I. ii.), and we cannot doubt that they have affected not only his choice of the incidents and discourses selected for narration, but also his mode of narrating them. No doubt in both he was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26): but we have every reason for supposing that such guidance would work with, rather than against, the mental endowments of the person guided. To what extent the substance and form of his Gospel has been influenced by the intensity of his own nature we cannot tell; but the intensity is there, both in thought and language, both in its devotion and in its sternness; and the difference from the Synoptists shews that some influence has been at work. (b) The circumstances under which S. John wrote will carry us still further. They are very different from those under which the first Gospels were written. Christianity had grown from infancy to manhood and believed itself to be near the great consummation of the Lord’s return. It was ‘the last time.’ Antichrist, who, as Jesus had foretold, was to precede His return, was already present in manifold shapes in the world (1 John 2:18). In the bold speculations which had mingled themselves with Christianity, the Divine Government of the Father and the Incarnation of the Son were being explained away or denied (1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3). The opposition, shewn from the first by ‘the Jews’ to the disciples of the Teacher whom they had crucified, had settled down into a relentless hostility. And while the gulf between Christianity and Judaism had thus widened, that between the Church and the world had also become more evident. The more the Christian realised the meaning of being ‘born of God,’ the more manifest became the truth, that ‘the whole world lieth in the evil one’ (1 John 5:18-19). A Gospel that was to meet the needs of a society so changed both in its internal and external relations must obviously be very different from those which had suited its infancy. And a reverent mind will here trace the Providence of God, in that an Apostle, and he the Apostle S. John, was preserved for this crisis. It is scarcely too much to say that, had a Gospel, claiming to have been written by him near the close of the first century, greatly resembled the other three in matter and form, we should have had reasonable grounds for doubting its authenticity. (The special difficulty with regard to the discourses as reported by the Synoptists and by S. John is discussed in the introductory note to chap. 3.)

It must be remarked on the other side that, along with these important differences as regards the things narrated and the mode of narrating them, there are coincidences less conspicuous, but not less real or important.

Among the most remarkable of these are the characters of the Lord, of S. Peter, of Mary and Martha, and of Judas. The similarity in most cases is too subtle for the picture in the Fourth Gospel to have been drawn from that in the Synoptic account. It is very much easier to believe that the two pictures agree because both are taken from life.

The invariable use by the Synoptists of the expression ‘Son of Man’ is rigidly observed by S. John. It is always used by Christ of Himself; never by, or of, any one else. See notes on John 1:51; and also on John 2:19 and John 18:11 for two other striking coincidences.

The student will find tabulated lists of minor coincidences in Dr Westcott’s Introduction, pp. lxxxii., lxxxiii. He sums up thus: “The general conclusion stands firm. The Synoptists offer not only historical but also spiritual points of connexion between the teaching which they record and the teaching in the Fourth Gospel; and S. John himself in the Apocalypse completes the passage from the one to the other.”



The chronological relation of the Gospel to the First Epistle of S. John cannot be determined with certainty. The Epistle presupposes the Gospel in some shape or other: but as the Gospel was given orally for many years before it was written, it is possible that the Epistle may have been written first. Probably they were written within a few years of one another. whichever was written first of the two. The Epistle is a philosophical companion to the Gospel; either an introduction or a supplement to it. The Gospel is a summary of Christian Theology, the Epistle is a summary of Christian Ethics. The one shews the Divine Life in the Person of Christ, the other shews it in the Christian.

In comparing the Fourth Gospel with the Synoptists we found great and obvious differences, accompanied by real but less obvious correspondences. Here the opposite is rather the case. The coincidences both in thought and expression between the Gospel and the First Epistle of S. John are many and conspicuous; but closer inspection shews some important differences.

The object of the Gospel, as we have seen, is to create a conviction ‘that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.’ The object of the Epistle is rather to insist that the Son of God is Jesus. The Gospel starts from the historical human Teacher and proves that He is Divine; the Epistle starts rather from the Son of God and contends that He has come in the flesh. Again, the Gospel is not polemical; the truth is stated rather than error attacked. In the Epistle definite errors, especially those of Cerinthus, are attacked.

The lesson of both is one and the same; faith in Jesus Christ leading to fellowship with Him, and through fellowship with Him to fellowship with the Father and with one another: or, to sum up all in one word, Love.



The authorities are abundant and various. It will suffice to mention twelve of the most important; six Greek MSS. and six Ancient Versions.

Greek Manuscripts

CODEX SINAITICUS (א). 4th century. Discovered by Tischendorf in 1859 at the monastery of S. Catherine on Mount Sinai, and now at St Petersburg. The whole Gospel.

CODEX ALEXANDRINUS (A). 5th century. Brought by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, from Alexandria, and afterwards presented by him to Charles I. in 1628. In the British Museum. The whole Gospel, excepting John 6:50 to John 8:52.

CODEX VATICANUS (B). 4th century, but perhaps later than the Sinaiticus. In the Vatican Library. The whole Gospel.

CODEX EPHRAEMI (C). 5th century. A palimpsest: the original writing has been partially rubbed out and the works of Ephraem the Syrian have been written over it. In the National Library at Paris. Eight fragments; John 1:1-41; John 3:33 to John 5:16; John 6:38 to John 7:3; John 8:34 to John 9:11; John 11:8-46; John 13:8 to John 14:7; John 16:21 to John 18:36; John 20:26 to John 21:25.

CODEX BEZAE (D). 6th or 7th century. Given by Beza to the University Library at Cambridge in 1581. Remarkable for its interpolations and various readings. The whole Gospel, excepting John 1:16 to John 3:26 : but John 18:13 to John 20:13 is by a later hand, possibly from the original MS.

CODEX REGIUS PARISIENSIS (L). 8th or 9th century. Nearly related to the Vaticanus. At Tours. The whole Gospel, excepting John 21:15-25.

Ancient Versions

OLD SYRIAC (Curetonian). 2nd century. Four fragments; 1–42; John 3:5 to John 7:35; John 7:37 to John 8:53, omitting John 7:53 to John 8:11; John 14:11-29.

VULGATE SYRIAC (Peschito = ‘simple’ meaning perhaps ‘faithful’). 3rd century. The whole Gospel.

HARCLEAN SYRIAC (a revision of the Philoxenian Syriac, which is a servile translation of the 6th century). 7th century. The whole Gospel.

OLD LATIN (Vetus Latina). 2nd century. The whole Gospel in several distinct forms.

VULGATE LATIN (mainly a revision of the Old Latin by Jerome, A.D. 383–5). 4th century. The whole Gospel.

MEMPHITIC (Coptic, in the dialect of Lower Egypt). 3rd century. The whole Gospel.

Besides many other MSS. of every degree of excellence, and some other Ancient Versions, there is also the evidence of the Fathers. We have considerable fragments of the commentaries of Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, nearly the whole of that of Cyril of Alexandria, and the Homilies of Chrysostom and Augustine. In addition to these must be mentioned valuable quotations from the Gospel in various Greek and Latin writers in the second, third and fourth centuries. Quotations by writers later than the fourth century are of little or no value. By that time the corruption of the text was complete. The Diocletian persecution had swept away a large majority of the ancient copies, and a composite text emanating mainly from Constantinople gradually took their place.

Our main authorities, therefore, are the most ancient MSS., Versions, and Fathers. How are these authorities to be used? Our object in each disputed case will be to ascertain the oldest reading; and unless strong arguments against the authenticity of the earliest reading exist, its antiquity will be decisive in its favour. But the date of a MS. is not the same thing as the date of the text which it represents. Some MSS., as אBD, contain a text which can be traced back to the end of the second century. Others, as A, contain a text which is very little older than the MS. itself. Very few readings in the Gospels which are not supported by either B or א or D are likely to be the true reading. Of these three very ancient authorities, B is the purest, D very much the most corrupt. But in a very large number of disputed passages B and א will be found to agree. In that case our choice is not difficult: it is where these two separate, and where neither of them has a very decided preponderance of support from other ancient authorities, that serious doubt arises. As between Bא on the one hand and A with its common supporters on the other we need not hesitate. It is easy in most cases to see how the reading of Bא has been softened or amplified into the reading of A very difficult to see what could have induced copyists to alter the smooth readings of A into the harsher readings of Bא, or why when A makes the Evangelists agree the scribes of Bא should make them differ. All the probabilities shew that the text of A has been developed out of a text very similar to that of Bא, not the text of Bא manufactured by the mutilation of one similar to A. A few simple examples will illustrate this.

In John 1:26-27 the text of Bא stands thus;—

Ἐγὼ βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι· μέσος ὑμῶν στήκει ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε, ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ [ἐγὼ] ἄξιος ἵνα λύσω κ.τ.λ.

The text of A stands thus;—

Ἐγὼ βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι· μέσος δὲ ὑμῶν ἕστηκεν ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε. αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος, ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, οὗ ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος ἵνα λύσω κ.τ.λ.

[1] The insertion of δέ certainly makes the sentence less harsh. [2] ἕστηκεν is a very common form, στήκει a rare one. [3] αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ fills up the construction and assimilates the passage to John 1:30 : and other MSS. shew the assimilation in another form; οὗτός ἐστιν, or αὐτός ἐστιν ὃν εἶπον. [4] The insertion ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν assimilates the passage to vv. John 1:15; Joh_1:30. [5] The transposition of ἐγώ (omitted by א) gives emphasis to the Baptist’s self-humiliation. In all these cases the change from Bא to A is much more intelligible than the change from A to Bא. What could induce a copyist to omit δέ, to change ἔστηκεν into στήκει, to create differences between this passage and John 1:15; Joh_1:30, to weaken the Baptist’s humility? The inference is that Bא have the earlier reading and A the derived or corrupted reading. The following table contains evidence pointing in the same direction:—


Reading of Bא.

Reading of A.

Probable cause of corruption.

John 1:39.



Assimilation to John 1:47.

John 4:46; John 6:14.


ὁ Ἰησοῦς

Insertion for clearness.

John 4:42.


ὁ Χριστός

Explanatory gloss.

John 6:40

τοῦ πατρός μου

τοῦ πέμψαντός με

Assimilation to John 6:39.

John 9:6


τοῦ τυφλοῦ

Insertion for clearness.

John 9:14

ἐν ᾖ ἡμέρφ



John 10:27



Grammatical correction.

John 12:7

ἄφες αὐτὴν ἵνα

ἀφες αὐτήν

To avoid a difficulty of meaning.



Similarly in John 1:43, John 21:15-17, Bא give John as the father of S. Peter, while A gives Jonas in harmony with Matthew 16:17.

From the notes on the text at the head of the notes on each chapter the student may collect many other instances; all tending to shew that the change from Bא to A is much more probable than the converse change, and that therefore A is a corruption of Bא rather than Bא of A. His attention is specially directed to John 1:16; John 1:18, John 3:15; John 3:34, John 4:51, John 5:3-4; John 5:16; John 5:37, John 8:59, John 9:4; John 9:11, John 10:12; John 10:29; John 10:38, John 11:19, John 12:1; John 12:7; John 12:13, John 13:2, John 14:4; John 14:10; John 14:23, John 17:22, John 18:10; John 18:29-30, John 19:7; John 19:26-27; John 19:29, John 20:16, John 21:6.

It is admitted on all hands that the history of the text in the second, third and fourth centuries is that of a gradual corruption. It is sometimes assumed that about the fourth century a process of purification began, and that later texts are consequently less corrupt than earlier ones. Of this supposed process of purification there is absolutely no evidence whatever. The process which shews itself with ever-increasing vigour in the fourth century is that of eclecticism; a picking-out from various sources of those readings which reduced differences and difficulties to a minimum. Whereas it is a recognised principle of textual criticism that the more difficult reading is the more likely to be the true one.

It is easy to get a very exaggerated idea of the amount of uncertainty which exists respecting the text of N.T. “If comparative trivialities, such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like, are set aside, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the N.T.” (Westcott and Hort, The N.T. in Greek, I. p. 561). Every reader of the Greek Testament who can afford the time should study the work just quoted. Those who cannot, should read Hammond’s Outlines of Textual Criticism, a short, clear, and interesting statement of the main facts in a very inexpensive manual. Here, or in Scrivener’s Introduction to the Criticism of N.T., or in Vol. I. of Alford’s Greek Testament, will be found information respecting the less important MSS. sometimes cited in this volume.



It would be impossible to give even a sketch of this within a small compass, so numerous are the works on S. John and his writings. All that will be attempted here will be to give more advanced students some information as to where they may look for greater help than can be given in a handbook for the use of schools.

Of the earliest known commentary, that of Heracleon (c. A.D. 150), only quotations preserved by Origen remain. Of Origen’s own commentary (c. A.D. 225–235) only portions remain. Of the Greek commentators of the fourth century, Theodorus of Heraclea and Didymus of Alexandria, very little has come down to us. But we have S. Chrysostom’s 88 Homilies on the Gospel, which have been translated in the Oxford ‘Library of the Fathers.’ S. Augustine’s 124 Lectures (Tractatus) on S. John may be read in the ‘Library of the Fathers,’ or in the new translation by Gibb, published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh. But no translation can fairly represent the epigrammatic fulness of the original. The Commentary of Cyril of Alexandria has been translated by P. E. Pusey, Oxford, 1875. With Cyril the line of great patristic interpreters of S. John ends.

The Catena Aurea of Thomas Aquinas (c. A.D. 1250) was published in an English form at Oxford, 1841–45. It consists of a ‘chain’ of comments selected from Greek and Latin authors. Unfortunately Thomas Aquinas was the victim of previous forgers, and a considerable number of the quotations from early authorities are taken from spurious works.

Of modern commentaries those of Cornelius à Lapide (Van der Steen) and Maldonatus in the sixteenth century and of Lampe in the eighteenth must be mentioned. The last has been a treasury of information for many more recent writers.

The following foreign commentaries have all been published in an English form by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh; Bengel, Godet, Luthardt, Meyer, Olshausen, Tholuck. Of these the works of Godet and Meyer may be specially commended. The high authority of Dr Westcott pronounces the commentary of Godet, “except on questions of textual criticism,” to be “unsurpassed”—we may add, except by Dr Westcott’s own.

Among original English commentaries those of Alford, Dunwell, McClellan, Milligan, Watkins, and Wordsworth are or are becoming well known to all students. But immensely superior to all preceding works is that by Dr Westcott, Murray, 1882.

Other works which give very valuable assistance are Ellicott’s Historical Lectures on the Life of our Lord, Field’s Otium Norvicense, Pars III., Liddon’s Bampton Lectures, 1866, Lightfoot On a Fresh Revision of the N.T., F. D. Maurice’s Gospel of St John, Moulton’s edition of Winer’s Grammar[4], Sanday’s Authorship and Historical Character of the Fourth Gospel, and The Gospels in the Second Century, and Westcott’s Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, and Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles, and The Gospel of the Risen Lord.

The present writer is bound to express his obligations, in some cases very great, to most of the works mentioned above, as well as to many others. It was originally intended that Dr Sanday should undertake the present commentary, but press of other work induced him to ask leave to withdraw after having written notes on the greater part of the first chapter. His successor has had the advantage of these notes and has made large use of them, and throughout has in some measure remedied the loss caused by Dr Sanday’s retirement by frequently quoting from his work on the Fourth Gospel, now unfortunately out of print.


John 1:1-18. THE PROLOGUE

1. The Word in His own nature (John 1:1-5)

2. His revelation to men and rejection by them (John 1:6-13)

3. His revelation of the Father (John 1:14-18)

John 1:19 to John 12:50. THE MINISTRY

a. John 1:19 to John 2:11. The Testimony

1. The Testimony of the Baptist (John 1:19-37)

to the deputation from Jerusalem (John 1:19-28)

to the people (John 1:29-34)

to Andrew and John (John 1:35-37)

2. The Testimony of Disciples (John 1:38-51)

3. The Testimony of the First Sign (John 2:1-11)

b. 2:13–11:57. The Work

1. The Work among Jews (John 2:13 to John 3:36)

First cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-22)

Belief without devotion (John 2:23-25)

The discourse with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)

The baptism and final testimony of John (John 3:22-36)

2. The Work among Samaritans (John 4:1-42)

3. The Work among Galileans (John 4:43-54)

4. The Work and conflict among mixed multitudes (John 4:5-9)


The sign at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9)

The sequel of the sign (John 5:10-16)

The discourse on the Son as the Source of Life (John 5:17-47)


The sign on the land; feeding the 5000 (John 6:1-15)

The sign on the lake; walking on the water (John 6:16-21)

The sequel of the two signs (John 6:22-25)

The discourse on the Son as the Support of Life (John 6:26-59)

Opposite results of the discourse (John 6:60-71)


The controversy with His brethren (John 7:1-9)

The discourse at the F. of Tabernacles (John 7:10-39)

Opposite results of the discourse (John 7:40-52)

[The woman taken in adultery (John 7:53 to John 8:11)]

Christ’s true witness to Himself and against the Jews (John 8:12-59)


The prelude to the sign (John 9:1-5)

The sign (John 9:6-12)

Opposite results of the sign (John 9:13-41)

(δ) CHRIST IS LOVE (John 10)

Allegory of the Door of the Fold (John 10:1-9)

Allegory of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18)

Opposite results of the teaching (John 10:19-21)

The discourse at the F. of the Dedication (John 10:22-38)

Opposite results of the discourse (John 10:39-42)


The prelude to the sign (John 11:1-33)

The sign (John 11:33-44)

Opposite results of the sign (John 11:45-57)

c. John 12. The Judgment

1. The Judgment of men (John 12:1-36)

The devotion of Mary (John 12:1-8)

The hostility of the priests (John 12:9-11)

The enthusiasm of the people (John 12:12-18)

The discomfiture of the Pharisees (John 12:19)

The desire of the Gentiles (John 12:20-33)

The perplexity of the multitude (John 12:34-36)

2. The Judgment of the Evangelist (John 12:37-43)

3. The Judgment of Christ (John 12:44-50)


d. John 13-17. The inner Glorification of Christ in His last Discourses

1. His love in Humiliation (John 13:1-30)

2. His love in keeping His own (John 13:31 to John 15:27)

Their union with Him illustrated by the allegory of the Vine (John 15:1-11)

Their union with one another (John 15:12-17)

The hatred of the world to both Him and them (John 15:18-25)

3. The Promise of the Paraclete and of Christ’s Return (John 15:16)

The World and the Paraclete (John 16:1-11)

The disciples and the Paraclete (John 16:12-15)

The sorrow turned into joy (John 16:16-24)

Summary and conclusion (John 16:25-33)

4. The Prayer of the Great High Priest (John 17)

The prayer for Himself (John 17:1-5)

The Prayer for the Disciples (John 17:6-19)

The Prayer for the whole Church (John 17:20-26)

e. John 18, 19. The outer Glorification of Christ in His Passion

1. The Betrayal (John 18:1-11)

2. The Jewish or Ecclesiastical Trial (John 18:12-27)

3. The Roman or Civil Trial (John 18:28 to John 19:16)

4. The Death and Burial (John 19:17-42)

The crucifixion and the title on the cross (John 19:17-22)

The four enemies and the four friends (John 19:23-27)

The two words, ‘I thirst,’ ‘It is finished’ (John 19:28-30)

The hostile and the friendly petitions (John 19:31-42)

f. John 20. The Resurrection and threefold Manifestation of Christ

1. The first Evidence of the Resurrection (John 20:1-10)

2. The Manifestation to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

3. The Manifestation to the Ten and others (John 20:19-23)

4. The Manifestation to S. Thomas and others (John 20:24-29)

5. The Conclusion and Purpose of the Gospel (John 20:30-31)


1. The Manifestation to the Seven and the Miraculous Draught of Fishes (John 21:1-14)

2. The Commission to S. Peter and Prediction as to his Death (John 21:15-19)

3. The misunderstood Saying as to the Evangelist (John 21:20-23)

4. Concluding Notes (John 21:24-25)




It can scarcely be doubted that if we had only the Fourth Gospel no question would have arisen as to the date of the Last Supper and of the Crucifixion. S. John’s statements are as usual so clear and precise, and at the same time so entirely consistent, that obscurity arises only when attempts are made to force his plain language into harmony with the statements of the Synoptists which appear to contradict his as regards the day of the month. All four Gospels agree as to the day of the week.

S. John gives five distinct intimations of the date.

1. Πρὸ δὲ τῆς ἑορτῆς τοῦ πᾶσχα (John 13:1); which shews that the feet-washing and discourses at the Last Supper preceded the Passover.

2. Ἀγόρασον ὧν χρείαν ἔχομεν εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν (John 13:29); which shews that the Last Supper was not the Passover.

3. Ἤν δὲ πρωΐ· καὶ οὐκ εἰσῆλθον εἰς τὸ πραιτώριον, ἵνα μὴ μιανθῶσιν ἀλλ' ἵνα φάγωσιν τὸ πάσχα (John 18:28); which proves that early on the day of the Crucifixion the Jews who delivered the Lord to Pilate had not yet eaten the Passover.

4. Ἦν δὲ παρασκευὴ τοῦ πάσχα, ὥρα ἦν ὡς ἕκτη (John 19:14); which shews that these Jews had not postponed eating the Passover because of urgent business: the Passover had not yet begun.

5. Οἱ οὖν Ἰουδαῖοι, ἐπεὶ παρασκευὴ ἦν ἵνα μὴ μείνῃ ἐπὶ τοῦ σταιρπῖ τὰ σώματα ἐν τῷ σαββάτῳ, ἦν γὰρ μεγάλη ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνου τοῦ σαββάτου, κ.τ.λ. (John 19:31). Here παρασκευή may mean either Friday, the preparation for the Sabbath, or Nisan 14, the preparation for the Passover. The statement that that Sabbath was a μεγάλη ἡμέρα most naturally means that the Sabbath in that week coincided with the first day of the Feast: so that the day of the Crucifixion was ‘the Preparation’ for both the Sabbath and the Feast.

It is evident, therefore, that S. John places the Crucifixion on the Preparation or Eve of the Passover, i.e. on Nisan 14, on the afternoon of which the Paschal Lamb was slain; and that he makes the Passover begin at sunset that same day. Consequently the Last Supper cannot have been the Paschal meal.

It is from the Synoptists that we inevitably derive the impression that the Last Supper was the Paschal meal (Matthew 26:2; Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:14-16; Luke 22:7; Luke 22:11; Luke 22:13; Luke 22:15). Whatever method of explanation be adopted, it is the impression derived from the Synoptists that must be modified, not that derived from S. John. Their statements refer rather to the nature of the Last Supper, his cover the whole field from the Supper to the taking down from the cross, giving clear marks of time all along. No doubt they are correct in stating that the Last Supper had in some sense the character of a Paschal meal; but it is quite evident from S. John that the Last Supper was not the Passover in the ordinary Jewish sense. And this conclusion is confirmed:—

1. By the Synoptists themselves. They state that the priests and their officials went to arrest Jesus immediately after the Last Supper (Luke 22:52). Would this have been possible while the whole nation was at the Paschal meal? Could Simon have been coming out of the country (Mark 15:21) on such a Sabbatical day as Nisan 15? Could Joseph have bought a winding-sheet (Mark 15:46) on such a day? Would the women have postponed the full embalming of the body on account of the Sabbath (Luke 23:56), if the day of the entombment was already a Sabbatical day? Moreover it was on the evening between Nisan 13 and 14 that people went to draw water with which to make the unleavened bread for the Feast. Might not the “man bearing a pitcher of water” (Mark 14:13), who provided the large upper-room for the Last Supper, be bringing water for this purpose? Comp. Ὁ καιρός μου ἐγγύς ἐστιν· πρὸς σὲ ποιῶ τὸ πάσχα (Matthew 26:18). What logical connexion have these two sentences, if they do not mean that Jesus was obliged to keep the Passover before the time?

2. By S. Paul. In speaking of the Resurrection he says ἀπαρχὴ Χριστός (1 Corinthians 15:23). The sheaf which was the ἀπαρχή or first-fruits of the harvest was gathered on Nisan 16. If Jesus died on Nisan 14, His Resurrection exactly corresponded with this ἀπαρχή.

3. By Christian tradition. Clement of Alexandria says expressly that the Last Supper took place Nisan 13, and that “our Saviour suffered on the following day; for He was Himself the true Passover.” And the fact that the whole Church for eight centuries always used leavened bread at the Eucharist, and that the Eastern Church continues to do so to this day, points to a tradition that the meal at which the Eucharist was instituted was not the Paschal meal.

4. By Jewish tradition. The execution of Jesus is noticed in two passages in the Talmud. In the one He is said to have been hung, in the other to have been stoned: but both agree in placing the execution on the eve of the Passover.

Jews, to whom the Gospel was to be preached first, might have found a serious stumbling-block in the fact that He who was proclaimed as the Paschal Lamb partook of the Paschal Feast and was slain afterwards. Whereas S. John makes it clear to them, that on the very day and at the very hour when the Paschal lambs had to be slain, the True Lamb was sacrificed on the Cross. (See note on Matthew 26:17 and Excursus V. in Dr Farrar’s S. Luke.)



The difficulties which attend all attempts at forming a Harmony of the Gospels are commonly supposed to reach something like a climax here. Very few events are narrated at such length by all four Evangelists; and in no case is the narrative so carefully divided by them into distinct portions as in the case of S. Peter’s threefold denial of his Master. Here therefore we have an exceptionally good opportunity of comparing the Evangelists with one another piece by piece; and the result is supposed to be damaging to them. A careful comparison of the four accounts will establish one fact beyond the reach of reasonable dispute;—that, whatever maybe the relation between the narratives of S. Matthew and S. Mark, those of S. Luke and S. John are independent both of the first two Gospels and of one another. So that we have at least three independent accounts.

It would be an instructive exercise for the student to do for himself what Canon Westcott has done for him (Additional Note on John 18 : comp. Alford on Matthew 26:69), and tabulate the four accounts, comparing not merely verse with verse but clause with clause.

His first impression of great discrepancy between the accounts will convince him of the independence of at least three of them. And a further consideration will probably lead him to see that this independence and consequent difference are the result of fearless truthfulness. Each Evangelist, conscious of his own fidelity, tells the story in his own way without caring to correct his account by that of others. In the midst of the differences of details there is quite enough substantial agreement to lead us to the conclusion that each narrative would be found to be accurate if we were acquainted with all the circumstances. All four Evangelists tell us that three denials were predicted (Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30; Luke 22:34; John 13:38) and all four give three denials (Matthew 26:70; Matthew 26:72; Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:68; Mark 14:70-71; Luke 22:57-58; Luke 22:60; John 18:17; John 18:25; John 18:27).

The apparent discrepancy with regard to the prediction is that S. Luke and S. John place it during the Supper, S. Mark and S. Matthew during the walk to Gethsemane. But the words of the first two Evangelists do not quite necessarily mean that the prediction was made precisely where they mention it. Yet, if the more natural conclusion be adopted, that they do mean to place the prediction on the road to Gethsemane; then, either the prediction was repeated, or they have placed it out of the actual chronological sequence. As already remarked elsewhere, chronology is not what the Evangelists care to give us.

The numerous differences of detail with regard to the three denials, especially the second and third, will sink into very small proportions if we consider that the attack of the maid which provoked the first denial, about which the four accounts are very harmonious, led to a series of attacks gathered into two groups, with intervals during which S. Peter was left unmolested. Each Evangelist gives us salient points in these groups of attacks and denials. As to the particular words put into the mouth of S. Peter and his assailants, it is quite unnecessary to suppose that they are intended to give us more than the substance of what was said (see Introductory Note to chap. 3). Let us remember S. Augustine’s wise and moderate words respecting the differences of detail in the narratives of the storm on the lake. “There is no need to enquire which of these exclamations was really uttered. For whether they uttered some one of these three, or other words which none of the Evangelists have recorded, yet conveying the same sense, what does it matter?” De Cons. Ev. II. xxiv. 55.



This part of the Gospel narrative is like the main portion of it in this, that the exact sequence of events cannot in all cases be determined with certainty, and that the precise date of events can in no case be determined with certainty. But for the sake of clearness of view it is well to have a tentative scheme; bearing in mind that, like a plan drawn from description instead of from sight, while it helps us to understand and realise the description, it must be defective and may here and there be misleading.

Thursday after 6.0 P.M.

(Nisan 14)

The Last Supper and Last Discourses.

11 P.M.

The Agony.


The Betrayal.

Friday 1 A.M.

Conveyance to the high-priest’s house.

2 A.M.

Examination before Annas.

3 A.M.

Examination before Caiaphas at an informal meeting of the Sanhedrin.

4.30 A.M.

Condemnation to death at a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin.

5 A.M.

First Examination before Pilate.

5.30 A.M.

Examination before Herod.

6 A.M.

Second Examination before Pilate.

The Scourging and first Mockery by Pilate’s soldiers.

6.30 A.M.

Pilate gives sentence of Crucifixion.

Second Mockery by Pilate’s soldiers.

9 A.M.

The Crucifixion.

First Word. ‘Father, forgive them, &c.’

Second Word. ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ ‘Behold thy mother.’

Third Word. ‘To-day shalt thou be, &c.’

Noon to 3 P.M.

The Darkness.

Fourth Word. ‘My God, My God, &c.’

Fifth Word. ‘I thirst.’

Sixth Word. ‘It is finished.’

(Nisan 14) 3 P.M.

Seventh Word. ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.’

The Centurion’s Confession.

The Piercing of the Side.

3 to 5 P.M.

Slaughter of the Paschal lambs.

5 P.M.

The Burial.

6 P.M.

The Sabbath begins.

(Nisan 15)


The Passover.

The Great Day of the Feast.

Jesus in the Grave.



[1] The paragraph is absent from every known Greek MS. earlier than the eighth century, except the Western and eccentric D. A and C are defective here, but in the missing leaves there cannot have been room for the paragraph. In L and Δ (eighth and ninth cent.) there are spaces, shewing that the transcribers knew of its existence, but did not find it in their copies. [2] In the whole range of Greek patristic literature of the first nine centuries there is no trace of any knowledge of it, excepting a reference to it in the Apostolic Constitutions (John 2:24) as an authority for the reception of penitents; but without any indication of the book from which it is quoted. [3] In Oriental Versions it is found only in inferior MSS., excepting the Ethiopic and the Jerusalem Syriac. [4] The silence of Tertullian in his De Pudicitiâ and of Cyprian in Ep. LV. (which treats of the admission of adulterous persons to penitence) and the evidence of MSS. shew that it was absent from the earliest Latin texts.

Thus it is absent from the oldest representatives of every kind of evidence; Greek MSS., Versions, and Fathers both Greek and Latin.

With regard to the authorities which contain or support the section several points mast be noted. [1] D is notorious for insertions and additions, such as Matthew 20:29 and Luke 6:5. But nowhere else has it an insertion so considerable. Jerome’s statement that this paragraph is found ‘in evangelio secundum Johannem in multis et Graecis et Latinis codicibus’ implies that in the majority of MSS. it is not found. In many of the extant MSS. which contain the passage it is marked as dubious. [2] The date of the text of the Apostolic Constitutions is uncertain, and we cannot tell whether the reference is to the Gospel narrative or to tradition. The earliest Greek commentator who notices the section, Euthymius Zygadenus in the twelfth century, marks it as probably an interpolation. [3] The MS. of the Jerusalem Syriac lectionary is not older than the eleventh century. [4] The early Latin copies, like D, admitted interpolations very freely. Jerome, on the authority of some Greek MSS., retained it in the Vulgate. Ambrose and Augustine treated it as authentic. Later Latin writers naturally followed the authority of these great names.

We conclude “that the Section first came into S. John’s Gospel as an insertion in a comparatively late Western text, having originally belonged to an extraneous independent source.… that the Section was little adopted in texts other than Western till some unknown time between the fourth or fifth and the eighth centuries, when it was received into some influential Constantinopolitan text” (Westcott and Hort). Having found its way into most of the late Greek MSS. and into almost all the Latin texts, it was allowed by Erasmus to remain in its usual place, and hence became established in the Textus Receptus.


Εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα and Ζωὴ αἰώνιος

Both these expressions are of frequent occurrence in S. John’s Gospel: the former of them is best rendered ‘for ever,’ and the second, ‘eternal life.’

The literal meaning of εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (John 6:51; John 6:58, John 8:35, John 12:34, John 14:16; 1 John 2:17; 2 John 1:2) is ‘unto the age.’ The expression is of Jewish origin. The Jews were accustomed to divide time into two periods, the time preceding the coming of the Messiah, and the age of the Messiah. The latter was spoken of as ‘the Age,’ the age κατ' ἐξοχήν, the age to which the hopes of all Israel looked forward: it was ‘the Age,’ ὁ αἰῶν, just as the Messiah Himself was ‘the Coming One,’ ὁ ἐρχόμενος (John 6:14, John 11:27; Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:19-20). The Apostles and the Early Christian Church adopted the same language with an important change of meaning. They knew that the Messiah had come, and that ‘the Age’ in the Jewish sense of the term had already begun: but they once more transferred ‘the Age’ to the unknown and possibly remote future. ‘The Age’ for them meant the period which would be inaugurated by the Return of the Messiah rather than by His First Coming: it represented, therefore, the period of Christ’s Second Coming, when all His enemies shall be put under His feet, and ‘He shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father’ (1 Corinthians 15:24). Hence, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα means ‘unto the age’ of the Kingdom of God. Literally, therefore, the expression states no more than that there is to be duration to the end of the world; for this world ends when ‘the Age’ begins. But the expression seems to imply a good deal more than this. It appears to have behind it the understood belief, that whatever is allowed to see the Kingdom of God will continue to endure in that kingdom; and as that kingdom is to have no end, so enduring εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα includes, though it does not express, enduring, not merely until the end of this world, ἡ συντελεία τοῦ αἰῶνος [τούτου] (Matthew 13:40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20), but ‘for ever.’

Similarly, ζωὴ αἰώνιος means life that is suitable to ‘the Age,’ the life of those who share in the Kingdom of God. Like εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, it does not express, but it probably implies, the notion of endlessness: and we have a word in English which does much the same, and which is therefore the best rendering to give of αἰώνιος, viz. ‘eternal.’ ‘Everlasting,’ which in A.V. is frequently used to translate αἰῶνιος (John 3:16; John 3:36, John 4:14, John 5:24, John 6:27; John 6:40; John 6:47, John 12:50; Matthew 18:8, &c.) expresses the notion of endlessness and nothing more: it expresses, therefore, just that idea which αἰώνιος probably implies, but does not directly state. Whereas ‘eternal’ is almost exactly the word we require. Eternity is the negation of time, that which to higher intelligences than ours takes the place of time, and will do so to our glorified intelligences when time has ceased to be. But when we have said that eternity is not time, we have said all that intelligibly and with certainty can be said about it. All our experience and thought involve the condition of time; and to endeavour to imagine a state of things from which time is absent is to attempt an impossibility. When we banish time from thought, we cease to think. Time, then, is the condition of life in this world; eternity is the condition of life in the world to come: and therefore ζωὴ αἰώνιος, the life of ‘the Age,’ the life of the world to come, is best expressed in English by the words ‘eternal life.’ This eternal life, S. John assures us again and again (John 3:36, John 5:24, John 6:47; John 6:54, John 17:3), can be possessed in this world, but it can only be understood in the world to come (1 John 3:2).

It is worth remarking that S. John applies the term αἰώνιος to nothing but ‘life,’ and that for this aeonian life the word is always ζωή and never βίος. Βίος does not occur in S. John’s Gospel at all, and only twice in the First Epistle;—in the phrases ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου (John 2:16), ‘the vainglory of life,’ i.e. arrogancy and ostentation exhibited in the manner of living, and ὁ βίος τοῦ κόσμου (John 3:17), ‘the world’s means of life,’ i.e. the goods of this world. In Aristotle and Greek philosophy generally βίος is higher than ζωή: βίος is the life peculiar to man as a moral being; ζωή is the vital principle which he shares with brutes and vegetables. In N.T. ζωή is higher than βίος: βίος is, as before, the life or livelihood of man; but ζωή is the vital principle which he shares with God. Contrast βίος in Luke 8:14; Luke 8:43; Luke 15:12; Luke 15:30; 1 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:4, &c. with ζωή in John 1:4; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 5:26; John 5:29; John 5:40, &c., &c. Βίος occurs less than a dozen times in the whole of the N.T., whereas ζωή occurs upwards of a hundred times: ζωή is the very sum and substance of the Gospel. ‘The life eternal is this, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Him whom Thou didst send, even Jesus Christ’ (John 17:3).



IT seems to be quite certain that the attractive reconciliation of the two readings, Βηθανίᾳ and Βηθαβαρᾷ, derived from Lieutenant Conder’s conjectures, and suggested in the note on John 1:28, must be abandoned. And, what is of much more serious moment, it is becoming clear that Lieutenant Conder’s identifications, when they depend upon philological theories, must be received with the utmost caution. It is true that the Arabs call Batanaea, the βαταναία of Josephus, Băthănia; changing the Aramaic ‘t’, corresponding to the Hebrew ‘sh’ in Bashan, to ‘th’, by a well-known phonetic relation between these three dialects. But a Jewish writer would not adopt a pure Arabic form, which is therefore impossible in a Gospel written by a Jew. And even if this point could be conceded there would remain the further improbability that the Arabic ‘ă’ in Băthănîya should be represented by η in Βηθανία. Bethania is a compound of Bêth, and some place on the Jordan. It might possibly mean ‘boat-house’; and this would coincide pretty closely with Bethabara, which means ‘ford-house’ or ‘ferry-house.’

In any map of Jerusalem there must of necessity be either serious omissions, or insertions which are more or less conjectural. In the present map the traditional name of Zion has been retained for the Western Hill, and also the name of Hippicus for the great Herodian tower which still stands close to the Jaffa Gate. Recent measurements, however, have shewn that of the three Herodian towers, Hippicus, Phasael, and Mariamne, the existing tower, often called the Tower of David, may be Phasael rather than Hippicus. The name, Tower of David, is mediaeval, and is a perpetuation of the error of Josephus, who supposed that the fortress of David belonged to the Upper City, and that the Western Hill had always been part of Jerusalem.

Again, the position of the Acra is much disputed. In the map it is not intended to affirm the special conjecture of Warren and Conder, but merely to retain, until something better is rally established, their present view. There is, however, good reason for doubting its correctness. On this and other topographical questions see the very interesting article on Jerusalem in the Encycl. Britan. (xiii p. 641) by Professor Robertson Smith, to whom the writer of this Appendix is much indebted.