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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament


- John

by William Robertson Nicoll





AUTHORSHIP. The importance of ascertaining the authorship of the Fourth Gospel can hardly be exaggerated. In no other Gospel have we the direct testimony of an eye-witness. Luke expressly informs us that his information, although carefully sifted, is at second hand. If in Mark we have the reminiscences of the Apostle Peter, these are related not by himself but by his companion and interpreter John Mark. In the first Gospel we probably have in a more or less original form the collection of our Lord’s sayings which Papias tells us was made by Matthew; but certainly the original work of Matthew did not exactly coincide with our present Gospel, and to what extent alteration has been made upon it, it is not easy to say. But the Fourth Gospel professes to be the work of an eye-witness, and of an eye-witness who enjoyed an intimacy with our Lord allowed to none besides. If this claim be true, and if the Gospel be indeed the work of the Apostle John, then we have not only the narrative of one who saw and was a part of what he records, but we have a picture of our Lord by one who knew Him better than any one else did.

On examination the contents of this Gospel are found to be of such a character as to make it imperative that we should know whether we can trust its statements or not. The author of the Gospel not only expresses his own belief in our Lord’s divinity, but he puts words into the mouth of Jesus which even on close scrutiny seem to many to form an explicit claim to pre-existence and thus to imply a claim to divinity. If these claims and statements merely reflect the belief and opinion of the third or fourth generation and not the very mind of Christ Himself, then they are important mainly as historical evidence of a growing tradition and not as giving us the firm basis on which the Church may build. But if an apostle was responsible for the Gospel, then the probability is that the utterances which are referred to Christ nearly, if not absolutely, represent His very words, and that the doctrinal position of the author himself is not one we can lightly set aside. For, although apostolic authorship does not guarantee absolute accuracy in detail, and although we cannot determine the relation of the record to the words actually spoken by Jesus until we have ascertained the object and point of view of the writer, yet apostolic authorship not only fixes the date within certain limits, but also determines to a considerable extent the probable spirit, attitude, means, and object of the writer.

Critics who find themselves unable to admit apostolic authorship lay stress upon the value of the Gospel as exhibiting the faith of the Church in the early part of the second century and the grounds on which that faith rested. Thus Weizsäcker declares that the debates regarding the divinity of Christ are a mere reflex of the time in which the evangelist lived a time when, according to Pliny, Christians were accustomed to sing hymns to Christ as God and were creating a fuller dogma of His divinity. The Johannine Christ occupies no relation to the Law, because for the Church of the evangelist’s day the Law was no longer of present interest as it had been in a former generation. The strife exhibited in the Gospel did not belong to the life of Christ, but is a strife of the Epigoni.

Holtzmann is of the same opinion. The Gospel has value as a mirror of the times in which the writer lived and of the experiences through which the Church had reached that period; but when we proceed to use the Gospel as a record of our Lord’s life we must bear in mind that the author meant to portray the image of Christ as that image lived in his own soul and in the Church for which he wrote; and as, in his view, it should live in the Church of all times as the image of the Godhead. Oscar Holtzmann ( Das Johannesevangelium , 1887, p. 137) believes that the writer sought to write a life of Jesus which should be in keeping with the thought of his time; and with this object he used the material furnished by the Synoptists and by the oral tradition of his day, correcting and amplifying to suit his purpose.

Schürer ( Vorträge d. theol. Konferenz zu Giessen , 1889, Über d. gegenwärtigen Stand d. Johanneischen Frage ) maintains that the worth of the fourth Gospel lies, not in its historical narrative, but in its expression of the conviction that in Jesus Christ God revealed Himself. This is the essence of Christianity; and this is the fundamental thought of the Gospel. Nowhere in the New Testament is it presented with such clearness, with such ardent faith, with such victorious confidence. Accordingly, though this Gospel as a source of history must take a lower place than the synoptic Gospels, it must always have its worth as a witness of the Christian faith.

Doubtless the Gospel has a value, whoever is its author, and whatever its date. But if it is not historically reliable and if the utterances attributed to our Lord were not really uttered by Him but are merely the creation of the writer and ascribed to the Pounder of the Church to account for and justify some of its developments, plainly its value is widely different from that which attaches to a reliable record of the words and actions of Jesus. The faith and life of the Church of the second century is not normative; and if in this Gospel all that we have is a reflex of that life given in terms of the life of Christ, we have, no doubt, a very interesting document, but not a document on which we can build our knowledge of our Lord. Nay, professing, as this record does, to be historically reliable, the Church has been throughout its history gravely in error regarding the claims of its Founder, and this error lies at the door of the author of the Gospel. It is of the first importance, therefore, that we ascertain whether the writer had the means of being historically trustworthy, whether he was an eye-witness or was entirely dependent on others for his information.

1. External evidence in favour of Johannine authorship . In examining the Christian literature of the second century with a view to ascertain the belief of the Church regarding the authorship of the Fourth Gospel, it must be borne in mind that there are many instances in which the classical writers of antiquity were not quoted for some centuries after their works were published. The character and position of the New Testament writings, however, made it likely that they would at once and frequently be referred to. But although the second century was prolific of Christian writings, their extant remains are unfortunately scanty. We might have expected definite information from the exegetical writings of Papias and Basileides, and possibly some allusions in the histories of Hegesippus, but of these and other important documents only the names and a few extracts survive. It is also to be borne in mind that the mode of quotation in vogue at that time was different from our own. Books were not so plentiful, and they were more cumbrous. Accordingly there was more quotation from memory and little of the exactness which in our day is considered desirable. It was a common practice with early writers to weave Scriptural language into their own text without pausing to say whence these allusions were derived. The consequence is that while such allusions may seem to one reader to carry evidence that the writer is making use of such and such a book of Scripture, it is always open to a more sceptical reader to say that the inexactness of the allusion is rather a proof that the book of Scripture had not been seen, and that some traditional saying was the source of the quotation. And even where explicit quotations occur, no light may be thrown on the authorship of the book quoted, except in so far as they indicate the date of its composition.

It is not questioned that in the last quarter of the second century the Fourth Gospel was accepted by the Church as the work of the Apostle John, and was recognised as canonical. This is a fact not questioned, but its importance may easily be underrated and its significance missed. Opponents of the Johannine authorship have declared it to be “totally unnecessary to account” for this remarkable consent of opinion. But the very fact that a Gospel so obviously different from the synoptic Gospels should have been unanimously received as Apostolic is a weighty testimony. Its significance has been admirably summarised by Archdeacon Watkins ( Bampton Lectures , p. 47): “It is not that the Fourth Gospel was known and read as the work of St. John in the year A.D. 190 or 180 or 170; but that it was known and read through all the extent of Christendom, in churches varying in origin and language and history, in Lyons and Rome, in Carthage and Alexandria, in Athens and Corinth, in Ephesus and Sardis and Hierapolis, in Antioch and Edessa; that the witness is of Churches to a sacred book which was read in their services, and about which there could be no mistake, and of individuals who had sacrificed the greatest good of temporal life, and were ready to sacrifice life itself as a witness to its truth; that these individual witnesses were men of culture and rich mental endowment, with full access to materials for judgment, and full power to exercise that judgment; that their witness was given in the face of hostile heathenism and opposing heresy, which demanded caution in argument and reserve in statement; and that this witness is clear, definite, unquestioned”.

To this universal consent the sole exceptions were Marcion and the Alogi, and possibly Gaius. 1 [1] During the decade A.D. 160 170 there existed in Asia Minor some persons who discovered in the Gospel traces of Gnostic and Montanistic teaching. They held their place in the Christian Church, but discarded the Johannine writings and ascribed them to Cerinthus. Epiphanius gives them the name of Ἄλογοι [unreasonable, irrational] because they did not accept the Logos proclaimed by John. [2] Harnack justly maintains that this is “of the highest significance” for the history of the Canon; but it has little or no significance for the criticism of the Gospel, because the rejection of the Gospel proceeded wholly on dogmatic grounds. Its ascription to Cerinthus, an impossible author, betrays the recklessness of the judgment pronounced; while the naming of a contemporary and fellow-townsman of the Apostle may be accepted as an indication of the true date of the Gospel. Some of the scholars who are best informed regarding the second century, such as Hilgenfeld and Salmon, are inclined to believe that no such sect as the Alogi ever existed, although one or two individuals may have held the opinions identified with that nickname. If they existed, their rejection of the writings of John demonstrates that previous to their time these writings had been accepted as Apostolic and authoritative. [3] Marcion’s neglect of the Johannine books is equally unimportant for the criticism of the Gospel.

[1]See Rendel Harris’ Hermas in Arcadia and other Essays , 1896.

[2] Epiphan., Haeres. , 51, 3, defines this heresy as ἀποβάλλουσαν Ιωάννου τὰς βίβλους . Ἐπεὶ οὖν τὸν λόγον οὐ δέχονται τὸν παρὰ Ἰωάννου κεκηρυγμένον , Ἄλογοι κληθήσονται . See Harnack, Das N. Test. um d. Jahr 200, pp. 58 70; Watkins’ B. L. , p. 123; Salmon’s Introd. , p. 229; Sanday’s B. L. , p. 64; and cf. Irenaeus, Haer. , III., xi., 9.

[3] Dr. Plummer, after discussing the rejection of the Gospel by Marcion and the Alogi, proceeds: “All this tends to show 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 shows 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 overwary Christians assigned the Gospel to Cerinthus is evidence that the Gospel was in their opinion written by a contemporary of St. John. To concede this is to concede the whole question” ( Cambridge Greek Test.; Gospel acc. to St. John , p. 24).

In the writings of Irenaeus, who was born, according to Lipsius, about A.D. 130, and whose great work against Gnosticism may be dated between 180 185, the Fourth Gospel is referred to the Apostle John and is regarded as canonical. In a well-known passage ( Contra Haer. , III., xi., 8) this representative writer even argues that in the nature of things there can be neither more nor fewer than four Gospels, as there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds. In accordance with this natural fourfoldness the Word who designs all things has given us the Gospel under four aspects but united and unified by one Spirit. Additional importance has been given to this statement by the suggestion of Dr. Taylor of Cambridge that Irenaeus borrowed this idea from Hermas. This writer, who belongs to a much earlier period than Irenaeus, in speaking of the Church says: “Whereas thou sawest her seated on a couch, the position is a firm one; for the couch has four feet and standeth firmly, for the world too is upheld by means of four elements”. [4] If we could accept Dr. Taylor’s view and believe that the four Gospels are here alluded to, we should have the earliest testimony to our four canonical Gospels; but it may so reasonably be doubted whether the reference is to four Gospels that the passage cannot be appealed to without hesitation.

[4] See Taylor’s Hermas and the Four Gospels . Cambridge, 1892.

But it is the connection of Irenaeus with Polycarp which has always been considered the significant element in his testimony. Eusebius ( H. E. , v., 20) has preserved a letter written by Irenaeus to Florinus, in which he reminds him how they had together listened to Polycarp in their youth: “I distinctly remember the incidents of that time better than events of recent occurrence; for the lessons received in childhood, growing with the growth of the soul, become identified with it; so that I can describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp used to sit when he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and his manner of life and his personal appearance, and the discourses which he held before the people; and how he would describe his intercourse with John and with the rest who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words. And what were the accounts he had heard from them about the Lord, and about His miracles, and about His teaching, how Polycarp, as having received them from eye-witnesses of the life of the Word [ τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ Λόγου ], used to give an account harmonising on all points with the Scriptures.” [5] The Scripture in which “the life of the Word” can be traced is the Fourth Gospel. Polycarp does not refer his hearers to that Gospel, because having himself been a pupil of John, he preferred to relate what he had heard from him. But Irenaeus recognised that Polycarp’s oral tradition was in harmony with the Gospel. Besides, John lived to the times of Trajan, whose reign began in A.D. 98, while Polycarp was born not later than A.D. 70, and was put to death in 156, so that the first thirty years of his life coincided with the last years of John’s, and the last thirty years with the youth of Irenaeus. This being so, can it fairly be said to be likely that after such intimacy with Polycarp as Irenaeus claims, he should not know whether John had written a Gospel or not? Is it conceivable that a young man of an intelligent and inquiring turn of mind should have been in daily communication with a pupil of the Apostle’s, and should never have discovered the origin of the most remarkable document of primitive Christianity?

[5] This argument is put in an interesting and conclusive form by Dr. Dale in his Living Christ and the Four Gospels , pp. 149 151, 281 284.

But Irenaeus is not the earliest writer who ascribes the Fourth Gospel to the Apostle John. This distinction belongs to Theophilus of Antioch. His treatise, Ad Autolycum , was probably of an earlier date than Irenaeus’ great work, and in this treatise, speaking of inspired men, he says: “one of whom, John, says, In the beginning was the Word”.

The date of the Muratorian Canon is so much debated that it cannot be cited as a witness anterior to Irenaeus. But it records an interesting tradition of the origin of the Gospel. “The fourth of the Gospels is by the disciple John. He was urged by his fellow disciples and bishops and said, ‘Fast with me this day and for three days and whatever shall be revealed to any of us let us relate it’. The same night it was revealed to the Apostle Andrew that John should write the whole in his own name, and that all the rest should revise it.” Whatever may be thought of this tradition, it is at all events evidence that for some considerable time prior to the publication of the Muratorian Canon the Fourth Gospel had been accepted as the work of John.

The esteem in which the Fourth Gospel was held about the middle of the second century is evinced by the place it holds in the Diatessaron of Tatian. This harmony of the four Gospels opens with a portion of the Fourth Gospel. What may reasonably be gathered from the existence of such a work is fairly stated by Harnack in his article on Tatian in the Encyc. Brit. : “We learn from the Diatessaron that about A.D. 160 our four Gospels had already taken a place of prominence in the Church, and that no others had done so; that in particular the Fourth Gospel had already taken a fixed place alongside of the three synoptics”. But this is too modest an inference. Prof. Sanday has shown that the text used in the composition of the Diatessaron does not represent the original autograph of the Gospel, nor a first copy of it, but that several copyings must have intervened between the original and Tatian’s text; that in fact this text was derived “from a copy that is already very corrupt, a copy perhaps farther removed (if every aberration is taken into account) from the original text than the text which was committed to print in the sixteenth century. This is a fact of the very highest significance, and it is one that the negative critics in Germany have, to the best of my belief, entirely overlooked.” [6] The date of the Gospel is thus pushed back considerably.

[6] See also Harris’ Preliminary Study, etc. , p. 56.

With the writings of Tatian’s master, Justin, we pass from the second into the first half of the second century. Dr. Hort places his martyrdom in the year A.D. 149, and his writings may, with Lightfoot, be dated in the fifth decade of the century. That he made use of the Fourth Gospel, although hotly contested a few years ago, is now, since the investigations of Drummond and Abbot, scarcely denied. [7] And indeed several passages in Justin’s writings are indisputable echoes of the Gospel. In the Dialogue with Trypho (c. 105) he expressly states that his knowledge of Jesus as the only begotten of the Father and as the Logos was derived from the Gospels, that is, from the Fourth Gospel, for none of the synoptics speak of the Logos. In his First Apology (c. 63) he says of the Jews: “They are justly upbraided by Christ Himself as knowing neither the Father nor the Son”. In the same Apology (c. 61), in explaining baptism, he says: “For Christ also said, Except ye be born again ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven”. Other passages have a similar bearing.

[7] See Abbot’s Critical Essays ; Purves, Test. of Justin ; Norton, Genuineness of the Gospels .

In the Apostolic Fathers we find no express references to the Fourth Gospel, but there are not wanting echoes which indicate a familiarity with its teaching. Thus in the epistles of Ignatius written in the year A.D. 110 while the writer was on his way to martyrdom, are found such expressions as “the Spirit … knoweth whence it cometh and whither it goeth,” an obvious reminiscence of our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus. And when we find Ignatius speaking of Jesus as “the door of the Father,” “the Shepherd,” “the Son who is His Word,” the probability is that these expressions were derived from the Gospel.

Polycarp’s one epistle dates from the same year A.D. 110. It is a brief letter, and no reference to the Fourth Gospel occurs in it. But he quotes from the First Epistle of John, and as no one doubts that the Gospel and the Epistle are from the same hand, it can at any rate be concluded that the writer of the Gospel “flourished before Polycarp wrote”.

Papias of Hierapolis, although not usually numbered among the Apostolic Fathers, was a contemporary of Polycarp, and his life overlapped that of the Apostle John by about twenty-five years. He wrote the earliest known commentary, entitled An Exposition of our Lord’s Oracles . Most unfortunately this book is lost, and among the many rich discoveries which modern research is making none could be more valuable than the discovery of this work of Papias. The fact remains that he did write it, and therefore had some written material to proceed upon. And significant allusion is made to this work in an old Latin argument prefixed to the Gospel in a MS. of the ninth century, which says: “The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John while he still remained in the body, as one named Papias of Hierapolis, a beloved disciple of John, related in his five books of expositions”.

The testimony of heretics is equally decisive. From the decade A.D. 160 170 we receive a significant witness in the commentary on the Gospel of John by Heracleon, a pupil or companion of Valentinus, [8] ( γνώριμον is Origen’s word). Mr. Brooke, who edited the extant portions of this commentary for Armitage Robinson’s Texts and Studies , arrives at the conclusion that it must be dated shortly after the death of Valentinus, that is to say, not much later than A.D. 160. “The rise of commentaries shows an advanced stage in the history of the text of the Fourth Gospel” (Lightfoot, Bibl. Essays , p. 111). And the reason for Heracleon’s choosing this Gospel as the subject of a commentary is that Valentinus and his school borrowed from it much of their phraseology, and hoped by putting their own interpretation on it to gain currency for their views. We have, then, this remarkable circumstance that shortly after the middle of the second century the Fourth Gospel occupied such a position of authority in the Church that the Gnostics considered it of importance to secure its voice in favour of their views. No wonder that even Volkmar should exclaim: “Ah! Great God! if between A.D. 125 and 155 a commentary was composed on John’s Gospel such as that of which Origen has preserved considerable extracts, what yet remains to be discussed? It is very certain that it is all over with the critical thesis of the composition of the Fourth Gospel in the middle of the second century.” [9]

[8] Valentinus himself used “integro instrumento,” the whole N.T. as Tertullian received it. Tert., Praescr. , 38.

[9] See Reynolds, Pulpit Com. , p. 29.

But there is evidence that even an earlier Gnostic teacher made use of this Gospel. Hippolytus ( Philos. , vii., 22), in giving an account of the opinions of Basileides, who flourished at Alexandria about the year A.D. 125, quotes him in the following terms: “This,” says he ( i.e. , Basileides), “is that which is said in the Gospels, ‘That was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ ”. The words are cited precisely as they stand in the Fourth Gospel, and as they are not words of Jesus, which might have been handed down through some other channel, but words of the evangelist himself, they prove that the Gospel existed before the year A.D 125. The attempt to evade this conclusion by the suggestion that Hippolytus is quoting the followers of Basileides rather than himself has been finally disposed of by Matthew Arnold ( God and the Bible , 268 9). But even Basileides was not the earliest Gnostic who used this Gospel. Hippolytus gives an account of the previously existing sects, the Naasseni and Peratae, which proves that they made large use of this Gospel. Already in the earliest years of the second century the Fourth Gospel was an authoritative document.

What must necessarily be inferred from this use of the Gospel by the Gnostics of the second century? The conclusion drawn by Ezra Abbot is as follows: “It was then generally received both by Gnostics and their opponents between the years A.D. 120 and 130. What follows? It follows that the Gnostics of that date received it because they could not help it. They would not have admitted the authority of a book, which could be reconciled with their doctrines only by the most forced interpretation, if they could have destroyed its authority by denying its genuineness. Its genuineness could then be easily ascertained Ephesus was one of the principal cities of the Eastern world, the centre of extensive commerce, the metropolis of Asia Minor. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were living who had known the Apostle John. The question whether he, the beloved disciple, had committed to writing his recollections of his Master’s life and teaching, was one of the greatest interest. The fact of the reception of the Fourth Gospel as his work at so early a date, by parties so violently opposed to each other, proves that the evidence of its genuineness was decisive.” [10]

[10] Critical Essays , p. 91.

The Clementine Homilies and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs , which respectively represent the Ebionite and Nazarene branches of Judaistic Christianity, betray familiarity, if not with the Fourth Gospel, certainly with its teaching and phraseology.

In the face of this external evidence, it has been found impossible to maintain the late date which was ascribed to the Gospel by several eminent critics of the last generation. There can be no doubt that the Gospel existed in the earliest years of the second century, and that it was even then esteemed authoritative. That the Apostle John was its author, is nowhere explicitly stated before the middle of the century; but that this was from the first believed, may legitimately be inferred both from the esteem in which it was held, and from the fact that no other name was ever connected with the Gospel until the impossible Cerinthian authorship was suggested by the insignificant and biassed sect of the Alogi. Schürer, indeed, says that “the utmost one can admit in an unprejudiced way, is that the external evidence is evenly balanced pro and con , and leads to no decision. Perhaps, however, it would be truer to say it is more unfavourable than favourable to the authenticity.” Such a conclusion can only excite astonishment.

2. Internal evidence of Johannine authorship . The internal evidence has usually been grouped under four heads, showing respectively that the author was (1) a Jew, (2) a Palestinian, (3) an eye-witness, (4) the Apostle John.

(1) That the writer was a Jew is proved by his Hebraistic style, by his knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic, and by his familiarity with Jewish traditions, ideas, modes of thought, expectations, customs. Although written in Greek which is neither awkward nor ungrammatical, the Gospel uses a small number of words and only such as are familiar in ordinary conversation. The vocabulary is much more limited than that of the well-educated Paul, and the style reveals none of the nicety found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. One chief distinction between Hebrew and Greek style is that the Greek writer by means of multitudinous particles exhibits with precision the course of thought by which each clause is connected with that which goes before it the Hebrew writer contents himself with laying thought alongside of thought and leaving it to the reader to discover the connection. The most casual reader of the Fourth Gospel speedily finds that the difficulty of understanding it is the difficulty of perceiving the sequence of the clauses. Any one accustomed to a Greek style would on reading the Fourth Gospel conclude that its author was not familiar with Greek literature. [11]

[11] See further in Lighfoot’s Bibl. Essays , p. 16 ff. Weiss, Introd. , ii., 359.

It would also naturally be concluded that the writer was a Jew from his inserting translations of Aramaic names, as in John 1:38 , John 1:41 , John 1:42 , John 9:7 , John 19:13 , John 19:17 , John 20:21 ; and especially from his familiarity with Jewish customs, ideas, and institutions. Thus he knows that it is a Jewish custom to sit under the fig tree, John 1:49 ; to have water-pots for purposes of purification, John 2:6 ; to embalm the dead, John 19:40 ; to wash the feet before meals, John 13:4 . He is familiar with Jewish ideas, as that it is wrong for a Rabbi to speak with a woman, John 4:27 , that disease is the result of sin, John 9:2 ; that Elias was to come before the Messiah, John 1:21 ; that it defiles a Jew to enter a Gentile dwelling, John 18:29 . So intimate an acquaintance with the Jewish Messianic ideas as is shown in chap. 7 cannot easily be ascribed to any but a Jew. Jewish institutions are also well known: Levites and priests are distinguished, John 1:19 ; the composition and action of the Sanhedrim is well understood; the less frequented feasts ( ἐγκαίνια , John 10:22 ) are known. He is also aware of the chief point in dispute between Jews and Samaritans, John 4:20 ; the length of time the Temple has been in building, John 2:21 ; that synagogue and temple are the favourite resort of teachers, John 18:20 . [12]

[12] The best statement of this part of the evidence will be found in Oscar Holtz. mann’s Johan. , pp. 188 191.

Two objections, however, have been raised. 1st. It is said that the author throughout his Gospels betrays a marked antipathy to the Jews. He uses the name as a recognised designation of the enemies of Jesus; “the Jews” sought to kill Him; “no man spake openly of Him for fear of ‘the Jews’ ”. They are spoken of as “the children of the devil”. This objection, however, is baseless. In the synoptic Gospels Jesus, Himself a Jew, is represented as pronouncing invectives against the leaders of the people quite as strong as any to be found in the Fourth Gospel. In John all the apostles are Jews, and it is in this Gospel the great saying is preserved that “salvation is of the Jews”. 2nd. Matthew Arnold and the author of Supernatural Religion have maintained that the Jews and their usages are spoken of in this Gospel as if they belonged to a race different from the writer’s. “The water-pots at Cana are set ‘ after the manner of purifying of the Jews ’; … ‘now the Jews passover was nigh at hand’ … It seems almost impossible to think that a Jew born and bred a man like the Apostle John could ever have come to speak so.… A Jew talking of the Jews’ passover and of a dispute of some of John’s disciples with a Jew about purifying . It is like an Englishman writing of the Derby as the English people’s Derby , or talking of a dispute between some of Mr. Cobden’s disciples and an Englishman about free trade . An Englishman would never speak so.” [13] An Englishman who had for many years been resident abroad and who was writing for foreigners would use precisely such forms of expression.

[13] God and the Bible , p. 251.

(2) The author was a Palestinian. A Jew of the dispersion, a Hellenist, would probably betray himself, not only by writing a freer Greek style, but by showing a less intimate knowledge of the localities of the Holy Land, and by using the LXX., and not the original Hebrew, in quoting from the Old Testament. In regard to the evidence afforded by a knowledge of localities, Professor Ramsay lays down the following: “It is impossible for any one to invent a tale, whose scene lies in a foreign land, without betraying in slight details his ignorance of the scenery and circumstances amid which the event is described as taking place. Unless the writer studiously avoids details, and confines himself to names and generalities, he is certain to commit numerous errors. Even the most laborious and minute study of the circumstances of the country, in which he is to lay his scene, will not preserve him from such errors. He must live long, and observe carefully in the country, if he wishes to invent a tale which will not betray his ignorance in numberless details. Allusions of French or German authors to English life supply the readiest illustration of this principle.” Now the author of the Fourth Gospel betrays that intimate acquaintance with the localities of Palestine, which could only be possessed by a resident. He describes Bethany as “nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off”. Who, but one who had often walked it, would be likely to let that exact indication drop from his pen? It is the unconscious gratuitousness of full knowledge. In chap. 6 he has before his mind’s eye the movements round the Sea of Galilee, which he describes. He is familiar with the Temple, with its porches and cloisters, and he knows the side of the building which people chose in cold weather. He passes from Jerusalem to the villages around, crossing brooks, and visiting gardens without once stumbling in his topographical details. This sure sign of a resident he constantly betrays, he adds to the name of a town the additional specification by which it might be distinguished from others of the same name: “Bethany beyond Jordan,” “Aenon near to Salim,” “Bethsaida the city of Andrew and Peter,” and so forth.

In a matter of this kind few are more qualified to judge than Bishop Lightfoot, who spent so much of his own life in archæological research. Here is his judgment: “Let us place ourselves in the position of one who wrote at the middle of the second century, after the later Roman invasion had swept off the scanty gleanings of the past which had been spared from the earlier. Let us ask how a romancer so situated is to make himself acquainted with the incidents, the localities, the buildings, the institutions, the modes of thought and feeling which belonged to this past age, and (as we may almost say) this bygone people. Let it be granted that here and there he must stumble upon a historical fact, that in one or two particulars he might reproduce a national characteristic. More than this would be beyond his reach. For, it will be borne in mind, he would be placed at a great disadvantage, compared with a modern writer; he would have to reconstruct history without these various appliances, maps and plates, chronological tables, books of travel, by which the author of a historical novel is so largely assisted in the present day” ( Expositor , Jan., 1890, p. 13).

A few years ago the writer’s ignorance of the localities he mentioned was insisted upon. But since the Palestinian Survey the tables are turned. It is now admitted that competent knowledge of the localities is shown. Schürer, e.g. , says: “Among serious difficulties we need no longer reckon at the present day the supposed ignorance of Palestinian and Jewish matters from which Bretschneider and Baur inferred that the author was neither a Palestinian nor in any sense a Jew. The geographical errors and ignorance of things Jewish have more and more shrunk to a minimum .” The argument now is, “admitting that the writer shows local knowledge, this does not prove that he was a native of Palestine. He may have derived his knowledge from books, or from occasional residence in the country.” Professor Sanday has been at pains to show that any knowledge which could have been derived from such geographers as Pomponius Mela, Ptolemy, or Strabo, was of the scantiest possible description. Holtzmann, though strongly opposed to the Johannine authorship, admits that the topographical knowledge indicates that the author had visited the holy places, but not that he was a Palestinian. He had then been a resident in Palestine, knew the places he spoke about, and so far was not romancing.

One distinction of the Jew of the dispersion was his use of the LXX., instead of the Hebrew Bible. What Old Testament then does the writer of the Fourth Gospel use? He is found to depart from the LXX., and to use language more closely representing the Hebrew. Until a very few years ago, this was accepted as proof that he read the Hebrew, and used it. But recently there has been a growing conviction that during the Apostolic Age other versions of the Old Testament, or of some books and portions of it, were extant in Greek. And it is argued that John might have used some of these. But when it is found that in some of his quotations his language is closer to the original than that of the LXX., or than the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, it is certainly reasonable to conclude that he used the Hebrew, and translated for himself, and was, therefore, a native Palestinian. [14]

[14] See this handled with his usual fairness by Professor Sanday, Expositor , March, 1892.

(3) There is reason to believe that the author was an eye-witness of the events he relates. In the first place, the writer claims to be an eye-witness. This is surely of some account. The expression “we beheld His glory” (John 1:14 ) need not be pressed, although considering the analogous statement of 1 John 1:1 , it may very well be maintained that the writer had with his bodily eyes seen the manifestation of his Lord’s glory. But in John 19:35 we have an explicit claim: “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe”. The words “he knoweth that he saith true” could hardly have been inserted by any other hand than that of the eye-witness himself. In John 21:24 we read: “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things”. Whether this note was added by the writer himself, or by another hand, certainly the intention is to identify the writer with an eye-witness and participator of the events recorded. We are thus confronted with the alternative: either an eye-witness wrote this Gospel, or a forger whose genius for truth and for lying are alike inexplicable. As Renan says ( Vie , xxvii.): “L’auteur y parle toujours comme témoin oculaire; il veut se faire passer pour l’ApôtreJean. Si donc cet ouvrage n’est pas réellement de l’apôtre, il faut admettre une supercherie que l’auteur s’avouait à lui-même.”

This claim is abundantly confirmed by the character of the Gospel. For we find in it such a multitude of detail as gratuitously invites the detection of error. Not only are individuals named, and so described that we seem to know them, but frequently there are added specifications of time and place which obviously are the involuntary superfluity of information which flows almost unconsciously from a full memory. Such details are: the hour at which Jesus sat on the well, the number and size of the water-pots at the marriage at Cana, the weight and value of the ointment, the number of fish at the last cast, the hour at which the nobleman’s son began to amend, the hour at which Jesus took the two inquirers into His own lodging.

Circumstantiality can, no doubt, be given to a narrative by a Defoe or a Swift. But among the Jews the writing of fiction was not cultivated; and besides, the circumstantial detail of this Gospel does not belong to the world of imagination, but attaches to real objects and events, and can in many instances be verified. If in these instances the detail is found to be accurate, the presumption is that accuracy characterises those also which cannot so easily be checked; and that, therefore, the circumstantiality is due to the fact that the writer was an eye-witness of what he records.

(4) This Palestinian Jew who was himself an eye-witness of the ministry of Jesus was the Apostle John. In John 21:24 the writer of the Gospel is identified with the disciple whom Jesus loved. This disciple was certainly one of the seven named in John 21:2 , who appear as the actors in the scene there recorded. Of these seven there were three who frequently appear in the other Gospels as the intimates of Jesus. These are Peter, James, and John. But Peter cannot have been the disciple in question, for in this chapter Peter and that disciple are spoken of separately. Neither can James be the person meant, for his early death precludes the idea of his being the author of the Gospel. It remains that John was the disciple whom Jesus loved, [15] the author of the Fourth Gospel. And however we interpret the intention of John in using this circumlocution to designate himself, it must not be overlooked that its employment is evidence of the Johannine authorship. In the other Gospels John is frequently spoken of by name. In this Gospel John is not once named, although from no Gospel do we gather such vivid descriptions of the Apostles. Certainly it is a most natural and sufficient explanation of this fact to suppose that John was the author of the Gospel.

[15] “ There is no trace that in Christian antiquity this title ever suggested any one but John” (Ezra Abbot, Critical Essays , p. 73).

Objections . But to this conclusion many critics demur. Since Bretschneider it has been continually asserted that this does not exhaust the internal evidence, and that there is that in the Fourth Gospel which makes it impossible to refer it to the Apostle John. There are evidences of dependence on the synoptists, inconsistent with the hypothesis that it was written by an Apostle who himself had been an eye-witness; of a universalism inconsistent with the fact that the Apostle John was a pillar of the Jewish Christian Church; and of a philosophical colouring which does not favour the idea that the author was a Galilean fisherman. [16]

[16] For a brief but conclusive answer to these objections, see Dale’s Living Christ and the Four Gospels , 149 152.

The two latter objections are not formidable. Schürer shows with considerable force that up to the time of the Apostolic convention in Jerusalem John was a Jewish Christian and an upholder of the law, whereas the author of this Gospel knows the law only as the law of the Jews. Is it likely, he asks, that one who during the first twenty years of his ministry maintained the law would in his latter years so entirely repudiate it? “If during this long period the influence of the preaching of Jesus had not made John a liberal, was such a transformation probable at a still later time?” That such a transformation was very probable will be the answer of those who consider that between the earlier and the later period the Jewish economy had come to an end and that John had become the successor of Paul in a thoroughly Greek city.

The traces of philosophical colouring have been exaggerated and misinterpreted. In the Platonic dialogues the circumstances, the speakers, and their utterances are all either created by the writer or employed to proclaim his own philosophy. To suppose that the Gospel was composed in some analogous manner is to misconceive it. No doubt in Ephesus John was brought into contact with forms of thought and with speculations which were little heard of in Palestine. And in so far as the ideas then prevalent were true, an intelligent Christian mind would necessarily bring them into relation with the manifestation of God in Christ. This process would bring to the surface much of the significance both of the life and teaching of Jesus which hitherto had been unnoticed and unused. The process is apparent in the epistles of Paul as well as in the Fourth Gospel. The idea of the Logos was a Jewish-Alexandrian idea, and that the author sought to attach his Gospel to this idea is unquestionable, but it is a very long and insecure step from this to conclude that he was himself trained in the Hellenistic philosophy of Alexandria. The Logos idea is not essential to the Fourth Gospel; it is rather the Sonship idea that is essential. But the term and the idea of the Logos are used by the author to introduce his subject to the Greek readers. As Harnack says: “The prologue is not the key to the understanding of the Gospel, but is rather intended to prepare the Hellenistic reader for its perusal”. [17] After the introduction the Logos is never again referred to. The philosophy one finds in the Gospel is not the metaphysics of the schools, but the insight of the contemplative, brooding spirit which finds in Christ the solvent of all problems.

[17] Zeitschrift f. T. und K. , 2nd Jahrg., p. 230.

The originality of the author of the Fourth Gospel has recently been vigorously assailed. [18] It has been shown that, in certain passages, he is dependent for his phraseology on the Synoptic Gospels; and it has been urged that an Apostle and eye-witness would not thus derive from others an account of what he had himself seen. As a general rule it is of course true that an eye-witness would depend on his own reminiscences; but, presumably, no one denies that John knew and used the Synoptic Gospels; and that phrases which occur in them should have remained in his memory is not surprising. Even in the passages where these borrowings occur, there are divergences so considerable as to indicate an original witness. For, to interpret these divergences, as Oscar Holtzmann does, as misunderstandings of his sources, is rather, if it may without offence be said, a misunderstanding of John. It may rather be said that, in several instances, we find additions and corrections which are requisite for the understanding of the Synoptists. From the first three Gospels the reader might gather that our Lord’s ministry extended over only one year; the Fourth Gospel definitely mentions three Passovers (John 2:13 ; John 6:4 ; John 13:1 ), with a possible fourth (John 5:1 ). The probabilities here are certainly in favour of the representation of the Fourth Gospel, and it may be shown that even in the Synoptic narratives a longer ministry is implied than that which they expressly mention. Again, the ministry in Jerusalem, as recounted in the Fourth Gospel, alone enables us to understand the lament which finds a place in the Synoptics, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often ,” etc. The call of those who afterwards became Apostles, the arrival in Galilee of scribes from Jerusalem to watch Jesus, and other incidents recorded by the Synoptists, only become fully intelligible when read in the light of the narrative given in the Fourth Gospel. Evidently the author of this Gospel had, at least on some points, access to more accurate and complete information than that which was accessible to the other evangelists.

[18] See especially Oscar Holtzmann, Johannesevang ., p. 6 ff.

The independence of the Fourth Gospel is further shown by its omission of such remarkable scenes as the Temptation, the Transfiguration, the Agony in the Garden, and by its introduction of places and persons unnamed in the other Gospels; as, Aenon, Salim, Sychar, Bethany beyond Jordan, Nicodemus, Nathanael, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, the dead Lazarus, Annas. The most natural way to account for this is to suppose that we have here the additional information which an Apostle would necessarily possess. The alternatives are that we must refer it to the creative imagination of the writer, or to the tradition of our Lord’s life which had been handed down irrespective of the Synoptic Gospels, the “Johanneisches vor Johannes”. But why deny this tradition to the Apostle John? In whom could it find a more suitable repository? Unquestionably there underlies this Gospel a full and significant tradition, but there seems no good reason for allotting the tradition to one source and the Gospel to another. Much more probable is the account of Eusebius, [19] who tells us “that John, having spent all his life in proclaiming the Gospel orally, at the last committed it to writing”.

[19] H.E. , iii., 24: Ιωάννην φασὶ τὸν πάντα χρόνον ἀγράφῳ κεχρημένον κηρύγματι τέλος καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν γραφὴν ἐλθεῖν .

Suspicion has been cast on the historicity of the Fourth Gospel by the omission from the others of all reference to the raising of Lazarus. As related by John, this event was not only remarkable in itself, but materially contributed to the catastrophe. It is difficult to suppose that so surprising an event should not be known to the Synoptists. It is true John omits incidents as remarkable; but he knew that they were already related. It is possible that at the first, while the life of Lazarus was still in danger from the authorities, reference to the miracle may have been judged unadvisable, especially as similar raisings from the dead had been recorded. Probably, however, Professor Sanday’s solution is right: “Considering that the Synoptists knew nothing of events in Jerusalem before the last Passover, we cannot be surprised that they should omit an event which is placed at Bethany”. [20]

[20] Authorship of Fourth Gospel , p. 185.

But that which has driven many open-minded critics to a disbelief in the Apostolic authorship of the Gospel is the character of the conversations and addresses which are here attributed to our Lord. Some pronounce these discourses to be entirely fictitious, ascribed to Jesus for the sake of illustrating and enforcing opinions of the author. Others suppose that a small modicum of historical truth is to be found in them; while critics who are branded as “Apologists” almost entirely eliminate from the discourses ascribed to our Lord any subjective element contributed by the Evangelist. Is there then any test we can apply to this record, any criterion by which these discourses may be judged? The reports in the Synoptic Gospels at once suggest themselves as the required criterion. Doubts there may be regarding the very words ascribed to our Lord in this, or that passage of the Synoptists, doubts there must be, whether we are to follow Matthew or Luke, when these two differ; but practically there is no doubt at all, even among extreme critics, that we may gather from those Gospels a clear idea both of the form and of the substance of our Lord’s teaching.

Now it is not to be denied that the comparison of the Fourth Gospel with the first three is a little disconcerting. For it is obvious that in the Fourth Gospel the discourses occupy a different position, and differ also both in style and in matter from those recorded in the Synoptical Gospels. They occupy a different position, bulking much more largely in proportion to the narrative. Indeed, the narrative portion of the Gospel of John may be said to exist for the sake of the verbal teaching. The miracles which in the first three Gospels appear as the beneficent acts of our Lord without ulterior motive, seem in the Fourth Gospel to exist for the sake of the teaching they embody, and the discussions they give rise to. Similarly, the persons introduced, such as Nicodemus, are viewed chiefly as instrumental in eliciting from Jesus certain sayings, and are themselves forgotten in the conversation they have suggested.

In form the teachings recorded in John conspicuously differ from those recorded by the other evangelists. They present our Lord as using three forms of teaching, brief, pregnant apophthegms, parables, and prolonged ethical addresses. In John, it is alleged, the parable has disappeared, the pointed sayings suitable to a popular teacher have also disappeared, and in their place we have prolonged discussions, self-defensive explanations, and stern invectives. As Renan says: “This fashion of preaching and demonstrating without ceasing, this everlasting argumentation, this artificial get-up, these long discussions following each miracle, these discourses, stiff and awkward, whose tone is so often false and unequal, are intolerable to a man of taste alongside the delicious sentences of the synoptists”.

Even more marked is the difference in the substance of the discourses. From the synoptists we receive the impression that Jesus was a genial ethical teacher who spent His days among the common people exhorting them to unworldliness, to a disregard of wealth, to the humble and patient service of God in love to their fellow-men, exposing the hollowness of much that passed for religion, and seeking to inspire all men with firmer trust in God as their Father. In the Gospel of John His own claims are the prominent subject. He is the subject matter taught as well as the teacher. The Kingdom of God no longer holds the place it held in the synoptists: it is the Messiah rather than the Messianic kingdom that is pressed upon the people.

Again it has been urged that the style ascribed to our Lord in this Gospel is so like the style of John himself as to be indistinguishable; so that it is not always possible to say where the words of Jesus end and the words of John begin (see chap. John 12:44 , John 3:18-21 ). This difficulty may, however, be put aside, and that for more reasons than one. The words of Jesus are translated from the vernacular Aramaic in which He probably uttered them, and it was impossible they should not be coloured by the style of the translator. Besides, there are obvious differences between the style of John and that of Jesus. For example, the Epistle of John is singularly abstract and devoid of illustration. James abounds in figure, and so does Paul; but in John’s epistles not a single simile or metaphor occurs. Is it credible that their writer was the author of the richly figurative teachings in the tenth and fifteenth chapters of the Gospel [the sheepfold and the vine]?

But turning to the real differences which exist between the reports of the first three and the Fourth Gospel, several thoughts occur which at least take off the edge of the criticism and show us that on a point of this kind it is easy to be hasty and extreme. For, in the first place, it is to be considered that if John had had nothing new to tell, no fresh aspect of Christ or His teaching to present, he would not have written at all. No doubt each of the synoptists goes over ground already traversed by his fellow-synoptist, but it has yet to be proved that they knew one another’s work. John did know of their Gospels, and the very fact that he added a fourth prepares us to expect that it will be different; not only in omitting scenes from the life of Christ with which already the previous Gospels had made men familiar, but by presenting some new aspect of Christ’s person and teaching. That there was another aspect essential to the completeness of the figure was, as the present Bishop of Derry has pointed out, also to be surmised. The synoptists enable us to conceive how Jesus addressed the peasantry and how He dealt with the scribes of Capernaum; but, after all, was it not also of the utmost importance to know how He was received by the authorities of Jerusalem and how He met their difficulties about His claims? Had there been no record of those defences of His position, must we not still have supposed them and supplied them in imagination?

That we have here, then, a different aspect of Christ’s teaching need not surprise us, but is it not even inconsistent with that already given by the synoptists? The universal Christian consciousness has long since answered that question. The faith which has found its resting-place in the Christ of the synoptists is not unsettled or perplexed by anything it finds in John. They are not two Christs but one which the four Gospels depict: diverse as the profile and front face, but one another’s complement rather than contradiction. A critical examination of the Gospels reaches the same conclusion. For while the self-assertiveness of Christ is more apparent in the Fourth Gospel, it is implicit in them all. Can any claim be greater than that which our Lord urges in the Sermon on the Mount to be the supreme lawgiver and judge of men? Or than that which is implied in His assertion that He only knows the Father and that only through Him can others know Him; or can we conceive any clearer confidence in His mission than that which He implies when He invites all men to come to Him and trust themselves with Him, or when He forgives sin, and proclaims Himself the Messiah, God’s representative on earth?

Can we then claim that all that is reported in this Gospel as uttered by our Lord was actually spoken as it stands? This is not claimed. Even the most conservative critics allow that John must necessarily have condensed conversations and discourses. The truth probably is that we have the actual words of the most striking sayings, because these, once heard, could not be forgotten. And this plainly applies especially to the sayings regarding Himself which were most likely to astonish or even shock and startle the hearers. These at once and for ever fixed themselves in the mind. In the longer discussions and addresses we have the substance but cannot at each point be sure that the very words are given. No doubt in the last resort we must trust John. But whom could we more reasonably trust? He was the person of all others who entered most fully into sympathy with Christ and understood Him best, the person to whom our Lord could most freely open His mind. So that although, as Godet says, we have here “the extracted essence of a savoury fruit,” we may be confident that this essence perfectly preserves the flavour and peculiarity of the fruit.

Neither ought it to be forgotten that there occur in the Gospel passages which strikingly illustrate the desire of the author to preserve the very words of our Lord. In chap. John 12:33 , e.g. , we find an interpretation given of the saying recorded in verse 32. This is unintelligible on the hypothesis that the author was himself composing the discourses which he attributes to Christ. Any author who is expressing his own ideas, and writing freely out of his own mind, even although he is using another person as his mouthpiece, will at once deliver his meaning. To suppose that John first put his own words in the mouth of Jesus, and then interpreted them, is to suppose an elaborateness of contrivance which would reduce the Gospel to a common forgery. Cf. John 7:39 .

While, then, it cannot be affirmed that the internal evidence uniformly points to the Johannine authorship, neither can it be said that it is decisively against it. There are difficulties on either alternative. But when to the internal evidence the weight of external attestation is added, by far the most probable conclusion is that the Fourth Gospel is the work of the Apostle John, and that it is historically trustworthy.

Between the affirmation and denial of the Johannine authorship there has been interposed a third suggestion. The Gospel may have been (1) partly or (2) indirectly the work of the Apostle: parts of it may be from the hand of John, while the remainder is the work of an unknown editor; or, the whole may be from the school of John, but not directly from his own hand. The most distinguished advocate of the former of these two suggestions is Dr. Wendt, whose theory is that the Apostle John made a collection of our Lord’s discourses, which was used by some unknown editor as the basis or nucleus of a Gospel. This theory ruthlessly sacrifices many of the most valuable and characteristic portions of the Gospel, such as the scene between the Baptist and the deputation, the examination before Annas (or Caiaphas), and many of those historical touches which lend life to the narrative. But the fatal objection to this theory is the solidarity of the Gospel. Holtzmann does not accept the Fourth Gospel as Johannine, but he says: “All attempts to draw a clearly distinguishable line of demarcation, whether it be between earlier and later strata, or between genuine and not genuine, historical and unhistorical elements, must always be wrecked against the solid and compact unity which the work presents, both in regard to language and in regard to matter. Apart from the interpolations indicated by the history of the text (John 5:4 , John 7:53 , John 8:11 ), and from the last chapter added by way of supplement, the work is both in form and substance, both in arrangement and in range of ideas, an organic whole without omissions or interpolations, the ‘seamless coat,’ which cannot be parted or torn, but only by a happy cast allotted to its rightful owner.” Certainly, if this Gospel is not from one hand, then there is no possibility of proving unity of authorship by unity of design and execution.

The second alternative, that the Gospel proceeded rather from the circle of John’s disciples than from his own hand, has more in its favour and has enlisted great names in its support. Thus Renan says ( Vie de J. , xxv.): “Can it indeed be John who has written in Greek these abstract metaphysical discourses, which find no analogy either in the Synoptists or in the Talmud? This is a heavy tax on faith, and for myself I dare not say I am convinced that the Fourth Gospel was entirely from the pen of an old Galilean fisherman; but that the Gospel as a whole proceeded, towards the close of the first century, from the great school of Asia Minor whose centre was John.” “One is sometimes tempted to believe that some precious notes made by the Apostle were employed by his disciples.”

The other great literary critic of our own day, Matthew Arnold, held the same opinion regarding the origin of the Gospel. In God and the Bible , 256 7, he writes: “In his old age St. John at Ephesus has ‘logia,’ sayings of the Lord, and has incidents in the Lord’s story which have not been published in any of the written accounts that were beginning at that time to be handed about. The elders of Ephesus, whom tradition afterwards makes into apostles, fellows of St. John, move him to bestow his treasure on the world. He gives his materials, and the presbytery of Ephesus provides a redaction for them and publishes them. The redaction with its unity of tone, its flowingness and connectedness, is by one single hand; the hand of a man of literary talent, a Greek Christian, whom the Church of Ephesus found proper for such a task. A man of literary talent, a man of soul also, a theologian. A theological lecturer perhaps, as in the Fourth Gospel he so often shows himself, a theological lecturer, an earlier and a nameless Origen, who in this one short composition produced a work outweighing all the folios of all the Fathers, but was content that his name should be written in the Book of Life.” Schürer and Weizsäcker [21] are both advocates of this theory.

[21] Apost. Zeit. , 531 538.

That this is an inviting theory is not to be denied. But, after all, little is gained by it; and there are grave objections to it. The Jew and the eye-witness appear on every page; so that the utmost that can be allowed is that some younger man may in quite a subordinate function have collaborated with the Apostle. That the Gospel was composed after the Apostle’s death, mainly from reminiscences of his teaching, is a hypothesis which seems at once needless. and inadequate.

Object of the Gospel . The object of the writer reflects some light on the nature of his work. In John 20:31 it is said: “these things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life in His name”. The writer has no intention of composing a full biography of Jesus. He means to select from His life such material as will most readily convince men that He is the Christ, the Son of God. If not a dogmatic treatise [a “lehrschrift”], it is at any rate a history with a dogmatic purpose. This is always a dangerous form of literature, tempting the author to exaggeration, concealment, misrepresentation. But that this temptation invariably overcomes an author is of course not the case. A certain limitation, however, nay, a certain amount of distortion, do necessarily attach to a biography which aims at presenting only one aspect of its subject distortion, not in what is actually presented, but in the implication that this is the whole. Where only a part of the life is given and certain aspects of the character are exclusively depicted, there is a want of perspective and so far a misleading element. But this gives us no ground for affirming that the actual statements of the book are erroneous or unhistorical.

The circumstance that John wrote a Gospel with the express purpose of proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, implies that he considered that this truth needed confirmation; that in the Christian circle in which he moved there was some more or less pronounced tendency towards a denial of the Messiahship or Divinity of Jesus. Whether the teaching of Cerinthus was or was not the immediate occasion of the publication of the Gospel, it is a happy circumstance that the author did not confine himself to what was controversial, or throw his work into a polemic and doctrinal form, but built up a positive exhibition of the Person and claims of our Lord as stated by Himself.

The object in view, therefore, reflects light on the historicity of the contents of the Gospel. The writer professes to produce certain facts which have powerfully influenced the minds of men and have produced faith. If these pretended facts were fictions, then the writer is dishonest and beneath contempt. He wishes to produce the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, and to accomplish his purpose invents incidents and manipulates utterances of Jesus. A writer of romance who merely wishes to please, even a preacher whose aim is edification, might claim a certain latitude or negligence of accuracy, but a writer whose object it is to prove a certain proposition stands on a very different platform, and can only be pronounced fraudulent if he invents his evidence.

Method and Plan of the Gospel . The method adopted by the writer to convince men that Jesus is the Christ is the simplest possible. He does not expect that men will believe this on his mere word. He sets himself to reproduce those salient features in the life of Jesus which chiefly manifested His Messianic dignity and function. He believes that what convinced himself will convince others. One by one he cites his witnesses, never garbling their testimony nor concealing the adverse testimony, but showing with as exact truthfulness how unbelief grew and hardened into opposition, as he tells how faith grew till it culminated in the supreme confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God”. The plan of the Gospel is therefore also the simplest. Apart from the Prologue (John 1:1-18 ), and the Epilogue (chap. 21), the work falls into two nearly equal parts, John 1:19-20 . In the former part the evangelist relates with a singular felicity of selection the scenes in which Jesus made those self-revelations which it was essential the world should see. These culminate in the raising of Lazarus related in chap. 11. The twelfth chapter therefore holds a place by itself, and in it three incidents are related which are intended to show that the previously related manifestations of Jesus had sufficed to make Him known (1) to His intimates (John 12:1-11 ), (2) to the people generally (John 12:12-19 ), and (3) even to the Gentile world (Ver. 20 36). Jesus may therefore now close His self-revelation. And the completeness of the work He has done is revealed not only in this widely extended impression and well-grounded faith, but also in the maturity of unbelief which now hardens into hatred and resolves to compass His death. Between the first and second part of the Gospel there is interposed a paragraph (John 12:37-50 ), in which it is pointed out that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, who had been trained to receive the Messiah, had been predicted and reflects no suspicion on the sufficiency of the preceding manifestations. In the second part of the Gospel the glory of Christ is manifested (1) in His revealing Himself as the permanent source of life and joy to His disciples (John 13-17), and (2) in His triumph over death (John 18-20).


1. Jesus declares Himself to be the permanent source of life and joy to His disciples, John 13-17.

A vast literature has grown up around the Fourth Gospel. A full list of critical treatises on the Authorship, published between 1792 and 1875, is given by Dr. Caspar Gregory in an appendix to the translation of Luthardt’s St. John, the Author of the Fourth Gospel . To this list may now be added Thoma, Die Genesis d. Joh. Evang. , 1882; Jacobsen, Untersuckungen über d. Joh. Evang. , 1884; Oscar Holtzmann, Das Joh. evangelium , 1887. The Introductions of H. Holtzmann, Weiss, Salmon, and Gloag may also be consulted. The fullest history of the criticism of the Gospel is to be found in Watkins’ Bampton Lectures for 1890.

Full lists of commentaries are given in the second volume of the translation of Meyer on John, and in Luthardt. The most valuable are the following:

HERACLEON. The Fragments of Heracleon have been collected out of Origen’s Commentary on John, and edited for Armitage Robinson’s Texts and Studies by A. E. Brooke, M.A.

CRIGEN. Commentary on St. John’s Gospel ; originally only extending to the thirteenth chapter, and even of this original much has been lost. The best edition is that of A. E. Brooke, M.A., Cambridge University Press. 1896.

Portions of this Commentary are translated in the additional volume of Clark’s Ante-Nicene Library

CHRYSOSTOM [347 407 A.D.]. Homilies on the Gospel , etc. The most convenient edition is Migne’s. The Commentary on John is translated in the Oxford Library , and in the American Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers .

AUGUSTINE [354 430]. Tractatus in Joan. Evan. In third volume of Migne’s edition; translated in Oxford series and Clark’s translation.

CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA [ob. 444]. In D. Joannis Evangelium . Best edition by P. E. Pusey, A.M., Clarendon Press. Three vols. 1872.

THEOPHYLACT AND EUTHYMIUS (see p. 58) both wrote on this Gospel. The commentary of the latter is especially excellent.

Among post-reformation works, the Paraphrases of Erasmus, the Commentary of Calvin, and the Annotationes Majores of Beza are to be recommended. The Annotationes of Melanchthon are frequently irrelevant. Besides the collections of illustrative passages mentioned on pp. 58, 59, and the commentaries of Grotius, Bengel, and others which cover the whole New Testament, there may be named the following which deal especially with this Gospel: Lampe, Com. Analytico-Exegeticus , 3 vols., 4to, Amstel., 1724, an inexhaustible mine. More recent commentaries are those of Lücke, 1820 24; Tholuck, 1827 [translated in Clark’s F. T. Lib., 1860]; Meyer, 1834 [translated 1875], edited by Weiss, 1893; Luthardt, 1852 3 [translated in Clark’s F. T. Lib., 1876], Alford, 1849; 4th edition, 1859; Godet, 1864 5 [translated in Clark’s F. T. L., 1876 7], Westcott, 1882; Reith, in Clark’s Hand-books for Bible-classes ; Whitelaw, 1888; Reynolds, in Pulpit Com. , 1888; Watkins, in Ellicott’s Com. , n. d.; Holtzmann, in Hand-commentar , 1890; Plummer, in Cambridge Greek Testament , 1893. In Oscar Holtzmann’s Das Johannesevangelium untersucht und erklärt , 1887, there are a hundred pages of commentary.



[22] κατα Ιωαννην in א a b e q ; κατα Ιωανην in B; ευαγγελιον κατα Ιωαννην in ACEFG; T.R. in minusc.