Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 9th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical CommentaryAlford's Greek Testament Commentary

- John

by Henry Alford





1. THE universal belief of the Christian Church has ascribed this Gospel to the Apostle John. I shall not here anticipate the discussion respecting its genuineness (see below, § vi.), but assume that it has been rightly so ascribed.

2. John was son of Zebedee and Salome, and younger (?) [1] brother of James. His father was a Galilæan, and by occupation a fisherman on the lake of Galilee. Where he resided, is uncertain perhaps at Bethsaida: but the circumstance of Simon Peter, who was of that place, being ( Luk 5:10 ) partner in the fishing trade, or perhaps, in that particular expedition only with the sons of Zebedee, is no proof as to their residence there also.

[1] This is by no means certain. While Matt. and Mark always write ‘Peter, James, and John’ Luke, in ch. Joh 9:28 and Acts 1:13 (not in rec.), has ‘Peter, John, and James;’ although in the other catalogue of the Apostles, Luke 6:14 , he keeps the usual order. It is impossible to say whether the order arose from any account at all being taken of mere seniority.

3. The family of John seems not to have been one of the lowest class: we find hired servants in the ship with Zebedee, Mark 1:20 ; their mother Salome was one of those women who came with Jesus from Galilee, and ministered to Him of their substance, Luke 8:3 ; Luke 23:55 , compared with Mark 16:1 ; the same Salome was one of those who bought sweet spices and ointments to anoint Him (Mark, ibid.); and, John 19:27 , we find John himself taking the mother of our Lord εἰς τὰ ἴδια , which though (see note there) it need not imply that John had then a house at Jerusalem , certainly denotes that he had some fixed habitation, into which she was received. If, as is most likely, John be meant by the ἄλλος μαθητής of ch. John 18:15 , he was personally known to the High Priest Caiaphas. From all these facts the inference is that his family belonged to the middle class of society; the higher grade of those who carried on the by no means despised or ungainful business of fishermen on the sea of Galilee.

4. If (see note on Joh 1:41 ) the second of the two disciples who heard the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus, and followed Him in consequence, was John himself, we have his acquaintance with our Lord dating from the very beginning of His ministry. And to this agree the contents of chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, containing particulars of the Ministry at Jerusalem and in Galilee which happened previous to the commencement of the official record of the other Evangelists. It seems that John accompanied our Lord to Jerusalem, with perhaps those of the Apostles already called, and witnessed those incidents which he has related in that part of his Gospel.

5. In the intervals of our Lord’s first circuits and journeys, the Apostles seem to have returned to their families and occupations. Thus in Luke 5:1-11 , we find the sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon Peter, again engaged in fishing, and solemnly and finally summoned by Jesus to follow Him; an incident which, as Lücke acknowledges (Comm. in Joh., Einleitung, p. 12), would be inexplicable even by the miracle, unless there had been a previous acquaintance on their part with our Lord.

6. From that time John belonged to that chosen number known as ‘the Twelve,’ who were nearest to the Person of Jesus during His ministry. And of that number, he seems to have been the most personally beloved by our Lord. For the assumption that he is the author of our Gospel, also identifies him with ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ so often mentioned in it (see ch. John 13:23 ; John 19:26 ; John 20:2 ; John 21:7 ; John 21:20 ; Joh 21:24 ). He, together with his brother James, and Peter, was witness of the raising of Jaeirus’s daughter, Mark 5:37 ; also of the transfiguration, Matthew 17:1 ff.; and of the agony in Gethsemane; he lay on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper; and was recognized by Peter as being the innermost in His personal confidence, John 13:23 . To him was committed the charge of the mother of Jesus, by Himself when dying on the Cross, John 19:26-27 .

7. And to this especial love of the Redeemer John appears to have corresponded in devoted affection and faithfulness. He fled, it is true, with the rest, at the dark hour of the capture of Jesus: but we find him, together with Peter, soon rallying again, and from that time, John 18:15-16 , even to the end, John 19:25 ff., an eye-witness of the sufferings of his Divine Master. In John 21:0 we find the same personal distinction bestowed on the beloved disciple by our Lord after His Resurrection.

8. In the Acts of the Apostles, John comes before us but very seldom, and always in connexion with and thrown into the background by Peter. See Acts 3:1 ff; Acts 8:14-25 . The history leaves him at Jerusalem: where however he appears not to have been on Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem , Galatians 1:18 ff., A.D. 38 40 (see chronological table in Prolegg. to Acts, Vol. II.), for he states that he saw none of the Apostles save Peter and James . On his second visit, Acts 11:29-30 , cir. A.D. 43 (see as above), we have no intimation whether John was there or not. If the journey to determine the question about circumcision, Acts 15:1 , was identical with Paul’s third visit, Galatians 2:1 (which I have maintained in Prolegg. to Acts, Vol. II., note 1 to Chron. Table), then at that date (i.e. cir. A.D. 50) John was in Jerusalem. After this time, we lose sight of the Apostles, nor can we with any approach to certainty point out the period of their final dispersion. It took place probably some time between this council and Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, Acts 21:18 (cir. A.D. 60), when we find only James resident there.

9. For the after-history of John, we are dependent on tradition. And here we have evidence more trustworthy than in the case of any other Apostle.

( α ) It is related by Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus at the end of the second century, in his Epistle to Victor Bishop of Rome on the keeping of Easter, that John, whom he numbers among the great lights ( στοιχεῖα , see Eusebius, iii. 31, and Heinichen’s note) of Asia, died and was buried ( κεκοίμηται ) in Ephesus.

( β ) Irenæus also, the scholar of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of John, relates that John remained in Ephesus till the times of Trajan (Adv. Hær. ii. 39, p. 148; iii. 1 and 3, pp. 174, 178, cited also by Eusebius, iii. 23). To the same effect testify Clement of Alexandria (Euseb. ibid.), Origen (Euseb. iii. 1), Eusebius (ibid.), and Jerome (De Viris Illustr. c. 9, vol. ii. p. 845).

.10. But assuming as a fact the long residence and death of the Apostle at Ephesus, we in vain seek any clue to guide us as to the time when, or the place whence, he came thither. The Asiatic Churches were founded by St. Paul, who made it a rule not to encroach on the field of labour of any other Apostle, Romans 15:20 : who never, in his Epistles to the Asiatic Churches, makes any mention of nor sends any salutation to John: who, in his parting speech to the Elders of the Ephesian Church at Miletus (Acts 20:0 ), certainly did not anticipate the coming of an Apostle among them. So much then we may set down as certain, that the arrival of John in Asia must have been after the death of Paul.

11. We may perhaps with some appearance of probability conjecture that the dangers which evidently beset the Asiatic Churches in Paul’s lifetime, and to which Peter in his First Epistle, written to them, not indistinctly alludes (see 1 Peter 1:14 ; 1Pe 2:1-2 ; 1 Peter 2:7-8 ; 1 Peter 2:12 ; 1 Peter 2:16 a [2] . fr.), had taken so serious a form after the removal of Paul their father in the faith, that John found it requisite to fix his residence and exercise apostolic authority among them. This is supposed by Lücke, Einl. p. 24, and Neander, Leitung u. Pflauzung der Kirche, 4th edition, p. 614.

[2] alii = some cursive mss.

12. But we are as far as ever, even if this conjecture be adopted, from arriving at any method of accounting for the interval between John’s leaving Jerusalem, and his coming to Asia Minor: a period, on any computation, of nearly six years, A.D. 58 64. It is not necessary, however, as Lücke also observes, to reject a tradition so satisfactorily grounded as that of John’s residence and death at Ephesus, on this account; especially when we consider that we seem compelled to interpose some influence corresponding to that of John, between the state of the Asiatic Churches as shewn in the Pauline Epistles, and that in the time of Polycarp, who immediately followed the apostolic age. See Neander, Leitung u. Pflanzung, 4th edition, p. 615. I reserve the discussion of the other element of uncertainty in this matter, the possible confusion of two persons named John, the Apostle and the Presbyter, for the Prolegomena to the Second Epistle of John, in Vol. IV.

13. I mention here, reserving its discussion for the Prolegomena to the Apocalypse, Vol. IV., the tradition universally received in the early Church, which records that the Apostle John was exiled under Domitian to the island of Patmos. Assuming the Apocalypse to be his work, the fact of such an exile is established , see Revelation 1:9 , but the time left uncertain. But even those who do not ascribe the Apocalypse to him, relate this exile, e.g. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. iii. 20.

14. It is also related (Euseb. ibid.) that he returned under Nerva to Ephesus, and that his death (under Trajan, see above) took place (in what manner is uncertain, but probably not by martyrdom) in extreme old age. It would be out of place here to recount the other traditions, some of them highly interesting, which are extant. See one of them in note on 1 John 3:18 , and the whole recounted and commented on in Stanley’s Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, pp. 275 289.



1. In several places the Author of this Gospel plainly declares or implies that he relates what he had seen and heard. See ch. John 1:14 ; John 13:23 ; John 18:15 ; John 19:26 ; John 20:2 , and especially Joh 19:35 [3] . Also John 21:24 .

[3] On the futility of the attempt to shew from this verse, on account of κἀκεῖνος , that the eye-witness spoken of is a different person from the writer of the Gospel, see note on the usage of ἐκεῖνος by our Evangelist, John 7:29 .

2. And with this declaration the contents of the Gospel agree. Amidst the entire disregard of minute specifications of sequence or locality as a general rule, in almost every narrative we have undoubted marks of autoptic testimony.

3. The only question which arises on receiving this as the fact, has reference to the diversity of style observed in the discourses of our Lord as related by the three other Evangelists, and as related by John. In their more or less common report, a certain similarity of style is supposed to be observable throughout the parables and sayings of Jesus, which is wholly absent from them in John’s Gospel. Let us examine this matter more closely.

4. In order to form a satisfactory judgment on this point, it would be necessary to be in possession of some common matter reported by both . But such common matter, in any sufficient quantity for this purpose, we do not possess . No one discourse is reported by all four. Certain insulated sayings are so reported: e.g. compare Joh 2:19 with Mat 26:61 and Mark 14:58 ; Joh 6:20 with Mat 14:27 and Mark 6:50 ; Joh 12:7-8 with Mat 26:10-11 and Mark 14:6-7 ; Joh 13:20 with Mat 10:40 and Luke 10:16 ; Joh 13:21 with Mat 26:21 and Mark 14:18 ; Joh 13:37-38 with Mat 26:33 and [4] ; Joh 20:19 with Luke 24:36 . Now in these common reports, amidst much variety in verbal and circumstantial detail, such as might have been expected from independent narrators, there is no such differences of style observable .

[4] When, in the Gospels, and in the Evangelic statement, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 , the sign (║) occurs in a reference, it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in the other Gospels, which will always be found indicated at the head of the note on the paragraph. When the sign (║) is qualified , thus, ‘║ Mk.,’ or ‘║ Mt. Mk.,’ &c., it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in that Gospel or Gospels, but not in the other or others .

5. We have then the following remarkable phænomenon presented by the two classes of narrators: that the sayings of our Lord reported by the one are different from , and exclusive of those contained in the other. And this must very much modify our view of the subject in question.

6. It would be in the highest degree probable that our Lord would discourse mainly and usually on two great branches of divine truth: one of these being, the nature and moral requirements of that kingdom which He came to found among men , which would embrace the greater part of His discourses to the multitude, His outer or popular sayings, His parables and prophecies: and the other, the deeper spiritual verities relating to his own Divine Person and Mission . Of these latter, there would be two subdivisions: one class of them would be spoken in the gracious condescension of love to His own disciples when conversing privately with them, and the other in the fire of holy zeal when contending against His bitter adversaries, the rulers of the Jews.

7. Now of the two greater classes just mentioned, let us enquire which would most naturally form the matter of the oral apostolic teaching to the Churches in the first age. Let it be remembered that that teaching was mostly elementary, matter of catechization; selected for the edification of those who were to be built up as Christian converts. Would it not unquestionably be the first? Granted, that some few of those deeper sayings (deeper, I mean, in their very form and primary reference ) might occasionally find their place in the reports of longer discourses (see e.g. Matthew 11:27 ; Luk 10:22 ), yet I cannot imagine the main stream of oral apostolic teaching to have been otherwise composed than as we find it: viz. of the popular discourses and parables of our Lord, to the exclusion for the most part of His inner teaching and deeper revelations respecting his own Divine Person. These, in case the Apostles had been suffered by Providence to carry on systematically their testimony to the Church, might have followed after: but certainly they would not be likely to form the first subject of their oral teaching.

8. But that they would dwell powerfully on their minds, and in proportion to their individual receptivity of the Spirit and Person of their Lord, is most evident. And this consideration, united with that of the very nature and purpose of the apostolic office, and with the promise specially recorded that the Spirit should bring to their minds all things which He had said to them, will fully account for there arising, late in the apostolic age, so copious and particular a report of these inner and personal discourses of our Lord.

9. That such a report should be characterized in some measure by the individual mind which has furnished it, was to be expected, on any view of spiritual guidance. But that this individuality has in any considerable degree modified the report, I think extremely improbable. Taking the circumstances into consideration, the relation of John to his Divine Master, the employment and station from which he was called, and the facts also which have been noticed respecting the sayings reported by all in common, I think it much more probable, that the character and diction of our Lord’s discourses entirely penetrated and assimilated the habits of thought of His beloved Apostle; so that in his first epistle he writes in the very tone and spirit of those discourses; and when reporting the sayings of his own former teacher the Baptist, he gives them, consistently with the deepest inner truth of narration (see note on ch. Joh 3:31 ), the forms and cadences so familiar and habitual to himself.

10. It belongs to the present section of our subject, to enquire how far it may be supposed that John had seen or used the synoptic Gospels. I confess myself wholly unable to receive the supposition that any of them, in their present form, had ever been seen by him . On such a supposition, the phænomena presented by his Gospel would be wholly inexplicable. To those parts of it which he has in common with them, the reasonings of the former part of these Prolegomena will apply. And though these are not so considerable in extent as in the case of the three Gospels, yet they are quite important enough to decide this question. The account and testimony of the Baptist in ch. 1; the miraculous feeding in ch. 6; the whole history from ch. John 12:1 , in its subject-matter, will come under this description. Let any common passages be selected, and tried by the considerations above advanced, ch. i. § ii., and our conclusion must be that the report is an independent one, not influenced or modified by theirs . Of those parts of his Gospel which are peculiar to himself, I will speak in another section.

11. It is, however, an entirely distinct question, how far John had in his view the generally received oral teaching from which our three Gospels are derived. That he himself, answering so strictly to the description in Acts 1:21 , laying so much weight as he does on testimony , ch. John 1:19 ; John 19:35 ; John 21:24 , bore his part, and that no inconsiderable one, in the Apostles’ witness to the facts of the evangelic history, I take for granted. It will follow that he was aware of the general nature and contents of that cycle of narratives and discourses of our Lord which became current at Jerusalem from his own testimony and that of the other Apostles. Accordingly we find him in his Gospel assuming as known, certain facts contained in that cycle . See ch. John 7:41 , and note, ch. John 11:1 , also ch. John 1:40 , where Simon Peter is referred to as one known , before the giving of the latter name is related.

12. I can hardly however suppose, that John wrote with any fixed design of filling up by a supplementary Gospel the deficiencies of the generally-received oral account. Sometimes, e.g. ch. John 6:1-14 ; Joh 18:19 he goes over the same ground with it: and in no part can it by the most ingenious application of the supplementary theory be shewn, that he in any respect produces or aims at the effect of a work designed to fill up and elucidate those which have gone before. This point will be dwelt on more at length in the next section.

13. I have no hesitation, therefore, in receiving as the true account of the source of this Gospel, that generally given and believed; viz. that we have it from the autoptic authority of the Apostle himself .



1. This Gospel presupposes readers already Christians, and was written to build them up and confirm them in the faith. (See ch. John 19:35 ; John 20:31 .) It is, as Lücke remarks (Einl. p. 185), neither complete enough, nor elementary enough, for the first founding of a belief in Christ in the mind. This must have been, even as early as the apostolic times, the work of no written Gospel (see Luk 1:1-4 ), but of the oral preaching of the word.

2. Being written then for Christian readers, the main and ultimate purpose as regards them is sufficiently declared in ch. John 20:31 , ταῦτα γέγραπται ἵνα πιστεύσητε ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ , καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ .

3. This purpose however, as it would be common to all the sacred writings of the New Testament more or less, in no way accounts for the peculiar cast of the Gospel , or the portions of the Christian’s faith which are most prominently brought out in it. These will require closer examination.

4. It will at once appear, that some especial occasion must have induced John to write so pointedly as he has done on certain doctrines, and to adopt, in doing so, a nomenclature unknown to the rest of the New Testament writers. Some state of opinion in the Church must have rendered it necessary for the Apostle to state strongly and clearly the truth about which error was prevalent, or questions had been raised: the method of speaking which even he , under the guidance of the Spirit, adopted to convey that truth, must have become familiar to and valued by the educated and philosophic minds in the Christian community.

5. It may be well to set down the opinions of the ancients on this, before we enter into the matter itself.

Irenæus states that John wrote his Gospel to controvert the errors of Cerinthus, and before him the Nicolaitans [5] . Tertullian (De Præscript. adv. Hær. 33, vol. ii. p. 46) in the main agrees with this. Epiphanius (Hær. Leviticus 12:0 , vol. i. p. 434) and Jerome [6] repeat it as a certain fact, that John wrote against Cerinthus, but instead of the Nicolaitans, they mention the Ebionites. Those who assert him to have written against Valentinus or Marcion are evidently chronologically in error.

[5] “ Hanc fidem annuntians Johannes Domini discipulus, volens per evangelii annuntiationem auferre eum qui a Cerintho inseminatus erat hominibus errorem, et multo prius ab his qui dicuntur Nicolaitæ, qui sunt vulsio ejus, quæ falso cognominatur scientia, ut confunderet eos et suaderet quoniam unus Deus qui omnia fecit per verbum suum, … sic inchoavit in ea quæ est secundum evangelium doctrina, &c.” Adv. Hær. iii. 11, p. 188.

[6] “ Joannes Apostolus novissimus omnium scripsit evangelium, rogatus ab Asiæ episcopis adversus Cerinthum aliosque hæreticos et maxime tunc Ebionitarum dogma consurgens, qui asserunt, Christum ante Mariam non fuisse.” De Viris Illustr. c. 9, vol. ii. p. 843. But he also gives in the same place another reason: see in the text below.

6. Several of the ancients give in substance, the supplementary view of the design of John’s Gospel. Clement of Alexandria, as cited by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. vi. 14, related, τὸν Ἰωάννην ἔσχατον συνιδόντα ὅτι τὰ σωματικὰ ἐν τοῖς εὐαγγελίοις δεδήλωται , προτραπέντα ὑπὸ τῶν γνωρίμων , πνεύματι θεοφορηθέντα , πνευματικὸν ποιῆσαι εὐαγγέλιον . Eusebius in another place (Hist. Eccl. iii. 24) states, that whereas the other Evangelists wrote the history of the official life of our Lord subsequent to the imprisonment of the Baptist, John, wishing that there should be a complete account, gave in his Gospel the particulars preceding that event. The same is repeated almost verbatim by Jerome, ut supra. Later authors (see Lücke, Einleitung, p. 189) reproduced the conjectures of their predecessors as being traditions of the Church; and for the most part united the polemical with the supplementary theory [7] .

[7] For an instance of the kind of use which is made of these notices in Eusebius and others by the advocates of the supplementary theory, see Wordsworth’s note introductory to St. John: where such parts of them as suit that theory are strongly affirmed as fact, and called “the uniform consent of antiquity concerning the design of St. John’s Gospel in relation to the other three,” while the part not suiting it is hushed up under “for other reasons of a doctrinal nature.”

7. None of the above-cited authors appeal to any historical or traditionary fact, as the ground of their own statements. Those statements have therefore for us no authority ab extra , and must be judged by their own intrinsic probability or otherwise, as established by the contents of the Gospel, and the state of the Church at the period of its publication. In modern times, these last considerations have given rise to several opinions, which I shall now briefly state; acknowledging, throughout this part of the section, my obligations to Lücke, whose facts and remarks I have for the most part borrowed.

8. Grotius, and some of the Socinian commentators, supposed, on account of the contrast strongly drawn in the prologue, ch. 1 and elsewhere, between Jesus Christ as the true Light, and the Baptist as only having come to bear witness of that Light, that the Evangelist wrote against the so-called disciples of John , who held the Baptist to have been the Messiah. Others (as Herder, Overbeck, Ziegler) thought that the Sabæi , who combined gnostic errors with an overweening estimation of John the Baptist, were principally aimed at. Others, not finding in this a sufficient account of the peculiarities of the Gospel, supposed this or other polemic aims, to have been united with the supplementary one. Of this last number are Storr, Wegscheider, Hug, &c. Others again (as Paulus) finding in the Gospel no sufficient evidence either of a polemical or a supplementary intention, fell back on the didactic aim set forth ch. John 20:31 . This view, however, was never found satisfactory to explain the peculiar phænomena of the Gospel.

9. Meantime, however, the critical study of the other Gospels had so far advanced, that it became more and more clearly seen, that the hypothesis of John having been acquainted with, and having wished to complete or correct them, was entirely untenable . Again, not finding traces of a polemical design sufficiently prominent in the Gospel, some critics, slightly altering the term, have supposed it to be apologetic in its character (Hemsen, Seiffarth, Schott). Some, lastly, pronounced it unworthy of the Apostle to follow any secondary designs, considering his own avowal in ch. John 20:30-31 (Credner). But, as Lücke remarks, even granting this, it may still be a lawful enquiry, What peculiar circumstances led to his realizing this his great design in the present peculiar form of composition? The synoptic Evangelists had, he says, beyond question, the same great design , and yet have followed it in a very different manner. Something of this may doubtless be explained by the individual character of the writer’s mind, but clearly not all: and that character itself was modified by surrounding events. We are driven therefore to the special circumstances under which the Gospel, but especially the prologue , which in this matter rules the Gospel, was composed.

10. Into these Lücke enquires under two heads: (1) the relation of John’s Gospel to the other three; (2) the character of the age and section of the Church in which the Evangelist lived. In treating the first of these he disproves, much in the same manner as has been done in these Prolegomena, the probability that John intended to supply, or had ever seen, our present Gospels; and maintains that an acquaintance on his part with the general stream of oral testimony from which they were derived, will sufficiently account for the relations observable between him and them. His inference is, that if his Gospel (as undoubtedly is the case) sometimes supplies and gives precision to theirs, this has been only the result , but could in no way be the aim of his writing; the peculiarities and object of which must be altogether accounted for from considerations belonging to the other head of the enquiry.

11. In pursuing this, he distinguishes three classes of writings likely to arise in the apostolic age: ( α ) the simple committal to paper of the cycles of oral narration, with a view to fixing them for the general and continued edification of the readers. To this class he refers the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. ( β ) Writings compiled with a more set purpose of giving a complete account, in order , of the events of our Lord’s life on earth. In this division he classes the Gospel of Luke. ( γ ) The third class would arise from the growing up of the faith, which at first was a simple historical belief, into the maturer γνῶσις of doctrinal system. In the course of this progress, various questions would arise respecting the life and teaching of the Lord Jesus, which the generally-received oral narration was not competent to answer. And these writings would be composed to satisfy such enquirers by presenting such an apologetic view of the Lord’s life, and such a doctrinal account of His teaching, as might tend to set their questionings at rest. To this class he supposes may have belonged some of the gnostic apocryphal writings; and to this class certainly does belong the Gospel of John.

12. At the time of its composition, many questionings were already raised between the believing and unbelieving, and among the believing themselves. Traces of such we find even in the Pauline Epistles, 1 Corinthians 1:23 ; 1 Corinthians 15:1 . Lücke instances some of these questions which this Gospel was well adapted to answer. ( α ) The rejection of the Lord Jesus by His own people the Jews, was an event likely to prove a stumbling-block, and to be used by unbelievers against our religion. To the elucidation of this, the tracing its progress, step by step, the shewing its increasing virulence amidst the blameless innocence and holy words and deeds of the Redeemer, does John especially devote the middle and principal section of his Gospel. He shews that thereby His enemies were fulfilling the divine purpose, and that they were even forewarned of this by one among themselves, ch. John 11:51-52 . ( β ) We may evidently see, from the diligence with which John accumulates autoptic evidence on the subject of the actual death of Christ, and His resurrection, that he has in this part also some in view, who did not receive those great events as undoubted facts, but required the authority of an Apostle to assure them of their truth. ( γ ) The way also in which he relates the testimonies of our Lord respecting the manner, results, and voluntary nature of His own death, that it was His true glorification, that it was undertaken freely, but in complete accordance with the Father’s will, seems to point to doubts as to the character of that event, which the Evangelist meditated removing. ( δ ) It was certainly, later (see Origen against Celsus, quoted in note on Mat 9:9-13 ), a reproach against the Apostles, that they were low-born and ignorant men. In the case of Paul, we find very early a disposition on the part of some in the Churches, to set aside apostolic authority. And those who were so disposed might perhaps appeal to the oral narrative which forms the foundation of the synoptic Gospels, to prove that the Apostles often misunderstood the sayings of the Lord, and might from thence take occasion to vilify their present preaching as resting on similar misunderstanding. John, from his relating so much at length the discourse of our Lord in which He promised the Comforter to guide them into all the truth, and bring to their minds all that He had said to them, and from noticing (ch. John 12:16 ; Joh 20:9 ) that they understood not certain things at first, which were made clear to them afterwards, seems to be guarding the apostolic office and testimony from such imputations.

13. But all these designs, possible as they may have been, do not reach so far as to give any account of the very remarkable cast and diction of the prologue . This opening gives a tone to the whole Gospel, being no less than a compendium or programme of its contents, gathered up and expressed according to a nomenclature already familiar to certain persons within the Church. The fact of John having been led to adopt the gnostic term λόγος as the exponent of his teaching respecting the person of our Lord, would of itself make it probable that he had the combating of gnostic error in his view; or perhaps, speaking more accurately, that he was led to take advantage of the yearnings of the human desire after an universal and philosophic religion, by grasping and lifting upward into the certainty of revelation the truth which they had shaped to themselves, and thereby striking off and proscribing their manifold and erroneous conceits. But neither the language of the prologue itself, nor any prominence given to antagonistic truths in the Gospel, justify us in ascribing to the Evangelist a position directly polemical against the peculiar tenets of Cerinthus [8] . The stand made in the Gospel, is against gnosticism in the very widest sense: in its Ebionitish form, as denying the Divinity and pre-existence of Christ, and in its Docetic, as denying the reality of His assumption of the Human Nature.

[8] For an account of them, see Neander’s Church History, Rose’s translation, vol. ii. p. 49.

14. While, however, John contends against false γνῶσις , he is, in the furtherance and grounding of the true γνῶσις , the greatest, as he was the last, of the spiritual teachers of the Church. The great Apostle of the Gentiles, amidst fightings without and fears within, built in his argumentative Epistles the outworks of that temple, of which his still greater colleague and successor was chosen noiselessly to complete, in his peaceful old age, the inner and holier places. And this, after all, ranging under it all secondary aims, we must call the great object of the Evangelist; to advance, purify from error, and strengthen, that maturer Christian life of knowledge , which is the true development of the teaching of the Spirit in men, and which the latter part of the apostolic period witnessed in its full vitality. And this, by setting forth the Person of the Lord Jesus in all its fulness of grace and truth, in all its manifestation in the flesh by signs and by discourses, and its glorification by opposition and unbelief, through sufferings and death [9] . That he should have been led to cast his testimony into a form antagonistic to the peculiar errors then prevalent, that he should have adopted the thoughts and diction of previous seekers after God, so far as they were capable of serving his high purpose and being elevated into vehicles of heavenly truth, these are arrangements which we may not, because they are natural and probable, the less regard as providential, and admirably designed for that which especially was his portion of the apostolic work, the PERFECTING OF THE SAINTS [10] .

[9] I cannot here forbear from referring to an important work on the Gospel of St. John, Luthardt’s Das Johanneische Evangelium nach seiner Eigenthümlichkeit geschildert und erklärt, Nürnberg, 1853, 2 voll. The reader will find all the preliminary matter copiously and ably handled in vol. i., and vol. ii. contains a running commentary in which many striking ideas are suggested. Without subscribing to all Luthardt’s views, I cannot but think his book a most valuable contribution to a right understanding of our Gospel. The greater part of the new matter in my notes on St. John is derived from this source. Note to 2nd edition. (I may now say, that having since used Luthardt’s book during a continuous pulpit exposition of the earlier part of St. John, I have ever found more and more reason to value it. No such attempt to give a general account of the aims and characteristics of the Gospel has ever before been made. A good translation of it could not fail to bring about in England a worthier appreciation of this wonderful Gospel. Note to 3rd edition.) (The above opinion remaining in its full force, I may now add, that the second edition of Stier’s Reden Jesu notices and reviews throughout the remarks of Luthardt, and forms a very valuable corrective to the sometimes overwrought views of that earnest and delightful writer. Note to 4th edition.)

[10] It will be hardly necessary to state, but I do so in order to bring down the views respecting the Gospels advocated in these Prolegomena expressly to the date of this last (the fifth) edition, that additional study, and subsequent reflection, convince me more and more of the untenableness of the ordinary harmonistic theories, and of that which attributes to St. John the design of supplementing the rest. I need only ask any student, who shares with me the same general idea of the fair and ingenuous principles which should rule our enquiries respecting this subject, to consult the introductions to the Gospels in Bp. Wordsworth’s Greek Testament; and I feel assured he will derive similar confirmation, as far as it is gathered from seeing to what shifts the advocates of the procrustean theories are driven. Witness e.g. the objection (1) and answer, p. 206: where those who doubt, as matter of fact, the communication of the three Gospels to St. John, are charged with disbelief in Inspiration, and are refuted by an à priori decree of Bp. Wordsworth’s as to what was “morally certain” to have been the procedure of the Holy Spirit. And this is really but a fair sample of the way in which every received theory of the patristic and middle ages is advocated, and enforced by strong anathemas, in that and similar works. I may also mention, that the remarks in a work entitled “The Gospel of St. Mark, in the Authorized Version, arranged in Parts and Sections, with Titles and Summaries of Contents, Marginal Notes of Time and Place, and a Preface; to which are appended, Cautions against the Greek Testament of Dean Alford, and the Hulsean Lectures of Dean Ellicott. For the Use of Schools and Young Students. By the Rev. J. Forshall, M.A., F.R.S., formerly Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford,” have not induced me to modify any of the statements or expressions in these Prolegomena. (1863.)



1. These two questions, as relating to John’s Gospel, are too intimately connected to form the subject of separate sections.

2. The most ancient testimony, that of Irenæus, relates that it was published at Ephesus [11] . This testimony is repeated by Jerome [12] and others, and is every way consonant with what we have above (§ i.) related of the history of the Apostle its author. Some later writers have reported that it was published from Patmos , during John’s exile; some have combined the two accounts, and made John dictate the Gospel in Patmos, and publish it at Ephesus after his return. But of these the only account which from its date and character deserves attention, is that of Irenæus.

[11] Ἰωάννης ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου , ὁ καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ ἀναπεσών , καὶ αὐτὸς ἐξέδωκε τὸ εὐαγγέλιον , ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τῆς Ἀσίας διατρίβων . Adv. Hær. iii. 1, p. 174; cited also by Euseb. H. E. John 20:8 .

[12] Prologue to Matthew, vol. vii. pp. 5, 6.

3. The Gospel itself furnishes only negative or uncertain evidence on this point. From the manner in which the sites and habits of Palestine are spoken of [13] , it seems evident that it was composed at a distance from that country. If again we regard the peculiar nomenclature of the prologue, and enquire to what locality this points, two places occur to us where it would be likely to have been adopted; one of these, Alexandria, the other, Ephesus. The first of these cities was the home and birthplace of the gnostic philosophy; the other ( Act 18:24 ) was in communication with, and derived its philosophic character from Alexandria [14] . Now as no history gives us any account of the Apostle having laboured or ever been at Alexandria, this consideration also forms a presumptive confirmation of the tradition that the Gospel was written at Ephesus.

[13] See ch. John 2:6 ; John 2:13 ; John 3:23 ; John 4:4 ; John 5:2 ; John 6:4 ; John 10:22 ; John 11:18 ; John 11:49-51 ; John 11:54-55 ; John 18:1 ; John 18:13 ; John 18:28 ; John 19:13 ; John 19:31 .

[14] See note on John 1:1 ( Ι . ε ).

4. If so, we have some clue, although but an indirect one, to the time at which it was published. If John cannot be supposed to have come thither till some time after the ultimate disappearance of the Apostle Paul from Asia Minor [15] , then we have obviously a time specified, before which the Gospel cannot have been published.

[15] See § i. of the present chapter, paragraph 10.

5. The voice of tradition on this point is very uncertain. Irenæus states that this Gospel was the latest written of the four: which, as he places Mark’s and Luke’s after the deaths of Peter and Paul (but see Prolegg. to Luke, § iv.), would bring us to a similar date with that pointed out in the preceding paragraph [16] . As usual in traditional matter, on our advance to later writers, we find more and more particular accounts given: the year of John’s life, the reigning Emperor, &c., under which the Gospel was written [17] . In all such cases the student will do well to remember, that such late traditions are worthless exactly in proportion to their particularity of detail .

[16] Similarly Clement of Alex., Origen, and Eusebius: see Eus. H. E. John 1:8 ; iii. 24.

[17] ἐπὶ τῇ γηραλέᾳ αὐτοῦ ἡλικίᾳ , μετὰ ἔτη ἐννενήκοντα τῆς ἑαυτοῦ ζωῆς , μετὰ τὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῆς Πάτμου ἐπάνοδον , τὴν ἐπὶ Κλαυδίου γενομένην Καίσαρος . Epiphan. Hær. Leviticus 12:0 , vol. i. p. 434.

6. But we have thus no direct indication, at what date to place the Gospel. On examining its contents, we find no such indication given by them. It is true that the Evangelist speaks in ch. Joh 5:2 of the pool of Bethesda in the present tense as being near the sheepgate, and thence it might seem as if he wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem: but such indications are confounded by the fact that he alone of the Evangelists speaks of places near Jerusalem, which would remain after the destruction, in the past tense (ch. Joh 11:18 ), which seems to shew that no stress is to be laid on such expressions, which were perhaps used by him according to the cast of the particular narrative which he was then constructing, without any reference to the existing state of things at the time of his writing [18] . See, however, note on ch. John 11:18 .

[18] See also ch. John 18:1 ; John 19:41 .

7. It has been variously inferred, from ch. John 21:18-19 , that the Gospel must have been published during the lifetime of Peter; for that, had the Lord’s prophecy been fulfilled before the account was written, some notice would have been taken of such fulfilment; and from ch. John 18:10 , that it cannot have been published till after his death , for that Peter’s name would not have been mentioned, had he been still living. But it is plain that we might just as well argue for ch. John 21:18-19 , being written after Peter’s death, on account of the definiteness of the interpretation there given to the prophecy; and I have shewn in my note on Matthew 26:51 , that no stress can be laid on the other inference.

8. Nor do we find any more certain indication by comparison of the Gospel with the First Epistle, or with the Apocalypse. The dates of both these are very uncertain; and it has been disputed whether their contents presuppose the Gospel or not. Such expressions as ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς , ἡ ζωὴ αἰώνιος , ἥτις ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἐφανερώθη ἡμῖν , 1 John 1:1-2 , and similar ones, make it at least probable, that the Epistle was written after the Gospel (see Lücke, iii. 24 ff.). But how long after , we have no means of even conjecturing. And with regard to the Apocalypse, if we assume the Domitianic date (95 or 96 A.D.), upheld in Prolegg. to Revelation, § ii., we yet get no trustworthy points of comparison whereby to infer the date of the Gospel.

9. Our only resource then must be, the space included between the very wide limits above indicated. The final departure of Paul from Asia Minor, and indeed his death, must be supposed to have happened some time; this, such as it is, will be our terminus a quo; and our terminus ad quem, the probable duration of John’s life , or more properly speaking, of his power of writing as we find him writing in this Gospel . And as antiquity testifies that he lived to a great age, and survived his vigour, this latter terminus will be even less definite than the former.

10. One consideration, however, may tend somewhat to narrow its limits. I have argued in the Commentary, that ch. 21. is a genuine addition by the hand of the Apostle himself, probably in the decline of life, some years at least, from internal evidence of style, after the Gospel was completed. Add to which, as hinted above, that the style of the Gospel is, as Lücke has also remarked, that of a matured , but not of an aged writer.

11. Whether then we set the death of Paul with Wieseler in A.D. 64, or, as upholders of a second Roman imprisonment, in A.D. 68, we perhaps must not in either case allow our terminus a quo to be placed much earlier than 70: nor, supposing John to have been a few years younger than our Lord, can we prolong our later limit much beyond A.D. 85. We should thus have, but with no great fixity either way, somewhere about fifteen years , A.D. 70 85, during which it is probable that the Gospel was published.



1. The testimony of antiquity is unanimous that John wrote in Greek. (See Lücke, Einleitung, § xi.) Nor is there any reason to doubt the fact. If he lived and taught in Asia Minor, he must have been familiar with the Greek language.

2. Some among the moderns (Salmasius, according to Lücke, the first) have held an Aramaic or Hebrew original. They seem to ground this principally on the citations from the Old Testament being from the Hebrew, not from the LXX. But this latter is by no means without exception: see ch. John 1:23 ; John 2:17 ; John 6:45 ; John 10:34 ; John 12:14-15 ; John 12:38 ; John 15:25 ; John 19:24 ; John 19:36 . That we find other citations (John 12:40 ; John 13:18 ; Joh 19:37 ) after the Hebrew solely or principally, was to be expected from the Apostle’s personal history, as a Jew of Palestine who had been brought up in the knowledge of the Hebrew original: and is a confirmation of the genuineness of the Gospel. See below in the next section, and Bleek, Beiträge zur Evangelien Kritik, p. 87.



1. It would enlarge these Prolegomena too much, to give a detailed history of the recognition of this Gospel, and its impugners, in ancient times. It may suffice to refer to such works as Lücke’s Einleitung, where this history will be found. The result of his researches on the subject is, that down to the end of the second century the Gospel was by all recognized and attributed to the Apostle whose name it bears, with the sole exception of the Alogi, an unimportant sect in Asia Minor, who, from excessive opposition to the heresy of Montanus, rejected both the Apocalypse and Gospel of John, as favouring (according to them) some of the views of that heretic. Such an exception rather strengthens than weakens the general evidence of ancient Christendom in its favour.

2. Equally satisfactory is the testimony of the Fathers after the close of the second century. The citations by Irenæus from this Gospel are very frequent, and express, both as to its canonicity and the name of its Author. And his testimony is peculiarly valuable, because (1) he was an anti-gnostic: (2) his acquaintance with the whole Church, Eastern and Western, was greater than that of any other ecclesiastical writer: and (3) in his youth he had conversed with Polycarp, himself a disciple of the Apostle John. Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius, the ancient Syriac version, the Peschito, the adversaries of Christianity, Porphyry, and Julian, all these refer to the Gospel as without doubt the work of the Apostle John.

3. We may then, as far as antiquity is concerned , regard its genuineness as established. But there is one circumstance which has furnished many modern writers with a ground for doubting this. Neither Papias, who carefully sought out all that Apostles and apostolic men had related regarding the life of Christ, nor Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John, nor Barnabas, nor Clement of Rome, in their Epistles, nor lastly Ignatius (in his genuine writings), makes any mention of, or allusion to, this Gospel. So that in the most ancient circle of ecclesiastical testimony, it appears to be unknown or not recognized.

4. But this circumstance, when fairly considered in connexion with its universal recognition by writers following on these , rather serves for a confirmation of the genuineness of this Gospel. It confessedly was written late in the apostolic age . As far then as silence (or apparent silence) can be valid as an argument, it seems to shew that the recognition of this Gospel, as might have been expected, was later than that of the others . And it is some confirmation also of this view, that Papias, if Eusebius (iii. 39) gives his testimony entire, appears not to recognize Luke’s Gospel , but only those of Matthew and Mark . It is remarkable, however, on the other hand, that Papias (Eusebius, ibid.) recognizes the First Epistle of John, which, as remarked in § iv., was probably written after the Gospel. This would seem to make it probable that we have not in Eusebius the whole testimony of Papias given; for it would certainly seem from internal grounds that the First Epistle and the Gospel must stand or fall together.

5. It is evident that too much stress must not be laid on the silence of Polycarp, from whom we have one short epistle only. He also (apparently) was acquainted with the First Epistle of John [19] . But he wrote with no purpose of giving testimony to the sacred books, and what reason therefore have we to expect in his Epistle, quotations from or allusions to any particular book which did not happen to come within his design, and the subject of which he was treating?

[19] πᾶς γὰρ ὃς ἂν μὴ ὁμολογῇ Ἰησοῦν χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθέναι , ἀντίχριστός ἐστι . Ch. vii. p. 1012, ed. Migne: compare 1 John 4:3 .

6. The same may be said of the silence of Barnabas, Hermas, and Ignatius. Had any intention existed on the part of the primitive Christian writers of informing posterity what books were counted canonical in their days, their silence would be a strong argument against any particular book: but they had no such intention: their citations are fortuitous, and most of them loose and allusory only. So that we cannot argue from such silence to the recognition or otherwise of any book, unless it be universal and continuous, which is not the case with regard to this Gospel.

7. Again, the kind of testimony furnished by Irenæus is peculiarly valuable. He does not relate from whom he had heard that John wrote a Gospel, but he treats and quotes it as a well-known and long-used book in the Christian Church. What could have induced Irenæus to do this, except the fact of its being thus known and used? So that this character of his testimony virtually carries it back farther than its actual date. Besides, when one who has had the means which Irenæus had of ascertaining the truth in a matter, asserts things respecting that matter, the ordinary and just method is to suppose that he draws his information from his superior opportunities of gaining it , even though he may not expressly say so: so that when Irenæus, who had conversed with Polycarp himself, the friend of the Apostle John, quotes this Gospel as the work of that Apostle, we may fairly presume that he had assured himself of this by the testimony of one so well capable of informing him.

8. Another historical argument used against its genuineness is, that in the dispute about the time of keeping Easter between Polycarp and Anicetus bishop of Rome about the year 160, the former defended the practice of the Asiatic Churches, which was to keep their Christian passover at the time of the Jewish passover, the evening of the 14th of Nisan, by what he had learned from John and the other Apostles (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v.24). But, say the opponents, John himself in his Gospel clearly relates that our Lord instituted the Lord’s supper on the evening of the 13 th of Nisan, and was crucified on the 14 th . Therefore either Polycarp falsely appealed to John’s authority, which is not probable, or John did not write the Gospel which bears his name. But, as Lücke has shewn, this argument is altogether built on the assumption that the Christian passover must necessarily coincide with the time of the institution of the Lord’s supper; whereas such a coincidence does not appear to have entered into the consideration of the litigants in this case, but merely the question, whether the Churches should follow the Jewish calendar, or an arrangement of their own. Even in the later dispute between Polycrates bishop of Ephesus and Victor (Eusebius, ut supra), on the same point, this question was not raised , but the matter was debated on other grounds.

9. The last historical objection which I shall notice is, that this Gospel was first circulated by the Gnostics, and therefore is to be looked on with suspicion. But Lücke has shewn (Einl. p. 119) that this was not the case: that unquestionable traces of catholic reception of it are found before it was received by them: and that, at all events, Irenæus recognized and used it contemporaneously with the Valentinians. The known opposition between the catholic Fathers and the Gnostics furnishes a sure guarantee, that, had they first promulgated the Gospel, it never would have been received into the Canon of the catholic Church .

10. The modern opponents of the genuineness and canonicity of this Gospel have raised two arguments against it upon internal evidence. The first of these rests upon the assumed radical diversity between the views of the Person and teaching of Christ presented to us by John, and by the synoptic Evangelists. On this point I have said nearly all that is necessary in § ii.; and I will only now add, that supposing the diversity to be as unaccountable as it is natural, it would of itself serve as a strong presumption that the Gospel was not the work of a forger, who would have enlarged and decorated the accounts already existing, but a genuine testimony of one who was not an imitator of nor dependent on those others.

11. The second endeavours, by bringing out various supposed inconsistencies in the narration, to shew that the Apostle John cannot have been the Author. Such are, imagined want of connexion in certain parts (ch. John 4:44 ; John 13:20 ; John 14:31 , where see notes); an imputed inconsistency in the character and development of the treachery of Judas (see note on ch. Joh 6:64 ); the not naming once in the Gospel of his own brother James (which, as Lücke remarks, is far easier to account for on supposition of its genuineness than on that of its spuriousness [20] ); the supposed want of accurate information with regard to the geography and customs of Judæa. But again, the passages cited to support this, involve only geographical and archæological difficulties , such as would never have been raised by an impostor; and one in particular (ch. John 7:52 ; see note there) is chargeable, not on the Evangelist, but on the Sanhedrim, who were likely enough to have made the mistake, or purposely overlooked the fact, in their proud spirit of contempt for Galilee. The other objections derived from internal considerations are hardly worth recounting. They are fully stated and answered by Lücke, Einleitung, pp. 136 140.

[20] James, the son of Zebedee, though one of the favoured Three, comes forward no where personally in the Gospels, nor in the Acts; and vanishes the first of all the Apostles from the historic field of view. It is very unlikely that John would have introduced mention of him merely because he was his brother. He has not named several others of the Apostles. See ch. John 21:2 , and note.

12. An hypothesis was advanced by Eckermann, Vogel, and Paulus, and brought to completeness by Weisse, founded on a compromise between the evidence for and against the Gospel: that it is partly genuine , and principally in the didactic portions, which are veritable notices from the Apostle John: but that a later hand has wrought upon these, and added most of the narrative portions. But first, ecclesiastical tradition gives no countenance to this, always citing the Gospel as a whole , and dropping no hint of any such distinction between its parts; and secondly, it is quite impossible to draw any line in the Gospel itself which shall separate the original matter from the supposed additions. There certainly is a marked distinction in diction and style between the rest of the Gospel and ch. 21 (of ch. Joh 7:53 to John 8:12 , I do not now speak; see notes there): which I believe to be accounted for by that chapter being a later addition by the Author himself: but farther than this, no such distinction can, even by the most fanciful analogies, be established. The same spirit pervades the form of the narrative and didactic parts: and so strongly, that the impugners of the Gospel have made this very circumstance an argument against the authenticity of the latter; how unjustly, I have shewn above in § ii.: but the fact of the objection having been made is important, as fatal to Weisse’s hypothesis.

13. The principal arguments against the genuineness of the Gospel have been repeated and elaborated by Baur (in Zeller’s Theologisches Jahrbuch, 1844, 1. 3. 14), who tries to shew that the whole is apocryphal, and has arisen from a pious fraud of an author in the latter part of the second century. I mention this attempt because an admirable answer to it has appeared, by Ebrard, Das Evangelium Johannis und die neueste Hypothese über seine Entstehung, pp. 217. Zurich, 1845. In this work he has gone over carefully all the arguments treated in the preceding sections, and shewn their entire untenableness. Luthardt also, in the work above referred to, has treated at length of the view of Baur and his school, vol. i. pp. 230 237.

14. Our conclusion then from internal as well as external evidence, must be that the Gospel is what it has generally been believed to be, the genuine work of the Apostle John . And this result has been obtained by rigid criticism, apart from all subjective leanings either way. To dilate on the importance of this conclusion, does not belong to these Prolegomena; but I cannot avoid pointing it out, in an age when on the one hand the historic truth of our scriptural accounts is being again boldly denied; and on the other, we providentially stand at a point in the progress of criticism, where none but the most rigid trial of them, none but the fairest and most impartial judgments, can or ought to satisfy us.



1. This is the only one of the four Gospels to which a pre-arranged and systematic plan can with any certainty be ascribed. That such does not exist in the other three, any farther than the circumstances under which they were each respectively written have indirectly modified their arrangement, has been already shewn. But that such a plan is proposed and followed out by the Writer of this Gospel, will become evident by an examination of its contents.

2. The prologue contains a formal setting forth of the subject-matter of the Gospel: ‘that the Eternal Creator Word became Flesh, and was glorified by means of that work which He undertook in the flesh.’ This glorification of Christ he follows out under several heads: (1) the testimony borne to Him by the Baptist; (2) His miracles; (3) His conflict with the persecution and malice of the Jews; (4) His own testimony in His discourses, which are very copiously related; (5) His sufferings, death, and resurrection. And this His glorification is the accomplishment of the purpose of the Father, by setting Him forth as the Light and Life of the world, the One Intercessor and Mediator, by whose accomplished Work the Holy Spirit is procured for men; and through whom all spiritual help, and comfort, and hope of glory, is derived.

3. Several subdivisions of the Gospel have been proposed, as shewing its arrangement in subordination to this great design. The simplest and most satisfactory is that adopted by Lücke: (1) the prologue, ch. John 1:1-18 ; (2) the first main division of the Gospel, Joh 1:19 to John 12:50 ; (3) the second main division of the Gospel, Joh 13:1 to John 20:31 ; (4) the appendix, ch. 21.

4. Of these divisions, I. the prologue, contains a general statement of the whole subject of the Gospel. II. The first main division treats of the official work of the Lord in Galilee, Judæa, and Samaria, His reception and rejection, and closes with the general reflections of the Evangelist, ch. John 12:37-43 , and summary of the commission of Jesus, ib. 44 50: its foundation in the will of the Father, and purposes of grace and love to men. III. The second main division may be subdivided into two parts, (1) the inner glorification of Christ in His last supper and His last discourses, (2) His outer and public glorification by His Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection. Then IV. the appended chapter 21 relates, for a special purpose, an appearance of the Lord, after His resurrection, in Galilee: see notes there.

5. In all these, except the last, the great leading object of the Gospel is kept in view, and continually worked out more fully. After having stated it in the prologue, he relates the recognition of Christ’s glory by the testimony of the Baptist; then by the disciples on their being called; then the manifestation of that glory by His miracle in Cana of Galilee, by His cleansing of the temple, by His declaration of Himself to Nicodemus, and so onwards. But the more this is the case, the more is He misunderstood and withstood: and it becomes evident by degrees, that the great shewing forth of His glory is to be brought about by the result of this very opposition of His enemies. This reaches its height in the prophetic testimony of Caiaphas, ch. John 11:47 ff.; and the voice from heaven, John 12:28 , ἐδόξασα καὶ πάλιν δοξάσω , seems to form the point of transition from the manifestation of His glory by His acts, discourses, and conflict with the Jews, in Part I., to that by His Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection in Part II. Thus, as Lücke remarks, these words form the ground-tone of the whole Gospel, “The public working of Christ manifested His glory; but at the same time led on to His Death, which Death again manifested His glory.”

6. In the course of the Gospel the Evangelist steadily keeps his great end in view, and does not turn aside from it. For its sake are the incidents and notices introduced, with which his matter is diversified; but for its sake only. He has no chronological, no purely historical aims. Each incident which is chosen for a manifestation of the Lord’s glory, is introduced sometimes with very slight links, sometimes with altogether no links of connexion to that which has preceded. So that while in the fulfilment of its inner design the Gospel forms a closely connected and perfect whole, considered in any other view it is disjointed and fragmentary [21] .

[21] Luthardt’s division is:


1. The Christ: ch. John 1:1-18 .

2. The introduction of Jesus into the world ( Joh 1:19 to Joh 2:11 ) by the testimony (a) of the Baptist ( Joh 1:19-40 ); (b) of Himself ( Joh 1:41 to Joh 2:11 ).

3. First revelation of Himself as the Son of God ( Joh 2:12 to Joh 4:54 ) (a) in Jerusalem and Judæa ( Joh 2:12 to Joh 3:36 ), (b) in Samaria and Galilee ( Joh 4:1-54 ).


1. Jesus the Life. Opening of the conflict: ch. 5. 6. (a) His divine working as Son of God beginning of opposition ( Joh 5:1-47 ); (b) Jesus the Life in the flesh, progress of belief and unbelief ( Joh 6:1-71 ).

2. Jesus the Light. Height of the conflict: ch. 7 10. (a) He meets the unbelief of the Jews at Jerusalem ( Joh 7:1-52 ); (b) opposition between Jesus and the Jews at its height ( Joh 8:12-59 ); (c) Jesus the Light of the world for salvation, and for judgment (9. 10.).

3. The delivery of Jesus to death is the Life and the Judgment of the world: ch. 11. 12. (a) The raising from the Dead ( Joh 11:1-57 ); (b) prophetic announcements of the Future ( Joh 12:1-36 ); (c) final judgment on Israel (ib. 37 50).

III. JESUS AND HIS OWN: ch. 13 20.

1. Jesus’ Love and the belief of His disciples. (a) His Love in condescension ( Joh 13:1-30 ); (b) His Love in keeping and completing the disciples in the faith ( Joh 13:31 to Joh 16:33 ); (c) His Love in the exaltation of the Son of God (17.).

2. Jesus the Lord; the unbelief of Israel, now in its completion; the belief of His own: ch. 18 20. (a) His free self-surrender to His enemies, and to the unbelief of Israel ( Joh 18:1 to Joh 19:16 ); (b) His self surrender to Death, and divine testimony in death ( Joh 19:16-42 ); (c) His manifestation of Himself as passed from death into liberty and life, and the completion of the disciples’ faith worked thereby ( Joh 20:1-29 ).

The APPENDIX: ch. 21. The glimpse into the future. (a) the symbolic draught of fishes (1 8); (b) the symbolic meal (9 14); (c) the calling and its prospect (15 23); (d) conclusion.

These leading sections he follows out into minor detail in other subdivisions of much interest.

7. With regard to the style of this Gospel, it may be remarked (1) that Dionysius of Alexandria, as cited by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. vii. 25, remarked the purity of its Greek as compared with that of the Apocalypse τὰ μὲν γάρ (the Gospel and First Epistle) οὐ μόνον ἀπταίστως κατὰ τὴν τῶν Ἑλλήνων φωνήν , ἀλλὰ καὶ λογιώτατα ταῖς λέξεσι , τοῖς συλλογισμοῖς , ταῖς συντάξεσι τῆς ἑρμηνείας γέγραπται · πολλοῦ γε δεῖ βάρβαρόν τινα φθόγγον , ἢ σολοικισμόν , ἢ ὅλως ἰδιωτισμὸν ἐν αὐτοῖς εὑρεθῆναι . (2) That without subscribing to the whole of this eulogy, if classical authors are to be the standard of comparison, the same will hold good of this Gospel as compared with the other three. (3) That the greater purity of its Greek is perhaps mainly owing to its far greater simplicity of style . While the deepest truths lie beneath the words, the words themselves are almost colloquial in their simplicity; the historical matter is of small amount as compared with the dialogue. (4) That while the language is for the most part unobjectionable Greek, the cast of expression and thought is Hebraistic. “Sermo quidem Græcus sed plane adumbratus ex Syriaco illius sæculi” (Grotius). There is, both here and in the Epistle, very little unfolding or deducing one proposition from another: different steps of an argument, or sometimes different conclusions from mutually dependent arguments, are indicated by mere juxtaposition: and the intelligent reader must be carrying on, as it were, an undercurrent of thought, or the connexion will not be perceived. (5) That in this respect this Gospel forms a remarkable contrast to those parts of the New Testament written by Hellenistic Christians, e.g. the Epistles of Paul, and that to the Hebrews; in which, while external marks of Hebraistic diction abound, there is yet an internal conformation of style, and connexion of thought, more characteristic of the Grecian mind: they write more in periods, and more according to dialectic form. In observing all such phænomena in our sacred writings, the student will learn to appreciate the evidence which they contribute to the historic truth of our belief with regard to them and their writers: and will also perceive an admirable adaptation of the workman to his work, by Him whose one Spirit has overruled them all.

8. The reader will find a very elaborate and detailed account of the peculiarities of diction and style of this Gospel in Luthardt’s work referred to above, vol. i. pp. 21 69.

adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile