the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms Hengstenberg's Commentary
by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg
After our investigations in detail, there still remain several questions to be discussed which refer to the Gospel as a whole. Of these the most important is its design. John himself tells us clearly and decisively what that was, at the close of the main body of it. He says, ch. John 20:31, “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” In harmony with this is the prologue, which sets forth as the great theme, “The Word was made flesh.” The Evangelist gives in the prologue the sum of what he would unfold throughout the work.
So also in the first three Evangelists we have the full confession that Jesus was the Messiah; and the Messiah not in the ordinary Jewish sense, but in a sense that makes Messiah and Son of God equivalent and synonymous terms. Testimonies to the Divine nature of Christ we find throughout Matthew: for instance, in all those countless passages where Jesus is spoken of as the Son of man (comp. on ch. John 1:51); in the record, occurring at the very outset, of the incarnation through the Holy Ghost; then in ch. Matthew 3:11-12; Matthew 3:14, Matthew 10:37, where Christ arrogates for Himself that supreme love which throughout the Old Testament is spoken of as the prerogative of God alone, ch. Matthew 11:27, Matthew 16:16; Matthew 16:27, Matthew 17:5, Matthew 22:41-46, Matthew 25:31, Matthew 26:63-65, Matthew 28:18-20. In Luke we refer simply to ἑ?νὸ?ς δέ ἐ?στιν χρεία , “one thing is needful,” ch. Luke 10:42. If devotion to Jesus was the one thing needful. He must be God over all; and that must apply to Him which is written in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, a passage which the Lord evidently had in view. It would have been pure blasphemy for another than the Son of God in the fullest and most essential sense to have described devotion to himself as the one thing needful. The first three Evangelists make it generally their aim also to show that Jesus the Christ was the Son of God: in Matthew this constantly appears in the comparison of prophecy with fulfilment. But he does not expressly lay this down as his design; and we may say that it does not rule in his narrative to anything like the same degree as it does in the narrative of John. All that Jesus said and did had profound interest for the Evangelists; and they do not ask at every step how far every detail serves to demonstrate the proposition that Jesus was the Christ. They have their joy in the history as such. John is the only one who, as a rule, retains that design unchangeably in view. His Gospel was, so to speak, the first apology. He exhibits the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in a certain systematic completeness, and by a series of arguments he demonstrates it. These arguments we shall now glance at, in order that we may have a clear view of the character of the entire Gospel.
That Jesus is the Christ, and as such the Son of God, is first the Lord’s own testimony to Himself. When the woman of Samaria says, “I know that the Messias cometh,” Jesus answers with decisive clearness, “I am He,” ch. John 4:26. He evermore assumes that central place which in the Old Testament was the prerogative of Jehovah. He describes Himself as the way, the truth, and the life; as the light of the world, as the true bread from heaven, as He who could give water to drink that would quench all thirst for ever, as the good Shepherd, as the door of the sheep. At the very outset, in His conversation with Nicodemus, He declares Himself to be the only-begotten Son of God, who came down from heaven, and would go back to heaven, and who, during His sojourn upon earth, was at the same time in heaven. He utters the lofty word, “I and the Father are one,” ch. John 10:30. Jesus Himself testifies that His own utterance concerning His own person furnished a sure ground for faith in Him, and that it was only a concession to infirmity when He appeals to other grounds, ch. John 10:38, John 14:11. He defends, in ch. John 8:14, the validity of this testimony against the Pharisees, intimating to them that He might not be measured by a human standard, that He moved in a sphere in which the mists of vanity and self-complacency exist not, and in which the saying, “Let another praise thee, and not thyself,” had no force. Accordingly Jesus could bear testimony to Himself; and the truth of His testimony is confirmed by the whole impression of His personality. Men had only to regard Him in His majestic dignity, in His glory as the only-begotten of the Father, and the thought must instantly vanish, that He had in proud self-delusion arrogated to Himself a dignity that did not belong to Him, or that He had in intentional deception given Himself out to be the Son of God. Men who make themselves God are always either madmen or knaves. Who but a blasphemer would dare to place Jesus in the one or the other of these classes?
Those who were not satisfied with His testimony to Himself Jesus refers to His works, especially to His miracles, as being a testimony borne to Him by the Father. “The works,” He says, in ch. John 5:36, “which the Father hath given Me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of Me, that the Father hath sent Me.” So also He appeals to the works in ch. John 10:25; John 10:37-38: “The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.
If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works: that ye may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” Similar references to the works are found in ch. John 8:18, John 14:11. According to ch. John 15:24, it was the works that made the Jews inexcusable, and proved that in hating Jesus they hated the Father. In ch. John 11:15, He rejoices that Lazarus had died before His arrival, because He thus had opportunity, by the performance of a glorious work—the raising one a considerable time dead—to strengthen the faith of His disciples. According to John 11:42, He formally utters the petition for the raising of Lazarus, that the connection of the work with His own person might be set in full light, and that thus faith in His Divine mission might be wrought in the hearts of those who were present.
The Apostle often points to the deep impression which the works of Jesus produced upon the men of his day and all eye-witnesses. Nicodemus says to Jesus, ch. John 3:2, “We know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do the miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.” According to ch. John 2:23, many in Jerusalem believed in His name when they saw the miracles that He did. According to ch. John 4:45, when Jesus came to Galilee the Galileans received Him, because they had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the feast. In ch. John 7:31 we read: “And many of the people believed on Him, and said, When Christ cometh, will He do more miracles than those which this man hath done? “What significance the Apostle attached to the works of Christ, is shown by the narrative of the man born blind. Everything is ordered in true apologetic style, with the design to obviate all hostile attack. The same holds good of the narrative of Lazarus’ resurrection.
The fact that the Evangelist attached such high importance to the Lord’s miracles, would lead us to expect in his Gospel a series of detailed miraculous events. Nor are we deceived in our expectation. It is true that, so far as their number goes, the miracles are not so prominent in his Gospel as in those of his predecessors; it is true, as Ewald says, that “his entire work contains, if we look at the matter as a quantity, for the most part Christ’s words and discourses;” but, as it is John who gives most prominence to the miraculous element, this must be explained by the fact that he assumes the existence of his predecessors’ narratives. The miracles which he describes in detail are representatives of classes; and with regard to each the design of the Evangelist was, that those analogous facts should be inserted which his predecessors had already recorded. Baur observes (die Evangelien, S. 2557): “Only one kind of miracles is here altogether wanting, the casting out of demons; which is all the more strange, as precisely this class of miracles is most amply and frequently detailed in the Synoptists.” But the explanation of the matter is simply this, that the material had been already exhausted by them. Mere repetition is carefully avoided by the Evangelist.
To the works belong also those facts by which Christ declares Himself to be the risen and glorified Lord. Their apologetic significance is referred to in ch. John 6:62, John 2:18-19, John 8:28, John 20:31. The assurance of the resurrection commended itself not only to faith, but also, in the person of Thomas, to doubt itself.
The witness borne to Jesus by the Father is connected with a series of other Divine hints and confirmations: for example, that Caiaphas must utter the word, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people,” ch. John 11:50, the deep significance of which the Apostle, in John 11:51, expressly comments on; that Pilate, despite the opposition of the Jews, described Jesus as the King of the Jews in the superscription of the cross; that blood and water from the side of Jesus followed the piercing of the spear, as a symbol of redemption and justification obtained by His passion,—a circumstance so marvellous, that the Apostle expressly and emphatically declares himself to have seen what he records, ch. John 19:35. The apologetic import of this occurrence he alludes to when he makes the design of his testimony to be, “that ye might believe.”
Concurrent with the works of Jesus are the words. Jesus Himself makes the argument from them valid in ch. John 6:63. There He tells those who were in danger of mistaking Him, “The words which I have spoken to you, are spirit and are life.” According to ch. John 15:22, the words of Christ constitute so decisive a demonstration of His Divine mission that they are sufficient of themselves to render those inexcusable, and to involve them in condemnation, who had heard without attaining to faith. In ch. John 17:8, our Lord says, “For I have given unto them the words which Thou hast given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me.” All this they learnt from the words of Christ, which so manifestly had their source in another world, and could never have sprung from this poor earth. According to the Baptist’s word, in ch. John 3:31, he that is of the earth speaketh of the earth; and the only-begotten Son of God testifies in His sayings what He had heard and seen in the supermundane sphere. By the side of the self-testimony of Jesus, the works and the words are made prominent in ch. John 14:10, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself; but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works” And if in John 14:11, in connection with His self-testimony, the works only are emphasized, “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; or else believe Me for the very works’ sake,” that was not because the works were better demonstration than the words; but the Lord appeals to them simply as being the more obvious and palpable demonstration.
The Apostle frequently points to the deep impression which the words of Christ produced; he makes it very prominent that this testimony approved itself in its effect. When Jesus, at a season when many misconceived and deserted Him, said to the Apostles, “Will ye also go away?” Peter, as the mouthpiece of all, ch. John 6:68, answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” This is the response of the confessing Church to that which Jesus had Himself said concerning the high significance of His words. Even the servants of the high priest are constrained to avow, ch. John 7:46, “Never man spake like this man.”
The direct consequence of the high position conceded to the words of Christ is this, that in the Gospel a series of His Divine discourses is communicated. Especially the discourses delivered before His departure are to be looked upon in this light. They enforce from every heart not hardened, from every soul not under the ban of its own perverted inclinations and lusts (comp. ch. John 5:44), the avowal that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. They are, not less than the miracles, signs, σημεῖ?α , although John, following the current phraseology, has used that word only with regard to the works of Christ.
The effect of this testimony is, indeed, dependent on a subjective condition; but wherever this condition is not wanting, where the heart is found right with God, it cannot but prove its might.—“My doctrine,’“ says Christ, in ch. John 7:16-17, “is not Mine, but His that sent Me. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself.” The doctrine of Christ approves itself to the conscience of him who has a sincere will to do the will of God. He shall find in it the solution of the mystery of his inner being, the satisfaction of the desires of his longing heart, and all help for his struggling and wrestling spirit. The place of doubt is only departure from God, the perverted heart that will do the will of the flesh, and will not be disturbed in the gratification of its lusts and passions.
By the side of these three great arguments the Gospel presents a series of others.
The Baptist’s testimony to Christ could not be omitted, especially as it was that testimony which led John himself to the Lord. It was his personal experience of the force of that witness that made John attach to it such importance, and assign it such prominence. So early as the prologue, ch. John 1:7, he alludes to it: “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through Him might believe.” In ch. John 1:19-36, the Evangelist, at the outset of the body of the Gospel, communicates the threefold testimony which the Baptist bore to Jesus at the period of His first appearing. In ch. John 3:22-36, John abases himself profoundly under Christ at the end of his own course, and utters a glorious testimony concerning Him: “He must increase, but I must decrease.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” It has been shown (in vol. i.), that in these communications touching the Baptist, the Evangelist had no polemical reference to imaginary disciples of John. He had rather the followers of Thomas in view, the δίψυχοι of his time, who vibrated uneasily between faith and unbelief. The testimony of John is only one link of a chain of demonstrations to the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This is not only suggested in ch. John 20:31; we learn it definitely from ch. John 5:33-35, where Jesus appeals to John’s witness in opposition to the Jews. There this testimony opens the series of those which the Father bore to the Son. There it is a power against unbelief generally, not a weapon to resist the pretensions of an obscure sect. And the importance of this testimony (with regard to which compare vol. i.) was approved by its effects. According to ch. 1, it led to Jesus His first disciples; according to ch. John 10:41-42, the people were induced to believe, by comparing what John had said concerning Christ with the works which they beheld in Him.
How Jesus was accredited by the predictions of the Old Testament, Matthew had shown in a very complete series of instances. But John also, although taking for granted what his predecessor had written, does not omit all reference to them. Jesus, in ch. John 5:39, appeals, in opposition to the hostile Jews, to the “scriptures” that testified of Him, to the whole body of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, which were fulfilled in, Him; and then, in John 5:45-47, He specifically challenges the testimony of Moses. At the entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem on an ass, the Evangelist expressly points out that the event was a fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy, ch. John 12:16. At the distribution of the garments, and the casting lots for the vesture, he points to the coincidence of prophecy and fulfilment, ch. John 19:23-24. So also with regard to the vinegar given Him to drink, John 19:28. And in the circumstance that the legs of Jesus were not broken, and that one of the soldiers pierced Him with a lance, John sees the hand of God, which brought about this harmony between prediction and accomplishment.
Hand in hand with the prophecies of the Old Testament, we have the testimony of Christ’s own predictions. By the clearness with which the future lay open before Him, He was proved to be the Sent of God, who partook of the omniscient prerogative of the Divine nature. For God alone can reveal secret things, Daniel 2:28; and He to whom He reveals hidden things is thereby authenticated and declared to be trustworthy, so that all must believe the testimony that He bears to Himself. Jesus ever has His own destiny open before Him. He foreannounces, as early as ch. John 3:14, His death on the cross. After the words in ch. John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me,” John adds, “This He said, signifying what death He should die:” comp. further ch. John 8:28, John 18:32. He utters, in ch. John 2:19 (comp. John 2:22), a prophecy of His resurrection. In ch. John 16:16, He foreannounces to the Apostles His impending departure, and that speedy reappearance which the resurrection fulfilled. The same clear view of the future our Lord displays with regard to His disciples. This is seen in the promises of protection to be afforded them, ch. John 17:12 (comp. ch. John 18:9), and of the Holy Spirit whom they should receive, ch. John 7:38-39, John 14:16-17; John 14:25-26, John 15:26, John 16:7; John 16:13, as connected with the glorious and public accomplishment at Pentecost. Our Lord says to Peter, ch. John 1:42, at the first meeting, “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, A stone,” or Peter. The man of rock had justified his name, at the time when John wrote, by the whole course of his life, and by his death. Jesus predicts to Peter his denial, ch. John 13:38, comp. ch. John 18:25-27; so also his mode of departure, in which he should follow his Master by a death on the cross, ch. John 13:36, John 21:18. And the life of John, different from that of Peter, lies clearly before His vision, ch. John 21:22. Through all the discourses of our Lord there runs a prophecy of the doom to befall the Jewish people (comp. e.g. ch. John 8:21; John 8:24; John 8:28, John 15:2; John 15:6), the fearful fulfilment of which had already taken place, threatening those with similar judgment who should walk in the footsteps of the Jews’ unbelief in Christ. How plainly the Lord saw the course of the Church down to the end, is shown especially in ch. 21. He proclaimed from the beginning that His Church would be entirely severed from the temple at Jerusalem, ch. John 4:21; John 4:23; saw that the consequence of His death on the cross would be an extension of His kingdom over the heathen world, ch. John 12:32 (comp. ch. John 4:35; John 4:38); that the seedcorn falling into the earth would bring forth much fruit, ch. John 12:24; that the converted Jews and Gentiles would be formed into one fold, ch. John 10:16. He gives, after the resurrection, a figure of the prosperous labour of His servants among the Gentiles. He predicts that His Church would withstand all the assaults of the world, and conquer the whole earth, ch. John 16:33.
In harmony with the Lord’s own predictions, there are other evidences that His knowledge penetrated all things, into depths inaccessible to the human mind. He assumes the prerogative of the Searcher of hearts: He knows what is in man, ch. John 2:25. He looks through Judas the traitor from the beginning, ch. John 6:64. When Nathanael comes to Him, He says of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile,” ch. John 1:48; and as He looks into his inner being, so also He knows his external relations, John 1:49. He says to the Samaritan woman, “Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband;” and the woman herself, with many of the town, are led to faith in Jesus by the fact that He told her all things that ever she did. When the Apostles had fished all night, and taken nothing. He says to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,” ch. John 21:6. On the ground of the accordance between the word and the result, John says, “It is the Lord.” There was uttered the design for which John recorded all the facts which proclaimed that the knowledge of Jesus transcended all human limits. They were to bring his readers to the conviction that Jesus is the Lord.
In 1 John 5:6, great stress is laid upon the effects of Christianity. These are asserted to be the testimony which God gives to His Son. The Apostle there gives prominence to a triad of those testimonies: the water, or the forgiving of sins imparted by Christ; the blood, or the atonement accomplished by Him; and the spirit, who bears witness that the Spirit—that is, the Divine nature in Christ—is truth. That there is upon earth a fellowship of those who are partakers of these great gifts,—who have received reconciliation with God, the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Ghost,—is the best demonstration that He from whom these gifts come is the Son of God in truth. To this argument from effects which apart from Christ are never found, the Gospel also frequently points. In the prologue we read, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God,” ch. John 1:12; and, “Out of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace,” ch. John 1:16. Jesus Himself, in ch. John 3:5, represents regeneration of water and the Spirit as the privilege of His people. He describes Himself, ch. John 4:10, as One who can give the living water and allay the thirst of the human spirit; in ch. 6 as giving life to His people, when He gives them His flesh and blood to eat. They have in Him blood and water, ch. John 19:34; through Him they obtain the gift of the Holy Ghost, ch. John 7:38, John 15:26, John 16:7, John 20:22; knowledge of the truth, and, as the result of it, freedom from the slavery of sin, ch. John 8:32, as well as purification from its pollution, ch. John 15:3; the power of acceptable prayer, ch. John 15:7; peace, ch. John 14:27; deliverance from the terror of death, ch. John 8:51, John 11:26. Who would not believe on the name of Him who can impart to His people gifts so transcendent, and in no other way to be obtained!
John delights to communicate the confessions which Jesus evoked by the influence of His personal manifestation. In them also he discerns testimonies to His Divine dignity, evidences in favour of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Nathanael cries, “Thou art the Son of God,” ch. John 1:50; Peter, in the name of the Apostles, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of God,” ch. John 6:69; Martha utters the same avowal, ch. John 11:29; Thomas, overpowered by facts, must cry, “My Lord and my God;” the Samaritans testify, “We have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world:” comp. further ch. John 7:31. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people meet Him, and cry, “Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord,” ch. John 12:13. Many also of the rulers of the people believe on Him, and keep back their confession only through fear of the Pharisees, ch. John 12:42. The reason why men refuse their confession to Christ is perfectly plain: they come not to the light, because their deeds are evil. Their hatred is not less a testimony in favour of Christ than the love of the men whose hearts are right.
The Evangelist not only adduces positive arguments for his proposition that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God: he also refutes all objections to that doctrine. It might be a disparagement to the divinity of Christ, that so large a proportion of the Jews disbelieved: he enters into this frequently, in the Lord’s discourses which he communicates, e.g. in ch. John 5:8, and in his own observations, ch. John 12:37 seq. So also he meets the objection that might be derived from the treachery of Judas, one of the Twelve, ch. John 6:64; John 6:70-71, according to which Jesus was not surprised by the traitor, but knew him as such from the beginning, ch. John 13:18-19; John 13:21-30, John 17:12. The stumblingblock which might be found in our Lord’s capture he removes also, by showing in fact that Jesus freely delivered Himself up. Moreover, He cast His captors to the ground by a word.
We have shown that the aim to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, rules the whole Gospel. But the question now arises. Does the Apostle design in this merely to raise those who stood in a lower stage of faith to a higher one, or has he in view the doubts which were already stirring in his own time?
Of itself, the simple proposition would not lead us to the assumption of any polemical or apologetical design. That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is in fact the centre of Christianity; and it may be thought that the Apostle who himself, before all others, rested on that centre, would make it his great task to give the utmost prominence to this one thing needful, merely for the furtherance of the faith of those who were not yet firmly established on this foundation. Meanwhile there is much in the Gospel itself which forbids us to adhere absolutely and alone to this positive design.
If the Apostle wrote merely for the advantage of a faith not yet perfect, his treatment would have been less systematic. The aim would not, to such an extent, have pervaded the whole book down to its minutest detail; the Evangelist would have involuntarily, oftener than he does, abandoned the centre and wandered to the circumference. The matter would not have been such as to allow the section of the adulteress to be, as it were, a foreign element in a Gospel directed to one great end. The Evangelist would have been less disposed to array, as he does, a whole battalion of orderly reasons. In the record of miracles, he would not have been so careful at once to deduce from them a dogmatic result. On occasion of the very first miracle, he remarks, ch. John 2:11, that Jesus in that miracle manifested forth His glory. It is he pre-eminently who exhibits the miracles as signs, σημεῖ?α , means of placing the person of Jesus in the true light, ch. John 2:11; John 2:23, John 4:54, John 12:37. The style in which the miracles on the man born blind and Lazarus are narrated, the manifest intention to fortify these facts against all objections, can hardly be accounted for on the supposition that John wrote only to simple faith.
It must be regarded as noteworthy, that the last figure who appears before the words in which John lays down the scope of his Gospel, “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name,” is that of Thomas, and that the words of Christ addressed to him, “Be not faithless, but believing,” and, “Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed,” undeniably connect themselves with that conclusion. We are led by this to the inference that the Apostle aimed not merely to further an imperfect faith, but to furnish antidotes to doubt.
That the Apostle had to do with doubt and doubters, seems plain from his assuring us of the truth of his record in ch. John 21:24: comp. ch. John 19:37. There is nothing of the same kind in the earlier Evangelists.
The seasonable and opportune character of Holy Scripture generally affords a presumption in favour of a polemic and apologetic design in this Gospel. Those scriptures especially, which furnish predominantly doctrinal elements, display, as a rule, a relation to the special needs and errors of the time. It is because scripture commonly presents truth in its reference to concrete relations and living errors, that it has had such a living power, penetration, and effect. What in any one age is mighty in its operation, may be presumed to be mighty in its influence upon all times.
It is true that the arguments for a polemical design in this Gospel are not perfectly obvious; and he who rejects them cannot have them enforced upon him. But it was in the nature of the case that the design should not be palpable. The Apostle would have taken the edge from his weapon, if he had made his aim more expressly and evidently prominent. To the reasonings and devices of heretics, he would not oppose the like; not fictions to fictions, but what he had heard and seen, beheld and handled with his hands ( 1 John 1:1): to the Christological image of mist, he would oppose the historical Christ in His full historical truth. That was the weapon with which he warred. To this was necessary the strictest historical fidelity. This the Apostle has so carefully maintained, that, in spite of his aim for the times, not one word occurs which leaves the region and sphere of our Lord Himself. There can be no doubt, if we compare the Epistles of John and the Apocalypse, that in the section ch. John 15:18 to John 16:11, the theme of which is the position of the disciples in the world, the Apostle had the relations of his own time in view, the hatred with which the heathen part of the world persecuted the Christians; and that it was his purpose to meet the temptations to offence which this persecution supplied. But, this notwithstanding, everything refers directly to the hatred of the Jewish part of the world which Jesus had before Him: ch. John 15:15; John 15:22; John 15:24, suit only the Jews: so also “they shall cast you out of the synagogues,” ch. John 16:2; “of sin, because they believe not on Me,” ch. John 16:9, refer only to that phase of the world which by unbelief had already sinned against Christ. Generally, all is concretely Jewish, and never is there one word of generalization. The emphasis which in the high-priestly prayer is laid upon the disciples being one, the urgent exhortations to brotherly love in ch. John 15:12-17, receive in the Epistles of John and the Apocalypse a striking historical illustration. But here also every word refers primarily to the relations which existed in the time of the Son of man. His one aim rules in the Gospel, but yet it bears everywhere a rigidly historical character. Hence the exactitude in the notes of time and place; the precise specification of historical relations and persons which produces in every unbiassed mind the impression of perfect historical truth. He who would, in support of a theory, doubt this, will find his conviction in Josephus, as our commentary has abundantly shown.
Owing to the rigidly historical strain of the Gospel, we cannot arrive at perfect assurance with regard to the question whether John had a polemical design, unless we compare with it his other writings. The first of his Epistles is of special moment in this relation. It presents such abundant and manifestly intentional points of contact with the Gospel, that we may regard it as a kind of historical commentary on it, as its key or introduction, opening up the way for its application to the relations of the time when it Was written.
The situation presented to us in the first Epistle is as follows. The time stood in danger of the “sin unto death,” of that sin which had ruined the Jews (comp. the Gospel, ch. John 15:22, John 16:9). Many false prophets had gone out into the world, ch. John 4:1, through whom the world, or heathenism, sought to penetrate the Church, ch. John 2:19, John 5:21; and the Apostle at the end of his Epistle cries to his readers, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The fundamental error of these false prophets was the denial of Christ, ch. John 2:18. “Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time.” John regards this error, so perilously spreading in the Church of the Gentiles, as the beginning of the end. As it was the last hour of Judaism when it gave itself up to this hour, so would the Church of the Gentiles make shipwreck on the same rock if the germ of this error were allowed to develop, and it obtained the mastery. With the denial of the saving truth that Jesus is the Christ, there was connected another double error: first, the violation of brotherly love; and secondly, the neglect of God’s commandments, the abolition of those distinguishing marks which He had set between the world and His people. The three points are blended in ch. John 3:23-24: “And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment. And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him.” The same three points encounter us in the second Epistle of John. He describes it there as the great business required by the times, that “we love one another,” John 3:5; then, “that we walk after His commandments,” John 3:6; and finally, he comes to the cardinal point, John 3:7, “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” In harmony with the first Epistle, John 3:8-11 of the second show how much in danger the Church then was of losing Christ, and God with Christ; and that only the most severe and unshrinking opposition could secure the Church from this greatest of all dangers.
The genesis of that error, and the cause of its wide extension, we may gather with some probability from Matthew 13:20-21. There oppression and persecution on account of the world appears as the chief reason of the fall of unsettled minds. To the same points our Lord’s word in Matthew 24:9-13. There He represents it as a consequence of the hatred of the people, that many would be offended, that many false prophets would arise and find entrance into the Church, and that the love of many would wax cold. Historical observation tends to the confirmation of this. The theology of compromise is ordinarily a product of the infusion of the world in the Church. Its leading principle is the endeavour to relax the Church’s severity, and to relieve it from all pressure as it regards the ruling power, and to reconcile itself with that power by all means. That this principle was then at work, we may gather from many definite hints in the first Epistle. In ch. John 3:13 we read, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” Before this, and after it, the Apostle zealously condemns their lack of brotherly love. It is obvious that this lack was the result of the world’s hatred: men denied their brethren because they were afraid of suffering persecutions with them, and would avoid encountering with them all the evils which the minority, the “little flock,” would have to endure at the hands of the world. According to ch. John 3:16, it was a time when it was needful to lay down life for the brethren; according to ch. John 3:12, a time when the remembrance of Cain was suggested, who slew his brother. The endeavour to propitiate a persecuting world might well lead them to deliver up their brethren to the world’s hatred: compare the ἀ?λλήλους παραδώσουσι of Matthew 24:10.
The Epistles of John form a counterpart to the Epistle to the Hebrews. As the latter came to the succour of the churches exposed to internal danger from the Jewish persecution, so the Epistles of John encounter the internal dangers which the influence of the preponderance of Gentile authority introduced. These dangers were the same which the present day presents to view. He who would be at peace with the great world around him, must before all things give up the true and perfect divinity of Christ; for that is the fundamental ground of the enmity which exists between the Church and the world. He must renounce all rigour in his zeal for the commandments of Christ, especially those which are most contrary to the world, those which enforce the crucifixion of the flesh, with its affections and lusts, which demand absolute self-denial, and which maintain the ordinances of God inviolate against the caprice of subjective inclination. Finally, he must erect a wall of partition between himself and the true confessors.
The scope of the first Epistle is, in ch. 1 John 5:13, described, like that of the Gospel, in ch. John 20:31: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God:” comp. ch. John 5:5, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” The accordance between the Epistle and the Gospel is too plain, the designed relation of the former to the latter is too manifest, to allow of their being sundered from each other. Then, if the Epistle was written with reference to certain particular relations in the age, the same must hold good of the Gospel. When could a Gospel, the design of which was to maintain the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, have more fitly issued, than at a time when “many antichrists” were abroad, who, according to ch. John 2:22-23, denied that Jesus was the Christ?
In opposition to all novelties, the Apostle, in 1 John 3:11, refers Christian people to the message which they had heard from the beginning. So also in the second Epistle, 2 John 1:5-6, John opposes to the deceivers the Gospel as originally received by word of mouth. From these passages—with which may be connected the injunction in Revelation 2:25; Revelation 3:11, “That which ye have already, hold fast;” the praise of the Philadelphian Church, Revelation 3:8, “Thou hast kept My word;” and Revelation 2:26, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end,” My works, which I have performed, and I have commanded—there is only a step to the written Gospel, which repeated and fixed the oral Gospel as a firm bulwark against all the attacks of the deceivers.
The third Epistle of John, no less than the first and second, bears a polemical character. The joy of the Apostle over Gains, who walked in the truth, was based upon the fact that the truth was then greatly endangered by false teachers. And Diotrephes is mentioned as one of the most prominent of these seducers.
But the Apocalypse carries us further than the Epistles into the issues and objects of John’s writings. In the epistle to the Church of Ephesus, ch. Revelation 2:2, we read: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” We see here that the false prophets were desirous to introduce an entirely new Christianity. This is evident from their having given themselves out to be apostles, and therefore displacing the old Apostles, the bearers and representatives of original Christianity. It is quite in harmony with this, that John, in the third Epistle, says of Diotrephes, “He receiveth us not, prating against us with malicious words.” This was one of the new apostles, who went so far, according to Revelation 2:10, as to cast out of the Church those who remained faithful to the old apostolate. We are provided with a still more express description of the character of their false doctrine in Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 2:20, where the deceivers” of that time are exhibited as Nicolaitanes or Balaamites, and as dependants of Jezebel. We learn from this that the matter was one of “mediation theology,” or a compromise with the world, and the absorption of heathenism into the Church of God; as it is hinted in the close of the first Epistle, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” where the power that endangered Christianity was heathenism clothed in Christian disguise. Balaam, in Greek Nicolaus, who, according to Numbers 25, compared with ch. Numbers 31:16, seduced the Israelites, by means of the Moabitish and Midianite women, to lust and participation in idol worship; and Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, consort of Ahab, king of Israel, who, as a murderer of the prophets, introduced the worship of idols into Israel,—are the two Old Testament representatives of heathen perversion penetrating the Church of Christ, who live again in the false doctrines of the present time.
But the Apocalypse not merely presents the error to us in sharp outlines; it gives us also information as to its origin, and the reason of the great influence which it exerted over men’s minds, so as to bring the very existence of God’s Church into danger. Concurrently with warnings against heretical teachers, there are in the apocalyptic Epistles exhortations to stedfastness in face of this world’s persecutions. It is obvious that these two—persecution and false doctrine—stood in internal connection; that persecution paved the way for error, as being the means of escaping danger; that this error was in fact a concession to the persecuting power on the part of those who were internally vanquished,—an attempt to remove the enmity which existed between the Church and the world.
In the epistle to the Church of Pergamos, the connection between persecution and false doctrine comes out very plainly. There the angel of the Church is first praised, because he had held fast the name of Jesus, and had not denied His faith, even in the days when Antipas the faithful witness was martyred. Then he is blamed, because he tolerated those who retained the doctrine of Balaam. These were evidently the men who, in the place where “Satan’s throne” was,—that Is, the capital seat of the persecutions of Christians in Asia,—fell internally before the Gentile persecutions, sought some method of compromise with the enemy, some scheme of mediation by which they might propitiate the throne of Satan.
We are led to the same result by the passage, ch. Revelation 2:14: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak (for Balak) to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” It is here made emphatic that Balaam, in his seducing arts, had Balak, king of Moab, always in view. From him he expected his reward, if his schemes succeeded. Doubtless “in behalf of Balak” had reference to the relations of the time present. “The Balaamites in Pergamos,” says Bengel, “also sought the favour of eminent heathen powers.” The Balak of the present was the Roman dominion, with which the false teachers sought to make common cause; that which was called just before “the seat of Satan,” or his throne.
“To him that overcometh,” we read in ch. Revelation 2:17, “will I give to eat of the hidden manna.” Those who overcome are the opposite of the Balaamites, who yielded to the pressure of heathenism, and, in fear of the persecuting power, committed themselves to concessions.
In ch. Revelation 2:26 we read: “And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.” He who “does not, like the Balaamites of the day, yield himself up to the spiritual bondage of the Gentiles, shall obtain as his reward dominion over the Gentiles.
In Revelation 11:1-2, also, we have evidence that false doctrine was a product of heathen persecution: “And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying. Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” Here we have in apocalyptic form a parallel to Matthew 24:9-13. The temple is the Church. The proper temple consists of those who are thoroughly penetrated and filled with the spirit of the Church; the external forecourt consists of those who are only superficially touched. The measuring is the extent of the preservation. Where the measuring ceases, there begins the region of abandonment. That the forecourt was given up to the Gentiles, was related to their treading the holy city, as effect is related to cause. The world overflowing the Church caused that from many who had not was taken that which they had. Nothing but a perfect faith could be a sure breakwater against the violent waves of the world. All who are without it must, at such conjunctures, like Issachar, Genesis 49:15, bow their shoulders to serve.
After these investigations, we may then determine the question of the genesis of John’s authorship. All the Johannean writings have for their starting-point the overflowing of the Church by the persecuting Gentile world. The Apostle had been told by the risen Lord, ch. John 21:22, that he should tarry till He came. This coming of the Lord implied a previous coming of the prince of this world. John was not to be an idle spectator of this coming, or of the Lord’s coming to encounter him; he was rather to serve as an instrument in the coming of Christ. That was the reason why he must remain so long. This mission he fulfilled in three ways. In his Gospel he gave an historical foundation to the faith of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, which was shaken by Gentile persecution, and showed that the deceivers who attacked this faith are, in the true history of Christ, brought to shame. In the first Epistle he gave a contemporary commentary to the rigidly historical Gospel, and showed how that Gospel was to be applied to the errors of the present time. The second and third Epistles are a kind of appendage to the first; they are concerned with a particular manifestation of the compromising theology which had been evoked by heathen persecution. Finally, in the Apocalypse John overturns the dread felt for the persecuting heathen world; shows that it was doomed to the destructive judgments of God, while the Church was to remain victorious: so that it was simple folly to condescend through fear to concessions, and true wisdom to hold faithful to Christ and His Church. The Apocalypse shows how God avenges His people on the persecuting world; how He secures for His Church the victory over the Gentile state, and for her sake binds Satan a thousand years, so that he could, no longer mislead the heathen into great assaults; how, finally, He creates a new heaven and a new earth, and brings down the new Jerusalem from heaven to earth.
The Gospel and the Apocalypse concur in this, that they only take their point of departure from the relations of the present: they do not regard those relations in their accidental individual characteristics, but view the general in the particular, and thus maintain their full significance for all ages of the Church. The Apocalypse does not confine itself to the then present phase of the power of this world. Of Domitian, the author of the heathen persecution of the day, it furnishes no trace. It embraces in its view the whole conflict which the Church has to wage with heathenism and its invisible head down to the end of time. Its theme is, according to ch. John 1:7, the whole coming of Christ in the clouds. His judicial power as displayed from generation to generation. Domitian is merged in the whole to which he belonged, in the heathen state hostile to God. The glance of the seer embraces all the vast spaces of the history of the world. So also in the Gospel, as in the first Epistle, the Apostle does not confine himself to the fortuitous form which an evil theology of compromise had assumed in his own time; he has not to do with the changing vesture of error, but with its essential substance, permanent in all times, ever recurring under fleeting forms, as oft as the Church is overflowed anew by the world. Had the Apostle conferred upon the heresiarchs of his time the undeserved honour of entering into the details of all their inventions, then his Gospel would have become obsolete with the errors which it overthrew. The Apostle beheld in these only the beginning of the end, and that of itself would preserve him from entering into them too minutely. “The dogmatic proportions and allusions of the prologue,” says Lücke, “are stated very generally, and the opposites are only indirectly reflected in them.” Olshausen perceived the fact, but he deduced from it an erroneous inference: “The love and the gentleness of the Apostle of love not only permitted no trace of severity and bitterness to escape, but declined all specific and direct attack.” That such soft-hearted love and gentleness were not characteristic of this Apostle, may be abundantly seen in the Epistles, as confirmed by the narrative of his encounter with Cerinthus. Ewald’s unsupported opinion, that the Apostle “determined that his Gospel, as a legacy of love, should not be made public until his death,” is upset at once by the consideration of the polemical undertone of those general propositions, as it is established by a comparison between the Epistles and the Gospel. The Gospel itself was thrown into the midst of the strife of parties.
Baur (über der Evang. S. 380) remarks in reference to the Gospel and the Apocalypse: “Here as there we find the development of a great conflict, in which the idea of Christianity is realized. There the conflict is with antichristian heathenism, in which the idea of Christianity is realized; here the conflict is with unbelieving Judaism, which Jesus Himself had to maintain.” This antithesis establishes a close relation between the two writings. But that relation is made closer when we discern that even in the Gospel there is a background. The victory of our Lord over the Jews is the pledge of His future victory over the heathen. The Apostle, by his exhaustive delineation of the warfare of Christ against the Jews, which, in the eyes of all the world, was ended by their utter downfall, cries out to heathenism, Mutato nomine de te falula narratur, and fills with courage the hearts of all those who had to continue the war with heathenism.
The result at which we have arrived by an examination of the Johannean writings themselves,—that the Gospel of John bears a polemical, or, if it be preferred, aims at an apologetic design,—is confirmed by the testimony of antiquity. Of special importance in relation to this is the declaration of Irenaeus, a man in whose character truth in opposition to tradition is a fundamental trait, whose home was in the scene of St John’s labours, who stood in intimate connection with many eminent men who had known the Apostle himself, and who in all his assertions concerning the Johannean writings shows himself to be always trustworthy (compare, for the confirmation of his remarks upon the date of the Apocalypse, the introduction of my commentary on that book).
He says, iii. 11, that John wrote his Gospel to root out the error which had been propagated by Cerinthus, and before him by the Nicolaitanes: “Announcing this faith, John, the disciple of our Lord, desired by the publication of his Gospel to abolish that error which Cerinthus had sown among men, and long previously those who are called Nicolaitanes, a fragment of falsely called science,” or Gnosticism.
Coincident with this statement is the well-known narrative of Irenaeus, iii. 3 (comp. Eusebius, iii. 28, iv. 21), touching the encounter of John and Cerinthus in the bath, and John’s precipitate departure with the words, “Let us flee, lest the bath fall in, Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, being in it.” Irenaeus refers this story back to those who heard it from Polycarp, who had known John himself. If we doubt the literal truth of the account, we cannot deny that it so far historically holds, that John stood in decided opposition to Cerinthus, as the great enemy of the truth in his time.
Irenaeus thus describes the error of Cerinthus, i. 26: “A certain Cerinthus, in Asia, taught that the world was not made by the Supreme God, but by some power very distinct from that which is over all things, and ignorant of the God who is above all. He said that Jesus was not born of the Virgin (that seemed to him impossible), but that He was the son of Joseph and Mary after the manner of other men, and was pre-eminent among men for justice and prudence and wisdom; that after His baptism Christ descended upon Him, from that sphere which is over all things, in the figure of a dove; that He then announced His unknown Father, and wrought miracles; but that Christ departed again from Jesus in the end, and Jesus died and rose again, Christ remaining impassible as a spiritual existence.” The lost Greek text of this passage in Irenaeus may mainly be recovered from Theodoret (Hasret. Fab. ii. 3), who drew from his sources. Cerinthus, according to this account, denied the proposition which John in his Gospel and Epistles laid down with such decision, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” He denied the perfect incarnation of God in Christ, which is the essential pillar of Christianity, and thus gave occasion to the theme, “The Word was made flesh.” He placed Christ and Jesus in a very loose connection, which was only the prelude to the entire dissolution of the relation between the two, and from which there was only one step to the assertion that Jesus was a mere man. Before the baptism, and from the beginning of the passion onwards, Jesus was without Christ; even from the baptism to the passion there was no real union between them, only a loose connection, merely a stronger form of that which is the privilege of other pious men. Thus was the stone of stumbling set aside; the offence was removed which the wisdom of this world found in the perfect incarnation of God, and the bridge was formed between the Church and the world. The difference between Jesus and Socrates was no longer essential, but only one of degree. The miraculous birth of Jesus, this offence to the natural reason, was done away with. Men might now say many beautiful things about Jesus, without wounding the Gentile consciousness, whose motto was, “Live and let live,” and was hard only upon exclusiveness. He still remained in reality on the same level with those great ones whom the heathen marvelled at and reverenced; on the same level with those also who could not tolerate that a son of man should be placed absolutely above them, and arrogate to himself Divine honour and unconditional obedience, with the denial and suppression of all the dearest passions of their soul.
As it respects the doctrine of Cerinthus, we must confine ourselves to Irenaeus. Later authorities, especially the untrustworthy Epiphanius, have made him into a thorough scarecrow. According to Epiphanius, he declared the Jewish law to be good, and the observance of it necessary. Then there was attributed to him a coarse millenarianism, which certainly must have sprung from Jewish sources. These representations are not consistent with the doctrine of Cerinthus as exhibited by Irenaeus. According to the latter, he taught that the world was not made by the Supreme God, but by a power subordinate to Him, who knew Him not. (Theodoret: “He taught that there was one God of all things, but that He was not the framer of the world, which was made by certain powers widely sundered from Him, and knowing Him not.”) All Jewish-Christian tendencies are shut out by this. The judgments of the Gnostics upon the Demiurge were, according to Baur (Gnosis, S. 28), so many judgments upon the internal worth of Judaism, and its religious laws and institutions. “The Christian religion,” he says elsewhere, “was represented by Christ; the Jewish by the Demiurge.” “The Demiurge was declared by the Gnostics generally to be the God of the Jews.” Assuredly there are men of confusion, who unite things the most irreconcilable; but they are not dangerous, and not worthy of study or refutation. The earnest consideration which John vouchsafed to Cerinthus presupposes that he was a thoroughly dangerous enemy of the truth,—a man who might be regarded as the actual representative of heathenism pressing into the Christian Church. Theodoret also exhibits Cerinthus as a pure philosopher. He says: “This man having lived a long time in Egypt, and having studied the philosophers, afterwards came into Asia.” The later disfiguration of the historical character of Cerinthus may be traced to two reasons: first to the fact, that Irenaeus, in the passage, i. 36, which lies at the foundation of all the later accounts of Cerinthus, immediately after mentioning him, speaks of the Ebionites. The reason he does so is, that both taught falsely concerning the Lord’s person: consimiliter ut Cerinthus et Carpocrates opinantur. But the connection was pushed further, and it was thought that the other Jewish-Christian errors were also common to Cerinthus with the Ebionites, that what was said of the Ebionites held good of Cerinthus also: “They persevere in those customs which are according to the law, and in the Jewish mode of life.” A second occasion of the mistake was furnished by a passage of Caius, communicated in Eusebius, iii. 29. Caius justified his deep disinclination to the Apocalypse, which he did not understand, by denying the authorship of John, and attributing it to Cerinthus; and this latter for no other reason, than because Cerinthus bore a particularly hateful name as a heretic, and was specifically opposed to the Apostle. He says of Cerinthus, that he sought to make his name imposing by supposititious revelations, written by him as by a great Apostle, and which angels had been sent to teach him. This passage was rightly understood by Dionysius of Alexandria (Eusebius, iii. 28, John 7:25). He said that Caius pointed to the Apocalypse of John. Others, however, referred it, in its designedly ambiguous wording, to a writing of Cerinthus distinct from the Apocalypse; and thus arose the notion about Cerinthus’ millenarianism,—a notion altogether untenable, from the very fact that the doctrine of a thousand years’ reign never occurs apart from the Apocalypse, from which Cerinthus could not yet have drawn it. Massuet (in his Dissertationes praeviae in Irenoeum, pp. 64, 65) was in the right track with regard to the later misrepresentations of the historical character of Cerinthus. But he did not pursue the track to the end: even he held that Cerinthus was, “if not by nation, at least by religion, a Jew.” Baur (Gnosis, S. 404) has, altogether lost the clue. He follows Epiphanius, but without applying criticism where it is wanted.
The doctrine of Cerinthus concerning the Demiurge, and his doctrine concerning Christ, stand in strict internal connection. By the former, the Old Testament, with its hateful Jews presenting so many stumblingblocks to the cultivated heathen, was set aside; by the latter, the God-man was abolished, who so deeply abased heathenism, and laid claim to such absolute subjection and devotion at their hands.
The later authorities, however, agree with Irenaeus in exhibiting it as a settled fact, that the Gospel of John had a polemic aim. Jerome, for example, says in the Prooem. in Matt.: “John, when he was in Asia, and already the seed of the heretics began to germinate, was constrained by almost all the bishops of Asia, and deputations of many churches, to write profoundly concerning the divinity of the Saviour.”
From the investigation of the design of the Gospel, we now turn to the relation it bears to the first Gospels, as their complement.
It has been shown in the Commentary, that John everywhere assumes the existence of the first Gospels, and especially connects his Gospel with that of Luke; that his relation to his predecessor, however, is not that of a corrector, but of a corroborating witness and supplementer; that his design is always and most manifestly to make his Gospel with the former one whole. He who will ponder the multiplied evidences which we have adduced in support of this point during the course of the Commentary, will hardly fail to yield assent.
The result arrived at by an investigation of details is confirmed by a view of the Gospel as a whole. His entire character shows that it was designed to serve only as a topstone; and that it was constructed on the assumption that the others were already in being. Weizsäcker (in his work on the Characteristics of John’s Gospel) makes here some pertinent remarks: “We must put the question to ourselves, what we should have if the Gospel of John were our only source of the life of Christ. We should possess in it a sublime sketch; but it would be without a clear and definite view. We should have information as to the great deeds of Jesus, but no notion of His usual and common course of life and action. We should have the most profound declarations of His nature and mission; but, strictly speaking, no examples how He approved that mission in the teaching. The many individual statements could not hinder our having only a very dim apprehension of the whole.
As John passes over the whole Galilean life of Jesus with few exceptions, he gives us no luminous picture of our Lord’s ordinary commerce with men; we do not see how He, in particular matters, influenced their moral life, how He led His disciples into the way of faith, and the discipline of religion, and the exercises of prayer. We lack here, so to speak, the wealth of the common real life in the Gospel.
Thus the Johannean picture is of itself almost ideal and cloudy; it is like a centre without a plainly defined circumference; a manifestation of great sublimity, but without clear concomitants; the exhibition of an internal nature, but without those confirmatory traits that should proceed from it. Hence Jesus ever speaks with the deepest pathos, and His manifestation lacks that character of naturalness which that of the Synoptists displays. On this account the Johannean picture demands such a complement as those other Evangelists supply.”
In this Gospel we find Jesus, as we find Him in the first three, surrounded by multitudes: ch. John 6:2; John 6:22, John 12:12. How did He attract these crowds? What did He say to attract them into the way of salvation? In the Gospel of John we find no traces of a popular style of speaking. This fact of itself throws us back upon the first three records.
But as John refers back to his predecessors, so also they seem to have written in the expectation of a future supplement. Why do they confine themselves so almost entirely to Galilee? Why do they abstain, until the Lord’s, last journey, from touching upon events of great importance in the metropolis, which, according to their own statements, He must have often visited? comp. e.g. Luke 13:34. Why do they omit those momentous discourses which were connected with the feeding of the five thousand? Why do they say nothing of the resurrection of Lazarus?
The following observations will serve to place in its true light the relation of John’s Gospel to those of his predecessors.
Our Lord expressly assigned it to His Apostles as their vocation to bear witness of what they had heard and seen in their intercourse with Himself: ch. John 15:27, “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning:” comp. Luke 24:48; Acts 5:32. And He had declared this testimony to be a power for the conversion of the unbelieving world. The functions of this vocation they discharged at first by oral announcement. And this was in the case of John all the more important, as the sphere of his labour was first Jerusalem and afterwards Ephesus, each a centre of the Christian Church. Pliny (Hist. Nat. v. 29) terms Ephesus Iumen Asiae; Strabo, ἐ?μπόριον μέγιστον τῶ?ν κατὰ? τὴ?ν Ἀ?σίαν τὴ?ν ἐ?ντὸ?ς τοῦ? ταύπου ; Seneca, Ep. 102, compares Ephesus, for extent of space and multitude of inhabitants, with Alexandria; and a coin of the time of Vespasian bears the inscription, Εφεσιων πρωτων Ασιας .
In the nature of the case, John’s Gospel was published from the time of the resurrection and ascension, and known as far as the Christian Church extended.
Doubtless the Apostle had from the beginning, and apart from any polemical or contemporaneous requirements, purposed to commit his Gospel to writing; and the whole Christian world must have looked for it. The importance of writing was firmly established by the Old Testament; and the Apostle had grown up in the experience of its salutary influence. What gave its stability to the Old Testament, could not be wanting to the New. It was obvious that oral proclamation would be valid only so long as the “witnesses of the word” were alive; and that the Christian Church would be in the greatest danger if these “eye-witnesses” did not, before their departure, take care to secure their testimony in writing. John had been called at the very outset of the Lord’s ministry; he had been His inseparable attendant; he had been one of three elect Apostles; he was the only witness for many isolated occurrences, such as the examinations before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate; and he could with special truth and meaning say what we find him saying in 1 John 1:2. But what is more than this, the Apostle knew well that he, with his profound knowledge of the heart of Jesus, had received a special commission for some portions of the evangelical history, especially for a certain class of the longer discourses of our Lord. This specific vocation was so fully acknowledged in the Church, that neither of his predecessors ventured to occupy this region, all expecting his future supplement. This held good especially of the discourses delivered in Jerusalem. In the centre of Jewish culture, at the same time the chief seat of Pharisaic opposition, Jesus had taken occasion to enter into the profoundest discussions, to reproduce which in their connection John alone, in the apostolic centre, was adapted. Even Peter, the first of the Apostles, must recede in this province. That his gift extended not to this, is evident from the fact of a Gospel having been written by Mark under his influence. But the discourses delivered at Capernaum after the feeding of the multitude, and preserved by John, show that, in the Galilean work of Jesus, there were departments which none of the first Gospels ventured to occupy, but which were regarded as the reserved province of John. That the unfitness of the others referred not merely to the discourses, but that there were also works of our Lord which they abstained from recording in deference to John’s claims, we see in the narrative of the resurrection of Lazarus, which is peculiar to John, and would wear a strange aspect in any of the others. John would have been unfaithful to his vocation if he had not always contemplated the final committal of his Gospel to writing. But as to the accomplishment of this design he was not in haste. The oral communication which filled up a large sphere was, to his nature, altogether given up to the person of Jesus, the most engaging part of his duty; and this oral communication would have been much interfered with, or disparaged, if the Gospel had first been written and circulated. He had not to fear being surprised by death. The Lord had assured him of continuance until a certain definite term. He awaited a Divine call, which would appear in the shaping of circumstances. This call came in the time of the first great heathen persecution, in which the words of our Lord, in ch. John 21:22, had assigned him an important work to do. The preparation of the Gospel was one of the means by which he executed that mission. To delay longer after that would have been impossible, inasmuch as the same word of Christ had intimated to him that not long after this catastrophe the Apostle’s own departure would take place.
The written Gospel coincided in substance with the unwritten, since in both the Apostle declared what he had heard and seen with his eyes, 1 John 1:1. In his Epistles, John makes it very prominent, that in his contest with the deceivers of the time he brought nothing forward that they had not heard “from the beginning,” 1 John 2:7; 2 John 1:5-6. Yet there would be found differences not unimportant between the written and the oral Gospel. These were occasioned first by the presence of the first three Gospels, which John did not desire to render superfluous, but only to supplement; the first of them having been written by a fellow-Apostle, and the two others with the co-operation of two fellow Apostles, Peter and Paul. Probably these Gospels themselves had already exerted considerable influence before his own oral communications. Then a regard to the perils of the Church led to a certain difference between the written and the oral. John would complement the first Gospels; but with this predominant object, and under this particular aspect, that he must communicate all that which would serve, besides their contribution to the same object, to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Undoubtedly John’s eye had been fixed upon this even in his oral communications. But, in view of the troubled circumstances of the time, he would strike a bolder chord; the rather as he discerned the end in this beginning, and foresaw that the stone of stumbling on which Judaism was ruined would one day prove ruinous to the Gentile Church also. In order to this, the discourses delivered by Christ in Jerusalem, which the other Evangelists passed over, offered abundant material. It was natural that in the metropolis, the seat of antichristian Pharisaism, opposition to Jesus and His claims was systematized; that this opposition would concern itself mainly with the claims of Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, making this its cardinal point; and that Jesus, in His defence against this attack, would thoroughly and clearly lay down the evidences of His Divine mission. But we should exaggerate if we were to refer all that the Gospel contains to one design, the demonstration that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. This must be regarded only as the main scope. It would have been unnatural if John, the eye-witness, had not communicated, out of mere joy in the history, and pleasure in the remembrances which made up the fibre of his life, much that stood in no direct relation to that leading scope. The very exactitude with which he treats the chronology of Christ’s life, shows that, by the side of his polemical or apologetical aim, he pursued one generally historical. To the same result we are led by a number of other individual historical traits. The passion-history, in particular, cannot be understood if we fix our attention too rigidly upon the Apostle’s design to demonstrate that Jesus was Christ, the Son of God.
John could not appropriately write until other exhibitions of the evangelical history had given him a foundation on which to rest his own. The first Gospels are the necessary preliminary to his; as the Apostle himself acknowledges, in that he always adjoins his narrative to theirs, and passes over all that they had exhaustively recorded. The vocation and gift of the Apostle were directed only to one aspect of the manifestation and work of Christ. The popular aspect, so important and indispensable to the Church, had been represented by others, who had the gift for it in a larger measure than he.
The results thus obtained are supported by the testimonies of antiquity.
Eusebius (Hist. Ecc. iii. 24), expressly appealing to tradition, records that John acknowledged the writings of the first three Evangelists which he had received, and bore witness to their truth (ἀ?λήθειαν αὐ?τοῖ?ς ἐ?πιμαρτυρήσαντα ); but that he completed the first three Gospels, having described the first beginnings of Christ’s preaching omitted by them; that he passed by the human genealogy of Christ, as having been already recorded by Matthew and Luke, but made his own commencement with the Divine nature of Christ, to present which clearly had been reserved by the Holy Spirit as his prerogative (τῆ?ς δὲ? θεολογίας ἀ?πάρξασθαι , ὡ?ς ἀ?ν αὐ?τῷ? πρὸ?ς τοὐ? θείου πνεύματος οἷ?α κρείττονι παραπεφυλαγμέης ). John’s aim to supplement is too much circumscribed here, when it is referred only to the beginnings of Christ’s teaching. But Eusebius may have intended this only as a specimen; just as, when he refers to John’s design to set Christ’s divinity in a steady light, he adduces only the prologue, to which, however, he certainly would not limit the Apostle’s design.
Clemens Alexandrinus has this second point exclusively in view, when he says (Eusebius, vi. 14) that “John, seeing that things earthly had been fully set forth in the Gospels, passed by what was already known, and, inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.” A spiritual Gospel, that is, in which the attention is mainly directed to the Spirit indwelling in Christ, His Divine nature: compare on ch. John 6:63.
These witnesses are followed by later ones, whom we may now pass over.
“These four Gospels,” says Credner (Gesch. der neutest. Kanon, S. 87), “came at length to be regarded as together the perfect and sealed witness and voucher of the Gospel, as τὸ? εὐ?αγγέλιον itself; so that each one of them contained an individual view, not exhaustive, but apostolically accredited, of the Gospel (τὸ? εὐ?αγγέλιον κατά ): the Gospel, which in itself was one, is presented in a fourfold form, according to the presentation of Matthew, etc.
It was from the beginning firmly held that the four Gospels were to be regarded as one whole. Irenaeus says, iii. 11, 8: τετράμορφον τὸ? εὐ?αγγέλιον ἑ?νί τε πνεύματι συνεχόμενον .
Eusebius (vi. 25) declares the acceptance of only four Gospels to be a fundamental law of the Catholic Church; recording of Origen, that he, ‘guarding the ecclesiastical canon, knew only the four Gospels.’ Accordingly he terms our four canonical Gospels τὴ?ν ἁ?γίαν τῶ?ν εὐ?αγγελίων τετρακτύν .
Clemens Alexandrinus rejects a saying of Christ, which Julius Africanus had adduced from the Gospel of the Egyptians, with the remark, ‘In the four Gospels handed down to us there is no such word.’” The unanimity of the early Church in its view of the four Gospels, which Credner establishes by a series of other testimonies, must have had its ground in this, that John closed the canon of the Gospels, In the time of Luke it was otherwise. According to his ch. Luke 1:2, there were many Gospels in the Church. All doubt, all uncertainty, all capricious choice, was utterly shut out by the authority of the last of the Apostles, the disciple whom Jesus loved.
But we must not limit ourselves to this conclusion. John is, by the old ecclesiastical writers, described as the Apostle “from whom the collection of our four canonical Gospels proceeded, in such manner that his own Gospel, the last, and therefore placed at the end, should serve as the complement and seal of the rest. This view soon rose into ecclesiastical supremacy; as Eusebius (Hist. Ecc. iii. 21), Jerome (Catalog. ix.), Theodore of Mopsuestia, and many others prove” (Credner).
For what readers did John design his Gospel? That he wrote for Christians, is plain from the general analogy of the books of the New Testament, which have collectively an inward reference to the Church. It was the province of the oral preaching to secure its first entrance to those who were not Christians. Luke, in his dedication to Theophilus, ch. Luke 1:4, defines the scope of his Gospel, “that thou mayest know the certainty of the things wherein thou hast been instructed.” In John’s prologue, the ἐ?θεασάμεθα , “we beheld,” ch. John 1:14, combining the writer and readers in one, intimates that the book was written for the Christian world, which had either directly or indirectly (comp. 1 John 1:3) beheld the glory of the Lord. So also “of His fulness have all we received,” ch. John 1:16. If we discern the internal connection between the narrative of Thomas and ch. John 20:30-31, we shall come to the conclusion that those there addressed are such as, like Thomas, stood in a lower degree of faith. To them the Apostle furnishes in his Gospel weapons against doubt, for their furtherance in the faith. “We know,” also, in ch. John 21:20, embracing in one the Apostle and his readers, suggests that the latter belonged to the Christian fellowship, and that the Apostle writes for the “brethren,” John 21:23. This term the Apostle could apply to Christians, only if he were writing to Christians. It is an appellation that belongs to the inner circle. That the whole Gospel bears an esoteric character, that those without could not understand it, that to them it was a sealed book, needs no proof. Many have thought that the Gospel was intended specifically for the “Johannean Church in Asia.” That there was a circle of Johannean churches, and that the personal labour of the Apostle was not limited to Ephesus, is evident from the seven epistles in the Apocalypse, the second and third Epistles of John, and the current of ecclesiastical tradition. Clemens Alexandrinus (Euseb. iii. 24) testifies to John’s official activity in all the district round Ephesus, and says that he travelled round it, instituted bishops, raised churches, and introduced into the ministry men marked out to him by the Holy Ghost. It is obvious, in the nature of things, that John, in the preparation of his Gospel, had this circle primarily in view; the rather as the epistles in the Apocalypse, and his own second and third Epistles, show that this district was especially beset by the false teachers and false doctrine that he stedfastly opposed. But it would be altogether wrong to limit the design of the Gospel to this region. In strict truth, the personal work of John was itself not restricted to this circle. He was not a bishop, he was an Apostle. Had his physical strength permitted, he would have occupied the same position throughout the world which he assumed in the churches round Ephesus. No such limitations were thrown round the written Gospel. It bears in itself no trace of restriction to any one region in particular. The “we all,” ch. John 1:16, decidedly opposes such an idea. The book was meant for the whole Christian world. This is plain from its being an adjunct of the first three Gospels, and from its aim to be their complement, forming with them one whole. The universal design of the Gospel concurs with the universal character of the Church: comp. “I will draw all men unto Me,” ch. John 12:32, John 10:16. The Apostle, whose mission was to the whole world. Matthew 28:19, John 17:18, would have denied his own characteristic if he had not from the first intended a document of such importance for the universal Church.
At what time did John compose his Gospel?
Doubtless it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. It is true that the reasons adduced by Ewald and others—“When the Gospel was written, Jerusalem was destroyed, as we may see in the description of localities, ch. John 11:18, John 18:1, John 19:41”—are not of any weight. These passages do not establish the affirmative, any more than ch. John 5:2 the negative. The use of ἦ?ν , “was,” may be explained in all those places by the fact that the Evangelist and his readers were interested only in , what existed at that earlier time, whether still continuing or not I being in itself matter of indifference. But in all three cases local relations are pointed to, which could have been little if at all affected by the destruction of the city. Bethany exists to the present day, so also the garden of Gethsemane.
But there are other adequate reasons for our conclusion that the Gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem.
According to the testimonies of history, the Apostle as such had his proper abode only in two places: first in Jerusalem, and then in Ephesus. There can be no doubt that his Gospel was written, not in Jerusalem, but in Ephesus: for the Apostle beholds everything Jewish as from a distance; and we everywhere see that he lived amidst a predominantly Gentile population, for whom he explains that which was Jewish: ch. John 2:6, John 4:9, John 7:2, John 11:18; John 11:55. But if it was composed in Ephesus, it must have been after the destruction of Jerusalem; for the Apostle, of whom a pious feeling towards all existing relations was characteristic, would not certainly have left the sphere of his first work until facts themselves had so interpreted to him the Divine will. According to Galatians 2:9, John held himself bound primarily to the circumcision. The limit of that obligation the Lord Himself had prescribed to him, in Luke 21:20-21. When Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, flight was not only permitted, but enjoined; for then its condition was hopeless. During the whole period of Paul’s labours in Asia, we find no trace there of John. Acts 21:18, “And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present,” cannot prove that John was then no longer in Jerusalem; for the Apostles themselves were included among the elders. John so terms himself, 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1. James soon afterwards died by martyrdom. Of the three pillars, in Galatians 2:9, John alone remained. It is not probable that he would have abandoned the important post assigned him by God, before the last hour of Jerusalem was come. The character of John’s phraseology and composition points also to a long abode in Palestine. It is entirely Hebraistic in its colouring. Ewald rightly remarks: “In its true spirit and tone, no language can be more thoroughly Hebraistic than that of our author.” This goes so far as the frequent use of Hebrew words; but it shows itself especially in the great simplicity of the construction of his propositions.
Its composition after the fall of Jerusalem is attested also by the care with which many sayings of our Lord referring to that catastrophe are introduced. Remembering the apologetic scope of the work, this is to be explained on the ground that these utterances had been confirmed by their accomplishment, and thus helped to establish the great conclusion, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
There are, however, many other facts which lead to the inference that the Gospel was composed in the extreme age of the Apostle.
It must have been written after the first Epistle of Peter; for ch. John 21:9 refers back to 1 Peter 4:16. The same passage establishes, that when it was written, Peter had already suffered death on the cross. What death Peter should die, was certainly involved in the words of Christ; but without the commentary afforded by the event, it would have been hard to detect it with certainty. The prophecy was to have light shed upon it by the fulfilment. A similar remark is made by the Apostle in ch. John 12:33, John 18:32, with reference to the sayings of Christ pointing to His own death. There also history has already come to his aid.
The Gospel was constructed at a time when the division between Christianity and Judaism was already perfectly accomplished, comp. on ch. John 1:19; at the same period in which the Apocalypse moves, which, in ch. John 2:9 and John 3:9, describes Judaism as the “synagogue of Satan.”
The relation to the first three Gospels shows that these, at the time of its composition, were extant, and in common use among Christians.
That the Gospel cannot be sundered from the Apocalypse by a long interval, is shown by references to the latter in ch. John 16:13 and John 21:22, this last all the more noteworthy as standing at the close of the Gospel, and, as it were, forming a kind of transition from this to the Apocalypse.
The appearance of Cerinthus, whose errors the Gospel opposes, Theodoret (Haeret. Fab. ii. 3) places in the time of Domitian.
The entire works of John bear a unique character, and have one end. They were designed to withstand the ruinous effects of the Gentile world’s incursions on the Church. The Apocalypse treats, in reference to the heathen, and specially the Roman dominion, the theme, “Be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” It describes, for the inspiriting of dejected souls, Christ’s victory over heathenism. The Epistles and the Gospel confront the relaxing influences which the heathen admixture had exerted upon the doctrine and life of Christians,—upon the former directly and the latter indirectly,—by bringing forward the historical demonstration of the faith, which these heretics gainsaid, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. But the heathen oppression, which the Gospel, and also John’s writings, assume as present, did not come upon the Church until the time of Domitian. How wide-spread and how severe was his persecution, we have established at length in the Introduction to the Commentary on the Apocalypse. The only earlier persecution, based upon public authority, that of Nero, bore only a local character, and did not extend over Asia; it had, moreover, only a brief duration.
The Gospel of John is distinguished from those of the former Evangelists by its pre-eminently systematic character; as also by its more artificial arrangement. It consists of prologue and epilogue, and the main body divided into seven groups. These groups, again, are divided into four and three: at the end of the four there is the boundary of a final word; as also at the end of the three, ch. John 20:30-31, a conclusion which separates the main body from the epilogue. At the close of the epilogue there is an identification of the author, with the intimation that the book lays no claim to perfect completeness. Concurrent with this systematic character and artificial arrangement, there are the precision and exactitude in historical statements which betray an author who is everywhere set on preparing his work for critical eyes. So also the accurate chronology carried throughout the whole, by means of which we are able to regulate the chronological relations of the historical matter contained in the first three Gospels. These peculiarities of the Gospel refer its composition to a late period, in which Christian doctrine had to encounter the doubts of those who had been cultivated in the school of Greek science. The rich genius of the Apostle had, in its intercourse and conflict with these, had opportunity to develop itself. The contest with the Gnostics, who ever had deep things on their lips, promising to lead all into the depths (comp. Revelation 2:24), had, as it were, armed his spirit, and prepared him, in contrast with their false depth, to disclose the true deep things of the Church, now more susceptible to those revelations than at an earlier period. His glowing love to Christ filled him, the only Apostle left alive, the only bulwark against the great temptation and peril of the time, with an urgent impulse to meet to the utmost all its exigencies. The Gospel and the Apocalypse show that the Apostle, at the time of their composition, was no longer, as formerly, in the sphere of the “unlearned and ignorant men,” Acts 4:13. They are, even in their human aspect, perfect works of art. Every word in them is in its place.
With the results which we have independently gained, tradition here also entirely accords. According to Irenaeus, ch. iii. 1, the Gospel of John was issued during his residence in Ephesus (“John, the Lord’s disciple, who lay in His bosom, sent forth himself a Gospel, living at the time at Ephesus, in Asia”), which extended, according to xi. 22, down to the time of Trajan. Jerome and others repeat this statement. Later writers, who represent the Gospel as written in Patmos, nevertheless agree with Irenaeus that it was the production of the Apostle’s late age. According to the Chronicon Alexandrinum (p. 246), John came to Ephesus at the commencement of the reign of Vespasian, and composed there his Gospel, during the closing years of his life. Epiphanius states that he wrote it when he Was more than ninety years old, and therefore in the reign of Domitian, Haer. li. 12: ἐ?πὶ? τῇ? γηραλέᾳ? αὐ?τοῦ? ἡ?λικίᾳ? , μετὰ? ἔ?τη ἐ?νενήκοντα τῆ?ς ἑ?αυτοῦ? ζωῆ?ς .
We are led to the assumption of a comparatively late period for the authorship of the Gospel by the order of the Gospels, and the fact that John takes the last place among them. Credner says: “Simultaneously with the reception of the four Gospels, as containing together the entire Gospel, the order of these Gospels also has been very firmly established from the beginning and that order is the one we now have.” “In the oldest list we have (Muratori), and in the Epistle to Diognetus (ch. xi. 12), the last place is assigned to John’s Gospel.”
We shall not enter into any discussion of the genuineness of the Gospel. Multiplied evidences of an external character, however strong and sufficient, have but little attraction, as the matter is at once decided by the testimony of Eusebius, who, in Hist. Ecc. iii. 25, terms the Gospel one of the “writings not controverted” of the Apostle, and describes it as accepted by all the churches under heaven. But internal reasons have been exhibited during the progress of the commentary, which, for all who can and will see, are abundantly convincing. May all others cease their laborious frivolity! Revelation 22:11. We shall, however, enter at some length into the question, whether John has communicated the discourses of Christ in the form in which they were delivered, or whether he has dealt with them after a freer fashion. We maintain the former; yet with the unessential and self-evident limitation, that the verbal coincidence extended only so far as that the word is faithful to the thought. That we cannot go further, is shown by all scriptural analogies, and by the citations of God’s word which John himself gives. Absolute literalness is excluded at once by the fact that our Lord spoke in Aramaean.
The arguments alleged against John’s fidelity in the reproduction of Christ’s discourses have no force.
It has been urged that His discourses bear a quite different character in the first three Evangelists. But the difference is really not so absolute. It has been shown in the commentary, that there are everywhere the finest points of union between John’s record and theirs. But, so far as the difference is real, and may be established, its reason is plain, viz. that our Lord had two manners of teaching: that the second or more profound was adopted specially in Jerusalem, the capital of Jewish culture and science; and that John from the beginning had this vocation, to provide for the conservation of this kind of our Lord’s discourses. It was essential to the Redeemer’s character that He should be able to pay its tribute to every kind of culture, and to change His voice according to the dispositions and tendencies of His hearers. This was known to His “brethren,” who, in ch. John 7:4, address to Him the challenge, “If Thou doest these things, show Thyself to the world.” He was to come out of the Galilean corner, and approve His mission in the presence of intellect and science. Moreover, there are not wanting traces, even in the first three Evangelists, of a profounder style of teaching, such as was needful for the disciples in order to exercise their spiritual senses: comp. for example. Matthew 11:27-30; Matthew 21:21; Luke 10:41-42; even as in John’s Gospel we meet with the popular style of teaching occasionally, when circumstances rendered it desirable: comp. for example, ch. John 4:48-50, John 18:23.
An argument has also been based upon the similarity between our Lord’s discourses in John and John’s own Epistles. But the disciple whom Jesus loved had, in a sense in which no other had, eaten the flesh of Jesus, and drunk His blood. He had become entirely fashioned and moulded into Christ, and how could he have done otherwise than employ the Lord’s style of speaking? Of the two kinds of discourse adopted by Christ, John’s appropriation would be limited to that one which was most in unison with his own nature, and which found most response in his own spirit, with its affinities for deep things; so that the assumption of such an assimilation cannot tend to the disparagement of the former Evangelists’ fidelity in their reproduction of our Lord’s discourses.
But there is another reason for the harmony between the Gospel discourses and the Epistles. Those Epistles, especially the first, stand in close connection with the Gospel. They run parallel with it as a kind of commentary. They place the Gospel in the light of the contemporary age. And if they were to fulfil this function, they must needs as closely as possible adapt themselves in their expression to the discourses recorded in the Gospel. Literal contact with the phraseology of tliose discourses of Christ served the purpose of direct reference. Especially in regard to the three main points, around which the warfare of the time revolved—faith in Christ, the keeping of His commandments, and brotherly love—we clearly perceive an endeavour as closely as possible to adhere to Christ’s words in the Gospel, in order to facilitate their application to the evils of the present time. But we also find certain peculiarities in the phraseology of the Epistles, of which the Gospels furnish no parallel. We long ago pointed out that the Logos, which we meet in the first Epistle, as also in the prologue of the Gospel and the Apocalypse, never occurs in the Lord’s discourses, although they contain the express doctrine which found its expression in this word. But it is not less remarkable that there is such a difference in the use of the words light and darkness. In the Gospel discourses of our Lord, the word light, after the precedent of the Old Testament, means salvation (comp. on ch. John 1:4), while darkness describes an unsaved state. But in the first Epistle light designates that which is morally good; darkness that which is morally evil, ch. John 1:5-6, John 2:9; John 2:11. This phraseology was first fashioned in opposition to the Gnostics, who had the word light for ever in their mouths; who fancied that in the “light” of their intellectual contemplation they possessed access to God, whom they loved to designate as Light, in the sense of the supreme Intellect. John sets against their light of error the true light. The word light is everywhere in the first Epistle to be understood, so to speak, within quotation marks. This is specially evident in ch. John 2:9: “He that saith he is in the light,” ἐ?ν τῷ? φωτὶ? εἶ?ναι . Similarly as the light in these passages, the ambitious gnosis of the Gnostics is parodied by John in 1 John 2:3: καὶ? ἐ?ν τούτῳ? γινώσκομεν ὅ?τι ἐ?γνώκαμεν . This polemical use of light and darkness is unknown to the Gospel; and its exposition has been much damaged by a neglect of this distinction.
Stress has been laid on the impossibility that such long discourses could have been reproduced. But length has nothing to do with the matter. Between the discourses of Jesus, and the Gospel as compiled and written, there lies the oral Gospel. The question, therefore, can only be, whether John was capable of making the discourses of Jesus his own. In favour of his ability, and his actual retention of the entire discourses, we need only appeal to the high degree of John’s receptivity, the aid of other Apostles, to whom he might have recourse at need, the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised by the Lord’s words, ch. John 14:26,—with which we may find some slight analogy in the fact, that believers often find, and especially in times of sorrow, long forgotten utterances of holy writ recurring with marvellous clearness to the soul. But that John was in a position faithfully to reproduce the Lord’s discourses, follows simply from the circumstance of his having undertaken to communicate them. The Apostle who, beyond all others, lays stress upon truth, whose whole nature breathed truth, who held all lies in such abomination, and excluded whosoever loveth and maketh a lie from the new Jerusalem, 1 John 2:21; 1 John 2:27, Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15, could not possibly have put into our Lord’s lips imaginary and invented words. Let it not be urged that such freely reported discourses would belong to Christ, inasmuch as the Apostle had the Spirit of Christ. For the Apostle does not give us discourses which might in some certain sense be attributed to Christ: he gives us discourses which the Son of man, in the days of His flesh, delivered; and with these to introduce any admixture of his own would have been deception, even though his own had sprung from the suggestion of the Spirit of Christ. It could not, however, in that case have proceeded from the Spirit of Christ, for that Spirit could never minister to deception. Nor should reference be made to the speeches of antiquity interwoven with the narratives of classical historians; for here we have to do with the “words of eternal life,” not with such as were designed for the entertainment of the reader, or were, in a lower domain, for his instruction. The Apostle, whose reverence towards Christ was supreme, who so constantly presents the discourses of Christ as His own sole prerogative and as evidences of His eternal divinity, would surely have counted it blasphemy to have put these or any discourses into His mouth. Throughout the entire Scriptures generally there is no room for the analogy of classical authors. There is something in them too solemn and too true.
Finally, it has been already shown in the Commentary, that the arguments which have been adduced in favour of John’s freer treatment, from ch. John 3:16 seq. and ch. John 12:41, have absolutely no force.
For his entire fidelity in the communication of our Lord’s discourses, we may bring forward, among others, the following reasons.
The Evangelist represents himself to be conscious of his own truthfulness in this matter. According to ch. John 21:24, his Gospel, as a whole, was a testimony; he records only that which he had heard and seen, for that is the simple province of a witness. He gives there the express assurance that his witness was true; and therefore that he recorded nothing which he had not seen and heard. He communicates, in ch. John 15:27, a saying of Christ that assigns to His Apostles the task of testifying concerning Him, “because ye have been with Me from the beginning,”—a reason which would have force only on the supposition that the Lord meant historical fidelity to be observed in the communication of what they had seen and heard. He opposes himself, in the first Epistle, to the phantasts of his time, as one who declared only what he had heard and seen with his eyes. How could he have said this, if, in the record of our Lord’s discourses, he had himself strayed into the region of imagination?
In ch. John 14:26 the work of the Holy Spirit is said to be the bringing to their remembrance all that Christ had said. This shows what importance the Lord attached to the true and unadulterated delivery of His own words.
In ch. John 15:3 our Lord says, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The word of Jesus, to which John owed his sanctification, he certainly would not have dishonoured by any additions of his own.
In ch. John 15:7 Jesus declares, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will.” There the faithful maintenance of the words of Jesus is represented as the condition of a state of grace. Those words were a power ruling the Apostles, to which they must entirely and unconditionally be in subjection.
The most rigid criticism has failed to detect a single word which Jesus might not have spoken, and in which the later relations of John are reflected. That would have been inevitable, if the discourses of Christ had not been faithfully reproduced.
Evidence may further be found in the multitude of points of contact between the discourses in John and the discourses in the three Evangelists, as these have been indicated in the Commentary.
John’s exactitude in the specification of time, place, and occasion of the individual discourses, is a guarantee of a similar exactitude in the communication of the discourses themselves. Compare, for example, ch. John 8:20: “These things He spake in the treasury;” John 7:37, “in the last and great day of the feast;” John 6:1 seq., where the historical basis of the discourse on the eating of His flesh and blood is given with great care; ch. John 10:22-24. To the same result we are led by the rigidly historical bearing of the whole Gospel, as it is exemplified, for instance, in the description of characters. The woman of Samaria, the man born blind, Mary, Martha, Pilate,—what life-like forms are these!
John is so exact in the record of the discourses of others, that he often even retains the Hebrew word, and adds, for the benefit of his readers, the Greek translation, ch. John 1:39; John 1:42, John 4:25, John 20:16,—evidence that to his historical fidelity the translation into Greek was itself a matter of solicitude.
The historical truth of our Lord’s discourses appears in the effects which were connected with them: e.g. in ch. John 10:19-21; John 10:31-33, where the Jews would stone Christ because He arrogated to Himself divinity, ch. John 8:59.
John’s faithfulness in the reproduction is attested also by ch. John 21:23, where, over against a misinterpretation of one of our Lord’s words, he simply sets the word itself, without addition and without explanation; by the illustrations which he adjoins to hard and mysterious words, ch. John 12:33, John 7:39, John 21:19; by the intimations he gives when certain words were unintelligible to the disciples, ch. John 2:21-22, John 16:17-18, comp. John 16:29, which show that these words had for the Apostles an objective character (in ch. John 11:11-13, we first have a word of Jesus; then it is recorded that the disciples misunderstood it; then the Apostle corrects the misapprehension); by the expressions of the hearers, evoked by Christ’s words, e.g. in ch. John 3:8, John 6:28; John 6:34; John 6:60, John 8:13; John 8:33, John 14:5; John 14:22, John 16:29-30, which John must also have invented, if the sayings of our Lord were not reproduced as He uttered them; finally, by the references to the word of Christ ch. John 2:19, which is found in Matthew 26:61, Mark 14:58, and to the word of ch. John 21:18 in 2 Peter 1:14, 1 Peter 5:1. The charge brought against Christ before the Council, that He had arrogated to Himself a divine Sonship, points back pre-eminently to the discourses of our Lord in John’s Gospel.
The author closes this work with devout thankfulness to Almighty God, whose strength has been made perfect in his weakness, and who has enabled him to finish his task under the pressure of a heavy cross. To His name be the glory!