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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

- John

by Arthur Peake



Relation to the Synoptic Gospels.— The differences between the Fourth and the other Gospels are too obvious to need emphasis. From the second century onwards, they have constituted a difficult problem. The answer of Alexandria in the second century, that the “ Spiritual” Gospel was written later, when the “ bodily” events had been recorded in the first three, still holds the field. Details must be dealt with, so far as space permits, in the notes, but the chief lines of difference may be conveniently summarised here.

( a) Subject-matter.— With the exceptions of John 1:19-34 (the Baptist), John 2:13-16 (Temple cleansing), perhaps John 4:46-54 (healing of nobleman’ s son), John 12:1-8 (anointing), John 12:12-16 (triumphal entry) and the history of the Passion and (?) Resurrection, the Fourth Gospel breaks altogether new ground. In the common sections it is claimed that it shows literary dependence on the Synoptic Gospels, and the author certainly assumes that his readers know their contents. But he has other independent sources of information.

( b) Duration of the Ministry.— The old contrast of a synoptic account of one year’ s ministry (the “ acceptable year of the Lord” ) and a ministry of 3½ years (in Jn.), needs serious modification. Mk. suggests a ministry ending with a Passover, in which the period of ripe corn occurred, not at the beginning, i.e. a ministry of more than one year. Jn., even if the reference to a Passover in John 6:4 is part of the original text, need not imply a ministry of much more than two years (p. 653). Jn. does, however, leave the impression of a longer ministry than the Synoptists suggest.

( c) Scene of Ministry.— In the Synoptic Gospels this is Galilee, [81] with one first and final visit to Jerusalem, at the Passover, when He was crucified. In Jn. the scene passes backwards and forwards between Jerusalem and Galilee, the former being the scene of His most important work. The exact order of events and number of visits to Judæ a and Jerusalem depends on the question whether the gospel, as we have it, represents the original arrangement of the matter out of which it has grown. But there is no doubt as to the prominence of work in the south. The cleansing of the Temple is recorded in connexion with the earliest public visit to Jerusalem, its natural place if more than one visit occurred.

[81] Cf., however, Lk. 444.

( d) Method and Content of Christ’ s Teaching.— The method of the Synoptic teaching, by parable, and the subject, the Kingdom, have almost disappeared. Their place is taken by discourses and controversies, mainly on Christ’ s claims and relation to God. His preexistence and unique “ Sonship” are assumed. And what the Synoptists represent as uttered only occasionally, in moments of exceptional exaltation, here becomes normal. The “ Similitudes” of Enoch show that pre-existence could naturally be attributed to One who was thought of as Messiah. But the question of the Messiahship is differently treated. In the Synoptists Jesus publicly claims the title only at the end, and it can be plausibly maintained that the disciples recognise Him as such only late in the ministry, recognition being at first confined to demoniacs. In Jn. the Baptist, the earliest disciples, and others all recognise the Messiahship from the beginning. The difference is clear and marked even if a solution may be found in the fact that His conception of the office directly contradicted the ideas of popular Messianism, so that those who hailed Him as Messiah at first may have been “ offended” when He consistently refused to do what they expected from Messiah, as they conceived His nature and office. [Miracles are not simply actions dictated by mercy and lovingkindness towards a sorrow-stricken humanity, but are signs of overwhelming significance, designed to reveal the glory of God and the majesty of the Divine Son.— A. J. G.]

( e) Date of the Crucifixion.— While the Synoptists clearly assume that Christ ate the last Paschal meal with His disciples, and died on the 15th of Nisan, “ the great day of the Feast,” Jn. equally clearly places the Crucifixion on the 14th, the Jews having not yet “ eaten the Passover” when they appeared before Pilate. Here there is perhaps a growing consensus of opinion that Jn. has preserved a truer tradition (pp. 653, 758).

These and other differences have led many to deny any historical value to the Johannine account of the ministry. But while it is clear that the element of interpretation, not absent from the earlier gospels, is here predominant, it is a mistake to suppose that all the contents of the gospel can be explained as the attempt of the author, by the aid of symbolism, allegory, and typology, to read into the life of Jesus, which he knew only from the Synoptists, his own interpretation of the Person and work of Jesus Christ and its significance for men. The later element, which could not have been so prevalent before the end of the first century, is clear. But another element of trustworthy detail, which does not obviously help forward the writer’ s own object and views, is equally clear. If there is interpretation there is history as well, and the history is not derived from the Synoptic accounts. It is often needed to explain them.

Authorship.— The differences already mentioned, and the undoubted presence of a later element in the Fourth Gospel, have led the majority of students to deny the possibility that John, the son of Zebedee, can be the author. While this is an over-statement the difficulties which beset the traditional view must be clearly recognised, and even conservative critics are now generally inclined to find the author in a disciple of the apostle.

The external evidence is usually admitted to be indecisive. During the last quarter of the second century the view that the apostle John was the author was held by all Christians except the “ Alogi,” who must probably be connected with Cams the Roman Presbyter. Irenæ us (Gaul and Asia), Clement (Alexandria), the Muratorian Fragment (? Rome), Poly-crates (Ephesus) give clear positive evidence of the general opinion, and negative evidence that it was not a growth of yesterday. Their writings, however, show the extent of legendary accretion at that time, and the possibility of confusion as to the heroes of the earlier generations. The fact that Justin in the middle of the century attributed the Apocalypse to the apostle John, shows that in his time the tradition of his connexion with Asia was well established. It is generally admitted that Justin knew and used the gospel; he clearly did not use it as freely as the Synoptists, and his views on its authorship are not known. Traces of the gospel, or at least of teaching similar to its content, are found in Ignatius; and Polycarp certainly knew 1 Jn. Papias probably knew and valued the gospel; perhaps the Elder, whom he quotes, measured the shortcomings of the Marcan gospel by its standard. But the fragment of his Introduction indicates that at the time when he was collecting material for his book (? 90– 100), John the Apostle was dead, like the other disciples of whom he speaks in the past tense, and in contrast with the survivors of the ministry, Aristion, and the Elder John, of whom he uses the present. We must also reckon with the probability that in his book the statement occurred that John the son of Zebedee, as well as his brother, was put to death by the Jews, for which there is also some evidence in early Martyrologies and elsewhere (pp. 694, 764, Acts 12:2 *). This, if true, does not exclude the visit of the apostle to Ephesus; but it would disprove the traditional story of his long residence and peaceful death there. The silence of all early writers (Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius) as to the apostle’ s residence in Asia is suspicious. That of lgnatius alone is of serious weight. On the whole it may be said that external evidence points to the probability that the apostle visited Ephesus, but that there has been confusion between him and another John, perhaps his disciple, who lived there till Trajan’ s reign. It also points to some connexion between the apostle and the gospel.

Internal evidence affords material for more decisive judgment, even if here suspension of judgment must be the last word at present. Since Bretschneider (in 1820) maintained the thesis that the gospel could not have been written (i) by the apostle John, (ii) by an intimate disciple, (iii) by a Jew of Palestine, (iv) by a Jew at all, and conservative critics accepted the challenge and tried to prove these propositions in the reverse order, the feud has been well fought out and some results at least obtained. It is generally admitted that the author must have been a Jew and that he may have been a Jew of Palestine; his knowledge of Judæ a and Jerusalem is granted, and he is acquitted of gross geographical ignorance with reference to any part of Palestine. His knowledge of Jewish customs and Jewish controversies is also admitted, though in a sense which admits of opposite conclusions. There is also a growing tendency to allow that at least he drew on trustworthy sources of information independent of the Synoptists, and in some cases superior to them. Many details, probable in themselves, which are not easily explained as due to invention, or even modification, in the interest of the author’ s views, point to such sources resting finally on the testimony of an eye-witness. At the same time, the later elements of this gospel, its silence as to much of the best authenticated gospel history, its scant record of the work of ministry in Galilee, its transformation of the style and content of the Lord’ s teaching in the light of later reflection and experience, the imperceptible transition from speech to comment till the original speakers disappear, the extent to which all speakers use the language, and reflect the ideas, of the evangelist, are now more fully recognised. The difficulty of attributing the gospel as it stands to an eye-witness of the ministry or an intimate friend and disciple of the Lord is clearly seen. The theory which comes nearest to satisfying all the conditions is that which attributes the gospel in its present form to the disciple of an eye-witness. To find the eye-witness in the Beloved Disciple, who is probably the younger son of Zebedee, and the actual author of the gospel in a disciple of his, who carried on his master’ s work at Ephesus, and perhaps, in consequence of identity of name, was in tradition confused with his master, is the best answer we can at present give to a question on which the evidence does not enable us to speak with certainty ( John 21:24 *). But where much is obscure, one thing is certain. The historian cannot afford to neglect this gospel in his attempt to reconstruct the story of the earthly life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The gospels, not the Marcan gospel alone, are his sources of information.

Date and Place.— Here it is possible to speak with greater confidence. Most scholars are agreed that the gospel cannot have been written before A.D. 90 or much after 110, though some would assign a later date to the appendix. The book must have been in existence in the time of Polycarp and Papias, and was probably well known to elders quoted by Papias. And the tradition which connects it with Ephesus, or at least with Asia, has everything in its favour. It must emanate from some such centre of learning where Jewish and Hellenic thought met. Most, if not all, of the earliest traces of its existence are connected with Asia. The school of Christian thought which produced the Apocalypse, the Fourth Gospel, and the Johannine Epistles had its home in Asia Minor. The group of books is best described as “ the Ephesian Canonical writings.” Few will dispute the accuracy of Professor Gardner’ s title, “ The Ephesian Gospel.” The centre of Christian life and activity which first passed from Jerusalem to Antioch was again transferred at a later date, after the fall of Jerusalem, to Ephesus.

Theology.— The theology of the gospel is dominated by the author’ s personal experience of the Christ. In the Jesus of the ministry, or in the work of the ascended and glorified Christ, he has found the complete revelation of God. Jesus is the Messiah, who fulfilled, and will fulfil, the hopes of His nation, as He rightly interpreted them, in glaring contrast to the popular Messianism of the time. In doing this He showed himself to be Messiah and far more, one who stood in unique relationship to God, which could only be described by the title “ the Son.” This term emphasizes the leading thoughts in the author’ s Christology; the Son is the complete revelation of the Father, whose nature He shares, and of whose powers He is the sole heir, the only-begotten Son, and He is in absolute dependence on the Father. “ I and my Father are one,” “ My Father is greater than I,” “ My Father worketh hitherto and I work,” “ The Son can do nothing save what he seeth the Father do.” As Son He knows the Father. As God He can speak for God. As wholly dependent on the Father, and wholly obedient to His will, His message is true.

The thought of “ Son” leads to what is perhaps the author’ s most important contribution to theology proper, expressed in the words “ The Word was with God.” In Philo the “ Word” (Logos) is sometimes spoken of as a power or activity of God, at other times language is used which more definitely implies personification. In John the personification is definite and complete. In his conception of Deity it is clear that the Godhead contains within itself such distinctions as make possible within the Godhead itself the exercise of what corresponds to the highest activities in man, of intercourse, relationship, love. In the same way the personification of the Spirit, begun in the OT and carried further in Paul, though in 2 Corinthians 3:17 he seems to identify the “ Lord” and the “ Spirit,” is still more definite in this gospel. But here too a possible, and not improbable, interpretation of the relevant passages in John 14-16 identifies the “ coming” of the Christ with the coming of the Spirit.

The Word became flesh, or in the language which seems to reproduce the author’ s own natural forms of thought, Messiah was sent, the Son was given, to reveal to men the Divine Life, Light, Truth, and Love. By learning of these from One who could speak for God and to men of what He knew as Son in the language which by taking flesh He had made His own as well as theirs, men can have “ life, in His Name.”

The teaching of the gospel centres round a few simple terms, such as Life, Light, Truth, Spirit. Taught by the life and words of Jesus, the author has learned that these are attributes or qualities of God. As in all Hebrew thought, God is the Living One. He is the final source of all life, and His “ Word” is the source of the Life of Creation. “ That which was made was life in Him.” And in men this “ life” takes the higher form of moral and spiritual life. “ The life was the light of men.”

“ Life” is the leading thought of this gospel, which was written, as the author tells us, “ that ye might have life in his name” ( cf. 1 John 1:1 f.*). To a great extent it takes the place of the Synoptic teaching on the “ Kingdom.” And whereas in them “ life” is merely a future hope, here it is already a present possession, though in its fullness it is still future. Those who believe are reborn into this higher life, which is described by the evangelist as eternal, i.e. spiritual, belonging to “ the age,” and which makes them “ children of God,” from whom they derive this life, as their physical life from their earthly parents. It is God’ s gift, but men can make it their own by gradually becoming better acquainted with God and Jesus Christ ( John 17:3; cf. OT use of “ know,” Hosea 6:3), whom He sent to reveal His nature to them. Death is the opposite of this life, and he who has the fife has passed from death into life, for him there is no coming into judgment. (On judgment in Jn. see John 3:17-21 *.)

“ Light” generally bears an ethical sense. In the Prologue the fight and darkness of Genesis 1 are so interpreted. The fight of moral and spiritual truth is in all ages combating the darkness of error and sin. The Logos as light was always coming into the world. Whenever He was in it He was its light. He gives men light, and is the light He gives. If men walk in it they will not stumble. In this description of Christ as light the dominant idea is that of moral purity and perfection, in virtue of which He guides His own, and enables men to regulate their conduct, their “ works,” wholly in accordance with the Will of God.

Truth in this gospel in some ways corresponds to what we should call reality.” That is “ true” which completely corresponds to the highest conception that can be formed of the thing. All sensible things are feeble reflections of the super-sensible realities which exist in heaven, the sphere of real being. So Christ not only bears witness to the truth of which Pilate is ignorant, but is the truth. In Him consist the realities of which the tilings in the “ world” are imperfect copies. By union with Him men can share in the “ truth,” the “ highest” in every sphere, not merely in the intellectual. Truth is not only thought and told, it is “ done,” by those who are of it, in virtue of their re-birth into the higher spiritual life.

Johannine theology culminates in the statement that “ God is love.” It occurs in the First Epistle only, but the teaching of the gospel leads up to it. Divine love has its object within the Deity itself. “ The Father loveth the Son and sheweth him all things that himself doeth” ( John 5:20). God’ s love to the world is shown in the “ gift” of the Son as the source of “ life.” It is revealed to men in the life and work of the Christ, who “ having loved his own, loved them utterly” ( John 13:1), and in His death, which is not only for the nation but to gather into one the children of God dispersed throughout the world ( John 11:52).

“ God is spirit” (not a spirit as AV) is one of the great sayings of the gospel. His nature is spiritual, as opposed to the earthly, material nature of created things and of men. The writer is always contrasting the visible and the invisible, the spirit and the flesh. And the spirit is the source of life. He does not discuss the relation of the Spirit to the Logos. When the Logos has taken flesh, become man, and subject to his limitations, the Spirit is the source of His power and life. To Him it is given without measure, and it abides in Him. But the writer’ s special teaching on this subject is his representation of the Spirit as the peculiar possession and inspiring force of the Christian society. He is the “ other paraclete” whom Christ sends to carry on His work in the disciples, after His own departure. In this sense “ there was no spirit” ( John 7:39) till Jesus was glorified. In what he says in this connexion the writer is probably interpreting genuine sayings of Jesus, which have their parallels in Synoptic thought, in the light of the experiences of the Christian Church from Pentecost onwards. In his view the Spirit’ s work of enlightening and empowering began on Easter Day, when the Risen Lord breathed on His disciples and said, “ Receive ye the Holy Spirit” ( John 20:22).

The Prologue.— The object of the prologue ( John 1:1-18) is to assure those who were interested in Jewish and Greek philosophical speculation that the Christ, the Son of God, whom Christians worship, is all that philosophy had claimed for the Logos; and more, inasmuch as the Word become flesh could really give to men a complete and intelligible revelation of God. The author uses a term well known (the Word, or Logos) to those to whom he would speak, and he claims that if they will learn, as he himself had learned, from what Jesus did and said on earth, rightly interpreted, they will find in Him the full revelation of God, His being, and His relation to the world and to men, so far as men can grasp them, which Greek and other thinkers had tried to express in their speculations about the Logos.

While the terminology shows clearly the influence of Greek and especially Alexandrian thought, with close parallels to the language of Philo, the writer’ s own thought is dominated by the OT. The Word is the medium by which God becomes known to men, as a man’ s thought is expressed and made known by his speech. In Hebrew thought about God’ s relation to the world the word of active command, rather than the reason which plans and purposes, is prominent. In the beginning He spake, and it came to be. In poetry His word is personified ( cf. Psalms 33:6; Psalms 107:20; Psalms 147:15, Isaiah 55:10 f.). A similar process is seen in respect of the Spirit of God ( Genesis 1:2, Isaiah 11:2) and perhaps of His glory ( Exodus 24:16; Exodus 33:22). The chief progress in this direction is the personification of Wisdom in the Sapiential Books, largely under the influence of Greek thought ( cf. R. Harris, The Origin of the Prologue to St. John’ s Gospel) . The need of reconciling the doctrine of the transcendence of God with belief in His activity in the world led in popular thought to the development of a doctrine of angels, in more philosophical speculation to the personification of His qualities and attributes. Proverbs 8:22-30 *, Proverbs 10; Sir_1:1-10 , Sir_1:14-20 , Sir_4:11-19 , Sir_14:20 to Sir_15:10 , Sirach 24, and Sir_51:13-28 ; Bar_3:14-37 ; Enoch 42:1f., Enoch 84:3, and Wisdom 7-9 are passages which should be studied in this connexion. The tendency of the Targums to ascribe to the Memra or Word all actions attributed in the OT to God is on the same lines, but the uncertainty of date makes their evidence unreliable. It is in the writings of the Alexandrian Hellenist Philo, whose bent is religious rather than philosophical, that the Greek doctrine of the Logos, originated by Heraclitus of Ephesus, and brought into prominence by the Stoics, assumes a form closely related to that in which it appears in the Prologue. In Philo the Word is the sum of all the Divine activities in the world. His function is to “ mediate the creative activity of God” (Scott, The Fourth Gospel, p. 152). Through the Logos God is revealed, and man can attain the higher life, so that the Logos is the agent not only in creation but also in salvation. But Philo’ s Logos, though described as “ second God” and “ firstborn son is not consistently personified, and the idea that He could “ become flesh” is alien to his system. Other analogies to Johannine thought are to be found in Greek and Egyptian conceptions of Hermes as Word, Messenger, Saviour, and in the language and ideas of the Mystery religions. But uncertainty as to date makes it difficult to determine their relation to the Fourth Gospel.

Literature. Commentaries: ( a) Westcott, Forbes (IH), Clark (WNT), M’ Clymont (Cent.B), W. F. Moulton and W. Milligan, Reynolds (PC), Plummer (CB); ( b) Plummer (CGT), Dods (EGT), Alford, Westcott; ( c) *Godet, Loisy, Calmes, R. Weiss (Mey.), Heitmü ller (SNT), Holtzmann-Bauer (HC), Wellhausen, Zahn (ZK), Bauer (HNT); ( d) Dods (Ex.B), Maclaren, Expositions of Holy ¡ Scripture; Peyton, Memorabilia of Jesus; Drummond, Johannine Thoughts; Selbie, Belief and Life. Other Literature: Articles in Dictionaries, Discussions in Histories of the Apostolic Age, Introductions to NT or the Gospels, Works on NT Theology; Abbott, Johannine Grammar, Johannine Vocabulary; Sanday, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel; Bacon, The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate; Drummond, Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel; Lowrie, The Doctrine of St. John; Jackson, The Fourth Gospel and some recent German Criticism; Green, Ephesian Canonical Writings; E. F. Scott, The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and Theology; Gardner, The Ephesian Gospel; Purchas, Johannine Problems and Modern Needs; Schmiedel, The Johannine Writings; Lewis, Disarrangements in the Fourth Gospel; Stevens, Johannine Theology; Garvie, Notes on the Fourth Gospel (Exp., 1914); Robinson, The Historical Character of the Fourth Gospel; Cambridge Biblical Essays, pp. 251– 328; Wrede, Charakter und Tendenz des Johan.-Evang.; Baldensperger, Der Prolog des IVten Evang.; Schlatter, Sprache und Heimat des IVten Evang.; Spitta, Das Johan, Evang. als Quelle der Geschichte Jesu; B. Weiss, Das Johan.-Evang. als einheitliches Werk; Wendt, Schichten im IVten Evang.; Clemen, Entstehung des Joh.-Evang.; Overbeck, Das Johannesevangelium; R. H. Strachan, The Fourth Gospel.

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