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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- John

by Editor - Joseph Exell




1. HIS PERSONALITY AS APPREHENDED BY MODERN STUDENTS. To most of us the Apostle dwells apart, in a dim, solemn region of mystery. He seems to look out upon us with gentle, dreamy eyes--a man of meditative calmness and repose, intensely intuitional, speaking in words of childlike, mystic simpleness, whose drift and scope baize our logical methods to apprehend. With a kind of vague intention we are content to call him “the Apostle of Love” while his meaning floats before us in twilight and distance. As our life in God deepens we begin to perceive that, while the image of the Lord mirrors itself in him, as the sky mirrors itself in the depths of the Galilean seas, he is no mere passive and idle recipient of light, no mere reflecting surface, but a great, loving, deeply spiritual soul, all aglow with adoration, and enthusiasm, and delight, and ever-living wonder, absorbed with the Lord, and resting in the calm assurance of His favour. As when one gazes with speculative eye into the star-lit azure, piercing far into its deep immensity, so (spiritually) does this man gaze into the depths of Christ with the gaze of love. (J. Culross, D. D.)

2. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS EARLY LIFE. His birthplace was probably Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, the native place also of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. This seems to be a natural inference from his intimate acquaintance with them, and from his being with them Matthew 4:18-21; John 1:40). His parents could not have been altogether poor: Zebedee had “hired servants” (Mark 1:20); Salome was one of the women who provided for the Saviour’s wants (Matthew 27:56), and who purchased spices to embalm him (Luke 23:55); and our Saviour, when He was dying, commended Mary to the care of John, and requested him to take her to his own house. That Zebedee was in good circumstances, and in a respectable social position, may perhaps also be inferred from the fact that John was known by the high priest (chap. 18:15). Under these circumstances, the supposition is natural that the Evangelist had received some education. He is, indeed, enumerated Acts 4:13), among the “ignorant,” but the Pharisees regarded all persons as such who had not pursued the Rabbinic study of the law, all who were not pupils of the Rabbins. It is probable that from his earliest years he had a religious bent, His mother Salome appears to have been a woman of piety, such was the devotion with which she attached herself to Jesus; her mind, too, was probably occupied with the Messlanic hopes, as we infer from the narrative in Matthew 20:20, from which we gather also her devoted love to her” children. Such a mother would be likely to exercise at an early period a hallowed influence on her children, and this would be fostered in John by his mode of life as a fisherman, which often led him to pass the quiet watches of the night on the waters, amid the enchantments of a region resembling that which encircles the Lake of Lucerne. (Tholuck.)

John inherited, no doubt, a good bodily organization. His parents were not doomed to breathe the impure air of a pent-up city. Their home was out in open nature, amidst the fresh breezes of the hills and of the sea. Their habits were not those of self-indulgence and indolence which generate disease, nor of hard brain work which tends to enervate the system. The work of the muscles and the limbs was their invigorating occupation. The child, thus inheriting a healthful frame, grew up amidst the same invigorating conditions. His early impressions from nature would be large and deep. Our greatness is determined by our ideas and our ideas by our impressions. Small ideas can never make a great man, nor can great ideas grow out of superficial impressions. Large plants must have a deep soil. Hence as a rule a man must be brought up amidst grand scenery to have a grand soul. To John’s young eye nature towered in some of her loveliest and most majestic aspects, and spoke, in the rustle of trees, the howl of winds, and the roar of billows, strange and stirring poetry to his soul. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

3. HIS HISTORY AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST. John first appears as a disciple of the Baptist. As such the visions which may have been awakened in his youthful fancy through the Suggestions of ancient prophecy must have become more fixed by the rigid tones of the great teacher. In such a state of mind, waiting for the hope of Israel, how welcome must have been the sight of the dove alighting on Christ’s head and the voice which proclaimed Him the well-beloved Son of God. But Jesus did not then begin His public ministry; He retired from the gaze of an expecting people to meet and subdue the chief adversary of His mission. To all who recognized Him as their long-looked-for Anointed, this must have been an interval of painful suspense. At length, however, as the Baptist and two of his disciples were standing together, Jesus drew near. A mere hint is sufficient to recall Him to their remembrance. The disciples overhear their master’s exclamation: “Lo, the Lamb of God!”--and immediately leaving him they follow Jesus. Nor are they willing to be separated from Him, till they have found out His abode and lived with Him. In this incident is contained the germ of that attachment between Christ and John which expanded with ever-increasing vigour and beauty on earth and is now perfected by the purity and ennobled by the higher association of heaven. In the next scene Jesus meets him on the shores of Tiberias, and calls him to be His constant follower. From this period to the end of the Saviour’s ministry all that is known of him is embraced in a few scattered incidents. With Peter and James he was present at the restoration of Jairus’s daughter. In the same company he was a witness of the transfiguration. At the last supper John reclined next to Christ, and was looked upon as His bosom friend. It was John’s sad privilege to behold the agony of Gethsemane. He fearlessly entered the hall of Pilate, and led in Peter who had been timidly loitering at the door. And how soothing, in the last dark hour of the crucifixion--like the mild beaming of the evening star on the edge of a retiring thundercloud--is that parting interchange of affection as the weeping eye of the beloved disciple meets the agonized yet tender look of the dying Saviour, and that simple charge is given, “Behold thy mother!” When the women reported that the stone had been rolled away from the sepulchre, Peter and John ran thither in company. After the resurrection John went into Galilee, and there meeting Jesus, according to appointment, he followed Him to receive his final instructions and promises. But soon the day of separation came, and Jesus ascended, leaving John and the other disciples to tarry at Jerusalem. (E. E. Salisbury.)

4. HIS LIFE SUBSEQUENT TO THE ASCENSION. After the ascension he continued in Jerusalem, at least for a time. Among the brethren at the election of Matthias, and on the Day of Pentecost, he accompanied Peter to the Temple, when the lame man was healed at the Gate Beautiful. Later in the day he was apprehended along with Peter and sent to prison; and on the morrow the two were cited before the Sanhedrim. With Peter he was afterwards despatched to Samaria (Acts 8:14). It is probable that soon after he withdrew from the metropolis to Galilee with the Virgin, induced to do so, it may be supposed, by the dislike of the latter to remain where her Lord (as well as her son) had been crucified, and by the increasing hostility of the Jews.(Acts 8:1). If this were so, it will explain how, three years after, on the occasion of Paul’s first visit, he did not meet with Galatians 1:18), whom he first saw fourteen years after Galatians 2:9). John, it is believed, had by this time returned to the head-quarters of the Church in Jerusalem, in consequence of the Virgin’s death in 48 A.D. Then, having resumed his natural position, he was recognized by St. Paul as one of the “pillars” of the Church. How long he abode hers is uncertain. Perhaps he accompanied the Church when it migrated to Pella, before the Roman war, about 67 A.D. In later years, though not till Paul’s death, possibly not till the deaths of Timothy and Titus had deprived the churches in Asia Minor of apostolic guidance, he settled at Ephesus. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

5. CLOSING YEARS. During the period of the labours of the Evangelist in these portions of0 Asia Minor, he was banished by one of the emperors to Patmos, where, according to Revelation 1:9, he wrote the Apocalypse. If Irenaeus and Eusebius are to be credited, the banishment must have occurred under Domitian (died 96 A.D.). We find in addition in Tertullian, in Jerome, and other writers, an account of John’s being taken to Rome under Domitian, of his being cast into a vessel of boiling oil, of his miraculous deliverance from it, and of his being subsequently removed to Patmos. There is an independent testimony that John suffered for the faith, in the fact that Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus (about 200 A.D.), calls him μάρτυς, “a martyr.” The return from exile is to be dated under Nerva. In the ecclesiastical tradition he appears as the centre of the Church-life in Asia Minor, insomuch, that in the controversies, as for example the one about Easter, and in the struggle with the Gnostics, he is referred to, and frequent mention is made of his disciples and hearers. When he had reached, as Jerome tells us, his extremest old age, he became too feeble to walk to the meetings, and was carried to them by young men. He could no longer say much, but he constantly repeated the words: “Little children, love one another!” When he was asked why he constantly repeated this expression, his answer was: “Because this is the command of the Lord, and because enough is done if but this one thing be done.” (Tholuck.)

6. DEATH. We are ignorant of the time and circumstances of his death. Conjecture ranges from 89 A.D. to 120 A.D. Chrysostom affirms that he was a hundred years old when he wrote his Gospel, and that he lived full twenty years after. It does not appear that he died by violence, but peacefully upon his bed, most probably in Ephesus, amidst his “little children.” One likes to imagine the tranquility of the last scenes, in keeping with the tenor of his life. In all likelihood, his dust lies somewhere amidst the wild jungle that has overspread the neighbourhood. With the setting of “that last Resplendence” the age of common history begins. The churches found it difficult to believe that he had really passed away; the saying had gone abroad among them that he should not die, but should continue until the appearing of the Lord; and so in course of time the legend was framed--that he was not really dead, but only sleeping in his grave. It was notwholly an error; for “he lives and will ever live by his writings, and the future belongs to him even more than the past.” (J. Culross, D. D.)


John and Cerinthus

One day as the Apostle was entering the public bath at Ephesus, the Apostle learned that the heretic was within. Immediately he sprang from the place, exclaiming, “Let us flee, lest the house fall upon us, since Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is within.” Jeremy Taylor pronounces this a good precedent for us, when the case is equal. St. John could discern the spirit of Cerinthus, whose heresy was fundamental, and the Apostle was a person assisted up to infallibility. “And possibly,” he adds, “it was done by the whisper of a prophetic spirit and upon a miraculous design; for immediately upon his retreat the bath fell down, and crushed Cerinthus in the ruins.” More to the point is the bishop’s counsel, that we should not quickly, nor upon slight grounds, nor unworthy instances, call heretic. (J. Culross, D. D.)

The partridge and the hunter

In his old age the Apostle used to find pleasure in the attachment of a tamed partridge, One day, as he held it in his bosom and was gently stroking it, a huntsman suddenly approached, and wondering that one so illustrious should take to such a trivial amusement, he asked, “Art thou that John whose singular renown had inspired even me with a great desire to know thee? How then canst thou occupy thyself with an employment so humble?” The Apostle replied, “What is that in thy hand?” He answered, “A bow.” “And why dost thou not always carry it bent?” “Because,” he answered, “it would in that case lose its strength; and when it was necessary to shoot, it would fail from the too continuous strain.” “Then let not this slight and brief relaxation of mine perplex thee,” answered the Apostle; “since without it the spirit would flag from the un-remitted strain, and fail when the call of duty came.” (John Cassian.)

St. John and the bandit

Visiting a town not far from Ephesus, and assembling with the wheather, he saw in the audience a young man, tall of stature and of noble countenance and ardent spirit. Addressing the pastor of the church, he said: “I commit that young man to thy charge, and call Christ and the Church to witness that I do so.” The pastor of the church undertook, and for a time faithfully fulfilled, the charge. He instructed the young man in the faith, and by and by had the joy of receiving him into the church. Subsequently, however, he relaxed his watchfulness, and was led by idle and worthless acquaintances into temptation, and at length, believing salvation hopeless, he fully surrendered himself to evil, and became one of a company of brigands, of whom he was made the chief. Some time after this, John revisited the city, and addressing the pastor of the church, said, “Restore me now the pledge which I, with the Saviour, entrusted to your charge in the presence of the church.” And when he saw that his words were not understood, he added, “I reclaim the young man whose soul I entrusted to thee.” The pastor said, with tears, “He is dead.” “How?” asked the Apostle: “what death did he die?” “He is dead to God,” was the answer; “for he has become evil and reprobate; he was forced to flee for his crimes, and he is now a brigand among our mountains.” Immediately the Apostle, obtaining a horse and guide, rode off even as he was to the robber hold, and falling into the hands of the sentinels, required to be led at once to their chief. But when John was led into his presence, he at once fled, overwhelmed with shame. John, forgetting his years, ran after him, crying, “Why, my child, do you flee from me--from me, your father, an unarmed old man? Have compassion on me, my child; do not be afraid. You yet have a hope of life. I will yet give account to Christ for you. If needs be, I will gladly die for you, as Christ died for us. I will lay down my life for you. Stop! Believe, Christ hath sent me.” Hearing these words, he first stands still and casts his eyes upon the ground. He next throws away his arms, and commences trembling and weeping bitterly. When the old man approaches he clasps his knees, and with the most vehement agony pleads for forgiveness, baptizing himself anew as it were with his own tears: all this time, however, he conceals his right hand. But the Apostle, pledging himself, with an appeal to God for His truth, that he had obtained forgiveness from the Saviour for him, implores him even on his knees, and the hand he had held back he kisses as if it were cleansed again by his penitence. He finally led him back to the church. Here he pleaded with him earnestly, strove with him in fasting, urged him with monitions, until he was able to restore him to the church--an example of sincere repentance and genuine regeneration. (From Clement of Alexandria.)

The pupils of St. John

Three names are traditionally linked to John’s as those of pupils. The first is that of Ignatius--“the disciple of John the Apostle,” he is called in the “Martyrdom of Ignatius,” “and a man in all respects of apostolic character.” Tradition makes him out to have been the little child whom Jesus set as an example of humility amidst the twelve apostles. Hence he was supposed to derive his name of Theophorus--the “God-carried;” though he himself interprets it to mean one who carries God in his heart. He was overseer of the Church of Syrian Antioch, and is said to have suffered martyrdom under Trajan, at Rome, by being thrown to the lions. A large number of writings have been attributed to him, respecting which there has been more controversy than about any ancient Christian writings, if we except the New Testament itself. The second name is Polycarp. Irenaeus, who sat at his feet, informs us that he “was instructed by the apostles, and was brought into contact with many who had seen Christ.” We learn from Irenaeus further that Polycarp was an overseer in the Church at Smyrna by apostolic appointment. When called to swear by the fortune of Caesar and reproach Christ, that he might save his life, he replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me an injury: how can I blaspheme Him, my King and my Saviour?” From amidst the flames that consumed him he gave thanks, “because Thou hast counted me worthy to have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of Thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption (imparted) by the Holy Ghost.” The third name is that of Papias, an overseer in the Church at Hierapolis, a city of Phrygia, the birthplace of Epictetus. Irenaeus speaks of him as an “ancient man,” “a hearer of John,” and “a companion of Polycarp.” He was on terms of intercourse with many who had known the Lord and His apostles From them he gathered information which he wove into five books, entitled an “Exposition of the Lord’s Sayings”--a work which has not come down to us, except some fragments. He seems to have been a man of small mind, a great reader, but a poor thinker. It is to him that the report is traced back that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, and that Mark, in his Gospel, was the mouthpiece of Peter. He too is said to have suffered martyrdom about the same time with Polycarp. (J. Culross, D. D.)

The “Account of the Decease of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist”

The “Account of the Decease of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist” (from the apocryphal Acts) tells us that on a Sunday after prayer and the Eucharist he said to Byrrhus, “Take with thee two brethren with baskets and spades and come after me.” John walked forth and came to the grave of a Christian brother, and said to the youths, “Dig, my sons, and let the trench be deep.” Then he went on conversing and edifying those present, speaking of the majesty of the Messiah, and praying over each of them. When the trench was finished, he suddenly disrobed and cast his garments like bedclothes in the trench; and, standing in his mantle only, he lifted up his hands and prayed to God, “Receive the soul of Thy John.” Then he turned to the East and glorified God, standing full in the light; and said, “Be Thou with me, Jesus the Messiah our Lord.” Then he went down into the trench, and saying, “Concord and peace be with you my brethren,” he rendered up his spirit rejoicing.

Posthumous legends

During his lifetime the saying went abroad that he was not to die, but to form one of the company who “are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.” Even his actual passing away did not eradicate this belief. Wild assertions in the course of time were hazarded; such as, that his remains, though sought for, could not he found. Augustine tells of persons in his day who professed to have witnessed the gentle heaving of the turf where he lay, asleep, but not dead, at Ephesus. The notion that he was still alive became almost an article of popular faith in the Middle Ages (not unlike the legend of the Wandering Jew), and in some quarters lingered even later. The English sect of “Seekers,” under Cromwell, expected his reappearance as the forerunner of Christ’s glorious return. A trace of the notion is still partially visible in the Feast of the Translation of the Body of St. John, observed in the Greek Church. Beza tells of an impostor of his times, burned at Toulouse, who gave himself out to be the Apostle. A specimen of a different class of legends is found in the “Chronicle of John of Brompton.” King Edward the Confessor had, after Christ and the Virgin Mary, a special veneration for St. John. One day, returning from his church at Westminster, he was accosted by a pilgrim, who asked of him an alms for the love of God and St. John. The king, who was ever merciful to the poor, immediately drew from his finger a ring, and, unknown to any one, gave it to the beggar. When the king had reigned twenty-four years, it came to pass that two Englishmen, pilgrims, returning to their own country from the Holy Land, were met by one in the habit of a pilgrim, who asked of them concerning their country, and being told they were of England, he said unto them, “When ye shall have arrived in your own country, go to King Edward, and salute him in my name: say to him that I thank him for the alms which he bestowed on me in a certain street in Westminster; for there, on a certain day, as I begged of him an alms, he bestowed on me this ring, which till now I have preserved, and ye shall carry it back to him, saying that in six months from this time he shall quit the world and come and remain with me for ever.” The pilgrims, being astounded, said, “Who art thou? and where is thy dwelling?” And he answered, saying, “I am John the Evangelist. Edward your king is my friend, and for the sanctity of his life I hold him dear. Go now therefore, deliver to him this message and this ring, and I will pray to God for him.” The king received the tidings joyfully and feasted the messengers royally. Then he set himself to prepare for his departure out of this world. On the eve of the Nativity 1066, he fell sick, and on the eve of the Epiphany following he died. The ring he gave to the Abbot of Westminster to be for ever preserved among the relics there. (J. Culross, D. D.)


As the disciple whom Jesus loved

The whole sum of his character is contained in the single fact that he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Once understand that, from whatever causes, no obstacle intervened between him and that one Divine object, which from the earliest dawn of youth to the last years of extreme old age was ever impressing itself deeper and deeper into his inmost soul, and his whole work on earth is at once accounted for. Whatever we can conceive of devoted tenderness, deep affection, intense admiration for goodness, we must conceive of him who, even in the palace of the high priest, and at the foot of the Cross, was the inseparable companion of his Lord; whatever we can conceive of a gentleness and holiness ever increasing in depth and purity, that we must conceive of the heart and mind which produced the Gospel and Epistle of St. John. (Dean Stanley.)

As the Son of Thunder

It was not as the Beloved Disciple, but as the Son of Thunder--not as the apostle who leaned upon his Master’s breast at supper, but as the apostle who called down fire from heaven, who forbade the man to cast out devils, who claimed with his brother the highest places in the kingdom of heaven--that he was known to the readers of the three Gospels. But it is natural that in such a character the more outward and superficial traits should have attracted attention before the complete perfection of that more inward and silent growth which was alone essential to it; and alien in some respects as the bursts of fiery passion may be from the usual terror of St. John’s later character, they fully agree with the anathema of the tenth verse of his Second Epistle and with the story of Cerinthus and the bath. It is not surprising that the deep stillness of such a character as this should, like the Oriental sky, break out from time to time into tempests of impassioned vehemence: still less that the character which was to excel all others in its devoted love of good should give indications--in its earlier stages even in excess--of that intense hatred of evil, without which love of good can hardly be said to exist. (Dean Stanley.)

The character of John the Apostle was that of John the man sanctified

In calling him to be a follower, the Lord did not suppress his individuality, but used it; as, if one should send a message by a lisping child, the lisp will be heard in the delivery of the message; or as, when Moses’ face shone, or Stephen wore as it had been the face of an angel, the men were still themselves. This is the Lord’s way with His own throughout. While they are all taken up with Him into heavenly places, there is no dead monotony of character produced; each wears a grace peculiar to himself; each is Christ-like after his own order. So with this man. The original texture of his nature abides. He has lost nothing; rather he is become more simply, truly, characteristically, profoundly, essentially himself--himself, purified and exalted. A traveller, giving an account of an ancient volcano which he visited, tells of a verdurous cup-like hollow on the mountain summit, and that, where the fierce heat had once burned, lay a still, clear pool of water, looking up like an eye to the beautiful heavens above. It is an apt parable of this man. Naturally and originally volcanic, capable of profoundest passion and daring, he is new-made by grace, till in his old age he stands out in calm grandeur of character, and depth, and largeness of soul, with all the gentlenesses and graces of Christ adorning him--a man, as I imagine him to myself, with a face so noble that kings might do him homage, and so sweet that children would run to him for his blessing. (J. Culross, D. D.)

He is not in the least sentimental

Nowhere does he exhibit trace or taint of that false “liberality” which bids truth and lie shake hands and be friends, or judicially binds them over to keep the peace; far less of that “philosophic breadth” which places Jesus Christ, Zoroaster, Sakya-Mouni, Mahomet (and why not, by and by, Joseph Smith?), in the same Pantheon. He is full of the grand intolerance of love; incapable of compromise or truce with falsehood, however mighty or loftily throned. If a man come and bring not the doctrine of Christ, whosoever biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds (2 John 1:10-11). (J. Culross, D. D.)

His unobtrusive courage

He never puts himself forward in the sight of others, challenging observation, but yet is ever found by his Master’s side in the hour of danger, quietly, and as of course. Thus, on the night of betrayal, after the first alarm and forsaking, he closely follows Jesus from the garden, goes in along with Him to the place of trial and judgment, and never for a moment falls away from Him or flinches. Peter too follows, but afar off, and takes his place with the officers and servants, as if he belonged to their company; and in that “afar off” lay his weakness and danger. John goes in “with” Jesus, and in this lay his safety. Again, at the crucifixion, he held his station near the cross of his Master all day, a witness of His dreadful sufferings; exhibiting that rarest form of courage, which so few even of strong men arc capable of--the courage to stand still and look upon the sufferings of a beloved friend, protracted and intensifying from hour to hour, which we can do nothing whatever to relieve. Ah, it takes courage of the loftiest order for that! (J. Culross, D. D.)

His healthiness

Here is no invalid or valetudinarian, but a man of heathful, robust physique, capable of sustained energy and patience. There is the same healthfulness mentally: in his writings, with all their depth, we detect nothing hazy, vague, blurred; every chapter is like an engraving in which the nicest lines are distinctly seen. If Paul was characterized by a profound sense of “righteousness,” John is as notably characterized (if such an expression may be allowed) by a profound and vehement sense of “truth”--a man to whom “a lie” is intolerable. Naturally and originally bold, intense, capable of the most ardent passion and enthusiasm, with an all-daring imagination, with a capacious understanding, and wonderful receptivity both of brain and heart, he is one of the grandest captives that ever surrendered to Jesus Christ, and he becomes one of the noblest examples of his new-fashioning power, so as to alternately exhibit, beyond the rest, the perfect likeness of the Lamb. (J. Culross, D. D.)

9. HIS WRITINGS AND CHARACTER AS AUTHOR:--John stands entirely alone, without any of his fellow-witnesses having exerted on him any appreciable influence, such as, e.g., Paul did on Luke, or Peter on Mark. His theology bears the character less of a doctrinal development than of an animated witness. Not dialectics, but intuition; not the intellect, but the feelings; not the future with its lofty expectations, but the present with its priceless blessings, enters in the didactic writings of St. John ever anew into the foreground. Only on a single occasion (chap 1:17) is indicated the opposition between Law and Gospel which occupies so important a place in Paul; with John the Gospel stands not only in diametrical opposition to the law, but also immeasurably above it. The cause of this phenomenon is not difficult to discover. John probably never occupied so strictly legal a standpoint as, e.g., James, much less experienced such a sudden transition from darkness to light as Paul. As the sun causes the blossom to unfold, so had the interview with Christ and the continued contemplation of Him (chap. 1:40) awakened his spiritual life with silent but mighty power; and of this inner life his doctrine is at once the expression and the deciphering. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

The Johannine writings form a triology: the Gospel basis, the organic conformation, the final and eternal future of the Church. Christ who was, who is, and who is to come. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

There are three books which we attribute to St. John, besides the two short letters to Gaius and the Elect Lady. Of these, his Gospel is a perfect summary of Christian Theology, his First Epistle of Christian Ethics, his Apocalypse of Christian Politics. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

10. HIS UNIQUE INFLUENCE. It is certainly a unique fact that a fisherman, simply relating what he saw and heard, in terms that a child may understand, should have brought the supremest claims of Jesus of Nazareth into view--beyond what even the imperial Paul has done--so as to compel the most profound and philosophic thinkers of every age to meet the problem, and so as to induce men, to whom sin and helplessness are realities and not names, to commit themselves into His hands for both worlds, believing them to be the hands of grace and almightiness. (J. Culross, D. D.)



(1) With St. Peter and St. Paul

(a) Each has a distinct place in the first formation of the Church. Peter is the founder, Paul the propagator, John the finisher. Peter the apostle of the rising dawn; Paul of the noon in its heat and clearness; John the sunset--first in the stormy sunset of the Apocalypse, then in the calm brightness of the Gospel and Epistles of his old age.

(b) Each is the centre round which the floating elements of thought and action clustered and crystallized. The whole body of Jewish Christians leaned upon St. Peter, of Gentiles upon St. Paul, of mixed believers upon St. John.

(c) Each was connected with the sole authentic records of the life of Christ. There can be little doubt that it was St. Peter’s disciples who first received the representation which is preserved to us in the Prophet and Lawgiver according to St. Matthew, the human Friend according to St. Mark. We need not hesitate to recognize in the Gospel and Acts of St. Lake St. Paul’s view, first of the suffering victim, then of the invisible Guide of the universal Church. We at once acknowledge that we have in the Gospel of St. John the complete image of the Word made flesh.

(d) Each has borne his part in the unfolding of the Divine economy. Peter the apostle of courageous and confident hope; Paul of faith; John of love. Peter of power and action; Paul of thought and wisdom; John of feeling and of goodness. Peter clings to the recollection of the older world; Paul plunges into the conflict of the present; John, whether as prophet, evangelist, or teacher, fixes his gaze on the invisible and the future. Peter gave to Christianity its first outward historical form; Paul its inward and spiritual freedom; John that Divine end and object in which form and spirit harmonize. (Dean Stanley.)

(2) With St. Paul:--Between St. Paul and St. John how great is the contrast! In St. Paul we are struck mainly by the wealth of sacred thought; in St. John by its simplicity. St. Paul is versatile and discursive; St. John seems to be fixed in the entranced bliss of a perpetual intuition. St. Paul is a dialectician, who teaches as by reasoning; St. John speaks as if the highest life of his soul was the wondering study of one vast Apocalypse. St. Paul begins with anthropology; St. John with theology. St. Paul often appeals to theology that he may enforce truths of morals; St. John finds the highest moral truth in his most abstract theological contemplations. St. Paul usually describes the redemption gift of Christ as Righteousness; St. John more naturally contemplates it as Life. In St. Paul the ethical element predominates; in St. John the mystical. St. John is more especially the spiritual ancestor of such fathers as Gregory Nazianzen; St. Paul of such as Augustine. St. Paul is the typical apostle of Western, as St. John is of Eastern, Christendom; the contemplative side of the Christian life finds its pattern in St. John, the active in st. Paul. Yet, striking as are such differences of spiritual method and temper, they are found in these great apostles side by side with an entire unity of teaching as to the Person of our Lord. (Canon Liddon.)

As soon as we pass from the writings of Paul to those of John the difference shows itself in the great words that are used. Paul’s words are--sin, grace, righteousness, election, redemption, faith, reconciliation,salvation, the day of Christ; John’s words are such as these--life and death, light and darkness, love and hatred, truth and a He, the Son of God and the Wicked One. Were I to select characteristic and corresponding utterances they would be these from Paul--“Just and the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus”; from John--“This is the true God and eternal life.” The lines of thought pursued by the two apostles are parallel and harmonious, while yet they lie on different planes. (J. Culross, D. D.)

(3) St. John and St. Peter:--As Peter was the first of the apostles in their relation to the world, John was the first in their relation to Christ. The talent of Peter was ideally practical; that of John practically ideal. Peter is the chief of the working, upbuilding spirits of the Church; John the chief of the contemplative. In John, the basis of enthusiasm or devotion to Christ was not an inexhaustible impulse to do, but a deep wondering celebration of the perfection of Christ. The fundamental characteristic of Peter was energetic heart; that of John reposing heartiness. Peter sees the glory of Christ chiefly in the mighty unfolding of the glory of His kingdom; John sees all the glory of the kingdom of Christ comprised in the single glory of His personal exaltation and future appearing. (P. Schaff, D. D.)

2. AS AN EVANGELIST WITH THE SYNOPTISTS. The fathers of the Christian Church saw in the vision described in Revelation 4:7, a faithful representation of the four Evangelists. They differ somewhat in their application of the figures; but the majority take the “lion” to represent Matthew, the “calf” or ox to represent Mark, the “man” to represent Luke, and the “eagle” to represent John. But whatever differences prevail in respect of the first three figures, all are agreed that the eagle is a symbol of the fourth Evangelist. “There be a thing too wonderful for me, the way of an eagle in the air.” (J. C. Jones, D. D.)

(1) St. John was acquainted with the Synoptists, and assumes that his readers were

(a) Many of the things which he supposes to be already known, and which, therefore, he does not repeat, are precisely such as are contained in the other gospels: e.g., the imprisonment of the Baptist (John 3:24), the manner in which Jesus procured a young ass (John 12:14-16), and the stone before the sepulchre, and the presence of other women (John 20:1-2).

(b) He omits some narratives which are contained in the other gospels, which would have been serviceable to his object: e.g., the explanation of Jesus to the disciples of Jn (Matthew 11:28), the miracles at the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:45-51), the supernatural conception, and the ascension, which, however, is alluded to in John 20:17; John 20:17. Amongst other omissions are the death of the Baptist, the election of the apostles, the transfiguration, and the institution of the last supper, the miraculous cure of the ear of Malchus (Luk 22:51, cf. John 18:10), the last exclamation of Jesus (Luke 23:16) and the loud voice in which it was uttered (Mark 15:37). In cases where the connection would not permit of an entire omission the narrative is briefly sketched (cf. John 18:39-40 and Luke 23:17-23; Mark 5:6-14)


(c) He contributes materials which complete the others: e.g., the name Malchus (John 18:10). (Storr and Flatt.)

(2) His representation of Christ and His work differs from theirs:--In one gospel Christ is the fulfiller of the Law, and withal, by a touching contrast, the Man of Sorrows. In another He is the Lord of Nature and the Leader of men. In a third He is active and all-embracing Compassion. Thus the obedience, the force, and the tenderness of His humanity are successively depicted; but room is left for another aspect of His life, differing from these and yet in harmony with them, If we may dare so to speak, the Synoptists approach their great subject from without, St. John unfolds it from within. He sets forth the life of cur Lord not in any one of the aspects which belong to it as human, but as being the consistent and adequate expression of the glory of a Divine Person, manifested to men under a visible form. (Canon Liddon.)

Not only is the theatre upon which we here meet Christ, the form of His discourses, and the impression which is thereby made, different, but even the substance, compared with that of the Synoptists, offers important points of distinction. There the kingdom of heaven is presented, here it is the King Himself; there the human, here the Divine side of the Redeemer; there the blessedness of salvation on the other side the grave is brought into the foreground, here the blessedness on this side. Here the Evangelist begins with the Divine origin of our Lord, there the Synoptists begin with His human birth; there the words and discourses rise to the unveiling of His Divine dignity; in John they proceed from the assumption of this truth as a starting-point. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

The Synoptists pourtray Christ in His three several offices--St. Matthew especially in that of king; St. Mark, of God as man; St. Luke, of priest and victim; St. John speaks more particularly of His Divine and heavenly nature, of spiritual things, and of the higher mysteries of Christian rule and doctrine; in which he especially unfolds some of the chief types and ceremonies, which throughout the Old Testament prepare us for the highest and most sacred and mysterious truths, as by parables. (S. R.Bosanquet.)

The Synoptic narratives are implicit dogmas, St. John’s dogmas are concrete facts. (Canon Westcott.)

(3) This difference does not affect the perfect harmony of the four:--For

(a) The Johannine Christ is as truly human as is that of the Synoptists. The fourth gospel introduces Christ as claiming to have been born John 18:37), which the Synoptists never do; it represents Him as having a body that could walk (John 10:22), ride (John 12:15), thatcould be wearied (John 4:6), that could eat and drink (John 4:10; John 4:31), that could be bound (John 18:12), scourged (John 19:17), that could weep (John 11:35), thirst (John 19:28), be crucified (John 19:18), die (John 19:20), and be buried (John 19:42); of a mind that could know (John 2:24), learn by asking (John 11:34), and expressits thoughts (John 3:8); of a soul that could be troubled (John 12:27), and a spirit that could be moved with indignation (John 11:33). It depicts Him as undergoing experiences and performing actions of which only a real man is capable, as, e.g., sitting at a marriage feast (John 2:1-10), shedding tears at a friend’s grave (John 11:35), accepting hospitality (John 12:2), and doing the office of a menial (John 13:5); conversing with a rabbi (John 3:3), with a woman (John 4:7), with the people (John 7:28), with His disciples (John 14:1), With His captors (John 18:4), etc.; preaching (John 7:14; John 6:59; John 9:2-6); exposing Himself to the close and constant scrutiny of friends (John 11:1-5) and of enemies (John 8:48-59). In short, if John’s Christ was not a verus homo, it would be difficult to find one such on earth. Then

(b) The Synoptic Christ is as perfect as is that of John. If the latter came forth from a pre-existent state so did the former (Matthew 1:18-25; Mark 1:11; Luke 1:32-36). If the latter was “perfectly developed” when He entered upon His public ministry so was the former, as His baptism secured (Matthew 3:16-17) and the temptation attested Matthew 4:11). Was John’s Christ saluted by Nathanael as Divine? So was Luke’s (Luke 5:8; Luke 4:34). Had John’s Christ the faculty of omniscience? So had the Christ of the Synoptists (Matthew 12:15-25; Matthew 12:15-25; Mark 12:15; Mark 12:15; Luke 5:35; Luke 6:3; Luke 6:8). Neither failed in any miracle He attempted, although in the absence of necessary moral conditions there were instances in which He did not attempt; nor even the miracles of the one greater than those of the other. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke He is under the constraint Of the same Divine imperative Matthew 26:54; Mark 3:31; Luke 2:49; Luke 4:43; Luke 19:5) as in John John 3:14; John 4:4; John 9:4; John 10:16). That the Synoptic Christ did not know Himself to be the Messiah or the Divine Son until towards the end is absurd; for it was authoritatively proclaimed to Him at the baptism Matthew 3:17), and the devils knew it (Matthew 4:3-6; Matthew 8:29). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

(4) This difference is perfectly reasonable and intelligible:--One of Goethe’s biographers says of him that there were hidden in him ten different persons; we discover in Luther, Augustine, and Paul such a multiplicity and fulness of intellectual and spiritual life that it sometimes costs us an effort to discover in the very divergent exhibition of this life the same fundamental characteristics in the same person. In the polished and thousand-faced diamond there shines one and the same light in a multiform blending of colours; and should we expect the case to be different in an infinitely higher sphere--the spiritual and the Divine? (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

If a wise man who was merely human like Socrates, could present such a manifoldness in unity that two of his pupils could give such contrasted yet true pictures of his teaching, surely the same is possible in the case of Christ--in the case of Him whose office and work was to be the Redeemer of men of all shades of character and life. (Bleek.)

The same person may narrate the same thing on different occasions in a different way, and yet in each case with the fundamentals of truth. Compare Acts 26:1-32. with each other, and of the same kind chap. 10. and 11. where the conversion of Paul and Cornelius is told twice. If a drawing is made of a city first from the east side, then from the west, though in both cases the tallest and most striking towers and edifices are presented, yet in all other respects the two sketches not on]y can, but must differ widely. And yet both are faithful copies of the original. (Bengel.)

Each of yourselves may be studied at the same time by the anatomist and by the psychologist. Certainly the aspect of your complex nature which the one study insists upon, is sufficiently remote from the aspect which presents itself to the other. In the eyes of one observer you are purely spirit: you are thought, affection, memory, will, imagination. But to the other observer your material body is everything. Its veins and muscles, its pores and nerves, its colour, proportions, functions, absorb his whole attention. Yet is there any ground for a petty jealousy between the one study of your nature and the other? May not each illustrate, supplement, and balance the other? These questions admit of an easy reply; each half of the truth is practically no less than speculatively necessary to the other.
Nor is it otherwise with the general relation of the first three gospels to the fourth. (Canon Liddon.)

(5) This difference has been no difficulty to the Church:--As far as the religious side of the contrast is concerned, it is remarkable that the conscience of the Church has never been perplexed by it, and that it is exclusively the learned who pronounce it insoluble. This fact proves, in any case, that for the pious and believing heart the Jesus of the Synoptics has never been, and will never be, anything else but that of John. The difference, therefore, does not reach the depths of the religious and moral life. (F. Godet, D. D.)

Christian piety is fed by our four canonical Gospels, and yet it knows but one Christ. In the people, as well as in a child, there is an instinct which surpasses any acuteness of the best criticism. We can say of the people what Jesus said of the sheep, “a stranger will they not follow.” If now the Jesus of John is totally different from that of the three, we must confess that Christendom has saluted a stranger by the name of Master for more than fifteen centuries without the slightest doubt; and has regarded both the stranger and the Master worthy of the same adoration. Such a misconception would not only be without parallel in history, but would even have history against itself. (Revue Chretienne.)

(6) This difference is an argument in favour of the authenticity of both representations:--Any one who in writing would smuggle in his own wares under the Johannean flag, would certainly have to be very careful never to come into even apparent contradiction to the first three Gospels. He who by crafty pre-meditation would invest himself with the appearance and manner of an apostle, must take the greatest pains to utter an echo of the apostolic witnesses, but never a note that is not in perfect harmony with them. If, therefore, the diversity of doctrinal ides and historical representation between the first three Gospels and the fourth still seems strange, then I may say that it is perfectly inexplicable if we are here dealing with an anonymous author. But all the difficulty will disappear if we accept the fact that this is the work of an apostle who occupies a perfectly independent position beside the other three Evangelists, yet whose testimony he continues, enlarges, and completes. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

(7) John’s style differs from that of the Synoptists:--We find in St. John’s Gospel something more than the artless and childish simplicity of St. Matthew’s narrative; more than the rapidity and terseness of St. Mark’s narrative; more than the calm and flowing history of St. Luke. With that artlessness, that terseness, and that calmness, there is mingled a higher and more elevated tone--a tone derived from the monuments of the remotest sacred antiquity, as well as from the hidden depths of the most profound theology; a tone reminding us sometimes of the Mosaic account of creation, sometimes of the wise sayings of Solomon, sometimes akin even to the theology of the later Jewish-Alexandrine philosophers. (Isaac da Costa.)


1. HISTORY OF THE CONTROVERSY. From the disappearance of the Alogi in the later sub-Apostolic age until the end of the seventeenth century, the authenticity of St. John’s Gospel was not questioned. The earliest modern objections to it were raised in this country on the assumption of a discrepancy between St. John and the Synoptists. These were combatted by Le Clerc, and for well nigh a century the point was thought to have been decided, when in 1792 Evanson revived it, and was answered by Priestley. The brilliant reputation of Herder next secured attention for his theory that St. John describes not the historical but the ideal Christ, in which several German writers followed him. But these negative criticisms were met in turn by Roman Catholic divines like Hug, and liberal Lutherans such as Eichhorn and Koinel. By their labours the question was again held to have been set at rest. This second settlement was rudely disturbed by the famous “Probabilia” of Bretschneider in 1820. He exaggerated the contrast between the Christ of St. John and of the Synoptists into a positive contradiction. Protestant Germany was then fascinated by Schleier-macher, who not only accepted the fourth Gospel, but found in that Gospel the reason for his somewhat reckless estimate of the other three. The sharp controversy which followed resulted in Bretschneider’s retractation, which produced an impression which was not violently interfered with until 1835, when Strauss, in his first life of Jesus, denied that the Gospel was the work of the son of Zebedee. This was withdrawn in the third edition of 1838, but reaffirmed in the fourth of 1840; and in the popular edition of 1864 he extended a friendly hand to the Tubingen School, which had arisen in the meantime, and which aspired to supplement the negative criticism of Strauss by a positive hypothesis. St. John’s Gospel was held to represent a highly developed state of an orthodox gnosis, the growth of which presupposed the lapse of at least a century, and Baur, Schwegler, and Zeller decided that it was not composed till after A.D. 160, which general position is held by the disciples of that school as one of its very fundamental tenets. (Canon Liddon.)

2. THE REAL GROUND OF OPPOSITION. The question of the Johannine writing is determined by another graver still: that of the Johannine Christ; and most frequently it is the latter which sways the solution of the former. Nothing can prevent the critic, whose inward feeling, for one reason or another, is repugnant to the Christ of John, from resolving the question of the fourth Gospel in a way conformed to the secret wish of his antipathy; as, on the other hand, the author, whose deepest and holiest aspirations are awakened on meeting with the figure of that same Christ, “full of grace and truth,” will soon find in the lights proceeding from such profound sympathy the solution of critical difficulties which have been declared insurmountable. (F. Godet, D. D.)

3. THE VAST IMPORTANCE OF THE QUESTION. If St. John’s Gospel is not the historical account of an eyewitness, but only a myth, then there is no historical Christ; and without an historical Christ all the faith of the Christian Church is a delusion; all Christian confession, hypocrisy or deception; the Christian reverence for God an imposition; and the Reformation, finally, a crime or a madness. (Baron Bunsen.)

The writer of the Gospel certainly professes to have been an eye-witness of the things which he records, and as good as calls himself John. In addition, the same hand that wrote the Gospel unquestionably wrote also the First Epistle (as both external and internal evidence show), in which the distinctest possible assertion is made of the writer’s having been a personal witness of the manifestation. If then he was not a witness, I cannot acquit him of the worst kind of “lie,” all the more abominable that it is a lie against God, the effect of which is to represent a creature as His equal; and I cannot help quoting against him--shuddering as I do it--the words of that John whom he simulates, “All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (J. Culross, D. D.)

4. WHO WAS THE AUTHOR IF NOT ST. JOHN? The “great unknown” who has been suggested would have been too great to have been concealed. He would have stood out a head taller than all the great men of the second century. There is no room in the second century for such a mind. Its literature has an utterly different stamp from the fourth Gospel. The writings of the apostolic fathers stand in dependence upon the apostolic literature. Simply read the letter of Polycarp, who was such an hououred chief in the Church of Asia Minor, and see what a great falling off there is. And the following literature begins, with Justin, the age of theological reflection and of scientific digestion, which presupposes an age of the original production of Christian thoughts, and therefore a book like John’s Gospel. Both the Gnosticism of the second century and the contest against it offer us an entirely different picture from the one the fourth Gospel presents. The Gospel points to an earlier stage, a stage of first productivity and of original grandeur. (C. E. Luthardt, D. D.)

That any writer of the second century should be able to give with perfect accuracy a large number of particulars respecting a former age and a different people is one improbability. Then that he should avoid all indications of his own age is another. The second century was distinguished from the first by metaphysical discussions respecting the nature of Christ, by the unsettled claims of Church officers, and by the peculiar efficacy attributed to the sacraments. Of these controversies there is in this Gospel no sign. Then again, that being a truthful Christian, the author should wish to conceal his distance from the events related, and to represent himself as an eye-witness, even the Apostle John, is another separate improbability. That he should give a view of the person of Christ, surpassing in human tenderness and Divine dignity that of the other Evangelists, and more conducive to Christian comfort and improvement than any other book, this is another improbability. That it should differ from the other Gospels and agree so well is another. But all these combined improbabilities must be accepted, if we take this Gospel to be the composition, honest or dishonest, of any one but the apostle. To all this must be added that the writer of such a work should be always in what is called miraculous concealment; and that within thirty or forty years of its composition it should be received by Christians of distant countries and conflicting parties as of apostolical authority, a work the genuineness of which was above controversy. (Prof. J. H. Godwin.)


(1) Internal evidence.

(a) The author was a Jew:--We find ourselves so completely transported to the Jewish circle of ideas, and to Jewish life, that we must recognize not only the design of portraying these matters thoroughly, but also the peculiar memory which furnishes the material for such portrayal. (Weizsacker.)

Although he nowhere indicates his purpose to write for Jews, he, not less than Matthew, continually cites the Old Testament, and shows that he was acquainted with the Hebrew text, and on the smallest points shows an extensive knowledge of Jewish manners and customs. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

The vocabulary, the structure of the sentences, the symmetry and numerical symbolism of the composition, the expression and the arrangement of the thoughts, are essentially Hebrew.

(b) The author was a Jew of Palestine in the time of our Lord:--He knew the minutest details of the different localities of the Holy land, e.g., the size of the Lake of Tiberias, and the distance of Bethany from Jerusalem. He described the country about Jacob’s Well as, according to Renan, only a man could do who had frequently passed it. He is as fair as to the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas. He knows exactly how many years they have been rebuilding the temple, and that the Romans had taken away from the Jews the right of capital punishment. (F. Godet, D. D.)

Writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, he paints the Holy City with its inhabitants and localities in such living colours, that it appears to us sometimes as if the city and temple stood before us. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

It is inconceivable that a Gentile living at a distance from the scene of religious and political controversy which he paints could have realized, as the Evangelist has done, with vivid and unerring accuracy the relations of parties and interests which ceased to exist after the fall of Jerusalem, that he could have marked distinctly the part which the hierarchical class--the unnamed Sadducees--took in the crisis of the Passion; that he could have caught the real points at issue between true and false Judaism, which in their first form had passed away when the Christian Society was firmly established: that he could have portrayed the growth and conflict of opinion as to the national hopes of the Messiah side by side with the progress of the Lord’s ministry. All this was foreign to the experience of an Alexandrine or an Asiatic of the second century. (Bp. Westcott.)

(c) The author was an eye-witness:--Such he claimed to be, and the frequent and graphic mention of incidents likely to be retained in the memory, but improbable as the result of any other cause, fully confirm the claim. He is more explicit in his chronology than the others. It is through him that we learn of Christ’s four visits to Jerusalem. He fixes the day of Christ’s baptism, and hour of His calling the two disciples; mentions the grass on which the multitudes sat down; describes the position and gestures of the disciples at the Last Supper; recalls the darkness into which Judas went out; and the lanterns and torches carried by those who arrested Jesus; and relates the changing positions of Peter at the time of his denial, and the means by which he obtained access to the hall. (G. F. Wright.)

St. John’s account may be likened to a freshly plucked cluster of grapes, on which the morning dew still glistens; and I deeply pity him who does not receive this impression, but can think only of the artistic creation of an anonymous compositor who (unheard-of connection!) combines such incomparable talents with such un-skilful simplicity. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

(d) This Palestinian contemporary of Jesus was a member of the intimate circle of friends, formed around the person of our Lord. He knew personally Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Peter, etc., and the kind of relation that Jesus had to each. The naive replied to Philip, the spiteful remarks of Judas, the cry of devotion mingled with the unbelief of Thomas, are all known to Him. He knew who were the four disciples who by their questions drew forth the instructions of Jesus at that intimate conversation they had with Him on the eve of His death. He recalls the smallest details of the course of the two disciples at the grave of Jesus. All that would have been disgusting charlatanism on the part of a man who had not lived in close intimacy with the apostles, and Would consequently only treat the disciples as characters in a romance. This companion of Jesus could only have been an apostle. He completes and presents in quite a new light the tradition received in the Church, as we find it recorded in the Synoptics. The narrative is equivalent to a complete renovation of the history.of Jesus transmitted, the Synoptics by harmonizing very well with them, but remaining absolutely independent. Only an apostle, who felt perfectly sure of his authority, could stand face to face with the most ancient Gospels already received in the Churches, and maintain such a position. (F. Godet, D. D.)

(e) This apostle was John. His language betrays him. While other Evangelists speak of the precursor as John the Baptist, and very naturally to distinguish him from the apostle, the writer nowhere thinks it necessary to add this surname, although he speaks of Thomas called Didymus, of Judas not Iscariot, and Simon Peter. The only conceivable reason for this is that he himself was John and was known as such, there being no other but the Baptist. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

(f) This John was the disciple whom Jesus loved. The other disciples are mentioned by their names, Peter, Andrew, Thomas, Nathaniel, etc., while the names of John and his brother James nowhere appear. In chap. 21:2, the two sons of Zebedee, who in all the lists of the apostles are at the head, are placed the last. Now the disciple whom Jesus loved, who takes part in this scene (verses 20, 21) cannot have been James, for he was dead at an early date (Acts 12:2). It can only have been John, his brother. Lastly, this disciple must have been among the favoured three. But he could not have been Peter, who is distinguished from him, nor James who died first, while he (chap. 21:23) survived all the others. Could there be no other than John. (F. Godet, D. D.)

Why, then, does he not mention his own name? Because his readers were acquainted with it. He certainly never reckoned on severe critics without special gifts for their occupation. The honourable epithet was dearer to his heart than any other; he therefore made use of it with special pleasure when it was necessary to speak of himself; and that man cannot be a very acute psychologist if he regards as immodest boasting the choice of a term that expresses the deepest sense of gratitude for the highest manifestation of favour. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

(2) The testimony of the author himself--In John 1:14 he speaks of himself as an ocular witness, not as every Christian is, for the purely moral sense is impossible here. The Evangelist speaks of the Incarnation and earthly life of Jesus, whose history he is about to relate. In such a context it is impossible to use the term “beheld” in a purely spiritual sense. In John 19:35 the Evangelist says, “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” Writers have abused the term “he that” to maintain that the author was here distinguishing himself from the witness. But how could he say of any other than himself “he knows that he saith true”? One man does not answer for another’s conscience; in the nature of things a man can only answer for himself. The pronoun translated “he that” is frequently employed in an exclusive sense “he and he alone” (comp. John 1:18; John 5:39; John 9:37); and in no case to point out a different person. It is the witness of the fact who narrates it, it is he alone who has seen it, and all others who know the fact only know it by faith in his testimony. He who hath seen has borne witness of it, that ye may believe. The testimony of the author himself in the capacity of eye-witness is unanswerably confirmed by the first four verses of his first Epistle. It is not possible to express in more forcible terms the fact of personal perception than by means of the different bodily senses--sight, hearing, touch, and he who has seen, heard, touched, bears witness in order that those who have not seen, heard, touched, may believe, and thus possess and rejoice with Him (John 19:3-4). There is too much holy majesty and tender love in these words to suppose that they were those of an impostor; and if he who wrote them was what he pretended to be, the witness of the life and death of Jesus, it must be admitted that this witness was an apostle, and that this apostle was the disciple whom Jesus loved, as has been attested in chap. 21. For he alone was at the foot of the cross John 19:26), and was able to see with his eye the blood and water from the side of Jesus. (F. Godet, D. D.)

(3) External testimony. Up to a certain point we have the same evidence for all the Gospels equally. In the days of the Diocletian persecution (A.D. 303) the Gospel by John was as well known and as universally recognized as those by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In earlier days it was the same. Origen (A.D. 184-253) speaks of “the Four Gospels,” which were the only undisputed ones in the whole Church of God throughout the world, and the fourth, which he describes as that which was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was his special delight. In the still earlier days of Irenaeus (A.D. 126-190), we find the same universal acceptance of the fourth with the other Gospels. His testimony has special force in support of the Gospel by John. As the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of John, he must have known whether the so-called Gospel by John was known to and acknowledged by John’s disciple; and it is not conceivable that he could have accepted as the work of John, a book of which Polycarp knew nothing. Moreover the reason he assigns for the existence of only four Gospels, and the explanations he gives of the circumstances in which John wrote all, imply that the book was not a recent discovery. To the age immediately preceding that in which the good Bishop of Lyons wrote his “Adversus Haereses” belong the two translations, the Syriac and the old Latin. And the fourth Gospel has its place in them side by side with the other three. The Syriac dates from before the middle of the second century, and the old Latin not much later. And as these translations were made from different MSS. and in parts of the world distant from each other, their original forms must be sought at a distance of time which cannot be reckoned at less than half a century. Justin Martyr belongs to the first half of the second century, having suffered in A.D. 166 or 167. He quotes from certain “Memoirs” as having been written by “apostles and their followers,” and so indubitable is the correspondence between Justin’s doctrine of the Loges and that of the “ Word” in the fourth Gospel, that some critics have resorted to the desperate hypothesis that the former derived it from the latter!--forgetting that Justin appeals to the” Memoirs” as containing the history of the faith which he professed. To the age of Justin and Irenaeus belongs a fragment which bears the name of its discoverer, Muratori, a Latin translation from the Greek, which cannot have been written later than A.D. 170, In this work the fourth place is given to the Gospel of St. John, and the author, after giving an account of its composition, proceeds to say, “What wonder is it then that John brings forward every detail with so much emphasis, even in his Epistles saying of himself, ‘What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things have we written unto you?’“ For so he professes that he was not only an eye.witness, but also a hearer, and, moreover, a historian of all the wonderful works in order. Almost as important as the testimony of the Fathers is the testimony of unbelievers. The oldest polemic against the faith was written by Celsus (cir. 161-180). In this the whole christological standpoint of the Church is John’s, and while Celsus refers most frequently to Matthew, he uses John more than Mark or Luke. John’s Gospel then was known at this period by friend and foe, and it will not do therefore to talk of it as originating in that or the immediately preceding time. The testimony of the Gnostic heretics is equally conclusive. The earliest of them is probably Marcion, who came to Rome about A.D. 140. He knew the fourth Gospel as John’s, and rejected it on that account. But if it was recognized as such in Gnostic circles, it must have been recognized much earlier in Church circles, which compels us to go back to the times of the freshest recollection of John. But at that date they would not have accepted a book as John’s if it had not come from the apostle, and much less if it had been foreign to his way of thinking. (John Kennedy, D. D.)

The force of this external testimony

The value of this accumulated evidence is not the mere sum of individual testimonies (weighty though that is); but lies in the demonstration thus furnished that in the third quarter of the second century this Gospel was received without question or suspicion together with the three others (and more) by the Churches of Asia, Europe, and Africa. This wide dissemination implies a considerable lapse of years since its publication; so that the combined light of these testimonies shines far back through the first half of the century--that is, within the lifetime of hundreds, if not thousands, who had seen and heard the apostle himself. That within that half-century the Gospel and the Epistle should have been forged, and obtained this worldwide reception as genuine, is a monstrously incredible supposition. (E. R. Conder, D. D.)


Those who since the first discussion of this question have been really conversant with it, never could have had a moment’s doubt. As the attack on St. John has become fiercer and fiercer, the truth has been more and more solidly established, error has been pursued into its last hiding-places, and at this moment the facts before us arc such that no man who does not will knowingly to choose error and reject truth can dare to say that the fourth Gospel is not the work of the Apostle John. (H. Ewald.)


(1) Its date and place. The unanimous testimony of antiquity is, that the apostle wrote his Gospel in Ephesus. We are led to the same conclusion by internal marks, as for example, that the author has regard to the Hellenistic Jewish theosophy, and for the most part to readers out of Palestine John 2:6; John 2:13; John 4:9; John 5:1-2). Another mark of the same kind, is his skill in the use of the Hellenistic Greek. This is so great, when we compare it with the style of the Apocalypse, that if the Evangelist John be the author of the latter, the Gospel, to all appearance, must have been written at a considerably later period. According to Irenaeus, the Apocalypse was seen (ἐωράθη) by John toward the end of the reign of Domitian (who died 96). If we suppose that the vision was committed writing about the time of its appearance, it would fix the date of the Apocalypse at about A.D. 95; if we now place the composition of the Gospel at about A.D. 100, (and we can hardly put it later), we shall only have an interval of five years between the writings, a space of time which seems too brief to account for the great diversity in their language. If we might, in accordance with the highly plausible internal marks, fix the time of writing the Revelation under Galba (A.D. 68 or 69), the time thus obtained would be all-sufficient. (A. Tholuck, D. D.)

(2) The characteristics of the age in which it was written:--Of the apostles, John alone survived. Nero and the tyrants who succeeded him had been swept away; and no Peter was needed to revive the hope of an infant and persecuted Church. Jerusalem had perished, and in its ruin was broken that Judaic spirit which had struggled against St. Paul. There was nothing within and without the Church to break the profound peace which inaugurated the reign of Trajan. A new generation of Christians had arisen to which the thoughts and feelings of the first were unknown; between the earlier and present state of the Christian society there seemed to be fixed a chasm as of many centuries; what wonder then if in the place of that Divine history now growing dim in the distance, there should have arisen those portentous shadows of Oriental speculation which afterwards deepened into the Gnostic heresy, and what wonder if in the place of that fervent zeal which marked the conduct of the earliest Christians, we find iniquity abounding and the love of many waxing cold, and faith and holiness falling asunder in fatal disunion? (Dean Stanley.)

(3) The Gospel in and for its own age:--The age of St. John, so far from being one of fierce controversy, seems much rather, in the evils attacked and the mode of attacking them, to partake of the general tranquilllty of the whole period unbroken till the fierce controversies of the middle of the next century. The chief form, therefore, in which the beloved disciple inculcated Christian truth, was not that of a polemical epistle, but of an historical gospel; was not the assertion of any principle however deep, of any morality how- ever exalted, but the description in all its fulness of the person of Jesus Christ. Previous Evangelists had given to the Church that which the Church had then most needed; the cycle of the warnings, precepts, miracles, external ministrations of the Lord had been preserved in what we now know as the teaching of the first three Gospels. But the life as a whole--the outer life, with the distinct stages of progressive interest--the inner life, with the discourses which represented the glory which Hehad before the world was--the life as intended to be the source of life for the whole world--this was precisely what we might expect from St. John. It was as though the recollection of his youth, which to the minds of all else were waxing faint, came back on him with all their original vividness; no greater treasure could he bequeath to the world, which seemed as it were to have had a new term added to its existence, than a faithful historical record of those scenes that would else have perished with him; no better antidote could he furnish, alike for the intellectual and moral perversions of his age, than the complete representation of the Word made flesh. But to meet the tendencies of his age no belief in mere facts was sufficient. The prevalent errors had arisen from speculating not on the facts, but on the ideas which the facts represented. The sins of the day had arisen not merely from outward forgetfulness, but from an inward unbelief of the great end for which the facts took place. Still, therefore, keeping his stand on the immovable historical ground of Jesus Christ come in the flesh, he passes over everything merely outward or local; institutions, miracles, actions, are only mentioned in the higher truths which they represent, or else introduced only for the sake of those truths; the earthly things of the previous Gospels are transfigured in the fourth; they are of the body, this of the spirit. The flood of Oriental speculation John met not merely by opposing them, but by acknowledging and reproducing in the light of Christian faith whatever there was of truth in them. (Dean Stanley.)

7. ITS VERACITY. The internal difficulties may be summarized as follows:

(1) As to time

(a) The fourth Gospel implies a long ministry, with festivals, as its landmarks. But the three, at least, allow of a ministry as long as the fourth can require; while reference to the festivals was natural in a narrative, the main scene of which is laid at Jerusalem.

(b) The fourth Gospel appears to place the Crucifixion on Nisan 14, the three on Nisan 15. This real difficulty has been explained by hypotheses

(i) of a passover anticipated by our Lord. This is perhaps most satisfactory.

(ii) Of a passover postponed by the chief priests.

(iii) Of a difference of computation as to the true day of the Passover, owing to the variation between the solar and lunar reckonings.

(iv) Of a possible explanation of St. John’s language (John 18:28,etc.), which would make it consistent with the date of Nisan 15, as that of the Crucifixion. The objection, drawn from the observance of Nisan 14 by those Churches in the second century which inherited St. John’s traditions, assumes that such observance was commemorative of the Last Supper, and not, as is probable, of our Lord’s death.

(2) As to the scene of our Lord’s teaching:--“St. John places it in Judea; the three in Galilee.” But no gospel professes to be a complete history, and records of a Galilean and of a Judean ministry, respectively, leave room for each other.

(3) As to the style of Christ’s teaching:--“If Jesus spoke as reported by Matthew, He could not have spoken as reported by John.” But the difference of subject, hearers, and circumstances in the two cases, taken in conjunction with the differing mental peculiarities of the reporters, will account for the difference of style. The phrases assumed to be peculiar to St. John are by no means unknown to the synoptists--e.g., the antithesis between Light and Darkness.

(4) As to the matter of Christ’s teaching:--“The discourses in St. John cannot be historical, since they are nothing more than an explanation of the Loges idea put forth by the writer.” But this begs the whole question. It might he true if the doctrine of the Loges had been the product of Gnostic speculations. But if Jesus was really the Divine Son, manifesting Himself as such to men, such language as that reported by St. John is no more than we should expect. St. John never represents our Lord as announcing His Divinity in the terms of the Prologue; he would have done so had he really been creating a fictitious Jesus designed to illustrate a particular theosophic speculation. (Canon Liddon.)

(5) As to the length of the discourses:--“John could not possibly have retained these discourses in his memory, in such minuteness and fulness, for so many years.” The true answer to this objection is the Lord’s promise of the Spirit, to bring all things to remembrance. Subsidiary to this, however, there are various considerations that deserve to be weighed, as, e.g.--

(a) Where writing is little used, the wonderful strength that memory attains.

(b) There is nothing incredible, or even unlikely, in the supposition of John’s having used memoranda; or that the book took its final form only by a very slow process--indeed, by a process of growth.

(c) John did not, any more than the other evangelists, act as a mere verbal reporter, but reproduced the sense livingly.

(d) The very length of time that elapsed, filled up as it was in telling of Jesus again and again, in thought and contemplation, and in deepening experience, would render it not more difficult, but more easy, to his full and final testimony. Any one may find analogies within his own knowledge. (J. Culross, D. D.)


(1) The polemical theory:--The idea of a polemical dogmatic design, besides the general one, is held by Irenaeus, who says it was John’s purpose to confute the errors of the Gnostic Cerinthus. Many of the ancient and modern theologians concur in the view of this ancient father; some of them, however, suppose a more general polemical aim against Gnostic and Docetic errors at large, whilst many think that they discover in the Gospel, besides this, a polemical aspect toward the sect of disciples of John or Zabians (Baptizers); while others think they can detect a polemical purpose against carnal Judaizers; and that the Gospel contains expressions which can be employed in confuting certain heresies no one will deny. But this is insufficient to establish a distinctively controversial aim; for a pure Christianity, constantly and in its own nature, is in conflict with those errors. The characteristics of the Gospel can force us to the idea of a definitely polemic aim only in case the didatic character peculiar to it can be accounted for in no other way. It is, nevertheless, probable that cursorily here and there (John 19:34-35), especially in theIntroduction, he has an eye to erroneous opinions and doubts, which just at that time were current. It is natural to all authors to have an occasional regard of this sort to their relations to their own times. (Tholuck.)

(2) The spiritual and supplementary theories:--He might have intended to present a more spiritual delineation of the doctrine and life of the Saviour. This thought readily occurs to him who has been attracted by the wonderfully sublime simplicity, and the heavenly gentleness, which pervade this whole work, as well as by the many expressions in regard to the higher nature of Christ, The Alexandrine writers, who generally embrace the idea that there is a twofold spiritual point of view existing among Christians, express this thought; and since, in addition, John generally reports those discourses and miracles o! Christ which are not mentioned by the other evangelists, many writers, both ancient and modern, have supposed that John had a general purpose of completing the earlier Gospels, especially of supplying what was wanting in their delineation of the Divine in Christ. But the conjecture that the fourth Gospel is more pneumatic than the others certainly belongs to a later period, which reflected from its own point of view on the two classes of records. The Apostle himself would in all probability have judged in the matter as Herder does: “If you insist on calling this a Gospel of the Spirit, be it so; but the other gospels are not therefore fleshly. They also contain living words of Christ, and build on the same foundation of faith.” The object of completing the three synoptical gospels which we have, cannot, then, in this specific sense be admitted. That this cannot have been the grand design, is shown by the unity of form in the Gospel. “This Gospel,” says Hase, “is no mere patchwork to fill up vacant spaces;” and not even as a distinct subordinate purpose, kept in view by the Evangelist throughout, can we perceive a design of filling out what had been omitted by the others. It is in conflict with such a view, in fact, that so much has been embraced in the fourth Gospel which is also found in the first three; that not a few of at least apparent contradictions to them occur which might have been harmonized; that, on the other hand, the apparent contradictions between the synoptical gospels themselves are not cleared up; that at John 20:30, some statement of this aim mightjustly be looked for; and, finally, that to embrace this view strictly would force us to think of a literary assiduity of a comparatively modern stamp. Nevertheless, there is some truth lying at the bottom of this theory. If John in his instructions imparted much which passed beyond the circle of the ordinary oral tradition, and consequently beyond the synoptical gospels which flowed from it, we can hardly think otherwise than that among his friends a longing would be excited to possess a history of the Lord in accordance with his delineation. (Tholuck.)

(3) The specific practical purpose:--This was fourfold.

(a) To show how the pre-existent Word of God “came to His own” (the Jews), unfolding before them His glory as “the only-begotten Son of the Father.”

(b) How that glory was either not discerned by His own, through inward moral and spiritual blindness; or, if perceived (as one can hardly help thinking it was by the ecclesiastical leaders), it was deliberately rejected, because. “they loved the darkness rather than the light.”

(c) How, notwithstanding, this glory was recognized and received by another own, the spiritually born, who were inwardly drawn of God to believe on His Name.

(d) How, by further revelations of His glory in dying for them on the cross and rising again, He gave to these latter the right and power to become the sons of God. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

The unity of the fourth Gospel is a theological unity; the whole narrative is threaded together by the single intention to unfold the relation of the Father to the Son, or Divine Word, as the Divine relation, through a living participation in which all men may be transfigured and set free. (R. H.Hutton, M. A.)

The design of St. John was to convey just and adequate notions of the real nature, character, and office of that great Teacher who came to instruct and redeem mankind. For this purpose he studiously selected for his narrative those passages of our Saviour’s life which most clearly displayed His Divine power and authority, and those of His discourses in which He spoke most plainly of His own nature, and of the efficacy of His death as an atonement for the sins of the world. The object which this evangelist had in view is very clearly stated in John 20:31. It was not toaccumulate as many instances as possible of the miraculous power exerted by Jesus, but only those which most distinctly illustrated His peculiar office and nature. (Bishop Blomfield.)

But assuredly one object the Evangelist had in view was to trace out the progress of belief and unbelief. And in the fifth and sixth chapters we have two forms of unbelief contrasted. The unbelief of Jerusalem--“The Jews sought to kill Him.” The unbelief of Galilee--“This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” “Many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” Types of two forms of unbelief in all ages! One is sad or contemptuous, another fanatical; one sneers, another strikes; one sighs, another grinds its teeth; one would kill Him if it could, another turns upon its heel; one curses Him and loathes the sacred wounds, another would only pierce His loving heart by leaving Him alone. (Bishop Alexander.)

From its very commencement the Gospel pursues this theme: The eternal conflict between the Divine light and the corruption of men, exhibited in the opposition between the inimical Jewish party and the appearing of the Son of God, and protracted until the light is victorious. As the overture expresses the idea of a musical composition, so the very Prologue embodies this theme, for it speaks of the contest of the world with the Loges before He became flesh; and as the theme of the epistle to the Romans lies in John 1:17, so the idea which animates the Gospel of John is expressed in John 1:11-13. Two main divisions even of anoutward character undoubtedly present themselves. The first, to chap 12., embraces the public work of Jesus, and closes with a resume of it (John 5:44-47). For the second division, the history of the Passion and Resurrection, we are prepared by the discourse (John 12:23-32), in which the leading thought is: the setting of the sun is necessary, for without it there can be no rising. Chap. 13 begins the history of the Passion, and at the outstart (John 5:3) the disciple points to the final glory. The exclamation of Thomas--the sublimest acknowledgment of the risen Saviour--closes the second part, and by the words to which it leads--“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”--forms the transition to the closing expression: “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” (A. Tholuck, D. D.)


Jesus is the Son of God (chaps. 1-4.)

1. The Christ (John 1:1-18).

2. The introduction of Jesus into the world (John 1:19; John 11:1-57) by the testimony of the Baptist (John 1:19-40); of Himself John 1:41; John 2:11).

3. First revelation of Himself as the Son of God (John 2:12; John 4:54).

(a) In Jerusalem and Judaea (John 2:12; John 3:36).

(b) In Samaria and Galilee (John 4:1-54).

Jesus and the Jews (John 5:12):--

1. Jesus the Life. Opening of the conflict (chaps. 5., 6.).

(a) His Divine working as Son of God. Beginning of opposition John 5:1-47).

(b) Jesus the Life in the flesh. Progress of belief and unbelief (John 6:1-71).

2. Jesus the Light. Height of the conflict (John 7:10.).

(a) He meets the unbelief of the Jews at Jerusalem (John 7:1-52).

(b) Opposition between the Jews and Jesus at its height (John 8:12-59).

(c) Jesus the Light of the World for salvation and for judgment (chaps. 9., 10.)

3. The delivery of Jesus to death is the Life and Judgment of the World (John 12:1-50; John 12:1-50.)

(a) The raising from the dead (John 11:1-57).

(b) Prophetic announcement of the future (John 12:1-36).

(c) Final judgment on Israel (John 12:37-50).

Jesus and His own (John 20:1-31; John 20:1-31.)

1. Jesus love and the belief of His disciples.

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

(b) His love in keeping and completing the disciples in the faith (John 13:31; John 16:33). His love in the exaltation of the Son of God (chap. 17.).

2. Jesus the Lord. The unbelief of Israel now in its completion. The belief of His own (chaps. 18-20.).

(a) His free surrender to His enemies and to the unbelief of Israel (John 18:1; John 19:16).

(b) His self-surrender to death, and Divine testimony in death (John 19:16-42).

(c) His manifestation of Himself as passed from death into liberty and life, and the completion of the disciples’ faith worked thereby (John 20:1-29).

The Appendix (chap. 21.):--The glimpse into the future.

(a) The symbolic draught of fishes (John 21:1-8).

(b) The symbolic meal (John 21:9-14).

(c) The calling and its prospect (John 21:15-23).

(d) Conclusion. (C. E. Luthardt, D. D.)


(1) In general:--I love best of all to read in St. John. There is in him something so perfectly wonderful--dusk and night, and the quick lightning throbbing through them! The soft clouds of evening, and behind the mass the big full moon bodily!--something so sad, so high, so full of presage, that one can never weary of it. When I read John, it always seems to me that I see him before me, reclining at the Last Supper on the bosom of his Lord, as if his angel held the light for me, and at certain parts would place his arm around me, and whisper something in my ear. I am far from understanding all I read, yet often John’s idea seems to hover before me in the distance; and even when I look into a place that is entirely dark, I have a presension of a great, glorious sense, which I shall some day understand, and hence I catch so eagerly at every new exposition of the Gospel of John. It is true, most of them only ruffle the evening clouds, and never trouble the moon behind them. (Claudius of Wansbeck.)

(2) Simplicity and profundity:--This Gospel speaks a language, to which no parallel whatever is to be found in the whole compass of literature; such childlike simplicity, with such contemplative profundity; such life and such deep rest; such sadness and such serenity; and, above all, such a breath of love--“an eternal life which has already dawned, a life which rests in God, which has overcome the disunion between the world that is and the world to come, the human and the Divine.” (Hase.)


If we cast our eyes over the whole body of religious literature, there is certainly none whom we would feel tempted to place by John’s side, unless, perhaps, it were Thomas á-Kempis; yet such a comparison would involve as complete a mistake, as to place in parallel the simplicity of Xenophon with that of Plato. In the Apostolic men, cited as scholars of John, in Polycarp, Ignatius, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, there are, indeed, here and there, tones of assonance with John, but not the touch of John’s pencil, while to Paul so many parallels, even besides Luther, present themselves. (Tholuck.)

(3) Clearness and depth:--This little work has been the subject of critical study and exegetical commentaries so numerous that they would form a library. Nevertheless, it does not present any particular obscurities. It is a simple recital, written in a clear flowing style, its simplicity sometimes borders on naievté, and if its contents are deep, they resemble the ocean in this respect, which is transparent even to the bottom in fine weather. This book has been rightly compared to the light of the moon, whose brilliant splendour meets our gaze through the mysterious calm of the night. (F. Godet, D. D.)

(4) Brevity and suggestiveness:--The vocabulary of St. John is comparatively poor, but the value of his experiences far surpasses that of their verbal exponent. The inscription on Herder’s monument at Weimar, “Light, life, love,” embodies the fundamental idea of St. John’s theology; but who has ever yet perfectly fathomed this in the spirit of the Apostle! (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)


(5) Spirituality:--It depends on one’s nature more than on his logical powers what he shall find in this Gospel. Very remarkable is it how little children and ripe Christians, the simplest minded and the deepest minded, all like it with so profound a liking. To the mere logician it is one of the most obscure and perplexing writings that can be taken up; to the little child and the child-hearted saint, it is one of the easiest and most delightful. As, in the twilight of a day in September, one may cast a hasty, careless glance across the sky and see only a bright star shining here and there, while if he gazes steadfastly in some one direction for a little time, world after world, at first invisible, will shine forth to him from the blue depths; so, to him who looks long and earnestly into this book, glory after glory will disclose itself, till his whole spiritual sky is one wide field of light, while at the same time a sense of infinite mystery steals over him, and a strangely mingled longing and awe. (J. Culross, D. D.)

11. ITS EFFECTS ON THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH. I believe the writings of this Apostle have been blotted by more penitents’ tears, and have won more hearts for the Redeemer, than all the rest put together. Among the “gracious words” that are set as thick as stars in the firmament of Scripture, there are none that shine with a clearer lustre than those which we find in John. Take the following by way of example: “Behold the Lamb of God!” “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out”; “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”; “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin”; “The Spirit and the bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that is athirst come: and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” These texts are all the more wonderful when viewed in their connection. If we were asked to name a verse that might be called the very pole-star of faith, what would it be but this? “God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” How many souls have entered into the peace of believing through means of this one verse God only knows; and again, how often dying lips have whispered it and fading eyes have brightened to hear it spoken. One example may represent a thousand. Jonas Justus, wiping the cold sweat from the forehead of the dying Luther, heard him praying and committing his soul with great confidence into the hands of the Heavenly Father; and then, as if he were grasping hard after the ground of such certain hope, he repeated aloud this passage (in Latin, as he had learned it when a child). (J. Culross, D. D.)


(1) As a testimony to the Divinity of Christ:--There is a proverb that no man’s life should be written by his private servant. That proverb expresses the general conviction that as a rule, like some mountain scenery or ruined castle, moral greatness in man is more picturesque when viewed at a distance. The proverb bids you not to scrutinize even a good man too narrowly, lest perchance you should discover flaws in his character which will shake your conviction of his goodness. It is hinted that some obtrusive weakness which escape public observation will be obvious to a man’s every day companion, and will be fatal to the higher estimate which, but for such scrutiny, might have been formed respecting him. But in the case of Jesus Christ the moral of this cynical proverb is altogether at fault. Jesus chooses one disciple to be the privileged sharer of a nearer intimacy than any ether. John sees mere of the Master than any other, more of His glory, more too of His humiliation, and yet John beyond any other of the sacred writers is the persistent herald and teacher of our Lord’s Divinity. (Canon Liddon.)

The fourth Gospel is throughout pervaded by the idea of human testimony to Christ: from the Baptist, from the disciples, from the Jews at Jerusalem, from the witnesses of the raising of Lazarus, from the Pharisees who believed, from the author, and from Pilate. St. John delights to assist and make permanent the burning cries of confession wrung from the hearts of men. From the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God!” from Nathanael, “Thou art the Son of God”; from the Samaritan woman, “Is not this the Christ?” from Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”; from the people, “When Christ cometh will He do more miracles than those which this man hath donee” from the officers, “Never man spake like this man”; from Martha, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of God”; from Pilate, “I find no fault in Him”; from Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Wonderful music I drawn from the heart of man by the hand of faith, running up the scales from its faintest and lowest note--“Thou art the King of Israel,” to its grandest and richest harmony, “My Lord and my God.” But the witness of God is greater, of which this Gospel is full. Hence the mention of the attesting voice from heaven, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Hence the intense conviction that the Scriptures are “they which testify of Him,” that “had they believed Moses they would have believed Him.” Hence the accumulated reference to type and prophecy in the narrative of the atoning death. In a mere historian there might have seemed to be no more of deep purpose in the particular cruelties inflicted by the soldiers or the mob, than in the shape of the tangled knots of seaweed flung by the spring tide upon the beach. But every incident is to John’s eye arranged by “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” The lots upon the vestment were cast by a Divine hand. The vessel with vinegar, the sponge and hyssop were not there by chance. The perfection and dignity of that Body, which seemed so helpless, were guaranteed by the rubric of the Divine ritual in regard to the Paschal Lamb--“Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” The thrust of the soldier’s lance is in the dark background of Zechariah’s prophecy, and written upon the very Body that shall come in the clouds of heaven. “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” The Evangelist’s spirit sails over the deep of Scripture as over an equatorial ocean, but on the far horizon of prophecy he sees its southern Cross. (Bp. Alexander.)

(2) As a portrait of Christ:--The fourth Gospel is a really historical source for a representation of the character of Christ, but in a higher, spiritualized sense of the word. Without this Gospel the unfathomable depth, the inaccessible height, of the character of the Saviour of the world would be wanting to us, and His boundless” influence, renewing all humanity, would for ever remain a mystery. (Schenkel.)

(3) As a message to modern men:--When we look around on our own times, full indeed of moral and intellectual interest, but outwardly un-ruffled-without persecution and without enthusiasm--martyrdom seeming to be almost an impossibility; human and natural agencies alive at work everywhere--this Gospel is not without its use to check desponding thoughts, if we remember that such an age, uncongenial as it might seem to the growth of religious excellence, was the age which witnessed the full development of the character of the holiest of the sons of men. Or again, when we look at the intellectual temptations by which our times are especially assailed, the tendency to lose sight of fact and reality in shadowy systems of philosophy which we have not strength to grasp, the confusion and dissolution of barriers which once fenced round our opinions and our duties, may we not fairly be reminded of some of the speculations of the close of the first century? May we not be allowed to trust that as then, in the first publication, so now, in the revived study of St. John’s writings, we may find our best refuge from the distractions of the time, that as of old he was the “true Gnostic,” so now he may be to us the true Idealist of the age? (Dean Stanley.)

(4) As a gospel for common life:--If theology is a collection of dry husks, the granaries which contain those husks will be set on fire, and nothing will quench the fire till they be consumed. It is just because I find in St. John the grain which those husks sometimes conceal, for which they are sometimes a substitute; because theology in his Gospel offers itself to us as a living root, out of which all living powers, thoughts, acts, may develop; because there is nothing in him that is abstract, because that which is deep and eternal proves itself to be deep and eternal by entering into all the relations of time, and manifesting itself in all the common doings of men; it is therefore, I believe, that he makes his appeal, not to the man of technicalities, not to the school doctor, but to the simple wayfarer, and at the same time to the man of science who does not forget that he is a man, and who expects to ascertain principles only by the honest method of experiment. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

13. Testimonies of enemies and friends:--It has been stigmatized as a myth (Strauss), a theological romance (Baur), a misty picture without reality (Weitzsacker), a product of dotage and fancy (Gfrorer), poor stuff (J. S. Mill); it has been eulogized as the main gospel only to becomprehended by those who lean on Jesus’ bosom (Origen), as more love bewitching and elevating than all the harmonies of music (Chrysostom), as the water of life (Augustine), as the chief gospel, unique, tender and true (Luther), as the boundless flight of the bird of God (Adam of St. Victor), as the key to the right understanding of the rest (Calvin), as the most important portion of the New Testament (Lessing), as the heart of Christ (Ernesti), as written by an angel’s hand (Herder), as pervaded with eternal, child-like, Christmas joys (Schliermacher), as the diamond among the gospels (Lange), as wonderful with its fulness of grace, truth, peace, light and life (Meyer), as the good wine kept till the last. (Bp. Wordsworth.)


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