Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
John, Gospel of (Critical)
JOHN, GOSPEL OF (I. Critical article)
i. External evidence for the authorship of the Fourth Gospel.
1. Writers of the last quarter of the 2nd century.
2. Justin Martyr.
4. The Apostolic Fathers.
5. Evidence derived from Opponents of the Church doctrine.
6. Evidence afforded by the Quartodeciman controversy.
7. The Alogi.
ii. Internal evidence of authorship.
1. The author is a Jew.
2. The author is a Jew of Palestine.
3. A contemporary of the events and persons.
4. Relationship to Jesus and the Apostolic circle.
5. Is John the Apostle the author?
iii. The divergences from the Synoptic narrative.
iv. The problem of the historicity of the Gospel.
Introduction.—It is important to remember that the Kingdom of Christ was in being before the Gospel records were written. They did not originate the institution, but are themselves the expression of it. Previous to the publication of the Johannine Gospel, which is the latest of the four, St. Paul had completed his mission to the Gentiles; and in Ephesus, where the Gospel was written, his doctrine had already an assured place in the Christian Church. It is therefore historically untrue to say that faith in the Divine Person and work of Jesus is destroyed if the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel cannot he proved. For the basis of our faith we must dig deeper than the results of critical investigation.
The question, however, of the authorship of this Gospel is more than a merely academic one. It occupies a unique position. None of the other three claims to be written by the man whose name it bears, but the Fourth Gospel is issued with an explicit statement to that effect (John 21:24). Moreover, its contents are vitally connected with the individuality of the author. The very way in which his identity is studiously concealed shows that the writer is himself conscious that the Gospel contains a personal testimony, which he does not hesitate to present as objective and impersonal. We desire to know who it is that claims to be an eye-witness; who it is that narrates events and discourses of Jesus so distinct in character from the Synoptics, and yet meant to occupy a place alongside these without contradiction; who it is that has so boldly mingled historic fact and ideal conceptions, that has given to the Person of Christ a timeless cosmic significance, and has represented our Lord in His acts and in His words as Himself justifying that impression and those claims. If, as is certain, the work is influenced by developed theological conceptions, and reflects the contemporary historical situation of the Christian Church, we desire to be certain that the writer was in a position not seriously to misrepresent the actual facts. This is no merely antiquarian question. There can be no doubt that the Gospel is intended to be read as the work of the Apostle, and it would seriously detract from its value, if, as extreme critics are more and more inclined to allow, that claim means only that it contains a nucleus of Johannine tradition. The same objection applies to all partition theories of the Gospel (e.g. Wendt’s), and it is assumed in this article that their authors have failed to prove their case. If, on the other hand, the writer was the beloved disciple, an eye-witness possessing a specially intimate knowledge of the mind and character of Jesus, we have an assurance that when, for example, he wrote the opening sentences of the Gospel, he felt himself in touch not merely with current theological. thought, but with the historic fact of the consciousness of Jesus of Nazareth. So far from being a stumbling-block to the Johannine authorship, the Prologue even gains in value and significance with the acceptance of the traditional view. The striking juxtaposition in the Prologue of the timeless Logos idea and the historical witness of the Baptist, to whom the conception was unfamiliar, and the frequent mention of the Baptist throughout the Gospel, I even at times when the situation scarcely demands it (e.g. John 10:40-42) are saved from abruptness only if the writer is developing an impression made on him by his earliest teacher, who led him to Christ. His experience stretches in one continuous whole from that time to this when he begins to write.
I. External Evidence for the authorship of the Fourth Gospel.—The face of the Johannine problem has greatly changed since the days of Baur and his school. The prophecy of Lightfoot, that ‘we may look forward to the time when it will be held discreditable to the reputation of any critic for sobriety and judgment to assign to, this Gospel any later date than the end of the first century or the very beginning of the second,’ has been amply fulfilled. 80–110 a.d. may be regarded as the termini a quo and ad quem for the date of the writing, and the trend of modern opinion is towards the end of the 1st century. This result makes it desirable to throw the emphasis in a less degree on the external evidence for an early date, and in a, greater degree on the evidence for the Apostolic authorship. If, however, the problem of external evidence be presented in this form, we must guard ourselves against a certain feeling of disappointment at the meagre results. In the first place, there is no evidence that the Apostolic authorship was contested in the 2nd cent. except by the Alogi; and none that it was ever debated. The questions that agitated the mind of the Church in this period seem to have been entirely doctrinal (Gnosticism and Montanism). Again, it is not until the latter part of the century that there are indications of a distinct value attached to each separate Gospel. Εὐαγγέλιον was the term employed to denote the general contents of those books that embodied the facts concerning the life and teaching of our Lord, and we first find the term εὐαγγέλια in Justin (Apol. i. lxvi.). The contrast between the Synoptics and John in this period arose entirely from the differences in subject-matter, and there is no indication that the Fourth Gospel was set on a lower plane of authority.
One remarkable fact in connexion with the external evidence is that none of the writers in question ever actually calls St. John an Apostle. This fact is never lost sight of by opponents of the Apostolic authorship, it is true that Irenaeus speaks of ‘John and the other Apostles’; but in referring to St. John alone he always calls him ‘the disciple.’ This is in accordance with the usage of the Fourth Gospel itself, where the title ἀτόστολος is only once used (John 13:16), and there in a sense that seems to deprecate any presumptuous or mercenary claim to official position. If such claims were rife in Ephesus, perhaps St. John himself preferred to be known as ‘disciple.’ (Cf. H. T. Purchas, Johann. Problems and Modern Needs, ch. 3.).
We shall now proceed to examine in detail, working backwards from the end of the 2nd cent., the evidence of those Ecclesiastical writers who have made direct or indirect reference to the Fourth Gospel.
1. A group of writers in the last quarter of the 2nd cent. whose geographical distribution over the Christian Church gives evidence of a widespread tradition.
(1) Irenaeus was bishop of Lyons in Gaul. His work entitled Against Heresies has come down to us, and in the writings of Eusebius we possess other fragments. An important letter to Florinus has also been preserved. The date of his literary activity may be put within the limits 173–190. He explicitly attributes the Fourth Gospel to the Apostle, and gives it a place alongside Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He says that ‘John, the disciple of the Lord, who leaned upon His breast,’ wrote it ‘while dwelling in Ephesus, the city of Asia’ (adv. Haer. in. i. 1). Stress is also to be laid on the fact that Irenaeus speaks of the Gospels not merely as Apostolic, but also as inspired by the Holy Spirit. For him the tradition of the fourfold Gospel, which he supports strongly, has passed into a deep spiritual fact, which he seeks to establish, not by bringing forward proofs of authorship, but in his well-known mystic fashion. ‘The gospel is the Divine breath or word of life for men; there are four chief winds therefore four Gospels.’ He brings forward other analogies, all of which are equally fanciful, but serve to show that this firm belief in the fourfold Gospel as a Divine arrangement could not have been a creation of his own mind, but represents a tradition of considerable antiquity. The opinion of Irenaeus is corroborated by a contemporary letter written by the members of the Churches at Vienne and Lyons to the brethren in Asia Minor during the time of persecution in 177. Thus Irenaeus is in touch with the living Church around him.
(2) Clement of Alexandria is the author of a statement preserved by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica vi. 14), which professes to represent ‘the tradition of the Presbyters from the first (παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνέκαθεν πρεσβυτέρων) that John, last, having observed that the bodily things [σωματικά, i.e. the simple facts relating to the life and teaching of Christ] had been set forth in the Gospels, on the exhortation of his friends (γνώριμοι), inspired by the Spirit, produced a spiritual Gospel.’ From about 189, Clement was head of the celebrated catechetical school at Alexandria. His great reverence for his teacher Pantaenus, who also preceded him in office, may fairly be regarded as indicating that he represents the ecclesiastical tradition at Alexandria. He was also in living touch with opinion at other centres. He travelled in Greece, Magna Graecia, Syria, and the East, expressly for the purpose of collecting information about the Apostolic tradition. In his extant writings he quotes words from all the four Gospels, regards them as possessing Divine authority, and lays great emphasis on the differences between them and other writings professing to be Gospels.
(3) Tertullian was a famous theologian of the Western Church, and was born at Carthage about 160. The style of his writing suggests that he was trained as an advocate. He was reputed a man of great learning. Jerome speaks of his ‘eager and vehement disposition,’ and his habit of mind is in striking contrast to the philosophic temper of Clement. It is needless to quote passages from his writings, as he undoubtedly assumes without question the genuineness of the Gospel, and lays under contribution every chapter. Little is known of his personal life, but he was certainly in touch with theological opinion, not only at Carthage, but also at Rome. In the line of argument that he adopts in his reply to Marcion he is concerned above all else to show that the doctrine of the Church is in line with Apostolic tradition. He makes appeal in another writing, de Praescriptione Haereticorum, to the testimony of those Churches that were founded by Apostles, or to whom Apostles declared their mind in letters. Among these he mentions Ephesus, evidently in connexion with the name of St. John. His term for the fourfold Gospel is a legal term, Evangelieum Instrumentum, i.e. a valid document finally declaring the mind of the Church with regard to spiritual truth. He became a distinguished leader of the Montanists, and would on that account be predisposed to combat any objection, if it had been urged, against the authenticity of the Gospel. At the same time, he is not indifferent to questions of literary criticism, applied to the Gospels. In his reply to Marcion he makes careful and scholarly investigation into the text of St. Luke, and is able to prove that Marcion’s Gospel is a mutilated copy.
(4) The Muratorian Fragment on the Canon.—This fragment contains the earliest known list of the books that were regarded at the date at which it was written as canonical. It was published in the year 1740 by an Italian scholar, Muratori.
Lightfoot, Westcott, and others argue for a date 150–175; but Salmon, Zahn, and Harnack agree in placing its date, from internal evidence, not earlier than a.d. 200. Sanday, in his Gospels in the Second Century (pp. 264–266), suggests 170–180, and perhaps within ten years later. Stanton, in The Gospels as Historical Documents (p. 247, n. [Note: note.] 1), inclines to the later date.
The writer gives an account of the origin of the Fourth Gospel which is plainly legendary. The important statement in it is that the Gospel is the work of St. John (Johannes ex discipulis), who is also the author of at least two of the Epistles (in suis epistolis). The further statement is made that he resolved to write it after a fast had been held, and at the request of contemporary Christians (cohortantibus condiscipulis et episcopis suis), and the concurrence is also claimed of the rest of the Apostles (recognoscentibus cunctis). The second statement seems, like the γνώριμοι of Clement, to be founded on John 1:14; John 21:24, and possesses no independent value, except as an interpretation of internal evidence.
The object of the author was clearly controversial, ‘to draw a broad line of separation between the inspired writings of the Apostolic age and modern additions’ (Salmon, Introduction, p. 46). He strongly protests, for example, against the inclusion of Hermas in the Canon, though he has no objection to its being ‘read.’ Bacon (Hibbert Journal, April 1903) has interpreted the Muratorian Fragment as indicating the existence of controversy in the Church at that date as to the Apostolic authorship; but the emphasis on that question might easily be explained by the fact that the historicity—the varia principia of the Gospels—was alone in question. There is no attempt to harmonize the statements in the various Gospels; but it is sought to secure for the contents of the Fourth Gospel a place of equal authority with the other three. Throughout the whole history of the NT Canon the admission of a book was not decided solely on the question of authorship, but far more on the general consideration whether its teaching was congruent with the received doctrine of the Church. Salmon thinks that the writer of the Muratorian Fragment is arguing against the Montanists, and Zahn and Drummond that he is opposing the Alogi (see below). The legendary account of the origin of the Gospel would seem to indicate that the fact of the Apostolic authorship was already well established and well known. An additional confirmation of the view that the historicity alone is within the purview of the writer is that the words of the First Epistle (it is true in a somewhat inaccurate rendering), ‘What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, these things we have written’ (haec scripsimus), are quoted as a reference by the author to his Gospel.
(5) Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (e. a.d. 180), wrote, among other works, a defence of Christianity, addressed to Autolycus, ‘a real or imaginary heathen friend of wide learning and high culture’ (Watkins). He is the earliest writer of the 2nd cent., who, while quoting a passage from the Gospel (1:13), also refers to St. John by name. His words are, ‘We are taught by the Holy Scriptures and all Spirit-bearing men, among whom John says’; and then follow verbatim quotations from the Prologue to the Gospel. There are also other sentences in his work that recall the Fourth Gospel. It is significant also, as belying any appearance of controversy as to the authorship of the Gospel, that he introduces the name of St. John in this quite incidental fashion. Commentaries on the Gospels are also attributed to him, but their genuineness, upheld by Zahn, is assailed by Harnack. This part of his evidence must at present be set aside.
2. Justin Martyr.—The works of Justin that are relevant in this connexion are the two Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. They may be set within the limits a.d. 140–161. Palestine was his birthplace, and he was brought up in the religion of his father, who was a heathen. He was an ardent student of philosophy, and after an unsatisfying experience of various teachers he ultimately became a Platonist. After his conversion to Christianity, of which he gives a full account in Trypho, ii–viii., he was ‘kindled with love to Christ,’ and consecrated his philosophic attainments to the defence of the Christian religion.
Among the authorities to which Justin refers in the course of his writings, he gives an important place to ‘The Memoirs of Christ, composed by the Apostles and those who followed them.’ The battle of criticism still rages around the question whether Justin includes in these Memoirs only the four Gospels. It may now, at least, be regarded as settled amongst all classes of critics that Justin makes use of the Gospel (cf. Schmiedel, Encyc. Bibl., art. ‘John, Son of Zebedee,’ ii. 2546). It is not so generally admitted that he includes it among his Memoirs of the Apostles. Those, however, who deny that Justin regarded the Gospel as the work of the Apostle are laid under the necessity of explaining how his contemporary Irenaeus could be so assured that the Gospel is a genuine Apostolic work.
(1) Quotations.—The locus classicus in Justin is the passage on Baptism (Apol. I. lxi.). He describes how those who are about to make a Christian profession—
‘are brought by us where there is water, and are born again in the same manner in which we ourselves are born again. For in the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (ἄν μή ἀναγεννηθῆτε, οὐ μη ἐσιλθητε εἰς τήν βασιλειαν τῶν οὐρανῶν). Now that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mother’s wombs, is manifest to all.’
This passage immediately recalls John 3:3-5. The language, however, reveals some striking variations from the text of the Gospel. No one would now endorse the verdict of the author of Supernatural Religion, that ‘there does not exist a single linguistic trace by which the passage in Justin can be connected with the Fourth Gospel.’ It may be conceded that some of his expressions have more than an accidental relationship with Matthew 18:3. Justin certainly uses ἀναγεννηθῆτε (‘born again’) instead of γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν (‘born from above’) of the Fourth Gospel, but this variation is at least a possible rendering of the Johannine expression. There are, however, other linguistic differences. The difficulty is increased by the discovery that in the Clementine Homilies (xi. 26) there is a passage containing similar linguistic deviations from the Gospel. Has their author copied Justin, or does the similarity point to the use by both of a common source other than the Gospel? The fact that the context in each is quite different excludes the first hypothesis, and the second may well be viewed as improbable, until the alleged common source—that ‘ghost-like’ Gospel of which Volkmar speaks—has emerged from the place of shades, and embodied itself in a MS (cf. Drummond, Character and Authorship, pp. 88–96).
It ought to be sufficient to establish the high probability, amounting to certainty, that Justin quotes John 3:3-5, that, giving due weight to linguistic differences, the Fourth Gospel is the only source known to us from which he could have derived such ideas. The idea of birth as applied to spiritual change is found in none of the Gospels but St. John; and it is significant that both Justin and St. John expressly connected this thought with the rite of Baptism. As regards the impossibility of a second physical birth, it is to be noted that this somewhat wistful, and, at the same time, wilfully absurd, objection of Nicodemus—which in the Gospel is the symptom of a heart profoundly moved, and has a living place in the context—is prosaically reproduced by Justin. This is evidently the result of a familiar association of ideas derived from the passage in John 3. The words, ‘for Christ also said,’ introduce the quotation, and the document from which it is taken is clearly looked upon as an authoritative source for the words of Christ.
Justin has other correspondences with the peculiar thought of the Fourth Gospel. He uses the title μονογενής of Christ, and in the next sentence speaks of the Virgin-Birth (Dialogue 105), adding the words, ‘as we have learned from the Memoirs.’ This seems to point to a combination of St. John and the Synoptics. Justin has also made much use of the thought of the Logos Gospel in his doctrine of the Logos, and his teaching on that subject is influenced by the theology of the Gospel. It is sometimes urged as an objection that Justin does not make more use of the authority of the Gospel in his teaching about the Logos, but this is to presuppose that the thought was first suggested to him by that source. Justin’s philosophy is filled with Alexandrine ideas, but the thought of the Incarnation of the Logos of which Justin makes use is found only in St. John (Apol. i. 32). The Johannine expressions φῶς, σάρξ are also found in Justin.
On the question of the relationship between Justin and the fragment of the Gospel of Peter, discovered in 1892, see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 535b; Drummond, Character and Authorship, pp. 151–155. The evidence is insufficient to prove that this Gospel is one of Justin’s Memoirs. Loisy and Harnack hold that the Gospel of Peter is dependent on the Fourth Gospel, to whose existence it would therefore he the most ancient witness. The date of the Gospel of Peter is put circa (about) 110–130 by Loisy (Le Quatrième Évangile, p. 16) and Harnack (Chron. i. 623).
(2) His use of the Gospel.—Another consideration is adduced to prove that Justin did not regard the Gospel as an authority on the same level as the Synoptics, and therefore viewed it as non-Apostolic. Schmiedel (Encyc. Bibl., art. ‘John, Son of Zebedee,’ ii. 2546) states that ‘his employment of it is not only more sparing but also more circumspect’ than his use of the Synoptics. There are occasions on which it would he open to him to use it in proof of his doctrine of the Logos and of the pre-existence of Christ. Why has Justin not used the Fourth Gospel more? It is perfectly relevant to reply that we do not know, and perhaps never shall know, with complete certainty. At the same time, there are certain considerations that ought to be borne in mind. Justin is certainly the first writer who displays the tendency to attach a separate value to the four Gospels; he is the first to speak of εὐαγγέλια instead of εὐαγγέλιον; but he can scarcely be expected to have completely emancipated himself, at this transition stage, from the older conception of the gospel as embracing equally the contents of the four. Justin’s purpose and his audience must be borne in mind, and these would insensibly lead him to rely mostly on the Synoptic Gospels. It is specially noticeable that the witness of Christ to Himself, so prominent in the Fourth Gospel, is nowhere used by Justin as an argument, and in one place in the Dialogue with Trypho (ch. 18) he even apologizes for citing the words of Christ alongside the words of the prophets. His Apologies are addressed to the Emperor, Senate, and People of Rome, and to quote to them the Christian writings in proof of Christian doctrine would have been to reason in a circle. Moreover, it may be suggested that not even at that date was the Gospel regarded as, strictly speaking, historical, and its spiritual or reflective character rendered it hardly so suitable for Justin’s purpose as the Synoptics.
(3) Evidence as to Apostolic authorship.—Is there any evidence in Justin that he attributed the authorship to St. John the Apostle? In the first place, if the Memoirs are composed of our four Gospels, we may answer the question with certainty in the affirmative. Justin describes them as composed by ‘the Apostles and those that followed them,’ a description which tallies completely with the four Evangelists. The plural ‘Apostles’ could be used only if he believed in the Apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel. Again, the strongest argument adduced against Justin’s evidence is still the argument from his silence as to the name of the author. It seems, however, to have been the custom among apologists not to mention the Evangelists by their names, which would carry no weight with unbelievers. Moreover, it has been pointed out that Justin never mentions the name of St. Paul, although it is certain that at least four of his Epistles from which he quotes are of undoubted authenticity. Justin once names St. John as the author of Revelation (Dialogue 81), but ‘he nowhere quotes this work, which he regarded as inspired, apostolic, prophetic, though it contains so much which might seem to favour his view of the person of Christ’ (Ezra Abbot, p. 61). In the passage he speaks of the author as one whose name is not likely to carry weight (‘a certain man with us, whose name was John’), but it is essential to his argument, in thus making use of a Revelation or Vision, that he should mention the recipient. (Cf. Stanton, Gospels as Historical Documents, i. p. 89).
3. Tatian was a native of Syria, and, like Justin, travelled as a wandering philosopher. His conversion to Christianity took place at Rome about a.d. 150. He became a disciple of Justin, during whose lifetime he wrote the Oratio ad Graecos. After Justin’s death in 166, Tatian taught in Rome, and ultimately adopted a heretical position. He died about a.d. 180.
Tatian clearly quotes the Gospel in his Oratio, which was written perhaps as early as 153 (so Zahn and Harnack), although he does not refer to the author by name. The important work, however, for our purpose is the Diatessaron. It is a compendium of the Life and Teaching of our Lord, founded on our four Gospels, and containing also some material taken from the Apocryphal Gospels. The book had apparently an ancient place in the worship of the Syrian Churches. Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus, near the Euphrates, in 453, tells how he found more than 200 copies of the work in the churches of his district. These lie collected and, with considerable difficulty, put away, substituting for them the four Gospels.
The Diatessaron includes the whole of the Fourth Gospel, except 1:6, the first half of 2:23, the Pericope Adulterae, and some other passages that are common to the Synoptics.
The significance of Tatian’s work lies in the fact that an authoritative value is attached to the contents of our four Gospels, and that the Fourth Gospel is placed on a level with the Synoptics. Moreover, Tatian’s use of the Fourth Gospel renders it very difficult to doubt that it was also one of the Memoirs of his contemporary, Justin.
4. The Apostolic Fathers
(1) Papias was bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. Unfortunately his testimony has given rise to more questions about the Gospel than it solves. Only one or two fragments of his work preserved by Eusebius have come down to us. We know that in the time of Eusebius the only writing of Papias to which he had access was a work in five books, entitled ‘Exposition(s) of the Oracles of the Lord’ (Λογίων κυριακῶν ἐξήγησις [or -εις]). Cf. Drummond, op. cit. note 4, p. 195.
The ‘Oracles’ were probably a collection of sayings of our Lord, together with some kind of historical setting.
There is a tendency among modern critics to fix a later date than formerly for the writings of Papias. His written work seems not to have been produced till about the age of sixty. The change in the date is owing to the discovery of a fragment, purporting to contain statements by Papias, that was published by De Boor in 1888. It dates from the 7th or 8th cent., and is in turn probably based on the Chronicle of Philip of Sidé (circa (about) a.d. 430). Among other matters it relates that those individuals who had been raised from the dead by Christ survived ‘till the time of Hadrian.’ Hadrian reigned 117–138, which compels us to fix a date for Papias’ work not earlier than 140–160 (so Harnack, Drummond, and Schmiedel. Sanday in his most recent work, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel, includes, the date of Papias among the ‘unsolved problems’). The date of his martyrdom is also very uncertain.
Eusebius says that Papias ‘evidently was a man of very mean capacity, as one may say, judging from his statements’ (Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39). This judgment must be considered strictly in connexion with the context. Eusebius is speaking of his millenarian notions, and of the unimaginative way in which he interpreted the figurative language of the Apostolic writings. These defects do not reflect on his accuracy in matters of fact, but rather indicate a literalness and exactness which may at times be painful, but are yet a source of strength in the present discussion.
(i.) Papias is best known by the famous extract from the Preface to his work which is preserved by Eusebius:
‘I will not hesitate to place before you, along with my interpretations (of the Oracles of the Lord), everything that carefully learned, and carefully remembered in time past from the elders, and I can guarantee its truth. For I take no pleasure, as do the many, in those who have so very much to say, but in those who teach the truth: nor in those who relate commandments foreign (to the mind of the Lord), but in those (who record) such as were given to the faith by the Lord, and found on the truth itself. Moreover, if met with anyone on any occasion who had attended the elders, I used to inquire about the words of the elders; what Andrew or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas, or James or John or Matthew, or any other of the disciples of the Lord said, and what Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, say. For I was not inclined to suppose that statements made by the books would help me, so much as the utterances of a living and abiding voice’ (Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39).
Several questions of moment are raised by these words of Papias.
(a) Who are the elders or presbyters of whom he speaks?—They clearly include the Apostles themselves, and Papias derives his information from their friends, i.e. those who not merely ‘had followed them’ in the literal sense, but had ‘attended to’ (παρηκολουθηκώς) their words. He is in search of direct oral tradition about the ‘Oracles.’ At the same time he mentions two, Aristion and John, who are not Apostles, and whom he regards as ‘presbyters’ or elders. He also designates the whole group as ‘disciples of the Lord.’ In the case of Aristion and the Presbyter John, οἱ μαθηταί is found only in one MS, and the preferable reading is to omit the article. In the first case, the use of the article with μαθητῶν means ‘the disciples’ specially known as such, and the key to the use of the term ‘disciple’ in the second case, is found in the statement of Acts 6:7, where all those who were members of the first Christian community are called ‘disciples.’ The ‘Elders,’ then, signify all those men who were members of the primitive Christian Church who may or may not have followed the Lord Himself.
Irenaeus has said that Papias was ‘a hearer of John,’ by whom he evidently means the Apostle. This would place him in immediate contact with the Apostolic circle. If, however, we are to rely only on the statements in the Preface, it is plain that Eusehius must be right when, in opposition to Irenaeus, he says that ‘Papias certainly does not declare that he himself was a hearer and eye-witness to the holy Apostles.’ Yet even with the later date assigned to Papias, there is no chronological impossibility in his having known the Apostle; and it must not be forgotten that Irenaeus was not necessarily dependent solely on the words of the Preface, but may have had other statements of Papias, or the living tradition of the Church, on which to found his assertion. If the position has to be surrendered that Papias was a ‘hearer of John,’ it is at least certain that he put himself in the most favourable position to hear clearly ‘the living and abiding voice’ of Apostolic times, conveyed to him through the ‘friends’ of the Elders.
(b) What can we determine regarding the nature and purpose of the work of Papias?—He contrasts his sources with ‘those who have so very much to say’ (τοῖς τὰ πολλὰ λέγουσιν), with ‘those who relate commandments foreign to the mind of the Lord’ (τοῖς τὰς ἀλλοτρίας ἐντολὰς μνημονεύσιν) and with ‘the contents of the books’ (τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων). ‘The books’ which he mentions have been interpreted as meaning some form of ‘the Gospels’ (Jülicher, Introd., English translation p. 487), and also as ‘writings of Aristion and the Elder John’ (Drummond and Bacon). In regard to the former interpretation, it seems out of the question that Papias should oppose ‘the living and abiding voice’ to the sources of his Logia. On the other hand, it is hardly likely that Papias would minimize the value of the oral evidence of Aristion and the Presbyter John by disparaging their written work. The simplest explanation is that given by Lightfoot (followed by Schwarz, Ueber den Tod der Sohne Zebedaei, p. 11), that the exegetical commentaries on the Gospels written by Gnostics like Basilides are meant. It is to these also that he refers when he speaks of ‘foreign commandments’ and of ‘those who have so very much to say.’ Papias himself seems to have been a commentator on the ‘Oracles of the Lord,’ and seeks to support his own explanations (ἑξηγήσεις) by direct oral tradition from those who were in touch with the first Christian community.
(c) What position does the Presbyter John hold in Papias’ view?—It is noticeable that while the past tense ‘said’ (εἷπεν) is used of the first group of Apostles, as though they were dead at the time of writing, the present tense ‘say’ (λέγουσιν) is used of Aristion and the Presbyter John. The entirely unconvincing explanation of Lightfoot, that the tense should probably be regarded as an historic present, introduced ‘for the sake of variety,’ must be rejected. On the other hand, the present tense seems rather meagre evidence on which to rear the hypothesis that books written by these two men were before Papias (so Drummond, Character and Authorship, p. 200), especially as he distinctly tells us that it is oral evidence of which he is in search. There is evidence in the writing of Papias that some literary productions of these men were extant, but the intention of Papias in his Preface seems to be to convey the impression that they were alive at the time he wrote. Papias had begun, at a much earlier time (‘in time past’), to collect information from the elders, and had gone on doing so up to the time of writing. He means that Aristion and John are still available for anyone who wishes to check the authority of the explanations he gives.
The foregoing establishes the reality of the second John. It is no longer possible to regard the existence of the Presbyter ‘as due to a confusion of Eusebius,’ or to accuse Papias of ‘slovenliness of composition,’ which would lead us to suppose that two Johns are mentioned, while all the time he is only referring to the same man a second time. The question is debated by modern critics whether this Presbyter John has any connexion with the authorship of the Gospel. It is necessary only to indicate the grounds on which the suggestion is based. Eusebius, in the passage from which we have quoted (Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39), suggests that he is the author of Revelation. He controverts the statement of Irenaeus that Papias means to be looked upon as a hearer of the Apostle John, and gathers from the use of the present tense (ΛέΓ ΥΣΙΝ) that he is really a hearer of Aristion and the Elder John. We have seen that in the time of Papias these two men were still alive, but the evidence as to his relationship with them rather suggests that he had not himself met them. Papias seems to have had to collect information about what they ‘say,’ and Eusebius himself puts forward his statement about an oral relationship merely as a suggestion. It does not follow that Eusebius, in attributing the authorship of Revelation to the Presbyter, even hints at the idea that he is also the author of the Gospel. He may have regarded it as an advantage to assign another authorship to the book, that the Apostle John might not be held responsible for the millenarian ideas of Papias. Papias accords the Presbyter no special place of honour in his list, and indeed places him last, after Aristion. If Papias had recorded anything of importance about him, no doubt Eusebius would have noted it, in order to support his view of the authorship of Revelation. See also artt. Aristion and Papias.
(ii.) We have next to inquire whether there is any evidence in the writing of Papias that he used the Fourth Gospel. (a) A passage occurs in the writings of Irenaeus which contains a quotation of John 14:2 ‘Our Lord has said, that in the abode of my Father are many mansions.’ The passage is introduced, like many others in Irenaeus, as a quotation from the words of ‘the Elders.’ Is Irenaeus here quoting from the sayings of ‘the Elders’ as reported by Papias? By the way in which the Johannine quotation is prefaced, it is fair to suppose that ‘the Elders’ are here referring to a written record, and not reproducing merely oral tradition, and that some well-known and accepted source for the words of our Lord is meant.
An additional confirmation of the position that Irenaeus quotes verbatim from the Elders of Papias is found in another portion of his work. He is speaking of the fruitfulness of the earth at the millennium, and inserts a fanciful passage about vines with ten thousand shoots. He says that he received it from ‘the Elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord.’ After quoting the passage, he adds: ‘Papias also, a hearer of John and companion of Polycarp, an ancient man, confirms these things in writing.’ Harnack contends that the words ‘also ‘and ‘confirms in writing’ ‘certainly ought not to be pressed’ to mean that Irenaeus is giving a confirmation from Papias of the words of the Elders, but that he only means to indicate the written source from which he takes them. (This position is stoutly opposed by Schmiedel, op. cit. ii. 2549, where see a statement of the whole controversy and its issues).
If Papias quotes 14:2 we have here an important clue to an early date for the Gospel. The Elders of Papias belonged to the early Christian community.
(b) There are indications in the Preface of Papias that the Gospel permeates his thought, and that the references would be apparent to his readers. He speaks of ‘those who teach the truth’ (τοῖς τἀληθῆ διδάσκουσιν), and he also applies the term ‘the Truth’ to Christ. It is also not without significance that St. Andrew and St. Peter and St. Philip are named in the exact order in which the names occur in the first chapter of St. John, while St. Philip and St. Thomas are prominent only in the Fourth Gospel.
(c) Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39) says that ‘Papias has used testimonies from the former Epistle of John and from that of Peter similarly.’ If 1 John and the Gospel are by the same author, we have here additional confirmation that Papias knew and used the Fourth Gospel. This item of evidence, however, can have weight only in connexion with the rest of the evidence. Formerly the fact that Eusebius, while mentioning his use of the Epistle, is silent as to any use of the Gospel by Papias, was relied upon as a strong argument for the nonexistence of the Gospel before 160–170 (e.g. in Supernatural Religion). After Lightfoot’s complete answer to this position (Essays on Supernatural Religion, ii.), it is not now possible to deny a much earlier date for the Gospel. Modern opponents of the traditional view now rely on the argument from the silence of Eusebius, as proving that Papias nowhere appeals to the Gospel as of Apostolic authority (e.g. Bacon). It is therefore necessary to examine anything in Papias which seems to indicate that he regarded the Gospel as the work of St. John the Apostle.
(iii.) The evidence of Papias as to the authorship of the Gospel.—(a) Eusebius, in the often quoted passage, says that Papias distinguishes the Presbyter John from John the Apostle, ‘evidently meaning the Evangelist.’ The words in inverted commas would seem to point to some indication that Eusebius found in Papias’ writing that he spoke of St. John the Apostle as the Evangelist. To this may be added the naming of St. John immediately after the Evangelist St. Matthew in the Preface.
(b) A Vatican MS of the 9th cent. contains the statement: ‘Evangelium Johannis manifestatum et datum est ecclesiis ab Johanne adhue in corpore constituto: sicut Papias nomine Hierapolitanus, discipulus Johannis carus, in exotericis—id est in extremis—quinque libris retulit. Descripsit vero evangelium dictante Johanne recte.’ The words are part of a translation of an early Greek argumentum or proof that the Gospel was written by John the Apostle. As the passage stands, the words exotericis and extremis are unintelligible, and the conjecture of Lightfoot may be accepted that the former should read exegeticis and extremis should read externis, which was an explanation of the false reading exoterieis. Again, it is nonsense to say that the Gospel was published ‘by John while he was yet alive’; and Harnack suggests (Chron. i. 665) that the preposition ab should be deleted. With these changes it is possible to make sense of the words. The statement ‘Johanne adhne in corpore constituto’ would then imply that there was an interval between the writing and the publication of the Gospel and has reference to John 21:25. This would explain why Papias had found it necessary to say that the Gospel was published ‘in the lifetime of the Apostle.’ The statement at the end, that Papias wrote the Gospel at the dictation of St. John, may safely be set aside. At the same time, apart from the fact that it is necessary so to edit the fragment, there are serious difficulties in the way of accepting it as reliable evidence. For one thing, it is strange that Eusebius does not mention such a statement in Papias, although he mentions similar statements of is with regard to St. Matthew and St. Mark. Moreover, in view of the modern question of the Presbyter authorship, there is nothing to indicate which John is meant. (For discussion of the alleged statement of Papias recorded by Philip of Side, that John died a martyr in Jerusalem, see art. John [the Apostle]).
If the direct testimony of Papias must be regarded as inconclusive, it may fairly be asked whether we have a right to expect more. There is a very high probability that the Gospel was one of the sources of the ‘Oracles’ which he expounded, and his silence as to the author, so far from displaying any uncertainty on the question, may quite as easily be interpreted as meaning that the personality of St. John was eclipsed in the mind of Papias by the desire to hear the living voice of the Lord Himself in the Gospel. It is probable that in Papias we are in the presence of a certain conservatism which marked with some regret the dying out of those who were in possession of the oral tradition about tire life and teaching of Jesus, and the gradual substitution of the written word as the authority for the Christian life which, of necessity, was taking place. It was his aim from an early period in his activity to collect the oral tradition. One thing at least is practically certain, that if Papias knew and quoted the Gospel, it must have been for him an authentic record. If the Gospel emerged at the close of the 1st cent. or the very beginning of the 2nd, as it undoubtedly did, and did not bring with it the strongest credentials and most unmistakable indications that it was in complete accord with the accredited oral teaching so much valued by Papias, it is difficult to think that in a mind of such simplicity as his it could have raised, as it appears to have done, only the merest ripple on the surface.
(2) Ignatius was bishop of Antioch in Syria. A number of letters have come down to us under his name, of which only seven are genuine. The writer was at the time on his way from Antioch to Rome under sentence of death. The date 110–117, the closing years of Trajan’s reign, may be assigned to them.
In Romans 7:2, Ignatius says, ‘There is not in me a fire fed by fleshly motive, but water living and speaking in me, saying within me, Come to the Father.’ These words ‘inevitably recall John 4:10; John 4:14 (cf. also John 4:23 ‘the Father seeketh such to worship him’). Not only the ideas, but the coincidence of ideas, seem to point to the story of the woman of Samaria as to a passage in the Gospel which is affording him comfort in his trial. Again, in Philad. vii. 1, he says, ‘The Spirit is not deceived, being from God; for it knoweth whence it cometh and whither it goeth, and searcheth out the hidden things’ (cf. John 3:8; John 8:14, 1 John 2:11). There are some striking differences in the thought of the parallel passages; but it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the words of Ignatius are due to the influence of these Johannine passages ‘floating in his mind’ (New Test. in Apost. Fathers, Oxford Society of Historical Theology, 1905, p. 82, where see other parallelisms). Both in expression and in doctrine there is an undoubted affinity between Ignatius and the Evangelist. Loisy admits that Ignatius, in his Christology, is dependent on the Gospel (Le Quatrième Evangile, p. 7). Von der Goltz holds that the affinity of thought is so deep that it cannot be explained by the influence of a book, and that the writer of the letters must have been imbued with the tradition and thought of a school (quoted by Sanday, Crit. of Fourth Gospel, p. 243). Sanday himself ‘doubts whether there is any other instance of resemblance between a Biblical and patristic book that is really so close’ (ib.).
Two arguments, taken from the writings of Ignatius, are relied upon by opponents of the Apostolic authorship, (a) It is urged that he nowhere quotes the Gospel as of Apostolic authority, although there are occasions (notably Smyrn. iii. 2) where it would have been exceedingly apposite to do so. It may be pointed out as having a bearing on this objection, that, although it is quite evident that Ignatius knew 1 Cor. ‘almost by heart,’ he has ‘no quotations (in the strictest sense, with mention of the source) from that Epistle’ (NT in Apost. Fathers, p. 67). This is only another instance of the precariousness of the argument from silence, considered apart from the idiosyncrasies of a writer, (b) Again, it is also objected that in writing to the Ephesian community in which St. John is said to have laboured, Ignatius mentions St. Paul as a hero of the faith, whom he sets before himself and them for imitation, but makes no mention of St. John (Ephes. xii.). To this argument it must be admitted that no very satisfactory answer has yet been given. Ignatius is, indeed, predisposed to mention St. Paul’s name, through his evident desire to compare his own experience and the Apostle’s in calling together the elders of Ephesus. Again, the writings of St. Paul, which have more clearly in view the various heresies of the time, would perhaps suit his purpose better.
It cannot be regarded as certain that Ignatius used the Gospel. His evidence is on the borderline between evidence for the existence of the Gospel and proof of the influence of a milieu of Johannine teaching and thought. It is probable that Ignatius had access to some document containing Johannine teaching (cf. e.g. his reference to the narrative of the woman of Samaria); on the other hand, that might easily have been a story told orally by the Apostle in the course of his preaching and teaching, and embedded in the hearts and minds of those who heard him.
(3) Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna. His writing has come down to us in the form of an Epistle to the Philippians. The date of his martyrdom was long uncertain, but the investigations of Light-foot and Harnack have led to the almost certain conclusion that he died in 155 at the age of 86.
As regards the Gospel, we have two sources from which we may derive evidence as to his opinions, viz. the Epistle and some reminiscences of Irenaeus.
(a) In the Epistle, Polycarp makes no reference to any document, except that he refers to St. Paul’s Ep. to the Philippians immediately after mentioning his name, and in another passage again quotes the Epistle without remark. There is also a sentence which, though not verbally accurate, bears every trace of having been taken from the First Epistle of St. John: ‘Everyone who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is Antichrist’ (cf. 1 John 4:2-3). He has also a passage that recalls at once words of Christ in the Gospel and the thought of the Epistle: ‘He that raised Him from the dead will raise us also, if we do His will and walk in His commandments, and love the things which He loved’ (cf. John 7:17; John 14:15, 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:17; 1 John 5:1-2). We also find in Polycarp, v. 2, ‘As He hath promised to raise us from the dead.’ This promise is found only in John 6:44. These parallelisms at least show that he was familiar with a circle of Johannine thought. He does not once mention the name of St. John; but the Church at Philippi had not been directly in contact with that Apostle. Moreover, his habits of quotation hardly lead us to expect any other result (cf. NT in Apost. Fathers, p. 84).
(b) Irenaeus gives Polycarp a foremost place among the elders whom he quotes. He says that he ‘had not only been instructed by Apostles, and associated with many who had seen the Christ, but had also been placed by Apostles in Asia in the Church at Smyrna as a bishop, whom we also saw in our early life’ (ἐν τῇ πρώτῃ ἡλικίᾳ) (Haer. III. iii. 4). Eusebius has preserved for us a letter of his to Florinus, in which he gives an account of his listening with peculiar attention to Polycarp, and vividly recalls the very place where he sat when he discoursed, his manner of life, and his personal appearance, ‘and how he would describe his intercourse with John, and with the rest who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words. And whatsoever things he had heard from them about the Lord, and about His miracles, and about His teaching, Polycarp, as having received them from eye-witnesses of the life of the Word, would relate them in accordance with the Scriptures’ (ap. Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica v. xx. 6). Again, Irenaeus also, in a letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, on the Paschal controversy, uses as an argument the fact that Polycarp followed the example of ‘John the disciple of the Lord, and the rest of the Apostles with whom he consorted.’ Irenaeus is undoubtedly referring to the Apostle John; and if that be so, there can be little doubt that ‘the Scriptures’ to which Polycarp referred contained the Fourth Gospel in some form. Thus the silence of Polycarp, in the solitary writing that has come down to us, is balanced by the explicit statement of Irenaeus that Polycarp knew St. John, and referred to him in his discourse.
Opponents of the Johannine authorship of the Gospel have cast doubt on the trustworthiness of Irenaeus in this matter. They allege that he made a mistake in regarding Papias as a hearer of John, and that he has possibly done the same in the case of Polycarp. The John to whom Polycarp referred may have been the Preshyter. Irenaeus was still a boy (ἐκ ταίδων) when he heard his teacher. At the same time, it is hardly likely that the vivid personal impression he has of Polycarp contains a mistake of this kind. Polycarp evidently mentioned the name of John with some frequency, and there is no evidence that the Presbyter John was a man of such note in Asia as to be thus referred to in Polycarp’s lectures. It is inconceivable that, if there had been any prospect of confusion in the mind of a youth who was listening to him, Polycarp would not have guarded against it (see Stanton, Gospels as Hist. Doct. pp. 214–218).
(4) We have still to deal with a group of writings classed among the Apostolic Fathers, whose evidence on the subject is rendered vague and inconclusive, inasmuch as they contain no definite quotations from the Gospel, and there is also uncertainty as to their dates. (a) The Epistle of Barnabas reflects the condition of thought in Egypt, and the date may lie anywhere between 79 and 132. The theory that Barnabas used the Fourth Gospel found strangely a strong champion in Keim, who assigned the date 120–130 (Jesus of Naz. i. 192–195). Loisy, on the other hand, accepting the date circa (about) 130, urges complete ignorance of the Gospel on the part of Barnabas, and uses the argument to prove that the Johannine writings had not yet taken complete possession of ecclesiastical usage (Le Quntrième Év. p. 5). In Barnabas, use is made of the idea of the Brazen Serpent; and the conceptions of ‘eternal life,’ which often occurs, and of ‘feeding upon the words of life,’ seem to point to the influence of a Johannine current of thought. (b) Only one of the epistles known under the name of Clement of Rome is genuine. It was written from the Roman community to the Corinthian, circa (about) 100. Here, again, the writer seems to be influenced by Johannine teaching (cf. Clem. xlix. and John 14:15; John 14:23, 1 John 5:1-3). (c) The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a composite document, and is the earliest manual of Church procedure extant. The elements of which it is composed may have been in use at the end of the 1st cent., but the work in its present form was published much later. It contains a specimen of a prayer of thanksgiving for use after the Eucharist, in which there is a very remarkable parallel to the anti-sacramentarian treatment of the ideas of the Supper in the Fourth Gospel (ch. 6); ‘Thou, Almighty Master, didst create all things for thy name’s sake, and didst give food and drink unto men for enjoyment, that they might render thanks unto thee; but didst bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through thy Son’ (Did. x. 3). (d) The Shepherd of Hermas (circa (about) 100 Zahn, 135–145 Harnack) displays a Johannine colouring of thought.
5. Evidence derived from Opponents of Church doctrine in the 2nd century
(1) The Clementine Homilies.—These are the work of a Jewish Christian, and were published at Rome not earlier than a.d. 160–170. In one of the Homilies (discovered by Dressel in 1837) there is an undoubted quotation (xix. 22) from John 9:2-3. There are also in the Homilies other apparent references to the Gospel.
(2) The Gnostics.—There were two great schools of Gnostics—the Valentinians and the Basilidians. The date of the literary activity of Valentinus is uncertain, but we know that there existed a school of his followers before a.d. 150. Heracleon was a pupil of Valentinus; and it is exceptionally strong evidence, not only for the early existence but also for the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, that he composed a Commentary on it which is quoted by Origen. Tertullian contrasts Valentinus and Marcion as to the way in which they use Scripture. He says that Marcion used the ‘knife,’ while Valentinus ‘accepted the whole instrument’ (i.e. the four Gospels), but with an ability not less than Marcion’s ‘laid hands upon the truth.’ We hear of a school of Basilides c. 133, and his own period of activity was a.d. 117–138. Hippolytus in his Refutatio quotes Basilides, and in the quotations there are undoubted extracts from the Gospel. The question discussed by modern criticism is whether these are quotations from Basilides or from the representative of a school (cf. Drummond, op. cit. 296–301). There is a strong preponderance of e
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'John, Gospel of (Critical)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/j/john-gospel-of-critical.html. 1906-1918.