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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
John the Gospel of
During the eighteenth century and the first ten years of the nineteenth, the Gospel of John was attacked, but with feeble arguments, by some English Deists, and by four German theologians. A similar attack has lately been made by Strauss, who, although in the third edition of The Life of Jesus he manifested an inclination to give up his doubts, yet resolutely returned to them in the fourth edition, principally, as he himself confesses, because 'without them one could not escape from believing the miracles of Christ.' It is unnecessary, however, to refute his arguments, as they are quite unimportant, and have met with little sympathy even in Germany. It may suffice to observe, that during the lapse of ages up to the conclusion of the eighteenth century, no one ever expressed a doubt respecting the genuineness of John's Gospel, except one small sect, whose skepticism, however, was not based upon historical, but merely upon dogmatical grounds.
John's Gospel differs very much in substance from the first three Gospels. But the most striking difference is that of the speeches; and even here the difference is, perhaps, still more apparent in the form than in the substance of them. The difference of the Contents may be accounted for by supposing that John intended to relate and complete the history of the Lord according to his own view of it. We are led to this supposition from the following circumstances: that, with the exception of the history of his passion and his resurrection, there are only two sections in which John coincides with the synoptic gospels (; ); that he altogether omits such important facts as the baptism of Jesus by John, the history of his temptation and transfiguration, the institution of the Lord's supper, and the internal conflict at Gethsemane; and that;; , indicate that he presupposed his readers to be already acquainted with the Gospel history. He confined himself to such communications as were wanting in the others, especially with regard to the speeches of Jesus.
The peculiarities of John's Gospel more especially consist in the four following doctrines:—
That of the mystical relation of the Son to the Father.
That of the mystical relation of the Redeemer to believers.
The announcement of the Holy Ghost as the Comforter.
The peculiar importance ascribed to Love.
Although there can be shown in the writings of the other Evangelists some isolated dicta of the Lord, which seem to bear the impress of John, it can also be shown that they contain thoughts not originating with that disciple, but with the Lord Himself. Matthew () speaks of the relation of the Son to the Father so entirely in the style of John, that persons not sufficiently versed in Holy Writ are apt to search for this passage in the Gospel of John. The mystical union of the Son with believers is expressed in . The promise of the effusion of the Holy Ghost, in order to perfect the disciples, is found in . The doctrine of Paul with respect to love, in 1 Corinthians 13, entirely resembles what, according to John, Christ taught on the same subject. Paul here deserves our particular attention. In the writings of Paul are found Christian truths which have their points of coalescence only in John, viz., that Christ is the image of the invisible God, by whom all things are created (). Paul considers the Spirit of God in the church, the spiritual Christ, as Jesus himself does ().
That the speeches of Christ have been faithfully reported may be seen by a comparison of the speeches of the Baptist in the Gospel of John. The Baptist's speeches bear an entirely Old Testament character: they are full of allusions to the Old Testament, and abound in sententious expressions (; ).
We have already intimated our opinion as to the purport and plan of the Gospel of John. Most of the earlier critics considered the Gospel of John to have had a polemico-dogmatical purport. According to Irenaeus, John wrote with the intention of combating the errors of Cerinthus the Gnostic. Others suppose that his writings were directed against the disciples of John the Baptist. It is not improbable that the Evangelist had in view, both in his Introduction and also in , some heretical opinions of those times; but it cannot be maintained that this is the case throughout the whole of the Gospel. He himself states () that his work had a more general object.
One of the peculiarities of John is, that in speaking of the adversaries of Jesus, he always calls them the Jews. This observation has, in modern times, given rise to a peculiar opinion concerning the plan of John's Gospel, namely, that the Evangelist has, from the very beginning of the Gospel, the following theme before his eyes:—The eternal combat between Divine light and the corruption of mankind, exemplified by the mutual opposition subsisting between the hostile Jewish party and the manifestation of the Son of God, which combat terminates in the victory of light.
The Introduction of the Gospel of John expresses this theme in speaking of the opposition of the world to the incarnate Logos. This theme is here expressed in the same manner as the leading idea of a musical composition is expressed in the overture. As the leading idea of the whole Epistle to the Romans is contained in , so the theme of the Gospel of John is contained in . The Gospel is divided into two principal sections. The first extends to John 12. It comprehends the public functions of Jesus, and terminates with a brief summary (). The second section contains the history of the Passion and of the Resurrection. The reader is prepared for this section by . The leading idea of this speech is, that Destruction is necessary, because without it there can be no Resurrection. With John 13 begins the history of our Lord's Passion. In the third verse the Apostle directs attention to the fact that the suffering would finally lead to glory. In the first section is described how the opposition of the influential men among the Jews was gradually increased until the decisive fact of the resurrection of Lazarus led to a public outburst of their hatred. This description terminates with the official decree of Caiaphas ().
The Fathers supposed that the Gospel of John was written at Ephesus, and there is some internal evidence in favor of the statement. One writer affirms that John wrote the Gospel which bears his name in Patmos, but that it was edited by the same Gaius whom Paul in the epistle to the Romans calls mine host. One might be inclined to explain by this circumstance the postscript contained in .
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'John the Gospel of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/j/john-the-gospel-of.html.