Criticism of John
James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, Jesus Remembered, Paperback Edition, 2019
In 1847 F. C. Baur produced a powerful case for his conclusion that the Fourth Gospel was never intended to be ‘a strictly historical Gospel’. Given the strength of Baur’s critique, the inevitable conclusion could hardly be avoided: John’s Gospel is determined much more by John’s own theological than by historical concerns. Consequently it cannot be regarded as a good source for the life of Jesus. The conclusion by no means became established straight away. But for those at the forefront of the ‘quest of the historical Jesus’ the die had been cast. The differences between John and the others, which had previously been glossed over, could no longer be ignored. It was no longer possible to treat all four Gospels on the same level. If the first three Gospels were historical, albeit in qualified measure, then such were these differences that John’s Gospel could no longer be regarded as historical. Over the next hundred years the character of John’s Gospel as a theological, rather than a historical document, became more and more axiomatic for NT scholarship. (Pages 40-41)
“Few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics. It is worth noting briefly the factors which have been considered of enduring significance on this point. One is the very different picture of Jesus ministry, both in the order and significance of events (particularly the cleansing of the temple and the raising of Lazarus) and the location of Jesus ministry (predominantly Jerusalem rather than Galilee). Another is the striking difference in Jesus style of speaking (much more discursive and theological, in contrast to the aphoristic and parabolic style of the Synoptics). As Strauss had already pointed out, this style is consistent, whether Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, or to the widow at the well, or to his disciples, and very similar to the style of the Baptist, as indeed of 1 John. The inference is inescapable that the style is that of the Evangelist rather than that of Jesus. Probably most important of all, in the Synoptics Jesus’ principal theme is the Kingdom of God and he rarely speaks of himself, whereas in John the Kingdom hardly features and the discourses are largely vehicles for expressing Jesus’ self-consciousness and self-proclamation. Had the striking ‘ I am’ self-assertions of John been remembered as spoken by Jesus, how could any evangelists have ignored them so completely as the gospels do? On the whole then, the position is unchanged: John’s gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and the teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics… We shall certainly want to call upon John’s gospel as a source, but mostly as a secondary source to supplement or corroborate the testimony of the Synoptic tradition.” (Page 165-167)
F. F. Bruce. The Canon of Scripture. Kindle Edition.
Of the four gospels, John’s took longer to win universal acceptance among catholic Christians than the others because (almost from its first publication) some gnostic schools treated it as though it supported their positions. The earliest known quotation from John comes in the gnostic writer Basilides (c 130); the earliest known commentary on John was written by the gnostic Heracleon (c 180).
V. H. Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents, Part III, The Forth Gospel, 1911, p. 209
“The difference between the Synoptic representation of the person and the Ministry of Jesus and that in the Fourth Gospel is such that we are compelled to ask whether we can use them both. To many critics… they give their preference to the Synoptics. Although they do not by any means regard them as fully trustworthy, they hold them to be so by comparison with the fourth evangelist. It is held that a presumption in favor of the Synoptic accounts is raised by their greater naturalness and lifelikeness, and the absence of the appearance of any such special doctrinal purpose as there is in the case of the Fourth Gospel, by which their character as narrators might be impaired. And it is held also that the result of a detailed comparison is to demonstrate their superiority to such an extent and in so many instances that, even where the best case can be made out for the Fourth Gospel, it is most probable that the others are in the right.”
C. H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible, Second Harper Tourchbook Edition, 1962 p. 215
The Problem of the Fourth Gospel
Henry Latimer Jackson, Cambridge [Eng.] : University press, 1918
D.D. of Christ’s College, Cambridge; sometime Hulsean Lecturer; Author of The Fourth Gospel and some recent German Criticism, The Present State of the Synoptic Problem (Cambridge Biblical Essays), The Eschatology of Jesus, etc.
Archive Book Link: https://archive.org/details/problemoffourthg00jack/page/n5/mode/2up
The Problem of the Fourth Gospel Excerpts
“It might be said with truth: ‘ at the present moment two things about the Christian religion must surely be clear to anybody with eyes in his head. One is, that men cannot do without it; the other, that they cannot do with it as it is. ‘ The latter assertion, no doubt, hits the mark. As for its immediate predecessor, it is still based on solid fact…
Unbelief, aloofness, hostility to ecclesiasticism, there may be; —the signs of the times are such as to suggest that ‘ the great body of mankind will not long live without a faith.
our fresh study of the Gospels, will enhance the appeal that the living Christ is making to us in these our times His times. As we realize more fully the extent to which the Son of God “emptied Himself” to enter on a really human life, to learn from all the experiences ” of joy and woe, and hope and fear,” with no supernatural panoply [armor] to blunt the edge of any one of them.
If a duty laid in particular age be that of fearless and withal reverent investigation into sources, it is fully realized by scholars who, both at home and abroad, are, unquestionably, showing themselves alive to the demand; and one and all concerned for truth, deep seriousness and transparent honesty of purpose go with them to their work. Rightly conceived of, their unremitting toil is in reality a response to ‘ the desire of Christendom ‘for the fullest and most exact knowledge possible of the historic life and ministry of Jesus; and to them gratitude is due for that ‘now, again, in our own times, the human Christ has come back to us in the fulness of His manhood. ‘
the one only thing which it is his business to discover, and present is Truth, and he accordingly works on as convinced that ‘ in the end there will come a great reward in pure and trustworthy knowledge.’
Gospel Criticism… It is a fearsome thing for many a devout soul which not seldom labors under the false impression that criticism is but another word for wholesale denial and rejection. By well-meaning if scarcely well – informed upholders of the Old Gospel’ … With curious disregard of claims justly advanced by, or on behalf of, masculine types of intelligence, it is asserted of those engaged in it that they are occasion of stumbling to that’ weaker brother. As if Truth itself were endangered by honest and industrious search for Truth.
What, then, is the right attitude to adopt? … ‘ new light’ has been, and is being, shed in abundance on those of the New Testament also. And besides, Gospel Criticism, inevitable as it was, has come to stay; this recognized, the wiser course is not only to allow its reasonableness but to welcome it, to make the most of what it has to teach … It is in such a mind and temper that the ordinarily instructed reader should approach and acquaint himself with the works of some of the many scholars who have concentrated their attention on a document which bears the time-honored title of ‘ The Gospel According to St John.’”
Chapter 1, “The Gospel According to St. John”
It is safe to say that, of those by whom that Gospel is treasured as a hallowed thing, there are numbers who, approaching it and studying it with preconceived opinions and with fixed beliefs, are either unaware of, or prefer to shut their eyes and ears to, the grave difficulties which it presents. The Johannine problem, as it is called, has no real existence for such person… they do not ‘ check their wonder and their awe ‘ by vexing themselves with questions relating to the authorship and historicity of what is so dear to them as a sacred, a [fully] inspired, book. Accounting it the absolutely true narrative of discourse and incident, they make no room for doubt that it comes down to them from him who figures in it as the Beloved Disciple. (P. 2)
Yet a day came when the gauntlet was thrown down boldly to traditional and conventional belief. As the situation (it still obtains) has been stated within recent times: ‘no book of the New Testament has met with more sharply opposed criticism, nor in respect of the true estimate of any other has there been so fierce a conflict between love and hate.’ (PP. 2-3)
What, it is asked, is the true nature of the Fourth Gospel? Is it a trustworthy record of the events it purports to relate? Must it, on the other hand, be regarded as an epic or a drama or a theological tractate … ‘the time is past,’ it is quickly added, ‘when we can accept without a shade of misgiving the tradition of its authorship, and delight ourselves without a question in its narratives.’ Misgiving there is, and misgiving there must be; if questions be unavoidable, it is because, raised by the Gospel itself, they stare every honest student in the face. (P. 3)
Although the start with Fourth Gospel criticism really began in England towards the close of the seventeenth century, it was not until the year 1792 that it was bluntly asked, by an English clergy- man, ‘how any kind of delusion should have induced creatures endowed with reason so long to have received it (the Fourth Gospel) as the word of truth and the work of an Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ Before long, in Germany, more hostile voices were raised. (P. 3)
Fourth Gospel criticism which since his day has grown into a ‘mighty stream,’ and a mass of literature affords ample proof that ‘the problem of the Fourth Gospel is still the most unsettled, the most living, the most sensitive in all the field of introduction,’ ‘the cardinal inquiry, not merely of all New Testament criticism, but even of Christology ”.’ The delicacy and intricacy of the problem is generally admitted; as might be expected, there is wide divergence of view; the pleas vigorously raised in some quarters on behalf of traditional authorship and historicity are elsewhere deemed invalid and are as vigorously disallowed. Yet on both sides there is a tendency to make concessions, while there is general agreement that, whatever else it be, John’s Gospel is a noble and inspiring work. In more radical quarters it is said of it that, not by the Apostle and not what we moderns call history, it nevertheless leads back to Jesus. (P. 4)
The author makes Jesus speak and act as the real Jesus never spoke and acted, yet in the discourses and the works so lent to him there ceases not to be a living Christ. As for the more conservative school of criticism, a relatively late date is readily admitted; and element of subjectivity; and ‘apparent transference of the matured thought of the author to the lips of the speakers in his narrative’; not a few, perhaps would speak of an interpretation rather than a life, and allow, nor yet one section only in the Gospel, that ‘it contains the reflections of the Evangelist, and is not a continuation of the words of the Lord’ (PP. 4-5)
‘Even among those critics who regard the Gospel as concerned, on the whole, more with religious instruction than with historic accuracy, there are some who make the reservation that echoes of a true historic record are to be heard in it, so that it may be called a mixture of truth and poetry… In the following pages we will attempt some discussion of the problems which confront the serious and open-minded student. (P. 5)
‘ It is unjust to assume that those who question the authenticity of the Gospel according to St John are primarily impelled to do so by theological prepossession,’ neither is it right to say that they are one and all prejudiced by ‘its emphatic declaration of the divinity of Christ.’ As a matter of fact ‘there are many who are heartily devoted to that central truth, and yet cannot easily persuade themselves that the Fourth Gospel offers them history quite in the sense that the other Gospels do, cannot think that Christ spoke exactly as He is here represented as speaking, and consequently cannot feel assured that this is the record of an eye-witness, or, in other words, of the Apostle St John.’ And here perhaps it might be put on record that the traditional authorship of the Gospel has found a staunch upholder in a distinguished Unitarian scholar (The allusion is to Dr Drummond, sometime Principal of Manchester College, Oxford). (P. 6)
Approximate Date of the Gospel
It is a right view which suggests that the ‘ canonization ‘ of all tie New Testament writings was the issue of an unconscious growth. That no special sanctity attached at the outset to the Gospels is clear both from the attitude of Evangelist to Evangelist …. How precisely it came about that four Gospels were singled out from the rest, placed side by side, accounted authoritative and sacred, is not fully known; what can be said is that, as time went on, ‘the caskets which enshrined the jewel of traditions concerning Jesus were identified with the jewel itself ; and, if the completion of the New Testament Canon as a whole cannot be dated earlier than the close of the Fourth century (in the case of Eastern churches somewhat later). (P. 9)
As for the titles of the Gospels ; in the earliest MSS. one general title, covers the four, the separate books being simply headed [according to Mark] and so forth. These titles are not to be assigned to the authors themselves ; they were prefixed by others, and probably date from the period when the four Gospels were so collected together as to form one whole. (P.10)
To turn from such preliminary considerations to our Gospel. While the first three Gospels are ‘sister- works,’ it stands, as all admit, in a distinct category, by itself apart, and not only because of its position in the Canon but for other reasons it is more frequently termed the ‘Fourth Gospel’ in the diction of Biblical research. And the subject to be approached and provisionally determined in this chapter is one which hinges on the question of its approximate date. (P. 9)
There are two extreme limits beyond which there is no need to travel in our search. First; in the eyes of Irenaeus all four Gospels are Holy Scripture. Judging from the manner of his allusions, the rank thus acquired by them, however gradually, had ceased to be a novelty in the period marked by his literary activities; and the inference is safe that they had so ranked for some little time. ‘John’ was one of those Gospels… Hence the terminus ad quem [upper limit] can by no possibility be referred to a date later than the last decade but two of the second century. (PP 10-11)
In the second place. There is a strong consensus of opinion, at all events it is now widely allowed, that the Synoptic Gospels were known to, or known of by, the Fourth Evangelist. The conclusion naturally follows that the terminus a quo [lower limit] for the composition of his own Gospel is the date assignable to the latest of the ‘ sister- works’ … The Gospel which bears the name of Luke ; it is held by not a few that ‘the decade from a.d. 70 to a.d. 80 is the probable date,’ or that there are grounds for preferring ‘ the intermediate date of A.D. 75-80.’ Allowance must be made for some development of Gospel literature, while, if the Third Evangelist had actually read Josephus, the first century would be nearing its end when he wrote… ca. a.d. 95-100 might be nearer the mark [for the lower limit]. (PP. 11-12)
The name of Heracleon, already instanced, now points us, if only for a moment, to his predecessors in those great movements of thought which, more or less tinged with Christian ideas, culminated in the ‘ boldest and grandest Syncretism the world had ever beheld’; but, as the question of Gnosticism will be discussed later, it may suffice to remark here that adequate ground is discovered for the belief that ca. a.d. 135 ‘John’s’ Gospel was highly esteemed by Basilides and was well known to the Valentinians’ (P. 16)
In respect of a terminus ad quem [upper limit]. The question is not altogether easy to decide; for, in the case of certain Apostolic fathers, coincidence of idea and phrase is not in itself proof of actual acquaintance with the Fourth Gospel, while documents otherwise temptingly suggestive must be ruled out by reason of their obscure origination. This, at all events, appears certain ; the extreme limit which points to the days of Irenaeus may be pushed back by several decades. The question then is: how much further back? An answer comes with the recognition that, albeit ‘the first reliable traces of the existence of the Fourth Gospel are found in the Apology of Justin Martyr,’ there is warrant for the assumption of its use ‘in the circles of Valentinian Gnosis. The provisional terminus ad quem [upper limit], accordingly, lies somewhere about the year a.d. 135. (P. 17)
The question of the terminus a quo [lower limit] is encompassed with difficulty, in that it is contingent on the dating of the First and Third Gospels. It may, on the one hand, be discovered in the years m. a.d. 75-80; on the other hand it may not be earlier than the close of the first century… In due course the Fourth Gospel will be itself questioned, and its approximate date more nearly determined from internal evidence presented by it, the tone and tenor of its contents. (P. 17)
Authorship In Tradition
nor will open-minded students be slow to realize that the situation is far more complicated than he allows it to be supposed. In like manner as in the preceding chapter, the question of authorship shall, at this stage, be discussed with exclusive reference to external evidence; and with the recognition that any decisive word — if such a word be possible — must be spoken by the Gospel itself. (P. 18)
Such, says Eusebius [of the fourth century], was the fact; and, the omissions being specified by him, he thus proceeds: for these reasons, the Apostle John, they say, being entreated to undertake the task, wrote an account of the period not touched on by the other Evangelists and of doings of the Saviour which they had omitted to record… Eusebius was, no doubt, abreast of his times and indefatigable in research. He records what, to the best of his judgement, was ascertained fact; yet his critical judgement might be at fault, for, however conscientious and painstaking he might be, his methods and his tests were, after all, those of his own day … Accordingly it cannot be allowed off-hand that the traditional authorship of the Gospel is finally established by what he set down (PP. 19-20)
For Irenaeus [late second century], it will be remembered, the Fourth Gospel, like its three companions, was Holy Scripture. It was assigned by him to the Apostle John ; and that in the first of the above citations, as elsewhere, he is really alluding to the son of Zebedee is not open to doubt and is indeed generally admitted. This John, it will be remarked further, is identified by Irenaeus with the Beloved Disciple; yet what he does not do is expressly to designate him the Apostle. (P. 21)
It might appear that the John named is outside the number of the twelve. That Polycrates [late second century], acquainted, probably, with the Fourth Gospel, is himself evidently persuaded that the John who slept at Ephesus was the son of Zebedee may be conceded… The main point is the non-use, by Polycrates, of the decisive words ‘Apostle’ and ‘Evangelist’. (PP. 25-26)
The situation is complicated as a John other than the Apostle John appears on the scene. This brings us to Papias. Of the work in five books penned by him… the crucial passage runs thus : But if anywhere anyone also should come who had companied with the elders I ascertained (first of all) the sayings of the elders (‘ as to this,’ not ‘ to wit’) what Andrew or what Peter had said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord (had said), and (secondly) what Aristion and John the Elder, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I supposed that the things (to be derived) from books were not of such profit to me as the things (derived) from the living and abiding voice. (PP. 26-27)
Quite properly Eusebius observes that the name of John occurs twice. That by the John first named Papias means the Apostle John is obvious, for he ranks him with other Apostles; as for the second John, he is, to all appearance, sharply differentiated from the former John; not only is he not classed with Apostles but he is expressly designated John the Elder. If, in like manner as the Apostle John, he is spoken of as a disciple of the Lord, it is a distinction which Aristion shares with him; yet he is also differentiated from the latter by a term highly suggestive that, not simply advanced in years, he is a personage of importance. If so, where? An answer might come from Eusebius, who, for reasons of his own, is not unprepared to believe in the story of the two Johns in Asia and of the two tombs at Ephesus. The question then is : was he still alive (and Aristion also) when Papias made his inquiries, and did Papias actually hold speech with him? Here the change of tense is probably decisive; what Andrew and others ‘had said,’ what Aristion and John the Elder ‘say’; and besides, Papias himself alleges his own decided preference for the living voice. (PP. 27-28)
It accordingly appears that, as a young man, he had not only seen but conversed with this second John who, brought by him on the scene, is not the Apostle John but John the Elder. And it is just here that Irenaeus is caught tripping; for, himself meaning the Apostle, he refers to the Bishop of Hierapolis as hearer of John as well as associate of Polycarp. Not so, says Eusebius, correcting the mistake; Papias by no means asserts that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy Apostles, but relates how he had received the doctrines of faith from such as were of the number of their friends… It might, then, be inferred that he with whom both Papias and Polycarp held converse in their early manhood was not the son of Zebedee, but an aged disciple of the Lord who was in repute in the Churches of Asia as John the Elder. (P. 28)
‘The tradition of Asia Minor,’ it has been said, ‘knows but one John only, who accordingly must be either the Apostle or the Elder’ ; and it is, no doubt, true that for the ancients, the residence of John son of Zebedee in Asia Minor appears to have been an ‘uncontested historical fact.’ Not necessarily will it be accounted fact by the modern student. As he reviews the situation he will perhaps be led to agree that the question really is of two traditions, which, by the end of the third century, had been combined in the assertion that two Johns had resided at Ephesus, the one being the Apostle and the other the Elder. He may go a step further; with an admission that the earlier and more trustworthy tradition, if decisive for some aged disciple who had companied with Jesus, is not by any means decisive for the Apostle John. And, although arguments from silence are precarious, he will pay added heed to the fact that in respect of the latter Ignatius has no single word to say. (P. 29)
we must admit that neither for the residence of the Apostle John in Asia nor yet for his author- ship of the Gospel called by his name is the external evidence of such a nature as to banish doubt. On the contrary, it is highly probable that, when the field of internal evidence has been explored, we shall rather agree that were anyone, knowing nothing of the traditional belief, to peruse our Gospel, it would scarcely occur to him to seek for its author among the immediate disciples of Jesus. (P. 30)
Internal Evidence of Authorship
While the Fourth Gospel cannot be earlier than the latest of the Synoptics, there is apparently no valid reason which requires a date subsequent to the fourth decade of the second century; and next, that the case for the traditional authorship was by no means made out. (P. 31)
The direct evidence of the Gospel has been surveyed. On the face of it, no doubt, it pleads for the conclusion that, whatever his identity, the author of the Gospel is an eye-witness, the Beloved Disciple. Yet with closer examination of the salient passages confidence passes over into doubt; and, as the case stands, it must be admitted that the Gospel does lay claim to Apostolic origin and authority in a way which is both singular and mysterious, and that its self -testimony raises more riddles than it solves. (P. 39)
Looking to the diction of the Gospel, it is surely true to say that, penned for Gentile readers for whom Jewish terms and usages had to be translated and explained, it throughout reveals a distinctively Semitic mode of thought by its phraseology, its frequent Hebraisms, its comparatively limited vocabulary’. No doubt its author ‘writes in a style which is peculiar but quite literary 8’; there are nevertheless features which suggest that the foreign language acquired by him has not been so entirely mastered that its resources are fully at his command. That he breathes a Greek atmosphere is unquestionable; as unquestionable does it appear from the Hebraisms he indulges in that our Gospel comes from a Jewish hand. (P. 41)
A charge here brought against him [the author] is that he has perpetrated a blunder than which none more glaring can be conceived; in that, with his thrice-repeated and emphatic allusion to Caiaphas, he assumes the Jewish High-priesthood to be an annual appointment when as a matter of fact the office was tenable for life. ‘ Being high priest that year’ :— it must be confessed that the definitive phrase ‘that year’ gives the reader pause; and besides, it is not a little curious that the person referred to is so casually introduced when he is of such exalted rank’. (P. 43)
Yet it is a just criticism which insists that the Evangelist’s ideas, if sublime, are few; that they are continually reiterated in well-nigh identical form; that there is a poverty of vocabulary, a sameness in manner of presentment: ‘ if the same great conceptions and ideas recur over and over again, the language becomes almost monotonous, colourless, — yes, almost poor ‘.’ The admission is abundantly necessitated that precisely these features are ever and again illustrated in the speeches of the personages who play their respective parts in the wonderful drama of the Fourth Gospel story. It may be quite true that the characters are invested with an individuality of their own ; it is equally true that, having played their part, they often vanish from the scene. Once more; is it quite the case that they pass out of sight as men of flesh and blood and not like characters in some legendary tale? Might it not rather be said of some of them that they ‘ appear in a strange twilight . . . they profess to be actual personalities, yet they live only the life of typical characters,’ and that, as for the Evangelist, ‘ he loses the whole of his interest in both persons and situations as soon as they have served his doctrinal purpose? ‘ The question will come up again; let it be observed in this connection that it is precisely when they begin to speak that the uniform note is perceptible. There is little if any variety in the manner of their discourse. Admittedly their language is Johannine. Or to put it thus: the Evangelist has ‘ fashioned a speech peculiar to his school,’ and it is in that speech that all his characters discourse. (PP. 44-45)
Then this weighty consideration arises: no matter who the personages are, the speeches which the Evangelist purports to report are assuredly characterized by a remarkable sameness of style or tone. They, the said personages — each one with an individuality proper to himself — must surely have displayed their individuality in the manner of their discourse. They are certainly not found so to do ; and the conclusion is unavoidable that the asserted ear-witness Evangelist is anything but a true witness if verity be contingent on exactness of report. The speeches must be, to some extent, constructed speeches. In any case the Evangelist has allowed himself a very free hand. To which it may be added that his own reflections are some- times so merged in reported conversation or discourse that it is no easy thing to decide who precisely the speaker is. Sometimes the difficulty is less; thus, e.g., in the case of John 3:16-22, 31-36; where we have in all likelihood the ponderings of the Evangelist rather than words assigned respectively to Jesus and the Baptist. (PP. 45-46)
That sources of information were at his command may be freely admitted ; yet this is by no means a sufficient explanation, for, such sources granted, it must nevertheless be urged that they have been amplified by the Evangelist, and in terms of his own conceptions of what was likely to be said by the respective personages who figure in the narrative. But this is scarcely to go far enough; the conclusion is ever and again inevitable that the case, far from being one of an ear-witness’s verbatim — or free yet sufficiently accurate — report, is actually of artificially con- structed discourse. The position is well stated thus: ‘few will deny that in this Gospel the prerogative of the ancient historian to place in the mouth of his characters discourses reflecting his own idea of what was suitable to the occasion, has been used to the limit.’ (P. 46)
‘Everything in the Gospel points to a Jewish author who is an eye-witness of our Lord’s Ministry, and a native of Palestine.’ There is nevertheless ground for hesitation; but at this stage of our inquiry it must suffice to say of the Evangelist that he writes with a view to Gentile readers and that it is a reasonable conjecture which locates his clientele, not to say himself, in Asia Minor. He is evidently a Jew ; possibly of the Diaspora, with far greater likelihood of Palestinian origin. (P. 47)
What we find it hard to say is that his Gospel ‘is a genuine Johannine work from the pen of the Apostle, who wrote from Ephesus.’ Author of our Gospel the Beloved Disciple to whom it points may be; or, if not himself the author, then a main authority for that Gospel. (P. 48)
The Johannine and the Synoptic Representation
Now, where objection is raised, the marked peculiarity of the Fourth Gospel is highly accentuated. It is regarded, not as the record of historical events, but as a manual of instruction of which the theme is Jesus, the divine Logos manifested in the flesh. The view further is that the Synoptic Jesus, human in his every lineament and child of his own age and people, is altogether unrecognizable in the Johannine Christ… it is further urged that our Gospel and the Synoptics part company in the case of other personages, and that they are utterly at variance on matters, amongst others, of locality and date. (P. 50)
With the Synoptics the scene is mainly laid in Galilee ; with the Fourth Gospel it is largely transferred to Judaea and Jerusalem ; in the former case the events are crowded into one short year, in the other the Ministry is extended over three Passovers. In the one case the Jewish people are described with picturesque variety of type and class and section; not so in the other case, with ‘John’ they dwindle down to Pharisees and Priests and rulers of the people; as for the Pharisees they have become the very core of unbelieving Judaism in its hostility to Jesus. The Jews are pictured as in hopeless case ; away with them to the devil, the Greeks for Jesus and for God ! And again, the difference between the Johannine and the Synoptic representations of the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection is regarded as fundamental. (PP. 50-51)
For reasons such as these there is wide-spread agreement that whatever be its interest and value as a early Christian document, the Fourth Gospel must be ruled out as a source for the Life of Jesus… the Fourth Gospel does, in many respects, present a striking contrast to its three companions. Common features and resembles there may be; the fact remains that discrepancies are both numerous and of such a nature as to stare the instructed reader in the face. (P. 51)
Of our Four Canonical Gospels ‘John’ is certainly the latest — and perhaps the latest by a long way ; as for the remaining three, they are nearer to the events they purport to relate, and it is safe to say of the Synoptic tradition that it stretches back to Apostolic times and to the very days of Jesus. (P. 52)
Christian’ thought is no longer fettered by outworn mechanical theories of inspiration and interpretation in the case of the Bible literature. To narrow down to the Gospels; in the old and disastrous view the Evangelists were passive agents, men who could not choose but write down words from divine dictation, ‘living pens grasped and guided by an Almighty hand.’ A more enlightened view obtains… Neither to the men themselves nor to their respective writings does infallibility attach. (PP. 52-53)
Neither he nor the Synoptics are infallible. If he corrects them and makes his alterations in them, it is exactly what two of them have already done with a third ; Matthew and Luke have treated Mark with a very free hand. Let us add that mere priority is not in itself an absolute guarantee of accuracy, nor is inaccuracy necessarily connoted by lateness of date. (P. 53)
The independent attitude of the Fourth Evangelist is manifested in his extension of the duration of the Ministry and in his bold transpositions of events and dates. (P. 53)
It certainly appears from the Synoptic representation that the public Ministry of Jesus began and ended within a single year; otherwise the Fourth Evangelist, who expands it to a period which includes at the least three Passovers….To turn to the Cleansing of the Temple. According to the Fourth Gospel it occurred at the beginning of the Ministry, while it is placed by the Synoptics at the close of the Ministry ‘, and is evidently regarded by them as the decisive act which precipitated the Death of Jesus. Harmonists have struggled to escape the difficulty… The balance of probability is surely against the Johannine dating; for the position of the story in the Synoptics is natural, while in the case of our Gospel it has rather the effect of an anti- climax. (PP. 54-55)
Another instance of ‘violent alteration,’ as it would appear, is that of the respective datings of the Death-Day of Jesus. Take first the Synoptic representation. Jesus, it would appear, celebrates the Passover with the Twelve. They depart from the Upper Room; the scene changes from the Mount of Olives to ‘a place which was named Gethsemane’; quickly there follows the Arrest. As for the Crucifixion, it takes place the day after the Celebration of the Passover. Not so, says the Fourth Evangelist; he tells of a Supper partaken of by Jesus and his friends while nowhere stating that the number of the latter was limited to The Twelve. Far from identifying that Supper with the Paschal Meal, he is at pains to make it understood that the Passover lay still ahead; and that, when the night of its celebration had arrived, the body of Jesus was already in the tomb… in regard to the day of the month ; the Synoptics assign it to the 15th of Nisan, ‘John’ to the 14th. They are, accordingly, in flat contradiction in regard to date. (P. 55)
The Scene of the Ministry
This, by the Synoptics, is laid in the Galilaean homeland of Jesus ; and, recording certain journeys outside Galilaean territory , they have nothing to say of visits paid to Jerusalem save only the one which issued in his death. In sharp contrast is the representation of the Fourth Evangelist; for with him the scene on which Jesus moves during the period of his Messianic activity is Judaea ‘, and in particular Jerusalem; but rarely does he appear in Galilee, and when there his stays are of brief duration. No wonder that the discrepancy is insisted on. (P. 58)
John the Baptist
The contention is raised that the Fourth Gospel is in contrast with the Synoptics in that, along with changed motives and with significant omissions, the element of the miraculous is strongly enhanced. (P. 61)
We will observe in the first instance that one particular class of miracles is excluded by the Fourth Evangelist. In the case of the Synoptics there is frequent mention of demoniac-cures performed by Jesus ; and, by the way, it is widely conceded that he did actually heal many a sufferer who, in the conception of the age, was possessed by an evil spirit. No such narratives occur in the Fourth Gospel; ‘John knows nothing whatsoever of the most frequent wonder- works of Jesus, the healing of demoniacs’; or rather, he declines to admit such Synoptic stories into his own Gospel. (PP. 62-63)
It must be said, then, that there is enhancement^. With the works of healing the effect is heightened; in one case the cure is performed from a considerable distance, in another blindness is from birth, in a third it is emphatically said of the sick man that he had been no less than ‘thirty and eight years in his infirmity’ … the very climax is reached with the Raising of Lazarus.. the narrative which, pointing to Bethany, suggests unmistakably that the corpse already four days in the tomb had seen corruption ‘. (P. 64)
It is true to say that * whereas the miracles of healing in the Synoptics are miracles of mercy and compassion, wrought because Jesus had sympathy with the sufferers, the miracles recorded by the Fourth Evangelist tend to the glory of him who wrought them. They are proofs, not of his humanity, but of his divinity.’ (P. 66)
Here, again, the Synoptic and Johannine representations are held to be mutually exclusive: — ‘Jesus must have spoken just as the Synoptics make him speak’; the Christ of the Fourth Gospel adopts ‘the theological and philosophical language of the schools.’ So, briefly stated, run multitudinous objections; and, as has been noted in another connection, there is a strong family likeness between the criticisms of time past and time present. Let two specimens be placed side by side:- — ‘Here (in the Synoptics) the popular form of oriental proverb-wisdom and inventive parable, there (in the Fourth Gospel) the profound allegory with appeal to profound reflection; instead of pithy and concise sayings alike luminous and easy to retain, a series of witnessings and disputings in exalted tone and with utter disregard for the capacity of the hearers. (P. 68)
According to the Synoptics the demands of Jesus are for self-renunciation, for compassionate love, for a taking of one’s self in hand, for work for others ; his warnings are directed against the danger of riches, worldly desires and anxieties; above all he preaches about the Kingdom of God and the conditions of entrance therein. Not so in the Fourth Gospel; the preaching of the Kingdom recedes, while Jesus becomes the dialectician… In both cases he figures as teacher; in the Fourth Gospel the subject-matter of his teaching is [almost] exclusively himself. (PP. 68-69)
Jesus, as pictured in the earlier Gospels, whether he be speaking, preaching, or disputing, never has resort to dialectic skill, to the ambiguity of artifice, to a mystical style ; on the contrary, there is utmost simplicity and clearness, a certain natural eloquence which owes far more to mental genius than to painfully acquired art. In the Fourth Gospel he disputes as the dialectician; ambiguous is his language and mystical his style; he deals to such an extent in obscurities that even very learned people are quite in the dark as to the real significance of many of his words. In the one case there are short and pregnant sayings, parables so full of beauty and of inward truth as to grip attention and to sink deep into the soul ; in the other the parabolic mode of teaching is practically absent. Here the question turns on conduct, rules of life, the Mosaic Law, errors of the Jewish people; there the speaker is concerned with dogma, with meta- physics, with his own [identity] (P. 69)
There is an absence of variety in the manner of the discourses generally, no matter who the speaker may be; the several characters, that is, hold converse in Johannine phraseology, and without individuality whether of idea or speech; conversations are reported at length when, apparently, there was no third person at hand. The question here being narrowed down to a single issue, the discourses placed by the Evangelist in the lips of his Christ, the fact must be reckoned with that, if ‘some actual sayings of the historic Jesus’ be embedded in our Gospel, it is certainly not throughout a depository of genuine utterances of Jesus. (P. 70)
Now, the position has been aptly stated thus: ‘Jesus cannot have had, at the same time, the style and method of teaching which the Synoptics describe and that which the Fourth Gospel reflects. We must therefore attribute the language, the colour, and the form of these Johannine discourses to the Evangelist. The Gospel of John is a distillation of the life and teaching of Jesus from the [conduit] of the Apostle’s own mind. It is his interpretation of the meaning of Christ’s words, deeds and person derived from intimate personal relations with him, and coloured and shaped by a long life of Christian thought and experience.’ (PP. 70-71)
‘a Jesus who preached alternately in the manner of the Sermon on the Mount and of John 14-17 is a psychological impossibility.’ (P. 71)
What is it that God looks for and what is alone decisive for life or death? The answer of the Fourth Gospel is this : believe on the Son of God who came down from heaven and believe that he is Jesus — an answer which has had a baneful effect on Christendom, for it is only too easy to make such a profession of belief without drawing nearer to God and becoming a better man. Very different is the answer of the Synoptic Jesus ; with him everything is contingent on that doing the Will of God which involves uprightness, brotherly love, trust in God, humility, yearnings for God’s Kingdom; of those who do the Will of God he says that they are for him mother or sister or brother. (P. 72)
‘say what we will about differences of audience and of situation demanding different forms of address, and allowing for exceptional instances, the contrast between the terse axiomatic sayings, the simple parables of the Synoptics, and the elaborate arguments of the Johannine discourses, is too great to be explained away.’ (P. 73)
The contrast is sharp. It is recorded of the Synoptic Jesus that men ‘heard him gladly,’ and small wonder that they did so when, ‘being so much in earnest with the matter, he had in a unique degree the manner at command’; of the Johannine Christ it was reported that ‘never man so spake,’ and the phrase, scarcely explained by the context, has been regarded as generally significant of abstruseness in the matter and manner of his discourse. In the one case he so speaks as to attract and often win sympathy; in the other he talks above people’s heads, he positively invites misunderstanding : ‘there is an argumentativeness, a tendency to mystification, about the utterances of the Johannine Christ which … is positively repellent … it is quite inconceivable that the historic Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels could have argued and quibbled with opponents as he is represented to have done in the Fourth Gospel.’ (P. 74)
‘In the Johannine discourses … we feel that it is not the visible and audible Jesus who is speaking, but the Christ who is the life of the Church’ and the only possible explanation is that the Fourth Gospel ‘is not history, but something else cast in an historical form.’ (P. 74)
The Synoptic and Johannine portraits of Jesus
It is here contended that there is no escape from a categorical ‘ either — or’ … the sharp contrast, it is said, is reducible to ‘ the simple formula : here man — there God.’ While the Synoptic Jesus ‘advances practically nothing as to his divine nature, and judging from his utterances, solely holds himself endowed with divine gifts, sent by God, Messiah,’ the Johannine Christ ‘makes everything turn on himself’ … Therein speaks the criticism of a century ago; in like manner that of more recent times: never does the Synoptic Jesus ‘step outside the bounds of the purely human’; as for the Christ of the Fourth Evangelist, he is ‘complete from the outset, for Him there is neither childhood nor youth. He is throughout the divine word manifested in the flesh.’ And so again, when it is said that in the Fourth Gospel … we have ‘ a version— or perversion — of the Master’s life by a disciple who has portrayed him, not in his self-sacrificing love, . . . but as the mighty super- human being demanding recognition of the divine Sonship and Messianic glory.’ (P. 75)
He who looks down from the Synoptic canvas is assuredly true man. To drop metaphor, the Jesus of at any rate the Marcan representation has already reached manhood when he comes on the scene, and it is clear from the manner of the allusions that he shares the experiences which are common to the race. He is conscious of physical needs; the strain of continued action tells on him; stirred by emotions manifold lie is moved to compassion by the spectacle of suffering and pain; he both wins and displays affection; capable of sternness he gives vent to wrath. Rebuff astonishes him, and he finds himself powerless to act; he disclaims omniscience; if he puts questions it is because he has need to be informed. Great spiritual crises are experienced by him, and the meaning of temptation is realized to the full. He cannot do without prayer; hence, seeking strength, he goes apart to be alone with God. Yet strength fails him; in Gethsemane deep terror seizes him, and he pleads as hoping for deliverance to the last. Bitter is the cry wrung from him in his dying moments. (PP. 75-76)
To turn from it to the portrait of the Johannine Christ; A portrait of ‘sweet, unearthly beauty’ as it has been called, it is certainly of an exalted personage. There is an air of imperiousness about the Christ of our Evangelist, as, issuing his commands, he expects obedience from those who are rather summoned as his subjects than invited as his friends. The multitudes are eager to make him a King; precisely because they own him a force to be reckoned with, his destruction is compassed by his foes. His discourse is of high matters, and it is with conscious dignity that he refers to himself. Majestic is the part played by him in the closing scenes; whether in the Garden, in the high priest’s court or in the praetorium his [appearance] is stately and his speech serene. He ‘decides His own fate.’ (P. 78)
But the Johannine representation does not stop short here; on the contrary, it is plain that the regal personage depicted transcends mere manhood. He manifests a celestial glory. He knows all men as knowing what is in man. If he tell of heavenly things it is as having seen and known them; he has come down from heaven, and thither he will soon return. He can say: ‘ My Father worketh hitherto and I work’; if eternal life be for him know- ledge of ‘the only true God,’ it is equally to know himself; dishonor done to him is dishonor done to God ; with deliberation does he say; ‘The Father is in me and I in him’; recognizing a distinction, he affirms that he and the Father are ‘one.’ Pre- existent as he claims to be, he is conceived of as ‘the Word’ that was with God from all eternity. (P. 78)
It must nevertheless be owned that a contrast is presented which finds no sufficient explanation. (P. 81)
When every allowance has been made for powers of adaptation and varied environment, it is impossible to believe that the historic Jesus was really accustomed to discourse after the manner of the Johannine Christ. The former lives and moves in the Synoptic Gospels. (P. 82)
The modern student cannot but feel that to turn from the ‘Synoptics to the Fourth Gospel is to breathe another atmosphere, to be transported to another world, The contrast is, indeed, sharp… ‘Another world.’ The world, to a certainty, of Greek life and thought’; the world of Asia Minor, of Ephesus. (P. 82)
The Self Dating of the Fourth Gospel
It has already been decided by us, of course provisionally, that the two extreme limits within which the date of origination of our Gospel might be held to lie were roughly indicated by, on the one hand, that of the latest of the Synoptics, and, on the other, by its use, to all appearance, in the circles of Valentinian Gnosis… Our provisional decision, it must be remembered, was the outcome of an inquiry which was then restricted to the field of external evidence. Not so in the present chapter, for it now becomes our business to question the Gospel itself; to determine so far as possible the relations in which it stands to event, circumstance, or movement in the outer world. (P. 83)
We now turn to our Gospel. As we have seen already, it was not only commented on by the Gnostic Heracleon, but held in estimation by Basilides ; and, such being the case, we may well be incredulous in respect of the very late dating of a previous suggestion. But the question is whether we be now pointed to the nearer date sought for by the manner and matter of its contents when compared with that Gnosticism which has been rapidly surveyed by us. (P. 90)
There are two extreme positions. In the one case our Gospel has been definitely claimed for Gnosticism’; in the other it is said to be characterized throughout by a pronounced antagonism to Gnostic modes of thought. The truth, however, does not appear to lie in either quarter, and it is far more reasonable to decide that, in some degree sympathetic, it also tells plainly of a discriminating mind. That it is not untinged by Gnostic influences might be admitted; its author has occasional resort to a terminology in use in Gnostic circles, he makes room for an ‘ intellectualism’ of a certain kind, elements of dualism are perceptible in his conceptions, the idealized portrait of his Christ is suggestive of a Docetism from which he himself is not altogether free. On the other hand it must be as readily admitted that, by no means blind to momentous issues, he fastens on and repudiates errors detected by him in Gnostic doctrines which were making their appearance in his day. (P. 90)
Our Evangelist is no advanced Gnostic. As for his Gospel, it is not the work of one who, realizing the gravity of the situation, is constrained to grapple with and refute a Gnosticism which has arrived at the hey-day of its development. What might be allowed perhaps is that, not definitely hostile to Gnosticism in its earlier stages, he occasionally reveals a discriminating sympathy; yet it must be added that, alive to errors creeping in and already fraught with mischief, he is bold to speak his mind. That his Gospel is altogether strange to the Gnostic movement it is hard to believe. (P. 91)
We are led to the conclusion that our Gospel places us in a day when Basilides and Valentinian had yet to elaborate their systems, and that accordingly it is prior to the year a.d. 135 or thereabouts… Were our search to end at this point the conclusion would be reasonable that, although no precise date can be fixed, our Gospel can be safely assigned to the period a.d. 100-125. (PP 91-92)
Literary Structure of the Gospel
The Fourth Gospel, it would appear, is not, in the strictest sense of the word, the unity which it has been, and still is, held to be; it is, to say the least, not easy to regard it as throughout the integral work of a single author. (P. 103-104)
If there be general agreement that ch. 21 is an appendix to a work which has reached a perfectly natural conclusion with John 20:30-31, the fact remains that of those who contend for the literary unity of the Gospel some unhesitatingly include the appendix chapter and some do not. (P. 99)
he view obtains in many quarters that, far from being a literary unity, ‘the Fourth Gospel is a composite work’ … an extensive series of phenomena prove ‘to the satisfaction of an increasing number of critics that the Fourth Gospel is anything but the “seamless coat” … elsewhere he has said: ‘Besides its “parenthetic additions “and passages relating to the “afterthought,” the Fourth Gospel is notoriously full of the gaps and seams, the logical discrepancies and inconsistencies which, if not due to an extraordinary degree of carelessness on the part of the Evangelist, can only be explained as we explain them in other writings of the time. They must be due to later intervention, whether by combination with parallel documents, or by editorial revision, supplementation, or readjustment.’ (P. 100)
Those who disallow the unity of the Gospel are divided into two groups; the ‘partitionists’ and the ‘revisionists.’ With the various ‘partition-theories’ propounded by the former a distinction is drawn between an older source or sources in their combination with later editorial additions. As for the latter, advancing their ‘revision- theories’ they argue each in his own way for some later editor who has ‘recast the Gospel for purposes which originally it was not meant to serve. Either set of theories,’ it is added, ‘may be combined with the further hypothesis of dislocations in the text.’ (P. 100)
Whether the Gospel be a unity or not, it appears on the face of it that, in respect of order of sequence, it has undergone a certain amount of structural disturbance and disarrangement. To begin with, it surely cannot be the case that the prolonged discourse, chs. 15, 16, together with the ‘High-priestly Prayer,’ ch. 17, originally stood immediately after the ‘ I will no more speak much with you’ and the ‘Arise let us go hence’ of ch. 14, 30-31 ; and it shall be agreed at once that the words just cited ‘are natural at the end of a discourse, and are naturally followed by 18, … with the elimination of the pericope de adultera (7:53-8:11), it becomes obvious that there is a want of connection between the sections (7: 52 ff., 8:12) which immediately precede and follow what is, and will presently be recognized as, an interpolation. (PP. 100-101)
The admission appears inevitable that instances of interpolation, gap, and addition are perceptible. To revert in this connection to the pericope de adultera ; if here and there defended as an integral portion of the Fourth Gospel, it is regarded by the majority of scholars as an insertion of Synoptic rather than Johannine type ; and conjecture has it that ‘this floating passage of primitive tradition drifted as a marginal note into some MSS. of John. . . and finally was settled in the text’; possibly it had its place in the Gospel of the Hebrews. (PP. 101-102)
As certainly the verses John 5:3-4, are no part of the original Gospel, and here it is suggested that an evident gap has been filled in, by way of explanation, by some later hand; that, as the section originally stood, the genuine John 5:7 was unintelligible, and hence the piece of information which, now properly relegated to the margin of the R.V., ultimately found its way into the text. On these and other points there is a consensus of opinion ; highly debatable ground is reached when seam or rent is discovered in such passages as John 6:36, John 18:12, John 19:34, and it is argued that the sections in the Prologue which refer to the Baptist are the insertions of another hand’. Room, again, is made for the opinion that, inasmuch as the full significance of John 17:32 goes far beyond the somewhat meagre explanation offered in John 17:33, the latter verse reveals another penman. It is further said that the references to Caiaphas (John 11:49; John 18:1-21) were absent from the Gospel in its original form; yet further, that it is not inconceivable that the sections in which the Beloved Disciple figures on the scene owe not a little of their colouring to an editorial hand. (P. 102)
Other features are presented by our Gospel which unquestionably occasion pause. In one place, at any rate so it would appear to some, the Parousia is dispensed with (ch 14), while elsewhere (ch 15-17) it dominates the conception; in one place (John 14:16, John 14:26) the Paraclete is to be sent by the Father, in another (John 15:26, John 16:7) the sender will be Jesus himself. Nor is it only a case of what, in the view at all events of some scholars, is discrepancy and contradiction; the long discourse-sections, in many respects quite unlike those made up of narrative, are held to reveal different hands. (P. 103)
The Fourth Gospel, it would appear, is not, in the strictest sense of the word, the unity which it has been, and still is, held to be; it is, to say the least, not easy to regard it as throughout the integral work of a single author. (P. 104)
It would appear that greater weight attaches to the arguments brought forward by the ‘ revisionists ‘; and that the balance of probability is in favour of a theory which, avoiding exaggerations and extremes, nevertheless distinguishes between the main fabric of the Gospel and final touches — not to say amplifications — received by it before it was given to the world. (P. 104)
The Making of the Gospel
The stage is now reached when, with no pretense of speaking last words on the complicated subject of our inquiry and profoundly conscious of problems still unsolved and perhaps insoluble, we may at least venture tentative conclusions on the three-fold question of the authorship of the main fabric of our Gospel, the methods employed in its composition, and the processes whereby it assumed its present form. (P.105)
We are constrained to feel that the chances of his authorship being proved to satisfaction are exceedingly remote, and that the expression ‘improbable in the extreme’ may justifiably be adopted by ourselves. The external evidence is, at best, inconclusive; while there can be little question that features are presented by the Gospel itself which, not absolutely incompatible with the hypothesis of an eyewitness, are nevertheless of such a nature as to suggest that, whatever the identity of the Evangelist, he not only wears small resemblance to the son of Zebedee, but must be sought for outside the number of the traditional Twelve. Yet further; the Gospel, beyond ll reasonable doubt, originated in Asia Minor, and a stream of tradition must be reckoned with which goes near to prove that John the Apostle lived his life and died a martyr’s death in Palestine. (P. 106)
The Fourth Evangelist is, in all probability, not the Apostle John; — who, then, is he? Conjectures are numerous; (P. 106)
Whoever he was, the Evangelist was assuredly a Jew. By birth and early training he was, in all likelihood, a Jew of Palestine who, at some period or other, had quitted his Palestinian home, and after much travelling, had found himself on the soil of Asia Minor; in the event he settled down at Ephesus. It may or may not have been the case that he was already full of years when he began to pen his Gospel. Beyond all question he was a man of soul and brain, of a contemplative turn of mind, in touch with Greek philosophy and versed in Alexandrine speculation, a philosopher and a theologian. He may indeed convey the impression that he had actually been eye- and ear- witness of at all events some of the events and scenes told of by him in the pages of his work. Yet the temptation is now and again strong to say of it that the evidences of dependence are so many and so convincing ‘as to justify or even compel the inference that the author is not an eye-witness supplementing the Synoptic account by his own minute remembrances, but a writer somewhat remote from the events’ which he purports to relate. (P. 110)
Whichever way it be, the identity of the Fourth Evangelist remains undisclosed. It is all very well to ask whether, even had he so desired, he could have kept the fact of his authorship a secret, and in the very locality where the Gospel originated; and an apt rejoinder might instance the undisclosed secret of the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. With better show of reason is it suggested that, if he remained, and remains, the ‘Great Unknown,’ it is precisely because he himself did not wish to be known — except, as is quite probable, within the limited number of his more intimate friends and colleagues, of the faithful group for whom he was theologian, doctor, and prophet. (P. 111)
It was said by Origen of the Epistle to the Hebrews that who its author was God only knew; and the same words may be used of the work traditionally assigned to St John. (P. 111)
Room must be allowed for a considerable interval between start and finish. It is in the last degree improbable that the Gospel was penned at a stroke ; and it is far more likely that one or other section was in the first instance worked up as a separate unity, and that such sections were subsequently so pieced together as to form an organic whole. (P. 113)
The main fabric of our Gospel, it may accordingly be concluded, was a gradual growth. That before a line of it was penned, the contents of it as a whole lay spread out before the author in his inmost soul, is a conjecture which will scarcely pass muster; yet it may be readily admitted, not to say asserted, that, reserving to himself full liberty for deviation and modification as the work progressed, he had sketched the rough outline and generally decided in regard to plan. From one point of view the word ‘composite’ may be used of it, inasmuch as a variety of sources had been utilized by him. It may nevertheless be spoken of as a unity, in that its matter was stamped with the impress of his own mind. (PP. 112-113)
We now inquire as to the steps and processes whereby the Fourth Gospel assumed its present form. Conjectures are numerous. (P. 114)
The appendix chapter  being omitted, it is said of our Gospel that we possess it for the most part in the form it originally wore; but that interpolations here and there are due to some later editor whose materialistic conceptions, Jewish- Christian modes of thought, and far less developed standpoint, can be detected in the explanations and elucidations of the supposed meaning of the Evangelist which he attempts. It was proved to his own satisfaction by an earlier critic that, worked over not once but twice, and by two different hands, the Gospel points ultimately to an Alexandrian Gnostic — quite possibly the author of the Apocalypse — who supplied the Prologue by way of substitute for a lost or damaged Introduction; a few years later the contention was raised that in our Gospel there are traces unmistakable, not of interpolations only, but of independent redaction on the part of one who allowed himself a very free hand. (P. 115)
So runs a still later suggestion, his Gospel was to remain until his death the possession solely of his nearer friends; ten years elapsed, and then, his friends again collaborating but this time allowing themselves a freer hand, the appendix chapter was penned, its two closing verses being added by the friends in question. With nice distinctions between genuine Johannine ‘wonders’ and miracle akin to magic, between Galilean and Judaean sections, and with the remark that an impression conveyed by our Gospel is that two altogether diverse spirits are discernible in its contents, the hypothesis was advanced which, pausing for a moment on two distinct authors, went on to dwell on a work which reveals the additions and interpolations of a later redactor; one who, having appended the narratives contained John 21:1-23, put forth the Gospel with an assurance which points back to John 20:30. and which declares- (John 20:24.) the work of the eye-witness alluded to in the immediately preceding narrative to be worthy of respect and use. More recently, and with detailed specification of three different interests which our Gospel is held to reflect, it is said to be possible yet not probable that such interests were present in one and the self-same person, and that hence the probability is that the structure of the Gospel has undergone changes. (P. 115)
[John] has certainly undergone changes in that, at some time or other, it suffered disarrangement and dislocation. Tell-tale evidences are, in some cases, more or less clearly perceptible (P. 115)
The question must now be narrowed down to a distinction between the work of the Evangelist and that of a redactor (or redactors). Two preliminary remarks. In the first place, we cannot but admit that it is more than doubtful whether attempts to distinguish not only between document and document but between hand and hand in our Gospel will ever be crowned with full and final success. And secondly, we promptly acquiesce when toldthat not every unvenness in the text or apparent or actual contradiction of itself justifies the search for documentary sources; and that — what is very much to the present purpose — ample allowance must be made for clumsiness on the part of the author ; for a diversity of possible points of view, for manifoldness of personal and documentary influences, for fluctuating mood and view during the period in which the work originated, for the author’s own corrections of his completed work, or for minor improvements by some later hand which left the original work essentially intact. Let us add that it would be just as impossible to reconstruct the conjectured original work of the Evangelist from our Fourth Gospel only, as to reconstruct the Marcan Gospel from the two later Synoptics. (P. 116)
Let us proceed on the lines of that ‘ revisionist ‘ theory which we have already decided to adopt. We at once mark off the section John 6:53- John 7:11. The pericope de adultera is in any case a foreign element in our Gospel; while it presents points of contact with the Synoptic representation, there is no certainty with regard to its origination. And next, the legendary explanation of ‘the troubling of the water,’ John 5:3-5, is a gloss, and likewise disappears from the Gospel. These two passages, however, point to the field of textual criticism, and do not come into question for our present purpose. (P. 117)
We now turn to the appendix chapter (21). So far as our knowledge goes, the Gospel was never circulated without it; opinions differ as to whether it was added during the lifetime of the Evangelist, and, if so, whether by others or by himself. In respect of style and diction it wears, no doubt, striking resemblances to the main bulk of the Gospel; yet the view appears preferable that it is an addition, and by a later hand, to a work which had reached a formal close with the preceding chapter, and the contingency must be reckoned with that its final verse is of separate origination. Looking to the type of subject matter it might perhaps be said of the chapter that it affords an instance of attempted adjustment to the Synoptic representation ; but whether the intention really was to rehabilitate Peter, or, by conceding prominence to Peter, to stifle objections which had been raised at Rome, is quite another question. (P. 117)
The emphatic statement, John 21:24, is strongly reminiscent of the equally emphatic statement met with John 19:35, and the probability is that both statements must be assigned to the same later pen. It is further possible that the like conclusion holds good, not of John 5:35 only, but of John 10:31 and John 10:37 also. (P. 117)
To pass on to the sections in which the Beloved Disciple figures in the scene. No difficulty is raised by the fact that the designation is applied to this mysterious personage in the appendix chapter, for this chapter has already been assigned by us to a hand other than that of the Evangelist. It is however quite another matter when the designation is met with elsewhere in the Gospel ; and the choice lies, it might be said, between two alternatives; either the Evangelist is not the Beloved Disciple — in which case he could quite well have used the designation of a third person ; or the hand of a redactor is traceable in the respective sections. That it is so traceable is, in any case, probable; yet not so as to necessitate the conclusion that the entire sections were altogether absent from the original work. If the words ‘whom Jesus loved’ be therein attached to the ‘disciple’ alluded to, the phrase was perhaps imported by the redactor from the appendix chapter. (PP. 117-118)
There is some show of ground for the belief that the sections which relate to Caiaphas are, to say the least, not free from interpolation, and on such an assumption the charge of having blundered (in holding the high-priesthood to be an annual office) might cease to lie at the door of the Evangelist himself. (P. 118)
Turning to the discourse with Nicodemus (John 3:1-11), we cannot but agree that John 10:11 reads awkwardly in the context; and the conclusion may be ventured that, suggestive of later circumstances and conditions, it is an importation from an unknown source. (P. 118)
Attention is next claimed by a group of passages which are either not exactly in harmony with other passages (e.g., John 2:19; John 3:29 and John 3:31; John 3:22, John 3:26; John 4:1 and John4 :2), or which are strongly suggestive of explanations which have missed the mark (e.g., John 12:32 ; John 17:12 and John 18:9) ; and the impression is hard to avoid that they reflect the workings of another and a duller mind. The case is otherwise when (e.g., John 10:5, John 10:10) there is a mere change of metaphor. Nor is there occasion of difficulty in respect of what appear to be doublets (e.g., John 11:39 f.; John 14:13 f. ; John 17:14, John 17:16); for, in the first place, such features are not peculiar to our Gospel, and secondly, it might suffice to speak of prolixity of expression. (PP. 118-119)
Unquestionably there are sections which illustrate diversity of view and standpoint. Two of them have already been enumerated while a third (John 10:21 ff.) has just been noticed in a foot-note reference; and the question then arises whether, apart from divergence of conception relative to the sending of the Paraclete, the self-same author who can apparently dispense with an external Parousia has nevertheless had resort to the turns and phrases of Jewish Eschatology, or whether the sections do not rather indicate the hand of one who still clung to materialistic conceptions of Resurrection, of Judgement, of the Second Coming of the Lord. There is ground for hesitation ; yet on the whole we are, perhaps, guided to the conclusion that such fluctuations are to some extent accounted for by variety in mood. The Fourth Evangelist, be it added, is by no means the only man of letters to be at times inconsistent with himself. (P. 119)
Chapter 20 with its record of three several appearances of the Risen Lord — to Mary Magdalene ; to an unspecified number of disciples; to, so it would appear, the same disciples, but, this time, Thomas with them. The point, then, is whether, looking to their nature, the stories are precisely what the Evangelist has prepared us to expect. His Christ has, indeed, spoken of his impending death; yet no word has come from him which can be so construed as to suggest both a conviction and a prediction of an external Resurrection, while the allusions actually met with are strongly indicative of a coming to, of an abiding presence in the believer’s heart. Nay more ; the tone and tenor of the great Farewell Discourses are scarcely in keeping with an expectation that, before three short days had passed, the speaker would have rejoined his disciples, in outwardly visible if mysteriously transfigured form. (P. 120)
It must be confessed that the stories give us pause. They are singularly beautiful stories. They testify to an actual Easter assurance, howsoever vouchsafed and apprehended, which brought conviction to the souls of the disciples and enabled them to say their ‘Jesus lives.’ A deep spiritual significance may be read into them. We are nevertheless constrained to ask again: has any word come from the Evangelist which expressly invites his readers to expect such stories? It is not altogether easy to answer in the affirmative; and the question arises: is he himself responsible for the stories — stories, quite in the Johannine manner, of spiritual experiences in concrete form — or must their presence, not necessarily their origination, be accounted for by a redactor’s hand? (P. 120)
Turning to the Prologue (John 1:1-18), we are confronted by a twofold question: — do we possess it in its original form — from whose pen does it come? No doubt features are presented by it which, at first sight, might dispose us to differentiate between hand and hand. They are present in John 20:6-8 and 15; where, with abrupt transition from ‘great abstract conceptions,’ we seem, if only for a moment, ‘to touch the solid earth,’ and then ‘are taken back to the region of abstractions which we had hardly left’; and the suggestion is not farfetched that they are no part of the original text. It might well be pleaded that no real loss is involved by their removal; that, on the contrary, they seem but to impair the ordered sequence of majestic cadences. (P. 121)
The identity of the Evangelist is, and probably will remain, an enigma. Whether the Beloved Disciple (who is not the Apostle John) or some other person be the author, the Gospel was certainly not written by a tour deforce; prolonged and careful preparation was involved; long time on the literary stocks, it was built up in collaboration with members of an inner circle. He himself never published it; when first it emerged from its depository he had, in all likelihood, already gone to his rest; and, when actually given to the world, it had, so to speak, ceased to be his Gospel to become our Fourth Gospel. Or in other words, the original treatise of the Evangelist had been somewhat freely dealt with — supplemented, interpolated, and perhaps modified — by editorial hands, yet so as to lend the semblance of compactness to the expanded work. If room must really be made (and this is doubtful) for a plurality of redactors they would differ in mental caliber and trend of thought. There is no settling the question as to who precisely they were, yet it may be said of them that, for all their diversity, they belonged to the Johannine school at Ephesus. (PP. 122-123)
Then and Now
The Synoptic tradition was not simply explained by him, but, in and by his interpretation of it, purified and refined as he transferred the Jesus of Capernaum to Ephesus, and sought to make the Christ of his experience a reality for Hellenistic and Hellenic modes of thought. (P. 129)
That, prior to its publication, it should be subjected to a revision which savored of conventionalism was, perhaps, natural in the circumstances ; nor is there ground for wonder that, even when so worked over as to become our Fourth Gospel, it was slow — as seems to have been the case — to win its way to general acceptance. (PP. 130-131)
What of its historical value … That it is of no small importance, as an ancient document, for the student of antiquity no one will deny. The grave question is whether it be safe to turn to it as a reliable source for the Life of Jesus. The answer must be tinged with hesitation. It is one thing to say that ‘ we cannot . . . write a Life of Christ as if the Gospel of St John had no existence’… for the larger part of evidence relative to the earthly life of Jesus we must admit dependence on the Synoptics (P. 132)
Let it be granted that the real Jesus, in respect of each several point in his human development, was other than our Evangelist depicts. It may then be added that he, the Evangelist, profoundly conscious that personality is after all the highest force, and that it is far less a question of what the man says and does than of what the man is, has seized on great ideas which absorbed the soul of Jesus ; and, in his portraiture, has presented them in concrete form. Whether eye-witness or not, he is linked in spiritual affinity with Jesus. In his spiritual Gospel the Christ of his experience is accordingly invested with a personality which, tremendous in its impressiveness, cannot for a moment be regarded as naught but the mere creation of pious fancy, of an imaginative mind. (P. 133)
Ernest Findlay Scott, The Historical and Religious Value of the Fourth Gospel
Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1909
Ernest Findlay Scott was born on March 18th, 1868 in Towlaw, Durham, England. Scott was educated at some of the finest theological centers in the United Kingdom, earning degrees from the University of Glasgow (1888), Balliol College, Oxford (1892) and United Presbyterian College, Edinburgh, 1895. Upon completing his education, he was ordained as a United Presbyterian minister on September 11, 1895. Following ordination, Scott served as a minister in Prestwick, Scotland, serving a congregation there for over a decade. In 1908, Scott took up his first academic post, as Professor of Church History at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario Canada, later being promoted to Professor of New Testament Literature and Criticism as that same university. In 1919, Scott was hired by Union Theological Seminary as Edward Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology, which he served from 1919-1954 (emeritus post-1938). Throughout an extensive career in both the ministry and the academy, Scott wrote prolifically on New Testament theology.
Archive Book Link: https://archive.org/details/historicalreligi00scotrich/page/n5/mode/2up
“The message of the Kingdom, which forms the one subject of his teaching in the Synoptic Gospels, falls practically out of sight, and our attention is fixed instead on his own personality, in its relation to God and its significance for the world. We discover, on closer examination, that this Gospel differs from the others, not only in its general view of the nature of Christ’s mission, but in its reading of the history itself. The chief scene of our Lord’s ministry, which was Galilee according to the Synoptic records, is placed in Jerusalem. Even where the fourth evangelist is in closest agreement with the Synoptists, he never fails to introduce some modification in detail, often of such a nature as to change the whole meaning of the event.” (Page 2)
“It is evident that all the material has undergone a process. From whatever source he derived it, — whether from our Synoptic Gospels or from other traditions, equally trustworthy, the writer has moulded it anew and brought it into harmony with his own conceptions. What we have before us now is not the literal history of our Lord’s life but the Johannine interpretation of that life.” (Page 13)
“The writer views all the facts not as they are in themselves, but through an atmosphere of symbolism. It was already observed by Clement of Alexandria, at the beginning of the third century, that “since the bodily things had been exhibited in the other Gospels, John, inspired by the Spirit, produced a spiritual Gospel.” This “spiritualising” of the history is manifestly his aim throughout.”” (Page 14)
“The history resolves itself at every point into a kind of allegory which cannot be rightly apprehended without a key. In this way we must explain the liberties, strange to our modern mind, which the writer continually takes with historical facts. The event as it happened was to him the adumbration, necessarily dim and imperfect, of a spiritual idea. His interest is in the idea, which he regards as the one essential thing, — the “truth” or inward reality of the fact. He thinks it not only permissible but necessary to modify the fact, so as to bring out more fully or emphatically the idea at the heart of it.” (Page 16)
“In modern times the authorship of the fourth Gospel has been the subject of rigorous investigation. The discussion has now been in process for nearly a hundred years and is by no means closed; but the weight of scholarly opinion is settling down to a conviction that the traditional theory must be abandoned.” (Page 4)
“The fourth Gospel, therefore, cannot be attributed to the Apostle John, and the real secret of its authorship seems to be irrecoverably lost. Many attempts have been made in recent times to connect it with some particular name; but with our scanty knowledge of the early history of the church, they are hazardous at the best. The evangelist himself remains unknown. All that we can do is to distinguish, within certain limits, the place and time in which he composed his work. From various indications, both internal and external, we can infer that he belonged to Asia Minor, and probably to the region of Ephesus.” (Page 11)
“The evidence would seem to point, more and more decisively, to sometime within the first two decades of the second century.” (Page 12)
“When we look below the surface of the fourth Gospel we seem to discover clear traces of this interest in the contemporary life of the church. Several of the more striking peculiarities of the Gospel are not capable of explanation until we read it not only as a history of Jesus, but as a tract for the times called forth by the practical requirements of the second century.” (Page 18)
“It is impossible to avoid the inference that the evangelist, writing at a time when the synagogue was in strong opposition to the church, took occasion to read back into the past the conflict of the present. His Gospel became, in one of its aspects, a reply to the Jewish antagonists, whose arguments were more dangerous than any others to the progress of the Christian mission.” (Page 20)
“We know that the First Epistle of John (a kindred writing, which comes to us from the same school, if not from the same hand) is directed against certain heretical teachers. These appear to have been precursors of the later Gnostics, who denied the reality of Christ’s appearance and death, and sought to resolve his message into a vague philosophical system. It is highly probable that the same type of heretical teaching is combated in the Gospel. The writer goes back to the earthly life of Jesus, and follows it step by step through its earthly progress. He lays stress on details which serve to illustrate the Lord’s humanity. He offers solemn testimony to the material fact of the death upon the Cross.’ The whole Gospel centers on the thesis that the Word was made flesh, — that the divine nature has imparted itself to men through a human life. But while the evangelist is thus strongly opposed to Gnosticism, there is reason to believe that he has himself been touched by Gnostic influences. He makes frequent use of well-known Gnostic watch-words; he draws a Gnostic distinction between the two classes of men, — the earthly and the spiritual, the children of darkness and the children of light ; with all his insistence on the reality of the Saviour’s life he never loses sight of its ideal significance. This twofold attitude to the Gnostic speculations is one of the chief problems of the Gospel. In order to solve it fully we should require to know something of the personality of the writer and of the particular circumstances in which he wrote.” (Page 21-23)
“Living at a time when the unity of the church was in danger, and when various abuses were creeping into its life and sacraments, he sought to remind it of its true character. He reads back into the gospel history the conditions of his own day, in order to submit them to the Master’s judgment. Jesus himself becomes the counsellor and legislator of his church… Under the form of a biography of Jesus it deals with problems and difficulties which did not arise until after his death. It bears a constant reference not only to the events which it narrates, but to the situation of the church in the early part of the second century.” (Page 25-26)
“Judaism and Christianity had come to open quarrel; and the younger religion had to seek its future in the great Gentile world, to which its beliefs and ideals and traditions were all strange. It was evident that if the church was to survive and to maintain itself as a living power, its whole message had to be re-interpreted. Some expression must be found for the revelation in Christ, which would set it free from its mere local and accidental elements and give it a meaning for Gentiles in the second century as it had had for Jews in the first. Our Gospel was written in those years of critical transition. The task which the evangelist laid on himself was that of interpreting to a new time and translating into the terms of a different culture, the truth as it was in Christ.” (Page 28-29)
“The Christian theology is presented in the fourth Gospel under Greek forms of thought. Paul was a Jew of Tarsus, one of the centers of Greek philosophical culture; and a Hellenic influence has been traced in not a few of his speculations. But the prevailing colour of his thought is Jewish. He was trained in the Rabbinical schools and borrowed from them the theological ideas under which he explained the new message. The fourth evangelist — though almost certainly a Jew — had entered deeply into the spirit of Greek philosophy. In his endeavor to set forth the inner meaning of the Christian revelation, he discards the Jewish forms, which were unintelligible to the wider audience he has in view. In a far more radical sense than Paul, he re-interprets the message.” (Page 31-32)
“Greek philosophy was chiefly represented in the first and second centuries by Stoicism; and the central doctrine of Stoicism was that of the Logos, or immanent Reason of the world. An attempt had already been made by Philo, a Jewish thinker of Alexandria, to reconcile Greek philosophy with the Old Testament on the ground of this Stoic doctrine. The Greek term ” Logos” signifies ” word” as well as “reason”; and Philo had availed himself of this double meaning. Into the Old Testament allusions to the creative and revealing word of God he had read the philosophical conception of the Logos; and had thus evolved that theory that within the being of God there was a secondary divine principle, the Word or Logos, which was His agent in the creation and government of the world.” (Page 32-33)
“We must needs admit that in his endeavor to represent Jesus as at once man and incarnate Logos, the evangelist falls into many inconsistencies. Not only so, but he divests the historical life of much of its meaning and its true grandeur, in order to bring it into conformity with the Logos idea. We miss from his narrative some of the most striking episodes of the Synoptic story, — for example, the Baptism, the Temptation, the Agony, the Cry from the Cross. These could not be reconciled with the theory of the Logos and had therefore to be omitted… The prayers of Jesus cease to be true appeals for God’s help and guidance. He is himself one with the Father and knows beforehand that his prayer is sure of fulfilment.” As many things are omitted, so there are certain features added which impair the human reality of the portrait.” (Page 36-37)
“The message of Jesus is concerned with the coming age, or kingdom of God; but the kingdom itself is identified with its chief blessing. Jesus can speak, almost in the same sentence, of “entering into the kingdom “and of “inheriting eternal life.” The fourth evangelist takes advantage of this equivalence of the two terms and discards the idea of the kingdom altogether. It was related to hopes and beliefs that were specifically Jewish, and he replaces it by the more general conception of life.” (Page 50)
“From our knowledge, rather, of what Jesus was when he appeared on earth, we can discern him still, and receive the new truth which he imparts to us through his living Spirit. The fourth Gospel itself is the grandest illustration of this profound and far-reaching doctrine. Writing in a new century, for a people of alien race and culture, the evangelist goes back to the teaching of Jesus; but he does not simply reproduce it as it had been handed down. He translates it into new language; he interprets it with the aid of later theological forms; he brings it into relation to contemporary problems and interests, which had not yet emerged in the Master’s own lifetime. Literally considered the message is different from that which had come down in the tradition. The words attributed to Jesus had not actually fallen from his lips, and the whole picture of his earthly life and surroundings is in many respects altered. Yet the writer claims authority for his Gospel. He is convinced that he, as truly as the Synoptists, is recording the deeds of Jesus and the words he spoke. For through the historical life, he has a vision of the eternal life. The literal teaching has been illuminated to him and filled with new meanings and applications. Nearly a century had passed by since Jesus had departed; and through all those years his revelation had been unfolding itself, under the growing light of the world’s thought and knowledge.” (Page 72-74)
“He (the author) availed himself of categories of thought, unknown to the primitive age, which were derived mainly from the philosophies of Greece. These new categories were in many ways well fitted to express Christian ideas; but it cannot be denied that something was lost by the adoption of them. The teaching of Jesus became abstract and mystical, instead of simple and direct. An appeal was made to the intellect more than to the underlying instincts of the moral and religious life.” (Page 76)
“It asserted itself heir to five centuries of Greek thinking. It was acclimatized in the general culture of the time and penetrated it more and more with its own spirit. To the fourth evangelist, more than to any other teacher, the church was indebted for the mighty progress of the next three centuries. He transplanted the new religion from its Jewish soil into another, where it could take deep root and send out its branches freely.” (Page 77-78)
“It is true that in this endeavor to portray Jesus, in his earthly ministry, as the ever-living Christ, the evangelist has modified and idealized the facts. As a work of history his Gospel is secondary to the Synoptic records; and its evidence must always be sifted and controlled by means of them.” (Page 82)
Wilbert Francis Howard, C. K. Barrett, The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation
Wipf and Stock; 4th ed. edition, 2009
Wilbert Howard was a noted expositor of the Fourth Gospel, and in this book he proved a sure guide for students and general readers through the mazes of historical and internal criticism as these affected the interpretation of this Gospel. C. K. Barrett added sections of his own to take proper account of following work, through 1961, on the problem of the Fourth Gospel.
Wilbert Francis Howard, born 30 December 1880, was an English Methodist theologian, biblical scholar and clergyman. He attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and the University of Manchester. In 1919, he was appointed New Testament tutor at Handsworth College and was the college’s principal from 1943 to 1951. Academically, he was interested in New Testament scholarship and edited the second volume of J. H. Moulton’s Grammar of New Testament Greek. He was the Dale Lecturer at Mansfield College, Oxford, in 1940, and in 1946–47 was Select Preacher at the University of Cambridge. He was awarded the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies in 1947 and was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1949.
Amazon Link (4th Edition, 1961): https://amzn.to/3wECHkk
Archive Book Link (1st Edition, 1931): https://archive.org/details/fourthgospelinre0000howa_e0m9/page/n5/mode/2up
The day has passed when the student could simply assume that it is a direct historical narrative of the ministry and words of Jesus from the pen of the apostle John, and that any other theory of its character and origin is the product of “unbelieving criticism.” even the unprofessional Bible student entrusted with the preaching of the word knows that this is not so. The three latest, most scholarly, and most popular one-volume commentaries of the Bible bear witness to the present situation.
In Peake’s Commentary, Dr. A. E. Brooke has put the modern point of view to studious moderation, recognizing the indecisiveness of the external attestation, and the serious divergencies between the synoptic and the Johannine presentation of the ministry and teaching of Jesus, but attributing the gospel in its present form to the disciple of an eye-witness. In Gore’s Commentary, Dr. Walter Lock presents the case in much the same light… Dr. Garvie, in the Abringdon Commentary, interpreting the gospel on the foundation of his well-known theory we can distinguish three influences in the composition of the gospel, the Witness, the Evangelist, and the Redactor, with varying degrees of historical value.
Thus the simplest and most accessible commentaries call the attention of the elementary Bible student to the existence of the Johannine problem, for in its very complexity this problem is not one, but many. There is a sense in which this term is an obvious misnomer, yet, many as other questions still under discussion, for most of us the essence of the problem can be put in one short sentence: how far is it possible for us to use the fourth gospel as a reliable witness to the early life and teaching of Jesus Christ?
Professor B. W. Bacon, in his fascinating little book, closes the chapter, “The Spiritual Gospel,” with these words: ‘The Fourth Gospel, as its Prologue forewarns, is an application to the story of Jesus as tradition reported it of the Pauline incarnation doctrine formulated under the Stoic Logos theory. It represents a study in the psychology of religion applied to the person of Christ. Poor as Paul himself in knowledge of the outward Jesus, unfamiliar with really historical words and deeds, its doctrine about Jesus became, nevertheless, like that of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, the truest exposition of “the heart of Christ.” Professor Anderson Scott, who also recognizes a singular bending of Pauline doctrine and striking originality of thought, lays more stress on the Evangelists’ should historical information. ‘It is now generally understood that his work has much less the character of an historical record than of an interpretation of Jesus, and interpretation in the light of Christian experience and of the situation of the Church toward the end of the first century.
The reason for the widespread abandonment of the full apostolic authorship of the Gospel is the clearer recognition that the external evidence is indecisive. It is not until we reach the last quarter of the second century until we reach the last quarter of the second century that Irenaeus provides us with our first unambiguous witness in support of the traditional theory… We are without any definite evidence to show that this Gospel was attributed to John by the name in any writing before the time of Irenaeus.
The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and its Theology (1906), the first of many books by which Dr E. F. Scott has enriched the study of the New Testament, made an immediate impression in this country, which remains after a quarter of a century… the critical debate was treated as settled in favor “of the position which is now generally accepted by continental scholars.” The indecisive character of the external evidence drives us to the gospel itself. by assuming a date early in the 2nd century, and an author who was in no sense in apostle or contemporary of Jesus, Dr. Scott expounds the Gospel as a reinterpretation of Christianity to a larger world of Hellenic culture exigencies of controversy. In this narrative we are to recognize the work of one who identified The eternal Christ of inward religious experience with the Jesus of history, and who went back to the historical record to understand its deeper meaning, and to complete it and interpret it in the light of all the church had learnt by faith concerning the person and work of the exalted Lord. One of the most striking features of the book is the vivid way in which the Evangelist’s subordinate aims are brought to light.
The Fourth Gospel is written to prove the reality of Jesus Christ. But the Evangelist was no historian; ideas, not events, were to him the true realities, and if we go to his work to learn the course of events we shall only be disappointed in our search… the uncertainty of the external testimony compels us to read the answer for the riddle of the Fourth Gospel within the Gospel itself. The impossibility of finding a place for the raising of Lazarus in the historical framework of Mark decides against the historicity of that story… the most serious count against the Fourth Gospel, from the point of view of objective external history, is the attitude assigned to Jesus in his discussions with the “Jews.” … There is an argumentativeness, a tendency to mystification, about the utterances of the Johannine Christ which, taken as the report of actual words spoken, is positively repellent.’ After describing the debates reported chap. v. and viii., Dr. Burkitt concludes: It is quite inconceivable that the historical Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels could have argued and quibbled with opponents as he is represented to have done in the Fourth Gospel. The only possible explanation is that the work is not history, but something else cast in historical form.’
… the Johannine story of Lazarus a great stumbling-block. It was inconceivable that any evangelist who knew of it would omit an event which, according to St. John’s account made so great a sensation.
Professor B. W. Bacon, of Yale University, for more than thirty years has written with a fullness and fertility of Johannine criticism in periodical literature, and the crown of all these studies is promised in a volume, The gospel of the Hellenists. No historical survey of the fourth gospel in the 20th century could possibly ignore the Fourth gospel in research and debate (1910), which stood mid-way between the same writers Introduction to the New Testament (1900) and his Jesus and Paul (1921). the germ of most of doctor Bacon’s ladder work is to be found in the 25 vivid pages of this little introduction. At the time he recognized three hands in the gospel: (a) to the witness may be traced the conscious authority and superior knowledge displayed in a number of passages where the Johannine narrative is to be preferred to the synoptic. This is the beloved disciple whom Bacon apparently identified with the son of Zebedee. (b) the original reporter of the apostles testimony, the elder is the profound and cultured mind to whom we also owe the Epistles. (c) the author of the appendix (Chapter 21) who compiled the gospel as we now read it, is responsible for the many comments through the book, for the insertion of several narratives which show misunderstanding of the original authors aim, and, above all, for the grave dislocations of the material which led Tatian to make a number of rearrangements within Johannine passages when constructing his Diatessaron.
… The structure of the gospel is said to consist of the story of the public ministry and synoptic outline upon which a scheme of the great religious festivals is superimposed with typical signs and discourses of Jesus also the Pauline mysticism and doctrines of grace are represented as interfusing the record of the teaching of Christ.
Page 31 -32
The author of the appendix, designed to gain Apostolic rank for this anonymous work of edification, implied and identification of the unnamed disciple with the son of Zebedee by his skillful touches in xix. 35 and xxi. 20 ff. Yet this is only part of a far reaching revision of the gospel by a Redactor whose aim was to establish a place for it beside the other well-known gospels. writing at Rome about A.D. 150, he not only insinuated Johannine authorship, but worked over the document, rearranging the material to conform more closely to the Petrine Gospel of Mark, which was honored in Rome, and inserted the story of Peter’s denial in order to recount the incident of Peters rehabilitation and Commission, and thus secure authoritative recognition from the see of peter’s successors.
Bacon’s examination of the alleged dislocations in this text was the fullest treatment that this problem had yet received. He not only found that Tatian often furnishes external support for the belief that the material once stood in the revised order, but contends that a redactor can be traced at every point where dislocation is evident, and often in passages which by their direct connection with the appendix give independent evidence of having been introduced by the author of chapter 21.
James Moffat’s Introduction to the literature of the New Testament (1911) provided the English speaking world with an exhaustive survey of all the tangled mess of critical theory that surrounds the Johannine writings. No book or brochure or article of any importance, written in English, German, French, or Dutch, can have escaped professor Mofatt’s searching eye… He accepts the theory of the early martyrdom of John, Son of Zebedee; inclines to the view that he may be identified with the Beloved Disciple and so have been the original authority for some of the special traditions upon sayings and deeds of Jesus; but that neither the gospel nor the first Epistle was written either by John the Apostle or by John the Presbyter, author of the apocalypse and the second and third Epistles toward the end of the first century. He even doubts whether gospel and first Epistle come from the same hand. The ascription of Johannine authorship is later than the wide diffusion of the Gospel, which can be proved as early as the first quarter of the second century. Paulinism, Jewish Alexandrian philosophy, and Stoicism have all contributed to the Ephesian Gospel, and , though the Logos-idea is confined to the Prologue, its spirit interpenetrates the subsequent narratives and speeches. Yet the theological aim and presuppositions of the writer must not disqualify his work as a historical contribution. In a number of ways the superior accuracy of the Johannine information must be allowed, though the general dependence upon the Synoptic narratives illustrates the derivative character of his work.
Unity of the Gospel
Every fresh attempt to show by what different hands the various parts of the Gospel were written adds to the inherent improbability that any solution will be found along these lines. There are too many cross-divisions. Some start from the Prologue, some form the Appendix, others from chap. Vii., others, again, from the Farewell Disclosure. To some there is a clear line of demarcation between discourses and narratives, for others the dividing line cuts across both. Sometimes the seeming contradictions or repetitions are a clear token that separate hands have taken part in the composition of the Gospel. At other times we are assured that the chronological scheme is manifestly a later device. Now it is evident that, if the Gospel is a composite work, the validity of these various criteria will be shown by the convergence of their evidence toward one definite result.
The literary unity of the Fourth Gospel has been challenged upon the ground that a careful reading of the text reveals numerous seams and sutures. The force of this argument has been greatly reduced by the general recognition that several considerable displacements have taken place in the text.
Textural Dislocations and Chronological Order (of John)
Summary (Page 160-161 )
In several places internal evidence raises a strong suspicion that sections of the gospel (John) are not in the right order. A growing weight of opinion finds the explanation in a theory of displacement of leaves. Some attribute this to an accident which could be further manuscript after the writers death, and the carelessness of the editor who regrouped the scattered leaves. Others, with greater probability, think that the writer left his manuscript in perfectly arranged, and the reference in which he was held by his disciple prevented any change in the manuscripts as it had been left, beyond a few words here and there. The discovery that, in several of the passages where rearrangement is required on internal grounds, the displaced sections are, as regards length, multiples of a fixed unit has done much to remove this hypothesis from the class of capricious and subjective speculation.
The discovery of the Sinaitic Syriac version of the gospels.. started suggestions that textural dislocation had taken place at a very early stage in the history of the text of the Fourth gospel… Many varieties and rearrangements have been proposed by different scholars.
A glance at the table of proposed rearrangements in appendix D will show what a large measure of agreement there is amongst those writers who are convinced that the present order of the sections in the Fourth Gospel (John) does not agree with the intention of the Evangelist himself. The questions which arise in the mind of the student of the gospel are these: (1) do these discontinuities in narrative or discourse point to some primitive dislocation of the text and is this suspicion supported by any objective test. (2) is there any other probable explanation of the manifestly disordered state of the text (3) what bearing will our answer have upon the further question of the worth of the chronological data provided in the gospel.
General agreement that our present text of this gospel is disordered in many places by no means involves agreement as to the cause one of the most observations in B. W. Bacon’s keen analysis is that at every point where dislocation is evident, a Redactor can be traced. To quote his words exactly, “in every case these displacements occur in conjunction with passages which by the direct connection with the Appendix (Chapter 21) or otherwise give independent evidence is having been introduced by R (Redactor).”
We shall see presently that there is a case for suspecting that the whole Nicodemus episode has been misplaced and we must therefore take note of the very confused phraseology in which the next section begins…Other examples might be given to show that not only considerations of subject matter, but slight disturbances in the text, suggest to us that some displacement has taken place. If the disarrangement is merely the result of accident, not only in the original separation of leaves, but in their fresh grouping, we should not expect these signs of editorial handiwork. If, however, we postulate an editor who carefully rearranged the disturbed leaves, we are left astonished at his singular ineptitude in leaving such an obvious misfit as the present position of chapter 5. But this difficulty becomes all greater if the disturbance of the text is due to the deliberate work of a systematic Redactor, who went right through the gospel, inserting Synoptic material or considerable passages to suit his own ends in winning ecclesiastical sanction, either by rehabilitating Peter or by suggesting Apostolic authorship.
There are many signs that the gospel was not left in the form of a finished work. There are also indications that the writer went over his rough draft adding fresh incidents or meditations, inserting comments, elaborations, reconsiderations. It is in this way, probably, that we attain an understanding of the otherwise perplexing interruptions in the thought and rhyme of the Prologue, and the duplications and, as some have said, the inconsistencies of the Farewell Discourse. It has often been observed that the sequence of thought and the prologue runs smoothly if the verses relating to John the Baptist are omitted (John 1:6-8, 15). If these verses originally came immediately before verses 19, they would form an opening for the gospel not unlike the beginning of Mark. When the prologue was written and prefixed to the rough draft of the gospel, these verses may well have been detached from their former position and inserted into the prologue to emphasize the subordination of the Baptist, or to bring his witness into prominence.
Relation to the Synoptic Gospels and the Problem of Historicity
‘The Fourth Gospel is not a faithful historical account of the life and teaching of Jesus.’ Such is the blunt verdict of M. Jean Reville at the close of his critical analysis. Dr. P. W Schmiedel dismisses the matter with a mere wave of the hand. ‘A book which begins by declaring Jesus to be the logos of God and ends by representing a cohort of Roman solders as falling to the ground at the majesty of His appearance (John 18:6), and by representing 100 pounds of ointment as having been used at His embalming (John 19:39), ought by these facts alone to be spared such a misunderstanding of its true character as would be implied in supposing that it meant to be an historical work.’
A far more discriminating judgement is given by Professor C. H. Dodd. ‘We may now say with confidence that for strictly historical material, with the minimum of subjective interpretation, we must not go to the Fourth Gospel. Its religious value stands beyond challenge, and it is the more fully appreciated when its contribution to our knowledge of the bare facts of the life of Jesus becomes a secondary interest. This is not to say that it makes no such contribution. But it is to the Synoptic Gospels that we must go if we which to recover the oldest and purest tradition of the facts.’
Reasons have often been suggested for the Evangelist’s choice, or rejection, of the material at his disposal, Thus of the many signs which Jesus wrought he selected, amongst others, four which serve to enhance the superhuman power of Jesus : the nature miracle at Cana in Galilee, the healing of a man who had been a cripple for thirty-eight years and of another man who hand been blind from birth, and above all, the raising of a man who had been four days in the tomb. On the other hand, it is easy to find plausible grounds of some of the omissions. Thus the divine dignity of our Lord might seem to be compromised by the story of the temptation, the agony in the garden, and the cry of abandonment on the cross. Polemical or apologetic aims may have led to silence regarding the submission of Jesus to baptism by John, and the institution of the Eucharist.
The great authority of Gustaf Dalman can be cited for the Synoptic as against the Johannine presentation. His explanation is that the Fourth Evangelist knew that the words recorded by the Synoptists in connection with the distribution of the bread and of the wine were actually spoken, but that he suppressed them in his account of the events of the last evening, transferring them to the discourse in Capernaum. He did this for a double reason. He wished to emphasize ‘ that it is the Person of our Lord that is of the greatest value to humanity.’ He also feared that, as the disciples could not distinguish between spirit and flesh (John 11:60-63), the words if recorded in their original form would give rise to more serious misunderstandings, which would put the teaching and behavior of Christians in an unfavorable light. Having, then, transferred words which were originally spoken at the Last Supper as a Passover meal to another place, to show that what our Lord said to His disciples on that last night hand nothing to do with this Jewish rite, he was compelled ‘ to push back this last evening for one day, so that the Passover meal would have taken place after the death of Jesus. To the author, to whom the spiritual possession of God’s grace and truth in Jesus was central, this method did not seem wrong.’ Dalman naturally observes with reference to the influence of motive upon narrative, ‘ If this be the case, it is a serious warning to us not to put too much weight upon the Johannine presentation of the outward order of events of the earthly life of our Lord.’
Critical opinion is not so generally favorable to the Johannine dating of the cleansing of the Temple. This question is bound up with another – that is, the difficult problem of the raising of Lazarus. The Synoptic Gospels are silent upon this tremendous miracle and for them it was the cleansing of the Temple that provoked the bitter hostility of the high-priestly group. With John, the raising of Lazarus focuses the enmity of the authorities at Jerusalem.
Criticism of the Fourth Gospel (John)
MS. Evidence of the early use of the Gospel becomes the more interesting and important if it is held.. that neither Ignatius nor any other of the Apostolic Fathers can be shown to have known it. Even Justin shows only the first tentative use of the Gospel by an orthodox Christian. The gnostic heretics indeed had used the Gospel earlier; and this early gnostic use, and the early orthodox disuse together constitute one of the major problems in the early history of the Gospel. The data also lead… to the conclusion that the Gospel was written not (as the tradition maintains) in Ephesus, but in Alexandria. In support of this view … (a) the two papyri (Rylands and Egerton) prove that the Gospel was in use in Alexandria before A.D. 150, and if it is not certain that Ignatius knew the Gospel this is the earliest evidence for its existence. (b) The Alexandrian Gnostics are known to have used the Gospel. (c) Internal evidence points in the same direction. Alexandria, the home of Philo and of the authors of the Corpus Hermeticum, was a likely place for the development of a Christian Logos-doctrine, and form a suitable background for the simultaneous anti-docetic and anti-Judaic polemic of the Gospel. (d) the heretical reputation of the Alexandrian Church would account for the slow reception of the Gospel by orthodox Christians.
Definite evidence pointing to documentary relations between John and the Synoptics is seen to be singularly sparse, when once the presumption in favor of such relations is abandoned. The prima facie impression is that John is, in large measure at any rate, working independently of other written Gospels.
Most modern writers are agreed that there exists a connection of some kind between the Fourth Gospel and Gnosticism. This seems to be affirmed both by the contents of the Gospel, and by its external History, in which it was first used by the gnostic heretics themselves, and subsequently adopted as a major weapon in the armory of those who, like Irenaeus and Hippolytus, fought the Gnostics and drove them out of the Church, and though it was it was denied… it becomes increasingly difficult to deny that John was aware of the terms of gnostic thought. It remains of course possible that his relation to this kind of thought was negative – that is, he knew it, but disliked, rejected and opposed it.
The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose and Theology
Ernest Findlay Scott, Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1908
Scott was educated at some of the finest theological centers in the United Kingdom, earning degrees from the University of Glasgow (1888), Balliol College, Oxford (1892) and United Presbyterian College, Edinburgh, 1895. In 1908, Scott took up his first academic post, as Professor of Church History at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario Canada, later being promoted to Professor of New Testament Literature and Criticism as that same university. In 1919, Scott was hired by Union Theological Seminary as Edward Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology, which he served from 1919-1954 (emeritus post-1938). Throughout an extensive career in both the ministry and the academy, Scott wrote prolifically on New Testament theology.
Archive Book Link: https://archive.org/details/thefourthgospeli00scotuoft
The Johannine Writings
Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel, London : Adam and Charles Black, 1908
Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel (Born 1851) was a German theologian and professor of New Testament exegesis born in Zaukeroda near Dresden. He studied theology in Jena, where he had as instructors Otto Pfleiderer (1839–1908) and Richard Adelbert Lipsius (1830–1892). In 1879 he received his habilitation, and from 1893 to 1923 was a full professor at the University of Zurich. Schmiedel was the author of “The Johannine Writings” (translated into English in 1908) and an 1894 revision of Georg Benedikt Winer’s Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Sprachidioms. He also made important contributions to the Encyclopaedia Biblica.
Archive Book Link: https://archive.org/details/johanninewriting00schmrich/page/n5/mode/2up
The Fourth Gospel in research and debate; a series of essays on problems concerning the origin and value of the anonymous writings attributed to the Apostle John
Bacon, Benjamin Wisner, New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1918
Benjamin Wisner Bacon (January 15, 1860 – February 1, 1932) was an American theologian. He was born in Litchfield, Connecticut and graduated from Yale College in 1881 and Yale Divinity School in 1884. After serving in pastorates at Old Lyme, Connecticut (1884–1889), and at Oswego, New York (1889–1896), he was made an instructor in New Testament Greek at Yale Divinity School and became in 1897 professor of New Testament criticism and exegesis. The degrees D.D., Litt.D., and LL.D. were conferred upon him. Besides contributions to the Hibbert Journal and to the American Journal of Theology, his writings include:
- The Genesis of Genesis (1891)
- Triple Tradition of the Exodus (1894)
- The Sermon on the Mount (1902)
- The Story of St. Paul (1904)
- An Introduction to the New Testament (1907)
- The Founding of the Church (1909)
- The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate (1909)
- Jesus the Son of God (1911)
- The Making of the New Testament (1912)
- Theodore Thornton Munger (1914)
- Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (1919)
- The Gospel of Mark: Its composition and date (1925)
The Gospel Of John
G. H. C. Macgregor, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1928
George Hogarth Carnaby (known as Garth) MacGregor (1892-1963) was Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism from 1933 to 1963. A graduate of Gonville and Caius Colleges, Cambridge, MacGregor trained for the ministry at New College in Edinburgh and then graduated DLitt from the University in 1929. He became a minister in Bridge of Allan and then at St John’s-Renfield Church in Glasgow, before becoming Bruce Lecturer at the University in 1928 and Hosmer Professor of New Testament Exegesis in Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut from 1929 until his appointment to the Glasgow Chair in 1933. MacGregor was a noted New Testament scholar. He was elected President of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas in 1960.
Archive Book Link: https://archive.org/details/fourthgospelinre0000howa_e0m9/page/n5/mode/2up