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 Over the next hundred years the character of John’s Gospel as a theological, rather than a historical document, became more and more axiomatic for NT scholarship.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
C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed., London: SPCK, 1978: p.141
It is evident that it was not John’s intention to write a work of scientific history… John’s interests wore theological rather than chronological… He did not hesitate to repress, revise, rewrite, or rearrange.
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)
Our provisional decision, it must be remembered, was the out- come of an inquiry which was then restricted to the field of external evidence. Not so in the present chapter, for it now be- comes our business to question the Gospel itself; to determine so far as possible the relations in which it stands to event, circum- stance, or movement in the outer world. (p.83)
Now, there are clear indications of the spread of more or less developed Gnostic tendencies both in the admittedly genuine Pauline Epistles and in those which may or may not be traceable to Paul himself. Thus in the case of the Colossian heresy, which has ‘ been pronounced to contain all the essential elements of a Gnostic system ‘ ; the situation is less clear in the so-called Epistle to the Ephesians, yet there are hints at errors similar to those which pre- vailed at the neighboring Colosse; as for the Pastoral Epistles, they suggest that need had arisen at Ephesus to deal with the question of asceticism and to draw plain distinctions between true knowledge and knowledge which is ‘falsely so called.’ Nor is there room for doubt that, whether he be Paul or not, the author of the Epistles to Timothy was confronted with, at all events, the germs of Docetism when, 1 Tim 3:16, he points emphatically to Jesus as ‘manifested in the flesh.’ Yet it must be admitted that, if he really was Paul, he had himself used language in some degree savouring of Docetic tendencies at an earlier period; thus when, Phil 2:5., he speaks of ‘Christ Jesus’ as ‘taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.’ (pp.89-90)
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. (p.91)
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. (p.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 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
The Fourth Gospel and the Synoptics
All criticism of the Fourth Gospel must begin with an attempt to relate the book to the Synoptic Gospels. And firstly, to what extent was ‘John’ (the proper name is used throughout without prejudging the question of authorship) acquainted with the three earlier Gospels, and what use did he make of them ? Of late it has been generally assumed that he knew and used Mark ; but ‘ that he knew either of the others seems more than doubtful.’ Perhaps this statement should be so far modified as to say that the evidence, while supporting the conclusion that John did not use Matthew, favors the theory that he is dependent on Luke as well as on Mark. (p. x)
That John was familiar with Luke’s Gospel may be argued from the remarkable points of contact between the two Gospels in regard to the story of Martha and Mary. John assumes that his readers are acquainted with the story of the two sisters as told by Luke, and shows a peculiar interest in elaborating the balder Marcan narrative by a somewhat artificial cross-identification of persons and places as between Mark and Luke. It must suffice to refer the reader to the notes on John 2:1 ff. and especially John 12:2 ff., where John’s version of the anointing is obviously the result of a conflation of Mark and Luke. There are also notable resemblances between the accounts of the Passion in Luke and John. Compare Jn. 19:1 with Lk. 23:22, where both Evangelists regard the scourging by Pilate as an attempt to induce the Jews to be content with something less than the death penalty ; John 20:3 ff. with Luke 24:24, to which John’s story gives detail and precision; Jn. 20:19 and Jn 20:20 with Lk 24:36 and Lk 24:40 respectively. Literary dependence on Luke seems suggested by a comparison of Jn. 18:10 with Lk. 22:50, Jn. 19:41 with Lk. 23:53, Jn. 20:12 with Lk. 24:4 (two angels, not one as in Mark and Matthew), and especially Jn. 13:38 with Lk. 22:34, where John’s wording is almost identical with Luke’s just where the latter differs from Mark’s (Mark 14:30). Finally, we find the most notable coincidence between John and Luke in the fact that both place the first Resurrection Appearance to the Disciples at Jerusalem, not (as do Mark and Matthew) in Galilee.
Between Matthew and John there are but few points of contact and none sufficiently striking to prove literary dependence ; Streeter notes a number of minor agreements of Matthew and John against Mark, but denies that they have any significance. The evidence for John’s use of Matthew is quite inconclusive, and the probability is that he had no knowledge of it, or else that knowing it he ignored it on account of its Judaistic and Apocalyptic outlook. (p. xi)
In his placing of certain incidents and his analysis of the determining factors in the course of Jesus’ ministry, John departs from the Synoptic tradition. According to the Fourth Gospel the Cleansing of the Temple occurred at the beginning of the ministry, while the Synoptics evidently regard it as an act of provocation which finally precipitated Jesus’ death. That there were actually two ‘cleansings’ will hardly be maintained, and though it may be argued in favor of the Johannine placing that a protest against the desecration of the Temple would be called for on Christ’s first public appearance, such an act whenever performed must inevitably have provoked arrest, and the balance of probability is against our Gospel. Once again John is influenced by dogmatic motives and by the desire to secure a suitable introductory incident to illustrate the theme, which is the key to the first section of the Gospel, that the new gospel of Christ is to supersede the old religion typified by the Temple. Having thus antedated the ‘Temple-cleansing ‘ John is under the necessity of substituting another incident as the event which precipitated the denouement, and this he finds in the story of the raising of Lazarus, a miracle of which the Synoptics know nothing. That John is at variance with the earlier Gospels, even with regard to the event which provided the occasion for the arrest, is one of the greatest difficulties facing the harmonist. (p xiv-xv)
In his attitude to miracles, John presents an interesting contrast to the Synoptics. As regards the type of miracle recorded it is noticeable that the cure of demoniacs, a class of miracle which not only, according to the Synoptics, was the most frequently performed, but also to the modem mind is the most credible, is entirely omitted. On the other hand ‘nature miracles’ that is, miracles performed on inanimate objects, such as the turning of water into wine, the multiplication of the loaves, the walking on water — a type of miracle which presents peculiar difficulty — receive special emphasis. This is in line with John’s tendency everywhere to heighten the miraculous. Those on whom the miracles are wrought have been ill for thirty-eight years, born blind, dead for no less than four days. Corresponding with this tendency is a new conception of Jesus’ motive in performing miracles. According to the Synoptics it is because he is ‘ moved with compassion ’ (Mark 1:41, Mark 8:2), according to John Jesus ‘signs’ are evidence of his divine power (and the more miraculous the more convincing the proof) and therefore ‘display his glory’ (John 2:11). Whereas for the Synoptics faith is a condition of miracle (Mt. 13:58), John regards miracle as the supreme inducement to faith (John 14:11). Hence we find that according to the Synoptics Jesus, when asked for a ‘sign’ as a prop to faith, refuses it (Mk. 8:12) ; whereas in Jn. 2:18-22, when met with the same request, he does not decline it, but points forward to his miraculous resurrection with the result in the sequel that when his disciples ‘remembered’ they believed. (p. xv-xvi)
We turn now to Jesus’ discourses, and again feel the sense of contrast. And first in respect of their form. The reader of the Synoptics will agree with Justin Martyr’s verdict when, speaking of ‘the very doctrine delivered by Christ himself,’ he says: ‘Short and pithy are his discourses; no sophist was he ‘ (Apol. 1:14). The Johannine discourses impress one as discursive and dialectical, a limited number of great themes being repeated again and again on the most varied occasions. Yet, while this distinction is broadly true, our Gospel is not lacking in just such concise and axiomatic sayings as characterize Jesus’ speech in the Synoptics. No doubt to the casual reader they are almost lost in the Evangelist’s elaboration of them, but a more careful study reveals them dotted here and there like gems in a cunningly wrought setting. In the Synoptics the most characteristic and fascinating of Jesus’ discourses are the parables. But the Fourth Gospel does not contain a single true parable, the only passages which approach the parabolic form (e.g. ‘ the Vine,’ John 15:1-8 ; ‘ the Good Shepherd, Chap 10) being rather ‘allegories’ or figurative discourses. (p. xvi – xvii)
The same contrast is presented in respect of the content of Jesus’ teaching. In the Synoptics we find practical precepts adapted to concrete situations. Jesus deals with life’s great moral problems, the relation of Man to God and to his fellows; he speaks little of the mystery of his own Person and of his relation to the Father. His teaching deals almost exclusively with the question, What must one do to enter the Kingdom of God ? In the Fourth Gospel, on the other hand, we find set discourses, abstract rather than practical in character, abounding in enigmatic allusions and the elucidation of misunderstandings, which often in themselves are not a little artificial, and bearing constantly on such subjects as Christ’s own divinity, his relation to the Father, or on mysteries of faith such as the indwelling of the Spirit or the efficacy of the sacraments. But nowhere is the contrast greater than in the demands which Jesus makes upon his followers. In the Synoptics indeed Jesus requires faith, but there ‘faith’ is rather an act of moral trust.’ In our Gospel his demand is for belief in the divinity of his own Person. What he asks of people is not, as in the Synoptics, moral conduct, but acceptance as true of his assurance that he has come from heaven. (p. xvii)
But above all when one passes from the Synoptics to John one is conscious of an alteration in the portrait of Jesus himself. True, the earlier evangelists agree with John in sketching the picture with a majesty above all human standards. Yet they have no hesitation in recording incidents which suggest Jesus’ common humanity. John, on the other hand, often seems deliberately to suppress such traits. The Synoptics record that Jesus was baptized by John like any other seeker for the Kingdom; our Evangelist tells only how John witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit on the chosen Christ. In John we have no hint that Jesus was subject to human temptation, nor that in an agony of human weakness in the Garden he prayed that the cup of death might pass from him. In fact such a prayer is implicitly denied. Similarly the cry of dereliction from the Cross is omitted. From Mark (Mark 1:35) we learn that Jesus often sought a renewal of strength in prayer. But how John thinks of Jesus’ prayers is clear from John 11:41 f., where at Lazarus’ grave it appears that Jesus did not need to pray for his own sake, but only that he might confirm the bystanders’ faith. To this may be added the emphasis placed by John on Jesus’ omniscience (cf. John 1:42, 48 ; John 2:24, John 4:16, John 6:61, 64 ; John 5:6, John 13:18, John 16:19), and specially on his inviolability and what has been termed his ‘self-determination’ (John 7:30, John 8:20, 59 ; John 10:39, John 12:36, John 18:6, John 19:11). It is a postulate with John that Jesus can be compelled by no external force, that he chooses his own time and at the last ‘ lays down his life of his own accord ‘ (John 10:18), Such human characteristics as do appear in the portrait of Jesus are somewhat artificial, or seem to have been deliberately introduced with the purpose of combating current ‘docetic’ teaching, according to which Jesus was human only in semblance. (p. xviii-xix)
Finally we miss in the Fourth Gospel the sense of any development in Jesus’ understanding of his own Person and Mission. The great turning-points, so clearly marked by the Synoptics, by which he passed to a fuller realization of his vocation — the Baptism, Temptation, the Confession of Peter after the rejection in Galilee, the Transfiguration, the Institution of the Supper — all are ignored, or so transformed and misplaced as to lose their real significance. Accordingly we find that, whereas in the Synoptics it is only comparatively late that even the inner circle recognize their Master as Messiah while from his hearers as a whole the secret is hidden until the final Passover, in this Gospel Jesus begins to publish his own personal claim from the first and is openly proclaimed as Messiah by the Baptist before ever he enters on his public ministry. Here at least there can be no doubt which is the truer representation; John, writing long years after, has had his perspective foreshortened and has lost that sense of development which is still evident in the work of the earlier evangelists, whether or no they themselves were conscious of any such development. (p. xix)
The contrast presented by the two traditions remains sufficiently striking, and we cannot but feel that the scale is weighted in favor of the Synoptics, who write at an earlier date and are not influenced, at any rate so consciously as is John, by motives which are admittedly doctrinal and apologetic. We are left with the impression that a writer who is evidently primarily dependent on Mark, yet at times makes so injudicious a use of his sources (as e.g. in the account of the ‘anointing’ John 12:1), and in the end gives us a Gospel differing so signally from that of his predecessors, is hardly likely to have been himself an Apostle. Yet the free and masterful way in which he deals with earlier material suggests that he writes with a certain sense of independent authority. (p. xx)
History or Didactic Drama?
When estimating the value of the Fourth Gospel, we have been too ready to criticize it for not conveying information which it never professes to convey. Admittedly the Evangelist’s chief motive is not historical. If he is a biographer at all, then he is a biographer whose aim is not to convey facts, but to impart spiritual truth; a mere selection of incidents has been made, and the selection has been dictated by the desire not to communicate information, but to bestow upon the reader ‘life’ through faith: ‘These signs are recorded so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing may have life through his name ‘ (John 20:31). This, one admits, is partially true also of the Synoptics. They too portray Jesus not merely as seen by the outward eye, but as interpreted by the Spirit and appropriated by faith. And indeed all true history must involve a subjective as well as an objective element. But in the Fourth Gospel, ‘the reflective element is less unconsciously and more creatively and artistically present.’ (p. xx-xxi)
The Gospel thus becomes a kind of ‘historical sermon’ which reminds us of the later Jewish homiletic method known as ‘Haggadah ’ in which religious teaching is driven home by the allegorizing of sacred history. (p. xxi)
The Gospel may be well described as a didactic meditation on the drama of Christ’s life. Indeed the author is essentially dramatist rather than historian. ‘The earthly life of Jesus in this Gospel appears as a dramatic interlude in the life of the Eternal Logos,’ The Gospel is a drama in which the protagonists are Jesus, the Word of God, and the evil powers of darkness and unbelief. The Prologue is the Prelude; the dramatic climax is reached at the Passion, the moment when Jesus’ ‘hour’ has come. Hence the material is chosen primarily for its dramatic effectiveness, and many of the vivid details, which have often been claimed as marks of an eye-witness, may well be regarded rather as the creation of a vivid dramatic imagination. The Gospel abounds in dramatic moments — the declaration of Messiahship to the Samaritan woman, the withdrawal of Judas into the outer darkness, the meeting of Mary Magdalene with the Risen Master — while ‘dramatic irony’ is apparent in Peter’s boast that he will lay down his life for Christ, in Caiaphas’ unconscious prophecy that Jesus should ‘die for the nation, and not for the nation only,’ in the Pharisees’ complaint that ‘the whole world is gone after him.’ (p. xxii)
Such a dramatic interpretation must provoke with new urgency the question of the Gospel’s actual historical value. As will be seen below there is every reason for supposing the existence of a substratum of authentic history; but probably criticism has been too much concerned to distinguish such a substratum, as if therein lay the Gospel’s chief value. A living religion will always rest on something more than the necessary basis of historical credentials, and it is not the least of our Evangelist’s merits that he appreciates the peril of tethering Christian faith and doctrine and practice too closely to the exact details of particular events in the earthly life of Jesus. On any estimation the religious value of this Gospel must always be greater than the historical. (p. xxiii)
We revert to the discourses and ask whether we may seek in them authentic sayings of Jesus. Undoubtedly in reporting Jesus’ teaching John reflects not the Jewish tradition, which sought to preserve, as nearly as possible in their original form… but rather the Greek method, which loved to put into the mouth of the speaker not the ipsissima verba (very words) spoken on a given occasion, but the sentiments which seemed to the writer to be proper to that occasion. (p. xxiii)
In Jesus’ discourses we have John’s attempt to give his contemporaries a systematic summary of Christian teaching as he himself, under the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus, conceived it, and his first readers, familiar with current Greek practice, would never suppose that Jesus’ speeches were to be accepted as a verbatim report. Indeed so little careful is the author to distinguish between his own thoughts and those that he puts into the mouths of his characters, that it is sometimes impossible to tell where the speech which he is reporting ends and his own comment upon it begins. Note especially chapters 1 and 3. (p. xxiv)
No understanding of the Gospel is possible without an appreciation of the part played by symbolism. What then for John is the relation of fact to symbol? Let it be remembered initially that the symbolic or allegorical use of an incident does not necessarily imply that it is not ‘true.’ And if we ask with Pilate, What is ‘truth’? we are reminded that the ‘true’ and the historically accurate are not necessarily the same thing. Truth is sometimes better served, even by the historian, by the interpretation of the spirit of great events and the principles which inspired them, than by a meticulously accurate narrative of facts. Thus Baron F. Von Hugel writes in the Encyclopedia Britannica : ‘The Fourth Gospel is the noblest instance of this kind of literature, of which the truth depends, not on the factual accuracy of the symbolizing experiences, but on the truth of the ideas and experiences thus symbolized.’ Yet the truth of this dictum may be admitted without denying that there may be in the Gospel a basis of actual history… To John facts and their symbolical meaning are related as flesh to spirit; the former may be a necessary vehicle, but it is the latter which really counts : ‘What gives life is the Spirit; flesh is of no avail at all ’ (John 6:63). It is in this sense that the oft-quoted words of Clement of Alexandria are to be understood : ‘Last of all John, perceiving that the bodily facts had been set forth in the other Gospels, at the instance of his disciples and with the inspiration of the Spirit composed a spiritual Gospel.’ (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., vi, 14) (p. xxv-xxvi)
Aims and Influences
The books of the New Testament all had their origin in the practical needs of the early Church, and owe their vitality to the fact that they sprang directly out of the life of that Church at various periods and in given circumstances. Our Gospel can be understood properly only as the Evangelist’s attempt to interpret the Christian faith to the Church of his own day — a largely Gentile Church, with its headquarters at Ephesus, probably early in the first decade of the second century. (p. xxvi-xxvii)
John seeks to interpret the Gospel of Jesus in the light of history during three-quarters of a century. By the time he wrote the last representatives of the Apostolic Age had passed or were passing away, the bonds with Judaism had been definitely broken, and a Church now largely Gentile had become the custodian of a religion which, severed from its historical origins, was unfolding itself into a far wider significance. If the Christian message was to live for a new age, it must be reinterpreted in new terms. To understand Christ it was necessary not only to know the actual facts of his life and teaching but also to take into account the great religious movement to which those facts had given the impulse. Hence almost unconsciously John alters the perspective of the earlier Gospels, and looking at Jesus’ life across the intervening years reads into words and incidents the point of view of his own later age. A good example is John 4:35-38, where John ‘presents the facts of the divine life, not as men saw them at the time, but as they appeared long afterwards in the retrospect of an enlightened faith.’ (p. xxvii)
[The Fourth] Gospel sets out to interpret the Christian story and Christian experience to the new world of Hellenism by translating the Gospel into a form intelligible to Greek modes of thought… Whether or no the actual key to the understanding of the Gospel is to be found in ‘a transmutation of Jewish and Christian ideas into their Greek equivalents,’ John’s great achievement was to transplant the Gospel of Jesus into a new soil before its roots had time to wither. (p. xxix)
There can be little doubt that certain definitely polemical aims can be traced in the Gospel. The controversial tone of Jesus’ discourses as reported by John is intelligible only if they are related to the contemporary situation of the Church in John’s own day, and treated as the Evangelist’s attempt to repel attacks, to which Christianity was subject, in the early years of the second century, though on account of the narrative form in which John’s work is cast this controversial interest is on the surface less obvious than in Paul’s letters. (p. xxix)
It is possible that John has colored his picture of the Baptist in the interest of his polemic against the Jews. Baldensperger indeed held that the Gospel was primarily intended as a polemic against a Jewish sect of Baptist disciples who exalted their Master above Christ. In support of this theory Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3-4 are quoted as proving the existence of such a sect at Ephesus. Reference is also made in the Clementine Recognitions (1:54), which date perhaps from the early third century, to the fact that, ‘Some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves and proclaimed their own Master as Christ.’ It is certainly significant that, on every mention of the Baptist, John pointedly emphasizes his subordination to Jesus, and it may well be that he wishes to counteract a contemporary Jewish movement which sought to buttress its opposition to the spread of Christianity by exalting the Baptist at the expense of Christ. Possibly the infection had spread even into the Church itself. But any such Baptist controversy cannot be more than a quite subordinate motive in John’s mind, and may have to be eliminated altogether if, as appears to be the case, there is evidence that some at least of the Baptist passages are due to the hand of a Redactor. (p. xxx)
There is little evidence that our Evangelist was influenced to any great extent by the contemporary Hellenistic ‘Mystery Religions.’ … First there is the conception of ‘regeneration’ or ‘ new-birth,’ whereby the initiate became partaker of a divine essence and was thereby ‘ reborn into eternity.’ … Now it must be remembered that not even the use of much of the actual terminology of the Mysteries, as in the case of both Paul and John, necessarily involves the adoption of the ideas which it expresses. The Christian community at Ephesus, following upon the influx of heathen converts, must have been flooded with quasi-magical conceptions of religion drawn from the atmosphere of the Mysteries. Nor is it surprising to find our Evangelist using the language of the Mysteries, in chapter 3, when he speaks of the ‘birth from above,’ in chapter 6 as he develops his profound sacramental teaching. Like Paul, in his eagerness to find a common standing ground with those whom he would win for Christ, he sometimes uses categories which are theirs rather than his own, if indeed he does more than use imagery which is the common property of all mystics. And while adopting Mystery conceptions he infuses them with new meaning and new life. He speaks of ‘regeneration’ but gives it a new ethical connotation, borrowed not from the Mysteries but from Paul; the Spirit blows where it will and is confined to no material channel. It is only of Spirit that Spirit is born, and only by the power of the Spirit that regeneration is achieved. He accepts without question the real ‘efficacy of the Sacraments. Yet he clearly desires to counteract the prevalent tendency towards a materialistic view of them, and all the emphasis is on their spiritual aspect : ‘What gives life is the Spirit : flesh is of no avail at all’ (John 6:63). (p. xxxi-xxxii)
There remains for consideration the Evangelist’s attitude towards certain internal controversies of the Church and in particular towards ‘ Gnosticism,’ the battle of which with the orthodox faith had already begun at the time of writing. The Gnostic heretics of the second century were men who attempted to interpret the figure and message of Christ in such a way that they would fit into a preconceived Hellenistic theology, every Gnostic system being ‘an attempt to blend Christianity with the theosophical speculations of the age,’ Fundamental is the idea of a dualism running through the whole universe. God is by nature good and pure: the material creation evil and tainted. Therefore by no possibility can a world essentially evil be the creation of the supreme deity, nor can there be any direct contact between God and the material world. Hence the conception of subordinate divine beings, intermediate agencies, aeons, emanations of the Deity, which bridge the gap between God and the world. These were thought of as the ‘archons’ or rulers of a huge system of concentric spheres over-arching the earth, and were originally identified with the heavenly bodies themselves, whose movements were supposed to sway human destinies, and provided the astrologer with his stock-in-trade. A similar dualism was thought to exist in the nature of man, whose soul and body are as alien one to the other as are God and the world. The soul is a spark emanating from God Himself, while the body is but part of the impure matter of which all created things consist. From such a prison there is no escape for the soul save in a ‘gnosis’ or knowledge of its divine nature. That is, man’s salvation is to be wrought out, not by moral effort, but by the communication of a certain esoteric ‘knowledge’ which will enable the possessor to propitiate the intermediate powers, often malignant, and so open the way to God. Thus, as Dobschiitz has well put it, ‘Gnosticism is, in the first place, intellectualism; one-sided overvaluation of knowledge at the expense of moral activity.’ Finally, holding this dualistic conception of the universe, Gnostic thinkers within the Church naturally scouted the idea that the Logos, the highest emanation of the Father, could in any true sense take upon himself a material body. Hence the denial of the reality of the Incarnation, and the refusal to admit the true humanity and real suffering of Jesus ; in a word what is known as ‘Docetism.’ We have within the New Testament clear indications of the spread of such more or less developed Gnostic tendencies. In particular may be noted the heresy which Paul attacks in his letter to the Colossians. (p. xxxii-xxxiii)
As regards the Fourth Gospel’s relation to Gnosticism two extreme positions have been taken up. It has by some been definitely claimed as a product of Gnostic Christianity, and was indeed referred, in antiquity, to the Gnostic Cerinthus as its author; by others it has been as definitely regarded as a polemic against the rising heresy. The truth is midway between the extremes. Tinged with Gnostic influences John certainly is. He shares with the Gnostics a certain dualism in his conception of both man and the world, and a certain intellectualism in his conception of faith and in his insistence upon the necessity of ‘knowing’ God. There is a dualism which envisages a deep division set between light and darkness (John 1:5), the children of God (John 1:13) and those of the devil (John 8:44), spirit and flesh (John 3:6), the Church and the world (John 17:16)… In particular we have the notion of a plurality of ‘logoi’ corresponding with the plurality of ‘ideas’ in Plato, of which the highest represents the deity, and of the ‘logos’ as the agent of the deity in creation. Parallel with this conception is the idea, of which there are traces in the Old Testament, of the ‘Wisdom’ of God, as a second divine being distinguished from God Himself, who is represented as assisting God at the creation — a figurative way of saying that at the creation God made use of His Wisdom (cf. Job 28:12 ff. ; Prov. 8:22 ff. ; Wisdom of Solomon 7:22 ff.). (p. xxxiii-xxxvi)
But it was Philo, the famous Jewish thinker of Alexandria (20 B.C.- A.D. 50), who combined these Greek and Hebrew conceptions and brought the idea of the Logos to its fullest development. He took over the main Stoic conception, but so identified it with Plato’s idea of the ‘Good’ and the Hebrew thought of the ‘Wisdom’ of God, that instead of being merely immanent in creation the Logos for him became endowed with an independent existence. In the Philonic ‘Logos’ the Greek idea of immanent reason is combined with the Hebrew idea of divine creative-energy and self-revelation. Yet Philo’s Jewish faith forbade the identification of the Logos with the Deity Himself, and it therefore sometimes appears as a kind of ‘second God’ independent of but subordinate to the God of the Old Testament, though Philo’s monotheism makes it unlikely that this assertion of the existence of a second divine agent is intended in anything more than a figurative sense. There is in fact an inevitable clash between the primary Greek conception and the demands of Hebrew monotheism, an antinomy which is never wholly reconciled. (p. xxxvi)
It must be admitted that ‘the underlying intention of the usage in Philo and the Targums is absolutely different. Philo is working out a philosophical system designed to effect a synthesis between . . . the religious tradition of the Hebrews and Greek Neoplatonism. The Targums are popular renderings of the Old Testament lessons intended for congregations . . . who were sufficiently advanced to find difficulty in the more startlingly anthropomorphic expressions of the Old Testament,’ Phrases such as the ‘Word of the Lord’ (Memra) ‘are merely reverential paraphrases,’ ‘To Philo, on the other hand, the Logos is the name of a Divine Principle conceived of, along the lines of Greek philosophical thinking, as a connecting link between Transcendent Deity and the material universe,’ Now John was no doubt impregnated with Old Testament thought; he may well have been influenced by the Targumic idea of the Memra (though it is uncertain whether that usage was earlier than his time); but in so far as the Prologue is quite clearly a philosophically conceived attempt to build a bridge between Greek and Hebrew modes of thought, John must be pronounced indebted for his Logos-doctrine to Philo, who was the first to attempt such a synthesis by popularizing the term ‘Logos,’ Through Alexandrian usage the ‘Logos’ had become a current philosophical term… John seized upon it as an invaluable category for the interpretation of the Gospel; and to that extent he is indebted to Philo… But one supreme distinction between John’s thought and Philo’s must be noted. Even admitting that sometimes Philo ascribes a real personality to the Logos ‘he is thinking all the while of the divine reason and activity, which he personifies as the intermediate agent between God and the world. John, on the other hand, starts from an actual knowledge of the earthly life of Jesus, and the conception of the Logos is always blended in his mind with the impression left on him by the Person.’ John is primarily concerned not with the Word as a philosophical principle but with the Word made flesh and manifested in human history in the whole life of Jesus Christ. (p. xxxvi-xxxvii)
The thought of Jesus as the revelation of the Logos in history is the key-note which vibrates throughout the entire Gospel. The Logos-doctrine is everywhere presupposed in the body of the Gospel, though the actual use of the term ceases with the Prologue. It is this that explains the insistence on the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus, his inviolability, the minimizing of the purely human elements in his personality, his continual reference to his own Person as the source of life, and in particular such claims to pre-existence as we have in John 1:30, John 17:5, John 8:58. Finally, though the term ‘Logos’ is never used of Christ in the body of the Gospel, its content reappears under the categories of ‘ Truth,’ ‘Light,’ and ‘Life.’ (p. xxxviii)
The word ‘truth’ is used to describe the Logos in his reality. The conception runs back to Plato’s doctrine of ‘ ideas,’ the fixed forms which are regarded as the original patterns of which all particular things in the material world are only copies, the highest idea, the Idea of the Good, representing God. Thus for John ‘ truth,’ the supreme reality, becomes an equivalent for the divine nature. God is ‘the only real’ (John 17:3), and all other things are ‘true’ or ‘real’ only in so far as they reflect God’s thought and purpose. Thus Christ, being the Logos, whose supreme mission is to be the medium of the divine revelation, is in his own Person ‘the truth,’ and the only means whereby men can lay hold of the eternal reality. (p. xxxviii)
Closely akin to ‘truth’ is the idea of ‘light,’ under which category John expresses the thought of the Logos as the source of divine revelation. Indeed ‘light’ for John is broadly speaking identical with ‘ truth,’ with the further implication that the higher reality is ever seeking to manifest itself. As essentially one with that higher reality Christ the Logos is ‘the truth’; as one, who in his own Person reveals that reality, he is ‘the light.’ Yet no one definition can exhaust the content of this characteristic Johannine word. ‘The term is chosen because of its very largeness and vagueness. Light is the immemorial symbol of all that is divine and holy; it suggests gladness, security, quickening, illumination. . . . Taken generally, however, light is the equivalent, in the language of the imagination, of what is abstractly called “the truth.”‘ (p. xxxviii-xxxix)
Finally, John sums up the spiritual gift communicated through Christ the Logos under the category of ‘life,’ Sometimes the expression used is ‘eternal life,’ but the epithet does not postpone the promise to the future, for John insists that through Christ ‘life’ is bestowed here and now, but rather suggests the origin of such life in the higher ‘eternal’ world. John gives us no exact definition of what he means by ‘life,’ for John 17:3 defines not ‘life’ itself but the means of its communication, and ‘life’ is something greater than the knowledge of God through Christ by which it is conditioned and mediated. John assumes that in God, the supreme ‘reality,’ and in the Logos, who is the ‘light’ revealing Him, there exists a ‘life’ different in kind from mere physical life, which is the ‘real’ or ‘eternal’ life (John 1:4, John 5:26). It has been held indeed that in some passages John appears to regard this ‘life’ as an almost ‘semi-physical’ bestowment, particularly in the Eucharistic discourse in the sixth chapter (John 6:51-59). Men to possess true life must become incorporate with Christ and absorb his divine substance into their own nature. But this is just an instance of how the Evangelist may use the current language of the ‘Mysteries’ without in any way consciously committing himself to their semi-magical conceptions. Such teaching would be utterly out of harmony with the general trend of his thought. It may be that, in accordance with the Logos hypothesis, the true life is regarded as a higher kind of being, almost as a substance which can be transferred from person to person. But for John the divine life is preeminently the life of Jesus; and the gift of Jesus to men is just the secret of his own moral and spiritual personality. ‘The words that I speak unto you,’ says Jesus, ‘they are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6:63). (p. xxxix)
Whether or not the Gospel is a literary unity, the integral work of a single author, has been keenly debated. While whereby he adds life and vigor and color to his own masterpiece. The material of the Gospel did not spring into being in a day. It passed through a formative period before it finally became crystallized, a single gem with many facets, in the mind of that ‘poet of strong powers of thought’ who gave it to the world. During that period the memoirs of an eye-witness may well have played an important part as a nucleus around which would gather the tradition and teaching which ultimately took form in our Gospel. One is therefore disposed to assume some sort of mediate authorship, i.e. that a later writer, relying in part for his facts upon memories of a witness, transmitted orally or more probably in writing, has given us the Gospel in its present form. Features which give color to such a supposition may be briefly summarized:
(а) The combination of dependence and freedom already noted in the Gospel’s relation to the Synoptics.
(b) The Gospel, while in general a mirror of the Evangelist’s own time, frequently reflects the view-point of an earlier day. The controversies about the Sabbath in chapters 5 and 7 are true to the historical circumstances of Jesus’ own time, though they are merged into discussions, which can have had reality only to the Evangelist’s contemporaries, about the Person of Jesus himself.
(c) There is sometimes a similar diversity of standpoint in regard to doctrine. Some passages seem to reveal the outcropping of an older doctrinal stratum, ‘concessions’ to an earlier point of view, ‘isolated ideas which cannot be reconciled with the characteristic Johannine thought,’ but ‘can only be regarded as fragments of earlier doctrine that have simply been taken over without any, or with a very imperfect, attempt at assimilation.’ Note, e.g., diversity of teaching with regard to the conceptions of Resurrection, Judgment, the Ascension, the Parousia.
(d) Passages occur which are apparently ‘conglomerates.’ Good examples are John 4:35-38 and John 10:1-16. Two or more extracts, through which it is difficult to trace a single sequence of thought, have been placed together in a single paragraph, as dealing with similar topics; a reasonable theory would be that a collection of passages dealing with kindred subjects has been made from an earlier source, which, in the examples quoted, is clearly not the Synoptics, though echoes there may be of Synoptic imagery.
(e) Very suggestive, finally, is the extraordinary vividness of much of the detail combined with a strange lack of sustained interest in history as such. Just as we are looking for the climax of some dramatic scene the narrative drifts over into a doctrinal meditation. The author introduces his characters, rivets attention upon them, only to allow them to ‘evaporate from the stage.’ See e.g. the scene with Nicodemus, and the interview with the Greeks. It is noticeable too that some of the most realistic touches occur in scenes which quickly resolve themselves into discourses which can hardly be historically accurate reports; e.g. the conversation with the Samaritan woman. In short, while there are many touches of detail which are convincingly life-like, the general setting of most of the scenes is unconvincing. It is in the relatively unimportant detail, not in its larger outlook, that the Gospel manifests its interest in history, which would seem to suggest that we must look for an eye-witness, if anywhere, in the compiler of memoirs which have been incorporated, rather than in the author of the Gospel as a whole. (p. xliii-xliii)
If such an earlier source indeed lies behind the Gospel, why have we no clearer traces of it ? Eusebius, in a well- known passage (3:24) writes: ‘Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memoirs. . . . Matthew, having previously preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed to writing the Gospel that bears his name in his native tongue; . . . John, having spent all his time in oral preaching, at last came also to write.’ Now, scholarship is agreed that if we owe anything to Matthew’s own hand, it is not ‘the Gospel that bears his name,’ but the hypothetical collection of Logia which we know as ‘Q.’ May not the facts be similar in the case of the Fourth Gospel, into which may have been merged an earlier source, which itself has vanished as completely as Matthew’s Logia ? In all ancient literature it is notorious that once a lesser work has been incorporated into and superseded by a greater one, which has itself become authoritative, the earlier work soon ceases to circulate separately. (p. xliii-xliv)
There are also unmistakable signs in the Gospel of revision by a later Redactor. Parenthetic comments occur which so clearly misunderstand the real point of the context as to prove that they are due to a later hand. (John 2:21, John 6:46, John 8:27, John 12:16, John 18:9.) ‘A writer may be negligent and maladroit, and once in a way even a little forgetful, but he must know what he himself means and cannot lose forthwith all idea of what he has himself said.’ To the Redactor, too, is probably due the dislocation of the original order of the text which we shall have frequent cause to suspect, and the abrupt insertion of certain brief passages which seem to mar the artistry of the Evangelist’s original scheme. Most of the traces of redactional interference seem to be due to the throwing back into the body of the Gospel of the view-point of the Appendix (chap. 21). (p. xliv)
As to the Gospel’s structure we conclude then that an earlier source may have been incorporated, but has been so far assimilated as to be no longer separable. Certain redactional passages, which have not received the unifying stamp of the Evangelist’s own mind, will be more easily isolated. (p. xliv)
The ‘Beloved Disciple’ and the Authorship of the Gospel
If we assume that the historical background of the Gospel has been filled in from details drawn from the memoirs of an eye-witness, we naturally find this witness in ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ But who is he whose identity is veiled by this beautiful title?
(a) At one extreme is the traditional view that the Beloved Disciple is John the son of Zebedee. The possibility of this may be admitted — at any rate if we are content to accept John merely as Witness and not as Evangelist — but there are powerful arguments against it.
(b) At the other extreme is the theory that the Beloved Disciple is an ideal figure, whether it be John the Apostle who is idealized … is the Disciple whom Jesus loved,’ but in any case a purely symbolic character, ‘that ideal disciple whom Jesus would choose and who reads his soul aright.’ It is unnecessary to discuss this theory, which is admirably dealt with by Dr. Stanton. Suffice it to say that if the Evangelist introduced the figure as a device to illustrate the ideal attitude of the believer to Christ and his Gospel, his readers would certainly never guess his purpose, nor are his allusions either numerous or pointed enough to create any well-defined impression of the ideal which he means to portray.
c) The middle course is probably the safest, and, admitting that in any case the figure has to some extent been idealized, a more attractive theory is that which finds the Beloved Disciple in a young Jerusalemite of good family, possibly with priestly connections, not one of the Twelve, but a ‘supernumerary’ whom Jesus admitted to peculiar intimacy during the closing period of his ministry. (p.xlv- xlvi)
But though we may accept this picture of the Beloved Disciple as a Witness, it does not follow that he was also the author of the Gospel. To begin with, it is more likely that the predicate ‘whom Jesus loved’ was used of the disciple by another. That he should so distinguish himself would be, to say the least, an affectation; but it would be natural enough for a devoted follower so to speak of his idealized teacher. The tradition that the Witness is also the Evangelist rests on John 21:24, which, as even Westcott admits, cannot be from the hand of the original author, and represents a later, and probably erroneous, identification. Apart from this verse there is really nothing to suggest that the Beloved Disciple is the author. And even John 21:24 is hesitating. In any case it is on the ‘witness’ rather than on the ‘writing’ that the emphasis is laid. The words “ and wrote these things ” seem to be added to “beareth witness concerning these things,” as a kind of afterthought. Most prominence at all events is given to his having borne witness. From the position and form of this reference to writing, it is not unfair to infer that there may have been some uncertainty in the mind of the framer of the statement as to the extent to which it was to be attributed to the same disciple.’ Even the Redactor, though sure that the Beloved Disciple is the Witness, is not quite so sure that he is the actual author of the Gospel. (p. xlvii)
Other passages quoted as proof that the Evangelist was himself an eye-witness may be otherwise explained. The words (John 1:14) ‘we have seen his glory’ do not necessarily imply more than spiritual perception, and even if, as is perhaps more likely, physical sight is also implied, the words might be taken not as the personal testimony of the author, but merely as the general witness of the Christian community, which once long ago had seen and known the Word made flesh. Still more weight has been laid on John 19:35 (‘ he who saw it has borne witness; his witness is true; God knows he is telling the truth’) where, it is argued, the Evangelist is definitely bearing testimony to his own authorship, and asserting that he himself was a witness of the events. The verse should almost certainly be assigned to the Redactor, and is an example of how the point of view of the Appendix is thrown back into the body of the Gospel in order deliberately to identify the author with the disciple whom Jesus loved — one of the chief aims of the Redactor. ‘Whoever heard of a writer employing such ambiguities (as John 19:35) to make the simple statement, “I myself saw this”? ‘The truth is that the Gospel’s so-called ‘self-testimony’ raises more riddles than it solves.’ (p. xlviii)
We conclude then that the Evangelist was not himself the Beloved Disciple-Witness, but rather a younger contemporary and admiring follower of the latter, standing in much the same kind of relation to him as did Mark, the author of another of our Gospels, to Peter. It is not even necessary to suppose that he had seen a great deal of the Beloved Disciple. ‘A brief and, as it seemed in the halo of later recollection, a wonderful connection — perhaps also a few never-to-be-forgotten words of Christ derived from his lips — would make the attitude towards the Beloved Disciple expressed in the Gospel psychologically explicable.’ (p. xlviii)
The Relation of the Appendix to the Question of Authorship
We have already seen cause to suppose that the Gospel has undergone revision at the hands of a later Redactor, to whom the final chapter and certain kindred sections in the body of the Gospel are to be assigned. The aim of the Appendix and its relation to the Gospel are fully discussed in an introductory note to chapter 21. The purpose of the Redactor’s revision so far as it affects the question of authorship expresses itself in an attempt to establish for the Gospel a guarantee of Apostolic authorship. This he endeavors to secure —
(a) By the identification of the Evangelist with the Beloved Disciple-Witness, which is definitely suggested in John 19:35 and John 21:24, and which once so suggested would be likely quickly to gain acceptance. As time passed there would naturally be a disposition to magnify the Beloved Disciple’s connection with the book, and, assuming the Evangelist to have been a disciple of the Witness, it is likely enough that one who had been a teacher of the actual author and whose testimony was embodied in his work, would become in the estimate of the Church transformed into the author. This tendency is deliberately encouraged by the Redactor.
(b) The Apostolic guarantee is clinched by the further identification of the Beloved Disciple with John the son of Zebedee. At John 21:2, by introducing by name ‘the sons of Zebedee’ for the first time, the Redactor cautiously suggests, by a process of elimination, that the Beloved Disciple is to be identified with one of them. It may even be argued with some show of reason that the absence throughout the Gospel of any mention of John, the son of Zebedee, by name, and the presence of certain awkward anonymous expressions which apparently refer to him, is due to the deliberate cancellation by the Redactor, in the interest of his theory that the Beloved Disciple is John, of all independent references to John by name. In other words, the use of anonymous expressions in situations where the reader would instinctively supply the name of John, as for example at the call of the disciples at John 1:35 ff., would lead the reader to assume that the reference was to the great anonymous Beloved Disciple — and this was deliberately intended by the Redactor. If it be objected that this is an incredibly vague way to assert that the Beloved Disciple is the son of Zebedee, the reply is that the Redactor’s aim is not so much to prove the identification as to secure that nothing in the Gospel will cause perplexity to those who have already accepted a gradually hardening tradition. Here, too, the Redactor is but adding momentum to a tendency already well under way. By the time the Gospel was published the Beloved Disciple would have become a very indefinite figure, his personality having become merged in that of his disciple the Evangelist. If, as will now be argued, the latter is to be identified with John the Elder of Ephesus, then once the view gained ground that the latter was indeed the Beloved Disciple, it was almost inevitable that the Anonymous Witness should in turn also be identified with the Apostle who bore the same name ‘John.’ (p.xlix-l)
John, the Elder of Ephesus, and the External Evidence
our critical study of the evidence afforded by the Gospel itself has pointed to the conclusion that the author is one who does not himself claim to be an Apostle and yet writes with the authority of one who is familiar with first-hand tradition and possibly has some personal connection with Jesus’ immediate disciples. Such a figure appears in the person of ‘ John the Elder,’ and the theory that the Evangelist is to be found in this John, who is distinct both from the Apostle John and the Beloved Disciple, seems to the present writer best to meet the facts.
‘The Elder’ appears in the New Testament as the writer of the Second and Third Epistles which have been traditionally ascribed to ‘John,’ and Dr. Charles, in his Commentary on Revelation gives an analysis of the language of the Gospel and Epistles of ‘John’ which confirms the impression made even on a casual reader that, not only the First Epistle, but also the Second and the Third are by the same writer as the Gospel. That ‘John the Elder’ is a person quite distinct from the Apostle of the same name seems clearly proved by the famous passage of Papias (written probably c. 140-150) quoted by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii, 39): ‘ And again on any occasion when a person came who had been a follower of the Elders, I would inquire about the discourses of the Elders — what was said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say,’ As Eusebius himself proceeds to point out, the name ‘John’ is twice mentioned, and the second John, coupled with Aristion under the designation ‘Elder,’ can hardly be the same person as the first John, who is classed with six other Apostles. True both are called ‘disciples of the Lord’; but with the end of the first century and the passing of those who had known Jesus in the flesh the title ‘disciple’ was used to include others besides those who could claim a personal acquaintance with the Master. Moreover, the change of tense from ‘said’ to ‘say’ suggests that the second John was still alive when Papias gathered his information, while the first John and those classed with him were dead. ‘So that,’ concludes Eusebius, ‘Papias hereby makes it quite evident that their statement is true who say that there were two persons of that name in Asia, and that there are two ‘tombs in Ephesus, each of which even now is called the tomb of John,’ In confirmation of the theory that there were two Johns it is interesting to note that the ‘ Apostolic Constitutions,’ a fourth-century document based on older materials, names as contemporary Bishops of Ephesus ‘Timothy ordained by Paul, and John ordained by John.’ This would suggest that before A.D. 100 (up to which date the list of Bishops is compiled) a second John, ordained by the Apostle of the same name, had already attained prominence in Asia; if the ordination of the second John by the first implies, as in the case of Paul and Timothy, a close relationship, the subsequent confusion of the two will become the more credible. (p.li-lii)
The theory that the ‘ John ‘ who was leader of the Ephesian Church and author of the Fourth Gospel was not the Apostle but ‘the Elder’ accords well with the following lines of evidence: (For detailed evidence on all the points below, see the unabridged work: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.167482/page/n51/mode/2up)
1. The evidence for the early death as a martyr of John the Apostle.
2. The hesitation of our authorities as to John the Apostle’s residence in Asia.
3. The Apologetic tone of many of the early references to the Gospel, which suggests that the claim to Apostolic authorship was challenged from the first.
4. The lateness of the evidence for the full recognition of the Gospel as Apostolic compared with the earliness of the evidence for its use. Significance lies in the fact that in certain quarters it was not the antiquity, but the apostolicity, of the Gospel which was held in question. Would there have been this hesitation if all the world knew beyond doubt that round about the year 100 the Apostle John was still alive at Ephesus? (p. liv)
5. The significant use, with reference to the ‘John ‘ who lived in Ephesus and wrote the Gospel, of the title 4 disciple ‘ rather than 4 apostle.* This would suit the Elder, especially if he had already become identified with the Beloved Disciple, better than the Apostle John. (p. xvi)
6. Even such evidence as is usually claimed most strongly to confirm the residence of John the son of Zebedee in Asia and the Apostolic authorship of the Gospel may be otherwise interpreted. It is admitted, of course, that once tradition had hardened, belief in the Apostolic authorship became universal.
From the study of the external evidence it is easy to understand how within one hundred years John the Elder and Evangelist of Asia would almost inevitably come to be identified with the Apostle of the same name. The Redactor himself did much to set the tendency under way, and the naive desire to secure Apostolic authority for the Asian tradition would hasten it. Indeed, there is a strong suspicion that a similar confusion has taken place between Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist. (p. lxi)
The lateness of the evidence for the full recognition of the Gospel
(а) About A.S. 175 there existed at Rome a small sect nicknamed by their opponents ‘ the Alogi’ (a pun, for the Greek might be translated both ‘Anti-Logosites ‘ and ‘Unreasonable folk ‘) who rejected the Gospel, and actually ascribed it to the Gnostic Cerinthus. The existence of such a sect, while testifying to the wide use of the Gospel, shows that its authority was not yet universally accepted. In other respects the Alogi seem to have been conservative rather than heretic, and perhaps numbered among themselves that Gaius against whom Hippolytus directed his Defense.
(b) Justin Martyr (died c. A.D. 165 as a martyr at Rome) almost certainly knew and used the Gospel, for he refers in his First Apology to the ‘ Memoirs of the Apostles which are called Gospels,’ which may be assumed with some probability to be the Gospels of Matthew and John, and in the Dialogue with Trypho to ‘ Memoirs which were composed by the Apostles and their followers — presumably Matthew and John on the one hand, and Mark and Luke on the other. But whereas Justin quotes the Synoptics over one hundred times, he quotes John only thrice. Frequently inappropriate texts are quoted from the Synoptics in support of an argument, while sayings recorded in the Fourth Gospel, which if quoted would have been conclusive, are ignored. Are we to conclude that Justin himself doubted the Apostolicity of the Gospel, or at any rate felt that in the eyes of the Church as a whole it had not yet the authority of the earlier Gospels? ‘In fact Justin acts like a modern apologetic writer trying to establish the pre-existence of Christ, but, in deference to critical objections, attempting to do so without reference to the Fourth Gospel,’
(c) A similar conclusion is suggested by a study of the Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 115), whose testimony to the Gospel is thus summed up by Dr. Streeter: ‘His whole outlook and his theology have been profoundly influenced by the study of this Gospel; but his use of it suggests that it is not yet recognized in his own Church as on the same level of authority as Matthew.’
(d) Similarly, though the influence of the Fourth Gospel may with some probability be traced in the Didache (dated by Hamack between 130 and 160 ; by others even earlier), the Epistle of Barnabas (variously dated between 70 and 140, the later date more probable), the Second Epistle of Clement (c. 120-150), the Shepherd of Hermas (c. 130-140), the Epistle to Diognetus (date and locality uncertain), it is only when we come down the years as far as Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180) that the Gospel is unequivocally quoted as inspired scripture and expressly ascribed to the Apostle John. (p. lv-lvi)
To sum up, though the influence of the Gospel is evident quite early in the second century, and apparent quotations are found thus early in contemporary writings, but without authentication of authorship, it is not till c. 180 that the Gospel is quoted as definitely Apostolic. Would this be so if the author were indeed the Apostle John or even that ‘Disciple,’ distinct from the son of Zebedee, ‘whom Jesus loved’? (p. lvi)
Date of the Gospel
In attempting to determine the approximate date of the Gospel’s composition we may fix two extreme limits.
The terminus a quo is the date of the latest of the Synoptics to which John has been shown to be indebted, in this case Luke, which may be dated c. 80, or, if it be held proved that Luke used Josephus, c. 95.
As for the terminus ad quem , by no possibility can it be pushed back later than say c. 180, by which time, e.g., Irenaeus regarded all four Gospels as Holy Scripture. As we have seen, references to the Gospel, but without authentication of its Apostolic origin, may be traced with various degrees of probability in earlier writings. A cautious conclusion would be that, although ‘the first reliable traces of the existence of the Fourth Gospel are found in the Apology of Justin Martyr,’ yet its use by c. 135 by Basilides (flor. 117-138) and the Valentinian Gnostics seems so probable that the terminus ad quem may be safely brought forward at least to that date. There is a certain amount of evidence, inconclusive in detail but in its cumulative effect impressive, that the Gospel was known considerably earlier. If it be held proved that John the Elder is the author, the date of composition can hardly be later than 100-110. If Papias’ description of ‘ John as a ‘disciple of the Lord ‘ and Polycarp’s as one ‘ who had seen the Lord ‘ are to be taken literally, it will be almost necessary to bring the date forward to the previous decade ; this would certainly be the case if we identify the anonymous disciple of John 18:15 with the Evangelist. But even so, a date earlier than 95 is not necessary. Both Gospel and First Epistle leave the impression that they are the work of an old man. The Gospel is clearly the fruit of a lifetime of Christian experience, meditation and communion, while a writer who in one paragraph can address his readers as both ‘ fathers’ and ‘ little children’ (1 Jn. 3:13 and 18), is likely to have been a man of venerable age. Perhaps A.D. 95-105 is the likeliest decade in which to date the Gospel. (p. lxii-lxiii)
We conclude then that three persons have played their part in reducing our Gospel to its present form, of whom the second is the author in the true sense of the word, who has stamped upon the book the marks of his genius and welded it into an organic whole.
(1) Behind the Gospel stands the figure of the Witness, the ‘ Disciple whom Jesus loved’ a young Jerusalemite disciple, outside the number of the Twelve, but admitted to the inner circle during the closing days. In his memoirs, if indeed he ever wrote such, he probably recorded mainly what he himself had seen and heard, though he may well have also questioned the Eleven, and of the information thus gained some might point ultimately to, amongst others, John, the son of Zebedee, who on that assumption might, as Harnack says, ‘ stand in some way or other behind the Fourth Gospel’ More than this we cannot claim for John the Apostle. The Witness must remain shrouded in his self-chosen anonymity unless we care to venture into the perilous realm of conjecture. (p. lxiii)
(2) The Evangelist himself, afterwards John the Elder of Ephesus, we conceive to have been a younger contemporary and disciple of the Witness. If he appears in the Gospel as the anonymous disciple of John 18:15, we may assume that he had priestly connections, from which it would follow that he may originally have been a Sadducee. Such a supposition might help to explain the absence of the name ‘Sadducee’ from the Gospel (perhaps because John regarded it as a nick- name), the complete ignoring of the demon-world, and the conception of the resurrection appearances held by the Evangelist, who certainly does not unduly stress their bodily aspect: for, says Luke, ‘ the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit’ (Acts 23:8). If John 18:15 be taken to refer not to the Beloved Disciple, but to the Evangelist, Polycarp may still be right in classing John among those who had ‘ seen the Lord.’ John 1:14 and the opening verses of the First Epistle suggest that the Evangelist, though perhaps a mere boy at the time, may himself have seen and heard Jesus in the flesh. Though not old enough to have been a personal follower, Jesus may have had a place in his childhood’s memories, so that he felt himself to belong to the generation (‘ we,’ John 1:14) to which the great revelation had been made.
Whoever he was, the Evangelist was almost certainly a Jew, and in all probability, at least by birth and early training, a Jew of Palestine. He appears to have a first-hand knowledge of the topography of Palestine, and especially of Jerusalem, and also to be acquainted with Rabbinic tradition and the usages of the Temple system, though it may be argued that such knowledge might be acquired by a pilgrim to Jerusalem. Again, steeped though he is in Greek culture, the cast both of his thought and his language is essentially Hebraic. Though free from the grammatical mistakes which betray the Hebraic origin of the Apocalypse, John’s Greek style, with its limited vocabulary, paratactic clauses, and poetic parallelisms, betrays a Jewish mind not yet complete master of the full resources of the Greek language. (p.lxiv-lxv)
(3) Before it reached its final form the Gospel was revised by a later Redactor. The occasion of this revision may have been the death of John of Ephesus. Certainly the latter was dead by the time the Appendix was added, for John 21:20-24 is obviously intended to correct some current misconception of a traditional saying of Jesus about the Beloved Disciple, which the latter’s death, or rather the death of the person who had come to be identified with him, had made a stumbling-block to faith. Whether or no the Gospel had been published earlier without the Appendix must remain uncertain. But with the death of the great leader of the Ephesian Church the need would be felt of a permanent record of his teaching, and it may be that the Gospel, which hitherto had been reserved for the instruction of an inner group of advanced disciples, was now revised for publication to a wider circle. This revision was undertaken by the Redactor, who evidently felt himself free to rearrange the order of the sections, and also, it may be, to interpolate a certain amount of new material and to emphasize certain polemical topics (e.g. the question of the ‘Baptist Sect’) which had become of greater urgency since the time when the Evangelist first wrote his Gospel… If at some point it was necessary for the Gospel to be translated and adapted for the use of a new and wider circle of readers, we may well suppose that the translator might take the opportunity of making what additions he felt to be necessary: and, as will be noted in the commentary, the most obvious cases of disarrangement of the text occur just at the points where interpolation is suspected. (p. lxvi-lxvii)
Finally, be it said that to hold the Redactor responsible for encouraging the tendency to identify the Evangelist with the Beloved Disciple and the latter with John the son of Zebedee (both parts of which double identification we hold to be incorrect) is not, as Sanday alleges, wantonly to accuse him of untruth’ and thereby to ‘libel the dead.’ To write, or to publish another’s work, under a pseudonym was a recognized literary device of the age, and no blame whatever attached to those who did so. … Ancient literary ethics were not ours, and we must refrain from reading back modern standards into a remote past. (p lxvii)
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)
“Up to the middle of the second century, though there are traces of Johannine thought and tradition, and immature approximations to the Johannine Logos-doctrine, yet in some writers (e. g., Barnabas and Simon) we find rather what John develops, or what John attacks, than anything that imitates John, and in others (e. g., Polycarp, Ignatius and Papias) mere war-cries of the time, or phrases of a Logos-doctrine still in flux, or apocalyptic traditions of which John gives a more spiritual and perhaps a truer version. There is nothing to prove, or even suggest, that ‘John was recognized as a gospel.'”
“It appears, then, that (1) when Justin seems to be alluding to John, he is really alluding to the Old Testament, or Barnabas, or some Christian tradition different from John, and often earlier than John; (2) when Justin teaches what is practically the doctrine of the Fourth Gospel, he supports it, not by what can easily be found in the Fourth, but by what can hardly, with any show of reason, be found in the Three; (3) as regards Logos-doctrine, his views are alien from John. These three distinct lines of evidence converge to the conclusion that Justin either did not know John, or, as is more probable, knew it, but regarded it with suspicion, partly because it contradicted Luke his favorite Gospel, partly because it was beginning to be freely used by his enemies the Valentinians. (4) It may also be fairly added that literary evidence may have weighed with him. He seldom or never quotes (as many early Christian writers do) from apocryphal works. The title he gives to the Gospels (‘Memoirs of the Apostles’) shows the value he set on what seemed to him the very words of Christ noted down by the apostles. Accepting the Apocalypse as the work of (Trypho 81) the Apostle John he may naturally have rejected the claim of the Gospel to proceed from the same author. This may account for a good many otherwise strange phenomena in Justin’s writings. He could not help accepting much of the Johannine doctrine, but he expressed it, as far as possible, in non-Johannine language; and, where he could, he went back to earlier tradition for it, such as he found, for example, in the Epistle of Barnabas.” (Edwin A. Abbott, “Gospels”, Encyclopedia Biblica, Macmillian, 1901, Vol. II, column, 1837)
As between the inferences drawn by “defenders” and by opponents of the Johannine Authorship only a careful study of the literature itself can enable us to judge. What we are now attempting to make clear is the common ground of agreement, the fact that in our day the debate concerns not date, but authorship; because the most radical opponent can easily afford to grant the utmost claims the conservative scholar is able to make from the external evidence as respects the mere’ existence well before the end of the first century of a compact body of teaching like that which we find in the Fourth Gospel.” An early example of this coincidence of radical and conservative in the mere matter of dating was furnished by Keim, as already shown. In our day Zahn, ‘the prince of conservative scholars,” is still arguing for the date 80-90 A.D., for the work in its present form, while Wellhausen on purely internal grounds is arguing for substantially the same date, with the difference that for him, it only marks the beginnings of a literary process which culminated, through a series of supplementations and reconstructions, not earlier than 135 A.D., in our canonical Fourth Gospel. What Wellhausen thinks of the Johannine Authorship appears from his statement that Schwartz has “proved” the death of John the son of Zebedee along with James his brother in Jerusalem in 44 A.D.
Schmiedel, in Professor Sanday’s view, “understates the (external) evidence for the Fourth Gospel” prior to the year 180; but he esteems him a competent and sincere scholar, albeit “cold and severe,” a “lawyer who pursues his adversary from point to point with relentless acumen.” Professor Sanday is “not so sure as he (Schmiedel) is that there is no allusion to the Gospel in Barnabas or Hermas, where it is found (e. g.) by Keim, or in the Elders of Papias, where it is found (e. g.) by Harnack.” But at least Schmiedel cannot be ruled out of court as unqualified to pronounce an opinion on the external evidence, and to understand what questions are, and what are not, now regarded as within its capacity, we must hear also the opinion of Schmiedel.
After emphasizing the” distinction between testimonies expressly favorable to the apostolic authorship, and those which only vouch for the existence of the Fourth Gospel, without conveying any judgment as to its authorship” Schmiedel protests against the heaping up of alleged testimonies of the latter class as if they belonged to the former, as follows:
“Most of the early Christian writings which were held (by apologists of the last generation) to bear testimony to the Fourth Gospel — and of these precisely the oldest and therefore most important— in reality do not justify the claim based upon them. (a) They show manifold agreements with Jn., but these consist only of single, more or less characteristic words or formulas, or other coincidences which might equally well have passed into currency by the channel of oral tradition. The great number of such agreements does in very deed prove that the Johannine formulas and catch-words were very widely diffused, and that the Johannine ideas had been, so to speak, for decennia in the air. We should run great danger of allowing ourselves to be misled, however, if, merely because it so happens that such phrases and turns of expression first became known and familiar to ourselves through the Fourth Gospel, we were at once to conclude that the writers in question can have taken them from that source alone. The true state of the case may very easily be quite the opposite; the words and phrases circulated orally; as they circulated they received an ever more pregnant, pointed, memorable form, and the writer of the Fourth Gospel, not as the first but as the last in the series of transmitters, set them down in a form and in a connection which excelled that of the others, and thus his work came to appear as if it were the source of the others.” (Encycl. Bihl., Vol. II, s. v. ” John, son of Zebedee,” § 45)
“If we were dealing with a book attributed to an undistinguished man, such as, for example, the Epistle of Jude, it could not be held to be very surprising that proofs of acquaintance with it do not emerge until some considerable time after its production. The case is very different, however, with a gospel written by an eyewitness. Papias noticed defects in the Gospel of Mark; the third evangelist noticed them in the writings of all his predecessors (cf. GOSPELS, §§ 65, 153). The writing of an eyewitness would immediately on its publication have been received with the keenest interest, however violently it may have conflicted with the gospels hitherto known. It would at least by these contradictions have attracted attention and necessarily have given occasion to such remarks as that ‘the gospels seem to contradict one another’ of Claudius Apollinaris (§§42 and 54b). No mention of the Fourth Gospel which we can recognize as such carries us back further than to 140 A. D. As late as 152 (Acad., 1st Feb., 1896, p. 98), Justin, who nevertheless lays so great stress upon the ‘Memorabilia of the Apostles,’ regards Jn. — if indeed he knows it at all — with distrust and appropriates from it but a very few sayings. Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that conservative theology still cherishes the belief that the external evidence supplies the best possible guarantee for the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel, we find ourselves compelled not only to recognize the justice of the remark of Reuss that ‘ the incredible trouble which has been taken to collect external evidences only serves to show that there really are none of the sort which were really wanted,’ but also to set it up even as a fundamental principle of criticism that the production of the Fourth Gospel must be assigned to the shortest possible date before the time at which traces of acquaintance with it begin to appear. Distinct declarations as to its genuineness begin certainly not earlier than about 170 A. D. (§42).” (Encycl. Bihl., Vol. II, s. v. ” John, son of Zebedee,” § 49)
From the foregoing extracts summarizing the conclusions of representative scholars on both sides it will be apparent that the road to agreement does not lie along the line of heaping up more or less fanciful resemblances to Johannine thought or phraseology, from the period before the Gospel attains to its wide dissemination and authoritative standing about 170 A.D. Neither does it lie along the line of adding to the already abundant testimonies from the period of the half century of conflict following Tatian (170 A.D.), during which its ardent advocates were triumphantly overpowering the weak opposition offered at first to its claims at Rome. The accumulation of alleged resemblances in writers of the former period has been carried already to a point where in many cases they certainly appear to opposing critics, and may well seem to the impartial observer, to be merely fanciful; in other cases they will be held to prove no more than is matter of common consent. The many and widespread assertions of the Johannine Authorship of this Gospel, coupled with an employment of it with a frequency and regard equal to, or even beyond the other three, which begin to appear about 180 A.D., coincidently with the beginnings of the debate at Rome, will prove indeed — if proof were needed — how acceptable to the Christianity of the time was the type of doctrine of the Ephesian Church, but can throw but little light on the actual origin of the Gospel.
Whether, then, we attribute the Gospel directly, or indirectly to John, or to some wholly different writer, what we seek today from the external evidence is not so much the Gospel’s ”date” in the old sense of the word; for on this the evidence we have is incapable of shedding more than a very limited amount of light. Today we inquire for its “formative period”; and the “formative period ” of the Fourth Gospel has already been determined as closely as the data available, or likely to become available, admit. It is approximately the close of the first century and opening decades of the second. Proconsular Asia with the great headquarters of the Pauline mission field, Ephesus, as its metropolis, was the region in which the group of writings attributed to the Apostle John first came into circulation, in supplementation of the Epistles of Paul, and probably the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and the so-called First Epistle of Peter. In the threefold form of Gospel, Epistles, and Prophecy, or Apocalypse, these writings served the purpose of a canon of New Testament scripture to “the churches of Asia.” The ancient tradition which assigns the origin of the ‘Johannine” writings to this region and this approximate date is therefore in substance correct.’
Since, then, the modern form of the Johannine question is but slightly, if at all, a question of date or provenance, it is a primary condition of clear thinking as regards the external evidence that we distinguish between (1) evidences which bear on “the existence of a body of teaching like that which we find in the Fourth Gospel,” evidences which for the period anterior to 181 A.D. consist of mere resemblances to its doctrine or phraseology, and (2) evidences which bear upon the question of authorship; these latter being either confined to the period of dissemination beginning with Tatian and Theophilus (170-180), or consisting of inferences to be drawn from the mode and measure of unacknowledged employment in the earlier time.
It is also vitally important to define our terminology and to use it consistently with the recognized practice of criticism, not classifying as ”quotations” mere resemblances of thought or language, more or less remote, which may or may not be due to acquaintance with the Fourth Gospel. For mere resemblances of this kind we propose to employ the term “echo,” or “influence,” reserving the term “quotation” for instances where appeal is directly made to a definite writing so described as to be recognizable, and attributed to a particular author mentioned by name, or otherwise defined as the authority to whom appeal is made. The number and importance of “echoes” and “influences” will vary of course with the keenness of the critic’s hearing, which in the present case has been stimulated to the utmost by the conviction that “the genuineness of St. John’s Gospel is the center of the position of those who uphold the historical truth of the record of our Lord Jesus Christ given us in the New Testament.” The German critic who has been accused of “hearing the grass grow” has abundant opportunity in this field to retaliate upon his English opponent. Unfortunately for the latter the accumulation of these echoes and influences, so long as they remain manifestly inferior in mode and measure of employment not only to what, as Schmiedel points out, we should have a right to expect on the theory of Johannine authorship, but conspicuously inferior to the employments of Synoptic tradition, creates a new and serious embarrassment; and the more the witnesses are multiplied the worse the embarrassment becomes. We refer of course to the objection already noticed in the case of Justin Martyr, and which is commonly spoken of as if it were a phenomenon of his writings alone, viz., the singular neglect of a Gospel which of all other writings would naturally be the first resort for Christians in the conditions supposed. The argument is wont to be confined to Justin, because with Justin we reach an age when by common consent the Fourth Gospel must have been already current, and an author, relatively voluminous, who in at least one instance gives highly probable evidence of acquaintance with it. But there is no reason save the more doubtful character of the alleged echoes and influences in earlier writers, and the more limited compass of the material, why these should not be included in the argument. Professor Stanton, who alone of the “defenders” makes serious attempts to grapple with the objection from the neglect of John in the earliest period, considers that “the absence of any mention of the Apostle John is very strange only in the Epistles of Ignatius.” Others might prefer to say “in Polycarp,” considering how all the Johannine tradition is made to hang on the alleged relation between John and Polycarp. Still others might find the neglect of Papias harder to account for, seeing that Papias explicitly acknowledges the defective and secondary character of Synoptic tradition. In reality the phenomena are the same in all the writers of the early period, and the more the number is increased by the addition of remote and dubious echoes and influences from still other writers, the more serious becomes the problem. Echoes and influences there may well be. If in mode and measure they corresponded to the influential position a writing such as our Fourth Gospel, acknowledged as the work of the last surviving apostle, would necessarily hold, they might conceivably make good the absence of direct quotation or appeal. But even the echoes, instead of becoming clearer and more unmistakable as we approach their supposed origin, ”tremble away into silence” and leave us bewildered. Starting with Justin, whose one resemblance in employing Johannine phraseology to combine the deutero-Pauline doctrine of the “bath of regeneration” with the teaching of Jesus, makes us practically certain that he was really acquainted with the Fourth Gospel, we pass backward through Valentinus, Papias, Basilides, Polycarp, Ignatius, Hermas, to Barnabas, the Didache and Clement of Rome. In Papias as in Justin we have true “quotation” of Revelation, and probable use of First John, with a much disputed possibility, or probability, of employment of the Fourth Gospel.” As to Basilides (133 A.D.) and Valentinus (150-160 A.D.) Sanday himself can go no further than to say, “There remains in my own mind a slight degree of probability that they used the Gospel.” In Polycarp there is found one “battle-cry” from First John. In Ignatius a very few much disputed echoes and a diffused and equally disputed influence of the Gospel. In Hermas Stanton thinks he can detect traces, and Sanday is ”not so sure” as Schmiedel that there are none. As to Barnabas his feeling is the same, although even the famous Oxford committee, who have certainly not erred in the direction of radicalism, “must regard Barnabas as unacquainted with the Fourth Gospel.” He finds also in the eucharistic prayer of the Didache a resemblance in the phrase, “Remember, Lord, thy Church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in thy love” to I Jn 4:17, 18; Jn 17:23, which again, in spite of the silence of the Oxford Society’s Committee, he thinks “cannot be wholly accidental.” None of these really responsible “defenders” consents to follow the rash echo-chasers who wander up and down the disappointing pages of Clement of Rome.
Now in answer to these phenomena of steady decrease in the employment and recognition of the Fourth Gospel by those who might reasonably be supposed to know it, as we approach the date and region where its currency and authority should be at a maximum, it is not enough to utter general disparagements of ”the argument from silence”; because the external evidence, from the moment we pass into the debated period, back of the time of express and undisputed quotations, becomes of necessity an “argument from silence.” To quarrel with that is to quarrel with the external evidence for being external; and it is by challenge of the ”defenders” that we have entered this field. If it were a mere idiosyncrasy of Justin Martyr it might perhaps be enough to say with Sanday: “The whole chapter of accidents is open before us,” and to commend it as “sounder method to fall back with Dr. Drummond simply upon our ignorance.” But we are dealing with a whole group of writers, many of whom could not have been ignorant of the supposed work of John and all of whom had the strongest motives for referring to it. It does not seriously affect this argument to demand an estimate of “the total bulk of the literature on which the argument is based.” With the authors named there might very properly be included some of the later books of the New Testament; yet even. without these, the “thin octavo volume” of which Professor Sanday speaks” which should include all second century Christian writers down to the period of real quotations, would bulk considerably larger than the New Testament itself, and is at all events sufficient to exhibit a contrast in mode and measure of employment to which not even the most unwilling eye can be blind, between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth.
We may use … the very passage of Drummond’s book which Professor Sanday twice adduces as “perhaps the most important and the most far-reaching of all the corrections of current practice.” It represents the nearest approach the book affords to direct treatment of the modern form of the question.
“But why, then, it may be asked, has Justin not quoted the Fourth Gospel at least as often as the other three? I cannot tell, any more than I can tell why he has never named the supposed authors of his Memoirs, or has mentioned only one of the parables, or made no reference to the Apostle Paul, or nowhere quoted the apocalypse, though he believed it to be an apostolic and prophetical work. His silence may be due to pure accident, or the book may have seemed less adapted to his apologetic purposes; but considering how many things there are about which he is silent, we cannot admit that the argumentum a silentio possesses in this case any validity.” (Sanday, Criticism, etc., p. 33, quoting Drummond, Character, etc., pp. 157 f.)
Passing over the objection that it is not the silence of Justin alone, but of all his predecessors as well, which is in question, we confine ourselves to two points of the above comparison. The reader is clearly intended to infer that Justin’s neglect to appeal to the Gospel of John is paralleled by a failure (1) to “name the supposed authors of the Memoirs” and (2) to “quote from the Apocalypse.” From this the conclusion would naturally be that Justin, in strange contrast to his age, cared little for apostolic authority, at least in relation to those he was addressing, and in particular might wholly neglect to avail himself of that of the Apostle John, even when it lay at his command. What now are the real facts? (1) In Justin’s time, or even earlier, it was known that none of the Synoptic Gospels in their current form could be directly ascribed to apostolic authors. “Mark” and “Luke” were not names to conjure with; “Matthew’s” could be applied only indirectly to the current Greek Gospel. In later times church fathers torment the ancient tradition in various ways to evade, or at least to minimize, the unwelcome admission. Instead of being indifferent to the apostolic authority of his Memoirs, Justin adopts just that form of description, “Memoirs of the apostles,” “Memoirs called gospels, which were written by apostles and their companions”, which enables him to make the maximum claim of apostolic authority, without directly doing violence to the tradition. These Memoirs he uses as authoritative, quoting and employing them, according to Drummond’s own count, some 170 times. Is the mode and measure of his employment of these, then, really parallel to his treatment of the Fourth Gospel, which he has never referred to, and from which even Drummond can find but three “apparent quotations”?
(2) But we are more particularly to infer from a comparison of Justin’s treatment of the Apocalypse with his treatment of the Fourth Gospel, that he did not care to invoke the authority of the Apostle John even in defense of that doctrine of the Logos and the divinity of Christ, which Drummond finds tinctured throughout with “influences” indicative of its Johannine origin. Let us see how this second analogy holds.
First of all we are repeatedly informed that Justin “has nowhere quoted the Apocalypse.” Here, as in the other cases, the whole argument depends upon the exact choice of terms. Drummond does not deny, he rather takes pains to assert, that Justin employs Rev. 20-21. He does not deny that Justin appeals to it by name as ”a revelation.” He admits that he refers to it as authoritative and names its author. It is the “prophecy” of “one of ourselves, John, an apostle of Christ.” But all this in the case of Revelation is not sufficient to meet the high requirements of the term “quotation.” That term Principal Drummond reserves for three correspondences with the Fourth Gospel, one of which as an admitted “echo” we have already discussed. It is the reference to baptism as typifying ” regeneration,” for Christ also said, ” Unless ye be regenerated ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” There is here no mention of John, no appeal to his authority, no reference to so much as the existence of a writing. Some even remain doubtful whether in the passage Justin was influenced at all by this Gospel. Such, however, is the first of Drummond’s three “quotations”; for we must remember that they are expressly distinguished as such from the mere alleged resemblances.
The second “quotation” is not even a probable echo. It is only a possible influence. In his Dialogue (ch. Ixxxviii) Justin refers to the Baptist’s testimony to Christ, using the Synoptic form, but with the peculiarity of employing the first person:
“Even he himself cried, I am not the Christ, but a voice crying; for there shall come he who is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to take off.”
“And as John was fulfilling his course he said, What suppose ye that I am ? I am not he, but there cometh one after me, the shoes of whose feet I am not worthy to unloose.”
The third “quotation” is the furthest of all from deserving the name. Several pages are occupied with an elaborate effort to insert a Johannine foundation under Justin’s language. In his First Apology Justin maintains that there was a fulfilment of Is. 58: 2, “they now ask of me judgment” in the fact that the Jews “in mockery set him (Jesus) upon the judgment seat and said. Judge us.” Such an incident is related nowhere in any of our four Gospels. But in a fragment found in 1892 of the Ev. Petri, which in the same manner as Luke transfers the story of the mockery of Jesus to the account of “the Jews,” it is related that “they arrayed him in purple, and set him on a throne of judgment, saying, Judge justly, O King of Israel.” Drummond, however, will not admit that Justin can be referring to this, although it presents both points of correspondence with the Isaianic passage, viz., that it is “the Jews” who are guilty of the mockery, and that the nature of it was that they “asked of him judgment.” Drummond still clings to the contention “he had supported long before the discovery of Ev. Petri, that Justin’s language can only be accounted for as a misunderstanding of the statement of Jn. 19:13 that Pilate led Jesus forth and sat down on the judgment seat.” He gives instances to prove that the word “sat down” could be used transitively. Whence Justin derived the statement that the Jews said “Judge us” he does not explain. As regards this alleged “quotation” of the Fourth Gospel we will simply refer to another “defender” whose scholarship is warmly and justly praised by Professor Sanday, but who, as Sanday seems to think, does not rise quite to Drummond’s level of judicial impartiality and lofty superiority to dogmatic prepossession. Stanton’s “defense,” appearing but a few weeks before Drummond’s, had given the following verdict on the alleged “quotation”:
“It has in the past been thought by some that Justin had come to imagine it through a misunderstanding or misremembering of Jn. 19:13. But any appearance of probability which this explanation may once have had has now been destroyed through our finding it again in ‘Peter.'”
It is indeed important that we distinguish mere “echoes” and “influences” such as make no reference to a recognizable document, and mention no author; from “quotations,” which describe some recognizable written source, and appeal to the author by name as authority. In the former case it is equally important that we exercise the keenest, most impartial, most critical judgment as to the mode and measure of employment of the source. Such impartial verdicts, however, are not illustrated in the statement that Justin “has nowhere quoted the Apocalypse,” but has three apparent “quotations” from the Fourth Gospel.
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
Others, who place the Gospel of Lk. (and so the Gospels of Mk. and Mt. also) earlier, think that, when this estimation is taken into consideration, the Gospel of Jn. may have been composed as early as about the year 100. But here again we have to remember that the Gnosticism with which the Fourth Evangelist is familiar, and which he vigorously opposes, did not force its way into the Christian communities until about the year 100. We learn this from Hegesippus, who wrote his ” memorials” about the year 180, and as he was of a great age was still able to afford correct information on the matter. Jn., on the other hand, already had to do with a more developed form of Gnosticism (p. 205). Only, he does not seem to be acquainted with the forms which appeared after about the year 140. (p. 192)
The most important and decisive point is to know from what date we have reliable external evidence, as we say, concerning the Fourth Gospel; in other words, statements by writers which imply that they knew the book as the work of such and such an author, or at least that they wrote out passages from him, so that there can be no mistake that they really had the book lying before them. This, in fact, is the point on which those who claim that the Gospel was composed by John the Apostle have staked everything. Many of them have undertaken no less a task than to prove by such external testimony that the authorship has been placed so much beyond doubt that it is not permissible even to take into consideration the counter- arguments drawn from other considerations, for instance from an examination of the Gospel itself.
Unfortunately it is quite impossible here to go into this point with all the thoroughness that is really required. If we thought of doing so, we should have to give verbatim an almost endless number of passages from all the writers of the second century, in order to enable the reader to decide whether or not they betray a knowledge of the Fourth Gospel. We should be obliged, further, in the case of all these writers to state when they wrote, or rather, since in most cases the matter is not certain, to make inquiry and try to fix the most likely date. Ten years earlier or later here mean a very great difference. Finally, we should be obliged to find out their habits: whether to a greater or less extent they incorporate in their works passages from other books; whether they are accustomed to do this exactly word for word or merely from memory; whether they state regularly from what book they draw, or simply write down the words without saying that they have borrowed them ; whether they use books which we no longer possess. All this may be important when it is a question whether a passage in their writings which resembles one in the Fourth Gospel is taken from this or not. Instead of going into all these troublesome and wearisome questions, it must suffice here to state the results briefly, and to show by a few examples how they have been attained.
First then we have to establish the fact that before the year 170 no writer can be found who ascribes the Fourth Gospel to John the Apostle. As regards this matter, we must note further that the year 170 is the very earliest that can be specified, for the statement we have in mind that belongs to this time reads simply : as to the day of Jesus’ death ” the Gospels seem to be at variance.” The name,* therefore, of John the Apostle is not mentioned. But it is clear from the words that this writer (Claudius Apollinaris) puts the Fourth Gospel, which introduces the variance (for the first three are quite agreed; see p. 118 f.), on the same level as the others.
But if from this date it is almost generally regarded as the work of the Apostle, in order to be able to determine the value of this assertion, we must know in the first place the general idea which leading persons of the time had of the books of the New Testament.
On this point Irenaeus (about 185) is specially instructive. To prove that there are just four true Gospels (there were still many others in existence), he points to the fact that there are four quarters of the world and four winds ; since, then, the Church is scattered over the whole earth and the Gospel constitutes its pillar and support and the spirit of its life, it is appropriate that the pillars which on all (four) sides blow upon it with the airs of imperishability should be four in number — in other words, the four Gospels. Such was the idea of so distinguished a person as Irenaeus; when it was a question of deciding whether the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle, he took his stand on the fact that the quarters of heaven and the chief winds are four in number. To understand how he could do this while speaking of the spirit of life, as well as of the winds, we must be aware that in Greek M wind ” and ” spirit ” are represented by the same word (pneuma). So that by means of a play upon words, to sustain which he has further to think of pillars (i.e., the Gospels) as blowing, he is prepared to decide a question of such great importance. Surely we are justified in practically ignoring the proof which a person of this stamp brings forward to show that such and such a person was the author of a book in the New Testament.
But we will take a few more cases as tests of the care- fulness of Irenaeus and those of his contemporaries who agreed with him in claiming that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle ; they will serve to test their critical powers as well. Irenaeus regards the James — who is said in Acts 15. to have been present at the already- mentioned (p. 174) meeting with Paul as one of the three pillars of the Church at Jerusalem — as that brother of John and personal disciple of Jesus whose execution has been recorded three chapters further back (Acts 12:2). In the Gospel of Luke again he thinks that the discourses of the Apostle Paul concerning the Life of Jesus are committed to writing just as those of Peter are in the Gospel of Mark. — and this in spite of the fact that Paul never met Jesus, and continued to persecute the Christians even after Jesus’ death.
Dealing with the question of eternal happiness, Irenaeus is able to tell us that there will be vines with 10,000 stems, on each stem 10,000 branches, on each branch 10,000 shoots, on each shoot 10,000 clusters, on each cluster 10,000 berries, and that every berry will yield 900 to 1000 liters of wine. The most important point, however, is not the size of these vines, but Irenaeus’ statement, that Jesus himself prophesied this; the aged men whom he so often mentions had told him so, and had added that they had heard it from John the Apostle. And this Irenaeus believes, although he assures us so emphatically that this same person wrote the Fourth Gospel which makes Jesus appear so superior to all such expectations.
Clement of Alexandria, one of the most learned and most venerated teachers in the Church (about 200), quotes as an utterance of the Apostle Paul(!) the words, “take also the Greek books, read the Sibyl and see how it reveals one God and the future, and read Hystaspes, and you will find in them the Son of God described much more clearly.” Hystaspes was the father of Darius, the Persian king who reigned from 521 to 485 B.C. The words of Clement give us some idea of the kind of fabrication that was put forth in his name. The credulous Clement also quotes the book of Zoroaster of Pamphylia in which he recorded after his resurrection all that had been taught him in the under- world by the gods. The jurist Tertullian (about 200) is able to tell us that in the official account of Jesus’ condemnation which Pilate sent to the Emperor Tiberius, he mentioned, amongst other things, the eclipse of the sun at the time of Jesus’ death, the guarding of the sepulcher, the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension, and that in his inmost convictions he was already a Christian. If Tetullian is not giving free rein to his imagination here, but has used some book (” Acts of Pilate “), we shall be glad to think that the author of it was a Christian.
But enough. We can see clearly the kind of people we have to deal with when the witnesses in support of the usual statements about the origin of the New Testament books are brought forward. Instead of insisting so emphatically that the fact that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle is already borne witness to by Irenseus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and others, it ought in truth to be said that no one did so until they bore witness to it — or, rather, asserted it.
Of rather a different nature are the cases in which passages from the Fourth Gospel are merely cited without its being said who wrote them. As regards these, it can be shown that before the year 140 there is evidence of none to which we have strict right to appeal. Sayings and expressions which resemble some in this Gospel, are indeed found in Christian writings after about the year 100 not infrequently. But it is a very strange idea that this resemblance must always be accounted for by supposing that the writers had read the Fourth Gospel. Because the Gospel has first made us acquainted with these sayings and expressions, there is no need to suppose that the circumstances were the same as early as about the year 100. On the contrary, why may not the Fourth Evangelist have been acquainted with the writings in question ? Or, to mention a suggestion which in many cases is more likely, the discourses of the travelling teachers of the times, of whom there were very many, may have given currency to a number of catchwords, phrases, and whole sentences, which became the common property of all more or less cultured Christians. No one could say where he first heard them. Any one who wrote a book made use of them without suspecting that the question from what other book he took them would ever be asked. It may be that the Fourth Evangelist availed himself of them, and stamped them with his own particular genius; and we of the present day may easily be misled into supposing that he must have been the first to coin them, and that all other writers who use them must have written subsequently.
It is particularly easy to think this when a whole sentence is in question, which contains in itself an independent and important thought. We have an example in John 14:2, “in my Father’s house (that is to say, in heaven) are many mansions.” Those people of great age to whom Irenaeus often appeals, have handed down to him as a saying of Jesus the words, ” in my Father’s domains are many mansions.” Besides this, we learn from Jn. alone (John 14:2) that Jesus made this statement, and the conclusion is drawn that the ” elders ” also can only have become acquainted with it from the Gospel. And since they have been referred to by Irenaeus as people who speak not from a more recent age, but from their own recollection of the distant past, the Gospel must already have been in existence at a very early date. This is a typical example of the kind of proof it is not permissible to use. We refrain from reckoning with the possibility that Jesus may really have made the statement, and that the elders were just as likely as the Fourth Evangelist to have learned it orally. But in their case, as well as that of John, the belief may also have grown up erroneously that he made the statement. This assertion would then have been repeated, and so finally have found its way into the Fourth Gospel. It was certainly the kind of saying that was likely to have been passed on from mouth to mouth, for it contains the comforting assurance that after one’s death one might look forward with certainty to finding a refuge in heaven. Another indication that the saying became current in this way may be found in the fact that the versions in John and Irenaeus are not word for word identical.
Most noteworthy are the writers between the specified years 140 and 170, who really cite passages from the Fourth Gospel, but do not say who composed it. The most important is Justin, who wrote about 152 and was subsequently martyred. From the Synoptics he introduces over one hundred passages, but from John only three, and these are so far from following John’s language exactly that in every case it can be thought that he took them from another book, and that the Fourth Evangelist may have done the same. We assume, however, that Justin took them from John’s work. But why, then, are there so few, and why is nothing said about this work being the composition of a personal disciple of Jesus? Referring to the “Revelation “of John, he says positively that it was composed by the Apostle ; but he says nothing about the Gospel. And yet he attaches so much importance to the “memorials of the Apostles and their companions,” as he calls the Gospels; and shares with the Fourth the doctrine of the Logos. We can only understand this on one supposition : Justin did not consider the Fourth Gospel to be the work of the Apostle. In that case, it must in his age still have been quite new; otherwise it would long ago have won general recognition. Obviously Justin finds in it some passages which are beautiful and worth mentioning, but, compared with the rich use made of the Synoptics, he uses it with great caution, and almost with hesitation.
When therefore we sum up the results of our examination of the external evidence for the Fourth Gospel, we find that the lesson it teaches is the opposite of what those who believe that it was written by the Apostle think it ought to teach. Instead of proving that this was written very early, it proves that it was composed at a very late date. If the work in question were that of an obscure person, we can perhaps understand that it may have been in existence for decades without attracting attention or gaining recognition. But think of it! A work by the disciple whom Jesus loved! And, besides, a work containing disclosures of such paramount importance! It could not have failed to be greeted on its first appearance with the greatest joy, and to be greedily devoured; we could not fail to find an echo of it in all Christian writers. Instead of that, from the date at which it must have been published by the Apostle, that is to say, at latest from 90-100, until 140, there is not one certain instance of the use of the book; we do not find the Apostle recognized as the author until after 170, and in the meantime we do find it clearly realized that it was not by him. Indeed, we have to add further that after 160 or 170 it was positively stated by some who were good Churchmen, and later by the Presbyter Gaius in Rome at the beginning of the third century, to have been composed by a heretic. The result therefore of examining the external evidence means that we cannot place the origin of the Gospel earlier than very shortly before the first appearance of this evidence, and so very shortly before 140.
The Gospel According to St. John
C.K. Barrett, Westminster Press, Second edition 1978
Charles Kingsley Barrett (1917 – 2011) was a British biblical scholar and Methodist minister. He served as Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham and wrote commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
Barrett was ordained to the ministry in the Methodist Church, and appointed lecturer in divinity at the University of Durham in 1945, where he was elected professor in 1958. He also preached on a regular basis in the Darlington circuit of the Methodist Church and more widely.
Barrett was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1961, and was awarded its Burkitt Medal in 1966. He served as president of the Society for New Testament Studies in 1973.
Barrett has been described as standing alongside C. H. Dodd as “the greatest British New Testament scholar of the 20th century” and “the greatest UK commentator on New Testament writings since J. B. Lightfoot”.
Amazon Book Link: https://amzn.to/3ShZdKm
It is evident that it was not John’s intention to write a work of scientific history… John’s interests wore theological rather than chronological… He did not hesitate to repress, revise, rewrite, or rearrange. (p. 141)
Theories of Displacement and Redaction
It is moreover true that when the gospel is read through, in spite of the general impression of unity, certain indications of disunity and dislocation are found. The narrative does not always proceed straightforwardly; some of the connections are bad, and sometimes there are no connections at all. Occasionally a piece seems to be out of its proper settings. It is on the basis of these observations that theories of accidental displacement of parts of the gospel, and of editorial redaction, have been founded. (p.21)
A few suggested displacements will be mentioned, most of them going back to the time before Bultmann’s consistent carrying through of the inquiry but taken up and elaborated by him.
(1) John 3:22-30, Which seems to interrupt the Nicodemus discourse (John 3:31 follows upon John 3:21), should be removed and placed between John 2:12 and John 2:13. This change also improves the itinerary, since Jesus, in Galilee in John 2:1-12 is brought εις την ‘Ιουδαιν γην (John 3:22) before going up to Jerusalem at John 2:13.
(2) Chapter 6 should stand between chapters 4 and 5. Again the itinerary is improved. As the gospel stands, Jesus is in Galilee (John 4:54); goes up to Jerusalem (John 5:1); crosses the see of Galilee (John 6:1 – there being no indication that he has left Jerusalem); walks in Galilee, being unable to walk in Judaea (John 7:1 – because the Jews were seeking to kill him, though he had not been in Jerusalem since John 5:47). If the suggested emendation is made the course of events is a follows: Jesus is in Galilee (John 4:54), crosses the sea (John 6:1), goes up to Jerusalem (John 5:1), and returns, for security, to Galilee (John 7:1).
(4) John 10:19-29 should be read after John 9:41. The σχισμα of John 10:19 follows naturally upon the miracle of chapter 9, and so does the remark of John 10:21. Further, John 10:18 is admirably taken up by John 10:30.
(5) Chapters 15 and 16 should be taken at some point before John 14:31, which closes the upper-room discourses. The order adopted by Bernard is John 13:1-31a; John 15:1-27; John 16:1-33; John 13:31-38; John 14:1-31.