Issues with Dating John Before 100 AD
Issues with Dating John Before 100 AD

Issues with Dating John Before 100 AD

Issues with Dating John Before 100 A.D. (CE)

Lack of awareness and quotation of John in early Christian writings 

Benjamin Wisner Bacon, The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, , New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1918, p.19-42

The Fourth Gospel in research and debate

The most thorough and scholarly treatment of the external evidence accessible to the English reader, from the point of view of those who repudiate the traditional authorship, is that of the veteran scholar Edwin A. Abbott of London, in §§83 to 107 of the article “Gospels” in the Encyclopedia Biblica. Abbott discusses seriatim (in series) all the alleged traces of influence of the Johannine writings upon Clement of Rome (ca. 96 A.D.), the Didache (80-110), Barnabas (132), Simon Magus (90-100), Ignatius (110-117), Polycarp (110-117), Papias (Harnack:145-160,  Abbott:120-130),  Epistle to Diognetus  (Lightfoot: former part 117-147; latter part 180-210), Hernias (114-156), Basilides (117-138), Marcion (125-135), and Valentinus (141-156), and compares these with the use made at first of Matthew, or Matthew and Mark, later of Luke. He reaches the following conclusion:
“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.'”
 The relatively voluminous treatises of Justin Martyr (153-160 A.D.) form a class by themselves for all students of the external evidence. The surprising non-appearance of the Fourth Gospel among his recognized authorities, at least in a degree approximating his “more than one hundred” employments of the Synoptics, is one of the admitted difficulties of the supporters of tradition. Drummond, Character and Authorship, p. l00, counts “somewhere  about 170 citations from or references to the Gospels.” Among these he probably includes what he regards as “three apparent quotations” from  John. Drummond, for example, after accumulating all possible traces of the use of John, meets the question “Why has Justin not quoted the Fourth Gospel at least as often as the other three?” with certain analogies whose validity we must test hereafter. Abbott, on the other hand, meets the alleged traces of the Fourth Gospel in Justin by an analysis even more thorough than Drummond’s, resulting in the following summary:
“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)
Examination of all these resemblances, and estimate of their bulk and importance as compared with the use made by the same early writers of the other gospels, and as compared with what on the traditional theory of authorship we might have reason to expect, leads Schmiedel to the following conclusion:
“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.”
 This might be due to unconscious reminiscence of Jn. 1 :20, 23; but, as Edwin Abbott had already pointed out in the very article referred to by Drummond a few pages before, it may equally well be due to the influence of Acts 13:25:
“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.'”
Whether we follow or reject the acute, and to the present writer convincing, argument of Stanton that the true derivation of the “fulfilment,” both in Ev. Petri and in Justin, is the Acts of Pilate, the judgment of Stanton on the fate of Drummond’s argument is manifestly true. A comparison of Drummond’s use of the word “quotation” as applied to Justin’s use of the Gospel and Revelation respectively will enable the reader to form his own judgment. With it we conclude our examination of the pattern paragraph.

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 Mid-range estimate between earliest possible date (terminus post quem) and latest possible date (terminus pre quem) of established scholarship is after 100 A.D.

A date prior to 100 A.D. is biasing the date to the earliest possible date (terminus post quem) of the typical range between the latest possible date (terminus pre quem). Established scholarship assigns a typical range of 90-140 A.D. or 90-120 A.D. Assigning a date in the 90’s is biased right up against the front end of this possible range. To split these wider ranges, a middle of the range estimate would be in the first two decades of the second century (100-115 A.D.)

The Gospel is oriented toward philosophically minded  Jews and Greeks that began to emerge in the 2nd Century

Asia Minor is attested as the place of authorship by Church tradition. This provenance would account for the Hellenistic or Gentile flavor to John’s Gospel as well as its Jewish background. Sief van Tilborg (Reading John in Ephesus, Leiden:Brill, 1996) has demonstrated how the entire Gospel proves thoroughly intelligible in the light of the specific political and religious backgrounds of Ephesus at the end of the first century.

Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel, The Johannine Writings, London : Adam and Charles Black, 1908

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 John 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. John, 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)

Henry Latimer Jackson, The Problem of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge [Eng.] : University press, 1918

Gnosticism was a big 2nd century controversy. There are two positions with respect to John and Gnosticism:

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)

The gospel itself must be interpreted in the light of the Prologue, and is seen to be steeped in the Philonic philosophy. There is a sense in which the Evangelist treats of historical data, but to accept his symbolic interpretation as though it were reliable history would be like treating Philo as a fresh historical source for our knowledge of Moses. (p.91)

Additional Issues with Dating John Before 90 A.D. (CE)

The Fourth Gospel comes after Luke and Luke is typically dated in the range of 70-90

First of all according to patristic writings and tradition, John came after Luke:

The oldest document is the Muratorian, a list, mutilated at the beginning, of the biblical books, written Rome during the latter half of the second century. The Gospels are, thus,: ‘ … Third, Luke; Fourth, John’

Origen (185-255), on more than one occasion, enumerates the in the usual order. The Gospel according to ‘Matthew, he was written first … that according to Mark second … that according Luke third … that according to John last of all’ (Eus. H.E. VI, 25).

During the fourth century the order Matt., Mark, Luke, John. It is given by Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius, the Council of Laodicea, and by the Cheltenham list.

There is also significant internal evidence that John incorporates elements from Luke and thus comes after Luke. 

The episode of Jesus being anointed by a woman appears in John 12:1–8, but the evangelist anticipates familiarity with Luke 7:37-38 by explaining that Lazarus’ sister Mary was the woman in question. It would appear that he expected his readers already to be aware of the story, even though he had not yet told his version of it! In any case, the verbal affinities with Luke are striking.

The verb ἐκμάσσω appears only five times in the NT: twice in Luke 7 in connection with the repenting woman; twice in John in connection with Mary (here and in the narration of the anointing per se in 12:3), and once in John’s account of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in 13:5. When the Johannine evangelist gets around to tell his own version of the anointing, he displays indebtedness to Luke, not Mark.

  • Only the accounts in Luke and John clarify that Jesus was eating with others at the time (Luke 7:36; John 12:1–2).
  • According to Mark and Matthew, the woman anoints Jesus’ head, but in Luke and John she anoints his feet.

Mark and Matthew both place the objections to her action on the lips of multiple unnamed people, but Luke and John both refer to a named individual: “The Pharisee who had invited him” (Luke 7:39); “Judas Iscariot … who was about to hand him over” (John 12:4). 

Immediately after this story in Luke the Evangelist names three women, among whom is Mary Magdalene, who “served [διηκόνουν]” Jesus and the disciples (8:2–3). John gave the name Mary to the woman who anointed Jesus, while her sister Martha “served [διηκόνει] dinner” (12:2; cf. Luke 10:39–42).

If one grants that Mark created the anointing at Bethany, the presence of the tale in John surely requires knowledge of the Synoptics, but, as we have seen, his retelling actually has much in common with Luke’s retelling of the story in Luke7:36–50. Those who would argue for Luke’s knowledge of John would have to claim that the Lukan Evangelist knew two versions of the story (Mark’s and John’s), vacillated between them, and expanded his version into his tale of the sinful but contrite woman. This history of tradition, though unnecessarily complex, is not impossible, but it cannot explain the second example insofar as the parallels between Luke and John have no equivalent in Mark.

If one attributes the disciples’ recognition of Jesus by his wounds to Lukan redaction, the following parallels between Luke 24 and John 20 must be attributed to John’s knowledge of Luke:

Conspicuously absent in the Johannine account is Jesus’ invitation that the disciples investigate his hands and touch him. The physicality of Jesus’ resurrection was hotly contested in the early church, even in the Johannine epistles. Some will propose that Jesus’ second appearance to the disciples in John 20:24–28 was the work of the final redactor. What is most amazing about the following parallels is the emphasis on Jesus’ invitation to observe his hands, which in the earlier appearance was strategically omitted! Whereas the Johannine Evangelist refused to redact Luke 24:37–39, the final redactor made it the center of attention, and by so doing retained what made Luke’s account

These parallels provide the strongest evidence that John knew the Lukan gospel.

Test Benediction (birkath ha-minim)

An early limit of 90 A.D. is confirmed by the Test Benediction implemented by Jews to keep Christians out of the synagogues. John seems to envisage circumstances in which Jewish Christians were ‘put out of the synagogue’ (John 9:22, John 16:2). We are able to give with some exactness the date at which the well-known ‘Test Benediction’ (birkath ha-minim) was introduced into the synagogue service with the express intention of excluding heretics (Jewish Christians among them).  It was drawn up by R. Simoeon the Less, at the request of R. Gamaliel II, at about A.D. 85-90. Once more we arrive at A.D. 90 as the early limit.

Additional Issues with Dating John Before 80 A.D. (CE)

Mark as Predecessor to John 

It is clear that that John knew Mark, and not only knew it but had thoroughly mastered its contents, and expected his readers also to be familiar with them. There is wide agreement that Mark was written either not long before, or soon after, A.D. 70. We must allow time for Mark to reach the place in which John was written, and to be studied and absorbed. This brings us to a date not earlier than A.D. 80. Based on knowledge of Mark, 90 A.D. would be perhaps a safer answer. 

Problems with Arguments Dating John Before 70 A.D. (CE)

Craig L. Blomberg, The historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, InterVarsity Press, 2001, p.42-44

A significant minority of scholars, however, has tried to push the date back to a considerably earlier period, particularly into the 60s before the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. However most  of their arguments stem from silence: John does not refer to the destruction of the temple; he does not know the Synoptics or Paul’s letters; he does not focus on the sacraments as the later church did; there are no references to Peter as the foundation of the church, to the Lord’s Prayer, the Gentile mission, the Sadducees, and so on. None of these points carries much weight. A document from the turn of the late 90s would be far enough removed from the events of AD 70 that no mention of the temple’s destruction or of Sadducees need have occurred.  John is probably familiar with the Synoptics even if he does not depend on them literarily. His silence on the sacraments may be a protest against their growing institutionalization, and he does have texts that give Peter and the disciples authority to bind and loose (John 20:22-23), that enunciate many of the principles of the Lord’s prayer, and that foreshadow a Gentile mission (John 12:20-36)

An interesting grammatical observation that has convinced some of a pre-70 date is the use of the present tense in John 5:2 – “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda, and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.’ After Jerusalem’s destruction, these statements would no longer be true; one would expect past-tense verbs. On the other hand, John frequently uses the historical present tense and that may be all he is doing here, to mark out the scene more vividly. Daniel Wallance (1990:197-205) responds that he can find no other use of the historical present with the verb ‘to be’ (Gk. eimi) but it is difficult to know how much significance to attach to this observation. After all, most historical presents occur in narrative where a specific verb of speech or action is highlighted.

Other arguments involve the author’s accuracy and the careful knowledge of the customs and topography of Israel already noted. But this hardly probes anything about John’s date, unless one assumes such information could have been preserved accurately for only thirty rather than sixty years. Proponents of an early date often point out that supports of a late date tend to bolster their position by assuming a slow, evolutionary hypothesis concerning the development of New Testament theology, so that only after this long a period of time could the high Christology of John have emerged… Early, undeveloped views of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel may have some bearing on questions of historicity but they demonstrate nothing about the date at which those views were recorded. 

It is also possible to support an early date for John by combining apostolic authorship with the traditions that hold to an early martyrdom for the son of Zebedee. But these are much later and less reliable traditions than those I have cited, and they comprise a tiny minority voice within the early church. Han. Yet while it is true that the external evidence focus primarily on John’s age and location of ministry rather than explicitly tying the authorship of his Gospel to that late date, the subsequent conviction of the church that became the ‘traditional’ position should probably be accepted, dating the Fourth Gospel either to the late 80’s or the 90s’ 

It is an attractive apologetic for conservative scholars to opt for an earlier date, but the evidence is not nearly strong enough to do so with any confidence… It may be, too that the finished Gospel of John has a late date but that its underlying sources take us back to a much earlier time. 

Only a small minority of conservative scholars date John before 70 A.D.