Vol. 1, Chapter XII (Cont’d) – Authorship

For nearly eighteen centuries the Christian church of all denominations has enjoyed the fourth Gospel without a shadow of doubt that it was the work of John the Apostle. But in the nineteenth century the citadel was assailed with increasing force, and the conflict between the besiegers and defenders is still raging among scholars of the highest ability. It is a question of life and death between constructive and destructive criticism. The vindication of the fourth Gospel as a genuine product of John, the beloved disciple, is the death-blow of the mythical and legendary reconstruction and destruction of the life of Christ and the apostolic history. The ultimate result cannot be doubtful. The opponents have been forced gradually to retreat from the year 170 to the very beginning of the second century, as the time when the fourth Gospel was already known and used in the church, that is to the lifetime of many pupils and friends of John and other eye-witnesses of the life of Christ.

I. The External Proof of the Johannean authorship is as strong, yea stronger than that of the genuineness of any classical writer of antiquity, and goes up to the very beginning of the second century, within hailing distance of the living John. It includes catholic writers, heretics, and heathen enemies. There is but one dissenting voice, hardly audible, that of the insignificant sect of the Alogi who opposed the Johannean doctrine of the Logos (hence their name, with the double meaning of unreasonable, and anti-Logos heretics) and absurdly ascribed both the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse to his enemy, the Gnostic Cerinthus. Let us briefly sum up the chief testimonies.

1. Catholic testimonies. We begin at the fourth century and gradually rise up to the age of John. All the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including the Sinaitic and the Vatican, which date from the age of Constantine and are based upon older copies of the second century, and all the ancient versions, including the Syriac and old Latin from the third and second centuries, contain without exception the Gospel of John, though the Peshito omits his second and third Epistles and the Apocalypse. These manuscripts and versions represent the universal voice of the churches.

Then we have the admitted individual testimonies of all the Greek and Latin fathers up to the middle of the second century, without a dissenting voice or doubt: Jerome (d. 419) and Eusebius (d. 340), who had the whole ante-Nicene literature before them; Origen in Egypt (d. 254), the greatest scholar of his age and a commentator on John; Tertullian of North Africa (about 200), a Catholic in doctrine, a Montanist in discipline, and a zealous advocate of the dispensation of the Paraclete announced by John; Clement of Alexandria (about 190), a cultivated philosopher who had travelled in Greece, Italy, Syria, and Palestine, seeking religious instruction everywhere; Irenaeus, a native of Asia Minor and from 178 bishop of Lyons, a pupil of Polycarp and a grand-pupil of John himself, who derived his chief ammunition against the Gnostic heresy from the fourth Gospel, and represents the four canonical Gospels — no more and no less — as universally accepted by the churches of his time; Theophilus of Antioch (180), who expressly quotes from the fourth Gospel under the name of John; the Muratorian Canon (170), which reports the occasion of the composition of John’s Gospel by urgent request of his friends and disciples; Tatian of Syria (155-170), who in his “Address to the Greeks” repeatedly quotes the fourth Gospel, though without naming the author, and who began his, “Diatessaron” — once widely spread in the church notwithstanding the somewhat Gnostic leanings of the author, and commented on by Ephraem of Syria — with the prologue of John. From him we have but one step to his teacher, Justin Martyr, a native of Palestine (103-166), and a bold and noble-minded defender of the faith in the reigns of Hadrian and the Antonines. In his two Apologies and his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, he often quotes freely from the four Gospels under the name of Apostolic “Memoirs” or “Memorabilia of the Apostles,” which were read at his time in public worship. He made most use of Matthew, but once at least he quotes a passage on regeneration from Christ’s dialogue with Nicodemus which is recorded only by John. Several other allusions of Justin to John are unmistakable, and his whole doctrine of the pre-existent Logos who sowed precious seeds of truth among Jews and Gentiles before his incarnation, is unquestionably derived from John. To reverse the case is to derive the sunlight from the moon, or the fountain from one of its streams.

But we can go still farther back. The scanty writings of the Apostolic Fathers, so called, have very few allusions to the New Testament, and breathe the atmosphere of the primitive oral tradition. The author of the “Didache” was well acquainted with Matthew. The first Epistle of Clement has strong affinity with Paul. The shorter Epistles of Ignatius show the influence of John’s Christology. Polycarp (d. a.d. 155 in extreme old age), a personal pupil of John, used the First Epistle of John, and thus furnishes an indirect testimony to the Gospel, since both these ‘books must stand or fall together. The same is true of Papias (died about 150), who studied with Polycarp, and probably was likewise a bearer of John. He “used testimonies from the former Epistle of John.” In enumerating the apostles whose living words he collected in his youth, he places John out of his regular order of precedence, along with Matthew, his fellow-Evangelist, and “Andrew, Peter, and Philip” in the same order as Joh_1:40-43; from which it has also been inferred that he knew the fourth Gospel. There is some reason to suppose that the disputed section on the woman taken in adultery was recorded by him in illustration of Joh_8:15; for, according to Eusebius, he mentioned a similar story in his lost work. These facts combined, make it at least extremely probable that Papias was familiar with John. The joint testimony of Polycarp and Papias represents the school of John in the very field of his later labors, and the succession was continued through Polycrates at Ephesus, through Melito at Sardis, through Claudius Apollinaris at Hieropolis, and Pothinus and Irenaeus in Southern Gaul. It is simply incredible that a spurious Gospel should have been smuggled into the churches under the name of their revered spiritual father and grandfather.

Finally, the concluding verse of the appendix, Joh_21:24, is a still older testimony of a number of personal friends and pupils of John, perhaps the very persons who, according to ancient tradition, urged him to write the Gospel. The book probably closed with the sentence: “This is the disciple who beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things.” To this the elders add their attestation in the plural: “And we know that his witness is true.” A literary fiction would not have been benefited by an anonymous postscript. The words as they, stand are either a false testimony of the pseudo-John, or the true testimony of the friends of the real John who first received his book and published it before or after his death.

The voice of the whole Catholic church, so far as it is heard, on the subject at all, is in favor of the authorship of John. There is not a shadow of proof to the contrary opinion except one, and that is purely negative and inconclusive. Baur to the very last laid the greatest stress on the entangled paschal controversy of the second century as a proof that John could not have written the fourth Gospel because he was quoted as an authority for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on the 14th of Nisan; while the fourth Gospel, in flat contradiction to the Synoptists, puts the crucifixion on that day (instead of the 15th), and represents Christ as the true paschal lamb slain at the very time when the typical Jewish passover was slain. But, in the first place, some of the ablest scholars know how to reconcile John with the Synoptic date of the crucifixion on the 15th of Nisan; and, secondly, there is no evidence at all that the apostle John celebrated Easter with the Quartodecimans on the 14th of Nisan in commemoration of the day of the Lord’s Supper. The controversy was between conforming the celebration of the Christian Passover to the day of the month, that is to Jewish chronology, or to the day of the week on which Christ died. The former would have made Easter, more conveniently, a fixed festival like the Jewish Passover, the latter or Roman practice made it a movable feast, and this practice triumphed at the Council of Nicaea.

2. Heretical testimonies. They all the more important in view of their dissent from Catholic doctrine. It is remarkable that the heretics seem to have used and commented on the fourth Gospel even before the Catholic writers. The Clementine Homilies, besides several allusions, very clearly quote from the story of the man born blind, Joh_9:2, Joh_9:3. The Gnostics of the second century, especially the Valentinians and Basilidians, made abundant use of the fourth Gospel, which alternately offended them by its historical realism, and attracted them by its idealism and mysticism. Heracleon, a pupil of Valentinus, wrote a commentary on it, of which Origen has preserved large extracts; Valentinus himself (according to Tertullian) tried either to explain it away, or he put his own meaning into it. Basilides, who flourished about a.d. 125, quoted from the Gospel of John such passages as the “true light, which enlighteneth every man was coming into the world” (Joh_1:9), and, “my hour is not yet come” (Joh_2:4).

These heretical testimonies are almost decisive by themselves. The Gnostics would rather have rejected the fourth Gospel altogether, as Marcion actually did, from doctrinal objection. They certainly would not have received it from the Catholic church, as little as the church would have received it from the Gnostics. The concurrent reception of the Gospel by both at so early a date is conclusive evidence of its genuineness. “The Gnostics of that date,” says Dr. Abbot, “received it because they could not help it. They would not have admitted the authority of a book which could be reconciled with their doctrines only by the most forced interpretation, if they could have destroyed its authority by denying its genuineness. Its genuineness could then be easily ascertained. Ephesus was one of the principal cities of the Eastern world, the centre of extensive commerce, the metropolis of Asia Minor. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were living who had known the apostle John. The question whether he, the beloved disciple, had committed to writing his recollections of his Master’s life and teaching, was one of the greatest interest. The fact of the reception of the fourth Gospel as his work at so early a date, by parties so violently opposed to each other, proves that the evidence of its genuineness was decisive. This argument is further confirmed by the use of the Gospel by the opposing parties in the later Montanistic controversy, and in the disputes about the time of celebrating Easter.”

3. Heathen testimony. Celsus, in his book against Christianity, which was written about a.d. 178 (according to Keim, who reconstructed it from the fragments preserved in the refutation of Origen), derives his matter for attack from the four Gospels, though he does not name their authors, and he refers to several details which are peculiar to John, as, among others, the blood which flowed from the body of Jesus at his crucifixion (Joh_19:34), and the fact that Christ “after his death arose and showed the marks of his punishment, and how his hands had been pierced” (Joh_20:25, Joh_20:27).

The radical assertion of Baur that no distinct trace of the fourth Gospel can be found before the last quarter of the second century has utterly broken down, and his own best pupils have been forced to make one concession after another as the successive discoveries of the many Gnostic quotations in the Philosophumena, the last book of the pseudo-Clementine Homilies, the Syrian Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron, revealed the stubborn fact of the use and abuse of the Gospel before the middle and up to the very beginning of the second century, that is, to a time when it was simply impossible to mistake a pseudo-apostolic fiction for a genuine production of the patriarch of the apostolic age.

II. Internal Evidence. This is even still stronger, and leaves at last no alternative but truth or fraud.

To begin with the style of the fourth Gospel, we have already seen that it is altogether unique and without a parallel in post-apostolic literature, betraying a Hebrew of the Hebrews, impregnated with the genius of the Old Testament, in mode of thought and expression, in imagery and symbolism, in the symmetrical structure of sentences, in the simplicity and circumstantiality of narration; yet familiar with pure Greek, from long residence among Greeks. This is just what we should expect from John at Ephesus. Though not a rabbinical scholar, like Paul, he was acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures and not dependent on the Septuagint. He has in all fourteen quotations from the Old Testament. (Joh_1:23; Joh_2:17; Joh_6:31, Joh_6:45; Joh_7:38; Joh_10:34; Joh_12:14, Joh_12:38, Joh_12:40; Joh_13:18; Joh_15:25; Joh_19:21, Joh_19:36, Joh_19:37) Four of these agree with the Hebrew and the Septuagint; three agree with the Hebrew against the Septuagint (Joh_6:45; Joh_13:18; Joh_19:37), the rest are neutral, either agreeing with both or differing from both, or being free adaptations rather than citations; but none of them agrees with the Septuagint against the Hebrew.

Among the post-apostolic writers there is no converted Jew, unless it be Hegesippus; none who could read the Hebrew and write Hebraistic Greek. After the destruction of Jerusalem the church finally separated from the synagogue and both assumed an attitude of uncompromising hostility.

2. The author was a Jew of Palestine. He gives, incidentally and without effort, unmistakable evidence of minute familiarity with the Holy Land and its inhabitants before the destruction of Jerusalem. He is at home in the localities of the holy city and the neighborhood. He describes Bethesda as “a pool by the sheep gate, having five porches” (Joh_5:2), Siloam as “a pool which is by interpretation Sent” (Joh_9:7), Solomon’s porch as being “in the Temple” (Joh_10:23), the brook Kedron “where was a garden” (Joh_18:1); he knows the location of the praetorium (Joh_18:28), the meaning of Gabbatha (Joh_19:13), and Golgotha (Joh_19:17), the distance of Bethany from Jerusalem “about fifteen furlongs off” (Joh_11:18), and he distinguishes it from Bethany beyond Jordan (Joh_1:28). He gives the date when the Herodian reconstruction of the temple began (Joh_2:19). He is equally familiar with other parts of Palestine and makes no mistakes such as are so often made by foreigners. He locates Cana in Galilee (Joh_2:1; Joh_4:26; Joh_21:2), to distinguish it from another Cana; Aenon “near to Salim” where there are “many waters” (Joh_3:23); Sychar in Samaria near “Jacob’s, well,” and in view of Mount Gerizim (Joh_4:5). He knows the extent of the Lake of Tiberias (Joh_6:19); he describes Bethsaida as “the city of Andrew and Peter” (Joh_1:44), as distinct from Bethsaida Julias on the eastern bank of the Jordan; he represents Nazareth as a place of proverbial insignificance (Joh_1:46).

He is well acquainted with the confused politico-ecclesiastical Messianic ideas and expectations of the Jews (Joh_1:19-28, Joh_1:45-49; Joh_4:25; Joh_6:14, Joh_6:15; Joh_7:26; Joh_12:34, and other passages); with the hostility between Jews and Samaritans (Joh_4:9, Joh_4:20, Joh_4:22; Joh_8:48); with Jewish usages and observances, as baptism (Joh_1:25; Joh_3:22, Joh_3:23; Joh_4:2), purification (Joh_2:6; Joh_3:25, etc.), ceremonial pollution (Joh_18:28), feasts (Joh_2:13, Joh_2:23; Joh_5:1; Joh_7:37, etc.), circumcision, and the Sabbath (Joh_7:22, Joh_7:23). He is also acquainted with the marriage and burial rites (Joh_2:1-10; Joh_11:17-44), with the character of the Pharisees and their influence in the Sanhedrin, the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas. The objection of Bretschneider that he represents the office of the high-priest as an annual office arose from a misunderstanding of the phrase “that year” (Joh_11:49, Joh_11:51; Joh_18:13), by which he means that memorable year in which Christ died for the sins of the people.

The author was an eye-witness of most of the events narrated. This appears from his life-like familiarity with the acting persons, the Baptist, Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, Pilate, Caiaphas, Annas, Nicodemus, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene, the woman of Samaria, the man born blind; and from the minute traits and vivid details which betray autopticity. He incidentally notices what the Synoptists omit, that the traitor was “the son of Simon” (Joh_6:71; Joh_12:4; Joh_13:2, Joh_13:26), that Thomas was called “Didymus” (Joh_11:16; Joh_20:24; Joh_21:2); while, on the other hand, he calls the Baptist simply “John” (he himself being the other John), without adding to it the distinctive title as the Synoptists do more than a dozen times to distinguish him from the son of Zebedee. He indicates the days and hours of certain events, (Joh_1:29, Joh_1:35, Joh_1:39, Joh_1:43; Joh_2:1; Joh_4:6, Joh_4:40, Joh_4:43, Joh_4:52; Joh_6:22; Joh_7:14, Joh_7:37; Joh_11:6, Joh_11:17, Joh_11:39; Joh_12:1, Joh_12:12; Joh_13:30; Joh_18:28; Joh_19:31; Joh_20:1, Joh_20:19, Joh_20:26; Joh_21:4) and the exact or approximate number of persons and objects mentioned. (Joh_1:35; Joh_2:6; Joh_4:18; Joh_6:9, Joh_6:10, Joh_6:19; Joh_19:23, Joh_19:39; Joh_21:8, Joh_21:11) He was privy to the thoughts of the disciples on certain occasions, their ignorance and misunderstanding of the words of the Master, (Joh_2:17, Joh_2:22; Joh_4:27; Joh_6:60; Joh_12:16; Joh_13:22, Joh_13:28; Joh_20:9; Joh_21:12) and even to the motives and feelings of the Lord. (Joh_2:24, Joh_2:25; Joh_4:1-3; Joh_5:6; Joh_6:6, Joh_6:15; Joh_7:1; Joh_11:33, Joh_11:38; Joh_13:1, Joh_13:3,Joh_13:11, Joh_13:21; Joh_16:19; Joh_18:4; Joh_19:28)

No literary artist could have invented the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus on the mystery of spiritual regeneration (Joh_3:1-36), or the conversation with the woman of Samaria (Joh_4:1-54), or the characteristic details of the catechization of the man born blind, which brings out so naturally the proud and heartless bigotry of the Jewish hierarchy and the rough, outspoken honesty and common sense of the blind man and his parents (Joh_9:13-34). The scene at Jacob’s well, described in Joh_4:1-54, presents a most graphic, and yet unartificial picture of nature and human life as it still remains, though in decay, at the foot of Gerizim and Ebal: there is the well of Jacob in a fertile, well-watered valley, there the Samaritan sanctuary on the top of Mount Gerizim, there the waving grain-fields ripening for the harvest; we are confronted with the historic antagonism of Jews and Samaritans which survives in the Nablus of to-day; there we see the genuine humanity of Jesus, as he sat down “wearied with his journey,” though not weary of his work, his elevation above the rabbinical prejudice of conversing with a woman, his superhuman knowledge and dignity; there is the curiosity and quick-wittedness of the Samaritan Magdalene; and how natural is the transition from the water of Jacob’s well to the water of life, and from the hot dispute of the place of worship to the highest conception of God as an omnipresent spirit, and his true worship in spirit and in truth.

4. The writer represents himself expressly as an eye-witness of the life of Christ. He differs from the Synoptists, who never use the first person nor mix their subjective feelings with the narrative. “We beheld his glory,” he says, in the name of all the apostles and primitive disciples, in stating the general impression made upon them by the incarnate Logos dwelling. And in the parallel passage of the first Epistle, which is an inseparable companion of the fourth Gospel, he asserts with solemn emphasis his personal knowledge of the incarnate Word of life whom he heard with his ears and saw with his eyes and handled with his hands (1Jo_1:1-3). This assertion is general, and covers the whole public life of our Lord. But he makes it also in particular a case of special interest for the realness of Christ’s humanity; in recording the flow of blood and water from the wounded side, he adds emphatically: “He that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith things that are true, that ye also may believe” (Joh_19:35). Here we are driven to the alternative: either the writer was a true witness of what he relates, or he was a false witness who wrote down a deliberate lie.

5. Finally, the writer intimates that he is one of the Twelve, that he is one of the favorite three, that he is not Peter, nor James, that he is none other than the beloved John who leaned on the Master’s bosom. He never names himself, nor his brother James, nor his mother Salome, but he has a very modest, delicate, and altogether unique way of indirect self-designation. He stands behind his Gospel like a mysterious figure with a thin veil over his face without ever lifting the veil. He leaves the reader to infer the name by combination. He is undoubtedly that unnamed disciple who, with Andrew, was led to Jesus by the testimony of the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan (Joh_1:35-40), the disciple who at the last Supper “was reclining at the table in Jesus’ bosom” (Joh_13:23-25), that “other disciple” who, with Peter, followed Jesus into the court of the high-priest (Joh_18:15, Joh_18:16), who stood by the cross and was intrusted by the dying Lord with the care of His mother (Joh_19:26, Joh_19:27), and that “other disciple whom Jesus loved,” who went with Peter to the empty sepulchre on the resurrection morning and was convinced of the great fact by the sight of the grave-cloths, and the head-cover rolled up in a place by itself (Joh_20:2-8). All these narratives are interwoven with autobiographic details. He calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” not from vanity (as has been most strangely asserted by some critics), but in blessed and thankful remembrance of the infinite mercy of his divine Master who thus fulfilled the prophecy of his name Johanan, i.e., Jehovah is gracious. In that peculiar love of his all-beloved Lord was summed up for him the whole significance of his life.

With this mode of self-designation corresponds the designation of members of his family: his mother is probably meant by the unnamed “sister of the mother” of Jesus, who stood by the cross (Joh_19:25), for Salome was there, according to the Synoptists, and John would hardly omit this fact; and in the list of the disciples to whom Jesus appeared at the Lake of Galilee, “the sons of Zebedee” are put last (Joh_21:2), when yet in all the Synoptic lists of the apostles they are, with Peter and Andrew, placed at the head of the Twelve. This difference can only be explained from motives of delicacy and modesty.

What a contrast the author presents to those pseudonymous literary forgers of the second and third centuries, who unscrupulously put their writings into the mouth of the apostles or other honored names to lend them a fictitious charm and authority; and yet who cannot conceal the fraud which leaks out on every page.



A review of this array of testimonies, external and internal, drives us to the irresistible conclusion that the fourth Gospel is the work of John, the apostle. This view is clear, self-consistent, and in full harmony with the character of the book and the whole history of the apostolic age; while the hypothesis of a literary fiction and pious fraud is contradictory, absurd, and self-condemned. No writer in the second century could have produced such a marvellous book, which towers high above all the books of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and Tertullian and Clement and Origen, or any other father or schoolman or reformer. No writer in the first century could have written it but an apostle, and no apostle but John, and John himself could not have written it without divine inspiration.