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In any study of a Biblical book, there comes a time when the serious student must give consideration to the critical study (examining authorship, date, place or origin of writing, audience, and theological considerations) a particular book in either the Hebrew Bible or Greek New Testament. For the purposes of this course, a critical examination is undertaken for the Fourth Gospel. While matters such as authorship and date may not seem important or necessary to the person in the pew, I believe these matters are of utmost importance. There are literally thousands of books in libraries all across our land that deal with the issue of whether John the apostle is the author of the fourth gospel (or not), whether the gospel is written prior to or after 100 A.D., and if the book even belongs in the cannon?1 For if the apostle John (or someone close to our Lord) did not write this gospel, then one stands an easier time pushing the date well into the second century A.D. When this takes place, then matters such as canonicity (is the book apostolic or inspired) come into play and is definitely a matter of faith.
This research paper, or critical introduction to John¶s Gospel, deals with the following subjects: Authorship, Date, Origin, Audience, and Theological Considerations. These five
categories will help shed light on the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel. A book that proposes to create faith in the mind of the reader must pass the litmus test of critical investigation. Hopefully, our faith can be renewed that this book about the ³Word´ of Life is indeed from God and not simply man.
James Burton Coffman, Commentary On John. (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1974), 1.
Authorship of the Fourth Gospel
When one examines the internal evidence of the Fourth Gospel, one finds some interesting facts about the inspired writer (as I would argue). What are some important facts that would help clarify who the unnamed writer is of this beloved gospel?
First, the author is a Jew. There can hardly be any doubt that the author of this gospel account in indeed a Jew.2 The writer is familiar with Jewish opinions, customs, and thoughts. ³His special knowledge, his literary style, his religious faith, all point to the same conclusion.´ 3 The writer possesses personal knowledge of ³contemporary Messianic expectations´ that a nonHebrew might not understand.4 During Jesus¶ discourse with the Samaritan woman at Jacob¶s well, she says: ³I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us´ (John 4:25).5 When one notices the coalition of Priests¶ and Levites¶ who come from Jerusalem to meet John the Baptist, their intentions are clear. They want to know if he is the Messiah, or not (John 1:19-21)? They ask him, ³Who are you?´ Reading John as a whole, they appear to be looking at John suspiciously. They want to keep close tabs on any Messiah (the real McCoy or a pretender). In John 7:40, during His discourse at the temple during the Feast of Booths, a division occurs among the crowd as to whether or not He is the Christ? Some believe that He is the long awaited Messiah or ³Prophet´ (an obvious reference to that Prophet from Deuteronomy 18 that God would raise up like unto Moses).6 In John 12:34, the crowd (possibly the Gentiles who come to ³see Jesus´ earlier in this chapter) ask
B.F. Westcott, The Gospel According To St. John: The Authorized Version With Introduction And Notes. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Reprinted 1981), v. 3 Ibid, vi. 4 Ibid. 5 N.A.S.B. 6 Ibid.
a question about Jesus saying that He must be ³lifted up.´ They remark that they believe the Law of Moses teaches that the Messiah would come and stay forever.7
The style and form suggests the author is of Jewish heritage. The vocabulary, sentence structure, ³symmetry and numerical composition,´ as well as the way the inspired writer arranges and expresses his thoughts points to a one who is from a Jewish background.8 Tenney points out that the writer appears to be at home in the Aramaic language (although the gospel is composed in Greek). There are only a ³few subordinate clauses´ in the gospel of John, and ³not infrequently Hebrew or Aramaic words are inserted and then explained.´9 One cannot read the opening verse of John (1:1), ³In the beginning was the Word,´ and not find a parallel to the first verse in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:1), ³In the beginning God «´
Second, the author is a Palestinian Jew. Imagine the difficulty in someone (especially a Gentile) writing this gospel from some distance away from Israel? A non-native born person could not possibly comprehend the vast amount of geographical knowledge.10 You only have to visit the ³Holy Land´ once to realize the subtle references in John¶s gospel that can only be known by someone who either grows up there or spends a great amount of time in first century Palestine. For instance, the author knows there is a pool at Jerusalem called Bethesda (John 5:2). In this same passage where Jesus heals a lame man, the author mentions there being a ³sheep gate´ by the pool of Siloam and that the pool has five porticoes. There is the reference to the Pavement in John 19:13 (the raised platform where judgment is made) that the author calls
Ibid. Ibid. 9 Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey, Rev. by Walter M. Dunnett. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 189. 10 Westcott, x.
Gabbatha. The names Gabbatha and Bethesda are not found in the synoptics.11 In the context of Jesus cleansing the temple, that author mentions the crowd reacting to Jesus¶ claim that He would tear the temple down and rebuild structure in three days: ³It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days (John 2:20)?´
This author possesses knowledge of ³political, social, religious, and local knowledge´ of Palestine that could only come from the viewpoint of a resident of the first century world.12 He mentions in John chapter four about the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, the surprise of the woman that Jesus (being a man) would ask her (a woman and a Samaritan on top of that) for a drink of water. Who could understand the threats of being kicked out of the synagogue (John chapter 9) other than one who endures the same treatment like the apostles in the book of Acts? Could anyone other than a native of the Galilee understand the significance of the stone purification water pots he mentions in John chapter two (the wedding at Cana of Galilee)? There are numerous allusions to Old Testament passages throughout John¶s gospel.
Third, the author is an eye-witness to the events he records in the Fourth Gospel. The writer claims first-hand knowledge that only a close disciple or apostle could know. Note in particular John 21:24, where he says, ³This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that this witness is true.´13 The writer includes himself when he writes that ³we beheld His glory´ (John 1:14). In John 19:35, he claims to see Jesus and bear witness to this fact (and that his testimony is ³true´ or genuine).14 I would even argue (though some might disagree) that he is the unnamed disciple of John who begins following Jesus during
Ibid, xii. Ibid, xiii. 13 N.A.S.B. 14 Tenney, 190.
the early days of His ministry (John 1:35-39).
Who but an eyewitness (and especially a
fisherman) would know what happens when Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of their boat and that they haul in one hundred and fifty-three fish (John 21:11)?
Fourth, the author is an apostle.
Fifth, the author is the Apostle John. The key to understanding who is the author of the Fourth Gospel is by asking ourselves the question, ³Who is the beloved disciple?´ We first run across the ³beloved disciple´ at the last Passover meal Jesus eats with His disciples (when He washes the disciples¶ feet) in John 13:23. We find this unnamed disciple at the foot of the cross taking the mother of our Lord under his protection (John 19:26-27). He also outruns Peter to the empty tomb, but does not