Authorship of John
Authorship of John

Authorship of John

G. H. C. Macgregor, The Gospel Of John, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1928, Introduction

Literary Structure

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 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. (

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

“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)

Authorship In Tradition

Not 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 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 [21] 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 told that 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 2:19John 3:29 and John 3:31John 3:22John 3:26John 4:1 and John 4 :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 10:5John 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 17:14John 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)

Ernest Findlay Scott, The Historical and Religious Value of the Fourth Gospel, Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1909


“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 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)