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Dating of John

Dating of John

C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, Second Edition, The Westminster Press, 1978, p127-128

” A terminus post quem may easily be fixed if it is true that John knew Mark, and not only knew it but had thoroughly mastered its contents, and expected his readers also to be familiar with them. There is wide agreement that Mark was written either not long before, or soon after, A.D. 70. We must allow time for Mark to reach the place in which John was written, and to be studied and absorbed. This brings us to a date not earlier than A.D. 80; 90 would be perhaps a safer estimate.

We are not dependent on Mark; this terminus post quem is confirmed by a second argument. John seems undoubtedly to envisage circumstances in which Jewish Christians were ‘put out of the synagogue’ (John 9:22, John 16:2). We are able, fortunately, to give with some exactness the date at which the well-known ‘Test Benediction’ (birkath ha-minim) was introduced into the synagogue service with the express intention of excluding heretics (Jewish Christians among them).  It was drawn up by R. Simoeon the Less, at the request of R. Gamaliel II, at about A.D. 85-90. Once more we arrive at A.D. 90 as terminus post quem.

The terminus ante quem is given by the first use of the gospel. If we could be certain that Valentinus himself used John this could be given as c. A.D. 130. This, however, though possible and even probable, cannot be proved, and the next piece of evidence is the Rylands papyrus, which cannot be dated more precisely than the middle of the second century. It is of course very improbable that the papyrus should be the autograph copy of the gospel, and we may safely push the terminus back as far as A.D. 140, especially since the papyrus may have been written earlier, perhaps twenty or thirty years earlier, than A.D. 150. If the author of Egerton Papyrus 2 was dependent on John, as he probably was, the terminus ante quem must be fixed somewhat earlier. 

The wide limits of A.D. 90-140 have now been reached, and it seems impossible to narrow them further without recourse to a hypothesis regarding authorship. John itself is a quite credible product of any date between 90 and 140. None of the attempts made to shift either date is successful…. The fact that Ignatius does not quote John can prove at the most that Ignatius had not read John; it cannot prove that John was not in existence when Ignatius wrote. On one point however caution must be observed. The gospel was not written before A.D. 90 (it appears), nor was the date of its publication later than 140; it must not be assumed that the date of writing and the date of publication were identical; the gospel may have been slow in coming to the notice of the Christian public. Indeed, we cannot be certain that the gospel was widely known in A.D. 140. It must be emphasized that the dates 90 and 140, especially the latter, are extreme limits. The traditional date of c. A.D. 100 is probably very near the truth. 

Wilbert Francis Howard, C. K. Barrett, The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation, Wipf and Stock; 4th ed. edition, 2009

The two writers who aroused most attention at the beginning of the [20th] century were Professor Jean Reville, who represented the left wing of Prostestant scholarship and Abbe Loise, still at that time a loyal member of the Roman communion. In many respects their attitude was the same. For both of them the Evangelist was a theologian, and history was not to be looked for in such a composition. (p.98)

Reville despaired of deriving any trustworthy information from the ecclesiastical tradition about the author’s name… The very slow progress of the Gospel into acceptance as of apostolic authorship is hard to explain if it came from the last survivor of the Twelve. The gospel itself must be interpreted in the light of the Prologue, and is seen to be steeped in the Philonic philosophy. There is a sense in which the Evangelist treats of historical data, but to accept his symbolic interpretation as though it ware reliable history would be like treating Philo as a fresh historical source for our knowledge of Moses. Therefore any non-Synoptic narratives must be rejected as of no documentary value. In a book which is entirely concerned with spiritual perception, and which offers drama rather than history, we must not try to base our theory of reliability upon the words of an eye-witness. “The Fourth Evangelist is not an historian; he is a seer”…Reville would date the Gospel between A.D. 100 and 125, as there is no trace of the Gnostic developments which soon after that time came to a head. (p.99)

Loisy’s great volume of nearly a thousand pages appeared within a year or two of Reville’s and in many respects follows the same critical line. The question of authenticity gives way to that of historicity. … “Tradition supplied the author with data which he uses as symbols, while modifying their form more or less, sometimes very considerably.” The book throughout is an allegory of the Logos. As for the writer, one cannot identify him as either with the Apostle or with the Presbyter John, think of him as a companion of Jesus. He was an Alexandrian Jew, a man of the third Christian generation, who had studied the writings of Paul. The date of the Gospel is before A. D. 125, for it is older than the Gnostic systems of Basilides and Valentinian, and from the letters of Ignatius we infer that a date nearer A.D. 100 is required.  (p.100)

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

“The evidence would seem to point, more and more decisively, to sometime within the first two decades of the second century.” (p 12)

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

Others, who place the Gospel of Lk. (and so the Gospels of Mk. and Mt. also) earlier, think that, when this estimation is taken into consideration, the Gospel of Jn. may have been composed as early as about the year 100. But here again we have to remember that the Gnosticism with which the Fourth Evangelist is familiar, and which he vigorously opposes, did not force its way into the Christian communities until about the year 100. We learn this from Hegesippus, who wrote his ” memorials” about the year 180, and as he was of a great age was still able to afford correct information on the matter. Jn., on the other hand, already had to do with a more developed form of Gnosticism (p. 205). Only, he does not seem to be acquainted with the forms which appeared after about the year 140. (p. 192)

The most important and decisive point is to know from what date we have reliable external evidence, as we say, concerning the Fourth Gospel; in other words, statements by writers which imply that they knew the book as the work of such and such an author, or at least that they wrote out passages from him, so that there can be no mistake that they really had the book lying before them. This, in fact, is the point on which those who claim that the Gospel was composed by John the Apostle have staked everything. Many of them have undertaken no less a task than to prove by such external testimony that the authorship has been placed so much beyond doubt that it is not permissible even to take into consideration the counter- arguments drawn from other considerations, for instance from an examination of the Gospel itself.

Unfortunately it is quite impossible here to go into this point with all the thoroughness that is really required. If we thought of doing so, we should have to give verbatim an almost endless number of passages from all the writers of the second century, in order to enable the reader to decide whether or not they betray a knowledge of the Fourth Gospel. We should be obliged, further, in the case of all these writers to state when they wrote, or rather, since in most cases the matter is not certain, to make inquiry and try to fix the most likely date. Ten years earlier or later here mean a very great difference. Finally, we should be obliged to find out their habits: whether to a greater or less extent they incorporate in their works passages from other books; whether they are accustomed to do this exactly word for word or merely from memory; whether they state regularly from what book they draw, or simply write down the words without saying that they have borrowed them ; whether they use books which we no longer possess. All this may be important when it is a question whether a passage in their writings which resembles one in the Fourth Gospel is taken from this or not. Instead of going into all these troublesome and wearisome questions, it must suffice here to state the results briefly, and to show by a few examples how they have been attained.

First then we have to establish the fact that before the year 170 no writer can be found who ascribes the Fourth Gospel to John the Apostle. As regards this matter, we must note further that the year 170 is the very earliest that can be specified, for the statement we have in mind that belongs to this time reads simply: as to the day of Jesus’ death ” the Gospels seem to be at variance.” The name, therefore, of John the Apostle is not mentioned. But it is clear from the words that this writer (Claudius Apollinaris) puts the Fourth Gospel, which introduces the variance (for the first three are quite agreed; see p. 118 f.), on the same level as the others.

But if from this date it is almost generally regarded as the work of the Apostle, in order to be able to determine the value of this assertion, we must know in the first place the general idea which leading persons of the time had of the books of the New Testament.

On this point Irenaeus (about 185) is specially instructive. To prove that there are just four true Gospels (there were still many others in existence), he points to the fact that there are four quarters of the world and four winds ; since, then, the Church is scattered over the whole earth and the Gospel constitutes its pillar and support and the spirit of its life, it is appropriate that the pillars which on all (four) sides blow upon it with the airs of imperishability should be four in number — in other words, the four Gospels. Such was the idea of so distinguished a person as Irenaeus; when it was a question of deciding whether the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle, he took his stand on the fact that the quarters of heaven and the chief winds are four in number. To understand how he could do this while speaking of the spirit of life, as well as of the winds, we must be aware that in Greek wind ” and ” spirit ” are represented by the same word (pneuma). So that by means of a play upon words, to sustain which he has further to think of pillars (i.e., the Gospels) as blowing, he is prepared to decide a question of such great importance. Surely we are justified in practically ignoring the proof which a person of this stamp brings forward to show that such and such a person was the author of a book in the New Testament.

But we will take a few more cases as tests of the carefulness of Irenaeus and those of his contemporaries who agreed with him in claiming that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle ; they will serve to test their critical powers as well. Irenaeus regards the James — who is said in Acts 15. to have been present at the already- mentioned (p. 174) meeting with Paul as one of the three pillars of the Church at Jerusalem — as that brother of John and personal disciple of Jesus whose execution has been recorded three chapters further back (Acts 12:2). In the Gospel of Luke again he thinks that the discourses of the Apostle Paul concerning the Life of Jesus are committed to writing just as those of Peter are in the Gospel of Mark. — and this in spite of the fact that Paul never met Jesus, and continued to persecute the Christians even after Jesus’ death.

Dealing with the question of eternal happiness, Irenaeus is able to tell us that there will be vines with 10,000 stems, on each stem 10,000 branches, on each branch 10,000 shoots, on each shoot 10,000 clusters, on each cluster 10,000 berries, and that every berry will yield 900 to 1000 liters of wine. The most important point, however, is not the size of these vines, but Irenaeus’ statement, that Jesus himself prophesied this; the aged men whom he so often mentions had told him so, and had added that they had heard it from John the Apostle. And this Irenaeus believes, although he assures us so emphatically that this same person wrote the Fourth Gospel which makes Jesus appear so superior to all such expectations.

Clement of Alexandria, one of the most learned and most venerated teachers in the Church (about 200), quotes as an utterance of the Apostle Paul(!) the words, “take also the Greek books, read the Sibyl and see how it reveals one God and the future, and read Hystaspes, and you will find in them the Son of God described much more clearly.” Hystaspes was the father of Darius, the Persian king who reigned from 521 to 485 B.C. The words of Clement give us some idea of the kind of fabrication that was put forth in his name. The credulous Clement also quotes the book of Zoroaster of Pamphylia in which he recorded after his resurrection all that had been taught him in the under- world by the gods. The jurist Tertullian (about 200) is able to tell us that in the official account of Jesus’ condemnation which Pilate sent to the Emperor Tiberius, he mentioned, amongst other things, the eclipse of the sun at the time of Jesus’ death, the guarding of the sepulcher, the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension, and that in his inmost convictions he was already a Christian. If Tetullian is not giving free rein to his imagination here, but has used some book (” Acts of Pilate “), we shall be glad to think that the author of it was a Christian.

But enough. We can see clearly the kind of people we have to deal with when the witnesses in support of the usual statements about the origin of the New Testament books are brought forward. Instead of insisting so emphatically that the fact that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle is already borne witness to by Irenseus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and others, it ought in truth to be said that no one did so until they bore witness to it — or, rather, asserted it.

Of rather a different nature are the cases in which passages from the Fourth Gospel are merely cited without its being said who wrote them. As regards these, it can be shown that before the year 140 there is evidence of none to which we have strict right to appeal. Sayings and expressions which resemble some in this Gospel, are indeed found in Christian writings after about the year 100 not infrequently. But it is a very strange idea that this resemblance must always be accounted for by supposing that the writers had read the Fourth Gospel. Because the Gospel has first made us acquainted with these sayings and expressions, there is no need to suppose that the circumstances were the same as early as about the year 100. On the contrary, why may not the Fourth Evangelist have been acquainted with the writings in question ? Or, to mention a suggestion which in many cases is more likely, the discourses of the travelling teachers of the times, of whom there were very many, may have given currency to a number of catchwords, phrases, and whole sentences, which became the common property of all more or less cultured Christians. No one could say where he first heard them. Any one who wrote a book made use of them without suspecting that the question from what other book he took them would ever be asked. It may be that the Fourth Evangelist availed himself of them, and stamped them with his own particular genius; and we of the present day may easily be misled into supposing that he must have been the first to coin them, and that all other writers who use them must have written subsequently.

It is particularly easy to think this when a whole sentence is in question, which contains in itself an independent and important thought. We have an example in John 14:2, “in my Father’s house (that is to say, in heaven) are many mansions.” Those people of great age to whom Irenaeus often appeals, have handed down to him as a saying of Jesus the words, ” in my Father’s domains are many mansions.” Besides this, we learn from Jn. alone (John 14:2) that Jesus made this statement, and the conclusion is drawn that the ” elders ” also can only have become acquainted with it from the Gospel. And since they have been referred to by Irenaeus as people who speak not from a more recent age, but from their own recollection of the distant past, the Gospel must already have been in existence at a very early date. This is a typical example of the kind of proof it is not permissible to use. We refrain from reckoning with the possibility that Jesus may really have made the statement, and that the elders were just as likely as the Fourth Evangelist to have learned it orally. But in their case, as well as that of John, the belief may also have grown up erroneously that he made the statement. This assertion would then have been repeated, and so finally have found its way into the Fourth Gospel. It was certainly the kind of saying that was likely to have been passed on from mouth to mouth, for it contains the comforting assurance that after one’s death one might look forward with certainty to finding a refuge in heaven. Another indication that the saying became current in this way may be found in the fact that the versions in John and Irenaeus are not word for word identical.

Most noteworthy are the writers between the specified years 140 and 170, who really cite passages from the Fourth Gospel, but do not say who composed it. The most important is Justin, who wrote about 152 and was subsequently martyred. From the Synoptics he introduces over one hundred passages, but from John only three, and these are so far from following John’s language exactly that in every case it can be thought that he took them from another book, and that the Fourth Evangelist may have done the same. We assume, however, that Justin took them from John’s work. But why, then, are there so few, and why is nothing said about this work being the composition of a personal disciple of Jesus? Referring to the “Revelation “of John, he says positively that it was composed by the Apostle ; but he says nothing about the Gospel. And yet he attaches so much importance to the “memorials of the Apostles and their companions,” as he calls the Gospels; and shares with the Fourth the doctrine of the Logos. We can only understand this on one supposition : Justin did not consider the Fourth Gospel to be the work of the Apostle. In that case, it must in his age still have been quite new; otherwise it would long ago have won general recognition. Obviously Justin finds in it some passages which are beautiful and worth mentioning, but, compared with the rich use made of the Synoptics, he uses it with great caution, and almost with hesitation.

When therefore we sum up the results of our examination of the external evidence for the Fourth Gospel, we find that the lesson it teaches is the opposite of what those who believe that it was written by the Apostle think it ought to teach. Instead of proving that this was written very early, it proves that it was composed at a very late date. If the work in question were that of an obscure person, we can perhaps understand that it may have been in existence for decades without attracting attention or gaining recognition. But think of it! A work by the disciple whom Jesus loved! And, besides, a work containing disclosures of such paramount importance! It could not have failed to be greeted on its first appearance with the greatest joy, and to be greedily devoured; we could not fail to find an echo of it in all Christian writers. Instead of that, from the date at which it must have been published by the Apostle, that is to say, at latest from 90-100, until 140, there is not one certain instance of the use of the book; we do not find the Apostle recognized as the author until after 170, and in the meantime we do find it clearly realized that it was not by him. Indeed, we have to add further that after 160 or 170 it was positively stated by some who were good Churchmen, and later by the Presbyter Gaius in Rome at the beginning of the third century, to have been composed by a heretic. The result therefore of examining the external evidence means that we cannot place the origin of the Gospel earlier than very shortly before the first appearance of this evidence, and so very shortly before 140.

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

It is a right view which suggests that the ‘ canonization ‘ of all tie New Testament writings was the issue of an unconscious growth. That no special sanctity attached at the outset to the Gospels is clear both from the attitude of Evangelist to Evangelist …. How precisely it came about that four Gospels were singled out from the rest, placed side by side, accounted authoritative and sacred, is not fully known; what can be said is that, as time went on, ‘the caskets which enshrined the jewel of traditions concerning Jesus were identified with the jewel itself ; and, if the completion of the New Testament Canon as a whole cannot be dated earlier than the close of the Fourth century (in the case of Eastern churches somewhat later). (P. 9)

As for the titles of the Gospels ; in the earliest MSS. one general title, covers the four, the separate books being simply headed [according to Mark] and so forth. These titles are not to be assigned to the authors themselves ; they were prefixed by others, and probably date from the period when the four Gospels were so collected together as to form one whole. (P.10)

To turn from such preliminary considerations to our Gospel. While the first three Gospels are ‘sister- works,’ it stands, as all admit, in a distinct category, by itself apart, and not only because of its position in the Canon but for other reasons it is more frequently termed the ‘Fourth Gospel’ in the diction of Biblical research. And the subject to be approached and provisionally determined in this chapter is one which hinges on the question of its approximate date. (P.9)

There are two extreme limits beyond which there is no need to travel in our search. First; in the eyes of Irenaeus all four Gospels are Holy Scripture. Judging from the manner of his allusions, the rank thus acquired by them, however gradually, had ceased to be a novelty in the period marked by his literary activities; and the inference is safe that they had so ranked for some little time. ‘John’ was one of those Gospels… Hence the terminus ad quem [upper limit] can by no possibility be referred to a date later than the last decade but two of the second century. (PP.10-11)

In the second place. There is a strong consensus of opinion, at all events it is now widely allowed, that the Synoptic Gospels were known to, or known of by, the Fourth Evangelist. The conclusion naturally follows that the terminus a quo [lower limit] for the composition of his own Gospel is the date assignable to the latest of the ‘ sister- works’ … The Gospel which bears the name of Luke ; it is held by not a few that ‘the decade from a.d. 70 to a.d. 80 is the probable date,’ or that there are grounds for preferring ‘ the intermediate date of A.D. 75-80.’ Allowance must be made for some development of Gospel literature, while, if the Third Evangelist had actually read Josephus, the first century would be nearing its end when he wrote… ca. a.d. 95-100 might be nearer the mark [for the lower limit]. (PP.11-12)

The name of Heracleon, already instanced, now points us, if only for a moment, to his predecessors in those great movements of thought which, more or less tinged with Christian ideas, culminated in the ‘ boldest and grandest Syncretism the world had ever beheld’; but, as the question of Gnosticism will be discussed later, it may suffice to remark here that adequate ground is discovered for the belief that ca. a.d. 135 ‘John’s’ Gospel was highly esteemed by Basilides and was well known to the Valentinians’ (P.16) 

In respect of a terminus ad quem [upper limit]. The question is not altogether easy to decide; for, in the case of certain Apostolic fathers, coincidence of idea and phrase is not in itself proof of actual acquaintance with the Fourth Gospel, while documents otherwise temptingly suggestive must be ruled out by reason of their obscure origination. This, at all events, appears certain ; the extreme limit which points to the days of Irenaeus may be pushed back by several decades. The question then is: how much further back? An answer comes with the recognition that, albeit ‘the first reliable traces of the existence of the Fourth Gospel are found in the Apology of Justin Martyr,’ there is warrant for the assumption of its use ‘in the circles of Valentinian Gnosis. The provisional terminus ad quem [upper limit], accordingly, lies somewhere about the year a.d. 135. (P.17)

The question of the terminus a quo [lower limit] is encompassed with difficulty, in that it is contingent on the dating of the First and Third Gospels. It may, on the one hand, be discovered in the years m. a.d. 75-80; on the other hand it may not be earlier than the close of the first century… In due course the Fourth Gospel will be itself questioned, and its approximate date more nearly determined from internal evidence presented by it, the tone and tenor of its contents. (P.17)

It has already been decided by us, of course provisionally, that the two extreme limits within which the date of origination of our Gospel might be held to lie were roughly indicated by, on the one hand, that of the latest of the Synoptics, and, on the other, by its use, to all appearance, in the circles of Valentinian Gnosis… Our provisional decision, it must be remembered, was the outcome of an inquiry which was then restricted to the field of external evidence. Not so in the present chapter, for it now becomes our business to question the Gospel itself; to determine so far as possible the relations in which it stands to event, circumstance, or movement in the outer world. (P.83)

Our provisional decision, it must be remembered, was the out- come of an inquiry which was then restricted to the field of external evidence. Not so in the present chapter, for it now be- comes our business to question the Gospel itself; to determine so far as possible the relations in which it stands to event, circum- stance, or movement in the outer world. (P.83)

We now address ourselves more particularly to one of ‘ the two main tendencies in the early Church which lie near the main current of its historic developement,’ viz. Gnosticism. It is, of course, impossible in these pages to treat in detail of successive stages in and the many phases of — to repeat from a previous chapter — ‘ the boldest and grandest syncretism the world has ever beheld,’ and nothing more shall be attempted than a very general and bare outline of Gnosticism in its leading features. Of the Gnostic sects it has been said that they ‘ were the result of the contact of Christian principles with the current ideas of the first century,’ every Gnostic system being ‘ an attempt to blend Christianity with the theosophical speculations of the age ‘ ; ‘ in a sense, however, Gnosticism is more ancient than the Church, being a philosophy of religion which seeks in the end to explain every cultus’; it is then suggested that ‘the great test to which primitive Christianity was exposed from the outside world was not so much the danger of succumbing to persecution, as of adapting itself to the popular philosophies of the heathen and Jewish world.’ (PP.87-88)
 

We now turn to our Gospel. As we have seen already, it was not only commented on by the Gnostic Heracleon, but held in estimation by Basilides ; and, such being the case, we may well be incredulous in respect of the very late dating of a previous suggestion. But the question is whether we be now pointed to the nearer date sought for by the manner and matter of its contents when compared with that Gnosticism which has been rapidly surveyed by us. (P. 90) 

There are two extreme positions. In the one case our Gospel has been definitely claimed for Gnosticism’; in the other it is said to be characterized throughout by a pronounced antagonism to Gnostic modes of thought. The truth, however, does not appear to lie in either quarter, and it is far more reasonable to decide that, in some degree sympathetic, it also tells plainly of a discriminating mind. That it is not untinged by Gnostic influences might be admitted; its author has occasional resort to a terminology in use in Gnostic circles, he makes room for an ‘ intellectualism’ of a certain kind, elements of dualism are perceptible in his conceptions, the idealized portrait of his Christ is suggestive of a Docetism from which he himself is not altogether free. On the other hand it must be as readily admitted that, by no means blind to momentous issues, he fastens on and repudiates errors detected by him in Gnostic doctrines which were making their appearance in his day. (P. 90)

Our Evangelist is no advanced Gnostic. As for his Gospel, it is not the work of one who, realizing the gravity of the situation, is constrained to grapple with and refute a Gnosticism which has arrived at the hey-day of its development. What might be allowed perhaps is that, not definitely hostile to Gnosticism in its earlier stages, he occasionally reveals a discriminating sympathy; yet it must be added that, alive to errors creeping in and already fraught with mischief, he is bold to speak his mind. That his Gospel is altogether strange to the Gnostic movement it is hard to believe. (P. 91)

We are led to the conclusion that our Gospel places us in a day when Basilides and Valentinian had yet to elaborate their systems, and that accordingly it is prior to the year a.d. 135 or thereabouts. (p.91)

By what space of time? If so be that our Evangelist is really the Beloved Disciple, necessity is of course laid upon us to retrace our steps so as to get within a period when he still survived; and in that case we should have to date our Gospel at least as early as a year or two after (if not before) the close of the first century. Yet, apart from the contingency that, not a real person, he ‘ represents the Church in its essential idea,’ he may be not so much author of as authority for our Gospel ; and it may be said at once that it is not absolutely imperative to decide for a date within the life-time of an eye-witness of the life of Jesus. And besides, there are considerations which forbid us to travel very far back in our search. Whatever the identity of the Evangelist, he writes at a date later than the latest of the Synoptics; and here we bear in mind the uncertainty which attaches to the dating of the Matthaean and the Lucan Gospels. The very fact of his dependence on the Synoptics is an argument in favour of the theory that some time had elapsed since their publication. Nor is this all ; the world in which he places us is not diverse only in locality, but in conceptions which suggest an after day. The One of whom he tells is not so much the Jesus of the Synoptic representation as the Christ of the experience of his own inmost soul. (pp.91-92)
 
Were our search to end at this point the conclusion would be reasonable that, although no precise date can be fixed, our Gospel can be safely assigned to the period a.d. 100-125. (p.92)

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

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)

Dating by Other Scholars

James Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, Edinburgh : T. &T. Clark, 1918, p.580-581

The various dates to which the gospel has been assigned cover about a century:

  • 70-85: Wittichen, Alford, Reithmayr, Bleek
  • 80-90: Ewald, Godet, Bisping, Westcott, Calmes, Zahn
  • 90-100: Mangenot, Batiffol, B. Weiss, Camerlynck = 85-95
  • 80-120: (Jackson), c. A.D. 100 (Lightfoot, Weizsicker, Reynolds, Harnack=after 95, Cornely, Lepin= before 100)
  • 100-110: Renan, Schenkel
  • 100-125: O. Holtzmann, J. Réville, Jiilicher, Loisy, Bauer
  • 130-140: Hilgenfeld, Keim, Thoma, Liitzelberger, A. Réville
  • 140-155: Bretschneider=c. 150, Schwegler, Zeller, Volkmar, Taylor, Pfleiderer = before 135-140, van Manen, Kreyenbiihl, Schmiedel, Erbes, Schwartz =c. 150
  • 160-170: Baur, Scholten, Bruno Bauer

Recent criticism, however, has lopped off several branches on both sides. It is now recognized that the use of the gospel in the circles of Valentinian gnosis rules out any date after, c. 130 again, if Justin, Ignatius, and Papias in all likelihood were acquainted with it, this excludes any terminus ad quem for its composition much later than A.D. 110. The terminus ad quo, on the other hand, is determined approximately by the date of the synoptic gospels, all of which, as we have already seen, were probably known to the writer.