Introduction To The Gospel of John
The Gospel of John is unique among the four Gospels. Only seven out of all the events recorded in this Gospel are shared by the other three Gospel writers. This Gospel does not give as much attention to the happenings in the ministry of Jesus as it does to the teachings of Jesus. Many have referred to it as "the Spiritual Gospel" or "the Gospel to the Church."
The writer carefully selected the events and teachings of Jesus to portray Him as the Son of God. This emphasis on the deity of Jesus (Joh 1:1) is in stark contrast with the other Gospels where these truths, although present, are not given the same preeminence.
As will be noted when we discuss the date this Gospel was written, it is probable that the Gospel of John was written a full generation after the other Gospels and for the specific purpose of refuting the sect of the Gnostics who believed Jesus was not God. Therefore, we see doctrines expounded much more in this Gospel than the other three (Joh 3:3; 6:35, 48, 54; 8:56, 58; etc.).
a. Internal evidence: Because of the many noticeable differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels, and especially the advanced doctrinal statements, there has been much controversy about the authorship and date of writing. However, there is more internal evidence to establish the authorship of this Gospel than in the cases of the other three Gospels.
In Joh 1:14, the phrase "we beheld his glory" shows that the author was at least an eyewitness of the events he was recording. Many events recorded in this Gospel would support the belief that the author was not only an eyewitness but also very closely associated with Jesus, because of the detailed accounts he gave of private conversations and thoughts (Joh 3:1-21, 4:4-30, 11:1-44, 13:1-30, etc.).
The terminology used in this Gospel referring to the "beloved disciple" or "the disciple whom Jesus loved" also points to John. This manner of referring to this disciple is used five times (Joh 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, and 20), and in Joh 21:2-7, we can see that it had to be designating one of seven apostles. Of these seven, we can rule out Simon Peter as the beloved disciple, because of Joh 13:23-24. Because of this special title assigned to this disciple, it is probable that the "beloved disciple" was one of the three comprising Jesus' inner circle of disciples (Mt 17:1, 26:37; and Mr 5:37). With Peter excluded, that only leaves James and his brother John. James was the first of the disciples to suffer martyrdom, as recorded in Ac 12:1-2. Therefore, John is left as this beloved disciple who testified of these things (Joh 21:20-24).
Also, the name John is not used in this Gospel except in reference to John the Baptist. If the author did not want to draw attention to himself (hence the use of "the beloved disciple" and "another disciple" [Joh 18:15-16]) then the lack of mentioning a prominent apostle, such as John, by name could be another indication that John was the author.
b. External evidence: External evidence as to the authorship of John abounds. Irenaeus wrote not later than A.D. 182 "that the Valentinians avail themselves in the most complete manner of the Gospel according to John." This quote not only shows the common reference to John as being the author of the fourth Gospel by the latter part of the second century, but even those who were considered heretics by the church (the Valentinians) also recognized the Gospel of John. Friend and foe alike attributed this Gospel to John.
Tertullian, who wrote in the latter part of the second century, quoted from every chapter of Matthew, Luke, and John. In his work he said, "Among the apostles, John and Matthew form the faith within us; among the companions of the apostles, Luke and Mark renovate it."
Clement of Alexandria wrote around A.D. 190, "John wrote a spiritual Gospel, divinely moved by the Holy Spirit, on observing that the things obvious to the senses had been clearly set forth in the earlier Gospels." He also made nearly 500 quotations from the four Gospels.
The Muratorian Canon, written not later than A.D. 170, says, "Of the fourth of the Gospels, (the author) was John, one of the disciples."
Irenaeus, the pupil of Polycarp who was the friend and pupil of St. John, said that John "for sixty years after the Ascension preached orally, till the end of Domitian's reign; and after the death of Domitian, having returned to Ephesus, he was induced to write (his Gospel) concerning the divinity of Christ, co-eternal with the Father; in which he refutes those heretics, Cerinthus and the Nicolaitans."
Conclusion About Authorship
From the internal evidence, we can prove that the "beloved disciple" who wrote this Gospel had to be one of seven men mentioned in Joh 21:2. Peter or James could not be the author. Of the remaining five men, only one, John, was a part of the inner circle of the apostles and would be the logical one to be referred to in such an intimate manner.
This last conclusion is the only point that could be questioned at all, and in the light of the overwhelming universal acceptance of John as the author by the middle of the second century, it can be assumed that John was indeed the author.
It does need to be noted that there have been and still are many who have contested John as being the author of this Gospel. In researching this, I have come across hundreds of pages of debate on this subject. However, the arguments against John being the author are based on suppositions that I find to be incorrect and did not come up until well after the second century had embraced this Gospel and its author, John.
Date of Writing
a. Internal evidence: There is no direct statement within this Gospel to establish a date for its writing. It has been argued at length that the "sophisticated" doctrine taught in this Gospel dates this writing in the latter half of the second century and some believe even into the third century.
However, it is not hard to believe that an apostle who spent three and one-half years with the greatest Teacher of all time could have such a clear understanding of the deity of Jesus and His preexistence. Peter made a tremendous statement of his faith in the deity of Jesus in Mt 16:16, and Jesus said "my Father which is in heaven" had revealed it to him. Surely the Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could do the same.
The thrust of the book is very clear, as has already been dealt with--to reveal Jesus as God in the flesh. This emphasis could be interpreted to be a direct attempt to counter the doctrine of the Gnostics and Nicolaitans, and that would make the date of writing after A.D. 85. This is very possible but cannot be stated as fact based on the Gospel of John alone.
b. External evidence: Again, there is much information outside the Bible about the time John wrote this Gospel. As has already been noted, Tertullian referred to the Gospel of John in the latter part of the second century. Clement of Alexandria in A.D. 190 quoted from the Gospels (including John) nearly 500 times.
Irenaeus, as has already been quoted, stated that John reported the Gospel orally for sixty years before he committed it to writing. This would place the date of writing not earlier than A.D. 92 or 93. Irenaeus also quoted from the four Gospels not less than 500 times with 100 of these quotes coming from the Gospel of John. This establishes as certain the widespread use of John's Gospel in the year A.D. 180.
Again, Clement of Alexandria stated that John wrote his Gospel from Ephesus not long before his death, at the request of friends. The tradition found in these early writings state that John died a natural death at one hundred years of age. If these statements are true, then we would have the dates this Gospel was written as A.D. 92-110. Heracleon actually wrote a complete commentary on this Gospel sometime between A.D. 125-155. This Gospel must have been written a considerable time before that.
About the Author
a. Internal information: John is introduced in Mt 10:2 as being one of the twelve apostles, brother of James, and son of Zebedee. By comparing Mt 27:56 with Mr 15:40, we can also see that John's mother's name was Salome and that she followed Jesus during His early ministry (Mt 20:20) and was with the other women at the tomb on Resurrection morning (Mr 15:40). John was one of the three apostles who were privileged to be with Jesus when the others were not (Mt 17:1, 26:37; and Mr 5:37).
John and his brother James, in their zeal, wanted to call fire down from heaven and consume the Samaritans but were rebuked by Jesus (Lu 9:54-56). This might be the reason they were given the title "Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder," by our Lord Jesus (Mr 3:17). Salome, the mother of James and John, asked Jesus (apparently with her sons' consent) if they could sit next to Him on His throne in His kingdom (Mt 20:20).
Following the reasoning that we used under Authorship, a. Internal evidence, we can see that John was the "beloved disciple." He may well have been the "other disciple" mentioned in Joh 18:15 and 20:4. If so, that would mean John stayed with Jesus during His trial before the high priest (Joh 18:15). Certainly John was with Jesus throughout the crucifixion, and Jesus commanded John to take care of his mother, Mary (Joh 19:26-27).
John became one of the "pillars" of the early church (Ga 2:9). John was probably the author of four other books in the Bible also: 1Jo, 2Jo, 3Jo, and Re. If this was the same John who wrote Revelation (Re 1:9), then we know that John was exiled to the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and his testimony of Jesus.
No mention is made in Scripture of how he died. John did note in Joh 21:23 that there was a common belief among the brethren in his lifetime that Jesus said he would not die until His second return. John dispelled this in that same verse.
b. External information: There is an abundance of external information on John. Polycarp and Papias were both closely associated with John and supply us with details, along with many others.
A brief summary of external information would be (1) John zealously defended the faith by disputing with the Gnostics and Nicolaitans. One writer reports John as refusing to remain in the same room with one of the heretic leaders (compare 2Jo 10-11). (2) John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos (Re 1:9), then later returned to Ephesus where he wrote this Gospel and the three epistles, and finally died in Ephesus at the age of one hundred. There are tourist attractions today at the ancient site of Ephesus that are claimed to be John's tomb.
Many other references to John are available but are too numerous to list and lack verification.