The Gospel of John: Introduction, Argument, Outline

I. Introduction

A. The Author

There are three pieces of evidence to consider: title, external evidence, and internal evidence.

1. The Title

As with the other gospels, no MSS which contain John’s Gospel1 affirm authorship by anyone other than John.2 Once again, as with the others, this is short of proof of Johannine authorship, but the unbroken stream suggests recognition (or at least acknowledgment) of Johannine authorship as early as the first quarter of the second century. Indeed, John’s Gospel is unique among the evangelists for two early papyri (P66 and P75, dated c. 200) attest to Johannine authorship. Since these two MSS were not closely related to each other, this common tradition must precede them by at least three or four generations of copying. Further, although B and P75 are closely related, textual studies have demonstrated that P75 is not the ancestor of B—in fact, B’s ancestor was, in many respects, more primitive than P75.3 Hence, the combined testimony of B and P75 on Johannine authorship points to a textual tradition which must be at least two generations earlier than P75. All of this is to say that from the beginning of the second century, the fourth gospel was strongly attached to the apostle John.

2. External Evidence

Attestation of Johannine authorship is found as early as Irenaeus. Eusebius reports that Irenaeus received his information from Polycarp, who in turn received it from the apostles directly. Although Irenaeus’ testimony has been assailed on critical grounds (since he received the information as a child, and may have been mistaken as to which John wrote the gospel), since all patristic writers after Irenaeus do not question apostolic authorship, criticism must give way to historical probability. The list of fathers include Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc. Further, the Muratorian Canon suggests that John was given the commission to write this gospel after Andrew received a vision indicating that he would do so. If one were to sift out the possible accretions in this statement, the bare fact of Johannine authorship is not disturbed. Finally, the anti-Marcionite Prologue also affirms Johannine authorship.

In countering this external evidence are two considerations. (1) There would be a strong motivation on the part of patristic writers to suggest authorship by an apostle. Further, the internal evidence, when compared with the synoptics, strongly suggests John as the leading candidate. But this is off-set by the remarkably early documentary testimony of Johannine authorship4 as well as early patristic hints (Ignatius, Justin, Tatian). Further, P52—the earliest fragment for any NT book—contains portions of John 18:31-33 and 37-38 and is to be dated as early as 100 CE5; and the Papyrus Egerton 2, which is to be dated at about the same time, draws on both John and synoptics for its material.6 Although the early patristic hints and the early papyri do not explicitly affirm Johannine authorship, they do illustrate its early and widespread use, an implicit testimony to its acceptance by the church. Indeed, there seems never to have been a time when this gospel bore any name other than John’s.

(2) There is some evidence of an early martyrdom for John (based on Mark 10:39) which, assuming a late date for the production of this gospel, would preclude Johannine authorship. However, the earliest patristic evidence for this supposition is from the fifth century (Philip of Side and the Syrian martyrology of 411 CE), from sources which show themselves to be unreliable as historical guides in other matters. Further, in our dating of John’s Gospel, even an early martyrdom would not preclude Johannine authorship, though it would preclude Johannine authorship of the Apocalypse.

In conclusion, the external evidence is quite strong for Johannine authorship, being widely diffused and early.

3. Internal Evidence

Two sets of internal evidence will be examined: (1) Westcott’s famous “Concentric Proofs”7 and (2) other incidental pieces of evidence in support of Johannine authorship. We will reserve internal evidence against Johannine authorship for the next section.

a. Concentric Proofs
(1) The Author was a Jew

He quotes occasionally from the Hebrew text (cf. 12:40; 13:18; 19:37); he was acquainted with the Jewish feasts such as the Passover (2:13; [5:1]; 6:4; 11:55), Tabernacles (7:37), and Dedication/Hanukkah (10:22); he was acquainted with Jewish customs such as the arranging of water pots (ch. 2) and burial customs (11:38-44).

(2) The Author was a Jew in Palestine

He knows that Jacob’s well is deep (4:11); he states that there is a descent from Canaan to Capernaum; and he distinguishes between Bethany and Bethany beyond the Jordan; in short, he is intimately acquainted with Palestinian topography.8

(3) The Author was an Eyewitness of What he Wrote

He stated that he had beheld Christ’s glory (1:14) using a verb (θεάομαι) which in NT Greek always bears the meaning of at least physical examination (cf. BAGD); there are incidental comments about his being there (Judas slipped out at night [13:16] 4:6 [the sixth hour], etc.).

(4) The Author was an Apostle

He has an intimate knowledge of what happened among the disciples—cf. 2:11; 4:27; 6:19, etc.

(5) The Author was the Apostle John

He is exact in mentioning names of characters in the book. If he is so careful, why does he omit the name of John unless he is John? Further, his mention of John the Baptist merely as “John” (1:6) implies that if he is to show up in the narrative another name must be given him—such as “the beloved disciple”—or else confusion would result.

b. Incidental Evidence

Beyond the concentric proofs of Westcott, there are other pieces of incidental evidence.

(1) The author uses the historical present more than any other gospel writer (161 times) and in such a way as to indicate vividness of portrayal. One should note the especially heavy use in chapter 4 and the passion narrative. This suggests the vivid recollections of an eyewitness.

(2) In 19:35 and 21:24-25 the most natural reading of the text suggests that an eyewitness wrote the gospel. But this has been debated: “advocates of theories of authorship which deny an eyewitness author treat the clear testimony of this verse [21:24] as a redactional device.… By such a method any embarrassing evidence can be disposed of.”9

(3) The beloved disciple shows up with Peter on several occasions; belongs to a group of seven in 21:2 (Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others)—and here, he must be one of the last four unnamed disciples; and nowhere in this gospel does John the disciple appear by name (even though he is named twenty times in the synoptics). This strongly infers either that the author of this work was absolutely unaware of John the disciple—a possibility which seems quite remote—or he was John the disciple.

(4) Independence from the synoptic tradition coupled with early and widespread acceptance by the church. The fact that over 90% of the material in this gospel is unique to itself, coupled with its early acceptance by the church, argues very strongly that it was authored by some authority. This, coupled with the further fact that John was widely employed in early gnostic circles yet was not thereby abandoned by the orthodox, argues quite compellingly that all quarters recognized its authority. A work not done by an apostle would hardly have met such a reception.

All in all, there are many excellent reasons—both external and internal—for acceptance of the fourth gospel as having been authored by John the apostle.

4. Arguments against Johannine Authorship

There are principally three internal arguments against Johannine authorship.10 (1) the identification of the “beloved disciple,” (2) apparent contradictions with the synoptic material, and (3) the hue of Hellenistic thought which pervades the work.11

a. The Beloved Disciple

Although the identification of the beloved disciple with the apostle John has been alleged as a proof of Johannine authorship, one problem plagues this certitude: would any writer be so arrogant as to identify himself in such a manner? However, not only is ἀγαπάω rather than φιλέω used in this designation (suggesting more of a commendation of the subject than the object), 12 but John, in his old age, might well have adopted an affectionate term given to him by others in this self-description. “Far from it being an evidence of arrogance, as is so often suggested, it may perhaps be regarded as a sign of modesty.”13 Thus, even though the rich young ruler, Lazarus, and even Nathanael have been suggested as the beloved disciple, the evidence for such is not only hardly more than speculation, but rests on a faulty assumption that the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is a note of arrogance.

There is one other possibility which might well be called the standard critical view today: the beloved disciple is symbolic, a figure, and not a real historical personage. In this view the beloved disciple represents any person who embraces Christ as his Redeemer. Although there is a certain attraction to this view in light of the inroads that literary criticism is making on NT interpretation, it suffers from three problems, the last of which seems decisive: (1) “the almost incidental allusions to the beloved disciple in the gospel do not read like symbolic allusions”;14 (2) it lacks parallels with other ancient literature which would clue us in that the beloved disciple should be taken as non-historical; and (3) the glaring omission of John the apostle from this gospel is unaccounted for on this hypothesis.

b. Contradictions with the Synoptic Material

Where John and the synoptics do overlap (only 8-10% of the time), there seem to be inherent contradictions, especially in three areas: the cleansing of the temple, the presentation of dominical sayings, and the chronology of the Lord’s supper. In response, we should note the following.

(1) Although John places the temple cleansing early in Jesus’ ministry, there is no necessary chronological indicator in John 2. Thus, John may have moved it forward for theological/motif reasons. Further, there is a good possibility that Jesus cleansed the temple twice.15

(2) Although the Johannine Jesus speaks with a different voice than the synoptic Jesus, only if we assume both that (a) only ipsissima verba constitute authentic dominical sayings and (b) Jesus must speak the same way, regardless of his audience or locale (Galilee in the synoptics, Judea in John especially), does this criticism hold water. In our view, John has indeed hellenized the voice of Jesus for the sake of his largely Gentile audience. But this is not to deny his accuracy, for he basically gives us the ipsissima vox, not the ipsissima verba of Jesus.16

(3) The Lord’s Supper in John does pose major historical difficulties with the presentation in the first three gospels. But suffice it to say here that there are solutions available which, in the final analysis, may indeed show independence, but not contradiction.17

c. Hellenistic Thought

All the vogue until the discovery of the Qumran MSS, the attribution of hellenistic thought to the writer of the fourth gospel seemed to nail the coffin shut on Johannine authorship. However, with the absolute dualism found in Qumran which parallels both Hellenism and John, scholarly opinion has swung very far in the other direction: this gospel is very Jewish! Still, full weight must be given to F. C. Grant’s warning that the relative amount of parallels with Qumran vs. “the vast array of parallels” with Hellenism cannot be used to deny a strong hellenistic influence.18 The real issue, therefore, is simple: Would a Galilean fisherman ever be able to gain such an acquaintance with Hellenism? In response, it need only be mentioned that (a) hellenistic thought pervaded Galilee in the first century; (b) John , as son of a fishing magnate, would probably have received a decent education, exposing him to much Hellenism;19 (c) the targeted audience, being Gentiles, might well have prompted the author to shape his material with a hellenistic strain which they could comprehend and appreciate; and (d) John could well have employed an amanuensis (as early patristic writers seem to hint at) for the writing of this gospel—a person who could have easily packaged the material with a hellenistic hue at John’s beckoning.20 Thus, though I am not nearly as optimistic as many today who want to pour all of John’s dualism into a first-century Jewish mold, neither would I argue that a hellenistic coloring denies Johannine authorship. Indeed, the hellenistic overtones, in my view, argue strongly for Johannine authorship, when coupled  with date and occasion of writing.

5. Alternative Suggestions

Guthrie lists three basic alternatives to authorship by John the apostle: (1) John of Jerusalem, (2) John the elder, and (3) non-Johannine theories.

(1) Regarding John of Jerusalem, the only evidence which might support this would be the fact that the author had entrance into the high priest’s house. But apart from no shred of external evidence to support this, there is no reason not to attribute such access to the high priest’s quarters to the apostle himself. Indeed, there is some evidence (chiefly related to the Lord’s Supper account as well as the author’s emphasis on Jerusalem) that John the apostle may well have been distantly related to the high priest.

(2) Non-Johannine theories abound. Most such theories maintain pseudonymity. However, if so, this is a singularly poor job, because the author nowhere identifies himself as John. Others argue for a “school of St. John”—an equally unpalpable view since we have zero evidence that communities ever wrote a single document. Individuals write single documents. A more plausible view is that a later redactor took over some primitive material which the apostle had begun, reshaped it, and published it. Raymond Brown’s well-known five-stage theory of composition is the pinnacle of this approach. However, two fundamental problems with this approach are: (a) it only becomes necessary if a date for the gospel outside the lifespan of the apostle is true; and (b) only the final form would have been published because, as the Alands have recently argued, any editions, rearranging, revisions, etc. which this gospel underwent would have to have taken place before the first published form because the textual evidence is more solid for John’s Gospel than for any other book of the NT.21

(3) “John the elder” is a very popular view, based on a certain reading of Papias’ famous quotation. But not only does Papias not speak of “John the elder” (rather he speaks of “the elder John”), he never says that such a person ever wrote the Fourth Gospel. The Papias fragment will be discussed more carefully in our introduction to the Apocalypse, but suffice it to say here that this postulate is by no means necessary—contradicting especially the external evidence—even if such a person ever existed.

In conclusion, although John’s Gospel is, as one author put it, “a maverick gospel,”22 the traditional view of Johannine authorship is still the most reasonable hypothesis. The four strongest reasons, it seems, are (1) the strong external evidence, (2) the most plausible identification of the beloved disciple (coupled with the absence of John’s name in this gospel), (3) the authoritative independence from the synoptic tradition, and (4) the amazing pre-70 topographical accuracy. Perhaps the reasons for fighting so hard against authenticity have to do with the theological import that must be wrestled with if this gospel is indeed a historically reliable document.

B. Date

Most scholars date this gospel c. 90s-100.23 There is a growing number of scholars, however, who place it sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.24 Apart from J. A. T. Robinson’s radical redating of John to the fifth decade of the first century25 (a view which, to my knowledge, almost no scholar has found palatable), the vast bulk of NT scholars can be put into two camps: 90s or 60s.

1. A Late Date (90s)

Arguments for a late date are as follows:

(1) Patristic writers normally date this gospel after the synoptics.

(2) The reference to the Jews as the enemy of Jesus suggests a late date—i.e., a time when the Jews had become the confirmed enemies of the church.

(3) Assuming that John used the synoptic gospels, and assuming that Luke and Matthew were written in the 80s, John must be dated no earlier than the 90s.

(4) The lack of reference to Jerusalem’s destruction points to a date either before 66 or quite a bit after 70.

(5) The theology of John is highly advanced, especially its Christology. It is assumed that this cannot be true of a work written in the 60s.

(6) The affinities with 1 John, in which nascent gnosticism seems to be fought against, argues for a late first century date.

(7) John’s ecclesiology (water baptism in John 3, the Lord’s Supper in John 6) point to a late date.

(8) The reference in 9:22 to the formerly blind man getting booted out of the synagogue is a cryptic allusion to Jewish excommunication of Christians, which did not happen until the 80s.

Of these eight arguments, numbers 5, 6 and 8 are normally considered to be the weightiest. In any view, number 5 is quite strong, since this gospel not only has a high Christology, but also is far more reflective and penetrating on the salvific work of Christ than are the synoptic gospels.

Against these arguments, however, are the following considerations.

(1) Patristic citations on dating of NT books are notoriously faulty. They are far more reliable on issues of who than of when or why. Further, in our view, John still would be the last gospel penned, even though it would not have been written until c. 65.

(2) The reference to the Jews as the enemies of the church could easily be a pre-70 statement, especially if the audience lived outside of Palestine. Further, John almost always uses “the Jews” in reference to the Jewish leaders, not the populace in general.

(3) The assumption that John used the synoptic gospels is not at all proven. In fact, both P. Gardner-Smith and C. H. Dodd have argued (and cogently, I think) that John was completely independent of the synoptic gospels. In our view, the idea that the fourth evangelist used any of the synoptic gospels runs into insurmountable difficulties, for it not only has surface contradictions (e.g., the time of the cleansing of the temple, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, etc.), but there is also much material which would have been beneficial to put in this gospel had the author had ready access to it.26 Nevertheless, even if John had employed the synoptics, in our view, this does not militate against a date before 65 CE. Unless one is prepared to argue that the Olivet Discourse must be a vaticinium ex eventu, there is no strong reason to date any of the synoptics after 70.

(4) The lack of reference to Jerusalem’s destruction is much more in favor of an early date than a late one, especially since this is the one gospel which focuses on Jesus’ Judean ministry.27

(5) Although John’s theology is highly advanced, it is so only when one measures it against the historical benchmark of the synoptic gospels.28 But once it is seen that John’s gospel has a more decidedly theological thrust to it (giving an inner and reflective picture of Christ, rather than an external and action-packed picture of Christ), there is no reason why such a gospel could not be produced in the 60s. When one compares the theology of John with the theology of, say, Romans (written in the late 50s), or Philippians (c. 62 CE), its Christological development is very much in keeping with Paul. To be sure, certain points do seem advanced (e.g., the use of “Savior” to refer to Jesus,29 or the explicit affirmation of Christ’s deity in 1:1),30 but no more so than what is found in the Pastorals or Hebrews. If those books are pre-70 documents,31 then there is no theological reason to deny this to John. and even if the Pastorals and Hebrews are not pre-70 letters, the theological development seen in John fits quite nicely on a trajectory ten years beyond Romans and four or so years beyond Philippians.32

(6) The affinities with 1 John, and the anti-gnosticism and anti-docetism of that letter, are parallels which do not compel a late date. That is to say, we are quite uncertain about the origins of docetism/gnosticism. Surely there was incipient gnosticism taking root in the last third of the first century. Further, the anti-docetic theology of 1 John is no stronger than that of Colossians—a book which many scholars who hold to a late date for John would regard as authentic.

(7) John’s ecclesiology is so subtle in chapters 3 and 6 that commentators are still not decided as to whether any ecclesiological implication can be made from these chapters. Further, even if we assume a sacramental interpretation on these chapters, what is to say that this could not go back to the historical Jesus? Although the church continued the practice of baptism and communion, they did not invent either one. Only if the criteria of authenticity (specifically, the criterion of dissimilarity with Jewish or Christian practices) could be legitimately used in a negative way could we say that John put dominical sayings on the lips of Jesus. But even here, there is no reason to posit a late first century date, for the sacraments are mentioned already in 1 Corinthians (late 50s)!

(8) Finally, the reference in 9:22 as an allusion to the third Sitz im Leben of the community, although repeated so often in commentaries as fact, is quite ambiguous. Only on the assumption that the blind man would certainly not have been kicked out of the synagogue, could one read the excommunication of the 80s into this verse.33 Analogously, in light of Jesus’ treatment at Capernaum, and Paul’s treatment in the synagogue of Thessalonika (to name but two examples), the verse reads as a simple piece of unembellished narrative.

2. An Early Date (60s)

There are a number of data which strongly suggest a date in the 60s, chief among them are the following.

(1) The destruction of Jerusalem is not mentioned. This fits extremely well with a date before 66 CE.

(2) The topographical accuracy of pre-70 Palestine argues that at least some of the material embedded in the gospel comes from before the Jewish War.

(3) There is much primitive terminology used in this gospel. E.g., Jesus’ followers are called “disciples” in John, not apostles.

(4) The conceptual and verbal parallels with Qumran argue strongly for an overtly Jewish document which fits well within the first century milieu.

(5) The date of P52 at c. 100-150, coupled with the date of Papyrus Egerton 2 at about the same time—a document which employed both John and the synoptics—is almost inconceivable if John is to be dated in the 90s.34

(6) John’s literary independence from and apparent lack of awareness of the synoptic gospels argue quite strongly for an early date. Indeed, this independence/ignorance argues that all the gospels were written within a relatively short period of time, with Matthew and Luke having the good fortune of seeing and using Mark in their composition.

(7) Finally, there is a strong piece of internal evidence for an early date. In John 5:2 the author says that “there is in Jerusalem, by the sheep-gate, a pool (the one called Bethesda in Hebrew) which has five porticoes.” Without discussing all the interpretations possible for this verse suffice it to say that (a) the verb “is” (ἐστιν) cannot be a historical present, and (b) the pool was destroyed in 70 CE.35 By far the most plausible conclusion is that this gospel was written before 70 CE.

In sum, we believe that a pre-70 date for the Fourth Gospel is the most probable one. Further, we believe that this gospel should be dated late in 65 or even in 66, for the following two reasons: (a) it is doubtful that it should be dated after 66, because otherwise the lack of an Olivet Discourse in which many of the prophecies were at that time coming true, is inexplicable; (b) the gospel should perhaps be dated after Peter’s death, as we shall see when we examine the purpose.

C. Destination

Early external testimony places the publication of this gospel in Ephesus (so Irenaeus and the anti-Marcionite Prologue). There is also some testimony that John the apostle lived out his later years in Ephesus. In the least, it is by far the most plausible locale.36

If Ephesus was the destination, two questions arise: (1) Was John in Ephesus when this gospel was published, or did he go there later? (2) What was the make-up of the recipients?

It is our contention that John finished the bulk of his gospel while in Palestine, adding only chapter 21 and perhaps some finishing touches to the rest of the work when he arrived in Ephesus in the latter part of 65 CE. The reasons for this contention will become clearer in our discussion of the occasion, but one piece of internal evidence may be worth noting here. In 21:24 there is ostensibly a commendation by a group that the author’s testimony is true. Tradition suggests that this is the Ephesian elders putting their stamp of approval on John’s work.37

The recipients of this gospel are largely Gentile. This can be seen by the reference to “the Jews” (passim) as the enemies of Christ, as well as the many explanations, interpretations, and asides which would be unnecessary if the audience were Jewish (cf., e.g., 1:38, 41, 42; 5:2, etc.). Some recent scholars have argued that this gospel was written to Jews—but this is based on the incidental Jewishness of the work itself (Qumran dualism, primitiveness regarding Messianic expectations, etc.), not on the intentional statements of the author toward the audience.38

D. Occasion and Purpose

1. Purpose

Regarding the purpose, the author states it in 20:31: “But these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, by believing, you might have life in his name.” The twofold ἵνα-clause neatly delineates the purpose: that the audience embrace Christ and that they receive life because of this. One question remains, however: the main verb, “believe” has a textual glitch. It is either πιστεύσητε (aorist) or πιστεύητε (present). If the former, it might be construed (though by no means necessarily) to mean “come to saving faith.” If present, the idea probably would be “continue to believe.” At issue is whether the audience is principally believers or non-believers, whether this gospel is principally evangelistic or confirmatory. Although my own text-critical preference is for the present tense,39 not much should be made of this either way. Further, even if this document is seen as principally evangelistic, by analogy, would this suggest that the Roman congregation which Paul addresses is also principally unbelievers, on the basis of his statement in 1:15 (as well as the content of the whole book)?! Thus, the purpose of the book is to confirm or strengthen Gentile believers in their faith.

In addition to this specific statement of the purpose, how John intended to go about it is a significant question. Clement of Alexandria represented an ancient tradition when he wrote that “Last of all John, perceiving that the external facts had been set forth in the Gospels, at the insistence of his disciples and with the inspiration of the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.”40 As we have suggested earlier, although the patristic writers can be relied upon largely for the who, they are filled with contradictory evidence when it comes to the why. This is a case in point. Clement is guessing—as were his predecessors—based on the radically different style and content of the fourth gospel. As we examine the occasion for this gospel, perhaps some of this will be cleared up.

2. Occasion (and Method of Composition)

As for the occasion, the catalyst for this gospel must be seen in chapter 21. The likelihood (though disputed by some) that this book already tidily ends with 20:31, only to be resumed again in chapter 21, should be a major signal: John had finished the work, but felt compelled to add a final chapter before publication. We believe that the gospel went through at least three stages of composition: primitive diary which John made while with Jesus;41 a virtually finished version which lacked the prologue (1:1-18) and the epilogue (ch. 21) as well as, perhaps, other incidental comments; and the final edition, in which chapter 21 was appended. This major seam indicates the urgency with which this gospel was manufactured in its present form. Chapter 21 is occupied with one principal concern: the death of Peter.

Without elaborating in too great a detail, our hypothesis is that after the death of Paul (summer of 64), the remaining apostles felt it necessary to communicate to Paul’s churches in order to make sure that they knew how they felt about Paul’s gospel. Peter wrote one letter, then another. John was putting on the finishing touches of his gospel for Paul’s churches (since the churches of Asia Minor had none and since Paul did not know Christ according to the flesh) when Peter was arrested. John had intended merely to end the gospel at chapter 20, as seems obvious. What made him add the final chapter? We believe that 2 Peter 1:15 gives the clue: “Now I am eager that each of you have a memorial of these things after my departure.” This cryptic verse has been interpreted in many ways, but whatever it refers to it is fairly clear that some sort of posthumous document written by other than Peter is in mind. The immediate antecedent is v. 14 where Peter refers to his own impending death—a death which was even revealed by Christ. Is it possible that the memorial of “these things” is John 21—an appendix which Peter (knowing that John was writing a gospel to Paul’s churches in Asia Minor) requested John at the last minute to “work in” to his gospel? The reason for such would be obvious: these churches had just lost Paul and now were going to lose their apostle-in-writing, Peter. Why shouldn’t they give up the faith? Because even Peter’s death was within the sovereignty of God, having been predicted by the Lord Jesus himself. That is why John couches his own longevity in such careful terms: he simply does not know how long he will live and does not want his audience to base their hope on his life.42

In short, John wanted to give Paul’s churches the gospel because Paul died. He wrote the last chapter in haste, and as the final catalyst to his efforts, because Peter died. What is remarkable affirmation of this view are several pieces of independent data: (1) entirely apart from the consideration of Peter’s death is our conclusion about the date of this book at c. 65 CE; (2) the early tradition of John’s residence in Ephesus (the main locale where Paul’s stamp was felt) needed some sort of catalyst, though none is provided in patristic literature; (3) John’s departure from Jerusalem in 65 is also somewhat attested in patristic literature; (4) the Gentile audience and the strongly hellenized flavor to this gospel43 need some kind of rationale since John was not commissioned as an apostle to the Gentiles; (5) the strong influence of Paul,44 which has actually been an argument against Johannine authorship, is to be accounted for by John’s intentional deja vu connection with Paul.45

In conclusion, once an early date for this gospel is allowed, the explanation of John 21 as the catalyst for this gospel comes into sharp relief. Paul had died and Peter died, too. John not only wanted to make the literary connection with Paul’s churches that Peter had done—he went the extra mile and took up residence in Ephesus himself. As we stated in our preface, the Gentile mission and the Gentiles’ missionary are what drive the literary endeavors of the NT writers. John has certainly put his stamp of approval on Paul’s gospel and efforts!46

E. Theme

John’s Gospel places an emphasis on the deity of Christ more explicitly than any other gospel. It begins with the evangelist’s declaration (1:1) and concludes with doubting Thomas’ expression of faith (20:28). Clearly this gospel presents Jesus as the Son of God. But it does more than that. It also expects a response from the audience—a response of belief (πιστεύω occurs 98 times; the noun, πίστις, not once). Further, John lacks certain key features found in the Synoptic Gospels—such as the journey to Jerusalem, Olivet Discourse, Sermon on the Mount, Transfiguration, parables, etc. Jesus’ death is viewed as his glory and an eschatological judgment is suppressed. In sum, John presents Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who is to be believed in order that one might right now pass from death to life.

II. Argument

In that over 90% of the material in John’s Gospel is unique, not found in the other gospels, the question of sources and how John is using them becomes prominent. It is our contention that John’s Gospel was written at about the same time as Matthew and Luke, for the evangelist shows virtually no awareness of the material found in the other gospels (typically common oral traditions being an exception). But if John did not get his material from these other sources, where did he get it from and why do they not employ it in their gospels? In particular, how is it possible that Luke, who spent two years in Palestine doing research for his Gospel, did not gain access to John’s pre-publication draft?47 It seems either that John’s circle was quite small—hence, the oral traditions generating from him made little impact on the mainstream of the gospel compilers; or else John drastically altered the shape of the material, packaging it for the hellenized audience of Asia Minor. We believe that the truth involves both of these possibilities.48 Our argument will accordingly be shaped by this consideration.

The Gospel of John has four major sections to it: prologue (1:1-18), the Son of God’s manifestation to the nation (or, the “Book of Signs”) (1:19–12:50), the Son of God’s ministry to his disciples (13:1–17:26), and the Son of God’s suffering and glory (18:1–20:31). An epilogue about the death of Peter is added almost as an afterthought (21:1-25). The two largest sections (public manifestation and private ministry) contrast sharply with one another in many ways, not the least of which is in chronological progression (three or four years vs. one night!).

The Gospel opens with a prologue (1:1-18) in which, like Mark, there is no genealogy and no birth narrative. But the reason for this in the Fourth Gospel is that the Son of God has always existed and, in fact, has created all things (1:1-5). His incarnation is mentioned from the divine perspective of why he came to earth (1:6-18; cf. especially vv. 9, 12-13, 17-18), rather than from the human perspective of those who first beheld a newborn babe and wondered what he would become. From the outset, then, John’s Gospel presents Jesus as God’s Son—in fact, as God in the flesh.

After this brief prologue, the largest section of the Gospel, the “Book of Signs,” begins (1:19–12:50). In this section the Son of God performs seven “signs” (John never uses the term “miracle”) as a witness to his authority and identity. In a real sense, this gospel is a legal document, designed especially to prove Christ’s deity. There are witnesses, testimonies, evidence, and signs. At the end of John’s presentation, he turns to the jury with the appeal to believe his evidence (20:30-31. We see this legal argumentation in this second major section especially.

The Book of Signs, though disclosing seven miracles, is best organized geographically. There are eight locales for the manifestation of the Son of God seen here. As Jesus enters a new locale, the twin themes of Gentile response and Jewish hostility to him increase.

Jesus’ ministry begins in Perea and Galilee (1:19–2:11). There John gives his testimony as to Christ’s identity (1:19-34): he is the elect one of God.49 John’s testimony can be trusted because even his own disciples (at least one of them, Andrew, as well as his friends) follow Jesus (1:35-51). And in Cana of Galilee Jesus performs his first sign: changing the water into wine at a wedding (2:1-11). Although this was his first sign, only a handful of people (including his disciples) knew about it. He used the purification jars to perform the act. The significance of this was that there was a new order on the horizon, replacing the old. And whereas the old was related to the law (regulations about purification), the new order was related to the Spirit.

Then, Jesus went up from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover (2:12–3:36) and cleanses the temple (2:12-22). There he predicts another sign: he would raise up the temple (of his body) after the Jews destroyed it (2:19-21). While in Jerusalem, it became obvious that people were putting faith in him for the wrong reasons (2:23-25). The signs he was performing were not seen by the crowds as witnessing to Jesus’ true identity, but as a means to an end for their sake: they embraced him as Healer, but not as Savior. One such example was Nicodemus (3:1-12), to whom Jesus makes a self-disclosure (3:13-21).

After the pseudo-reception in Jerusalem, Jesus traveled back to Galilee, going through Samaria en route (4:1-42). There we see the account of Jesus’ conversation with and conversation of the woman at the well. In Samaria, Jesus performed no “sign,” although he did prove himself to be a prophet. Yet, the citizens of Sychar embraced him as “the Savior of the world” (4:42). Several key motifs are seen in this episode, including Gentile (and a sinful woman’s) response to the gospel, “thirst” in a spiritual sense (4:10-14), free access to God without the necessity of the Jewish cult (4:21-24), and the concept of “abiding” (4:40; cf. 15:1-8).

Jesus then returns to Galilee where a second sign is performed, the healing of a royal official’s son (4:43-54). Yet the sign is performed within the context of the Galileans hearing about his feats in Jerusalem. Hence, there was misunderstanding on their part in that, once again, they only wanted Jesus as Healer (4:48), not as Savior.

In Jesus’ second visit to Jerusalem for “a feast of the Jews” (5:1) he gets involved in a Sabbath controversy (5:1-47). It is caused by his healing of a lame man (his third sign) by the pool of Bethesda (5:1-15). Because he performs such an act on the Sabbath, the Jews plot to kill him (5:16-18), which elicits his taking the witness stand (5:31-47). In his defense, he basically argues that work of a redemptive nature is allowed on the Sabbath (5:17, 19-30) and that the Father testifies that Jesus has come for this very purpose (5:31-47).

Chapter six, once again, finds Jesus in Galilee for a third cycle (6:1-71). This time two signs are given: the feeding of the five thousand—a sign given to the public (6:1-15) and Jesus walking on the water—a sign given to Jesus’ disciples (6:16-24). Both signs reveal much about who Jesus is, though the crowds simply wanted to get fed (6:25-27) without recognizing that Jesus was the “Bread of Life” (6:35) who satisfies all spiritual hunger (6:28-40). When he stated the very principle of the substitutionary atonement (“This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” 6:51; and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” 6:53) their animosity grew. Even several of his own disciples left him, not understanding his meaning (6:60-71).

The hostility toward Jesus met its climax when Jesus returned to Judea and Jerusalem for a third time (7:1–11:57)—this time for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-11). Although the material here could be organized internally on a geographical scheme, the repetition of the theme of Jewish unbelief after each round of demonstrations of Jesus’ Messiahship, seems to reveal the evangelist’s theology more clearly. There are three distinct cycles in this segment.

The first cycle addresses Jewish unbelief in spite of Jesus’ teaching (7:1–8:59). Because the Jews were plotting to take Jesus’ life, he went to the Feast of Tabernacles secretly (7:1, 11). Then, half-way through the feast, he began teaching publicly in the temple (7:14). The emphasis of his instruction was, again, on a defense that he was from God (7:15-36) and that he was, in fact, God’s Son (8:12-59). He again used metaphors (living water in 7:37-44, light of the world in 8:12) to describe the offer of salvation. In spite of all this, the Jews refused to believe (7:45-52; 8:59).

The second cycle addresses Jewish unbelief in spite of Jesus’ healing of a blind man (9:1–10:39). This again was a healing on the Sabbath (9:13-16), and for this very reason the Jews refused to believe that Jesus was sent from God (9:16). Further, when he declared that he was the “Good Shepherd” (using the metaphor of protection to indicate his role as Savior) (10:1-21)—and that “I and the Father are one” (10:30), they attempted to stone him on the spot (10:31-39).

The third cycle solidified their plot against Jesus’ life. For in this last confrontation, Jesus raises a man from the dead (the seventh sign) (10:40–11:44), causing many Jews finally to believe in him (11:45). The Sanhedrin consequently planned to take his life, out of political and religious expediency (11:48). Unwittingly, the high priest gives the clearest statement of substitutionary atonement found in John’s Gospel (11:50), which John capitalizes on (11:51).

Jesus’ final manifestation to the nation came in his fourth visit to the holy city (12:1-50). He prepared for this manifestation by his anointing at Bethany by Mary (12:1-11). Then he entered Jerusalem, being proclaimed “King of Israel” in fulfillment of prophecy (12:13-16). As a twin foreshadowing of events to come, John depicts the Jews’ rejection because of his last sign (the raising of Lazarus), and Gentile response apart from any miraculous catalyst (12:17-22). The Book of Signs then concludes with Jesus’ own somber prediction of his death (12:23-36) followed by John’s record of Isaiah’s prediction (Isa. 6:10) of Jewish rejection (12:37-41) and cowardice (12:42-43).

The Gospel now makes a sudden turn inward. No longer is Jesus presenting himself to the nation year after year. The third major section of the Gospel shows him ministering to his disciples on the night before his death (13:1–17:26). This ministry is in light of the rejection by the nation and involves two aspects: instruction of the disciples (13:1–16:33) and praying for the disciples (17:1-26).

In his final instructions of the disciples Jesus used both object lessons and verbal instructions. In the upper room he washed their feet (13:1-17) as a demonstration of true greatness—and true love. His command to love one another (13:31-35) is wedged between two predictions, one of betrayal (13:18-30), one of denial (13:36-38). He then comforted his disciples with instructions about the Godhead’s eschatological role in their lives (14:1-31a). It is here that John seems to place the Olivet Discourse (14:1-4). In his Gospel it is much abbreviated because he suppresses future judgment (thus all statements about Jerusalem’s demise are evacuated), and especially in this section of the book emphasizes only Jesus’ role to the disciples.

On the way to Gethsemane Jesus offers concluding remarks (14:31b–16:33). He speaks about the necessity of abiding in him as evidence of genuine life (15:1-17). The pericope of the vine and branches must be seen against the backdrop of Judas’ betrayal, for Judas was one who did not abide (cf. also 1 John 2:19 where the author picks up this theme once again). Then he prepares his disciples for the hatred by the world (15:18–16:4), reminding them that the Holy Spirit would comfort them (16:5-16).

With words of present comfort (16:17-33), he goes to the garden and prays for his followers (17:1-26). In Gethsemane, with the prediction of the disciples’ grief still on his mind, he focuses on his future glory with the Father (17:1-5) and protection and oneness of his disciples (17:6-19). His prayer concludes with a petition that the future converts of the disciples would also be united in love and mission (17:20-26).

After Jesus’ high priestly prayer, the fourth major section of the Gospel begins (18:1–20:31). The true high priest would soon become the slain lamb. He is arrested, being betrayed by Judas (18:1-11), tried before Annas and Caiaphas (18:12-27) and then Pilate (18:28-40). After Peter denies him three times (18:25-27) Pilate pronounces Jesus innocent of all charges (18:28-40; cf. v. 38). But the crowd, reminding Pilate of his duty (19:12) and their alleged loyalty to Caesar (19:15), forced his hand.

Jesus was then brought to Golgotha and crucified there between two others (19:17-42). In John’s account of the crucifixion, there is an emphasis on his completed work (“It is finished” in 19:30) as one who has now taken the place of the sinner, for he now is the one who is thirsty (19:28).50 There is also an emphasis on the fulfillment of the scripture which typologically pointed to Jesus as the Passover lamb (19:31-37, especially v. 36 [cf. Exod 12:46]). Thus the lamb of God, about whom John testified, truly came to take away the sin of the world.

John gives a detailed account of the resurrection of Christ (20:1-31). His narrative of the empty tomb includes Mary Magdalene’s shock of seeing the stone rolled away, without mention of the announcement by an angel (20:1-2). She tells Peter what she saw and Peter and “the beloved disciple” actually enter the tomb (the only record of anyone doing so in the gospels [20:3-9]). The “beloved disciple” alone of all the disciples is said to believe without first seeing Jesus (20:9). He thus becomes an example for his audience to follow, an archetype for faith apart from a demand for signs (contra Thomas [20:29]). Then, after John and Peter depart, Jesus appears to Mary (20:10-17) who promptly reports this to the disciples (20:18). Further proof of Jesus’ resurrection comes in his appearance to most of the disciples (20:19-23) and finally to Thomas (20:24-29), who exclaims “My Lord and my God!” (20:28), bringing the testimony of others to a close. An appeal is then made to the Gentile readers to confirm their faith in Christ (20:30-31), keeping in mind that even though they did not have the benefit of seeing Jesus in the flesh, they are more blessed than those who, like Thomas, believed because of seeing him (20:29).

In the epilogue to the Gospel (21:1-25), written after the Gospel had been completed but before publication, the whole focus is on Jesus’ relation to Peter. When the Lord comes to the Sea of Tiberias (21:1), he found Peter and the other disciples fishing (21:2-5). After instructing them where to cast the net, which resulted in a miraculous catch of fish (21:6), John noticed that it was the Lord (21:7). Peter responded enthusiastically by swimming ashore to Jesus (21:8). John’s account of this showed that Peter’s denial of Jesus was neither permanent nor mentioned because of any animosity John might have toward Peter. In fact, Jesus reinstates Peter three times (21:15-17), for Peter had denied the Lord three times. This all sets the stage for the prediction which John wanted his audience to know about in greater detail than Peter had revealed (cf. 2 Peter 1:14-15). Jesus predicted Peter’s death as a martyr, pointing out that it was entirely within God’s sovereign plan, for it would ultimately glorify God (21:18-19). This was immediately followed by an ambiguous statement about John’s longevity (21:20-23), no doubt mentioned by John to keep his audience from having false hopes about his continued ministry to them. The Gospel makes its (second) conclusion by recording the commendation of the Ephesian elders on John’s testimony (21:24-25).

III. Outline51

I. Prologue: The Logos as God and Man (1:1-18)

A. The Deity of the Logos (1:1-5)

B. The Humanity of the Logos (1:6-18)

1. The Witness of John (1:6-8)

2. The Light: Rejected and Received (1:9-13)

3. The Incarnation of the Logos (1:14-18)

II. The Son of God’s Manifestation to the Nation: The Book of Signs (1:19–12:50)

A. In (Perea and) Galilee: First Cycle/Initial Ministry (1:19–2:12)

1. The Forerunner’s Testimony (1:19-34)

a. John’s Self-Denial of Being the Christ (1:19-28)

b. John’s Affirmation of Jesus as Elect One of God (1:29-34)

2. The First Disciples (1:35-51)

a. Andrew and Peter (1:35-42)

b. Philip and Nathanael (1:43-51)

3. The First Sign: Water to Wine (2:1-11)

B. In Jerusalem and Judea: First Cycle/Seeking a Sign (2:12–3:36)

1. Cleansing the Temple (2:12-22)

a. The Setting at Passover (2:12-14)

b. The Temple Cleansing (2:15-22)

2. Faith in Man, Faith in Christ (2:23–3:36)

a. Untrusting “Believers” (2:23–3:12)

1) The Statement (2:23-25)

2) The Example: Nicodemus (3:1-12)

b. Faith in Christ: Jesus’ Self-Disclosure (3:13-21)

c. Faith in Christ: John’s Testimony (3:22-36)

C. In Samaria: Gentile Response (4:1-42)

1. The Setting (4:1-3)

2. The Woman at the Well (4:4-38)

a. The Meeting of Jesus and the Woman (4:4-26)

b. The Return of the Disciples (4:27-38)

3. The Response of the Samaritans (4:39-42)

D. In Galilee: Second Cycle/Healing the Official’s Son (Second Sign) (4:43-54)

E. In Jerusalem and Judea: Second Cycle/Sabbath Controversy (5:1-47)

1. The Setting at the Feast (5:1)

2. Healing at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath: Third Sign (5:2-15)

3. The Plot of the Jews (5:16-18)

4. The Response of Jesus (5:19-47)

a. The Giving of Life (5:19-30)

b. The Testimony of the Father (5:31-47)

F. In Galilee: Third Cycle/Signs Given (6:1-71)

1. Two Signs Given (6:1-24)

a. The Feeding of the Five Thousand: A Sign to the Crowds (Fourth Sign) (6:1-15)

b. Walking on the Water: A Sign to the Disciples (Fifth Sign) (6:16-24)

2. The Bread of Life (6:25-59)

a. The Setting (6:25-31)

b. “I Am the Bread of Life” (6:32-59)

1) Comparison with Manna (6:32-51)

2) The Flesh and Blood of the Son of Man (6:52-59)

3. The Desertion of Many Disciples (6:60-71)

G. Ministry in Jerusalem and Judea: Third Cycle/Hostility Peaks (7:1–11:57)52

1. Cycle One: Teaching and Unbelief (7:1–8:59)

a. Transition: Feast of Tabernacles and Plot of the Jews (7:1-9)

b. Teaching in the Temple during the Feast: Round One (7:10-44)

1) The Setting (7:10-14)

2) The Source of Jesus’ Teaching (7:15-36)

a) Instruction by Jesus (7:15-24)

b) Reaction by the Crowd (7:25-36)

3) Offer of Living Water (7:37-44)

a) Instruction by Jesus (7:37-39)

b) Reaction by the Crowd (7:40-44)

c. Unbelief of Jewish Leaders in spite of Teaching (7:45-52)53

d. Teaching in the Temple during the Feast: Round Two (8:12-59)

1) The Validity of Jesus’ Claims: Sent from the Father (8:12-30)

2) Paternity Disputes (8:31-47)

a) Children of Abraham (8:31-41)

b) Children of the Devil (8:42-47)

3) The Nature of Jesus’ Claims (8:48-59)

a) The Promise of Life (8:48-53)

b) The Preexistence of Christ (8:54-59)

2. Cycle Two: Healings and Unbelief (9:1–10:42)

a. Healing a Man Blind from Birth: Sixth Sign (9:1-41)

1) Healing of the Man (9:1-7)

2) Reaction by the Crowd (9:8-12)

3) Investigation by the Pharisees (9:13-34)

a) Theological Argument: Healing on the Sabbath (9:13-16)

b) Testimony of the Formerly Blind Man (9:17-34)

4) Response of Jesus (9:35-41)

b. Teaching: The Good Shepherd (10:1-21)

1) Instruction by Jesus (10:1-18)

2) Reaction by the Jews (10:19-21)

c. Unbelief of Jewish Leaders in spite of Miracles (10:22-39)

1) Setting: Feast of Dedication (10:22-24)

2) Confrontation because of Miracles and Self-Witness (10:25-39)

3. Cycle Three: Raising of Lazarus and Unbelief (10:40–12:50)

a. The Death of Lazarus (10:40–11:37)

1) The Setting (10:40–11:3)

2) Jesus’ Delay and Lazarus’ Death (11:4-16)

3) Inculcating Faith in Mary and Martha (11:17-37)

b. The Raising of Lazarus: Seventh Sign (11:38-44)

c. The Plot to Kill Jesus (11:45-57)

1) The Plot of the Sanhedrin (11:45-53)

2) The Withdrawal of Jesus to Ephraim (11:54-57)

H. In Jerusalem: The Final Manifestation (12:1-50)

1. Preparation: The Anointing at Bethany (12:1-11)

2. The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (12:12-19)

a. The Response of the Crowd (12:12-15)

b. The Confusion of the Disciples (12:16)

c. The Catalyst of Lazarus’ Resurrection (12:17-19)

3. The Request of the Greeks to See Jesus (12:20-22)

4. Jesus’ Prediction of his Death (12:23-36)

5. Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders Culminated (12:37-50)

III. The Son of God’s Ministry to His Disciples (13:1–17:26)

A. Jesus Ministering to His Disciples (13:1–16:33)

1. In the Upper Room (13:1–14:31a)

a. The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet (13:1-17)

b. The Prediction of Judas’ Betrayal (13:18-30)

c. The Command to Love One Another (13:31-35)

d. The Prediction of Peter’s Denials (13:36-38)

e. Comfort and Instruction (14:1-31a)

1) The Return of the Son (14:1-4)

2) The Way to the Father (14:5-14)

3) The Sending of the Spirit (14:15-31a)

2. On the Way to Gethsemane: Final Instructions (14:31b–16:33)

a. The Vine and the Branches (15:1-17)

b. The Hatred of the World (15:18–16:4)

c. The Work of the Holy Spirit (16:5-16)

d. The Grief of the Disciples (16:17-33)

B. Jesus Praying for His Disciples (In Gethsemane) (17:1-26)

1. Prayer for Himself: Glory (17:1-5)

2. Prayer for His Disciples: Safety and Unity (17:6-19)

3. Prayer for All Believers: Unity (17:20-26)

IV. The Son of God’s Suffering and Glory (18:1–20:31)

A. The Suffering (18:1–19:42)

1. The Arrest of Jesus (18:1-11)

2. The Trials of Jesus (18:12–19:16)

a. Before the High Priest(s) (18:12-27)

1) Brought to Annas (18:12-14)

2) Peter’s First Denial (18:15-18)

3) Before Annas (18:19-23)

4) Brought to Caiaphas (18:24)

5) Peter’s Second and Third Denials (18:25-27)

b. Before Pilate (18:28–19:16)

1) Innocence of Jesus Affirmed by Pilate (18:28-40)

2) Insistence of Crucifixion by the Crowd (19:1-16)

3. The Death of Jesus (19:17-42)

a. The Crucifixion of Jesus (19:17-27)

b. The Actual Death of Jesus (19:28-37)

1) “It is Finished” (19:28-30)

2) It is Fulfilled (19:31-37)

c. The Burial of Jesus (19:38-42)

D. The Glory (20:1-31)

1. The Empty Tomb (20:1-9)

2. Post-Resurrection Appearances (20:10-29)

a. To Mary Magdalene (20:10-18)

b. To His Disciples (20:19-23)

c. To Thomas (20:24-29)

3. Purpose of the Gospel (20:30-31)

V. Epilogue: The Death of the Apostle Peter (21:1-25)

A. Jesus’ Appearance by the Lake of Tiberias (21:1-14)

B. Jesus’ Reinstatement of Peter (21:15-23)

1. The Threefold Commission of Peter (21:15-17)

2. The Prediction of Peter’s Death (21:18-19)

3. The Ambiguity about John’s Longevity (21:20-23)

C. Commendation of the Gospel by the Ephesian Elders (21:24-25)


1I.e., which contain John either in its entirety or at least which have the first few verses, permitting them to reveal their inscription. It should be added here that P52, which is to be dated c. 100-150, only contains portions of five verses from John 18.

2The simplest inscription is κατὰ ᾿Ιωάννην, found in א B (“according to John”). As time progressed this became more elaborate: in the fifth century the title was customarily εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ ᾿Ιωάννην ([A] C D L W et al. [“The Gospel according to John”]), while still later it was called ἅγιον εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ  ᾿Ιωάννην (28 and others [“the Holy Gospel according to John”]). Curiously, the two earliest MSS (P66 and P75) have εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ  ᾿Ιωάννην, a fact which suggests that this gospel—even more than the synoptics—was already well accepted in the early part of the second century, for such accretions were usually associated with books which had a long-standing history of acceptance with the church. This further illustrates that even though these two papyri are our earliest (fairly) complete witnesses to John, the great codices of the fourth century may, at times, be more reliable guides to the wording of the original text.

3See preceding footnote for a case in point.

4See discussion under “Title.”

5For a survey of the dating of this MS, cf. D. B. Wallace, “John 5,2 and the Date of the Fourth Gospel,” Biblica 71 (1990) 177-78 (n. 6).

6Cf. C. H. Dodd, BJRL 20 (1936) 56-92.

7Cf. B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John, 1:v-xxv.

8Cf. Robinson, 278 (n. 122) for a succinct yet helpful bibliography on John’s accuracy about the topography of Palestine before 70 CE.

9Guthrie, 255.

10There are other arguments which also address the issue of the date of this work and will be dealt with there.

11We could add a fourth argument, which in my mind is actually the largest stumbling block to Johannine authorship: the utter uniqueness of this gospel which neither impacted the synoptics nor was impacted by them, or even by most of the oral tradition found in them. This seems to suggest a secondary source for the Fourth Gospel, yet one that was unaware of the synoptics. But the problem with that is that such a secondary source would have to be late, yet the author’s unawareness of the synoptics argues in the other direction. Both the arguments against Johannine authorship (and thus for a late date) and the possibility of Johannine independence of the synoptics (and thus for an early date) tend to cancel each other out.

12I am not here suggesting that the former means “unconditional love” while the latter means “friendly love,” but that where there is a difference, ἀγαπάω tends toward a volitional love (= “commit to”) while φιλέω tends toward an emotional or reciprocal love. This can be seen in the NT in general in that never is God or Christ said to have φιλία/φιλέω for an unbeliever, though ἀγάπη/ἀγαπάω is often used this way, even in John.

13Guthrie, 359.

14Guthrie, 269.

15That the synoptics would not deal with this first cleansing would be due to their geographical concerns: in their presentation, Jesus does not even come to Jerusalem until the week before his death. John, on the other hand, gives a fuller chronology, showing that Jesus repeatedly went up to Jerusalem for the feasts during his earthly ministry.

16Though, to be sure, there are traces of the latter in John: in particular, note that only in John’s gospel does Jesus begin some of his aphorisms with a double “amen.” This is unattested in any other literature (Jewish or Christian), though the synoptics do have the single “amen” prefixed to the front of some dominical sayings (which also is otherwise unattested). The criteria of authenticity would seem to demand that there is at least a hint of the real wording of the historical Jesus in these sayings. Incidentally, the Jesus Seminar (in which scholars have voted for what the real Jesus actually said) were quite confused on the point of “very words” vs. “very voice”: when some member voted to reject all “red letters” from the Johannine Jesus’ lips, they only meant that the words were not Jesus’, but the thought went back to him, while other members denied both (learned through personal conversation with one of the members of the committee; the preface to the Five Gospels also indicates that there was something of a postmodern interpretation of the four colors rather than a set definition).

17Cf. especially H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, 76-90; and I. H. Marshall, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, 30-56.

18F. C. Grant, The Gospels, their Origin and Growth, 175.

19See our discussion of this probability under our introduction to James.

20For the role of amanuenses in the NT, see our introductory discussion of James.

21K. and B. Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 292. Cf. also Wallace, “John 5,2 and the Date of the Fourth Gospel,” 196-97.

22 So Robert Kysar; see his book by that title.

23See Wallace, “John 5,2 and the Date of the Fourth Gospel,” 177-78, n. 6, for a survey of suggested dates (ranging from the 40s to 170!).

24For a list of names see Robinson, 307-308, n. 218 and Wallace, “John 5,2,” 179, n. 10.

25See his The Priority of John, a book published posthumously.

26In particular, one should note that in John 1, Andrew reveals to Peter that Jesus is the Christ, while the synoptic witness is agreed that “flesh and blood have not revealed this” to Peter. John’s emphasis on the role of the Spirit in his gospel would certainly be aided by this tradition—and the surface contradiction certainly serves no good purpose for John. On the other hand, the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 contrasts with the raising of a Lazarus in John 11: if the synoptic gospels were known to John would the author be so blatantly midrashic as to turn the suggestion of resurrection (in Luke) into a reality, just to prove that Jesus was right when he declared that even if Lazarus were raised form the dead, no one would believe?

27See Wallace, “John 5, 2” for a detailed discussion.

28Yet even here, one detects elements of primitivity: e.g., John refers to Jesus as “Messiah” (4:25), and even has the Pharisees ask John the Baptist, in rapid succession, whether he was the Christ or whether he was the prophet (1:19-21). The two would be kept distinct only from the Jews’ perspective, not from the Christians’.

29In Paul, except for one reference in Philippians (3:20) and one in Ephesians (5:23), this is found only in the Pastorals (there, ten times).

30Bultmann was right when he argued that only about half dozen passages in the NT, all of them in the later writings, explicitly claim that Jesus is “God.” In the Pauline corpus, Romans 9:5 might fit this (though there is a major punctuation problem), while Titus 2:13 certainly does. Outside of Paul, 2 Peter 1:1 and Heb 1:8 are the best references.

31Of course, these too have been questioned.

32Further, as D. A. Carson has ardently pointed out, it is a myth to suppose that the nascent church went down a completely linear doctrinal development line. Surely certain pockets of Christianity—then, as today—could have made insights and broken new ground in their understanding of Christ and salvation which were distinct from the insights of other pockets of Christianity existing at the same time.

33Recently, E. E. Ellis has come out very strongly for a reading of this verse in its historical context. Cf. his “Dating the New Testament,” NTS 26 (1979-80) 488-502.

34Cf. Wallace, “John 5,2” 177-78.

35For an exhaustive treatment of this piece of evidence, cf. Wallace, “John 5,2” 177-205.

36Cf. Guthrie, 274-75 and F. F. Bruce, “St. John at Ephesus,” BJRL 60 (1978) 339-61.

37As a sidenote, this is very much in keeping with John’s personality: while Peter lifts Paul up to his status (2 Peter 3:15-16), John submits himself to the authority of the men appointed by Paul! (One other point is worth mentioning here: although Tenney wants to read οἶδα μέν for οἴδαμεν in John 21:24, not only do no MSS divide the letters this way [though the early MSS made no word divisions at all], but the idiom of οἶδα followed immediately by μέν is unparalleled in the NT.)

38 Though D. A. Carson seeks proof in his translation of John 20:31 that this gospel was written to Jews, viz., “that you may believe that the Christ is Jesus” (instead of “that Jesus is the Christ”). Cf. D. B. Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 46-47, for a critique of this view on grammatical grounds.

39(1) Externally, the three earliest witnesses read this; (2) internally, (a) the participle in the second ἵνα-clause is present (πιστεύοντες), though it obviously has as its antecedent this verb (and since John shows almost a pedantic care for his verb tenses [cf., e.g., the antithetical parallel in 4:13-14], this strengthens the case for the present tense); and (b) a careful reading of this gospel reveals that πιστεύω in the aorist tense is often less than saving faith (cf. 2:23; 4:48), while πιστεύω in the present, or imperfect, or perfect tense almost always, if not always, involves saving faith (cf. 1:12; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 47; but cf. 20:29 [aorist] which immediately precedes this verse).

40Hypotyposes, cited in Eusebius, HE 6.14.7.

41A view more and more scholars are contending for. Cf. a decent bibliography in D. A. Carson, “Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel: After Dodd, What?”, in Gospel Perspectives: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels 2:113, 141-142.

42This reading of 2 Peter 1:15 makes such perfectly good sense to me that one might wonder why NT scholarship has not picked it up. Perhaps the reason is that only in recent years has an early date for John been found as a viable option—and further, only among the most conservative scholars (i.e., those who would hold to authenticity of 2 Peter) could this possibility even be seen. It must be stressed that this is not crucial to my understanding of the occasion of this gospel, for I have held to this view of the occasion for several years, but only recently “stumbled upon” this reading of 2 Peter 1:15.

43See especially Dodd’s The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel for hellenistic parallels.

44See especially E. F. Scott, The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and Theology.

45Most likely, the means by which John was able to be so steeped in Pauline thought was through an amanuensis who had some associations with Paul. This, too, is in keeping with patristic testimony, for there is a stream of tradition which suggests that John dictated this gospel, or employed the assistance of others in its composition.

46One of the possible objections to this scenario is the probability that Timothy was already in Ephesus as an apostolic delegate. However, not only would this be no hindrance to an apostle coming to take charge, but Timothy was no longer in Ephesus in 65 CE, as seems to be implied in Heb 13:23 (a book which I date c. 65-66), for Timothy is about to be released from his Roman imprisonment at this time.

47Actually, there are remarkable parallels between Luke and John, especially in the passion and resurrection narratives. But it is not sufficient to argue for direct literary dependence on the part of either author, though there is the strong possibility that Luke was privy to “snippets” of the Johannine material prior to publication. For the gospels as a whole, however, Mark has the closest parallels to John.

48It would be too much to say that John entirely rewrote his Gospel with his Gentile audience in mind, for there is much in the Gospel which seems to have come from a primitive diary. As well, there are many “uncorrected” Semitic-like phrases and expressions which certainly speak of historical authenticity, but would do nothing for the audience ultimately targeted for this work. On the other hand, it is quite possible that John’s circle was small, even though he was an apostle. The emphasis in his Gospel, more than in any other gospel, is on the development of certain key characters. He draws out stories which are either skipped or severely truncated by others. He leaves out material which lacks “human interest.” This may well indicate how John normally conducted his ministry, viz., in small groups (cf. two of his epistles—to individuals). If so, then the Johannine circle would necessarily be small by design and would not in any way reflect on the apostle’s popularity or effectiveness.

More could be said about the likelihood of John’s mentoring methods. Our hypothesis is that he was not a major verbal influence in the early church, though he was certainly well-respected (so Gal 2:1-10). Further, his influence would have been felt deeply, but not widely; and he would have likewise not have been influenced significantly by other church leaders after a certain period, at least concerning the formation of the euangelion (the last time he appears in Acts is in chapter 15, c. AD 49, several years before any gospel was produced). Analogies abound to show that this is not at all un unreasonable hypothesis—e.g., well-respected faculty members whose views do not influence colleagues but who have their own following. The evidence for this reading of John is largely inferential, but the cumulative force of it is fairly strong:

  • Within John’s Gospel, the evangelist focuses on human interest and deep character development of just a few individuals.
  • “The disciple whom Jesus loved” illustrates a one-on-one mentoring relationship that may have served as a model for the rest of his life.
  • At least two out of three of John’s letters are written either to individuals or to very small congregations. This percentage is unparalleled in relation to the rest of the NT letters, or even of early patristic letters.
  • That 2 John and 3 John took some time to gain acceptance into the canon suggests that the scope of John’s ministry was not normally very wide. Although the argument that they were not initially accepted because of their size is very popular, parallels with Philemon show that this in itself is an insufficient base. Parallels with Jude would be better, except for the fact that Jude was not nearly as prominent as either John or Paul in nascent Christianity. What best accounts for John’s letters as not being quickly accepted is that the author is both the apostle himself and the apostle John did not often have a wide scope to his ministry.
  • John apparently never speaks on his own in either the gospels or in Acts; he is always accompanied by Peter or James.
  • The early church records may hint at John’s mentoring skills in that a linear descent is traced from John through Polycarp to Irenaeus. It is interesting that this record is so particularized—and equally that it is relatively unparalleled for the rest of the apostles.

49We adopt the textual variant at 1:34 as original.

50In the synoptic accounts, just before Jesus is brought wine and then dies, he cries out the words of Psalm 22:1. But in John’s account, he says, “I am thirsty.” In our view, these are both the same utterance, John merely packaging it differently to fit his motif of spiritual thirst. The one who thirsts in this gospel is the one who is in need of salvation, one who is devoide of the Spirit, one who is a sinner and under the judgment of God. Although the synoptics are certainly closer to the ipsissima verba of Jesus, both the words of Psalm 22:1 and “I am thirsty” mean the same thing, because for Jesus to address the Father as “My God” is to refer to him as his Judge, and to say “I thirst” is to say (in Johannine terms) “I stand in the place of the sinner.”

51Although one of the two major sections of this gospel (“the book of signs”—1:19–12:50) involves seven miracles, it is doubtful that John intended to outline his book around them (since there are two groups of two which are virtually juxtaposed: 4:46-54 with 5:1-18; and 6:5-14 with 6:16-21). There are three other, equally good groupings possible: (1) theologically: around the seven “I AM” sayings (yet two of these occur in the upper room discourse [14:6; 15:1]); (2) chronologically: each year of ministry, as seen in the references to the Passover (2:13; 5:1?; 6:4; 11:55); the problem with this is the oblique reference in 5:1 (if this really is a flag, why is the evangelist not more explicit?); and (3) geographically. In our approach, as with Mark and Luke, a geographical outline yields the most satisfactory results, though once again there are a number of problems with this approach. One of the problems with outlining ancient documents is our modern and western way of viewing things—especially in our deductive layout. Another problem is that themes and motifs are repeated throughout so that there are several concentric circles of ideas overlapping with one another throughout a book, giving a tremendous literary impression coupled with an amorphous organization. A third problem is that the author is both using sources and is tied to history which governs, to a large extent, how he shapes his material. All of these factors contribute to difficulty in outlining.

52It is possible to organize this section completely on a geographical basis, but the repetition of the theme of Jewish unbelief, after each round of demonstrations of Jesus’ Messiahship, seems to reveal the evangelist’s theological aims more clearly.

53The next pericope, 7:53–8:11 is not original to the gospel of John and seriously disrupts the flow of argument (cf. D. B. Wallace, “Reconsidering ‘The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery Reconsidered,’” New Testament Studies  39 [1993] 290-96, for internal arguments on the inappropriateness of this pericope here).

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