Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
JOHN, GOSPEL OF
|| I. INTRODUCTORY
1. Scope of Gospel
2. State of Opinion as to Date of Appearance, etc.
II. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE fOR THE FOURTH GOSPEL
1. At the End of 2nd Century
3. Middle of 2nd Century
4. Ignatius, etc.
5. John the Presbyter
III. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GOSPEL: INTERNAL EVIDENCE
1. General Lines of Attack and Defence
2. Unwarrantable Critical Presuppositions
3. Real Aim of Gospel--Results
(1) Relation to Synoptics
(2) Time Occupied in the Gospel
(3) A Personal Record
(4) Reminiscences of an Eyewitness
(5) Reminiscence Illustrated
IV. PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE GOSPEL
1. The Presentation of Jesus in the Gospel
(1) Alleged Absence of Development in Character of Jesus
(2) Alleged "Autonomy" of Jesus
(3) "Inconceivability" of Logos-Presentation
2. The Logos-Doctrine of the Prologue
3. Growth of Faith and Development of Unbelief
(1) Early Confessions
(2) Growth of Faith in the Disciples
(3) Gradual Disclosure of Messiahship: Growth of Unbelief
1. Scope of Gospel:
The Fourth Gospel has a form peculiar to itself, as well as a characteristic style and attitude, which mark it as a unique document among the books of the New Testament. (1) There is a prologue, consisting of Jn 1:1-18, of which something will be said later on. (2) There is a series of scenes and discourses from the life of Jesus, descriptive of Himself and His work, and marking the gradual development of faith and unbelief in His hearers and in the nation (1:19 through 12:50). (3) There is a more detailed account of the closing events of the Passion Week--of His farewell intercourse with His disciples (Jn 13 through 17), of His arrest, trials, crucifixion, death, and burial (Jn 18 through 19). (4) There are the resurrection, and the manifestations of the risen Lord to His disciples on the resurrection day, and on another occasion eight days after (20:1-29). This is followed by a paragraph which describes the purpose of the Gospel, and the reason why it was written (Jn 20:30,31). (5) Finally, there is a supplementary chapter (21), which has all the characteristic marks of the Gospel as a whole, and which probably, therefore, proceeds from the same pen (thus Lightfoot, Meyer, Alford, etc.; some, as Zahn, prefer to take the chapter as the work of a disciple of John). The concluding verses (21:24,25) read: "This is the disciple that beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did," etc. "We know that his witness is true" seems to be a testimony on the part of those who knew as to the identity of the disciple, and the trustworthiness of his witness. Nor has this earliest testimony been discredited by the attacks made on it, and the natural meaning has been vindicated by many competent writers. The present tense, "beareth witness," indicates that the " disciple" who wrote the Gospel was still alive when the testimony was given.
2. State of Opinion as to Date of Appearance, etc.:
As to the time of the appearance of the Johannine literature, apart from the question as to the authorship of these writings, there is now a growing consensus of opinion that it arose at the end of the 1st century, or at the beginning of the 2nd century. This is held by those who assign the authorship, not to any individual writer, but to a school at Ephesus, who partly worked up traditional material, and elaborated it into the form which the Johannine writings now have; by those also, as Spitta, who disintegrate the Gospel into a Grundschrift and a Bearbeitung (compare his Das Johannes-Evangelium als Quelle der Geschichte Jesu, 1910). Whether the Gospel is looked on as a compilation of a school of theologians, or as the outcome of an editor who utilizes traditional material, or as the final outcome of theological evolution of certain Pauline conceptions, with few exceptions the appearance of the Johannine writings is dated early in the 2nd century. One of the most distinguished of these exceptions is Schmiedel; another is the late Professor Pfleiderer. One may respect Pfleiderer in the region of philosophical inquiry, but in criticism he is a negligible quantity. And the writings of Schmiedel on the Johannine question are rapidly passing into the same category.
Thus, the appearance of the Johannine writings at the end of the 1st century may safely be accepted as a sound historical conclusion. Slowly the critics who assigned their appearance to the middle of the 2nd century, or later, have retraced their steps, and assign the emergence of the Johannine writings to the time mentioned. This does not, of course, settle the questions of the authorship, composition and trustworthiness of the Gospel, which must be determined on their merits, on the grounds of external, and still more of internal, evidence, but it does clear the way for a proper discussion of them, and gives us a terminus which must set a limit to all further speculation on matters of this kind.
II. External Evidence for the Fourth Gospel.
Only an outline of the external evidence for the Fourth Gospel, which concerns both date and authorship, can be given in this article. Fuller information may be sought in the Intros to the Commentaries on the Gospel, by Godet, Westcott, Luthardt, Meyer; in Ezra Abbot's The Fourth Gospel and Its Authorship; in Zahn's Introduction to the New Testament, III; in Sanday's The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel; in Drummond's The Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel. All these and many others defend the Johannine authorship. On the other side, reference may be made to the author of Supernatural Religion, of which many editions have appeared. Among recent works, Moffatt's Introduction to the New Testament, and B.W. Bacon's Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, may be mentioned as denying the Johannine authorship.
1. At End of 2nd Century:
The external evidence is as follows. At the end of the 2nd century, the Christian church was in possession of four Gospels, which were used as sacred books, read in churches in public worship, held in honor as authoritative, and treated as part of a Canon of Scripture (see GOSPELS). One of these was the Fourth Gospel, universally ascribed to the apostle John as its author. We have the evidence on this point of Irenaeus, of Tertullian, of Clement of Alexandria, a little later of Origen. Clement is witness for the belief and practice of the church in Egypt and its neighborhood; Tertullian for the church in Africa; and Irenaeus, who was brought up in Asia Minor, was a teacher at Rome, and was bishop of Lyons in Gaul, for the churches in these lands. The belief was so unquestioned, that Irenaeus could give reasons for it which would of themselves have convinced no one who had not already had the conviction which the reasons were meant to sustain. To discount the evidence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement on the ground of the desire to find apostolic authorship for their sacred books, is not argument but mere assertion. There may have been such a tendency, but in the case of the four Gospels there is no proof that there was necessity for this at the end of the 2nd century. For there is evidence of the belief in the apostolic authorship of two Gospels by apostles, and of two by companions of the apostles, as an existing fact in the churches long before the end of the 2nd century.
The importance of the testimony of Irenaeus is measured by the efforts which have been made to invalidate his witness. But these attempts fail in the presence of his historical position, and of the means at his command to ascertain the belief of the churches. There are many links of connection between Irenaeus and the apostolic age. There is specially his connection with Polycarp. He himself describes that relationship in his letter to Florinus, a fellow-disciple of Polycarp, who had lapsed into Gnosticism, in which he says, "I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and the others who had seen the Lord" (Euseb., HE, V, 20: McGiffert's translation). We cannot say what was the age of Irenaeus at that time, but he was of sufficient age to receive the impressions which, after many years, he recorded. Polycarp was martyred in 155 AD, and he had been a Christian for 86 years when he was martyred. Thus there was only one link between Irenaeus and the apostolic age. Another link was constituted by his association with Pothinus, his predecessor in Lyons. Pothinus was a very old man when he was martyred, and had in his possession the traditions of the church of Gaul. Thus, Irenaeus, through these and others, had the opportunity of knowing the belief of the churches, and what he records is not only his own personal testimony, but the universal tradition of the church.
With Irenaeus should be adduced the apologist Theophilus (circa 170), the earliest writer to mention John by name as the author of the Gospel. In prefacing a quotation from the commencement of the prologue, he says, "This is what we learn from the sacred writings, and from all men animated by the Spirit, amongst whom John says" (Ad Autol., ii.22). Theophilus is further stated by Jerome to have composed a Harmony of the four Gospels (De Viris Illustr., 25).
3. Middle of 2nd Century:
From Irenaeus and Theophilus we ascend nearer to the middle of the 2nd century, and here we encounter the Diatessaron of Tatian, on which much need not be said. The Diatessaron is likewise a Harmony of the four Gospels, and this Harmony dates not later than 170. It begins with the 1st verse of the Fourth Gospel, and ends with the last verse of the appendix to the Gospel. Tatian was a pupil of Justin Martyr, and that fact alone renders it probable that the "Memoirs of the Apostles," which Justin quotes so often, were those which his pupil afterward combined in the Diatessaron. That Justin knew the Fourth Gospel seems clear, though we cannot argue the question here. If he did, it follows that it was in existence about the year 130.
4. Ignatius, etc.:
But there is evidence that helps us to trace the influence of the Fourth Gospel back to the year 110. "The first clear traces of the Fourth Gospel upon the thought and language of the church are found in the Epistles of Ignatius (circa 110 AD). How unmistakable these traces are is shown by the fact that not infrequently this dependence of Ignatius upon John has been used as an argument against the genuineness of the Ignatian letters" (Zahn, Introduction, III, 176). This argument may now be safely used since the Epistles have been vindicated as historical documents by Lightfoot and by Zahn. If the Ignatian Epistles are saturated with the tone and spirit of the Johannine writings, that goes to show that this mode of thought and expression was prevalent in the church of the time of Ignatius. Thus at the beginning of the 2nd century, that distinctive mode of thought and speech which we call Johannine had an existence.
A further line of evidence in favor of the Gospel, which need only be referred to, lies in the use made of it by the Gnostics. That the Gospel was used by the Valentinians and Basilides has been shown by Dr. Drummond (op. cit., 265-343).
5. John the Presbyter:
To estimate aright the force of the above evidence, it is to be remembered that, as already observed, there were many disciples of the John of Ephesus, to whom the Johannine writings were ascribed, living far on in the 2nd century--bishops like Papias and Polycarp, the presbyters" so often mentioned by Irenaeus--forming a chain connecting the time of the origin of the Gospel with the latter half of the century. Here arises the question, recently so largely canvassed, as to the identity of "the presbyter John" in the well-known fragment of Papias preserved by Euseb. (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39). Were there, as most, with Eusebius, understand, two Johns--apostle and presbyter (compare e.g. Godet)--or was there only one? If only one, was he the son of Zebedee? On these points wide difference of opinion prevails. Harnack holds that the presbyter was not the son of Zebedee; Sanday is doubtful; Moffatt believes that the presbyter was the only John at Ephesus. Zahn and Dom J. Chapman (John the Presbyter and the Fourth Gospel, 1911) think also that there was only one John at Ephesus, but he was the son of Zebedee. It is hardly necessary to discuss the question here, for the tradition is explicit which connected the Gospel with the apostle John during the latter part of his residence in Ephesus--a residence which there is no sufficient ground for disputing (see JOHN, THE APOSTLE).
On a fair consideration of the external evidence, therefore, we find that it is unusually strong. It is very seldom the case that conclusive proof of the existence and influence of a writing can be brought so near to the time of its publication as in the case of the Fourth Gospel. The date of its publication is at the end of the 1st century, or at the latest in the beginning of the 2nd. Traces of its influence are found in the Epistles of Ignatius. The 1st Epistle of John is quoted in the Epistle of Polycarp (chapter 7). The thought and style of the Gospel had influenced Justin Martyr. It is one of the four interwoven in the Diatessaron of Tatian. It was quoted, commented on, and interpreted by the Gnostics. In truth the external evidence for the early date and Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel is as great both in extent and variety as it is for any book of the New Testament, and far greater than any that we possess for any work of classical antiquity.
The history of the controversy on the Johannine authorship is not here entered into. Apart from the obscure sect of the Alogi (who attributed the Gospel to Cerinthus!) in the 2nd century, no voice was heard in challenge of the authorship of John till the close of the 17th century, and serious assault did not begin till the 19th century (Bretschneider, 1820, Strauss, 1835, Weisse, 1838, Baur and his school, 1844 and after, Keim, 1865, etc.). The attacks were vigorously repelled by other scholars (Olshausen, Tholuck, Neander, Ebrard, Bleek, etc.). Some adopted, in various forms and degrees, the hypothesis of an apostolic basis for the Gospel, regarded as the work of a later hand (Weizsacker, Renan, etc.). From this point the controversy has proceeded with an increasing dogmatism on the side of the opponents of the genuineness and trustworthiness of the Gospel, but not less firmness on the part of its defenders. The present state of opinion is indicated in the text.
III. Characteristics of the Gospel: Internal Evidence.
1. General Lines of Attack and Defence:
The external evidence for the Fourth Gospel is criticized, but it is chiefly on internal grounds that the opposition to the Johannine authorship and historical trustworthiness of the Gospel is based. Stress is laid on the broad contrast which admittedly exists in style, character and plan, between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptics; on its supposed philosophical dress (the Logos-doctrine); on alleged errors and contradictions; on the absence of progress in the narrative, etc. The defense of the Gospel is usually conducted by pointing out the different aims of the Gospel, rebutting exaggerations in the above objections, and showing that in a multitude of ways the author of the Gospel reveals his identity with the apostle John. He was, e.g., a Jew, a Palestinian Jew, one familiar with the topography of Jerusalem, etc., an apostle, an eyewitness, the disciple whom Jesus loved (13:23; 20:2; 21:7,20). The attestation in 21:24 of those who knew the author in his lifetime is of the greatest weight in this connection. Instead of following these familiar lines of argument (for which see Godet, Luthardt, Westcott, Ez. Abbot, Drummond, etc., in works cited), a confirmation is here sought on the lines of a fresh comprehensive study.
2. Unwarrantable Critical Presuppositions:
The study of the Johannine writings in general, and of the Fourth Gospel in particular, has been approached in many ways and from various points of view. One of the most common of these ways, in recent works, is that which assumes that here we have the product of Christian reflection on the facts disclosed in the other Gospels, and that these facts have been modified by the experience of the church, and reflect the consciousness of the church at the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the 2nd century. By this time, it is assumed that the church, now mainly a Gentilechurch, has been greatly influenced by Greek-Roman culture, that she has been reflecting on the wonder of her own history, and has so modified the original tradition as to assimilate it to the new environment. In the Fourth Gospel, it is said, we have the highest and most elaborate presentation of the outcome of the process. Starting with Paul and his influence, Professor B.W. Bacon traces for us the whole process until a school of theologians at Ephesus produced the Johannine writings, and the consciousness of the church was satisfied with the completeness of the new presentation of Christianity (compare his Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate). Hellenistic ideas in Hebrew form, the facts of the Gospel so transformed as to be acceptable to the Hellenistic mind--this is what scholars of this class find in the Fourth Gospel.
Others again come to the Gospel with the presupposition that it is intended to present to the reader a complete view of the life of Jesus, that it is intended to supplement and to correct the statements of the Synoptics and to present Christ in such a form as to meet the new needs of the church at the beginning of the 2nd century. Others find a polemical aim in the Gospel. Weizsacker, e.g. finds a strong polemic aim against the Jews. He says, "There are the objections raised by the Jews against the church after its secession has been consummated, and after the development of the person of its Christ has passed through its most essential stages. It is not a controversy of the lifetime, but that of the school carried back into the history of the life" (Apostolic Age, II, 222). One would have expected that a statement so forcibly put would have been supported by some evidence; that we might have some historical evidence regarding a controversy between Jew and church beyond what we have in the Fourth Gospel itself. But nothing is offered by Weizsacker except the dictum that these are controversial topics carried on in the school, and that they are anachronisms as they stand. As it happens, we know from the Dial. between Justin Martyr and Trypho what were the topics discussed between Jew and Christian in the middle of the 2nd century, and it is sufficient to say that these topics, as reported by Justin, mainly regarded the interpretation of the Old Testament, and are not those which are discussed in the Fourth Gospel.
Perhaps the most surprising of all the presuppositions with regard to the Fourth Gospel is that which lays great stress on the supposition that the book was largely intended to vindicate a Christian doctrine of the sacraments which flourished at the beginning of the 2nd century. According to this presupposition, the Fourth Gospel set forth a doctrine of the sacraments which placed them in a unique position as a means of salvation. While scarcely contending that the doctrine of the sacraments held by the church of the 2nd century had reached that stage of development which meets us in the medieval church, it is, according to this view, far on the way toward that goal afterward reached. We do not dwell on this view, for the exegesis that finds sacramentarianism in the Fourth Gospel is hopeless. That Gospel does not put the sacraments in the place of Christ. Finally, we do not find the contention of those who affirm that the Fourth Gospel was written with a view of making the gospel of Jesus more acceptable to the Gentiles any more satisfactory. As a matter of fact, the Gospel which was most acceptable to the Gentiles was the Gospel according to Mt. It is more frequently quoted than any other. In the writings of the early church, it is quoted as often as all the other Gospels put together. The Fourth Gospel did not come into prominence in the Christian church until the rise of the Christological controversies in the 3rd century.
3. Real Aim of Gospel--Results:
When, after dwelling on these ways of approaching the Fourth Gospel, and reading the demands made on the Gospel by those who approach it with these presuppositions and demands, we turn to the Gospel itself, and ask regarding its aim and purpose, we find a simple answer. The writer of it expressly says: "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name" (Jn 20:30,31). Pursuing this clue, and putting away all the presuppositions which bulk so largely in introductions, exegeses, histories of the apostolic and sub-apostolic ages, one meets with many surprises.
(1) Relation to Synoptics.
In relation to the Synoptics, the differences are great, but more surprising is the fact that the points of contact between these Gospels and the Fourth Gospel are so few. The critics to whom reference has been made are unanimous that the writer or the school who compiled the Johannine writings was indebted to the Synoptics for almost all the facts embodied in the Fourth Gospel. Apart, however, from the Passion Week, only two points of contact are found so obvious that they cannot be doubted, namely, the feeding of the 5,000, and the walking on the sea (Jn 6:4-21). The healing of the child of the royal officer (Jn 4:46-53) can scarcely be identified with the healing of the centurion's servant (Mt, Lk); but even if the identification were allowed, this is all we have in the Fourth Gospel of the events of the ministry in Galilee. There is a ministry in Galilee, but the earlier ministry in Judea and in Galilee began before John was cast into prison (3:24), and it has no parallel in the Synoptics. In fact, the Fourth Gospel assumes the existence of the other three, and does not anew convey the knowledge which can be gathered from them. It takes its own way, makes its own selections, and sets these forth from its own point of view. It has its own principle of selection: that plainly indicated in the passage already quoted. The scenes depicted, the works done, the words spoken, and the reflections made by the writer, are all directed toward the aim of enabling the readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. In the writer's view this would issue in their obtaining life in His name.
(2) Time Occupied in the Gospel.
Accepting this principle for our guidance, we turn to the Gospel, and the first thing that strikes the reader is the small amount of the real time filled up, or occupied, by the scenes described in the Gospel. We take the night of the betrayal, and the day of the crucifixion. The things done and the words spoken on that day, from one sunset to another, occupy no fewer than 7 chapters of the Gospel (John 13 through 19). Apart from the supplementary chapter (21), there are 20 chapters in the Gospel, containing 697 vs, and these 7 chapters have 257 verses. More than one-third of the whole given to the ministry is thus occupied with the events of one day.
Again, according to Acts 1:3, there was a ministry of the risen Lord which lasted for 40 days, and of all that happened during those days John records only what happened on the day of the resurrection, and on another day 8 days after (John 20). The incidents recorded in the other Gospels fall into the background, are taken for granted, and only the signs done on these two days are recorded here. They are recorded because they are of significance for the purpose he has in hand, of inducing belief in the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If we continue to follow the clue thus afforded, we shall be surprised at the fewness of the days on which anything was transacted. As we read the story of the Fourth Gospel, there are many indications of the passing of time, and many precise statements of date. We learn from the Gospel that the ministry of Jesus probably lasted for 3 years. We gather this from the number of the feasts which He attended at Jerusalem. We have notes of time spent in journeys, but no account of anything that happened during them. The days on which anything was done or anything said are very few. We are told precisely that "six days before the passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was" (12:1 ff), and with regard to these 6 days we are told only of the supper and the anointing of the feet of Jesus by Mary, of the entry into Jerusalem, the visit of the Greeks, and of the impression which that visit made on Jesus. We have also the reflections of the evangelist on the unbelief of the Jews, but nothing further. We know that many other things did happen on these days, but they are not recorded in this Gospel. Apart from the two days during which Jesus dwelt in the place where he was, of which days nothing is recorded, the time occupied with the raising of Lazarus is the story of one day (John 11). So it is also with the healing of the blind man. The healing is done one day, and the controversy regarding the significance of that healing is all that is recorded of another day (John 9). What is recorded in John 10 is the story of two days. The story of the 7th and 8th chapters, interrupted by the episode of the woman taken in adultery, which does not belong to the Gospel, is the story of not more than two days. The story of the feeding of the 5,000 and of the subsequent discourse (John 6) is the story of two days. It is not necessary to enter into fuller detail. Yet the writer, as remarked, is very exact in his notes of time. He notes the days, the number of days on which anything was done, or when anything was said. We make these remarks, which will be obvious to every reader who attends to them, mainly for the purpose of showing that the Gospel on the face of it does not intend to, at least does not, set forth a complete account of the life and work of Jesus. It gives at the utmost an account of 20 days out of the 1,000 days of our Lord's ministry. This is of itself sufficient to set aside the idea of those who deal with the Fourth Gospel as if it were meant to set aside, to supplement, or to correct, the accounts in the Synoptics. Plainly it was not written with that purpose.
(3) A Personal Record.
Obviously the book professes to be reminiscences of one who had personal experience of the ministry which he describes. The personal note is in evidence all through the book. It is present even in the prologue, for in that verse in which he describes the great fact of the incarnation he uses the personal note, "We beheld his glory" (Jn 1:14). This might be taken as the keynote of the Gospel. In all the scenes set forth in the Gospel the writer believes that in them Jesus manifested forth His glory and deepened the faith of His disciples. If we were to ask him, when did he behold the glory of the incarnate Word, the answer would be, in all these scenes which are described in the Gospel. If we read the Gospel from this point of view, we find that the writer had a different conception of the glory of the incarnate Word from that which his critics ascribe to him. He sees a glory of the Word in the fact that He was wearied with His journey (Jn 4:6), that He made clay of the spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay (Jn 9:6), that He wept at the grave of Lazarus (Jn 11:35), that He groaned in the spirit and was troubled (Jn 11:38), and that He could sorrow with a sorrow unspeakable, as He did after the interview with the Greeks (Jn 12:27). For he records all these things, and evidently thinks them quite consistent with the glory of the incarnate Word. A fair exegesis does not explain these things away, but must take them as of the essence of the manifested glory of the Word.
The Gospel then is professedly reminiscences of an eyewitness, of one who was personally present at all the scenes which he describes. No doubt the reminiscences often pass into reflections on the meaning and significance of what he describes. He often pauses to remark that the disciples, and he himself among them, did not understand at the time the meaning of some saying, or the significance of some deed, of Jesus (Jn 2:22; 12:16, etc.). At other times we can hardly distinguish between the words of the Master and the reflections of the disciple. But in other writings we often meet with the same phenomenon. In the Epistle to the Galatians, e.g., Paul writes what he had said to Peter at Antioch: "If thou, being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (Gal 2:14). Shortly after, he passes into reflections on the situation, and it is impossible to ascertain where the direct speech ends and the reflections begin. So it is in the Fourth Gospel. It is impossible in many instances to say where the words of Jesus end and the reflections of the writer begin. So it is, e.g., with his record of the witness of the Baptist in John 3. The record of the Baptist's words may end with the sentence, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (3:30), and the rest may be the reflections of the writer on the situation.
(4) Reminiscences of an Eyewitness.
The phenomena of the Gospel are thus, apparently at least, reminiscences of an eyewitness, with his reflections on the meaning of what he has experienced. He was present at the scenes which he describes. He was present on the night on which the Master was betrayed; he was present in the hall of the high priest; he was present at the cross, and bears testimony to the reality of the death of Jesus (Jn 18:15; 19:35). As we read the Gospel we note the stress he lays on "witness." The term frequently occurs (Jn 1:7,8,19; 3:11,26,33; 5:31; 12:17; 21:24, etc.), and is used to set forth the verified facts of experience. In these testimonies we have an unusual combination of elevated thought and minute observation. At one time the evangelist soars aloft into a spiritual world, and moves with ease among the richest and highest elements of spiritual experience. Using common words, he yet reads into them the deepest meanings regarding man, the world, and God which have ever entered into the mind of man. Sublime mysticism and open-eyed practical sense meet in his wonderful writings. Above all, we are impressed with his sense of the supreme value of the historical. All his spiritual meanings have a historical basis. This is as apparent in the 1st Epistle as it is in the Gospel, and in the Gospel it is conspicuous. While his main interest is to focus the minds of his readers on Jesus, His work and His word, yet unconsciously he has written his own spiritual biography. We gradually become aware, as we read ourselves sympathetically into the spirit of the Gospel, that we are following the line of a great spiritual awakening, and are tracing the growth of faith and love in the life of the writer, until they become the overmastering tone of his whole life. On the one hand, the book is a grand objective revelation of a unique life, the story of the self-revelation of the Son of God, of the revelation of the Father in Jesus Christ, moving onward to its consummation through the contrasted developments of faith and unbelief on the part of them who received Him, and on the part of them who received Him not. On the other hand, it has a subjective unity in the heart of the writer, as it tells of how faith began, of how faith made progress, until he came to the knowledge of the Son of God. We can enter into the various crises through which he passed, through which, as they successively passed, he won the assurance which he so calmly expresses; and these supply him with the key by means of which he is able to unlock the mystery of the relations of Jesus to the world. The victory of faith which he sets forth was first won in his own soul. This also is included in the significant phrase, "We beheld his glory" (Jn 1:14).
(5) Reminiscence Illustrated.
The Gospel receives powerful confirmation from reflection on the nature of reminiscence generally. A law of reminiscence is that, when we recall anything, or any occurrence, we recall it in its wholeness, with all the accessories of its accompaniments. As we tell it to others, we have to make a selection of that only which is needful to convey our meaning. Inartistic natures do not make a selection; they pour out everything that arises in the memory (compare Dame Quickly in Shakespeare). The finer qualities of reminiscence are abundantly illustrated in the Fourth Gospel, and furnish an independent proof that it is from the pen of an eyewitness. It is possible within reasonable limits to give only a few examples. Observe first the exact notes of time in John 1 and the special notes of character in each of the 6 disciples whom Jesus met on the first 4 days of His ministry. Mark the peculiar graphic note that Nathaniel was under the fig tree (1:50). Pass on to notice the 6 water-pots of stone set at Cana after the manner of the Jews' purifying (2:6). We might refer in this connection to the geographical remarks frequently made in the course of the narrative, indicative of an intimate knowledge of Israel, and to the numerous allusions to Jewish laws, customs, beliefs, religious ceremonies, usually admitted now to be accurate, and illustrative of familiar knowledge on the part of the writer. Our main object, however, is to call attention to those incidental things which have no symbolical significance, but are set down because, as the main happening was recalled, these arose with it. He again sees the "lad" with the 5 barley loaves and 2 fishes (6:9); remembers that Mary sat still in the house, when the active Martha went forth to meet the Lord as He approached Bethany (11:20); recalls the appearance of Lazarus as he came forth bound hand and foot with grave-clothes (11:44). He has a vivid picture before him as he recalls the washing of the disciples' feet (13:1-15), and the various attitudes and remarks of the disciples during the whole of that eventful night. He still sees the attitude of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (18:3-8), the flashing of Peter's sword (18:10), the share of Nicodemus in the burying of Jesus, and the kinds and weights of the spices brought by him for the embalming of the body (19:38-40). He tells of the careful folding of the linen cloths, and where they were placed in the empty tomb (20:4-8). These are only some of those vivid touches due to reminiscence which none but an eyewitness could safely make. Looking back on the past, the evangelist recalls the various scenes and words of the Lord in their wholeness as they happened, and he chooses those living touches which bear the mark of reality to all readers.
These touches of vivid reality warrant the conclusion that the writer in this Gospel is depicting scenes in a real life, and is not drawing on his imagination. Looking back on his own spiritual history, he remembered with special vividness those words and works of Christ which determined his own life, and led him on to the full assurance of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. The Gospel can be understood from this point of view: it does not seem to us that it can be understood from any other, without ignoring all the phenomena of the kind now indicated. When the Gospel is approached from this point of view, set forth by itself, one can afford to neglect many of the elaborate discussions which have arisen regarding the possible displacement of certain ehs (Spitta, etc.). Much, e.g., has been made of the sudden transference of the scene from Galilee to Judea as we pass from John 4 to John 5, and the equally sudden transference back to Galilee (6:1). Many suggestions have been made, but they all proceed on the supposition that the reminiscences were meant to be continuous, which it has been seen is not the ease. While it is very likely that there is a sequence in the writer's thought, yet this need not compel us to think of displacements. Taken as they are in the Gospel, the selected proofs, whether they occur in Judea or in Galilee, in all instances indicate progress. They illustrate the manifested glory of Jesus, on the one hand, and the growth of faith and the development of unbelief on the other. This, however, opens up a separate line of objection and inquiry to which attention must now be given.
IV. Progress and Development in the Gospel.
It is an objection often urged against the view of the apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel that in it there is no progress, no development, no crisis, nothing, e.g., to correspond with the significance of the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. (Mt 16:13-17 parallel). This is held to be true alike of the character of Jesus, which, under the influence of the Logos-doctrine of the prologue, exhibits no development from first to last, and of the attitude of the disciples, whose faith in Jesus as the Christ is likewise represented as complete from the beginning. In reality the opposite is the case. In the course of the Gospel, as already said, the glory of the Lord is ever more completely manifested, and the disciples attain to a deeper faith, while the unbelief of those who reject Him becomes more fixed, until it is absolute. This will appear clearly on nearer examination.
1. The Presentation of Jesus in the Gospel:
The objection from the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel takes different forms, which it is desirable to consider separately.
(1) Alleged Absence of Development in the Character of Jesus.
It is affirmed, first, that there is no development in the character of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, none of those indications such as we have in the Synoptics of widening horizons, no recognition of the fact that the meaning, purpose and issue of His calling became clearer to Him as the days passed by. To this assertion there are two answers. The first is, that in a series of scenes from the activity of Jesus, selected for the definite purpose set forth in the Gospel, there is no need to demand a continuous history of His ministry. Selection is made precisely of those scenes which set forth His insight into human character and motive, His power of sympathetic healing, His command over Nature, and His supreme authority over man and the world. The other remark is, that even in the Fourth Gospel there are hints of a crisis in the ministry of our Lord, during which He came to a clearer recognition of the fuller meaning of His mission (e.g. the visit of the Greeks, John 12). It will be seen further, below, that it is not true in this Gospel, any more than in the Synoptics, that Jesus is represented as publicly proclaiming Himself as the Messiah from the first.
(2) Alleged "Autonomy" of Jesus.
Akin to the above is the objection to the historicity of the Gospel that in it Jesus is represented as always directing His own course, maintaining an attitude of aloofness to men, refusing to be influenced by them. This, it is held, results from the dominance of the Logos-idea in the prologue. The reply is that there is really no essential difference between the attitude of Jesus in these respects in the Synoptics and in Jn. In all alike He maintains an attitude of authority. In the Synoptics He can say, "I say unto you" (Mt 5:22,28,32, etc.). In them also He claims to be the teacher of absolute truth, the Saviour, the Ruler, the Judge, of men. In this regard there is no new claim made in the Fourth Gospel: "No one cometh unto the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6). But He had said, "Come unto me .... and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). A claim to authority over men is thus common to all the Gospels. In all of them, too, in the Fourth no less than in the others, there is on the part of Jesus loyalty, submission, subordination to the Father. In fact this is more conspicuous in the Fourth Gospel than in the Synoptics: "The Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28). The words He speaks are the Father's words; the works He does are the Father's (Jn 5:19,20; 7:16,18, etc.): "This commandment received I from my Father" (Jn 10:18). In all the Gospels it is one consistent, gracious Figure who appears.
(3) "Inconceivability" of Logos-Presentation.
A further objection, which aims at showing that this Gospel could not be the work of "a primitive apostle," may be noticed, partly from the eminence of him who makes it, and partly from the interest of the objection itself. In his work on The Apostolic Age, Weizsacker says, "It is a puzzle that the beloved disciple of the Gospel, he who reclined at table next to Jesus, should have come to regard and represent his whole former experience as a life with the incarnate Logos of God. It is impossible to imagine any power of faith and philosophy so great as thus to obliterate the recollection of a real life and to substitute for it this marvelous picture of a Divine being. We can understand that Paul, who had not known Jesus, who had not come into contact with the man. should have been opposed to the tradition of the eyewitnesses, the idea of the heavenly man, and that he should have substituted the Christ who was spirit for His earthly manifestation, pronouncing the latter to be positively a stage above which faith must rise. For a primitive apostle it is inconceivable. The question is decided here and finally here" (II, 211). It is easy to say, "For a primitive apostle it is inconceivable," yet we know that a primitive apostle believed that Jesus rose from the dead, that He was exalted a Prince and Saviour, that He was seated at the right hand of God, that He was Lord of all (Acts 2:22-36). If we grant that the primitive church believed these things, it cannot be fairly said that the further step taken in the Fourth Gospel is inconceivable. In truth, the objection of Weizsacker is not taken against the Fourth Gospel; it is equally effective against Christianity in general. If Jesus be what He is said to be in the Synoptic Gospels, and if He be what the primitive church held Him to be, the leading conception of the Fourth Gospel is credible and conceivable. If Christianity is credible, the Fourth Gospel adds nothing to the difficulty of faith; rather it gives an additional ground for a rational faith.
2. The Logos-Doctrine of the Prologue:
It is proper at this point that a little more should be said on the Logos-doctrine itself, in its bearing on the presentation of Christ in this Gospel (for the philosophical and historical aspects of the doctrine, see LOGOS). Obviously the great interest of the author of the reminiscences and reflections in the Fourth Gospel is in the personal life of the Master whom he had known so intimately. To him this real historical life was everything. On it he brooded, on it he meditated, and he strove to make the significance of it ever more real to himself first, and to others afterward. How shall he make the reality of that life apparent to all? What were the relationships of that person to God, to man, and to the world? What Jesus really was, and what were His relations to God, to man, and to the world, John endeavors to make known in the prologue. This real person whom he had known, revered, loved, was something more than was apparent to the eyes of an ordinary observer; more even than had been apparent to His disciples. How shall this be set forth? From the Gospel it is evident that the historical person is first, and the attempt to set forth the meaning of the person is second. The prologue is an attempt to find language to set forth fitly the glory of the person. The Logos-doctrine does not descend on the historic person as a garment from without; it is an endeavor to describe what John had grown to recognize as the essential meaning of the person of Jesus. It is not a speculative theory we have here, not an endeavor to think out a theory of the world or of God; it is an attempt to find suitable language for what the writer recognizes to be a great fact. We need not, therefore, seek an explanation of John's Logos-doctrine in the speculation of Heraclitus, in theories of the Stoics, even in the eclecticism of Philo. The interests of these men are far removed from the atmosphere of the Fourth Gospel. They desired a theory of the universe; John sought to set forth the significance of a personal historical life. In the prologue he set forth that life, and he chose a word which he filled up with concreter meaning, a meaning which included the deepest teaching of the Old Testament, and the highest thought of his contemporaries. The teaching of Paul, especially in the epistles of the captivity, approaches very closely to that of the Fourth Gospel. Thus it is not a right method to bring the Logos-doctrine to the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, and to look at all the phenomena of the Gospel as mere illustrations of that doctrine. The right method is the reverse. The Logos-doctrine has no concreteness, no living reality, taken apart from the personal life which was manifested to the apostle. The prologue represents what John had come to see as to the meaning of the personality he had historically known. He sets it forth once for all in the prologue, and never once in the Gospel does he refer to it again. We can understand that Logos-doctrine when we look at it in the light of those manifestations recorded in' the Gospel, manifestations which enabled John to behold His glory; we cannot understand the manifestations if we look at them merely as illustrations of an abstract philosophical theorem. In brief, the Fourth Gospel is concrete, not abstract; it is not the evolution or the demonstration of a theory, but the attempt to set forth a concrete personality, and to find fitting words to express the significance of that personality as John had grown to see it.
3. Growth of Faith and Development of Unbelief:
As it is with the character of Jesus, so it is with the alleged absence of development in the faith of the disciples. Careful inquiry shows this objection also to be unfounded.
(1) Early Confessions.
Here again, it is said, we see the end from the beginning. In John 1 Jesus is twice greeted as the Messiah (1:41,45), and twice described as the Son of God (1:34,49). The Baptist at this early stage points to Him as "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29). Reference is made to the case of Nicodemus (3:1 ff), to the Samaritans (4:41 f), and other incidents of the same kind, with the view of proving that at this early stage of the ministry of our Lord such confessions are unlikely, and even impossible. It is to be noticed, however, that the confessions in these cases are represented as the outcome of special manifestations on the part of Jesus to the persons who make them. And the manifestations are such as to justify the psychological possibility of the confession. It is so in the case of Nathaniel. Nor is the objection to the testimony of John the Baptist of a kind which admits of no answer. For the Baptist, according to the Synoptics, had found his own credentials in Isa 40. There he found himself and his mission, and described himself, as we find it in the Fourth Gospel, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet" (Jn 1:23; compare Mt 3:3; Mk 1:2,3). We find also that when John "heard in the prison the works of the Christ," and "sent by his disciples and said unto him, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?" (Mt 11:2), the answer of Jesus was a reference to a passage in Isa 61. According to Jesus these were the true signs of the Messianic kingdom. Is there any reason why we should not say that, as John found his own credentials in Isa 40, he would also have found the character and signs of the Coming One in the description of the suffering servant in Isa 53? If he did so, what more simple than that he should describe the Coming One as the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world? In His answer to John, Jesus simply asks him to read farther on in that prophesy which had already meant so much for him.
(2) Growth of Faith in the Disciples.
Apart from what may be made of these early confessions, it may fairly be said that there are many signs of a growth of faith on the part of the disciples. Carrying with us the fact that each of these confessions had its ground in a particular manifestation of the glory of Christ, we go on to passages which prove how imperfect was the faith of the disciples. It is to be remembered also that John has only one word to describe all the phases of faith, from the slightest impression up to whole-hearted conviction and thorough surrender. We may refer to the careful and exhaustive treatment of the meanings of the word "believing" by E. A. Abbott in his work, Johannine Vocabulary. In the Fourth Gospel the verb is always used, and never the noun. As the word is used, it denotes the impression made, whether that impression is slight and transient, or deep and abiding. Successive steps of acceptance are seen as the disciples advance to complete and absolute faith.
As we read the Gospel, we perceive that Jesus did test and try the faith of His disciples, and made His deeds and His words both tests of faith, and a means for its growth. As the result of the words on the bread of life, we find that many of His disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" (Jn 6:60), and on account of the difficulty of His words, "Many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (Jn 6:66). On His appeal to those who did not go away it is found that the difficulty became really an opportunity to them for a larger faith (Jn 6:68,69). The incidents and events of the night of the betrayal, and the conversations on that night, prove how incomplete were the faith and confidence of the disciples; how far they were from a full understanding of the Master's purpose. Nor is it until after the resurrection, and the gladness of seeing their risen Lord in the upper room, that faith obtained a complete victory, and attained to full possession of itself.
(3) Gradual Disclosure of Messiahship: Growth of Unbelief.
On the other side, there is as manifestly an evolution of unbelief from the passing doubt of. the moment on to the complete disbelief in Jesus, and utter rejection of Him.
It is only fair here to the Gospel to observe that the confessions to which we have already referred are on the part of individuals who came into special relationship with Jesus. Such is the case with regard to Nathaniel, Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria and the Samaritan people, and the writer places the reader in that close relationship so that he who reads may believe. But such close relationship to Jesus is only the lot of a few in this Gospel. It is not true, as already remarked, that in this Gospel Jesus is represented as definitely proclaiming Himself as the Messiah. There is something of the same reserve here as there is in the Synoptics. He did not assert His claim; He left it to be inferred. His brethren hint that He ought to put His claims really to the test (Jn 7:3 f). An account of the doubts and speculations regarding Him is given in John 7. The people hesitate, and inquire, and speculate, Is He a good man, or a deceiver? (7:12) Had He really a mission from God? (7:14 ff)--all of which goes to prove that only certain individuals had such intimate knowledge of Him as to lead to acceptance. In John 10 we read, "And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. The Jews therefore came round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly" (10:22-24). "It is very clear," as Dr. Sanday says, "that no sharply defined issue was set before the people. They are left to draw their own conclusions; and they draw them as well as they can by the help of such criteria as they have. But there is no entweder .... oder ....--either Messiah or not Messiah--peremptorily propounded by Jesus Himself" (The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel, 164). The sum of the matter as regards the development of unbelief is given by the evangelist in the words: "Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on him" (12:37). On the other hand, the culmination of faith is seen in the word of the Lord to Thomas: "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (20:29).
Besides Comms. and other works mentioned in the article, with valuable articles on the Gospel in Dicts. and Encs, the following may be consulted: M. Dods, common. "Fourth Gospel" in Expositor's Greek Testament; Julicher, Eintleitung in das NT6 (1906, English Translation); E. A. Abbott, Johannine Vocabulary (1905), and Johannine Grammar (1906); H. J. Holtzmann, Evangelium, Briefe und Offenbarung des Johannes, besorgt von W. Bauer (1908); Essays on Some Biblical Questions of the Day by Members of the University of Cambridge, edited by Dr. Swete (1909), Essay IX, "The Theology of the Fourth Gospel," by W.H. Inge, and Essay X, "The Historical Value of the Fourth Gospel," by C.E. Brooke; Schmiedel, The Johannine Writings (English translation, 1908); J. Armitage Robinson, The Historical Character of John's Gospel (1908); Askwith, The Historical Value of the Fourth Gospel (1910); Ezra Abbot, External Evidence of the Fourth Gospel, edited by J.H. Thayer (1891); Lowrie, The Doctrine of John (1899).
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'john, gospel of'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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