Christianity

The Gospel of John

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Fast Facts: The Gospel of John
Faith(s) Christianity
Author John, son of Zebedee, the "beloved disciple" (tradition); Greek-speaking theologian connected with the tradition of John (scholars)
Date c. 90-110 CE
Place probably Ephesus (ancient Asia Minor, modern Turkey)
Themes divine origins of Jesus; miracles of Jesus

The Gospel of John is the fourth Gospel and the fourth book of the New Testament in the Christian Bible. It is probably the latest of the Four Gospels, written around 90 to 95 CE. The book is anonymous but an early Christian tradition attributed it to John, the son of Zebedee. John is very different from the other three gospels and especially emphasizes the miracles and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Date of the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John was probably the last of the four gospels to be written, with a date around 90 to 95 CE1984 1988 or 100 to 110 CE.1986

John was most likely written after 70 CE, because the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem is alluded to in the Gospel of John. The members of the Sanhedrin say:

If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. (John 11:48, NIV)

As for the latest possible date, there is no clear mention or quotation of the Gospel in early Christian authors writing before 150 CE.1986 However, the earliest known manuscript of the New Testament, called Rylands Papyrus 52, contains Greek text from John 18. This codex fragment has been dated to as early as 125 CE (but as late as 175 CE).

Those who argue for an earlier date (and corresponding authorship by the disciple John), ranging from the 50s to 70 CE, are in the minority among scholars but point out the following:1989

  • the independence of the Gospel of John from other sources could indicate they were not yet available
  • its developed theology does not necessarily mean a late origin, as the theology of Romans (written c. 57) is just as developed
  • John 5:2 says there "is" a pool near the Sheep Gate, possibly indicating a date before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE (but elsewhere the author uses the present tense when describing the past)

Author of the Gospel of John

Like the other Gospels, the Gospel of John was written anonymously. The current title comes from early Christian tradition, dating from the mid-100s CE, which attributed it to John, son of Zebedee. According to this tradition, John was the "beloved disciple" who was present at the crucifixion, he lived to an old age, and wrote his gospel in Ephesus (modern Efes, Turkey).

The text of the Gospel itself refers to an unnamed beloved disciple, who was an eyewitness of the events and wrote them down:

One of them [the disciples], the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him [Jesus].... Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord who is it?" (John 13:25, NIV)

The man who saw it [the Crucifixion] has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. (John 19:35, NIV)

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper....) When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." ...This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:20-24, NIV)

However, some modern scholars regard John 21:21-24 as a "secondary appendix" written by the publisher(s) of the Gospel, who made the "beloved disciple" the author. In the rest of the Gospel of John, that disciple is regarded as the source for the tradition but not the author of the Gospel.1985 Others point out that even John 21 distinguishes between the disciple and the author.1984

Outside the Gospel, the earliest known connection between this beloved disciple and the author of the fourth gospel is made by Ireneaus of Lyons, who wrote around 180 CE:1985

Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord who also leaned upon his chest, he too published a gospel while residing in Ephesus. (Against Heresies 3.1.1)

And all the presbyters who had gathered about John, the disciple of the Lord, testify that John has given us this. For he remained with them until the time of Trajan [98-117 CE]. (Against Heresies 2.22.5)

Modern arguments in support of this tradition include:1989

  • the beloved disciple was clearly a prominent figure in early Christianity, so the author leaving him unnamed "would be natural if he wrote it but hard to explain otherwise."
  • the author knew Jewish life well, including Messianic speculations, hostility between Jews and Samaritans, and Jewish customs
  • the author knew the geography of Palestine (e.g. Bethany is 15 stadia from Jerusalem in John 11:18)
  • the Gospel contains details that "were obviously based on the recollections of an eyewitness" such as the fragrance of the broken perfume jar at Bethany (12:3)

However, most modern scholars doubt that John the beloved disciple was the author of the Gospel of John.1984 1985 1988 The reasons include:

  • John 21 differentiates between the eyewitness disciple and the author of the Gospel1984
  • the beloved disciple is never identified as John in the Gospel1984
  • the life of Jesus in the Gospel of John is significantly different from that the other gospels1985
  • the Gospel of John has an "independent theology"1985
  • the Gospel of John is oriented to a "present-tense eschatology" unlike the "future-tense eschatology" in the other gospels1985
  • the Gospel of John uses multiple special sources1984 1985
  • John, the son of Zebedee, is described as uneducated and illiterate in Acts 4:131984

Thus the author was a "theologian of the later period who, on the basis of comprehensive traditions, rethought the meaning of Jesus' life, and interpreted and presented it in his own way."1985 This author was a native Greek speaker who may have had access to the tradition or preaching of John the disciple, but John the disciple himself was not the author.1984 1985 1988

In Christian art and symbolism, the authors of the Gospels are called the Four Evangelists and given symbols based on the four "living creatures" of Revelation 4. , The author of this gospel is known as St. John the Evangelist and symbolized by an eagle.

The Gospel of John's Place of Origin

As seen above, second-century Christian tradition (Ireneaus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3.1.1) states that the Gospel of John was written in Ephesus (modern-day Efes, Turkey).

Modern scholars think this is most likely as well,1987 1988 though a location in Syria or Palestine is also possible. In favor of Ephesus are the following:1987

  • early Christian tradition (specifically Papias) connecting the fourth gospel with Ephesus
  • history of the Johannine tradition and theology in Ephesus
  • the Gospel's incorporation of Pauline theology, which was present in Ephesus
  • the Gospel's concern with refuting docetism, a heresy associated with Asia Minor

Unique Material in the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is the only one to include the following material:1983

  • turning water into wine
  • miraculous healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda
  • miraculous healing of the man born blind
  • Jesus explaining "you must be born again" to Nicodemus
  • conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman
  • "Farewell Discourse"
  • "I am" sayings

Material Not in the Gospel of John

The following stories are found in the other three gospels but not in John:1983

  • Virgin Birth in Bethlehem (Matthew and Luke only)
  • Baptist of Jesus
  • Temptation of Jesus
  • Jesus casting out demons
  • Jesus telling parables
  • Transfiguration of Jesus
  • the Last Supper
  • Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsamane
  • Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin

Related Articles

Sources

  1. “Jesus, the Man Sent from Heaven: The Gospel According to John.” Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, USA),pp. 169-191.
  2. “Jesus, the Man Sent from Heaven: The Gospel According to John.” Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, USA), p. 175.
  3. “Jesus, the Man Sent from Heaven: The Gospel According to John.” Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, USA), p. 190. "The Gospel of John was probably the last canonical Gospel to be written, around 90-95 CE. It is traditionally ascribed to John the son of Zebedee, but there are reasons to doubt that ascription. It was written in Greek, probably outside of Palestine."
  4. “The Gospel of John.” Schnelle, Udo, History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (Minneapolis: FORTRESS PRESS),pp. 469-516.
  5. “The Gospel of John.” Schnelle, Udo, History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (Minneapolis: FORTRESS PRESS), pp. 476-77. See footnote 120 for a survey of other scholars' dates, most around 100 CE but some as early as 75 and as late as 140. "both the history of the reception and the MS tradition of the Gospel of John suggest it originated between 100 and 110 CE."
  6. “The Gospel of John.” Schnelle, Udo, History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (Minneapolis: FORTRESS PRESS), p. 475. "Of all these possibilities, Asia Minor (Ephesus) is the most like [sic] place for the composition of the Gospel of John."
  7. Biblical literature: The fourth Gospel: The Gospel According to John.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. "Because both external and internal evidence are doubtful, a working hypothesis is that John and the Johannine letters were written and edited somewhere in the East (perhaps Ephesus) as the product of a “school,” or Johannine circle, at the end of the 1st century."
  8. “John.” Barker, Kenneth (ed.), The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan),pp. 1591-1592.
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Article Info

Title The Gospel of John
Published
Last UpdatedMarch 14, 2021
URL religionfacts.com/gospel-of-john
Short URLrlft.co/5732
MLA Citation “The Gospel of John.” ReligionFacts.com. 14 Mar. 2021. Web. Accessed 8 Dec. 2021. <religionfacts.com/gospel-of-john>