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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

The Authorship.

The Fourth Gospel has in all ages been ascribed by the Church to John, the son of Zebedee, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Within less than an hundred years of the date of his death Christian writers living in different portions of the world, whose writings are still extant, indicate to us that this was the universal belief of the Church. The testimony to the authorship is stronger than can be furnished in behalf of almost any uninspired writing of antiquity, and it would hardly be worth while to allude to the question had not a class of modern critics arisen who decide the question of the authorship of a portion of Scripture by the agreement or non-agreement of its teachings with their own views. Since the Fourth Gospel is more emphatic in affirming the pre-existence and divine majesty of Jesus Christ than the other three, a school of recent rationalistic critics has held that it is not the work of an apostle. I will very briefly show the reasons why its authorship must be conceded to John.

1. It is certain that it was written by a Jew. The familiarity which is constantly shown with Jewish locations proves that the author must have been a resident of Palestine. Places are named that are not spoken of elsewhere in the Old or New Testament, and of the existence of which we would have had no knowledge were it not for the fact that they are mentioned in this Gospel. Some of these, whose sites were unknown for ages, have been brought to light by recent exploration. |Ænon near to Salim| is an example. Not only does the author exhibit the most intimate knowledge of places, but of Jewish rites, customs, prejudices and feelings. This is so constantly exhibited as to demonstrate that the Gospel could not be the work of a Gentile. Every ancient writer, not of the Jewish race, who attempts to describe the Jewish people falls into the greatest errors, and the exact acquaintance with Jewish life, portrayed in almost every chapter, leaves no doubt that the Fourth Gospel is the product of a man born and reared under Jewish influences. Not only does the author exhibit an intimate knowledge of Jewish life, usages, and religious views and feelings, but also of the Jewish Scriptures. These are quoted with great frequency and it is noted by scholars that these quotations are often not taken from the Septuagint, the version into the Greek language, in which only these writings were known to the Gentile world. They are at times from the Hebrew, where it differs from the Septuagint, and at times the translation is original, instead of that of the Greek version. This establishes beyond a doubt, not only that the author was a Hebrew, but a Hebrew of Palestine. Among the Jews dispersed abroad (The Dispersion) the service of the synagogue was conducted, not in Hebrew, but in Greek by means of the Septuagint version. To Gentiles of all conditions of life and to Jews of the Dispersion with rare exceptions, the Hebrew Scriptures were, even in the Apostolic Age and earlier centuries, unknown. No instance is known of a Gentile in those times becoming possessed of such knowledge.

To the same conclusions the Hebraic style of the book bears testimony. Dr. Ewald, the greatest Hebrew scholar of the nineteenth century, declares |The Greek language of our author bears the strongest marks of a genuine Hebrew who, born among the Jews of the Holy Land, and having grown up among them, had learned the Greek language in later life, but still exhibits in the midst of the whole the spirit and air of his native tongue.|

2. The Jewish author must have been a personal attendant of the Savior and a witness of the scenes which he describes. There is a life-like portraiture and an attention to details that could not come from hearsay. The first chapter furnishes an illustration in its account of the witness of John, the disciples directed to the Lamb of God, the disciples gathering around Jesus, and the conversation with Nathanael. The same characteristic is seen in the account of the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, at the feeding of the Five Thousand, in the conversation at the Passover Supper, and on many other occasions. The writer must either describe as an eye-witness what he saw and heard, or he must have manufactured the details, a hypothesis utterly improbable, for reasons that will be given elsewhere. He claims to have been an eye-witness, and the internal evidence declares that his claim is true.

3. If the writer was a Jew, an attendant on Christ and a disciple, he must have been an apostle. There were none others who were with him from the beginning to the end of his earthly ministry. He must have been an apostle, too, who was admitted to the most sacred intimacy with the Lord, and who shared his thoughts to a degree not common even to the apostolic band. There is no other portion of the Scriptures, not excepting the other Gospels, that so completely reveals the inmost thoughts of our Lord. Elsewhere we have the Savior portrayed as the teacher of Israel and as He appeared in his conflicts with his adversaries. Here, in addition, we hear his confidential counsels to his chosen disciples, his tender consolation and intense solicitude; we behold the very pulsations of his loving heart as he stands revealed as Lord and Master, Friend and Brother. Of the apostolic band only three, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, were admitted to the inner circle of the Savior's confidence. Peter could not have been the author, because (1) the style and mode of thought differ materially from what we observe in Peter's addresses and the two Epistles of which he was the author, and (2) all antiquity holds that the Gospel of Mark was written under the supervision of Peter. James could not have written it, for he suffered martyrdom at the hands of Herod long before the date to which it must be assigned. John only, remains, and it follows from this induction that it must have been written by John the Apostle.

4. This harmonizes with the statements made in the Gospel itself and with its internal character. Certain facts should be noted. (1) The author never mentions John the Apostle by name, and barely once names the sons of Zebedee. When he names John the Baptist, he calls him simply John, as if no other John was worthy of mention. (2) The author was an intimate companion of Peter. It was to him Peter whispered at the Supper; he and Peter came to the sepulcher together; they were fishing together in Galilee when the risen Savior appeared; it was of his future fate that Peter asked the Lord on this same occasion. When we turn to the history of Peter and John we find that the same intimacy existed, they were fishermen together and partners before they became disciples of Jesus; they were constant companions and fellow-workers in the early preaching of the Gospel as recorded in Acts.

5. There can be no doubt but that the same person was the author of the Fourth Gospel who wrote the First Epistle of John. There is an identity of thought and a similarity of phraseology that are unmistakable. If it is from the hand of John, as is generally conceded, so must be the Gospel also.

We have now considered the internal evidence of authorship which points unmistakably to the younger of the two sons of Zebedee. It will be of service to inquire whether this view is confirmed by the testimony of antiquity. As stated by Lucke, who has made an exhaustive examination of the subject, |down to the end of the second century this Gospel was universally recognized and attributed to the apostle whose name it bears.| In the Canon Muratori, the first list of the New Testament writings, a fragment which belongs to somewhere near A. D.180, it is named and ascribed to John. About the close of the century or the beginning of the next, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, and Irenæus of Gaul, all bear similar testimony. That the reader may see his opportunity for full knowledge upon the subject we will quote from Irenæus. This eminent writer, an earnest Christian and a martyr, says: |I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse -- his going out and his coming in -- his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses he delivered to the people; also how he spoke of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he could call their words to remembrance. . . . What I heard of him I wrote, not on paper, but in my heart, and by the grace of God I constantly keep it in mind.| It will be seen that Irenæus was a pupil of Polycarp who was a pupil of John, and surely had every opportunity of knowing just what John did write. He states it as an undoubted fact that John wrote the Gospel that bears his name. The testimony stands as follows.1. All the internal evidence points directly to John as the author.2. Men who talked with those who were his companions, affirm that be was the author.4. The universal voice of the Church at the close of the second century harmonizes in ascribing the Gospel to John; an array of testimony that can leave no doubt that it came from the pen of the beloved apostle. If we reverse the order of proof it stands as follows:

1. In the fourth century all the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including the Sinaitic and Vatican, which belongs to the age of Constantine, and are copies of older manuscripts; all the ancient versions made during the second and third centuries, and all the canons of the books of the New Testament contain John and ascribe it to the apostle.

2. The Greek and Latin Fathers up to the middle of the second century, without a dissenting voice, bear the same testimony. This includes Jerome who died A. D.419, Eusebius (340), Origen (254), Tertullian (200), Clement (190), Irenæus who wrote about A. D.178, Theophilus (180), Muratorian Canon (170), Tatian (155-170) who quotes the Gospel, Justin Martyr (103-166) who also quotes it. It may be added that Polycarp, the disciple of John, of whose writings only a fragment is preserved, in it quotes the First Epistle of John, but it is conceded that it had the same author as the Gospel. This martyr died A. D.155, when about 86 years old, and was 25 or 30 years old when John went to rest.

If, then, John did not write the Fourth Gospel, it must have been written about the time he died by a great Unknown, the mightiest mind of the Gospel historians and palmed off on the men who knew John personally and had been educated at his feet as the genuine composition of the last of the apostles. This must have been done so skilfully that no dissenting voice in the Church protested against the fraud!

Either we must have here truths which Christ taught reported by one who lived after the spiritual and catholic character of Christianity had begun to show its actual development, and who, therefore, comprehended his profounder instructions as they were not comprehended during his lifetime; or else we must believe that the centuries immediately following the Christian era produced a spiritual genius whose insight into the profounder truths of human experience, when inflamed into more than merely human life by the inbreathing of God, makes him the equal if not the superior of the Jesus portrayed in the three Synoptic Gospels, and yet one who has been utterly unknown to fame, and who has left no other monument to his memory than a document that is a fraud if not a forgery. The skepticism that asserts this lays too heavy a tax on human credulity. It asks us to believe not only in a Socrates who had no Plato to reveal his teachings and his influences, but in one who did not hesitate to employ a petty and a useless fraud as a setting for the most transcendent spiritual truth. -- Abbott.

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