In his recent book Is John's Gospel True? Maurice Casey vigorously attacks more traditional studies, trying to demonstrate that there is precious little historical accuracy in John. He begins by arguing that John has misplaced Jesus' temple cleansing and altered the date of the Last Supper. These observations alone 'show that a conservative evangelical view of scripture is verifiably false' (Casey 1996:29). Casey proceeds to present additional ways in which John's Gospel cannot be harmonized with the Synoptics, discussing its Christology, portrait of John the Baptist, style and content of Jesus' teaching, and passion narrative. Instead, this Gospel has fabricated its distinctive content in the light of the polemics between Christians and Jews at the end of the first century and in keeping with the pseudepigraphic tradition of much of Hebrew Scripture. Casey (1996:229) concludes that John's Gospel 'is profoundly untrue. It consists to a large extent of inaccurate stories and words wrongly attributed to people. It is anti-Jewish, and as holy scripture it has been used to legitimate outbreaks of Christian anti-Semitism'. It is thus unworthy of inclusion in the Bible.
Casey's charges are hardly new. The Jesus Seminar in the US gained notoriety when it alleged that all but three of the sayings of Jesus in John's Gospel bore no resemblance to his authentic teaching (Funk and Hoover 1993:401-470). Later, the Seminar coloured sixteen short excerpts of John's narrative material (from one line to a few verses in length) something other than black (Funk 1998:365—440)- the colour that signifies an item bears no relationship to what the historical Jesus actually did or said. Much more ironic but only a little less sceptical is A. T. Hanson (1991:318):
John is aware of an earlier historical tradition about Jesus which differs in certain important respects from his. He feels constrained18 by it at certain points even when it seems to conflict with his own. He has his own historical tradition, which appears to be inferior to that of the Synoptists, thought not without some value. But he allows himself a very wide licence indeed in altering, enriching, transposing and adding to his own tradition from his own resources, which were largely drawn from scripture as he understood it. He has therefore not provided us with a reliable historical account of Jesus. Could he have understood what we mean by 'a reliable historical account', he would probably repudiated [sic] the suggestion that this is what he was giving us in his Gospel.
But most scholars have been less sweeping in their claims. More typical are the conclusions of C. K. Barrett (1978:141-142):
It is evident that it was not John's intention to write a work of scientific history... John's interests were theological rather than chronological... He did not hesitate to repress, revise, rewrite, or rearrange. On the other hand there is no sufficient evidence for the view that John freely created narrative material for allegorical purposes... This means that the chronicler can sometimes (though less frequently than is often thought) pick out from John simple and sound historical material... In the same way John presents in his one book both history and interpretation.
Similarly, Barnabas Lindars (2000:103, 36, 45, 54) notes Clement of Alexandria's designation of John as 'the spiritual gospel' and warns of false expectations. 'The multi-dimensional character of the Gospel obviously precludes the idea that it is a straight historical record of what actually happened.' Instead of viewing fact and fiction as mutually exclusive categories, we must establish intermediate ones. Lindars himself opts for seeing kernel, authentic sayings having been midrashically expanded in the course of the Fourth Evangelist's own homilies on this material. Still, Barrett's and Lindars' approaches hardly inspire confidence in coming to the Fourth Gospel for a readily accessible source of historical information about the life and times of Jesus.Cf. Nordsieck (1998) for a quite recent restatement of the critical consensus with respect to authorship, origin and historicity of the Fourth Gospel. Like Barrett and Lindars, Nordsieck allows for some historical elements to emerge from uniquely Johannine material, but views a majority of it as later, theological overlay. Schnelle's recent commentary (1998) aptly reflects this 'consensus' perspective with respect to tradition and redaction in John.19
The distinctives of John's Gospel have of course been observed throughout church history. They may be categorized under five headings (Blomberg 1987:153-155). First, there is John's selection of material. Numerous prominent features of the Synoptics' portrait of ChristUnless otherwise noted, I will use 'Jesus' and 'Christ' interchangeably throughout this book, solely for the sake of literary variety. I recognize that originally the latter was a title and not a given name! are completely absent from John, most notably Jesus' baptism, the calling of the Twelve, exorcisms, parables, the transfiguration, and the institution of the Lord's Supper. Conversely, John includes information found nowhere in the Synoptics, including the miracle of turning water into wine, the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus' early ministry in Judea and Samaria, his frequent visits to Jerusalem, and numerous extended discourses.
Second, John's theological distinctives prove striking. His is the only Gospel explicitly to affirm Jesus' divinity and to reflect a 'high Christology' throughout Jesus' life, without the synoptic plot development in which his disciples slowly come to understand his identity and in which his opponents more gradually increase in their hostility. Jesus' own claims more explicitly link him with God (8:58; 10:30; 14:6). In John, the Baptist denies being Elijah (1:21); the Synoptics affirm that he is (Mark 9:11-13). The Fourth Gospel emphasizes more the presence of eternal life; the Synoptics dwell more on the future aspect of the kingdom. And John ends with Jesus dispensing the Spirit after his resurrection and before his return to his Father (John 20:22), while Luke reserves this bestowal for Pentecost (Acts 2).
Third, John's chronology appears to contradict the Synoptics' outline. Everything described of Jesus' adult ministry in Matthew, Mark and Luke could have occurred within a few months; John's references to repeated Passovers (__John__2:13; 6:4; 13:1) presuppose a ministry of more than two years (and maybe more than three years- cf. 5:1). In addition to the specific 'dislocations' stressed by Casey in his opening chapter, we may observe varying dates or times for Jesus' anointing by Mary of Bethany (John 12:1; cf. Mark 14:3), the call of the first disciples (John 1:35-42; cf. Mark 1:16-20) and the timing of the crucifixion (John 19:14; cf. Mark 15:25).
Fourth, other apparent historical discrepancies appear. John seems to think Christ was born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem (__John__7:52) and that Lazarus' resurrection, not the temple cleansing, was the catalyst for Jesus' arrest (__John__11:45-53). He claims that Jews began to excommunicate Christians from their synagogues even during Jesus' lifetime (9:22), whereas other historical evidence suggests this was a late first-century development (the20 'curse on the heretics' introduced into the synagogue liturgy).
Finally, John's style of writing differs markedly from the Synoptics. Jesus' teaching uses language and vocabulary indistinguishable from John's as narrator. Christ speaks in extended discourses rather than pithy aphorisms. His language merges with that of the narrator of the Gospel so that: we are not sure where the one ends and the other begins (esp. John 3:1-21; cf. the same phenomenon with the words of the Baptist in 3:27—36). And, at several points, John's narrative seems out of sequence. In the farewell discourse, Jesus calls to his disciples, 'Come now; let us leave' (14:31), but he then continues talking for another three chapters. Similarly, John 21 appears to many as an appendix added by a later writer, because 20:30-31 reads like a fitting conclusion to the Gospel.A number of these phenomena are also conveniently summarized and elaborated in Mussner (1967), who concludes that John, unlike the Synoptics, portrays 'the essential identity of the Jesus of history with the glorified Christ' (86), i.e., that the entire Gospel reflects solely a unified post-resurrection perspective.
It comes, then, as little surprise that contemporary historical Jesus research pays scant attention to John. Definitive tomes have been produced by focusing almost entirely on the Synoptics' portraits (Sanders 1985; Crossan 1991; Meier 1991, 1994; Theissen and Merz 1997). Evangelical counterparts have hardly differed from the critical consensus at this point (cf. Witherington 1990; Wright 1996).Cf. also the otherwise very helpful ecumenical conference proceedings on 'Jesus and the oral Gospel tradition' (Wansbrough 1991), which devotes only one essay to John (by an evangelical; Dunn 1991) and does not substantially advance our confidence in John beyond the Barrett-Lindars consensus approach. But three observations suggest that the evidence for John's credibility may not be quite so sparse.
To begin with, we dare not overlook the numerous similarities between John and the Synoptics. I have spelled out several of these elsewhere (Blomberg 1987:156—159) and shall mention each as it arises in the commentary section of this book. Second, over forty years ago J. A. T. Robinson (1959) identified what he called a 'new look on the Fourth Gospel', which viewed John as independent of the Synoptics, often preserving uniquely historical information, and thoroughly rooted in an early first-century Palestinian Jewish milieu. Not long afterwards C. H. Dodd (1963) penned what has become the classic, detailed expression of this perspective;This work, however, must be balanced with Dodd 1954, in which it was already made clear how many liberties the author of the Fourth Gospel felt free to take with the 'history' he narrated. subsequent developments turned this 'new look' into a21 consensus in many quarters (Smalley 1978:9-40). D. Moody Smith (1993) suggests that John's distinctive chronology, geography, portrait of the Baptist, vignettes of women and elements of the passion and resurrection narratives may all contain historical material. James Charlesworth (1996:90) believes that the Dead Sea Scrolls have 'revolutionized the interpretation of John', enabling us to view it as a late first-century Jewish text relying on even earlier traditions rather than a late second-century Greek philosophical treatise. But sometimes the 'new look' simply favours John at the Synoptics' expense (cf. esp. J. A. T. Robinson 1985). And Gary Burge (1992:27) is overly optimistic when he generalizes, 'The new look urges that we view the Gospel as Jewish and historically reliable.' The first predicate is true; the second would be more accurately worded as 'more historically reliable than previously thought'—which still leaves room for plenty of material to be viewed as relatively unhistorical.
Third, a spate of recent, article-length studies and fully fledged commentaries on John have appeared, all defending a substantial amount of historicity in the Fourth Gospel (articles: Carson 1981b; E. E. Ellis 1988; Silva 1988; García-Moreno 1991; Barton 1993; Blomberg 1993; E. E. Ellis 1993; Lea 1995; Thompson 1996; D. Wenham 1997, 1998; de la Fuente 1998; Moloney 2000; commentaries: Bruce 1983; Michaels 1983; Beasley-Murray 1987; Carson 1991; Pryor 1992a; Morris 1995; Witherington 1995; Borchert 1996; Ridderbos 1997; Köstenberger 1999; Whitacre 1999). A much larger number of exegetical studies of specific passages or themes in John points in the same direction, as the running commentary portion of this book will demonstrate. All of these works, however, have received little attention from the major studies of the historical Jesus, in part due to the high degree of compartmentalization in modern research and in part because many critical scholars continue simply to ignore most conservative scholarship. It is equally common for older, important studies of the historicity of John, not necessarily by evangelicals (esp. J. A. Robinson 1908; Askwith 1910; Holland 1923; Headlam 1948; Higgins 1960) to be neglected because of the curious methodological stranglehold of the latest and newest in much contemporary biblical study.
At the same time it remains patently obvious to any careful reader of the Fourth Gospel that John is more different from than similar to the Synoptics. One of the reasons that many stand unconvinced of the possibility of John being substantially accurate is that thematic studies of the Gospel's historicity still cover only representative problems that affect a minority of John's data. One may allow that this feature or that characteristic of the Fourth Gospel derives from historical tradition, but as22 one reads the text sequentially from start to finish there still seem to be just too many differences. The time seems ripe, therefore, for a study that discusses many of the standard introductory and background considerations, but which goes on to examine in some detail every passage in John, in order, with a view to assessing historicity.
One might argue that such a book ideally should be produced by a Johannine specialist, but I know of none currently being projected. One could equally argue, though, that fresh insights on a thoroughly debated topic like this might better emerge if a scholar who has devoted most of his research to synoptic and historical Jesus issues (like I have) would bring some of the distinctives of those disciplines to bear on the Fourth Gospel. At any rate, the last book to appear even to approximate the format I envision is more than a century and a quarter old (Sanday 1872), and the evangelical commentaries noted above devote only sporadic attention to the issues of historicity because of the other issues that a full-orbed commentary must discuss.
The rest of Part One will thus devote itself to introductory and topical concerns. Part Two will then proceed in commentary format, but restricting itself to questions that bear on the historical trustworthiness of the Fourth Gospel. A brief conclusion will gather together some of the most prominent results. Historicity is not necessarily the most important question that should be analysed for every gospel pericope, but it does have considerable implications for correct interpretation and, more indirectly, for biblical authority.Theological truth may of course be communicated by literary genres across a spectrum from pure fact to pure fiction, but if Casey's harsh charges (above, p. 17) were accurate, it would indeed be difficult to continue to speak of John's truthfulness on any meaningful level. Exegetical and theological studies abound, assessing John's contributions to numerous themes. Increasingly, too, literary criticism is producing full analyses of the Fourth Gospel (for the most recent, extensive bibliographies of scholarship on John, see van Belle 1988; Mills 1995). The time is thus ripe for supplementing this fairly comprehensive coverage on other fronts with a consistently historical assessment of John.
The appropriate starting point in investigating the accuracy of any apparently historical narrative is to determine the author of that narrative, if possible. Was the author a credible witness? Did he or she depend on reliable sources of information? Data for determining authorship, in turn,23 subdivide into external and internal evidence- what others have said about the material in question and what clues may be reconstructed from the document itself. In the case of the Fourth Gospel, many modern commentators have begun with internal evidence, but nowhere does this Gospel make any explicit claim concerning the identity of its author. The number of different proposals generated by the internal data demonstrates how inconclusive that evidence is; one recent survey of scholarship discusses twenty-three different suggestions (Charlesworth 1995:127-224)! On the other hand, every piece of ancient, external evidence, save one, agrees that the author was the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. So we must begin with this testimony and discuss its credibility.This is an important methodological point. Many scholars begin with internal data that raise doubts about Johannine authorship and come to the external evidence already prejudiced against it. Tellingly, those who defend John the son of Zebedee as author more often than not have begun with the external testimony. On the other hand, the pattern is not unvarying. R. E. Brown (1966, 1979) and Schnackenburg (1968, 1982) changed their minds over the years and rejected Johannine authorship on the basis of internal evidence, after having begun with the external evidence, while Westcott (1908: ix-lxvii) began with the internal evidence and still opted for apostolic authorship. Köstenberger (1996) notes how the shift in scholarship on this issue in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries after the rise of the scientific Enlightenment occurred not on the basis of any new evidence but on a change of method. Because there has been considerable renewed discussion of issues surrounding authorship, we shall go into more detail on this topic than on our other introductory considerations.For a robust defence of valuing the external evidence for the origins of all four Gospels more highly than the critical consensus does, see now Hengel 2000.
Critics of apostolic authorship make much of the silence of the earliest post-New Testament Christian writers in the first half of the second century (e.g. Barrett 1978:102-103). Why, for example, does Ignatius, writing to the very Ephesians that tradition would come to associate with the Johannine community, and directly quoting Matthew and Luke, make no mention of the apostle John or his writing? Yet there are only a few direct quotes of any apostolic documents and Ignatius' epistles are primarily exhortational in nature, so that his quotations naturally draw on Paul's and Jesus' ethical teaching (the latter much more common in Matthew and Luke than in John). Polycarp's situation is similar. He was himself apparently a disciple of John, but his one extant epistle makes no24 mention of the son of Zebedee. Although also exhortational in nature, it quotes 1 John 4:2 (in Phil. 2.1), suggesting that Polycarp may have known the other writings attributed to John as well.
Justin Martyr alludes to John 3:3-5 in his First Apology (61.4) and speaks of the Gospels as including 'memoirs of the apostles', in the plural, perhaps a reference to both Matthew and John since Mark and Luke were not apostles (67.4). Justin also seems to be familiar with John's logos Christology more generally (Pryor 1992b). Justin's (and others') reluctance to refer more explicitly to John may well derive from the growing use of his Gospel in Gnostic circles by the mid-second century (Dungan 1999:24-26). Hippolytus (Ref. Her. 7.10) would write that the Gnostic Basilides quoted John 1:9 to support his system of thought, while Origen scatters references to the first known commentary on John, by the Gnostic Heracleon, throughout his writing. The Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic literature provides primary source material to corroborate this trend. Allusions to the Fourth Gospel are pervasive, especially in the Gospel of Truth and, to a lesser extent, in the gospels of Philip and Thomas and the Apocryphon of John (Morris 1995:17). Epiphanius (Her. 51.3) would later write that the Gnostic alogoi (so-called because they denied the doctrine of the logos) attributed John's Gospel to the late first-century docetist teacher, Cerinthus.
By the latter portion of the second century, however, use of the Fourth Gospel appears explicitly in orthodox Christian writers. Tatian's Dia-tessaron, a harmony of the four Gospels, actually uses John as the base into which to fit the other three. Theophilus of Antioch (To Autolyc. 2.22) attributes to John the first verse of his Gospel ('In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God... ').Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations will follow the New International Version, Inclusive Language Edition (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996). The anti-Marcionite Prologue to John and the Muratorian Canon both attribute the Gospel to the apostle John, though in contexts of other information that may not be accurate.Numerous commentaries lay out the texts from the early Christian writers and discuss them in varying amounts. See, in increasing order of detail, Michaels 1983: xviii-xx; Bruce 1983:6-12; Schnackenburg 1968:77-91.
The most important second-century testimony comes from Irenaeus, who briefly describes the composition of all four canonical Gospels. After the first three were written, he recounts, 'John, the disciple of our Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia' (Ag. Her. 3.1.1). Later in that same book25 (3.11.1), Irenaeus quotes several verses from the Gospel to clarify the difference between orthodox and Gnostic doctrine, again attributing the words to 'John, the disciple of the Lord'. That Irenaeus has in mind the son of Zebedee is demonstrated from other texts in which he is specifically called an 'apostle,' and in which it becomes clear that 'disciple of the Lord' is merely synonymous language for John's apostolic office (e.g. 1.9.2; 3.3.4; cf. Lewis 1908:18). In fact, the variety of contexts in which Irenaeus refers to John and/or his Gospel demonstrates that it was already commonly believed around the empire that the son of Zebedee authored this work (Lewis 1908:24-32).From approximately the turn of the (second to third) century, we may cite also Tertullian, Ag. Marc. 4.3; Clement of Alexandria (quoted by Eusebius, Ecc. Hist. 6.14.5-7); and Ptolemy (quoted by Irenaeus, Ag. Her. 1.8.5).
No orthodox writer ever proposes any other alternative for the author of the Fourth Gospel and the book is accepted in all of the early canonical lists, which is all the more significant given the frequent heterodox misinterpretation of it. It is not until the early fourth century with the writings of Eusebius that any ambiguity appears. Eusebius, too, believes that the apostle John wrote the Gospel that had come to bear his name (Eccl. Hist. 3.24.5-13), but two other texts from his writing have led many scholars to wonder if matters were that straightforward. In 3.31.2—3 Eusebius cites the testimony of Polycrates, from the mid-second century, who refers to the death and burial of John in Ephesus along with the burial of the apostle Philip and his four daughters in Hierapolis. But Polycrates has confused the apostle Philip with the deacon by the same name, so one wonders if he has the right John in view. Polycrates also called the apostle John, 'who leaned on the Lord's breast', a 'priest, wearing the mitre, and martyr and teacher'. But nothing in the New Testament suggests John was a priest, and the word for 'mitre' (Gk. petalon) seems to refer to garb reserved for the Jewish high priest. Had the apostle come out of such a background, other early Christian writings would surely have stressed it. Richard Bauckham (1993b) thus argues that Polycrates must have confused two different Johns, probably on the basis of Acts 4:6, and that this second John wrote the Gospel (cf. also Winandy 1998).
A second source cited by Eusebius at first glance lends credence to this hypothesis. In 3.39.3-7 Eusebius describes the testimony of Papias from the first quarter of the second century, another individual with either direct or indirect ties to the apostle John.Eusebius describes how Irenaeus believed that Papias was a disciple of John in his younger years, but Eusebius believes that Papias's ambiguous testimony is best understood as removing himself one generation from the apostle, with otherwise anonymous 'elders' or 'presbyters' who knew the apostles as the direct source of Papias's information. Papias describes how 'if anyone came who had followed the presbyters, I inquired into the words of the26 presbyters, what Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples had said, and what Aristion and the presbyter John, the Lord's disciples, were saying' (3.39.4). One natural interpretation of this text is that Papias is distinguishing two Johns, the original apostle, no longer alive, and a presbyter alive in Papias' day of whom he could directly enquire. When one notices that 2 and. 3 John begin with greetings from one who simply calls himself the 'presbyter' (or 'elder'- Gk. presbyteros), one understands why scholars have from time to time suggested that this 'John the elder' may have been the author of one or more of the New Testament writings ascribed to John, and that later church tradition confused the two (for the greatest detail, see Hengel 1989).Bauckham (1993b) clearly distinguishes the two individuals but Hengel (1989:130-132) seems to fuse them, arguing that John the elder is the beloved disciple, a Palestinian Jew, an eyewitness to much of Jesus' ministry, and an old man writing to Ephesus at the end of the first century.
On the other hand, a case can be made that Eusebius in 3.24.5-13 is alluding to the writings of Papias there, too (Hill 1998), in which case Papias also would have believed that the son of Zebedee wrote the Fourth Gospel. If John were the sole living apostle, it is understandable that Papias should mention him twice, first in a list of apostles and then as one of the living elders of the church. As for Polycrates, it is difficult imagining anyone named John in the early church having been a former Jewish high priest without more reference to that fact. Polycrates may simply have confused the Jewish relative of Caiaphas named John (Acts 4:6) with the apostle, without any additional Christian 'John' in view. At any rate, even if there was a second early church leader named John, none of these testimonies links him with the Fourth Gospel per se. The external evidence must be deemed to opt overwhelmingly in favour of John, the son of Zebedee, as author of this document.
The early church Fathers have been shown at times to be wrong, however, on a variety of issues, so we must turn to the data within the Fourth Gospel itself to test the hypothesis of Johannine authorship.
The classic expression in modern scholarship of the internal evidence for Johannine authorship comes from B. F. Westcott almost a century ago (1908: ix-lxvii; cf. also Morris 1969:218-256). Westcott mounts his case in five stages: the author was (1) a Jew, (2) of Palestine, (3) an eyewitness, (4) an apostle, and (5) St John. No full-scale refutation of Westcott has ever appeared, although important segments of his argument have been scrutinized. It would appear that his basic logic remains sound, even though each stage of the argument requires certain nuancing.
It is generally agreed today that the author of the Fourth Gospel was Jewish. The author accurately understands Jewish customs, is steeped in the Old Testament, is aware of finer points of distinctions among pre-70 Jewish sects, and is concerned to demonstrate Jesus as the true fulfilment of the Law and of the numerous rituals and institutions of Judaism. Indeed, the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated affinities between Essene-Jewish thought and the distinctive milieu of John in ways that Westcott could not have anticipated (see esp. Charlesworth 1972). Thus the 'new look' on John has roundly rejected the dominant perspective of the first half of the twentieth century that saw the Fourth Gospel as mostly Hellenistic in background.
It is equally common to find current critics agreeing that the author was from Palestine. His knowledge of the geography and topography of Israel is excellent, particularly in Jerusalem and the surrounding Judean countryside (cf. esp. Albright 1956; Potter 1959; Schein 1980; Scobie 1982). The famous pools of Bethesda (John 5:2) and Siloam (__John__9:11) have been excavated. Jacob's well at Sychar (__John__4:5-6) remains today where it was located even in Old Testament times, while the 'Stone Pavement' corresponding to that described as 'Gabbatha (__John__19:13) has been discovered in Jerusalem, although the site is contested. Additional examples will be discussed as they come up in Part Two of this book. Aramaic terms are employed and explained, but only in Israel did Jews still widely use this language rather than Greek. In fact, John's Gospel regularly demonstrates Jesus and his Jewish opponents discussing 'halakhic' (legal) regulations relatively unique to Israel, and portions of the Gospel demonstrate affinity with distinctive Samaritan forms of thought.For a succinct catalogue of parallels to Palestinian Jewish language, style and background in several of these categories, see Hengel 1989:110-113; 208-212, nn. 6-45. It is of course possible that a Gentile Christian over numerous years could have become well enough acquainted with Palestinian Judaism to account for all of these phenomena under Westcott's first two headings,28 but this is not the first hypothesis one would naturally formulate.Koester (1995) notes how the key locations in the Fourth Gospel not only enhance the credibility of the narrative but further the theological interests of the work. One should add, therefore, that the more the historical corroboration emerges as an almost tangential byproduct of a narrative with other more central objectives, the more convincing it: is.
Whether 'John' demonstrates eyewitness touches has been more debated. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between historical realism employed in the service of a fictitious narrative and detail that can be explained only by eyewitness testimony to actual historical events (see esp. Tovey 1997; Byrskog 2000). Westcott (1908: xxxix-xliv) makes his case by examining details of persons, time, number, place and manner of action, many of which seem highly precise and theologically unmotivated. 'If it be said that we can conceive that these traits might have been realised by the imagination of a Defoe or a Shakespeare, it may be enough to reply that the narrative is wholly removed from this modern realism; but besides this, there are other fragmentary notes to which no such explanation can apply.' Among these appear 'minute facts likely to cling to the memory of one directly concerned (i. 40), though it is in fact difficult for us now to grasp the object of the writer in preserving them', details that appear to be in conflict with the Synoptics and thus not likely to have been invented (e.g. __John__1:21 with Matt. 11:14; and __John__3:24 with Matt. 4:12), and mysterious sayings left wholly unexplained (e.g. __John__1:29, 46, 48) 43-44).Stauffer (1960a) compiled the most comprehensive catalogue of categories into which historically realistic elements of John may be divided: theologically irrelevant notices of geography or topography, historically corroborated details, parallels with the synoptic tradition, parallels with extracanonical Jesus-tradition, details that fit an early first-century Palestinian Jewish setting, proper order and sequence of the many Jewish festivals, juridical elements corresponding to legal customs of the time, general external and internal chronological coherence, and speeches based on historically verifiable kernels of Jesus' teaching.
R. L. Sturch (1980) has examined many of these details and cautioned against immediately assuming an eyewitness source; they may mask hidden symbolism, reflect natural inferences, stress important details, satisfy readers' curiosity, stem from literary style, or be purely fictitious inventions (315-316). Nevertheless there remains 'a residue of items which resist... elimination', and which 'may suggest that eyewitness evidence could also lie behind some of the details where it cannot be proved' (324).On the other hand, Davies (1992:276-315) surveys the geography, topography, flora, climate and cultural history depicted in the Fourth Gospel and thinks that, despite the general accuracy, most of these details could have been gleaned from a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and the synoptic traditions. The use29 of the first-person plural by the narrator of this Gospel in 1:14 and 19:35 also suggests that he views himself as a participant in the events described (though see below, p. 38).Barrett (1978:123) only partially agrees: 'The most the evidence that has now been surveyed can prove is that here and there behind the Johannine narrative there lies eyewitness material. It is certainly not proved, and is perhaps not provable, that the gospel as a whole is the work of an eyewitness. And the evidence already given of the Hellenistic side of John's thought suggests that the final editor of the gospel was not an eyewitness.' But this argument cuts both ways. If Barrett is correct in insisting earlier that a Gentile could have gained accurate knowledge of Israel and Judaism, then surely a Jew living and ministering for several decades in a Hellenistic context could gain accurate knowledge of the Graeco-Roman world as well.
The fourth stage of the argument for those who follow Westcott is to affirm that the author was one of the Twelve. The claim of John 21:24 is that the individual referred to at several points in the Gospel as 'the beloved disciple' (or 'the disciple whom Jesus loved') was the author of the work or of at least a very substantial core of it. The passages in which this figure is so described are 13:23-25 (part of the Last Supper), 19:26-27, 34-35 (at the crucifixion), 20:2-5, 8 (at the empty tomb), 21:1-7 (fishing in Galilee) and 21:20—22 (the prediction of the possibility of the disciple living until Christ's return). Neither John nor the Synoptics ever demonstrably limits the disciples present in any of these contexts to the Twelve, but it has often been assumed that only these apostles would have communed with Jesus the last night of his life. If this is the case, then the beloved disciple must be one of the Twelve.
The very fact that the Fourth Gospel would describe a particular disciple as this intimate with Jesus also strongly suggests that we must think of one of the apostles. Indeed, the Synoptics on several occasions group Peter, James and John together as an inner core of three of the Twelve who participate in experiences like the transfiguration or Gethsemane to which the other nine are not privy. But Peter appears by name throughout John, even in the same scenes as the beloved disciple, so he cannot be this anonymous individual. James and John, however, never appear by name, though 21:2 contains a reference to 'the sons of Zebedee' as two of seven individuals (two others remain altogether unnamed) among whom the beloved disciple is numbered (cf. v. 7). But James, the brother of John, was martyred in AD 44 (cf. Acts 12:1-2), much too early for him to have authored this Gospel. That leaves John as the only likely candidate, precisely as early church tradition declared. The more difficult question to answer is if the logic just set out is the same as that which led to the early30 church tradition (so, e.g. Casey 1996:164-170) or if it is also based on actual historical information. The Fourth Gospel, after all, never identifies an inner trio as closer to Jesus than other disciples. Interestingly, as D. M. Smith (1999:26) observes, this Gospel omits those episodes in which the Synoptics describe John playing a role (Mark 1:16-20, 29-32; 3:13-19; 5:35-43; 9:2-8; 10:35-41; 13:3; 14:32-42).Smith seems to think that this tells against Johannine authorship, but it is hard to be sure. None of these passages falls within the scope of the geographical and theological outline that governs the Fourth Gospel (see below, p. 55) and several do not really portray much at all about John.
A stronger argument leads to the fifth and final stage of the discussion. It involves the complete absence from the Fourth Gospel of the name John as a reference to anyone other than the Baptist. Yet unlike the Synoptics, the Fourth Gospel never calls this John 'the Baptist', but simply 'John' (1:6, 15, 19, 26, 28, etc.). If the apostle by the same name were writing to a specific community who knew him well and knew that the Gospel came from him, this silence would be readily understandable. Then, as the Gospel circulated, and eventually became combined with the Synoptics in a fourfold collection, the title 'according to John' would naturally have been added.It is normally assumed that none of the Gospel autographs would have contained the titles found later in the time from which relatively complete Gospel manuscripts have been preserved (beginning in the third century). After all, only as one Gospel began to be compared and combined with another would the need to distinguish them arise, and it is unlikely that all four documents independently would have been labeled identically: 'The Gospel according to—'. But see now Hengel (2000:50-58, 78-106), who argues; plausibly that Mark, or a very early copyist, may have coined the title, and that the other Evangelists consciously imitated this convention. But if the Gospel were written by anyone else named John (e.g. 'John the elder'), how could it introduce the Baptist without any qualification and expect people not to confuse him with the apostle by the same name? Or, with much modern scholarship, if the Gospel were penned partly or wholly by one or more of John's later disciples, surely they too would have wanted to distinguish these two Johns and highlight the involvement of their revered master (cf. Morris 1969:277).This argument has also at times been linked with the claim that John's modesty led him not to include his own name in the narrative, but Rese (1996) has correctly replied that calling oneself a disciple particularly beloved by Jesus is not a normal sign of modesty.
It is also possible, however, that the author of this Gospel was one of the two anonymous disciples of 21:2. This hypothesis has often led to linking this individual with the anonymous disciple and companion of Andrew31 mentioned in 1:35, 40 and with the equally anonymous disciple and companion of Peter known to the high priest (18:15-18). These three passages, then, are often assumed to be further references to the beloved disciple, who is to be distinguished from the sons of Zebedee (cf. esp. R. E. Brown 1979:31-34; Schnackenburg 1982:383-387). If Johannine authorship be rejected, this is probably the strongest alternative. The author would still have been an intimate, eyewitness companion of Christ, possibly one of the Twelve not otherwise named in John (i.e. other than Jude, Judas Iscariot, Thomas, Peter, Philip or the sons of Zebedee) or possibly another close friend like Lazarus (see esp. 11:2 and cf. Eller 1987).Baltz (1996) has written a very short book, also defending Lazarus as author. But the vast majority of his arguments work for John as well, and he has not provided convincing evidence for rejecting this tradition. The same is true of the conservative apologetic for historicity that he believes results from his work. But the fact that the author goes out of his way to refer to one of Jesus' followers as 'beloved' in five different settings suggests that if he wanted his readers to link these other references about anonymous disciples to himself he could easily have used the same language in all eight passages. That he did not may well suggest that we are not meant to equate them. It would appear, then, that all five parts of Westcott's argument remain plausible, when appropriately nuanced, even today (so also Bruce 1983:1-6; Carson 1991:68-81; Morris 1995:4-25).
Why, then, is Johannine authorship almost universally rejected among more critical scholarship? The answer involves a sometimes lengthy list of objections as to why the son of Zebedee could not have penned this Gospel (cf. Parker 1962; Muñoz-León 1987 [who defends Johannine authorship against each objection]; Culpepper 1994:74-76; Charlesworth 1995:197-213). I have combined a number of them together and categorized them under nine headings. Other arguments belong elsewhere.For example, that John was martyred too early to have authored this Gospel, which will be dealt with under the discussion of dating below, or that the 'beloved disciple' passages are interpolations, which belongs under source criticism.
1. Because so much of the synoptic portrait of Christ is missing in John, and what is included is so different, it is alleged that an apostle close to Jesus could not have written this Gospel. This argument, of course, presupposes that John did not have good theological and/or literary reasons for omitting much of what he knew and for including what he did, or that32 the only way a credible Gospel could be compiled was by including certain episodes lacking in John. We shall see below that both of these presuppositions are unfounded (pp. 54-56). Indeed, the argument is more pertinent to the issue of historicity than to authorship. The more one inclines to attribute the Fourth Gospel to a 'lesser light' than the apostle John, the more difficult it is to explain that author's willingness to paint a portrait that differed from central and widely known details of the earliest Christian proclamation of the gospel.
2. That John the apostle appears by name nowhere in the Fourth Gospel is frequently believed to count against Johannine authorship. This may be combined with the charge that no apostle would dare to refer to himself as a disciple especially beloved by the Lord. But the 'beloved disciple' passages are all in the third person and read more naturally as the work of a final redactor separate from the author of the bulk of the work (see below, pp. 37-38). And we have already seen that there is no reason for John's name to appear in the text if he were already well known to his original audience. It is more difficult to imagine someone other than John willing to compile a work that could easily lead to the assumption of Johannine origin and yet say nothing more explicitly about that apostle.
Casey (1996:144-149), thinking he is arguing against apostolic authorship and for pseudepigraphy, highlights the extensive Hebrew tradition (in both Scripture and intertestamental literature) of documents whose authors' real names never appear in the text. But in fact Casey assumes what has never been conclusively demonstrated- that any of the ancient Hebrew canon was pseudepigraphical (cf, e.g. Beckwith 1985:346-358). Demonstrable examples of pseudepigraphy appear only in the intertestamental literature, while numerous examples of anonymous authorship appear in the Hebrew canon. This is precisely the situation one finds with the four Gospels, which should thus not cause surprise. When later writers wanted to garner authority for Old or New Testament apocryphal documents they usually attributed them to a key Jewish or Christian figure within the text of that document itself. One would have expected this, were the Fourth Gospel penned by a later follower of the apostle John; as it stands, the silence of the Gospel is more consistent with apostolic authorship.
3. Some argue that because John's Gospel is written in a serene tone, emphasizing key themes of love and unity, it could not have come from one of the 'sons of Thunder' (the nickname for James and John in Mark 3:17), who are thus believed to have been wrathful and emotional. John was interested in apocalyptic, they say, hoping to call down fire from33 heaven on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54) and wanting to sit at Jesus' right hand in his coming kingdom (Mark 10:35—45). If the beloved disciple were John, then he would not be portrayed as more passive than Peter, as a quiet bystander at the cross, and so on. But this argument has so many holes in it that it is difficult to believe that it is still seriously promoted! Nicknames do not demonstrate constant personality traits; the Synoptics provide far too little information for one to pontificate as to how a disciple could or could not behave in any given situation, and Acts regularly portrays John as Peter's less obtrusive 'right-hand man' (Acts 3:1, 3, 11; 4:13, 19; 8:14; cf. also Gal. 2:9). John had decades to mature as a Christian before writing this Gospel, so that two or three unrelated synoptic texts describing potentially impetuous behaviour are meaningless for determining the identity of an author of a later biography that centred on a different individual altogether—Jesus.
4. A variety of arguments compare the Fourth Gospel with the other putative Johannine literature - 1,2 and 3 John, and Revelation. Only in Revelation does the name John actually occur (__Rev__1:1, 4, 9, etc.); but some find the style of the Gospel too different from the apocalypse to have been written by the same person. Yet large numbers of critical scholars think the 'John of Revelation to be an otherwise unknown prophet or seer. Others still defend apostolic authorship but are more impressed by the linguistic similarities with the Gospel. So, too, some find the anti-Gnosticism of the epistles clearer than in the Gospel and thus give more credence to the external testimony about the circumstances of the apostle John writing 1, 2 and 3 John than to that same testimony about him authoring the Gospel. Others point to the title 'elder' in the opening verses of 2 and 3 John as proof that 'John the elder' wrote the epistles. Debate then proceeds as to whether the Gospel is stylistically similar enough to warrant a similar ascription of authorship there. Sooner or later every one of these arguments is cancelled out by another. None makes it any more or less likely that the son of Zebedee wrote the Fourth Gospel.For elaboration on and representatives of each of these various positions, see any of the standard New Testament introductions. Particularly helpful now is R. E. Brown 1997, especially because he built on a lifetime of Johannine research and commentary writing.
5. Equally unfounded are allegations that John the apostle was illiterate or too uneducated, culturally backward, or philosophically unsophisticated as a Galilean fisherman to have written the Gospel that now bears his name. Acts 4:13 implies only that the apostles did not have the advanced,34 theological education that prepared one to become a rabbi (see Witherington 1998:195-196). Jewish boys for the most part did learn to read and write Hebrew and/or Aramaic and studied Scripture intensively in a primary school education from roughly the ages of five to twelve (Riesner 1980). Alan Millard (2000) has recently demonstrated how pervasive reading and writing were in Jesus' world, even in Greek, contrary to the claims of many. It is entirely credible that John the apostle could have learned considerable Greek, with or without formal education, over a possible seventy-year period of multicultural ministry in several parts of the Roman empire. On the other hand, the Greek of the Gospel of John ranks among the simplest of the New Testament Greek texts—precisely what one might expect from someone who learned it as a second language and never mastered it with the fluency of a native Greek speaker.
6. The detailed knowledge of geography and topography in the Fourth Gospel appears most clearly with respect to Judea and Jerusalem. Therefore, some argue that the author of this work must have been Judean not Galilean. This argument might carry some small weight if one had already determined that the Gospel were a literary fiction. As it stands, it professes to be a historical account of the ministry of Jesus, in which the author accompanied Jesus most of the time and would have been told about other events that he did not witness. Accuracy of narration demonstrates nothing about the geographical origin of the author, but merely about his access to reliable sources, including perhaps his own memory.Casey (1996:172—174) scornfully dismisses Carson's and Morris's arguments for the Palestinian Jewish nature of the author of the Fourth Gospel based on his accurate knowledge of places and customs in Israel. To the extent that Casey's argument has any force, it boomerangs to undercut the critical consensus that precisely this same information demonstrates a Judean rather than Galilean home for the author.
7. The Synoptics claim that all the disciples forsook Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:50 par.), whereas the Fourth Gospel depicts the beloved disciple present with Mary, Jesus' mother, at the crucifixion (John 19:26). But the Synoptics also all recognize that Peter, at least, returned to follow Jesus to the high priest's courtyard (Mark 14:54 pars.), so who knows where else various apostles went after leaving Gethsemane? One may infer nothing about the presence or absence of any of the disciples from the crowds observing the crucifixion the next day simply because the Synoptics explicitly refer only to certain women there.35
8. The apparent rivalry between Peter and the beloved disciple in John 20—21 seems inappropriate if that disciple is John. But this way of putting things can mislead. It is true that many have deduced some tension in the church at the end of the first century (one wing supporting Peter and another John) to account for the inclusion of these episodes, but even this scarcely proves actual animosity between the two apostles sixty years earlier. And nothing in the text of John itself suggests any discord between the two men.
9. Probably the strongest argument (perhaps the only strong argument) involves the question of whether a Galilean fisherman could have been so well known and influential in Jerusalem to gain access to the high priest's courtyard and feel safe there while his master was on trial for his life (John 18:15-16). On the other hand, this objection plays down the evidence that the family of Zebedee may have been more well-to-do than is often imagined; they at least have 'hired men'- in the plural (Mark 1:20). Given that Jerusalem relied on its fish supply from Galilee, it is only natural to assume that the wealthier fishermen would have had the most access to the homes of the elite in Judea (cf. Charlesworth 1995:56). It is also at least suggestive to observe that if one be permitted to 'harmonize' the list of women standing by the cross in the various Gospels, the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:25) is equated with Salome, the mother of James and John (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40). But Luke 1:36 also calls Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah the priest and herself a descendant of Aaron (v. 5), a relative of Mary. The upshot is that the sons of Zebedee were relatives to at least one priestly family in Judea (v. 39). It is not impossible that such connections led to some kind of acquaintance with the household of Caiaphas (cf. J. A. T. Robinson 1985:119-122).
Moreover, all of this is predicated on the assumption that the anonymous companion of Peter in John 18:15—16 is the same as the beloved disciple, a premise we have already seen is by no means secure. If this person is a separate individual, then the entire objection collapses. Despite glib and even inaccurate generalizations to the contrary,E.g. O'Grady (1982:54): 'Gone forever are the days when Christians thought of John, the Son Zebedee [sic], sitting down in his old age and composing in a coherent and detailed manner his reflections on the meaning of Jesus and his teaching.' the internal evidence against Johannine authorship appears remarkably weak.