The Expository Files.


The Authenticity of the Gospel of John


The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries marked by a celebration of the powers of human reason, a keen interest in science, the promotion of religious tolerance and an attitude of unbelief in the supernatural. During this period various attitudes regarding the Bible and religion developed which we would today identify with modernism and humanism. Part of this "Enlightenment" was to question the integrity of the Bible, and in particular to raise questions about the New Testament account of Jesus & the gospel of John specifically. Regarding the gospel of John, Horne said: "Its authenticity has been questioned by Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Grotius, LeClerc, Wetstein, Semler, Schulze, Morus, Haenlein, Paulus, Schmidt, and various other writers who are mentioned by Wolfius, and by Koecher..." (Introduction to the Scriptures, Baker, 1970, Horne).

More recently and in our time there is the Jesus Seminar; a group of New Testament scholars who met first in 1985, and have worked together periodically since then using the tools and methods of modernism to call into question almost everything the New Testament says about the Lord, and
continue the unjustified attack on the book of John. These men have "voted out" the book of John.

These men began with certain assumptions. Josh McDowell deals with this in a chapter titled: "The Presupposition of Anti-supernaturalism," (More Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p.#3). Many, McDowell observes, "...are led astray because of conclusions that are allegedly based upon objective historical or literary investigation and method. However, in reality, the conclusions are the result of a subjective world view." (p.#3). McDowell uses the term "Anti-supernaturalism" --- "...disbelief either in God's existence or His intervention in the natural order of the universe." So, these men begin with their long ingrained intellectual assumptions; those assumptions determine and shape their methods - they invent this Jesus, and He becomes an advocate of their worldview. In order to do all this, they must reject the book of John.

It is not a matter of the synoptic problem, a question of dating, evidence or literary structure. It seems to me the real problem with the gospel of John is - THE STRAIGHTFORWARD AND REPEATED CLAIMS MADE ABOUT WHO JESUS IS! Remember, we are talking about a group of men who assume Jesus is not Deity. Or, they define His deity is such a manner, there is no uniqueness to Him. Some border on a New Age definition of Deity. If you begin with these assumptions of unbelief - if you have a bias you are working from that is (as Josh McDowell says) anti-supernatural, I believe your problem with John will not be literary, but doctrinal not objective, but subjective.

External Testimony

Early "church tradition" is unanimous in ascribing the fourth gospel to John. Ireneus (c. A.D. 130-202) was the first to name the gospel of John and said that it was written after the other gospels from Ephesus.

John was either cited or named as authentic during the first four centuries by the following:

Clement of Rome (c. 95-97)
Ignatius, in 110 quoted Jno. 3:8
Polycarp (110-150)
Basilides, in 120 AD quoted Jno. 1:9
Papias (c.130-40)
Irenaeus (c.130-202)
Justin Martyr (c.150-155)
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-215)
Tertullian (c.150-220)
The Muratorian Fragment (c.170-200)
The Latin Marcionite Prologue (c.200)
Origen (c.185-254)
Cyril of Jerusalem (c.315-386)
Eusebius (c.325-340)
Jerome (c.340-420)
Augustine (c.400)

Eusebius specifically identified John with the Gospel which bears his name and he classified the gospel without hesitation as being among "the undisputed writings." External evidence leads to the conclusion that what we call "the gospel of John" is the authentic writing of the apostle John. Westcott declared: "All the evidence points in one direction. There is not, with one questionable exception, any positive indication that doubt was anywhere thrown upon the authenticity of this book." (The Gospel According to Saint John, B.C. Westcott, p. xxxii).

Internal Evidence

The information from within the Gospel itself supports the universal tradition of the "early church fathers" who assigned the work to the Apostle John:

The author was a Jew. He understood and quoted from the Old Testament (12:40;13:18; 19:37). He knew and understood Jewish customs (2:1-10; 3:25; 11:55; 11:38,44; 19:40). He knew and understood the Jewish expectation of the coming Messiah (1:19-18). He was aware of the religious differences between Jews and Samaritans (4:9,20). The writer was a Jew. A Jew from Palestine. He knew the pool of Bethesda had five porches (5:2). {Archaeologists have unearthed the five porticoes of the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate. Among many scholars who were not asked to participate in the Jesus Seminar, there is a new consensus of confidence in John due to these recent discoveries. Some have even asserted that John's record is more reliable than the synoptics (Smalley, quoted in THE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS, by France, p.#131)}. But further, he knew that Bethany was only fifteen furlongs away from Jerusalem (11:18). He knew that Ephraim was near the wilderness (11:54). He knew that the Garden of Gethsemane was on the other side of the brook Kidron (18:1). He knew that there was a paved area outside of the praetorium (19:13). He was aware of the region of Samaria and that Jacob's well was located in Sychar (4:5-6), and that it was deep (4:11). Again, archaeologists have found this well. He knew about the sacred mountain of Samaritan worship (4:20-21). He was aware of Galilee (1:44,46; 2:1,2). Another interesting feature of John is that, when compared with the Synoptics, his Gospel consistently gives more references to chronology, geography, topography, and the like. As recently as 1961 an inscription was discovered in Caesarea, providing for the first time extra-biblical corroboration of Pilate as Judea's prefect during the time of Christ.

Also, the writer was an eye-witness of what happened. He does not state his name, but there are traces of his own hand in the gospel. "We beheld his glory," (1:14). He knew the number of pots used at the wedding at Cana (2:6). He knew the value of the anointing perfume (12:5). He was at the crucifixion (19:33-35). He knew the distance from the shore of the apostles boat and the number of fish caught (21:8,11). "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true," (21:24).

So the writer was a Jew from Palestine, who was an eye-witness and he was a master of accuracy in chronology,
geography and history. Also, an apostle, "whom Jesus loved." He refers to himself often as the disciple whom Jesus loved (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). The identity of this "one whom Jesus loved" is narrowed down to be John from the following --

(a) From 21:7, the "disciple" may be identified as one of the seven persons mentioned in 21:2.

- Simon Peter
- Thomas called the Twin
- Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee
- The sons of Zebedee
- Two others

(b) He must be one of the Twelve since only they were with the Lord at the lastsupper (Jno. 13:23-24; cf. Mk. 14:17; Lk. 22:14).

(c) He is not Peter: - He sat next to the Lord at the last supper, and Peter motioned to him (13:23-24). - His future is distinguished from Peter's (21:20ff).

(d) He is closely related to Peter and thus seems to be one of the inner three {James, John, Peter} (20:2-10; cf. Mrk. 5:37-38; 9:2-3;14:33).

(e) James (John's brother) died in AD 44, therefore, he was not the author (Acts 12:2).

(f) Therefore, if it is true that he was an apostle, and one of the inner three, and he was not Peter, or James, then he must have been the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee.

Internal evidence leads to the conclusion that what we call "the gospel of John" is the authentic writing of the apostle John. Luke wrote that "with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all," (Acts 4:33). One manifestation of this great power was the gospel of John. In this marvelous work we discover the same Messiah promised by the prophets ... the same King introduced by Matthew ... the same Servant we learn to trust in Mark ... the same Man we long to be like in Luke.

By Warren E. Berkley
The Front Page
From Expository Files 5.7; July 1998