Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Did John Write the Fourth Gospel?

Since today is the feast of St. John the Apostle, I thought I'd look at a question many will be talking about: Is the Fourth Gospel written by John?

I've written on this before, but I thought I'd revisit this again in two posts today. Indeed, I've been revisiting this material lately. I am currently preparing for a graduate level course on the Gospel of John at JP Catholic, which I will be co-teaching with Dr. Scott Hahn at JP Catholic.

Patristic Sources

Once again, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the weight of the earliest testimony regarding the question of authorship.

Clearly the unanimous testimony of the early Church was that John the Apostle wrote the book. Two of the clearest references are found in Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment.

“Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”--Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4 (~180 A.D.)

"The fourth of the Gospels, that of John, (one) of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops urged him, he said: Fast with me from today for three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us relate to one another. In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that, whilst all were to go over (it), John in his own nameshould write everything down."--Muratorian Canon (late 2nd cent. [?])

Other writers who support this view include Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

In addition, we should note that there is absolutely no manuscript of the Gospel which attributes authorship to anyone else. I think this is far too often overlooked.

But does the testimony of the early Church fit the internal evidence? I think so.

Eye-witness status of the author. 

The Gospel seems to have been written by someone who claimed to be an eye-witness to the public ministry of Jesus. In some cases this is explicitly stated:
  • "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… we have beheld his glory…" (John 1:14).
  • "He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe." (John 19:35)
Other passage seem to be most intelligibly read as eye-witness testimony. Take, for example, John 13:
One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; 24 so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” 25 So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night. (John 13:23-30)
In my view, the recounting of the "beckoning" gesture of Peter is highly suggestive of eye-witnesse testimony. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that the description of the apostles' assumptions regarding Judas' activity at the Last Supper was meant to be read in a way that did not involve recognition of the author's presence in the Upper Room.

Added details

There are stories in the Fourth Gospel which appear in the Synopticsbut there is also the appearance of added details, which simply cannot be explained away as theological symbolism.
  • Jesus multiplied five barley loaves (John 6:9)
  • In the account of Jesus walking on the water John includes a mention of the distance rowed by the disciples across the Sea of Galilee ("twenty five or thirty stadia," John 6:19)
  • In the account of the anointing at Bethany, the odor of the woman’s anointing filled the house (John 12:3). 
  • The reaction of the soldiers in the garden to his statement, “I AM” (John 18:6)
  • The weight of spices brought to Jesus' tomb as about a hundred pounds (John 19:39). 
  • There were also the six stone jars at the wedding in Cana (John 2:9).
  • In John 21, there is the number of fish caught (153) and the distance the boat was from the land (about a hundred yards), on the occasion of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples (21:8, 11). 
  • In addition, we find some inside information about the reactions of the disciples (e.g. 2:11 f.; 4:27; 6:19; 12:16; 13:22 f.) and of the Lord himself (cf. 2:11, 24; 6:15, 61; 13:1). 
Again, I think all of this is highly suggestive of eye-witness testimony.

Familiarity with Jewish Beliefs and Palestinian Geography

The author has a remarkable knowledge of Jewish religious beliefs and attention to cultic concerns:
There is also his knowledge of Palestinian geography:
  • Knowledge of two Bethanys (John 1:28; John 12:1)
  • Awareness of Aenon near Salim (John 3:23)
  • Attention to  Cana in Galilee (John 2:1; John 4:46; John 21:2)
  • "Tiberias" as an alternative name for the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1; John 21:1)
  • Sychar near Shechem (John 4:5)
  • Mt. Gerizim's location near a well (John 4:21)
  • Ephraim near the wilderness (John 11:54)
  • The mention of the pool of Siloam (John 9:7). 
It seems clear that the Gospel is written by a Palestinian with Israelite stock.

The "Beloved Disciple" and the Inner Circle.

An an important passage in determining authorship comes at the end of the Gospel:
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”… 24 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. (John 21:20-24)
Of course, different scholars have put forth different theories. One line of thought has pointed to the rich young ruler in Mark's Gospel, of whom it is said that Jesus “loved him” (Mark 10:21). Another has suggested that the author is Lazarus (=John 11:3: “he whom you love”).

Yet, it is clear that the author is most likely one of the seven mentioned in chapter 21.
"After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberi-as; and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathana-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together." (John 21:1-2)
From this list, it would make most sense to suppose that the "beloved disciple"--the author of the Gospel--is one of the sons of Zebedee or one of the two other disciples.

The Beloved Disciple's Association with Peter

It is interesting to note that, with one exception (John 19:26-27), this disciple is always associated with Peter (in addition to below, see John 13:23-30 above).

An example of this is found in John 20:1-10.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. (John 20:1-10)
In the Synoptic Gospels it seems clear that Peter along with James and John make up a kind of "inner circle". In addition to the Transfiguration, where Jesus takes these three up the mountain (cf. Matt 17:1//Mark 9:2//Luke 9:28), we could mention other passages.
  • While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James… (Mark 5:35-43)
  • And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. (Mark 13:32-33)

Indeed, from the Synoptic tradition is appears that Jesus gave Peter, James and John special attention. It would be natural to expect that the Fourth Gospel's "Beloved Disciple," who has a special relationship with Jesus, is likely one of these three.

Now, it has been noted that the "Beloved Disciple" is virtually always associated with Peter. In connection with this should also be noticed that Luke seems to frequently associate Peter and John.
  • When came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-13)
  • Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. (Acts 3:1)
  • Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man that had been healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:13, 19).
  • Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John… (Acts 8:14).
If the "Beloved Disciple" is one of the three in the inner circle, I think it makes most sense to see him as John the Apostle, which beautifully dovetails with the overwhelming testimony of the Church fathers. Having carefully considering the internal evidence in the past few days, I can't find a good reason for denying their testimony.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I want to say that, at first blush, it would seem that the "academically responsible" approach would be to remain noncommittal about Johannine authorship. However, I'm coming to the conclusion that the opposite is true. Hedging on Johannine authorship seems to betray an unwillingness to acknowledge the coherence of the early testimony with the internal evidence.

One wonders if such reluctance is motivated by other concerns. Clearly, asserting that someone like the rich young ruler is the author of the Fourth Gospel seems to stretch the limits of credulity. Rather, it would seem the unanimous patristic witness was reliable when it held that the Gospel the manuscripts all call "The Gospel According to John" was written by, well... er, John.

Now, admittedly, a major issue here is the question of the authenticity of chapter 21, that is, the question of whether or not this was originally part of the Gospel or whether it constitutes a later addition.

That's for a follow-up post (coming later today).

30 comments:

Therese said...

Thanks for posting this, Dr. Barber! It answers many questions!

Alfredo said...

One other detail that has always struck me: Specifying the hour of the day ("about the tenth hour") that Andrew and John met Jesus (1:39). It's like remembering the time and place at which you first met your spouse.

Michael Barber said...

Thanks for all the kind comments.

Alfredo: That is great. I should have included that!

Brian said...

It always seems like none of these evidences are tied up in a compelling, rigorous argument, using epistemological methods and so on.

Nick Childers said...

Brian, you'll happy to know that the Holy Spirit is behind Sacred Tradition, which includes the truth that Saint John wrote the fourth Gospel.

Here's a link to the Catholicity Wiki on the four Gospels: The Gospels.

Nick said...

I love this kind of exegetical and patristic study, because the evidence truly is decisive.

That said, I think it's important to point out the Church has definitively spoken on this subject, so the days of defaulting to 'unknown authorship' are not only over, they've been rejected.

Saint Pius X wrote a major Encyclical called Lamentabili Sane:
http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10lamen.htm

Here are some errors the Pope told Catholics to avoid:

-16. The narrations of John are not properly history, but a mystical contemplation of the Gospel.

-18. John claims for himself the quality of witness concerning Christ. In reality, however, he is only a distinguished witness of the Christian life, or of the life of Christ in the Church at the close of the first century.

Also, many forget about the Infallibility of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium - which means a teaching is infallible in light of the fact it's universally been testified to. And the authorship of the Gospels is a good example of that.

Yahnatan said...

Dr. Barber,

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I remember a lecture from Ben Witherington on Lazarus as the beloved disciple which was quite engaging--if you had the time to engage it, I would be very interested!

Rouxfus said...

In the Challoner edition of the Douay-Rheims bible (Baronius Press, MMV) the preface to the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St. John relates the following:

"St. Jerome relates, that when he was earnestly requested by the brethren to write the Gospel, he answered he would do it, if, by ordering a common fast, they would all put up their prayers together to the Almighty God; which, being ended, replenished with the clearest and fullest revelation coming from Heaven, he burst forth into that preface: 'In the beginning was the Word, &c.'"

Gabriel Austin said...

What is the reason for doubting an ancient tradition? If I say that I am the son of my mother, would it not be up to others to prove the contrary?

helgothjb said...

But, if St. John wrote the Gospel then that means that Jesus actually prophesied about the destruction of the destruction before it happened and we moderns all know that is impossible!

Edgewise said...

Dr. Barber:

I've yet to see addressed the question of [apparent?] "literary seams" in John's Gospel.

http://bit.ly/tktWR1

By any chance, have you addressed this earlier? If not, then what's your take on this?

Thanks in advance.

PS:
On a somewhat-related note, what's your take on the scholarship of Bart Ehrman?

Edgewise said...

What is the reason for doubting an ancient tradition? If I say that I am the son of my mother, would it not be up to others to prove the contrary?

Well, Mr. Austin, at least 2 possible things to take into consideration:

1)People can lie.
2)People can make mistakes.

Might the recent bizarre spectacle in North Korea serve as at least one example (even if, arguably, a rather "extreme" one) of how *far* lies and/or mistakes can go within a society?

*Notwithstanding* what was said to the apostle Thomas, I think the only real safeguard against this sort of nonsense is to take *nothing* for granted and question and test things to the extreme.

Then again, maybe someone might argue that I'm looking at things from the wrong angle--so, if anyone disagrees, I invite an explanation as to why.
(Thanks in advance...)

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Nick, you are certainly right that the the universal and ordinary Magisterium is infallible, according to the Church of the Roman Catholic. This is confirmed by Lumen gentium, 25.
I fully accept this, the same as you do. But it is not at all clear that the universal and ordinary Magisterium teaches that John of Zebedee wrote the Fourth Gospel. There are texts in the Magisterium that say that he is the witness, as does the Decree of the Inquisition Lamentabili sane, 18, but it doesn't say that the same witness wrote down the Gospel. To prove that, you need to go to John 21, where it say that the witness also wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Nick, I may need to add that it is true that Saint Pius X wrote a major Encyclical, but the encyclical is called Pascendi dominici gregis. The text that you are quoting is actually from a decree of the Sacred congregation of the Holy Office. Perhaps the name of your source misled you, as if everything it publishes were an encyclical. It is not: as you can see, it is signed the notary of the Congregation, not by the Pope himself. It is an act of Magisterium all the same, but not directly one of the Pope.

bk said...

The biblical evidence can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that John was not the unnamed "other disciple, whom Jesus loved" who wrote the fourth gospel.

TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com has a free eBook contrasting the biblical evidence on this unnamed disciple with the biblical facts about John if you care to see it.

In any case, one can set aside the authority of scripture and rely on opinions of men found in non-Bible sources, but if scripture is God-breathed, it is the better source.

Nick said...

Hi Marco,

I've never heard of this 'witness' versus 'author' distinction.

The fact the writing is historically testified as "John's Gospel" (as with the other 3 Gospels) is what I mean by ordinary and universal magisterium - everyone has always taught and believed this (until recent history with the rise of Liberal scholarship).

And when LS condemns the proposition that "The narrations of John are not properly history," it would be strange to interpret this as everything in John's Gospel is historically true except the name/title of the Gospel. Or, the Latin might be saying "The narrations of the man named John are not properly history". And how could LS18 say "John claims for himself the quality of witness" if John himself was passive (i.e. not the one making a claim)?

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Hi Nick,

you say that you never heard of my 'witness' versus 'author' distinction. Perhaps you mean that you had never thought that it could apply to the fourth Gospel.

You surely read the first 4 verses of Luke, where the author of the Gospel distinguishes between himself who writes and the eyewitnesses that are his source of information.

The dogmatic Costitution Lumen gentium elaborates on this in numbers 18-19. If you are interested in what the solemn Magisterium of the Church teaches about the Gospels, I suggest reading Lumen gentium in full.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Nick,

it is not the same for a thing to be historically testified or to be taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. There are many things that are historically testified and were never taught by the Magisterium.

For instance, Acts 18,21 says that when Paul went to Corinth the "proconsul" of Achaia was Gallio. We also know that this Gallio was the brother of Seneca. Acts doesn't say so. The Magisterium doesn't say so. Yet we know, because it is historically testified. Does the Catholic faith require that we believe that Gallio was Seneca's brother? No, it doesn't.

So, you can't say that because something is historically testified, it is also taught by the Magisterium and we need to believe it.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Nick,

you say that "when LS condemns the proposition that The narrations of John are not properly history, it would be strange to interpret this as everything in John's Gospel is historically true except the name/title of the Gospel."

This is easy. In the time when the Gospels were written, the title of a book was not part of the book. The manuscripts mostly (not always) have the title, but they change freely the wording. They don't feel free to do the same with the verses that follow (namely, from John 1:1 onwards). This means that the title was not considered part of the sacred text itself.
The wording which is most used is "according to John". This same wording is used in the 1st decree of the 4th session of the council of Trent, where the canon of the Bible as defined as a dogma.
There are different ways of understanding "according to John": you may think that John himself wrote it, or that the Gospel contains the witness of John. Both understanding are in full agreement with the Catholic faith.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Nick,

you ask "how could LS18 say "John claims for himself the quality of witness" if John himself was passive (i.e. not the one making a claim)?

You should be careful here. This is not what Lamentabili says, but rather it is part of a complex sentences that it condemns. You should not separate the first clause from what follows. Otherwise you would have the Lamentabili condemn the view that "John claims for himself the quality of witness". And this would be absurd, quod patet esse falsum.

What is properly condemned are the two clauses that follow: "however, he is actually only a distinguished witness of the Christian life, or of the life of Christ in the Church at the close of the first century".

According to the condemned clauses, the witness of 4th Gospel would not be a witness to Christ himself, but only to the later belief of the Church.

If we fully accept that the condemned clause are false, then we accept that the opposite is true: the 4th Gospel is based on the testimony of an eyewitness.

But I still contend that it is not the same to say that 4th Gospel contains the testimony of an eyewitness, and that the eyewitness himself wrote the Gospel.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

BK:

the book that you provide a link to sets Scripture against tradition, and calls to reject tradition as false.
This is clearly a blog written by Roman Catholics, and most of its readers are Roman Catholics. If I were you, I wouldn't add an anonymous comment to a book that opposes tradition as a truthful source, without even saying so in your post.

Nick said...

Hello Marco,

1) Your witness-author distinction from Luke doesn't apply to John's Gospel, since John isn't said to have done this. Luke admits to not being eye witness, collecting his information purely second hand. John reads as an eyewitness account, and the Church has always understood it like this.

2) I don't see anything in LG 18-19 that is relevant to this.

3) When I say historically testified to, I'm not talking secular historical facts but rather the historical testimony within the Fathers and other Church documents which state the Apostle Matthew wrote Matthew's Gospel, the Apostle John wrote John's Gospel, etc. Even in the liturgy we hear "A reading from the Gospel according to Saint John," which indicates the Church sees John as the author.

4) I know that the title of the book was not part of the original manuscript, which is precisely where Oral Tradition comes in. That book was preserved and considered inspired scripture precisely because Tradition states it came from the Apostle John. I'm saying LS is to be read as saying "The narrations of the Apostle John's testimony are not properly history," meaning it's a given that the Church sees the Apostle John as the author. Authorship is always what is understood, not who the witness was - there are many witnesses in each of the Gospels.

5) I don't see your objection to LS18. The statement "John claims for himself the quality of witness" is a true proposition, and this proposition is denied by the Modernist who says John was not a [direct] witness of Christ, but rather a popular early Christian who never actually met Christ.

Ultimately, I see no good reason for not seeing John as the author and every good reason for doing so. The fundamental reason the objection originated in the 1800s was because Liberal Protestantism couldn't accept the Bible was inspired and rather the man-made constructs of dreamers.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Nick,

your reasoning is often circular. But if you are not ready to acknowledge anything, then I think I will have to leave you to your opinion. May be others will see my point. Only, I suggest that you attack the thoughts of your opponents, and not their person. You are close to that when you suggest that they have no reason, apart from being influenced by Liberal Protestantism. This is name-calling, not sound reasoning.
There are very good catholics, that accept the teaching of the Church, and don't think that John son of Zebedee wrote the 4th Gospel. I am not one of them, but I respect them. The Pope does the same in his books. If you suggest read the pages about the Johannine question in his 1st Jesus of Nazareth book, you will find that much. If you look at the bibliography to that chapter, you will find Catholic authors that hold different views on this, even though they share the same faith.
I wish you all the best.

Nick said...

Marco,

This is my last post, but I want to make it clear I wasn't attacking you personally. It's a historical fact that the doubting of traditional authorship arose from Liberal Protestantism (with the express intent to 'de-inspire' the sacred books by showing them to be purely human constructs). Whether intentional or not, many of those very arguments are restated by otherwise well intentioned people even today.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

The argumentum ad hominem is a known fallacy. It consists of an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

From Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth 1 (The Johannine question): "This Gospel ultimately goes back to an eyewitness, and even the actual redaction of the text was substantially the work of one of his closest followers within the living circle of his disciples."
It would be wrong to quote this book as if it were the word of the Pope as Pope. But it is safe to say that the Pope wouldn't have published what he has, if he considered it dangerous for the Catholic faith.

The Deuce said...

Obviously secular liberal scholars deny John's authorship, since an actual eyewitness account of Jesus' miracles by one of the apostles is basically fatal to their position. As I understood it, the liberal position is that the gospel is a forgery meant to *look* like it was written by the Apostle John.

But, if I'm reading this right, are there seriously orthodox individuals arguing that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" wasn't even *meant* to be seen as John in the first place? Seriously people. The mere fact that something can't be absolutely disproven with absolute rigor of mathematical proof doesn't mean it's actually plausible.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

Yes, there are. I am not one of them, but I know many of them. They are good catholics, who believe in the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the seven Sacraments and so on. People who get up early to pray before Mass. People who kneel when they pray in their own room.

Marco V. Fabbri said...

It has been suggested that the Fourth Gospel is either a forgery meant to *look* like it was written by the Apostle John, or it was actually written by him.

This wouldn't be true even if the Gospel itself said that it is written by John, as there is a third possibility, which is pseudoepigraphy.

But the fact remains that the Gospel doesn't state that it is written by John, as the Apocalypse does, or as 2 Peter states it is written by Peter.
The Fourth Gospel is anonymous. Those who maintain that it was written by John of the twelve take pains to prove it. Michael does it, and I try to do the same in my classes.

Nobody takes pains to prove something which is self-evident.

Mac said...

Please see http://www.thedisciplewhomjesusloved.com/fourth-gospel-John-v-beloved-disciple/ for an analysis of this very topic.