|Introduction to the
Gospel of John
The fourth book in the New Testament is The Gospel According to John.
William Smith, in his Bible dictionary, states: “No doubt has been
entertained at any time in the Church, either of the canonical authority of
this Gospel, or of its being written by St. John.”
Even the modernists, Spivey and Smith, in their ANATOMY OF THE NEW
TESTAMENT [MacMillan Pub. Co., Inc.: New York; c. 1974) admit: “According
to the ancient and general accepted tradition of the church, dating at least
as far back as the end of the second century, the Fourth Gospel is the work
of the apostle John (presumably the son of Zebedee, although this is not
always clearly stated in the early sources), who lived to a ripe old age in the
city of Ephesus and composed the Gospel while residing there.” (p. 429)
B.W. Johnson remarks, in THE PEOPLE’S NEW TESTAMENT WITH NOTES
[Vol. I; p. 322]: “THE AUTHOR of the Fourth Gospel was John, the son of
Zebedee and Salome, the brother of James, in early life a Glilean fisherman,
but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ. In less than a hundred years after
his death Christian writers living in different quarters of the world, whose
writings are still extant, show us that this was the universal belief of the
church. Indeed, the testimony to the authorship is stronger than can be
furnished that Josephus wrote his Jewish history, that Caesar wrote his
Commentaries, or in behalf of any uninspired writing of antiquity, and would
never have been questioned had not a class of rationalistic critics arisen
who wished to set aside the lofty views of the personality and mission of the
Savior which are so prominent a feature of the Fourth Gospel. We know
from John 21:24, that it is written by an eye-witness and by a beloved
disciple. There were only three disciples who were admitted to the most
intimate relations with Jesus – Peter, James and John. As it was not written
by either of the first two, John must be the author. So the early church
Clement of Alexandria (165-220 a.d.) said: “Last of all, John, observing that
in the other Gospels, these things were related that concerned the body [of
Christ], and being persuaded by his friends and also moved by the Spirit of
God, wrote a spiritual Gospel.”
J.W. McGarvey notes six reasons modernists reject John’s authorship, in his
classic defense of the New Testament’s integrity and veracity, EVIDENCES
OF CHRISTIANITY: 1) the author was not a Jew [?]l 2) the difference
between the John of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the
author; 3) the differences between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics; 4)
the difference between the speech of Jesus in the fourth Gospel and in the
other three; 5) the difference in the style of speeches here and elsewhere;
and, 6) the style differes from the Apocalypse. Each of these in turn are
shown to be totally fallacious in reasons. These “reasons” are more
imagination than fact.
Spivey and Smith, after noting all the objections that the twentieth century
has derived (which are no different than those of the nineteenth century),
reluctantly admit the book has to be dealt with in its present form as the
work of the apostle John.
Thus, regardless of the century, there is no reason to doubt the authorship
of John for the Fourth Gospel. Clearly and demonstrably the apostle John,
the son of Zebedee, is the author.
The apostle John was the son of Zebedee and Salome. His brother, James,
was also a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ. From John 19:25 and Mark
15:40-41 some have surmised John to be the cousin of Jesus and John the
Baptist (his mother, Salome, being the sister of Mary); but, this is uncertain.
Although noted in later life as “the apostle of love,” John – along with his
brother James – are surnamed by Jesus “Boanerges, which is, The sons of
thunder” (Mark 3:16). This undoubtedly referring to their love of the pre-
eminence and quick temper (Luke 9:51-56; Mark 10:35-40).
The fourth Gospel humbly refers to John as “the disciple whom Jesus
loved.” He was a part of what some have referred to as the “inner council”
in being present at the chamber of death (Mark 5:35-43), at the
Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9), at the conversation foretelling the
destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:1-31), and at the garden of Gethsemane
(Matthew 25:36-46). He also is the first to the empty grave following the
resurrection (John 20:1-10).
He is spoken in connection with Peter in the book of Acts, being present in
Jerusalem and in Samaria.
Later, in the book of Revelation, we find John exiled on the isle of Patmos
for preaching Christ.
For what else is told concerning the life of John, the uncertainty of tradition
becomes the source. It is said that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem he
went to Ephesus, and from there to Rome. At Tome, John is said to have
been placed in boiling oil from which he is miraculously preserved unhurt.
He then returned to Ephesus where he wrote I, II, & III John to meet the rising
heresies in the church. He is said to die somewhere between 89 and 120 a.d.
The later date seems to be more likely.
The date of composition assigned to the fourth Gospel depends upon the
view one takes of the authorship. Those who reject the apostle John as the
author generally place the date at 140-175 a.d. Besides the considerations
noted under AUTHOR, the papyri discoveries of the twentieth century (the
Ryland Fragments, etc.) show these dates to be unlikely to impossible. Those
who accept John’s authorship generally place the writing of the Fourth
Gospel between 80-100 a.d.; however, Edwin R. Goodenough gives a date of
40 a.d. The later date of 80-100 a.d. seems to carry the greatest amount of
evidence. Irenaeus, who is reported to have been instructed by Polycarp,
who was reported to have been instructed by the apostle John, says the
Fourth Gospel was written at Ephesus after the other three. This re-
enforces the position of the later date.
The acceptance of the fourth Gospel into the canon of scripture does not
seem to be questioned by any. Although the authorship has been
questioned in the last century, the place of John in the canon of the New
Testament does not seem to have received the same force of criticism. It is
an established part of the canon, verified by early writers: Justin Martyr
(140 a.d.), the Muratorian Canon (150 a.d.), the Syriac Peshitta (150-250 a.
d.), Tertullian (160-240 a.d.), Clement of Alexandria (165-220 a.d.), Irenaeus
(170 a.d.), Papius, Origen (185-224 a.d.), the Old Latin Africanus (170 a.d.),
Eusebius (270-340 a.d.), Cyril (315-386 a.d.), Athanasius (3226-373 a.d.),
Cheltenham (360 a.d.), Carthage (397 a.d.), and Hippo (417 a.d.).
There is no reason to question the position of The Gospel According To
John in the canon of the New Testament. It came from the pen of an inspired
apostle of Jesus Christ: it is a part of the word of God.