[27] Supplementary Materials to the Background


1. Author


a.         Jn 21:24 “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and wrote them down,” referring to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is followed by “we know that his testimony is true,” a statement coming from others than the author. This commendation is quite early for no manuscript of the Gospel is known without it.

b.         For many centuries, the traditional and orthodox view is that the author is the Apostle John. The main historical evidence is that Iranaeus attributed the book to John. He got the source from Polycarp who in turn knew John personally.

c.         However, for the past two centuries, liberal scholars have tried to attack all aspects of the Bible. As a result, European scholars have long abandoned the idea that this Gospel was written by the Apostle John. Regrettably, in recent years, even British and American scholars have followed a similar path.

d.         Reasons for objection of John’s authorship: [inside brackets are arguments against objection]

·         the use of the Synoptics by the author [no clear evidence]

·         difference in style between John and the Synoptics [but there is no incompatibility; the Synoptics concentrate mostly on the public teaching of Jesus, while John concentrates mostly on informal teaching among His friends.]

·         most actions described were in Judea while John was a Galilean [but the emphasis was because Jerusalem is the place where the Messiah must be accepted or rejected]

·         the improbability that the Apostle John would have called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” [yet this is precisely the reason for John’s authorship]

·         some pre-Gnostic ideas [no clear evidence]

·         omission of transfiguration, Gethsemane, institution of the Holy Communion [but again, different emphasis in John]

e.         Most conservative Biblical scholars held Johannine authorship and held that other considerations outweighed any reasons for its rejection.

f.          Although the disciple is never named but the Gospel seems to indicate that he was John the Apostle because of a long list of reasons:

·         This disciple appeared to have close relationship with Jesus as he was reclining next to Him (13:23, 25) during the Last Supper.

·         When Jesus was on the cross, He commended His mother to this man’s care (19:26-27).

·         Since he is the only male follower of Jesus said to have been at the cross, he may well be the witness who saw the water and blood that came out of Jesus’ side (19:34-35).

·         On resurrection morning, he raced Peter to the empty tomb (20:2-8).

·         He recognized Jesus on the shore of the lake after the miraculous catch of fish (21:7).

·         He was the subject of Jesus’ words to Peter (21:20-22).

·         It is possible that he was the unnamed disciple who went with Andrew to Jesus at John the Baptist’s direction (1:35-40).

·         He was probably the “other disciple” who was “known to the high priest” and who brought Peter into the high priest’s courtyard (18:15-16).

·         It seems that the Beloved Disciple was one of the sons of Zebedee in 21:2.

·         He was present at the Last Supper and it seems that only the Twelve were present on that occasion (Mt 26:20; Mk 14:17, 20; Lk 22:14, 30).

·         He was in a close relationship with Peter (13:24; 20:2; 21:7), as Peter, James, and John formed a trio closest to Jesus and James was martyred early in church history (Ac 12:2). John was the only person in the trio not mentioned in the book.

·         He was certainly a Jew as he knew the connection of Elijah with Jewish messianic expectations (1:21), the low view held of women (4:27), the importance attaching to the religious school (7:15), the hostility between Jews and Samaritans (4:9), and the contempt the Pharisees had for ordinary people (7:49). He also knew Palestine well, such as the topography. Some people believe the Gospel was under Hellenistic (Greek) influence. However, recent discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls show that ideas and expressions formerly attributed to Greek thoughts were actually found among the Jews.

·         He was certainly an eyewitness as shown from many details, such as time of day (1:39; 4:6), call of the disciples (1:35-51), feetwashing (13:1-20), persons not mentioned elsewhere, such as Nicodemus, Lazarus. He also claims eyewitness testimony (1:14).

·         He had a good knowledge of the apostolic brand: words spoke among themselves (4:33; 16:17; 20:25; 21:3,7), thoughts (2:11,17,22; 4:27; 6:19,60-61), places they visited (11:54; 18:2), mistakes they made (2:21-22; 11:13; 12:16).

g.         Other suggestions as author include Lazarus, John Mark, or a second John called John the Elder [however, the evidence was based on Eusebius’s interpretation of one sentence in Papias; yet his interpretation was not convincing and was possibly biased as he disliked the apocalytic language of Revelation]. However, these suggestions do not satisfy the points listed above. Some suggest that the Gospel was written by a “school” or community of John [but the style does not look like a committee of authors, and such a community would certainly mention John in the book].


2. Date


a.         Traditionally, the date of the Gospel was thought to be the last decade of the 1st century (as Jerome placed John’s death in AD 98). Some liberal scholars even place the Gospel in the middle or the end of the 2nd century. However, with the discovery of the earliest papyrus (dated AD125) which was a fragment with verses of John (18:31-33,37-38), such late dating no longer stands.

b.         The reasons for the late dating include: [inside brackets are arguments against late dating]

·         Some point to the use of materials by John from the Synoptics (Mark and Luke). [But these are all conjecture without clear evidence.]

·         Some say that the Gospel singles out Jews as the enemies of the church and this occurred probably long after establishment of the church. [But Jewish opposition did not require a prolonged period of development.]

·         Some point to the advance state of theology which appears to use ideas from a variety of sources, including Greek philosophy. [But the Qumran scrolls show conclusively that many ideas previously regarded as Hellenistic actually circulated in Palestine before the time of Christ since Qumran was completely destroyed before AD70.]

·         Some point to the reference of ex-communication from the synagogue, a practice likely formalized in the 80s. [But this is uncertain and there is evidence that it might have been practised in the OT.]

c.         Some modern scholars propose that the date is much earlier, may even be around AD65 because:

·         John was apparently ignorance of the Synoptics.

·         Some of John’s expressions look early, e.g. “disciples” not “apostles”

·         The general atmosphere of the book is that of Palestine before AD70.

·         The Jews were more powerful before AD70 so that Christianity tended to be on the defensive, but less powerful after AD70.

·         Bethesda pool described as “there is” (5:2) not “there was” while every other verb in the context is in a past tense and Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70. [However, John sometimes uses the Greek present tense with “historic” force to refer to something in the past.]

·         There is no reference to the destruction of the temple in AD70, an extremely important event in Jewish history. [Perhaps some time had been elapsed so it became less important.]

·         If the destruction had already history, we might expect an allusion to the doom of Jerusalem. Caiaphas said that if they left Jesus alone, the Romans would destroy the temple and the nation (11:47-48). They did not leave Him alone, but the Romans came just the same. Wouldn’t John have said something about this had it already happened?

d.         However, the Gospel must have been composed after Peter’s death (Jn 21:19) which occurred in AD 64-65.


3. Place


a.         Traditionally, the Gospel was written in Ephesus, based on Iranaeus.

b.         Other places mentioned include Antioch, Alexandria, or somewhere in Judea. However, there is much less support for these locations.


4. Purpose


a.         The book is simply about Jesus (237 times, more than any other NT books). It started with “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1) and ended (20:31, before the epilogue) with “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God….” This last statement is the explicit purpose of the Gospel.

b.         Other possible purposes:

·         John was a supplement for the Synoptics; very few people support this.

·         It aims to combat false teaching of a docetic type (which held that the Christ never became incarnate; everything was only “seeming”)

·         It is a polemic against non-believing Jews.

·         It tries to oppose the continuing followers of John the Baptist.

·         It tries to present to the world a kind of “Hellenized” Christianity, with terms like logos. [however, it is clear that the Gospel is a product of Jewish and not Hellenistic ways of thinking]

·         It aims to strengthen the faith of Christians as the phrase in 20:31 may be translated “that you may believe (anew)” or “that you may continue to believe.”

·         It aims to evangelize or to convert new believers. It speaks to non-Christians who are concerned about eternal life. It explains why one should become a Christian, how to become a Christian, what it means to be a Christian.

c.         The last two purposes are the most likely ones. Some, however, hold the synthetic approach, suggesting the purpose to be multiple: to evangelize Jews, to evangelize Gentiles, to strengthen the church, to catechize new converts, to provide materials for the evangelization of Jews.

d.         In the Gospel, John emphasizes the genuine humanity of Jesus and at the same time brings out the fact that Jesus really came from God.


5. Relationship to Synoptics


a.         It is clear that there are great differences between this Gospel and the 3 Synoptic Gospels.

·         Different coverage: John centres on several visits to Jerusalem: 3 passovers (2:13, 6:4, 13:1), possibly 4 (5:1), thus leaving out a great deal of material that is characteristic of the Synoptics

·         Different writing styles: long discourses in John; parables and short, vivid sayings in Synoptic Gospels

·         Different themes: eternal life (present realized blessing) in John; repentance or Kingdom of God (eschatological blessing) in Synoptics

·         Different frequent words:

·      in John: love, truth, true, genuine, know, work, world, judge, abide, send, witness, believe in

·      in the Synoptics: righteous, power or miracle, feel mercy or pity, call, repent, parable, pray

·         “I am” sayings (not in synoptic gospels):

b.         However, there is no fundamental difference in teaching, only difference in emphasis:

·      theological emphasis in John; biographical emphasis in Synoptics

·      discourses and “meditations” of Jesus in the circle of His disciples in John; public teaching of Jesus in Synoptics

·      The Synoptists may give us something more like the perfect photograph; John gives us the more perfect portrait. (William Temple)

·      The Synoptics show the body of Christ, while John shows His soul. John is thus regarded as a key to open the door to understanding the others. (Calvin)

c.         Some people believe that John must have made use of the Synoptic Gospels. But a close examination of the alleged case for dependence cannot be substantiated. The recent position is that John is independent of the Synoptists. While there is a similar sequence and some verbal resemblances in John and Mark, it is probable that both of them were based on a similar oral tradition and simply represent what exactly happened.


6. Historical Accuracy


a.         John is remarkably accurate in a number of areas. These show John’s concern for facts as well as theology as those details would be unimportant if not to emphasize the authenticity of the account.


b.         Historians of antiquity showed a respect for how things actually happened. They did on occasion, it is true, compose speeches and put them in the mouths of historical characters. And when they did compose speeches, they tried to make their characters say what they probably did say at the time.


7. Alleged Dislocations in the Book


a.         Two main alleged dislocations:

·         possible reversal of chapters 5 and 6

·         order of farewell discourses: 13:1-30; 15; 16; 13:31-38; 14; 17

b.         Howver, every rearragement suggested is attended by some disadvantages. We should take the present order rather than try to rearrange it.


8. Sources


a.         Some held that chapter 21 provides the evidence of a redactor.

b.         Bultmann believes there are two external sources: sign source, revelation source, and John compiled the Gospel from these sources.

c.         There is no need to deny that John made use of sources or perhaps of traditions. It is more possible that preaching lies behind this Gospel which would then represent a collection of discourses by John. Possibly, it is a series of homilies that were collected, published, edited and added over a period of time. But there is no substantial support to speculations on sources existed aside from John.


9. Historical Background


a.         It is clear that the author came out of normative Judaism as shown by the knowledge of the teaching of the OT and Jewish apocalyptic thought.

b.         The author also has some Hellenistic background as shown his use of logos, a concept found among Greek philosophers.

c.         The author intends the book for people who were not Jews as shown by his habit of explaining Jewish terms, even common ones like “rabbi” (1:38).

d.         The author seems to know about early Gnostic thoughts.


10. Structure of the Book


Prologue (1:1-18)

Book of Signs (1:19-12:50)

·         the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: John the Baptist and first disciples (1:19-51)

·         the 7 signs and 7 public discourses (2:1-12:50)

Book of Passion (13:1-20:31)

·         the farewell private discourses (13:1-17:26)

·         the end of Jesus’ ministry: crucifixion and resurrection (18:1-20:31)

Epilogue (21:1-25)


11. Writing Style of John


·         the use of contrasts:

·         of this world, not of this world (8:23)

·         light and darkness (1:5, 1Jn 1:5)

·         flesh and spirit (3:6)

·         earthly things, heavenly things (3:12)

·         emphasis through positive and then negative statements, and vice versa

·         emphasis through repetitions

·         deliberate ambiguity to cover the whole semantic range of the words used and thus provide fuller meanings