3. Johannine Corpus
What's the internal evidence for the apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel?
i) The work claims to be by an eyewitness (1:14; 19:35; 21:20,24; cf. 1 Jn 1:1ff.).
ii) Besides these more explicit claims, the evidence of an eye-witness includes the narrator’s unobtrusive command of minutiae—the time of day (1:39; 4:6; 19:14), the number of fish (21:11); the number of water pots and their capacity (2:6); the weight of embalming spices (19:39); the name of a servant (18:10), and so on. Just take a brief sentence like—"now at the Sheepgate in Jerusalem there’s a pool—which in Aramaic goes by the name of Bethesda--with five colonnades" (5:2). Because an eyewitness has a lot of extraneous information at his fingertips, it spills over into his narrative, even where it is quite inessential to the main point.
This doesn’t mean that John would record everything to which he was an eyewitness. To begin with, he may not have felt the need to rehash incidents already covered in the Synoptics. Moreover, his selection is based on episodes that illustrate his primary purpose (20:30-31; 21:25).
iii) A phenomenon that hasn’t received much attention in this regard, but which I regard as quite compelling evidence, is the way in which the Evangelist will gloss a statement of Christ’s (e.g. 1:38,42; 2:17,22; 4:2; 6:6,10,46,64,71; 11:13; 20:16). The very fact that the Evangelist draws a distinction between a dominical saying and his own editorial comment assumes that he is reproducing the words of Christ, for he wouldn’t put words in the mouth of Jesus and then jump in to correct possible misapprehension. Rather, this only makes sense if he is faithfully recording what Jesus actually said, and then adding a parenthetical aside for the benefit of the reader. Because John was on the scene, he is privy to the original setting as well as its retrospective significance.
iv) Another indicator is that the author identifies himself as the "beloved disciple" (13:23; 19:26; 21:7,20), and by process of elimination, the Apostle John is the hands on favorite. I might add that if pseudonymity had been an accepted device in Christian circles, and if the Apostle were not the real author of the Fourth Gospel, the writer would not have been so oblique about advertising his apostolic credentials.
In this general connection, have you noticed how the critics insist on the anonymity of the Gospels and the pseudonymity of the Epistles? This is psychologically incoherent since motives of anonymity are incompatible with the motives for pseudonymity.
The use of the plural in 21:24 is likely an editorial "we." The shift from singular to plural in 21:24 is a trifle awkward if the same speaker is in view in both cases. However, Johannine usage is not fixed in this regard (1:14; 19:35; 21:20; 1 Jn 1:1ff.; 3 Jn 12). It would be at least as awkward if we were to attribute the verse to a redactor—if not more so, since one would expect a redactor to smooth out the idiosyncratic variety in favor of a more uniform usage. Indeed, it would not be uncharacteristic of John to be bringing together the first-person singular, plural, and third-person forms of address at this climactic point in the narrative. This is probably a linguistic quirk which he picked up from his Master (cf. Jn 3:11).
The present tense form of the verb (marturon) makes more sense if John is still alive, in which case he also penned the closing verses.
v) A very subtle pointer is the fact that in this Gospel, the Baptist is referred to simply as John, without the qualification introduced by the Synoptics. Now that omission is very understandable if the Apostle John were the author, since in his mind there’s no imminent danger of confusing himself with the other John, while his immediate audience would know his true identity as well.
vi) Dorothy Sayers is best remembered as a mystery writer, but she was also, among other things, a fine Medievalist. It’s often helpful when someone from an outside discipline takes a fresh look at an old issue. Bible scholarship is faddish and clannish. Each new school of criticism fancies that it has discovered the master key for unlocking Scripture, until that key is discarded in the next paradigm-shift. One of her projects was to write a play cycle on the life of Christ. This confronted Sayers with the challenge of reducing the four Gospels to a single storyline, as well as supplying the motives driving the dramatic action and linking one scene to the next. Solving this practical problem led Sayers to pick up on things in John that completely escape the notice of liberal critics. To quote a few of her observations:
"The Synoptists, on the whole, report the "set pieces"; it is St. John who reports the words and actions of the individual...who knows the time of year, the time of day, where people sat, and how they got from one place to another. It is John who remembers, not only what Jesus said, but what other people said to him, who can reproduce the cut-and-thrust of controversy, and the development of argument.
"Indeed, when John is the authority for any scene, or when John’s account is at hand to supplement those of the Synoptists, the playwright’s task is easy. Either the dialogue is a all there—vivid and personal on both sides—or the part of the interlocutor can be readily reconstructed from the replies given. And it is frequently John who supplies the reason and meaning of actions and speeches that in the Synoptists appear unexplained and disconnected. Thus, after the Feeding of the Five Thousand, there seems to be no very good reason why Jesus should have withdrawn Himself and sent the disciples across the lake by themselves; but John supplies the missing motive and also the answer to one or two practical questions, e.g. how the disciples were able to see Jesus coming across the water (it was near Passover, therefore the moon was full)," The Man Born to be King (Ignatius, 1990), 27.
This is exactly the shakedown we would expect given the traditional authorship of the Gospels. Luke relies on eyewitness testimony. Mark also relies on eyewitness testimony, although he may supplement this with eyewitness observation on the public ministry of Christ in Jerusalem. Matthew reuses Mark but also supplements his source with personal observation. But it’s John, as a member of the inner circle, and one of the two earliest disciples, who would be the best informed about who did this or said that when, where, and why—either because he was on site, or free to ask follow-up questions. I’m assuming that John is the unnamed disciple in chapter one. The temporal markers (1:29,35,39,43) indicate the presence of an eyewitness. Moreover, mention of the "beloved disciple" in chapter thirteen would be abrupt and inexplicable without this preparatory introduction.
Liberals don’t so much deny these inferences as sidestep them by arguing that it’s all part of the impersonation. But this argument suffers from several flaws:
i) If the author were prepared to assume a false identity in order to win a following for his message, why not fabricate a fraudulent autobiography of Jesus instead of a fraudulent biography? Why not eliminate the middleman altogether and speak in the voice of the Master? Indeed, we have an example of this in the apocryphal correspondence between Christ and King Abgar (Cf. Eusebius, H.E., 13:13-22). That would be more in keeping with the motives of a forger. The only reason why the apocryphal gospels don’t make that move is that the die was already cast with the canonical gospels, and so the Apocrypha were left to imitate revered precedent.
ii) Or if, for whatever unaccountable reason, a forger chose to pen a biographical rather than autobiographical fraud, the strategy would then be to portray himself as a devoted and discerning disciple of the Master. This is a standard dynamic in master/mentor to apprentice/disciple relations. The protégé’s credentials to carry on the tradition of the Master lie in his claim to be a trusted and diligent disciple of the Master. Indeed, controversies flare up over who is the authentic custodian of the Master’s legacy, with rival schools springing up. So if the Fourth Gospel were pseudonymous, why would the Evangelist present the apostolic circle in such an unflattering light? Why, conversely, does Peter receive a renewed commission? Why wouldn’t the Evangelist monopolize the affections of the Master? Not only does this go against ordinary vanity, but the qualifications of the forger would depend on the purity and exclusivity of his spiritual bloodline. Only a reporter who is actually in a position to know the facts can afford the confidence to be so candid about his personal failings and share the credit with his associates
Again, the Evangelists never accuse each other of breaking faith with the mandate and message of Jesus. There are no feuds over succession. All we have is the inevitable clash of strong personalities. Their absence would be historically suspect. As the favorite disciple, John comes closest to the stereotype of the pseudepigraphic method, but it still misses by a mile:
a) John is too self-effacing about his identity;
b) Until his Easter epiphany (Jn 20:8), he was as obtuse as his fellow followers;
c) Neither does he claim an insight superior to theirs. Indeed, his gospel presupposes the Synoptics at many a turn. For example, he merely alludes to the Baptism of Christ (1:29-34). This reference would be unintelligible to the reader unless he were already familiar with an independent account. John takes that preunderstanding for granted and supplements it.
iii) Many of the internal indicators I’ve cited are too inconspicuous and unself-conscious to make for an effective imposture. Most listeners would miss them entirely. Only careful reading and rereading of the text—silent reading, I might add, and not merely hearing it read aloud—would pick up on these unostentatious and often unintentional clues. A pseudonymous author would advertise his identity and qualifications in bright lights.
iv) When a critic operates by the standards of a conspiracy theorist, we should not allow ourselves to be put on the defensive. When someone insists that the Holocaust was a hoax, is the onus on me to prove him wrong? One of their grandest conceits is the way that liberal critics confidently deny the eyewitness character of the Gospels as if they themselves had a front row seat on the proceedings and could tell us just what went down! So they assume the very standpoint which they deny to the Evangelists!
It is often argued that the theology of the Fourth Gospel is too advanced to be the work of the Apostle John. Though popular, such an objection is rather obtuse. The music of J.S. Bach is more sophisticated than the music of his sons. Relative chronology is obviously not the reason. Rather, his sons were simply less gifted than their old man. Likewise, the theology of the Fourth Gospel is more mature than the Synoptics because John was a deeper thinker than the other Evangelists, and enjoyed a special relationship with Christ. Again, it is not as if John just fell out of the sky. He had a thousand years of inspired theological tradition under his belt (the OT), plus another four hundred years of theological reflection (the Intertestamental period), not to mention his apprenticeship in the school of Christ—to supply him with a running start. As such, the Fourth Gospel and Apocalypse represent the culmination of progressive revelation.
If the liberals were right, the Fourth Gospel ought to be the most miracle-laden of the four. Yet it is the earliest of the four gospels (Mark) that so stresses the thaumaturgical ministry of Christ as an exorcist and wonder-worker, with Matthew and Luke placing more emphasis on his teaching ministry and passion, while John limits himself to a handful of pregnant "signs," and accentuates to an even greater degree the teaching and passion of Christ. So what happened to "legendary embellishment" over time? We find this in the apocryphal gospels, but not in the canonical gospels.
The final chapter of the Fourth Gospel also supplies an indicator of a pre-70 date of composition. To be sure, the case for its apostolicity never depended on this dateline, for John may well have lived to an advanced age with his faculties fully intact. One can think of a number of elderly Bible scholars (e.g. Allis, Bultmann, Cullmann, Davies, Dodd, Eissfeldt, Godet, Gordon, Headlam, Kasemann, MacRae, Metzger, Morris, Pedersen, Salmon, Sayce, Schweitzer, Stendahl, Thiele, Weiss, Wenham, Vos, Zahn, Zeller, et al.). And there could also have been a considerable interval separating the date of his Gospel from the date of his Apocalypse. These are distinct issues.
But Jn 21 does suggest the immediate occasion of its composition, and that carries with it some roughly datable conclusions. A number of commentators have said that Jn 21 has the feel of a postscript. While that impression is hard to quantify, I agree. If this chapter had been lost, I doubt we’d notice anything amiss, whereas Jn 20 is indispensable to the completeness of the Gospel. That isn’t to deny that Jn 21 makes a precious addition. Unlike, however, the general rationale for his Gospel (20:31), this chapter owes its existence to a more topical occasion.
The death of Peter precipitated a potential crisis. Jesus had remarked on the fate of Peter and John (21:18-22; 2 Pet 1:14). With the death of Peter, attention shifted to John. According to popular misconception, John would not die before the Parousia (v.23a). When this rumor came to John’s notice he corrected the misinterpretation (v.23b). Since it was news of Peter’s death that gave rise to this rumor, that would date the revised edition of his Gospel to the mid-60s. Of course, it’s possible that this was a last minute addition to the Gospel, in which case it never circulated without this postscript.
The alternative way of taking our passage is that it was John’s demise which precipitated a crisis. An obvious problem with this identification is that the chapter claims to be by the decedent (v.24)! I suspect that, for the average reader, the specter of a post-mortem addendum would lack the ring of truth! Again, John’s death could scarcely be the source of a rumor that John wouldn’t die!
There is less to go on respecting the date of Revelation, but the fact that John was a political prisoner on Patmos (1:9) better fits with what little we know about the extent of persecution under Domitian than Nero—although this is also open to debate.
Scholars generally favor the late Domitianic date (e.g. Aune, Hemer), but there are fine scholars who favor the early Neronic date (e.g. Ellis, Robinson). Domitian’s reputation has undergone a face-lift among some recent scholars. Cf. R. Martin, Tacitus (Berkeley, 1981), 45-48; 55-56; 91,93; L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford, 1990), 101-09. Of course, conscientious emperors could still persecute the Church (e.g. Aurelius). It should be kept in mind that the scale of persecution in Revelation takes in the whole course of God’s people, from the OT until the Porous. Therefore it does not coincide with either the Neronian or Domitianic crackdown.
Incidentally, the fact that John suffered banishment rather than execution is more easily explicable given his priestly and high priestly affiliations (Jn 18:15). Even Paul, although enjoying dual citizenship, was eventually executed. Exile was reserved for figures who moved in high circles.
John and 1-3 John share so many signature themes and telling turns of phrase that, regardless of their respective chronology, implicate the same author.
Perhaps the most widely challenged identification is the commonality of authorship between John and 1-3 John, on the one hand, and Revelation, on the other.
The Apocalypse identifies its author by name (1:1,4,9; 21:2; 22:8). Both liberals and conservatives agree that its author is likely a Palestinian Jew. The fact that he is in a position to address the churches of Asian Minor in this magisterial manner testifies to his extraordinary standing in the Church at large, for this is not even his native soil. This fact dovetails perfectly with the Apostle John, not to mention all of the interconnections I’ve so far documented between the Gospel, Epistles and Apocalypse. Furthermore, both the Fourth Gospel and Revelation are works of genius. As a matter of explanatory economy, it is better not to multiply genius beyond necessity.
The leading objection to common authorship is owing to the stylistic chasm separating the Apocalypse from John and 1-3 John. The standard conservative reply is that this objection pivots on comparing the incomparable inasmuch as Revelation belongs to a different literary genre. While I’m in basic agreement with this line of response, one could put a sharper point on the nature of their incommensurability. It’s not only that Revelation belongs to a different genre, but to a highly stereotyped genre. As coming, moreover, at the end of a tradition, the author’s diction is loaded down with stock OT imagery. This severely limits his opportunities for putting a personal stylistic stamp on the work—which was never his ambition in the first place. John’s memory was saturated with OT themes and images, and God evidently pictured his disclosure in such terms—not unlike the way in which our dreams exploit our imaginative recall. And inasmuch as the OT is genuinely prophetic and typical, the media were preadapted to the message.
If we were to compare the visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and John, could we tell on stylistic grounds alone that they were recorded by four different seers? Don’t they share a generic idiom? This is a programmatic question. Yet I don’t find it being explored or even raised. Before we compare the style of Revelation with the Fourth Gospel, we should compare it with other apocalyptic writings of the canon. That should supply the primary standard of comparison.
The difference between the cautiously correct Greek of the Fourth Gospel and craggy solecisms of the Apocalypse has been cited as an evidence against common authorship. But as the Apocalypse was written in a penal colony, John was not in the same position to run his work by native Greek-speaking disciples. This grammatical difference, rather than posing a difficulty for common authorship, is consistent with the situational difference in the respective circumstances of their composition. Moreover, it is easy to overplay the linguistic contrast, for the Greek of the Fourth Gospel is peppered with semiticisms as well. Cf. N. Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (T&T Clark, 1980), 4:67-74.
None of this is to deny that certain habits of mind may filter through:
i) Various catch-phrases and motifs that are either distinctive to the Fourth Gospel, or at least highly characteristic, resurface in Revelation. These two writings, and these alone, refer to Christ as the word of God (Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13; cf. 1 Jn 1:1). This isn’t just singular from the standpoint of linguistic usage, but reflects a personal and pregnant theological reflection. No other NT author conceptualizes Christ in these terms. A lot of concentrated thought lies behind this simple sounding identification.
ii) The verb skenow (to pitch a tent), with its rich reverberance (=the tabernacle, the Shekinah) is peculiar to the Fourth Gospel (1:14) and the Apocalypse (cf. esp. 7:15; 21:3).
iii) Another common christological motif is the identification of Christ as the Lamb of God. This is rare in the NT. It is used only twice in the non-Johannine corpus (Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19), and one of these is owing to an OT quotation (Acts 8:32; cf. Isa 53: 7). There’s also one allusion in Paul (1 Cor 5:7). It’s true that in specific reference to Christ, Revelation uses arnion where the Fourth Gospel uses amnoV. However, the author of the Fourth Gospel also employs this verbal variant (21:15). In Jn 1:29,36, moreover, we should note that the author is quoting from the Baptist, whereas in Revelation he’s speaking in his own voice. Furthermore, arnion is only represented in John and Revelation—nowhere else in the NT.
iv) "Keeping the word" is a phrase distinctive to John, 1 John and Revelation. Distinctive phrasing is more idiosyncratic than distinctive vocabulary. That is to say, any word can be put with just about any other combination of words. Many stereotypical phrases are fixed by linguistic custom. So when we run across a peculiar turn of phrase that recurs in just two sources, this suggests a very individual choice. Even if the words are commonplace, their combination is not.
v) Marturia (witness), marturew (to witness), and nikaw (to overcome) are disproportionately represented in the Johannine corpus. They function as favorite slogans.
vi) It goes without saying that the Apocalypse is fond of septenarian schemes. Is it coincidental that the Fourth Gospel records seven strategic miracles (2:11; 4:54; 5:8-9; 6:11,19; 9:6-7; 11:43-44), and seven "I am" sayings (6:35; 8:12; 10:7,11; 11:25; 14:16; 15:1)? Some scholars would add seven discourses to the total. Cf. L. Morris, Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Eerdmans/IVP, 1989), 22ff.
vii) The motif of life-giving water (Jn 4:10ff.; 7:38; Rev 7:17; 21:6; 22:1,7) is exclusive to the Johannine corpus, as is the metaphor of spiritual manna (Jn 6:31,49,51; Rev 2:17).
viii) Going to the axial structure of Johannine soteriology is the conflict be-tween God/Christ and the Devil (Jn 8:44; 13:2,27; 1 Jn 3:8-10; Rev 2:9,13,24; 12; 20:1-10). This focal point is distinctive to John. Paul prefers to rotate redemptive history around a Christ/Adam axis. The two perspectives are distinctive, but complementary.
ix) Zech 12:10 is referred to on just three occasions in the NT (Mt 24:30; Jn 19:37; Rev 1:7). And only Jn 19:37 and Rev 1:7 reproduce the phrase about the pierced subject. That choice has a contextual basis in Jn 19:37, in relation to the crucifixion. But it’s inessential to the eschatological context of Rev 1:7—which is presumably why Matthew omits it. So the only reason Rev 1:7 would repeat it is under the gravitational pull of the Fourth Gospel, assuming common authorship.
x) The designation of Christ as the arch of creation (Rev 3:14; cf. 22:13) triggers inevitable associations with his creative agency in the prologue of John (Jn 1:1-3; cf. 1 Jn 1:1).
xi) Likewise, the designation of Christ as the Amhn (Rev 3:14) also triggers inevitable associations with our Lord’s distinctive use of the emphatic dual formula in the Fourth Gospel. An alternative explanation attributes this usage to the influence of Isa 65:16. However, in an author of John’s allusive pregnancy, these two explanations are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the dual formula in the Fourth Gospel may also be colored by Isa 65:16. And since both documents share a common author, they preserve this dominical appropriation of the OT. Incidentally, both of these titles (x-xi) would be more intelligible if the Fourth Gospel were chronologically prior to the Apocalypse
xii) The distinctive egw eimi formula, with lofty predicates, recurs in the Apocalypse on the lips of Christ (Rev 1:17-18; 2:23; 22:13,16).
xiii) There are parallels between the Apocalypse and the Johannine epistles, most notably in the common Antichrist motif (1 Jn 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7; Rev 13; 17).
xiv) Both the Fourth Gospel and Revelation are outstanding for their subtextual density of allusion to the OT. This highly suggestive and polysemous style contrasts with the more linear and explicit teaching technique of St. Paul or the author of Hebrews. Paul argues directly for the truth whereas John—both in the Fourth Gospel and Revelation—unveils the truth through a spiral of symbolic action.
xv) A central theme in Revelation is the conflict between true and false worship. This recalls the pivotal discussion in Jn 4:20-24 as well as the climactic admonition in 1 Jn 5:21.
xvi) Both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel represents salvation in terms of God’s cohabitation with his people (Jn 1:14; 14:23; Rev 7:15; 21:3).
xvii) Both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel compare and contrast the kingdom of Christ with the kingdom of this world (Jn 18:36; Rev 11:15).
xviii) In both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel, the dramatic action pivots on a heavenly/earthly axis (Jn 1:51; 3:3,12-13,31; 6:38; 19:11; Rev 3:12; 4:1; 5:10; 9:1; 11:12; 12:4-5,8-9; 19:14; 21:1-3,10).
xix) The Fourth Gospel, 1 John and Apocalypse all accentuate the testimonial value of eyewitness acquaintance with the Master (Jn 1:14; 19:35; 21:24; Jn 1:1-3; 4:14; Rev 1:2,17).
xx) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse make distinctive use of Ezekiel. In Revelation this is especially true with respect to the introductory christophany (chap 1) and the climactic conclusion (chaps 19-22). In the Fourth Gospel there is a strategic reliance on Ezekiel for the motif of a judicial sign (Jn 4:48; 12:37 cf. Ezk 4:3), water/spirit wordplay (Jn 3:5-8; 4:10-24; 7:37-39; 6:63; 20:22; cf. Ezek 36-37; 47:1ff.), Shepherd theme (Jn 10; cf. Ezk 37) and vine motif (Jn 15; cf. Ezk 15).
xxi) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse trade on the water/spirit double entendre (Jn 3:5-8; 4:10-24; 6:63; 7:37-39; 20:22; Rev 21:6; 22:1-2,17).
xxii) The Fourth Gospel, 1 John and Apocalypse all index the testimony of Jesus to the work of the Spirit (Jn 15:26; 1 Jn 4:2; Rev 19:10). Depending on context, the "testimony of Jesus" can either be an objective or subjective genitive.
xxiii) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse are bracketed by a Prologue and Epilogue (Jn 1:1-18; 21:1-25; Rev 1:1-8; 22:6-21).
xxiv) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse refer to the fall of Lucifer (Jn 12:31; Rev 12:9).