WHO IS THE WRITER OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL?
Early Christian tradition names the Apostle John as the author of the fourth Gospel. Many early church fathers have written that John is the author. Especially significant is the testimony of Irenaeus (d. ca. 195 A.D.). Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp (ca. 70-155 A.D.); and Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus therefore must have had good information concerning John and what he wrote. Evidence from the fourth Gospel itself also points to the Apostle John as its author. The writer must have been one of the Twelve Disciples. We say this because: 1) The writer says that he is an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and work (1:14; 19:35; 21:24-25). 2) The writer shows a knowledge of many details concerning events in Jesus’ life, which only one very close to him would probably know (2:6; 4:6; 12:1; 20:1; 21:8,11 and many others). 3) The writer calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). Peter, James and John seem to be the only three disciples who might be called “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” since the Gospels show them to be the three closest to Jesus. But Peter could not be calling himself by that name in the fourth Gospel, since he is specifically mentioned by his proper name in the Gospel. James, the brother of John, died an early martyr’s death, as we are told in Acts 12, so he could not have written the fourth Gospel. It is therefore reasonable to say that the Apostle John is the one who wrote the fourth Gospel. Testimony of the early Christians and the evidence within the Gospel together point to John as the author…
THE APOSTLE JOHN
There are five men named John in the New Testament. This common name means “the Lord is gracious.” The Apostle John is one of the sons of Zebedee. His brother and fellow apostle was named James. Jesus gave these two sons of Zebedee the nickname “Boanerges,” which means “Sons of Thuder” (Mark 3:17). John may have been a cousin of Jesus. His mother may have been Salome, who is evidently the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Mat. 27:56; Mark 15:40 Jn. 19:25). John, together with his father and brother, was a fisherman. Before becoming a disciple of Jesus, he may have been a disciple of John the Baptist. John, of course, observed Jesus’ life and acts during his ministry as did the other 11 disciples. But he had the added privilege of being one of the three disciples in Jesus’ “inner circle.” Peter, James and John alone were with Jesus at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, at Jesus’ Transfiguration, and during Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane.
Not everything that we read in the Gospels is complimentary to John. Jesus had to rebuke him and his brother James for showing a spirit of revenge against an unfriendly Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Another time the other disciples became angry with John and James for being very demanding toward Jesus and asking that they be honored above the other disciples (Mark 10:35-45). These accounts are in keeping with the Bible’s practice of “telling the whole story” about heroes of the Christian faith, pointing out their sins together with their faith in their Savior from sin.
On Thursday of Holy Week it was John and Peter who were given instructions by Jesus to make preparations for the Passover Supper. At the Supper John’s close relationship with Jesus is evident. We are told that he leaned back against Jesus to ask who Jesus’ betrayer was. He had evidently been reclining very close to Jesus at the Supper. But at Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested, John ran away just like all the other disciples. When Jesus was taken to the high priest for questioning, however, John together with Peter went with him. John was able to enter the courtyard of the high priest because he had a personal acquaintance with the high priest (John 18:15-16). When Jesus was crucified, John stood near the cross. It was then that Jesus gave his mother into John’s care. John took her into his own home from that time on. If John and Jesus were cousins, it would be John’s aunt that he was caring for. On Easter morning John and Peter ran to the empty tomb after they heard the message from Mary of Magdala. “He saw and believed,” is what John himself writes of his reaction after entering the empty tomb (John 20:1-9). When the risen Jesus miraculously provided a large catch of fish for the disciples in Galilee, it was John who first recognized Jesus (John 21).
Besides the Gospel accounts, we also hear of John in Acts. After Pentecost, John and Peter healed a crippled beggar. Soon after the healing they were arrested for “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 3 & 4). Acts chapter 8 tells us that John and Peter were sent to Samaria. When they laid their hands on the Samaritan Christians, they received the Holy Spirit (vss. 14-17). After preaching in many Samaritan villages, John and Peter went back to Jerusalem. John’s name is mentioned twice more in the New Testament. In Gal. 2:9Paul says that he had been given “the right hand of fellowship” by John and others who were “pillars” of the church. The first chapter of Revelation gives John’s name three times (vss. 1,4,9). It is obvious from these references that John is the author of Revelation. We learn from Rev. 1:9 that John, probably late in his life, had been exiled to the Island of Patmos for preaching of Jesus. John is also credited with writing the three Epistles that carry his name. He is, therefore, the author of five books of the Bible. Tradition says that John died as an old man in Ephesus near the end of the First Century. It is evident from this rather long biography that we know more about John’s life than the lives of the other Gospel writers.
WHEN, WHERE, AND TO WHOM WRITTEN?
John’s Gospel was perhaps written in the early 90s A.D. Early tradition points to Ephesus in Asia Minor as the place from which John wrote. It has been guessed that John’s Gospel was written originally for Jews of the Dispersion, that is, for the Jews outside Palestine scattered around the Mediterranean world.
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
- John’s Gospel is different and independent of the Synoptic Gospels. He does not follow the outline of the Synoptics. He seems to assume that his readers know what is in the first three Gospels; instead of repeating what they say, he adds to them.
- John’s Gospel emphasizes believing in Jesus as the Christ and God’s Son for eternal life. This is John’s stated purpose for writing as he says in 20:31. The Gospel’s most famous verse, 3:16, emphasizes the same.
- John’s Gospel relates Jesus’ miracles with a definite purpose – as signs to show that Jesus is the Son of God and worthy of our faith (20:30-31). (Only 8 of Jesus’ 35 miracles are recorded by John.)
- John records no parables of Jesus, but has long discourses and conversations (3:1-21; 4:1-26; 8:3-58; chapter 10; chapters 14-17).
- John often gives the details of the time and place of events.
- John records mostly Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem.
- John emphasizes the promises concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit (14:16,17,27; 15:26; 16:13-14).
AN OUTLINE FOR JOHN
Theme: “Believe in Jesus, God made flesh”
- An Introduction (1:1-18)
- The Ministry of God Made Flesh (1:19 – 12:11)
- The Events of Holy Week, the Resurrection and Appearances of God Made Flesh (12:12 – 21:25)
A FEW CHAPTER NUMBERS TO REMEMBER FROM THE GOSPELS
1 Jesus’ birth
5-7 The Sermon on the Mount
18 How to deal with a sinning brother
24 Signs of the End
27-28 Jesus’ Death and Rising
28 The Great Commission
15-16 Jesus’ Death and Rising
2 Jesus’ Birth
15 “Lost and Found” Parables
23-24 Jesus’ Death and Rising
1 The Word Became Flesh
3 Jesus and Nicodemus
3:16 The Gospel in a few words
10 The Good Shepherd
19-21 Jesus’ Death and Rising
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