Authorship and Date

Authorship

The 4th Gospel is, formally speaking, anonymous. That is, the author never explicitly states his name. Even though we call the book “According to John” or the “The Gospel According to John,” it is not certain that these titles were original to the work itself (more on this below).

For this reason and others, many have tried to posit a different author than the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. Suggestions have ranged from an “elder” named John who lived after the time of the apostles to a Johannine community, established by John but operating past John’s lifetime. While not 100% provable, I do believe there is good reason to accept that John the apostle wrote the 4th Gospel himself.

Consider 21:24 where the author says: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” “This” refers back to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in verse 20. We know from this text and others that the author uses this phrase for the apostle John, one of the three apostles in Jesus’ inner circle (the others being Peter and James). It would seem that it is reasonable to accept what the text says (especially if one holds to the inspiration of the Bible): “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” a common phrase for the apostle John, is the one who wrote the book. For whatever reason (modesty?) he simply chose not to explicitly centre himself out.

In addition to this internal evidence, there is strong external evidence to support the authorship of John. I mentioned above the titles often given to this book. These titles are present in our earliest manuscripts. They may have been placed there once the four Gospels started circulating together (some hold that they are indeed original to the autographs) but this at the very least shows that early on Christians believed this book was written by John. The Early Church Fathers (with the exception of Papias, as recorded by Eusebius) are fairly unanimous in their testimony that John wrote the book.

For these reasons it appears quite reasonable to accept that John wrote the 4th Gospel.

Date

As far as the date of the Gospel is concerned, if the apostle John is the author, then we must place the date of writing within the 1st century, given that he died before the century elapsed. Indeed this is likely based on another piece of external evidence: we actually have surviving today a fragment of a manuscript of John’s Gospel that is dated to 125 A.D. Therefore the Gospel has to be earlier than this, and likely much earlier since this manuscript is probably not the original handwriting (known as the autograph).

From here, it becomes harder to be much more specific. Scholars vary on their dating of this Gospel, ranging from 55-95 A.D. (Carson, 82), if we ignore those who would disagree with the previous paragraph. Since I have not yet pinned down my opinion on the date, I am going to leave further speculation until after I have finished these studies (noting anything significant to the issue along the way if possible) and it will be interesting to hear from a scholar I am currently interviewing as to his opinion. Expect that interview early next week.

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5 comments

  1. David

    Tradition holds that the Gospel was written in the decade of the 90s – about 63 years after Our Lord’s Ascension.

    Implicit in the Gospel itself is the supposition that it was written in a context where Christians no longer had any involvement with Judaism. For example, it speaks of “the Jews” and not just the Jewish authorities, as being a body opposed to Jesus and the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues. This confrontation with Judaism and the expulsions of Christians from the synagogue would have happened around the end of the first century (i.e. in the 90s).

  2. Andrew Rozalowsky

    I just lost my comment do to an internet connection issue – ugh! I’ll just be brief as a result.

    Thanks for your continued participation in the comments, Dave.

    “Tradition” is a bit nebulous. Can you flesh out what you mean by tradition? I’m assuming you’re referring to early church father testimony. Would that be correct? If so, can you cite it so that it can be evaluated? Since the church fathers weren’t inspired (as we’d both agree to – and they contradict in many places anyway!) we need to evaluate their testimony on a case by case basis.

    Thanks also for your second paragraph and its reasoning; good thoughts. Some would agree, some would disagree. There’s more to be said, I think. I’ll withhold offering anything else until I progress further through the studies except to clarify my reference to Carson suggesting anytime between 55 and 95 A.D. is possible. He does come down on a position (80 A.D.) after working through the internal and external evidence but he doesn’t want to say he’s definitely got that one correct. His point that it is not provable and any date from that range can be cogently argued for.

  3. David

    Hey Andy,

    Thanks for your comments and I hope what I say adds to the discussion or at least gives some further thought on the topic. (By the way excellent choice picking the Gospel of John – it’s my favourite Gospel)

    Answering your question about what is meant by Tradition is a bit long and complex but here it is in a nutshell in relation to Scripture (I am quoting). NOTE: [after the first paragraph below it gets to the core of your question]

    THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TRADITION AND SACRED SCRIPTURE
    One Common Source…
    “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age”.

    … Two Distinct Modes of Transmission
    “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”

    “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”

    The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

    (Quoted text paragraphs 80-84 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

  4. Andrew Rozalowsky

    More immediately helpful to answer my question from your position would be the paragraphs immediately preceding the ones you quoted. The Catholic Catechism speaks of the oral and written transmissions of apostolic preaching (paragraphs 75-79). Although it is undeniable that the apostles had disciples, those to whom they passed on teaching (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2), where I would disagree (which should be no surprise to you) is that the Holy Spirit has carried on the teachings of the apostles in the oral tradition down through our day (what you call Tradition). Not surprisingly, when the catechism speaks of this (par. 78), there is no scriptural reference, since neither the Old nor New Testaments speak of preserving oral tradition in the way the Catholic Church claims is so. The apostles teachings were codified in the New Testament which has been passed on to us and is our ultimate authority. So when I read the church fathers, for instance, I weigh what they say against the Bible.

    I agree with your last paragraph in so far as we have the apostles’ testimony to what they received from Jesus and the Spirit. The first generation of Christians had the OT as their Bible and living apostles to speak to them the Word of God. This then got written down and passed on to us and even the first Christians recognized the authority of other writings coming into being (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). But there is no promise that “Tradition” as you’ve defined it would remain authoritative and consistent.

    More could be said but this is a blog on John. I suppose what I’d want to finish with saying is that in blankly quoting “Tradition” as an authority on here, no convincing argument is put forward. You already have to accept the Catholic Church’s Magesterium as authoritative for it to mean anything. Of course, I don’t accept it. On the other hand, if you were to say, “Papias says…” or “Ignatius writes in his letter to the Philippians…” then we have evidence to discuss. And this is stuff I’m reading in preparation for the blog posts anyway. Church history is important and I even have an interview with a scholar on historical theology in the works.

  5. David

    Hey Andy,

    I feel this comment thread is getting off topic from the purpose of your blog (the Gospel of John) and I don’t want to detract from it.

    However, I will leave you with this since you mentioned some things that need to be addressed:
    1) Which came first the Church or the Bible? Yes, the Apostles teachings were codified in the New Testament which as passed on to us. But under what authority was it codified? It could only be codified by an authority given to them by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.
    2) The Bible being the sole authority is unbiblical. This is a presupposition and not backed up by scripture. However, within scripture we can see that the Church under the Apostles were given authority and from that authority the Bible was codified in the late 4th century.
    3) The Church which includes Tradition and the Deposit of Faith is forever preserved by :
    a. The promise of Christ given to Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:18-19). By this promise we are fully assured, that neither idolatry, heresy, nor any pernicious error whatsoever shall at any time prevail over the church of Christ.
    b.The Holy Spirit (John14:16). Note the word “forever”, hence it is evident that this Spirit of Truth was not only promised to the persons of the apostles, but also to their successors through all generations

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