The Beloved Apostle Writes the Fourth Gospel
THE four accounts of the good news, the Gospels, are not mere copies. Neither are they the figments of fertile imaginations. The more familiar we become with them the more we learn to appreciate their distinctive features and that they are indeed four independent yet harmonious witnesses to the facts of the earthly ministry of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Each one of the four has its own theme, its own objective, its distinct style of writing and its own peculiar facts, even as each one appears to have been written in a different location: Matthew in Palestine, Mark in Rome, Luke in Caesarea, and John in or near Ephesus. In fact, they are so different that the way each one was written served as an excuse for certain worldly-minded early “Christians” to espouse a peculiar sect: Matthew the Ebionites, Mark the Docetae, Luke the Marcionites, and John the Valentians.
Even though a mere 7 percent of Mark’s Gospel is different from all the rest, yet this 7 percent is so scattered throughout this Gospel that, together with its distinctive theme and style of writing—concise, fast-moving, replete with Latinisms, and so forth—it stands firm as an independent witness. On the other hand, we find that the fourth Gospel, although 92 percent unique, that is, covering points not mentioned by the others, is amazingly like the other three as to the basic truths, the type of characters portrayed, its spirit and impression created.
This might be illustrated by what these have to say about the apostle Peter. Certainly the first three Gospels show Peter to be impulsive in speech and action and so does the fourth Gospel. It shows Peter to be the one that objected to Jesus’ washing his feet and the one that plunged into the sea of Tiberias to swim at once to the shore upon learning that the stranger on the shore was none other than his Master, the resurrected Jesus himself.—John 13:4-10; 21:7.
Without a doubt John had before him the first three Gospels and so made his Gospel supplementary. That it was intended to fill in is apparent both by what it says and what it fails to say. The first three, known as the synoptical Gospels because of having a like point of view, tell of the supernatural birth of Jesus. John’s tells us of the prehuman existence of the Logos and that “the Word became flesh.” Thus also Luke tells of the child Jesus’ submissiveness, while John tells of Jesus’ asserting his independence upon reaching man’s estate: “What have I to do with you, woman?”—John 1:14; 2:4.
The synoptists recorded what took place at Jesus’ baptism, whereas John quotes what the Baptist later had to say about those events: “I viewed the spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him.” They pass over the first part of Jesus’ earthly ministry, beginning it with the imprisonment of John the Baptist. John’s Gospel records the first part of Jesus’ ministry together with his first miracle, the changing of the water into wine.—John 1:32.
Jesus’ Galilean ministry is featured by the first three Gospel writers; John features Jesus’ Judean ministry. They tell of Jesus’ parables, even Mark listing four, but John mentions not a one. On the other hand, he alone gives us Jesus’ interviews with Nicodemus, with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar and with Pilate. At the same time he gives us many of Jesus’ likenesses that they do not give, such as when Jesus likened himself to the serpent Moses lifted up, to a good shepherd and to a vine. They tell of Jesus’ pronouncing woe upon the scribes and Pharisees; John tells of Jesus’ likening Jews to their father the Devil. They tell of Jesus’ cleansing the temple at the end of his earthly ministry; John tells of a cleansing of the temple at its beginning. They tell of Jesus’ instituting the memorial of his death; John tells of Jesus’ washing his apostles’ feet on that occasion, of the heart-to-heart talks he gave and of the prayer he offered on their behalf on that memorable night.
The synoptists mention Jesus’ going to Jerusalem only at the end of his ministry, and from their accounts we could well conclude that Jesus’ ministry was only about one year long. John, however, tells us of Jesus’ going up to Jerusalem repeatedly to the passovers, thereby giving us a clue as to the length of Jesus’ ministry, namely, three and a half years. This is in agreement with Daniel’s prophecy about the seventy weeks of years, in which the Messiah is shown as coming at the end of the sixty-ninth week, and being cut off in death in the midst of the seventieth week, or after three and a half years.—Dan. 9:24-27; John 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 12:1 and Joh 13:1.
John is also seen to be supplementary as regards Jesus’ miracles. Only he tells us of Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine, and of Jesus’ last miracle, the draught of fishes after his resurrection. Also, only John tells us of Jesus’ restoring the sight of the man born blind and His raising Lazarus after he had been dead four days.
JOHN THE APOSTLE THE WRITER
For long years some have argued that the fourth Gospel simply could not have been written by the apostle John because of lack of early copies. However, that the Gospel of John was written in his lifetime was proved by the finding of a fragment of his Gospel in Egypt, now known as the Rylands Papyrus 457 (P52), containing John 18:31-33, 37, 38, and preserved at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England. Concerning it the late Sir Frederick Kenyon of London says in his book, The Bible and Modern Scholarship, published in 1948: “Small therefore as it is, it suffices to prove that a manuscript of this gospel was circulating, presumably in provincial Egypt where it was found, about the period A.D. 130-150. Allowing for even a minimum time for the circulation of the work from its place of origin, this would throw back the date of composition so near to the traditional date in the last decade of the first century that there is no longer any reason to question the validity of the tradition.”
The fact that John’s Gospel puts so much emphasis on love would not necessarily argue that it was not written by him because Jesus referred to him as a ‘Son of Thunder.’ The fact that as a young man he was so described would not argue against his being more mellow at, say, ninety years. It is quite likely that John was the youngest of the twelve, and he may therefore well have been the most idealistic one among them. If so, this would help explain his great devotion for his Master as well as Jesus’ particular fondness for John. It is altogether unwarranted to hold that, because Jesus had this special affection for John, John must have been unusually mild-tempered, weak or even effeminate.
On the contrary, just as Jesus had a burning zeal for righteousness—witness his cleansings of the temple, his denunciations of the clergy of his day—so did John and his brother James. That is why they were given the title Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder.” That the Samaritans of a certain city would not let their Master go through their city because he was going toward Jerusalem so filled them with righteous indignation that they wanted to call down fire from heaven; indicative, incidentally, also of their faith!—Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54.
John’s Gospel reveals the same fierce loyalty, the same intense love, the same righteous indignation. John does not spare Nicodemus but bluntly tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of night because of fear of what others thought. And the same is true of another member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea. Tax collector Matthew, always conscious of monetary values, could not help but note that Joseph was a rich man as well as a disciple of Jesus. Mark, writing for the Romans, tells us that Joseph was a counselor in good standing and also waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke gives us more details: Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, a good and righteous man, one who had not voted in support of their design and actions against Jesus, and was waiting for God’s kingdom. But John’s loyalty to Jesus, and his keen sense of righteousness, his innate idealism, would no more permit him to overlook a serious flaw in Joseph of Arimathea than it permitted him to overlook the same flaw in Nicodemus: “A disciple of Jesus but a secret one out of his fear of the Jews.” There you have it!—Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50, 51; John 19:38.
John just could not stomach the fact that anyone could profess to be a disciple of his Master and yet be ashamed of it! And so we should not be surprised to note that his reaction to Judas the traitor is the strongest of any of the Gospel writers. Long before Judas betrayed his Master, John tells us, “Jesus knew who were the ones not believing and who was the one that would betray him.” “Jesus answered them: ‘I chose you twelve, did I not? Yet one of you is a slanderer.’ He was, in fact, speaking of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot; for this one was going to betray him, although one of the twelve.” Yes, betray him, though one of the twelve!—John 6:64, 70, 71.
Thus we find that, while the other Gospel writers tell of the complaint made because of the costly ointment with which Mary anointed Jesus shortly before his death, only John tells us who said it and why: “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, who was about to betray him,” complained. “He said this, though, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box and used to carry off the monies put in it.” Again the ‘Son of Thunder’ expressing his righteous indignation. And it might be observed that, were it not for what John tells us about Judas, that one’s traitorous course would have largely remained an enigma.—John 12:4-6.
OTHER IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS
The very style of the fourth Gospel gives us circumstantial evidence that an “unlettered and ordinary” man, such as John was, must have been the writer. (Acts 4:13) John’s style is extremely simple—simple words, simple sentences, using a vocabulary far smaller than most of the other writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. At the same time his is on the loftiest plane. As Westcott, noted Bible scholar of a century ago, expressed it: “John’s Gospel is the most consummate art springing from the most consummate simplicity. . . . No writing . . . has greater simplicity with more profound depths.” Thus it is not surprising to learn that John 7:53 to 8:11, concerning which there is a question as to John’s having written it, “is not in John’s easily recognizable style.”—The Four Gospels, Dom J. Chapman.
Even more conclusively pointing to the apostle John as the writer of the fourth Gospel is its use of names. More names appear in it than in any of the other Gospels. It alone tells us that it was Philip and Andrew, Peter’s brother, that conversed with Jesus about feeding the five thousand men; that it was Malchus whose ear Peter chopped off. Yet, although mentioning Peter thirty-three times, this Gospel not once names John nor his brother James, making only one reference to them under the term ‘sons of Zebedee.’ Aside from that, John prefers to remain anonymous under the appellative that was closest to his heart, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’—John 6:5-8; 18:10; 13:23.
Nor is that all. Strongest proof of all that John wrote this Gospel is the fact that the name “John” does appear in his Gospel time and again, but it refers not once to the apostle John but solely to John the Baptist. Yes, John, who is more prone than the other Gospel writers to give us persons’ full names, when speaking of John the Baptist never bothers to call him by his full name but only “John,” although there is another John, himself. The others make this distinction, for how could you tell which John is being referred to, John the Baptist or John the apostle? But the apostle John did not think it necessary so to differentiate, because, after all, when he was talking about “John” he was not referring to himself, he was speaking of the Baptist! Surely, no one but the apostle John himself would have failed to note which John was referred to.
THE BELOVED APOSTLE
Fittingly, in times of stress the beloved apostle John was the closest to Jesus Christ, his Master. At the last passover he was reclining in front of Jesus’ bosom. He followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, to whom he was known, and he is the apostle seen with Jesus at Calvary, where he was entrusted with Jesus’ mother.—John 13:23; 18:15; 19:27.
From the fourth Gospel it is apparent that its writer had the keenest appreciation of Jesus’ prehuman existence. “In the beginning the Word was . . . All things came into existence through him.” And he alone quotes the many references that Jesus made to his prehuman existence, such as that he “descended from heaven.” “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” “Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.”—John 1:1-3; 3:13; 6:41; 8:58; 17:5.
John’s Gospel reaches the greatest heights of divine truth. He gives us the highest appreciation of Jesus as the Logos, the Fine Shepherd, the Light of the world, the Bread of Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life. He has more to say about love than the other three Gospel writers combined. Could we imagine anyone but an intimate disciple of Jesus being able to give us such a portrayal of Jesus?
Of the twelve, Jesus singled out three for special intimacy: Peter, James and John. Only these accompanied Jesus into the house to witness his raising from the dead the young daughter of the presiding officer of the synagogue; these alone accompanied him up the mount of transfiguration, and these alone accompanied him farther into the garden of Gethsemane. Logically it would be one of these three that would give us the most exalted view of Jesus. Peter and James died long before the fourth Gospel was written. The one whom Jesus specially loved must have been one of these three and therefore John.
Some claim that Joh chapter 21 of John’s Gospel, which tells of Jesus’ giving to Peter the threefold commission to feed his lambs and little sheep, was written by a different hand than that which wrote the rest of the Gospel because the last verse of the preceding chapter (20) Joh 20:31 is in the form of a conclusion; but not so. The style of Joh chapter 21 is that of John and doubtless was added later by himself.
What a treasure we have in the fourth Gospel! Well does it serve its purpose: “These have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, because of believing, you may have life by means of his name.”—John 20:31.