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History of the Church #27

The Gospel of John #2


30-100 AD

From "History of the Christian Church " by Philip Schaff



4. John gives prominence to the transcendent DISCOURSES about the
person of Christ and his relation to the Father, to the world,
and the disciples. His words are testimonies, revealing the inner
glory of his person; they are spirit and they are life.
Matthew's Gospel is likewise didactic; but there is a marked
difference between the contents and style of the Synoptic and the
Johannean discourses of Jesus. The former discuss the nature of
the Messianic kingdom, the fulfilment of the law, the duty of
holy obedience, and are popnlar, practical, brief, pointed,
sententious, parabolic, and proverbial; the latter touch the
deepest mysteries of theology and Christology, are metaphysical,
lengthy, liable to carnal misunderstanding, and scarcely
discernible from John's own style in the prologue and the first
Epistle, and from that used by the Baptist. The transition is
almost imperceptible in 3:16 and 3:31.

Here we reach the chief difficulty in the Johannean problem. Here
is the strong point of sceptical criticism. We must freely admit
at the outset that John so reproduced the words of his Master as
to mould them unconsciously into his own type of thought and
expression. He revolved them again and again in his heart, they
were his daily food, and the burden of his teaching to the
churches....; yet he had to translate, to condense, to expand,
and to apply them; and in this process it was unavoidable that
his own reflections should more or less mingle with his
recollections. With all the tenacity of his memory it was
impossible that at such a great interval of time (fifty or sixty
years after the events) he should be able to record literally
every discourse just as it was spoken; and he makes no such
claim, but intimates that he selects and summarizes.

This is the natural view of the case, and the same concession is
now made by all the champions of the Johannean authorship who do
not hold to a magical inspiration theory and turn the sacred
writers into unthinking machines, contrary to their own express
statements, as in the Preface of Luke. But we deny that this
concession involves any sacrifice of the truth of history or of
any lineament from the physiognomy of Christ. The difficulty here
presented is usually overstated by the critics, and becomes less
and less, the higher we rise in our estimation of Christ, and the
closer we examine the differences in their proper connection.    
The following reflections will aid the student:

(1) In the first place we must remember the marvellous heighth
and depth and breadth of Christ's intellect as it appears in the
Synoptists as well as in John. He commanded the whole domain of
religious and moral truth; he spake as never man spake, and the
people were astonished at his teaching (Matt.7:28,29; Mark 1:22;
6:2; Luke 4:32; John 7:46). He addressed not only his own
generation, but through it all ages and classes of men. No wonder
that his hearers often misunderstood him. The Synoptists give
examples of such misunderstanding as well as John (comp. Mark 8
:16). But who will set limits to his power and paedagogic wisdom
in the matter and form of his teaching? Must he not necessarily
have varied his style when he addressed the common people in
Galilee, as in the Synoptists, and the educated, proud, hierarchy
of Jerusalem, as in John? Or when he spoke on the mountain,
inviting the multitude to the Messianic Kingdom at the opening of
his ministry, and when he took farewell from his disciples in the
chamber, in view of the great sacrifice? Socrates appears very
different in Xenophon and in Plato, yet we can see him in both.
But here is a far greater than Socrates.

(2) John's mind, at a period when it was most pliable and
plastic, had been so conformed to the mind of Christ that his own
thoughts and words faithfully reflected the teaching of his
Master. If there ever was spiritual sympathy and congeniality
between two minds, it was between Jesus and the disciple whom he
loved and whom he intrusted with the care of his mother. John
stood nearer to his Lord than any Christian or any of the
Synoptists. Why should not John have been formed upon the model
of Jesus rather than the Jesus of his Gospel be the reflected
image of himself? Surely it may be left to all candid minds to
say whether, to adopt only the lowest supposition, the creative
intellect of Jesus was not far more likely to mould His disciple
to a conformity with itself, than the receptive spirit of the
disciple to give birth by its own efforts to that conception of a
Redeemer which so infinitely surpasses the loftiest image of
man's own creation.

(3) John reproduced the discourses from the fulness of the spirit
of Christ that dwelt in him, and therefore without any departure
from the ideas. The whole gospel history assumes that Christ did
not finish, but only began his work while on earth, that he
carries it on in heaven through his chosen organs, to whom he
promised mouth and wisdom (Luke 21:15; Matt.10:19) and his
constant presence (Matt.19:20; 28:20). The disciples became more
and more convinced of the superhuman character of Christ by the
irresistible logic of fact and thought. His earthly life appeared
to them as a transient state of humiliation which was preceded by
a pre-existent state of glory with the Father, as it was followed
by a permanent state of glory after the resurrection and
ascension to heaven. He withheld from them "many things" because
they could not bear them before his glorification (John 16:12).  
"What I do," he said to Peter, "thou knowest not now, but thou
shalt come to know hereafter" (13:7). Some of his deepest
sayings, which they had at first misunderstood, were illuminated
by the resurrection (2:22; 12:16), and then by the outpouring of
the Spirit, who took things out of the fulness of Christ and
declared them to the disciples (16:13,14). Hence the farewell
discourses are so full of the promises of the Spirit of truth who
would glorify Christ in their hearts. Under such guidance we may
be perfectly sure of the substantial faithfulness of John's

(4) Beneath the surface of the similarity there is a considerable
difference between the language of Christ and the language of his
disciple. John never attributes to Christ the designation Logos,
which he uses so prominently in the Prologue and the first
Epistle. This is very significant, and shows his conscientious
care. He distinguished his own theology from the teaching of his
Master, no matter whether he borrowed the term Logos from Philo
(which cannot be proven), or coined it himself from his
reflections on Old Testament distinctions between the hidden and
the revealed God and Christ's own testimonies concerning his
relation to the Father. The first Epistle of John is an echo of
his Gospel, but with original matter of his own and polemical
references to the anti-Christian errors of his day. "The phrases
of the Gospel," says Westcott, "have a definite historic
connection: they belong to circumstances which explain them.     
The phrases in the Epistle are in part generalizations, and in
part interpretations of the earlier language in view of Christ's
completed work and of the experience of the Christian church."

As to the speeches of the Baptist, in the fourth Gospel, they
keep, as the same writer remarks, strictly within the limits
suggested by the Old Testament. What he says spontaneously of
Christ is summed up in the two figures of the 'Lamb' and the 
'Bridegroom,' which together give a comprehensive view of the
suffering and joy, the redemptive and the completive work of
Messiah under prophetic imagery. Both figures appear again in the
Apocalypse; but it is very significant that they do not occur in
the Lord's teaching in the fourth Gospel or in St. John's

(5) There are not wanting striking resemblances in thought and
style between the discourses in John and in the Synoptists,
especially Matthew, which are sufficient to refute the assertion
that the two types of teaching are irreconcilable. The Synoptists
were not quite unfamiliar with the other type of teaching. They
occasionally rise to the spiritual height of John and record
briefer sayings of Jesus which could be inserted without a dis-
cord in his Gospel. Take the prayer of thanksgiving and the
touching invitation to all that labor and are heavy laden, in
Matt.11:25-30. The sublime declaration recorded by Luke (10:22)
and Matthew (11:27): "No one knoweth the Son, save the Father;
neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to
whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him," is thoroughly
Christ-like according to John's conception, and is the basis of
his own declaration in the prologue: "No man hath seen God at any
time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,
he hath declared him" (1:18). Jesus makes no higher claim in John
than he does in Matthew when he proclaims: "All authority hath
been given unto me in heaven and on earth" (28:19). In almost the
same words Jesus says in John (17 2): " Thou hast given him power
over all flesh." On the other hand, John gives us not a few
specimens of those short, pithy maxims of oriental wisdom which
characterize the Synoptic discourses.

The style of the fourth Gospel differs widely from the
ecclesiastical writers of the second century, and belongs to the
apostolic age. It has none of the technical theological terms of
post-apostolic controversies, no allusions to the state of the
church, its government and worship, but moves in the atmosphere
of the first Christian generation; yet differs widely from the
style of the Synoptists and is altogether unique in the history
of secular and religious literature, a fit expression of the
genius of John: clear and deep, simple as a child, and mature as
a saint, sad and yet serene, and basking in the sunshine of
eternal life and love. The fourth Gospel is pure Greek in
vocabulary and grammar, but thoroughly Hebrew in temper and
spirit, even more so than any other book, and can be almost
literally translated into Hebrew without losing its force or
beauty. It has the childlike simplicity, the artlessness, the
imaginativeness, the directness, the circumstantiality, and the
rhythmical parallelism which characterize the writings of the Old
Testament. The sentences are short and weighty, coordinated, not
subordinated. The construction is exceedingly simple: no involved
periods, no connecting links, no logical argumentation, but a
succession of self-evident truths declared as from immediate
intuition. The parallelism of Hebrew poetry is very apparent in
such double sentences as: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I
give unto you;" "A servant is not greater than his lord; neither
one that is sent greater than he that sent him;" "All things were
made by him, and without him was not anything made that bath been
made." Examples of antithetic parallelism are also frequent: 
"The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended
it not;" "He was in the world, and the world knew him not;" "He
confessed, and denied not;" "I give unto them eternal life, and
they shall never perish."

The author has a limited vocabulary, but loves emphatic
repetition, and his very monotony is solemn and impressive.
He uses certain key-words of the profoundest import, as Word,
life, light, truth, love, glory, testimony, name, sign, work, to
know, to behold, to believe. These are not abstract conceptions
but concrete realities. He views the world under com-prehensive
contrasts, as life and death, light and darkness, truth and
falsehood, love and hatred, God and the devil, and (in the first
Epistle) Christ and Antichrist.

He avoids the optative, and all argumentative particles, but uses
very frequently the simple particles (Greek). His most
characteristic particle in the narrative portions is "therefore"
(ouv), which is with him not syllogistic (like spa and its
compounds), but indicative simply of continuation and retrospect
(like "so" and "then" or the German "nun"), yet with the idea
that nothing happens without a cause; while the particle "in
order that" (iva) indicates that nothing happens without a
purpose. He avoids the relative pronoun and prefers the
connecting "and" with the repetition of the noun, as "In the be-
ginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. . . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men."
The "and" sometimes takes the place of "but," as "The light
shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not" 

We look in vain for such important words as, church, gospel,
repentance (Greek), but the substance is there in different
forms. He does not even use the noun "faith" (Greek), which
frequently occurs in the Synoptists and in Paul, but he uses the
verb "to believe" (Greek) ninety-eight times, about twice as
often as all three Synoptists together.

He applies the significant term Logos (ratio and oratio) to
Christ as the Revealer and the Interpreter of God (1:18), but
only in the Prologue, and such figurative designations as "the
Light of the world," "the Bread of life," "the Good Shepherd," 
"the Vine," "the Way," "the Truth," and "the Life." He alone uses
the double "Verily" in the discourses of the Saviour. He calls
the Holy Spirit the "Paraclete" or "Advocate " of believers, who
pleads their cause here on earth, as Christ pleads it on the
throne in heaven.   

(The author does not realize that the "Spirit" is Christ, comes
from Christ, comes from the Father. The author is a "trinitarian"
believing the Spirit is a separate person from the Father and
Son. Such ideas are incorrect as we prove elsewhere on this
website - Keith Hunt)

There breathes through this book an air of calmness and serenity,
of peace and repose, that seems to come from the eternal mansions
of heaven.

Is such a style compatible with the hypothesis of a post-and
pseudo-apostolic fiction? We have a large number of fictitious
Gospels, but they differ as much from the fourth canonical Gospel
as midnight darkness from noonday brightness.


For nearly eighteen centuries the Christian church of all
denominations has enjoyed the fourth Gospel without a shadow of
doubt that it was the work of John the Apostle. But in the
nineteenth century the citadel was assailed with increasing
force, and the conflict between the besiegers and defenders is
still raging among scholars of the highest ability. It is a
question of life and death between constructive and destructive
criticism. The vindication of the fourth Gospel as a genuine
product of John, the beloved disciple, is the death-blow of the
mythical and legendary reconstruction and destruction of the life
of Christ and the apostolic history. The ultimate result cannot
be doubtful. The opponents have been forced gradually to retreat
from the year 170 to the very beginning of the second century, as
the time when the fourth Gospel was already known and used in the
church, that is to the lifetime of many pupils and friends of
John and other eye-witnesses of the life of Christ.

1. The EXTERNAL PROOF of the Johannean authorship is as strong,
yea stronger than that of the genuineness of any classical writer
of antiquity, and goes up to the very beginning of the second
century, within hailing distance of the living John. It includes
catholic writers, heretics, and heathen enemies. There is but one
dissenting voice, hardly audible, that of the insignificant sect
of the Alogi who opposed the Johannean doctrine of the Logos
(hence their name, with the double meaning of unreasonable, and
anti-Logos heretics) and absurdly ascribed both the Gospel of
John and the Apocalypse to his enemy, the Gnostic Cerinthus. Let
us briefly sum up the chief testimonies.

1. Catholic testimonies:

We begin at the fourth century and gradually rise up to the age
of John. All the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament,
including the Sinaitic and the Vatican, which date from the age
of Constantine and are based upon older copies of the second
century, and all the ancient versions, including the Syriac and
old Latin from the third and second centuries, contain without
exception the Gospel of John, though the Peshito omits his second
and third Epistles and the Apocalypse. These manuscripts and
versions represent the universal voice of the churches.
Then we have the admitted individual testimonies of all the Greek
and Latin fathers up to the middle of the second century, without
a dissenting voice or doubt: Jerome (d. 419) and Eusebins (d.
340), who had the whole ante-Nicene literature before them;
Origen in Egypt (d. 254), the greatest scholar of his age and a
commentator on John; Tertullian of North Africa (about 200), a
Catholic in doctrine, a Montanist in discipline, and a zealous
advocate of the dispensation of the Paraclete announced by John;
Clement of Alexandria (about 190), a cultivated philosopher who
had travelled in Greece, Italy, Syria, and Palestine, seeking
religious instruction everywhere; Irenaeus, a native of Asia
Minor and from 178 bishop of Lyons, a pupil of Polycarp and a
grand-pupil of John himself, who derived his chief ammunition
against the Gnostic heresy from the fourth Gospel, and represents
the four canonical Gospels - no more and no less - as universally
accepted by the churches of his time; Theophilus of Antioch
(180), who expressly quotes from the fourth Gospel under the name
of John; the Muratorian Canon (170), which reports the occasion
of the composition of John's Gospel by urgent request of his
friends and disciples; Tatian of Syria (155-170), who in his 
"Address to the Greeks" repeatedly quotes the fourth Gospel,
though without naming the author, and who began his "Diatessaron"
- once widely spread in the church notwithstanding the somewhat
Gnostic leanings Of the author, and commented on by Ephraem of
Syria - with the prologue of John. From him we have but one step
to his teacher, Justin Martyr, a native of Palestine (103-166),
and a bold and noble-minded defender of the faith in the reigns
of Hadrian and the Antonines. In his two Apologies and his
Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, he often quotes freely from the
four Gospels under the name of Apostolic "Memoirs" or
"Memorabilia of the Apostles," which were read at his time in
public worship. He made most use of Matthew, but once at least he
quotes a passage on regeneration from Christ's dialogue with
Nicodemus which is recorded only by John. Several other allusions
of Justin to John are unmistakable, and his whole doctrine of the
pre-existent Logos who sowed precious seeds of truth among Jews
and Gentiles before his incarnation, is unquestion ably derived
from John. To reverse the case is to derive the sunlight from the
moon, or the fountain from one of its streams.

But we can go still farther back.  The scanty writings of the
Apostolic Fathers, so called, have very few allusions to the New
Testament, and breathe the atmosphere of the primitive oral
tradition. The author of the "Didache" was well acquainted with
Matthew. The first Epistle of Clement has strong affinity with
Paul. The shorter Epistles of Ignatius show the influence of
John's Christology. Polycarp (d. A.D.155 in extreme old age), a
personal pupil of John, used the First Epistle of John, and thus
furnishes an indirect testimony to the Gospel, since both these
books must stand or fall together. The same is true of Papias
(died about 150), who studied with Polycarp, and probably was
likewise a hearer of John. He "used testimonies from the
former Epistle of John." In enumerating the apostles whose living
words he collected in his youth, he places John out of his
regular order of precedence, along with Matthew, his fellow-
Evangelist, and "Andrew, Peter, and Philip" in the same order as
John, (1:40-43); from which it has also been inferred that he
knew the fourth Gospel. There is some reason to suppose that the
disputed section on the woman taken in adultery was recorded by
him in illustration of John 8:15; for, according to Eusebius, he
mentioned a similar story in his lost work. 

These facts combined, make it at least extremely probable that
Papias was familiar with John. The joint testimony of Polycarp
and Papias represents the school of John in the very field of his
later labors, and the succession was continued through Polycrates
at Ephesus, through Melito at Sardis, through Claudius
Apollinaris at Hieropolis, and Pothinus and Irenaeus in Southern
Gaul. It is simply incredible that a spurious Gospel should have
been smuggled into the churches under the name of their revered
spiritual father and grandfather.

Finally, the concluding verse of the appendix, ch.21:24, is a
still older testimony of a number of personal friends and pupils
of John, perhaps the very persons who, according to ancient
tradition, urged him to write the Gospel. The book probably
closed with the sentence: "This is the disciple who beareth
witness of these things, and wrote these things." To this the
elders add their attestation in the plural: "And we know that his
witness is true." A literary fiction would not have been
benefited by an anonymous postscript. The words as they stand are
either a false testimony of the pseudo-John, or the true
testimony of the friends of the real John who first received his
book and published it before or after his death.

The voice of the whole Catholic church, so far as it is heard on
the subject at all, is in favor of the authorship of John. There
is not a shadow of proof to the contrary opinion except one, and
that is purely negative and inconclusive. Baur to the very last
laid the greatest stress on the entangled paschal controversy of
the second century as a proof that John could not have written
the fourth Gospel because he was quoted as an authority for the
celebration of the Lord's Supper on the 14th of Nisan; while the
fourth Gospel, in flat contradiction to the Synoptists, puts the
crucifixion on that day (instead of the 15th), and represents
Christ as the true paschal lamb slain at the very time when the
typical Jewish passover was slain. But, in the first place, some
of the ablest scholars know how to reconcile John with the
Synoptic date of the crucifixion on the 15th of Nisan; and,
secondly, there is no evidence at all that the apostle John
celebrated Easter with the Quartodecimans on the 14th of Nisan in
commemoration of the day of the Lord's Supper. The controversy
was between conforming the celebration of the Christian Passover
to the day of the month., that is to Jewish chronology, or to the
day of the week on which Christ died. The former would have made
Easter, more conveniently, a fixed festival like the Jewish
Passover, the latter or Roman practice made it a movable feast,
and this practice triumphed at the Council of Nicaea.

The author has no idea as to the correct understanding of the
true Passover (the beginning of the 14th day) and the Passover
observed by the Pharisees Jews (beginning of the 15th day), hence
he and many other Catholic and Protestant "scholars" are all
often in confusion about the Passover in the Gospel of John and
the Passover in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The correct understanding I give in many studies on this website
under "Passover" - so then the correct understanding as to how
John wrote and how Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote - hence no
contradition in any of the Gospels over the Passover. There was
the true time of the Passover at the beginning of the 14th day,
and so Jesus crucified in the afternoon of the 14th day; and
there was the time of the Passover observance of the Pharisees,
the killing of the lambs in the Temple from the afternoon of the
14th and eating the Passover lambs at the start of the 15th day.

Well the reader can study all my in-depth studies on the subject
under "Passover" which lies under the heading of "Sabbath and
Feast of God verses Pagan ones" on this website, and come to the
knowledge of the truth of the matter.

Keith Hunt

To be continued

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