JOHN, GOSPEL OF ST, the fourth and latest of the Gospels, in the Bible, and, next to that of St Mark, the shortest. The present article will first describe its general structure and more obvious contents; compare it with the Synoptic Gospels; and draw out its leading characteristics and final object. It will then apply the tests thus gained to the narratives special to this Gospel; and point out the book’s special difficulties and limits, and its abiding appeal and greatness. And it will finally consider the questions of its origin and authorship.
Analysis of Contents.—The book’s chief break is at xiii. 1, the solemn introduction to the feet-washing: all up to here reports Jesus’ signs and apologetic or polemical discourses to the outer world; hence onwards it pictures the manifestation of His glory to the inner circle of His disciples. These two parts contain three sections each.
1. (i.) Introduces the whole work (i. 1–ii. 11). (a) The prologue, i. 1–18. The Logos existed before creation and time; was with the very God and was God; and all things were made through Him. For in this Logos is Life, and this Life is a Light which, though shining in darkness, cannot be suppressed by it. This true Light became flesh and tabernacled amongst us; and we beheld His glory, as of an Only-Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John the Baptist testified concerning Him, the Logos-Light and Logos-Life incarnate; but this Logos alone, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared the very God. (b) The four days’ work (i. 19–51). On the first three days John declares that he is not the Christ, proclaims Jesus to be the Christ, and sends his own disciples away to Jesus. On the fourth day, Jesus Himself calls Philip and Nathanael. (c) The seventh day’s first manifestation of the Incarnate Light’s glory (ii. 1–11); Jesus at Cana turns water into wine.
(ii.) Records the manifestations of the Light’s and Life’s glory and power to friend and foe (ii. 22–vi. 71). (d) Solemn inauguration of the Messianic ministry (ii. 12–iii. 21): cleansing of the Temple and prophecy of His resurrection; discourse to Nicodemus on baptismal regeneration. (e) Three scenes in Judea, Samaria, Galilee respectively (iii. 32–iv. 54): the Baptist’s second testimony; Jesus’ discourse with the woman at the well concerning the spiritual, universal character of the new religion; and cure of the ruler’s son, the reward of faith in the simple word of Jesus. (f) Manifestation of Jesus as the vivifying Life-Logos and its contradiction in Judea, v.: the paralytic’s cure. (g) Manifestation of Jesus as the heaven-descended living Bread and its contradiction in Galilee, vi.: multiplication of the loaves; walking on the waters; and His discourse on the holy Eucharist.
(iii.) Acute conflict between the New Light and the old darkness (vii.–xii). (h) Self-manifestation of the Logos-Light in the Temple (vii. 1–x. 39). Journey to the feast of tabernacles; invitation to the soul athirst to come to Him (the fountain of Life) and drink, and proclamation of Himself as the Light of the world; cure of the man born blind; allegory of the good shepherd. The allegory continued at the feast of the dedication. They strive to stone or to take Him. (i) The Logos-Life brings Lazarus to life; effects of the act (x. 40–xii. 50). Jesus withdraws beyond Jordan, and then comes to Bethany, His friend Lazarus being buried three days; proclaims Himself the Resurrection and the Life; and calls Lazarus back to life. Some who saw it report the act to the Pharisees; the Sanhedrim meets, Caiaphas declares that one man must die for the people, and henceforward they ceaselessly plan His death. Jesus withdraws to the Judaean desert, but soon returns, six days before Passover, to Bethany; Mary anoints Him, a crowd comes to see Him and Lazarus, and the hierarchs then plan the killing of Lazarus also. Next morning He rides into Jerusalem on an ass’s colt. Certain Greeks desire to see Him: He declares the hour of His glorification to have come: “Now My soul is troubled. . . . Father, save Me from this hour. But for this have I come unto this hour: Father, glorify Thy Name.” A voice answers, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again”: some think that an angel spoke; but Jesus explains that this voice was not for His sake but for theirs. When lifted up from earth, He will draw all men to Himself; they are to believe in Him, the Light. The writer’s concluding reflection: the small success of Jesus’ activity among the Jews. Once again He cries: “I am come a Light into the world, that whoso believeth in Me should not abide in darkness.”
2. The Logos-Christ’s manifestation of His life and love to His disciples, during the last supper, the passion, the risen life (xiii.–xx.).
(iv.) The Last Supper (xiii.–xvii.) (j) Solemn washing of the disciples’ feet; the beloved disciple; designates the traitor; Judas goes forth, it is night (xiii. 1–30). (k) Last discourses, first series (xiii. 31–xiv. 31): the new commandment, the other helper; “Arise, let us go hence.” Second series (xv. 1–xvi. 33): allegory of the true vine; “Greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friend”; the world’s hatred; the spirit of truth shall lead them into all truth; “I came forth from the Father and am come into the world, again I leave the world and go to the Father”; “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (l) The high-priestly prayer (xvii). “Father, glorify Thy Son . . . with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was . . . that to as many as Thou hast given Him, He should give eternal life.” “I pray for them, I pray not for the world. I pray also for them that shall believe in Me through their word, that they may be all one, as Thou Father art in Me, and I in Thee.”
(v.) The Passion (xviii.–xix.). (m) In the garden: the Roman soldiers come to apprehend Him, fall back upon the ground at His declaration “I am He.” Peter and Malchus. (n) Before Annas at night and Caiaphas at dawn; Peter’s denials (xviii. 12–27). (o) Before Pilate (xviii. 28–40). Jesus declares, “My kingdom is not of this world. I have come into the world that I may bear witness to the truth: everyone that is of the truth, heareth My voice”; Pilate asks sceptically “What is truth?” and the crowd prefers Barabbas. (p) The true king presented to the people as a mock-king; His rejection by the Jews and abandonment to them (xix. 1–16). (q) Jesus carries His cross to Golgotha, and is crucified there between two others; the cross’s title and Pilate’s refusal to alter it (xix. 17–22). (r) The soldiers cast lots upon His garments and seamless tunic; His mother with two faithful women and the beloved disciple at the cross’s foot; His commendation of His mother and the disciple to each other; His last two sayings in deliberate accomplishment of scripture “I thirst,” “It is accomplished.” He gives up the spirit; His bones remain unbroken; and from His spear-lanced side blood and water issue (xix. 23–37). (s) The two nobles, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, bind the dead body in a winding sheet with one hundred pounds of precious spices, and place it in a new monument in a near garden, since the sabbath is at hand.
(vi.) The risen Jesus, Lord and God (xx.). (t) At early dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen, finding the stone rolled away from the monument, runs to tell Peter and the beloved disciple that the Lord’s body has been removed. Peter and the other disciple run to the grave; the latter, arriving first, enters only after Peter has gone in and noted the empty grave-clothes—enters and believes. After their departure, Mary sees two angels where His body had lain and turning away beholds Jesus standing, yet recognizes Him only when He addresses her. He bids her “Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended”; but to tell His brethren “I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God.” And she does so. (u) Second apparition (xx. 19–23). Later on the same day, the doors being shut, Jesus appears amongst His disciples, shows them His (pierced) hands and side, and solemnly commissions and endows them for the apostolate by the words, “As the Father hath sent Me, so I send you,” and by breathing upon them saying “Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; whose sins ye retain, they are retained.” (v) Third apparition and culminating saying; conclusion of entire book (xx. 24–31). Thomas, who had been absent, doubts the resurrection; Jesus comes and submits to the doubter’s tests. Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God”; but Jesus declares “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” “Now Jesus,” concludes the writer, “did many other signs, . . . but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name.”
The above analysis is rough, since even distantly placed sections, indeed the two parts themselves, are interrelated by delicate complex references on and back. And it omits the account of the adulteress (vii. 53–viii. 11): (a valuable report of an actual occurrence which probably belonged to some primitive document otherwise incorporated by the Synoptists), because it is quite un-Johannine in vocabulary, style and character, intercepts the Gospel’s thread wherever placed, and is absent from its best MSS. It also omits xxi. This chapter’s first two stages contain an important early historical document of Synoptic type: Jesus’ apparition to seven disciples by the Lake of Galilee and the miraculous draught of fishes; and Peter’s threefold confession and Jesus’ threefold commission to him. And its third stage, Jesus’ prophecies to Peter and to the beloved disciple concerning their future, and the declaration “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who has written them, and we know that his testimony is true,” is doubtless written by the redactor of the previous two stages. This writer imitates, but is different from, the great author of the first twenty chapters.
Comparison with the Synoptists.—The following are the most obvious differences between the original book and the Synoptists. John has a metaphysical prologue; Matthew and Luke have historical prologues; and Mark is without any prologue. The earthly scene is here Judea, indeed Jerusalem, with but five breaks (vi. 1–vii. 10) is the only long one; whilst over two-thirds of each Synoptist deal with Galilee or Samaria. The ministry here lasts about three and a half years (it begins some months before the first Passover, ii. 13; the feast of v. 1 is probably a second; the third occurs vi. 4; and on the fourth, xi. 55, He dies): whilst the Synoptists have but the one Passover of His death, after barely a year of ministry. Here Jesus’ teaching contains no parables and but three allegories, the Synoptists present it as parabolic through and through. Here not one exorcism occurs; in the Synoptists the exorcisms are as prominent as the cures and the preaching, John has, besides the passion, seven accounts in common with the Synoptists: the Baptist and Jesus, (i. 19–34); cleansing of the Temple (ii. 13–16); cure of the centurion’s (ruler’s) servant (son) (iv. 46–54); multiplication of the loaves (vi. 1–13); walking upon the water (vi. 16-21); anointing at Bethany, (xii. 1–8); entry into Jerusalem (xii. 12–16): all unique occurrences. In the first, John describes how the Baptist, on Jesus’ approach, cries “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world”; and how he says “I saw the spirit descending upon Him, and I bore witness that this is the Son of God.” But the Synoptists, especially Mark, give the slow steps in even the apostles’ realization of Jesus’ Messianic character; only at Caesarea Philippi Simon alone, for the first time, clearly discerns it, Jesus declaring that His Father has revealed it to Him, and yet Simon is still scandalized at the thought of a suffering Messiah (Mark viii. 28–34). Only some two weeks before the end is He proclaimed Messiah at Jericho (x. 46–48); then in Jerusalem, five days before dying for this upon the cross (xi. 1–10, xv. 37). As to the Baptist, in all three Synoptists, he baptizes Jesus, and in Mark i. 10, 11 it is Jesus who sees the Spirit descending upon Himself on His emerging from beneath the water, and it is to Himself that God’s voice is addressed; in John, Jesus’ baptism is ignored, only the Spirit remains hovering above Him, as a sign for the Baptist’s instruction. And in Matt. xi. 2–6, the Baptist, several months after the Jordan scene, sends from his prison to ascertain if Jesus is indeed the Messiah; in John, the Baptist remains at large so as again (iii. 22–36) to proclaim Jesus’ heavenly provenance. The cleansing of the Temple occurs in the Synoptists four days before His death, and instantly determines the hierarchs to seek His destruction (Mark xi. 15–18); John puts it three years back, as an appropriate frontispiece to His complete claims and work.
The passion-narratives reveal the following main differences. John omits, at the last supper, its central point, the great historic act of the holy eucharist, carefully given by the Synoptists and St Paul, having provided a highly doctrinal equivalent in the discourse on the living bread, here spoken by Jesus in Capernaum over a year before the passion (vi. 4), the day after the multiplication of the loaves. This transference is doubtless connected with the change in the relations between the time of the Passover meal and that of His death: in the Synoptists, the Thursday evening’s supper is a true Passover meal, the lamb had been slain that afternoon and Jesus dies some twenty-four hours later; in John, the supper is not a Passover-meal, the Passover is celebrated on Friday, and Jesus, proclaimed here from the first, the Lamb of God, dies whilst the paschal lambs, His prototypes, are being slain. The scene in the garden is without the agony of Gethsemane; a faint echo of this historic anguish appears in the scene with the Greeks four days earlier, and even that peaceful appeal to, and answer of, the Father occurs only for His followers’ sakes. In the garden Jesus here Himself goes forth to meet His captors, and these fall back upon the ground, on His revealing Himself as Jesus of Nazareth. The long scenes with Pilate culminate in the great sayings concerning His kingdom not being of this world and the object of this His coming being to bear witness to the truth, thus explaining how, though affirming kingship (Mark xv. 2) He could be innocent. In John He does not declare Himself Messiah before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mark xiv. 61) but declares Himself supermundane regal witness to the truth before the Roman governor. The scene on Calvary differs as follows: In the Synoptists the soldiers divide His garments among them, casting lots (Mark xv. 24); in John they make four parts of them and cast lots concerning His seamless tunic, thus fulfilling the text, “They divided My garments among them and upon My vesture they cast lots”: the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, which twice describes one fact, being taken as witnessing to two, and the tunic doubtless symbolizing the unity of the Church, as in Philo the high priest’s seamless robe symbolizes the indivisible unity of the universe, expressive of the Logos (De ebrietate, xxi.). In the Synoptists, of His followers only women—the careful, seemingly exhaustive lists do not include His mother—remain, looking on “from afar” (Mark xv. 40); in John, His mother stands with the two other Marys and the beloved disciple beneath the cross, and “from that hour the disciple took her unto his own (house),” while in the older literature His mother does not appear in Jerusalem till just before Pentecost, and with “His brethren” (Acts i. 14). And John alone tells how the bones of the dead body remained unbroken, fulfilling the ordinance as to the paschal lamb (Exod. xii. 46) and how blood and water flow from His spear-pierced side: thus the Lamb “taketh away the sins of the world” by shedding His blood which “cleanseth us from every sin”; and “He cometh by water and blood,” historically at His baptism and crucifixion, and mystically to each faithful soul in baptism and the eucharist. The story of the risen Christ (xx.) shows dependence on and contrast to the Synoptic accounts. Its two halves have each a negative and a positive scene. The empty grave (1–10) and the apparition to the Magdalen (11–18) together correspond to the message brought by the women (Matt. xxviii. 1–10); and the apparition to the ten joyously believing apostles (19–23) and then to the sadly doubting Thomas (24–29) together correspond to Luke xxiv. 36–43, where the eleven apostles jointly receive one visit from the risen One, and both doubt and believe, mourn and rejoice.
The Johannine discourses reveal differences from the Synoptists so profound as to be admitted by all. Here Jesus, the Baptist and the writer speak so much alike that it is sometimes impossible to say where each speaker begins and ends: e.g. in iii. 27–30, 31–36. The speeches dwell upon Jesus’ person and work, as we shall find, with a didactic directness, philosophical terminology and denunciatory exclusiveness unmatched in the Synoptist sayings. “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (xvii. 3), is part of the high-priestly prayer; yet Père Calmes, with the papal censor’s approbation, says, “It seems to us impossible not to admit that we have here dogmatic developments explicable rather by the evangelist’s habits of mind than by the actual words of Jesus.” “I have told you of earthly things and you believe not; how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” (iii. 12), and “Ye are from beneath, I am from above” (viii. 23), give us a Plato-(Philo-) like upper, “true” world, and a lower, delusive world. “Ye shall die in your sins” (viii. 21); “ye are from your father the devil” (viii. 44); “I am the door of the sheep, all they that came before Me are thieves and robbers,” (x. 7, 8); “they have no excuse for their sin” (xv. 22)—contrast strongly with the yearning over Jerusalem: “The blood of Abel the just” and “the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias” (Matt. xxiii. 35–37; and “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Luke xxiii. 34). And whilst the Synoptist speeches and actions stand in loose and natural relation to each other, the Johannine deeds so closely illustrate the sayings that each set everywhere supplements the other: the history itself here tends to become one long allegory. So with the woman at the well and “the living water”; the multiplication of the loaves and “the living Bread”; “I am the Light of the world” and the blind man’s cure; “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and the raising of Lazarus; indeed even with the Temple-cleansing and the prophecy as to His resurrection, Nicodemus’s night visit and “men loved the darkness rather than the light,” the cure of the inoperative paralytic and “My Father and I work hitherto,” the walking phantom-like upon the waters (John vi. 15–21; Mark vi. 49), and the declaration concerning the eucharist, “the spirit it is that quickeneth” (John vi. 63). Only some sixteen Synoptic sayings reappear here; but we are given some great new sayings full of the Synoptic spirit.
Characteristics and Object.—The book’s character results from the continuous operation of four great tendencies. There is everywhere a readiness to handle traditional, largely historical, materials with a sovereign freedom, controlled and limited by doctrinal convictions and devotional experiences alone. There is everywhere the mystic’s deep love for double, even treble meanings: e.g. the “again” in iii. 2, means, literally, “from the beginning,” to be physically born again; morally, to become as a little child; mystically, “from heaven, God,” to be spiritually renewed. “Judgment” (κρίσις), in the popular sense, condemnation, a future act; in the mystical sense, discrimination, a present fact. There is everywhere the influence of certain central ideas, partly identical with, but largely developments of, those less reflectively operative in the Synoptists. Thus six great terms are characteristic of, or even special to, this Gospel. “The Only-Begotten” is most nearly reached by St Paul’s term “His own Son.” The “Word,” or “Logos,” is a term derived from Heracleitus of Ephesus and the Stoics, through the Alexandrian Jew Philo, but conceived here throughout as definitely personal. “The Light of the World” the Jesus-Logos here proclaims Himself to be; in the Synoptists He only declares His disciples to be such. “The Paraclete,” as in Philo, is a “helper,” “intercessor”; but in Philo he is the intelligible universe, whilst here He is a self-conscious Spirit. “Truth,” “the truth,” “to know,” have here a prominence and significance far beyond their Synoptic or even their Pauline use. And above all stand the uses of “Life,” “Eternal Life.” The living ever-working Father (vi. 57; v. 17) has a Logos in whom is Life (i. 4), an ever-working Son (v. 17), who declares Himself “the living Bread,” “the Resurrection and the Life,” “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (vi. 51; xi. 25; xiv. 16): so that Father and Son quicken whom they will (v. 21); the Father’s commandment is life everlasting, and Jesus’ words are spirit and life (xii. 50; vi. 63, 68). The term, already Synoptic, takes over here most of the connotations of the “Kingdom of God,” the standing Synoptic expression, which appears here only in iii. 3–5; xviii. 36. Note that the term “the Logos” is peculiar to the Apocalypse (xix. 13), and the prologue here; but that, as Light and Life, the Logos-conception is present throughout the book. And thus there is everywhere a striving to contemplate history sub specie aeternitatis and to englobe the successiveness of man in the simultaneity of God.
Narratives Peculiar to John.—Of his seven great symbolical, doctrinally interpreted “signs,” John shares three, the cure of the ruler’s son, the multiplication of the loaves, the walking on the waters, with the Synoptists: yet here the first is transformed almost beyond recognition; and the two others only typify and prepare the eucharistic discourse. Of the four purely Johannine signs, two—the cures of the paralytic (v. 1–16), and of the man born blind (ix. 1–34)—are, admittedly, profoundly symbolical. In the first case, the man’s physical and spiritual lethargy are closely interconnected and strongly contrasted with the ever-active God and His Logos. In the second case there is also the closest parallel between physical blindness cured, and spiritual darkness dispelled, by the Logos-Light as described in the accompanying discourse. Both narratives are doubtless based upon actual occurrences—the cures narrated in Mark ii., iii., viii., x. and scenes witnessed by the writer in later times; yet here they do but picture our Lord’s spiritual work in the human soul achieved throughout Christian history. We cannot well claim more than these three kinds of reality for the first and the last signs, the miracle at Cana and the resurrection of Lazarus.
For the marriage-feast sign yields throughout an allegorical meaning. Water stands in this Gospel for what is still but symbol; thus the water-pots serve here the external Jewish ablutions—old bottles which the “new wine” of the Gospel is to burst (Mark ii. 22). Wine is the blood of the new covenant, and He will drink the fruit of the vine new in the Kingdom of God (Mark xiv. 23–25); the vineyard where He Himself is the true Vine (Mark xii. 1; John xv. 1). And “the kingdom of heaven is like to a marriage-feast” (Matt. xxii. 2); Jesus is the Bridegroom (Mark ii. 19); “the marriage of the Lamb has come” (Rev. xix. 7). “They have no wine”: the hopelessness of the old conditions is announced here by the true Israel, the Messiah’s spiritual mother, the same “woman” who in Rev. xii. 2, 5 “brought forth a man-child who was to rule all nations.” Cardinal Newman admits that the latter woman “represents the church, this is the real or direct sense”; yet as her man-child is certainly the Messiah, this church must be the faithful Jewish church. Thus also the “woman” at the wedding and beneath the cross stands primarily for the faithful Old Testament community, corresponding to the beloved disciple, the typical New Testament follower of her Son, the Messiah: in each case the devotional accommodation to His earthly mother is equally ancient and legitimate. He answers her “My hour is not yet come,” i.e. in the symbolic story, the moment for working the miracle; in the symbolized reality, the hour of His death, condition for the spirit’s advent; and “what is there between Me and thee?” i.e. “My motives spring no more from the old religion,” words devoid of difficulty, if spoken thus by the Eternal Logos to the passing Jewish church. The transformation is soon afterwards accomplished, but in symbol only; the “hour” of the full sense is still over three years off. Already Philo says “the Logos is the master of the spiritual drinking-feast,” and “let Melchisedeck”—the Logos—“in lieu of water offer wine to souls and inebriate them” (De somn. ii. 37; Legg. all. iii. 26). But in John this symbolism figures a great historic fact, the joyous freshness of Jesus’ ministerial beginnings, as indicated in the sayings of the Bridegroom and of the new wine, a freshness typical of Jesus’ ceaseless renovation of souls.
The raising of Lazarus, in appearance a massive, definitely localized historical fact, requires a similar interpretation, unless we would, in favour of the direct historicity of a story peculiar to a profoundly allegorical treatise, ruin the historical trustworthiness of the largely historical Synoptists in precisely their most complete and verisimilar part. For especially in Mark, the passing through Jericho, the entry into Jerusalem, the Temple-cleansing and its immediate effect upon the hierarchs, their next day’s interrogatory, “By what authority doest thou these things?” i.e. the cleansing (x. 46–xi. 33), are all closely interdependent and lead at once to His discussions with His Jerusalem opponents (xii. xiii.), and to the anointing, last supper, and passion (xiv. xv). John’s last and greatest symbolic sign replaces those historic motives, since here it is the raising of Lazarus which determines the hierarchs to kill Jesus (xi. 46–52), and occasions the crowds which accompany and meet Him on His entry (xii. 9–19). The intrinsic improbabilities of the narrative, if taken as direct history, are also great: Jesus’ deliberate delay of two days to secure His friend’s dying, and His rejoicing at the death, since thus He can revivify His friend and bring His disciples to believe in Himself as the Life; His deliberate weeping over the death which He has thus let happen, yet His anger at the similar tears of Lazarus’s other friends; and His praying, as He tells the Father in the prayer itself, simply to edify the bystanders: all point to a doctrinal allegory. Indeed the climax of the whole account is already reached in Jesus’ great saying: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me ... shall not die for ever,” and in Martha’s answer: “I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who hast come into the world” (xi. 26, 27); the sign which follows is but the pictorial representation of this abiding truth. The materials for the allegory will have been certain Old Testament narratives, but especially the Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ raisings of Jairus’s daughter and of the widow’s son (Mark v.; Luke vii.). Mary and Martha are admittedly identical with the sisters in Luke x. 38–42; and already some Greek fathers connect the Lazarus of this allegory with the Lazarus of the parable (Luke xvi. 19–31). In the parable Lazarus returns not to earth, since Abraham foresees that the rich man’s brethren would disbelieve even if one rose from the dead; in the corresponding allegory, Lazarus does actually return to life, and the Jews believe so little as to determine upon killing the very Life Himself.
Special Difficulties and Special Greatness.—The difficulties, limitations and temporary means special to the book are closely connected with its ready appeal and abiding power; let us take both sets of things together, in three couples of interrelated price and gift.
The book’s method and form are pervadingly allegorical; its instinct and aim are profoundly mystical. Now from Philo to Origen we have a long Hellenistic, Jewish and Christian application of that all-embracing allegorism, where one thing stands for another and where no factual details resist resolution into a symbol of religious ideas and forces. Thus Philo had, in his life of Moses, allegorized the Pentateuchal narratives so as to represent him as mediator, saviour, intercessor of his people, the one great organ of revelation, and the soul’s guide from the false lower world into the upper true one. The Fourth Gospel is the noblest instance of this kind of literature, of which the truth depends not on the factual accuracy of the symbolizing appearances but on the truth of the ideas and experiences thus symbolized. And Origen is still full of spontaneous sympathy with its pervading allegorism. But this method has lost its attraction; the Synoptists, with their rarer and slighter pragmatic rearrangements and their greater closeness to our Lord’s actual words, deeds, experiences, environment, now come home to us as indefinitely richer in content and stimulative appeal. Yet mysticism persists, as the intuitive and emotional apprehension of the most specifically religious of all truths, viz. the already full, operative existence of eternal beauty, truth and goodness, of infinite Personality and Spirit independently of our action, and not, as in ethics, the simple possibility and obligation for ourselves to produce such-like things. And of this elemental mode of apprehension and root-truth, the Johannine Gospel is the greatest literary document and incentive extant: its ultimate aim and deepest content retain all their potency.
The book contains an intellectualist, static, determinist, abstractive trend. In Luke x. 25–28, eternal life depends upon loving God and man; here it consists in knowing the one true God and Christ whom He has sent. In the Synoptists, Jesus “grows in favour with God and man,” passes through true human experiences and trials, prays alone on the mountain-side, and dies with a cry of desolation; here the Logos’ watchword is “I am,” He has deliberately to stir up emotion in Himself, never prays for Himself, and in the garden and on the cross shows but power and self-possession. Here we find “ye cannot hear, cannot believe, because ye are not from God, not of My sheep” (viii. 47, x. 26); “the world cannot receive the spirit of truth” (xiv. 17). Yet the ethical current appears here also strongly: “he who doeth the truth, cometh to the light” (iii. 21), “if you love Me, keep My commandments” (xiv. 15). Libertarianism is here: “the light came, but men loved the darkness better than the light,” “ye will not come to Me” (iii. 19, v. 40); hence the appeal “abide in Me”—the branch can cease to be in Him the Vine (xv. 4, 2). Indeed even those first currents stand here for the deepest religious truths, the prevenience of God and man’s affinity to Him. “Not we loved God (first), but He (first) loved us”; “let us love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John iv. 10, 19); “no man can come to Me, unless the Father draw him” (vi. 44), a drawing which effects a hunger and thirst for Christ and God (iv. 14, vi. 35). Thus man’s spirit, ever largely but potential, can respond actively to the historic Jesus, because already touched and made hungry by the all-actual Spirit-God who made that soul akin unto Himself.
The book has an outer protective shell of acutely polemical and exclusive moods and insistences, whilst certain splendid Synoptic breadths and reconciliations are nowhere reached; but this is primarily because it is fighting, more consciously than they, for that inalienable ideal of all deepest religion, unity, even external and corporate, amongst all believers. The “Pneumatic” Gospel comes thus specially to emphasize certain central historical facts; and, the most explicitly institutional and sacramental of the four, to proclaim the most universalistic and developmental of all Biblical sayings. Here indeed Jesus will not pray for the world (xvii. 9); “ye shall die in your sins,” He insists to His opponents (viii. 44, 24); it is the Jews generally who appear throughout as such; nowhere is there a word as to forgiving our enemies; and the commandment of love is designated by Jesus as His, as new, and as binding the disciples to “love one another” within the community to which He gives His “example” (xv. 12, xiii. 34, 15). In the Synoptists, the disciples’ intolerance is rebuked (Mark ix. 38–41); Jesus’ opposition is everywhere restricted to the Pharisees and the worldly Sadducees; He ever longs for the conversion of Jerusalem; the great double commandment of love is proclaimed as already formulated in the Mosaic law (Mark xii. 28–34); the neighbour to be thus loved and served is simply any and every suffering fellow-man; and the pattern for such perfect love is found in a schismatical Samaritan (Luke x. 25–37). Yet the deepest strain here is more serenely universalist even than St Paul, for here Jesus says: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should ... have everlasting life” (iii. 16). True, the great prologue passage (i. 9) probably reads “He was the true Light coming into the world, that enlighteneth every man,” so that the writer would everywhere concentrate his mind upon the grace attendant upon explicit knowledge of the incarnate, historic Christ. Yet Christian orthodoxy, which itself has, all but uniformly, understood this passage of the spiritual radiation throughout the world of the Word before His incarnation, has been aided towards such breadth as to the past by the Johannine outlook into the future. For, in contrast to the earliest Synoptic tradition, where the full Christian truth and its first form remain undistinguished, and where its earthly future appears restricted to that generation, in John the Eternal Life conception largely absorbs the attention away from all successiveness; Jesus’ earthly life does not limit the religion’s assimilation of further truth and experience: “I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now,” “the Father will give you another Helper, the spirit of truth, who will abide with you for ever” (xvi. 12, xiv. 15). This universalism is not simply spiritual; the external element, presupposed in the Synoptists as that of the Jewish church within which Jesus’ earthly life was spent, is here that of the now separate Christian community: He has other sheep not of this fold—them also He must bring, there will be one fold, one shepherd; and His seamless tunic, and Peter’s net which, holding every kind of fish, is not rent, are symbols of this visible unity. Ministerial gradations exist in this church; Jesus begins the feet-washing with Peter, who alone speaks and is spoken to; the beloved disciple outruns Peter to Jesus’ monument, yet waits to go in till Peter has done so first; and in the appendix the treble pastoral commission is to Peter alone: a Petrine pre-eminence which but echoes the Synoptists. And sacramentalism informs the great discourses concerning rebirth by water and the spirit, and feeding on the Living Bread, Jesus’ flesh and blood, and the narrative of the issue of blood and water from the dead Jesus’ side. Indeed so severe a stress is laid upon the explicitly Christian life and its specific means, that orthodoxy itself interprets the rebirth by water and spirit, and the eating the flesh and drinking the blood to which entrance into the Kingdom and possession of interior life are here exclusively attached, as often represented by a simple sincere desire and will for spiritual purification and a keen hunger and thirst for God’s aid, together with such cultual acts as such souls can know or find, even without any knowledge of the Christian rites. Thus there is many “a pedagogue to Christ,” and the Christian visible means and expressions are the culmination and measure of what, in various degrees and forms, accompanies every sincerely striving soul throughout all human history.
Origin and Authorship.—The question as to the book’s origin has lost its poignancy through the ever-increasing recognition of the book’s intrinsic character. Thus the recent defenders of the apostolic authorship, the Unitarian James Drummond (1903), the Anglican William Sanday (1905), the Roman Catholic Theodore Calmes (1904), can tell us, the first, that “the evangelist did not aim at an illustrative picture of what was most characteristic of Jesus”; the second, that “the author sank into his own consciousness and at last brought to light what he found there”; the third, that “the Gospel contains an entire theological system,” “history is seen through the intervening dogmatic development,” “the Samaritan woman is ... a personification,” “the behaviour of the Greeks is entirely natural in such a book.” We thus get at cross-purposes with this powerful, profound work. Only some such position as Abbé Loisy’s critical summing up (1903) brings out its specific greatness. “What the author was, his book, in spite of himself, tells us to some extent: a Christian of Judeo-Alexandrine formation; a believer without, apparently, any personal reminiscence of what had actually been the life, preaching and death of Jesus; a theologian far removed from every historical preoccupation, though he retains certain principal facts of tradition without which Christianity would evaporate into pure ideas; and a seer who has lived the Gospel which he propounds.” “To find his book beautiful and true, we need but take it as it is and understand it.” “The church, which has never discussed the literary problem of this Gospel, in nowise erred as to its worth.”
Several traditional positions have indeed been approximately maintained or reconquered against the critics. As to the Gospel’s date, critics have returned from 160–170 (Baur), 150 (Zeller), 130 (Keim), to 110–115 (Renan) and 80–110 (Harnack): since Irenaeus says its author lived into the times of Trajan (90–117), a date somewhere about 105 would satisfy tradition. As to the place, the critics accept proconsular Asia with practical unanimity, thus endorsing Irenaeus’s declaration that the Gospel was published in Ephesus. As to the author’s antecedents, critics have ceased to hold that he could not have been a Jew-Christian (so Bretschneider, 1820), and admit (so Schmiedel, (1901) that he must have been by birth a Jew of the Dispersion, or the son of Christian parents who had been such Jews. And as to the vivid accuracy of many of his topographical and social details, the predominant critical verdict now is that he betrays an eye-witness’s knowledge of the country between Sichem and Jordan and as to Jerusalem; he will have visited these places, say in 90, or may have lived in Jerusalem shortly before its fall. But the reasons against the author being John the Zebedean or any other eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly life have accumulated to a practical demonstration.
As to the external evidence for the book’s early date, we must remember that the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation, though admittedly earlier, are of the same school, and, with the great Pauline Epistles, show many preformations of Johannine phrases and ideas. Other slighter prolusions will have circulated in that Philonian centre Ephesus, before the great Gospel englobed and superseded them. Hence the precariousness of the proofs derived from more or less close parallels to Johannine passages in the apostolic fathers. Justin Martyr (163–167) certainly uses the Gospel; but his conception of Jesus’ life is so strictly Synoptic that he can hardly have accepted it as from an apostolic eyewitness. Papias of Hierapolis, in his Exposition of the Lord’s Sayings (145–160) appears nowhere to have mentioned it, and clearly distinguishes between “what Andrew, Peter, . . . John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples spoke,” and “what Aristion and the presbyter John, the Lord’s disciples, say.” Thus Papias, as Eusebius about 314 insists, knew two Johns, and the apostle was to him a far-away figure; indeed early medieval chroniclers recount that Papias “in the second book of the Lord’s sayings” asserted that both the sons of Zebedee were “slain by Jews,” so that the apostle John would have died before 70. Irenaeus’s testimony is the earliest and admittedly the strongest we possess for the Zebedean authorship; yet, as Calmes admits, “it cannot be considered decisive.” In his work against the Heresies and in his letter to Florinus, about 185–191, he tells how he had himself known Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, and how Polycarp “used to recount his familiar intercourse with John and the others who had seen the Lord”; and explicitly identifies this John with the Zebedean and the evangelist. But Irenaeus was at most fifteen when thus frequenting Polycarp; writes thirty-five to fifty years later in Lyons, admitting that he noted down nothing at the time; and, since his mistaken description of Papias as “a hearer of John” the Zebedean was certainly reached by mistaking the presbyter for the apostle, his additional words “and a companion of Polycarp” point to this same mistaken identification having also operated in his mind with regard to Polycarp. In any case, the very real and important presbyter is completely unknown to Irenaeus, and his conclusion as to the book’s authorship resulted apparently from a comparison of its contents with Polycarp’s teaching. If the presbyter wrote Revelation and was Polycarp’s master, such a mistake could easily arise. Certainly Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, made a precisely similar mistake when about 190 he described the Philip “who rests in Hierapolis” as “one of the twelve apostles,” since Eusebius rightly identifies this Philip with the deacon of Acts xxi. A positive testimony for the critical conclusion is derived from the existence of a group of Asia Minor Christians who about 165 rejected the Gospel as not by John but by Cerinthus. The attribution is doubtless mistaken. But could Christians sufficiently numerous to deserve a long discussion by St Epiphanius in 374–377, who upheld the Synoptists, stoutly opposed the Gnostics and Montanists, and had escaped every special designation till the bishop nicknamed them the “Alogoi” (irrational rejectors of the Logos-Gospel), dare, in such a time and country, to hold such views, had the apostolic origin been incontestable? Surely not. The Alexandrian Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome and Augustine only tell of the Zebedean what is traceable to stories told by Papias of others, to passages of Revelation and the Gospel, or to the assured fact of the long-lived Asian presbyter.
As to the internal evidence, if the Gospel typifies various imperfect or sinful attitudes in Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and Thomas; if even the mother appears to symbolize faithful Israel: then, profoundly spiritual and forward-looking as it is, a type of the perfect disciple, not all unlike Clement’s perfect “Gnostic,” could hardly be omitted by it; and the precise details of this figure may well be only ideally, mystically true. The original work nowhere identifies this disciple with any particular historic figure. “He who saw” the lance-thrust “hath borne witness, and his witness is true,” is asserted (xix. 35) of the disciple. Yet “to see” is said also of intuitive faith, “whoso hath seen Me, hath seen the Father” (xiv. 9); and “true” appears also in “the true Light,” “the true Bread from heaven,” as characterizing the realities of the upper, alone fully true world, and equals “heavenly” (iii. 12); thus a “true witness” testifies to some heavenly reality, and appeals to the reader’s “pneumatic,” i.e. allegorical, understanding.
Only in the appendix do we find any deliberate identification with a particular historic person: “this is the disciple who witnessed to and who wrote these things” (24) refers doubtless to the whole previous work and to “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” identified here with an unnamed historic personage whose recent death had created a shock, evidently because he was the last of that apostolic generation which had so keenly expected the second coming (18–23). This man was so great that the writer strives to win his authority for this Gospel; and yet this man was not John the Zebedean, else why, now he is dead and gone, not proclaim the fact? If the dead man was John the presbyter—if this John had in youth just seen Jesus and the Zebedean, and in extreme old age had still seen and approved the Gospel—to attribute this Gospel to him, as is done here, would not violate the literary ethics of those times. Thus the heathen philosopher Iamblichus (d. c. 330) declares: “this was admirable” amongst the Neo-Pythagoreans “that they ascribed everything to Pythagoras; but few of them acknowledge their own works as their own” (de Pythag. vita, 198). And as to Christians, Tertullian about 210 tells how the presbyter who, in proconsular Asia, had “composed the Acts of Paul and Thecla” was convicted and deposed, for how could it be credible that Paul should confer upon women the power to “teach and baptize” as these Acts averred? The attribution as such, then, was not condemned.
The facts of the problem would all appear covered by the hypothesis that John the presbyter, the eleven being all dead, wrote the book of Revelation (its more ancient Christian portions) say in 69, and died at Ephesus say in 100; that the author of the Gospel wrote the first draft, here, say in 97; that this book, expanded by him, first circulated within a select Ephesian Christian circle; and that the Ephesian church officials added to it the appendix and published it in 110–120. But however different or more complicated may have been the actual origins, three points remain certain. The real situation that confronts us is not an unbroken tradition of apostolic eye-witnesses, incapable of re-statement with any hope of ecclesiastical acceptance, except by another apostolic eye-witness. On one side indeed there was the record, underlying the Synoptists, of at least two eye-witnesses, and the necessity of its preservation and transmission; but on the other side a profound double change had come over the Christian outlook and requirements. St Paul’s heroic labours (30–64) had gradually gained full recognition and separate organization for the universalist strain in our Lord’s teaching; and he who had never seen the earthly Jesus, but only the heavenly Christ, could even declare that Christ “though from the Jewish fathers according to the flesh” had died, “so that henceforth, even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, now we no further know Him thus,” “the Lord is the Spirit,” and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” And the Jewish church, within which Christianity had first lived and moved, ceased to have a visible centre. Thus a super-spatial and super-temporal interpretation of that first markedly Jewish setting and apprehension of the Christian truth became as necessary as the attachment to the original contingencies. The Fourth Gospel, inexplicable without St Paul and the fall of Jerusalem, is fully understandable with them. The attribution of the book to an eye-witness nowhere resolves, it everywhere increases, the real difficulties; and by insisting upon having history in the same degree and way in John as in the Synoptists, we cease to get it sufficiently anywhere at all. And the Fourth Gospel’s true greatness lies well within the range of this its special character. In character it is profoundly “pneumatic”; Paul’s super-earthly Spirit-Christ here breathes and speaks, and invites a corresponding spiritual comprehension. And its greatness appears in its inexhaustibly deep teachings concerning Christ’s sheep and fold; the Father’s drawing of souls to Christ; the dependence of knowledge as to Christ’s doctrine upon the doing of God’s will; the fulfilling of the commandment of love, as the test of true discipleship; eternal life, begun even here and now; and God a Spirit, to be served in spirit and in truth.
Bibliography.—See also the independent discussion, under Revelation, Book of, of the authorship of that work. Among the immense literature of the subject, the following books will be found especially instructive by the classically trained reader: Origen’s commentary, finished (only to John xiii. 33) in 235–237 (best ed. by Preuschen, 1903). St Augustine’s Tractatus in Joannis Ev. et Ep., about 416. The Spanish Jesuit Juan Maldonatus’ Latin commentary, published 1596 (critical reprint, edited by Raich, 1874), a pathfinder on many obscure points, is still a model for tenacious penetration of Johannine ideas. Bretschneider’s short Probabilia de Evangelii . . . Joannis Apostoli indole et origine (1820), the first systematic assault on the traditional attribution, remains unrefuted in its main contention. The best summing up and ripest fruit of the critical labour since then are Professor H. J. Holtzmann’s Handkommentar (2nd ed., 1893) and the respective sections in his Einleitung in d. N. T. (3rd ed., 1892) and his Lehrbuch der N. T. Theologie (1897), vol. 2. Professor C. E. Luthardt’s St John, Author of the Fourth Gospel (Eng. trans., with admirable bibliography by C. R. Gregory, 1875), still remains the best conservative statement. Among the few critically satisfactory French books, Abbé Loisy’s Le Quatrième évangile (1903) stands pre-eminent for delicate psychological analysis and continuous sense of the book’s closely knit unity; whilst Père Th. Calmes’ Évangile selon S. Jean (1904) indicates how numerous are the admissions as to the book’s character and the evidences for its authorship, made by intelligent Roman Catholic apologists with Rome’s explicit approbation. In England a considerably less docile conservatism has been predominant. Bp Lightfoot’s Essays on . . . Supernatural Religion (1874–1877; collected 1889) are often masterly conservative interpretations of the external evidence; but they leave this evidence still inconclusive, and the formidable contrary internal evidence remains practically untouched. Much the same applies to Bp Westcott’s Gospel according to St John (1882), devotionally so attractive, and in textual criticism excellent. Dr James Drummond’s Inquiry into the Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel (1903) does not, by its valuable survey of the external evidence, succeed in giving credibility to the eyewitness origin of such a book as this is admitted to be. Professor W. Sanday’s slighter Criticism of the Fourth Gospel (1905) is in a similar position. Professor P. W. Schmiedel’s article “John s. of Zebedee” in the Ency. Bib. (1901) is the work of a German of the advanced left. Dr E. A. Abbott’s laborious From Letter to Spirit (1903), Joannine Vocabulary (1904) and Grammar (1906) overflow with statistical details and ever acute, often fanciful, conjecture. Professor F. C. Burkitt’s The Gospel History (1906) vigorously sketches the book’s dominant characteristics and true function. E. F. Scott’s The Fourth Gospel (1906) gives a lucid, critical and religiously tempered account of the Gospel’s ideas, aims, affinities, difficulties and abiding significance. (F. v. H.)