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Hort, as we have seen, with Lightfoot and Westcott,
believed that it
was possible to hold that the Apocalypse and the remaining books
came from the
only if they were not written at the same time.
they contended, came from the late 60s,
while the gospel and epistles must be
assigned to the last decade of the first century 'and even to the close of it'.
They thus thought it possible to explain the great difference in their Greek styles, though this was not, as Hort insisted, a reason for the early dating of Revelation, which rested for him on independent grounds.
Baur indeed argued for the early dating, and apostolicity, of the Apocalypse in the clear understanding that it had nothing whatever to do with the gospel, which he and his Tubingen disciples dated up to a hundred years later. If one thing has become clear in the century since Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort, it is that common authorship of the Apocalypse and the gospel cannot credibly be argued on the interval of time needed for John to master the Greek language.
The Greek of the Apocalypse is not that of a beginner whose grammar and vocabulary might improve and mature into those of the evangelist. It is the pidgin Greek of someone who appears to know exactly what he is about with his strange instrument and whose cast of mind and vocabulary is conspicuously different from, and more colourful than, that of the correct, simple but rather flat style of the gospel and the epistles.Indeed what is astonishing is the number and the diversity of scholars who have clung to the tradition of common authorship - whoever that author may be. They include not only the more conservative Roman Catholics and English-speaking Evangelicals but such names as Harnack, Zahn, Lohmeyer, Preisker, Schlatter and Stauffer, and one is bound to weigh the final footnote which Beckwith appends to his long and balanced discussion of the issue:
The present commentator ventures to say that his earlier conviction of the impossibility of a unity of authorship has been much weakened by a study of the two books prolonged through many years.
For all that one wonders, if it were not for the strong testimony to
common authorship in the external tradition
(which yet is no stronger than that for apostolic authorship, which many even of those who accept common authorship agree in rejecting), whether critics would ever have thought of ascribing such superficially (and not so superficially) diverse writings to the same hand. Nevertheless some association between them is ultimately undeniable. Even if they are not the product of the same 'school',
the Apocalypse seems to presuppose at the very least some familiarity with Christianity in the Johannine idiom. Since the writer has evidently had an association with the congregations of the Ephesus area over an extended period (cf. Rev.2.4,19; 3.2; etc.), then, if the Apocalypse is to be dated between 68 and 70, this presupposes the presence of Johannine-type teaching in western Asia Minor at any rate in the early 60s, if not earlier. This, of course, carries no implications for the dating of the actual gospel or epistles of John, which could have been written a good deal later - or earlier. But it is a factor that must be taken into account in any overall hypothesis.
Meanwhile it will be better to begin at the other end and ask what is the evidence, external and internal, for dating the gospel and epistles. And of these, whichever way round they turn out to have been written, the gospel is clearly the determinative document: the evidence to be derived from the epistles has to be brought in to test any hypothesis framed for the gospel rather than vice versa.
If then we start, as we did with the Apocalypse, with the external evidence for the date of the gospel, we come up against the fact that it is much vaguer, and less secure, than it is for the Apocalypse. This is paradoxical because, while Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort declined to accept what Hort admitted to be the powerful external evidence for the dating of the latter in the time of Domitian, they, with all the other conservative scholars who argued for apostolic authorship, accepted virtually without question the traditional picture of the fourth gospel as the product of the last years of a very old man. the Gospels, 1902, 151-7.]
Yet if we ask what is the origin and basis of this tradition, it
That the apostle John lived to a great age, into the reign of
Trajan (98-117), he 3.24.7.]
are both well attested in the tradition. But that he wrote as a very old man is an inference which only appears late and accompanied by other statements which show that it is clearly secondary and unreliable. The Muratorian Canon describing the origin of the gospel suggests no date, but it presupposes that John's 'fellow-disciples' including Andrew are still alive and with him, and thus argues against a very late period. The so-called Anti-Marcionite Prologue
records that 'the gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John while still in the body' (in some mss 'after writing the Apocalypse'). But it is improbable that this statement rests, as it claims, on the authority of Papias, since Eusebius quotes nothing from him on the fourth gospel and would surely have done so if he had had anything to say. It is even more improbable that, as the Prologue asserts, the gospel was 'dictated' to Papias, and quite impossible that Marcion (who taught in Asia Minor c. 130) was 'rejected' by John. Victorinus (died c. 304) also says that John wrote the gospel after the Apocalypse,
Westcott, John, xxxvi. So too the Monarchian Prologue (Aland, op. cit., 538).]
but sees it as written against (among others) Valentinus, who taught in the middle of the second century. Epiphanius (c. 315-403) says explicitly that John, refusing in his humility to write a gospel, was compelled by the Holy Spirit to do so in his old age, when he was over ninety, after his return from Patmos and after living 'many years' (ἱκανὰ ἒτη) in Asia. Yet, as we have seen, Epiphanius combined this with the confused statements that John's banishment took place 'under the emperor Claudius' (!) and that he prophesied under that emperor 'before his death.' Later, Georgius Hamartolus in the ninth century says in his Chronicle:
After Domitian Nerva reigned one year, who recalled John from the island, and allowed him to dwell in Ephesus. He was at that time the sole survivor of the twelve Apostles, and after writing his Gospel received the honour of martyrdom.
is of interest only because he claims to base the martyrdom of John on a
statement of Papias;
but this is notoriously doubtful.
With regard to the date of the gospel he is merely repeating earlier tradition. The same is true, finally, of another very late version of the Papias legend,
which records that
last of these, John, surnamed the Son of Thunder, when he was now a very old man, as Irenaeus and Eusebius and a succession of trustworthy historians have handed down to us, about the time when terrible heresies had cropped up, dictated the gospel to his own disciple, the virtuous Papias of Hierapolis, to fill up what was lacking in those who before him had proclaimed the word to the nations throughout all the earth.
But it is certain that Irenaeus and Eusebius did not say that John dictated his gospel either to Papias or 'when he was now a very old man'.
I have cited this evidence in some detail, most of it worthless, to show how thin is the external testimony for dating (in contrast with authorship). Even the tradition that John wrote after the Synoptists (at whatever date) is based on the theory that his purpose was either to complement them by giving the 'spiritual' as opposed to the 'bodily' facts (Clement) or to supplement them by additional matter at the beginning of the ministry (Eusebius). But neither of these is any more than a guess unsubstantiated by critical study.
There is in fact an alternative tradition about the writing of the gospel which is equally legendary, but since I have not seen it quoted in any discussion of the question it is perhaps worth inserting as an interesting corrective. It occurs in the Syriac History of John, which we had occasion to mention earlier as placing the banishment of John under Nero.Acts of John are docetic and rather dreary (and contain no account of the writing of the gospel) the Syriac History is thaumaturgical and much more entertaining. John gets employed as an assistant attendant at the public baths at Ephesus, the takings immediately go up, the procurator's son is discovered bathing in the nude with a harlot, struck dead in judgment, resuscitated, and finally 39,205 persons are baptized by John in a single night and day!]
This puts the arrival of John in Ephesus quite early, the city being the first to receive the gospel of Christ (after, apparently, Edessa in eastern Syria, evidently the home of this tradition as of those mentioned in Eusebius, HE 1.13). He came as a youth, and even after a long interval, when the other gospels had been written (in the canonical order), John hesitated to write lest they should say, 'He is a youth'. But he was prevailed upon to do so after some days' persuasion by Peter and Paul, who visited him in Ephesus before going on to see James in Jerusalem. It also says that John lived on to the age of one hundred and twenty, yet combines this tradition and that of his writing last with a date for the gospel prior to the deaths of Peter and Paul (who, it agrees, were slain by Nero) and indeed of James. This totally independent and eccentric chronological tradition, though worthless as history, is nevertheless remarkable - at whatever date it comes from. top
The story of the dating of the fourth gospel in modern scholarship
is an extraordinarily simple one.
On the one hand, the conservatives have not
had occasion (at any rate until very recently)
to shift their
position and have consistently put the gospel in or about the last decade of
the first century.
On the other hand, the radical critics like Baur began by dating it anything up to 170
and have since steadily come down. Thus, P. W. Schmiedel, who wrote the article on John, Son of Zebedee, in the Encyclopaedia Biblica, occupied a mediating position with a date between 132 and 140. The upper of these two dates represented the first at which he believed the gospel was quoted (and that still not by name), the lower the revolt of Bar-Cochba, to whom he saw an allusion in John 5.43: 'If another comes self-accredited you will welcome him.' There has been much discussion as to whether the gospel is quoted, or rather presupposed, in the language used by Ignatius and Justin Martyr. Certainly there are no direct citations, as there is (without acknowledgment) of I John 4.2f. in the epistle of Polycarp (7.1). Yet Johannine thought-forms unquestionably lie behind a number of passages, and if the gospel itself had not been written by then one has to posit some other (unknown) form of the same tradition. It seems easier to believe that it is the document we know which is being presupposed. But the issue has largely become academic from the point of view of dating the gospel. Thus, Bultmann, who asserts without hesitation (or argument) that 'without question Ignatius did not make use of it', agrees that it cannot be later than c. 120.
top The decisive factor has been the discovery in Egypt of a papyrus fragment (P52) of the gospel itself from the first half of the second century, together with fragments of an unknown gospel from c.150, which almost certainly draws on John. As Kummel summarizes the present situation,
If John was known in Egypt in the first quarter of the second century, the beginning of the second century is a terminus ad quern. On the other hand, John's knowledge of Luke is extremely probable, so it could not have been written before ca. 80-90. The assumption that John was written probably in the last decade of the first century is today almost universally accepted.
Before turning to the terminus a quo, it is interesting to observe how remarkably general is the consensus at this
With marginal variation at each end (and even Bultmann goes down as far
as 80 for the first composition),
the span 90-100 is agreed by Catholic and
Protestant, by conservative and radical,
by those who defend apostolic
authorship and those who reject it,
by those who believe that John used the synoptists and those who do not.
It includes virtually all those who have
recently written commentaries on the gospel, F. N. Davey), 1940; 21947; R.
Bultmann (KEKNT 2), Gottingen 1941; ET Oxford 1971; A. Wikenhauser, Regensburg
1949; '1961; H. Strathmann, Gottingen 1951; W. F. Howard in The
Interpreter's Bible, New York 1952; C. K. Barrett, 1955; R. H. Lightfoot
(ed. C. F. Evans), Oxford 1956; A. Richardson, 1959; R. V. G. Tasker (Tyndale NTC),
1960; A. M. Hunter, Cambridge 1965; R. Schnackenburg, I, Freiburg 1965; ET
London 1968; II, 1971; R. E. Brown (Anchor Bible), New York 1966-70; J. N.
Sanders (ed. B. A. Mastin; Black's NTC), 1968; J. Marsh (Pelican NTC),
Harmondsworth 1968; J. C. Fenton (New Clarendon
Bible), Oxford 1970; B. Lindars (NCB), 1972.]
not to mention other interpreters. It is one of the relatively few points at which over a span of two generations Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible and The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible agree, and the consensus includes now the redaction-critics.
Indeed many commentators (e.g. Schnackenburg) scarcely bother to discuss the issue of dating, and the space it occupies in introductions, whether to the New Testament or to the gospel, compared with that of authorship is minimal.
Kummel's two-sentence summary quoted above is typical: the question appears to be settled.
Yet it is typical also that he does not advance a single positive reason why this date, roughly corresponding to the end of the reign of Domitian, is the right one. It is reached purely by a process of elimination. Yet if it is appropriate to the Apocalypse, then one would have thought that almost by definition it would not fit the fourth gospel (traditionally from the same circle in the same area) - or indeed the Johannine epistles, which breathe no hint of public persecution. It is therefore at least worth asking, since the ceiling is now more or less fixed, whether the floor is really as secure as hitherto it has seemed to conservative and radical alike.
The reason for it given by Kummel is John's use of Luke. Similarly, Barrett writes with assurance:
A terminus post quem may easily be fixed. John knew Mark; he not only knew it but had thoroughly mastered its contents, and expected his readers also to be familiar with them. There is wide agreement that Mark was written either not long before, or soon after, ad 70. We must allow time for Mark to reach the place in which John was written and to be studied and absorbed. This brings us to a date certainly not earlier than ad 80; 90 would perhaps be a safer estimate.
the confidence with which these statements can be made has diminished
dramatically in the twenty years since Barrett wrote.
For he is now
in a minority of Johannine scholars in holding to what used to be the critical
orthodoxy, [FG.ch.14.], that John
certainly used Mark, probably Luke and possibly Matthew.
The work of P.
has convinced most recent scholars that, whatever the cross-fertilization between the traditions, John is not dependent upon the synoptists for his material and therefore does not for this reason have to be dated after them. But there is no need here to argue the case afresh, since it is not of itself decisive for dating purposes. Even if it could be shown that John could not have been written until after the publication of Mark, Luke or Matthew, we have already argued that there is no compelling reason to date these later than the early 60s. Equally, from the other side, those who have abandoned the argument for dependence still (as we have seen) wish to retain a dating towards the end of the century. This is true not only of the commentators listed above but of Dodd himself, who ascribes the gospel to an Ephesian elder writing between 90 and 100. He combines this view with the conviction that the tradition behind the gospels goes back a great deal further. Studies in the Gospels and Epistles, 105-22.]
At all sorts of points, he maintains, it can be shown to be just as primitive as, if not more primitive than, comparable synoptic material and to reflect the religious, political and geographical conditions of Palestine and Jerusalem prior to the war of 66-70.
Since this is the position from which I myself began this investigation
and which I have presupposed in previous publications on John,
and since in one form or another it looks like becoming the new critical orthodoxy, I should like to devote some space to saying why it has come to appear to me unsatisfactory. For it is this dissatisfaction that led me, as I explained at the beginning, to reopen the question of the dating of the New Testament as a whole.
Published in his eightieth year, Dodd's great study Historical
Tradition in the Fourth Gospel marked a watershed in Johannine studies.
converted what I had noted as one of several 'straws in the wind' blowing in
much the same direction
And this distance is seen by Dodd as considerable. Indeed it is so great as to raise acutely the question of how the gulf was bridged and what was happening to the tradition in the interval. The evangelist himself and his gospel Dodd assigns to 'a Hellenistic environment' 'late in the first century'.
Though 'probably a speaker of Aramaic' (though why, at such a remove of space and time, is not explained), his own interests were very different; and the argument is used more than once that he would have had no motive to invent the details he did. Dodd's concluding summary of John's account of the trial of Jesus is characteristic:
I doubt very much whether a writer whose work we must place late in the first century and in a Hellenistic environment, could have invented such a persuasive account of a trial conducted under conditions which had long passed away. It is pervaded with a lively sense for the situation as it was in the last half-century before the extinction of Judaean local autonomy. It is aware of the delicate relations between the native and the imperial authorities. It reflects a time when the dream of an independent Judaea under its own king had not yet sunk to the level of a chimaera, and when the messianic idea was not a theologumenon but impinged on practical politics, and the bare mention of a 'king of the Jews' stirred violent emotions; a time, moreover, when the constant preoccupation of the priestly holders of power under Rome was to damp down any first symptoms of such emotions. These conditions were present in Judaea before ad 70, and not later, and not elsewhere. This, I submit, is the true Sitz im Leben of the essential elements in the Johannine trial narrative. This narrative is far from being a second-hand rechauffe of the Synoptics. While there is evidence for some degree of elaboration by the author, the most probable conclusion is that in substance it represents an independent strain of tradition, which must have been formed in a period much nearer the events than the period when the Fourth Gospel was written, and in some respects seems to be better informed than the tradition behind the Synoptics, whose confused account it clarifies.
Essentially the same point is made of his
material on the topography of Jerusalem
One may well ask why it should have been to this remote and neglected quarry that the evangelist went for his information or why he should have chosen to take it as 'a starting point for his theological adventure' when his own interests and those of his public were confessedly so different. But what needs greatest explanation is the gap in the history of the material itself. For it bears all the marks of having been shaped in Jewish-Christian circles in Judaea, very much in touch with the synagogue, prior to the rebellion of 66 - and then to have suffered from an extended period of cultural isolation and arrested development until it was reused in Hellenistic circles of Asia Minor in the 60s.
At two points only does Dodd see traces of development external to
First, he thinks that the reference in John 4.53 to the officer in
the royal service 'becoming a believer' with 'all his household' seems to
reflect the experience of the Gentile mission as recorded in Acts. πιστεύειν in 4.53 differs from other examples of Johannine usage
(e.g., to go no further, 4.4if.); and in the parallels in Acts (16.34; 18.8)
the verb is not used absolutely, as here, but has 'God' or 'the Lord' as
The βασιλικός or king's man in
Galilee is evidently a Herodian (not, as in the parallel synoptic tradition, a
Indeed the Gentiles (τὰ ἒθνη) are never mentioned in
and there is no other sign of contact with the Gentile mission as described in Acts or of the controversies it occasioned.
Secondly, Dodd supposes that
the 'Testimony of John', while it is well grounded in first-century Jewish belief and practice, and has only the slightest marks of the distinctively Johannine theology - and these readily separable - appears to reflect the situation such as that portrayed in Acts 18.24-19.7 for Ephesus, the probable home of this gospel.
Even if this were so, the situation depicted dates from the period immediately before and after Paul arrived in Ephesus in 52.As Dodd says,
After that time the supply of such persons must have rapidly declined. I suggest that this gives a rough limit for the period to which we may assign the main development of the tradition here followed by the Fourth Evangelist. There can, I think, be no reasonable doubt that this tradition included very primitive material, but before it reached our evangelist it had undergone development in the environment indicated.
Even therefore if we assume that this Asiatic environment (and not merely a Palestinian one) moulded the interest of the Johannine tradition in Baptist-Christian relationships 'before it reached our evangelist', the influence is still remarkably early.
But when these two possible signs of external development have been noted, Dodd concludes:
It is the more remarkable how comparatively little the traditional narratives have been affected by late non-Palestinian influences, and how much has come through, even in the report of the teaching, in which we can recognize the authentic atmosphere of early Palestinian Christianity.
Yet this evidence of very early tradition in so late a document poses problems. Dodd gives several examples of bits of tradition that appear to have become 'frozen' in a very primitive state. Thus of the political background of the desert feeding vividly reflected in the attempt of the crowds to seize Jesus and make him king (6.15) he writes:
At the next stage it would disappear altogether, but the form of tradition which John followed had crystallized at just this stage, and our evangelist has preserved it as it reached him.
If it was locked away for half a century, how and where did it survive in this crystallized condition, with those 'almost forgotten elements in the background of the story which made it at the time so significant for the immediate followers of Jesus'?
Again, he writes of 7.23.,
If a child is circumcised on the Sabbath to avoid breaking the law of Moses, why are you indignant with me for giving health on the Sabbath to the whole of a man's body?',
which he says faithfully reflects contemporary rabbinic disputes:
The Sitz im Leben of such tradition must have been within a Jewish environment such as that of the primitive Church, and in all probability it belongs to an early period. Once the Church, by that time mainly Gentile, had ceased to have relations with the synagogue, such discussions would no longer be kept alive, and only isolated traces of them remain, embedded in the gospels.
But again, we may ask, why and how this fossilized piece of Judaic tradition in a Hellenistic document of the late first century?
Finally, perhaps the most interesting and perplexing example of all is Dodd's suggestion that the predictions by Jesus of his going away and coming back in 14.3 and 16.16 antedate the development (already found in Mark) of such sayings into predictions of either resur-rection or parousia.
I suggest that John is here reaching back to a very early form of tradition indeed, and making it the point of departure for his profound theological interpretation; and further, that the oracular sayings which he reports have good claim to represent authentically, in substance if not verbally, what Jesus actually said to his disciples - a better claim than the more elaborate and detailed predictions which the Synoptics offer.
Short of asserting ipsissima verba one could hardly make higher claims for any piece of gospel tradition. Yet again, how or why was this preserved apparently immune to subsequent influences or developments from the moment virtually when it left Jesus's lips till an Ephesian elder took it out of the deep freeze and 'incorporated' it two generations later?
If we ask by what route, or when, the evangelist received his
Dodd is not very forthcoming.
The most he will say is that it must
have come 'directly or indirectly' from a circle of Jewish-Christian disciples in Judaea who were 'witnesses' to the tradition.
Again, if we ask in what form the tradition was received, we are not taken much further:
That some parts of it may have been written down by way of aide-memoire is always possible, and such written sources may have intervened between strictly oral tradition and our Fourth Gospel. If so, I am not concerned with them.
But there is a gap here which strains credibility - and the more primitive the tradition incapsulated in the gospel, the greater the gulf. There are three possible ways out of this dilemma:
One can deny that the tradition is as near to the events in space or time as is claimed.
One can fill in the missing links and trace the continuities across the gulf.
One can refuse to assume that the evangelist is as remote or isolated from his tradition as is asserted.
1. The first approach really consists in showing that Dodd and others have not made their case and reverting to a situation in which there is no serious gap because there is no serious historical tradition going back to primitive times. I do not believe that this can easily be done. There is no need here to repeat the mass of evidence which in recent years has led to a major revaluation of the historical tradition behind the fourth gospel, to John, 1968. Cf. his bibliography, and E. Stauffer, 'Historische Elemente im vierten Evangelium' in E. H. Amberg and U. Klihn (edd.), Bekenntnis zur Kirche: Festgabe fur E. Sommerlath, Berlin 1960, 33-51.] reinforcing the conclusion, argued by conservative scholars all along, that it reflects intimate contact with a Palestinian world blotted off the map in ad 70. Indeed I have lately become persuaded that, historically and theologically, it is our single most reliable guide to the exceedingly intricate (and historically unrepeatable) relationships between the 'spiritual' and the 'political' in the ministry, trial and death of Jesus.
Even those who have no inclination to regard John as early draw attention not simply to pieces of historical detail embedded in later material (which could come from isolated sources) but to theological categories integral to the gospel which appear to be strangely primi-tive. Thus Cullmann writes:
Except for the Gospel of John and the first (Jewish-Christian) part of Acts, no New Testament writing considers Jesus the eschatological Prophet who prepares the way for God.
F. Hahntoo speaks of this 'antiquated Christology' in John which appeared at 'an early stage of the tradition' but was 'blurred and covered over by later Christological statements'. Referring to 'traditional material', not only in John 6.14f. (the prophet and king) but in 7.40-2 (the prophet and the messiah of David), 4.19 and 9.17 (a prophet), 4.25 (Μεσσίας) and 3.2 (a teacher sent from God), he says:
We have to reckon with a very early Christological tradition of the primitive church. In such pieces of tradition as Mark 6.1-5, 14-16 and 8.28 this has already completely faded.
With regard also to the gospel's central category of 'sonship' Hahn writes:
The early view ... is still clearly preserved in the Gospel of John. The after-effect also shows itself here and there elsewhere in the New Testament.
believe in fact and have argued
that we are nearer in this gospel to the original parabolic source of this father-son language and its Hebraic understanding in terms of character rather than status than in any other part of the New Testament.
As a further witness, the redaction critic J. L. Martyn, who sees John
as anything but a source book for the Jesus of history, has to admit, not only
that the attitudes which this evangelist records to 'the people of the land'
(7.49; cf.9.34) 'stand proudly among the most accurate statements of Jewish
thought in the whole New Testament',
υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου without the articles, as in Dan.7.13;
and in its καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἒδωκεν αὐτῶ it echoes the καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῶ ἐξουσία of Dan.7.14.
That there is a connection of some sort to be drawn in John between
genuine early tradition and late editing
(and that the knot cannot merely be
cut by denying the former)
is after all the presupposition behind the problem
that has most fascinated and perplexed recent interpreters and commentators,
namely, the history of the Johannine tradition.
So without further argument we may pass to the second way in which the apparent gulf is to be bridged between the evidence for early source-material and the presumption of late composition.
2. As earlier we took as a sample the major contribution made by Dodd, so here we may select as a working model the impressive reconstruction of Brown. For in this he is representative, like Schnackenburg too, of those who desire to establish a link or links between an original apostolic tradition reaching back to the earliest times and what they take to be the necessity for a much later finished gospel.
Brown postulates five stages as a 'minimum' for the composition of the gospel:
A body of traditional material pertaining to the words and works of Jesus.
The development of this material in 'Johannine' style and patterns through preaching and teaching, in oral and eventually written forms.
The organization of (b) into a consecutive written gospel in Greek.
A second edition by the same hand, expanding and adapting the material to meet new needs and groups of persons.
A final redaction by another hand, though incorporating 'material stemming from the preaching days of the evangelist himself (and therefore at points not differing in style or vocabulary from the rest of the gospel).
This process is envisaged as occupying a considerable period of time. Stage (a) is dated between 40 and 60; stage (b), 'lasting perhaps several decades', and therefore overlapping (a), goes on till c. 75; stage (c), the first edition of the gospel, is set in c. 75-85; (d), its revision, occupies the late 80s and early 90s; (e), the final redaction, takes place c. 100. As far as authorship is concerned, (a) is held to go back to John, son of Zebedee; (b)-(d) are the work of his disciples and in particular of 'one principal disciple' (the evangelist); (e) is the work of yet another disciple (the redactor) after the evangelist's death.
The question of authorship is not directly here our concern, though we shall have to return to it. Brown's dating itself requires a span covering the literary lifetime of more than one man, but the differences of hand (confessedly minute) do not of themselves require a late date. Indeed at this point he is very cautious and admits that even the work of the final redactor cannot be isolated with confidence, since he introduced material that may not be 'any less ancient than material that found its way into the earlier additions'. The reasons for separating (a) from (b), and therewith for the introduction of the unknown evangelist (in contrast with 'the beloved disciple', who Brown argues to be John), [Ibid., xcii-xcviii.] are again not chronological. There is no gap, as in Dodd, between the evangelist and his source-material; for the disciple of the apostle is in close contact with him and belongs to his circle. Apart from the linguistic difficulty of believing that John, son of Zebedee, could himself have 'written these things', it is the later stages of composition, (c) and (d), that make it inconceivable for Brown that the finished form of the gospel could be the work of an eyewitness. Thus, he instances the final state of the story of the anointing in 12.1-7:
If modern criticism has any validity, then the anointing of Jesus' feet represents an amalgamation of diverse details from two independent stories, in one of which a woman anointed Jesus' head and in the other of which a sinful woman wept and her tears fell on his feet. ... The process responsible for such development can only with the greatest difficulty be attributed to an eyewitness.
But this judgment needs sifting.
'Modern criticism' has not shown this story to be an 'amalgamation' of two diverse stories,
if by that is
meant that it is dependent on the fusion of two other versions (viz. those of
Mark and Luke)
and is therefore secondary to them.
Dodd and indeed Brown
himself have shown that the case for such dependence has collapsed. [John I, xcix.] or even that it is the
most reliable version.
John's account could well be a muddled reminiscence of
the incident, or, as Brown supposes, of two separate incidents.
In the course
of teaching and preaching much assimilation, elaboration and adaptation can
take place, even in the mind of an eyewitness.
For, as Brown himself says, 'the
conception of the apostolic eyewitness as an impartial recorder whose chief
interest was the detailed accuracy of the memories he related is an
anachronism' - and in any case is far removed from the evident
meaning of 'witness' in this gospel.
Dodd makes the point, in the course of his argument against apostolic authorship, that 'even if it were certain that the work was by a personal disciple, we could not proceed directly to the inference that his account is a transcript of the facts, or that he intended it to be such'; and he cites as an analogy Plato's account of the teaching of Socrates, whose personal disciple no one doubts he was.
This is not to argue that the fourth evangelist was the apostle John. It is simply to keep open the point that the sort of gradual process which Brown, like others, sees as lying behind the formation of the gospel does not of itself demand the interposition of a disciple at a further remove or a period of time exceeding the span of one generation. Indeed Brown himself sees the stages in the process as closely parallel to those which earlier we envisaged as lying behind the synoptists (where no one is contending for direct eyewitness), and in fact he bases his datings of the various stages of John almost entirely on this parallel. He takes 40 – 60 to be the formative period for the traditions behind all the gospels, and having accepted 75-85 as the date for Matthew and Luke he uses this for the first edition of John (with the second and third editions trailing on to the end of the century). Yet in the case of the synoptists we saw no necessity for prolonging the whole process (from the first preaching and teaching summaries, through the earliest proto-gospels, to the gospels as we now have them) beyond the early 60s. In the light of that chronology, is there good ground for more than doubling the time span in the case of the fourth gospel or should we not ask whether the pan passu development envisaged by Brown may not still hold?
3. This leads into the third way of resolving the dilemma posed by the apparent gap between the evangelist and his tradition - not simply by bridging it but by narrowing it. Why should the end-product be so late?
Beyond un-argued inferences from what he calls 'the usual' datings for the synoptists, there is one date cited by Brown which he believes gives 'a reasonably precise indication' for the terminus post quem of John's gospel. And with this we may begin. In company with many other commentators, he holds that its use of ἀποσυνάγωγος (9.42; 12.42; 16.2), and in particular the statement in 9.22 that 'the Jewish authorities had already agreed that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah should be banned from the synagogue', reflects the formal exclusion of Christians from Judaism with the introduction in c. 85-90 of the twelfth of the Eighteen Benedictions, against 'the Heretics'. But this is an inference whose precarious basis it is desirable to expose in some detail, since it is so frequently made.
The wording of the Benediction, which has suffered such modification that the original form cannot be established with certainty, is in any case far from precise and contains no specific reference to excommunication :
For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Nazarenes and the minim (heretics) perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.
[Reconstruction and translation by J. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, 21954) 51-7; quoted Barrett, John, 300. Cf. H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar mm Neuen Testament, Munich 1922-8, IV, 293-333 (and especially 329-33); Martyn, op. cit., 31-40,. 148-50.]
Its addition was intended
as a test-formula, or shibboleth,
which Christians who claimed to be Jews in every other respect could not recite. Since they would not withdraw from the community of Israel they had to be smoked out. It was directed against Hebrew Christians [Jocz, op. cit., 52f., 57.] of an extreme Judaizing kind, for whom the fourth gospel would have been anathema. There is nothing to connect it with the situation in the kind of Greek-speaking city which Martyn makes the setting and starting-point of his highly imaginative reconstruction of the history of the fourth gospel. Unless one begins with a late date for the gospel, there is no more reason for reading the events of 85-90 into 9.22 than for seeing a reference to Bar-Cochba in 5.43, which has long since become a curiosity of criticism.
A recent careful study by D. R. A. Hare regards the connection as entirely unproven. ἐκβάλειν to throw out, is so common as to be used in similar circumstances of Jesus himself (Luke 4.29), Stephen (Acts 7.58), Paul (Acts 13.50), and of Christians by other Christians (III John 10). The warning of John 16.2, 'they will ban you from the synagogue' (though the term ἀποσυνάγωγος is unparalleled anywhere else), says no more than Luke 6.22: 'How blest are you when men hate you, when they outlaw (ἀφορίσωσιν) you and insult you, and ban (ἐκβάλωσιν) your very name as infamous'. It describes the kind of treatment recorded in Acts (13.45-50; 14.2-6,19; 17.5-9,13; 18.6f, 12-17) as meted out to Paul in the late 40s and early 50s and which in 50 Paul himself testifies in I Thess.2.14f. to have been true not only of his converts but, from still earlier personal experience (described in Acts 9.291. and 22.18?), of the Christians in Judaea:He makes the point that exclusion was already a regular discipline at Qumran, who used very similar language in anathematizing their heretics. Indeed the word describing the action in John 9.34f,
You have fared like the congregations in Judaea, God's people in Christ Jesus. You have been treated by your countrymen as they are treated by the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out (ἐκδιωξάντων).
This last passage is also relevant against
those who say that John's use of 'the Jews' represents a late and non-Jewish
perspective. συνεπιτίθημι in the NT (Luke 2.25; Acts 23.20) do not support this.
When John wishes to indicate
a formal decision of the authorities he makes it clear (11.47,53,57).]
there is no compelling reason to assign it to a situation that obtained only at the end of the first century. Indeed there seems to be no ground even for placing it (with Brown) among the material added to the gospel at a later stage. In any case, as Dodd points out, the sanction of excommunication from the synagogue is 'a menace which would have no terrors for any but Jewish Christians'. It underlines the presumption found, I believe, throughout the gospel that those to whom it is addressed are, primarily at any rate, Jews rather than Gentiles.
Indeed, the entire absence from the gospel, to which we have already alluded, of any reference to 'the Gentiles' (or even to individual Gentiles, apart from Pilate and his soldiers) is as remarkable as it is unremarked.This of course proves nothing as to date, but it stands in notable contrast to the assumption reflected throughout the synoptists, Acts and Paul that the rejection of the Jews is to be followed by the incoming of the Gentiles. It cannot be argued from this that there was at the time no Gentile mission, but it certainly pre-supposes a milieu where concentration on the presentation of Jesus as the truth and fullness of Israel was the all-absorbing task of Christian apologetic. Of no conceivable milieu was this true after 70 except in isolated pockets of Ebionite Christianity which still saw Christianity as tied to the Jewish manner of living (the 'Nazarenes' of the twelfth Benediction). And if anything can be said with certainty of the fourth gospel it is that John was no Judaizer or preacher of a narrow Jewish exclusivism. His Christ was the hope and light of the world, challenging and transcending all the legal and ritual limitations of Judaism, yet presented always in categories - of which the manna and the vine are typical - that would enable the Jew to come to this truth as the fulfilment of everything for which Israel stood.
So universally is it taken for granted that the fourth gospel reflects the situation obtaining between Jews and Christians after 70 that it may seem bold - or even naive - to question it. topThe absence of reference to the Sadducees is frequently said to reflect their demise after 70: yet the chief priests and their party are certainly not absent, but still very much in the saddle. John never speaks of the scribes either - yet they certainly did not disappear after 70, but rather came to their own. In fact he appears remarkably well informed about the parties and divisions of Judaism before the Jewish war - and repeated attempts to prove him ignorant or stupid tend to recoil upon those who make them. While there are many things upon which in the absence of evidence it would be prudent to suspend judgment, there is nothing, as far as I know, which is plainly anachronistic or which positively requires a later perspective. Above all, there is nothing that suggests or presupposes that the temple is already destroyed or that Jerusalem is in ruins - signs of which calamity and of the difference in outlook it engendered are inescapably present in any Jewish or Christian literature that can with any certainty be dated in the period 70-100.
Of all the writings in the New Testament,
with the exception perhaps
of the epistle to the Hebrews and the book of Revelation,
the gospel of John is
that in which we might most expect an allusion
(however indirect, subtle or
to the doom of Jerusalem,
if it had in fact already been
For the focus of the gospel
is on the rejection by metropolitan
Judaism of the one who comes to his own people (1.11)
as the Christ and King
and Shepherd of Israel.
This coming and this rejection must inevitably mean the
judgment and the supersession of the old religion,
represented by the law
(1.17), the water-pots of purification (2.6),
the localized worship of Gerizim
and Jerusalem (4.21),
the sabbath (5.10-18), the manna that perishes (6.311.),
and much else.
Above all it means the replacement of the temple by the person
of Christ himself (2.21).
Yet, for all the capacity of this evangelist for
overtones and double meaning and irony,
it is hard to find any reference which
unquestionably reflects the events of 70.
The saying about the destruction of
which in this gospel (2.19) is not a threat by Jesus to
destroy the temple
(as the false witnesses at his trial in the synoptists
but a statement (such as well could be the original of what was
that 'if this temple be destroyed' he would rebuild it
'in a trice',
is related to the events not of 70 but of 30.
It is seen as a
prophecy not of what the Romans would do in the rebellion
but of what God would
do in the resurrection.
The cleansing of the temple with which, uniquely, it is associated in John occurs not in the politically explosive context of the synoptists at the close of the ministry, where it foreshadows the end of the nation, but is focused entirely upon Jesus' all-consuming concern under the influence of the Baptist's preaching for the religious purity of Israel.
There is to be sure the explicit prophecy of Roman intervention placed on the lips of the Jewish leaders in 11.471.:
This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone like this the whole populace will believe in him. Then the Romans will come and sweep away our temple and our nation.
this is an unfulfilled prophecy.
They did not leave him alone, and still the
Caiaphas indeed is represented in retrospect as prophesying truer
than he knew -
but this is not that the temple and nation would
be swept away
but that Jesus should die for the people
rather than the whole nation be destroyed (11.49-52). It is in fact remarkable that there is nothing in John corresponding to the detailed prophecies of the siege and fall of Jerusalem. And this is true despite the fact that every other feature of the synoptic apocalypses (apart again from the preaching to the Gentiles) is represented in the Johannine last discourses: the injunction against alarm, the fore-warning against apostasy, the prediction of travail and persecution for the sake of the name, the need for witness, the promise of the Spirit as the disciples' advocate, the reference to 'that day', when, in an imminent coming, Christ will be seen and manifested, the elect will be gathered to him, and the world will be judged.
Arguments from silence can, of course, never be conclusive.
are however two further indications in John that Jerusalem and its temple are
The first is in 2.20, when the Jews make the apparently unmotivated observation that Herod's temple has been a-building for forty-six years. οἰκοδομήθη; must imply that the building had ceased (and that John mistakenly supposed that the temple was by then complete) ignores the exact parallel in Ezra 5.16, already cited by Bernard, John, ad loc., and earlier by C. H. Turner, HDB I, 405: ἀπὸ τότε ἓως τοῦ νῦν ὠκοδομήθη καὶ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη. From manuscript notes of my father's taken from another student I find that it was also cited by Lightfoot, whom little escaped, in his lectures of 1873, in a section on the history of the temple's building which he evidently added to the 1867-8 course on the 'Internal Evidence for the Authenticity and Genuineness of St John's Gospel' reprinted in Biblical Essays, i68.Johna.ao, he said, 'speaks volumes for the authenticity of the Gospel'.] This comports very accurately with the date at which, according to John's chronology, Jesus must be presumed to be speaking. The building was not finished till c. 63, shortly before it was destroyed. Yet there is no presentiment of its destruction, as there is in the comparable comment on the temple buildings in Mark 13.2. But though the context would seem almost to cry out for such fore-boding, it may still be said that there is no reason why it had to be mentioned. In any case, the point in time is intended to reflect the perspective of Jesus, not of the evangelist - though the constant assumption is that this is not a distinction that John cares to observe or preserve.
But in the second passage the reference is quite clearly to the time of the evangelist. In 5.2 he introduces the story of the healing of the cripple with the words:
Now at the sheep-pool in Jerusalem there is a place with five colonnades. Its name in the language of the Jews is Bethesda.
This is one of John's topographical details that have been strikingly confirmed in recent study. topNot only does it reveal a close acquaintance with Jerusalem before 70, when the evidence of the five porches was to be buried beneath the rubble only recently to be revealed by the archaeologist's spade; but John says not 'was' but 'is'. Too much weight must not be put on this - though it is the only present tense in the context, and elsewhere (4.6; 11.18; 18.1; 19.41) he assimilates his topographical descriptions to the tense of the narrative. Of course too it is always open to the critic to attribute it to a source, which the evangelist has not bothered to correct - though such editorial introductions are usually regarded as the latest links. The natural inference, however, is that he is writing when the building he describes is still standing.
Let us then proceed to test out the hypothesis that the gospel of John reflects the situation before 70 because that is when it was written. And let us begin by looking at what is universally agreed to be the latest element in it, the epilogue of ch.21.
There can be no doubt that this chapter is an addendum or after-thought to the gospel as a whole, which reaches a rounded close at 20,31. It is unnecessary for our purpose to decide whether it was added by the same hand. Investigators are more or less evenly divided on this.There are small variations in the style, though the similarities are so great as to presuppose either deliberate imitation or a single author writing after a lapse of time or in different circumstances. It is clear in any case that 21.24, or at least the second half of it represents the endorsement of the Johannine community:
It is this same disciple who attests what here has been written. It is in fact he who wrote it, and we know that his testimony is true.
we need not stop to decide the question whether this is to be taken to mean
what it appears to mean,
that this disciple wrote the gospel,
whether this conclusion may be avoided,
either by taking γράφας to
mean 'caused to write'
ταῦτα to refer only to what has just been said or to the appendix as a whole, ταῦτα γέγραπται of 20.31.] or by regarding the verse as a mistaken attribution added in good faith.
From the point of view of dating, the present participle μαρτυρῶν ('attests') suggests, until proved otherwise, that the disciple in question is still alive, and Zahn insisted strongly on this. Nevertheless this has frequently been denied, on the basis of the preceding verses 18-23, whose interpretation is crucial.
When you were young you fastened your belt about you and walked where you chose; but when you are old you will stretch out your arms, and a stranger will bind you fast, and carry you where you have no wish to go.
In itself this is capable of wide interpretation. But the evangelist's comment,
He said this to indicate the manner of death by which Peter was to glorify God,
especially when taken in conjunction with his similar comments in 12.33
and 18.32 on the manner of Jesus' death
and with the evidence that stretching
out of the arms was itself a symbol of crucifixion,
[Cf. Bernard, John, ad loc.] leaves little doubt that he intended it to be seen as a specific reference to Peter's death by crucifixion; and the passage is so understood as early as Tertullian. One may therefore agree with Brown, and the commentators generally, that the passage almost certainly presupposes the death of Peter. This puts it some time after 65, according to when we date that event. There then follow these words:
Peter looked round, and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following - the one who at supper had leaned back close to him to ask the question, 'Lord, who is it that will betray you?' When he caught sight of him, Peter asked, 'Lord, what will happen to him?' Jesus said, 'If it should be my will that he wait until I come, what is it to you? Follow me.' That saying of Jesus became current in the brotherhood, and was taken to mean that that disciple would not die. But in fact Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, 'If it should be my will that he wait until I come, what is it to you?'
From this Brown goes on to draw the deduction:
Seemingly at a considerable interval after Peter's death, a long-lived eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus passed away - n eyewitness who was intimately connected with the Fourth Gospel.
But this is to read in a great deal. In the case of Peter the circumstantial detail gives good ground for believing that the saying of Jesus is being interpreted after the event. In the case of the beloved disciple all that is said is that Jesus' words were misunderstood to mean that that disciple would not die. This could certainly imply that his death had shown that that could not be their true interpretation and that a different explanation was therefore called for. Yet this is only an inference, and Brown admits that 'Westcott, Zahn, Tillmann, Bernard, Hoskyns and Schwank are among the many scholars who do not agree'.
But Brown also makes two other statements, namely, that the eye-witness
was 'long-lived' and that the time of writing was separated 'seemingly at a
considerable interval' from Peter's death.
Neither of these has any support in
It is not the beloved disciple but Peter who is referred to as
'growing old' (γηράσης), and we have the testimony of Irenaeus
that in the ancient world this was an appropriate description for anyone over forty or fifty: in fact Peter would presumably have been in or near his sixties when he died. With regard to the beloved disciple, it might today be a reasonable inference that if it was supposed of someone that he would never die it would indicate that he was hanging on interminably. But the perspective of the early Christians was very different: whether or not one would die depended on whether the parousia would supervene first. At the beginning all Christians expected not to die, and as far as we can tell Paul first entertained doubts on this subject for himself in the mid-50s. By the time of Philippians, which we dated in 58 but which cannot in any case be very much later, he is seriously debating (1.25) whether he would 'remain' (μένειν) - the very term used in John 21.2 2f. (cf. also I Cor.15.6) - though he is still convinced that he should. The debate has nothing to do with old age: Paul might by then have been in the latter forties or early fifties if he was a 'young man' (Acts 7.58) about the year 33. The same uncertainty about John (assuming, with Brown, that this is the intended identity of the disciple whom Jesus loved) need not presuppose a 'considerable interval' after Peter's death. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that the latter 60s of the first century (not unnaturally in the light of what was happening both in Rome and Jerusalem) saw a quickening of the expectation that the end could not now be long delayed (I Peter 4.7) but that Christ would come very soon to his waiting church (Rev.1.7; 3.3; 22.7, 20), in fulfilment of the promise that that first, apostolic generation would live to see it all (Mark 9.1; 13.30; etc.). When therefore all the other 'pillars' (Gal.2.9) had been removed by death (James in 62, Peter and Paul in 65+) and John only 'remained', a supposed promise of Jesus that he would not die, but that the end would come first, must have fed fervid expectations of an imminent consummation. There is no reason to think that the correction of the error would have waited another thirty years. On the contrary, the association in our passage of this hope of 'staying on' with the parousia and the death of Peter strongly suggests that all three were closely linked. It was damping false hopes of an apocalyptic intervention (from which consistently the John both of the gospel and of the epistles desires to detach the presence or coming of Christ), not correcting idle speculation based on longevity, which occasioned the need for an epilogue to the gospel - that and concern for the pastoral ministry of the church (21.15-17), another marked characteristic of the later 50s and 60s. ἀρνία, πρόβατα, προβάτια, latter-day ecclesiastical divisions, or even the age-groups of I John 2.13f., are entirely misguided (so Brown, John, ad loc.). There is nothing here to suggest or require a late date.] So provisionally we may date the epilogue shortly after the death of Peter in 65 +. This would mean that not only does it not reflect the destruction of Jerusalem but it could antedate the outbreak of the Jewish revolt, of which there are no more signs in John than I believe there are in the synoptists and Acts. Relations with Rome (represented in the person of Pilate) are still courteous and sycophantic to the point of irony (18.28-19.16).
Though it is not so clear nor so clean an addition, it can, I
believe, be shown that the prologue is likewise a subsequent introduction,
built like a porch into the original structure of the gospel.
has been built the hymn or meditation which we know as the prologue. I see no reason to suppose that it was non-Christian in origin or to attribute it to another hand, though I believe it probable that, like the epilogue, it was added to the first edition of the gospel after an interval. How long that interval was can be estimated only after taking into account the evidence of the epistles, since the opening of the first epistle (I John 1.1-3) shows a number of obvious similarities with it and reads indeed as if it could be a first draft for it.
First, however, the prologue gives us occasion to ask, and indeed compels the question, whether its language and thought-forms, supremely among the Johannine writings, do not suggest or require a considerably later stage of development, and therefore date, than that with which we are now working. Arguments from development, even more than those from distribution or dependence, are, as we have already seen, extremely difficult to handle. How long should we allow for the kind of theological sophistication about the significance of Christ which the prologue unquestionably evinces? Is it thirty, forty, sixty, or a hundred years? It is impossible to quantify. One can only make comparisons; and here the relative fixity of the Pauline yardstick again is valuable. The nearest parallels for the pre-existence Christology of John's prologue are to be found in Philippians and Colossians (which we dated in 58), and also in Hebrews (67) and Revelation (68+). Simply from within the internal dynamics of Christian theology there appears to be no reason, as far as I can see, for demanding more time for the maturation of the Johannine idiom. The same upper limit as for the latter two books, permitting the best part of forty years' 'distancing' from the events, would appear sufficient. At any rate to require more time demands specific reasons or additional evidence which I cannot see are forthcoming.
But what about external criteria in the history of ideas in the surrounding world? The trouble here is that most of the influences or parallels suggested for the background of the Johannine thought-forms are themselves more difficult to date than the gospel. This is certainly true of the five main backgrounds surveyed by Dodd- the Hermetic literature, Philonic Judaism, rabbinic Judaism, gnosticism and Mandaism. Of these only the evidence from Philo may be pinned down to a period which can constitute a probable background, as opposed to a possible environment, for the ideas of the fourth gospel. The material from the other milieux, whatever their influence, cannot be used for dating the gospel. Philo, even if he could be shown to be a direct source, died not later than c. 50, and cannot therefore argue for a late date. In fact it is coming to seem much more likely that Philo and John shared a common background in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, to which Philo gave a philosophic twist entirely absent from John. Brown accepts Braun's summary that 'if Philo had never existed, the Fourth Gospel would most probably have not been any different from what it is'.
The more recent evidence, which has come to light since Dodd wrote,
from the Qumran scrolls and the gnostic library at Chenoboskion, has merely
had the effect of undermining the grounds for putting John late.
material comes from the heart of southern Palestine before the Jewish war.
it has killed any dogmatism that the fundamental Johannine categories must be Hellenistic and must be late. Equally study of the new gnostic material has served to demonstrate the gulf rather than the similarities between the fourth gospel and the second-century gnostic systems. John's is at most what Reicke has, correctly I think, designated 'pre-gnostic' language,
and there is every reason to suppose that the kind of Judaism that formed a natural seed-bed for this way of thinking, with its speculative and mystical developments of the Old Testament and inter-testamental Wisdom themes,
went back well before 70. In fact the other evidence for this strain of gnosticizing Judaism in the New Testament - in Colossians, the Pastorals, Jude, II Peter and Rev.1-3 - all suggests that the late 50s and the 60s saw a burgeoning of it which was to create urgent new problems for the Christian church.
I do not therefore believe that there is anything in the language even of the Johannine prologue which demands a date later than the 60s of the first century. But this may best be tested by turning aside at this point from the gospel to look at the evidence of the Johannine epistles, which, like the rest of the Johannine literature, have usually been regarded as belonging to a later generation.
Dodd dates them between 96 and 110, on the grounds that they are subsequent to the gospel and that 'the general tone of the epistles offers the strongest contrast to that of the Revelation, which shows us a Church enduring severe persecution and looking forward to yet worse'.Since Dodd puts the gospel, as we have seen, in the 90s and says that 'we may take it for granted that the Revelation belongs to the reign of Domitian', it follows that since 'these epistles were written in the same province of Asia' they must come from a good deal later - though he allows that a date before Domitian's persecution is 'not excluded'. This reasoning illustrates how relative are the arguments for much New Testament dating. And with writings apparently so timeless as the three brief Johannine letters this is inevitably true whatever one's chronological schema. But it suggests also that there are few solid obstacles to stand in the way of reopening the question.
In what follows I shall presuppose the setting of the epistles for
which I argued in my article 'The Destination and Purpose of the Johannine
who were the product of the Johannine mission and in danger of being shaken from their faith and morals by false teachers of a gnosticizing tendency. In other words, the situation is remarkably parallel to that which we postulated for Jude and II Peter. Indeed we have observed earlier that Jude seems to stand to II Peter much as II John stands to I John. II John is a particular rather than a general pastoral letter, and its purpose may have been to give early warning of the new heresy ('If anyone comes to you', II John 10). In I John the false teachers, who are evidently peripatetic prophets (4.1-6), have clearly done their damage and have already persuaded some to leave (2.19).
The teaching indeed has much in common with that combated in Jude and II Peter. It evidently involves a denial of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God (2.22f.; 4.15; 5.1,5; cf. Jude 4; II Peter 2.1) and particularly of his coming in the flesh (4.2; II John 7). This docetic emphasis is new, and it leads both to doctrinal error - repudiation not only of the incarnation but of Jesus's coming 'with the blood' (5.6), i.e., probably, the reality of his sacrificial death (1.7; cf. 2.2; 4.io) - and to moral error. For if matter is unreal one can soon claim to be beyond morality - beyond sin (1.8-10), beyond law (2.3-5; 3.4) and beyond the material needs of the neighbour (1.9-11; 3.17; 4.20). It is this distortion of the teaching which his charges received, from a moral to a metaphysical dualism (with matter as indifferent or evil), that the writer sees as the root heresy, and this is characteristically gnostic. There is the familiar claim by the false teachers to give esoteric initiation and knowledge, which has to be countered by the Christian claim to the true knowledge and understanding (2.20f., 26f.; 5.20). We have already noted the similarity between the promise in II Peter 1.4 of coming to share in the very being of God and that in I John 3.2 of being like God because we shall see him as he is. The pretension of the heretics is evidently to be 'advanced' Christians (II John 9), going beyond both Judaism and the Christianity they have received. Yet there is no evidence here again of the developed gnostic systems of the second century.So far from teaching a myth of a heavenly redeemer or of multiplying intermediaries like the Colossian heretics, they appear to have proffered an unmediated God-mysticism, promising possession of the Father without the Son (2.23; 5.12; II John 9). The teaching is also connected, as in II Peter, with a false eschatology. It looks as if they too denied the Christian hope, repudiating the eschatalogical as well as the ethical dualism which marks the fourth gospel. So John is forced to insist upon it - while at the same time reinterpreting the truth distorted in its popular apocalyptic presentation:
My children, this is the last hour! You were told that Antichrist was to come, and now many antichrists have appeared; which proves to us that this is indeed the last hour (2.18).
Every spirit which does not thus acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is what is meant by 'Antichrist'; you have been told that he was to come, and here he is, in the world already! (4.3)
It is a different (more profound) way of turning the denial from that employed in II Peter. Yet John too is led into an uncharacteristic use of the same phrase 'his parousia' (2.28; cf. II Peter 3.4).
The other link between the Johannine epistles and II Peter and Jude
is the notable absence of any reference to persecution - beyond the hatred that Christians must always expect from 'the world' (3.13). In this they stand in great contrast, as we have already noted, to the letters to the seven churches of Revelation (with which otherwise they have a number of similarities), and also to I Peter and Hebrews. These last three we dated between 65 and 68+, but Jude and II Peter we saw reason to put earlier, in 61-2. There would therefore seem to be much in favour of placing the Johannine epistles provisionally in this same period of the early 60s. II John was perhaps written shortly before I John. Ill John deals not with heresy but with the conflict over authority in the church's ministry, which also marks Jude and II Peter (and the Pastoral Epistles). There is no ground either from the use of 'the Elder' in v.1 or from the (very uncertain) position of Diotrephes in v.9, for assigning III John to the period of transition to the Ignatian monepiscopacy of the second century. Guthrie, NTI, 897; and the literature there cited. Bultmann, Johannesbriefe, 95, though putting I John late, describes Kasemann's view that the Elder of III John was excommunicated by Diotrophes as 'phantastisch'.] We can only guess from their almost identical endings ('I have much to write to you, but I do not care to put it down in black and white. But I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face'; II John 12; cf. Ill John 131.) and other repetitions
that II and III John come from very much the same occasion. Indeed it is not at all impossible that the 'letter to the congregation' referred to in III John 9 may actually be II John. Their subjects are not the same (there is no claim that they are); but there is the common issue of Christian hospitality (II John 10f.; Ill John 8-10). If so, then we should set the epistles in the order II John, III John, I John, but in quick succession.
If then tentatively we put the Johannine epistles in the early 60s and the epilogue in the latter 60s, with the prologue (perhaps) some-where between, this would fit well with the many points of contact between the epistles and the distinctive features of the prologue and epilogue when compared with the body of the gospel. We have already suggested that the opening of I John reads like a preliminary sketch for the Logos theology of the prologue. There are obvious similarities. In both 'that which was from the beginning' was 'the word of life', and 'the life was manifested' (I John 1.1f.; John 1.1,4,14). Yet in the first epistle there is still not the absolute or fully personal use of 'the Word' found in the gospel prologue, and the latter is far more carefully constructed and richly orchestrated. In the epilogue too we have observed the same concern for the pastoral ministry of the church that marks all the Johannine epistles, and the same reference to eschatological expectations in current circulation which are yet given no encouragement in their popular form. There is the same use of ἀδελφοί' to characterize the Christian brotherhood (John 21.23; I John 3.13f., 16; III John 3, 5, 10) and of παιδία in the address of Christians (John 21.5; I John 2.18). Then in the penultimate verse of the epilogue (21.24), the 'we know that his witness is true' echoes both the 'we' of I John and the 'you know that our witness is true' of III John 12.
Finally, there is another distinctive feature of the epistles which strangely is not noticed among the fifty 'peculiarities' of the first epistle listed by Holtzmannnor is it mentioned by Dodd among those differences from the gospel that lead him to posit a separate author for the epistles. Indeed it does not seem to have been observed by any commentary to which I have had access. ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ in the Johannine Epistles' in Studies in John: Presented to Professor Dr J. N. Sevenster (Nov Test Suppl. 24), Leiden 1970,66-74.] In the gospel, except on two occasions, 'Christ' is not a proper name (as it already is for Paul) but always a title, the Christ or Messiah. In the epistles on the contrary the situation is exactly reversed. On two occasions it is a title (I John 2.22; 5.1); once it is ambiguous (II John 9); but for the rest it is always part of the proper name 'Jesus Christ'. Now, of the two exceptions in the gospel, one occurs in the prologue (1.17), and the other looks suspiciously like a later addition:
After these words Jesus looked up to heaven and said: ... 'This is eternal life: to know thee who alone art truly God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent' (17.1-3).
To represent Jesus as talking to the Father about 'Jesus Christ' is the sort of crude anachronism that John conspicuously avoids. May it be that the clause 'and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent' is inserted (whether by the same hand or another) precisely to counteract the false interpretation which had been put by John's opponents on the first clause taken by itself, that eternal life was to be had by knowledge of the Father without the Son? Certainly I John 2.22-25 and 5.11f. could suggest this. If so, the proper name 'Jesus Christ' here, as in the prologue, will reflect the usage of the epistles and be subsequent to that of the body of the gospel.
In my article on the epistles I argued that they presuppose not only the gospel but an extended interval between the two. The Johannine epistles are intelligible only on the assumption that their readers, who have evidently been their writer's pastoral charge from 'the beginning' (2.7,24; 3.11; II John 6), have been nurtured in 'Johannine Christianity'. The fundamentals alike of faith and morals to which they are being recalled are clearly the kind of teaching embodied in the fourth gospel.The ἐπαγγελία, which the writer also received from Christ himself, can be summed up, as throughout the gospel, in terms of 'eternal life' (2.25). This does not of course necessarily mean that they have had that gospel in writing. Common themes such as the 'new commandment' of I John 2.7 and John 13.34 or the description of Christianity as a state of having 'passed from death to life' in I John 3.14 and John 5.24 need imply no more than oral teaching. The same could apply to the apparent background of the argument in I John 5.9f. (about human testimony and the testimony that God has borne to his Son) in the words of Jesus in John 5.31-40. But in I John 3.8-15 there is a connected series of themes which also occur in John 8.40-7 (the difference between being 'born of God' and not; the sinner being a child of the devil, who has always been the same 'from the beginning'; and the only two occurrences of ἀνθρωποκτονός, murderer, in the New Testament). It is surely easier to believe that the writer is taking for granted a knowledge that these connections have already been made in material with which his readers are familiar.
The priority of the gospel (without the prologue and epilogue) to the epistles must fall short of proof. Yet this is also the order which seems to be presupposed in the closely parallel statements of their respective purposes. Of the gospel it is said:
These [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name (John 20.31).
Of the first epistle it is said:
I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life (I John 5.13).
if the present subjunctive πιστεύητε in John 20.31 is pressed to mean
'go on believing' or 'hold the faith' (neb) rather than 'come to believe', it is clear that the purpose of the
gospel is primarily furtherance of the faith (and I should be perfectly
prepared to agree that it was for the use of Christians in the Jewish
mission), while that of the epistles is reassurance of the faithful.
They are a defence of the truth of the gospel against those who would distort its teaching. There is no need to assume that the gospel itself goes right back to 'the beginning' of the missionary activity to which the writer recalls his flock. Indeed this is always associated with what they 'heard'. Yet that its writing
[The word γράφειν occurs more often in the gospel and epistles of John (and also in the Apocalypse) than in any other New Testament writer.]
was intended to serve as an instrument of evangelism and teaching there can, I think, be little doubt.
But since those early days much water has passed under the bridges. Considerable evangelistic labour had been put in: Take care, pleads the writer in II John 8, that you do not lose 'all that we worked for'. I John 2.12-14 presupposes an established Christian community with a full range of age-groups; II and III John a number of Christian centres, thick enough on the ground for travelling Christian missionaries to have no need to live off the heathen (II John 1, 13; III John 5-9). Heresy and schism alike have assumed dangerous proportions, and there is the same silver-age stress on sound doctrine, especially in II John 9f., that we meet in the Pastorals and again in Jude and II Peter. We shall hardly be wrong therefore in surmising that at least a decade has passed since 'the form of teaching to which they had been handed over', to use Paul's phrase (Rom. 6.17), had been in their possession. If then epistles do come from the early 60s we are back at any rate to the early 5os for some form of the gospel message.
But who and where were these Christians whom the writer calls his 'children' (I John 2.1), a form of address which appears to carry the same implication as when Paul uses it to his converts in Gal. 4.19, namely, that he had begotten them in the faith and been in a continuing, though not necessarily continuous, parental relationship to them ever since? We have been assuming that they are in Asia Minor, though there is no more certainty about this than that about the equally anonymous recipients of Jude and II Peter. But there is
the strong (and unchallenged) external tradition associating the gospel and the pastoral care of John with Ephesus and Asia Minor;
the fact that a Johannine type of Christianity is presupposed in the Apocalypse, which is indubitably associated with this area;
the similarity with the kind of gnosticizing teaching which, from the evidence of Colossians, I and II Timothy and the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, has already led us to place Jude and II Peter there; and
the fact that, admittedly much later, the first evidence for the use of I John comes from Smyrna (Ep. Polyc. 7).
So we may accept this location until proved otherwise.
Now the tradition says that Asia was
'allotted' to John at the dispersion of the apostles and disciples at the time
of the Jewish war.
Yet Peter's preaching in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia and Asia mentioned in the same context must have occurred (if it occurred at all) earlier; and in any case the 'assignment' of Asia to John, if not purely legendary, like that of Scythia to Andrew
and Parthia to Thomas, would suggest previous association with the area. But the tradition is equally clear that John's missionary activity, like Peter's, did not start in Asia Minor but in Jerusalem and Samaria (Acts 3.1-4.31; 8.14-25). So too the epistles point back beyond the point which marked 'the beginning' for their readers to 'the beginning' of the events in which the writer, with his associates, claims to have had a very personal and tangible share (II John 5; cf. I John 1.1-3,5; 2.25) and indeed behind that to the ἀρχή in which eternally those events were grounded (I John 1.1; 2.131.; cf. John 1.1). His message would be worthless if it were not already rooted and shaped in Palestine. So at this point we are driven back again from the epistles to the evidence supplied by the gospel.
I argued in my earlier article, 'The Destination and Purpose of St
John's Gospel', that in its present form the gospel was an appeal to the
Greek-speaking diaspora Judaism of Asia Minor, the sort of persons whom
Paul addresses there as 'men of Israel and those who worship God' (Acts 13.16),
to accept as the Christ him whom 'the people of Jerusalem and their rulers'
(13.27), 'the Jews' of this gospel, had refused to acknowledge.
All through the
gospel there is an outer circle, of those who do not belong to 'the nation'
always for this
writer metropolitan Judaism), namely, 'the scattered children of God' (΄11.51f.),
those of 'his own' (1.11) at present in dispersion.
These are 'the Greeks' of
12.20, i.e. Greek-speaking Jews,
whose representatives are present to 'worship
at the festival',
and who are spoken of so disparagingly by the Jerusalem
crowds in 7.35.
Similarly they are 'the other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold' who will also 'listen to my voice' and come to form one flock under the one shepherd (10.16) - as in the classic prophecies of the restoration of Israel (Ezek.34; 37.21-8; Jer.23.1-8; 31.1-10). Chapter 17 too is a prayer 'not for these only', that is, for those already faithful to Jesus in Palestine, but for those who shall come to believe through their word (17.20), that is, for those who have not seen and yet find faith (20.29). The prayer 'may they all be one' is on Jesus' lips not (anachronistically) a prayer for broken Christendom but for scattered and disrupted Judaism, viewed as the true Israel of God. Throughout the gospel we can hear the anxiety of the evangelist and pastor that of those who have been 'given' (cf. Isa.8.18) none should be lost (6.39; 10.28f.; 17.12; 18.9). This theme is introduced first in 6.12f., where importance is attached to the care with which the fragments must be collected after the feeding. Filling as they do twelve baskets, they symbolize the fullness of Israel still to be gathered in after 'the Jews' (or Judaeans) have been satisfied.
Yet though this clearly indicates the missionary outreach of the gospel, it is significant - and this I did not observe earlier - that in every case except one the movement envisaged is not of going out but of coming in. The climax to the ministry of Jesus which sets in motion his glorification and the world's judgment (12.23,31) is when the Greek-speaking Jews who have 'come up' to Jerusalem ask to see Jesus (12.20f). This marks the beginning of the harvest (12.24), in which the reaper 'gathers' a crop for eternal life (4.36), and of the 'drawing' of all men to the Christ (12.32; cf. 6.44). The sheep are to be 'brought in' (10.16), the scattered fragments and children of God 'gathered together' (6.12f.; 11.52). The one exception is in 7.35, where the Jews ask: 'Where does he intend to go, that we should not be able to find him? Will he go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?' Like other uncomprehending remarks in this gospel, and especially those a few verses later about Galilee and Bethlehem (7.40-42,52), this is both a total misunderstanding and the ironic truth. Of course Jesus will not go to the Greeks of the Dispersion (he is going to the Father) - yet they will find him (unlike the disbelieving Judaeans). Though the missionary motive of the evangelist is unquestionable, his perspective again is that characteristic of late Judaism (cf. Isa.60; etc.), that the world would 'come in' to Jerusalem, not that it should go out to the world.
If this is so, then we may have an important clue to the original
milieu of the Johannine preaching and teaching.
The gospel shows the marks of
being both Palestinian and Greek - in contrast with the Qumran literature which is Palestinian and Hebrew.
I am not convinced that
this simple difference has been given sufficient weight.
I believe there is
much to be said for the hypothesis that the Johannine tradition
first took its characteristic form in Jerusalem, precisely in contact with
those circles of Greek-speaking Judaism who feature at the climactic point of
Particularly at the feasts, which occupy such a dominant place in
the tradition, their numbers would be greatly swollen by 'Jews from the
province of Asia' and others (Acts 21.27).
But in the intervals there were
those 'devout Jews from every nation under heaven' who lived permanently
(κατοικοῦντες) in Jerusalem (Acts 2.5).
These were the Greek-speaking Jews or Hellenists,
with whom the bilingual Paul 'talked and debated' when he 'moved about freely in Jerusalem' after his conversion (9.28f.). They were also those who earlier had 'argued with Stephen' and belonged to the so-called 'Synagogue of the Freedmen, comprising Cyrenians and Alexandrians and people from Cilicia and Asia' (6.9).
Now there is a widespread impression
that the Greek-speaking Jews
were 'more liberal-minded' (17.11; neb) than
the narrow Hebraists.
But whatever may be the evidence for this outside
Palestine (and Paul did not find much of it),
those in Jerusalem were clearly
determined to prove themselves more papal than the pope
or certainly than Gamaliel! They hauled Stephen before the Council and ended by killing him (7.8-60), and twice they planned to murder Paul (9.29; 21.27-36). There is no reason to think that the 'Hellenists' were per se Hellenizers (i.e. Graecophiles)
- any more than the 'Hebrews' with whom they are contrasted in Acts 6.1 were necessarily Judaizers. Some of them may have been, but the word itself implies no more than that they spoke Greek (as their first, if not their only, language). Nor is there any reason to suppose, with Cullmann, that they were as such heterodox or nonconformist Jews on the fringes of Judaism, sitting loose to the law and the temple cult. Again some may have been - but certainly not those who attacked Stephen so vehemently, who were evidently at the very opposite end of the ecclesiastical spectrum.
Again, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between the Jewish
Hellenists with whom Paul disputed
he certainly has not in mind the group round Stephen whose outlook was quite evidently different from that of the first gospel. He does not mention the gospel of John in this connection, but I believe the same applies.
Pace Cullmann, I see no reason to think that the 'Johannine circle', any more than the author to the Hebrews, had any special connection with the disciples of Stephen.
The theological emphasis that Jesus was the fulfilment and therefore the replacement of everything for which Israel stood, which is indeed so marked in John, is after all common to Paul (Rom. 10.4; etc.) and Matthew (12.6; etc.), not to mention the epistle to the Hebrews. Though in John worship is clearly not tied to the temple, it is very much 'from the Jews that salvation comes' (4.211.), and far from being fringe Judaism ('Randjudentum') to which the Johannine mission appealed, it is a Judaism centred firmly in Jerusalem and its festivals. Moreover, it is not Philip the evangelist and those round Stephen with whom the Johannine tradition has links - his contacts are rather with Luke and Paul (Acts 21.8) - but Philip the apostle and Andrew, Greek-speaking Galileans from the cosmopolitan city of Bethsaida-Julias (John 12.20-2). Finally, if the Johannine circle was connected with that of Stephen, why was John left free when the persecution occasioned by the death of Stephen dispersed the others (Acts 8.1,14-17)?
The debate of the Johannine group, with its contacts with the high-priestly household (John 18.15), seems rather to have been with the inner core of the Jerusalem leadership. The distinctive Johannine dialogue is with those who claim to be rulers and teachers of Israel (3.1,10) or with those repudiated by them (7.49; 9.22). Its mission to 'the circumcision' (cf. Gal. 2.9) included in its appeal members of the Sanhedrin and others of the ruling class. A few of these were evidently sympathetic (7.50f.; 12.42) but the great majority implacably hostile (7.26,48; 12.37-43). If then this is the kind of background against which the Johannine mission was conducted, it is hardly surprising that a note of acrimony creeps so frequently into the debates which constitute the hard core of its gospel tradition. Yet the Johannine preaching and teaching was also very much concerned for 'the Jews who believed' (8.31), and we may hear this concern coming through the last discourses and especially such a passage as:
I have told you all this to guard you against the breakdown of your faith. They will ban you from the synagogue; indeed, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will suppose that he is performing a religious duty. ... I have told you all this so that when the time comes for it to happen you may remember my warning (16.1-4).
There is really no reason to think that
such a passage reflects any greater distance in place or time than the
Jerusalem of the first two decades of the Christian church.
Wherever later this
gospel was to be taken, expanded and edited, here I believe is where it began.
And it is here that we may place the formative stage of the tradition, corresponding
to the early stages of the synoptic traditions.
Indeed I detect a growing
readiness to accept that the first draft of the gospel itself
(what before we
called the proto-gospel stage)
may have been written in Palestine.
In fact with this author, in contrast with the synoptists, and especially Luke, I doubt if much meaningful distinction can be drawn between his 'sources' and his own first composition - for, unlike Dodd, I am persuaded that he stood in an internal rather than an external relationship to his tradition. The unity of style has rendered unconvincing all attempts to analyse out written sources.
I would agree with the comment of Brownlee on a recent attempt to do this:
[r.T. Fortna, The Gospel of Signs, 1970. The damaging criticisms of this in Lindars, Behind the Fourth Gospel, 1971, ch.2, would seem to me to apply to any theory, including his own, that presupposes that the evangelist used external sources.]
A more valid goal, it seems to me, is the recovery of a proto-Johannine narrative, which (since it is by the same author as much else) it will never be possible to separate completely from the other Johannine contributions.
this, however, is a highly arbitrary procedure, as another recent piece of
in its attempt to isolate an original (and very primitive) Aramaic core expanded later by another hand. Indeed I would question whether there is, as Brownlee argues, following Burney and Torrey, any real evidence for saying that the Johannine tradition was originally written in Aramaic
and then translated by another hand, whether in Palestine or elsewhere.
Though the Aramaic 'accent' of the writer is constantly apparent, there would seem no compelling reason to suppose that the stories and discourses that make up the gospel were ever written in anything but Greek. Nicodemus with his Greek name may stand for the typical educated Jewish Hellenist, in debate with whom the gospel tradition originated. As Nigel Turner has pointed out, the pun in 3.3-8 on ἂνωθεν (over again, from above) works only in Greek, αἲρει ... καθαίρει in 15.2.]
the language indeed in which, he maintains, Jesus himself could originally have conducted the discussion. Yet this is a Greek-speaking Palestinian milieu unaffected by the issues and conflicts which quickly arose within the church in a frontier-situation like that of Antioch.
Nor is there any evidence of a charge against John such as Paul had later to face from the Jews in Jerusalem, of selling Judaism short in order to accommodate the Gentiles (Acts 21.271.). But by that stage it seems that John, like Peter, was no longer in Jerusalem (21.171.).
At this point we can postpone no longer the question of who the writer of this gospel was. For, though the dating in no way depends on the hand or hands involved, an early date also renders many of the arguments for an indirect and extended chain of authorship much less plausible or necessary. Indeed Brownlee, though himself still supposing the gospel to have been translated and 'put together from the manuscripts left behind by the original evangelist', says:
The Gospel according to John is in my view substantially the testimony of the apostle John.... If what one is looking for as apostolic is a fresh and independent witness, John has it - and not as fabrications of the imagination stemming from some later period of the Gospel tradition, but as the voice of a living witness from the cultural context of the early decades of Christianity in Palestine
But rather than become involved in going
over once again the well-worn case for attributing the gospel to John son of Zebedee,
we may begin at the other end by sketching the kind of author to whom the internal evidence points.
G. D. Kilpatrick has attempted this exercise in an article called 'What John Tells us about John'. This is his conclusion:
What have we learned about him? A poor man from a poor province he does not seem to have been a bookish person. In Greek terms he was uneducated with no contact with the Greek religious and philosophical literature of his day. This creates a problem: how does a man without these contacts have so many apparent similarities to a writer like Philo in his thought? As his material conditions as far as we can elicit them indicate a man of Palestinian origin it seems reasonable to look for the background of his presentation of the Gospel there. Our sources of information will be the LXX and related works, the literature of the Qumran and the Rabbinic texts especially the traditions of the Tannaim. On other counts we arc being forced to recognize that notions we have associated with Hellenistic Judaism were not unknown and not without influence in Palestinian Judaism in the first century AD.
Now whatever affinities John may have had
with Philo, they were not literary.
For Kilpatrick himself shows
Indeed the vocabulary and style of the gospel point to a man whose first language was evidently Aramaic and who wrote correct though limited Greek, with Semitisms but not solecisms.
The evidence therefore for the person we are seeking, so far from
ruling out a relatively poor and uneducated Palestinian, points suspiciously
towards the kind of man that John, son of Zebedee, might have been.
There is in fact no reason to suppose that his family was particularly poor and uneducated. His mother Salome (cf. Mark 15.40 with Matt. 27.56) was among those who ministered to Jesus in Galilee (Mark 15.41), as Luke adds (8.3), 'out of their possessions'. In Zahn's words,
As regards its prosperity and social position, the family of Zebedee is to be compared with that of Chuza (Luke 8.3), the financial officer of Herod, or even of Joseph of Arimathea,
rather than that of Joseph and Mary (Luke2.24; Cf.2.7).
The often observed fact that Zebedee's household ran to 'hired servants' (Mark 1.20) suggests that his status may not have been incomparable with that of the father of the prodigal in the parable (Luke 15.11-32), who also had two sons as well as a number of hired servants and was evidently a man of moderate substance (15.12,221., 29). In more than one of John's parables the point of contrast is between the position in the household of servants and sons (8.35; 15.15), and the 'hireling' of 10.12 is the same word as is used for the hired servants in Mark 1 .20.
Again, the lack of education attributed to John and Peter by 'the Jewish rulers, elders and doctors of the law' in Acts 4.13 need indicate no more than that in their professional eyes these were 'untrained laymen' (neb), a view shared by the authorities both of Jesus (John 7.15; cf. 9.29) and of Paul (Acts 21.37f.). The astonishment was that despite this they showed themselves so articulate. Indeed John in particular must have had personal qualities that brought him rather rapidly to the fore. He starts as the younger of two brothers, who in Mark and Matthew is invariably mentioned second as 'James's brother John'. But from the beginning of Acts (1.13) he is given precedence (an order reflected back for example in Luke 8.51; 9.28), and the last mention of James is as 'the brother of John' (Acts 12.2). Both in Paul (Gal.2.9) and in Acts (1.13; 3.1; 8.14; etc.) he stands second only to Peter in the Jerusalem church.
But not merely in stature does he, and he alone within the circle of the twelve or among any known to us outside it, meet the requirements of the role we are seeking, but both his background and his subsequent sphere of work are singularly appropriate.
It is often said (e.g. by Dodd
to which he came and where they did not receive him (1.11), in contrast to Galilee, the land
from which he came (7.40-52) and where they did receive him (4.45). Cf. W.A. Meeks, 'Galilee and Judaea in the Fourth Gospel', JBL, 85, 1966, 165.]
For in a passage which reads like an entirely motiveless piece of travel diary
John records that from Cana (where Jesus had arrived independently of his family) he went down to Capernaum in company with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples, but they [i.e., evidently, Jesus and his disciples]
did not stay there long (2.12).
The natural inference is that Capernaum was then his
and that he was paying a short visit on the family with his new
In fact, apart from Cana,
Capernaum is the only Galilean town Jesus
is specifically recorded in John as visiting,
although as in the synoptists he
still goes about in Galilee generally (4.45; 7.1).
In 6.15, after the feeding
of the five thousand,
the disciples naturally start rowing back to Capernaum as
if this were home,
though in Mark Jesus orders them to Bethsaida (6.45)
they actually land up at Gennesaret (6.53).
The following day, in John, the
crowds also set out for Capernaum,
evidently expecting to find Jesus there
which indeed they do (6.25), for the dialogue that follows takes place in its synagogue (6.59). Capernaum with its synagogue, which also features in the synoptists (Mark 1.21 [and 3.1; 5.21f.?]; Luke 7.5) and could perhaps be said to be the equivalent of Jesus' parish church, 51-4.]
is mentioned more frequently in John than in any of the other gospels. It is not insignificant therefore that John son of Zebedee himself probably lived in Capernaum as well. At any rate we are told that Peter's house was there (Mark 1.21,29),
which Jesus first enters with James and John, whom he had just found 'a little further on' from where Simon and Andrew were at work (1.19). And if, as Luke informs us in a passage independent of the Markan tradition, these pairs of brothers were in partnership (5.10), it looks as if Zebedee and sons also had their fishing business in Capernaum. I cite these connections, however inferential, because at any rate they do not show indifference to or ignorance of Galilean detail.
Yet it is in Samaria
and above all in
Jerusalem and its environs
that the distinctive topographical interest of the
fourth evangelist is centred.
John is recorded as being associated later with
the Samaritan mission
not only in authorizing the work of others
but in evangelizing 'many Samaritan villages' (8.25).
has indeed derived the meaning of Jesus' words in John 4.38,
'others toiled and
you have come in for the harvest of their toil', solely from this later
I should question this,
but would not doubt that the church's Samaritan mission gives John the interest to devote such attention to Jesus' work in these parts (4.4-42), so that in this gospel he is even accused in insult of being a Samaritan (8.48). Moreover, there are a number of scholars who with greater or less probability have traced connections between the gospel of John and Samaritan theology.
But it is the Jerusalem connections and
interests that have most to be explained.
And here it seems to me that the
evidence points strongly to the apostle John.
Not only is he based there from the beginning by Acts (1.13-8.25) and subsequently by Paul (Gal.2.1-10), but both Acts and Paul record him as being devoted to the Jewish rather than to the Gentile mission, which is precisely what we should deduce from the Johannine writings.
Indeed it seems to me that this last passage in Galatians may hold a neglected clue to the composition of the fourth gospel. Up to the time to which Paul is referring (on our dating 48) John had as far as we know lived and worked exclusively in Jerusalem and Samaria. For the best part of twenty years his dialogue and that of his circle had been with the Jews of the capital, and it is this engagement during this period that, we have argued, basically shaped his tradition. Yet subsequently the evidence points to the diaspora and particularly to Ephesus and Asia Minor as the sphere of the Johannine mission. How and when did this transition occur?
I had originally surmised that the change
of location coincided with the great dispersion occasioned by the Jewish war.
'[Destination and Purpose', 125. Similarly Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, 51f., who describes it as 'a very probable conjecture'.]
Yet this is a pure assumption, though, as Eusebius says, these events may later have caused this area to be 'assigned' to him. I now believe that the clue to the transition is to be found in Gal. 2.6-9. There Paul says that the 'men of repute' at Jerusalem (i.e. James the Lord's brother, Peter and John) first
acknowledged that I had been entrusted with the Gospel for Gentiles as surely as Peter had been entrusted with the Gospel for Jews. For God whose action made Peter an apostle to the Jews, also made me an apostle to the Gentiles.
Thus far the reference is to the past and
is limited to the two leaders who, as far as we know (Acts 10-11; 13-14),
by that time broken the confinement of the church's preaching to the Jews of
top But now a new stage seems to open up, marked appropriately by a fresh paragraph in the neb:
Recognizing, then, the favour thus bestowed upon me, those reputed pillars of our society, James, Cephas, and John, accepted Barnabas and myself as partners, and shook hands upon it, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles while they went to the Jews.
The resolution looks to the future and should, I believe, be read as a new concordat for missionary policy, for which the gathering for the Council provided the occasion and opportunity. Though the verb 'should go' has to be supplied, it is most naturally taken as a decision to go out from Jerusalem in a fresh wave of expansion, which now was to affect not simply Peter and Paul (with Barnabas) but James and John as well. Paul and Barnabas were to go to the ἒθνη, Peter, James and John to the διασπορά.
It may be a sheer coincidence, but it is in the writings attributed to these latter designated for mission among the Jews that the only three occurrences of the word διασπορά occur in the New Testament (James 1.1; I Peter 1.1 ;John 7.35). Now we know from I Corinthians that Peter must in all probability have been at Corinth not long afterwards in the early 50s, and perhaps subsequently in Rome. Of James' movements we know nothing, but there is, as we have seen, a possible pointer in the priority given to the Lord's brothers over Peter in I Cor.9.5 to the fact that he too was involved at this same time in missionary travelling.
What of John?
Again, with Acts silent, we are working almost totally in the dark.
But I suggest that
the facts are best explained on the hypothesis that John too first started
missionary work among Jewish congregations in Asia Minor at the beginning of
the 50s -
and was out of Jerusalem, like Peter, when Paul returned there in 57,
only James and the local elders appearing to be in the city (Acts 21.18).
of the interests of the author of the fourth gospel is evidently the
incorporation into Christianity of those
(like himself- the unnamed disciple of
who started as followers of John the Baptist.
I believe there is
no basis for the view that it was written against groups who claimed John as
(of whom we hear nothing till the late second century).
But, as Dodd recognized, it would fit the sort of situation in Ephesus described in Acts 18.24-19.7 (though I suspect that the real basis of this interest goes back to earlier connections with Baptist groups in Judaea and Samaria). The 'disciples' who had known only the baptism of John were there, as we have seen, before Paul began his Ephesian ministry (probably in the late summer of 52). It is somewhere about that period that I would suggest John was independently in 'dialogue' with the synagogue (cf. Acts 18.4; 19.8) in the Ephesus region although, unlike Paul, he assuredly did not after three months 'separate' his disciples (the same word ἀφορίζειν used to describe the reverse process in Luke 6.22) to Gentile premises (19.9).
The obvious objection is that, if all this
activity was going on in the same area at the same time,
why do we not hear
Yet our sources are very limited.
Acts has by then simply become a
record of the Pauline mission, and is in any case exceptionally thin at this
period even for that.
It is worth remembering
that neither in Acts nor in Paul
should we have any notion of Peter's work in Corinth,
the congregation, after all, whose history we know far better than that of any other, were it not for the facts that
he was married and
he was seen by a faction there as a rival to Paul -
neither of which as far as we know applied to John. Of the churches in the Ephesus area (not excluding Ephesus itself) we gather practically nothing from the Pauline letters except Colossae, which, to judge from Rev.1-3, was not among the centres of Johannine Christianity. Similarly, there also were Petrine groups in the province of Asia (I Peter 1.1 -whoever was the author of this epistle); yet we have no idea how they originated. It would therefore go far beyond the evidence to conclude that John was not then working in Asia too. Indeed, if as we have argued, the Apocalypse comes from the latter 60s, then some form of Johannine presence had certainly been established for a considerable time before that, at any rate in Ephesus itself (Rev. 2.4f.). This would also fit with the deduction we drew from I-III John that by the early 60s the beginning of the Johannine mission in Asia Minor already lay a decade or more back.
So the pieces are starting to fall into place. When the gospel itself was first committed to writing we still cannot be sure. But I believe we shall not be far wrong in seeing the stages as closely parallel to those which we observed for the synoptists. Here we may agree with Brown, though on a different time-scale. For like him I believe the various gospel traditions developed more or less concurrently. While not presupposing the synoptic gospels, John certainly presupposes the common oral tradition. 'In fact', as Brownlee says,
one should conceive of this Johannine witness as born within a milieu where many people were intimately acquainted with the deeds and words of Jesus not mentioned in the Gospel (20.30f.). [Op. cit., 184.]
This of course would apply particularly to Palestine. Brownlee draws attention to the fact that in his speech at Caesarea Peter starts:
I need not tell you what happened lately over all the land of the Jews, starting from Galilee after the baptism proclaimed by John. You know about Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 10.37f.).
John is not using (or correcting) anyone else's account, but he is taking for granted the same facts and their assimilation in the common life of the church. He gives the impression that he is writing the tradition for the first time and is looking over his shoulder at no one. This seems to be an altogether more credible account of affairs than that which is presupposed by the traditional dating. As Nolloth expressed it, 25.] who, though dating the synoptic gospels between 50 and 60, still put John c. 95:
Is it not a most perplexing thing that about the close of the first century, when all but one of the original witnesses of our Lord's life had passed away, a fresh account of him should suddenly be launched upon the Church, containing so much that, to men familiar with the existing tradition, appeared to give quite a different version of the facts?
If we envisage the various gospels coming into being more or less concurrently, and in the case of John largely independently, there is no objection to seeing, as Brown does, some limited cross-fertilization in either direction - between the Johannine and the other developing traditions, particularly the Markan and Lukan. Indeed the so-called 'Western non-interpolations' in Luke 24.12,36 and 40, whether original to the text of Luke or not,look to be influenced by the Johannine tradition, though there is no need to postulate dependence on the actual gospel of John, from which there are significant differences of detail. Yet, while the gospels were being formed concurrently, the span of development seems to have been somewhat more prolonged in John than with the synoptists, making John still the last gospel to be finished - though possibly also the first to be put down in a consecutive form. For the units of its tradition are not so much isolated pericopae as ordered wholes shaped by a single mind, originally no doubt, as Eusebius says, for preaching purposes.
Formation of the Johannine tradition and proto-gospel in Jerusalem
First edition of our present gospel in Asia Minor
II, III and I John
The final form of the gospel, with prologue and epilogue.
Despite the solidarity of commentators cited earlier for a date late in the
there have always been isolated voices claiming John as a
or at least questioning whether it need be so late.
Now, despite the fact that even scholars like Brownlee still argue for a later final date, it looks as if we may stand on the point of a fresh break-through in what I called 'the new look on the fourth gospel'. Thus Charlesworth, though himself dating John c. 100, says:
F. L. Cribbs is certainly correct in urging us 'to make a reassessment of this gospel in the direction of an earlier dating and a possible origin for John against the general background of Palestinian Christianity'.
This article by Cribbs, 'A Reassessment of
the Date of Origin and the Destination of the Gospel of John',
is in my judgment much the weightiest statement so far of the case for an early dating. He concludes that it was written 'by a cultured Christian Jew of Judaea during the late 50s or early 60s' - though still not by the apostle John. There would appear indeed to be a new convergence on a pre-70 dating between those who have given most study to the Jewish back-ground of the gospel and the newer conservative evangelicals.
It will be interesting to see if and when others join them.
Over the span of time that we have
predicted for the creation of the Johannine corpus,
and allowing for
considerable intervals between the stages in the writing of the gospel and
and for the effect of new issues and influences, I see no changes of style and substance which are not better put down to the development of one large mind than to a disciple or disciples slavishly imitating the voice of their master. Above all it seems to me that the creation ex nihilo, as the real evangelist, of what Brown calls a 'master preacher and theologian', a 'principal disciple ... marked with dramatic genius and profound theological insight', who was yet 'not famous', raises far more problems than it solves. And to say casually, with Barrett, that 'the evangelist, perhaps the greatest theologian in all the history of the Church, was now forgotten. His name was unknown' is to show an indifference to evidence (or rather to the lack of it) that makes one wonder how with others he can possibly appeal to the silence on the use of John in the second century as a powerful argument against apostolic authorship. Nor can it really help to bring in the shadowy figure of John the Elder
who, even if he was separate from the apostle, τοὺς τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λόγους instead of τοὺς τῶν ἀποστόλων λόγους!) Cf. also G. S. Petrie, 'The Authorship of "The Gospel According to Matthew": A Reconstruction of the External Evidence', NTS 14, 1967-8, 15-24, who argues persuasively that ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης (not Ἰωάννης ὁ πρεσβύτερος) means, when the name is repeated with the article, 'the (aforementioned) ancient worthy John' (for πρεσβύτεροι as 'the men of old', cf. Heb. 11.2). He too is convinced that a second John is simply 'wished on' Papias by Eusebius, who in his own interest in finding a separate author for the Apocalypse wants to believe that Papias 'proves their statement to be true who have said that two persons in Asia have borne the same name, and that there were two tombs at Ephesus, each of which is still to this day said to be John's' (3.39.6). Of course Papias does nothing of the sort; but he could certainly have expressed himself more clearly!]
is nowhere stated to have been a disciple of John son of Zebedee, or (pace Eusebius) to have lived in Ephesus, or indeed to have written a word, though Eusebius guessed that he could have written the Apocalypse. With regard to the gospel, Armitage Robinson's comment is sufficient: 'That mole never made such a mountain.'
[The Historical Character of St John's Gospel, 21929, 102.] I find it much easier to believe that the role of the disciples of John was basically confined to that of which we have direct evidence, namely their certificate in 21.24 that this disciple himself 'wrote these things', and that this certificate, given in his presence (παρτυρῶν), is true.
To sum up on the question of authorship, perhaps I can make the
point by comparison and contrast.
Brown, as we saw earlier, argues for the
identity of the beloved disciple with John son of Zebedee but denies the
identity of the beloved disciple with the evangelist.
Cullmann 74-85.] per contra argues for the identity of the beloved disciple with the
evangelist but denies the identity of the beloved disciple with John.
believes he was an anonymous Judaean disciple, a former follower of the
Baptist, in part an eye witness, but not one of the twelve.
Why he should ever
have been identified with John or how the gospel or 'the Johannine circle'
('for want of a better name'!) was so called remains a mystery.
It is these
self-created aporiai, or perplexities, in Johannine studies which seem
to me so much more baffling than the breaks and discontinuities at which the
critics balk. [Cf. Lindars, Behind the Fourth Gospel, 14-16.]
I believe that both men are right in what they assert and wrong in what they deny. Further I think they are both wrong in assuming that the evangelist is dead at the time of composition and therefore introducing yet another divide between him and the final redactor (or redactors). In fact ironically it is the lack of final redaction to which the evidence most powerfully points. The faulty connections and self-corrections do not of themselves argue a multiplicity of hands. They merely show that what was first written, perhaps very early, as homiletic and apologetic material for various occasions has still not at the end been knit into a seamless robe.
But whatever the actual authorship and the precise limits of other bands at work
there will remain scope for unending diversity and debate),
I believe that
John represents in date, as in theology,
not only the omega but also the alpha of New Testament development.
He bestrides the period like a
colossus and marks out its span,
the span that lies between two dramatic
moments in Jerusalem which boldly we may date with unusual precision.
was when, on 9 April 30, 'early on the Sunday morning, while it was still
one man' saw and believed' (John 20. 1-9).
And the second was when, on
26 September 70,
'the dawn of the eighth day of the month Gorpiaeus broke upon
Jerusalem in flames'.
Over those forty years, I believe, all the books of the New Testament came to completion, and during most of that period, if we are right, the Johannine literature was in the process of maturation. It gradually took shape, in meditation and preaching, in evangelism and apologetic, in worship and instruction, and in that decisive translation into writing (John 20.31; I John 5.13) which fixed it, alone of the early Christian traditions, in the form of both gospel and epistles - as well as in those pastoral dealings for which 'pen and ink' (II John 12; III John 13) could be no substitute.
This does not mean that at this point the Johannine any more than
any of the other streams of tradition ceased to flow or to grow.
there is mounting evidence that for a considerable period,
writings of the New Testament came to be cited as authoritative,
tradition and the 'living voice',
of which Papias quotes John as a last
continued to hold the field. But this raises the problem of the sub-apostolic age. If the New Testament was essentially complete by 70, was it succeeded simply by a literary desert? What of those decades, especially between 80 and 100, which scholars have seeded so freely with their second sowings of deutero-Pauline and other latter-day literature? Are they merely left vacant? One cannot redate the New Testament without giving some attention, however sketchily, to this shadowy period in which any secure landmarks are still more scarce.