Authorship, Authenticity

Berkhof on John

Excerpt from: Louis Berkhof, Introduction to the NT,
John, (Eerdmans, 1915)

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Last Updated: Feb 18, 2010

Berkhof on John: - Authorship:
    John the Evangelist Internal Evidence
    John the Apostle: NT characterization
    Attacks on Authorship: German Criticism
    Authenticity: historical data

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on John

Taken from:
Louis Berkhof, Introduction to the NT,
John, (Eerdmans, 1915)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.


Authorship & Authenticity

The voice of antiquity is all but unanimous in ascribing the fourth Gospel to John. The Monarchian sect, called by Epiphanius, “the Alogi,” forms the only exception. Little is known of this sect, except that it rejected the doctrine of the Logos. Salmon says: “In fact I now believe that “the Alogi” consisted of Caius and, as far as I can learn, of nobody else.” Introd. p. 229. The internal evidence for the authorship of the Gospel is now generally arranged under the following heads:

1. The author was a Jew. He evidently had an intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament, had, as it were, imbibed the spirit of the prophetical writings. He knew them not only in the translation of the LXX, but in their original language, as is evident from several Old Testament quotations. Moreover the style of the author clearly reveals his Jewish nationality. He wrote Greeks it is true, but his construction, his circumstantiality and his use of parallelism, are all Hebraic. “There is a Hebrew soul living in the language of the evangelist.” Luthardt, St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel, p. 166. Ewald comes to the conclusion, “that the Greek language of the author bears in itself still the clearest and strongest mark of a genuine Hebrew, who born among the Jews in the Holy Land, and grown up in this society without speaking Greek, carries in himself the whole spirit and breath of his mother-tongue even in the midst of the Greek raiment that he afterwards learnt to cast about him, and has no hesitation to let himself be led by that spirit.” Quoted by Luthardt, p. 167.

2. The author was a Palestinian Jew. He clearly shows that he is well at home in the Jewish world. He is intimately acquainted with Jewish customs and religious observances and with the requirements of the law, and moves about with ease in the Jewish world of thought. He knows that, according to the strict Jewish conception, it was unlawful to heal on the sabbath, 5: 1 ff.; 9:14 ff.; and also that circumcision was allowed, 7: 22 ff. He is aware of the Jewish expectation of Elijah, 1: 21; and of the ill-feeling between the Jews and the Samaritans, 4: 9. He understood that the Jews regarded a misfortune as the result of some particular sin, 9: 2; and that they considered one unclean who had entered the house of a Gentile, 18: 28. He is thoroughly acquainted with Jerusalem, 5 : 2; with the valley of Sichem and mount Gerezim, 4: 5 ff.; with the temple, 8: 20; and with Capernaum and other places around the sea of Galilee, 7.

3. The writer was an eyewitness of the events he relates. He claims this explicitly, if not already in 1: 14, “we beheld his glory” (Cf. I John 1:1-3), certainly in 19:35. “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe.” This claim is corroborated by the lively and yet simple manner in which he pictures the events; by the many definite chronological data and naming of localities, to which we have already referred; and by the great prominence given to certain individuals with whom Jesus came in contact.

4. The author was the apostle John. He often makes mention in his Gospel of a disciple whom he never names, but to whom he constantly refers as “the (an) other disciple,” or as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Cf. 13: 23; 18:15; 19:26; 20:2, 3, 4, 8; 21:7. At the close of his Gospel he says of him: “This is the disciple which testifieth these things; and we know that his testimony is true,” 21: 24. Who was this disciple? The evangelist names only seven of the disciples of the Lord, the five that are not named being John and his brother James, Matthew, Simon the Canaanite and James the son of Alpheus. Now it is evident from 1: 35-41 that said disciple was one of the first ones called by the Lord, and these according to Mark 1: 16-19 were Peter, Andrew, John and James. The first two are explicitly named in John 1: 41-43, so that the one whose name is suppressed must have been either John or James. But we cannot think of James as the author of this Gospel, since he died a martyrs death as early as A. D. 44. Therefore John must have been the writer.

John the Apostle

According to Mt. 27: 56 and Mk. 1:20; 15: 40, John was the son of Zebedee and Salome who probably belonged to the middle class of society. His mother was among the faithful followers of the Saviour, Mt. 27: 56; Mk. 16:1. He was one of the very first followers of Jesus and soon appears as one of the innermost circle of the disciples, one of the three that always accompany the Saviour. With the Lord he enters the dwelling of Jairus, ascends the mount of transfiguration and penetrates into the dark recesses of Gethsemane. As he stands by the cross, the mother of Jesus is entrusted to his care. On the morning of the resurrection he is one of the first to visit the grave of the Saviour. In the first part of the Acts of the Apostles he appears as one of the faithful witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord. After that we lose sight of John in Scripture, but tradition tells us that he spent the last part of his life in Asia Minor, especially at Ephesus, where he died in venerable age.

There is an apparent contradiction between the synoptical data regarding the character of John and the conception of it derived from his own writings, but this is easily explained. The very first indication of his character we glean from the statement in Mk. 3:17, that the Lord named him and his brother James “Boanerges, which is, the sons of thunder.” This conveys the idea of an ardent temper, of great strength and vehemence of character. And on two occasions we find that they reveal just such traits, viz. when they peremptorily forbade one who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus to continue this, Mk. 9: 38; Lk. 9:49; and when they desired permission to command fire to come down from heaven to devour the Samaritans, Lk. 9: 54. In both cases the Lord reproves their show of temper. Another trait of their character is revealed in their request to sit in the places of honor in the future Kingdom of Jesus, Mt. 20: 20-24; Mk. 10: 35-41. Their ambition was such as to offend the other disciples and to call forth a severe rebuke from the Lord. John was, no doubt, zealous for the Lord, but his zeal was mistaken; he had a passionate desire to be near his Master, but he showed this in a manner that was not free from selfishness and pride. The Lord directed his zeal and ambition into other channels by pointing out their unspiritual character and by teaching him that one can be great in the Kingdom of God only by being the servant of ones brethren. This undoubtedly made a profound impression on the sensitive John and begot within him the habit of introspection, of self-examination. He became more quiet, more reserved with an inclination to ponder on the mysteries that he encountered in his daily association with the Lord, and penetrated farther than the other disciples into the hidden depths of the mysterious life of Christ. As a result John, as he reveals himself in his writings, is quite different from the John of the Synoptics. From his Gospel and Epistles we learn to know him as a man of deep religious feeling, beloved of Christ; a man that lived in close communion with his Lord, a communion more spiritual, however, than he desired in his youthful years. His exclusivism has made place for a love that would embrace all; his zeal is still operative, but it has been sanctified and led into proper channels; his strength has become a tower of defense for spiritual truth.

Attacks on Authorship

Not until the last part of the eighteenth century was the authorship of John attacked on critical grounds, and even then the attacks were of small significance. Bretschneider in 1820 was the first to assail it in a systematic way. But he was soon followed by others, such as Baur, Strauss, Schwegler, Zeller, Scholten, Davidson, Wrede e. a. It has been their persistent endeavor to show that the Gospel of John is a product of the 2nd century.

Some would ascribe it to that shadowy person, the presbyter John, whose existence Eusebius infers from a rather ambiguous passage of Papias, but who, in all probability, is to be identified with John the apostle.

Others positively reject this theory. Wrede, after arguing that the authorship of John cannot be established, says:

“Far less can the recent hypothesis be regarded as proven which purports to find the author of the Gospel in John the presbyter.”

The Origin of the New Testament p. 89.

The most important considerations that led many rationalistic critics to the conclusion that the fourth Gospel was written in the second century, are the following:

(1) The theology of the Gospel, especially its representation of Christ, is developed to such a degree that it points beyond the first and reflects the consciousness of the Church of the second century.

(2) The Gospel was evidently written under the influence of the philosophic and religious tendencies that were prevalent in the second century, such as Montanism, Docetism and Gnosticism.

(3) The great difference between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics appears to be the result of second century cavilling respecting the nature of Christ, and of the Paschal controversy.

Evidence for Authenticity

But the idea that the Gospel of John is a second century product goes counter to both the internal evidence to which we already referred, and to the external testimony, which is exceptionally strong and which can be traced back to the very beginning of the second century. Some of the Epistles of Ignatius show the influence of John’s Christology, and the writings of both Papias and Polycarp contain allusions to the first Epistle of John, which was evidently written at the same time as the Gospel. The latter was in existence, therefore, in the beginning of the second century. The theology of the Gospel of John is no more developed than that of Paul’s Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, that were written between A. D. 61 and 63.

Critics have generally ceased to place any reliance on the so-called Montanistic features of the Gospel, and although they still maintain that some passages contain traces of a Docetic Gnosticism, these are purely imaginary and readily vanish, when the light of exegesis is turned on. The connection of the Gospel with the Paschal controversy is now admitted to be very dubious. And the difference between it and the Synoptics can be satisfactorily explained without regarding it as a work of the second century. Cf. above p. 19 ff.

Critics from the Tubingen school, who accepted the Johannine authorship of the Apocalypse, were wont to deny that John had written the Gospel, because it differed in so many respects from the former work. At present this argument is not insisted on, because scholars are not so sure as they once were, that John wrote the book of Revelation.

Reuss, who still argues in that fashion, says:

“It must be admitted that even in the most recent times the decision of the question as to the apostolic genuineness of the Apocalypse has by both sides been made to depend upon a previously formed judgment as to the fourth Gospel.”

History of the N. T., I p. 161.

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