The "Johannine" books--the Gospel of John,
Revelation, and the 3 letters of John--are something of an enigma.
Only in Revelation does the author identify himself as John; nowhere
in the Gospel or letters does he do so. Instead, two different
anonymous statements self-describing the author are made:
--"The one whom Jesus loved" (see John
13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20 for the description, then 21:24
for the statement that this "Beloved Disciple" is the
--"The elder" (see opening statements of 2nd
and 3rd John).
It is Church tradition that has placed these five
works together, and likewise Church tradition that has identified
both the Beloved Disciple and the Elder as John, the Apostle of
Jesus. Between the Gospel and the letters, there is certainly a
common style (especially among the letters), and much of the
Christology is the same. Yet even granting that these four works
share a common author, why do we believe that author was John? A
little detective work is in order.
The identity of the author of the Gospel is most
closely narrowed down in the 21st chapter. It is there we have a
gathering of a small group of people, each specifically named in
verse 2: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and "the sons of Zebedee" (who are
identified in the other Gospels as James and John; see Matthew 4:21).
As the author makes very deliberate efforts NOT to identify himself
by name, we can rule out those in this group who are elsewhere in the
Gospel mentioned by name. That means Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael are
not likely to be the author--in the Gospel, these three receive
considerable attention. Why would the author in some passages refer
to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved", but inconsistently in other
passages refer to himself by name?
Within this small group of John 21, only two
remain, James and his brother John, and there is a fascinating aspect
to these two men: in this Gospel, neither of these two are ever
mentioned by named. With the exception of this very chapter (and even
here, not by name), these two receive absolutely no mention
whatsoever. This is especially odd when we note that the Synoptic
Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray these two as being part of
Jesus' inner core; they play an invaluable role! Why would they not
even be mentioned in this gospel unless, in his humility, the author
is deliberately trying not to draw attention to himself. It is
entirely plausible that either James or John is the author of the
Gospel; and as James dies early (see Acts 12), the remaining
candidate is John.
There has been, of course, some scholarship
calling this identification into question, and some who question
whether the author of the Gospel and the letters is the same.
However, the similarities are strong; this, coupled with the early
tradition of the Church identifying the author as John, seems enough
for us to make at least an assumption of Johannine
John the Apostle
John and his brother James were fisherman, working
with their father, Zebedee. They chose to leave this, though, and
become Apostles of Jesus. And not just any Apostles--as mentioned
above, they were part of that "Inner Circle" of Jesus. From time to
time, Jesus would bring only three of His disciples with Him to
special events: Peter, and John and James (Andrew, on occasion,
appears to have come as well, though certainly not as frequently).
They were there when Jesus resurrected a 12 year-old girl (Mark
5:37); they were there for Jesus' Transfiguration (Luke 9:28); and
they were there when Jesus was praying in the garden, just before He
was betrayed and arrested (Mark 14:33).
One of the interesting trademarks of John and
James in the Synoptics was their fiery temper (see Luke 9:54 for an
example). To this end, Jesus even nicknamed them "Sons of Thunder"
(Mark 3:17). Yet the author of the Gospel and the letters seems
instead to be a Child of Love; it would seem that the love and grace
of Jesus Christ's ministry transformed John. No doubt John was
especially affected by witnessing Christ's crucifixion (John 19:26),
and perhaps also his brother's martyrdom.
This is the background on the author of the Gospel
of John. Next week we look at the unique aspects of the Gospel. An
outline is available here.
See you then!
If you have anything of interest to add to
or you have general comments, questions, or ideas,
we welcome your
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