Irenaeus

Bible puzzler: Did John write the Gospel of John or not?

Bible puzzler: Did John write the Gospel of John or not?

PATRICIA’S QUESTION:

Who do you think authored the Fourth Gospel?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This follows up on our Dec. 10 item about whether the apostle John wrote the Bible’s Book of Revelation. The Religion Guy will report what some experts say, not what a mere journalist thinks. The full question from seminary graduate Patricia shows she’s familiar with this debate. Bottom line, there’s no simple answer.

The headline sounds like a conundrum. But remember the Gospel text itself names no author; only later did Christians tack on “according to John.” (The other three Gospels, conventionally named for Matthew, Mark and Luke, are likewise anonymous compositions.) However, the tradition that the author was John, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles and thus an eyewitness, was firmly established by A.D. 180.

That’s when Bishop Irenaeus’ work “Against Heresies” said that “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus” (3.1.1). Reinforcing this, it’s quite possible Irenaeus (born circa A.D. 125) learned such things from his hometown mentor Bishop Polycarp (born circa A.D. 70) who in turn had obtained information directly from the apostle John who was his boyhood friend.

Unlike the other three Gospels, the Fourth refers to a writer though without naming him, as “the disciple who had lain close to his breast at the supper . ... This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:20 and 24). Also, the crucifixion narrative says “he who saw it has borne witness -- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth” (19:35).

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