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THE GOSPEL OF JOHN—LIFE OF THIS EVANGELIST—OCCASION AND TIME OF HIS WRITING—CANONICAL AUTHORITY INDISPUTABLE.
THE fourth gospel was written by John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, who was originally a fisherman of Galilee, and brother of James; and, we may suppose, was the younger of the brothers, as he is generally mentioned last, and is commonly reported to have been the youngest of all Christ’s disciples. They were plain uneducated men, as their occupation sufficiently indicates. Probably they had been disciples of John the Baptist, and some have conjectured that John the Evangelist was one of the two to whom John the Baptist pointed out Jesus, and who went after him to his lodging. The other we know was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother; and John, in other cases, has concealed his own name, where anything is mentioned which could be interpreted to his honour.
Why these two brothers were surnamed Boanerges, by the Lord, does not clearly appear, unless we suppose that the names were prophetic of the manner of their preaching, when commissioned as apostles. But there are no facts recorded, from which any inference can be drawn in relation to this subject. John has been long celebrated for his affectionate temper, and 193for the suavity of his manners, which appear very remarkably in all his writings; but there is no evidence that he was naturally of a meek temper. The facts in the gospel history would seem to indicate that both he and his brother were of a fiery temper, and by nature very ambitious; and some have supposed that their surname had relation to this ardour of temper,—but this is not very probable.
We know that John was the bosom friend of Jesus, the disciple whom he loved with a peculiar affection; and that he was admitted to all those scenes of a very interesting nature, from which most of the other disciples were excluded.
It is also certain that he was present at the crucifixion; stood near the cross in company with Mary the mother of our Lord; and that he remained at the place until the body of Jesus, now dead, was pierced with a spear. On the morning of the resurrection John visited the sepulchre, in company with Peter, and was present when Christ made his first appearance to the eleven; and when he manifested himself to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias. After Pentecost he was with Peter in the temple, when the lame man was healed; he accompanied Peter also to Samaria, and was present at the council of Jerusalem. From the book of Revelation we learn, that this evangelist was for a time an exile in the island of Patmos, for the testimony of Jesus, where he was favoured with wonderful visions and communications from the Lord.
It seems to have been intimated to him by his Lord, at the sea of Tiberias, that he should survive the destruction of Jerusalem; for when Peter asked, 194“Lord, what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” which saying gave rise to an opinion among the disciples that that disciple should not die: “Yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” And this accords very well with the testimonies of the ancients, who inform us that John lived to a great age.
Irenæuss, in two places of his work against Heretics, says, “That John lived to the time of Trajan,” which will bring us down to A. D. 98. Eusebius understands Clement of Alexandria to say the same thing. Origen also testifies, ” That John having lived long in Asia was buried at Ephesus.” Polycrates, who wrote in the second century, and was bishop of Ephesus, asserts, ” That John was buried in that city.”
Jerome, in his book of Illustrious Men, and in his work against Jovinian, says, “That the apostle John lived in Asia to the time of Trajan; and dying at a great age, in the sixty-eighth year of our Lord’s passion, was buried near the city of Ephesus.” This account would bring down the death of John to A. D. 100, in which year it is placed by this writer in his Chronicon. The testimonies for the genuineness of the gospel of John are as full and satisfactory as could be desired.
Irenæus tells us, “That the evangelist John designed, by his gospel, to confute the errors which Cerinthus had infused into the minds of the people, and had been infused by those who were called Nicolaitons; and to convince them that there was 195one God, who made all things by his Word; and not, as they imagined, one who was the Creator, and another who was the Father of our Lord; one who was the Son of the Creator, and another who was the Christ, who continued impassible, and descended upon Jesus, the Son of the Creator.”
Jerome fully confirms this testimony of Irenæus, and says, “That when St. John was in Asia, where there arose the heresies of Ebion and Cerinthus, and others, who denied that Christ was come in the flesh—that is, denied his divine nature, whom he, in his Epistle, calls Antichrists, and St. Paul frequently condemns in his Epistles—he was forced by almost all the bishops of Asia, and the deputations of many other churches, to write more plainly concerning the divinity of our Saviour, and to soar aloft in a discourse on the Word, not more bold than happy.”
“It is related in ecclesiastical history, that John, when solicited by the brethren to write, answered, that he would not do it unless a public day of fasting and prayer was appointed to implore God’s assistance; which being done, and the solemnity being honoured with a satisfactory revelation from God, he broke forth into these words, In the beginning was the Wordd,” &c.
Jerome in his book of Illustrious Men, says, “John wrote a gospel at the desire of the bishops of Asia, against Cerinthus, and other heretics, especially the doctrines of the Ebionites, then springing up, who say that Christ did not exist before the birth of Mary: for which reason he was obliged to declare his divine nativity. Another reason of his writing is also mentioned, which is, that after having read the volumes of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he expressed his approbation 196of their history as true: but observed, that they had recorded an account of but one year of our Lord’s ministry, even the last after the imprisonment of John, (the Baptist) in which also he suffered. Omitting therefore that year, (in a great measure) the history of which had been written by the other three, he related the acts of the preceding time, before John was shut up in prison, as may appear to those who read the four evangelists, which may serve to account for the seeming difference between John and the rest.”
Augustine, in conformity with the account of Jerome, says, ” That this evangelist wrote concerning the co-eternal divinity of Christ against heretics.” Lampe has called in question these early testimonies respecting the occasion of writing this gospel, and has attempted to prove by argument that John had no view to any particular heretics, in the commencement of his gospel. Lardner has taken the same side, and adduces several arguments in favour of Lampe’s opinion. Titman adopts the same opinion. But the probable reasonings of ingenious men when opposed to such a weight of ancient testimony, in relation to a matter of fact which occurred at no long distance before their time, deserve very little consideration. And, indeed, after reading Lardner’s arguments, I must say that they appear to me to have no high degree of plausibility.
That Cerinthus lived in the time of the apostle John, and was known to him, is evident from another testimony of Irenæus, which has been often quoted. It is a story which, he says, some persons in his time had from Polycarp, the disciple of John; which is as follows: “John going to a certain bath at Ephesus, 197and perceiving that Cerinthus, that noted arch-heretic, was in the bath, immediately leaped out, and said, Let us go home lest the bath should fall down upon us, having in it such a heretic as Cerinthus, that enemy of truth.”
For the testimony of Irenæus see remarks on the gospel of Matthew. To which we may here add the fanciful reason given by Irenæus why the number of gospels was four, and no more nor less. “Nor can there be more or fewer gospels than these. For as there are four regions of the world in which we live, and four cardinal winds, and the church is spread over all the earth, and the gospel is the pillar and support of the church, and the breath of life, in like manner it is fit it should have four pillars, breathing on all sides incorruption and refreshing mankind, whence it is manifest that the Logos, the maker of all things, who sits upon the cherubim, and holds together all things, having appeared to men, has given us a gospel four-fold in its form, but held together by one Spirit.”6565Tren. Con. Her. lib. iii c. 11.
In another part of this work this Father gives characteristics of this gospel, thus—
“The gospel according to John declares his princely, complete, and glorious generation from the Father, saying, ‘In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.’”6666Ibid.
Augustine, moreover, asserts, “That John is the last of the evangelists.” Chrysostom supposes, that John did not write his gospel till after the destruction of Jerusalem. Paulinus says, “It had been handed down by tradition, that John survived all the other apostles, and wrote the last of the four evangelists, 198and so as to confirm their most certain history.” Again, he observes, “That in the beginning of John’s gospel all heretics are confuted.”
Cosmas of Alexandria, informs us, “That when John dwelt at Ephesus, there were delivered to him by the faithful the writings of the other three evangelists. Receiving them, he said, that what they had written was well written; but some things were omitted by them which were needful to be related. And being desired by the faithful, he also published his writing, as a kind of supplement to the rest.”
Isidore of Seville, says, “That John wrote the last in Asia.” Theophylact computed that John wrote about two and thirty years after Christ’s ascension. Euthymius says, ” That this gospel was not written until long after the destruction of Jerusalem.” Nicephorus, “That John wrote last of all, about six and thirty years after our Lord’s ascension to heaven.” Having exhibited the testimonies of the ancients, it may not be amiss to set down the opinions of some of the moderns, relative to the time when this gospel was written.
Mill, Fabricius, Le Clerc, Jones, and many others, agree that John wrote his gospel about the year of our Lord 97. Wetstein thinks it might have been written about thirty-two years after the ascension. Basnage and Lampe are inclined to believe that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Whiston and Lardner adopt the same opinion. The gospel of John is cited by Clement of Rome; by Barnabas; by Ignatius; by Theophilus of Antioch; by Irenæus; and by Clement of Alexandria, in more than forty instances. And by all those writers 199who lived with, or immediately after the apostles, this gospel is appealed to as inspired Scripture; and the same is the fact in regard to Origen, Jerome, Augustine, and all the Fathers, who came after this period. Nearly the whole of this gospel could be made up from citations of the writers of the first four centuries. It was never excluded from any church, or any catalogue of the books of the New Testament, and therefore possesses every evidence of being canonical, which any reasonable man could demand.
That the number of genuine gospels was four and no more, is evident from the testimony of all the Fathers who have spoken of them; and especially from the fanciful reason assigned by Irenæus to prove that there could be no more nor fewer. The same is manifest from the fact that Tatian, a learned disciple of Justin, who afterwards became the founder of a sect of ascetics, out of the four gospels formed a volume called Diatessaron.6767Harmony of the four gospels. In this, however, he left out such things as did not suit his views. But the existence of such a book which is attested by Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome and Theodoret, shows that the number of gospels commonly received by heretics, as well as catholics, was four and no more. The same might be proved from the writings of Julian the apostate.200
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