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Introduction to the Gospel of John
The author of the Fourth Gospel was John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of James, in early life a Galilean fisherman, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ. In less than a hundred years after his death Christian writers living in different quarters of the world, whose writings are still extant, show us that this was the universal belief of the church. Indeed, the testimony to the authorship is stronger than can be furnished that Josephus wrote his Jewish history, that Cæsar wrote his Commentaries, or in behalf of any uninspired writing of antiquity, and would never have been questioned had not a class of rationalistic critics arisen who wished to set aside the lofty views of the personality and mission of the Savior which are so prominent a feature of the Fourth Gospel. We know from John 21:24, that it was written by an eye-witness and by a beloved disciple There were only three disciples who were admitted to the most intimate relations with Jesus—Peter, James and John. As it was not written by either of the first two, John must be the author. So the early church unanimously testifies. Irenæus, who learned of one who had been intimate with John and who wrote near the middle of the second century, affirms that he was the author. It is credited to John in the canon of Muratori, the first catalogue of the New Testament writings, written a.d. 175. It is also spoken of by Theophilus of Antioch a.d. 175, and by Clement of Alexandria, near the same time, and in the latter part of the second century it was translated into the Syriac and Latin versions of the New Testament. Besides these direct recognitions there are evident allusions to it and quotations from it in a number of epistles and treatises of Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp, Papias, and others, which belong to the first half of the second century. Indeed, it is quoted within twenty years of John's death.
Place and Time. We do not know certainly when or where the Fourth Gospel was written. Irenæus, who lived in the second century, and who was the religious pupil of Polycarp, the martyr who was educated at the feet of John, declares that it was written at Ephesus, after the other three had been written. Its internal character indicates that it was written outside of Judea, after the fall of the temple, and after certain heresies began to be developed. John was still at Jerusalem a.d. 50 (Gal. chapter 2); it is almost certain that he did not go to Ephesus until after the death of Paul, about a.d. 67, and it is probable that he did not leave the city of Jerusalem, permanently, until the storm of destruction began to gather, which broke in a.d. 70. As the testimony of the early church is unanimous that his later years were passed at Ephesus and in that region, he probably went there about this date. After this, and before his death, which took place near the close of the century, the Gospel was written.
John, the author, was brought up to his father's calling, and even followed it after he was first pointed to Christ. While he was an “unlearned man” (Acts 4:13), in the sense that he never attended the rabbinical schools, he had such an education in Hebrew and in the Scriptures as all respectable Jewish families were wont to give their children. In connection with every synagogue was a school in which children were taught reading, writing, and the rudiments of science. The children of Jewish 323common people were better educated than those of any other country in the world. Jesus found John among the disciples of John the Baptist, who at once pointed him and his companions to Christ. We next meet him at the sea of Galilee, fishing, and there Jesus gave him a permanent call. From this time onward he steadfastly followed the Master, and with James and Peter, formed an inner circle nearer the Lord. These three, only, witness the resurrection of Jairus' daughter, see the glory of the transfiguration, and the agony of he garden. John and Peter follow Christ, after his arrest, and the first goes openly into the house of Caiaphas, to the trial before Pilate, and to the cross, till all was over. When the news of the resurrection came he and Peter were the first to reach the sepulchre. To him Jesus committed the care of his own mother, while dying on the cross, and it is probable that he remained in Judea to attend to this sacred charge while she lived. From about the time of the overthrow of Jerusalem he changed his residence to Ephesus, where he probably lived until he died, near the close of the first century. The testimony of the early church would place his death after a.d. 98. It was during this later period that he wrote his Gospel, his Epistles, was exiled to Patmos, and there wrote his Revelation.
The Character of John's Gospel, written after his fellow apostles had gone to rest, differs in some respects from the others. It alone follows the chronological order of events, gives an account of the Judæan ministry of our Lord, shows that his ministry lasted for over three years, gives the account of the resurrection of Lazarus and of the wonderful discourse to the disciples the night that he was betrayed. It omits much with which the church was already familiar through the other Gospels, presents much that they had not recorded, and recognizes certain false doctrines which had begun to be taught. It is the gospel of the Incarnation, of Love, and the most Spiritual of the Gospels. It alone unfolds fully the great doctrine of the Comforter. The great end, however, that the writer had before him in all he wrote is given in his own words: These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. 324
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