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The Author

I have alluded in the introductions to John's epistles to the theory of certain rationalistic critics that these were written by a “Presbyter John,” whom they assume to have lived in the times of John, the apostle. There is no real evidence that such a personage ever lived. That John should speak of himself as an elder is no more strange than that Peter should so describe himself, and the fragment from Papias, which speaks of John the elder, who was a disciple of Christ, is more satisfactorily explained by the hypothesis that he alludes to the apostle, especially in view of the facts that seven apostles are named in the same paragraph, and all are spoken of as “elders,” and that Irenæus says that Papias was a disciple of John, the apostle. Yet there has been an effort to show that this mythical John is the John named in the first verse of Revelation.

Without discussing whether the “Presbyter John” had any separate existence, it is a sufficient answer to this hypothesis to state that there is no book of the New Testament to whose authorship the testimony of history is more definite. Only a few years passed after the death of John, the apostle, until it was quoted and ascribed to him by writers who either knew him in person or who derived their information from those who sat at his feet. Among those early witnesses is Papias, born about a.d. 70, a disciple of John himself (“a hearer” of John, according to Irenæus) of whose writings only fragments have been preserved, but who is known to have quoted Revelation as the work of John. 406To him may be added Irenæus, born between a.d. 115 and a.d. 125, who tells us that he was long a pupil of Polycarp, of whom he states that Polycarp had learned many things of the aged apostle at whose feet he had long sat. Of course, with such opportunities he could not be ignorant of what John had written, yet he declares explicitly that he is the author of the Apocalypse. Several more fathers of the second century are quoted as giving the same testimony, but it will suffice to add that it is named in the Canon Muratori, the first canon of the New Testament Scriptures, dated about a.d. 170, and all doubts concerning its genuineness seem to belong to later times. Nor is any fact of history better established than that John's last years were spent in that part of Asia with which the Book of Revelation is locally associated.

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