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8. INACCURATE RECOLLECTION ON THE PART OF THE APOSTLE JOHN?

What remains, if we still wish to maintain that the Fourth Gospel is in agreement with the first three? If we disregard various other expedients, which are far less likely to be satisfactory than those we have already discussed, there is only one left. We are told by the Church Fathers that at the end of the first century the Apostle John was still living. This being so, it is eagerly assumed that he did not write his gospel until shortly before his death. And whereas his great age obscured his recollection of many matters in the life of Jesus, he remembered other things quite correctly. This explains, it is said, how it is that his book, apart from much that is incorrect, contains much that serves to correct the story of the Synoptics.

In itself this assumption has nothing impossible about it; if indeed it could be accepted that the Gospel was composed by the apostle and in his old age, this theory might be deemed fairly probable. Since, however, we must first examine the two presuppositions on which it is based, let us at the outset put the simple question, What would the result be? At least not this—that Jn., as compared with the Synoptics, must always be regarded as everywhere right. This particular idea therefore is abandoned as being untenable. To what extent is he right then? To suit the real desire of those who put forward this theory, he is right on as many points as possible. For the main purpose of these people is to support the idea that we have in Jn. the work of an eye-witness of the life of Jesus. But when we examine the matter more closely, his trustworthiness is 68abandoned on one point after another, because, however much we may wish to believe in it, it cannot be maintained.

In particular, as regards the discourses of Jesus, it is more and more generally conceded that it was the aged John who first conceived them in the style in which they appear in the Fourth Gospel. His conception of Jesus changed in the course of his long life, and as these new ideas took shape his recollection of the discourses of Jesus altered as well. If this were assumed to a moderate extent, it might seem conceivable; but people would never have jumped at so doubtful an expedient, unless the difference between Jn.’s style of discourse and the other style, which may really be accepted as original, were very marked indeed.

Thus the result of emphasising the great age of John is really the opposite of what was intended. The desire was simply to defend the trustworthiness of the Fourth Gospel as against the Synoptics, and yet the would-be defenders are obliged in a clear, if rather veiled, manner to admit that on most points he is untrustworthy.

We have now come to the end of the attempts to reconcile the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Synoptics and in Jn. In conclusion, we can only say that we sincerely pity any one who engages in this labour. If on many particular points his efforts seem to be really satisfactory to him, he can never rejoice at his success; for he has no sooner shown that it is not absolutely impossible to reconcile some new little circumstance in Jn. with the Synoptics than a whole series of others come to light which defy every attempt at reconciliation.

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