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The most important and decisive point is to know from what date we have reliable external evidence, as we say, concerning the Fourth Gospel; in other words, statements by writers which imply that they knew the book as the work of such and such an author, or at least that they wrote out passages from him, so that there can be no mistake that they really had the book lying before them. This, in fact, is the point on which those who claim that the Gospel was composed by John the Apostle have staked everything. Many of them have undertaken no less a task than to prove by such external testimony that the author ship has been placed so much beyond doubt that it is not permissible even to take into consideration the counter arguments drawn from other considerations, for instance from an examination of the Gospel itself.


Unfortunately it is quite impossible here to go into this point with all the thoroughness that is really required. If we thought of doing so, we should have to give verbatim an almost endless number of passages from all the writers of the second century, in order to enable the reader to decide whether or not they betray a knowledge of the Fourth Gospel. We should be obliged, further, in the case of all these writers to state when they wrote, or rather, since in most cases the matter is not certain, to make inquiry and try to fix the most likely date. Ten years earlier or later here mean a very great difference. Finally, we should be obliged to find out their habits: whether to a greater or less extent they incorporate in their works passages from other books; whether they are accustomed to do this exactly word for word or merely from memory; whether they state regularly from what book they draw, or simply write down the words without saying that they have borrowed them; whether they use books which we no longer possess. All this may be important when it is a question whether a passage in their writings which resembles one in the Fourth Gospel is taken from this or not. Instead of going into all these troublesome and wearisome questions, it must suffice here to state the results briefly, and to show by a few examples how they have been attained.

First then we have to establish the fact that before the year 170 no writer can be found who ascribes the Fourth Gospel to John the Apostle. As regards this matter, we must note further that the year 170 is the very earliest that can be specified, for the statement we have in mind that belongs to this time reads simply: as to the day of Jesus’ death “the Gospels seem to be at variance.” The name, therefore, of John the Apostle is not mentioned. 194But it is clear from the words that this writer (Claudius Apollinaris) puts the Fourth Gospel, which introduces the variance (for the first three are quite agreed; see p. 118 f.), on the same level as the others.

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