In the strict sense of the term, the fourth Gospel is anonymous.
No name of its author is given in the text. This is not surprising because a gospel differs in literary form from an epistle (letter). The letters of Paul each begin with his name, which was the normal custom of letter writers in the ancient world. None of the human authors of the four Gospels identified himself by name. But that does not mean one cannot know who the authors were. An author may indirectly reveal himself within the writing, or his work may be well known in tradition as coming from him.
Internal evidence supplies the following chain of connections regarding the author of the Fourth Gospel.
(1) In John 21:24 the word “them” refers to the whole Gospel, not to just the last chapter.
(2) “The disciple” in 21:24 was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:7).
(3) From 21:7 it is certain that the disciple whom Jesus loved was one of seven persons mentioned in 21:2 (Simon Peter, Thomasdb07, Nathanaeldb08, the two sons of Zebedeedb09, and two unnamed disciples).
(4) “The disciple whom Jesus loved” was seated next to the Lord at the Last Supper, and Peter motioned to him (13:23-24).
(5) He must have been one of the Twelve since only they were with the Lord at the Last Supper (cf. Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14).
(6) In the Gospel, John was closely related to Peter and thus appears to be one of the inner three (cf. John 20:2-10; Mark 5:37-38; 9:2-3; 14:33). Since James, John’s brother, died in the year A.D. 44, he was not the author (Acts 12:2).
(7) “The other disciple” (John 18:15-16) seems to refer to the “disciple whom Jesus loved” since he is called this in 20:2.
(8) The “disciple whom Jesus loved” was at the cross (19:26), and 19:35 seems to refer to him.
(9) The author’s claim, “We have seen His glory” (1:14), was the claim of someone who was an eyewitness (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).
Putting all of these facts together makes a good case for the author of the Fourth Gospel having been John, one of the sons of a fisherman named Zebedee.fn28
DATE: A.D. 85-90
Some critics have sought to place the dating of John well into the second century (about A.D. 150), but a number of factors have proven this false.
Archeological finds supporting the authenticity of the text of John (e.g., John 4:11; 5:2-3), word studies (e.g., synchrontai, 4:9), manuscript discoveries (e.g., P52), and the Dead Sea Scrollsdb10 have given powerful support to an early dating for John. So it is common today to find nonconservative scholars arguing for a date as early as A.D. 45-66. An early date is possible. But this Gospel has been known in the church as the “Fourth” one, and the early church fathers believed that it was written when John was an old man. Therefore a date between 85 and 95 is best. John 21:18, 23 require the passing of some time, with Peter becoming old and John outliving him.fn29
THEME AND PURPOSE:
Probably more than any other book of the Bible, John clearly states the theme and purpose of his Gospel. Significantly, this statement of purpose follows Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Savior. If you recall, Thomas had doubted the reality of the resurrection
(John 20:24-25). 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!”
It is following this exchange and the focus on the need of believing in Jesus that John gives us the theme and statement of purpose:
20:30-31 30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
In keeping with this statement of purpose, John selected seven sign-miracles to reveal the person and mission of Christ that it might bring people to believe in Jesus as Savior.
The term used of these miracles is shmeion,
- “a sign, a distinguishing mark,” and then
- “a sign consisting of a miracle, a wonder, something contrary to nature.”
John always refers to Jesus’ miracles by this term because shmeion emphasized the significance of the action rather than the miracle (see, e.g., 4:54; 6:14; 9:16; 11:47).
These signs revealed Jesus’ glory (see 1:14; cf. Isa 35:1-2; Joel 3:18; Am 9:13).
These seven signs consisted of the following:
- (1) the turning of water into wine (2:1-11);
- (2) the cure of the nobleman’s son (4:46-54);
- (3) the cure of the paralytic (5:1-18);
- (4) the feeding of the multitude (6:6-13);
- (5) the walking on the water (6:16-21);
- (6) the giving of sight to the blind (9:1-7); and
- (7) the raising of Lazarus (11:1-45).
John’s special theme and purpose is also easily discerned by the distinctive nature of his Gospel when compared to Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
When one compares the Gospel of John with the other three Gospels, he is struck by the distinctiveness of John’s presentation. John does not include Jesus’ genealogy, birth, baptism, temptation, casting out of demons, parables, transfiguration, instituting of the Lord’s Supper, His agony in Gethsemane, or His Ascension. John’s presentation of Jesus stresses His ministry in Jerusalem, the feasts of the Jewish nation, Jesus’ contacts with individuals in private conversations (e.g., chaps. 3-4; 18:28-19:16), and His ministry to His disciples (chaps. 13-17).
The major body of the Gospel is contained in a:
“Book of Signs” (2:1-12:50)
which embraces seven miracles or “signs”
which proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.
This “Book of Signs” also contains great discourses of Jesus which explain and proclaim the significance of the signs. For example, following the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-15), Jesus revealed Himself as the Bread of Life which the heavenly Father gives for the life of the world (6:25-35).
Another notable and exclusive feature of the Fourth Gospel is the series of
“I am” statements that were made by Jesus (cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5).
The distinctiveness of this Gospel must be kept in perspective. The Gospels were not intended as biographies. Each Gospel writer selected from a much larger pool of information the material which would serve his purpose. It has been estimated that if all the words from the lips of Jesus cited in Matthewdb11, Markdb12, and Lukedb13 were read aloud, the amount of time taken would be only about three hours …fn30
The key concept in John is
Jesus, the Son of God, the one who is the Logos, the very revelation of God (John 1:1, 14, 18).
But there are a number of other key words in the presentation of Christ like
- witness, and
believe (Greek, pisteuw) occurs 98 times in this Gospel.
“faith” (Greek, pistis) does not occur.
1:11-13. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
1:14. Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.
3:16. For this is the way God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
20:30-31. Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
It is difficult to choose a key chapter in John’s Gospel, but surely the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus in chapter 3 rates as one of the key chapters. John 3:16 is perhaps quoted more than any other verse in the Bible. Also important in this chapter are the words of the Savior regarding the need to be born again or from above (see 3:3-6).
Other key chapters are:
- John 4, the encounter with the woman at the well.
- John 13-16, the discourses with the disciples preparing them for His absence.
- John 17, the Lord’s prayer to the Father.
CHRIST AS SEEN IN JOHN:
While the deity of Christ is a prominent theme in the Bible in many places, there is no book that presents a more powerful case for the deity of Jesus as the incarnate Son of God than does this Gospel.
The fact is that one who is identified as
- “The man called Jesus” (9:11) is also called
- “God, the One and Only” (1:18 NIV),
- “Christ, the Son of the Living God” (6:69 KJV) or
- “the Holy One of God” (6:69 NIV, NASB, NET).
This declaration of the deity of Jesus Christ is further developed by seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus and recorded in John’s Gospel.
These seven statements are:
- I am the bread of life (6:35),
- I am the light of the world (8:12),
- I am the gate (10:7, 9),
- I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14),
- I am the resurrection and the life (11:25),
- I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6),
- I am the true vine (15:1, 5).
Another distinctive of John’s Gospel, again focusing on the person of Christ, are the five witnesses that witness to Jesus as the Son of God. In John 5:31f., Jesus is responding to the arguments of His opponents.
They were claiming that His witness was without other witnesses to corroborate His testimony, but Jesus shows that is not true and proceeds to remind them that there are other witnesses to the validity of His claims: there is His Father (vv. 32, 37), there is John the Baptist (v. 33), His miracles (v. 36), the Scriptures (v. 39), and Moses (v. 46). Later, in 8:14 He declares that His witness is indeed true.
… On certain occasions, Jesus equates Himself with the Old Testament “I AM,” or Yahweh (see 4:25-26; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-6, 8). Some of the most crucial affirmations of His deity are found here (1:1; 8:58; 10:30; 14:9; 20:28).fn31