Who wrote the Gospel of John?
Hey BG, could you clarify who exactly wrote the Gospel according to John? I have heard 2 different stories; that it was written by John the beloved apostle. The other version I heard was that a group of people who followed and honored John the apostle. If you could just clarify this for me that would be a great help. Thank-you for doing what you do, your awesome! Jesus loves you!
Aw shucks, you’re the one who is awesome...Jesus loves you, too.
Well, your question doesn’t really have an easy answer. So, we’ll go for the shortest – how’s that sound?
St. John is credited (as was believed for centuries) with being the sole author of the fourth and final gospel. I say “final” because of the four canonical gospels, his was the last one written, around the early ‘90s…about sixty years after the resurrection of Jesus.
Think about that for a second – sixty years before it was officially and collectively “transcribed” (written out in one place). A lot can happen in six decades - you're not even two decades old yet, and I'd be willing to bet a lot has happened in your life.
Now, when it comes to Biblical “authorship” or “who wrote what”, scholars will always argue. Each one believes themselves to be right and offers a host of reasons why their hypothesis is the correct one. That being said, no one really knows for sure. If I tell you St. John wrote it, a bunch of people will write me quoting scholars who say I’m wrong. If I say he didn’t, again, I’ll get a bunch of emails telling me different. Honestly, though, I’m not that boring, and neither are you – let the really smart people take the time to debate that stuff – for our purposes here, there’s a couple things to keep in mind.
Let’s go to the Big Book.
In the Gospel of John, in the second to last verse, it does say:
“It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” - John 21:24
Now, it’s important to note that just because it says “has written them” does not mean that St. John literally wrote them in his own hand. The same was said of Pilate in John 19:22, but we know we would not have gone out and written that inscription himself – he had people for that. He may have written it, though, or he may have “dictated it” to a scribe, or both.
Note, too, that before it says it was written, it reminds us that it was a testimony – verbal. He testified to the things we read. What is written was heard and then transcribed, handed down, shared and protected. It became “public domain” first through the oral tradition, then through the written. In all honesty, the Gospel of John began while Jesus was still alive, when he would share what he was seeing and experiencing with all whom he met. That’s what gospel means, “to share the good news”. It’s not merely a written work, but a lived life for Christ. Not everything Jesus did is recorded in the Scriptures, which St. John also tells us (John 21:25).
You’re right, too, that there was a strong, devoted Christian community that followed St. John very closely (1:14, 16) whose love for the Lord and faithfulness to His teachings are well documented in the early church. One or many of John’s followers from his (Johannine) community could have taken it upon themselves to transcribe his gospel account, as well. The gospel is believed to have been written and edited before 100 AD, most likely in Ephesus but possibly in Syria, in the city of Antioch. Again, no one knows for sure.
One of the reasons that people feel St. John could not have written it is because it is “so complex”, that it is believed it would take a number of different writers in different times, with different abilities, knowledge, writing styles, etc. to pull it off. I really have to say that using that for a rationale is not giving the Holy Spirit enough credit. Through the Spirit’s inspiration, St. John was given the revelation that we now call The Book of Revelation. Its complexity is not a reason to claim St. John didn’t write it – a lack of complexity would be. St. John was a deeply passionate and devoted follower, who was present at some of the most intense moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was one of Jesus’ “inner circle” of three, and the movement of the Holy Spirit through St. John cannot be understated.
It’s vital never to get so consumed with the details surrounding the “who” or “where” of a Biblical book, that we miss the “what” and “why” Jesus is saying and doing what He does. The Word of God does not just exist on a page, but it is “living and active”, just as the Scriptures, themselves, affirm. The Gospels are a snapshot of Christ, to help us remember and recall certain things – they cannot replace a living, breathing relationship with Jesus, Himself, they can only strengthen it.
I hope this helped. The truth about the Gospel of John is that in many universities, an entire semester class is devoted to just this gospel, and that’s not enough. Actually, you could read, study and pray this gospel 12 hours a day, every day until God calls you home – decades from now, and not even begin to crack the surface of its depth.
Keep reading – the word doesn’t change, but every life that opens it, faithfully, does.
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