Freethought Archives > Walter R. Cassels > Supernatural Religion




We have hitherto refrained from referring to one of the most singular features of the fourth Gospel, the chapter 21, which is by many cited as the most ancient testimony for the authenticity of the work, and which requires particular consideration. It is obvious that the Gospel is brought to a conclusion by verses 30, 31 of chapter 20, and critics are universally agreed at least that, whoever may be its author, chapter 21 is a supplement only added after an interval. By whom was it written? As may be supposed, critics have given very different replies to this important question. Many affirm, and with much probability, that chapter 21 was subsequently added to the Gospel by the author himself. A few, however, exclude the last two verses, which they consider to have been added by another hand. A much larger number assert that the whole chapter is an ancient appendix to the Gospel by a writer who was not the author of the Gospel. A few likewise reject the last two verses of the preceding chapter. In this supplement (5:20) "the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also leaned on his breast at the supper and said: Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?" is (5:24) identified with the author of the Gospel.

We may here state the theory of Ewald with regard to the composition of the fourth Gospel, which is largely deduced from considerations connected with the last chapter, and which, although more audaciously minute in its positive and arbitrary statement of details than any other with which we are acquainted, introduces more or less the explanations generally given regarding the composition of chapter 21. Out of all the indications in the work, Ewald decides:

"1. That the Gospel, completed at the end of chapter 20, was composed by the apostle about the year 80, with the free help of friends, not to be immediately circulated throughout the world, but to remain limited to the narrower circle of friends until his death, and only then to be published as his legacy to the whole of Christendom. In this position it remained ten years, or even longer.

"2. As the preconceived opinion regarding the life or death of the Apostle (21:23) had perniciously spread itself throughout the whole of Christendom, the Apostle himself decided, even before his death, to counteract it in the right way by giving a correct statement of the circumstances. The same friends, therefore, assisted him to design the very important supplement, chapter 21, and this could still be very easily added, as the book was not yet published. His friends proceeded, nevertheless, somewhat more freely in its composition than previously in writing the book itself, and allowed their own hand more clearly to gleam through, although here, as in the rest of the work, they conformed to the will of the Apostle, and did not, even in the supplement, openly declare his name as the author. As the supplement, however, was to form a closely connected part of the whole work, they gave at its end (verses 24 f.), as it now seemed to them suitable, a new conclusion to the augmented work.

"3. As the Apostle himself desired that the preconceived opinion regarding him, which had been spread abroad to the prejudice of Christendom, should be contradicted as soon as possible, and even before his death, he now so far departed from his earlier wish that he permitted the circulation of his Gospel before his death. We can accept this with all certainty, and have therein trustworthy testimony regarding the whole original history of our book.

"4. When the Gospel was thus published it was for the first time gradually named after our Apostle, even in its external superscription: a nomination which had then become all the more necessary and permanent for the purpose of distinction, as it was united in one whole with the other Gospels. The world, however, has at all times known it only under this wholly right title, and could in no way otherwise know it and otherwise name it." [539:1]

In addressing ourselves to each of these points in detail, we shall be able to discuss the principal questions connected with the fourth Gospel.

The theory of Ewald, that the fourth Gospel was written down with the assistance of friends in Ephesus, has been imagined solely to conciliate certain phenomena presented throughout the Gospel, and notably in the last chapter, with the foregone conclusion that it was written by the Apostle John. It is apparent that there is not a single word in the work itself explaining such a mode of composition, and that the hypothesis proceeds purely from the ingenious imagination of the critic. The character of the language, the manner in which the writer is indirectly indicated in the third person, and the reference, even in the body of the work (19:35), to the testimony of a third person, combined with the similarity of the style of the supplementary chapter, which is an obvious addition intended, however, to be understood as written by a different hand, have rendered these conjectures necessary to reconcile such obvious incongruities with the ascription of the work to the Apostle. The substantial identity of the style and vocabulary of chapter 21 with the rest of the Gospel is asserted by a multitude of the most competent critics. Ewald, whilst he recognises the great similarity, maintains at the same time a real dissimilarity, for which he accounts in the manner just quoted. The language, Ewald admits, agrees fully in many rare nuances with that of the rest of the Gospel, but he does not take the trouble to prove the decided dissimilarities which, he asserts, likewise exist. A less difference than that which he finds might, he thinks, be explained by the interval which had elapsed between the writing of the work and of the supplement, but "the wonderful similarity, in the midst of even greater dissimilarity, of the whole tone and particularly of the style of the composition is not thereby accounted for. This, therefore, leads us," he continues, "to the opinion: the Apostle made use, for writing down his words, of the hand and even of the skill of a trusted friend who later, on his own authority (für sich allein), wrote the supplement. The great similarity, as well as dissimilarity, of the style of both parts in this way becomes intelligible: the trusted friend (probably a Presbyter in Ephesus) adopted much of the language and mode of expression of the youthful old Apostle, without, however, where he wrote more in his own person, being carefully solicitous of imitating them. But even through this contrast, and the definite declaration in 5:24, the Apostolical origin of the book itself becomes all the more clearly apparent; and thus the supplement proves from the most diverse sides how certainly this Gospel was written by the trusted disciple." [540:1] Elsewhere Ewald more clearly explains the share in the work which he assigns to the Apostle's disciple: "The proposition that the Apostle composed in a unique way our likewise unique Gospel is to be understood only with the important limitation upon which I have always laid so much stress; for John himself did not compose this work quite so directly as Paul did most of his Epistles, but the young friend who wrote it down from his lips, and who, in the later appendix, chapter 21, comes forward in the most open way, without desiring in the slightest to conceal his separate identity, does his work at other times somewhat freely, in that he never introduces the narrator speaking of himself and his participation in the events with 'I' or 'we,' but only indirectly indicates his presence at such events, and, towards the end, in preference refers to him, from his altogether peculiar relation to Christ, as 'the disciple whom the Lord loved,' so that, in one passage, in regard to an important historical testimony (19:35), he even speaks of him as of a third person." Ewald then maintains that the agreement between the Gospel and the Epistles, and more especially the first, which he affirms, without vouchsafing a word of evidence, to have been written down by a different hand, proves that we have substantially only the Apostle's very peculiar composition, and that his friend as much as possible gave his own words. [541:1]

It is obvious from this elaborate explanation, which we need scarcely say is composed of mere assumptions, that, in order to connect the Apostle John with the Gospel, Ewald is obliged to assign him a very peculiar position in regard to it: he recognises that some of the characteristics of the work exclude the supposition that the Apostle could himself have written the Gospel, so he represents him as dictating it, and his secretary as taking considerable liberties with the composition as he writes it down, and even as introducing references of his own; as, for instance, in the passage to which he refers, where, in regard to the statement that at the Crucifixion a soldier pierced the side of the already dead Jesus and that forthwith there came out blood and water (19:35), it is said: "And he that saw it hath borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye may believe." [541:2] It is perfectly clear that the writer refers to the testimony of another person -- the friend who is writing down the narrative, says Ewald, refers to the Apostle who is actually dictating it. Again, in the last chapter, as elsewhere throughout the work, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," who is the author, is spoken of in the third person, and also in verse 24: "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things" (kai graphas tauta). This, according to Ewald, is the same secretary, now writing in his own person. The similarity between this declaration and the appeal to the testimony of another person, in 19:35, is certainly complete, and there can be no doubt that both proceed from the same pen; but beyond the assertion of Ewald there is not the slightest evidence that a secretary wrote the Gospel from the dictation of another, and ventured to interrupt the narrative by such a reference to testimony, which, upon the supposition that the Apostle John was known as the actual author, is singularly out of place. If John wrote the Gospel, why should he appeal in utterly vague terms to his own testimony, and upon such a point, when the mere fact that he himself wrote the statement was the most direct testimony in itself? An author who composed a work which he desired to ascribe to a "disciple whom Jesus loved" might have made such a reference as 19:35, in his anxiety to support this affirmation, without supposing that he had really compromised his design, and might have naturally added such a statement as that in the last two verses; but nothing but the foregone conclusion that the Apostle John was the real author could have suggested such an explanation of these passages. It is throughout assumed by Ewald and others that John wrote in the first instance, at least, specially for a narrow circle of friends, and the proof of this is considered to be the statement of the object with which it was written: "that ye may believe," [542:1] etc. -- a phrase, we may remark, which is identical with that of the very verse (19:35) with which the secretary is supposed to have had so much to do. It is very remarkable, upon this hypothesis, that in 19:35 it is considered necessary even for this narrow circle, who knew the Apostle so well, to make such an appeal, as well as to attach at its close (21:24), for the benefit of the world in general as Ewald will have it, a certificate of the trustworthiness of the Gospel.

Upon no hypothesis which supposes the Apostle John the author of the fourth Gospel is such an explanation credible. That the Apostle himself could have written of himself the words in 19:35 is impossible. After having stated so much that is more surprising and contradictory to all experience without reference to any witness, it would indeed have been strange had he here appealed to himself as to a separate individual; and, on the other hand, it is quite inadmissible to assume that a friend to whom he is dictating should interrupt the narrative to introduce a passage so inappropriate to the work, and so unnecessary for any circle acquainted with the Apostolic author. If, as Ewald argues, the peculiarities of his style of composition were so well known that it was unnecessary for the writer more clearly to designate himself either for the first readers or for the Christian world, the passages we are discussing are all the more inappropriate. That any guarantee of the truth of the Gospel should have been thought desirable for readers who knew the work to be composed by the Apostle John, and who believed him to be "the disciple whom Jesus loved," is inconceivable, and that any anonymous and quite indirect testimony to its genuineness should either have been considered necessary or of any value is still more incredible. It is impossible that nameless Presbyters of Ephesus could venture to accredit a Gospel written by the Apostle John; and any intended attestation must have taken the simple and direct course of stating that the work had been composed by the Apostle. The peculiarities we are discussing seem to us explicable only upon the supposition that the unknown writer of the Gospel desired that it should be understood to be written by a certain disciple whom Jesus loved, but did not choose distinctly to name him or directly to make such an affirmation.

It is, we assert, impossible that an Apostle who composed a history of the life and teaching of Jesus could have failed to attach his name, naturally and simply, as testimony of the trustworthiness of his statements, and of his fitness as an eye-witness to compose such a record. As the writer of the fourth Gospel does not state his name, Ewald ascribes the omission to the "incomparable modesty and delicacy of feeling" of the Apostle John. We must further briefly examine the validity of this explanation. It is universally admitted, and by Ewald himself, that although the writer does not directly name himself, he very clearly indicates that he is "the other disciple" and "the disciple whom Jesus loved." We must affirm that such a mode of indicating himself is incomparably less modest than the simple statement of his name, and it is indeed a glorification of himself beyond anything in the Apocalypse. But not only is the explanation thus discredited, but, in comparing the details of the Gospel with those of the Synoptics, we find still more certainly how little modesty had to do with the suppression of his name. In the Synoptics a very marked precedence of the rest of the disciples is ascribed to the Apostle Peter; and the sons of Zebedee are represented in all of them as holding a subordinate place. This representation is confirmed by the Pauline Epistles and by tradition. In the fourth Gospel a very different account is given, and the author studiously elevates the Apostle John - that is to say, according to the theory that he is the writer of the Gospel, himself -- in every way above the Apostle Peter. Apart from the general pre-eminence claimed for himself in the very name of "the disciple whom Jesus loved," we have seen that he deprives Peter in his own favour of the honour of being the first of the disciples who was called; he suppresses the account of the circumstances under which that Apostle was named Peter, and gives another and trifling version of the incident, reporting elsewhere indeed in a very subdued and modified form, and without the commendation of the Master, the recognition of the divinity of Jesus, which, in the first Gospel, is the cause of his change of name. [543:1] He is the intimate friend of the Master, and even Peter has to beg him to ask at the Supper who was the betrayer. He describes himself as the friend of the High Priest, and while Peter is excluded, he not only is able to enter into his palace, but he is the means of introducing Peter. The denial of Peter is given without mitigation, but his bitter repentance is not mentioned. He it is who is singled out by the dying Jesus and entrusted with the charge of his mother. He outruns Peter in their race to the Sepulchre, and in the final appearance of Jesus (21:15) the more important position is assigned to the disciple whom Jesus loved. It is, therefore, absurd to speak of the incomparable modesty of the writer, who, if he does not give his name, not only clearly indicates himself, but throughout assumes a pre-eminence which is not supported by the authority of the Synoptics and other writings, but is heard of alone from his own narrative.

Ewald argues that chap. 21 must have been written, and the Gospel as we have it, therefore, have been completed, before the death of the Apostle John. He considers the supplement to have been added specially to contradict the report regarding John (21:23). "The supplement must have been written whilst John still lived," he asserts, "for only before his death was it worth while to contradict such a false hope: and if his death had actually taken place, the result itself would have already refuted so erroneous an interpretation of the words of Christ, and it would then have been much more appropriate to explain afresh the sense of the words, 'till I come.' Moreover, there is no reference here to the death as having already occurred, although a small addition to that effect in verse 24 would have been so easy. But if we were to suppose that John had long been dead when this was written, the whole rectification as it is given would be utterly without sense." [544:1] On the contrary, we affirm that the whole history of the first two centuries renders it certain that the Apostle was already dead, and that the explanation was not a rectification of false hopes during his lifetime, but an explanation of the failure of expectations which had already taken place, and probably excited some scandal. We know how the early Church looked for the immediate coming of the glorified Christ, and how such hopes sustained persecuted Christians in their sorrow and suffering. This is very clearly expressed in 1 Thess. 4:15-18, where the expectation of the second coming within the lifetime of the writer and readers of the Epistle is confidently stated, and elsewhere, and even in 1 John 2:18, the belief that the "last times" had arrived is expressed. The history of the Apocalypse in relation to the Canon illustrates the case. So long as the belief in the early consummation of all things continued strong, the Apocalypse was the favourite writing of the early Church; but when time went on, and the second coming of Christ did not take place, the opinion of Christendom regarding the work changed, and disappointment, as well as the desire to explain the non-fulfilment of prophecies upon which so much hope had been based, led many to reject the Apocalypse as an unintelligible and fallacious book. We venture to conjecture that the tradition that John should not die until the second coming of Jesus may have originated with the Apocalypse, where that event is announced to John as immediately to take place, 22:7, 10, 12, and the words with which the book ends are of this nature, and express the expectation of the writer, 20: "He which testifieth these things saith: Surely I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." It was not in the spirit of the age to hesitate about such anticipations, and so long as the Apostle lived such a tradition would scarcely have required or received contradiction from anyone, the belief being universal that the coming of Jesus might take place any day, and assuredly would not be long delayed. When the Apostle was dead, however, and the tradition that it had been foretold that he should live until the coming of the Lord exercised men's minds, and doubt and disappointment at the non-fulfilment of what may have been regarded as prophecy produced a prejudicial effect upon Christendom, it seemed to the writer of this Gospel a desirable thing to point out that too much stress had been laid upon the tradition, and that the words which had been relied upon in the first instance did not justify the expectations which had been formed from them. This also contradicts the hypothesis that the Apostle John was the author of the Gospel.

Such a passage as 19:35, received in any natural sense, or interpreted in any way which can be supported by evidence, shows that the writer of the Gospel was not an eye-witness of the events recorded, but appeals to the testimony of others. It is generally admitted that the expressions in ch. 1:14 are of universal application, and capable of being adopted by all Christians, and, consequently, that they do not imply any direct claim on the part of the writer to personal knowledge of Jesus. We must now examine whether the Gospel itself bears special marks of having been written by an eye-witness, and how far in this respect it bears out the assertion that it was written by the Apostle John. It is constantly asserted that the minuteness of the details in the fourth Gospel indicates that it must have been written by one who was present at the scenes he records. With regard to this point we need only generally remark that in the works of imagination of which the world is full, and the singular realism of many of which is recognised by all, we have the most minute and natural details of scenes which never occurred, and of conversations which never took place, the actors in which never actually existed. Ewald admits that it is undeniable that the fourth Gospel was written with a fixed purpose, and with artistic design; and, indeed, he goes further, and recognises that the Apostle could not possibly so long have recollected the discourses of Jesus and verbally reproduced them, so that, in fact, we have only, at best, a substantial report of the matter of those discourses coloured by the mind of the author himself. [546:1] Details of scenes at which we were not present may be admirably supplied by imagination, and, as we cannot compare what is here described as taking place with what actually took place, the argument that the author must have been an eye-witness because he gives such details is without validity. Moreover, the details of the fourth Gospel in many cases do not agree with those of the three Synoptics, and it is an undoubted fact that the author of the fourth Gospel gives the details of scenes at which the Apostle John was not present, and reports the discourses and conversations on such occasions with the very same minuteness as those at which he is said to have been present; as, for instance, the interview between Jesus and the woman of Samaria. It is undeniable that the writer had other Gospels before him when he composed his work, and that he made use of other materials than his own.

It is by no means difficult, however, to point out very clear indications that the author was not an eye-witness, but constructed his scenes and discourses artistically and for effect. We shall not, at present, dwell upon the almost uniform artifice adopted in most of the dialogues, in which the listeners either misunderstand altogether the words of Jesus, or interpret them in a foolish and material way, and thus afford him an opportunity of enlarging upon the theme. For instance, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, misunderstands the expression of Jesus, that in order to see the kingdom of God a man must be born from above, and asks: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" [546:2] Now, as it is well known, and as we have already shown, the common expression used in regard to a proselyte to Judaism was that of being born again, with which every Jew, and more especially every "ruler of the Jews," must have been well acquainted. The stupidity which he displays in his conversation with Jesus, and with which the author endowed all who came in contact with him, in order by the contrast to mark more strongly the superiority of the Master, even draws from Jesus the remark, "Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not those things?" [546:3] There can be no doubt that the scene was ideal, and it is scarcely possible that a Jew could have written it. In the Synoptics, Jesus is reported as quoting against the people of his own city, Nazareth, who rejected him, the proverb, "A prophet has no honour in his own country." [546:4] The appropriateness of the remark here is obvious. The author of the fourth Gospel, however, shows clearly that he was neither an eye-witness nor acquainted with the subject or country when he introduces this proverb in a different place. Jesus is represented as staying two days at Sychar after his conversation with the Samaritan woman. "Now after the two days he departed thence into Galilee. For (gar) Jesus himself testified that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. When, therefore (oun), he came into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did in Jerusalem at the feast - for they also went unto the feast." [547:1] It is manifest that the quotation here is quite out of place, and none of the ingenious but untenable explanations of apologists can make it appropriate. He is made to go into Galilee, which was his country, because a prophet has no honour in his country, and the Galilaeans are represented as receiving him, which is a contradiction of the proverb. The writer evidently misunderstood the facts of the case or deliberately desired to deny the connection of Jesus with Nazareth and Galilee, in accordance with his evident intention of associating the Logos only with the Holy City. We must not pause to show that the author is generally unjust to the Galilaeans, and displays an ignorance regarding them very unlike what we should expect from the fisherman of Galilee. [547:2] We have already alluded to the artificial character of the conversation with the woman of Samaria, which, although given with so much detail, occurred at a place totally unknown (perhaps allegorically called the "City of Lies"), at which the Apostle John was not present, and the substance of which was typical of Samaria and its five nations and false gods. The continuation in the Gospel is as unreal as the conversation.

Another instance displaying personal ignorance is the insertion into a discourse at the Last Supper, and without any appropriate connection with the context, the passage: "Verily, verily, I say unto you: he that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me." [547:3] In the Synoptics this sentence is naturally represented as part of the address to the disciples who are to be sent forth to preach the Gospel; [547:4] but it is clear that its insertion here is a mistake. [547:5] Again, a very obvious slip, which betrays that what was intended for realistic detail is nothing but a reminiscence of some earlier Gospel misapplied, occurs in a later part of the discourses very inappropriately introduced as being delivered on the same occasion. At the end of 14:31 Jesus is represented, after saying that he would no more talk much with the disciples, as suddenly breaking off with the words: "Arise, let us go hence" (Egeiresthe agômen enteuthen). They do not, however, arise and go thence, but, on the contrary, Jesus at once commences another long discourse: "I am the true vine," etc. The expression is merely introduced artistically to close one discourse, and enable the writer to begin another; and the idea is taken from some earlier work. For instance, in our first Synoptic, at the close of the Agony in the Garden, which the fourth Gospel ignores altogether, Jesus says to the awakened disciples Rise, let us go" (Egeiresthe agômen). [548:1] We need not go on with these illustrations, but the fact that the author is not an eye-witness recording scenes which he beheld and discourses which he heard, but a writer composing an ideal Gospel on a fixed plan, will become more palpable as we proceed.

It is not necessary to enter upon any argument to prove the fundamental difference which exists in every respect between the Synoptics and the fourth Gospel. This is admitted even by Apologists, whose efforts to reconcile the discordant elements are totally unsuccessful. "It is impossible to pass from the synoptic Gospels to that of St. John," says Dr. Westcott, "without feeling that the transition involves the passage from one world of thought to another. No familiarity with the general teaching of the Gospels, no wide conception of the character of the Saviour, is sufficient to destroy the contrast which exists in form and spirit between the earlier and later narratives." [548:2] The difference between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics, not only as regards the teaching of Jesus but also the facts of the narrative, is so great that it is impossible to harmonise them, and no one who seriously considers the matter can fail to see that both cannot be accepted as correct. If we believe that the Synoptics give a truthful representation of the life and teaching of Jesus, it follows of necessity that, in whatever category we may decide to place the fourth Gospel, it must be rejected as a historical work. The theories which are most in favour as regards it may place the Gospel in a high position as an ideal composition, but sober criticism must infallibly pronounce that they exclude it altogether from the province of history. There is no option but to accept it as the only genuine report of the sayings and doings of Jesus, rejecting the Synoptics, or to remove it at once to another department of literature. The Synoptics certainly contradict each other in many minor details, but they are not in fundamental disagreement with each other, and evidently present the same portrait of Jesus and the same view of his teaching derived from the same sources.

The vast difference which exists between the representation of Jesus in the fourth Gospel and in the Synoptics is too well recognised to require minute demonstration. We must, however, point out some of the distinctive features. We need not do more here than refer to the fact that, whilst the Synoptics relate the circumstances of the birth of Jesus (two of them at least), and give some history of his family and origin, the fourth Gospel, ignoring all this, introduces the great Teacher at once as the Logos who from the beginning was with God and was himself God. The keynote is struck from the first, and in the philosophical prelude to the Gospel we have the announcement to those who have ears to hear, that here we need expect no simple history, but an artistic demonstration of the philosophical postulate. According to the Synoptics, Jesus is baptised by John, and as he goes out of the water the Holy Ghost descends upon him like a dove. The fourth Gospel says nothing of the baptism, and makes John the Baptist narrate vaguely that he saw the Holy Ghost descend like a dove and rest upon Jesus, as a sign previously indicated to him by God by which to recognise the Lamb of God. [549:1] From the very first, John the Baptist, in the fourth Gospel, recognises and declares Jesus to be "the Christ," [549:2] "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." [549:3] According to the Synoptics, John comes preaching the baptism of repentance, and so far is he from making such declarations, or forming such distinct opinions concerning Jesus, that even after he has been cast into prison and just before his death -- when, in fact, his preaching was at an end -- he is represented as sending disciples to Jesus, on hearing in prison of his works, to ask him: "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?" [549:4] Jesus carries on his ministry and baptises simultaneously with John, according to the fourth Gospel; but his public career, according to the Synoptics, does not begin until after the Baptist's has concluded, and John is cast into prison. [549:5] The Synoptics clearly represent the ministry of Jesus as having been limited to a single year [549:6] and his preaching is confined to Galilee and Jerusalem, where his career culminates at the fatal Passover. The fourth Gospel distributes the teaching of Jesus between Galilee, Samaria, and Jerusalem, makes it extend at least over three years, and refers to three Passovers spent by Jesus at Jerusalem. [550:1] The Fathers felt this difficulty and expended a good deal of apologetic ingenuity upon it; but no one is now content with the explanation of Eusebius, that the Synoptics merely intended to write the history of Jesus during the one year after the imprisonment of the Baptist, whilst the fourth Evangelist recounted the events of the time not recorded by the others -- a theory which is totally contradicted by the four Gospels themselves. [550:2]

The fourth Gospel represents the expulsion of the money-changers by Jesus as taking place at the very outset of his career, [550:3] when he could not have been known, and when such a proceeding is incredible; whilst the Synoptics place it at the very close of his ministry, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when, if ever, such an act which might have contributed to the final catastrophe becomes conceivable. [550:4] The variation from the parallels in the Synoptics, moreover, is exceedingly instructive, and further indicates the amplification of a later writer imperfectly acquainted with the circumstances. The first and second Synoptics, in addition to the general expression, "those buying and selling in the Temple," mention only that Jesus overthrew the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those selling doves. The third Synoptist does not even give these particulars. The author of the fourth Gospel, however, not only makes Jesus expel the sellers of doves and the money-changers, but adds: "those selling oxen and sheep. " Now, not only is there not the slightest evidence that sheep and oxen were bought and sold in the Temple, but it is obvious that there was no room there to do so. On the contrary, it is known that the market for cattle was not only distant from the Temple, but even from the city. The author himself betrays the foreign element in his account by making Jesus address his words, when driving them all out, only "to them selling doves." Why single these out and seem to exclude the sellers of sheep and oxen? He has apparently forgotten his own interpolation. In the first Gospel the connection of the words of Jesus with the narrative suggests an explanation: 21:12 "…and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those selling doves, and saith to them," etc. Upon the occasion of this episode the fourth Gospel represents Jesus as replying to the demand of the Jews for a sign why he did such things: "Destroy this temple, and within three days I will raise it up," which the Jews very naturally understand in a material sense, and which even the disciples only comprehended and believed "after the resurrection." The Synoptists not only know nothing of this, but represent the saying as the testimony which the false witnesses bare against Jesus. [551:1] No such charge is brought against Jesus at all in the fourth Gospel. So little do the Synoptists know of the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman and his sojourn for two days at Sychar that, in his instructions to his disciples in the first Gospel, Jesus positively forbids them either to go to the Gentiles or to enter into any city of the Samaritans.  [551:2]

The fourth Gospel has very few miracles in common with the Synoptics, and those few present notable variations. After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus, according to the Synoptics, constrains his disciples to enter a ship and to go to the other side of the Lake of Gennesaret, whilst he himself goes up a mountain apart to pray. A storm arises, and Jesus appears walking to them over the sea, whereat the disciples are troubled; but Peter says to him: "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee over the water"; and on his going out of the ship over the water, and beginning to sink, he cries, "Lord, save me"; Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him; and when they had come into the ship the wind ceased, and they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, "Of a truth thou art the Son of God." [551:3] The fourth Gospel, instead of representing Jesus as retiring to the mountain to pray, which would have been opposed to the author's idea of the Logos, makes the motive for going thither the knowledge of Jesus that the people "would come and take him by force that they might make him a king." [551:4] The writer altogether ignores the episode of Peter walking on the sea, and adds a new miracle by stating that, as soon as Jesus was received on board, "the ship was at the land whither they were going." [551:5] The Synoptics go on to describe the devout excitement and faith of all the country round; but the fourth Gospel, limiting the effect on the multitude in the first instance to curiosity as to how Jesus had crossed the lake, represents Jesus as upbraiding them for following him, not because they saw miracles, but because they had eaten of the loaves and been filled, [551:6] and makes him deliver one of those long dogmatic discourses, interrupted by, and based upon, the remarks of the crowd, which so peculiarly distinguish the fourth Gospel.

Without dwelling upon such details of miracles, however, we proceed with our slight comparison. Whilst the fourth Gospel from the very commencement asserts the foreknowledge of Jesus as to who should betray him, and makes him inform the Twelve that one of them is a devil, alluding to Judas Iscariot, [552:1] the Synoptists represent Jesus as having so little foreknowledge that Judas should betray him that, shortly before the end, and indeed, according to the third Gospel, only at the last supper, Jesus promises that the disciples shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, [552:2] and it is only at the last supper, after Judas has actually arranged with the chief priests, and apparently from knowledge of the fact, that Jesus, for the first time, speaks of his betrayal by him. [552:3] On his way to Jerusalem, two days before the Passover, [552:4] Jesus comes to Bethany, where, according to the Synoptics, being in the house of Simon the leper, a woman with an alabaster box of very precious ointment came and poured the ointment upon his head, much to the indignation of the disciples, who say: "To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor." [552:5] In the fourth Gospel the episode takes place six days before the Passover, [552:6] in the house of Lazarus, and it is his sister Mary who takes a pound of very costly ointment, but she anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes them with her hair. It is Judas Iscariot, and not the disciples, who says: "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?" And Jesus makes a similar reply to that in the Synoptics, showing the identity of the occurrence described so differently. [552:7]

The Synoptics represent most clearly that Jesus on the evening of the 14th Nisan, after the custom of the Jews, ate the Passover with his disciples, [552:8] and that he was arrested in the first hours of the 15th Nisan, the day on which he was put to death. Nothing can be more distinct than the statement that the last supper was the Paschal feast. "They made ready the Passover (hêtoimesan to pascha), and, when the hour was come, he sat down and the Apostles with him, and he said to them: With desire I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Epithymia eptheymêsa touto to pascha phagein meth' humôn pro tou me pathein). [553:1] The fourth Gospel, however, in accordance with the principle which is dominant throughout, represents the last repast which Jesus eats with his disciples as a common supper (deipnon), which takes place not on the 14th, but on the 13th Nisan, the day "before the feast of the Passover" (pro tês eortês tou pascha), [553:2] and his death takes place on the 14th, the day on which the Paschal lamb was slain. Jesus is delivered by Pilate to the Jews to be crucified about the sixth hour of "the preparation of the Passover" (ên paraskeuê tou pascha), [553:3] and because it was "the preparation," the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus were broken that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the great day of the feast.  [553:4] The fourth Gospel totally ignores the institution of the Christian festival at the last supper, but, instead, represents Jesus as washing the feet of the disciples, enjoining them also to wash each other's feet: "For I gave you an example that ye should do according as I did to you." [553:5] The Synoptics have no knowledge of this incident. Immediately after the warning to Peter of his future denial, Jesus goes out with the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, and, taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee apart, began to be sorrowful and very depressed, and, as he prayed in his agony that if possible the cup might pass from him, an angel comforts him. Instead of this, the fourth Gospel represents Jesus as delivering, after the warning to Peter, the longest discourses in the Gospel: "Let not your heart be troubled," etc.; "I am the true vine," [553:6] etc.; and although said to be written by one of the sons of Zebedee who were with Jesus on the occasion, the fourth Gospel does not mention the agony in the garden, but, on the contrary, makes Jesus utter the long prayer 17:1-26, in a calm and even exulting spirit very far removed from the sorrow and depression of the more natural scene in Gethsemane. The prayer, like the rest of the prayers in the Gospel, is a mere didactic and dogmatic address for the benefit of the hearers.

The arrest of Jesus presents a similar contrast. In the Synoptics, Judas comes with a multitude from the chief priests and elders of the people armed with swords and staves, and, indicating his Master by a kiss, Jesus is simply arrested, and, after the slight resistance of one of the disciples, is led away. [553:7] In the fourth Gospel the case is very different. Judas comes with a band of men from the chief priests and Pharisees, with lanterns and torches and weapons, and Jesus - "knowing all things which were coming to pass" -- himself goes towards them and asks: "Whom seek ye?" Judas plays no active part, and no kiss is given. The fourth Evangelist is, as ever, bent on showing that all which happens to the Logos is predetermined by himself and voluntarily encountered. As soon as Jesus replies, "I am he," the whole band of soldiers go backwards and fall to the ground -- an incident thoroughly in the spirit of the early apocryphal Gospels still extant, and of an evidently legendary character. He is then led away first to Annas, who sends him to Caiaphas, whilst the Synoptics naturally know nothing of Annas, who was not the high priest and had no authority. We need not follow the trial, which is fundamentally different in the Synoptics and fourth Gospel; and we have already pointed out that, in the Synoptics, Jesus is crucified on the 15th Nisan, whereas in the fourth Gospel he is put to death -- the spiritual Paschal lamb -- on the 14th Nisan. According to the fourth Gospel, Jesus bears his own cross to Calvary, [554:1] but the Synoptics represent it as being borne by Simon of Cyrene. [554:2] As a very singular illustration of the inaccuracy of all the Gospels, we may point to the circumstance that no two of them agree even about so simple a matter of fact as the inscription on the cross, assuming that there was one at all. They give it respectively as follows: "This is Jesus the King of the Jews"; "The King of the Jews"; "This (is) the King of the Jews"; and the fourth Gospel: "Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews." [554:3] The occurrences during the Crucifixion are profoundly different in the fourth Gospel from those narrated in the Synoptics. In the latter, only the women are represented as beholding afar off [554:4] but "the beloved disciple" is added in the fourth Gospel, and, instead of being far off, they are close to the cross; and for the last cries of Jesus reported in the Synoptics we have the episode in which Jesus confides his mother to the disciple's care. We need not at present compare the other details of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, which are differently reported by each of the Gospels.

We have only indicated a few of the more salient differences between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics, which are rendered much more striking, in the Gospels themselves, by the profound dissimilarity of the sentiments uttered by Jesus. We merely point out, in passing, the omission of important episodes from the fourth Gospel, such as the Temptation in the wilderness; the Transfiguration, at which, according to the Synoptics, the sons of Zebedee were present; the last Supper; the agony in the garden; the mournful cries on the cross; and, we may add, the Ascension; and if we turn to the miracles of Jesus, we find that almost all of those narrated by the Synoptics are ignored, whilst an almost entirely new series is introduced. There is not a single instance of the cure of demoniacal possession in any form recorded in the fourth Gospel. Indeed, the number of miracles is reduced in that Gospel to a few typical cases; and although at the close it is generally said that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, these alone are written with the declared purpose: "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." [555:1]

We may briefly refer in detail to one miracle of the fourth Gospel -- the raising of Lazarus. The extraordinary fact that the Synoptists are utterly ignorant of this the greatest of the miracles attributed to Jesus has been too frequently discussed to require much comment here. It will be remembered that, as the case of the daughter of Jairus is, by the express declaration of Jesus, one of mere suspension of consciousness, [555:2] the only instance in which a dead person is distinctly said, in any of the Synoptics, to have been restored to life by Jesus is that of the son of the widow of Nain. [555:3] It is, therefore, quite impossible to suppose that the Synoptists could have known of the raising of Lazarus and wilfully omitted it. It is equally impossible to believe that the authors of the synoptic Gospels, from whatever sources they may have drawn their materials, could have been ignorant of such a miracle had it really taken place. This astounding miracle, according to the fourth Gospel, created such general excitement that it was one of the leading events which led to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. [555:4] If, therefore, the Synoptics had any connection with the writers to whom they are referred, the raising of Lazarus must have been personally known to their reputed authors either directly or through the Apostles who are supposed to have inspired them, or even if they have any claim to contemporary origin the tradition of the greatest miracle of Jesus must have been fresh throughout the Church, if such a wonder had ever been performed. The total ignorance of such a miracle displayed by the whole of the works of the New Testament, therefore, forms the strongest presumptive evidence that the narrative in the fourth Gospel is a mere imaginary scene, illustrative of the dogma, "I am the resurrection and the life," upon which it is based. This conclusion is confirmed by the peculiarities of the narrative itself. When Jesus first hears, from the message of the sisters, that Lazarus whom he loved was sick, he declares, 11:4: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby"; and 5:6, "When, therefore (oun), he heard that he was sick, at that time he continued two days in the place where he was." After that interval he proposes to go into Judaea, and explains to the disciples, 5:11: "Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. " The disciples reply, with the stupidity with which the fourth Evangelist endows all those who hold colloquy with Jesus, 5:12: "Lord, if he is fallen asleep, he will recover. Howbeit, Jesus spake of his death; but they thought that he was speaking of the taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly: Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that ye may believe." The artificial nature of all this introductory matter will not have escaped the reader, and it is further illustrated by that which follows. Arrived at Bethany, they find that Lazarus has lain in the grave already four days. Martha says to Jesus (5:21 f.): "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. And I know that even now whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee. Jesus saith unto her: Thy brother shall rise again." Martha, of course, as usual, misunderstands this saying as applying to "the resurrection at the last day," in order to introduce the reply: "I am the resurrection and the life," etc. When they come to the house, and Jesus sees Mary and the Jews weeping, "he groaned in spirit and troubled himself," and on reaching the grave itself (5:35 f.), "Jesus wept: Then said the Jews: Behold how he loved him!" Now this representation, which has ever since been the admiration of Christendom, presents the very strongest marks of unreality. Jesus, who loves Lazarus so much, disregards the urgent message of the sisters, and, whilst openly declaring that his sickness is not unto death, intentionally lingers until his friend dies. When he does go to Bethany, and is on the very point of restoring Lazarus to life and dissipating the grief of his family and friends, he actually weeps and groans in his spirit. There is so total an absence of reason for such grief at such a moment that these tears, to any sober reader, are unmistakably mere theatrical adjuncts of a scene elaborated out of the imagination of the writer. The suggestion of the bystanders (5:37), that he might have prevented the death, is not more probable than the continuation (5:38): "Jesus, therefore, again groaning in himself, cometh to the grave." There, having ordered the stone to be removed, he delivers a prayer avowedly intended merely for the bystanders (5:41 f.): "And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me, and I knew that thou hearest me always: but for the sake of the multitude which stand around I said this, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." This prayer is as evidently artificial as the rest of the details of the miracle; but, as in other elaborately arranged scenic representations, the charm is altogether dispelled when closer examination shows the character of the dramatic elements. A careful consideration of the narrative and of all the facts of the case must, we think, lead to the conclusion that this miracle is not even a historical tradition of the life of Jesus, but is wholly an ideal composition by the author of the fourth Gospel. This being the case, the other miracles of the Gospel need not detain us.

If the historical part of the fourth Gospel be in irreconcilable contradiction to the Synoptics, the didactic is infinitely more so. The teaching of the one is totally different from that of the others in spirit, form, and terminology; and, although there are undoubtedly fine sayings throughout the work, in the prolix discourses of the fourth Gospel there is not a single characteristic of the simple eloquence of the Sermon on the Mount. In the diffuse mysticism of the Logos we can scarcely recognise a trace of the terse practical wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. It must be apparent even to the most superficial observer that, in the fourth Gospel, we are introduced to a perfectly new system of instruction, and to an order of ideas of which there is not a vestige in the Synoptics. Instead of short and concise lessons, full of striking truth and point, we find nothing but long and involved dogmatic discourses of little practical utility. The limpid spontaneity of that earlier teaching, with its fresh illustrations and profound sentences, uttered without effort and untinged by art, is exchanged for diffuse addresses and artificial dialogues, in which labour and design are everywhere apparent. From pure and living morality, couched in brief, incisive sayings which enter the heart and dwell upon the ear, we turn to elaborate philosophical orations without clearness or order, and to doctrinal announcements unknown to the Synoptics. To the inquiry, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replies, in the Synoptics, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself … this do, and thou shalt live." [557:1] In the fourth Gospel, to the question, "What must we do that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answers, "This is the work of God, that ye should believe in him whom he sent." [557:2] The teaching of Jesus in the Synoptics is almost wholly moral, and in the fourth Gospel it is almost wholly dogmatic. If Christianity consist of the doctrines preached in the fourth Gospel, it is not too much to say that the Synoptics do not teach Christianity at all. The extraordinary phenomenon is presented of three Gospels, each professing to be complete in itself, and to convey the good tidings of salvation to man, which have actually omitted the doctrines which are the condition of that salvation. The fourth Gospel practically expounds a new religion. It is undeniable that morality and precepts of love and charity for the conduct of life are the staple of the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptics, and that dogma occupies so small a place that it is regarded as a subordinate and secondary consideration. In the fourth Gospel, however, dogma is the one thing needful, and forms the whole substance of the preaching of the Logos. The burden of his teaching is, "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." [558:1] It is scarcely possible to put the contrast between the Synoptics and the fourth Gospel in too strong a light, If we possessed the Synoptics without the fourth Gospel, we should have the exposition of pure morality based on perfect love to God and man. If we had the fourth Gospel without the Synoptics, we should have little more than a system of dogmatic theology without morality. Not only is the doctrine and the terminology of the Jesus of the fourth Gospel quite different from that of the Jesus of the Synoptics, but so is the teaching of John the Baptist. In the Synoptics he comes preaching the Baptism of repentance, [558:2] and, like the Master, inculcating principles of morality; [558:3] but in the fourth Gospel he has adopted the peculiar views of the author, proclaims "the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," [558:4] and bears witness that he is "the Son of God." [558:5] We hear of the Paraclete for the first time in the fourth Gospel.

It is so impossible to ignore the distinct individuality of the Jesus of the fourth Gospel, and of his teaching, that even Apologists are obliged to admit that the peculiarities of the author have coloured the portrait, and introduced an element of subjectivity into the discourses. It was impossible, they confess, that the Apostle could remember verbally such long orations for half a century, and at best that they can only be accepted as substantially correct reports of the teaching of Jesus. "Above all," says Ewald, "the discourses of Christ and of others in this Gospel are clothed as by an entirely new colour: on this account also scepticism has desired to conclude that the Apostle cannot have composed the Gospel; and yet no conclusion is more unfounded. When the Apostle at so late a period determined to compose the work, it was certainly impossible for him to reproduce all the words exactly as they were spoken, if he did not perhaps desire not merely to recall a few memorable sentences, but, in longer discussions of more weighty subjects, to charm back all the animation with which they were once given. So he availed himself of that freedom in their revivification which is quite intelligible in itself, and sufficiently warranted by the precedent of so many great examples of antiquity; and where the discourses extend to greater length, there entered involuntarily into the structure much of that fundamental conception and language regarding the manifestation of Christ which had long become deeply rooted in the Apostle's soul. But as certainly as these discourses bear upon them the colouring of the Apostle's mind, so certainly do they agree in their substantial contents with his best recollections -- because the Spruchsammlung proves that the discourses of Christ in certain moments really could rise to the full elevation, which in John surprises us throughout more than in Matthew. To deny the apostolical authorship of the Gospel for such reasons, therefore, were pure folly, and in the highest degree unjust. Moreover, the circumstance that, in the drawing up of such discourses, we sometimes see him reproduce or further develop sayings which had already been recorded in the older Gospels, can prove nothing against the apostolical origin of the Gospel, as he was indeed at perfect liberty, if he pleased, to make use of the contents of such older writings when he considered it desirable, and when they came to the help of his own memory of those long passed days: for he certainly retained many or all of such expressions also in his own memory." [559:1] Elsewhere, he describes the work as "glorified Gospel history," composed out of "glorified recollection." [559:2]

Another strenuous defender of the authenticity of the fourth Gospel wrote of it as follows: "Nevertheless, everything is reconcilable," says Gfrörer, "if one accept the testimony of the elders as true. For as John must have written the Gospel as an old man, that is to say not before the year 90-95 of our era, there is an interval of more than half a century between the time when the events which he relates really happened and the time of the composition of his book -- space enough certainly to make a few mistakes conceivable, even presupposing a good memory and unshaken love of truth. Let us imagine, for instance, that today (in 1841) an old man of eighty to ninety years of age should write down from mere memory the occurrences of the American War (of Independence), in which he himself in his early youth played a part. Certainly in his narrative, even though it might otherwise be true, many traits would be found which would not agree with the original event. Moreover, another particular circumstance must be added in connection with the fourth Gospel. Two-thirds of it consist of discourses, which John places in the mouth of Jesus Christ. Now, every day's experience proves that oral impressions are much more fleeting than those of sight. The happiest memory scarcely retains long orations after three or four years; how, then, could John with verbal accuracy report the discourses of Jesus after fifty or sixty years! We must be content if he truly render the chief contents and spirit of them, and that he does this, as a rule, can be proved. It has been shown above that already, before Christ, a very peculiar philosophy of religion had been formed among the Egyptian Jews, which found its way into Palestine through the Essenes, and also numbered numerous adherents amongst the Jews of the adjacent countries of Syria and Asia Minor. The Apostle Paul professed this: not less the Evangelist John. Undoubtedly, the latter allowed this Theosophy to exercise a strong influence upon his representation of the life-history of Jesus," etc. [560:1]

All such admissions, whilst they are absolutely requisite to explain the undeniable phenomena of the fourth Gospel, have one obvious consequence: the fourth Gospel, by whomsoever written -- even if it could be traced to the Apostle John himself -- as no real historical value, being at best the "glorified recollections" of an old man, written down half a century after the events recorded. The absolute difference between the teaching of this Gospel and of the Synoptics becomes perfectly intelligible when the long discourses are recognised to be the result of Alexandrian philosophy artistically interwoven with developed Pauline Christianity, and put into the mouth of Jesus. It will have been remarked that along with the admission of great subjectivity in the report of the discourses, and the plea that nothing beyond the mere substance of the original teaching can reasonably be looked for, there is, in the extracts we have given, an assertion that there actually is a faithful reproduction in this Gospel of the original substance. There is not a shadow of proof of this, but, on the contrary, the strongest reason for denying the fact; for, unless it be admitted that the Synoptics have so completely omitted the whole doctrinal part of the teaching of Jesus, have so carefully avoided the very peculiar terminology of the Logos Gospel, and have conveyed so unhistorical and erroneous an impression of the life and religious system of Jesus that, without the fourth Gospel, we should not actually have had an idea of his fundamental doctrines, we must inevitably recognise that the fourth Gospel cannot possibly be a true reproduction of his teaching. It is impossible that Jesus can have had two such diametrically opposed systems of teaching -- one purely moral, the other wholly dogmatic; one expressed in wonderfully terse, clear, brief sayings and parables; the other in long, involved, and diffuse discourses; one clothed in the great language of humanity, the other concealed in obscure philosophic terminology -- and that these should have been kept so distinct as they are in the Synoptics on the one hand, and the fourth Gospel on the other. The tradition of Justin Martyr applies solely to the system of the Synoptics: "Brief and concise were the sentences uttered by him, for he was no Sophist, but his word was the power of God." [561:1]

We have already pointed out the evident traces of artificial construction in the discourses and dialogues of the fourth Gospel, and the more closely these are examined the more clear does it become that they are not genuine reports of the teaching of Jesus, but mere ideal compositions by the author of the fourth Gospel. The speeches of John the Baptist, the discourses of Jesus, and the reflections of the Evangelist himself, [561:2] are marked by the same peculiarity of style and proceed from the same mind. It is scarcely possible to determine where the one begins and the other ends. [561:3] It is quite clear, for instance, that the author himself without a break continues the words which he puts into the mouth of Jesus, in the colloquy with Nicodemus, but it is not easy to determine where. The whole dialogue is artificial in the extreme, and is certainly not genuine; and this is apparent not only from the replies attributed to the "teacher of Israel," but to the irrelevant manner in which the reflections loosely ramble from the new birth to the dogmatic statements in the thirteenth and following verses, which are the never-failing resource of the Evangelist when other subjects are exhausted. The sentiments and almost the words attributed to Jesus, or added by the writer, to which we are now referring, 3:12 f., we find again in the very same chapter, either put into the mouth of John the Baptist, or as reflections of the author, verses 31-36, for again we add that it is difficult anywhere to discriminate the speaker. Indeed, while the Synoptics are rich in the abundance of practical counsel and profound moral insight, as well as in variety of illustrative parables, it is remarkable how much sameness there is in all the discourses of the fourth Gospel, a very few ideas being constantly reproduced. Whilst the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptics is singularly universal and impersonal, in the fourth Gospel it is purely personal, and rarely passes beyond the declaration of his own dignity, and the inculcation of belief in him as the only means of salvation. There are certainly some sayings of rare beauty which tradition or earlier records may have preserved, but these may easily be distinguished from the mass of the work. A very distinct trace of ideal composition is found in 17:3, "And this is eternal life, to know thee the only true God and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ." Even Apologists admit that it is impossible that Jesus could speak of himself as "Jesus Christ." We need not, however, proceed further with such analysis. We believe that no one can calmly and impartially examine the fourth Gospel without being convinced of its artificial character. If some portions possess real charm, it is of a purely ideal kind, and their attraction consists chiefly in the presence of a certain vague but suggestive mysticism. The natural longing of humanity for any revelation regarding a future state has not been appealed to in vain. That the diffuse and often monotonous discourses of this Gospel should ever have been preferred to the grand simplicity of the teaching of the Synoptics, illustrated by such parables as the wise and foolish virgins, the sower, and the Prodigal Son, and culminating in the Sermon on the Mount, each sentence of which is so full of truth and beauty, is little to the credit of critical sense and judgment.

The elaborate explanations by which the phenomena of the fourth Gospel are reconciled with the assumption that it was composed by the Apostle John are in vain, and there is not a single item of evidence within the first century and a half which does not agree with internal testimony in opposing the supposition. To one point we must briefly refer in connection with this statement. It is asserted that the Gospel and Epistles -- or at least the first Epistle -- of the Canon ascribed to the Apostle John are by one author, although this is not without contradiction, and very many of those who agree as to the identity of authorship by no means admit the author to have been the Apostle John. It is argued, therefore, that the use of the Epistle by Polycarp and Papias is evidence of the apostolic origin of the Gospel. We have, however, seen that not only is it very uncertain that Polycarp made use of the Epistle at all, but that he does not in any case mention its author's name. There is not a particle of evidence that he ascribed the Epistle, even supposing he knew it, to the Apostle John. With regard to Papias, the only authority for the assertion that he knew the Epistle is the statement of Eusebius already quoted and discussed, that "He used testimonies out of John's first Epistle." [562:1] There is no evidence, even supposing the statement of Eusebius to be correct, that he ascribed it to the Apostle. The earliest undoubted references to the Epistle, in fact, are by Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, so that this evidence is of little avail for the Gospel. There is no name attached to the first Epistle, and the second and third have the superscription of "the Presbyter," which, applying the argument of Ewald regarding the author of the Apocalypse, ought to be conclusive against their being written by an Apostle. As all three are evidently by the same writer, and intended to be understood as by the author of the Gospel, and that writer does not pretend to be an Apostle but calls himself a simple Presbyter, the Epistles likewise give presumptive evidence against the Apostolic authorship of the Gospel.

There is another important testimony against the Johannine origin of the fourth Gospel to which we must briefly refer. We have pointed out that, according to the fourth Gospel, Jesus did not eat the Paschal Supper with his disciples, but that, being arrested on the 13th Nisan, he was put to death on the 14th, the actual day upon which the Paschal lamb was sacrificed. The Synoptics, on the contrary, represent that Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples on the evening of the 14th, and was crucified on the 15th Nisan. The difference of opinion indicated by these contradictory accounts actually prevailed in various Churches, and in the second half of the second century a violent discussion arose as to the day upon which "The true Passover of the Lord" should be celebrated, the Church in Asia Minor maintaining that it should be observed on the 14th Nisan -- the day on which, according to the Synoptics, Jesus himself celebrated the Passover and instituted the Christian festival; whilst the Roman Church as well as most other Christians -- following the fourth Gospel, which represents Jesus as not celebrating the last Passover, but being himself slain upon the 14th Nisan, the true Paschal lamb -- had abandoned the day of the Jewish feast altogether, and celebrated the Christian festival on Easter Sunday, upon which the Resurrection was supposed to have taken place. Polycarp, who went to Rome to represent the Churches of Asia Minor in the discussions upon the subject, could not be induced to give up the celebration on the 14th Nisan, the day which, according to tradition, had always been observed, and he appealed to the practice of the Apostle John himself in support of that date. Eusebius quotes from Irenaeus the statement of the case: "For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe it (the 14th Nisan), because he had ever observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and with the rest of the Apostles with whom he consorted." [563:1] Towards the end of the century Polycrates, the Bishop of Ephesus, likewise appeals to the practice of "John who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord," as well as of the Apostle Philip and his daughters, and of Polycarp and others, in support of the same day. "All these observed the 14th day of the Passover, according to the Gospel, deviating from it in no respect, but following according to the rule of the faith." [564:1] Now it is evident that, according to this undoubted testimony, the Apostle John, by his own practice, ratified the account of the Synoptics, and contradicted the data of the fourth Gospel; and upon the supposition that he so long lived in Asia Minor it is probable that his authority largely contributed to establish the observance of the 14th Nisan there. We must, therefore, either admit that the Apostle John by his practice reversed the statement of his own Gospel, or that he was not its author, which of course is the natural conclusion. Without going further into the discussion, which would detain us too long, it is clear that the Paschal controversy is opposed to the supposition that the Apostle John was the author of the fourth Gospel.

We have seen that, whilst there is not one particle of evidence during a century and a half after the events recorded in the fourth Gospel that it was composed by the son of Zebedee, there is, on the contrary, the strongest reason for believing that he did not write it. The first writer who quotes a passage of the Gospel with the mention of his name is Theophilus of Antioch, who gives the few words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," as spoken by "John," whom he considers amongst the divinely inspired (oi pneumatophoroi), [564:2] though even he does not distinguish him as the Apostle. We have seen the legendary nature of the late traditions regarding the composition of the Gospel, of which a specimen was given in the defence of it in the Canon of Muratori, and we must not further quote them. The first writer who distinctly classes the four Gospels together is Irenaeus; and the reasons which he gives for the existence of precisely that number in the Canon of the Church illustrate the thoroughly uncritical character of the Fathers, and the slight dependence which can be placed upon their judgment. "But neither can the Gospels be more in number than they are," says Irenaeus, "nor, on the other hand, can they, be fewer. For as there are four quarters of the world in which we are, and four general winds (katholika pneumata), and the Church is disseminated throughout all the world, and the Gospel is the pillar and prop of the Church and the spirit of life, it is right that she should have four pillars on all sides breathing out immortality and revivifying men. From which it is manifest that the Word, the maker of all, he who sitteth upon the Cherubim and containeth all things, who was manifested to man, has given to us the Gospel four-formed but possessed by one spirit; as David also says, supplicating his advent: 'Thou that sittest between the Cherubim, shine forth.' For the Cherubim also are four-faced, and their faces are symbols of the working of the Son of God and the Gospels, therefore, are in harmony with these amongst which Christ is seated. For the Gospel according to John relates his first effectual and glorious generation from the Father, saying: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,' and 'all things were made by him, and without him nothing was made.' On this account also this Gospel is full of all trustworthiness, for such is his person. [565:1] But the Gospel according to Luke, being as it were of priestly character, opened with Zacharias the priest sacrificing to God … But Matthew narrates his generation as a man, saying: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,' and 'the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.' This Gospel, therefore, is anthropomorphic, and on this account a man, humble and mild in character, is presented throughout the Gospel. But Mark makes his commencement after a prophetic Spirit coming down from on high unto men, saying: 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet'; indicating the winged form of the Gospel; and for this reason he makes a compendious and precursory declaration, for this is the prophetic character … Such, therefore, as was the course of the Son of God, such also is the form of the living creatures; and such as is the form of the living creatures, such also is the character of the Gospel. For quadriform are the living creatures, quadriform is the Gospel, and quadriform the course of the Lord. And on this account four covenants were given to the human race … These things being thus: vain and ignorant and, moreover, audacious are those who set aside the form of the Gospel, and declare the aspects of the Gospels as either more or less than has been said." [565:2] As such principles of criticism presided over the formation of the Canon, it is not singular that so many of the decisions of the Fathers have been reversed. Irenaeus himself mentioned the existence of heretics who rejected the fourth Gospel, [566:1] and Epiphanius [566:2] refers to the Alogi, who equally denied its authenticity; but it is not needful for us further to discuss this point. Enough has been said to show that the testimony of the fourth Gospel is of no value towards establishing the truth of miracles and the reality of Divine Revelation.

< Previous section      Contents      Home      Top of Page      Next section >