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On the Gospel of John, Part 1: The Word Made Flesh
Here we shall endeavor a presentation and commentary of the Gospel of John. This Gospel is unlike any of the others, which parallel one another in many ways and which are for that reason called the Synoptic Gospels. None of the writers of these other gospels were witnesses to the entire ministry of Christ, and therefore they also relied on accounts provided by others, in whole or in part. Before discussing John, we shall explain this briefly, but we must warn that the documentation or reasoning which supports these brief explanations is found throughout our other commentaries, and we can not repeat it all here. We will, however, see some of our evidence in the words of the early Christian writers as we cite them in our discussion of John.
The Gospel of Matthew has Matthew himself as a witness only from chapter 9, where we read in verse 9: “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.” So by Matthew’s own admission we see that he must have compiled the earlier portions of his gospel from other witnesses, since he himself had just become a follower of Christ at this point in His ministry.
The Gospel of Mark was evidently Peter’s Gospel as it was recorded by Mark, perhaps not until after the death of Peter, which is according to several of the earliest Christian writers called the Church Fathers. I am fully persuaded that Mark is the John Mark of Acts chapter 12, and the relative of Barnabas whom was also known to Paul. He is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture before Acts chapter 12, although it is suspected by some, including myself, that he may have been the young man who fled naked at the garden of Gethsemane, mentioned in Mark 14:51-52. Mark was with Peter much later in his ministry, which is seen in 1 Peter chapter 5. I also have reason to believe that Peter’s epistles were written after Paul’s arrest, or even after his execution, and for that reason Mark, who was previously summoned to Rome by Paul (2 Tim. 4:11), may have remained with Peter. Mark was an early disciple, and may even have been one of the 70, especially if that was him at Gethsemane, but he was certainly never one of the twelve.
The Gospel of Luke, by the admission of Luke himself, was written from a collection of accounts which he had compiled and collated during his years in the ministry. So the different perspectives of Matthew and Luke concerning the Nativity and the early years of Christ are easily accounted for in the understanding that they had records from differing witnesses with different perspectives. These differences enrich the value of the Gospel accounts, rather than depreciating them. Luke first appears in Scripture with Paul in Antioch, and accompanies him to Jerusalem in 47 AD, which is evident from Acts chapters 15 and 16 and Galatians chapter 2. Luke is not mentioned explicitly in those chapters, but it may be ascertained in the grammar which he used when he wrote HIS ACCOUNTS IN those chapters of Acts. It is my opinion that Luke’s is the Gospel to which Paul often refers as “my Gospel”, and that it may have been penned during the two years that Luke had sat with Paul in Rome, recorded in Acts chapter 28.
So while it is apparent that neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke were witnesses to the entire ministry of Christ, John’s Gospel is the only account written from the perspective of one who was an eye-witness throughout the entire ministry, from beginning to end. It is unlikely that any of his accounts are vicarious, except perhaps for a few minor portions, and his descriptions are nearly all written from a purely personal perspective as one who was at the side of Christ for practically all of His ministry.
The first half of John’s Gospel is devoted to recounting particular events from the first three-and-a-half years of the ministry of Christ, from a viewpoint which is somewhat different than the other three Gospels. Sometimes I am persuaded that John’s motivation was to fill in details of accounts which the other three Gospels do not contain. Although that of course is not an explicitly stated intent, it has also been noticed in the past by other commentators, and it is certainly plausible. John reportedly wrote his Gospel at a very late time, as we shall see, and he does not repeat much of what is found in the Synoptic Gospels, so perhaps it is true that he had already seen them and felt that he did not have to repeat what they had already recorded.
The entire second half of John’s Gospel is devoted to the final few days before the Crucifixion, and some of the events which took place thereafter. So there is a Passover mentioned in John 2:13, and another feast which may have been a Passover mentioned in John 5:1. Then another Passover is mentioned in John 6:4. In John 10:22, Christ is at the temple in winter for the Feast of Dedication, which was instituted by the Maccabees about 180 years earlier. His ministry would have begun its fourth year shortly before this time. Then the final Passover, the one upon which Christ was crucified, is first mentioned in John 11:55. From this point, the next nine chapters focus mainly on just four events: the raising of Lazarus from the dead just days before His Own crucifixion, and the account of the final Passover dinner with His disciples, ending with His arrest that very night. Then after His arrest in John chapter 18 there are the trials, and the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. The final chapter deals with some of the post-Resurrection interactions between the apostles and Christ.
While the Synoptic Gospels have much of their focus on the teachings of Christ to the people who followed Him, John does not repeat much of that, although he must have witnessed and remembered it. Rather, the focus of the Gospel of John is three-fold: first, to prove that Yahshua Christ is the Messiah, Yahweh God manifest in the flesh, and the miracles, or signs, by which that was made evident. Second, to record the dialogue which Christ had for His enemies which revealed the nature of His enemies. And thirdly, to record the instructions which Christ had for His disciples so that they may know how to distinguish His enemies from His people, along with what to expect from and how to act towards each group after His imminent departure. Of course there are a few things more than these, but these represent the major themes of John’s Gospel.
Laying any similarities aside, from a historical perspective the Gospel of Luke is our favorite since it contains many of the best witnesses illuminating the truth of Covenant Theology. But from a theological perspective, the Gospel of John is our favorite because it boldly asserts many truths which can be validated both scripturally and historically, concerning the Deity of Christ, and concerning the spurious identity of His adversaries. This is true even though Luke’s Gospel certainly has some valuable theological insight, and John’s Gospel some valuable historical information. Both Gospels are often quite poetic in their construction, and it is my opinion that the uneducated John rivals the well-educated Luke in his ability to draw pictures with words. However while much of Luke’s grammar is eloquent and complex, we find John’s to be plain and simple.
Speaking of John’s grammar, among other anomalies, often in our translation verbs appear in the present tense, when a past tense verb may be expected. This is because John himself used the present tense, and we disdained changing that usage for the sake of what we may consider to be better readability or a more correct grammar. So where we have the present tense, that is because John used the present tense, and that is the way our translation shall remain, in spite of grammar. We strove throughout all of our translations to have accuracy and to present a concordant translation at the expense of readability. We are sometimes criticized for that, but we do not care for the complaints of such critics.
Concerning the historical John, we do not know much about the life and ministry of the apostle after the ascension of the risen Christ and the early chapters of the Book of Acts. Outside of his own writings, the latest explicit mention of John in Scripture is in Galatians chapter 2, verses 1-10, where Paul was referring to his meeting with James, Peter and John in Jerusalem in 47 AD. That is the event which is described in Acts chapter 15. The presence of John is not mentioned at Paul’s later meetings with Peter and Barnabas in Antioch in late 52 or early 53 AD, just before the epistle to the Galatians was written, which Paul described in Galatians chapter 2, verses 11-21. Nor was John’s presence mentioned at the later meeting of Paul with the elders at Jerusalem in Acts chapter 21, which occurred around 57 AD, just before Paul was arrested. So from 47 AD to the time when the Revelation was given as he was on the island of Patmos almost 50 years later, there is no scriptural record of the events of the life of John. But we do find a few accounts in the early Christian writers which mention some of the circumstances of his exile to Patmos, his having been freed form exile, and what he did thereafter.
This leads us to a digression. Many scoffers doubt that the John who wrote the Revelation and the epistles which bear that name is the same John who wrote this Gospel. However the first epistle to John opens with a statement that can only be expressed by an eye-witness to the ministry of Christ, where it says “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, the language used in the construction of that passage is very similar to language used here in John’s gospel. So there is no reason to believe that the author of that epistle is not the author of this gospel, and as the epistle progresses we see that many of the themes found in this gospel are repeated.
As for the Revelation, it too opens with the assertion that its author is the same John who had written this gospel. So we see in the first two verses: “1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” This John, the author of our gospel, is the only John who could possibly have bore “record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw,” which is indeed a testimony that he is also the author of this gospel, and that this gospel was written prior to the writing of the Revelation.
So the lies of the scoffers who doubt that the same John wrote this gospel, the Revelation, and the first epistle of John are exposed by the texts themselves. The rest of the evidence against them lies in the prophetic test of Scripture, and John is vindicated by the prescience of Yahweh which is manifest throughout his writings, a prescience which we may not expect to come through the pen of a liar. So now we must ask when John may have written his Gospel. Some of the information we are about to present was already transmitted when we began our presentation of the Revelation of John in late 2010, but we have edited it and added a few things to it for our purposes here.
The Revelation informs us that John was on Patmos when he had received his visions, suggesting that he was in exile there since he stated that he was there “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The early Christian writers inform us that John’s exile was in the time of the emperor Domitian, and that after the death of Domitian John was able to leave Patmos and retire to Ephesus. Since Domitian ruled from 81 to 96 AD, we see that John was indeed quite aged when he wrote the Revelation. But since he was a very young man during the ministry of Christ, if we take it for granted that John was 16 when it began, then we could estimate his age to be around 84 years in 96 AD. While some scholars imagine that John may have been even younger than 16 in 28 AD, if John was 20 years old when the ministry of Christ began, he would have been 88 in 96 AD. So such a late date for the writing of the Revelation is certainly not incredible.
The following excerpts are all taken from The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 from the edition found in Logos Bible Software. Saying fathers here they refer to all of the early Christian bishops and other writers whose works have been preserved by the Christian churches to one degree or another. Some of these writings merit greater esteem than others, for their greater antiquity or for the perceived character of the various authors. While we may not agree with all of the doctrines of these writers, and while they do not always agree with one another, where they are found to be in general agreement the historical accounts found in their writings cannot be lightly dismissed.
Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch from 67 to 107 AD, and he is said to have been a disciple of the apostle John. There are seven epistles attributed to him which survive that are considered authentic, and which are often quoted by later writers. Among these are The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, where we read in part what serves as an early testimony that John received the Revelation in Patmos:
Surely I may point out some of the proverbial wisdom of this great disciple, which has often stirred my soul, as with the trumpet heard by St. John in Patmos. In him, indeed, the lions encountered a lion, one truly begotten of “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”
Irenaeus, who lived until 202 BC, was the Christian bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons in France. From his writing Against Heresies, in Book 3, Chapter 1, paragraph 1, we see that the apostle John both resided in and wrote his Gospel in Ephesus, where he says:
Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.
If Matthew’s gospel was first written in Hebrew or Aramaic, that does not disturb our opinion that the gospel which we have by his name was originally written in Greek. Matthew may easily have written his gospel in both languages, as he was a publican and he must have been educated (Matthew 9:9, 10:3). Likewise Flavius Josephus originally wrote his Book of the Wars of the Judaeans in Aramaic, and later on rewrote it himself in Greek, as he had attested in his Greek edition.
On another note, unless this paragraph suffered a Roman Catholic interpolation, which is certainly possible, Irenaeus believed that Peter was in Rome at the same time as Paul, in spite of the fact that during or after that period it is evident that Peter had written his first epistle from Babylon to the assemblies in Anatolia which Paul founded. Furthermore Peter’s presence in Rome is not mentioned in the Book of Acts or in any of the five epistles which Paul had written from Rome. Additionally, there were already many Christian assemblies in Rome before Paul even wrote his epistle to the Romans, which was before he ever visited the city. But in spite of our contention, we nevertheless see Irenaeus affirm that that Mark did indeed record Peter’s Gospel, that Luke’s Gospel was Paul’s Gospel, and that John’s Gospel was written last, while he was living in Ephesus.
Again from Irenaeus, from Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3, paragraph 4:
There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.
Trajan was the Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD, so John lived in Ephesus for no less than two years after his return from exile in Patmos. Now there are many interpreters who believe that the apostle John never died at all, and is still living upon the earth. I believe that this is a misunderstanding of the intentions of Christ in an exchange with Peter, which is found in John chapter 21. There Christ had, by John’s own words, indicated to Peter how it was that he would ultimately die. So Peter, looking at John, said to Christ, “What shall this man do?” Christ responded and said to him “If I wish him to abide until I come, what is it to you? You follow Me.” But that does not necessarily mean that John would actually live until the Second Advent. Rather, Christ may indeed have merely been using sarcasm as a device to mock Peter’s characteristic stubbornness. All of the early Christian writers do indeed attest that John died, so they evidently did not interpret that passage from John chapter 21 in the same way that some of the modern denominational churches interpret it.
On another note, it is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels that Christ had said, as we read from Matthew chapter 16, “28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Here we must consider what he may have meant where he said “not taste of death”. The closing verses of John chapter 8 reveal that Christ must have been referring to a spiritual death, and not merely the death of the physical body, as he also said in the exchange with His adversaries there that “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” So when they challenged him on the basis of the status and death of Abraham, He replied that “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad,” implying that although Abraham was dead in body, he was certainly alive in the spirit. So elsewhere He attested that Yahweh is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Perhaps those who do not taste death merely pass into the spirit without experiencing their own death, as Christ in the Gospel described death as an entering into life. (Matthew 18:8-9, Mark 9:43-46)
Continuing with the evidence showing when the Gospel of John was most likely written:
The Christian theologian and teacher Clement of Alexandria lived from 150 to 215 AD. In surviving fragments of his writing titled under part XII. — Fragments Not Given in the Oxford Edition, in a treatise entitled Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?, we find the following:
XLII. And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death [Domitian], he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.
So according to Clement of Alexandria, not only did John return to Ephesus from Patmos, but also managed neighboring Christian assemblies in the vicinity of Ephesus. This begs the question, did John personally deliver the seven messages to the churches found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3? While I have not seen such an assertion in other writers as that which Clement makes here, it would be consistent with the attribution to John as author of the second and third epistles bearing his name, something which some early writers contest, but which we certainly accept.
Once again from extant fragments of Clement of Alexandria, From the Books of the Hypotyposes, which had been preserved in citations from the writings of Eusebius:
Again, in the same books Clement has set down a tradition which he had received from the elders before him, in regard to the order of the Gospels, to the following effect. He says that the Gospels containing the genealogies were written first, and that the Gospel according to Mark was composed in the following circumstances:– Peter having preached the word publicly at Rome, and by the Spirit proclaimed the Gospel, those who were present, who were numerous, entreated Mark, in as much as he had attended him from an early period, and remembered what had been said, to write down what had been spoken. On his composing the Gospel, he handed it to those who had made the request to him; which coming to Peter’s knowledge, he neither hindered nor encouraged. But John, the last of all, seeing that what was corporeal was set forth in the Gospels, on the entreaty of his intimate friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.
This citation is somewhat consistent with the narrative that we have presented throughout our New Testament commentaries. For we believe that Matthew’s gospel was written first, that Luke’s was written before Paul’s execution, that Peter was in Babylon after Paul’s arrest, or even after his execution, writing both of his epistles in order to edify assemblies which Paul had founded, and therefore Mark’s gospel was written after Luke’s since Mark did not write until after Peter had also died, according to at least several of the early Christians writers (see our opening presentation of the Gospel of Mark from October, 2011), and that John’s gospel was written last of all. Of course, much of our evidence is circumstantial, but the circumstances are all consistent with whatever evidence we can present. Continuing with our evidence:
The Roman Tertullian, who lived from 160 to 220 AD was the bishop of Carthage and a prolific Christian apologist and writer. From a lengthy work titled The Five Books Against Marcion, from Book 4 Chapter 5:
We have also St. John’s foster churches. For although Marcion rejects his Apocalypse, the order of the bishops (thereof), when traced up to their origin, will yet rest on John as their author. In the same manner is recognised the excellent source of the other churches. I say, therefore, that in them (and not simply such of them as were rounded by apostles, but in all those which are united with them in the fellowship of the mystery of the gospel of Christ) that Gospel of Luke which we are defending with all our might has stood its ground from its very first publication; whereas Marcion’s Gospel is not known to most people, and to none whatever is it known without being at the same time condemned… The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage – I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew – whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul.
Tertullian is railing against a butchered version of Luke which Marcion and his pupils had produced. But here we see that Tertullian did not, and never does, distinguish between any two men named John. He also refers to John’s “foster churches”, which supports the statement by Clement that late in his life John had supervised the Christian assemblies in the vicinity of Ephesus. A pseudepigraphal work titled Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian also substantiates those assertions, but we will not elaborate further upon that here, as we have not yet had the opportunity to fully estimate its reliability.
While it is clear from the arguments of Tertullian that the second century heretic Marcion disputed the authorship of the Revelation, another early writer who doubted that the same John as the apostle who wrote the gospel had also written the Revelation was Dionysius of Alexandria. Dionysius was originally a pupil of Origen’s, and eventually he was the bishop of the assembly at Alexandria, and lived until around 265 AD. He wrote a lengthy treatise attempting to prove mostly from the appearance of the name “John” in the Revelation that the writer was a different John than the apostle. This is in spite of the fact that Origen accepted that the same John authored both books, and it is quite sophistic, since the Revelation itself tells us that it was written by the same John who had also written and bore witness to the gospel. Yet Dionysius notices Origen’s observations, and asserts that John Mark, another John, was the writer of the Revelation. However the style of the Revelation is so much like that of John's gospel, and the opening statements like those of John’s first epistle, that Dionysius' position is incredible, let alone contrary to so many earlier witnesses. The same John who wrote the gospel, also wrote the epistles and the Revelation, as we have seen that the texts themselves attest. His position is further incredible once it is realized that John Mark, as he is called in Acts chapter 12, is one and the same person as the Mark who authored the gospel by that name, and his style of writing is far more removed from the Revelation than that of the Gospel of John.
Refuting his own pupil is Origen himself, in the fifth book of surviving fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John, where we read:
What are we to say of him who leaned on Jesus’ breast, namely, John, who left one Gospel, though confessing that he could make so many that the world would not contain them? But he wrote also the Apocalypse, being commanded to be silent and not to write the voices of the seven thunders.
Caius, a presbyter of the Christian assembly in Rome, was a Christian theologian who lived and wrote in the opening decades of the 3rd century. Only fragments of his works remain to us, and one of the more famous is the Muratorian Canon, an early listing of the books which were considered by him to be legitimate Christian Scriptures. In that work we see the following:
I. …those things at which he was present he placed thus. The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name in order after the ascension of Christ, and when Paul had associated him with himself as one studious of right. Nor did he himself see the Lord in the flesh; and he, according as he was able to accomplish it, began his narrative with the nativity of John. The fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops entreated him, he said, “Fast ye now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to each of us.” On the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind. And hence, although different points are taught us in the several books of the Gospels, there is no difference as regards the faith of believers, inasmuch as in all of them all things are related under one imperial Spirit, which concern the Lord’s nativity, His passion, His resurrection, His conversation with His disciples, and His twofold advent, – the first in the humiliation of rejection, which is now past, and the second in the glory of royal power, which is yet in the future. What marvel is it, then, that John brings forward these several things so constantly in his epistles also, saying in his own person, “What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written.” For thus he professes himself to be not only the eye-witness, but also the hearer; and besides that, the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning the Lord in their order.
So Caius the Presbyter believed that the John who authored the gospel was a disciple of Christ who also authored the epistles which are attributed to him. Then, ostensibly, where he referred to “fellow-disciples and bishops”, he must have been referring to the bishops John was appointing in Ephesus and its vicinity, which Tertullian had called John’s “foster churches”. So we have further implicit evidence that John’s gospel was written in Ephesus.
Victorinus of Pettau (which was Poetovio in Pannonia, and is Ptuj in modern Slovenia) was an early Christian bishop and writer who died as a martyr around 303 AD. He wrote in his Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John maintaining without doubt that the author of the gospel is the same as the author of the Revelation, in the tenth chapter of his work:
“And He says unto me, Thou must again prophesy to the peoples, and to the tongues, and to the nations, and to many kings.” He says this, because when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian. There, therefore, he saw the Apocalypse; and when grown old, he thought that he should at length receive his quittance by suffering, Domitian being killed, all his judgments were discharged. And John being dismissed from the mines, thus subsequently delivered the same Apocalypse which he had received from God. This, therefore, is what He says: Thou must again prophesy to all nations, because thou seest the crowds of Antichrist rise up; and against them other crowds shall stand, and they shall fall by the sword on the one side and on the other.
Perhaps in those last lines of our citation, Victorinus was combining concepts from the Revelation with those expressed in John’s first epistle and the commission given to the apostles by Christ as it is recorded in the closing verses of the Gospel of Matthew. There are still other witnesses which attest to John’s presence in Ephesus at the writing of the Revelation, but who do not elaborate on when John had written the Gospel.
However here we have seen Irenaeus attest that John’s Gospel was written “Afterwards… during his residence at Ephesus in Asia”, and that statement was corroborated to some degree by Clement of Alexandria, Caius the Presbyter and Tertullian, while the other witnesses cited here show also how the assertion that John’s gospel was written in Ephesus could indeed be true.
So we can indeed ascertain that John had written his Gospel from Ephesus at some point later in his life, and that it being the last of the authentic gospels which was written, for that reason it was also listed fourth in order in the early enumerations of the gospels. John had also completed the writing of the Revelation in Ephesus very late in his life, after his release from Patmos. It is also apparent that John wrote his gospel in Ephesus after Paul’s last appearance to the elders there at Miletus in 57 AD, which is recorded in Acts chapter 20. Furthermore, where the angel of the church at Ephesus criticized the assembly there for having left its first love, which must be a reference to the teachings of its founder, Paul of Tarsus, John would know first-hand.
But I would further offer the opinion that John’s gospel was probably written in Ephesus before his exile to Patmos in the time of Domitian. This is because later, when he wrote the opening verses of the Revelation, he made the assertion that he was the same John “Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw”, but that he was in exile on Patmos “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ,” which indicates that the record which he bore already existed, and for that he was sent to Patmos. So when John was on Patmos, it is evident that his gospel had most likely already been written.
Finally, we shall discuss the manuscript evidence supporting the early existence and much of the contents of this Gospel of John. Of the Great Uncial manuscripts, John is attested to in whole or part in Uncial 0162, which is esteemed to date to the 3rd or early 4th century and which only contains about a dozen verses from John chapter 2. It is attested to in the 4th century codices Sinaiticus (א) and Vaticanus (B), and the 5th century codices Alexandrinus (A), Ephraemi Syri (C) Bezae (D 05), Borgianus (T) and Washingtonensis (W). Five other 5th century uncials attest to portions of John: 068 , 0216, 0217, 0218 and 0301. There are eight uncials from the 6th century which attest to portions of John: 060, 070, 078, 086, 087 (with 092b), 091 and 0260. Among the papyri fragments which have more recently been discovered, the text of John is preserved in part by the 2nd century papyri P52, which is esteemed to date from about 125 AD and in which are found only a few verses of John chapter 18, and the 2nd century papyri P90, esteemed to date to around 150 AD and in which are preserved several verses from John chapters 18 and 19. Portions of John are preserved in eight 3rd century papyri: P5, P22, P28, P39, P45, P66, P75 and P95. A few of these papyri may date to even earlier than the 3rd century. Portions of John are further attested in the 4th century papyri P6; the 5th century papyri P93, and five 6th century papyri: P2, P36, P63, P76 and P84. Since the publication of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, which represents the Greek manuscripts upon which this work is based, at least ten other papyri fragments containing portions of John’s gospel have been discovered, and most of them date to the 3rd century while a couple are later. So archaeology has provided for us sufficient witnesses as to the antiquity of John’s Gospel.
This leads me to another digression. There is a plethora of critics who scoff at our Christian Bibles and imagine that it was somehow fabricated by the later Roman Catholic Church. Yet there are hundreds, if not thousands, of archaeological witnesses to prove that Christianity does indeed date to the very period that it claims to date, which is what we know as the early first century AD. That is several centuries before Rome would have anything to do with it, and during which time Rome often persecuted it. And if it is imagined that any of the Christian Scriptures in the manuscripts which were handed down through the ages were corrupted or changed by those later Romans, the corruptions are made manifest in the earliest Uncials and in the papyri which have since been discovered by archaeologists. So certain interpolations of Scripture, which are additions that were made by Medieval Catholic scribes, are evident when the oldest manuscripts are compared. But except in a handful of significant instances, and hundreds of very minor and inconsequential ones, the papyri which have only recently been unearthed generally agree with the readings of the oldest manuscripts handed down through the ages. So any claims that our Gospels and epistles and other books of the Bible are later Roman fabrications are easily refuted by both history and archaeology.
On the other hand, however, it is certainly evident that some significant interpolations have made their way into our Bibles. In the Gospel of John, the most startling of these interpolations is the story of the woman caught in adultery. The text of John from verse 53 of chapter 7 through verse 11 of chapter 8 is not found in any manuscript which predates the 6th century except one, which is the 5th century Codex Bezae. This Codex also has many innovations and interpolations in the Book of Acts and other books of Scripture, and therefore I consider it to be the least reliable of all the major ancient codices. But the fact that the pericope is an interpolation is also betrayed by the context, as what follows John 8:11 clearly belongs to the same discourse attested to in what precedes John 7:53. We will discuss that at length when we make our presentation of John chapter 8.
As was our practice when we translated every book of the Christogenea New Testament, we only counted as worthy sources manuscripts which dated no later than the 6th century, disregarding everything belonging to a later date. Using the oldest manuscripts as a starting point, we considered not only the readings of the oldest manuscripts, but where they differ, both the immediate context and the Biblical context in general, in order to arrive at what we thought was the most reasonable probable reading of the original Greek. No single ancient manuscript can be ascertained to be perfect, and the value of some of the Great Uncials even changes from book to book, or so it seems to us in retrospect. There is also a danger, that because all such decisions are arbitrary, therefore we must understand that no translation is ever going to be perfect, since none of the manuscripts handed down to us can be esteemed as having empirical authority.
As we begin our presentation of John chapter 1, it becomes readily apparent that the most important aspect of the life and ministry of Christ which the apostle seeks to describe is the fact that Yahshua is indeed the manifestation of Yahweh God in the flesh. While I am not one to repeat much from commentaries on Scripture – even from ancient commentaries – here I must cite one which deserves to be mentioned in regard to the purpose of John. And if I do not esteem many aspects of the writings of Origen, he does deserve merit for his assessment of this Gospel, where he wrote in part 6 of Book I of his Commentary on the Gospel of John, which was subtitled On the Deity of Christ:
Now the Gospels are four. These four are, as it were, the elements of the faith of the Church…. The Gospels then being four, I deem the first fruits of the Gospels to be that which you have enjoined me to search into according to my powers, the Gospel of John, that which speaks of him whose genealogy had already been set forth, but which begins to speak of him at a point before he had any genealogy. For Matthew, writing for the Hebrews who looked for Him who was to come of the line of Abraham and of David, says: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” And Mark, knowing what he writes, narrates the beginning of the Gospel; we may perhaps find what he aims at in John; in the beginning the Word, God the Word. But Luke, though he says at the beginning of Acts, “The former treatise did I make about all that Jesus began to do and to teach,” yet leaves to him who lay on Jesus’ breast the greatest and completest discourses about Jesus. For none of these plainly declared His Godhead, as John does when he makes Him say, “I am the light of the world,” “I am the way and the truth and the life,” “I am the resurrection,” “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd;”and in the Apocalypse, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits….
By saying “first fruits”, Origen means to describe what is most important, and not what came first in order. So Origen, who lived from approximately 184 to 253 AD, understood the Deity of Christ, that Christ was indeed Yahweh God come in the flesh, that while He had genealogies, He existed before those genealogies, and Origen understood that John was plainly declaring the Deity of Christ in that same manner. We point this out, because many modern scoffers not only deny the Deity of Christ, but then they twist the plain meaning of the language of John in an attempt to show that John was not declaring the Deity of Christ. We are not going to repeat all of their fallacious and deceitful arguments, which would consume much time as they are numerous and detailed. The fact is, that John absolutely was making such a proclamation.
Here it is, in John chapter 1:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Yahweh, and the Word was Yahweh. 2 He was in the beginning with Yahweh. 3 All things were through Him, and without Him was not even one thing [P66, א and D, “was nothing”]. That which was done 4 in Him was [א and D, “is”] life, and the life was the light of men [B wants “of men”]. 5 And the light shines in the darkness; yet the darkness comprehends it not.
According to the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27), the Majority Text and several later manuscripts punctuate the final clause of verse 3 and the opening clause of verse 4 in part to read: “… and without Him was not even one thing which has been. In Him was life…” This is the reading which appears in the King James Version. For this explanation, the phrase ὅ γέγονεν is “that which was done” in our text, but “which has been” in the alternate reading, because of the difference in context. The verb is a perfect tense form of γίγνομαι (1096), to be. According to the NA27, our text agrees with the codices Ephraemi Syri and Bezae and other older manuscripts where punctuation is evident, along with the Latin of Irenaeus, Ptolemy as cited by Irenaeus, Theophilus of Alexandria, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Of course, in the original Koine Greek manuscripts, punctuation is not noted, and Greek grammatical constructs are relied upon to determine the sentence structure, yet by itself here the text is ambiguous.
We have had many critics lambaste our translation, or an aspect of it which is not really a translation, where we render the Greek word θεός as Yahweh. Our reasons for doing this are simple. First, contrary to the claims of the Jews or to the Judaized denominational Christians, we endeavor to assert the fact that Yahshua Christ is one with the God who is represented by the Tetragrammaton, or Yahweh, who is the Creator and God of the Old Testament Israelites. We claim the Old Testament as the heritage of Christians, and not of Jews. We can prove that this was also the apostolic claim, and it is also apparent in some of the earliest post-apostolic Christian writings. So there is no better way to represent our claim than to recognize that Yahweh is the God who is referred to throughout the New Testament Scriptures, and that it is that same Yahweh who is the God who is incarnate in the person of Yahshua Christ. While the word θεός may be used to describe other gods, even in the New Testament, to Christians there is truly only One God, Yahweh, so there should be no confusion where, whenever the context allows it, we write Yahweh in place of θεός.
The word λόγος (Strong’s # 3056) has a deeper meaning than word in its basic English definition. But it is usually translated as word in the King James Version, and often even in our own translation. According to Liddell & Scott, the root verb, λέγω, can mean to count or to tell, to recount or to tell over, or to say or to speak, along with other related meanings. So, according to Liddell & Scott, the noun λόγος can mean computation, reckoning, or account, even in a fiscal sense. It can mean a measure or tale, or esteem, consideration or value. So it was used to describe a relation, correspondence or proportion. This is because the context can be either letters or numbers. It can also refer to an explanation, and therefore is variously interpreted as a plea, pretext or ground, and even a case in law. So it can be used to describe a statement of theory or an argument, or as a result of reckoning, a rule, principle or law. In logic, it can refer to a proposition. Further, in other contexts it can mean a thesis, hypothesis, reason or formula, even a definition, or a continuous statement or narrative, as well as a verbal expression or utterance. Among the other possible definitions evident in the use of the word λόγος by the Greek writers, any and all of these encompass the concept of the Word of Yahweh God in Scripture. Our assertion concerning John’s intention is that Yahshua Christ is the physical embodiment of the entire estimation of God which was portrayed in the Old Testament.
The only beginning and the only Word of which John speaks must be found in the opening chapter of Genesis: “3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Only this viewpoint, that Yahshua Christ is Yahweh, could explain how Christ told his opponents in John chapter 8 that “Before Abraham was, I am.” And as Origen attested, here John is speaking of Yahshua Christ “at a point before he had any genealogy”, meaning that since the genealogies found in the other gospels also belong to Him, He must be Yahweh God Himself incarnate as a man. Any contrary view denies one or another of many explicit statements in Scripture. Until the incarnation of Yahshua Christ, Yahweh God was only known to men by each man’s estimation of His Word, His λόγος. Now Yahshua Christ is that Word made flesh, and we can know God through Him.
That it was John’s intent to assert that Yahshua Christ was Yahweh God incarnate, Origen had also elucidated where he wrote that “For none of these plainly declared His Godhead, as John does when he makes Him say, ‘I am the light of the world,’ ‘I am the way and the truth and the life,’ ‘I am the resurrection,’ ‘I am the door,’ ‘I am the good shepherd;’ and in the Apocalypse, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.’ We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits….”
And Origen must be commended for recognizing these things, because each of these statements attributed to Christ in the Gospel of John do indeed show that John esteemed Yahshua Christ to be Yahweh God incarnate.
For example, where Christ said in John chapter 8 “I am the light of the world”, we may read in the Psalm 18: “27 For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks. 28 For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” And in Psalm 112: “4 Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.” Then in John chapter 12 we read Christ once again attest that: “46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.”
Then in relation to this we read several promises in Isaiah, first in chapter 50: “10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.” Then another in chapter 60: “1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. 3 And the Nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” So He also asserted in the Revelation He was the “bright and morning star.”
Then where Christ had said “I am the resurrection”, in the promises of redemption from death in the prophets we read the Word of Yahweh first in Hosea chapter 13: “14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” Then in Isaiah chapter 44: “6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” Christ is God, and therefore He is one and the same with Yahweh God. Where Christ said in John “I am the way and the truth and the life”, Yahweh said in Isaiah chapter 48 “ 17 Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” So if Christ is our Redeemer, we must be Israel and He must be Yahweh.
So where Christ had said “I am the good shepherd”, He is Yahweh fulfilling the Word which He gave through Ezekiel, in chapter 34: “11 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”
Finally, in the Revelation, where Christ is recorded as having said “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last”, this distinction also belongs to Yahweh, who said in Isaiah chapter 48: “12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. 13 Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.” Earlier, in Isaiah chapter 40, the Word of Yahweh had said, in verse 4: “I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.” this is the exact same claim Christ had made several times in John, for example in John chapter 8: “24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” Then again in John chapter 13: “19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.” Christ was claiming to be that same God who frequently uttered those same words through the prophet Isaiah.
The apostle Matthew understood the divinity of Christ, and wrote about it in an entirely different manner. Writing of the anticipated birth of the Christ child, first he recorded the instructions of the angel to Mary that “thou shalt call his name Yahshua: for he shall save his people from their sins.” The meaning of the Hebrew term Yahshua is “Yahweh saves”, or perhaps “Yahweh Saviour”, which is what He said He would be in Isaiah, asserting that there would be no other. Then Matthew recorded that the circumstances of the birth of Christ fulfilled the words of Isaiah where he said: “23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Those words are a Messianic prophecy which, like many other such prophecies, had an immediate fulfillment as they were issued, and a remote fulfillment in one or another of the prophesied advents of Christ. The people would say of the Christ child that “God is with us” for the express reason that Christ is the Word made Flesh.
Paul also understood the divinity of Christ and wrote in Colossians chapter 2: “9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Then, evoking much of the same language which we see here in John, Paul spoke of those who would obscure the truth of the Gospel and said in 1 Corinthians chapter 4: “3 And if then our good message is covered, by those being destroyed it is covered; 4 by whom the ‘god’ of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, for not to shine the light of the good message of the honor of the Anointed, who are the image of Yahweh. 5 We do not proclaim ourselves, but Prince Yahshua Christ; and of ourselves, your bondmen for the sake of Yahshua. 6 Because Yahweh speaking out of darkness shines forth light, which has shone in our hearts, for illumination of the knowledge of the honor of Yahweh in the person of Yahshua Christ.”
This leads to another digression, which is a brief discussion of the trinity doctrine. The trinity is actually dangerous to Christianity. It leaves space for imagining that there is a distinction between God and Christ whereby other peoples, such as Jews or Muslims, can be imagined to worship the same God, or make a the claim that they do. But in reality, Yahshua Christ is God and Yahweh God is Yahshua Christ, so the one cannot be worshiped without the other. Deny, mocking, parodying or blaspheming Christ, as Jews and Muslims always do, they certainly do not worship the same God as Christians.
We must address one more aspect of this passage, in reference to John’s statement at verse 3, where he said “all things were through Him, and without Him was not even one thing”: there have been many who have contended with the profession that not everything here in the world in the present day has come from Yahweh, as even Christ Himself had admitted in Matthew chapter 15 that there are plants which the heavenly Father did not plant. The two professions do not conflict, and both of them are true. However, the apparent conflict is resolved only once it is realized that the operative phrase here is “in the beginning”. In the beginning all things were through Him, and in the beginning, without Him was not even one thing. But a lot has happened since the beginning, and the origin of those plants which were not planted by our heavenly Father can certainly be determined as we examine the sins of both angels and men.