Author and Date of Writing

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Standard apologetics claims that the 4th Gospel was written by John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ disciples.

There is almost no evidence supporting this claim. Here is what we have in support:

  • The Catholic tradition that this is the case – which doesn’t really tell us much, other than the fact that later Catholics thought so in the late 2nd century.
  • The “beloved disciple” line in chapter 21. This is irrelevant for two reasons. First, it only says that this “beloved disciple” wrote this gospel – it doesn’t say who that beloved disciple is, and there is nowhere in the gospel that says something like “I’m John, the beloved disciple, writing this”. Secondly, and more importantly, chapter 21 is well known to be a later addition tacked on the end by someone else. That’s supported by changes in the greek, the previous ending in 20:30, the content of chap 21, and the fact that Tertullian, writing in the late 2nd century, says it ends without the verses in Chapter 21 (there were no chapter numbers then of course - he refers to content).

OK, what evidence suggests that the 4th gospel wasn’t written by John the son of Zebedee, the disciple:

  • Even our oldest manuscripts are in very good, sophisticated greek. This seems unlikely from an uneducated, lower class peasant like John.
  • Elsewhere (Acts 4:13) says that John was illiterate.
  • Many contradictions between the 4th Gospel and the synoptics strongly suggest that whoever wrote John wasn’t an eyewitness (as John the son of Zebedee would be), and the 4th gospel itself says that it wasn’t written by an eyewitness, but rather based on the reports of eyewitnesses. Some examples are as follows: In the 4th Gospel, Jesus never casts out a single demon, talks incessantly about himself, never does anything special with the bread and wine at supper, does showy miracles explictly to convince people that he's the messiah, and never even tells a freakin’ parable! The opposite is seen in the other canonical gospels. If the other canonical gospels have any accurate information about a real Jesus, then it is clear that whoever wrote the 4th gospel can’t be anyone who was around Jesus. The author of the 4th gospel also speaks in Greek, and apparently doesn’t know Aramaic (see Greek word pun in John chap 3 – ask me if interested). How could John not know Aramaic??
  • . Anachronisms in the 4th Gospel argue against an eyewitness as well.
  • . The Gospel of Mark (written around 70 CE) says that Peter and John were (will be) martyred in chapter 10 (Mt changes the story a little in chapter 20)– which is difficult to square with the idea of John writing the 4th gospel, which wasn’t written until the turn of the century.

More information on the Author and Date of Writing is at early Christian Writings