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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John Overview

 

 


INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN.

IT is obviously impossible, within the limits to which we must here confine ourselves, to treat with adequate fulness the many important and difficult questions relating to the Gospel of John; nor can we attempt to do more than indicate the leading points of inquiry, together with the grounds upon which we may rest in the confident assurance that that Gospel is really the production of ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ In endeavouring to do this, we shall approach the subject from its positive rather than its negative side, not dealing directly in the first instance with difficulties, but tracing the history of the Gospel downwards from the time when it was composed to the date at which it enjoyed the unquestioning recognition of the universal Church. Afterwards, turning to the contents of the Gospel, we shall speak of the purpose which its author had in view, and of the general characteristics of the method pursued by him in order to attain it. Such a mode of treatment seems best adapted to the object of an Introduction like the present. It will be as little as possible polemical; it will enable us to meet by anticipation most, certainly the most formidable, of the objections made to the authenticity of the Gospel; and it will put the reader in possession of those considerations as to its general character without which he cannot hope to understand it.

At the close of the Gospel (chap. John 21:24) we read, ‘This is the disciple which beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things.’ These words (which are in all probability from the pen of John; see the Commentary) contain a distinct intimation on the part of the writer (comp. John 21:20) that he was ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved;’ and although that disciple is nowhere expressly named, we shall hereafter see that the Gospel itself leaves no room for doubt that he was the Apostle John.

I. Personality of the Writer.—This Apostle was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and younger, as there seems every reason to think, than his brother James. Of Zebedee we know little. He was a fisherman upon the Sea of Galilee, who pursued his occupation in common with his sons, and who continued it even after they had obeyed the summons of their Lord to follow Him (Matthew 4:21). Of Salome we fortunately know more. From John 19:25 it would seem probable that she was a sister of the Virgin Mary (see the Commentary); but the fact need not be dwelt upon at present. It would not help us to understand better the ties that bound Jesus to her son; for these depended on spiritual sympathy rather than relationship by blood (Matthew 12:48-50). But whether this bond of kindred existed or not, Salome manifested her devotion to Jesus by constant waiting upon her Lord, and by ministering to Him of her substance (Mark 15:40; Mar_16:1). Nor can we fail to recognise her exhibition of the same spirit, mixed though it was in this instance with earthly elements, when she came to Jesus with the request that her two sons might sit, the one at His right hand, the other at His left, in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21). That was not an act of proud ambition, or the request would have been made in private.(1) The zeal of a mother for her children's highest good was there, as well as an enthusiasm, not chilled even afterwards by the events at the cross and at the tomb (Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1), for the cause of One whom she felt to be so worthy of her trust and love. The family of John does not seem to have been poor. Zebedee possessed hired servants (Mark 1:20). Salome had substance of which to minister to our Lord during His life (Mark 15:40; comp. Luke 8:3), and with which to procure the materials for embalming Him after His death (Mark 16:1). John was acquainted with the high priest (John 18:15),—a fact at least harmonizing well with the idea that he did not belong to the lowest rank of the people; and at one time of his life, whatever may have been the case at other times, he possessed property of his own (John 19:27).

It was in circumstances such as these that John received his training in the faith of his fathers; and, as that receptivity which in after life formed one of the most marked features of his character must have shown itself in the child and in the boy, we cannot doubt that, from his earliest years, he would imbibe in a greater than ordinary degree the sublime recollections and aspirations of Israel. We know, indeed, from his ready reference upon one occasion to the fire which the prophet Elijah commanded to come down from heaven, that the sterner histories of the Old Testament had taken deep possession of his mind; while his enthusiastic expectations of the coming glory of his people equally reveal themselves in his connection with that request of Salome of which we have already spoken. Apart from such specific instances, however, of John’s acquaintance with the Old Testament (which, did they stand alone, might not prove much), it is worthy of notice that the books of the New Testament most thoroughly pervaded by the spirit of the older dispensation are two that we owe to the son of Salome,—the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse. This remark is not to be confined to the latter of the two. A careful study of the former will show that it displays not only a much more intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament, but also a much larger appropriation of its spirit, than even that first Gospel by Matthew which was confessedly designed for Jewish Christians. Amidst all the acknowledged universalism of the Fourth Gospel, its thorough appreciation of the fact that the distinction between Jew and Gentile has for ever passed away, and that lofty idealism by which it is distinguished, and which lifts its author far above every limitation of the favour of God to nation or class, the book is penetrated to the core by the noblest and most enduring elements of the Jewish faith. The writer has sunk himself into all that is most characteristic of what that faith reveals in regard to God, to man, to the world, to the meaning and end of religious life. In addition to this, the figures of the Fourth Gospel are more Jewish than those of any book of the New Testament, except the Apocalypse. Its very language and style display a similar origin. No Gentile writer, either of the Apostolic or of the sub-Apostolic age, no Jewish writer even who had not long and lovingly appropriated the oracles of God given to his fathers, could have written as John has done.

These remarks have an important bearing on what is said of the apostle in Acts 4:13. We there read that when the Sanhedrin beheld his boldness they marvelled, perceiving that he was an ‘unlearned and common man;’ and it has often been maintained that one to whom this description is applicable cannot have been the author of the fourth Gospel. The true inference lies in the opposite direction. The words quoted mean only that he had not passed through the discipline of the Rabbinical schools; and certainly of such discipline the Fourth Gospel affords no trace. His education had been of a purer kind. He had grown up amidst the influences of home, of nature, of a trying occupation, of brave and manly toil. Therefore it was that, when, with an unfettered spirit, he came into contact with the great principles and germinal seeds which underlay the Old Testament dispensation,—above all, when he came into contact with the Word of Life, with Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets had spoken, he was able to receive Him, to apprehend Him, and to present Him to the world as he did.

It is in connection with the Baptist that we first hear of John. If Salome and Elizabeth were kinswomen (see above, and comp. Luke 1:36), John would naturally become acquainted with the remarkable circumstances attending the birth and training of the Baptist. At all events, the stern teaching of the prophet, his loud awakening calls which rang from the wilderness of Judea and penetrated to the whole surrounding country and to all classes of its society, his glorious proclamation that the long waited for kingdom was at hand, must have at once kindled into a flame thoughts long nourished in secret John became one of his disciples (John 1:35), and the impression produced upon him by the Baptist was peculiarly deep. More truly than any of the earlier Evangelists he apprehends the evangelical ends to which, amidst all its sternness, the Baptist’s mission really pointed. If the three bring before us with greater force the prophet of repentance reproving the sins of Israel, he on the other hand shows in a clearer light the forerunner of Jesus in his immediate relation to his Lord, and in his apprehension of the spiritual power and glory of His coming (comp. John 1:26-27; John 3:29-30, with Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-17).

The Baptist was the first to direct his disciple to Jesus (chap. John 1:36). In company with Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, he immediately followed Him, inquired of Him where He stayed, accompanied Him to His house, and remained with Him that day. What the subject of conversation was we are not informed, but the divine Sower had scattered His seed in the young ingenuous heart; and when shortly afterwards Jesus called him to the apostleship he immediately obeyed the summons (Matthew 4:21-22). From this time onward to the close of his Master’s earthly career John was His constant follower, entering we cannot doubt into a closer union of spirit with Him than was attained by any other disciple. Not only was he one of the chosen three who were present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, at the Transfiguration, and at the agony in Gethsemane (Luke 8:51; Luke 9:28; Mark 14:33); even of that small election he was, to use the language of the fathers, the most elect. He leaned upon the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper, not accidentally,—but as the disciple whom He loved (John 13:23); he pressed after Him into the court of Caiaphas at His trial (chap. John 18:15); he alone seems to have accompanied Him to Calvary (chap. John 19:26); to him Jesus committed the care of His mother at the cross (chap. John 19:26-27); he was the first on the Resurrection morning, after hearing the tidings of Mary Magdalene, to reach the sepulchre (chap. John 20:4); and, when Jesus appeared after His Resurrection to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, he first recognised the Lord (chap. John 21:7).

Little is related of John in the earlier Gospels. The chief incidents, in addition to those already mentioned, are his coming to Jesus and saying, 'Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us’ (Luke 9:49), and his receiving from Jesus, along with his brother James, the title of ‘Son of Thunder’ (Mark 3:17),—a title given to denote not any possession of startling eloquence, but the power and vehemence of his character. It has indeed been urged by foes, and even admitted by friends, that such is not the character of the Apostle as it appears in the Fourth Gospel. But this is a superficial view. No doubt in chaps. 13-17, when the conflict is over and Jesus is alone with His disciples, we breathe the atmosphere of nothing but the most perfect love and peace. The other chapters of the Gospel, however, both before and after these, leave a different impression upon the mind. The ‘Son of Thunder’ appears in every incident, in every discourse which he records. To draw a contrast between the fire of youth as it appears in the John of the first three Evangelists and the mellowed gentleness of old age in the John of the fourth is altogether misleading. The vehement, keen, impetuous temperament is not less observable in the latter than in the former. We seem to trace at every step, while the conflict of Jesus with His enemies is described, the burning zeal of one who would call down fire from heaven upon the guilty ‘Jews.’

The continued possession of the same character is at least entirely consistent with what is told us of John in the Acts of the Apostles; and it bursts forth again in all its early ardour in the traditions of the Church. John was present with Peter at the healing of the lame man (Acts 3:1-11), and, although the address of the latter is alone recorded, he does not seem to have been silent on the occasion (Acts 4:1). He exhibited the same boldness as his fellow-apostle in the presence of the Council (Acts 4:13); joined him in the expression of his determination to speak what he had seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20); was probably at a later point committed with him to prison (Acts 5:18), and miraculously delivered (Acts 5:19); was brought again before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:27), and, through the influence of Gamaliel, once more set free to resume his labours (Acts 5:41-42). After Samaria had been evangelized by Philip, he was sent to that city with Peter that they might complete the work begun (Acts 8:14-17); and, this mission accomplished, he returned with him to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel at the same time in many villages of the Samaritans (Acts 8:25). From this time we hear nothing of him until the first great Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15; Galatians 2). Then Paul found him in the holy city, regarded by the Christian community as one of the ‘pillars’ of the Church,—a circumstance which, combined with Paul’s private explanations to those so named (Galatians 2:2; Galatians 2:9), may justly lead to the inference that he still belonged to that portion of the Christian community which had not risen to the full conception of the independence and freedom of the Christian faith.

Scripture says nothing more of John’s apostolic labours. It was now A.D. 50; and we have no further information regarding him until he appears, in the traditions of the Church, as Bishop of Ephesus in the latter part of the first century. An attempt has indeed been recently made to cast doubt on John’s residence at Ephesus, but there are few points in the history of early Christianity upon which tradition is so unanimous, and there need be no hesitation in accepting the statement. We do not know the exact date at which he went to this city. It can hardly have been during the life of Paul, or that Apostle would not, in accordance with his own principles of action, have connected himself so closely with the district (Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:16). The probability is that, deeply attached to Jerusalem, clinging to the memories associated with the labours and death of Jesus, he lingered in the sacred city until its destruction approached. Then he may have wandered forth from a place upon which the judgment of God had set its seal, and found his way to Ephesus. The traditions of the Church regarding him while he continued there possess singular interest, partly from the light thrown by them upon the times, partly from the touching pathos by which some of them are marked, mainly because they enable us so thoroughly to identify the aged Apostle with the youthful follower of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Such is the story of his meeting with Cerinthus. It is said that the Apostle once entered the bath-house at Ephesus, and, discovering Cerinthus the heretic within, sprang forth exclaiming, ‘Let us flee, lest even the bath-house fall in, since there is within it Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth.’ Such also is the story of John and the young robber, one of the most beautiful stories of Christian antiquity, which we have no room to relate; and such the tradition that the Apostle, when too old to walk, was carried by his disciples into the midst of the congregation at Ephesus, only to repeat over and over again to his fellow-believers, ‘Little children, love one another.’ Other stories are told of him which may be omitted as less characteristic than these; but the general impression left by them all is not only that the early Church possessed a remarkably distinct conception of the personality of the apostle, but that its conception corresponded in the closest manner to the mingled vehemence and tenderness which come out so strongly in the picture of him presented by the earlier Gospels and by his own writings. From Ephesus, according to a tolerably unanimous, if rather indefinite tradition, which seems to be confirmed by Revelation 1:9, John was banished for a time to the island of Patmos, a wretched rock in the AEgean Sea, but was afterwards permitted to return to the scene of his labours in Ephesus. It was under Nerva, it is said, that his return took place (A.D. 96-98), although he is also spoken of as having been alive after the accession of Trajan (A.D. 98). The days of the aged Apostle were now, however, drawing to a close. The companions of his earlier years, those whose eyes had seen and whose ears had heard Him who was the Word of Life, had been long since gathered to their rest. His time, too, was come. He had waited for more than threescore years to rejoin the Master whom he loved. He died and was buried at Ephesus; and with him closes the apostolic age.

II. Authorship of the Gospel.—It is the almost unanimous tradition of the Church that the Apostle John wrote this Gospel. Our earliest authorities for the fact are Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 175), Irenæus (A.D. 130-200), the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 170-180), and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 160-220). The accounts of these writers differ slightly from each other, but all agree in distinctly attributing our present Gospel to John; while the fourth, who is clearly independent of the other three, draws a remarkable distinction between it and the earlier Gospels, the latter being spoken of as containing ‘the bodily things,’ the former as ‘a spiritual Gospel.’ To the distinction thus drawn we shall presently return.

If, as the above-mentioned authorities lead us to infer, the Fourth Gospel was made public towards the close of the first century (and it is unnecessary to discuss here the question of an interval between the writing and the publication), we naturally look for quotations from or allusions to it in the writings that have come down to us from the period immediately following that date. These prove fewer than we might expect. Not indeed that they are wholly wanting. The acknowledged Epistles of Ignatius and the ‘Shepherd’ of Hermas, belonging respectively to the first twenty and the first forty years of the second century, exhibit a style of thought, sometimes even of language, closely connected with that of the Gospel. The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, again, a little later than the ‘Shepherd,’ and the writings of Papias before the middle of the second century, in bearing witness to the first Epistle as the work of John, lead us directly to the same conclusion in regard to the Gospel, for few will doubt that the two books are from the same hand. The account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, moreover, written in the middle of the same century, is so obviously modelled upon John’s narrative of the death of Jesus, that that narrative must have been in possession of the Church before the ‘Martyrdom’ was penned. Finally, the Epistle to Diognetus (A.D. 120), the address of Tatian to the Greeks (A.D. 160-180), the writings of Justin Martyr (A.D. 147-160), and the letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons (A.D. 177), all of which seem with more or less clearness to quote from the Fourth Gospel, bring us down to the distinct statements of Theophilus, Irenæus, the Muratorian Fragment, and Clement, alluded to above, and to a date at which the testimonies to the Johannine authorship of the Gospel are as clear and full as can be desired.

The stream of allusion we have been following has flowed through the writings of the orthodox Church. But it is a remarkable fact, that allusions to our Gospel are still earlier and clearer in the heretical writings of the first half of the second century. This is especially the case with Basilides and his followers, as early as A.D. 125; and they are followed by the Valentinians, who can hardly be separated from their Master, Valentinus (A.D. 140), and by Ptolemæus and Heracleon (about A.D. 170-180), the last mentioned having even written a commentary upon the Gospel. To these facts may be added several important considerations. Thus, to quote the words of Bishop Lightfoot, ‘when soon after the middle of the second century divergent readings of a striking kind occur in John’s Gospel, we are led to the conclusion that the text has already a history, and that the Gospel therefore cannot have been very recent.’(1) Again, in the early years of the second half of the second century the Gospel formed a part of the Syriac and old Latin translations of the New Testament, and as such was read in the public assemblies of the churches of Syria and Africa. Lastly, in the Paschal Controversies (about A.D. 160) there is hardly reason to doubt that the apparent discrepancy between this and the earlier Gospels, as to the date of the Last Supper of Jesus, played no small part in the dispute by which the whole Church was rent.

All these circumstances go far towards answering the allegation often made, that the paucity of allusions to the Fourth Gospel in the first seventy or eighty years after its publication is inconsistent with its authenticity. To present them thus, however, as an argument that the Gospel is authentic is not only greatly to understate the case; it is even to put the reader upon a wrong track for arriving at a positive conclusion. The real ground of conviction is the consistent belief of the Church. It is not for those who accept the Gospel to account for its admission into the canon of the last quarter of the second century, on the supposition that it is true; it is for those who reject it to account for this, on the supposition that it is false. The early Church was not a mass of individual units believing in Jesus, each in his own way nourishing in secrecy and independence his own form of faith. It was an organized community, conscious of a common foundation, a common faith, and common ordinances of spiritual nourishment for all persons in all lands who held the one Head, Christ Jesus. It was a body, every one of whose members sympathized with the other members: to every one of them the welfare of the whole was dear, and was moreover the most powerful earthly means of securing his own spiritual progress. The various generations of the Church overlapped one another; her various parts were united by the most loving relation and the most active intercourse; and all together guarded the common faith with a keenness of interest which has not been surpassed in any subsequent age of the Church’s history. Even if we had not one probable reference to the Fourth Gospel previous to A.D. 170, we should be entitled to ask with hardly less confidence than we may ask now, How did this book find its way into the canon as the Gospel of John? How is it that the moment we hear of it we hear of it everywhere, in France, Italy, North Africa, Egypt, Syria? No sooner do the sacred documents of any local church come to light than the Fourth Gospel is among them, is publicly read in the congregations of the faithful, is used as a means for nourishing the spiritual life, is quoted in controversies of doctrine, is referred to in disputes as to practice. It is simply an impossibility that this could have taken place within ten or twenty or thirty years after some single congregation of the widespread Church had accepted it from the hands of an unknown individual as (whether claiming to be so or not) the production of John the Apostle. In the controversies of later years it seems to us that the defenders of the Gospel have failed to do justice to their own position. They have not indeed paid too much attention to objectors, for many of these have been men of almost unrivalled learning and of a noble zeal for truth; but, by occupying themselves almost entirely with answers to objections, they have led men to regard the authenticity of the Gospel as an opinion to be more or less plausibly defended, rather than as a fact which rests upon that unvarying conviction of the Church which is the strongest of all evidence, and the falsehood of which no opponent has yet been able to demonstrate. Let the faith, the life, the controversies, the worship of the Church about A.D. 170 be first accounted for without the Fourth Gospel, and it will then be more reasonable to ask us to admit that the small number of allusions to it in the literature of the preceding part of the century is a proof that the book had at that time no existence.

Many considerations, however, may be mentioned to explain that paucity of quotation and allusion upon which so great stress is laid. We notice only two. (1) The Fourth Gospel is considerably later in date than the other three. By the time it appeared the latter were everywhere circulated and appealed to in the Church. They had come to be regarded as the authoritative exposition of the life of the Redeemer. It could not be easy for a Gospel so different from them as is the fourth at once to take a familiar place beside them in the minds of men. Writers would naturally depend upon authorities to which they had been accustomed, and to which they knew that their readers had been in the habit of deferring. (2) A still more important consideration is the character of the book itself. May there not be good reason to doubt whether the Fourth Gospel, when first issued, would not be regarded as a theological treatise on the life of Jesus rather than as a simple narrative of what He said and did? It is at least observable that when Irenæeus comes to speak of it he describes it as written to oppose Cerinthus and the Nicolaitanes (Adv. Haer. iii. II, I.); and that when Clement of Alexandria gives his account of its origin he describes it as ‘a spiritual gospel’ written in contrast with those containing ‘the bodily things’ (in Euseb. H. E. vi. 14). It may be difficult to determine the exact meaning of ‘spiritual’ here, but it cannot be understood to express the divine as contrasted with the human in Jesus; and it appears more natural to think that it refers to the inner spirit in its contrast with the outward facts of His life as a whole. If so, the statement seems to justify the inference that the earlier gospels had been considered the chief storehouse of information with regard to the actual events of the Saviour’s history. What bears even more upon this conclusion is the manner in which Justin speaks. We have already quoted him as one of those to whom the Fourth Gospel was known, yet his description of the Saviour's method of address is founded upon the discourses in the Synoptic Gospels, quite inapplicable to those of the Fourth (Apol. i. 14). Phenomena such as these make it probable that the Fourth Gospel was at first regarded as a presentation of spiritual truth respecting Jesus rather than as a simple narration similar to those already existing in the Church: and if so, the paucity of references to it, until it came to be better understood, is at once explained. The suggestion now offered finds some confirmation in a fact formerly mentioned, that the Gospel was a favourite one with the early heretics. Containing the truth, as it did, in a form in some degree affected by the speculations of the time and the country of its birth, it presented a larger number of points of contact for their peculiar systems than the earlier gospels. In it they found many a hint which they could easily develope and misuse. Its profoundly metaphysical character was exactly suited to their taste; and they welcomed the opportunity, as we see from the Refutations of Hippolytus (Clark’s translation, i. p. 276), of appealing to so important and authoritative a document in favour of their own modes of thought. But this very circumstance must have operated against its quick and general reception by the Church. The tendency, if there was room for it at all, would be to doubt a writing in which systems destructive of the most essential elements of Christianity claimed to have support; and it helps to deepen our sense of the strength of the Church’s conviction of the divine origin of our Gospel, that, in spite of the use thus made of it, she clung to it without the slightest hesitation and with unyielding tenacity.

In reviewing the first seventy years of the second century, a period at the end of which it must not be forgotten that the Fourth Gospel is generally and unhesitatingly acknowledged to be the work of John, we can trace no phenomena inconsistent with such a conclusion. No other theory gives an adequate explanation of the facts. Unless, therefore, the structure and contents of the Gospel can be shown to be inconsistent with this view, we are manifestly bound to accept the testimony of the early Church as worthy of our confidence. According to that testimony the Gospel was written, or at least given to the Church at Ephesus, towards the close of the apostle’s life. There is nothing to determine with certainty the particular date. The probabilities are in favour of fixing it about A.D. 90.

Turning now to the internal character of the Gospel, we shall find that, if carefully examined, it is not only consistent with, but strongly confirmatory of, the Johannine authorship.

1. The author was unquestionably a Jew. Some most marked peculiarities of the Gospel, such as its artificial arrangement and its teaching by symbolic action (points of which we have yet to speak more fully), not only are strictly Jewish, but have nothing corresponding to them in any Gentile writer of the age. Nor does this book contain one word to suggest the inference that its author, originally a Gentile, might have acquired his Jewish thoughts and style by having become, before his conversion to Christianity, a proselyte to Judaism. To such an extent do these features permeate the Gospel, that they cannot be the result of later and acquired habits of thought. They are the soul of the writing. They are interwoven in the most intimate manner with the personality of the writer. They must have grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength before he could be so entirely moulded by them. Nothing shows this more than the relation which exists in the Gospel between Christianity and Judaism. The use of the expression ‘the Jews,’ when properly understood, implies the very contrary of what it is so often adduced to establish. It would be simply a waste of time to argue that our Lord’s conflict with ‘the Jews’ was not a conflict with Judaism. But, this being so, the use of the expression becomes really a measure of the writer’s indignation against those who, having been appointed the guardians of a lofty faith, had dimmed, defaced, and caricatured it. Such expressions as ‘A feast of the Jews,’ ‘The Passover of the Jews,’ ‘The manner of the purifying of the Jews,’ ‘The Jews’ feast of Tabernacles,’ and so on, not only could well be used by a writer of Jewish birth, but are even consistent with true admiration of the things themselves when conformed to their ideal He has in view institutions as perverted by man, not as appointed by the Almighty. He sees them observed and urged by their defenders for the sake of their own selfish interests, made instruments of defeating the very end for which they had been originally given, used to deepen the darkness rather than to lead to the coming light. He sees that that stage in the history of a faith has been reached when the form has so completely taken the place of the substance, the letter of the spirit, that to revivify the former is impossible: it must perish if the latter is to be saved. He sees the spirituality of religion crushed, extinguished, in the very moulds which had for a time preserved it. Therefore he might well say, Their work is done: God’s plan is accomplished: they must perish. In all this there is no antagonism to true Judaism. No Gentile authorship is before us. The thought belongs to a different training and a different race; and that, too, at a time when. Judaism must have possessed much of its former interest, when the echoes of its greatness had not yet passed away.

The same thing appears in the relation of the writer to the Old Testament Scriptures. They are quoted with great frequency, and it is well worthy of notice that the quotations are not simply taken from the Septuagint. They are at times from the Hebrew where it differs from the Septuagint: at times the translation is original (comp. chaps, John 2:17, John 12:40, John 19:37, John 13:18). Nothing leads more directly than this to the thought not only of Jewish birth, but also of long familiarity with Jewish worship in Palestine. In all the provinces at least of the Western Diaspora the service of the synagogue was conducted not in Hebrew but in Greek, by means of the Septuagint. To Gentiles of all conditions of life, and similarly to Jews of the Dispersion, with the exception of a very few, the Hebrew Scriptures were even in the apostolic age, and certainly at a later date, utterly unknown. To think of a Gentile Christian of the first half of the second century, whether a native of Alexandria or of Asia Minor, as able to translate for himself, is to suppose a state of things of which no other illustration can be adduced, and which is at variance with all our knowledge of the time.

The same conclusion is to be deduced from the Hebraic style of the book. This character of its style is now generally recognised. But the fact is of such interest and importance, yet at the same time so dependent upon a skilled and delicate acquaintance with both Hebrew and Greek, that instead of quoting examples which the English reader would hardly understand, we shall refer to two, out of many, statements from writers whose authority on such a point none will question. It is thus that Keim speaks: 'The style of the book is a remarkable combination of a facility and skill essentially Greek, with a form of expression that is truly Hebrew in its complete simplicity, childlikeness, picturesqueness, and in some sense guilelessness.’(1) To a similar effect Ewald: ‘It is well worthy of our observation that the Greek language of our author bears the clearest and strongest marks of a genuine Hebrew who, born among Jews in the Holy Land, and having grown up among them, had learned the Greek language in later life, but still exhibits in the midst of it the whole spirit and air of his mother tongue. He has constructed a Greek tongue to which nothing corresponds in the other writings that have come down to us marked by a Hellenistic tinge.’(2)

2. The author belonged to Palestine. He is alive to all the geographical, ecclesiastical, and political relations of the land. He speaks of its provinces—Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. He is familiar with its towns—Jerusalem, Bethany, Sychar, Cana, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Tiberias, Ephraim; and not less so with its river Jordan and its winter-torrent Kedron. The general character of the country is known to him, the different routes from Judea into Galilee (chap. John 4:4), the breadth of the sea of Galilee (chap. John 6:19, comp. Mark 6:47), the lie of the road from Cana to Capernaum (chap. John 2:12), the exact distance between Jerusalem and Bethany (chap. John 11:18). The situation of particular spots is even fixed with great distinctness, such as of Jacob’s well in chap. 4, of Bethesda in chap. 5, and of Cana in chap. 2

Similar remarks apply to his acquaintance with the ecclesiastical and political circumstances of the time. It is not possible to illustrate this by details. We add only that all his allusions to such points as we have now noticed are made, not with the laboured care of one who has mastered the subject by study, but with the simplicity and ease of one to whom it is so familiar that what he says is uttered in the most incidental manner. Where did he obtain his information? Not from the Old Testament, for it is not there. Not from the earlier Gospels, for they afford but little of it. Surely not from that second century which, according to the statement of objectors, left him in the belief that appointment to the high-priesthood was an annual thing! One source of knowledge alone meets the demands of the case. The writer was not only a Jew, but a Jew of Palestine.

3. The author was an eye-witness of what he relates. We have his own explicit statement upon the point in chap. John 1:14 and chap. John 19:35 (see the Commentary). Upon this last verse we only call attention now to the distinction, so often overlooked, between the two adjectives of the original, both translated ‘true’ in the Authorised Version, but wholly different in meaning. The first does not express the truth of the fact at all, but sets forth the fact as one in regard to which the witness was not, and cannot have been, mistaken: his testimony is all that testimony can be. The moment we give its due weight to this consideration, we are compelled to admit that ‘he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true,’ can refer to no other than the writer of the words. He could not have thus alleged of another that his testimony was thoroughly true and perfect—that it was the exact expression of the incident which had taken place. What he himself has seen is the only foundation of such a ‘witness’ as that which he would give.

The statements thus made are confirmed by the general nature of the work. There is a graphic power throughout the whole, a liveliness and picturesqueness of description, which constrain us to believe that we are listening to the narrative of an eye-witness. There is a delicacy in the bringing out of individual character (as in the case of Martha and Mary in chap. 11) which even the literary art of the present day could hardly equal. And there is a minuteness of detail, different from that of the earlier Gospels, for whose presence it is altogether impossible to account unless it was suggested by the facts. If the trial before Pilate is an imaginary scene, there is nothing in all the remains of Greek antiquity to compare with it.

4. The author, if an eye-witness and a disciple of Jesus, could be no other than the Apostle John. We have already seen that he calls himself ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ But from such passages as chaps, John 13:23, John 19:26, we infer that the disciple so peculiarly favoured must have been one of those admitted to the most intimate communion with Jesus. These were only three, Peter, James, and John. One of these three, therefore, he must have been. He was not Peter, for that apostle is frequently mentioned in the Gospel by his own name, and is on several occasions expressly distinguished from ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (chaps, John 13:24, John 21:7; John 21:20). Neither was he James, for that apostle was put to death by Herod at a date long anterior to any at which our Gospel can have been composed (Acts 12:2). He could therefore only be John.

Internal evidence thus lends its force to the external for the conclusion that we advocate. That there are no difficulties in the matter, or that they are slight it would be foolish to allege. They are both numerous and weighty. But it seems to us that they are connected less with the actual state of the evidence, than with the fact that the true character of the Fourth Gospel has usually been overlooked by those who, in this country at least, have defended its authenticity. In this respect we owe much to the very continental scholars who have been most unfriendly to its apostolic origin. None have contributed so greatly to unfold its true character; and, in doing so, they have helped most powerfully, however unconsciously, to answer their own objections to the Johannine authorship. That authorship there is no reasonable ground to doubt.

III. Object of the Gospel.—The Gospel of John is in our hands, the production of that apostle who, of all the apostolic band, had been most closely and tenderly associated with their common Master. Why was it written?

We have already had occasion to mention some of the early testimonies bearing upon this point. We must now refer to them again.

Eusebius quotes Clement of Alexandria as saying that ‘John, the last of the Apostles, perceiving that the bodily things (of Jesus) had been made known in the Gospels, and being at the same time urged by his friends, and borne along by the Spirit, wrote a spiritual Gospel.’ And a still earlier authority (the Muratorian Fragment) so far agrees with this as to tell us that ‘when John’s fellow-disciples and bishops exhorted him he said, Fast along with me three days from today, and let us relate the one to the other whatever has been revealed to us. The same night it was revealed to Andrew the Apostle that John should in his own name write down the whole, and that they all should revise (what he wrote).’ The two accounts, while obviously independent, bear witness to the same view of the origin of our Gospel. The friends of the Apostle—how impossible that it should be otherwise!—had often heard him relate much that was not found in the Gospels already in existence. They urged him to put it in writing, and he complied with their request. In other words, the Fourth Gospel was written as a supplement to its predecessors. Up to a certain point the idea may be accepted; but that John wrote mainly for the purpose of supplying things wanting in the Synoptic narrative is a theory inconsistent with the whole tone of his composition. His work is from first to last an original conception, distinguished from previous Gospels alike in the form and in the substance of its delineation, proceeding upon a plan of its own clearly laid down and consistently followed out, and presenting an aspect of the person and teaching of Jesus which, if not entirely new, is set before us with a fulness which really makes it so. It is one burst of sustained and deep appreciation of what its writer would unfold, the picture of one who paints not because others have failed to catch the ideal he would represent, but because his heart is full and he must speak.

On the other hand, it was the opinion of Irenæus that John wrote to controvert the errors of the Nicolaitanes and of Cerinthus; in other words, that his aim was not so much supplementary as polemical. Up to a certain point, again, the idea may be accepted; but it is impossible to believe that it affords us the whole, or even the main explanation of his work. His presentation of Jesus might no doubt be moulded by the tone of thought around him, because he had himself been moulded by it. Yet he starts from a positive, not from a controversial point of view. Filled with his subject, he is impelled to set it forth without turning aside to show, as a controversialist would have done, that it met the deficiencies or errors of his age. Upon these he makes no direct attack. It may be in the light of the present that the truth shapes itself to his mind; yet he writes as one whose main business is not to controvert the present but to revivify the past.

Neither of these statements, then, explains the Apostle’s aim. He has himself given the explanation, and that so clearly that it is difficult to account for the differences of opinion that have been entertained. His statement is, ‘Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name’ (chap. John 20:30-31). Almost every word of this statement is of the utmost importance for the point before us. But, referring for fuller exposition to the Commentary, we now only remark that John is not to be understood as meaning that the Gospel was written in order that its readers might be led to acknowledge the Divine mission of Jesus, when they beheld the works wrought by Him in more than human power. These readers were already believers, disciples, friends. What was wanted was not the first formation but the deepening of faith within them, so that they might reach a profounder appreciation of the true character of Jesus, a more intimate communion with Him and in Him with the Father, and thus also a richer and more abundant spiritual life (comp. chap. John 10:10).

The conclusion now reached will be strengthened if we observe that, with a characteristically firm grasp of his materials, and with that remarkable unity of plan which distinguishes the Gospel, John manifests the same intention at the first appearance of the Redeemer in his history. In his first chapter we read of three, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael, who, having been brought face to face with Jesus, make confession of their faith. It is impossible to overlook the parallelism between this paragraph and chap. John 20:30-31. The three disciples bear witness to the three aspects of the Saviour brought before us in the Evangelist’s own summary of his work—‘Jesus,’ ‘the Christ,’ ‘the Son of God.’ The similarity is an important testimony to the fact that that summary is not one for which he might have substituted another, but that it is the calm, self-possessed utterance of a writer who had from the first a clear perception of the end which he kept in view throughout.

To the question, therefore, Why did John write? we may now reply: He wrote in order to present to believing men a revelation of the Divine Son which might deepen, enlarge, perfect their faith, and which, by bringing them into closer spiritual communion with the Son, might make them also in Him spiritually sons of God. He wrote to exhibit, in the actual facts of the life of the ‘Word become flesh,’ the glory of that union which had been established in His person between the Divine and the human. He wrote to be a witness to the heart of One who is in His people, and in whom the Father abides (chaps, John 14:10, John 17:23).

IV. Characteristics of the Gospel.—Having thus ascertained the purpose with which the Fourth Gospel was written, we shall now be better able to appreciate some of those characteristics which have furnished opponents with many plausible objections, and have occasioned no small perplexity to friends. Of these the following seem to deserve notice, either as being in themselves the most important, or as being frequently made use of in this Commentary:—

(1.) The selective principle upon which the evangelist proceeds. No historian can mention all the particulars of any whole life, or even of any single event, that he records. To a certain extent he is bound to select those which, from whatever cause, strike him most or seem to bear most closely on his purpose. But the writer of the Fourth Gospel gives many proofs that he not only carries this principle to an unusual extent, but does it deliberately and on purpose. The incidents looked at as a whole will in part illustrate what we say. That these should constitute a group so different from what we have in the earlier Gospels is often urged as an objection to the authenticity of the Fourth. Those indeed who make the objection lose sight of the fact that there is selection of incidents as truly in the former as in the latter. The difference between the two cases lies less in the extent to which selection is carried, than in the degree of consciousness with which the principle is applied. In the Synoptic Gospels it is less easy to trace the hand of the writer as he puts aside what does not appear to him to bear upon his subject, or as he brings into prominence what has direct relation to his aim. Abstaining, however, from any comparison between our two groups of authorities, and confining ourselves to the Fourth Gospel, we rather notice that the selection of its incidents in general is determined by the ideas to which expression is given in the Prologue. It is not through forgetfulness or ignorance of other incidents that the writer confines our attention to a selected few (John chap. 21:25), but through his conviction that no others will as well subserve the end that he has in view. Hence, accordingly, the space devoted to the discourses with ‘the Jews,’ which are not those of a mild and gentle teacher, but of one who is in conflict with bitter and determined foes, of one whose business it is to confute, to convict, and to condemn. No one, giving heed to the state of Jewish feeling at the time, can doubt that these discourses in their general strain have all the verisimilitude that outward evidence can lend to them,—that the teaching of Jesus must have been a struggle, and in precisely this direction. The conflict between light and darkness became thus to John a leading idea of the history of his Master. The thought finds expression in the Prologue (John 1:5-11), and the discourses which illustrate it naturally follow. It is not otherwise with the miracles. He invariably styles these ‘signs,’ a word in itself showing that they are outward acts expressive of a hidden meaning from which they derive their chief importance. Why, then, does he give them as he does? Because, looking over the whole manifestation of Jesus, he had been taught to find in Him the fulfilment of ‘grace and truth’ which had not been given in the law,—the perfect Light, the present and eternal Life, of men. He presents these ideas in the Prologue (chap. John 1:4-5; John 1:9; John 1:17), and the selection given of the miracles naturally follows.

The point now before us may be illustrated, not only by the incidents of the Gospel looked at thus generally, but by smaller and more minute particulars. Many of these, however, will be noticed in the Commentary (see, for example, the note on chap. John 9:6), and we shall not occupy time with them now. The point to be borne in mind by the reader is, that in the Gospel of John there is no attempt to give the historical facts of the life of Jesus in all their particulars. There is throughout conscious and intentional selection. From what he has seen, the writer has attained a particular idea of the Person, the Life, the Work of his Divine Master. He will present that idea to the world; and knowing that, if all the things that Jesus did were to be written down, ‘the world itself would not contain the books that should be written,’ he makes choice of that which will most fitly answer the appointed end.

(2.) The symbolic method of treatment which the evangelist exhibits. This is so peculiarly characteristic of John, and has at the same time been so much disregarded by most modem commentators, that one or two general remarks upon teaching by symbols seem to be required. The Old Testament is full of it. All the arrangements of the tabernacle, for example; its courts, the furniture of its courts, the ceremonial observances performed in it, the very dyes and colours used in the construction of its wrappings, have an appropriate meaning only when we behold in them the expression of spiritual truths relating to God and to His worship. More especially it would seem to have been a part of the prophets task thus to present truth to those whom he was commissioned to instruct; and the higher the prophetic influence which moved him, the more powerful his impression of the message given him to proclaim, the more entirely he was borne along by the divine afflatus, the more did he resort to it. As simple illustrations of this we may refer to the cases of Zedekiah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (1 Kings 22:11; 2 Kings 13:17; Jeremiah 27:1-18; Ezekiel 4:1-6).

If it was thus under the Old Testament dispensation, there is not only no reason why we ought not to expect symbolism in the New Testament, but every reason to the contrary. The narrative of Agabus shows that in the apostolic age symbolic action was still a part of the prophetic functions appreciated by the Jews (Acts 21:11). What wonder, then, if our Lord should teach by symbolism as well as by direct instruction? He was the fulfilment not only of Israel’s priestly, but also of its prophetic line. He was the true and great Prophet in whom the idea and mission of prophecy culminated; in whom all that marked the prophet as known and honoured in Israel attained its highest development and reached perfect ripeness. Besides this, His eye saw, as no merely human eye ever did, the unity that lies at the bottom of all existence, the principles of harmony that bind together the world of nature and of man, so that the former becomes the type and shadow of the latter. When, accordingly, He appeared as the great Prophet of Israel, there is nothing unreasonable in the supposition that He would teach by symbol as well as word, that not only His words but His acts should be designed by Him to be lessons to the people, illustrations of the nature of His kingdom and His work.

Still further, we cannot forget the general character of all the words and actions of our Lord. As coming from Him, they possess a fulness of meaning which we should not have been justified in ascribing to them had they come from another teacher. It is impossible to doubt that He saw all the truths which find a legitimate expression in what He said or did, however various the sphere of life to which they apply. And it is equally impossible to doubt that He intended to utter what He saw.

But if Jesus might thus teach, a disciple and historian of His life might apprehend this characteristic of His teaching,—nay, would apprehend it, the more he entered into the spirit of his Master. There are clear indications of this, accordingly, even in the earlier Gospels. The account of the miraculous draught of fishes, at the time when Simon and Andrew were called to the apostleship (Luke 5:3-10), the cursing of the barren fig-tree (Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 11:12-14), the double miracle of the multiplying of the bread (Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 6:34-44; Mark 8:1-9), afford clear illustrations of this principle. It is in the Fourth Gospel, however, that the symbolic spirit particularly appears; and that not merely in the miracles, but in lengthened narratives, and in many separate figures supplied by the Old Testament, by nature, or by incidents occurring at the moment. To the eye of the Evangelist the whole of creation waits for redemption; the whole of history reaches forth to Him ‘that was to come;’ the heart of man in all its stirrings seeks to grasp a reality to be found nowhere but in the revelation of the Father given in the Son. Everything, in short, has stamped upon it a shadowy outline of what is to be filled up when redemption is complete. The Logos, the Word, is the source of all that exists (chap. 3), and to the source from which it came will all that exists return. Every chapter of the Gospel would furnish illustration of what has been said.

It is impossible, however, to rest here; for this power of perceiving in outward things symbols of inner truths may be so strong as to appear in the mode of presenting not only the larger but also the smaller circumstances of any scene in which Jesus moves. The greater may draw along with it a symbolic interpretation of the less. Nay, out of numerous little details the mind which is quick to discern symbolic teaching may really select some in preference to others, because in them the impress of the symbolism may be more clearly traced. A writer may thus act without any thought of art or special design, even to a great degree unconscious of what he does, and simply because the higher object with which he has been engaged has a natural power to attract to itself, and to involve in its sweep the lower objects within its range. Illustrations of this will be found in the Commentary.

(3.) The peculiar nature of the plan adopted by the Evangelist. The Gospel appears to us most naturally to divide itself into seven sections, as follows:—

1. The Prologue: chap. John 1:1-18. These verses contain a summary of the great facts of the whole Gospel, grouped in accordance with the Evangelist’s purpose, and presented in the light in which he would have them viewed.

2. The presentation of Jesus upon the field of human history: chap. John 1:19 to John 2:11. Here Jesus appears before us as He is in Himself, the Son of God, and as He manifests Himself to His disciples before He begins His conflict in the world.

3. General sketch of the work of Jesus in the world: chap. John 2:12 to John 4:54. Jesus passes beyond the circle of the disciples, and is rejected by the Jews when He would cleanse the house of His Father at Jerusalem. This leads to His revelation of Himself as the true temple which, destroyed by ‘the Jews’ in their persecution of Him even unto death, shall be raised again in His resurrection. Thus rejected by the representatives of the theocracy, He reveals Himself by His word to individuals who, whether of Judea, or Samaria, or Galilee of the nations, are—not by signs but by His word—subdued to faith.

4. The conflict of Jesus with the world: John 5:1 to John 12:50. This section contains the main body of the Gospel, setting Jesus forth in the height of His conflict with darkness, error, and sin. He comes before us throughout in all the aspects in which we have in the Prologue been taught to behold Him, and He carries on the work there spoken of as given Him to do. He is Son of God, and Son of man, the Fulfiller of the greatest ordinances of the law, the Life and the Light of men. As He contends with the world, now in one and now in another of these manifestations of Himself, faith or unbelief is gradually developed and deepened in those who listen to Him. The believing and obedient are more and more attracted, the disobedient and unbelieving are more and more repelled, by His words and actions, until at last we hear, in the closing verses of chap. 12, the mournful echo of ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.’ He has gathered His disciples to Himself. The darkness has not overcome Him (comp. chap. John 1:5). He passes victorious through its opposition; but His victory is not yet complete.

5. The revelation of Jesus to His own, together with the rest and peace and joy of faith: chap. John 13:1 to Joh_17:26. The conflict of the previous section has divided men into the two great companies of faith and unbelief. These two companies are now to be followed, the one to its blessed rest in Him whom it has received, the other to those last steps in sin which, in the hour of apparent victory, really secure its final and ignominious defeat. The rest of faith is traced in the section now before us. The world is shut out from the sacred and tender fellowship of Jesus with His own. Judas leaves the company of the disciples (chap. John 13:30). The rest of the disciples are ‘clean;’ not only bathed, but with their feet afterwards washed, so that they are ‘clean every whit’ (chap. John 13:10), and Jesus is alone with them. Therefore He pours forth upon them all the fulness of His love. His glory—the glory of ‘grace and truth’—shines forth in all the inexpressible tenderness of the foot-washing, of the last discourse, and of the intercessory prayer.

6. The apparent victory but real defeat of unbelief: chap. John 18:1 to John 20:31. At first sight it may be thought that chap. 20, as containing the account of the Resurrection, ought to constitute a separate section; but it is of the utmost importance for a proper comprehension of the plan of the Evangelist to observe that this cannot be. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus are in this Gospel always united, and cannot be separated in our thought; the Redeemer with whom we have to do is One who rises through suffering to victory, through death to life (comp. remarks on the contents of chap. 20). Even the prominent thought of chap. 19 is not Jesus in humiliation, but Jesus ‘lifted on high,’ rising triumphant above the humiliation to which He is subjected, with a glory which appears the brighter the thicker the darkness that surrounds it. But this is exactly the thought of chap. 20; and the two chapters cannot be kept distinct. Thus viewed, we see in the section as a whole the apparent victory, but the real defeat of unbelief. The enemies of Jesus seem to prevail. They seize Him; they bind Him; they lead Him before Annas and Caiaphas and Pilate; they nail Him to the cross; He dies and is buried. But their victory is only on the surface. Jesus Himself gives Himself up to the traitor and his band; offers no resistance to the binding; shows the infinite superiority of His spirit to that of the high priest; compels the homage of Pilate; voluntarily surrenders His life upon the cross; has the mocking of His enemies turned, under the providence of God, to their discomfiture and shame; and at last, rising from the grave, establishes the completeness of His victory when His enemies have done their worst. In short, throughout this section we are continually reminded that the triumphing of the wicked is but for a moment, and that God judgeth in the earth.

7. The Epilogue: chap. 21. In this section we see the spread of the Church; the successful ministry of the Apostles when, at the word of Jesus, they cast their net into the great sea of the nations; the satisfaction and joy experienced by them in the results of protracted toil. Finally, we see in it the reinstitution in the person of Peter of Christian witness-bearing to Jesus, together with the intimation of the certain approach of that glorious time when the need of such testimony, with all its labours and sufferings, shall be superseded by the Second Coming of the Lord.

Such appears to be the plan of the Fourth Gospel,—a plan vindicated by the narrative itself, and having each of its sections marked off from the others by lines too distinct to be mistaken.

When, accordingly, we recall what has been already said as to the leading aim of the Fourth Gospel, we can have little difficulty in understanding the influence which that aim exerts upon the selection of particulars and upon the structure of the narrative as a whole. If in this Gospel pre-eminently Jesus reveals Himself with so much frequency and fulness, we have seen that this is the very truth which the Evangelist has set himself to unfold. Its prominence can throw no suspicion upon the historical reality of the representation. We are prepared to find in this Gospel a revelation of Jesus and His own glory different both in manner and degree from that presented in the earlier Gospels.

The considerations that have now been adduced with regard to the history of the Fourth Gospel, the external and internal evidence bearing upon its Johannine authorship, and the striking peculiarity of the characteristics by which it is marked, seem sufficient to satisfy every reasonable inquirer that the uniform tradition of the Church, pointing to the Apostle John as its author, is correct. It is not to be denied, however, that there remain difficulties, some of a general nature, others arising out of special details contained in the Gospel itself. Our readers will readily acknowledge that it is wholly impossible within our limits to treat these with a fulness worthy of their importance. Of the second class of difficulties, too, it is less necessary to speak, for they will naturally present themselves as we comment on the text of the Gospel. Perhaps the only points that require notice in an Introduction are two belonging to the first class,—the relations in which the Fourth Gospel stands (1) to the Apocalypse, (2) to the earlier Gospels. The first of these must be deferred until the Apocalypse comes under our notice in this work. Upon the second we say a few words in bringing this Introduction to a close.

V. Relation of the Fourth to the earlier Gospels.—This relation is often supposed to be one of irreconcilable divergence, and the divergence is found not only in particular statements in which the Fourth Gospel touches the others, but in the history as a whole. Alleged differences of the first kind will be noticed when we meet them in the course of exposition. Looking, therefore, only at the history as a whole, the reader will easily observe that the apparent divergence runs in two main lines, one having reference to the outward framework, the other to the portraiture of Jesus, in Himself and in His discourses. As to the first of these, in its two branches, the scene and the duration of the ministry, little need be said. It is true that in the earlier Gospels the scene, up to the Passion week, appears to be Galilee alone, while in the Fourth it is even more Jerusalem and Judea; that in the former the duration seems less than one year, in the latter more than two. Yet it is to be borne in mind that no one of our narratives professes to give a complete history of the life of our Lord upon earth. Their fragmentariness is one of their essential characteristics, admitted by all in the case of the Synoptists, distinctly declared by John in his own case (chap. John 20:30; John 21:25). All, therefore, that we are entitled to ask is, that the earlier Gospels shall leave room for the larger area and the longer time borne witness to by the latter; and this they do.

There is more, however, to be said; for our different groups of authorities mutually imply the labours of Jesus in those portions of the land of Palestine which occupy a subordinate position in their own narratives. It is unnecessary to prove this with regard to John, so frequent is the mention made by him of the ministry in Galilee. The notices of the others with regard to the Judean ministry are not so plain; but even in them there occur passages which are unintelligible, except on the supposition that such a ministry had existed. Such passages are Matthew 23:37 (comp. Luke 13:34), where the words ‘how often’ are almost conclusive upon the point; Matthew 21:8, indicating a previous acquaintance to account for the enthusiasm; Luke 10:38-42, referring most probably to Bethany; while, if in Luke 4:44 we accept the reading, ‘And He preached in the synagogues of Judea,’—and the evidence in its favour seems to be overwhelming,—the whole controversy is set at rest. It may be added that the words of Peter in Acts 10:37-39 have an important bearing upon the point; and that all the probabilities of the case are opposed to the supposition either that Jesus would confine Himself to Galilee, or that the great drama of His life and death could have been enacted in less than a single year.

More important than the outward framework of the history is the portraiture of Jesus presented in the Fourth Gospel; and this again may be naturally divided into two branches, the Person and the discourses. As to the first of these, it is no doubt in John alone that we meet with the conception of Jesus as the Logos, or Word of God. Yet there is ample ground to justify the conclusion that it is not the object of the writer so to delineate Jesus as to make the Logos conception the dominating conception of His personality. The remark has often been made, that in the whole course of the Gospel Jesus does not once apply the designation of Logos to Himself,—neither in the three aspects of Jesus already spoken of as prominent in chap. 1 (comp. p. 24), nor in the closing summary of chap. John 20:31, is the Logos mentioned; and no passage can be quoted in which the fact that Jesus is the Logos is associated with ‘witness’ borne to Him. This last fact has not been sufficiently noticed, but its importance appears to us to be great. If there is one characteristic of the Fourth Gospel more marked than another, it is the perfect and absolute simplicity with which the writer, whether speaking of himself, of Jesus, or of the Baptist, resolves the proclamation of what is uttered into ‘witness’ or ‘bearing witness.’ That term includes in it the whole burden of the commission given to each of them to fulfil. Whatever else they may be, they are first and most of all ‘witnesses.’ But if so, and if to enforce the Logos idea be the main purpose of the Gospel so far as it refers to the Person of Christ, we may well ask why that idea and ‘witness’ borne to it are never brought together? Jesus is witnessed to as ‘the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ,’ as the one ‘of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did speak,’ as ‘the Son of God, the King of Israel:’ he is not witnessed to as the Logos, although he is the Logos; and that single fact is sufficient to prove that the fourth Evangelist has no thought of presenting his Master in a light different from that in which He is presented by his predecessors.

In addition to this it may be observed that we have, in our two groups of Gospels, the very same interchange of allusions with regard to the Person of Christ that we have already observed when speaking of the scene of the ministry. If in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is pre-eminently Son of God, He is not less distinctly Son of man. If, again, in the earlier Gospels He is pre-eminently Son of man, He at the same time performs acts and claims authority not human but Divine. He forgives sins (Matthew 9:6), is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), rises from the dead (Matthew 17:9), comes in His kingdom (Matthew 16:28), sits upon the throne of His glory (Matthew 19:28); nay, in one passage He speaks of Himself as Son of man at the very time when He appropriates as true the confession of Peter, that He is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:13-28). Many other passages in the earlier Gospels lead to the same conclusion; so that, although the teaching of the Fourth as to the Divine nature of Jesus is richer than theirs, the truth itself, so far from being excluded from our minds, must be taken along with us in reading them before they can be properly understood. Without it, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to combine their expressions into a consistent whole.

If now we turn from the Person to the discourses of Christ, as these are presented in the Fourth Gospel, it is impossible to deny that they differ widely from those of the earlier Gospels, both in form and in substance. In the earlier Gospels the truths taught by our Lord are for the most part set before us in a manner simple and easily understood, in parables, in short pithy sayings, in sentences partaking largely of the proverbial and not difficult to remember, in a style adapted to the popular mind. In the Fourth Gospel not only is there no parable properly so called, but aphorisms are much more rarely met with, and the teaching of Jesus takes a shape adapted to enlightened and spiritually-minded disciples rather than an unenlightened multitude. Nor is the difference in substance less marked. In the earlier Gospels the instructions and sayings of Jesus have mainly reference to the more outward aspects of His kingdom, to His own fulfilling of the law, to the moral reformation He was to effect, to the practical righteousness required of His disciples. In the other they have reference to the profound, the mystical, relations existing between the Father and Himself, between Himself and His people, and among the various members of His flock.

Again, however, it is to be noticed that the very same interchange of allusions which we have already found existing in our two classes of authorities with regard to the outward framework of the history and the nature of Christ’s Person, exists also in their accounts of His discourses. Passages may be quoted from John partaking at least largely of the aphoristic character of the teaching generally found in the first three Evangelists. Thus chap. John 4:44 may be compared with Mark 6:4; chap. John 12:8 with Mark 14:7; chap. John 12:25 with Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; chap. John 13:16 with Matthew 10:24, Luke 6:40; chap. John 13:20 with Matthew 10:40; chap. John 15:20 with Matthew 10:25; chap. John 15:21 with Matthew 10:22; chap. John 18:11 with Matthew 26:52; chap. John 20:23 with Matthew 16:19. Although, too, there are no parables in the Fourth Gospel, many of its figures so much resemble parables, could be so easily drawn out into parables, that they have been appropriately described as ‘parables transformed.’(1) Such are the passages relating to the blowing of the wind, the fields white unto the harvest, the corn of wheat which must die in the ground before it springs up, the sorrow and subsequent joy of the woman in travail, the good shepherd, the true vine (chap. John 3:8, John 4:35, John 12:24, John 10:1-16, John 15:1-8). Nor can we forget that, in the Fourth Gospel, it is for the most part a different audience to which Jesus speaks. He addresses not so much the mass of the people as ‘the Jews;’ and as those so designated undoubtedly comprised a large number of the most highly educated of the day, we may expect that they will be spoken to in a tone different from that adopted towards others. The words of chap. John 6:41 (see the Commentary) are in this respect peculiarly important; for it appears from them that the ‘hard sayings’ found in the remaining portion of the discourse given in that chapter were intended, not for the ‘multitude,’ but for the ruling class. The words of John 6:59 might at first sight lead to a different impression.

On the other hand, there are clear indications in the earlier Gospels that Jesus did not always speak in that sententious and parabolic style which they mainly represent him as employing. In this respect the words of Matthew 11:25-27 cannot be too frequently referred to, for the argument founded upon them is perfectly incontrovertible. They show that a style of teaching precisely similar to that which meets us in the Fourth Gospel was known to the first. Keim, indeed, has attempted to weaken the force of the argument by the allegation that the words are not found in ‘the ordinary every-day intercourse’ of Jesus, but at an ‘isolated and exalted moment of his life.’(2) Such moments, however, are precisely those which John has undertaken to record; or, if this ought not to be said, it is Jesus in the frame of mind peculiar to such moments that he especially presents to us. If, therefore, the words given by Matthew are appropriate to the time when they were spoken, the words given by John, though on many different occasions of a like kind, are not less so. Nor is this the only passage of the earlier Gospels that may be quoted as possessing the isolated and exalted character referred to. The words at the institution of the Last Supper are not less marked: ‘Take, eat, this is my body. . . . Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom’ (Matthew 26:26-29). Such words exhibit the very same lofty mystical spirit that meets us in the Gospel of John. They are as much out of keeping with the practical sententious character of the teaching of Jesus in the other parts of these Gospels (if indeed such an expression is to be used at all) as anything contained in the Gospel with which we are now dealing. A similar remark may be made with regard to the eschatological discourses of Jesus in the earlier Gospels (comp. Matthew 24), and to His answer to the high priest (Matthew 26:64), the difference between them and the Sermon on the Mount being quite as great as that. Between His general teaching in the Fourth Gospel and in the Gospels which preceded it.

It is in this thought, indeed, as it seems to us, that the explanation of the point now before us is to be found. The utterances of Jesus in John belong to the tragic aspect of His work. No one will deny that, taking the facts even of the first three Gospels alone, the life of the Redeemer upon earth was marked by all the elements of the most powerful and pathetic tragedy. His perpetual struggle with evil, His love and self-sacrifice, met with opposition and contempt; His bearing the sorrows and the sins of men, His unshaken confidence in God, His sufferings and death, the constant presence of His Father with Him, and the glorious vindication given Him at last in the Resurrection and Ascension, supply particulars possessed of a power to move us such as no other life has known. In this point of view John looks at them. His Gospel is not the record of ordinary life. It is the record of a life which passes through all the most solemn and touching experiences of man, and which makes its appeal to the most powerful emotions of the heart. This is very strikingly exhibited in the light in which Jesus is set before us at the first moment when he passes beyond the circle of His disciples to the larger field of the world (chap. John 2:12, see Commentary); and it is not less apparent in the pathos that so often marks the language of the writer (chap. John 1:11, John 12:37). Hence the almost exclusive presentation of tragic scenes, of ‘exalted moments,’ and the preservation of discourses suitable to them.

The remarks now made, though applying mainly to the form, may be applied also to the substance of the discourses of the Fourth Gospel. It must be felt, too, that the profound instructions of Jesus contained in it are not out of keeping with the personality or character of the Speaker. Was He truly the Son of God? Did He come to meet every necessity of our nature? not only to enforce that practical morality to which conscience bears witness, but to reveal those deeper truths on the relation of man to God, and in Him to his brother man, for which a revelation was especially needed; then there is nothing strange in the fact that He should have spoken so much of matters lying far beyond mortal ken. Rather, surely, should we expect that, with His own heart filled with the deep things of God, He would speak out of its abundance; that, dwelling Himself amidst the great realities of the unseen and spiritual world, He would many a time lead into them the disciples whom He loved, and whom He would guide into all the truth.

Or, if it be said that these profound teachings were spoken not to friends, but to determined enemies, the principle of reply is the same. Here also there is the same elevation above the level of common life. These ‘Jews,’ so constantly addressed, are not the nation, but those in whom the outward, carnal, selfish spirit of a degenerate Judaism was concentrated (see Commentary). As to the existence of this class there can be no doubt. The title, indeed, is peculiar to John, but the class itself meets us in the earlier Evangelists. If, then, it existed, we may well ask whether it is not represented in the Fourth Gospel as addressed in the very manner in which such an audience must be spoken to. Let us suppose any Church of our own day become as carnal as the Jewish Church in the days of Christ. What other course could a reformer pursue, what other language could he use, but the course and the language of Jesus here? A worldly church cannot be spoken to like the world; self-chosen darkness cannot be treated like the darkness of a naturally unfortunate condition.

What has been said goes far to explain the peculiar character of the discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. But there are other questions in connection with them to which it is necessary to allude. Are they purely objective? Are they a record of the exact words used in the circumstances referred to? Are they free from any trace of the mind through which they passed in their transmission to us? It has been urged that these questions must be answered in the negative, partly because such long and profound discourses could not have been remembered at a distance of fifty years from the time when they were spoken, partly because their resemblance to the First Epistle of John is a proof that in these discourses it is John who speaks rather than his Master. Neither consideration has much weight. It cannot be imagined that only at the end of fifty years would the Evangelist endeavour to remember them. Rather throughout all that time must they have been the theme of his constant and loving meditation; day after day and night after night he must have brought up before him the sight of that much-loved form and the sound of that well-remembered voice; and every word of his Master, even many a word which he has not recorded, must have been ever flowing gently through his heart John too had the promise of the Spirit to ‘bring to his remembrance all things that Jesus said to him’ (chap. John 14:26); and, to whatever extent we admit his own human agency in the composition of his Gospel, we cannot forget that the fulfilment of this promise must have secured him from the errors of ordinary writers, and enabled him, as they could not have done, to present to his readers the perfect truth.

Nor, further, is the supposition with which we are now dealing needed to explain the fact that the tone of much of our Lord’s teaching in this Gospel bears a striking resemblance to that of the First Epistle of John. Why should not the Gospel explain the Epistle rather than the Epistle the Gospel? Why should not John have been formed upon the model of Jesus rather than the Jesus of this Gospel be the reflected image of himself? Surely it may be left to all candid minds to say whether, to adopt only the lowest supposition, the creative intellect of Jesus was not far more likely to mould His disciple to a conformity with itself, than the receptive spirit of the disciple to give birth by its own efforts to that conception of a Redeemer which so infinitely surpasses the loftiest image of man’s own creation.

While, however, this may be said, it may at the same time be allowed that up to a certain point the form in which the discourses are presented, sometimes even their very language, has been affected by the individuality of the writer. Lengthy as they not infrequently are, they are obviously compressed statements of what must have occupied a still longer time in delivery, with much of the questioning and answering that must have occurred in a protracted controversy suppressed. Occasionally the very language of the original (as in the use of an imperfect tense) indicates this; while the reference at the feast of Tabernacles (chap. John 7:23) to the healing of the impotent man (chap. 5), which must have taken place at least months before, is a proof that that miracle done on the Sabbath had been kept fresh in the minds of those addressed by many incidents and words not mentioned. Links may often be thus awanting which it is difficult for us to supply, and compression could hardly fail to give additional sharpness to what is said. Besides this, the tragic spirit of the Gospel, of which we have already spoken, may be expected to exercise an influence over the manner in which discourses are presented in it. Keeping these considerations in view, we shall look, in the scenes of the Fourth Gospel, for such details as may best embody the essential characteristics of any narrative which the Evangelist is desirous to present to us, rather than for all the particulars with which he was acquainted. We shall understand, too, the artificial structure, the double pictures and parallelisms which meet us in the longer discourses, such as those of chaps, 5, 10, 14, 15, 16 (see the Commentary).

The sayings and discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel are not, therefore, to be regarded as in every respect simple reproductions of the precise words spoken by Him. The true conclusion seems to be that we have here a procedure on the part of the Evangelist precisely parallel to that which marks his method of dealing with the historical incidents of the life of Jesus. These are selected, grouped, presented under the dominating power of the idea which he knows that they express. So also with the words of Christ. They also are selected, grouped, presented under the power of the fundamental idea which prevails throughout them.

By frankly admitting this, much is gained. On the one hand, historical accuracy, in its deepest and truest sense, is not impaired: the result produced in the mind of the reader is exactly that which was produced by our Lord Himself upon those who witnessed His actions or heard His words. On the other hand, the facts of the case receive a natural explanation. Above all, the whole procedure on the part of John is in harmony with the principles of Him who would have us always rise through His words to that Divine ideal which they reveal.

One other remark ought to be made before we close. In so far as the difference between John and the Synoptists affords ground for an argument, its bearing is favourable, not unfavourable, to the authenticity of our Gospel. Let us assume for a moment the earliest date assigned to it by the opponents of its apostolical authority, and what is the phenomenon presented to us? That about A.D. 110 a writer, obviously setting before himself the purpose of giving a delineation of the life of Jesus and of impressing it on the Church, departed entirely from the traditional records that had now taken a settled form; that he transferred the Messiah’s labours to scenes previously unheard of; gave to His ministry a duration previously unknown; represented both His person and His work in a light wholly new; and then expected the Church, which had by this time spread abroad into all regions, through three generations of men, to accept his account as correct. In the very statement of the case its incredibility appears. Only on the supposition that the writer of the Fourth Gospel felt that the Church for which he wrote would recognise essential harmony, not contradiction, between his representation and that of his predecessors, that men would see in it that enlarging of the picture of a loved personality which faithful memories supply, can we explain his having written as he has done.

We have spoken, as far as our limited space will allow, of some of those points connected with the Gospel of John which seem likely to be of most interest to the readers of a Commentary like the present, or which may prepare them to understand better the following exposition. It remains only that we indicate in a sentence or two the principles upon which that exposition is founded.

Our main, it may almost be said our single, effort has been to ascertain the meaning of the words before us, and to trace the thought alike of the writer himself and of the great Master whom he sets forth. In doing this we have endeavoured to bestow more than ordinary care upon every turn of expression in the original, upon every change of construction, however slight, effected by prepositions, tenses, cases, or even order of words. Many such changes have no doubt escaped our notice, and some have been left without remark because we felt unable to supply a satisfactory explanation of them. Even as it is, however, it is probable that not a few will think that we have been too minute; and that, in spending time upon what they will regard as trifling particulars, we have paid too little attention to those larger statements of truth which might have been better adapted to the readers for whom we write. From such an opinion we venture entirely to dissent. No trustworthy statements of general truth can be at any time gained without the most complete induction of particulars; and if this be true of any book of Scripture, it is even peculiarly true of the Fourth Gospel. The care bestowed upon it by its writer is one of its most remarkable characteristics. Whatever be the sublimity to which it rises, however impassioned its language, or however deep the flow of its emotion, every phrase or word or construction contained in it is fitted into its place as if the calmest and most deliberate purpose had presided over the selection. It is the skill of the loftiest feeling, though unconsciously exercised, that has made the Gospel what it is. The truth contained in it has woven for itself a garb corresponding in the most minute particulars to its nature, and every change in the direction even of one of its threads is a testimony to some change in the aspects of the truth by whose living energy the whole was fashioned. If, therefore, we have erred in connection with this point, we have erred not by excess but by defect. A rich harvest still awaits those who will be more faithful to the principle or more successful in carrying it out than we have been.

It seems unnecessary to add much more as to the principles by which we have been guided in our work. Innumerable references might easily have been made to the extensive literature connected with this Gospel, and to the opinions of those who have commented upon it before us. We have thought it best, except in one or two instances, to refrain from giving them. In addition to the Commentaries of Luthardt, Godet, Lange, Meyer, and others, which it would have been presumption to neglect, we have endeavoured to use all other helps within our reach. Unfortunately, the noble Commentary of Dr. Westcott did not appear until almost the last of the following pages had been printed off. It was thus impossible to take advantage of it; but to the personal communications of that eminent scholar, and to the discussions which have taken place in the New Testament Revision Company, in regard alike to the Fourth Gospel and the other books of the New Testament, we probably owe more than we are ourselves aware of. At the same time, we are not conscious of having yielded in any instance to authority however great. Under a deep sense at once of the difficulty and responsibility of our task, we have submitted every question to independent investigation; and the results, very often different from those of our predecessors, must be left to speak for themselves.

It would be too much to expect that our readers will find every difficulty discussed which meets them in their own study of this Gospel One of the most marked peculiarities of such a book is that in the fulness of its life and meaning, it strikes every attentive student in a different light, and suggests to each thoughts and problems which do not occur to others. All that we can say is, that in no single instance have we consciously passed by a difficulty that we ourselves felt; and we may perhaps venture to hope that the principles upon which these have been treated may be applicable to others of which we had not thought.

The principles upon which the Text of the Gospel has been determined were explained by one of the authors of this Commentary in the second part of a small work on ‘The Words of the New Testament,’ published some years ago, and now out of print. In the translation of the text, we have aimed at correctness rather than ease of continuous expression; and if (in this respect differing from the first volume of this Commentary) we have almost always given a full translation at the head of the notes, the reason is easily explained. It seemed desirable, where not only every word, but even the order of all the words is important that the reader should have the complete sentence directly under his eye.

It may be well to say that owing to various circumstances on which it is unnecessary to dwell, the appearance of our Commentary has been most unexpectedly delayed. Nearly three years have passed since the earlier portions of it were printed. It is the more possible, therefore, that there may be occasional inconsistencies between the earlier and the later pages. We say this without knowing that it is so, and with the hope that, if such inconsistencies do exist, they are not of an important character.

In conclusion, we may be permitted to say that both the authors of the following Commentary hold themselves responsible for the whole. No part of it is the work of either by himself; and they have wrought together with a harmony which, through all the time it has occupied them, has been to both a source of constant thankfulness and joy. But they desire to forget themselves, and they ask their readers to forget them, in the one common aim to discover the true meaning of a Gospel which the eloquent Herder long ago described as ‘the heart of Jesus.’

July 1880

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John:4 Overview". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-0.html. 1879-90.

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