Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part II: The Author’s Testimony to Himself -- By: Merrill C. Tenney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 120:479 (Jul 1963)
Article: Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part II: The Author’s Testimony to Himself
Author: Merrill C. Tenney


Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel
Part II:
The Author’s Testimony to Himself

Merrill C. Tenney

The authorship of the Gospel of John has been a subject of warm debate for almost two centuries. Edward Evanson, in his work entitled The Dissonance of the Four Generally Received Evangelists and the Evidence of Their Respective Authority Examined, published in 1792, questioned the traditional view that it was written by John, the son of Zebedee. His position was repudiated by contemporary scholars, but in 1820 Bretschneider’s Probabilia de Evangelii et Epistolarum Joannis Apostoli Indole et Origine renewed the discussion. Bretschneider contended that John was written by some unknown Gnostic in the middle of the second century. From his time the subject has been a source of endless argument, which has not yet terminated in a conclusion acceptable to all concerned.

Numerous hypotheses have been advanced to account for the origin of this Gospel. Some critics have ascribed it to “John the elder,” a presbyter of Ephesus, mentioned in Eusebius’ famous quotation from Papias, a writer of the early second century:

“And if anyone chanced to come who had actually been a follower of the elders, I would inquire as to the discourses of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples of the Lord, say. For I suppose that things out of books did not profit me so much as the utterance of voice which liveth and abideth.

“Here it is worthwhile noting that twice in his

enumeration he mentions the name John: the former of these Johns he puts in the same list with Peter and James and Matthew and the other apostles, clearly indicating the evangelist; but the latter he places with others, in a separate clause, outside the number of the apostles, placing Aristion before him; and he clearly calls him ‘elder.’ So that he hereby proves their statement to be true who have said that two persons in Asia have borne the same name, and that there were two tombs at Ephesus, each of which is said to this day still to be John’s.”1

Following the deductions of Eusebius stated in the second paragraph, it has been assumed that there were two Johns, the son of Zebedee and the elder of Ephesus, and that the latter wrote the Gospel.

In 1943 J. M. Sanders propounded the thesis that the Fourth Gospel originated in Alexandria, and that it was later imported into Asia, where its origin was credited to John the Presbyter.2 It h...

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