Who Wrote the Fourth Gospel? The Authorship and Occasion of the Fourth Gospel According to Patristic Evidence from the First Three Centuries -- By: John Ashley Nixon

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 20:3 (Summer 2003)
Article: Who Wrote the Fourth Gospel? The Authorship and Occasion of the Fourth Gospel According to Patristic Evidence from the First Three Centuries
Author: John Ashley Nixon


Who Wrote the Fourth Gospel?
The Authorship and Occasion of the Fourth Gospel
According to Patristic Evidence from the First Three Centuries

John Ashley Nixon

Ph.D. Student in Theological Studies (Christian History/Patristics)
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587
Latin and History Teacher, North Raleigh Christian Academy
Raleigh, North Carolina 27616

Who wrote the Fourth Gospel? This question received little attention for nearly eighteen hundred years of church history. Christian scholars held to a nearly unanimous consensus that it was the work of the Apostle John. One, however, can no longer make this assumption. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, scholars began to question it, and today one can find several different theories concerning the authorship and origin of the Fourth Gospel among New Testament scholars.1 It is not the purpose of this paper to identify and describe these “modern” positions. Rather the purpose of this paper is purely descriptive, as it seeks to provide the patristic evidence for the authorship and occasion of the Fourth Gospel. It will compile the relevant primary data and organize it in chronological order. This data will be limited to orthodox writings from the first three centuries of church history,2 and will be divided into two sections. The first section presents implicit evidence for the authorship of the Fourth Gospel. The second section introduces the explicit evidence of the same Gospel.

Implicit Evidence

First, one must define what constitutes implicit evidence. For the purpose of this paper, implicit evidence will refer to data that points to knowledge of the Fourth Gospel in the early church. Explicit evidence refers to passages that explicitly name the writer of the Fourth Gospel or state a theory of its origin. Implicit evidence is found in at least six writers of the second century.

Papias (fl. ca. 130)

Papias, an apostolic father, was the bishop of Hierapolis. He wrote Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord in five books, which are no longer extant. Eusebius, however, quoted passages of this book, one of which contains the first mention of the Apostle John in early literature.3

Eusebius notes that Irenaeus refers to Papias as “the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp.”4 He, however, corrects Irenaeus’s testimony arguing that Papias writes in the preface to his book that he received th...

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