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THE GENUINENESS OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL.:
BY PROF. GEORGE P. FISHER, YALE COLLEGE.
The Gospel that bears the name of John is one of the main pillars of historical Christianity. Christianity would indeed remain were the apostolic authorship and the credibility of this Gospel disproved; for before it was written, Jesus and the resurrection had been preached by faithful witnesses over a large part of the Roman world. Christianity would remain; but our conception of Christianity and of Christ would be materially altered. The profoundest minds in the church, from Clement of Alexandria to Luther, and from Luther to Niebuhr, have expressed their sense of the singular charm and surpassing value of this Gospel. In recent times, however, the genuineness of the fourth Gospel has been inipugned. It was denied to be the work of John by individual sceptics at the close of the last century; but their attack was not of a nature either to excite or to merit much attention. Not until Bretschneider published in 1820) his Probabilia did the question become the subject of seri.
'Bleek’s Einleitung in das N. T., 1862. Meyer's Com. über das Evang. des Johannes, 3 A., 1856. Schneider's Aechtheit des Johann. Evang., 1854. May. er's Aechtheit des Evang, nach Johann., 1854. Ewald's Jahrb. III. s. 146 seq., v. s. 178 seq., X. s. 83 seq. VOL. XXII. No. 82.
ous discussion. But the assault, which has been renewed by the critics of the Tübingen school, with Baur at their head, has more lately given rise to a most earnest and important controversy. The rejection of John's Gospel by these critics is a part of their attempted reconstruction of early Christian history. Starting with the assertion of a radical difference and hostility between the Jewish and the Gentile types of Christianity, - between the party of the church that adhered to Peter and the original disciples, and the party that adhered to Paul and his doctrine,– they ascribe several books of the New Testament to the effort, made at a later day, to bridge over this gulf. The Acts of the Apostles proceeds from this motive, and is a designed distortion and misrepresentation of events connected with the conflict about the rights of the Gentile converts. And the fourth Gospel is a product of the same pacifying tendency. It was written, they say, about the middle of the second century by a Christian of Gentile birth, who assumed the name of John in order to give an apostolic sanction to his higher theological platform, in which love takes the place of faith, and the Jewish system is shown to be fulfilled, and so abolished, by the offering of Christ, the true paschal Lamb. We hold that the fundamental proposition, which affirms a radical hostility between Pauline and Petrine Christianity, can be proved to be false, even by the documents which are acknowledged by the Tübingen school to be genuine and trustworthy; and that the superstructure which is reared upon this foundation, cau be proved, in all its main timbers, to be equally unsubstantial. In the present Article, however, we shall take up the single subject of the authorship of the fourth Gospel, and shall make it a part of our plan to resute the arguments which are brought forward by the sceptical critics on this question -- the most important critical question connected with the New Testament canon. But while we propose fairly to consider these arguments, we have no doubt that the attack upon the genuineness of John, has its root in a determined unwillingness to admit the
historical reality of the miracles which that Gospel records. This feeling, which sways the mind of the critics of whom we speak, is the ultimate and real ground of their refusal to be. lieve that this narrative proceeds from an eyewitness of the life of Jesus. And were there nothing in Christianity to remove this natural incredulity, and to overturn the presumption against the occurrence of miracles, the ground taken by the, Tübingen critics in reference to this question might be reasonable. It is right to observe that behind all their reasoning there lies this deep-seated, and, in our opinion, unwarrantable prejudice.
We have recorded the titles of some of the more recent defences of the Johannean authorship: Bleek's Introduction, in which the author discusses the question at length, with his wonted clearness and golden candor; Meyer's Introduction to his Commentary on John, which contains a brief, condensed exhibition of the principal points of argument; Schneider's little tract, which handles with ability certain parts of the external evidence, but falls far short of being a complete view; Ewald's Essays, which contribute fresh and original thoughts upon the subject, but are not without faults in opinion as well as temper; Mayer's copious treatise, in which the external testimonies are ably considered, though too much in the temper of a controversialist, and with occasional passages not adapted to convince any save members of the Roman Catholic church, of which the author is one. We intend to present our readers with a summary of the arguments, most of which are touched upon in one or another of these writers; although we lay claim at least to independence in weighing, verifying, and combining the various considerations which we have to bring forward.
That the apostle John spent the latter part of his life in Proconsular Asia, in particular at Ephesus, is attested by all the ecclesiastical writers after the middle of the second century. At the conference of Paul with the other apostles in Jerusalem (Gal. ii. 1 seq.; Acts xv.), which occurred
about twenty years after the death of Christ, John is mentioned, in connection with Peter and James, as one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church. Whether he was in Jerusalem on the occasion of Paul's last visit, we are not informed. It is in the highest degree probable that John's residence at Ephesus began after the period of Paul's activity there, and either after or not long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Among the witnesses to the fact of his living at Ephesus in the latter part of the second century, Polycrates and Irenaeus are of especial importance. Poly.
crates was himself a bishop of Ephesus near the end of the decond third century, and of a family seven of whose members had
previously been bishops or presbyters in the same church. In his letter to Victor, he expressly says that John died and was buried at Ephesus. Irenaeus, who was born in Asia, says of the old presbyters, immediate disciples of the apostles, whom he had known, that they had been personally conversant with John, and that he had remained among them up to the times of Trajan (whose reign was from the year 98 to 117). Some of them, he says, had not only seen John, but other apostles also. Whether the ancient stories be true or not, of his fleeing from the bath on seeing there the heretic Cerinthus, of his recovering the young man who joined a company of robbers, or the more probable story found in Jerome, of his being carried in his old age into the Christian assemblies, to which he addressd the simple exhortation : “Love one another,” they show a general knowledge of the fact of his residing at Ephesus, and of his living to an extreme old age. His Gospel, also, according to the testimony of Irenaeus, Clement, and others, and the general belief, was the last written of the four, and the tradition places its composition near the close of his life.
THE EXTERNAL EVIDENCE. Mayer begins his argument by an appeal to Jerome and Eusebius; the one writing in the latter, and the other
1 Euseb., Lib. III. 31.
in the early, part of the fourth century; both having in their hands the literature of the church before them ; both diligent in their researches and inquiries; both knowing how to discriminate between books which had been received without contradiction, and those whose authority had either been disputed or might fairly be questioned ; and yet neither having any knowledge or suspicion that the fourth Gospel was not known to the writers of the first half of the second century, with whom they were familiar. This appeal is not without force; but instead of dwelling on the inference which it appears to warrant, we choose to begin with the unquestioned fact of the universal reception of the fourth Gospel as genuine in the last quarter of the second century. At that time we find that it is held in every part of Christendom to be the work of the apostle John. The prominent witnesses are Tertullian in North Africa, Clement in Alexandria, and Irenaeus in Gaul. Though the date of Tertullian's birth is uncertain, a considerable portion of his life fell within the second century, and his book against Marcion, from which his fullest testimony is drawn, was composed in 207 or 208. His language proves the universal reception of our four Gospels, and of John among them. These together, and these exclusively, were considered the authentic histories of the life of Christ, being composed either by apostles themselves or by their companions. The testimony of Clement is the more important from his scholarly character and his wide acquaintance with the church. He became the head of the Catechetical school at Alexandria about the year 190. Having been previously a pupil of various philosophers, he had in his mature years
* Adv. Marcion, Lib. IV. c. 2; also c. 5. He says in this last place : "In summa, si constat id verius quod prius, id prius quod et ab initio, id ab initio quod ab apostolis ; pariter utique constabit, id esse ab apostolis traditum, quod apud ecclesias apostolorum fuerit sacrosanctum.” Then shortly after : “eadem auctoritas ecclesiarum apostolicarum caeteris quoque patrocinabitur evangeliis, quae proinde per illas, et secundum illas habemus”: here follows the enumeration of the four. It is historical evidence – the knowledge possessed by the churches founded by the apostles — on which Tertullian builds.