Who Wrote the Fourth Gospel? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, we looked at a blog post written by Timothy McGrew where he presents external and internal evidence for the authorship of the fourth Gospel.  Part 1 summarized the external evidence, and part 2 will summarize the internal evidence.

McGrew starts off the presentation of the internal evidence with the following:

Here, we can close in on the question with a series of concentric arguments, starting further out (with facts that limit the authorship somewhat, but not too specifically) and then tightening the description until only John is left.  This method of solving the problem was made famous by B. F. Westcott, and I will make use both of his outline and of many of his examples as we zero in on John the son of Zebedee.

McGrew’s outline consists of 5 steps (he provides a lot of evidence to back each of these up in the blog post):

  1. The author was a Jew.  He is intimately familiar with Jewish opinions and customs.
  2. He was a native of Palestine.  He give us an unerring portrait of the distinct role that the hierarchical class (the Sadducees, whom he never calls by their name) played in the religious life and legal deliberations of Judaism. He also shows effortless precision in his knowledge of places and topography.
  3. He was an eyewitness of many episodes that he records.
  4. He was one of the “inner circle” among Jesus’ disciples.
  5. He was John, the son of Zebedee.

Here are some of the details McGrew presents in support of outline item 5:

Throughout the Gospel, we read of one disciple who goes unnamed (e.g. 1:35, 37, 40) but is later described simply as “the beloved disciple.”  At the very end (21:24), we are told outright that he was the author.  And going back over the places where he is recorded as being present, we find that they are the particular places where the scenes are recorded with particular vividness and detail—the conversation at the last supper, for example, or the scene by the fire at night in the hall at Caiaphas’s house.  There is no reason to doubt that this identification of the beloved disciple with the author of the fourth Gospel is correct.  But who was the beloved disciple?

From the lists of those present in some of the scenes (1:35 ff; 21:2), including cross references with the Synoptic Gospels, he must have been either Andrew, Peter, James, or John.  He cannot be Andrew, since Andrew appears with him in the opening chapter.  He cannot be Peter, since he appears with Peter in the closing chapter.  James was martyred too early to have written the Gospel (Acts 12:1).  By process of elimination, we arrive at the conclusion that he was John.

Again, remember that all of the internal evidence is gathered from the text of the fourth Gospel.  We are looking for clues from the text that would indicate who the author is, and McGrew has done a nice job compiling some of the highlights.  He ends the blog post by reiterating,

The evidence, internal and external, is really quite overwhelming. To use a phrase of Paul’s from the book of Acts, “God has not left Himself without witness”—he has provided plenty of evidence!

And with him, I wholeheartedly agree.