Friday, October 23, 2009

Has modern scholarship disproved the traditional authorship of the Gospel of John?

Of the four canonical gospels of the life of Christ, the one I have most often seen dismissed outright for historical value is the Gospel of John. The early church agreed that it was the latest written of the four. In the early church, the name attached to the gospel was that of John the Apostle. But scholars have found signs of editing; was it tampering? There is also clearly an appendix in Chapter 21 with multiple authors referring to themselves as "we" (John 21:24). Could anything refute the traditional attribution to John more clearly? Can anything in an altered document be trusted?

That depends very much on whether the author was aware of the editing process and whether he approved of it. Does the early church have anything to say about how such editing might have happened? As a matter of fact, it does. This excerpt is from the Muratorian Canon, probably dated to the late 100's A.D., commenting on how the fourth gospel came to be written:
When his fellow-disciples and bishops encouraged him, John said, “Fast along with me three days from today, and whatever may be revealed to each, let us relate it one to another.” The same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John in his own name should write down everything and that they should all revise it. (from the Muratorian Canon, likely dates ranging from 170 A.D. – 200 A.D based on internal evidence. Emphasis added.)
The very early church, still in the 100's, retained this information on how the fourth gospel came to be written, how it came to be edited, and why it has an appendix. One of the names of the editors is retained for us: Andrew the apostle, who was Simon Peter's brother.

I would say that not only has modern scholarship not disproved the traditional authorship of the Gospel of John, I'd say that the Muratorian Canon's comments explain all the concerns that have been raised about the appendix and editing. The more interesting question to me is this: I'm curious whether modern scholarship has interacted with the Muratorian Canon's more detailed description of how the Gospel of John came to be written which would explain both editing and the appendix. I'm very curious whether modern scholarship has interacted seriously with the witness of the early church on how the fourth gospel came to be written.

For my own part, in the Muratorian Canon I see an explanation from the early Christian church that covers all the known facts and objections to traditional authorship. Unless a better explanation should be found, I will work under the view that this explanation is correct for the authorship and editing of the fourth gospel.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

This is very valuable information to me for a number of reasons. Thank you very muchy for sharing it.

(Where did you find this information?)

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Anastasia

Good to see you again. Hope things are going well at your new place; from your blog, I'm optimistic that all has gone well.

I first ran across this information about 10 years ago in the book The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce. The important information -- the part from the early church -- is from a document that is called the "Muratorian Canon" (or sometimes the "Muratorian fragment" since parts are missing). F.F. Bruce included it because it's the earliest known list, at this point, of the books that the early church considered to be in the canon of Scripture. It has the comments that mention that the editing was planned, explaining the editing/appendix issue that has been of so much interest to scholars. It also names Andrew the Apostle as one of the editors who swear in the "we know his testimony is true" part of the Gospel.

I noticed that Bart Ehrman includes the Muratorian Canon in his work on early Christian canons. But I'm not seeing him interact with the fact that it explains certain objections to traditional authorship; you could easily see it as a matter of modern scholarship confirming the traditional authorship once "traditional authorship" includes everything mentioned by the early church in the Muratorian Canon.

The Muratorian Canon has been known to scholars for centuries. I am curious whether anyone knows of scholars interacting with this, and how it affects the debate about authorship of the fourth gospel.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

likeeldadandmedad said...

The traditional view presupposing authorship of the Fourth Gospel on behalf of the apostle John presupposes unbelief before belief in The Doctrine of Christ is akin to the Darwinian view of Macro evolution which presupposes death before sin.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

Didn't stumble across your comment until today; I'm responding on the chance that you may be getting comment notifications.

At any rate, the traditional view of the fourth gospel's authorship, to go by the early church's documents, is based on their memories of where the documents came from, or the narrative that was passed along with the document.

Take care & God bless