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The Problem with “John”

We know Paul was the author of Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Phillipians, and Philemon, but we can’t say that the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John. In the case of the Gospel of John, the author is a “we” and not an “I”, and it isn’t very likely that John the Apostle wrote it. In fact, it’s very unlikely to have been written by John.

In researching John, the first notable thing that I discovered (aside from it was written by John) was that historic evidence indicates that the fourth gospel, commonly referred to as “John’s” Gospel, was not very popular with early Christians. The reason for their distance from it was simple, the majority of Christians still believed in the One True God. As such, the people wanted nothing to do with “John’s Gospel”, the doctrine they found in it was down-right blasphemous to them. The lack of love from the early church is stated perfectly in this quote from Roman church leadership.

When they rejected the gospel, the Roman church leadership said, “We ought not have it.” [1]

Further evidence that the gospel wasn’t well-received is that there wasn’t an early church writer who quoted from it for 180 years. The very first historical reference to the ‘Gospel of John’ was by a heretical Gnostic followed by Theophilus of Antioch (180 AD).

Early Church Father’s Quoted Every Other Book and Gospel

On the contrary, the same early church writers who didn’t quote John quoted every other gospel, and Apostolic epistle, except for the “Gospel of John”.

Polycarp was one such writer. He is considered an early “church father” and he was a disciple of John. He was a very avid quoter of what would become the New Testament. In his writings, he quoted at least 100 verses from these New Testament books:

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • Acts
  • I & II Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • I Theassalonians
  • II Thessalonians
  • I Timothy
  • II Timothy
  • Hebrews
  • I John
  • I John
  • I John
  • III John

How is it possible for a disciple of John to not once quote from the gospel purported to have been written by his teacher?

Not only did Polycarp, the Apostle John’s disciple, not quote John, but Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians is also the polar opposite of the fourth gospel. John’s gospel was the least religious and pious gospel of them all. The fourth gospel was all about love, and light, and the glorious Word. Polycarp’s epistle was the opposite. It was exhausting just reading it because it’s one hundred percent religious piety and works. If the same person who wrote the fourth gospel was Polycarp’s teacher, John, then Polycarp learned nothing.

How could a gospel, supposed to have been written by an Apostle, be unmentioned by any church father until the late second century?

How could a gospel by John never be mentioned by a famous disciple of John who was an avid writer, who in one epistle quoted almost every other New Testament book. The complete lack of mention of “the Gospel of John” and the absence of a single quote, by Polycarp, is the biggest clue that John did not write the gospel attributed to him. If he had, Polycarp would have quoted from it and others would have mentioned it. [3]

The Debates Came as Soon as the First Orthodox Writer Published John

The authorship of all the works attributed to John has been in doubt as far back as there are historical records.

The authorship of the Johannine works—the Gospel of JohnEpistles of John, and the Book of Revelation—has been debated by scholars since at least the 2nd century AD.[1] The main debate centers on who authored the writings, and which of the writings, if any, can be ascribed to a common author.

There may have been a single author for the gospel and the three epistles.[2] Tradition attributes all the books to John the Apostle.[2] Most scholars conclude that the apostle John wrote none of these works.[3]

In the case of Revelation, many modern scholars agree that it was written by a separate author, John of Patmos, c. 95 with some parts possibly dating to Nero‘s reign in the early 60s.[2][11] [4]

Which John was it? There is Historic Evidence for Two Johns.

It is worthwhile observing here that the name John is twice enumerated by him (Eusebius). The first one he mentions in connection with Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the apostles, clearly meaning the evangelist; but the other John he mentions after an interval, and places him among others outside of the number of the apostles, putting Aristion before him, and he distinctly calls him a presbyter.

This shows that the statement of those is true, who say that there were two persons in Asia that bore the same name, and that there were two tombs in Ephesus, each of which, even to the present day, is called John’s. It is important to notice this. For it is probable that it was the second, if one is not willing to admit that it was the first that saw the Revelation, which is ascribed by name to John.—The Church History of Eusebius, Book 3, Chapter 39.

Evidence Against the Apostle as the Author of John

The writer of John is most likely a Greek convert and not of Jewish origin, he repeatedly refers to the Israelites as “the Jews”.

and he doesn’t know Hebrew scriptures very well.

The majority of John’s direct quotations do not agree exactly with any known version of the Jewish scriptures.’ [5]

John was written in scholarly Greek, not the work of a simple fisherman like the Apostle John.

\The language of the Gospel and its well-developed theology suggest that the author may have lived later than John.. [6]

Although ancient traditions attributed to the Apostle John the Fourth Gospel, the Book of Revelation, and the three Epistles of John, modern scholars believe that he wrote none of them.” [7]

Most Christians believe that Jesus had a 3-year public career. Why? Because John’s gospel, written by one of the twelve apostles, mentions three Passovers, and since that feast occurs annually, the public career must have been three years. But the other evangelists mention only one Passover….

…..nowhere does John’s gospel identify the beloved disciple with John of the twelve. For that matter, this gospel does not mention any disciple named John, although it mentions John the Baptist several times and three times refers to Simon Peter as “son of John”.

Another major point argues against John the Twelve as the beloved disciple. When the disciple first appears in the gospel, Jesus is already in Jerusalem for the last week of his life, which means that this disciple goes completely unmentioned for this supposed 3-year ministry for which he was the soul source….no modern scholar thinks this gospel was written by one of the twelve apostles.

There was yet more, “John” was a brilliant theologian who wrote Good Greek, another argument against a Galilean fisherman as the author. Furthermore, his advanced, “high” Christology (Jesus as the divine Word) points to some sophisticated development that occurs since Mark had written. It also explains some puzzling elements such as Jesus encounter with John the Baptist at the Jordan without an actual baptism, contrary to what the other evangelists had written.

The foregoing are not the only arguments against apostolic authorship of this gospel. Modern scholars further demonstrated that John of the twelve could not have written the book of Revelation or the three epistles traditionally attributed to him. Consider what this meant for the New Testament scholarship. John’s gospel was not an eyewitness account. The chronology of Jesus’s career was now uncertain. The literary elements so evident in this gospel, such as the theme is light and dark, could be identified as literally elements instead of defended as actual events. All the theories built upon this gospel had to be carefully rethought, and the preference routinely given to John over the other evangelists in doing theology had to be redone. On matters of historicity scholars use this gospel very carefully.

The new scholarly approach had tremendous impact upon 19th century churchman who had to accept that the Bible, and even the gospels, were not what they thought them to be. [8]

Contradictions Between John and the Other Gospels

In my research, I argue that the “disciple” is unlikely to be historical. He appears in the Gospel of John several times—standing under Jesus’ cross with several women (chapter 19, verses 25–27) running with Peter to Jesus’ tomb (chapter 20, verses 3–10). But when you look at all those same scenes in other gospels, there’s no trace of the character. In Luke, only women stand under Jesus’ cross (chapter 21, verse 49); and in Luke, Peter runs to the tomb alone (chapter 24, verse 12). It’s as if the character has been invented and inserted into those scenes to give the book the air of eyewitness credibility. [10]

“In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not interested in teaching about himself. But when you read John’s Gospel, that’s virtually the only thing Jesus talks about is who he is, what his identity is, where he came from,” Ehrman says. “This is completely unlike anything that you find in Mark or in Matthew and Luke. And historically it creates all sorts of problems because if the historical Jesus actually went around saying that he was God, it’s very hard to believe that Matthew, Mark, and Luke left out that part — you know as if that part wasn’t important to mention. But in fact, they don’t mention it. And so this view of the divinity of Jesus on his own lips is found only in our latest Gospel, the Gospel of John.” [9]

Incredibly, the author, of arguably one of the most important doctrinal paragraphs ever written; which single-handedly supports the deity of Christ, is unknown.

How does a book by an unknown and disputed author, which was never mentioned for almost two hundred years, and which contradicts every other gospel and ancient scriptures, was rejected by the early church and was first mentioned in history by a member of a Gnostic sect, become gospel!?

There is no Trinity in Paul’s preaching. Paul said that the gospel that he reiterated is the totality of what he preached and it was of first importance. Why is this important? Because the only gospel that speaks of Jesus being God, the Gospel according to John, was rejected by the church for 200 years but embraced by Gnostics and the Great Harlot, Mystery Babylon. The true church wanted nothing to do with it.

Additionally, the discrepancies with the Gospel According to John bring up a couple of other points: The first is that Paul taught that there is One God, the Father. Paul’s teaching agrees with the historical God of the Israelites while John’s Gospel does not.

Another issue with relying solely on the Gospel of John to testify to Jesus’ place in the Trinity, is traditionally the Scriptures teach that we are not to take the testimony of just one witness when deciding a matter.

“Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

This instruction should especially relate to the identity of God and not rely solely on one late arriving anonymous gospel. This is important because once the gospel according to John is removed, all the contradictions fall away. How can we take one testimony, which was embraced by Babylon-the Harlot (this should be our first flag) and written by an unknown author, sometime in the second century, and change everything that we know about God?!

REFERENCES, accessed September 20, 2020

[1] Roman church leadership that rejected the fourth gospel and said, “We ought not have it.”

Allen D. Callahan:
Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School






[7] Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985) p. 355

[8] Kelly, Joseph F. (1 October 2012). History and Heresy: How Historical Forces Can Create Doctrinal Conflicts. Liturgical Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-8146-5999-1.