Pastor David B. Curtis

HOME | STUDY INDEX

Media #793 MP3 Audio File Video File

Gospel of John - When and Why Was It Written?

Introduction to Gospel of John

Delivered 01/24/16

We are just beginning a study of the fourth Gospel, which is commonly called "John." This Gospel is the best Gospel tract you will ever see and has, in fact, probably been handed out "evangelistically" as a "Gospel tract" to more people than any other book of the Bible. The Gospel of John is often the first New Testament book recommended to new Christians for study. There is a reason for that, which we'll see shortly.

In our last study we talked about authorship—who wrote this Gospel? The text tells us that it was written by "the disciple whom Yeshua loved":

Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Yeshua loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" John 21:20 NASB

Here the writer mentions "the disciple whom Yeshua loved," and then states that this is the disciple that wrote this letter:

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:24 NASB

The antecedent of "this" is "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" in verse 20. So we know who wrote this Gospel; it was "the disciple whom Yeshua loved." It is my opinion that this is not the apostle John but is, in fact, Lazarus. I think that is clear from the Gospel itself. We saw in our last study that Lazarus is the only man named in the Bible that is specifically identified as being "loved" by Yeshua. Lazarus is the Greek rendering of the name Eleazar, and Eleazar is a name found only in priestly lineages. So I believe that John Eleazar/Lazarus was a priest. Polycrates, an early bishop of Ephesus, claimed that the beloved disciple was a prominent priest. (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.31,3; 5, 24.3) The Apostle John was not a prominent priest so this certainly doesn't fit him. But it does fit Eleazar/Lazarus.

As I said earlier, the fourth Gospel is commonly called "John." I really don't have a problem with that as long as we understand that John is not the Apostle John, but John Eleazar/Lazarus.

Now as I'm sure you realize this view has its opponents, as does just about any view. Ed Stevens, in a paper titled, "Lazarus Not The Author Of The Fourth Gospel" writes,

"The idea of Lazarus writing a Gospel account raises all kinds of questions about the inspiration and canonical authority of the fourth Gospel if it was written by Lazarus."

My response to that is, "Why?" All the New Testament books were not written by apostles. Mark was not an apostle and neither was Luke. James and Jude, the half brothers of Yeshua, were not apostles, and they both wrote New Testament books. We're not sure who wrote Hebrews, but I think it was Barnabas, and he wasn't an apostle. So I don't see a problem with Lazarus writing a Gospel.

Bottom line here is that Yahweh is ultimately the author of the Bible, and thus the author of John. That is what we have to keep in mind as we are reading the Word of God. And whoever wrote John wrote this Gospel under the inspiration of the Spirit, and ultimately it does not really matter whether it was John the apostle, John the elder, or John Lazarus because, finally, Yahweh is the One who is the author of the Bible. The Word of God comes directly from the infinite mind of God. That is why we read:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB

So whoever the human author was, this is a word from the Living God Yahweh. Let's look again at verse 24:

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:24 NASB

This beautiful portrait of Yeshua that we have in this Gospel is written by an eyewitness who was part of these infinitely important events. He was there, he experienced Yeshua's teaching and miracles first hand and then wrote them down.

Now most scholars believe that John's Gospel was the last one written. Origen, expressing this view writes:

As to the four Gospels, which alone are indisputable in the Church of God under heaven, I learned from tradition that the first to have been written was that of Matthew, who was formerly a tax-collector, but later an apostle of Jesus Christ. It was prepared for those who were converted from Judaism to the faith, and was written in Hebrew letters. The second was that of Mark, who composed it under Peter's guidance… The third, the Gospel which was praised by Paul, was that of Luke, written for gentile converts. Last of all, there is that of John. (Origen (b. circa 185AD) quoted by Eusebius, History of the Church, Bk. 6 ch. 25]

We have some evidence of a belief in the third century that John was aware of the other Gospels. Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 200) is quoted as saying, "John, conscious that the outward facts had been set forth in the Gospels, was urged on by his disciples, and, divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel."

It is my opinion that John had read the synoptic Gospels and had decided to take a different approach. Ninety-three percent of the fourth Gospel is original material not found in the other Gospels. John was an eye witness of Yeshua's life. So how could he write an account that was so different from the others unless he had read the others?:

And there are also many other things which Yeshua did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25 NASB

So obviously, John was selective in the material he chose to write. He chose to write of things that the other writers had left out.

Have you ever asked, "Why Four Gospels? Why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Why not one composite?" They are four different viewpoints of Christ and each of the Gospels has its own distinctness.

Matthew presents the Lord Yeshua the Christ as the King. Notice the very first verse:

The record of the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Matthew 1:1 NASB

"Son of David," is put before "Son of Abraham." That suggests that his presentation of the Lord Yeshua is his presentation of Him as the King. Matthew's genealogy is a legal genealogy and a royal genealogy. It describes our Lord's right to the Davidic throne. Matthew's message to Israel and the world is this: "Behold your King!"

You may not be aware that in the iconography of the early church the four evangelists (Gospel writers) are frequently represented by symbols or emblems. The emblem that was used to represent the Gospel of Matthew was the lion, and the reason the lion was chosen was because Christ is presented as King. He's the lion of the tribe of Judah.

Mark presents our Lord as the Servant, as the Servant of Yahweh:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45 NASB

The emblem that was most commonly used of Mark was the emblem of man. And so in this Gospel the early church regarded our Lord Yeshua as presented as the Servant of God and as a man.

Mark doesn't have a genealogy. But that's not surprising. Who cares about a servant's genealogy? And so Mark's message to the world is, "Behold your Servant!"

Luke, the third Gospel, presents our Lord as a man, but in the early church the emblem most commonly used of Luke was the ox. And the ox was used because the ox was the animal of service and sacrifice.

Luke has a genealogy, why? It is important for our Lord as a man to have a genealogy. It is not only necessary that Messiah be the Son of God to be our redeemer, he also must be one of us, a man. And so in the genealogy of the Gospel of Luke our Lord's ancestry is traced back to Adam, not to David and Abraham as in Matthew, but all the way back to Adam to show that he is one of us on the human side of his being. Luke wants us to behold the man, that is the humanity of Christ.

In the Gospel of John the Lord Yeshua is presented as Yahweh. Mark mentions this also; as a matter of fact, the term "Son of God" occurs more frequently in Mark than in John. So there is a mixture of presentation of these ideas in the Gospels, but preeminently John is the Gospel that presents our Lord in His divine nature and divine personality. There is no genealogy in the Gospel of John. Why is that? God is eternal, He has no genealogy. The eagle was the emblem of the Gospel of John. And so John's message is, "Behold your God!"

Where do you think that these images that the early church used of the Gospels came from? Notice Ezekiel's vision:

As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Ezekiel 1:4-5 NASB

He goes on in verse 10 to describe these celestial beings:

As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Ezekiel 1:10 NASB

It is these four faces that the church used to describe the Gospels. Some thing else that I find very interesting is that in the Tanakh there is a figure of the Messiah that is frequently used. It's the figure of "the branch." What is interesting is that this term, "the branch," is found in several places in the Tanakh, and in these places there is the four-fold picture of our Lord presented by Ezekiel and in the Gospels. Let's look at them:

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. Jeremiah 23:5 NASB

Here the Branch reigns as king. This is how Matthew presents Yeshua, the royal King.

'Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. Zechariah 3:8 NASB

Here the Branch is a servant. This suggests to us the Gospel of Mark in which Yeshua is the Servant.

"Then say to him, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. Zechariah 6:12 NASB

Here the Branch is a man as Luke presents Him.

In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel. Isaiah 4:2 NASB

"The Branch of Yahweh," suggestive of His divine origin.

So John's emphasis is on the deity of Yeshua. Compared to the Synoptics, which present Yeshua as a historical figure, John also stressed the deity of Yeshua. Obviously the Synoptics present Yeshua as divine also, but the emphasis in the fourth Gospel is more strongly on Yeshua's full deity. This emphasis runs from the very first verse:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 NASB

To Thomas' confession in chapter 20:

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 NASB

Mears says that in every chapter of John's Gospel we see Jesus' deity:

In Nathanael's confession, "You are the Son of God"—John 1:49

In the miracle of Cana, He "thus revealed His glory"—John 2:11

In His word to Nicodemus, He said He was "his one and only Son"—John 3:16

In His conversation with the woman of Samaria He stated: "I who speak to you am He" [the Messiah]—John 4:26

To the impotent man, He disclosed that "the voice of the Son of God" will call the dead to life—John 5:25

In the bread chapter, He admits that "I am the bread of life"—John 6:35

In the water of life chapter He proclaims, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink"—John 7:37

To the unbelieving Jews He disclosed, "Before Abraham was born, I am!"—John 8:58

The blind man was told, "You have now seen [the Son of Man]; in fact, He is the one speaking with you"; Yeshua's unique claim to being the Son of God—John 9:37

Yeshua stated, "I and the Father are one"—John 10:30

Martha's declaration, "You are the Christ, the Son of God"—John 11:27

To the Greeks, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself"—John 12:32

At the supper He said, "You call me `Teacher' and `Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am"—John 13:13

In His statement, "Trust in God; trust also in Me"—John 14:1

Likening us to branches on a vine He says, "Apart from me you can do nothing"—John 15:5

In promising the Holy Spirit He says, "I will send him to you"—John 16:7

In this prayer chapter He says, "Glorify your Son"—John 17:1

In His trial He states, "You are right in saying I am a king"—John 18:37

In His atonement He had the right to say, "It is finished"—John 19:30

In his confession Thomas the doubter exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"—John 20:28

In demanding obedience, "You must follow Me"—John 21:22.

Belief in Yeshua's deity is a core doctrine of Christian theology. He's either God, or He's a liar, because Yeshua Himself claimed to be God. The early church called John, "The Theologian." The reason for that is that in this Gospel we have the preeminent interpretation of the significance of the life and ministry of the Lord Yeshua the Christ.

We also see Yeshua's deity in His miracles, which John calls, "signs." John picked out seven signs leading up to His resurrection in chapter 11. The number seven is a significant number to the Jews; there was sacredness in the number seven. It pictures completion, perfection. These signs were chosen by John, and they were chosen for a particular reason, these signs point to Him as the Messiah of Israel and also the Son of God.

We also see His deity in the seven "I am" statements in John's Gospel:

Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." John 8:58 NASB

A literal translation would read, "Before Abraham was brought into being, I exist." The statement, therefore, is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did, but that He already existed before Abraham was brought into being. In other words, Christ existed before creation, or eternally. In that sense, the Jews plainly understood Him, for they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy.

Yeshua, in claiming to be "I Am," was asserting equality with God Himself, who was revealed as the "I Am That I Am" —the self-existent, eternal God:

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14 NASB

"I AM WHO I AM" is Ehyeh; asher ehyeh means: "I am that which exist."

The root of Ehyeh is hiya, which means: "to be" or "I exist." So here Elohim tells Moses His name is Ehyeh. But look at the next verse:

God, furthermore, said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. Exodus 3:15 NASB

Elohim again gives His name to Moses, but this time it is Yahweh. The two names, Yahweh and Ehyeh, are related. Yahweh is , and Ehyeh is . Ehyeh means: "I exist, I will exist, I am." And Yahweh means: "He exists, He will exist, He is." And both of these names are related to each other. They are both conveying the idea that Yahweh is the existing One. And in John's Gospel, seven times Yeshua claims "I am." He is Yahweh!

Why Did John Write This Gospel?

Whenever you study a book of the Bible, you want to understand the writer's purpose for writing. In some books this is difficult to discern, but not in the Gospel of John.

Therefore many other signs Yeshua also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Yeshua is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. John 20:30-31 NASB

Notice first that John calls the miracles, "signs." I think he calls them, "signs" because they point to Yeshua as God. As verse 30 says, "…many other signs Yeshua also performed…" But John is led to select only 7 (or 8 if you include the miraculous catch of fish in John 21:1-14) of these signs. And this does not count the greatest "sign" of all, the resurrection of Yeshua Christ from the dead!

So John clearly states his two fold purpose for writing: (1) That you may believe Yeshua is the Messiah, and (2) In believing you might have life.

Steven Cole writes, "John wants you to believe specifically that Jesus is the Christ—the Jewish Messiah (Anointed One)—who was prophesied of in the Old Testament. And he wants you to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, which means, He is God in human flesh (5:18-29). The pinnacle of faith in John's Gospel is when Thomas sees the risen Jesus and proclaims (20:28), 'My Lord and My God!'"

There are a number of key words in John's Gospel, but the most important is believe (pisteuo). John used the verb believe 98 times which is more than all the uses in the Synoptic Gospels combined. Do you want to know what it means to believe? You do if you know what is meant by faith in a promise. We trust Him. We don't trust the church. We don't trust our good works. We don't trust praying through. We don't trust any ordinances. We don't trust any experiences. We trust what Christ has done, objectively.

John Piper writes, "But don't get it in your head that the book is therefore only for unbelievers. Believers on Jesus must go on believing in Jesus in order to be saved in the end." Then he writes, "So when John says, 'These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name,' he meant that he was writing to awaken faith in unbelievers and sustain faith in believers—and in that way lead both to eternal life." So John is writing to lead believers to eternal life? Piper's lordship is extremely dangerous.

"These have been written"—this refers to all that John wrote. Why did he write them? "…that you may believe that Yeshua is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

Now think with me, John wrote his Gospel specifically to bring people to eternal life. Yet in the Gospel of John, "repentance" is never mentioned. If repentance is necessary for salvation, John messed up. But the fact that John didn't mention repentance speaks volumes. He didn't mention it, because it isn't necessary for salvation.

So John wrote that we may believe and that by believing we may have life eternal.

I think that it's possible that John may have had as a side reason for writing to combat the false teaching of the docetics. The Docetists held that the Christ never became incarnate; everything was "seeming." The Greek word dokein, meaning: "to seem," is the origin of the name of this heresy. The Docetists believed that Yeshua only seemed to be human. Morris writes, "That the docetic heresy did not appear in the first century seems clear, but certain elements that later were to be embodied in this heresy seem to have been quite early."(Morris, p. 31).

One problem with which Bible scholars deal is the relationship of John to the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The first three Gospels are called "Synoptic" because they share a common outline and perspective. The differences between John and the Synoptics are noteworthy. In John much of Yeshua's ministry takes place in Jerusalem and Judea. In the Synoptics Yeshua's ministry is only described in Galilee until His final trip to the cross in Jerusalem. As a result the Synoptics give no evidence that Yeshua's ministry lasted more than nine months to a year. However, John's Gospel requires a ministry of at least two years, and more likely, three years.

In the Synoptics Yeshua's favorite mode of teaching was the parable:

With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples. Mark 4:33-34 NASB

But the Gospel of John records no parables of Yeshua. Parables aren't the only thing missing. John mentions no genealogy, birth, baptism, temptation, no casting out of demons, no mention of the transfiguration, institution of the Lord's Supper, agony in Gethsemane, ascension, no appointing of His disciples, and no Great Commission. There is also no prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Steven Cole writes, "Some of the features that are unique to John include his direct assertion that Yeshua is the eternal God who created all things (1:2, 3). He alone says that Yeshua is the only begotten Son of God (3:16, 18). John tells us of the first miracle of turning the water into wine (2:1-11). He alone includes the interviews with Nicodemus and the woman at the well (3 & 4). He tells us of Yeshua's healing the nobleman's son (4:46-54), the lame man by the pool of Bethesda (5:1-15), and the man born blind (9:1-41). John alone records Yeshua's raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). John tells us of Yeshua's washing the disciples' feet (13:1-20) and of His teaching in the Upper Room, where He gives the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (14-16). John records the longest prayer of Yeshua (17). He tells us of Thomas' doubts (20:24-29) and of the disciples' encounter with the risen Lord on the beach in Galilee (21). John carefully chose all these events and much more to give us this selective insider's portrait of our Savior."

There are many differences between the Synoptics and John's Gospel, but there are some similarities. All four Gospels introduce Yeshua's ministry by means of John the Baptist. All four note the descent of the Spirit on Yeshua in the form of a dove and the heavenly witness to Yeshua's divine sonship. All four present Yeshua teaching and performing miracles. All four describe the feeding of the five thousand. All four Gospels devote approximately one third of their pages to the time following the triumphal entry. There is no question that John and the Synoptics are describing the same Yeshua!

The Dating of the Fourth Gospel

Scholars, ancient and modern, do agree that the fourth Gospel was the last to be written, but most scholars believe, on the basis of content, that John selected his material to supplement the material in the Synoptics.

Some biblical scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries held that the fourth Gospel was written sometime in the late 2nd century AD. However, this position is no longer acceptable because of solid evidence to the contrary. The oldest copy of the fourth Gospel found in Egypt in 1935 known as, "The John Rylands Papyrus," contains portions of John 18:31-33, 37-38, and the fragments from a copy of the fourth Gospel have been dated to abou tA.D. 120/130. Even the "late daters" today would hesitate to date this Gospel much later than about A.D. 100. Most scholars today date this Gospel around A.D.96.

What internal evidence do we have that tells us the date must be much earlier?

If this book was written in the nineties, what monumental event is missing? The Temple receives more attention in John than in other New Testament books, but he says nothing about its destruction.

The "early daters" place the composition of the fourth Gospel before the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Roman army in A.D. 70; perhaps as early as A.D. 60 or 68. They point out that there is no mention of that catastrophic event which began with the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire and which ended with such brutal devastation of Judea that it signaled the "end of the world" for the Jews of the Old Covenant.

John makes reference to a site in Jerusalem, in the present tense, that no longer stood after the 9th of Ab, A.D.70 when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. John 5:2 NASB

This pool was rediscovered by archaeologists in the late 1800's. It had been buried in debris since the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70. It proved to have 5 colonnades just as it was described by John.

D. B. Wallace also argued that the present tense in 5:2 is not to be understood as a historical present, and thus provides a significant clue to the early dating of the Gospel.

Constable writes, "Some who hold this date note the absence of any reference to Jerusalem's destruction in John. However, there could have been many reasons John chose not to mention the destruction of Jerusalem if he wrote after that event." Really! How could he not mention this event?

W. Hall Harris III, writes, "John makes no reference at all to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Thus it is assumed this must be far enough removed not to seem as important. But of all the NT writings with the exception of Hebrews and Revelation, the Fourth Gospel is the most likely to contain an allusion to the fall of Jerusalem. The focus of the Gospel is on the rejection of Messiah by "His own" (1:11). The visitation and rejection must mean divine judgment."

Those who believe John was written prior to AD 70 believe that all four Gospels were written between A.D. 55 and 70. Those who see John coming from this time frame point to certain very Jewish aspects of the Gospel. John uses the Jewish words "rabbi" and "messiah" far more often than the other Gospels. John frequently seems to use the language of Qumran, the Dead Sea Scroll community that ceased to exist in AD 70. Some scholars feel that these Jewish aspects of the Gospel "fit" better in the time prior to A.D. 70 than in the years following.

One more thing before we close. Remember that Lazarus is a priest, a Jewish priest. And as a Hebrew, he would have written this Gospel in Hebrew.

When studying this Gospel you see that John's vocabulary, his sentence structure, his expression and arrangement of thoughts are essentially Hebrew. Westcott writes, "The source of the imagery of the narrativeā€¦is the OT. The words are Greek words, but the spirit by which they live is Hebrew." (Westcott, Introduction, vii)

The author's use of quotations from the Tanakh shows that he is not dependent on the LXX. Nowhere does a quotation from the Tanakh in John agree with the LXX against the Hebrew text.

I have said in the past that it is my opinion that all of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew. Let me modify that; I believe that the oral New Testament was Hebrew; in some cases the first written form may have been Greek. Remember that we saw that Origin said that Matthew was prepared for those who were converted from Judaism to the faith, and was written in Hebrew letters.

Why is this important? Well, we need to understand that interpretation is an inherent part of translation. A translator may attempt to translate a body of text literally, but even reading the text is a process of interpretation. Even reading one's own language or listening to some speaking is a process of interpreting. So, any translation carries some of the translator's beliefs within the text. I believe that our English Bible is a translation from Greek, which is a translation from Hebrew thought. So in order to really understand the text, we must try to get back to the Hebrew, not Greek, mind-set.

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322