Did John Write the Fourth Gospel? (Or, Should We Ask These Questions?)

Over at The Two Cities, John Dunne has written an interesting little article on whether or not John wrote the fourth gospel (the one we now call “John”). He posits, based on just a few pieces of evidence, that it was perhaps (and he does emphasize the word perhaps) Lazarus who wrote the gospel. Perhaps Lazarus was overseen by John, but it was he himself who may have penned the non-synoptic gospel.

The question is an interesting one, certainly. I’m not ultimately sure what sort of weight it would have, except perhaps on the story of Lazarus himself, but these sorts of questions I think are rather fascinating. During my undergraduate years, I wrote a paper arguing that the Apostle Paul had the stigmata; that is, he had the marks of Christ literally on his body. This came from one use of the word in Greek, and a lack of clarity on what the thorn in Paul’s flesh really was. Unfortunately for my paper, there wasn’t much other evidence. In fact, an upperclassman wisely asked me if anyone in Church history had ever agreed with the position I suggested. If the answer was no (and to my knowledge, the answer is no or very close to no), then I needed to be extremely hesitant in bringing forth such a suggestion.

I started then to ask myself whether or not I should really ask these sorts of questions. Should I really inquire into things that totally buck against the traditional beliefs of the Church? Granted, as a rather staunch Protestant Evangelical, I am not adverse to pushing back against tradition. But it does strike me as unwise to discard the beliefs of all of the Church (or nearly all) because I read a passage slightly differently. Stepping into this territory can be dangerous, but the question now is whether we should even step there at all.

Questions, in and of themselves, are usually not bad. These are the sorts of questions that give me pause, but I think that they are still good issues to explore, and here’s why: these questions about our faith encourage us to think deeply about the things we take for granted (authorship of the fourth gospel, for instance). To quote the author of the post (he said this in response to one of my comments): “So in proper Hegelian fashion an antithesis emerges which leads to synthesis and a new thesis.” In this sense, even questions can lead to better arguments and stronger stances, while perhaps shifting views on the chance they are wrong.

There are no stupid questions, or so we’ve often been told. I’d say there are probably lots of stupid questions, but speculation about who wrote John’s gospel does not land among them.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • John A Dunne

    James, thanks for the re-post! I do think that asking questions can lead to better defenses of traditional views, and I hope to better settle this issue of authorship at some point. 

    As for the stigmata stuff, I’m mostly on board with you actually. I think that Paul’s doctrine of dying with Christ may have more symbolism to it. Galatians is the best place for this I think. In Gal 2.20 Paul is ‘crucified with Christ.’ Then in 3.1 he states that Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified to the Galatians [perhaps through a demonstration on Paul’s end]. Then in 6.17 he states that he bears the marks of Jesus. Now I’m not sure if we should assume this was self-inflicted or perhaps a form of punishment applied to Paul. I find the latter to be reasonable. What other arguments did you put forward?

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  • Anonymous


    Always a pleasure to hear from the author of a post I linked to. Though I did half expect it, considering we’d already conversed about this on your post.

    In the Stigmata paper, I wish I could remember what I had argued more specifically. I can’t find the paper at the moment (I suspect it is backed up on one of my hard drives at home), or I would look at it. I believe I stuck primarily with the use of the term and the few examples you brought up. I didn’t consider whether the stigmata was self-inflicted or put there by others. But I was considering it in terms of the stigmata St. Francis is said to have had (in other words, put there directly by God). It wouldn’t have been the first time God intervened in Paul’s physical life (remember when he was struck blind?).

    If you write another post about the authorship of John or anything of the sort, be sure to let me know. Of course, I’ll still be keeping up with your blog when I have time, but send me posts like that.

  • http://TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com Bible student


    FYI, TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com has a free eBook that pulls together the biblical evidence that is able to show that whoever the unnamed “other disciple, whom Jesus loved” was he could not have been John – because that false idea actually forces the scripture to contradict itself, which it cannot do if it is true.

    It turns out there is not a single verse that would justify teaching that John was the anonymous author of the fourth gospel and the facts in the plain text of scripture are able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the John tradition is a false teaching. I haven’t read Mr. Dunne’s post so I don’t know if he relies on non-Bible sources to make his arguments, but the fact that the Bible itself has all the data that is needed to show the John idea is an unbiblical hand-me-down should lead those who love the truth to realize how easy it is to be deceived by blindly following the opinions of the intellectual elites when they present ideas as if they are biblical without a single verse that would justify doing so.

  • Justin_snell

    For a really well laid out case for Lazarus being the actual author of the fourth gospel, you should read “The Beloved Disciple” by Vernard Eller. Got some really good stuff in it and does nothing to undermine the authority or validity of the gospel itself. Indeed it actually gave me a little more insight into the book and why it was written the way it was. The full book is online here: http://hccentral.com/eller8/index.html