« AnteriorContinua »
gnostic errors with an overweening estimation of John the Baptist, were principally aimed at. Others, not finding in this a sufficient account of the peculiarities of the Gospel, supposed this or other polemic aims, to have been united with the supplementary one. Others again finding in the Gospel no sufficient evidence either of a polemical or a supplementary intention, fell back on the didactic aim set forth ch. xx. 31. This view, however, was never found satisfactory to explain the peculiar phænomena of the Gospel.
9. Meantime, however, the critical study of the other Gospels had so far advanced, that it became more and more clearly seen, that the hypothesis of John having been acquainted with, and having wished to complete or correct them, was entirely untenable. Again, not finding traces of a polemical design sufficiently prominent in the Gospel, some critics, slightly altering the term, have supposed it to be apologetic in its character. Some, lastly, pronounced it unworthy of the Apostle to follow any secondary designs, considering his own avowal in ch. xx. 30, 31. But even granting this, it may still be a lawful enquiry, What peculiar circumstances led to his realizing this his great design in the present peculiar form of composition. The three former Evangelists had, beyond question, the same great design, and yet have followed it in a very different manner. Something of this may doubtless be explained by the individual character of the writer's mind, but clearly not all: and that character itself was modified by surrounding events. We are driven therefore to the special circumstances under which the Gospel, but especially the prologue, which in this matter rules the Gospel, was composed.
10. Into these Lücke enquires under two heads: (1) the relation of John's Gospel to the other three; (2) the character of the age and section of the Church in which the Evangelist lived. In treating the first of these he disproves, much in the same manner as has been done in this Introduction, the probability that John intended to supply, or had ever seen, our present Gospels; and maintains that an acquaintance on his part with the general stream of oral testimony from which they were derived, will sufficiently account for the relations observable between him and them. His inference is, that if his Gospel (as undoubtedly is the case) sometimes supplies and gives precision to theirs, this has been only the result, but could in no way be the aim of his writing; the peculiarities and object of which must be altogether accounted for from considerations belonging to the other head of the enquiry.
11. In pursuing this, he distinguishes three classes of writings likely to arise in the apostolic age: (a) the simple committal to paper of the cycles of oral narration, with a view to fixing them for the general and continued edification of the readers. To this class he refers the Gospels
of Matthew and Mark. (b) Writings compiled with a more set purpose of giving a complete account, in order, of the events of our Lord's life on earth. In this division he classes the Gospel of Luke. (c) The third class would arise from the growing up of the faith, which at first was a simple historical belief, into the maturer philosophical form of doctrinal system. In the course of this progress, various questions would arise respecting the life and teaching of the Lord Jesus, which the generally-received oral narration was not competent to answer. And these writings would be composed to satisfy such enquirers by presenting such an apologetic view of the Lord's life, and such a doctrinal account of His teaching, as might tend to set their questionings at rest. To this class he supposes may have belonged some of the gnostic apocryphal writings; and to this class certainly does belong the Gospel of John.
12. At the time of its composition, many questionings were already raised between the believing and unbelieving, and among the believing themselves. Traces of such we find even in the Pauline Epistles, 1 Cor. i. 23; xv. 1. Lücke instances some of these questions which this Gospel was well adapted to answer. (a) The rejection of the Lord Jesus by His own people the Jews, was an event likely to prove a stumbling-block, and to be used by unbelievers against our religion. To the elucidation of this,-the tracing its progress, step by step,-the shewing its increasing virulence amidst the blameless innocence and holy words and deeds of the Redeemer,-does John especially devote the middle and principal section of his Gospel. He shews that thereby His enemies were fulfilling the divine purpose, and that they were even forewarned of this by one among themselves, ch. xi. 51, 52. (b) We may evidently see, from the diligence with which John accumulates autoptic evidence on the subject of the actual death of Christ, and His resurrection, that he has in this part also some in view, who did not receive those great events as undoubted facts, but required the authority of an Apostle to assure them of their truth. (c) The way also in which he relates the testimonies of our Lord respecting the manner, results, and voluntary nature of His own death,—that it was His true glorification, that it was undertaken freely, but in complete accordance with the Father's will,-seems to point to doubts as to the character of that event, which the Evangelist meditated removing. (d) It was certainly, later (see Origen against Celsus, quoted in note on Matt. ix. 9—13), a reproach against the Apostles, that they were low-born and ignorant In the case of Paul, we find very early a disposition on the part of some in the Churches, to set aside apostolic authority. And those who were so disposed might perhaps appeal to the oral narrative which forms the foundation of the three former Gospels, to prove that the Apostles often misunderstood the sayings of the Lord, and might from thence take occasion to vilify their present preaching as resting on similar misunder
standing. John,—from his relating so much at length the discourse of our Lord in which He promised the Comforter to guide them into all the truth, and bring to their minds all that He had said to them, and from noticing (ch. xii. 16; xx. 9) that they understood not certain things at first, which were made clear to them afterwards,—seems to be guarding the apostolic office and testimony from such imputations.
13. But all these designs, possible as they may have been, do not reach so far as to give any account of the very remarkable cast and diction of the prologue. This opening gives a tone to the whole Gospel, being no less than a compendium or programme of its contents, gathered up and expressed according to a nomenclature already familiar to certain persons within the Church. The fact of John having been led to adopt the gnostic term, "the word" or "logos," as the exponent of his teaching respecting the person of our Lord, would of itself make it probable that he had the combating of gnostic error in his view; or perhaps, speaking more accurately, that he was led to take advantage of the yearnings of the human desire after an universal and philosophic religion,-by grasping and lifting upward into the certainty of revelation the truth which they had shaped to themselves, and thereby striking off and proscribing their manifold and erroneous conceits. But neither the language of the prologue itself, nor any prominence given to antagonistic truths in the Gospel, justify us in ascribing to the Evangelist a position directly polemical against the peculiar tenets of Cerinthus. The stand made in the Gospel, is against gnosticism in the very widest sense; in its Ebionitish form, as denying the Divinity and pre-existence of Christ,and in its Docetic, as denying the reality of His assumption of the Human Nature.
4. While, however, John contends against false gnosis (or philosophy of the Gnostics) he is, in the furtherance and grounding of the true gnosis (or knowledge), the greatest, as he was the last, of the spiritual teachers of the Church. The great Apostle of the Gentiles, amidst fightings without and fears within, built in his argumentative Epistles the outworks of that temple, of which his still greater colleague and successor was chosen noiselessly to complete, in his peaceful old age, the inner and holier places. And this, after all, ranging under it all secondary aims, we must call the great object of the Evangelist :-to advance, purify from error, and strengthen, that maturer Christian life of knowledge, which is the true development of the teaching of the Spirit in men, and which the latter part of the apostolic period witnessed in its full vitality. And this, by setting forth the Person of the Lord Jesus in all its fulness of grace and truth, in all its manifestation in the flesh by signs
For an account of them, see Neander's Church History, Rose's Translation, vol. ii.
and by discourses, and its glorification by opposition and unbelief, through sufferings and death. That he should have been led to cast his testimony into a form antagonistic to the peculiar errors then prevalent,—that he should have adopted the thoughts and diction of previous seekers after God, so far as they were capable of serving his high purpose and being elevated into vehicles of heavenly truth,-these are arrangements which we may not, because they are natural and probable, the less regard as providential, and admirably designed for that which especially was his portion of the apostolic work, the PERFECTING OF
AT WHAT PLACE AND TIME IT WAS WRITTEN.
1. These two questions, as relating to John's Gospel, are too intimately connected to form the subject of separate sections.
2. The most ancient testimony, that of Irenæus, relates that it was published at Ephesus. This testimony is repeated by Jerome and others, and is every way consonant with what we have above (§ i.) related of the history of the Apostle its author. Some later writers have reported that it was published from Patmos, during John's exile; some have combined the two accounts, and made John dictate the Gospel in Patmos, and publish it at Ephesus after his return. But of these the only account which from its date and character deserves attention, is that of Irenæus.
3. The Gospel itself furnishes only negative or uncertain evidence on this point. From the manner in which the sites and habits of Palestine are spoken of, it seems evident that it was composed at a distance from that country. If again we regard the peculiar nomenclature of the prologue, and enquire to what locality this points, two places occur to us where it would be likely to have been adopted; one of these, Alexandria, the other, Ephesus. The first of these cities was the home and birthplace of the gnostic philosophy; the other (Acts xviii. 24) was in communication with, and derived its philosophic character from Alexandria. Now as no history gives us any account of the Apostle having laboured or ever been at Alexandria, this consideration also forms a presumptive confirmation of the tradition that the Gospel was written at Ephesus.
4. If so, we have some clue, although but an indirect one, to the time at which it was published. If John cannot be supposed to have come thither till some time after the ultimate disappearance of the Apostle Paul from Asia Minor, then we have obviously a time specified, before which the Gospel cannot have been published.
5. The voice of tradition on this point is very uncertain. Irenæus states that this Gospel was the latest written of the four: which, as he places Mark's and Luke's after the deaths of Peter and Paul (but see Introduction to Luke, § iv.), would bring us to a similar date with that pointed out in the preceding paragraph. As usual in traditional matter,―on our advance to later writers, we find more and more particular accounts given :—the year of John's life, the reigning Emperor, &c., under which the Gospel was written. In all such cases the student will do well to remember, that such late traditions are worthless exactly in proportion to their particularity of detail.
6. But we have thus no direct indication, at what date to place the Gospel. On examining its contents, we find no such indication given by them. It is true that the Evangelist speaks in ch. v. 2 of the pool of Bethesda in the present tense as being near the sheepgate, and thence it might seem as if he wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem :-but such indications are confounded by the fact that he alone of the Evangelists speaks of places near Jerusalem, which would remain after the destruction, in the past tense (ch. xi. 18), which seems to shew that no stress is to be laid on such expressions, which were perhaps used by him according to the cast of the particular narrative which he was then constructing, without any reference to the existing state of things at the time of his writing. See, however, note on ch. xi. 18.
7. It has been variously inferred,-from ch. xxi. 18, 19,-that the Gospel must have been published during the lifetime of Peter; for that, had the Lord's prophecy been fulfilled before the account was written, some notice would have been taken of such fulfilment; and from ch. xviii. 10, that it cannot have been published till after his death,—for that Peter's name would not have been mentioned, had he been still living. But it is plain that we might just as well argue for ch. xxi. 18, 19, being written after Peter's death, on account of the definiteness of the interpretation there given to the prophecy; and I have shewn in my note on Matt. xxvi. 51, that no stress can be laid on the other inference.
8. Nor do we find any more certain indication by comparison of the Gospel with the First Epistle, or with the Apocalypse. The dates of both these are very uncertain ;—and it has been disputed whether their contents presuppose the Gospel or not. Such expressions as the Word of Life," "the life eternal, which was with the Father and was manifested to us," 1 John i. 2, and similiar ones, make it at least probable, that the Epistle was written after the Gospel. But how long after, we have no means of even conjecturing. And with regard to the Apocalypse, if we assume the Domitianic date (95 or 96 A.D.), which I have upheld in the Introduction to Revelation, § ii., we yet get no trustworthy points of comparison whereby to infer the date of the Gospel.
4 See also ch. xviii. 1; xix. 41.