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Dr. Philip W. Comfort has studied English Literature, Greek, ...
Dr. Philip W. Comfort has studied English Literature, Greek, and New Testament at the Ohio State University and the University of South Africa. He has taught at Wheaton College, Trinity Episcopal Seminary, and Columbia International University. He currently teaches at Coastal Carolina University and is a senior editor of Bible reference at Tyndale House Publishers.
Dr. Wendell C. Hawley graduated from the University of Oregon (BA and MA) and from Western Baptist Seminary. He was awarded the LLD from California Graduate School of Theology and the DD degree from Western Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon.
Dr. Grant R. Osborne is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Prior to his work at Trinity, he served as a pastor for over 4 years and taught at Winnipeg Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen. He received his Master of Arts in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Tyndale House Publishers
INTRODUCTION TO John
The Gospel of John is so simple that it is often the first biblical book given to seekers and recent converts to help them understand Christian truth, and yet it is so difficult that only experienced scholars attempt to study it. It is paradoxically the most accessible and yet the most complex of the four Gospels. There are many reasons why this is so. John presents the basic gospel, as well as the necessity of having faith, more directly than any of the Gospels. It also brilliantly dramatizes the process of one's decision to have faith. If I were teaching a course in creative writing, I would use John's Gospel along with Shakespeare's plays as examples of brilliant characterization and plot. The longest stories in the synoptic Gospels consist of about 20 or so verses, but John's dramas (chs 1; 3; 4; 6; 9; 11) are closer to 40 verses long, and they are powerfully written, centering on the encounter of various characters with Jesus as the Christ and Son of God.
It is important to know the author of a document in order to interpret the message and determine the historical veracity of what the document reports. All four canonical Gospels, however, are anonymous-that is, they do not name their authors. In order to determine the author of John, there are two sources of information that must be examined-the external evidence from the early church fathers and the internal evidence from the Gospel itself.
External Evidence for Authorship. The earliest church fathers (such as Ignatius and Polycarp) do not mention John by name. Polycarp, however, quotes 1 John 4:2 (To the Philippians 7.1), and Justin Martyr alludes to John 3:3-5 (First Apology 61.4-5) and speaks of the "memoirs of the apostles" (First Apology 67.4), undoubtedly referring to Matthew and John, the two apostles among the four Evangelists. In addition, John was an apparent favorite of the Gnostics (it was often cited in the Gospel of Truth), and this misuse of his Gospel by the Gnostics may have contributed to a reluctance of the orthodox to quote him. Tatian used John as the historical basis of his harmonization of the four Gospels (the Diatesseron), and Athenagorus also alluded to it. The first to quote from John's Gospel is Theophilus of Antioch (AD 181). Irenaeus (c. AD 180) attributes the Gospel to John (Against Heresies 3.1.1), as does the Muratorian Canon and the anti-Marcionite prologue (both late-second century). Irenaeus, in that same statement, says he heard Polycarp talk about being tutored by John, the apostle who had seen the Lord. By the end of the second century (and from that point on) there was near unanimous acceptance of John's
The latest possible date for the writing of John's Gospel is AD 110-120 because there is an early papyrus fragment of John ([??]52; John Rylands Papyrus 457) dated to this period. Another papyrus fragment of an unknown Gospel (known as Egerton Papyrus 2) that was based on John's Gospel is dated c. 130-150. These copies evidence the existence of John's Gospel at least to the beginning of the second century, if not earlier. The earliest possible date for John's Gospel is probably the late 60s (if John knew of Mark and perhaps Matthew; Morris  and Burge  place it here). Most assign it to the 80s or early 90s due to 21:23, which probably was penned while John was either near the end of his life or already dead (if he wrote Revelation, he lived past AD 95, when it was most likely composed [cf. Osborne 2002]). Beyond this rough time frame we cannot go with certainty. We simply do not know the order of his writings-the Gospel, the three epistles, Revelation. Many think the phrase "expelled from the synagogue" in 9:22, 12:42, and 16:2 refers to the time after Christians were kicked out of synagogues in the early 80s, but that is an unprovable assumption. The Jewish ban expelling Jews from synagogues probably existed in Jesus' day as well (for examples see Brown 1970:374).
Though there is no absolute proof, the traditional place of writing, Ephesus, remains the most likely. John ministered there for a great deal of time (attested by Irenaeus in Against Heresies 3.1.2 and by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 3.1.1), and the book of Revelation was written for the churches in that area.
AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE OF WRITING
The key to the purpose of the fourth Gospel is found in 20:31-"These are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God." Scholars, however, debate as to whether this means saving faith on the part of non-Christians or growing faith on the part of Christians. Some (Morris and especially Carson) believe John wrote primarily to evangelize Jews; others (Brown, Kysar, Michaels, Ridderbos) think he wrotemainly for believers. This is certainly a false dichotomy. I am not convinced by either extreme. Rather, John wrote both to awaken faith in the lost and to quicken faith in the followers of Jesus (so Bruce, Beasley-Murray, Whitacre, Burge). This issue is similar to that found in all four Gospels.
It is common today to believe that all four Gospels, including John, were originally intended almost entirely for Christians. Some have thought they were written for specific Christian communities. Bauckham (1998) provides a valuable service in showing that the Gospels were not written to separate communities (the Markan community, the Johannine community), as has been presupposed by critical scholars (who always searched for the Sitz im Leben or "situation in the life" of each differing community behind a Gospel). Rather, each Gospel was intended for the whole church. However, Bauckham dismisses in one footnote (1998:9) the possibility of an evangelistic or apologetic purpose and concludes, "On this question the present chapter takes for granted, without arguing the point, the answer given by the scholarly consensus, that all Gospels were intended to reach, in the first place, a Christian audience" (1998:9-10). However, such an assumption should not be made. While this is likely true for Matthew and Mark, it is not true for Luke and John, as seen in the fact that the central theme in both is soteriology (for Luke see Marshall 1970 and Evans 1990:104-111). Though Carson does not prove his point that John centers entirely on evangelistic concerns (1991:87-95), he certainly does prove that evangelism is a major purpose of his Gospel (so also Keener, Köstenberger).
John wanted to win the lost as well as strengthen the believers. In fact, in chapters 1-12, encounters with Jesus and faith-decisions are certainly in the foreground. It is true that the diatribe against the Jewish people (e.g., chs 5-10) is a telling point against a purely evangelistic interest. In fact, Whitacre (1999:28-33) sees conflict both with the synagogue/rabbinic Judaism and with a similar proto-Gnosticism as that which John fought against in his first epistle. The latter is questionable (there is not enough evidence for such a theme), but the former is a definite emphasis. John wanted to encourage the church in light of Jewish persecution.
CANONICITY AND TEXTUAL HISTORY
The fourth Gospel has long been recognized as one of the four canonical Gospels. Irenaeus was among the first to recognize the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as being the exclusively canonized Gospels (Against Heresies 3.11.11). The Muratorian Canon (c. AD 200) also affirms John's Gospel as part of the canon, as did Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7) in about 325, and Athanasius in 367 (presenting the Canon of the Western church in his Festal Letter).
There are more extant early manuscripts for the Gospel of John than for any other book of the New Testament. Manuscripts of the second and third century include: [??]5, [??]22, [??]28, [??]39, [??]45, [??]52, [??]66, [??]75, [??]80, [??]90, [??]95, [??]107, [??]108, and [??]109. Among these, [??]52 belongs to the early second century (c. 110, the earliest extant ms of the NT), [??]66 belongs to middle of the second century, and [??]75 to the end of the second century (Comfort and Barrett 2001:365-366, 376-379, 501). Of all these manuscripts, [??]75 is the most accurate copy of John. The manuscript, produced by a very careful scribe, has the kind of text that was used by another careful scribe-the one who produced the fourth-century manuscript known as codex Vaticanus (cf. Porter 1962:363-376). All textual critics agree that [??]75 and B provide the best textual witness to the original wording of John's Gospel. The corrected text of [??]66 (notated as [??]66) is also a good witness, as are [??]39 and [??]90. Other manuscripts of the fourth and fifth century that provide good witness to the original text of John are codex Sinaiticus ([??], from John 9-21), T, and W (Comfort 2007: Introduction).
Excerpted from CORNERSTONE BIBLICAL COMMENTARY Copyright © 2007 by Grant Osborne. Excerpted by permission.
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