Authorship of the Johannine works

The authorship of the Johannine works—the Gospel of John, Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation—has been debated by scholars since at least the 2nd century AD. 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. Tradition attributes all the books to John the Apostle. Most scholars conclude that the apostle John wrote none of these works. Some hold the apostle to be behind at least some of these works, in particular the gospel, but the majority of scholars have abandoned this view or hold it only tenuously.
Most scholars agree that all three letters are written by the same author, although there is debate on who that author is. Although some scholars conclude the author of the epistles was different from that of the gospel, all four works probably originated from the same community, traditionally and plausibly attributed to Ephesus, c. 90-110, but perhaps, according to some scholars, from Syria.
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.
's c. 1605 painting Saint John the Evangelist shows the traditional author of the Johannine works as a young man.

Early use and attribution of the Johannine works


The first certain witness to Johannine theology among the Fathers of the Church is in Ignatius of Antioch, whose Letter to the Philippians is founded on and alludes to and. This would indicate that the Gospel was known in Antioch before Ignatius' death. Polycarp of Smyrna quotes from the letters of John, as does Justin Martyr.
The earliest testimony to the author was that of Papias, preserved in fragmentary quotes in Eusebius's history of the Church. This text is consequently rather obscure. Eusebius says that two different Johns must be distinguished, John the Apostle, and John the Presbyter, with the Gospel assigned to the Apostle and the Book of Revelation to the presbyter.
Irenaeus's witness based on Papias represents the tradition in Ephesus, where John the Apostle is reputed to have lived. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, thus in the second generation after the apostle. According to many scholars, he states unequivocally that the apostle is the author of the Gospel. Koester rejects the reference of Ignatius of Antioch as referring to the Gospel and cites Irenaeus as the first to use it.
For some time it was common practice to assert that the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, which contains a small portion of chapter 18 of John's gospel, demonstrated that the text of the Gospel of John spread rapidly through Egypt in the second century. However, more recent scholarship has shown the fragment may date from as late as the third or fourth century, rather than the second century, as was previously supposed.
Clement of Alexandria mentions John the Apostle's missionary activity in Asia Minor, and continues, "As for John, the last, upon seeing that in the Gospels they had told the corporal matters, supported by his disciples and inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wrote a spiritual Gospel." Origen responded, when asked how John had placed the cleansing of the Temple first rather than last, "John does not always tell the truth literally, he always tells the truth spiritually." In Alexandria, the authorship of the Gospel and the first epistle was never questioned. Bruce Metzger stated "One finds in Clement's work citations of all the books of the New Testament with the exception of Philemon, James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John."
Rome was the home to the only early rejection of the fourth Gospel. The adversaries of Montanism were responsible. Irenaeus says that these persons tried to suppress the teaching about the Holy Spirit in order to put down Montanism, and as a result denied the authorship of the Gospel and its authority. Later Epiphanius called this group, who were followers of the priest Caius, the Alogi in a wordplay between "without the Word" and "without reason".


The gospel was not widely quoted until late in the 2nd century. Justin Martyr is probably the first Church Father to quote John's gospel. Some scholars conclude that in antiquity John was probably considered less important than the synoptics. Walter Bauer suggests:
One reason for this 'orthodox ambivalence' was gnostic acceptance of the fourth gospel. The early Gnostic use is referred to by Irenaeus and Origen in quoted commentary made on John by the Gnostics Ptolemy and Heracleon. In the quote below Irenaeus argues against the gnostic heresy from his book Against Heresies:
Several church fathers of the 2nd century never quoted John, but the earliest extant written commentary on any book of the New Testament was that written on John by Heracleon, a disciple of the gnostic Valentinus.
The following table shows the number of times various church fathers cited John compared to the synoptic gospels.
GospelBarn.Did.Ign.Poly.Herm.II Clem.PapiasBasilides
John or Epistles002?100?1

John or Epistles01001410

Gospel of John

Traditionally the author is identified as John the Apostle, since otherwise, one of the most important apostles in the other Gospels would be entirely missing in the fourth gospel. However, critical scholars have suggested some other possibilities, as it was common at the time to forge documents in someone else's name for credibility.


John is considered the last of the Gospels to be written. Most scholars today give it a date between 90 and 100, though a minority suggest an even later date. The Fourth Gospel may have been later also because it was written to a smaller group within the Johannine community, and was not circulated widely until a later date. However, claims for authorship much later than 100 have been called into question due to Rylands Library Papyrus P52, a fragment of the gospel found in Egypt that was probably written around 125

Possible Gnostic origins

There has been little agreement about the literary sources for the Johannine works. Criticism in the early 20th century centered on the idea of the Logos, which was perceived as a Hellenistic concept. Thus H. J. Holtzmann hypothesized a dependence of the work on Philo Judaeus; Albert Schweitzer considered the work to be a Hellenized version of Pauline mysticism, while R. Reitzenstein sought the work's origin in Egyptian and Persian mystery religions.
Rudolf Bultmann took a different approach to the work. He hypothesized a Gnostic origin for the work. He noted similarities with the Pauline corpus, but attributed this to a common Hellenistic background. He claimed that the many contrasts in the Gospel, between light and darkness, truth and lies, above and below, and so on, show a tendency toward dualism, explained by the Gnostic roots of the work. Despite the Gnostic origin, Bultmann commended the author for several improvements over Gnosticism, such as the Judeo-Christian view of creation and the demythologizing of the role of the Redeemer. He saw the Gospel as an investigation into a God who was wholly Other and transcendent, seeing no place in the vision of the author for a Church or sacraments.
Bultmann's analysis is still widely applied in German-speaking countries, although with many corrections and discussions. Wide-ranging replies have been made to this analysis. Today, most Christian exegetes reject much of Bultmann's theory, but accept certain of his intuitions. For instance, J. Blank uses Bultmann in his discussion of the Last Judgment and W. Thüsing uses him to discuss the elevation and glorification of Jesus.
In the English-speaking world, Bultmann has had less impact. Instead, these scholars tended to continue in the investigation of the Hellenistic and Platonistic theories, generally returning to theories closer to the traditional interpretation. By way of example, G.H.C. McGregor and W.F. Howard belong to this group.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran marked a change in Johannine scholarship. Several of the hymns, presumed to come from a community of Essenes, contained the same sort of plays between opposites – light and dark, truth and lies – which are themes within the Gospel. Thus the hypothesis that the Gospel relied on Gnosticism fell out of favor. Many suggested further that John the Baptist himself belonged to an Essene community, and if John the Apostle had previously been a disciple of the Baptist, he would have been affected by that teaching.
The resulting revolution in Johannine scholarship was termed the new look by John A. T. Robinson, who coined the phrase in 1957 at Oxford. According to Robinson, this new information rendered the question of authorship a relative one. He considered a group of disciples around the aging John the Apostle who wrote down his memories, mixing them with theological speculation, a model that had been proposed as far back as Renan's Vie de Jésus. The work of such scholars brought the consensus back to a Palestinian origin for the text, rather than the Hellenistic origin favored by the critics of the previous decades.
According to Gnosticism scholar Pagels, "Qumran fever" that was raised by the discovery of the Scrolls is gradually dying down, with theories of Gnostic influences in the Johannine works beginning to be proposed again, especially in Germany. Some recent views have seen the theology of Johannine works as directly opposing "Thomas Christians". Most scholars, however, consider the Gnosticism question closed.


The phrase the disciple whom Jesus loved or, in, the disciple beloved of Jesus is used six times in the Gospel of John, but in no other New Testament accounts of Jesus. states that the Gospel of John is based on the written testimony of this disciple.
Since the end of the first century, the Beloved Disciple has been commonly identified with John the Evangelist. Scholars have debated the authorship of Johannine literature since at least the third century, but especially since the Enlightenment. The authorship by John the Apostle is rejected by many modern scholars.

19th century views

According to Adolf Julicher, K.G. Bretschneider's 1820s work on the topic of Johannine authorship pioneered the modern critical scholarship on this topic. Bretschneider called into question the apostolic authorship of the Gospel, and even stated on the basis of the author's unsteady grip on topography that the author could not have come from Palestine. He argued that the meaning and nature of Jesus presented in the Gospel of John was very different from that in the Synoptic Gospels, and thus its author could not have been an eyewitness to the events. Bretschneider cited an apologetic character in John, indicating a later date of composition. Scholars such as Wellhausen, Wendt, and Spitta have argued that the fourth gospel is a Grundschrift or a, " which had suffered interpolation before arriving at its canonical form; it was a unity as it stood."
Walter Bauer opened the modern discussion on John with his book Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum. Bauer's thesis is that "the heretics probably outnumbered the orthodox" in the early Christian world and that heresy and orthodoxy were not as narrowly defined as we now define them. He was "convinced that none of the Apostolic Fathers had relied on the authority of the Fourth Gospel. It was the gnostics, the Marcionites, and the Montanists who first used it and introduced it to the Christian community."
F.C. Baur proposed that John was solely a work of synthesis of thesis-antithesis according to the Hegelian model—synthesis between the thesis of Judeo-Christianity and the antithesis of Gentile Christianity. He also cited in the epistles a synthesis with the opposing dualist forces of Gnosticism. As such, he assigned a date of 170 to the Gospel.

The beloved disciple

, in the controversial The Passover Plot and other works, saw evidence that the source of this Gospel was the Beloved Disciple of the Last Supper and further that this person, perhaps named John, was a senior Temple priest and so probably a member of the Sanhedrin. This would account for the knowledge of and access to the Temple which would not have been available to rough fishermen and followers of a disruptive rural preacher from the Galilee, one who was being accused of heresy besides. And probably for the evanescent presence of the Beloved Disciple in the events of Jesus' Ministry. On this reading, the Gospel was written, perhaps by a student and follower of this Disciple in his last advanced years, perhaps at Patmos. Schonfield agrees that the Gospel was the product of the Apostle's great age, but further identifies him as the Beloved Disciple of the Last Supper, and so believes that the Gospel is based on first hand witness, though decades later and perhaps through the assistance of a younger follower and writer, which may account for the mixture of Hebraicisms and Greek idiom.
Parker suggested that this disciple might be John Mark; nonetheless, the Acts of the Apostles indicate that John Mark was very young and a late-comer as a disciple. J. Colson suggested that "John" was a priest in Jerusalem, explaining the alleged priestly mentality in the fourth gospel. R. Schnackenburg suggested that "John" was an otherwise unknown resident of Jerusalem who was in Jesus' circle of friends. The Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary identify Mary Magdalene as the disciple whom Jesus loved, a connection that has been analyzed by Esther de Boer and made notorious in the fictional The Da Vinci Code. Finally, a few authors, such as Loisy and Bultmann and Hans-Martin Schenke, see "the Beloved Disciple" as a purely symbolic creation, an idealized pseudonym for the group of authors.
Gnosticism scholar Elaine Pagels goes further and claims that the author himself was a Gnostic, citing similarities with the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip.
Filson, Sanders, Vernard Eller, Rudolf Steiner, and Ben Witherington suggest Lazarus, since and specifically indicates that Jesus "loved" him.

John the Apostle

Most scholars conclude that the apostle John wrote none of these works. Various objections to John the Apostle's authorship have been raised. First of all, the Gospel of John is a highly intellectual account of Jesus' life, and is familiar with Rabbinic traditions of biblical interpretation. The Synoptic Gospels, however, are united in identifying John as a fisherman. refers to John as "without learning" or "unlettered".
Objections are also raised because the "disciple whom Jesus loved" is not mentioned before the Last Supper.
The title is also strange to George Beasley-Murray because "if the beloved disciple were one of the Twelve, he would have been sufficiently known outside the Johannine circle of churches for the author to have named him".
Some scholars hold the apostle to be behind at least some, in particular the gospel. In favor of the historical and eyewitness character of the Gospel, a few passages are cited. John's chronology for the death of Jesus seems more realistic, because the Synoptic Gospels would have the trial before the Sanhedrin occurring on the first day of the Passover, which was a day of rest.

Johannine community

While evidence regarding the author is slight, some scholars believe this gospel developed from a school or Johannine circle working at the end of the 1st century, possibly in Ephesus.
Raymond E. Brown, among others, posit a community of writers rather than a single individual that gave final form to the work. In particular, Chapter 21 is very stylistically different from the main body of the Gospel, and is thought to be a later addition. Among many Christian scholars the view has evolved that there were multiple stages of development involving the disciples as well as the apostle; Brown distinguishes four stages of development: traditions connected directly with the apostle, partial editing by his disciples, synthesis by the apostle, and additions by a final editor. At the very least, it seems clear that in chapter 21 someone else speaks in the first person plural, ostensibly as the voice of a community that believes the testimony of this other person called the "beloved disciple" to be true.
More recently, scholars including Adele Reinhartz and Robert Kysar have challenged the idea of a Johannine community and cite the lack of evidence for such a community.

Epistles of John

Most scholars agree that all three letters are written by the same author, although there is debate on who that author is. These three epistles are similar in terminology, style, and general situation. They are loosely associated with the Gospel of John and may result from that gospel's theology. These epistles are commonly accepted as deriving from the Johannine community in Asia Minor. Early references to the epistles, the organization of the church apparent in the text, and the lack of reference to persecution suggests that they were written early in the 2nd century.

First epistle

The phraseology of the first letter of John is very similar to that of the fourth gospel, so the question of its authorship is often connected to the question of authorship of the gospel. The two works use many of the same characteristic words and phrases, such as light, darkness, life, truth, a new commandment, to be of the truth, to do the truth and only begotten son. In both works, the same basic concepts are explored: the Word, the incarnation, the passing from death to life, the truth and lies, etc. The two works also bear many stylistic affinities to one another. In the words of Amos Wilder, the works share "a combination of simplicity and elevation which differs from the flexible discourse of Paul and from the more concrete vocabulary and formal features of the Synoptic Gospels."
Given the similarity with the Gospel, the "great majority" of critical scholars assign the same authorship to the epistle that they assign to the Gospel. At the end of the 19th century, scholar Ernest DeWitt Burton was able to write that, "the similarity in style, vocabulary and doctrine to the fourth gospel is, however, so clearly marked that there can be no reasonable doubt that the letter and the gospel are from the same pen." Starting with Heinrich Julius Holtzmann, however, and continuing with C. H. Dodd, some scholars have maintained that the epistle and the gospel were written by different authors. There are at least two principal arguments for this view. The first is that the epistle often uses a demonstrative pronoun at the beginning of a sentence, then a particle or conjunction, followed by an explanation or definition of the demonstrative at the end of the sentence, a stylistic technique which is not used in the gospel. The second is that the author of the epistle, "uses the conditional sentence in a variety of rhetorical figures which are unknown to the gospel."
The book was not among those whose canonicity was in doubt, according to Eusebius; however, it is not included in an ancient Syrian canon. Theodore of Mopsuestia also presented a negative opinion toward its canonicity. Outside of the Syrian world, however, the book has many early witnesses, and appears to have been widely accepted.
The First Epistle of John assumes knowledge of the Gospel of John, and some scholars think that the epistle's author might have been the one who redacted the gospel.

Second and third epistles

Irenaeus, in the late second-century, quotes from 1st and 2nd John, and states that he is quoting the Apostle John. Eusebius claimed that the author of 2nd and 3rd John was not John the Apostle but actually John the Elder, due to the introductions of the epistles. However, modern scholars have argued that Eusebius made this conclusion based on a misinterpretation of a statement from Papias and a desire to invent a second John to be the author of Revelation. Carson suggests that the vocabulary, structure, and grammar of the Gospel of John is remarkably similar to 1st John, 2nd John and 3rd John.

Book of Revelation

The author of the Book of Revelation identifies himself as "John", and the book has been traditionally credited to John the Apostle. Reference to the apostle's authorship is found as early as Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho. Other early witnesses to this tradition are Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Hippolytus. This identification, however, was denied by other Fathers, including Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, and John Chrysostom. The Apocryphon of John claims John as both the author of itself and Revelation. Donald Guthrie wrote that the evidence of the Church Fathers supports the identification of the author as John the Apostle.
According to Epiphanius, one Caius of Rome believed that Cerinthus, a Gnostic, was the author of the Book of Revelation.
In the 3rd century, Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria rejected apostolic authorship, but accepted the book's canonicity. Dionysius believed that the author was another man also named John, John the Presbyter, teacher of Papias, bishop of Hieropolis. Eusebius of Caesarea later agreed with this. Because authorship was one of several considerations for canonization, several Church Fathers and the Council of Laodicea rejected Revelation.
Mainstream scholars conclude that the author did not also write the Gospel of John because of wide differences in eschatology, language, and tone. The Book of Revelation contains grammatical errors and stylistic abnormalities whereas the Gospel and Epistles are all stylistically consistent which indicate its author may not have been as familiar with the Greek language as the Gospel/Epistles's author. Contemporary scholars note that when Revelation and the Gospel refer to Jesus as "lamb" they use different Greek words, and they spell "Jerusalem" differently. There are differing motifs between the book and the Gospel: use of allegory, symbolism, and similar metaphors, such as "living water", "shepherd", "lamb", and "manna". The Book of Revelation does not go into several typically Johannine themes, such as light, darkness, truth, love, and "the world" in a negative sense. The eschatology of the two works are also very different. Still, the author uses the terms "Word of God" and "Lamb of God" for Jesus Christ, possibly indicating that the author had a common theological background with the author of John.
According to the testimony of Irenaeus, Eusebius and Jerome, the writing of this book took place near the very end of Domitian's reign, around 95 or 96. Kenneth Gentry contends for an earlier date, 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter.