PT^HIS lecture originally formed one of a series connected -*- with Christian evidences, and delivered in St George's Hall in 1871. The other lectures were published shortly afterwards; but, not having been informed beforehand that publication was expected, I withheld my own from the volume. It seemed to me that in the course of a single lecture I could only touch the fringes of a great subject, and that injustice would be done by such imperfect treatment as alone time and opportunity allowed. Moreover I was then, and for some terms afterwards, engaged in lecturing on this Gospel at Cambridge, and I entertained the hope that I might be able to deal with the subject less inadequately if I gave myself more time. Happily it passed into other and better hands, and I was relieved from this care.
A rumour got abroad at the time, and has (I am informed) been since repeated, that I did not allow the lecture to be published, because I was dissatisfied with it. I was only dissatisfied in the sense which I have already explained. It could not be otherwise than unsatisfactory to bring forward mere fragmentary evidence of an important conclusion, when there was abundant proof in the background. The present publication of the lecture is my answer to this rumour. I give it after eighteen years exactly in the same form in which it was originally written, with the exception of a few verbal alterations. Looking over it again after this long lapse of time, I have nothing to withdraw. Additional study has only strengthened my conviction that this narrative of St John could not have been written by any one but an eye-witness.
As I have not dealt with the external evidence except for the sake of supplying a statement of the position of antagonists, the treatment suffers less than it would otherwise have done from not being brought down to date. I have mentioned by way of illustration two respects in which later discoveries had falsified Baur's contentions. The last eighteen years would supply several others. I will single out three: (1) The antagonists of the Ignatian Epistles are again put on their defence. The arguments which were adduced against the genuineness of these epistles will hold no longer. Ignatius has the testimony of his friend and contemporary Polycarp, and Polycarp has the testimony of his own personal disciple Irenaeus. The testimony of Irenaeus is denied by no one; the testimony of Polycarp is only denied because it certifies to the Ignatian letters. Before we are prepared to snap this chain of evidence rudely, and to break with an uninterrupted tradition, we require far stronger reasons than have been hitherto adduced. (2) Justin Martyr wrote before or about the middle of the second century. His use of the Fourth Gospel was at one time systematically denied by the impugners of its apostolic authorship. Now it is acknowledged almost uersally, even by those who do not allow that this evangelical narrative was written by St John himself. (3) The Diatessaron of Tatian was written about A.D. 170, and consisted of a ' Harmony of Four Gospels.' Baur and others contended that at all events St John was not one of the four. Indeed how could it be? For it had not been written, or only recently written, at this time. The Diatessaron itself has been discovered, and a commentary of Ephraem Syrus upon it in Armenian has likewise been unearthed within the last few years, both showing that it began with the opening words of St John.
The fourth of our canonical gospels has been ascribed by the tradition of the Church to St John the son of Zebedee, the personal disciple of our Lord, and one of the twelve apostles. Till within a century (I might almost say, till within a generation) of the present time, this has been the uersal belief— with one single and unimportant exception—of all ages, of all churches, of all sects, of all individuals alike.
This unanimity is the more remarkable in the earlier ages of the Church, because the language of this gospel has a very intimate bearing on numberless theological controversies which started up in the second, third, and fourth centuries of the Christian era; and it was therefore the direct interest of one party or other to deny the apostolic authority, if they had any ground for doing so. This happened not once or twice only, but many times. It would be difficult to point to a single heresy promulgated before the close of the fourth century, which might not find some imaginary points of coincidence or some real points of conflict—some relations whether of antagonism or of sympathy—with this gospel. This was equally true of Montanism in the second century, and of Arianism in the fourth. The Fourth Gospel would necessarily be among the most important authorities—we might fairly say the most important authority—in the settlement of the controversy, both from the claims which it made as a product of the beloved apostle himself, and from the striking representations which it gives of our Lord's teaching. The defender or the impugner of this or that theological opinion would have had a direct interest in disproving its genuineness and denying its authority. Can we question that this would have been done again and again, if there had been any haze of doubt hanging over its origin, if the antagonist could have found even a prima facie ground for an attack?
And this brings me to speak of that one exception to the uersal tradition to which I have already alluded. Once, and once only, did the disputants in a theological controversy yield to the temptation, strong though it must have been. A small, unimportant, nameless sect—if indeed they were compact enough to form a sect—in the latter half of the second century, denied that the Gospel and the Apocalypse were written by St John. These are the two canonical writings which especially attribute the title of the Word of God, the Logos, to our Lord: the one, in the opening verses, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word waa God'; the other, in the vision of Him who rides on the white horse, whose garments are stained with blood, and whose name is given as the 'Word of God.' To dispose of the doctrine they discredited the writings. Epiphanius calls them Alogi, 'the opponents of the Word,' or (as it might be translated, for it is capable of a double meaning)'the irrational ones.' The name is avowedly his own invention. Indeed they would scarcely have acknowledged a title which had this double sense, and could have been so easily turned against themselves. They appear only to disappear. Beyond one or two casual allusions, they are not mentioned; they have no place in history.
This is just one of those exceptions which strengthen the rule. What these Alogi did, numberless other sectaries and heretics would doubtless have done, if there had been any sufficient ground for the course. But even these Alogi lend no countenance to the views of modern objectors. Modern critics play off the Apocalypse against the Gospel, allowing the genuineness of the former, and using it to impugn the genuineness of the latter. Moreover there is the greatest difference between the two. The modern antagonist places the composition of the Fourth Gospel in the middle or the latter half of the second century; these ancient heretics ascribed it to the early heresiarch Cerinthus, who lived at the close of the first century, and was a contemporary of St John. Living themselves in the latter half of the second century, they knew (as their opponents would have reminded them, if they had found it convenient to forget the fact) that the Gospel was not a work of yesterday, that it had already a long history, and that it went back at all events to the latest years of the apostolic age; and in their theory they were obliged to recognise this fact. I need hardly say that the doctrine of the Person of Christ put forward in the Gospel and the Apocalypse is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Cerinthus, as every modern critic would allow. I only allude to this fact, to show that these very persons, who form the single exception to the unanimous tradition of all the churches and all the sects alike, are our witnesses for the antiquity of the Gospel (though not for its authenticity), and therefore are witnesses against the modern impugners of its genuineness.
With this exception, the early testimony to the authenticity and genuineness of the Gospel is singularly varied. It is a remarkable and an important fact, that the most decisive and earliest testimony comes, not from Fathers of the orthodox Church, but from heretical writers. I cannot enter upon this question at length, for I did not undertake this afternoon to speak of the external evidence; and I ask you to bear in mind, that any inadequate and cursory treatment necessarily does a great injustice to a subject like this; for the ultimate effect of testimony must depend on its fulness and variety. I only call attention to the fact that within the last few years most valuable additions have been made to this external testimony, and these from the opposite extremes of the heretical scale. At the one extreme we have Ebionism, which was the offspring of Judaizing tendencies; at the other, Gnosticism, which took its rise in Gentile license of speculation and practice. Ebionism is represented by a remarkable extant work belonging to the second century, possibly to the first half of the second century, the Clementine Homilies. The greater part of this work has long been known, but until within the last few years the printed text was taken from a MS. mutilated at the end; so that of the twenty Homilies the last half of the nineteenth and the whole of the twentieth are wanting. These earlier Homilies contained more than one reference to gospel history which could not well be referred to any of the three first evangelists, and seemed certainly to have been taken from the fourth. Still the reference was not absolutely certain, and the impugners of St John's Gospel availed themselves of this doubt to deny the reference to this gospel. At length, in the year 1853, Dressel published for the first time, from a Vatican MS., the missing conclusion of these Homilies; and this was found to contain a reference to the incidents attending the healing of the man born blind, related only by St John, and related in a way distinctly characteristic of St John—a reference so distinct, that no one from that time has attempted to deny or to dispute it.
So much for the testimony of Ebionism—of the Judaic sects of early Christianity. But equally definite, and even more full, is the testimony which recent discovery has brought to light on the side of Gnosticism. Many of my hearers will remember the interest which was excited a few years ago by the publication of a lost treatise on heresies, which Bunsen and others ascribed (and, as is now generally allowed, correctly ascribed) to Hippolytus, in the earlier part of the third century. This treatise contains large and frequent extracts from previous Gnostic writers of diverse schools—Ophites, Basilideans, Valentinians; among them, from a work which Hippolytus quotes as the production of Basilides himself, who flourished about A.D. 130-140. And in these extracts are abundant quotations from the Gospel of St John.
I have put these two recent accessions to the external testimony in favour of the Fourth Gospel side by side, because, emanating from the most diverse quarters, they have a peculiar value, as showing the extensive circulation and wide reception of this gospel at a very early date; and because also, having been brought to light soon after its genuineness was for the first time seriously impugned, they seem providentially destined to furnish an answer to the objections of recent criticism.
If we ask ourselves why we attribute this or that ancient writing to the author whose name it bears—why, for instance, we accept this tragedy as a play of Sophocles, or that speech as an oration of Demosthenes,—our answer will be, that it bears the name of the author, and (so far as we know) has always been ascribed to him. In very many cases we know nothing, or next to nothing, about the history of the writing in question. In a few instances we are fortunate enough to find a reference to it, or a quotation from it, in some author who lived a century or two later. The cases are exceptionally rare when there is an indisputable allusion in a contemporary, or nearly contemporary, writer. For the most part, we accept the fact of the authorship, because it comes to us on the authority of a MS. or MSS. written several centuries after the presumed author lived, supported in some cases by quotations in a late lexicographer, or grammarian, or collection of extracts.
The external testimony in favour of St John's Gospel reaches back much nearer to the writer's own time and is far more extensive than can be produced in the case of most classical writings of the same antiquity. From the character of the work also, this testimony gains additional value; for where the contents of a book intimately affect the cherished beliefs and the practical conduct of all who receive it, the uersality of its reception, amidst jarring creeds and conflicting tendencies, is far more significant than if its contents are indifferent, making no appeal to the religious convictions, and claiming no influence over the life. We may be disposed to complain that the external testimony is not so absolutely and finally conclusive in itself that no door is open for hesitation, that all must, despite themselves, accept it, and that any investigation into the internal evidence is superfluous and vain. But this we have no right to demand. If it is as great, and more than as great, as would satisfy us in any other case, this should suffice us. In all the most important matters which affect our interests in this world and our hopes hereafter, God has left some place for diversity of opinion, because He would not remove all opportunity of self-discipline.
If then the genuineness of this gospel is supported by greater evidence than in ordinary cases we consider conclusive, we approach the investigation of its internal character with a very strong presumption in its favour. The onus probandi rests with those who would impugn its genuineness, and nothing short of the fullest and most decisive marks of spuriousness can fairly be considered sufficient to counterbalance this evidence.
As I proceed, I hope to make it clear that, allowing their full weight to all the difficulties (and it would be foolish to deny the existence of difficulties) in this gospel, still the internal marks of authenticity and genuineness are so minute, so varied, so circumstantial, and so unsuspicious, as to create an overwhelming body of evidence in its favour.
But before entering upon this investigation, it may be worth while to inquire whether the hypotheses suggested by those who deny the genuineness of this gospel are themselves free from all difficulties. For if it be a fact (as I believe it is) that any alternative which has been proposed introduces greater perplexities than those which it is intended to remove, we are bound (irrespective of any positive arguments in its favour) to fall back upon the account which is exposed to fewest objections, and which at the same time is supported by a continuous and uersal tradition.
We may take our start from Baur's theory, for he was the first to develop and systematize the attack on the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel. According to Baur it was written about the year 170. The external testimony however is alone fatal to this very late epoch; for, after all wresting of evidence and post-dating of documents, it is impossible to deny that at this time the gospel was, not only in existence, but also received far and wide as a genuine document; that it was not only quoted occasionally, but had even been commented upon as the actual work of St John. Consequently the tendency of later impugners has been to push the date farther back, and to recede from the extreme position of this, its most determined and ablest antagonist. Hilgenfeld, who may be regarded as the successor of Baur, and the present representative of the Tubingen school (though it has no longer its headquarters at Tubingen), would place its composition about the year 150; and Tayler, who a few years ago (1867) reproduced the argument of Baur and others in England, is disposed to assign it to about the same date. With a strange inconsistency he suggests, towards the close of his book, that its true author may have been John the presbyter, though John the presbyter is stated by Papias (who had conversed with this John, and from whom all the information we possess respecting him is derived) to have been a personal disciple of our Lord, and therefore could hardly have been older than John the apostle, and certainly could not have been living towards the middle of the second century.
This tendency to recede nearer and nearer to the evangelist's own age shows that the pressure of facts has begun to tell on the theories of antagonistic criticism, and we may look forward to the time when it will be held discreditable to the reputation of any critic for sobriety and judgment to assign to this gospel any later date than the end of the first century, or the very beginning of the second.
But meanwhile, let us take the earliest of these dates (A.D. 150) as less encumbered with difficulties, and therefore more favourable to the opponents of its genuineness, and ask whether a gospel written at such a time would probably have presented the phenomena which we actually find in the fourth canonical gospel. We may interrogate alike its omissions and its contents. On this hypothesis, how are we to account for what it has left unsaid, and for what it has said?
Certainly it must be regarded as a remarkable phenomenon, that on many ecclesiastical questions which then agitated the minds of Christians it is wholly silent, while to others it gives no distinct and authoritative answer. Our Lord's teaching has indeed its bearing on the controversies of the second century, as on those of the fourth, or of the twelfth, or of the sixteenth, or of the nineteenth: but, as in these latter instances, its lessons are inferential rather than direct, they are elicited by painful investigation, they are contained implicitly in our Lord's life and person, they do not lie on the surface, nor do they offer definite solutions of definite difficulties.
Take, for instance, the dispute concerning the episcopate. Contrast the absolute silence of this gospel respecting this institution with the declarations in the Epistles of Ignatius. A modern defender of the episcopate will appeal to the commission given to the apostles (John xx. 22, 23). I need not stop here to inquire to what extent it favours his views. But obviously it is quite insufficient by itself. It would serve almost equally well for an apostolically ordained ministry of any kind, for a presbyteral as for an episcopal succession. Is it possible that a writer, composing a gospel at the very time when the authority of this office had been called in question, if a supporter of the power of the episcopate, would have resisted the temptation of inserting something which would convey a sanction, if an opponent, something which would convey a disparagement, of this office, in our Lord's own name?
Or, again: take the Gnostic theories of emanations. Any one who has studied the history of the second century will know how large a place they occupy in the theological disputes of the day; what grotesque and varied forms they assume in the speculations of different heretical teachers; what diverse arguments, some valid, some fanciful, are urged against them by orthodox writers. Would a forger have hesitated for a moment to slay this many-headed hydra by one well-aimed blow? What can we suppose to have been the object of such a forger, except to advance certain theological views? And why should he have let slip the very opportunity, which (we must suppose) he was making for himself, of condemning the worst forms of heresy from our Lord's own lips? It is true that you and I think we see (and doubtless think rightly), that the doctrine of God the Word taught in St John's Gospel is the real answer to the theological questionings which gave rise to all these theories about aeons or emanations, and involves implicitly and indirectly the refutation of all such theories. But it is only by more or less abstruse reasoning that we arrive at this conclusion. The early Gnostics did not see it so; they used St John's Gospel, and retained their theories notwithstanding. A forger would have taken care to provide a direct refutation which it was impossible to misunderstand.
Or, again: about the middle of the second century the great controversy respecting the time of celebrating Easter was beginning to lift up its head. For the latter half of this century the feud raged, bursting out ever afresh and disturbing the peace of the Church again and again, until it was finally set at rest in the fourth century at the Council of Niccea. Was the festival of the Lord's resurrection to be celebrated always on the same day of the week, the Sunday? Or was it to be guided by the time of the Jewish Passover, and thus to take place on the same day of the month, irrespective of the day of the week? Each community, each individual, took a side in this controversy. Unimportant in itself, it seriously endangered the existence of the Church. The daring adventurer who did not hesitate to forge a whole gospel would certainly not be deterred by any scruple from setting the matter at rest by a few strokes of the pen. His narrative furnished more than one favourable opportunity for interposing half a dozen decisive words in our Lord's name: and yet he abstained.
Thus we might take in succession the distinctive ecclesiastical controversies of the second century, and show how the writer of the Fourth Gospel holds aloof from them all: certainly a strange and almost incredible fact, if this writer lived about the middle, or even in the latter half, of the century, and, as a romancer, was not restrained by those obligations of fact which fetter the truthful historian who is himself a contemporary of the events recorded!
But if the omissions of the writer are strange and unaccountable on the assumption of the later date of the Gospel, the actual contents present still greater difficulties on the same hypothesis. In the interval between the age when the events are recorded to have taken place and the age in which the writer is supposed to have lived, a vast change had come over the civilized world. In no period had the dislocation of Jewish history been so complete. Two successive hurricanes had swept over the land and nation. The devastation of Titus had been succeeded by the devastation of Hadrian. What the locust of the first siege had left the cankerworm of the second had devoured. National polity, religious worship, social institutions, all were gone. The city had been razed, the land laid desolate, the law and the ordinances proscribed, the people swept into captivity or scattered over the face of the earth. 'Old things had passed away; all things had become new.'
Now let us place ourselves in the position of one who wrote about the middle of the second century, after the later Roman invasion had swept off the scanty gleanings of the past which had been spared from the earlier. Let us ask how a romancer so situated is to make himself acquainted with the incidents, the localities, the buildings, the institutions, the modes of thought and feeling, which belonged to this past age and (as we may almost say) this bygone people. Let it be granted that here and there he might stumble upon a historical fact, that in one or two particulars he might reproduce a national characteristic. More than this would be beyond his reach. For, it will be borne in mind, he would be placed at a great disadvantage, compared with a modern writer; he would have to reconstruct history without those various appliances, maps and plates, chronological tables, books of travel, by which the author of a historical novel is so largely assisted in the present day.
And even if he had been furnished with all these aids, would he have known how to use them? The uncritical character of the apostolic age is a favourite commonplace with those who impugn the genuineness of the canonical Scriptures, or the trustworthiness of the evangelical narratives. I do not deny that the age (compared with our own) was uncritical, though very exaggerated language is often used on the subject. But obviously this argument has a double edge. And the keener of these two edges lies across the very throat of recent negative criticism. For it requires a much higher flight' of critical genius to invent an extremely delicate fiction than to detect it when invented. The age which could not expose a coarse forgery was incapable of constructing a subtle historical romance. This one thing I hope to make clear in the short time that is allowed me this afternoon. The Fourth Gospel, if a forgery, shows the most consummate skill on the part of the forger; it is (as we should say in modern phrase) thoroughly in keeping. It is replete with historical and geographical details; it is interpenetrated with the Judaic spirit of the times; its delineations of character are remarkably subtle; it is perfectly natural in the progress of the events; the allusions to incidents or localities or modes of thought are introduced in an artless and unconscious way, being closely interwoven with the texture of the narrative; while throughout, the author has exercised a silence and a self-restraint about his assumed personality which is without a parallel in ancient forgeries, and which deprives his work of the only motive that, on the supposition of its spuriousness, would account for his undertaking it at all.
In all these respects it forms a direct contrast to the known forgeries of the apostolic or succeeding ages. I will only ask my hearers who are acquainted with early apocryphal literature to compare St John's Gospel with two very different and yet equally characteristic products of the first and second centuries of the Christian era—with the Protevangelium, or Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus, on the one hand, and with the Clementiiie Homilies, on the other: the former, a vulgar daub dashed in by a coarse hand in bright and startling colours; the other, a subtle philosophical romance, elaborately drawn by an able and skilful artist. But both the one and the other are obviously artificial in all their traits, and utterly alien to the tone of genuine history.
Such productions as these show what we might expect to find in a gospel written at the middle or after the middle of the second century.
If then my description of the Fourth Gospel is not overcharged (and I will endeavour to substantiate it immediately), the supposition that this gospel was written at this late epoch by a resident at Alexandria or at Ephesus will appear in the highest degree incredible; and, whatever difficulties the traditional belief may involve, they are small indeed compared with the improbabilities created by the only alternative hypothesis.
I have already proved that the absence of certain topics in this gospel seems fatal to its late authorship. I shall now proceed to investigate those phenomena of its actual contents which force us to the conclusion that it was written by a Jew contemporary with and cognisant of the facts which he relates, and more especially those indications which fix the authorship on the Apostle St John. It is necessary however to premise by way of caution, that exhaustive treatment is impossible in a single lecture, and that I can only hope to indicate a line of investigation which any one may follow out for himself.
First of all then, the writer was a Jew. This might be inferred with a very high degree of probability from his Greek style alone. It is not ungrammatical Greek, but it is distinctly Greek of one long accustomed to think and speak through the medium of another language. The Greek language is singularly rich in its capabilities of syntactic construction, and it is also well furnished with various connecting particles. The two languages with which a Jew of Palestine would be most familiar—the Hebrew, which was the language of the sacred Scriptures, and the Aramaic, which was the medium of communication in daily life—being closely allied to each other, stand in direct contrast to the Greek in this respect. There is comparative poverty of inflexions, and there is an extreme paucity of connecting and relative particles. Hence in Hebrew and Aramaic there is little or no syntax, properly so called.
Tested by his style then, the writer was a Jew. Of all the New Testament writings the Fourth Gospel is the most distinctly Hebraic in this respect. The Hebrew simplicity of diction will at once strike the reader. There is an entire absence of periods, for which the Greek language affords such facility. The sentences are co-ordinated, not subordinated. The clauses are strung together, like beads on a string. The very monotony of arrangement, though singularly impressive, is wholly unlike the Greek style of the age.
More especially does the influence of the Hebrew appear in the connecting particles. In this language the single connecting particle 1 is used equally, whether co-ordination or opposition is implied; in other words, it represents 'but' as well as 'and.' The Authorized Version does not adequately represent this fact, for our translators have exercised considerable license in varying the renderings: 'then,' 'moreover,' 'and,' 'but,' etc. Now it is a noticeable fact, that in St John's Gospel the capabilities of the Greek language in this respect are most commonly neglected; the writer falls back on the simple 'and' of Hebrew diction, using it even where we should expect to find an adversative particle. Thus v. 39, 40, 'Ye search the Scriptures, for in them j'e think that ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me: and ye will not come to Me '; vii. 19, 'Did not Moses give you the law, and none of you keepeth the law ?' where our English version has inserted an adversative particle to assist the sense, 'and yet'; vii. 30, 'Then they sought to take Him: and no man laid hands on Him,' where the English version substitutes 'but no man'; vii. 33, 'Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and I go to Him that sent Me,' where again our translators attempt to improve the sense by reading 'and then.' And instances might be multiplied.
The Hebrew character of the diction moreover shows itself in other ways: by the parallelism of the sentences, by the repetition of the same words in different clauses, by the order of the words, by the syntactical constructions, and by individual expressions. Indeed so completely is this character maintained throughout, that there is hardly a sentence which might not be translated literally into Hebrew or Aramaic, without any violence to the language or to the sense.
I might point also to the interpretation of Aramaic words, as Cephas, Gabbatha, Golgotha, Messias, Rabboni, Siloam, L. E. 2
Thomas, as indicating knowledge of this language. On such isolated phenomena however no great stress can fairly be laid, because such interpretations do not necessarily require an extensive acquaintance with the language; and when the whole cast and colouring of the diction can be put in evidence, an individual word here and there is valueless in comparison.
There are however two examples of proper names in this Gospel on which it may be worth while to remark; because the original is obscured in our English Bibles by a false reading in the Greek text used by our translators, and because they afford incidentally somewhat strong testimony to the writer's knowledge both of the language and of contemporary facts.
The first of these is Iscariot. In the other three gospels this name is attributed to the traitor apostle Judas alone. In St John's Gospel also, as represented in the received text and in our English version, this is the case. But if the more correct readings be substituted, on the authority of the ancient copies, we find it sometimes applied to Judas himself (xii. 4, xiii. 2, xiv. 22), and sometimes to Judas' father Simon (e.g. vi. 71, 'He spake of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot'; xiii. 26, 'He giveth it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot'). Now this shows that the evangelist knew this not to be a proper name strictly so called, but to describe the native place of the person, 'the man of Kerioth,' and hence to be applicable to the father and the son alike.
The other instance which I shall give, at first sight presents a difficulty; but when further investigated it only adds fresh testimony to the exact knowledge of the Fourth Evangelist. In St Matthew, Simon Peter is called Bar-Jona (Matt, xvi 17): i.e. son of Jona (or Jonan or Jonas). Accordingly in the received text of St John also he appears in not less than four passages (i. 42, xxi. 15-17) as Simon son of Jona (or Jonan or Jonas). But there can be no reasonable doubt that the correct reading in all these four passages is 'Simon son of Joannes'— the Hebrew and Aramaic Johanan, the English John—and that later transcribers have altered it to make it accord with the form adopted by St Matthew. Here there is an apparent discrepancy, which however disappears on examination; for we find that Jona or Jonan or Jonas is more than once used in the LXX version of the Old Testament as a contracted form of the name Johanan, Johannes, or John. Thus the statements of the two evangelists are reconciled; and we owe it to the special knowledge derived from the Fourth Gospel that the full and correct form is preserved. For, when we have once got this key to the fact, we can no longer question that John was the real name of Peter's father, since it throws great light on our Lord's words in St Matthew. The ordinary name Jonah, which was borne by the prophet, and which is generally supposed to be the name of Simon's father, signifies 'a dove'; but the name Johanan or John is 'the grace of God.' Hence the Baptist is called not Zechariah, as his relatives thought natural, but John, in accordance with the heavenly message (Luke i. 13), because he was specially given to his parents by God's grace. So too the call of St Peter (John i. 42) becomes full of meaning: 'Thou art Simon the son of the grace of God; thou shalt be called Cephas'; and the final commission given to the same apostle is doubly significant, when we interpret the thrice repeated appeal as ' Simon son of God's grace, lovest thou Me V for without this interpretation the studied repetition of his patronymic seems somewhat meaningless. Bearing this fact in mind, we turn to the passage of St Matthew (xvi. 17,18): 'Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona (son of the grace of God): for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.' His name and his surname alike are symbols and foreshadowings of God's special favour to him in his call and commission. This is only one of many instances in which the authenticity of the statements of the Fourth Gospel is confirmed by the fact that they incidentally explain what is otherwise unexplained in the narrative of the synoptic evangelists.
Another evidence that the writer was acquainted with the Hebrew language is furnished by the quotations from the Old Testament. This evangelist, like St Paul, sometimes cites from the current Greek version of the Seventy, and sometimes translates directly from the Hebrew. When a writer, as is the case in the Epistle to the Hebrews, quotes largely and quotes uniformly from the LXX version, this is at least an indication that he was not acquainted with the original; and hence we infer that the epistle just mentioned was not written by St Paul, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, but by some disciple, a Hellenistic Jew, thoroughly interpenetrated with the apostle's mind and teaching, but ignorant of the language of his forefathers. If on any occasion the quotations of a writer accord with the original Hebrew against the LXX version, we have a right to infer that he was acquainted with the sacred language, was, in fact, a Hebrew or Aramaic-speaking Jew. Several decisive examples might be produced, but one must suffice. In xix. 37 is a quotation from Zechariah xii. 10, which in the original is, 'They shall look upon Me whom they pierced.' Accordingly it is given in St John, 'They shall look on Him whom they pierced' (o-tyovrai ek ov itjeitevTrjaav). But the LXX rendering is, 'They shall gaze upon Me, because they insulted' (iirilSXe-ty-ovrai irpo< ; fie, avff wv Karwp-^rjaavro), where the LXX translators had a different reading, )1pH for !l"lCn, and where their Greek rendering has not a single word in common with St John's text.
In xii. 40 again, the evangelist quotes Isaiah vi. 10, 'Because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes,' etc. Now this quotation is far from being verbally exact; for in the Hebrew the sentence is imperative, 'Make fat the heart of this people, and make heavy their ears, and close their eyes, that they should not see with their eyes,' etc. Yet, on the other hand, it does not contain any of the characteristic renderings of the LXX; and this is one distinct proof that, however loosely quoted, it was derived, not from the LXX, but from the original. For the LXX translators, taking offence, as it would seem, at ascribing the hardening of the heart to God's own agency, have thrown the sentence into a passive form: 'The heart of this people was made fat, and with their ears they heard heavily, and their eyes they closed,' etc., so as to remove the difficulty. If therefore the evangelist had derived the passage from the LXX, it is inconceivable that he would have reintroduced the active form, thus wantonly reviving a difficulty, unless he had the original before him.
I will only add one other example. In xiii. 18 occurs a quotation from' Psalm xli. 9 (xl. 10). Here the expression which in the original signifies literally ' made great' or 'made high' his heel is correctly translated 'lifted up his heel' (hrfjpev rtfv Trrepvav avrov), as in the A.V. of the Psalms. The LXX version however gives efieyaXvvev Trrepvio-fiov, 'he multiplied (or increased) tripping up with the heel,' or ' treachery,' which has given rise to the paraphrastic rendering in our PrayerBook version, 'laid great wait for me.' Here again it is obvious that the evangelist's quotation could not have been derived from the LXX, but must have been rendered either directly from the Hebrew, or (what for my purpose is equally decisive) indirectly through some Chaldee Targum.
If therefore we had no other evidence than the language, we might with confidence affirm that this gospel was not written either by a Gentile or by a Hellenistic Christian, but by a Hebrew accustomed to speak the language of his fathers. This fact alone negatives more than one hypothesis which has been broached of late years respecting its authorship, for it is wholly inconsistent with the strictly Gentile origin which most recent theories assign to it. But, though irreconcilable with Gentile authorship, it is not wholly inconsistent with the later date; for we cannot pronounce it quite impossible that there should be living in Asia Minor or in Egypt, in the middle or after the middle of the second century, a Judaic Christian familiar with the Hebrew or Aramaic language, however rare such instances may have been.
Having thus established the fact that the writer was neither a Gentile nor a Hellenist, but a Hebrew of the Hebrews, we will proceed to inquire further whether he evinces an acquaintance with the manners and feelings, and also with the geography and history (more especially the contemporary history) of Palestine, which so far as our knowledge goes (and in dealing with such questions we must not advance one step beyond our knowledge) would be morally impossible with even a Hebrew Christian at the supposed date, long after the political existence of the nation had been obliterated, and when the disorganization of Jewish society was complete.
As I am obliged to compress my remarks within the space of a single lecture, I cannot place the evidence fully before you; but my hope is, that I may indicate the lines of investigation which will enable you to answer it more completely for yourselves. I will only say, that we obtain from the Fourth Gospel details at once fuller and more minute on all these points than from the other three. Whether we turn to the Messianic hopes of the chosen people, with all the attendant circumstances with which imagination had invested this expected event, or to the mutual relations of Samaritans, Jews, Galilaeans, Romans, and the respective feelings, prejudices, beliefs, customs of each, or to the topography as well of the city and the temple as of the rural districts—the Lake of Gennesaret, and the cornfields and mountain ridges of Shechem —or to the contemporary history of the Jewish hierarchy and the Herodian sovereignty, we are alike struck at every turn with subtle and unsuspicious traces, betokening the familiarity with which the writer moves amidst the ever-shifting scenes of his wonderful narrative.
This minuteness of detail in the Fourth Evangelist is very commonly overlooked, because our gaze is arrested by still more important and unique features in this Gospel. The striking character of our Lord's discourses as recorded in St John—their length and sequence, their simplicity of language, their fulness and depth of meaning—dazzles the eye of the critic and blinds him to the historical aspects of the narrative. Only by concentrating our view on these latter shall we realize the truth that the evangelist is not floating in the clouds of airy theological speculations, that though with his eye he peers into the mysteries of the unseen, his foot is planted on the solid ground of external fact; that, in short, the incidents are not invented as a framework for the doctrine, but that the doctrine arises naturally out of, and derives its meaning from, the incidents.
One example will serve at once to illustrate the double characteristic of this Gospel, the accurate historical narrative of facts which forms the basis of the Gospel, and the theological teaching which is built as a superstructure upon this foundation, and which the evangelist keeps distinctly and persistently in view in his selection and arrangement of the facts, and also to introduce the investigation which I purpose instituting.
The narrative and the discourses alike are thoroughly saturated with the Messianic ideas of the time. The Christ, as expected by the Jews, is the one central figure round which all the facts are grouped, the one main topic on which all the conversations hinge. This is the more remarkable, because the leading conception in the writer's own mind is not the Messiah, but the Word, the Logos,—not the deliverance of Israel, but the manifestation of God in the flesh. This main purpose is flung out at the opening of the Gospel, and it is kept steadily in view in the selection of materials throughout the work. But it does not once enter into the mind of the Jews, who are wholly absorbed in the Messianic idea. Nay, the word Logos does not once occur even on our Lord's own lips, though the obvious motive of His teaching is to enforce this higher aspect of His person, to which they were strangers. And I cannot but think that this distinct separation is a remarkable testimony to the credibility of the writer, who, however strongly impressed with his mission as the teacher of a great theological conception, nevertheless keeps it free from his narrative of facts; though obviously there would be a very strong temptation to introduce it, a temptation which to a mere forger would be irresistible.
The Messianic idea, for instance, is turned about on all sides, and presented in every aspect. On this point we learn very much more of contemporary Jewish opinion from the Fourth Gospel than from the other three. At the commencement and at the close of the narrative—in the preaching of the Baptist and in the incidents of the Passion—it is equally prominent. In Galilee (i. 41, 46, 49; vi. 15, 28, 30 sq.), in Samaria (iv. 25, 29, 42), in Judaea (v. 39, 45 sq.; vii. 26 sq., 40-43; viii. 30 sq.; x. 24), it is the one standard theme of conversation. Among friends, among foes, among neutrals alike it is mooted and discussed. The person and character of Jesus are tried by this standard. He is accepted or He is rejected, as He fulfils or contradicts the received ideal of the Messiah.
The accessories also of the Messiah's coming, as conceived by the Jews, are brought out with a completeness beyond the other gospels. I will only ask you, as an illustration of this, to consider the discourse on the manna in the sixth chapter. The key to the meaning of the conversation is the fact that the Jews expected a miracle similar to the gift of manna in the wilderness, as an accompaniment of the appearance of the great deliverer. This expectation throws a flood of light on the whole discourse. But the fact is not communicated in the passage itself. There is only a bald, isolated statement, which apparently is suggested by nothing, and itself fails to suggest anything: 'Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness.' Then comes an aposiopesis. The inference is unexpressed. The expectation, which explains all, is left to be inferred, because it would be mentally supplied by men brought up among the ideas of the time. We ourselves have to get it by the aid of criticism and research from rabbinical authorities. But, when we have grasped it, we can unlock the meaning of the whole chapter.
Connected with Messiah's coming are other conceptions on which it may be worth while to dwell for a moment. One of these is the appearance of a mysterious person called 'the prophet.' This expectation arose out of the announcement in Deuteronomy xviii. 15, 'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, like unto me.' To this anticipation we have allusions in not less than four places in St John (i. 21, 25; vi. 14; vii. 40), in all of which 'the prophet' is mentioned, though in the three first the distinctness of the expectation is blurred in the English version by the rendering 'that prophet.' In all these passages the mention of 'the prophet' without any explanation is most natural on the lips of contemporary Jews, whose minds were filled with the Messianic conceptions of the times; while such language is extremely unlikely to have been invented for them more than a century after the date of the supposed occurrences. But the point especially to be observed is, that the form which the conception takes is strictly Jewish, and not Christian. Christian teachers identified the prophet foretold by Moses with our Lord Himself, and therefore with the Christ. This application of the prophecy is made directly in St Peter's speech (Acts iii. 22), and inferentially in St Stephen's (Acts vii. 37); and later Christian teachers followed in their steps. But these Jews in St John's Gospel conceive 'the Christ' and 'the prophet' as two different persons. If He is not 'the Christ,' they adopt the alternative that He may be 'the prophet' (i. 21, 25); if not 'the prophet,' then 'the Christ' (vii. 40). It is hardly conceivable to my mind that a Christian writer, living in or after the middle of the second century, calling on his imagination for facts, should have divested himself so absolutely of the Christian idea and fallen back on the Jewish.
But before I have done with 'the prophet,' there is yet one more point worthy of notice. After the miracle of feeding the five thousand, we are told that 'those men who had seen the miracle that Jesus did said, This is of a truth the prophet that should come into the world' (vi. 14). The connexion is not obvious, and the writer has not explained himself. Here again the missing link is supplied by the Messianic conception of the age. The prophet foretold was to be like Moses himself. Hence it was inferred that there must be a parallel in the works of the two. Hence a repetition of the gift of the manna—the bread from heaven—might be expected. Was not this miracle then the very fulfilment of their expectation? Hence we read tiiat on the day following (after several incidents have intervened, but with the miracle still fresh on their minds), they seek Him out, and still try to elicit a definite answer from Him: 'What sign showest thou then? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert.' Thus a casual and indistinct reference in one part of the chapter is explained by an equally casual and indistinct reference in another, and light emerges from darkness.
From the Messianic ideas I turn to the Jewish sects and the Levitical hierarchy.
The Sadducees, with whom we are familiar in other gospels, are not once mentioned by the Fourth Evangelist. How are we to account for this fact? Have we here a discrepancy, or (if not a discrepancy) at least an incongruity? Is there in St John's picture an entire omission of that group which occupies a prominent place on the canvas of the other evangelists, especially of St Matthew?
The common connexion, when describing the adversaries of our Lord, is 'the Pharisees and Sadducees' in the synoptic evangelists, 'the chief priests and the Pharisees' in St John. In the comparison of these phrases lies the solution. The high priests at this time belonged to the sect of the Sadducees. How this happened we do not know. It may be that their Roman rulers favoured this party, as being more lukewarm than the Pharisees in religious matters, and therefore less likely to give trouble to the civil powers. At all events, the fact appears distinctly from more than one notice in the narrative of the Acts (iv. 1, v. 17); and the same is stated in a passage of Josephus (Ant. xx. 9. 1). Thus a real coincidence arises from an apparent incongruity.
But Josephus elsewhere (Ant. xviii. 1. 4) makes another statement respecting the Pharisees, which throws great light on the narrative of the Fourth Evangelist. He tells us that the Sadducees were few in number, though of the highest rank; and that when they were in office, they were forced, even against their will, to listen to the Pharisees, because otherwise they would not be tolerated by the people. Now this is precisely the order of events in St John. The Pharisees (with one single exception) always take the initiative; they are the active opponents of our Lord, and the chief priests step in to execute their will.
The single exception is remarkable. Once only we find chief priests acting alone and acting promptly (xii. 10). They form a plot for putting Lazarus to death. This was essentially a Sadducees' question. It was necessary that a living witness to the great truth, which the high-priestly party denied, should be got rid of at all hazards. Hence they bestir themselves and throw off their usual apathy; just as, turning from the Gospels to the Acts of the Apostles, they have taken the place of the Pharisees as the foremost persecutors of the new faith, because the resurrection from the dead was the cardinal topic of the preaching of the apostles.
But there is one other notice of the Jewish historian with which the narrative of the Fourth Evangelist presents a striking but unsuspicious coincidence. We are somewhat startled with the outburst of rudeness which marks the chief of the party on one occasion (xi. 49, 50). 'One of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, and ye do not reflect that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.' As a comment on this, take the words of Josephus: 'The behaviour of the Sadducees to one another is not a little rude, and their intercourse with their peers is brusque, as if addressing strangers' (B. J. ii. 8. 14).
These coincidences need little comment. I will only add that the Fourth Evangelist does not himself give us the key to the incidents, that the references have been gathered from three different parts of Josephus, that the statements in the evangelist are not embroideries on his narrative, but are woven into its very texture; and that nevertheless all these several notices dovetail together and create one harmonious whole, which bears the very impress of strict historical truth.
After reviewing these coincidences, it will appear strange that from the passage last quoted Baur derived what he obviously considered to be one of his strongest arguments against the authenticity of the Gospel. Because the evangelist three times speaks of Caiaphas as 'high priest that year' (xi. 49, 51; xviii. 13), he argues that the writer supposed the high priesthood to be an annual office, and therefore could not have been the Apostle John.
Now unless I have entirely misled you and myself, this is incredible. You cannot imagine that one who shows an acquaintance, not only with the language, but also with the customs, feelings, history, topography of the race, even in their minute details, should yet be ignorant of this most elementary fact of Jewish institutions. Whether the Gospel is authentic or whether it is not, such a supposition is equally incredible. If the writing is a forgery, the forger was certainly highly informed and extremely subtle; he must have ransacked divers histories for his facts; and yet here he is credited with a degree of ignorance which a casual glance at a few pages of his Old Testament or his Josephus would at once have served to dissipate. Suppose a parallel case. Imagine one, who writing (we will say) a historical work, shows a subtle appreciation of political feeling in England, and a minute acquaintance with English social institutions, and yet falls into the error of supposing that the premier is elected annually by vote of the people, or that the lord-mayoralty is a hereditary office tenable for life.
If therefore this supposition is simply impossible, we must explain the expression, 'high priest that year,' in some other way. And the explanation seems to be this. The most important duty of the high priest was an annual function, the sacrifice and intercession for the people on the great day of atonement. 'Once every year,' says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (ix. 7), 'the high priest alone entereth into the second tabernacle (the inner sanctuary), not without blood, which he offereth for himself and for the errors of the people.' The year of which the evangelist speaks was the year of all years; 'the acceptable year of the Lord,' as it is elsewhere called; the year in which the great sacrifice, the one atonement, was made, the atonement which annulled once and for ever the annual repetitions. It so happened that it was the duty of Caiaphas, as high priest, to enter the holy of holies, and offer the atonement for that year. The evangelist sees, if we may use the phrase without irreverence, a dramatic propriety in the fact that he of all men should make this declaration. By a Divine irony he is made unconsciously to declare the truth, proclaiming Jesus to be the great atoning sacrifice, and himself to be instrumental in offering the victim. This irony of circumstances is illustrated in the case of Pilate, as in the case of Caiaphas. The latter, the representative of the Jewish hierarchy, pronounces Jesus the great atoning sacrifice; the former, the representative of the civil power, pronounces Him as the sovereign of the race, ' Behold your King!' The malignity of Caiaphas and the sneer of Pilate alike bear witness to a higher truth than they themselves consciously apprehend.
From the sects and the hierarchy we may turn to the city and the temple. Here too we should do well to bear in mind bow largely we owe the distinctive features of the topography and architecture with which we are familiar to the Fourth Gospel. Within the sacred precincts themselves the Porch of Solomon, within the Holy City the pools of Bethsaida1 and Siloam, are brought before our eyes by this evangelist alone. And when we pass outside of the walls, he is still our guide.
1 'Bethsaida' or 'Bethzatha' should probably be read in S. John v. 2 rather than 'Bethesda.'
From him we trace the steps of the Lord and His disciples on that fatal night crossing the brook Kedron into the garden; it is he who, relating the last triumphal entry into Jerusalem, specifies 'the branches of the palm trees' (the other evangelists use general expressions, 'boughs of the trees,' or the like)— 'the palm trees' on which he had so often gazed, of which the sight was still so fresh in his memory, which clothed the eastern slopes of Olivet, and gave its name to the village of Bethany, 'the house of dates.' How simple and natural the definite articles are on the lips of an eye-witness I need not say. How awkward they sound to later ears, and how little likely to have been used by a later writer, unfamiliar with the scene itself, we may infer from the fact that in our own version they are suppressed, and the evangelist is made to say, 'they took branches of palm trees.'
Moreover the familiarity of the Fourth Evangelist, not only with the site and the buildings of the temple, but also with the history, appears in a striking way from a casual allusion. After the description of the cleansing of the temple by our Lord, —a description which though brief is given with singular vividness of detail—the Jews ask for some sign, as the credential which might justify this assumption of authority and right of chastisement. His answer is, 'Pull down this temple, and in three days I will build it up.' Their astonishment is expressed in their reply, 'This temple has been forty-six years in building, and wilt Thou raise it again in three days ?' (ii. 19, 20).
Now I think it will be allowed that this mention of time is quite undesigned. It has no appearance of artifice, it occurs naturally in the course of conversation, and it is altogether free from suspicion, as having been introduced to give a historical colouring to a work of fiction. If so, let us examine its historical bearing.
For this purpose it is necessary to follow two distinct lines of chronological research. We have to investigate the history of the building of the Herodian temple, and we have to ascertain the dates of our Lord's life.
Now by comparison of several passages in Josephus, and
by the exercise of historical criticism upon them, we arrive at the conclusion that Herod commenced his temple about A.u.c. 735, i.e. B.C. 18. It took many years in building, and was not finally completed until A.u.c. 817, i.e. A.D. 64. Thus the works were going on during the whole of the period comprised in the New Testament history. If we add forty-six years to the date of its commencement (A.u.c. 735) we are brought down to A.u.c. 781 or 782, i.e. A.d. 28 or 29.
The chronology of Herod's temple involves one considerable effort of historical criticism. The chronology of our Lord's life requires another. Into this question however I need not enter in detail. It is sufficient to remind you that the common date of the Christian era is now generally allowed to be a little wide of the mark, and that our Lord's birth actually took place three or four years before this era. The point to be observed here is, that St Luke places the baptism of our Lord in or about the fifteenth year of Tiberius, which comprised the interval between the autumn of 781 and the autumn of 782. Now the occurrence related by St John took place, as we may infer from his narrative, in the first passover after the baptism; that is, according to St Luke's chronology probably at the passover of 782.
Thus we are brought to the same date by following two lines of chronology; and we arrive at the fact that forty-six years there or thereabouts had actually elapsed since the commencement of Herod's building to this point in our Lord's ministry. I am anxious not to speak with too great precision, because the facts do not allow it. The exact number might have been forty-five or forty-seven years, for fragments of years may be reckoned in or not in our calculation, and the data are not sufficiently exact to determine the date to a nicety. But, after all allowance made for this margin of uncertainty, the coincidence is sufficiently striking.
And now let us suppose the Gospel to have been written in the middle of the second century, and ask ourselves what strong improbabilities this hypothesis involves.
The writer must first have made himself acquainted with a number of facts connected with the temple of Herod. He must not only have known that the temple was commenced in a particular year, but also that it was still incomplete at the time of our Lord's ministry. So far as we know, he could only have got these facts from Josephus. Even Josephus however does not state the actual date of the commencement of the temple. It requires some patient research to arrive at this date by a comparison of several passages. We have therefore to suppose, first, that the forger of the Fourth Gospel went through an elaborate critical investigation for the sake of ascertaining the date. But, secondly, he must have made himself acquainted with the chronology of the gospel history. At all events, he must have ascertained the date of the commencement of our Lord's ministry. The most favourable supposition is, that he had before him the Gospel of St Luke, though he nowhere else betrays the slightest acquaintance with this gospel. Here he would find the date which he wanted, reckoned by the years of the Roman emperors. Thirdly, after arriving at these two results by separate processes, he must combine them; thus connecting the chronology of the Jewish kings with the chronology of the Roman emperors, the chronology of the temple erection with the chronology of our Lord's life.
When he has taken all these pains, and worked up the subject so elaborately, he drops in the notice which has given him so much trouble in an incidental and unobtrusive way. It has no direct bearing on his history; it does not subserve the purpose of his theology. It leads to nothing, proves nothing. Certainly the art of concealing art was never exercised in a more masterly way than here. And yet this was an age which perpetrated the most crude and bungling forgeries, and is denounced by modern criticism for its utter incapacity of criticism.
Nor, when we travel beyond the city and its suburbs, does the writer's knowledge desert him. One instance must suffice; but it is, if I mistake not, so convincing, that it may well serve in place of many.
The country of the Samaritans lay between Judeea and Galilee, so that a person journeying from the one region to the other, unless he were prepared to make a detour, must necessarily pass through it. This was the case with our Lord and His Apostles, as related in the fourth chapter. The highroad from Jerusalem passes through some very remarkable scenery. The mountain ridges of Ebal and Gerizim run parallel to each other from east to west, not many hundred feet apart, thus inclosing a narrow valley between them. Eastward this valley opens out into a plain, a rare phenomenon in this country—' one mass of corn unbroken by a boundary or hedge,' as it is described by one who has seen it. Up the valley westward, shut in between these mountain barriers, lies the modern town of Nablfts, the ancient Shechem. The road does not enter the valley, but traverses the plain, running at right angles to the gorge, and thus touching the eastern bases of the mountain ridges as they fall down into the level ground. Here at the mouth of the valley is a deep well, even now descending 'to a depth of seventy feet or more,' and formerly, before it had been partially filled with accumulated rubbish, we may well believe deeper still. In the words of Dean Stanley:
"Of all the special localities of our Lord's life in Palestine, this is almost the only one absolutely undisputed. By the edge of this well, in the touching language of the ancient hymn, 'quaerens me sedisti lassus.' Here on the great road through which 'He must needs go' when ' He left Judeea, and departed into Galileo,' He halted, as travellers still halt, in the noon or evening of the spring day by the side of the well. Up that passage through the valley His disciples 'went away into the city,' which He did not enter. Down the same gorge came the woman to draw water, according to the unchanged custom of the East. . . . Above them, as they talked, rose 'this mountain' of Gerizim, crowned by the temple, of which vestiges still remain, where the fathers of the Samaritan sect'said men ought to worship.' . . . And round about them, as He and she thus sate or stood by the well, spread far and wide the noble plain of waving corn. It was still winter, or early spring, 'four months yet to the harvest,' and the bright golden ears of those fields had not yet' whitened' their unbroken expanse of verdure. But as He gazed upon them, they served to suggest the glorious vision of the distant harvest of the Gentile world, which with each successive turn of the conversation unfolded itself
L. K. 3
more and more distinctly before Him, as He sate (so we gather from the narrative) absorbed in the opening prospect, silent amidst His silent and astonished disciples."
The scrupulous accuracy of the geographical and archaeological details in St John's account of the conversation with the Samaritan woman will have appeared already from this quotation. I will only ask you to consider for a moment how naturally they occur in the course of the narrative, so naturally and so incidentally that without the researches of modern travellers the allusions would be entirely lost to us. I think that this consideration will leave but one alternative. Either you have here written, as we are constantly reminded, in an uncritical age and among an uncritical people, the most masterly piece of romance-writing which the genius and learning of man ever penned in any age; or you have (what uersal tradition represents it to be) a genuine work of an eye-witness and companion of our Lord. Which of these two suppositions does less violence to historical probability I will leave to yourselves to determine.
Follow then the narrative in detail. An unknown Traveller is sitting at the well. His garb, or His features, or His destination, show Him to be a Jew. A woman of the country comes to draw water from the well, and He asks her to give Him to drink. She is surprised that He, a Jew, is willing to talk so freely to her, a Samaritan. And here I would remark that the explanation which follows,' For the Jews have no dealings with' (or rather, 'do not associate with') 'the Samaritans,' is the evangelist's own, a fact obscured by the ordinary mode of printing in our English Bibles. Hitherto, though the scene is very natural and very real, there is nothing which a fairly clever artist might not have invented. But from this point onwards follow in rapid succession various historical and geographical allusions, various hints of individual character in the woman, various aspects of Divine teaching on our Lord's part, all closely interwoven together, each suggesting and suggested by another, in such a manner as to preclude any hypothesis of romance or forgery. 'Thou wouldest have asked, and I would have given thee living water.' 'Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. . . . Art Thou greater than our father Jacob?' And so the conversation proceeds, one point suggesting the next in the most natural way. Take, for instance, the reference to Gerizim. 'Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain.' Observe that there is no mention in the context of any mountain in the neighbourhood; that even here, where it is mentioned, its name is not given: but suddenly the woman, partly to divert the inconvenient tenour of the conversation, partly to satisfy herself on one important point of difference between the Samaritans and the Jews, avails herself of the newly found prophet's presence, and, pointing to the over-hanging heights of Gerizim, puts the question to Him. The mention of the sacred mountain, like the mention of the depths of the well, draws forth a new spiritual lesson. 'Not in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem. . . . God is a spirit.' The woman saith, 'When Messias cometh, He will tell us all things.' Jesus saith, 'I that speak unto thee am He.'
At this point the disciples approach from the valley, with the provisions which they had purchased in the city, and rejoin their Master. They are surprised to find Him so engaged. Here again an error in the English version obscures the sense. Their marvel was, not that He talked with the woman, but that He talked with a woman. It was a rabbinical maxim,'Let no man talk with a woman in the street (in public), no, not with his own wife.' The narrowness of His disciples was shocked that He, their own rabbi, should be so wanting to Himself as to disregard this recognised precept of morality. The narrator assumes the knowledge with which he himself was so familiar.
So the conversation with the woman closes. With natural eagerness she leaves her pitcher, and hurries back to the city with her news. With natural exaggeration she reports there that the stranger has told her all things that ever she did.
A conversation with the disciples follows, which is hardly less remarkable, but from which I must be content to select one illustration only. I think that it must be allowed, that the reference to the harvest is wholly free from suspicion, as regards the manner of its introduction. It is unpremeditated, for it cannot be severed from the previous part of the conversation, out of which it arises. It is unobtrusive, for the passage itself makes no attempt to explain the local allusion (which, without the experience of modern travellers would escape notice): 'There are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest. Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.' And yet, when we once realize the scene, when in imagination our eye ranges over that vast expanse of growing corn—so unusual in Palestine, however familiar in corn-growing England—we are at once struck with the truthfulness and the significance of this allusive parable.
I have thus endeavoured to show, by taking a few instances, the accuracy of the writer's knowledge in all that relates to the history, the geography, the institutions, the thoughts and feelings of the Jews. If however we had found accuracy, and nothing more, we might indeed have reasonably inferred that the narrative was written by a Jew of the mother-country, who lived in a very early age, before time and circumstance had obliterated the traces of Palestine, as it existed in the first century; but we could not safely have gone beyond this. But unless I have entirely deceived myself, the manner in which this accurate knowledge betrays itself justifies the further conclusion that we have before us the genuine narrative of an eye-witness, who records the events just as they occurred in natural sequence.
I have discussed the accuracy of the external allusions. Let me now apply another test. The representation of character is perhaps the most satisfactory criterion of a true narrative, as applied to an age before romance-writing had been studied as an art.
We are all familiar with the principal characters in the
Gospel history: Peter, John, Philip, Thomas, Pilate, the sisters Mary and Martha, and several others which I might mention; each standing before us with an individuality, which seems to place him or her within the range of our own personal knowledge. Have we ever asked ourselves to which evangelist above the rest we owe this personal acquaintance with the actors in this great drama?
When the question is once asked, the answer cannot be doubtful. It is true indeed that we should have known St Peter without the narrative of the Fourth Evangelist, though he adds several minute points, which give additional life to the portrait. It is true that Pilate is introduced to us in the other Gospels, though without St John we should not have been able to read his heart and character, his proud Roman indifference and his cynical scorn. But, on the other hand, take the case of Thomas. Of this Apostle nothing is recorded in the other Evangelists, and yet he stands out before us, not as a mere lay figure, on whose stiff, mechanical form the artist may hang a moral precept or a doctrinal lesson by way of drapery, but as a real, living, speaking man, at once doubtful and eager, at once hesitating and devoted—sceptical, not because his nature is cold and unsympathetic, but because his intellect moves more cautiously than his heart, because the momentous issues which belief involves bid him pause before he closes with it; at one moment endeavouring to divert his Master's purpose of going up to Jerusalem, where certain destruction awaits him: at the next, ready to share the perils with Him,'Let us also go with Him'; at one moment resisting the testimony of direct eye-witnesses and faithful friends to his Master's resurrection: at the next, overwhelmed by the evidence of his senses, and expressing the depth of his conviction in the earnest confession * My Lord and my God.'
I must satisfy myself with one other example. The character of the sisters Martha and Mary presents a striking contrast. They are mentioned once only in the other Gospels, in the familiar passage of St Luke, where they appear respectively as the practical, bustling housewife, who is busied about many things, and the devout, contemplative, absorbed disciple, who chooses the one thing needful. In St John also this contrast reappears; but the characteristics of the two sisters are brought out in a very subtle way. In St Luke the contrast is summed up, as it were, in one definite incident; in St John it is developed gradually in the course of a continuous narrative. And there is also another difference. In St Luke the contrast is direct and trenchant, a contrast (one might almost say) of light and darkness. But in St John the characters are shaded off, as it were, into each other. Both alike are beloved by our Lord, both alike send to Him for help, both alike express their faith in His power, both alike show deep sorrow for their lost brother. And yet, notwithstanding this, the difference of character is perceptible throughout the narrative. It is Martha who, with her restless activity, goes out to meet Jesus, while Mary remains in the house weeping. It is Martha who holds a conversation with Jesus, argues with Him, remonstrates with Him, and in the very crisis of their grief shows her practical common sense in deprecating the removal of the stone. It is Mary who goes forth silently to meet Him, silently and tearfully, so that the bystanders suppose her to be going to weep at her brother's tomb; who, when she sees Jesus, falls down at His feet; who, uttering the same words of faith in His power as Martha, does not qualify them with the same reservation; who infects all the bystanders with the intensity of her sorrow, and crushes the human spirit of our Lord Himself with sympathetic grief.
And when we turn to the second occasion in which the two sisters are introduced by St John, the contrast is still the same. Martha is busied in the homely duties of hospitality towards Jesus and her other guests; but Mary brings her choicest and most precious gift to bestow upon Him, at the same time showing the depth of her humility and the abandonment of her devotion by wiping His feet with her hair.
In all this narrative the Evangelist does not once direct attention to the contrast between the two sisters. He simply relates the events of which he was an eye-witness without a comment. But the two were real, living persons, and therefore the difference of character between them develops itself in action.
I have shown hitherto that, whatever touchstone we apply, the Fourth Gospel vindicates itself as a trustworthy narrative, which could only have proceeded from a contemporary and an eye-witness. But nothing has hitherto been adduced which leads to the identification of the author as the Apostle St John. Though sufficient has been said to vindicate the authenticity, the genuineness is yet untouched.
It is said by those who deny its apostolic origin, that the unknown author, living in the middle of the second century, and wishing to gain a hearing for a modified gospel suited to the wants of his age, dropped his own personality and shielded himself under the name of St John the son of Zebedee.
Is this a true representation of the fact? Is it not an entire though unconscious misrepresentation? John is not once mentioned by name throughout the twenty-one chapters of this Gospel. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, occupy a prominent place in all the other Evangelists. In this Fourth Gospel alone neither brother's name occurs. The writer does once, it is true, speak of the 'sons of Zebedee'; but in this passage, which occurs in the last chapter (xxi. 2), there is not even the faintest hint of any connexion between the writer himself and this pair of brothers. He mentions them in the third person, as he might mention any character whom he had occasion to introduce.
Now is not this wholly unlike the proceeding of a forger who was simulating a false personality? Would it not be utterly irrational under these circumstances to make no provision for the identification of the author, but to leave everything to the chapter of accidents? No discredit, indeed, is thrown on the genuineness of a document by the fact that the author's name appears on the forefront. This is the case with the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides; it is the case also with the Epistles of Paul and Peter and James, and with the Apocalypse of John. But, on the supposition of forgery, it was a matter of vital moment that the work should be accepted as the genuine production of its pretended author. The two instances of early Christian forgeries which I brought forward in an earlier part of this lecture will suffice as illustrations. The Gospel of the Infancy closes with a distinct declaration that it was written by James. The Clementine Homilies affirm the pretended authorship in the opening words, 'I Clement, being a Roman citizen.' Even if our supposed forger could have exercised this unusual self-restraint in suppressing the simulated author's name, would he not have made it clear by some allusion to his brother James, or to his father Zebedee, or to his mother Salome? The policy which he has adopted is as suicidal as it is unexpected.
How then do we ascertain that it was written by John the son of Zebedee? I answer, first of all, that it is traditionally ascribed to him, as the Plwedo is ascribed to Plato, or the Antigone to Sophocles; and, secondly, that from a careful examination of indirect allusions and casual notices, from a comparison of things said and things unsaid, we arrive at the same result by a process independent of external tradition. But a forger could not have been satisfied with trusting to either of these methods. External tradition was quite beyond the reach of his control. In this particular case, as we shall see, the critical investigation requisite is so subtle, and its subjectmatter lies so far below the surface, that a forger, even supposing him capable of constructing the narrative, would have defeated his own purpose by making such demands on his readers.
For let us follow out this investigation. In the opening chapter of the Gospel there is mention of a certain disciple whose name is not given (i. 35, 37, 40). This anonymous person (for it is a natural, though not a certain inference, that the same is meant throughout) reappears again in the closing scene before and after the passion, where he is distinguished as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.' At length, but not till the concluding verses of the Gospel, we are told that this anonymous disciple is himself the writer: 'This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things.'
In accordance with this statement we find that those particular scenes in which this anonymous disciple is recorded as taking a part are related with peculiar minuteness and vividness of detail. Such is the case, for instance, with the notices of the Baptist and of the call of the earliest disciples. Such again is the case with the conversation at the last supper, with the scene over the fire in the hall of Caiaphas's house, with certain other incidents connected with the crucifixion, and with the scene on the Lake of Galilee after the resurrection.
Who then is this anonymous disciple? On this point the Gospel furnishes no information. We arrive at the identification, partly by a process of exhaustion, partly by attention to some casual incidents and expressions.
Comparing the accounts in the other Gospels, it seems safe to assume that he was one of the inner circle of disciples. This inner circle comprised the two pairs of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John—if indeed Andrew deserves a place here. Now he cannot have been Andrew, because Andrew appears in company with him in the opening chapter; nor can he have been Peter, because we find him repeatedly associated with Peter in the closing scenes. Again, James seems to be excluded; for James fell an early martyr, and external and internal evidence alike point to a later date for this Gospel. Thus by a process of exhaustion we are brought to identify him with John the son of Zebedee.
With this identification all the particulars agree.
First. He is called among the earliest disciples; and from his connexion with Andrew (i. 40, 44) it may be inferred that he was a native of Bethsaida in the neighbourhood.
Secondly. At the close of his Master's life, and after his Master's resurrection, we find him especially associated with Simon Peter. This position exactly suits John, who in the earliest days of the Church takes his place by the side of Peter in the championship of faith.
Thirdly. Unless the beloved disciple be John the son of Zebedee, this person who occupies so prominent a place in the account of the other Evangelists, and who stood in the foremost rank in the estimation of the early Church as a pillar Apostle, does not once appear in the Fourth Gospel, except in the one passage where 'the sons of Zebedee' are mentioned and summarily dismissed in a mere enumeration of names. Such a result is hardly credible.
Lastly. Whereas in the other Evangelists John the Baptist is very frequently distinguished by the addition of this surname, and always so distinguished where there is any possibility of confusing him with the son of Zebedee, in this Gospel alone the forerunner is never once called John the Baptist. To others some distinguishing epithet seemed needed. To the son of Zebedee there was only one famous John; and therefore when he had occasion to mention him, he naturally spoke of him as John simply, without any addition. Is it conceivable, I would ask, that any forger would have lost sight of himself so completely, and used natural language of John the son of Zebedee with such success, as to observe this very minute and unobtrusive indication of personality?
I have addressed myself more directly to the theory of the Tubingen school, either as propounded by Baur, or as modified by later critics, which denies at once the historical character of this Gospel and its apostolic authorship, and places it in the middle or latter half of the second century. But there is an intermediate position between rejecting its worth as a historic record and accepting St John as its author, and this position has been taken up by some. They suppose it to have been composed by some disciple or disciples of St John from reminiscences of their master's teaching, and thus they are prepared to allow that it contains some historical matter which is valuable. You will have seen however that most of the arguments adduced, though not all, are equally fatal to this hypothesis as the other. The process by which, after establishing its authenticity, we succeeded in identifying its author is, if I mistake not, alone sufficient to overthrow this solution. Indeed this theory is exposed to a double set of objections, and it has nothing to recommend it.
I have already taken up more time than I had intended, and yet I feel that very much has been left unsaid. But I venture to hope that certain lines of investigation have been indicated, which, if carefully and soberly followed out, can only lead to one result. Whatever consequences may follow from it, we are compelled on critical grounds to accept this Fourth Gospel as the genuine work of John the son of Zebedee.
Some among my hearers perhaps may be disappointed that I have not touched on some well-known difficulties, though these have been grossly exaggerated. Some have to be satisfactorily explained; of others probable, or at least possible, solutions have been given; while others still remain on which we are obliged to suspend judgment until some new light of history is vouchsafed. It is not from too much light, but from too little light, that the historical credibility of this Gospel has suffered. Each new discovery made, each old fact elucidated, sets at rest some disputed question. If the main fact of the genuineness be established, the special difficulties can well afford to wait.
One word more, and I conclude. I have treated this as a purely critical question, carefully eschewing any appeal to Christian instincts. As a critical question I wish to take a verdict upon it. But as I could not have you think that I am blind to the theological issues directly or indirectly connected with it, I will close with this brief confession of faith. I believe from my heart that the truth which this Gospel more especially enshrines—the truth that Jesus Christ is the very Word Incarnate, the manifestation of the Father to mankind—is the one lesson which, duly apprehended, will do more than all our feeble efforts to purify and elevate human life here by imparting to it hope and light and strength, the one study which alone can fitly prepare us for a joyful immortality hereafter.