It is important to recognize the fact that the author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness to the events he records. The author's identity as John the apostle, the son of Zebedee, is virtually unainmous in the early tradition,1 and as Criag Keener notes, "there appears to be unanimity regarding the authorship of the four Gospels, suggesting the traditions are early."2 The title, “The Gospel According to John,” was likely used from the time it began being circulated because there are no extant manuscripts with other names.3 If the gospel was originally published anonymously as some claim, this is in distinction from the apocryphal gospels which were originally published with false names.4

Internal evidence: The “disciple whom Jesus loves” (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20) is “the disciple who testifies about these things, and wrote these things.” (Jn 21:24). This disciple “whom Jesus loved, was at the table, leaning against Jesus’ breast” at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23). The Synoptics only mention the disciples and Jesus at this celebration (Mk 14:12-26; Mat 26:17-30; Lk 22:7-23). He is standing by the cross when Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son!” and commissions him to care of Mary (Jn 19:27). He is also the one that raced Peter to look inside the empty tomb (Jn 20:2-8). It should be clear from these verses that the author was not only an eyewitness but one of the Twelve. The most notable objection against the internal evidence is that John couldn’t have written such fluent Greek, but D. A. Carson writes that “the argument no longer stands” pointing out that John had years to learn how to write, John's Greek “is not elegant,” and he mostly uses the language of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT.5

External evidence: There is a strong tradition that the apostle John was the author of this Gospel that has been accepted by nearly all throughout church history. Irenaeus, in about 180 AD, writes, “Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies, 3.1.1). Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the apostle, so his testimony is particularly strong. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), who's testimony is saved by Eusebius, says, "But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel...composed a spiritual Gospel" (Church History, 6.14.7).


Since John was undoubtedly the writer of the fourth Gospel, we have an upper limit of A. D. 98, for Irenaeus says that John lived to the time of Trajan, who began his reign in that year. The testimony of Jerome is to the same effect: “The apostle John lived in Asia to the time of Trajan, and dying at a great age in the sixty-eighth year of our Lords passion, was buried near the city of Ephesus.” The same writer places the death of John in A. D. 100.

In all probability, John wrote his Gospel several years before his death, since its style is that of a matured, but not of an aged writer. We may be sure that the apostle did not compose the Gospel until after the death of Paul in A. D. 68. Tradition teaches that John wrote later than the Synoptics. The congregations of Asia Minor were the special charge of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and he never makes any mention in his Epistles of Johns being in their midst, nor does he send him a single salutation; and when he parted from the Ephesian elders, he evidently did not anticipate the coming of an apostle among them. Moreover we infer from Jn 21:19 that John knew of the manner in which Peter died, and presupposes this knowledge in his readers. Therefore it is unlikely that the Gospel was written before A. D. 70. John’s utter silence regarding the destruction of the city favors the idea that he wrote the Gospel several years after that calamity.

The most important considerations that led many rationalistic critics to the conclusion that the fourth Gospel was written in the second century, are the following: (1) The theology of the Gospel, especially its representation of Christ, is developed to such a degree that it points beyond the first and reflects the consciousness of the Church of the second century. (2) The Gospel was evidently written under the influence of the philosophic and religious tendencies that were prevalent in the second century, such as Montanism, Docetism and Gnosticism. (3) The great difference between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics appears to be the result of second century cavilling respecting the nature of Christ, and of the Paschal controversy.

But the idea that the Gospel of John is a second century product goes counter to both the internal evidence to which we already referred, and to the external testimony, which is exceptionally strong and which can be traced back to the very beginning of the second century. Some of the Epistles of Ignatius show the influence of John’s Christology, and the writings of both Papias and Polycarp contain allusions to the first Epistle of John, which was evidently written at the same time as the Gospel. The latter was in existence, therefore, in the beginning of the second century. The theology of the Gospel of John is no more developed than that of Paul’s Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, that were written between A. D. 61 and 63. Critics generally ceased to place any reliance on the so-called Montanistic features of the Gospel, and although they still maintain that some passages contain traces of a Docetic Gnosticism, these are purely imaginary and readily vanish, when the light of exegesis is turned on. The connection of the Gospel with the Paschal controversy is now admitted to be very dubious. And the difference between it and the Synoptics can be satisfactorily explained without regarding it as a work of the second century.


The Gospel of John was in all probability written primarily for the Christians of Asia Minor, among whom especially the heresy of Cerinthus had arisen. Early tradition has it that John wrote it at the request of the bishops of Asia to combat that heresy. Internal evidence certainly favors the hypothesis that it was composed for Greek readers. The author carefully interprets Hebrew and Aramaic words, as in Jn 1:38; Jn 1:41-42; Jn 9:7; Jn 11:16; Jn 19:13; Jn 19:17; Jn 20:16. He makes it a point to explain Jewish customs and geographical designations, Jn 1:28; Jn 2:1; Jn 4:4-5; Jn 7:37; Jn 11:54, . . . Jn 19:31; Jn 19:40; Jn 19:42. Moreover, notwithstanding his characteristically Hebrew style, he usually quotes from the Septuagint.


It was not John’s purpose to furnish a supplement to the Synoptics, though his Gospel certainly contains a good deal of supplemental matter; neither did he mean to produce a direct polemic against the Cerinthian heresy, even if this did to a certain degree determine his special way of stating the truth. He did not aim at conciliating the discordant parties of the second century by leading them up to a higher unity, as the Tubingen school asserted; nor at refuting “Jewish objections and invectives,” and at providing “his fellow-Christians with weapons ready to hand ;” a hypothesis of which Wrede asserts: “This view is on the whole a recent one, but it is making victorious progress among scholars.” The Origin of the New Testament, p. 84.

The apostle himself gives expression to his purpose, when he says: “These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life in his name,” Jn 20:31. His aim is twofold, therefore, theoretical and practical. He desires to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to lead believers to a life of blessed communion with him. The means he employs to that end are: (1) The miracles of the Lord, on which special emphasis is placed, cf. Jn 20:30; Jn 21:25; and which are contemplated as σημεῖα, as signs of the divine glory of Christ. (2) The long discourses of the Saviour, which serve to interpret his signs and to describe the unique relation in which He stands to the Father. And (3) the narratives touching Jesus dealing with individuals, such as Nathaniel, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Philip, Mary Magdalena and Thomas, showing, how He led them to faith, a faith culminating in the confession of Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”

Canonical Significance

The great significance of this Gospel in Holy Writ is that it places prominently before us the Son of Man as the Son of God, as the eternal Word that became flesh. According to this Gospel Christ is the Son of God, who descended from the Father, stood in a unique relation to the Father, had come to do the Father’s will on earth, and would return to the glory that He had eternally possessed with the Father, that He might send the Holy Spirit from the Father to abide with his Church throughout all ages. In that Spirit He himself returns to his followers to dwell in them forever. He is the highest revelation of God, and our relation to him, either of faith or of unbelief, determines our eternal destiny. Before this Christ the Church bows down in adoration with Thomas and calls out: “My Lord and my God.”


The contents of the Gospel of John can be divided into five parts:

The Advent and Incarnation of the Word (1:1-13): This section delves into the pre-existence and divine origin of Christ. It elaborates on how John the Baptist heralded the arrival of Christ, portraying Him as the light of the world. It further emphasizes Christ’s role in empowering believers to become children of God, highlighting the profound spiritual transition from darkness to light.

The Incarnate Word as the Only Life of the World (1:14-6:71): This extensive section unpacks the combined testimony of John the Baptist and the deeds and words of Christ himself. It encompasses several key events: the initial testimony of John the Baptist and Christ (1:14-51), the cleansing of the temple (2:12-25), the significant conversation with Nicodemus (3:1-21), Christ’s public testimony (3:22-36), the encounter with the Samaritan woman (4:1-42), the healing of the nobleman’s son (4:43-54), the healing of the impotent man (5:1-47), and the miracle of the loaves followed by a crucial discourse (6:1-71).

The Incarnate Word in Conflict with Spiritual Darkness (7:1-11:54): This part of the Gospel highlights the clash of Christ with the prevailing spiritual darkness of his time. Notable incidents include Christ’s teachings at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-52), the episode with the adulterous woman (8:1-59), the healing of the blind man combined with the proclamation of being the good shepherd (9:1-41, 10:1-21), teachings at the Feast of Dedication and the affirmation of His unity with the Father (10:22-42), and the raising of Lazarus which led to both belief in and opposition against Jesus (11:1-54).

The Incarnate Word Saving the World through Sacrificial Death (11:55-19:42): This segment chronicles the events leading up to and including Jesus' crucifixion. It covers the plot to kill Jesus and his anointing by Mary of Bethany (11:55-57, 12:1-50), the Last Supper and Jesus' teachings on servitude and betrayal (13:1-38), discourses on his departure and communion with the Father (14:1-31, 15:1-27, 16:1-33), the intercessory prayer (17:1-26), and the capture, trial, and eventual crucifixion of Jesus (18:1-40, 19:1-42).

The Incarnate Word Risen (20:1-21:25): The concluding part of the Gospel narrates the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances. This includes His appearances to Mary Magdalene and the disciples (20:1-31) and the encounter at the Sea of Tiberias where Jesus restores Peter and alludes to the future of John, the writer of the Gospel (21:1-25).


Edward W. Klink III's John, ZECNT is very helpful for understanding the structure of John.

I. Prologue (1:1-18)
II. The First Week (1:19-51)
III. Start of Jesus’ Public Ministry (2:1-4:54)
IV. Rising Opposition (5:1-8:11)
V. Radical Confrontation (8:12-10:42)
VI. End of Jesus’ Public Ministry (11:1-12:50)
VII. The Farewell Discourse (13:1-17:26)
VIII. The Crucifixion (18:1-19:42)
IX. The Resurrection (20:1-31)
X. Epilogue (21:1-25)

I. Prologue (1:1-18)
A. Introduction to the Word (1:1-5)
B. Witness to the Word (1:6-8)
C. Manifestation of the Word (1:9-14)
D. Uniqueness of the Word (1:15-18)
II. The First Week (1:19-51)
A. The Baptist’s Relation to Jesus (1:19-28)
B. John the Baptist’s Public Witness (1:29-34)
C. Disciples: Andrew and Peter (1:35-42)
D. Two More: Philip and Nathanael (1:43-51)
III. Start of Jesus’ Public Ministry (2:1-4:54)
A. First Sign: the Wedding at Cana (2:1-11)
B. Jesus Clears the Temple (2:12-17)
C. Jesus Replaces the Temple (2:18-22)
D. Inadequate Faith (2:23-25)
E. Nicodemus (3:1-15)
F. Extended Comment I (3:16-21)
G. Jesus Ministry Surpassing John's (3:22-30)
H. Extended Comment II (3:31-36)
I. The Samaritan Woman (4:1-42)
J. Second Sign: Royal Official’s Son (4:43-54)
IV. Rising Opposition (5:1-8:11)
A. The Healing of the Lame Man (5:1-18)
B. The Identity of the Son of God (5:19-47)
C. Feeding the Large Crowd (6:1-15)
D. Walking on the Sea (6:16-21)
E. Bread of Life (6:22-71)
F. Private Display of Suspicion (7:1-13)
G. Public Display of Rejection (7:14-52)
H. Woman Accused of Adultery (7:53-8:11)
V. Radical Confrontation (8:12-10:42)
A. “The Light of the World” (8:12-59)
B. Healing the Blind Man (9:1-41)
C. The Shepherd and the Sheep (10:1-21)
D. The Son of the Father (10:22-39)
E. Retreat, Continued Advance (10:40-42)
VI. End of Jesus’ Public Ministry (11:1-12:50)
A. Raising Lazarus from the Dead (11:1-57)
B. The Anointing of Jesus (12:1-11)
C. Royal Entrance into Jerusalem (12:12-19)
D. “The Hour has Come” (12:20-50)
VII. The Farewell Discourse (13:1-17:26)
A. The Love of Jesus (13:1-30)
B. The Farewell Discourse (13:31-16:33)
C. The Prayer of Jesus (17:1-26)
VIII. The Crucifixion (18:1-19:42)
A. The Arrest of Jesus (18:1-14)
B. The Jewish Trial and Witnesses (18:15-27)
C. The Roman Trial before Pilate (18:28-40)
D. “Crucify Him!” (19:1-16)
E. The Crucifixion of Jesus (19:17-27)
F. The Death and Burial of Jesus (19:28-42)
IX. The Resurrection (20:1-31)
A. The Empty Tomb (20:1-10)
B. Appearance to Mary Magdalene (20:11-18)
C. Appearance to the Disciples (20:19-23)
D. Appearance to Thomas (20:24-31)
X. Epilogue (21:1-25)
A. The Mission of the Church (21:1-14)
B. Peter’s Reinstatement (21:15-23)
C. The Greatness of Jesus (21:24-25)


1Edward W. Klink III, John, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 45.

2Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), ch. Matthew.

3D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 140.

4F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 1.

5D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 75.