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.


Of the characteristics that mark the fourth Gospel the following especially are to be noted:

1. The gospel of John emphasizes more than any of the others the Divinity of Christ. It has no historical starting-point, like the Synoptics, but recedes back into the depths of eternity, and starts out with the statement sublime in its simplicity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Positively, the Logos-doctrine is peculiar to this Gospel; negatively, every indication of Christ’s human development and of his gradually awakening self-consciousness is strikingly absent from it. We find no genealogy here, no description of Christ’s birth with it’s attendant circumstances, and no narrative of his baptism and temptation. John the Baptist testifies to his Divinity, as soon as He enters on the scene, and He himself publicly claims this prerogative almost from the beginning of his public ministry, cf. Jn 3:13; Jn 5:17 ff; Jn 6:32; Jn 6:40 ff., etc. The miracles of the Lord, narrated in this Gospel, are of such a character that they give great prominence to his divine power. The nobleman’s son was cured from a distance, Jn 4:46 ff.; the man at Bethesda had been infirm thirty-eight years, Jn 5:5; the blind man at Jerusalem had been born blind, Jn 9:1; and Lazarus had already lain in the grave four days, Jn 11:17.

2. The teaching of Christ greatly predominates in Johns Gospel, but this is quite different from that contained in the Synoptics. We find no parables here but elaborate discourses, which also contain a couple of allegories. The all absorbing topic is not the Kingdom of God but the Person of the Messiah. The simple rudimentary teaching regarding the Kingdom is here replaced by a more penetrating (though not developed) instruction in the deeper realities of faith. In connection with his miracles or other historical facts Christ presents himself as the source of life, 4:46—5:47; the spiritual nourishment of the soul, Jn 6:22-65; the water of life, Jn 4:7-16; Jn 7:37-38; the true liberator, Jn 8:31-58; the light of the world, Jn 9:5; Jn 9:35-41; and the living principle of the resurrection, Jn 11:25-26. The farewell discourses of the Saviour, besides containing many profound truths respecting his personal relation to believers, are also significant on account of their clear references to the coming Paraclete.

3. The scene of action in this Gospel is quite different from that in the Synoptics. In the latter the work of Christ in Galilee is narrated at length, while He is seen at Jerusalem only during the last week of His life. In the Gospel of John, on the other hand, the long ministry of Christ in Galilee is presupposed rather than narrated, while his work and teaching in Judea and particularly at Jerusalem is made very prominent. The great feasts afforded the occasion for this work and are therefore distinctly mentioned. John speaks of three, possibly four, Passovers, Jn 2:13; Jn 5:1; Jn 6:4; Jn 13:1; of the feast of Tabernacles, Jn 7:2; and of the feast of the Dedication, Jn 10:22.

4. The Gospel of John is far more definite than the Synoptics in pointing out the time and place of the occurrences that are narrated; it is in a certain sense more chronological than the other Gospels. We are generally informed as to the place of Christ’s operation. Definite mention is made of Bethany, Jn 1:28; Cana, Jn 2:1; Capernaum, Jn 2:12; Jerusalem, Jn 2:13; Sychar, Jn 4:5; Bethesda, Jn 5:2, etc. The designations of time are equally distinct, sometimes the hour of the day being given. The chronological framework of the gospel is found in its reference to the great feasts. John the Baptist sees Christ coming to him the day after he had met the delegation from Jerusalem, Jn 1:29; and again on the following day, Jn 1:35. A day later Christ called Philip and Nathanael, Jn 1:43-51; on the third day there was a marriage in Cana, Jn 2:1; it was at the sixth hour that Christ sat down at the well, 4:6; at the seventh, that the nobleman’s son was cured, Jn 4:52; in the midst of the feast that Jesus went into the temple, Jn 7:14; and again on the last great day, Jn 7:37; and about the sixth hour that Christ was delivered unto the Jews by Pilate, Jn 19:14.

5. The style of the fourth Gospel is not like that of the other three. It is peculiar in that “it contains, on the one hand, except in the prologue and χαρᾷ χαίρειin Jn 3:29, hardly any downright Hebraisms,” Simcox, The Writers of the New Testament p. 73, while, on the other hand, it approaches the style of Old Testament writers more than the style of any other New Testament writing does. John evidently commanded a fairly good Greek vocabulary, but does not attempt any elaborate sentences. Rather than do this, he will repeat part of a previous statement and then add a new element to it. His sentences are generally connected in the most simple way by καί, δε or οὖν, and his descriptions are often elaborate and repetitious. He exhibits a special fondness for contrasts and for the use of the parallelismus membrorum. A very characteristic expression of his is ζωὴ αἰώνος, which occurs 17 times in the Gospel. For other phrases and expressions see Simcox. He also employs several Aramaean words, as ῥαββί, κηφᾶς, μεσσίας, Γαββαθά, Γολγοθά, ἀμὴν ἀνήν.


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 is also divided into five parts:

I. The Advent and Incarnation of the Word, Jn 1:1-13. John takes his point of departure in the pre-existence and divine origin of Christ, and points out that He was heralded by John the Baptist, was the light of the world and gave believers the power to become the children of God.

II. The Incarnate Word the only Life of the World, Jn 1:14-51, Jn 2:1-25, Jn 3:1-36, Jn 4:1-54, Jn 5:1-47, Jn 6:1-71. The evangelist records the testimony to the grace and truth of the incarnate Word given by John the Baptist and by Christ himself in word and deed, Jn 1:14-51, Jn 2:1-11; and the self-revelation of Christ in the cleansing of the temple, Jn 2:12-25; in the conversation with Nicodemus, Jn 3:1-21; followed by the public testimony of Jn 3:22-36; in the conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jn 4:1-42; and in the healing of the nobleman’s son, Jn 4:43-54. More particularly he shows, how Christ reveals himself as the author and sustainer of life in the healing of the impotent man and its vindication, Jn 5:1-47; and in the miracle of the loaves with the following discourse, leading to desertion on the one and to confession on the other hand, Jn 6:1-71.

III. The Incarnate Word, the Life and Light, in Conflict with Spiritual Darkness, Jn 7:1-53, Jn 8:1-59, Jn 9:1-41, Jn 10:1-42, Jn 11:1-54. On the feast of tabernacles Christ reminds the Jews of the fact that He is the life of the world, and presents himself to them as the water of life, wherefore officers were sent to take him, Jn 7:1-52. The following day He brings out the spiritual darkness of the Jews in connection with the adulterous woman, and declares that He is the light of the world, the only light that can truly enlighten them; and that He only could liberate them from their spiritual bondage; which leads to an attempt to stone him, Jn 8:1-59. On a subsequent occasion He proves himself to be the light of the world by healing the blind man and speaks of himself as the good Shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep; thereby provoking unbelief and rage, Jn 9:1-41, Jn 10:1-21. At the feast of the dedication He declares that He and the Father are one, which again leads to an attempt to stone him, Jn 10:22-42. In raising Lazarus Jesus presents himself as the resurrection and the life, thus leading some of the people to believe in him, but his enemies to the settled purpose to kill him, Jn 11:1-54.

IV. The Incarnate Word saving the Life of the World through his Sacrificial Death, Jn 11:55-57, Jn 12:1-50, Jn 13:1-38, Jn 14:1-31, Jn 15:1-27, Jn 16:1-33, Jn 17:1-26, Jn 18:1-40, Jn 19:1-42. The enemies plan to kill Jesus, but Mary of Bethany anoints him and the people meet him with glad hosannas; the Greeks seek him at Jerusalem, but the multitude turns from him in unbelief, Jn 11:55-57, Jn 12:1-50. He sits at the Paschal supper with his disciples, gives them a lesson in humble service, exposes the traitor and announces that the time has now come to leave his disciples, Jn 13:1-38. He discourses on the significance of his departure and on the new life in communion with the Father, Jn 14:1-31, Jn 15:1-27, Jn 16:1-33; and offers the intercessory prayer committing his followers to the Father, Jn 17:1-26. In Gethsemane He is taken captive, and after a preliminary hearing before the high priest is brought before Pilate who, though finding no guilt in Jesus, yet delivers him into the hands of the Jews to be crucified, Jn 18:1-16. After his crucifixion He is buried by Joseph and Nicodemus, Jn 19:17-42.

V. The Incarnate Word, risen from the Dead, the Saviour and Lord of all Believers, Jn 20:1-31, Jn 21:1-25. Having risen from the dead, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalena and on two successive Lords days to his disciples, Jn 20:1-31. Later He is seen by some of his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, where He restores Peter and points significantly to the career of John, the writer of the Gospel, Jn 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.