1. The Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation of John. The notices of John in the Synoptical Gospels, in the Acts, and in Gal_2:9. (See the passages in Young’s Analytical Concordance.)
2. Patristic traditions. Irenaeus: Adv. Haer. II. 22, 5 (John lived to the age of Trajan); III. 1, 1 (John at Ephesus); III. 3, 4 (John and Cerinthus); V. 30, 3 (John and the Apocalypse). Clemens Alex.: Quis dives salvus, c. 42 (John and the young robber). Polycrates of Ephesus in Eus. Hist. Eccl., III. 31; V. 24 (John, one of the 'ec'e5́'e3'e1'eb'e1 'f3'f4'ef'e9'f7'e5'e9͂'e1, and a 'e9̔'e5'f1'e5'f5̀'f2 'f4'ef̀ 'f0'e5́'f4'e1'eb'ef'ed 'f0'e5'f6'ef'f1'e7'ea'f9́'f2). Tertullian: De praescr. haer., c. 36 (the legend of John’s martyrdom in Rome by being steeped in oil, and his miraculous preservation). Eusebius: Hist. Eccl, III. chs. 18, 23, 31; IV. 14; V. 24 (the paschal controversy). Jerome: Ad Gal_6:10 (the last words of John); De vir. ill., c. 9. Augustin: Tract. 124 in Evang. Joann. (Opera III. 1970, ed. Migne). Nicephorus Cal.: Hist. Eccl., II. 42.
II. Apocryphal Traditions
Acta Johannis, ed. Const. Tischendorf, in his Acta Apost. Apocr., Lips., 1851, pp. 266-276. Comp. Prolegg. LXXIII. sqq., where the patristic testimonies on the apocryphal Acts of John are collected.
Acta Joannis, unter Benutzung von C. v. Tischendorf’s Nachlass bearbeitet von Theod. Zahn. Erlangen, 1880 (264 pages and clxxii. pages of Introd.).
The “Acta” contain the 'f0'f1'e1́'ee'e5'e9'f2 'f4'ef'f5͂ '85 'c9̓'f9'e1́'ed'ed'ef'f5 'f4'ef'f5͂ 'e8'e5'ef'eb'ef́'e3'ef'f5 Prochorus, who professes to be one of the Seventy Disciples, one of the Seven Deacons of Jerusalem (Act_6:5), and a pupil of St. John; and fragments of the 'f0'e5'f1'e9́'ef'e4'ef'e9 'c9̓'f9'e1́'ed'ed'ef'f5, “the Wanderings of John,” by Leucius Charinus, a friend and pupil of John. The former work is a religious romance, written about 400 years after the death of John; the latter is assigned by Zahn to an author in Asia Minor before 160, and probably before 140; it uses the fourth as well as the Synoptical Gospels, and so far has some apologetic value. See p. cxlviii.
Max Bonnet, the French philologist, promises a new critical edition of the Acts of John. See E. Leroux’s “Revue critique,” 1880, p. 449.
Apocalypsis Johannis, in Tischendorf’s Apocalypses Apocryphae Mosis, Esdrae, Pauli, Johannis, item Mariae Dormitio. Lips., 1866, pp. 70-94.
This pseudo-Johannean Apocalypse purports to have been written shortly after the ascension of Christ, by St. John, on Mount Tabor. It exists in MS. from the ninth century, and was first edited by A. Birch, 1804.
On the legends of St. John comp. Mrs. Jameson: Sacred and Legendary Art, I. 157-172, fifth edition.
III. Biographical and Critical
Francis Trench: Life and Character of St. John the Evangelist. London, 1850.
Dean Stanley (d. 1881): Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age. Oxford and London, 1847, third ed., 1874, pp. 234-281.
Max Krenkel: Der Apostel Johannes. Leipzig, 1871.
James M. Macdonald: The Life and Writings of St. John. With Introduction by Dean Howson. New York, 1877 (new ed. 1880).
Weizs'e4cker: Das Apost. Zeitalter. 1886, pp. 493-559.
Comp. the biographical sketches in the works on the Apostolic Church, mentioned 'a7 20 (p. 189); and the Introductions to the Commentaries of L'fccke, Meyer, Lange, Luthardt, Godet, Westcott, Plummer.
The Johannean type of doctrine is expounded by Neander (in his work on the Apost. Age, 4th ed., 1847; E. transl. by Robinson, N. York, 1865, pp. 508-531); Frommann (Der Johanneische Lehrbegriff, Leipz., 1839); C. Reinh. K'f6stlin (Der Lehrbegriff des Ev. und der Briefe Johannis, Berlin, 1843); Reuss (Die Johann. Theologie, in the Strasburg “Beitr'e4ge zu den Theol. Wissenschaften,” 1847, in La Th'e9ologie johannique, Paris, 1879, and in his Theology of the Apost. Age, 2d ed. 1860, translated from the third French ed. by Annie Harwood, Lond. 1872-74, 2 vols.); Schmid (in his Bibl. Theol. des N. T, Stuttg. 1853); Baur (in Vorlesungen 'fcber N. T. Theol, Leipz. 1864); Hilgenfeld (1849 and 1863); B. Weiss (Der Johanneische Lehrbegriff, Berlin, 1862, and in his Bibl. Theol. des N. T, 4th ed. 1884). There are also special treatises on John’s Logos-doctrine and Christology by Weizs'e4cker (1862), Beyerschlag (1866), and others.
V. Commentaries on the Gospel of John
The Literature on the Gospel of John and its genuineness, from 1792 to 1875 (from Evanson to Luthardt), is given with unusual fulness and accuracy by Dr. Caspar Ren'e9 Gregory (an American scholar), in an appendix to his translation of Luthardt’s St. John, the Author of the Fourth Gospel. Edinb. 1875, pp. 283-360. Comp. also the very careful lists of Dr. Ezra Abbot (down to 1869) in the article John, Gospel of, in the Am. ed. of Smith’s “Dict. of the Bible,” I. 1437-1439.
Origen (d. 254) Chrysostom (407); Augustin (430); Cyril of Alexandria (444) Calvin (1564); Lampe (1724, 3 vols.); Bengel (Gnomen, 1752); L'fccke (1820, 3d ed. 1843); Olshausen (1832, 4th ed. by Ebrard, 1861) Tholuck (1827, 7th ed. 1857); Hengstenberg (1863, 2d, I. 1867 Eng. transl. 1865); Luthardt (1852, 2d ed. entirely rewritten 1875; Eng. transl. by Gregory, in 2 vols., and a special volume on the Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, 1875) De Wette-Br'fcckner (5th ed. 1863); Meyer (5th and last ed. of Meyer, 1869; 6th ed. by Weiss, 1880); Ewald (1861); Alford (6th ed. 1868; Wordsworth (5th ed. 1866), Godet (1865, 2 vols., 2d ed. 1877, Eng. transl. in 3 vols.; 3d edition, Paris, 1881, trsl. by T. Dwight, 1886); Lange (as translated and enlarged by Schaff, N. Y. and Edinb. 1871); Watkins (in Ellicott’s “N. T. Com. for English Readers,” 1878); Westcott (in “Speaker’s Commentary,” 1879, and separately); Milligan and Moulton (in “Schaff’s Popul. Com.,” 1880); Keil (1881); Plummer (1881); Thoma (Die Genesis des Joh. Evangeliums, 1882); Paul Schanz (T'fcbingen, 1885).
VI. Special Treatises on the Genuineness and Credibility of the Fourth Gospel
We have no room to give all the titles of books, or the pages in the introductions to Commentaries, and refer to the lists of Abbot and Gregory.
A. Writers against the Genuineness
E. Evanson (The Dissonance of the Four generally received Evangelists, Gloucester, 1792). K. G. Bretschneider (Probabilia de Ev. et Ep. Joh. Ap. Indole et Origine, Leips. 1820, refuted by Schott, Eichhorn, L'fccke, and others; retracted by the author himself in 1828). D. F. Strauss (in his Leben Jesu, 1835; withdrawn in the 3d ed. 1838, but renewed in the 4th, 1840; and in his Leben Jesu f'fcr das deutsche Volk, 1864); L'fctzelberger (1840); Bruno Baum (1840). - F. Chr. BAUR (first in a very acute and ingenious analysis of the Gospel, in the “Theol. Jahrb'fccher,” of T'fcbingen, 1844, and again in 1847, 1848, 1853, 1855, 1859). He represents the fourth Gospel as the ripe result of a literary development, or evolution, which proceeded, according to the Hegelian method, from thesis to antithesis and synthesis, or from Judaizing Petrinism to anti-Jewish Paulinism and (pseudo-) Johannean reconciliation. He was followed by the whole T'fcbingen School; Zeller (1845, 1847, 1853); Schwegler (1846); Hilgenfeld (1849, 1854, 1855, 1875); Volkmar (1870, 1876); Schenkel (1864 and 1873); Holtzmann (in Schenkel’s “Bibellexikon.” 1871, and Einleitung, 1886). - Keim (Gesch. Jesu v. Nazara, since 1867, vol. I., 146 sqq.; 167 sqq., and in the 3d ed. of his abridgement, 1875, p. 40); Hausrath (1874); Mangold (in the 4th ed. of Bleek’s Introd., 1886); Thoma (1882). In Holland, Scholten (Leyden, 1865, and again 1871). In England, J. J. Tayler (London, 1867); Samuel Davidson (in the new ed. of his Introduction to the N. T., 1868, II. 323 sqq. and 357 sqq.); the anonymous author of Supernatural Religion (vol. II. 251 sqq., of the 6th ed., London, 1875); and E. A. A. (Edwin A. Abbott, D.D., of London, in art. Gospels, “Encycl. Brit.,” vol. X., 1879, pp. 818-843).
The dates assigned to the composition of the Fourth Gospel by these opponents vary from 110 to 170, but the best scholars among them are more and more forced to retreat from 170 (Baur’s date) to 130 (Keim), or to the very beginning of the second century (110). This is fatal to their theory; for at that time many of the personal friends and pupils of John must have been still living to prevent a literary fiction from being generally accepted in the church as a genuine work of the apostle.
Reuss (in his Th'e9ologie johannique, 1879, in the sixth part of his great work, “La Bible” and in the Sixth edition of his Geschichte der heil. Schriften N. T., 1887, pp. 249 sqq.) leaves the question undecided, though inclining against the Johannean authorship. Sabatier, who had formerly defended the authenticity (in his Essai sur les Sources de la vie de J'e9sus, 1866), follows the steps of Reuss, and comes to a negative conclusion (in his art. Jean in Lichtenberger’s “Encycl. des Sciences Relig.,” Tom. VII., Paris, 1880, pp. 173 sqq.).
Weisse (1836), Schweizer (1841), Weizs'e4cker (1857, 1859, 1862, 1886), Hase (in his Geschichte Jesu, 1875, while in his earlier writings he had defended the genuineness), and Renan (1863, 1867, and 1879) admit genuine portions in the Fourth Gospel, but differ among themselves as to the extent. Some defend the genuineness of the discourses, but reject the miracles. Renan, on the contrary, favors the historical portions, but rejects the discourses of Christ, in a special discussion in the 13th ed. of his Vie de J'e9sus, pp. 477 sqq. He changed his view again in his L’'e9glise chr'e9tienne, 1879, pp. 47 sqq. “Ce qui para'eet le plus probable,” he says, “c’est qu’un disciple de l’ap'f4tre, d'e9positaire de plusieurs de ses souvenirs, se crut autoris'e9 'e0 parler en son nom et 'e0 'e9crire, vingt-cinq ou trente ans apr'e9s sa mort, ce que l’on regrettait qu’il n’e'fbt pas lui-m'eame fix'e9 de son vivant.” He is disposed to ascribe the composition to the “Presbyter John” (whose very existence is doubtful) and to Aristion, two Ephesian disciples of John the Apostle. In characterizing the discourses in the Gospel of John he shows his utter incapacity of appreciating its spirit. Matthew Arnold (God and the Bible, p. 248) conjectures that the Ephesian presbyters composed the Gospel with the aid of materials furnished by John.
It should be remarked that Baur and his followers, and Renan, while they reject the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, strongly defend the Johannean origin of the Apocalypse, as one of the certain documents of the apostolic age. But Keim, by denying the whole tradition of John’s sojourn at Ephesus, destroys the foundation of Baur’s theory.
B. The genuineness has been defended by the following writers
Jos. Priestley (Unitarian, against Evanson, 1793). Schleiermacher and his school, especially L'fccke (1820 and 1840), Bleek (1846 and 1862), and De Wette (after some hesitation, 1837, 5th ed., by Br'fcckner, 1863). Credner (1836); Neander (Leben Jesu, 1837) Tholuck (in Glaubw'fcrdigkeit der evang. Geschichte, against Strauss, 1837); Andrews Norton (Unitarian, in Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels, 1837-1844, 3 vols., 2d ed. 1846, abridged ed., Boston, 1875); Ebrard (1845, against Baur; again 1861, 1868, and 1880, in Herzog’s “Encykl.” Thiersch (1845, against Baur); Schneider (1854); Hengstenberg (1863); Asti'e9, (1863); Hofstede de Groot (Basilides, 1863; Germ. transl. 1868); Van Oosterzee (against Scholten, Germ. ed. 1867; Engl. transl. by Hurst); Tischendorf (Wann wurden unsere Evangelien verfasst? 1865, 4th ed. 1866; also translated into English, but very poorly); Riggenbach (1866, against Volkmar). Meyer (Com., 5th ed. 1869); Weiss (6th ed. of Meyer, 1880); Lange (in his Leben Jesu, and in his Com., 3d ed. 1868, translated and enlarged by Schaff, 1871); Sanday (Authorship and Historical Character of the Fourth Gospel, London, 1872); Beyschlag (in the “Studien und Kritiken” for 1874 and 1875); Luthardt (2d ed. 1875); Lightfoot (in the Contemporary Review, “ 1875-1877, against Supernatural Religion); Geo. P. Fisher (Beginnings of Christianity, 1877, ch. X., and art. The Fourth Gospel, in “The Princeton Review” for July, 1881, pp. 51-84); Godet (Commentaire sur l’'c9vangile de Saint Jean, 2d ed. 1878; 3d ed. “compl'e8tement revue, “ vol. I., Introduction historique et critique, Paris, 1881, 376 pages); Westcott (Introd. to the Gospels, 1862, 1875, and Com. 1879); McClellan (The Four Gospels, 1875); Milligan (in several articles in the “Contemp. Review” for 1867, 1868, 1871, and in his and Moulton’s Com., 1880); Ezra Abbot (The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, Boston, 1880; republished in his Critical Essays, Boston, 1888; conclusive on the external evidences, especially the important testimony of Justin Martyr); George Salmon (Historical Introd. to the N. T., London, 1886; third ed. 1888, pp. 210 sqq.). See also A. H. Francke: Das Alte Test. bei Johannes, G'f6ttingen, 1885.
Henry William Watkins: Modern Criticism in its relation to the Fourth Gospel; being the Bampton Lectures for 1890. London, 1890. Only the external evidence, but with a history of opinions since Breitschneider’s Probabilia.
Paton J. Gloag: Introduction to the Johannine Writings. London, 1891 (pp. 440). Discusses the critical questions connected with the Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse of John from a liberal conservative standpoint.
E. Sch'fcrer: On the Genuineness of the Fourth Gospel. In the “Contemporary Review” for September, 1891.
VIII. Commentaries on the Epistles of John
Oecumenius (1000); Theophylact (1071); Luther; Calvin; Bullinger; L'fccke (3d ed. 1856); De Wette (1837, 5th ed. by Br'fcckner, 1863); Neander (1851, Engl. transl. by Mrs. Conant, 1852); D'fcsterdieck 1852-1856, 2 vols.); Huther (in Meyer’s Com., 1855, 4th ed. 1880); F. D. Maurice, (1857); Ebrard (in Olshausen’s Com., 1859, transl. by W. B. Pope, Edinb. 1860); Ewald (1861); Braune (in Lange’s Com., 1865, Engl. ed. by Mombert, 1867); Candlish (1866); Erich Haupt (1869, Engl. transl. by W. B. Pope, Edinb., 1879); R. Rothe (posthumous ed. by K. M'fchlh'e4user, 1879); W. B. Pope (in Schaff’s Pop. Com., 1883); Westcott (1883).
IX. Commentaries on the Apocalypse of John
Bullinger (1535, 6th ed. 1604); Grotius (1644); Jos. Mede (Clavis Apocalyptica, 1682); Bossuet (R. C., 1689); Vitringa (1719); Bengel (1740, 1746, and new ed. 1834); Herder (1779); Eichhorn (1791); E. P. Elliott (Horae Apocalypticae, or, a Com. on the Apoc., 5th ed., Lond., 1862, 4 vols.) L'fccke (1852); Ewald (1828 and 1862); Z'fcllig (1834 and 1840) Moses Stuart (1845, 2 vols.); De Wette (1848, 3d ed. 1862); Alford (3d ed. 1866); Hengstenberg (1849 and 1861); Ebrard (1853); Auberlen (Der Prophet Daniel und die Offenbarung Johannis, 1854; Engl. transl. by Ad. Saphir, 1856, 2d Germ. ed. 1857); D'fcsterdieck (1859, 3d ed. 1877); Bleek (1820 and 1862); Luthardt (1861); Volkmar (1862); Kienlen (1870); Lange (1871, Am. ed., with large additions by Craven, 1874); Cowles (1871); Gebhardt (Der Lehrbegriff der Apocalypse, 1873; Engl. transl., The Doctrine of the Apocalypse, by J. Jefferson, 1878); Kliefoth (1874); Lee (1882); Milligan (in Schaff’s Internat. Com., 1883, and in Lectures on the Revel., 1886); Spitta (1889). V'f6lter (1882) and Vischer (1886) deny the unity of the book. Vischer makes it a Jewish Apocalypse worked over by a Christian, in spite of the warning, Rev_22:18, Rev_22:19, which refutes this hypothesis.
41. Life and Character of John
“Volat avis sine meta,
Quo nec votes nec propheta
Tam implenda quam impleta,
Numquam vidit tot secreta
Purus homo purius.” - (Adam of St. Victor.)
Map, Asia Minor
Showing the Seven Churches.
The Mission of John
Peter, the Jewish apostle of authority, and Paul, the Gentile apostle of freedom, had done their work on earth before the destruction of Jerusalem - had done it for their age and for all ages to come; had done it, and by the influence of their writings are doing it still, in a manner that can never be superseded. Both were master-builders, the one in laying the foundation, the other in rearing the superstructure, of the church of Christ, against which the gates of Hades can never prevail.
But there remained a most important additional work to be done, a work of union and consolidation. This was reserved for the apostle of love, the bosom-friend of Jesus, who had become his most perfect reflection so far as any human being can reflect the ideal of divine-human purity and holiness. John was not a missionary or a man of action, like Peter and Paul. He did little, so far as we know, for the outward spread of Christianity, but all the more for the inner life and growth of Christianity where it was already established. He has nothing to say about the government, the forms, and rites of the visible church (even the name does not occur in his Gospel and first Epistle), but all the more about the spiritual substance of the church - the vital union of believers with Christ and the brotherly communion of believers among themselves. He is at once the apostle, the evangelist, and the seer, of the new covenant. He lived to the close of the first century, that he might erect on the foundation and superstructure of the apostolic age the majestic dome gilded by the light of the new heaven.
He had to wait in silent meditation till the church was ripe for his sublime teaching. This is intimated by the mysterious word of our Lord to Peter with reference to John: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” No doubt the Lord did come in the terrible judgment of Jerusalem. John outlived it personally, and his type of doctrine and character will outlive the earlier stages of church history (anticipated and typified by Peter and Paul) till the final coming of the Lord. In that wider sense he tarries even till now, and his writings, with their unexplored depths and heights still wait for the proper interpreter. The best comes last. In the vision of Elijah on Mount Horeb, the strong wind that rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks, and the earthquake, and the fire preceded the still small voice of Jehovah. (1Ki_19:11, 1Ki_19:12) The owl of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, begins its flight at twilight. The storm of battle prepares the way for the feast of peace. The great warrior of the apostolic age already sounded the keynote of love which was to harmonize the two sections of Christendom; and John only responded to Paul when he revealed the inmost heart of the supreme being by the profoundest of all definitions: “God is love.” (1Co_13:1-13; 1Jo_4:8, 1Jo_4:16)
John in the Gospels
John was a son (probably the younger son) of Zebedee and Salome, and a brother of the elder James, who became the protomartyr of the apostles. He may have been about ten years younger than Jesus, and as, according to the unanimous testimony of antiquity, he lived till the reign of Trajan, i.e., till after 98, he must have attained an age of over ninety years. He was a fisherman by trade, probably of Bethsaida in Galilee (like Peter, Andrew, and Philip). His parents seem to have been in comfortable circumstances. His father kept hired servants; his mother belonged to the noble band of women who followed Jesus and supported him with their means, who purchased spices to embalm him, who were the last at the cross and the first at the open tomb. John himself was acquainted with the high priest, and owned a house in Jerusalem or Galilee, into which he received the mother of our Lord.
He was a cousin of Jesus, according to the flesh, from his mother, a sister of Mary. This relationship, together with the enthusiasm of youth and the fervor of his emotional nature, formed the basis of his intimacy with the Lord.
He had no rabbinical training, like Paul, and in the eyes of the Jewish scholars he was, like Peter and the other Galilaean disciples, an “unlearned and ignorant man.” But he passed through the preparatory school of John the Baptist who summed up his prophetic mission in the testimony to Jesus as the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” a testimony which he afterwards expanded in his own writings. It was this testimony which led him to Jesus on the banks of the Jordan in that memorable interview of which, half a century afterwards, he remembered the very hour. He was not only one of the Twelve, but the chosen of the chosen Three. Peter stood out more prominently before the public as the friend of the Messiah; John was known in the private circle as the friend of Jesus. Peter always looked at the official character of Christ, and asked what he and the other apostles should do; John gazed steadily at the person of Jesus, and was intent to learn what the Master said. They differed as the busy Martha, anxious to serve, and the pensive Mary, contented to learn. John alone, with Peter and his brother James, witnessed the scene of the transfiguration and of Gethsemane - the highest exaltation and the deepest humiliation in the earthly life of our Lord. He leaned on his breast at the last Supper and treasured those wonderful farewell discourses in his heart for future use. He followed him to the court of Caiaphas. He alone of all the disciples was present at the crucifixion, and was intrusted by the departing Saviour with the care of his mother. This was a scene of unique delicacy and tenderness: the Mater dolorosaand the beloved disciple gazing at the cross, the dying Son and Lord uniting them in maternal and filial love. It furnishes the type of those heaven-born spiritual relationships, which are deeper and stronger than those of blood and interest. As John was the last at the cross, so he was also, next to Mary Magdalene, the first of the disciples who, outrunning even Peter, looked into the open tomb on the resurrection morning; and he first recognized the risen Lord when he appeared to the disciples on the shore of the lake of Galilee. (Joh_20:4; Joh_21:7)
He seems to have been the youngest of the apostles, as he long outlived them all; he certainly was the most gifted and the most favored. He had a religious genius of the highest order - not indeed for planting, but for watering; not for outward action and aggressive work, but for inward contemplation and insight into the mystery of Christ’s person and of eternal life in him. Purity and simplicity of character, depth and ardor of affection, and a rare faculty of spiritual perception and intuition, were his leading traits, which became ennobled and consecrated by divine grace.
There are no violent changes reported in John’s history; he grew silently and imperceptibly into the communion of his Lord and conformity to his example; he was in this respect the antipode of Paul. He heard more and saw more, but spoke less, than the other disciples. He absorbed his deepest sayings, which escaped the attention of others; and although he himself did not understand them at first, he pondered them in his heart till the Holy Spirit illuminated them. His intimacy with Mary must also have aided him in gaining an interior view of the mind and heart of his Lord. He appears throughout as the beloved disciple, in closest intimacy and in fullest sympathy with the Lord.
The Son of Thunder and the Beloved Disciple
There is an apparent contradiction between the Synoptic and the Johannean picture of John, as there is between the Apocalypse and the fourth Gospel; but on closer inspection it is only the twofold aspect of one and the same character. We have a parallel in the Peter of the Gospels and the Peter of his Epistles: the first youthful, impulsive, hasty, changeable, the other matured, subdued, mellowed, refined by divine grace.
In the Gospel of Mark, John appears as a Son of Thunder (Boanerges). This surname, given to him and to his elder brother by our Saviour, was undoubtedly an epithet of honor and foreshadowed his future mission, like the name Peter given to Simon. Thunder to the Hebrews was the voice of God. It conveys the idea of ardent temper, great strength and vehemence of character whether for good or for evil, according to the motive and aim. The same thunder which terrifies does also purify the air and fructify the earth with its accompanying showers of rain. Fiery temper under the control of reason and in the service of truth is as great a power of construction as the same temper, uncontrolled and misdirected, is a power of destruction. John’s burning zeal and devotion needed only discipline and discretion to become a benediction and inspiration to the church in all ages.
In their early history the sons of Zebedee misunderstood the difference between the law and the gospel, when, in an outburst of holy indignation against a Samaritan village which refused to receive Jesus, they were ready, like Elijah of old, to call consuming fire from heaven. But when, some years afterwards, John went to Samaria to confirm the new converts, he called down upon them the fire of divine life and light, the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Act_8:14-17) The same mistaken zeal for his Master was at the bottom of his intolerance towards those who performed a good work in the name of Christ, but outside of the apostolic circle. (Mar_9:38-40; comp. Luk_9:49, Luk_9:50) The desire of the two brothers, in which their mother shared, for the highest positions in the Messianic kingdom, likewise reveals both their strength and their weakness, a noble ambition to be near Christ, though it be near the fire and the sword, yet an ambition that was not free from selfishness and pride, which deserved the rebuke of our Lord, who held up before them the prospect of the baptism of blood. (Mat_20:20-24; comp. Mar_10:35-41)
All this is quite consistent with the writings of John. He appears there by no means as a soft and sentimental, but as a positive and decided character. He had no doubt a sweet and lovely disposition, but at the same time a delicate sensibility, ardent feelings, and strong convictions. These traits are by no means incompatible. He knew no compromise, no division of loyalty. A holy fire burned within him, though he was moved in the deep rather than on the surface. In the Apocalypse, the thunder rolls loud and mighty against the enemies of Christ and his kingdom, while on the other hand there are in the same book episodes of rest and anthems, of peace and joy, and a description of the heavenly Jerusalem, which could have proceeded only from the beloved disciple. In the Gospel and the Epistles of John, we feel the same power, only subdued and restrained. He reports the severest as well as the sweetest discourses of the Saviour, according as he speaks to the enemies of the truth, or in the circle of the disciples. No other evangelist gives us such a profound inside-view of the antagonism between Christ and the Jewish hierarchy, and of the growing intensity of that hatred which culminated in the bloody counsel; no apostle draws a sharper line of demarcation between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, Christ and Antichrist, than John. His Gospel and Epistles move in these irreconcilable antagonisms. He knows no compromise between God and Baal. With what holy horror does he speak of the traitor, and the rising rage of the Pharisees against their Messiah! How severely does he, in the words of the Lord, attack the unbelieving Jews with their murderous designs, as children of the devil! And, in his Epistles, he terms every one who dishonors his Christian profession a liar; every one who hates his brother a murderer; every one who wilfully sins a child of the devil; and he earnestly warns against teachers who deny the mystery of the incarnation, as Antichrists, and he forbids even to salute them. (Joh_8:44; 1Jo_1:6, 1Jo_1:8,1Jo_1:10; 1Jo_2:18 sqq.; 1Jo_3:8, 1Jo_3:15; 1Jo_4:1 sqq.; 2Jo_1:10, 2Jo_1:11) The measure of his love of Christ was the measure of his hatred of antichrist. For hatred is inverted love. Love and hatred are one and the same passion, only revealed in opposite directions. The same sun gives light and heat to the living, and hastens the decay of the dead.
Christian art has so far well understood the double aspect of John by representing him with a face of womanly purity and tenderness, but not weakness, and giving him for his symbol a bold eagle soaring with outspread wings above the clouds.
The Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel
A proper appreciation of John’s character as thus set forth removes the chief difficulty of ascribing the Apocalypse and the fourth Gospel to one and the same writer. The temper is the same in both: a noble, enthusiastic nature, capable of intense emotions of love and hatred, but with the difference between vigorous manhood and ripe old age, between the roar of battle and the repose of peace. The theology is the same, including the most characteristic features of Christology and soteriology. By no other apostle is Christ called the Logos. The Gospel is, “the Apocalypse spiritualized,” or idealized. Even the difference of style, which is startling at first sight, disappears on closer inspection. The Greek of the Apocalypse is the most Hebraizing of all the books of the New Testament, as may be expected from its close affinity with Hebrew prophecy to which the classical Greek furnished no parallel, while the Greek of the fourth Gospel is pure, and free from irregularities; yet after all John the Evangelist also shows the greatest familiarity with, and the deepest insight into, the Hebrew religion, and preserves its purest and noblest elements; and his style has all the childlike simplicity and sententious brevity of the Old Testament; it is only a Greek body inspired by a Hebrew soul.
In accounting for the difference between the Apocalypse and the other writings of John, we must also take into consideration the necessary difference between prophetic composition under direct inspiration, and historical and didactic composition, and the intervening time of about twenty years; the Apocalypse being written before the destruction of Jerusalem, the fourth Gospel towards the close of the first century, in extreme old age, when his youth was renewed like the eagle’s, as in the case of some of the greatest poets, Homer, Sophocles, Milton, and Goethe.
I. The Son of Thunder and the Apostle of Love.
I quote some excellent remarks on the character of John from my friend, Dr. Godet (Com. I. 35, English translation by Crombie and Cusin):
“How are we to explain two features of character apparently so opposite? There exist profound receptive natures which are accustomed to shut up their impressions within themselves, and this all the more that these impressions are keen and thrilling. But if it happens that these persons once cease to be masters of themselves, their long-restrained emotions then burst forth in sudden explosions, which fill the persons around them with amazement. Does not the character of John belong to this order? And when Jesus gave to him and his brother the surname of Boanerges, sons of thunder (Mar_3:17), could he have described them better? I cannot think that, by that surname, Jesus intended, as all the old writers have believed, to signalize the eloquence which distinguished them. Neither can I allow that he desired by that surname to perpetuate the recollection of their anger in one of the cases indicated. We are led by what precedes to a more natural explanation, and one more worthy of Jesus himself. As electricity is stored up by degrees in the cloud until it bursts forth suddenly in the lightning and thunderbolt, so in those two loving and passionate natures impressions silently accumulated till the moment when the heart overflowed, and they took an unexpected and violent flight. We love to represent St. John to ourselves as of a gentle rather than of an energetic nature, tender even to weakness. Do not his writings insist before and above all else upon love? Were not the last sermons of the old man ‘Love one another?’ That is true; but we forget other features of a different kind, during the first and last periods of his life, which reveal something decisive, sharp, absolute, even violent in his disposition. If we take all the facts stated into consideration, we shall recognize in him one of those sensitive, ardent souls, worshippers of an ideal, who attach themselves at first sight, and without reservation, to that being who seems to them to realize that of which they have dreamt, and whose devotion easily becomes exclusive and intolerant. They feel themselves repelled by everything which is not in sympathy with their enthusiasm. They no longer understand a division of heart which they themselves know not how to practice. All for all! such is their motto. Where that all is not, there is in their eyes nothing. Such affections do not subsist without including an alloy of impure egoism. A divine work is needed, in order that the true devotion, which constitutes the basis of such, may shine forth at the last in all its sublimity. Such was, if we are not deceived, the inmost history of John.” Comp. the third French ed. of Godet’s Com., I. p. 50.
Dr. Westcott (in his Com., p. xxxiii.): “John knew that to be with Christ was life, to reject Christ was death; and he did not shrink from expressing the thought in the spirit of the old dispensation. He learned from the Lord, as time went on, a more faithful patience, but he did not unlearn the burning devotion which consumed him. To the last, words of awful warning, like the thunderings about the throne, reveal the presence of that secret fire. Every page of the Apocalypse is inspired with the cry of the souls beneath the altar, ‘How long’ (Rev_6:10); and nowhere is error as to the person of Christ denounced more sternly than in his Epistles (2Jo_1:10; 1Jo_4:1.).” Similar passages in Stanley.
II. The Mission of John.
Dean Stanley (Sermons and Essays on the Apost. Age, p. 249 sq., 3d ed.): “Above all John spoke of the union of the soul with God, but it was by no mere process of oriental contemplation, or mystic absorption; it was by that word which now for the first time took its proper place in the order of the world - by Love. It has been reserved for St. Paul to proclaim that the deepest principle in the heart of man was Faith; it was reserved for St. John to proclaim that the essential attribute of God is Love. It had been taught by the Old Testament that ‘the beginning of wisdom was the fear of God;’ it remained to be taught by the last apostle of the New Testament that ‘the end of wisdom was the love of God.’ It had been taught of old time by Jew and by heathen, by Greek philosophy and Eastern religion, that the Divinity was well pleased with the sacrifices, the speculations, the tortures of man; it was to St. John that it was left to teach in all its fulness that the one sign of God’s children is ‘the love of the brethren.’ And as it is Love that pervades our whole conception of his teaching, so also it pervades our whole conception of his character. We see him - it surely is no unwarranted fancy - we see him declining with the declining century; every sense and faculty waxing feebler, but that one divinest faculty of all burning more and more brightly; we see it breathing through every look and gesture; the one animating principle of the atmosphere in which he lives and moves; earth and heaven, the past, the present, and the future alike echoing to him that dying strain of his latest words, ‘We love Him because He loved us.’ And when at last he disappears from our view in the last pages of the sacred volume, ecclesiastical tradition still lingers in the close: and in that touching story, not the less impressive because so familiar to us, we see the aged apostle borne in the arms of his disciples into the Ephesian assembly, and there repeating over and over again the same saying, ‘Little children, love one another;’ till, when asked why he said this and nothing else, he replied in those well known words, fit indeed to be the farewell speech of the Beloved Disciple, ‘Because this is our Lord’s command and if you fulfil this, nothing else is needed.’ “