In 1936, C. H. Dodd, a leading New Testament scholar of Great Britain, said concerning John, “I am disposed to think that the understanding of this Gospel is not only one of the outstanding tasks of our time, but the crucial test of our success or failure in solving the problem of the New Testament as a whole.”
What is the problem of the Fourth Gospel? It is a multiple problem involving authorship, relation to the Synoptic Gospels, the religious milieu upon which it draws for its ideas, and its historical character.
The amount of literary labor expended on John is immense. A glance at the book shelves in the present writer’s study reveals more volumes on John than on the other three Gospels combined. Our British friends have been particularly active in this field over the years.
A practically unbroken line of testimony from the ancient Church assigns the Gospel to John the son of Zebedee. If it be objected that the first clear-cut witness is Irenaeus in the latter part of the second century, which is rather late, one may reply (1) that the period before Irenaeus is one of comparative silence on the literary side, (2) that the lack of positive testimony to John’s authorship in this early period may well be due to the use of the Gospel by the heretical Gnostics, (3) that the testimony of Irenaeus gains in weight when it is recognized that only one person linked him to John, namely, the saintly Polycarp.
The counterclaim that John died at an early age, though supposedly derived from Papias, who lived a half-century before Irenaeus, actually comes from sources several centuries later. If this was really put forward by Papias, one would expect the early Church fathers to have taken some note of it. ...1
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