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Many authors, even some who write the preface to acknowledged Bible editions, suppose that the Gospel according to John has not been written by John, the former disciple of Jesus. Although such publications are numerous, I haven't found any concise argument why the direct or indirect authorship of John is refuted although it is confirmed in the editorial annexe Chapter 21 and by ancient sources.

Can anybody sum up the main arguments against the authorship of John?

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  • Many authors on this site may not share above-mentioned thesis. I am not convinced of it, either. Still, I would like to encourage to collect here the best arguments in favour of it.
    – SDG
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 10:52

2 Answers 2

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The main argument against the Gospel of John being written by John the eyewitness to Jesus' ministry and for it being written centuries later by an unknown author is the so-called contradiction between John's Passover timing and the other three (Matthew, Mark, Luke (MML)) Passover accounts.

For John, the crucifixion happens BEFORE Passover. For MML, the crucifixion happens AFTER Passover.

MML, eat Passover, then crucifixion. John, crucifixion, then Passover.

The icing on the contradiction is that John the eyewitness helped prepare and ate the Passover and the crucifixion takes place afterward on the following day per MML. Yet the author of John, again, says crucifixion was before Passover.

Here are the pertinent verses.

Passover before crucifixion.

And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. Luke 22:8

And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: Luke 22:15

Passover after crucifixion.

Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. John 18:28

The Tubingen School of Theology was the first to systematically use this contradiction to argue that John's gospel was not written by a direct disciple of Jesus. After all, it is a major contradiction and John had prepared the Passover before crucifixion. Thus, it could not be written by an eyewitness.

It began with Ferdinand Christian Baur. He used a type and anti-type approach to lead to synthesis or explanation (Hegel).

The Gospels, in fact, are adaptations or redactions of an older Gospel, such as the Gospel of the Hebrews, of Peter, of the Egyptians, or of the Ebionites. The Petrine Matthew bears the closest relationship to this original Gospel (Urevangelium); the Pauline Luke is later and arose independently; Mark represents a still later development according to Baur; the account in John is idealistic: it "does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it." -ibid-

But Baur concluded, a few years after Strauss’s Life of Jesus, that John could not be a historical gospel like the others, and that all attempts to harmonize John with the Synoptics must fail. -Book Review-

In short, Baur looked at the contradictions, most notably the Passover timing, and concluded it was impossible for the Gospel of John to be written by John the disciple of Jesus.

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The principal arguments used against John's authorship of the Gospel of John are:

  1. Contradictions in the accounts
  2. The Gospel is written in Greek
  3. The Gospel was written too late to have been written by a close eyewitness of Jesus' ministry

1. Contradictions

This has already been addressed in SLM's answer. It should be noted, however, that the Tubingen school who popularized the claim that the Gospels were fantasy, fiction, and forgery, was operating from a very significant premise: they assumed naturalism in advance (no such thing as the supernatural).

Since the existence of the supernatural is the very subject under consideration in the Gospels, to assume naturalism in advance is a textbook case of begging the question.

If perceived contradiction is evidence against an eyewitness account, that would rule out not only most Biblical history, but almost all multiply attested accounts of all of human history. J. Warner Wallace explores this reality in Cold Case Christianity, showing that eyewitness accounts--real, genuine eyewitness accounts--usually do differ in detail, focus, and sequence. It's when you have identical accounts from different eyewitnesses that you should be suspicious of collusion and/or fabrication.

In any event, as it relates to the date of Jesus' crucifixion, the preponderance of the evidence supports 14 Nisan, as reported by John. Whether or not the Synoptics got the right date is a separate matter, but John's chronology checks out. See my work on the subject in this video series: Chronology in the Life of Jesus.

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2. Could John have written a Gospel in Greek?

This is a bit of a bait-and-switch argument. Could John the son of Zebedee have written a document like this in Greek himself? Probably not.

But that's not how writing worked in the first century--when people wanted to write something formal, they generally used an amanuensis (a scribe). See further relevant discussion in this post on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange.

Whether or not John could write Greek is irrelevant--he wouldn't have been the one doing the writing. In antiquity the "author" was not the person who scratched the symbols onto a scroll--that was the scribe--the author was the person who decided what was going to be said, and under whose authority the final draft was approved and published.

(for responses to arguments suggesting Jesus, John, and members of their social class could not speak Greek, see my video What Languages Did Jesus Speak?. Spoiler: Whether or not they could write it, Jesus & John could definitely speak Greek)

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Chronology

Some claim that the Gospel of John was written too late to have been written by John the apostle. This argument is circular; I explore it in detail in this video.

Skeptical 19th century scholars deliberately assigned late dates to the New Testament documents to discredit the possibility of eyewitness/informed authorship. Modern skeptics who are unaware of this history will cite these 19th century dogmas in order to claim they are disproving eyewitness authorship, when in reality they've just argued in a circle. Lack of eyewitness authorship had to be assumed in advance to get the late dates in the first place.

In any event, we have multiple, early attestation that John the son of Zebedee was still actively ministering in Ephesus at the time of the accession of Emperor Trajan, in AD 98--more than 60 years after Easter. Even if the Gospel of John was written near the end of the 1st century (as many historians hold), John was still around at this time (see esp. Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.3.4).

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Conclusion

Arguments that John couldn't have written the Gospel of John are popular because they carry implications that many find desirable. However, these arguments don't get any stronger by frequency of repetition.

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  • The three points are good. Unfortunately, followed by (good) anti-theses rather than an elaboration of the theses.
    – SDG
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 11:09

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