Who exactly wrote John’s gospel?
Recently our Bible group learnt of the theories about who was the real author of the Gospel of St John. It seems the modern view is that the Gospel was not written by John the Apostle, as I was taught, but by a team of his followers. Is this modern view now acceptable to the Church? O Prins
The Church’s teaching is that God is the author of the Bible while he simultaneously influenced certain human authors to put into writing only what he wanted them to write.
Vatican II’s document Dei Verbum says that everything that the inspired authors affirm, should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit and we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures (11).
While we may not deny that a particular author wrote freely under divine inspiration, which is a matter of doctrine, we may speculate about who the author in question was, which is not a matter of doctrine.
The Church has accepted the traditional author of John’s gospel to be John the Apostle. Around the year 185 Irenaeus identified the author with John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, who lived in his old age in Ephesus, and this view was common at the time. In the 4th century Eusebius of Caesaria, a bishop and historian, expressed no doubt that John the Apostle was the writer.
The text of the gospel indicates that the author was one of the twelve apostles, an eyewitness of what he describes and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Yet the words, This disciple is the one who vouches for these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true (Jn 21:24), point to a group, probably John’s disciples, who had a hand in the writing of the text. Also, there are two endings to the gospel (20:30-31 and 21:25), which suggests likewise. This is not necessarily the prevailing modern view, though it is a common one.
Anomalies such as these, and many more areas of uncertainty and contention, have kept the experts engrossed for years, not only in this particular gospel but also in all the books of the Bible. Using continuous and painstaking research methods, these experts study the texts objectively to penetrate the layers of fact and historical obscurity in order to uncover more and more information. Their findings are hypothetical, not certain.
The Church prefers to hold on to the traditional opinion that the author was John the Apostle.