Since earliest times Christian tradition has unanimously attributed the Fourth Gospel to John the apostle. Like the other Gospel writers, the author of this Gospel does not identify himself directly. It is believed that "that disciple" of Jn 21:23, who is identified in v 20 as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and in v 24 as "the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things," refers to John the apostle. On the basis that certain characteristic Gnostic terms, such as logos, "Word" (ch 1:1), and ple µro µma, "fullness" (v 16), occur in the Gospel of John, some 19th-cent. critical scholars asserted that the Fourth Gospel could not have been written until the latter half of the 2nd cent. a.d., in view of the theory that Gnosticism did not flourish until that time. Accordingly, the critics concluded that the apostle John, who died toward the close of the 1st cent., could not possibly have been its author. Furthermore, some critics formerly held that John reflects a state of development in Christian thought, so they conjectured, that was not reached until the middle of the 2nd cent. or later. Beginning in 1935, however, a series of remarkable discoveries has compelled critical scholars to abandon their theory of a late date for the Gospel of John. In that year a small scrap of papyrus smaller than the palm of one's hand, and containing portions of vs. John 18:31 33, 37, 38--known as the John Rylands Papyrus 457 and commonly designated P52--was published. Leading authorities in papyrology agreed that this fragment must have been written about a.d. 125, making it the oldest known portion of any known NT manuscript. The same year there came to light in Egypt fragments of a previously unknown gospel narrative known as Egerton Papyrus II. The gospel narrative preserved in these fragments so closely resembles that of the canonical Gospels as to make it obvious that the writer borrowed from all of them in compiling his composite account. There are several close parallels to rather widely separated passages in the Fourth Gospel, as, for instance, its version of Jn 5:39: "Ye search the scriptures; in which ye think to have life, they are those that witness concerning me." Scholars agree that these fragments of an unknown Gospel must have been written in Egypt before the middle of the 2nd cent., and that notable parallels to the canonical Gospels indicate that all 4 Gospels were in circulation in Egypt during the 1st half of the 2nd cent. a.d. Furthermore, at *Nag Hammadi (Chenoboskion) in Upper Egypt a large Gnostic library, of more than 40 different works contained in 13 volumes, was found in 1946. These manuscripts demonstrate conclusively that certain previously held opinions about the Gnostics are invalid, and that supposedly Gnostic terms in the Gospel of John were actually in common use in apostolic times. With these discoveries the entire argument for a late date for the Gospel has vanished, and critical scholars themselves admit that it must have been written toward the close of the 1st cent., which would be within the lifetime of the apostle whose name it bears. Some are still reluctant to acknowledge John the apostle as its author, and prefer to attribute it to the presbyter John or to some other person by that name. But the fact remains that the arguments formerly held to prove that John the apostle could not have written it have now been discredited. The publication since 1956 of Papyrus Bodmer II (designated P66), containing almost the entire Fourth Gospel and assigned by scholars to the closing years of the 2nd cent.--and thus only about 100 years after the writing of the Gospel--reveals a text almost identical with the one that has come down to us, further evidence of the carefulness with which the Scriptures have been copied.
When John wrote his Gospel, toward the close of the 1st cent., 3 great dangers threatened the life and purity of the church. One of these dangers was waning piety (Rev 2:4), a second was persecution, and the third was heretical teaching about the nature of Christ (see 1 Jn 2:19, 26). A certain Judeo-Gnostic, Cerinthus of Alexandria, taught that Jesus was the natural-born son of Joseph and Mary, and that the divine spirit entered His body at baptism and withdrew prior to His death on the cross. Another group of heretical teachers held Christ to have been only a phantom, and not a true human being at all. This latter teaching is known as the Docetic heresy. Both groups thus denied that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, and that true divinity and true humanity were united in His one Person. In his 1st epistle, written, as generally held, about the same time as his Gospel, John refers to these false teachers as "antichrist" (chs 2:18, 19, 22 24; 4:3 5). John repeatedly stresses the true humanity and true deity of Jesus Christ, and affirms that in Jesus Christ the two natures were united in the one Person (see chs 1:1 3; 2:22 24; 4:2, 3, 14; 5:20). John obviously wrote his Gospel to prove that Jesus Christ is indeed the divine Son of God (see Jn 1:1 3, 14; 3:13 17; 4:29; 5:17 39; 17:3 5; 19:7; etc.), presumably to confute the heretical teachings concerning the nature of Christ that gained acceptance during the closing decades of the 1st cent. The Fourth Gospel differs from the first 3 Gospels, commonly known as the Synoptics, in its manner of dealing with the gospel narrative. In scope and content it is almost altogether different from the Synoptic Gospels, being more theological than historical in its approach. John records only a little more than one fourth of the incidents of Christ's ministry that are recorded in the 4 Gospels, and of those reported nearly one third are not mentioned by the Synoptic writers. Thus, for information on the first year and a half of Jesus' ministry we are forced to depend almost exclusively on the Fourth Gospel. The successive mention of specific Passovers and other Jewish feasts strongly implies that John, alone among the Gospel writers, follows a strictly chronological sequence from beginning to end, by which it is possible to determine with reasonable exactness the length of Jesus' ministry and the general sequence of events.
Generally speaking, the incidents of Christ's life that John selected mark turning points and crises in the development of His mission, but in each instance John shows a greater interest in the significance of the event than he does in the event itself. This is evident from the fact that, in reporting an incident, he devotes most of his comment to its significance as explained in the discourses of the Saviour. He reports several such discourses at considerable length (for example, Jn 6 to 8; 14 to 17). These discourses are concerned almost exclusively with Jesus' identity as the incarnate Son of God and with the purpose of His earthly mission. Upon the solid historical framework of the life and ministry of Jesus, from which he selects incidents appropriate to his purpose, John builds an unanswerable argument designed to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is in reality the divine Son of God, the Messiah of the OT prophets. For a discussion of the value of the Fourth Gospel in arranging a chronology of the life of Christ, see Jesus Christ, III. John frankly declares that he wrote this account that his readers "might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing" they "might have life through his name" (ch 20:31). He could have told much more (v 30) had he deemed it desirable to do so.
In his prologue John sets Jesus Christ forth as the Word of God incarnate (Jn 1:1 18). He next deals with Jesus' early public ministry, from His baptism to the 1st Passover (chs 1:19 to 2:12). John deals more fully with events during this period of Jesus' ministry, from His 1st to His 2nd Passover (Jn 2:13 to 5:47), than he does with events during the Galilean ministry, between the 2nd and 3rd Passovers (ch 6). He discusses at some length incidents at the 1st Passover (chs 2:13 to 3:21) and the 2nd Passover (ch 5). He passes over in silence the entire Galilean ministry, which is covered so fully by the Synoptic writers, relating only the incident that marked its close, the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, and Jesus' subsequent discussion of His mission to earth (ch 6). John is again silent on the period of Jesus' retirement from public ministry covering the 6 months following His 3rd Passover at the close of the Galilean ministry, but takes up in great detail certain incidents that occurred during the Samarian-Perean ministry (chs 7 to 11), though he says nothing whatever of the ministry in Samaria and Perea. The incidents he does select all take place in Jerusalem or its vicinity, and all depict Jesus in conflict with the Jewish leaders--at the Feast of Tabernacles (chs 7:2 to 10:21), the Feast of Dedication (ch 10:22 42), and the raising of Lazarus (ch 11). John's obvious purpose is to trace in considerable detail the steps by which the Jewish leaders came to condemn Jesus and to reject Him as the Messiah. John devotes nearly half of his Gospel to the crucifixion week (chs 12:1 to 19:42) and the post-resurrection period. The resurrection is discussed in ch 20:1 18, and certain post-resurrection appearances in considerable detail in chs 20:19 to 21:23. A brief epilogue states his purpose in writing.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.