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John The Apostle

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The Catholic Encyclopedia
 Robert Appleton Company

Direct Historical Proof 

If, as is demanded by the character of the historical question, we first consult the historical testimony of the past, we discover the universally admitted fact that, from the eighteenth century back to at least the third, the Apostle John was accepted without question as the author of the Fourth Gospel. In the examination of evidence therefore, we may begin with the third century, and thence proceed back to the time of the Apostles. 

The ancient manuscripts and translations of the Gospel constitute the first group of evidence. In the titles, tables of contents, signatures, which are usually added to the text of the separate Gospels, John is in every case and without the faintest indication of doubt named as the author of this Gospel. The earliest of the extant manuscripts, it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century, but the perfect unanimity of all the codices proves to every critic that the prototypes of these manuscripts, at a much earlier date, must have contained the same indications of authorship. Similar is the testimony of the Gospel translations, of which the Syrian, Coptic, and Old Latin extend back in their earliest forms to the second century. 

The evidence given by the early ecclesiastical authors, whose reference to questions of authorship is but incidental, agrees with that of the above mentioned sources. St. Dionysius of Alexandria (264-5), it is true, sought for a different author for the Apocalypse, owing to the special difficulties which were being then urged by the Millennarianists in Egypt; but he always took for granted as an undoubted fact that the Apostle John was the author of the Fourth Gospel. Equally clear is the testimony of Origen (d. 254). He knew from the tradition of the Church that John was the last of the Evangelists to compose his Gospel (Eusebius, " Hist. eccl.", VI, xxv, 6), and at least a great portion of his commentary on the Gospel of St. John, in which he everywhere makes clear his conviction of the Apostolic origin of the work has come down to us. Origen's teacher, Clement of Alexandria (d. before 215-6), relates as " the tradition of the old presbyters", that the Apostle John, the last of the Evangelists, "filled with the Holy Ghost, had written a spiritual Gospel" (Eusebius, op. cit., VI, xiv, 7). 

Of still greater importance is the testimony of St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (d. about 202), linked immediately with the Apostolic Age as he is, through his teacher Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John. The native country of Irenaeus (Asia Minor) and the scene of his subsequent ministry (Gaul) render him a witness of the Faith in both the Eastern and the Western Church. He cites in his writings at least one hundred verses from the Fourth Gospel, often with the remark, "as John, the disciple of the Lord, says". In speaking of the composition of the Four Gospels, he says of the last: " Later John, the disciple of the Lord who rested on His breast, also wrote a Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia" (Adv. Haer., III, i, n. 2). As here, so also in the other texts it is clear that by "John, the disciple of the Lord," he means none other than the Apostle John. 

We find that the same conviction concerning the authorship of the Fourth Gospel is expressed at greater length in the Roman Church, about 170, by the writer of the Muratorian Fragment (lines 9-34). Bishop Theophilus of Antioch in Syria (before 181) also cites the beginning of the Fourth Gospel as the words of John (Ad Autolycum, II, xxii). Finally, according to the testimony of a Vatican manuscript (Codex Regin Sueci seu Alexandrinus, 14), Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in Phrygia, an immediate disciple of the Apostle John, included in his great exegetical work an account of the composition of the Gospel by St. John during which he had been employed as scribe by the Apostle. 

It is scarcely necessary to repeat that, in the passages referred to, Papias and the other ancient writers have in mind but one John, namely the Apostle and Evangelist, and not some other Presbyter John, to be distinguished from the Apostle. (See JOHN THE EVANGELIST, SAINT.)

    St. John
    Apostle and evangelist


John was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the brother of James the Greater. In the Gospels the two brothers are often called after their father "the sons of Zebedee" and received from Christ the honourable title of Boanerges, i.e. "sons of thunder" (Mark, iii, 17). Originally they were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth. According to the usual and entirely probable explanation they became, however, for a time disciples of John the Baptist, and were called by Christ from the circle of John's followers, together with Peter and Andrew, to become His disciples

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