The Gospel of JohnWe will look at a few issues regarding John:
John Differs Substantially from the SynopticsThe gospel of John differs from the synoptics in many substantial ways. It recounts stories about Jesus that do not appear in the other three. Its whole framework of Jesus' ministry also differs substantially from the synoptics. In the synoptics, Jesus ministry begins only after John the Baptist was imprisoned (Mark 1:14; Matthew 4:12), John showed the two prophets preaching together (John 3:24). While the synoptics timetable of Jesus' ministry can be fitted into a single year, John makes the ministry last for three years (for John said Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples thrice: John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55). The main location of Jesus' ministry is given in the synoptics as Galilee. John placed Jerusalem as the principal location. According to John Jesus went to Jerusalem five times (John 2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 10:22; 12:1), while the synoptics only recorded one such trip of Jesus to Jerusalem. 
Even the figure of Jesus presented in John is different, and indeed irreconcilable, with that presented in the synoptics. The figure of Jesus presented in John does not even sound like a Jew as, indeed, historically he was. The Jewish scholar, Hyam Maccoby (b.1924) sums this up very nicely:
Not only is Jesus presented in the gospel of John as a non-Jew, he is even recognizably anti-Jewish. In his debates with "the Jews" he called them the sons of the devil (John 8:43) and speaks of Jewish Law as "your Law" as though it wasn't his. (John 8:17) 
His method of preaching is also different. Whereas in the synoptics he preaches in parables and in short compact sayings, in John the method is with long discourses. If one were to read the gospel of John only one would never guess that the parable was a common method in Jesus' teaching (John 20:2-6 being a rare example)
In the synoptics we find that Jesus kept his messiahship a secret at the beginning only to reveal it after Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16: 13-20; Luke 9:18-21) but in John his special status is made known almost from the beginning.  In John, Jesus calls himself "The resurrection and the life", "the bread of life" (John 6:35) and "the light of the world" (John 8:12).  There is no such utterance attributed to Jesus in the synoptics.
For some of the episodes in the synoptics that do appear in John, the chronological order in John is irreconcilable with that given in the synoptics. One example is an incident that is given in all four gospels: the Cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:12-19; Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:12-22). The story involves an incident where Jesus tried to chase the merchants and money changes away from their stores outside the temple. The merchants actually serve a useful function for the Jewish temple worship. The Jewish Law specified that, in certain cases, a worshipper could bring an offering of doves (Leviticus 12:8; 14:22). The moneychangers provide Jewish pilgrims from foreign lands clean money for payment of the temple tax (Exodus 30:13ff). Jesus was, for some reason, angry with these merchants and called them robbers (Mark 11:17). John describes the subsequent happening:
This event must have caused quite a commotion and could not have failed to produce unpleasant consequences for the Galilean prophet. In the synoptics, Jesus was dead within a week of the incident. John incomprehensibly placed this event in the beginning of Jesus' ministry; and made him preach for another three years with impunity! Thus where all the synoptics placed the incident near the end of Jesus ministry, John placed it at the beginning. 
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I ask the reader to imagine himself present in this scene where the Galilean prophet was uttering this statement about himself. The scene would be unbelievable, and the prophet will look like one on the verge of insanity. The sayings put into the mouth of Jesus by John is too unrealistic for it to have ever been uttered. G.A. Wells showed how John could have invented these statement. There were some traditional materials about discipleship, typified by Peter's statement that he has left everything to follow Jesus. (Mark 10:28). There is also another passage from the Old Testament:
Thus John used fragments from tradition and scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament) and weaved them together with his own theological imagination.
In summary John's material differs substantially from the synoptics. It differs in such a way that makes his material much less likely to be of as much historical value as the synoptics. As Marcello Craveri (b.1914) aptly puts it:
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Firstly it is important to note that nowhere in the twenty chapters of the gospel is the author identified with anyone named John.
Secondly the identity of John, son of Zebedee with the person referred to as "the beloved disciple" is based primarily on parallel passages in the synoptics. For instance it is argued that John is depicted as Peter's companion in Acts (Acts 1:13; 3:1-4; 3:11; 4:13; 4:19; 8:14), the beloved disciple also appears with Peter in the fourth gospel (John 13:23-25; 20:2-8, 21:21-23 and, possibly, 18:15f [a] ).
Yet appealing to parallel passages in the synoptics cuts both ways. For there are many parallel scenes in the synoptics in which the beloved disciple is not mentioned when we would have expected him to, given the importance of his role depicted in the fourth gospel. These episodes are the last supper, the crucifixion and the empty tomb.
In the last supper Peter is made to ask the "beloved disciple" to inquire from Jesus who the traitor was after Jesus reveled that it will be one of the twelve (John 13:18-26). The incident, as described in the other gospels had the disciples inquiring among themselves who the betrayer is (Mark 14:19; Matthew 26:22; Luke 22:23).
In the episode of Jesus' crucifixion Jesus is said to have handed his mother to the care of the "beloved disciple" (John 19:25-27). This episode is nowhere to be found in any of the synoptics' account of the crucifixion. Indeed we are explicitly told by Mark that "all of them [Jesus' disciple] deserted him and fled" (Mark 14:50).
In the episode of the empty tomb, the "beloved disciple" is made to race Peter to the empty tomb and even outran him (John 20:3-5). Again nowhere in the synoptics do we find the "beloved disciple" or anybody apart from the women (and Peter in Luke 24:12) to have seen the empty tomb. This episode provides a clue as to how the stories concerning the beloved disciple is constructed. In the episode on the resurrection, John's account is very similar to Luke where Peter, alone, ran to the tomb after hearing the news from Mary Magdalene (Luke 24:12). The expression in John 20:3 was "Peter went forth". The verb here is singular in Greek and seems to show that John's traditional material only has Peter alone running to the tomb. But the evangelist clumsily adds "and the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb." Far from being an eyewitness account this shows that the character of the "beloved disciple" is merely a inept insertion by the author into his traditional source material. 
There is a passage in the fourth gospel that would also seem to exclude John, the son of Zebedee as the "beloved disciple". Recall that sometimes the "beloved disciple" is also referred to as "the other disciple" and is never named (e.g. 21:21-23 and, possibly, 18:15f ). If this indeed is an alternate designation, then the disciples who were present during the resurrection appearance at the Sea of Tiberias were given in John 21:2 as Peter, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee and two "other disciples". Given the premise of not naming the beloved disciple, it is more probable that he was among the "two other disciples" than one of the sons of Zebedee.
We should also note, for what it is worth, that Acts 4:13 mentioned John (with Peter) to be "uneducated and ordinary", which according to Bart Ehrman in his textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, means that he was illiterate. It is unlikely that such a theological work could be the result of such a person.
Thirdly the gospel is anonymous for the first twenty chapters. It also seems probable that chapter was the end of the original gospel, as the following verse will testify:
This sounds very much like a concluding paragraph of the gospel. Prior to this point no claim is made that the beloved disciple himself wrote the gospel. Indeed one passage seems to explicitly ruled him out as the direct author of the gospel:
The "beloved disciple" was described in earlier (John 19:26) as being the only disciple present at the crucifixion (besides the women), so it is reasonable to assume that "he" here refers to him. However the third person construction of the sentence more naturally means that, whoever this disciple is, his witness is being claimed for the gospel not his authorship.
However chapter 21 restarts rather abruptly with: "Afterwards Jesus appeared again...". It is only here that the author is explicitly identified as the mysterious "beloved disciple."
The first person plural "we" in the above verse , as well as the abrupt beginning mentioned earlier, show that chapter 21 is definitely a later addition to the gospel. And it is also clear that the beloved disciple had died when this chapter was written, as we can surmise from this passage:
The explanation provided in John 21:23 above only makes sense if the beloved disciple had already died when the last chapter was penned. Thus the claim that the "beloved disciple" wrote the gospel was made in a chapter that was definitely not written by him! 
Even if we have shown that the author was not John the son of Zebedee, what about the claim that it was written by an albeit anonymous eyewitness? This is unlikely in the extreme, as Udo Schnelle, Professor of New Testament at Halle, Germany noted:
We can summarized the evidence against identifying the author of the fourth gospel as John, the son of Zebedee:
There were thus two Johns referred to above. One is John, one of original circle of disciples, which as can be inferred from the passage, was already dead. The other is the presbyter John who was still alive at the time of Papias writing around AD125. Now we know that Ireneaus, in his work Against Heresies, maintained that Papias was the follower of the apostle John (Against Heresies 5:33:4). We can see from the above passage that Papias gave no hint of knowing the apostle John but that he knew the presbyter John. It could very well be this same presbyter who wrote the Johanine epistles. In the second and third epistles of John, the writer introduces himself as John the Presbyter (or elder). 
Furthermore there is no evidence of any tradition attributing the authorship of the gospel to John the apostle before Ireneaus' assertion. Even some of Ireneaus' contemporaries do not share his opinion. The Roman presbyter, Cauis, writing a few years after Ireneaus, attributed the book to the Gnostic Cerinthus. We have evidence that this gospel was not universally accepted in Rome during the end of the second or beginning of the third century because the presbyter Hippolytus (c170-c236) had to defend the Johanine authorship.  After Ireneaus however the attribution apostolic authorship started to gain ground among the Christians. This probably happened via a circular process: the claims of apostolic authorship strengthen its claims to canonicity while the strengthening of its canonicity further boosted the claims of apostolic authorship.
The authorship of John, like that of the three gospels, is therefore anonymous. We can be reasonably certain, though, that it was not John the apostle.
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The lower limit can probably be set by the passage in John chapter nine, it involves the story of a man born blind who was healed by Jesus: The Jews were skeptical and inquired about this man from his parents:
I have purposely italicized the last sentence to make it stand out from the rest of the passage. As we have noted earlier, around 90 CE the Jews excluded the Christians from synagogue worship by means of an insertion in the congregational prayer a curse on the "Nazarenes and heretics". Thus any Christian who attends the synagogue service would immediately be detected by his silence at this point of the prayer. While there were undoubtedly some early Christians who were harassed by the Jews before this, by and large the early Christians shared the same worshipping place with the Jews without much trouble. This is attested to by Luke and Acts. After the ascension of Jesus the apostles were said to worship continually in the temple (Luke 24:53). Furthermore the passage above clearly implies a systematic exclusion of Christians from synagogue worship that did not happen until the insertion of the "test clause".
The phrase "being put out of the synagogue" is repeated twice in John (12:42 and 16:2) and clearly points to a period of composition after 90 CE. 
Added to this, external evidence also point to a late date. There is no reference whatsoever among the early church fathers- such as Papias (c60-130), Ignatius (d. c110) and Polycarp (c69-c155)- to the gospel of John.  This, in my opinion, points to a date considerably later than 90 CE. Whatever that date may be, we can conclude that the most probable date of composition of the gospel of John lies between 90 to 140 CE.
We have discussed the gospel of John at considerable length. It is now time to pause a little and consider the implications of our findings. In the synoptics we note that Mark very probably depended on traditional material. Both Luke and Matthew, while allowing themselves some artistic and theological license, generally tried to preserve the witness of their sources, be it Mark or Q. We do not find this in John. He uses the traditional material rather freely and disagrees on many points with the synoptics. Thus it should be concluded here that John as a historical source for the life of Jesus is the least reliable of the four gospels. In the discussions of the historical evidence for Jesus in this website John will be used rather sparingly and when he is indeed quoted a higher level of skepticism must be applied to it.
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