Some of the same objections to Matthew having written the First Gospel apply to John the son of Zebedee having written the Fourth. Unlike Matthew, John did not copy any of our other Gospel sources, and so that’s not the problem that it is for Matthew (who surely, if he was an eyewitness, would not have taken his stories about Jesus from what he found in someone else’s written text). But there is an even higher probability, bordering on certainty, that John the son of Zebedee could not write. He was a fisherman from rural Galilee. Fishermen were not educated. They were very low class peasants. John would never have gone to school. Where he lived, there *were* no schools. He never would have learned to read. Let alone learned to write. Let alone learned to write in Greek. Let alone learned to write sophisticated, philosophically informed prose narratives in Greek. I think there is virtually no chance that the historical John of Zebedee wrote the Gospel.
So why did our anonymous editor living a century later, in Rome, claim that the Gospel *was* written by John? There is the one obvious reason: he wanted this anonymous Gospel to have the authority of an apostle behind it. Recall who John was. In the Gospels Jesus had twelve disciples, three of whom form a kind of “inner circle” around him, Peter, James, and John. James was known to have been martyred early on, according to the book of Act 12:1-2. And so he’s not a candidate to have authored a Gospel later (John was always regarded as the last of the Gospels to be written, a “more spiritual” account produced to complement the more nuts-and-bolts accounts of the Synoptics). Peter was going to be named as the ultimate source behind the Gospel of Mark, as we will see, so he was not a candidate for the Fourth Gospel. That left John.
But there is a more important reason for this association of the Gospel with John. As we have seen, for a very long time – about as far back as anyone talks about the matter, that is, the second century – it was wrongly thought that John’s Gospel itself indicates that its author was the “Beloved Disciple” (see my earlier post on why this shadowy figure did not write the book). So who was the Beloved Disciple?
There have been numerous theories about this over the years…
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