The book of John unreliable?

(Robert Anderson) #1

One of the toughest objections I’ve heard is in regards to the reliability of the gospel of John. They will say that because it was the last gospel written, it is clear that the portrayal of Jesus became embellished over time and that’s why it looks so different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Given that my favorite verses in scripture reside in John, I find it tough to respond to that objection. The only responses I can think of is that though the explanation does seem to cover the facts, it feels like a conspiracy theory given that I haven’t seen any evidence to support it. Also, if John knew all his friends were martyred for the gospel, and most horribly, why would he feel compelled to write a gospel, and a false one at that, knowing he’d almost assuredly encounter the same fate?

What do you all think?

(SeanO) #2

@rla9316 Good question - the answer is no. Simply because a Gospel is different than the others does not make it unreliable - they simply choose to communicate the information in a different form. John’s Gospel was written later and with a different audience in mind, so naturally it is different. Two things being different or not relying as heavily on the same sources has nothing to do with their authenticity. I’ve included some resources below, if you have any specific objections you would like addressed feel free to bring them up.

The following article addresses 14 or so points on why we should trust John - I provide one that I thought was particularly interesting. I have also included a link to a few books that should provide some good information if you are interested in further study.

In a whole spate of instances, information found only in John explains otherwise puzzling silences in the Synoptics and vice-versa, creating an “interlocking” between the two traditions unlikely to have been invented. Matthew 23:37 describes Jesus often lamenting over Jerusalem how she was unwilling to follow him, when only John depicts him going to town more than once. Mark 14:58-59 refers to a garbled accusation that Jesus had threatened to destroy the temple, which fits only John 2:19, among canonical accounts. On the other hand, John’s passing reference to John the Baptist’s imprisonment (John 3:24) cries out for some narrative elaboration of the kind found only in the Synoptics (e.g., Mark 6:14-29). So, too, the highly abbreviated references to Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas in John 18:24 and 28 presuppose knowledge of accounts like those unique to Matthew, Mark and Luke (e.g., Mark 14:53-65).

Matthew 13:52
(Andrew Bulin) #3

I’ve heard these arguments as well, but they often have a sterile, historical analytical tone to them that does not speak to me as a person. If my grandpaw of 70-80+ years of age was to sit down and tell me stories of the most important teacher and mentor of his life, that changed his views, and made him to live the life that he has, would I say, “Gosh, Grandpaw. If you only had made a better biographal record of the life of your mentor at least 40 years earlier, with more accurate reporting, it sure would be easier to validate the lucidity of your memory. But now I feel like your witness of this person is too old and therefore cannot be credited of having value.”

For me that really gets to the heart of the matter of reliability of John’s gospel. I personally have no issues if it was written later by John. I believe Polycarp felt the same. Somewhere I’ve read that he said that he felt that John’s gospel was the best, just as he told it. There is something special in that sentiment that though it is hard to weigh on the scales of literary or historical criticism, it is consistent with what my heart tells me to be true. (Full disclosure: John is my favorite book of the Bible, and is frequently what I advise seekers to read.)

(christopher van zyl) #4

I remember Abdu Murray was asked a question like this, and he said this:

Gospel of John is the last Gospel written and always assumed to be hundreds of years old.
Then they find a fragment of John 18, dated between 90 AD and 125 AD. This was a copy of a copy of a copy. This means the original is even earlier than that. Luke and Matthew is written prior to John, which means they are earlier than 90 AD. Luke and acts were written together, and acts is mainly about the apostle Paul. What it leaves out however, is his death. We know He died AD 64, he was beheaded by the emperor. So if Luke leaves out the most important fact about Paul, it is reasonable to assume that it was written before 64 AD. If acts is written in AD 64, and it’s the sequel to Luke, that means Luke was probably written in the 50s. If Luke was written after Mark, that means Mark was written in the 40s or the 50s. Jesus dies in 33 AD.

What I love is that it is a copy of a copy of a copy, and that is dated at around 90-125 AD. I find that amazing!

(Jimmy Sellers) #5

Here is an article that you might find helpful. The “Book of Believe” is also one of my favorite books.

(Carol Nagy) #6

Hey, @ria9316, John is one of my favorite gospels, without a doubt. All the other replies have addressed the issue of comparing John to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but I have a brief suggestion. Read also ‘Cold Case Christianity’ by J Warner Wallace. He offers his expertise as a homicide detective cross-examining eye witnesses, and he finds very plausible explanations for the differences among the eye witness accounts in the New Testament. For example, the raising of Lazarus from death is only covered in John, but that was a significant factor in the decision to kill Jesus. If Lazarus were still alive during the writing of the first three gospels, it would make sense, he says, to leave out that miracle, lest those who continued to oppose Jesus decided to kill Lazarus to get rid of that source of evidence. It can’t be proven, but it rings true to me.

(Mark Gilliam) #7

It is not a surprise that unbelievers will attack the Gospel According to John. It is similar to attacks on Genesis. Both John and Genesis are foundational books to Christianity so if you weaken or destroy the foundation you can topple the belief system.

It seems like the objectors are using inductive logic in trying to attack John. Let’s say John is the effect and so let’s look for what caused this effect. I agree that John is different in tone than the other Gospels. The objectors are saying that the cause of the difference, the effect, is a result of embellishment over time.

That is the objector’s theory. Does it hold up to scrutiny? It is hard to say without specific analysis. What has been embellished? We need specific objections to respond. I think it is unfair for any objector to ask you to defend their general objection. I would want them to say this specific verse is embellished or false or contradictory. Then I could respond and defend.

I think in all of the Gospels you can deduce that Jesus is God. Is the embellishment in John that John more forcefully portrays Jesus as God. Is that embellishment? Can you be more God than God? That makes no sense.

In opposition to the objectors I say the Holy Spirit guided St. John to write the Gospel just as the Holy Spirit guided every biblical author. No mere man said the things that are recorded that Jesus said in the Gospel of John. They are too deep and they are too profound and the sayings are consistent with the other Gospels and the entire Bible.

I love the Gospel of John more than any book of the Bible. It is so beautiful and powerful. It would be great to sit down with the objectors and read it together and have them point out the flaws and see if they hold. The reading of John might just cure them of their unbelief. The Holy Spirit can apply that Scripture to the objectors’ hearts as it is read. It would surely be just like God to bring an objector to saving faith while they attempt to attack His Word. He does things like that all of the time.

(Andrew Shaw) #8

I’ve found some of the articles and discussions at The Bible Project to be helpful in explaining the different purpose and style of John vs the other Gospel’s. One article in particular, from Mark Strauss talks about how the probable later writing gives it a different focus. In another discussion Tim Mackie describes how John “marinated” on all he knew and what was going on in the church at the time he wrote the gospel. Here is an excerpt from the Strauss article:

“So how do we account for the differences? The likely answer is that John was written in a different context and a different time than the Synoptics, probably near the end of the first century. John is addressing issues of importance and concern for the church of his day. When the Synoptics were written in the 50s–70s, the burning issue for the church was to show that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. How has the kingdom of God arrived if Jesus was crucified and the Romans were still in power? The Synoptics answer that the kingdom came in a different way than expected and that Jesus’ messiahship was vindicated and confirmed through his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God.

John is writing somewhat later when the church was confronting different challenges. False teachers have arisen in the church. Some are challenging the deity of Christ, claiming he is not fully God. Others are questioning his true humanity, denying that God could become a human being. From his opening lines, John confirms both the full deity and the true humanity of Jesus: “The Word was with God and the Word was God” ([John 1:1]; “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” ([John 1:14]).

Here is the full article for anyone interested: