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The New Testament

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Essay title: The New Testament

I. The background of the writer. In the strict sense of the term, the Fourth Gospel is anonymous. No name of its author is given in the text. This is not surprising because a Gospel differs in literary form from and epistle or letter. The letters of Paul each begin with his name, which was the normal custom of letter writers in the ancient world. None of the authors of the four Gospels identified himself by name. That doesn’t mean that one cannot know who the authors were. An author may have indirectly revealed himself within the writing, or his work may be recognizable as coming from him.

Internal evidence shows the following connections regarding the Fourth Gospel. (1) In John 21:24 the word “them” refers to the whole Gospel, not to just the last chapter. (2) “The disciple” in 21:24 was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:7). From 21:7 it is certain that the disciple whom Jesus loved was one of the seven persons mentioned in 21:2 (Simon, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the two sons of Zebedee, and two unnamed disciples). “The disciple whom Jesus loved” was seated next to the Lord at the Last Supper.

External evidence is the traditional ascription of authorship which has been well known in the church. The external tradition is strong that John came to Ephesus after Paul had founded the church and that he labored in the city fro many years (cf. Eusebius The Ecclesiastical History 3. 24. 1). Supporting this tradition is the evidence of Revelation 1:9-11. When John was in exile on Patmos, an island off the coast of Asia Minor, he wrote to seven Asian churches, the first of which was Ephesus. That the Fourth Gospel was originally published at Ephesus is a good probability.

The date for the Gospel of John was probably between A.D. 85 and 95. Some critics have attempted to assign a date as late as A.D. 150 on the basis of the book’s alleged similarities to Gnostic writings or because of the supposed long development of church theology. Archeological finds supporting the authenticity of the text of John, word studies, manuscript discoveries, and the Dead Sea Scrolls have given powerful support to an early dating for John. An early date is possible, but this Gospel has been known in the church as the “Fourth” one, and the early church fathers believed that is were written when John was an old man. Therefore an early date between 85 and 95 is best. John 21:18, 23 require the passing of some time, with Peter becoming old and John outliving him.

The purpose of the Gospel of John, stated in 20:31, was to record Jesus’ “signs” so that readers would come to believe in Him. Doubtless the author had other purposes as well. Some have argued that John wrote against synagogue Judaism, or the Gnostics, or the followers of John the Baptist. Some think John wrote to supplement the other Gospels. John’s Gospel has a clear evangelistic purpose, so it is no accident that it has been used in the history of the church for that purpose.

II. The background of the reader. The audience for the Gospel of John is a general one. Some of what he says in this writing is suggested towards Jews. Really all of mankind might be targeted throughout this whole thing. Anyone who wanted to become “free” by becoming sons of

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