Love is a many splintered thing

We all come from different backgrounds. I was raised in an environment that the Books of the Bible were written by the traditionally claimed authors. Moses wrote the Torah, Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew, Paul’s companion wrote Luke/Acts, and John the Disciple wrote the Gospel, three short letters and Revelation.

The only questionable authorship was Hebrews, which gave us lively debate, and an opportunity to snicker at the “old school” which held to Paul being the writer.

It was not until I began discussing with skeptics that I realized all of the questions involved in establishing who the authors were on the various books. I know that many who pass through here have had classes, and read countless books on the subject, and can (justifiably) scoff at my naiveté. I have since studied vociferously on the subject.

Yet my discussing with Christians, here and elsewhere, has reminded me that there are many, many Christians who still do hold to the traditional authorship, and have never considered the possibility that John the Disciple did not write the Gospel of John.

Part of my journey was discovering that the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses to the events, and therefore subject to the same troubling problems of error being introduced into their accounts.

Was the author of the Gospel of John an eyewitness to Jesus’ life?

Much of this is may be old-hat, certainly to the contributors of this blog. Yet, for me, a Christian of more than three decades, it was something new that I had never properly considered. It is possible I was the last person in the world to ever be introduced to this, but it seems unlikely. If this has been well-studied by you, feel free to skip elsewhere. Believe it or not, for many of us, this is (was) a new concept.

A brief background. The Gospels can be divided into the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) and what has been termed as the Gospel from the Johannine school of thought (the entire Johannine is the Gospel and the three letters. For purposes of this blog entry, I will ignore Revelation entirely.)

“Synoptic” means “from the same point of view” and the reason the three Gospels are lumped together and given this title, is that they give a similar point of view. In fact, they are so similarly written, most Biblical scholars recognize an element of sharing between the accounts which gives rise to what has been termed “the Synoptic Problem” as in determining who was sharing from whom.

The most common (although not universal) solution is that Mark was written first, and then Matthew and Luke utilized Mark in composing their own Gospels. There is other material shared by Matthew and Luke (but not Mark) which has resulted in the suggestion of another written document which was also used by Matthew and Luke, termed “Q.” Here is a useful article on the Synoptic problem.

The events recorded in the Synoptics are not shared by John. The Synoptics imply one year of ministry, John implies three. The cleansing of the temple occurs at the end of Jesus’ ministry in the Synpotics, at the beginning in John. John has numerous unique sayings, a lack of parables, and refers to Jesus doing signs, all of which are vastly different than what we see in the Synoptics.

Presuming the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke are an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry—what is the likelihood that the author of the Gospel of John witnessed the same events? There are far too many concerns to cover in just one blog entry, so let’s just look at the use of “love.”

According to Mark, John and James were Galilean fisherman brothers, that Jesus called as part of the Twelve inner-circle of disciples. Mark 1:19-20. Neither John nor James are explicitly named as disciples in the Gospel John, although there is reference to “the sons of Zebedee” in John 21:2. Caution should be noted, that Chapter 21 of John appears to be an additional chapter. Chronologically, it makes little sense, nor the fact that the Disciples, after having seen Jesus, would fail to recognize him. It reads as if it was a first appearance, not a third. Chapter 20 ends on what makes an appropriate final note.

This would mean there is no reference to John in the Gospel of John, let alone claim of authorship. Of course, the argument is made that the author was too humble to provide his own identity and conceals himself under the acronym of the “disciple who Jesus loved.” John 13:23. Unfortunately, using just the gospel, this is speculation. Further, 21:24 refers to this disciple in the third person, as if the person writing Chapter 21 is not this disciple, but the person who wrote the previous section(s) is. If Chapter 21 is part of the original Gospel, what parts did the disciple write, and what parts did “we” write?

What do we know about John? He, his brother James and Peter appeared to constitute an even smaller inner-circle of the Twelve. They were the only ones with Jesus at the healing of Jairus’ daughter. (Mark 5:37). They were with him in the Garden. (Mark 14:33) And, most famously, they were the only three with Jesus at the Transfiguration. (Mt. 17:2, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28)

Curiously, despite this intimacy with Jesus, after the ascension, both John and James drop off the map. We are told that James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2), but nothing more is said of him. John also disappears, a mention is made of his missionary trip to Samaria, and no more. Acts 8:14. The primary leaders of the early Church, according to Acts, were not Disciples. Even Peter is relegated to a more minor role as compare to that of Paul and James, Jesus’ brother.

The brothers John and James were outspoken, and Jesus gave them the names “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) Luke records an incident in which John feels snubbed by a village in Samaria. In a knee-jerk reaction, John asks Jesus to call down fire on the village. (Luke 9:52-54) Not surprisingly, the author of the Gospel of John fails to record this incident. But what IS surprising is what he fails to record next.

Soon after this, Jesus is questioned by a lawyer as to inheriting eternal life. The lawyer believes it is loving God, and loving one’s neighbor. Being a lawyer, he wants to qualify “neighbor” as to who is entitled to receive this loving. (Luke 10:25-29) Jesus launches into the famous story of the Good Samaritan. John, who had most recently been ready to wipe out a village of Samaritans, would have paid close attention to this tale, we would think.

Yet it goes unrecorded in the Gospel of John. Which is even more remarkable, considering the emphasis the author places on the concept of love.

The word “Love” is used more times in the Gospel of John, than in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined! To demonstrate how significant this doctrine is to the Johannine school, the word “love” is used more times in 1, 2 and 3 John, than in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined. If there was anything that would make a Johannine take notice, it would be the son of God saying “Love.”

Word count is not necessarily demonstrative of a person’s focus, depending on their audience, length of the book, etc. But I would defy anyone to read the letters of John and walk away with the thought, “Was he talking about love?” Or read the Gospel of John, and not notice the emphasis on Love.

Jesus talks of Father loving him. Jn. 10:17 Jesus repeatedly makes the connection between love and keeping commandments. Jn. 14:15 & 21 Jesus states compares the father’s love for the son and, if they keep his commandments, they will abide in his love, like he abides in Father’s love. Jn. 15:9-10

Jesus contrasts his love with how the world will hate them. Jn. 15:19

This author is keen on the idea of the Father loving the son, who loves his disciples, who must love each other. The word, “love” comes up, and he is paying attention. How does a person like that, who is intimately involved with Jesus, who (according to apologists) Jesus loved the most, NOT give the story of the Good Samaritan? It is perfectly adapt to what the Gospel and the letters are replete with. It is conspicuous by its absence.

In being questioned, Jesus is asked what the “greatest commandment is.” Jesus says that the greatest is to love God, and the second is to love one’s neighbor. There is no greater commandment than these. Mark 12:31. If John was there, with his emphasis, his ears would be burning up. He constantly ties keeping commandments with love, and this fits his motif perfectly. 1 John 3:23.

Yet John forgets to record this incident in his Gospel? John recounts again and again how the Jews confronted Jesus, in attempts to trick Him. John 5:18. Here we have a combination of both, and he doesn’t remember?

Perhaps he was not there that day—it was his turn to go into town and pick up bread. Would no one tell him of the wonderful confrontation, in which once again Jesus befuddled the Pharisees with their own sayings and gave out the Greatest Commandment? No one claims that Mark was there, either, but they claim that Peter thought it of enough import to share it with him. Luke wasn’t there, but it is told to him. Poor John, the one fellow that is salivating over this tidbit is the one that just happens to not hear of it.

It gets worse for John. Apparently he was not there when Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells of loving one’s enemy. (Matthew 5:38-48) I imagine that if the author of the Gospel of John was there, his pen would have been scribbling furiously at the wonderful statements about love indicated there. But alas, again he missed it.

And when Jesus repeats and expounds on this in the Sermon on the Plain, AGAIN, John is off fishing and AGAIN misses this. (Luke 6:29-35) Every time the Synoptics indicate that Jesus gave a statement on love, John has the dastardly bad luck of not being there. And no one tells him.

At what point does the Christian start to scratch their head and say, “It is a might bit odd that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record incidents of Jesus giving sayings on love, and John who is allegedly there, and concentrates on love, misses every one.”

John emphasizes how the Father loves the son. A miracle of the voice of God reiterating this from the sky would be hard to pass up. Even the other Disciples, who ALSO were not there, recorded God the Father proclaiming His love for Jesus at His baptism. Matthew records it. (Matt. 3:17) Mark records it. (Mark 1:11) Luke records it. (Luke 3:22) And the one disciple, the one that emphasizes the love the Father has for the son, misses it? The author records John the Baptist. He records John the Baptist seeing Jesus. He even records the Spirit coming down like a dove. (John 1:32) But he misses the voice saying those words he loves to hear?

O.K. perhaps he was buying bread on the day of the confrontation with the lawyer. Perhaps he was off doing other things, and with the rottenest of luck, missed both sermons. Perhaps he was not told everything about the Baptism.

But what about the Transfiguration?

Can’t skate out of this one, ‘cause the Synoptics make it a point to say he was there. (Matt. 17:1, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28) Again the voice from heaven. Again a declaration of love from the father to the son. Again the author of the Gospel of John completely fails to write about it.

I know, I know. There were too many things to write down, and he had to pare out some. And I could even buy this, if it was a few non-important details. But this is the author, that within a few pages, has “For God so Loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son…” No mention of the explicit statement at the transfiguration? No mention of the Greatest commandment being love? By sheer coincidence alone, every single event that Matthew, Mark and Luke felt was important regarding love (the very focus of the author) the author fails to include?

The author records Jesus as saying a new commandment was given to the Disciples that they love one another. John 13:35 Now, he had previously heard what the Greatest commandments were (Love God, Love your neighbor.) Is this “new” commandment even greater, less, or the same? If it is the same, it is hardly new, eh?

I am stumped as to how one can have Jesus giving a new commandment of “love one another” after the stories recorded in the Synoptics. Was the Good Samaritan NOT about loving one another? What was new about this one?

Look is it possible that the author of John was an eyewitness and simply ignored, and or did not know, or did not record these luscious bits? Sure. Anything is possible. But is that the best we can do? To claim that the author went against every indication of his emphasis, and did not utilize these morsels?

I propose that the Gospel of John was written by someone unfamiliar with the Synpotic stories who was not traveling with Jesus. In that paradigm we would expect the author to present conflicting stories and more importantly miss important stories that fit his motif that are in the Synoptics.

That is exactly what we have. Can anyone explain, better than “it is possible” how the author of John could have left out the sermons, parables and confrontations regarding love that he would have viewed, had he followed Jesus? Something better than “it is possible…”?


Dennis said...

Caution should be noted, that Chapter 21 of John appears to be an additional chapter. Chronologically, it makes little sense, nor the fact that the Disciples, after having seen Jesus, would fail to recognize him. It reads as if it was a first appearance, not a third. Chapter 20 ends on what makes an appropriate final note.

You are conveniently leaving out the detail that the disciples where in a boat and Jesus was calling out to them from the shore. I don't find it unreasonable that they didn't recognize someone from an unknown distance who was yelling towards them. Besides, your point falls apart because John 20:14 says "This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead." Clearly whoever wrote the 21st chapter didn't believe it was a first appearance as they plainly stated it was the third. Something makes me think you are borrowing other people's arguments without actually taking the time to read the text they are criticizing.

This would mean there is no reference to John in the Gospel of John, let alone claim of authorship. Of course, the argument is made that the author was too humble to provide his own identity and conceals himself under the acronym of the “disciple who Jesus loved.” John 13:23. Unfortunately, using just the gospel, this is speculation.

And your arguments don't involve speculation too? Why do you think someone went out of their way to avoid referencing John by name if it was just written by someone unknown with no connection to John? How does your theory account for that?

Either, 21:24 refers to this disciple in the third person, as if the person writing Chapter 21 is not this disciple, but the person who wrote the previous section(s) is. If Chapter 21 is part of the original Gospel, what parts did the disciple write, and what parts did “we” write?

I agree that 21:24 appears to be added later but how does this support your theory that ALL of chapter 21 was added. Of course, you know the original Greek passages did not contain verse or chapter breaks. Just because verse 24 appears to be added gives no proof that all of Chapter 21 was.

The author records Jesus as saying a new commandment was given to the Disciples that they love one another. John 13:35 Now, he had previously heard what the Greatest commandments were (Love God, Love your neighbor.) Is this “new” commandment even greater, less, or the same? If it is the same, it is hardly new, eh?

You are right about that. The command to love one another was a well known commandment from the Old Testament. Clearly, whoever wrote John realized that "loving others" wasn't new. The commandment is probably called "new" because of the new requirement added to the old one. The new requirement that you glossed over is that Jesus asked his disciples to use his love for them as a model for the love they should show each other.

It appears your greatest appeal against John being the author is an argument from what we don't know (why certain accounts were omitted) instead of what we do know. Why is denying John as the author the only reasonable explanation for what is missing? Could John have had some other motive? Since it is believed that John was written after the synoptics, is it possible that he was already familiar with what was written in them and therefore wanted his book to contain mostly new accounts? That would seem like a reasonable explanation to me.

Also, if you believe the believe that the author of John had never meet Jesus, how do you interpret John 1:14 "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Doesn't this verse seem to imply that the author had at least met Jesus?

Dennis said...

I should make it clear, I agree that there is reason to believe that chapter 21 was added later. I don't want you to waste your time framing an argument for that. I would add that it appears John 21 was written by the same person who wrote the rest of John because verse 24 uses the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved" which we see throughout the book.

DagoodS said...

Actually, Dennis, there are a great many reasons for believing that the author of the Gospel of John was not an eyewitness (which would exclude a Disciple, including John) if we presume the Synoptics are accurate as to Jesus’ life.

There are historical contradictions. I mentioned a few. The cleansing of the temple is at the beginning and not the end of Jesus’ ministry. In John, Jesus makes at least three trips to Jerusalem, whereas in Mark, he only makes one, again at the end of his Ministry. We have a long discourse with Pilate that is contrary to Mark’s indication of making no further reply.

We have teaching differences. Mark says there will be no signs, John has signs all over the place. Mark has a secret Messianic message, John has Jesus openly proclaiming who he is. The Synpotics emphasize the Kingdom of God, John only mentions it in one instance (the talk with Nicodemus) There is no parallel for the “I am…” sayings in the Synoptics.

And one difference of teaching, the sole emphasis of this blog entry, is that of love.

You propose that John was familiar with the Synpotics, and wanted his book to contain “mostly new accounts.” There are three major problems with this theory.

1) We would then need to develop a methodology for why John included what he did that correlates with the synpotics. Why include the feeding of the Five Thousand, but not the Samaritan story? Why include John the Baptist’s vision of a spirit descending like a dove, but not include God saying he loved his son? Why include the triumphal entry, but not the transfiguration?

Despite the vast differences, there ARE some similarities (due to a common oral story) and you would need to defend the Gospel writer’s actions as to why he choose some, and not others (other than “I don’t know”) especially in light of the fact that he deliberately failed to choose some that would have conformed to his theme, but choose others that did not.

2) We would also have to look at the Synoptics to determine why they would NOT utilize material in the Gospel of John, that would be so beneficial to their own?

How do we explain the repeated statement of no signs, or one sign, yet in John countless signs? Or why wouldn’t Luke use the beneficial “I am the good shepherd” considering his emphasis on shepherds?

While you may call them “new” accounts, you would also have to develop a system, or method as to why the pervious accounts, with their emphasis and focus, would not use them.

3) The biggest problem, though, is that if the author was familiar with the synoptics, and deliberately modified them, this would indicate he/she thought the Synoptics were wrong.

“Place the temple cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry? Don’t they know that is in the beginning? Only one year of ministry—no, it was three. Secret Messianic message? Nonsense, he was blatant about who he was.”

Which do we pick as the accurate account—the synoptics or the Gospel of John?

And, in light of our discussion here—which do we pick—the greatest commandment or the “new” commandment.

New Commandment of Love

The claimed new commandment is to “love one another.” The additional clause, “as I loved you” is not he commandment itself, but rather a description of the type of love.

Using an analogy, it is as if Jesus said, “I command you to play football. I command you to play football. A new commandment I give you is to play football with the West Coast Offense.”

Now, this actually may be a “new” commandment. To say so, would mean that all previous commands to play football did NOT include using the West Coast Offense, and the newness of this one is that they were.

You indicate this is a “new” requirement. What was the “old” requirement? What was the old type of love they were to use, when loving God, loving their neighbor, and loving their enemies? Before, were they NOT to love as Jesus loved them? Were they stumped as to what type of love to use up until Jesus described it at the Last Supper?

This makes no sense that for the first time Jesus actually described the type of love they were to use, and that is what makes it “new.” Again, is it now greater than the previous commandments, or less?

Further, the Synoptics were interested (by virtue of the fact they mention it) of the concept of “love” and its relation to “commandment.” Can you explain how they would hit so strongly on the love God, Love your neighbor, and love your enemy, but miss this “new” commandment?

My proposal, that the author of the Gospel of John did not know the Synoptic Jesus, but only knew the tale trough oral tradition, answers these problems. Your solution, that the author included things that were known to not be in the Synoptics, introduces problems, as to why the Synoptics would not have included them, and why Jesus is portrayed in such a different manner, comparing the two.

(The reason I used the break of Chapter 21 as the “added” section is because of the introduction of the new story about an appearance of Jesus. Not because of any numbering system. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that adding on Chapter 21 adds a third appearance, and thus one adds, “this is the third appearance.” Can you explain why, after Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem until Pentecost (Luke 24:48) that they were out in Galilee fishing? Or, why they were hopping back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem, if you take Matt. 28:16 as before Luke? )

He says he is an eyewitness in John 1:14. Actually he says he was a witness to “his Glory.” Odd, then, that he did not include the transfiguration in his Gospel. And if he is an eyewitness, who is he talking about in John 19:35? “The man who saw it has given testimony and his testimony is true. He knows that the tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.”

Who is “he”? If it is not John, then he is not an eyewitness. (Particularly troubling, considering the scene claims the “beloved disciple” is there!) If it IS the author, this sounds quite a bit like, “And I am telling the truth. I am NOT lying.”

Which gives us reason to be cautious.

I go back to my original question in my blog—can you propose a solution, better than “it is possible” to explain why the Synoptics did not include the “new” commandment, and the Gospel of John ignored all the wonderful bits on love that would have conformed to his emphasis?

History can only be determined by probabilities. What is more likely to happen. It is not persuasive to say, “it is possible that Jesus made all these comments on love, and the Synoptics ignored all the ones in the Gospel of John, and John just happened to ignore all the ones in the Synoptics. Comments that would appear to disagree with each other.”

Far more possible that one, or the other, got it incorrect. That is probable.

Oh, and why they didn’t mention John by name? Simple—who says they knew it? The Gospel also does not mention Matthew, Bartholomew, James or Levi. Could it be them, as well?

Dennis said...


I don't have the time to respond to each argument you have made. If you could kindly identify the strongest argument that supports your claim, I will respond to that. You don't need to restate the arugment, just identify it.

DagoodS said...


If you are interested in this study, I hope that when you do have time, you are able to review more on this argument. I very rarely recommend books, as I think each person learns differently, and just because a book is interesting to me, does not mean it would be interesting to others.

That being said, Udo Schnelle’s History and Theology of New Testament Writings is an excellent jumping off point. It covers too much ground to be in-depth on any one book, but gives an overview of the arguments pro and con on many of the positions regarding authorship, dating, doctrine and contents as well as directing the reader to resources for either proposition. If you desire to pursue this outside the internet, I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

Dennis, there is no “strongest” argument. Some arguments are better than others, but as we all find different points persuasive, what one person would think is the “strongest” another would consider the “weakest.” Often an argument is built on numerous small points that develop into a larger point.

I simply enjoy the interaction. Keeps the mind sharp. You can pick whatever argument you want and respond as you choose. But keep this in mind—what if I asked YOU to only respond with YOUR strongest argument? Don’t pick one of mine and give me numerous points. Just one.

I give one point, you give one point in response. You may see that life is not that simple. There is more than one argument as to why the Gospel of John was not written by an eyewitness. To make it stimulating (to me) I avoided the typical historical contradictions, or the difficulties of Church tradition being too late, or even the higher Christology, even though those are all lingering in the background.

I wanted to focus on a small item—we all seem to agree (as near as I can tell) that the Gospel of John focuses on “love” and “commandments.” You have indicated that the author was aware of the synoptics and wanted to supplement them.

The question that remains is: Why would the author reiterate the image of the Spirit of God descending in account of the Baptism of Jesus, yet ignore the voice saying “This is my Beloved Son” in light of the emphasis of the Love God has for the Son? Why would the author reiterate the feeding of the five thousand, yet ignore the Transfiguration, in light of the emphasis of love?

If the author had a propensity to reiterate (and not supplement) at least some of the synoptics, is there a reason, considering the emphasis of love/commandment for the author to ignore the greatest commandment speeches, and the story of the Good Samaritan?

And, likewise, what are the chances of all three synoptics, after talking about the greatest commandment, the commandment to love God, love your neighbor, to skip the “new” commandment of love one another as Jesus loved them?

Sorry, Dennis. Got carried away. I don’t care—pick an argument and dig in!