Authorship and Audience

Based on Church history and tradition, the Apostle John wrote the gospel account which is named after him. This is supported by Irenaeus in Against Heresies1 and is the view attributed to Clement of Alexandria by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History.2 While some scholars have raised questions about the authorship of the book of John noting that the book is "far too complex to be considered merely an old man's reminisces",3 I argue there is ample historical evidence supporting Johannine authorship to confidently affirm this position and that an Apostle under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is fully capable of producing works with the complexity and subtlety of John's works. According to Irenaeus, John wrote his gospel while living in Ephesus.4 Thus, it is likely that the gospel was primarily written to church in Ephesus.

Date and Context

As mentioned in the previous section, John likely wrote his gospel while living in Ephesus.4 According to Irenaeus, John lived into the time of the Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.).5 Because John lived so late and because his gospel seems to have been written after the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) (see the observations section for more details on this), most scholars date this book late in John's life between 80 - 100 AD. At this time, all of the other Apostles have died and John is concerned with recording a testimony about Christ that will encourage those who have not seen Christ bodily to believe in Him (see John 20:24-31).


  • The Identity of Jesus. The question "Who is Jesus?" is one of the central question in the book of John. There are signs throughout the story (more on these later) "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (John 20:31). Jesus makes "I am" statements (more on these later) which reveal, emphasis, and validate Jesus' identity. As one author put it:

[the Gospel of John] is a plot of character only in the sense that it is bound up with [Jesus'] moral character and the threats to it, for Jesus is a static character. There is no change or development... Plot development in John, then, is a matter of how Jesus' identity comes to be recognized and how it fails to be recognized. Not only is Jesus' identity progressively revealed by the repetitive signs and discourses and the progressive enhancement of metaphorical and symbolic images, but each episode has essentially the same plot as the story as a whole. Will Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, or the lame man recognize Jesus and thereby receive eternal life? The story is repeated over and over. No one can miss it. Individual episodes can almost convey the message of the whole; at least they suggest or recall it for those who know the story. The prologue gives each of these episodes an ironic background in that the reader has already been taken into the confidence of the narrator and knows who Jesus is.6

  • Jesus' Relationship with the Father. In addition to emphasizing Jesus' identity as the Messiah and son of God, the book of John also highlights the nature of Jesus' relationship with the Father (and the entire Trinity). This relationship is intimate, loving, and united. The Son reveals the Father (e.g. John 1:1-4, 1:18, 4:23-24), was sent by the Father (John 3:16, 6:39-40, 7:16), and submits to the Father's will (John 4:34, 5:19-20, 6:39-40) just to name a few characteristics of their relationship.

  • The Saving Power of Believing Jesus' Testimony. On numerous occasions the book of John salvation, eternal life, and a relationship with God is a direct result of believing Jesus' claims about Himself (John 1:12-13, 3:16-21, 5:24, 5:37-47, 6:26-71 (especially 6:26-29, 6:39-40, 6:47, and 6:53-55), 7:37-38, 8:24, 10:22-30, 11:25-26, 12:44-50, 14:9-14, 16:25-27, 17:20-21, and 20:24-31). The expressed purpose of the Gospel of John (captured in John 20:24-31 (especially 30-31)) is so that the readers will "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

... the author writes out of the fullness of his own inward experience... Such was this 'theologian,' as the ancients called him; not the framer of bare dogmas, not the architect of a system, not the disputer of this world, but one who saw the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, who walked with the rapt face of one whose faith has subdued the world, and who, out of the depths of his loving heart, told, not only to his own generation, but to generations far distant in time and country, where he had found the secret of eternal life.7


A basic outline for this book is as follows:

0. Prologue [1:1-18]

I. Book of Signs [1:19 - 12:50]

II. Book of Glory [13 - 20]

III. Epilogue [21]

Schematic Elements

It is worth noting that there are 7 "signs" performed by Jesus which crescendo to the resurrection of Lazarus (2:1-11, 4:46-54, 5:1-18, 6:1-15, 6:16-21, 9, 11:1-46)8 and there are 7 "I am" statements (6:35, 8:12 and 9:5, 10:7 and 9, 10:11 and 14, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1 and 5).


  • 1 John is a theological extension and application of the themes developed in the book of John especially building on Jesus' relationship with the Father and the saving power of believing Jesus' testimony.9 The logic of 1 John is this: If we have been saved by believing Jesus' testimony, we are children of God like Jesus. If Jesus, as the son of God, displayed God's attributes, we who are now sons and daughters of God should also manifest (to the extent possible) God's attributes in our lives (specifically God's holiness and love). John 5:19 could be considered a theme verse for 1 John.
  • Notice the frequency of words like "Father", "light", "life", and "love" in this book (as well as 1 John).
  • This book seems to assume that you have already read one of the synoptic accounts of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew, Mark, or Luke).10 In John 3:24, John mentions the imprisonment of John the Baptist as if you already know that would happen (and John himself does not provide any background in his account). In John 1:31-34, we have John the Baptist's testimony about the Christ. The cursory mention of the Spirit coming down like a dove in verse 32 seems to imply that John is expecting that you have already read this account in the synoptic gospels. In John 11:2, we are told that Mary (Lazarus' sister) was the one who "anointed the Lord with ointment", but this isn't recorded in the gospel of John until chapter twelve and may be the same story recorded in Mark 14. All this to say that I think John expects that his readers are familiar with other accounts of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Some scholars have noted similarities between John's use of signs and Isaiah's use of signs (see


1. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.22.3 and 3.1.1

2. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.7

3. Barnabas Lindars et al., The Johannine Literature: With an Introduction by R. Alan Culpepper (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 40.

4. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1

5. Ibid., 2.22.5

6. R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996), 88-89.

7. James Drummond, An Inquiry into the Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Pub., 2010), 26-27.

8. There are different views on which of the miracles recorded in the book of John should be considered "signs". The ones listed here are the seven, traditional signs as noted in the works below:

9. Insert footnote contents here

10. James Drummond, An Inquiry into the Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Pub., 2010), 15.

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