As a general unrest in Palestine fomented outright rebellion in the mid to late 60’s A.D., Eusebius tells us that the disciples and apostles abandoned Jerusalem and Judea. According to Eusebius, the Apostle John went to Ephesus where he spent much of the remainder of his life. Eusebius quotes from both Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria as proof. Concerning the fourth gospel, Irenaeus writes:
“John, the disciple of the Lord, the same who reclined upon His breast, himself also published his Gospel, when he was living in Ephesus in Asia.”
Irenaeus is one of the most important external witnesses to the authorship of this fourth gospel since he was a student of Polycarp who in turn was a student of John. To Clement and Irenaeus, one can add Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian of Carthage, and the Gnostic Heracleon (who wrote the earliest commentary on the book of John). These writers uniformly testify that the gospel account of John was written while the apostle lived in Ephesus.
Scholars have suggested other alternatives such as Antioch, Northern Syria, Alexandria, and Palestine. For example, some have argued that the gospel account was originally written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek (which would point toward Syria or Palestine). However, the evidence for this rests strongly on quotations from Jesus and His disciples whose native language was Aramaic. FF Bruce observed, “the Greek style of the Gospel as a whole could well be that of someone who had a good command of Greek but whose native language was Aramaic” (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, page 52). The alternatives suggested do, for the most part, share something in common — with the exception of Palestine, all of the alternatives lie outside the country where the events reported by the author took place.
So far as the timing of the gospel’s composition, most scholars agree that it was written in the last 20 years of the first century. Early dates such as the 60’s A.D. have been presented but lack the external and internal proof possessed by the later date. The credit card sized scrap of John’s gospel held in the John Rylands collection rules out a later second century date — this papyrus dates from 90-150 A.D. Thus, a late first century composition is a reasonable estimate and is accepted by most New Testament scholars.
As I left off in the last blog, while these factors certainly support John’s authorship, they by no means satisfy a burden of proof. In the next few blogs, I plan to look at some of the internal evidence that further solidifies John as the author.