The Gospel of John is a sophisticated deceit, much worked on by a gaggle of fraudsters. But when you tug at the seams the whole fabric of invention unravels.
to the fairy tale, the apostle John lived a remarkable life.
what must have been a very tender age he fell in first with John
the Baptist and, soon after, with Jesus himself. Renamed Boanerges (son
of thunder) by the godman (Mark 3.17), the dying Christ
apparently made him guardian of the Blessed Virgin no less. (What
happened to Johns natural mother, one wonders?) Taking his
new charge seriously, John re-settled Mary in Ephesus and
here faced-down a challenge from the local high priest over a poisoned
was also in Ephesus that John fled the baths, lest the presence
of the heretic Cerinthus should cause the roof to fall (or
so said Clement of Alexandria!). John became the most active of
the apostles, next to Peter, organizing the early church in Palestine
and throughout Asia Minor. Sometime around the age of eighty
three (the last year of Domitian's reign i.e.
96 AD), he was exiled to the Roman penal colony of Patmos.
in the history of the Roman judicial system, John survived immersion
in burning oil. His jailers must have been so surprised that
they provided him with writing materials and he wrote a best-selling
10,000 word horror story (Apocalypse) about the imminent
end of the world. Several years later, at a not inconsiderable
age, this unlearned ex-fisherman, now a bishop,
wrote the beautiful, poetic gospel in best Greek that
bears his name. He seems to have died peacefully at his retirement
home in Ephesus.
art he is represented by several emblems he deserves them among
them an eagle and a cooking pot. Then again, maybe all of
this is nonsense.
people believe that the tormented author of Revelation can
possibly be the same John credited with the Gospel and Epistles.
The two books are utterly different, one full of apocalyptic hatred,
the other a work of theology. Thus many Christians believe there
were at least two Johns, an early and a late. Was even one
of them an apostle called John accredited with a gospel? Says the Catholic
historical genuineness of the Fourth Gospel is at the present
time almost universally denied outside the Catholic Church."
does almost everyone but a committed Catholic believe that the
fourth gospel is a fake?
of detail at odds with the synoptic gospels:
duration of Christ's public ministry is extended by John from one
year to over three years, during which time John recounts
three visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, not just one; within this
extended time frame, John moves the so-called purification
of the temple, which the synoptics put at the end of the
Christ's ministry, to the beginning.
John does not agree with the others on the day of crucifixion surely
an occasion of the utmost import? John says Christ held his last supper with
his apostles on Thursday; according to the synoptics, the last supper was on
so the old mans memory could have been failing (though he remembers
torturous dialogue verbatim!). But then consider the content
of the gospel very different from what we would expect from
the memoirs of an apostle:
the synoptics focus on the anticipated Kingdom of God (and
Christ is Son of Man), John centres on Christ
himself, as Son of God and eternal king, and upon
the evangelical goal of convincing others that Christ was the
Messiah sentiments more in keeping with an established
the advanced theology of the fourth gospel is difficult to reconcile with
the homely simplicity of the synoptics; this is allegedly an old fishermans
tale, after all.
the long discourses and colloquies of Jesus remembered so clearly
after more than sixty years?
the dogmatic character of John's narrative sits oddly alongside the moral
discourses of Jesus in the synoptic gospels.
Gospel is the work of a trained mind who wrote good Greek with
some semitizing; but Acts 4.13 says that John was illiterate.
John makes little reference to Galilee, which is scarcely
what we would expect from a native of the province, especially since Galilee
(supposedly) was the centre of Christs ministry. Nor does he mention
at all his brother James.
John makes frequent and unnecessary references to the "the
if they were a hostile group, e.g. "as I said unto the Jews" (John
13.33) said by Jesus (a Jew) to a group of Jews. He was one of them, was he
not? John's knowledge of Judaism is also tainted. Critics cite John 18.13 in
this regard (as if there were an annual priest): "and brought him first to Annas, who
was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high
priest that year."
The author of this work would hardly refer to himself as "the
disciple Jesus loved."
– John does
NOT mention the 'Transfiguration'
– when supposedly Jesus was joined by Moses and Eliijah (Elias) on a
mountain top, transformed
into "glory" and was addressed by God himself –
an astounding omission considering that we are informed by
each of the synoptic gospels that John was one of
only three eye witnesses to this stunning miracle!
"And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James,
and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain
apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And
his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no
fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them
Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus." – Mark 9.2,9.
– Similarly, John omits any mention of the raising
of Jairus's daughter but according to Mark's gospel
it was John who was a privileged witness:
"And he suffered no man to follow
him, save Peter, and James, and John the
brother of James. And he cometh to the house of the ruler
of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept
and wailed greatly ... And straightway the damsel arose,
and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they
were astonished with a great astonishment." – Mark 5.37,42.
– Nor does John mention the 'Ascension',
one of the crucial events of the whole Christian story. Yet apparently
John was a witness to this grand
finale whereas the two
reporters of the bizarre story (Mark and Luke) were not!
"And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem,
and found the eleven gathered together, and
them that were with them, And as they thus spake, Jesus himself
stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto
you ... And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted
from them, and carried up into heaven." – Luke 24.33,51.
Gospel is only in part a novel re-telling of the Jesus fable,
what, then, is it really about?
it is mid-second century theology written to combat rival, heretical theologies. The
authors sought not to re-write a Jesus history they
already had several versions of that! but to define and dogmatise religious
ideas and theological speculations and thus call a halt to the
was theology from the anti-theoreticians, from the ecclesiasta.
John emphasizes, in opposition to the heretics, the divine status
of Christ, rejecting out of hand the popular notion that Jesus
was merely a man on whom the Holy Spirit had descended. In consequence,
the authors suppress entirely the sequence where John baptised
Jesus and have the baptist further demean himself:
must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above
is above all." – John 3.30,31.
The whole narrative
of the fourth gospel centres round Christ as the divine "Word." To
gather up authority, it even begins with a borrowing from Genesis: "In
Again and again, John repeats
the message: the divine Word, divine Love, the fullness of his
Grace and Truth, and so on. Unlike the pithy, ambiguous sayings in
the synoptics, in John, whole discourses are chronicled.
These include the famous "I ams" borrowed
from the Old Testament (self-referrals by God himself): I
am the Redeemer; I am the Light of the World; I am the Way; I am
the True Vine; I am the Bread of Life; I am the Lamb, etc,
etc. Jesus is elevated to nothing less than eternal co-creator
of the universe beat that, heretic!
evidence of this astounding claim, the writers chronicle many of
the miracles by which Christ revealed himself, adding a new one,
the raising of Lazarus, not found in the synoptics. The purpose
was to establish divinity.
in opposition to heretics, who tended to reject the (pagan-like)
significance of baptism, wine, special bread etc., or regarded
them as mere symbols for a subjective psychological state, John stresses these ceremonial
aspects (beloved by the hierarchy). Chapters 3, 6, and 15 all
stress rebirth in "water and spirit", partaking
of the "bread of heaven", of the "true
vine," etc. There is a lot of reliance on lengthy discourses
which conveniently rebut the claims of heretics.
not a Gnostic", says Jesus!
What better way to discredit the proponents
of "gnosis" ("secret knowledge")
than to have the godman himself declare that he had
imparted no secret teaching. That's just what we have
from the author of John:
"I ever taught in the synagogue,
and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort;
and in secret have I said nothing."
– John 18.20.
then, the fourth gospel is an attack upon heretical ideas, who
were the heretics it was directed against?
group were the chiliasts who desperately
hoped for divine retribution. Remote from real power, they did
not share in aspirations for earthly authority. In the mid-second
century, in the Asian province of Phrygia, Montanus (and
followers Prisca and Maximilla) were preaching that Johns Apocalypse would
descend to earth in Phrygia. Prophecies were collected and in circulation,
which they propagated as the word of the holy spirit. Tertullian
in Carthage agreed.
group were the Judaisers, not yet willing to
sever ties with Judaism, still less castigate Jews as Christ-killers.
These were the Ebionites and Elchasites,
who held that Jesus 'was a man of normal birth in whom the spirit
of Christ had briefly dwelt'. They rejected Paul as a charlatan
and had their own scripture: Gospel of the Nazareans, Gospel
of the Hebrews and Gospel of the Ebionites.
the defender of the hierarchy, attacked these advocates
of emotional ecstasies which rejected tradition.
Age of Miracles and revelation has ended now the last of apostles
dead, declared Irenaeus. He opposed the so-called heretics
with a policy of word and sacrament in
other words, a defined gospel and a programme of Church-organised
earliest complete copies of John do not date back beyond
the middle of the fourth century. As to the date of composition
we possess no certain historical information. The gnostic
language suggests a late date for John, as does the highly
developed theology. As we shall see, early Christian writers
made no reference to such a gospel, later writers did.
commented on Johns gospel? John Chrysostom (Bishop of Constantinople,
398 - 403) in his Homilies ; Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
in his Tractates ; the extant portions of the commentaries
of Origen and Cyril. Dionysius of Alexandria (bishop from 247 -
265) knew of Johns gospel but thought it clearly had a
different hand from the writer of the Apocalypse.
pagan philosopher Celsus in his True Discourse (about
178) based some of his statements on passages of the fourth gospel
and Heracleon, a follower of Valentinius, composed a commentary
on the fourth gospel about 160.
a generation earlier, Papias (about 70-130), though mentioning
an apostle called John, says nothing of any gospel. Speaking of
this Greek Bishop, Eusebius says (Hist. eccl., III, xxxix, 17)
his work included passages taken from a first epistle of
John but nothing from a gospel.
likelihood, then, is that John went through its various re-writes
in the second half of the second century. During
this period, the anti-Montanists actually attributed John's Gospel
to Cerinthus, an Egyptian heretic. Attribution
to a heretic was certainly the fastest way for the hierarchy to
discredit a false gospel! The Montanists deduced their doctrine
of the paraclete mainly from John 15 and 16.
return to Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, who died about
202. Irenaeus was the first to identify and name the four gospels.
This advocate of ecclesiastical totalitarianism (otherwise
known as Holy Mother Church) cites in his writings
at least one hundred verses from the fourth gospel.
is worth quoting at length Irenaeus's famous document in which
he demonized his opponents Against All Heresies.
these the first of all is Simon Magus
After him Menander,
his disciple (likewise a magician
Afterwards, again, followed Saturninus:
Christ had not existed in a bodily substance, and had endured
a quasi-passion in a phantasmal shape merely; that a resurrection
of the flesh there will by no means be.
broke out the heretic Basilides
of the flesh he strenuously impugns, affirming that salvation
has not been promised to bodies.
To these are added those heretics likewise who are called Ophites:
Christ, moreover, existed not in substance of flesh: salvation of
the flesh is not to be hoped for at all.
Moreover, also, there has broken out another heresy also, which is
called that of the Cainites
opposing Christ's passion;
and thus, through the passion of Christ, there might be no possibility
of the salvation of mankind
the heresy has started forth which is called that of the Sethites...Of
Christ, moreover, their sentiments are such that they call Him
Carpocrates, furthermore, introduced the following
Christ was not born of the Virgin Mary,
but was generated - a mere human being - of the seed
His soul alone was received in heaven
as having been more firm and hardy than all others:
whence he would infer, retaining only the salvation
of souls, that there are no resurrections of the body.
brake out the heretic Cerinthus, teaching similarly. For
he, too, says that the world was originated by those angels;
and sets forth Christ as born of the seed of Joseph, contending
that He was merely human, without divinity; affirming also
that the Law was given by angels; representing the God of the
Jews as not the Lord, but an angel.
was Ebion, not agreeing with Cerinthus in every point;
in that he affirms the world to have been made by God, not by
angels; and because it is written, "No disciple above his
master, nor servant above his lord, " sets forth likewise the
law as binding, of course for the purpose of excluding the gospel
and vindicating Judaism.
heretic, moreover, introduced many fables
was sent by that First-Father who is Bythus. He, moreover, was
not in the substance of our flesh; but, bringing down from heaven
some spiritual body or other, passed through the Virgin
Mary as water through a pipe, neither receiving nor borrowing
aught thence. The resurrection of our present flesh he denies,
but (maintains that) of some sister-flesh.
there were not wanting a Marcus and a Colarbasus,
composing a novel heresy
they affirm that Christ was not
in the substance of flesh; they say there is to be no resurrection
of the flesh.
is added one Cerdo. He introduces two first causes, that
is, two Gods-one good, the other cruel: the good being the superior;
the latter, the cruel one, being the creator of the world maintains
that Christ who came was the Son of the superior God; affirms
that He was not in the substance of flesh; states Him to have
been only in a phantasmal shape, to have not really suffered,
but undergone a quasipassion, and not to have been born of a
virgin, nay, really not to have been born at all. A resurrection
of the soul merely does he approve, denying that of the body.
emerged a disciple of his, one Marcion by name, a native
of Pontus, son of a bishop, excommunicated because of a rape
committed on a certain virgin
his assertions are identical
with those of the former heretic before him.
their heels follows Apelles, a disciple of Marcion, who
after lapsing, into his own carnality, was severed from Marcion
Christ descended from the upper regions, that in the course of
His descent He wove together for Himself a starry and airy flesh;
and, in His resurrection, restored, in the course of His ascent,
to the several individual elements
and thus-the several
parts of His body dispersed-He reinstated in heaven His spirit
only. This man denies the resurrection of the flesh...He teaches
the salvation of souls alone."
by the Rev. S. Thelwall, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
we see that Irenaeus bangs on about an error held
by so many Christians, that only a spirit and not the
body is resurrected, some thinking Jesus was merely
human, others that he was purely divine. His main targets
are the Valentinians, active in Ephesus when the Gospel of
John saw the light of day.
grand master of esoteric mysteries had been born in Phrebonis
in upper Egypt about 100. Educated in Alexandria by Theudas (a
disciple of Paul), Valentinus claimed to possess a secret wisdom suitable
only for the spiritually mature handed down
by Paul to his inner circle.
strengthen his hand, Valentinus also claimed to have had a vision of
the risen Christ. Armed with such credentials, around the year
120, he began a career as Christian zealot, working out a cosmological
fantasy involving multiple male/female pairs of Aeons such
as Will and Wisdom all subordinate to
the Supreme Being. Christ and the Spirit were another
the intrinsic elitism of Valentinus he held that pagans
were irredeemable, psychics (ordinary Christians) capable
of redemption, and pneumatics (like himself!) without
need for redemption he built up a following in Egypt and
Syria and, in 136, Valentinus tried his hand in Rome.
remained in the city for at least a decade and in 143 was involved
in a power struggle for the position of bishop.
major work The Gospel of Truth like the fourth
gospel, is a work of theology. Ignorance of the Father, said Valentinus,
causes agitation and fear, which grow into a fog of
error ('a female emanation'!) In error, we commit sin. Knowledge
of the Father is salvation; we are eventually restored to gnosis
torturous nonsense nonetheless animated the initiates of this popular
Christian cult. In response, the ecclesiasta wrote a rebuttal
to the theology of Valentinus: the Gospel of John.
short, Johns Gospel was drafted in the 160s as a defining
dogma. Having targeted the heresy of Valentinus and kindred
groups, it was necessary to backdate 'John' to a more appropriate authorship. Who
better than John 1, the delusional author of Revelation?
Officially, the target of Johns writing were
first century heretics the Ebionites, the Nicolaites, and
in particular Cerinthus.
there was a last minute redraft: John 21. The last two verses
of the twentieth chapter indicate clearly indeed that the author
intended to terminate his work here:
signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which
are not written in this book. But these are written, that
you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God:
and that believing, you may have life in his name – John
chapter was added as an afterthought, telling the fishy
story about a third reincarnation of the dead lord, the of catching precisely
153 fish, and vouchsafing that we know
that the witness he gives is true. (John
John using the 'royal we' here (and also referring to himself as he!)
- or is this the voice of the gaggle of second century clerics
that wrote the whole fantasy?
S. Angus, The Mystery Religions (Dover Books, 1975)
Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries (Thorsons, 1999)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale, 1984)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (Random House, 1998)
Acharya S. The Christ Conspiracy (Adventures Unlimited, 1999)
Michael Walsh, Roots of Christianity (Grafton, 1986)
Peter Roberts, In Search of Early Christian Unity (Vantage, 1985)
Robert L. Wilken, The Myth of Christian Beginnings (SCM Press, 1971)
The Illustrated Gospel of St John (Webb & Bower, 1985)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
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Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and
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