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The Problem of the Fourth Gospel



In the foregoing pages it is suggested that, as Jülicher puts it, 'the fortunes of the Presbyter, his exile to Patmos and residence at Ephesus have been transferred to the Apostle' (sc. John, son of Zebedee), and that the latter, the venerable tradition of his peaceful death in extreme old age at the capital of Asia Minor notwithstanding, met a 'tragic end1.'

The suggestion is based on certain pieces of evidence which, together with other considerations, have led an increasing number of scholars to incline to or to adopt the view that John the Apostle, like his brother James, died a martyr's death.

Let us see how the case stands2.

We turn in the first instance to the incident related Mk x, 35-40 = Mt. xx, 20-23. Upon a request made by, or on behalf of, the two sons of Zebedee there follows presently a prediction which is placed in the mouth of Jesus. As recorded by Mk it runs thus: 'The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.' Otherwise the First Evangelist; according to him Jesus says: 'My cup indeed shall ye drink3.' The historicity of the incident being here assumed—the point will be referred to later on—Jesus appears expressly to announce the destiny which awaits the brother-pair. It is evidently the self-same destiny; nay more, it is the very same destiny which Jesus already knew to be in store for himself4. No

1 Jülicher, Einl. in das NT (5th and 6th ed.), pp. 369, 391.

2 I shall be permitted to draw on a paper read by me before the Cambridge Theological Society and also (with modifications) before the Oxford Society of Hist. Theology (vid. Proceedings for the year 1912-1913). See also my Note in JTS, xviii, pp. 30 ff.

3 The words 'and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with' (AV) are without sufficient authority, and are rightly omitted by RV.

4 The figure of 'the cup' has but one meaning in his lips (of. Mk xiv, 36), and the recorded pregnant saying, Lk. xii, 50 ('I have a baptism to be baptized with, etc.'), points to anticipated death.


word comes from him which qualifies the prediction in respect of either brother, and its natural meaning surely is that both James and John would one day share their Master's fate.

The presumed genuine prediction refuses, it would seem, to be watered down or explained away. That once conceded, there would be real ground of surprise were it found to be affirmed of one or other of the two brothers (as it is affirmed of course, of John in the 'venerable tradition') that, while he 'had his share of suffering1,' he yet went to his grave in peace. It would be, upon the other hand, nothing short of reasonable to look for, and expect to find, some positive statement to the effect that the prediction had been fulfilled to the letter in the case of both James and John.

A statement relative to the elder brother is quickly found Acts xii, 2; where it is said of Herod that 'he killed James the brother of John with the sword2.' Is there any like statement in respect of John? There is:—if reliance may be placed on two authorities who, whatever their claims to respect, are at all events in singular agreement in the gist of what they narrate.

1. Georgius Hamartolus3. In a MS. of his Chronicle it is stated that 'John the Apostle after he had written his Gospel suffered martyrdom, for Papias in the second book of the λογια κυριακα says that he was put to death by Jews, thus plainly fulfilling along with his brother the prophecy of Christ regarding them, and their own confession and common agreement concerning him4.'

2. Philip of Side5. In an epitome probably based on his

1 Slater, 'St Matthew' (CB), p. 258.

2 According to Preuschen (HBNT, 'Apostelgeschichte,' p. 75) the account bears traces of modification in that all mention of the death of John is eliminated. And see the reading in Cod. D; where, after Ιουδαιοις, there follows `η επιχειρησις αυτου επι τους πιστους.

3 A monkish chronicler of the tenth century.

4 EB, ii, col. 2509. 'The passage was first brought into notice by de Muralt . . . and afterwards more widely by Nolte' (Tüb. Quartalschrift, 1862, p. 466). The Greek is as follows: ;`ο Ιεραπολεως επισκοπος, αυτοπτης τουτου γενομενος. εν τω δευτερω λογω των κυριακων λογιων φασκει `οτι `υπο Ιουδαιων ανηρεθη, πληρωσας δηλαδη μετα του αδελφου την του Χριστου περι αυτων προρρησιν.

5 A church historian of the fifth century who is somewhat contemptuously noticed by Socrates (HE, vii, 27).


Chronicle we read: 'Papias says in his second book that John the Divine and James his brother were slain by Jews1.'

As might be expected, the statement thus doubly attributed to the Bishop of Hierapolis has been much in debate. The text being deemed corrupt, emendations have been offered2; the statement, it is affirmed, 'rests on very slender authority3'; one suggestion is that the James referred to is not the Apostle but the brother of the Lord4 and another points from John son of Zebedee to John the Baptist5. Other scholars prefer to hold their judgement in suspense: 'it is one of those statements that we can neither wholly trust nor wholly distrust . . . the evidence . . . does not warrant a positive assertion either way6.' Less hesitation is manifested in another quarter: 'with this testimony before us it is not easy to doubt that Papias made some such statement; if these MSS. are strictly independent witnesses it is difficult or well-nigh impossible to doubt that Papias used the words Ιωαννης . . . υπο Ιουδαιων ανηρεθη or the like7.' Yet more decidedly: 'Until some valid reason is advanced . . . why this doubly attested statement of the martyrdom of James and John may not have stood on the pages of Papias . . . it must be accepted as the simple historical fact, in perfect harmony with the "prophecy" (sc. Mk x, 39) it was adduced to confirm8.' And such positive assertions as the following are on the increase: 'henceforth there is no room for doubt that Papias did actually state that the Apostle John was slain by Jews9.'

1 De Boor, TU, ii, p. 170. In the Greek: Παπιας εν τω δευτερω λογω λεγει `οτι Ιωαννης `ο θεολογος και Ιακωβος `ο αδελφος αυτου `υπο Ιουδαιων ανηρεθησαν. Papias, of course, could not have made use of the term `ο θεολογος. Cf. Jülicher, op. cit. p. 367.

2 Lightfoot, Essays on Supernat. Religion, pp. 211 ff.

3 J. Armitage Robinson, Histor. Character of Fourth Gospel, p. 79.

4 A. V, Green, Ephes. Canonical Writings, p. 23.

5 Zahn, Introd. iii, p. 206. Otherwise Gutjahr (Glaubwürdigkeit, p. 110) who, identifying John of Asia with the Apostle, makes the following admission: 'What reader, finding James and John in this conjunction, would ever have thought that the Baptist was meant, would not at once have thought of the son of Zebedee?'

6 Sanday, Criticism of Fourth Gospel, p. 103.

7 Swete, JTS, xvii, p. 378; Apoc. of St John, p. clxxix.

8 B. W. Bacon, Fourth Gosp. in Research and Debate, p. 133.

9 De Boor, op. cit. ii, p. 177. To similar effect Jülicher (op. cit. p. 368); Schwartz (Über den Tod der Söhne Zeb., passim); Schmiedel (Evang. Briefe u. Offenbarung Joh. p. 7); Heitmüller (SNT, ii, p. 710); Wellhausen (Das Evang. Joh. pp. 119 ff.).


A safe conclusion, perhaps, is that the case for the statement attributed to Papias by 'George the Monk' and Philip of Side 'seems stronger than is generally acknowledged by conservative critics1'; nor is it surprising that it be said: 'what must be explained is its (sc. the statement) displacement by the subsequently dominant tradition of the survival of John2.' Of course Papias may have blundered. The assumption being that what he is held to have affirmed is fact, how is the silence of Eusebius and others respecting such a fact to be accounted for? A reminder comes that3 ecclesiastical historians have the knack of suppression, and it may have point here.

But the case for the alleged statement gains in strength as certain notices and allusions, met with elsewhere, are taken into consideration.

i. To turn first to Clement of Alexandria. In the passage in question4 he appeals to Holy Scripture in its demands to risk martyrdom sooner than deny Christ; he proceeds to quote Heracleon5 who, says he, affirms that there are two ways of making confession; he then instances Heracleon's allusion to some who had not sealed their faith with their lives: εξ `ων Ματθαιος, Φιλιππος, Θωμας, Λευις και αλλοι πολλοι.

The distinction between Matthew and Levi, met with now and again elsewhere, is of no great moment. The one point to fasten on is the explicit denial of 'red martyrdom' in a context from which the name of the Apostle John is absent—he is surely not relegated to the 'many others.' Clement, it would appear, makes no demur.

Is there much force in the suggestion that, if the Apostle's

1 Scott-Moncrieff, St John Apostle, Evangelist and Prophet, p. 252.

2 B. W. Bacon, op. cit. p. 133.

3 Bolingbroke, also Bousset. Eusebius, who has no very high opinion of Papias, may have classed the statement along with other μυθικωτερα (HE, iii, 39).

4 Strom. iv, 9.

5 See Brooke, Extant Fragments of Heracleon, TS, i, iv, p. 102.


name is absent, sufficient explanation is forthcoming in stories already current as to the Patmos-exile and the caldron of boiling oil?

ii. We pass on to the apocryphal Martyrdom of Andrew1. Here a tale is told of the Apostles meeting in conclave at Jerusalem: 'Wherefore do we delay,' asks Peter, 'to enter upon our work?' In the event lots are cast, and respective mission-fields are assigned to each and all: και εκληρωθη Πετρος την περιτομην: Ιακωβος και Ιωαννης την ανατολην: Φιλιππος τας πολεις της Σαμαριας και την Ασιαν. . . .

No doubt pure legend. It will be observed that, as by Polycrates2, so here, Philip the Evangelist is confounded with the Apostle of the same name. The point is that the words την ανατολην are in the very teeth of the tradition as to a departure to and prolonged residence in Asia Minor in the case of the Apostle John.

iii. Next comes the Syriac Martyrology3. Dated A.D. 411 and drawn up at Edessa for the use of the local church, it is based on an 'Ur-Martyrolog' which Duchesne locates at Nicomedia. It contains the following commemorations:

Dec. 27. Ιωαννης και Ιακωβος `οι αποστολοι εν Ιεροσολυμοις.

Dec. 28. Εν `Ρωμη τη πολει Παυλος και Συμεων Κηφας `ο κορυφαιος των αποστολων του Κυριου `ημων.

Here, as elsewhere, is encountered the popular tradition of a Church—Edessa; also Nicomedia—in regard to martyrs. The tradition is well founded in the case of Paul, and probably of Peter; in respect of James it is confirmed by Acts xii, 2. Is there ground for questioning its validity in the case of John the brother of James?

It would by no means necessarily follow that, because thus

1 Bonnet, Acta Apos. Apocr. II, i, pp. 46 ff. Scholten (Der Apos. Joh. in Kleinasien, p. 82) speaks of a new feature introduced by Origen in assigning John's field to Asia.

2 Euseb. HE, iii, 31. Let me here disclaim responsibility for the 'as by Gaius' which occurs in my Note (JTS, xviii, p. 30) on the death of John, son of Zebedee. The words 'as by Polycrates' stood in the proof revised by me.

3 Die drei altesten Martyrologien (Lietzmann's Kleine Texte), pp. 8 ff.


linked together in the Martyrology, the two brothers suffered at the same place and date1.

iv. The last witness to be called is Aphrahat2. In his homily
De Persecutione (dated A.D. 343 or 344) the 'Persian Sage' speaks thus:

"Great and excellent is the martyrdom of Jesus . . . to him followed the faithful martyr Stephen whom the Jews stoned. Simon also and Paul were perfect martyrs. James and John trod in the footsteps of their Master Christ. Also other of the Apostles thereafter in divers places confessed, and proved themselves true martyrs."

The James and John here named are, beyond doubt, the two sons of Zebedee. Inasmuch as Aphrahat, far from confining himself to those who had actually yielded up their lives, makes room for others who had endured suffering, the question might arise whether—in an allusion which, possibly, is 'etwas vag3'—John, by reason of stories which had gathered round his name, be not here simply accorded martyr-rank. Yet the context surely points the other way; and besides, the closing words of the passage cited are such as to invite the conjecture that the Apostle died, by actual martyrdom, a relatively early death.

Of such sort are the four notices and allusions4. Weighed in the balances of critical investigation they might severally invite suspicion; they are of unequal value; the third and the fourth are perhaps more deserving of credence than the remaining two5. But their cumulative effect is strong. Grave doubt is awakened by them as to the traditional Ephesian residence, the peaceful death in extreme old age, of the Apostle John. They account, it may be, for the otherwise incomprehensible attitude of Ignatius; who, addressing

1 Achelis, Die Martyrologien, pp. 27, 58 ff. Cf. Burkitt, Gospel Hist. and its Transmission, pp. 253 ff.

2 Bishop of the Monastery of Mar Mathai, Metropolitan of Nineveh. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, xii, pp. 2, 158, 401; TU, iii, pp. 329 ff.

3 Erbes, ZKG, XXXIII, ii, p. 203.

4 For some further discussion of them (adverse or otherwise), see int. al., J. Armitage Robinson, op. cit. pp. 64 ff.; J. H. Bernard, Irish Church Quarterly for Jan. 1908; Clemen, Entstehung des Johannes Evglm. pp. 442 ff.; Moffat, Intr. NT, pp. 608 ff.; Bousset, TR, 1905, pp. 225 ff.

5 'The evidence of Heracleon should never have been brought forward,' A. E. Brooke, DAC, i, p. 626.


himself to the Ephesian Christians, is content to refer to Paul while he finds not a single word to say of one whose hallowed memory would—had he actually resided among them—be peculiarly dear to their hearts1. And they incite to search for some explicit statement that John son of Zebedee did really and truly die a martyr's death.

The statement is to hand; in the words which, attributed by two authorities to Papias, are precisely what the recorded Saying of Jesus to the brother-pair has prepared the seeker to expect.

It has been hinted that the historicity of the incident narrated Mk x, 35-40 = Mt. xx, 20-23 does not pass unchallenged2. The section is without a Lucan parallel3; was it absent from the Mk used by Luke? if not so absent, did Luke deliberately suppress it by reason of a still living son of Zebedee, or simply decide to pass over the whole episode (Mk x, 35-45) while transferring the Lord's words on the subject of humility to the account (Lk. xxii, 24-27) of what happened at the Last Supper4? The latter alternative is preferable. Let it then be frankly conceded that the story as told by Mk (and condensed by Mt.), far from being the verbatim report of a stenographer, is the embroidered product of a day long subsequent to the period to which it points. The main fact to be reckoned with is that the recorded prediction to the brother-pair is allowed to stand part of it. Would this have been the case had the prediction been altogether unfulfilled, or only half-fulfilled, when the story went its round5?

On the assumption, scarcely gratuitous, that John son of Zebedee met a violent end, a two-fold question is suggested: when and where did he suffer? Tentative answers must suffice.

When? It has been suggested that the words 'whom Herod

1 Loisy, Quatrième Évan. p. 6.

2 See on this point Montefiore, Syn. Gospels, i, pp. 257 f.; also SNT, i, p. 173 f.

3 Bacon (op. cit. p. 449) writes: 'for which Lk. xxii, 30 significantly substitutes the logion Mt. xix, 28.'

4 Stanton, op. cit. ii, p. 162.

5 Decided answers in the negative come from Wellhausen (Evang. Marci, p. 90); Heitmüller (SNT, ii, p. 710); Forbes, op. cit. p. 166. Yet similar objection might be raised in the case of the ' unfulfilled prediction,' Mt. x, 23.


killed1' refer to both the sons of Zebedee; the suggestion is not easily reconciled with the text of Acts xii, 2, nor yet with the vague allusion to Papias—which seems to point from Herod Agrippa I to 'Jews who could not further be specified2.' If the John of Gal. ii, 9 be indeed the Apostle John (and he surely is)3, the date of Paul's conference with the 'pillar-apostles' becomes the terminus a quo; unless John does actually reappear at Ephesus, which is unlikely, the year of the Fall of Jerusalem might be taken as terminus ad quem; and this might be pushed somewhat further back if the Marcan Gospel falls within the period 'after A.D. 64 but not much after A.D. 704,' and it be allowed that the prediction of Jesus was already an accomplished fact.

To turn to the question of locality. It being allowed, for the moment, that John did actually make his way to Ephesus5, was his martyr-death instigated by 'Jews' of Asia Minor as happened in the case of Polycarp? The conjecture is precarious6; and besides, tradition knows nothing whatsoever of a martyred John of Asia. If the Apostle 'fell a victim to Jewish hate, it was only in Palestine that such a fate could have befallen him7'; once more, then, pointed to 'the East' (as by the Martyrdom of Andrew), the allusion Gal. ii, 9 is again significant; it suggests that John, extending the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas, decides to cast in his lot with 'the circumcision'; when the curtain then and there falls on him it is without hint that he will one day bid farewell to a Palestinian home. An appeal, perhaps, lies to the Muratorian fragment; John 'seems to be thought of as still living at Jerusalem8.' Was it there that, following in his Master's steps

1 See Achalis (op. cit. pp. 21 ff.) on the reading quem Herodes occidit in the Martyr. Karthaginiense.

2 EB, ii, col. 2510.

3 Schwartz (op. cit. p. 5) identifies him with John Mark. Lützelberger (op. cit. pp. 180, 197) is able to satisfy himself that John's death was prior to A.D. 60 on the ground that, as he puts it, Paul uses the past tense in his allusion to the 'pillars.'

4 SNT, i, p. 67.

5 As maintained by, int. al., Clemen, op. cit. p. 456; Polidori, I Quattro Evangelii, p. 240.

6 See on this point Stanton, op. cit. i, p. 167; Pfleiderer, Prim. Christianity. i, pp. 128, 135; Schmiedel, op. cit. p. 8; Adeney, Thess. (CB), p. 10.

7 Jülicher, op. cit. p. 367.

8 EB, ii, col. 2511; Jülicher, op. cit. p. 363.


(as Aphrahat relates), he gained the crown of martyrdom? Or must the scene be transferred to Samaria, the date to the year A.D. 66? So it has recently been contended; with the suggestion that the tomb still shown at Sebaste as that of Nabi Jahja is in reality that of the Apostle John1.

In fine. If, on the one hand, the venerable tradition to the effect that John son of Zebedee lived to be an old man and went down to his grave in peace has support behind it, so, on the other hand, it is plain that, in the fourth century, both in Asia Minor and in the farther East, a tradition persisted that he had actually died a martyr's death. To speak, then, of 'the universal tradition of the Church2' is no longer possible, and it becomes less and less easy to dismiss as 'altogether untrustworthy3' the story of the 'Red martyrdom' of the Apostle John4.

1 By Erbes, op. cit.

2 J. Armitage Robinson, op. cit. p. 79.

3 J. H. Bernard, op. cit. p. 52. See on the whole question A. E. Brooke, DAC, i, pp. 626 f.

4 Scholten (Der Apos. Joh. in Kleinasien, pp. 127 fi.), refusing to build on the alleged statement of Papias or the fragment of Heracleon, set aside the Ephesian residence of the Apostle on independent grounds.

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