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Gospel authorship

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  • Tom Curtis
    This is a continuation of a discussion started at the Panda s Thumb, the last comment of which can be found here:
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2005
      This is a continuation of a discussion started at the Panda's Thumb, the last comment of which can be found here:
      Earlier comments here:
      Lenny Flank wrote:
      > Not quite.  Since Matthew and Luke are largely cribbed from Mark (only 24 of the 661 verses in Mark are not themselves quoted in either Matthew or Luke), it seems
      > pretty likely they were written by people who never met Christ and never heard his words on their own (if they had, it’s difficult to imagine why they’d have to copy
      > someone ELSE’S account of them).  It’s also pretty apparent that the writer of John did not know of the existence of the three other gospels and vice versa, which is
      > unlikely if they were all written by the actual apostles, who were all acquainted with each other.
      Matthew and Luke do largely borrow from Mark, although the borrowing is not exact.  In fact, the patterns of difference in wordings between sections shared by Mark, Matthew and Luke are sufficient that it can be argued that they come from a joint oral tradition rather than direct borrowing.  More probably, the passages are directly borrowed from the gospel, and reworked editorially.  (I will discuss the significance of this below.)  However, it is not clear that John had no knowledge of Mark.  In particular, major events in Mark reappear in John, particularly - the announcement by John, the feeding of the 5,000 followed by a lesson on bread ("Beware the leaven of the Pharisee's" in the synoptics; "I am the bread of life" in John), followed by Peter's declaration of the messiahship of Jesus; and of course, the crucifixion at Passover at the instigation of the Jews in Jerusalem, followed by Jerusalem appearances (paralleling Luke) and Galilean appearances (paralleling Matthew, and to a lesser extent Mark).  John also includes the cleansing of the temple, although located differently in time (but see below).  This must at least reflect knowledge of a common historical tradition, and (given the 30 odd years between the composition of Mark and John), may also reflect knowledge of Mark.  It may also reflect common knowledge of actual events, ie, both Mark and John may include an account of Jesus' demonstration in the courtyard because Jesus did in fact harass merchants in the Temple courtyard.
      The evidence does not support the idea that the author of John was heavily dependant on the synoptics; but it certainly does not preclude knowledge of the synoptics either.  I will notice a sort of catch 22 in your argument.  Matthew and Luke were dependant on Mark.   Consequently you argue that neither of the authors of Matthew or Luke had first hand knowledge of Jesus.  John has no explicit dependency on Mark.  Therefore, you argue, John could not have known the author of Mark and hence could not have known Jesus.  Loosely, if you are dependant on Mark, you could not have known Jesus; if you are not, you also could not have known Jesus.  I suggest you are over intepreting very scant evidence.
      > There is a school of scholarship which holds that the three gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew were themselves all derived from a single earlier source (called “Q”), that > may indeed have been written shortly after the death of Christ, and perhaps even by one of his disciples.  Conversely, the Q source may have been a collective work
      > written by the early Christian sect in order to attempt to codify the sayings of Christ, and was later copied by Mark and then cribbed by Matthew and Luke (none of
      > whom may ever have met the writer).  Or, they may have never been any Q source at all, and Mark may have been the first written source, which the others copied.
      Not quite right.  "Q" is the name of all material shared by Matthew and Luke but not by Mark.  The Q hypothesis was that there was a written source whose contents consisted of nearly all of the "Q" material in Matthew and Luke, and possibly a few verses parallel to accounts found in Mark.  The exact content of Q is much disputed, and even its existence does not command consensus amongst scholars.  Q is most often dated to around 60 ad, thought John Dominic Crossan (amongst others) thinks that several layers of Q material can be detected, with the earliest dating to the early 50's of the first century, the middle layer corresponding to the 60's and the latest reworkings just preceding or following the fall of Jerusalem.  The major alternative hypothesis (the Farrer hypothesis) was that there was no Q document, and that the Q material was original to Matthew, so that Mark had original material, Matthew cribbed from Mark and added an approximately equal amount of material of his own, and Luke cribbed from Matthew and Mark, and added a small amount of material of his own.  It is not possible that Mark was the only source of Matthew and Luke, for the Markan material only occupies about half to two third of those gospels.  It should be mentioned that Q is primarily sayings, while Mark contains more accounts of deeds than of sayings.
      > The John gospel comes from an entirely different source than the other three.  However, since it was the last of the gospels to be written, and differs so much from the
      > earlier traditions, it seems pretty likely that it was written by someone who had only a tenuous link to the early Christian church and was not aware of its earlier
      > writings. BTW, the date for John seems to be coalescing around 100 AD, which would make John an awfully old guy if it was really the apostle.
      Actually, it can be argued that only a gospel from someone of unquestioned authority in the early church could differ so much from the accepted synoptic accounts and still be accepted as authentic.  I don't think this argument should be given much weight, but it illustrates a weakness with the counter argument which you employ, ie, that the difference indicate the author was tenuously connected with early Christianity.  The more tenuously an author was connected with early Christianity, the less likely their works would be accepted as authentic (even for works under a pseudonym).  The better connected, the easier they could disagree with prior works without themselves being repudiated.  Consequently, I think your argument here to be very shaky.  (Other points discussed below.)
      > It seems that Paul was unaware of the existence of any of the four gospels (difficult to understand if they were, as tradition holds, written by the actual apostles). And
      > on top of that, it seems clear that at least some of the letters attributed to Paul did not in fact come from him.
      The traditional account is that Matthew wrote "Matthew" when Peter and Paul were both in Rome, ie, between 62 and 64 AD, most probably 64 AD; that Mark wrote "Mark" in Rome following the sayings of Peter, but following Peter's death, ie, between 64 and 68 AD, most probably around 66 AD; that Luke wrote his Gospel after Matthew and after Mark; and that John's gospel was the last written, close to the end of John's life.  As all of Paul's unquestionably authentic letters were written prior to 62 AD (and certainly prior to Peter's arrival in Rome), on the traditional account, Paul would never have read any of the gospels, and never been able to refer to them.
      As an aside, certainly some of the letters attributed to Paul are probably inauthentic; but those which are important for what little they reveal about Jesus life, and what they reveal about Paul (most particularly, Galatians, Ist and 2nd Corinthians, Ist and 2nd Thessalonians, and Romans are unquestionably authentic).
      > As for “traditional authorships”, those are circular.  One of the criteria used by the early church to decide which writings were canonical and which weren’t, is a tradition > of being “apostolic” — i.e., said to have been written by one of the disciples.  That is why the four gospels were accepted as canonical, but other works such as the
      > gospel of Thoman and the gospel of Mary were rejected.
      But two of the canononical gospels were not claimed to be written by Apostles.  Specifically, Mark was a companion of an Apostle (Peter's secretary or amanuensis) and may have been a youth in Jerusalem in 30 AD, but was not a companion of Jesus (according to the tradition).  And Luke was a companion of Paul (who was not a companion of Jesus), and there is no traditional claim that he had even been to Palestine prior to 50 AD.  In contrast, "Thomas" is attributed to either Thomas the Apostle (doubting Thomas), or to Thomas Didymus Jude (supposed author of Jude in the New Testament, and a brother of Jesus); and "Mary" was attributed to Mary Magdalene, and known companion of Jesus and, according to tradition, the first person to see Jesus alive after his resurrection.  There is also a Gospel of Peter that was rejected as inauthentic.  Clearly the claim to apostolic authorship was not necessary or sufficient for canonicity.  In fact, whether a gospel was "apostolic" was determined on a variety of evidentiary grounds, of which the most important were, the tradition must claim they were authored by an Apostle, or a close companion of an Apostle; the Gospel must have been widely accepted in the church as authentic; and the Gospel must be orthodox in its doctrine.  Whilst not the best possible evidentiary grounds, clearly these are not circular criteria either.
      > The book of Revelation is also assumed by traditional authorship to have been written by the author of John, but there are so many stylistic and linguistic differences
      > that it is clear they were not written by the same person.
      I do not know enough to comment on stylistic differences between John and Revelation.  However, on stylistic grounds it is quite clear that the author of the epistles of John was also the author of the Gospel of John.
      > So the simple fact is that we don’t know who wrote most of the New Testament, but none of it appears to have been written by anyone who knew Christ.
      I will now mount the positive case for the traditional authorship.
      I have already outlined the traditional view above.  To it I need to add a few facts.  First, the earliest independent tradition about the authorship comes from Papias "who heard John, and was a friend of Polycarp" according to Irenaeus.  Eusebius comments on what Papias wrote, saying:
      For information on these points, we can merely refer our readers to the books themselves; but now, to the extracts already made, we shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words]: And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. [This is what is related by Papias regarding Mark; but with regard to Matthew he has made the following statements]: Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could. [The same person uses proofs from the First Epistle of John, and from the Epistle of Peter in like manner. And he also gives another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is to be fount in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.]
      (Papias word's bolded.)
      Papias attributes his views on Mark to the "presbyter" (ie, the elder), who we can presume is John the Elder whom he mentions in another context.  (More on this later.)  The important points are that he says that Mark took down from Peter's sermons the sayings and doing of Jesus, and that he did not arrange them in (chronological) order.  Further, he attributes to Matthew the putting together of Jesus' "oracles", ie, sayings, rather than a full fledged gospel.
      Combining the information from traditional sources, we have the following (tentative) claims:
      Matthew was the first to compose a work on Jesus, but he composed a collection of sayings.
      Mark wrote next.  He did so just prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but his gospel consists of fragments adapted to sermons (because drawn from them) in a non-chronological order.
      Luke wrote next, basing his work on interviews and preceding written works (see Luke 1: 1).
      John wrote last, very close to his death.
      Interestingly, the closest thing to a consensus opinion among modern scholars is:
      The synoptic gospels are composed of pericopes, ie, fragments drawn from and shaped by the necessities of teaching in the early Christian community.
      That the first written source was a "sayings gospel" which included few if any historical details.  (Generally dated to around 60 AD, ie, 14 years earlier than the traditional date of Matthew.)
      The second written source was Mark, who wrote either just prior to, or just after 70 AD.  Mark's pericopes do exhibit some theological ordering, but are inconsistently ordered for a chronological ordering.
      The third surviving written source was the Gospel of Matthew, essentially a synthesis of Mark and the prior sayings gospel, with birth and resurrection narratives added.
      The fourth surviving written source was Luke, composed from Mark and the sayings Gospel together with some other independent traditions, and in particular independent birth and resurrection traditions.
      The fifth surviving written source was John, which again preserves independent traditions heavily reworked for theological reasons.
      If we assume that Matthew did write Q, and that the Gospel of Matthew gained that name because it contained the contents of Q in essentially original form (for which reason the independent Q passed out of circulation); then the traditional account and the modern opinion are in almost entire agreement about the datings and sources of the four gospels.  To me, this suggests that we ought to accept the traditional ascriptions of authorship as authentic.  If we do not, it becomes a little puzzling as to why the two accounts agree to such an extent.
      I should note that the most controversial aspect of my reading of the evidence is my accepting Papias claim that Matthew wrote the oracles, ie, a sayings gospel.  This is controversial because it is generally accepted that Luke preserves the Q material in closer to its original form.  That opinion is based on a particular view of how Christian theology developed and is, to my mind circular.  Further, by attributing the Q material to Matthew, and maintaining that "The Gospel according to Matthew" preserves that material in essentially its original form, I am proposing (in effect) a synthesis of the Q hypothesis and the Farer hypothesis.  In doing so, I avoid (I hope) difficulties which beset both of those theories.
      A Matthean authorship of Q is also controversial because there is little or no trace of a Hebrew original underlying the Greek of the Q sections in Luke (in particular) or Matthew.  I do not know what weight to give to this objection.  It is a mistake to assume that any translation must preserve a trace of the original language.  In modern English translations, for example, the New American Standard Bible preserves much of the elements of Hebrew or Greek in its translation.  In contrast, the freer translations such as the Phillips Bible, or the New Living Translation preserve almost no Hebraisms or Hellenisms.  Consequently, we are not entitled to presume that Luke or the author of the synthesis of Q and Mark (the Gospel of Matthew) did not use free translations, and hence ought to have preserved Hebraisms.  On the other hand, this lack of Hebraisms means independent evidence of an original Hebraic Q does not currently exist.  In other words, the theory is not contradicted by this evidence, but it is not supported by it either.
      Curiously, there exists a medieval Hebrew version of Matthew which has a significant claim to be based on a 2nd century, or possibly earlier translation.  It has several peculiar features.  Firstly, Jesus is frequently called the "son of God" in it, but not the Messiah.  Secondly, the birth narrative, and the resurrection narratives are clearly written in a different style.  It is possible that this Hebrew Gospel was based on the Gospel of the Ebionites; that it is a translation of the Greek Matthew into Hebrew that had the infancy narrative excised for theological reasons; and then replaced by a later editor to bring it into line with the cannanonical gospel.  It is, however, also possible that it represents an original Hebrew version of Matthew of which the cannonical version is a translation.  It would be interesting to see whether the Hebrew gospel contains more Hellenisms than the Greek contains Hebraisms.  If it does not, that would show at minimum that the argument from a lack of Hebraisms is non-conclusive (for it had to be translated one way or the other); and may more strongly support the existence of an original Hebrew Matthew, and hence an original Hebrew Q.  (Ideally for my hypothesis, the Markan sections of the Hebrew Matthew should show more Hellenisms than do the Q sections; and the Q sections of the Greek Matthew should show more Hebraisms than do the Markan section; thus reflecting a specific translation history.)
      This general concordance between traditional and modern views of timing and composition of gospels is the limit of effective evidence for the authorship of Mark and Matthew.  Some people detect additional Hebraisms in Matthew, and an emphasis on law and scribes as indications of Matthean authorship.  This is controversial, and more tellingly, while consistent with Matthean authorship, are hardly specific enough to provide much evidence for the identity of the author.  Some people point to the peculiar incident of the naked young man in the garden (Mark 14: 51 & 52) as being an incidental reference to the author (Mark's mother was a resident of Jerusalem, and an early Christian, so it is possible that the young man was Mark).  However, while possibly true, the identification is to speculative to have any weight as evidence.
      We can do better with John and Luke.  Firstly, it has been maintained that the author of Luke cannot be Luke, the companion of Paul because of the absence of medical terminology in Luke and Acts.  To me, this evidence is inconclusive because an individual authors style can vary significantly depending on the genre they are writing, and their intended audience; and in particular, skilled authors can easily adopt popular terminology when writing for popular audiences.  Thus, the absence of medical terminology represents a failure to find evidence for Lucan authorship rather than a finding of evidence against it. 
      More interesting are the supposed inaccuracies in "Luke's" works.  Thus, Luke wrongly identifies the time of the census under Quirinius.  He runs together two events whose accounts are found together in Josephus, but which occured at quite different times.  He has his characters speak anachronistically, again were he is apparently dependant on Josephus.  It is often argued that these inaccuracies show that the author of Luke was dependant on Josephus, and hence, presumably, did not have first hand knowledge of the events described.  What I cannot help noticing, however, is that these inaccuracies occur either in "Luke", or in non-"we sections" of Acts.  That is, they occur when the author of Luke/Acts makes no claim to first hand knowledge.  In the meantime, Christian apologists point out to surprising accuracies in Luke's account with regard to titles and persons within Greek cities.  These surprising accuracies tend to occur (I believe) in "we sections".  This pattern of accuracy in "we sections" and inaccuracy when reliant on secondary sources suggests the author of Luke was an occasional companion of Paul.  It further suggests that though observant in person, he was a flawed scholar when relying on secondary sources.  There are only a handful of people who accompanied Paul through the "we sections" of Acts (as determined by Paul's letters), one of whom is Luke.  This line of reasoning, if born out (and I have not gone into it in sufficient detail to know that it is), strongly suggests that Luke was the author of Acts, and hence of the Gospel of Luke.
      Turning to John, the place to start is with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.  There are two interesting facts about Polycarp.  First, Irenaeus (Polycarp's student) repeatedly says that Polycarp was taught by John the Apostle, and indeed that he had heard many other eye witnesses of Jesus life including other Apostles.  Thus in his letter to Florinus, Irenaeus writes:
      For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse-his going out, too, and his coming in-his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures.
      And to Victor, Bishop of Rome he wrote:
      And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points, they were at once well inclined towards each other [with regard to the matter in hand], not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this head. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always [so] observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him.
      The other interesting fact is that Polycarp was martyred in 155 AD at the age of 86.  (See "The Martyrdom of Polycarp".)  That Polycarp survived to the age of eight-six and was still relatively healthy punctures one of the most common, and most mistaken arguments against John's having being the author of "John" - the supposed early deaths of ancient people.  In fact, ancient people suffered higher mortality rates in all age brackets than is now typical in the West; but the mortality rate was particularly high in infancy (as is also the case in the third world).  More people died in the first two years of life than in any other ten (or even twenty) year period, and it is this high infant mortality that resulted in low average ages.  For someone who survived to their teens, the probability that they would survive into old age was lower than is current in the West, but not much lower.  (I don't know the exact figures.  It may have been half, or even a tenth of the current western value; but the current western value makes it a near certainty that a teen will survive to 70.)  Consequently, it was not surprising in the ancient world to find some old, and indeed, some very old people in any community - just as it is no surprise to find the same in the third world.  From a group of from 12 to 70 individuals who had reached "adulthood" (13 in a Jewish context), it would have been surprising if none had survived to 70 or beyond.
      Now, suppose John to have been 16 when Jesus died (ie, he had reached his maturity, but was the youngest of the apostles), and that he survived to 86, the same age as Polycarp.  Then he would have survived to 100 AD.  He would have been Polycarp's contemporary for 31 years.  This illustrates that there is nothing a priori implausible in the idea that John the Apostle survived to an old age in Asian Minor, dying near the end of the first century.  Indeed, Papias, Polycarp's contemporary (and according to Irenaeus, "a hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp" claims explicitly to have heard about Jesus from two eyewitnesses, "John the Presbyter" and Aristion.
      Turning to Papias, this is what he said about the sources of his knowledge:
      But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.
      There are three interesting things here.  First, one of Papias' sources is "the presbyter John".  This gives us the source of Papias' beliefs about the authorship of Mark (and probably Matthew).  The "presbyter" he mentions as his source is undoubtedly "the presbyter John".  Second, Papias divides his sources into two lists - the past sayings ("what was said") of the "elders" which he gained second hand; and the current sayings ("which things Aristion and ... John ...say") of his two contemporaries who had also been witnesses of Jesus.  Third, his list of older sources, recognisably a list of the Apostles is identified as a list of the "elders", (Greek: presbyter), the same title that he gives to his older contemporary John.
      Interpretation of this passage is controversial.  The two main opinions are that the elder John in the first list is not John the elder in the second, for it would be redundant to mention him twice.  The alternative view, with which I agree, is that they are the same person.  The two lists are distinguished between past sayings recieved second hand, and current sayings, at least some of which are recieved directly.  Papias was interested in both what John had said, and what John was currently saying (on this view) and that is sufficient reason for him to have been included on both lists.  There are other germaine facts.  First, Polycarp, Papias' contemporary is explicitly referred to as having been taught by John the Apostle.  This suggests that when Papias was a "hearer of John", he was hearing John the Apostle - in which case it would be very peculiar for him not to have explicitly identified him as a direct source.  Second, "elder" for Papias is obviously not just a reference to age, for he does not refer to Aristion (presumably of about the same age as John the elder) as an elder.  Thus, "elder" must be a title for Papias, in which case it is odd that he should use the same title for the Apostles and for "John the elder" with distinct meanings (as required by the alternate theory).  Third, the second and third epistles of John are addressed from someone who calls himself simply "The elder".  So, in the late first century, there was a Christian leader who could call himself simply "the Elder" and expect to be recognised.  This person claims to have been an eye witness of Jesus in 1 John 1: 1, in which he writes:
      Something which has existed since the beginning,
      which we have heard,
      which we have seen with our own eyes,
      which we have watched
      and touched with our own hands, 
      the Word of Life -
      this is our theme.
      (New Jerusalem Bible; compare to the prologue of John's Gospel)
      Given this, we can be secure in identifying the author of the epistles with Papias' "John the elder".  Identifying "John the elder" as John the apostle explains his pre-eminence over other eyewitnesses of Jesus (such as Aristion), and frequent references to the apostle John as the teacher of Polycarp.  I think we can make that identification with confidence.
      Turning to the Gospel itself, our confidence can increase to near certainty.  Obviously, the author claims to be an eye witness, and appears to be identified with "the disciple whom Jesus loved" or the "other disciple".  This nameless disciple gains a peculiar pre-eminence.  He reclines by Jesus at the last supper, he enters the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus, he is the only disciple present at Jesus' death, Jesus names him as protector of Jesus' own mother, and he is the first disciple to the tomb after the resurrection of Jesus.  Further, it is not hard identify him.  Of the prominent disciples in the synoptics, the most prominent are Peter, James and John, who form an inner circle within the disciples.  But neither James nor John is mentioned by name in the Gospel of John.  Clearly this very prominent disciple is intended to be one of James or John.  Further, James the brother of John drops from prominence in Acts.  In the early church, the inner core is still James, Peter and John, but this James is James the Just, brother of Jesus rather than James the brother of John.  And finally, only of John is it reputed that he survived long enough to have been a candidate for author of the Gospel.  Thus the ascription of John as the purported author of the Gospel is fairly secure.
      Supplemental information supports this.  Though John is the most theological gospel, it contains surprising detail about the physical geography of Jerusalem which strongly suggests the author was familiar with Jerusalem prior to 70 AD.  It also contains pervasive Aramaisms, suggesting the author was originally an Aramaic speaker.  Finally, the "logos" theology of John reflects strong familiarity with the writings of Philo of Alexander, suggesting the author was, at minimum of Jewish extraction.  This evidence suggests that the author of John was an educated Jew familiar with Jerusalem, with fits with the author having been John; but is hardly specific.  The final evidence, however, is very specific.
      John's Gospel contains an intriguing sequel.  Following an account of two resurrection appearances, the book seems to close by saying, "There were many other signs that Jesus worked ...".  But then, surprisingly it goes on into a twenty first chapter, and another resurrection appearance.  In this resurrection appearance, Jesus appears to hear the confession of Peter for his betrayal, and to award a penance.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus.  And successively, when Peter responds that he does, he instructs Peter to "Feed my lambs", "Look after my sheep", and "Feed my sheep".  Then Jesus predicts the manner of Peter's death.  The chapter continues:
      Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them - the one who had leant back close to his chest at the supper and had said to him, 'Lord, who is it that will betray you?'  Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, 'What about him, Lord?'  Jesus answered, 'If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you?  are to follow me.'  The rumour then went out among the brothers that this disciple would not die.  Yet Jesus had not said to Peter, 'He will not die,' but, 'If I want to stay behind till I come.'
      This disciple is the one who vouches for these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true.
      John 21: 20 - 24 (New Jerusalem Bible)
      This passage is direct testimony that there was a rumour that the purported author of John would not die until Jesus returned.  As it was considered worthwhile to scotch that rumour, it strongly suggests that that author was on his death bed, or (in view of the third person endorsement) had recently died.  Now, quite independently of whether we accept this passage as authentic (and as an atheist, I do not), there is reason to suspect just such a rumour about John.  Regardless of what Jesus specifically predicted about John's death, it is on record since at least 70 AD that Jesus predicted his return before the death of all those (his disciples) who were listening to him.  There is considerable evidence that John survived all other disciples, and in that context, it is probable that this prediction would have been referred to in more specific terms.  If Jesus predicted that he would return before all his disciples died, and only one of his disciples still survived, then by inference he has predicted that he would return before that disciple died.
      From internal evidence, this long lived disciple was either James or John.  But James is recorded as being killed in 44 AD (Acts 12: 1,2), and cannot be a candidate for this longest lived disciple.  By elimination, the beloved disciple and author of John's gospel was indeed the Apostle John
      Tom Curtis  
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