1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/John, the Apostle

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13114801911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15 — John, the ApostleFriedrich von Hügel

JOHN, the Apostle, in the Bible, was the son of Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, and Salome. It is probable that he was born at Bethsaida, where along with his brother James he followed his father’s occupation. The family appears to have been in easy circumstances; at least we find that Zebedee employed hired servants, and that Salome was among those women who contributed to the maintenance of Jesus (Mark i. 20, xv. 40, 41, xvi. 1). John’s “call” to follow our Lord occurred simultaneously with that addressed to his brother, and shortly after that addressed to the brothers Andrew and Simon Peter (Mark i. 19, 20). John speedily took his place among the twelve apostles, sharing with James the title of Boanerges (“sons of thunder,” perhaps strictly “sons of anger,” i.e. men readily angered), and became a member of that inner circle to which, in addition to his brother, Peter alone belonged (Mark v. 37, ix. 2, xiv. 33). John appears throughout the synoptic record as a zealous, fiery Jew-Christian. It is he who indignantly complains to Jesus, “We saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us,” and tells Him, “We forbade him” for that reason (Mark ix. 38); and who with his brother, when a Samaritan village will not receive Jesus, asks Him, “Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke ix. 54). The book of Acts confirms this tradition. After the departure of Jesus, John appears as present in Jerusalem with Peter and the other apostles (i. 13); is next to Peter the most prominent among those who bear testimony to the fact of the resurrection (iii. 12–26, iv. 13, 19–22); and is sent with Peter to Samaria, to confirm the newly converted Christians there (viii. 14, 25). St Paul tells us similarly that when, on his second visit to Jerusalem, “James,” the Lord’s brother, “and Cephas and John, who were considered pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” (Gal. ii. 9). John thus belonged in 46–47 to the Jewish-Christian school; but we do not know whether to the stricter group of James or to the milder group of Peter (ibid. ii. 11–14).

The subsequent history of the apostle is obscure. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus (in Euseb., H. E. iii. 31; v. 24), attests in 196 that John “who lay on the bosom of the Lord rests at Ephesus”; but previously in this very sentence he has declared that “Philip one of the twelve apostles rests in Hierapolis,” although Eusebius (doubtless rightly) identifies this Philip not with the apostle but with the deacon-evangelist of Acts xxi. 8. Polycrates also declares that John was a priest wearing the πέταλον (gold plate) that distinguished the high-priestly mitre. Irenaeus in various passages of his works, 181–191, holds a similar tradition. He says that John lived up to the time of Trajan and published his gospel in Ephesus, and identifies the apostle with John the disciple of the Lord, who wrote the Apocalypse under Domitian, whom Irenaeus’s teacher Polycarp had known personally and of whom Polycarp had much to tell. These traditions are accepted and enlarged by later authors, Tertullian adding that John was banished to Patmos after he had miraculously survived the punishment of immersion in burning oil. As it is evident that legend was busy with John as early as the time of Polycrates, the real worth of these traditions requires to be tested by examination of their ultimate source. This inquiry has been pressed upon scholars since the apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse or of the Fourth Gospel, or of both these works, has been disputed. (See John, Gospel of, and Revelation, Book of.) The question has not been strictly one between advanced and conservative criticism, for the Tübingen school recognized the Apocalypse as apostolic, and found in it a confirmation of John’s residence in Ephesus. On the other hand, Lützelberger (1840), Th. Keim (Jesus v. Naz., vol. i., 1867), J. H. Scholten (1872), H. J. Holtzmann (esp. in Einl. in d. N. T., 3rd ed., 1902), and other recent writers, wholly reject the tradition. It has had able defenders in Steitz (Stud. u. Krit., 1868), Hilgenfeld (Einl., 1875) and Lightfoot (Essays on Supernatural Religion, collected 1889). W. Sanday (Criticism of Fourth Gospel, 1905) makes passing admissions eloquent as to the strength of the negative position; whilst amongst Roman Catholic scholars, A. Loisy (Le 4me. Ev., 1903) stands with Holtzmann, and Th. Calmes (Ev. selon S. Jean, 1904, 1906) and L. Duchesne (Hist. anc. de l’Egl., 1906) exhibit, with papal approbation, the inconclusiveness of the conservative arguments.

The opponents of the tradition lay weight on the absence of positive evidence before the latter part of the 2nd century, especially in Papias and in the epistles of Ignatius and of Irenaeus’s authority, Polycarp. They find it necessary to assume that Irenaeus mistook Polycarp; but this is not a difficult task, since already Eusebius (c. 310–313) is compelled to point out that Papias testifies to two Johns, the Apostle and a presbyter, and that Irenaeus is mistaken in identifying those two Johns, and in holding that Papias had seen John the Apostle (H. E. iii. 39, 5, 2). Irenaeus tells us, doubtless correctly, that Papias was “the companion of Polycarp”: this fact alone would suffice, given his two mistakes concerning Papias, to make Irenaeus decide that Polycarp had seen John the Apostle. The chronicler George the Monk (Hamartolus) in the 9th century, and an epitome dating from the 7th or 8th century but probably based on the Chronicle of Philip of Side (c. 430), declare, on the authority of the second book of Papias, that John the Zebedean was killed by Jews (presumably in 60–70). Adolf Harnack, Chron. d. altchr. Litt. (1897), pp. 656–680), rejects the assertion; but the number of scholars who accept it as correct is distinctly on the increase.  (F. v. H.)