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TO THE GOSPEL
WITH A SHORT ACCOUNT OF HIS LIFE.
JOHN, the writer of this Gospel, was the son of a fisherman named Zebedee, and his mother's name was Salome. Compare Matt. xxvii. 56. with Mark xv. 40. and xvi. 1. His father Zebedee was probably of Bethsaida, and with his sons James and John, followed his occupation on the sea of Galilee. The call of these two brothers to the apostleship, is related Matt. iv. 21, 22. Mark i. 19, 20. Luke v. 1-10. John is generally supposed to have been about 25 years of age, when he began to follow our Lord.
Theophylact makes him one of the relatives of our Lord, and gives his genealogy thus: "Joseph, the husband of the blessed Mary, had seven children by a former wife; four sons and three daughters, Martha, (perhaps, says Dr. Lardner, it should be Mary) Esther, and Salome, whose son John was; therefore Salome was reckoned our Lord's sister, and John was his nephew." If this relationship did exist, it may have been, at least in part, the reason of several things mentioned in the Gospels; as the petition of the two brothers, for the two chief places in the kingdom of Christ; John's being the beloved disciple and friend of Jesus, and being admitted to some freedoms denied to the rest; and possibly performing some offices about the person of his Master; and finally, our Lord's committing to him the care of his mother, as long as she should survive him. In a MS. of the Greek Testament, in the Imperial Library of Vienna, numbered 34 in Lambecius's Catalogue, there is a marginal note which agrees pretty much with the account given above by Theophylact: viz. "John the Evangelist was cousin to our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh for Joseph, the spouse of the God-bearing Virgin, had four sons by his own wife, James, Simon, Jude, and Joses; and three daughters, Esther, and Thamar, and a third, who with her mother was called Salome, who was given by Joseph in marriage to Zebedee of her, Zebedee begot James, and John also the Evangelist." The writer of the MS. professes to have taken this account from the commentaries of St. Sophronius.
PREFACE TO ST. JOHN'S GOSPEL.
This Evangelist is supposed by some, to have been the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana in Galilee see chap. ii. 1.
John was with our Lord in his transfiguration on the mount, Matt. xvii. 2. Mark ix. 2. Luke ix. 28. during his agony in the garden, Matt. xxvi. 37. Mark xiv. 33. and when he was crucified, John xix. 26.
He saw our Lord expire upon the cross, and saw the soldier pierce his side with a spear, John xix. 34, 35.
He was one of the first of the disciples that visited the sepulchre after the resurrection of Christ; and was present with the other disciples, when Jesus shewed himself to them on the evening of the same day on which he arose; and likewise eight days after, chap. xx. 19—29.
In conjunction with Peter, he cured a man who had been lame from his mother's womb, for which he was cast into prison, Acts iii. 1-10. He was afterwards sent to Samaria, to confer the Holy Ghost on those who had been converted there by Philip the Deacon, Acts viii. 5-25. St. Paul informs us, Galat. ii. that John was present at the council of Jerusalem, of which an account is given, Acts xv.
It is evident that John was present at most of the things related by him in his Gospel; and that he was an eye and ear witness of our Lord's labours, journeyings, discourses, miracles, passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. After the ascension he returned with the other apostles from mount Olivet to Jerusalem, and took part in all transactions previous to the day of Pentecost: on which time, he with the rest, partook of the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, by which he was eminently qualified, for the place he afterwards held in the Christian church.
Some of the antients believed that he went into Parthia, and preached the gospel there: and his first Epistle has been sometimes cited under the name of the Epistle to the Parthians.
Irenæus, Eusebius, Origen, and others, assert that he was a long time in Asia, continuing there till Trajan's time, who succeeded Nerva, A. D. 98. And Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, A. D. 196. asserts that John was buried in that city. Jerom confirms this testimony, and says that John's death happened in the 68th year after our Lord's passion.
Tertullian and others say, that Domitian having declared war against the church of Christ, in the 15th year of his reign, A. D. 95. John was banished from Ephesus and carried to Rome, where he was immersed in a cauldron of boiling oil, out of which however he escaped unhurt: and that afterwards he was banished to the isle of Patmos, in the Ægean sea, where he wrote the Apocalypse. Domitian having been slain in A. D. 96. his successor Nerva recalled all the exiles who had been banished by his predecessor; and John is supposed to have returned the next year to Ephesus, being then about 90 years of age. He is thought to have been the only apostle who died a natural death, and to have lived upwards of 100 years. Some say, having completed 100 years, he died the day following. This Gospel is supposed by learned men to have been written about A. D. 68 or 70. by others A. D. 86. and by others A. D. 97. but the most probable opinion is, that it was written at Ephesus about the year 86.
Jerom in his comment on Galat. vi. says, that John continued preaching when he was so enfeebled with old age, that he was obliged to be carried into the assembly; and that not being able to deliver any long discourse, his custom was, to say in every meeting, My dear children,
PREFACE TO ST. JOHN'S GOSPEL.
love one another! The holy virgin lived under his care till the day of her death: which is supposed to have taken place 15 years after the crucifixion.
John is usually painted holding a cup in his hand, with a serpent issuing from it: this took its rise from a relation by the spurious Procorus, who styles himself a disciple of St. John. Though the story is not worth relating, curiosity will naturally wish to be gratified with it. Some heretics had privately poisoned a cup of liquor, with which they presented him: but after he had prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross over it, the venom was expelled in the form of a serpent!
Some of the first disciples of our Lord, misunderstanding the passage, John xxi. 22, 23. If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? believed that John should never die. Several in the primitive church were of the same opinion: and to this day his death is doubted by persons of the first repute for piety and morality. Where such doctors disagree, it would be thought presumption in me to attempt to decide, otherwise I should not have hesitated to say, that seventeen hundred years ago, he went the way of all flesh, and instead of a wandering lot in a miserable, perishing world, is now glorified in that heaven, of which his writings prove, he had so large an anticipation both before and after the crucifixion of his Lord.
Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. lib. iii. cap. 24.) treats particularly of the order of the Gospels; and especially of this Evangelist-his observations are of considerable importance, and deserve à place here. Dr. Lardner has quoted him at large, WORKS, vol. iv. p. 224.
"Let us," says he, "observe the writings of this apostle, which are not contradicted by any. And first of all must be mentioned, as acknowledged of all, the gospel according to him, well known to all the churches under heaven. And that it has been justly placed by the ancients the fourth in order, and after the other three, may be made evident in this manner. Those admirable and truly divine men, the apostles of Christ, eminently holy in their lives, and as to their minds, adorned with every virtue, but rude in language, confiding in the divine and miraculous power bestowed upon them by our Saviour, neither knew, nor attempted to deliver the doctrine of their master with the artifice and eloquence of words. But using only the demonstration of the divine spirit, working with them, and the power of Christ performing by. them many miracles, they spread the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven all over the world. Nor were they greatly concerned about the writing of books, being engaged in a more excellent ministry which was above all human power. Insomuch that Paul the most able of all in the furniture both of words and thoughts, has left nothing in writing, beside some very short, (or a very few) epistles; although he was acquainted with innumerable mysteries, having been admitted to the sight and contemplation of things in the third heaven, and been caught up into the divine paradise and there allowed to hear unspeakable words. Nor were the rest of our Saviour's followers unacquainted with these things, as the seventy disciples, and many other beside the twelve apostles. Nevertheless of all the disciples of our Lord, Matthew and John only have left us any memoirs: who too, as we have been informed, were compelled to write by a kind of necessity. For Matthew having first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other people, delivered to them in their own language, the gospel according to him, by that writing supplying the want of his presence with those whom he was then leaving. And when Mark and Luke had published the Gospels according to them, it is said, that John, who
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all this while had preached by word of mouth, was at length induced to write for this reason. The three first written Gospels being now delivered to all men, and to John himself, it is said that he approved them, and confirmed the truth of their narration by his own testimony: saying there was only wanting a written account of the things done by Christ in the former part, and the beginning of his preaching. And certainly that observation is very true. For it is easy to perceive, that the other three Evangelists have recorded only the actions of our Saviour for one year after the imprisonment of John as they themselves declare at the beginning of their history. For after mentioning the forty days fast, and the succeeding temptation, Matthew shews the time of the commencement of his account in these words, When he had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed out of Judea into Galilee. In like manner Mark, Now after that John, says he, was cast into prison, Jesus came into Galilee. And Luke before he begins the account of the acts of Jesus, gives a like hint in this manner; that Herod added yet this, above all, that he shut up John in prison. For these reasons as is said, the apostle John was intreated to relate in the Gospel according to him, the time omitted by the four Evangelists, and the things done by our Saviour in that space, before the imprisonment of the Baptist. And they add farther, that he himself hints as much, saying, This beginning of miracles did Jesus: as also in the history of the acts of Jesus, he makes mention of the Baptist, as still baptizing in Enon nigh unto Salem. And it is thought that he expressly declares as much, when he says, For John was not yet cast into prison. John therefore, in the Gospel according to him, relates the things done by Christ while the Baptist was not yet cast into prison. But the other three Evangelists relate the things that followed the Baptist's confinement. Whoever attends to these things, will not any longer think the Evangelists disagree with each other, forasmuch as the Gospel according to John contains the first actions of Christ, while the others give the history of the following time. And for the same reason John has omitted the genealogy of our Saviour according to the flesh, it having been recorded before by Matthew and Luke; but he begins with his divinity, which had been reserved by the Holy Ghost, for him as the most excellent person." The whole of this chapter, with the preceding and following, may be profitably consulted by the Reader. See also Lardner, Works, vol. iv. 224. and vi. 156—222.
Besides the Gospel before us, John is generally reputed to have been the author of the three Epistles which go under his name; and of the Apocalypse. The former, certainly breathe the genuine spirit of this Apostle; and are invaluable monuments of his spiritual knowledge, and deep piety, as well as of his divine inspiration: as the Gospel and Epistles prove him to have been an Evangelist and Apostle; his book of Revelations, ranks him among the profoundest of the Prophets.
Learned men are not wholly agreed about the language in which this Gospel was originally written. Some think St. John wrote it in his own native tongue, the Aramean or Syriac, and that it was afterwards translated, by rather an unskilful hand, into Greek. This opinion is not supported by any strong arguments. That it was originally written in Greek, is the general and most likely opinion.
What the design of St. John was in writing this Gospel, has divided and perplexed many critics and learned divines. Some suppose that it was to refute the errors taught by one Cerinthus, who rose up at that time, and asserted that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was
PREFACE TO ST. JOHN'S GOSPEL.
the real son of Joseph and Mary: that at his baptism, the Christ, what we term the divine nature, descended into him, in the form of a dove, by whose influence he worked all his miracles; and that when he was about to suffer, this Christ, or divine nature, departed from him, and left the man Jesus, to suffer death. See Irenæus, advers. Hæreses.
Others suppose he wrote with the prime design of confuting the heresy of the Gnostics, a class of mongrels, who derived their existence from Simon Magus, and who formed their system out of Heathenism, Judaism, and Christianity; and whose peculiar, involved, and obscure opinions, cannot be all introduced in this place. It is enough to know, that concerning the person of our Lord, they held opinions similar to those of Cerinthus; and that they arrogated to themselves the highest degrees of knowledge and spirituality. They supposed that the Supreme Being had all things and beings included in a certain seminal manner, in himself; and that out of Him they were produced. From God or Bythos, the infinite Abyss, they derived a multitude of subaltern governors, called Eons; whom they divided into several classes, among which we may distinguish the following nine. Пarng, Father; Xagis, Grace; Movoyens, First-begotten ; Ahndua, Truth; Aoyos, Word; Qws, Light; Zwn, Life; Avgwños, Man; and Exxλ401α, Church; all these merging in what they termed ПIλngwa, Fulness, or complete round of being and blessings; terms which are of frequent occurrence in John's Gospel, and which some think he has introduced to fix their proper sense, and to rescue them from being abused by the Gnostics. But this is not very likely, as the Gnostics themselves appealed to St. John's Gospel for a confirmation of their peculiar opinions, because of his frequent use of the above terms. These sentiments therefore do not appear to be tenable.
Professor Michaelis has espoused the opinion, that it was written against the Gnostics and Sabians, and has advanced several arguments in its favour; the chief of which are the following. "The plan which St. John adopted to confute the tenets of the Gnostics and the Sabians, was first to deliver a set of aphorisms, as counterpositions to these tenets; and then to relate such speeches and miracles of Christ as confirmed the truth of what he had advanced. We must not suppose that the confutation of the Gnostic and Sabian errors is confined to the fourteen first. verses of St. John's Gospel; for in the first place it is evident that many of Christ's speeches, which occur in the following part of the Gospel, were selected by the Evangelist with the view of proving the positions laid down in these fourteen verses; and secondly the positions themselves'. are not proofs, but merely declarations made by the Evangelist. It is true, that for us Christians,' who acknowledge the divine authority of St. John, his bare word is sufficient; but as the Apostle had to combat with adversaries, who made no such acknowledgment, the only method of convincing them, was to support his assertion by the authority of Christ himself.. "Some of the Gnostics placed the WORD,' above all the other Being: but Cerinthus placed the Only begotten,' first, and then the lays down the following positions.
ons, and next to the Supreme WORD.' Now St. John.
"1. The Word and the Only begotten are not different, but the same person, chap. i. 14.. "We beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father.' This is a strong position against the Gnostics, who usually ascribed all the divine qualities to the Only begotten. The proofs of this position are, the testimony of John the Baptist, chap. i. 18, 34. iii. 35, 36. the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus, chap. iii. 16, 18. in which Christ calls himself the only begotten