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Question: Who authored the Gospel of John?
In the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ, in order to make theological points of his being and person, quotes material from the Gospel of John to Joseph Smith. Critics, in light of modern biblical scholarship, point out that the Gospel of John likely wasn’t written by John, son of Zebedee (as is commonly assumed by Latter-day Saints and conservative Chrisitians) who is understood to have be one of the original apostles of Jesus Christ.
For instance the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible writes:
Like the other Gospels, this one never names an author. Since at least the late second century CE, tradition has attributed the authorship of the Gospel to Jesus’s disciple, John the son of Zebedee, who purportedly wrote the Gospel in Ephesus. Doubts about the accuracy of this tradition have existed since antiquity. Eusebius mentions a different figure, John “the Elder,” living in Ephesus (Hist. eccl. 3.39.3). The conclusion to the Gospel (21.24) points to the memories of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as asource of its traditions. But the narrative never identifies this figure, although if the “other disciple” in 18.16 is a reference to this same disciple, it may suggest that he is from Jerusalem rather than Galilee. Today most scholars think that Johannine traditions stem from an unidentified follower of Jesus, not one of the twelve disciples. This anonymous disciple developed a group of followers, a “Johannine school,” who were responsible for writing down his witness. This figure was idealized in the community, as the model believer who is called the “beloved disciple” in the Gospel narrative (19.25–27).
The question then becomes, if John, son of Zebedee did not write the Gospel of John, then why would Jesus quote material from the Gospel as if he did?
The revelation does not state that John wrote the Gospel. Rather, it suggests that this record is a lost revelation of the apostle John.
The revelation does not state that John wrote the Gospel. Rather, it suggests that this record is a lost revelation of the apostle John. It states that the prophet would receive a "fulness of the record of John" at the end. What is this "record of John"? Is it a part of the same record revealed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants 7? Or is it part of the Gospel of John as recorded in the Holy Bible? Or is it a lost Gospel? We can't know for sure. But the revelation still echoes certain language in the Gospel of John, so how do we look at that?
1. Scholarship is wrong and John the son of Zebedee actually did write the Gospel of John.
The first approach would be to deny the current conclusions of scholarship and to assert that the Gospel of John was actually written by John, son of Zebedee as has been long assumed in Christianity in general. This seems to be the least attractive option by the author, especially since we should be open to how scholarship informs our view of the Gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79) though this remains an option nonetheless.
2. John may have written the thoughts expressed in the Gospel which were then summarized later by the “beloved disciple”.
John, son of Zebedee, may have written the thoughts or taught the things expressed in the Gospel of John which may have been summarized by the later editor aka “the beloved disciple” of the Johannine community. Evidence of this might be found in the fact that the revelation and the Gospel of John’s wording do not match precisely. Additional evidence may be found in the high likelihood of this happening for the authoring of the Book of Revelation.
2a. John, son of Zebedee, may have used similar language found in the Gospel of John to convey ideas about Christ.
In light of the fact that the revelation does not match the language of the Gospel of John precisely, it may be pointed out that John, speaking to the Savior who used John’s language to speak to Joseph, may have used language as found in the Gospel of John to describe the Savior which the Savior transmitted to Joseph. This may have taken place in a celestial setting with John telling the words to Christ or Christ may be remembering the words spoken to him by John and then repeating them to Joseph Smith.
These options (2 and 2a) appear to be the most attractive to the author and what the author believes will be most healthy approaches for Latter-day Saints.
3. Another person named John may have written the Gospel of John.
Another person named John may have written the Gospel of John. As evidence of this, it may be pointed out that nowhere in the revelation does it state that John, son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel. The “beloved disciple” may have been a disciple named John like the quote from The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible suggests.
4. The Savior may have been using Joseph’s understanding to teach him in parable about his nature.
It may be that Joseph had an incorrect assumption that was frozen into scripture. Perhaps the Savior used Joseph’s then understanding of the authorship of the Gospel to teach him about his nature and confirm other important things about Latter-day Saint Christology without feeling the need to correct this thing in particular.
In any case, we have seen that under no circumstances does this have to affect Latter-day Saint testimony in any substantial way.
- Colleen Conway, “The Gospel of John” in The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible fifth edition eds., Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Pheme Perkins, and Carol Newsome (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018), 1521