A Jewish Author

For the sake of argument, I will disregard the previous few blogs concerning the fourth gospel account to consider the additional internal evidence that points to John as the author. To begin with, there is abundant evidence that this author was a Jew.

There are several moments in the final half of the book that the author demonstrates a familiarity with Jewish customs. 11:55 shows that he was familiar with the purification customs the law required for proper observation of the Passover. Anointing a guest’s feet with oil was a custom reserved for a home’s most honored guest (12:3). Waving palm branches was a typical way of celebrating a military victory (12:13). Open footwear demanded a customary washing of feet (13:4). When praying, a Jew would look toward heaven (17:1). All of these examples point toward an author familiar with the customs of first century Jews.

The details concerning the temple in Jerusalem show the author’s familiarity with the complex. The author tells us that the sick would often gather around the Pool of Bethesda in the hopes that they would be healed (5:1-3). “After A.D. 135 the pool was used by the Romans as a pagan healing sanctuary, sacred to the god Asclepius, making possible that even in Jesus’ day among the more unorthodox similar superstitions might have been in vogue” (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, p. 109). The categories of illnesses as well as the specific length of an illness or disorder offered by the author correspond to the Synoptic accounts.

The healing at the pool of Siloam is also worth noting (9:1-12). Jesus travels to Jerusalem in chapter 7 to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, the final feast in the religious calendar set forth by Moses. During the first seven days of the feast, water would be drawn from the pool of Siloam for a libation offering in the temple. On the eighth day (a later development not found in the law of Moses), no water libation was taken, thus paving the way for Jesus to invite those who were spiritually parched to quench their thirst with the Holy Spirit (7:37-39). In 8:12, Jesus declares that He is the light of the world, once again tapping into the customs associated with the feast.: “Every night of the feast, four huge lamps were lit to accompany joyful singing and dancing. On the last night the main candelabrum was deliberately left unlit as a reminder that Israel had not yet experienced full salvation” (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, p. 141). Both of these elements — the water and the light — come into play when Jesus heals a man blind from birth in 9:1-12. Jesus coats the man’s eyes with a mixture of saliva and dirt and instructs him to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. The blind man does so and receives his sight. This miracle sums up the teaching of chapters 7 and 8: it is in Jesus that we find water and light that lead to eternal life. The account shows that the author is familiar with the temple complex and the customs surrounding the Jewish feasts and used both to illustrate a spiritual lesson.

The author places Jesus on Solomon’s Colonnade during the Feast of Dedication in 10:22-23, an appropriate location given the time of year. “When the cold wind sweeps in from the east across the desert, Jesus walks in the east portico of the Temple, the only portico whose closed side was protected from the east wind” (Blomberg quoting Talbot, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, p. 161). Once again, only an author familiar with the temple complex would know such a detail.

This internal evidence lends further credibility to attributing the authorship of this gospel account to John. The intimate knowledge of social customs, the familiarity with the temple complex, the deep symbolic connections drawn between the customs of the feasts and the teachings of Jesus, and placing Jesus in an appropriate spot given the time of year are compelling. I believe this accuracy is due to John’s presence during the events in question, but I know others are more skeptical. If so, what alternative explanations can you offer? Do you not think it is reasonable to at least concede that the author was Jewish? I look forward to your response.