Ask a Trinitarian for evidence of the divinity of Jesus and they will undoubtedly direct you to the Gospel of John. In a previous article we saw how any such evidence put forward from this Gospel is ambiguous at best and often taken out of context or misinterpreted. Remove the Gospel of John from the New Testament equation and there is very little left in the Trinitarian’s armoury to appeal to for evidence of the divinity of Jesus. If you take away this Gospel, any Biblical foundation for the Trinity, ambiguous or otherwise, comes crashing down. So from a Trinitarian’s perspective the stakes for the Gospel of John are very high. This article is going to show that the Gospel of John is not a reliable historical account of the life and teachings of Jesus:
1. Lack of early evidence.
Dating the Gospel of John is no easy task. For a time, particularly in the early part of the 20th century, scholars believed that John was written in the mid-second century. The discovery and publication in the 1930s of a papyrus fragment known as P52 changed everything:
P52 is a small scrap about the size of a credit card and represents the earliest physical evidence that exists for the Gospel of John. Initial dating of P52 placed it at around 125 CE. This initial dating has played a large part in dating the original writing of John to 80 – 95 CE. The theory is that for the Gospel of John to have been copied and made its way to Egypt, where P52 was found, a date no later than the first decade of the 2nd century must be presumed for the original writing of the Gospel. However, recent re-examinations of P52 suggest that this date is too early , by approximately 80-100 years. This would place the fragment well in the 3rd century, nearly 200 years after Jesus.
All of the dates discussed so far have been obtained by comparing the handwriting of P52 to datable scripts, a technique known as palaeographic dating. As you can imagine, paleography is not the most effective method for dating texts as this type of dating method gives a relative, not absolute, date. Thus, P52 cannot be used as the sole basis for settling the question of when the Gospel was originally written. We can look into the citations from the gospels, as found in the writings of the earliest Fathers of the Church, to establish a lower limit of when the Gospel was originally written.
Based on this, the Gospel does not emerge clearly in the historical record until the end of the 2nd century. Justin Martyr (100 – 165 CE) was an early Christian apologist and is regarded as the foremost interpreter of the theory of the Logos, a theology that is also found in John’s Gospel. In the 2nd century Justin Martyr advocated a logos Christology without citing John’s Gospel explicitly. Such an omission by Justin would seem strange if the Gospel of John had already been written and was in circulation. Neither was John’s Gospel known to the bishop Polycarp. The letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, generally thought to be from around 135 CE, never quotes from John, and never even alludes to it. Yet other New Testament writings are quoted abundantly in his letter. According to church history, Polycarp studied under the disciple John and yet doesn’t once quote the Gospel of John in his writings, even though he quotes the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. This is incredible, the one person whose Gospel he should have written about and he didn’t. There’s really no explicit attestation for John until the bishop Irenaeus, late in the 2nd century.
In conclusion, the manuscript and historical evidence for the Gospel of John taken together points us to a late 2nd century date for when the Gospel was first written. This would mean that it’s impossible that a disciple of Jesus was the author as the disciples of Jesus would have long since passed away. Rather it is the work of a much later writer, and for this reason we must reject it.
2. The fabricated story of the adulteress.
John 8:2-11 is the story of a woman that is about to be stoned on the accusation of adultery. In these verses Jesus, when questioned about her punishment, utters the famous words “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”:
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
This story is unique to John, it is absent from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It turns out that it is a later addition as the earliest New Testament manuscripts do not contain it. In fact the story does not even exist in any manuscripts before the 5th century, and the vast majority of those prior to the 8th century lack the story . Here is a footnote regarding the story from the New International Version of the Bible:
The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.
Christians may claim that these verses have no theological implications, and therefore it doesn’t matter that they are a fabrication. However this is not the case, because these verses are one of the few places in the New Testament that suggest Jesus sought to end the Mosaic laws dealing with crime and punishment. Given this strong evidence of tampering in John’s Gospel, we must reject it as the pure word of God and take it for what it is: the corrupted word of man.
For more information on fabrications in the New Testament, see this article here.
3. Very different to Synoptic Gospels.
Of the four New Testament Gospels, the Gospel of John is in a class by itself. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and similar wording, hence scholars classify these gospels as Synoptic, meaning “giving an account of the events from the same point of view or under the same general aspect” because they have a large degree of overlap. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is comparatively distinct – in fact over 90% of its material cannot be found in the Synoptics. Here are some examples:
i. The spear piercing the side of Jesus.
“Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” [John 19:34]
Scholars generally believe today that the spear thrust that pierced Jesus, a story found only in John’s Gospel, is not historical. It is an embellishment introduced by John for his own theological reasons, possibly to make sure that everyone would know that Jesus died on the cross. Take away the spear thrust and there is nothing in the Gospels that would have resulted in the death of Jesus. Crucifixion doesn’t actually kill a person by itself, what kills a person is the shock and exhaustion resulting from prolonged hanging on the cross, sometimes a few days. According to the Gospel records Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours.
ii. The guards prostrating to Jesus.
The Synoptics paint the picture of Jesus that is reluctant to be crucified. For example they all mention Jesus begging God to be saved from death when he is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke even has Jesus sweating drops of blood just before his arrest. All of this is in stark contrast to John, who portrays Jesus as willingly handing himself over to the authorities:
So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Remarkably in John’s portrayal of the Garden of Gethsemane there is no mention of any of these incidents from the Synoptics. John seems to be concerned with magnifying the power of Jesus: from the outset Jesus is in charge, just his voice is enough to cause the soldiers to retreat and fall prostrate on the ground.
It is strange to think that the authors of the Synoptics would not have been aware of incidents such as the spear piercing the side of Jesus and the soldiers prostrating to him in the Garden of Gethsemane, had they really taken place. It is even more inconceivable that they would have intentionally omitted such remarkable accounts from the Synoptics. One must therefore conclude that such stories are later embellishments by whoever authored John.
4. Contradicts other Gospels.
The various Gospel accounts of the resurrection are so different that it’s hard to know what to focus on, but the visit of Mary Magdalene to the tomb of Jesus is central. Here is Matthew’s account of the tomb visit:
“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” [Matthew 28:1-2]
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” [Matthew 28:5-7]
So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. [Matthew 28:8-9]
So, in Matthew’s account Mary Magdalene is presented as having seen an angel at the tomb and heard the angel announce the resurrection of Jesus. After which she actually encountered Jesus as she was running away from the tomb in order to inform the disciples about what had happened.
Now here is John’s account of the tomb visit:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon, Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” [John 20:1-2]
In John’s Gospel, however, Mary Magdalene is presented as having found the tomb empty, after which she ran to the disciples and told them that the body of Jesus had been stolen.
The problem is obvious: if Mary Magdalene met Jesus at the tomb, as Matthew says, then why does she report that the body had been stolen according to John?
Since it’s important to have a firm grasp of the chronological sequence of events as described in Matthew and John, I have summarised the key information in a diagram (please click on picture to enlarge):
Why is it that when it comes to a relatively trivial matter like Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, all four Gospels corroborate one another (“On a donkey and a colt” [Matthew 21:5-7], “on a colt” [Mark 11:7]; [Luke 19:35], “on a young donkey” [John 12:14]); but the bedrock of the Christian faith, the resurrection, contains contradictions?
Some Christians may argue that these differences in the Gospel accounts are the expected result of reports from a variety of witnesses, but all testifying to the same essential fact—Jesus was raised from the dead. Sometimes the analogy of an automobile accident is suggested. When eyewitnesses report what they saw each reflects a particular perspective, and there are always differences as to details, but the essential facts related to the accident are clear. Such an analogy fails in the case of the Gospels, as Christians make the claim that these are inspired writers. If the author of John’s Gospel can’t even get the basic details right about the most important aspect of the life of Jesus, his resurrection according to the New Testament, then it casts serious doubt on the author being an inspired eyewitness of the life of Jesus.
For more information on this contradiction, see this article here.
5. Rejected as a historical account by conservative Christian scholarship.
According to Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Last Supper appears to have been the Passover meal. On the other hand, John’s Gospel seems to tell us that Jesus died before the Passover meal. It’s necessary to quote Mark at some length to show that, for him, the Last Supper was the Passover:
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me” [Mark 14:12-18]
These verses certainly give the impression that the meal being eaten is the Passover meal. The disciples ask where the Passover meal is to be eaten; they go there; they prepare; later Jesus arrives; and they do indeed eat a meal. Luke is even more explicit that Jesus fully expected to eat the Passover meal:
So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it” [Luke 22:8]
Now, John also indicates that Jesus had a last meal with his disciples. But, oddly, we’re told his final meal took place before the festival of Passover:
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress…” [John 13:1-2]
John also says that, as the Last Supper was getting started, Jesus sent Judas Iscariot away:
Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. [John 13:27-30]
This indicates that the group did not yet have what they needed for the Passover feast, which would mean the feast was yet to come. Further evidence for this is provided by John 18:28, where Jesus’ accusers were delivering him to Pilate:
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.
Finally, John explicitly states that Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover:
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” [John 19:14-15]
Remember that in the other Gospels, Jesus actually eats the Passover with his disciples before his arrest. John’s timing of the story is different. Why did John alter the story? We find a clue in John’s writings when he refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God”:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29]
It’s crucial to note that John is the only Gospel that identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God”. John’s Gospel thus portrays Jesus as the Passover lamb, slaughtered on the day of preparation of Passover, whose shed blood somehow brings salvation, just as the blood of the Passover lamb brought salvation to the children of Israel so many centuries before. For John, Jesus was the Lamb of God – he died at the same time, in the same place (Jerusalem), and at the hands of the same people (the Jewish priests) as the Passover lambs. In other words, John has told a story that is not historically accurate, but is, in his judgement, theologically true.
Thus we can see that the Gospel of John is not writing about the historical Jesus. John alters the day of the Crucifixion to portray Jesus as the Passover lamb, he alters the story to make a theological point. This is one of the many reasons why New Testament scholars conclude that the Gospel of John is not historically accurate. In fact if you read the works of New Testament scholars you will notice that they hardly ever cite the Gospel of John in their research on the historical Jesus. It’s not just liberal scholars saying this – even conservative, Bible-believing Christian scholars no longer believe that Jesus actually said the words attributed to him in John. Sadly, most Christians are unaware of the findings of their own scholars.
Here I will cite some top New Testament scholars and their assessment of this problem of John. These academics are not particularly ‘liberal’ and they are representative of the broad consensus of biblical scholarship:
i. British biblical scholar and Anglican priest Christopher Tuckett, in his book “Christology and the New Testament”, has this to say:
“In terms simply of historical reliability or ‘authenticity’, it seems impossible to maintain that both John and the synoptics [Mark, Matthew and Luke] can be presenting us with equally ‘authentic’ accounts of Jesus‘ own life. By ‘authentic’ accounts I mean here historically accurate representations of what Jesus himself actually said and did. The theological ‘authenticity’ of John’s account is quite another matter. The differences between the two are too deep seated and wide ranging for such a position to be sustainable. If there is a choice, it is almost certainly to be made in favour of the synoptic picture, at least in broadly general terms. The picture John then presents us with is a view of the Jesus tradition which has been heavily coloured and influenced by John and his own situation.” 
ii. Evangelical scholar Professor Richard Bauckham in his recent book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” argues that the fourth Gospel stems from an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, namely, the disciple John. At the same time, however, Bauckham also acknowledges the differences between the fourth gospel and the Synoptics and argues that John is a more reflective and a highly interpreted account of the life and ministry of Jesus. He concludes:
“All scholars, whatever their views of the redactional work of the Synoptic Evangelists and of the historical reliability of the Gospel of John, agree that the latter presents a much more thoroughly and extensively interpreted version of the story of Jesus.” 
iii. Here in a debate the evangelical apologist and New Testament scholar Mike Licona concedes that John is not a historical account of Jesus:
6. The disciple John is said to be illiterate and uneducated.
The Book of Acts has this to say about some of the disciples, including John:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13]
Note how the New Testament describes some of the disciples, including John, as “unschooled” and “ordinary”. That is the New International Version (NIV), other versions of the Bible are far less flattering:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned (agrammatos) and ignorant (idiōtēs) men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. [KJV]
If we look to the original Greek, we will see that the actual meaning is far worse (the following is taken from Strong’s Bible Dictionary):
Agrammatos – illiterate, without learning.
Idiōtēs – an unlearned, illiterate, man as opposed to the learned and educated: one who is unskilled in any art.
These Greek words are where we derive the English words ‘agrammatism’ (meaning “the inability to form sentences by virtue of a brain disorder”) and ‘idiot’ (meaning “a foolish or senseless person“).
Please note that it is not the intention of the author of this article to offend the reader. If the disciples of Jesus really were unschooled and ordinary, to take the more respectful rendering of the Greek, then this is nothing to be ashamed of. Very few people at the time of Jesus could read and write, with the typical literacy rate of first century Palestine being about 3%, according to Professor of Jewish studies Catherine Hezser who did the most thorough examination of literacy in Palestine. This was even still the case all the way into the 9th century at the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). But to make the claim that this same disciple is the author of the Gospel of John, a text that is written in highly eloquent Greek and tackles complex theological issues such as the nature of the Logos, is unreasonable. It is clear that the Gospel was not written by the disciple John, who would be incapable of doing so, but rather a later unknown author who was highly skilled in Greek philosophy, rhetoric and literature.
7. Multiple authorship.
The single authorship of the John’s Gospel is highly doubtful. Firstly, there is a questionable switch between John chapters 20 and 21. Chapter 20 seems to come to an abrupt halt, as the author declares his reasoning for the composition of the Gospel. Notice the statement that not all of the miracles which Jesus performed are recorded:
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” [John 20:30-31]
These last verses of chapter 20 seem to wrap up the Gospel in an abrupt, yet reasonable manner. Oddly, the very next chapter contains an account of yet another miracle:
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. [John 21:4-6]
So, the addition of chapter 21 seems to come at an odd time. Perhaps the original author did not finish the Gospel of John? The single authorship of the John’s Gospel is also questionable when we analyse the use of language in chapter 21. Toward the end of chapter 21, two verses seem to close the Gospel once again:
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” [John 21:24-25]
Compare those two closing verses with the closing verses 30-31 of the previous chapter – the Gospel effectively has two endings, which are both very similar. This makes it seem that one of them is redundant.
Finally, note the use of the third person narrative in verse 24 below:
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”
This leads the reader to believe that the author himself did not write this particular statement. Further confusion comes when the use of the word “we” comes into play, which indicates that the author is no longer one person. Perhaps a community of believers finished the book for John. Scholars have added the language and word choice to their argument that chapter 21 of the Gospel of John came from an outside source. The problem is that the identity of these multiple authors, and the date when they added to the Gospel, is unknown.
8. Jesus is portrayed as a Greek.
The figure of Jesus presented in John is different, and indeed irreconcilable, with that presented in the Synoptic Gospels: in the Synoptic Gospel accounts Jesus is a recognisably Jewish figure. Yet the figure of Jesus presented in John seems to have ‘lost’ his Jewishness. For example when addressing the Jews he speaks of the Mosaic Law as “your Law” and “their Law” as though it wasn’t his on numerous occasions:
“In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.” [John 8:17]
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’” [John 10:34]
But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ [John 15:25]
His style of preaching is also different: whereas in the Synoptic Gospels he preaches in narrative parables and in short compact sayings, in John the method is with long discourses – Jesus has effectively become a Greek. If the Gospel of John were read in isolation then one would never guess that the parable was a common teaching method of his (John 15:1-8 being a rare example of a parable). It’s interesting to note that none of the parables in the other Gospels are found in John; they are omitted.
9. Third person narrative.
None of the Gospel authors make the claim of being firsthand eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus. However if the Gospel of John is to be considered an eyewitness account, then one would expect it to be written from a first person perspective. Yet the author employs a third person narrative throughout the Gospel, indicating that it was not them who experienced the events they are writing about, but rather is relating events they heard from someone else.
Another important point is that John the Evangelist has been named consistently in the writings of early church fathers to be the person referred to as the one whom “Jesus loves”. This phrase is used six times throughout the Gospel of John. What we find is that the Gospel of John refers to this disciple who “Jesus loves” in the third person so the author obviously can’t be John:
One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. [John 13:23]
Christians may argue that this was just the style of ancient literature and therefore it was perfectly normal for people to write about themselves in the third person. But this is not the case, as the author of the Gospel of Luke (dated by scholars to have been written in the same time frame as John) writes in the first person narrative:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” [Luke 1:1-4]
Moreover the author of the Epistles of John, claimed by Christians to be the same author of the Gospel of John, also writes in the first person:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” [1 John 1]
Clearly, the Gospel of John was not written by a firsthand witness of Jesus, but rather a later author who had no connection with the events it narrates, hence the detached third person narrative – much like that of a history book – employed throughout the Gospel.
10. It has Gnostic tendencies.
The Gospel of Thomas is a well-preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel which many scholars believe provides insight into the oral gospel traditions. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. One of the key things that set this Gospel part from the canonical Gospels is that it does not mention the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
This is obviously disturbing for mainstream Christianity as without these stories the very foundation for Paulian Christianity comes crashing down. Hence Christians are inclined towards attempting to discredit Thomas by writing it off as a later Gnostic text, a group they say is heretical. Now you may be wondering what the Gospel of Thomas has to with the subject of this article, the Gospel of John. The answer is that it reveals a double standard, as the very reasons that Christians use to reject the Gospel of Thomas also apply to the Gospel of John:
i. The claim that the Gospel of Thomas is a heretical Gnostic text.
Arguably the best known and most influential passage dealing with Christology in the New Testament is the Prologue of the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. The first eighteen verses of John are typically called the “Prologue” because they are clearly set apart from the rest of the Gospel. The first thing to note is that we are not dealing with a prose narrative here, but with something that looks like a poem. The passage is written in a highly poetic style that’s not found in the rest of the Gospel of John. These verses also contain key concepts not found in the rest of the Gospel, such as Jesus being “the Word” made flesh. Jesus is called the “logos” twice in the prologue and never anywhere else in the Gospel of John (or even the entire New Testament for that matter). These are some of the reasons why scholars widely believe that the author of the John’s Gospel appended these verses as a Prologue, possibly after the rest of the book was written.
The reason why it’s important to highlight this is that the ideas contained in the prologue to John are Gnostic in nature, the very thing that Christians use to reject the Gospel of Thomas. It’s quite telling that the early Gnostics assigned profound significance to the Gospel of John – especially to the prologue. An historic eye-witness who reported on this was the early Church Father Irenaeus. In his book “Against Heresies” Irenaeus quotes from a lengthy Gnostic commentary on the prologue of John . According to this source the Gnostics believed the opening verses explicitly mentioned the names of several primeval entities or “Aions” which emanated forth in succession from the Father. These Aions have the following names in Greek and they are important figures in Gnostic myth: Monogenes (also called Arche), and Aletheia, Logos, Zoe, Anthropos and Charis. These are common names in Gnostic myth as reported by Irenaeus. It just so happens that these very names are also mentioned in the opening verses of John:
In John 1:1–18 the following Aions are revealed by name: (as translated from the ancient Greek text of John):
a) the “Beginning” or Arche, in which was
b) the Word (Logos), in which was
c) Life (Zoe), which was the “light” of
d) Man (Anthropon), which also signified and included
e) the Church (Ecclesia), and also
f) Grace (Charis), and
g) Truth (Aletheia)
Arche was also known as the Only-begotten Son (Monogenes), being the first and only-begotten Son of
h) the unknown Father (Jn. 1:18, 17:25).
Stated simply, the theology in John is anything but “orthodox”; the unorthodox themes in John indicate that, in its original form, the Gospel of John may well have been the earliest of the Gnostic Gospels. The case can actually be made that John has a dual theology. There is one part of John that echoes the Jewish tradition, and then there is another part that really resembles some form of Gnosticism, possibly adopted from a popular Mandaean Gnostic dualism.
ii. The claim that the Gospel of Thomas is a much later text.
The argument here is that the Gospel of Thomas is a much later writing which came after the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Scholars differ on when the Gospel of Thomas was written. The early camp dates the manuscripts to the second half of the 1st century, making it contemporary to the canonical Gospels, and the late camp dates Thomas to sometime after 100 CE, generally in the mid-2nd century. Even if we assume this later dating, it still makes it earlier than John’s Gospel, which as we covered in a previous section is dated to the late 2nd century. So the reality is that the Gospel of Thomas has a textual history that is on par with, or in some cases superior than, the canonical Gospels.
In summary, if Christians want to insist on rejecting the Gospel of Thomas by writing it off as a later Gnostic work, then they have to be consistent and reject the Gospel of John for the exact same reason as it too has Gnostic tendencies.
All the evidence that can be examined about the Gospel of John points to the same conclusion: it cannot be taken as a reliable historical account of Jesus. Since the Gospel of John is the bedrock for Trinitarians, often their go to book of the Bible in trying to find support for the divinity of Jesus, this represents yet another damning blow to the doctrine of the Trinity. Readers are encouraged to learn about the true historical Jesus, who can only be found in the pure, undistorted words of the Qur’an, God’s last and final revelation to mankind:
1 – The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel, Brent Nongbri, Harvard Theological Review, 2005.
2 – Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005), p. 320.
3 – Christopher Tuckett, Christology and the New Testament, chapter 9: ‘The Gospel of John’, pp.151-152.
4 – Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, p. 410.
5 – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.8.5; J. Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, p. 328.