One argument posed by those who question the authorship of the fourth gospel is that chapter 1 could not have been written by a Galilean disciple of Jesus. The biblical skeptics argue that the theology is too developed to have been written by an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. Secondly, it is proposed that John 1:1-5 (among other passages) was part of a hymn sung or chanted in an early Christian religious service. John1:1-5, in particular, is singled out as a passage not written by John. It allegedly uses “Gnostic” vocabulary like logos – “the Word”.
The Tubingen theory argues that the fourth gospel borrowed the logos concept from the local Christian community. As John wrote in Asia Minor, the local population was familiar with Greek philosophy. Let’s take a look at the passage to see if this argument that the passage is a “hymn” makes sense.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Now let’s see if it looks like a hymn in Greek. What I will do is count the syllables to see if there is a meter for the passage in the original manuscript Greek. The numbers in parentheses are the syllables for the preceding line.
εν αρχη ην ο λογος (7)
και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον (9)
και θεος ην ο λογος (7) … end verse 1
ουτος ην εν αρχη προς τον θεον (10)… end verse 2
παντα δι αυτου εγενετο (8)
και χωρις αυτου εγενετο (8)
ουδε εν ο γεγονεν (7)… end verse 3
εν αυτω ζωη ην (5)
και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων (10)… end verse 4
και το φως εν τη σκοτια φαινει (9)
και η σκοτια αυτο ου κατελαβεν (11)… end verse 5
Now, the scholars would have us believe that John allegedly borrowed this passage from a hymn sung at a religious gathering, like an agape meal, or a proto-Christian liturgy. According to the Greek manuscript version of John, the meter for John 1:1-5 is 7-9, 7-10, 8-8, 7-5, 10-9-11. Those of you who are choir directors, music directors, organists, musicians, cantors, and vocalists will recognize immediately that it would be difficult to put this verse to music. In other words, John’s passage in John 1:1-5 is textual. It is not musical verse.
So there goes the hymn theory. If my approach seems facile or too pat, do not be surprised. Historical critical scholars do not do a lot of research. Most of what they do is “literary analysis and interpretation,” which means they see what they want in the text. There is a lot of contempt in biblical scholarship for research, such as relying on biblical archaeology to substantiate or disprove a hypothesis. Or to put it another way, historical critical scholarship – the kind of scholarship used by Baur and Bultmann – is very unscientific.
Now, some of the more wily scholars will backpedal and say “it is not a hymn, it is poetry.” OK. I might agree with that, since a few lines appear to rhyme in the original Greek (but the passage still has no meter, so its pretty bad poetry). But that does not explain why John borrowed a poem from an unknown author to use in the fourth Gospel. Secondly, the historical-critical scholars would now have us believe that verses 1 to 5 are not psalmody, but rather a poetic reading. A poetic reading in a proto-Christian liturgical service? Inserted into a gospel? From a non-apostolic source?
And why is it, exactly, that the Apostle John cannot be the author of this bad poetry, which is coincidentally some remarkable theology? Is their a proto-Johannine text? The gospels of Matthew and Luke have the non-existent “Q” manuscript to fall back on, according to the historical critical scholars. Why then, don’t we propose our own lost Johannine text? We’ll call it “K” – the letter after J (for John) but before Q.
According to our theory, “K” is a Gnostic interpretation that was lost, with the exception of John 1, which some how made it past the censors. Which begs the next question – if the individual who wrote the poem is so theologically astute, why did this mystery first century poet and theological genius not author the entire gospel? In other words, if we are to grant that the miracle accounts in John do indeed tell a story, and that they are very theologically astute, then why combine the separate authorship of the anonymous “Gnostic” poet for Chapter 1, and then staple the Gnostic poetry to the rather outstanding (and anti-Gnostic) “fiction” – i.e. the miracle accounts – described in chapters 2 through 11?
This entire John-did-not-write-John’s-Gospel hypothesis is rather contradictory. Someone had to have the authority within the Johannine community to present the gospel as a complete text and unified text that was believable to the Christian community. John the Apostle would certainly have fit the bill. He was charged to care for Mary, he was the disciple present at the Transfiguration and at the foot of the cross, and he was likely the same person who wrote the fourth gospel.
It really isn’t that complicated. The Apostle John wrote John’s Gospel. It may have been edited a bit, and John may have used a scribe. But it is not fiction, and it’s not Gnostic.