1902 Encyclopedia > St John the Apostle

St John the Apostle
(also known as: St John the Divine; St John the Evangelist)
Christian apostle; one of the four evangelists

(fl. 1st century AD)

JOHN, the Apostle (____ [Heb.] "Jehovah hath been gracious "), was the son of Zebedee, a Galihean fisherman, and Salome. It is probable that he was born at Bethsaida, where along with his brother James he followed his father's occupation. The family appear to have been in easy circumstances ; at least we find that Zebedee employed hired servants, and that Salome was among the number of those women who contributed to the maintenance of Jesus ; he himself was perhaps related to Annas the high priest (John xviii. 15, 16). It seems to have been when attending as a disciple the preaching of John the Baptist at Bethany beyond Jordan that he first became personally acquainted with our Lord (John i. 35 sq.); his "call" to follow Him occurred simultaneously with that addressed to his brother and to Andrew and Peter (Mark i. 19, 20). He speedily took his place among the twelve apostles, sharing with James the title of Boanerges (" sons of thunder "), became a member of that inner circle to which, in addition to his brother, Peter alone belonged, and ultimately was recognized as the disciple par excellence whom Jesus loved, a distinction usually attributed to his amiability and gentle-ness of character, but much less probably due to any special sweetness of temperament (see Luke ix. 54; Mark iii. 17, ix. 38) than to a quickness and depth of insight which enabled him to enter more fully than his companions into the larger and wider-reaching views of his Master. After the departure of Jesus John remained at Jerusalem, where he was one of the most prominent among those who bore personal testimony to the fact of the resurrection; we find him for a short time in Samaria (Acts viii. 14, 25) after the martyrdom of Stephen, but on Paul's second visit to the Jewish capital (Gal. ii. 9) John was again there. His subsequent movements are obscure, but he can hardly have been in Jerusalem at the time of Paul's last visit there in 58 A.D.

At this point the history of the apostle is taken up by ecclesiasti-cal tradition. Polyerates, bishop of Ephesus, 196 A.D. (in Euseb., U.E., iii. 31; v. 24), attests that John "who lay on the bosom of the Lord" died at Ephesus; and, though this evidence is weakened by the legendary trait that he ' was a priest wearing the ireraXov " or gold plate that distinguished the high-priestly mitre, it is fair to infer that the grave of the apostle was already shown (comp. R. E., iii. 39). Irenaus in various passages of his works confirms thi3 tradition. He says that John lived up to the time of Trajan, and published his Gospel in Ephesus. Irenseus also identifies the apostle with John the disciple of the Lord, who wrote the Apocalypse under Domitian, whom his teacher Polycarp had known personally, and of whom Polycarp had much to tell. These traditions are accepted and enlarged by later authors, Tertullian adding that John was banished to Patmos after he had miraculously survived the punishment of immersion in boiling oil. As it is evident that legend was busy with J ohn as early as the time of Polyerates, while Irenseus's view that the Apocalypse was written under Domitian is inconsistent with the internal evidence offered by that book, the real worth of these traditions requires to be tested by examination of their ultimate source. This inquiry has been pressed upon scholars since the apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse or of the Fourth Gospel or of both these works has been disputed. See GOSPELS and REVELATION. The question is not strictly one between advanced and conservative criticism, for the Tübingen school recog-nized the Apocalypse as apostolic, and found in it a confirmation of John's residence in Ephesus. On the other hand, Lützelberger(1840), Keim (Jesu v. Naz., vol i., 1867), Holtzmann (in Bibel-Lex., s.v.), Schölten (Tlieol. Tijdsch., 1871), and other recent writers wholly reject the tradition, while it has able defenders in Steitz (Stud. u. Krit., 1868), Hilgenfeld (Einl., 1875, p. 394 sq.;Z.f. W. T. 1872, 1877), and Lightfoot (Contemp. Eev., 1875, 1876).

The opponents of the tradition lay weight on the absence of posi-tive evidence before the latter part of the 2d century, especially in Papias, and in the epistles of Ignatius and of Irenseus's authority Polycarp. But they also find it necessary to assume that Irenams mistook Polycarp, and that John "the disciple of the Lord," who was known to the latter, was not the apostle but a certain pres-byter John of whom we hear from Papias. This view would be at once refuted if we could hold with some scholars that the pres-byter is but another name for the apostle. This identification nad already supporters in the time of Jerome (Vir. III., 9 ; comp. Usener, Acta S. Timotlici, Bonn, 1877), but seems inconsistent with a fair reading of the words of Papias. It is therefore very possible that some things which Irenaeus in his later years supposed Polycarp to have related of the apostle really belong to the other John (see GOSPELS, X. 820); but it is a much stronger thing to assume that he was mistaken in supposing that Polycarp had conversed with the apostle at all. An altogether independent and apparently inconsistent tradition that John was killed by the Jews is given on the authority of Papias by Georglus Hamartolus in the 9th century.


See, however, for exceptions that may be taken to these testi-monies, GOSPELS, vol. x. pp. 820, 822.
See, however, for exceptions that may be taken to these testi-monies, GOSPELS, vol. x. pp. 820, 822.
The epistle was not included in the Marcionite canon, and the Alogi, an obscure sect so named by Epiphanius (Hter., i. 1-3), seem to have rejected this, together with the other writings of St John.

3 See GOSPELS, vol. x. p. 828.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries