Forgery and the Fourth Gospel: Ecclesial Implications for Pseudepigraphy in the Gospel of John

Recently, Hugo Méndez and other scholars have called into question the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, as well as the epistles attributed to the same author. Ignoring altogether positions of single-apostolic or single-eyewitness authorship on one hand but finding untenable Johannine community theories on the other, an alternate reading views the Johannine corpus as a chain of ancient pseudepigrapha. With intent to deceive their audiences, similarities in linguistics and compositional style between John’s Gospel and his letters are best explained as a “chain of literary forgeries,” composed by multiple unknown authors masquerading as a single eyewitness. Such an assessment extends further than historical, exegetical, and theological evidence supports, revealing presuppositions that bar it from viewing John’s Gospel as genuine and authoritative.

Therefore, this paper will critically evaluate recent arguments that the Fourth Gospel is pseudepigraphal and will discuss several implications affecting pastoral ministry. It will aim to demonstrate that if the Fourth Gospel is a literary fake, the communicative triad of author–message–recipient becomes fictionalized, rendering useless its stated purpose that faith in its testimony yields faith in Christ resulting in eternal life (20:31). Contrarily, if it is authentic, having been produced by a historical, divinely appointed author, the Fourth Gospel carries genuine divine authority, providing not only a factual testimony through which to believe in Christ, but also an ultimately objective reason for congregational obedience to its entirety. Ultimately, the paper will offer a Johannine theology of eyewitness and authority, precluding the possibility of forgery.

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