Where and When Did John Write John?

In understanding where and when John wrote his Gospel, it is first significant to understand his purpose. After writing about Jesus’ death, John writes, “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35, ESV). Regardless of the debate over the identity of this witness, it is clear that John is giving the account so the reader comes to believe. Believes what is the question? One logical conclusion is so that one believes that Jesus was actually killed and in the manor described, and also so one believes that the events were a fulfillment of Scripture. But John is much more direct roughly 700 words later when he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you my believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, ESV). Not only is John writing so his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God, he is writing so that through that believe, they will have life. John’s purpose is clearly evangelistic.

There is much debate surrounding the date and location where John penned his book; however, I argue that while there is value in understanding a general date period of authorship (especially in academia), knowing the exact place does little more to change the content of the book then knowing that Hemmingway authored For Whom the Bell Tolls from a hotel room in Ketchum, Idaho. That being said, Köstenberger is content with Irenaus’s statement supporting that John published his Gospel while in Ephesus (1999, 25). This is the traditional view but Carson is quick to point out that there is debate around this view (2005, 254). There could be value in understanding what was going on around John at the time of the writing, but so little is known with certainty that much of this is speculation and there is little in the Gospel itself that seems to be addressing only local issues.

The time of authorship is more significant than the location. How much time had passed between the events themselves and the recording of them? Had some of Jesus prophetic words already come to pass or were they yet to be fulfilled at the time John was writing? The destruction of the temple is among the most significant examples. In addition, how much time did John had to reflect on the life of Jesus? And if one holds a very late date of authorship, then the question of authorship becomes even more significant. A wide variety of positions are argued for date, but Carson points out that “almost any date between about AD 55 and AD 95 is possible” (1991, 82). However, I find Carson’s argument convincing and am in agreement with him on a tentative date right around AD 80.

While date and place and providence are interesting and very useful for study, it is difficult to believe that John wrote his Gospel with this end result in mind. In addition, there is a divine author that must also be considered. The document is timeless and its purpose serves just as much today as it did the moment it was written—so that readers may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that belief in him offers life in his name. One seeking to understand God should be able to find him in the pages of the book of John. And reading John should (at a minimum) challenge one who does not know God or understand who Jesus is. This is likely why John seems to be the most popular single book of the Bible given out as supporting material in evangelistic efforts. The wonderful thing about the book of John is that readers today should have some ability to approach the book just as readers in the late first century did. The only difference might be the type and color of the baggage one brings with him on the journey through John’s claim that Jesus is who he claims he is.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Encountering biblical studies. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002.
*Picture of "Altarpiece of John the Evangelist" by Hans Burgkmair der Ältere is in the public domain.