How Could John, a Poor, Uneducated Fisherman, Write the Gospel of John?
by J Warner Wallace
A fellow Christian Case Maker I met at Frank Turek’s CrossExamined Academy is teaching a church group about the reliability of the New Testament. A question was raised about the Apostle John: “How could John, an uneducated fisherman, have written such a literate and theologically rich gospel account?” After all, John was just a fisherman; was he educated enough to accomplish something this sophisticated? Irenaeus, certainly thought so. This historic Bishop of Lugdunum, was the student of Polycarp and Ignatius (two men who were taught directly by the Apostle John). Irenaeus identified the Apostle John as the author of the fourth Gospel, reflecting the historic understanding of the earliest Christians. In spite of this, many skeptics are eager to dismiss the authorship of John (often in an attempt to further discredit the supernatural New Testament claims related to Jesus) by doubting John’s level of education and degree of literacy. There are, however several good reasons to resist the notion that John, the son of Zebedee, was too illiterate to have written the fourth Gospel:
John May Have Been Educated After All
Don’t be too quick to dismiss John as uneducated. Hebrew children were required to memorize the first five books of Torah before they were twelve years old. Young students were also required to discuss these texts and write them. There is good reason to believe John and James were not exempt from this requirement. In fact, the internal evidence from the Gospel suggests John and James were more than familiar with the rabbis and Jewish teachers of their day. Take, for example, this description of Jesus’ arrest and arrival at the residence of Annas (the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest):
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Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in.
This “other disciple” is none other than John, the son of Zebedee, and he is described as someone who was well known to the high priest. In fact, he was known adequately enough to gain admission for himself and Peter. Interestingly, while Peter was here in Anna’s courtyard, he was identified by his simple Galilean accent (see Luke 22:59). No one ever identified John in this way, however. John may have been a fisherman, but this doesn’t mean he was necessarily uneducated or unsophisticated. Paul was also quick to identify himself as a tentmaker, but obviously had access to a good education…