In regard to the fourth Gospel the Muratorian fragment has a longer story to tell, but before we touch upon this, and before we proceed to draw together the threads of the previous enquiry, it will be well for us first to bring up the evidence for the fourth Gospel to the same date and position as that for the other three. This then will be the subject of the next chapter.
THE EXTERNAL EVIDENCE FOR THE FOURTH GOSPEL.
The fourth Gospel was, upon any theory, written later than the others, and it is not clear that it was published as soon as it was written. Both tradition and the internal evidence of the concluding chapter seem to point to the existence of somewhat peculiar relations between the Evangelist and the presbyters of the Asian Church, which would make it not improbable that the Gospel was retained for some time by the latter within their own private circle before it was given to the Church at large.
We have the express statement of Irenaeus [Endnote 269:1], who, if he was born as is commonly supposed at Smyrna about 140 A.D., must be a good authority, that the Apostle St. John lived on till the times of Trajan (98-117 A.D.). If so, it is very possible that the Gospel was not yet published, or barely published, when Clement of Rome wrote his Epistle to the Corinthians. Neither, considering its almost esoteric character and the slow rate at which such a work would travel at first, should we be very much surprised if it was not in the hands of Barnabas (probably in Alexandria) and Hermas (at Rome). In no case indeed could the silence of these two writers be of much moment, as in the Epistle of Barnabas the allusions to the New Testament literature are extremely few and slight, while in the Shepherd of Hermas there are no clear and certain references either to the Old Testament or the New Testament at all.
And yet there is a lively controversy round these two names as to whether or not they contain evidence for the fourth Gospel, and that they do is maintained not only by apologists, but also by writers of quite unquestionable impartiality like Dr. Keim. Dr. Keim, it will be remembered, argues against the Johannean authorship of the Gospel, and yet on this particular point he seems to be almost an advocate for the side to which he is opposed.