September 26, 2020

The Original Copy of the Gospel of John in Ephesus?

The Apostle John writing his Gospel
The Chronicon Paschale is a seventh century Christian chronicle of the history of the world written in Greek, probably in Constantinople, whose anonymous author called it an Epitome of the ages from Adam the first man to the 20th year of the reign of the most August Heraclius.  
The work starts with an extract from Philo, On the Life of Moses, Book 3.  Then it says, “So much for Philo”, and tells us that after the fall of Jerusalem under Vespasian, various ecclesiastical writers discussed the question of the date of Easter, including Peter of Alexandria, an unknown Tricentius, the great Athanasius, and Epiphanios. We then pass into material on the subject itself, beginning with Peter of Alexandria from his lost work on Easter, written towards the end of the third century.
In this excerpt from the lost work of Peter, who was the Archbishop of Alexandria, we come across the following interesting passage:

...ἤν δὲ παρασκευὴ τοῦ πάσχα· ὥρα ἦν ὡσεὶ τρίτη· καθὼς τὰ ἀκριβῆ βιβλία περιέχει, αὐτό τε τὸ ἰδιόχειρον τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ, ὅπερ μέχρι νῦν πεφύλακται χάριτι θεοῦ ἐν τῇ Ἐφεσίων ἁγιωτάτῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν πιστῶν ἐκεῖσε προσκυνεῖται. was the preparation of the passover, about the third hour, as the correct books render it, that which was written by the hand of the evangelist, which until now is preserved by the grace of God in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there venerated by the faithful.
The evangelist here is John.  This is a claim that the original copy of John’s Gospel was preserved at Ephesus at the time of the writer, namely Peter of Alexandria, in the late third century.
The context is the discrepancy between Mark 15:25, which says that Jesus was crucified at the third hour; and John 19:14, which says that Pilate sentenced Jesus to death at the sixth hour.
Peter is saying that the text of John 19:14 is corrupt, and should read “third hour”, rather than “sixth hour”; and he is appealing to the original copy of John’s Gospel! 
Now it should be made clear, Peter of Alexandria nowhere mentions that he himself saw this original copy of the Gospel of John written by the evangelist himself, though it seems like this text was known at the time and possibly widely studied. The problem is that no other source mentions it, though it is significant that Peter feels no need to have to defend its authenticity.
According to ancient tradition, the Gospel of John is said to have been written in Ephesus (some say it was written in Patmos with the Apocalypse), where the Apostle John also died and was buried and where there was later a basilica built over his grave. It would not be unusual for his Gospel to have been preserved, at least for a few centuries, in Ephesus. 

St. Peter of Alexandria
Nor would it be unusual at the time for the original copy of any Gospel of the four evangelists to have survived. It is well known that when the relics of the Apostle Barnabas were discovered in the fifth century in a cave of Cyprus, an original copy of the Gospel of Matthew was found placed over his breast, and this original Gospel was later kept in the palace of Constantinople for centuries and venerated by the faithful.
Was this manuscript in fact an original handwritten copy of the Gospel of John by the Apostle John himself? It seems highly probable that it was, though we cannot possibly tell with absolute surety. What we do know is that it was believed to have been by the Church in Ephesus, which best preserved the traditions of the Apostle John. It also is very interesting that for centuries after the Apostles, manuscript copies of the Gospels, at least the Gospel of John, were checked in comparison to the originals, which may explain why there is such a strong unity of accuracy in the manuscript tradition of the Gospels.