Often, people argue that the Gospel of John was not written by the Apostle John. In the past, some even suggested John was written as late as 160 A.D. However, the discovery of the John Rylands papyrus (P52 = Papyrus Ryl. Gr. 457) that contained a few verses from the Gospel of John and which is dated to around 125 A.D. pretty much ended arguments about dating it any later than around 100 A.D. But, of course, the dating of the Gospel is secondary to the Christian contention that it was written by the Apostle John or one of his immediate followers.
Recently, something was pointed out to me in the Gospel of John that adds to the evidence that it is historic. In J.P. Moreland's Scaling the Secular City, Dr. Moreland lists five marks of historicity in the Gospel materials: (1) the form of Jesus' sayings, (2) Other distinctive features in Jesus sayings, (3) the presence of irrelevant material, (4) the lack of relevant material, and (5) counter-productive features. While Moreland's category three (irrelevant material) deals more with the fact that the Gospels contain much material that would have been irrelevant to the growing Christian church and place it firmly in its early First Century context, it has a broader meaning. Specifically, the Gospels contain some incidental details that do not seem to be particularly important to the narratives that suggest that the latter are historic. For example, John 8:8 describes how Jesus bent down to write in the dirt during the attempted stoning of the prostitute. This detail is unimportant to the account, and many have noted that its inclusion suggests that it is part of the narrative because that's exactly what Jesus did. This "writing in the dirt" is one of the more noted examples of incidental details in the Gospel accounts which argue for their historicity. What I was shown, and am about to relate, would fit in most nicely with category three (irrelevant material), but is really more of an incidental detail like the "writing in the dirt" of John 8:8 which simply inserts a bit of human element into the narrative.
In John 20: 2-8, John (who orthodox Christianity largely agrees is the "beloved disciple" mentioned repeatedly throughout the Gospel) visits the empty tomb with Peter. What is interesting is how the author describes the trip to the empty tomb. I set forth the account here from the NASB with the verses that I find important for purposes of this post highlighted.
So [Mary Magdalene] ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.
Note that John mentions on three occasions that he beat Peter to the tomb. It first notes that John ran faster than Peter and beat him to the tomb, then notes that Peter was following John, and finally that John had come to the tomb first. Now, what theological signficance is played out by highlighting on three occasions that John beat Peter to the tomb? None, that I can discern. Some commentators suggest that John had more youthful exhuberance than Peter or that his greater love for Jesus propelled him to the tomb faster than Peter, but to mention it three times?
It seems to me that this is an incidental detail surrounding the arrival of John and Peter at the tomb that has an air of authenticity about it. To put it mildly -- John is proud of the fact that he could outrun Peter and makes sure to mention it repeatedly. John outran Peter and wants everyone to know it. So, not only is the detail incidental, it is evidence that John himself authored the Gospel that bears his name because there is no other reason to include this bit of pride into the account.
Now, before anyone says, "That's it? You're arguing that the Gospel of John was written by the Apostle John on that basis?" No, I am not saying that I am arguing that the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John on that basis alone. What I am saying is that this is an additional small bit of evidence that adds to the other evidence (external and internal) that the Gospel of John was written by the Apostle John. The question that I have for anyone who doubts that authorship by the Apostle John is this: why is the results of the race between Peter and John included? What theological purpose did it serve? How is this not an incidental detail that simply shows that the author was relating what really happened? I think this adds to the credibility of the orthodox view that the Apostle John did in fact author the Gospel that bears his name.