Sunday 30 June 2019

Chapter 21 of the Fourth Gospel (of 'John') is not authentic

Since I collected my mini-book Lazarus Writes, about the Fourth Gospel ('John'), my then-belief that Chapter 21 was added considerably later has been amplified into a belief that it was added by another hand - i.e. not by the disciple who wrote (most of) the first 20 Chapters.

I already knew that the Gospel - from structural and narrative evidence - clearly finished at the end of Chapter 20. But I decided to go-along-with the traditional idea that the extra Chapter was added by the same author, later. 

The reason I now have for rejecting Chapter 21 is essentially intuitive from reading the first 20 chapters, and the 21st, and forming the hardening conviction that 21 is qualitatively different, has a different flavour. But mainly that Chapter 21 is 'making points' alien to the rest of the Gospel.

But then I began to reflect on why it had taken me such a time to reject Chapter 21. And there were two. First that I very much liked the closing verse:

25: And there are also many other things which Iesus did, the which if they should be written euery one, I suppose that euen the world it selfe could not conteine the bookes that should be written, Amen.

However, this liking of verse 25 is balanced by the dubious, authorially-alien explicit assertiveness of the previous verse, which rings false: This is the Disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things, and we know that his testimonie is true.

I also liked - and had been influenced by - this passage: 21-23 Peter seeing him, saith to Iesus, Lord, and what shall this man doe? Iesus saith vnto him, If I will that he tary till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that Disciple should not die: yet Iesus sayd not vnto him, He shall not die: but, If I will that he tary till I come, what is that to thee?

It was this passage which originally set me on the path to understanding that the resurrected Lazarus was the author of the Gospel; so I had a kind of gratitude and affection towards it. But it now seems to me that there is no compelling reason why this would mean that Chapter 21 was personally later added by Lazarus, rather than somebody else who simply knew-that the author of 1-20 was the resurrected Lazarus.

What counts against Chapter 21 being authored by the same author as 1-20? Firstly, that 21 is almost entirely about Peter - rather than telling us anything substantive about Jesus. From the perspective of the author of Chapters 1-20 and the clear and simple message he gives us - why bother adding 21 and spoiling the magnificent structure, muddying the clarity?

Secondly, that it includes the incomprehensible section on 'feed my lambs/ sheep' - which is unlike 1-20 in doctrine and substance - in the sense that there seems to be a new doctrine being introduced, and one that gives Peter a special role in the work of Jesus. Chapters 1-20 are all about the radical, personal, simplicity that if we follow Jesus with love, trust, faith (knowing him the fully-divine Son of God), then we will attain to life everlasting. The Holy Ghost/ Comforter provides all the guidance we each need.

It seems dissonant that this last and later Chapter should introduce a special, apparently vital, 'feeding' role for Peter. This strikes me as an alien, post hoc element, justifying intrusion. In other words, I regard it as having been added to justify why Peter had, by this later time - and after Peter's death, organised A Church with himself as leader of it.

Therefore, I now regard the Fourth Gospel as running from Chapters one to twenty only (noting a few probable excisions and additions).


James Higham said...

I must go back and re-read, reflect.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"We know that his [the Beloved Disciple's] testimony is true" was certainly written by someone other than that disciple himself.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - I always felt (and still do) that this kind of thing was stylistic - i.e. people referring to themselves in the third person. Personally, I wouldn't regard such points of grammar as the kind of thing upon which to hinge truth claims. I am much more confident of the Big Picture than of the specifics of notation and translation

dearieme said...

Mark was also fiddled with by another hand. Luke, Matthew: them too?

As I understand it nobody knows who the main author of each gospel was - the names are best viewed just as labels.

Have you had any scholarly support for your Lazarus conjecture?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I don't know or care about Biblical scholarship so I have not made any detailed comparison. Plenty of other people have suggested that Lazarus was the author, but I would suppose probably not for the same reasons (because I am arguing from a very different set of metaphysical assumptions about the nature of God, creation, Jesus, Heaven etc).

John Douglas said...

The last verse of chapter 21 is an elaborate version of the last verse of chapter 20 which would support your idea. Why write what appears to be a concluding statement and then do the same again in the 'additional' verse?

Adding tothe mystery is an odd tale in chapter 21. The story of the 153 fish. That is something which has puzzled comentators for a long time from St Augustine onwards.

I have read two modern interpretations of the story and they are recounted here -
Scroll down to 'Extra Data' The first explanation is by John Michell from his book "The Dimensions of Paradise" and the second is by David Fideler from his book "Jesus Christ, Sun of God" (not son of God as printed)

So you are correct in your idea that chapter 21 does seem to be written by somebody else and that somebody was possibly from a pre-Christian tradition; Greek, Persian, Indian? All very strange and keeps the synapses busy!

John Douglas

Bruce Charlton said...

@jd - 153 does look like numerology of a Pythagorean/ Platonic type (unless it is just some kind of error) - but either way it doesn't seem very interesting or important compared with the rest of the Fourth Gospel. The main substantive point of the 21 Chapter is apparently the focus on Peter. The author of 1-20 does tell several stories that reflect rather badly on Peter - perhaps the author of 21 was trying to redress the balance, but who knows, and I don't really care! - because the special aspects of the Fourth gospel (eye witness, the closest disciple, the first resurrected man, Jesus's brother in law etc) don't apply to 21.

Chip said...

For what it's worth, there is an historical novel,I,Joseph of Arimathea,pertaining to speculative British connections, and containing a sub theme of Lazarus writing the gospel on John's behalf.