Thursday, August 13, 2020

John 21:24 And John's Authorship

What I wish to show now is that John 21:24 belongs to a group of passages in the Gospel that may be termed self-disclosure texts. In several of the discourses of the Gospel, at a climactic point in the discourse, Jesus reveals that he is a person or entity that, up to that point in the conversation, had been spoken of in the third person. The Samaritan woman, for instance, after calling Jesus a prophet, refers to a third person, the Messiah who is to come. At the climax of their dialogue she states her belief that "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us" (4:25). At this point Jesus discloses, "I who speak to you am he" (4:26). On analogy with 4:26, the author of 21:24a could have written, "I who write to you am this disciple."…

But then comes the climactic Son of Man self-disclosure text in 9:37, and this one is even more like the self-disclosure in 21:24, for in it Jesus does not use "I" but maintains the use of the third person….On analogy with Jesus' self-disclosure in 9:37, the author of 21:24a would have written, "you have been reading this disciple's writing, and it is he who is bearing witness of these things to you," which is very close to what he did write…

At the end of his Gospel, by narrating a story about a character spoken of in the third person, and then at a climactic point in the narrative identifying himself as that character, the author follows the same pattern of self-disclosure that has been exemplified multiple times by the figure of Jesus in his narrative.

The obvious point is that 21:24ab is not a source-disclosure - the author disclosing that the principle source for the material in his book was the disciple who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper - but a self-disclosure, revealing that the author is that favored disciple….This is the most natural way to read the text grammatically, it is the way most suited to the Johannine literary tendencies, and it is the way early readers instinctively understood it. That some other party, an editor/redactor, could be thought to have slipped in between the beloved disciple and the author, at this point speaks only to the power of a pre-imposed theory about the composition of the Gospel….

If [the Beloved Disciple] had died, and the rumor [in John 21:23] had been allowed to circulate uncensored, then surely the focus would no longer be on the disciple and his death but on the Lord and his failure to return. This would seem especially so if, as many interpreters say, the disciple had been "long since dead." For in this case the community obviously would have somehow found a way to function successfully for a "long" period of time, despite the non-return of the Lord. And in that case, there surely would have been no need to reintroduce the potentially damaging rumor, and indeed there would have been an unnecessary risk in doing so. Verse 23 makes good sense, on the other hand, if the disciple was fully alive, and more especially so if he was quite old at the time when the book was released. For it was when he was no longer a young man, no longer middle-aged, but actually old and seemingly not far away from natural death, that such a rumor would be most capable of arousing the greatest interest….

The Gospel author's reticence about using the first person singular, but instead shifting to the plural when his authority comes into view [the "we" in John 21:24], is of a piece with his decision not to name himself explicitly in his Gospel. Compare Paul's "modest" uses of the epistolary plural in Rom 1:5…2 Cor 10:13…how Josephus switches from singular to plural when speaking of his intention to author a new book on matters relating to mutual relations between Jews [Antiquities Of The Jews, 4:198]…the plural here is simply a substitution for the singular, perhaps because it sounded a bit less pretentious….

From the aggregate of these passages [in the fourth gospel and the Johannine letters], at least two conclusions ought to be drawn. The first is that the verification in 21:24c, "we know that his testimony is true," is utterly domestic in John; it is not an oddity requiring a complex compositional theory to explain its existence. This eliminates the need for supposing that we might have here an intrusion of an outside third party before the Gospel was finished, or a later interpolation. Confessional verifications are a feature of the Johannine literature and in no other instance is the confessional verification given by an otherwise unknown, third party….

Second, and contrary to what is commonly held to be an indubitable fact, no matter how we understand the "we" in 21:24c, the verification here does not arise from a necessity to find a plurality of witnesses to legitimize or legalize the witness of the beloved disciple, least of all does it arise from some "extreme need to support the trustworthiness of the Johannine tradition." In two of the texts cited above (John 5:32; 12:50) it is Jesus who verifies that the Father's testimony is true, or that the Father's commandment is eternal life. In John, the Father is hardly someone who suffers an "extreme need" for external verification….

The author's use of the third person singular to refer to himself, both in the earlier narratives of the Gospel and here in 21:24 ("This is the disciple…his testimony is true"), was a common practice among ancient historical writers, it is a convention modeled by Jesus himself repeatedly in this Gospel, and it was easily recognized and understood as such by early readers of this Gospel….

The final two verses of the book, then, function as an "authentication" of the whole, by revealing that the author, as a participant in the narrative, is abundantly qualified to give his witness, and then by solemnly confessing his knowledge that the witness is true….

What this means is that those who seek support for the idea of a Johannine school of writers responsible for the writing of the Fourth Gospel ought to look for another "classic proof text for the School's existence." If there are any good reasons to posit an extensive redaction of this Gospel sometime after the death of the beloved disciple, they do not arise from John 21:24.

Charles Hill wrote a chapter about John 21:24 in Lois K. Fuller Dow, et al., edd., The Language And Literature Of The New Testament, p. 403-404, 406-408, n. 81 on 422-23, 431, 433-34, above excerpts originally cited by Jason Engwer

No comments:

Post a Comment