'Come and See': A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Introduction

i. John and the Synoptics


Because the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke, so called because of the closeness of their narrative and order) are so different, commentators on John tend to write of it in isolation.1 Nevertheless I wish to begin with some points about the Synoptics and their possible relationship with one another and with John. A very early tradition about the four gospels is provided by Irenaeus, writing in the last quarter of the second century:

Then, while Peter and Paul were spreading the good news in Rome and laying the church's foundations, Matthew put out the good news in writing among the Hebrews in their own language [Aramaic?]. Then after their death Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed on to us in writing what Peter had taught. And Luke, the follower of Paul, put down in a book the good news that he [Paul] had taught. Then John, the disciple of the Lord and the one that reclined upon his breast, himself issued the good news while residing in Ephesus in Asia.2

This formulation raises many questions which we have not the opportunity to discuss now, such as what distinction (if any) Irenaeus meant to make between the relationship of 'disciple' and that of 'follower', or the implications of his association of Matthew's gospel temporally with Peter and Paul's preaching in Rome for his understanding of the relationship between Matthew on the one hand and Peter and Paul on the other. What we will observe is that Irenaeus regarded the now standard order of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as reflecting the actual order of composition. Modern commentators are more likely to put Mark first and to be sceptical about the existence of an original Aramaic Matthew, which in any case is now lost if it ever did exist. That John was the last gospel to be completed seems to be very widely accepted. But does either this tradition or the modern ordering tell us anything about the relationship between John and the Synoptics?

I agree that Mark's Gospel was likely the first to be completed and John the last, with Matthew and Luke falling somewhere in between. Further I agree with those that posit a period of 30-40 years from the completion of Mark in the 60s to the final phase of John in 90-100. I am convinced by the arguments of scholars such as the late Martin Hengel3 that the Fourth Evangelist likely knew at least some, if not all of the Synoptic Gospels, particularly Mark and Luke, for it seems to me that he was deliberately writing, not in contradiction but in a kind of dialogue with them. What gives John's Gospel its unique 'flavour' is an all but unique tradition, based in Judaea and Jerusalem, concerning Jesus' ministry there, over which the Evangelist has had more opportunity to meditate, teach, and preach, not complete isolation from other gospels, other traditions.

If we are going to posit that the four canonical gospels were produced in a forty-year stretch of time, we need to account for the timing of this burst of activity. It seems likely to me that the drive to put the Good News into a written form was primarily the result of the disruption caused by the Jewish Wars. As a consequence the members of the eyewitness generation (that is, those who could testify to the events of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, as the Twelve were particularly commissioned to do according to Acts 1.8 & 1.21-2) were, like other Palestinian Jews and Christians, forced from their homes and communities, scattered just as the passage of time and natural loss was already depleting their numbers.

But the existence of eyewitnesses appears to have been pivotal for the early Christian movement. Such texts as the hymn Paul introduced in Philippians 2.5-11 show us how the early believers were encouraged and exhorted to follow the example of Jesus and imitate him. They must therefore have had access to a tradition about his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. That tradition was guaranteed not just by the teaching of those who first preached in those early communities, relating the story of Jesus as Peter did in outline form to the group gathered at the house of Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10.34-43), but also by the accessibility of a group of eyewitness who bore witness to the tradition.

In the 60s, the period in which Mark was most likely composing his gospel based on the preaching of Peter, the movement unexpectedly lost three senior and respected leaders (James the brother of the Lord, Paul, and Peter). It seems very probable that this was the sort of sudden shock that would force community leaders to think about safeguarding the tradition with written accounts, despite an apparent preference for oral recollection over written words (to which Papias was a witness)4.



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ii. The Five W's


Having established these points, let us begin to discuss our five questions, the so-called five Ws, Who, What, When, Where, and Why. These are the basic questions we should ask of any text, or any witness. They are all closely connected, but 'Who' 'When' and 'Where' are perhaps more closely intertwined with one another than they are with 'Why' and What'. So let's start there. Who was the Fourth Evangelist?

To ask this question immediately brings up important questions of historicity which should not, I think, be ignored. To hold the traditional view, that the author of this gospel was John son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve, and a close companion of Jesus during his ministry, even in an attenuated form, is to claim for this gospel not an inherited tradition such as is attributed to Mark or Luke, but a direct link with an eyewitness. This is not of course to claim that everything that the evangelist remembered was remembered accurately or in perfect order. But it is a claim that the gospel is not based (or not exclusively based) on external sources and traditions, but rather on recollections, however imperfect they might be.

The value of a claim to a direct eyewitness account is very great. Although we know that human memory is fallible we still (and rightly) regard A's testimony about what she saw as more reliable then either B's account of A's testimony or C's account of what another eyewitness told her when evaluating the evidence. Further I think that our own experience of eyewitness links to important events, whether public or private, shows that they impart a sense of the reality of an occurrence better than anything else. For example when I was in a first year university French course in 1969 the professor (who was at that time nearing retirement) told us an anecdote of her own experience (as a Belgian child during the First World War) of seeing mustard gas in use. The village in which she lived was behind the German lines and the villagers saw the German troops deploy the gas cylinders as the wind was setting toward the Allied lines. Suddenly the wind shifted and the heavy gas began to move backward toward the troops that had released it and the Germans began to run away. The story made a deep impression on me and gave me a vivid sense of connection with a war that had hitherto been only an affair of history books. Did Mme Derdeyn-Joseph remember exactly after about 50 years? Have I remembered exactly after nearly 45 years? Undoubtedly not in both cases. But I am equally sure that the event did happen and that both my recollection and hers are in that sense true, and not created from literary or historical sources that we had read or seen.

But is it this traditional view of Johannine authorship true? Is it even defensible as a hypothesis? That notable NT scholar and contrarian, the late J.A.T. Robinson, argued that it was defensible and mounted a spirited argument in its favour.5 On the other hand, Kysar says of the Evangelist that '[t]his figure stands too far back in the shadows of history for us to make anything more than a vague outline.'6 And Rudolf Bultmann so dissects the gospel into sources worked over by editors and redactors that the question is hardly meaningful in the context of his commentary.7 Indeed because so many scholars have offered complex theories about the stages of composition of this gospel, it is first necessary to ask how many hands were involved, and which one it is appropriate to call the authorial hand. Did one person, such as the mysterious 'beloved disciple', produce a gospel that was subsequently edited and expanded by an editor or redactor, possibly a follower of the original writer, possibly rather an corrector or improver? In such a case would we call the beloved disciple or his editor the evangelist?

Another possibility that has been offered by scholars is that of multiple stages of composition or drafts by the same writer over a period of years. Sometimes the two are combined, giving rise to a compositional theory in which the original writer worked over a period of years to produce a draft which was then edited and worked upon by a second writer, acting as an editor, or a series of such writers, all of whom left traces of their work in small inconsistencies or changes of style or discontinuities. So in answering the question 'Who wrote the Fourth Gospel?' we must deal with related questions, such as, 'In what stages was the gospel composed?' or 'Who was involved in its composition?'

Brown, Barret, Bultmann, and many others8 have resorted to such theories to explain what seem to them to be otherwise insurmountable difficulties of style or continuity. However it seems to me that Robinson was correct when he wrote in The Priority of John that a more probable explanation for the discontinuities observed by critics is that the Fourth Gospel never received a final edit by its author, for whatever reason.9 Another scholar who posited that the roughness and discontinuity observed in certain sections of the gospel can be attributed to the lack of a final edit by the author was Martin Hengel in The Johannine Question. He suggested that the evangelist worked through his material over a period of many decades and brought it to its present form in his old age. Upon his death it was published by his students and followers who nevertheless made no corrections in what the old man had written.10

But even if we assume (as I think we should) a long period of composition at the hands of a single author, who (for whatever reason) failed to give the gospel a final 'going-over', we must still deal with the question, who was that author? Many are convinced on internal grounds that he was the 'disciple whom Jesus loved', that is, the so-called Beloved Disciple (referred to by Brown 1966 p xciv and thereafter as BD), but then we must still identify 'BD'! Four main theories seem to hold sway in this area, the first two of which have the backing of some external evidence: 1) the BD was John son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve; 2) the BD was John the Presbyter (or John the Elder), a disciple known to us from Papias; 3) the BD is Lazarus, or John Mark, or some other figure not connected with the gospel in any external evidence; and 4) it is not possible to determine who the BD was or even if the BD is a real, rather than an idealised, figure, nor does it matter11. The fourth hypothesis is most likely to be put forward in a context in which neither historicity nor a link to an eyewitness is a point of concern or contention, such as in Kysar 2007. To come to any conclusion as to these theories, we should first examine the internal evidence of the gospel itself and also the external evidence from tradition.

First of all we should take into account the evidence of titles in the MS tradition. Hengel has established that these titles are very old and likely to be original. There is no reason to suppose that the gospels ever circulated without them.12 From the NA28 critical edition we can see that the author is named John in many MSS, including the earliest and best MSS. This does not get us as far as it might, since there are a number of men referred to in the NT and early Christian tradition whose name was John. To name but a few, there are John the Baptist, John the son of Zebedee, John Mark, the father of Peter, and John the Elder (or Presbyter). The trick is to determine which if any of the known Johns is responsible for the Fourth Gospel. At least however the title refutes speculation that the Fourth Gospel may have been written by a woman.13

Internally this gospel identifies an unnamed disciple, referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved, as its author in Jn 21.24: 'This [referring back to the disciple whom Jesus loved mentioned in vv.20-3] is the disciple who bears witness to these things and who wrote these things, and we know that his witness is true.'14 This disciple whom Jesus loved is first referred to in Jn 13.23 in the account of the Last Supper. There he is described as reclining at table at Jesus' right. He reappears in Jn 19.26-7 as part of a group at the foot of the cross and one to whose care Jesus entrusts his mother; in Jn 20.2-10 as accompanying Peter to Jesus' tomb (where he is called 'the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved'); and in Jn 21.2-20 as part of the group of 7 disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.

In addition there are four references to another disciple, or other disciples, left unidentified: in Jn 1.35, reference is made to two unnamed disciples of John the Baptist. In Jn 1.40 one of these is identified as Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, but the other remains unidentified. In Jn 18.15-16 another disciple appears with Simon Peter who is able to get Peter into the high priest's courtyard because he is well-known to the high priest. In Jn 21.2 the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias are Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others. The following verses make clear that one of these 7 is the BD. But is he one of the five named disciples, or one of the two others? On the basis of Jn 20, it seems more likely that he was one of the 'others' but of course that cannot be determined with certainty. The other disciple of Jn 18 is usually identified, I think correctly, with the BD. The hardest to deal with is the unnamed disciple in Jn 1.30 because the expression 'the other disciple' or 'another disciple' is not applied to him. However I think we would be justified in seeing all of these references, in which a disciple is present to witness or take part in a key event but is unnamed, as to the BD. In the same category I would put the unidentified witness of Jn 19.35: he is not identified as a disciple but his role as witness closely parallels that of the BD in Jn 21.24.

What does it mean to identify the evangelist as one whom Jesus loved? It can't be an exclusive designation -- Jesus presumably loved all his disciples. Is it a self-designation, or was it introduced to the passages where it is found as an addition by the same followers or students of the evangelist that added Jn 21.24? In either case it seems to me most likely that it was intended to show that the evangelist and Jesus were close friends, just as we also are told that Jesus loved Lazarus to emphasise their close friendship. There is some confirmation of this theory in the fact we are told that the evangelist was reclining so near to Jesus at the Last Supper that, when he leant back to speak with him, his head rested on Jesus' chest.

What else can we learn from the internal evidence? It suggests that although the author was not well-versed in secular Greek literature, he knew the Septuagint well and wrote a very Biblical Greek. Because the material that is unique to this gospel takes place mostly (though not exclusively) in and around Jerusalem, it suggests that the BD was himself Judean. It may imply that he did not accompany Jesus throughout his Galilean ministry but may have been part of a Judean or Jerusalem ministry. His association with the high priest and the social status of many of those with whom he describes Jesus as interacting suggest first that he may himself have been of a priestly family and second that he may have been from a well-to-do background. But all these matters must remain purely speculative.

The external evidence from church tradition is generally taken to indicate that Christians of the second and third centuries thought that the BD was John the son of Zebedee. As we have mentioned, Robinson and Carson, for example, review the evidence and argue for that interpretation. Other scholars, such as Bauckham and Hengel, argue for another interpretation, that early evidence, especially from Syria, points to another John, John the Elder, from Ephesus, who was later conflated with John son of Zebedee. How do we judge between these hypotheses? In the case of John son of Zebedee, we can compare what other gospels tell us about him with what can be deduced from external evidence about the BD. In the case of John the Elder, many proponents also argue that the Elder is the author of the three Johannine epistles, which gives another basis for discussion. But in both cases the criteria are very subjective. I myself find Bauckham's arguments convincing on the side of John the Elder, but I respect the judgement of those who side with Carson or Robinson and chose John son of Zebedee.

So if we opt for John the Elder as the most likely candidate to be the BD, and the answer to our earlier question, 'Who wrote the gospel?', we are pointed to answers to the interrelated questions of 'Where' and 'When'. The external evidence associates both the Elder and the Fourth Gospel with the city of Ephesus, and there seems no reason to question this. Both external and internal evidence suggest that John the Elder was long-lived, outliving most other personal disciples of Jesus, and the external traditions point to a later date for the fourth gospel than any of the Synoptics. So let us say that John the Elder likely wrote this gospel toward the end of his life, in the city of Ephesus, probably finishing it in the form which we now have in the 90s CE. Like several of the scholars already cited (particularly Robinson, Bauckham, and Hengel), I think we should presume that the gospel was published by the elder's own disciples after his death without any editorial changes.

In moving from the first three closely-intertwined questions of Who, When, and Where to the last two interconnected questions Why and What, we are still offered guidance by both internal evidence and external traditions. The internal evidence is quite straight-forward. In John 20.30-1 the Elder gives as his purpose in writing a desire to select from all the signs that Jesus performed a group which would influence readers to believe: 'Jesus indeed did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that you, as ones that trust, may have life in his name.' [[Be sure this transl matches w/final version of ch 20]] So this gospel was written that its readers or hearers will have life by trusting that Jesus is the Messiah. The way this will be accomplished is through the signs that the Elder has chosen to retell, selected from all the many signs (see Jn 21.25), although this is never explained.

The word 'sign', 'semeion' (σημεῖον' in Greek), is sometimes applied generally in the Fourth Gospel to refer to all the works of power (ie, miracles) that Jesus has performed, as in John 2.23: ' When he was in Jerusalem during Passover at the festival, many put their trust in his name, seeing the signs that he did.' But the word 'sign' is also applied specifically to seven events in the gospel:

  • the changing of water into wine at Cana (2.11)

  • healing the royal official's son at Cana (4.54)

  • the healing at Bethesda (6.2)

  • the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (6.14, 26)

  • healing the man born blind (9.16)

  • raising Lazarus from the dead (12.18)

  • the Crucifixion and Resurrection (2.18-19)15

These are presumably then the particular signs to which the Elder referred in Jn 20. We are left to intuit though our experience of the gospel how these seven wondrous acts function as signs and how the signs work to inspire our trust in Jesus. This is partly the work of the conversations and dialogues that are interspersed with the signs in chapters 2-11 of the gospel, to reveal the meaning of what the signs point to and invite us into relationship with the one who is the doer and focus of the signs. Hence Dodd joins signs and discourses into seven episodes that make up part 1 of the gospel in his analysis16

The external evidence for the purpose behind the fourth gospel is little more than an elaboration of what we've already seen in the text itself, describing John as encouraged or exhorted by other disciples and bishops.17 As time goes on the detail is added that John wrote his gospel to combat heresy, especially Gnostic heresy. There seems little reason to think that any of this elaboration belongs to a reliable tradition (although Bauckham tries to reconstruct what Papias may have written on this score). Here the internal evidence should probably be let to stand alone.

This leaves a final question: what is it that the evangelist has written? Here the answer to Why points the way to What. We have seen that the Elder's announced intention was to show the signs that point to salvation. And this is the role of the Gospel, that is, the good news of God in Christ that was announced by the early church as they evangelised the Mediterrean world. So that discloses the simple answer to our question: the Elder has written a gospel, that is, his account of that good news. In recent years a great deal has been written arguing that the four canonical gospels fall into the genre of bioi (βίοι), or lives. That is, that they are in effect ancient biographies, similar to the writings of Plutarch, Cornelius Nepos, or Tacitus.18 This is not to say that the gospel genre as a whole is itself a subgenre of ancient biography: while the canonical gospels may take that form, there are other gospels that do not fit the pattern. The Gospel of Thomas, for instance, is exclusively a sayings-gospel, made up of apparently independent sayings attributed to Jesus, many of which appear to be derived from the canonical gospels. So the label 'gospel' was not applied exclusively to compositions that were biographies.

But even though the 'bioi' label cannot be applied to all gospels, these studies show that conformity to at least some of the conventions of ancient biography and historiography create expectations on the part of both readers and writers, expectations that contribute to our assessment of the historicity of the canonical gospels.19 Perhaps this helps explain why these gospels were the ones to be canonised, if this is not imposing too modern concerns on patristic writers and councils.

We can say then that the Elder was writing a gospel in a form that was enough like a 'bios' to create certain expectations in a contemporary educated Greco-Roman audience about the historicity of the story he was telling and the teaching of Jesus as presented in it. We can also say that in choosing to write a gospel at all he was proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ according to his own knowledge and understanding of the message. The Elder wrote in order that we, his readers, might trust that Jesus was the Messiah. Because that good news is at the centre of the gospel proclamation, he could best fulfil that purpose by writing what he and others would have called a gospel.

Our Five W's allow us to paint a small but vivid picture of the Evangelist: nearly 1,925 years ago, a elderly leader of the Ephesus church died while working on the final revisions to his gospel, based on his own recollections of the teaching, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was not quite finished: some additions and edits had not been fully integrated and smoothed out. But it was so nearly finished that the old teacher's own disciples made only a few additions of their own but made no changes or corrections to what he had left. They published his work as the fruits of his years of teaching and preaching and certified his authority for it as a personal disciple of Jesus, one of the last still living. It circulated throughout the Christian world, reaching Egypt within a few decades of its publication and became one of the four gospels that make up the Church's proclamation of the one Gospel.

Related to these five questions that intertwine about the basic question of authorship is the question of audience. To whom was the Elder's gospel addressed? For whom was it written? Can we discover anything useful about its audience from the internal and external evidence that we used above? Various potential audiences have been deduced by scholars over the decades, based on their readings of the internal evidence provided by the gospel and the Johannine Epistles.20 A few examples will suffice to show the range of opinions. J.A.T Robinson posited that the intended audience was Diaspora Jews.21 Hengel concluded the gospel was aimed at 'a mainly Gentile-Christian audience, probably somewhat similar to the earlier Pauline communities'.22 J.L. Martyn has argued for a distinctive Johannine community which is the intended audience of the gospel and for whom it has been imbued with characteristic symbolic language and expressions referring to their shared history.23 On the other hand Bauckham and others have argued against Martyn's picture of the Johannine Community and posited that the Fourth Gospel, and indeed all the canonical gospels, were written with the wider Christian community in view, rather with a narrower or more specific focus.24

Clearly this is an area, like the question of authorship, in which there are many contending points of view. Let us look at the internal and external evidence and see what it may tell us. Dealing with the external evidence is quite easy -- it has almost nothing to say about what the audience may have been, and what little there is, is inferential. As already indicated there is late and not very reliable tradition that the Fourth Gospel was written at the urging of other apostles and bishops to answer and refute heresy, specifically Gnostic heresy. If there is any truth at all in that tradition it implies a wide audience of intended readers, for the gospel 'remedy' would be intended to spread as far as the heretical 'disease'.

Just as the Elder's style of writing suggests familiarity with Septuagintal Greek, his themes and many of his underlying concepts suggest he assumed a deep familiarity with the Old Testament, at least in its Greek form. He may have felt it necessary to explain the meaning of words like 'Messiah' or 'Rabboni' with Greek equivalents, but he did not have to explain the concept of a Messiah or spell out his allusions to Deuteronomy or the Prophets. That could point to two groups that were evangelistically targeted by the early Christian community: Diaspora Jews and Gentile 'god fearers', or equally well to local Christian communities made up of converts from both groups. It might also point to local Christian communities whose members, whatever their origin, had become fully conversant with the Greek Bible.

His use of the term 'the Jews' and debates about who the true Israelite is or the true descendants of Abraham are (discussed below) have pointed some scholars in the direction of intra-Jewish argument and hence an audience made up primarily of Jews or Jewish Christians at some point in the process of breaking away from the movement's original matrix in Second Temple Judaism. But such conflict between Christian and non-Christian Jews might be a concern of Gentile Christians as well, especially those who had been first attracted to Judaism.

Although it is difficult to find a path among the often-contradictory opinions expressed by scholars on the question of audience, it does seem to me that the weight of the internal evidence points toward an audience within the nascent church rather than outside it. That is, that the Elder's gospel seems aimed at building up groups of believers rather than making new converts. Although some details in the gospel may reflect the make-up or interests of the community or group of communities that the Elder led, that community or group would not have been his only focus. He would have known that if his gospel engaged and strengthened them it would quickly spread along the network of people and communities that made up the early church.25



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iii. Style and Structure


The Fourth Gospel is well-known for its characteristic prose style. This stands out even in translation. So pervasive is its style that it has famously been said that if the Evangelist used written sources, he wrote them himself. Both his style and the structure of his gospel are quite different from the Synoptic writers. Beginning with Mark, all three Synoptic writers narrate Jesus’ public ministry of healing and exorcism and the momentous events of his last days and his resurrection. And they present Jesus’ teaching primarily in the form of parables, many of which are drawn from everyday events in the lives of rural villagers and shepherds.

In John’s gospel this pattern is altered, at least in part. Still following the Markan pattern to some extent, the Elder has as his primary focus within the public ministry a selected group of seven miraculous signs and a series of conversations and discourses by Jesus that are far different in style and content than the parable-based teaching of the Synoptics. There are hardly any parables at all in the Fourth Gospel: parables rooted in the pattern of life in rural Galilee are replaced by more universal themes and images such as bread, water, life, death, light, and dark, often arranged in contrasting pairs.

These pairs of antonyms have led many to regard the Fourth Gospel as nearly dualistic, offering a black-and-white picture of the world and human choices. The Evangelist does seem to have regarded the coming of the Son into the world because of the incarnation of the Word as creating a crisis of judgment, wherein human beings are forced to choose whether to put their trust the Son or not. However he does not seem to have portrayed the world as inherently dualistic. The black and white effect results from God's action, which brought about the necessity of choice. So it is the result of the Incarnation rather than the natural order of things.

And the choices that the Evangelist describes are not always clearly either for or against the Son. In the conversation at the well in chapter 4, the woman's decision is clear and unambiguous. Yet in chapter 3 Nicodemos apparently made no choice at all. The conversation ended with Jesus' near-monologue, to which there was no response. Yet by Nicodemos' third appearance in the Gospel, he has clearly made a choice, and it is for the Son. So the Evangelist is capable of dealing with ambiguity and even with shades of grey.

Why then are the choices presented in this gospel so often stark? It seems most likely that he was trying to create a sense of great urgency in his readers by putting the stakes very high, as it were. To John, there was no more important choice to be made, and he wanted his readers to understand that as he did, and make their choices accordingly. The need to provide his readers with what they need to know so that they too could make this choice dictated much of the style and structure of his gospel. The seven signs (see pp 12-13 above) around which much of the body of the gospel are organised have been selected by the evangelist so that those readers 'may trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that [they], as ones that trust, may have life in his name' (Jn 20.31).

The structure and organisation of the Fourth Gospel has been a vexed question for many commentators. Some (of whom Rudolf Bultmann is the outstanding modern example) reorder parts of the text to provide what they believe to be the true or original order. Although most commentators do not go so far as that, there is still no agreement about the exact extent of the major sections or on their internal organisation. Most commentators posit a prologue and an epilogue, although they disagree about the authorship and chronology of those sections. Most also posit a break at the end of chapter 12. The arrangement of the gospel as a whole appears to be roughly chronological, although the evangelist's selectivity means that this is not completely certain, and there is not general agreement on this point.

At least since the work of C.H. Dodd most commentators have divided the middle section into two parts, one generally called the book of signs (extending to chapter 12) and another called by Dodd the book of the passion and by Brown, the book of glory (chapters 13-20).26 However, because the signs extend beyond chapter 12 to include the death and resurrection of Jesus, I think it is better not to speak of a book of signs and a book of glory. What ever names we may give the subdivisions, it seems clear that the gospel has three main segments: a preface, comprising the prologue (Jn 1.1-18) and the witness of John the Baptist and resulting calls of disciples (Jn 1.19-51); a long central section, narrating seven signs chosen by the evangelist to spur a response of faith in his readers, interspersed with discourses, dialogues, and debates (Jn 2.1-20.31) as well as a Passion narrative; and an epilogue (Jn 21).The central section does fall naturally into two parts, one narrating the first 6 signs performed during Jesus' ministry of teaching and healing, and the second beginning with the Last Supper and culminating in the final and most significant sign, Jesus' death and Resurrection (and two subsequent appearances). According to this schema, chapter 12 of the gospel provides a transition between those two parts.

In addition to the seven signs around which much of the central section of the gospel is organised, there are two other groups of sevens, composed of 'I AM' sayings, sayings of Jesus that involve the verb 'I am', in Greek, 'egō eimi'. They fall into two categories, either a phrase, 'I am' plus a predicate, a figurative statement about Jesus and his identity (eg, 'I am the living bread') or 'I am' used absolutely, without any predicate, a possible reflection of Old Testament theophanies, a usage markedly different from that of the other gospels.27

In the Greek Bible, 'I am' can be used absolutely as I self-identification in situations in which English would employ 'It is I' or the more colloquial 'It's me'.But it can also be an echo of the divine name 'YHWH', based on Moses' encounter with the Voice speaking from a burning bush at Horeb, the mountain of God, in Ex 3. That voice commissions him to free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Moses asks for a sign to give to people when they challenge him; God's response is to reveal his true name YHWH for the first time -- as NRSV renders it, 'I AM WHO I AM'. God continues 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you"'. The two 'I AM' sayings in the Fourth Gospel that most clearly echo the divine name YHWH are Jn 6.20 and Jn 18.5 (repeated in vv. 6 and 8), but there are five others that are more ambiguous, and seemingly function simultaneously on both the level of a theophany and that of a self-identification. They are Jn 4.26, 8.24, 8.28, 8.58, and 13.19. [[expand?]]

The second group is more familiar and consists of statements by Jesus about himself: 'I am the living bread' (6.35); 'I am the light of the world' (8.12, 9.5); 'I am the gate for the sheep' (10.7); 'I am the good shepherd' (10.11); 'I am the resurrection and the life' (11.35); 'I am the way, the truth, and the light' (14.6); and 'I am the true vine' (15.1, 15.5). These statements are revelatory, that is, each of them reveals something about Jesus and his role. Some of these statements, like the parables of the Synoptic gospels, draw on situations of agrarian life such as sheep herding or vine dressing. Others are based on even more pervasive imagery, such as light, life, and bread.

Bauckham argues that there is a series of seven passages in the Greek Bible that use the Greek expression 'ego eimi' (I AM) in a way that is parallel to the seven absolute I AMs in John's Gospel. They are: Deuteronomy 32.39, Isaiah 41.4, 43.10/13/25, 46.4, 48.12, 51.12, and 52.6. In his view the existence of this group of absolute I AMs in the First Testament strengthens the case that the absolute I AMs in John's Gospel function on two levels. For Bauckham the seven figurative I AMs in the gospel echo the seven signs: both are revelatory, teaching us something about Jesus. But the seven absolute I AMs echo these I AMs from the Greek Bible as part of Jesus' unique claims of divinity and of identification with YHWH.28

[[ Also see discussion on RBauckham 2007 pp 106-12 re speeches/discourses and sayings?]]

In what follows I have been influenced by the analysis offered by CH Dodd and Raymond Brown, as well as [[May need to add more names here later]], but have not in the end adopted any of their analyses completely. In addition, I regard both the prologue and epilogue as authorial. After much reading and consideration, I have decided to treat the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7.53-8.11), as a part of the gospel, rather than as an interruption that disturbs the flow of the narrative and does not belong in the Fourth Gospel at all. The gospel here falls into fifteen sections (some broken down into subsections) as follows:


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1In the discussion which follows I have particularly relied on the Introduction to Brown 1966, especially sections II (pp xxiv-xl) and VII (pp lxxxvii-civ), Hengel 1989, especially , and Bauckham 2007, especially essays 2 and 3 (pp 33-91).

2Adv. Hereses 3.1.1: 'Ὁ μὲν δὴ Ματθαῖος ἐν τοῖς Ἐβραίοις τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ αὐτῶν, καὶ Γραφὴν ἐξήνεγκεν Εὐαγγελίου, τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ τοῦ Παύλου ἐν Ρώμῃ εὐαγγελιζομένων, καὶ θεμελιούντων τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν. Μετὰ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἔξοδον, Μάρκος ὁ μαθητὴς καὶ ἑρμηνευτὴς Πέτρου, καὶ αὐτὸς τὰ ὑπὸ Πέτρου κηρυσσόμενα ἐγγράφως ἡμῖν παραδέδωκε. Καὶ Λουκᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀκόλουθος Παύλου, τὸ ὑπ'ἐκείνου κηρυσσόμενον Εὐαγγέλιον ἐν βιβλίῳ κατέθετο. Ἔπειτα Ἰωάννης ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ Κυρίου, ὁ καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ ἀναπεσὼν, καὶ αὐτὸς ἐξέδωκε τὸ Εὐαγγέλιον, ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τῆς Ἀσίας διατρίβων'.

3In Hengel 1989.

4See the discussion in Bauckham 2006 pp 12-23, especially 21-3.

5See Robinson 1985 pp 99-122.

6Kysar 2007 p 34.

7But see Bultmann 1971 pp 677-9, 697-9, and 715-18; clearly to Bultmann what we can know is what the redactor thought or what the author of the Signs-source thought, rather than any historically verifiable information.

8See section II of the Introduction in Brown 1966, pp xxiv-xl, especially xxxiv-xxxix; [[GET BARRETT REF]]; [[GET BULTMANN REF]]; compare also Kysar 1975 pp 13-81, especially 38-66.

9Robinson 1985, pp 17-18.

10Hengel 1989 pp 102-8

11See Brown 1966 pp lxxxvii-cii for all four hypothesis and a qualified version of the first; Carson 1991 pp [[GET]] for the first; Bauckham 2006 pp 412-71, especially 420-3, and Hengel ch IV (pp 74-108) argue versions of the second; and as discussed above Kysar 2007 discusses the fourth.

12Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1985), ch 3, 'The Titles of the Gospels and the Gospel of Mark' 64-94 (text), 162-83 (notes).

13[[REF TO KYSAR 2007]]

14This verse appears to have been one of several inserted by the BD's surviving associates when they published his gospel, as will be discussed below.

15 See Bauckham 2007 pp 273--4. Relying on different principles of selection, Brown 1966 pp cxxxviii-cxliv provides a slightly different list of signs (with the Walking on the Water in ch 6 listed instead of the Resurrection).

16Dodd 1953 pp 297-389; see also Brown 1966 p cxlii.

17Bauckham 2007 pp 33-72, especially pp 58-68.

18For an overview of these studies, see Richard A. Burridge, 'About People, by People, for People: Gospel Genre and Audience' in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audience, Richard Bauckham, ed (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), pp 113-45.

19 See the discussions in Bauckham 2007 pp 16-21 and 93-5 concerning genre and expectations.

20I do not intend to discuss the Johannine Epistles here; for those wishing to engage with these texts and their relationship with the Fourth Gospel, I suggest as a starting point Hengel 1989.

21In Robinson 1960, especially pp 119-25.

22Hengel 1989 p 119.

23See J. Louis Martyn, The Gospel of John in Christian History: Essays for Interpreters (Paulist Press: New York, Ramsey, Toronto; 1978) pp 90-2.

24See the essays in Bauckham (ed) 1998, especially the first, Richard Bauckham, 'For Whom Were the Gospels Written', pp 9-48.

25See Michael B. Thompson, ‘The Holy Internet: Communication Between Churches in the First Christian Generation’ in Bauckham (ed) 1998, 49-70.

26Dodd 1953 289-91; Brown GET REF

27There are some occasions in Matthew and Mark (eg, Mt 14/27/Mk 6.50, Mk 14.62) where we should perhaps also see a usage similar to John's.

28 See Bauckham 2007 pp 243-4, 248-9

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