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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Gospel of John in a Historical Perspective.

1.

The unity of the gospel is sometimes marred by contradictions: twice Jesus brings his activity to an end ( 10:40–2 and 12:37–43 ). Jesus' first sign in Cana is followed by different signs in Jerusalem, but in 4:54 a miracle in Galilee is called the second one. In 7:3–5 Jesus' brothers speak as if the Master had not done any signs in Jerusalem, despite 2:23 and ch. 5 . In 16:5 Jesus seems to ignore the questions Peter and Thomas had already put in 13:36 and 14:5 . In 14:31 Jesus says, ‘Rise, let us be on our way’, yet he continues his farewell discourse. In 20:30–1 the reader is given a conclusion but the book continues in ch. 21 . Some of the contradictions are not very important, but it is impossible to ignore the question of an evolution behind our present gospel.

2.

Different theories have been proposed: (1) Rearrangements: the best known hypothesis is that originally ch. 6 was placed before ch. 5. Bultmann (1971 ) proposes many other rearrangements, which are hardly acceptable. (2) Sources: in his commentary Bultmann also proposes three different sources behind our gospel: a sign-source, a Gnostic source, and a passion narrative source. Moreover he thinks that a later redactor has reworked the gospel, adding to it sacramental and traditional eschatological material (for other source analyses, see Fortna 1970; 1988; Boismard 1977 ). I am sceptical about the possibilities of reconstructing different sources behind the Gospel of John. (3) Different editions: with other exegetes such as Lindars (1972 ), my belief is that parts of the gospel have been added in a second edition, e.g. chs. 6; 15–17; 21 . Probably the evangelist himself reworked his gospel in a process of ‘re-reading’ to which others also have contributed. (4) The history of the Johannine community: in Brown (1979 ) we find a reconstruction of the history of the Johannine community. Between 50 and 90 there were two groups, one centred around a man who had known Jesus and would become the ‘beloved disciple’; this group accepted Jesus as a Davidic Messiah. Another group was critical about the temple cult and understood Jesus against a Mosaic background. The fusion of these two groups was the catalyst for the development of a high Christology, which was expressed in a first version of the gospel. About 90 CE the community became more anti-Jewish under the influence of converted pagans. This was reflected in a new version of the gospel. Around 100 CE a faction gathered around the author of the Johannine letters and fought against the Docetists who overinterpreted the divine aspect in the gospel and neglected Jesus' humanity. Such reconstructions are interesting but are difficult to prove. They simply project contradictions in the Johannine literature onto a historical axis.

3.

My own view is that the main author, whom I call ‘the evangelist’, tries to unite his community by transmitting the testimony of the beloved disciple. This person is presented in such a way that the reader who knows the synoptic tradition can identify him with John the son of Zebedee. Historically it is possible that somebody other than the apostle John was the mediator, but the evangelist wants us to identify the beloved disciple with the apostle. This is quite in agreement with an old tradition we find in Irenaeus (Adv. haer. 2.22.5; 3.1.1; cf. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.20. 4–8). The final version of the gospel was probably produced about 90–100 in Ephesus (see details in Hengel 1993 ).

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