Richard Bauckham on Why John 21 Should be Read as an Epilogue

Monday, 18 Nov 2019

Shane Rosenthal: Why do some liberal New Testament scholars argue that chapter 21 of the Fourth Gospel is actually a later edition that was not penned by John?
Richard Bauckham:  Well, the main reason they argue this is because the last couple of verses of chapter 20 look like the end of the book, and then when you read chapter 21 you find, as it were, another ending. But I think if you look closely, what you’ve actually got is a two-part ending, because at the end of chapter 20, John refers to the signs that Jesus did, whereas at the end of chapter 21, he refers to all the things that Jesus did. So the end of chapter 20 is the end of the narrative of the signs, which of course is a major part of John’s Gospel, but by no means the whole of this narrative. I think for John, the resurrection is the seventh and final sign that he narrates; you know, it’s the great climactic sign. So by the end of chapter 20 he’s basically completed the account of the signs, but he hasn’t complete the whole of his narrative until you get to the end of chapter 21. Between those sort of, two-parts of the ending, we have an epilogue that corresponds to the prologue at the beginning of the Gospel. And it really is meant to be an epilogue (i.e., a section which follows on from that part which you might think is the main ending). But an epilogue can very well be planned as part of a literary work (which appears to be the case here since there appear to be some echoes of John’s prologue material in the epilogue), so it doesn’t have to be added on afterwards as someone else’s afterthought. Therefore, I think in literary terms, the prologue and the epilogue correspond at the two ends of the Gospel, and as it were, enclose the main body of the narrative.

Richard Bauckham is professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, senior scholar at Ridley Hall Cambridge, and the author of Jesus & The Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

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