Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 23
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Chapter 14. The Gospel of John as Eyewitness Testimony
In the next few chapters Bauckham turns to address the Johannine evidence concerning eyewitness testimony. Notably, the concluding verses of John’s Gospel claim: ‘This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true’. The obvious reading of this verse in context indicates that the disciple in question (‘the disciple Jesus loved’) wrote the Gospel. However, the usual demotion of the Gospel of John in modern scholarship has lead many to attempt arguments that evade the import of these words. However, Bauckham forcefully shows that both those trying to expand the meaning of the Greek verb graphein and those who restrict the referent of ‘these things’ to either chap 21 alone or a written source behind the canonical Gospel, are using faulty reasoning. Rather, the words from John 21:24 cited above require that the Beloved disciple ‘was substantially responsible both for the content and for the words of the book’. Naturally, this may be factually incorrect, but it is still the import of the Gospel text, despite the many scholars who have adopted one of the evasion strategies above.
Most scholars, however, have understood the Gospel to have originally ended at the end of chap 20, thus making the words cited above part of a later editorial addition. Against this majority opinion, Bauckham argues that there are clear and deliberate associations between the Prologue and the Epilogue such that it is unlikely that the Gospel ever existed without chap 21. To maintain this conclusion he must deal with the problem that chap 20 appears to have its own conclusion (vv. 30-31). Bauckham thus proceeds to analyse and compare the two texts (20:30-31 and 21:24-25) in depth arguing that while the texts are parallel, they are not repetitive. Indeed, the texts function as a ‘carefully designed two-stage disclosure of the Beloved Disciple’s role in the production of the Gospel’, which are careful to reveal his authorship only at the very end. If Bauckham’s arguments at this point succeed in convincing his readers (and in my opinion that is an open question), ‘then we cannot think that the identification of the Beloved Disciple as the author of the Gospel is a later, secondary accretion to the Gospel. The Gospel, with its epilogue and its two stage conclusion, has been designed to reveal only at the end the role of the Beloved Disciple in its making’.
In the verse cited above it states that ‘we know that his testimony is true’. But who are the ‘we’? Could it, and clearly contra Bauckham, refer to a later editorial or authorial community? Bauckham argues that the ‘we’ reflects not a genuine plural but rather stand for ‘I’. To be more precise, the usage is a Johannine idiom that he calls ‘the “we” of authoritative testimony’. The ‘we’, rather than indicating ‘I and you or ‘I and my associates’ is best understood as a way of adding force to the self-reference, especially in testimonial contexts. Bauckham finishes the chapter by analysing a number of verses that appear to evidence just such a usage, namely 3 John 9-12, I John 1:1-5, 4:11-16, John 3:10-13, 21:24-25 and 1:14-16. While not all of the material Bauckham examines is equally convincing, arguably the evidence in 1 John and John 3 make Bauckham’s suggestions likely.
The result of this chapter is now clear: According to John 21:24, the Beloved Disciple is ‘both the primary witness on whose testimony the Gospel is based and also himself the author of the Gospel’.