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Many readers have noted that John 20:30-31 makes for a fitting ending to the Gospel.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV)

Yet the Gospel in its current form does not end there and picks back up with yet another resurrection appearance in a story of a miraculous catch of fish and a conversation between Peter and Jesus.

Should the content of chapter 21 be considered an addition to the previous work? What evidence is there external and internal to support or refute this position?

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I don't have time for a formal answer at the moment, but until I get around to it, here are a couple of things to note. John 20:30-31 reveals John's purpose in writing this Gospel, but it was not merely recorded as a summary purpose statement. It is the latter part of a flow of thought beginning several verses prior. (Cf. John 19:35 in context) –  Jas 3.1 Jun 13 '13 at 18:38
    
Also it is worth comparing John 20:30-31 to 1 John 5:13, another so-called "purpose statement" which does not terminate the letter. –  Jas 3.1 Jan 10 at 1:40
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3 Answers 3

This is a "well known" great hermeneutics question, it can't be answered fully here. In fact there are many evidence that support an hypothesis of latter addition. The first is merely of writing style Jhon[20:30-31] is stylistically a conclusion "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name". So Beasely-Murray concludes that if he "Had [...] planned to record the appearance(s) to Peter and his colleagues narrated in chap. 21 he would have composed chap. 20 differently" [George R. Beasely-Murray, John (2nd ed.; WBC 36; Columbia: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 395].Many others are related with aspects linked to incoherence with the text (for a more exaustive explenation and good bibliography have a look here and here). But I think the main thing to consider is that there are good reasons for the early Catholic Church to add this text because it underlines the legacy of Peter and the power over the devoted.

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P66, a manuscript from ca. 200 AD, contains the first nine verses of John 21, indicating that if it was an addition, it was a very early addition. Thus the addition of this chapter cannot have been motivated by Catholic theology of the pope, which was not developed until much later. In fact, Nestle Aland (the most used critical edition of the New Testament) lists no manuscript of John which omits ch 21. Thus very strong reasons must be present to argue against the chapter's authenticity.

Two arguments against the authenticity of John 21 are common:

1) Many argue that the language of John 21 differs from the language of the rest of the gospel. Ironically, many who argue for the authenticity of the chapter, argue that the language is very similar to the language in the rest of the gospel. Though I'm no expert in Greek, I side with the latter.

2) Many argue that chapter 20 forms a natural closing to the gospel. Next time you write a text or an email, consider: are there any points which may form a natural conclusion, which you did not intend to use as a conclusion? Sometimes, though not always, you will find that if you delete all text from a certain point on to the end, the remaining text functions well on its own without the part you deleted. This is not a good argument against the authenticity of ch21. Wouldn't a good end for John also be 20:21? In fact, statements like that in 20:30-31, which have "meta-statements" about the book, are not uncommon in John (e.g. 1:7, 2:11, 4:54, 12:37-41). Moreover, there are several unresolved issues in John which expect a resolution. For instance, Jesus never addresses Peter personally after Jesus saw Peter betray Him. In this chapter, Peter is "restored" to Christ. Furthermore, in ch21 we finally find out how two of the main characters in the book react to Jesus' resurrection. Furthermore, the mission statement of the church is addressed specifically (i.e. through Peter). And Peter's death, which had almost certainly taken place by the time John wrote, is addressed.

In short, scientifically speaking, it may be possible that ch21 was added later. But if so, it was added by someone who masterfully used very similar language to that John used, who used the same style of writing, who skillfully found and expounded unresolved issues in the gospel, and who left no manuscript evidence of ever having existed. In short, the author who added the chapter to the end of John was so skillful that anyone examining the evidence objectively would conclude that it were written by a single author. It is possible, just as it is possible that the text you are reading now is written by a different author than the author of the first two paragraphs. But, again scientifically speaking, it is very unlikely.

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Yes and No

Authorship of the gospel

First, we must consider who authored the fourth gospel. Tradition attributes this gospel to John, a fisherman who became one of Jesus' first disciples. Because most working people of that era were illiterate, many modern scholars have questioned whether John could have written a gospel at all, let alone one filled with the complex, abstract theology we find in the fourth gospel (e.g. "The word became flesh," "you must be born from above," or "I am the true vine"). Some scholars have alleged this gospel was a forgery, while others have speculated that it was written by one of Jesus' Judean disciples.

But there is another possibility: John had help. In modern societies with nearly universal literacy, we define authorship much more narrowly than ancient cultures did. An author did not necessarily physically put the pen to the parchment himself. (Jeremiah didn't write down his own prophecies, and Paul rarely wrote with his own hand.) NT scholar Raymond Brown has identified five levels of authorship in ancient times. It's possible that John the former fisherman supplied the basic framework, and his disciples filled in some of the theology. I'll point to some specific evidence of this later.

Publication of the gospel

Second, we must consider not just the date of composition but the date of publication. This gospel was not quoted by any church leaders until the late second century. Whether this is because they didn't know what to make of its radical differences from the other widely-circulated gospels, or because it simply wasn't distributed until later, it's hard to say. But there was precedent for keeping a sacred book for use among a small group of disciples for a time before releasing it to the outside world. Both Isaiah and Daniel in the Hebrew Bible contain instructions to do this. The gospel of John does not, but it does show some evidence of having been written long before publication.

John 5:2

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.

In general, the gospels are written in the past tense. The use of the present tense in this verse may indicate that this pool was still in use when this passage was written. If so, then at least part of this gospel was written before the fall of Jerusalem--earlier, possibly, than the synoptics. But although church leaders were already circulating and quoting the synoptics before the year 100, they made no mention of John until the second half of the second century.

It seems likely that John's testimony was originally written for local use only, and that the final edition--what we know as the Gospel of John--was published some years later.

Gospel chronology

John gives us many more details than the synoptics on Jesus' travels through Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. However, at certain points the travel narrative doesn't match up.

In chapter 4, Jesus is returning from Passover in Jerusalem to Galilee. In Galilee he heals the son of a royal official, then (chapter 5) he immediately returns to Jerusalem for "a festival of the Jews". After performing another healing he gets into a dispute with the religious leaders. Then (chapter 6) he gets in a boat and crosses the Sea of Galilee.

It's hard to fit the pieces together in the order they appear in the gospel, but it all fits together if chapter 5 follows chapter 6 chronologically. There is evidence that the gospels writers generally did not consider chronology to be as important as we do today, but that's beyond the scope of this question.

Additionally, the healing in chapter 4 is called "the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee", yet the first sign (changing water into wine) is recorded before his trip to Judea. And, of course, the cleansing of the temple--placed in Jesus' final week in the synoptics--appears very early in John's gospel.

If, as I've outlined above, John's testimony was written early and only formed into the gospel later, this rearranging might have been part of the process of working John's testimony into a full-fledged gospel.

The end?

Finally, as you point out, the end of chapter 20 looks like a conclusion. If I'm correct that the gospel was based on an earlier written testimony, this may very well have been the end of that earlier work. It certainly makes for a strong conclusion with Thomas' dramatic confession.

But Chapter 21 is the conclusion of the gospel itself. It not only identifies the author of the original testimony, but confirms that testimony.

John 21:24

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.

The "we" here would be John's disciples who helped write the gospel. So this postscript might be considered a later addition because it was likely written years after John's testimony, but it's not a later addition to the gospel, because the gospel was not complete until this chapter was written.

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