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?

  • 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 '14 at 1:40
  • Not unless 3:11, and others similar, are also later additions. – Lucian May 10 at 20:01

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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  • What is meant or implied by "Thus the addition of this chapter cannot have been motivated by Catholic theology of the pope, which was not developed until much later"? – Sola Gratia Jul 3 '17 at 20:40
  • @SolaGratia Roman Catholic theology tends to emphasize Peter´s role in the church in order to strengthen the tradition of papal authority. But because the teachings about the primacy of the bishop of Rome (later called the pope) was developed after the first manuscripts we have that include John 21, we can rule out the idea that the chapter was added to strengthen the Pope´s position. – Niobius Jul 4 '17 at 23:00
  • I think Jesus calling Peter Kepha, the Rock upon which He would build His Church, together with the primacy shown to Peter throughout the New Testament, the fact that He was singled out apart from 'His disciples' 'Peter and...' and listed first in every list thereof : protos, Peter, etc. Judas last. always. Oh, and that He was named Shepard over the flock of Christ, to tend and feed His sheep. Is enough to give you the idea. And the keys to the Davidic Kingdom, making Him steward of His Kingdom was kind of almost over the top proof of the primacy of Peter, the bishop of Rome. – Sola Gratia Jul 4 '17 at 23:32
  • John 21 does appear to be a addition to his gospel by John himself to explain that what Jesus said about him did not predict he would live until Christ came back. It probably was soon if not immediately after writing the gospel. However, that chapter's meaning is much richer for us. God's purpose exceeds human purpose. – Perry Webb Sep 8 '18 at 18:58

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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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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It seems to me that the final statement in John 20.30-31 is not the end of an “original” Gospel, but is, instead, a natural summary of other things Christ did when he was newly resurrected in front of, or for, his disciples: for their benefit. But not only just after His resurrection: the statement in v 30 seems to indicate that there were many other things John hasn’t included in his Gospel that Christ did during His ministry on earth: John says, in v 31 that he has only included what he has written so that the reader may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that the reader may have life in Christ’s name. This is the second of three appearances of Jesus to the disciples, and in chapter 20, they have all seen Jesus resurrected, believe that and that He is the Christ.

John 21 deals with the third of the appearances of Christ after his Resurrection. It deals with Peter not because it was a papist addition, meant to justify the assertions of those who sat in the seat of Peter as leader of Christendom. It deals with Peter because he denied Christ. This denial was similar to the treachery of Judas–both denied the Saviour of the world. The difference between them is that Peter realized his error, and was sorry for it, whilst Judas did not, despaired, and committed suicide. And just as one of the two thieves crucified with Christ repented and asked forgiveness for his sins, thus did Peter likewise, but Judas didn’t. Judas could have, but wouldn’t, and that was foreseen by God at the very beginning of Creation.

So Peter must be forgiven too, just like the one thief on the cross. He still loves and believes that Jesus is the Christ. Peter’s sin of denial wasn’t a lack of faith, but a lack of nerve when he was personally and publically endangered because of his faith. And so Jesus’ act of forgiveness of Peter is an act of instruction and correction too, which Peter will take to heart.

Even if the whole religion of Christ was wholly invented by the, which it isn’t, the denial of Peter and its similarities and differences to the denial of Judas, would leave the Gospel of John with an intolerable loose-end. To John, writer of the truth of the History of Jesus, and inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so, leaving such a loose-end as the unresolved denial of Christ by Peter would be unconscionable. It would be impossible because the Holy Spirit would certainly remind him of it. So John records the third time Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection, because what John records actually happened. The forgiveness of Peter and the raising of his status among the Twelve ends the Gospel perfectly, a Gospel that records, early on, Jesus saying in John 3:16-17:

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world so that He might condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Proud and braggadocios, but committed Peter needed to experience his limitations, recognize his need, and accept the salvation and exaltation from Jesus that God had planned for him from before the beginning of time. It was a fitting end to a book that began with a profound statement of mankind’s hopeless condition: trapped in sin and dark despair of unknowing: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not apprehend it” (John 1.5).

But Peter apprehended it, and Judas. But Peter repented, and Judas didn’t.

Also, one of the comments on this page notes that John’s Gospel was not cited by the early church fathers until the end of the 2nd century A.D., and because of that, some think that the book was kept secret or privately localized. One implication derived from that was that it is possible that the book wasn’t a finished edition until the end of the 2nd century, long after John’s death.

My answer to this absurdity of baseless rationalization is what translators already know about ancient manuscripts: many were lost. It cannot be asserted with any confidence that the early church fathers didn’t cite from the Gospel of John, nor that they were unaware of its existence, either because the book was kept secret like Daniel’s was, nor because it was privately localized until after the 2nd Century.

For one thing, so many ancient writings were lost to the ravages of history, we cannot say with any certainty that the early church fathers didn’t know of and cite the Gospel of John. Even the spurious and likely Gnostic Alexandrian texts weren’t known for 20 centuries, and it may be possible to someday find examples where the early church fathers did indeed cite from the Gospel of John–to assert with certainty that they never did in order to buttress a theory is bad historical technique, at least at this point–and bad theorizing.

For another, of all the Gospel writers an ancient church father would read, which one would he be least likely to cite from memory? Surely the one by the hand of he who wrote curses in another work condemning those who added or subtracted from the words of the Great Revelation. Even more so because to add or subtract from the message of that text was one thing, but to add or subtract, even by mistake, from the very words and history of the Saviour contained in John’s Gospel was even more serious a proposition. These verses (Revelation 22.18-19) were written by John specifically to counteract Gnostic teachings, who altered the texts of the New Testament writers to fit their presuppositions, not the actual teachings of Christ. The early church fathers knew this, and would naturally have applied the principle to the Gospel of John, for he was a witness to the life of Christ, and so what he says in his Gospel, since it differs from the synoptics, has a great deal of spiritual weightiness. It would be natural for them to cite his Gospel more sparingly and carefully. That may be a contributing factor to why we do not have documents by the early church fathers which cite John’s Gospel. If they did, they would have done so sparingly, and their use of this Gospel would have been treated with a high degree of respect. Since the New Testament writings were copied and dispersed, but not bound together as one book, they were not conveniently extant (none of these documents were), so the early church fathers would have had to rely on memory in their citations, and this they certainly did.

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  • 1
    It would be a great help to readers if you could structure your answer in three or four separate paragraphs, each with a topic sentence. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Jul 3 '17 at 14:06
  • 1
    Welcome to Hermeneutics SE - we're not a forum, so do take the site tour if you haven't already. Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted. Note too that the text area uses Markdown formatting, and you can't use tabs as your original post did. Hope that helps. – Dɑvïd Jul 3 '17 at 16:29

Here's what I believe, and stick with this because it blows my mind every time I articulate it. John 21 was added after the death of the Beloved Disciple upon who the Johannine community was built.

Note the phrasing:

John 21:21-23, When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

It seems like this entire section was added in order to justify the BD's death in the face of the prophecy that he would never die. You see, for me, this places John 1-20 before the mid 60s AD - before Peter's death, and John 21 sometime afterwards (possibly in the late 80s or 90s - though there is no reference to the temple destruction, so it could be right after Peter's death).

It doesn't say it explicitly in there, but why else would this oddly redundant and legalistic discourse be present in this clear addition? Instead of making me question the gospel, the reality of this interpretation makes me truly feel convinced that there was a person, the beloved disciple, who was behind the text and had been part of the Jesus movement.

Not because the book says it and .. you know... you should just believe it because "dogma." But because you can read a community truly grappling with the death of their leader. The Beloved Disciple was a real flesh and blood person that truly died a flesh and blood death and it shocked the community.

Some scholars also tie this into the addition of the farewell discourses of John 15-17. At the end of John 14, Jesus says "rise lets us be on our way..." then there are three chapters of discourses on unity... Then the beginning of chapter 18 says "after he said these things they went out to the kidron valley"... Seems like chapters 15-17 might have also been additions during a period of crisis within the community behind the Beloved Disciple.

To me, the presence of chapter 21 and its content is an exciting validation of the witness and the flesh and blood behind the Gospel of John as someone who actually knew Jesus. It's not a slam dunk, but it's also not just "shut your eyes and believe it."

In a way, it's like seeing the scars, as Thomas and the Disciples did with Jesus. Except these are scars on the community from the death of their dear leader and witness to the life of Jesus. A man who had reclined his head on Jesus's chest at the last supper and who had been made into a twin of Jesus at the foot of the cross when he was given the mother of Jesus as his own, and received the exhalation of the Breath of Christ's earthly life.

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