Redaction of the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John, also called the fourth gospel of the New Testament because of its order in sequence, differs greatly from the synoptic Gospels. However, that reason alone is not why religious scholars think that the gospel had a little redaction.

The Gospel of John contains sayings of Jesus and some of the events in his ministry such as the feeding of the multitudes, the marriage at Cana, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, among others. However, some biblical scholars have questioned the authorship of the Gospel of John and have suggested that the present version shows work on the text that must have come at a time later than the original composition.

What is redaction?

Redaction means to edit, revise, or manipulate written material in order to position it in a suitable literary form. Ways in which something could be redacted include shifting the sequence of the order of things, inserting a new beginning, rearranging material, weaving new words into a document, affixing a different ending or conclusion, or framing a text in a certain way.

The suggestion of tampering with the Gospel of John prior to its inclusion into the canon comes from Greek language peculiarities found within the composition. There are breaks in odd places, repetitions in dialogue or sections of discourse, and passages of text that appear in the wrong place for the context. Biblical scholars assert that after the gospel was completed, chapter 21 was tacked on because the Greek style for that chapter differs from the rest of the gospel.

John 14:31 and John 18:1 show two different endings to the Last Supper discourse of Jesus in the Upper Room. The magnificent prologue contains a hymn to open the work, but was most likely added later to open the piece and lengthen the work. The entire narrative of the gospel seems to have been arranged and adapted in a way to serve the author's theological agenda.

For example, John seems to show through the writing of the gospel an opposition to the followers of John the Baptist in order to exalt Jesus, perhaps to emphasize a belief in Jesus' divinity, and to advocate the need for all Christians to be anchored in that belief. There is a touch of polemic in the narrative as well, showing the synagogue and the church at opposite poles and with references to Sadducees and Pharisees who harshly treated Jesus being referred to as “the Jews.”

Marcion eviscerated the Gospel of Luke and edited out some of the letters of Paul (the pastoral Epistles) to create a canon for use in his churches. Marcion felt the God of Israel was an inferior god, subordinate to the higher God whom Jesus Christ revealed. His movement rivaled the traditional church in the early centuries. In 144 A.D., the Roman church excommunicated Marcion.

All these observations of redaction of the Gospel of John are not new. Scholars began doing the research on the inconsistencies in the 1800s. In fact, redaction criticism is now a scholarly discipline in which the expert scrutinizes the material to determine the theological agenda or bias of the author or editor.

There are three things in particular that critics can search for to determine editing. They look for themes that seem to be hit upon repetitively. They compare two versions of the work to see if the latter piece has omissions or additions. Finally, the experts study the words to figure out the words that the author commonly used; if there are words the author would never use, it suggests the work of an editor on the piece. From studying a manuscript that way, experts can determine the theological leanings of the writer and editor.

Why are Bibles revised?

The scriptures are timeless, but cultural changes and an explosion of biblical studies account for some of the reasons why Bibles are revised. New translations and explanations are necessary to adjust the materials to keep up with biblical scholarship and new understandings.

The Gospel of Mark stands apart from the other texts of the canon as having verifiable evidence indicating revisions of the text. Scholars know about at least four endings to that gospel and believe they were created in the earliest centuries of the church. Twelve new verses were added onto a Greek copy known as the Codex Washingtonianus. Those twelve verses cannot be found in the oldest version of that gospel. Even the early church fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Origen did not know about those verses. Scholars believe they were the work of a later editor or scribe.

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