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The Problem of the Fourth Gospel



As students are aware, 'the books of the Old Testament, as we now have them, are, to a far larger extent than was commonly supposed until recent times, the result of processes of compilation and combination, and, in modern phrase, "editing."' While the old view was that they were 'written as integral works or by a single author, and preserved precisely in the original form,' it is now generally recognized that 'some were constructed out of earlier narratives; some were formed by the union of previous collections of poetry or prophecies; some bear marks of the reviser's hand; and even books which bear the names of well-known authors in some cases contain matter which must be attributed to other writers1.' Take, for instance, the Book of Zechariah; of its fourteen chapters only the first eight are traceable to the prophet himself, while the remaining six are of uncertain authorship and date. And again, there is clear proof of Judaean interpolation and revision in the case of the Book of Hosea; as for the Book of Amos, it is not unlikely that its last eight verses are a post-exilic substitute for an original ending which, felt to be too harsh, was deliberately suppressed; the short but incisive prophecy which goes by the name of 'Malachi' is of unknown authorship; 'The Vision of Obadiah' is in reality a mosaic of prophecies. Isaiah and Jeremiah are composite works, and so are the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The Psalter came into existence by successive stages; it may indeed contain some psalms of Davidic authorship, otherwise it reflects the varied aspirations of many periods and of many minds. The Pentateuch reaches back in part to a remote antiquity; yet, built up from four independent written sources, it was not until somewhere in the fifth century before the Christian era that, through processes of combination and redaction, it assumed its

1 Kirkpatrick, Divine Library of O.T. pp. 11 ff.


present form1. And similarly with not a few of the writings of the New Testament. The author of the Lucan Gospel expressly refers2 to sources laid under contribution by him; very probably the companion-volume Acts embodies, with a variety of other matter, the diary of a fellow-traveller of Paul. Large indeed are the borrowings of the author, compiler, or editor of 'The Revelation of St. John the Divine.' The Pastoral Epistles are perhaps made up of genuine Pauline sayings which have been pieced together and largely supplemented by a later hand. In like manner the unknown author of the so-called Second Epistle of Peter may possibly have brought together fragments which, if not actually Petrine, are quite conceivably of Apostolic origin, and provided them with a setting of his own composition3. The Epistle which bears the name of James has been held to be a Jewish work adapted by some editor for Christian use, or made up of passages from sermons of a relatively late date4.

The question now before us is: How does the case stand with our Gospel? Is it a unity, the integral work of a single author? Or does it present features which stamp it as a composite work?

The former alternative is staunchly upheld. The 'unity and symmetry5' of the Gospel, its 'deep-seated unity of structure and composition6,' are insisted on; it is affirmed that, the work of 'a single casting,' it 'stubbornly resists all modern attempts to distinguish between source and source7.' Well-nigh half a century ago it was maintained that its twenty-one chapters emanate from the self-same author8, and the like decided opinion was advanced but the other day: 'if we except the episode of the woman taken in adultery, which is of doubtful authority, the whole book is of uniform character and is the literary creation of a single author, including the last chapter, which is of the nature of a supplement9.'

1 Some of the foregoing sentences are borrowed from my Eschatology of Jesus (pp. 113 ff.).

2 Lk. i, l-4.

3 E. Iliff Robson, Studies in 2nd Peter.

4 See Bennett, General Epistles (Century Bible), p. 29.

5 McClymont, St John (Century Bible), p. 29.

6 Sanday, op. cit. p. 22.

7 Earth, op. cit. p. 13.

8 Lightfoot, Bibl. Essays, p. 194.

9 Percy Gardner, op. cit. p. 53. Cf. Swete, Studies in the Teaching of Our Lord, p. 127.


But if there be general agreement that ch. xxi is an appendix to a work which has reached a perfectly natural conclusion with xx, 30, 31, the fact remains that of those who contend for the literary unity of the Gospel some unhesitatingly include the appendix chapter and some do not. In some quarters it is urged that ch. xxi is a 'supplement, not by the author of i-xx, but supplied by others, in the author's lifetime, with his approval, in fact, by his order1'; 'a later addition, and not only so but, as can be proved, by another hand2.' Others, again, of one mind with two writers already instanced3, are persuaded that 'in respect of style and manner this supplement reveals with exactness and nicety the self-same author who has penned the rest of the Gospel4.' Somewhat differently another scholar; who, deciding that 'the complete identity of thought and style, and the way in which this last chapter is dovetailed into the preceding . . . seem to prove that the last chapter is by the same hand as the rest of the Gospel,' adds: 'But at the very end another hand does take up the pen; and this time the writer speaks in the name of a plurality; "this is that disciple which beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true" (xxi, 24)5.'

There are, then, not a few who, speaking generally, 'concur in the judgement of Strauss that the Fourth Gospel is, like the seamless coat, not to be divided but taken as it is6,' if for some the phrase 'the whole indivisible Gospel7' means the Gospel in its entirety, while others draw the line at the appendix chapter.

Yet adverse voices are raised; and the view obtains in many quarters that, far from being a literary unity, 'the Fourth Gospel is a composite work8.' Some fifteen years ago the suggestion was

1 Zahn, Einl. ii, p. 493; Horn, Abfassungszeit, p. 77; Hausleiter (Zwei Apos. Zeugen) assigns ch. xxi to the Apostles Andrew and Philip.

2 Soltau, Unsere Evangelien, p. 10; Schmiedel, Evglm. Briefe u. Offenbarung, pp. 12 f.; Schwartz, Über den Tod der Söhne Zeb. p. 48. Loisy (op. cit. p. 55), eliminating vii, 53—viii, 11 and xxi, writes: 'Tout le reste constitue un ensemble parfaitement uu et homogène.' And see Réville, op. cit. p. 331.

3 I.e. Percy Gardner and Lightfoot.

4 Wernle, op. cit. p. 14.

5 Sanday, op. cit. p. 81. Cf. Barth, op. cit. p. 6.

6 EB, ii, col. 2558.

7 Strauss, New Life of Jesus, i, p. 141.

8 EB, iii, col. 3338.


thrown out that even if 'the famous comparison of Baur' holds good, 'the seamless coat had also a warp and woof and a tasselled fringe1,' and to-day the same writer lays stress on an extensive series of phenomena which prove 'to the satisfaction of an increasing number of critics that the Fourth Gospel is anything but the "seamless coat" it was declared to be by the criticism of a generation ago2'; elsewhere he has said: 'Besides its "parenthetic additions" and passages relating to the "afterthought," the Fourth Gospel is notoriously full of the gaps and seams, the logical discrepancies and inconsistencies which, if not due to an extraordinary degree of carelessness on the part of the Evangelist, can only be explained as we explain them in other writings of the time. They must be due to later intervention, whether by combination with parallel documents, or by editorial revision, supplementation, or readjustment3.' As may be inferred from this last sentence, those who disallow the unity of the Gospel are divided into two groups; the 'partitionists' and the 'revisionists.' With the various 'partition-theories' propounded by the former a distinction is drawn between an older source or sources in their combination with later editorial additions4. As for the latter5, advancing their 'revision-theories' they argue each in his own way for some later editor who has 'recast the Gospel for purposes which originally it was not meant to serve. Either set of theories,' it is added, 'may be combined with the further hypothesis of dislocations in the text6.'

Whether the Gospel be a unity or not7, it appears on the face

1 Bacon, Introd. to N.T., p. 268. 'The famous comparison,' by the way, not of Baur but Strauss (Ulrich von Hutten, Gesammelte Schriften, vii, p. 556). In citing from himself (Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, p. 480) Prof. Bacon has since made the necessary correction.

2 HJ, xv, p. 257. And see Moffatt, op. cit. p. 551.

3 Bacon, Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, p. 473.

4 So generally Wendt, Spitta, Wellhausen, with enhanced elaboration Soltau, Das vierte Evglm. in seiner Entstehungsgeschichte dargelegt. This work, published a year ago, reaches me at the last moment. Soltau's theory is criticized by Wetter, whose work ('Der Sohn Gottes') comes to me at the same time.

5 Kreyenbuhl, Harnack, Bousset, Heitmüller, Schwartz, Bacon.

6 Moffatt, op. cit. pp. 551 f.

7 The hypothesis of dislocations in the text is not necessarily incompatible with the theory that, speaking generally, the Gospel otherwise is a unity.


of it that, in respect of order of sequence, it has undergone a certain amount of structural disturbance and disarrangement1. To begin with, it surely cannot be the case2 that the prolonged discourse, chs. xv, xvi, together with the 'High-priestly Prayer,' ch. xvii, originally stood immediately after the 'I will no more speak much with you' and the 'Arise let us go hence' of ch. xiv, 30, 31; and it shall be agreed at once that the words just cited 'are natural at the end of a discourse, and are naturally followed by xviii, 1, ταυτα ειπων Ιησους εξηλθεν κ.τ.λ.3' And again; with the elimination of the pericope de adultera (vii, 53-viii, 11), it becomes obvious that there is a want of connexion4 between the sections (vii, 52 ff., viii, 12 ff.) which immediately precede and follow what is, and will presently be recognized as, an interpolation5. Other instances could be adduced; yet general adhesion to the hypothesis of dislocations must be qualified by a suspicion that an element of subjectivity may now and again be at the root of suggested re-arrangements6, and the cautious student will in any case be on his guard against a tendency to approach works of antiquity from a modern point of view. Nor will it do to 'assume a logical or chronological sequence in the Gospel which may not have been present to the author's mind7.'

The admission appears inevitable that instances of interpolation, gap, and addition are perceptible. To revert in this connexion to the pericope de adultera, if here and there defended as an integral

1 Forbes (op. cit. p. 163) finds reason to believe that Tatian had before him an edition of our Gospel in which the order was not the same as at present.

2 In spite of arguments to the contrary. See Zahn, Das Evglm. des Joh. unter den Handen seiner neuesten Kritiker, pp. 6 ff.; Juncker, Zur neuesten Johannes Kritik, pp. 14 ff.

3 Brooke, CBE, p. 323. Cf. Wellhausen, Erweiterungen u. Änderungen im 4 Evglm. pp. 7 f.; Moffatt, op. cit. pp. 556 f.

4 Calmes (op. cit. p. 39) is of the opposite opinion.

5 The pericope in question is for Warburton Lewis (Disarrangements in the Fourth Gospel, p. 16) 'a standing proof that the text of our Gospel has suffered disruption.'

6 The present writer, warmly commending Mr Warburton Lewis's scholarly little book to the careful perusal of students, is sometimes left unconvinced by its contents.

7 Moffatt, op. cit. p. 552. And see Wetter, op cit., p. 2.


portion of the Fourth Gospel1, it is regarded by the majority of scholars as an insertion of Synoptic rather than Johannine type; and conjecture has it that 'this floating passage of primitive tradition2 . . . drifted as a marginal note into some MSS. of John . . . and finally was settled in the text3'; possibly it had its place in the Gospel of the Hebrews4. As certainly the verses ch. v, 3 b, 4, are no part of the original Gospel, and here it is suggested that an evident gap has been filled in, by way of explanation, by some later hand; that, as the section originally stood, the genuine v, 7 was unintelligible, and hence the piece of information which, now properly relegated to the margin of the R.V., ultimately found its way into the text5. On these and other points there is a consensus of opinion; highly debatable ground is reached when seam or rent is discovered in such passages as e.g., vi, 36 ff., xviii, 12 ff., xix, 34 ff.6, and it is argued that the sections in the Prologue which refer to the Baptist are the insertions of another hand7. Room, again, is made for the opinion that, inasmuch as the full significance of xii, 32 goes far beyond the somewhat meagre explanation offered in xii, 33, the latter verse reveals another pen-man. It is further said that the references to Caiaphas (xi,49; xviii, l-21) were absent from the Gospel in its original form8; yet further, that it is not inconceivable that the sections in which the Beloved Disciple figures on the scene owe not a little of their colouring to an editorial

1 'Aber in dem Zusammenhang ist sie (viz. the pericope) unentbehrlich'; Hilgenfeld, Einl. p. 707. And see Catholic Encycl. Art. 'St John's Gospel.'

2 'Wir sind dem Zufall dankbar, das er diese verlorene Perle alter Überlieferung uns erhalten hat,' Heitmüller, SNT, ii, p. 789.

3 Moffatt, op. cit. pp. 555 f.

4 Euseb. HE, iii, 39. But the story there referred to of a woman accused of many sins may point to Lk. vii, 37 ff. and not to Jn vii, 53 ff.

5 Bacon, Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, pp. 474 f.

6 Heitmüller, SNT, ii, pp. 701, 716.

7 'Zwischen i, 4 und i, 9 steht in der Tat Johannes störend,' Wellhausen, Das Evglm. Joh. p. 8. And see Bacon, op. cit. p. 478. With allusion to the 'extraordinary verse,' iii, 11, Percy Gardner (op. cit. p. 121 f.) writes: 'it has evidently slipped into the discourse to Nicodemus by mistake.'

8 'Kaiphas ist also überall eingetragen. Die Vorlage kennt ihn nicht, sondern bloss den Annas,' Wellhausen, Das Evglm. Joh. p. 81. And see the same author's Erweiterungen u. Änderungen, pp. 24 ff.


hand1. Yet here again it must be borne in mind that what to modern eyes may appear insertion, rent, or seam, or gap2, is perhaps often attributable to the idiosyncrasy of the Evangelist, and that a probability remains that, albeit it may be necessary to postulate an editor or redactor, the former may be after all himself responsible for this or that apparent interpolation.

Other features are presented by our Gospel which unquestionably occasion pause. In one place, at any rate so it would appear to some, the Parousia is dispensed with (xiv), while elsewhere (xv-xvii) it dominates the conception; in one place (xiv, 16, 26) the Paraclete is to be sent by the Father, in another (xv, 26; xvi, 7) the sender will be Jesus himself. Nor is it only a case of what, in the view at all events of some scholars, is discrepancy and contradiction; the long discourse-sections, in many respects quite unlike those made up of narrative3, are held to reveal different hands. Be this the case or not, they are occasionally of such a nature as to convey the idea of essays which owe their existence to processes of elaboration, and with large resort to matter already the common property of the church or churches of the locality in which the Gospel originated4.

But to bring this chapter to a close.

The Fourth Gospel, it would appear, is not, in the strictest sense of the word, the unity which it has been, and still is, held to

1 On the assumption that, a real person, the Beloved Disciple was author of the Gospel it is certainly easier to suppose that the beautiful designation was from a pen other than his own. See Excursus ii. See also Heitmüller, SNT, ii, p. 711.

2 It shall be said here that the present writer, not by any means in entire agreement with Juncker (op. cit.), is far from being convinced by Schwartz (Aporien im vierten Evglm.). As Brooke shrewdly remarks (CBE, p. 325): 'We are driven to the suspicion that to have supplied all the paralipomena which such a method of criticism would demand, might have involved a number of books which the world itself could not contain, nor its inhabitants live long enough to read.'

3 Preferred by, e.g., Kenan to the discourse-matter, while the opposite view is maintained by, int. al., Weisse, A. Schweitzer, Wendt.

4 On Wetter's theory there is evidence 'dass wir es mit formelhaften Gut zu tun haben, das nicht vom Verfasser geprägt sondern einfach von ihm übernommen worden ist'; with a religious phraseology which, long time in pagan use, is turned to account by Hellenistic Christians (op. cit. pp. 2, 156).


be; it is, to say the least, not easy to regard it as throughout the integral work of a single author.

There is ground for looking askance at the theories of the 'partitionists.' Not without reason has it been objected that, when the Gospel has been divided up between assumed 'Grundschrift' and material assigned to other hands, the respective groups of matter wear so strong a family resemblance that it is often practically impossible to distinguish between pen and pen. Yet it is only just to say of representatives of this school of criticism that they have rendered useful service1 in so far as they emphasize the fact that 'undoubtedly there are two elements in the Fourth Gospel: the words and deeds of the Lord, and the interpretation of them in the light of later experience'; and that, whatever be its nature as a whole, there are embedded in it 'fragments of historical value for the story of the Ministry of Jesus Christ2.'

Looking to the position generally, it would appear that greater weight attaches to the arguments brought forward by the 'revisionists'; and that the balance of probability is in favour of a theory which, avoiding exaggerations and extremes, nevertheless distinguishes between the main fabric of the Gospel and final touches—not to say amplifications—received by it before it was given to the world.

Of such sort shall be our working hypothesis in the next chapter.

1 The names of Spitta and Wendt may be mentioned in this connexion.

2 Brooke, CBE, pp. 327 f.

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