Is John out of Order? The Strange Geography and Chronology of the Fourth Gospel

German theologian Rudolf Bultmann, in his famous and still widely cited commentary on John, wrote many decades ago:

The thesis has been represented, occasionally even in very early times but strongly from the beginning of this century, that the original order of the text [of John] has been disturbed, through an interchange of leaves or by some other means. …it must be presumed that the present order of our Gospel is not derived from the author. …It is not enough to reckon with a simple exchange of the pages of a loose codex, for the sections that appear to demand a change of position are of unequal length. The assumption lies closest to hand that the Gospel of John was edited from the author’s literary remains on the basis of separate manuscript pages, left without order. In any case, the present form of our Gospel is due to the work of a redactor. (pp. 11–12)

Bulfmann’s observations on the incongruities of the Gospel have been made and expanded on by many biblical scholars since then. Some agree that the Gospel seems to be out of sequence, as though an early manuscript were dropped and the pages put back in the wrong order. Others have proposed complicated source theories or stages of redaction, whether by the same author or an authorial community. Still others have simply ignored the problem altogether.

Regardless of which (if any) of these hypotheses is correct, the passages in John that have prompted this debate are worth having a look at.

The Best Evidence for a Redactor: John’s Ending

For any book of the Bible, but especially the New Testament, there are many conservative scholars whose audience is primarily devotional or pastoral and would prefer to understand the scriptures as discreet, synchronic works—each written by the person whose name appears in the title if at all possible, although that ship has long sailed for the most part.

As John Ashton notes, the lack of manuscript evidence is often cited by scholars in order to dismiss proposals for redaction and interpolation of texts. Chapter 21 of John is so clearly a secondary addition to the book, however, that this objection cannot be sustained.

Once this rampart has been breached the enemy is within the gate: there can be no further defence of integral unity as a matter of principle, and the familiar argument that there is no manuscript evidence, either here or elsewhere, of editorial insertions or modifications loses all its force. (p. 42)

Some of the best reasons for considering John 21 (the “Johannine Appendix”) to be a later addition are the following:

• The story appears to end with a “resounding conclusion” in 20:30–31:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

• Chapter 21 makes the unnamed “Beloved Disciple” out to be the author of the book (21:24). This is not stated or suggested at any previous point. At the same time, the narrator takes pains to dispel rumours that the Beloved Disciple (whoever he was) would not die. As Bultmann puts it, “the fiction that the author himself puts himself forward here as identical with the Beloved Disciple, and at the same time wishes to attest his own death [v. 23] is quite unbelievable” (quoted in Ashton, 43).

• The style of the Johannine Appendix and nature of the miraculous catch of fish are considered to be quite different from the rest of John.

• The chapter is hard to understand from a narrative point of view. In chapter 20, Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked room, commissions them, and bestows the Holy Spirit upon them. And then in chapter 21, they go back to their old jobs as Galilean fishermen—which, unlike the Synoptics, is not even hinted at in John when the disciples are first called.

With Passover Approaching, Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem by James Tissot, 1886-1894

With Passover Approaching, Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem by James Tissot, 1886-1894

Geographical Aporias

Scholars often refer to the discontinuities in John as “aporias”, or paradoxes that cannot be resolved within the narrative. Some of these are geographical in nature. Jesus’ movements throughout the Gospel are frequently described in detail. Jesus went here, and the next day he went here, and then a few days later he went somewhere else, and so on. The author clearly intends to portray a coherent and meaningful sequence of destinations around Palestine where Jesus preaches and performs miracles. If you pay close attention, however, the geography of Jesus’ travels is often confusing, if not downright contradictory.

John 6.1: One small step for a man…

In John 5, Jesus is in Jerusalem for a festival. From verse 14 onward, Jesus is in the temple giving a sermon. And then, suddenly, in the very next verse (6.1), Jesus goes “to the other side of the Sea of Galilee”, implying he had been by the lakeside instead of in faraway Jerusalem. For this reason, Bultmann and others have suspected that chapter 6 originally followed 4, with chapter 5 misplaced in between. Other scholars see this as an indication of later editing or revision.

John 6.3, 15: Jesus and the mountain(s)

In John 6:3, Jesus goes up a mountain with his disciples and performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes. When the exuberant crowd decides to make Jesus king, he again withdraws to the mountain. The story seems to be missing something, since no departure from the mountain is mentioned in the meantime.

John 6.59: Synagogue scene change

After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus goes across the sea. The crowd follows him there, and when they find him at the sea, he gives a sermon. At the end of the sermon, we are told that Jesus has been speaking in a synagogue, though none was previously mentioned.

John 7.1: Judea or Galilee?

Another minor discontinuity takes place in John 7.1, which suggests that Jesus has left Judea and gone to Galilee. However, he was already in Galilee in the preceding chapter. Bultmann proposed that ch. 7 originally followed ch. 5, in which Jesus is is in Judea; and that both followed chs. 4 and 6, in which Jesus is in Galilee.

Healing at the Pool of Bethesda by Carl Bloch, 1883

Healing at the Pool of Bethesda by Carl Bloch, 1883

Chronological Aporias

Similarly, the timing of events in John is often confusing, despite (or perhaps because of) the frequent use of time markers.

John 2.1: How many days?

John’s story begins with John the Baptist at Bethany beyond the Jordan being questioned by priests and Levites. “The next day,” John sees Jesus (1.24). “The next day” again, two of John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus (1.35–42). “The next day” after that, Jesus decides to go to Galilee (1.43). Then, “on the third day”, a wedding takes place in Cana of Galilee (2.1). (Read the entire passage here.) If the third day of the narrative is meant, we are already on the fifth day. If the third day of Jesus’ trip to Galilee meant, the geography is problematic; that’s a journey of about 110 kilometres (70 miles), which cannot realistically be accomplished in three days (see Brodie, p. 164). If Jesus and his disciples are travelling by donkey, one can expect a speed of about 10–12 miles per day.

John 10.22: Where does the time go?

In 7.10, Jesus goes in secret to Judea for the festival of Booths. Jesus spends the festival preaching, as well as healing a man blind from birth, with no change in time or place suggested. Yet suddenly in 10.22, it is two months later, and the feast of the Dedication is taking place.

We may also note that the transition from Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees at the end of ch. 9 to his discourse on the Good Shepherd in 10.1–18 is very abrupt (read it online here), with no clear logical connection. This section is followed by a controversy about Jesus being demon-possessed in 10.19–21, which contextually belongs with the healing of the blind man at the beginning of ch. 9. (Similarly, all three Synoptics use Jesus’ healing of the blind/mute man to introduce a controversy on demon-possession.)

Furthermore, Ashton notes that chapters 9 and 10 presuppose different historical situations for the Johannine community. Ch. 9 implies that the Christians are still part of the Jewish synagogue but are in danger of being expelled for professing their beliefs in Christ. In chapter 10, and in the Good Shepherd discourse particularly, the Christian community is portrayed as a self-sufficient group that is threatened by outsiders. (Ashton 2007, 48–49)

It is easy to see why many take the passage to have been composed in stages and possibly out of order.

John 11.2: There’s something about Mary

In chapter 11, we learn that Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha, has fallen ill. The narrator explains that this is the same Mary “who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.” The odd thing about this explanation is that Mary’s anointing of Jesus hasn’t happened yet at this point in the story. (It takes place in chapter 12.)

John 12.44: Hiding in plain sight

John 12 has Jesus preaching to the crowd (12.27–36), and then leaving and hiding from them because of their unbelief. However, his public preaching inexplicably resumes in v. 44.

John 14.31: The Sermon in the Alley

In chapter 12, Jesus pays his final visit to Jerusalem and spends the Last Supper with his disciples. After spending two chapters preaching the Farewell Discourse to them, Jesus apparently decides to leave, saying, “Rise, let us be on our way” (14.31). He then continues his speech (15.1) for another three chapters as if nothing had changed until he and his disciples actually leave in 18.1. Some scholars think the Farewell Discourse originally ended at 14.31, and that chs. 15 and 16 are an addition reflecting a later situation in the Johannine community (Ashton 2007, 137).

John 13:36, 16:5: Quo vadis?

In John 16:5, Jesus declares, “But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” However, Simon Peter just recently asked in 13:36, “Lord, where are you going?” Paul N. Anderson asks,

Was the text disordered and reordered wrongly, was Jesus not paying attention, or does this perplexity reflect a diachronic relationship between the material in John 13 and 16, alleviated by seeing one passage or the other as part of another source or edition? (2009, p. 248)

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio, between 1308 and 1311

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio, between 1308 and 1311


There are plenty of other oddities in John—far too many to thoroughly discuss in a blog article—but I think this will do for a rough overview of John’s narrative disjunctions and the reasons for thinking that the book has been composed in several stages and been at least partially rearranged. The only viable alternative, held (for example) by Thomas L. Brodie, is that these aporias are intentional, and that the author was unconcerned whether the story made geographical and chronological sense, since the meaning was supposed to be interpreted in purely theological terms.

There are additional avenues worth exploring in future articles, particularly on the relationship of John and the Synoptics. (It seems a near-certainty that John was familiar with most or all of them, and there are many instances where the fourth Gospel appears to rely on the reader’s knowledge of the first three.)



34 thoughts on “Is John out of Order? The Strange Geography and Chronology of the Fourth Gospel

  1. The later writer’s clumsy ending, apparently intended to mimic that in John 20, is another tip-off that another hand wrote chapter 21:

    John 20:30-31:
    30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

    John 21:25
    25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

    Why did “John” need to say twice that not everything Jesus did is written in his gospel? And did he not consider the miraculous catch of fish recorded in chapter 21 a “sign”? Some conservatives posit that maybe the same John tacked on chapter 21 later, but there is another problem for them. John 21:14 states that, “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” However, this creates a contradiction, since this would be at least the fourth appearance. There are two prior appearances mentioned in John 20 (v:19 ff; v;26 ff), which are obviously what the new author had in mind. Even assuming that Luke’s resurrection narrative is the same as the first one mentioned in John 20, what about Matthew’s risen Jesus who appears to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee, which Matthew obviously intends to say was the day of the resurrection (Matthew 28:7, 10, 16-20)?


    • Yeah, obviously there’s no way to harmonize the resurrection appearances across the different Gospels, though your point is that conservative interpreters have to at least try.

      As far as the conclusion in John 20:30-31 goes, it’s been noted by Ashton and others that this conclusion summarizes the narrative portions of John’s Gospel, which emphasize signs as proof of Jesus’ mission and the truth of the Christian faith. It does not really correspond well with the discourses of the second half. (One more reason why people think John includes or originally consisted of a “signs” narrative-Gospel, with the other material being added later.)


      • I’m really leaning toward Streeter’s hypothesis that John 21 at least reflects knowledge of the lost ending of Mark, though it was edited by a redactor (e.g. v:14, which I mention above) to try to cohere it with the rest of the gospel. Contra the rest of John, John 21 paints Peter in a positive light, contains an appearance in Galilee (predicted in Mark 14:28 and16:7), refers to the disciples as fishermen, and is more consistent with a first, rather than third, appearance to the disciples after the resurrection–all things consistent with Mark but inconsistent with John 1-20. Even the miraculous catch bookends nicely with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mark:

        Mark 1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’

        John 21:
        1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…3Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing…6He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

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      • John K., agreed–Jn 21 reflects the lost ending of GMk, and there is no need for a theory of rearrangement. John knew Signs and GMk, and then there is also some original material. That explains most or all of these examples.


  2. Quite a few of these are addressed by Bauckham in his ‘John for Readers of Mark.’ As you say, there is absolutely no manuscript evidence whatsoever for any rearrangement.

    The problem is that John’s writing does not satisfy our expectations as 21st-century critical scholars. The question then is where does that problem lie?

    I think many contemporary scholars would regard Bultmann’s work as seriously defective in his assessment of John. When teaching this gospel I seriously wondered whether to mention him, since each time it would be followed by ‘But x has shown this to be wrong…’


  3. For a very detailed engagement with all the points Bultmann makes, see the chapter on the ending of John in Stanley Porter’s ‘John, his Gospel, and Jesus’ (2015). He concludes: ‘As we can see, there is no text-critical or language-based argument that prevents John 21 being composed by the Johannine author and being integral to the Gospel itself.’ (p 243)


    • Whether there is any text-critical or language based argument against the authenticity of J21 is debatable, but that would not be the most relevant basis on which to assess the matter. More compelling is the fact that J21 unexpectedly reverses the political fortunes of both Peter and the BD. In John 1-20, Peter is the untrustworthy loose cannon and the BD is uniquely favored by Jesus. Then suddenly, out of the blue, in John 21 Peter is anointed the unrivaled leader of the movement, and the BD is relegated to second class status (pointedly shown walking behind Jesus and Peter while they discuss his fate). Beyond the politics of the account, compare the two endings. John 20:30-31 says that Jesus did many other things, but *these* stories in particular have been selected for their potential to inspire belief. Conversely, in John 21:24-25, the redactor says that the materials in John are true as far as they go, but there is a vast amount of material that does not appear in John that, by implication, is equally if not more relevant than that which is recorded in John. It is very difficult to avoid the inference that the redactor who added J21 did so for political reasons, both to affirm the authority of Peter (contra the gospel thru ch.20), and to alert readers to the fact that 4G is not the last word on the subject. It is simply not believable to me that the author of John 1-20 would have added an appendix that undermines his entire project.

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  4. I agree with the content over all, except for this:

    “that’s a journey of about 110 kilometres (70 miles), which cannot realistically be accomplished in three days (see Brodie, p. 164). If Jesus and his disciples are travelling by donkey, one can expect a speed of about 10–12 miles per day.” > if you’re fit then you can actually walk 40 km/day … although, agreed, maybe it was more difficult with the shoes/sandals that they were wearing at the time? but people generally underestimate the distances that you can go on foot! I did 800 kilometers in 4 weeks.


  5. I generally adhere to Raymond Brown’s “community” authorship of John model, with various stages and redactors (I think outside of conservative evangelical ‘scholarship’ this is fairly accepted with certain nuanced differences here and there).

    Pointing to a lack of manuscript evidence is a pretty weak argument; one can point to a lack of manuscript evidence (and external referencing) and conclude none of the Gospels are earlier than the 2nd century, with many of the NT books not being composed until the 3rd, if one wants to go that route.


    • Andrew, I think you are making an error of logic here. If John were composed of written sources, it is not unreasonable to think that, in the process of reproduction, some evidence of these sources might make themselves felt, not least in variant readings.

      The question of how back the manuscript record goes back is quite a separate question.


  6. Ian, we barely have actual manuscript evidence for the canonical texts through Christianity’s first 3 centuries, so yes I would not find it plausible to find the various reactionary documents as well. As for variant readings, John was one of the least quoted Gospels among the early Patristics, notably because it was heavily favored by some Gnostic groups.


  7. Ugh, that’s “redactionary” . .smart phone typing.

    On a separate note, I do not think John 21 was the “original” ending of Mark, although I understand why that would be an attractive opotion for many. The language of that passage, even assuming much redaction by the Johannine author, doesn’t fit with Mark, nor does the overall motif. From a thematic standpoint it would basically come out of nowhere save the fact the appearance is in Galilee. I DO think it was clearly the ending of the Gospel of Peter, and is likely one of the earliest, if not the earliest, “appearance” story.


    • There are connections between Mark’s gospel and John 21 in addition to the predicted appearance in Galilee:
      1) Reference to the son(s) of Zebedee (Mark 1:19-20; 3:17; 10:35)–absent in John 1-20 but in 21:2
      2) Identification of the disciples as fisherman (Mark 1:16-17)–absent in John 1-20 but in 21:3 ff.
      3) In Mark 1:16, Simon and Andrew cast a net into the sea; in John 21:7, Simon Peter casts himself into the sea.
      4) Peter’s three professions of love for Jesus (John 21:15-17) counter the three denials (Mark 14).


  8. In addition to the connections that John Kesler cites, I would add that the first words spoken by Jesus to an apostle in Mark are “follow me,” and they are spoken to Peter and Andrew. The last words spoken by Jesus in John 21 are also “follow me,” and they are also spoken to Peter. Are we to suppose this is merely a coincidence? Also, the dramatic opening Markan prophecy, “I will make you become fishers of men” is dropped and never heard of again through 16:8. However, John 21 shows the miraculous catch of 153 fish, symbolizing all souls saved in the act of redemption. Here the disciples have become fishers of men, fulfilling Jesus’ opening prophecy. In my view it is difficult to dismiss this as a coincidence. The storyline in John 21:1-19 is a potent theological and literary conclusion to Mark’s gospel–far more compelling than 16:9-20. I would argue that the original literary objective of Mark was to double bracket the entire ministry of Jesus with the themes, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” The questions we should be focused on are (a) why it was this text suppressed from Mark and (b) how/why was it edited and appended to John?


  9. Or more likely, the redactor simply knew Mark and wanted to create a “lost ending” just like most later Mark manuscripts had. That doesn’t mean it came from Mark originally.

    And Mark paints a rather negative picture of Peter, not a positive one. Like the other disciples, he never “gets” it, which is why Mark makes sense ending like it does and while John 21 as the ending would be a completely forced ending. Like the directors cut ending of Blade Runner compared to the watered down ending shown in theaters.


    • How would the story of John 21:1-19 be a forced ending to Mark? Mark predicts that Jesus will make the disciples become fishers of men, and John 21 fulfills this. Mark 14:27-30 gives us three tightly associated elements–Jesus will reunite with the disciples in Galilee, the shepherd is struck down (requiring a new shepherd), and Peter will deny Jesus three times. All of this is neatly fulfilled thematically in John 21. I don’t see anything forced about it.

      I suggest doing this thought experiment: If Mark had written this J21 story as a closing bookend to complement Mark 1, how would he have opened it? Quite clearly, he would have introduced Peter, Andrew, James and John who had returned to their nets, fishing by the sea of Galilee. This would have constituted an obvious Markan signature that could not be transferred to John. What was the editor’s solution? He erased those elements and replaced them with a heavy-handed Johannine signature — Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, and Nathanael fishing by the sea of Tiberias. Note that all of those names are in some way unique to John. What are the odds an editor strung together those particular names for any purpose other than to make the text appear to be Johannine in origin? If there is anything forced here, it is the notion that these three disciples would go fishing at the end of John.


  10. To add to what Evan says, I agree with Andrew that the picture of the disciples, Peter included, is mostly negative. However, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that they never “get it,” because Jesus predicts in Mark 14:27b-28 that,

    “You will all become deserters; for it is written,“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’

    In Mark 16:7, Peter is even singled out:

    Mark 16:7
    7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’

    Jesus knew that at least some of the apostles would understand his ministry and suffer for his sake:

    Mark 13:9,13a
    9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them…13and you will be hated by all because of my name.

    There is nothing like this anywhere in John 1-20. John is anti-Peter until chapter 21, which fits much better with the preceding verses from Mark.


      • Could it be that Levi is the beloved disciple? The same resurrection appearance in Jn21 is similar to the fragmentary ending of the Gospel of Peter. But then the Gospel of Peter ends with “Levi, the son of Alphaeus, whom the Lord..”.


      • Interesting idea. I think it’s more likely, though, that the text would have said something like “whom the Lord called”, based on the passage in Mark about Levi son of Alphaeus.

        The extant half of the phrase found in the Gospel of Peter, Λευεις του Αλφαιου, ον κυριος… doesn’t really match John’s phrase, ὁ μαθητὴς ὃν ἠγάπα ὁ Ἰησοῦς.


    • “You will all become deserters; for it is written,“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’

      but why include the verse 28 when the author knew that the women would not tell anyone anything because they were afraid?


  11. I concur; good discussion John and Evan. If I may bow out with a few points:

    i) Evan, I think you are making too much of the “fishers of men” passage in Mark. After Mark’s opening that is never any motif or theme that is visited again, unless one wants to stretch and point to the feeding of the 5000 with fish. Like I said before, J21 strikes me as someone who KNEW Mark and was thus creating an ending that would fit it (thus the 3 denials, 3 affirmations parallel), but it doesn’t fit the actual Mark.

    ii) In agreement with many scholars, Mark 13 sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of Mark, and I think its a separate apocalyptic text used by the Markan author; I would put much stock in Mark 13:9 as containing some Markan hint at Peter understanding everything at the end.

    iii) Finally, and to me this is the coup de grace, if J21, was the original ending, why did that not simply get tacked back on? Why does a completely separate, esoteric ending (I call it the snake handling ending because of its later ramifications) get quickly accepted by the Christian community? If J21 was the original ending, that means it was a fairly widespread narrative which found its way to 3 sources (Mark, GPeter and John) but a completely different ending becomes accepted as the “proper” ending to Mark as early as the early-mid 2nd century? I find that highly implausible.


  12. Absolutely Andrew, with your third point you have put your finger precisely on the most essential question — why would this have been done? Why delete it from Mark? I suspect that the reason the academy does not see Mark’s missing ending in J21 is that the rationale for the transfer is not obvious. But I submit that the rationale becomes obvious once the story is removed from John and reattached to Mark 16:8. In this case, what do we have? We have a GMk which affirms the authority of Peter, and which uses the three denials as the vehicle by which his authority is affirmed. Meanwhile, we have a 4G which ends at 20:31. The 4G narrative contains a blistering denigration of Peter, with an intentional association of Peter with Judas. The author makes this association in order to color Peter as a second betrayer of the movement, and at the same time promotes the BD as the rightful heir to leadership. Seen in this light, GMk as originally composed appears to be a direct rebuttal of the narrative in 4G. Mark seizes upon the triple denial story with which John condemns Peter, and turns it 180 degrees into the event that leads to Peter’s anointing as the new shepherd. The transfer of the ending from Mark to John eliminates the appearance of political hostility between the two gospels. Thus it was done in order to prevent the airing of dirty laundry within the movement to the outside world. But none of this is visible until one begins to read both of these texts as countervailing arguments between two political factions within the movement.

    Of course, this raises one more thorny question … how could Mark have written a rebuttal to a 4G that had not yet been written? This is too much to address here, but the quick answer is this: The underlying narrative of 4G (less all of the theological overlays), was written before Mark, and prior to the martyrdom of Peter. Nobody would have written the scathing condemnation of Peter that is present in 4G after the death of Peter. (See my Ur-John Thesis for more detail if you wish. It is online at )


  13. Apologies for being very late to the party here. To my mind, the disorder thesis doesn’t hold up all too well once one admits John’s familiarity with the other Gospels, and particularly the way that the events of John’s Gospel follow Matthew’s order – i.e. Brodie must be more-or-less right about most of the aporias. Certainly the big deal disruptions – e.g. the early Temple Cleansing, the late Triumphal Entry – are more likely to be authorial than redactional, as they would point to a thoroughly incompetent redactor if he managed to harmonize the order of things where doublets would be tolerable (e.g. healing miracles), but not of the things that actually created difficulties for people composing Gospel harmonies!

    John does not of course pick out every incident from Matthew and write a discourse upon it (otherwise John would be a very long book indeed), but those that he does choose follow Matthew with only the occasional transposition (usually against all three Synoptics; e.g. Calling the Disciples before the Journey into Galilee, the programmatic nature of which is evident from a comparison of Mt 4.12 and Jn 4.1-3) or scene or detail/reminiscence sourced elsewhere (if I ever get away from the real world and back to blogging, this is something I’m meaning to go into in detail).

    To go through the examples one by one:
    CHAPTER 21
    1) Chapter 21. Another argument for its inauthenticity is that the Matthaean parallels, which are strong from Jn 11.45 / Mt 26.1, stop at the end of Jn 20 / Mt 28. It’s normal for the parallels to go weak or disordered or non-existent in a discourse arising from an event, but this is not the form of Jn 21 at all.
    2) Jn 6.1. The incidents that chapters 5 and 6 are based on are taken in sequence (Mt 9.1-8; 14.13-32). I think the issue here is that the Johannine setting of chapter 5 is derived from an unfortunate interpretation of τὴν ἰδίαν πόλιν at Mt 9.1 – it’s not Capernaum; it’s Jerusalem. Add a reminiscence that it happened in his house (from Mark) and there you go.
    3) Jn 6.3,15. This is just fatigue. Jn 6.15 thoughtlessly replicates Mt 14.23.
    4) Jn 6.59. This is strange. What seems to be going on is that John is incorporating some of the material he’s skipped into the Bread of Life discourse – in this case the Rejection at Nazareth (Jn 6.42 = Mt 13.55) – and has somehow taken the setting across.
    5) Jn 7.1. I just take this as a radical reworking of Mt 17.22-23. John has jumped from one Passion Prediction (the Confession of Peter) to the next and is trying to make things work against the unsuitability of his choice.
    6) Jn 2.1. Commentators often point to a seven-day week prefiguring thing in this section of John. It seems like theology rather than history to me. Either that or John has made a gross geographical blunder. And if the commentators are right in identifying the Sabbath, he could only have gone half as far…
    7) Jn 10.22. Agreed that John 10 is very strange. Jn 10.40-42 picks up Mt 19.1-2, but what goes before is seriously difficult.
    8) Jn 11.2. Not sure that this is intended to be chronological, rather than an attempt at identifying which Mary it is.
    9&10) Jn 12.44 and 14.31. Yes, these are messy.
    11) Jn 13.36 and 16.5. Jn 13.36 is in its proper place against Matthew – the order Judas’ betrayal predicted, Institution Narrative (or the New Commandment in John), Peter’s denial predicted is common. This does, however, make chapters 15 and 16 look even more remarkable – maybe Ashton has a point.

    So the sections I’d admit as potential loci for tampering are Jn 10.1-39; 12.44-50; and 15-16. One thing that’s immediately apparent there is that this includes every instance of the word παροιμία (the Johannine term for a parable). Interesting.

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    • Great observations, James. John’s use of the Synoptics may indeed explain some of the aporias. In some cases, like his explanation regarding Mary, he might even expect his audience to be familiar with the Synoptics (Luke in this case).

      As you note, in cases like John 10.1 and 12.44, we also have some narrative discontinuities that may be examples of the same phenomenon.


    • Hi James,

      I have been looking at this stuff myself but I think John was using Mark and that Matthew was using Mark and John, but mostly Mark.

      Mt 9.1-8 = Mk 2:1-12
      Jn 6.15 = Mt 14.23 = Mk 6:45
      Mt 25 = Mk 14
      Mt 17.22-23 = Mk 9:31
      Jn 6.42 = Mt 13.55 = Mk 6:3

      Jn 6.59 =
      There are two Great Omissions. Luke follows Mark but adds some monologue from Matthew. After the Feeding of the 5000, Luke 9:18 jumps from Mark 6:46 to Mark 8:27 in mid-sentence as if he didn’t know chapter 7 was missing along with adjoining material. John follows the Feeding of the 5000, the Walking on Water, and the Visit to Gennasaret where he has the Bread of Life discourse, then entertaining a question from Mark 8:11-12. John may have known something was missing and tried to fill it with the BoL discourse. Was it the place where Jesus called the Syro-Phoenician woman a dog that offended Christians into ripping sections out of Mark?

      Matthew also has Joseph as Jesus’ father in the genealogy. Matthew and John have Caiaphas as high priest. Mark has neither of those names. Things like that make me suspect that Matthew and John had contact but I was puzzled by the direction. The conundrum of John 7:41-43 settled the question for me. John has people wondering if Christ could come out of Galilee, like Mark’s Jesus, when the scripture says he was supposed to be descended from David and from Bethlehem. Matthew then would have provided a solution to the problem with his nativity story and his genealogy. John’s conundrum wouldn’t have been a big deal if Matthew had already answered the problem.

      Another reason I think John used Mark is the Mocking of Jesus. Mark 15:15-20 seems to be based on the Mocking of Carabbas in The Works of Philo Judaeus – Flaccus, VI. (I think Mark modified the name to Barabbas to have two “Son of the Fathers” for a scapegoat scenario.) Philo didn’t give a color for how they dressed Carabbas but Mark and John say Jesus was dressed in purple while Matthew changed it to scarlet.


  14. I just discovered this interesting post, I hope I have not arrived too late to contribute to the discussion.

    Here are links to essays and comparison tables which show a literary relationship between John’s Lazarus Revival and the healing miracles in Mark (and the other synoptics). One has to ask the question, did John take all the healing miracle stories that appear in the synoptic gospels and conflate them into the single story of reviving Lazarus, OR, did Mark use the reviving Lazarus story as the template for all of his healing miracle stories?
    Another question: If the so-called Secret Mark or Longer Mark which included the revival of the un-named young man was the first edition of Mark, was this pericope later removed so Mark’s dependency on John would not be so obvious? The pericope of the revived young man and the original ending of longer Mark could have been removed at the same time, when the short redacted version of Mark was distributed.

    The complete essays

    The tables comparing passages of Mark and John

    The implication of the literary relationships demonstrated above is that Mark was based on a now lost version of John.

    Finally this might open other avenues of John research

    The revival of the dead youth episode in Clement’s letter to Theodore about “Secret Gospel of Mark” has vocabulary overlaps with the Torah’s recipe for installing the High Priest. Instead of being an occult baptismal ceremony as proposed by the “academy” (How did they come up with this idea when there is no water in the story?) , the text may be a highly redacted story about an initiation into the priest hood, the creation of an alternate High Priest to the one installed by the Romans.
    Since this story and the Raising of Lazarus are parallel narratives, the Raising of Lazarus might also be a redacted or censored story about initiating a high priest outside of the confines of the Temple and without the approval of either the Romans or the Roman supported Jerusalem establishment.


  15. In John 2:11, I’m fairly certain “on the third day” is used in the sense of “the day after tomorrow” or an equivalent to that for narrative. In references to the resurrection it seems to be used in that sense such that “the third day” would be more like our “two days later”.


  16. Hello,i’m a messianic believer, meaning that i try to follow the Torah and keep the appointed times or feast days just like the messiah did. However, i was not happy with the lunar calendar of the Jews or the Enochian calendar, so decided to look into scripture to see if i could find a pattern in how the messiah was keeping the feast days. i also considered a day to go from sunrise to sunrise since that is what i see when i break down Genesis 1 and i don’t see anything in scripture that explicitly says anything different. However when i did my research i did find an apparent pattern in how he was keeping the feasts but it requires John 7 to be before John 6, which you seemed to imply could be a potential possibility and i thought this could support your research. Here is the link to my videos covering my research their about 21 min long,


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