Craig S. Keener
The close of the Gospel. 21:24–25
MANY SCHOLARS THINK THAT the emphasis on the conditional nature of the questions (21:22–23) suggests that disappointment with the beloved disciplés death existed in the early church.10963 That is, Jesus apparently said something about some disciples remaining until he returned, which the Synoptics already apply to the transfiguration (Mark 9:1–2; Matt 16:28–17:2; Luke 9:27–29); the death of the last disciple could well provoke some confusion about the meaning of such a saying. In such a case, 21:24–25 would likely constitute a later addition to the text (especially if one accepts the rest of ch. 21 as part of the Gospel), which is the view of most scholars. It can read like a miniature letter of recommendation (cf. Rom 16:2; 1Cor 4:17; 16:10; Phil 2:19; Col 4:7; Phlm 17; 3 John 12).10964
At the same time, the disciple himself could issue the same sort of warning as he was recognizing his age and impending death; the Lord might well not return in his lifetime. If the disciple remains alive at the time of the Gospel's completion, this could help explain the present tense of μαρτύρων in 21:24,10965 although one could also interpret 21otherwise (e.g., the disciplés witness continues to live even if the disciple does not; see comment on 19:35). The community («we») мая second the verdict of the singular voice in 19:35, which commends the truth of the beloved disciplés witness, unless this represents an editorial «we,»10966 which many argue, on the basis of Johannine style in general, seems less likely.10967
The concluding verse (21:25) harks back to 20:30,10968 suggesting that it stems either from the author or from those close enough to the author to understand and articulate his mind. At least the plural in 21:24, however, would seem to represent others,10969 perhaps the Johannine circle of disciples,10970 confirming the veracity of the beloved disciplés witness.10971 Ancient Mediterranean legal documents typically listed witnesses at the end of the document,10972 just as the book (perhaps of life?) in Revelation is sealed with seven attesting seals.10973 Nonlegal documents could also follow the legal pattern and cite a past figurés saying as if citing a closing legal testimony (Seneca Nat. 5.18.16).
Some take 21:25's comments about many possible books as a reference to the proliferation of other gospels, possibly including one or more of the Synoptics.10974 While this proposal is certainly possible (we know on other grounds that they did proliferate), 21can be explained easily enough without recourse to it. Epideictic biographies sometimes ended with summary praise; after recounting Alexander's death, for example, Arrian eulogizes him, both praising him and excusing the faults Arrian has recorded.10975 The concluding announcement that the writer has provided only a sample of the subject's works was common in hyperbolic praise of onés subject.10976 Although John's Christology (cf. 1:1–3) мая diminish the element of hyperbole here,10977 the text probably speaks of Jesus' incarnate signs (cf. 20:30), not works in creation (1:3). Homer complains hyperbolically that no mortal could recount all the evils that the Achaian leaders suffered, then (slightly less hyperbolically) adds that five or six years would not be enough to recount their sufferings.10978 Similarly, Diodorus Siculus (16.95.5) observes that it will be difficult, but promises to attempt to include Alexander's entire career in one book (book 17). Philo points out that Genesis deals with creation but also with ten thousand other matters (Abraham l);10979 he closes his final volume of Special Laws by noting that human longevity is inadequate to provide an exhaustive treatment of justice (Spec. Laws 4.238; cf. Moses 1.213; Dreams 2.63). Plutarch complains that it would require many books (βιβλίων) to fully criticize all of Herodotus's lies (Plutarch Malice of Herodotus 1, Mor. 854F); Lysias, that even all time would be inadequate for all humanity to declare all the exploits of Athens's deceased war heroes (Lysias Or. 2.1, §190).10980 Second Maccabees notes that many possible things could be said but the author abridges them for the sake of readability (2Macc 2:24–25).10981
First Maccabees claims that the exploits of the Maccabees were simply too numerous to record them all (1Macc 9:22); some later rabbis declared that no one had tried to write all the teachings of the scribes because there would have been no end to the books needing to be written.10982 A probably later tradition, purportedly stemming from the late first century, claims that though all the seas were ink and the earth scrolls, R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, teachers of R. Akiba, believed it would not be enough to record all the Torah that they had learned, and they had understood at most a drop of what there was to understand about Torah.10983 The number of books actually available in John's day would have been limited in any case, but estimates remained hyberbolic. One widespread Jewish story offers an estimate on the number of books then in circulation; Demetrius of Phalerum reportedly sought to collect for Ptolemy all the books in the world (Let. Aris. 9), which came to over 200,000, reaching for 500,000 (Let. Aris. 10).
The point is that the author provided only a small selection of Jesus' works;10984 Jesus is further praised by what the author must leave unsaid (cf. Heb 11:32). What John does include, however, is sufficient to summon his audience to deeper faith and was selected for that purpose (20:30–31).
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Cf, e.g., Hunter, John, 197; Minear, «Audience,» 348; Blomberg, Reliability, 37–39. «Siblings» here refers to believers, at least (though not necessarily exclusively) in the Johannine circle of believers (cf. Brown, John, 2:1110).
For letters of recommendation, cf. also, e.g., P.Grenf. 2.77.34–38; P.Lond. 1912.105–108; P.Oxy. 32; 292; Socratics Ep. 28; 1 Esd 4:61; p. Móed Qat 3:1, §2; Acts 9:2; 18:27; 22:5; 1Cor 16:3; 2Cor 3:1; see further Kim, Letter, 37–42.
Carson, John, 684, though allowing that it мая refer to the elders of the Ephesian church; Köstenberger, John, 195. Cf. 3:11; the apostolic circle in 1:14; 1 John 1:2,4 (though church tradition makes John its final survivor).
See Charlesworth, Disciple, 28; Whitacre, John, 500. Paul often uses the rhetorical first person plural in letters where he opens with plural authors or intends his apostolic circle (e.g., 1Cor 1:23; 2Cor 3:1; 4:7); but he frequently also employs it inclusively with his readers (e.g., Rom 1:5; 2:2).
As frequently noted, e.g., Bultmann, John, 718. Theodore of Mopsuestia thought that 21was a later editorial addition, but there is no textual evidence for this view (Sinaiticus's first hand omits and then corrects the verse; Birdsall, «Source»).
This is the only verse in John that Robinson, Trust, 83, thinks must be an addition. Morris, John, 879; but his secondary appeal to the transition from plural to singular in 1 Thess 2may recall Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thess 1:1).
Cullmann, Circle, 2. This might be the «elders of the Ephesian church» (Hunter, John, 198), though we think Smyrna somewhat more likely.
The final verses establish the beloved disciplés authority, but not necessarily against Peter (Kysar, John, 321). Smith, John (1999), 400, thinks 21attests that probably «the Beloved Disciplés witness authorized the Gospel,» though he doubts that he actually wrote it down.
E.g., P.Eleph. 1.16–18; 2.17–18; P.Lond. 1727.68–72; P.Tebt. 104.34–35; P.Co1. 270.1.25–28; BGU 1273.36–40; P.Cair.Zen. 59001.48–52; the Aramaic git from Wadi Murabbáat ca. 72 C.E. (Carmon, Inscriptions, 90–91, 200–201); Cicero Quinct. 6.25; cf. further comments in Epictetus (LCL 1:136–37 η. 1). Prof. Dale Martin, then of Duke University, first pointed out this correspondence with legal documents to me (January 23, 1990).
The genuineness of witnesses' seals could be tested (P.Oxy. 494.31–43); such seals were broken when a document was opened (e.g., BGU 326.21; Euripides Hipp. 864–865; Chariton 4.5.8; 3 En. 27:2; Rev 5:2).
Smith, «Gospels,» 13,19; idem, John (1999), 372; cf. Luke 1:1.
Arrian Alex. 7.28.1–7.30.3.
E.g., Fenton, John, 212; Bultmann, John, 718.
Historians liked to claim the uniqueness of their own subjects (e.g., Polybius 1.4.5; 39.8.7; Dionysius of Halicarnassus Thucydides critiques Thucydides for this claim), but John's Christology invites a greater claim of uniqueness, despite its rooting in earlier salvific history.
Homer Od. 3.113–117.
A familiar number in hyperbole, both regarding more stories than one could publish (Iamblichus V.P. 28.135) and in general (Philo Ahr. 64; Euripides Medea 965; 1Cor 14:19; Justin Dia1. 115), though greater exaggerations were possible (Catullus 48.3).
Ovid Tristia 2.324 claims that Caesar spread his exploits everywhere (omnia); for similar hyperboles, see, e.g., Cicero Verr. 18.104.22.168; Eunapius Lives 493; Mark 13:19. See further relevant sources in Boring et a1., Commentary, 308 (Aelius Aristides Or. 45; Valerius Alexandria of Harpocration On the Powers of Nature [end of vine essay]; Porphyry V.P. 29).
Cf. similarly Iamblichus V.P. 27.128; 28.135; and the passages we cited for 20:30, including Diogenes Laertius 6.2.69; 6.7.98.
Pesiq. Rab. 3:2, citing Eccl 12:12. Nor could the world contain Israel's eschatological reward (Exod. Rab. 30:24) or an adequate depiction of God's greatness (Marmorstein, Names, 163). The Samaritan book of Joshua claims that the world could not contain Israel's wealth in Samson's day (Bowman, Documents, 76).
Song Rab. 1:3, §1.
Cf. The Life of Josephus, who summarizes and skips over details recounted in the Jewish War (Life 412), then adds material not in the War (Life 413).