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Internal Discrepancies in the Gospel of John

Yesterday I answered a question about whether some of the discrepancies in Luke-Acts are due to the author having used a variety of sources that had different views.  The blog member who asked the question also wanted to know if this happened in other books from antiquity.  Just sticking with the Bible, the answer is: Yes indeed!    Here is what I say about the same issue with respect to the Gospel of John, in my textbook on the New Testament.




Authors who compose their books by splicing several sources together don’t always neatly cover up their handiwork but sometimes leave literary seams. The Fourth Evangelist was not a sloppy literary seamster, but he did leave a few traces of his work, which become evident as you study his final product with care. Here are several illustrations.

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Are Contradictions the Real Point?
Why Does Luke Appear to Contradict Himself?



  1. Avatar
    nbraith1975  June 28, 2018

    Bart – Do these “literary seams” indicate any differences in writing style between the alleged author and the author of the “inserted” material? And if so, do they show proof that the completed material is in fact a compilation of different authors? And wouldn’t this be a major problem for fundamentalists?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 29, 2018

      The problem with the Gospel of John is that the style is fairly uniform throughout (except in some cases, such as the Prologue). That’s what creates the interesting problem: Jesus, John the Baptist, and hte narrator all sound virtually identical. What would be the chances of *that* being historically right? That indicates that when you’re reading what Jesus or John the Baptist allegedly said in the fourth Gospel, you’re reading what the narrator is saying in the way he would say it (not what the characters actually said)

  2. Avatar
    prestonp  June 28, 2018

    Nic and Jesus walked to Samaria. Jesus made six jars of wine so some called that “signs”.

  3. cheito
    cheito  June 30, 2018

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment and Question:

    In John 5:1, Jesus goes to Jerusalem, where he spends the entire chapter healing and teaching. The author’s comment after his discourse, however, is somewhat puzzling: “After this, Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee” (6:1).

    How could he go to the other side of the Sea if he is not already on one of its sides? In fact, he is nowhere near the Sea of Galilee — he is in Jerusalem of Judea.

    My comment:

    I don’t have to be on the East side of NYC to say that I’m going to the West side of NYC. I don’t have to be on the North side of the Bronx to say that I’m going to the South side of the Bronx.

    According to John 5:1, The Sea of Galilee had “two sides. One of these ‘sides’ was known to the people as the other side of Galilee. Perhaps the side not visited as much, or favored as much…Jesus didn’t have to be one side of Galilee to say that he was going to the other side of Galilee. He was in Jerusalem and decided to go to the other side of Galilee; His disciples and the people of that region would’ve known what Jesus meant..

    • Bart
      Bart  July 1, 2018

      No, but you would say you are going to the West side of NYC. If you were in Charlotte, you wouldn’t say, “And then I went to the *other* side of Manhattan.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 30, 2018

    The concept of literary seams is very helpful. Thanks.

  5. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  June 30, 2018

    Bart reading John to understand his last post about the discrepancies about the free in the NT, I came across John 12: 9-11 that talks about the murder of Lazarus, the one that Jesus resurrected.
    It’s a small stretch, it’s loose inside the verse. Is this verse a disrespect of John’s gospel?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 1, 2018

      I’m not sure what the contradiction is you’re seeing? The idea seems to be that after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he was murdered.

  6. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  July 5, 2018

    One of the enigmatic passages in the final discourses is John 16:8-11; “when he [the Paraclete] comes, he will prove the world wrong about [or, ‘he will convict the world of’] sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” What do you think Jesus is saying about sin, righteousness, and judgment, beyond the fact that the world doesn’t understand them? What does knowing the truth about Jesus have to do with it? I’m guessing this will require more than a short response.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2018

      I think he means that the Spirit will convince people that they are filled with sin when what they need is righteousness because judgment is soon to come.

  7. Avatar
    cioaraadi  July 6, 2018

    Sorry for my poor English language, I am from Romania. iI have to questions: Are you aware that your youtube lesson of John Gospel in The New testament lessons (nr. 8) it was blocked by Youtube for authorship rights??? Can be possible? Can I see it in other part or read it on your blog?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2018

      Good question! I’m afraid I don’t know. But my guess is that it is because it was pirated from the Great Courses (i.e. youtube didn’t have authorization to publish it)

  8. Avatar
    cioaraadi  July 23, 2018

    The internal discrepancies don’t stop with these ones and are making a too long list to enumerate. But I will add just a few of them:
    1. In John 11:2, Maria is presented as the one that poured the ointment on the Lord and wiped his feet. But this thing is happening only in the next chapter, nr. 12.
    2. What is the precise time that came for Jesus to be glorified? It can be in John 12:23, 13:31, 17:1 or when??
    3. In the verse that you quoted, 3:22, from which we know that Jesus came to Judeea, it say that Jesus baptized but in 4:2, Jesus din not baptized himself. Which one is true?
    4. In John 1:51, when Jesus met Nathanael, he told him that he and the other disciples will see the heaven opens nd the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man? Did that happen?? By the way, had been Nathanael the same Nathanael from Cana of Galilee in chapter 21?

  9. Avatar
    cioaraadi  July 23, 2018

    By the way, we do not have to suppose that your theory about more than author in John.s Gospel is write or not because the Gospel recognize that this is the case, in the end of it, in John 21:24, where it says that WE know that his testimony is true. We know, the ones that are writing it.
    But, if you permit it, I have 2 more questions to you, that I didn’t find answer to them:
    1. If you know, as I understood, that in Hebrew there is no possibility to say “I am” but the famous verse in the O.T. is “I will be that I will be”, why is this not a problem for you when Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am”. There is any possibility to say it, in Hebrew.
    2. Why don’t you take into consideration nowhere the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew of Shem Tov, which can show us exactly what happened with the gospel and how it had been changed in just one century before the first Bible had been publishd?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 23, 2018

      1. It’s be cause God calls himself “the one who is” (in Greek). And the way to say “I am the one who is” in Greek is “EGO EIMI” = “I am”
      2 It is a medieval productoin, not ancient

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  July 23, 2018

        Bart wrote:
        It’s be cause God calls himself “the one who is” (in Greek). And the way to say “I am the one who is” in Greek is “EGO EIMI” = “I am”

        According to this site–https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/chapter.asp?book=2&page=3–the LXX translation of Exodus 3:14 is as follows:

        14 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. καὶ εἶπεν· οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς ᾿Ισραήλ· ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέ με πρὸς ὑμᾶς.

        Why does the LXX use “ὁ ὢν” rather than “ἐγώ εἰμι”?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 24, 2018

          Sorry, I should have been clearer. The LXX says that God’s name is ο ων; that means “the one who is.” If someone wanted to say “I am the one who is” they would say εγω ειμι (“I am”)

      • Avatar
        cioaraadi  July 24, 2018

        Thank you for your partial answer. If I may, I have a personal question for you and your beliefs that I didn’t find any answer to it in your speeches or writings: I perfectly understand why your belief in the New Testament failed, beginning with, if I remember correct, your work on Mark 2 and the mistake about the priest Abimelech. What I do not understand why you preferred to annihilate all your belief in God and you didn’t say: “We have a problem with the N.T. but I will believe in the God of the O.T. (is obviously the same God, but without His “other two persons”, the Son and Ruach HaKodesh (which, by the way, it doesn’t mean “Holy spirit” but “The Spirit of Holiness” (because “Ha” is an article that in Hebrew can stand only in front of a substantive and not an adjective).
        I just wonder…

        • Bart
          Bart  July 24, 2018

          Ah, you know only part of my story. I remained a committed believer for many years after recognizing that the New Testament was not an infallible revelation. If you want to see more about my development, see my book God’s Problem.

  10. Avatar
    guinness  July 23, 2018

    Bart, am I falling into 1+1=3 here?
    1/2/3 John show a proto-orthadox ‘pitch’ to the Johnanine community c 90’s AD (at a time when mergings appear to take place of various churches into Ignatius/Hebrews style orthodoxy)
    This wasn’t a convincing success as can be seen from the letters, but the minority who joined took with them the sources for the gospel of John and that’s how we got it, reworked into something acceptable for both parties
    The emphasis on love stands out as a key requirement (just like in the Odes of Solomon)
    It’s interesting the prominent role Mary Magdalene plays in John even after this process, solidifying her importance in a way that would be far less clear if we only had the synoptics.
    It’s interesting to surmise whether there are cryptic allusions to these controversies embedded in this gospel, I think there probably are many!

    • Bart
      Bart  July 23, 2018

      You would be interested, I think, in reading the classic statement about the Johannine community, in Raymond Brown’s book The Community of the Beloved Disciple.

  11. Avatar
    guinness  July 24, 2018

    Thankyou Bart, I will add this interesting looking book to my get list
    It is so fascinating that the gospels were written/reached final form after various factions and splits, not before. Can I use this post to ask if you might do a blog on something? The mosaic found in the monastery of lady Mary in Beth Shan, Isreal

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