In my previous post I asked whether many of you were getting tired of this discussion of methods of analysis, in relationship to the Gospel of John. Almost everyone who replied wanted me to continue, and so I do! I move on to the question of whether redaction criticism can be useful for studying the Fourth Gospel. This will take two posts. Again, I am drawing from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction….


The Gospel of John from a Redactional Perspective

As we have seen in our earlier discussions, redaction criticism works to understand how an author has utilized his or her sources. Scholars have successfully used the method with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where we can posit two sources with reasonable certainty (Mark and Q). The method is somewhat more tenuous in the case of the Fourth Gospel, since this author’s sources are more difficult to reconstruct. Still, John must have derived his stories about Jesus from somewhere (assuming that he didn’t make them all up). What sources, then, may have been available to him?

One perennial question is whether John had access to and made use of the Synoptic Gospels. The question is somewhat thorny, and rather than delve into all of its complexities here, I will simply indicate why many scholars continue to be persuaded that he did not. As we have seen, the principal grounds for assuming that one document served as a source for another is their wide-ranging similarities: when they tell the same stories and do so in the same way, they must be literarily related to one another. Thus Matthew, Mark, and Luke must have sources in common because they agree with one another on a number of occasions, often word for word. This is not the case for the Fourth Gospel. As I have pointed out, most of John’s stories outside of the Passion narrative are found only in John, whereas most of the stories in the Synoptics are not found in John. If this author had used the Synoptics as sources, why would he have omitted so many of their stories? Or — to put the burden of proof in its proper place — why should someone think that John used the Synoptics as sources when they do not have extensive verbatim agreements, even in the stories that they happen to share?


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