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More on John from a Redactional Perspective

In the previous post I started to give the evidence that the Gospel of John is based on previously existing sources (probably written – that it ultimately goes back to oral sources goes without saying) (even though I just said it). The argument for sources is a cumulative one, and in my judgment this third one clinches the deal. Again, from my textbook:


The two preceding arguments may not seem all that persuasive by themselves. The third kind of evidence, however, should give us pause. For it is the inconsistencies of John’s narrative itself — literary “seams,” as they might be called — that provide the strongest evidence that the author of John used several written sources when producing his account.

(3) The Presence of Literary Seams. If I were to sew two pieces of cloth together, everyone would know. I am a lousy seamster, and the connections would be plain for the world to see. Some authors who splice their sources together are obvious as well, in that they don’t cover up their handiwork but leave numerous literary seams. I do not mean to say that the Fourth Evangelist was a sloppy (literary) seamster. But he did leave a few traces of his work, traces that become evident as you study his final product with care. The following are several illustrations.


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Sources of the Fourth Gospel
John from a Redactional Perspective



  1. acircharo
    acircharo  March 19, 2014

    If, as you say, Account A contained material now found in “chapters” 13, 14, & 18, is there an implication that material from source B was used to REPLACE material previously found in A and now lost? Or was B inserted into what appeared to be an opportunistic location within A, thus creating new “chapters?”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 19, 2014

      It was a good place for B. If it had been to *replace* A, A would have been removed.

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    gabilaranjeira  March 19, 2014

    During my recent tentative studies, I have learned that Herodotus arranged his historical writings on the Greco-Persian wars thematically, unlike Thucydides that wrote his accounts of the Peloponnesian war in chronological order. Is that also what’s going on in John? A thematic arrangement of the accounts? Thank you.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 19, 2014

      Well, not exactly I don’t think, although a lot of scholars think that more than in the Synoptics it is the theology that is driving the account (so in *that* sense it at least is *more* thematic)

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    reedm60  March 19, 2014

    Dr Ehrman,

    Great stuff. Would you please consider doing an analysis like this on the amalgam that is 2nd Corinthians?

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    toejam  March 19, 2014

    Good stuff as always. I’m currently reading L. Michael White’s book “From Jesus to Christianity” and there’s a section in there about the 2 Corinthians also being a compilation of several letters stitched together. Do you hold to that theory? Any chance you could elaborate on redaction criticism in Paul’s letters?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 19, 2014

      It’s on my list! I personally think that 2 Corinthians represents five different letters spliced together.

      • Brad Billips
        Brad Billips  March 20, 2014

        Five! Wow. I would love to know what chronological order you put them in. I know chapters 10-13 are before 1-9. But are chapters 10-13 still chronologically first on your list of five letters? Thanks as always.

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    RonaldTaska  March 19, 2014

    This is a terrific post and, for me, is the highpoint of the half of your textbook that I have read so far.

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    fishician  March 19, 2014

    In recent years I have really enjoyed reading you and other authors who are (finally) making known to the public what contemporary Bible scholarship can reveal to us about the anomalies we find in the Bible. In both Old Testament and New understanding the use of multiple sources makes most of these anomalies very understandable, as opposed to some of the mental gymnastics otherwise required to reconcile them. Sadly, I have encountered many believers who don’t want to hear it – it somehow threatens their faith to apply reason to their study of the Bible (?!). As Thomas Paine said, if you can’t apply reason to studying the Bible you might just as well read your Bible to your horse.

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    Jim  March 19, 2014

    From the writing style etc., is it clear that the seams are the result of a single author incorporating more than one source or are the seams created by a later second author filling out the gospel with additional info?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 19, 2014

      It’s usually thought to be the result of combining different sources into one document.

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    Wilusa  March 19, 2014

    A possibly silly thought, occasioned by my difficulties with pens I’ve bought in CVS: Is it possible that in the ancient world, the poor quality of pens or parchment(?) so *distracted* authors as to cause them to overlook “sloppiness” like this? Was it a struggle just, physically, to *write*?

    Another thought: The first “sign’s” being something like turning water into wine really bugs me. Why did the author feature something so *trivial*?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2014

      Very interesting question! I’ve never read any ancient authors comment on this, but it’s worth thinking about.

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    rbrtbaumgardner  March 19, 2014

    :Your explanation of the Farewell Discourse of John using two accounts reminds me of Genesis, in which that editor also includes two different accounts of creation. It seems that given two sources neither John nor the editor of Genesis wanted to leave out either source. I suppose if I were in their place, believing both the texts were sacred, I would include them both in my story.

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    Mohy  March 19, 2014

    At Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” (13:36). A few verses later, Thomas says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going” (14:5). Oddly enough, several minutes later, Jesus states: “But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?’” (16:5)!

    Dear Bart how Christian scholars get around this problem what do they say?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2014

      Lots of Christian scholars think that John used sources! I’m not sure what a fundamentalist would say though.

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    Mohy  March 19, 2014

    John 18 :9
    This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.
    John 17 :12
    While I was with them, I protected them in your name that[b] you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost

    is this a discrepancy? one verse saying i lost none and the other says except one
    and to whom Jesus is referring in John 17-12 who is that one?

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    Rosekeister  March 20, 2014

    I’m thoroughly enjoying reading “Mark 1-8” by Joel Marcus. Is there any commentary or book about John that you would recommend as highly?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2014

      Raymond Brown’s in the same Anchor Bible series. Terrrific. Best commentary every written.

  13. Robertus
    Robertus  March 21, 2014

    Aside from the literary seams where material has been spliced together, is the material of both sources similar enough that they could represent different drafts of the same author or perhaps from within the same community that were later combined by someone that did not want to choose between two different but similar discourses that contained different nuances? I have a vague recollection of similar material, but have not read the gospel of John in ages so I don’t trust my memory on this.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2014

      Some of the theological views are different — so either hte author changed his views over time or there are different sources from different authors.

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    asjsdpjk  March 21, 2014

    Why does it ultimately have to go back to sayings? Couldn’t an author just made a story up?

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    Scott F  March 21, 2014

    If we see seams between material from two different sources, do we also detect stylistic differences between the two sources that would reinforce the conclusion that John was incorporating text written by two different authors?

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