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The Most Intriguing Evidence that John Used Sources

So far in this going-to-be-substantial thread on the Johannine Writings (Gospel of John;1, 2, and 3 John) I have shown how John is very different from the other Gospels in numerous ways, argued that it’s account is not based on those of the others three (whether or not the author knew of their existence), yet maintained that he must have had other sources at his disposal that provided him with his stories.  Before detailing what scholars have said about these other sources I need to give the argument that seems most convincing that his account is indeed based on earlier written accounts that he has taken over.   It also happens to be the argument that is most intriguing, at least for my money.

The other two argument I gave may not seem in isolation to be convincing.  This one is meant to be.  There are inconsistencies in John’s narrative that are easiest to be explain if he is compiling various sources together; these sources didn’t all say the same thing or have the same view; and when they were combined, the combination created some internal inconsistencies.

It’s possible to explain these in  other ways, if you work hard enough at it; but I’m going to argue that the they make the most sense if the author has spliced other sources together.  The idea is kind of like this: if I were to sew two pieces of cloth together, well, it wouldn’t go well because my skills in sewing are about as good as my skills in three-dimensional math.   You would *see* that two pieces have been stitched together, both because my stitching isn’t good (that might be the first sign) and because when you look closely you can see it’s not all the same piece of cloth.

So too with some literary texts.  You can see the seams and that makes you notice the different pieces that have been put together.  That’s how it is with John.   I should stress, again, that this is not just some crazy idea that a liberal biblical scholar who teaches at UNC Chapel Hill came up with.  This is fairly standard fare among biblical scholars — the arguments have been around for a very long time.  I just happen to buy them.  And if you want to buy them at well, the best news is that they won’t cost you a dime.

Here is how I put the matter in my Introduction to the New Testament.  After using my sewing skills as an example, I say this:


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.   (I am giving these in very brief form: most of them would require a bit of unpacking — but they are enough at least to give you the idea)

If you want to see what I have in mind, keep reading! Do do that you will need to be a blog member.  It’s easy to join, and the small fee lines no one’s pockets: it goes straight to charities dealing with those in need.  So why not jump on the band wagon?

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So What Sources for Jesus’ Life *Were* Used in the Fourth Gospel?
Where Did the Gospel of John Get Its Stories?



  1. Avatar
    fishician  March 31, 2020

    You mentioned modern translations that “mistranslate” to remove an apparent inconsistency. Personally I have found a number of examples of this in the NIV, both OT and NT (which is why I now use the NASB). I assume you rub elbows with people who work on such translations. Do you think this is a deliberate attempt to cover up an inconsistency, or rather that their doctrinal or theological views cause them to filter out the straightforward translation and bend it to fit their preconception? In other words, more subconscious than conscious changing of the text?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      I’d say more subconscious, or rather, their honest attempt to say what the text *really* means so as not to mislead someone (I guess that makes it conscious, but it’s almost certainly not a conscious desire to deceive)

  2. Avatar
    flshrP  March 31, 2020

    Gee, when you point out these seams, they seem (no pun intended) so obvious. I would expect some of the sharp-eyed theologians in the 2nd-5th centuries to have pointed these out and to have come to the same conclusion that you advocate. Is that the odor of a pious coverup that I detect?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      Nope — they read it like sharp-eyed people do today, not noticing the problems unless someone points them out.

  3. Avatar
    schreiberbrett  March 31, 2020

    Regarding the plot hole that they then went into he land of Judea (John 3:22), I just checked Strong’s Concordance #1093, gē (hence the Greek mythical figure Gaia, and also our word Pangaea), and everywhere else in the New Testament, it is translated as “earth” or “land” — never countryside!

    I’ve seen “gē” as “landscape” when Socrates mentions “a beautiful landscape” in the Synposium, and Revelation does mention the “beasts of the earth” which I guess could be “beasts of the countryside” but that’s a lot of work to cover up what is more simply explained as a discrepancy left over from weaving sources!

  4. Avatar
    Stewiegriffin  March 31, 2020

    In John 20 16-18, Jesus tells Mary to go back and inform his disciples that he is going back to the Father as if he wasn’t going to appear to them himself and then in verse 19 he appears to them anyway, would this be an example of different sources being stitched together?

  5. Avatar
    veritas  March 31, 2020

    As I read these interesting posts of the fourth Gospel, I kept reminiscing of all the people in my past who tried to convince me that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God. It begs the question, are they blind ? Maybe shifting to living a Christ like example would be more accepted/plausible than telling people the Bible has no mistakes. In a sense it weakens the Bible and God of his perfect wisdom. Excellent !

  6. Avatar
    dljohnston0890  April 1, 2020

    Question, is it true that the apocalypse of peter almost made it into the NT canon but didn’t make the cut? If so, why is that? And why is it that the apocalypse of John made it in just barely?

    Btw, enjoyed your post! Look forward to your next one about John’s sources!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      Yes, it’s true. It is the subject of the chapter I am now writing for my scholarly monograph on Tours of the AFterlife. So I’ll hold off explaining it here. The Apocalypse of John was not thought by many people to have been written by an apostle, but by some other John, and its apocalyptic views were seen to be a bit … excessive. Once they were convinced Jesus’ own disciple wrote it, it made it in.

  7. Avatar
    clerrance2005  April 1, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,

    On point ‘a’, my view is that it plays out ok if we view the signs relative to the respective locations they are mentioned. The first miracle is performed in Cana, Galilee, then he goes into Jerusalem – Judea where according to John 2:23 people come to believe because he performs other signs. However, John 4:54 ( This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee) reflects the second sign ‘oblivious’ of that which took place in Judea. It situates the second sign relative to Galilee and not Jerusalem. In that sense, I believe a second sign in Galilee will be in order.

    Your thought please.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      I don’t read it that way. I should think that if he wanted to say that he would have said, Now this was the second sign he did in Galilee. Instead, as I read the Greek, it says soemthing more like this is “the second sign he did; he did it after coming to Galilee”

  8. Avatar
    clerrance2005  April 1, 2020

    As reflected in the story of the Samaritan and woman and how eventually many more Samaritans come to believe. My question is: Historically, did some Samaritan Jews come to accept Jesus in the 1st Century as portrayed by John. Do they have a Samaritan movement that accepts the Messiahship of Jesus?

    Secondly, please do we have any of the disciples of Jesus attested in any other ancient document outside Christians sources?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      1. That’s usually thought to be what lies behind the passage, that it is accounting for Samarians coming to believe. There are Samarian conversions also in the book of Acts. 2. Nope. But there’s no attestation of 99.99% of the population at the time generally, so one wouldn’t expect any. (THe one exception: Josephus does mention James, the brother of Jesus; he was not, of course, one of the disciples)

  9. Avatar
    clerrance2005  April 1, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    Why would Jesus drive out the sellers and money exchangers in the Temple court. Was this a forbidden practice in the Jewish faith. How else were they going to achieve what was spelt out in Deut 14:25-26 (then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice) or their sin was to have taken the space reserved for the Gentiles in offering their prayers (Temple Court)?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      Ah, very long story. In the Gospels he does it because he thinks people have turned the worship of God into a money-making enterprise.

      • Avatar
        brandon284  April 14, 2020

        Why do you think John has Jesus disrupt the temple at the beginning of his ministry as opposed to near the end of his ministry in Mark?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 14, 2020

          I think it’s to set teh stage in John for Jesus long-standing controversy with Jews over the correct understanding of what it means to worship God properly: so it happens at the outset.

  10. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  April 1, 2020

    The splicing together of two different accounts gives this ancient document a modern feel to it. I guess we’ve all done that at one time or another to save ourselves some tedious paraphrasing. Plus ca change ….

  11. Avatar
    theomajor  April 3, 2020

    Due to the length of the material you have addressed there are a multitude of issues to contend with here. Please bear with me:

    1) The Muratorian Fragment attests to the fact that the construction technique of Gospel 4 was well understood so your key point is unchallenged there, nor is it something new therefore.
    2) You omitted the seam, John 2:13-22, which interrupts the seam of days,1:29- 2:13, noting that v.13 is dualistic. Gospel 4 uses this technique of mergence in crafty ways, looking at the best known example, 3:13-15.
    3) To explain 2:13, this seam is the only place in the authentic original form/draft of John where the chronology moves to contrast the end with the beginning, otherwise John is completely sequential and gives us our only calendar of his ministry. In fact there is a chiastic structure formed from 2:1-22 which manifests itself under scrutiny, although I am not the first to notice this much. The cleansing appears chronologically in the Synoptics. Anyone having heard the Synoptics mid-1st Century would have been aware of the incident, and of where it fitted in proximity to the Passion.
    4) In c. you write: “How could he go to the other side of the Sea…..? In fact, he is nowhere near the Sea of Galilee — he is in Jerusalem of Judea.”
    No, he is supposed to be in Jerusalem if it is Pesach (6:4). Hence the seam is in fact the insertion of 6:4. This verse has been examined more intensely in 2019 by N. Gordon et al, and one of the associates is doing further study regarding the textual history therein. The conclusion is that this verse is a forgery, to cut a long story short.
    5) John 6:4 blatantly contradicts Luke’s reference to the Acceptable Year to יהוה (Luke 4:17-21), where Yeshua violates the Pharisaic three verse halakah. The 2019 study indicates that all early patristic references were to a ministry of just over 1 year. Looking at the Gospel calendar it was a Mosaic Leap Year. Eusebius seemingly muddied the waters mentioning both, as I recall from a brief examination.
    6) I think you may have done well to combine your points d-e. In your discussion of 13:36 vs 14:5, I do not find issue therein given that his disciples rarely had a clue what he was talking about, being a condition which persists to this day.

  12. Avatar
    Thespologian  April 29, 2020

    Has anyone ever considered the idea that John’s author simply died while still editing this patchwork?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 30, 2020

      Oh sure. People have suggested every single option you can imagine, and many you can’t. The question is always: what’s the *evidence”? (Especially when there are other explanations with tons of similar examples from antiquity)

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