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Yeshua in Context » Literary Features, Reading Strategies, Study Tips » John 14:31, Why Close Reading Helps

John 14:31, Why Close Reading Helps

The disciples are with Yeshua at the Last Supper from John 13:1 up to 14:31. The Last Supper in John has some similarities, but is on the whole quite different than the Last Supper accountsin Mark, Matthew, and Luke. But what matters here is that most readers don’t notice something unusual in John 14:31. Here it is and some comments on it after the jump:

John 14:30-31 (RSV)
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence.

Did you notice anything? Most people don’t without first being tipped off that there is something unusual to notice.

What happens after John 14:31? We get three more chapters of Yeshua talking to his disciples (chapters 15-17).

Now does something seem odd?

Now look at John 18:1 (RSV):
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.

Hmm, seems like chapters 15-17 are sort of out of place or something. Yeshua says, “Rise, let us go hence,” but then goes on for a long time with more talking and a prayer so that the rising and going hence doesn’t happen until 18:1. How do we account for this?

Many scholars think — and I know many readers are resistant to such a suggestion — that chapters 15-17 are a later addition. I don’t mean (and neither do they) that chapters 15-17 are a late addition that should not be part of John. I mean that John may have been written in layers.

There are plenty of other evidences that John is written in layers (two editions of John is one of the leading theories — the earlier short version and the later full version with the following additions: 1:1-18, chapters 6, 15-17, and 21 added — see Paul Anderson, The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus, 32-33).

I’ll give just one more example for the unconvinced. John 20:30-31 (RSV):
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Sounds like the end of the book, doesn’t it? But then we have chapter 21.

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2 Responses to "John 14:31, Why Close Reading Helps"

  1. Bill says:

    I don’t see evidence of layers here. What I see is that the extended monologue gets interspersed with a glimpse of connecting narrative, ostensibly to present that Jesus leaves the upper room and continues talking as they all walk to the river.

    Please note, I am not saying this walking talk is necessarily historical, or that the Gospel writer intends us to take it that way. Up or down, those are separate questions.

    What I’m saying is that the bits of narrative you highlight are precisely what makes this seem *more* like a unified progression of material. Not less. Imho.

    1. yeshuain says:

      Bill:

      Awesome to hear from you, man. Looking forward to San Francisco (SBL 2011).

      So, consider the cumulative case for layers (an early edition of John and a later expanded edition). The cumulative case increases the likelihood that this speculation about John 14:31 is valid (that it was once the end of the Last Supper in John, but chapters 15-17 were added in the second edition):

      –A similar “original ending” is visible in 20:30-31 and the second ending of John looks like a repeat of the first (21:25).

      –The strange dislocation of chapter 6. 6:1 says Yeshua goes to the “other side of the Sea,” but in chapter 5 he is in Judea. 7:21 refers back to a miracle in chapter 5 as though it had just happened and is not a year or more later. Some have suggested chapters 5 and 6 have become reversed (and so read it John 4, 6, 5, 7) and others that John 6 is part of the second edition.

      –As I said here, John 14:31 leads smoothly into 18:1 if you experiment with skipping chapters 15-17.

      –The references to the Beloved Disciple are third person and give the appearance of having been added by a later hand.

      All of the above you can find in Paul Anderson, The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus.

      Derek Leman

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