1. Introduction

testimony.jpgBauckham, Richard.

The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John

Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Pp. 313. Paper. $29.99.

Westminster Bookstore | Amazon | CBD | Eisenbrauns


Richard Bauckham, ever the trendsetter that he is, sets out to break modern critical tradition in this collection of 12 essays that have been published previously by the good Dr. throughout his illustrious career.  The opening words to Bauckham’s “Introduction” tell us that:

The essays collected in this volume cover a wide variety of aspects of the study of the Gospel of John, but they cohere with an approach to the Gospel that differs very significantly from the approach that has been dominant in Johannine scholarship since the late 1970s, though there are signs that this dominant approach is now being undermined or at least considerably modified by very recent trends in Johannine scholarship. [p. 9]

He goes on to explain exactly what this ‘dominant approach’ is in p. 9-12 listing 7 main elements.  To summarize, these points are:

  1. “Little if any credit is given to the traditions of the early church about the origins and authorship of the Gospel since they are held to be incompatible with the Gospel itself.” [p. 10]
  2. “As an account of the history of Jesus this Gospel is far less reliable than the Synoptics, since its traditions have been so thoroughly shaped by the history of the highly distinctive Christian community in which they evolved.” [p. 10]
  3. “The Gospel of John is the product of a complex history of literary composition which has left the marks of its various stages on the text as we have it, making it possible to construct its literary prehistory.” [p. 10]
  4. “The Gospel is the product of and written for the so-called Johannine community, a small idiosyncratic branch of early Christianity, sectarian in character, isolated from the rest of the early Christian movement, and formed by its own particular history and conflicts.” [p. 11]
  5. “Elements 3 and 4 coalesce in that the various stages of the composition of the Gospel are held to reflect developments in the history of the Johannine community.” [p. 11]
  6. “The reconstruction of the history of the community is partly based on the so-called “two level” reading of the Gospel narrative, which assumes that the Gospel’s story of Jesus is also to be understood as the story of the Johannine community.” [p. 11]
  7. “Reconstructions of the history of the Johannine community are many and diverse, but there is broad agreement that the history focuses on the community’s relationship to the Jewish matrix in which it arose and from which it later painfully separated.” [p. 11-12]

Bauckham challenges all of these points saying: “Over the two decades during which I have pursued serious work on the Gospel, I have found myself abandoning one by one all of these elements of the dominant approach.” [p. 12]

Concerning authorship of the Gospel Bauckham says:

I take the view of many other scholars that the Gospel’s portrayal of the beloved disciple makes most sense if he was not one of the Twelve, not one of the itinerant disciples who traveled around with Jesus, but a disciple resident in Jerusalem, who hosted Jesus and his disciples for the Last Supper and took the mother of Jesus into his Jerusalem home (19:27). [p. 15]

Bauckham accepts the genre of the fourth Gospel (like the Synoptics) to be that of a Greco-Roman biography.  He explains that there is a broad spectrum in this genre which allows for varying degrees of legend and historiography in the retelling of the events in a particular character’s life.  Bauckham says of his work in this area:

My own present contribution to this matter is chapter 4 below (“Historiographical Characteristics of the Gospel of John”), which breaks new ground by comparing the Gospel with the characteristics of good historiographical method, as generally recognized in the Greco-Roman world, and showing that, however surprising this may be in light of most scholarly evaluations of the Gospel of John, it would have looked to contemporaries more like historiography than the Synoptics would have done. [p. 19]

He later makes a very important point when he says:

It is important also to stress that these reader expectations were not those of modern readers of historiography. This is partly because all historiography in the ancient world was narrative, and skillful storytelling was a necessary and expected means of holding the readers’ attention while also instructing them. [p. 20]

In Bauckham’s view: “The Gospel’s major images seem designed to make contact with the widest possible audience, and the author’s storytelling skill is deployed to draw all sorts of readers into the Gospel’s “quest for the Messiah”” [p. 22]  He then makes a point about the Gospel’s historicity that is so simple that it takes a critical scholar to misunderstand it.  “If the Gospel is judged trustworthy so far as we can test it, then we should trust it for what we cannot verify. That is ordinary historical method.” [p. 27]

Concerning John’s Theology/Christology Bauckham says:

But in my view the common and fundamental Christology of all the New Testament writers is “high” in the sense that it portrays Jesus as sharing the divine identity of the one God of Israel, while at the same time it uses precisely the conceptuality of strict Jewish monotheism in order to formulate such a Christology. [p. 29]

Bauckham rounds out the introduction by expressing his position on the literary unity of the Gospel.  He doesn’t see it as the product of the Beloved Disciple, then an evangelist, and finally a redactor.  He is of the group of scholars that holds John’s 21st chapter “as an integral part of the Gospel’s original design.” [p. 31]

If there’s one thing we can say about Richard Bauckham it’s that he doesn’t follow the crowd.  For years he has been blazing new ground and challenging the status quo of critical New Testament scholarship — this collection of essays is no different.


7 thoughts on “1. Introduction

  1. Perhaps Richard Bauckham should read John and stop analyzing it.

    I’m perfectly satisfied with the book being written by John. If it was not, in the list of disciples given in the account of the beloved disciple, the apostle John was grievously omitted. The language and emphasis corresponds to that used in John’s epistles.

    One of my favorite extrabiblical books was about John, Michael Card’s Parable of Joy. He directed me to read John as the firsthand account of someone who knew how to tell an engaging story. John comes alive when I read it, because it really is true, and really is, as Dr. Bauckam stated, written to be understood by a wide audience.
    To God be all glory,
    Lisa of Longbourn

  2. Lisa,

    While I think I understand what you are trying to say, I don’t think we can accuse Bauckham of ‘missing the forest for the trees’ so to speak. He’s a historian who specializes in NT studies so it is his job (both professionally and as a believer) to analyze these things. And in doing so, I believe he has developed a great appreciation for the material in question.

    I’d recommend picking up a copy for yourself and giving it a read. It’s proving to be very good so far. And in the meantime, you can listen to Dr. Bauckham lecture on the Gospels — that is if you are interested.

    Be well!

  3. TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved is a free ebook that cites the Bible only in order to determine what the Biblical evidence says on this topic — as opposed to the NON-BIBLE sources used to defend the man-made John tradition.

    Truth is that there is not a single verse that would justify teaching the John idea and yet this idea is presented AS IF it were Biblical. Still the Bible proves whoever the unnamed “other disciple whom Jesus loved” was he was not John.

  4. Jim,

    I have a couple of problems with your statement.

    1. It sounds as if you are saying that the Bible must name the author in order to know who the author is — why would that be the case?

    2. It also sounds as if you are saying that extra-biblical sources & traditions are of no value in studying the Bible — why is that?

    3. If the writer of John is unnamed, then how would the Bible ‘prove’ that John (which John did you have in mind by the way, John the son of Zebedee or John the Elder?) were not thr author?

  5. Premise 1: No one should be presenting an idea as if it were Biblical if they cannot cite one verse that would justify teaching that idea.

    [NOTE: Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy. One cannot simply ASSUME that John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and then use this assumption as their starting point to reason from and yet this is exactly what proponents of this man-made tradition routinely do. What they cannot do however is cite even a single verse that would justify teaching that this unnamed “other disciple” was John. They simply ASSUME that the tradition of men that attributed this unnamed author’s work to John cannot be wrong and then you read this idea into scripture in spite of the BIBLICAL EVIDENCE to the contrary.]

    Premise 2: Once one has been offered Biblical evidence that proves that a given idea is unbiblical, then they must stop teaching that false idea if they respect the word of God (because to continue to present an idea as if it were Biblical when the Bible proves otherwise makes void the word of God by one’s tradition).

    The FACTS in the plain text of scripture prove that whoever the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” was he cannot have been John. The Bible cannot contradict itself and the FACTS reported in scripture about this unnamed “other disciple” are mutually exclusive with the FACTS reported in scripture about John – these cannot have been the same person or the Bible would be contradicting itself.

    You have been offered wholly BIBLICAL evidence on this question. You can choose to side with tradition or you can choose to side with “every word of God”. Ps. 118:8 recommends the latter course of action.


    You wrote: (1) It sounds as if you are saying that the Bible must name the author in order to know who the author is — why would that be the case?

    Reply: I never suggested anything of the kind and it would be silly for anyone to do so since the Bible presents us with examples in the Book of Hebrews and other books where the author of the book is clearly not named.

    Rather than seeking to attribute erroneous ideas to me how about you produce just one verse that would justify anybody teaching the idea that the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” was John? You can’t do it and therein lies the problem; this tradition of men is consistently sold to the laity AS IF it were Biblical, when it most certainly is not. Thus the first problem with the man-made John tradition is the false presentation that encourages people adds this idea to scripture.

    You wrote: (2) It also sounds as if you are saying that extra-biblical sources & traditions are of no value in studying the Bible — why is that?

    Reply: Again you have chosen to attribute your erroneous ideas to me, which is one of the tactics that is routinely used the defenders of the John idea to get the discussion off of scripture, because their John myth will not stand up to Biblical scrutiny. So they will rush to point to NON-BIBLE sources (in direct opposition to the warning of Ps. 118:8 and many other passages) because the John idea can only be defended if NON-BIBLE sources are substituted for scripture.

    If the Bible proves that any tradition of men is incorrect then those who love the truth will cease promoting that false tradition no matter how many NON-BIBLE sources may say otherwise.

    Where Biblical questions are concerned it is logical that one should look first and foremost to the Bible and consider what “every word of God” has to say on those matters. Moreover, if the Bible provides sufficient evidence to answer a given question, then those who teach otherwise must be doing so either in ignorance or in willful opposition to the truth, because the Bible is the truth.

    You wrote: (3) If the writer of John is unnamed, then how would the Bible ‘prove’ that John…

    Reply: Just because a criminal does not leave his name at the scene of a crime does not mean there is no way to prove that he did it – we rely on the FACTS IN EVIDENCE that can identify the perpetrator. And in the case of the anonymous author of the fourth gospel, those who want to know the truth about this author will use the same methodology.

    Comparing the FACTS stated in the Biblical record about the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” and the FACTS stated in the Biblical record about John proves these were two different people – because the Bible cannot contradict itself.

  6. the Bible presents us with examples in the Book of Hebrews and other books where the author of the book is clearly not named.

    (1) So my understanding of your comment was correct. You are in fact suggesting that the author must be named in order to know who the author is. I did not claim that there were no unnamed authors, which seems to be the non-existent charge you just responded to.

    So they will rush to point to NON-BIBLE sources (in direct opposition to the warning of Ps. 118:8 and many other passages)

    (2) Again, my understanding of your position was correct. You are clearly saying that extra-Biblical sources are of no value in determining the author of the Fourth Gospel.

    (3) Which John are you talking about? John the Elder or John the son of Zebedee? You need to be more specific and interact with Bauckham’s arguments — right now you are merely asserting your case without support.

    BTW, This isn’t the place to try and attract a whole bunch of attention to your e-book. I have disabled all of your links and will continue to do so if you keep posting them. If you would like to read Bauckham’s book and critique his views then feel free to do so on your own site. If you don’t present an actual argument the next time your comment on this blog then all of your comments from hereon in will be deleted. Thanks :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s