3. The Beloved Disciple as Ideal Author

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.

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In this chapter (originally published in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 49 (1993) 21-44), Bauckham continues to draw heavily from Martin Hengel’s The Johannine Question, in fact he opens the chapter by saying that it presupposes Hengel’s solution, saying, “[i]n essence the solution is that John the Elder, to whom Papias refers in the famous fragment of his prologue . . . was both the beloved disciple and the author of the Fourth Gospel, as well as the author of the Johannine letters.” [p. 73]

He lists three considerations in Hengel’s argument for John the Elder which I will abbreviate here:

  1. “He accepts the common view that the beloved disciple in the Gospel represents the ideal disciple. This does not mean that the beloved disciple is not also a historical figure…”
  2. “Hengel emphasizes the enigmatic nature of the references to the beloved disciple  which leave his identity ambiguous…”
  3. “Hengel thinks that in some respects the Gospel seems to hint at an identification of the beloved disciple with John the son of Zebedee, and thinks that certainly the redactors, perhaps even John the Elder himself, deliberately allowed the figure of the beloved disciple to suggest both John the Elder and John the son of Zebedee.” [p. 75]

It is this third point that Bauckham takes exception to saying:

In my view, Hengel has quite unnecessarily complicated and compromised his proposal by allowing a relic of old attribution to John the son of Zebedee back into his argument. In this context John the son of Zebedee is a phantom that needs to be finally and completely exorcised. [p. 75]

Bauckham goes on to dispense with the idea of John the son of Zebedee as author due to the absence of the sons of Zebedee in the Fourth Gospel noting that they are only prominent in the Synoptics and even then only in Mark and Luke (probably so in Luke due to Mark’s portrayal).  He says “they never appear in special Matthean tradition.” [p. 76]

Bauckham also argues that:

Anyone tempted to identify the anonymous disciple of 1:34-39 as John the Son of Zebedee ought to see at once that the presence of John the son of Zebedee without his brother James would be even more surprising here than the absence of John the son of Zebedee. [p. 76]

He goes on to argue that “[t]he convention that the beloved disciple appears only anonymously in the Gospel is well enough established by this point for the reader not to expect it to be breeched here…” [p. 77]  What follows is an examination of what the Fourth Gospel has to say about its own author and a cogent presentation of John the Elder as not only ideal author, but also ideal witness — he does argue however (contra Hengel) that it is misleading to present the beloved disciple as merely the ideal disciple.  Of this he says:

The beloved disciple may sometimes function in this way [i.e., ‘as a model for others, the ideal of discipleship’], just as other disciples (such as Nathanael and Mary Magdalene) in the Fourth Gospel do, but such a function cannot satisfactorily account for most of what is said about him. [p. 82]

Bauckham presents Peter as the ideal disciple and John as the ideal witness noting quite insightfully that:

The narrative of the two disciples at the tomb skillfully correlates the two. The beloved disciple arrives first, but Peter goes in first. Peter has the priority as a witness to the evidence, but the beloved disciple has superiority in perceiving its significance. This point is usually misunderstood by those who see the beloved disciple as the ideal disciple. He is not here portrayed as the model for later Christians who believe in the resurrection without seeing (20:29), since it is expressly said that “he saw and believed” (20:8). The point is that, like Peter, he provides the eyewitness testimony that later Christians need in order to believe without seeing but, unlike Peter, he already perceives the significance of what they are both seeing. [p. 86]

This was an enjoyable chapter and in my opinion an easier read than the one that preceded it, due in part to its shorter length, but also in part because of the sparsity of footnotes.  Once again I was delighted to see Bauckham mention updates that he has made to this argument since the time of its original publication.



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