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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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John 21

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Verses 1-2

Vv. 1, 2. “ After this, Jesus manifested himself once more to the disciples, on the shore of the sea of Tiberias; and this is the way in which he manifested himself. 2 Simon Peter and Thomas, called Didymus, and Nathanael, of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee and two others of his disciples, were together.

The transition μετὰ ταῦτα , after these things, is familiar to John (John 21:1, John 6:1, John 7:1, etc.). It serves to join the appendix to the Gospel, and especially to the narrative of the last appearance, John 20:29. The expression ἐφανέρωσεν ἑαυτόν is also in conformity with John's style (John 7:4, φανέρωσον σεαυτόν ; John 11:33, ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτόν ); this form makes prominent the conscious and free will with which Jesus comes forth from the sphere of invisibility to manifest Himself. Until now, being visible, He had manifested His glory; now he manifests His person.

The term sea of Tiberias is in the New Testament a purely Johannean designation ( Joh 6:1 ). The Synoptics say sea of Galilee ( Mat 4:18 ) or lake of Gennesaret ( Luk 5:1 ). The Old Testament knows neither the one nor the other of these expressions. Josephus employs them both.

The clause: And this is the way in which, is not useless; it gives an indication beforehand of the solemnity of the scene which is to follow.

Of the seven persons indicated in John 21:2, the first five only are apostles; the last two belong to the number of the disciples, in the broad sense which is so frequently the sense of this word in our Gospel (John 6:60; John 6:66, John 7:3, John 8:31, etc.). If it were otherwise, why should they not be designated by name, as well as those who precede? Hengstenberg affirms that “every one must understand that they were Andrew and Philip”(!).

The sons of Zebedee occupy, therefore, the last place among the apostles properly so called. This fact is significant; for in all the apostolic lists they are constantly joined with Peter, and placed with him in the first rank. The only reason which explains this circumstance is that the author of this narrative, in its oral or written form, was himself one of the two sons of Zebedee. It has been objected that John never names either himself or his brother. But no more does he do this here; he only designates himself, because he was obliged to indicate his presence in view of the following scene, John 21:7, and especially John 21:22.

Respecting Thomas Didymus, see on John 11:16. The explanation: of Cana in Galilee, had not been given in chap. 1. The author makes up for this omission here. May not the two disciples who are not named be that Aristion and that presbyter John of whom Papias speaks as old disciples of the Lord ( μαθηταὶ τοῦ Κυρίου ), who lived at Ephesus at the time when John wrote, and who had there almost the rank of apostles?

Verses 1-14

I. Jesus and the Disciples: John 21:1-14 .

This first scene includes two pictures: that of the fishing and that of the repast.

The fishing: John 21:1-8. The theatre of this story is remarkable: it is the shores of the sea of Tiberias, in Galilec. By it the Johannean tradition, from which in any case this story emanates, establishes the connection between the narrative of Matthew, which (with the exception of the appearance to the women at Jerusalem) relates only one Galilean appearance, and that of Luke, which contains only appearances in Judea (comp., however, the forty days of which Luke speaks, Act 1:3 ). Our story furnishes the positive reconciliation between these two forms of narrative, by proving that there had really been appearances on these two theatres. The disciples therefore returned to Galilee after the feast, and temporarily resumed there their previous manner of life. Then, towards the end of the forty days, no doubt at the bidding of Jesus, they repaired to Jerusalem, where they were to begin the work of public preaching; and it is during this new sojourn in Jerusalem that the command must be placed, which the Lord gave to the apostles on the day of the ascension, not to leave that city until the coming of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, comp. with Act 1:3-4 ). Harmonistic expedients, cries Meyer; anti-harmonistic prejudice, we will answer.

According to Matthew 26:31-32; Matthew 28:7-10, all the believers ( the flock), even the women, you is addressed also to them, were to assemble again in Galilee after Jesus' death, and there to see Him again. The appearances in Judea, while gathering the apostles together, were only the beginning of this complete reunion of the flock. Through the obstinacy of Thomas, an entire week elapsed before this preliminary end could be reached. It was after having recovered this sheep who went astray, that the apostles were able to return to Galilee, where Jesus appeared to them at first on the shore of the sea, then on the mountain designated by Him (comp. Mat 28:16 ). Although Matthew, in the account of this appearance, the most important of all by reason of the revelations which it contains respecting Christ and the foundation of His Messianic Kingdom, mentions only the leaders of the flock, the Eleven, as responsible agents of this work, we understand, from 1 Corinthians 15:6, that this was the great meeting of all the Galilean believers, to the number of more than five hundred persons, which Jesus had had in view from before His death, and in which he took leave of His Church.


Vv. 1-14.

The appearance of Jesus which is here recorded as taking place in Galilee is so entirely different in all its details from that which is mentioned in Matthew 20:16 f., so far as any details are there given, that it must be regarded as a different appearance. Whether it occurred before or after the one in Matthew, cannot be determined. Godet supposes that the appearance recorded in Matthew coincides with the one to which Paul alludes in 1 Corinthians 15:6, where Jesus manifested Himself to more than five hundred of the believers. From the order of Paul's list of the appearances, however, and the form of expression which he uses respecting the appearance to the Twelve and that to all the apostles, it is more probable that the appearance to the five hundred occurred in Jerusalem during the week which intervened between the Sunday on which Jesus rose and the following Sunday. In the account in Matthew no distinct mention is made of any but the eleven, and, though it is possible that others may have been present, it is hardly to be supposed that so many as five hundred could be passed over without any allusion.

2. The object of the author in the introduction of this story of Jesus' appearance to the disciples seems to have been, not the appearance itself as proving the resurrection, or as suggesting the lesson which the miracle may be supposed to have carried within it, but as preparing the way for the conversation with Peter respecting himself and John which follows. This was the occasion on which the conversation took place. That Jesus intended, however, to teach some lesson of dependence on His wisdom and guidance as related to the future work of the apostles, and as, in some sense, preparatory for what was to be said to Peter, is to be regarded as probable.

3. The word τρίτον ( Joh 21:14 ) must be understood as referring to the third appearance before a company of the apostles, etc., which is recorded in this Gospel, and as having no further bearing.

Verses 1-25

Appendix: 21:1-25.

After the conclusion John 20:30-31, this section is a surprise to the reader. It contains two scenes: one of a general interest for the whole circle of the disciples ( Joh 21:1-14 ); the other of a more special interest, having reference to the two principal apostles ( Joh 21:15-23 ). It ends with a new conclusion, the appendix, John 21:24-25.

The composition of this section must be later than that of the gospel; this appears, 1, from the formula of conclusion at the end of the preceding chapter; and, 2, from the connection which we have proved between the conversation of Jesus with Thomas and the general plan of the book. Some Hengstenberg, Lange, Hoeleman, Hilgenfeld, etc. have sought to efface the final point, set by the author himself in the passage John 20:30-31.

Lange seeks to make us regard ch. 21 as an epilogue serving as a counterpart to the prologue John 1:1-18. “In the same way,” he says ( Life of Jesus, iv. p. 752), “as the evangelist has represented in ch. 1 the ante-historic reign of Christ,...in the same way he now draws the picture of His post-historic reign, even to the end of the world.” But this comparison is more ingenious than real. It is the apostles who are on the stage in the following narrative, much more than the Lord Himself; and it is their future destiny which is here foretold, rather than the reign of the glorified Lord which is described. The counterpart of the prologue, from the point of view indicated by Lange, is not ch. 21; it is the Apocalypse. Weitzel has made a remark which seems to me to have scarcely any better foundation. “Each of the other three Gospels,” he says, “closes with a section relative to the future activity of the apostles; comp. Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:20, Luke 24:53. Chapter 21 has the same part in our Gospel.”

It is evident that Jesus, after having risen from the dead, speaks to the apostles in each Gospel respecting their coming work. But such words differ too widely from ch. 21 of John for any one to be able to draw a conclusion from this fact.

This appendix was certainly composed after the Gospel; but it must have been composed soon enough to have made it possible to add it to the principal work before the latter was put in circulation in the Church. Otherwise there would undoubtedly have been formed, as for the Gospel of Mark, two classes of copies, one not having the appendix, the other drawing its material from the manuscript in which it had been originally inserted. It is, therefore, between the time of the composition of the Gospel and that of its publication that we must place the redaction and addition of this chapter.

Renan gives nearly the same judgment: “I close the first redaction,” he says, “at the end of ch. 20. Chapter 21 is a nearly contemporaneous addition, either of the author himself or of his disciples” (p. 534). This date is confirmed by the passage which contains the words relative to the future of John ( Joh 21:21-23 ). We have seen this (Introd., Vol. I., pp. 166, 167); it is at the time when the death of John, quite recent or foreseen as imminent, seemed to contradict the well-known promise of Jesus, that the correction contained in this passage must have appeared necessary. This fact fixes the date of our chapter. Only we need not infer from this, with Weiss, Reuss and others, that this correction was the sole purpose of the redaction and of the addition of the entire chapter. Two reasons oppose this: 1. The preamble, John 21:1-20, which would be too considerable; 2 Thessalonians 1:0 4th verse, which too distinctly separates the two parts of the narrative. On the author of this appendix, see at John 21:25.

In the appearance, John 20:19-23, Jesus had conferred on the disciples their mission. In the first scene of ch. 21 that which concerns the seven disciples, Joh 21:1-14

He gives them a forever ineffaceable sign of the magnificent success assured to this mission, so far as they shall work in it under His direction.

Verses 3-4

Vv. 3, 4. “ Simon Peter says to them, I go a fishing. They say to him, We also go with thee. They went forth and entered immediately into the boat; and they took nothing that night. 4. But when the morning was already come, Jesus stood on the beach; the disciples, however, knew not that it was Jesus.

Between their first call and the beginning of the active ministry of their Master (see at Joh 2:12 ), the disciples had returned to their ordinary profession. They seem to have acted in the same way when once they had returned to Galilee after the resurrection. As ordinarily, the initiative comes from Peter.

The word πιάζειν , to take, which is used in John 21:3; John 21:10, is found again six times in our Gospel, nowhere in the Synoptics ( Hengstenberg). On the other hand, the word πρωΐα does not occur again in John. Baumlein rightly observes that the asyndeta λέγει , λέγουσιν , ἐξῆλθον , etc., are in John's style.

This long night of toil without result had, no doubt, recalled to the apostles that which had preceded their calling to the office of preachers of the Gospel (Luke 5:0).

Verses 5-6

Vv. 5, 6. “ Jesus says to them, Children, have you anything to eat? They answered him, No. 6. He said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you shall find. They cast it therefore;and they were not able to draw it because of the multitude of the fishes.

The term παιδία , young people, boys, is not foreign to the language of John (1 John 2:13; 1Jn 2:18 ). If the more tender term τεκνία , little children, is not used, as in John 13:33, it is because Jesus could not have expressed Himself thus without making Himself known. He uses the expression of a master speaking to his workmen. The negative sense of the interrogative form μή τι may, as in John 6:67, be rendered thus: You have nothing then...? The sequel will explain this question. Jesus does not look merely at a catching of fish, as in Luke 5:0, but at a meal. It is not necessary, therefore, to suppose, with Chrysostom, Tholuck and others, that Jesus wished to present Himself to them as a trader who was desirous of purchasing fish.

The word προσφάγιον is not found again in John; it denotes literally what is added to bread at a meal; in this case, the fish.

The apostles suppose that this stranger understands fishing, and that he has noticed some indication fitted to give occasion for his advice. It has been thought that the opposition between the left side of the boat, where they had cast the net during the night to no purpose, and the right side, where they were about to make their magnificent draught, typified the contrast between the failure of the work of evangelization in Israel and its infinitely rich fruits in the Gentile world. But, besides the fact that this seems contrary to what is related in Acts 2-5 and Acts 21:20 ( μυριάδες ), it is necessary to hold to the general idea of the immense success which will be gained in the world by the preaching of the Gospel, at every time when the apostles shall suffer themselves to be directed by the Lord, and shall work with Him. This meaning could not escape them, provided they remembered the terms of the original call: “ I will make you fishers of living men. ” They could understand it, however, only after having recognized Jesus.

Verses 7-8

Vv. 7, 8. “ Then that disciple whom Jesus loved says to Peter, It is the Lord! Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, put on his garment and girded himself (for he was naked); and he cast himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came with the boat (for they were not far from the land but about the distance of two hundred cubits), dragging the net with the fishes.

How characteristic of the two apostles are the features which appear in these two simple incidents! John contemplates and divines; Peter acts and springs forward. “It will not fail to be noticed,” says Reuss, “that Peter has need to be instructed by John;” which means that by this detail the author seeks to elevate John above Peter. But in all that follows (John 21:7; John 21:11; John 21:15-17; Joh 21:19 ) everything tends, on the contrary, to give Peter the first rank. What results from this is simply that the story tends to characterize the two principal apostles by their different gifts, as they afterwards showed themselves throughout their whole career: Peter, the man of missionary activity; John, of contemplative knowledge.

The garment called ἐπενδύτης is an intermediate one between the χιτών , the under garment, the shirt, and the ἱμάτιον , the outer garment, the mantle; it is the blouse of the workman. After having taken it off, Peter was really naked, except for the subligaculum, the apron, required for decency. But we may also hold, with Meyer, that he had kept on an undergarment; the Greek usage of the word γυμνός , naked, authorizes this sense. The word διεζώσατο , literally, he girded himself, includes the two ideas of putting on the garment and fastening it.

While Peter springs into the water and swims to the Lord, John remains with the other disciples in the boat. Πλοιαρίῳ , a local dative ( Meyer), or, better perhaps, instrumental: by means of the boat (in contrast with Peter, who had thrown himself into the water to swim). They simply drew the net. The for explains how they could have recourse to this means: They were not far distant from the shore. Two hundred cubits make nearly a hundred metres (somewhat more than a hundred yards). Από is not used for measuring distance except in our Gospel ( Joh 11:18 ) and in the Apocalypse ( Joh 14:20 ), as Hengstenberg remarks. The same author observes that the terms πλοῖον and πλοιάριον are used alternately in this section, as in John 6:17 ff.

It has been supposed that this story of a miraculous fishing refers to the same event as the similar story in Luke 5:4 ff.; some ( Strauss, Weisse, etc.) seeing in John's story a free reproduction of Luke's; others, as Weiss, finding rather in Luke's story an anticipatory reminiscence of the event related in John 21:0. The transposition of a fact in the evangelic history would undoubtedly not be an impossibility. But how can we believe that Peter throwing himself into the water to go to Jesus standing on the shore is only a variation of Peter prostrate on his knees before Him in the boat and saying to Him: “Depart from me, for I am a sinner!” etc., etc.? I think rather that, when Jesus wished to reinstate Peter and place him again at the head of his brethren in the work of the apostolic office, He did so through recalling to his mind, by this magnificent draught of fishes, the circumstances of his first call, and, through encouraging him, by the renewal of this symbol of the unprecedented successes which would crown his work, to give himself anew entirely to this task.

Verses 9-11

Vv. 9-11. “ When therefore they were come to land, they see a fire of coals there, and a fish laid thereon and bread. 10. Jesus says to them, Bring of the fish which you have just taken. 11. Simon Peter went up on the boat and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.

If this draught of fishes is for the disciples the symbol and pledge of the success of their preaching, the meal is undoubtedly the emblem of the spiritual and temporal assistance on which they may count on the part of their glorified Lord, as long as this work shall continue. Grotius, Olshausen and others have thought that in contrast with the sea which represents the field of labor, the land and the meal represent heaven, from whence Jesus aids the believers, and where He receives them after death. We are more naturally led to the first sense by the preceding question: “You have, then, nothing to eat?”

The word ἀνθρακία , coal-fire, is found only here and in the story of the denial of St. Peter, and this in John only (John 18:18; Mark and Luke have πῦρ and φῶς ).

The singular ὀψάριον , roasted fish, is taken by Luthardt, Meyer, Weiss, in the collective sense: fish, as if there were several. They rest upon John 21:13. But in that place there is the article, which may have the generic sense. If there were several, why should Jesus request them to bring of their own? Joh 21:10 and John 6:9, where the plural is used, speak rather in favor of the singular sense of ὀψάριον . Only the narrative does not lay stress upon this; for in that case ἕν would have been necessary.

Whence came this bread and fish? Luthardt thinks of the ministry of angels; Baumleinand Weiss attribute the whole to the action of Peter. This disciple may, indeed, have kindled the fire; but whence could he have procured the bread and the fish? Lampe thinks that Jesus had procured these articles of food from some fishermen of the neighborhood; at all events, He did not create them; this procedure would be contrary to all the antecedents (John 2:7, John 6:9; comp. Vol. I., pp. 349, 350; Vol. II., p. 7). The words: it is the Lord, relieve us, undoubtedly, from the necessity of disturbing ourselves with this question ( Luk 19:31 ).

The articles of food offered by Jesus must be made complete by the product of their own fishing. This detail would be absolutely incomprehensible, unless this whole scene had a symbolic sense. Jesus wishes to tell them that He will occupy Himself with their wants, but that their faithful labor must co-operate with His benediction and His aid; comp. Psalms 128:2: “ The fruit of thy labor thou shalt eat. He drew: of course, with the aid of his companions; but Peter was the one who directed.

The number one hundred and fifty-three has been made the text of the strangest commentaries. Cyril of Alexandria sees herein the emblem of God and the Church (100 representing the Gentiles, 50 the Jews, 3 the Trinity). Augustine gives himself to unheard-of subtleties (see Westcott, who enumerates a large number of other strange explanations, of Gregory the Great, Rupert of Deutz, etc.). Hengstenberg sees in this number an allusion to the 153,600 Canaanitish proselytes who were received into the theocracy in the time of Solomon ( 2Ch 2:17 ). According to an expression which is somewhat common at the present day among our critics, this number came from the idea accepted at that time among naturalists, that the total number of kinds of fishes is 153. Koestlin has, indeed, cited a passage from Jerome, which seems to prove the existence of this idea among the learned men of the period by a saying of a Cilician poet, named Oppian, a contemporary of Marcus Aurelius: “Those who have written on the species of animals,...and among them the very learned Oppian, the Cilician, say that there are 153 kinds of fish, which were all taken by the apostles, and of which none remained uncaught.”

This number would, therefore, be the symbol of the totality of the Gentile nations. Hilgenfeld, to complete this interpretation, holds that the fish and the bread which Jesus had previously prepared represent the Jewish people. But Strauss observes ( Leben Jesu, 1864, p. 414) that Oppian does not himself indicate the total 153, but that he gives only a not very clear enumeration, the sum of which may as easily be a larger or smaller number as this number itself. Then the work of Oppian is later than that of John, and we are led by the sentence of Jerome himself to conclude that John's number has been taken advantage of for the purpose of this scientific fable. As to the idea of Hilgenfeld ( Einl., p. 718), how can we suppose that a reasonable writer should have been willing to represent the Jewish people under the figure of a roasted fish and bread?

The mention of this number is no more surprising than that of the number of men who were fed and of baskets which were filled, after the multiplication of the loaves, in ch. 6. It is the simple fact recalled to mind to prove two things: 1. The richness of the draught of fishes; 2. The lively interest with which the apostles counted the fishes that were taken.

The fact that the net was unbroken is mentioned, perhaps, as a symbol of the special protection of the Lord given to the Church, and to all those whom it contains.

Verses 12-14

Vv. 12-14. “ Jesus says to them, Come, and breakfast. But none of the disciples dared to ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13. Jesus comes near and takes the bread and gives it to them, and the fish likewise. 14. This was now the third time that Jesus manifested himself to his disciples after he had risen from the dead.

Jesus takes the part of host. He was standing at a little distance, but now He comes forward. A feeling of respectful fear prevents the disciples from approaching this mysterious person. Jesus invites them to eat; but even then they do not dare to address Him. It is no longer the familiar relation of former days. Nothing is more natural than the apparent contradiction between know (to surmise) and not dare to interrogate. The terms τολμᾶν and ἐξετάζειν are not used elsewhere in John.

The indication given at Joh 21:14 divides the narrative into two parts. The beginning of John 21:15, however: When therefore they had breakfasted, connects the following conversation with the scene of the meal, John 21:13. The author desired to separate what in this appearance had an ordinary character and was related to the work of evangelization represented by the disciples in general who were present, from that which specially concerned the part and the destiny in the future of the two principal apostles, Peter and John.

The expression τοῦτο ἤδη τρίτον , this was already the third time, contains one of those niceties which we have noticed in several instances in the course of this Gospel. It recalls the forms already explained in John 2:11: ταύτην ἐποίησε τὴν ἀρχήν , and John 4:54: τοῦτο πάλιν δεύτερον σημεῖον ἐποίησεν . Like these, it has as its aim to correct tacitly the Synoptic narrative. According to Matthew (and Mark?) the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples seemed to have taken place in Galilee, not in Judea. By no means, says our author: when He appeared to them in Galilee, it was already the third time that He showed Himself to them as having risen from the dead. The two preceding appearances to which he alludes are evidently the last two of ch. John 20:19 ff., vv. John 20:26 ff. He does not count the one to Mary Magdalene, because, as he expressly says, it is of appearances to the disciples that he wishes to speak. Reuss objects that the disciples present were only seven in number. What matter? It was a considerable group of them, and it was led by Peter. In the appearance John 20:19 ff. they were not, any more than here, all together.

As to the appearances to the two from Emmaus and to Peter (Luke, Paul), they belong to another category; they are appearances to certain individuals, not to the disciples. The word already allows us to suppose other subsequent appearances; they are those of Matthew 28:0, and of 1 Corinthians 15:7, and Acts 1:0.

Verse 15

Ver. 15. “ When therefore they had breakfasted, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou me more than these do? He says to him, Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs.

As there is a relation, which is perhaps not accidental, between the outward situation in which Peter had been called the first time to the ministry and that which has just been described, there is also a relation between the situation in which he had lost this office by his denial and the fire of coals near which he recovered it.

The title Simon, son of Jona, or, according to the reading of some Alexandrian authorities, Simon, son of John, is not unintentionally opposed to that of Simon Peter, of which the evangelist makes use in this same verse. It reminds Peter of his natural origin, and consequently of the state of sin from which the call of Jesus had drawn him, but into which he had sunk again by his fall. The allusion to the threefold denial of the apostle in the three following questions is not doubtful, whatever Hengstenberg may think. The threefold profession of his love for Jesus is to efface, in some sort, the threefold stain which he has brought upon himself. Jesus Himself is anxious to furnish him the occasion for it. By adding: more than these do, He certainly reminds Peter of the presumptuous superiority which he had attributed to himself when he said, Matthew 26:33, Mark 14:29:

Even if all the rest shall be offended in thee, I will not be offended. ” No doubt, John has not mentioned this saying; but his narrative is in constant relation to that of the Synoptics. One cites only as a remembered curiosity the interpretation which makes the word these the object of lovest thou, and which refers it to the fishing implements or to the fish: “Lovest thou me more than thou lovest thine old profession?” Peter, with a humility enjoined by the remembrance of his fall, at first in his answer rejects these last words: more than these; then he substitutes for the term ἀγαπᾶν , to love in the higher and spiritual sense of the word, love with the love of reverence, the term φιλεῖν , to cherish, love in the sense of personal attachment. He thinks that he can without presumption ascribe to himself this latter feeling; and yet he does not do it without expressing a certain distrust of himself and without seeking the guaranty of the testimony of his heart, to which he does not dare to trust any longer, in the infallible knowledge of the hearts of men, which he now attributes to his Master. The question here is not of omniscience in the absolute sense of the word. Comp. John 2:24-25. This appeal softens, as Luthardt says, the too decided character which a simple yes would have had.

Upon this answer, Jesus gives back to him the care of the flock. “He confides those whom He loves to the one who loves Him,” says Luthardt. The expression: the lambs, designates, according to some, a particular class of the members of the Church, the children and beginners; but the whole flock, at the point where things then were, was composed only of those who were beginning and weak. This saying reminds us of that which Jesus had addressed to Peter before his fall: “When thou shalt be restored, strengthen thy brethren” ( Luk 22:32 ). The lambs are thus the whole flock of the faithful, apostles and simple believers. The term feed, βόσκειν , cause to feed, denotes the care of a flock from the point of view of nourishment. This function, in the spiritual sense, implies an inward sympathy which can only spring from love.

Verses 15-23

II. Peter and John: John 21:15-23 .

Peter: John 21:15-19 a. The following conversation completes the preceding scene by the express reinstallation of St. Peter not only in the apostolic office, but in the direction of the apostolic company and work. No doubt Jesus had announced to him the pardon of his sin in the special appearance which He had granted to him (Luke 24:34, 1Co 15:5 ). In the appearance to the disciples in general, John 20:21-23, He had already treated him as an apostle. But He had not yet restored to him the whole of his old position, of which his denial had deprived him that of chief of the apostles. This is what He does in the first part of the following conversation ( Joh 21:15-17 ).


Vv. 15-23. In the words addressed to Peter there are two parts: first, those which bear upon his re-instatement in office, as it may be called; and, secondly, those which relate to his death.

1. The words which are found in Joh 21:15-17 introduce the matter of Peter's re-instatement by calling attention to his former protestations of love, with respect to which he had so signally failed and fallen. The readiness of Jesus to forgive and to restore is thus more tenderly manifested here than anywhere else in the Gospel narrative. The passage exhibits Jesus, in this regard, in His relation to His own friends. Following upon the words which restore Peter to his place and position in the great work and kingdom, Jesus utters a word of prophecy, in which He proclaims, as it were, to the two friends among the apostles who stood nearest to Him in His love, and who were to continue in life for many years, as James was not, the future which they must expect. The testimony of Jesus to Himself, in His relation of love to the individual disciple, is thus brought out in this appended chapter, which by reason of this characteristic, as well as its many forms of expression, manifests a truly Johannean type.

2. That the word these ( τούτων ) in Joh 21:15 refers to the other disciples, and thus carries the thought back to Peter's protestation in John 13:37, “I will lay down my life for thee,” and the similar protestation in Mark 14:29 (comp. Mat 26:33 ), “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I,” is generally admitted now by the best writers, and there can be but little doubt that this is the correct view.

3. As to the distinction between the words ἀγαπᾷν and φιλεῖν , it is undoubtedly intended to be a marked one in this place. Otherwise the use of the two words can hardly be satisfactorily accounted for. The former word has in it the moral element, and is more appropriate to express the relation of man towards God and Christ, while the latter is here used of the affection of friendship. Weiss, however, thinks that the occurrence of the latter word in the third question put by Jesus to Peter makes it doubtful whether any such distinction is intended

4. That the reference of the prophetic words of Jesus respecting Peter's future is to the manner of his death, is affirmed by the evangelist, and there is nothing in the language used to make this reference in any way improbable. The language, however, only indicates death by violence, and is not sufficiently definite to show that Peter was to be crucified. The parallelisms of the expressions are such as to make it evident that the words thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee form as a whole the contrast to thou girdedst thyself. The stretching forth the hands, therefore, does not follow the girding or binding, but precedes it and is incidental to it; it must accordingly refer to that forced submission which pertains to the prisoner or criminal who is bound and led out to execution.

5. The word ἔρχομαι in Joh 21:22-23 is one which presents some difficulty. That it cannot mean come for him at death is evident, because all men Peter as well as John tarry till this coming. It cannot refer to the coming in and through the Spirit, for both of the disciples alike were to live beyond that period. For the same reason, it cannot mean the return for the forty days. Both of these latter ovents, also, were so near at hand that no such expression would have been used respecting them. The ordinary reference of the word to the Parousia escapes these objections; but as Jesus appears to have been free from any idea that the Parousia was to take place in the near future, there seems to be a kind of extravagance in the expression, as thus explained, which bears with it a certain improbability. This last view is that which is pressed upon us by the usage of the word, and, if it is adopted, the explanation of the meaning suggested by the evangelist is the one which must be regarded as correct namely, that the emphasis is on the if. Luthardt holds that the contrast which the evangelist makes, as he claims, between the dying of the disciple and his tarrying until Jesus should come, shows that, at the time of writing the words, Jesus had already come. The coming began, according to his view, with the judgment upon Israel and Jerusalem. Alford has substantially the same view. Weiss holds (see his notes on John 14:3, Joh 21:22 ) that Jesus is represented by John as having thought, like the apostles, that the Parousia would be in the near future.

Verses 16-17

Vv. 16, 17. “ Jesus says to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou me? He says to him, Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He says to him, Lead my sheep. 17. He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he had said to him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep.

Jesus renews His question, “in order,” as Weiss says, “to press Peter to a more severe examination of himself.”

As the: more than these, had attained its end, Jesus now pardons the apostle; but he persists in the use of the more elevated term to designate the love, ἀγαπᾶν . Peter, on his side, does not have the boldness to apply such a term to himself; but he so much the more emphatically affirms his love in the more modest sense of the word φιλεῖν , and by appealing anew to the scrutinizing glance of the Lord. On this condition, Jesus again confides to him His flock, but with two characteristic differences. For the word βόσκειν , feed, which refers especially to the collective or private teaching by the word, He substitutes the term ποιμαίνειν , to lead, a term which denotes rather the government of the Church as a whole. According to the Vatican and Ephrem MSS., He uses here the term προβάτια , properly speaking little sheep, beloved sheep, instead of πρόβατα , sheep. And this reading may be the true one; for, while expressing a shade of feebleness, like the word lambs, this word yet denotes a more advanced state, and forms the transition to the term sheep, πρόβατα , in the third phase of the conversation.

Finally, the third question leaves no longer any doubt for Peter respecting the humiliating fact which the Lord wishes to recall to him, and this recollection affects him the more painfully as Jesus this time substitutes for the term ἀγαπᾶν , as Peter had himself done from the beginning, the term φιλεῖν , whereby He seems to call in question even the attachment of an inferior order which the apostle had modestly claimed for himself. Peter feels the point of the sword penetrating to the quick. This time he suppresses the yes, the expression of his personal consciousness, and limits himself to making an appeal even more humbly to the penetrating glance of the Lord:

Thou knowest all things! ” It is under this glance of omniscience that he places himself, as if to say: “See for Thyself if I do not love Thee!” This appeal to the higher knowledge of Jesus springs from the painful feeling of the great illusions which he had indulged respecting himself ( Weiss). Three ancient manuscripts read here (as two of them do above) προβάτια ; but is it not probable that the copyists, not apprehending the shades of meaning, wrongly repeated this diminutive, and that Jesus said this time πρόβατα , my sheep, which denotes again the whole flock, but considered as in the normal condition? Jesus resumes the term feed, whereby He gives Peter to understand that the general government of the Church is not to prevent the shepherd from occupying himself with the individual and collective instruction of the members of his flock. Act 20:31 shows clearly that it was thus that the apostles understood their holy commission. The passage 1Pe 5:1-4 seems to be an echo of these words of Jesus addressed to the author of that epistle. Westcott rightly sets forth with emphasis the thrice repeated pronoun μου ( my). The Lord does not give up His right of property in those whom He confides to His servants. “ Oves meas pasce,” says Augustine, “ sicut meas, non sicut tuas.

After having restored to Peter his former governing position, Jesus announces to him, John 21:18-19 a, what will be the end of his ministry. The connection between this new idea and the preceding dialogue is easy to be apprehended. Peter learns in what way it will be given to him to testify to his Master the love of which he has just made profession, and thus completely to efface his denial.

Verses 17-25


Vv. 17-30.

1. The title which was placed upon the cross was, according to Matthew, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews; according to Mark, The King of the Jews; according to Luke, This is the King of the Jews; according to John, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. The resemblances and variations in these forms given by the four evangelists are indicative of the character of their writings, and suggestive as to the view which is to be held respecting the relation of the Divine guidance to the words of the writers. That all the evangelists knew the substantial fact in the case is beyond question.

2. The fact that Pilate caused the title to be written, and the words which passed between him and the Jews in John 21:21-22, are details of the history recorded by John alone, in consistency with his more graphic account of the whole matter. The life-like manifestation of Pilate's character appears even at the end of the story, in the title which he wrote, and especially in the words, “What I have written, I have written.” These words exhibit the sort of apparent boldness and decision which seems to men like him to be a true assertion of themselves and truly courageous, notwithstanding their yielding to the pressure of the hostile party in the only vital point.

3. The recording of the two scenes which follow is, not improbably, intended to bring before the reader the same contrast at the scene of the crucifixion which is presented elsewhere in this Gospel. The soldiers, as the representatives of those on whom no impression at all had been made by the words and works of Jesus, appear as acting with the harshness and brutality of coarse men who were dealing with a criminal, and appropriating what the law allowed them, without sympathy. The explanation of the ἵνα clause in Joh 21:24 is the same with that which has been mentioned in other cases namely, that the New Testament writers saw in Christ the meaning and end of the whole Old Testament, and, in view of this, carried the fulfilment of the latter into all its parts, wherever these corresponded with the experiences of Christ.

4. The reference to the fulfilment of the Old Testament passage indicates that, to the view of the evangelist, the action of these soldiers was, though unconsciously on their own part, a testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. The story is thus brought within the plan of the Gospel in the matter of proof or (in the more extended sense of that word) of σημεῖα , as it is also introduced, as already remarked, in connection with the matter of belief and unbelief.

5. The question as to whether three or four women are mentioned in Joh 21:25 is one which cannot be decisively answered on either side. That there were four, however, is the more probable view. This view is favored by the following considerations:

( a) The fact that Jesus committed His mother to John, and that John's house became her home, is more easily explained if John's mother was the sister of the mother of Jesus.

( b) The mother of John was present at the crucifixion scene, according to Mar 15:40 and Matthew 27:56, with Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Alphaeus (Klopas). As she was associated with these women in a part of the scene, it is altogether probable that she may have been with them, also, throughout the whole. If, however, she was present at the time alluded to in John 21:25, there seems to be no reason why John should omit all reference to her. It would be rather in accordance with his custom when speaking of himself and his family, so far as we can judge, to mention or allude to her presence, while omitting her name. This would be what he does here, provided she is the one designated as the sister of Jesus' mother.

( c) If we hold that Salome was in this relation to Jesus' mother, the request which she makes in Matthew 20:20 ff. is most satisfactorily explained.

( d) The supposition that Salome was the sister of Jesus' mother relieves us of the difficulty of supposing that two sisters had the name Mary. The only objection to this view which has any special weight is the one derived from the entire absence elsewhere in the Gospels of any distinct allusion to the existence of such a relationship. This objection must be admitted to be somewhat serious, but it may be questioned whether it can, by any means, overbalance the arguments which have just been presented.

6. The committing of Mary to the care of John cannot be accounted for simply on the ground that he was her nephew, for she had children of her own, or children of her husband by a former marriage, living with her, and these children were soon to be believers. John's relationship as nephew makes such an act on Jesus' part more natural than it would be otherwise, but there must have been something more than this in the case. There must have been a rising above all earthly relationships (see Vol. I., p. 510). The story becomes in this way an evidence of the living experience of the writer, and it enters into his plan as one of the things which marked the progress of his inner life. He tells his readers this fact which belonged to his own friendship with Jesus, believing that it would bear witness of what Jesus was in His union with individual souls, and would thus tend to bring them to seek after the life in and with Him.

7. The words “in order that the Scripture might be accomplished” are to be taken, according to Meyer, in connection with the previous clause, “that all things are now finished,” but Weiss ed. Mey. agrees with Godet in connecting them with λέγει , Δίψω . The latter view is probably, though not certainly, the correct one.

8. Meyer holds that the words of Luke 23:46, “Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit,” belong to “the enlarging representations of tradition.” But it can hardly be considered inconsistent with the probabilities of the case that Jesus should have accompanied the word “It is finished,” recorded in John, with these additional words addressed to His Father.

Verses 18-21

Vv. 18, 19a. “ Verily, verily, I say to thee, When thou wert younger, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but, when thou shalt have become old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and lead thee whither thou wouldest not. 19a. In speaking thus, he signified by what death he should glorify God.

The form ἀμὴν , ἀμήν , verily, verily, belongs exclusively to John. It is necessary indeed to notice, in the following verse, the correspondence between the three members of the two propositions. To the: thou wert younger, answers the: when thou shalt have become old. Peter must, therefore, have been at that time in the intermediate period between youth and old age. This accords with the fact that he was already married some time before this ( Luk 4:38 ). He is placed between the spontaneous movements of the young man ( thou wert) and the grave passivity of the old man ( thou shalt be). Only the latter will receive from the circumstances a still more serious character than is ordinarily the case.

To the words: thou girdedst thyself, the words: thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee, correspond. It is impossible to apply these words, as so many interpreters (several Fathers, Tholuck, de Wette, Baumlein, etc.) have done, to the act of extending the arms upon the cross for crucifixion. How should this point precede the following ones, which represent the apostle as led to the place of punishment? It is rather, as Reuss says, the gesture of passivity face to face with violence. This girding will be the chain of the malefactor; comp. Acts 21:11. In this word the annihilation of self-will, the dominant trait in the natural character of Peter, has been found. But the divesting of self began for him long before the period of old age.

Finally, to the words: And thou walkedst whither thou wouldest, the last point is set in opposition: “ And he shall lead thee whither thou wouldest not. ” This term would refers here to the repugnance of the natural heart to suffering. According to Bleek, the word another designates Jesus Himself. But this explanation is connected with the purely moral sense, falsely ascribed to the preceding words: φέρειν , to carry, more emphatic than ἄγειν , to lead ( Mar 15:22 ).

The term: by what death, refers to death by martyrdom in general, and not specially, as Reuss thinks, to the punishment of crucifixion; it excludes the idea of a natural death. The author speaks of the death of Peter as of a fact known by the readers. This had taken place, according to most authorities, in July, 64; according to others, one or two years later. The expression to glorify God, used to designate martyrdom, entered into the later ecclesiastical terminology; we find it here in its original freshness. The phrase τοῦτο δὲ εἶπεν σημαίνων is especially Johannean, as well as the ποίῳ θανάτῳ which follows; comp. John 12:33.

Vv. 19 b-21. This conversation relates to the future of John, as the preceding to the future of Peter.

Vv. 19b-21. When he had spoken thus, he says to him, Follow me. 20. And Peter, turning about, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following ( he who leaned on Jesus' breast at the supper and said, Lord, who is he that betrays thee?). 21. Peter, seeing him, says to Jesus, Lord, and this man, what shall befall him? ” Very diverse meanings have been given to the command: Follow me. Paulus understood it in the most literal sense: “Follow me to the place whither I am going to lead thee, that I may converse with thee alone.” And this is indeed also the most natural sense, as Tholuck, Weiss (up to a certain point) and Westcott acknowledge. Chrysostom and Baumleinunderstand: “Follow me in the active work of the apostolic ministry.” Meyer: “Follow me in the way of martyrdom, where my example leads thee.” Luthardt: “Follow me into that invisible world into which I have already entered, and to which martyrdom will lead thee.” But the following words: “ Peter, turning about,” prove that the question is really of a departure of Peter with Jesus a departure which has begun to take place and they consequently speak in favor of the literal sense of the word follow. This sense is, moreover, that of this same word ( ἀκολουθοῦντα ) in the following verse. After having announced to Peter his martyrdom, Jesus begins to walk away, bidding Peter follow Him. John, seeing this, follows them, without having been expressly invited; he feels himself authorized to do so by his intimate relations with Jesus. Keil objects that Jesus disappears miraculously, and does not go away thus on His feet. But if He had a conversation to carry on privately with Peter, why could He not have withdrawn for a moment with him? It does not follow from this, however, that the meaning of the command: Follow me, is purely outward. It is clear that, by this first step, Peter enters on that path of obedience to Jesus which will lead him to the tragic end of his apostleship. It is thus that the higher sense naturally connects itself with the lower, as in John 1:44. This symbolism forms the basis of the entire Gospel of John.

What could be the object of the private conversation which Jesus desired to have with Peter? It is possible that He proposed to give him the instructions necessary for the convoking of those few hundreds of Galilean believers to whom He wished to manifest Himself personally before entirely withdrawing His visible presence from the earth ( 1Co 15:6 ). Matthew expresses himself thus, Matthew 28:16, in speaking of this so considerable assemblage: “on the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. ” There was, then, a definite command, a meeting-place assigned with a designated hour. All this implies a communication; and if Peter received it at this moment, this was his re- installation de facto in that function of leader of the flock which had just been restored to him de jure. The word turning about reminds us of John 20:14; John 20:16; it is a form altogether Johannean.

John followed Jesus and Peter; by what right? This is doubtless what the two descriptive phrases by which he is characterized are intended to explain: The one whom Jesus loved, and: The one who reclined on the breast of Jesus and said to Him....He who had enjoyed such a degree of intimacy with the Master well knew that nothing could occur between Jesus and Peter which must remain a secret to him. This phrase is not, therefore, an unfounded panegyric of John, which contradicts the Johannean origin of the narrative. The καί after ὅς , “who also,” brings out the relation between this exceptional intimacy and his character of beloved disciple.

The motive of Peter's question, John 21:21, was, not only according to the Tubingen school, but also according to men like Olshausen, Lucke, Meyer, Baumlein, a feeling of jealousy with respect to John. Is it possible to ascribe to a man to whom Jesus has just confided His sheep a character having so little nobility? “If I am to undergo martyrdom, I hope that he also will not escape it!” Peter and John were, on the contrary, closely united, and truly loved each other ( Joh 21:7 ). The first, with his manly nature, felt for the second, who was more timid and sensitive, what an elder brother feels for his tender and delicate younger brother. It is sympathy which inspires the question: And this one, what shall befall him? It is natural that the emotion awakened in the soul of Peter by the announcement of his own tragic end should express itself in his heart in this thought: “This one must he, then, also pass through this experience?”

Verses 22-23

Vv. 22, 23. “ Jesus says to him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is it to thee? Follow thou me! 23. The report spread abroad, therefore, among the brethren that this disciple should not die; but Jesus did not say to him that he should not die, but, If I will that he tarry till I come.

This question of Peter, although springing from an affectionate feeling, had something indiscreet in it; this the Lord makes him feel by the words: What is it to thee? The coming of the Lord, in the fourth Gospel (ch. 14-16), denotes His coming in the Spirit, from the day of Pentecost. This meaning is not applicable here, since Peter, as well as John, was present at that event. In the passage John 14:3, the expression “the coming” of Jesus includes, in addition to His return in the Spirit, the death of the apostles. This application has been attempted here, in the sense that Jesus would predict for John a gentle and natural death at the end of a long apostolic career, in contrast with the martyrdom of Peter. This, or nearly this, is the view of Grotius, Olshausen, Weitzel and Ewald. But could the Lord mean to say that He returns only for those of His followers who die by a natural death, and not for those who perish by a violent death? This would be a strange, even an absurd idea, and one which is contradicted by the story of the death of Stephen. As the coming of the Lord denotes in the Synoptics and with John himself ( 1Jn 2:28 ; 1Jn 3:2 ) the glorious return of Jesus at the end of the present economy, Meyer, Reuss, Weiss and others apply this sense here: “If I will that he tarry till my Parousia. ” It was thus that the contemporaries of John interpreted this saying, until the time of his death; for it is only thus that we can understand the inference, which they drew from it, that he would not die that is, that he would belong to that company of believers who, being alive at the moment of the Parousia, will not be raised, but translated ( 1Co 15:51 ).

This explanation was so much the more natural at that period, since there was a belief in the nearness of the Parousia. It continued even after the death of John, in the form of the popular legend, according to which John was said to have laid himself down in his grave and to be sleeping there until the return of Christ, or in that of the Greek legend, according to which John was said to have been raised immediately after his death, and was to reappear with the two witnesses of the Apocalypse in order to sustain the Church in its last struggle against Antichrist. But, setting aside these legends, if this view is accepted, it must be resolutely maintained, with Weiss, that Jesus shared the error of His contemporaries in relation to the nearness of His return, which would absolutely contradict the Synoptic documents (see my Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Vol. II., pp. 325, 336), or fall back, with Meyer, upon the hypothetical form of Jesus' words: If I will, which is no less inadmissible, for Jesus could not have presented as possible (on the condition of His good pleasure) a thing which was impossible.

He promised, according to others ( Lange, Luthardt, etc.), the preservation of John's life until the great judgment in the fall of Jerusalem, which may indeed be called the first act of the Coming of Christ; comp. Matthew 10:23: “I say to you that you shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come;” and Matthew 26:64: “ Henceforth you shall see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven. ” Peter did not see this great manifestation of the glorified Christ, but John survived it. Yes, objects Weiss, but far too long for this explanation. But the length of time that John still lived after this event is of little consequence. For the until has nothing exclusive in it. Of all these proposed views, this would seem to us the least improbable. The attempt has also been made to apply this saying to the Apocalyptic vision, which Jesus here promised to John ( Bengel, Hengstenberg); or a proof has been sought in it in favor of the necessity of the apostleship even till the end of time ( Thiersch); Schelling (comp. Bonnet) saw in it the promise of the Johannean period, which, succeeding that of Peter (the middle ages) and that of Paul (the Reformation), would close the earthly development of the Church.

I have already before this observed that, as the primitive epoch of humanity had its Enoch and the theocratic epoch its Elijah, the Christian epoch might well have also its leader freed from death. And I have asked whether John might not in a mysterious way accompany the progress of the Church on earth, as in the scene of the draught of fishes he accompanied to the shore the boat which was suddenly abandoned by Peter. One raises such a question evidently only when one is not completely satisfied with any of the solutions which more naturally present themselves.

From this point is discovered to us the unity of ch. 21. The foundation of the whole scene is the miraculous draught of fishes, which typifies the future of the Christian ministry, in general. On this foundation the two special narratives stand forth, having relation to the part and destiny of the two principal apostles Peter, who will leave the boat of the Church suddenly by the violent death of martyrdom, and John, who will accompany it even to the shore.

After this saying relative to John, Jesus again invites Peter to follow Him in order to receive His orders, and to resume, from that moment, the active service of the ministry and of the direction of the apostolate, which had been temporarily interrupted. The σύ , thou, which Jesus makes prominent here (comp. the difference in Joh 21:19 ), contrasts Peter with John: “ Thou do thou think of what I command thee, and leave to God His own secrets.” The Alexandrian authorities place the μοι , me, before the verb, which would give it a special emphasis: “Occupy thyself with me and with no other!” This seems to me forced. The author, without indicating in Joh 21:23 the meaning of the saying of Jesus, which perhaps he does not himself know, contents himself with correcting the misapprehension which was connected with it.

The last words: what is it to thee? are not indispensable, and it is possible that the reading of the Sinaitic MS., which omits them, is the true one. The present οὐκ ἀποθνήσκει , he does not die, is that of the idea. We feel that the author reproduces this λόγος , this saying, just as it was repeated in the Church at the very moment when he was writing.

To whom are we to ascribe the redaction of this supplement? The stamp of the Johannean style and manner is so impressed upon it from one end to the other, that there are only two alternatives: either a man living in habitual association with the apostle drew up this narrative, after having often heard it from his lips, or John himself drew it up. Between these two suppositions, the choice is of little consequence. In favor of the second may be alleged: 1. The last place assigned to the two sons of Zebedee among the apostles named in John 21:1; John 2:0. The very delicate way in which the finest shades of the conversation between Jesus and Peter are given. For the former may be urged: 1. The use of some terms which are not found again in the writings of John 2:0. The relation between Joh 21:23 and John 21:24, which easily leads us to regard him who wrote Joh 21:23 as one of those who say: We know, in John 21:24; perhaps, also, as the one who speaks in the first person singular in John 21:25.

Baur and a part of his school have seen in the redaction and addition of this appendix a manoeuvre designed to exalt John, the apostle of Asia Minor, above Peter, the patron of the Church of Rome. But it is precisely Peter who is made prominent in this story (comp. John 21:1; John 21:11; John 21:15-17; John 21:19; Joh 21:22 ). So Koestlin and Volkmar have made a complete turn, and claimed that, contrary to the intention of the whole Gospel, this chapter is a Roman addition designed to make Peter prominent, whom the author of the fourth Gospel had constantly tried to depreciate. Reuss expresses himself more circumspectly: the author desired to re-establish the consideration for Peter, compromised by his denial.

The first two suppositions counterbalance each other. The third would suit rather the end which Jesus proposed to Himself in the scene itself, than the design which presided over its redaction.

Verses 24-25

Conclusion of the Appendix: John 21:24-25 .

Vv. 24, 25. “ This is the disciple who testifies of these things and who wrote them;and we know that his testimony is true. 25. There are also many other things which Jesus did; and if they were written in detail, I do not think that the world itself could contain the books which would be written.

This postscript attests two things: 1. The composition of the Gospel by the apostle John ( Joh 21:24 ); 2. The infinite richness of the evangelic history, which would not let itself be confined in any written word, whatever might be its extent ( Joh 21:25 ).

There are three very different opinions respecting the origin of these two verses. Some ( Hengstenberg, Weitzel, Hoelemann, Hilgenfeld, etc.) ascribe them both to the author of ch. 21, who is at the same time the author of the entire book, either the apostle John (the first three) or a pseudo-John (Hilgenfeld). So Lange and Schaff, who ascribe only the words: “ And we know that his testimony is true,” to another hand. Meyer, Tischendorf, etc., ascribe Joh 21:24 to the author of the whole, but they see in John 21:25 a later interpolation. The third party ( Tholuck, Luthardt, Keil) regard Joh 21:24-25 as both added by another hand than that of John, the author of the whole of ch. 21. De Wette, Lucke, Weiss ascribe them also to the author of the appendix, but without admitting that he is the apostle.

The pronoun οὖτος , he, can only refer to the disciple whom Jesus loved ( Joh 21:23 ), and the pronouns τούτων and ταῦτα , these things, only to the contents of the entire book. For the appendix alone ( Joh 21:1-23 ) would not have importance enough to occasion such a declaration. It may even be asked whether ch. 21 is itself included in the expression: these things in this case we should also have in Joh 21:24 the attestation of the Johannean origin of this chapter or whether it is not rather the author himself of this ch. 21, who concludes the appendix by bearing witness to the Johannean origin of the Gospel properly so called. This second view seems to me more probable; for, as we have seen, the connection of Joh 21:23-24 is so close that it is difficult not to ascribe them to the same pen.

As the conclusion Joh 20:30-31 ended the Gospel, so this new conclusion, an imitation of the previous one, closes the entire work, completed by the appendix. The author of this postscript says of the beloved disciple, that it is he who testifies ( ὁ μαρτυρῶν ) of the facts related and who wrote them ( ὁ γράψας ). If we do not hold that there is a pure and simple imposture here, we must acknowledge that “this declaration, which is so precise, excludes all possibility of a merely indirect composition by the apostle John.” Thus Weiss expresses himself in answer toWeizsacker and Hase; we add: and to Reuss. The latter thinks that the redactors of this supplement (those who say: “ we know”) may have acted in good faith in erroneously ascribing the redaction of the Gospel to the apostle John. At a certain distance they may have mistaken the distinction which the author had himself expressly made between his person and that of the apostle witness in the passage John 19:35 (Theol . joh., p.

105). But Reuss surrenders himself here to an amiable illusion. By affirming the Johannean redaction of the Gospel, these men give themselves out as persons who are acquainted with the state of things, who even know the apostle personally (see below); an involuntary error is therefore impossible. They say: who testifies and who wrote. The present testifies refers, according to most ( Weiss, Keil, etc.), to the permanence of the testimony in this writing composed by John. But in this case the epithet ὁ μαρτυρῶν , who testifies, should have been placed after ὁ γράψας : “ who wrote, and who thus testifies in the Church in a lasting way.” But the priority of the words who testifies and the contrast between this present par ticiple and the past participle which follows do not allow any other meaning than: “who testifies at present, still at this hour” ( Meyer, Luthardt, etc.). This postscript was added, therefore, during the lifetime of the apostle, “ Johanne adhuc in corpore constituto,” as a manuscript of the Vatican says, citing Papias (Tischendorf: Wann wurden uns. Ev. verf., p. 119); which agrees with the design of the appendix. Who, more than John, should have been anxious that the meaning of the saying which the Lord had uttered with respect to him should be set right?

The verb οἴδαμεν , we know, cannot have as its subject John himself, either alone, as Chrysostom would have it, reading οἶδα μέν , I know undoubtedly, or in company with the persons who surround him ( Weitzel), or even the readers ( Meyer). It can only be a plurality of individuals outside of which John himself is found. Who then? The Fragment of Muratori places on the scene the apostle Andrew and other apostles (Philip perhaps) who lived in Asia at that time, and then the bishops of Ephesus. If the question is of apostles, the we know signifies: that, knowing of themselves the facts related, they can testify to their accuracy; “recognoscentibus cunctis,” says the same Fragment. But if this we designates the Christians who surrounded John at Ephesus, this “we know” means that, having lived personally with John, they know his sincerity and declare him incapable of relating anything false. There is nothing to prevent us from uniting in the we these two classes of persons, in whose number may also be found Aristion and the presbyter John, of whom Papias speaks. The persons who speak thus were in any case the depositaries in whose hands the apostle had placed his work and who had received from him the charge to publish it at a suitable time. It was in the discharge of this commission that they added, no doubt, the appendix of ch. 21, and then they affixed to it the attestation of John 21:24. Perhaps it was rendered necessary in their view by the striking differences which existed between the history of John and the Synoptic narratives which were already spread abroad in the Church.

Does Joh 21:25 come from the same plurality of witnesses? Three indications prevent us from thinking so:

1. The grammatical and syntactic form is more complicated than that of John 21:24;

2. The singular οἶμαι , I think, forms a contrast with the plural οἴδαμεν , we know.

Finally, 3. The exaggeration, not without emphasis, which characterizes this verse is in contrast with the simple gravity of John 21:24.

On the other hand, we have no right to conclude from this that this verse was interpolated at a time posterior to the publication, as Meyer and Tischendorf think. True, the Sinaitic MS. omits it, but this MS. is alone in this case, and we know how it abounds in omissions and inaccuracies. We may suppose, moreover, an intentional omission occasioned by the strange hyberbole which distinguishes this verse. As it is wanting nowhere else, it is probable that, as in John 21:24, it was added to the Gospel at the time of its publication. It is probably a personal addition proceeding from that one of the friends of John, who, in company with all his associates, had drawn up the 24th verse. He afterwards added, of his own impulse, John 21:25. Hence the change from the first person plural to the first person singular, a thing which proves his good faith. Hence also may come, perhaps, the difference of style between these two verses. The tone of the latter is not without some resemblance to that of the emphatic descriptions of Papias, in his picture of the millennial reign, or in his story of the death of Judas, and one might be tempted to find in the aged bishop of Hierapolis the subject of the verb: I think. Herein may be the truth pertaining to that strange note in the manuscript of the Vatican which we quoted just now, according to which Papias was the secretary of John in the redaction of his Gospel. In any case, the author of this verse means to say that, if this Gospel is all of it the truth ( Joh 21:24 ), it is not the whole truth. And in speaking thus, the object of his enthusiasm is evidently not the apostle and his writing, but the Master and His work. A complete evangelic narrative is, in his view, a task which cannot be realized by reason of the boundlessness of its subject. He expresses this just and profound sentiment by means of a somewhat strange Oriental hyperbole, such as we find constantly in the letters of Ignatius, but taking care to weaken it by the words: I think. It is, indeed, that the infinite inevitably goes beyond the finite, and that the category of the spirit is always absolutely superior to that of space. Let writings be added to writings to describe “the glory of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth,” one of two things must follow: either this series of writings will not exhaust the subject, or, if they exhaust it, they will not be contained in the world!

From this study of the twenty-first chapter we conclude: 1. That the story, John 21:1-23, comes, if not from the hand, at least from the oral narration of the author of the Gospel; 2. That Joh 21:24 is an attestation emanating from the friends who surrounded him and who, after having called forth the composition of his work, had received it from him in trust to publish it at the fitting time; 3. That Joh 21:25 proceeds from the hand of the one among them who had drawn up the postscript, John 21:24, in the name of all; 4. That the addition of this solemn attestation ( Joh 21:24-25 ) was made, also, during the lifetime of the apostle.

After this, it only remains to hold: either that John is the author and the redactor of our Gospel, as those who publish it testify, or that the anonymous author who composed it in the second century (after having presented himself to the world in this narrative with all the characteristics of the apostle) has carried his shamelessness so far as to cause to be given out by an accomplice of his fraud, or rather for to such a man nothing is impossible has himself given out, as if in the name of one or several of John's friends, a certificate of his identity with the apostle. If any one is willing to accept such a story, let him accept it. In our view, it contains its own refutation.

The work, the study of which we are closing, traces out the realization of an ideal which, as we have more than once observed, in order to be described must have been beheld, and in order to have been beheld, must have been lived. It is not an abstract description, like a character of La Bruye:re; it is a concrete picture, detailed, abounding in positive and precise facts, as well as in sayings original and full of appropriateness a true human life which is like the transparency through which the divine life shines even upon us. Every sincere heart will always feel itself as incapable of denying this ideal as it is powerless to create it.


Vv. 24, 25. It is worthy of notice that the most full and complete designation of the disciple who is nowhere mentioned by name in this Gospel is given in this place, and this is immediately followed by the words, “This is the disciple who wrote,” etc. We have, therefore, in this verse the strongest affirmation that this disciple is the writer of the book. If the contrast in the tenses of the two participles γράψας and μαρτυρῶν , which Godet presses, is to be insisted upon, the evidence of the sentence is very strong that the author of the Gospel was still living when this verse was written. It will follow from this understanding of the words, also, that the verse was either written by the author himself, designating himself by the use of the third person as in other places, or by contemporaries who could say of his testimony, “We know that it is true.” Weiss, however, claims that ὁ μαρτυρῶν determines nothing as to this question, and Westcott says that it may not determine the point. The position of Westcott may be admitted.

But the passage John 1:15, to which both of these writers appeal “John bears witness ( μαρτυρεῖ ) and has cried ( κέκραγεν ), saying,” etc. is hardly altogether parallel. The perfect κέκραγε in that passage may, not improbably, be used in the sense of the present (see Meyer on that verse), and the propositional present form is adapted to the character of the statements in the Prologue. Here, however, there is a natural contrast, as in Joh 19:35 between μεμαρτύρηκεν and οἶδεν ὅτι λέγει , and if there were a reference to a permanent testimony in the book, it would more naturally be set forth either by putting the expression in such a form as to declare it distinctly, or at least by placing the participle which speaks of testimony after (instead of before) that which speaks of the preparation of the book.

That the disciple whom Jesus loved was the author of this Gospel is proved without this passage, as we have seen. This passage only adds, at the most, a definite and distinct declaration of what is contained elsewhere in incidental references or statements, and is suggested, above all, by the manifold evidence of his personality and his remembered experience, which we find throughout the entire history which is presented before us.

Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 21". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/john-21.html.
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