Tertullian and the Ending of the Gospel According to John

Tertullian BnF Latin 1622 De Anima 158v

Selection from Tertullian’s De anima (BnF Latin 1622, 9th century)

In response to my recent article on the ending of John in P.Bodmer 2, Michael Lattke brought to my attention an article of his that is relevant to the question of the circulation of the Gospel According to John without chapter 21 in the second and third centuries:

Michael Lattke, “Joh 20 30 f. als Buchschluß,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 78 (1987), 288-292

Lattke focuses on a passage in Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean that describes John 20:31 as “the conclusion of the gospel” (25.4, here in the Latin text of Kroymann):

ipsa quoque clausula euangelii propter quid consignat haec scripta, nisi: ut credatis, inquit, Iesum Christum filium dei?

“For what purpose does even the very conclusion of the Gospel confirm these writings, except, ‘That ye may believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’?”

The translation is by Alexander Souter (Tertullian: Against Praxeas, SPCK, 1920, p. 99), who adds the following footnote to the phrase “very conclusion of the Gospel”: “It is unsafe to conclude from this expression that Tertullian was unacquainted with the twenty-first chapter of St. John’s Gospel (d’Alès, p. 230, n. 7, and Rönsch, p. 290).”

These references are to Adhémar d’Alès, La Théologie de Tertullien (Paris: Beauchesne, 1905) and Hermann Rönsch, Das Neue Testament Tertullian’s (Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag, 1871). The latter includes a list of Tertullian’s citations and allusions to New Testament texts, which includes three alleged references to John 21:

Tertullian Citations

The citation from d’Alès provides similar information: “on aurait tort de voir dans Prax. 25, ou il cite Joan. 20, 31 comme clausula evangelii, la preuve qu’il n’aurait pas connu la finale (d’ailleurs protocanonique) de saint Jean. Car An. 50 renferme une allusion certaine à Joan. 21, 23.”

How compelling are these passages as citations or allusions to John 21?

Scorp. 15:  “Then Peter is girded by another, when he is bound to the cross” (cf. John 21:18: . . . et alius te cinget et ducet quo non vis)

Praescr. 22: “Was anything hidden from John, the most beloved of the Lord, who lay on his breast, to whom alone the Lord beforehand pointed out Judas the traitor, and whom he recommended to Mary as a son in his place?” (cf. John 21:20: illum discipulum quem diligebat Iesus sequentem qui et recubuit in cena super pectus eius et dixit Domine quis est qui tradit te; but also note the same parallels in John 13:23-25)

De anima 50: “Even John underwent death, although concerning him there had prevailed an ungrounded expectation that he would remain alive until the coming of the Lord” (cf. John 21:23: exivit ergo sermo iste in fratres quia discipulus ille non moritur)

The allusions in Praescr. 22 might just as easily come from John 13, but the other two passages do overlap in theme (if not in precise vocabulary) with episodes from John 21. But does that necessarily mean that John 21 is the source of Tertullian’s knowledge of these stories? Neither of the examples explicitly ties these stories to the Gospel According to John (unlike the citation of John 20:31 in Adv. Prax. 25, which is very explicitly called the clausula of the Gospel According to John). All of this led Lattke to conclude that the evidence provided by Tertullian suggests that a 20-chapter version of John was still in circulation in the third century and that the allusions in Scorp. and De anima could just as easily be independent traditions. It is an interesting article–definitely worth a read.

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4 Responses to Tertullian and the Ending of the Gospel According to John

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Donald Jacobs says:

    Dear Dr Nongbri, I just found your book and blog through Hurtado’s blog this week. I bought your book straight away on Amazon and it arrived yesterday. I am only 40 pages in, but what a fantastic book! It is beautifully presented and packed with fascinating information and analysis. I know I will read more than once right through.

    Reading your book, and now this post about John 21, I wonder if you have read or have any comment on David Trobisch’s suggestion (in his book “The First Edition of the New Testament”) that the New Testament, as a coherent collection, was the work of an editor/editors in the second century? Because I think his attention to physical and editorial features: codex form, titles, order of books, nomina sacra, editorial additions, has some resonance. In particular Trobisch argues that John 21 was added to the gospel, by the editor(s) of the New Testament, as an editorial explanation and to orient the reader in how to interpret the collection that became known as the New Testament.

    • Hi Donald. Thanks for the kind words. Given the nature of the evidence we have, it’s hard to know at what point in time certain events took place and who was involved. So, for instance, when and where were the Pauline letters collected? By whom? Was there “editing” involved (think of the text we call 2 Corinthians)? Trobisch’s suggestions about these things are certainly possible, but it’s difficult to be confident that we can know very much about the exact circumstances of these events.

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