This investigation was based on the hypothesis that the apparent units of whole multiples of approximately 800 letters in many gospel episodes are significant and can be explained as resulting from the particular way in which the author(s) used their papyrus sheets. The development of this hypothesis into a coherent picture of the history of the formation of the gospel vindicates the hypothesis.

Steps in the formation of John's gospel

  1. The 'Evangelist' composed the First Edition as a play in three acts with each scene using an approximate whole multiple of 800 letters and written on a separate set of papyrus sheets.
  2. Some of the sheets became displaced.
  3. A 'Redactor' added further scenes and replaced some of the original sheets in a differernt order, thus creating the Second Edition.
  4. Later editor(s), losing sight both of the gospel as a play and of the unit of 800 letters, made assorted interpolations partly under the influence of the most popular of the earlier gospels, namely Matthew.

The First Edition

The first edition of the gospel as produced by the Evangelist lacked chapters 5, 15 and 16 as well as several other smaller passages. It was in the form of a drama in three acts which can be set out roughly as follows:

Act 1 chs. 1-4 , 6 The messengers of God come down from heaven
Act 2 chs. 7 - 12 The light of the world
Act 3 chs. 13 - 14 , 17 - 20 Jesus prepares to return to the Father in heaven

Each act was divided into scenes, each of which occupied between one and five sheets of papyrus (with the writing on one side only). Within each act there were three groups of scenes. Within each group the scenes were linked together by a common thread.

The Second Edition

In the Second Edition the symmetry in the grouping of the scenes was broken, but the Redactor created a new symmetry, adding extra pages with the effect that each act came to contain 28 pages and was therefore almost exactly identical in size. Unfortunately in his rearranged text the links between some of the scenes contain inconsistencies.
Some features of the Redactor's vocabulary suggest that he may also have been the author of 1 John.

The Third Edition

Our present text ending with chapter 21 is effectively the Third Edition. The design of the text as a play has been obscured. Its neat structure has been spoiled. It is now quite clearly a "book" (20:30). But it has none of the symmetries which characterized the earlier editions.

Theological outlook of the earlier editions

The Evangelist's presentation was relatively consistent, for most of the aporias were introduced into the text after he had finished his work. His theological outlook was similar to that of the Redactor except on one issue. The Evangelist believed that the only judgement was that which was present already in the coming of Jesus into the world. But the Redactor was keen to propagate his conviction that the mainstream Christian belief in a last judgement should also be a part of the Johannine community's gospel.