Tracking down the First Edition

To deduce the contents of the First Edition, we must focus on the aporias (apparent discontinuities in the story), whilst bearing in mind the hypothesis that in the First Edition, as in the Second, all the episodes would have been close to whole multiples of 800 letters.

Chapters 15-16

The current position of the long sermon in chs. 15-16 (not 17, which belongs to 18:1 argued on the previous page of the site) is untenable after 14:31c: "come, let us go". It is not much better after 13:31a where it is often placed, for such verbosity is hardly credible (even in a story) after Jesus had gone out into the night. More probably these two chapters were inserted by a redactor. This makes the contradiction between 13:36 (".....where are you going") and 16:5 ("None of you asks me:'Where are you going?'") more credible, for these statements were then written by two different people.

"Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee" (6:1)

It is not possible to go across Lake Tiberias directly from Jerusalem, where Jesus was in chapter 5. So the statement is clearly anomalous in its present context. Perhaps chapter 6 was a later insertion. [1] But this proposal must be ruled out because several occurrences of καταβαινω , which as we have seen characterize the first major section, belong to chapter 6, [2] and because removing two signs (the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on water) makes it impossible to achieve a count of seven (more on this below on the page about the Redactor). The more popular alternative of moving ch. 6 in front of ch.5 is also ruled out because neither 4:43-54 (1012 letters) nor ch. 5 (3647 letters) are close to whole multiples of 800 letters.
The key to this puzzle lies in the observation that the healing of the official's son in 4:46-54 is a distinct unit comprising 776 letters. Yet in its present position it cannot be treated as a unit because the remnants on either side, i.e. 4:43-45 and ch. 5, are not the right size. So what happens if we shift 4:46-54 elsewhere? If it were placed after 5:47 it would become the third sign, which is contradicted by 4:54. If it were placed anywhere else it would fail to solve the aporia in 6:1. The only alternative is to extract both 4:43-45 and ch. 5 from their present context. But there is no other suitable location for these verses, especially as they require a reference point for the "after two days" in 4:43. So they must have been inserted by the Redactor. Additionally, the passage 7:15-24 (765 letters), with its reference to the sabbath healing (7:23) and its polemic about Moses, looks very much like a continuation of the discourse in the latter part of ch. 5, and must therefore also be attributed to the Redactor.


In its present position this preaching appears to have been put on the lips of John the Baptist. But this cannot have been the Evangelist's intention, for everywhere else in the gospel such preaching is put on the lips of Jesus. Most critical scholars try to solve the problem by proposing a relocation of 3:22-30. But does it belong after 1:51 (Duling) or after 2:12 (Moffatt) or after 3:36 (Bernard) ? In this case the key is the mentions of Judaea. Jesus enters Judaea in 3:22 and leaves in 4:3. These verses cannot sensibly be separated by visits elsewhere. Yet the natural interpretation of 4:54 is that the first two notable [3] signs were both performed after Jesus left Judaea, i.e. after 4:3. Therefore originally both 3:22-30 (740 letters) and 4:1-42 (3255 letters) must have been located before 2:1.
This immediately solves two other problems. The first is that in the present order of the text Jesus was in Jerusalem (2:23), then he "went into Judaea" (3:22). But Jerusalem was in Judaea so in its present position the clause does not make sense. With the order proposed here Jesus was in Galilee (1:43) prior to going into Judaea. The second problem is the lack of a clear reference point for "the third day" in 2:1. After three mentions of "on the next day" (1:29,35,43) the reference in 2:1 should be to the fourth or fifth day depending on one's method of counting, but not to the third day. In the Evangelist's text "on the third day" referred to the "two days" in 4:40 ! In connection with this move, one extra word must be attributed to the Redactor, namely παλιν ("again") in 4:3. He presumably added this because in the new (extant) order, this is the second time Jesus had visited Galilee.

Jesus has "come down from heaven"

An imaginative idea

In 6:38 and 6:42 Jesus says "I have come down from heaven". Could it be that the Evangelist saw this as an   alternative to an earthly origin?
This radical idea is supported by 6:49, where Jesus says: "Your ancestors", not "Our ancestors", as if he were not part of the human race. Consistent with this is the fact that the Evangelist says nothing in the introduction to his gospel about Jesus' earthly origin. A third clue is the description "Nazarene" in 18:5,7; 19:19. This probably refers to a way of life or a sect, so the Evangelist appears to have been studiously avoiding the more usual designation "of Nazareth" to avoid implying that Jesus had an earthly birth and childhood.
But 1:46 seems to admit Jesus' origin in Nazareth, and 7:41-42 seems to admit an origin in either Galilee or Bethlehem. Therefore 1:43-51 and 7:40-52, which are linked by the theme: "Could the Messiah have come from Galilee?", were probably absent from the First Edition. Further supporting evidence follows.


  1. Omitting this section improves the itinerary, for Jesus then goes from Bethany-beyond-Jordan to Judaea without an intervening trip to Galilee (c.f. 1:28 & 3:22).
  2. The reference to angels in 1:51 is peculiar, especially as apart from 20:12 (probably inspired by Mark: "in white","sitting"), there is only one low-key reference to angels in 12:29, contrast the many references in Luke. Also interpolators seem to like angels (John 5:4; Luke 22:43).
  3. In 1:43f. the sudden supply of geographical references is startling, especially because 1:29-42 has no geographical references. [4]
  4. The statement that Moses wrote about Jesus (1:45) was made also by the Redactor (5:46).
  5. 1:43 contradicts Mark 1:29 regarding the home of Peter and Andrew. The Evangelist, who depended heavily on Mark, is less likely to have made this mistake than the Redactor.


  1. The removal of this section brings together the discourses about water (7:37-39) and light (8:12f.), which according to Brown [5] played an important part in the Feast of Tabernacles.
  2. The introduction to the scripture reference in 7:42 is different from those in 2:17; 6:31,45; 10:34. [6]
  3. εραυνω ("search"), used in 7:42, is also used by the Redactor in 5:39, but nowhere else in the gospels.
  4. 1:51 may have been inspired by Matt 3:16 and 26:64.
  5. 1:49 may have been inspired by Matt 16:16.

Notes for this page

1. B.Lindars, The Gospel of John (NCB; London; Oliphants, 1972) p.50
2. The neat balance between καταβαινω and προς τον πατερα must have been produced by one person. It is doubtful whether the Redactor would even have noticed it, let alone contributed to it by adding further occurrences of καταβαινω.
3. Jesus' signs in Jerusalem (2:23) intervene between the so-called first (2:11) and second (4:54) signs. This is best explained by supposing that the Evangelist meant: "..... the second notable sign ....." in 4:54.
4. T.L.Brodie, The Gospel According to John (Oxford; OUP, 1993)
5. R.E.Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York; Doubleday, 1997) p.347
6. B.Lindars, The Gospel of John (London; Oliphants, 1972) p.266