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John 1:35-51: von Wahlde's Composition Theory

In this series of posts (no idea how many there will be), I will mark up the NRSV text as von Wahlde does his own translation to distinguish which edition the material comes from. Plain type will represent first edition material; italics, second edition; and bold face, third.
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)
John 1:35-51 is probably the best place to begin assessing von Wahlde's theory of composition as the material falls out very neatly. The main block of narrative comes from the first edition. There are several distinctive characteristics of the first edition here, especially the use of Hebrew terms with a translation that follows in Greek, a very Jewish Christology, and a chain reaction of belief due to testimony and a sign. There also is a sign of editing in verse 43 as 43a interrupts a very neat sequence of events.

Outside of the opening clauses of verses 35 and 43, almost all of 35-49 is from the first edition. von Wahlde has claimed that the third author is the only one concerned with atonement theology and has an apocalyptic outlook. Thus he assigns John's exclamation in verse 36 to him. Presumably in the first two editions, John said something else. While I don't take 'Lamb of God' to refer primarily to Jesus' atoning function, I do think it has apocalyptic overtones. In that regard it meshes very well with the apocalyptic theology of verse 51, which is almost certainly a later addition. von Wahlde assigns it to the third hand as well. This makes sense as the narrative would be complete, one could even say better without it. The saying begins with an awkward reintroduction of Jesus as speaker and without explanation, shifts into a plural 'you' (for something said to him - von Wahlde considers this a trademark of the third edition).

The only major piece of the text assigned to the second author is verse 50. Verse 50 is, I believe, rightly assigned to an intermediate hand. It implies that Nathanael's seemingly accurate confession is inadequate, that there is a need to move beyond Jewish Christology. This argument is a bit more tentative (at least on the grounds of 35-51 alone), but certainly is plausible. The addition changes the feel of the entire section.

Overall, I would say that von Wahlde does not run into any substantial difficulties with his theory of composition in this section of John. The material assigned to the third author do indeed seem to be the additions of a later hand. Internal evidence alone is inconclusive with regard to verse 50, though, it seems more likely that not. If von Wahlde is correct about the wider pattern he has observed then there is no reason to doubt this attribution.


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