John 21:24, We know. What now follows is discussion of the “we” passages in the writings of John.
James, the brother of John had been martyred in Jerusalem in the early sixties a.d., Peter in Rome in the mid to late sixties, and now it was left up to John, the remaining apostle, to finalize the New Testament canon. What is the proof of his hand in this task, and did he do it alone or did he have helpers—an editorial staff, if you will?
“John did not create the New Testament on his own. He had helpers. If one will read the writings of John carefully, these assistants can be recognized, and they played a very important part in the overall canonization. References to them are found from time to time cropping up within the contexts of John’s compositions. The elders who helped John were very important. … [M]any of them were eyewitnesses to the teachings of [Yeshua] in Judaea and they also saw him alive after his resurrection from the dead. They were a part of those 500 people still alive in a.d. 55 who Paul said were witnesses to [Messiah’s] resurrected body (1 Cor 15:6). This means that they were certainly Jewish Christians” (Martin, p. 398). At this point, Martin directs our attention to the “we” passages in John’s Gospel and epistles.
The first instance of a “we” passage is at the beginning and at the end of John’s Gospel. Chapter one starts with a “we” passage, and then throughout the 21 chapters of this Gospel John has recorded what Yeshua taught him, but then in John 21:24 there is a remark in the text that interjects what others besides John had to say about the Gospel of John. (ibid.)
John 1:14, And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (emphasis added)
John 21:24, This is the disciple which testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
“Notice the abrupt change from the third person singular to the plural. The last part of this verse is introducing further witnesses, other than John (who are identified only by the pronoun “we”). Who were these men? In the Gospel they are not identified, but it can reasonably be assumed that the first readers of John’s Gospel must have been aware of their identities. They must have represented an officially recognized body of men since they boldly gave their witness to John’s written word, “And we know that the witness he [John] gives is true” (ibid., pp. 398–399).
This is just the beginning of the “we” passages. They occur numerous times in John’s short epistle to testify to the veracity of what John is saying pertaining to his recording of the Gospel account. In these writings, we see that in the middle of John’s narrative there will suddenly be an inclusion of a “we” passage as if to lend credibility to what he is saying. Examples of this are:
1 John 1:1–4, 1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us😉 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Yeshua Messiah. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (emphasis added)
1 John 4:11, And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. (emphasis added)
3 John 12, … and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. (emphasis added)
“It is clear that a body of men, other than John himself, was telling the readers of his [First and] Third Epistle[s] that they too were witnesses to the truth that John was stating. These assistants (or editors) of John must have been well known to John’s readers. All they say is “you know that the witness we give is true.” Certainly, these men could reasonably be considered a group of John’s right-hand men and known by all” (ibid., p. 399).
“Whoever these men were, they figured very prominently in the writing of John’s three epistles. But more than that, they were men from Palestine who had been personal acquaintances of [the Messiah] and they were witnesses of his resurrection from the dead. This put them into a relatively high position of authority. After all, how many people in the first century could claim such distinction? Even the apostle Paul knew in a.d. 55 of only about 500 who were so honored (1 Corinthians 15:6). These men were certainly a part of that group. They may even have been of more esteem in the eyes of Christians at the time” (ibid., p. 401)
“Scholars are aware that this interjection is the separate witness by John’s assistants or editors (Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 1, pp. 880, 881), but the vast majority of readers of the New Testament simply pass over [these references] so quickly that they do not notice the relevance of [them]. It is time to restore the testimony of these men to its proper place.
“Who were these men who interposed their own testimonies at crucial points in the texts of John? One thing is assured. They were almost certainly Jewish because they were witnesses of [the Messiah] in the flesh before his crucifixion and after his resurrection. Both the references in John 1:14 and 1 John 1:1–4 show this” (ibid., p. 402).
Is there historical record of these “elders” outside of Scripture? Indeed there is. Early church father, Papias, who lived from about a.d. 70 to a.d. 155 mentions “the elders” several times in the short fragment of his work that remains (written about a.d. 110). Papias differentiates the elders from the apostles and confesses to inquiring of them pertaining to what the apostles had said. In his second reference to the elders he mentions the elders as having seen John and had been taught of him (see Papias, chapters 1 and 4). In fact, Papias states that he would prefer to speak with these first-hand witnesses of events of the first century happenings than to resort to books that were “not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.” So not only does Papias speak of elders, but of books. So history does indeed record a body of men who even after the death of John, the last apostle, were still testifying to the veracity of what the apostles had said and taught, as well as books that recorded the same things about which the eyewitnesses themselves testified. This could very well be a reference to the New Testament canon that would have been of less importance to Papias while the first-hand witnesses were still alive than later after they were dead.
Clement of Alexandria also mentions these “elders” of John (early third century a.d.) when he discussed the method that John used in writing his Gospel. He said:
But last of all, John, perceiving that the observable facts had been made plain in the Gospel [those formerly written], being urged on by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. (As quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History vi.14.7) (Martin, p. 407).
Martin speculates that these elders may very well have formed part of John’s editorial staff and helped him in his final editing of the New Testament canon while he was very elderly (in his nineties). Martin writes, “They may well have been remaining with John and helping him in the writing of his Gospel and his three epistles. They may even have added a few remarks to John’s works after John’s death (if they thought it was necessary to do so). After all, the official scribes of the Jews added genealogical matters to the Temple scrolls down to the time of Alexander the Great (some 100 years after the close of the Old Testament canon). There would be nothing wrong in adding a few editorial remarks to the divine library of New Testament books if the ‘elders’ who supported the apostle John were still alive after John’s death.
“These suggestions can make sense. The fact is, there appear to be a number of such editorial remarks in John’s Gospel, either in relation to the ‘we sections’ or distinct from them. The King James Version shows some of them by placing their occurrences within parentheses” (ibid., pp. 402–403).
As an example Martin notes John 3:13 states: “And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven (even the Son of man which is in heaven).” Obviously, the italicized words represent a later editorial remark because [the Messiah] was certainly on earth when he uttered the first part of the verse, but only after his resurrection was he actually in heaven.
Next we look at John 4:23 where Yeshua said to the Samaritan woman: “But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” Here Yeshua was telling her that the Temple at Jerusalem was no longer to be important, but when Yeshua said this the Temple was still the proper site for assembly. But the editors (at the time the Gospel was canonized) put in the reference “and now is” to show that what Yeshua had predicted had now come true.
Another such passage is John 5:25. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming (and now is) when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of Elohim: and they that hear shall live.” According to Martin, the italicized words are a later insertion that could only have been stating the truth after the resurrection of Lazarus and those who were made alive after Yeshua’s resurrection (John 11:1–46; Matt 27:52–53).
Next there is John 13:3: “Yeshua knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from Elohim (and went to Elohim).” The italicized words, again, are a later editorial remark.
“There is also John 17:3. Yeshua said: “And this is life eternal, that they may know you the only true Elohim (and Yeshua the Messiah whom you have sent).”
And finally, let us note John 19:35: “And he that saw it bore record (and his record is true and he knows that he says true, that you might believe)” (Martin, pp. 402–403).
In his book, The First Edition of the New Testament, Professor David Trobisch also discusses the “we” passages in the writings of John. If Trobisch sees John and those around him as the editors and publishers of the final edition of the Apostolic Scriptures toward the end of the first century when John was in his nineties, he does not say so. But Dr. Trobisch, like Dr. Martin, cannot help but notice the “we” passages in John’s writings as well as portions that appear to have been redacted by the earliest first century publishers of the Apostolic Scriptures.
The first passage Trobisch calls our attention to is John 20:30–31,
And many other signs truly did Yeshua in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of Elohim; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
In addition, Trobisch notes, at the end of chapter 21 we hear a voice different from the author of the Fourth Gospel, who is referred to as “this … disciple.”
This is the disciple which testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)
In Trobisch’s mind there is little room for doubt that this final portion of John’s epistle is an appendix to John’s Gospel, which in reality ended in John 20:31 judging from the final tone of that passage (compare this ending with that found at the end of John’s Book of Revelation in Rev. 22:18). Whoever the author of the appendix may be, Trobisch points out that he “is not only an eyewitness, whose oral report has been used, but also the person who actually wrote this Gospel down” (Trobisch, p. 96). Trobisch maintains that the publisher of John’s Gospel is the one speaking here.
Trobisch admits that there has been a lively debate among scholars about this appendix to the Gospel of John. Is it simply an appendix to a finished Gospel, or does this passage show later text alteration? Trobisch does not believe the latter to be the case for the following reasons. “The links between this chapter and the preceding text seem too elaborate to [prove the idea of later text alteration]. John 21 may be better understood as the product of the final editors of this Gospel, who not only added a chapter but also revised the manuscript produced by the ‘beloved disciple.’” (Trobisch, p. 150, footnote 32). He maintains that the fact that the uniform manuscript tradition of the Canonical Edition does not contain passages without John 21 indicates that this chapter was part of the archetype of this edition. “From the very beginning readers encountered this chapter as an integral part of the Gospel. And it was just as clear that readers were informed that these passages of the Gospel were written by someone other than the beloved disciple. The publisher does not disguise himself as the author—a literary device that was quite common in pseudepigraphic literature. Rather, he introduces himself or herself to the readers. The last sentence of the canonical Gospel collection presents itself as an editorial note to the reader” (ibid., p. 97).
Next Trobisch looks at the final verse of the Gospel of John and the Gospel portion of the Apostolic Scriptures for some clues as to the first Canonical Edition of the New Testament, published in the first century.
And there are also many other things which Yeshua did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
Here is Trobisch’s analysis of this verse:
First, Trobisch notes the change from the pronouns “we” to “I” between verses 24 and 25: “we know that his testimony is true” (in verse 24) compared to “I suppose” (in verse 25). He does not see these verses as being read in one breath, but, in reality, pointing to different subjects.
The mention of multiple “books” as opposed to one book in John 20:30 signifies that this sentence does not talk about John’s Gospel alone but refers to several books.
The contents of what could be “written down” is referred to as “things that Yeshua did.” In all modern editions of the New Testament, the Book of Acts follows John 21. The implied author, Luke, repeats this literary definition to point back to his own Gospel: “I wrote about all that Yeshua did” (Acts 1:1). From a reader’s perspective this may create an important cross-reference between John 21:25 and Acts 1:1, Both texts seem to refer to canonical Gospels, according to Trobisch (ibid. pp. 97–98).
Trobisch concludes that the “close connection to the preceding sentence plus the strong resemblance in wording to John 20:30 suggests that the publishers of the Gospels are identical with the publishers of the Gospels According to John. The first person singular (‘I suppose’) indicates that the publishers of the canonical Gospel collection assumed that they were well known to their readership” (ibid., p. 98).
At first glance, notes Trobisch, it is not obvious why Luke’s Gospel and Luke’s Acts should be separated by the Gospel of John. However, he notes, the placement of John seems intentional if the editors of the four Gospels wanted to arrange them chronologically. By adding their editorial note to the Gospel According to John, they are presenting this Gospel as the most recent of the collection. The placement would also make sense if they wanted to connect Acts with the General Letters (ibid., pp. 99–100).
John most likely wrote his Gospel after the deaths of Peter (which John refers to in the past tense), and Paul’s martyrdom, as well as after that of Jude, Yeshua’s brother, therefore, Trobisch speculates, editorial remarks at the conclusion of John’s Gospel are logical. “The most important formal feature of an editorial is that it presents itself as the last passage added to an edition. From the reader’s perspective that is exactly what John 21 looks like. Moreover, if John 21:25 is understood as referring to the Four-Gospel Book, it may be linked to the Canonical Edition as such, thus serving as an editorial note to the readers of what is called the Christian Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments. By choosing the words books and the world and first person singular, the unnamed publisher alludes to his or her act of publication. And therefore the last sentence [of John 21:25] could very well be translated as,
But there are also many other things that [Yeshua] did; if every one of them were published, I suppose that