by miriam berg
Chapter XXI

(John 21:1-14)
The twenty-first chapter of John looks like it was tacked on, since the last verse of the preceding chapter seems to conclude the book. It reports the supposed "third" appearance of Jesus after his death; but this appearance is not reported in any of the other Gospels nor is it mentioned in Paul. Can we accept this report? The style of this chapter is different from the rest of John (verbs in the present tense, short sentences). It relates that Jesus performed another magic trick on this occasion, the filling of the nets with fishes. Luke reports this miracle also, but at the other end of his gospel, at the time of the calling of Peter to be a disciple (Luke 5:1-11), and without the allegorical reference to casting their nets on the "right" side of the boat. But it suffers the same criticisms as the other magical tricks; it serves no moral purpose, and it violates Jesus' stated intention to perform no sign. Having thus far shown the doubtfulness of the gospel according to John, and seeing the doubtfulness of this chapter on its surface, we may allow ourselves the privilege of doubting this report entirely. That it is by another hand than the author of the rest of the gospel is evident from the mention of the "sons of Zebedee", of whom the disciple John was one, but this form of reference is not found anywhere else in John's gospel, so it is clear that it is derived from the several references to them in the other gospels.

(John 21:15-17)
Next we are told that Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved him, and three times instructed Peter to take care of his sheep. Did Jesus repeat this query and command three times by some parallel with Peter's three denials of Jesus? Or was it invented for that reason? In the report in Luke we are told that Jesus quietly tells Peter, From now on you shall catch men instead of fish. Thus we have become fish to be caught, after having been sheep to be herded, and people to whom Jesus would not trust himself, and the most of us outside his love. Well, well. At least this statement is not found in the gospel of John. And the miracle reported in Luke is not found in Mark or Matthew. But that it is found reported at the opposite end of Jesus' career by the two latest Gospel-makers assures us of its origin in rumor, hearsay, and exaggeration. Otherwise, do we believe Luke or John? or both? or neither?

(John 21:18-24)
Jesus proceeds to confound us with a riddle: first he predicts that Peter will also die on a cross, and then that the mysterious disciple might tarry until Jesus comes again. But Jesus has never said, in any of the Gospels, that he would come again; all the references to a second coming, in John 16:7-14, are about another person, and in the Synoptics Jesus only refers to a coming day of fire and destruction, not to his own return. Then in John he goes on to speak sarcastically to Peter when he asks what the other disciple shall do: What's it to you? This whole section looks like an attempt to explain the legend regarding John's great age, and as further trying to pass off this second-century story as the authentic report by one of the disciples. But we have seen all its inconsistencies, in style, timetable, and message, with the Synoptics; and we can make our choice. Either we accept John, and thereby nullify the power, glory, and majesty of the Jesus in the Synoptics; or we must discount John, and hold fast to the simple story of the fearless and compassionate teacher told of by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We cannot believe both without having to conclude that Jesus was a schizophrenic and that either John or the others garbled their stories and forgot half of what Jesus said. But the consistency and straightforwardness of the first three Gospels makes it look like they are factual reports collected by diligent researchers, and makes it hard to doubt them; while the overall tone of John's gospel makes it look practically like a romantic view of Jesus which came out of the mind of one person, without containing any evidence that it has anything to do with the actual life of Jesus, especially since it fails to corroborate any of the Synoptics and is itself contradicted by the other three.

(John 21:25)
The final exaggeration in John's painting of Jesus as the "superlative of all superlatives" is found in the last verse, that "all the world could not hold all the books that could be written about the things that Jesus did." But any large library today holds millions of books, including thousands of biographies in great detail. Surely Jesus' three years of teaching, even if a complete newspaper report forty pages long had been produced about his actions and words each day, for a total of one thousand days, could be contained in one room. John's farewell sentence, whether by his or a later hand, convicts him of an imagination run riot.