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Nongbri on John 21 in P66

November 8, 2018

Brent Nongbri has recently blogged about his newly-published article in which he explores the possibility that P.Bodmer 2 (P66) may give us a hint of an earlier copy of the Gospel of John without chapter 21.  See here.  The full article appears in the latest issue of the journal Early Christianity 9.3 (2018): 345-60.

An intriguing suggestion.  It has been held for some time now that John 21 is a secondary epilogue to an earlier edition of John that ended at 20:31.  But, heretofore, there has been no manuscript evidence for this.  P66 isn’t necessarily direct evidence, but Nongbri proposes that it may give us indirect evidence.

It will bear further thought.  The key datum in Nongbri’s proposal is that in P66 the page that ends with John 20:31 seems to have had a larger-than-usual lower margin/blank space, and John 21:1 then commences at the top of the following page.  There could be other reasons for this, although Nongbri’s suggestion should not be dismissed too quickly.  John 21 is obviously a new major “sense-unit”, and copyists often signaled sense-units with enlarged spaces between them.  So one option to consider is that the copyist may have intended only to signal that, already in his time, chap 21 was read as a new sense-unit.  One would have to see if there are any other examples of indicating new sense-units by commencing one on a new page.

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  1. Scott Bignell permalink

    Hi Dr. Hurtado. Long time casual reader, first time asking you a question… (I think?)

    Is P66 the same manuscript referred to in the wikipedia article on John 21, reference 9? It sure sounds like it:

    Wikipedia: “In 2006 one 4th-century Sahidic papyrus manuscript (Bodleian MS. Copt.e.150(P)) came to light that may end at 20:31.[9] One side of this single-leaf fragment consists of John 20:30–31 with a large space under it, having no subscription.”

    Wikipedia cites Gesa Schenke’s ‘Das Erscheinen Jesu vor den Jüngern und der ungläubige Thomas: Johannes 20, 19–31’ for this tidbit.

    When I looked into the question of John 21 a few years ago, I scribbled in my notes that J. B. Lightfoot and Raymond Brown also spoke of a (unpublished in Lightfoot’s time?) 5th century Syriac manuscript that had the same phenomena as what Nongbri is discussing (I don’t recall the specific book I got that from, but I’m guessing it was Brown’s commentary on John). But I suspect now that Schenke, Lightfoot and Brown were all talking about the same manuscript that Nongbri is discussing.

    Manuscript attestation or otherwise, I think the arguments for John 21 being a later addition are strong enough. 1) John 20:31 just reads so naturally as an original ending. 2) Chapter 21 contains lots of language foreign to the rest of the gospel. And 3) The obtuseness of the disciples going back to their old jobs as fisherman in Galilee and again failing to recognize the risen-Jesus in chapter 21 (after having already received the Holy Spirit and seen the risen-Jesus twice in chapter 20) seems narratively uneven if it were original.

    • Scott: “P66” = P.Bodmer 2, a Greek manuscript of the Gospel of John. This isn’t the same manuscript as the Coptic one cited by Schenke.

  2. Dr. H.,
    While not dismissing Nongbri’s article too quickly,after reading it and his blog posts, it still seems to be arguing from absence of evidence. Yes, I realize Nongbri is arguing the blank space, et al is evidence. However, paratextual matters in the existing manuscripts run a huge gamut and often seem to indicate different things in different manuscripts.
    Comfort made an argument that P5 and P75 indicated a possible 20 chapter John based on line and page length back in 1992 that not only never caught on, I haven’t heard or seen Comfort himself defend his proposal elsewhere.
    Of course we don’t have the autograph of John, yet as Carson has pointed out, “there is no Textual evidence that the book was ever published without John 21.”


    Comfort ‘The Quest For The Original New Testament’ 1992 p.157
    Carson ‘The Gospel According to John’ 1991 p. 667-8

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