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From Mainz to Marburg - A Diachronic Exchange with the Master of Diachronicity and A Bi-Optic Hypothesis

By Paul N. Anderson
George Fox University
Newberg, Oregon
August 2010

Yesterday as I was looking through the Johannine collection at the University of Mainz library, I found several books that had the name “Rudolf Bultmann” inscribed on the flyleaf, in very fine handwriting. Given that I believe his commentary on John (1941, English translation 1971) is the most important New Testament monograph in the 20th century (perhaps second only to Albert Schweitzer’s From Reimarus to Wrede, or The Quest of the Historical Jesus), I would really like to have had an exchange with the Master from Marburg—comparing notes on how the Johannine riddles should be addressed – but of course he died in 1976. As I noted underlining in some texts and a comment or two in the margins, it was humbling to think of the inquiry biblical scholars undertake and how we make our judgments. It would be intriguing to see if his view of Johannine dualism might have been different if the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered earlier; it would be fascinating to explore with him whether the Fourth Evangelist might have been a dialectical thinker—especially if modern theologians clam such about themselves. I don’t know how parts of Bultmann’s library came to Mainz, but my guess is that his student, Ernst Käsemann, might have received and passed along some of them; he taught at Mainz from 1946-1951.

Serving as a visiting DAAD professor at the University of Mainz this spring and summer has been a delight, and students and faculty alike have been most welcoming and receptive. The intellectual exchanges on state-of-the-art New Testament subjects in this European context have been exhilarating, and my gracious host, Ruben Zimmermann, is one of the most creative interdisciplinary biblical scholars I know of. Six weeks into my four-month service at Mainz, Professor Zimmermann sent out a note to other universities letting them know of my availability to offer lectures on a variety of subjects, and from that initiative the way opened to speak at the Universities of Nijmegen (on the John, Jesus, and History Project—I spoke on this at the Mainz NT Colloquium, as well), Marburg, and Münster (on A Bi-Optic Hypothesis see below).

Especially memorable for me was the Marburg exchange, where Professor Friedrich Avemarie combined his two classes on the Historical Jesus and the Gospel of John for a joint session. As I have been working on an alternative to Rudolf Bultmann’s theory of Johannine composition and relation to other traditions, it was a rare treat to express my appreciation for his work in the same halls he used to teach in. I took photos, of course, as any American visitor would have done. The exchange with Bultmann would have to be diachronic, however, given his retirement from Marburg in 1951. Nonetheless, given also his highly diachronic theory of John’s composition, that might also be fitting.

In preparation for the session, Professor Avemarie had students read Bultmann’s treatment of John 6, where we should have evidence of four of his five sources—that is, if Bultmann’s highly diachronic theory proves compelling. Because he cannot believe the Fourth Evangelist was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus (John’s differences from the Synoptics and highly theological tone make this impossible, in his view), the material must have come from somewhere. Rightly, Bultmann notes John’s differences from the Synoptics make its dependence on them implausible. Therefore, synthesizing a full century of critical work on gospel forms and traditions, Bultmann constructs inferred sources accounting for John’s miracles (a Sēmeia source), I-Am sayings (a Revelation-Sayings source), and Passion narrative (a Passion source). The evangelist wove these into a narrative, his Gospel fell apart and was disarranged, and the redactor rearranged the material (wrongly, giving Bultmann occasion to “restore” the order into units that ostensibly reveal the poetic form of the sayings source—making discourses look more like the strophic form of the Prologue) and adding his own disparate material as a dialectical corrective to the evangelist’s work. The students came prepared, and the engagement was lively! I should say that not all of them came into the session convinced by Bultmann’s argument, but at least they understood it.

As I had written over 100 pages on Bultmann’s paradigm (see The Christology of the Fourth Gospel, 1996; now published by Cascade Books with a new introduction and epilogue, 2010), Bultmann’s approach to John 6 was an excellent place to begin. In reviewing other leading theories about John’s composition and development, most of the major aporias (perplexities) can be solved within a basic two-edition theory, involving at least an earlier and a final edition. One place I do agree with Bultmann is his view that the author of the Johannine Epistles appears to have been the final editor (I call him the “compiler”) of the Gospel. Regarding alien sources, though, I shared with the Marburg audience that having tested all of Bultmann’s own evidence (stylistic, contextual, and theological) for disparate sources underlying John 6 (where we should have four of the five sources—excluding the Passion source, of course) the distribution is random. Further, it fails to indicate particular sources except for one: we do have a narrator. That, however, does not mean that the Johannine evangelist was not narrating his own material. Contextual tensions may reflect the evangelist’s use of irony (Jesus answers the “real” question of the crowd in John 6:25-26—not interested in when he arrived, but when the next feeding would be) and the adding of John 6 (and other passages to a later edition—the Prologue and chapters 15-17 and 21, etc.) between the two scenes in Jerusalem (chs. 5 and 7). Theological tensions reflect the evangelist’s reflective operation as a dialectical thinker—appreciating signs, but existentializing their meaning.

As I worked through a PowerPoint presentation, arguing a two-edition theory of John’s composition and a more detailed accounting for John’s relations to other traditions, the reception among students and faculty alike was warm. One scholar held on to a view that the Fourth Gospel was composed around 150, and that it was dependent on all the Synoptic traditions, but Bultmann would have disagreed with the Synoptic-dependence view, and here again I concur with Bultmann. I noted 45 similarities between John 6 and Mark 6 and 8, but none of them is identical. Some contact may have existed, but literary dependence on the Synoptics falls flat critically. The evidence is against it, which is why Bultmann had to infer a non-Synoptic Passion source to account for the material in John 18-19—John differs from the Synoptics too extensively to be derived from them.

Others picked up on particular features of the theory, however, and the greatest interest in all four of the University presentations is the view that the first edition of John (written around 80-85 CE, making it the Second Gospel) was crafted as an augmentation and a modest corrective to Mark. Put succinctly, a Bi-Optic Hypothesis infers that while Matthew and Luke built upon Mark, John built around Mark.1

Let me say a bit more, here. Given that chapters 6 and 21 appear to have been added later, the first Johannine Gospel edition featured five signs, not eight. This makes for a good Jewish apologetic piece—five books of Moses / five signs of Jesus—leading hearers and readers to believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah/Christ. In that sense, the first edition of John functioned like Bultmann’s inferred Sēmeia source; it simply was an earlier Johannine edition, not an alien tradition. Theological tension was a factor of intratraditional dialectic (earlier and later perceptions in dialogue) as well as intertraditional dialectic (the challenge that the crowd missed the “sign-ificance” of the sign because they “ate…and were satisfied”). Therefore, rather than seeing the Johannine evangelist challenging a backwater signs narrative, he appears to have been targeting the signs-valuation in all five Synoptic feeding accounts where that phrase is echoed. Further, these five signs are precisely the ones not found in Mark! Therefore, the Johannine evangelist’s interest appears to have been augmentive—including accounts of Jesus ministry not found in Mark. So, the “first sign” and the “second sign” in John 2 and 4 reflect not a numerative feature of a hypothetical source, but a chronological augmentation of Mark—reporting events that transpired before the exorcism and healing of Peter’s mother-in-Law in Mark 1.

Likewise, the three southern signs in John fill out the Judean ministry of Jesus, which is completely absent from Mark, other than the healing in Jericho of blind Bartimaeus on the way to Jerusalem. So, John’s augmentation of Mark is both chronological and geographical. Matthew even corroborates these moves by placing the Capernaum healing from afar just before the healing of Peter’s mother-in-Law (Matt. 8) and noting that Jesus performed healings of the lame and the blind near the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:14). Has Matthew’s narrator heard echoes of the Johannine rendering, or at least the memories upon which it is based?

The Johannine evangelist, however, also appears to set the record straight with regards to Mark, and that’s what historical narratives do. Incidental echoes include the following: the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus are held to be simultaneous, reporting developments before John was thrown into prison (contra Mk. 1:14; Jn. 3:24). And, despite what Jesus had said about prophets being dishonored in their home town (contra Mk. 6:4; Jn. 4:44), note how the Samaritans received him. Not everyone in Galilee rejected Jesus as Messiah; even the royal official and his entire household believed (Jn. 4:4-54).

More substantively, the Johannine inclusion of at least four visits to Jerusalem instead of the Synoptic singular journey implies a chronological correction of the Markan itinerary. Might the earlier temple incident in John reflect a chronological corrective to Mark instead of a theologically motivated rendering? Despite ingenious developments of the Fourth Evangelist’s “theological intentionality” as the basis for an early prophetic demonstration in the temple, the narrator reports that people believed in Jerusalem (2:23), and that they had seen his signs performed there earlier because they too were at the Passover festival in Jerusalem (4:45). The narrator’s commentary here implies chronological sequence, not theological meaning. It does seem odd that the Jerusalem leaders want to kill Jesus already in John 5 if this was only his first visit—despite the affront of healing the lame man on the Sabbath. If John’s alternate itinerary is intentional, challenging the singular Jerusalem visit of three Markan Gospels might be a difficult pill for conservative readers of the Bible to accept; however, early Christian witnesses support these findings.

First, Papias cites John the Elder (in my view, the final editor of the Fourth Gospel) as opining that Mark recorded Peter’s preaching correctly, but in the wrong order. This is an unlikely claim to have been invented, and it recalls a second-century impression of an earlier Johannine opinion. Second, Papias goes on to explain that Mark made no mistake in including the things he did—he just sought to leave nothing out. Does this opinion support the singular Johannine feeding and sea-crossing narratives instead of the Markan (and Matthean) duplicate accounts? Luke, of course, sides with John and includes only one feeding, moving Peter’s confession to the other feeding account (as it is in John—Eusebius, Hist. Eccles 3.39). Scholars have failed to note that it was the Johannine Elder who stated, according to Papias, that Mark’s account was problematically ordered and duplicative. The facts of the Johannine rendering cohere with these opinions and appear at face value to be setting the record straight—for historical reasons, not for theological ones. A third confirmation by Eusebius is that he mentions the Johannine evangelist’s including earlier events in Jesus’ ministry transpiring before the Baptist was imprisoned (Hist. Eccles. 3.24).

Other corroborations of a Bi-Optic Hypothesis by Eusebius abound, but these support the view that at least the first edition of John was intended as an augmentation and a modest corrective to Mark. This means that John is different from Mark and the Gospels built upon Mark’s witness on purpose. In defense of its selectivity, the first ending of John protests: “Jesus did many other signs…not written in this book…” (as in, “I know Mark’s out there, and that this rendering is distinctive…”) “…but these are written that you might believe” (Jn. 20:30-31).

Additions to the final edition of John include John 6, thus harmonizing the narrative with the Synoptics a bit. Nonetheless, the final editor once more defends the distinctive Johannine rendering against Synoptic measures of historicity in adding a second ending quite similar to the first ending (here also I agree with Bultmann). In paraphrased terms, “Look, if we would have included everything in the Synoptic record, as well as in our own tradition, the world’s libraries would not have been able to contain the material—this reflects the Beloved Disciple’s memory, and we in our community attest that his testimony is true!” (Jn. 21:24-25).

As the discussion at Marburg came to a close, I got the sense that my gracious hosts were willing to look at the Johannine tradition through new lenses. Indeed, I was told that while Bultmann’s paradigm is still held in high regard, it is not as compelling as it used to be, and scholars in Europe are looking for a different way to understand the origin and development of the Johannine tradition. Perhaps it was different from the other traditions as a factor of being an independent memory of Jesus and his ministry instead of being a three-to-one historical loser—on all accounts—as has been the case for the last two centuries of critical scholarship. I wish Professor Bultmann could have been there to engage directly on these issues—especially applying Bultmann’s work on dialectical theology to the dialectical thinking of the Fourth Evangelist. I wonder if he might have allowed a first-century thinker to have also operated in such a way, and if not, why not?

Upon reflection on this diachronic exercise, I am reminded of another lecture given at Marburg in 1953, by Ernst Käsemann, on the inadequacy of ignoring the historical quest for Jesus. That presentation did make a difference. Perhaps I could tag onto that critique the inadequacy of using all resources except the one first-century source claiming direct contact with the common subject—Jesus. If I could register a similar complaint, while pleased that the New and the Third Quests for Jesus have gotten underway, I wonder why they have excluded programmatically the one gospel claiming to be written by an eyewitness. Based on hitherto overlooked critical evidence (the subject of my essay next month), that claim may also be true. Perhaps a new critically plausible theory of John’s origin and development will provide a way forward in such a venture; from Mainz to Marburg, and back again. Our inquiry continues.

photo of author with a friend

A Bi-Optic Hypothesis: A Theory of Interfluentiality between the Johannine and Markan Gospels

By Paul N. Anderson
(Pacific Northwest AAR/SBL/ASOR presidential address, 2 May 2008)

While John’s material appears to reflect an independent Jesus tradition developing in its own individuated way over seven decades before its finalization, it does not appear to be isolated or out of contact with other traditions. Contact, however, does not imply dependence, nor does influence imply a singular direction of movement. Likewise, familiarity may have evoked dissonance as well as consonance, and it is highly unlikely that the timing and manner of the relation between John’s and all other traditions were uniform. John’s intertraditional contact may have even been different between different phases and forms of a particular tradition, such as Mark’s. Therefore, the following components are integral elements of a new synthesis regarding John’s dialogical autonomy and interfluential relationships with other gospel traditions. In that sense, John represents a “bi-optic” alternative to the Markan Gospels (Mark, Luke, and Matthew), as both complementary and dialogical engagements may plausibly be inferred as follows (see online essays:;;

  1. John’s Dialogical Autonomy Develops in Ways Parallel to Other Traditions. Parallel to the pre-Markan tradition, the early Johannine tradition developed in its own autonomous set of ways. First impressions developed into Johannine paraphrases, crafted to meet the needs of early audiences (including tensions with Judeans and Baptist adherents) and suited to the personal ministry of the Johannine evangelist, developing parallel to the human source(s) of the pre-Markan tradition.

  2. Interfluential Contacts between the Pre-Markan and Early Johannine Traditions. Early contacts between these two traditions created a set of commonly shared buzz-words, references and themes, explaining their non-identical similarities in the later texts. Especially within the oral stages of their traditions, influence may have crossed in both directions, making “interfluence” during the oral stages of the Johannine and Markan traditions a plausible inference.

  3. Augmentation and Correction of Written Mark. After Mark was written, at least some of it became familiar to the Johannine evangelist, evoking a complementary project. This explains some of the Markan echoes in John, and also some of John’s departures from Mark. Some of them may reflect knowing intentionality (Jn. 20:30), as the first edition of John was plausibly the second written gospel, and the thought of enjoying primarily local circulation. Therefore, Johannine-Synoptic differences are not factors of a three-against-one majority; rather, John and Mark deserve consideration as “the Bi-Optic Gospels.”

  4. John’s Formative Impact upon Luke. During the oral stages of the Johannine tradition, some of its material came to influence Luke’s tradition. This explains the fact that at least six dozen times Luke departs from Mark and sides with John. Because many of John’s features are not followed, the Johannine influence upon Luke is unlikely to have taken place in full, written form but probably reflects Lukan familiarity with the Johannine oral tradition. This explains also why Luke does not follow the Johannine ordering of the Temple cleansing and why Luke places the great catch of fish at the first calling of Peter and the disciples, rather than at their re-calling. Does Luke 1:2 imply acknowledgement of the Johannine tradition?

  5. John’s Influence upon the Q Tradition? Not implausible is the likelihood that the contacts between several Q passages and John imply early Johannine influences upon the Q tradition. The “bolt out of the Johannine blue” (Matt. 11:25-27; Lk. 10:21-22) especially points to such a possibility. Or, these motifs (the Father-Son language) may go back to the historical Jesus or earlier tradition, but the more plausible inference is that Q, if there was a Q tradition, was influenced by early Johannine tradition. Some interfluentiality may also have been involved regarding other Johannine and Q parallels.

  6. Johannine Preaching (and some writing) Continues. Following the first edition of the Johannine Gospel (80-85 CE), the Beloved Disciple continues to preach and teach, and possibly even to write. The fleshly suffering of Jesus becomes an example to emulate for Christians facing hardship under the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE), and the sustaining/guiding work of the Holy Spirit addresses new crises: dialogues with the Synagogue, the Roman presence, and Gentile docetizers.

  7. Matthean and Johannine Traditions Engage in an Interfluential Set of Dialogues. Especially on matters of church governance, the Matthean and Johannine traditions appear to have been engaged in a series of dialogues over how the risen Lord continues to lead the church. They also reinforced each other in their outreach to Jewish audiences over Jesus’ agency as the Jewish Messiah. Might we have two ecclesial models in parallel gospel traditions in dialogue with each other?

  8. The Johannine Epistles Were Written by the Elder. During this time (85-95 CE) the Johannine Elder writes the Johannine Epistles, calling for loving unity, corporate solidarity, willingness to suffer for the faith, and challenging the inhospitality of Diotrephes and his kin. The Johannine Epistles were thus written before and after the Johannine Gospel.

  9. The Johannine Gospel was Supplemented and Finalized by the Johannine Elder. After the death of the Beloved Disciple, the Elder added the Prologue and other material (chs. 6, 15-17, 21), circulating it around 100 CE as the witness of the Beloved Disciple, whose “testimony is true.” As the first edition calls for belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the final edition of John calls for believers to abide in Jesus and his community, posing also a corrective to rising institutionalism in the name of the original intention of Jesus for his church. Acts 4:19-20 provides a first-century clue to Johannine authorship.

  10. The Spiritual Gospel Poses a Bi-Optic Alternative to the Somatic Gospels. While Matthew and Luke built upon Mark, John built around Mark. As an independent Jesus tradition developed theologically, however, the Johannine and Markan traditions all contribute to Gospel christological studies, as well as quests for the historical Jesus in bi-optic perspective. Interestingly, the second ending of Mark (Mk. 16:9-20) contains Johannine content; interfluentiality continues!

1 See the attached outline and the fuller discussion at:

Comments (4)

Isn't there some tension between the interfluential view of the early Christian groups or clusters and the opinion that they were unable to agree on quite basic matters of chronology? Not only the visits to Jerusalem but also the Temple cleansing and the relationship of Passover and Crucifixion?
Can the whole Bultmann approach, which seems to depend on identifying, beneath the text that we read, certain distinct and identifiable sources, really be compatible with any idea of those sources cross-nourishing each other?
Chronology always seems to be theology. J interprets the 'prophet without honour' principle to mean 'without honour if he merely stays in his own country'. It was when he had left his own country and returned to it that the people received him, having witnessed his work in Jerusalem.
#1 - Martin Hughes - 08/14/2010 - 11:17

Thanks, Martin, good thoughts here; let me clarify what I think is the case:

a) Interfluence seems most evident between the early Markan (pre-Markan) and early Johannine traditions, as well as the later Johannine and Matthean traditions. This is suggested by apparent contacts and echoes between traditions. Bultmann would not have said there was interfluence between traditional sources underlying John; he would say that the evangelist was the one synthesizing the different sources. I do not believe the evidence for inferred sources underlying John is compelling. Then again, I do think there was a good deal more inter-traditional dialogue than we might have thought.

b) On chronology, though, the Johannine corrective to Mark would have been a factor of at least general familiarity with the Markan narrative, rather than its underlying tradition(s). Perhaps the Johannine evangelist had heard it read in a meeting for worship (Ian McKay's view). So, this is not a factor of interfluence, but a general awareness of the Markan narrative and a response to it.

c) Is chronology always theology? This is a view I question, critically. Perhaps Mark's chronology is ordered not as a factor of historical knowledge but as a factor of narrative progression. Did Mark locate all Jerusalem-related events and judgment sayings at the end for culminative reasons rather than chronological ones? In that sense, a better understanding of what the Fourth Evangelist was doing helps one to appreciate the "narrative chronology" of the Synoptics.
I like your point, though, on John 4:44 (the prophet's being without honor in his own country); in addition to seeing this as a corrective alternative to Jesus' reception in Mark 6:4, it could be read as explaining why Jesus went to Capernaum instead of Nazareth. While "Jesus of Nazareth" is identified several times in John, he is not presented as having visited there anywhere in the Johannine narrative. By contrast, note how the Samaritans and the royal official's household did indeed believe.

Much appreciated!

Paul Anderson
#2 - Paul Anderson - 08/14/2010 - 14:23

Thanks for kind words. I meant to say that in my (extremely little qualified!) judgement this interpretation of Papias and the Elder is the first in a while to move discussion of Papias forward. I'll come back to that in a second.
It seems to me that John's way of turning everything into theology is illustrated by the way in which he gives himself, by means of a narrative about times and places, an opportunity to re-word the 'prophet without honour' trope and thus to develop some theology.
In Mark the rather longer form of words makes the point that a religious leader must expect rejection close to home, in John the words 'prophetes en idia patridi'must mean 'a stay-at-home prophet', since only if the words are taken in this rather strained sense can the 'reception' of Jesus in Galilee after be taken to confirm Jesus' 'witness'. The point made is then that the a religious leader/movement can be taken seriously only if its reputation is international, even multicultural, and this plays into the agonising question of the Lord's alienation from 'the Judaeans' and the Christians' alienation from 'the Jews'. Theology, theology and more theology, surely?
Back to Papias. Did those who based themselves on Mark - stung by the 'not in order' Johannine comment? - reply by advocating a comparatively compressed chronology for Our Lord's whole life (so we can more easily get an overview) and insisting on His 'Judaean' credentials by means of birth in Bethlehem? (In paticular, there's a fairly short span between the governorship of Quirinius and the 15th year of Ti.Caesar.) Did the Johannines, from their side of the Bi-Optic divide, then reply by suggesting an extended chronology - 'You are not 50 years old' - with an intriguing implication of 'missing years' - and an account of the Lord's 'coming into the world' that shows no interest in mere events and places and concentrates on philosophical issues?
Wouldn't these people, from both optics, if you said 'Will you please just give us the facts and the timelines?' have thought we were being a bit quaint?
#3 - Martin Hughes - 08/19/2010 - 12:18

Good points, Martin! Right; there's not been much new treatment of Papias and John beyond the rather superficial debates from decades ago as to whether he knew John the apostle as well as John the elder, or whether Irenaeus had confused the latter for the former. Most important in the present analysis is that Papias, if taken at face value, reflects an early second-century Johannine opinion that Mark is inadequate in two ways: its material is out of order chronologically, and its repetitions (while seeking to conserve traditional material) are understandable yet problematic.

This is not to say that John's alternative rendering is more accurate than Mark's (it may or may not be--such an analysis must be ocnducted on its own terms), but it is to say that self-assured claims regarding Johannine ahistoricity of concern are critically problematic. John may differ from Mark with knowing intentionality--as an augmentation and to some degree to set the record straight, which is what all theology and historiography does.
#4 - Paul Anderson - 12/08/2012 - 23:43

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