Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

"Do You Love Me?" A Narrative-Critical Reappraisal of ... and ... in John 21:15-17

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

"Do You Love Me?" A Narrative-Critical Reappraisal of ... and ... in John 21:15-17

Article excerpt

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Over the centuries, a great number of readers have grappled with the question of whether the alternation of verbs (...) that appear in the mouths of Jesus and Peter in their last conversation in the Gospel of John (21:15- 23) is narratively significant. In recent times, the conclusion that this alternation represents John's stylistic preference for using different but synonymous words (rather than repeating the same word) has emerged as something like a settled consensus. 1 The mortar of this consensus is the insistence that any attempts to draw a dependable semantic distinction between ... are doomed to failure whether in Greek literature generally,2 the Septuagint,3 the NT,4 or John's Gospel itself.5

While the dissenting opinion-that the alternation of verbal forms in John 21:15-17 is not merely one of style but of substance-was championed by British scholarship of the nineteenth century, support for this position has continued to dwindle in the face of the apparently irrefutable evidence that the Gospel of John regularly deploys synonyms for the purpose of stylistic variation.6

By way of anticipation, although I concede the impossibility of semantically differentiating ... and ... in any consistent way in ancient Greek (or in any of its constituent corpora), I will argue from a narrative-critical standpoint that the most plausible frame of reference for Jesus' use of ... in his first conversation with Peter after the resurrection (John 21) is his use of ... in their final conversation before the passion (John 13-17).

While readers of John have long been interested in narrative aspects of the Gospel, this interest has certainly intensified in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of R. Alan Culpepper and others who have (more or less) followed his lead.7 Thus, recent scholarship-whatever its attitude toward the gains of historicalcritical scholarship in relation to John-has shown an increasing appreciation for the narrative unity of John's Gospel.8 Accompanying this appreciation is a recognition of the complexity of communication taking place in and through the text of the Gospel.9 Paul Anderson, for example, deploys the notion of "dialogue" as a conceptual framework for addressing literary issues arising in a reading of the Gospel. While Anderson's analysis takes account of the Gospel's rhetorical efforts to involve and engage the reader dialogically (e.g., 20:30-31; etc.), it also recognizes the prominence and significance of literal dialogues (particularly with Jesus) in the narrative itself.10 Moreover, he reminds us of the author's interest in creating a dialogue between narratively prior and subsequent materials/events whether through the words of various characters (Jesus and others) or through explicit narratorial comment. 11 It is with these insights in mind that the present study focuses its attention on the latter half of John qua narrative, and in particular on those parts of the narrative immediately prior (chs. 13-18) and subsequent (ch. 21) to the crucifixion and resurrection.

I. John 21

While the authorship and indeed historical relationship of ch. 21 to the bulk of the Gospel of John have been much debated, the suggestion that the chapter was consciously composed with John 1-20 in view is now rather less contentious.12 The catalogue of lexical and literary parallels compiled by Raymond Brown and others establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that if John 21 was not written by the author of the remainder of the Gospel, it was the work of one who consciously or unconsciously wished it to appear as if it were.13 Indeed, arguments regarding the preference for stylistic variation in John 21 are necessarily premised on a consonance of style between the first twenty chapters of John and the last, whether ch. 21 was the epilogue from the hand of the author himself or the appendix of a redactor who followed him. …

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