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In any case we must be quite clear that at the root of each of the two points of view there are quite distinct presuppositions. If Jn. from the first gave forth his miracle-stories merely as the figurative clothing of religious ideas, then we may be all the more certain that he invented them himself; he could not have had them from the lips of Jesus, for had that been their source the Synoptics also would have given them. If, on the other hand, Jn. regarded them as real events, then they must have come to him from some authorities in whom he had confidence. Is it possible perhaps to decide now which of the two suppositions is right? In other words, is there a tradition concerning the Life of Jesus which was known only to Jn. and remained unknown to the Synoptics?

The far-reaching importance of this question can be realised at once. If Jn. was acquainted with such a tradition, he may have derived from it all that he has in addition to what the Synoptics tell us; and in this much else is included besides the miracle narratives we have been considering. On this basis very many people immediately think they may assume that all these additional matters are also historical. But the pleasure which they thus give themselves is premature. Supposing that Jn. drew from a tradition—for the time being we are willing to assume 111that he did—have we then disposed of the question, Why do the Synoptics know nothing about this tradition? Who was the first to know of it? Was it the Apostle John? Could he really, in Jesus’ lifetime, have noted certain things of which Peter and the other apostles had no experience? And yet the Synoptists themselves drew from the communications of the Apostles or of their disciples! We might acquiesce, if the things which appear only in the Fourth Gospel were all minor matters, In that case, we might think that to the other Apostles or to the Synoptics they seemed to be unimportant. But the healing of the man born blind, the healing of the man palsied for thirty-eight years, the raising of Lazarus, the farewell discourses of Jesus, the washing of the disciples’ feet on the last evening of his life, etc.!

Or can we believe that some worshipper of Jesus—not further known to us—outside the circle of his twelve apostles, observed all these things, one, for instance, as people of late have been fond of suggesting, who lived in Judaea, and, having nothing to tell us about Galilee, had all the more to tell us about what Jesus did in Judaea? Of such an one it would be equally true to say that he could have observed nothing which the apostles did not also know of. Does not the Fourth Gospel say continually that they were all present on all these occasions?

It is thus, besides, quite immaterial whether we assume the eye-witness in question (whether we think of him as the apostle John or as one who was not an apostle) to have written the Fourth Gospel himself or only to have given information to the author. In no case can what this person alone tells us be derived from actual observation of the events; for, if it were, we should read of it in the Synoptics as well.


It may, nevertheless, have come to the Fourth Evangelist by tradition. The idea that a tradition must in all circumstances be correct is a very curious one. He to whom it is delivered may hold it to be correct; but before it reached him an error may have crept in. In view of what has been said, only on this presupposition is it worth while to speak of a tradition known only to the Fourth Evangelist. If we call it a “Johannine tradition,” we must not be understood to mean that it started from the apostle John, but simply that it came by tradition to the Fourth Evangelist whom we, depending again upon a tradition, call John.

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