This remarkable book by Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic [a division of Baker Publishing Group], 2007), is mostly concerned with establishing the identity of the author of the fourth gospel as an eyewitness of the events the gospel describes and the integrity of the gospel as a whole, both historically and textually. The argument in this book is supported by the arguments in the author’s other books, especially The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences(Eerdmans, 1998) and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony(Eerdmans, 2006).
Bauckham drew several conclusions: The original gospel included both the prologue and chapter 21 and the two halves of the gospel were never separate. It was written from Ephesus by John the Elder who was a disciple from Jerusalem and not the apostle John the son of Zebedee of Galilee. He is the “beloved disciple” in the gospel text and was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. The gospel fits the genre of Greco-Roman biography and also the more precise genre of Greco-Roman historiography. In fact it meets the demands of ancient historiography more than the synoptic gospels. In addition, the publication of the gospel was intended for all Christians and not a hypothetical “Johannine Community.”
All these conclusions are in stark contrast to the dominant approach in Johannine studies today which tend to understand the gospel as the work by several anonymous hands working at different stages for a small sectarian community alienated from the larger Petrine body of Christians. Moreover, the gospel is not about Jesus, but rather its composers created stories about Jesus to tell allegories that are really about the community’s own history and to put the community’s own theology on the lips of Jesus. Bauckham’s conclusions are different but the evidence he examines is extensive and his methods rigorous. How refreshing!
In my judgement this book contributes to the well-being of the church which is renewed in its faith, worship, life and ministry by “remembering” Jesus. An eyewitness is not an objective reporter of facts but testifies from a particular perspective, with a particular focus, and has a particular interest. This gives the witness a particular perception. In the case of our gospels, the perception was informed and transformed by the divine revelation within the spirit of the witness of who Jesus is. This revelation awakened the witness’s spirit so that he, seeing with the eyes of his spirit, “recognized” Jesus. He can then speak to our spirit through his permanent testimony (the words of the gospel) so that we too—our spirit having been awakened by the divine Spirit by this means—can recognize Jesus with our spirit. This (our) recognition of Jesus, evoked by the re-membering on the part of the eyewitness, enables us to re-member Jesus. This re-membering makes Jesus present to us in a special (and, by the Spirit, entirely real) way. Our remembrance of Jesus when we hear the Gospel, and our receiving this One together when we break the bread, is the prelude to and foundation of the life of the church upon which everything else—the life of the church—is built. Establishing the content of the gospels as the interpreted testimonies of enlightened eyewitnesses is important for validating the basis of the church’s existence. Besides validating how the church in practice uses the gospels, what the church needs even more is to understand the nature of these testimonies and how they function as testimonies. With The Testimony of the Beloved DiscipleRichard Bauckham has done this for the Gospel according to John and has served the church well.