The NT and Presbyter Johns

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 3:45 pm

Ben's recent thread on the apocalypse of John has got me wondering about the NT and Papias' presbyter Johns again, and as I was poking around the forum I found something I wrote on another John-related thread awhile back that I had forgotten about and seems like a good place to start this new thread:



I was starting to wonder if John the elder could be both the pillar John mentioned in Gal. 2:9 and John the son of Zebedee, and I see that Culpepper argues for this in John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend, summarizing on page 51:
In sum, the synoptic tradition portrays John as one of the leaders of the disciples called by Jesus ... one chosen to be among the disciples closest to Jesus during his ministry and to be a "pillar of the church" in the years that followed.

https://books.google.com/books?id=-6O2U ... ar&f=false

This seems like the least complicated "John" idea that I'm aware of. I've never given much thought about John the son of Zebedee before, yet somehow I assumed he was fictional. But now that I'm coming around to the idea that the disciple Philip could be real (considering that Papias is said to have known his daughters, for example), maybe John the son of Zebedee was real too, and then he became the pillar John who is mentioned by Paul, and then he later lived in Asia (like Philip and his daughters are said to have done).

And I would reckon, given the similarities between the letters of James and Paul and 1 (and 2 and 3) John, that this could be the John who wrote the latter (which is why Papias, who lived in Asia, was aware of them -or at least 1 John).

I would venture to guess that this is not the John who wrote Revelation or the John who wrote the gospel of John. So in this scenario, there would be three Christian Johns: John the son of Zebedee who became the pillar John and then moved to Asia and wrote 1 (and 2 and 3) John; the John who wrote Revelation; and the John who wrote the gospel of John. And I wonder if the latter is pretending to be John the son of Zebedee.

I'm curious to see how this scenario lines up with Papias and Polycrates.




This is more or less where my thoughts were taking me again after pondering Ben's thread, only now I'm not liking the idea that John the son of Zebedee was the pillar John of Gal. 2:9, and that is because Papias appears to distinguish John the disciple (who I assume is John the son of Zebedee) from the presbyter John that he had heard from (presumably in Asia) in EH 3.39.4:

If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders — what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.



That these are different Johns, and that Papias did not hear anything from the first one, seems clear from what Eusebius says (and cites) before this in EH 3.39.1-3 and 7:

There are extant five books of Papias, which bear the title Expositions of Oracles of the Lord. Irenæus makes mention of these as the only works written by him, in the following words: “These things are attested by Papias, an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book. For five books have been written by him.” These are the words of Irenæus.

But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.

He says: But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.
And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings.

So there are two Johns here, one that Papias didn't know (presumably John the son of Zebedee) and one that he did (presumably in Asia) who is called "the presbyter." And in Ben's thread I mentioned that if I had to choose which John wrote Revelation I would pick the presbyter John (which is what Eusebius supposes), but now I'm not so sure. Here is what Eusebius says in EH 3.39.5:

This shows that the statement of those is true, who say that there were two persons in Asia that bore the same name, and that there were two tombs in Ephesus, each of which, even to the present day, is called John's. It is important to notice this. For it is probable that it was the second, if one is not willing to admit that it was the first that saw the Revelation, which is ascribed by name to John.



It seems unlikely to me that there were two Johns with tombs in Ephesus, but I gather this is Eusebius' take of what Polycrates says in EH 3.31.3 (and Papias' two Johns above):

For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the last day, at the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and moreover John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and being a priest wore the sacerdotal plate. He also sleeps at Ephesus.

Something fishy seems to be going on here, but since I can't figure it out yet I'm going to go ahead and post this and sort it out later. And in the meantime, if anyone wants to put any links to other John-related threads, feel free. I'm just starting this new one in order to take a fresh look at everything.
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 4:29 pm

Off the bat, I'm starting to think the problem is Eusebius. It looks like he could be assuming that Papias did not hear from any of the original apostles.

In Eusebius' citation above, Irenaeus calls Papias "an ancient man who was a hearer of John" and doesn't say that this John wasn't the pillar John or John the son of Zebedee (and perhaps it also might not be out of the question because he calls Papias an "ancient man").

And let's take another look at what Eusebius and Papias say again:

But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.

He says: But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered ...

Is this only Eusebius' inference that Papias "by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eyewitness of the holy apostles" because Papias says he had "learned carefully from the elders"?

Let's take another look at what Eusebius says about this here:

And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings.

Is this too only Eusebius inference based only the fact that Papias mentions Aristion (who was not an apostle) and the presbyter John frequently by name?

If so, then I'm thinking that maybe Papias' presbyter John could be the pillar John, since Jewish Christian leaders are called presbyters in Acts and the Didache. And that would then tie in with what Polycrates says about the Asian John, since Papias also lived in Asia:

For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the last day, at the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and moreover John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and being a priest wore the sacerdotal plate. He also sleeps at Ephesus.



And since James (another pillar) is also depicted as being priest-like and wearing a sacerdotal plate (which I take in both cases to be a misunderstanding of the long hair, or nezer, of a Nazirite), unless I'm missing something, I'm thinking that Polycrates' Asian John and Papias' presbyter John are the same person, the pillar John of Gal. 2:9.
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:03 pm

And now I'm coming back around to the possibility that this pillar John could be John the son of Zebedee too (as per Culpepper). It doesn't seem out of the question, at least.
May the four winds blow you home again.

klewis
Posts: 114
Joined: Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:39 am

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by klewis » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:18 pm

Revelation is a difficult book to draw names from. We see this in how the following people, and groups, are mentioned:
  • Jezebel described in Revelation is not like the Jezebel described in the Hebrew scripture. It is likely that Jezebel is mentioned because Thyatira means daughter. It is also why Jesus is referred to as the son of God in Rev 2:17 and its parallel in 1:6).
  • The elder Antipas (Rev 2:11) can be a person, but it is more likely a result of parallel formation. The beast was against all and was fatally wounded and Antipas (meaning against all) died. This is entirely consistent in the parallel formation between the first three churches and Revelation 13 (see the parallel with the Church at Pergamum https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gGkg-a ... sp=sharing ).
  • The Nicolaitans (meaning victory of the people ) most likely never existed, but like Antipas represent a play on words.
  • The Synagogue of Satan (gathering of Satan) has more to do with the Satan gathering the army in the sixth church (see the whole story in https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nETcXy ... sp=sharing). In that story, if you read it backwards, it progresses better. I must admit that the Synagogue of Satan in the church of Smyrna breaks down, at least in the parallel with the beast (see https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gGkg-a ... sp=sharing).
This does not exclude a John as its author, in fact, it might indicate that a real John wrote it. Absence of word play with John may be evidence that a John wrote it.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:24 pm

klewis wrote:
Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:18 pm
Revelation is a difficult book to draw names from. We see this in how the following people, and groups, are mentioned:
  • Jezebel described in Revelation is not like the Jezebel described in the Hebrew scripture. It is likely that Jezebel is mentioned because Thyatira means daughter. It is also why Jesus is referred to as the son of God in Rev 2:17 and its parallel in 1:6).
  • The elder Antipas (Rev 2:11) can be a person, but it is more likely a result of parallel formation. The beast was against all and was fatally wounded and Antipas (meaning against all) died. This is entirely consistent in the parallel formation between the first three churches and Revelation 13 (see the parallel with the Church at Pergamum https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gGkg-a ... sp=sharing ).
  • The Nicolaitans (meaning victory of the people ) most likely never existed, but like Antipas represent a play on words.
  • The Synagogue of Satan (gathering of Satan) has more to do with the Satan gathering the army in the sixth church (see the whole story in https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nETcXy ... sp=sharing). In that story, if you read it backwards, it progresses better. I must admit that the Synagogue of Satan in the church of Smyrna breaks down, at least in the parallel with the beast (see https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gGkg-a ... sp=sharing).
This does not exclude a John as its author, in fact, it might indicate that a real John wrote it. Absence of word play with John may be evidence that a John wrote it.

Well, I'm setting Revelation aside for the moment, but I might bring it in at some point and in any event will take what you say into consideration.
Last edited by John2 on Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:38 pm

Regarding the idea that John the son of Zebedee was the pillar John, I don't know if Culpepper mentions this (though I assume so, since it seems obvious), if Peter had been a disciple and then became a pillar, why not John the son of Zebedee?

And in this light 1, 2, and 3 John seem interesting, since 1 John begins:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

And, of course, 2 and 3 John claim to have been written by "the presbyter" (like Papias' "the presbyter" John).
Last edited by John2 on Wed Nov 20, 2019 6:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:43 pm

And to bring Revelation into this, would the fact that it claims to have been written in exile on Patmos exclude the possibility that it was written by John the pillar/son of Zebedee/the presbyter if the latter was buried in Ephesus (as per Polycrates)?
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:53 pm

And something Polycrates says is giving me the impression that the Asian John he mentions (aka John the pillar/son of Zebedee/the presbyter) could be the person that the author of the gospel of John was passing himself off as, since it is commonly supposed that it was written in Asia and that the "disciple Jesus loved" is John the son of Zebedee:

... John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord ...

And that Polycrates calls him a teacher ties in with Papias learning from him (presumably in Asia).
Last edited by John2 on Wed Nov 20, 2019 6:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:58 pm

And if 1, 2 and 3 John (or even just 1 John) were written by John the pillar/son of Zebedee/the presbyter then that would also exclude him as being the author of Revelation since I gather those letters are not like Revelation in language style.
May the four winds blow you home again.

John2
Posts: 3083
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: The NT and Presbyter Johns

Post by John2 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 6:03 pm

So perhaps there were only two Johns, the pillar/son of Zebedee/the presbyter who perhaps wrote 1, 2 and 3 John and taught Papias and was buried in Ephesus, and whoever wrote Revelation (who was perhaps just a guy named John), and the author of the gospel of John was perhaps pretending to be the former.
May the four winds blow you home again.

Post Reply