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John 5:2 and the Date of the Gospel

Dear Dan:

First of all, I apologize—I did not mean to misrepresent you. I accept that you have good reasons for preferring a pre-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel other than the present tense form of eimi in John 5:2. Also, let me express my great respect for your expertise in the area of NT Greek grammar. Your Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and its abridgment have been indispensable resources in my writing and teaching. In the matter at hand, too, I agree that discussions have too often proceeded without scholars adducing actual evidence, and, as you noted, this has been my desire in interacting with your publications on John 5:2.

Thank you, then, for taking the time to respond to my recent post on John 5:2 and the date of John’s Gospel—and from Patmos at that! I will not unnecessarily prolong further discussion at this point, since it is obvious that you and I continue to disagree on the matter. I will limit myself to three brief points in this my final response for the time being.

(1) I note as common ground that we both do not consider the present tense form of eimi in John 5:2 determinative for dating John’s Gospel. We both agree that other factors must be considered as well, though you do feel more strongly about John 5:2 favoring a pre-AD 70 date.

(2) With regard to my comment that a vast majority of scholars favors a post-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel, you noted that the majority of scholars also favors a post-AD 70 date for Matthew and Luke, and that you and I would not agree with the majority opinion in this regard; why should we agree with the majority view on the date of John’s Gospel? I believe there is an important difference in these two cases, however. The difference is that a post-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel is held by the vast majority even of conservative evangelical scholars (including D. A. Carson, Craig Blomberg, and many others), in contrast to a post-AD 70 date for Matthew and Luke, which only commands a majority of critical, non-evangelical scholars. To be sure, the majority is not always, or necessarily, right, but it should give the wise, careful scholar pause when the vast majority of those sharing his overall theological convictions come to different conclusions on a given issue. This was, and continues to be, my point.

(3) Finally, you say that I have the burden of proof to produce “clear, unambiguous” examples of eimi used as a “historical present” in Koine Greek. If by that you mean examples that you accept, it appears I won’t be able to meet that condition, because you seem quite convinced of the rightness of your view! As you note, in my commentary, I have cited several passages, such as John 10:8 and 19:40, where a present tense form of eimi is very possibly past-referring, and as far as I can see you have not advanced any compelling argument to discount this possibility. Rather than there being a lack of evidence, it appears, the issue rather seems to be that you do not accept the evidence I have already provided. For my part, I continue to believe that the prima facie reading of John 19:40, for example, is to take eimi there as past-referring, and this is what major translations such as the TNIV and the NIV seem to be doing (“This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs”). So while you may not think a past-referring use of the present tense of eimi is probable, it is certainly possible, and this, to my mind at least, weakens your argument for a pre-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel from the present tense of eimi in John 5:2.

To my mind, at least, Dan, you have therefore not established the implausibility of a past-referring use of a present tense form of eimi in John 5:2, which lessens the weight I am prepared to put on John 5:2 in the matter of dating John’s Gospel. To this should be added that even if, for argument’s sake, one were to concede that the present tense form of eimi in John 5:2 constitutes a historical present, this would still not necessarily favor a pre-AD 70 date, since the reference could be to remains of the structure or the structure could have been rebuilt after being destroyed but prior to John’s writing (Schlatter’s view).

As to the date of John’s Gospel, I could elaborate on my own reasons for dating the Gospel post-AD 70, but this would be to repeat arguments already made in print, so that I will refrain from doing so here. What is more, I am currently working on a major Johannine theology and hope to explore some of these issues in greater depth in this forthcoming volume. Once again, thank you for honoring me with this thoughtful response.

Andreas Köstenberger

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