In both its prologue and the epilogue, the Fourth Gospel uses a corresponding first person pronoun in the plural form: we. This raises a question for the reader: what is the identity of the ones who say “we have seen his glory” (1:14) and “we know that his testimony is true” (21:24)? To answer this question, other textual indicators from the Fourth Gospel have to be taken into account, in particular those where the reader is directly addressed by the author (19:35: the unique witness of Jesus’ death at the cross; 20:30-31: not simply the book’s ending, but rather its statement of purpose, attached to the confession of Thomas). Additionally, there is the evidence of the so-called Muratorian Canon, according to which the other disciples encouraged John to write his Gospel and read along with him what he wrote down. This article sets out the following argument: the “we” in question must be interpreted as including the author himself as the chief witness. In the role of spokesman, he finds himself in the midst of a circle of eyewitnesses. Furthermore, the “we” given in the prologue does not suggest an identification with the readers, nor should it be interpreted as a substitute for “I”, as though it were a plural of majesty (or the “we” of authoritative testimony, as Richard Bauckham has argued). Thus, the Fourth Gospel is framed by John’s testimony together with that of his fellow eyewitnesses.
Fourth Gospel; Gospel of John; “We” passages; Muratorian Canon; Eyewitnesses.
Dr. P. H. R. van Houwelingen is professor of New Testament in the Theological University of Kampen, The Netherlands, as well as research assistant in the Department of New Testament Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Unless otherwise indicated, all biblical quotations and references are taken from the New International Version Bible (NIV), 1984 edition.