A New Look at Asides in the Fourth Gospel -- By: Tom Thatcher

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 151:604 (Oct 1994)
Article: A New Look at Asides in the Fourth Gospel
Author: Tom Thatcher


A New Look at Asides in the Fourth Gospel

Tom Thatcher

[Tom Thatcher is Instructor in Biblical Studies, Cincinnati Bible Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio.]

In 1960, Merrill C. Tenney noted a general failure of Bible students to analyze the numerous asides in the Gospel of John. He said a thorough treatment was needed, as “some of [these notes] are quite important to [the book’s] structure and interpretation.” Rising to the occasion, Tenney produced “The Footnotes of John’s Gospel” as a supplement to the “occasional notes in the major commentaries.”1 After defining “footnote,” Tenney identified 59 footnotes in the Fourth Gospel and grouped them into 10 categories. He explained each category, noted difficult cases, and included a helpful summarizing chart.2

Almost 20 years later, John O’Rourke observed that a number of recent English commentaries had acknowledged the significance of asides in the Gospel of John, including commentaries by Raymond E. Brown, Rudolf Bultmann, Barnabas Lindars, and Leon Morris. O’Rourke sought to clarify the subject by revising Tenney’s work, which he said was “the most systematic study” available.3 O’Rourke described Tenney’s categories, then reshuffled Tenney’s asides, while increasing the list to 109. The “theological discussions” category underwent the most notable expansion, from Tenney’s three asides to O’Rourke’s 27. O’Rourke also provided a tabular compilation of his findings and a chart tracking chapter frequency.4

After presenting his revised table, however, O’Rourke made the critical observation that “unfortunately, the different classifications [in Tenney’s system] are not altogether mutually exclusive.”5 This is because Tenney’s concept of a “footnote” or “aside” is vague. Tenney began his article by referring to a “great deal of explanatory material [in the Fourth Gospel] which is not directly involved in the progress of the narrative…but is parenthetical.”6 He then stated that “most of the footnotes in John are more nearly ‘glosses’ or ‘asides’ which the writer introduced to make his story more lucid, or to explain the cause or motive for some act.”7 This sentence encompasses three distinct functions of the asides: to increase lucidity, to define cause, and to define the motives of individuals. Tenney added that John’s...

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