Testing for Johannine Authorship by Examining the Use of Conjunctions -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 46:2 (Fall 1984)
Article: Testing for Johannine Authorship by Examining the Use of Conjunctions
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Testing for Johannine Authorship
by Examining the Use of Conjunctions

Vern Sheridan Poythress

This article is concerned with new evidence for the unity of the Gospel of John. In a previous article I delineated rough rules for the use of the principal conjunctions de, oun, kai, and asyndeton in the Gospel of John.1 Now we can use those rules as a test for common authorship. There are some obvious limitations to a test of this type. The test can only be used effectively when we are examining a piece of text large enough to include a significant number of intersentence conjunctions. For example, a hypothesis that a single sentence is a gloss cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed with much confidence. Moreover, the rules are not absolutely rigid. Within the body of the Gospel of John, there are a number of exceptions and doubtful cases (for a fuller survey of the problem cases, see the previous article).2 To pronounce against common authorship with any confidence, we would need to find within a given text a significant frequency of apparent violations of the rules (say, above 10% in a shorter passage, or 5% in a longer passage). Finally, we must bear in mind that occurrences of de, kai, oun, and asyndeton are subject unusually frequently to corruption in the course of textual transmission. We should treat a given occurrence as a clear violation of a rule only when the external text-critical evidence is strong.

With these qualifications and reservations, I nevertheless believe that we have here a fairly strong test. To show this, let us apply the test in some known cases of different authorship, in order to see how well it works there. We will show that the test easily confirms that Matthew, Mark, and Romans are not by the author of the Gospel of John.

1. The Authorship of Matthew

Let us use the first part of Matthew 2 as a test case. Does this text conform to the same patterns for de, oun, kai, and asyndeton as does the Gospel of John? I will analyze in order each occurrence of the intersentence conjunctions de, oun, kai, and asyndeton, beginning in Matt 2:1. Section references will be to the rules delineated in my previous article.

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