1 After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. 2 Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” 6 So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. 7 So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.
8 The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. 9 When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Context and the Scholars. These verses are the final chapter in the Gospel according to John. Immediately preceding this chapter are these verses: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Such are the closing verses at the end of the so-called “Doubting Thomas” narrative of John’s gospel (“Believing Thomas” is the better #hashtag). It reads as a great ending to the whole gospel. That is why many scholars argue this John 21 is an addition to an original Gospel version that concluded at the end of John 20. But the problem with that view is that John 21 is found in every ancient manuscript of the Gospel that we possess and, if it was appended, must have been appended almost with the original publication of the work.
Scholars offer two basic grounds for considering John 21 and added epilogue: “(1) John 20:30–31 brings the Gospel to a close, and (2) Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in John 21 introduce an ecclesial focus that is secondary and anticlimactic to the concerns of John 1–20.” [O’Day, 854] But then such an opinion seems somewhat circular. Their “decision about the status of chap. 21 is largely based on how it fits scholars’ theological preconceptions about how the Gospel of John should end. Beasley-Murray, for example, writes that John 21 ‘has an emphasis on the situation of the Church and its leaders beyond anything in the body of the Gospel.’” [O’Day, op.cit] That presupposes that Jesus had no intention of anything/one taking up his earthly ministry in any way/shape/form – which seems an odd position in the light of John 14-17. A more supportable position (it seems to me) is that John 21 is placed exactly where it needs to be with a focus on the ecclesial dimensions at the start of the church’s mission. O’Day [854-55] nicely outlines such a view:
There is a distinction between the focus of John 20 and that of John 21, but it is a distinction that is integral to the scope and movement of the Gospel narrative. In 20:1–31, the narrative and theological focus rests on the completion of Jesus’ glorification. Thomas’s proclamation, “My Lord and my God” (20:28), signals the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer of 17:1–5; Jesus is glorified in God’s presence. But Jesus’ prayer at his hour looks beyond his own glorification to the future life of the believing community (17:6–26), and the stories of John 21 point explicitly to that future. It is inaccurate, therefore, to state that John 21:1–25 introduces ecclesial concerns that are not integral to the Gospel. In John 16:2–3, for example, Jesus predicted the future persecution and martyrdom of members of the community, predictions that are revisited in the stories of Peter and the beloved disciple in 21:15–24. Throughout chaps. 13–17, Jesus spoke of his hopes and promises for the life of the faith community (e.g., 14:12; 15:12–27; 17:17–18, 20; cf. 19:26–27), and John 21:1–25 offers a narrative conclusion to those hopes.
In addition to the narrative and theological flow, John 21 is tied to the previous chapters by a host of literary and theological links. Johannine characteristics found in this chapter are
- the Sea of Tiberias (v.1; near the site of the miraculous feeding of John 6:1-14);
- the names of Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in v.2;
- the night-day contrast of vv. 3–4;
- the lack of recognition in v.4;
- the Beloved Disciple of v.7, who relates to Peter and who first recognizes the Lord;
- the charcoal fire of v.9, together with the image of Jesus as servant and giver of bread to the disciples;
- the reference in v.14 to two previous appearances (in ch. 20);
- Peter’s triple profession (vv. 15–17) to counterbalance the triple denial and to reintroduce the shepherd theme (ch. 10);
- the glorifying aspect of Peter’s death in v.19;
- the reference to the Beloved Disciple’s position next to Jesus at the Last Supper in v.20.
If not John himself, then this was added by an expert in John’s thought — surely by one of his disciples, and by one thoroughly conversant with the Gospel material. If this chapter is an addition, it is nonetheless a beautiful addition, and the Christian community would be considerably poorer without it.
But in the end of it all, John 21 is part of the canonical Gospel according to John.
- Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John” in vol. 9 of the New Interpreter’s Bible; ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004) 854-62
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm