Problem: Jesus forgets Simon Peter's question
Verses: John 13:36, 14:5, 16:5; Status: Weak

An anonymous reader sends me this problem, having seen it mentioned in Bart Ehrman's book Jesus Interrupted.

John's account of the last supper includes some fairly lengthy speeches from Jesus, often called the Farewell Discourse. These take up John 13-17. Near the start, we have this exchange between Simon Peter and Jesus (John 13:36):

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward." (ESV)

Soon, Thomas also wonders aloud where Jesus is going. This is John 14:5:

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (ESV)

Despite all this, Jesus later says nobody has asked him where he is going. This is John 16:5:

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' (ESV)

This is certainly a bit peculiar, and might indicate that the later parts of the Discourse were added later, though quite possibly by the original author. The Oxford Bible Commentary takes this view in its introduction to John. In support of this view, John 14:30-31 seems like it might be the original ending of the Discourse:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. (ESV)

This certainly feels like the logical end of the speeches. But lets suppose it isn't, and just read the complete gospel as we have it. If we do that, the words "Rise, let us go from here" may indicate the passage of some time between the first part of the discourse and the later parts. It's therefore not too troubling that Jesus would later say that nobody is [at that later time] asking him where he is going. (This is the suggestion of the ESV Study Bible.)

So I'll call this problem Weak, though the idea that the Discourse underwent some revision is a bit troubling. It's also reasonable to doubt that such a lengthy prose account of Jesus' final speeches, written long after they occurred, could possibly be accurate; though if one believes in divine guidance for the gospel authors then that problem disappears.

Updated: 2010-03-25

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