Köstenberger on “oimai” in John 21:25 and the Authorship and Integrity of the Gospel


24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:24-25 NRSV)

Andreas J. Köstenberger, ‘‘I Suppose’ (oimai): The Conclusion of John’s Gospel in Its Literary and Historical Context,’ in Williams, P.J., Andre D. Clarke, Peter M. Head, David Instone-Brwer (eds.), The New Testament in its First Century Setting: Essays on Context and Background in Honour of B. W. Winter on His 65th Birthday (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004): 72-88.

In this article Köstenberger takes a fresh look at the term oimai (‘I suppose’; John 21:25) in the context of debate over the authorship of the gospel; specifically, how the term oimai needs to be given due weight in the debate concerning the status of vv.24-25 as an original part of the gospel or a later addition(s) by a different author(s). After briefly surveying the various interpretations of the first person plural in v24 (“we know”) and first person singular in v25 (“I suppose”) as they pertain to judgements on authorship, Köstenberger turns to extrabiblical usage of the term. He offers a sample of instances from Greek literature from the first centuries BC and AD (Diodorus of Sicily; Dionysius of Halicarnassus; Josephus; Plutarch)[1], and summarises his findings as follows (87):

the term oimai is a literary term frequently used by historians reflecting authorial modesty in stating a claim or opinion. It is commonly part of authorial discourse, not infrequently at the beginning or conclusion of a literary unit or at points of transition. In its extrabiblical instances the term regularly forms an inextricable part of the author’s argument that cannot be easily separated from the larger context by source or redaction-critical means.

Köstenberger interprets John 21:25 in line with these as an instance of ‘authorial modesty’ which constitutes ‘an integral part of the authorial message.’ (87) It is on the basis of a lack of precedent in his survey of an instance where a later editor/group of editors use the term to authenticate ‘the message of an original author or witness,’ that he concludes that its presence in John 21:25 ‘would render redaction-critical proposals unlikely’ (87).

This line of reasoning may fault on the grounds that it disallows innovation. However, I do think that the first person singular oimai (“I suppose”) needs to be given due weight and not interpreted against its grain (and without known historical precedent) to bring it into line with hypotheses of later aditions and communal authorship/redaction.  

Köstenberger also mentions an article by H. M. Jackson[2] in which he argues that the third person singular (“this is the disciple”) and first person plural (“we know”) in v.24 reflect the ancient conventions of self-reference, and therefore can no longer be seen as compelling grounds indicating a change of authorship in 21:24-25 (73-4).

[1] Köstenberger’s survey was limited to occurrences of the present-tense first person singular where it is followed by an accusative and infinitive, as in John 21:25.

[2] Köstenberger both states that he is building upon Jackson’s findings even while his proposal stands apart from it. H. M. Jackson, ‘Ancient Self-referential Conventions and Their Implications for the Authorship and Integrity of the Gospel of John,’ JTS 50 (1999): 1-34.

*In the title and body of the article oimai is in greek characters. Unfortunately I do not know how to display greek fonts in WordPress, but if anyone does please let me know how*

1 John 2.15-17 – ‘do not love the world’

2.15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; 16 for all that is in the world-the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. [NRSV]

So what is John trying to communicate in this passage? Is he saying that we should not desire or enjoy material things? Things that GOD called ‘good’ and gave to us (Gen 1)?

‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world’ (v.15)

When John speaks of ‘the world’ he means both the physical ‘space’ we inhabit (creation of which we are a part)[1] and humankind in the embrace of patterns of life contrary to the commands of GOD. ‘The ‘world’ hates the recipients of John’s letter because of their love for one another (3.13); ‘false prophets’ and the ‘spirit of the antichrist’ are ‘of the world and the world listens to them’ (4.1-5); ‘the whole world is in the power of the evil one’ (5.19); and through ‘faith’ the world will be ‘overcome’ (5.4-5).

And so John tells his recipients not to ‘love the world or the things in the world’. The ‘love’ spoken of here is not the same as the ‘love’ John exhorts his readers to. It is rather an affection for the patterns of life that characterize human society and culture in rebellion against GOD, patterns which focus on satisfying oneself. To ‘love the world’ is to long for and take delight in the “desires” John speaks of in v16 which do not have their origin in the Father but in humanity without GOD.

‘the desire of the flesh’

While the term ‘flesh’ may easily evoke the thought of sexuality given a past association of sex with our ‘sinful flesh’, it is more likely used in a similar sense to to Paul’s use in Romans where it refers to perverted human character in general.[2] The NIV helpfully translates this as ‘the cravings of sinful man’.

‘the desire of the eyes’

Again, in a society and culture where “sex” is invading more and more of our visual space through billboards, magazines, Television and movies, it is hard for it not to spring immediately to mind here. But the thought need not be so restricted, and can refer to the desire for anything aroused by seeing it,[3] whether it be material things such as clothes, the latest cell phone, cars or anything one wishes to possess. Greed and materialism are certainly in John’s view here given the following ‘desire’ (‘pride in riches’) and 3.17 which we will look at in another post.

‘pride in riches’

This is fairly straight forward and can include the attitude and belief that one is self-made, self-sufficient, has no need for GOD, and no acknowledgment of GOD’s provision of all things.

‘The world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever’ (v.17).

The old order, human life in rebellion against GOD due to its love for the ‘things of the world’, is being brought to an end. John is not saying that the physical world should not be enjoyed or that it is evil. What he is saying is is that believers need to be vigilant to guard themselves from the perverted ways of enjoying GOD’s good creation, the idolatrous and self-serving ways that put the ‘self’ (me) at the center of living which characterize ‘the world’.

Marshall sums it up masterfully:

“Clearly all people need possessions, and therefore it cannot be wrong to want and take pleasure in and what God has provided for our needs. But when I begin to desire more than other people, to covet whatever I see, to boast of what I have, and to claim that I am self-sufficient, then my desires have become perverse and sinful, and I stand condemned. John’s teaching stands as a timeless warning against materialism.”[4]

[1] For this sense see 4.1, 3-4, 9, 17

[2] So I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 145.

[3] ibid.,

[4] ibid., 146