John 5:2 and the Date of John’s Gospel: A Response to Dan Wallace

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Dear Dan:

First of all, I apologize—I did not mean to misrepresent you. I accept that you have good reasons for preferring a pre-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel other than the present tense form of eimi in John 5:2. Also, let me express my great respect for your expertise in the area of NT Greek grammar. Your Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and its abridgment have been indispensable resources in my writing and teaching. In the matter at hand, too, I agree that discussions have too often proceeded without scholars adducing actual evidence, and, as you noted, this has been my desire in interacting with your publications on John 5:2 in my BECNT commentary.

Thank you, then, for taking the time to respond to my recent post on John 5:2 and the date of John’s Gospel—and from Patmos at that! I will not unnecessarily prolong further discussion at this point, since it is obvious that you and I continue to disagree on the matter. I will limit myself to three brief points in this my final response for the time being.

(1) I note as common ground that we both do not consider the present tense form of eimi in John 5:2 determinative for dating John’s Gospel. We both agree that other factors must be considered as well, though you do feel more strongly about John 5:2 favoring a pre-AD 70 date.

(2) With regard to my comment that a vast majority of scholars favors a post-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel, you noted that the majority of scholars also favors a post-AD 70 date for Matthew and Luke, and that you and I would not agree with the majority opinion in this regard; why should we agree with the majority view on the date of John’s Gospel? I believe there is an important difference in these two cases, however. The difference is that a post-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel is held by the vast majority even of conservative evangelical scholars (including Don Carson, Craig Blomberg, and many others), in contrast to a post-AD 70 date for Matthew and Luke, which only commands a majority of critical, non-evangelical scholars. To be sure, the majority is not always, or necessarily, right, but it should give the wise, careful scholar pause when the vast majority of those sharing his overall theological convictions come to different conclusions on a given issue. This was, and continues to be, my point.

(3) Finally, you say that I have the burden of proof to produce “clear, unambiguous” examples of eimi used as a “historical present” in Koine Greek. If by that you mean examples that you accept, it appears I won’t be able to meet that condition, because you seem quite convinced of the rightness of your view! As you note, in my BECNT commentary on John, I have cited several passages, such as John 10:8 and 19:40, where a present tense form of eimi is very possibly past-referring, and as far as I can see you have not advanced any compelling argument to discount this possibility. Rather than there being a lack of evidence, it appears, the issue rather seems to be that you do not accept the evidence I have already provided. For my part, I continue to believe that the prima facie reading of John 19:40, for example, is to take eimi there as past-referring, and this is what major translations such as the TNIV and the NIV seem to be doing (“This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs”). So while you may not think a past-referring use of the present tense of eimi is probable, it is certainly possible, and this, to my mind at least, weakens your argument for a pre-AD 70 date for John’s Gospel from the present tense of eimi in John 5:2.

To my mind, at least, Dan, you have therefore not established the implausibility of a past-referring use of a present tense form of eimi in John 5:2, which lessens the weight I am prepared to put on John 5:2 in the matter of dating John’s Gospel. To this should be added that even if, for argument’s sake, one were to concede that the present tense form of eimi in John 5:2 constitutes a historical present, this would still not necessarily favor a pre-AD 70 date, since the reference could be to remains of the structure or the structure could have been rebuilt after being destroyed but prior to John’s writing (Schlatter’s view, as I note in my BECNT commentary).

As to the date of John’s Gospel, I could elaborate on my own reasons for dating the Gospel post-AD 70, but this would be to repeat arguments already made in print, so that I will refrain from doing so here. What is more, am I currently working on a major Johannine theology and hope to explore some of these issues in greater depth in this forthcoming volume. Once again, thank you for honoring me with this thoughtful response.

Andreas Köstenberger


  1. Thank you very much, Dan, for this note. You’re right, the comment I made was uncalled for. Please forgive me.

    I think we both share a commitment to looking at the data and addressing the issues they raise, so I think we have a lot in common that way and really should be friends!

    I also appreciate the presentation you gave at the recent symposium at SEBTS on the pericope of the adulterous woman.

    I’m currently on vacation, so am not able to respond to the subscription you mention, though I will ponder this as I write my Johannine theology in the near future, God willing.

    Thank you very much for the exchange and for your gracious response.

  2. Andreas, thanks for your kind remarks. You make some excellent points and I’m glad for the exchange. But you also mention something that I would take issue with: “If by that you mean examples that you accept, it appears I won’t be able to meet that condition, because you seem quite convinced of the rightness of your view!” That is really an inaccurate representation of my views, and almost borders on impugning my motives. I am NOT convinced of the rightness of my view; I am convinced by clear, unambiguous data. (As evidence of this, anyone who knows me knows that I change my views all the time–far more often than some are comfortable with.) You even admit that the case you make is possible, but not required by the data. Good grammatical method requires more than that. Otherwise, one can base his theological views on what is grammatically possible but not on what is probable. We are dealing with the parameters of how language works, and we don’t have the right to bend the framework just because it suits our viewpoint. I can commend you for being one of the first to even notice my article in Biblica and for interacting with it seriously. But this raises an important issue: if most scholars have argued for a later date of John while ignoring estin in John 5.2, perhaps this text has something more to say about the issue than they would have thought otherwise. Their views, at least, for a later date are in ignorance of the issues of this verse. So, the weight of their opinion might be thereby lessened. I appreciate the fact that you interacted with it, but I am unconvinced that you’ve made a compelling case for historical presents using eimi.

    One other thing–just in passing: Have you done much study in the subscriptions in Gospel manuscripts? If so, I’d like to know what you’ve come across regarding the date of John. There is apparently an old tradition that I discovered recently as I was looking at a manuscript in Greece (pardon my ignorance about such matters; you may already know all about this!) in which this note is added to the end of manuscripts of the Gospel of John: “This was written 32 years after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I don’t mean to sound pugilistic on this one, and I don’t yet know how old that tradition goes back (and thus how reliable it is), but I’d be interested to learn if you have seen anything in the manuscripts that suggests a date for John. This is the only reference I’ve seen. And, for what it’s worth (which I can’t honestly evaluate yet), it agrees exactly with the date that I assign to John’s Gospel.

  3. This is a general comment: Instead of thinking John is completly independent of the Synoptics, I think John assumes knowledge of the Synotics on the part of his readers who I think are both Jewish and Gentile in audience. I have not done alot of study in the Gospels (I am a measely recent MDiv graduate) but from what I learned a late dating of the Synoptics just didn’t make a whole lot of sense but once I realized John asumes familiarity with the Synoptics it made sense he could be written much later and still make sense. maks sense?

  4. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

    What do you think of the use of EIMI in Rev 21:1? Seems like it could be another example of EIMI as past-referring in Johannine literature.


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