The Signs Gospel (AD 50-90) is a lost book of miracles of Jesus Christ. Parts of it made it into the Gospel of John. It is the “book” that John 20:30-31ab speaks of:
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
Which sets the scope and purpose of the Signs Gospel. It sees his miracles as signs or proof that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ or Anointed One of God promised by Moses.
In 1941 a close study of the Gospel of John by Rudolf Bultmann (pictured) showed that parts of it seem to be have been copied from another book. These parts do not fit in smoothly with the rest of the gospel.
If you take out these ill-fitting parts and put them together in geographical order you get a book the reads more smoothly than John as a whole, one that tells a story in its own right:
- John the Baptist announces the coming Messiah (John 1:6-7, 19-34);
- Jesus gathers disciples (1:35-50);
- Jesus performs miracles while slowly making his way to Jerusalem for Passover:
- Cana: Turns water into wine (2:1-11);
- Capernaum: Heals a nobleman’s son (2:12a; 4:46b-54);
- Sea of Tiberias:
- A huge catch of fish (21:1-14);
- Feeds 5,000 (6:1-14);
- Walks on water (6:16-21);
- Bethany: Raises Lazarus from the dead (11:1-45);
- Pool of Siloam: Gives sight to a man born blind (9:1-8);
- Bethesda: Heals a man who cannot walk (5:2-9);
- The Temple: Jesus drives out money changers (2:14-19);
- Jewish leaders plot his death (11:47-53; 12:37-40);
- Back in Bethany Mary anoints Jesus (12:1-8);
- Enters Jerusalem on a donkey (12:12-15);
- Passion (13:1-38; 14:31b; 18:1-19:42);
- Resurrection (20:1-22);
- Closing (20:30-31ab, quoted above).
While scholars disagree about the reconstruction, most agree there was some such source.
If the Signs Gospel had any sayings, parables and teachings of Jesus, John made little use of them.
John puts long speeches by Jesus at the heart of his gospel. He pulls in pieces from the Signs Gospel as needed. For example, when Jesus gives the Bread of Life speech, John puts the feeding of 5,000 and walking on water right before it (John 6).
In John, unlike the Signs Gospel:
- Hebrew words are translated. John, for example, has to tell his audience that Cephas means Peter.
- “The Jews”: John calls Jesus’s enemies hoi Ioudaioi, “the Jews”, over and over again – even though Jesus and his followers were Jews too! The Signs Gospel sees Jesus as the fulfilment of the Jewish faith, while in John’s time Christians were being kicked out of synagogues (John 9:22).
Dating: The Signs Gospel talks about the five porches or colonnades of Bethesda like they were still there (John 5:2). The Romans destroyed them in AD 70. The second half of the book, though, may have been written later (or earlier) since it is done in a different style, quoting Scripture left and right. The whole book was completed by the year 90 or so when the Gospel of John was written.
– Abagond, 2014.
Sources: mainly earlychristianwritings.com, “The Complete Gospels” (2010) edited by Robert J. Miller.