Bethsaida: Q and John

I mentioned yesterday how the first chapter of John (the last canonical gospel to be written) gives a detailed version of an early episode in the Jesus story set in Bethsaida. The featured characters are Peter, Andrew and–oddly enough–Philip.

We also have a Bethsaida story of sorts, but this one is from the much earlier Q Source, the sayings gospel used by both the “Team Luke” scribes and the scribes of ‘Team Matthew”. This early Bethsaida story has Jesus condemning the cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin for their failure to repent in response to miracles.

What we have then is an early gospel source containing a strenuous denunciation of Bethsaida but lacking a narrative, and a much later gospel containing a detailed narrative but lacking the rejection contained in the Q Source. (John 1:44 and Luke 10:12-13).

It is significant that no narrative of the Q Source’s miracles, unrepentence and rejection is recorded in John, despite the presence of so many  “eye witness” characters in the Bethsaida narrative in John 1.

It is also significant that the Q Source’s Bethsaida outline of 1) miracles, 2) rejection, and 3) denunciation is very familiar in the canonical Gospels.

I believe the earlier Q account is closer to the events in time and more historically literal than the Johannine account, which was written many decades later. But that difference does not require me to “reject the Bible”.

(Note: A document’s historical value is not the same as it’s homiletic value or some other specific value. All scripture remains inspired, and remains valuable for a variety of end users.)

From the evidence, I concluded that the rejection and hostility in Luke 10:12-13 is truer to historical events than John 1.

The next question then is why the difference? I will draw out what seem like logical conclusions.

◼️ The later Johannine scribes did not want to speculate on or look into the Bethsaida rejection and denunciation episode.


◼️The Johannine scribes DID understand what the Bethsaida episode was about, and repurposed that episode’s dramatic template in the more universally applicable Passion Narrative.

◼️ For some reason the Johannine scribes judged the Q Source’s Bethsaida episode to be too controversial, inexpedient,  counterproductive, unedifying, irrelevant or puzzling to develop straightforwardly.

◼️ Johannine scribes did not, however, ignore 1) the significance of Bethsaida as the place where the disturbance began, 2) the presence of numerous men who had a relationship with Jesus, and 3) the name Philip.

◼️In canonical John the Johannine authorship left the door open for other information about Jesus to emerge.

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Whether it’s a literal courtroom or the courtroom of history, it is often possible to develop a relatively accurate account of events from conflicting and inconsistent sources.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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