This chapter puzzles scholars. Why are the disciples fishing back in Galilee after having been commissioned by Jesus and having received the Spirit? Why don't they recognize him after having seen him more than once at this point? Why is this called the third appearance of Jesus when there were already three appearances in chapter 20? If the Gospel has prepared the disciples for the time of Jesus' absence and has come to a climax with a blessing on those who have believed without having seen, what place is there for these further stories about Jesus' presence? Such questions, among others (cf. Brown 1970:1077-82; Moloney 1998:545-47, 562-65), lead most scholars to conclude this chapter was added later, either by the same author or by one or more of his disciples.
This interpretation may be correct, but there are factors that suggest chapter 21 was the intended conclusion and not an epilogue. To judge from the other Gospels, the telling of the life of Jesus normally concluded not just with faith in the risen Lord but "with a confident statement that this mission to the world, undertaken at His command and under His authority, will be the means by which many are saved" (Hoskyns 1940b:656). Of course, John may have his own way of ending a Gospel, as he has had his own way of telling it throughout. If he concluded with chapter 20, perhaps later disciples felt an ending such as chapter 21 was needed. But that John himself included chapter 21 is suggested by a second factor: there are several examples elsewhere in Johannine literature of summary conclusions occurring before the actual end of the material (12:36-37; 1 Jn 5:13; Rev 22:5; cf. Talbert 1992:258). So John's own practice earlier in this Gospel, as well as elsewhere (depending on one's views of the authorship of John, 1 John and Revelation), actually suggests the conclusion in 20:30-31 is not itself the end of the account. But what about the discrepancies noted above? We will see that these can provide insight into the story itself, rather than clues as to how this story came to us.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.