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DID JOHN WRITE THE FOURTH GOSPEL?

 

       It is believed by most Christians that the fourth Gospel was written by Apostle John.  Most Bibles title this Gospel, “The Gospel according to John.”  The Scriptures show John and his brother James were sons of a man named Zebedee.  Both of these men were numbered among the twelve apostles of Jesus.  The word apostle means, “One sent forth.” 

The Author of the Fourth Gospel:

       Recent scholarship has called into question the belief that Apostle John is the author of the Gospel attributed to him.  It is instructive that this Gospel does not identify its author as John.  It identifies its author as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as we see in John chapter 21. This chapter begins by recording that Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two other disciples were out fishing together.  Having caught no fish, Jesus calls out to them from the shore and tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat.  When they did, the net was quickly filed with fish.  It is recorded that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” recognized that it was Jesus who was standing on the shore.

       John 21:7:  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

       After Jesus and the disciples who were fishing had breakfast together and Jesus tells Peter what kind of death he would experience, a conversation ensues between Jesus and Peter regarding the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”

       John 21:20-24: Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?")  When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

       The writer identifies “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as the one who leaned upon Jesus at the supper the night before the crucifixion and asked Jesus who it was that would betray Him.  In a closing statement to the fourth Gospel, either the author of this Gospel or an editor inserted the comment that it was this very disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, that testified to “these things and wrote them down.”  It is apparent “these things” refers to what was written down in the foregoing narrative that is commonly called the Gospel of John.

       The Gospel under consideration internally identifies the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as the author of this Gospel.  If John is the author of this Gospel, then John must be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Do the Scriptures specifically identify John as the “disciple whom Jesus loved?”  There are only fifteen places in the Gospels where it is recorded that Jesus loved someone.  In Mark 10:21 it is recorded that Jesus loved the man who said he had kept all the commandments from his youth. This man’s name is not revealed.  Six times in the Gospel attributed to John, we see references to Jesus saying He loved His disciples. These references are found in John 13:1, 13:34, 14:21, 15:9 and 15:12.

Those Identified as Loved by Jesus:

       In John 11 we have three references to Jesus love for specifically named individuals.  All three references are found in association with the death of Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the dead.  The writer records that Jesus loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus. Lazarus is the only male in Scripture to be identified by name as being loved by Jesus.

  John 11:5: Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus.

  John 11:3: So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love (Lazarus) is sick."  

  John 11:36: Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him (Lazarus)!"

       The remaining five references to Jesus loving someone are expressed by the phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or something similar.  All five of these references appear in the Gospel attributed to John.  We already have seen the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” used in John 21:7 and 20.  The only other occurrence of this exact phrase is at the supper before the crucifixion when Peter asked the disciple reclining next to Jesus to ask him who it was that was going to betray Jesus.

       John 13:21-25:  After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"

       In addition to the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” there are two additional references of a similar nature.

       John 19:25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

       John 20:1-2: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"     

       In addition to the above, there are six references to “the other disciple” or “another disciple” found in the gospel attributed to John.  This other disciple is identified as the “one Jesus loved.”

       John 18:15-16: Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

       John 20:1-8: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"  So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved:

       A review of the foregoing Scriptures demonstrates that there was a specific disciple that Jesus loved.  This disciple is referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.”  We also saw that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is the person who wrote the Gospel attributed to John.  Is Apostle John that person?  Since Lazarus is the only male person identified by name as being loved by Jesus, some have concluded it was Lazarus who wrote the Gospel traditionally attributed to John.  Is there evidence beyond reasonable doubt that Lazarus and not John is the author of this Gospel?

         As already pointed out, the Gospel attributed to John does not identify John by name as the author.  The author is identified as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as we see in John chapter 21.  Why is John believed to be the author of this Gospel and therefore “the disciple whom Jesus loved”?  Belief in John’s authorship is based on several considerations.  There are some historical documents external to the Scriptures that identify John as the author of the fourth Gospel.  It is believed there also is internal Scriptural evidence showing John to be the author.  Let’s begin by looking at the external evidence.

External evidence for John’s authorship:

       The church historian Irenaeus, who wrote about 180 A.D., makes this statement:“Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself, handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast, himself, produced his Gospel while he was living in Ephesus in Asia”(Against Heresies (3.1.1).

       Irenaeus (125-202 A.D.) is believed to have been a disciple of Polycarp. Polycarp (69-155 A.D.) was an early church leader who is purported to have been a friend of Apostle John.  Therefore it is felt Irenaeus was in a good position to know the truth as to who authored the fourth Gospel. 

       It is to be noted, however, that scholars have shown that Irenaeus consistently refers to the author of the fourth Gospel as "the disciple of the Lord," whereas he refers to the other disciples as apostles.  Therefore, it appears Irenaeus may be seeing the author of the fourth Gospel as a John different from Apostle John.  He does the same thing regarding the authorship of the Revelation.  This raises some question about what Irenaeus really believed or, more importantly, actually knew for certain about the authorship of these documents.

       Adding more puzzlement to this issue is that in Eusebius’ Church history, Eusebius writes that that there were two different authors of Scripture named John and it was John the Apostle who wrote the Gospel and John the Presbyter who wrote the Revelation.

       Tertullian (150-225 A.D.) indicates that the Gospels were handed down by the Apostolic Churches and he mentions John as one of those Gospels.  Theophilus of Antioch, writing around 180 A.D., quotes from the fourth Gospel and attributes it to John.  Origen (185-254 A.D.) quotes from the fourth Gospel which he attributes to John.  Clement of Alexandria (150-211 A.D.) is quoted in Eusebius’ Church History as saying the following:

       But, last of all, John perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel.

       As can be seen, various Church leaders writing in the second and third centuries A.D. attribute the fourth Gospel to a disciple named John.  The testimony of Irenaeus appears especially strong in that he is said to have been acquainted with Polycarp who is seen as being acquainted with Apostle John.  While this doesn’t prove Apostle John wrote the gospel attributed to him, it does provide circumstantial evidence to his authorship in that it is reasonable to believe that if Irenaeus had a link to Apostle John through Polycarp, he should have known if John wrote a gospel.  On the other hand, there is some ambiguity on the part of Irenaeus as to how he identifies the authorship the fourth Gospel and the Revelation. 

Internal evidence for John’s authorship:

       What is the Scriptural evidence that John wrote the Gospel attributed to him?  As stated above, the Gospel attributed to John does not directly identify John as its author.  The author of this Gospel is identified as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Do the Scriptures identify John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”?

       John, along with Peter and James, appear to have been closer to Jesus than the other nine apostles.  Therefore, the choice for “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is usually narrowed down to one of these three disciples.  As seen in the Scriptures already quoted, Peter interacts with “the disciple whom Jesus loved” so Peter could not be that disciple. James, the brother of John, was killed (Acts 12:1-2) around 44 A.D. which is years before the fourth Gospel is believed to have been written.  This leaves John as the choice for “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  This approach, however, is based on assuming “the disciple whom Jesus loved” had to be one of the three who made up Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.  Therefore, this approach assumes the thing to be proved where the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. 

       Another approach to establishing John as the author of the Gospel attributed to him involves the belief that only the twelve apostles were present at the supper the night before the crucifixion.  This belief is based on the Scriptures recording that Jesus sat down at the supper with the twelve apostles (Matthew 26:20, Mark 14:17, Luke 22:14).  Peter identifies “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as the disciple who leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked who it was that was going to betray Jesus.  Since it is believed that only the twelve were present at the supper, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” must have been one of the twelve.  It is then assumed John was that disciple. 

       While it is true the Scriptures speak of the twelve being at the supper, this does not prove others were not present as well.  Neither does this prove John was the one who leaned back against Jesus and therefore is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” 

       A third approach used to show from the Scriptures that John is the author of the Gospel attributed to him is to identify the author of the Gospel with the author of the Revelation.  The Revelation explicitly identifies a person named John as its author (Revelation 1:1, 4, 9, 22:8).  It is believed the same John who wrote the Revelation wrote the Gospel attributed to him and also wrote the epistles attributed to him.  This John is believed by many to be Apostle John, one of the twelve.  Statements made by the author of the Gospel attributed to John are seen to favorably compare with statements made by the John of the Revelation. Here are examples of this approach.

       John 21:24: This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.  Revelation 1:2-3: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

       John 19:35: The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.  Revelation 22:6, 8: The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. Verse 8: I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.

       John 16:21: A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  Revelation 12:2: She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

       While there are some similarities in use of words and phrases between the fourth Gospel and the Revelation, it is presumptuous to conclude this proves the same author is responsible for both documents.  If you look at the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke, you will find similar phraseology used by these authors as well.  Yet no one would conclude these three Gospels were written by the same author.  

       Furthermore, scholars have determined that while the Greek of the fourth Gospel and the three epistles attributed to John is consistent and of high quality, the Greek used in the Revelation is substandard and contains a number of grammatical errors.  This has raised questions as to whether the same author could have written all these documents. Those who believe all these documents were written by Apostle John believe this difference in writing quality resulted from John having to write the Revelation while in prison where he didn’t have access to editors and was probably writing under duress.  There are, however, other reasons to believe different authors were involved.  For example, scholars have noted that when the author of the Revelation and the fourth Gospel refer to Jesus as “lamb” they use different Greek words. They also spell the word Jerusalem differently.

       Defenders of Apostle John's authorship point out that there are concepts and expressions found in the Revelation that are not found elsewhere in the NT except in the other writings ascribed to John.  For example, the Greek word logos is found 330 times in the NT Scriptures but only in John’s Gospel and in Revelation is this word used to describe Christ (John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13).  The Revelation repeatedly refers to Christ as the Lamb of God.  Of the four Gospel writers, only John refers to Christ as the Lamb of God.  The fact that the Greek word translated Lamb is different in Revelation and the fourth Gospel is not considered significant.

       There is not universal agreement among Church Fathers as to the authorship of the Revelation.  The early Church Fathers, Justin Martyr (100 -165 A.D.), Irenaeus (125-202 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (150-211 A.D.) and Tertullian (150-225 A.D.) believed Apostle John authored the Revelation.  The later Church Fathers, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 A.D.), Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 A.D.), Gregory of Nazianzen (329-389 A.D.) and John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) all denied Apostle John authored the Revelation.

Summery of Evidence for John’s Authorship:

       The fourth Gospel identifies “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as its author.  The name of this disciple is not explicitly identified in this Gospel or anywhere else in Scripture.  There is no explicit Scriptural evidence that Apostle John is this disciple.  While some believe there is implicit Scriptural evidence that John authored the fourth Gospel, such evidence appears weak.   

       While Scriptural evidence for John’s authorship is weak, the external historical evidence for Apostle John authoring the fourth Gospel is reasonably strong.  Statements by early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and others, all support the perspective that a man named John authored the fourth Gospel.

       Since the Scriptures do not provide sound evidence a man named John authored the fourth Gospel, why do the early Church Fathers teach that he did?   Was it simply a tradition that began with someone assuming John’s authorship?  Was there information available to them that no longer is available to us?   Are the Church Fathers identifying Apostle John as the author or might they have a different John in mind? 

       There are some scholars who believe Lazarus is“the disciple whom Jesus loved”because he is the only male disciple specifically named in Scripture as being loved by Jesus.  Therefore, it is believed Lazarus must be the author of the fourth Gospel.  This perspective has been advanced by various Biblical scholars throughout the centuries.

       Of late, there has been a renewed interest in this perspective.  To some extent this renewed interest has been sparked by a book published in 2004 by author J Phillips entitled, The Disciple whom Jesus Loved.  This book provides a vigorous defense of the perspective that Lazarus is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and, therefore, the author of the fourth Gospel.  Mr. Phillips book can be read on line at www.thegospelofjohn.com.  We will now examine this perspective and consider the arguments advanced by those who believe Lazarus is the author of the fourth Gospel.

Is Lazarus “the Disciple whom Jesus loved”?  

       As already seen, Lazarus is the only male person in Scripture who is identified by name as being loved by Jesus (John 11:3, 5, 36).  Jesus’ proclaimed love for Lazarus implies He and Lazarus were very close.  While Lazarus was not one of the twelve, he must have been a disciple of Jesus as were many others.  We are all familiar with Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead.  The resurrection of Lazarus caused quite a stir.  It resulted in many Jews believing in Jesus (John 11:45).

       The Jewish leadership became alarmed and became convinced Jesus had to be killed.  They even sought to kill Lazarus (John 12:10).  The resurrection of Lazarus not only caused many Jews to believe in Jesus but created somewhat of a celebrity status for Lazarus as well.

       John 12:1-2, Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  

       John 12:9-11: Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

       Since Lazarus is seen as reclining at the table with Jesus at the dinner at Bethany, and then six days later “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is seen reclining at the table with Jesus at the supper before the crucifixion (John 13:23), it is believed by some that Lazarus must be “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”  While two different Greek words are translated “reclining” in John 12:2 and John 13:23, they both mean pretty much the same thing.  The difference is that in John 13:23, “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is seen as reclining close to Jesus.

       While this may be an interesting parallel, it does not prove it was the same man having supper with Jesus on both occasions.  While the fourth Gospel does identify “The disciple whom Jesus loved” as reclining at the table with Jesus at the supper before the Crucifixion, this person is not identified by name.  It should be noted, however, that while the Scriptures speak of the Twelve being present, this does not necessarily exclude others from being present.  Therefore, it is certainly possible other disciples were present, including Lazarus. 

       Since the fourth Gospel singles out Lazarus as being loved by Jesus indicating a strong friendship, it is reasonable to believe Jesus’ close friend Lazarus would have been invited to this final meal before Jesus was to die.  It is apparent Lazarus was a friend not only of Jesus but of the apostles as well (John 11:11).  In view of all this, there may be reason to believe Lazarus was at the supper before the crucifixion and could have been the “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who reclined at the table with Jesus.

       Some believe that because Jesus said the one who would betray Him was the one of the Twelve who would dip bread in a bowl with Him, there must have been others present who were not part of the Twelve. 

       John 14:18-20: While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me--one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me.

       It is reasoned that Jesus would not have said it is one of the Twelve if only the Twelve were present.  He simply would have said the one “who dips bread in a bowl with me.”  While this sounds like a reasonable observation, it may be presumptuous to draw this conclusion.  In saying “It is one of the Twelve” it is possible Jesus was simply expressing the thought in His mind that it was “one of you twelve present with me who will be betraying me.”  While Jesus’ expression “It is one of the Twelve” is possible circumstantial evidence for others being at the supper, it is somewhat tenuous evidence and it certainly doesn’t identify who such other disciples may have been.

   Present at the Crucifixion:

       “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is present at the crucifixion (John 19:25-27).  Some have conjectured this disciple was one of the women who followed Jesus throughout His ministry.  Scripture establishes, however, that “The disciple whom Jesus loved” was a male.  We know this because at the cross Jesus commits His mother into the hands of a “he.” (From that time on, this disciple took her into his home).  We also saw “the disciple whom Jesus loved” fishing with other disciples of Jesus who are all men. (John 21:2-7).

       It is argued that the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted the care of His mother could not have been John nor any of the Twelve because after Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples fled (Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50).  While the Scriptures do say the disciples fled after Jesus’ arrest, we find Peter and an unnamed disciple at the trial (John 18:15-16).  So it is evident that at least for Peter and the unnamed disciple, they found courage to appear at Jesus’ trial.

        It is also possible that after fleeing the scene of the arrest the night before, one or more of the remaining eleven (Judas had killed himself) came the next day to the crucifixion.  Therefore, it is possibly the disciple said to be the one Jesus loved and to whom Jesus entrusted His mother’s care could have been one of the remaining eleven apostles.  It could also have been a disciple not of the apostle group.  Since Jesus had a close friendship with Lazarus, it certainly is reasonable that Lazarus could have been the man to whom Jesus entrusted the care of His mother.  The popular belief that it was John to whom Jesus entrusted the care of His mother is based on the assumption John is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  As should be seen in our discussion thus far, this assumption may be problematical.  An argument against Lazarus being present at the crucifixion is that in John 12:10 it is recorded that the Jews were planning to kill Lazarus because it was because of Jesus raising him from the dead that many Jews became followers of Jesus.  If Lazarus knew of this plan, it is argued he would not show up at Jesus' crucifixion. 

   Present at Jesus’ Trial:

       At Jesus’ trial, a disciple of Jesus who was known to the high priest was allowed into the courtyard of the high priest and was able to bring Peter into the courtyard as well. The high priest was Caiaphas.

       John 18:15-16: Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

       It is generally believed “The other disciple, who was known to the high priest” was John.  However the Scriptures nowhere say this.  Some argue that Scripture indicates John was not known to Caiaphas prior to the crucifixion and therefore John could not be this disciple.  This conclusion is based on what is recorded relative to Peter and John appearing before Caiaphas and other religious leaders to be questioned about a miracle they had performed.

      Acts 4:5-6, 13: The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family.  Verse 13: When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.      

       The Greek word rendered “known” in John 18:15-16 means to be acquainted with.  The Greek word rendered “took note” in Acts 4:13, means to become thoroughly acquainted with and perceive who a person is.  Because it is said that “they took note that these men had been with Jesus,” it is believed these religious leaders, which included Caiaphas, did not previously know Peter and John as having been with Jesus.  It is concluded John could not have been the disciple known to the high priest because the high priest did not come to know John until John and Peter appeared before the religious leaders to be questioned about the miracle.

       This conclusion is problematical.  The Greek word (epiginosko) rendered “took note” in the NIV, “recognized” in the NET and RSV, and  “realized” in the NKJV translations, does not necessarily tell us the religious leaders had no previous knowledge of Peter and John being disciples of Jesus.  This Greek word can simply mean that someone is acknowledging something about someone at that moment in time and not that they never had this knowledge before. 

       For example, we read in Acts 3:10 of the people recognizing the cripple who Peter healed as the man begging at the temple gate.  They certainly knew this man to be a cripple and a beggar before he was healed.  They were simply recognizing that this was indeed the same cripple that begged at the temple gate. The Greek word translated “recognized” in this passage is the same Greek word translated “took note” in the NIV rendering cited above.

        Acts 3:9-10: When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized (epiginosko) him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

       It is to be noted that the disciple who was allowed in the courtyard of the high priest, is called “another disciple” and “the other disciple.”  This disciple is not called “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”  However, it is believed this disciple is “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” because in John 21:2, we see the phrase “So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.”  Because of this identification of the “the other disciple” as “the one Jesus loved” it is assumed “the other disciple” of John 18 is the same as “the other disciple” of John 21.

       Who is the disciple who was allowed in the courtyard of the high priest at Jesus’ trial and who brought in Peter?  The internal evidence suggests it was “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Those who reject John as being this disciple believe it was Lazarus since Lazarus is the only male in the NT specifically said to have been loved by Jesus.  It’s recorded this disciple who was allowed in the courtyard of the high priest was known to the high priest.  It is evident that the high priest, who was Caiaphas, knew Lazarus.  It was the resurrection of Lazarus that triggered the decision to have Jesus arrested and killed and consideration was also given to have Lazarus killed. 

       Some believe Lazarus would not have been welcomed at the trial of Jesus. His resurrection from the dead is what directly led to the Jews determining they had to kill Jesus.  It is recorded that the Jewish leadership wanted to kill Lazarus as well.  Therefore, it would seem unlikely Lazarus would have shown up at Jesus’ trial where there was potential for him to be put on trial as well.     

       On the other hand, there is circumstantial evidence pointing to Lazarus as The “other disciple, who was known to the high priest.”   We know the high priest must have known who Lazarus was because of his popularity after his resurrection.  It is possible the high priest would have allowed him into the courtyard because he knew he had a special relationship with Jesus.  Maybe the religious leaders thought they could use Lazarus in some way to accuse Jesus.  Lazarus was from Bethany, a town only two miles from Jerusalem.  Because of his close proximity to Jerusalem, maybe Lazarus was known to the high priest before his resurrection from the dead. 

       John, on the other hand, was a fisherman from Galilee, a region some 68 miles north of Jerusalem.  Much of Jesus’ ministry was conducted in the region of Galilee which suggests that John and the rest of the twelve would not have had much occasion to interact with the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  There is no Scriptural evidence, circumstantial or other, that John was the disciple known to the high priest.     

   Present at the Tomb:

       In John 20:1-8, we have the account of Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and running to tell Peter and “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.”  Peter and the “other disciple” run to the tomb and the “other disciple” reaches the tomb first and sees the strips of linen lying there but does not go into the tomb.  Then Peter arrives and goes into the tomb and sees the strips of linen lying there along with the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head.  Then the “other disciple” goes inside the tomb and it is recorded, “He saw and believed” (John 20:8).  At some point later, Mark records that Jesus appeared to the eleven and scolded them for not believing He had risen from the dead.

       Mark 16:14: Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

       It is recorded in John 20 that the “other disciple” believed after having entered the tomb and finding it empty.  Sometime afterwards, Jesus is seen as scolding the eleven for their unbelief.   The eleven would have included John.  Eleven Apostles remained after Judas killed himself shortly after his betrayal of Jesus.  Therefore, some have concluded John could not have been the “other disciple” who came to the tomb with Peter because it is recorded “the other disciple” believed.

       It must be noted, however, that the most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20 as part of Mark’s gospel.  Most scholars believe these verses were added much later.  If this is true, Mark 16:14 would have no relevance to this discussion. 

       Those who believe the “other disciple” is Lazarus believe the reason the “other disciple” didn’t immediately enter the tomb after seeing the strips of linen was because what he saw reminded him of how he was bound in linen when resurrected by Jesus (John 11:44).  It is believed that Lazarus immediately associated what he was seeing with his own resurrection and therefore believed Jesus had been resurrected. 

         This conclusion is problematic for several reasons.  Those who take this position fail to consider John 20:9 which states (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)   The context here would indicate it was both Peter and the “other disciple” who didn’t believe.

       John 20:8-10: Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. Verse 9-10: (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes.

       It is apparent from the statement in verse 9 that what the “other disciple” believed was not that Jesus was resurrected but that Jesus was missing from the tomb.  The “other disciple” had not gone into the tomb until Peter had done so and found that the body of Jesus was not there.  Peter probably came out of the tomb and told the “other disciple” the body of Jesus was not there. The “other disciple” then went into the tomb and simply confirmed what Peter had already discovered.  The body of Jesus was indeed missing from the tomb. 

       It should also be noted that if Lazarus was indeed the "other disciple' who was with Peter at the tomb and if it was Lazarus who wrote the fourth gospel, who was it that wrote the statement "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead"?  This appears to be a third party statement. Someone other than Lazarus appears to be making the observation that they (Peter and Lazarus) are the ones who did not understand. It would appear strange that Lazarus would make such a statement about himself.

   The Last Supper:

       Some feel it is noteworthy that Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus giving instruction as to preparations for the supper before the crucifixion and record Jesus introducing the bread and wine whereas the fourth Gospel does not mention either of these events.  The fourth Gospel reports the events of that evening beginning with the foot washing which took place during or after the meal and proceeds to devote five chapters to reporting a lengthy discourse Jesus gave to those present.  Some have concluded from this that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” may not have been present at the start of the meal or for the introduction of the bread and wine since he doesn’t mention these events.  He begins his coverage of the evening’s events with the foot washing and goes on from there. 

       This conclusion appears problematical as a reading of the Gospels shows the authors all differ in how they reported details of events.  Therefore, it should not appear all that strange that John leaves out details the synoptic writers include as to the events at the supper before the crucifixion.  For example, it is likely that Matthew, being one of the Apostles, was present the entire evening and yet he records nothing of Jesus’ lengthy discourse or the foot washing. This being said, there does appear to be some anomalies as to information contained in the Gospels.

   Other Gospels:

       It is instructive that there is no mention of Lazarus or “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the three other Gospels.  The Fourth Gospel records Lazarus is loved by Jesus.  This implies they had a close relationship.  The fourth Gospel records the resurrection of Lazarus.  This was a major event in the life of Jesus. It appears to have been the event that directly led to the arrest of Jesus and His crucifixion.  Yet this event is not recorded anywhere outside of the fourth Gospel. 

       During His ministry, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain and was transfigured before them.  This event is recorded in the three synoptic gospels.  It is not recorded in the fourth gospel.  Some believe that since John was at such a momentous event as the transfiguration, he would have surely recorded this event in the fourth Gospel if he is the author of this Gospel.  That it is not recorded in the fourth Gospel is felt by some to be strong evidence John didn’t write this Gospel and it instead was written by someone not present at the transfiguration.  Some may counter this argument by asking why Jesus' disciple (one of the Twelve) Matthew wrote nothing about the resurrection of Lazarus.  Wasn’t Matthew present at this resurrection?  We don’t know if Matthew was present.  The Scriptures don’t reveal who of the Twelve were present at the resurrection of Lazarus.  Yet, Matthew, being one of the Twelve, certainly was aware of what Jesus had done. Yet he says nothing about this event in his Gospel.

       The fourth Gospel ends with an apparent editorial comment written by someone other than the author of the material for this Gospel.  In referring to “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” this editor writes:

       John 21:24-25: This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 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.

       Some feel that an editor may have taken notes that had been written by someone else and put them together to form the fourth Gospel.  It is internally evident that the content of the fourth Gospel was gathered from another source or sources.  For example, when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side we see the following:

       John 19:35: The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

       Here we have similar language to John 21:24 where it appears the one recording the testimony is a different person from the person providing the testimony.  However, the author of the fourth Gospel could have been speaking rhetorically and in so doing was referring to himself as having seen the piercing of Jesus.  If the writer is speaking rhetorically, then the writer of the fourth Gospel was present at the cross.  Was this John, Lazarus or someone else?

       At the end of John 21, the person who recorded the testimony that became the fourth Gospel identifies the source of this testimony as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”   It appears unlikely that the actual writer of the fourth Gospel would have been so vain as to refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” 

       Therefore, some believe an editor took the written testimony of the person identified as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and created the fourth Gospel.  It is believed it is this editor who identifies his source as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and not that this disciple referred to himself in this manner. 

       If indeed the fourth Gospel was written by someone other than the provider of the testimony of what was written, why did this writer attribute such testimony to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Why not simply name the person who provided the testimony?  If Lazarus was the source of the testimony, why did the writer not used his name?  If John provided the testimony, why not simply name John as the source.

       It’s been suggested by those who believe Apostle John wrote the fourth Gospel that he did not use his name out of a sense of humility.  However, it would not appear to be a sign of humility to single yourself out as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Furthermore, most believe Apostle John wrote the Revelation.  In the Revelation the author is identified as being John five times.  Was John being less humble in the writing the Revelation than he was in writing his Gospel?  It’s to be noted that the three other Gospel writers mention John’s name twenty times but never as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The humility argument in support of John’s authorship appears to be without merit.

       Those who believe Lazarus provided the written testimony used to produce the fourth Gospel believe Lazarus didn’t want his name used because he felt it would distract from his focus on Jesus.  While Jesus had become popular and had garnered a significant following, it is apparent from Scriptures we have already cited that Lazarus had become a celebrity in his own right as a consequence of the many witnesses to his resurrection. Therefore, it is believed Lazarus did not want his named used as the source of his testimony pertaining to Jesus. 

       While it is true that there are editorial comments in the fourth Gospel that show that the purpose of its author was to focus on what Jesus did and accomplished, it seems odd that the author of this Gospel would hide his identity behind a pseudo name such as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  It is obvious from the Gospel of John that the other disciples of Jesus knew who this disciple was.  His name wasn’t “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  He had a name. 

       As discussed above, it would have been the height of vanity for this disciple to refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  This strongly indicates an editor was involved in writing the fourth Gospel and it was this editor who designated the one who provided the material for this Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”   Was it John, Lazarus or someone else?

   The Fishing Trip:

       Let us now return to the account of the fishing trip recorded in John 21.  We see the sons of Zebedee are present along with Peter, Thomas, Nathanael and two other disciples.  We know the sons of Zebedee are James and John.  So in essence, James and John are named as being part of the fishing group.  Two unnamed disciples are also part of this group.

       John 21:2-3: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

       Early in the morning, Jesus is standing on the shore, but the disciples do not recognize him as Jesus.  Jesus calls out to them and tells them to throw their net on the right side of the boat and they will catch fish.  Then “the disciple whom Jesus loved” tells Peter that it is the Lord.

       John 21:7: Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"

       It is generally assumed it is John who is the one who tells Peter it is the Lord and, therefore, John must be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  However, there is nothing in this account that identifies John as this disciple.  John has already been implicitly identified by name in that the sons of Zebedee are named as being part of the fishing group.  In view of this, it would appear reasonable to expect that if John is the one who tells Peter “it is the Lord,” John would have been identified by name as the person who said this to Peter.   Yet the writer identifies this person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  May it be more reasonable to conclude that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is one of the two unnamed disciples who were in the boat and not John, the son of Zebedee?

       It should be pointed out at this juncture that the Scriptures indicate the Apostles were from Galilee (Acts 1:11, 2:7) whereas Lazarus is said to be from Bethany (John 11:1) which is near Jerusalem. John 21:1 shows it was on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) where Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were fishing.  Therefore, it is evident the disciples who had gone fishing were up in the region of Galilee.  It could be argued that Lazarus would not have been in the region of Galilee (about forty miles north of Jerusalem) since his home was near Jerusalem. However, it could also be argued that since Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus and someone Jesus had raised from the dead, Lazarus had joined himself to the disciples that came from Galilee and was hanging out with them after the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus.  

    Would not die:

      At the beginning of this essay we showed from John 21 that when Peter saw   “the disciple whom Jesus loved” following them, he said, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus replied that if He wanted him to remain alive until Jesus returned, it’s none of Peter’s business.  Because of this reply, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die.

       Some believe this is evidence “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is Lazarus. It is argued that because Lazarus had already died once, it came to be believed that he would not die again.  Therefore, it must be Lazarus who Peter was asking about and it is Lazarus who the brothers concluded would not die.  It’s pointed out that there is no Scriptural reason to conclude the disciples would single out John as a disciple who would not die.     

       This argument has some merit in that it provides circumstantial evidence that points to Lazarus as being “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.  Remember that Lazarus is the only male individual singled out in Scripture as being loved by Jesus.  Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.  In John 21 Jesus indicates to Peter what kind of death he would suffer and thereby glorify God.  Upon hearing this, Peter immediately questions Jesus as to what is going to happen with “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  In the context of Peter’s death, Peter wants to know what is going to happen to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” 

       Why does Peter have an interest in what is going to happen to this disciple?  Why is Peter questioning Jesus about this disciple as opposed to any of the other disciples present at the time?  Some believe Peter, after being told how he would die, wanted to know what was in store for a disciple who had already died once and was resurrected.  Peter may have been wondering what was to happen to him after his death.

       While the reason Peter asked the question he did is speculative, this speculation is based on dynamics associated with his question that are more indicative of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” being Lazarus than John or some other disciple. 

Conclusion: 

       The fourth Gospel identifies “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as its author or at least the source for the information presented in this Gospel.  There is no solid Scriptural evidence that Apostle John is this person.  The Scriptural arguments presented in defense of John being this person are tenuous at best. A number of Scriptural arguments presented in defense of Lazarus being this person are also tenuous.  However, some of the arguments presented in defense of Lazarus being this person have merit.  The strongest argument in defense of Lazarus being this person is that Lazarus is the only male person in Scripture specifically identified as someone whom Jesus loved. Discourse connected with the “fishing trip” provides circumstantial evidence Lazarus was this person.  There are also several other cases of circumstantial evidence discussed above that indicate Lazarus is this person.  Therefore, if we go strictly with the Scriptural evidence, there is greater reason to believe Lazarus is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and is the author behind the fourth Gospel than evidence for John being this person.    

       The strongest evidenced in favor of John being this person is the testimony of the early Church Fathers.  These men, without apparent exception, see a person named John as the author of the fourth Gospel.  The testimony of Irenaeus appears especially strong as he identifies the author of the fourth Gospel as a disciple of the Lord, who leaned on His breast and whose name is John.  We know from John 21, that the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ breast is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It should also be noted that there is an extant manuscript (P66) of the fourth Gospel from the late second century that has the title, "The Gospel according to John." 

       One reasonable argument against Lazarus being the author of the fourth Gospel and "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is the fact Lazarus is not mentioned in the list of those present at the ascension of Jesus and those staying together in the upper room after the ascension.

       Acts 1:12-14: Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk  from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

       One would think that if Lazarus was a part of the "fishing trip" group, he would have been part of the group that is seen as associating together after the ascension. If Lazarus was the one to whom Jesus entrusted His mother at the crucifixion, one would think Lazarus would have been present with Mary at the facility the group was staying at as described in Acts 1:12-14. Yet there is no mention of Lazarus. Furthermore, Acts chapter one records that the disciples considered the men Barsabbas and Matthias to replace Judas as one of the twelve. It could be asked why Lazarus wasn't considered if he was "the disciple whom Jesus loved."      

       There is some historical evidence that a man named John the Presbyter, also known as John the Elder, may have been the one who wrote the fourth Gospel and that is why the Church Fathers believe it was a John who authored this Gospel.  Some believe John the Elder took written material presented by Lazarus and, along with his own editorial notes, formatted the fourth Gospel.  However, there is no sound evidence to support this conclusion. 

       Because Lazarus is the only singled out male disciple of Jesus recorded as being loved by Jesus and it is "the disciple whom Jesus loved" who is seen as the author of the fourth Gospel, the Scriptural evidence appears to favor Lazarus over John as the author of the fourth Gospel.  However, the Scriptural evidence is circumstantial.  While there is explicit Scriptural evidence that Lazarus was loved by Jesus, there is no explicit Scriptural passage associating Lazarus with the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  There is explicit identification from Irenaeus of a disciple named John who leaned on Jesus’ breast being the author of the material recorded in the fourth Gospel. The disciple who "leaned on Jesus Breast" is identified in Scripture as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Is this disciple Apostle John or someone else named John?  Most of the early Church Fathers appear to agree with Irenaeus that this disciple is a man named John and most scholars believe this John to be Apostle John. The question we must ask is this:  Should the testimony of Irenaeus and other of the Church Fathers, along with much present day scholarship, be given credence over the circumstantial evidence provided by the Scriptures that appears to favor Lazarus?  I welcome input on this issue from readers of this essay.

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