Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who is the Beloved Disciple in John's Gospel?

This is a question that I address every time I teach a class on Gospels. Many have assumed that he is John the brother of James. But the fact is, the Gospel never tells us who he is. He is anonymous. A lot of ink has been spilled over this topic. Some think that the Beloved Disciple was a real person while others argue that he is a literary device.

Mark Goodacre has posted a 12 minute podcast giving an overview of the question. While Goodacre does not contend that John wrote the Gospel, he does suggest that the author of John crafted the Gospel so that readers will identify the Beloved Disciple with John the son of Zebedee.

Goodacre teaches New Testament at Duke University. If you are not familiar with his NT Podcasts, I highly recommend them. I have used many of them as part of my online Gospels class. They can be used quite easily in a number of different settings. They are usually no longer than 10 minutes and provide a competent overview of the topic.


  1. Many thanks, John, for the encouragement.

    My inclination is to think that the Fourth Gospel encourages the reader to identify the BD with John without actually fully, formally endorsing that identification. In other words, I think it is the way that many readers would have taken the character when they came across John's narrative.

  2. This is a little misleading. Mark Goodacre actually believes that the author of John's gospel wanted his readers to identify the beloved disciple (and thus the author) as John, even though he wasn't. Marks argument is implausible, in my view, because the gospel leaves insufficient clues that the BD was John. Goodacre is asking too much of the original readers.

  3. Mark ands Richard,

    Sorry for the confusion. I did not mean to suggest that Mark thought that the author was of the Gospel was John, but that he should be identified with John. I actually find Mark's suggestion quite plausible and will change the post to reflect his ideas better.

  4. Re: ...crafted the Gospel so that readers will identify the Beloved Disciple with John the son of Zebedee

    Scripture itself easily exposes that claim to be a false characterization of the words that were written by the author of the fourth gospel.

    While those who want to promote the man-made John tradition will cite this-or-that non-Bible source when they are asked to defend claims such as this, the truth is that they cannot cite a single verse that would justify that statement. Got scripture?

    In fact a comparison to the first three gospels readily shows that the least helpful of the four gospels when it comes to learning facts about the Apostle John and the things that he witnessed, said, and did during the ministry of Jesus, is the one that men erroneously decided to label, The Gospel of John.

    Ps. 118:8, Pr. 30:5-6 and many other verses warn against putting the authority of God’s word in subjection to non-Bible sources. But as the saying goes, one has to take off their own shoes before they can take a walk in someone else’s moccasins, and similarly, when it comes to cases of The Bible vs. Tradition, one has to be willing to let go of the traditions of men in order be corrected by the truth that is demanded by the plain sight in the text of scripture.

    TheFourthGospel.com has a free eBook that compares scripture with scripture in order to highlight the facts in scripture that are often overlooked about the “other disciple, whom Jesus loved”. If one is open to biblical correction on this topic, then they can weigh the testimony of scripture that it cites regarding the one whom “Jesus loved” and may find it to be helpful as it encourages bible students to take seriously the admonition “prove all things”.

    Scripture itself actually proves that whoever the disciple whom Jesus loved was he cannot have been John, because that man-made tradition actually forces the Bible to contradict itself, which the truth cannot do.

  5. I'm not really sure what John's point is above (not John Byron but the other John).

    I have not put much thought or effort into researching the option I will bring up, but I have heard of the possibility that Lazarus was actually the beloved disciple. It seems to me that John was written by one who lived in or around Jerusalem, since the majority of the gospel seems to be in and around Jerusalem, in contrast to the synoptics which seem to be mainly Galilee focused. Lazarus was from near Jerusalem. Additionally, only of Lazarus is it said that Jesus loved him, and it is only after this point in the text that the beloved disciple is every mentioned. Any thoughts on this possibility?

  6. Jason,

    Lazarus is an option that others have suggested. I tend to think that the beloved disciple is an unnamed eyewitness whose testimony was later passed on to whoever wrote the gospel. I think this helps to make sense of the strange scene in John 21 which looks like competition between Peter and the beloved disciple. But Mark's proposal is also plausible.

  7. Are our pastors telling us the truth?

    Are Christian pastors honest with their congregations regarding the evidence for the Resurrection? Is there really a "mountain of evidence" for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?

    You MUST read this Christian pastor's defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners, a man who lost his faith and is now a nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:

    ---A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro's Defense of the Resurrection---

    (copy and paste this article title into your browser to find and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)