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Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of John’

Determining the authorship of the Gospel of John is not an easy matter. There are a number of issues that must be considered. While I do not wish to drag the question out, I feel it cannot be dealt with adequately in one post.

Today I wish to cover only one issue, and that is the question of the person referred to in the Gospel of John as “the beloved disciple” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I believe resolving this question can put us on a more solid footing when we do consider who wrote the Gospel of John. Please understand that identifying the “beloved Disciple,” does not prove that this person wrote the Gospel of John. I do believe, however, that in connection with other evidence, it will help us as we consider that question in another post.

The actual author of the Gospel of John describes this otherwise unknown character in a distinctive way. The phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” occurs only in the book of John. Not one of the other gospels makes any such reference. In John it occurs four times (John 13.23; 20.2, 21.7; 21.20). Obviously, this does not give us a great deal of information, so it would be unwise to be too dogmatic. At the same time, I do believe certain elements in the Gospel of John can help us pin this down.

Tradition has identified the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as the apostle John, one of the sons of Zebedee. Is there any evidence that could either refute or support this theory? There are several factors we need to consider which can assist with identifying this person.

First of all, this disciple is described in a way that would indicate that he is a significant figure. He is said to have been present at the Last Supper. Not only was he there, but he is described as one who reclined next to Jesus, normally a position of honor (John 13.23-25). If this was not one of the twelve, it would seem strange that none of the other gospels refer to him.

Another factor we should consider is how the author of John refers to the activities of the apostles. In the three synoptic gospels, Peter, James, and John appear to be described in ways that would indicate that they formed a sort of inner circle within the twelve, and that Jesus gave them special training. These three are described as being the only ones present at some of the most significant events in Jesus’ ministry, such as the Transfiguration. These three disciples are listed together nine times in the synoptic gospels (two in Matthew, four in Mark, and three in Luke). So we see the apostle John listed, not just as one of the twelve apostles, but one of the inner circle which were given special training by Jesus. Ancient tradition also emphasizes John’s importance among the apostles.

With this background, we must ask ourselves, if the “disciple whom Jesus loved” was not intended by the author of the Gospel to refer to the apostle John, where is this very prominent apostle in that gospel? The only clear reference we have to John is in John 21.2 which refers to “the sons of Zebedee” along with other disciples. It appears clear to me that when the author of the Gospel of John refers to “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he must be referring to the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. If he is describing someone else, then we must conclude that the very prominent apostle John does not even appear in the very gospel which from earliest times was ascribed to him.

So, I feel fairly confident in asserting that the author of the Gospel of John was describing the apostle John when he refers to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In my next post, I will assume this as we consider further who actually wrote the Gospel of John.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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