Was John the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved?

Before approaching the Letters of John, I thought I should touch on a question which will bear on the authorship of the Letters.  Few scholars will deny a relationship between the letters of John and the Gospel of John.  On the basis of style and vocabulary alone it is clear that the same person (or persons) wrote the Gospels and the Letters of John.  Traditionally, the fourth Gospel and the letters have been thought to be written by John, the Apostle, the son of Zebedee.  It is also  a long standing tradition to equate John, son of Zebedee with the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Neither John nor James appear in John’s Gospel, which is unusual since they are the only disciples features in the synoptic gospels other that Peter. In the Gospel of John, many of the other disciples are given a more clear role in stories where they had been anonymous. For example, in the feeding of the 5000, we are told specifically Philip and Andrew are the disciples who spoke to Jesus about the crowd and the impossibility of feeding such a large crowd (John 6:5-9).

John’s gospel also features a character who is never named, but rather is called the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Traditionally, the “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is John, the son of Zebedee.

  • The “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was at the last supper (13:23), and in the Synoptics we are told only the disciples joined Jesus for the Passover meal (Mark 14:17). This places the “the disciple whom Jesus loved” within the inner circle of the twelve.
  • In many of the passages that he appears he is linked with Peter (John 13:23-24; 20:2-9; 21:20), and cannot be any of the disciples mentioned by name in John 13-16.
  • He is one of the seven who are fishing in chapter 21. This eliminates all the disciples except James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and two unnamed disciples.
  • The “disciple whom Jesus loved” is likely not James, since he was killed by Acts 12, much too early to have written the Gospel.

The internal evidence from the Gospel of John implies that the “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was in fact John, the son of Zebedee. The “the disciple whom Jesus loved” could have been one the two unnamed disciples in John 21:2, but this seems unlikely. Other suggestions for the “the disciple whom Jesus loved” include Lazarus, who is identified as a person whom Jesus loved (John 11:5, 35-36), or the rich young ruler of Mark 10:21, because Jesus is said to have loved him. There were probably dozens of disciples that could have qualified for the title if all it took was being loved by Jesus. Lazarus and the rich young ruler simply do not qualify because they were not at the last supper.

Thus the title “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is a humble indication that the author uses to identify himself. The only real candidate from among the group of twelve disciples is John, the son of Zebedee.  While it is possible that the Beloved Disciple is not John, The fact that the Gospel of John is so concerned with eyewitnesses to Jesus that it is unlikely that the author could be creating this witness out of thin air.

Does this matter for our reading of the Gospel of John or the Letters of John?  The letters of John are very concerned with the love of God and the love the Christian has for God and other believers.  It seems to me that this emphasis on the Love of God comes from the writer’s own experience of the Love of Jesus, having been “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

41 thoughts on “Was John the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved?

  1. You wrote: “The only real candidate from among the group of twelve disciples is John, the son of Zebedee. While it is possible that the Beloved Disciple is not John…”

    If one agrees with the first statement, then the second statement necessarily raises the idea that the anonymous author of the fourth gospel was not one of “the twelve”, since you claim John is the only “real” candidate among “the twelve” and you admit this unnamed disciple may not have been John.

    In fact, scripture can prove the one whom “Jesus loved” was not John. However, simple mistakes like assuming the unnamed “other disciple, whom Jesus loved” must be one of “the twelve” (in spite of the biblical evidence to the contrary) tend to keep people from searching the scriptures on this issue. It is more common to just let the authority of this-or-that non-Bible source substitute for the authority of God’s word, which is precisely how false traditions make void the word of God.

    TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com has a free eBook which contrasts the facts noted in scripture about this unnamed other disciple with the facts scripture presents to us about John if you care to see how subjecting the John tradition to biblical scrutiny can prove whoever the unnamed “other disciple, whom Jesus loved” was he was not John. The unbiblical, man-made John tradition actually ends up forcing the Bible to contradict itself, which the truth cannot do, and the evidence is there if you care to hear it

    • Many compared the writing style of other books of John to the Gospel of John and stated that the Gospel of John is different than the other books of John.

      The Gospel of John might be written by someone else who heard the stories from John.

      Hard to imagine that anyone can just lean on Jesus during supper if he doesn’t have a close relationship with Jesus. I don’t think anyone would have a closer relationship with Jesus than his disciples.

  2. This is an interesting take on the letters of John. I have always been fascinated, or at least curious as to why the author of John refers to this “disciple whom Jesus loved”. Maybe it is just me but doesn’t that sound a bit arrogant? Maybe it is my current 21st century worldview and language, however does this author claim this as something greater or better than the other disciples or is this just a phrase for himself, to remember that “Jesus loves me…” In any case, I agree that the author of 1st, 2nd and 3rd John is most likely the same author of the gospel of John.

    • Yes, it is simply and profoundly, John the Apostle..”the disciple whom Jesus loved”!

      Yeah, your gonna have to get rid of that ’21st century world view’! 😉 Growing-up in Ireland in the 50’s and early 60’s, my world view was something of the Judeo-Christian. 😉

      *WE all gravitate to the world view of our formation, St. Paul’s was the Jewish Greek and Roman Hellenistic, (Acts 22:3).

    • When I read this line “disciple whom Jesus loved,” I didn’t have the feeling that it came from arrogance. I just felt there is a lot of love coming from the disciple to Jesus and vice versa.

      • I think that is a good point, Faida, he is not saying “the one that Jesus loved the best” or “the one Jesus loved more than Peter,” etc. Thanks for the comment.

    • In order for someone to actually lean on Jesus, shouldn’t that person has a close relationship with Jesus? Was Lazarus that close to Jesus more than the apostle?

  3. I believe Witherington even has a mystery novel about this topic — The Lazarus Effect.

  4. P.O. Redding
    I am so glad God told Timothy to tell us all to Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. In the book St. John 21:1-25 you will note this is after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Christ. You will find starting at St. John verse 20 Peter states the disciple “whom Jesus loved which also leaned on the breast of Jesus at supper and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” When you study you will find that Jesus truly loved all the disciples, but only Peter and Judas “leaned on his breast and asked the question! In Matthew 26:22 it states they all asked Master is it I, but it does not say they all leaned on his breast and asked the question. Now if Peter and Judas are the only disciples who asked the question and leaned on Jesus breast at the supper and now Peter is asking Jesus the question Judas is who he must be talking about. How can that be? Remember where Jesus went for three days and nights in the heart of the earth before his resurrection. The Bible states others whom had passed away were seen walking with Jesus after His resurrection. It does not say if they were believers or non-believers of Jesus. It only states they were once dead. Now you would ask the question what about when Jesus said he had lost none but the son of Perdition, that word means ruin or loss, and at that time Judas was lost. Remember Jesus had not yet died on the cross for all our sins. Judas was very sorrowful about what he did and hung himself. Now if you were among the lost when Jesus got there and you knew the truth about Him wouldn’t you take that glorious opportunity to come out of captivity with Him? That is what the true Love of God, Jesus our Lord is all about. Judas was chosen to betray Jesus the scripture had to be for-filled and Jesus chose to go to the cross for us all! Now also think about what Peter said to Jesus, He asked what shall this man do? Would he have asked that about any of the other disciples? Jesus said back to Peter; if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? To tarry means to wait until I come. In St. John verse 21:24, John the writer is saying I know this happened and you can believe my testimony is true. Then he goes on to say there were many other things Jesus did that are not written in the Bible and if they were written not even the entire world could contain the books. Now you have heard a viewpoint that you may have never heard. God wants us to know just how much he loves us all who believe on the Lord Jesus the Christ. Study, Love like Jesus does, Watch and Pray.

  5. The title ‘The disciple whom Jesus loved’ can only be found in the book of John. This is a humble indication that the author [John, the son of Zebedee] uses to identify himself. The other disciples did not.
    The message here is that Apostle John was able to recognize the love that Jesus has for him and he was able to express and personalize it. He did not stop at the point of ‘for God so much loves the world’ but he went further to ‘For God so much loves me’. Hence the disciple whom Jesus loves….

  6. “The disciple who Jesus loved” is you. That’s why it was not specified. We cannot fully understand Jesus if we fix ourselves to time and space, There is no time and space when you open your heart to see him, and you SEE HIM. Then you walk with him like all the other disciples did.: YOU are the disciple Jesus loved.

    • That is an excellent application, but reading the text of John leaves the impression that there was a particular disciples at the Last Supper referred to as the Beloved Disciple. While I am quite confident Jesus loves me (and is rather patient with me!), there was a disciple of Jesus in John with that nickname.

  7. You say that both Lazarus and the rich young ruler were not at the Last Supper, but Jesus sent Peter and John to a certain rich RULER of an estate in Jerusalem with a formal, personal message to him that, “I [Jesus] will keep the Passover with YOU; with my disciples.” ‘YOU’ is the disciple whom Jesus loved which happened to be a rich ruler of an estate in Jerusalem wherein was a large, furnished, upper room. (Matthew 26:18). Read Amazon Book introduction at http://www.amazon.com/The-Rich-Young-Ruler-ebook/dp/B00AMV0EZS#_

    • I would think the person who is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” has a very close relationship with Jesus in order to lean on Jesus. Are Lazarus and the rick young ruler close to Jesus? Are they with Jesus often like the disciples?

  8. John was simply aware of Jesus’s love for him and how fallen he was when Jesus called him.You may be loved deeply and unware of it. John was deeply aware and his letters are focused on love .

  9. First, sorry my english, I’m not a native speaker.

    I can understand why Lazarus is seen as a possible candidate as the beloved disciple, but why omit his name then, after the text saying “Lord, the one you love is sick”? I mean, since it would be so obvious, the gospel could say “Lazarus, the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

    I believe the beloved disciple could be one of the three who followed Jesus the most, (Peter, James and John) Peter is nominated so it wasn’t him. This would leave James and John. But James was killed before the gospel apparently was written.

    Also, I found interesting that the mother of the sons of Zebedee were near the cross together with some other women in Matthew. Like, she was accompanied by her son?

    Maybe it means nothing but is something I noticed.

  10. Thanks for the comment, and I think you are right, John, son of Zebedee is the best solution. I think John at least was at the cross, based on John 19:25-27, Jesus gives care of Mary to the Beloved Disciple.

  11. You’re welcome.
    I was reading John again and also noticed that Lazarus is mentioned after being raised:

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

    Why not mentioning the “beloved disciple here, then. if he was Lazarus? But his name was given instead.

  12. Let’s take the bible as it is,if the bible does not mention someones name,let it be,any tradition that is not backed by the scriptures should be discarded please.It gives me a great concern to hear clergies made statements that cannot be backed by the scriptures.I regard this as ‘rules taugth by men’.Let us be careful.

    • Why careful, Usman Adamu?
      Even if the disciple whom Jesus loved was not John, would this change the gospel, the God’s word?

  13. Paul speaks of himself in the third person in II Corinthians 12: 2 – 4, which becomes clear after reading the entire chapter. There is a very long literary tradition that shows the great distaste authors had to speak of themselves in the first person, and so the literary “we” became standard practice. It seems very clear to me that this “disciple whom Jesus loved” could be none other than John himself, who in his modesty declined to speak of himself in the first person. There is no mystery here, except that proposed by authors who seek to sell books with their pet theories. The millennia-old tradition that John was this “beloved disciple” is backed by sound Bible analysis. Thank-you for your excellent article.

  14. According to the Bible, how many Old Testament prophets raised people from the dead? Answer: Two. Elijah and Elisha.

    That’s it. And they only did it three times. So the act of raising someone from the dead would have been seen as a very, very big deal. It was not like healing someone of a disease or casting out demons. Lots of people, it seems, could do those miracles. Nope, raising someone from the dead was the big kahuna of all miracles!

    In the Gospel of John chapter 11, we are told that Lazarus had been dead for four days. His body was decomposing to the point that he stunk. Lazarus death and burial were very public events. His tomb was a known location. Many Jews had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and some of them were wondering why the great miracle worker, Jesus, had not come and healed his friend Lazarus; essentially blaming Jesus for letting Lazarus die.

    Let’s step back and look at the facts asserted in this passage: Only two OT prophets had raised people from the dead, and these two prophets were considered probably the two greatest Jewish prophets of all time: Elijah and Elisha. If this story is true, the supernatural powers of Jesus were on par with the supernatural powers of the greatest Jewish prophets of all time! If this event really did occur, it should have shocked the Jewish people to their very core—a new Elijah was among them! This event must have been the most shocking event to have occurred in the lives of every living Jewish man and woman on the planet. The news of this event would have spread to every Jewish community across the globe.

    And yet…Paul, a devout and highly educated Jew, says not one word about it. Not one. Not in his epistles; not in the Book of Acts. Think about that. What would be the most powerful sign to the Jews living in Asia Minor and Greece—the very people to whom Paul was preaching and attempting to convert—to support the claim that Jesus of Nazareth himself had been raised from the dead? Answer: The very public, very well documented raising from the dead of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus!

    But nope. No mention of this great miracle by Paul. (A review of Paul’s epistles indicates that Paul seems to have known very little if anything about the historical Jesus. Read here.)

    And there is one more very, very odd thing about the Raising-of-Lazarus-from-the-Dead Miracle: the author of the Gospel of John, the very last gospel to be written, is the only gospel author to mention this amazing miracle! The authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke say NOTHING about the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Nothing.

    This is a tall tale and nothing more!

    • You don’t expect all the disciples to give the same account of everything that happened .That is why we have four of the synoptic gospel so that if one doesn’t give account of a particular action the other will. Thus there is no doubt that Jesus Christ actually raised Lazarus.

  15. You don’t expect all the disciples to give the same account of everything that happened during the time of Jesus Christ that is why we have four synoptic gospel so that if one doesn’t give account of a particular action the other will.Thus the account that Jesus raised Lazarus is undeniable.

    • According to Papias (the next generation after John), John was killed by the Judeans (Jews). And the evidence that any other apostles/disciples besides James, Paul, Peter, and maybe Mark, were martyred is almost zero. (The traditions about the rest are *extremely* late traditions. It is much to my sorrow that many continue to quote them when they do not even have the remotest chance of being reliable.)

      • I recently read Tom Bissell’s book on the apostles. As interesting as it was (he travels to the traditional burial site for each of the twelve, sort of a travelogue). The traditions for the apostles other that Peter are very weak. I want to believe Thomas made it to India, but there is nothing there which is compelling.

  16. Interesting postings although, I find many of the posts using the word disciples for apostles. If you remember that the APOSTLES were at the last supper as well as others. Then Lazarus could have been the DISCIPLE.

  17. 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)

  18. It had to be Lazarus because after he is resurrected he has the name the one that Jesus loved through out the rest of the Bible and Mary and Lazarus were always together anyways so at the foot of the cross it makes sense that it would be Lazarus who is changed into John the one that Jesus loved. Only somebody that was resurrected could be at the cross.

    • Thanks for the comment, Joseph. Is any of the three Marys at the foot of the Cross the same Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha? One is his mother, one is Magdalene (assuming she is from Magdal not Bethany), and the third is the “wife of Cleopas.” I suppose she was also Lazarus’s brother but that seems unlikely.

      The beloved disciple still could be Lazarus, though.

    • Peter asked the Beloved Disciple to ask Jesus who the betrayer was at the last supper (John 13:23), it is impossible the Beloved Disciple is Peter. Although I am sure Jesus loved Peter too!

    • The beloved disciple? It is an implication based on the points I made in the original article. If you meant something else, let me know

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