Lazarus as the beloved disciple?

It’s often interesting to be in between the worlds of academic theology and church. Often assumptions are made in one that are not made in the other. For example, most in the church would assume that the author of the fourth Gospel is John, the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve disciples. However, most in scholarship would assume he definitely isn’t. To be honest, this is mostly because scholars don’t like the idea of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels.

However, I came accross this fascinating theory by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III yesterday. Ben argues that the beloved disciple (commonly known as John) is actually Lazarus and that the fourth Gospel is his eyewitness testimony. You can read the whole paper here but here are a few of his major points:

The earliest patristic witness to the authorship of the fourth Gospel we have is Papias (2nd century). Papias claims that it was not John the son of Zebedee who authored the fourth Gospel, but rather John the Elder who is the same as John of Patmos (the author of Revelation). Subsequently, the other church fathers argued for apostolic authorship, but this is very likely due to the fact that the gnostics were beginning to use John’s Gospel for their own purposes. Richard Bauckham, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses has rightly argued that we need to take the evidence of Papias more seriously. Negatively, Papias’ evidence suggests that John the apostle was not the author of the fourth Gospel.

There is quite significant internal evidence in the fourth Gospel to support the idea that John, the son of Zebedee was not the beloved disciple and the source of the fourth Gospel. Firstly, the beloved disciple is never equated with John the son of Zebedee in the fourth Gospel. Instead, the sons of Zebedee are mentioned in John 21.2 do not seem to be equated with the beloved disciple.

Secondly, the apostle John was, like Jesus’ other disciples, a Galilean. However, the fourth Gospel includes only one of the major Galilean miracles which the synoptics include (the feeding of the 5000 in John 6). If the beloved disciple was an eyewitness from Galilee, we would expect more of Jesus’ Galilean miracles to be included.

Thirdly, in the synoptic gospels, all of the twelve abandon Jesus at his crucifixion. However, in John, we are told that the beloved disciple was present at the crucifixion. If John (one of the twelve) and the beloved disciple are the same, then we have to solve the discrepancy. If, however, the beloved disciple was Lazarus, not one of the twelve, then the discrepancy disappears.

Fourthly, the first appearance of an expression similar to “the disciple that Jesus loved” appears in John 11 when Jesus is told: “he whom you love is ill” (Jn. 11.2). This is a reference not to the apostle John, but to Lazarus. If this is a precursor to “the disciple that Jesus loved” then it would suggest that this beloved disciple is in fact Lazarus, and not John.

Fifthly, in John 18, it seems that the beloved disciple is known by the high priest. This would be highly unlikely if the beloved disciple was a Galilean. Rather, this suggests that this disciples was well known in the Jerusalem area. Lazarus lived in Bethany, which was just by Jerusalem. It would make more sense for this disciple to be Lazarus if the high priest knew him.

Sixthly, Lazarus as the beloved disciple could help to explain the incredibly high christology of John. If you had been dead for 4 days and then raised by Jesus, that would change your worldview in a very dramatic way. This could account for the boldness with which the fourth Gospel proclaims Jesus as God, as opposed to the more cryptic way the synoptics suggest it.

There are more strong reasons put forth by Witherington in the paper I have linked. Give it a read!  I find his case quite compelling and it definitely solves a lot of problems which John the apostle as author creates. See what you think!


5 thoughts on “Lazarus as the beloved disciple?

  1. has a free eBook that just presents the biblical evidence on the unnamed ”other disciple, whom Jesus loved” and contrasts that with the facts recorded in the Bible about John. Besides the fact there is not a single verse that can justify teaching that John was the unnamed author of the fourth gospel, the Bible can prove that WHOEVER this author was he was not John because that false tradition forces the Bible to contradict itself, which the truth cannot do.

    Those who respect the authority of God’s word more the non-Bible sources that are used to sell the John idea may enjoy the challenge presented by the “prove all things” standard of this study.

  2. Very interesting! John 21.2 seems to suggest that the author of John’s gospel is not John. For years I held the belief that John the Beloved and Lazarus were one and the same (and for that matter, that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were one and the same). But this Scripture passage doesn’t really demolish this my belief since everything else fits. Maybe John didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself (which obviously failed miserably …). It was always argued that the only reason that Lazarus wasn’t present at the crucifixion is that he and John were the same person but only John was named. So, he WAS there, as any close friend of the Master should. If I assume that Mary Magdalene of Bethany was married to Jesus (He must have been married since otherwise he couldn’t have been accepted as a rabbi, and he was!), and she was John/Lazarus’ sister, then that makes John/Lazarus not only His cousin but also His brother-in-law. No wonder John/Lazarus was called the beloved (for more than one reason, no doubt). Why we nowadays need apocryphical gospels like the ones of Mary Magdalene, Philip and Thomas to prove these points, is beyond me. I would have loved clear passages in all of the four gospels. I still haven’t figured out if the assumed fact that Jesus was married and the mention of His bride, the church, would clash hugely. Thank you for your time. God bless.

  3. Pingback: Did Lazarus write the gospel of John? - Christian Forums
  4. Pingback: St. Lazarus the "One Whom Jesus Loved" - Possible He Wrote the 4th Gospel? - Christian Forums
  5. Funny, to me John 21 shows that Lazarus can’t be the disciple whom Jesus loved. This passage shows he’s a fisherman with the other six, something that Lazarus, living in Bethany, wasn’t. Besides he isn’t even called a disciple.

    I read carefully the Gospel of John and I strongly believe it was written by an apostle.

    That miraculous catching of fish is very similar to this one:

    “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. (Luke 5:1-11)

    Maybe the disciple whom Jesus loved remembered this first catching of fish, whoever he was?

    And, this verses:

    “So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit ” “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”(John 20:23)

    An Apostle is someone God has sent out to spread the word. As you can see Jesus uses this word. This means he was talking to the twelve apostles.

    This verse can be read in parallel with this one from Mark:

    “Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” “(Mark 16: 14-18)

    Scripture shows the author of the fourth gospel is an apostle.

    Another argument used is that all disciples fled and forsook him.

    “But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome.” (Matthew 26:58)

    They fled from the garden, but as you see, Peter went back. If he could to do it, any disciple could.

    We cannot say for sure it was John, but at least there are big chances to him.

    Though, I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that John was among the first disciples of Jesus, like “the other disciple” was,belonged to the inner circle with Peter and James, and was a target of jealousy with James (when they asked if they could seat at His side). It seems logic that two of the three closest disciples to Jesus were at his side in the Last Supper.

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