Saturday, June 12, 2010

NT Pod 38: Who is the Beloved Disciple in John's Gospel?

NT Pod 38 asks "Who is the Beloved Disciple in John's Gospel?".  It is the one year anniversary episode.  It is just under twelve and a half minutes long.

NT Pod 38: Who is the Beloved Disciple in John's Gospel? (mp3)
NT Pod 38: Who is the Beloved Disciple in John's Gospel? (mp3) (Alternative location)

Key texts: John 19.26-27, John 19.35, John 21.24, John 13.23-25, John 18.15-18, John 21.20-23, Luke 22.8, Acts 3.1, Acts 12.2, Gal. 2.9, John 1.35-42

Feel free to leave your feedback below or on Twitter or on the NT Pod Facebook page.

Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. If the author of the fourth gospel encourages his readers to make a connection between the beloved disciple and the the apostle John do you think he ambiguously encourages other identifications like the ones you mentioned in the podcast? What of the strong relationship between Lazarus and the BD? I don't know if you have seen V for Vendetta but perhaps the author of the fourth gospel is doing something very similar.

  2. Interesting thoughts, though I am not persuaded by the Lazarus links, especially in the light of 1.35-42.

  3. I agree that Lazarus is probably not the author. However would you agree that the author establishes some sort of connection between Lazarus and the BD (1) both are said to be loved by Jesus. (2) Also it is the same face cover which covers Lazarus in chapter 11 that is noticed at the tomb of Jesus which causes the BD to believe. (3) The name Lazarus is found only elswhere in the gospel of Luke. Here Jesus tells a story of Lazarus going to Abraham's bosom. Is it strange that the first time we encounter the BD he is in the bosom of Jesus? Is this reading to much into John or are these connections intentional? And if they are what meaning are they meant to elicit?

  4. Mark, are you able to find any other documents that falsely imply the authorship of someone who is not named? Or does your theory have to suppose that John's gospel is an isolated case?

    You seem to be asking a lot of the original audience. Your theory assumes that the author could rely on the original hearers to solve the question of the identify of the BD by some kind of intertextual analysis or equivalent. Are you not creating the original audience in your own image as lovers of interesting literary riddles?

    You say that John Boanerges is conspicuously absent from the fourth gospel. However, his absence is hardly conspicuous since many others are also absent, including his brother, James.

    If the anonymous man of John 1:35-42 is the BD then Bauckham could well be right about the inclusio.

    I suggest that the anonymity of the BD is protective and that he is Lazarus and the author of the text. The chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death (John 12:10) and may have persuaded the Romans that he deserved the death sentence (John 18:31). If Lazarus eventually learned of this plot he will have gone into hiding and may well have taken an alias (John the elder?). It is striking that the fourth gospel, and the other gospels, say nothing about Lazarus that the authorities would not have already known. I suggest that Lazarus used the protective device of calling himself the BD to protect himself from arrest (there was no way to prevent the text from falling into the hands of hostile authorities). If he had named himself "Lazarus" throughout his text, the churches that harbored him would have been put in danger and his life could have been at risk. In short, I suggest that Lazarus was a fugitive and called himself the BD to protect himself and his friends.

    Mark, why does John 1:35-42 count against the Lazarus theory?

  5. Well done. Thanks for this, Mark, and the entire year of the NT Pod. The pods have been very enjoyable.

    What sort of implications if any might all this have on the question of authorship of the Gospel? My first thought is that the formation of the Gospel would not be all that messy, perhaps only 2 stages of composition since the foundational thrust of the overall message is the beloved disciple's telling of the Gospel. Without the creation of this beloved disciple and unique way of telling the story, there is no Gospel of John, so I can't really see it coming together over several messy stages in haphazard fashion. Am I oversimplifying?

  6. @ Richard: Have you not read the book of Ecclesiastes?

  7. It's interesting that you mention Ecclesiastes. Do you think that there is an intentional link between the anonymity of the BD and the anonymity of the preacher? I am struck how the two books end in much the same way - Third person reference to an anonymous person who is identified as the author as well as a statement about many books. I don't know of any other books that end the same way.

  8. @ Matthew: yes - i'm attempting to publish an article on this right now. I think I have many strong links, but we'll see if it's taken seriously.

  9. Matthew: I don't think the links between Lazarus and the BD are particularly impressive. Lazarus is never described as a "discple" or "one of his disciples", is he? And that is key with respect to the BD.

  10. Thanks for your interesting comments, Richard. I don't find the case for Lazarus persuasive. My point is simply that anyone reading or hearing the Fourth Gospel with a knowledge of other early Christianity and Christian texts will naturally see this character as the same man who is consistently alongside Peter, and that is John. It does not require any kind of leap of the imagination, and it is a link that many made. Did the author of the Fourth Gospel intend it? I would guess yes, but of course we can't be sure. If the author had intended one of these other characters, he would have to have assumed some degree of ignorance of other early Christian texts that put John alongside Peter.

  11. Thanks for your encouragement, Rob, and interesting comments. Certainly there must have been stages to the composition -- that seems highly likely.

  12. Thanks, James. I appreciate your encouragement!

  13. Mark,

    John 18:15 suggests that the BD was known to the high priest. This and the fact that all mentions of the BD occur in Jerusalem indicate that the author is presenting the BD as a resident of Jerusalem or its environs. John Boanerges, on the other hand, was a Galilean. This contradiction would have discouraged readers from making the identification. If the author of the fourth gospel was presenting the BD as John, he would surely have set more stories in Galilee, and would have placed the BD in those stories, wouldn't he?

    On your theory the original readers would have realized that the BD was supposed to be John only towards the end of the book. Only towards the end would they notice the pattern that the BD keeps appearing with Peter (if they noticed at all - which I doubt - I had not noticed it). This is problematic. To the extent that the writer wanted to identify the BD, he would surely have done so on the first mention of him. The hearer would have good cause for complaint if he/she had to wait until the end to make the identification.

    The Lazarus theory has the advantage here. The BD is identified at the earliest possible moment as the one whom Jesus loved (John 13:23), and we have just been told three times that Lazarus was the one whom Jesus loved (John 11:3, 5, 36). The reader does not have to wait to the end to make the identification. For more on the Lazarus theory, see Witherington's blog post here.

    You point out that Lazarus is never described as a disciple. This fits my theory that Lazarus became a fugitive (and wrote semi-anonymously for that reason). As I mentioned before, Lazarus would not want to give the authorities any information about himself that they did not already know. Furthermore, the church did not want the Romans to view them with suspicion or hostility, so they would not have revealed in writing that Lazarus was a believer if he had got into trouble with the Romans. In a similar way, Acts says that the civil authorities arrested Jason and encouraged the beating of Sosthenes, but Luke is careful not to reveal (to hostile authorities) that Jason and Sosthenes were believers. The author of the fourth gospel is silent about the fact that Lazarus was a disciple for the same reason that he drops Lazarus's name from the text and calls him the BD from John 13:23 onwards. These are protective silences. Or so it seems to me.

  14. Dr. Goodarce

    I very much enjoyed this podcast. Your a GREAT teacher and you have gone a long way in reestablishing my belief in an intentional link between the BD and the apostle John. I haven't found Westcott’s famous “Concentric Proofs" convincing in the past. But you are right in noting that the original audience would immediately make this connection if they were aware of the other gospels and their traditions.

    But I still can't help think that the author of John is pointing to other possibilities which effectively keep the BD anonymous and in the end keep his audience guessing as to his identity.

    Certainly Lazarus is never called a disciple but neither is the BD mentioned in John 1:34-42. Both are inferences. The argument for Lazarus may not be immediately apparent but it does seem to have a certain plausibility when one makes the identification.

    In addition to the three points I listed above the rumor about the BD in John 21 makes even more sense if you identify him with Lazarus. One who has previously been raised by Jesus might reasonably be thought to live until the Lord's return.

    Like I said I don't necessarily believe that the BD is Lazarus. I just think it odd that one can make such a neat case. Certainly the author wants the BD to remain anonymous and that anonymity must be part of his purpose. If we jump to quickly with any identification we fail to read the gospel in the ambiguous way that it is often meant to be read. Even if the author is John he certainly doesn't want us to rest easily in that identity.

  15. Happy birthday to the NT pod! Keep up the great work, Mark. I think it is refreshing to see someone buck the critical trends and defend an old tradition.

    I think you made a good point about the limitations on guessing the BD's identify based purely on reading the gospel (since, as you said, the author was trying to hide the BD's identity). That's why I was impressed by Bauckham's detective work on the BD's identity using non-Biblical sources, which scholars too often ignore. He noticed, for instance, that the Muratorian Canon lists John (the author) as a "disciple" and Andrew as an "Apostle." There was also Polycrates' statement about John being a high priest, which makes him hard to identify with the son of Zebedee (since he was unknown to the priest in Acts). I don't think this proves anything, but I think more scholars should revisit external sources, since there may be a lot of overlooked clues there.

  16. Happy one year anniversary! :)

  17. Many thanks for the full and interesting comments. I think I should find the time to chat about this at more length over on my NT Blog since it is clearly something of interest to lots of us.

  18. That would be great! I look forward to it.

  19. If we take your hypothesis as John being the beloved disciple then how far away are we from him being the actual author of the text? Why else would he shroud himself in secrecy than to cheekily "stand in the wings"?

  20. Thanks, Alan. My thesis is not that John is the BD but that the author allows and may even encourage the identification to be made, for the reasons suggested.

  21. Goodacre, I have been enjoying your Pods. I note a lot of people pushing for Lazarus. I think, if Secret Mark is genuine, that the author of that piece feels Lazarus is the beloved disciple too.
    I had read someone put forward John Mark as the BD. I am not sure who, it was a long time ago.

    My own take (gathered of course from others) is that the people writing think that their work is based on the facts preserved by the BD, and it is not John. I agree with those who think it is an odd puzzle for the reader, one who we cannot be sure is familiar with Mark, Luke, Matthew, and Acts and Paul's letters. We can't be sure how prominent John is in their recollections of Christ.

    You must also consider that if some one out side the twelve was a follower of Jesus and an evangelist, that those congregations who knew him would not necessarily down play his involvement in favour of one of the 12 that they did not know personally. The man they called the Beloved Disciple, need not be someone who became famous to later generations.

    How many earlier Christians regarded Apollos to be far more important to Paul? Or how the Gospels never hint at how powerful James, brother of Jesus will be later.

    If another follower of Jesus had written a gospel perhaps with much of the common source of Mark or Mark, and "John" used that as the Narrative that he hangs his theological teaching on, it might do to point that out to the reader, especially if they know and trust him. While the greater Christian worlds may not know him, he could have been a vital person to this community, their Paul.

    He may well have been someone who was present on Jesus' last day, meaning John does use some primary material(though only part of it, the theory I heard about suggested that Bd lived at the house in Jerusalem Jesus used for the last supper, so he might be absent for the Galilean Material).

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Thanks, Vir. What are you referring to here?

  24. Just discovered NT pod and going back through old episodes.

    I disagree with lots of Dr Goodacres comments on John.

    I think the reason the writer uses the BD is because the author is John and its both basic humility, and an expression of love - he treasures the fact that Jesus loves him.

    Also, when used in this way the term is not intended as exclusive of other disciples. It's a term of endearment, the same as I might call my wife "my love" and my daughter "darling" and love them both the same.

  25. And;
    - when it comes to Lazarus, I think John is making theological points about resurrection
    - I understand there is reason to believe that Zebedee traded fish in Jerusalem, hence why John was known in Annas' household.

  26. 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)