It never comes into my mind to find out who was the loved disciple, until one sister in Christ asked me. I always considered that he was the apostle John. However, the task to relate this character to John – one of the sons of Zebedee and James’ brother- is complicated.
Who was the loved disciple?
This peculiar disciple appears in the John, in the last supper laying down against Jesus Christ’s chest and he is asking who of all of them will betray him (John 13:21-26); He is mentioned at the same time, standing near to the cross and separated of the rest, beside to the Jesus Christ’s mother (John 19: 26-27). Then, he is located next to Peter, running to the sepulcher the one that they found empty (John 20: 1-10).
Later, during the third and last Jesus Christ’s appearance – already resurrect (John 21: 20-22) – the rest of the disciples ask to Jesus Christ about the destiny of the loved disciple. Jesus answers in enigmatic way up to the point of, that among the apostles run the voice that he will never die (John 21:23). Probably, in some opinions, John 1: 35-40 is referring to the loved disciple the same as in John 18:15.
The task of identifying him sharps controversies. A feminist interpretation presumes him as a woman (Schniedeers, Sandra M (1998). Because of the woman’s testimony: reexamining the issue of authorship in the Fourth Gospel. New Testament Studies).
Others hold that he was one priest that follows to Jesus but he couldn’t be always present at the ministry of Jesus due his sacerdotal task. Hugh J. Schonfield, who postulates the theory, he suspects that it was somebody linked to the Temple, due the lack of information of the trips of Jesus Christ to Galilee in contrast with the abundance of records about the last week of life in Jerusalem. Beside John 18:15 seems to indicate that he had one friendly relationship with the high priest.
Others directly give up and state that we will never know if the loved disciple was John (see R.E. Brown (1966) The Gospel according to John, 2 vol. Doubleday (Garden City, Nueva York). This author accepted in first moment that John, the son of Zebedee and the loved disciple were the same person, but later withdraw himself and he confirmed that the identity of the loved disciple will be always unknown.
What did the fathers of the church think?
Ireneo de Lyon (Adversus Haereses II, 22,5; Adversus Haereses III, ); Saint Augustine ( Comments in John LXI, 4); San Juan Crisóstomo, San Gregorio y Beda identify him with John, The disciple of the Lord.
“John, the disciple of the Lord that was laying down in his chest, edited in John when he lived in Ephesus”.
Ireneo, Adversus Haereses III, 1, 1
“ All the priests that had met with john in Asia, the disciple of the Lord, give testimony that John had transmitted this, because he was with them until the period of Trajan”.
Ireneo, Adversus Haereses II, 22, 5
Since Ireneo de Lyon was admitted that the author of the forth gospel was the apostle John, the son of Zebedees. This statement was supported in unanimous way since the year 200 thru all the antiquity and it was affirm until the 18th century, when the critic deny that the gospel belongs to one apostolic source and it assigned to authors of the 2nd or 3rd century.
The most antique text that is conserve from the New Testament, one fragment of one page of the papyrus scroll codex date towards the 125 a.c. and that is conserve in the University of Manchester after it was found in Egypt, it contains some verses of John 18. There are another antiques fragments that allows deducing that the work of John had high regard among the first Christians. Justino Martir is referred to John as “one of the memories of the apostles”.
The gnostic of the 2nd century as Basilides, Heracleon and Valentino quote this gospel accepting that the author was John. In spite of this, the critics of the high critic don’t accept these evidences and they insist that the Gospel of John do not belong to him but it is work of some witness or someone else that helped him in his writing.
Marie-Emile Boismard said, one of the members of the Biblical School and French archeological of Jerusalem:
“We already see in the first middle of the 2nd century that many authors know and use the forth gospel: San Ignacio de Antioquia, the author of Odas de Salomon, Papias, San Justino, and maybe the same San Clemente de Roma: All this is prove that the gospel enjoy the apostolic authority already.
The first explicit testimony is from San Ireneo, toward the 180 ( ….) Almost around the same period, Clemente de Alejandria, Tertuliano y the canon of Muratori gives also formally the forth gospel to John the apostle. If it was possible to collect contrary opinion among the 2nd – 3rd. centuries, is the one that some reacts against the “spirituals” Montanism, who use the gospel of John with tendentious purpose.
But this opposition is reduce to nothing, and, based in theological reasons, it doesn’t have any root in the tradition. “By the rest, there’s nothing in the same gospel that is opposed to this tradition: at the contrary. We already see that the gospel is presented under the warranty of one loved disciple of the Lord, eyeball witness of the facts that relate.
Its language and its style express its origin demonstrably Semitic: It is seemed perfectly to the current Jewish habits, just like the Palestine topography in the period of Jesus Christ. It seems linked with special friendship to Peter, and Luke inform us that, indeed, it was the case of the apostle John.”
And if it was Lazarus?
The identification of the loved disciple with Lazarus from Bethany start by assuming that in any other place of the forth canonical gospel is indicating the identity of himself.
Who supports that was Lazarus, based their arguments in the chapter in which talk about the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany, in which is observed a triple indication that he was loved by Jesus in special way: “Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” (John 11:3); “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” (John 11:5); “Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:35-36).
To these texts is added the expression put in Jesus’ mouth to designate to Lazarus: “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep…” (John 11:11). In the same line, Sanders thinks that Lazarus’ resurrection can have influence on the idea of the rest of the disciples that this man will never die. (John 21:22). (See Sanders, J.N. (1957). «Who was the Disciple whom Jesus loved». En Cross, F.L. Studies in the Fourth Gospel. London (England): A. R. Mowbray. pp. 72-82).
By the manner in which is written the gospel, the writer was or in person witness of the facts or someone else wrote taking into account what the witness referred. (John 1:14; John 19:35; John 21:24). To the loved disciple is mentioned in the gospels as one person close to the apostles. This don’t dismiss that himself was the apostle.
Was John the apostle?
Jesus during his ministry, gave the impression of having special treatment t to three apostles in peculiar: Peter, John and James (Marcus 5: 37,9,2;14,33). Well then: Peter could not be the loved disciple because is identifying as someone different. (John 13: 23-24; 20: 2-10; 21, 20). James the older is not as well since he was killed by order of Agripa I toward the year 44 (Acts 12:2) In contrast with the loved disciple who by long-standing, it reaches the fame to be immortal (John 21:23).
This disciple had also, be close to the group near to Jesus. Participated in the Last Supper where it just have access the twelve disciples (Luke 22:14) ; It has close friendship with Peter (John 13: 23; 20: 2-9; Acts 3: 1-9; 4: 1-13; 8: 14-15). According to this detail, the loved disciple could be one apostle and between them, John.
John the apostle, just as the majority of the personalities of the first Christian community, do not verify the sources of the 1st century that they weren’t the neo-testamentary written. The major part of the information about Apostle John comes from the application of the historic-critic method (that is, the scientific process of investigating the transmission, developing and origin of one text known as High critic). It is added to this academic contribution, the analysis of the document from the time of the fathers of the church, including written traditions and oral traditions that many times differ between them.
The lutheran teologist Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) referred that the John gospel is one of the big Christians enigmas. The protestant chair Charles Harold Dodd (1884 -1973) thought in ensuring agreement that, John is the key to understand the primitive Christianity.
Who was John?
In his beginning, he worked as fisherman for his father company Zebedees who procreate him with a woman called Salome. Before to met the Messiah, John had followed the sermons of John the Baptist. Then with Jesus already He goes with Jesus to Galilee and he was at the Wedding of Canaan. However, at this moment he wasn’t apostle. Therefore, he followed working in the lake as a fisherman for his father. Finally Jesus called him together with his brother Jacob (Matthew 4:21-22) for later Jesus gave him the naming of apostle. (Matthew 10:2).
It seems to be that both are of strong character – typical of a fisherman- to that extreme that Jesus nicknamed his as Boanerges or son of thunder. (Mark 3:17). In their beginning they had a rebel behavior and provocative due that they had not being renovate by the grace. For example, John felt “Jealousy” reprimanding to one man who did exorcize devil in the name of Jesus without being part of the “team” (Luke 9;49), later, together with Jacob, they reveal their wishes to make rain fire from heaven on a Samaritan town that had denied to receive to Jesus (Luke 9: 52-56) and participated in a riot with mothers and women of the apostles to get the best place near to Jesus at heaven ( Matthew 20:20-24).
Passing the time, John was getting the preference of Jesus to the point that next to Peter were allowed to see the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37), see the transfiguration ( Matthew 17) and the agony of Jesus at the Gethsemane’s garden (Matthew 26:37). Finally, John was in the Calvary mount next to Mary where the Messiah recommended them the care of his mother. (John 19:26-27). After the events of the Ascension passed some time in Jerusalem with the rest followers of Christ and together with Peter, he suffered prison. (Acts 4:19).
Subsequently, he was sent to Samaria with Peter to help to Philip who was already preaching in that place. He was present during the first pursuits against of the Christians in Jerusalem and Paul refers that he saw him in that city after his returning of the first missionary trip (Acts 15; 6; Galatians 2:9). To John is attributed five books in the New Testament, the forth gospel, the Revelation and three Epistles.
The Christian tradition says that this noble apostle was the one that do not suffered martyrdom and that he died of advanced age in Ephesus, the city where he lived after the arrival of the power of the Nerva emperor who gave him temporary liberty to the Christian to live their faith. Polycarp ensures that John stayed in Asia Minor till his death during the Trajan Empire.