DID THE APOSTLE JOHN REALLY WRITE “THE GOSPEL OF JOHN?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
“Tradition teaches that John is the author of ‘The Gospel of John’ yet it really doesn’t clearly prove he was. A closer study of this gives far more weight to Lazarus. Brother Brasseaux, what are your thoughts here?”
Yes, brother, while commonly called “the Gospel according to Saint John,” we cannot ascertain with certainty the identity of the writer of this fourth Gospel Record of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. As in the case of the book of Hebrews, “John’s Gospel” merely opens with a reference to God (while God the Holy Spirit is the Author, the human writer He used remained anonymous).
What makes the “Gospel of John” unique is its frequent usage of the term “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” That phrase appears five times in our King James Bible:
- John 13:23 says, “Now there was leaning Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.” This person leaned on Jesus’ breast at the so-called “Last Supper.” Reclining in this position indicates that he was a very close friend of Jesus.
- This disciple “whom he loved” was the one to whom Jesus, when dying on Calvary’s cross, entrusted Mary His mother (John 19:26).
- The disciple “whom Jesus loved” also ran with Peter to Jesus’ empty tomb after Mary Magdalene relayed the news of the resurrection (John 20:2-6).
- John 21:7 says that this disciple “whom Jesus loved” was in the boat with Peter. This disciple told Peter that the resurrected Lord Jesus was standing on the shore.
- At the conclusion of this fourth Gospel Record, the writer reveals that he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20-25): “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.”
If we could somehow determine the identity of this “disciple whom Jesus loved,” then we would know who wrote what is commonly called “John’s Gospel.”
WAS IT LAZARUS?
Yes, as you mentioned, some people suggest that Lazarus was in fact the author of “the Gospel of John.” They say this in light of verses such as John 11:5, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Another verse is found in John 11:35-36, when Jesus went to Lazarus’ sealed tomb: “ Jesus wept.  Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” Other than these verses, I am not sure what else in Scripture would be suggestive that Lazarus was the writer of the Bible’s fourth Gospel Record. If these verses lead you to believe Lazarus wrote “John Gospel,” I certainly would not fault you.
OR, WAS IT JOHN?
The more common, and traditional, view is that John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and thus he is seen as the writer of the fourth Gospel Record. All four Gospel Records—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—were not attributed to a specific writer until about the second century A.D. (several decades after they were written). People, especially “scholars,” have argued and continue to debate over the identity of the writers and dates of the penning of the Four Gospel Records. If it is to be of faith, we need to find a verse and believe the verse (Romans 10:17). We are not really interested in what “scholarship” says (Luke 10:21; 1 Corinthians 1:19-31; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16). We are interested in believing what the Bible says.
WHAT I KNOW THUS FAR
When discussing whether the Apostle John or Lazarus wrote “John’s Gospel,” I cannot help but go back to Galatians 2:9. It is fascinating that Galatians 2:9 lists Israel’s apostles as “James, Cephas, and John” (“Cephas” is Jesus’ name for Peter; John 1:42). Usually, in the “Four Gospels,” we find the order as, “Peter, James, and John” (Jesus’ “inner circle” of apostles). Why this order of “James, Cephas, and John?”
Regarding the Bible canon’s final nine books, it is fascinating that we find the following order: Hebrews; James; 1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2, & 3 John; Jude; and Revelation. In Galatians 2:9, could the Holy Spirit through Paul be hinting as to the anticipated order of the Hebrew epistles in the New Testament’s canon? Was the Holy Spirit signifying to us in Galatians 2:9 what books would be added later to the Bible? (I say this because there are many places in the Bible where additional Bible books were hinted at, although these additional books would not be written until decades or centuries later. It is beyond the scope of this study, but it is fascinating that the Old Testament prophets’ writings predicted exactly four Gospel Records and the book of Proverbs foresaw the nine Hebrew books of Hebrews through Revelation.)
The writer of “John’s Gospel;” and the writer of 1, 2, & 3 John; are probably the same person. In fact, 2 John and 3 John are addendums to 1 John. These four books of “John” (including the Gospel Record) read very similar, as if all written by the same human individual.
Firstly, John’s Gospel (1:1) and 1 John (1:1) begin by calling Jesus the “Word.” No other Bible writer does this. John’s Gospel and 1, 2, & 3 John all focus on God’s love (cf. John 3:16 with 1 John 3:16). They all emphasize God’s love for people and believers’ love for their brethren and believers’ love toward God. We would expect these themes from the writings of “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (Compare John 3:16; John 11:5,36; John 13:1; John 13:34-35; John 14:15,21,23; John 15:9-19.) (Compare 1 John 3:1,11-23 and 1 John 4:7-21.) (Compare 2 John 5-6.) (Compare 3 John 6.) These parallels cannot be dismissed as “coincidences.” The Holy Spirit had the “disciple whom Jesus loved” pen very much material about love—God’s love for man, believers’ love for each other, and believers’ love for God.
THE ENIGMATIC TITLE, “THE DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED,” EXPLAINED
Brother, here is what I think is most important about this issue. God chose not to conclusively reveal the identities of the writers of the four Gospel Records. Rather than focusing on discovering the identity of the person who wrote “John’s Gospel,” I have come to appreciate and understand the title of that person, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Did not Jesus love all of His disciples? Yes, but this disciple (whoever it was) had a greater consciousness of God’s love for him, than the other believers had awareness of God’s love for them. This disciple seemed to be the most spiritual and most mature of the disciples of Christ’s earthly ministry. As mentioned earlier, “John’s Gospel,” and the three books near the end of the Bible’s canon—1 John, 2 John, and 3 John—have love (especially God’s love) as a primary theme. The same person who wrote “John’s Gospel” also wrote these three epistles. That believer was aware of God’s love for him, so he would write extensively about God’s love demonstrated to us at Calvary. He would (and did) write about believers’ love for other believers and believers’ love for God.
Honestly, I do not spend too much time concerned with the identity the writer of John’s Gospel. Maybe it was John; maybe it was Lazarus. Perhaps Galatians 2:9 holds the key to the matter? Perhaps John chapter 11 holds the answer? Regardless, I refer to the fourth Gospel Record as “John’s Gospel” simply because that is its common name, and that is how people usually identify it. I want those people I teach to be “on the same page” with me when I am teaching (sorry for the pun!). Just remember, if we start calling it “the Gospel of Lazarus,” someone may just get the wrong idea and assume we are referring to pseudepigrapha (= “false writings claiming to be Scripture,” such as “the Gospel of Judas,” “the Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” et cetera). It would probably be best to use its traditional title (since the Bible is not clear on the subject).
What I always try to focus on is that the writer of that Gospel Record had an acute mental awareness of how great God’s love for him really was. He did not bother to brag about his love for God. His love for God was weak and fickle. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” was so caught up in God’s super-abounding, unconditional, unending love for him that it dominated his life and thinking.
In Christ, we enjoy that same love of God. We can be reminded of “His great love wherewith he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). Through simple faith alone in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork at Calvary alone, we can experience God’s wonderful, unending, unconditional, abounding love for and toward us. If we would simply study what the Bible says about God and His love demonstrated to us at Calvary (try Romans 5:1-11, for example), and simply set our minds on those truths, you and I can be “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” too! 🙂
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