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Authorship of the Book of John




The Book of Matthew is believed to be written by Matthew himself, one of the best educated of Jesus 12 apostles.

The Book of Mark is believed to be written by John Mark from the stories told him by Peter.

The Book of Luke is believed to be written by Dr. Luke from the stories told him by various believers, especially Paul.

The Book of John is believed to be written by Jesus’ disciple John, but nowhere in the book does it say the author’s name is John.  That is a title that came to be in the second century.  Many of the church fathers of the time called it “the gospel according to John” or “John’s Gospel.”  The strongest evidence for this name comes from Irenaeus, the student of Polycarp who was the student of John. He directly stated that John was the one who leaned on Jesus during the last supper and was the one Jesus Loved. However, Irenaeus is notorious for getting names and dates wrong and simply is not a reliable witness.

There is no place in scriptures that says John is the disciple who Jesus loved. In fact, Jesus had more than 12 disciples. At one point He sent 70 out to minister.  
John 11:5: Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus.
  John 11:3: So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love (Lazarus) is sick."  
  John 11:36: Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him (Lazarus)!"
John is the only book that mentions either Lazarus or “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The others don’t even mention Lazarus’ death or resurrection, the event that evidently led to the Crucifixion.

The Transfiguration is recorded in the other three gospels but not in John. Why? John was at the Transfiguration, why wouldn’t he record it? Maybe the author wasn’t at the event and didn’t really know enough about it to be a witness?
Disciple who He loved reclined on him during last supper. Were only the 12 at that supper?

John 18:15-16: Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

Lazarus (who lived in a suburb of Jerusalem) was well known by the Pharisees. They came to mourn him when he died, before Jesus raised him from the dead.

There is no indication that the High Priest knew john in any way. As a professional fisherman from Galilee, it isn’t really likely.

John 19:25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John, we know, was among those eventually scattered. Lazarus we think was pretty stable in his home life and a better choice to care for Mary.

Then the “other disciple” goes inside the tomb and it is recorded, “He saw and believed” (John 20:8).  At some point later, Mark records that Jesus appeared to the eleven and scolded them for not believing He had risen from the dead.
       Mark 16:14: Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
       It is recorded in John 20 that the “other disciple” believed after having entered the tomb and finding it empty.  Sometime afterwards, Jesus is seen as scolding the eleven for their unbelief.   The eleven would have included John.  Eleven Apostles remained after Judas killed himself shortly after his betrayal of Jesus.
John 21:1Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.a It happened this way: 2Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymusb ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing….7Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
During the fishing trip, it is generally assumed it is John who is the one who tells Peter it is the Lord standing on the shore and, therefore, John must be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  However, there is nothing in this account that identifies John as this disciple.  John has already been implicitly identified by name in that the sons of Zebedee are named as being part of the fishing group.  In view of this, it would appear reasonable to expect that if John is the one who tells Peter “it is the Lord,” John would have been identified by name as the person who said this to Peter.   Yet the writer identifies this person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  May it be more reasonable to conclude that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is one of the two unnamed disciples (not necessarily limited to the 12) who were in the boat and not John, the son of Zebedee?
Of course, Lazarus was from Bethany and they were all in Galilee. What was he doing so far from home? Could he have been just on vacation with them?
John 21:20-24: Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?")  When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

“Some believe this is evidence “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is Lazarus. It is argued that because Lazarus had already died once, it came to be believed that he would not die again.  Therefore, it must be Lazarus who Peter was asking about and it is Lazarus who the brothers concluded would not die.  It’s pointed out that there is no Scriptural reason to conclude the disciples would single out John as a disciple who would not die.

The disciples believed that Christ would return in their lifetimes or shortly after.

Why does Peter have an interest in what is going to happen to this disciple?  Why is Peter questioning Jesus about this disciple as opposed to any of the other disciples present at the time?  Some believe Peter, after being told how he would die, wanted to know what was in store for a disciple who had already died once and was resurrected.  Peter may have been wondering what was to happen to him after his own death.”

The fourth Gospel identifies “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as its author or at least the source for the information presented in this Gospel.

The strongest evidenced in favor of John being the author the testimony of the early Church Fathers.  These men, without apparent exception, see a person named John as the author of the fourth Gospel. 

If indeed the fourth Gospel was written by someone other than the provider of the testimony of what was written, though, why did this writer attribute such testimony to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Why not simply name the person who provided the testimony? 

It’s been suggested by those who believe Apostle John wrote the fourth Gospel that he did not use his name out of a sense of humility.  However, it would not appear to be a sign of humility to single yourself out as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Furthermore, most believe Apostle John wrote the Revelation.  In the Revelation the author is identified as being John five times.  Was John being less humble in the writing the Revelation than he was in writing his Gospel?  It’s to be noted that the three other Gospel writers mention John’s name twenty times but never as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The humility argument in support of John’s authorship appears to be without merit.

Those who believe Lazarus provided the written testimony used to produce the fourth Gospel believe Lazarus didn’t want his name used because he felt it would distract from his focus on Jesus.  While Jesus had become popular and had garnered a significant following, it is apparent from Scriptures we have already cited that Lazarus had become a celebrity in his own right as a consequence of the many witnesses to his resurrection. Therefore, it is believed Lazarus did not want his named used as the source of his testimony pertaining to Jesus. 

While it is true that there are editorial comments in the fourth Gospel that show that the purpose of its author was to focus on what Jesus did and accomplished, it seems odd that the author of this Gospel would hide his identity behind a pseudo name such as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  It is obvious from the Gospel of John that the other disciples of Jesus knew who this disciple was.  His name wasn’t “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  He had a name.

As discussed above, it would have been the height of vanity for this disciple to refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  This strongly indicates an editor was involved in writing the fourth Gospel and it was this editor who designated the one who provided the material for this Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  

There is some historical evidence that a man named John the Presbyter, also known as John the Elder, may have been the one who wrote the fourth Gospel and that is why the Church Fathers believe it was a John who authored this Gospel.  Some believe John the Elder took written material presented by Lazarus and, along with his own editorial notes, formatted the fourth Gospel.  However, there is no sound evidence to support this conclusion.