Disciple whom Jesus loved
The phrase the disciple whom Jesus loved (Greek: ὁ μαθητὴς ὃν ἠγάπα ὁ Ἰησοῦς, ho mathētēs hon ēgapā ho Iēsous) or, in John 20:2, the Beloved Disciple (Greek: ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, hon ephilei ho Iēsous) is used five times in the Gospel of John, but in no other New Testament accounts of Jesus. John 21:24 claims that the Gospel of John is based on the written testimony of the "Beloved Disciple".
Since the end of the 1st century, the Beloved Disciple has been considered to be John the Evangelist. Scholars have debated the authorship of the Johannine works (the Gospel of John, First, Second, and Third epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation) since at least the 3rd century, but especially since the Enlightenment. Some modern scholars now believe that he wrote none of them. Opinions continue to be divided, however, and other renowned theological scholars continue to accept the traditional authorship. Colin G Kruse states that since John the Evangelist has been named consistently in the writings of early church fathers, "it is hard to pass by this conclusion, despite widespread reluctance to accept it by many, but by no means all, modern scholars." Thus, the true identity of the author of the Gospel of John remains a subject of considerable debate.
The disciple whom Jesus loved is referred to, specifically, six times in John's gospel:
- It is the Beloved Disciple who, while reclining beside Jesus at the Last Supper, asks Jesus, after being requested by Peter to do so, who it is that will betray him.[Jn 13:23-25]
- Later at the crucifixion, Jesus tells his mother, "Woman, here is your son", and to the Beloved Disciple he says, "Here is your mother."[Jn 19:26-27]
- When Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb, she runs to tell the Beloved Disciple and Peter. The two men rush to the empty tomb and the Beloved Disciple is the first to reach the empty tomb. However, Peter is the first to enter.[Jn 20:1-10]
- In John 21, the last chapter of the Gospel of John, the Beloved Disciple is one of seven fishermen involved in the miraculous catch of 153 fish.[Jn 21:1-25] 
- Also in the book's final chapter, the Beloved Disciple is the subject of the reprimand given to Simon Peter by Jesus when Simon Peter dares to question the Beloved Disciple's continued presence.[John 21:20-23]
- Finally, again in the gospel's last chapter, it states that the very book itself is based on the written testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved.[John 21:24]
None of the other Gospels has anyone in the parallel scenes that could be directly understood as the Beloved Disciple. For example, in Luke 24:12, Peter alone runs to the tomb. Mark, Matthew and Luke do not mention any one of the twelve disciples having witnessed the crucifixion.
John the Apostle
A major difficulty in supposing that the Beloved Disciple was not one of the Twelve Apostles is that the Beloved Disciple was apparently present at the Last Supper which Matthew and Mark state that Jesus ate with the Twelve. Thus the most frequent identification is with John the Apostle, thought by many to be the same as John the Evangelist. Merril F. Unger presents the prima facie case that the "Beloved Disciple" actually is John the author of the gospel, essentially by using a process of elimination. Unger writes:
[John's identification and authorship]...can be deduced in a general sense from the [following] facts. He indicates the precise hours when particular events took place (John 1:39; ; ). He records quotations of the disciple Philip (John 6:7; ), Thomas (John 11:16, ), Judas (not iscariot) (John 14:22), and Andrew (John 6:8-9). He leaned on the breast of Jesus at supper on the night of the betrayal (John 13:23-25) and was among the three 'inner circle' apostles, Peter, James, and John. Peter is distinguished from this author by name in ; and James had become a martyr very early, long before the Gospel was written (Acts 12:2). He has a particular way of introducing himself (John 13:23; ; ; ). These facts cumulatively make it difficult to come to any other conclusion, but that John was the author of the Gospel which bears his name.
The closing words of John's Gospel state explicitly concerning the Beloved Disciple that "It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true."[21:24]
As for early Church opinions on the disciple's identification, a 2nd-century quote of Polycrates of Ephesus (c. 130s - 196), recorded by Eusebius in his Church History, supports the classical identification of the Beloved Disciple, who reclined beside Jesus at the Last Supper, with John.
Modern scholarly opinions on all these interrelated questions vary considerably. A popular scholarly opinion is that John the Apostle did not write the Gospel of John or any of the other New Testament works traditionally ascribed to him, making this linkage of a 'John' to the beloved disciple difficult to sustain. Yet, other contemporary Christian scholars consider it plausible or even likely that the Apostle John authored the gospel attributed to him.
Some interpreters have suggested a homoerotic interpretation of Christ's relationship with the Beloved Disciple, but the majority of mainstream Biblical scholars find no hard scriptural evidence to this effect. That such an interpretation of a physical erotic relationship did exist as early as the 16th century (albeit in a heretical context) is documented, for example, in the trial for blasphemy of Christopher Marlowe accused of claiming that "St. John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma". In accusing Marlowe of the "sinful nature" of homosexual acts, James I of England inevitably invited comparisons between his own erotic relationship with the Duke of Buckingham. Finally, Calcagno, a citizen of Venice faced trial in 1550 for claiming that "St. John was Christ's catamite".
The Beloved Disciple has also been identified with Lazarus of Bethany, based on John 11:5: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus". John 11:3 is also relevant: "Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick."
Another school of thought has proposed that the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John really was originally Mary Magdalene. To make this claim and maintain consistency with scriptures, the theory is suggested that Mary's separate existence in the two common scenes with the Beloved Disciple[Jn 19:25-27][20:1-11] were later modifications, hastily done to authorize the gospel in the late 2nd century. Both scenes are claimed to have inconsistencies both internally and in reference to the synoptic Gospels, possibly coming from rough editing to make Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple appear as different persons.
In the Gospel of Mary, part of the New Testament apocrypha—specifically the Gnostic gospels uncovered at Nag Hammadi—a certain Mary who is commonly identified as Mary Magdalene, is constantly referred to as being loved by Jesus more than the others. In the Gospel of Philip, another Gnostic Nag Hammadi text, the same is specifically said about Mary Magdalene. For example, compare these passages from the Gospel of John and the apocryphal Gospel of Philip:
Gospel of Philip: There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
Gospel of John: 25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.[Jn 19:25-27]
The Talpiot Tomb discovered in 1980 is postulated by some to be the tomb of Jesus and his family. It contained 10 sets of remains, and one of a child with the inscription "Judah, son of Jesus". The Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, speculated that the "Beloved Disciple" was Judah.
Unknown priest or disciple
Passover Plot author Hugh J. Schonfield imagined the Disciple to be a highly placed priest in the Temple and unavailable to follow Jesus in his ministry in the north. Schonfield uses this theory to account for the Beloved Disciple's absence in the north and accounts of Jesus' ministry in the Temple during the week before the Crucifixion.
Brian J. Capper argues that the Beloved Disciple was an aristocratic, priestly member of an 'ascetic quarter', located on Jerusalem's prestigious southwest hill, who had hosted Jesus' last supper in that location. This ascetic group owed its origins to the political manoeuvrings of Herod the Great and consequent friendliness of the Herodian house to the Essenes from the height of Herod the Great's reign to the demise of his son Archelaus in AD 10. This group was no longer connected with nor allegiant to the 'council of the community' of the Qumran Essene community by the time of Jesus' interactions with the Beloved Disciple, who may himself, by taking an interest in the preaching and activity of John the Baptist, have formed a link between Jesus, Jerusalem aristocratic asceticism and the disciples of John the Baptist. Capper cites the Oxford scholar D.E.H. Whiteley, who 'engagingly deduced' that the Beloved Disciple was the host at the last supper from the seating arrangements at Jewish meals:
...at a formal meal the host reclined on his left arm, as they [the guests] all did, in the centre of a rough horse-shoe. The guest of honour, in this case Jesus, reclined to the left of the host, and the guest next in precedence to the right of his host. Because the 'placings' overlapped, each reclined in the 'bosom' (kolpon) of the person on his left. In [Gospel of John] 13:23 we read that in the kolpon there reclined one of his disciples whom he loved, presumably his host. Peter, reclining to the right of his host, beckoned to him to ask Jesus who it was that was going to betray him as Jesus had prophesied in 13:21 above. In answer to his host's question, presumably whispered, Jesus answered that it was the disciple to whom he would give the sop, pswmion, which he would dip, bapsw. It would be much easier for Jesus to do so without attracting attention if Judas, being treasurer of the twelve, and therefore counting as third in precedence, after Jesus and Peter, were reclining in the third most honourable place, to the left of his master.'
This explanation of the conversation of John 13:21-23 rules out the possibility that Jesus himself had occupied, as host, the central position at table. In this case, Peter would have been seated to Jesus' left, but the Beloved Disciple to Jesus' right, lying into Jesus' chest. In that arrangement, Peter, absurdly, would have to lean forward, across Jesus, to convey the Beloved Disciple's question to Jesus. Conversely, the seating arrangement suggested by Whiteley works very well for passing on the question at low volume. Peter leaned back into the Beloved Disciple's chest, to whisper his question to the Beloved Disciple, in the position of host, who in turn leaned back to put quietly the question to Jesus. The answer was passed back, quietly and so out of the hearing of others at table, by the same means in reverse, Jesus leaning forward to whisper to the Beloved Disciple, and the Beloved Disciple leaning forward to whisper quietly to Peter. Whiteley's explanation also fits well with the other data in the Gospel which connect the Beloved Disciple to Jerusalem, most especially the fact that Jesus could, in chapter 19, from the cross pass his mother into the care of the Beloved Disciple, which would make most sense if the Beloved Disciple had charge of premises in Jerusalem (unlike the Galilean disciples, who do not figure in this transfer).
The British scholar Richard Bauckham reaches the similar conclusion that the beloved disciple, who also authored the gospel attributed to John, was probably a literally sophisticated member of the (surprisingly extensive) high priestly family clan.
The author may also have been a lesser known disciple, perhaps from Jerusalem.
Both Lazarus, and Martha’s son
Frederick Baltz asserts that the Lazarus identification, the evidence suggesting that the Beloved Disciple was a priest, and the ancient John tradition are all correct. Baltz says the family of the children of Boethus, known from Josephus and Rabbinic literature, is the same family we meet in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary of Bethany. This is a beloved family, according to John 11:5. The historical Lazarus was Eleazar son of Boethus, who was once Israel’s High Priest, and from a clan that produced several High Priests. The Gospel’s author, John, was not a member of the Twelve, but the son of Martha (Sukkah 52b). He closely matches the description given by Bishop Polycrates in his letter, a sacrificing priest who wore the petalon (i.e., emblem of the High Priest). This John "the Elder" was a follower of Jesus referred to by Papias, and an eyewitness to his ministry. He was the right age to have lived until the time of Trajan (according to Irenaeus). Baltz says John is probably the disciple ον ηγαπα ο Ιησους, and Eleazar is the disciple ον εφιλει ο Ιησους in the Gospel.
Jesus' brother James
James D. Tabor argues that the beloved disciple is Jesus' brother James. One of several pieces of evidence Tabor offers is a literal interpretation of John 19:26, "Then when Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, Woman, behold your son." However, elsewhere in that gospel,[John 21:7] the beloved disciple refers to the risen Jesus as 'the Lord' rather than as 'my brother'.
According to Laura Sheahen:
...The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary was a virgin all her life, even after the birth of Jesus. ...Catholics may be troubled by evidence corroborating scriptural accounts that Mary gave birth to additional children—including James, the "brother of the Lord". Several New Testament passages refer to Jesus' siblings. In Matthew 13:55-56, villagers are skeptical of Jesus' powers, saying: "Is not this the carpenter's son? ...Are not his brothers James and Joseph Simon and Judas? Are not his sisters with us?" ... Many Catholic scripture experts have contended that the Greek word "adelphos", used in the New Testament passages which describe Jesus' brothers, can mean a cousin, not necessarily a blood brother. Eastern Orthodox Christians reconcile the discrepancy by affirming that Joseph had children by a previous marriage; these would have been Jesus' step-siblings nominally, if not biologically." ...The common Protestant view is that Mary was a virgin before Jesus' birth, but that afterwards she and Joseph had natural children, who would have been Jesus' younger siblings. In Matthew 1:25, Jesus is called Mary's "firstborn son," an expression which many contend was used by Jews only if other children were born after the first one; otherwise, "only son" would have been used.
Reasons for concealing the identity by name
Theories about the reference usually include an attempt to explain why this anonymizing idiom is used at all, rather than stating an identity.
Suggestions accounting for this are numerous. One common proposal is that the author concealed his name due simply to modesty, even though calling him/herself the "beloved" disciple may not sound that humble. Another is that concealment served political or security reasons, made necessary by the threat of persecution or embarrassment during the time of the gospel's publication. The author may have been a highly placed person in Jerusalem who was hiding his affiliation with Christianity (see above reference to Richard Bauckham). Capper (see above reference) suggests that anonymity would have been appropriate for one living the withdrawn life of an ascetic, and that under the unnamed disciples of the Gospel may be present either the Beloved Disciple himself or others under his guidance who out of the humility of their ascetic commitment hid their identity or subsumed their witness under that of their spiritual master.
Martin L. Smith, a member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, writes that the author of John's gospel may have deliberately obscured the identity of the Beloved Disciple in order that readers of the gospel may better identify with the disciple's relationship with Jesus:
Perhaps the disciple is never named, never individualized, so that we can more easily accept that he bears witness to an intimacy that is meant for each one of us. The closeness that he enjoyed is a sign of the closeness that is mine and yours because we are in Christ and Christ is in us."
The idea of a beloved or special disciple is sometimes evoked in analysis of other texts from the New Testament Pseudepigrapha. In the Gospel of Thomas, Judas Thomas is the disciple taken aside by Jesus. In the Gospel of Judas, Judas Iscariot is favored with privy enlightening information and set apart from the other apostles. Another more recent interpretation draws from the Secret Gospel of Mark, existing only in fragments. In this interpretation, two scenes from Secret Mark and one at Mark 14:51-52 feature the same young man or youth who is unnamed but seems closely connected to Jesus. As the account in Secret Mark details a raising from the dead very similar to Jesus' raising of Lazarus in John 11:38-44, the young man is identified as Lazarus and associated with the Beloved Disciple.
In art, the Beloved Disciple is often portrayed as a beardless youth, usually as one of the Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper or with Mary at the crucifixion. In some medieval art, the Beloved Disciple is portrayed with his head in Christ's lap. Many artists have given different interpretations of John 13:25 which has the disciple whom Jesus loved "reclining next to Jesus" (v. 23; more literally, "on/at his breast/bosom," en to kolpo).
- John 13:23, , , ,
- Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History Book vi. Chapter xxv.
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985) p. 355
- Kruse, Colin G.The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary, Eerdmans, 2004, ISBN 0-8028-2771-3, p. 28.
- James D. G. Dunn and John William Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, p. 1210, ISBN 0-8028-3711-5.
- Brown, Raymond E. 1970. "The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi)". New York: Doubleday & Co. Pages 922, 955.
- Matthew 26:20 and Mark 14:17
- "'beloved disciple.'" Cross, F. L., ed. (2005) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; 3rd ed., revised by Elizabeth A. Livingstone. New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-280290-9
- Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody, 1988; p. 701
- Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24:2
- as Hahn, Scott (2003). The Gospel of John: Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-89870-820-2.
- Morris, Leon (1995). The Gospel according to John. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-8028-2504-9.
- Martti Nissinen, Kirsi Stjerna, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective, 2007.
- Ed. Wayne Dynes, Encyclopaedia of Homosexuality, New York, 1990, pp. 125-126.
- Tilborg suggests that the portrait in John is "positively attuned to the development of possibly homosexual behaviour". However, he cautions that "in the code... such imaginary homosexual behaviour is not an expression of homosexality." Meanwhile Dunderberg has also explored the issue and argues that the absence of accepted Greek terms for "lover" and "beloved" discounts a purely erotic reading: Stej Tilborg, Imaginative Love, 247-248 and p.109, 1993, Netherlands; Ismo Dunderberg, The Beloved Disciple in conflict?: Revisiting the Gospels of Thomas and John, Oxford University Press, 2006, p.176
- M. J. Trow, Taliesin Trow, Who Killed Kit Marlowe?: A Contract to Murder in Elizabethan England, London, 2002, p125
- King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire. University Of Iowa Press, 1999.
- Scott Tucker, The queer question: essays on desire and democracy South End Press, 1999.
- Dynes also makes a link to the modern day where in 1970s New York a popular religious group was established called the "Church of the Beloved Disciple", with the intention of giving a positive reading of the relationship to support respect for same-sex love.
- W.R.F. Browning, A Dictionary of the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 207. See also F.V. Filson, J.N. Sanders, W.H. Brownlee, V. Eller, M.W.G. Stibbe, B. Witherington III
- King, Karen L. Why All the Controversy? Mary in the Gospel of Mary. “Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition” p. 74. F. Stanley Jones, ed. Brill, 2003
- See http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html
- NHC II.3.59.6-11 (Robinson 1988: 145)
- Hugh J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot
- 'With the Oldest Monks...' Light from Essene History on the Career of the Beloved Disciple?, Journal of Theological Studies 49 (1998) pp. 1–55
- D.E.H. Whiteley, 'Was John written by a Sadducee?, Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.25.3 (ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, Berlin: De Gruyter, 1995), pp. 2481–2505, this quotation from p. 2494
- Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8028-3162-0
- Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition). Chapter 2. Christian sources about Jesus.
- Baltz, Frederick. The Mystery of the Beloved Disciple: New Evidence, Complete Answer. Infinity Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-0741462053
- Tabor, James D. The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. Simon & Schuster (2006) ISBN 978-0-7432-8724-1
- Sheahen, Laura. "Jesus' Siblings: A Bone of Contention for Catholics". http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2002/10/Jesus-Siblings-A-Bone-Of-Contention-For-Catholics.aspx
- Smith, Martin L., SSJE (1991). "Lying Close to the Breast of Jesus". A Season for the Spirit (Tenth anniversary edition ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications. p. 190. ISBN 1-56101-026-X.
- Rodney A. Whitacre,"Jesus Predicts His Betrayal." IVP New Testament Commentaries, Intervarsity Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-8308-1800-6
- Baltz, Frederick W. The Mystery of the Beloved Disciple: New Evidence, Complete Answer. Infinity Publishing, 2010. ISBN 0-7414-6205-2.
- Charlesworth, James H. The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?. Trinity Press, 1995. ISBN 1-56338-135-4.
- Smith, Edward R. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved: Unveiling the Author of John's Gospel. Steiner Books/Anthroposophic Press, 2000. ISBN 0-88010-486-4.