AUTHORSHIP OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL:
Who done it?
Today’s study is a bit of a detective case; in fact you can act as the jury.
As a member of a jury, it is important that you lay aside any emotional prejudice and presuppositions you may have regarding the case. Your job is simply to weigh the evidence presented, and arrive at a verdict based on the evidence alone.
We will be only calling Two Witnesses to the stand; the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.
We will not be calling scholars, tradition or popular belief to the stand; as the Word of God is the only trustworthy witness in matters of truth and righteousness.
When this case was first brought to my attention, my first reaction was ‘no way, what a load of nonsense’. Unfortunately, this initial response was based solely on emotion, and had nothing to do with the facts or evidence which I subsequently investigated.
The Biblical evidence forced me to look at this issue in a whole new light.
Because new ideas challenge tradition, they are often mocked or simply dismissed. However, unless man has discovered all of the truth in the Bible, then we should always be open to the possibility that God may, at times, have something new to teach us.
I am not a judge, and will not be enforcing a verdict on this case. The goal is to simply lay out the evidence, for your enlightenment; not for the purpose of enforcing any conclusive verdict.
You may or may not go away with a clear conclusion in your own mind; but at least you will have been made aware of the evidence surrounding the case.
Who knows when the Books of the New Testament were compiled?
Most available sources agree on around mid-2nd century.
The compiling of the New Testament; included giving titles to the various books, which consisted of gospels and letters (often called epistles).
For example, when Matthew wrote his gospel account, he didn’t give it a title ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’. These ‘official’ titles were given sometimes many years later, as the various writings were compiled into what we now know as the New Testament.
Today, the authorship of some of the 27 books of the New Testament is still disputed, due to the fact that many of the books do not identify the author within the writings.
For example, although Paul identifies himself as the author in most of his epistles, in Hebrews, traditionally said to be written by Paul; he does not directly identify himself as the author. This causes some to question whether he is in fact the author of Hebrews at all.
Who can tell me who wrote the Gospel of John?
You might say John; but can you give me a ‘proof Scripture’ supporting that conclusion?
You actually can’t, because as with Hebrews, there is none.
Because there is no direct evidence that John claimed to be the author of the fourth gospel; the fact that it came to bear his name is not his fault. The title ‘Gospel of John’ was not written by the gospel’s author; others added that title to this author’s work.
Then, you might say; we know it is John, because he identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
We do know that the true author refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, because in the last chapter we read;
Joh 21:20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper,…
Then a few verses later he states;
Joh 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
That’s great, so we do have confirmation that the author refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
OK, so can you now give me a ‘proof Scripture’ supporting the conclusion that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is referring to John.
Unfortunately, again you can’t, because there is none.
So how can we be sure that John is the true author of the 4th gospel?
Should we trust scholarly tradition alone?
Although this study will question the authorship of the 4th gospel, it is not in any way questioning whether this gospel is inspired of God.
The content of the fourth gospel is true and trustworthy. Nothing presented here casts any doubt whatsoever on the legitimacy of this gospel as inspired Scripture, or its rightful inclusion in the New Testament. In fact, it is the acceptance of this gospel as the inspired Word of God that assists us in identifying the actual author.
There is a person who does fit all that the Bible reveals about this author.
But almost everyone believes the author is John!
Popular opinion can be wrong. Even if ‘everybody’ thinks that something is true, that doesn’t make it so. If ‘all’ the scholars said that the earth is flat, and ridiculed anyone who dared to question their ‘accepted truth’, they would nevertheless be wrong.
There is often a difference between what people think the Bible says, and what it really says.
Truth is not gauged by how many people believe something. In fact Jesus indicates the path of truth that leads to salvation is narrow, and there are few that find it.
Some might say, ‘What difference does it make who wrote it?’
Well, for starters, if the John idea isn’t true, then promoting it, undercuts the authority of Scripture (just like every false idea that men ascribe to God’s word).
In fact, it will be seen that the John tradition actually makes Scripture contradict itself, which the truth cannot do.
The study that gained my attention on this issue, consisted of about 50 pages of detailed evidence. What I am presenting here, will only scratch the surface of the vast amount of detail we could look at; so just let me know if you wish to read the full study.
The study opened with a statement; ‘I have a problem with the Gospel of John. The author never calls himself John. Instead, he always calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, the “other disciple” or “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”’.
So based on these various titles used by the author of the 4th gospel, what are our options?
We know he is a disciple of Jesus, and know from other passages, like 20:5 and 21:21, that he was a male.
So how many disciples did Jesus have?
Luk 10:1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
Luk 6:13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;
So clearly Jesus had many disciples, more than the twelve which He named as Apostles. A disciple can be likened to a student or someone who follows. So, perhaps this “other disciple” uses this title because he was someone else, someone other than “the twelve”.
The God-inspired writer of our fourth gospel was careful not to identify himself by name. We will look at possible reasons for this later. Since he deliberately concealed his identity, then should we not ask why God’s inspired author used cryptic phrases like
“the disciple whom Jesus loved” to refer to himself? Why didn’t he just use his name? Paul was named repeatedly in his books, and John gave his name five times in the Book of Revelation.
The author of the 4th gospel first identifies himself in Chapter 13:23; Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Then he further identifies himself through to the end of the gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, or the “other disciple”.
It is interesting that the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, is not found in the other 3 gospels, or anywhere else in the New Testament. If it is John writing this about himself; then he does not use this phrase in 1st, 2nd or 3rd John, or in the Book of Revelation.
So why would the author of the 4th gospel use this phrase. Is he attempting to completely hide his identity? Or is he writing in such a way that he assumes the reader will know who he is talking about? Or is he using a combination of both?
Maybe, he had already identified himself in the earlier chapters, and it just takes a little more effort to identify him.
Are there any verses prior to chapter 13, identifying someone as being loved by Jesus?
Yes there is;
Joh 11:1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
Joh 11:2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
Joh 11:3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."
Yes, Lazarus is introduced as being loved by Jesus. Then interestingly, it is only AFTER this one whom Jesus loves is introduced; that the author begins to use further phrases such as;
Joh 13:23 Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Joh 19:26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!"
Joh 20:2 Then she (Mary) ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, …
Joh 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
But if Lazarus wrote; Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, …; then why is he writing from a third person perspective?
Well, all the gospel writers use this method; notice how Matthew wrote about himself;
Mat 9:9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
Let’s now look at some of the key moments in the Lazarus story,
Joh 11:1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
Joh 11:2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
Joh 11:3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." ….
Joh 11:5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus….
Joh 11:7 … He said to the disciples, …
Joh 11:11 … "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." …
Joh 11:14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead…
Joh 11:17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days…
Joh 11:21 Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died…
Joh 11:23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." …
Joh 11:32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
Joh 11:33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.
Joh 11:34 And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."
Joh 11:35 Jesus wept.
Joh 11:36 Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"
And you know the rest of the story; Lazarus was raised from the dead.
The author wrote;
‘he whom You love is sick’; ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’;
and ‘See how He loved him’.
So was this the author’s way of presenting himself as the one that Jesus loved?
Only two men in the fourth gospel were explicitly identified as being the object of Jesus’ love,
Lazarus and “the one whom Jesus loved”
The author appears to have a personal connection to the event of Lazarus being raised from the dead.
Why do I say this?
Because it is not mentioned in any of the other 3 gospels!
That’s right, Jesus raised a man from the dead, and the other writers don’t even mention it!
We will later look at why this might be, along with why Lazarus would want to keep his identity masked.
Other strange happenings
The first three gospels all mention three notable events of Jesus’ ministry:
- his transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9, Mk. 9:2-9, Lu. 9:28-36),
- his Gethsemane prayers (Mt. 26:36-46, Mk. 14:32-42, Lu. 22:39-46),
- and his raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mt. 9:18-26, Mk. 5:22-43, Lu. 8:41-56).
Only three disciples were present at these events, and the Apostle John was one of them (Mt. 17:1 & 26:37, Mk. 5:37, 9:2 & 14:33, Lu. 8:51 & 9:28).
Now although John was an eyewitness to all of these events, there is no mention of these key events in the gospel that today bears John’s name! These would surely have been extremely profound moments in John’s life. So what can explain their omission from the fourth gospel, a book that tradition has said was written by John?
Well, if the author was actually Lazarus, and we know from the other 3 gospels that Lazarus wasn’t one of the 3 disciples present; then this would explain Lazarus not writing anything about these significant events.
The three events noted above are just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that every event where John is referred to by name in the first three gospels, is missing from the fourth gospel – every one of them!
For example, John and his brother asked Jesus to seat them “one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory” (Mk. 10:35-41).
But these events are not found in the fourth gospel; because none of the events where John is named in the first three gospels, are in the fourth gospel. Does the omission of all of the ‘John events’ support the idea that the fourth gospel is ‘John’s eyewitness testimony’?
What do we know about John?
We know many things about John: his name; that he was the son of Zebedee and had a brother named James; that he was a fisherman; that he and his brother were partners with Peter, and were there when Jesus healed Peter’s wife’s mother; that John was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus; that John and his brother asked for the seats next to Jesus, and that Jesus surnamed them “Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder”; that John was there at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration, and Jesus’ prayers in the garden; that John and his brother wanted to call fire down from heaven on one group of people, and that Jesus rebuked them for it; that John was the one who told Jesus “we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him”; etc.
(Mt.4:21, 10:2, 17:1, 26:37, Mk.1:19, 1:29-31, 3:17, 5:37, 9:2, 9:38, 10:35, 14:33, Lu.5:10, 6:14, 8:51, 9:28, 9:49, 9:54-55).
Yet, amazingly, none of this information about John can be learned from the gospel that carries his name!
The phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is notable for several reasons, but primarily because it means that his relationship with Jesus was unique. He is set apart from the rest of the disciples of Jesus as “the disciple” (singular) that has the distinction of being identified as the one whom “Jesus loved”.
It differentiates this disciple on the basis of Jesus’ relationship to him. This is not the same as, nor is it portraying, his love for Jesus.
If the Bible refers to someone as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, isn’t it rational to think that this person would have played an important part in Jesus’ life?
Given the uniqueness of this designation, we ought to expect that this “other disciple” would have had a perceptible role in the life of Jesus. Moreover, he absolutely must have interacted with Jesus at some point prior to the Last Supper where he commences describing his presence.
Author’s first recorded interaction with Jesus:
[Fourth gospel 11:1-45 Lazarus raised from the dead]
Fourth gospel 13:21-28 (with Jesus at the supper)
Fourth gospel 18:12-18 (with Jesus at his trial)
Fourth gospel 19:25-27 (with Jesus at the cross)
Fourth gospel 20:1-10 (first man at Jesus’ tomb & first to believe)
Fourth gospel 21:2-24 (first to identify Jesus & author of this gospel)
What is missing?
The most unusual thing about the author is that he seems to appear unexpectedly from out of nowhere. It should arrest our attention that there is no mention of anyone called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” prior to chapter 13. Nor is there any mention of any of the events that John is known to have been involved in (from the other gospels).
No other books of the Bible contain any reference to any person called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. You will not find this phrase outside of this author’s own gospel. As a matter of fact, the other gospel writers avoided mentioning the presence of this “other disciple” even when we know for certain that he was present!
For example, all four gospels note that Peter followed Jesus into the palace of the high priest on the night of Jesus’ arrest. But the first three gospels totally ignore the “other disciple”, who was there and who got Peter through the door.
We know that Peter and the “other disciple” both followed Jesus that night (Fourth gospel 18:15-16). But there is no mention of this “other disciple” in either Matthew 26:58, Mark 14:54, or Luke 22:54-55; all of which tell only of Peter following Jesus that night.
Why would the writers of those gospels purposely omit the presence of the “other disciple”?
And if it was John, why did they not mention that John accompanied Peter?
Why would “the disciple whom Jesus loved” get no visible mention outside of his own gospel?
If we didn’t have his gospel, we would not know about Jesus’ unique relationship with him; nor would we have any way to know that he even existed!
Doesn’t this seem strange to you?
Let’s now look to see what the Bible reveals about John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. We’ll contrast this with what it says about “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. As we do, you may see that the evidence indicates that John and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” were two different people.
How Humble Was the Apostle John?
The belief that John was the author of the fourth gospel is typically defended with this excuse:
‘John didn’t identify himself as the author because he wanted to be humble.’ Is this reasonable?
John named himself five times in the Book of Revelation. Was that a more prideful or less humble thing to do? Surely not. But this contrast doesargue against the idea that the same man also wrote the fourth gospel – John’s identity was repeatedly noted in the Book of Revelation, while in the fourth gospel the identity of the author was repeatedly obscured. Moreover, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is not the most humble-sounding self-description. If it were not part of scripture, the author’s use of this designation might actually seem to be quite immodest. Wouldn’t it have been more humble for this author simply to have used his name, as opposed to identifying himself by repeatedly referring to the fact that Jesus loved him?
(It turns out that the biblical record suggests that the actual author had a good reason to avoid identifying himself by name.)
The notion that humility was the reason that John did not use his name has other shortcomings. Consider what the Bible tells us about John and his brother. Jesus named them “The sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17). We are told that they sought power to call fire down from heaven to consume people (Lu. 9:54). They also proposed that they should be the ones sitting on the right hand and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom (Mk. 10:35-40). Does that sound like humility? Their fellow apostles did not seem to think so.
Of course, this does not mean that John was never humble.
John was named five times in the Book of Revelation and some of the other writers of scripture named themselves in their books, but that does not mean that those men were not humble. In addition, nothing in scripture indicates that the Apostle John had a reason to, or ever tried to, conceal his identity. So, the excuse that says ‘the author of fourth gospel was referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, because John wanted to be humble’ turns out to have no scriptural support.
While the other gospel writers do mention John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is absent from their books. Of all the things attributed to John by these other writers; none of them are Events attributed to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” found in the 4th gospel.
Did the other three gospel writers freely mention John, except for all those times when the fourth gospel happens to mention “the disciple whom Jesus loved”? How could they have known when to leave him out? However, if they knew him and John to be two different people, then this dissimilar treatment is understandable.
Also, Matthew 27:56 tells us that “the mother of Zebedee’s children” was present when Jesus died (but never mentions her son John). Yet “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was at the cross. So, those who say that he was John are forced to believe that this author felt that the presence of John’s mother was worthy of mention but her son the Apostle should be left out of the same account.
Is that reasonable?
In Matthew 20:20, “the mother of Zebedee’s children”, was again mentioned. But there, the author included “her sons” (John and James) and their conversation with Jesus (Mt. 20:20-24). So, since John was included with his mother, when Matthew named her earlier; would he have again named her at Jesus death, while ignoring John’s presence?
If John was not actually present, then what we find in the other gospels makes sense.
A misperception about Jesus’ last Passover has tended to give credence to the idea that John could be the author of the fourth gospel.
Since scripture says that Jesus “cometh with the twelve” (Mk. 14:17) and “sat down” with “the twelve” (Mt. 26:20, Lu. 22:14), many have assumed that the beloved disciple had to be one of “the twelve”. Complicating this, there are also many ‘Last Supper’ paintings that help instil an image in our mind of Jesus seated at a table with “the twelve”, having a private supper with no one else in the room.
Note that the Bible never says “the twelve” were the only ones present with Jesus at that event. Nowhere is it said that they dined alone, nor is there anything to indicate that Jesus’ other disciples were kept away.
The next logical question then becomes, do we find anything in the Bible that implies that others might have been present?
The answer is yes.
First off, consider that Jesus and his disciples were guests in someone else’s home that night.
Do we assume that the occupants of that home were supposed to vacate the premises?
And who did the serving; and who cleaned up?
Moreover, the Bible indicates that Jesus was accustomed to dining with others. The residents of those households where Jesus ate were included, not excluded. We also see this when Jesus was in Bethany six days before that Passover. We are told, “There they made him a supper, and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him” (Fourth gospel 12:2).
Other passages also indicate that Jesus and “the twelve” weren’t alone that night.
In Acts 1:21-26 a replacement for Judas was selected from a group that Peter qualified as;
“men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22).
Clearly then, “the twelve” were not the only ones with Jesus during his earthly ministry!
These words reveal that, besides “the twelve” apostles, other disciples also followed Jesus throughout his ministry.
So, why would we conclude that they were barred from the supper, if they were welcomed before and after it?
Also, in identifying his traitor Jesus said,
“It is one of the twelve that dippeth with me in the dish” (Mk. 14:20).
If “the twelve” were the only ones with Jesus, then why would he need to include the stipulation, “one of the twelve”?
“The twelve” is a limiting term.
If no one else was there, wouldn’t Jesus have said: One of you?
In fact, the only other time that Jesus used the term “the twelve” he did just that. It was when “the twelve” declared their devotion after many “disciples” forsook Jesus; and he responded,
“Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (Fourth gospel 6:66-70).
Jesus also said, “with my disciples”, when he sent word about who would be joining him (Mt. 26:18, Mk. 14:14, Lu. 22:11).
He did not say “the twelve”, and no verse says he excluded those loyal disciples that Peter said,
“companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us” (Acts 1:21).
If Jesus sat down to supper with “the twelve” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was there, or joined them later, then he wasn’t one of “the twelve”. The sequence of events at the supper seems to imply that this disciple may have joined Him later than the twelve.
For example, notice how the fourth gospel’s author begins his report on the events of that night,
“And the supper being ended…” (Fourth gospel 13:2). Ended?
The record in this gospel starts at a later point than the other gospels do, when reporting on that night.
The gospel accounts of that night focus on sharing the bread and wine, but only in three of the gospels. The fourth gospel makes no mention of these things! Why would the one whom “Jesus loved” have left the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup out of his gospel account; especially since he wrote so much about that night?
While Matthew 26:20-29, Mark 14:17-25, and Luke 22:14-38 give us the details about the supper, the fourth gospel devotes five whole chapters to the events of that night (Fourth gospel 13:3 - 17:26) – much more than the other three gospel writers combined! Yet in spite of that, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was the only gospel author to omit the Lord’s Table.
Of course, each gospel omits different things, so, the fact that the bread and the cup are left out of the fourth gospel is not a problem. Still, this omission does add credence to the idea that the author of this gospel wasn’t one of “the twelve”.
And, since the first item in this author’s gospel is the foot washing, it also seems to indicate that the fourth gospel begins “after” the supper.
We are told that Jesus washed the feet of “the disciples” (this was not limited to the feet of “the twelve”) (Fourth gospel 13:5).
Then, after Jesus sat down again, he said “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen” (Fourth gospel 13:18).
Here he contrasts a larger group, referred to as “you all”, with a subset, that he called “chosen”.
(And we know “the twelve” were “chosen” (Fourth gospel 6:70, cf. Lu. 6:13).)
However, if “the twelve” were the only ones who were present, then what distinction was Jesus making here?
Who was known by the High Priest?
Besides his betrayal of Jesus, Judas Iscariot was unique among “the twelve” for another reason. The Bible says that Judas went to the “chief priests” to betray Jesus (Mt. 26:14-16, Mk. 14:10-11, Lu. 22:2-6). However, in addition to becoming a traitor, Judas gained another distinction at that point.
Judas’ conspiracy with those “chief priests” sets him apart from “the twelve” in that those priests got to meet Judas. Nothing in the Bible specifically indicates the high priest would have known, or even recognized, any of “the twelve” other than Judas. Once you realize this, you can grasp the importance of a verse that is found in the Book of Acts.
Acts 4:1-23 recounts what happened to Peter and John following the healing of a crippled man. Peter and John were seized and brought before the “rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas…” (Acts 4:5 & 6), so they could be questioned about this miracle.
Speaking of the high priest and those rulers, it says; “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
This wording suggests that the high priest did not know John (or Peter) before this encounter.
When Jesus was first arrested, we’re told that Jesus was brought “to Annas first” (Fourth gospel 18:13).
Then it goes on to say:
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the
high priest,… (Fourth gospel 18:15).
It seems that God wanted to highlight this point, for his inspired author elected to emphasize this fact by repeating it.
In the next verse we read, “Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter” (Fourth gospel 18:16).
Therefore, there is no doubt that the “other disciple” was known to the high priest.
This “other disciple” could get into the palace, and furthermore, he was responsible for getting Peter past the doorkeeper.
Moreover, something was said on that night, which clues us into the fact that the “other disciple”, was publicly associated with Jesus before that night began.
Yet this was not true of Peter, as the question of the doorkeeper reveals. We see that “the damsel that kept the door” asked Peter, “Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?” (Fourth gospel 18:17).
The word “also” is used in reference to the “other disciple”, who had just spoken with her (Fourth gospel 18:16).
Therefore, we see that even “the damsel that kept the door” knew that the “other disciple” was a disciple of Jesus.
Lazarus the Celebrity
Have you ever noticed what happened after Lazarus was raised from the dead. We are told “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him” (Fourth gospel 11:45).
Now, compare this to what happened six days later when Jesus was again in Bethany:
“Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead” (Fourth gospel 12:9).
Consider also an event that people often call the Triumphal Entry (Fourth gospel 12:12-18).
Did you know that the raising of Lazarus played a key role in terms of the crowd’s attendance on that day?
We read of the wonderful greeting that Jesus received from a cheering crowd as he rode into town on a donkey (Fourth gospel 12:12-15). Notice, however, that the Bible also tells us about the crowd’s motivation. Although one might tend to assume that it was the teachings of Jesus, or a realization that he was the Son of God that brought out the crowd on that day; however, the author of the fourth gospel highlighted a particular reason for the crowd’s participation in that event.
The Bible reveals that the raising of Lazarus helped bring out the crowd at that Triumphal Entry;
“The people therefore that was with him [Jesus] when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle” (Fourth gospel 12:17-18).
The disciples of Jesus witnessed the raising of Lazarus, which was surely an unforgettable experience. Yet, for some reason, the writers of the other gospels decided not to mention a word about it. What’s more, we’re told that the formerly dead Lazarus had such an effect on the people, that the priests took the extreme step of plotting to have him killed. Lazarus was big news. So why is it that the other gospels fail to mention any of this? If this seems odd to you, just think about how this parallels the way that the other gospels also omit “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
Even stranger than the silence of the other gospels on all of these Lazarus matters is his abrupt disappearance from the fourth gospel. In 12:9 it tells us that the people came to see Lazarus, and 12:11 says that he had a strong influence on the Jews. But, after 12:17 refers to his return from the dead, the fourth gospel never mentions Lazarus by name again!
The fourth gospel’s presentation of Lazarus reveals two notable facts. The first is that Lazarus is named in only eleven verses. There is no mention of him before chapter 11 verse 1, and after chapter 12 verse 17, he seems to vanish.
But what is even more interesting is that Lazarus whom “Jesus loved” is last mentioned in chapter 12
– just before the obscure and unnamed disciple whom “Jesus loved” is first mentioned in the very next chapter (Fourth gospel 13:23).
Some may want to dispute the idea that Lazarus was the unnamed “other disciple, whom Jesus loved” because it might seem inconsistent that Lazarus hid his identity as author of this gospel, while his name already appears several times in the book. However, by comparing Scriptures, one is able to grasp a perfectly logical and Biblically sound reason as to why Lazarus may have done precisely that.
Jesus did not eliminate suffering and death for everyone; Lazarus was definitely privileged in this regard.
Lazarus clearly had a close relationship with Jesus before he was raised from the dead. We are not told about this relationship, but it must have existed for some time; and the message reveals that his sisters felt that “he whom thou lovest” applied to Lazarus, as their message didn’t even mention his name.
Given that Lazarus had a close relationship with Jesus beforeJesus raised him from the dead, what do you think that relationship would have been like after that experience?
How would Lazarus have been changed by that one-of-a-kind gift from God?
Is it reasonable to believe that Lazarus simply said, ‘Thanks, Jesus!’, and went back to his usual, daily routine – spending his time on the cares of this world, just like his fellow citizens?
From that day forward, Lazarus, more than anyone else, would have reason to stick close to Jesus. And, not surprisingly, close to Jesus is exactly where we next find Lazarus.
We read, when Jesus went to Bethany again, “There they made him a supper, and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him” (Fourth gospel 12:2).
This verse and 11:44 are the only verses that actually depict Lazarus, so this is the last time that Lazarus is depicted in the Bible.
(Lazarus is later mentioned in 12:9, 10, and 17, but he is not depicted as being present).
Since this is his last appearance, what stands out about this verse?
Where we find Lazarus in his final explicit appearance is the key thing to note.
The last time that Lazarus is seen, he is sitting with Jesus at a supper table; and
the first time that the one whom “Jesus loved” is seen, he is leaning on Jesus at a supper table (Fourth gospel 12:2 & 13:23).
The night that Jesus was arrested, the “other disciple” followed Jesus and “went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest” (Fourth gospel 18:15).
Later, when Jesus was on the cross, he looked down and “saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved” (Fourth gospel 19:26).
We do not find “the twelve” standing at the foot of the cross, yet this disciple was there.
Why him and not the rest?
What gave this disciple the courage and stamina to stick with Jesus until he was assigned to the mother of Jesus and “took her unto his own home”?
Survival is a very potent human instinct, but it is still fairly easy to grasp why the raised Lazarus might not have behaved like the rest of the disciples. God taught him, in the most emphatic way possible, that death isn’t necessarily final and, more important, that Jesus could give life.
Also, if the “other disciple” was Lazarus, then he was truly at risk when he entered the “palace of the high priest”, because the “chief priests” wanted to kill Lazarus too (Fourth gospel 12:10).
However, we are not told if Lazarus knew about the plot to kill him at that time or if he learned about it at a later point.
Why didn’t Peter ask his own question?
“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he [Jesus] spake” (Fourth gospel 13:23-24).
Why didn’t Peter ask his own question?
What was there about this disciple that made Peter turn to him, instead of just asking Jesus directly? (Would Peter have gone through John to ask Jesus a question? Mark 10:41 suggests that he would not.)
Indeed, his ease in posing the question befits the raised “friend” whom “Jesus loved”, since Lazarus would have known, whoever the betrayer would be, it could not be him!
We see that the one whom “Jesus loved” did not ask ‘Is it I?’
Unlike Peter, he appears to have no qualms about asking Jesus the question.
Peter’s choice to use the one whom “Jesus loved” to ask about the betrayer, tells us that he was not one of “the twelve”.
For surely Peter would not have tagged any of the apostles to ask this question – because Jesus had already said that one of them would be the traitor (Mk. 14:20).
One of the apostles could not be trusted and Peter wanted to know who it was. If he was going to get someone to ask for him, it would have been someone who was not one of “the twelve”.
Take a close look at the unnamed author’s account of events on resurrection morning. This isn’t just a confirmation of the vacant tomb. If that was all God wanted, then the author might well have been inspired to use fewer words.
“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre” (Fourth gospel 20:1-4).
Other than sheer athletic ability, what could have caused the “other disciple” to “outrun Peter”?
The answer is adrenaline. The “other disciple” might well have outrun Peter simply because he had a more intense desire to see that tomb. If so, then he would have pushed himself harder to get there more quickly. As you consider this, remember that it was the one whom “Jesus loved” who wrote this and took the time to describe this seemingly trivial detail from that day. Also, note that it is very likely that the idea that Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb would have had a special impact on Lazarus – who had recently walked out of his own tomb.
The Evidence inside the Tomb
“So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre”. When the “other disciple” got there he stooped down and “saw the linen clothes” lying inside, at which point he stopped and “went he not in”. When Peter got there, however, he did not stop; he went right in. The “other disciple” was outside until that point, but “then” he “went in also”
(cf. Fourth gospel 20:2, 4, 5, 6 & 8).
Why do you think the “other disciple” stopped when he “saw the linen clothes”?
After Peter went in, the “other disciple” did too. Why didn’t he go in when he arrived?
He ran, so he must have felt a sense of urgency. Despite this, he seems to freeze just outside the entrance until Peter passes by him and enters the tomb. So, why did the sight of “the linen clothes” cause him to stop in his tracks?
Let’s look at the difference in the reactions of Peter and the “other disciple” to the things that they saw when they entered the tomb that morning – one of them “believed”!
“Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed” (Fourth gospel 20:8).
The “other disciple” was the one who believed, but notice when this occurred. It happened only after he entered the tomb and saw “the napkin, that was about his [Jesus’] head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself” (Fourth gospel 20:7).
The First Disciple to Believe
When he witnessed those “linen clothes” and “the napkin that was about his [Jesus’] head” in the tomb, the “other disciple” suddenly “believed”. Why?
The author takes the time to depict these items precisely, and he underscores the “linen clothes” by repeating this phrase three times (Fourth gospel 20:5-7).
This is the first time that the word “believed” is used after the resurrection and it pertains to the “other disciple”!
This is no small point. The fact that he was the first person who “believed” is extremely significant.
However, the sight of “the linen clothes” likely would have stopped Lazarus in his tracks, and the sight of “the napkin”, would have had a unique effect on him. The significance of these items would not have been lost on Lazarus; for he had experienced waking up after others had dressed him in “linen” – the material that was used to wrap dead bodies!
The “linen” Effect
“And he [Lazarus] that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin” (Fourth gospel 11:44).
It’s no accident that the author took the time to mention the seemingly trivial detail of the “napkin” with regard to Lazarus also. Moreover, it was only after the sight of the “napkin” that the “other disciple” reacted: then “he saw, and believed”.
Consider that the first thing that Lazarus must have seen when he came back from the dead was the inside of the “napkin” that covered his own face! In the moments after Jesus called him back to life, Lazarus came out of his cave-grave still wrapped in his graveclothes, and Jesus gave the instruction, “Loose him, and let him go” (Fourth gospel 11:44).
It is not likely that Lazarus ever forgot being loosed. Therefore, it is logical to suggest that the sight of Jesus’ abandoned graveclothes would have had a powerful and wholly unique effect on Lazarus.
The facts that were recorded about this event fit together logically and completely if the “other disciple” was Lazarus.
The Fishing Trip
After resurrection morning, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is next seen when he and five others volunteer to accompany Peter, who announced that he was going fishing.
“There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples…. (Fourth gospel 21:2-3).
Right after he mentioned “the sons of Zebedee” (James and John), he noted that two unnamed disciples were present.
This reference to an unnamed disciple fits with the author’s pattern of concealing his identity at this point in his gospel.
Still, it should grab our attention when we see that the author grouped John in with the five apostles.
The author listed “the sons of Zebedee” with the apostles, then just moments later he referred to himself anonymously: in verse 7 he called himself “that disciple whom Jesus loved”.
This offers another key argument against the idea that this author was John.
“Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following, which also leaned on his breast at supper, … Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?” (Fourth gospel 21:20-21).
To this Jesus replied, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (Fourth gospel 21:22).
Next, there is a very strange reference to the unnamed disciple.
“Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (Fourth gospel 21:23).
Here the author reports, and seeks to correct, an error that had been circulating “among the brethren”.
A Telltale Rumor
The fourth gospel’s author tried to correct the misunderstanding that had been circulating among “the brethren”.
We are not told if Jesus’ words were misinterpreted by one or more of the men that were on the fishing trip, or if the “not die” idea sprang up later, after others had been told about this trip.
But regardless of who started the rumour, the fact is that the brethren accepted the notion that the one whom “Jesus loved” would “not die”. This begs the question: What could have caused this?
The words of Jesus were not the cause of the problem; for the fourth gospel’s author twice quoted Jesus’ words in a way that indicates that this author knew that the “not die” idea wasn’t drawn from those words, but imposed upon them (Fourth gospel 21:22 & 23).
The erroneous idea that he “should not die” was not caused by what Jesus said; but rather, it arose because of whom Jesus had been talking about!
What if the men on the fishing trip, and those who heard about this event, knew that Jesus’ words referred to Lazarus?
Since he had already died and been brought back from the dead, a reason for the erroneous rumour becomes evident. One can see why some of them might jump to the conclusion that Jesus’ words meant “he should not die”.
Also, if the one whom “Jesus loved” was Lazarus, then there was logic in Peter’s question. Peter knew that Lazarus had been raised from the dead, so he may have been asking if Lazarus would have to die another physical death.
Here again, we see that the facts surrounding this disciple perfectly fit Lazarus. This telltale rumour easily harmonises with all of the other biblical data, if Lazarus was the one whom “Jesus loved”.
The fourth gospel’s anonymous author took the time to record his purpose for writing his book, and that purpose may be linked to the reason that he hid his identity. He wrote,
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Fourth gospel 20:30-31).
The author’s intent, therefore, was to focus the attention of his readers on Jesus and to provide information that would help them to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. While this may appear to be merely the author’s goal for his gospel, it turns out that this objective also provided a motive for this author to cloak his identity. (All of this was under the inspiration of God, of course. And God does use individuals in their existing circumstances to declare His will and carry it out.)
As the author’s intent was to point people to Jesus, he would have avoided doing anything that might have interfered with that goal. And there is evidence that Lazarus would have had good reason to believe that his identity could have interfered with that objective. If we think about what happened after Lazarus was raised from the dead, then we can understand the problem that Lazarus had to face; he’d become ‘a celebrity’. However, if he was in fact the author the fourth gospel, then this would have presented a dilemma for Lazarus and a conflict with the author’s stated goal.
We should immediately recognize that this would have presented Lazarus with a huge problem. John the Baptist articulated the idea, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (Fourth gospel 3:30). And one sure way that Lazarus could avoid drawing attention away from Jesus would be to ‘disappear’. Obscuring his identity or becoming anonymous could help accomplish this.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
An interesting note to close on, is the parable that Jesus gave in Luke 16, about the rich man and Lazarus.
This parable was given BEFORE the ‘raising Lazarus from the dead’ incident.
Notice what Jesus did here with this parable. The dead “rich man” was asking if someone named “Lazarus” could return from the dead to “testify” unto his “brethren”, who were still alive.
While the Lazarus parable has frequently been related to Jesus’ resurrection; this parable might be better understood if we consider the possibility that in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus was articulating a prophecy.
The Luke 16 parable has some parallels to the real life Lazarus. In both cases Lazarus died, but in the parable, we don’t see him raised; we only hear the request.
The real life Lazarus certainly returned from the dead; and if he is indeed the author of the fourth gospel, then he has also certainly left a ‘testimony’ to his brethren!
Even before writing any gospel, Lazarus became a living testimony to the power of Jesus and because of him “many of the Jews went away and believed on Jesus”.
But just like the response described in Luke 16, the Jewish leaders (who had “Moses and the prophets”) were not persuaded – even though a Lazarus was sent to them from the dead !!!!
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