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The Problem of the Fourth Gospel



May the veil be lifted which hides the identity of that mysterious personage whose style and title is: 'the Disciple whom Jesus loved'? Is he a real man of flesh and blood? If such he be, is he to be discovered in John son of Zebedee? If other than the Apostle John, who is he? That beautiful designation, was it self-bestowed, or did others confer it on him? So far as the New Testament is concerned, it is in our Gospel only that he is brought on the scene; for, apart from a conjecture of which more hereafter, no such personage is met with in the earlier Gospels. And again; but for the Synoptists, it would be impossible to identify the sons of Zebedee as such; for, once and once only definitely alluded to in the Fourth Gospel, it is without specification of their number or their names1.

It will be convenient to have before us the references to the Beloved Disciple as they occur in our Gospel.

Jn xiii, 23 ff. The scene is at The Supper; by reason of the words of Jesus: 'One of you shall betray me,' the disciples are in doubt; it is then said: 'There was at the table reclining in Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom (`ον) Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoneth to him, and saith unto him, Tell us of whom he speaketh. He leaning back, as he was, on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?'

The manner of the representation is such as to suggest a person who, peculiarly dear to Jesus, is held by others to be in the inmost confidences of their Lord.

Jn xviii, 15 ff. The Trial has begun:—Simon Peter, it is said, 'followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple

1 Jn xxi, 2: και `οι του Zεβεδαιον. 'Dass der Lieblingsjünger gerade ein Zebedaide sei, ist mit nichts angedeutet,' Alex. Schweizer, op. cit. p. 235. The allusions to James and John in Acts are simply decisive for a brother-pair; who their father was is not told.


was known unto the high priest, and entered in with Jesus into the court of the high priest: but Peter was standing at the door without. So the other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, went out and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.' The question then is whether he thus vaguely designated (αλλος μαθητης, `ο δε μαθητης εκεινος, `ο μαθητης `ο αλλος) be really the Disciple whom Jesus loved or another person.

We remark a conflict of opinion. It is hesitatingly said that perhaps he is1; the suggestion of an omission or dislocation of the text is ventured2; a halting verdict, adducing the view of a majority of Fathers (viz. that the person really is the Beloved Disciple) adds that 'perhaps they are right3'; of proof, it is said, there is none: 'the inference is simply suggested to the reader's mind in view of Mk xiv, 334'; if it be admitted that the idea that this disciple is the Beloved Disciple has prevailed in the end, and that at the least it is probable5, it is with no decisive word; quite recently it has been argued that the unnamed disciple of the section is none other than Judas Iscariot who lures Peter to his fall6; conjecture has pointed to one of the nobility of Jerusalem7. On the other hand he is more or less boldly identified with the son of Zebedee; 'in all probability John himself8'; 'the reader cannot fail to identify the disciple with St John9.' Be he so identified or not, the prevalent view regards him as the Disciple whom Jesus loved—-whoever that disciple may be.

The problem, for such it is, is encompassed with difficulty. Yet the prevalent view has strong support behind it; not only is

1 'Der andere Jünger dürfte der Jünger sein, den Jesus liebte,' Heitmüller. SNT, ii, p. 844.

2 'Es scheint hier etwas zu fehlen oder in Unordnung zu sein,' Wellhausen, Evang. Joh. p. 82 note.

3 Bauer, Handbuch zum NT, II, ii, pp. 130, 162. In the view of Augustine (tr. cxiii) the question does not admit of hasty decision, yet he leans to the identification. Cf. Loisy, op. cit. p. 833.

4 Bacon, op. cit. p. 307.

5 Loisy, op. cit. p. 833. 'Très vraisemblablement," Réville, op. cit. p. 312.

6 E. A. Abbott, Fourfold Gospel, sect. ii ('The Beginning'), pp. 351 f. The same view was put forward, at a far earlier day, by Caspar Merken and Heumann.

7 See Lampe, Commen. in Evang. Joh. iii, p. 522.

8 McClymont, St John (CB), p. 313.

9 Westcott, St John (in loc.), and cf. Hastings, DB, ii, p. 781.


the coupling here, as elsewhere, with Peter suggestive, but there is another point which perhaps deserves notice: with but one exception, it is only when in the actual company of Jesus that the nameless disciple is expressly alluded to as the Beloved Disciple, while in the section now in hand the situation is altogether different. And besides, the term αλλος μαθητης is again met with Jn xx, 2, 3, 4, 8.

Let us assume that the Beloved Disciple is really meant. In that case he is evidently a personage of rank and distinction1.

Jn xix, 25 ff. Here the Beloved Disciple is standing at the Cross of Jesus. The Mother of Jesus is entrusted to his charge; and, to all appearance, he takes action without delay: 'from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home.' Quite in the manner of the Fourth Evangelist no word is said of his return to Calvary; yet it is safe perhaps to discover him in the crux of commentators: 'he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he (εκεινος, some third person) knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe.'

The inference surely is that he who, having taken Mary to his own home2 (εις τα ιδια), is quickly back at the Cross, is resident in, or in the vicinity of, Jerusalem.

Jn xx, 2 ff. The scene is now laid at the Grave of Jesus. Upon tidings brought by Mary Magdalene 'to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,' they both ran to the tomb; of the 'other disciple' it is said that he 'outran Peter,' and, first to arrive, looks in yet does not enter; Peter, following, enters the tomb forthwith: 'then entered in therefore the other disciple also, which came first to the tomb, and he saw and believed.'

An impression is conveyed, that, as contrasted with Peter, the 'other disciple' (who is the Beloved Disciple) has all the vigour of youth or early manhood.

Jn xxi, 1-24 (The appendix chapter). Here the story tells of

1 See infra, p. 162, Note 5.

2 It must be remembered that the Mother of Jesus may here be an ideal figure representing Judaism and the Beloved Disciple typical of the Christian Church. And thus Kreyenbühl (op. cit. ii, p. 599), 'auch das stabat mater macht wohl dem Herzen seines Dichters Ehre, hat aber leider in der Geschichte keinen Grund.'


a manifestation of the Risen Lord. Whether one of 'the sons of Zebedee,' one of the 'two other of his disciples,' or some other person, the Beloved Disciple looms large on the scene. He it is who, recognizing Jesus, says to Peter: 'It is the Lord.' To him Peter points with the question: 'Lord, and what shall this man do?' The reply of Jesus misunderstood, the saying goes abroad: 'that that disciple should not die'; the misunderstanding is then corrected. Once more the same individual is pointed to: 'This is the disciple which beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true.'

It shall suffice to say here that the allusions are of such a nature as to imply the, perhaps recent, death of the Beloved Disciple.

Returning to the questions proposed at the outset, they shall be discussed under three heads.

I. Is the beloved disciple a real man of flesh and blood? Negative or hesitating answers come:—it is said that he who is thus beautifully designated (whether by himself or others) is not a historical personage, but the 'exquisite creation of a devout imagination1.' And again, he is a type of the perfect Gnostic, spiritual witness to Jesus2. We are told further that there are features which are highly suggestive of an ideal figure which owes its existence to the Evangelist3; that of all the dramatis personae in our Gospel not one is so phantasmal as the Beloved Disciple himself, albeit he is something more than a purely ideal figure, for a real man has sat for the portrait4. As might be expected, opinions are both numerous and weighty on the other side, where there is no hesitation in believing that a real historical personage is indicated5. And there is certainly force in the contention that, whoever the persons may be who speak xxi, 24 and whatever the value of their

1 EB, iii, col. 3339.

2 Loisy, op. cit. pp. 124 ff., 'Les passages de l'Évangile où l'on croit retrouver le disciple, et ceux où il est explicitement désigné, sont loin de prouver l'historicité de son personnage et son identité avec l'apotre Jean.' And see Scholten, Het Evan. naar Joh. pp. 405 ff., 'den geestelijken broeder van Jezus.' Elsewhere (Der Apos. Joh. p. 110), Scholten says that the Disciple stands before us like another Melchizedek, απατωρ, αμητωρ, αγενεαλογητος.

3 Heitmüller, SNT, ii, pp. 714 ff.

4 Bacon, op. cit. pp. 319 ff., 325.

5 As a rule the further step is taken of identifying the Beloved Disciple with the Apostle John.


testimony on the point of authorship, it would be almost, if not altogether, incredible that they should be victims of a delusion and not be alluding to one who (whatever his identity)1 had actually lived a real life. Yet the case is not proved to demonstration; and perchance we must regard the Beloved Disciple 'either as a purely ideal figure or as the symbolical counterpart of a real personage2.'

We will content ourselves with saying that, on the one hand, it is not inconceivable that the portrait is, if somewhat highly coloured, of a real man, while, on the other hand, it is quite possible that it is of an ideal disciple.

II. Let it be assumed for the sake of the argument that the Beloved Disciple is a real man. We then ask: is he verily and indeed the son of Zebedee? It is, of course, held by many that he is; yet adverse voices are raised, there are not a few who are convinced that he is not. In the latter case it is nevertheless allowed by some that the identification has been drawn already, if wrongly, by the anonymous persons who, xxi, 24, testify to the authorship of our Gospel.

The question demands lengthy inquiry; and with necessary reference to the 'venerable tradition' which brings the Apostle John to Ephesus.

Now, what is recorded in the New Testament of the Apostle John?

With good reason is it urged that a fertile cause of misconception is the habit, inveterate with many, of reading the Gospels (or hearing them read) as a single work; of preaching or teaching which, reckless of distinctive features necessitating a division into groups, is based on a combination of the several narratives3. A result in the case in hand is that biographies are offered of the

1 'L'identification du disciple bien-aime avec I'apotre Jean n'est pas le fait de 1'auteur de xxi,' Eeville, op. cit. p. 312.

2 E. F. Scott, op. cit. p. 47. In the latter alternative Scott fastens on Paul. Reville (op. cit. p. 317) says of the Beloved Disciple: 'II apparait comme un etre irreel.. .le disciple ideal qui est sur le sein du Christ, comme le Christ est sur le sein de Dieu.'

3 'In einer unnatürlichen Einheit,' Baur, Kanon. Evang. p. 63. Cf. Wernle, Die Quellen, p. 15.


Apostle John which, all four Gospels being fused together into a single whole, depend for outline, perhaps, on the Synoptics while the lights and shades are filled in from the Fourth Gospel. Its author is boldly identified with the Beloved Disciple and the Beloved Disciple with the son of Zebedee. His circumstances, his character, are then glibly delineated in terms of writings which bear the Apostle John's name1.

In the present instance, any such unwarrantable method being definitely repudiated, resort shall be had at the outset to the Synoptic Gospels. It is said of the two brothers James and John that they respond to the definite call of Jesus2. Of their father Zebedee no more is known than that he was a Galilaean fisherman with hired servants in his employ3; as for their mother it is probably safe to identify her with Salome4, and, if so, she is sister to the Mother of Jesus, cousin of Elizabeth, and one of the women who minister to Jesus of their substance and bring sweet spices to the tomb. They, James and John, are in partnership with Peter5. They are present at the healing of Peter's mother-in-law6. Ordained of the number of the Twelve, they are surnamed Boanerges7; a designation of obscure significance, but interpreted of fiery zeal, which is not again applied to them. An ambitious request is made by them8;—according to another version of the story their mother makes it on their behalf9—and they learn their destined fate. Alike they are ready to call down fire from heaven on inhospitable Samaritans10, if it be John only who reports to Jesus how he and the other disciples had dealt with one who, not a follower with them, was casting out devils11. Together with James and Peter he

1 As e.g. by Macdonald, Life and Writings of St John; Polidori, I Quattro Evangelii, pp. 26 ff.; Hastings, DB, ii, pp. 680 ff.; Johnston, Philosophy of the Fourth Gospel, pp. 17 f.; Hitchcock, A Fresh Study of the Fourth Gospel.

2 Mk i, 19.

3 Mk i, 20.

4 Cf. Mt. xxvii, 56; Mk xvi, 1.

5 Lk. v, 7, 10.

6 Mk i, 29-31, pars.

7 Mk iii, 17. With allusion to the Hermetic literature it is suggested that the word, compounded of βοαω and ενεργεια, may mean sons, or manifestations, of the Divine voice.

8 Mk x, 35 ff.

9 Matt, xx, 20.

10 Lk. ix, 54.

11 Mk ix, 38; Lk. ix, 49. Is it strictly accurate to say that he 'plays no independent part or special ro1e in the Synoptic tradition'? Moffatt, op. cit. p. 565.


is included in a sort of inner circle within the 'Apostolic College'; he is present at the raising of Jairus' daughter1; he is a witness of the Transfiguration2; he is one of those who ask when events predicted are to come to pass3. But once is he found in the sole company of Peter—when sent by Jesus to prepare the Paschal meal4. Present, so it may be inferred, at the Last Supper, he is certainly in the Garden of Gethsemane5. Nowhere is he again alluded to by name in the Synoptic Narrative.

To pass from the Synoptics to Acts. John's name stands third ('Peter and James and John') on the list of the Eleven who are assembled, with others, in the Upper Room6. With Peter, who takes the lead, he is at the Gate Beautiful when the lame man is made to walk7. With Peter he is imprisoned and brought before the Sanhedrin: while Peter is spokesman, there is equal 'boldness' on the part of John, the two are equally accounted 'unlearned and ignorant men8.' With Peter he goes from Jerusalem to Samaria on a mission of inspection9. When next alluded to by name, and for the last time, it is simply in connexion with his brother's martyrdom; Herod 'killed James the brother of John with the sword10.'

To turn from Acts to the Epistle to the Galatians. According to Paul's statement, James (the 'Lord's brother'), Cephas (Peter) and John (surely the Apostle John), 'the three leading apostles,' are in repute as 'Pillars' of the Jerusalem Church11. Whether John be of the stricter school of James or of the less conservative school of Peter there is little if anything to determine; his belief, it seems, is that his own mission field is circumscribed. He allows that to Paul and Barnabas a divine call has come to labour among the gentiles, and he extends to them the right hand of fellowship. As for himself, it would appear that he is content to stay on where he is, and to devote all his energies to 'the circumcision12.'

1 Mk v, 37, pars.

2 Mk ix. 2, pars.

3 Mk xiii, 3.

4 Lk. xxii, 8.

5 Mk xiv, 33; Matt, xxvi, 36.

6 Acts i, 13.

7 Acts iii, 1 ff.

8 Acts iv, 1, 3, 8, 13.

9 Acts viii, 14. 'Eine Art Kontrolle,' von Dobschütz, Das Apos. Zeitalter, p. 39.

10 Acts xii, 2.

11 Gal. ii, 9. Schwartz's contention that the John of Paul's allusion was 'John whose surname was Mark' has been noted elsewhere.

12 Gal. ii, 9. See Scholten, Het Evan. naar Joh. p. 410.


And so the curtain falls on the son of Zebedee. Except on the venturesome assumption that the Apocalypse was penned by him, his name never again occurs in the pages of the New Testament. Of direct New Testament information respecting him there being, then, no further word1, it shall now be asked: how does the case stand with the personality of the Apostle John as revealed in the sparse and fragmentary notices which have been instanced?

He is a Galilaean fisherman. In all probability younger than his brother James, he comes of a family which, if prosperous, is of the like stratum of society as that of Peter; if his mother be Salome he is kin to Jesus, with connexions in the priestly caste2. His home by the Sea of Galilee, he has at least received the education provided by the Synagogue schools of the locality3', while, in view of the circumstances, he can doubtless make himself sufficiently understood in Greek4. He throws in his lot with Jesus, and is included in the number of 'the Twelve'; zealous for his Master's cause and honour, his good qualities have been marked by the penetrating gaze of Jesus5, and his admission to the 'inner circle' tells of high regard which he had gained. Yet grave faults and defects of character are discerned in him; scarcely loveable by nature, he is impetuous and intolerant, not to say vindictive; his ambitions are self-centred, he fails to rise to spiritual conceptions6; if importance be attachable to order of sequence, there is

1 'We fail to realise how seldom St John the son of Zebedee appears in the Synoptists,' von Soden, Early Christ. Literature, p. 433.

2 Cf. Lk. i, 5, 36. According to Chrysostom (In Joan. Hom. i) the family was wretchedly poor.

3 For some notice of the opportunities within the reach of Galilaean boys, see J. B. Mayor, Ep. of James, pp. xli ff. When it is said of Peter and John that they were 'unlearned and ignorant men' the phrase simply means that they were not trained theologians by profession. Cf. Delff, Rabbi Jesus, p. 76. The twelfth century Byzantine monk Euthymius Zigabenus (see Ammon, op. cit. i, p. 76), with a view to accentuating John's later marvellous theological attainment, makes out that he had been an ignoramus (παντελως ιδιωτης `ην) in the full sense of the word.

4 There was a considerable Greek-speaking element in the population of Galilee. Cf. Schlatter, Die Sprache und Heimat des 4 Evglms.

5 Cf. Reuss, Geschichte der HS des NT, p. 215, 'Jesus muss tiefer geblickt haben, etc.'

6 Joh. Weiss commenting (SNT, i, p. 172) on Mk x, 35, finds the story reminiscent of some unpopularity which attached to the memory of the sons of Zebedee.


significance in the fact that, as a rule1, he is named last among those who form the 'inner circle' or who are 'pillars' in repute. He is not only associated with but paired with Peter; the latter being, by comparison, the man of speech and action. A leading personage in the Church at Jerusalem, he, by this time surely getting on in years2, can indeed join in bidding Paul God-speed3, but he himself is plainly representative of Judaistic Christendom. He thereupon vanishes from the scene; what if it be really true that he reappears at Ephesus? In that case much, let it be conceded, may have happened with the lapse of time; as with many another, so, perhaps, with John. Self-discipline may have eradicated earlier faults and feelings; his character will have been refined and sweetened; an impending catastrophe may have startled him to reflexion; Pauline influences, it might be said, have told on him, and by consequence, there are larger sympathies and a broader mind4. A new career, in short, may open out for him when, as the 'venerable tradition' has it, he says a last farewell to Jerusalem5—the Holy City soon to be, or already, encompassed by the Roman legions. He may have left his past behind him when he set foot in Asia Minor; and then the change of scene may issue in the altered man. Years go by, and higher qualities and faculties might be developed in him which, perhaps already latent, had not as yet been recognized by others or so much as suspected by himself. In the event it might come about that he is had in memory as verily and indeed the Beloved Disciple and reputed author of the Gospel which bears John's name6.

1 There are remarkable exceptions, cf. Lk. ix, 28; Acts xii, 2.

2 The inference is that both John and James had reached full manhood when they responded to the call of Jesus, while the date of Paul's visit to Jerusalem was some twenty years and more subsequent to the Crucifixion.

3 Yet Wrede (Paulus, p. 43) remarks: 'Über ein Schiedlich-friedlich kam es doch nicht hinaus. Die Einigung bedeutete zugleich Trennung.'

4 'Konnte er nicht von Paulus lernen und ihn noch überschreiten?', De Wette, op. cit. ii, p. 233.

5 Upholders of the 'venerable tradition' (as e.g. Polidori, op. cit. p. 240) are at a loss to fix a date for John's alleged departure from Judaea and arrival in Asia Minor.

6 'Das der Johannes der Gal. ii auftritt das Evglm. nicht geschrieben, kann unbedenklich zugegeben werden. Aber muss er derselbe geblieben sein . . . ?' Reuss, op. cit. p. 215. Scholten (op. cit. p. 410), raising similar questions, adds significantly: 'Op zich zelf ware dit mogelijk, maar is dit ook waarschijnlijk?'


It must nevertheless be admitted that the Johannine portrait of the Beloved Disciple has but few features in common with that of the Synoptic John. But further inquiry is necessitated; and the question now is: What is related of him who, surviving to extreme old age at Ephesus, is in course of time positively identified with John son of Zebedee? The New Testament being silent, the region of 'somewhat fragmentary tradition1' must be explored.

As a group of stories run, he knows what it is to suffer persecution. The scene laid before the Latin Gate at Rome, he emerges, uninjured, from the caldron of boiling oil into which he has been plunged by cruel men2. He drinks of the fatal hemlock-cup, but the poison leaves him unharmed. Condemned to exile, he is banished to the Isle of Patmos; returning thence to Asia, he is ruler of the churches3. Other stories are connected with his asserted long residence at Ephesus. He seeks out, and reclaims, the robber-youth4; Cerinthus discovered by him in the public baths, he forthwith rushes out, and bids others likewise flee lest the bath fall in upon that enemy of the truth5. It is said that he had worn the high-priestly 'petalon6,' and that he had brought back the dead to life7. To the huntsman astonished by finding him playing with his tame partridge his long since proverbial reply is that the 'bow cannot always be bent8'; when the Ephesian elders ask him to pen his Gospel he, by sudden inspiration, gives utterance to its opening words9. He sets forth what has been beautifully called 'his last will and testament10' with that reiterated 'Little Children, love one another'

1 Hastings, DB, ii, p. 681.

2 Tertullian. In the calendar, May 6th: St John E. ante Port. Lat. According to Jerome he emerged nihil passus; purior et vegetior exiverit quam intraverit.

3 Euseb. HE, iii, 18, 23.

4 Ibid. iii, 23.

5 Irenaeus. Euseb. iii, 28, iv, 14.

6 Euseb. HE, iii, 31.

7 Ibid, v, 18. Cf. Traub, Die Wunder im NT, pp. 45 f. Schwegler (op. cit. p. 155) suggests the spiritual death and resurrection of the robber youth.

8 Cassianus. For a fable near akin to the story see Herodotus, ii, 173.

9 Jerome, De vir. illustr.

10 Lessing (Das Testament Johannis) says that not the prologue to the Gospel, but the touching words of John are worthy to be set up in letters of gold where they may be read of all men.


which wearies his hearers, who are then reminded by him that it was the Lord's command1. He is said to be ever virgin2. Death has no power over him; in his grave he goes on sleeping; a strange movement of the ground caused by the sleeper's breathing is witnessed by visitors to his tomb3.

It may occur to some that such 'fragmentary tradition' is very near akin to if it be not altogether sheer fiction. The admission must, of course, be made that for some of the stories there is but slight authority, while it has been rightly affirmed of others that 'they are alien not only to the simplicity of Apostolic times, but to the reasonableness of Christianity itself4.' It does not follow that they are one and all the mere creations of pious credulity; and very likely they now and again point to actual event or incident in the life of some real personage; that real person being (as those who originally told the stories or who to-day uphold the 'venerable tradition' are alike firmly persuaded) John, Apostle and Evangelist, disciple whom Jesus loved.

The stage has now been reached for instituting a comparison between the Synoptic John son of Zebedee and the Johannine Beloved Disciple who is said to have survived to extreme old age at Ephesus. And it shall be borne in mind that the solitary allusion in the Fourth Gospel to the sons of Zebedee is without mention of their number or their names; if they are among the little company to whom Jesus manifests himself at the Sea of Tiberias, there is no single word to indicate that their relations with Jesus have been singularly close. The Fourth Evangelist apparently knows nothing of any 'inner circle,' while he is curiously reticent, and, as some think, disparaging, in his notices of 'The Twelve5.'

To begin with, the Synoptic John is a fisherman. It by no means follows that, because the Beloved Disciple is found (Jn xxi)

1 Jerome. Epis. ad Gal.

2 Monarch. Prol.

3 Augustine, Tract. in Joh. 124.

4 Stanley, Sermons on the Apos. Age.

5 Heitmüller (SNT, ii, p. 71.4) writes: 'Offensichtlich behandelt er die kanonisch gewordenen Zwölf-apostel mit einer gewissen Geringsehatzung.' According to Scholten (Der Apos. Joh. in Kleinasien, pp. 91 f.) he goes further than Paul and Luke in representing the inadequacy of the apostolate of the Twelve. And see W. F. Loman, op. cit. pp. 24 ff.


in the company of fishermen, he is therefore of the same trade himself; and besides, he may be one or other of the two unnamed disciples1, conceivably he is an eighth person2. There is at least the possibility that, far from being an artisan, he is the leisured man of means.

Again. If well-to-do and with relatives among the priesthood, the family of which John is a member is in no way socially removed above that of Peter. True that the following of a trade was not only no social barrier but enjoined by Jewish custom, yet it is certainly suggestive that a term (γνωστος) which may imply relationship3 with the High priest is used of the Beloved Disciple. An impression is in any case conveyed that the latter, evidently quite at home in exalted circles4, is Peter's superior in rank5.

Thirdly. The son of Zebedee of the Synoptics is coupled with Peter as is also the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel. Admitting that the coincidence is too striking6 to be ignored, it is not inconceivable that there were occasions on which Peter was accompanied, not by John, but by another, and far younger, attached friend. The latter, in that case, is the Beloved Disciple; and he, to all appearance, is John's junior by many years.

Another point. John is one of 'the Twelve.' Not so, it would seem, is the Beloved Disciple.

In the fifth place. The Beloved Disciple stands by the Cross of Jesus, and is, apparently, witness of the closing scenes. Scarcely so John; the statement Mk xiv, 50 is strongly suggestive of his

1 Godet discovers in them John the Presbyter and Aristion. Cf. Holtz-mann, Evglm. des Joh. p. 226.

2 Seven persons only being specified in the narrative.

3 So Delff. The possibility is allowed by Holtzmann (op. cit. p. 23), and E. G. King (Interpreter, v, p. 170). But see E. A. Abbott, op. cit. p. 356; also Westcott, St John, p. 255. 'Connu ou parent du grand pretre,' Calmes, op. cit. p. 426.

4 The assumption here is that he is the αλλος μαθητης of Jn xviii, 15 ff.

5 But cf. Sanday, op. cit. p. 101. Yet if there be any question of the 'servants' hall,' Peter surely has to wait there while his companion as evidently has the entrée which admits him to the presence. And see Swete, JTS, xvii, pp. 372 f. Thus Jerome (Ep. cxxvii, 5): Unde et Jesus Johannem Evangelistam amabat plurimum: qui propter generis nobilitatem erat notus pontifici.

6 See Sanday's forcible remarks on this point, op. cit. p. 107.


absence. He might, indeed, have overcome his fears; yet even then his place would be with those who (Lk. xxiii, 49) 'stood afar off.'

Next. The conjecture is not far-fetched that the Beloved Disciple is a dweller in or near Jerusalem. There is nothing to suggest a like inference in the case of John; his fixed abode is evidently in Galilee.

A last consideration; it relates to type of character. As for the Beloved Disciple, he is slow to speak; whatever may have been the case with John at a later period, in the days when he companies with Jesus he is scarcely reluctant to give vent to his thoughts. While on both sides there are features which testify to devotion to the Lord and Master, with the one it endures to the end, and with the other it fails with the test. There are singularly unpleasant traits in John; not so with the Beloved Disciple, even if the conjectured real man was by no means the placid and effeminate personage of conventional representation. There is little difficulty in recognizing the latter when the scene is shifted from Palestine to Asia Minor; on the contrary, there are vivid reminders of him in the 'fragmentary tradition'; far less easy is it to discover in the stories told of 'John of Ephesus' the son of Zebedee. John, in days gone by, has attained to prominence at Jerusalem; it might be tempting to suppose that, president of the churches of Asia, it is the self-same John who is once again in renown. As for the Beloved Disciple, he is evidently quite at home in a Greek-speaking community; the conjecture, then, might be that he who, in earlier life, had at least a smattering of Greek has become familiar with the language as the years go by. Two of the legendary stories are, it may be, reminiscent of the 'son of thunder' of the Synoptic Narrative. There is a touch of John's impetuosity in the sharp rebuke administered to the bishop who has failed in his duty to the robber-youth; of his intolerance in the tale told of one who rushes from the public baths because of the detested presence of Cerinthus1.

1 If it be really the Beloved Disciple who penned the Third of the Johannine Epistles, the sharp allusion to Diotrophes (vv. 9, 10) might be to the point. Cf. Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Prim. Church, pp. 221 f.


To sum up. Upon the one hand there is, no doubt, something to be said for the time-honoured belief which identifies John son of Zebedee with 'John of Ephesus.' The pairing with Peter is of significance; on both sides there is acknowledged leadership; if the one be the man of means the other is well-to-do; priestly connexions may be fairly adduced; stress may, unquestionably, be laid on intimate relations with Jesus. Yet upon the other hand there is something, and it is a larger something, which goes far to shake the belief to its foundations. There is no escape from impressions as to difference of social status. As for the Apostle John, he is brought on the field at a comparatively early date; not until a later period does the Beloved Disciple stand in full view1. The latter is evidently a Jerusalemite; the former is as evidently a Galilaean. The one, constant to the end, is at the Cross of Jesus; John, it would appear, is not there. And besides: 'All the depth of insight and fervour of love which we connect with the name of John belong to the Beloved Disciple and not, so far as we know, to the son of Zebedee2.'

The conclusion here is (and it is arrived at quite independently of evidence relative to the Apostle John's early death by martyrdom) that, if a real person, the Beloved Disciple is not John brother of James and one of 'The Twelve3.'

III. Who, then, is he, this anonymous disciple whom Jesus loved? Truly it is difficult to see in him 'even a glorified son of Zebedee4,' if only because the Ephesian residence of the latter is incapable of proof. Needs must be to look in other quarters; and, as guess-work alone is possible, there is small prospect of rewarded search.

Inconceivable as it may be—conjecture has fastened on 'the man of Kerioth5.' Not only is the Beloved Disciple identified with

1 He has been discovered, and perhaps rightly, in the nameless disciple of Jn i, 35-40. See below.

2 Swete, JTS, xvii, p. 373.

3 As against Percy Gardner (Ephes. Gospel, p. 69). In any case the time has long gone by for inability to identify the Beloved Disciple with John the Apostle to be airily dismissed by reviewers (e.g. Marcus Dods, British Weekly, Dee. 13, 1906) as a 'modern fad.'

4 Bacon, op. cit. p. 319.

5 Noack, Geschichte Jesus (Publ. 1876).


'the traitor' of Gospel representation1, but, with large deductions made from it, Judas Iscariot is presumed to be author of the Fourth Gospel. He and he only has entered into the Master's mind and purposes; he plays into the hands of Jesus in the deed for which tradition has vilified his name2. So runs the theory; but, quite apart from what to many is its offensiveness, it breaks down at two points. To begin with, in the narrative Jn xiii, 21 ff., Judas and the Beloved Disciple are plainly two distinct personages. And again, the latter is not a member of the 'Apostolic College'; the former is certainly an Apostle, and, it may be, 'the first or the chief of the Twelve3.'

With far greater attractiveness does conjecture fix on the person alluded to in the recorded Saying (Jn i, 47): 'Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile4.' Views have, no doubt, been entertained that the portrait is really that of Paul5; it might readily be allowed that, were the Fourth Gospel alone available as guide, the choice would soonest fall on the Nathaniel6 who, introduced by Philip to Jesus, reappears with others (Jn xxi, 2) at the Sea of Tiberias. He is quite the type of person to be dear to the Master's heart; is he, then, the man we are seeking? There is this difficulty; the latter is a Jerusalemite, Nathaniel is 'of Cana in Galilee.'

Interesting in any case is the suggestion which, not content with bare admissions of a contingency7, bids seekers turn with confidence to the family at Bethany. 'Some of the conditions are,' no doubt, 'satisfied by Lazarus'; according to the Fourth Gospel representation

1 The hypothesis lies behind some pages of a work by the Russian novelist Leonid N. Andréyev of which a translation has been published (Judas Iscariot) by W. H. Lowe.

2 The representations of Judas constitute an enigma, and De Quincey's Essay on the subject is still much to the point.

3 In an interesting paper (JTS, xviii, pp. 32 ff.), A. Wright, remarking on Mk xiv, 10—where Judas is called `ο εις των δωδεκα—advances the view that `ο εις is Hellenistic Greek for `ο πρωτος.

4 So Spaeth and Rovers. And cf. Jülicher, op. cit. p. 370; E. F. Scott, op. cit. p. 47.

5 So Holtzmann and Hilgenfeld. Cf. Rom. ii, 28 f.

6 Cf. Gutjahr, Glaubwürdigkeit, etc., p. 184.

7 Ibid. 'Selbst Lazarus ware nicht ausgeschlossen.'


he might be regarded as a man of means (xii, 1 ff.); his home is within easy reach of Jerusalem1; it is emphatically stated (xi, 3, 6, 36) that Jesus loved him2. The coincidences are striking; nor need we wonder that, with abundant variety of detail and suggestion, it should be vigorously affirmed in two quarters3 that he is the Beloved Disciple. Yet the question arises whether the Lazarus of the beautiful Johannine story be an actual historical personage, or, in part at all events, the creation of the Fourth Evangelist—built up, perhaps, on Synoptic references to 'a certain beggar' (Lk. xvi, 20) and (Lk. x, 38 ff.) to a sister-pair. The real personage admitted4, it is still not easy to conceive of any chain of circumstances which would have converted Lazarus of Bethany into the θεολογος, the leader of Greek Christianity who survived under the name of John to the end of the first century5.

A Jew of Jerusalem the Beloved Disciple is; had he belonged to the Sadducaean party? Had he been himself a priest6? If so, a conjecture might be that he is the John found in the Sanhedrin (Acts iv, 5 f.) together with others 'of the kindred of the high priest.' The theme of somewhat venturesome speculation, he is discovered in the 'certain young man' Mk xiv, 51 f., who momentarily appears at the Arrest7. Another suggestion (it has been alluded to in ch. x) is that he is the Aristion who is coupled by Papias with 'John the Presbyter.'

Yet one more conjecture. As baldly stated8, it amounts to this, that albeit the Synoptists know nothing of a disciple specially beloved by Jesus, they nevertheless agree in relating how there came

1 Swete, JTS, xvii, p. 374.

2 δν φιλεις, ηγαπα δε `ο Ιησ., τως εφιλει αυτον. The significance of the Greek verbs is discussed further on.

3 See a paper (Guardian of 19 Dec. 1906) by my friend the Rev. W. K. Fleming, B.D., who now informs me that he is possessed of additional proof. The second reference is to Zwickendraht, Schweiz. theol. Zeitschrift, 1915, ii, pp. 49 ff. For a rejoinder, by Steck, see Sckw. TZ, xxxiii, 1916, pp. 91 ff. Kreyenbühl goes on to identify Lazarus with Menander.

4 His portrait, as Eleazar, is somewhat fantastically drawn by the Russian novelist already instanced, and in the same work. Browning's poem is, of course, familiar to every reader.

5 Swete, JTS, xvii, p. 374.

6 Cf. Burkitt, Gosp. Hist. p. 248.

7 Erbes, op. cit.

8 By the present writer some dozen years ago.


a certain young man to him with an anxious question1, while it is expressly recorded by one (Mk) that 'Jesus looking upon him loved him'; the suggestion thereupon follows that he who then and there made 'the great refusal' may have become ere long not the disciple only, but the devoted friend of Jesus. As elaborately worked out2, the conjecture discovers the young man of rank and learning at an earlier period; he has come under the Baptist's influence; for one day, it may be, he has been a follower of Jesus (Jn i, 19-28); again in Peraea he, half a disciple already, is impressed greatly by the Master's act and words in the Blessing of the little children; he puts his question; he goes away sorrowful, yet, dwelling on the look of love, he is already potentially the disciple he is destined soon to be. Himself the good-man of the house (Mk xiv, 11), he welcomes the little company to a lordly room: naturally present at the Supper, his place as naturally is very near to Jesus. Ruler (Lk.) that he is, it might well follow that he is an acquaintance if not a relation of the high priest; hence the ease with which Peter is admitted by him to the presence-chamber. Like his friends Nicodemus and Joseph he is drawn nearer to Jesus in the closing scene; while others are afar off he—the young man—stands with the women at the Cross; Mary is led by him to his adjacent home; at the burial he shares, perhaps, the charitable work of embalmment with his two above-named friends. He runs with Simon Peter to the empty tomb. He figures once again in the appendix to the Gospel (Jn xxi); not the son of Zebedee, he is surely included in the phrase: 'two other of his disciples.'

The conjecture, broadly taken, is a tempting one. This, at the least, might be urged in its support; it 'answers better to the requirements of the case' than does that which points so confidently to Lazarus. And again, of the rich young man who was a ruler 'who shall say that Christ's love did not avail to bring him back? or that on his return he may not have attached himself to Jesus with a fervour and whole-heartedness which justified the Lord's immediate recognition of his worth3'?

1 Mk x, 17 ff. = Mt. xix, 16 ff. = Lk. xviii, 18 ff.

2 In an exceedingly suggestive paper by E. G. King, Interpreter, Jan. 1909, pp. 167 ff.

3 Swete, JTS, xvii, p. 374.


Non liquet. Conjecture may follow on conjecture, but of conclusive proof there is none; perhaps no last word is possible. That he is a real person is far from certain. If real person he be he is not—so we venture to decide—the son of Zebedee. Otherwise the veil which hides the identity of 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' refuses to be drawn.

Once more proceeding on the assumption that he is not simply an ideal figure, let us ask in conclusion: is he himself, or are others, responsible for that 'phrase of blessed memory1' which, so it has been said, is not expressive of the devotion of the disciple but of a preference by which he was distinguished by his Lord2?

If he himself it be, he has certainly gone the right way to conceal his own identity. Never is the designation used by him in the first person; nowhere in the Gospel is there anything equivalent to an 'I am he'; while search is vain in tradition for hint, let alone statement, that, if alluded to as the Beloved Disciple, it was because he was so wont to allude to himself. Looking to the manner of the Johannine representation—'one of his disciples,' 'the disciple,' 'the other disciple,' 'that disciple'—the inference is not exactly far-fetched that some third person is throughout responsible for the designation.

It may be so. Assuming, if only for the moment, that he is really author of (or authority for) the Fourth Gospel, a further inference might be well founded that the Johannine sections in which he figures are coloured by a redactor's hand. The question at once arises: how had it come about that men spoke of him as the disciple beloved by Jesus? And there is yet another important consideration; for here inquiry is suggested as to the precise meaning of the phrase: 'whom Jesus loved.' 'Loved'—with what sort of love? No answer is forthcoming from the twice-repeated Gospel allusion: 'reclining in Jesus' bosom,' 'which also leaned back on his breast at the Supper'; the phrase came, no doubt, to be interpreted of devoted attachment as between master and disciple, yet it might simply mean that, host for the occasion, the latter's place

1 Luthard, St John's Gospel, i, p. 95. .

2 Weizsäcker, Apos. Age, ii, p. 207. The latter part of the statement, as may appear below, is open to question.


of honour was next to that of Jesus1. Neither is it safe to draw conclusions from the term 'loved,' when the question is of two Greek words2 which, not necessarily of diverse connotation, are indifferently used of the disciple. Unique and distinctive the love might indeed be, yet not so much in respect of quality as in manner of appreciation3. It might be added, not in anything exceptional in the manner of its display; for aptly has it been urged4 that he who discouraged all tendency to jealousy in those who followed him would scarcely have singled out one of them as, above all the others, object of regard and love. What—a supposition hard to entertain—if he had really done so? It would be altogether incredible that such a type of man as the Beloved Disciple should, with unpardonable lack of modesty5, not only glory in the fact, but go on to publish it abroad! How does the case stand with Paul? If (Gal. ii, 20) he can say: 'Who loved me,' he surely would have shrunk instinctively from vain-glorious self-description as the disciple beloved by Jesus.

1 A time, no doubt, came when (as, e.g., in Eusebius) the phrase was invested with more than technical significance, and the term επιστηθιος later on applied by Photius, Ephraim, and Dionysius Areo. (see Suicer) signifies a 'bosom friend.' There is an interesting parallel, Cicero, Ad Fam. xiv, 4, 3; Iste (sc. the younger Cicero) sit in sinu semper et complexu meo. Hitchcock, by the way, is in error when, citing Euseb. HE, v. 24. he writes (op. cit. p. 47, note): `ο επιστηθιος; the phrase as it there stands is: `ο επι το στηθος του κυρ. αναπεσων.

2 It is surely a case of over-refinement when Westcott (op. cit. on Jn xi, 2, 5) differentiates between the `ον φιλεις placed in the mouth of the sisters and the ηγαπα of the reference to Jesus. And besides, the use of the latter verb is not invariable when the subject is the Beloved Disciple (see Jn xx, 2, `ον εφιλει). Nor is this all; as E. G. King (op. cit.) remarks, the former verb is found in a connexion where, on Westcott's hypothesis, the latter verb might be expected: `ο γαρ πατηρ φιλει τον υιον κ.τ.λ. (Jn v, 20), while Gen. xxxvii, 3 f. (LXX) both verbs are used for the same Hebrew word. Yet a distinction is met with in Homer: ουδ' αγαπαζομενοι φιλεουσ' (Od. vii, 33).

3 Thus Lampe (op. cit. iii, p. 60): 'Procul dubio Joannes de amore Jesu ex effectu judicans, se magnopere a Jesu amari inde cottigit, quoniam vehementi erga Jesum affectu se incensum ac repletum esse sentit.' A remark of which Hengstenberg (op. cit. ii, p. 372) says that it is 'mehr schimmend als wahr.'

4 By Dr E. G. King.

5 For objection on this point see, int. al., Wernle, Quellen, p. 27; Hilgenfeld, Einl. p. 732; von Soden, Early Christian Liter. p. 435; Heitmüller, SNT, ii, p. 711.


Yet it is at least within the bounds of reasonable conjecture that the Beloved Disciple of the Johannine representation may have had special ground for dwelling on a love which, freely extended to and shared by others, had left a deep and lasting impression on his mind. And perhaps it is just here that the Fourth Gospel itself goes near, certainly not all the way, to identifying him with the rich young ruler of the Synoptics. If the latter he really be, he has experienced the searching look of love of Jesus; and impressed by it at the time, the memory of it is ineffaceable. It remains with him, ever deepening, to the end of life. Perhaps he now and again spoke of it, if only to his more intimate friends1.

If there be force in the conjecture, the choice rests between two alternatives in respect of the Beloved Disciple sections of the Fourth Gospel. On the one hand, they may be attributed to the enigmatical personage himself, who, from motives of delicacy, has had resort to ambiguity; and if in after times a significance not intended by him was read into the designation, it is not he who is responsible for the mistake2. On the other hand it is quite conceivable that they are the additions of another and a later pen; and if so it must be the pen of men who, having enjoyed the disciple's inmost confidences, and heard him discourse on a topic very near to his heart, make him live in the Fourth Gospel as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'

In any case his identity, assuming that he was a real personage and not an ideal figure, remains unrevealed.

1 It is suggested by E. Iliff Robson that some merely technical significance (suggesting the official link between the Master and his School) may attach to the term 'beloved disciple,' and he instances the relation in which Crito stood to Socrates. The suggestion does not seem to fit the case under consideration.

2 'It is not impossible,' writes Plummer ('St John' in Cambr. Gk Test. p. xxxiv), that the designation was given him by others before he used it of himself.

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