Jesus and His Beloved Disciple, Part 1
Key Passages: John 13:21-25, 19:25-27, 20:1-10, 21:1-25, also 1:35,40, 18:15-16

By Bruce L. Gerig

Repeated references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John have not only puzzled and troubled many Bible commentators, past and present, but they have not been given, until recently, the full attention they deserve, especially relating to how they might shed light on Jesus’ sexuality and provide homoerotic evidence in the Fourth Gospel.    Yet the challenge here is not only to determine what is the most reasonable meaning of this unusual title, but also to decide to whom was it applied and who really wrote the Fourth Gospel―since many modern scholars have turned highly critical of the ancient witness that the Fourth Gospel was written by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee; and the authorship of John’s Gospel and the identification of the Beloved Disciple are not unrelated questions.    This in turn has produced an Amazon-sized jungle of speculation and hypothesis offering other candidates for the Beloved Disciple, although most carry little convincing support from the Gospels.    Besides this, one continues to contend with the heterosexist and homophobic blindsightedness of most Bible scholars, as well as their uneasiness over the idea that Jesus might have had sexual feelings.   Therefore, this study will include three parts, covering six topics: (1) Introduction of the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John, (2) Other references to the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John, (3) Internal evidence for John son of Zebedee being the Beloved Disciple, (4) External evidence for John son of Zebedee being the Beloved Disciple, (5) Other candidates offered as being the Beloved Disciple, and (6) A homosexual reading of Jesus and his Beloved Disciple.

Introduction of the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John.  Jesus showed his love and compassion for many people in various concrete ways, but only on a few occasions is it said in the Gospels that he loved specific persons, e.g., he “loved his own,” the Twelve (John 13:1,34; 15:9,12), and in a larger sense all of his followers (14:21); and it is noted that he “loved” the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany (11:5), especially Lazarus (11:3,36).1    However, in John’s Gospel there are also no less than five unusual references to ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20).2    This “mysterious and compelling character” (Williams)3 is not identified in the text by name; and he appears only in four scenes at the end of Jesus’ life: at the Last Supper (13:22-25), at the Cross (19:25-27), at the Tomb (20:1-9), and finally at the Sea of Galilee in a Resurrection appearance (21:1-25).    There is no mention of the Beloved Disciple in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke); and after his appearance in John’s Gospel we never hear of him again, in Acts or the NT epistles.    Yet, this figure may also be the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who follows Jesus along with Andrew (John 1:35,40), as well as the “another/other disciple” who gains entrance for himself and Peter into the high priest’s courtyard as Jesus is being interrogated inside (18:15-16).    Interestingly, in three of the four main scenes (except at the Cross) the Beloved Disciple appears alongside Simon Peter, as well as with the figure in John 18:15-16.    

At the Last Supper (13:21-25) – On the afternoon of the day of Passover (which also began the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread), “Jesus sent Peter and John [notice the two together], saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover. . . . As you enter the city [Jerusalem], a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.    Follow him to the house that he enters” and then ask the homeowner where his guest room is, so that I may eat the Passover meal there with my disciples (Luke 22:7-12 NIV = Mark 14:13-15).    Now Morton Smith notes, “Carrying water was women’s work, so this was like saying, ‘Look for a man wearing lipstick.’”4    Could this gender-bending clue have been meant by Jesus to be a sly note of humor for his Beloved Disciple?    Anyway, after Peter and John returned with the lamb slaughtered at the Temple and other supplies required for the Passover meal, it could have been that women in the house (perhaps that of John Mark and his mother Mary, cf. Acts 12:12) helped complete the meal for serving to the Master and his disciples.    “When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve” (Mark 14:17 NIV), and then “He reclined [anapiptō], and the twelve apostles with Him” (Luke 22:14, lit. Green = Matt 26:20).    John’s Gospel notes also that only those “I have chosen” (i.e., the Twelve) were with Jesus for this Passover meal (John 13:18 NIV), normally limited to 10-12 persons, the number one roasted lamb would feed (Carson),5 although this does not mean that household servants might not have served the meal to the guests, and then left.    During the meal, Jesus shared his ‘troubled spirit’ and coming betrayal (13:21) with his Apostles and also gave them some final words of comfort and instruction before his death (13:31–17:26), in a long, another unique and distinctive passage in the Gospel of John.   

Now Craig Keener (2003) writes that while the Jews generally sat on chairs, when available, they followed the Hellenistic (Greek) custom for special occasions, like Passover, of reclining on couches, where one propped oneself up on the left elbow and then ate with the right hand (fingers) from food that had been cut up into small pieces in advance (cf. also Morris, Jeffers, CEV note, Radmacher).6    Also, since persons were usually seated according to rank or honor, Jesus no doubt reclined at the head couch, with his Beloved Disciple to his right (cf. John 13:25) and Judas, who had already taken money from the chief priests to betray Jesus (Matt 26:14-16), to his left.    Keener then suggests that the other ten disciples crowded together on two side couches, with a food table usually set in front of each couch.7    However, since (earlier) Etruscan and Greek pictorial scenes show no more than two persons reclining side by side on a couch,8 later couches must have been wider, even more so than those depicted in one recent artist’s rendering.9    Or perhaps, as Beasley-Murray and Jennings suggest, mats, cushions and pillows were spread on the floor, around a single, low table.10    Now, although English translations for John 13:12 often read that, after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus “sat down again” (NKJV, REB, CEV, cf. NLT) or “returned to the table” (NRSV, cf. NJB), the Greek specifically says that Jesus “reclined” (anapiptō, G377, cf. Green, Moffatt, NASB, NAB).    Another Greek verb here anakeimai (G345) may be rendered as ‘to recline, lie down, or sit’ (Strong)―note “[John] was reclining [G345] next to him [Jesus]” (13:23 NIV).    This verb in this verse is usually rendered as “reclining” (Moffatt, NASB, NEB, NJB, REB, NAB, UNASB, Peterson) or “lying close” (RSV), and infrequently as “leaning [on/against] (KJV, Lamsa [Peshitta], NKJV).    Meanwhile, a third term epipiptō (G1968) in 13:25 (referring to the Beloved Disciple “leaning back” on Jesus’ breast, JB) conveys the meaning of ‘to fall back on, to press upon’ (Strong).    Overall, the picture then is one of Jesus and the Twelve reclining or lying down, not sitting on chairs or benches, as shown in Leonardo’s famous Last Supper or other old masters’ renderings.    Also, in the Greek for John 13 there is no reference to any “table” (although this word appears in English translations, e.g., in 13:28 in NKJV, NRSV, REB, ESV)—which means that one or more table(s) could have been used.

However, at one point during the meal Jesus shocked his disciples by announcing that “one of you will betray me” (13:21).    “Now there was leaning [anakeimai, G345] on Jesus’ bosom [kolpos, G2859] one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [agapaō, G25].    Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.    Then, leaning back [epipiptō, G1968] on Jesus’ breast [stēthos, G4738], he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” (John 13:23-25 NKJV).    Now it should be noticed that Peter motions rather than speaks to John, suggesting that he was not close enough, lying on his couch, to whisper a question to him, but rather he used hand gestures and perhaps mouthed words.    More noteworthy, the uneasiness that translators feel with the male same-sex intimacy that is suggested in John 13:23 can be sensed in their altering of the literal Greek text to read, e.g., “reclining next” to Jesus (JB, NIV, NJB, NRSV) or “sitting next” to Jesus (LB, GNB2, CEV, NLT), rather than “reclining/leaning” on Jesus’ “bosom/breast” (KJV, Lamsa [Peshitta], NASB, NKJV, cf. Green, UNASB, Van der Pool [Septuagint]), which is what the original text really says.    Moffatt captures the right idea here with “one of his disciples was reclining on his breast—he was the favourite of Jesus . . . .”    Both Greek words kolpos and stēthos refer to the ‘bosom, breast [of a woman], or chest [of a man]’ (Strong),11 although stēthos was more strictly an anatomical term while kolpos was sometimes used to describe a figurative place of “blessedness and affection” (Vine),12 as when John earlier describes the Son as residing “in the bosom [kolpos] of the Father” (1:18 KJV).    However, keq (“bosom,” H2436), the corresponding Hebrew term, frequently conveyed a sexual sense, e.g., Gen 16:5 notes how Sarah regretted that she had given Hagar into Abraham’s “bosom” (KJV); Deut 13:6 speaks of “the wife of your bosom” (NKJV) or “the wife you embrace” (ESV); 1 Kings 1:2 describes how when David was old his servants brought a beautiful virgin to his bed to “lie in your bosom” (NKJV); and Prov 6:27-28 warns against prostitutes, saying, “Can a man take fire to his bosom, / And his clothes not be burned?” (NKJV)―and in all of these cases the Greek Septuagint substitutes kolpos for keq.13    Using modern language, Robert Williams (1992) and Theodore Jennings (2003) write that John “snuggled up” to Jesus;14 and Robert Goss (2006) notes the physical closeness inherent in such “cuddling.”15    The Beloved Disciple is known by two designations, ton mathētēn hon ēgapa [G25; or ephilei, G5368, 20:2] ho Iesous (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”) and hos kai anepesen . . . epi to stēthos autou (“who also leaned . . . on his breast,” John 21:20, cf. Green), i.e., he is Jesus’ favorite and he lays close to Jesus with his head on his chest.    Johns Varghese (2009) notes that Jesus’ love for his beloved was not only “privileged” (unique) but it was of a “durative” (lasting) nature, for they shared a “familiar relationship” and a “permanent friendship.”16    He also points out that the expression “was reclining on Jesus’ bosom” (13:23) combines a present participle anakeimenos (“reclining,” G345) with the imperfect verb form en (“was,” G1722), which together have the force of an Imperfect Tense (D. B. Wallace), which describes prolonged or repeated action—which means here that this was the position usually occupied by the Beloved Disciple next to Jesus (cf. Mark 10:37).    Juvenal (c.60–c.140), the Roman satirist, expressed the intimacy of a new bride with her bridegroom, for example, by describing her as reclining in the bosom of her husband (Satires 2.120).17    However, at the same time, Varghese attempts to ‘sanitize’ Jesus’ relationship with his Beloved Disciple by suggesting that this was only a “friendship” and then comparing it to Jesus’ spiritual relationship to the Father (‘in his bosom,’ John 1:18 KJV).18    Yet, while the Father has no physical body, intimate physical human contact is what is described here at the Last Supper.  

It is also interesting to note that Jesus calls his disciples ‘little children’ (13:33) or later ‘children’ (21:5); and indeed most of the Twelve were unmarried and probably younger than Jesus (who began his public ministry at the age of 30, Luke 3:23), in their early twenties, and with John even younger, probably in his mid-teens (Keener).19    However, to really understand the situation at the Last Supper (three years later), lay down on a bed or rug, lean up on your left elbow, and then have another person lie down beside you, placing his or her head in your bosom—and you will discover what an intimate position this is.    In fact, it is impossible not to have close bodily contact down to the legs, and not to most naturally place your arm around the other person, lying in front of you.   Many people would find such a sustained close physical contact uncomfortable—especially men in our culture where generally one man intimately touching another man threatens the masculine sense of identity (Van Tilborg).20    However, for Jesus and his favorite this closeness was a delight.    Most interpreters do not even attempt to explain how Jesus’ love for his beloved was different than the deep friendship love he felt for others close to him, although the title “that disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:7 NKJV) clearly expresses something different and beyond that—and the easiest and most natural explanation (for those who have eyes to see it) is that Jesus and this disciple had ‘fallen in love.’    Physical intimacy is the key element that differentiates Jesus’ love for the Beloved Disciple in John’s Gospel.21    Moreover, the fact that the other disciples at the Last Supper accept this ‘special friendship,’ expressed openly and without comment, suggests (along with the compound verb form noted above) that this was not the first time Jesus and John had shared close physical contact in their presence.    Perhaps the two had first drawn close to each other one cold night sleeping out in the open field (cf. Matt 8:20) or crowded together on the floor at a home they had been invited into for the night, and then their special bond became apparent to the other eleven disciples.    The “Love that dare not speak its name” (Alfred Douglas)22 had struck again, this time the young, adoring John and Jesus, burdened and wearied in his difficult ministry, that was quickly spiraling toward his death.    Although images of the Last Supper from the history of art mistakenly picture Jesus and the Twelve sitting rather than lying down and usually give Jesus and his beloved little shared emotion, some Renaissance artists have sought to portray the intense feelings that they felt toward each other, as in scenes by Giotto (c.1323), Albrecht Dürer (c.1505, 1523), Bernart van Orley (c.1520), and Lucas Cranach the Elder (1547).  

Other references to the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John.    At the Cross (19:25-27) John’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion (19:16-37) also contains unique material, including the soldiers’ casting lots for Jesus’ tunic (undergarment)—a long, seamless and tight-fitting shirt23 (19:23-24), watching one of the soldiers pierce Jesus’ side with a spear to see if he was dead yet (19:34), and before that, “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’    Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’    And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.    After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst’ . . . [and] ‘It is finished!’    And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:26-30 NKJV, italicized word not in the Greek).    Now Mark notes that after Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane “everyone [i.e., the Eleven] deserted him and fled” (14:50 NIV); and the Synoptic Gospels only mention women at the Cross (Matt 27:55-56 [including John’s mother] = Mark 15:40-41 = Luke 23:49).    Still, this does not mean that the Beloved Disciple could not have snuck back to stand quietly near the women,24 especially Jesus’ mother.    Completely “in love with Jesus,” the Beloved Disciple returned to courageously be with him in his death vigil (Goss),25 just as many gay men in our time have stood faithfully by the bedsides of their partners as they died of AIDS.    Yet, I would not have been surprised to see John come back to the Cross with his head hidden under a shawl, since the Roman soldiers took the women who gathered to be relatives of the crucified men and so allowed them to join the crowd watching the executions.    Although they were not allowed too near the cross, they would have been able to stand within hearing range.26    Jewish legal custom allowed a dying man, even one being crucified, to decide the legal status for women for whom he was responsible (Stauffer); and so the honor of Mary is guarded by giving her a new protector (the Beloved Disciple) and family (the Church, cf. Acts 1:14).27    Jesus no doubt entrusted his mother to the Beloved Disciple because his brothers “did not believe” (John 7:5), although Charlesworth suggests that not only did Jesus have special confidence in his favorite, but perhaps he and Jesus’ mother had become close friends, as well.28    Jennings notes that in the future both Mary and John in their grief will need someone to lean on, and they can find consolation and care in one another.29    This passage depicts a moving historical scene where the Beloved Disciple was present in person, although even no Beloved Disciple is pointed out in the Last Supper accounts in the Synoptic Gospels, nor is any mention made of him there at the Cross.30    Surely aware of this omission in the Synoptics (because of the homosexual nature of their bond, and also jealousy?), John emphasizes in his Gospel that he really was there, noting, “The man [the Beloved Disciple] who saw it [Jesus’ crucifixion] has given testimony [here], and his testimony is true” (John 19:35).    Now since certain scholars have argued that it would not have been convenient for John son of Zebedee to take Jesus’ mother home to northern Galilee where his family resided  (if he was the Beloved Disciple), it should be noted that there is no reference to “home” in the Greek in 19:27.    Therefore, “the disciple took her for his own” (Van der Pool [Septuagint]) is a more literal and accurate translation here than “took her into his own home” (NIV, NJB, CEV).    In fact, after Jesus’ Ascension, Mary is found in Jerusalem in the company of the approximately 120 followers of Jesus who are gathered together in a home (Acts 1:12-15), waiting for Pentecost.

Sjef van Tilborg sees a kind of adoption taking place here at the Cross, noting, e.g., how the first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Abraham adopting his elder servant Eliezer as his heir (Gen 15:2-3); and Biblical examples also include Pharaoh’s daughter adopting the young Moses as her son (Exod 2:10) and Mordecai in Persia adopting his cousin, the orphan Haddasah/Esther (Est 2:7).    Although there was no provision made for this in Jewish law,31 adoption was known and widely practiced in the Greco-Roman world, shown in numerous grave inscriptions in Ephesus and Smyrna and in papyri in Egypt.    Still, Van Tilborg notes that there is no record in ancient times of adoption being accomplished by voice alone, only by written contract; so therefore he views this new relationship established between Jesus’ mother and the Beloved Disciple as a “quasi-adoption,” a less legal and more informal bond.32    Yet psychoanalyst Richard C. Friedman also interpreted this bond as a kind of ‘homosexual marriage.’33    Johns Varghese notes that what was said by Jesus on the Cross has “some familiarity to an adoption formula,” since Mary here becomes the “mother” of the Beloved Disciple and so he in turn becomes the “brother” of Jesus.34    This recalls scenes from the Gilgamesh Epic where Queen Ninsun, mother of Gilgamesh, adopts her son’s companion and lover, Enkidu, as her son (III, 127-128),35 and also of Jonathan and David’s making a covenant (1 Sam 18:1-4) as a sign of their love (Comstock).    Gay people have often found camouflaged (and inventive) ways to express themselves and bond themselves together in love.36 

At the Tomb (20:1-10) – On the first day of the week (Sunday), after visiting Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene “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, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”    Then the two men “ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.    And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.”    However, after Peter arrived and entered the tomb and saw the linen clothes and the face handkerchief folded up by itself, “[t]hen the other disciple . . . went in also; and he saw and believed.    For as yet they did not know the Scripture [note, e.g., Acts 2:25-28 where Peter quotes from Ps 16:8-11], that He must rise again from the dead.    Then the disciples went away again to their own homes” (John 20:1-10 NKJV).    The fact that the Beloved Disciple outruns Peter suggests that he was younger and more agile (Tenney),37 and trim and fit.    Yet, although he is more naturally the ‘winner’ in the race, he gives precedence to Peter, allowing him to enter the tomb first.38 In contrast to the more passive Beloved Disciple, Simon Peter charges into the tomb, where he sees the empty shroud-wrapping and folded face-cloth, signs of Jesus’ triumph over death (Keener),39 and not the messy evidence of grave robbers (Hunter).40    Of course, the hesitant John may still have been traumatized by watching Jesus’ crucifixion (Goss).41    However, the last sentence of the passage above (20:10) reads literally, “And the disciples went away again to themselves” (Green), or “to their own” (Van der Pool [Septuagint]); and again there is no mention of going “home” here, to Galilee or anywhere else, other than to where they may have been staying.    In fact, later the same day Jesus appears to ten of the disciples (20:19-24) somewhere in Jerusalem; and they are still in the city a week later for a second appearance (20:26-29), when Thomas is present with them.    Peter is hesitant to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead (as are most of the male disciples, cf. Luke 24:36-43); and so the Beloved Disciple’s insight and faith here at the Tomb are the “true climax” of this narrative (Hunter).42    Some modern scholars warn that we should not be too confident of the Resurrection (and of the supernatural in the Bible), but John 20:9 (“they did not know the Scripture”) shows that the disciples of Jesus did not manufacture the Resurrection to fit their view of OT prophecy (Morris).43 

At the Sea of Galilee (21:1-25) Peter and the Beloved Disciple play major roles together again in an appendix (chapter 21) which was added to the John’s Gospel (note the first ending, 20:30-31), although no ancient manuscript exists without this addition, suggesting that the author himself added it on (Westcott), to tie up some loose ends related to the call of the Church and its mission (Keener).44    This Resurrection appearance no doubt occurred early during the fifty day period between Jesus’ death and his Ascension (Acts 1:3,9).45    Eventually the Apostles had returned home to Galilee, where on this occasion seven disciples decided to go fishing (perhaps for food and livelihood), including “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons [Green: ‘those’] of Zebedee and two others of His disciples . . .” (21:2 NKJV, italicized word not in the Greek).    Most naturally “those of Zebedee” would refer to James and John (since no other sons of Zebedee are mentioned in the Gospels as a point of reference), and the “two others” could refer to Andrew (John 1:40-42,44) and Philip (John 1:43-46),46 or maybe even followers of Jesus who were not Apostles but were their close friends (cf. Luke 24:13-35).    Anyway, as morning dawned, Jesus appeared on the shore and called out, “Children, have you any food?”―to which they replied, “No.”    Then Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, after which the nets became so filled with fish that the men could not haul them in.    “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” (21:7), after which Peter jumped into the water and began swimming to shore.    Here again the Beloved Disciple is quicker to perceive spiritual realities (as at the Tomb),47 while Peter is the more compulsive one.    When all of the disciples had joined Jesus on shore, he served them a breakfast of fish and bread, showing his concern for their mundane needs and knowing that they were hungry after an arduous night of work.48    Then turning to Peter, Jesus asked him three times if he “loved” him, to which Peter, somewhat embarrassed, answered “Yes” three times.    Then Jesus instructed him three times to “Feed/Tend my sheep” (21:15-17 NKJV).    Jesus also informed Peter that he would face a martyr’s death. (21:18-19).  

“Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned [anapiptō] on His breast [stēthos] at the supper, and [he] said . . . ‘But Lord, what about this man?’”    But Jesus answered, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?    You follow me.’” (21:20-22 NKJV).    Of course, Jesus’ answer represented only a hypothetical (“if”) situation, and probably one where the word “remain” should be emphasized rather than “till I come,”49 since Jesus had said earlier that he did not know when his second coming would occur (Mark 13:32).    However, some scholars point to Jesus’ statement given earlier to the brothers James and John that “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink; and with the baptism I am baptized with, you will be baptized . . .” (Mark 10:39 NKJV)—which recalls Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane about the “cup” which he must drink (Mark 14:36)—interpreting both as referring to martyrdom.    Yet related to James and John it is best to think of this “cup” as referring simply to suffering (Jacobs, Wessel);50 so James will be martyred for his faith (Acts 12:1-2) while John will be exiled on the island of Patmos (Rev 1:9).    The “cup” here in Jesus’ prediction refers specifically to “suffering” for one’s mission, and the “baptism” to being immersed in that suffering.51    Also, it should be noted that two verbs for “love” are used in Jesus’ questions to Peter, agapaō (G25) in John 21:15,16 and phileō (G5368) in 21:17, as well in the overall references to the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” with agapaō used in 13:23; 19:26; 21:7,20 and phileō in 20:2.    As John Boswell (1994) explains, the Greeks had three basic words (nouns) for love:    Erōs was primarily associated with passionate love, erotic love, “being in love.”    Philia (G5373) was the general word for “friendship,” although it was also the most commonly used Greek word for “love” in all its shades of meaning, including erotic love.    Agapē (G26) was applied to divine love, chaste human love, and also sexual love (often homosexual), although it also became the favored word in Jewish and Christian writings to describe God’s love and selfless human love (cf. Eph 2:4, 1 Cor 13).    Erōs does not appear in the NT, while philia and agapē are used interchangeably there, with a wide range of meanings.52       In fact, these terms are used as synonyms;53 and no case can be made for the verbs agapaō or phileō not referring to romantic or erotic love when the context calls for it.    Jennings points out that while Jesus commissions Peter to “feed/tend my sheep” (lead my church), he assigns no such responsibility to John; it is enough that he is there to be loved, although Jesus is concerned about his fate (21:23).54  

“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.    We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24 NIV).    This verse has given rise to much speculation as to whom “we” in the second part refers.    Various views have included: (1) church elders at Ephesus (B. F. Westcott); (2) an “editorial ‘we’,” as found elsewhere in John 3:2,11; 20:2, and in 1 John 1:2-4 (J. Chapman); (3) the writer and a circle associated with him (Frederic Schlatter); (4) the author and his church (Rudolf Bultmann); and (5) an indefinite expression simply meaning “as is well known” (C. H. Dodd).55    George Beasley-Murray thinks that the “editorial ‘we’” should be given more consideration; and J. Chapman holds that this refers in a combined way to the “witness” of these things as well as to the author of this Gospel.56    H. Thyen believed that the author merely “created this figure [the Beloved Disciple] for the purpose of giving a divine authorization for his work,” although J. H. Bernard notes that the NT writers generally used amanuenses (scribes or literary assistants),57 as can be seen at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where the scribe adds: “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Rom 16:22); and so John 21:24b may simply be an “Amen” added to the Gospel by the scribe, on behalf of himself as well as other followers of John the Apostle, who have benefited so much from his testimony, life and ministry.    

The unnamed disciple of John the Baptist (1:35,40) and the “other disciple” with connections to the high priest (18:15-16) – John 1:35-42 speaks of two disciples of John the Baptist who left him to follow Jesus, one of them unnamed and the other one Andrew, who then brought Simon Peter to Jesus.    Merrill Tenney notes that since the Synoptic Gospels record the first four disciples chosen by Jesus to be Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and then the brothers James and John, all fishing partners together (Matt 4:18-22 = Mark 1:16-20), there is a strong likelihood that the unnamed disciple here is either James or John;58 and if the latter, this reference would show how the Beloved Disciple had been a witness of Jesus’ ministry (John 21:24) from the very beginning.    Murray Harris acknowledges that the Gospels nowhere state specifically that James and John were the Baptist’s disciples; yet still that the unnamed disciple here was probably John.59    Then John 18:15-16 notes how “another disciple” was able to gain entrance for himself and Simon Peter into the high priest’s courtyard while Jesus was being questioned inside, because this “other disciple . . . was known to the high priest.”    This passage seems to anticipate later references to the Beloved Disciple as the “other disciple,” in John 20:2,3,4,8 and there also in the company of Simon Peter.    As to explaining a possible connection between John’s family living in or near Capernaum in Galilee (cf. Matt 4:13-22) and the high priest in Jerusalem (John 18:15), this remains a mystery, but not an impossibility, since Zebedee and his family’s fishing business might have sold fresh or salted fish to the rich directly in Jerusalem, thus avoiding the middle man (Keener).    Or, John’s mother might have had priestly relatives (Blomberg),60 similar to Jesus’ mother (Mary) living in Nazareth in Galilee, who had a relative (Elizabeth) living just south of Jerusalem, who was of priestly lineage and whose husband (Zechariah) served as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 1:5,36).61


FOOTNOTES:    1. The Synoptic Gospels contain only one reference to Jesus ‘loving’ someone, the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21.    2. Jennings, p. 14.    3. Williams, p. 116.   4. Smith, p. 80; and noted in Jennings, p. 160.    5. Carson 1984, p. 533.    6. Keener, p. 900; cf. also Morris 1995, p. 555; Jeffers, pp. 39-40; footnote for John 13:12 in CEV; and commentary for 13:23 in Radmacher, p. 1345.    7. Keener, pp. 915-916.    8. Cf. Online Art Works (below) for: Etruscan banquet scene c. 480 BC in the Tomb of the Leopards at Tarquinia, Italy; symposium scenes c. 470 BC on the north and south walls of the Tomb of the Diver near Paestrum, Italy; and a symposium scene depicted on a 390 BC Greek vessel in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.    9. Cf. Online Art Works (below) for: Anonymous, Roman banquet scene (modern illustration).    10. Beasley-Murray, pp. 237; and Jennings, p. 22.    11. Strong, G2859 (kolpos) and G4738 (stēthos).    12. Vine, 1, pp. 149, 141-142.    13. Van der Pool, “Lexical Concordance,” p. 195.    14. Williams, p. 117; and Jennings, p. 23.    15. Goss, p. 560.    16. Varghese, pp. 255-256, 258.    17. Ibid., p. 257, and n. 97.    18. Ibid., pp. 257-258.    19. Keener, p. 102.    20. Van Tilborg, p. 109.    21. Jennings, p. 23.    22. Lord Alfred Douglas coined this phrase in his poem Two Loves (applying it to himself), which was printed in the Chameleon in 1896; however, Oscar Wilde at his trial in 1895 would give the phrase a different twist, a ‘spiritual’ meaning, applying it to the ‘intellectual’ affection an older man may feel for a young man.  Cf. Anonymous, “Phrases Thesaurus” online.   23. Keener, p. 1140.    24. Ibid., p. 90.    25. Goss, p. 561.    26. Keener, p. 1141.    27. Ethelbert Stauffer 1960; and Keener, in Keener, p. 1144.    28. Charlesworth, p. 118.    29. Jennings, p. 27.    30. Cf. Keener, p. 1143.    31. Rees, p. 53; and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.154, 2.237.    32. Van Tilborg, pp. 95-96.    33. Ibid., p. 109.    34. Varghese, pp. 260-261.    35. George, p. 27.    36. Comstock, pp. 86-88.    37. Tenney, p. 188.    38. Van Tilborg, p. 102.    39. Keener, p. 1182.    40. Hunter, p. 184.    41. Goss, p. 561.    42. Hunter, p. 185.    43. Morris 1995, p. 737.    44. Westcott, p. 299; and Keener, pp. 1219-1220.    45. Note that the “forty days” in Acts 1:3 would follow Jesus being ‘three days’ in the grave, plus his two Resurrection appearances a week apart to the apostles, cf. John 20:19-29.    46. Tenney, pp. 198-199.    47. Keener, p. 1228.    48. Ibid., pp. 1227, 1230.    49. Van Tilborg, pp. 104-105.    50. Jacobs, p. 836; and Wessel, p. 720.    51. Cf. baptizō, (G907), in Bromiley, p. 410.    52. Boswell 1994, pp. 6-8.    53. Keener, pp. 1235-1236; and Varghese, p. 264.    54. Jennings, p. 32.    55. In Beasley-Murray, pp. 413-414.    56. Ibid., p. 414.    57. Ibid., p. 415.    58. Tenney, p. 40.    59. Harris, p. 958.    60. Craig Blomberg, 1993; and Keener, in Keener, p. 104, n. 189.    61. Tenney, p. 172.

Anonymous, Roman banquet scene (modern illustration, containing wide couches), artist and source unknown – Online,; accessed 12/3/09.

Cranach the Elder, Lucas (German), The Last Supper, Reformation Altar, 1547, oil on panel, upper main scene, 1547, Stadtkirche St Marien (City Church), Wittenburg, Germany – On / Images, search for “Cranach the Elder Last Supper” and look for the central square scene from this triptych, with Jesus and John sitting at the far left; accessed 12/28/09.

Dürer, Albrecht (German), The Last Supper, 1523, woodcut – On / Images, search for “Das Abendmahl Durer” and look for the horizontal “Last Supper” with no circular window but with the artist’s initials inscribed on the wall, to the left; accessed 12/18/09.

Dürer, Albrecht (German), The Last Supper, Large Passion series, 1498-1510, engraving, scene 9 – Online,; accessed 12/3/09.

Giotto di Bondone (Italian), The Last Supper, 1320-1325, tempera on wood, Alte Pinakothek, Munich – Online,; accessed 12/3/09.

Greek symposium scene, Greek vase, c. 390 BC, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles – Online,; accessed 12/3/09.

Greek symposium scenes, Tomb of the Diver, c. 470 BC, frescoes, north and south walls, Paestrum; now in the Paestrum Archaeological Museum, Italy – Online, search Google for “Tomb of the Diver” and look at the Wikipedia article; accessed 12/3/09.

Van Orley, Bernart (Flemish), The Last Supper, tapestry designed c. 1520 and woven early 16th century probably by Pieter de Pannemakeer; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – Online,; accessed 12/3/09.    

Anonymous.   “Phrases Thesaurus.”   Online,   “The Love that dare not speak its name.”

Beasley-Murray, George R.   John.   (Word Biblical Commentary).    Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999. 

Boswell, John.   Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.   New York: Villard Books, 1994.

Bromiley, Geoffrey W.   “Baptism: NT References.”   In Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1, pp. 410-415.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.     

Carson, D. A.   “Matthew.”   In Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8, pp. 1-599.   Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984. 

Charlesworth, James H.   The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?   Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press, 1995.    

Comstock, Gary David.   Gay Theology without Apology.   Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1993.

George, Andrew R., trans.   The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian.   London: Penguin Books (1999), 2003. 

Goss, Robert E.   “John.”   In Deryn Guest, ed., The Queer Bible Commentary, pp. 548-565.   London: SCM Press, 2006.

Green, Jay P., Sr., ed. and trans.   The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English.   With Strong’s Concordance numbers added above each word.   Peabody, MA: Hendrickson (1976), 1988. 

Harris, R. Laird.   “James (1).”   In Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 2, pp. 958-959.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.     

Hunter, A. M. (Archibald Macbride).   The Gospel according to John.   Cambridge: University Press, 1965.   

Jacobs, Henry E.   “Cup.”   In Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1, pp. 836-837.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.      

Jeffers, James S.   The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity.   Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999.

Jennings, Theodore W., Jr.   The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament.   Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003.   

Josephus, Flavius.   Josephus [Works], in 10 vols.   Greek and English.   Trans. by Henry St. John Thackeray.   (Loeb Classical Library: Greek Authors).   Cambridge: Harvard University Press; and London: William Heinemann.  Includes: [My] Life (Bios), vol. 1; and Jewish Antiquities (Ioudaikēs archaiologias), vols. 4-10, 1930-1965.

Keener, Craig S.   The Gospel of John: A Commentary.   Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2 vols., 2003.

Lamsa, George M., trans.   Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text . . . from the Aramaic of the Peshitta.   San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1933.

Morris, Leon.   The Gospel according to John.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1971), 1995. 

Radmacher, Earl D., et al.   Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary.   Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Rees, Thomas.   “Adoption; Sonship.”   In Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1, pp. 53-55.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.        

Smith, Morton.   The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel according to Mark.   New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

Strong, James.   The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible . . . King James Version . . . .   With “Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary” and “Greek Dictionary of the New Testament.”   Nashville: Abingdon (1980), repr. 1980.

Tenney, Merrill C.   “The Gospel of John.”   In Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 9, pp. 1-203.   Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Van der Pool, Charles, trans.   Apostolic Bible: Polyglot.   Including “Lexical Concordance.”   Newport, OR: Apostolic Press (1996), 2006.

Van Tilborg, Sjef.   Imaginative Love in John.   Leiden, New York and Köln: E. J. Brill, 1993.  

Varghese, Johns.   The Imagery of Love in the Gospel of John.   Rome: Gregorian & Biblical Press, 2009.  

Vine, W. E.   An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.   Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 4 vols., 1940; repr. in one vol., 1961.   

Wessel, Walter W.   “Mark.”   In Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8, pp. 601-793.   Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984. 

Westcott, B. F. (Brooke Foss).   The Gospel according to John.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1881), repr. 1962.

Williams, Robert.   Just As I Am.   New York: Crown Publishers, 1992. 

Contemporary English Verison, 1995.   English Standard Version, 2001.   Good News Bible, 2nd ed. 1983.   Jerusalem Bible, 1996.   King James Version, 1611.   Living Bible, 1976.   Moffatt: The Bible, 1922.   New American Bible, 1995.   New American Standard Bible, 1960.   New English Bible, with Apocrypha, 1970.   New International Version, 1978.   New Jerusalem Bible, 1985.   New King James Version, 1982.   New Living Translation, 1996.   New Revised Standard Version, 1989.   Revised English Bible, with Apocrypha, 1989.   Revised Standard Version, 1946.   Updated New American Standard Bible, 1999.    


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