Jesus and His Beloved Disciple, Part 3
Key Passages: John 13:23-25; 19:26-27; 20:1-10; 21:1-25; also cf. 1:35,40; 18:15-16

By Bruce L. Gerig

Part 1 of this series looked at various passages in John’s Gospel which speak of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” along with several other passages that may allude to this enigmatic figure.   Then Part 2 provided solid, broad-based evidence for John son of Zebedee being identified as both the author of the Fourth Gospel and the Beloved Disciple, based on evidence in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts and in other ancient Church writings.    Now Part 3 considers other candidates who have been proposed as the Beloved Disciple by interpreters who reject a Johannine identification, then turns to survey those interpreters who have viewed Jesus and his Beloved Disciple as sharing a homosexual relationship.     

Other candidates suggested for the Beloved Disciple.    Not a historical figure but a symbol.    Some interpreters such as Johannes H. Scholten (1864), Adolf Jülicher (1904) and Alv Kragerud (1959) have proposed that the Beloved Disciple was not a real person at all, but an invented symbol of a ‘disciple of Jesus.’    More specifically, Alfred Loisy (1903) suggested the Church1 and Rudolf Bultmann (1971) “Gentile Christendom,” while E. Schillito (1917-18) believed he represented “everyone,” who might turn to Jesus.2    B. Bonsack (1988) viewed him as a composite figure representing all of the witnesses and leaders in the Johannine community.3    Moving in another direction, Paul S. Minear (1977) held that the Beloved Disciple recalls BENJAMIN, who was Jacob’s favorite son (Gen 44:30-31) and was called “beloved of the LORD” (Deut 33:12), while Joseph A. Grassi (1992) believed that he recalls JOSEPH, who like Moses (Heb 3:1-6) stands as a type of Christ.4    Yet, in response to such symbolic interpretations, Oscar Cullmann (1976) noted that nowhere is there any evidence in the Fourth Gospel that the writer intended to invent a person or an event simply for allegorical purposes.5    James Charlesworth (1995) points out how the Beloved Disciple is presented in the Fourth Gospel as “a real historical person,” with whose death the immediate recipients of John’s Gospel are concerned (John 21:22-23).6    Also, the author of this Gospel emphasizes the Beloved Disciple’s being an actual witness to the events described therein (21:24), including especially Jesus’ crucifixion (19:35-37).    Raymond Brown (1979) noted how the Beloved Disciple’s “one-upmanship” with Simon Peter (John 21:15-23) really makes no sense if the Beloved Disciple was purely an imaginative symbol or he if had never been with Jesus.7     

Another member of the Twelve besides John.    Other interpreters who reject John ben Zebedee have proposed other members of the Twelve to be the Beloved Disciple, including: Thomas, Andrew, Nathanael, Philip and Judas Iscariot.    P. de Suarez (1974) argued for the Beloved Disciple being THOMAS, as more recently has James Charlesworth (1995), noting his request to touch Jesus’ side wound (John 20:25), which is not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels but which the Beloved Disciple saw firsthand given Jesus on the cross (John 19:34).    Charlesworth also claims that John’s account anticipates a rivalry that will develop later between a “school of Thomas” in the East and Peter’s recognized leadership in the West.8    Yet Craig Keener (2003) calls this rivalry “minor” and asks, why is Thomas named outright numerous times in John’s Gospel (11:16; 14:5; 20:24,26-29; 21:2) but then suddenly treated anonymously in the Beloved Disciple passages?    Also, Thomas’s request to touch Jesus’ side probably presupposes that all of the disciples knew about this wound.9    As Ismo Dunderberg (2006) notes, surely the women present at the crucifixion must have passed on to the Eleven a full account of everything that took place there.10    However, E. C. J. Lützelberger (1840) suggested that the Beloved Disciple was ANDREW, the brother of Simon Peter, because he is the first disciple to confess that Jesus is the Messiah (John 1:41) and he seems to be a leader among the Twelve (John 12:22).11    Klaus Berger (1997) more recently supported this view.12    Yet, Andrew is omitted from the inner circle of Peter, James and John and their unique experiences with Jesus, although he is present when their questions lead Jesus into giving his Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3-4ff).    Andrew is mentioned only once in Acts (1:13, in the Upper Room) and nowhere else in the NT outside of the Gospels; moreover, no later evidence connects him with the Fourth Gospel.    In contrast, H. Spaeth (1868) and M. A. N. Rovers (1888) pointed to NATHANAEL as the Beloved Disciple, noting his remarkable confession, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” (John 1:49) and also that he appears at the end of the Gospel, named in the fishing scene (21:2).    Furthermore, Jesus describes him as someone “in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47 NRSV).    Also, Spaeth proposed that since John is not mentioned in the Fourth Gospel, “Nathanael” must be another name for John.13    However, most scholars from the 19th century on have linked the name “Nathanael” with “Bartholomew” in the non-Johannine lists of the Twelve (Matt 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14, Acts 1:13), since the latter only means “son of Tolmai.”14    However, Charlesworth notes that “we really know very little about him [Nathanael],”15 and Nepper-Christensen calls him “too peripheral” a figure to be the Beloved Disciple.16    Meanwhile, Marie-Émile Boismard (1956) believed that the Beloved Disciple might be PHILIP, conjecturing that he was the unnamed disciple (John 1:40) who first followed Jesus with Andrew, since both men came from Bethsaida (1:44), their names appear side-by-side in some disciple lists (Mark 3:18, Acts 1:13), and elsewhere they are also sometimes found together (John 6:5-9, 12:20-22).    Yet, Charlesworth calls this idea purely conjectural, with no real textual basis.17    L. Noack (1876) and C. S. Griffin (1892) even proposed that the Beloved Disciple was JUDAS ISCARIOT; however, this idea has never been taken seriously by interpreters at large.18 

In fact, no solid evidence really supports any of these disciples being the Beloved Disciple.    None of them was part of Jesus’ inner circle, it seems unlikely that they were privy to any special, unusual information, and they are not portrayed anywhere in the Gospels or Acts as being closely associated with Peter, as was the Beloved Disciple.    Also, why would they be named in some places in John’s Gospel, but then treated anonymously in the Beloved Disciple passages?    It makes more sense that John son of Zebedee, who is surprisingly not mentioned anywhere by name in the Fourth Gospel, is actually the Beloved Disciple.    Still, with such a diversity of opinion, some interpreters hold that while the Beloved Disciple was one of the Twelve, now he simply cannot be identified.    Rudolf Schnackenburg (1975) came to believe that the Beloved Disciple was an anonymous apostolic “authority” behind the Fourth Gospel, while its author, an educated Hellenist (Greek-speaking) Jew, shaped the final Gospel.    Raymond Brown (1979) also came to view the Beloved Disciple as one of the anonymous disciples mentioned in John 21:2, who cannot now be identified.19    However, it is unbelievable that ancient Church writers would not identify the author of such an important Gospel—which indeed they do (John the Apostle).      

Another follower of Jesus but not from the Twelve.    Interpreters have also turned to search for the identity of the Beloved Disciple outside of the circle of the Twelve, and persons who have been suggested include: ‘John the Elder,’ James the brother of Jesus, Judas the brother of Jesus, Matthias, Apollos, Paul, John Mark, the rich young ruler, Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus.    F. von Hügel (1911), William Bousset (1912), C. F. Barney (1922) and Hartwig Thyen (1977) have pointed to ‘JOHN THE ELDER’ as the Beloved Disciple, holding to a late date of composition for the Fourth Gospel.20    Yet, as we have seen in Part 2 of this series, the evidence for this is scanty and ambiguous.    It is true that Dionysus (200-265 AD), bishop of Alexandria, also referred to two tombs of John in Ephesus; however, Jerome (c.342-420) explained this by suggesting that there were simply two monuments in Ephesus honoring John.    Later, Theodor Zahn (1838-1933) suggested that there were two churches, one built on the site where John lived and the other on the site where he died, while Robert Eisler (1882-1949) believed that the first tomb contained his bones before they were later transferred to the catacombs under the so-called ‘Square Church’ in Ephesus.21    Martin Dibelius (1929) held that since John the Apostle was apparently martyred in Jerusalem (based on Mark 10:38-39), the Beloved Disciple therefore must be John the Elder22—although as we have noted, the “baptism” described here in Mark, that John was to share with Jesus, may point just as well to intense suffering (John’s exile on Patmos Island) as to martyrdom.    Also, Frederick Weidmann (1999) points out that although the Martyrology of Carthage (6th century), Philip of Side (8th century), and George the Sinner (9th century) all refer back to certain second century references to the martyrdom of John the Apostle, still the overwhelming early testimony is that John the Apostle did not die a martyr’s death but a natural death, as the Harris fragments also support.23    As another candidate for the Beloved Disciple, Wilhelm Pratscher (1987) and Ismo Dunderberg (2006) have suggested JAMES THE BROTHER OF JESUS (Matt 13:55 = Mark 6:3).24    This is not James son of Zebedee (John’s older brother) nor James son of Alphaeus (also one of the Twelve, Matt 10:2-4), nor the James whose mother Mary was at the Cross (Matt 27:56).    Instead, this is James the half-brother of Jesus (Protestant view) or cousin (Catholic view), who later became leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17, 15:13-21ff, 21:17-18ff; Gal 1:18-19, 2:9-10).25    In two later Gnostic texts (considered heretical) James the brother of Jesus is described as being kissed by Jesus (2 Apocalypse of James 56.14-16) and kissing him back (1 Apocalypse of James 31.4-5), and he is called “beloved” (2 Apocalypse of James 49.8).26    The 1 Apocalypse of James, compiled between 150-250 AD in N Mesopotamia, describes special revelations given to James so that he will have passwords to ascend past hostile rulers of this world to the Father.27    In the end, however, Dunderberg notes that there is no clear evidence that material relating to the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel actually influenced these later literary portrayals of James.28 

Meanwhile, J. J. Gunther (1981) proposed that the Beloved Disciple was JUDAS THE BROTHER OF JESUS (Mark 6:1-6 = Matt 13:55).29    While he is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible by name, references in Acts (1:14) and in Paul (1 Cor 9:5) do mention “brothers” of Jesus who were part of the early church movement—although in the end no real evidence is found here.    On the other hand, Eric L. Titus (1950) suggested that the Beloved Disciple was MATTHIAS, who was with the followers of Jesus who waited in the Upper Room for Pentecost and then was chosen by the Eleven to fill Judas Iscariot’s place (Acts 1:26).    Here candidates were nominated because they had been present from John’s baptism of Jesus on (who ‘went in and out among us,’ 1:21-22 NRSV).    Yet, Matthias is only a minor figure, not even mentioned in any of the Gospels; and this meager evidence also “fails to convince” (Charlesworth).30    J. T. Tobler (1860) argued that the Beloved Disciple must be APOLLOS, the learned and eloquent Jew from Alexandria (Egypt) who came to Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquila taught him more fully about Jesus; and then he went on to become a vigorous witness of the Gospel in Greece (Acts 18:24-28).    Tobler believed that Apollos later combined Plato’s ideas (e.g., that divine reason connects humankind with the divine) with the historical Jesus (“the Word” in John 1:1-2,14) after he received John’s witness of Jesus.    However, although John’s Gospel was once thought to be significantly influenced by Greek philosophy, now it is thought to be the most Jewish of all the Gospels―so cross off Apollos.31    Karel Hanhart (1984), Benjamin W. Bacon (1933) and Michael D. Goulder (1992) proposed that the Beloved Disciple was PAUL, or a writer in his style, whose imaginary standing at the Cross symbolized the Gentile mission.    Yet, J. E. Kay (1994) has noted the vast theological differences between John’s Gospel and Paul’s writings.32 

In contrast, Daniel Völter (1904), Julius Wellhausen (1908) and Johannes Weiss (1917) held that the Beloved Disciple was JOHN MARK, who came from a family of means and could have taken Jesus’ mother to be part of his household in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).    Pierson Parker (1960) notes that the Last Supper could have been held at his home, with John Mark acting as host and included as a guest of honor.    Parker also holds that John Mark was the author of the Fourth Gospel, as well as being the Beloved Disciple.33    Although John Mark is given an unpromising start in Acts (15:37-39), Paul later praises his devotion to the ministry (2 Tim 4:11).    Carl Erbes (1916) further theorized that John Mark was not only the Beloved Disciple, but also the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-23); and F. Warburton Lewis (1922) speculated that these two were one and the same with Lazarus, as well.34    Still, John Mark remains an obscure figure, and his youthful immaturity in the middle of Acts (15:36-41) argues against him being a witness of Jesus’ whole earlier public ministry, as is noted of the Beloved Disciple (John 21:24).    Also, Maurice Goguel (1924) pointed out that if John Mark was the author of the Fourth Gospel, it is difficult to reconcile this with the solid tradition that John Mark wrote Mark’s Gospel, which is so different in content and character from John’s Gospel.    Even J. March (1968), who supported John Mark as the Beloved Disciple, finally acknowledged that “no positive evidence can be offered for this conjecture.”35    E. G. King (1909) contended that the Beloved Disciple was the RICH YOUNG RULER, who came to Jesus inquiring what he must “do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17-22).    King holds that Jesus’ ‘look of love’ (v. 21) haunted him until he became a believer and follower; and then much later he wrote the Fourth Gospel.    H. B. Swete (1916) suggested also that as a wealthy person he might have had a home in Jerusalem where he took Jesus’ mother.36    Yet, as Donald Guthrie (1970) notes, the Gospels give us no impression that the rich young ruler ever gave away all of his wealth to follow Jesus.37    Still others hold that the Beloved Disciple was not an apostle and also cannot be identified—although Eugen Ruckstuhl (1988) felt that it might be suggested that he was a converted Essene, who lived in the Essene quarter of Jerusalem.38    However, D. E. H. Whiteley (1985) believed the Beloved Disciple was a Sadducee, perhaps a member of the great Sanhedrin council in Jerusalem.39    To sum the matter up, as Raymond Brown (1997) noted, “[I]f the long tradition behind John is rejected, [then] one is “reduced to guessing.”40 

Mary Magdalene, or Lazarus.    Ramon K. Jusino (1998) and Esther A. de Boer (2000) suggest that MARY MAGDALENE was the Beloved Disciple.41    Mary Magdalene, or Mary from Magdala (a town on the W shore of the Sea of Galilee), is described as one out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2), who was present at the Cross (Matt 27:55-56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25), and who visited the Tomb (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1,9; Luke 24:10; John 20:1,18).    Robin Griffith-Jones (2008) notes that according to the Gospel of Mary (a fusion of two Gnostic texts from the second century) Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than any of his male disciples, he entrusted secrets to her that no one else knew, and she is presented as a figure of authority.    Moreover, the Gospel of Philip presents her as “the Savior’s companion,” whom he “often kissed,” and so therefore she must be the Beloved Disciple in the John’s Gospel.42    However, Ismo Dunderberg (2006) points out that these later references provide “no solid basis” for proving that she filled this role in John’s Gospel.43    Also, Jusino’s contention that the author of the Fourth Gospel changed the pronouns referring to the Beloved Disciple from female to male and added the Beloved Disciple to the Cross and Tomb scenes (where Mary Magdalene is already present) with the purpose of hiding the Beloved Disciple’s female identity44 is ‘untenable’ and ‘unconvincing’ (Dunderberg).45    Mary Magdalene appearing alongside the Beloved Disciple at the Cross (John 19:25-27) and near the Tomb (20:1-2) instead shows that she could not have been the Beloved Disciple.    Also, Mary Magdalene would hardly have been out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, with a naked or nearly naked Peter, fishing all night (John 21:3-8).    And if a woman had been present at the Last Supper, she surely would have washed Jesus’ and the disciples’ feet when they first arrived, since this was viewed as women’s work (1 Tim 5:10).46 

Yet, the most popular choice other than John the Apostle for the Beloved Disciple is LAZARUS, the still-living-at-home (unmarried) brother of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1­12:11) perhaps a month or so prior to his crucifixion.    Supporters of this view include:  Johannes Kreyenbühl (1900), K. Kickendraht (1914), William H. Brownlee (1972), Oscar Cullmann (at the end of his life, reported by J.-M. Léonard, 1983), Vernard Eller (1987), Poul Nepper-Christensen (1990), Mark W. G. Stibbe (1992), and Thomas L. Brodie (1993).47    Robert Williams (1992), Nancy Wilson (1995), and Robert Goss (2000) also support this view.48    One of its most influential advocates, Floyd V. Filson (1962), noted how Jesus’ love for Lazarus is repeatedly emphasized in John 11:3,5,11,36.    After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he is present at a meal with Jesus, which Martha served (12:2); and then in the next chapter “the disciple whom Jesus loved” appears at the Last Supper (13:23).    Living at Bethany (located less than 2 miles E of Jerusalem), Lazarus could easily have taken Jesus’ mother home with him from the Cross “from that hour” (19:27).    It is likewise fitting that the resurrected Lazarus be the first one to realize that Jesus has risen (21:7), and it is understandable how a rumor might circulate that he “would not die” (21:23) since Lazarus had already suffered physical death but then been raised to life.49    B. Grey Griffith (1920-21) suggests also that, residing near Jerusalem, Lazarus could have been known to the high priest (18:15-16).50    Joseph N. Sanders’ commentary, completed by B. A. Mastin (1968), notes that since Lazarus was not one of the Twelve he would have been able to take Mary home and really care for her; and Jeanne M. Léonard (1983) writes that there would be no place where Jesus’ mother would receive better support and assistance than in the loving home of Mary and Martha.51    Thomas L. Brodie (1993) notes that both Lazarus and the Beloved Disciple are introduced to us in the same way, referring to Jesus’ love for him.52    Still, as intriguing as many of these arguments are, there are major difficulties with this view:    H. Rigg (1921-22) notes that Lazarus’ name never appears in any list of disciples who are close to Jesus, nor is he mentioned among those disciples who are gathered together with Mary in Acts 1:12-14, waiting for Pentecost.53    Could Lazarus really have provided all of the intimate, specific and unique details connected to early events of Jesus’ ministry as described in John 1-4?    How could Lazarus be the Beloved-Disciple eyewitness to Jesus’ full public ministry (John 21:24) when Mary and Martha (and presumably their brother) only make their appearance in Luke 10:38-42?   Also, how did Lazarus ever become founder of the Johannine school?      Would Lazarus have come to the high priest’s courtyard (John 18:15-16) when the word had spread that the chief priests plotted to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:51-54, 12:10-11)?    Lazarus appears only in two chapters in John (11-12) and he is entirely absent from the Synoptic Gospels.    All things considered, Lazarus is “not really a strong candidate” (Charlesworth).54    Also, to these must be added the objections that only the Twelve are mentioned in all of the Gospels as being present at the Last Supper (Matt 26:20, Mark 14:17, Luke 22:14, John 13:18), no indication is given that Lazarus ever became a close associate of Peter (Morris),55 nor, living near Jerusalem, would he likely have been found fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John 21).    Even Sanders (1957) in the end called this an “admittedly highly speculative” hypothesis.56    Keener (2003) writes that in the face of widespread modern scholarly doubt about whether the Apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel “it is somewhat surprising, then, to discover the degree to which internal and external evidence appear to favor John son of Zebedee as the Fourth Gospel’s author,” although he has clearly taken liberties in telling the story and his material shows development over years of use in sermons.57    Charlesworth notes that modern interpreters often tend to give more weight to what other scholars think than to the primary sources, whether John’s Gospel or other ancient witnesses, often being “misled” by “peer pressure” rather than focusing on the primary documents themselves.58  

A homosexual reading of Jesus and his Beloved Disciple.    Gays and others in the past who have sensed a homoerotic relationship here.    Robert Goss (2007) notes that for nearly two millennia men attracted to other men (and some others) have sensed a homoerotic relationship between Jesus and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”59    Even Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible (c. 400 AD), sensed a sexual connection between Jesus and John (in John 13:23) which he felt he should counter with the added note that “Jesus loved John the most because he was youthful and virginal” (italics added).60    Then Raymond-Jean Frontain (2002) notes that the Beloved Disciple references in John’s Gospel inspired an important medieval homoerotic tradition and depictions of John as a young man resting his head tenderly on the chest of a bearded Jesus became popular in medieval art, with such images often adorning the entrances to monasteries.61    John Boswell in Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994) includes photographs of some carved pieces of Jesus and John from the High and Late Medieval periods62 (1100-1453, ending with the Fall of Constantinople), in which the two also hold each other’s hand. 

One medieval saint who wrote frankly about homosexual love and Jesus and John was Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-1167), an abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in England and adviser to King Henry II.63    In his treatise Mirror of Charity [Love] (Speculum Caritatis) Aelred defended occasions when “some are joined to us more intimately and passionately than others in the lovely bond of spiritual friendship” (MC 3.39.110 trans. Boswell 1980, pp. 225-226), pointing back to how “Jesus himself, lowering (Himself) to our [human] condition in every way [cf. Heb  4:15], suffering all things for us and being compassionate toward us, transformed it [same-sex love] by manifesting his love [for John].    To one person, not to all, did he grant a resting-place on his most sacred breast in token of his special love” (MC 3.39.110 trans. Connor, p. 299).    Aelred noted also, “[I]t is no mean consolation in this life to have someone with whom you can be united by an intimate attachment . . . [and] someone you can let into the secret chamber of your mind by the bonds of love, so that . . . you alone may repose with him in the embrace of charity [love], the kiss of unity, with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit flowing between you.    Still more, you may be so united to him and approach him so closely and so mingle your spirit with his, that the two [of you] become one” (MC 3.39.109 Connor, p. 298).    Still, in spite of all of the spiritual language here, the unanswered question remains whether a gay man (like Aelred) can continue to deny his passionate physical desire while remaining near his handsome beloved, or whether sometime something more sexual (and secret) happened between them.    In any case, in his Spiritual Friendship (De Spiritali Amicitia) Aelred contrasts John with Peter, emphasizing that “To Peter he [Jesus] gave the keys of his kingdom,” but “John was reserved for love” and to the latter “he revealed the secrets of his heart” (SF 3.117 trans. Laker, p. 125).    Aelred notes that even as a lad in school “the charm of my companions pleased me very much, [and] I gave myself to affection and devoted myself to love amid the ways and vices” of this world.    Nothing seemed as “sweet” to me as “love” (SF Prologue.1 Laker, p. 45), he writes.    In fact, he shared a relationship of great intimacy and youthful passion with another male while at the Scottish court, before turning to monastic life and celibacy.64    Then later he fell in love with two monks in his order (Simon first and then after his death another youth), who provided him with emotional satisfaction until his death.65    Of his first “companion” Aelred says that he demanded nothing except to bestow his affection on him; however, his second partner, a youth named Geoffrey of Dinant whom Aelred brought back to England from Rome in 1142 (F. M. Powicke, 1922), was chosen with reason, as well as affection.    Humble, gentle and reserved, Geoffrey became Aelred’s “most cherished of friends” until the end (SF 3.119-122 Laker, pp. 126-127).66    Aelred noted, “Feelings are not ours to command.    We are attracted to some against our will . . .” (MC 3.19.47 Boswell 1980, p. 224).    Therefore, he did not discourage physical expressions of affection among his monks, such as holding hands or kissing, even like “a bride and bridegroom,” although such kissing should be reserved for special occasions (SF 2.21-27 Laker, pp. 75-76).67    Aelred noted how God himself had said, “It is not good for the man [Adam] to be alone . . .” (Gen 2:18 UNASB; and SF 1.57 Laker, p. 63).    He further believed that such male friendships were meant to continue in “eternal enjoyment” (MC 3.39.108 Connor, p. 297), in a kind of “heavenly marriage” (Boswell).68    “Carnal friendship” is not wrong, wrote Aelred, “if nothing dishonorable enters into it” and with the hope that “abundant grace” will lead it to “a more mature form” (SF 3.87 Laker, pp. 113-114).    Aelred acknowledges his “carnal affection” for Geoffrey, and yet the youth did not want their love to be measured by that standard (SF 3.126 Laker, p. 129).             

In the Renaissance period (14th—16th centuries), a man was accused and tried in Venice (c.1550) for heresies, one of which was his claim that John was Christ’s catamite (cinedo di Cristo), an idea that apparently had a certain following in Italy at the time.69    In England, Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) authored the famous homoerotic play Edward II (1591).    Then after his death, Richard Baines in a libel case claimed that Marlowe had professed that “St. John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned alwaies in his bosome, that he used him as the sinners of Sodome.”70    Another playwright Thomas Kyd said that “He [Marlowe] would report St. John to be our Saviour Christ’s Alexis,” referring to the love which the Greek shepherd Corydon felt for the fair youth Alexis as described in Virgil’s Eclogues 2 and about which Marlowe had written in his poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.”71    James I, king of England and Ireland (1603-1625), shrewdly neutralized charges brought against him in Parliament over his homosexual relationship with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, by noting that “Christ had his John and I have my Steenie.”72    Later, the philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) devoted himself to trying to decriminalize homosexual relations in Britain, where hangings for this had increased.73    In an only-partially published manuscript titled Not Paul but Jesus, Bentham mentions the special fondness which Jesus had for John, and asked, “Could John have meant to imply that he and Jesus were lovers?”    Then he added, “[G]ood taste and . . . prudence would require us to turn aside” from such a “topic of extreme delicacy,” although at the same time a regard for human happiness, truth and justice still “compel” this author “to go over it.”74    In the modern period, the Austrian psychoanalyst Georg Groddeck (1866-1934) believed that homosexuals were a normal part of life.    In his Das Buch vom Es (The Book of the It [the Id], 1923, trans. 1949), he included letters in which he sought to understand himself within the Freudian process; and in Letter 27 he discusses how homosexual feelings are basic to human life.    Then he mentions Jesus and his Beloved Disciple, noting that “We make nothing of it at all.   To all this evidence we are blind.     We are not to see what is there to be seen,” because “the Church forbids it [homosexuality].”    Groddeck clearly viewed homoeroticism in John’s account of the Last Supper as being “self-evident” (Jennings).75    And finally, Terrence McNally (1939-    ) in his play Corpus Christi (1998) transposes the Jesus story onto a group of youths growing up in Corpus Christi, his hometown in Texas,76 including an unusual and modern mix of characters.    For example, Andrew a masseur “loved Joshua [Jesus’ name here] a lot,” Thaddeus is a hairdresser, and Philip comes to Jesus/Joshua as a male hustler and go-go boy.77    Judas, who doesn’t like girls, expresses his attraction to Joshua in Pontius Pilate High School by kissing him, although later he will betray Joshua because he did not return his love in the way he wanted.78    In fact, Judas is portrayed as the Beloved Disciple, although in place of the latter resting his head on Jesus’ breast in the Last Supper scene in John’s Gospel here Joshua sleeps with his head in Judas’s lap.79    Jesus/Joshua is presented as a good-hearted youth, with a certain “feminine touch,” who hears voices from God, and who calls upon everyone just to love everybody else, as he himself does.80    At one point he marries James and Bartholomew, who are in love.81    When Pilate asks Jesus/Joshua if he is “queer,” he answers, “Thou sayest I am.”82    At the end of the play, Joshua is crucified by the Romans, while some of his disciples watch in shock and others mock him.83    Thus in this phantasmagorical portrayal, the playwright seeks to remind the audience that Jesus was “a real man with real appetites, especially sexual [homoerotic] ones” and also that how the world treated Jesus two thousand years ago is not too different from how gay people are (mis)treated today, recalling, e.g., the death of Matthew Shepard.84 

John the Apostle never seems to have married, but belongs to Jesus.    The view that Jesus and John shared a profound and lasting commitment, perhaps similar to the kind Aelred of Rievaulx espoused, may be bolstered by the Acts of John, dated between 150-200 AD, where John, right before his death (chapters 111-115), prays to Jesus, saying: “Thou who hast kept me also till this present hour pure for thyself and untouched by union with a woman; who when I wished to marry in my youth didst appear to me and say to me, ‘John, I need thee’; who didst prepare for me also an infirmity of the body; who on the third occasion when I wished to marry . . . didst say to me upon the sea, ‘John, if thou wast not mine, I should have allowed thee to marry’ . . . [and who then gave me] the repugnance of even looking closely [with desire] at a woman.”85    Augustine (354-430) also knew of this tradition of John remaining celibate to the end of his life.86    Yet legends grew up around John the Apostle in the second century;87 and Eusebius (c.260-c.340) the church historian labeled the stories in the Acts of John as “forgeries” attributed to the apostles by “heretics” (EH 3.25.6).    Still, it might be derived from this tradition that John lived a celibate life to the end, perhaps with the belief that he was always to belong to Jesus as his special companion.    Then, there is the story related by Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215) about how John the Apostle, after appointing a bishop in Smyrna, “saw a young man of strong body, beautiful appearance, and warm heart.”    So after John recommended this youth, the newly-ordained bishop took him into his house and “looked after him, and finally baptized him.”    However, after John the Apostle returned to Ephesus, dissolute youths corrupted the young man and led him into a life of crime.    When John visited Smyrna the next time and found out what had happened, he was so distraught that he went out into the mountains, searching, until he found the youth.    Then with much pleading he persuaded the young man to return with him to the city, where he prayed for him and “kneeled and kissed” his hand; and with “continuous fasting” he would not leave the youth until he had restored him to the church.88    What is interesting here is the attention given a “beautiful [male] appearance,” a concern for the young man that goes far beyond normal bounds, and then “kissing [his hand]” at the end―details which may well point to John’s homoerotic sensibility.    

Modern scholars who believe that Jesus and his Beloved Disciple shared a homosexual relationship.    Modern interpreters who hold that there was a homoerotic relationship here include:  Hugh Montefiore (1969),89 Robert Williams (1992),90 Sjef van Tilborg (1993),91 John McNeill (1995),92 Rollan McCleary (2003),93 Robert E. Goss (2006),94 Michael B. Kelly (online undated),95 Peter Murphy (online undated),96 and James Neill (2009).97    The United Reformed Church of Christ of Great Britain in its document Toward a Christian Understanding of Sexuality (1984) wrote that Jesus “may have . . .  been homosexuality inclined.”98    Psychoanalyst Richard C. Friedman (1988) viewed Jesus and his beloved disciple as having a homosexual marriage.99    Rosemary Ruether (1978) and Nancy Wilson (1995) held that Jesus was bisexual.100    Going further in the other direction, Morton Smith (1973) suggested that as part of a secret baptismal ritual Jesus may have had physical union with more than one of his disciples.101―although this view is based on a later ‘heretical’ text.    Theodore Jennings (2003) believes definitely that Jesus and John “were lovers,” although he notes that the Bible tells us nothing more about how Jesus and his Beloved shared their love beyond the physical intimacy described at the Last Supper.102    However, John Boswell (1980) held that their homosexual love was not consummated.103    Still, James Neill (2009) notes that it is “undeniable” that there was “a close and passionate bond between them [Jesus and John].”104    As John McNeill notes, any GLBT person will recognize immediately what kind of love this was which united Jesus and John.105    John A. T. Robinson (1973) wrote that while there is no indication in the Biblical text that Jesus responded sexually to Mary Magdalene or to any other woman, he could have attracted women without being attracted to them.106     As G. Rattray Taylor (1973) noted, a high regard for women often goes hand-in-hand with a tolerance for homosexuality.107  


FOOTNOTES:    1. Charlesworth, pp. 136-137.    2. Ibid., pp. 134-141.    3. Ibid., pp. 151-152.    4. Ibid., pp. 164-165; and Varghese, p. 254, n. 77.    5. Charlesworth, p. 14.    6. Ibid., p. 13.    7. Ibid., pp. 141-142.    8. Ibid., pp. 414, 360-423.    9. Keener, pp. 86-87.    10. Dunderberg, pp. 156-157.    11. Charlesworth, p. 179.    12. Dunderberg, p. 118, n. 5.    13. Charlesworth, p. 183.    14. Piovanelli, p. 401.    15. Ibid., p. 185.    16. Paol Nepper-Christensen, 1990; in Charlesworth, p. 40.    17. Charlesworth, pp. 180-181.    18. Ibid., pp. 170-174.    19. Ibid., pp. 217-222.    20. Ibid., pp. 213-215, 148-149.    21. Cf. Morris, p. 21; and Culpepper, pp. 144, 147-148.    22. Charlesworth, p. 214.    23. Weidmann, pp. 134-135.    24. Dunderberg, pp. 180-187.    25. Van Voorst, pp. 184-188.    26. Dunderberg, pp. 180-187.    27. Shoemaker, p. 189.    28. Dunderberg, p. 187.    29. Charlesworth, pp. 196-197.    30. Ibid., pp. 154-156.    31. Ibid., pp. 157-158, 15.    32. Ibid., pp. 163-164.    33. Ibid., pp. 192-193.    34. Ibid., pp. 167-168.    35. Ibid., pp. 195-196.    36. Ibid., p. 166.    37. Guthrie, p. 248.    38. Charlesworth, p. 151.  The Essenes, a Jewish community which lived W of the Dead Sea, held all property in common, shunned luxury, discouraged marriage, disliked philosophy, and did not sacrifice animals.    39. Ibid., p. 153.    40. Brown, p. 369.    41. Dunderberg, p. 118, n. 5.    42. Griffith-Jones, pp. xi, xi.    43. Dunderberg, pp. 177-178.    44. Ramon Jusino; in De Boer, pp. 2-3.    45. Dunderberg, pp. 121-122.    46. Keener, p. 904.    47. Charlesworth, pp. 185-192.    48. Goss, p. 560.    49. Filson, p. 379.    50. Charlesworth, p. 186.    51. Ibid., pp. 190-191.    52. Ibid., p. 191.    53. Ibid., p. 188.    54. Ibid., pp. 289-290.    55. Morris, pp. 6-7.    56. Sanders, p. 73.    57. Keener, pp. 114-115.    58. Charlesworth, pp. 7-8.    59. Goss, p. 560; cf. also Boswell 1980, p. 115, n. 76; McNeill, p. 132; Jennings, pp. 75-91; Boisvert, p. 200.    60. Vulgate Bible; noted in Neill, p. 217.    61. Frontain, pp. 91-92.    62. Boswell 1994, fig. 17-19.    63. Boswell 1980, p. 221.    64. Roby, in Aelred, Friendship, trans. Laker, p. 21.    65. Boswell 1980, pp. 222-224.    66. Aelred, Friendship, trans. Laker, p. 126, n. 139.    67. Cf. also Boswell 1980, pp. 224-225.    68. Ibid., p. 226.    69. Anonymous, “Beloved Disciple,” pp. 125-126.    70. Bredbeck, p. 569.    71. Jennings, pp. 81-82.    72. Frontain, pp. 91-92.    73. Crompton, p. 253.    74. Jennings, pp. 82-84.    75. Georg Groddeck, 1923; quoted in Jennings, p. 87.    76. McNally, p. 82.    77. Ibid., pp. 2, 5, 6.    78. Ibid., pp. 34, 35, 38, 8.    79. Ibid., pp. 63-64.    80. Ibid., pp. 37, 29, 31, 33f, 50, 54, 81.    81. Ibid., p. 62.    82. Ibid., p. 75.    83. Ibid., pp. 78-80.    84. Ibid., “Preface,” pp. v-vi.    85. Hennecke, 2, p. 257; and quoted in Culpepper,  p. 200; cf. also Weidmann, pp. 72-74.    86. Culpepper, p. 169.    87. Ibid., pp. 107, 139.   88. Eusebius, History, 3.23.6-19.    89. Montefiore, pp. 182-183.    90. Williams, p. 116.    91. Van Tilborg, p. 109.    92. McNeill, p. 132.    93. Anonymous, “Jesus Christ Was Gay?”    94. Goss, p. 560.    95. Kelly, passim.    96. Murphy, passim.    97. Neill, pp. 216-217.    98. United Reformed Church of Christ in Britain, 1984; quoted in Jennings, p. 88.    99. Van Tilborg, p. 109.    100. Rosemary Ruether, 1978; in Phipps, p. 71; and Wilson, p. 147.    101. Smith, pp. 94, 96, 114, 142.    102. Jennings, pp. 34, 74.    103. Boswell 1980, p. 115.    104. Neill, p. 217.    105. McNeill, p. 132.    106. Robinson, p. 64.    107. G. Rattray Taylor, 1973; in Horner, p. 121. 



Aelred of Rievaulx.   The Mirror of Charity (Speculum Caritatis).   Trans. Elizabeth Connor, with introduction and notes by Charles Dumont.   Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1990. 

--------.   Spiritual Friendship (De Spiritali Amicitia).   Trans. Mary Eugenia Laker, with introduction by Douglass Roby.   Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1974.

Anonymous.    “Beloved Disciple.”   In Wayne R. Dynes, ed., Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, 1, pp. 125-126.    New York and London: Garland, 2 vols., 1990.

--------.   “Jesus Was Gay, Says Academic.”   Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/03.   Online,, accessed 12/3/09.

Boisvert, Donald L.   Sanctity and Male Desire.   Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2004. 

Boswell, John.   Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.   Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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

Bredbeck, Gregory W.   “Marlowe, Christopher (1564-1593).”   In Geroge E. Haggerty, ed., Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, 2 (Gay Males),  pp. 569-570.   New York and London: Garland, 2000.

Brown, Raymond E.   An Introduction to the New Testament.   New York, London and Toronto: Doubleday, 1997.

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

Crompton, Louis.   Homosexuality & Civilization.   Cambridge, MA, and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Culpepper, R. Alan.   John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend.   Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. 

De Boer, Esther A.   “Mary Magdalene and the Disciple Jesus Loved.”   Lectio Difficilior, 1/2000, online,, accessed 11/10/09.

Dunderberg, Ismo.   The Beloved Disciple in Conflict?  Revisiting the Gospels of John and Thomas.    Oxford: University Press, 2006.   

Eusebius.   Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesiastica).   Greek and English text.   (Loeb Classical Library).   Cambridge: Harvard University Press.   Vol. 1 (Books I-V), trans. Kirsopp Lake, 1926, repr. 1998.   Vol. 2 (Books VI-X), trans. J. E. L. Oulton, 1932, repr. 2000.       

Filson, Floyd V.   “Beloved Disciple.”   In George Arthur Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1, pp. 378-379.   Nashville: Abingdon, 1962.

Frontain, Raymond-Jean.   “The Bible.”   In Claude J. Summers, ed., The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage, pp. 87-94.   New York and London: Routlege (1995), 2002.

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

Griffith-Jones, Robin.   Beloved Disciple: The Misunderstood Legacy of Mary Magdalene, the Woman Closest to Jesus.   New York: HarperOne, 2008.               

Guthrie, Donald.   New Testament Introduction.   Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 3 vols. (1961-1968) included in 1, 1970.

Hennecke, Edgar.   The New Testament Apocrypha.   Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, and trans. R. McL. Wilson.   Philadelphia: Westminster, 1 1963, 2 1965.   

Horner, Tom.   Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times.   Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978.

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

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

Kelly, Michael B.   “Could Jesus Have Been Gay?,” online,, n.d., accessed 12/2/09.

McNally, Terrence.   Corpus Christi: A Play.   New York: Grove Press, 1998.

McNeill, John J.   Freedom, Glorious Freedom.   Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

Montefiore, Hugh.   “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”   In Hugh Montefiore, For God’s Sake: Sermons from Great St Mary’s (Cambridge University, preached August 6, 1967), pp. 178-184.   Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969.

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

Murphy, Peter.   “The Sexuality of Jesus?,” online,, accessed 12/3/09.

Neill, James.   The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies.   Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland, 2009.

Phipps, William E.   The Sexuality of Jesus.   Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1996.

Piovanelli, Pierluigi.   “Bartholomew.”   In Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 401.   Nashville: Abingdon, 1, 2006.

Robinson, John A. T.   The Human Face of God.   Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973.

Sanders, J. N. (Joseph Newbould).   “Who Was the Disciple whom Jesus Loved?”   In F. L. Cross, ed., Studies in the Fourth Gospel, pp. 72-82.   London: A. R. Mowbray, 1957.

Shoemaker, Stephen J.   “James, First Apocalypse of.”   In Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 189.   Nashville: Abingdon, 3, 2008.

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

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

Van Voorst, Robert E.   “James. 5. James the brother of Jesus. . .”   In Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, pp. 184-189.   Nashville: Abingdon, 3, 2008.

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

Weidmann, Frederick W.   Polycarp & John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to the Literary Traditions.   Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.

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

Wilson, Nancy.   Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible.   San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.


BIBLE TRANSLATIONS:    New Revised Standard Version, 1989.     Updated New American Standard Bible, 1999.


© 2010 Bruce L. Gerig

Art Work Note:   Passion of Christ Window: "The Last Supper" (detail), stained glass, c. 1150, Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France.

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