Who wrote the Gospel of John?

Jesus

None of the four gospels explicitly states who the author(s) is/are, and the names given to them reflect the understanding of the early christians. So scholars are left to determine as best they can whether the names we have were indeed the authors.

Knowing the author probably doesn’t change all that much, but I have always found it an interesting question, especially regarding John.

The current state of play

Christians tend to accept the traditional authors. Critical scholars tend to doubt most of them (though Luke isn’t in that much doubt). But the consensus of historical scholars seems to be slowly moving back a little towards the traditional view in some cases.

  • Matthew appears to have been based on several sources, including a collection of Jesus’ sayings written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek. Some say we cannot know the final author. Maurice Casey has no problems believing the apostle Matthew wrote the original sayings, if not necessarily the final gospel.
  • Mark was probably the author of the gospel named after him (who would make up an unknown author?) but it is hard to know which Mark.
  • Luke was almost certainly the writer of both Luke and Acts.
  • But John remains problematic. Few believe John son of Zebedee was the author, but that is about as far as the consensus goes.

The elder, John?

Perhaps the most frequent choice for authorship is John the elder, a christian leader around the end of the first century who apparently knew some of Jesus’ disciples but not Jesus himself. He may have compiled the gospel, adding the addendum in John 21:24-25:

“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

But even if this is true, who was the eyewitness, the “beloved disciple”, whose testimony is true? Was this John the Elder also? It seems unlikely – he wasn’t an eyewitness and it seems somewhat proud to give himself the title of “the disciple Jesus loved”.

Someone in Jerusalem?

There is good reason to believe that the original author of John (as opposed to the compiler or editor) lived in Jerusalem:

  • He is very familiar with the geography and locations around Jerusalem – see Archaeology and the truth of the gospels.
  • Most of his stories of Jesus take place in Jerusalem, whereas most of the other gospels, apart from the last week of Jesus’ life, take place in Galilee.
  • The beloved disciple was known to the High Priest (John 18:15).

These factors are among those that make it less likely that John, son of Zebedee, was the beloved disciple and original author. Some say the author cannot be known, others that it was John Mark, others that the gospel was not written by an eyewitness at all.

Lazarus?

But I have only recently come across what is now an old (2007) suggestion by Ben Witherington – that Lazarus was the original author. Witherington argues:

  • Lazarus lived close to Jerusalem, satisfying the requirements above.
  • Lazarus is introduced in the gospel as “the one you [Jesus] love” (John 11:1-3).
  • This would help explain why the raising of Lazarus is included in John whereas it is not in any of the others – they tell other raising from the dead stories.
  • The title of “beloved disciple” was not given to himself by Lazarus, but by John when he compiled and edited the gospel.

Witherington’s suggestion hasn’t gained much acceptance among other scholars – many (e.g. Maurice Casey) disregard John as eyewitness reporting, and many doubt the truth of the story of the raising of Lazarus. But those who have no difficulties on these matters may well accept Witherington’s suggestion.

Like I said, it probably isn’t all that important, but it is intriguing.

Read what Witherington said

The original paper and a recent reference.

Advertisements

25 thoughts on “Who wrote the Gospel of John?

  1. Micael Grenholm says:

    My guess has always been that it was written by Simeon the Zealot since he is never mentioned by name (which John is in 21:2). Lazarus is a bad guess though I would say since the author claims to be one of the twelve.

    Blessings!

    Like

  2. unklee says:

    Where does it say the beloved disciple is one of the twelve?

    The only place that comes to mind is at the last meal, where the beloved disciple is present, but that was with “the disciples”, not “the twelve”.

    Like

  3. M. Rodriguez says:

    Interesting article,

    of course on my end, I do not believe they are eyewitness accounts, but their are some that I cannot deny. that the person who wrote them, must have been familar with the region, so it must have been someone from the area of jerusalem-palenstine. And someone who probably spoke and read both greek and aramaic, considering there are hints and traces of both in the bible.

    so the idea of lazarus is somewhat ambigous, but it seems to be very plausible.

    Like

  4. ignorantianescia says:

    I’m not sure, if the beloved disciple is Judean, it’s a bit odd he would go fishing with Galilean fisherman in the Sea of Galilee. Not quite inconsistent, but just a little strange, surely?

    Like

  5. unkleE says:

    I presume you are talking about John 21? There it says that:

    “Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

    It is only later that the beloved disciple is mentioned.

    Note that (1) “beloved disciple” is not mentioned in the initial list – was he one of the sons of Zebedee, or one of the “other disciples”? Could be either equally plausibly. (2) Non-fishermen like Nathanael and Thomas (I guess) were also there, suggesting some of Jesus’ followers stuck together after his death (not all that surprising really). So I guess Lazarus could have been too.

    I’m not promoting the idea, just interested.

    Like

  6. arkenaten says:

    “But the consensus of historical scholars seems to be slowly moving back a little towards the traditional view in some cases|”

    You really love to do this, don’t you? 🙂 One of your classic misleading statements, ‘consensus’ and ‘some’ in the same sentence. And with zero backup or references. Bit like some of Ehrman’s gifted literary throw away lines.

    And for the record, how can the ‘consensus’ move towards the traditional view in ‘some’ cases?

    Did it never occur to you that the gospels had no autographs for a reason? Really? Have you never even wondered?
    And this includes Luke.

    You can speculate all you wish who wrote them but the writers will never be known. Unless, of course, the autographed originals are discovered or scholars find a ‘secret code’ hidden within the texts

    Like

  7. ignorantianescia says:

    Let me put the consensus question in a different context.

    Do you question the modern physical consensus that quantum physics accurately describes quantum scale, non-relativistic mechanical motion? Do you consider it likely that a future theory would invalidate quantum mechanics within this scope and thus the current consensus, if only partially?

    Like

  8. unkleE says:

    Akhenaten,

    Rather than mockery or accusations of dishonesty, I think it would be more productive if you actually asked questions and offered evidence please.

    “You really love to do this, don’t you? One of your classic misleading statements, ‘consensus’ and ‘some’ in the same sentence. And with zero backup or references. “

    This was in a blog comment, where brevity is hard to achieve, and detail has to be left out. But rather than accuse and mock, why not ask me to explain and reference. Because contrary to your mockery and accusations, what I said was quite meaningful, albeit brief, and based on actual evidence.

    Consensus = I see signs that some of the best scholars are moving in a certain direction.

    On some matters = there are some issues of NT study where this is occurring, and some where it is not.

    Example:

    Papias used to be considered a poor historical source, for a range of reasons. But I see some competent and respected scholars (e.g. Richard Bauckham, Maurice Casey) taking his comments more seriously. Papias gives information on the gospel writers that strengthens the case for the traditional authorship of Matthew and Mark, and of a John (though not the son of Zebedee).

    Therefore, this is one example of the consensus of historical scholars seeming to be slowly moving back a little towards the traditional view in the case of gospel authorship. Which is what I said.

    The names of the authors may never be known to the extent that you require (100% certain you said previously, if I have understood you correctly), but so what?

    Like

  9. arkenaten says:

    Maybe you should check your English usage BEFORE posting?
    Just a thought. Might help clear up all the ambiguity? You never know, right?

    “The names of the authors may never be known to the extent that you require (100% certain you said previously, if I have understood you correctly), but so what?”

    So what indeed! 🙂
    There is doubt over the true author of ‘Shakespere’ so what the heck does it matter who wrote the Gospels, right?
    I mean, the scholarly consensus now agree that Moses did’nt write the Septuagiant.
    Maybe it was Jesus’ mum who dictated them to a collection of scribes from the Johannine school at Ephesus?

    Like

  10. arkenaten says:

    @Ig

    “Let me put the consensus question in a different context.
    Do you question the modern physical consensus that quantum physics accurately describes quantum scale, non-relativistic mechanical motion? Do you consider it likely that a future theory would invalidate quantum mechanics within this scope and thus the current consensus, if only partially?”

    “Er…about eleven, sir.” John Cleese: Life of Brian

    Ah,yes, the old baffle them with BS approach.
    Sorry old chap…can’t help you there, I’m afraid.
    Would you prefer to discuss Mozart?

    Like

  11. ignorantianescia says:

    “Ah,yes, the old baffle them with BS approach.”

    It’s no tosh, I’m trying to find out how far-reaching your scepticism about any academic consensus is.

    As for Shakespeare, anti-Stratfordianism is itself a fringe position of non-scholars. So if that’s the basis for an argument, it has already sunk there.

    Like

  12. arkenaten says:

    It always strikes me as odd that merely questioning a sacred cow such as religion automatically brings out the effrontary in some people; How dare one question the word of god, or more importantly the scholarly consensus. They have a ‘b’zillion degrees between them so they MUST be cleverer than you.’
    if this doesn’t work, haul out quantum physics or black holes or M-theory because we know smarty pants like The Ark can’t argue about that, now can he? Not unless he is in a wheelchair and speaks through a computer, right?

    Sigh…

    “As for Shakespeare, anti-Stratfordianism is itself a fringe position of non-scholars. So if that’s the basis for an argument, it has already sunk there.”

    I merely stated doubt had been raised. Consensus rejects this theory.

    Whereas there is no evidence that supports known autographs of the gospels.

    For now is the winter of ignorantianescia’s discontent made glorious summer (for The Ark) by Ignorantiaescia’s piddling attempts to find a decent tune to wring out of this argument.
    With serious apologies to Richard III

    Pssst. It really was Jesus’ mum, btw

    Like

  13. ignorantianescia says:

    Now, your reply did make me smile. 🙂 It was quite an original take.

    But it wasn’t my intention to bluff you out of sight. What I just want to know is how you look at other academic consensuses. In the case of quantum mechanics, do you think physics are right to think it is roughly correct within the scope it is intended to work?

    I will explain how I roll with those consensuses. The position supported by an academic consensus, whether of scientists or scholars, who are professionally employed experts in their fields, can be justifiably maintained by anybody without burden of proof. For arguments a legitimate argument from authority suffices. An opinion that contradicts a consensus does immediately bear the burden of proof. Views falling outside the scope of academic consensuses may be held without the burden of proof, unless you agree to debate them.

    Now for anti-Stratfordianism, it is not a view held by a significant amount of scholars, so there is a scholarly consensus that Shakespeare wrote his plays. See this Wikipedia article, where the claim is amply sourced by footnote 3:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare_authorship_question

    The doubt is mostly raised by inexpert people, either academics from another field who meander into for them unfamiliar territory, or non-academic cranks. Not incidentically, both groups are also the types who keep Jesus Mythicism alive.

    Like

  14. arkenaten says:

    I was aware of what you were trying to illustrate. The quantum mechanics argument is often thrown into the mix.
    “We can’t see it but we know it’s there, okay guys? Let’s have a show of hands.
    Has Neils gone to the bathroom AGAIN!” Someone go and fetch him.”

    Bit like a mouse scraching behind the perishing fridge.
    Or should we use the example of Shrodinger’s Cat?

    There so many theories we can bandy about re authorship of the gospels but unless the Vatican is hiding manuscripts this is pretty much a dead end.
    As I mentioned, if the authors wanted to be known or were known then we would know.
    Face it, if there truly were autgraphed originals someone didn’t want them in circulation.

    “The doubt is mostly raised by inexpert people, either academics from another field who meander into for them unfamiliar territory, or non-academic cranks.”

    This may be the case but it is not always so. There is vested interest to consider as well.
    And I wouldn’t be so quick to automatically dismiss ‘cranks’ either.

    As for consensus…..
    Remember flies are experts when it comes to manure, but I for one don’t eat it.

    Like

  15. ignorantianescia says:

    Ah, I had misunderstood you. I thought you mostly used anti-Stratfordianism as another example where you thought there was no consensus, while you apparently used it as an analogy to question the authorship of the gospels. I agree we don’t know who authored the gospels, for that matter. I don’t agree on Shakespeare, though.

    Still, there are good reasons not to trust cranks, since they will misportray other scientific or scholarly opinions quite often. Peer-review is supposed to filter that out.

    Like

  16. arkenaten says:

    Discussion/arguments about the gospels, the bible Jesus, Moses, and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all have been going on since my grandad fell off the bus, and other than consensus about certain things-so often taken in isolation-noboby truly knows.
    If it were not for religion being involved the whole subject would have turfed into the trash long ago, or at best merely regarded as ‘quaint.’

    And if one is prepared to apply common sense (even for a minute or two) and not look for some deep philosophical meaning and divorce it from the supernatural then even the most inculcated, evangelical Young Earther will have to accept that it is nonsense. A multi -layered pastiche over a marginally historical background.
    Yet tag on the whole “In the Bible/must be true…” and we have a world of dingbats espousing varying degrees of polemic desitined to inflame emotions to such a degree humans will gleefully kill (murder) each other in the name of their version of a deity. and said deity’s ‘Word”

    It’s enough to make a sane man go mental. It deserves nothing but contempt.

    Like

  17. ignorantianescia says:

    You’re free to hold these opinions and to express them, but… how does it relate to my comment???

    I can sympathise with your chagrin about (lethal) religious violence, but I think it’s too black and white about religion’s effects, while I obviously don’t think a religious worldview is necessarily particularly nonsensical compared to secular alternatives.

    Like

  18. arkenaten says:

    I was merely expanding on the discussion of religion in general.
    And yes, I definitely agree that there are twits in both camps, religious and secular.
    Conversely there are good as well. But it’s the ‘baddies’ that are the worrisome lot.
    Now, the difference between them is simple. While maniacs like Stalin are the perfect ‘Poster Boy’ for the anti-atheists, he carried on because of two main reasons a) he was probably mental and b) he believed in a warped version of socialist ideology.
    With extremeist religious types they too are a) probably mental, BUT b) they carry on their special brand of insanity because they truly believe they are carrying out God’s Word .
    And that is some scary s***.

    So, remove all the religious crap and we are merely left with human beings who are now forced to take responsibility – can’t blame or invoke their god.

    And when one looks at it in this light the issue of Who wrote the Gospels becomes ridiculous, and in context, meaningless.
    All we do know is it was people. People inspired by other people who were inspired by legends.
    Because what can religion really offer?
    Nothing. And spending one’s time worrying who wrote the (gospels )or any religious text) will give one less than nothing as it takes away from the value of life’ which is ever so brief.

    Like

  19. Micael Grenholm says:

    According to Mt 26:20 and Lk 22:14, it was the twelve apostles that attended the last supper, thus I’m convinced that the “beloved disciple” is one of them. Still, this is of course a minor issue. 🙂

    Like

  20. arkenaten says:

    @ Michael
    Smile…Cute!

    I don’t really care for Gs of.Matthew or Luke to be honest. The writers never seem to be able to make up their minds about anything.
    Maybe they were confused right from the off after Joseph and Mary’s honeymoon to Egypt?

    I love the supernatural WWII post.
    No doubt the same supernatural powers came to the fore and made sure the Luftwafe didn’t drop bombs on St. Paul’s Cathedral.
    Imagine, all those hundreds of thousands of Londeners who hid in the underground during the air raids and all they had to do was nip into St’ Pauls.
    Who would have thought, right?

    Truly I wonder at the banalty of such stories and more to the point the gullibilty of of certain people who would aford them any credence.

    [The last paragraph of this post has been removed because it was nasty and unnecessary. Akhenaten has been warned, and future nastiness will lead to the entire comment being removed. I intend for this blog’s comments to be friendly to all. unkleE]

    Like

  21. unkleE says:

    “According to Mt 26:20 and Lk 22:14, it was the twelve apostles that attended the last supper, thus I’m convinced that the “beloved disciple” is one of them.”

    Matthew says “the twelve” while Luke says “his apostles”. I don’t know if these two terms are meant to be identical, and whether they indicate that no others were also present. I guess it is uncertain.

    Like

Please leave a comment - anonymous is OK, but please identify yourself with a username. An email address is needed if you want notification of new comments. Please be courteous and constructive - see the Comment policy (link in the footer).

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s