Beloved Disciple

BELOVED DISCIPLE. A disciple of Jesus, thus referred to only in the gospel of John, but never identified by name. He is mentioned in the following passages:

1. John 13:23. At the Last Supper, after Jesus had foretold that one of the apostles present would betray Him, “one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved,” and who lay close to His breast, was asked by Peter, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks” (v. 24).

2. John 19:26, 27. When Jesus hung on the cross, He saw His mother “and the disciple whom he loved standing near.” Turning to His mother He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” and to the disciple He said, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

3. John 20:2. On Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene found the tomb of Jesus empty, she told the news to Peter “and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.” The two men ran to the tomb, the latter getting there first. He looked in but did not enter until Peter arrived and entered.

4. John 21:7. After Jesus appeared to some of His disciples on the Sea of Tiberias, and they by His direction caught an unusually large quantity of fish, “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”

5. John 21:20. After the Lord told Peter that he would die a martyr’s death, Peter asked Him what would happen to “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’” The Lord replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

6. John 21:24. This says of the disciple whom Jesus loved: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness of these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:20).

John 18:15 and 19:35 are also usually taken to refer to the Beloved Disciple. The first relates that when Jesus was arrested there followed Him to the courtyard of the palace of Annas the apostle Peter and “another disciple,” who was known to the high priest. The latter was admitted to the inner court, while Peter had to stay outside until permission was received for him to enter. Although he is not identified, he was obviously close to Peter. The second says that when a Rom. soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a spear, there came out blood and water, and “he who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe.” Since the writer of the gospel is said to be the Beloved Disciple (21:20-24), who bore witness to what he testified, and since the Beloved Disciple is shown to have been present at the crucifixion of Jesus, it is believed that the reference is to the Beloved Disciple (19:27).

Who was the Beloved Disciple? Four views are held:

1. He was not a particular disciple of Jesus, a man of flesh and blood like Peter, but an ideal figure representing any true disciple of Christ. It is, however, difficult to dismiss the vivid references of the Beloved Disciple in this way. If it can be done with him, why not with Peter or with Jesus Himself?

2. He was Lazarus, of whom it is said three times in the gospel of John that Jesus loved him (11:3, 5, 36). In support of this view it is argued that the home of Lazarus was in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, to which he could easily have taken the mother of Jesus at the request of Jesus. Against the view is the fact that nowhere outside this gospel are Peter and Lazarus as closely associated as Peter and the Beloved Disciple are in John’s gospel.

3. He was a Jerusalem disciple of Jesus connected with the high priest. The chief reason given for this view is that he appears only in Jerusalem and after the Resurrection, and since the gospel centers chiefly around Jerusalem, it is unlikely that a Galilean fisherman like John could have been the writer.

4. He was John the apostle. Both internal and external support is given for this view. He must have been one of three apostles who are described in the gospels as having been particularly close to Jesus—Peter, James, and John. He cannot have been Peter, with whom he is contrasted (John 21:20, 21), or James, who was martyred early in the apostolic period, apparently long before the gospel was written (Acts 12:2). In the Lukan writings, moreover, Peter and John appear together (Luke 22:8; Acts 3:1; 8:14), as Peter and the beloved disciple do in the fourth gospel.

The constant tradition of the Early Church was that the name of the Beloved Disciple was John. Irenaeus (Her. 3. 1. 1), Polycrates (Euseb. Hist. 3. 31; 5. 24), the 2nd cent. Acts of John, and Origen (Euseb. Hist. 6. 25. 9) are explicit about this.


F. Godet. Commentary on John, I (1886), 190-193; J. H. Bernard, Commentary on John, I (1928), xxxiv-xxxvii; M. C. Tenney, John, The Gospel of Belief (1948), 280-282, 299-303.