The Author of the Gospel of John

by Max Andrews

A logical order of argument for why the author of the fourth Gospel, John, was written by John the apostle.

  • The author identified himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20, 24), a prominent figure in the Johannine narrative (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).
  • The author used the first person in 1:14, “we have seen his glory,” revealing that he was an eyewitness to the accounts contained in his Gospel.
  • The “we” of 1:14 refers to the same people as does 2:11, Jesus’ disciples. Thus the writer was an apostle, an eyewitness, and a disciple of Jesus.
  • Since the author never referred to himself by name, he cannot be any of the named disciples at the Last Supper: Judas Iscariot (13:2, 26–27), Peter (13:6–9), Thomas (14:5), Philip (14:8–9), or Judas the son of James (14:22).
  • The  disciple that Jesus loved is also one of the seven mentioned in the last chapter: “Simon Peter, Thomas (called ‘Twin’), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other of his disciples” (21:2; see 21:7).
  • Peter and Thomas have already been eliminated. Nathanael is also ruled out as a possible author since the author remains unnamed in John’s Gospel.
  • The author must be either one of “Zebedee’s [two] sons” or one of the “two other of [Jesus’] disciples.”
  • Of the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, James can safely be ruled out since he was martyred in the year 42 (see Acts 12:2).
  • This leaves John the son of Zebedee as the probably author of the Gospel.
  • Irenaeus (c. 130–200): “John the disciple of the Lord, who leaned back on his breast, published the Gospel while he was a resident at Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies 3.1.2).
  • Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215): “John, last of all … composed a spiritual Gospel” (quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14.7).
  • Those who doubt apostolic authorship take their point of departure from a quote of Papias (c. 60–130) by Eusebius (c. 260–340).
  • Papias appeared to refer to a John other than the apostle:
    • “And if anyone chanced to come who had actually been a follower of the elders, I would enquire as to the discourses of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples; and the things which Aristion and John the Elder, disciples of the Lord, say” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.4–5, emphasis added).

7 Responses to “The Author of the Gospel of John”

  1. John’s gospel is also Jerusalem-centric and shows evidence of religious education. Taken with the idea Lazarus was he who Jesus loved, and lived near Jeusalem, the idea Lazarus wrote the Gospel of John should be given consideration at least…

  2. Another piece of evidence: The prologue of John’s Gospel references the “logos” philosophy of Ephesus’ Heraclitus. It makes sense then that it was written by a Christian leader in that city…such as the apostle John, who according to church tradition was the elder (or bishop) of the Ephesian church.

  3. Another piece of evidence:
    In every other gospel (Matthew/Mark/Luke), John the Baptist is introduced with a “descriptor” like “John the Baptist” or “John son of Zebedee”. (See Matthew 3:1, Mark 1:4, and Luke 3:2) Why? Obviously because there are two major characters in the gospels named “John”. The author needs to distinguish “John the Baptist” from “John the disciple”. But notice the usage throughout the book of John. John the Baptist is mentioned ~20 times – but ALWAYS is referred to simply as “John”. Why? My name is Nathan. When there are two Nathan’s in the room, someone must address me with some sort of descriptor to make it clear that they are talking to me. But when *I* am talking, I do not need this descriptor because it is obvious that I’m not going to refer to myself in 3rd person. The same with John. He felt no need to describe who John was, because as the writer it was clear that he would not refer to himself by the name “John”. This is very difficult to explain unless the author was actually named John or was trying to pull a deliberate deception.

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