Is Lazarus the “disciple Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John?

 

This idea that “the disciple Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John was not the Apostle John but rather Lazarus seems to come from the “Secret Gospel of Mark”. Those who argue for Lazarus point to two scenes: one in Secret Mark and one at Mark 14:51-52. They feature the same young man or youth who is unnamed but seems closely connected to Jesus. The account in Secret Mark details a raising from the dead very similar to Jesus raising of Lazarus in John 11:38-44, and identifies the young man as Lazarus and thus fixes Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple.

 

Intellectual Arguments Against the Source

The only references to a Secret Gospel of Mark are in a letter supposedly written by Clement of Alexandria. In that letter the author quoted two excerpts from a “Gospel of Mark” that are obviously not from the Gospel that was accepted into the canon.

 

This gospel is not known or named in any other Christian text.

If we assume that the letter was indeed by Clement, then there was a version of the Gospel of Mark that he knew of in 2nd century Alexandria, that did not make it into the canon. However, unlike the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas, no other reference to this Secret Gospel of Mark can be found in any other Christian text. This alone makes this partial text quoted second hand by someone we doubt to be who he claims to be very suspect.

 

This gospel is clearly agnostic and contradictory to not only the letter but the very spirit of the Scriptures.

To quote the author of this supposed letter of Clement:

As for Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, morevover, brohgt in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innnermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared the matter, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

This gospel is clearly gnostic:

  1. It portrays the apostle’s beliefs and teachings as conventional Hellenistic mystery religion, where initiates are progressivly let in on additional layers of secret doctrine as they advance through higher and more exclusive levels within the cult. It purports secret sayings, teachings and actions of Jesus that are only to be revealed to a select few.
  2. It makes John’s goal “progress toward knowledge” rather than salvation in Christ.
  3. It declares this Secret Gospel to be more spiritual than the one actually accepted as canonical.
  4. It describes Jesus’ teaching as hierophantic. A hierophant is an ancient Greek priest who interpreted sacred mysteries, especially the priests of the Elusinian mysteries. It is thus makes Jeus an interpreter of sacred mysteries or arcance knowledge rather than the Son of God come to save us from our sins.
  5. It refers to John as a mystagogue, a person who initiates others into mystic beliefs, an educator or person who has knowledge of the mystic arts. But none of the apostles ever claimed this. They were constantly trying to elucidate to the masses the meaning and application of the Good News.
  6. It clearly implies that there are seven “veils” levels of truth which are hidden to the general masses with an “innermost sanctuary” of arcane knowledge.
  7. This gospel is carefully kept from the public and only read to those are initiated into the “great mysteries.” Where in the world do we see this in Scripture as being acceptable?

 

This letter implies that Jesus was a homosexual.

It says:

"And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, "Son of David, have mercy on me". But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."

Because I have dealt with the issue of homosexuality thoroughly in other places, I will not deal with it extensively here. Nevertheless, looking at several passages, we can determine that God the Father and thus God the Son (who always did the will of the Father) is adamantly opposed to homosexuality and effeminate behavior in men.

  • Leviticus 18:22, TLB. "Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin."
  • Romans 1:26-27, NIV. "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9, TLB. "Don't you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who are idol worshippers, adulterers or homosexuals—will have no share in his kingdom."
  • 1 Timothy 1:10-11, TLB. "Yes, these laws are made to identify as sinners all who are immoral and impure: homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, and all others who do things that contradict the glorious Good News of our blessed God, whose messenger I am."

Beyond that, the Greek word for love that is used of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is not eros, the word used for erotic love but is rather agape, used for the pure and unselfish love of God.

 

There are several strong indications that this letter is a forgery.

A Mr. Morton Smith supposedly discovered a fragment of an unknown Secret Gospel of Mark in 1958 at the ancient monastery of Mar Saba. Mr. Smith photographed the letter, and the monks then proceeded to separate it from the 17th centruty book into which it had been trascribed. They put it away in storage for conservation but almost immediately lost it. This has caused many to accuse the monks of a cover-up and Mr. Smith of fraud. Subsequently, some black and white photographs of the questionable text were discovered and these are all that we have to go on.

The handwriting of the letter is very like that used by Morton Smith. Mr. Smith left marginal notes that he added in Greek to his private papers and the writing is quite similar to that found in the remaining photographs of the letter. Incidentally, Mr. Smith asked that those notes be burnt.

Many of the letters in the photographs show a “forger’s tremor”, left when the writer stopped his pen in the middle of a letter to verify how the original author would have formed it.

The styles of writing in the Secret Gospel and the Gospel of Mark are very similar. However, statistical evidence demonstrates that the similarities are too good to be true. This would indicate a deliberate imitation instead of authentism.

 

This supposed letter by Clement of Alexandria not only contradicts Scripture but also other writings that have been confirmed as coming from the real Clement.

No other Christian source cites, quotes from, mentions or even hints at such a gospel. And letters that have been confirmed historically and archeologically to have come from the real Clement directly contradict this letter.

 

This letter even contradicts itself!

The letter was written partially in order to provide an argument for ad hominem abusive treatment of a man by the name of Carpocrates who found a minor Gnostic sect. It says:

“Such men are to be opposed in all ways and altogether. For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.”

That would be understandable because many of the early Church Fathers argued against Gnosticism. In fact most of the early creeds and the very canon itself was formed to defend the church against this false doctrine.

The problem is that in arguing for the harsh treatment of a Gnostic, it uses Gnostic doctrine and philosophy – a clear contradiction unless we understand that this is not a fight between Christianity and Gnosticism, but between rival school of Gnostic thought.

The author’s justification for ad hominem arguments is that not all true things are “true truth” clearly the hair splitting and semantic double speech that characterizes Gnosticism.

 

The Scriptural Arguments against this concept.

The Gospel of John is titled as having John as its author.

Some would argue that the title “…According to John” was added a number of decades following its publication as it was being circulated in order to distinguish it from the three Synoptics. However, there is no hard evidence to support this theory. In fact, there is every indication that John’s Gospel was so titled from the very beginning.

In the first centuries, an era immediately preceding the advent of the codex and in which mass publishing did not exist, there was no spine or binding upon which to imprint the title and author of the scroll. Instead, an identifying tag was affixed. Otherwise there would have been no way to determine what was in a scroll or to differentiate it from other scrolls. If for only practical reasons, the Gospel scrolls would have been titled so that the early readers would be able to know if they were picking up the Gospel of Luke or the latest in romance novels.

Anonymous works were relatively rare and even these were given titles in libraries. Sometimes, because the authors were unknown, they were assigned several working titles or pseudepigraphical authors. It would be far easier for a skeptic to say that the Gospel of John was an unauthorized, anonymous book, if he could produce a copy that was instead attributed to Matthew or Barnabas. But no – what we find is that every manuscript, all the way back, consistently attributes the authorship to John. There is not a single example of Gospel texts with no title.

 

There is a great deal of external evidence to support the Johanine authorship of the Gospel of John.

According to Iranaeus, Polycarp (70-156 AD) knew John the son of Zebedee personally. Polycarp understood the author of the Gospel of John to be his acquaintance. Papias, a contemporary of Polycarp who may also have been a disciple of John also stated that it was the apostle John. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Irenaeus (all 2nd Century), each provide witness to the Apostle John being the author of the Fourth Gospel (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.36, 5.20.5-6, 6.14.7; and Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.1.2).

 

John claims to be “the disciple that Jesus loved.”

·        John 21:20-24 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" 22 Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

The subject of the conversation was clearly the “disciple Jesus loved”. Not only does it use that phrase, but it goes on to state that it was the same man who had leaned on Jesus’ bosom at the supper and quoted him. Then in verse 24 it categorically states that that disciple, the one Jesus loved, the one who leaned back on Jesus during the last supper, was the author of the Gospel of John.

 

We can eliminate Lazarus as a possible candidate as the “beloved disciple” by his absence at the last supper.

The beloved disciple was clearly an eyewitness. He was at the last supper (13:23), at the cross (19:26-27) and at the empty tomb (20:1-9). The fact that he was at the last supper means that he had to be one of the twelve as the Synoptics are clear that only Jesus and the twelve were present.

·        Matthew 26:20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.

 

We can further eliminate the other disciples from that title.

The beloved disciple is frequently distinguished from Peter.

·        John 13:23-24 There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, "Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking."

·        John 20:2-9 So she 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." 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

·        John 21:20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?"

He is further distinguished from Judas Iscariot

·        John 13:26 Jesus then answered, "That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him." So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

From Thomas

·        John 14:5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?"

From Philip

·        John 14:8 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us."

From Judas (not Iscariot)

·        John 14:22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?"

He is by implication included in the group of seven disciples who go fishing in John 21, but is distinguished from Peter, Thomas and Nathanael, leaving the possibilities of James or John (sons of Zebedee), or one of the two other (unnamed) disciples. He could not have been James the son of Zebedee because he was martyred around 41-44 AD and thus could not be the author.

 

From other accounts of the period we see John, son of Zebedee was part of the inner circle, Jesus’ closest companions, which were Peter, James and his brother John. John is thus frequently associated with Peter as a good friend. 

·        Mark 5:37 And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James.

·        Mark 9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;

·        Mark 14:33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled.

·        Galatians 2:9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

See also: Acts 3:1-4:23; Acts 8:15-25

 

The beloved disciple is also described as a good friend of Peter.

·        John 13:23-24 There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, "Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking."

·        John 20:2-9 So she 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." 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

·        John 21:20-24 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" 22 Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

 

Further textual arguments:

It is also interesting to note that John the Baptist is not distinguished from any other Johns by the author, and it stands to reason that only an author by the name of John would not feel the need for the qualification: "the Baptist".

Neither James nor John (sons of Zebedee) are mentioned by name throughout this gospel while the author (who is clearly an apostle, but not James [see above]) insists on refraining from the use of his own personal name, therefore again implying John.

 

Conclusion

Therefore, we can fairly safely assume John, son of Zebedee to be the "beloved disciple", and assuming the "beloved disciple" wrote the fourth gospel (as is clearly implied in 21:20-25), we can conclude that the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, wrote the fourth gospel, based on both implied internal conclusions and very strong external considerations.

 

Also check out the arguments at this website.