The Beloved Disciple

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Jesus' Apostles

  • The beloved disciple is only mentioned in the Book of John, and the first mention is John 13:23-26.” .
  • Other passages include John 19:25-27; 20:1-10; 21:1-14, 20-24.
  • These are the only passages on which scholars can agree. (Some would also include 18:15-16 and 1:35-40.)
  • In John 13:23, this disciple was sitting at Jesus’ bosom during the Last Supper.
  • People have generally assumed he is one of the Twelve (because it is believed that only the Twelve were with Jesus at the Last Supper), but the text never says this.
  • The beloved disciple is also present at Jesus’ passion and resurrection.
  • He claims to be an eyewitness to these events.
  • This has raised all sorts of questions since the other gospels clearly state that all the disciples abandoned Jesus. According to John, at least this one disciple stayed. Because of this event, many scholars think this is evidence that the beloved disciple was not one of the Twelve.
  • Jesus hands his mother over to this disciple.
  • The fact that he is described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” probably means he is not the author of the gospel, since that would be an unusual self-designation.
  • The beloved disciple attests to the full humanity and death of Jesus.
  • When he and Peter race to the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, he wins. Peter, however, is the first to go inside and “doesn’t understand.” The beloved disciple “sees and believes.”
  • The beloved disciple is the one to recognize the risen Christ on the morning shore. He is the one to tell Peter that it’s Jesus.
  • When Peter asks Jesus what will happen to the beloved disciple, Jesus says, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
  • Many people thought this meant that the beloved disciple would still be alive at the Parousia -- which meant, of course, that the second coming would be coming quickly!
  • Obviously, this could also be taken figuratively to suggest that the beloved disciple would continue to witness to Jesus through his writings.
  • In 21:24, it is stated that “This is the disciple who has written these things,” an obvious reference to the beloved disciple.
  • Still, most scholars do not ascribe authorship of the Gospel of John to the beloved disciple, at least not directly.  But this could also be a reference to his witnessing of the Gospel.  Because of his witness, this Gospel was written.
  • So the identity of this disciple whom Jesus loved remains a mystery.
  • If the passage in 18:15-16 is added to the mix, then several additional deductions can be made.
  • The disciple whom Jesus loved accompanied Peter after Jesus’ arrest and was acquainted with the High Priest.  It was through him that Peter was able to gain entrance into the courtyard.
  • It states the he “was known to the High Priest.”
  • One does not have to assume that they were acquaintances; it could be their families were acquainted or even related.
  • If the beloved disciple had been connected to the priestly circles, it is even less likely that he was one of the Twelve.
  • If verses 1:35-40 involve the beloved disciple, more possibilities are raised.
  • That would make him a follower of John the Baptist.
  • It would also mean that he had been with Jesus from the very beginning.
  • These texts, however, are quite speculative.
  • Nonetheless, the beloved disciple is thought to be a historical figure, who was involved in Jesus’ active ministry and in the early church.
  • He probably was not one of the Twelve and has gone to great lengths to hide his identity.  (But it is also possible that he was simply so well known that no one needed to name him.)
  • He probably is not the author of the Gospel of John, but was a witness upon which the Gospel rests.
  • He probably did witness some of the actual events recorded in this Gospel – especially those involving Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • By all accounts, he was probably a Judean.
  • He might have been an initial follower of John the Baptist and involved to some extent in the priestly circles of Jerusalem.
  • He didn’t just witness the Gospel events, but he also interpreted them.
  • The Gospel is probably based on his authority.
  • A clear understanding of the relationship between the beloved disciple and Peter remains for further study.
  • The name of the beloved disciple is known only by the Evangelist, and he chose not to reveal it.
  • The beloved disciple may have been the leader of a Johannine community or a group of teachers.  It is thought that these individuals were the actual authors of the Johannine literature – the Gospel, the three Johannine Epistles and the Book of Revelation. 

Editor's Note: 

There is also scholarship that suggests the “beloved disciple” may have been Lazarus.
He fits the description according to Professor Ben Witherington III of Asbury Theological Seminary.
If all the disciples left Jesus, then to whom did Jesus give the care of his mother? The reference from John 19:26 reads, “The disciple whom [Jesus] loved.”  When Mary and Martha ask Jesus to come quickly when Lazarus was ill, they said, “he whom you love is ill.” Some people have accepted Dan Brown’s fiction in the Da Vinci Code as gospel and that Mary Magdalene was the “Beloved Disciple.” But she’s already mentioned as being at the cross when Jesus asks the “Beloved Disciple” to care for his mother.
Jesus secured the upper room for the Passover from someone he knew.  Was it Lazarus?  The account speaks of the “Beloved Disciple” at the Passover dinner.  It would make sense if Jesus’ was eating at Lazarus’ place that according to custom the owner of the house would recline with the chief guest.  For more information, read “The Last Man Standing” by Ben Witherington III in Biblical Archaeology Review.  March/April 2006 pp. 24 & 76.

Genelle Austin-Lett


Barclay, William. "John." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.

Beasley-Murray, George. "John." Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1999.

Carson, DA. "The Gospel According to John." The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1991.

Gaebelein, Frank. "John." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.

Keck, Leander, ed. New Interpreter's Bible, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Vol. 9. 1995.

Kostenberger, Andreas. "John." Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2004.

Morris, Leon. "The Gospel According to John." The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1971.

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