One very common interpretation of the Gospel of John is that the Beloved Disciple was the author of the book. (Presumably, he was interested in obscuring his identity for some reason.) But other commentators have suggested a more complicated authorship that involve a Johannine community.

The internal evidence strongly suggests that the disciple was the author of the Gospel:

John 21:20-24 (ESV)
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

How do modern scholars who reject John Zebedee as the author of the Fourth Gospel reconcile this passage with their hypothesis?

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    Richard Bauckham has written exensively on this subject. His theory is that the Beloved Disciple is John the Elder as referenced by Papias. He makes some really good arguments in favor of this position. His book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is important reading. If I remember right he devotes at least a couple of chapters to the question of John's authorship. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Stephen O. Stout have responded to his arguments from the above mentioned book in an online paper: biblicalfoundations.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/… Hope that helps.
    – camainc
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 20:46

4 Answers 4


The best evidence against John the beloved disciple as the sole author is found in John 21:20-24, particularly verse 24:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. [emphasis mine]

A straightforward reading of this suggests that the beloved disciple had written these things down ("his testimony"), and his disciples ("we know") have organized his writings into the present gospel.

Rearranging the Gospel

The gospel itself shows signs of having been edited. For example, chapters 5 and 6 look like they have swapped places from the original chronology.

In chapter 5 Jesus goes to Jerusalem for a festival. He heals a man who was born paralyzed, and gets into an argument with the religious leaders, culminating in his accusing them of not believing Moses.

As chapter 6 opens, however, Jesus is crossing the Sea of Galilee. He performs "signs", healing the sick. This is a natural followup to the end of chapter 4, where he has performed his "second sign in Galilee", but not to the preceding religious dispute in Judea.

Chapter 7, however, begins with Jesus wanting to stay away from Judea because of threats on his life. This does follow naturally from the conflict of chapter 5.

An Epilogue

Chapter 20 appears to be the original end of the gospel, with Thomas' dramatic confession, "My Lord and my God" followed by this conclusion:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.—John 20:30-31

That leaves chapter 21 as an epilogue, perhaps written at a later time. One possibility is that it was written after the death of the beloved disciple, in order to clear up the confusion from the rumor that he would never die.

Publish Date

The gospel of John is most likely the last of the four gospels to have been published, and its genuineness was not universally accepted until the late second century. The early Christians, when they referred to Jesus, quoted almost exclusively from the synoptics. It was likely not published until around 90-100 AD, which would have been very late for someone who was contemporary with Jesus.

Third Person

The gospel consistently refers to the beloved disciple in the third person. Compare this with the three letters of John, where the author consistently refers to himself in the first person:

1 John 2:1 "I am writing these things to you…"

2 John 1:4 "I was overjoyed…"

3 John 1:9 "I have written something to the church…"

This raises the question of why the same author would not use "I" in the gospel, if he was in fact referring to himself.

It can't be due to modesty, as the title "the disciple that Jesus loved" would be the opposite of modesty if he were applying it to himself. On the other hand, if the finished gospel was the work of his disciples, they might have replaced the "I" in his version with "the disciple whom Jesus loved" out of their own respect for him.

But the gospel is not written completely in the third person. It does use "I", in the final verse of the final chapter.

John 21:25 "But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." [emphasis mine]

This is immediately following the verse referring to the beloved disciple in the third person, assuring the reader, "we know that his testimony is true". The "we" in verse 24 and the "I" in verse 25 bracket "his testimony", clearly distinguishing this disciple from the final editor of the gospel.

A Group Effort

These and other factors lead most scholars to believe that this gospel was a group effort. The beloved disciple is likely the source of the information, who first put it in written form, but it is likely that his own disciple (or disciples) organized the gospel into the form we have today.

  • Thanks for taking on these two questions about the authorship of John. The swap of chapter 5 and 6 is something I've never heard of before. Do you know of any theories why that might be done? Could it serve a thematic purpose? This might be useful information to bring up on the question of John's chronology. Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 23:36
  • I'm not sure why they might have been swapped. The one source I've seen that defends it does not seem to care about that question; they seem more interested in attempting to reconstruct the "original" gospel of John. Other sources mention it only in passing. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 4:35
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    Also, there is no manuscript evidence that they were swapped; some scholars just think that the narrative flows better if the chapters are switched.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 3:37
  • I'm of the opinion (which, I can assure you, is always humbler than thine), that the 4th gospel was written first.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 1:59
  • Julius Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars in the third person; did he pen his letters in the third person as well ?
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 18:31

It is interesting that so many people believe that the disciple called John was the author of the Gospel of John. There are three times in the bible where we are told Jesus loved a certain person (John 11:3,5,36). None of them refer to John. We are told at the cross that Jesus asked "the beloved disciple" to accept Jesus Mother into his household, and we are told in John 19:26-7 NKJ That "from that very hour he took her to his home." If it had been John they would have had to walk 75 miles to Galilee where John lived and then back again as she was there in Jerusalem the next day.

In the book of John 20:3-8 We are told that the other disciple believed that Jesus had arisen from the dead, but in Luke 24:11 none of the apostles believed. Then in Mark 16:10-14 we are told that Jesus rebuked all eleven of them for not believing; this had to include John. The last reference is the one in John 21:1-25 Peter says he is going fishing, the persons going with him are mentioned which include the sons of Zebedee [James and John] but then we are told that there were two other disciples who were not named. One of these disciple recognizes Jesus on the shore.

After they had finished eating Jesus talked to Peter then asked Him to follow Him. As they are walking Peter turns around and sees not John but one of the other disciples following them, and he asks the question of Jesus, "What about him?" Why would Peter ask that question? Was it because he was a busybody? Or was it because this disciple had already been dead, been resurrected and that is why the rumor was going around that he might not have to die again. The man who wrote the Gospel of John is no other than Lazarus who lived in Bethany. His uncle was a pharisee, this is how he was able to get Peter into the courtyard during Jesus trial. The bible tells us all the other Apostles fled, and John was one of them.

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    Hi Jack. I edited your answer a touch. Please take a moment to read about our (rather unusual format) on the About page. Your last paragraph is far and away the best argument against John as the "Beloved disciple". But that's a slightly different question. Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 20:00

The Beloved Disciple as an eyewitness

John's Gospel says that the Beloved Disciple was an eyewitness to the mission of Jesus, so the most direct evidence that the Beloved Disciple was not this Gospel's author would be that the Fourth Gospel could not have been written by an eyewitness, or even based on the testimony of an eyewitness. In fact, Raymond E. Brown says, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 362, the majority of scholars have shifted towards the position that John was not authored by an eyewitness.

Everett Ferguson says, in Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pages 461-2, that Rabban Gamaliel II, who was active 80-120 CE, introduced into the Eighteen Benedictions, the curse, “Let the Nazarenes and the heretics perish as in a moment, let them be blotted out of the book of the living and let them not be written with the righteous," which effectively excommunicated the Christians from the synagogues. That was long after the time of Jesus, so a person who had lived during the mission of Christ would have known that Christians were not at that stage banned from the synagogues. However John contains frequent references to Christians being banned from the synagogues, for example:

John 9:22: These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
John 12:42: Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:

earlychristianwritings.com says this anachronism is inconceivable as the product of an eyewitness. John must have been written quite some time after Christians became banned from the synagogues, by an author who assumed this always to have been the case.

Further evidence, in the view of New Testament scholars who believe that John's Gospel was based on the synoptic gospels, is that this dependency militates against John having been written by an eyewitness of even based on an eyewitness source. P. J. Pancharathnam (The Synoptic Gospels and the Relationship Between Synoptic Gospels and St John's Gospel, page 12) says that in all common material, John was dependent on the synoptic gospels. Indeed, even Johannine scenes that had no parallel in the synoptic tradition were sometimes explained as an amalgamation of synoptic details.

There are many good reasons to say that John's Gospel was not written by the Beloved Disciple, but the most convincing reason is that John's author could not have been an eyewitness.

  • The reactive stringent view of Rabban Gamaliel II, is not reflective of Gamaliel the Elder. Prior to the Gamaliel II there was likely a mixed manner of hostility to the Messianic movement of Jesus and his followers. A helpful analogy would be the rise of the charismatic movement in modern denominations. Its initial acceptance among certain churches, in time ended up resulting in denominational policies against the charismatic movement (e.g. Baptist, conservative Lutheran circles, etc.). So, those passages (John 9:22; 12:42) are not necessarily cases of anachronisms.
    – Jess
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 20:55

The first question posed is: Was the Beloved Disciple the author of the Fourth Gospel?

This explicit claim of authorship in verse 24 of the last chapter of the fourth gospel, "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things". Moreover, it is clear "the disciple" refers to the one identified as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in verse 20 and elsewhere in the gospel (starting with the first mention of this unnamed disciple at the last supper, which is also reconfirmed here in verse 20).

So those who are willing to rely on the authority of God's word (instead of trusting in non-Bible sources and the traditions of men) will let the plain text of scripture answer that question. Yes, the author of the fourth gospel was the beloved disciple.

Then there is a subsequent question asking how those "who reject John Zebedee as the author of the Fourth Gospel reconcile this passage"?

And that answer is also made evident by the text of scripture itself. Two things are true: (A) there not a single verse that would justify teaching that John was the unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" and (B) the facts recorded in scripture prove WHOEVER the beloved disciple was he could not have been John.

There are facts recorded about John that are mutually exclusive with facts that the author of the fourth gospel tells us about himself. Of course, there is no problem with scripture. Rather this problem only occurs when one tries to force the unbiblical John tradition on the text, in spite of the biblical evidence to the contrary. So the false tradition that has taught people to ignore the biblical evidence and follow after non-Bible sources who claim this unnamed author was John is the cause of the problem.

Therefore, there is nothing to reconcile (as far as John Zebedee is concerned) when it comes to the claim of authorship that was recorded by the "disciple whom Jesus loved" in the closing words of his gospel, because this unnamed author was not John.

A comment claims verses 20-24 offer "the best evidence against John", but the truth is the entire body of biblical evidence on the one whom "Jesus loved" (who is only mentioned in the fourth gospel) stands in stark contrast to all of the facts recorded in scripture about John, including the fact that every event where John is mentioned in the first three gospels is missing from the fourth gospel. [Edit in reponse to comment: FYI "every event where John is mentioned in the first three gospels is missing from the fourth gospel" does not say "every event where the disciples are mentioned…", and it could not possibly mean that, since clearly there are such events noted in the fourth gospel that are also in the first three gospels. Therefore, the words "where John is mentioned" were obviously not intended to exclude events where the "disciples", "apostles" or "the twelve" are mentioned but, rather, the phrase "where John is mentioned" means just what it says, i.e. where "John" is mentioned (in other words where those writers took time to actually refer to John in particular -- where they mentioned him by name).]

TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com has a free eBook that presents the biblical evidence that can prove the beloved disciple was not John (including the mutually exclusive facts noted above) and those who care to weigh the biblical evidence on this topic may find this resource helpful as they seek the guidance of scripture when it comes to answering questions about the anonymous author of the fourth gospel.

-- edit in response to comment:

Regarding the statement: I see a discrepancy between your statement that we should not trust in non-Biblical sources, and your claim that the answer can be found in an eBook.

It's really not that difficult to grasp, provided one is willing to admit and is able to understanding that there is a difference between the message and the messenger. The telegram that was received by a man in a prior generation received that ordered him to "report for duty" was not founded on authority of the delivery boy or one who typed the message. Rather, it was founded on the authority of the source.

The authority of God's word is not dependent on whether it is heard quoted from the pulpit, read in the Bible, communicated in sign-language or printed in a tract. Likewise, in discussing topics in God's word, if an eBook, a lay person, a radio preacher, or a bum on the street has accurately represented God's word on a given point, it would surely be a foolish mistake to think the truth found in God's word can be ignored simply because one does not like the messenger or the format used to communicate that truth.

That said, those who carefully read my post will notice it says the free eBook is a presentation of the BIBLICAL EVIDENCE that proves John was not the beloved disciple who wrote the fourth gospel. Since scripture is the only source cited in the book, it is the testimony of the inspired writers of scripture that the readers of the eBook are asked to respect. The biblical evidence presented in the book either does or does not prove the case. But that case is not dependent on the authority of the eBook.

Laying out a case based SOLELY on citing the facts found the plain text of scripture is just the opposite of method of asking people to trust in this-or-that non-Bible source, which is the technique that is used to sell people on man-made traditions like the John idea. As noted above, there is not a single verse that would justify teaching the John idea and that is why the idea starts with a non-Bible source that claims John was the beloved disciple and then proceeds to use circular reasoning to assert that all the passages that mention the unnamed "other disciple, whom Jesus loved" are talking about John. Usually the sales pitch includes the claim that 'John called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved in order to be humble' - a silly notion indeed, given that writers like Paul in his letters and John in the Book of Revelation were inspired to repeatedly identify themselves by their own name and it would be ridiculous to think their doing so was a prideful act.

(Thank you, Jack.)

-- edit in response to comment:

With any body of evidence that is presented for consideration, some people may conclude that evidence does prove 'x' and others who are offered that same evidence people will say it does not do so. As the OJ jury exemplified, evidence is not weighed in a vacuum. The verdict of those who purport to weigh the evidence in a given instance is shaped by the prejudices and assumptions they bring to the table. Many people believe unbiblical traditions and their allegiance to tradition shapes their view of scripture.

Likewise, those wedded to the John tradition will ignore the fact there is not a single verse that justifies teaching the John idea and they can find an excuse to turn-a-blind-eye to the facts in the biblical record that argue against that idea. One can discount this-or-that fact in the case against the John tradition and pretend that means all other biblical evidence against the John idea can be ignored. So be it.

The biblical evidence is available for all Bible students to see and evaluate for themselves and the words of scripture will persuade those who have a love of the truth. So I will continue to urge others to respect the authority of God's word and encourage them to "prove all things", this issue included. And to those who choose to see things differently, it would seem good to leave it with the words that we see used in scripture by those who found themselves in disagreement: "The Lord judge between me and thee".

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    Welcome, Bible student. (I hope we are all Bible students as well!) I hope you will find other questions of interest here besides this one. When you have time, please read our FAQ. Thanks! Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:40
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    I see a discrepancy between your statement that we should not trust in non-Biblical sources, and your claim that the answer can be found in an eBook. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 22:25
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    "including the fact that every event where John is mentioned in the first three gospels is missing from the fourth gospel. " Matt 26:20, Mark 14:17, and Luke22:14 state that the twelve are at the Last Supper and in every list of the twelve, John Zebedee is named. The Last Supper is in all the Gospels. Therefore, John is present at at least one event in the synoptics that is in the Gospel of John.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 3:34

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