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When John wrote the other disciple whom Jesus loved (John 20:2), does this single him out from the other disciples?

… to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,… (John 20:2, ESV)

πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς (John 20:2, NA27)

The use of the other (τὸν ἄλλον, other of the same kind) seems to point toward saying Jesus loved the other disciples the same as John, and John was only stating this to avoid using his name. I'm not suggesting that one can argue this case based on this grammar, but am wondering if there is other evidence. Is there any way we can differentiate between this being the case versus Jesus having any special love for John?

Because John referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved to avoid using his name and drawing attention to himself, it makes more sense that John used the expression to point to who Jesus was rather than a unique relationship with Christ. However, is there evidence from such sources as the church fathers answering one way or the other.

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  • I don't see how you make a case for it. 'Other' means 'other than Peter'. 'Loved' refers to 'the one'. John knows of the love, for it is love expressed to himself, privately. John is 'the one'. – Nigel J Mar 14 '19 at 0:26
  • Clarified question with edit. – Perry Webb Mar 14 '19 at 9:14
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Note that the word used for "loved" in John 20:2 is φιλέω (phileó) and NOT ἀγαπάω (agapaó). Note the following uses:

  • φιλέω (phileó) is of Jesus' affection for a disciple in John 11:3 ("the one whom you love", ie, Lazarus), John 20:2 (John) and John 21:15-17 (Peter)
  • However, ἀγαπάω (agapaó) is also used in the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in John 19:26 (John), John 21:7 (John), John 21:20 (John); but also in a slightly different way of Peter (John 21:15).

The expression "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (either phileo or agapao) is only ever a reference to the disciple John. Just why he earned this self designation has been the subject of much discussion and debate. The usual conclusion is John's modesty and reticence to use his own name. I could find no discussion of this amongst the ante Nicaean fathers. (Perhaps someone else can??)

However, my personal view is more about the relationship more generally. More than any other evangelist, John plumbed the depths of the concept of love in his explanation of the life of Jesus. John discusses and uses this word more than anyone else in the NT. Therefore, I believe, John's designation of "the disciple whom Jesus loved" was the man who understood ἀγαπάω (agapaó) and wrote about it more than anyone else.

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In calling himself the disciple whom Jesus loved, I do not think that John was claiming a special relationship between himself and Jesus. Rather, the fact that John referred himself in this way reflects his awareness of being loved and the key role that Jesus' love played in shaping his identity.

John wrote that love can only be understood and defined by God’s love for us:

  • God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 Jn 4:9-10)

If it is God’s love for us that defines what love is, it was Jesus’ love for John that defined who John was. But John never described that love in exclusive terms; it was always a love for the disciples as a whole. That love was especially evident in his words to them at the last supper, recounted at length in John’s gospel:

  • Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Jn 13:1)
  • As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (Jn 15:9)
  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (Jn 15: 12-13)

Not just in these verses, but throughout the passages of John 14 through 16, Jesus’ words conveyed his tender love for his disciples and his efforts to comfort and prepare them for the trials that lay ahead:

  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (Jn 14:27)

In his description of that night, one verse in particular captured John’s sense of being held in the heart of Jesus:

  • There was reclining one of His disciples whom Jesus loved in the bosom of Jesus. (Jn 13:23, Berean Literal Bible)

Of the twelve, John would be the only disciple to stand beneath the cross. There he would witness and later testify to the love that flowed in the form of blood and water from the opened heart of Jesus:

  • Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) (Jn 19:34-35)

The love John described was never for himself alone, yet it clearly transformed and defined who he was. Rather than a special relationship, perhaps what John had was a special grace and calling: to give witness to the redeeming love of God.

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