Internal Evidence for John, the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved & Gospel Author

Who wrote the Gospel according to John? Many scholars believe the author is John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, who was a fisherman who initially encountered Jesus in Matthew 4:21-22. Significant internal evidence supports this assertion. This intention of this blog is to provide this evidence, which should help to refute faulty assertions by some skeptics that the Gospel of John is a “forgery.”

Of the twelve initial male disciples, Jesus identified James, John (James’ brother) and Peter as His most prominent when He led those three up a high mountain to witness His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13).  Brothers James and John perhaps considered their special blessings when they boldly requested that each be seated at the right and left of Jesus once in His heavenly throne (Mark 10:35-45), of which the other ten disciples disapproved.

The Gospels give us fewer reports of John’s brother James’ actions, yet numerous reports of John’s and Peter’s. We know that Peter denied Jesus three times after Jesus had been arrested. We further know that Peter doubted his faith in Jesus when called to join Jesus as Jesus walked on water. Jesus considered Peter His rock upon whom His church would be built.

In the Gospel of John, the author refers to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” numerous times, yet this reference is not present in the synoptics. In John 13:21-27, when Jesus shared with His disciples that one would betray him, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” who was reclining next to Him was prodded by Simon Peter to ask Jesus which disciple would be His betrayer.

In only John’s Gospel do we learn that another disciple had followed Jesus when He had been arrested to the high priest’s courtyard to watch his trial (John 18:15-18). The “other disciple” was known to the high priest so he was given access. The other disciple then led Peter into the courtyard where Peter denied being one of Jesus’ disciples to a servant girl.

John also uniquely shared that the “disciple whom He loved” was standing nearby with Jesus’ mother Mary during His crucifixion. Since it is likely Mary’s husband Joseph had passed by that time (since we have no mention him at this point in Jesus’ life), Jesus gave the role over to his beloved disciple to care for His mother.

“’Woman, here is your son,’” and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).

When the women discovered Jesus’ empty tomb and shared the Good News with Jesus’ male disciples, Peter and “the other disciple” started for the tomb and the other disciple beat Peter in arriving (John 20:3-4). Luke only reports Peter’s trip to the tomb (Luke 24:12), while the other Gospels report neither.

Just before Jesus’ final commission after He had resurrected and “reinstated Peter,” Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him three times (John 21:15-19). After each time, Jesus instructed Peter to “Take care of My sheep.” Peter was “hurt” because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know I love you.’” Jesus then portended the type of death Peter would face (which was an upside-down crucifixion).

“‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger and dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21: 18-20).

Peter then turned and saw that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” was following them. The author indicated this disciple was the same as the one who leaned back against Jesus at the last supper and asked about Jesus’ betrayer. This piece of information connects the accounts of the “one whom Jesus loved” with the Last Supper, giving us evidence he is one of the “twelve.” Peter inquired about this disciple’s fate.

“Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’” The author then noted that Jesus did not say that he would not die, but only if He wanted him to remain alive, what is it to Peter? (John 21:22-23)

Like the details only John provides in the events of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and call to His disciple to take care of His Mother, this event is only told in the Gospel of John, suggesting that the Gospel author had special knowledge of or special interest in the events when Jesus’ beloved disciple appeared.

The Gospel of John closes with these parting words: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 22:24). The Book of Acts then opens with the speeches, travels, and persecutions of Peter and John (see Acts 4 for example).

A strong case can be made that the disciple whom Jesus loved is John the son of Zebedee and author of the Gospel according to John because: (1) the author often refers to himself in this way throughout Jesus’ ministry and passion narratives in the Book of John; (2) the author states that he and the disciple whom Jesus loved are one in the same in John 22:24; (3) the only of the 12 apostles not to be martyred, according to extra-biblical accounts is John, whom Jesus gave over to watch His mother; and (4) the unique information we only learn during Jesus’ arrest concerning Annas and Caiaphas is provided because the author was one in the same with the “other disciple.”

Extrabiblically, Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) quoted from the Gospel of John in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, while Polycarp (70 ~155 A.D.) included quotes from 1 John and 3 John in his Letter to the Philippians. Polycarp studied under John, as reported by Irenaeus. Inenaeus also reported that John remained at the Church of Ephesus until the times of Trajan. Pliny the Younger documented the torture of Christians in his letter to the Emperor Trajan. No early church fathers or other extrabiblical authors have attributed the Gospel of John to anyone other than John.

The disciple whom Jesus loved also appears to be one of His most loyal, having followed Jesus rather fearlessly during His trial, appearing at His crucifixion, and following Jesus and Peter after Jesus’ crucifixion.  John likely recognized himself as one who didn’t let Jesus down.