The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

In the previous two articles I have looked at Jesus' disciples (or rather the apostles) from a family point of view and from a "rebellious" point of view, but there is one disciple, that I haven't mentioned, at least not by the name that I use in this article, namely The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved or The Beloved Disciple. This particular disciple is mentioned only in John, but the gospel never reveils who this "Beloved Disciple" actually was. That fact have given room to much speculation about the identity of this unnamed disciple.

Jesus and The Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper, Valentin de Boulogne, early 17th century, from Galleria nazionale d'arte antica di palazzo Corsini

The Beloved Disciple is mentioned six times in The Gospel of John. First time is during The Last Supper, where Simon Peter ask this disciple to ask Jesus who would betray him: "His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (John 13.22-24). Next time is in John 19.26-27, at the execution: "When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son', and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." Later, when Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb she ran to Peter and the Beloved Disciple: "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed fro,m the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!' So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying" John 20.1-10). In  the last chapter of John (chapter 21) the beloved disciple is mentioned three times. First when Jesus after the resurrection met the disciples in Galilee and told them where to cast their net in order to catch fish: "Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water" (John 21.7). In the last part of the chapter Jesus tells Peter, how he will die after which: "Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21.20-23) and finally in John 21.24: "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true".

There are two more places in John that refers to an otherwise unnamed disciple but it is not stated explicitly that it is the Beloved Disciple, though in both cases it is possible. "The next day John [The Baptist] was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 'Look, the Lamb of God!' When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Rabbi (which means “Teacher), where are you staying?' 'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.' So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus" (John 1.35-40) In this case only Andrew is named, not "the other disciple. Later, when Jesus had been arrrested: "Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in." (John 18.15-16). Also on this occasion only Peter is mentioned by name, while "the other" disciple stays anonymous.

Especially the second to last verse in John (21.24) has made some people believe that as it is The Gospel of John, and it explicitly states that Beloved Disciple both testified about thew tings and wrote them down, the Beloved Disciple must be John, and that the John in question must be John, son of Zebedee. Even Eusebius, writing in the 4th century believed this, and also Augustine of Hippo (late 4th and early 5th century) agreed. And there are still scholars wgho agree in this identification, primarily they believe that it must be one of the apostles, as the Beloved Disciple was present at the last supper, and the author of the gospel was John, so... But this appears to be a kind of circular logic: The Gospel of John may have been written by "the Beloved Disciple." The logic is then: "When the Gospel of John is written by the Beloved Disciple, the Beloved Disciple must be John". Now, however, there is no indication whatsoever that the author of the Gospel of John  was named John at all, much less that it was the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. And here comes the other half of the circle, as some, however, choose to conclude about the author that as John was the Beloved Disciple and the Beloved Disciple wrote the gospel, then the author has to be John.

Today though, many scholars doubt that John the Apostle was the author of the gospel, and neither was he the author of the other works in the New Testament that are attributed to him. I will get back to this issue in a later article about the origins of the gospels. Neither, in my opinion, does the term "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" indicate any homesexual relationship between Jesus and whomever the Beloved Disciple may have been -even if in Greek the terms for "beloved" and "lover" could be switched. Much later sources believed in a carnal relationship between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple though, and Christopher Marlowe (who may have been homosexual himself) was accused of claiming this during his trial in 1593. But if John the Apostle was not the "Beloved Disciple" then who was? A few suggestions have been put forward and in the end of this article I will push forward yet another one.


Based on John 11.3 and 11.5 Lazarus has been suggested. These two verses has: "So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11.3) and "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (John 11.5). Here it is stated that Jesus actually loved Lazarus, but he may have loved many people, and there could be other resasons for him to love Lazarus. What makes some scholars believe that Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple is the fact that the expression is not used in John until after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Some claim that the whole family were children of one Boethus who had at one time been High Priest in Israel. According to Frederick Baltz (The Mystery of the Beloved Disciple), the author of the gospel was not one of the 12 apostles but was another John, son of Martha from Bethany (John the Elder) who was a follower of Jesus, and a witnes to at least the last part of his life and ministry. This may be true, as parts of the gospel seemes to be told by an eyewitness, but unfortunately it doesn't explain why Lazarus should be the Beloved Disciple.

Mary Magdalene

Also Mary Magdalene has been put foward as a candidate. Those, who claims this believe that the two places in which Magdalene is mentioned together with the "Beloved Disciple" is later changes to the gospel in order to "get rid of" Magdalene and at the same time the disciple underwent a linguistic sex change, like in the sentence "From that time on, this disciple took her into his home" which originally should have had "into her home". The reason for including Mary Magdalene among the people suspected of being the Beloved Disciple, stems primarily from some of the apochryphal writings, not least the so-called "Gospel of Mary", which states several times that Jesus loved Mary more than the other disiple. Unfortunately this gospel never states that the Mary in question is actually Magdalene as this nickname is not mentioned in the gospel at all. But it is true that many scholars believe it must have been her. I will get back to this in my next article about the many Marys who appear in the gospels and Jesus possible marriage. In the likewise apochryphal Gospel of Philip, makes the same claim and this gospel actually mentions Mary Magdalene: "And the companion of the [Lord was] Mary Magdalene. [The Lord] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth." The words inb square brackets indicates words missing from the orginial script. But even if Jesus actually loved Magdalene more than other women, it is not proof of her being the Beloved Disciple".

James, brother of Jesus

Also James, the brother of Jesus, is among the candidates. James Tabor, Professor of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, claims in his book, The Jesus Dynasty from 2006, that James is The Beloved Disciple. Tabor argues that the passage in Jonhn, cited above should be taken literally: "Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother" so the words "son" and "mother" should indicate that the Beloved Disciple was an actual son of Mary. Tabor also cites the apochryphal Second Apocalypse of James: "And Jesus kissed my mouth. He took hold of me saying: 'My beloved! Behold, I shall reveal to you those things that the heavens nor the angels have known. Behold, I shall reveal to you everything, my beloved. Behold, I shall reveal to you what is hidden. But now, stretch out your hand. Now, take hold of me'." thus proving that James was the Beloved Disciple. I could also mention a single passage in The Gospel According to Thomas: "The disciples said to Jesus : 'We know that You will leave from us. Who is to be our leader ?' Jesus said to them : 'From where You stand now, You are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being'"  (Thomas v.12), If Jesus believed that heaven and earth had come into being for James sake, it could indicate, that Jesus actually loved James. Unfortunately there are no further evidence of James being the Beloved Disciple.

An unknown disciple

At lest one scholar, Brian Capper, has suggested that the Beloved Disciple" was a member of a mystical, ascetic group within the Jewish aristocracy. Capper believed that it was in the home of this disciple, in the most prestigious part of Jerusalem, that the Last Supper took place  Capper claims that the word "love" was used to descibe the relationships among the members of this group. Also Richard Bauckman, who is a professor at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and a specialist in The Gospel of John come to the conclusion that The Beloved Disciple" was a member of the very large family clan of the high priest.

Thomas, the twin

And finally to my own suggestion which as far as I have been able to discover, has not been put forward before.

Thomas is one of the 12 apostles and is known as "Doubting Thomas", due to a verse in John "Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'"

In the Gospel of John Thomas is called Thomas Didymos, and it is explained that Didymos means "twin". But so does Thomas in Hebrew. So in reality this person is called Twin with the nickname Twin. Nowhere in the Gospels is it mentioned who Thomas was the twin brother of. The edition of the Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hamadi in Egypt in 1945, dating to the middle of the second century (c. 160 AD) segins with the words: "Here are the secret sayings which Jesus the Living spoke, and which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down." So Thomas' real name was supposed to be Judas.

In the so-called Book of Thomas also found at Nag Hamadi, it is not Thomas, but Matthaias, who who is the writer of: "The secret words which the Savior spoke to Judas Thomas, and which I, just I, Mathaias wrote down while walking with them and listening to them speak together". Also in this book Thomas is called Judas and also according to Syrian tradition Thomas was called Judas, which is also the name given for one of Jesus's brothers in the canonical gospels.

In The Book of Thomas, Thomas' twin brother is actually identified as Jesus himself, which makes good sense as to why none of the gospels mention it. On one hand, it has probably been known to the contemporaries, and on the other hand, later editors who wanted Jesus to be "the only begotten son of Mary" had absolutely no interest in mentioning that he had a twin brother. Incidentally, one may wonder whether this Matthaias is in fact the same as Matthew, for no Matthaias are known among the disciples. So maybe The Book of Thomas is in fact the "true" Gospel of Matthew?

It is a known fact that many twins have very close ties. Therefore, it is also reasonable to assume that if Thomas really was Jesus' twin brother, he would also "love him more than the others", and thus we have come to my reasoning for Thomas and no one else being "the Beloved Disciple".