I remember some years ago reading a suggestion by Alastair Roberts that the author of St John’s Gospel may be Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha who is raised from the dead by Jesus in John 11.
At the time I filed this straight into my “interesting but sounds a bit unlikely” mental file. However, recently I’ve come round to the view that Alastair may well have been on to something. As I was challenged by Andy Stager on Twitter to give my reasons for this, here they are:
- The key reference is John 11:3, where the message sent by Mary and Martha to Jesus is: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” This contains a clear echo of the repeated references throughout John’s Gospel to “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, who is identified as the writer of the Gospel (or at least of its underlying source documents) in John 21:24.
- The text that prompted my tweet on this subject, though, was John 19:26-27, where Jesus hands over his mother into the care of “the disciple whom he loved”. We’re told: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” Given that the most prominent home in John’s Gospel is that of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, it seems fitting and credible for it to be their household to which Jesus gave the honourable duty of caring for his mother.
- In John 21:20-24 we are told that “the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die”. If John were the “Lazarus” of chapter 11 then that would surely help such a rumour develop: “give it legs”, as it were. It would also explain St Peter’s curiosity as to the fate of that particular disciple.
- Finally, given the reticence* of the author of the fourth Gospel in referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (rather than by name), it is also not unlikely that he would choose to hide his being the subject of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles behind a pseudonym. (*Note that I don’t see the writer’s use of this phrase as an immodest claim to special status, but rather as a personal appropriation of Jesus’ love for the whole world. That is, for John/Lazarus, every disciple should be able to describe themselves as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.)
I quite deliberately wrote this post up to this point without doing any further research, as I just wanted to set out the aspects of the fourth Gospel that had persuaded me personally. But it turns out that (as Richard Campeau drew to my attention) that Ben Witherington has also discussed this idea in more detail. Which gives me greater confidence that I’ve not been on a complete wild goose chase