4 Reasons Lazarus, not John, may be the Author of the Fourth Gospel

June 12, 2012 — 19 Comments

Tradition holds that the Gospel of John, the fourth gospel in the New Testament, was written by the Apostle John.  Officially, however, the gospel is anonymous, written by a person identified only as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20-24).  While it’s indeed likely that this disciple is John, there is another intriguing possability.  Here are 4 reasons why the Beloved Disciple could in fact be Lazarus.

1. Lazarus and the Beloved Disciple are the only two men in John who are said to be loved by Jesus

In John 13:23, we are introduced to the Beloved Disciple,

There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. (see also 19:26-27; 20:2-10; 21:7, 20-24).

For a charachter that plays such a prominent role in the chapters to come, it’s surprising that he’s not mentioned earlier.  Or is he?

The description, “whom Jesus loved” is not without precedent.  Only one other male is so described in the gospel.  Just two chapters prior, the author introduces Lazarus with the same description.

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha… So the sisters sent word to him, saying ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” (John 11:1-3)

The author adds,

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (11:5)

The Jews likewise comment,

See how He loved Him! (11:36)

But this isn’t the only reason to connect the Beloved Disciple with Lazarus.  The link appears to make sense of other details in the gospel as well.

2. The Beloved Disciple pays special attention to the face-cloth in the empty tomb – the same face-cloth worn by Lazarus

At the tomb of the risen Jesus we are told that the Disciple sees the face-cloth and believes.

the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first: and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. and so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.  (John 20:4-8)

As the possible author of the fourth gospel, the Beloved Disciple’s description of the face-cloth might suggest a recognition of Lazarus’ own death-to-life experience.  The only other time he describes such a cloth is in the raising of this man.

the man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:

The author certainly didn’t have to mention the face-cloth in either event.  But he notes them in both and in so doing creates an important connection between them.  The raising of Lazarus, it seems, has some significance on the events of this scene.  Granted the significance may be something other than the disciple recognizing his own death-to-life experience, but the possibiliy is intriguing to say the least.

3.  Lazarus having already been raised from the dead may be another reason it is said the disciple whom Jesus loved will not die.   

At the end of the gospel, we are told that a rumor spreads among the brothers that the disciple whom Jesus loved will not die (21:20-23).  The reason for this rumor is found in Jesus words to Peter, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”  But if we connect the Beloved Disciple with Lazarus we find a further, perhaps more compelling reason behind the rumor.  It’s possible the rumor was deemed all the more credible because the Beloved Disciple as Lazarus had already been raised fom the dead.

4. Lazarus and the beloved disciple are linked in a parable of Luke where a Lazarus goes to Abraham’s “Bosom’ when he dies.  

Out of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the closest gospel to John is Luke.  Among a host of other connections, only John and Luke mention men named Lazarus.

In Luke Jesus says that Lazarus died and went to a place called Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:19-31).  The word  “bosom” like the name Lazarus, is rare in the New Testament.  Only two verses link this word with a person.  Here in Luke 16:22 with Abraham and in John 13, at the first appearance of the Beloved Disciple, with Jesus.

There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved. (13:23)

If Lazarus is the Beloved Disciple then its interesting that whereas in Luke he’s found in the bosom of Abraham in John he’s in the bosom of Christ.  Is this a clue pointing us to the identity of the Beloved Disciple?

There are of course other reasons.  Ben Witherington III has written here on the subject.   Though none of these reasons guarantees that Lazarus is the disciple, they do suggest an interesting possibility.  At the very least, the author of John wanted the Beloved Disciple to be seen in someway like Lazarus.

Matthew Scott Miller

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