The Book of the Beloved Disciple
Published Jan. 2, 2012 @ 11:55 a.m.
Over the past month I have noticed that a lot of churches are doing a Bible Study on the Gospel of John. I am always curious when churches do similar things at the same time. I wonder if one of the curriculum companies have come out with a new study and many churches are using that curriculum or it just hit them that it was time to study John.
John is one of the most read books of the Bible. There are many evangelistic outlets that put out small booklets that just contain the Gospel of John. Many people I know consider John’s Gospel as their favorite book of the Bible. I myself have recommended to new Christians that John should be the first book of the Bible that they read. The Gospel itself says that it was written in order that we might believe and many people have found faith just by reading the Gospel.
Biblical Scholars have a very different view of John. The Gospel is one of the most problematical books of the New Testament possibly bested only by the book of Revelations. Much of the internal evidence points to the book being the last Gospel to be written. The author seems to be living in a time when Christians are being officially rejected in the synagogues, and while in individual synagogues Christianity was not welcome from the start, a systematic exclusion of Christians didn’t happen until around 80 AD or later. It took some time for the Jewish community to reform into rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. The use of the Logos Christology, a seeming lack of knowledge of Palestinian geography in the 1st century, and the affinity John has with gnostic theology seemed to make the Gospel the work of a middle second century gentile.
Many liberal scholars continue to use a “source” hypothesis to argue for a late compilation of the Gospel but there is little evidence that the Gospel is a compilation of any kind. What once looked like a lack of knowledge of early 1st century Palestine has actually turned out to be better knowledge of 1st century Palestine than what the scholars held. In particular the author has specifically Galilean Jewish knowledge of 1st Century Palestine – knowledge that may not have been available after the temple was destroyed. Also, evidence from Qumran has shown a theology regarding logos and wisdom that was far more developed in ancient Jewish religion than we gave them credit for. It is most likely that the author of John was a 1st century Jew from Galilee. It sounds like it might have been the Apostle John.
Though the Gospel is called “The Gospel of John” the Apostle John is nowhere mentioned in the Gospel. Rather, we find the mysterious “disciple that Jesus loved.” There are a number of assumptions that both teachers and scholars make at this point that may very well be wrong. We usually interpret the term “The disciple that Jesus loved” to mean “The disciple that Jesus loved the most.” But the author never makes such a claim. By using the phrase “the beloved disciple” the author is not telling you that He was the most beloved disciple but just that he was the beloved disciple. We interpret “the” to mean that in degree he was the most beloved disciple but this is not a necessary interpretation. It could be that the author is telling us about how he experienced Jesus. He knew Jesus loved him. “The” here simply means the disciple is speaking of himself. Once again, this would seem to point to the beloved disciple, and thus the author of the Gospel, being John the son of Zebedee, a disciple beloved by Jesus and walking with Jesus through the days of Jesus’ life on the earth.