I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will
THE AUTHORSHIP OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL
By Edgar Jones
This article differs from most of the others to be found on this site in that I did not derive it directly from the utterances of Jesus, but from other types of evidence found in the four gospels. Nevertheless I believe it is very important in that it can help us to understand Jesus by having a better view of his disciples and their inter-relationships. For me, it also reinforces my confidence in the gospel story and in the fidelity of the process by which utterances of Jesus were recorded and transmitted to us.
The Gospel commonly called The Gospel According to John has for long centuries of church tradition been attributed to John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. Scholars in the Twentieth Century have tended to doubt. One reason given is the supposed evidence of late authorship, 100 AD or even later. This would mean, if true, that John would necessarily have been approaching the age of 100 years at the time of its writing, which seems to many to be a very improbable age for this authorship. I personally have not been impressed with this or other objections to Johannine authorship because I have felt that the Fourth Gospel reveals an author who has such an intimate knowledge of Jesus and the apostles as to require one who was in the company of his most trusted disciples – that is, an apostle. Furthermore, tradition has affirmed that John had a very long life, much of his later years being spent ministering with the church at
. Besides this, a growing number of scholars in recent years has come to question the late date. Be that as it may, it is not impossible that a centenarian could write such an account of the experiences of his youth. Many aged people have testified to the clarity of their memories of youthful events, even though they may not recall yesterday's major happenings. I am, in the year 2000, a septuagenarian, and I can testify affirmatively to this effect. Increasingly, I am finding that many of my childhood experiences are coming back with great clarity, whereas I sometimes find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast! I have therefore found no reason to doubt the Johannine authorship -- until now. Ephesus
I now believe that John did not write the Fourth Gospel because it contains within itself overwhelming evidence of the identity of its author, who is not John. Let us begin with the last chapter, Chapter 21. First, we know that there is evidence that this chapter is a late addition, and I do not question that. The evidence is strong that verse 30 of Chapter 20 was intended by the author to be the conclusion of the book. However, the last chapter seems to me to have been written by the same author, and I conclude that he wrote it as a later addition to his own work and appended it without removing his prior concluding sentence. Then, to render his conclusions final, he appended another similar conclusion, verse 25 of chapter 21. The major portion of the book, I believe, was authored by one person, whom I now identify.
The key is found in John 21:20-24, which I quote here in its entirety:
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about his man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
I must conclude therefore that the author is none other than the disciple whom Jesus loved. Our task, then, is to identify this person and, as I have already said, it will turn out to be someone other than John. First let me specify the necessary and obvious conclusion, that this person was in the habit of referring to himself as "that disciple whom Jesus loved." He writes of this person, himself, here and elsewhere as a single individual, namely, "that disciple whom Jesus loved." He must, then, throughout the Fourth Gospel, whenever he uses this designation, have the same individual in mind, that is, himself.
The conversation related above took place after the disciples, who had fished all night and caught nothing, were treated to an impressive event when, at daybreak, a stranger on the bank suggested they cast the net on the right side of the boat with the result that they caught such a huge quantity of fish that they could not haul the net into the boat. And there he is, in the boat with the others, that disciple whom Jesus loved, who suddenly and before any of the others, realized the identity of the stranger and said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" The author of the Fourth Gospel has, again, refrained from naming himself, but has called himself that disciple whom Jesus loved. Since the statement was made to Peter by the author of the Fourth Gospel, Peter is ruled out as a candidate for the authorship. However, we know who was in the boat, for they are all identified in v. 2, where we are told that Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two others of his disciples were together. That disciple whom Jesus loved could be any of these except Peter. They are the ones who fished all night, who breakfasted with Jesus, and who were present when Peter said, "Lord, what about this man." Unfortunately, two of them are not named, and while that disciple whom Jesus loved could be any of them except Peter, it is most likely that one of these two is the author of the Fourth Gospel, because their designation as "two others of his disciples" follows the author's usual (but not universal) practice of not naming himself.
This disciple whom Jesus loved was one of the Lord's closest intimates for, as I have already suggested, the Fourth Gospel reveals an author who, like an apostle, had intimate knowledge of the Lord. This is in keeping with the fact that this disciple is also the one who had lain close to his (Jesus') breast at the last supper, as stated in the quotation above. This intimacy is another of the reasons it has been thought that John, or at least one of the twelve, must have been the author. It will be helpful if we quote the earlier passage here:
When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, "Tell us who it is of whom he speaks." So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot (John -26).
During the supper, this disciple whom Jesus loved was reclining so close to Jesus as to be "close to his breast," (in the bosom of Jesus, as Jesus is in the bosom of the Father, and as the Lazarus of the parable is in the bosom of Abraham?) apparently so close as to prevent direct communication from others, so that Peter found it necessary to address Jesus through this disciple rather than directly. I have not as yet revealed a name, but it is better no longer to keep you in the dark. Who is this disciple whom Jesus loved? If you will refer to the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus in Chapter 11, you should readily see that Lazarus is the man!
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of
, the Bethany and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill (John 11:1). villageof Mary
The messenger of the sisters referred to Lazarus as he whom you love. This is the same identification as in the other cases, only in this case the author of the Fourth Gospel, Lazarus, identifies himself because he is the object of a major miracle, in that he is about to be resurrected from the dead. And the sisters probably did not say he whom you love as indicated here. They were greatly concerned for their brother and under the circumstances would almost certainly have said, "Lord, Lazarus is ill." However Lazarus, author of the Fourth Gospel, finds it convenient to relate their message in his own preferred terms, not mentioning his name and writing many years later of himself, as he whom you love.
Jesus immediately informed the disciples that the illness was not unto death, but was for the Glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified. Thereafter, strangely, he remained two whole days in the place where he was, until he knew that Lazarus was dead, as though he were waiting for Lazarus to die. Then he said to the disciples that he would go to awake Lazarus out of sleep. When Jesus approached Bethany, the
, Martha, and Lazarus, not far from villageof Mary , Martha went to meet him and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Then Martha went to get Mary, who also came out to him and said, like Martha, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Then Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled, and he said, "Where have you laid him?" Then they led him to the tomb and we encounter the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept (John ). Then the Jews who were there said, See, how he loved him! So yet again we have this assertion of Jesus' love for Lazarus. Nowhere else in the New Testament, outside the Fourth Gospel, and concerning no one other than Lazarus, is the love of Jesus for an individual disciple thus affirmed. I conclude that Lazarus must be that disciple "whom Jesus loved," and who wrote the Fourth Gospel. The narrative continues, of course, with the resurrection of Lazarus, an event that, according to Lazarus as he wrote afterwards, caused a great stir among the Jews, so that many believed in Jesus. One result was, as Lazarus continues to inform us, that the chief priests, the Pharisees and the council (Sanhedrin) gathered to consider what to do to counter the growing influence of Jesus, and concluded that he must be put to death. Thus Lazarus exalts the significance of his own resurrection from the dead by designating it as the event that precipitated a decision by the rulers to seek the death of Jesus. Jerusalem
Following Lazarus' resurrection comes the gathering at
six days before the Passover, probably in the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Others were present, including Judas Iscariot. We are specifically informed that "Lazarus was one of those at table with him." This gives us the insight we need to realize that Lazarus was very close to Jesus, and was included in the act of communal dining at the same table along with the apostles. Therefore we should not be surprised when, at the Last Supper a few evenings later, Lazarus, that disciple whom Jesus loved, is found reclining at table close to the breast of Jesus. It appears that a great crowd of the Jews gathered at his friends house after learning that he was there, "not only on account of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus who had been raised from the dead." Now we see that Lazarus becomes, next to Jesus, the major attraction and actor in the drama, as he goes on to inform us that, because of the attention he was getting from the Jews, they planned also (in addition to Jesus) to put him to death. As the only disciple who had died and been resurrected by the Lord, he would naturally have claimed a prominent position within the fellowship. Lazarus, as he writes the Fourth Gospel, is doing his very best to emphasize his own importance to the story, and his identification with Jesus. Now he has become so closely identified with him that the Jews plan his death along with that of Jesus. Perhaps this was wishful thinking on the part of Lazarus, for obviously he did not die (again) with Jesus but, if I am correct, lived to write the Fourth Gospel many years later. Bethany
Lazarus, a man who had died, who after four days in the tomb had been resurrected, authored the Fourth Gospel. I realize that this may be hard for some to receive, so let us back off a little and review the authorship question keeping this in mind only as a possibility. This conclusion depends heavily upon the identity of that mysterious character found only in the Fourth Gospel, and who is designated that disciple whom Jesus loved, so it may be helpful to list every passage where he appears. I will omit here only the story of Lazarus' resurrection, having just listed it above. It is a key passage, however, and will receive special attention later.
This mysterious disciple was present at the Last Supper:
When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly I say to you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, "Tell us who it is of whom he speaks." So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, "Lord, who is it?" (John 13:21-25)
He was present to witness the crucifixion of Jesus, and was entrusted with the care of Mary:
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)
He was the first to witness the empty tomb, and to believe:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes (John 20:1-10).
He was in the boat with the disciples when Jesus revealed himself to them:
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved, said to Peter, "It is the Lord.!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, but about a hundred yards off (John 21:4-8).
He was present at the last conversation of Jesus with his disciples:
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true (John -24).
These are the passages that refer to our mysterious disciple. Let me now suggest a set of circumstances that are highly compatible with what we know of the disciples prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, not only from the Fourth Gospel, but from all of them. The Gospels present the disciples as nothing if not human. They are doubters; they are quarrelers; they grumble; they vie with one another for the chief places at the Lord's right and left hand; they are envious; they are ambitious for power and glory; they sleep at a critical time; they are men "of little faith." We can safely apply all these characteristics to all the disciples, including but not limited to the twelve apostles, for there were many disciples in addition to the twelve, some of whom were very close to the Lord, and this would include Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, who resided in the village of Bethany, on the Mount of Olives east of and near Jerusalem. It appears that it was in their home that Jesus resided when he was in that district. When Jesus heard of Lazarus' illness, he announced to the accompanying disciples, "Our friend, Lazarus, is ill." This suggests two categories of disciples: the apostles, and the others, not called to be apostles, whom Jesus designates "friends." This category includes, most specifically, the person of Lazarus.
The apostles, vying among themselves for the chief positions in the coming Kingdom, must certainly have taken offense at anyone outside their special group of twelve who appeared to be in competition with them for the favor and affection of their Lord. Furthermore, Lazarus, being outside their number, may have felt envious of them and sought to promote himself above them. We also do well to remember that, prior to the crucifixion, most disciples expected Jesus to restore the Davidic monarchy, and it was for chief places in his government that the twelve were competing. After the resurrection, the expectations of him did not change for many disciples, except that they expected him to come back to restore the monarchy. With these suppositions in mind, we should review the passages quoted above to see how appropriate they are, assuming they were written by Lazarus. As we review them, we will do so in the light of the following set of three conclusions that I draw from the study of the gospels. (1) Lazarus was a man who was concerned to record what he considered to be his own great importance to the work of his Lord; (2) Lazarus was envious of the calling of the chosen twelve, and (3) The twelve were resentful of anyone outside their number who had easy access to their Lord, specifically including Lazarus.
From an early time, Peter is acknowledged to be foremost among the apostles. Therefore, Lazarus not only emphasizes his closeness to Jesus but also repeatedly shows situations in which he surpasses Peter. At the Last Supper, both effects are achieved. Not only is Lazarus reclining close to the breast of Jesus, but he is apparently the only one who has easy access to him, and he presents Peter as being in the inferior position of having to gain access to Jesus through himself. How much more important can one get than being the one through whom cabinet ministers, or other subregents, must address the king?
At supper in
, Lazarus is careful to inform us that he was at the table with Jesus, after also reminding us that Jesus had raised him from the dead. Then he emphasizes the importance of his sister, Mary, as she anoints the feet of Jesus. When Judas shows his resentment of the show of devotion, and probably also of the easy access of Mary to Jesus, Jesus affirms Mary and puts Judas, the apostle, in his place. Lazarus is careful here to affirm also the importance of his sister, and thus shows how not only he, but his family have a privileged place in the fellowship, whereas apostles are put down in their presence, or when they do or say anything that is critical of Lazarus' sister. Bethany
Lazarus is careful to inform us that he was one of the witnesses to the crucifixion of his Lord; not only so, but he, and not an apostle (all who forsook him and fled), was the one to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, Mary. How can one be more important than to be given the responsibility of caring for the Queen Mother in the coming kingdom? He took her into his house from that hour!
When Mary Magdalene discovered the tomb of Jesus opened, she rushed to tell – not only Peter, the foremost apostle, but also, who else – Lazarus, that disciple whom Jesus loved! Here we continue to see that Lazarus, when he must share some credit with an apostle, picks the chief one. Then they ran to the tomb, and who gets there first, Peter or Lazarus? Then who is the first to peek in the doorway and behold the miracle of miracles, the empty tomb? Lazarus again has outstripped the foremost apostle! And though Peter passes by him to enter into the tomb, Lazarus does not permit him to go in alone, but follows immediately to share this momentous knowledge with the chief apostle, and it is only of himself that he affirms a belief of what has occurred – that Jesus has risen from the dead. And who would be most qualified to believe in the resurrection than Lazarus, whom Jesus had already raised from the dead?
Later, at daybreak when the disciples in the fishing boat saw Jesus on the shore, Lazarus again puts himself in the company of Peter, and makes himself the first one to recognize Jesus. There were at least five apostles in the boat (assuming that Nathaniel is another name for Bartholomew), including Peter, but was it one of them who first recognized the risen Lord? No, it was Lazarus, that disciple whom Jesus loved. Again, he has bested the apostles! And he has done it according to the same pattern as at the empty tomb. There, Lazarus bests Peter in the race to the tomb, but then Peter enters first. In the boat, Lazarus recognizes Jesus first, but it is Peter who jumps impetuously from the boat and swims ashore!
After breakfast the Lord tests Peter, asking him three times, "Do you love me?" Then he prophesied the manner of Peter's death, a death that would glorify God. Where have we heard this before? When the messenger of Mary and Martha informed Jesus that Lazarus was ill, Jesus responded by saying, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it." Yet he remained where he was until Lazarus was dead and entombed, then proceeded to his tomb and resurrected him. Lazarus, then, is the one who has already died for the glory of God. Neither Peter nor any other apostle has been thus exalted, to die for the glory of God. But Lazarus has! And Peter must await his turn in the distant future! Then Peter asks the Lord, concerning Lazarus, "Lord, what about this man?" This question is prompted by more than a little tinge of resentment, but by hostility. "This man" has already died for the glory of God, but Peter must wait. Peter must also be wondering within himself, asking whether Lazarus, having already died and been resurrected, will ever die again, and is very curious as to the final destiny of Lazarus. Will Lazarus stand above even the chief apostle in the kingdom, and never die? How envious Peter must be at the thought! And Jesus' response to Peter must be considered to be nothing less than a firm rebuke for even asking about the destiny of the beloved disciple. "If I want him to live until I return, what is it to you?" Finally, the fact that such a question is asked tends to confirm that that disciple whom Jesus loved can be none other than the one who has already been resurrected from the dead, and concerning whom such questions as to his death, or second death, would be in order.
We have drawn a picture of a fellowship of disciples in which a lesser disciple, Lazarus, distinguished only by the title "friend," has been envious of the exalted positions of the twelve chosen ones, and has told the story of their relationships such that it emphasizes his importance above the others, and who never misses an opportunity to point out situations in which this is the case. The twelve, personified in Peter as the foremost, are then presented as resentful of this outsiders intrusion into their privileged turf, in the close company of the Master.
Not only is such a picture suggested by the testimony of the Fourth Gospel, but now that we have good reasons to see that it exists, the same type of relationships are seen to be compatible with the wider circumstances that encompass all the canonical gospels. First, consider that Lazarus, as author of the Fourth Gospel and envious of the apostles, gives them little attention, often focusing on their failures. For example, of all the Gospel writers, only Lazarus fails to present an account of the call of the twelve, and only Lazarus fails to list the names of all. He mentions only a minimum number as essential to the narrative: Peter, Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip, James, John, Thomas and Judas. We should note that of these, James and John, very important disciples, are not mentioned by name, but are only listed as "the sons of Zebedee" who were in the fishing boat at daybreak. One cannot say that he did not know of them, because he had just spent the night in the boat with them! Now these two, together with Peter according to the synoptic gospels, were privileged to be present on the mount of transfiguration, and to witness the glory of the transfigured Jesus, and Lazarus fails even to mention this momentous event in which three of the apostles were privileged to a marvelous experience from which he was omitted. Was envy the reason for this omission? Or was it simply because Lazarus was writing only to record events that had been largely omitted from the synoptics? Perhaps both reasons apply. I have suggested elsewhere that the author of the Fourth Gospel may have been primarily motivated by a desire only to make up what was lacking in the synoptics, which would account for his omission of most events that were included in them, and for his inclusion of events that are not recorded elsewhere. Still, it is very strange that the omissions are such as would show privilege to the twelve, while his inclusions are such as to reveal himself as the privileged, superior disciple. Since Lazarus is inclined to speak in mysterious terms in the Fourth Gospel, it would seem that he should have included the account of the mysterious transfiguration, even though it is found in all the other canonical gospels. While we are speaking of the motivations of the author of the Fourth Gospel, I should also mention that the evidence is highly compatible with the thought that perhaps Lazarus' only motivation was a desire to have himself included in the gospel story, from which he had been excluded by all of the others.
Among physical scientists, the best test for any theory is its predictive power. Einstein, by means of his Theory of Relativity, predicted that the rays of starlight would be bent when passing near to a massive object, such as the sun. Sir Arthur Eddington, the British physicist, then mounted an expedition to the Southern Hemisphere where he was able to confirm this prediction by examination of the light from a star as the light passed near to the sun during a total eclipse of the latter. Later observations with more accurate instruments determined not only that light is bent by massive objects as predicted by the theory, but that the amount of bending is also correctly predicted. Prior to the publication of Einstein's theory, no one had guessed that light was thus influenced by massive objects, and Einstein himself had never observed such an effect. Needless to say, repeated observations of the predicted effect went a long way to convince other physicists of the validity of the theory. I have found that this Lazarus hypothesis may be similarly tested. One day after the preliminary draft of this paper, pondering this idea, it occurred to me that if it is correct, then Lazarus, who was not an apostle, in his envy would never have mentioned the word "apostle," or suggested that there was such a category of disciples. You can, of course, go to your New Testament at any time and test this prediction for yourself! You will find, as I have, that it is correct. He mentions "disciples" repeatedly (no less than seventy-seven times), and "the twelve" a total of four times, but "apostles" he mentions not at all. Were we dependent only on the Fourth Gospel, we would never have known that there was such a thing as an apostle. But Lazarus, as author, has by mentioning only "the twelve" and by failing to list them all by name or give any account of a special calling to apostleship, and by his inclusion of himself in the last supper and other crucial events near the end, left us with the impression that he is one of the favored dozen.
Can we make other verifiable predictions? I pointed above to the synoptic account of the transfiguration, where only Peter, James and John were permitted to witness the marvelous event, an account that was completely omitted by Lazarus in the Fourth Gospel. Therefore, if there are other such events where the privileged three were honored, we can predict that the Fourth Gospel omits them also. Does this prediction hold true? Most certainly! When Jesus led the disciples from the upper room to
Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, Both the Matthew and Mark gospels inform us that he took these three apart with him when he entered into his agonizing prayer and struggle with the tempter. Predictably, there is no mention of this in the Fourth Gospel. Yet again, when Jesus approached the house of Jairus where he would raise his daughter from the dead, he allowed only – you guessed it – Peter, James and John to go with him, according to both the Mark gospel and Luke. And – you guessed it again – the Fourth Gospel makes no mention of this incident, not only to avoid promoting the favored three, but also to avoid sharing the resurrection spotlight with Jairus' little daughter. Luke informs us that James and John were partners with Simon (Peter), presumably in their fishing business, and this may help to account for why they are so often together in the presence of Jesus. Peter, as the most prominent apostle, may have used his influence to promote his partners to the inner circle. Since all three were prominent, we might expect Lazarus, as author of the Fourth Gospel, to avoid mentioning them if possible, and so, predictably, he never mentioned James and John by name, and only once referred to them indirectly as "the sons of Zebedee," a fact I have already set forth above. He couldn't quite manage this with Peter, however, who figured too prominently in the narrative to be ignored. So, at every opportunity, he handles Peter in a different way – by excelling him in one way or another, as I have already shown. He becomes Peter's intermediary with Jesus at the Last Supper; at the resurrection, he beats Peter to the empty tomb; when Jesus appears to them on the , Lazarus recognizes him first and says to Peter, "It is the Lord!" Now, it is not my position that Lazarus, as author of the Fourth Gospel, fabricates his place in the story; these things happened, I believe, exactly as Lazarus described them. He might not have bothered to include them except for the part he played in them, and the opportunity they provided to promote his own standing among the disciples. The synoptic accounts, based on traditions springing partly from the twelve, predictably omit any event that included Lazarus. Again, this does not mean that the events did not occur. It only means that the rivalry among disciples contributed to the production of incomplete accounts. shoreof Galilee
The resurrection of Lazarus was surely one of Jesus' most astonishing miracles, and one that anyone recording the events of his ministry would have wanted to include, unless, for reasons of envy and resentment, the fact of Lazarus' existence and his wonderful resurrection was better left unrecorded. This may have been the case if the authors of the synoptic gospels were operating from a tradition that was, initially at least, dominated by the apostles. Members of the Twelve may have been as resentful of Lazarus as he was envious of them, in which case they may not have wanted to show such honor to an outsider. I am reminded of the time the apostles found an "outsider" casting out demons in Jesus' name, and they forbade him "because he walked not with us." The synoptics mention a Lazarus only once, and this only in Luke, where he appears as a character in a parable of Jesus – a poor beggar, full of sores, who begged vainly from the rich mans table, but who, on dying, went to Abraham's bosom. There seems to be no relationship between this Lazarus, a purely fictional character, and the real person of the Fourth Gospel. If we did not have the Fourth Gospel, we would know nothing whatsoever of the brother of Mary and Martha, who resided in
. I believe, then, that there is a strong possibility that Lazarus was deliberately excluded from the synoptic record due to envy, and that if he had not himself taken up his pen to complete the record of Jesus' ministry, we would know nothing whatsoever of him. The synoptics do record resurrection stories: that of the young daughter of the ruler of a synagogue, Jairus by name (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and the widow's son at Nain (Luke). The first story does have much in common with the raising of Lazarus; it follows a severe illness, Jesus is informed of the illness (Mark and Luke) and accepts a plea for help, but then is delayed while dealing with other matters, including the woman with an issue of blood, after which he is informed by messengers that Jairus' daughter is dead, much as Jesus was informed by Martha and Mary that Lazarus was dead, after which he proceeded to perform the resurrection. But unlike that of Lazarus, this resurrection was no threat to the apostles, because it involved only a little girl, not an adult male disciple who might become their competitor. The same is probably true of the widow's young son. On the other hand, Lazarus fails to mention either story in the Fourth Gospel, where they might compete with his resurrection as a means of showing privilege and importance. I pointed out above how he failed to mention Jairus daughter, for the same reasons that he may have failed to mention the Transfiguration: Only three apostles, the foremost, were permitted to witness her raising – the very same three who were privileged to witness the Transfiguration. He was jealous of Peter, he was jealous of these three, he was jealous of the twelve, and it shows! Bethany
His absence from the synoptics should not be interpreted to mean that he never existed, or that he existed but never experienced the resurrection from the dead that he claims for himself in the Fourth Gospel. The internal evidence of the Gospel, including specifically what I have discussed here, strongly suggests that there was indeed such a person who was resurrected from the dead, and who thereby experienced the resentment of the apostles, and his own resentment of their efforts to make him less than he was by ignoring him, and who was moved thereby to later put the record straight by writing his version of the story of Jesus, in which he receives his due and in which the foremost apostles are put in their places. The Fourth Gospel is powerful evidence of the historicity of both Lazarus and his resurrection!
In like manner, we also can understand why he chose to designate himself as that disciple whom Jesus loved, as though Jesus did not love the others, only him. We should not suppose that Lazarus was so crass as to believe that he was the only disciple loved by Jesus, although his self designation would seem to say as much. No, in other passages he clearly speaks of Jesus' love for others, saying, for example, to all the disciples at the Last Supper, "As the Father has loved me, so have I love you; abide in my love (John 15:9)." Yet he undoubtedly seeks to assert that Jesus loves him more than all the others, because he has privileged him to be resurrected from the dead. Put yourself in Lazarus' place, as one whom Jesus has raised from the dead. Would it not be natural for you to wonder in amazement at the love of one who would do such a thing for you, for you alone among the disciples? And could not a strong envy, even jealousy, drive one to make such an assertion? Before his illness and death, Lazarus must have been resentful of the special calling of the twelve. He felt slighted, to say the least. But then, he finds that he alone has been raised from the dead, and now is the center of attention because of this astonishing event. People come to see Jesus who raised him, but they are just as interested in seeing him who has been raised! "O, how very much he must love me, to do such a thing for me!" And so, Lazarus becomes the one, in his own eyes, who is the blessed recipient of a singular love, and it is thus that he presents himself years later as he recalls and records the remarkable story of his Lord, and of his own association with him.
Lazarus claims this special love not only for himself, but for all his house. He introduces it as soon as he introduces himself, having the sisters' messenger to Jesus say, Lord, he whom you love is ill. But then he has a twinge of guilt, and is moved to share this love with his sisters; and so he follows immediately with "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Then, later, when Mary has come to him with the plaintive word, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," Lazarus returns to this emphasis immediately, having the Jews respond to the Lord's display of emotion with the words, See how he loved him! From this point Lazarus prefers to refer to himself only as that disciple whom Jesus loved, not being bold enough to say such a thing directly of himself. But can we really be expected to believe that the mystery disciple was anyone other than Lazarus, after the way he has specifically focused this love upon himself and his sisters in the account of his death, burial, and resurrection?
Consider this: Lazarus is the first person, even prior to Jesus, who has both died and been buried, then raised from the grave. Wouldn't that inflate anyone's ego, especially when he was given to understand that it was for the glory of God, and when everyone was clamoring to see him, and when the Lord accepted him so closely, in his very bosom, at the Last Supper?
The above pages present a strong case for Lazarus, the resurrected Lazarus, as the author of the Fourth Gospel. But there is much, much more. Lazarus was a Judean, of Bethany, near
. He was not a Galilean, therefore we might expect that his knowledge and experience of the Lord would be focused on Jerusalem Judea, not Galilee, and this is precisely the case. Only portions of the first and second chapters, the fourth chapter, the sixth chapter, and the introduction to the seventh chapter of the Fourth Gospel are devoted to the Galilean ministry. The rest is devoted to Judeaand . Only the Fourth Gospel finds a place for the saying of Jesus: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25,26)." This is thoroughly in keeping with the authorship of Lazarus, the man who had already experienced, through the Lord, the resurrection of the dead to a new life. Then there is the obvious difference in the ethereal style of the Fourth Gospel when compared with the other three. It is characterized by a mystical manner of expression, by depth of perception and spiritual idiom not found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Isn't this to be expected from an author who has uniquely experienced death for four days, then been restored to life? Such an one surely has a different outlook on everything, as does the man who wrote the Fourth Gospel. Jerusalem
That it was Lazarus, I do not doubt. Having reached this conclusion, we are remiss if we do not re-examine others questions such as the date of authorship. We see evidence that Lazarus wrote his gospel after noting the omissions from the synoptics, or at least one of the synoptics, of those things pertaining to himself. Therefore we are justified in concluding, as already believed by most scholars, that the Fourth Gospel may have been the last to be written, and was certainly not the first. Scholarly dating tends to place the authorship of Mark in the seventies, of Matthew in the eighties, and of Luke/Acts after the nineties, perhaps in the second century. None of these dates poses any problem for the Lazarus authorship of the Fourth Gospel. He may have been still quite a youth at his resurrection, as young as twenty or even a teenager. If his resurrection occurred as early as 28 AD, and if he wrote the Fourth Gospel as late as 100 AD, then this makes him 92 when he authored the gospel, well within the realm of possibility, especially for one who has already died and been resurrected. However, I disagree with the current scholarly dating of the synoptics, which is dictated by the thought that Mark, supposed to be written first, contains too detailed a description of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 to have been written prior to that date. I see no reason to doubt that Jesus had prophetic powers adequate to foretell the destruction of
forty years before the fact. Any person with a good feel for the political volatility of the times and a fair knowledge of the rebellious mood of the Jews could safely have made such a prediction, without giving an actual date. This is what Jesus did, who dated the fall of the city very loosely, within his generation. Now Paul, writing about AD 50 to the Corinthians, described the events of the Last Supper in terms very similar to the synoptics. I propose that Paul got his information from one or more of the latter (his attestations to the contrary), which must then have been written prior to AD 50, only about twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus, a little longer after that of Lazarus. Lazarus need, in that case, have been no more than fifty when he authored the Fourth Gospel, and I allow a few years for circulation of the synoptic materials to reach him. Of course, this does not apply to Acts, which contains the record of the early fellowship of disciples and of Paul's ministry and must have been written later than any of the synoptic gospels. One could, of course, surmise that it was written prior to AD 66, the probable date of the Neronian persecution in which Paul is supposed to have been martyred, since it knows nothing of his death. Jerusalem
Current scholarly thinking about the dates of authorship allows for the existence of both oral and written tradition at an early date, prior to AD 50, but stumbles at the supposed purely mythological events – the virgin birth and nativity, the miracles, the resurrections, and the ascension of Jesus. They argue, rightly, that myth making takes time and that it would be unrealistic to expect that all these myths could have developed in the twenty years following the resurrection of Jesus, or even during the lifetimes of most of the disciples. However, the hypothesis discussed herein, of the Lazarus authorship of the Fourth Gospel, provides a strong basis for accepting the historicity of the resurrection, at the least, of Lazarus. And if that is accepted, why not accept the historicity of much if not all of the other supernatural elements in the gospels? No time is then required for "myth making." As one acquainted with the state of Twentieth Century physical science, I am convinced of the "Big Bang" hypothesis of the origin of the universe, and of the evolutionary theory of the development of our specie. And I ask myself, are the supposed mythological events of the gospels out of reach for a divine creator adequate to produce our universe, and us, thus supernaturally? However, my faith is not founded on the miracles, or supposed myths of the four gospels, but rather on those elements of all the gospels that are authentic sayings of Jesus, some of which may indeed spring from a very early written document, which the scholars have designated "The Gospel of Q."
As I have explored this Lazarus Hypothesis I have been repeatedly impressed with the richness of it. It is a deep well, and I surely have not reached the bottom even now. You may think of other things that may be relevant, as can I. I will mention only two more things here, separated from the others because they are admittedly much more speculative. One of these has to do with the identity of the "man carrying a jar of water" whom Jesus told James and John (the sons of Zebedee!) that they would meet after entering Jerusalem on their way to prepare a place for them all to eat the passover. They went, met the man, (according to the Mark gospel and Luke), and followed him to a house. They then did as instructed, that is, they asked the householder, "The Teacher says, where is my guest room where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?" And so it came to pass that they were shown a large upper room, furnished for the occasion, and there they made ready. Could not Lazarus have been the man with the jar of water? The synoptic authors neglect to name him, again because of the rivalry. He lived nearby, and it is reasonable to suppose that Jesus would have earlier instructed him to make such preparations – even to having him convey there a jar of water for the event – not only for refreshing themselves from their journey thence, but also – for the washing of their feet! In this case, Lazarus as author of the Fourth Gospel is the most appropriate one to describe the feet washing incident – he was the one who provided the water! The synoptics, of course, do not mention this event. Was it too humiliating for the Apostles to pass on to those who were the sources of these gospels?
The second thing addresses the question, often asked, "How do we know what Jesus said during his agonizing prayer in
Gethsemane?" Peter, James and John, the only ones permitted to be near him there, went to sleep. Of course, after his resurrection Jesus could have told the disciples what was said there, but there is no record of such and interchange and it seems to me very unlikely. Did the Holy Spirit reveal this to the synoptic authors? Why would the Father relay to the disciples by the Holy Spirit words uttered by Jesus in confidence, in the depth of agonizing prayer? Again, I think it is not likely. But there was another person at the Last Supper, closer to Jesus than Peter, James, or John – in his very bosom! Are we to suppose that Lazarus, that disciple "whom Jesus loved" remained behind while all the rest followed Jesus into Gethsemane? Not likely. And are we to suppose that the favored three were permitted to go with Jesus to the place of prayer without the presence of the very favored Lazarus? Again, not likely. And would the synoptic authors have included Lazarus in the number? Not likely! Therefore, the speculation that Lazarus was close by – close enough to hear the words of Jesus, closer perhaps even than the favored three, is not ungrounded. And he, hearing, did not go to sleep! So, why didn't Lazarus tell us all about this in his gospel? He didn't need to – the others had given it good coverage, including information that only he could have provided. Still, they didn't credit him – wouldn't he have wanted us to know that he was the source of this important information? Yes, of course. But he would not have wanted us to know that he was there as an eavesdropper! Eavesdropper to a transaction between the Father and his Messiah!
In the same vein, how did the synoptic authors learn the details of the crucifixion? The Apostles all forsook him and fled the scene, eventually leaving only one mentioned male disciple, Lazarus, plus the women. They could, of course, have obtained this information from the women; but this is not likely since the testimony of the male would have been considered more authoritative in their sexist world. Now, on the morning of the first day when the women discovered the door had been rolled away from the tomb, we are told that they ran and first notified – Peter and Lazarus. What do you suppose these two were doing together at this early hour, so soon after the crucifixion? Place yourself in Peter's shoes, become the man who denied the Lord three times then fled for his life, and you are spending time with a disciple who saw it all. Surely the foremost apostle was asking questions. What happened after I left? Was anything said? Did the Lord suffer greatly? What did he say from the cross? Did he make any prophesies? When, exactly, did he die? Did they break his legs? Did he make any effort to come down from the cross? Did he pray to the Father? Did he drink anything? So, there must be one exception in crediting the traditions springing from the twelve for the information contained in the Fourth Gospel. The stories of the crucifixion and death of the Lord very likely originated with the one man who was there and saw it all, because there was no other friendly source. Of course, they are not disposed to reveal their source!
Some of my readers will consider that everything written here is pure speculation; I do not think so, because there is too much evidence, and too many good reasons, for drawing these particular conclusions. Of course, I have not proved a thing – no one can do that at this late date, for none of the parties survive either to confirm or deny. But if one accepts my basic premise, that the resurrected Lazarus authored the Fourth Gospel, and that there was rivalry between him and the Twelve, even resentment and envy, then so many previously mystifying questions are suddenly answered that I cannot avoid drawing the conclusion that it was so. Of course, I am open to consider other views, if there are such, that can thus demystify so much of the gospels!
For further reading, and a much more scholarly treatment of this subject, I recommend Vernard Eller's book, "The Beloved Disciple."