Who is the Beloved Disciple?

Fr. Gerald O’Collins whose writing I very much like, and who I like and respect personally, is of the opinion that the “Beloved Disciple” is not the apostle John bar Zebedee. In his book, Jesus: A Portrait (which is very good, by the way, O’Collins writes:

“[There is] plausible (internal and external) evidence to rehabilitate the case for Simon Peter being the major eyewitness source behind the Gospel of Mark. The naming of Peter creates an ‘inclusion’ that holds together the Gospel from 1:16-18 right through to 16:7…the anonymous disciple of John 1:35-40 [is identified with] the beloved disciple of John 21:24, the ideal witness to Jesus who was with him “from the beginning” (John 15:27) and who “saw the glory” of the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:14). This establishes the major ‘inclusion’ in the Fourth Gospel, even though an ‘inclusion’ involving the chief shepherd, Peter, is not abandoned. He is present from Chapter 1 to Chapter 21, yet within the even wider involvement of the beloved disciple. That disciple spent hours with Jesus before Peter even set eyes on Jesus (John 1:35-42). [There exists] a strong case for the author of the Fourth Gospel being the beloved disciple, who is not to be identified with John the son of Zebedee or any other member of the Twelve. He was an individual disciple, a close follower of Jesus and is not to be dissolved into a merely representative figure.” (Bolding mine.)

Several of us in this forum think the Beloved Disciple can be none other than John bar Zebedee. Theologians and biblical scholars have put forth various theories on the identity of the Beloved Disciple. Some believe it to be John the Elder, some Lazarus, some even Mary Magdalene! I’d like to know what any other member thinks and why he or she came to the conclusion he or she did.

Thank you.

I should add that O’Collins believes that Richard Bauckham is correct in identifying John the Elder as the author of the Gospel of John. Part of what Bauckham thinks can be found here:


I have not read Bauckham’s book myself.

I thought this was a good article that confirmed the ideas I always had about John’s Authorship (and therefore, who IS the Beloved Disciple, according to Fr. O’Collins logic.) Because if we can say that John is the Author of the Gospel of John, than, he MUST be the Beloved Disciple. O’Collins says: “[There exists] a strong case for the author of the Fourth Gospel being the beloved disciple,” (ignoring the balance as unconvincing suppositions despite what he calls “a strong case”) :slight_smile:

He seems to make a case for John 1:35-42. However, John and James must be the two disciples of John the Baptist, as we never otherwise have them being mentioned in this passage of Jesus selecting his 12. And this might be just the sort of detail that John WOULD include, but again, because it is about himself, anonymously.

But O’Collins PRESUMES that John is NOT the author of John, and so his conclusions are unfounded IMHO.

Good points, and I agree with you. Thank you for your insight.

O’Collins agrees with Richard Bauckham. You can read his essay here:


If the link doesn’t work, just Google Bauckham beloved disciple and look for the Google Books link.

Edit: Thank you for the link you provided. I think it’s an excellent article, and I, too, agree with it. I have a difficult time believing O’Collins believes it is not the apostle, but that is what he says. :shrug:

I haven’t read *The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple *but in *Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, *which I think was written at around the same time, there is a chapter entitled The Witness of the Beloved Disciple, in which Bauckham has this to say on the subject:

“Peter and the Beloved Disciple represent two different kinds of discipleship: active service and perceptive witness. … The Beloved Disciple is better qualified to be the author of a Gospel, but he is not better qualified to be the chief under-shepherd of Jesus’ sheep, which is Peter’s mode of discipleship.”

Bauckham concludes that the identification of the Beloved Disciple with the author of the Fourth Gospel is “surely correct.” This is, in any case, what I had always been taught was the prevalent view, and the alternative theories that crop up from time to time have always struck me as unconvincing.

St. Irenaeus, one of the Fathers of the Church, wrote:

Irenaeus (130-200 AD), bishop of Lyons, received his account of John, the disciple of the Lord, from Polycarp (69-155 AD), bishop of Smryna, who knew John and had conversed with him. Irenaeus wrote: “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leant upon his breast, himself also published the gospel in Ephesus, when he was living in Asia.”


Tradition has always indicated that St. John the Apostle (son of Zebedee) was also John the Elder, and writer of the Gospel of John, the letters of St. John, and Revelation. Tradition has also considered him to be the “beloved apostle” (and the only apostle to die of “white martyrdom”, not “red martyrdom” - in other words, he died as an old man of about 90-100 years old; St. Ignatius of Antioch was considered to be a disciple of St. John the Apostle). However, St. John specifically did not name the beloved disciple in his gospel for a few reasons.

Reason 1: humility. He may have been “beloved” by Jesus, but he wanted the emphasis on Jesus, not himself. It’s like the apostle Paul talking about a “friend of his” who saw a vision of Heaven - Paul is talking about himself, but does not wish to boast about it.

Reason 2 (and quite probably the more important reason): John intends us to see ourselves as the beloved disciple! Every single place that John talks about the “beloved disciple”, he intends us to put ourselves there. The beloved disciple, therefore, is the Church!

Remember, the Gospel of John was written on both a literal plane and a figurative plane. So under the literal plane, the “beloved disciple” has always traditionally been John the apostle, but under the figurative plane, the “beloved disciple” is the Church.

I am the Beloved Disciple as is anyone else who cares to be. :slight_smile:

Thank you. I appreciate your insights.

I believe as all of you do, that the Beloved Disciple was John bar Zebedee. I wonder why O’Collins, who is usually so astute buys into the proposition that the Beloved Disciple is John the Elder and that he is a different John? I wouldn’t wonder so much, but O’Collins is usually so insightful.

Well, anyway, I did enjoy his book, though I prefer Raymond Brown because I think he goes into more depth. The O’Collins book was really for the average Catholic who doesn’t study his or her faith much, either in school or out of it. Study is, after all, study, no matter where it’s done.

I think, but am not sure, that The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple is taken from Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Bauckman and O’Collins believe the Beloved Disciple is certainly the author of the Fourth Gospel, but they believe John bar Zebedee and John the Elder are two different Johns, especially since the name was so common at the time, more common that it is today.

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