Beloved (and raised?) disciple

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.

For the record, however, I remain a convinced Stratfordian. 😉

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6 Responses to Beloved (and raised?) disciple

  1. Devona says:

    Lovely. I would love for this to be true.

  2. Rick Ritchie says:

    I always enjoy this kind of hypothesis. Another blogger has suggested that perhaps St. Paul was the rich young ruler.

    One other interesting Lazarus connection is the fact that in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man requests that Lazarus be sent back from the dead to warn the living. And in fact Jesus did raise a Lazarus. It would be interesting if they were the same man. There may be some problems with the theory. But I think that from a literary standpoint, the ability to draw the connection is intentional.

  3. John H says:

    Rick: that would perhaps suggest why St John chose the name Lazarus, since presumably he was aware of the parable.

  4. Rick Ritchie says:

    At first I thought you meant why St. John chose to name the character in the parable Lazarus. Then I realized you meant he chose this name for himself from the name in the parable.

    Interesting idea.

    And dependency could run the other way, too. Jesus could have named the character after his friend before he raised him. Or even after. (He could have told it without a name early, and added the name later.)

    I know when mentioning any of this how easy it is to fall into a ditch. Chronology is difficult to fix. And some of the repeated names make for confusion. But I think the repetition is worth noting even where you have two distinct characters. It’s worth at least asking whether there is a meaning for there being a Mary and perhaps a Lazarus at Jesus’ tomb together now a second time.

  5. joel in ga says:

    I remember hazily someone somewhere (Peter Leithart?) pointing out that it would make sense for Lazarus to be the one standing with Mary by the cross. Unlike the other disciples who had fled, Lazarus had died once already and so knew death was nothing to fear.

  6. Rick Ritchie says:

    joel, I wish I had a like button here.

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