Who Was ‘The Beloved Disciple’?

Several Gospel passages refer to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Every time that I hear these passages, I wonder: Didn’t Jesus love all his disciples?

Did Jesus really love one disciple more than the others? Who is being designated by this strange expression?

This expression, found only in the Gospel of John, is puzzling in itself. Also, why is “disciple” used as a person’s name? According to Nelson ‘s Complete Concordance of the New American Bible, the term disciple (in the singular) is used twice in Matthew, not at all in Mark, twice in Luke and 18 times in John. The plural form is used many times in all the Gospels.

When Peter goes to learn news about Jesus’ trial, he is accompanied by “another disciple,” who is known to the high priest. Scripture scholar John L. McKenzie wrote that this might be the Apostle John. On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene reports the empty tomb to Peter and “the other disciple.” They both run to the tomb and confirm that it is empty. Peter is allowed to enter first . This “other disciple” is almost certainly the Apostle John. The “beloved disciple” stands next to Mary at the foot of Jesus’ cross; he is told to care for her. The resurrected Jesus appears at the Sea of Galilee to seven disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (Games and John), plus two unnamed disciples. In verse seven, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is the first to realize that Jesus is the man standing at the shore while they fish. That disciple exclaims, “It is the Lord!”

After everyone has eaten bread and fish by the seashore, Jesus speaks with Peter, telling him to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep” and “feed my sheep” Then Peter questions Jesus about this disciple whom Jesus loved and who had reclined next to

Jesus at the Last Supper

Around the year 180, Irenaeus of Lyon identified the “beloved disciple” as the Apostle John, whom Irenaeus also presumed wrote the Gospel of John. Over the centuries, Christians have generally shared these two assumptions.

In his Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday, 1997), Raymond E. Brown, S.S., identified three other theories about the identity of the beloved disciple. First, that he is a known New Testament figure (such as Lazarus, John Mark or Thomas). Second, that he is not a historical person but a symbol for the ideal disciple.

Brown continues: “Third, still other scholars (with whom I agree) theorize that the Beloved Disciple was a minor figure during the ministry of Jesus, too unimportant to be remembered in the more official tradition of the Synoptics. But since this figure became important in Johannine community history (perhaps the founder of the community), he became the ideal in its Gospel picture, capable of being contrasted with Peter as closer to Jesus in love.”

The identity of “the beloved disciple” is an intriguing question, but what matters even more is that our faith is as alert and as generous as this disciple’s.

St. Anthony Messenger

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