John the son of Zebedee
A few months ago I was given the opportunity to ask a question via the internet to Richard Buackham author of the excellent ‘ Jesus and The Eyewitnesses’. I have already expressed my appreciation for this book on here previously. However the one fall back in my view is that whilst Richard argues that the Fourth Gospel is indeed eyewitness testimony but the author is not John the son of Zebedee. My question related to this ‘why are you so sure the beloved disciple is not John the son of Zebedee?
Richard was gracious in his answer and responded with the following:-
The Biblical Response
The fourth gospel mainly takes place in Jerusalem while the synoptic gospels mainly take place in Galilee.
It features the voices of people who never speak or don’t appear in the synoptic gospels.
It seems to be written by a Jerusalem disciple and not one of the 12.
John is always with his brother James in the Gospels so it is surprising to find no mention of him by name in the Fourth Gospel.
The historical argument-
He goes on to argue that the witness from the early church seems quite strong because they all point to the Apostle John as the author. However Bauckham rightly argues that the name John was very common in the C1st and he has no doubt the author was called John just note the Apostle John. He believes the early church is speaking with one voice though as they are all following Polycarp who point out that the author was John of Ephesus. However if we take Papias’ comments seriously John of Ephesus was the elder John rather than John the Apostle. He points out, (although admitting it is rather a late tradition) that John was supposedly martyred quite early on. He points out that John disappears after the council in Jerusalem in the book of Acts.
It’s widely accepted that John knew of and was familiar with the synoptic gospels and wanted to supplement their account. So it featuring different events and different people isn’t a deal breaker.
The fourth gospel doesn't mention James by name, neither does it mention John’s relative Mary the mother of Jesus by name. This is important as it points out two things, John assumes a general knowledge of the information in the synoptic accounts. Secondly John is consistent in not naming his relatives.
John begins his narrative with the ministry of John the Baptist just like the other Gospels, and indeed we find that there is an unnamed disciple of the Baptist that follows Jesus. It isn’t much of a stretch to see this disciple as the unnamed beloved disciple at the end who Peter points out. In deed in Acts John is coupled not with James his brother but Peter which fits so well with the fourth gospel. As someone pointed out, the beloved disciple is repeatedly found in the place we would expect to see the Apostle John. Admittedly the fourth gospel does have more trips to Jerusalem but the fourth gospel like the other three concentrates most of its information on the passion week, filling out the details of the that week. Yet the first two signs take place in Cana and this according to the synoptics is the home of John.
Whilst the voices are different we are not told anywhere that other disciples than the 12 were at the last supper and every voice that does speak at the supper is one of the 12.
The historical response.
Buackham rightly affirms that the writer of the 4th Gospel is clearly the Beloved Disciple, he also holds in high regard the names attached to the Gospels by the early church. Which is why he rejects out of hand the idea that Lazarus whom Jesus loved isn't the beloved disciple. The author he is looking for is John as this tradition goes back. Now like many scholars he takes Papias statement of the multiple John's mentioned in Papias list, the Apostle John and the Elder John. Yet the early church were so sure that the son of Zebedee wrote the 4th Gospel that they included it in the cannon as it carried Apostolic authority. This is what is most surprising, Buackham moves scholarship on as he rightly moves away from the community development hypothesis for the gospels but stays in the same place with an evangelical scholarship impacted by liberal scholarship since the C19th. No-one before the C19th argued for John the elder, a whole mythology has now developed around him.