Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Will The Real "Beloved Disciple" Please Stand Up

St. John the Evangelist (יוחנן Yoḥanan =  Yahweh is gracious) lived c. 1 - c. 100 A.D.). John is the conventionally named author of the fourth Gospel. Traditionally he has also been identified with the author of the other Johannine works in the New Testament: three Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation, written by a John of Patmos. He is likewise referred to as John the Apostle and the Beloved Disciple, mentioned in the Gospel. However, at least some of these connections have been highly debated since about 200 A.D.

John's Gospel speaks of an unnamed "Beloved Disciple" of Jesus who bore witness to his message. The editors of the Gospel seem interested in the author's anonymity. Apparently this disciple of Jesus had not been well known, but had greatly outlived Peter.

Surely the apostle John was a historical figure, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church after Jesus' death. Some scholars believe that he was martyred along with his brother, James (Acts 12:1-2), although many other scholars doubt this. The tradition that John lived to old age in Ephesus seems to have developed in the late 2nd century, although the tradition does appear in the last chapter of the Gospel. By the late 2nd century, the tradition was held by most Christians.

The late Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S., was/is, if not the greatest Johannine biblical scholar, certainly one of the world's top experts on John the Evangelist. His monumental two-volume commentary on the Gospel of John (Volumes 29 and 29A of The Anchor Bible series) is still the standard in biblical study of the fourth Gospel. In his Introduction, Fr. Brown, in the simple, clear style for which he was noted, says this about the person wrote the Gospel of John: "...A distinctive figure in the primitive Church preached and taught about Jesus, using the raw material of a tradition of Jesus' works and words, but shaping this material to a particular theological cast and expression. Eventually he gathered the substance of his preaching and teaching into a Gospel, following the traditional pattern of the baptism, the ministry, and the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Since he continued to preach and teach after the edition of the Gospel, he subsequently made a second edition of his Gospel, adding more material and adapting the Gospel to answer new problems. After his death a disciple made a final redaction of the Gospel, incorporating other material that the evangelist had preached and taught, and even some of the material of the evangelist's co-workers. A theory of two editions and a final redaction by a disciple would not be extraordinary among the theories of the composition of biblical books..."

And so, the final redactor of the Gospel of John could say in conclusion: "...there are many other things that Jesus did. Yet, were they ever to be written down in detail, I doubt that there would be room enough in the whole world for the books to record them." (John 21:25) Fr. Brown's comment, at the end of the second volume of his commentary, is: "...having added another long commentary to the already ample bibliography on the Fourth Gospel, and still feeling that much has been left unsaid, the present writer is not in the least inclined to cavil about the accuracy of the Johannine redactor's plaint that no number of books will exhaust the subject."

Though we may never know exactly who the "Beloved Disciple" was that wrote the Gospel of John, Fr. Brown assures us of one thing: the general message which St. John wanted to convey. "Serving as a preface to the Gospel, the Prologue is a hymn that encapsulates John's view of Christ. A divine being (God's Word [1:1-14], who is also the light [1:5,9] and God's only Son [1:14,18]) comes into the world and becomes flesh. Although rejected by his own, he empowers all who do accept him to become God's children, so that they share in God's fullness -- a gift reflecting God's enduring love that outdoes the loving gift of the Law through Moses..." (An Introduction To The New Testament, ABRL Doubleday, 1997)

1 comment:

John-Julian, OJN said...

I've always had an intuition that suggests that Lazarus may have been the author of the Fourth Gospel. I was always intrigued that there was so relatively little material about Lazarus who—after all—had come back from the dead. One would suspect that he would have a large role, but he seems to disappear. And the Fourth Gospel also talks about how Jesus loved Lazarus (i.e., "the beloved disciple"), etc.

I have no proof, of course, but it is interesting to think about.