A Better Bible Study Method, Book One
The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
Take another look – The Bible has the answer
© 2011 by J. Phillips, Fifth Edition
All rights reserved. Free at TDWJL.com
Scripture quotes from the Holy Bible, KJV.
“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him” (Pr. 30:5).
“Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Pr. 30:6).
“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Pr. 16:25).
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Ps. 118:8-9).
“For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Pr. 2:6).
“The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead” (Pr. 21:16).
“... Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4b).
“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby...” (1Pt. 2:2a).
“For the word of the Lord is right...” (Ps. 33:4a).
“... he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28b).
“A faithful witness will not lie...” (Pr. 14:5a).
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed...” (2Ti. 2:15a).
“Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies” (Ps. 40:4).
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1Th. 5:21).
“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Pr. 25:2).
The first three gospels all mention these three notable events of Jesus’ ministry, his transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9, Mk. 9:2-9, Lu. 9:28-36), his Gethsemane prayers (Mt. 26:36-46, Mk. 14:32-42, Lu. 22:39-46), and his raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mt. 9:18-26, Mk. 5:22-43, Lu. 8:41-56). Only three disciples were present at these events, and the Apostle John was one of them (Mt. 17:1 & 26:37, Mk. 5:37, 9:2 & 14:33, Lu. 8:51 & 9:28). Although John was an eyewitness to all of these events there is no mention of these key events in the gospel that today bears John’s name! These events would surely have been extremely profound moments in John’s life. So what can explain their omission from the fourth gospel, a book tradition has said was written by John?
Many teachers will refer to the fourth gospel as ‘John’s eyewitness testimony’, but does the Bible support this claim? A closer look shows the idea of John being the author of the fourth gospel is not consistent with the facts found in scripture and the author’s omission of the three events noted above is merely the tip of the iceberg. It turns out every event where John is referred to by name in the first three gospels is missing from the fourth gospel – every one of them!
For example, Jesus told John, “ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” when rebuking John and his brother after they sought to “command fire to come down from heaven” (Lu. 9:54-55). John and Peter were sent by Jesus to prepare the Passover (Lu. 22:8). Jesus “privately” answered the questions of John, Peter, James, and Andrew on the Mount of Olives (Mk. 13:3). John and his brother asked Jesus to seat them, “one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory” (Mk. 10:35-41). But these events will not be found in the fourth gospel because none of the events where John is named in the first three gospels are in the fourth gospel. Does its omission of all of the ‘John events’ support the idea of the fourth gospel being ‘John’s eyewitness testimony’?
If this was John’s eyewitness account, how did he come to exclude all mention of these events? Are we to believe John read the other gospels first and then wrote this gospel in such a way as to carefully omit every event where he was named in those other three gospels? Is this reasonable?
In the last chapter of the fourth gospel verses 21:20 and 24 let us know it was written by an unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved”. This author never identified himself as John. Rather, he used various terms like “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, “the other disciple”, etc. to refer to himself and his use of these curious terms to cloak his identity raises many questions.
The fourth gospel does present the author’s testimony, but scripture can prove he was not John. That idea came from non-Bible sources and, though there is not a single verse that justifies teaching the beloved disciple was John, this case of mistaken identity still persists. Yet whoever he was, he cannot have been John because that idea forces the Bible to contradict itself, which the truth can’t do.
Lest anyone mistake the thrust of this study, note that God’s word is not in error and nothing herein suggests otherwise. In fact, this study cites nothing but the scriptures because the Bible is the primary source on Bible issues and, if we heed the details that have been preserved therein, it can help to correct mistaken ideas we may have. As will be shown, the title Gospel of John was not written by the gospel’s author. Others added that title to this author’s work. Still, the record of scripture is able to overcome the errors of men and the verses quoted in this study do exactly that.
Indeed, one should not be presenting an idea as if it were biblical if he cannot cite a single verse that would justify teaching that idea. Also, if the Bible can actually disprove an idea we have believed, why wouldn’t we give up that idea and stand corrected?
Acts 18:24-28 tells of a man named Apollos. He was “mighty in the scriptures”, “instructed in the way of the Lord”, “fervent in the spirit”, and “spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord”. Yet, we know this understanding was lacking because when “Aquila and Priscilla had heard” his teaching, they “took him” and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly”. [The Greek here says, “more accurately”.] We are told, at that time, Apollos knew of “only the baptism of John” (i.e., John the Baptist). But the key point is Apollos revised his teaching when the truth was presented to him. Thereafter, we are told how Apollos, “mightily convinced the Jews”, “shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ”. Apollos was “mighty in the scriptures” and he was still willing to be taught, so, why not us?
History proves false ideas can become widely accepted as truth: the ‘Piltdown Man’ evolution hoax, the flat earth myth, etc. Most people tend to take ‘the scholars’ word for it on such issues, assuming what the ‘experts’ teach is the truth. But where Bible questions are concerned we can test if what we believe is true or not. Seeking the truth requires us to weigh the evidence without prejudice. If we are to render a fair verdict, then we must be careful not to let our judgment of the facts be distorted by ideas that we have previously assumed were true.
There is very often a difference between what people think the Bible says and what it really says. So, the way to verify the truth on biblical issues is to check to see what the Bible itself says. In this case, since the fourth gospel’s author identified himself in terms of Jesus’ love for him, it makes sense to see who scripture says had this relationship with Jesus. When these verses are examined one will see that the Bible never singles out John in this manner! Thus, unless one can show that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was John, it is unbiblical to call John ‘the beloved disciple’.
The Bible has much more for us to consider regarding this question and, thank God, the identity of the one whom “Jesus loved” can be shown from a study of the Bible facts alone. Rather than quoting non-Bible sources, the method used to shed light on the beloved disciple in this study is to just compare scripture with scripture and let God’s word guide us to the truth. By doing so it is hoped that readers of this work will gain a new appreciation for the details God has preserved for us in the biblical record.
Today many people think the Bible cannot reveal anything new because they assume all the popular teachers and scholars have already mined all of the truth out of God’s word. But the evidence in this study will prove otherwise and will show how scripture can still provide “reproof” and “correction” (2Ti. 3:16). Let us not trust in “enticing words of man’s wisdom”, because our faith “should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1Cor. 2:4 & 5).
What would you say to someone who asked, ‘Why should people read the Bible? If the best that one can hope for is to learn what the scholars have already discovered, then why not just tell people to read the writings of the scholars, rather than reading the Bible and risk misunderstanding what it says?’
The goal of this book is to encourage a love of the truth. Lord willing, those who read this study will be moved to read the Bible more, to read it more carefully, and to test the things they are told by others, rather than just assuming them to be true. Concerning this issue, would it not be wise to heed the “prove all things” admonition (1Th. 5:21), especially since there are a number of Bible facts that do seem to argue against the John tradition?
If the evidence of scripture can disprove the John idea, then the authority of God’s word provides sufficient reason for rejecting the non-Bible sources that are used to justify the John tradition. Herein, the light of scripture will expose the danger of assuming that the opinions of others can serve as a measure for determining what is true. The truth is not assured by simply following the herd.
We know many things about John: his name; he was a son of Zebedee and had a brother named James; he was a fisherman; he and his brother were partners with Peter and were present when Jesus healed Peter’s wife’s mother; John was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus; he and his brother asked for the seats next to Jesus and they were surnamed by Jesus, “Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder”; John was there at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration, and Jesus’ prayers in the garden of Gethsemane; he and his brother once wanted to call fire down from heaven on a group of people and Jesus rebuked them for it; John was the one who told Jesus, “we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him”; etc. (Mt. 4:21, 10:2, 17:1, 26:37, Mk. 1:19, 1:29-31, 3:17, 5:37, 9:2, 9:38, 10:35, 14:33, Lu. 5:10, 6:14, 8:51, 9:28, 9:49, 9:54-55, et al.). Yet, amazingly, none of this information about John can be learned by reading the gospel that popular opinion says was written by the Apostle John.
As will be shown in this study, the only detail in the fourth gospel that is specific to John is a notation that “the sons of Zebedee” were present with some fellow disciples at an event mentioned at the end of the book. However, since he is never named in the fourth gospel, a person would have to know beforehand from another source that John was a son of Zebedee in order to know the phrase “the sons of Zebedee” even referred to John. Therefore, it turns out the least helpful of the four gospels when it comes to learning facts about the Apostle John and the things he witnessed, said, and did during the ministry of Jesus, is the one men decided to call ‘The Gospel of John.’
THE TRUTH MATTERS
Gospel of the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
The God-inspired writer of our fourth gospel was careful never to identify himself by name. Since he deliberately concealed his identity, then perhaps it is not wise to ignore his efforts in this regard and uncritically accept the idea that this author was the Apostle John, the brother of James, son of Zebedee. Should we not ask why God’s inspired author used cryptic phrases like “the disciple whom Jesus loved” to refer to himself? Why didn’t he just use his name? Paul was named repeatedly in his books and John gave his name five times in the Book of Revelation.
Instead of simply identifying himself by name this author cloaked himself in a veil of anonymity. Since God did not lead this gospel author to identify himself as John, should we be quick to follow those who tell us that he was the Apostle John? Non-Bible sources can be wrong. So, why wouldn’t we want to see if this belief lines up with scripture – especially considering the fact that the author of this gospel went to great lengths to hide his identity?
This is not to suggest that the identity of this author cannot be determined. There is a person who does fit all the Bible facts revealed about this author. Several passages in his gospel, like 20:5 and 21:21, let us know this author was a male. Establishing his identity, however, takes a bit more effort. Therefore, this study will seek to examine everything the Bible can tell us about this individual. We will search the scriptures for the answer to the question that the author’s self-description poses to the readers of his gospel: Who was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”?
The Integrity of the Bible
The content of the fourth gospel is true and trustworthy. This is not what is in question. Nothing presented herein casts any doubt whatsoever on the legitimacy of this gospel as inspired scripture or its rightful inclusion in the New Testament. No one should think that this study in any way challenges the words of God’s inspired writers or the accuracy of scripture. Any such innuendo would plainly be a flagrant distortion of what is discussed in this book.
A firm reliance on the Bible as the inspired word of God does not prohibit the questioning of the traditions of men. Jesus himself was quite willing to challenge religious teachings that were based on an erroneous understanding of the scriptures. It is not improper for us to question teachings or traditions, even widely accepted ones, if we discover evidence that suggests that something is amiss. If you love Jesus, then you love the truth. A search for truth, utilizing only the evidence contained in God’s word, is what you will find in this study.
As you read on act as if you are on a jury and the Bible is Exhibit A. Your job is to weigh the testimony of scripture and decide whether or not this evidence is able to meet the burden of proof in two cases, both involving the identity of “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. You're the one who will render the verdict in these cases, so it is up to you to seek the truth and consider the evidence without prejudice.
In the first case this study will seek to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Apostle John was not “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Although beyond a reasonable doubt is a very high standard the biblical evidence presented in this case should be sufficient to meet this standard, in your judgment. The facts will prove that the Apostle John and this unnamed author were two different individuals.
The second case seeks to prove the identity of this heretofore misidentified disciple, but only to a preponderance of the evidence. (This simply means the greater weight of evidence, enough to ‘tip the scales’ or prove something is more likely true than not true.) But, here too, it is up to you to decide if the evidence offered on this point is sufficient.
Just the Facts and Just the Bible
As was stated earlier, the writer of this gospel always described himself with phrases that avoided directly disclosing his identity. When one takes note of this, then mere dogmatic assertions regarding this author’s identity will probably sound less convincing than they would have otherwise sounded, given that his identity was the very thing that God saw fit to have him conceal. However, as you will soon see, the scriptures can reveal as well as conceal.
Those new to the Bible may be unaware that this gospel’s inspired author did not entitle his work The Gospel of John. That title (like the chapter and verse divisions) was not in the author’s original text. It was added to his book by others and it is evident that title was not a product of the inspired author, for the author surely did not proclaim his name in a title since the cumbersome terms the author used to refer to himself in the gospel plainly indicate he intended to conceal his identity.
All scripture is inspired by God, but hearsay tradition is not. So, this study will not cite non-Bible sources like the opinions of scholars or comments attributed to this-or-that person in the ‘early’ church or the writings of men from the present or the past. Man’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom, so non-Bible sources ought to be viewed in light of scripture and not the other way around. Therefore, only scripture and the logical results of comparing scripture with scripture will be offered as evidence in this book.
Verify – According to the Scriptures
In Acts 17:11 we are told the Bereans, “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” and we, too, can be diligent in seeking the truth by testing every idea against the word of God.
If we read a book or hear a teaching, then we can subject those ideas to biblical scrutiny (in line with the directive “prove all things” (1Th. 5:21)). It was Paul who taught the Bereans and even though he was an apostle they still “searched the scriptures” – and they were praised for doing so! Therefore, it is fair to hold our teachers to the same standard. We can be just as conscientious in our pursuit of truth because we can use the Bible to test our beliefs and the ideas that are presented to us.
Christians have nothing to fear from the truth. But since new ideas challenge tradition, they are often mocked or simply dismissed. However, unless man has discovered all of the truth in the Bible, then we should always be open to the possibility that God may, at times, have something new to teach us.
The Truth Is Our Goal
God surely knew inspiring this author to refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” would cause some to wonder about his identity. So, let’s look to the Bible to see if we can ascertain who this anonymous author was. In seeking to answer this question do not assume you can trust the opinion of others more than your own. Popular opinion can be wrong. Even if ‘everybody’ thinks something is true that does not make it so. If ‘all’ the scholars said the earth is flat and they ridiculed anyone who dared to question their ‘accepted truth’ on this, they would nevertheless be wrong.
Let’s follow the example of the Bereans. They didn’t just take Paul’s word for it. They searched the scriptures and we should do likewise when we are taught ‘“the disciple whom Jesus loved” was John’. The incredible thing is there is not a single verse that would justify teaching that idea! In spite of this, commentaries and teachers will habitually say ‘John was the beloved disciple’ and they state this as if it were biblical. In reality, however, all such assertions amount to opinion being mistakenly sold as fact. In this Bible study you'll see for yourself what happens when the John idea is put to the test of scripture.
Commentaries or other books can be helpful, especially when they highlight some details we might otherwise miss. But we need to test the statements they make and you should treat this book likewise. Carefully evaluate the two cases that are presented in this study and verify each scripture reference.
Even though the verses for this study are quoted herein, looking them up will enable you to confirm the evidence in its context. By doing so, you will become more grounded in God’s word, even as you are built up in both confidence and competence when it comes to discussing this topic. Also, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”. So, rather than cling to our understanding of things, we should trust in the Lord and look to God’s word for correction and guidance.
Bible References and Quotes
This study will quote only the Holy Bible as previously noted. Yet, the wording in your Bible may vary on some of these quotes, since there are many different versions of the Bible. Still, no matter which Bible version you use you will be able to verify the accuracy and context of every passage cited. The differences in wording between Bible versions won’t alter the verdict that is demanded by the evidence.
All of the quotes in this study are taken from the King James Version (KJV). While the KJV can be challenging at times it remains the most widely held Bible version, so it will be the one quoted. Thus, you will find some words that appear to be misspelled, like “shewed”. These are not errors but are the result of exactly quoting the KJV. (Herein the marks “” will be reserved solely for direct quotations of scripture. Also, for clarification, ten Greek terms are included from the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, published by Baker Book House, 1981.)
A Worthwhile Pursuit and a Helping Hand
Rather than dive into God’s word to see if the John idea is true or not some try to dodge the issue by asking: ‘What difference does it make?’ Well, for starters, if the John idea isn’t true, then promoting it undercuts the authority of scripture (just like every false idea that men ascribe to God’s word). In fact it will be shown that the John tradition actually makes scripture contradict itself, which the truth cannot do. A more in-depth answer to this question follows later, but for now let it suffice that Jesus clearly indicated the truth matters (Fourth gospel 8:32, 14:6, 17:17, 18:37, et al.).
Proverbs 2:3-5 lets us know the pursuit of knowledge is a worthwhile endeavor and the source we should look to is suggested in the next verse – “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Pr. 2:6). Still, this pursuit is not a task one needs to take on alone. The Holy Spirit was called “the Spirit of truth” when Jesus told the disciples, “he will guide you into all truth” (Fourth gospel 16:13) and Jesus said the Father would, “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Lu. 11:13). So, we should ask the Father if we want the Spirit to guide our study of scripture.
“From Heaven, or of Men?”
Truth is not a minor issue. When Jesus said, “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”, he did so in the context of identifying himself as, “the truth” (Fourth gospel 14:6). He also said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Fourth gospel 4:24). So, clearly, “truth” is not an optional item or a ‘secondary’ matter. Furthermore, scripture encourages speaking the truth (Pr. 12:17 & 19, Zec. 8:16, Eph. 4:15 & 25), ties sanctification and growth to truth (Fourth gospel 17:17 & 19, Eph. 4:15, 2Th. 2:13, Jam. 1:18, 1Pt. 1:22), links the armor of God and fruit of the spirit to truth (Eph. 5:9 & 6:14), and Psalm 145:18 says, “the Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth”. If a relationship with God is to be fruitful, respect for truth seems to be vital.
Those who seek the truth would do well to note the test of authority that we see used by Jesus. When the religious leaders questioned the authority of Jesus, he pointed to one’s source as a litmus test on authority when he responded with this question about John the Baptist, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” (Lu. 20:4). Of course, if it was “from heaven”, then his source was God. So, in order to avoid facing the truth they had to dodge the issue, since they had refused to believe John (cf. Lu. 20:5-7), and he testified of Jesus. In our case, this test helps one to properly weigh the evidence by considering its source: Was it from heaven, or of men? Keep this in mind as you weigh the words of scripture herein. Many don’t take time to consider the source, but this simple test can help to keep us focused on the fact God’s word is true and it is worthy of our respect. We will revisit this test later and at that time we will consider how the truth is often used by God to prove what is in the heart of man. Those who love God will accept the authority of God’s word on issues where its truth challenges their belief.
The Authority of God’s Word
Jesus said, “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (Fourth gospel 8:47). So, the words of scripture should be enough to move us to stand with the truth. When the word of God offers to correct us, we ought to be humble enough to admit that we were wrong, but clearly not all will do so. Proverbs 1:29-30 tells of those who, “hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof” and some people still respond in this way to God’s word today. Sadly, the reaction to truth in our day is far too often precisely like the response the Lord described in Jeremiah 19:15, “they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.”
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Ps. 118:8). So, unlike those who try to defend the John idea by urging people to rely on non-Bible sources, this work will quote the Bible only. That way the authority of God’s word can provide the boldness needed to stand corrected and witness to the truth, even in the face of ridicule from those who are wedded to tradition and don’t want to admit that their trust in non-Bible sources was misplaced.
“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Pr. 29:25).
- A Better Bible Study Method conference presentation
- Free Bible study eBook versions