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The Beloved Disciple as an Elite Judean Follower

Several scholars have identified the beloved disciple as an upper-class Judean disciple who was not a member of the “twelve” apostles (see the Twelve in John 6:67, 70, 71; 20:24). Off the top of my head, this includes J. N. Sanders, Pierson Parker, Raymond Brown, Rudolf Schnackenburg, Oscar Cullmann, G. R. Beasley Murray, Ben Witherington III, Martin Hengel, Kevin Quast, Joseph Grassi, R. Alan Culpepper, Adele Reinhartz, Richard Bauckham, Jonathan Bernier, and Marianne Meye Thompson. Some prefer to identify this Judean disciple with a named figure like John the Elder (Hengel, Bauckham, Thompson), John Mark (Sanders, Parker), or Lazarus (Witherington III). Others are not as confident that we can peer behind the veil of anonymity. Here is some evidence that the beloved disciple was an elite Judean figure:

  • The Gospel’s detailed knowledge of the topography of Judea and concentration on Jesus’ ministry in the south rather than in Galilee.
  • The beloved disciple explicitly appears in scenes in Jerusalem (John 13:23-25; 19:25-27, 35; 20:2-10; perhaps 18:15-16). The only exceptions are John 21:7, 20-24 and, if the anonymous person in the first pair of followers called by Jesus is the beloved disciple, John 1:35-40 as well.
  • The “other disciple” (=beloved disciple?) seems to have a close relationship with the high priest in order to get Peter into the courtyard (18:15-16) and only Peter is identified as a Galilean in the story of the denials.
  • The beloved disciple seems to have a house in or near Jerusalem and takes Jesus’ mother into his home (19:25-27).
  • One theory for why the beloved disciple was kept anonymous is that it was well-known that this individual (=the founder of the “community” behind the Fourth Gospel and 1, 2 and 3 John?) was not a renowned figure such as an apostle of Jesus. Instead, the Gospel emphasizes the beloved disciple’s credentials and that his spiritual insight surpassed Peter, the chief spokesperson of the Twelve and representative of apostolic Christians, while John’s epilogue may have been added to affirm the valuable ministries of both the beloved disciple and Peter.
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