< The Beloved Disciple (Eller)

Study One: The Beloved Disciple's Name and Story

Jesus' Disciples: A Comparative Analysis

The Gospel according to Mark

We now begin our study proper by analyzing Mark's Gospel to discover just how he treats the Galilean Twelve and the individual disciples who make up that group. The Pauline letters and Acts make it clear that the young man John Mark was a personal acquaintance of the Apostle Peter and might well have gotten most of his information directly from him. Also, Mark wrote his Gospel as much as twenty years ahead of the other Gospel writers.

At ten different points in his Gospel, Mark refers to the disciple group as "the twelve." Matthew and Luke duplicate almost all the scenes in which these references occur. There are a few exceptions: neither Matthew nor Luke recounts Jesus' return to Bethany following the triumphal entry (whereas Mark records the event and mentions "the twelve"), and Luke's account of the Last Supper does not have Jesus identify his betrayer by dipping a sop. Mark, Matthew, and the Fourth Gospel all record the incident, but Mark is the only writer who identifies the betrayer as "one of the twelve."

In eight instances, then, Mark, Matthew, and Luke have the scenes in close parallel. In five of these instances, both Matthew and Luke follow Mark in speaking of "the twelve," yet in the three other instances, one or both of them choose the more general wording of "disciples" or "apostles" over the specific "the twelve." Clearly, neither Matthew nor Luke is as happy the term "the twelve" as Mark is.

We now move from the Twelve as a group to a consideration of the constituent individuals.


1. Simon Peter

Peter is clearly the head (and perhaps something of a symbol) of the Twelve. But Mark's personal friendship with him may be another reason why Mark concentrates on Peter, casting him in fifteen different scenes. Both Matthew and Luke duplicate almost all these--the exceptions being that Matthew omits the scene of Simon and those with him seeking out Jesus in "a lonely place," and Luke omits the scene about the barren fig tree. The Fourth Gospel, on the other hand, has only one of the same "Peter scenes" that Mark does (and greatly modifies the role of Peter within it).

Mark's fifteen Peter scenes are as follows (Matthew and Luke duplicate these unless otherwise noted):

  1. Mk. 1:16-20: Peter (with three others) is called from fishing on the Sea of Galilee to become a disciple. Luke drops Andrew from the group. The Fourth Gospel has no similar scene, but presents Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist who converts to Jesus and then recruits his brother Peter.
  2. Mk. 1:29-31: Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law; Peter, Andrew, James, and John are present. Both Matthew and Luke drop any mention of Andrew, James, and John.
  3. Mk. 1:36: Simon and those with him seek out Jesus in a lonely place. Luke drops the reference to Simon, and Matthew doesn't use the incident at all.
  4. Mk. 3:13-19: The Twelve are appointed and listed by name, with Peter at the head. There are only minor variations of the listing in Matthew and Luke; the Fourth Gospel has no comparable scene and never attempts anything like a list.
  5. Mk. 5:21-24: Jesus heals Jairus's daughter; Peter, James, and John are present. Luke follows Mark in his recounting, but Matthew drops the names of all three disciples.
  6. Mk. 8:27-33: Peter makes his great confession. The scene names no other disciples.
  7. Mk. 9:2-13: At the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter is prominent, but James and John are also present.
  8. Mk. 10:28-31: "We have left everything...." All three Synoptics attribute the statement to Peter.
  9. Mk. 11:20-26: Peter sees the withered fig tree. Only Mark names Peter. Matthew relates the incident without naming Peter, and Luke doesn't even pick up the incident.
  10. Mk. 13:3-37: For the conversation regarding the signs of the end. Mark has present not only Peter but also James, John, and Andrew. Both Matthew and Luke record the scene but do not name any disciples at all, not even Peter.
  11. Mk. 14:12-25: Interestingly enough, neither Mark's account of the Last Supper nor the accounts in the other Synoptics name any of the disciples (although Matthew editorially inserts the name "Judas" at one point).
  12. Mk. 14:26-31: Peter vows that he will not deny Jesus. All Synoptics name Peter here.
  13. Mk. 14:32-42: At Gethsemane, Mark names Peter, James, and John as present. For some reason, Matthew changes the reading to "the two sons of Zebedee" rather than naming John. And Luke writes the scene without naming the disciples at all.
  14. Mk. 14:53-72: Peter is in the courtyard of the high priest. Mark has Peter play this scene solo, and both Matthew and follow suit. The Fourth Gospel has Peter accompanying "another disciple." In the courtyard, Peter denies Jesus. All the Gospels name Peter as the denier.
  15. Mk. 16:1-8: The young man (angel) at the tomb instructs the women to "go, tell his disciples and Peter." Only Mark has this special naming of Peter. Matthew has only "go ... tell his disciples." Luke doesn't even have the instruction, but has the women, on their own, telling "the eleven." And the Fourth Gospel is the only one having Peter (or any male disciples) actually at the tomb.

2. James the Son of Zebedee

Mark places James in a total of eight scenes. However, in six of he does nothing but tag along with Peter. And less frequently is he even a tag-along figure in Matthew and Luke. In the appointing and listing of the Twelve, of course, James is mentioned in all the Synoptics. But both Matthew and Luke drop Mark's reference to James and John in their recounting of Jesus' healing of Peter's mother-in-law and in their account conversation about the signs of the end. Matthew drops Mark's reference to the two in his retelling of the Gethsemane event. Clearly, neither Matthew nor Luke is nearly as committed to the "Peter, James, and John" trio as Mark is.

In the remaining two scenes in which Mark mentions James (with John), James does do more than tag along with Peter:

  1. Mk. 1:19-20: Jesus calls James and John from being fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Matthew follows Mark; Luke does too (but also inserts a quite different scene).

  2. Mk. 10:35-45: In the dispute about greatness, Mark identifies "James and John, the sons of Zebedee," as the disputants. Matthew calls them "the sons of Zebedee" without naming them. Luke abbreviates the scene and does not name any particular disciples as being responsible for the dispute.

3. John the Son of Zebedee

With but one exception, Mark treats James and John in tandem--with Matthew and Luke also mentioning or dropping the brothers as a pair. Thus, the preceding analysis of James also holds precisely for John. The one exception is Mk. 9:38-41: "We saw a man casting out demons." Mark has John speak these words, and Luke follows suit. Matthew doesn’t even pick up the incident.

4. Andrew

Andrew is mentioned only in tandem with his brother Peter or along with Peter, James, and John. He is, of course, in the listing of the Twelve. In Mark's account, he along with his brother Peter is called from fishing to discipleship--though not in Luke's version of the same. Matthew drops Mark's reference to Andrew, as well as to James and John, in his version of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. In their recounting of the conversation about the signs of the end, both Matthew and Luke drop all four names that Mark mentions--Peter, James, John, and Andrew.

5. Philip
6. Bartholomew
7. Matthew
8. Thomas
9. James the Son of Alphaeus
10. Thaddeus
11. Simon the Cananaean

Mark names apostles 5-11 only in his apostolic list and nowhere else. The one possible exception (a very problematic case) is whether the woman Mark identifies at the cross as "Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses" (Mk. 15:40) and the tomb as "Mary the mother of Joses" (Mk. 15:47) and "Mary the mother of James" (Mk. 16:1) is to be thought of as the mother of James the son of Alphaeus.

12. Judas Iscariot

Judas, of course, rates the attention he gets by being the betrayer. Yet, in Mark, that actually comes to very little.

  1. Mk. 3:13-19: In the apostolic list, of course, Judas is last, and even here he is identified as the betrayer. Both Matthew and Luke follow Mark in this.
  2. Mk. 14:10-11: Judas goes to the chief priests to betray Jesus. Mark here calls them "one of the twelve," and both Matthew and Luke follow his lead.
  3. Mk. 14:43-46: Judas leads the authorities to Jesus in Gethsemane. Mark again specifies him as "one of the twelve"--and again both Matthew and Luke follow suit.


Mark, in comparison with the other evangelists, shows a particular interest in specifying "the twelve" as a select and exclusive group of "disciples." Clearly, he sees Peter as the head--with James and John (and sometimes Andrew) ranking just below Peter. However, he seldom uses these three in the action or tells us much about them. And apparently he has neither information about nor interest in the other eight.

Even when following Mark as their source, Matthew and Luke regularly rewrite his material in a way that plays down Mark's emphasis upon the Twelve as a group and his singling out of particular disciples by name.

The Gospel according to Matthew

We have seen that Matthew eliminates a number of the references to "the twelve" that he found in Mark. And apart from those he does retain, Matthew (even with all his new material) adds only one new occurrence of his own--an editorial note that, after Jesus commissioned the disciples, "these twelve [he] sent out" (Mt. 10:5). Compared with Mark, Matthew clearly plays down the special status of the Twelve.

1. Simon Peter

Matthew reduces Mark's "Peter scenes" from fifteen to ten by omitting one scene and by writing Peter out of four others. Though almost half of Matthew's Gospel comes from sources other than Mark, the evangelist has but very little Peter material that is not Markan in origin-and probably all of that is from his own special sources rather than from Q. Apparently Mark was the only one of Matthew's sources that was much interested in Peter. Matthew gives us only two new Peter scenes, but he does add a reference to Peter in three other scenes:

  1. Mt. 14:28-31: In the midst of Mark's non-Peter scene of Jesus walking on the water, Matthew introduces the unique account of Peter's attempt to walk on the water.
  2. Mt. 17:24-27: Matthew also introduces the unique account of Jesus' talk with Peter about paying the tax.
  3. Mt. 16:17-18: This is not a new scene, but Matthew does add a unique statement in the midst of a Markan scene. Matthew (and only Matthew) has Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church," and so on. This, of course, is Scripture's most powerful affirmation of Peter's precedence; it is strange that Mark (the preeminent "Peter" Gospel) does not have it.
  4. Mt. 5:14-15: The parable of the blind guides could be from Q, since Luke has it as well as Matthew. Yet only Matthew has Peter asking Jesus to explain.
  5. Mt. 8:21-22: Jesus' statement about forgiving seventy times could also come from Q; Luke has at least something of a parallel. But again, only Matthew has Peter asking how many times we should forgive.

2 – 12.
The Rest of the Twelve

Matthew also differs from Mark in his treatment of the disciples other than Peter. Where Mark has Andrew in four scenes, Matthew writes him out of two of those--leaving him only in the apostolic list and in the scene in which he and his brother are called to discipleship. Mark has James and John in eight scenes and John solo in one more. Matthew does not pick up the solo scene and writes James and John out of three more, reducing their role by half. Further, regarding these eleven, Further, regarding these eleven, Matthew (out of his mass of non-Markan material) finds virtually nothing new. There are two exceptions:

  1. Mt. 10:3: In his version of Mark's apostolic list, Matthew adds the words "the tax collector" following the name "Matthew." Also in Mt. 9:9, where he is following Mark's wording about "Levi of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office" (and regarding which Luke simply drops the words "son of Alphaeus"), Mathew changes it to read "Matthew sitting at the tax office." Every effort at correlation results in confusion, because the apostolic lists of all three Synoptics include both the names "Matthew" and "James the son of Alphaeus" but do not include the name "Levi" or designate anyone other than James as a "son of Alphaeus." Mark and Luke say that the tax collector was named do not so much as hint that he was one of the Twelve; Matthew says that the tax collector was named "Matthew" and that he definitely was one of the Twelve.
  2. Mt. 27:3-10: Here Matthew gives us a unique account of the death of Judas Iscariot that must come from his special sources. (Luke gives us a quite different account in the first chapter of Acts.)


Neither Matthew nor his non-Markan sources must have had any great interest in the Twelve. It is remarkable that so much tradition produces so little new information (i.e., so little more than Mark had provided) regarding them.

The Gospel according to Luke

As with the Gospel of Matthew, as much as half of Luke's material comes from non-Markan sources. We already have seen that Luke eliminated a number of Mark's references to the Twelve. And we now discover that, from the non-Markan half of his total material, he adds virtually no further references to them:

  1. Lk. 8:1-3: In a Markan passage about Jesus pursuing his ministry, Luke introduces a unique sentence: "And the twelve were with him, and also some women" (whom he proceeds to name).
  2. Lk. 9:12: At one point in his account of the feeding of the five thousand, Mark has "disciples." Matthew follows that phrasing, but Luke changes it to "the twelve."

1. Simon Peter

Luke chose not to pick up one of Mark's fifteen "Peter scenes," and he wrote Peter out of three of the others. And now, out of his mass of non-Markan material, Luke comes up with just one new "Peter scene," which he uses to greatly modify one of Mark's. In Lk. 5:1-11, where Mark has Jesus simply calling Peter and Andrew from their fishing, Luke has a unique and much more elaborate account. Jesus comes across two fishing boats on the seashore. He then takes Simon’s to use as a pulpit. Simon has just fished all night but caught nothing. Jesus sends him out again, and Simon makes a tremendous catch—which becomes Peter’s conversion experience. "James and John, sons of Zebedee" are named as Peter’s partners, but Luke fails to mention Andrew, Peter’s own brother.

The obvious parallel between the "big catch" part of Luke’s story and the "big catch" part of the Fourth Gospel’s totally different story is striking.

Although the preceding is the only new "Peter scene" that Luke adds, he does show a minor tendency that likely is of only editorial rather than theological significance. Every once in a while he makes a reference to Peter where his sources had not:

  1. Lk. 8:45: In the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage, Mark had "the disciples" make an observation; Luke has "Peter" make it.
  2. Lk. 9:32: In using the Markan account of the Transfiguration (which, of course, already has a "Peter Scene") Luke simply inserts an additional, purely editorial naming of Peter.
  3. Lk. 12:41: Presumably drawing on Q, Matthew and Luke recount the parable of breaking into a house. Luke interjects a unique sentence: "Peter said1, 'Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?'" Luke immediately returns to a recounting closely paralleling Matthew's, thus leaving Jesus to not so much as recognize the question--though my hunch is that Luke intends the implied answer to be "for all."
  4. Lk. 22:8: When the disciples are preparing for the Last Supper, Luke inserts "Peter and John" where neither Mark nor Matthew names anyone.
  5. Lk. 22:61: Into Mark's obviously Petrine scene of Peter's denial, Luke makes this editorial insertion: "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter."

All these namings of Peter probably are to be seen as a literary "polishing of the text" rather than as signifying anything about Luke's view of Peter.

2. Andrew

Luke reduces references to Andrew to the absolute minimum: he names Andrew only in the apostolic list. Mark has him in four scenes. In failing to name him in his "call of the fishermen," Luke robs Andrew of one of those scenes and then writes him out of two others--apparently without finding anything more about Andrew in his non-Markan sources.

2. James
3. John

Mark has James and John in eight scenes and John solo in a ninth. Luke writes them out of four of these scenes. One of the remaining scenes he replaces with his own unique version of "the calling of the fishermen," retaining James and John while dropping Andrew. But then, out of his own special material, Luke presents one new "James and John" scene--namely, the one in which the brothers want to call down fire on the unbelieving Samaritans (9:51-56).

5 – 11.

Regarding those whom Mark names only in his apostolic list, Luke finds nothing more to add. He does change the names that Mark and Matthew give to No.10 and No.11. It seems safe to assume that Luke's "Simon called the Zealot" is simply a variant for the Mark-Matthew "Simon the Cananaean." Simple elimination, then, would indicate that Luke's "Judas the son of James" must be the same person as the Mark-Matthew "Thaddaeus" except that we do not know why Luke decided to make a change (perhaps to correct what he considered an error?). Interestingly enough, the Fourth Gospel (the one that doesn't even have an apostolic list) is the only one to agree with Luke that the Twelve included a "Judas" other than the one known as "Iscariot."

12. Judas Iscariot

Luke tells us little more about Judas than he got from Mark. Like Mark, he does not name Judas even in the Last Supper scene. Mark has no account of Judas's death. Matthew offers one. And Luke offers a quite different one--though in Acts rather than in his Gospel.


Like Matthew, Luke worked to cut back Mark's emphasis upon the Twelve, the role of Peter, and the second-level ranking of James, John, and sometimes Andrew. Even more striking is the fact that in his non-Markan sources Luke found even less new tradition about the disciples than Matthew did. It is clear that the Synoptic "disciple tradition" is attributable almost wholly to Mark and that Matthew and Luke were not particularly inclined to stress it.

We clearly wish we could know what was in the mind of Matthew and Luke at this point. Was it their assumption that sources (his data for writing) were not detailed enough to be precise about just who among the disciples was present or absent on any given occasion? And did they take this to mean, then, that singling out disciples was simply a matter of literary preference? Did Mark like the idea of populating his scenes with named disciples, while both Matthew and Luke preferred the simpler and more general method of naming no more characters than necessary? Or was it that Matthew and Luke, even if they did consider Mark's information accurate, did not feel themselves bound to preserve it at every point? Whatever the case, they obviously did not see Mark's authority as "an inspirred writer" as extending to matters of inconsequential detail.

The Fourth Gospel (commonly known as John)

The most notable finding of this study will he how different the Fourth Gospel is from the Synoptics; we will discover but little actual connection or parallel between the two lines of tradition. So we can begin by noting that the Fourth Gospel's explicit acknowledgment of a special disciple-group known as "the twelve" is confined essentially to a single passage, which very passage also pointedly uses the term "disciples" to apply to more than just "the twelve":

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answer him," Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil." He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. [Of course, wherever Scripture quotations include "the italics of emphasis," those are the work of no one other than Vernard Eller. All the first-century writers could do was push harder with their pens.] (Jn. 6:66-71)

It can hardly be said that this is a recognition of any special virtue or authority in the Twelve, or even a compliment to them, for that matter--"and one of you is a devil."

The Fourth Gospel uses the term "the twelve" one other time--in Jn. 20:24. There, after introducing Thomas into the action (something the Synoptics never do), it identifies Thomas as "one of the twelve."

The Synoptics use the term "disciples" almost exclusively in reference to the Twelve. (Luke 6:17 is a problematic verse in which the evangelist may be referring to "a great crowd of his disciples," and Matthew 28:19 does speak of making disciples of all nations.) But the Fourth Gospel uses the term quite differently--much more flexibly, openly, and inclusively:

  1. In most cases, the Fourth Gospel clearly does intend the special group--though, as we have seen, it is very shy about calling it "the twelve."

  2. However, there are any number of instances where that exclusive reference dare not be taken for granted. We need to guard against taking ideas from the Synoptics and simply assuming that they are those of the Fourth Gospel as well. We must leave the Beloved Disciple free to tell his story his way. And his way is to play down the Galilean Twelve.

    He recounts the calling--or appointment--of only the following:

    1. an unnamed disciple who is not necessarily one of the Twelve,
    2. Andrew,
    3. Peter
    4. Philip,
    5. Nathanael, who is not necessarily one of the Twelve. In the course of this book he further names and introduces into the action
    6. Thomas,
    7. "Judas (not Iscariot)," and
    8. Judas Iscariot.
    Most significant, nowhere in the book does he so much as name "James and John"; in a list in Jn. 21:2, he refers to "the sons of Zebedee" as being present (though not as saying or doing anything). Since he does not use the names "James and John" in this reference, we can be certain the Beloved Disciple knows the names of only six of the twelve disciples. And apart from the fact that he names Peter as the leader and Judas as the betrayer, he apportions individual prominence in a way entirely different from that of the Synoptic writers. Is it credible that it could be Peter's first lieutenant, John the son of Zebedee, who has given us a Fourth Gospel portrayal of the Twelve that is so completely at odds with Peter's own picture--assuming that that is what Mark's Gospel preserves for us?
  3. Finally, there are a number of references in which it is clear that the Beloved Disciple is using "disciples" in a broad, non-exclusive sense:
    1. Jn. 4:1: "Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John [the Baptist]."

    2. Jn. 6:60, 66: The first of the two verses says that many of Jesus' disciples were having trouble with his teachings, and the says that many of these disciples "drew back."

    3. Jn. 7:3: This reference will he of utmost importance regarding the Beloved Disciple himself. Jesus' brothers suggest to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing." There is a strong implication that--apart from the Galilean Twelve--there are disciples in Jerusalem would like the Master to do more of his work among them. The existence of a second, Jerusalem-based disciple group will be fundamental to our understanding of the Fourth Gospel--and here we are as much as told that such a group did indeed exist.

      In the next three instances Jesus (in his own teaching) speaks of "disciples" in a way that must go far beyond the Twelve. (With the exception of Mt. 28:19, the "Synoptic Jesus" never speaks so.)

    4. Jn. 8:31: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples."
    5. Jn. 13:35: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples."
    6. Jn. 15:8: "...bear much fruit, and become my disciples."
    7. Jn. 19:38: In this last example, the Beloved Disciple explicitly names as "a disciple of Jesus" Joseph of Arimathea, a Jerusalemite who obviously is not one of the Twelve--though Mark also identifies Joseph this way. Since the Beloved Disciple mentions Nicodemus in the following verse, he may intend that the same appellation apply to him also.


Obviously, the Beloved Disciple has no intention of denying the existence of the Galilean Twelve. He does, however, play down the centrality and exclusivity of that group and work at making "disciples of Jesus" more inclusive both in numbers and in geographical spread.

1. Simon Peter

The Fourth Gospel gives us nine different "Peter scenes." At first blush, this would appear not to compare too badly with the Synoptic high of Mark's fifteen scenes. However, closer examination shows that the Fourth Gospel treats Peter in an entirely different manner. For one thing, only one of the "Peter scenes" comes out of Jesus' Galilean ministry, the Fourth Gospel being very strongly oriented toward Jerusalem. What this means is that, in the Fourth Gospel, Peter does not get any of the big Synoptic scenes that establish his priority and significance as leader of the Twelve. The Fourth Gospel does not include the following:

  1. either the Markan or the special Lukan version of Peter's being the first disciple called,
  2. the healing of Peter's mother-in-law,
  3. Peter's witnessing the Jairus's daughter,
  4. Peter's attempt at walking on the water,
  5. Peter's great confession,
  6. Peter's saying, "We have left everything to follow you," or
  7. Peter's witnessing the Transfiguration.

    In six of Peter's nine scenes in the Fourth Gospel, another, unnamed disciple (presumably the Beloved Disciple through-out) is present and manages to act in such a way as to outscore Peter. In addition, in none of his scenes does Peter come off looking particularly good. It cannot be said that the Fourth Gospel is out to put Peter down, though it is apparent that the effort is being made to establish the Beloved Disciple as having every bit as much claim to prominence as Peter.

    1. Jn. 1:35-44: This scene accompanies what would have been Jesus' baptism (if the Fourth Gospel had been specific about that) and thus is set near Jerusalem. Two of John the Baptist's followers--Andrew and an unnamed companion--convert to Jesus. Andrew then enlists his brother Peter. Here Jesus does name Peter in a way that clearly grants him headship. However, there is no denying that Andrew and his companion were disciples before him and that Peter is actually a second-generation disciple. This picture, of course, is very different from the Galilean version of either the Mark-Matthew treatment or the special Luke treatment.
    2. Jn. 6:66-71: This is the Fourth Gospel's one "Peter scene" out of Jesus' Galilean ministry. It is, of course, Peter who says, "Lord, to whom can we go?" and proceeds to confess Jesus. Some harmonizers would make this scene a version of what the Synoptics present as Peter's "great confession," yet the text itself hardly supports that equivalence.
    3. Jn. 13:1-30: This passage describes the Last Supper in the upper room. From here on, the setting, of course, is Jerusalem. Forth Gospel account—with the footwashing but no bread and cup--is quite different from those of the Synoptics, which speak of the bread and cup but not the footwashing. Matthew does give Judas Iscariot a line identifying him as the betrayer (clearly an insertion into the Markan account); otherwise, none of the Synoptics name any particular disciples or give them particular parts in the action.
    4. However, the Fourth Gospel gives roles to Peter (an uncomplimentary one in the footwashing), Judas, and the Beloved Disciple. In what has to be a deliberate move, the Beloved Disciple is placed closer to Jesus (lying at his breast) in such a way that Peter has to use the Beloved Disciple as an intermediary in questioning Jesus about the betrayer. Some commentators argue that the Beloved Disciple has to be one of the Twelve, because only the Twelve were present in the upper room. Yet this is to take information from the Synoptics and impose it on the Fourth Gospel--where nothing is said that would limit the upper-room attendance one way or another.
    5. Jn. 13:36-38: Jesus here foretells that Peter will deny him--clearly an uncomplimentary "Peter scene." The Fourth Gospel sets this incident in the upper room, although as part of Jesus' discourse rather than part of the action sequence preceding it. The Synoptics, on the other hand, place their parallel at the Mount of Olives, following the Last Supper.
    6. Jn. 18:1-11: This is the scene of Jesus' arrest in the garden. The Synoptic parallels name only Judas in this scene. All four Gospels agree that somebody cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Yet only the Fourth tells us that the swordsman was Peter--another uncomplimentary "Peter scene."
    7. Jn. 18:12-27: Here Peter denies Jesus in the high priest's courtyard. The Synoptics have Peter play this scene solo. The Fourth Gospel has another disciple there with him--and holding a conspicuous advantage: "Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest [presumably because he was an upper-class Jerusalemite], he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.
    Once in, of course, Peter denies Jesus, although it is not so much as hinted that the other disciple did the same--a very uncomplimentary "Peter scene." (And are not the Jerusalem of the Beloved Disciple in effect here claiming that "their boy," the other disciple, is the one eyewitness source regarding the trial of Jesus?) Finally, in Jn. 18:26, we are subtly that Peter was indeed the ear-slasher.
  8. Jn. 9:25-27: This can hardly be called a "Peter scene" in that Peter isn't even present--yet that maybe the very point of the account. (The three Synoptics are in full agreement that no representatives of the Galilean Twelve were present in any of the action from Peter's denying of Jesus until, following the episode at the tomb, the women simply reported to the Twelve that Jesus was gone.) Yet, in the Fourth Gospel, present at the cross are the Beloved Disciple and some women--presumably from the Jerusalem group--but no Peter. Jn. 19:35 pushes the point of Peter's absence, the writer there specifying that "He who saw this [the Beloved Disciple, obviously, and none of the Galilean Twelve] has testified ..., and he knows that he tells the truth." None of the Synoptics is prepared even to hint that the Galilean Twelve had representatives present (and conversely, if the Beloved Disciple were actually John bar Zebedee, the Synoptics would have been fully justified in making such a claim and would surely have taken the opportunity).

    Moreover, in the scene, the dying Jesus names the Beloved Disciple as son of his mother. Commentators agree that there are logical overtones here going quite beyond the historical fact of what Jesus did regarding the care of his mother. "The mother" is symbolic of "the church," and to be designated her "son" is to be recognized and blessed as "true Christian offspring." Accordingly, this account says not necessarily that the Galilean group is outside that blessing but that Jesus gave it more pointedly and specifically to the Beloved Disciple and his Jerusalem group. In any case, Peter isn't anywhere around this special endorsement.
  9. Jn. 20:1-10: It is only the Fourth Gospel (with some minor variant readings of Luke) that portrays Peter coming to the tomb Easter morning. (Did you know this before?) That variant reading of Luke has Peter playing the scene solo. The Fourth Gospel plays it by the now-familiar pattern of competition. (The Fourth Gospel gives us some scenes referring to "another disciple" and some referring to "the disciple whom Jesus loved." This scene uses both terms together, as synonyms--an important clue that we are talking about one and the same person either way.)

    Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb. "So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved< [Galilee and Jerusalem are given parity], and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.' Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first." Peter is given the precedence of entering the tomb first, but the Beloved Disciple must be recognized as at least his equal as a witness of the Resurrection. (Question: Why would the Gospel of Mark, preserving the tradition of Peter, fail to place Peter at the tomb as a witness of the Resurrection, when the Fourth Gospel does have him there?)
  10. Jn. 21:1-14: The risen Lord appears on the seashore. This chapter (a special appendix, as signaled by Jn. 20:30) is the most crucial of the Fourth Gospel's "Peter scenes" and is unique to this Gospel (though we have seen that Luke has what sounds very much like part of it in his special version of the calling the fishermen to be disciples). The Beloved Disciple is once more paired with (or against) Peter. This is the one instance in which the Beloved Disciple is found in Galilee rather than Jerusalem. Yet, clearly, it is also the very special case of this disciple (as an equal of Peter) having his own particular apostolate recognized by the risen Lord. I find this to be a truer way of reading this passage, rather than making any sort of effort to identify the Beloved Disciple with the Galilean Twelve.

    Seven disciples are listed as present--though whether seven is meant as a significant number is impossible to say. Simon Peter properly heads the list as being the leader of the Twelve. Next comes Thomas, whom the Synoptics know only as a name on their apostolic lists but who, in the Fourth Gospel, has just been given a prominent Resurrection role. Third is Nathanael; he is known (at least by this name) and given a role only in this Gospel--and we therefore cannot be certain that he is one of the Galilean Twelve. James and John are never named nor given roles in this Gospel, and the present mention of "the sons of Zebidee"--fourth and fifth on the list--is their one and only appearance. Plainly, the Fourth Gospel does not recognize them, along with Peter, as constituting the triumvirate that the Markan tradition presents. Numbers six and seven on this list are "two others of his disciples." The listing clearly is Fourth Gospel rather than Synoptic, so there is no reason to assume that the evangelist means to be confining it to the Twelve. The Beloved Disciple himself turns out to be in the group, and (because he regularly is anonymous) it is much likely that he is meant to be included in the final "two others of his disciples" than to be identified as any one of the five who are named.

    In the action of the scene itself, it is Peter who initiates and the fishing trip, but it is "that disciple whom Jesus loved" who first perceives the truth and thus, regarding the stranger on the seashore, cues Peter that "It is the Lord!" So, in this and other scenes without exception, it is the Beloved Disciple who has an edge on Peter rather than vice versa.
  11. Jn. 21:15-24: This is the conversation that takes place after Jesus appears on the seashore. Although the appearance and the conversation occur in unbroken sequence, verse 14 indicates that the two events are to be treated as separate scenes. The conversation between Jesus and Peter (vv. 15-19) gives complete honor to that disciple as the one whose denial has given, whose love for Jesus is full and sincere, and who now carries particular responsibility in "feeding my sheep."

    But when, in verse 21, Peter turns to ask, "Lord, what about [the Beloved Disciple]?" Jesus responds, in effect, that nothing he has ever said to Peter or the Galilean Twelve gives that group any priority or status over the Beloved Disciple and his Jerusalem following: "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" This, surely, is the main thrust of the passage. Later, however, we will see that the rumor about the Beloved Disciple's not dying before the return of Jesus constitutes perhaps our very best clue as to who he is.

    For present purposes, note particularly that it is from this dialogue that verse 24 immediately proceeds: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true." The whole of the Fourth Gospel's authority and truth hangs upon the Beloved Disciple's having dominical credentials just as good as those of Peter himself. If the Gospel of Mark can claim Peter, the Fourth Gospel can just as truly claim the Beloved Disciple.

2. Andrew
3. Philip

We recall that, in the Synoptics, Andrew gets no action of his own but is simply the tag-along brother of Peter. Mark notices him the most often, though only as the sometimes fourth after Peter, James, and John. Matthew drops Andrew from most of those scenes, and Luke compounds the injury by neglecting to mention him even in "the call of the fishermen"--leaving him only in the apostolic list.

In the Fourth Gospel, things are very different. It is James and John who get dropped. Andrew becomes a person in his own right (even named as the very first person to become a disciple of Jesus) and is regularly paired with Philip. He never is presented as a tag-along of brother Peter. Could it be that the Fourth Gospel stresses "Andrew and Philip" as a deliberate rebuttal to the Galilean tradition of "James and John"? Who can say? In any case, it is instructive to look at the Fourth Gospel references to Andrew and Philip.

  1. Jn. 1:35-51: We have seen that the Fourth Gospel account of Jesus' calling of his first disciples is totally different from that of the Synoptics. The locale is with John the Baptist near Jerusalem, rather than in Galilee. And the first people called are not four Galilean fishermen but two of John the Baptist's disciples who convert to Jesus. One of these (we are told) is Andrew, the brother of Peter, who comes from Bethsaida on the Galilee. We will argue that the other, who is unnamed, is the Jerusalem area. Thus, Galilee and Jerusalem are given parity.

    Andrew subsequently enlists his brother Peter--who, though portrayed as anything but a tag-along, undeniably does come into discipleship after Andrew and the other disciple are already there. Even so, Jesus clearly singles out Peter by naming "the Rock."

    In this account, Jesus then goes to Galilee and calls Philip (who in the Synoptics is only a name on the apostolic list), who recruits Nathanael (who, at least by that name, isn't even to the Synoptic writers). It would seem that the Fourth Gosple is out to challenge the Synoptic "pecking order"--giving Jerusalem parity with Galilee, making Andrew a disciple in his own right, and perhaps even proposing "Andrew and Philip" in place of "James and John."
  2. Jn. 6:1-14: The feeding of the five thousand is one of the few Galilean scenes that the Fourth Gospel shares with the Synoptics. In this scene, none of the Synoptics name any particular disciples. The Fourth Gospel, however, gives speaking roles to Andrew and Philip (and not to any "Peter" or to any "James and John" with him).
  3. Jn. 12:20-22: In a unique Fourth Gospel discourse scene that is most crucially placed in the Passion sequence (just following the raising of Lazarus, Mary's anointing of Jesus, and the triumphal entry, and just before the Last Supper), it is Philip and Andrew who arrange for the "Greeks" to see Jesus. Both "Philip" and "Andrew" are, of course, Greek names. It be that the Beloved Disciple wants to argue that his Jerusalem tradition has been more open to outsiders than the of the Galilean Twelve has been. But again, it is distinctly not Peter, James, and John who take the lead.
  4. Jn. 14:8-11 & 22: In its unique upper-room discourse, the Fourth Gospel gives lines first to Thomas, then immediately to Philip (no Andrew with him this time), and later to Judas (not "Iscariot")--all three being disciples who, in the Synoptics, appear only on the apostolic lists.
  5. Jn. 21:1-2: It should be noted that Andrew and Philip do not—either as a pair or as individuals--make the list of those who met the risen Lord on the seashore. This might signify nothing more than that the Writer knew they had not actually been there. (Or it could be that the "two others of his disciples" are Andrew and the Beloved Disciple--the very first "disciple pair," here together again with Jesus at the very end.)

4. Thomas the Twin

The Synoptics know this disciple only as a name on the apostolic list and do not tell us that he was called "the Twin." The Fourth Gospel, however, always identifies him as "the Twin"--and puts him in four scenes, at least one of which is very significant:

  1. Jn. 11:16: Upon hearing of the death of Lazarus and of Jesus' decision to go to Jerusalem, it is Thomas who in effect says to the other disciples, "Let's go with him--even if it means our deaths."
  2. Jn. 14:5: In the upper-room discourse (referred to in the preceding section), Thomas speaks to Jesus just before Philip does.
  3. Jn. 20:24-29: In a major scene unique to this Gospel, it is Thomas who expresses doubt regarding the resurrection of Jesus and who thus becomes the most directly involved eyewitness of Christ's personal disclosure of proof of that resurrection. Before the addition of the Chapter 21 appendix, Thomas' confession of faith--not Peter's nor the Beloved Disciple's--stood as the climax and consummation of the Gospel.
  4. Jn. 21:1-2: Finally, in the list of the seven disciples on the seashore, Thomas is included as one of the three "special Fourth Gospel disciples": Thomas, Nathanael, and the Beloved Disciple.

5. Nathanael

In Jn. 1:43-51, Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus--who procedes to honor him as "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile" who will see "heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." And in his turn, it is Nathanael's privilege to make the first apostolic confession of faith (way ahead of Peter in the Synoptics). Otherwise, Nathanael reappears only in the final chapter, listed among the witnesses on the seashore. (This treatment--mentioning him in last chapter after featuring him in the first--may or may not be a deliberate closing of the circle.) Nathanael may not get much of a notice, but it is a whole lot more than the Synoptics give their Bartholomew--and there is no real evidence that he is the same person as Nathanael.

6. Judas (not Iscariot) All the Fourth Gospel gives this man is the speaking of one line during Jesus' Last Supper discourse (Jn. 14:22). Yet in the Synoptics he didn't get even that much, and even his name was on only one of the three apostolic lists (Luke's).
7. Judas Iscariot As is the case with the Synoptics, the Fourth Gospel knows Judas Iscariot almost exclusively as the betrayer. The difference between the Synoptic and the Fourth Gospel treatment of him may not be of particular significance.

  1. Jn. 6:66-71: It is in this passage--the one place where the Fourth Gospel has Jesus speak specifically of "the twelve"--Jesus also says, "and one of you is a devil." The account then proceeds to name Judas as that one. Thus, the Fourth I introduces the matter of Jesus' betrayal into the story very much earlier than do the Synoptics--and in direct connection with talk of "the twelve." (Is the Beloved Disciple taking a deliberate whack at the Synoptic tendency to exalt the Twelve?)
  2. Jn. 12:4: All four Gospels have accounts--although with some puzzling variations--of a woman anointing Jesus with precious ointment. Three of these accounts (Luke excepted) have the disciples complain about the waste involved. The account in the Fourth Gospel is the only one identifying the complainer as Judas.
  3. Jn. 13:21-30: Interestingly enough, the Synoptics recount the Last Supper without naming Judas (or any other particular disciples). When Jesus speaks of a betrayer, the disciples in general simply respond, "Is it I?" The exception in this regard is the Book of Matthew. Matthew editorially revised the Markan account to have Judas, specifically, say, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" and Jesus respond, "You have said so." Conversely, the Beloved Disciple uses his Last Supper account to emphasize Judas's evil involvement. (Could it be that the Synoptics consistently want to soft-pedal Judas's Galilean Twelve connection, while the Beloved Disciple consistently wants to do the opposite?)
  4. Jn. 18:1-li: The role that the Fourth Gospel gives Judas with regard to Jesus' arrest in the garden is not perceptibly different from that given him in the Synoptics.

The following chart summarizes the differences between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel.

  The Synoptics The Fourth Gospel
1 These three Gospels agree with each other but not with the Fourth Gospel (until the Passion account). The Fourth Gospel uses quite different material and orders events quite differently (until the Passion account).
2 Jesus speaks in brief, pointed sayings and parables. Jesus speaks in long, well-ordered discourses.
3 Jesus is quite reluctant to talk about himself. Jesus talks mostly about himself.
4 Jesus pursues his career (as brief as one year) mostly in Galilee, with only a final visit to Jerusalem. Jesus is frequently in Jerusalem (and his career lasts at least three years).
5 The Synoptics evince a historical eschatology with a strong futurist orientation. The Fourth Gospel has a weak futurist orientation--i.e., "realized eschatology."
6 Salvation is focused upon the faith community's continous role in history. Salvation is focused on the "whatever point in time" experience of faith in Jesus.
7 Salvation is portrayed as linear, historical progress toward the kingdom of God. Salvation is portrayed as divine communication between God and man.
8 The Synoptics were written earlier, AD 65ff. The Fourth Gospel was written later, toward AD 100.
9 The Synoptics share a frame of reference with the Pauline epistles, Revelation, and most of the NT The viewpoint of the Fourth Gospel is unique to the Johannine literature.
10 The major view of the Synoptics grows out of mainline Judaism. The Fourth Gospel expresses a minor view growing out of heterodox, intellectualistic Judaism.

Copyright (c) 1987