I read nice little article on the Gospel of John this morning on the website of Biblical Archaeology Review (my favorite magazine, but I missed a month because of the move–drats!) that roots around at Johannine authorship.  John never self-identifies, but maintains literary distance by describing himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or the “beloved disciple.”  The article is nice, but it doesn’t explore some of the nuances of John the person.  Here is my brief profile of this very influential theologian and historian.

1.  Before he followed Jesus, he was a follower of John the Baptist.

2.  His brother James died very early in the Christian movement, leaving him as the only “Son of Thunder” that remained.

3.  He had a pushy mom and apparently a well known father, for why else would his parentage be so well attested to.

4.  He was young when he started following Jesus.

5.  Somehow he had access to the high priest (John 18) so maybe he was related.

6.  As the only Gospel writer who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ entire ministry he holds a place of historical priority.

7.  Jerusalem, Jewish festivals, and Jewish symbolism meant more to John than to the other evangelists.  As such, he was a revolutionary with a traditionalist streak.  That indicates an affinity for the Essenes.

8.  He was probably related to Jesus, therefore he was related to John the Baptist.  Note, this means that Jesus was related to James and Zebedee and the pushy mother.

9.  John wrote the Fourth Gospel as well as 1 John.  I’m not so certain about 2nd and 3rd John.

Number 8 is the touchy one.  I once mentioned this in a sermon and was subsequently challenged by my deacons of its veracity.  Below is the biblical exegesis that I gave them in a piece called “There is Something About Mary” and it is a simple exegesis of the visitors to the Tomb and the people at the cross and who they must be and how they are related.  Pay careful attention to the end, where I include the numerical tag to note the person it is talking about.  All of this is very confusing because apparently every third woman in 1st Century Palestine was named Mary.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

If we can assume some type of eyewitness consistency, and there is no reason we can’t, then there is no reason why we cannot deduce the following about who visited the tomb.

1.  Mary the mother of Jesus was there.

2.  Mary Magdalene was there.

3.  Mary the mother of James and Joses was there.

4.  Mary the wife of Clopas (could be the mother of James and Joses-not necessarily but probably)

5.  Salome was there.

6.  The mother of Zebedee’s sons was there (who could be Salome).

7.  Jesus’ mother’s sister was there (who could be Salome)

Marking the Text:

1=Mary Magdalene,

2=Mary the mother of James and Joses and the wife of Clopas,

3=Salome the mother of Zebedee’s sons and the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Now, let’s look at it again with the text tagged.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (2), and Salome (3).”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James and Joses (2), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (3)”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (4), his mother’s sister (3), Mary the wife of Clopas (2), and Mary Magdalene. (1)”

There is a good bet that Jesus and John were related, which gives extra insight into the way Jesus talked to John at the cross about the care of Mary his mother, who was probably his aunt.


  1. Very interesting, and thank you, but here’s one question (and I genuinely don’t know the answer)– if John has priority in terms of history of the ministry of Jesus (#6), why does his gospel seem more a meditation on Jesus than a history (versus the Synoptic gospels)? For a long time now I’ve sort of put John’s gospel in a separate category than the others.

    • doug–i do agree that John is in a whole different league and meditative is a good word to describe it. however, as other writers have pointed out, the synoptics only give us a 1 year ministry of Jesus whereas John gives a picture of a 3 year ministry plus we have a feeling of a full fledged samaritan revival as well as a great look at the conflict between him and the jewish religious leaders.
      by priority, perhaps i refer more to the person who Jesus was–i think you might agree with me, when i read John i feel more of what Jesus was like, whereas the synoptics are often a collection of Jesus’ actions and miracles.
      more than the other three, john feels like true biography.
      what i resist is pushing john to the edge and saying “that is only the philosophical and theological symbolic gospel” while the synoptics are the historical ones.
      sorry for the long reply. i do appreciate your reading and your comment. hope i didn’t muddy it up too much-i do that sometimes.

    • Carroll–thanks for reading and commenting. i really appreciate that. so, the reason i take john the evangelist to be an early disciple of john the baptist is because of what feels, to me anyway, as something like cryptic autobiography in john 1:35-42. the text says that two of john’s disciples heard him call Jesus the Lamb of God and then they left john and started following Jesus. one of these he identifies as andrew but the other he doesn’t identify (at least not that i can tell). so, in typical johannine fashion, i think the other one is him. it is reading a lot into the text, i know, but that is my rationale. it doesn’t make or break anything if i’m wrong, it just seems to me like the way john begins his gospel indicates he starts where he was at–with the baptizer.
      again, thanks for reading.

      • That does make sense. It would fit John’s style.
        As an aside, what do you think about the dating of the gospel? I have heard – but not studied – that most scholars date it quite late. My impression slants more toward an early date, and I was impressed by 5:2 referring to Bethesda and Jerusalem in the present tense, i.e. before the destruction. That could be the “narrative present” but it seems odd to me that he might use a narrative present in connection with such a disaster. Not that the dating has a major impact on interpretation usually, but any understanding is worthwhile.

      • that is a brilliant observation carroll. i have never been completely satisfied with the ‘late john’ hypothesis. john certainly has a high theological empahsis, but the coming and going to jerusalem all the time seems to indicate that jerusalem was very much on john’s mind–so i like to think of it as occuring during the seige itself, maybe in the late 60s or 70s, as opposed to the 90s or later. one of the reasons for dating it late, as i understand it, is that john refers mostly to Jesus enemies as ‘the jews’ instead of the pharisees and sadducees scribes and such, and the thought is that he wrote so distant that the distinctiveness of the jewish leadership had been lost. i don’t really buy that either because one could arrive at a literary decision to refer to Jesus’ adversaries collectively rather than individually early on for the sake of message clarity.
        again, thanks for the insight. i hope and pray you have a great weekend.

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