This is the first in a new series of posts, called “What if…” This series will not be ideas that I necessarily think are true–they are just some fun ‘What if” sorts of possibilities.
What if Lazarus wrote the Gospel of John? “But wait” you might be thinking, “The name of the book is ‘The Gospel of John’. It’s the Gospel of John because John wrote it!” And you’re right–the book has traditionally been known as “The Gospel of John”. But the titles of the Gospels, as well as the chapter and verse divisions, were not in the original manuscripts. The titles were only added and passed down later–they were not originally with the books.
What do we know about the authorship of the fourth Gospel simply from reading it? Throughout the fourth Gospel, the author refers to someone as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23-25, 19:26-27, 20:1-10, 21:1-25). We learn in John 21:20-25 that it is the Beloved Disciple who wrote the Gospel. This is the only hint we get at the identity of the author from within the text of the Gospel.
Who is the Beloved Disciple? Good question! What if Beloved Disciple is not John, but Lazarus? How would this fit with the text of the fourth Gospel?
First, we ought to acknowledge that John 11:5 specifically states that Jesus loved Lazarus. While we know, obviously, that Jesus loves everyone, it is not often that it is specifically stated that Jesus loves an individual. In fact, this may very well be the only place that specifically states that Jesus loved an individual male. And that male is Lazarus, who just might be the Beloved Disciple.
We have just come through Holy Week. One thing the Gospels tell us about this time is that the Twelve Disciples (minus Judas) hid while Jesus was being crucified and buried, because they feared for their lives. John, however, says that the Beloved Disciple was there at the cross. In fact, Jesus entrusts his mother, Mary, into the care of the Beloved Disciple, and he takes her into his home for the rest of her life. But if the other Gospels are correct, the Twelve are hiding, so the Beloved Disciple can’t be John, because John is hiding at the same time that the Beloved Disciple is at the cross. Perhaps the Beloved Disciple who Jesus entrusts his mother to is Lazarus.
All four of the Gospels record Jesus being anointed by a woman using perfume. Judas complains that the perfume is too expensive, but Jesus affirms what the woman is doing, saying that she is anointing him for his burial. The Synoptic Gospels do not identify who the woman is. The fourth Gospel, though, identifies the woman as Mary and the place as Bethany. It makes sense for the author to make these identifications since Mary is Lazarus’ sister and Bethany is where they lived.
Many scholars argue that the fourth Gospel was the last to be written, mostly because the content is so theological in nature. If Lazarus is the author, though, it makes sense that the content would be much more theological than the other Gospels. Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus, so it makes sense that he would make deeper theological connections with Jesus than any other individual.
Again, it is not a core belief of Christianity that Lazarus is the Beloved Disciple and the author of the fourth Gospel. My faith would not be shattered if it is somehow proven that Lazarus couldn’t have written it. It is, however, a fun possibility to think about.
Incidentally, this idea of Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple is by no means an original idea. I highly recommend Dr. Ben Witherington’s blog, which has a post on this subject.