Glossary of Terms

John the Apostle


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

John. One of Jesus' twelve disciples*. He was the brother of James and a son of Zebedee, and a fisherman. Matt. 4:21-22; Mark 3:17; Acts 1:13; 3:1-4; 11; Gal. 2:9.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of James. Along with James, John was called by Jesus to be one of the Twelve* (Matt. 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20; Luke 5:10-11) while they were fishing. His name appears in each of the apostolic lists (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). Some think that Mark’s reference to ‘hired servants’ indicates a prosperous family background (Mark 1:20). John and James receive from Jesus the nickname ‘Boanerges,’ meaning ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17). Their prominence among the Twelve is indicated by their presence, along with Peter, at the raising of Jairus’s daughter by Jesus (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28), and with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33). According to Luke 22:8, John and Peter are instructed by Jesus to make the preparations for the Passover. James and John (or their mother) ask special consideration upon the advent of the messianic kingdom (Matt. 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-40). All of this indicates that John was close to Jesus. It is John who complains about the exorcist (Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49), and James and John request that the unresponsive Samaritan village be destroyed (Luke 9:54). Paul attests to John’s prominence by referring to him as one of the ‘pillars’ of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:6-10). In spite of these and a few other references to John in the nt, the data necessary for a fuller sketch of his life, character, and activities do not exist.

Further attestation to John’s prominence among the apostles is evidenced by the fact that he is traditionally regarded as the author of the Fourth Gospel, of the three canonical letters bearing his name, and of the book of Revelation. That John the Apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel is by no means certain. Patristic evidence tends to identify John with the Fourth Gospel beginning with the church father Irenaeus (late second century), who adopts the view of his teacher, Polycarp. This tradition, coupled with recent studies on the early dating of the superscriptions (titles) of the Gospels, lends some support to the view that the Fourth Gospel was written by John the Apostle or by his disciple(s). Even so, one must still proceed cautiously, because the Gospel bears no signature, nor is the author identified therein. Furthermore, significant differences between the portrayals of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel and in the Synoptics must be kept in mind. Attempts to link John the Apostle with ‘the beloved disciple’ (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20-24), though not impossible, are nevertheless conjectural. The situation is further complicated by the relationship between ‘the beloved disciple’ and the unnamed ‘other’ disciple in John 1:40 and 18:15-16. Similar difficulties surround attempts to link the author of the three Letters of John (particularly 2 and 3 John) to John the Apostle. Although tradition has identified the John of Revelation (1:1, 4, 9) with John the Apostle, many scholars seriously question this association.

According to some traditions, John survived until ca. a.d. 100 in Ephesus, but it is also possible that he was martyred much earlier, along with his brother James.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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