The Commentary

The Beloved Disciple and the Author of the Fourth Gospel:

John? (and which John?) OR possibly a woman?

a survey of some scholars' conclusions

(revised 9/2/01)

by Robert Nguyen Cramer


Nowhere in the Fourth Gospel is the author or the Beloved Disciple explicitly identified by name. There has been considerable speculation and controversy regarding the identity of both the author and the Beloved Disciple ever since authorship by the apostle John was first proposed at the end of the 2nd century. (For further details see Werner Goerg Kummel's Introduction to the New Testament, Nashville: Abingdon, 1975, pages 196-199, or the many excellent commentaries on the Fourth Gospel, including those by Bernard, Barrett, Brown, or Schnackenburg listed below.) The evidence is still being weighed and discussed, and there are wide differences in conclusions among highly qualified scholars.

A number of Bible scholars and theologians are exploring quite seriously or are adopting publicly the conclusion that a woman was the Beloved Disciple and that a woman was the source of the gospel that came to be known as "The Gospel of John," which hereafter in this webpage I will describe as the Fourth Gospel.


Before considering the possibility of a woman being the author or the Beloved Disciple, it is worthwhile first to consider what early writers said on the identity of the Beloved Disciple and the author of the Fourth Gospel.

Raymond E. Brown in Volume I of his Anchor Bible commentary on The Gospel According to John (New York: Doubleday, 1966, 1977, Vol 1) writes:

Brown commends -- but does not quote -- C.K. Barrett's first edition presentation of external evidence.

Barrett in his The Gospel According to St. John, Second Edition (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978) writes:

A partial list of some authoritative works that thoroughly discuss the external evidence of the identify of the author and of the Beloved Disciple are the following:


I will now summarize several different positions by some writers who concur with each other in concluding that the Beloved Disciple was a woman and that a woman was also the author of the first 20 chapters of the Fourth Gospel, and who differ with each other on what influences shaped the Fourth Gospel and on the identity of the women who they believe was the Beloved Disciple and the author of the Fourth Gospel.

Without in any way suggesting or even discussing female authorship of the Fourth Gospel, Gail O'Day's article on "John" in the Women's Bible Commentary, Expanded Edition (Atlanta, GA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, page 382) draws some important conclusions:

Whether or not the assertion is correct that a woman was the Beloved Disciple and/or the author of the Fourth Gospel, the authentic history of the 1st century Christian communities makes clear that women had very active leadership roles in some churches. To further explore this issue,


If the identity of the author and of the Beloved Disciple are an important issue with you, some of the resources listed above can provide you with a starting-point (or a continuing point). Rather than my giving any appearance of certainty on this very open-ended issue that has been going on since at least the end of the second century, I encourage you to explore some of the above-mentioned resources that expound the more traditional views and those that expound the more recent assertion of a feminie identity. You are welcome to share your research and conclusions with the BibleTexts website.

Regardless of the issue of authorship, there is much that is very special about the Fourth Gospel. Comparing the Fourth Gospel with the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Fourth Gospel might be described as being more like a painting of Jesus' life; whereas, the synoptic gospels might be described as being more like snap-shot photographs. The synoptic gospels may have some of the dialogue and many of the "sayings" more literally correct and from earlier recorded sources; however, the author/s of the Fourth Gospel with his/her/their artistry, Greek-language symbolism, and spiritual insight seems to present the authentic texture and essence of Jesus' message. This may be due to the writing of the Gospel of John representing a source with more intimate familiarity with the life and ministry and thinking of Christ Jesus. This is my current conclusion.


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Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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