According to the website BehindtheName.com, the name “John” is, “derived from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yochanan) meaning “YAHWEH is gracious”. Because the Apostle John was a Jew, one can assume that we call him John because his Gospel and letters were written in Greek. We can further presume that he was given a Hebrew name by his father, which pronounced that “YAHWEH is gracious” on the occasion of the birth of his son.
It was common for Jews to give names to their children that praised the Lord. Names were more important back then, such that the meaning of a name surrounded the person with the name. Thus, some characters in the Holy Bible changed their names as adults: Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, and Saul became Paul, to name three.
Keeping that is mind, ask yourself who was John?
I must admit that I have no high level of formal education that has told me what to believe about the most recent theory about John. I have not read volumes of books or online articles that have led me to assume the imaginations of others as my own. I have no proof of who John was; but from reading his Gospel, I feel I know John and who he was.
The John I know was a child during the three years that Jesus walked the lands of Galilee, Judea, and Caesarea Philippe. I see him as having turned 10, 11, and 12 years of age over Jesus’ three-year ministry. I see John as having written his knowledge of Jesus for a mature age, remembering him while limited in his contacts as a child.
I told that to a Bible study group and was asked, “How do you get that from John’s Gospel?” I did not want to take away from that study, so I only said, “Just plant that seed in the back of your mind, and when you read the Book of John, then see if it makes more sense to you.” I gave two examples at the time, but there are more; so let me explain a little more now.
The Gospel of John is much like the Gospel of Luke, as neither was a direct disciple of Jesus. Luke, I believe and I believe others concur, was the story of Jesus as dictated to a physician by Mary, the mother of Jesus. That explains how Luke knew of events when Jesus was born, and while on the cross, a knowledge of events that Matthew and Mark did not witness. Likewise, John seems to have not been present at several of the events remembered by those who followed Jesus, as disciples. John instead had memories of Jesus that were intimate, more than as a by-stander witness.
Consider this: Matthew recalled the first disciples being called by Jesus in Galilee, after John the Baptist had been imprisoned. They are named as two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John of Zebedee (Matthew 4:18-22). This is not to be confused with James, the brother of Jesus, or John, the author of the Book of John. Mark recalled the same first disciples (Mark 1-16-20). Luke recalled Jesus, also at the Sea of Galilee (called the Lake of Gennesaret), naming Peter as Simon (and Simon-Peter), and James and John of Zebedee, but not Andrew (Luke 5:1-11).
John, on the other hand, recalled details about John the Baptist, and his baptizing people in the Jordan, writing, “This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28). John then told of Jesus meeting his first disciples, who were with John the Baptist, the next day, following Jesus being baptized. John wrote of Andrew, then Simon-Peter. Next, he wrote of Philip joining Peter and Andrew, so all travelled from the Jordan to Galilee, where the town of Bethsaida is a fishing village. All were from Bethsaida, so Philip went and found Nathaniel (who is not named in any other Gospel) resting under a fig tree. There is no mention of James and John, sons of Zebedee, but it appears Peter (to be named Cephas, according to John) and Andrew were fellow fishermen with them.
Why did John not witness Jesus by the Sea of Galilee, but see Jesus at the Jordan, with John the Baptist and Andrew? Why did John see Philip and Nathaniel on land, but not see James and John of Zebedee on water? Perhaps he was too young to go to the water, or he was more interested in playing near home?
Then, consider this: John recalled the miracle of Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. John wrote, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.” (John 2:1-2) Then John wrote, “After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.” (John 2:12)
In this eyewitness account, John does not name himself as a disciple or a brother. Although John would regularly identify himself in the third-person in his Gospel, if John was at this wedding, but not as the son of Mary or a disciple that was invited to the wedding, then what is John’s reason for being there? Did he remember this event because he was close to Jesus when Mary commented to him about the host running out of wine, while others were not? When the master of the feast said, “when the guests have well drunk,” does that mean the disciples were drunk and happy, while John was not allowed to drink wine to excess? Was John too young to drink? What does a child’s presence at a wedding imply, if he would write a Gospel remembering Christ and recall this miracle when others did not?
Then, consider this: When Nicodemus came to visit Jesus, it was under the cover of night (John 3). Assuming Nicodemus is a Pharisee of Jerusalem, such that Jesus is still in Jerusalem after the first Passover that initiated his ministry, Jesus would have been awaiting the time when Jews could travel back home. This means Nicodemus visited Jesus while he was in a place of lodging. Nicodemus came at night so that he would not be seen by others, which would include adult disciples. Also, Nicodemus is only mentioned by John.
Would John be a witness because he was expected to lodge with Jesus, while the other disciples had to make their own accommodations? If John were a child, unable to make his own arrangements, why would he stay in a room with Jesus, so that he could witness the meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus (keeping in mind the adage that children should be seen and not heard)?
Consider also this: When the Samaritan woman came to the well and met Jesus, it was while the disciples were out buying lunch. How could it be that John was a witness to this meeting, prior to the return of the disciples? (John 4) John’s presence means he had to be left with Jesus for some reason. Why would John be at the well with Jesus and not with the other disciples? Was it because John was a child?
Once again, consider this: Matthew recalled the passing of the bread and wine at the Passover Seder meal, and then the leaving to the Mount of Olives. His next memories are following Jesus’ arrest. Mark has the exact same recall, meaning Matthew and Mark passed out drunk (as is the objective of the Passover Seder evening) and woke up the next morning. Luke, as the biographer of Mary, remembers more about the Seder evening, while the group was inside the upper room, the same as John; but Mary did not recall the trip to Gethsemane, as she would not have been expected to tag along with the menfolk.
John, on the other hand, has a vividly clear memory of what Jesus taught throughout the evening of the Passover Seder. The others do not. John wrote of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, as if he had been prepared to assist Jesus with water and towels when the guests arrived. John then recalled what the others remembered, up until the passing of the bread and wine. What the others do not recall is what John wrote in chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17, which are the lessons that are normally part of the Passover Seder ritual.
These lessons are more designed to instill tradition in children, and the children remember these lessons while the adults are busy getting drunk with the wine of the feast (beginning with the ceremonial “four cups of wine”). Again, we see John as if he were too young to partake of all the wine that the adults were drinking. He paid attention to Jesus as if Jesus were speaking to him directly, while thinking all the others who were present were learning something important and new too.
When John recalled Jesus exposing that one of his disciples would be found betraying him, we read:
“When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:21-25)
The one leaning on Jesus, the one “whom Jesus loved,” was John, as John confirmed in chapter 21, verse 24. Thus, we know it was John who asked, “Lord, who is it?”
This is important as one leaning against Jesus’ bosom would either be a child or a woman, but John tells that this is one “out from the disciples,” meaning one belonging among the disciples of Jesus. During the Passover Seder consuming of the matzo and drinking the four cups of wine, everyone leans on the floor on their left side. This means the person leaning so his or her head rested on Jesus, sat initially to his right. That is a symbolic position of Jesus to God, or the Son to the Father. That could mean John, as a child, would be in that position.
The word that states “disciple” is defined to mean, a “learner, follower, pupil, and of the party of” Jesus. The word meaning “loved” is more in line with a “longing for” and “taking pleasure in,” which could make Mary Magdalene a better fit (being addressed in the third-person); but this would still identify John, as a child whose presence pleased Jesus. Still, John is not merely a follower of Jesus, as a disciple, but a child related to him. What relationship would such a “love” child be? Who could a woman like Mary Magdalene then be, as “the disciple Jesus loved”?
Also consider this: In chapter 19, John wrote of Jesus on the cross, just before death. This says that John was close family, as all the male adult disciples were away in hiding. Jesus said, according to John:
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27)
This means Jesus’ dying breath was speaking to Mary Magdalene, as “the disciple whom He loved.” Because John witnessed this event, he was there as the son of Mary Magdalene, who was there as a relative of Jesus, through marriage. John was with the Mother of Jesus, the aunt of Jesus, the wife of Jesus, and her son with Jesus. For Mary to be the mother of Mary Magdalene, Jesus is stating her to be “mother-in-law.” Again, can you see how John was not addressed because he was a child, but his presence was inferred? When Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son,” the son of Mary was on the cross, while the son of Jesus was with the women of Jesus, with his father dying before him?
Then, consider this: In John’s chapter 20, after Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb on Sunday morning, finding it open, she ran back and tells Simon-Peter and “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved.” The fact that Mary ran shows her youth (around 26-28), as well as her excitement. When John wrote, “the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” it means Mary was a disciple whom Jesus loved, as was John. When Peter and John took off to go to the opened tomb, John got there first, having run faster. This is a sign of his youthful exuberance. It is also a sign of his not being an adult when he gets there first, but waits for Peter, the adult, to enter the tomb.
The fact that John is aware of Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb, thinking him to be a gardener, means Mary told John this (if John was not there with Mary, as a direct witness). That would be a signal that John was now attached to Mary, after Jesus’ death, as he was attached to Jesus previously. Why would Mary Magdalene tell a youthful John of having met with Jesus, if it were not something she knew John would want to know? Only John wrote of that event. Does Mary’s crying about the missing body indicate that she was more than just a disciple, or does it mean she was more deeply connected to the man Jesus?
In chapter 21 of the Gospel of John, John wrote how the disciples began to understand that John would not die until Jesus had come (John 21:23). This means that John would outlive all of the other disciples, and as such John wrote the last book of the New Testament and his death is not recorded.
That book is The Apocalypse, which tells of Jesus’ return. For John to live until the end of the 1st century says he was a child during Jesus’ ministry. Had he been 12 when Jesus died, in the year 30 AD, by 95 AD John would have been 77 (seven times eleven). All of the other Apostles had been sacrificed by then, with John a prisoner on Patmos. With the ages of the other disciples seen as older than Jesus, including his brothers (born of Joseph and not Mary), by the year 95 (had they lived natural lives) they would have been over close to 100, if not older. Thus, it is logical to assume that John was much younger during Jesus’ life.
So, Jesus named John as “YAHWEH is gracious.”
John was too young to drink and get drunk, both at the wedding in Cana and three years later at the Last Supper.
John was frequently with Jesus when the other disciples were not.
John paid close attention to the lessons of Jesus at his last Passover Seder feast.
John was at Gethsemane and not drunk, meaning he was able to identify the name of the guard whose ear Peter cut off.
John was at every step of Jesus’ trials and at the cross when he died, along with his mother, the other disciple whom Jesus loved.
John lived well after the other of Jesus’ first Apostles had been persecuted to death.
John lived to see the return of Christ, at least through the dream Christ came to him in.
Still, I will let you decide … who was John?
(All pictures are used by Fair Use, with no profit intended)
Written by Robert Tippett.
Added note: It seems that scholars have adapted a theory that John of Zebedee was THE John of everything written in the New Testament attributed to a John: The Gospel of John, the three epistles of John (identifying himself as “John the Elder”), and the Revelation (also called that by John the Divine). There is argument against this theory, based on scholarly analysis of the actual ancient texts, where the writing style differs, indicating multiple Johns as the authors.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is arrested for healing a lame beggar on the Sabbath, along with “John.” Since this was after the Day of Pentecost, after Peter (and John of Zebedee, and any other disciples named John) was filled with the Holy Spirit, it may be that Peter was paired with John of Zebedee. However, because that John was not identified as such (by Luke), and because Jerusalem would have been close to the home of a young John, along with Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, AND because Peter and John ran to the tomb on the Sunday Jesus was found not in his tomb, it makes sense that young John was with Peter at that time, but not his evangelical partner. There is evidence that Peter spent time in Antioch, and had a following of 6-12 disciples, but no further pairing of John with him. For this reason (and the evidence in the Gospel of John), I believe young John wrote the Gospel of John, all three epistles (then an elder), and the Apocalypse in the waning years of his long life.
If it is proof you want, and proof is measured in archaeological finds and ancient documents, then you are not using the Holy Spirit as your only source for proof.
Amended, by Robert Tippett 5/5/2015