Was Lazarus the Beloved Disciple?

While there are good reasons for supposing that the Beloved Disciple was not John the son of Zebedee (see here), the view that he was Lazarus also raises difficulties.

1. The Beloved Disciple is portrayed as an anonymous figure right up until the final chapter of the Fourth Gospel, whereas Lazarus is named. This fact alone seems to rule out Lazarus as the BD.

2. Lazarus is spoken of as one whom Jesus loved (John 11:3), but so are his sisters (John 11:5). He is never spoken of as a “disciple” which may have denoted someone that followed and travelled with Jesus.

3.  The theory seems to treat the Fourth Gospel as a puzzle book with clues that the reader is supposed to piece together concerning the identity of the BD. However, the Gospel of John seems to presuppose that its readers were aware of the identity, for an unspecified “we” assures the readers that the testimony of this figure is reliable: “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24, NKJV).

Furthermore, the readers were aware of a rumor that he wouldn’t die, based upon Jesus’ prophecy to him (not based upon the idea he had already been resurrected), which again presupposes that they were familiar with his identity.

4. The resurrection of Lazarus is written from the perspective of an eyewitness who was there with the crowds and could record their reactions, and who witnessed it from the outside, as it unfolded.

5. Lazarus lived in Bethany, possibly at the house of Simon the Leper. It is thought that Bethany may have been one of three towns east of Jerusalem designated by the Temple Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls as a place for lepers. The Beloved Disciple was with Jesus at the Last Supper, which took place ‘in the city’ (Luke 22:10), in Jerusalem, and not in Bethany, where Lazarus lived. Witherington suggests that the account of the Last Supper in John is actually a mixed account of an earlier meal, in order to avoid this.1

6. The priests sought to kill Lazarus following his resurrection (John 11:57), yet the Beloved Disciple freely entered the palace of the high priest (John 18) and stood by Jesus at the cross (John 19).  

7. No early writer identifies the Beloved Disciple with Lazarus. This includes people that were said to have personally known the Beloved Disciple, like Papias and Polycarp. Witherington argues that John the Elder wrote the Gospel using the recollections of Lazarus, but John’s Gospel is clear that the BD himself wrote it (John 21:24).2


  1. Witherington writes:
    “John does not recount the Lord’s Supper at all, simply the earlier meal, but he does indeed add the end of the last supper meal story about Judas going out and betraying Jesus here which is necessary to the plot line continuing.” http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/01/was-lazarus-beloved-disciple.html

2. Witherington writes:
“How did this Gospel come to be named according to John? My answer is a simple one—it is because John of Patmos was the final editor of this Gospel after the death of Lazarus. Once Domitian died, John returned to Ephesus and lived out his days. One of the things he did was edit and promulgate the Fourth Gospel on behalf of the Beloved Disciple. Somewhere very near the end of John’s own life, Papias had contact with this elderly John. It is not surprising, since this contact seems to be brief, that Papias learned correctly that this John was not the Zebedee John and that this elderly John had something to do with the production of the Fourth Gospel. This I think neatly explains all of the various factors involved in our conundrum. It may even have been Papias who was responsible for the wider circulation of this Gospel with a tag ‘according to John’. It is not surprising that Irenaeus, swatting buzzing Gnostics like flies, would later conclude that the Fourth Gospel must be by an apostle or one of the Twelve.” http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/01/was-lazarus-beloved-disciple.html

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