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Holman Bible Dictionary

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John, the Gospel of
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(jahn) Greek form of Hebrew name meaning, “Yahweh has been gracious.”

1. John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James. Harmonizing Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40 suggests that John's mother was Salome. If she was also the sister of Jesus' mother ( John 19:25 ), then John was Jesus' first cousin. This string of associations is so conjectural, though, that we cannot be sure of it. Because James is usually mentioned first when the two brothers are identified, some have also conjectured that John was the younger of the two.

The sons of Zebedee were among the first disciples called (Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20 ). They were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee and probably lived in Capernaum. Their father was sufficiently prosperous to have “hired servants” (Mark 1:20 ), and Luke 5:10 states that James and John were “partners with Simon” Peter.

John is always mentioned in the first four in the lists of the twelve (Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13 ). John is also among the “inner three” who were with Jesus on special occasions in the Synoptic Gospels: the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:37 ), the transfiguration (Mark 9:2 ), and the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-33 ). Andrew joined these three when they asked Jesus about the signs of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:3 ).

The sons of Zebedee were given the surname Boanerges , “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17 ). When a Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus, they asked, “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?” (Luke 9:54 ). The only words in the Synoptic Gospels attributed specifically to John are: “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name and we forbad him, because he followeth not us” (Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49 ). On another occasion the two brothers asked to sit in places of honor, on Jesus' left and right in His glory (Mark 10:35-41; compare Matthew 20:20-24 ). On each of these occasions Jesus challenged or rebuked John. Luke 22:8 , however, identifies Peter and John as the two disciples who were sent to prepare the Passover meal for Jesus and the disciples.

The apostle John appears three times in the Book of Acts, and each time he is with Peter (Acts 1:13; Acts 3:1-11; Acts 4:13 ,Acts 4:13,4:20; Acts 8:14 ). After Peter healed the man, they were arrested, imprisoned, and then released. They were “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13 ), but they answered their accusers boldly: “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 ). Later, John and Peter were sent to Samaria to confirm the conversion of Samaritans (Acts 8:14 ).

Paul mentioned John only once: “James, Cephas [Simon Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars” of the church agreed that Paul and Barnabas would go to the Gentiles, while they would work among the Jews (Galatians 2:9 ).

The Gospel of John does not mention James or John by name, and it contains only one reference to the sons of Zebedee (John 21:2 ). An unnamed disciple who with Andrew had been one of John the Baptist's disciples is mentioned in John 1:35 , and an unnamed disciple helped Peter gain access to the house of the high priest in John 18:15-16 . The disciple in these verses may have been the Beloved Disciple, who reclined with Jesus during the last supper (John 13:23-26 ), stood at the cross with Jesus' mother (John 19:25-27 ), ran with Peter to the empty tomb (John 20:2-10 ), and recognized the risen Lord after the great catch of fish (John 21:7 ). The need to clarify what Jesus had said about the death of the Beloved Disciple (John 21:20-23 ) probably indicates that the Beloved Disciple had died by the time the Gospel of John was put in final form by the editor who speaks in John 21:24-25 and attributes the Gospel to this Beloved Disciple.

Five books of the New Testament have been attributed to John the Apostle: the Gospel, three Epistles, and Revelation. In each case, the traditional view that the apostle was the author of these books can be traced to writers in the second century. Neither the Gospel nor the epistles identify their author by name. The author of Revelation identifies himself as “John” (Revelation 1:1 , Revelation 1:4 , Revelation 1:9; Revelation 22:8 ) but does not claim to be the apostle. Much of the weight of the traditional view of the authorship of the Gospel rests on the testimony of Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (A.D. 130-200).

The origin of the attribution of the five writings to the apostle is difficult to trace. The strongest argument can probably be made for the traditional view of the authorship of Revelation. Its author claims to be “John,” it is associated with Patmos and Ephesus, and in tone it fits the character of the apostle who was called “Boanerges.” Justin Martyr, moreover, in the earliest testimony regarding the authorship of Revelation attributes it to John.

Internal evidence from the Gospel and Epistles provides many Bible students reasons to question the traditional view. The Gospel does not mention the “inner three” disciples as a group, nor does it refer to any of the events at which these three were present with Jesus: the raising of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration, and the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Clearly, the editor of the Gospel, who refers to himself in John 21:24-25 , links the Gospel with the Beloved Disciple. The question is whether that disciple was John or some other apostle.

The author of the epistles identifies himself as “the elder” (2 John 1:1 , 3 John 1:1 ), but never claims to be the apostle. Neither does the author of these epistles claim the authority to command the church to follow his instructions. Instead, he reasons with them and urges the church to abide in what it has received and what it has heard from the beginning.

In sum, a strong tradition linking the apostle John to the authorship of these five New Testament writings can be traced to the second century. Modern scholarship has raised questions about the credibility of this tradition, and discussion of these matters continues. Many would agree, however, that the strongest case can be made for the apostolic authorship of Revelation, followed in order by the Gospel and Epistles. Many Bible students continue to follow tradition and attribute all five books to the apostle.

Legends about the apostle continued to develop long after his death. According to tradition, John lived to an old age in Ephesus, where he preached love and fought heresy, especially the teachings of Cerinthus. The tomb of John was the side of a fourth-century church, over which Justinian built the splendid basilica of St. John. The ruins of this basilica are still visible in Ephesus today.

The Apocryphon of John is an early gnostic work that purports to contain a vision of the apostle John. Copies were found among the codices at Nag Hammadi. The work itself must go back at least to the second century because Irenaeus quoted from it.

The Acts of John is a third-century apocryphal writing which records miraculous events, John's journey to Rome, his exile on Patmos, accounts of several journeys, and a detailed account of John's death. In theology this work is Docetic, and it was eventually condemned by the Second Nicene Council in 787.

The apostle John also has a place in the martyrologies of the medieval church. A fifth-century writer, Philip of Side, and George the Sinner, of the ninth century, report that Papias (second century) wrote that James and John were killed by the Jews (Acts 12:2 ), but these reports are generally dismissed as fabrications based on interpretations of Mark 10:39 . See John, The Gospel of; John, The Letters of; Revelation of John.

2. John the Baptist, a prophet from a priestly family, who preached a message of repentance, announced the coming of the Messiah, baptized Jesus, and was beheaded by Herod Antipas.

Luke 1:5-80 records the birth of John the Baptist in terms similar to the birth of Isaac. Zechariah, John's father, was a priest from the division of Abijah. Elizabeth, his mother, was a descendant of Aaron. The angel Gabriel announced John's birth, while Zechariah was burning incense in the Temple. John would not drink wine or strong drink. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and as a prophet he would have the spirit and power of Elijah. His role would be to prepare the Lord's people for the coming of the Messiah.

Mark 1:3-4 records that John was in the wilderness until the time of his public ministry. There he ate locusts and wild honey. He wore the dress of a prophet, camel's hair and a leather girdle ( Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6; see 2 Kings 1:8 ). Because of his life in the wilderness, his priestly background, his preaching of repentance to Israel, and his practice of baptism, it is often suggested that John grew up among the Essenes at Qumran. This theory is attractive, but it cannot be confirmed. Neither can the origin of John's practice of baptizing be traced with certainty. Washings had long been part of Jewish piety, and by the time of John, Gentile converts to Judaism washed themselves as a form of ceremonial cleansing. The Essenes at Qumran practiced ritual washings and had an elaborate procedure for admission to the community. John's baptism may owe something to the Essene practices, but we cannot determine the extent of this influence.

According to Luke, John began his ministry around the Jordan River in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1-3 ), which must have been A.D. 26 or 27. John's preaching emphasized the coming judgment, the need for repentance, and the coming of the Messiah. Luke also emphasizes the ethical teachings of John: he called the multitudes a “generation of vipers” (Luke 3:7 ); one who had two coats should give one to a person who had none; tax collectors were warned to collect no more than their due; and soldiers were instructed to rob no one and be content with their wages” (Luke 3:10-14 ).

Jesus was baptized by John, a fact that all the evangelists except Mark attempted to explain. Matthew 3:15 explains that it was “to fulfill all righteousness.” Luke recorded that John was thrown in prison before he said that Jesus also was baptized ( Luke 3:20-21 ), and John told of the baptism of Jesus but only through the testimony of John the Baptist himself. Thus, the witness of John the Baptist to Jesus is featured, deflecting any possibility that later followers of the Baptist might argue that John was superior to Jesus (Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:15 , John 1:19-36 ).

Various sayings give us glimpses of John's ministry. His disciples practiced fasting (Mark 2:18 ), and he taught them to pray (Luke 11:1 ). John was vigorous in his attacks on Herod. In contrast to Herod's household he lived an austere existence (Matthew 11:7-9 ). Some criticized John for his ascetic life-style (Matthew 11:16-19 ), but Jesus praised John as the greatest of the prophets (Matthew 11:11 ). John's popularity with the people is reflected in Matthew 21:31-32; Mark 11:27-32; Luke 7:29-30; John 10:41 .

In an account that parallels the New Testament closely, Josephus stated that Herod Antipas arrested John and subsequently executed him at Machaerus because “he feared that John's so extensive influence over the people might lead to an uprising.” Many believed that the defeat of Herod's armies by the Nabateans was God's judgment on Herod for the death of John the Baptist. While John was in prison, he sent two of his disciples to inquire whether Jesus was the coming One (Matthew 11:2-3; Luke 7:18-23 ). John's death is recorded in detail in Mark 6:14-29 .

According to the Gospel of John, the ministry of Jesus overlapped with that of John (John 3:22-24; contrast Mark 1:14 ), and some of Jesus' first disciples had also been disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35-37 ). Jesus even identified John with the eschatological role of Elijah (Matthew 17:12-13; Mark 9:12-13 ).

John's movement did not stop with his death. Indeed, some believed that Jesus was John, raised from the dead (Mark 6:14-16; Mark 8:28 ). Years later, a group of John's followers were found around Ephesus, among them the eloquent Apollos (Acts 18:24-19:7 ); and for centuries John's influence survived among the Mandeans, who claimed to perpetuate his teachings. See Baptism .

3. Relative of Annas, the high priest (Acts 4:6 ), unless manuscripts reading Jonathan are right.

4. John Mark. See Mark.

R. Alan Culpepper

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'John'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​j/john.html. 1991.
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