Gospel of John: Who Wrote It?


Most people believe that John the apostle wrote at least the main body of this book. Several of the scholars I’ve read feel there is evidence another person named John—John the Elder, or John from Ephesus—edited the apostle’s gospel and added the epilogue which explains the apostle’s death. It is also possible this editor added the prologue. If there was a curator named John the Elder, he would have been a student and close companion of John, and would have been able to wisely adapt the gospel for final printing.

According to Irenaeus, who lived around 130 to 202 A.D., the apostle John wrote the final form of his gospel in Ephesus, sometime toward the end of the first century.

The apostle John was one of the sons of Zebedee, from a wealthy family and educated in several languages: Hebrew, the language he prayed in and heard the scriptures in, Aramaic the common language of that area, and Greek, the international language of his day. It is possible he also spoke Latin because of the Roman occupation.

He worked in his father’s thriving fishing business and owned his own boat and his own house. We know he had at least one brother, James who was probably the older son since his name was almost always mentioned first in Bible passages.

John’s mother Salome was a woman of faith, who believed in the kingdom that Jesus was teaching about, and she was also an ambitious woman, who asked Jesus outright if her two sons could sit on thrones at Jesus’ right and left hands when He came to reign in glory. Salome was one of the faithful who stood with her son John and Jesus’ mother Mary, at the foot of the cross, as Jesus died. And she also was one of the women who brought spices to Jesus’ tomb early Easter morning.

John’s brother James was the first apostle to be martyred, in 44 A.D., when Herod had him killed with the sword, as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, chapter 12.

John was one of the first four men to follow Jesus. He and Peter were disciples of John the Baptist first, a scene he described in the first chapter of his gospel. They both began to follow Jesus at the Baptist’s urging. John did not refer to himself by name in his book, but called himself “the one Jesus loved.” That truth must have gone very deep for John, because loving each other became the distinctive of the community that grew out of his teaching, the Johannine community.

John and James were called the sons of thunder, because of their fiery tempers, and for their bold, zealous natures. One outburst is recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter 9: shortly after Jesus’ transfiguration, James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village to wipe it out Sodom-and-Gomorrah-style. The village had refused to follow Jesus, had even refused to let them to pass through on their way to Jerusalem.

John was also one of three disciples, along with Peter and James, who became very intimate with Jesus. Jesus took only these three when He healed Jairus’ daughter and when He was transfigured. Jesus invited only these three men to go deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane with Him to pray, the night He was betrayed. Finally, John was the only one of the twelve to go all the way to the cross with Jesus.

A beautiful friendship existed between Peter and John from the first pages of his gospel. Later, in the book of Acts chapter 4, Luke described how Peter and John together stood up boldly to the Sanhedrin when they were commanded not to proclaim Jesus. In fact, Peter and John were constant companions in those early years as they preached the gospel together and built up the church.

John outlived all the other disciples, and as he aged, he became known as the apostle of love. Along with this gospel three letters are attributed to John’s pen. Though it is possible John the Elder wrote at least two of those three letters, still, the message of love and light, and the interplay of living water and cleansing blood signify John’s great influence in their teaching.

A final work bears the apostle John’s signature: the Revelation that was given to him near the end of his life, when he was exiled on the island of Patmos. Unlike any other book in the Hebrew or Christian testaments, it has elements of a letter, apocalypse, prophesy, and teaching.  

John found in Jesus not only his closest friend, but also the focus of his life. He started out as a fiery hot head, and he became the wise and loving man we see reflected in his writings. He started out as a prosperous fisherman and he became a fisher of people.

Spending time with Jesus results in intimacy with Him and a transformed life

Remember about your first love? All you wanted to do was think about and talk about and be with that person. That is how relationships grow, thinking about that person, studying them, wanting to make them happy, being with them, spending time together, sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings together. We become attuned to the one we love, and that person becomes attuned to us. We can sense when they have entered a room, and miss them when they are away. Sharing life together makes the living of it so much more joyful, rich, and wonderful.

Spending time simply takes time. There is no such thing as saving time. You and I are going to spend the time we are given, one way or the other, either foolishly or wisely. We literally cannot set time aside for later, for a rainy day. Time, by its very nature, is continuously being spent.

As I think about the kind of time it takes to become attuned to someone, to be intimate, I realize my prayer becomes, “God, help me spend time in ways that bring joy, that mature me in love, that draw me closer to the ones I love, including You.”


[Two Old Men | Rembrandt / Public domain]

2 thoughts on “Gospel of John: Who Wrote It?

  1. The New posts are exciting to read each day. As I read the who, what, where, why of John’s authorship, I’m amazed of how much research study has gone into these posts just so I can grow in knowledge and understanding . I’m also thrilled that I can print out these pages and review them frequently. Thank you, Grace and Peace, Joanne.

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