John the apostle and evangelist.

John the son of Zebedee, the elder John, John the seer.


Attributed text(s).
Gospel of John 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-21.
Epistle 1 of John 1-5.
Epistle 2 of John 1.
Epistle 3 of John 1.
Revelation 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-22.

Related text(s).
Four gospels.
Catholic epistles.
Acts of John.

Useful links.
John in the Online Encyclopedia.
John in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

John the son of Zebedee is called along with his brother James in Matthew 4.21 = Mark 1.19 = Luke 5.10, after which event he surfaces frequently in the gospel narratives. He makes the first quartet in every canonical list of the disciples in Matthew 10.2 = Mark 3.17 = Luke 6.14 and Acts 1.13. He witnesses the healing of the mother-in-law of Simon in Mark 1.29 (refer also to Matthew 8.14 = Luke 4.38). He asks Jesus about another exorcist in Mark 9.38 = Luke 9.49. It is John along with James his brother who asks Jesus about the prospect of casting fire on a Samaritan village in Luke 9.54. In Matthew 20.20-24 = Mark 10.35-41 Jesus has occasion to tell John and James that they too will drink from the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism as Jesus himself. He, along with Peter and James, are the only disciples to witness the raising of the daughter of Jairus in Mark 5.37 = Luke 8.51 (refer also to Matthew 9.25), the transfiguration in Matthew 17.1 = Mark 9.2 = Luke 9.28, and the Gethsemane agony in Matthew 26.37 = Mark 14.33 (refer also to Luke 22.39). He is one of four disciples to hear the Olivet discourse in Mark 13.3. John and Peter are the ones who Jesus sends to prepare the Passover in Luke 22.8.

In the gospel of John itself he never appears by name, but only as one of the unnamed sons of Zebedee in the Johannine appendix (at John 21.2) and, in the judgment of many, as the unnamed beloved disciple (John 13.23-25; 18.15-16; 19.26-27, 35; 20.2-10; 21.7, 20-24). In Acts 3.1-11 he performs a healing along with Peter, and is arrested with Peter in Acts 4.1-22 for that action. In Acts 8.14-17 John is sent with Peter as an emissary from Jerusalem to Samaria. In Acts 12.2 Herod puts his brother to the sword. Paul mentions him only once, in Galatians 2.9, as one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church, along with James and Cephas.

The Bible has five works in three different genres that are attributed to John the disciple of the Lord, to wit, the gospel, three epistles, and the apocalypse.

Papias claims to have inquired as to the words of the elders, and includes two Johns on the list of disciples whose sayings he sought out (Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.4; Jerome, On Famous Men 18). Are they the same John? Or two different Johns? I myself, like Eusebius, favor the latter.

Jerome, On Famous Men 9:

Ioannes apostolus, quem Iesus amavit plurimum, filius Zebedaei, frater Iacobi apostoli, quem Herodes post passionem domini docellavit, novissimus omnium scripsit evangelium, rogatus ab Asiae episcopis, adversus Cerinthum aliosque haereticos et maxime tunc Ebionitarum dogma consurgens, qui asserunt Christum ante Mariam non fuisse. unde et compulsus est divinam eius nativitatem edicere. sed et aliam causam huius scripturae ferunt, quod cum legisset Matthaei, Marci, et Lucae volumina, probaverit quidem textum historiae, et vera eos dixisse firmaverit, sed unius tantum anni, in quo et passus est, post carcerem Ioannis, historiam texuisse. praetermisso itaque anno, cuius acta a tribus exposita fuerant, superioris temporis antequam Ioannes clauderetur in carcerem, gesta narravit: sicut manifestum esse poterit his qui diligenter quatuor evangeliorum volumina legerint. quae res etiam διαφωνιαν, dissonantiam, quae videtur Ioannis esse cum caeteris, tollit. scripsit autem et unam epistolam cuius exordium est: Quod fuit ab initio, quod audivimus et vidimus oculis nostris, quod perspeximus et manus nostrae contrectaverunt de verbo vitae, quae ab universis ecclesiasticis et eruditis viris probatur. reliquae autem duae, quarum principium est: Senior electae dominae et natis eius, et sequentis: Senior Caio charissimo, quem ego diligo in veritate, Ioannis presbyteri asseruntur, cuius et hodie alterum sepulcrum apud Ephesum ostenditur, etsi nonnulli putant duas memorias eiusdem Ioannis evangelistae esse, super qua re cum per ordinem ad Papiam auditorem eius ventum fuerit, disseremus. quarto decimo igitur anno, secundum post Neronem persecutionem movente Domitiano, in Patmos insulam relegatus, scripsit apocalypsim, quam interpretatur Iustinus Martyr et Irenaeus. interfecto autem Domitiano et actis eius ob nimiam crudelitatem a senatu rescissis, sub Nerva principe redit Ephesum, ibique usque ad Traianum principem perseverans, totas Asiae fundavit rexitque ecclesias, et confectus senio, sexagesimo octavo post passionem domini anno mortuus, iuxta eamdem urbem sepultus est.

John, the apostle whom Jesus loved most, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, the apostle whom Herod after the passion of our Lord beheaded, most recently of all the evangelists wrote a gospel, at the request of the bishops of Asia, against Cerinthus and other heretics and especially against the then growing dogma of the Ebionites, who assert that Christ did not exist before Mary. On this account he was compelled to maintain his divine nativity. But there is said to be yet another reason for this work, in that, when he had read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he approved indeed the substance of the history and declared that the things they said were true, but that they had given the history of only one year, the one, that is, which follows the imprisonment of John and in which he was put to death. So, passing by this year the events of which had been set forth by these, he related the events of the earlier period before John was shut up in prison, so that it might be manifest to those who should diligently read the volumes of the four evangelists. This also takes away the discrepancy which there seems to be between John and the others. He wrote also one epistle which begins as follows: That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard and seen with our eyes and our hands handled concerning the word of life, which is esteemed of by all men who are interested in the church or in learning. Of the other two of these the first is: The elder to the elect lady and her children, and the other: The elder unto Gaius, the beloved, whom I love in truth, are said to be the work of John the elder, to the memory of whom another sepulcher is shown at Ephesus to the present day, though some think that there are two memorials of this same John the evangelist. We shall treat of this matter in its turn when we come to Papias his disciple. In the fourteenth year then after Nero, Domitian having raised a second persecution, he was banished to the island of Patmos and wrote the apocalypse, which Justin Martyr and Irenaeus interpreted. But after Domitian was put to death and his acts were annulled by the senate on account of his excessive cruelty, he returned to Ephesus under Pertinax and, continuing there until the time of the emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and, worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eighth year after the passion of the Lord and was buried near the same city.

Origen, On Matthew 16.6:

Πεπωκασι δε ποτηριον και το βαπτισμα εβαπτισθησαν οι του Ζεβεδαιου υιοι, επειπερ Ηρωδης μεν απεκτεινεν Ιακωβον τον Ιωαννου μαχαιρα, ο δε Ρωμαιων βασιλευς, ως η παραδοσις διδασκει, κατεδικασε τον Ιωαννην μαρτυρουντα δια τον της αληθειας λογον εις Πατμον την νησον.

But the sons of Zebedee drank the cup and were baptized with the baptism, since indeed Herod killed James [the brother] of John with a sword, and the king of the Romans, as tradition teaches, condemned John to the island of Patmos for testifying for the sake of the word of truth.

Tertullian, On Monogamy 17.1:

Habebunt plane Christo quod legent speciosum privilegium, carnis usquequaque imbecillitatem. sed hanc iudicabunt iam non Isaac monogamus pater noster, nec Iohannes aliqui Christi spado, nec Iudith filia Merari nec tot alia exempla sanctorum. solent ethnici iudices destinari.

They will have plainly a specious privilege to plead before Christ, the everlasting infirmity of the flesh! But upon this [infirmity] will sit in judgment no longer an Isaac, our monogamist father, or a John, a noted voluntary celibate of Christ, or a Judith, daughter of Merari, or so many other examples of saints. Gentiles are wont to be destined our judges.

Augustine, On the Gospel of John 124.2-3 (translation slightly modified from the one available at New Advent):

Sed cui placet, adhuc resistat, et dicat verum esse quod ait Ioannes, non dixisse dominum quod discipulus ille non moritur, sed hoc tamen significatum esse talibus verbis, qualia eum dixisse narravit, et asserat apostolum Ioannem vivere, atque in illo sepulcro eius quod est apud Ephesum, dormire eum potius quam mortuum iacere contendat. assumat in argumentum, quod illic terra sensim scatere, et quasi ebullire perhibetur, atque hoc eius anhelitu fieri, sive constanter sive pertinaciter asseveret. non enim possunt deesse qui credant, si non desunt qui etiam Moysen asserant vivere, quia scriptum est eius sepulcrum non inveniri, et apparuit cum domino in monte, ubi et Elias fuit, quem mortuum legimus non esse, sed raptum. quasi Moysi corpus non potuerit alicubi sic abscondi, ut prorsus homines lateret ubi esset, atque inde ad horam divinitus excitari, quando cum Christo Elias et ipse sunt visi, sicut ad horam multa sanctorum corpora surrexerunt, quando passus est Christus, et post eius resurrectionem apparuerunt multis in sancta, sicut scriptum est, civitate. sed tamen, ut dicere coeperam, si quidam Moysen mortuum negant, quem scriptura ipsa, ubi sepulcrum eius nusquam inveniri legimus, mortuum tamen esse sine ulla ambiguitate testatur, quanto magis Ioannes ex istorum occasione verborum ubi dominus ait: Sic eum volo manere donec venio, creditur vivus dormire sub terra? quem tradunt etiam, quod in quibusdam scripturis quamvis apocryphis reperitur, quando sibi fieri iussit sepulcrum, incolumen fuisse praesentem, eoque effosso et diligentissime praeparato, ibi se tamquam in lectulo collocasse, statimque eum esse defunctum, ut autem isti putant, qui heec verba domini sic intelligunt, non defunctum, sed defuncto similem cubuisse, et cum mortuus putaretur, sepultum fuisse dormientem, et donec Christus veniat sic manere, suamque vitam scaturigine pulveris indicare, qui pulvis creditur, ut ab imo ad superficiem tumuli ascendat, flatu quiescentis impelli. huic opinioni supervacaneum existimo reluctari. viderint enim qui locum sciunt, utrum hoc ibi faciat vel patiatur terra quod dicitur, quia et revera non a levibus hominibus id audivimus.

But let any one who so resists still refuse his assent, and declare that what John asserts is true enough, that the Lord said not that that disciple dies not, and yet that this is the meaning of such words as he is here recorded to have used; and further assert that the apostle John is still living, and maintain that he is sleeping rather than lying dead in his tomb at Ephesus. Let him employ as an argument the current report that there the earth is in sensible commotion, and presents a kind of heaving appearance, and assert whether it be steadfastly or obstinately that this is occasioned by his breathing. For we cannot fail to have some who so believe, if there is no want of those also who affirm that Moses is alive, because it is written that his sepulchre could not be found,1 and that he appeared with the Lord on the mountain along with Elijah,2 of whom we read that he did not die, but was translated,3 as if the body of Moses could not have been hidden somewhere in such a way as that its position should altogether escape discovery by men, and be raised up therefrom by divine power at the time when Elijah and he were seen with Christ just as at the time of the passion of Christ many bodies of the saints arose, and after his resurrection appeared, according to scripture, to many in the holy city.4 But still, as I began to say, if some deny the death of Moses, whom scripture itself, in the very passage where we read that his sepulcher could nowhere be found, explicitly declares to have died, how much more may occasion be taken from these words where the Lord says: Thus do I wish him to stay till I come,5 to believe that John is sleeping, but still alive, beneath the ground? Of whom we have also the tradition, which is found in certain apocryphal scriptures, that he was present, in good health, when he ordered a sepulcher to be made for him, and that, when it was dug and prepared with all possible care, he laid himself down there as in a bed, and became immediately defunct; yet as those think who so understand these words of the Lord, not really defunct, but only lying like one in such a condition, and, while accounted dead, was actually buried when asleep, and that he will so remain until the coming of Christ, making known meanwhile the fact of his life by the bubbling up of the dust, which is believed to be forced by the breath of the sleeper to ascend from the depths to the surface of the grave. I think it quite superfluous to contend with such an opinion. For those may see for themselves who know the locality whether the ground there does or suffers what is said regarding it, because, in truth, we too have heard of it from those who are not altogether unreliable witnesses.

1 Refer to Deuteronomy 34.6.
2 Refer to Matthew 17.3 = Mark 9.4 = Luke 9.30.
3 Refer to 2 Kings 2.11.
4 Refer to Matthew 27.52-53.
5 Refer to John 21.22.

Interim cedamus opinioni, quam certis documentis refellere non valemus, ne rursus aliud quod a nobis quaeratur exsurgat: Cur super humatum mortuum ipsa humus quodammodo vivere ac spirare videatur. sed numquid hinc tanta ista solvitur quaestio, si magno miraculo, qualia potest facere omnipotens, tamdiu vivum corpus in sopore sub terra est, donec veniat terminus saeculi? quin imo fit amplior et difficilior, cur discipulo Iesus, quem diligebat prae ceteris, in tantum ut super pectus eius discumbere mereretur, pro magno munere longum in corpore donaverit somnum, cum beatum Petrum per ingentem martyrii gloriam, ab onere ipsius corporis solverit, eique concesserit quod apostolus Paulus se concupisse dixit, et scripsit: Dissolvi et esse cum Christo. si autem quod magis creditur, ideo sanctus Ioannes ait, non dixisse dominum: Non moritur, ne illis verbis quae dixit, hoc voluisse intelligi putaretur, corpusque eius in sepulcro eius exanime sicut aliorum mortuorum iacet; restat ut si vere ibi fit quod sparsit fama de terra,quae subinde ablata succrescit, aut ideo fiat ut eo modo commendetur pretiosa mors eius, quoniam non eam commendat martyrium, non enim eum pro fide Christi persecutor occidit, aut propter aliquid aliud quod nos latet. manet tamen quaestio cur dixerit dominus de homine morituro: Sic eum volo manere donec veniam.

Meanwhile let us yield to the opinion, which we are unable to refute by any certain evidence, lest we stir up still another question that may be put to us, why the very ground should seem in a kind of way to live and breathe upon the interred corpse. But can so great a question as the one before us be settled on such grounds as these, if by a great miracle, such as can be wrought by the almighty, the living body lies so long asleep beneath the ground until the coming of the end of the world? No, rather, does there not arise a wider and more difficult one, why Jesus bestowed on the disciple, whom he loved beyond the others to such an extent that he was counted worthy to recline on his breast, the gift of a protracted sleep in the body, when he delivered the blessed Peter, by the eminent glory of martyrdom, from the burden of the body itself, and vouchsafed to him what the apostle Paul said that he desired, and committed to writing, namely, to be let loose, and to be with Christ?* But if, what is rather to be believed, saint John declared that the Lord said not, he dies not, for the very purpose that no such meaning might be attached to the words which he used, and his body lies in its sepulcher lifeless like those of others deceased, it remains, if that really takes place which report has spread abroad regarding the soil, which grows up anew, though continually carried away, that it is either so done for the purpose of commending the preciousness of his death, seeing it wants the commendation of martyrdom, for he suffered not death at the hand of a persecutor for the faith of Christ, or on some other account that is concealed from our knowledge. Still there remains the question, why the Lord said of one who was destined to die: Thus I wish him to remain till I come.

* Refer to Philippians 1.23.