Saturday, January 10, 2009

The disciple whom Jesus loved

Regular readers of this blog (six that I know of, perhaps more) might remember a string of posts about Lazarus in May/June last year [post 1, post 2, post 3].
I had a comment on the first post from a guy called Jim Phillips who has studied the 4th gospel in detail and the story of Lazarus in particular and has come to the conclusion that Lazarus was the 'disciple whom Jesus loved' who wrote the gospel, not John. He has written a book called 'The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved' which can be read in its entirety online.

I don't like reading long things (even, in this case, short books) online, so I tried to buy the book. But Amazon marketplace sellers in the UK charge an awful lot for a short, second-hand book, so I didn't buy it. In the end I printed out the online version and read it... eventually.

So, having now read the book, am I convinced by its reasoning?

Well, reasonably yes.

The (entirely biblical) evidence presented in the book is compelling. Certainly, it makes a very good case that the disciple John - one of "the twelve" - was not the author of the 4th gospel. It also makes a very good case for the belief that Lazarus wrote the gospel.

I am convinced.

That's not to say that I couldn't be convinced out of this belief if other evidence were presented, but for now I am content to believe that the 4th gospel was written by Lazarus. Or written by someone else from the point of view of Lazarus.

That second possibility there is one that is not considered in the book, yet still remains a possibility. Just because the book is written from the point of view of 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (TDWJL), doesn't actually mean that it was that disciple who wrote it. But that is a minor point.

The one issue that the book hasn't addressed to my satisfaction is the question of why the other three gospels make no mention of Lazarus at all (except in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus). Indeed, while the 4th gospel has Peter and TDWJL going to the empty tomb on the day of resurrection, Luke has Peter going alone (Matthew & Mark don't have Peter going there at all).

What's going on there? That't not just a case of two people remembering the event in different ways, this particular event was the one, central event which defined their whole belief system. This was the most important event they were writing about. If Peter had gone to the tomb alone every one of the disciples would have known. If he was accompanied by TDWJL (whoever that might be) they would have known it too.

So, as I see it there are two possibilities:
  1. The authors of the other gospels deliberately removed TDWJL from their accounts, or
  2. TDWJL wasn't there and his insertion into the 4th gospel is a fabrication.
The author of the book cannot conceive of the 2nd option as being a possibility as he starts from the premise that all the gospels (along with the rest of the bible) are both inspired by God and infallible (therefore factually accurate, in all details).

However, I don't think that even the first option is completely compatible with the same premise. If the other gospels are factually accurate then TDWJL (whoever he might be) would not have been removed from the story. Sure, they might have recorded it as Peter going with an un-named disciple, but not as Peter on his own.

But let's face it, if the 4th gospel is true, then the other three gospels deliberately miss out the telling of one of Jesus's greatest miracles and the one which appears to have set the ball rolling towards his inevitable crucifixion. In the 4th gospel account it is the resurrection of Lazarus that brings about the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.

If all gospels are inspired by the same God, then it is clear that he wants the story of Lazarus to be recorded, so why would the others - under the inspiration of the Spirit - omit this crucial story?

All of the possible reasons for omitting Lazarus from the other three gospels are human in origin. Not down to inspiration. Indeed, this whole issue is good evidence for the fallibility of the gospel accounts. Now I'm not saying they're not inspired, I'm just saying they're not infallible. Someone can be inspired to write something and then produce something flawed. Neither the inspiration or the intention is in question.

But why miss Lazarus out of the first three gospels? Re-reading the stories, I wonder if there might be a little bit of jealousy going on here. From the 4th gospel, we get the impression that TDWJL/Lazarus was more than simply a disciple. Jesus refers to him as 'friend' and he is the only one singled out as being 'loved' by Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was closer to Lazarus than to 'the twelve' and perhaps they were jealous.

I think there's a lot more still to uncover in the story of Lazarus and I'll continue pondering it in the weeks and months ahead. It'll certainly make me view the 4th gospel differently next time I read it...