Who is the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel?

Clearly, the author of the Fourth Gospel does not want us to go away from engagement in his story without knowing his indebtedness to the disciple he calls “the one Jesus loved” (John 21:24). The narrator claims this disciple is the source of his information. However distant in time, I believe his claim is true. This leads us to speculate that the Fourth Gospel was originally, “The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple”. Please see my previous article, “Did Wealthy Women Originally found the Community Responsible for the Fourth Gospel?

It seems probable to me that the original gospel linked to the Beloved Disciple spoke not of the resurrection of Jesus. Instead, it spoke of some form of exaltation of Jesus — a spiritual vision! Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is at the heart of this vision. This vision was not of a physical body risen from the dead. Rather, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene that she is not to touch him. Jesus sends her to the brethren to tell them that he is ascending to the Father (John 20:17). The assumption is clear. Mary is to tell the disciples he is gone to the Father and that they will not see his risen form before his ascension. The subsequent showing and touching of Jesus’ wounds (John 20:20,27) and the meal beside the lake (John 21:1-4), both belong to a later stratum of composition than Jesus’ original words to Mary in John 20:17.

If this reading is correct an interesting question arises. What was the original teaching about Jesus’ exaltation as given by the Beloved Disciple? My belief is that the discourses placed at the Last Supper (especially John 14:32 to 17:11) were originally post-crucifixion discourses — a vision of the Beloved Disciple about Jesus’ exaltation, based on John 20:17. John 14:31 reads “arise, let us go hence (toward my nightime arrest)”. Yet the next verse simply resumes the discourse with no explanation! There are hints this was originally a gnostic-like resurrection discourse. A spirit being Jesus informs the disciples he is making secret disclosures which he had previously not made “because I was with you (in the flesh?)” (John 16:4). But now he is spirit because he has finished the work he came to do (John 17:4). He has conquered the world (John 16:33). Now he is being glorified with his original glory (John 17:5). Finally, “I am no longer in the world” he proclaims (John 17:11)

Today many equate the word “gnostic” with “heretic”. And yet, perhaps the respected scholar Ernst Kasemann was right in calling the theology of the Fourth Gospel a “naive gnosticism”. It appears that the epistle known as 1 John was written to stem the tide of such a heretical belief and that heretical belief, it also appears, is based upon the original version of the Fourth Gospel! Was Mary Magdalene the first Christian, Gnostic-like women leader? Is she, in fact, the founder of Christian Gnosticism? And is her witness the one whom the later editors of the Fourth Gospel want us to know they are deeply indebted to? I hope that in the spirit of a progressive and inclusive Christianity, I may be permitted to explore these issues further, as I believe these questions are important to the origins of Christian faith and a greater understanding of so-called Christian heretics, that are often referred to in the New Testament.

Please send comments to John Mitrosky at gm.jm@sympatico.ca

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