A Better Bible Study Method, Book One
THE BIBLE VERSUS TRADITION
The Jury Summation
This study presented two cases: the case as to why the Apostle John was not “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, the author of the fourth gospel, and the case for why that author was most likely Lazarus – all with God’s word being the only authority cited. Below is a summary to help you weigh the evidence so you can render a verdict. (All of the verses were quoted earlier, so they will not be noted here.)
The biblical evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt the Apostle John was not the “other disciple” because:
The gospel writers treated them like different people. The first three gospels totally omit the one whom “Jesus loved”, but they often refer to John by name – and yet all of those events where John was referenced by name in the first three gospels are missing from the book that the one whom “Jesus loved” wrote.
The one whom “Jesus loved” wrote his gospel without identifying himself by name, but there is no evidence John ever avoided using his own name. In fact, John identified himself by name repeatedly in the Book of Revelation, and this difference in behavior argues against the idea that the same man wrote both books.
“The disciple whom Jesus loved” enjoyed a one-of-a-kind bond with Jesus. This can’t be said of John, and the three times that Jesus took John aside with Peter and James do not single John out as having that relationship.
On the night that Jesus was arrested, John and the “other disciple” behaved differently. John let Jesus down by falling asleep three times. In contrast, the “other disciple” went into the palace of the high priest with Jesus, and we only see him leave at a time well into the next day, when Jesus reassigned him.
The idea that the one whom “Jesus loved” was John relies on the false assumption that this author was one of “the twelve”. Paintings of “the twelve” alone with Jesus at the supper promote this error. But the details in scripture show Jesus and “the twelve” were not alone at that event, like the fact they were guests in someone’s home. Besides this, the phrase “other disciple” itself indicates he was not one of “the twelve” but, rather, he was one of the additional loyal disciples who also followed Jesus. (See Appendix for more proof he was not one of “the twelve”.)
If “the disciple whom Jesus loved” joined Jesus and “the twelve” after the supper, then this person could not be John. Yet this is just what is indicated by the author’s own record of events at that Passover – which skips the Lord’s Table and opens with the foot washing, after which Jesus sat down “again”.
The “other disciple” was a known associate of Jesus, and he was known to the high priest. But John was not known to the high priest. It was only after Pentecost that the high priest first became acquainted with John.
The author’s anonymity argues against the John idea. At the end of this author’s gospel, he listed “the sons of Zebedee” at the same time that he listed two “other” disciples and called himself the one whom “Jesus loved”. He grouped John in with the apostles but he referred to himself anonymously at that point.
A preponderance of the evidence indicates Lazarus was the “other disciple” because:
They had the identical relationship with Jesus. “Jesus loved” the one “whom Jesus loved” and “Jesus loved” Lazarus – and they were unique in this regard. They were the only men who associated with Jesus during his ministry that were also singled out in scripture as being “loved” by Jesus (the key relationship).
The other three gospel writers treat these two alike. They do not tell us that Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, or that Lazarus had supper with Jesus, or even that Lazarus was raised from the dead! Likewise, they never mention “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”, and they totally ignore his unique role in the key events of the closing days of Jesus’ life.
The anonymous author treats Lazarus and himself in a parallel manner in his gospel. Lazarus suddenly appears late in the text and he is only referenced a few times. In a highly similar way, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” also suddenly appears late in the gospel and he too is only referenced a few times.
One seems to replace the other in the gospel. The last mention of Lazarus occurs before the first mention of the one whom “Jesus loved”. The author ceased all references to Lazarus in the text and it was only after he did so that the author began referring to himself as the one whom “Jesus loved”.
The suddenly famous one disappears, and then the anonymous one suddenly appears. Right after the public’s desire to see Lazarus is recounted, a transition occurs: he vanishes from the text, and the term “Jesus loved” (that had only been used of him) then begins to be used by the author in anonymous references to himself – “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, the “other disciple, whom Jesus loved”, etc.
The experiences of Lazarus would produce the behavior exhibited by “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Jesus gave a one-of-a-kind gift to Lazarus when he raised him from the dead. After that, Lazarus was different from the rest of Jesus’ followers, and he would have been different from the man that he had been prior to that miracle. Jesus’ relationship to the one whom “Jesus loved” and the behavior of this “other disciple” befit what one would expect if he was the raised-from-the-dead Lazarus.
The Bible reveals that both sat with Jesus. The last time Lazarus is seen in the Bible he is sitting with Jesus at a table. Similarly, the first time the one whom “Jesus loved” is seen he is leaning on Jesus at a table.
When confronted with the “linen” evidence, the “other disciple” became the first one who “believed”. This reaction befits Lazarus – the one person in scripture who was most likely to be profoundly moved by the sight of the “linen clothes” and the “napkin”, since he had been wearing similar wrappings for four days at the time he was raised from the dead.
The “not die” rumor about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” points to Lazarus. Lazarus was raised from the dead. Jesus said, “whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” just prior to raising him. Knowing either fact might cause a rush to judgment about Jesus’ words, “If I will that he tarry till I come” and result in the rumor that was misconstrued from them (especially if it was known he “believed” first).
The “other disciple” was anonymous and Lazarus had a motive to become anonymous. When the people came “not for Jesus’ sake only” but to “see Lazarus also”, surely Lazarus knew that the focus belonged on Jesus and not on him. Likewise, the author’s intent was to lead people to Jesus, and he concealed his identity, thus he apparently felt that this was needed in order to achieve that objective.
When Peter’s death was foretold he turned to “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. This could be because he associated “the disciple whom Jesus loved” with the issue of death, a topic that would undeniably be forever associated with Lazarus by all those who knew him.
The “other disciple” was a known associate of Jesus and was known to the high priest; both fit Lazarus. He was a “friend” of Jesus and the apostles. Upon his death “many of the Jews” turned out, some still weeping four days later. When Lazarus was raised the “chief priests” sought to kill Jesus but thereafter many Jews “came not for Jesus sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also”. So the “chief priests” conspired to kill him too because “by reason of him many of the Jews” believed on Jesus.
The First Disciples
The evidence presented thus far should have been sufficient to justify the goals put forth earlier. The Bible does have other items that are related to the facts we have considered. However, the verdict you have already reached is not likely to be altered by the three supplemental passages we will look at now. Still, these items are worth noting, for they can help to shed added light on the unnamed “other disciple”.
For example, consider what we are told about the first disciples of Jesus. The first chapter of the fourth gospel tells of a day when John the Baptist saw Jesus “coming unto him” and he went on to call Jesus, “the Lamb of God”, to testify that the Spirit “abode upon him”, and to “bare record that this is the Son of God” (Fourth gospel 1:29-34). The next day, Jesus returned and John the Baptist once again called him, “the Lamb of God”, and then it says that two of the disciples of John the Baptist, “heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (Fourth gospel 1:35-37).
We are told these two disciples who went with Jesus, “abode with him that day” (Fourth gospel 1:38-39). These two men were the first individuals that the scripture says, “followed Jesus”. Now be careful to pay close attention to what the next two verses say and more importantly, what they do not say.
“One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (Fourth gospel 1:40-41). In the subsequent verses, we see that Andrew brought his brother to meet Jesus, and that the following day Jesus found Philip (Fourth gospel 1:42-43).
Furthermore, we see that these original three (Andrew, Peter, and Philip) became loyal disciples and that they were eventually selected to be among “the twelve” (Mt. 10:2-3, Mk. 3:16-18, Lu. 6:14). But who have we forgotten here? Did you notice that there is one person who seems to vanish from the scene?
What happened to that other disciple of John the Baptist who was abiding with Jesus along with Andrew? As far as we can tell, Andrew and that second, unnamed individual were the first ones who “followed Jesus”. Andrew’s name is recorded here, and he gets mentioned in all of the gospels. Yet the other man that was one of those first two disciples is not named here and we do not find him referenced at all outside of this passage. Did he just suddenly disappear? Was he of no importance? Or is there another possibility?
The unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” is the only gospel author who tells of this unidentified ex-disciple of John the Baptist that followed Jesus. So, another possibility is that this unnamed follower of Jesus eventually became the unnamed author of the only book that mentions him. Perhaps one of the first two followers of Jesus amounted to nothing and merited no further mention. But it could also be that the unnamed gospel author decided to keep himself unnamed in his reporting on these first disciples.
Obviously, the bond between Jesus and the one whom “Jesus loved” didn’t appear out of thin air. That relationship existed for some time prior to the Last Supper (where “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was first introduced). In light of this is it conceivable that the unnamed “other disciple” was there from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? Yes. But can any other verses help to establish this? Yes. In Acts 1:21-22, Peter refers to men who, “companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto the same day that he [Jesus] was taken up”. Although we cannot know for sure if Peter’s words included the person who was present with Andrew that day, it is possible this unnamed early follower of Jesus was in that group. It is up to you to weigh this as you see fit. (Those who think the Apostle John wrote the fourth gospel will often claim this early follower was John. Yet, absolutely nothing in scripture justifies believing John met Jesus before Peter did. The opposite is actually true, for scripture indicates Jesus met Peter before he met both James and John.)
Clearly, there is not enough evidence to prove the anonymous author of this gospel was the same one who, along with Andrew, left John the Baptist to follow Jesus on that day. Nevertheless, this idea is worth considering, and would, of course, explain the origin of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” prior to Jesus’ last Passover. Moreover, if this was Lazarus, then the episode helps to explain: (a) the origin of the relationship he had with Jesus, and (b) why he was called a “friend” of Jesus and the apostles.
Also, just prior to telling how Martha and Mary sent word of their ill brother to Jesus, the author had said Jesus, “went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode” (Fourth gospel 10:40). So, their appeal came when Jesus was in the area. This, likewise, would place John the Baptist in the vicinity of Bethany at the time those two disciples left him to begin following Jesus. (The KJV calls this area, “Bethabara” (Fourth gospel 1:28), while others translate it, “Bethany”. So the early link to Lazarus’ home town is obscured in the KJV.)
Mark’s Mystery Man
There may also be a unique link to Lazarus in Mark 14:43-53, which tells us about the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. In Mark 14:50 we read, “And they all forsook him, and fled”. You would think after the disciples fled there wouldn’t be anyone left to stand with Jesus. However, immediately after this verse, we find an extremely curious reference that calls attention to the fact that at that point in time, one person still remained with Jesus – an unnamed “young man”!
Mark 14:51-52 tells us, “And there followed him [Jesus] a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked”. This is something that was not mentioned in the other gospels. Still, since it is part of inspired scripture, God must have wanted us to have this information. So, let’s think carefully about the questions that are raised by these two verses.
One question is, why would this unnamed “young man” remain with Jesus after the rest of the disciples had fled? If he was Lazarus, then we know why he might have remained. Yet, this “young man” then fled too. So, how was his behavior different from that of the ones who “forsook” Jesus in Mark 14:50? It appears that he fled for a different reason.
Notice that Mark 14:51 takes the time to tell us the details of how this “young man” was clothed, having only a linen cloth covering his nakedness. Also, note that Mark 14:52 says he fled away naked. So what, you ask? When the others “forsook” Jesus “and fled”, the implication is that they did so out of fear for their own safety. However, this “young man” left “naked”, so this may suggest that he fled out of shame or embarrassment. We are told that they “laid hold on him” (Mk. 14:51b). The natural response to being grabbed is to pull away or to try to shake free, especially if one is grabbed without warning. So this is most likely how he came to be stripped, for the next words say, “And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked” (Mk. 14:52). No doubt startled to find himself being seized and suddenly naked, it was at that point that this “young man” then fled also.
This “young man” fled too, yet his actions are set apart from the rest of the disciples who forsook Jesus that night. Is it possible even the fear of death could not motivate Lazarus to flee, but unexpectedly being stripped naked might cause him to flee out of embarrassment in the heat of the moment?
Even after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he was still a human being, subject to the influence of emotions. After the mob left, he either retrieved the “linen cloth” or got something else to wear, and then proceeded to follow Jesus, as did Peter. Now, we will look to see if any evidence exists that might connect this “young man” to Lazarus.
A Fashion Statement?
In telling us this unnamed “young man” was the last follower of Jesus to flee from Gethsemane on that fateful night, scripture twice calls attention to this “young man’s” attire. Twice we see references to the “linen cloth” this “young man” was wearing (Mk. 14:51 & 52), and both verses note this cloth was the only thing covering his otherwise “naked” body. So, why did God inspire this author to include these details? Perhaps he was led to record them because they can shed some additional light on this unnamed “young man”.
Earlier in this study the significance of “linen” clothes was discussed. Remember that our English word “linen” was used to translate several different Greek words but that two of these always refer to the cloth covering a corpse, with the only exception being found here in Mark 14:51-52.
Why would this “young man” have chosen to wear a material that was used by the Jews to bury their dead? (Fourth gospel 19:40). Is it possible that this unnamed “young man” was indicating that he had already been dead or that he did not fear death? Or perhaps it was his way of indicating that he was a changed man, who reckoned himself dead to sin but alive unto God, the mindset that we see encouraged by Paul in Romans 6:11? Whatever the reason, this possible link between the unnamed “young man” and Lazarus (the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved”) can be seen when one takes the time to examine the “linen” evidence that the Bible provides.
An unnamed “young man” dressed in “linen” was the last one with Jesus when he was arrested and every other time this Greek word for “linen” was used it was only in reference to Jesus’ dead body (Mt. 27:59, Mk. 15:46(2x), Lu. 23:53). Is this enough evidence to suggest this “young man” may have been Lazarus? Surely we cannot prove it for certain, yet, before you decide on this consider one more fact.
Other than Jesus this “young man” was the only person who the arresting mob sought to seize. They let the rest of the disciples go but then they “laid hold on him” (Mk. 14:51). Why did they treat him differently from the disciples who were allowed to leave unhindered? There was only one man who the “chief priests” sought to kill at that point besides Jesus – they “consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death” (Fourth gospel 12:10). Even this, however, is not sufficient to prove that this was Lazarus.
Still, given the curious statements of Mark 14, which highlight the fact that this “young man” was the last person to leave Jesus at Gethsemane, this potential link to Lazarus is worth thinking about.
Once again, as you consider these additional items, please remember that the evidence that was previously presented herein regarding both Lazarus and John is intended to stand on its own. These supplemental items are being discussed simply as a way of tying up a few loose ends.
More than a Story?
Now we’ll look at some of the unique parallels between a story that is told in the Gospel of Luke, and the facts that are reported by the anonymous author in his gospel (Fourth gospel 11:1-12:10, Lu. 16:19-31). As we do, keep one thing in mind: although Jesus did use stories to teach, scripture also indicates that Jesus was a prophet (Mk. 6:4, Acts 3:22-26).
In the story taught by Jesus in Luke 16, he referred to two characters, a “rich man” and a man named “Lazarus”, both of whom died (Lu. 16:19, 20 & 22). The “rich man” then found himself “being in torments” (Lu. 16:23), and he proceeded to make some requests. To start with, he sought relief and, oddly enough, in his appeal he included the petition, “send Lazarus…” (Lu. 16:24). The “rich man” was then told why that could not happen (Lu. 16:25-26). Following this, the “rich man” made another appeal involving “Lazarus”, “send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he [Lazarus] may testify unto them” (Lu. 16:27-28).
Notice what Jesus did here with this story. The dead “rich man” was asking if someone named “Lazarus” could return from the dead to “testify” unto his “brethren”, who were still alive.
Jesus also underscores the fact this was precisely what the “rich man” was requesting. When the “rich man” was told that his brethren “have Moses and the prophets” (Lu. 16:29) he protested, because he thought sending Lazarus back from the dead would lead them to respond differently – “if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” (Lu. 16:30).
Sadly, however, the “rich man” was informed, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Lu. 16:31). Jesus ended the story here.
Now, try to imagine the effect this teaching would have had on those who actually heard Jesus give this message, especially his disciples. The day the disciples heard Jesus speak these words it is likely they assumed that this story was no different than Jesus’ other teaching stories. But what do you suppose went through their minds when they later saw part of this story come true? That is, when an individual named Lazarus did rise from the dead!
Who Was Jesus Speaking About?
Some will try to take the ‘moral of the story’ and apply it to the situation of the high priest, rulers, elders, and scribes who refused to repent after the resurrection of Jesus. While this might appear to be a good fit, let’s take a closer look at this.
To begin with, note the contrast between the way Jesus ended the story (“if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead”) and the response to the news of the resurrection of Jesus, which has been persuading people for the last 2000 years!
Moreover, consider this fact. In the scriptures the resurrected Jesus did not appear to unbelievers. After the resurrection, every recorded appearance of Jesus was to those who believed or would believe. He did not appear before the chief priests, elders, and/or their council to “testify” unto them.
These facts seem to hinder a comparison between the resurrected Jesus and the person who was requested by the “rich man” in Luke 16:30, the one who the “rich man” was sure would bring about repentance in those who already had “Moses and the prophets” (Lu. 16:29).
While it has frequently been related to Jesus’ resurrection, his witnesses in the New Testament, and the good news of the gospel, this story might be better understood if we consider the possibility that in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus was articulating a prophecy. (Jesus’ delay and words prior to raising Lazarus may well support this idea (cf. Fourth gospel 11:4, 6-7 & 14-15).)
The Luke 16 story has several parallels to the real life Lazarus. In both cases Lazarus died, but in the story we don’t see him raised, we only hear the request. Also, while there are no words of Lazarus recorded in the Bible, it is certain that he did “testify” about Jesus to those with whom he spoke.
In addition, Lazarus became a living testimony to the power of Jesus and because of him “many of the Jews went away and believed on Jesus”. But just like the response described in Luke 16, the Jewish leaders (who had “Moses and the prophets”) were not persuaded – even though a Lazarus was sent to them from the dead. Eyewitnesses to this miracle “went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done”. Yet, instead of repenting, “the chief priests and Pharisees” plotted to kill Jesus (Fourth gospel 11:46-53). The “chief priests” sought to kill Lazarus also (Fourth gospel 12:10). So, was the reaction described by Jesus in Luke 16:31 a prophecy of this response? As with the two other supplemental passages, it’s up to you to ponder this food for thought. Now, however, we will return to the main thrust of this study to provide a wrap-up and to tackle some questions that are likely to remain.
Most of us bought the idea that John was the author of the gospel that bears his name because:
- This is what we have been told
- It has been called this for a long time
- This is what ‘all’ the scholars seem to say
- The gospel we read has this ‘title’ added to it
These might seem like separate arguments but, in fact, the same mistaken assumption underlies them all. They all rely on a non-Bible source, i.e., trusting someone else’s judgment. These ‘reasons’ don’t require us to search the scriptures; rather, they rely on someone else to have already done this job.
But, what if others now and in the past have done the same? Who is left to search the scriptures? The scholars? Isn’t it normal for them to rely on the work of scholars who preceded them (like judges rely on prior rulings)? What happens if successive generations tended to rely on the work of those who have preceded them? Furthermore, what happens if an error gets introduced into this sequence early on? If an error went unchallenged long enough it might eventually become accepted as truth and correcting this error would grow more difficult as time went on – because its ‘historical acceptance’ would become a rationale for assuming that this idea must be true.
Clearing up a long accepted misconception is a big challenge but the Bible is up to it. What should come out of this is that we receive the correction scripture offers so we can benefit from the blessings that follow when we let the Bible speak for itself. There was never any biblical support for the John idea as you now know. The fact this error has fooled so many so long should be a wake-up call to us all. Let this inspire you to search the scriptures more diligently in the future. Instead of thinking you can just adopt the opinions of others on biblical matters, or that some ‘expert’s’ judgment must necessarily be better than your own, make use of the judgment God gave to you and be open to the truth presented by God’s word.
This study presented reasoning that relies on the Bible only. On the other hand, those who seek to defend the John idea are forced to use arguments that ultimately rest on everything but the Bible. Yet this is not clear until we begin focusing on this issue. The efforts to defend the John idea actually reveal there is no biblical justification for teaching it. Take a look. Those who promote the John tradition do not quote scripture to justify their belief, rather, they defend it by citing this-or-that non-Bible source (i.e., an ‘early church’ personality, consensus, historical tradition, etc.). But if the Bible justified their teaching of this tradition, they would quote scripture and allow it to prove the point, instead of relying on hearsay and the opinions of men to make their case. No amount of non-Bible consensus is ever sufficient to overcome the truth that is revealed by scripture. The primary source is always the best evidence – and on biblical matters that source is God’s word.
If we look to somebody else to read the Bible and search the scriptures for us, then we will adopt their mistakes and any errors they pass along to us. Scripture shows educated religious men sometimes believe ideas and promote traditions contrary to the word of God (Mk. 7:13, Col. 2:8, et al.). So, belief by men is clearly not a reliable indicator of whether or not an idea is true. Yet confidence in tradition is precisely what leads many to fall for circular reasoning: e.g., ‘We know John wrote it, because it’s his gospel’, or ‘It’s called the Gospel of John, because John wrote it’ (even though the author said nothing of the kind). Others fall prey to error in assuming ‘John must have written the Gospel of John, because this is what everyone else thinks’. This still relies on others to have the truth but it also falsely presumes a large number of people cannot be wrong concurrently. However, even if ‘everybody’ seems to think an idea is true, the fact is agreement with God’s word is the biblical test of truth, not agreement among men.
Why have the vast majority of scholars and books misidentified the author of the fourth gospel? How could the truth have been missed by so many for so long? Besides the reasons discussed above, there is another possibility that we should consider. It may be that God is opening the eyes of people to this truth in order to humble us and draw us into a deeper reliance on His word. At the very least, the exposing of the John error should prove man has not already discovered all of the Bible’s truths.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Some will just ignore this issue and the Bible facts related to it. Still, they and any who promote the John tradition will continue to face one daunting question: If what they teach is biblical, why doesn’t a single verse justify teaching this idea? Also, if the Bible can prove John was not the “other disciple”, does that truth not matter? In any case, some will be persuaded by the biblical evidence presented herein and these final thoughts are directed to that group.
If we discover evidence that indicates we might be mistaken on a matter, what should we do? The scriptures can prove the Apostle John was not the author of the fourth gospel, but men who relied on non-Bible sources ended up attributing it to him. You have also seen there is a substantial amount of biblical evidence which supports the conclusion the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” was Lazarus of Bethany. What is unique about this insight is it can be seen after almost 2,000 years and, like a watermark of truth, it provides a powerful argument for the reliability of the Bible we have today.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2Tim. 3:16), and this is still true today. We also are told, “Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies” (Ps. 40:4). Knowing the true identity of the one whom “Jesus loved” is surely not necessary to have eternal life. But respect for God’s word is required – for one cannot believe Jesus died and rose “according to the scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3-4) apart from the foundation of God’s word! This is why we dare not intentionally ignore truth on topics we deem are not ‘critical’. We do not get to ‘agree-to-disagree’ with truth, since truth is not a matter of opinion. Specifically, the truth on this issue is important because it illustrates how the Bible can correct us and it encourages us to seek the truth, “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (cf. 1Cor. 2:13).
Respect for the Authority of God’s Word
Of “the Lord” who said, “them that honour me I will honour” (1Sa. 2:30), we are also told, “...thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Ps. 138:2). So, honoring God’s word will surely yield future benefits. Nevertheless, just like those in Mark 7:13 who made the word of God of no effect by their tradition, some will cling to the John idea even though it is unbiblical and, in order to justify doing so, they will go on citing non-Bible sources that agree with them. This serves as an excuse for adding John’s name to the text, but it ultimately undermines the authority of God’s word.
If discovering that the Bible can disprove the John tradition cannot motivate people to reconsider how they determine whether or not an idea is true, then they’ll reap the consequences of that decision. To avoid having to respond to Bible evidence that might prove them wrong, some rush to brush aside the issue by asking, ‘What difference does it make?’ as a rhetorical question – and this sets a dangerous precedent. The danger lies in acting as if we get to decide when it’s okay to ignore the truth. Those who want to stick with the John idea need an excuse to avoid scripture/change the subject, so they will imply that ‘It doesn’t matter.’ However, while the truth may not matter to them, their decision to ignore it matters a lot. If a wrong idea is believed/taught in ignorance, that’s one thing, but what about after one is exposed to the truth? Is it right for one to promote any idea as if it were biblical when they know they cannot cite a single verse that would justify teaching that idea?
As was shown herein, testing our beliefs by the standard of God’s word can help to expose and correct misconceptions we might have. So, one difference should be that you will find yourself being less likely to simply assume a teaching is true, and more inclined to subject ideas to biblical scrutiny, in order to see if they are true or not. A biblically based inquiry is not a threat to the truth, but the unguarded intake of information can be hazardous. We cannot afford to be hasty in learning or uncritical about the things that we read/hear. (Read Mark 4:14-25 to see what led Jesus to warn, “Take heed what ye hear”!) In Acts 17:11 and other passages, the Bible indicates that it is an honorable practice for us to use scripture to verify the truth of any idea, belief, or tradition.
Regardless, traditions like the John idea are often treasured more than truth, so discussion of the Bible evidence will no doubt be discouraged by those who merely pay lip service to the Bible’s authority. Moreover, this idea has been accepted for so long that many will refuse even to consider the possibility it could be wrong. Others will scoff and act as if any challenge to the John tradition is impossible or inconsequential. You know that it is not impossible for this type of error to be made, but is it really true teaching some error is okay? Or might the decision to intentionally ignore scripture in order to carry on an unbiblical tradition lead to other problems?
Scripture contains warnings against adding to God’s word and yet, to some degree, this happens each time John’s name is added to the reading of a passage about the one “whom Jesus loved”. While it is easy to slip and add our ideas to the plain reading of God’s word when we are discussing or studying Bible matters, those who love the truth must guard against this tendency. This point is not meant as a condemnation of those who are communicators of God’s word. Surely teachers have a responsibility to be as biblically accurate as they can possibly be, but they can make mistakes just like the rest of us. None of us will always be right, so the wise move is always to invite biblical correction and to receive the truth thankfully when God’s word offers it to us.
When a question of biblical accuracy is being raised, which do you think is the more appropriate response: (a) ‘What difference does it make?’, or (b) ‘show me in scripture’? Those who love the truth will welcome correction, while others will find an excuse to change the subject to avoid the light of scripture. By asserting that it makes no difference they act as if there is no need to pay attention to what scripture says on the topic. Sadly, many will elect to turn a blind eye to facts in the Bible that threaten to challenge one of their preferred beliefs. Conversely, the ‘show me’ response invites biblical correction.
What is at stake in this matter? The answer is respect for the authority of God’s word. For when God’s word says one thing, but a person who claims to believe in God’s word says something else, then clearly scripture is not their authority on that issue. The real test on any issue is whether or not we will receive the correction that is offered by scripture and the benefit of receiving that correction (just as in the matter of the one whom “Jesus loved”) is its ability to inspire a greater reliance upon God’s word.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us that God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him”, and that condition “diligently” indicates that mere Bible knowledge isn’t the goal. What you have studied herein is not some curious item of Bible trivia. It is a serious Bible issue that confirms the reliability of scripture and the need to “prove all things”. Although it’s been overlooked by so many for so long, the beauty of this insight is that the Bible has always pointed to the truth! Still, let us remember that even the disciples did not realize some things about the scriptures until Jesus opened their eyes to those things, as we see in Luke 24:45, “Then opened he [Jesus] their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures”. Might God act similarly today, by opening our understanding to things we had previously overlooked?
Even today, God can still reveal truth through the Bible, as this study has shown. Yet the truth also causes division, just like Jesus said he would bring (Lu. 12:51), for some will unite behind the truth while others will oppose it – falling on one side or the other in response to the sword of God’s word, which is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (He. 4:12). Love rejoices in the truth (cf. 1Cor. 13:6). So if it turns out something we thought was true is actually unscriptural, then shouldn’t we turn away from error, get back to God’s word, and speak the truth in love? While much is said about why Jesus was born or the reason he came into the world, here too, the Bible is better than hearsay and it would be wise to align our thinking with scripture on this point also (see Postscript).
If your eyes have been opened to a truth that others have missed, then the question you must ask is: If so many could be wrong about this, what else could they be wrong about? The answer is, anything not taught in scripture! If you missed this truth then this indicates something is lacking in your own Bible study method. So take seriously the admonition to “prove all things” (1Th. 5:21), and heed Psalm 118:8. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal 5:9). This is why deviating from God’s word is not a ‘minor issue’; rather, it is a perilous habit that opens one up to deception. Read the Bible with care to make sure it truly says what you think it says and when you find an issue where scripture proves you were wrong, then thank God for the correction and boldly stand with the truth. Praise be to God.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecc. 3:1).
- A Better Bible Study Method conference presentation
- Free Bible study eBook versions