Who is John?

Who wrote the book of Revelation? It is said that JOHN did. Who is John? From where did he come? Was this person the same John that wrote 1, 2, and 3 John? What about the gospel of John? The book should be rightfully called the Revelation According to Jesus Christ. This will be discussed in the study of Revelation and will be more thoroughly understood.

We have to go in accordance to the meager evidence we have. We turn to tradition and history to determine the possibilities.

Look at the "John possibilities" about whom we know. There are four Johns mentioned in the New Testament:
  • John the Baptist
  • John the priest
  • John, son of Zebedee
  • John, the Elder

John the Baptist is known by all and is not known to have associated with any writings.

John, the priest was a relative of Annas, the high priest (Acts 4:6) and was not associated with any of the Biblical writings.

John, the son of Zebedee, is the Apostle John. John was also the brother of James who was also an Apostle. The brothers were given the surname Boanerges, "sons of thunder". The Gospel of John does not mention James or John by name but just refers to the sons of Zebedee. Traditionally, the five books of the New Testament (Gospel according to John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation) have been attributed to John the Apostle. This a very difficult tradition to trace. John does not claim to be an Apostle although he speaks of the Apostles. It doesn't appear John would speak OF Apostles without including himself. Most likely, he was not an Apostle. John claims Jesus decreed he must be a prophet.

Some of the scholars claim the John of Revelation is associated with Patmos and Ephesus. He fits the character of the apostle called "Boanerges" which we know was the surname for James and John. Much of the weight of this tradition comes from the writings of Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul who lived 130-200 A.D. Irenaeus was a pupil of Polycarp, the pastor of Smyrna, who was also a protégé and convert of John. Polycarp often spoke of John as the author of Revelation during the reign of Domitian. Even though the style of the Revelation is different than the style of the Gospel, this is not enough evidence for some scholars to state they were different Johns.

Scholars used to advance the theory that John's Gospel was written in the middle of the second century (therefore, not written by the Apostle). This was upheld until as late as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This theory was disproved by the discovery of a papyrus fragment dated 115-125 A.D. containing a portion of John's Gospel (John 18:31-33, 37-38). The papyrus is known as the Ryland Papyrus.

It appears the Apostle John may have been the youngest of the Apostles. Christ had a high regard and trust in this young John. There is an unnamed Apostle (John 18:15-16). This may have been a reference to the Beloved Disciple, who reclined with Jesus during the last supper (John 13:23-26), stood at the cross with Jesus' mother (John 19:25-27), ran with Peter to the empty tomb (John 20:2-10), and recognized the risen Lord after the great catch of fish (John 21:7).

Note: A Disciple does not have to be an Apostle. A Disciple is a believer and follower of Christ (actually, a follower of anyone) and a person that spreads the doctrine of Christ. In other words, there are disciples of evil, like Satan, as well as good, like Christ

Some scholars feel the John and the three epistles were written by a John, the Elder, who is not the Apostle. However, most scholars feel every bit of evidence points to John the Elder being the same as John the Apostle and the John author. It is accepted John the Apostle was an uneducated man (Acts 4:13). It is argued an uneducated man could not have written such a profound Gospel. A fisherman's son would not have known the high priest as did John the Apostle. Also, an Apostle would not have called himself an Elder. However, uneducated does not mean illiterate, just formally uneducated in rabbinic schools. Some fishermen were well-to-do; therefore, they could have known the high priest. Also, Peter, an Apostle, called himself an Elder (1 Peter 5:1).

The author of the three epistles identifies himself as "the Elder" (2 John 1, 3 John 1) but not as an apostle or a person having authority to command the church (as the Apostles). It is proposed John the Apostle was also an Elder in the church of Ephesus. Most scholars feel the similarities between the Gospel and the epistles are so remarkable, there is no question the four of them were written by the same person.

The John of Revelation was very knowledgeable of the old testament, the activities of Christ, and the mid books sometimes called the apocrypha. There are writings in the Apocrypha (13 mid-testament books, not included in the non-Catholic Bible) which refer to John the Apostle and the exile to Patmos. Those who accept truth in the Apocrypha have the evidence required to accept John the Apostle as the writer of Revelation. This John was probably a Jew writing in Greek but thinking in Hebrew or Aramaic. John speaks in the "language of appearance" -- i.e. an analysis is not run what is seen; only appears as John describes.

Some translations title the book The Revelation of St. John the Divine. Some translations remove "the Divine" because it is not in the majority of original Greek manuscripts. The Greek "theologos" means John was referred to as John the Theologian (not Saintly).

The comparison of Greek between the fourth Gospel and Revelation is very different. The writer of the Gospel wrote simple but correct Greek. Revelation Greek is rough and sometimes incorrect. The thoughts and ideals are very different by the two writings.

Since John was "brother and companion in tribulation" in Ephesus, he was in exile on the desolate island of Patmos (same as Paul). Either Domitian the Emperor sent John there (the generally more acceptable) or John fled to Patmos to prevent being martyred at that time. Most scholars believe Revelation was written approximately 90 AD. He returned to Ephesus after Domitian's death.

The writer was very familiar with the churches. He could have written the letters himself because of his knowledge. Therefore, the only major controversy is whether John wrote the letters himself or whether he was truly inspired as he explains in Revelation.

Periodically, evidence comes out questioning the authorship of all five books. There are even discussions stating there was a fifth, yet unknown person, who may have been associated with the epistles and Revelation.

There is one thing that can be said about the John who wrote Revelation. John knew the OT. Over and over again there are heavy references and fulfillments noted in Revelation from many books of the OT. Be prepared for extensive cross references.

Return to Revelation TOC email to Bill
Return to BJM Master Home Page