St. John the Apostle

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St. John the Apostle by Hans Memling, c. 1468 (The National Gallery, London)
St. John the Apostle by Hans Memling, c. 1468 (The National Gallery, London)

John the Apostle (Greek Ιωάννης, Hebrew יוחנן, Yo-hanan, Aramaic ܝܘܚܢܢ Yokhanan, meaning "Jehovah is gracious"[2]) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of James, another of the Twelve Apostles.

Christian tradition identifies him as the author of several New Testament works: the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation. Some modern scholars believe that John the Apostle, the author of the Fourth Gospel, and John of Patmos were three separate individuals.[3] For one, the author of Revelation identifies himself as "John" several times, but the author of the Gospel of John never identifies himself by name. But apart for speculation, the vast majority of information about the books point to Johannine authorship.


In the Bible

John the Apostle was the son of Zebedee, and the brother of Saint James the Greater. The Eastern Orthodox tradition gives his mother's name as Salome. They originally were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth. He was first a disciple of John the Baptist and later one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.

John had a prominent position in the Apostolic body. Saint Peter, James, son of Zebedee, and John the Apostle were the only witnesses of the raising of Jairus' daughter,Mk 5:34 of the TransfigurationMt 17:1 and of the Agony in Gethsemane.[Mt 26:37] Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the final Passover meal (the Last Supper).Lk 22:8 [4] At the meal itself, his place was next to Jesus on whose chest he leaned.[Jn 13:23-25] According to the general interpretation, John was also that "other disciple" who with Peter followed Jesus after the arrest into the palace of the high-priest.[Jn 18:15] John alone remained near Jesus at the foot of the cross on Calvary with Jesus’ mother, Mary, and the pious women and took Mary into his care as the last legacy of Jesus.[Jn 19:25-27]

Russian Orthodox icon of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).
Russian Orthodox icon of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).

According to the Bible, after the Resurrection, John is sometimes speculated to be the unnamed disciple who ran together with Peter towards the tomb and thus the first of the apostles to believe that Jesus had truly risen.[Jn 20:2-10] The author of the Gospel of John was accustomed to identifying himself as "Beloved Disciple". After Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, John, together with Peter, took a prominent part in the founding and guidance of the church. He is with Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple.[Ac 3:1 et seq] With Peter he is also thrown into prison.[Ac 4:3] He is also with Peter visiting the newly converted in Samaria.[Ac 8:14]

There is no positive information in the Bible (or elsewhere) concerning the duration of this activity in Judea. Apparently, John in common with the other Apostles remained some 12 years in this first field of labour, until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles through the various provinces of the Roman Empire. [cf. Ac 12:1-17] It does not appear improbable that John then went for the first time into Asia Minor . In any case a Christian community was already in existence at Ephesus before Paul's first labours there (cf. "the brethren"),[Ac 18:27] in addition to Priscilla and Aquila. Such a sojourn by John in Asia in this first period was neither long nor uninterrupted. He returned with the other disciples to Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (about A.D. 51). Paul, in opposing his enemies in Galatia, recalls that John explicitly along with Peter and James the Just were referred to as "pillars of the church" and refers to the recognition that his Apostolic preaching of a gospel free from Jewish Law received from these three, the most prominent men of the Christian community at Jerusalem.[Gal 2:9] [5]

Of the other New Testament writings, it is only from the three Letters of John and the Book of Revelation that anything further is learned about John. Both the Letters and Revelation presuppose that John belonged to the multitude of personal eyewitnesses of the life and work of Jesus (cf. especially 1 John 1:1-5; 4:14), that he had lived for a long time in Asia Minor, was thoroughly acquainted with the conditions existing in the various Christian communities there, and that he had a position of authority recognized by all Christian communities as leader of this part of the church. Moreover, Revelation says that its author was on the island of Patmos "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus", when he was honoured with the vision contained in Revelation.[Rev 1:9] John, like his Old Testament counterpart Daniel, was kept alive to receive the prophetic vision.

Though most scholars agree in placing the Gospel of John somewhere between AD 65 and 85,[6] John A.T. Robinson proposes an initial edition by 50–55 and then a final edition by 65 due to narrative similarities with Paul.[7]:pp.284,307 Other critical scholars are of the opinion that John was composed in stages (probably two or three).[8]:p.43 The text refers to its author as "the Disciple Jesus loved". It is traditionally believed that John survived his contemporary apostles and lived to an extreme old age, dying at Ephesus in about A.D. 100.[9]

Extrabiblical traditions

Byzantine illumination depicting John dictating to his disciple, Prochorus (c. 1100).
Byzantine illumination depicting John dictating to his disciple, Prochorus (c. 1100).

John is traditionally thought to have moved to Ephesus, where he wrote the Gospel and the three epistles and eventually died. One Roman Catholic tradition holds that the Virgin Mary accompanied him and died there too, while an alternative tradition locates her death in Jerusalem.

According to tradition, John was also banished by Roman authorities to the island of Patmos, where he then wrote the Book of Revelation. According to Tertullian (in The Prescription Against Heretics) John was banished after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and remaining unharmed.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that John did not die, but that his body was translated so that he could "tarry" until Jesus' Second Coming. They base this belief on three passages: one in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 28:4-6), one in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 7:1-3), and one in the New Testament (Jn 1:24).

John's traditional tomb is thought to be located at Selçuk, a small town in the vicinity of Ephesus.

When John was aged, he trained Polycarp who later became Bishop of Smyrna and the teacher of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon.

In art, John as the presumed author of the Gospel is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the height he rose to in the first chapter of his gospel. In Orthodox icons, he is often depicted looking up into heaven and dictating his Gospel (or the Book of Revelation) to his disciple, traditionally named Prochorus.

Liturgical commemoration

The traditional tomb of St. John at Ephesus, Turkey.
The traditional tomb of St. John at Ephesus, Turkey.

He is venerated as a saint by most sacramentalist branches of Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church commemorate him as "John, Apostle and Evangelist" on December 27. This festival is also used to mark the beginning of the lodge year in some jurisdictions of Freemasonry, and is a day of special commemoration for them.

Another feast day, which appeared in the General Roman Calendar until 1960, is that of "St John Before the Latin Gate" on May 6, celebrating a tradition recounted by Jerome that St John was brought to Rome, and was thrown in a vat of boiling oil, from which he was miraculously preserved unharmed. A church (San Giovanni a Porta Latina) dedicated to him was built near the Latin gate of Rome, the traditional scene of this event.[10]

The Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite commemorate the "Repose of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian" on September 26. On May 8 they celebrate the "Feast of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian", on which date Christians used to draw forth from his grave fine ashes which were believed to be effective for healing the sick.

See also

  • St. John the Evangelist on Patmos
  • Vision of St. John on Patmos


  • 1. St. John the Apostle Catholic Online.
  • 2. New Bible Dictionary, 1986. Douglas J.D. and Hillyer N., eds. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL, USA ISBN 0842346678
  • 3. Griggs, C. Wilfred. "John the Beloved" in Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Scriptures of the Church (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1992) p. 379. Griggs favors the "one John" theory but mentions that some modern scholars have hypothesized that there are multiple Johns.
  • 4. While Luke states that this is the Passover,[Lk 22:7-9] the Gospel of John specifically states that the Passover meal is to be partaken of on Friday[Jn 18:28]
  • 5. Fonck, Leopold (October 1 1910). "St. John the Evangelist". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
  • 6. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. McGraw-Hill, 2006. ISBN 978-0072965483
  • 7. Robinson, John A.T. (1977). Redating the New Testament. SCM Press. ISBN 978-0334023005.
  • 8. Mark Allan Powell. Jesus as a figure in history. Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. ISBN 0664257038 / 978-0664257033
  • 9. St. John the Apostle Catholic Online
  • 10.Saint Andrew Daily Missal with Vespers for Sundays and Feasts by Dom. Gaspar LeFebvre, O.S.B., Saint Paul, MN: The E.M. Lohmann Co., 1952, p.1325-1326

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