Q: Why does the author of John’s gospel use the term “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” Is this a homosexual reference?
One of the more mysterious characteristics of John’s Gospel is his reference to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or the “beloved disciple.” This reference occurs 5 times in John’s Gospel:
13:23-25 (the disciple reclining next to Jesus at the Last Supper who asks Jesus who will betray him)
· 19:26-27 (the disciple standing at the foot of the Cross to whom Jesus says, in reference to Mary, “Here is your Mother)
· 20:1-10 (the disciple who, along with Simon Peter, hears Mary Magdalene’s account of the Resurrection)
· 21:1-14 (one of 7 disciples who are fishing when the Risen Christ appears)
· 21:20-23 (the disciple of whom Peter asks Jesus, “What about him?”)
Traditionally, it has been assumed that this disciple refers to John the Evangelist, one of the Twelve. This is supported by the fact that this beloved disciple is present at the Last Supper which, according to Matthew and Mark, Jesus shared with the Twelve. Other, less-respected theories, identify the beloved disciple as either Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead) or Mary Magdalene (a follower of Jesus). Most scholars however theorize that John used this tool of anonymity in order to invite the reader to more closely reflect on the intimacy with Jesus to which we are all called.
Occasionally, there have been attempts to explain the term “beloved disciple” as a hint that Jesus had a homosexual relationship with John. (Pop singer Elton John espoused this theory in an interview with Parade Magazine as recently as February, 2010) However, there is no evidence of this at all and no serious Scripture scholar has ever advanced this theory. The Greek word used for beloved is derived from the word agape which refers to a spiritual love rather than the word eros which refers to a physical or sexual love. Likewise, there is nothing homoerotic about a disciple “reclining” next to Jesus at the Last Supper since, in ancient culture, it was (and, in many cases in the Middle East, continues to be)customary to eat by reclining at table.