Some believe that John the apostle was indeed not the author of 1 John, 2nd John, and his Gospel.   Some declare that it was LIKELY that John “the elder” was the writer if these pieces of scripture.  They say and I quote “This would explain those passages in the gospel that speak about the beloved disciple (who presumably is John the apostle; John 19:35; 21:24), as well as the reference to “the elder” in 2 and 3 John.  So my question is what do you think about this data? I thought I remembered you talking about this before, and you disagreed with their information.


I just recently finished doing a 7 week class on the book of John and, of course, we discussed exactly this question. There is an early church “father” named Papias who talked about the author of John. He wrote about AD 120-130 and probably met the apostle John. His words about John are potentially a bit confusing, but some have proposed that he talked about two different Johns–the apostle and an “Elder (presbyter) John.” One problem with this is that it is fairly likely that the apostle John was an elder of the church. The evidence from Papias can go either way. It is my opinion that the argument that John would never have said, “the apostle who Jesus loved” is a very weak argument. However, there are other and better arguments that John may not have written the gospel John, 1-3 John and Revelation. The evidence from Papias could go either way, but it is possible to view this as supporting the conclusion that a different John was the author of the gospel.  In addition, there was a minority of early church fathers who also questioned the author of 2 and 3 John.

My opinion (and please bear in mind that it is just my opinion, with no weight of authority at all) is that, give that the nearly unanimous opinion of the early church is that John wrote these letters, and, given that those who lived within a couple of generations of John were much more likely to know than any recent scholar, I believe that John wrote these books. I am quite confident about Revelation and the gospel of John, am rather confident about the author of 1 John and somewhat confident about 2,3 John (notice the decreasing confidence).

In concidering the evidence, it is worth bearing in mind that who wrote the books is not essential either to the meaning of the books or to the question of whether or not they are inspired. The gospel of Luke and Acts are inspired by God and their author, Luke, was not an apostle. Whether John or a presbyter John (who may not even be a separate person from John) wrote Revelation, this issue is really pretty much a red herring.  I believe that John wrote these books because the evidence leans fairly strongly that way, but my faith is not dependent on who wrote these books.

The relevant information on John the Presbyter (if, in fact, he was a person distinct from John) comes to from Papias, through Eusebius, a historian of the early fourth century. Here it is:   (a closing comment from me is below)

Moreover, Papias himself, in the introduction to his books, makes it manifest that he was not himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles; but he tells us that he received the truths of our religion from those who were acquainted with them [the apostles] in the following words.

After quoting Papias, Eusebius continues:

It is worth while observing here that the name John is twice enumerated by him. The first one he mentions in connection with Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the apostles, clearly meaning the evangelist; but the other John he mentions after an interval, and places him among others outside of the number of the apostles, putting Aristion before him, and he distinctly calls him a presbyter.

This shows that the statement of those is true, who say that there were two persons in Asia that bore the same name, and that there were two tombs in Ephesus, each of which, even to the present day, is called John’s. It is important to notice this. For it is probable that it was the second, if one is not willing to admit that it was the first that saw the Revelation, which is ascribed by name to John.

And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.

Neither Eusebius nor Papias doubted that the apostle John wrote the gospel of John. More likely than not, Papias agreed that John wrote Revelation, but his words can be given two interpretations. Scholars lean toward the thought that Eusebius questioned John’s authorship of Revelation because there were doctrines in there that he did not like, rather than because of what Papias said. This is mostly speculation, but, like I said, the evidence points more strongly to John as the author of all these books.

John Oakes

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