St. John (active 1st century A.D.), one of the 12 Apostles chosen by Jesus, is traditionally considered the author of the Fourth Gospel, of the Book of Revelation, and of three Letters, or Epistles, bearing his name.
The son of Zebedee and Salome, John was born in Galilee, probably between A.D. 10 and 15. His father was a fisherman, a trade which John was plying when he met and joined Jesus (Mark 5:37). His mother joined the women who served the followers of Jesus (Mark 15:40-41; 16:1). His brother James also followed Jesus. Jesus nicknamed both brothers Boanerges, meaning in Aramaic "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17), a reference to their rather fiery attitude to Jesus.
John and James, together with Peter, are presented throughout the Gospels as the most closely associated with Jesus of all his followers. John, with Peter and James, witnesses Jesus' supernatural communication with Moses and Elias on Mt. Tabor; he is present in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus dies. When all others leave the dying Jesus, John remains, and Jesus entrusts his mother, Mary, to John's care. After the death of Jesus, John is presented as one of the leaders of the Jerusalemite followers of Jesus. In the Acts, John testifies to Jesus with Peter and James. He goes to Samaria with Peter to confirm new converts (Acts 8:14, 25). When Paul is converted, he submits his orthodoxy to John, Peter, and James (Galatians 2:1-10).
It is not known how John ended his life. Some traditions claim that he was martyred. Others claim he died at a ripe old age. Tradition from the 2d century claimed that John died and was buried at Ephesus.
Considerable doubt, particularly by modern scholars, has been thrown on the identity of John as the author of the Fourth Gospel. Some claim that John, the son of Zebedee, is not the same as the author of the Gospel, the Book of Revelation, and the three Letters. It is certain that the Fourth Gospel was written a considerable time later than the other three Gospels. The Gospels speak of the "disciple whom Jesus loved" it was long assumed that this was John, but the Gospel never identifies this disciple by name. Doubt has also been created by some scholars who have concluded that the three Letters were not written by the author of the Fourth Gospel.
Tradition relates that John was banished to the Greek island of Patmos during the persecution initiated by the Roman emperor Domitian (reigned A.D. 81-96). Here, it is said, John wrote the Book of Revelation. The Fourth Gospel apparently was composed sometime between A.D. 85 and 95.
Further Reading on St. John
Works dealing with John include E. F. Scott, The Fourth Gospel (2d ed. 1930); Wilbert F. Howard, Christianity according to St. John (1943); Charles H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953); and Aileen E. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: A Study of the Relation of St. John's Gospel to the Ancient Jewish Lectionary System (1960).