“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”

Diane keeps reminding me, “When Christians talk about homosexuality no one wants to talk about the elephant in the room, the worry that Jesus might have been gay.”

I’m not going to talk about that. What I actually know is that Jesus’ physical relationship with his “favorite,” with John the Beloved Disciple, makes us (makes me?) feel uncomfortable.  John not only rests his head on Jesus’ chest (Jesus’ bosom) during the Last Supper, that fact is repeated, for emphasis, near the end of the gospel (his breast).

Why emphasize that physical detail? It strikes me as an odd thing to repeat. It’s not like the commandment to love one another. It’s as though God is saying, “Notice this folks. Note the physical proximity of the Messiah and one of his disciples.” No, not physical proximity. “Note the prolonged, physical, comfortable body contact of Jesus and John.”

Picture a church barbecue at the beach. Church leaders are sitting on a beach blanket, and the lay leader, or chairman of deacons, or head elder, is resting his head on the pastor’s shoulder. No, not his shoulder–make that the pastor’s chest. They look so relaxed.

How will that look on Facebook? “OMG! I’m forwarding this to the bishop!”

Whenever I read something in the Bible that is repeated almost verbatim, I take notice. Such repetitions can reveal a number of different things.  The following five verses all contain the phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” or something very close to that, with reference to John. I’m not sure what this particular repetition means, but I haven’t ruled anything out.

Many of you will be familiar with the following five verses. I’ve read them before, but it’s been a long time since I looked at them all together. They have made me think.

“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved” — The Five Verses

  1. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. (John 13:23)
  2. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing by, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! (John 19:26)
  3. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. (John 20:2)
  4. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. (John 21:7)
  5. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; (which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?) (John 21:20)

(John 13:23;  19:26 ; 20:2 ; 21:7; 21: 20)

Translators do something interesting with the phrase. It’s not ungrammatical, but for common English usage, it’s overly grammatical.

  • The man whom dad killed.
  • The candidate whom Obama defeated.
  • The son whom you bore.
  • The disciple whom Jesus loved.

The use of the word “whom” elevates the tone, dilutes the significance of the sentence with its wordiness. What is the difference between “The disciple whom Jesus loved” and “The disciple Jesus loved”? There is a difference in tone, an artificial difference.

I would like to note a few things, not to indicate the precise significance of “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” but to suggest it’s great importance to the author.

“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved” — Repetition, Location, Meaning, Sheer Presence

  1. Repetition: The phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” is repeated five times. This repetition would force everyone from readers to preachers and expositors to address the phrase’s significance and meaning. In other words, there was no way you could miss it, and that was deliberate.
  2. Location: The phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” appears in three key scenes, a) the Last Supper, b) the Crucifixion, and c) the Resurrection. The phrase would be mentioned in virtually all seasonal messages and gospel presentations based on these passages. Again, there was no way you could miss it.
  3. Agreed-Upon Meaning: All believers would know that Jesus had a unique and intimate relationship with one particular man, no matter how a priest might explain that relationship. Every reader or hearer would invariably interpret that relationship in the privacy of their own hearts and minds.  Such a relationship between two men would hold special significance for some people, who would derive more succor and encouragement from that special relationship than others.
  4. Sheer Presence: The very presence of the phrase was the creative option of the person responsible for its presence in the text. The phrase is not spoken in the scene by any of the actors, so it is not a matter of preserving something in the “historical record.”  It is there because the writer or redactor, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted them there. The phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is a deliberate editorial comment.

My word that goes out from my mouth:
        It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
        and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)


About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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23 Responses to “The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”

  1. Lizzie says:

    and then there are those who believe that TDWJL was a woman. I do not have an opinion at this time.


  2. Andy Welch says:

    Ron, you’ve raised a question I care deeply about: not ‘was Jesus gay,’ but ‘how do we read Scripture?’ The question as raised by those who would ‘queer’ the Bible is a 20-21st century question: was there a sexual relationship between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple? Today, we have a very hard time believing that two men could share deep intimacy without sex. Yet this imposes our own standards on a very different culture, which is the very thing pro-gay apologists accuse their opponents of doing (e.g., ‘in Romans 1, Paul wasn’t talking about loving, life-committed same-sex relationships’). We know almost nothing about Jesus’ emotional life. We do know he had intimate friends of both genders (Mary Magdalene the best female example). Does that make him bisexual?

    As to the repetition of ‘the Beloved Disciple’ at crucial points in the Gospel, it is, after all, the Beloved Disciple’s congregation that venerated him and preserved his writings (John 21:24). It makes sense that he would be featured.

    Thanks for the post.

    In Christ,

    Andy Welch


    • sunflwrinok says:

      I agree. Let’s keep in mind that John wrote this book. He’s the only one in the Bible that mentions him as the “one that Jesus loved”. Jesus loved them all. You may take note also that John’s mother wanted him and his brother elevated above the others and asked Jesus a favor. The boys wanted to be Jesus’ favorite….but we know God is no respecter of persons. We don’t know how old James and John were, but we know they wanted Jesus’ attention. Maybe they were missing that father figure at home.


  3. bosquenorse says:

    Does it make any difference about this? Pro gay supporters will tag it and claim it. That is fine.

    But, the opposite with come up with some other perspective.

    I believe you may have been going wee overboard to suggesting something that may very likely not amount to much. How do we know how men expressed their love and intimacy back in those days? We don’t. And, most likely they might find our current ways, gay and straight too, as being unusual.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      John, most significant questions cannot be settled to everyone’s liking. Each individual, and each group, needs to reach some sort of conclusion, if the issue is important to them. The fact that an issue will never reach a final agreement does not mean it is not worth discussing.

      I write with the assumption that gay and lesbian believers care about the Bible, and what it teaches (and doesn’t teach) about gays and lesbians. And many straight Christians as well care about what the Bible may say, or not say, about homosexuals in the Bible.

      If you will do a little research I think you will find that sexual practices for both homosexuals and heterosexuals has remained quite consistent from ancient times to our own. I want to preserve my “PG rating,” so I will leave it to you to google web images using “Roman” or “Greek” as one of your search terms. There is no need to speculate about this–archaeology has given us graphic depictions of gay sex. The documentation on coinage, vases, and tile work pretty much speaks for itself.

      John, whether or not you remain closeted is up to you. That decision is between gay believers and God. And since you said you are closeted by choice, Your apparent reticence to see these things discuss publicly is consistent with that decision.


      • Jo says:

        There Can not be a Gay or Lesbian believer,Sire.


      • Ron Goetz says:

        I have no title like “Sire.” God looks at you and sees his Son. He looks at me and sees his Son, not a man with a temper, who lusts, who experiences much defeat. I am glad God looks at his children with the eyes of a loving Papa.


  4. Jim Hennigan says:

    Curses to the Internet because you cannot tell from words alone that I’m saying this with genuine respect — who cares? Let me put this “who cares?” point another way: why does it matter one way or the other? If this matters, then there must be a point to the fact that all the disciples were male. I’ve long thought that was a silly reason to reject women who desired to become priests, but the Roman Catholic church throws that scriptural anomaly out as a significant point in defense of its position.

    I’d also like to see how other passages that could just as easily invite the “whom” are translated…or how they read in the original. This seems to be one of those things that gets amplified by quirks of translation and grammatical construction. The linguistic path — like a game of “telephone” — is also interesting to me even though it has no moment.

    Your interesting point seems to be making a larger point that you stop short of articulating: what’s the significance of this? What are we supposed to do with this if we should conclude that Jesus was gay? Other than the point that we should love (not ostracize) our gay brothers and sisters — something I glean from the New Testament anyway — is there some added meaning that springs from this that followers of the New Testament must subscribe to now? You refrain from going there, understandably in a way, but until you make THAT point, the rest of your text is just a linguistic curiosity and I’m stuck at “who cares?”

    (Please read this in the spirit of discussion; not an attack, as I appreciate reading your entries.)


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Jim, I understand the big yawn I’m hearing. I’m processing this, and thanks for acknowledging my restraint in expression.

      Something I hoped to communicate is the fact that there have always been gays who read those passages and felt it was relevant to them.

      The “whom” discussion was literally a last-minute addition which probably detracted from the thrust of the piece, which was rather subtle to begin with.


  5. John Boylan says:

    If you believe the Holy God of Israel inspired the Holy Scriptures you should want to also know the fact that He secretly encoded the remark, ‘Messiah, the anointed One, Yeshua, Jesus’, within the content of the text of the creation story which is located in Genesis. You can see this amazing revelation by going to the webpage http://www.messiahwatch.com . It’s all really there, you might want to have a look.


  6. marcos says:

    This is all the knowledge and wisdom of the worlds controller SATAN that you are using to drag people away from God and get your companny to hell.You and your father devil have no power over us in christ our Lord.Will never turn back from our Lord…Am also a beloved brother to christ hence you can continue with your Blasphemy hell is also being prepared for you.


  7. shawn boden says:

    In the book the secret gospel of Mark, Morton Smith explane that Jesus and John the babtist, and the threewise men belonged to agroup of majicians(maji) from the cairo center of judiasm(see the jesus papers), who used nudity in some rituals, includind raising lazarus. In Mark, king james version, jesus last moment of freedom (in gesemene), was with a naked man. Losing freedom from a mans kiss. Judas was a jealous stalker. The goal of stalkers is usually to kill their victims, so they can repent and then create ‘what if’ narratives in their mind. It also enables them to think they have strong feelings.


  8. Ricky says:

    I just happened on to this article and I want to remind you (if anybody even sees this because it’s been so long after the original comments) of Romans 1 verse 28 through 32, you’ll want to take a look at it because it talks about sexual immorality so I think that pretty much leaves out the gay possibility of Jesus. And there are many other places in the Bible that talk about the same thing. So if Jesus lived without sin, then I’m pretty sure it’s a done deal that he was not gay. I’m as perplexed about the the whom Jesus loved disciple and why he was laying on his bosom as anybody else. But I don’t see that the discussion can go any farther towards the gay side as because of the verses I just mentioned along with others that are along those same lines.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Ricky, in all fairness, “logically speaking,” this passage doesn’t prove anything either way. You can’t rule anything in, or out. But without “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and “head rested upon his bosom,” there wouldn’t even be a hint that Jesus could have had a sexually intimate relationship with John. Makes me wonder why the Holy Spirit didn’t prompt someone to edit the unnecessary suggestion.


  9. benthebeagle@att.net says:

    I suspect that back during Jesus’s day, if a man rested his head on another man’s chest, it didn’t mean anything sexually. Today in American culture, men have been taught since childhood to keep members of the same sex at arms length. Every thing in America has become sexualized and men are afraid of having close friendships because they’ll be viewed as gay. It is through that sexualized prism that we Americans wrongly view everything, including the relationship between Jesus and John, as well as the close friendship between David and Jonathon in the old Testament as possibly homosexual. I recall when George Bush was President, he met with a leader of an Arab nation and in that Arab culture, men routinely walk about holding hands. It doesn’t mean they’re homosexuals. I was quite taken aback when I saw the video of George Bush walking with the Arab leader hand in hand, as it did look very gay. It seemed to me that Bush looked uncomfortable holding hands as well, but my response, as well as Bush’s discomfort is a result of our modern day American culture of being programmed to think that way, of what is acceptable male behavior and what is not.


  10. David says:

    I’m late to the party but I must add in my two cents.
    If Jesus was gay and all of these points prove it, then why did the pharisees and priests try so desperately to charge him with blasphemy in order to kill him when they could have just as easily charged him with sodomy?- the end result would be the same, Jesus would be executed, or if they really wanted to do him with blasphemy, why not add the sodomy as a second charge for good effect? Especially when the trial for blasphemy was going so horribly wrong as the witnesses did not agree with each other.
    Judas was there at the table at the last supper when John laid his head on Jesus’ breast, he followed him around for three years if Jesus was gay-and openly so around the disciples, then it would not have been hard for Judas’ betrayal to take effect. Instead, it took all night and day


  11. Muni says:

    We are not these bodies. The love of Jesus for John is base on service. John came into the world as Jesus’s cousin to be near him from birth; assist him in their divine mission, to save souls. John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying, repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It is he who spoken of through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus and John didn’t engage in sex, which is mundane to those on the path to spiritual love. While in the body, there is a need for intimacy, a kiss on the cheek, a hug, or an embrace; there is no need to engage in activities that exchange body fluids. For just like we love our family members of the opposite or same-sex without this kind of exchange, Jesus’s love John the same. Let’s be honest here, if this behavior of sex indulgence, either straight or gay, would have taken place, Jesus wouldn’t have been the son of God. God’s son gave his heart, mind, body, and soul to do what he came into the world to do, to teach us by example; we are not these bodies.


  12. Addie says:

    I’m thinking that you’re trying to imply, or read into this action something that it clearly is not. Two men can show affection and it does not imply homosexuality, which clearly according to the Bible, is a sinful practice. Yes, our culture unfortunately, makes affection between men taboo or gay. It was only deep friendship, brotherly love, that was expressed in this passage where John lay his head on Jesus’ chest, or any passages that talk about the disciple whom Jesus loved.

    You must remember to take the Bible as a whole. Jesus was not homosexual. He would not do anything contrary to the Word of God (of which He is coauthor being God in the flesh). Please don’t try to somehow justify this liberal agenda with God’s word. Your case does not rest.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Addie, thank you for your comments. You voiced the beliefs of many people just now.

      In response I’d like to ask you about two lines in Luke 17:34-35. I’m using the Darby translation.

      “Two men shall be in one bed;
      The one shall be siezed and the other let go.
      Two women shall be grinding together;
      The one shall be siezed, and the other let go.”

      Addie, what do you think this means?


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