The Gospel of John is strikingly distinct from the other Gospels of the New Testament. In the first three Gospels, Jesus appears human. In the Gospel of John, he appears godlike. Biblical scholars have long believed that the Gospel of John is more recent than the other gospels and that Christians had already deified Jesus by then. But Christians worshipped Jesus as a godlike creature very early on. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul cites a poem stating Jesus is God in nature (Philippians 2:6-11). Scholars believe it is an older poem dating from the earliest days of Christianity.1 It makes more sense if you assume early Christians thought that Jesus was Adam, the eternal husband of God.
Another theory is that someone close to Jesus originally wrote the Gospel of John, while the other gospels are collections of stories about Jesus circulating among the public. A few insiders may have known more about the nature of the relationship between God and Jesus. Particularly telling is that the Gospel of John indicates that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. The other gospels lack the historical detail to establish the length of Jesus’ ministry. This Gospel of John has undergone several modifications. John could be the most historically accurate Gospel after eliminating the changes. Only we do not know all these modifications.
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Christianity may at first have had a separate creation myth in which Eve was God, gave birth to Adam, and took him as Her husband. The account of the fall may also have been different. That contradicted the Jewish scriptures. Eve giving birth to Adam and making him her husband also carries a lewd suggestion. The tale of Eve and Adam is a myth, so it probably never happened, but people at the time didn’t know that.
And it may have caused problems in early Christian communities. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes, ‘It is reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!’ (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). The scribes may later have watered down this controversial fragment, and this man may have slept with his mother. The Christians in Corinth were proud of it, perhaps because this man followed the example of Christ.
The scribes may have taken out the creation myth, and under the influence of Platonic thinking, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus (John 1:1-14). If Jesus is Adam, and humanity descends from Eve and Adam, there is no life without him. And if Adam was a child of Eve, we are all children of God, and because God is a woman, Christians are born of God (John 1:13). There is more reason to believe so.
If you are already born, you must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. The meaning appears spiritual, but there may be more to it. When arguing with Jesus, the Pharisee Nicodemus noted that you cannot enter a second time into your mother’s womb to be born again (John 3:4). Nicodemus may have correctly understood what Jesus meant, which is that Christians are figuratively born of God’s womb. Jesus gave it a spiritual meaning in his answer, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ (John 3:5) The phrasing indicates that the original author of this Gospel knew that God was a Mother.
There was a wedding in Galilee (John 2:1-10). Jesus was there, as were his mother and his disciples. When the wine was gone, his mother said to Jesus that there was no more wine. That would not have been his concern unless he was the bridegroom. Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ It could mean that Jesus was not the bridegroom and was about to be married too. He called his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense when he considered God his Mother. Jesus started doing miracles at this wedding by turning water into wine. Perhaps, he became the Christ through this wedding. Hence, it may have been his wedding, and the scribes may have changed the narrative to make it appear that it is not.
Then John comes with a statement not found in the other Gospels, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said: ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom. The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30) Supposedly, Jesus was the Messiah because he was the Bridegroom in a heavenly marriage. The other Gospels also indicate that Jesus was the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34). There could be more to Jesus being the Bridegroom. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepares a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:2-14):
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For, many are invited, but few are chosen.
This parable is odd. Why should the invited mistreat or even kill the messengers inviting them to come? That is not a normal reaction. And why should you deserve to be at the wedding? Being a family member or a friend usually is enough. That is because it is the wedding of the king’s son. And it symbolises the kingdom of God. It appears a bit contrived to compare the kingdom of God to a wedding unless it is one.
I and the Father are one
Jesus called God Father, making himself equal with God, so the Jews wanted to persecute him, the Gospel of John says (John 5:16-18). Jesus made other claims in this vein. If the Gospel of John is a heavily redacted insider account, these claims may reflect Jesus’ words. Hence, they are not the result of a deification process. For instance, if Jesus believed himself to be Adam, he could have said that before Abraham was born, he existed (John 8:58). The wording in the Gospel of John implies that he claimed to be God, but that may not have been what Jesus said.
And then comes an intriguing assertion, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30) It appears that Jesus claimed to be God. And so, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy (John 10:33). But marriage is a way to become one with another person (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). If Jesus had implied that he was married to God, it would still have been blasphemy to the Jews, so their reaction is understandable. And if Mary Magdalene had remained in the background to let Jesus do Her bidding, and Jesus believed himself to be Adam from whom all of humanity descends, Jesus may have said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)
Love is a central theme, ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:9-12) That is an unusual amount of love. If Jesus was God’s husband, it makes more sense. That brings us to the loving and intimate relationship that Mary Magdalene and Jesus may have had. The Gospel of John features an enigmatic beloved disciple. There has been speculation that this disciple was Mary Magdalene.
The beloved disciple
The mysterious unnamed beloved disciple appears only in the Gospel of John. The obvious question is, why is the Gospel so secretive about the beloved disciple? Another question people have asked is, was Jesus gay? That he was not. The beloved disciple may have been introduced in a redaction to mask that Mary Magdalene was God and married Jesus. Mary Magdalene may have become Jesus’ most beloved disciple in an early redaction of the text. That may still not have been satisfactory, as Jesus supposedly was a divine being. So in a later redaction, the scribes may have added the anonymous beloved disciple and made him a person separate from Mary Magdalene.
This perspective provides an explanation that resolves a few contradictions, for instance, the following fragment, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27) The fragment states that four women were near the cross. If you take the text literally, the beloved disciple must be one of these four women because the first sentence does not mention him. The most likely candidate is Mary Magdalene.
Perhaps, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, ‘Mother, here is your son.’ And then to his birth mother, ‘Here is your Mother.’ A few arguments can support this view. First, it is odd not to use the word mother and say, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Second, it is more likely that Mary Magdalene took Jesus’ birth mother into Her home than a male disciple. The Gospels mention a group of female disciples travelling with Jesus (Luke 8:1-3). Mary Magdalene was part of that group. Third, how could Jesus say to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ That is odd. Mary Magdalene, being God, would also be a Mother to Jesus’ birth mother. Fourth, the Gospels suggest that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite apostle. For instance, Jesus had asked him to care for the sheep (John 21:15-18). Only he had fled the crucifixion scene (Mark 14:50-52), so he was not present.
According to Paul, Simon Peter saw the resurrected Jesus first, and then Jesus appeared to the other disciples (1 Corinthians 15:4-6). It probably is a statement of faith handed over to Paul. It could be true because it was an early belief dating only a few years after Jesus’ death. And it agrees with Simon Peter being Jesus’ favourite disciple. The Gospel of John tells a different story. It claims that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw the stone removed from the entrance. She then ran to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!’ So Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb. The beloved disciple came there first but did not go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went into the tomb (John 20:1-6).
Then the beloved disciple also went in and saw and believed (John 20:8). Apparently, the beloved disciple saw and came to faith, but two men were inside. Remarkably, it is not Simon Peter who saw and believed, even though he was the first to go inside. The beloved disciple could be a later addition. If so, Simon Peter probably saw and came to faith first. An empty tomb alone would not have made him think Jesus had risen. He may have seen Jesus there, apparently alive. The Gospel of John now tells Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first (John 20:11-18). The following three steps seem plausible:
- In the original story, Mary Magdalene told Simon Peter, the disciple Jesus loved, that Jesus had disappeared from the tomb. Simon Peter went in, saw Jesus there, and believed, just like Paul says.
- Mary Magdalene became the beloved disciple, so Jesus appeared to Her first. And so, Simon Peter saw and believed. The scribes only had to remove the word Jesus there. Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene in a newly added section.
- Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple became separate persons. So, Mary Magdalene spoke to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, and both went into the tomb, and the beloved disciple saw and believed.
After this episode, Jesus appeared to the disciples (John 20:19-23). If this is correct, Paul tells the truth in 1 Corinthians 15. It suggests this reconstructed account is historically accurate. Mary Magdalene may have set in motion the resurrection beliefs by inviting Simon Peter to the tomb, and if She was God, She knew what he was about to find there.
The beloved disciple enters the story at the Last Supper when he asks Jesus who is about to betray him, “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?'” (John 13:21-25) Simon Peter was the one who wanted to know. And so, he may originally have been the disciple who asked Jesus who was about to betray him.
The final chapter of the Gospel of John mentions a rumour amongst believers that the beloved disciple would not die. The lines are most peculiar, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the Supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?'” (John 21:20-23)
The text is confusing, suggesting tampering and obfuscation. These lines appear needed to dispel the rumour that the beloved disciple would not die. If Mary Magdalene was God and had become the beloved disciple in an earlier redaction, such a rumour makes sense. Perhaps, Simon Peter discussed the issue of Mary Magdalene’s immortality with Jesus in the original text. After all, here again, the beloved disciple appeared as a shadow of Simon Peter, like he did at the Supper and the entering of the tomb.
The truth of the Gospel
The resolution of these contradictions comes with another conclusion scholars never dared to make. Most likely, Jesus did appear to his disciples on the third day after the crucifixion. When Paul joined the Christian movement a few years later, this probably was an established belief among the disciples. They handed it over as a statement of faith to Paul. A group of first-hand witnesses probably remember what happened and the number of days between two events of such importance that occurred only a few years earlier. One or two of them can be delusional, but twelve? Come on. And if Mary Magdalene was God, that might explain why Paul does not mention Her name in his epistles.
Historians and biblical scholars doubt the resurrection and the miracles Jesus performed because they cannot assume they happened. These miracles go against the laws of nature, while many parts of the Bible are inaccurate or fictional. In virtual reality, miracles can occur. And a physical body is as virtual as a ghost appearance. And so, the resurrection and the other miracles seem plausible. If the Gospel of John is a redacted insider account, it may be more accurate than most biblical scholars and historians nowadays assume. For that reason, the Gospel of John could also be more accurate than the other gospels as they probably are collections of circulating stories put in writing.
Remarkably absent in the Gospel of John is the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. It is present in Mark, Matthew and Luke. If John is a historically accurate gospel, the transfiguration is a myth, and the resurrection is a fact. To Christians, the transfiguration is evidence of the divinity of Jesus. The reason for inventing the transfiguration story may have been to make Jesus fulfil an earlier prediction of the prophet Malachi. And there was no resurrection prophecy, so Christians had to make something out of this unbiblical fact. They probably saw it as proof that Jesus was eternal and Adam as he claimed.
It may be impossible to uncover all the redactions. The original text could date from before 70 AD, and it might be decades older if a disciple was the author. The final version of this Gospel dates from around 90 AD, so it has the perspective of that era. After the Romans had destroyed the Jewish temple in 70 AD, Christians realised that Jesus might not return anytime soon. The character of Christianity changed accordingly, from expecting Jesus’ return with power and glory to having a personal bond with Jesus that gives access to eternal life. The Gospel of John reflects this change in outlook.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus did not always speak in clear and precise terms. For instance, ‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.’ (John 16:12-14) Muslims see these words as a prediction of the coming of Muhammad. To make that convincing, the wording should have been more precise.
The entire Chapter 16 of the Gospel of John excels in vagueness. It contains a remark that appears insignificant between all the obscurity but might be there for a reason. The gospel claims that Jesus said, ‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.’ (John 16:25) Why should Jesus not speak plainly about God? And probably, he had used plain words. The other gospels testify of this. The scribes who fraudulently modified this gospel may have known what they were doing and realised that the truth would come out one day.
Latest revision: 17 March 2023
1. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.