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Irenaeus and John, the disciple of the Lord

The following is taken from Irenaeus and John, the disciple of the Lord. I post this here for the benefit of others and in order to insure that such an important refutation to Evangelical NT scholar Richard Bauckham’s claim that the John who wrote the Gospel was someone other than the Apostle doesn’t disappear from the web.

In chapter 17 of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses Richard Bauckham discusses whether Irenaeus, who refers often to a man named John as author of the fourth canonical gospel and the apocalypse of John and calls him both an apostle and a disciple of the Lord, is thinking of John the son of Zebedee or of the elder named John to whom Papias refers. He writes, “The argument we have been pursuing is that this John, disciple of Jesus and author of the Gospel, was not John the son of Zebedee, member of the Twelve, and that this was known in Ephesus as late as Polycrates’ letter to Victor of Rome. Was it also Irenaeus’s view? It has commonly been assumed and sometimes argued that Irenaeus identified the author of the Gospel with John the son of Zebedee, but this has also been vigorously contested. What is revealing in itself is how difficult it is to find conclusive evidence one way or the other.”

Bauckham is arguing from the text of Papias as preserved in Eusebius:

Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.4: «Εἰ δέ που καὶ παρηκολουθηκώς τις τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις ἔλθοι, τοὺς τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἀνέκρινον λόγους, τί Ἀνδρέας ἢ τί Πέτρος εἶπεν ἢ τί Φίλιππος ἢ τί Θωμᾶς ἢ Ἰάκωβος ἢ τί Ἰωάννης ἢ Ματθαῖος ἤτις ἕτερος τῶν τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῶν ἅ τε Ἀριστίων καὶ ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης, [οἱ] τοῦ κυρίου μαθηταὶ, λέγουσιν. Οὐ γὰρ τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων τοσοῦτόν με ὠφελεῖν ὑπελάμβανον ὅσον τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης». / And if anyone chanced to come along who had followed the elders, I inquired as to the words of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord had said, the things which both Aristion and the elder John, [the]* disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that things from books would profit me as much as things from a living and remaining voice.

* Some of the Greek manuscripts omit the definite article.
One can see that Papias has listed the name of John twice, once in the group of seven and then again (as “the elder”) in the group of two. That these are two distinct groups of men, and that there are two different men named John, seems evident to me. The second John is called “the elder” (while the first is not), and the verb of saying (εἶπεν) which accompanies the first group is in the aorist tense, while the verb of saying (λέγουσιν) which accompanies the second group is in the present tense.

However, what is equally plain is that, if both groups are described as “[the] disciples of the Lord” (something which I question, but that is a post for another day), then distinguishing one John from the other cannot be a matter of simply calling one a disciple and refraining to call the other by that term, since both are putative disciples of the Lord:

First List Second List
Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew Aristion, the elder John
the disciples of the Lord [the] disciples of the Lord

One will have to distinguish the two differently. It appears that Papias himself did this by applying the term “elder” to this John:

Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.7, 14-15: 7 And the Papias now being explained confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those who followed them, and says that he was an earwitness of Aristion and of the elder John. At least he mentions them by their name often and gives their traditions in his writings. Let not these things have been said uselessly by us. …. 14 And in his own writing he delivers also other accounts of the abovementioned Aristion of the words of the Lord, and the traditions of the elder John, to which we send those who love learning. Necessarily we now add to his reports set forth before a tradition which, about Mark who wrote the gospel, he sets out through these words: 15 “And the elder would say this: ‘Mark, who had become the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, yet not in order, as many things as he remembered of the things either said or done by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings to the needs, but not making them as an ordering together of the lordly oracles, so that Mark did not sin having thus written certain things as he remembered them. For he made one provision, to leave out nothing of the things that he heard or falsify anything in them.’”
This would make sense, of course, since “elder” is the only thing on Papias’ list which would serve to distinguish the two men, since both are named John and both are disciples of the Lord.

But our question is whether or not Irenaeus makes such a distinction. Bauckham thinks it possible, perhaps probable, that he does. To examine this claim, it would be helpful to take a look at those instances in which Irenaeus calls John the disciple of the Lord:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.16.3: 3 And John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννης… ὁ τοῦ κυρίου μαθητὴς], has intensified their condemnation, when he desires us not even to address to them the salutation of “good-speed;” for, says he, “He that bids them be of good-speed is a partaker with their evil deeds” [2 John (1.)11], and that with reason, “for there is no good-speed to the ungodly,” saith the Lord.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.2.5: 5 His own Word is both suitable and sufficient for the formation of all things, even as John, the disciple of the Lord [Iohannes domini discipulus], declares regarding Him: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.” …. Whom, therefore, shall we believe as to the creation of the world-these heretics who have been mentioned that prate so foolishly and inconsistently on the subject, or the disciples of the Lord [discipulis domini], and Moses, who was both a faithful servant of God and a prophet?

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.3: 3 First of all, after He had made the water wine at Cana of Galilee, He went up to the festival day of the passover, on which occasion it is written, “For many believed in Him, when they saw the signs which He did,” as John the disciple of the Lord [Iohannes domini discipulus] records.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5: 5 Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify, those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννῃ τῷ τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῇ], that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles [alios apostolos] also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles, and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle?

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1: 1 Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννης ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου], who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.4: 4 But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time, a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles, that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord [ὁ τοῦ κυρίου μαθητὴς], going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me? “”I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples [οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτῶν] had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3: …just as the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord would teach about those times and would say….

Irenaeus, Demonstration 43: 43 …. Wherefore also His disciple John, in teaching us who is the Son of God, who was with the Father before the world was made, and that all the things that were made were made by Him, says thus: “In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made,” showing with certainty that the Word, who was in the beginning with the Father, and by whom all things were made, this is His Son.

Irenaeus, Demonstration 94: 94 So then by the new calling a change of hearts in the Gentiles came to pass through the Word of God, when He was made flesh and tabernacled with men; as also His disciple John says: “And his Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” ….

Eusebius, History of the Church 5.24.16 (quoting the epistle of Irenaeus to Victor): 16. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord [Ἰωάννου τοῦ μαθητοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν], and the other apostles [καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀποστόλων] with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.
Note that, according to Irenaeus, the Valentinian Ptolemy also used this term of John, the author of the fourth gospel:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.8.5: 5 Further, [the Valentinians] teach that John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννην τὸν μαθητὴν τοῦ κυρίου], indicated the first Ogdoad, expressing themselves in these words: John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννης ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου], wishing to set forth the origin of all things, so as to explain how the Father produced the whole, lays down a certain principle,-that, namely, which was first-begotten by God, which Being he has termed both the only-begotten Son and God, in whom the Father, after a seminal manner, brought forth all things. …. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made,” for the Word was the author of form and beginning to all the Aeons that came into existence after Him. But “what was made in Him,” says John, “is life.” Here again he indicated conjunction; for all things, he said, were made by Him, but in Him was life. …. Since, therefore, Zoe manifested and begat both Anthropos and Ecclesia, she is termed their light. Thus, then, did John by these words reveal both other things and the second Tetrad, Logos and Zoe, Anthropos and Ecclesia. …. But what John really does say is this: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Thus, then, does he [according to them] distinctly set forth the first Tetrad, when he speaks of the Father, and Charis, and Monogenes, and Aletheia. In this way, too, does John tell of the first Ogdoad, and that which is the mother of all the Aeons. For he mentions the Father, and Charis, and Monogenes, and Aletheia, and Logos, and Zoe, and Anthropos, and Ecclesia. Such are the views of Ptolemy.
Now, there is no hint in any of the above that this man named John is being distinguished from another man named John who was also considered to be a disciple of the Lord. But Bauckham argues, “Clearly the epithet ‘disciple of the Lord’ is meant not so much to put John in a group as to distinguish him uniquely. It conveys his special closeness to Jesus, both historically during Jesus’ ministry and theologically in his Gospel. Probably, like the modern term ‘Beloved Disciple,’ it is an abbreviated allusion to the Gospel’s more cumbersome phrase: ‘the disciple Jesus loved.’” This is probably so; but let us continue.

Another way to distinguish the two Johns might be to call one of them an apostle, but not the other. This is exactly what Eusebius does when writing about Papias’ lists:

Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.5: 5 It is worthwhile also to pay attention here to his twice counting the name of John, the first of which he groups with Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the apostles, clearly indicating the evangelist, but the other John, with a change of wording, he arranges with others away from the number of the apostles, and clearly names him an elder.
If this is the strategy employed by Irenaeus, however, then of course the hypothesis that Irenaeus thought of John the elder as the author of the fourth canonical gospel falls to the ground immediately. Here are the relevant passages:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.9.2-3: 2 The fallacy, then, of this exposition is manifest. For when John, proclaiming one God, the Almighty, and one Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten, by whom all things were made, declares that this was the Son of God, this the Only-begotten, this the Former of all things, this the true Light who enlighteneth every man this the Creator of the world, this He that came to His own, this He that became flesh and dwelt among us,-these men, by a plausible kind of exposition, perverting these statements, maintain that there was another Monogenes, according to production, whom they also style Arche. They also maintain that there was another Saviour, and another Logos, the son of Monogenes, and another Christ produced for the re-establishment of the Pleroma. Thus it is that, wresting from the truth every one of the expressions which have been cited, and taking a bad advantage of the names, they have transferred them to their own system; so that, according to them, in all these terms John makes no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ. For if he has named the Father, and Charis, and Monogenes, and Aletheia, and Logos, and Zoe, and Anthropos, and Ecclesia, according to their hypothesis, he has, by thus speaking, referred to the primary Ogdoad, in which there was as yet no Jesus, and no Christ, the teacher of John [ἐν ᾗ οὐδέπω Ἰησοῦς οὐδέπω Χριστός, ὁ τοῦ Ἰωάννου διδάσκαλος]. But that the apostle [ὁ ἀπόστολος] did not speak concerning their conjunctions, but concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he also acknowledges as the Word of God, he himself has made evident. For, summing up his statements respecting the Word previously mentioned by him, he further declares, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” But, according to their hypothesis, the Word did not become flesh at all, inasmuch as He never went outside of the Pleroma, but that Saviour [became flesh] who was formed by a special dispensation [out of all the Aeons], and was of later date than the Word. 3 Learn then, ye foolish men, that Jesus who suffered for us, and who dwelt among us, is Himself the Word of God. For if any other of the Aeons had become flesh for our salvation, it would have been probable that the apostle [τὸν ἀπόστολον] spoke of another. But if the Word of the Father who descended is the same also that ascended, He, namely, the Only-begotten Son of the only God, who, according to the good pleasure of the Father, became flesh for the sake of men, John [Iohannes] certainly does not speak regarding any other, or concerning any Ogdoad, but respecting our Lord Jesus Christ. For, according to them, the Word did not originally become flesh. For they maintain that the Saviour assumed an animal body, formed in accordance with a special dispensation by an unspeakable providence, so as to become visible and palpable. But flesh is that which was of old formed for Adam by God out of the dust, and it is this that John has declared the Word of God became. Thus is their primary and first-begotten Ogdoad brought to nought. For, since Logos, and Monogenes, and Zoe, and Phoµs, and Sorer, and Christus, and the Son of God, and He who became incarnate for us, have been proved to be one and the same, the Ogdoad which they have built up at once falls to pieces. And when this is destroyed, their whole system sinks into ruin,-a system which they falsely dream into existence, and thus inflict injury on the Scriptures, while they build up their own hypothesis.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.5.1: 1 Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5: 5 Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify, those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννῃ τῷ τοῦ κυρίου], that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles [alios apostolos] also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles, and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle?

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.21.3: 3 For the apostles [apostoli], since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles [apostolorum]. For Peter, and John [Iohannes], and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.9: 9 These things being so, all who destroy the form of the Gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious; those, [I mean, ] who represent the aspects of the Gospel as being either more in number than as aforesaid, or, on the other hand, fewer. The former class [do so], that they may seem to have discovered more than is of the truth; the latter, that they may set the dispensations of God aside. For Marcion, rejecting the entire Gospel, yea rather, cutting himself off from the Gospel, boasts that he has part in the [blessings of] the Gospel. Others, again (the Montanists), that they may set at nought the gift of the Spirit, which in the latter times has been, by the good pleasure of the Father, poured out upon the human race, do not admit that aspect [of the evangelical dispensation] presented by John’s Gospel [Iohannis evangelium], in which the Lord promised that He would send the Paraclete; but set aside at once both the Gospel and the prophetic Spirit. Wretched men indeed! who wish to be pseudo-prophets, forsooth, but who set aside the gift of prophecy from the Church; acting like those (the Encratitae) who, on account of such as come in hypocrisy, hold themselves aloof from the communion of the brethren. We must conclude, moreover, that these men (the Montanists) can not admit the Apostle Paul either. For, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, he speaks expressly of prophetical gifts, and recognises men and women prophesying in the Church. Sinning, therefore, in all these particulars, against the Spirit of God, they fall into the irremissible sin. But those who are from Valentinus, being, on the other hand, altogether reckless, while they put forth their own compositions, boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have arrived at such a pitch of audacity, as to entitle their comparatively recent writing “the Gospel of Truth,” though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the Apostles [apostolorum evangeliis], so that they have really no Gospel which is not full of blasphemy. For if what they have published is the Gospel of truth, and yet is totally unlike those which have been handed down to us from the apostles [apostolis], any who please may learn, as is shown from the Scriptures themselves, that that which has been handed down from the apostles [apostolis] can no longer be reckoned the Gospel of truth. But that these Gospels alone are true and reliable, and admit neither an increase nor diminution of the aforesaid number, I have proved by so many and such [arguments]. For, since God made all things in due proportion and adaptation, it was fit also that the outward aspect of the Gospel should be well arranged and harmonized. The opinion of those men, therefore, who handed the Gospel down to us, having been investigated, from their very fountainheads, let us proceed also to the remaining apostles, and inquire into their doctrine with regard to God; then, in due course we shall listen to the very words of the Lord.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.4: [Passage given above. Irenaeus recounts the story of how John, the disciple of the Lord, deserted a bathhouse because Cerinthus was there, and then recounts how Polycarp dismissed Marcion with an insult, before summarizing, “Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth.” It seems like John is the apostle and Polycarp the disciple of the apostles in this phrase. Irenaeus adds, “Then, again, the church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.”]

Eusebius, History of the Church 5.24.16 (quoting the epistle of Irenaeus to Victor): 16 And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord [Ἰωάννου τοῦ μαθητοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν], and the other apostles [καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀποστόλων] with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.
And note that the Valentinian Ptolemy once again precedes Irenaeus in calling John an apostle:

Epiphanius, Panarion 33.3.6 (quoting from Ptolemy’s epistle to Flora): Furthermore, the apostle [ὁ ἀπόστολος] says that creation of the world is due to him, for everything was made through him and apart from him nothing was made [John 1.3].
It is clear that Irenaeus, like Ptolemy, regards this man as an apostle, so Bauckham spends some time defusing the possibility that, just by virtue of Irenaeus calling this man an apostle, he meant John the son of Zebedee. Bauckham points out that “uses of ‘the apostle’ as a distinguishing or honorific epithet with a name are confined in Irenaeus to Peter, who is ‘Peter the apostle’ three times, and Matthew, who is ‘Matthew the apostle’ just once.” It is certain that Irenaeus revered this particular apostle, John, to special degree; it seems evident to me that the reason is that Irenaeus had, as a child, seen Polycarp, and he claims Polycarp had seen John. More to the point, however, Bauckham points out that Irenaeus also gives the title of apostle to Paul (many times), probably to Barnabas (3.12.14; the online ANF translation is not perfect here and obscures the matter), and probably also to the seventy from Luke 10.1 (2.21.1). He even calls John the Baptist an apostle in 3.11.4. Surely, Bauckham reasons, if Irenaeus can call all of these people apostles, then he can call John the elder an apostle.

However, there may be a real difference between all of those figures and John the elder. The other figures, with the exception of John the Baptist, are identified as apostles in the New Testament. Paul calls himself an apostle repeatedly in his epistles; Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14.4, 14; 1 Corinthians 9.1-7; and the seventy in Luke are called “others” (ἑτέρους) whom Jesus “sent” (ἀπέστειλεν), which could easily be interpreted as them being apostles, as well. As for John the Baptist, Irenaeus seems to know he is making a novel argument for his honorary apostleship, as it were:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.4: 4 …. John, therefore, having been sent by the founder and maker of this world, how could he testify of that Light, which came down from things unspeakable and invisible? For all the heretics have decided that the Demiurge was ignorant of that Power above him, whose witness and herald John is found to be. Wherefore the Lord said that He deemed him “more than a prophet.” For all the other prophets preached the advent of the paternal Light, and desired to be worthy of seeing Him whom they preached; but John did both announce [the advent] beforehand, in a like manner as did the others, and actually saw Him when He came, and pointed Him out, and persuaded many to believe on Him, so that he did himself hold the place of both prophet and apostle. For this is to be more than a prophet, because, “first apostles, secondarily prophets;” but all things from one and the same God Himself.
The term “apostle” is not in this case a casual identifier for John the Baptist; it is part of an elaborate scriptural argument. I do not think that this is the same thing as simply identifying John as an apostle.

So all of the other apostleships on Irenaeus’ list can be derived more or less directly from the pages of the New Testament. If “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the gospel of John were somewhere called an apostle, then John (whom Irenaeus identifies with that beloved disciple) would fall into the same category; but this does not seem to be the case. The gospel of John uses the term apostle only at John 13.16: “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent [ἀπόστολος] greater than the one who sent him.” Here “apostle” takes on a general sense; it does not refer to any specific person or group of persons. This makes me wonder whether there might not be something to Irenaeus calling this man John an apostle after all.

So “disciple of the Lord” cannot work as a distinguishing label, and Irenaeus does not in practice use “apostle” as a distinguishing label. Nor does he use, it turns out, the term “elder” to distinguish one from the other. Not once is his John called an elder. To the contrary, wherever John and any elders appear in the same context, the elders are those who followed and witnessed to John:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5: 5 Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify, those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord [Ἰωάννῃ τῷ τοῦ κυρίου], that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles [alios apostolos] also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles, and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle?

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3: 3 …just as the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord would teach about those times and would say….

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30.1: 1 But these things being so, and since this number stands in all the earnest and ancient copies, and since the very men who had seen John with their own eyes testify to it, and since the word teaches us that the number of the name of the beast according to the counting of the Greeks through the letters in it is six hundred sixty-six, that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds….
Elders are also, for Irenaeus, those who followed or witnessed to the apostles in general:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.27.1: 1 As I heard from a certain presbyter/elder, who had heard it from those who had seen the apostles, and from those who had been their disciples, the punishment in scripture was sufficient for the ancients concerning the things they did without the counsel of the spirit.

Eusebius, History of the Church 5.8.8b: 8b And [Irenaeus] also makes mention of the memoirs of a certain apostolic presbyter, whose name he passes by in silence, and sets forth his exegeses of the divine scriptures.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.5.1: Therefore the elders, the disciples of the apostles, say that those who have been translated are translated thither, for paradise was prepared for just and spirit-borne men, to which [place] the apostle Paul also was carried and heard words not to be uttered, as to us in the present; and those who have been translated remain there until the consummation, anticipating incorruptibility.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.36.2: The elders, the disciples of the apostles, say that this is the order and disposition of those who are being saved, and that they progress through such grades, and that through the spirit some ascend to the son, but that through the son some ascend to the father, the son then finally ceding his work to the father, just as also it is said by the apostle: For it is necessary that he reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet.

Irenaeus, Demonstration 3: Now it is faith that does this for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us.
So Irenaeus is obviously not using the term “elder” to distinguish his John from the other John, whereas this is exactly what Papias himself had done — and Eusebius, for that matter. So far as we can tell, John is not an elder according to Irenaeus; John is consistently distinguished from anyone called an elder. But Bauckham argues, “We should make it clear that none of Irenaeus’s references to John that we have been considering indicate that he was John the son of Zebedee. These references tell us nothing about this John’s life prior to his residence in Ephesus beyond identifying him as the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John. Irenaeus does also make five unequivocal references to John the son of Zebedee, all alluding to his role in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. …. There is nothing in these passages to suggest that this John is the same person as John of Ephesus, the Beloved Disciple and author of the Gospel.”

The five unequivocal references to John the son of Zebedee are the following (though Irenaeus does not actually use the descriptor “son of Zebedee,” it is clear from the context of the New Testament texts he is alluding to or quoting):

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.24.4: 4 Again, five men are said to have been with the Lord when He obtained testimony from the Father, namely Peter, and James, and John, and Moses, and Elias.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.3: 3 Again, when Peter, accompanied by John, had looked upon the man lame from his birth, before that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, sitting and seeking alms, he said to him, “Silver and gold I have none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” …. Peter, together with John, preached to them this plain message of glad tidings, that the promise which God made to the fathers had been fulfilled by Jesus; not certainly proclaiming another god, but the Son of God, who also was made man, and suffered; thus leading Israel into knowledge, and through Jesus preaching the resurrection of the dead, and showing, that whatever the prophets had proclaimed as to the suffering of Christ, these had God fulfilled.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.5: 5 They were confounded, therefore, both by this instance of healing (“for the man was above forty years old on whom this miracle of healing took place”), and by the doctrine of the apostles, and by the exposition of the prophets, when the chief priests had sent away Peter and John. These returned to the rest of their fellow apostles and disciples of the Lord [reliquos coapostolos et discipulos domini], that is, to the church, and related what had occurred, and how courageously they had acted in the name of Jesus.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.15: 15 Thus did the apostles, whom the Lord made witnesses of every action and of every doctrine – for upon all occasions do we find Peter, and James, and John present with Him – scrupulously act according to the dispensation of the Mosaic law, showing that it was from one and the same God.
I think the awkward phrasing in 3.12.5 (they “returned to the rest of their fellow apostles and disciples of the Lord, that is, to the church”) stems from the wording of Acts 4.23: “And when [Peter and John] had been released, they went to their own [πρὸς τοὺς ἰδίους], and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” Irenaeus has interpreted “their own” as Peter’s and John’s fellow apostles and disciples, but in verses 24-31 it is the church as a whole who sends up a stirring prayer.

At any rate, notice that John of Zebedee is called both a fellow apostle and a disciple, just like the figure whose various labels and traits we have been tracing. Irenaeus has once again made no effort to distinguish between two men named John. And that is the overwhelming sense of things that I get from Irenaeus, to be sure: as I am reading his words, I never get the impression that he is aware of two men named John who fill similar roles. He knows that John the Baptist is a separate person, but mentioning his baptizing or a few of the gospel verses in which he plays a part is more than sufficient to keep his identity separate. Likewise, the terms “apostle” and “disciple of the Lord” appear to me to be perfectly suited, and aptly used by Irenaeus, to keep his main John separate from John the Baptist. But no such effort is discernible in keeping John the disciple and apostle separate from John the disciple and apostle and elder — unless the elder John can be thought of as one of the otherwise anonymous elders to whom Irenaeus not infrequently refers:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5: …but from the fortieth and fiftieth year it declines already into the senior age, which our Lord had while he was teaching, just as the gospel and all the elders, who had dwelt with John the disciple of the Lord in Asia, testify that John delivered….

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.27.1: As I heard from a certain presbyter/elder, who had heard it from those who had seen the apostles, and from those who had been their disciples, the punishment in scripture was sufficient for the ancients concerning the things they did without the counsel of the spirit.

Eusebius, History of the Church 5.8.8b: 8b And [Irenaeus] also makes mention of the memoirs of a certain apostolic presbyter, whose name he passes by in silence, and sets forth his exegeses of the divine scriptures.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.5.1: Therefore the elders, the disciples of the apostles, say that those who have been translated are translated thither, for paradise was prepared for just and spirit-borne men, to which [place] the apostle Paul also was carried and heard words not to be uttered, as to us in the present; and those who have been translated remain there until the consummation, anticipating incorruptibility.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30.1: But these things being so, and since this number stands in all the earnest and ancient copies, and since the very men who had seen John with their own eyes testify to it, and since the word teaches us that the number of the name of the beast according to the counting of the Greeks through the letters in it is six hundred sixty-six, that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds….

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3: …just as the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord would teach about those times and would say….

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.4: These things Papias too, who was a earwitness of John and companion of Polycarp, and an ancient man, wrote and testified in the fourth of his books.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.36.1: And as the elders say, at that time also will those deemed worthy of a dwelling in heaven find a place there, and others will enjoy the luxury of paradise, and yet others will have the brightness of the city.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.36.2: The elders, the disciples of the apostles, say that this is the order and disposition of those who are being saved, and that they progress through such grades, and that through the spirit some ascend to the son, but that through the son some ascend to the father, the son then finally ceding his work to the father, just as also it is said by the apostle: For it is necessary that he reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet.

Irenaeus, Demonstration 3: Now it is faith that does this for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us.

Irenaeus, Demonstration 61: As to the union and concord and tranquility of the animals, who are of different kinds and by nature hostile to each other and inimical, the elders say that it will indeed be so at the coming of Christ when he will rule over all.
But, of course, if the elder John is one of those elders in Irenaeus’ mind, then he cannot also be John the disciple of the Lord and apostle, the author of the Apocalypse and of the fourth canonical gospel.

To recap:

Irenaeus never takes pains to distinguish John the apostle from John the disciple.

Irenaeus never calls John an elder; to the contrary, the elders are those who followed him and the other apostles.

Ireneaus refers to the son of Zebedee using the same basic terms (coapostle and disciple) that he uses for his favorite John.

I really think, pending further information, that Irenaeus was thinking of only one John the disciple. Papias distinguished between two Johns (one in the first list and the other, called “the elder,” in the second), but Irenaeus does not seem to have followed suit.

Ben.

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