Why are there so many Johns?

John was a very common name during biblical times, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to figure out which John did what. Someone recently requested a break-down of the Johns we encounter in the New Testament.

John the Baptist is usually the easiest John to parse out. He was the son of Elizabeth, a relative of the Virgin Mary, and of Zechariah, a priest. He prepared the way of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and baptized him in the Jordan River. He was killed by King Herod.

The rest of the Johns in the New Testament (aside from the very minor ones), may all be the same person, or may all be separate individuals.

  • John the Apostle (aka the son of Zebedee and perhaps the beloved disciple).
  • John the Evangelist, author of the Gospel of John.
  • John of Patmos, author of the book of Revelation.

Some believe John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation (as well as 1, 2, and 3 John). Some believe John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John, but a different John (John of Patmos) wrote the book of Revelation. Some believe all of the aforementioned Johns were completely different people.

Unfortunately, as was the case with the Marys in the gospels, the different Johns are often confused, and we may never know if many of them were separate individuals or one and the same (though considering the Gospel of John and Revelation were likely written someone between 90 and 100 A.D., it’s unlikely the Apostle directly wrote either, but one never knows).


Do you have any other questions about the Johns in scripture or anything Episcopal-related? Click here to suggest a topic for another What Why Wednesday!