Did John the Baptist Write Any Books in the Bible?

Written by Joshua Schachterle, Ph.D

Author |  Professor | BE Contributor

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Date written: August 17th, 2023

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

Did John the Baptist write any books in the Bible? If he did, how many books did John the Baptist write? Thanks to diligent historical research by numerous scholars, we have some answers! Let’s delve into their findings together and see what consensus has been reached on this intriguing topic.

If you’re looking for more information about this interesting historical figure, I am doing a series on John the Baptist that’s a must-read. 

Did John The Baptist Write Any Books in the Bible

So Many Johns: Or Are There?

The English name John is derived from the Hebrew name Yohannan which Greek speakers modified as Ioannes. In Hebrew, it means “God is gracious.” 

The New Testament mentions the name John a lot which prompts us to ask several questions: 

Let’s take these questions one by one.

Is John the Baptist the same as John the Apostle?

Our earliest reference to John the Apostle is in the Gospel of Mark. Mark states that John and his brother James, who were two of Jesus’s original disciples, were the sons of Zebedee. Jesus called them “Sons of Thunder,” which remains unexplained. According to Luke, John, James, and the apostle Peter were also fishermen.

In the Gospel of John, there are six references to someone called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The Gospel says that it has been written based on the testimony of this disciple. However, we must remember that all the Gospels, John included, were written anonymously. That is, we don’t really know who wrote the Gospel of John. The title came much later.

Because the Gospel of John was attributed to John the Apostle, it was assumed that he was the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” But the Gospel never actually names this beloved disciple. 

In a previous article, I wrote about what we know of the life of John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke tells us that his father was named Zechariah. His mother, Elizabeth had a hard time having children, so John the Baptist likely had no siblings. Also, nothing is ever said about John the Baptist fishing, especially since he lived in the desert.

Note: John the Baptist is the same person as St. John the Baptist.

Conclusion? John the Baptist is not the same person as John the Apostle. But since it’s unlikely that even John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John, could John the Baptist have written it?

Don't Miss Bart Ehrman's New Webinar: 

"Will You Be Left Behind? A History of The Rapture"

50-minute lecture by critically acclaimed Biblical Scholar & 6 NYT best-selling author, Dr. Bart Ehrman, to be turned into an online course

Will You Be Left Behind - Online Course

Did John the Baptist write the Gospel of John?

In his New Testament textbook, Bart Ehrman says that we can’t definitively know who wrote the Gospel of John:  “Some of the traditions of [the Gospel of John] may go back to the preaching of one of the original followers of Jesus, but that is not the same thing as saying that he himself wrote the Gospel.”

In addition to this, we have a chronology problem. Scholars agree that John the Baptist was killed just a few years before Jesus, around 30 CE. When was the Gospel of John written? Most scholars agree that it was written between 90-110 CE.

For these reasons, the Gospel of John could not have been written by John the Baptist.

Did John the Baptist Write the Johannine Epistles?

The Johannine Epistles, often called 1, 2, and 3 John, are certainly related to the Gospel of John. Some scholars even conclude the same author wrote them. That’s a question for another article. But let’s look at what we know about those epistles to decide whether John the Baptist wrote them.

There are reasons to think that whoever wrote the Johannine Epistles knew the Gospel of John. In other words, they contain some of the same theology and ideas. However, our biggest clue that John the Baptist didn’t write the Johannine Epistles is their date of composition. Scholarly consensus says that the epistles were written at the same time as the Gospel of John (90-110 CE). Therefore, John the Baptist had long been dead by the time they were written.

Did John the Baptist Write the Book of Revelation?

The Book of Revelation is fascinating on many levels. Let’s start with what we know about the book’s author.

Before the author details his fantastic visions, he begins with this sentence: “I, John, your brother, who share with you the persecution and the kingdom and the endurance in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

We have no reason not to believe that the author was indeed named John. It was a fairly common name at the time, especially among Jews. Other than that, however, the statement creates more questions than answers: What was the nature of the persecution he was experiencing? Was John exiled to Patmos by the powers that be? Or did he go to Patmos because of instructions from God and/or Jesus? John doesn’t explain, so we don’t know.

However, two points of fact make it unlikely that this author was John the Baptist. First, some early Christians identified the author of Revelation with John the Apostle. There are solid reasons to doubt this, but that’s not our question. Suffice it to say that we have no ancient references speculating that John the Baptist wrote the Book of Revelation.

Second, we again have a time problem. When was the Book of Revelation written? There is a near-universal consensus among scholars that it was written around 95 CE. There are, for example, references in this book to the emperor Domitian who ruled at that time.

Conclusion? John the Baptist had been dead for at least 60 years when the Book of Revelation was written. He could not have written it.

What Books Did John Write?

LAST: John the Baptist'S DEATH SHOWS HE DIDN'T Write Any Books in the Bible

How did John the Baptist die? We know that King Herod Antipas killed John the Baptist. Perhaps it was because he criticized the king’s morals, as the Gospels say. Or it might have been because the size of his influence was becoming dangerous, as 1st-century historian Josephus says.

Either way, John’s death happened many years before the writing of the Gospel of John, the Johannine Epistles, and the book of Revelation. How many books did John the Baptist write? He could not have written any of them.

One final point: scholars do not believe that John the Baptist was a Christian. He was a devout apocalyptic Jew who had his own fully Jewish ministry. While the Gospels portray him as a forerunner to Jesus, it is clear that even after Jesus started his own ministry, John didn’t stop what he was doing to follow Jesus. It is unlikely, therefore, that John would write any books in the Christian Bible.

Don't Miss Bart Ehrman's New Webinar: 

"Will You Be Left Behind? A History of The Rapture"

50-minute lecture by critically acclaimed Biblical Scholar & 6 NYT best-selling author, Dr. Bart Ehrman, to be turned into an online course

Will You Be Left Behind - Online Course

Josh Schachterle

About the author

After a long career teaching high school English, Joshua Schachterle completed his PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity in 2019. He is the author of "John Cassian and the Creation of Monastic Subjectivity." When not researching, Joshua enjoys reading, composing/playing music, and spending time with his wife and two college-aged children.

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