There is a legend that says that John traveled to Ephesus where he took care of Virgin Mary and that he lived there until the end of his life.

Is this legend true? Are there any historical accounts that support the legend? Are there any other theories about the later life of apostle John?


We know from scripture that he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos near the end of his life - reliable understandings of when his epistles and the book of Revelation were penned indicate it was around the year 90 AD.

Where he was between ~50AD and 90AD (with 50 being a plausible time for Paul's early writings, and the original disciples/apostles to still be in Jerusalem), I don't believe we're ever told.

Also, Jesus' mother Mary would have been fairly old by then - she should have been at least mid 40s when Jesus began to preach (if she was ~15 when he was born). By the time of the early church and Paul's appearance on the scene (after his time out of the record when he was apparently studying and learning), she would have been at least in her mid 60s, if not older.


We do not know what happened to the apostle John after the biblical account of his life ended. One of the New Testament gospels now bears his name as author, although it was anonymous until later in the second century, in which case he not only preached the gospel but wrote an account of the mission of Jesus. However, as John Carroll says in The Existential Jesus, at page 228, most scholars assume that John did not write the gospel. Burton L. Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 215, that before what is now known as John's Gospel was attributed to John, it had already become popular in gnostic circles where it was said that Cerinthus, the founder of a gnostic school, had written it. One way or another, we can say that the apostle John did not write the Gospel or epistles that became attributed to him.

Mack says (ibid, page 197) at some point, the Revelation to John of Patmos was associated with the writings of the Johannine school solely because of the common name. This is two stages removed from the apostle John, first by the assumption of common authorship with the Gospel in spite of very different theology and style, second by the assumption that the apostle John wrote the fourth gospel. Once again, there is no reason to believe the apostle John wrote this book, and many scholars now refer to its author as 'John of Patmos' in order to avoid confusion.

Thus, we can not say that John, son of Zebedee, spent his latter years writing. We have no reliable information as to where he went to preach, if at all. There is no historical evidence that he travelled to Ephesus where he took care of Virgin Mary or that he lived there until the end of his life.

  • Could you please clarify your point regarding "it was anonymous until later in the second century"? Do you just mean that it wasn't until later in the second century that we have a positive assertion of John's authorship (with no prior references to authorship); Or that there exists a record of an earlier assertion that the gospel was actually written anonymously? If the former, can you change your wording as it is currently misleading (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence); if the latter as it seems from the reference to Cerinthus, what is the source of the claim please? – bruised reed Jun 26 '15 at 6:39
  • Perhaps further to this issue, you could comment on the perspective on the matter taken here: wall.org/~aron/blog/the-gospels-arent-anonymous and point to any errors in fact or logic there. – bruised reed Jun 26 '15 at 6:40
  • @bruisedreed It wasn't until later in the second century that we have a positive assertion of John's authorship. Wikipedia, citing 9 published works, says, "The Gospel of John was written in Greek by an anonymous author." Pls note I did not say that absence of evidence is evidence of absence; in fact my very next clause is "in which case he not only preached the gospel but wrote an account of the mission of Jesus." (It is reasonable to have qualified that clause) For an accessible ref to Cerinthus as author, see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerinthus#Works_attributed_to_Cerinthus – Dick Harfield Jun 26 '15 at 8:52
  • @bruisedreed There are thousands of blogs etc that approach this from both sides (for and against attributed authorship). If scholarly research is to be trumped by blogs, this discussion belongs on the chat room. – Dick Harfield Jun 26 '15 at 8:55
  • I already read the Wikipedia article on Cerinthus and the one on the Alogi as well. If those articles are accurate, then the attribution of authorship of "John" to Cerinthus (by the Alogi) is not only not credible (due to their totally contradictory doctrines), but is reported second hand from the 4th Century - do you have any better support for your assertion than this? If "Scholarly research" is equivalent to the emporer's new clothes, then any old blog can certainly trump it. Please refrain from using the fallacy of argument from authority - try and engage with the actual issues. – bruised reed Jun 26 '15 at 12:39

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