Becoming the Beloved Disciple

Eric Huntsman is working on the Gospel of John volume of the BYU New Testament Commentary. When it appears, it no doubt will be three inches thick, weigh several pounds, and be substantial enough to serve as a door stop if need be. But as an appetizer to that forthcoming tome, Eric has recently published a slighter, less intimidating volume at 155 pages, which is more of a devotional overview of the Gospel, titled Becoming the Beloved Disciple: Coming unto Christ through the Gospel of John, published by Cedar Fort, of which this blog post is a review.

Most of you probably know Eric (or of him), but for those who do not, an introduction is in order. He graduated with a double major in Latin and Greek from BYU in 1990, followed by MA and PhD degrees in ancient history from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught classics at BYU from 1994 to 2003, then transitioned to Ancient Scripture, where he remains today. Eric recently posted a fun FB update that gives some sense of his wide ranging academic interests:

The question of my fluctuating academic identity may have been solved. Ancient Scripture? ANES? Classics? Kennedy Center? Jerusalem Center? Maxwell Institute wanna-be? While buying some interesting books (attached) at the BYU Store, when the clerk ran my purchase card, she said, “The computer says you are your own department: The Department of Eric D Huntsman!”

He also sings in the Tab Choir (which I personally find hella impressive) and next year will begin a two-year stint as director of the BYU Jerusalem Center. (Oh, and his abs could grate cheese.) So yeah, no big deal.

I have to be honest, I feel a certain amount of envy for Eric. My academic career started out with the same professors he took in the same program. My dream was to become what Eric in fact has become. But in my case we got pregnant, it was a horrible recession, and I just couldn’t justify the huge risk that pursuing the PhD would have been at that time, so I went to law school so I could actually, you know, earn a living, and became a scholarly dilettante. Such is life; you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.

The volume features a lovely Foreword by my blogmate Michael Austin, who is a real pro at that sort of thing.

So as I started to read it, I assumed the title referred to John the Apostle as the “Beloved Disciple,” because we presume that John the Apostle was the author of the Gospel, and we further presume that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is a modest self-reference to John.

But as I read the book, I slowly realized I had misunderstood. Whoever the Beloved Disciple is, the fact that he is not specifically identified in the text means that the reader can see herself in that role (much like, to a lesser extent, the mother of Jesus and the Samaritan woman are not named permitting us to see ourselves in their sandals). So the book is focused specifically on discipleship, and how we ourselves can become the “beloved disciple.” I simply didn’t see that coming, but it becomes clear as you read the text.

The theme of discipleship is explored throughout the book. A summary of the Table of Contents will give a sense for this focus:

Introduction–Discipleship in John: Embarking on a Journey through the Fourth Gospel

Chapter 1–The First Disciples: Come and See

Chapter 2–The Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene: Women as Witnesses

Chapter 3–Nicodemus: How Can These Things Be?

Chapter 4–The Woman at the Well-: Drinking the Water of Life with the Woman of Samaria

Chapter 5–Followers of Jesus and “Hard Sayings”: Murmur  Not among Yourselves

Chapter 6–Friends of Jesus: Lord, If Thou Hadst Been Here

Chapter 7–Peter and Thomas: Impulsive but Devoted Disciples

Conclusion–Becoming the Beloved Disciple: Fundamentals of Discipleship

Back matter includes the Logos Hymn, an outline of the Gospel, q bibliography and an index.

The writing is very straightforward, and I guarantee it is not beyond anyone reading this blog. The chapter endnotes make it clear that substantial scholarship stands behind each chapter, but I promise the text is clearly written and perfectly comprehensible.

Eric moves seamlessly between scholarly insight and devotional application. This book absolutely does not require serious NT scholarship chops to read productively.

I especially appreciated the extent to which Eric was able to highlight the witness of women. Women could not serve as witnesses under the law of the time, so the prominence of women witnesses of the Savior requires us to move beyond that ancient legal disability and to trust their testimony.

Now, I realize that our GD schedule is starting to slide into Acts, but be honest, many of you are behind in your reading, right? So here is a way to catch up in a hurry, which you will be able to follow and which will launch you as with a slingshot into the rest of the NT. So check out a copy. I give it two thumbs up; really good stuff!



  1. I also very much admire Eric’s work. The Gospel of John served as the framework for his BYU devotional last year: John 6: “This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?” The devotional is worth watching, and more than once. Eric’s presentations at past Sperry Symposia and Easter conferences are on YouTube (usually about John), and I love the passion and earnestness with which he speaks.
    And I admire your work too, Kevin. While you and many of us would have loved to have had a career studying ANE, classics, etc., we carry that interest and appreciation into other fields, and that’s a good thing.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Jennie, especially for mentioning Eric’s wonderful devotional. I’d have to search for the page, but I recall seeing a reference to LGBTQ+, not a notation one commonly finds in a church book!

    I first got to know Eric during the Mormon Theology Seminar at the University of Texas in Austin a decade ago, led by Julie Smith. Our group went out to dinner one evening at a Thai restaurant, and Eric was like a kid in a candy store getting to place our order using his mission language (he served in Thailand). That seminar was a really great experience.

  3. Dave B. says:

    I heard Eric present at the BYU New Testament Commentary conference at BYU last year (you were there too, Kevin) and I was very impressed. I am more inclined to study the synoptics than John and from a historical Jesus perspective John just doesn’t get much traction, but Eric’s talk made me think a little harder about John. I’ll probably buy the BYU volume. I’m guessing this book from Cedar Fort is probably a slimmed down version of the forthcoming BYU NT volume.

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