Literary Analyses of Johannine Characters
by Randy Lopez

Lazarus of Bethany

General Information
Appearances John 11:44; 12:1-2
mentioned in reference in 11: 1-43; 12: 9-10, 17
Titles Given  "Lazarus from Bethany" (by the author in 11:1)
"He whom You Love" (in a message from Martha and Mary in 11:3)
"Our Friend Lazarus" (by Jesus in 11:11)
"My Brother" (by Martha in 11: 21; by Mary in 11:32)
"Your Brother" (by Jesus to Martha in 11:23)
"The One Having Died"  (by the author in 11:39)
"The One Whom Jesus Raised from the Dead" (by the author in 12:1, 9)
Gender Male (11:1)
Age unknown
Marital Status unknown
Occupation unknown
Place of Residence "from Bethany" (11:1)
Relatives Brother of Mary (11:1-3)
Brother of Martha (11:1-3)
Group Affiliation none known

Narrator's Portrayal
Because one of the greatest signs is the raising of  Lazarus by Jesus, the focus is not on Lazarus or what he does, but on the sign itself.  John11 focuses the reader's attention to an expectation of a sign.  Lazarus is active in three verses (11:44; 12:1,2) and is mentioned in reference in 11:1-43 and 12:9-10.  The author gives Lazarus three titles:
                            1. "Lazarus from Bethany" (11:1)
                            2. "The One Having Died"  (11:39)
                            3. "The One Whom Jesus Raised from the Dead" (12:1, 9)
In the first title given,  the author identifies Lazarus' place of residence.  The second title associates Lazarus with the world of the dead.  The third title connotes the freedom from death which Lazarus is granted by Jesus.

The cause of Lazarus' death  is not given, but may be presumed that he died of an illness (4x from 11:1-6).  The time of death, on the other hand can be estimated to four days before his resurrection (11:39).

The narrator does not provide information as to Lazarus' age.  The NRSV translation notes that Lazarus is a "man" which may insinuate that Lazarus is the age of a man.  Although the NRSV gives this translation, the Greek text does not call Lazarus a man.  Instead, it says that Lazarus "was a certain one being ill" (11:1).

Lazarus' Actions and Speech

There is little interaction between Lazarus and the rest of the characters in the narrative.  Lazarus is ill, and he is noted in reference until his raising from the dead in 11:44.  His illness brings about emotions from Martha, Mary, and Jesus (see "Other Characters' Reactions to Lazarus")

Lazarus makes no testimony of his raising from the dead or any probable testimonies of what occurs when one when one dies. The only action he performs is prompted by Jesus' command to "come out" of his grave (11:43-44).  When he "comes out" of the tomb, he is portrayed as a man who needs help to be unwrapped from the burial clothes (11:44).  "His is not a resurrection like Jesus', however, for he is still bound by the grave clothes" (Culpepper 141).  Lazarus does not say a word--he neither testifies to anything nor gives glory to God as may by expected.

Lazarus makes another appearance in this "dinner" scene being held "where Lazarus was" (12:1).  He is said to dine with Jesus, and like a reflection of the Beloved Disciple in the "Last Supper Discourse" (13:23), Lazarus is portrayed "reclining with Jesus" (12:2).

Other Characters' Reactions to Lazarus

The text implies, in more than one instance, that Jesus and Lazarus share a loving relationship.  The message sent by the sisters said that "He (Lazarus) whom you love is ill" (11:3).   This sentiment is echoed in 11:5 and in 11:11 in which Lazarus is referred by Jesus himself as "our friend".

Martha and Mary
The loving relationship between Lazarus and his sisters is apparent in this narrative. Although both do care about their brother, it is enough to generalize their statements regarding the identity of their brother.  In their language, they show both Jesus and the readers that they love their brother--especially when they inform Jesus of the state of their brother (11:21, 32).

The Jews
The Jews react to "Lazarus the sign" rather than "Lazarus the person".  "Lazarus the person" is a regular person while "Lazarus the sign" is a resurrected person.  The "Sign" is a witnessed event or a testimony.  The Lazarus resurrection event causes the Jews to believe in Jesus (11:45). "When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus" (12:9).  Some Jews, on the other hand, react to the raising of Lazarus by informing the Pharisees of the event (11:46).

The Chief Priests
The chief priests in 12:10-11 plan to react violently to the Lazarus resurrection event (12:10-11).  "The chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well" (12:10).  Because many of the Jews started seeing Jesus and Lazarus, the chief priests see Jesus and Lazarus as a threat.  Just as the chief priests want to put Jesus to death, they also want to rid the world of the greatest evidence of the Lazarus resurrection event--Lazarus himself.

Movement of Lazarus within the Gospel
As a friend or brother, Lazarus is definitely a loved character.  To some of the Jews, he is seen as sign which needs to be reported to the authorities.  To the chief priests, he is a threat.

To the sign, Lazarus is an important character for he is the vehicle and the evidence of the sign.  The Lazarus resurrection event is a sign in which Lazarus "points" to Jesus, who in turn "points" to the Father.  Not only does Lazarus reveal himself, but he also reveals Jesus by portraying Jesus as a "bringer of life" (Culpepper 140).

Some scholars believe that the Beloved Disciple and Lazarus are the same character.  Some of the preliminary evidence point out that both characters are called "the one whom [Jesus] love" (11:3 and 13:23).  In addition to this, both characters are portrayed as reclining while having a meal with Jesus (12:2 and 13:23).

For more information, stay posted for more comparisons and evidence regarding the Beloved Disciple and Lazarus being the same character.


Culpepper, R. Alan, "Characters: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus." Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. 140-142.
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