Book review: The Gay Disciple

by John Henson


I enjoyed this one! This is fiction, building upon the story of several notable but sketchy characters in the New Testament. Henson modernizes the names and nicknames of his characters (Jim for James, Rocky for Peter), which added to the enjoyment for me. I found myself embracing the puzzle of figuring out who the characters were in the Bible.

All characters tell their story in first person, beginning with Lazarus, the man whom Jesus raised from the tomb. Lazarus is presumed to be the “Beloved Disciple” of John’s Gospel, a conclusion Henson considers “undoubtedly” true, and that the Gospel writer “could hardly have made any more clear.” Henson shares this opinion with other recent scholars, including Ben Witherington (see Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary) and a fascinating book by James David Audlin that I’ll be reviewing soon. In my own book about John’s Gospel, I also tie Lazarus to the Beloved Disciple, so I am sympathetic to the arguments.

Henson goes a step further with Lazarus. Who is this grown man, greatly loved by Jesus, living with his two sisters on a large estate? Speculation helps fill any void, so Henson makes him gay, and Henson’s lessons through his semi-fictional characters are not exactly subtle. Jesus and Lazarus soon embrace, a bit more intimately than one might expect. But is this inappropriate topic matter, or uncomfortable for Christian readers? The Beloved Disciple, you recall, reclines on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper. Says Lazarus, as he bemoans not being able to tell his story, “Maybe for my lifetime, maybe for many hundreds or even thousands of years, my story would be taboo, until that day came when Christians would no longer be afraid of love. I wanted to tug at John’s sleeve, ‘Tell them how beautiful [Jesus] looked! Tell them about his glistening hair, his twinkling eyes and his hairy chest!'”

As it turns out, nowhere in the book is Jesus portrayed as gay; only that Jesus feels no discomfort at sharing a physical closeness with Lazarus, the same as he does with any disciple, male or female. Jesus’ favoritism toward Lazarus exists (at least in Lazarus’s mind), but is actively tempered.

From Lazarus, we move on to several more characters, and I won’t spoil your enjoyment by listing them. I’ll just say the book got better and better for me as it went. If there is a common theme surrounding Henson’s choice of characters, it’s that each feels marginalized or unsettled before meeting Jesus. This is not an evangelical book, merely a book about the atmosphere Jesus brought to all he came in contact with. It certainly doesn’t solve life’s problems or explain all the mysteries of what happened in the first century. But at the same time, this book won’t be quickly forgotten.