Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Saint John’s Gospel (2): John 1: 19-51

John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’

Patrick Comerford

19 Καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου, ὅτε ἀπέστειλαν (πρὸς αὐτὸν) οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευίτας ἵνα ἐρωτήσωσιν αὐτόν, Σὺ τίς εἶ; 20 καὶ ὡμολόγησεν καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσατο, καὶ ὡμολόγησεν ὅτι Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ Χριστός. 21 καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτόν, Τί οὖν; Σύ Ἠλίας εἶ; καὶ λέγει, Οὐκ εἰμί. Ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ; καὶ ἀπεκρίθη, Οὔ. 22 εἶπαν οὖν αὐτῷ, Τίς εἶ; ἵνα ἀπόκρισιν δῶμεν τοῖς πέμψασιν ἡμᾶς: τί λέγεις περὶ σεαυτοῦ; 23 ἔφη,

Ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ,
Εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου,

καθὼς εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας ὁ προφήτης. 24 Καὶ ἀπεσταλμένοι ἦσαν ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων. 25 καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτὸν καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Τί οὖν βαπτίζεις εἰ σὺ οὐκ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς οὐδὲ Ἠλίας οὐδὲ ὁ προφήτης; 26 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰωάννης λέγων, Ἐγὼ βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι: μέσος ὑμῶν ἕστηκεν ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε, 27 ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ (ἐγὼ) ἄξιος ἵνα λύσω αὐτοῦ τὸν ἱμάντα τοῦ ὑποδήματος. 28 Ταῦτα ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐγένετο πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, ὅπου ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων.

29 Τῇ ἐπαύριον βλέπει τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ λέγει, Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου. 30 οὗτός ἐστιν ὑπὲρ οὗ ἐγὼ εἶπον, Ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεται ἀνὴρ ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν. 31 κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ' ἵνα φανερωθῇ τῷ Ἰσραὴλ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον ἐγὼ ἐν ὕδατι βαπτίζων. 32 Καὶ ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων ὅτι Τεθέαμαι τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον ὡς περιστερὰν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ἔμεινεν ἐπ' αὐτόν: 33 κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ' ὁ πέμψας με βαπτίζειν ἐν ὕδατι ἐκεῖνός μοι εἶπεν, Ἐφ' ὃν ἂν ἴδῃς τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον καὶ μένον ἐπ' αὐτόν, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. 34 κἀγὼ ἑώρακα, καὶ μεμαρτύρηκα ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ.

35 Τῇ ἐπαύριον πάλιν εἱστήκει ὁ Ἰωάννης καὶ ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ δύο, 36 καὶ ἐμβλέψας τῷ Ἰησοῦ περιπατοῦντι λέγει, Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. 37 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ δύο μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος καὶ ἠκολούθησαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ. 38 στραφεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ θεασάμενος αὐτοὺς ἀκολουθοῦντας λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί ζητεῖτε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Ῥαββί (ὃ λέγεται μεθερμηνευόμενον Διδάσκαλε), ποῦ μένεις; 39 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε. ἦλθαν οὖν καὶ εἶδαν ποῦ μένει, καὶ παρ' αὐτῷ ἔμειναν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην: ὥρα ἦν ὡς δεκάτη. 40 Ἦν Ἀνδρέας ὁ ἀδελφὸς Σίμωνος Πέτρου εἷς ἐκ τῶν δύο τῶν ἀκουσάντων παρὰ Ἰωάννου καὶ ἀκολουθησάντων αὐτῷ: 41 εὑρίσκει οὗτος πρῶτον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τὸν ἴδιον Σίμωνα καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εὑρήκαμεν τὸν Μεσσίαν (ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Χριστός): 42 ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν. ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Σὺ εἶ Σίμων ὁ υἱὸς Ἰωάννου: σὺ κληθήσῃ Κηφᾶς (ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται Πέτρος).

43 Τῇ ἐπαύριον ἠθέλησεν ἐξελθεῖν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, καὶ εὑρίσκει Φίλιππον. καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀκολούθει μοι. 44 ἦν δὲ ὁ Φίλιππος ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδά, ἐκ τῆς πόλεως Ἀνδρέου καὶ Πέτρου. 45 εὑρίσκει Φίλιππος τὸν Ναθαναὴλ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ὃν ἔγραψεν Μωϋσῆς ἐν τῷ νόμῳ καὶ οἱ προφῆται εὑρήκαμεν, Ἰησοῦν υἱὸν τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ. 46 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Ἐκ Ναζαρὲτ δύναταί τι ἀγαθὸν εἶναι; λέγει αὐτῷ (ὁ) Φίλιππος, Ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε. 47 εἶδεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Ναθαναὴλ ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτὸν καὶ λέγει περὶ αὐτοῦ, Ἴδε ἀληθῶς Ἰσραηλίτης ἐν ᾧ δόλος οὐκ ἔστιν. 48 λέγει αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Πόθεν με γινώσκεις; ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πρὸ τοῦ σε Φίλιππον φωνῆσαι ὄντα ὑπὸ τὴν συκῆν εἶδόν σε. 49ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Ῥαββί, σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, σὺ βασιλεὺς εἶ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ. 50 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οτι εἶπόν σοι ὅτι εἶδόν σε ὑποκάτω τῆς συκῆς πιστεύεις; μείζω τούτων ὄψῃ. 51 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὄψεσθε τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεῳγότα καὶ τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ 21 And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22 Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23 He said,

‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,“Make straight the way of the Lord”,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ 26 John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32 And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46 Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Introduction: The Book of Signs

The public appearances of Jesus open with the witness of John the Baptist to Jesus Christ as the Paschal Lamb of God. Those public appearances will close with the witness of the Beloved Disciple – the other John – to the Paschal Lamb dying on the Cross on the eve of Passover.

The Lamb seated on the Throne ... a fresco on a ceiling in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2004)

Raymond Brown asks us to imagine a triptych, with the Lamb at the centre, and the two witnesses, the two Johns, on either side.

The Book of Signs in the Gospel according to Saint John is that section of the Gospel from 1: 19 to 12: 50, and Section 1, which marks the first week of the New Creation, is contained in the passage from 1: 19 to 2: 12.

Verses 19-51:

The second part of the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel shows a trend away from the ministry of John the Baptist towards Christ.

Day One: Verses 19-28:

In verses 19-28, on Day One, Christ’s public appearance opens with the witness of John the Baptist to the Paschal Lamb of God. John is asked if he is the Messiah. He replies that he is not, and that he is preparing the way for one who is to come after him, the Messiah.

Verse 19:

Last week, one of the problems raised in our discussion was the anti-semitic readings of this Gospel. In John, “the Jews” represent both the Jewish authorities who are openly hostile to John and later to Jesus, to those of Jewish birth who reject Jesus, and later to those of Jewish birth within the Church who wish to restrict membership of the Church to those of Jewish birth and those who have converted to Judaism.

Verse 21:

John denies that he is either Elijah or the Prophet.

Elijah (II Kings 2: 11) was expected to return to prepare the way for the Messiah (see Malachi 4: 5). Likewise, the Prophet like Moses was an expected forerunner of the Messiah (John 6: 14; John 7: 40; see Deuteronomy 18: 15).

Verses 22-27:

The only role John claims or accepts for himself is that of the voice crying in the wilderness (see Isaiah 40: 3). His only authority for baptising is to prepare the way for the one who follows him.

Verse 28:

These verses close with a geographical reference to John baptising outside the Promised Land, at Bethany across the River Jordan (verse 28). After his Baptism, Jesus will enter the Promised Land, and stay there until the people there reject him. Then, once more, he will retreat back across the River Jordan, so that Bethany beyond Jordan frames his public ministry.

Day Two: Verses 29-34:

Verses 29 to 34 describe John baptising Jesus on “the next day,” Day Two of the New Creation. John presents Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is a reference to both Isaiah 53: 7 and to the Lamb that is sacrificed on Passover – Christ was crucified at the Passover.

Verse 29:

“Here is the Lamb of God” (NRSV) is rendered more dramatically in the RSV: “Behold the Lamb of God.”

John may be referring to the triumphant Lamb who in the last days would destroy evil in the world, but the reader would also see Christ as the Paschal Lamb who at his death, at the very same time as the paschal lambs were being slain in the Temple, delivered the world from sin.

Christ is also presented here as the Servant of God described in Isaiah as being led without complaint like a lamb before the shearers, a man who “bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (see Isaiah 53: 7-12).

He is the Lamb of God who is taking away not just my sin, not just our sin, not just the sin of Christians, not just the sin of the world, but the sin of the Cosmos, the whole created order.

Verse 30:

“… he existed before me” (RSV) or “… he was before me” (NRSV). Here, John tells us that Christ existed before him. The pre-existence of the Word is a strong theme in Johannine literature

Verses 31-33:

God gave John his knowledge of the significance of Jesus at the baptism of Christ.

Notice here too the Trinitarian movement of God: the Father sent Christ, and the Spirit descended on Christ and remained on him after the heavens opened.

Verse 34:

“The Son of God” or God’s Chosen One is another reference to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Here for the first time we have a hint that Jesus is going to die, and that his death is going to be for the forgiveness of sins. John then gives his first testimony about Jesus, testifying to what he saw when he baptised him. The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus is a very important sign of his kingship and that he is the start of the New Age.

This is also the first time that Jesus is given the messianic title of “the Son of God.”

Days Three to Day Six: Verses 35-51:

Verses 35-51 continue the trend away from John to Jesus by showing some of John’s disciples turning to follow Jesus. While the Synoptic Gospels have telescoped the first call of the disciples into the Galilean ministry of Jesus, John gives us greater detail, and tells us the first disciples were called at the River Jordan before Jesus returns to Galilee.

Verse 35:

“The next day …” This is Day Three of the New Creation. The first two disciples are called, although they remain unnamed for the moment.

Verse 37:

They are not just called, but they also decide to follow Jesus.

Verse 39:

“Come and see.” This is a call to personal following. In John, “seeing,” in the true sense, means believing. Those who come and see also believe and become the new Israel, the people who see God.

They stay with him that day, into the evening (about four in the afternoon), which brings us to an end pf the Third Day.

Verse 40:

We are now entering Day Four: The first of these two disciples is named as Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter (see Saint Andrew the Apostle). But the other person remains unnamed. Tradition has presumed that this was John the Beloved Disciple.

Verses 41-42:

When Andrew tells his brother Peter about his encounter with Jesus, he boldly declares “We have found the Messiah” (verse 41), introducing this major theme.

Cephas in Aramaic and Petros (Πέτρος) in Greek mean rock (see A rock-solid apostolic faith like Peter’s).

Verses 43-44:

“The next day …” Here we move into Day Five of the New Creation.

Phillip is the first disciple in the Gospel who is called directly by Jesus. He is from the same town as Andrew and Peter (verse 43), and he tells Nathaniel.

Verses 47-50:

Nathaniel is named as a disciple only in the Fourth Gospel, although tradition has identified him with Bartholomew (see Matthew 10: 3; Mark 3: 18; Luke 6: 14), who lived in Cana, which is the next setting in this Gospel.

Nathaniel’s calling involves an interesting play on words and images. The popular etymology of his name is “A Man who sees God,” and he confesses that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel. Does he see God, or is going to see even greater things than he sees this day? (See verse 49). Remember too how Jacob (Israel) saw the glory of God in the vision of the ladder (see Genesis 28: 12-17).

The conversation with Nathaniel is somewhat mysterious, as Jesus reveals the supernatural knowledge of Nathaniel. Perhaps Jesus was simply showing the fact that knew where Nathaniel was sitting, or perhaps Nathaniel had an extraordinary experience that Jesus was referring to.

Verse 49:

Nathaniel’s response is exactly the response called for by the Gospel (see John 20: 31).

Verse 51:

The final statement of Jesus is an important one for the Gospel. This miraculous knowledge is just the starting point of a ministry of miraculous “signs” pointing to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of Man who reveals God, culminating in his death and resurrection.

We then have a gap of one day, for humanity is now being recreated, before we move to Day Seven of the New Creation.

Next week: Day Seven of the first week of the New Creation, John 2: 1-12, the Wedding at Cana and the first of the Johannine Signs.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in tutorial group of B.Th. and M.Th. students on Wednesday 14 October 2009.