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John 1:19-28

The Testimony of John the Baptist

1:19 Now 1  this was 2  John’s 3  testimony 4  when the Jewish leaders 5  sent 6  priests and Levites from Jerusalem 7  to ask him, “Who are you?” 8  1:20 He confessed – he did not deny but confessed – “I am not the Christ!” 9  1:21 So they asked him, “Then who are you? 10  Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” 11  “Are you the Prophet?” 12  He answered, “No!” 1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us 13  so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 John 14  said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight 15  the way for the Lord,’ 16  as Isaiah the prophet said.” 1:24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 17 ) 18  1:25 So they asked John, 19  “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, 20  nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, 21  “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, 22  1:27 who is coming after me. I am not worthy 23  to untie the strap 24  of his sandal!” 1:28 These things happened in Bethany 25  across the Jordan River 26  where John was baptizing.

1 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “now” to indicate the transition to a new topic. Greek style often begins sentences or clauses with “and,” but English style generally does not.

2 tn Grk “is.”

3 sn John’s refers to John the Baptist.

4 tn Or “witness.”

sn John the Baptist’s testimony seems to take place over 3 days: day 1, John’s testimony about his own role is largely negative (1:19-28); day 2, John gives positive testimony about who Jesus is (1:29-34); day 3, John sends his own disciples to follow Jesus (1:35-40).

5 tn Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” In NT usage the term ᾿Iουδαῖοι (Ioudaioi) may refer to the entire Jewish people, the residents of Jerusalem and surrounding territory, the authorities in Jerusalem, or merely those who were hostile to Jesus. Here the author refers to the authorities or leaders in Jerusalem. (For further information see R. G. Bratcher, “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John,” BT 26 [1975]: 401-9.)

6 tc ‡ Several important witnesses have πρὸς αὐτόν (pro" auton, “to him”) either here (B C* 33 892c al it) or after “Levites” (Ì66c vid A Θ Ψ Ë13 579 al lat), while the earliest mss as well as the majority of mss (Ì66*,75 א C3 L Ws Ë1 Ï) lack the phrase. On the one hand, πρὸς αὐτόν could be perceived as redundant since αὐτόν is used again later in the verse, thus prompting scribes to omit the phrase. On the other hand, both the variation in placement of πρὸς αὐτόν and the fact that this phrase rather than the latter αὐτόν is lacking in certain witnesses (cf. John 11:44; 14:7; 18:31), suggests that scribes felt that the sentence needed the phrase to make the sense clearer. Although a decision is difficult, the shorter reading is slightly preferred. NA27 has πρὸς αὐτόν in brackets, indicating doubt as to the phrase’s authenticity.

7 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

8 snWho are you?” No uniform Jewish expectation of a single eschatological figure existed in the 1st century. A majority expected the Messiah. But some pseudepigraphic books describe God’s intervention without mentioning the anointed Davidic king; in parts of 1 Enoch, for example, the figure of the Son of Man, not the Messiah, embodies the expectations of the author. Essenes at Qumran seem to have expected three figures: a prophet, a priestly messiah, and a royal messiah. In baptizing, John the Baptist was performing an eschatological action. It also seems to have been part of his proclamation (John 1:23, 26-27). Crowds were beginning to follow him. He was operating in an area not too far from the Essene center on the Dead Sea. No wonder the authorities were curious about who he was.

9 tn Or “the Messiah” (Both Greek “Christ” and Hebrew and Aramaic “Messiah” mean “one who has been anointed”).

snI am not the Christ.” A 3rd century work, the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (1.54 and 1.60 in the Latin text; the statement is not as clear in the Syriac version) records that John’s followers proclaimed him to be the Messiah. There is no clear evidence that they did so in the 1st century, however – but Luke 3:15 indicates some wondered. Concerning the Christ, the term χριστός (cristos) was originally an adjective (“anointed”), developing in LXX into a substantive (“an anointed one”), then developing still further into a technical generic term (“the anointed one”). In the intertestamental period it developed further into a technical term referring to the hoped-for anointed one, that is, a specific individual. In the NT the development starts there (technical-specific), is so used in the gospels, and then develops in Paul to mean virtually Jesus’ last name.

10 tn Grk “What then?” (an idiom).

11 sn According to the 1st century rabbinic interpretation of 2 Kgs 2:11, Elijah was still alive. In Mal 4:5 it is said that Elijah would be the precursor of Messiah. How does one reconcile John the Baptist’s denial here (“I am not”) with Jesus’ statements in Matt 11:14 (see also Mark 9:13 and Matt 17:12) that John the Baptist was Elijah? Some have attempted to remove the difficulty by a reconstruction of the text in the Gospel of John which makes the Baptist say that he was Elijah. However, external support for such emendations is lacking. According to Gregory the Great, John was not Elijah, but exercised toward Jesus the function of Elijah by preparing his way. But this avoids the real difficulty, since in John’s Gospel the question of the Jewish authorities to the Baptist concerns precisely his function. It has also been suggested that the author of the Gospel here preserves a historically correct reminiscence – that John the Baptist did not think of himself as Elijah, although Jesus said otherwise. Mark 6:14-16 and Mark 8:28 indicate the people and Herod both distinguished between John and Elijah – probably because he did not see himself as Elijah. But Jesus’ remarks in Matt 11:14, Mark 9:13, and Matt 17:12 indicate that John did perform the function of Elijah – John did for Jesus what Elijah was to have done for the coming of the Lord. C. F. D. Moule pointed out that it is too simple to see a straight contradiction between John’s account and that of the synoptic gospels: “We have to ask by whom the identification is made, and by whom refused. The synoptic gospels represent Jesus as identifying, or comparing, the Baptist with Elijah, while John represents the Baptist as rejecting the identification when it is offered him by his interviewers. Now these two, so far from being incompatible, are psychologically complementary. The Baptist humbly rejects the exalted title, but Jesus, on the contrary, bestows it on him. Why should not the two both be correct?” (The Phenomenon of the New Testament [SBT], 70).

12 sn The Prophet is a reference to the “prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15, by this time an eschatological figure in popular belief. Acts 3:22 identifies Jesus as this prophet.

13 tn The words “Tell us” are not in the Greek but are implied.

14 tn Grk “He”; the referent (John the Baptist) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

15 sn This call to “make straight” is probably an allusion to preparation through repentance.

16 sn A quotation from Isa 40:3.

17 sn Pharisees were members of one of the most important and influential religious and political parties of Judaism in the time of Jesus. There were more Pharisees than Sadducees (according to Josephus, Ant. 17.2.4 [17.42] there were more than 6,000 Pharisees at about this time). Pharisees differed with Sadducees on certain doctrines and patterns of behavior. The Pharisees were strict and zealous adherents to the laws of the OT and to numerous additional traditions such as angels and bodily resurrection.

18 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

19 tn Grk “And they asked him, and said to him”; the referent (John) has been specified in the translation for clarity, and the phrase has been simplified in the translation to “So they asked John.”

20 tn Or “the Messiah” (Both Greek “Christ” and Hebrew and Aramaic “Messiah” mean “one who has been anointed”).

sn See the note on Christ in 1:20.

21 tn Grk “answered them, saying.” The participle λέγων (legwn) is redundant in contemporary English and has not been translated.

22 tn Or “know.”

23 tn Grk “of whom I am not worthy.”

sn The humility of John is evident in the statement I am not worthy. This was considered one of the least worthy tasks of a slave, and John did not consider himself worthy to do even that for the one to come, despite the fact he himself was a prophet.

24 tn The term refers to the leather strap or thong used to bind a sandal. This is often viewed as a collective singular and translated as a plural, “the straps of his sandals,” but it may be more emphatic to retain the singular here.

25 tc Many witnesses ([א2] C2 K T Ψc 083 Ë1,13 33 pm sa Or) read Βηθαβαρᾷ (Bhqabara, “Bethabara”) instead of Βηθανίᾳ (Bhqania, “Bethany”). But the reading Βηθανίᾳ is strongly supported by {Ì66,75 A B C* L Ws Δ Θ Ψ* 565 579 700 1241 1424 pm latt bo as well as several fathers}. Since there is no known Bethany “beyond the Jordan,” it is likely that the name would have been changed to a more etymologically edifying one (Origen mistakenly thought the name Bethabara meant “house of preparation” and for this reason was appropriate in this context; see TCGNT 171 for discussion). On the other hand, both since Origen’s understanding of the Semitic etymology of Bethabara was incorrect, and because Bethany was at least a well-known location in Palestine, mentioned in the Gospels about a dozen times, one has to wonder whether scribes replaced Βηθαβαρᾷ with Βηθανίᾳ. However, if Origen’s understanding of the etymology of the name was representative, scribes may have altered the text in the direction of Bethabara. And even if most scribes were unfamiliar with what the name might signify, that a reading which did not contradict the Gospels’ statements of a Bethany near Jerusalem was already at hand may have been sufficient reason for them to adopt Bethabara. Further, in light of the very strong testimony for Βηθανίᾳ, this reading should be regarded as authentic.

26 tn “River” is not in the Greek text but is supplied for clarity.

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