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JOHN - Chapter 1

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John 1

Supplemental Commentary:

Prologue  1, 1-18

The opening passage of the Gospel is in the form of Hebrew poetry, as is evident from its verse and strophic arrangement, its diction, and conscious climactic structure.  It touches upon the main thoughts that are later drawn from the life and teachings of our Lord.  It is something more than the sort of preface with which Luke's Gospel begins.  It rather states the author's thesis in terms familiar to the philosophies of the time.  It declares that the true mediator between God and man is a pre-existent divine person, God become man to bring spiritual life and light into the world.

This thought unfolds progressively: the general concept of the Word in Himself (1-5); more particularly, the Word's mission in the world (6-13); still more particularly, the Incarnation of the Word (14-18).

1, 1-5:  The Word in Himself.  Logos: In Greek the term Logos means "word," "thought," "reason."  In some Greek systems of Philosophy it denoted the principle of order in the world, and also the agency of that order.  It might also designate those intermediate beings which, according to some philosophers, carried the divine influence into the world of creatures.  In their paraphrases of the Old Testament, the Jews employed a similar expression, memra, to indicate the personified Wisdom of their didactic literature (e.g., Prov. 3, 13-20; 8; Wisd. 9; 16, 12; Ecclus. 24).  Such expressions may have influenced John to state his thesis in somewhat philosophical terms, but only for the purpose of setting his teaching in sharpest contrast to that of the pagan systems of thought, and of completing the partial revelation of the Old Testament.  The idea which he conveys by the term is borrowed from neither.  Foreshadowed in the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (as in the texts cited above), it is clear in the teachings of St. Paul (1 Cor. 8, 6; Col. 1, 16; Heb. 1, 2).  For John this Word is eternal, a person, and divine, and this cannot be said of the Logos of the pagan philosophers or the memra of the Targums.    1.  In the beginning is an allusion to Gen. 1, 1; before the creation of the visible world, the Word already existed, and existed continuously.  He was with God in closest relationship; He is therefore not only coeternal, but also consubstantial with God.    V.2 reasserts this with some emphasis.    3.  The Word is the Creator of the world.  This also is emphasized: nothing that exists could exist without His intervention.  A Latin tradition slightly modifies this interpretation by connecting "what has been made" with the next words, reading: "What was made in him was life."  Another interpretation would read: "Without him was made nothing that was made in him."  The sense is, plainly, the absolute dependence of all created things upon the Word.  The beautiful passage in the Proverbs (8, 22 ff) is evidently in the author's mind, and its theme is Wisdom's part in the creation of the world.  The Word is not a mere instrument; His divinity is implied (1 Cor. 8, 6; Col. 1, 16).    4.  The Word is also and especially the Creator of the supernatural order.  Life and light belong to the nature of the Word, who therefore alone supplies the higher intellectual and spiritual needs of men.  The terms are closely related, and express the ruling idea of the Gospel.  Life is the life of God communicated to man here on earth through the Word, and to be enjoyed in full hereafter in heaven.  Light is the revelation of supernatural truth, the enlightenment of men by the dispelling of intellectual and moral darkness.  The further meaning of these will be unfolded in the Gospel.  Cf. also 1 John 1, 2 ff, and Ps. 35, 10: "For with thee is the fountain of life, and in thy light we shall see light."  By virtue of His eternal nature the Word has been the life and light of mankind through all its history.    5.  This is true in spite of the fallen nature of man.  Under the image of the natural opposition between light and darkness, the author represents either active resistance to the light, or man's failure to appreciate it.  Cf. Ps. 9, 16 f; John 12, 35.

1, 6-13:  The Word's Mission.  It is here treated in a general way, including His constant mission from the creation of man, of which the Incarnation is but one manifestation.  This constant function of the Word in relation to the world and His special work in the Redemption are not separated here, since they are not separate in fact.    6-8.  At this point the witness of the Baptist is introduced to indicate that the light was not without testimony.  This was the mission of the Baptist, to be God's agent, making the recognition of the light possible to all.  He was not himself the light: those who exaggerated the significance of the Baptist's ministry are assured that, however venerable in person and achievement, his glory was but the reflection of the greater glory of the Word in whose service he was sent.    9-13.  This contrast leads to a definition of the function of the real light in actual experience.    9.  His work in general is to make spiritual life and light available to all men.  "One coming into the world," as read by the Vulgate, may be understood as an Aramaism for "man."    10.  The thought is that of possible, not actual illumination; the light is not in fact accepted by all men.  The Word was in the world in this capacity from the beginning, and although the world (all men) had its existence from Him, it did not recognize Him.  The feeling with which this is stated now mounts still higher.    11.  The light is rejected, even by His own people.  As in the Gospel, the people of Israel may be more properly meant, while the wider view of "all men" is not excluded (13, 17-20).    12 f.  The contrast between the well-disposed, who accept the light, and those who turn from it, again supposes that the light is made available to all.  This will be most evident in the Incarnation.  On the part of men there is required only acceptance of the light; and here, as throughout the Gospel, this is identified with faith.  Given this condition, God accomplishes the rest; by a moral title the believer is empowered to become what of himself he could not be, a son of God, not in a natural but in a supernatural sense.  This is the function of the Word--to elevate man to a divine sonship attainable not by carnal generation, but only through a divine regeneration.  So in 3, 1 ff and generally throughout the Gospel and 1 John.

1, 14-18:  The Word Incarnate.  This strophe is closely connected with the one preceding: the possibility of that divine sonship is made actual through the Incarnation of the Word.  This  mystery the author simply affirms, and then declares its excellence and its evidence.    14.  The Word was made flesh: this last term is chosen as connoting the weakness of human nature.  And dwelt among us: literally, "pitched his tent amongst us," an allusion to Old Testament representations of the residence of God with His people.  The point is, this was so accomplished that the Word did not thereby cease to be God.  The demand of evidence for this tremendous mystery is satisfied by John's personal testimony.  We saw his glory: the divine nature of the incarnate Word as evidenced by His works.  Grace and truth are divine attributes often mentioned in the Old Testament: God's loving-kindness and fidelity; their present connection with the Incarnation, however, gives them a fuller meaning, grace becoming the supreme favor of the Redemption, and truth the manifestation of the reality of God through the Son, as in 18.    15.  Again the witness of John the Baptist is invoked, this time as if to support the author's witness, but also to re-emphasize the superiority of the incarnate Word.  The Baptist not only pointed out the Word, but also confessed that, being prior to himself in nature, the Word both surpassed and superseded him.  The author had first been led to Christ by this very testimony of the Baptist (1, 35 ff).    16 f.  The meaning of this incarnation of the Word, both in itself and as related to the old dispensation.  (a) It means abundance of grace for all Christians (we all), an abundance which results in the first from the fullness of the source, the infinite treasure from which all are enriched (cf. Eph. 1, 23; 3, 19; 4, 13; Col. 1, 19; 2, 9).  The same profusion is expressed by grace for grace, i.e., our grace corresponding to His plentitude of grace, or grace answering to grace.  (b)  Three points of comparison exalt the Incarnation above the old dispensation.  The Law gives way to grace and truth; the one was given, the other came; the one was mediated by Moses, the other by the Word, God Himself.    18.  The excellence of this mystery is summed up in the fact that the incarnate Word is a direct revelation of God to man.  This again supposes that the Word, though incarnate, retains His divine nature and His relation to God as declared in 1.  Man could not of himself know God, being unable to see Him.  But the Word, the Son of God, hence of divine origin and nature, becoming man, has by His person and work revealed God to us.  Cf. Col. 1, 12-16; Heb. 1, 1.


1.  Christ Reveals His Mission and Divinity  1, 19 -- 4, 54

1, 19-34:  The Witness of John the Baptist.  Supposing the Synoptics' account of the Baptist (Matt. 3, 1-12; Mark 1, 1-8; Luke 3, 1-20), John attends only to his witness to Christ.  Two features of it serve as a further prelude to this account of Christ's self-manifestation.

John's witness before his official examiners.  The scene presupposes the popular excitement over the Baptist's preaching, as described in the Synoptics, and also reflects the general expectation of the Messias.    19.  The Jews in this Gospel are almost always the officials of Judaism, a fact which adds to the significance of this commission.  They were to inquire into his authority both for baptizing and for preaching, since public teaching was a matter of authorization by the Sanhedrin.    20.  John's answer is emphatic, and recorded both affirmatively and negatively, in the Semitic fashion.  Not the Christ, the expected Messias.    21.  The common opinion was the Elias would return before the coming of the Messias; this was inferred from Mal. 4, 5-6 (cf. Ecclus. 48, 10; Mark 9, 9-12; Luke 1, 17).  The Prophet is the Messias, as foretold by Moses: Deut. 18, 15-18.  Cf. John 7, 40; Acts 3, 22 f; 7, 37.    22-27.  Their insistence upon some answer shows again the official concern over the excitement caused by John's appearance.  The latter's reply is a quotation from Isa. 40, 3, and accords with the Synoptic account of his preaching of penance.    24.  The Greek text reads: "And there had been sent some of the Pharisees," which seems to support the opinion that there was a second deputation, distinct from that in 19.  These do not claim the same authority and their question is of a different nature.  In answering it the Baptist renders his testimony.  Its essence is that Christ is present and is greater than the Baptist, the difference being not only in their respective baptisms (cf. 33) but also in their persons.  This is illustrated by the figure of the sandal-strap, understood here as in Mark 1, 7; Luke 3, 16.    28.  The Evangelist interrupts the Baptist's testimony to identify the place.  Bethany beyond the Jordan is mentioned also in 10, 40, if not by name.  The place cannot be identified today.  Some manuscripts read "Bethabara"; a few others "Betharaba."

John's more direct witness.    29.  The next day: after the Pharisees' deputation.  The place is the same but Christ has arrived, perhaps from the scene of His forty days' fast which followed His baptism (Matt. 4, 1-11; Mark 1, 12-13; Luke 4, 1-13).  Behold the Lamb of God: it is the common opinion, supported by the context, that the Baptist had in mind the prophecy of Isaias (53, 7) in giving our Lord this title.  Since in his account of the Passion the Evangelist notes Christ's fulfillment of the type of the Paschal Lamb, we may also see a reference to it here.  The title may also, though less probably, recall the tamid, the lamb sacrificed daily in the temple.  See also Jer. 11, 19.  Who takes away the sin of the world is commonly interpreted by the Fathers as referring to Christ's immolation for sin.  This again suggests Isa. 53, from which the meaning can be drawn.  In Jewish usage the expression "to take away sins" might mean (a) to answer for a crime, (b) to carry the sins of another, (c) to forgiven another, (d) to take away the sins of another by securing God's pardon.  The thought in Isa. 53 is clearly that the Servant "carried" our sins and infirmities in the sense of removing them.  Cf. 1 John 3, 5.  Sin of the world: the singular in a collective sense.    30-34.  He does not deny former acquaintance with Christ nor knowledge of His higher sanctity (Matt. 3, 14), but only of His nature and mission.  The sign by which he gained this fuller knowledge is described in the Synoptics.  Cf. Matt. 3, 13-17; Mark 1, 9-11; Luke 3, 21.  John again emphasizes the superiority of Christ, basing his witness now on direct revelation.  This is the Son of God: from the divine communication just described, the Baptist probably understood Son of God in its proper sense, of our Lord's divinity.  His hearers, however, would not share this understanding.

1, 35-51:  The First Disciples.  There is a natural connection between the Baptist's witness and the beginning of Christ's public ministry; moreover, the Evangelist himself was one of these first disciples, having been a follower of the Baptist.  The scene is again the Jordan valley, but not all may have received their vocation at this place or within one day.  Our Lord was now probably in some temporary shelter, such as pilgrims to the Baptist would erect for themselves.  The import of the episode is that from the first the disciples attached themselves to Christ as the Messias, and did so because of the Baptist's witness.    38.  Christ's question, What is it you seek? implies no harshness.  Rabbi on their lips is a title of courtesy.    39.  Come and see, from the sequel, must have invited them to more than a mere visit.  The tenth hour would be about four in the afternoon, whence the events of 40-42 must probably be assigned to the next day.  The remainder of the chapter serves to identify the first five disciples.    40.  The two who first acted on the Baptist's words were Andrew, and undoubtedly, John the Apostle, who here, as throughout the Gospel, conceals his own name.    41 f.  The third follower is Simon, whose singular position in the Gospel is at once signified by the change of his name to Peter.  "Kepha" in Aramaic and "Petros" in Greek mean "rock."    44.  Bethsaida, situated on the shore of Lake Genesareth.  To Philip, Christ merely says Follow me.    45 f.  Philip summons Nathanael, who is probably identical with Bartholomew, one of the chosen Twelve (cf. Mark 3, 18; John 21, 2).  The basis of the disciples' Messianic expectations was the cumulative ideal of a personal Messias drawn from the writings of Moses and the Prophets.  Nathanael's objection reflects a popular low opinion of Nazareth.  Come and see announces something important, and implies that Nathanael will be convinced at sight.    47-49.  A true Israelite: one worthy of the name.  Our Lord alludes to some circumstances connected with the fig-tree which Nathanael would understand.  This evidence of preternatural knowledge awakened a faith so deep that it burst forth in the words, Thou art the Son of God, thou art King of Israel.  The second title is Messianic, and probably defines the force of the first, which therefore is not a recognition of Christ's divinity.  As the Gospel will show, this recognition had yet to grow upon the Apostles.    50 f.  If this slight evidence begot faith, their future experience with Him would fully confirm it; they would witness His intercourse with heaven.  Cf. Gen. 28, 10-17.  The assertion is most solemn; Amen (which only John thus twice repeats) is stronger than "truly."  Son of Man: a Messianic title based on Dan. 7, 13-14, and applied to Christ in the Gospels by Himself only.  It occurs eleven times in John.  Cf. Commentary on Matt. 8, 20.

Confraternity Bible:

The Word in Himself 
1* In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. 

2 He was in the beginning with God. 

3 All things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made. 

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 

5* And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not.
The Word's Mission 
6 There was a man, one sent from God, whose name was John. 

7 This man came as a witness, to bear witness concerning the light, that all might believe through him. 

8 He was not the light, but was to bear witness to the light. 

9 It was the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world. 

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. 

11 He came to his own, and his own received him not. 

12 But to as many as received him he gave the power of becoming sons of God; to those who believe in his name:

13 Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
The Word Incarnate 
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. 

And we saw his glory---glory as of the only-begotten of the Father---full of grace and truth. 

15 John bore witness concerning him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said,

'He who is to come after me has been set above me, because he was before me.'" 

16* And of his fullness we have all received, grace for grace. 

17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

18 No one has at any time seen God. 

The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.
The Witness of John the Baptist  19 And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, "Who art thou?"  20* And he acknowledged and did not deny; and he acknowledged, "I am not the Christ."  21* And they asked him, "What then?  Art thou Elias?"  And he said, "I am not."  "Art thou the Prophet?"  And he answered, "No."

22 They therefore said to him, "Who art thou? that we may give an answer to those who sent us.  What hast thou to say of thyself?"  23* He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the desert,
'Make straight the way of the Lord,'
as said Isaias the prophet."

24* And they who had been sent were from among the Pharisees.  25 And they asked him, and said to him, "Why, then, dost thou baptize, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the Prophet?" 26 John said to them in answer, "I baptize with water; but in the midst of you there has stood one whom you do not know.  27 He it is who is to come after me, who has been set above me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose."

28* These things took place at Bethany, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and he said, "Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  30 This is he of whom I said, 'After me there comes one who has been set above me, because he was before me.'  31 And I did not know him.  But that he may be known to Israel, for this reason have I come baptizing with water."

32 And John bore witness, saying, "I beheld the Spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it abode upon him.  33 And I did not know him.  But he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He upon whom thou wilt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, he it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

The First Disciples  35 Again the next day John was standing there, and two of his disciples.  36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked by, he said, "Behold the lamb of God!"  37* And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

38 But Jesus turned around, and seeing them following him, said to them, "What is it you seek?"  They said to him, "Rabbi (which interpreted means Master), where dwellest thou?"  39 He said to them, "Come and see."  They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day.  It was about the tenth hour.

40 Now Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who had heard John and had followed him.  41* He found first his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messias (which interpreted is Christ)."  42* And he led him to Jesus.  But Jesus, looking upon him, said, "Thou art Simon, the son of John; thou shalt be called Cephas (which interpreted is Peter)."

43 The next day he was about to leave for Galilee, and he found Philip.  And Jesus said to him, "Follow me."  44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.

45 Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth."  46 And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Philip said to him, "Come and see."

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said to him, "Behold a true Israelite in whom there is no guile!"  48 Nathanael said to him, "Whence knowest thou me?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee."  49 Nathanael answered him and said, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art King of Israel."

50 Answering Jesus said to him, "Because I said to thee that I saw thee under the fig tree, thou dost believe.  Greater things than these shalt thou see."  51 And he said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."


1: To represent the eternal existence of Jesus with the Father, St. John employs the term Word.  It designates the Son as a king of intellectual emanation from the Father (St. Thomas).  He enjoys the divine nature and yet is distinct from the Father.  It was this eternal divine Person who became man in order to reveal God to us, and to accomplish our redemption.

5: Light is God's revelation and grace; Darkness is man's sinful nature.  Shines: i.e., is always in the world, in both the past and the present.  Grasped: this may refer to man's failure to appreciate the light.

16: Grace for grace: a continuous flow of graces from Christ to man, with implication of increasing abundance.

20: This denial is essential to the nature of the Baptist's testimony.  The negative and positive statement of it is a Semitic manner of emphasis.

21: Elias . . . Prophet: the expected Messias was known as "the Prophet."  Elias was generally looked for as His precursor.

23: Isa. 40, 3.

24: The Pharisees may have constituted another group than John's first questioners.

28: Bethany: note that this was "beyond the Jordan," and is not to be confused with Bethany near Jerusalem, the home of Martha and Mary.

37: Two disciples: We know that one of these was Andrew.  The other was John the Evangelist, who thus generally hides his identity throughout the Gospel.

41: The Messias: in Greek Christos means "the Anointed One."

42 Cephas: in Aramaic this name means "rock," in Greek Petros.