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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for John 1

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The Word and the Witness

A. John: The fourth gospel.

1. Why are there four gospels? The ancient Christian writer Origen (185-254 A.D.) gave a good answer: there are not four gospels, but one four-fold gospel. Each gospel presents a different perspective on the life of Jesus, and we need all four to get the full picture.

a. John was probably the last gospel written, and written in view of what the previous three had already said. This is one reason why John is so different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

b. There are significant events in the ministry of Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke include that John leaves out, including Jesus' birth, baptism, temptation in the wilderness, the Last Supper, the agony in Gethsemane, the Ascension, demonic confrontations, and parables.

c. The first three gospels center on Jesus' ministry in Galilee. John centers his gospel on what Jesus said and did in Jerusalem.

d. Each of the gospels emphasizes a different origin of Jesus.

i. Matthew shows Jesus came from Abraham through David, and demonstrates that He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament (Matthew 1:1-17).

ii. Mark shows Jesus came from Nazareth, demonstrating that Jesus is a Servant (Mark 1:9).

iii. Luke shows Jesus came from Adam, demonstrating that Jesus is the Perfect Man (Luke 3:23-38).

iv. John shows Jesus came from heaven, demonstrating that Jesus is God.

e. However, it is wrong to think that the Gospel of John completes the story of Jesus. John makes it clear that the story of Jesus can never be completed (John 21:25).

2. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are knows as the three synoptic gospels. Synoptic means "see-together" and the first three gospels present Jesus' life in pretty much the same format. The first three gospels focus more on what Jesus taught and did; John focuses more on who Jesus is.

a. John shows us who Jesus is by highlighting seven signs (miracles) of Jesus. Six of these miracles are not mentioned in the first three gospels.

b. John shows us who Jesus is by allowing Jesus to speak for Himself in seven dramatic I Am statements.

c. John shows us who Jesus is by calling forth witnesses who will testify about the identity of Jesus. Four of these witnesses speak in the first chapter alone.

3. John is a gospel written for a specific purpose: that we might believe. A key verse for understanding the Gospel of John is found at the end of the book: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

a. The Gospel of John has even helped scholarly skeptics to believe. The oldest surviving fragment of the New Testament is a portion of John 18, found in Egypt and dating well before 150 a. d. indicating wide circulation by that early date.

4. The Gospel of John is a beloved gospel. It has been called "a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim."

a. Commentator Charles Erdman says: "Its stories are so simple that even a child will love them, but its statements are so profound that no philosopher can fathom them."

b. So, if we give diligent attention to entertainment, sports, music, or the news, how much more should we give diligent attention "when a man is speaking from heaven, and utters a voice plainer than thunder?" (John Chrysostem)

B. Prologue to the Gospel of John.

This remarkable, profound portion is not merely a preface or an introduction. It is a summation of the entire book. The remainder of John's gospel will deal with the themes introduced here: the identity of the Word, life, light, regeneration, grace, truth, and the revelation of God the Father in Jesus the Son.

1. (Jhn 1:1-2) The origin of the Word (Logos).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

a. In the beginning refers to the timeless eternity of Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. John essentially says, "When the beginning began, the Word was already there. " That is, that the Word predates time or creation.

i. John makes it clear that the Word is not just the beginning, but the beginning of the beginning. He was there in the beginning, before anything was.

b. In the beginning was the Word: Word translated the ancient the Greek word Logos. The idea of the logos had deep and rich roots in both Jewish and Greek thinking.

i. Jewish rabbis often referred to God, especially in His more personal aspects, in terms of His word. They spoke of God Himself as "the word of God. " For example, ancient Hebrew editions of the Old Testament change Exodus 19:17 (Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God) to "Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the word of God. " In the mind of the ancient Jews, the phrase "the word of God" could be used to refer to God Himself.

ii. The Greek philosophers saw the logos as the power which puts sense into the world, making the world orderly instead of chaotic. The logos was the power that set the world in perfect order and kept it going in perfect order. They saw the logos as the "Ultimate Reason" that controlled all things.

iii. Therefore, in this opening, John says to both Jews and Greeks: "For centuries you've been talking, thinking, and writing about the Word (the logos). Now I will tell you who He is. " John meets both Jews and Greeks where they are at, and explains Jesus in terms they already understood.

c. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God: With this brilliant statement, John 1:1 sets forth one of the most basic foundations of our faith - the Trinity. We can follow John's logic:

- There is a Being known as the Word.
- This Being is God, because He is eternal (In the beginning)
- This Being is God, because He is plainly called God (the Word was God).
- At the same time, this Being does not encompass all that God is. God the Father is a distinct Person from the Word (the Word was with God).

i. So, the Father and the Son (the Son is known here as the Word) are equally God, yet distinct in their Person. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. Yet they are equally God, with God the Holy Spirit making one God in three Persons.

d. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: What about the Watchtower's New World Translation here? This Jehovah's Witness translation reads like this: "In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. " Their translation is used to deny the teaching that Jesus is God. Is it a correct translation?

i. The claim of the Watchtower defending their translation of John 1:1-2 is that because before the second time "God" is used in the passage, no article appears (it is written "God" and not "the God"). In answer to this approach to Greek grammar and translation, we can only refer to the multitude of other times in the New Testament where "God" appears without the article. If the Watchtower were honest and consistent, they would translate "God" as "god" every place it appears without the article. But it seems that this grammatical rule only applies when it suits the purpose of backing up the doctrinal beliefs of the Watchtower. The Greek text of Matthew 5:9, 6:24, Luke 1:35 and 1:75, John 1:6, 1:12, 1:13, and 1:18, Romans 1:7 and 1:17, shows how the Watchtower translates the exact same grammar for "God" as "God" instead of "god" when it suits their purpose.

ii. In the main resource the Watchtower uses to establish their claim (The Kingdom Interlinear), the Watchtower quotes two well-known Greek authorities to make them appear to agree with their translation. But they both have been misquoted, and one of them, Dr. Mantey has even written the Watchtower, and demanded that his name be removed from the book! Another "scholar" whom the Watchtower refers to in their book The Word - Who Is He? According to John, is Johannes Greber. Greber was actually an occult-practicing spiritist, and not a scholar of Biblical Greek.

iii. What do real Greek scholars say about the Jehovah's Witness translation of John 1:1-2?

"A GROSSLY MISLEADING TRANSLATION. It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'the Word was a god. ' But of all the scholars in the world, so far as we know, none have translated this verse as Jehovah's Witnesses have done. " (Dr. Julius R. Mantey)

"Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with 'God' in the phrase 'And the Word was God. ' Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicate construction. 'A god' would be totally indefensible. " (Dr. F. F. Bruce)

"I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah's Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar. " (Dr. Charles L. Feinberg)

"The Jehovah's Witness people evidence an abysmal ingorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar in their mistranslation of John 1:1. " (Dr. Paul L. Kaufman)

"The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: ' … the Word was a god,' a translation which is grammatically impossible. It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest." (Dr. William Barclay)

e. He was in the beginning with God again makes the point that the Father is distinct from the Son, and the Son distinct from the Father. They are equally God, yet they are separate Persons.

2. (Jhn 1:3-5) The work and nature of the Word.

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

a. Without Him nothing was made that was made: The Word created all created things. Therefore He Himself is an uncreated Being, as Paul says in Colossians 1:16.

b. In Him was life: The Word is the source of all life. The ancient Greek word translated life is zoe, which means "the life principle," not bios, which is mere biological life. This life is the light of men, speaking of spiritual light as well as natural light. It isn't that the Word "contains" life and light; He is life and light.

i. Therefore, without Jesus, we are dead and in darkness. We are lost. Significantly, man has an inborn fear towards both death and darkness.

c. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it: Did not comprehend can also be translated did not overcome. The light can not lose against the darkness; the darkness will never overcome it.

3. (Jhn 1:6-13) The revelation of the Word.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

a. There was a man sent from God: John the Baptist bears witness of the light, that all through him might believe.

b. The world did not know Him: How can it be? How can it be that God came to the same world He created, to the creatures made in His image, and the world did not know Him? It shows how deeply fallen human nature has rejected God.

c. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: Though some rejected this revelation, others received Him and thereby became children of God. They became children of God through a new birth, being born … of God.

i. As many as received Him: The idea of "receiving Jesus" is Biblically valid. We need to embrace and receive Him unto ourselves. As many as received Him is just another to say those who believe in His name.

d. Those who received Him are born of God, but not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Here, John reminds us of the nature of the new birth: it is God's sovereign gift to man, not man's achievement.

4. (Jhn 1:14-18) The Word became flesh.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. '" And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

a. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us: This is John's most startling statement so far. It would have amazed both Jewish and Greek thinking to hear that the Word became flesh.

i. The Greeks had a generally low view of God. To them, John says the Word became flesh. The ancient Greek gods such as Zeus and Hermes were simply super-men; they were not equal to the order and reason of the Logos. John tells the Greek thinkers, "The Logos you know made and ordered the universe became flesh."

ii. The Jews had a generally prohibitive view of God; to them, John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Jews had a hard time accepting that the great God revealed in the Old Testament could take on human form. John says to the Jewish thinkers, "the Word of God became flesh."

b. We beheld His glory: John testifies to this as an eyewitness, even as John the Baptist testified. John could say, "I saw His glory, the glory belonging to the only begotten of the Father."

i. Though, the word beheld is stronger than the words "saw" or "looked. " John tells us that he and the other disciples carefully studied the glory of the Word made flesh.

c. John bore witness of Him and cried out: The one announced by John the Baptist - Jesus Christ - is the Word made flesh. He brings a different order than the one instituted by Moses (For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ).

i. It is an inexhaustible supply of grace (grace for grace) and truth, contrasting with an order of rigid laws and regulations given through Moses.

d. No one has seen God at any time: Jesus, the Word, is the perfect declaration of the unseen God. The Father and the Son belong to the same family, and Jesus has declared the nature of the unseen God to man. We don't have to wonder about the nature and personality of God. Jesus has declared it with both His teaching and His life.

C. The testimony of John the Baptist.

1. (Jhn 1:19-28) John tells us who John the Baptist is.

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ. " And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not. " "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No. " Then they said to him, "Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" He said: "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as the prophet Isaiah said. " Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. " These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

a. John is emphatic: I am not the Christ. For John, it was unthinkable that attention would focus on himself, because he was not the Messiah. His job was to point to the Messiah.

b. Are you Elijah? It might be easy for the priests and Levites from Jerusalem to associate John with Elijah because of his personality and because of the promise in Malachi 4:5-6. If he is the forerunner of the Messiah, then is he Elijah?

i. In a sense, John was Elijah, ministering in his office and spirit (Matthew 11:13-14 and Mark 9:11-13).

c. Are you the Prophet? This refers to God's promise through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, promising a prophet to come. Based on this passage, they expected another Prophet to come.

d. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: John sees himself as the advance man of the great King. His baptism was a preparatory cleansing for the King. The idea is, "get cleaned up, get ready for a royal visit!"

i. The Jews in John's day practiced baptism. It was an outgrowth of ceremonial washings. But the Jews of that time typically reserved baptism for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. So to submit to John's baptism, a Jew had to identify with the Gentiles. This was a genuine sign of repentance.

e. I baptize with water: John's baptism was negative. It cleansed, but it gave nothing to help someone keep clean. The work of Jesus and His baptism of the Holy Spirit would be both a negative and a positive baptism. Christian baptism illustrates both our death with Jesus and our rising to new life with Him.

f. Who sandal strap I am not worthy to loose: untying the strap of a sandal (before foot washing) was duty of the lowest slave in the house.

i. Among Rabbis and their disciples, there was a teacher-student relationship that had the potential for abuse. It was entirely possible that a Rabbi might expect unreasonable service from their disciples. One of the things which was considered "too low" for a Rabbi to expect from his disciples was the untying of the Rabbi's sandal strap. John says he is unworthy to do even this.

2. (Jhn 1:29-34) John the Baptist tells us who Jesus is.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me. ' I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water. " And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. ' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."

a. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! At the very dawn of His ministry, Jesus is greeted with words that remind Him of his destiny: His sacrificial agony on the cross for the sin of mankind. The shadow of the cross was cast over the entire ministry of Jesus.

b. For He was before me: John the Baptist was actually born before Jesus - and John would know this (Luke 1). So, when John says He was before me, he refers to the eternal pre-existence of Jesus. John knew very well that Jesus was God.

c. Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit: God gave John the Baptist the sure sign to know the Messiah. He would be the one on Whom the Holy Spirit descended upon from heaven. John is a reliable witness regarding who Jesus is, because he has had confirming evidence from God.

d. I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God: John the Baptist gives his solemn testimony: this Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Son of God in the sense shown in John 1:18: the One who perfectly declares the nature and personality of God the Father.

i. The gospel of John emphasizes John's role as a witness, not a baptizer. Witnesses give testimony as to what they have seen and experienced, in an effort to establish the truth. Beyond that, they are unreliable, and operate on hearsay.

ii. Witnesses are not neutral - they are committed to the truth of their testimony, or they are unreliable witnesses. John is a reliable witness, and knows who Jesus is because of what he has seen with his own eyes.

D. The testimony of the first disciples.

1. (Jhn 1:35-39) Two of John's disciples begin to follow Jesus.

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi" (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), "where are You staying?" He said to them, "Come and see. " They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).

a. Behold, the Lamb of God! John already said this of Jesus in John 1:29. Did he say this every time he saw Jesus? It was a vivid reminder of Jesus' destiny at the cross.

b. And they followed Jesus: John did not care about gathering disciples after himself. He was perfectly satisfied to have these disciples leave his circle and follow Jesus. It fulfilled his ministry; it did not take away from it.

c. Come and see: Jesus invited John and Andrew to be a part of His life. Jesus didn't life a cloistered, ultra-private life. Jesus taught and discipled others by allowing them to live with Him.

d. Now it was about the tenth hour: This was such a memorable occasion for writer that he remembered the exact hour that he met Jesus. This is a subtle clue that one of the two disciples who came to Jesus from John was the apostle John himself.

2. (Jhn 1:40-42) Andrew brings his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus.

One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone).

a. He found his own brother: It is the nature of Christian experience that those who enjoy the experience desire to share their experience with others.

b. You shall be called Cephas: In giving Simon a new name (Cephas or Peter, meaning A Stone), Jesus tells Andrew's brother what kind of man he will be transformed into. At the time, and throughout the gospel, Peter may have looked like a "rock" on the outside, but was really anything but a rock. But before Jesus is done with Peter, he will be a stone of stability for Jesus Christ.

c. We have found the Messiah: This Andrew's testimony about who Jesus is. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah.

3. (Jhn 1:43-44) Jesus calls Philip to follow Him.

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me. " Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

a. Follow Me: There is nothing dramatic recorded about the call of Philip. Jesus simply says "Follow Me," and Philip does.

4. (Jhn 1:45-51) Nathaniel overcomes prejudice to follow Jesus.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote; Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. " And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see. " Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!" Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. " Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than these. " And He said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

a. Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote: This is Philip's testimony as a witness of Jesus Christ. He declares that He is the Messiah and Savior predicted in the Old Testament.

b. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? With this, Nathanael prejudices himself against Jesus. If Jesus comes from Nazareth, that is all Nathanael cares to know about Him!

c. Come and see: Instead of arguing against Nathanael's prejudice, Phillip simply invites him to meet Jesus for himself.

d. Under the fig tree, I saw you: It is possible Nathanael liked to pray and meditate on the things of the Lord under the shade of an actual fig tree. But under the fig tree was a phrase Rabbis used to describe meditation on the Scriptures. Nathanael was spending time with the Lord, meditating on the Scriptures, and Jesus tells him "I saw you" there.

e. Nathanael gives his testimony regarding Jesus: You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.

f. You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man: Jesus promises Nathanael a greater sign than he has seen before. But what does He mean by the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man?

i. This probably connects with the dream of Jacob in Genesis 28:12, where Jacob saw a ladder from earth to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. Jesus says that He is the ladder, the link, between heaven and earth. When Nathanael comes to understand that Jesus is the mediator between God and man, it will be an even greater sign (you will see greater things than these).

ii. This seems like rather obscure reference, but it was extremely meaningful to Nathanael. Possibly, it was the very portion of Scripture Nathaniel meditated on under the fig tree.

g. Son of Man: The idea behind this phrase is not "the perfect man" or "the ideal man" or "the common man. " Instead, it is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, where the King of Glory coming to judge the world is called the Son of Man.

i. Jesus used this title often because in His day, it was a Messianic title free from political and nationalistic sentiment. When a Jewish person of that time heard "King" or "Christ" they often thought of a political or military savior. Jesus emphasized another term, often calling Himself the Son of Man.

h. This section of John shows four ways of coming to Jesus:

- Andrew came to Jesus because of the preaching of John.
- Peter came to Jesus because of the witness of his brother.
- Phillip came to Jesus as a result of the direct call of Jesus.
- Nathaniel came to Jesus as he overcame personal prejudices by a personal encounter with Jesus.

i. This section shows us four different witnesses testifying to the identity of Jesus. How much more testimony does anyone need?

- John the Baptist testified that Jesus is eternal, that He is the man uniquely anointed with the Holy Spirit, that He is the Lamb of God, and that Jesus is the unique Son of God.
- Andrew testified that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
- Phillip testified that Jesus is the One prophesied in the Old Testament.
- Nathaniel testified that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel.

© 2000 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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