John 1 - NIV Study Bible
1:1 In the beginning. A deliberate echo of Ge 1:1 (see note there) to link God’s action in behalf of the world through Jesus Christ (cf. 3:16) with his first work, the creation of the world. Word. See article. with God. The Word was distinct from the Father. was God. Jesus was God in the fullest sense (see note on Ro 9:5). The prologue (vv. 1–18) begins and ends with a ringing affirmation of his deity (see note on v. 18).
1:4 life. One of the great concepts of this Gospel. The Greek word for “life” is found 36 times in John, while no other NT book uses it more than 17 times. Life is Christ’s gift (10:28), and he, in fact, is “the life” (14:6). light of all mankind. This Gospel also links light with Christ, from whom comes all spiritual illumination. He is the “light of the world,” who holds out wonderful hope for humanity (cf. 8:12; 1Jn 2:8 and notes) and for the creation (see 3:16 and note). For an OT link between life and light, see Ps 27:1; 36:9 and notes.
1:7 as a witness to testify. John the Baptist’s singular ministry was to testify about Jesus (10:41). “Witness” is another important concept in this Gospel. The Greek noun for “witness” or “testimony” is used 14 times (in Matthew not at all, in Mark three times, in Luke once) and the verb (“testify”) 33 times (found once each in Matthew and Luke and not at all in Mark)—in both cases more often than anywhere else in the NT. John (the author) thereby emphasizes that the truth about Jesus is amply attested. that through him all might believe. People were not to believe “in” John the Baptist but “through” him. Similarly, the writer’s purpose was to draw them to belief in Christ (20:31 [see note there]); he uses the Greek verb for “believe” about 100 times.
1:8 He himself was not the light. The greatness of John the Baptist caused some of his followers to have exaggerated ideas about him (v. 21), but while Jesus affirms John’s greatness (see Mt 11:11 and note), he also makes clear his limitations: John is “a lamp” (5:35) but not “the light.”
1:9 John is referring to the incarnation of Christ. world. Another common word in John’s writings, the Greek noun for “world” is found 78 times in this Gospel and 24 times in his letters (only 47 times in all of Paul’s writings). It can mean the universe, the earth, the people on earth, most people, people opposed to God, or the human system opposed to God’s purposes. John emphasizes the word by repetition and moves without explanation from one meaning to another (see, e.g., 17:5,14–15 and notes).
1:11 his own . . . his own. The Greek suggests that the first term refers to things (his homeland or perhaps all creation) while the second term refers to people.
1:12 believed. See v. 7; 20:31 and notes. he gave the right. Membership in God’s family is by grace alone—the gift of God (see Eph 2:8–9 and notes). It is never a human achievement, as v. 13 emphasizes; yet the imparting of the gift is dependent on human reception of it, as the words “did receive” and “believed” make clear.
1:13 born of God. The “children of God” (v. 12) have been given a new openness to and relationship with God that was not theirs as a result of their natural birth (see 3:3,5; 2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15; Titus 3:5 and notes).
1:14 flesh. A word that stresses the reality of Christ’s humanity. made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory. Cf. 2Pe 1:16–18 and note on 1:16. The Greek verb translated “made his dwelling” is related to the Greek noun meaning “tent/tabernacle.” The verse may have been intended to reminded John’s Jewish readers of the tent of meeting, which was filled with the glory of God (Ex 40:34–35). Christ revealed his glory to his disciples by the miracles he performed (see 2:11 and note) and by his death and resurrection. grace and truth. The corresponding Hebrew terms are often translated “(unfailing) love and faithfulness” (see notes on Ps 26:3; Pr 16:6; see also article). grace. A significant Christian concept (see notes on Jnh 4:2; Ro 1:7; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2), though John never uses the word after the prologue (vv. 1–18). truth. Corresponding with reality. John uses the Greek word for “truth” 25 times and links it closely with Jesus, who is the truth (see 14:6 and note).
1:15 John testified concerning him. Cf. Mal 3:1 and note. he was before me. In ancient times the older person was given respect and regarded as greater than the younger. People would normally have ranked Jesus lower in respect than John, who was older. John the Baptist explains that this is only apparent, since Jesus, as the divine Word, existed before he was born on earth.
1:16 grace in place of grace already given. To the blessing that came through Moses has been added the greater blessing that has come through Jesus (see v. 17; see also Heb 1:1–4 and notes). Another possible interpretation of the Greek phrase is “grace added to grace,” meaning an abundance of grace.
1:17 the law was given . . . grace and truth came. In the old covenant, God’s grace and truth had been revealed in his law, and were received by Moses (Ex 34:4–6). But in the new covenant, this divine grace and truth are unmediated; they are embodied in Jesus, who is God in the flesh (v. 18).
1:18 the one and only Son, who is himself God. An explicit declaration of Christ’s deity (see vv. 1,14; 3:16 and notes; see also note on Ro 9:5). has made him known. Sometimes in the OT people are said to have seen God (see, e.g., Ex 24:10 and note). But we are also told that no one can see God and live (Ex 33:20). Therefore, since no human being can see God as he really is, those who saw God saw him in a form he took upon himself temporarily for the occasion. Now, however, Christ “has made him known” (see 14:9; 2Co 4:4; Col 1:15,19; 2:9 and notes).
1:19 Jewish leaders. See NIV text note. The Greek word traditionally translated “Jews” occurs about 70 times in this Gospel. It is used in a favorable sense (e.g., 4:22) and in a neutral sense (e.g., 2:6). But generally John used it of the Jewish leaders who were hostile to Jesus (e.g., here; 5:10,16; 7:1, etc.). Here it refers to the delegation sent by the Sanhedrin to look into the activities of an unauthorized teacher. Levites. Descendants of the tribe of Levi, who were assigned to specific duties in connection with the tabernacle (Nu 3:17–37) and temple. They also had teaching responsibilities (2Ch 35:3; Ne 8:7–9), and it was probably in this role that they were sent with the priests to John the Baptist.
1:20 I. Emphatic, contrasting John the Baptist with someone else. Throughout the following verses this emphatic “I” occurs frequently, and almost invariably there is an implied contrast with Jesus, who is always given the higher place.
1:21 Are you Elijah? . . . I am not. The Jews remembered that Elijah had not died (2Ki 2:11) and believed that he would come back to earth to announce the end time. In this sense, John properly denied that he was Elijah. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus said the Baptist was Elijah (see Mt 11:14; 17:10 and notes), he meant it in the sense that John was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Mal 4:5 (see note there). the Prophet. The prophet of Dt 18:15 (see note there). The Jewish people expected a variety of persons to be associated with the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist emphatically denies being “the Prophet.” He had come to testify about Jesus, yet the people kept asking him about himself. His answers became progressively more terse.
1:23 John the Baptist applied the prophecy of Isa 40:3 (see note there) to his own ministry of calling people to repent in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The Jews of Qumran (the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls; see article) applied the same words to themselves, but they prepared for the Lord’s coming by isolating themselves from the world to secure their own salvation. John concentrated on helping people come to the Messiah (the Christ).
1:25 the Messiah. Means “the Anointed One.” In OT times anointing signified being set apart for service, particularly as king (cf. 1Sa 16:1,13) or priest (Ex 28:41; 29:7; 30:30; 40:13,15). But people were looking for not just an anointed one but the Anointed One, the Messiah (cf. Mt 16:16 and note).
1:27 whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. A menial task, fit for a slave. Disciples would perform all sorts of service for their rabbis (teachers), but untying sandal straps was expressly excluded.
1:28 Bethany. The Bethany mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels was only about two miles from Jerusalem (see note on Mt 21:17). The precise site of this other Bethany is not known, except that it was located on the east side of the Jordan (see maps here and here; see also photo).
1:29 Lamb of God. An expression found in the Bible only here and in v. 36. Many suggestions have been made as to which “lamb” John had in mind (e.g., the lamb offered at Passover or the lamb of Isa 53:7, of Jer 11:19, of Ge 22:8 or of Rev 5:6 [see note there]). It may be that John chose this unique way of referring to Jesus’ mission to point both to the sacrificial offering that Jesus would become and to his subsequent conquest of all evil powers (see Rev 17:14 and note)—the two ways by which he “takes away the sin of the world” (see 1Jn 2:2 and note).
1:31 I . . . did not know him. Although John the Baptist was related to Jesus (Lk 1:36), he “lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel” (Lk 1:80) and may not have known Jesus personally. But the words probably mean only that he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until he saw the sign mentioned in vv. 32–33.
1:33 baptize with the Holy Spirit. John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Spirit—by which he would cause those who believe in him to participate in the power and grace of the new life he came to give (20:22; Ac 1:5; 2:4; 11:15–16; 19:4–61Co 12–14; Gal 3:5,14; 4:6; 5:16–25; Eph 1:13; 3:16; 5:18; Php 3:31Th 4:8). Holy Spirit. The common way of referring to the Spirit in the NT, though it appears only here and in 14:26; 20:22 in this Gospel—emphasizing his holiness rather than his power or greatness.
1:34 God’s Chosen One. See NIV text note.
1:35 two. One was Andrew (v. 40). The other is not named, but from early times it has been thought that he was John, the author of this Gospel. his disciples. In the sense that they had been baptized by John and looked to him as their religious teacher.
1:36 Lamb of God. See note on v. 29.
1:41 the Messiah. See note on v. 25.
1:42 Simon son of John. See note on Mt 16:17. Cephas . . . Peter. See NIV text note. In the Gospels, Peter was anything but a rock; he was impulsive and unstable. In Acts, however, he was a pillar of the early church. Jesus named him not for what he was but for what, by God’s grace, he would become (see Mt 16:18 and note).
1:46 Nazareth. See 7:52; see also note on Mt 2:23. Can anything good come from there? There are at least three possible reasons for Nathanael’s question: (1) Nazareth’s relative insignificance (it is not even mentioned in the OT or the extra-biblical literature of the day); (2) the widespread understanding that the Messiah would come from Judea; or (3) Nathanael’s pride in his own hometown (Cana; see 21:2) over Nazareth.
1:48 fig tree. Its shade was a favorite place for study and prayer in hot weather.
1:49 Rabbi. Hebrew word for “(my) teacher.” the Son of God. See vv. 14,18,34; 3:16 and note; 20:31. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry Nathanael acknowledged him with this meaningful title; later it was used in mockery (Mt 27:40; cf. Jn 19:7). Andrew’s “the Messiah” (v. 41) and Nathanael’s “the Son of God” together match Peter’s “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). king of Israel. See 12:13 and note. In Mk 15:32 “Messiah” and “king of Israel” are equated. At this stage, all these lofty titles may still mean merely an earthly Messiah—a political or military deliverer—in the minds of those who use them of Jesus.
1:51 Very truly I tell you. The Greek word translated “truly” is amen, from a Hebrew word that emphasized the truth and veracity of a statement (see note on Dt 27:15). In John, the word is doubled, amen amen, translated in the NIV as “very truly.” John’s Gospel alone uses this doubled expression (25 times). See note on Mk 3:28. heaven open. In Jesus’ ministry the disciples will see heaven’s (God’s) testimony about Jesus as plainly as if they heard an announcement from heaven concerning him. the angels of God ascending and descending. As in Jacob’s dream (see Ge 28:12 and note), thus marking Jesus, who is “the way and the truth and the life” (14:6), as God’s stairway between heaven and earth. He is God’s elect one through whom redemption comes to the world—perhaps identifying Jesus as “truly” the “Israelite” (v. 47). Son of Man. Jesus’ favorite self-designation (see note on Mk 8:31). It means one who belongs to the category of human. Thus, Jesus, God incarnate, is also the exalted Son of Man.