John 1 - ESV Study Bible
1:1 In the beginning was the Word echoes the opening phrase of the book of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” John will soon identify this Word as Jesus (v. 14), but here he locates Jesus’ existence in eternity past with God. The term “the Word” (Gk. Logos) conveys the notion of divine self-expression or speech and has a rich OT background. God’s Word is effective: God speaks, and things come into being (Gen. 1:3,9; Ps. 33:6; 107:20; Isa. 55:10–11), and by speech he relates personally to his people (e.g., Gen. 15:1). John also shows how this concept of “the Word” is superior to a Greek philosophical concept of “Word” (logos) as an impersonal principle of Reason that gave order to the universe. And the Word was with God indicates interpersonal relationship “with” God, but then and the Word was God affirms that this Word was also the same God who created the universe “in the beginning.” Here are the building blocks that go into the doctrine of the Trinity: the one true God consists of more than one person, they relate to each other, and they have always existed. From the Patristic period (Arius, c. A.D. 256–336) until the present day (Jehovah’s Witnesses), some have claimed that “the Word was God” merely identifies Jesus as a god rather than identifying Jesus as God, because the Greek word for God, Theos, is not preceded by a definite article. However, in Greek grammar, Colwell’s Rule indicates that the translation “a god” is not required, for lack of an article does not necessarily indicate indefiniteness (“a god”) but rather specifies that a given term (“God”) is the predicate nominative of a definite subject (“the Word”). This means that the context must determine the meaning of Theos here, and the context clearly indicates that this “God” that John is talking about (“the Word”) is the one true God who created all things (see also John 1:6,12,13,18 for other examples of Theos without a definite article but clearly meaning “God”).
1:1–18 Prologue: The Incarnate Word. In the prologue John presents Jesus as the eternal, preexistent, now incarnate Word (vv. 1,14) and as the one-of-a-kind Son of the Father who is himself God (vv. 1,18). God’s revelation and redemption in and through Jesus are shown to form the culmination of the history of salvation, which previously included God’s giving of the law through Moses (v. 17), his dwelling among his people in the tabernacle and the temple (v. 14), and the sending of the forerunner, John the Baptist (vv. 6–8,15). The prologue also introduces many of the major themes developed later in the Gospel, such as Jesus as the life (v. 4), the light (vv. 5–9), and the truth (vv. 14, 16–17); believers as God’s children (vv. 12–13); and the world’s rejection of Jesus (vv. 10–11).
1:3 All things includes the whole universe, indicating that (except for God) everything that exists was created and that (except for God) nothing has existed eternally. Made through him follows the consistent pattern of Scripture in saying that God the Father carried out his creative works through the activity of the Son (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). This verse disproves any suggestion that the Word (or the Son, John 1:14) was created, for the Father would have had to do this by himself, and John says that nothing was created that way, for without him was not any thing made that was made.
1:4–5 The references to life, light, and darkness continue to draw on Genesis motifs (cf. Gen. 1:3–5, 14–18, 20–31; 2:7; 3:20; cf. also Isa. 9:2; 42:6–7; 49:6; 60:1–5; Mal. 4:2; Luke 1:78–79). Against this background, Jesus as the “light” brings to this dark world true knowledge, moral purity, and the light that shows the very presence of God (cf. John 8:12; 1 John 1:5).
1:11 John moves from his own things (see esv footnote)—that is, creation—to his own people, the Jews. The Jewish rejection of the Messiah, despite convincing proofs of his messianic identity (esp. the “signs”), is one of the major emphases of the Gospel (see esp. 12:37–40).
1:12–13 Receive him implies not merely intellectual agreement with some facts about Jesus but also welcoming and submitting to him in a personal relationship. “Believed in” (Gk. pisteuō eis) implies personal trust. His name refers to all that is true about him, and therefore the totality of his person. Born, not of blood … , but of God makes clear that neither physical birth nor ethnic descent nor human effort can make people children of God, but only God’s supernatural work (8:41–47; Cf. 3:16). This extends the possibility of becoming God’s children to Gentiles and not just Jews (11:51–52; Cf. 10:16). See also 3:3–8. To all … who believed … he gave the right indicates that saving faith precedes becoming members of God’s family through adoption as his children.
1:14 The Word continues the opening words of the prologue in v. 1. Became flesh does not mean the Word ceased being God; rather, the Word, who was God, also took on humanity (cf. Phil. 2:6–7). This is the most amazing event in all of history: the eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinitely holy Son of God took on a human nature and lived among humanity as one who was both God and man at the same time, in one person. Dwelt among us means more literally “pitched his tent” (Gk. skēnoō), an allusion to God’s dwelling among the Israelites in the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 25:8–9; 33:7). In the past, God had manifested his presence to his people in the tabernacle and the temple. Now God takes up residence among his people in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:17). Thus, the coming of Christ fulfills the OT symbolism for God’s dwelling with man in the tabernacle and the temple. Later, through the Holy Spirit, Christ will make into a temple both the church (1 Cor. 3:16) and a Christian’s body (1 Cor. 6:19). The references to God’s glory refer back to OT passages narrating the manifestation of the presence and glory of God in theophanies (appearances of God), the tabernacle, or the temple (e.g., Ex. 33:22; Num. 14:10; Deut. 5:22). the only Son from the Father. Jesus is the “Son of God,” not in the sense of being created or born (see John 1:3), but in the sense of being a Son who is exactly like his Father in all attributes, and in the sense of having a Father-Son relationship with God the Father. The Greek word underlying “only,” monogenēs, means “one of a kind, unique,” as in the case of Isaac, who is called Abraham’s “one-of-a-kind” son in Heb. 11:17 (in contrast to Ishmael; cf. Gen. 22:2,12,16). Thus “only” is a better translation than “only begotten” (made familiar through its use in the kjv). On grace and truth, see note on John 1:16–17.
1:16–17 Grace indicates God’s (unmerited) favor that brings blessing and joy. Grace and truth most likely recalls the Hebrew behind the phrase “steadfast love [Hb. hesed] and faithfulness [Hb. ’emet]” in Ex. 34:6 (cf. Ex. 33:18–19), where the expression refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to his people Israel. According to John, God’s covenant faithfulness found ultimate expression in his sending of his one-of-a-kind Son, Jesus Christ (see note on John 1:14). The contrast is not that the Mosaic law was bad and Jesus is good. Rather, both the giving of the law and the coming of Jesus Christ mark decisive events in the history of salvation. In the law, God graciously revealed his character and righteous requirements to the nation of Israel. Jesus, however, marked the final, definitive revelation of God’s grace and truth. He was superior to Abraham (8:53), Jacob (4:12), and Moses (5:46–47; Cf. 9:28).
1:18 No one has ever seen God, that is, in a full and complete way (cf. 6:46), but some people did see partial revelations of God in the OT. To see God in Christ would be far better (see 14:6). Some ancient manuscripts say “the only Son” here (see esv footnote), but the earliest manuscripts say the only God (using the same word for “only” as 1:14, meaning “unique, one-of-a-kind”). John refers to two different persons here as “God,” as he did in v. 1. John concludes the prologue by emphasizing what he taught in v. 1: Jesus as the Word is God, and he has revealed and explained God to humanity.
1:19–12:50 The Signs of the Messiah. The first half of John’s Gospel features Jesus’ demonstration of his messianic identity by way of several selected “signs” (cf. 20:30–31), such as the changing of water into wine (2:1–11), many signs in Jerusalem (2:23; Cf. 7:31; 9:16; 11:47), the healing of the official’s son (4:46–54), the healing of the invalid (5:1–15), the feeding of the multitude (6:1–15), the healing of the man born blind (9:1–41), and the raising of Lazarus (11:1–44; Cf. 12:18). (Regarding John’s use of the word “signs,” see Introduction: Literary Features.) This section ends with a reference to the Jewish nation’s rejection of the Messiah (12:36b–37).
1:19–2:11 John the Baptist’s Witness and the First Week of Jesus’ Ministry. This introductory section of John’s Gospel narrates the course of the first week of Jesus’ ministry. He is hailed by John the Baptist as “God’s lamb” (1:29,36), is followed by his first disciples (1:37–51), and performs his first “sign” (see Introduction: Literary Features), turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana (2:1–11).
1:19 testimony. See note on 5:31–47. The Jews is an expression used 68 times in the Greek text of John, sometimes in a neutral (2:6) or positive (4:22) sense, but often to refer to hostile Jewish opponents of Jesus among the Jewish leaders and the ordinary people who followed them. The phrase does not usually mean all the Jews, for Jesus and John the Baptist were also Jews, as was the author, John. John wants Jewish readers in his own time to realize that opposition to Jesus by many Jewish leaders goes back to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but that did not deter many other Jews from following him anyway. In many places in John, “the Jews” seems to be a shorthand expression for “the Jews who opposed Jesus” (see esv footnotes on 5:10, etc.). Jerusalem. See Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus.
1:20–21 John denies being the Christ (cf. v. 8,15; 3:28), Elijah, or the Prophet. the Christ. See note on 1:41. Elijah, who never died (2 Kings 2:11), was expected to return in the end times (Mal. 4:5) to “restore all things” (Matt. 17:11; cf. Luke 1:17). Though the Baptist resembled Elijah in his rugged lifestyle (Matt. 3:4; cf. 2 Kings 1:8), he denied that he himself was Elijah (though Jesus, understanding more about this than John, saw John as fulfilling the prophecy about Elijah; cf. Matt. 11:14). The coming of the Prophet was predicted by Moses in Deut. 18:15,18 (cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37) and was expected in Jesus’ day (John 6:14; 7:40). John denied being this Prophet as well (though he was a prophet; see Matt. 11:11–14; John 10:40–41).
1:23 John is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, in keeping with the prophet Isaiah’s words (Isa. 40:3; cf. Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4). By preaching a word of repentance and divine judgment, this messenger of God was to prepare the way for the Lord God of the OT (Yahweh himself) to come to his people through the wilderness.
1:24 Pharisees. A relatively small but highly influential group of Jews who emphasized meticulous observance of God’s law (as understood both from the OT laws and from their accumulated extrabiblical traditions) as the means by which one attains righteousness before God and retains his favor. Many Pharisees opposed Jesus (see Matt. 23:1–36, where Jesus condemns their hypocrisy), but some followed him (John 3:1–5; 7:50; 19:38–40; cf. Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5). See note on Matt. 3:7.
1:27 sandal. Leather sandals with ties are pictured in ancient art representing Judeans from various eras. Some archaeological examples of sandals are known from this period (e.g., from the Cave of Letters in the Judean desert).
1:28 John was baptizing. Cf. Luke 3:3. John’s baptism was an outward sign of cleansing reflecting inward repentance from sins (see Matt. 3:6; cf. later Christian baptisms at Matt. 28:19; Rom. 6:3; 1 Pet. 3:21). The Bethany across the Jordan (cf. John 10:40) is different from the village near Jerusalem where Lazarus was raised (cf. 11:1,18); this Bethany is designated as “across” (i.e., east of) the Jordan River (cf. 3:26; 10:40).
1:29 Cf. v. 36. Regarding the next day, see note on 2:1. Jesus, by his sacrifice, fulfills the symbolism of the Passover lamb and other OT sacrifices (Lev. 1:1–5:19; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:1–14). Deliverance through the blood of a lamb prefigured the coming of Jesus as the Lamb of God to obtain final salvation for God’s people through his death, which in turn redeemed them from death, sin, and Satan (Col. 1:13–14; Heb. 2:14–15). See also Isa. 53:7 and other OT passages about sacrifices for sins (Gen. 22:8; Lev. 14:25; 16:15–22). This lamb imagery will later culminate in John’s vision of Jesus as the apocalyptic warrior Lamb who will bring judgment and universal victory (Rev. 5:6–13; 7:17; 21:22–23; 22:1–3). Takes away the sin of the world refers to Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death and his appeasement of the divine wrath by way of atonement for sin (his propitiation; cf. Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; and notes on 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).
1:31 I myself did not know him. John probably means that he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until he saw the sign mentioned in vv. 32–33.
1:32–34 The Spirit did not merely descend on Jesus, he remained on him (cf. 3:34), a sign of Jesus’ divine anointing. In the OT, the Spirit came upon people to enable them to accomplish certain God-given tasks. But Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be full of the Spirit at all times (Isa. 11:2; 61:1; cf. Luke 4:18). Jesus is God himself, the second person of the Trinity, with an eternal relation of sonship to God the Father (cf. John 5:18; 17:5; Gal. 4:4). See note on John 5:31–47.
1:36 Lamb of God. See note on v. 29.
1:38 “Rabbi” (which means Teacher) is one of seven Hebrew/Aramaic terms translated by John for his readers.
1:40 One of the two … was Andrew. The name of the other disciple is not stated. Most likely, he was John the son of Zebedee (see Introduction: Author and Title).
1:41 The terms Messiah (Hb.) and Christ (Gk.) both mean “anointed” (usually by God). In the NT and early Judaism, “Messiah” is a summary term that gathers up many strands of OT expectations about a coming “anointed one” who would lead and teach and save God’s people, especially the great King and Savior in the line of David whom the OT promised (see, e.g., 2 Sam. 7:5–16; Ps. 110:1–4; Isa. 9:6–7).
1:42 Cephas is an Aramaic word meaning “rock” (cf. Matt. 16:16–18; cf. also note on John 1:38). In Bible times, God frequently changed people’s names to indicate their special calling, as was the case with Abram (Abraham) and Jacob (Israel); see Gen. 17:5; 32:28.
1:45 Nathanael is also mentioned in 21:2. “Nathanael” may be the personal name of Bartholomew (Bar-Tholomaios, “son of Tholomaios”), who is linked with Philip in all three Synoptic lists of apostles (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14). The Law and … the prophets commonly referred to the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the OT) in their entirety (e.g., Matt. 5:17; 7:12).
1:49 Son of God designates Jesus as the Messiah predicted in the OT (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; see note on John 1:14). King of Israel likewise is an OT designation for the Messiah (e.g., Zeph. 3:15). The two terms are also found side by side in Matt. 27:42–43.
1:51 Truly, truly, I say to you is a solemn affirmation stressing the authoritative nature and importance of Jesus’ pronouncements. The expression is found 25 times in this Gospel. The two references to “you” here are plural. See heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending recalls the story of Jacob in Genesis 28 (see esp. v. 12). Jesus will be a greater way of access to God than the heavenly ladder on which angels traveled between God and Jacob (Gen. 28:12; cf. Heb. 10:19–20), and wherever Jesus is, that place will become the “New Bethel” where God is revealed. Jesus is not merely “a son of man” (an ordinary male human being), but he repeatedly (over 80 times in the Gospels) calls himself the Son of Man, suggesting the greatest, most notable son of man of all time. “The Son of Man” is thus a messianic title that refers back to the mysterious, human-divine figure of “one like a son of man” in Dan. 7:13–14, one who would be given rule over all the nations of the earth forever (cf. Matt. 26:64). The Son of Man will be “lifted up” by being crucified (see note on John 3:14), will provide divine revelation (6:27), and will act with end-time authority (5:27; 9:39).