January 10: John 1:29

In celebration of the Baptism of Jesus, traditionally commemorated in the Eastern Churches on Jan. 6, and in the West on Jan. 13, I will be presenting a series of daily notes this week on John 1:29-34.

John 1:29-34

This is the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of John. It differs significantly from the Synoptic narrative (Mk 1:9-11 par), and yet clearly draws upon a common historical tradition. I have discussed the matter at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (the articles on the Baptism of Jesus).

The Fourth Gospel deals with the relationship between John and Jesus in a unique way, as can be seen by the curious references to the Baptist in the Prologue (cf. my recent notes on vv. 6-9 and 15). When the narrative of the Gospel proper begins, John the Baptist features prominently in each of the first three episodes—vv. 19-28, 29-34, and 35ff.

To review the structure of the Gospel, chapter 1 is made up of five sections—(1) the Prologue (vv. 1-18), and (2) a sequence of four episodes, narrated as four “days”, during which the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus (cf. Jn 3:30):

    • 1:19-28—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
    • 1:29-34—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
    • 1:35-42—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
    • 1:43-51—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness

This structure is discerned from the wording used to demarcate the three sections of vv. 29-51, each of which begins with the phrase th=| e)pau/rion, “upon the (morning) air” (i.e. “upon the morrow”, in conventional English, “the next day, next morning”). Here is the precise wording in verse 29:

“Upon the (morning) air [th=| e)pau/rion], he [i.e. John] looks [ble/pei] (at) Yeshua coming toward him, and says…”

Before proceeding with a detailed exegesis, it may be useful to outline this ‘day’ covered by vv. 29-34. Structurally and thematically, this is best represented as a chiasmus, in which statements by the Baptist, regarding the true identity of Jesus, are enclosed by a pair of declarations given in more traditional (and symbolic) language:

    • Witness of John the Baptist—Jesus coming toward [e)rxo/menon pro/$] him (“See, the Lamb of God…”), v. 29
      • Statement of John the Baptist concerning the true nature and superiority of Jesus (v. 30); his baptizing reveals Jesus to Israel (v. 31)
      • Statement of John the Baptist (v. 32); Jesus’ true nature (and superiority) revealed in John’s baptizing (v. 33)—descent of the Spirit & Divine announcement (baptism of Jesus implied)
    • Witness of John the Baptist—”This (one) is the Son of God”, v. 34

This outline can be expanded with a bit more detail, in terms of the action of the scene:

    • Declaration 1— “See! the Lamb of God…” (v. 29)
      • Jesus coming toward John (vv. 29-30)
      • John came to baptize (Jesus) (vv. 31, 33)
        [The Baptism of Jesus, as described by John]
      • The Spirit stepping down (i.e. coming down) and remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33)
      • Before this, John had not seen/known Jesus (i.e. recognized his identity) (vv. 31, 33)
    • Declaration 2— “This is the Son of God” (v. 34)
      [Note: Some MSS read “this is the Elect/Chosen (One) of God”]

John 1:29

“Upon the morrow he looks (at) Yeshua coming toward him and says: ‘See—the lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sins of the world!'”

Let us begin with the first part of this verse (29a), leading up to the Baptist’s declaration:

th=| e)pau/rion ble/pei to\n Ihsou=n e)rxo/menon pro/$ au)to/n kai\ le/gei
“Upon the (morning) air, he looks (at) Yeshua coming toward him, and says…”

th=| e)pau/rion—literally, “upon the (morning) air,” i.e., “upon the morrow” = “in the morning”, “the next morning”. This expression serves to demarcate the sections of 1:19-51 into four “days”, with vv. 29-51 covering a sequence of three days. Cf. the outlines above.

ble/pei (“he looks [at]”)—John the Baptist, the central figure of the prior episode in vv. 19-28, continues as the speaker in this scene. The verb ble/pw (“look [at], see”), a common Greek verb used frequently in narrative, and often with no particular significance, takes on special meaning in the Johannine writings. It is one of a series of verbs—along with ei&dw, o(ra/w, qea/omai, and qewre/w—denoting sight/vision. Playing on the related concepts of seeing and knowing, rooted (in part) in the interchangeability of the verbs ginw/skw (“know”) and ei&dw (“see”) in Greek, the Gospel of John gives a distinctive theological (and Christological) nuance to this terminology. To “see” Jesus means to “know” him, which, in the context of the Johannine theology, means trusting in Jesus, recognizing his true nature and identity as the Son of God.

The verb ble/pw occurs 17 times in the Gospel, and is used in this special theological sense in 5:19; 9:39-41; 11:9. The episode in chapter 9 (the healing of the blind man) serves as the historical tradition that informs the theological message of vv. 35-41. The occurrences in the resurrection narratives (20:1, 5, also 21:9, 20) almost certainly allude to the same point of theology.

On the historical and narrative level, the verb here simply refers to John noticing Jesus as he comes forward to be baptized (cp. Mk 1:9; Matt 3:13ff; Lk 3:21). However, based on the overall Johannine context, it also carries a deeper meaning, implicitly signifying Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God.

to\n Ihsou=n (“Yeshua”)—the noun (proper name) is definite and accusative, functioning as the direct object in the phrase. John “looks at Jesus;” as noted above, this alludes to trust in Jesus, and a recognition of his identity as the Messiah and Son of God. The specific use of ble/pw (“look [at]”) could possibly suggest that John is just beginning to see Jesus, i.e., to understand who he is.

e)rxo/menon (“coming”)—e&rxomai (“come, go”) is another common verb, used frequently in ordinary narrative, which takes on special theological significance in the Gospel of John. It refers primarily to the incarnation—that is, to Jesus as the incarnate Son (and Word/Logos) of God, coming to earth as a human being. The verb is used earlier in the Prologue in just this sense (vv. 9, 11, 15). In addition to vv. 9 and 15, the present participle (e)rxo/meno$, “coming”) also occurs in v. 27 (and again in v. 30, repeating the saying of v. 15). These latter references represent a Johannine version of a core Gospel tradition, regarding a saying by the Baptist that is recorded in the Synoptics (Mk 1:7f; Matt 3:11; Lk 3:16); I discuss this saying at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. On the Messianic significance of the substantive verbal noun o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”), cf. my article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

pro\$ au)to/n (“toward him”)—the idea of Jesus coming to (or toward) a person, or of that person coming to Jesus, represents another apparently incidental narrative detail that can have special theological meaning in the Gospel of John.

kai\ le/gei (“and he says”)—this indicates John’s role as a witness (the first such witness) who testifies to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of God. Indeed, this represents the substance of the entire episode of vv. 29-34. It reflects the unique role attributed to the Baptist in vv. 6-9 and 15 of the Prologue. Moreover, the witness by the Baptist leads to the first of Jesus’ disciples beginning to trust, becoming his followers (believers), and then witnessing to others in turn (cf. the following episodes of vv. 35-42, 43-51).

The declaration by the Baptist in v. 29b, the first of the two key declarations in the passage, will be examined in the next daily note.

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