John 1:34, continued
In order to gain a better understanding of the declaration by John the Baptist in verse 34 (and the important text-critical question in the verse, cf. the previous note), it is necessary to examine the narrative context of vv. 19-51. As previously discussed, verses 29-34 make up one of four sections in the narrative, which are joined together using the literary device of setting the four episodes on four successive days. This may be outlined, again, as follows:
- Day 1—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity (1:19-28)
- Day 2—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus (1:29-34)
- Day 3—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness (1:35-42)
- Day 4—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness (1:43-51)
The first “Day” involves the question of John the Baptist’s identity. He specifically denies any identification with three figures or titles— “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”. The last two relate to a Messianic Prophet figure-type, drawn from the Old Testament figures of Elijah and Moses (Deut 18:15-20); this subject is discussed further in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Part 3). It is not entirely clear whether “the Anointed One” refers to a Messiah generally, a Messianic Prophet, or the traditional Messianic ruler from the line of David; based on the overall context of vv. 29-51, the latter is more likely.
The second and third “Days” follow a similar pattern; each begin with John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (vv. 29, 36). Each ends with a distinct declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. The declaration of the second day is that of verse 34; that of the third day again involves the title Messiah— “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41), where the Hebrew word j^yv!m* is transliterated as Messi/a$ (before being translated, “Anointed One” [Xristo/$]).
This common Messianic theme, running through the narrative episodes, would perhaps suggest that the reading “Chosen/Elect One” is to be preferred, since this title (presumably derived from Isa 42:1) is more directly Messianic than is “Son of God”. This is certainly the case with its use in Lk 9:35 and 23:35, the only other occurrences in the New Testament where the title is applied to Jesus.
However, a careful examination of the fourth “Day” (vv. 43-51) points in the opposite direction. Here the declaration regarding Jesus’ identity, made by Nathanael (v. 49), is two-fold:
“You are the the Son of God, you are the King of Israel“
The thematic and narrative structure suggests that these two titles are parallel to those in the declarations of the 2nd and 3rd days:
The parallelism would tend to favor “Son” in v. 34, if only slightly. This, along with the overwhelming external manuscript evidence (in favor of “Son”), makes it the preferred reading. Still, the matter is far from decisive, and it is worth keeping the variant “Elect/Chosen One” well in mind whenever you read this passage. Consider how the two titles (and concepts) are closely intertwined in Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene, in which the voice from Heaven declares (according to the best manuscripts):
“This is my Son, the Elect/Chosen One [o( e)klelegme/no$]…” (9:35)
The title “Elect/Chosen (One)” here takes the form of a substantive (perfect) participle of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”), from which the adjective e)klekto/$ is derived. Literally, it would be translated “the (one) having been gathered out” (o( e)klelegme/no$), but it is essentially identical in meaning to o( e)klekto/$. The latter occurs as a title of Jesus, albeit delivered mockingly to him, in Lk 23:35, and is clearly used in a Messianic sense (“the Anointed [One], the Elect/Chosen [One] of God”). There can be no real doubt that the same significance is to be found in its usage in the Lukan Transfiguration scene.
The Transfiguration scene, of course, parallels the earlier Baptism scene in the Synoptic Gospels, in which the voice from Heaven makes a similar declaration (in Matthew they are identical). Now, the Gospel of John only narrates the Baptism indirectly (vv. 29-34), through the testimony of John the Baptist, who witnesses the visionary phenomena. His declaration is in the same climactic position as the Divine/Heavenly voice in the Synoptics:
Yet consider, too, a comparison with the variant reading from John—
- “You are My Son…” / “This is My Son…”
- “This is the Chosen One of God” (Jn 1:34 v.l.)
which matches the words of the heavenly voice in Lk 9:35:
“You are my Son, the Chosen One”
This declaration, in turn, is an echo of Isaiah 42:1, where God speaks of “My Servant [db#u#]…my Chosen (One) [ryj!B^]…”. In Greek, db#u# is translated by pai=$, which can also mean “child” — “my Child” is obviously close in meaning to “my Son“. At the same time, ryj!B^ is translated by e)klekto/$, the same word used in Jn 1:34 v.l. (and related to that in Lk 9:35).
It may be helpful at this point to summarize three important aspects of the Johannine tradition in vv. 19-51:
- The narrative, despite its adapation of the early Gospel tradition into the Johannine idiom, preserves authentic historical tradition. For more on this, cf. the articles dealing with Jn 1:19-51 in my earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (The Baptism of Jesus).
- This early tradition specifically relates to the identity of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah), and particularly so in terms of the Messianic Prophet figure-type(s). It is the Anointed herald of the (Deutero-)Isaian oracles (e.g., 42:1ff; 61:1ff) that is most clearly in view, and is the figure with which Jesus was identified in the earliest strands of the Tradition. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.
- Again, in the earliest tradition, the title “Son of God” was fundamentally Messianic in significance. Even though the Gospel of John clearly understands the title in terms of a pre-existence Christology, it still retains the older, traditional meaning as well.
None of this is sufficient to decide the text-critical question of which title— “Son of God” or “Elect/Chosen One of God” —was the original reading. Both titles are appropriate to the Messianic context of vv. 19-51, and, in a sense, can be seen as interchangeable (or, at least, complementary). As noted above, the overwhelming manuscript support, as well as the Johannine usage, favors the reading “Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=), and I am inclined to adopt it, by a narrow margin. The Baptist’s declaration would then read:
“And I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God“
In so doing, John is the first to give witness to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. In the context of the Gospel Prologue, this refers to his identity as the pre-existent Son; however, in the immediate context of the narrative (vv. 19-51), and in terms of the early Gospel tradition, the title is to be understood in a Messianic sense (i.e., “Anointed One” = “Elect/Chosen One”). Both aspects are fundamental to the Johannine theology, and must be taken into account when summarizing the Christological portrait in the Gospel. No better summary can be found than the confessional statement by Martha in 11:27:
“I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…”
This confession holds roughly the same place in the Gospel of John as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 par). It also is close in form and sense to the Baptist’s declaration in 1:34, especially if we were to combine the two variant readings:
“I have seen…that this (one) is the Elect/Chosen (One), the Son of God”
An even more precise confessional formula is used by the author in his conclusion to the Gospel:
“I have written these (thing)s (so) that you would trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (20:31)
The uniqueness of the Johannine Gospel lies in the way that the earlier Gospel tradition, which understood the title “Son (of God)” primarily in a Messianic sense, has been adapted and developed to give a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning to the traditional manner of expression. Jesus is still the Anointed One, exalted by God the Father through his death and resurrection; but he is also something more: the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, who was, even in the very beginning, the Son resting together with God the Father in the bond of His eternal love and power.