Research Paper On The Prologue Of John
The opening verses of John’s gospel is designed to paint the big picture of Jesus – who he was, what he came to do, and what it means for all people.
Read the passage and comments below, and reflect on some of the questions for yourself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
How do you start a story? What about the very beginning – it’s a very good place to start. And this is what John does. The very beginning. Mark’s gospel opens with Jesus entering into his ministry. Luke traces Jesus’ story back to his birth in Bethlehem. Matthew goes further, listing Jesus’ ancestry. But John goes back even further. According to John, Jesus’ beginning – and the big story of who he is – goes back to the creation of the universe.
In verse 1 John introduces a person – the Word – who has existed since the dawn of time. The Greek word for ‘the Word’ is ‘Logos’. To the first Jewish readers, this word was familiar as a shorthand for ‘God’ in Greek versions of the Old Testament. Non-Jewish readers would understand Logos within Greek philosophy as the shaping force in the universe. John explains that the Word was ‘with God’, and in fact, ‘was God’. The Word was responsible for bringing life into the world. And The Word will form the subject of John’s gospel.
- Which other famous book of the Bible starts with the phrase, ‘In the beginning…’?
- What point might John be trying to make by drawing this parallel?
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit. (vv.4-5)
John carries on these themes in verses 4-5. This Word brought life in the beginning – just as He also brought light. (Compare Genesis 1:3 – the very first words spoken by God in creation were ‘let there be light’ – and there was light.) But there is an interesting shift to the present tense in verse 5. The light given by the Word shines here and now. It is as if John wants to make clear that he is not giving a history lesson about what the Word did thousands of years ago. He wants to talk about what the Word is doing now.
- What does the imagery of ‘light’ suggest to you? If a person is described as being a light, or bringing light, what might that suggest about them?
- What does the imagery of ‘darkness’ mean to you? What point do you think John is trying to make?
There was a man sent from God whose name was John.He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (vv.6-8)
Having introduced this God-figure, The Word, John changes his focus. He speaks about John. The ‘John’ here is not the gospel writer, but John the Baptist. John the Baptist was preaching to crowds around Israel shortly before Jesus began his ministry. He is described in the gospels as a man who called people to repent, or change their way of living, because God’s Kingdom was very near. Many listeners at the time thought of John the Baptist as a special prophet – grouped in the same category as such figures as Elijah, one of the famous Old Testament prophets. John (the writer) describes him here as the warm-up act, getting people ready for the main event – the coming Messiah sent by God.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God –children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (vv. 9-13)
John (the writer) is building towards something. John (the Baptist) talked about the ‘true light’ (or Logos / God) – but John (the writer) makes it clear that God himself was on his way. Now, John is writing some years after Jesus was born, in roughly 90-110 AD. He speaks with hindsight when he notes that, even though ‘the light’ was coming to the world he made and the people he loved, not everybody recognised him. Some downright disliked him. But the people who ‘received’ the Word – who heard what he said and chose to follow him – found something special. They were welcomed into God’s family.
- Can you think of any stories about Jesus in the Bible which show how people were divided in their opinions of him?
- How do different people think about Jesus today?
- John uses the image of people becoming ‘children of God’. What does this suggest about the kind of relationship he claims people can have with God through Jesus?
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’) (vv.14-15)
You could argue that John 1 v 14 is the climax of the whole prologue. John writes that this Word – God himself, there at the beginning, who made everything and everyone – became a real, living, human being. The infinite God of the universe was born as a vulnerable baby. He grew up. He experienced happiness, sorrow, friendship and frustration – just as we do. For a period of time, 2000 years ago, it was possible to see and talk to God face to face in the person of Jesus. This is what Christians call the incarnation.
John’s evidence for this extraordinary claim is that he himself was an eye-witness to the event. He also notes that John the Baptist – an accepted prophet amongst many of the early readers – vouched for Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (vv.16-18)
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. John ends his prologue by making it clear that Jesus’ presence on earth means good news for everyone, for all time. The story of the Old Testament was of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel: a covenant made and sealed through Moses receiving the law. Now this story is given a new dimension. A new covenant has been made – one where all people can now know life with God, because of Jesus.
- John says again that Jesus, the Son, was himself God. Reflect on some of the stories from Jesus’ life and ministry. If seeing Jesus means seeing God himself, what would that make God like?
HOW IS JOHN 1:1-18, the Prologue to the Gospel of John, to be interpreted? The following essay is an attempt, from the point of view of contemporary scholarship in Catholicism and Protestantism, to answer that question. Actually, this forms part of the notes I gave to my students while I was teaching New Testament exegesis at a graduate school of theology. I am reproducing it without changes, with the caveat that it reflects the Johannine scholarship in the late 1990s, written as it was to make a synthesis of the Johannine research of that period. I am sure, however, that many who would like to have a deeper knowledge of St John’s Gospel will still find it useful. Having read a few new works on John in this decade, I noted that there has not been much change in interpretation. This work has four parts: select bibliography, literary considerations, detailed interpretation of the prologue, and theological thrust. A careful reading by one who is familiar with Johannine scholarship would point to the scholars, like R. Brown, C.K. Barrett, etc. to whom I am indebted and with whom I tend to take side in the interpretation. At the end of the presentation is an excursus on the origin of the term “Logos.”
This select bibliography is intended to help students who wish to make a deeper study on the Prologue. The works listed here, in English or in English translation, are those that they may find significant and useful. [A] Commentaries on the Gospel According to John.  Barrett, C.K. The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek text. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978.  Beasley-Murray, G. John. WBC: Waco, TX: Word, 1987.  Bernard, J. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St John, 2 vols. ICC: T & T Clark, 1928.  Brown, R. The Gospel According to John, 2 vols. AB: New York: Doubleday, 1966-1970.  Bultmann, R. The Gospel of John. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.  Haenchen, E. Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2 vols. Herm: Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.  Hoskyns, E. The Fourth Gospel. London: Faber and Faber, 1947.  Lightfoot, R. H. St John’s Gospel: A Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon, 1956.  Lindars, B. The Gospel of John. NCB: London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972.  Sanders, J. N. and B. Mastin. A Commentary on the Gospel According to St John. BNTC: London: A & C Black, 1968.  Schnackenburg, R. The Gospel According to St John, 3 vols. NTKNT: New York, Seabury, 1980-1982.  Westcott, B.F. The Gospel According to St John. London: J Murray, 1982.
[B] Studies on St John’s Prologue.  Boismard, M.-E. St John’s Prologue. Westminster: Newman, 1957.  Borgen, P. “Observations on the Targumic Character of the Prologue of John,” New Testament Studies 16 (1969-1970) 288-295.  ______. “The Logos Was the True Light: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” Novum Testamentum 14 (1972) 115-130.  Culpepper, R. “The Pivot of John’s Prologue,” New Testament Studies 27 (1980-1981) 1-31.  Deeks, David. “The Prologue of St John’s Gospel,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 6 (1976) 62-78.  Dodd, C.H. The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. Cambridge: University Press, 1953, 263-285; 294-296.  _______. “The Prologue to the Fourth Gospel and Christian Worship,” in Studies in the Fourth Gospel. Ed. F. L. Cross. London: Mowbray, 1957, 9-22.  Fuller, R.H. The Foundations of New Testament Christology. London: Collins, 1965, 222-227.  Hooker, M.D. “John the Baptist and the Johannine Prologue,” New Testament Studies 16 (1969-1970) 254-358.  _________. “The Johannine Prologue and the Messianic Secret,” New Testament Studies 21 (1974-1875) 40-58.  Jeremias, J. “The Revealing Word,” The Central Message of the New Testament. London: SCM, 1965, 71-90.  Kaseman, E. “The Structure and Purpose of the Prologue to John”s Gospel.” New Testament Questions of Today. London: SCM, 1969, 138-167.  King, J.S. “The Prologue of the First Gospel: Some Unresolved Problems,” Expository Times 86 (1975) 372-375.  McNamara, M. “Logos of the Fourth Gospel and the Memra of the Palestinian Targum (Ex. 12:42),” Expository Times 78 (1968) 115-117.  O’Neill, J. “The Prologue to St John’s Gospel.’ Journal of Theological Studies, ns 20 (1969) 41-52.  Risi, Mathias. “John 1, 1-18.” Interpretation 31 (1977) 395-401.  Robinson, J.A.T. “The Relation of the Prologue to the Gospel of St John.” New Testament Studies 9 (1962-1963) 120-129.  Schillebeeckx, E. Christ:The Experience of Jesus as Lord. New York: Crossroad, 1980, 351-358.  Stanley, J. “The Structure of John’s Prologue: Its Implications for the Gospel Narrative Structure,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (1986) 241-264.  Tobin, T. “The Prologue of John and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990) 252-269.  Vawter, B. “What Came to Be in Him Was Life (John 1:3b-4b,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963) 401-406.
The Literary Character of the Prologue. Whereas Mark begins his account of Jesus with the work of John the Baptist (henceforth abbreviated JBap) and the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:1-12), and Matthew and Luke with his conception and birth from a virgin (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2), John opens his work with a Prologue (John 1:1-18), tracing the story of Jesus to the very bosom of God (1:1). Originally, it is not impossible that the Prologue, as a literary unit, far from being a part of the Gospel, was an independent composition, most likely a hymn. In the first place, it contains a highly poetic structure exhibiting climactic parallelism whereby a word prominent in one line is taken up in the next one. Its poetic character may be compared with certain passages in Wisdom Literature (Prov 8:22-36; Sir 24:1-22; Wis 7:22-8:1), which have the regular form of Hebrew poetic character. (On Hebrew poetry, see, inter alia, A. Berlin, “Parallelism,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992] 5.155-162; N. Gottwald, “Poetry, Hebrew,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [Nashville: Abingdon, 1962] 3.829-838; A. Fitzgerald, “Hebrew Poetry,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [eds. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer and R. Murphy; Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990] 201-208).
Secondly, it has theological concepts which do not recur in the rest of the Gospel (e.g., logos as a Christological title, charis, pleroma, etc.). These observations led many scholars to conclude—quite divergent from the proposal by, e.g., C.K. Barrett (The Gospel According to John [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978] 151) and P. Borgen (“Observations on the Targumic Character of the Prologue of John,” New Testament Studies 16 [1969-1970] 295) that the prologue is a united whole—that it is derived from a pre-existing hymn. For instance, C. Burney (The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel [Oxford: Clarendon, 1922] 40-41) maintains that a retranslation of the Prologue into Aramaic reveals the form of the hymn consisting of eleven couplets. R. Bultmann (The Gospel of John [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971] 18) suggests that the source-text was a hymn of the JBaptist Community. It is most reasonable to suppose, however, that the Prologue was a Christological hymn of the Johannine church, probably of liturgical origin. The reason for this is that it shares a number of themes with the rest of the Gospel: pre-existence (1:1/17:5), the light of men and of the world (1:4;9/8:12; 9:5), opposition between light and darkness (1:5/3:19), seeing his glory (1:14/12:41), the only Son (1:14;18/3:16), no one has seen God except the Son (1:18/6:46). Since all this correspondence has to be explained, to suggest that the Prologue was composed in Johannine circles seems reasonable enough.
The Original Structure of the Prologue. Among Johannine scholars, there is no consensus on which verses belonged to the original Johannine hymn, although a variant of the following outline would be common: v 1 [v 2], vv 3-4 [v 5], [v 9ab], [v 10ab], v 10c-11, v 12ab, v 14 a[b]c, v 16. R. Schnackenburg (The Gospel According to St John [3 vols. HTKKNT; New York: Seabury, 1980-1982] 1.226-228) reconstructs the original hymn in four strophes: vv 1.3; 4.9; 10-11; 14.16. For the nonce, it suffices to consider the reconstruction offered by R. Brown (The Gospel According to John, 2 vols. [AB 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966-1970] 1.3-4,22):
First Strophe: The Word with God
1In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence
and the Word was God.
2He was present with God in the beginning.
Second Strophe: The Word and Creation
3Through him all things came into being,
and apart from him not a thing came to be.
4That which had come to be in him was life,
and this life was the light of men.
5The light shines on in the darkness,
for the darkness did not overcome it.
Third Strophe: The Word in the World
10He was in the world,
and the world was made by him,
yet the world did not recognize him.
11To his own he came,
yet his own people did not accept him.
12But all those who did accept him
he empowered to become God’s children.
Fourth Strophe: The Community’s Share in the Word
14And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.
And we have seen his glory,
the glory of an only Son [coming] from the Father
filled with enduring love.
16And of his fullness
we have all had a share—
love in place of love.
To this hymn, two sets of texts have been added. The first set consists of explanatory expansions of the lines of the hymn. To explain how men became God’s children, the following were appended at the end of the third strophe: “That is, those who believe in his name—those who were begotten, not by blood, nor by carnal desire, nor by man’s desire, but by God” (vv 12c-13). And to explain “Love in place of love,” the following were joined at the end of the fourth strophe: “For while the Law was a gift through Moses, this enduring love came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed him” (vv 17-18). The second set of material pertains to JBap. The first one, which was added at the end of the third strophe, before the treatment of the incarnation, consists of vv 6-9: “There was sent by God a man named John 7who came as a witness to testify to the light so that through him all men might believe—8but only to testify to the light, for he himself was not the light. 9The real light which gives light to every man was coming into the world.” The second, interjected in the middle of the third stanza, consists of one verse (v15): “John testified to him by proclaiming: ‘This is he of whom I said, “The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me, for he existed before him”.’” It is very likely that these originally formed the opening verses of the Gospel, but were eventually displaced when the Prologue was prefaced to the Gospel by the final redactor.
The Function of the Prologue. As Bultmann (John, 13) points out, the Prologue is no introduction or forward in the usual sense of the word; it neither gives the indication of the content or the structure of what follows, nor does it tell why the author has set himself his task. On the contrary, it forms a whole literary unit, and is complete in itself; it is not necessary for anything to follow. If at all it is to be regarded as an introduction to the rest of the Gospel, it can be taken, pace Haenchen who claims it is a depiction of the history of salvation (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2 vols. Herm: Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984] 1. 139-140), only in the sense of an overture. This comparison of the Prologue to an overture to an opera is apt, “since an overture is calculated to whet the appetite of the hearers, preparing them for the work to be presented and bringing together the themes developed in it” (G. Beasley-Murray, John [WBC 36; Waco, TX: Word, 1987] 5). Examples of themes that are developed in the Gospel include the pre-existence of the Son of God (John 17:5), the giving of the only Son in incarnation and death (3:16), his function as the light of the world (8:12) and its life (11:25), the manifestation of his glory (2:11), the unbelief of the world in face of it (12:41; 16:8-11), and the trust of those drawn by it (6:67-69; 12:31-32; 17:6-9). Even the punch line in 1:14, which speaks of the reality of the incarnation of the Logos in humanity, has a fundamental connection with 20:20, “which records the intention of establishing that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, as confessed by Thomas” (Beasley-Murray, ibid.).
Detailed Exegesis of the Prologue
First Strophe (The Word with God):1In the beginning was the Word, the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. 2He was present with God in the beginning. John sets the Prologue in a cosmological framework. By using the words in the beginning, he deliberately intends to recall Gen 1:1 and, in view of the parallel between Logos and Wisdom, alludes to Prov 8:22. But in recalling these texts, reference is made not to the act of creation (for creation comes in v 3), but to “that which is ‘before’ all time, or, more correctly, that concerning which no temporal statement can be made” (G. Delling, “archo, ktl., in G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [henceforth, abbreviated TDNT], 10 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-1976] 1.482), namely, the Word, who was with God and was God. The pre-existence of the Word is reinforced by the use of was in the continuous sense, which is to be contrasted with the punctiliar tense (aorist) in v 3 (creation), v 6 (the appearance of JBap) and v 14 (incarnation); here, the verb is used in the sense that the events took place at determined points in time. In the use of continuous tense, the evangelist underlines the eternity of the Word (Logos); the Word simply was, and there can never be speculation on how the Word came to be. The word referred to, in the sense that John employs the term, is no other than the person of Jesus of Nazareth. John, of course, does not make this explicit identification, but it is probably because this was familiar to his readers (cf 1 John 1; Rev 19:13). According to Bultmann (John, 32), in saying in the beginning was the Word, it was John’s aim to show that “in the person and word of Jesus one does not encounter anything that has its origin in the world or time; the encounter is with the reality that lies beyond the world and time.”
Pre-existent though he was, the Logos “existed as a hypostasis distinguishable from God” (C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: University Press, 1953] 269). The distinction between Logos and God is conveyed by the statement The Word was with God. The Greek for with God is pros ton theon; and although pros can mean “in relation to”, it is most likely that the usage is not classical, but Koine, found, for instance, in Mark 6:3, and it means “in the presence of,” “in company with,” or simply “with” (Barrett, John, 155; see also B. Reicke, “pros” TDNT 6  722). It is probable that John makes an allusion to Prov 8:30 (“beside him”) which speaks of Wisdom. Since Judaism would have no difficulty in asserting that Wisdom existed along with God, it is possible that this notion is the root of John’s statement (Barrett, John, 155). Of course, it is impossible to be more concrete about this relationship between the Father and the Word.
It is not enough to say, however, that the Logos existed as a hypostasis distinguishable from God; what God was, the Logos was. Hence, the statement and the Word was God. There is thus no reference to subordination: the status of the Logos is one of equality with God—he was God (Bultmann, John, 33). Such a statement could not have been made in Judaism, which could go on so far as to say that Wisdom is God’s effulgence (Wisd 7:25) and Law his daughter. In Greek, the word God has no article, and is treated as predicative: the Word is divine, but he is not all of divinity, for he has already been distinguished from another divine Person; cf. 7:28-29; 8:42; 16:28 (B. Vawter, “The Gospel According to John,” Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1968] 2.422). The absence of the article avoids a personal identification with the Father or the Hellenistic sense of a second God. That it does not imply simply a divine being can be shown by the inclusions with 1:18 and 20:29, and by 10:20 and ch 17 (R. Russell, “St John,” A New Catholic Commentary on the Holy Scripture [London: Nelson, 1975] 1038). Though v 2, which forms the last line of the strophe, is an inclusion and resumes v 1a.b in combined form, this is no mere repetition. According to Barrett (John, 156), “the Word does not come to be with God; the Word is with God in the beginning. Cf 17:5; at the ascension Jesus returns to the position of glory he occupied before creation.” B. Lindars (The Gospel of John [NCB; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972] 84) further suggests that v 1a.b is resumed to reinforce the timeless character of the Logos, and to prepare for the act of creation in the next verse. “As the act of creation is performed by the utterance of God (Gen 1:3 “And God said”), the Word is not only essentially inseparable from God, but also proceeds from him in the creative act.”
Second Strophe (The Word and Creation):3Through him all things came into being, and apart from him not a thing came to be. 4That which had come to be in him was life, and this life was the light of men. 5The light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness did not overcome it. The punctuation of vv 3-4a is a notorious crux: that which had come to be is sometimes attached to the end of v 3, or, alternatively, forms the beginning of v 4. Although the use of the latter by the Arians and Macedonians to prove that the Holy Spirit was a created being led the orthodox to favor the first way of reading the sentence, the majority of early writers and most modern scholars consider the latter as the correct reading. Firstly, the climactic or staircase parallelism of the lines requires that the end of one line should match the beginning of the next. Moreover, this reading has a parallel in the Qumran documents (1QS 11:11: “And by His knowledge all has come to be, and by His thought, He directs all that is, and without Him not a thing is done [or made]” (Brown, John, 1.6). But so much for the textual problems.
With the second strophe, the evangelist now brings the reader to the sphere of creation. This sphere is signified by the word panta, which is synonymous with kosmos, meaning, “the totality of all created things, of universal space and everything contained in it” (H. Sasse, “kosmeo, ktl.,” TDNT 3  884. John seems to continue his allusion to Gen by using egeneto (“came into being”), consistently employed to describe creation in the Septuagint [LXX] of Gen 1. In John, the Logos is presented as the Mediator of creation (not an intermediary between God and creation, as though the Logos were a demiurge which, in Gnosticism, was responsible for the material [and hence, according to the Gnostics, evil] creation; Beasley-Murray, John, 11. This is paralleled in Prov 3:30, 1QS 11:11; 1 Cor 8:6: “for there is one God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we live, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made and through whom we live”; see also Col 1:16; Heb 1:2 (Barrett, John, 156). This belief has important implications (see Brown, John, 1.34). First, if creation is through the Word, then creation is an act of revelation (cf W. Howard, “The Gospel According to St John,” The Interpreter’s Bible [Nashville: Abingdon, 1952] 8.465-466). Since creation bears the stamp of God’s Word, Wisd 13:1 and Rom 1:19-20 can claim that God is recognizable by men through creation. Second, inasmuch as it was through the Word that all things came into being, Jesus, the Word, has a claim on all. ThIs can be gleaned from the use of all in Rom 12:38: “For from him and through him and for him all things are. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
That which had come to be in him was life admits of two readings: either that which had come to be was life in him or that which had come to be in him was life. In the former reading, accepted by many modern scholars, along with Eusebius, Cyril of Alexandria and most Latin Fathers, the subject (that which had come to be) is taken in the same sense as the “all things” which came into being in v 3, namely, the whole of creation. In the latter reading, the subject is narrowed down to a special creation of the Word, namely, men, and this seems to be the correct reading, since this is indicated by v 4b (“this life was the light of men”). In effect, there is a progress from v 3 to v 4: the fact of creation is no longer in view; emphasis has shifted to what had came to be. And the focus is on a special aspect of what had come to be, namely, what had come to be in the Word—the special creation of the Word. Brown (John 1.26-27) suggests that at this point the evangelist makes a deliberate parallel to the opening chapters of Genesis. As already noted, allusion was made to Gen in v 3, with the use of egeneto; this allusion is carried into vv 4-5 with the mention of light and darkness. In Gen 1:2, darkness covered the abyss, and in Gen 1:3, light was God’s first creation. Eternal life is also a theme in the creation account; for in Gen 2:9 and 3:22, mention is made of the tree of life whose fruit, if eaten, would make man live forever. In Rev 22:2, the eternal life of the Garden of Eden prefigured the life that Jesus would give to men. In John 6, Jesus speaks of the bread of life which, when eaten, will make man live forever—a bread, therefore, which has the same quality as the fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. All this makes it clear that v 4 is still in the context of the creation narrative in Genesis. Against this background, one may now understand the meaning of v 3—That which had come to be in God’s creative Word was the gift of eternal life. Since the tree of life was closely associated with the tree of knowledge of good and evil, this life was the light (in a symbolism related to Gen 1:3) of men: man would have possessed eternal life and enlightenment had he survived the test. And this implies that man can have life, as Bultmann (“zao, ktl.,” TDNT 2  870) puts it, “by an apperceptive return to his origin in [Jesus] as the revelation of God.”
It is also against this Genesis creation account that v 5 may be understood. Here, John uses the word katalambanein which has been translated by scholars in various ways: (a) to acknowledge or receive (so Beasley-Murray, John, 11); (b) to grasp in the sense of comprehension of faith (so Bultmann, John, 48; Conzelmann, “skotos, ktl.,” TDNT 7  443; (c) to overcome (so G.Delling, “lambano, ktl.,” TDNT 4  10; Lindars, John, 87; Russell, “St John,” 1039). The use of katalambanein to mean “overcome” is found in John 12:35 (“darkness will come over you”). It is most likely that John used the word in this sense, for aside from the fact that this is consistent with the theme of the opposition between light and darkness in the Johannine dualistic thought, this is paralleled in other literature. In Wisd 7:29-30, Wisdom (whose concept in the OT is similar to the idea of the Word in the Prologue) is compared to a light that darkness cannot supplant; in Odes to Solomon 18:6, “That the light may not be overcome by the darkness”; and the Acts of Thomas speaks of a “light that has not been overcome.” In v 5, then, what is spoken of is an attempt by darkness to overcome the light, and it is possible that this refers to the fall of man. The fact that the verb katelaben is in the aorist tense, and therefore refers to a single past action lends support to this interpretation. But the darkness did not overcome the light; the light shines on in darkness. Even though man sinned, God gave him hope. Though this verse is a clear allusion to the creation of light which shines out over the darkness of the primeval chaos (Gen 1:2-3), yet the writer has probably in mind God’s promise after the fall. According to Gen 3:15, God put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and the serpent was not destined to overcome her offspring. In particular, the seed of the woman—which refers to Jesus in the New Testament—would be victorious over Satan. That this was the idea in the Johannine circles can be inferred from Rev 12 in which the victory of Jesus over the devil is pictured in terms of the victory of the woman’s child over the serpent (Brown, John 1.27).
Editor’s Addition (John the Baptist’s Witness to the Light):6There was sent by God a man named John 7who came as a witness to testify to the light, so that through him all men might believe—8but only to testify to the light, for he himself was not the light. 9The real light which gives light to every man was coming into the world! It should be recalled that the second strophe (just explained supra) dealt with the creation by the Word and the Word’s initial gift of life and light, and the attempt of darkness to overcome the light. In the third strophe, the Word is described as coming into the world to defeat darkness. But the redactor interrupts this flow of thought of the Logos hymn in order to present the testimony of JBap to the Light. It is interesting to note that this prose comment interjected by the redactor begins with words typical of Hebrew narrative style for the opening of a prose. 1 Sam 1:1 begins: “There was a certain man from Ramthaim, Elkanah by name…” Cf Jdg 13:2; 19:1; Job 1:1. This led some scholars (e.g., Boismard) to make the quite plausible claim that vv 6-7 were the original opening of the Gospel which was displaced when the Prologue was added (similarly, R. Fortuna, The Gospel of Signs: A Reconstruction of the Narrative Source Underlying the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970] 163, 195. Since light is ordinarily seen and consequently since there is no need to testify to it, it is probable that originally vv 6-7 spoke only of the testimony of JBap, and this was followed b y v 19 in which JBap testifies to those who are hostile and who have not yet seen Jesus.
In presenting JBap, the redactor makes the qualification that JBap was sent (from the verb apostellein) by God, just like Moses (Exod 3:10-15), the prophets (e.g., Isa 6:8; Jer 7:25) and Jesus himself (John 3:17 et passim). “The work of John the Baptist derives significance only from the fact that he is sent” (Barrett, John, 159). What was the purpose of his commission? While the immediate purpose of his mission was to testify (martyrese) to the light, its ulterior object was that all men might believe (pisteusosin) through him. Holding an important place in the Johannine thought, the word witness (martyrein, martyria) is used 46x in the Gospel and 18x in the Letters. It is to be noted that in the Gospel, JBap (1:7-126.96.36.199; 3:26; 5:33), the Samaritan woman (4:39), the works of Jesus (5:36; 10:25), the Old Testament (5:39), the multitude (12:17), the Holy Spirit and the apostles (15:26-27), God the Father himself (5: 37); 8:18) all bear witness to Jesus (Barrett, John, 159). It appears, therefore, that in John’s handling of the gospel tradition, it is the chief function of the characters who figure in the story to give witness to the truth revealed in Jesus. In fact, even the words and deeds of Jesus serve this purpose (5:36-47) (Lindars, John, 88). It is not surprising, therefore, that the redactor cast JBap in a similar role: he is a special witness to Christ. As already noted, the purpose of his witnessing was that all should believe. The verb pisteuein—which occurs 98x in the Gospel and 9x in 1 John, as against 136x in the rest of the New Testament—expresses the essential relation to Jesus whereby men may have life which he brings (cf John 20:31). Far from referring merely to an assent to propositions about Jesus, it is an active concept, denoting the orientation of the mind and heart toward him; hence, the frequent construction with eis, e.g., 1:12. Like that of others who bear witness, the testimony of JBap is given to promote this active believing in Jesus (Lindars, John, 88).
V 8, which presents the mission of JBap in a negative form, serves to explain his relationship to the light. Lindars (John, 88-89) calls attention to the fact that at 5:35, JBap is described thus: “He was the lamp, set aflame and burning bright, and for a while you exulted willingly in his light.” Lindars suggests that this does not contradict the statement that JBap was a witness to the Light, for John has made it plain that the Light which shines through the prophets is a Light which is only received and passed on by them; it is in fact the Word of God. However, since in the first edition of the Gospel, 5:35 already existed, the redactor repeated 1:7b in v 8 to guard against misinterpretation, possibly because of the apparent contradiction of 5:35. That might well be. But many scholars think that v 8 contains an anti-JBap polemic (e.g., Fortna, The Gospel of Signs, 165). It should be noted that there were sectarians of JBap who must have survived well into the Christian era and become opponents of Christianity. And though one cannot be certain that in the first century his followers revered JBap as the Messiah, yet, if one can depend on the evidence of the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions I.54.8-9; 60.1-3, they seemed to have done so later on. Here, the sectarians stress that their master, not Jesus, was the Messiah. It is not impossible that the early adherents of this sect claimed the title “Light” for JBap, and so, v 8, which subordinates JBap to Jesus, can be viewed as a refutation of the exaggerated claims made by the sectarians (Brown, John, 1.lxvii-lxx, 28, 464-47; see also H. Conzelmann, “phos, ktl.,” TDNT 9  352; W. Grundmann, “chrio, ktl.,” TDNT 9  566, n. 471). But as Vawter (“John,” JBC, 2.422) puts it, “the polemical attitude is motivated not by the Baptist himself, but by the fact that his position had been misinterpreted by some who had not understood that he was the forerunner and not the inaugurator of God’s kingdom (cf Acts 19:1-7).”
Against the claim that JBap was the Light, the Johannine redactor affirms that the Logos is the real Light in v 9. This statement, which picks up 1:4b and anticipates the next verse, is ambiguous in Greek. The words coming into the world modify every man or true Light. The KJV follows the first alternative: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” In favor of this reading is the fact that “everyone coming into the world” is a rabbinic expression for man. That is why Bultmann (John, 52) brackets the word man as a gloss on the phrase. It seems, however, that the second alternative reading fits the context better. Since in the next verse, the Light is in the world, it is therefore natural to suppose that it should previously be described as coming. In other passages, Jesus “comes into the world” (6:14; 9:39; 11:27; 16:28); and at 12:46, Jesus says, “I have come to the world as its light” (Barrett, John, 160). Moreover, John never uses “coming into the world” to describe men. Finally, this reading is demanded by the interpretation of the contrast between v 8 and v 9—Jbap was not the Light; the real light was coming into the world (Brown, John, 1.10).
It is noteworthy that John describes the Logos as the real Light. In John’s usage, alethinos is to be distinguished from alethes, which is used only of opinions, statements and those who hold or make them, and means simply veracious. On the other hand, alethinos, though capable of bearing this meaning (4:37; [7:28;] [8:16;] 19:35), is more characteristically applied to light (1:9), worshippers of God (4:23), bread from heaven (6:32), the vine (15:1) and God himself (17:3; cf 7:29). And the meaning is brought out clearly in the present passage—though JBap might be supposed a light (indeed, in a sense, he was the light, 5:35), but he was not the to alethenon phos, the Word, that is to say, real, authentic, genuine (Barrett, John, 160; see also Brown, John, 1.500-501). Jesus is thus the light in the supreme and ultimate sense of the word; hence, the title is to be denied to any other being or object (E.Stauffer, “ego,” TDNT 1  350; cf Conzelmann, “phos, ktl.,” TDNT 9  352). R. Bultmann (“aletheia, ktl.,” TDNT 1  250) further suggests that genuine here means divine in contrast to human and earthly reality, and implies containing aletheia and therefore “dispensing revelation”.
It is most likely that in describing the Logos as the real light which gives light to every man was coming into the world (here, kosmos means the world as the setting of the drama of salvation; see H. Sasse, “kosmeo, ktl.,”TDNT 3  894), the redactor has in mind the messianic text from the prophet Isaiah. In his description of the Prince of Peace, the prophet announces: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone” (Isa 9:1). In Deutero-Isaiah, Yahweh says of his servant: “I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations... to bring out… from the dungeon those who live in darkness” (Isa 42:6). And in Trito-Isaiah, the prophet speaks to Jerusalem: “Rise in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; But upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light” (Isa 80:1-3a). Thus, the witness of JBap, who is the Isaian voice in the wilderness, is associated in the Prologue with the prophetic proclamation of the coming of the light. Of course, in this association, John is not alone; Matt 5:16, for instance, applies Isa 9:1 to the ministry of Jesus (Brown, John, 1.28).
Third Strophe (The Word in the World):10He was in the world and the world was made by him; yet the world did not recognize him. 11To his own he came, yet his own people did not accept him. 12But all those who did accept him he empowered to become God’s children. (Editor’s addition: That is, those who believe in his name—13those who were begotten, not by blood, nor by carnal desire, nor by man’s desire, but by God.) Many Johannine scholars think that this strophe picks up the theme in vv 4-5 on the light of revelation, this time traced in history. Lindars (John, 78), for instance, explains: “First, it (or, rather, he, for the light is the Word conceived personally) came to the world in general, but went unrecognized. Then, he made entry into his own people, i.e., the chosen people of Israel (again following a Wisdom model; cf Sir 24:7f), but was largely rejected. But, as the light was never quenched, so some of the people did receive him. The principle on which they were able to receive him is carefully explained. It was not through human generation, as the selection of a special people might imply, but through the divine initiative meeting with the response of faith.” (See also C.H.Dodd, Fourth Gospel, 281-282). Though this interpretation has the advantage of seeing the climax in v 14, it is not without difficulties. First, it implies that the redactor of the Prologue misunderstood the hymn in inserting the work of JBap before v 10. Secondly, it runs against the fact that most of the phrases found in vv 10-12 occur in the Gospel as a description of Jesus’ ministry (3:10; 12:46; 8:5; 14:7; 16:3; 4:44; 12:37; 3:11; 5:43). But even more decisive, it seems incredible that, in a hymn composed in Johannine circles, the ability to become a child of God would have been explained in a manner different from being born from above (3:5); the whole conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus would be unintelligible if the revelation of the Old Testament empowered men to become children of God. It is more plausible, therefore, to regard the third strophe as dealing with the Word incarnate in the ministry of Jesus (Brown, John, 1.28-30).
How does the Prologue describe the ministry of Jesus? John says that the Word was in the world. By world John does not mean the cosmos or the totality of creation, but only that part of creation which is capable of response, namely, the world of men and human affairs, a world subject to sin and darkness. That this is so is seen from the fact that in v 10, the world made through the Word is capable of knowing its Maker (Barrett, John, 161; Vawter, “John,” 423). This identification of the world with the world of men (see Bultmann, John, 54; Conzelmann, “phos, ktl., TDNT 9  351 and n.343) is clearly seen in 3:19: “the light came into the world, but man loved darkness rather than light.” Yet, this world of men did not recognize him. The word recognize is used to translate the Greek ginoskein which, in John, “denotes emphatically the relationship to God and to Jesus as a personal fellowship in which each is decisively determined by the other in his own existence”; and also means “acceptance of the divine act of love in Jesus, and obedience to its demand” (R.Bultmann, “ginosko, ktl.,” TDNT 1  711-712). In this kind of knowledge, personal involvement is always presupposed and so it cannot simply mean to perceive, or to be aware of (Vawter, “John,” 423). In other words, it implies a response to the source of revelation. But the meaning of the statement that the world did not recognize him need not be restricted to the rejection of Jesus by men; it can also refer to the failure of the world to acknowledge the truth that God—through his creative Word—had made known in creation (Rom 1:18-23) (Vawter, “John,” 423). The rejection of the Word by men in v 10 finds a parallel in the rejection of Wisdom in some Jewish literature: in Prov 8:31, Wisdom is delighted to be with men; but, according to Sir 15:7, worthless and haughty men reject Wisdom; and Enoch says plaintively: “Wisdom came to make her dwelling place among the children of men and found no dwelling place” (see Brown, John, 1.30, 522-523; Beasley-Murray, John, 12).
In v 11, the statement in v 10 becomes more specific: the activity of the Word is narrowed down to his own (ta idia) in the world, namely, the heritage of Israel, the Promised Land, Jerusalem (pace Bultmann [John, 56] who suggests that ta idia means “the world of men, which belongs to the Logos as its Creator”). That ta idia refers to the people of Israel may be seen from Exod 19:5 in which Israel is viewed as the people peculiarly “his own”—“you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people.” Moreover, this reference is expressed concretely in the second limb of the verse, hoi idioi, which is the same word, though in the masculine instead of neuter.
That Jesus came to his own people obviously represents the sentiments of Matt 15:24 that Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (For John, once the people outside the house of Israel, namely, the Gentiles, come to Jesus, that is a sign that “the Hour” has come [12:20-23]; see Brown, John 1.10.30). But in coming to his own people, Jesus suffered rejection (see, e.g., the account of the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth in Mark 6:1-6). In v 12, John makes a contrast with the statement in v 11, for he speaks of all who did accept him, that is to say, of those who received Christ in obedience and faith. The relative clause all who did accept him (hosoi de elabon auton, lit. as many as received him), thrown to the beginning of the sentence as a nominativus pendens and resumed by the dative autois, is a grammatical structure common in John (27x). The contrast between rejection in v 11 and acceptance in v 12 is also found in 3:31b-33: “The One who comes from heaven testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever does accept this testimony certifies that God is truthful.” Brown (John 1.19) suggests that vv 11-12 seem to be a summary of the two main divisions of the Gospel. Whereas v 11 covers the Book of Signs (chh i-xii) which tells how Jesus came to his own land through a ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem, yet his own people did not accept him, v 12 covers the Book of Glory (chh xiii-xx) which contains Jesus’ words to those who did receive him and tells how he returned to the Father in order to give them the gift of life and make them God’s children.
The phrase he empowered to become God’s children (edoken autois exousian teknan theou genesthai) can be misleading, because of the use of the word exousia. As M.E.Boismard (St John’s Prologue [Westminster: Newman, 1987] 42-43) observers, exouisa in John’s terminology refers to the exercise of real authority over anything, especially what touches on life and death (cf 10;18; see also W.Foerster, “exestin,” TDNT 2  568). Obviously, v 12 cannot be interpreted in this sense; otherwise, this would mean that those who accept Christ receive power to become children of God, i.e., receive full control of his divine life which comes to them from on high. John could never have imagined that man could receive any power in respect to his life. Bultmann (John, 57, n.3) is most likely right in suggesting that edoken exousian—this has no Semitic equivalent in the sense of authority—is an attempt to express the Semitic nathan (to give permission to do something). In this sense, to become children of God remains a divine action, not human; it is wholly God’s work. Being a child is a gift of God that man can only receive. In Paul, the phrase children of God is used of Christians to express their relation to God through incorporation into Christ (Rom 8:16,21; 8:8), and it seems that this is basically the idea in the Gospel of John, in which it is used only twice (1:12; 11:52) (Lindars, John, 91). It is interesting to note that unlike other New Testament writings (e.g., Matt 5:9; Gal 3:16), John preserves a vocabulary difference between children (tekna) of God and son (huios) of God; the latter is always used of Jesus, the former is used of Christians (John 1:12; 11:52; 1 John 3:1.2.10; 5.2), to emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus in his divine Sonship (F. Buchsel, “monogenes,” TNDT 4  739-740; A. Oepke, “pais, ktl.,” TDNT 5  653-654). But it is in Johannine literature that our present state as God’s children on this earth is most clearly expressed: “Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2) (Brown, John, 1.11). P. Perkins (“The Gospel According to John,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990] 951) opines that the passage could have originally referred to Wisdom finding a dwelling in the souls of the righteous (e.g., Sir 1:9-10), but has been recast to reflect the soteriology of the Gospel (John 2:23; 3:18).
As already noted, those who believe in his name (v 12c) is an editorial addition to explain the meaning of receiving the Logos in v 12a, and so, practically speaking, both phrases have the same significance. That v 12c is an addition can be argued from the fact that it breaks the rhythm of the line (Bultmann, John, 59, n.2). That they express the same meaning is probably the reason why some of the Latin, Greek and Syriac Fathers and the Diatessaron seem to omit 12c, while a few Latin Fathers, Philoxenus of Mabbug and an Ethiopic witness omit 12a (Brown, John, 1.11). While both phrases carry the same import, the phrase believing in his name “brings out more clearly that ‘believing in him’ is the recognition of that which is signified by his person, i.e., that he is the ‘son’, etc.” (Bultmann, John, 59, n.2). To understand this significance, it should be recalled that in the Old Testament usage, the name is the revealed character of the person who bears it; cf. Amos 5:8.27, etc. (On the significance of names, see H. Bietenhard, “onoma, ktl.,” TDNT 5  242-283].) Thus, for instance, Yahweh acts “for the sake of his name,” i.e., according to his character. To praise the name of the Lord (Ps 113:1) is to praise him for what he is in himself.