1:6-8, 19-28

The prologue and Testimonies, 1:1-1:51

iii] John the Baptist and the Pharisees


As part of the prologue, our author introduces us to the preparatory work of John the Baptist. The Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness in preparation for the coming of the light of the world, a light that brings life. Yet, although the Baptist has such a prestigious role, he is not even worthy to untie the sandals of the one who follows; he is but "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness."


In the prologue of John's gospel, 1:1-18, we are introduced to the eternal Word of God who is with God and is God. This Word, whose person is now incarnate, made flesh, is light to humanity, a light that brings life. Yet, before his light was to shine in this world of darkness there was a man whose task was to bear witness to the saving light of the world. This man was John. He himself was not the light, he came only to bear witness to the light. The Baptist's task was to testify for the one who testifies for God. The purpose of his witness / testimony, was so that all people might believe in the incarnate Word, Jesus the messiah.


Overview: Unlike the synoptic gospels, our author focuses on the testimony given by the Baptist to the religious authorities of the day. The testimony comes in two parts, represented by two deputations from the religious authorities, v19-28. The first reveals the Baptist's relationship with Jesus in terms of Isaiah 40:3. The Baptist is the voice of one calling in the desert "make straight the way of the Lord", v19-23. The second, related to questions concerning his baptismal activity, reveals the presence of one greater than the Baptist, v24-27. Although hidden from public view, it is the greater one the religious authorities need to concern themselves with.

Text - 1:6

John the Baptist, the forerunner for the Word made flesh, v6-8. The lack of a connecting particle for what is an abrupt change in subject matter is somewhat strange, although the thematic linkage of "light" is strong, so Schnackenburg.

apestalmenoV (apostellw) perf. pas. part. "who was sent" - having been sent. The participle may be treated as adjectival, as NIV, although with the verb egeneto it is best treated as forming a periphrastic construction; "there was / appeared / came a man from / sent from / appointed by God. "The perfect tense here, as opposed to the imperfect and present in the first five verses, indicates a move into actual time, historical time. The word often carries the sense to entrust / commission, so commissioned to undertake an important task from God. The Baptist is one crying in the wilderness (the synoptic gospels align him with Elijah, but not in this gospel), foretold by the prophets to prepare for the coming of the Messiah (although for the writer of this gospel, the Baptist is something more than the messiah). "God sent a man named John", CEV.

para + gen. "from [God]" - from, by. An interesting choice of preposition here when we might expect apo "from (origin)", or uJpo "under [the authority of]." McHugh suggests that para is chosen to express both ideas.

IwannhV "John" - The clause "his name was John" stands without a verb and as such is typically Semitic. Our writer simply calls him "John" rather than the Baptist, or John the Baptist. and this because he doesn't have to distinguish him from the other John, the disciple of Jesus, brother to James, and friend to Peter. Our author doesn't mention, by name, John the disciple. The reason is obvious, the apostle John is the source, although obviously not the editor, of this gospel.


ou|toV pro. "he" - this. We would expect autoV, "he", but our author uses a more emphatic "this one."

eiV + acc. "as [a witness]" - to/for [witness, testimony]. The preposition here expresses purpose; "in order to witness / for the purpose of witnessing." The word "witness, testimony" carries legal overtones, of bearing witness before a court, but often it just carries the sense "speak / tell", so "the purpose of his coming was to declare the truth", Barclay.

iJna + subj. "to [testify]" - that [he may testify]. Here forming a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing the content of the Baptist's testimony. He is the first to testify that Jesus is the light of the world, not for Jesus' sake, but for our sake.

peri + gen. "concerning" - about, concerning, with reference to. Expressing reference; "to testify concerning ....." The same thought can be expressed by a dative of reference/respect, but John removes any ambiguity with the use of a preposition.

tou fwtoV (wV wtoV) "the light" - The light or image of God present in Christ. Light and life are extremely important images in this gospel. They may come from a secular Greek source, but are more likely Old Testament images. The Law is both life and light; it enlivens and enlightens because it is divine revelation. God's Word is now incarnate in Christ, who is both life and light. The world is in death and darkness, but Christ comes to bring life and light. In Christ's person and teaching the light, or revelation of God, shines and gives life to those who are enlightened. To emphasize the divine light/revelation it may be capitalized in the same way we capitalize "Word"; "the Light", Weymouth.

iJna + subj. "that [.....might believe]" - so that [..... should believe]. Introducing a purpose clause, "in order that", defining the purpose of John's testimony, namely that all might believe, although "believe" what? John doesn't tell us, although probably a belief / trust in the content of the testimony, the gospel - that all people might believe the divine message and by believing possess eternal life.

panteV adj. "all men" - all. Obviously extending beyond the Baptist's generation, but probably limited to those who hear the testimony, so "all people who hear the message."

di (dia) + gen. "through [him]" - through, by means of [him]. Expressing agency.


ekeinoV pro. "he himself" - that, that one. Again, as in v7, a more emphatic identifier is used; "that man", Cassirer.

ouk "[was] not" - The negation is used to restate and emphasize John's role of testifying to the coming light, while not being the light himself.

all (alla) "-" - but. Strong adversative; "but on the contrary."

iJna + subj. "he came only as [a witness to the light]" - he came that [he might testify about the light]. The verb must be supplied. Here forming a purpose clause, "in order that." John was not the light, but one who bore witness to the light; "John wasn't the light, he came only to tell about the light", CEV.


The relationship between the Baptist and Jesus, v19-28. In v19-34 John crafts the Baptist's testimony, first of the Baptist's testimony concerning himself, v19-28, and then concerning Jesus, v29-34. The Baptist's testimony concerning himself takes place in his dealings with two deputations of religious authorities, first, a deputation of priests and Levites, most likely members of the Sadducee party, v19-23. As is typical of this gospel, John happily ignores much of the synoptic tradition in order to draw out his own particular insights in the gospel. There is no reference to the Baptist administering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, nor of his inauguration of Jesus' ministry by water baptism. The Baptist's baptism remains an undefined ministry which cannot compared with that of the greater one who comes after him. The Baptist may baptize in water, but the one who comes after him will baptize en "by/with" the Holy Spirit, v33. It seems incongruous for such a one to submit to the Baptist's ministry.

kai "now" - and. Coordinative; "and this is the testimony borne by John", Cassirer.

oJte "when" - Serving to introduce a temporal adverbial clause expressing the time at which / point of time; "when".

ex + gen. "[Jews] of [Jerusalem]" - [Jews] from, out of [Jerusalem]. Possibly as in the NIV, "of Jerusalem", ie. the preposition serves here to introduce a partitive genitive. More likely "out of, from", expressing origin / source. Our author uses the word "Jew" is different ways, positively and negatively. Here it is likely that the term is being used for the official leaders of Judaism. They are the ones in conflict with the Baptist and Jesus and are sticklers for the law. Their headquarters was in Jerusalem.

LeuitaV (hV) "Levites" - They were assistants to the priestly class and therefore held administrative and security positions in the temple. Both the priests and the Levites are of a far lower social cast than the priestly aristocracy, with the Levites standing at the bottom of religious-cast ladder. The Baptist obviously doesn't deserve an overly important delegation of religious authorities.

iJna + aor. subj. "to [ask]" - that [they might ask, question, investigate]. Forming a purpose clause, "in order that." The investigation was not necessarily for the purpose of entrapping John.

su tiV ei\ "who he was" - who are you. As a direct question, "who are you?" NJB, although we need to note that the question is not asking for John's name, but his role and function, so "what are you on about?"


Note the awkward nature of this sentence, literally "he confessed and did not deny and/but confessed that ...." The repetition of "confessed" serves to emphasize the Baptist's assertion that he is not the Christ.

wJmologhsen (oJmologew) aor. "confessed" - confess, agree. The word is commonly used of confessing Christ.

hrnhsato (arneomai) aor. "[He did not] fail to [confess]" - [he confessed and did not] deny [and/but he confessed]. A word commonly used of denying Christ. "He declared without any qualification", Brown; "he told them plainly", CEV.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement, direct speech, expressing what the Baptist confessed.

egw pro. "I" - Emphatic by use of the pronoun.

oJ cristoV "the Christ" - the messiah. It is interesting how the messianic nature of this title has been lost over time and now serves as one of Jesus' names. Probably we are best to use the word "messiah", particularly where the context is clearly expressing function rather than title; "I am not the messiah", Barclay, NAB, REB..


oun "then [who are you?]" - "[what] then, therefore. Inferential. The neuter ti indicates function more than title or person; "what are you then [if you do not serve as the messiah]?" Barclay.

HjliaV "Elijah" - Unlike the synoptics that identify the Baptist with Elijah, this gospel gives him a unique designation not clearly identified in Old Testament prophecy, cf. Mal.3:1-4, referring to the one who purifies the temple in preparation for the coming of the Lord. The tradition was that Elijah would precede the messiah, Mal.4:5. It is interesting that the writer of this gospel ignores the strong synoptic tradition, cf. Matt.11:14. Of course, he may just be true to his sources in that the Baptist may not have known that he was the Elijah, but it is more likely that our author is making a point. In Malachi the role of the second Elijah is quite significant, eg. he will avert the wrath of God from Israel. So again, John is possibly down-playing the significance of the Baptist in comparison to the greater one who comes after him.

oJ profhthV (hV ou) "the prophet" - Again, tradition at this time held that a prophet like Moses would precede the messiah, Deut.18:15ff. In Christian tradition the prophet is identified with Christ. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. Here the Baptist testifies that not only is he not the messiah and not Elijah, he is not the prophet like Moses; his function is none of these.


oun "finally" - therefore. Inferential; "so they asked."

tiV ei "who are you?" - Again, this question is addressing role and function, not name. The final "what have you to say about yourself", NJB, makes this clear.

iJna + subj. "-" - that. Forming a purpose clause; "in order that we may give an answer ...."

toiV pemyasin (pempw) aor. part. "to those who sent us" - to the ones having sent us. Dative of indirect object with the participle functioning as a substantive.


This quotation from Isaiah is applied to the Baptist in all three synoptic gospels. The author of the Fourth Gospel, by citing Isa.40:3, intends to call attention to the content of all the chapters from 40 to 55, inviting a link with the Word as described in the prologue, and announcing that the new Israel is about to be brought into being, cf. McHugh, p120.

efh (fhmi) imperf. "John replied" - he said. The imperfect used for speech.

kaqwV "in [the words of Isaiah the prophet]" - as, just as [said Isaiah the prophet]. Comparative; "in accordance with the words of the prophet Isaiah." These words are probably a note from the author indicating the source of the Baptist's words rather than part of the Baptist's answer to the question. Translations divide over this issue although it is unimportant. The point is that the Baptist claims the authority of scripture for his mission.

bowntoV (boaw) pres. part. "of one calling" - crying out, shouting. The participle is possibly adjectival, modifying "voice", "a voice which calls out", or better substantival. Although John does not align with any identifiable person in Old Testament prophecy, his ministry does. He is the crying voice in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3, LXX. Note "I am" is not in the quote, but are John's words.

euqunate (euqunw) imp. "make straight" - straighten. The image comes from the Persians who were great road builders. The crying voice in the wilderness cuts a straight road through the wilderness for the messiah to travel on as he journeys toward Jerusalem, ie. "the shouting one" prepares the way. He does this by preaching the gospel, 1:15-18, 29. Note that our author does not mention the Baptist's ethical teaching detailed in Luke chapter 3. The Baptist's ethical teaching is often stressed by commentators, but it is nothing more than practical advice on how to live while waiting for the coming messiah.


The Baptist continues his testimony concerning his role/function, this time while conversing with representatives from the Pharisee party, v24-27.

kai "now" - Coordinative, "and".

ek + gen. "some" - out of, from. The preposition + gen. here probably functions as a partitive genitive, "some of the Pharisees", ie. representatives of the party.

Farisaiwn (oV) "Pharisees" - a separatist, Pharisee. They were the pietists of their day, strict in their legalistic purity.

apestalmenoi (apostellw) perf. pas. part. "who had been sent" - having been sent. A variant exists with an article oiJ, "the ones having been sent", ie. the priests and Levites / the ones having been sent, were from the Pharisees (party). Yet, the Pharisees would not have the authority to set up a deputation of priests and Levites. The texts without the article are better attested and so with the imperfect verb to-be h\san we have an periphrastic pluperfect construction; "some Pharisees were also sent", NAB. What we have here is a second deputation, this time of Pharisees.


autw/ "-" - [and they asked him and said] to him. Dative of indirect object.

oun "[why] "then" - therefore. Inferential. The fact that John has said he is not the messiah, Elijah nor the Prophet, draws a logical conclusion in the form of a question, "why do you baptize?"

baptizeiV (baptizw) "do you baptize" - immerse (either figuratively or literally). Here, literally immerse in water, as was the custom of Israel, for a person converting to the Jewish faith. The point of the question is not clear. It is possible that the Pharisees' question concerns the Baptist's authority to perform a religious ritual; "why do you perform what appears to be an official act if you have no official status", Barrett, ie. the Baptist is not Christ, Elijah nor the Prophet and so he shouldn't be instituting a rite normally reserved for a Gentile converting to Judaism. Possibly they accept that baptism can properly be used for messianic preparation, but if the Baptist is not a messianic figure, then what purpose does it serve? "Was he about to start an independent religious movement?", McHugh.

oJ cristoV "the Christ" - the anointed one. The word in Greek means "anointed", but it is used to replace the Hebrew word for Messiah - "the anointed one." The mighty one appointed by God is sometimes a king, or a priest, but in prophecy, he is "the Coming One" from the Lord, "the Mighty Deliverer", "the Messiah."

ei + ind. "if" - Forming a conditional clause, first class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, ...... then [why do you baptize?]"


egw baptizw "I baptize" - I am baptizing. Durative present tense with the emphatic use of the pronoun.

en "with" - in. Possibly "in", "in water only", Weymouth, cf. Goodspeed, Williams, REB. Given that the word "baptize" actually means "immerse", the sense may be "it is my custom to immerse people in water." None-the-less, most commentators think an instrumental sense, rather than a local sense, is intended here, as NIV; "I immerse with water."

legwn (legw) pres. part. "[John] replied" - [John answered] saying [to them]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "answered" - Semitic constructions used for emphasis. Although the Baptist answers, he doesn't actually answer the question. The omission of any conjunctions (eg. a coordinating kai to introduce the opening clause and an adversative de or alla between the two elements of the Baptist's answer, note the NIV "but" = an asyndeton) sharpens this verse. The answer consists of two statements sitting side-by-side in the Gk., probably to be read as contrasting, with the first possibly concessive; "although I am baptizing with/in water - standing among you is someone you don't recognize." It's as if the Baptist is confirming that he has a water baptism ministry, but is not interested in explaining what it is about, for what is important is the presence on the scene of one greater than he. What these Pharisees need to do is find out what the greater one is on about, not what the Baptist is on about.

esthken (iJsthmi) perf. "stands" - has stood, set up, got in position. The perfect tense expresses action in the past which has ongoing consequences in the present, although a variant sthkei present tense exists - the messiah is present in Israel, but no one knows this yet.


oJ ... ercomenoV (ercomai) pres. part. "He is the one who comes" - the one coming. Numerous variants exist for the opening of this verse, and this because early in transcription it was read as a separate sentence and repaired accordingly. The participle functions as a substantive in apposition to "among you stands one you do not know", so "standing among you is someone you do not recognize, that follower of mine", McHugh.

opisw + gen. "after [me]" - after [me].

autou gen. pro. "-" - [of whom I am not worthy that I may untie] of him [the strap of the sandal]. This pronoun functions as a complement of the pronoun ou|, "of whom", at the beginning of the clause and as such is redundant and not translated (the possessive "whose [sandals]" in the NIV is supplied). The construction reflects Semitic idiom, direct speech, cf. Morris.

axioV adj. "worthy" - In Israel a slave was not to undertake oppressive or degrading work, eg. taking off the shoes of their master. So, the Baptist is saying that in comparison to the greater one he is less than a slave.

iJna + subj. "to [untie]" - that [I may untie]. This construction here functions as an epexegetic infinitive, ie., explaining / limiting a noun or adjective; "I am not fit to untie the strap of his sandal", Barclay.


The episode / paragraph is ended with a reference to the physical setting of the event, a reference which also serve to introduce the next episode / paragraph.

tauta ... egeneto (ginomai) aor. "this all happened" - these things [in Bethany] happened. Obviously referring to the conversations, so "these conversations occurred in Bethany."

en + dat. "in" - Local.

Bhqania/ (a) dat. "Bethany" - The gospel writer adds "on the other side of the Jordan" to distinguish it from the Bethany close to Jerusalem. This village can no longer be identified. Origin said it was Bathabara and some texts follow his opinion, but he was probably wrong.

peran + gen. "on the other side of" - beyond, across. "On the far side of the Jordan."

h\n .... baptizwn (baptizw) pres. part. "was baptizing" - The present participle with the imperfect verb to-be forms a periphrastic imperfect, as NIV, probably serving to emphasize the durative or iterative aspect of the action - John was doing a lot of baptizing.


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