Witnesses to the Christ, 1:19-51

i] John the Baptist and the Pharisees


Our author now introduces us to the preparatory work of John the Baptist. In v19-28 we see the Baptist questioned by the Jewish authorities. They want to know whether he is the "Christ" (the Messiah - the deliverer promised to the Jewish nation). If not the Christ, is he "Elijah" (the prophet who will precede the Messiah, Mal.4:5), and if not Elijah, is he the "prophet" (the promised prophet like Moses, Deut.18:15)? The Baptist claims he is none of these, rather, he is a voice crying in the wilderness preparing the way for the coming one; he is like the road-builder who prepares a smooth road for the visit of a king. Given that he is neither the Christ, Elijah nor the prophet, the Jewish leaders question his authority to baptize, particularly since baptism was normally only demanded of proselytes. In reply, the Baptist depreciates what he is doing (water baptism is only a sign of Israel's repentance), in that it serves as a preliminary sign pointing to the one who comes to baptize with the Holy Spirit.


The Baptist testifies that Jesus is the light who gives life to the world.


i] Context: See 1:1-14. We now come to a series of testimonies to Christ. The first is given by John the Baptist to a delegation of Pharisees and Sadducees, 1:9-28. The Baptist then gives a general testimony on seeing Jesus; "Behold, the Lamb of God" - Jesus is "the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit", the one who "is the Son of God", 1:29-34. The Baptist gives further testimony by referring his disciples to Jesus, who then proclaim that "we have found the Messiah", 1:35-42. The Baptist's disciples, now disciples of Jesus, give further testimony to Jesus - "we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote." Nathanael, the doubter, also joins in - "you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel", 1:43-51.

Although located in the Cana to Cana ministry cycle, Jesus' first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee may also serve as a testimony to Christ. Note the steward's comment to the bridegroom; he had "kept the good wine" until the end of the proceedings. "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, ...... and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him."


We may well have here a seven day cycle of testimonies:

Day 1, The Baptist testifies, 1:19-28;

Day 2, The Baptist testifies, 1:29-34;

Day 3, The Baptist testifies, 1:35-39;

Day 4, Peter + testifies, 1:40-42;

Day 5, Philip and Nathaniel testify, 1:43-50;

Day 6, Jesus and his disciple journey to Galilee, cf., 2:1;

Day 7, The testimony of water into wine, 2:1-11.


ii] Structure: The testimony of John the Baptist:

The first delegation, v19-23:

Setting, v19;

The Baptist's declaration, v20:

"I am not the Messiah"

The authorities question, v21-22:

"who are you?"

The Baptist's answer, v23:

"I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ....."

The second delegation, v24-28:

Setting, v24;

The Pharisees question, v25:

"why do you baptize .....?"

The Baptist's answer, v26-27:

Conclusion, v28.


iii] Interpretation:

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

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 relates to questions concerning his baptismal activity; these questions reveal 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.


iv] Synoptics:

As is typical of this gospel, our author happily ignores much of the synoptic tradition in order to draw out his own particular insights in the apostolic 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 baptizing remains an undefined ministry which cannot be 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.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 1:19

The relationship between the Baptist and Jesus, v19-28: i] The first delegation, v19-23: v19. The authorities in Jerusalem send a delegation to find out what the Baptist is up to. The delegation is made up of members from some of the different religious parties. Our author calls them "the Jews", a term he often uses to describe the religious elite of Jerusalem. The Baptist tells them, in emphatic terms, that he is not the Christ. The authorities have not asked this question, but it's obviously on their mind. In line with prophetic expectation, the delegation asks the Baptist whether he is the new Elijah, or the new prophet who will precede the coming Messiah. The Baptist emphatically denies either designation. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus actually says that the Baptist was the Elijah, but our author views the Baptist as someone greater than Elijah. The delegation finds itself faced with a preacher who is gathering crowds to himself out in the wilderness, but is without authority. So, they ask him to explain himself. The Baptist goes on to quote Isaiah 40:3 to define his role, while making no claims for himself. He is just "a voice" in the wilderness. His role is to make a straight pathway for the coming Messiah - his task is to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord by preaching the gospel, 1:15-18, 29.

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

tou Iwannou (hV ou) gen. "John's [testimony]" - [this is the testimony, witness] of john. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, as NIV, or subjective, "the testimony given by John."

oJte "when" - when [the jews sent to him]. Serving to introduce a temporal clause expressing the time at which / point of time; "when". The reference to "the Jews" is commonly used by our author to refer to the official leaders of Judaism - the religious authorities = unbelieving Jews headquartered in Jerusalem. They are the ones in conflict with the Baptist and Jesus and are sticklers for the law.

ex + gen. "[Jews] of [Jerusalem]" - from, out of [jerusalem]. Possibly as in the NIV, "of Jerusalem", ie., the preposition serves as a partitive genitive. More likely "out of, from", expressing origin / source.

LeuitaV (hV) "Levites" - [priests and] levites. Accusative direct object. 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 him]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that." The investigation was not necessarily for the purpose of entrapping the Baptist.

tiV "who [he was]" - who [are you]. Interrogative pronoun. As a direct question, "who are you?" NJB. The question is not asking for the Baptist'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" - [and] he confessed. The word is commonly used of confessing Christ.

hrnhsato (arneomai) aor. "[He did not] fail to [confess]" - [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 of direct speech expressing what the Baptist confessed.

egw pro. "I" - i [am not]. Emphatic by position and use, although as a matter of style, the verb to-be eimi will often come with the subject ego.

oJ cristoV "the Christ" - the messiah. Predicate nominative. 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..


Unlike the synoptic gospels 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 himself 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, our author is possibly down-playing the significance of the Baptist in comparison to the greater one who comes after him.

oun "then [who are you?]" - [and they asked him, what] then, therefore. Inferential, although with ti its use is idiomatic; "what then?". 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" - [are you] elijah? [and he says, i am not]. Predicate nominative.

oJ profhthV (hV ou) "the prophet" - [are you] the prophet? [and he answered, no]. Predicate nominative, emphatic by position. 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, establishing a logical connection; "So they asked."

tiV ei "who are you?" - [they said to him] 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 [an answer we may give]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose; "please tell us in order that / so that we may give an answer ...."

toiV pemyasin (pempw) dat. aor. part. "to those who sent us" - to the ones having sent us. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of direct object.

peri + gen. "about [yourself]" - [what do you say] about, concerning [yourself]? Here expressing reference / respect; "with respect to yourself."


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, draws attention to the content of all the chapters from 40 through to 55, inviting a link with the Word as described in the prologue, and the announcement that the new Israel is about to be realized, 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]. The comparative introduces a comparative clause; "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) gen. pres. part. "of one calling" - [i am a voice] crying out, shouting [in the wilderness]. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, possessive. Although the Baptist 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 egw, "I", is not in the quote, but serves as Baptist's self identification.

euqunate (euqunw) imp. "make straight" - straighten [the way of the lord]. The image comes from the Persians who were great road builders. The crying voice in the wilderness cuts a straight road through the desert 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.


ii] The second delegation, v24-27. This delegation, made up of Pharisees, question the Baptist about his rite of water baptism. In Israel at this time, water baptism, as a rite of spiritual cleansing, was performed on Gentile families who had converted to Judaism. At the time, there was an expectation that with the coming of the messiah, Israel itself would undergo a water rite, Ezk.36:25, Zech.13:1. So, the Pharisees want to know why the Baptist is performing this right if he is not the expected Christ, Elijah or the prophet. The Baptist goes on to emphatically state that all he does is baptize (immerse) people in water. He points away from himself to the one who is coming, one who even now stands among the people, although at present unrecognized. The Son is the one to focus on, he is the great one, whereas the Baptist feels he is not worthy to undertake the most menial task for the one who is "among" his people. We expect to hear him say that the coming one will baptize with the Spirit, but the Baptist says nothing on this subject; his focus is on the person of the coming one and not his work.

kai "now" - Coordinative, "and", or adjunctive, "also".

ek + gen. "some" - [ones having been sent were] out of, from. The preposition + gen. here probably functions as a partitive genitive, "some of the Pharisees", ie. representatives of the party.

twn Farisaiwn (oV) "Pharisees" - the separatists, pharisees. 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 (the party of). Yet, would the Pharisees 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. Typical Semitic asking and saying form.

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

baptizeiV (baptizw) "do you baptize" - do you 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 messianic rite. 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.

ei + ind. "if" - if [you are not]. Introducing a conditional clause, first class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, you are not the Christ, ...... then [why do you baptize]? (Greek beginners may note two ei in close proximity. The first caries a smooth breathing, eij, and the second a smooth circumflix, ei\. The first is the conjunction "if" and the second the 2nd person singular of the verb to-be. These notes only use smooth breathings and accents where necessary).

oJ cristoV "the Christ" - the anointed one, the christ [nor elijah, nor the prophet]? Predicate nominative. 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."


The Baptist doesn't actually answer the question asked of him. The omission of any conjunctions (eg., a coordinating kai to introduce the opening clause and a transitional de or adversative 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.

egw baptizw "I baptize" - [john answered saying to them] i am immersing. Durative present tense with the emphatic use of the pronoun egw.

en "with" - in [water]. 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 / by water."

legwn (legw) pres. part. "[John] replied" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "answered"; redundant (pleonastic) - Semitic construction.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - to them. Dative of indirect object.

esthken (iJsthmi) perf. "stands" - [among you] has stood = stands [one whom you do not perceive]. The perfect tense expresses action in the past which has ongoing consequences in the present - commonly used for "standing" given the action involved. 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. Taken with v26, the participle serves as a substantive in apposition to "among you stands one you do not know"; "Standing among you is someone you do not recognize, that follower of mine", McHugh.

opisw + gen. "after [me]" - after [me]. Temporal use of the improper preposition. Here it functions to modify / limit the participle.

tou uJpodhmatoV (a atoV) gen. "[the straps of whose] sandals" - [the straps] of the sandals. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "straps"; "sandal-straps", Rieu.

ou| gen. pro. "of whose" - of whom [i am not worthy that i may untie]. The function of this pronoun is unclear. Most translations assume that it is adjectival, possessive, limiting "sandal-strap". This would make the genitive pronoun autou, "of him = his", redundant. Very strange syntax - see autou below! "In your midst stands one you do not know - he that comes after me, whose sandal-strap I am not worthy to undo", Rieu.

autou gen. pro. "-" - of him [the strap of the sandal]. This genitive pronoun may simply be possessive modifying "sandal", "his sandal", yet it would normally follow the noun it modifies, although it may have been brought forward in the Gk. for emphasis. On the other hand, it may serve as a complement of the pronoun ou|, "of whom", and as such is redundant and not translated. If this is the case then the possessive "of him" = "whose [sandals]" in the NIV, is supplied. According to Morris this construction reflects Semitic idiom, direct speech.

axioV adj. "worthy" - Predicate adjective. 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]. Here probably serving as an epexegetic infinitive ("rare", Burton), ie., limiting by explaining / specifying a noun or adjective; "I am not fit to untie the strap of his sandal", Barclay.


iii] Conclusion, v28. The episode ends with a reference to the setting of the event, serving also to introduce the next episode.

tauta ... egeneto (ginomai) aor. "this all happened" - these things [in bethany] came about, happened. Obviously referring to the conversations, so "these conversations occurred in Bethany." Note how, as is typical in Gk., a plural neuter takes a singular verb.

en + dat. "in" - Local, expressing space.

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 [the jordan]. Local, expressing space. "On the far side of the Jordan."

h\n .... baptizwn (baptizw) pres. part. "was baptizing" - [where john] was the one 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 - "where John was doing a lot of baptizing."


John Introduction


TekniaGreek font download


[Pumpkin Cottage]