Monday, January 12, 2015

Jn 1:24-42

This whole section is problematic for those who wish to assign John's gospel a second-class, non-primary-source status because of its advanced theological discourse.  Here, in this section, it puts down some new information about John the Baptist's ministry, giving us a complementary view of John the Baptist to that of the Synoptics (Mt, Mk, Lk).

In the next section, 1:35ff., there is an earlier incident about the meeting of Jesus, Andrew, and Peter than anything the Synoptics have.  It makes sense of what the Synoptics have put down in their gospels, tying up the loose ends of why these two brothers dropped their nets and followed Jesus there.  It was because of what heppened prior, which ... John records!

Now as to content.  the whole dialog between John the Baptist and those who had been sent from the Pharisees is extremely poignant and full of implications.  "The Prophet" (1:21) refers to the individual in Dt 18:15.  "Elijah" refers to Malachi 4:5.

We already know something about John the Baptist, from the gospel writer John's depiction in 1:6-8.  In this section, John titles this depiction "the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem ...." (1:19).  The irony here should not be missed.

1.  The "testimony of John" is going to be to Jesus.  What do the priests and Levites ask him about?  About himself.  They want John the Baptist to testify about himself.  In view of later discussions about such a thing, Jn 5:30-47 and 8:12-20, we are getting a preview of what is to come in much more detail later, about the kinds of disputes the "priests and Levites" had with Jesus as well.  Here we see what kind of argument was being angled for.

2.  John the Baptist's answer to their initial question deflated it.  To our ears, we say "whoaaa?" to their question "are you Elijah?"  but because of Malachi 4:5, the Pharisees are asking the question in shorthand form.  In longer form, the kind we would need, it is something like this: given that Malachi predicted someone coming very much like Elijah in the future, and that John the Baptist was very much like Elijah, is John the Baptist claiming he is the immediate precursor to "the great and terrible day of the Lord" (Mal 4:5)? In the last third of the 20th Century, evangelicalism was often accused of being the realm of "date setters!"  Similarly here.  Is John the Baptist doing some date setting?

The truth is very close to this, isn't it?  If we gather up all the descriptions of John the Baptist, he is very like Elijah.  If we only take one of his sentences, "repent, for the kingdom of God has come near" (Mt 3:2), it sounds like a kind of date setting.  And what about Mt 11:14, which will come later, which is Jesus' assessment of the question?  So why does John the Baptist answer "no?"  We already know from the prologue that the Light "was in the world" (1:10).

Number 1 reason for his answer "no," in 1:21 is they asked the question too soon!  The Light "was in the world" (1:10), but John hadn't identified Him yet!  The person whom God Himself "sent" (1:6), had not gotten to the point yet of fully understanding about himself.  This is the irony of John's answer to the Pharisees.  They assumed that someone doing religious things is doing so out of a foundation based upon their own self.  But John's whole purpose, which we already know from reading it in 1:8, was to testify to someone else.  When you're not about yourself, then critiques that assume you are, will miss the mark.

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