The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Notes On John 1:19-28 (Nolan and Brown)

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 27, 2010

Notes in red are mine.  For previous notes click on the “Notes On John” link below the blog’s title, or go here.

1:19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and levites to him, to ask him : Who art thou ?
Et hoc est testimonium loannis, quando miserunt ludaei ab Jerosolymis sacerdotes et Levitas ad eum, ut interrogarenteum : Tu quis es ?

The Evangelist now records, with its various circumstances, one of the most solemn testimonies borne by the Baptist to Christ. The “Jews” are probably the Sanhedrim, whose duty it was to inquire into the credentials of preachers. The deputation was, therefore, a most solemn one, sent by the Sanhedrim, from the Jewish capital, composed of Priests and Levites, to make inquiries regarding a momentous question.
1:20   And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ.
Et confessus est, et non negavit: et confessus est: Quia non sum ego Christus.

The Baptist first confesses what he is not, and what many at the time believed him to be, namely, the Christ (Luke iii. 15).  Note the solemn and insistent nature of the disavowal: “he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed…”  The Baptist did not come preaching himself, or in his own name (see Jn 5:32-35, 43).  The word “confess” (homologeo) occurs only two other times in this gospel, at 9:22 and 12:42.  These two latter verses deal with a fear of confessing Jesus becuase of the possibility of persecution.  The Baptist’s refusal here to identify himself as the Christ should be seen as an example of not seeking glory. Also, a refusal to confess who Jesus is should be seen as a seeking after glory in some sense: “Even so, many of the authorities believed in Him, but out of fear of the pharisees they did not confess it, so as not to be put out of the synagogue.  They loved the praise of man more than the praise of God” (12:42-43).
1:21. And they asked him: What then ? Art thou Elias (Elijah)? And he said:I am not.  Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No.
Et interrogaverunt eum: Quid ergo?  Elias es tu? Et dixit: Non sum.  Propheta es tu? Et respondit: Non.

Art thou Elias? This question arose from a misunderstanding of Mal 4:5 (3:23 in some translations). Art thou the prophet? as foretold by Moses (Deut 18:15). These interrogators evidently regarded “the prophet” as different from theMessias, though in reality they were the same. See Acts 3:22-24.

1:22  They said therefore unto him: Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself?
Dixerunt ergo ei: Quis es, ut responsum demus his qui miserunt nos? quid dicis de teipso?

Throughout this Gospel the same demand will be made of our Blessed Lord: What do you have to say for yourself?  Who do you claim to be?  Note the insistence of the priests and levites that the Jerusalem officials who sent them must have an answer from John concerning himself.  At several points later in the Gospel, the Jerusalem authorities will deliberately try to avoid having an answer to the questions about Jesus (see 8:12-59; 9:35-10:39).

1:23  He said: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias.
Ait: Ego vox clamantis in deserto: Dirigite viam Domini, sicut dixit Isaias propheta.

The Baptist with striking humility replies that he is merely a voice, a passing
sign yet that voice spoken of by Isaias, which was to call upon men to prepare their hearts to receive Christ. The Hebrew of Isaias may be rendered: “The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord (Jehovah), make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Or, as is more
probable from the Hebrew parallelism: “The voice of one that crieth: Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  The Baptist, in applying to himself this prophetic
passage, which is also applied to him by the three Synoptic Evangelists (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4), gives merely the substance of the original.  It is disputed whether Isaias refers in the literal sense to preparing the roads by which the people should return from the Babylonian Captivity, and only in the mystical sense to the preparation for the Messias, or directly and literally to the preparation for the Messias.  The latter seems the more probable view. At any rate the words as applied here mean that the Baptist is the voice to which Isaias referred (in some sense literal or mystical), and that the burden of his cry in the desert of Judea is, that men who heard him in the desert should prepare their hearts for Christ.

The language is metaphorical, and alludes to the custom prevalent in those days of sending forward couriers to get the roads ready for advancing princes.

1:24  And they that were sent were of the Pharisees.
Et qui missi fuerant, erant ex Pharisaeis.

The Pharisees were a sect among the Jews, so called according to some from their founder, Pharos, or more probably,  perhaps, from the Hebrew verb “pharash,” to separate, as though they were separated from and above ordinary men, owing to their strict observance of the Law. Yet thev held many erroneous tenets: thus (1) They relied for God s favour upon their carnal descent from Abraham. (2) They taught that no oath was binding in
which the name of God or the gold of the temple was not expressly invoked. (3) That internal sins were not forbidden; and (4) some of their schools admitted the right of arbitrary divorce. See Matt 5:33-36; 19:3; 23.

The New American Bible translates 1:24 as “Now some pharisees had also been sent.”  See footnote #18 to verse 24 here for the reason.

1:25 And they asked him, and said to him: Why then dost thou baptize, if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet?
Et interrogaverunt eum, et dixerunt ei: Quid ergo baptizas, si tu non es Christus, neque Elias, neque propheta?

Being Pharisees, and therefore versed in the Law, they knew from Ezeck 36:25, and Zach 13:1, that in the time of the Messias there was to be a baptism unto the remission of sins.  They concluded, then, that only the Messias, or some of those that were to accompany Him, could confer this baptism; and, not understanding the import of the Baptist s answer, verse 23, in which he really declared himself the herald of Christ’s coming, they ask why he presumes to baptize.

1:26  John answered them, saying: I baptize with water; but there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not.
Respondit eis loannes, dicens: Ego baptize in aqua: medius autem vestrum stetit, quern vos nescitis.

The Baptist answers that his is not the baptism foretold by the Prophets, which was to cleanse the sinner, but as he had declared at the beginning
of his preaching, a baptism unto penance (Matt 3:21).  John s baptism consisted in an ablution of the body, accompanied by the profession of a
penitential spirit, preparatory to the coming of Him who was to baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire (Matt 3:11).  It could in no sense be said to remit sin; while the baptism of Christ really remits sin (Acts 3:38). Hence the
Council of Trent defined: “Si quis dixerit baptismum Joannis habuisse eamdem vim cum baptismo Christi anathema sit.” (Sess. 7, Can. 1. De Bapt).

There hath stood; rather there standeth, the perfect of this verb having a
present signification.  Many authorities indeed read the later present (στηκει).   The meaning is not that our Lord was then actually present in the
crowd, else St. John would probably have pointed him out, as he did on the following day (v. 29), but that He was already present among the Jewish people, was already living among them.

1:27  The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose.
Ipse est qui post me venturus est, qui ante me factus est: cuius ego non sum dignus ut solvam eius corrigiam calceamenti.

Many authorities omit the words: “The same is,” and also: “who is preferred
before me,” and then connect with the preceding thus: “But there hath stood One in the midst of you whom you know not, even He that shall come (rather, that cometh) after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.”  It is not easy to explain why the words are wanting in so many MSS., if they were written by St John; certainly it is easier to believe that they were inserted by some scribe to bring the verse into closer resemblance to 15 and 30.

In the latter part of the verse, the Baptist declares himself unworthy to perform the lowest menial service for Christ.  To loose the sandals of their masters was the business of slaves; yet for even such service to Christ the
great Prophet confesses him self unfit.

1:28  These things were done in Bethania beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Haec in Bethania facta sunt trans Iordanem, ubi erat Ioannes baptizans.

Bethania, here mentioned, was situated in Peraea, east of the Jordan, and must be carefully distinguished from the town of the same name, in which Lazarus lived, about two miles east of Jerusalem, but west of the Jordan. Many ancient authorities read Bethabara, instead of Bethania.  Origen, though admitting that nearly all the MSS of his time read Bethania, changed it, on topographical grounds, for Bethabara, in his edition of our Gospel.  Bethania, according to some, means the house of a ship while Bethabara means the house of a ferry-boat; so that, perhaps, they may have been different names for the same place on the Jordan.~Nolan And Brown

3 Responses to “Notes On John 1:19-28 (Nolan and Brown)”

  1. […] Nolan and Brown on John 1:19-28. […]

  2. […] Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 1:19-28). […]

  3. […] Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 1:19-28). […]

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