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

Father McIntyre’s Commentary on John 1:19-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 31, 2011

Joh 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?
Joh 1:20  And he confessed and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ.

And this is the testimony. These words look back to ver. 15 (“John beareth witness”). “And now this is what John testified”.

The Jews. St. John uses this term more than sixty times, and generally in the spirit of one who now looks upon them as an alien race, and who is writing for those to whom the Jews are strangers both in faith and in blood. As the deputation consisted of priests and levites, it came probably from the Sanhedrin or Great Council. The Sanhedrin, which was the supreme tribunal of the Jews, consisted of 71 members (some passages of the Mishna mention 72). These members belonged to three orders. The leading order was that of the  the Chief Priests (αρχιερεις) past and present, with whom were joined the chief of the twenty- four priestly families. The next order was that of the scribe (γραμματεων): professional lawyers and theologians. The third order was that of the Elders (πρεσβυτερων), leading men, either priests or laymen, whose qualifications marked them out for public duties (see Matt 27:41; Mark 11:27, 14:53; Luke 23:13, 24:20). To this supreme court it belonged to pass judgment on false prophets and false teachers. But the deputation may not have been a formal one from the whole tribunal. John belonged to a priestly family; and those who came were priests and levites those who perhaps felt a special interest in the Baptist, and had therefore arranged with the rulers for a deputation to interrogate him. The levites, who accompanied the priests, were official teachers of the people (2 Chron 35:3; Neh 8:7-9). Whether, then, the deputation was formal or no, its coming was a solemn and important event. It was a means for making John s testimony to Jesus more widely known. Even before the baptism of our Lord the people had begun to think that John was perhaps the Christ the Anointed and Promised One (Luke 3:15). Hence, when asked “Who art thou?” his first thought turned to the common suspicion, and he at once replied, “I am not the Christ” (v. 20). From the order or the words the emphasis falls on the pronoun “I,” as though John said, You are now seeking the Christ; but I am not He: thus implying that he knew of another who was the Christ. John, however, had made too deep an impression on the conscience of the nation for men to be satisfied with a bare denial of what he was not. The priests, therefore, continue, not without anger with the following questions-

Joh 1:21  And they asked him: What then? Art thou Elias? And he said: I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No.

What then? Art thou Elias? The scribes taught that Elias (Elijah) would usher in the Messianic kingdom (see Matt 17:10; Mark 9:10). But this opinion arose from a false interpretation of Malachias 4:5 (i.e., Malachi), in which passage the prophet speaks of the Second Advent (due to difference in numbering in some translations the reference is sometimes given as Malachi 3:23). The question runs thus: “You say you are not the Christ: what, then, is the meaning of your conduct? Are you Elias?”  They were thinking of the literal Elias; and St. John could answer, I am not; though in a figurative sense he was Elias (Matt 11:14, 17:12; Luke 1:17).

Art thou the prophet?  The article marks some well-known but unnamed prophet. This can only be the unnamed prophet who was promised by Moses (Deut 18:15), and who was really identical with the Messiah (John 1:45, 6:14; Acts 3:22). After these denials, which haye been growing in abruptness, the priests demand a positive answer.

Joh 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?
Joh 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.

Who art thou? St. John, quoting the words of Isaias (40:3), in which reference is made to the coming of the Redeemer (words, too, which are applied to John by the first three evangelists), says that he is only a herald who runs before the King to announce His coming. “I am a voice,” &c.

Joh 1:24  And they that were sent were of the Pharisees.

And they that were sent were of the Pharisees. St. John had clearly testified that he was the forerunner of the Christ. His questioners, however, could not, or would not, understand; but being “of the Pharisees” they proceeded to put to him a further question characteristically Pharisaic. The words “and they that were sent, were of the Pharisees”, point forward, and explain why the question which follows was put. The Greek should more properly read And some Pharisees had also been sent. See this footnote to 1:24 in the NAB.

Joh 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?

Why then dost thou baptize, if thou be not Christ; nor Elias, nor the prophet? The Jewish custom of baptizing proselytes seems not to have arisen till after the destruction of Jerusalem. John s innovation, therefore, accompanied as it was by the preaching of repentance and by the confession of sins (Matt 3:2, 5, 6), appeared to the Pharisees an unwarranted step of gravest moment. It was, indeed, of gravest moment; but not unwarranted. According to the prophets, repentance was the preparation for the Messianic kingdom (Ezek 16:61-63; Micah 7:9), and in the days of the Messiah there was to be a true baptism (Ezek 36:25; Zech 13:1), of which John’s baptism was the preparation. Hence it was by command of God Himself that John baptized (ver 33). His baptism, therefore, had a Messianic import; and to this John refers in his reply.

Joh 1:26  John answered them, saying: I baptize with water: but there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not.

I baptize with water (εν υδατι), i.e., my baptism is only a baptism of water, a symbolic action pointing to a greater reality (see ver. 33 and Matt 3:11 ).

But there hath stood ( εστηκεν = “standeth,” R.V.) one in the midst of you, whom you know not. There is a double emphasis; the one on I, and the other on water. Christ is the antithesis.

Joh 1:27  The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.

[The same is] he that shall come after me (ερχομενος: as in ver. 15) [who is preferred before me]. The words in brackets are omitted in the oldest MSS. They have probably slipped in from ver. 15.

The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. This, then, is the sense: My baptism is only a preparation for the true baptism of Him who is already in your midst of Him who cometh after me; whose slave I am not worthy to be.

Joh 1:28  These things were done in Bethania, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

These things were done in Bethania (Bethany) beyond the Jordan. Testimony so important as that given by John to the deputation demanded a definite statement of the place where it had been given. The evangelist therefore tells us that it was given in “Bethania beyond the Jordan,” i.e., to the east of the river, in Perrea. There was another Bethania near Jerusalem (Jn 11:18). Many ancient authorities read Bethabarah or Betharabah. Currency was given to this mistake by Origen, who thought that the Bethabarah of his day marked the site of Bethania. The site, however, has not yet been identified; and the derivation of the name is altogether doubtful.

One Response to “Father McIntyre’s Commentary on John 1:19-28”

  1. […] Father MacIntryre’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 1:19-28). […]

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