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 Callan’s Commentary on John 1:19-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 1, 2012

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?

The Evangelist is here recording one of the most important testimonies of John the Baptist. There was a general feeling among many of the Jews that the Baptist was the Christ, and hence a very superior deputation was sent from Jerusalem to John, most probably by the Sanhedrim, the supreme council among the Jews, whose office it was to enquire into the authority and credentials of every preacher; they wanted to know authoritatively whether John was the Messiah.

20. And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ.

In a most emphatic manner John declares that he is not the Christ.

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.

Art thou Elias (Elijah)? According to the prophecy of Mai. (4:5, 3:23 in some translations), Elias should return to earth before the coming of Christ; but the prophecy refers only to the second coming of Christ, which alone Elias is to precede in person. As the Jews did not distinguish the first coming of Christ in humility and meekness from His second coming in power and glory, they thought that John the Baptist who came in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17) was himself Elias. See on Matthew 17:10-12.

Art thou the prophet? The Jews misunderstood Deut 18:15 which, when it speaks of the prophet (προφητην) refers without doubt to our Lord; they understood the passage to refer to some other prophet.

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?

If the Baptist were not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet, the priests and levites could not understand who he was.

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.

The voice of one crying. See on Matt 3:3. Far from being the Messiah, John professes himself to be nothing more than a voice, whose crying and preaching were only to prepare the way and dispose the hearts of the people for the coming Messiah.

24. And they that were sent, were of the Pharisees.

Pharisees. See on Matthew 3:7.

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? The Pharisees who were versed in the Law knew from Ezek 36:25 and Zech 13:1 that, at the time of the Messiah, there would be a baptism for the remission of sins, and from these passages they wrongly concluded that only the Messiah, or some one with Him, could confer this baptism. Hence they could not understand why John was baptizing.

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. The baptism which was foretold by the prophets was to be for the remission of sins; but the baptism which John was conferring was only a disposition, a preparation for that spoken of by the prophets.

There hath stood, etc., —literally, “there standeth” (εστηκεν or στηκει). The meaning of the passage is not that our Lord was then and there present, but that He was already living among the Jews.

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.

In this verse the following words: ” the same is,” and “who is preferred before me ” are not found in many MSS. In the latter part of the verse the Baptist declares he is not worthy to perform the most menial service for Christ.

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

Bethania, or “Bethabara,” as some readings have it, means ” the house of a boat.” It was east of the Jordan in Peraea, and was a point from which people commonly crossed the river from Peraea to Judea. This was why John chose the spot for his preaching and baptism. We must carefully distinguish this Bethania from the town in Judea where Lazarus lived.

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

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

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