(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1: 15-18)
John bore witness about him and cried out. (John 1:15)
A number of months ago I picked up the Gospel of John and read through chapter 1 in several different translations. Something I was looking at was the seeming-randomness of John the Author’s mention of John the Baptizer. You recall that there are two Johns going on here, right? We have John (called The Beloved), a disciple of Jesus and the author of this book; and John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, a prophet and the forerunner to Christ. It was this second John who blazed the trail for Jesus’ ministry: he called the people to repentance in preparation for meeting their Savior–“he bore witness and cried out.”
The Two Johns rather give us a tug-of-war in this first chapter. We will be reading along in John One’s voice, and then–JERK!–we are yanked from the flow of the narrative to hear John Two.
CONFUSION OF THE TWO JOHNS
I’m not going to re-write the whole chapter here, but click over to the Bible Hub if you’re unfamiliar with what I mean and you can read for yourself. Pay attention to verses 6-8, 15, and 19-20. John (the Disciple, the author of the book) waxes eloquent about Jesus (though he hasn’t yet mentioned his name, at this point he’s still The Word) and then turns our head toward John the Baptist, only to turn us back when waxing eloquent about The Word again.
Because nothing in the Bible is random, and because our John the Author is such a deliberate and powerful wordsmith, I found myself struck by the way this passage is translated–and punctuated–in the Aramaic Bible. But before I show you, a few things to note:
- The confusion of the Two Johns (granted, I might be the only one to whom this has posed a confusion) would not have existed for the Gospel’s original readers, because:
- The book would not have been originally titled “Gospel of John”
- In fact, John the Author never used his own name in his book in reference to himself; he instead called himself “the disciple Jesus loves”
- The title “Gospel of John,” like all the titles of the Gospels, was not added to the book until around 200 A.D.
- If you research this you’ll find several opinions that John the Disciple didn’t actually write the book (the link goes to an article which explains, but disagrees, with this perspective)
- But the book itself tells us otherwise
- The Gospel of John was originally written in Greek
- First Century Greek, or Biblical Greek, like Biblical Hebrew, did not use sentence punctuation
- So, any punctuation we see in the text was added later by transcribers (the link directly above has a nice article on this)
- The application of punctuation is particularly subjective when adding quotation marks to something someone has said
- Which can make for interesting study in certain portions of Scripture (particularly where a person is quoted in the past tense rather than speaking in the present tense)
- Try moving quotation marks around a bit in your own reading and see if it aids your understanding of the text! I’m not saying to make your own punctuation into gospel truth, but just suggesting that sometimes playing with it a little can shed light and breathe life into passages that have become old hat
SO WHAT DID JOHN THE BAPTIST ACTUALLY SAY?
Now, with these things in mind, when I first read chapter 1 of John in an English translation of the Aramaic (which would have also been originally translated from the Greek), I found a different placement of punctuation than our usual translations give–more words were attributed to John the Baptist than are usually implied to be his. And friends, the narrative of John the Baptist suddenly seemed woven far more seamlessly into the text–in fact the verses, rather than seeming to be small asides, shaped now into the backbone of the story. I found chapter 1 to flow far more organically by the simple movement of quotation marks.
I encourage you to read John 1 in the following two translations to get a larger sense of the story, even if these small bumps in the road that I’ve mentioned do not cause you pause. Let me know what you think–are verses 17 and 18 (“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”) a continuation of the spoken testimony of John the Baptist or not?
Happy Wednesday, friends! Grace upon grace.