John 1:1-18

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The inclusion of John the Baptist in the prologue of John was probably an editorial decision by the composer of John in its present form. The probability is that an earlier version of the logos hymn had nothing about John the Baptist. The editors of the lectionary have selected the John the Baptist episodes from the prologue as if they were an independent tradition. In a sense they have undone the editorial work of the composer of the present prologue as we have it. This creates unnecessary confusion and the need to explain why these elements were taken out of their context in the prologue. I would recommend that you tell the whole of the prologue along with the story of the dialogue of the Pharisees with John the Baptist. It makes a longish story but it is more interesting. You might introduce it in something like these words: “Friends in Christ, I am going to tell you the whole of the prologue to the gospel of John as an introduction to the story of John the Baptist. But pay attention to the sections about John the Baptist.”

The conclusion of many commentators is that the motive for the introduction of John the Baptist in the prologue was to make it clear that he was subordinate to Jesus. This was in response to claims from the Baptist sect at the end of the 1st century about the superiority and/or Messianic status of John the Baptist. My own conclusion is somewhat different than that. While the motif of John’s supporting role in relation to the Messiah is reiterated several times (1.8, 15, 20, 27; 3.28-30) the impact of the notices about John is to give him prominence and to include the John the Baptist movement and its traditions in the story of Jesus. The purpose of this was to include the followers of John the Baptist in the late1st century in the audience of those who are addressed by the gospel. The Johannine storyteller, who we can call John, included in the audience of his story all of the major groups of ecumenical Judaism in the late first century. What is happening then in the formation of the prologue and the inclusion of these elements about John the Baptist is to honor John as an integral part of the story of the Messiah and thereby to include John’s followers in the Gospel’s audience.

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