Study Notes—Chapter 1
John: The English equivalent of the Hebrew name Jehohanan or Johanan, meaning “Jehovah Has Shown Favor; Jehovah Has Been Gracious.” The writer of this Gospel is not identified by name. However, by the second and third centuries C.E., the book was widely attributed to the apostle John. Whenever the name John is mentioned in this Gospel, it refers to John the Baptist, with the exception of Joh 1:42 and 21:15-17, where Jesus referred to the father of Peter as John. (See study notes on Joh 1:42 and 21:15.) Although the apostle John is never mentioned by name, he and his brother James are referred to as “the sons of Zebedee.” (Joh 21:2; Mt 4:21; Mr 1:19; Lu 5:10; see study note on Joh 1:6.) In the closing verses of the Gospel, the writer refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Joh 21:20-24), and there are good reasons for linking this expression with the apostle John.—See study note on Joh 13:23.
According to John: None of the Gospel writers identify themselves as such in their accounts, and titles are apparently not part of the original text. In some manuscripts of John’s Gospel, the title appears as Eu·ag·geʹli·on Ka·taʹ I·o·anʹnen (“Good News [or, “Gospel”] According to John”), whereas in others a shorter title, Ka·taʹ I·o·anʹnen (“According to John”), is used. It is not clear exactly when such titles were added or began to be used. Some suggest the second century C.E., since examples of the longer title have been found in Gospel manuscripts that have been dated to the end of the second century or early third century. According to some scholars, the opening words of Mark’s Gospel (“The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”) may have been the reason why the term “gospel” (lit., “good news”) came to be used to describe these accounts. The use of such titles along with the name of the writer may have come about for practical reasons, providing a clear means of identifying the books.
the beginning: In the Scriptures, the meaning of the term “beginning” depends on the context. Here the Greek word ar·kheʹ cannot refer to “the beginning” of God the Creator, for he is eternal, having no beginning. (Ps 90:2) It must, therefore, refer to the time when God began creating. God’s first creation was termed the Word, a heavenly designation of the one who became Jesus. (Joh 1:14-17) So Jesus is the only one who can rightly be called “the firstborn of all creation.” (Col 1:15) He was “the beginning of the creation by God” (Re 3:14), so he existed before other spirit creatures and the physical universe were created. In fact, by means of Jesus, “all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth.”—Col 1:16; for other examples of how the term “beginning” is used, see study note on Joh 6:64.
the Word: Or “the Logos.” Greek, ho loʹgos. Here used as a title, it is also used at Joh 1:14 and Re 19:13. John identified the one to whom this title belongs, namely, Jesus. This title was applied to Jesus during his prehuman existence as a spirit creature, during his ministry on earth as a perfect man, and after his exaltation to heaven. Jesus was God’s Word of communication, or Spokesman, for conveying information and instructions to the Creator’s other spirit sons and to humans. So it is reasonable to think that prior to Jesus’ coming to earth, Jehovah on many occasions communicated with mankind through the Word, His angelic mouthpiece.—Ge 16:7-11; 22:11; 31:11; Ex 3:2-5; Jg 2:1-4; 6:11, 12; 13:3.
with: Lit., “toward.” In this context, the Greek preposition pros implies close proximity and fellowship. It also indicates separate persons, in this case, the Word and the only true God.
the Word was a god: Or “the Word was divine [or, “a godlike one”].” This statement by John describes a quality or characteristic of “the Word” (Greek, ho loʹgos; see study note on the Word in this verse), that is, Jesus Christ. The Word’s preeminent position as the firstborn Son of God through whom God created all other things is a basis for describing him as “a god; a godlike one; divine; a divine being.” Many translators favor the rendering “the Word was God,” equating him with God Almighty. However, there are good reasons for saying that John did not mean that “the Word” was the same as Almighty God. First, the preceding clause and the following clause both clearly state that “the Word” was “with God.” Also, the Greek word the·osʹ occurs three times in verses 1 and 2. In the first and third occurrences, the·osʹ is preceded by the definite article in Greek; in the second occurrence, there is no article. Many scholars agree that the absence of the definite article before the second the·osʹ is significant. When the article is used in this context, the·osʹ refers to God Almighty. On the other hand, the absence of the article in this grammatical construction makes the·osʹ qualitative in meaning and describes a characteristic of “the Word.” Therefore, a number of Bible translations in English, French, and German render the text in a way similar to the New World Translation, conveying the idea that “the Word” was “a god; divine; a divine being; of divine kind; godlike.” Supporting this view, ancient translations of John’s Gospel into the Sahidic and the Bohairic dialects of the Coptic language, probably produced in the third and fourth centuries C.E., handle the first occurrence of the·osʹ at Joh 1:1 differently from the second occurrence. These renderings highlight a quality of “the Word,” that his nature was like that of God, but they do not equate him with his Father, the almighty God. In harmony with this verse, Col 2:9 describes Christ as having “all the fullness of the divine quality.” And according to 2Pe 1:4, even Christ’s joint heirs would “become sharers in divine nature.” Additionally, in the Septuagint translation, the Greek word the·osʹ is the usual equivalent of the Hebrew words rendered “God,” ʼel and ʼelo·himʹ, which are thought to convey the basic meaning “Mighty One; Strong One.” These Hebrew words are used with reference to the almighty God, other gods, and humans. (See study note on Joh 10:34.) Calling the Word “a god,” or “a mighty one,” would be in line with the prophecy at Isa 9:6, foretelling that the Messiah would be called “Mighty God” (not “Almighty God”) and that he would be the “Eternal Father” of all those privileged to live as his subjects. The zeal of his own Father, “Jehovah of armies,” would accomplish this.—Isa 9:7.
What has come into existence: The earliest Greek manuscripts do not have any punctuation in verses 3 and 4. The punctuation used in the New World Translation is according to the scholarly editions of the Greek text published by Westcott and Hort, the United Bible Societies, and Nestle and Aland. The last part of verse 3 is linked with verse 4. This rendering indicates that life and light came into existence by means of the Word. (Col 1:15, 16) Some translations follow another understanding of the Greek text and connect the last part of verse 3 with the preceding words, conveying the idea “and apart from him not even one thing came into existence that has come into existence.” However, many scholars support the reading of the New World Translation.
him: That is, the Word, or the Logos.—See study note on Joh 1:1.
life . . . light: These two themes are woven into the fabric of John’s inspired account. God is the Source of life, and by means of Jesus, the Word, all other forms of life “came into existence.” (Joh 1:3) In this sense, life came through Jesus Christ. Also by means of Jesus, God made it possible for sinful, dying mankind to gain everlasting life. In that sense, Jesus can be identified as the life that became the light of men. Joh 1:9 calls the Word “the true light that gives light to every sort of man.” Humans who follow Jesus, “the light of the world,” will “possess the light of life.” (Joh 8:12) The Word is God’s “Chief Agent of life,” enlightening mankind on their way to gain life.—Ac 3:15.
sent as a representative of God: Or “commissioned by God.” The mission of John the Baptist came from God (Lu 3:2) and involved the work of a preacher, or public messenger. John not only announced the approach of the Messiah and of God’s Kingdom to the Jews who came out to him but also encouraged them to repent of their sins. (Mt 3:1-3, 11, 12; Mr 1:1-4; Lu 3:7-9) John the Baptist served as a prophet, a teacher (with disciples), and an evangelizer.—Lu 1:76, 77; 3:18; 11:1; Joh 1:35.
John: That is, John the Baptist. The writer of this Gospel, the apostle John, refers to John the Baptist 19 times but, unlike the other Gospel writers, never uses the designation “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer.” (See study notes on Mt 3:1; Mr 1:4.) The apostle John does distinguish between the three Marys. (Joh 11:1, 2; 19:25; 20:1) However, he did not need to make such a distinction when referring to John the Baptist, since the apostle never refers to himself by name and no one would misunderstand which John was meant. This is another confirmation that the apostle John wrote this Gospel.—See “Introduction to John” and study note on Joh Title.
as a witness: Or “for a witness.” The Greek noun for “witness” (mar·ty·riʹa) appears more than twice as often in John’s Gospel as in the other three Gospels combined. The related verb, rendered to bear witness (mar·ty·reʹo), appears 39 times in John’s Gospel—compared to 2 times in the other Gospel accounts. (Mt 23:31; Lu 4:22) This Greek verb is used so often in connection with John the Baptist that some have suggested that he be called “John the Witness.” (Joh 1:8, 15, 32, 34; 3:26; 5:33; see study note on Joh 1:19.) In John’s Gospel, this verb is also frequently used in connection with Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is often said to “bear witness.” (Joh 8:14, 17, 18) Particularly noteworthy are Jesus’ words to Pontius Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (Joh 18:37) In the Revelation given to John, Jesus is referred to as “the Faithful Witness” and “the faithful and true witness.”—Re 1:5; 3:14.
him: That is, John the Baptist.—Compare Ac 19:4.
world: The Greek word koʹsmos here refers to the world of mankind. In this context, the expression come into the world seems to refer primarily to Jesus’ going out among mankind at the time of his baptism rather than to his birth as a human. After his baptism, he carried out his assigned ministry, acting as a light bearer to the world of mankind.—Compare Joh 3:17, 19; 6:14; 9:39; 10:36; 11:27; 12:46; 1Jo 4:9.
the world came into existence through him: Here the Greek word koʹsmos (“world”) refers to the world of mankind, which is evident later in the verse where it says that the world did not know him. The Greek term was sometimes used in secular writings to refer to the universe and creation in general, and the apostle Paul may have used it in that sense when he was addressing a Greek audience. (Ac 17:24) However, in the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term generally refers to the world of mankind or a part of it. It is true that Jesus did share in the production of all things, including the heavens and the earth and all things in it. But the focus of this verse is his role in bringing humankind into existence.—Ge 1:26; Joh 1:3; Col 1:15-17.
flesh: Or “a human being.” The Greek word sarx is here used in the sense of a physical being, a living being with flesh. When Jesus was born as a human, he was no longer a spirit. He did not merely assume a fleshly body, as angels had done in the past. (Ge 18:1-3; 19:1; Jos 5:13-15) Therefore, Jesus could rightly call himself “the Son of man.”—Joh 1:51; 3:14; see study note on Mt 8:20.
the Word became flesh: Jesus was entirely human from his birth until his death. Jesus explained the purpose of his becoming flesh when he said: “The bread that I will give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (Joh 6:51) In addition, only because Jesus was wholly human could he experience what humans of flesh and blood experience and thus become a sympathetic High Priest. (Heb 4:15) Jesus could not have been human and divine at the same time; the Scriptures say that he “was made a little lower than angels.” (Heb 2:9; Ps 8:4, 5; see study note on flesh in this verse.) However, not all agreed that Jesus had come in the flesh. For example, the Gnostics, who believed that knowledge (Greek, gnoʹsis) could be gained in a mystical way, combined Greek philosophy and Oriental mysticism with apostate Christian teachings. They held that all physical matter is evil. For that reason, they taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh but only seemed to have a human body. An early form of gnosticism was apparently prevalent at the end of the first century C.E., so John may be making a specific point when he writes that “the Word became flesh.” In his letters, John warns against the false teaching that Jesus did not come “in the flesh.”—1Jo 4:2, 3; 2Jo 7.
resided: Lit., “tented.” Some have taken the statement that the Word ‘resided, or tented, among us’ to mean that Jesus was, not a true human, but an incarnation. However, Peter used the related noun that is rendered “tabernacle,” or “tent,” when he spoke of his own fleshly body as a temporary dwelling place. (2Pe 1:13; ftn.) Though Peter knew that his death was near and that his resurrection would be in the spirit, not in the flesh, he was not indicating that he was an incarnation.—2Pe 1:13-15; see also 1Co 15:35-38, 42-44; 1Jo 3:2.
we had a view of his glory: In Jesus’ life and ministry, John and the other apostles saw a glory, a splendor or magnificence, that could be displayed only by someone who perfectly reflected the qualities of Jehovah. In addition, the apostle John, along with James and Peter, witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. (Mt 17:1-9; Mr 9:1-9; Lu 9:28-36) So John may here have alluded not only to Jesus’ reflection of God’s qualities but also to the transfiguration vision that had occurred more than 60 years earlier. This event also made a lasting impression on the apostle Peter, who wrote his letters about 30 years before John wrote his Gospel. Peter specifically referred to the transfiguration as a marvelous confirmation of “the prophetic word.”—2Pe 1:17-19.
an only-begotten son: The Greek word mo·no·ge·nesʹ, traditionally translated “only-begotten,” has been defined as “the only one of its kind; one and only; unique.” The Bible uses the term in describing the relation of sons and daughters to their parents. (See study notes on Lu 7:12; 8:42; 9:38.) In the apostle John’s writings, this term is used exclusively of Jesus (Joh 3:16, 18; 1Jo 4:9) but never about Jesus’ human birth or existence as a man. Instead, John uses the term to describe Jesus in his prehuman existence as the Logos, or the Word, the one who “was in the beginning with God,” even “before the world was.” (Joh 1:1, 2; 17:5, 24) Jesus is the “only-begotten son” because he was Jehovah’s Firstborn and the only one created directly by God. While other spirit creatures are likewise called “sons of the true God” or “sons of God” (Ge 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:4-7), all those sons were created by Jehovah through that firstborn Son (Col 1:15, 16). In summary, the term mo·no·ge·nesʹ refers both to Jesus’ being “one of a kind; unique; incomparable” and to his being the only son produced directly and solely by God.—1Jo 5:18; see study note on Heb 11:17.
divine favor: Or “undeserved kindness.” The Greek word khaʹris occurs more than 150 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and conveys different shades of meaning, depending on the context. When referring to the undeserved kindness that God shows toward humans, the word describes a free gift given generously by God with no expectation of repayment. It is an expression of God’s bounteous giving and generous love and kindness that the recipient has done nothing to merit or earn; it is motivated solely by the generosity of the giver. (Ro 4:4; 11:6) This term does not necessarily highlight that the recipients are unworthy of receiving kindness, which is why Jesus could be a recipient of this favor, or kindness, from God. In contexts involving Jesus, the term is appropriately rendered “divine favor,” as in this verse, or “favor.” (Lu 2:40, 52) In other contexts, the Greek term is rendered “favor” and “kind gift.”—Lu 1:30; Ac 2:47; 7:46; 1Co 16:3; 2Co 8:19.
full of divine favor and truth: “The Word,” Jesus Christ, had God’s favor and was always truthful. But the context indicates that this phrase involves more; Jehovah specially chose his Son to explain and demonstrate the Father’s undeserved kindness and truth in full measure. (Joh 1:16, 17) These qualities of God were so fully revealed through Jesus that he could say: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father also.” (Joh 14:9) Jesus was God’s means of extending undeserved kindness and truth to any who would favorably receive such.
The one coming behind me: John the Baptist was born some six months before Jesus and started his ministry before Jesus did. In that sense, Jesus came “behind,” or after, John. (Lu 1:24, 26; 3:1-20) Jesus, however, did far greater works than John, so in that sense, he advanced in front of John, or surpassed him, in every way. John the Baptist also acknowledged Jesus’ prehuman existence by saying that he existed before me.
undeserved kindness upon undeserved kindness: The Greek word for “undeserved kindness” is khaʹris. In this context, it denotes God’s bounteous giving and generous love and kindness. This kindness is given unearned and unmerited; the giving is motivated solely by the generosity of the giver. (See Glossary, “Undeserved kindness.”) The doubling of the word khaʹris combined with the Greek preposition an·tiʹ (here rendered “upon”) denotes an abundant, continual, or successive flow of undeserved kindness. The idea could also be expressed as “continual [or “constant”] undeserved kindness.”
the Law . . . the undeserved kindness and the truth: In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Law given through Moses is often contrasted with “undeserved kindness.” (Ro 3:21-24; 5:20, 21; 6:14; Ga 2:21; 5:4; Heb 10:28, 29) The Mosaic Law served as a “guardian leading to Christ” and contained shadows, or prophetic pictures, that were fulfilled in him. (Ga 3:23-25; Col 2:16, 17; Heb 10:1) Among other things, the Law gave humans “the accurate knowledge of sin.” (Ro 3:20) With this accurate knowledge came the realization that “the wages sin pays is death” and that “every transgression and disobedient act received a punishment in harmony with justice.” (Ro 6:23; Heb 2:2) Here John implies a contrast between “the Law” and “the undeserved kindness and the truth” that came . . . through Jesus Christ. Jesus brought to reality the things foreshadowed by the Law, including sacrifices for forgiveness and atonement. (Le 4:20, 26) He also revealed that God would extend toward sinful humans His “undeserved kindness,” or “kind gift,” as the Greek term khaʹris is sometimes rendered, by giving his Son as a sin-atoning sacrifice. (Col 1:14; 1Jo 4:10, ftn.; see study note on Ro 6:23 and Glossary, “Undeserved kindness.”) Jesus revealed a new “truth”—that this sacrifice would set humans free from sin and death.—Joh 8:32; see study note on Joh 1:14.
the only-begotten god: John is here referring to the Word, “Jesus Christ,” whom he earlier calls “a god.” (Joh 1:1, 17) John speaks of Jesus as being the only-begotten Son of God. (Joh 1:14; 3:16) In this passage, John calls Jesus “the only-begotten god,” a term that emphasizes Jesus’ unique position in God’s arrangement. Jesus can rightly be called “a god” because of the way the term “god” is used in the Bible. This title conveys the basic idea of a mighty one, and it is even used of humans in the Scriptures. (Ps 82:6; see study notes on Joh 1:1; 10:34.) Jesus is “a god,” or a mighty one, because he is given power and authority from the almighty God, the Father. (Mt 28:18; 1Co 8:6; Heb 1:2) Because Jesus is the only one directly created by God and the only one through whom all things “came into existence” (Joh 1:3), he is appropriately called “the only-begotten god.” This expression shows that Jesus holds a unique position of glory and preeminence in relation to all of God’s spirit sons. As reflected in some Bible translations, some manuscripts read “the only-begotten Son.” But the earliest and most authoritative manuscripts read “the only-begotten god” (with the definite article in Greek) or “only-begotten god” (without the definite article in Greek).
at the Father’s side: Lit., “in the bosom of the Father.” This expression refers to a position of special favor and close fellowship. It is a figure of speech that is likely drawn from the way meals were eaten; guests would recline on couches in such a way that one could lean back on the bosom, or chest, of a close friend. (Joh 13:23-25) Jesus is thus described as the closest friend of Jehovah, the one person who could explain God more fully and thoroughly than anyone else could.—Mt 11:27.
the witness John gave: Or “the testimony of John.” At Joh 1:7, John the Baptist is called “a witness” (a form of the Greek word mar·ty·riʹa, which is also used here), one who came in order to bear witness about the light. Here the same Greek word refers to the confirmation or declaration that John the Baptist made concerning Jesus and that is recorded in the verses that follow.
Elijah: See study note on Mt 11:14.
the Prophet: That is, the long-awaited prophet foretold by Moses.—De 18:18, 19; Joh 1:25-27; 6:14; 7:40; Ac 3:19-26.
Jehovah: At Isa 40:3, quoted here, the divine name, represented by four Hebrew consonants (transliterated YHWH), occurs in the original Hebrew text. (See App. A5 and C.) The Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke apply this prophecy to John the Baptist, and here in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist applies this prophecy to himself. John would make the way of Jehovah straight in the sense that he would be the forerunner of Jesus, who would represent his Father and come in his Father’s name.—Joh 5:43; 8:29.
baptize: Or “immerse; dip.” The Greek word ba·ptiʹzo means “to dip; to plunge.” Other Biblical references indicate that baptism involves complete immersion. On one occasion, John was baptizing at a location in the Jordan Valley near Salim “because there was a great quantity of water there.” (Joh 3:23) When Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, they both “went down into the water.” (Ac 8:38) The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint at 2Ki 5:14 when describing that Naaman “plunged into the Jordan seven times.”
sandal: Untying, removing, or carrying another person’s sandals (Mt 3:11; Mr 1:7; Lu 3:16) was considered a menial task to be done by a slave.
Bethany: Some manuscripts read “Bethabara” instead of “Bethany,” a reading that is reflected in some Bible translations. However, the most reliable manuscripts read “Bethany.”
Bethany across the Jordan: That is, E of the Jordan. This Bethany, mentioned only once in the Christian Greek Scriptures, is not the one located near Jerusalem. (Mt 21:17; Mr 11:1; Lu 19:29; Joh 11:1) The site of this Bethany E of the Jordan is unknown. Some favor a traditional location for Jesus’ baptism, across the Jordan opposite Jericho. However, the record at Joh 1:29, 35, 43; 2:1 seems to indicate a place closer to Cana of Galilee rather than the location near Jericho. Thus, a site somewhat S of the Sea of Galilee seems the most likely, but no positive identification is possible.—See App. B10.
the Lamb of God: After Jesus got baptized and returned from being tempted by the Devil, John the Baptist introduced him as “the Lamb of God.” This expression occurs only here and at Joh 1:36. (See App. A7.) Comparing Jesus to a lamb is fitting. Throughout the Bible, sheep were offered in recognition of sin and to gain approach to God. This foreshadowed the sacrifice that Jesus would make when he surrendered his perfect human life in behalf of mankind. The expression “the Lamb of God” could reflect a number of passages in the inspired Scriptures. In view of John the Baptist’s familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures, his words may have alluded to one or more of the following: the male sheep that Abraham offered up instead of his own son Isaac (Ge 22:13), the Passover lamb that was slaughtered in Egypt for the deliverance of the enslaved Israelites (Ex 12:1-13), or the male lamb that was offered up on God’s altar in Jerusalem each morning and evening (Ex 29:38-42). John may also have had in mind Isaiah’s prophecy, where the one whom Jehovah calls “my servant” is said to be “brought like a sheep to the slaughter.” (Isa 52:13; 53:5, 7, 11) When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he referred to Jesus as “our Passover lamb.” (1Co 5:7) The apostle Peter spoke of Christ’s “precious blood, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.” (1Pe 1:19) And more than 25 times in the book of Revelation, the glorified Jesus is spoken of figuratively as “the Lamb.”—Some examples are: Re 5:8; 6:1; 7:9; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7; 21:9; 22:1.
the world: The Greek word koʹsmos is closely linked with mankind in secular Greek literature and particularly so in the Bible. In this context as well as at Joh 3:16, koʹsmos refers to the entire world of mankind who are here described as being guilty of sin, that is, sin inherited from Adam.
as a dove: Doves had both a sacred use and a symbolic meaning. They were offered as sacrifices (Mr 11:15; Joh 2:14-16), and they symbolized innocence and purity (Mt 10:16). A dove released by Noah brought an olive leaf back to the ark, indicating that the floodwaters were receding (Ge 8:11) and that a time of rest and peace was at hand (Ge 5:29). Thus, at Jesus’ baptism, Jehovah may have used the representation of a dove to call attention to the role of Jesus as the Messiah—he is the pure and sinless Son of God who would sacrifice his life for mankind and lay the basis for a period of rest and peace during his rule as King. The way that God’s holy spirit, or active force, came down upon Jesus at his baptism may have looked like the fluttering of a dove as it nears its perch.
the Son of God: This expression is often used in the Bible with reference to Jesus. (Joh 1:49; 3:16-18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4) Since God does not have a literal wife and is not of human nature, this expression must be a word picture. It is obviously intended to help the reader understand that Jesus’ relationship with God is like that of a human son with his father. It also emphasizes that Jesus received his life from Jehovah, being created by Him. In a similar way, the first man, Adam, is also spoken of as a “son of God.”—See study note on Lu 3:38.
John . . . with two of his disciples: One of the two disciples of John the Baptist was “Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.”—See study note on Joh 1:40.
the two disciples . . . followed Jesus: This statement indicates that the first disciples of Jesus came from among the disciples of John the Baptist.—See study notes on Joh 1:35, 40.
about the tenth hour: That is, about 4:00 p.m.—See study note on Mt 20:3.
one of the two: These two disciples were mentioned at Joh 1:35. The unnamed disciple is likely the apostle John, who is the son of Zebedee and the writer of this Gospel. (Mt 4:21; Mr 1:19; Lu 5:10) This conclusion is supported by the fact that the writer never identifies himself by name, never mentions the apostle John by name, and always refers to John the Baptist simply as “John.”
the Messiah: Or “the Anointed One.” The Greek word Mes·siʹas (a transliteration of the Hebrew word ma·shiʹach) occurs only twice in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (See Joh 4:25.) The Hebrew verb from which the title ma·shiʹach is derived is ma·shachʹ, meaning “to smear or spread (with liquid)” and “to anoint.” (Ex 29:2, 7) In Bible times, priests, rulers, and prophets were ceremonially anointed with oil. (Le 4:3; 1Sa 16:3, 12, 13; 1Ki 19:16) Here at Joh 1:41, the title “Messiah” is followed by an explanation, which means, when translated, “Christ.” The title “Christ” (Greek, Khri·stosʹ) occurs more than 500 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and is equivalent to the title “Messiah,” both meaning “Anointed One.”—See study note on Mt 1:1.
You are Simon: Simon is named in five different ways in the Scriptures. (See study notes on Mt 4:18; 10:2.) On this occasion, Jesus apparently meets Simon for the first time and gives him the Semitic name Cephas (Ke·phasʹ), perhaps related to the Hebrew ke·phimʹ (rocks) used at Job 30:6 and Jer 4:29. Here the Gospel writer John also provides an explanation, which is translated “Peter,” a Greek name that similarly means “A Piece of Rock.” In the Scriptures, Simon alone bears this Semitic name as well as this Greek one. Jesus, who was able to discern that Nathanael was a man “in whom there [was] no deceit” (Joh 1:47; 2:25), could also discern Peter’s makeup. Especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter showed rocklike qualities, being a strengthening and stabilizing influence on the congregation.—Lu 22:32; Ac 1:15, 16; 15:6-11.
John: According to some ancient manuscripts, the father of the apostle Peter is here called John. In other ancient manuscripts, he is called Jona. At Mt 16:17, Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon son of Jonah.” (See study note on Mt 16:17.) According to some scholars, the Greek forms of the names John and Jona(h) may be different spellings of the same Hebrew name.
Nathanael: From the Hebrew name meaning “God Has Given.” Presumably another name of Bartholomew, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. (Mt 10:3) Bartholomew, meaning “Son of Tolmai,” was a patronymic term (that is, a designation derived from the father’s name). It was not exceptional for Nathanael to be called Bartholomew, or Son of Tolmai, as another man was simply called Bartimaeus, that is, the son of Timaeus. (Mr 10:46) When Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about Bartholomew, they mention him along with Philip. Similarly, when John mentions Nathanael, he also links him with Philip, giving further evidence that Bartholomew and Nathanael were one and the same. (Mt 10:3; Mr 3:18; Lu 6:14; Joh 1:45, 46) It was not uncommon for a person to be known by more than one name.—Joh 1:42.
Moses, in the Law, and the Prophets: This wording echoes the expression “the Law and the Prophets” that is used several times, with slight variations, in the Gospels. (Mt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Lu 16:16) Here, “the Law” refers to the Bible books of Genesis through Deuteronomy, and “the Prophets” refers to the prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures. When used together, they could be understood to include the entire Hebrew Scriptures. The disciples mentioned here were obviously keen students of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Philip may have had in mind passages like those found at Ge 3:15; 22:18; 49:10; De 18:18; Isa 9:6, 7; 11:1; Jer 33:15; Eze 34:23; Mic 5:2; Zec 6:12; and Mal 3:1. In fact, a number of Bible verses indicate that the entire Hebrew Scriptures bear witness about Jesus.—Lu 24:27, 44; Joh 5:39, 40; Ac 10:43; Re 19:10.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?: It is commonly understood that Nathanael’s comment reflected the fact that Nazareth was an insignificant village, looked down on even by people of Galilee. (Joh 21:2) Nazareth is not specifically mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures nor by Josephus, though the nearby Japhia (less than 3 km [2 mi] SW of Nazareth) is mentioned at Jos 19:12 and by Josephus. However, not all cities in Galilee were mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures or by Josephus. It is also noteworthy that the Gospels always call Nazareth “a city” (Greek, poʹlis), a term that generally denotes a population center larger than a village. (Mt 2:23; Lu 1:26; 2:4, 39; 4:29) Nazareth stood in a mountain basin, surrounded by hills overlooking the plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel). The area was well-populated, with a number of cities and towns nearby. It was located close to important trade routes, so its inhabitants would have had access to information about the social, religious, and political activities of the time. (Compare Lu 4:23.) Nazareth also had its own synagogue. (Lu 4:16) So it seems likely that it was not an insignificant village. Therefore, Nathanael may simply have been expressing surprise that Philip would think that a man from the neighboring city of Nazareth in Galilee could be the Promised One, since the Scriptures had foretold that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem in Judah.—Mic 5:2; Joh 7:42, 52.
truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit: All descendants of Jacob were Israelites, but Jesus was no doubt referring to something more than fleshly kinship. The name Israel means “Contender (Perseverer) With God” and was given to Jacob after he wrestled with an angel in order to obtain a blessing. Unlike his brother, Esau, Jacob appreciated sacred things and was willing to exert himself vigorously to gain God’s favor. (Ge 32:22-28; Heb 12:16) Jesus’ words to Nathanael indicated that he was an Israelite not merely by birth but by manifesting the same kind of faith and adherence to God’s will that his forefather Jacob did. Jesus’ words (which may reflect Ps 32:2) also indicate that there was nothing hypocritical or devious about Nathanael.
You will see things greater than these: Nathanael soon began to see these words fulfilled. At a marriage feast in his hometown of Cana in Galilee, Nathanael witnessed Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into superb wine. (Joh 2:1-11; 21:2) Along with the 11 others who were later appointed as apostles, Nathanael saw Jesus heal the sick, expel demons, and even raise the dead. Besides seeing these things, Nathanael and the other apostles were themselves empowered to perform miracles and to share in proclaiming: “The Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”—Mt 10:1-8.
Most truly: Lit., “Truly, truly.” Greek, a·menʹ a·menʹ. The Greek word a·menʹ is a transliteration of the Hebrew ʼa·menʹ, meaning “so be it,” or “surely.” Jesus frequently uses the term a·menʹ to preface a statement, a promise, or a prophecy, thereby emphasizing its absolute truthfulness and reliability. Jesus’ use of “truly,” or amen, in this way is said to be unique in sacred literature. (Mt 5:18; Mr 3:28; Lu 4:24) Only John’s Gospel repeats the term in succession (a·menʹ a·menʹ), and it does so in all 25 occurrences. In this translation, the doubling of a·menʹ is rendered “most truly”; alternative renderings could be “very truly” or “most assuredly.” The whole phrase “Truly [or, “Most truly”] I say to you” could also be rendered: “I assure you” or “I tell you the truth.”
heaven: The Greek term used here can refer to the physical heavens, that is, the sky, or to the spiritual heavens.
angels: Or “messengers.” The Greek word agʹge·los and the corresponding Hebrew word mal·ʼakhʹ occur nearly 400 times in the Bible. Both words have the basic meaning of “messenger.” When spirit messengers are meant, the words are translated “angels,” but if the reference is definitely to humans, the rendering is “messengers.” The context usually makes clear whether human or angelic messengers are meant, but where both meanings are possible, footnotes often show the alternative rendering. (Ge 16:7; 32:3; Job 4:18, ftn.; 33:23, ftn.; Ec 5:6, ftn.; Isa 63:9, ftn.; Mt 1:20; Jas 2:25; Re 22:8; see Glossary.) In the highly symbolic book of Revelation, certain references to angels may apply to human creatures.—Re 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14.
to the Son of man: Or “in the service of the Son of man.” When speaking about angels . . . ascending and descending, Jesus may have had in mind Jacob’s vision of angels ascending and descending a stairway, or ladder (Ge 28:12), indicating that angels minister in an important way between Jehovah and humans who have his approval. Jesus’ statement likewise shows that those who walked with Jesus had evidence that God’s angels ministered to him and that in a special way, he was under the care and guidance of his Father.
Son of man: See study note on Mt 8:20.