Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Prolog of John (John 1:1-18)

Star Wars famously began with those blue words crawling up the screen, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a great adventure took place... It is a time of civil war." That opening narration provided the necessary background to the action of the next 90 minutes.

The Prolog of John does something similar for the gospel of John. The first eighteen verses provide the necessary conceptual background to the action and teaching that takes place over the next twenty chapters. In fact, each title or quality that is applied to Jesus in the Prolog is acted out in the following narrative. Here are some of the connections:

In the beginning: Jesus describes his pre-existence in ch. 8 and 17.
The Word was with God: Jesus is regularly described as one who came from God and brings revelation to us. See especially the Bread of Life in ch. 6.
The Word was God: Jesus alludes to his divine qualities and roles throughout the gospel. Thomas ends the gospel by calling him "My Lord and my God."
In him was life: Almost every scene in John refers to his ability to give true life. Nicodemus must be born again, the Samaritan woman must receive the living water, the good shepherd gives abundant life to the sheep, the vine supplies life to the branches.
The Light shone in the darkness: one of Jesus' titles for himself in ch. 8, 9, and 12.
The darkness did not understand / overcome it: Greek katelaben can mean either "understand" or "overcome," and here, both are implied. This play on words is acted out in almost every scene in John. People constantly misunderstand Jesus ("He can't enter into his mother's womb and be born a second time, can he?"); the worst of them try to kill him, but ultimately cannot.
He came to his own, and his own did not receive him: Same as above, but John continues the wordplay: his own did not parelabon him (same root as katelaben, different prefix).
But as many as received him, he gave the authority...: John completes the wordplay: as many as elabon him (same root, no prefix). Although many reject Jesus in John, a few accept him and become his disciples.
to those who believe in his name: "Believe" is one of the most important characteristics of Jesus-followers in John. The word is used 98 times in John - and only 34 times total in the Synoptic Gospels.
the Word became flesh: While John gives the most divine picture of Jesus, he also gives the most human picture of Jesus. Jesus gets hungry, thirsty, weeps, and gets angry in John.
and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory: This makes the reader think of the Tabernacle, the earthly dwelling place of God. "Dwelt" is eskenosen, the verb form of skene, the Tabernacle that was filled with God's glory. Jesus describes himself as the Temple in John 2, and his connection with God's glory is repeated, especially in Jn 12-17.

The picture: Creation, a stained glass at Christ Church in Pompton, NJ.

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