Probing the Prologue in The Gospel According to John: Introduction

[Go to John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5]

At the Beginning is the Prologue

For years I’ve had a fascination with John’s Gospel. As someone who is self-learning NT (Koine) Greek, I find it helpful that the Gospel writer uses rather simple language. However, while the Greek text itself is not difficult, The Gospel According to John is resplendent in literary devices, resulting in a multi-layered document. Some of these nuances in the Greek are not self-evident in translation.

The first eighteen verses in The Gospel According to John are particularly rich in meaning and poetry. Most call John 1:1-18 the prologue, this prologue serving as an overture for what is to be found in subsequent sections of the Gospel. A brief sketch provided in this overture is later amplified in the symphony of the main text. Thus, a full comprehension of the prologue is paramount to apprehending John’s Gospel. With this in mind, I will be doing a series on these all-important first eighteen verses which begin the wonderful journey into The Gospel According to John, focusing on the Greek text and its English translation.

Before the Beginning

Like the three Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel has an inscription preceding the Gospel proper. Since the original NT writers did not usually include titles, these inscriptions were not necessarily part of the original text but became part of scribal tradition. In the newest Critical Text—the NT text recognized as most likely original (UBS5/NA28)—is the word ΚΑΤΑ (in majuscule [akin to capital letters], as found in the earliest manuscripts; in miniscule as κατα in later manuscripts) followed by the name associated with the Gospel: ΚΑΤΑ __________. This means simply, “According to __________”. However, this rendering has been based on the evidence found in only two early manuscripts, while there are quite a few later manuscripts that provide a fuller inscriptio—using John’s Gospel as an example, ευαγγελιον κατα Ιωαννην, euangeliov kata Iōannēn, Gospel According to John. Overall, I might be inclined to agree to exclude “Gospel”, except for the fact that in the 1950s two important manuscripts were unearthed (P66, P75), both containing portions of John, with each one including the longer inscription. Thus, I shall call John’s Gospel The Gospel According to John. Throughout this series, however, I will substitute the longer inscription for “John’s Gospel”, “the Gospel”, John, or other such designations.

Below is a page from P75, illustrating the longer inscription. As a side note, this is also unique in that The Gospel According to John begins on the same page that Luke’s Gospel ends. Notice how Luke ends with the same verbiage in its subscription (except name, of course) as John:


P75 inscriptio

P75: First page of the Gospel According to John

Goal for this Series

Quite simply, my intention is to help the reader more fully comprehend the text, while at the same time provide an apologetic against some contrary interpretations. On the way, I’m certain I myself will gain a better understanding, for I always learn as I write. In some instances I will have to be technical, but the goal is to do so only in service of better comprehension, not merely to explain some technicality of no consequence or interest.

Greek is a highly inflected language, which means, for example, that words are spelled differently to match case and number. Using the Greek article as a specific example (which can be loosely understood as “the”, though not always translated into English), the article changes spelling depending on its use in relation to the subject, direct object, indirect object, or genitive (possessive). In addition, the singular is different than the plural. The reader need not learn these spellings, but just having a basic knowledge that this is how the Greek language functions will help to alleviate confusion.

Since points of grammar will need to be discussed, those readers who are a bit rusty with English grammar may find some of the material a helpful review.

In this introduction to the series I will provide a bibliography of works that have helped to broaden my understanding of John’s Gospel, though particularly the prologue. Since this will serve as the reference page for this entire series (footnotes will be used as necessary throughout when quoting from or paraphrasing specific portions of these works), I will likely add more to this list as I go. (This is not to say that I agree with all the authors below at every point, as, for example, Bultmann’s work is largely at odds with much of historic Christianity; however, material like this has helped to refine both my theology and my apologetics.)

Continue to John 1:1-2

General Bibliography:

Barrett, C. K., The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978).

Bauckham, Richard J., Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015)

Bauckham, Richard J., Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).

Bauckham R., and C. Mosser, eds., The Gospel of John and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), aka BDAG.

Beasley-Murray, George R., John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987).

Blomberg, Craig L., The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001)

Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John I-XII, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).

Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).

Bruce, F. F., The Gospel & Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983)

Bultmann, Rudolf, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971)

Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991)

Comfort, Philip W., New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008).

Crisp, Oliver D., Divinity and Humanity (New York: Cambridge UP, 2007).

Crisp, Oliver D., God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology (London: T&T Clark, 2009).

Edwards, Ruth, Discovering John (London: SPCK, 2003).

Harner, Philip B., “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 75-87.

Harris, Murray J., John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015).

Harris, Murray J., Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).

Hooker, Morna D., (1974) “The Johannine Prologue and the Messianic Secret,” New Testament Studies, 21, pp 40-58 doi: 10.1017/S00286888500008766

Hurtado, Larry W., Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003).

Keener, Craig S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [2003] 2010 [1st softcover ed.]).

Keener, Craig S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume Two (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [2003] 2010 [1st softcover ed.]).

Koester, Craig, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995).

Köstenberger, Andreas J., Encountering John, Encountering Biblical Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999).

Köstenberger, Andreas J., John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

Leung, Mavis M., The Kingship-Cross Interplay in the Gospel of John: Jesus’ Death as Corroboration of His Royal Messiahship, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Lincoln, Andrew T., Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000).

Malina, Bruce J., Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998).

Martyn, J. Louis, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

Morris, Thomas V., The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1986).

Rainbow, Paul A., Johannine Theology: The Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014).

Ridderbos, Herman, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, transl. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1987] 1997).

Schnelle, Udo, Antidocetic Christology in the Gospel of John transl. Linda M. Maloney (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992; translated from the German Antidoketische Christologie im Johannesevangelium, copyright © Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1987).

Smith, D. Moody, Johannine Christology: Essays on its Setting, Sources, and Theology (Columbia, SC: USC Press, 1984).

Thompson, Marianne Meye, John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015).

Thompson, Marianne Meye, The God of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001).

Weiss, Harold, Meditations on According to John: Exercises in Biblical Theology (Gonzalez, FL: Energion, 2014).

Westcott, B. F., The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. version 1.5 (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006).