Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 1.29-42
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany - Year A

Other texts:

To me it almost feels like an intrusion to have the lesson from John thrust into the year of Matthew. Next week we will hear Matthew's account of Jesus calling the first disciples. This week we hear John's version. There are some important differences.


The Gospel of John is a book of "signs" -- namely things, events, and people who point to something else. Such "intermediaries" are generally necessary in this gospel in order to come to faith. Even Jesus is a type of intermediary as the logos -- the "Word" or "Revealer" of God.

I think that this is the theme and purpose of the entire gospel: "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31). This gospel itself is a "sign" to point us to the Messiah, who is a "sign" who points us to God. As O'Day (John, NIB) states about this gospel: "... the story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is, in fact, the story of God." [p. 524]

An indication of the intermediary-ness of the fourth Gospel is the use of martyreo ("bear witness"). The verb occurs once in Matthew, once in Luke, none in Mark, and 31 times in John (five times in chapter 1; verses 7, 8, 15, 32, 34). Similar statistics exist for the noun martyria ("witness"): three times in Mark, once in Luke, none in Matthew, and 14 times in John (twice in chapter 1: 7, 19).

We are told that "John came as a witness to bear witness to the light, so that all might believe though him" [1:7].

However, John's first witness is not about the Light, but about himself when the Jews sent priests and Levites to question him (v. 19). First of all, he talks about who he is not: He is not the Christ; he is not Elijah; he is not one of the prophets (vv. 20-21). Secondly, he talks about who he is: "The voice crying in the wilderness. . . ." (v. 23). Sometimes we need to be reminded that we can't just be against something (e.g., "Just say 'No'"), but we also need to be for something (e.g., "What are we saying 'yes' to?")

The first half of our text is centered on John "witnessing" to the reader about Jesus with five images.

Without this "witness" others would not know the one who is coming and who stands among us (1:26-27). Even John needed the divine "witness" in order to "know" who Jesus was. Twice he says that he did not know him (1:31, 33), but God "points out" Jesus by the Spirit who descends and remains on him, so that John can say in v. 34: "I [emphasized] have seen and have witnessed that this one is the Son of God." (Variant readings have "Chosen one of God".) In the synoptics, it is God who declares Jesus' sonship at his baptism. Here it is John.

The sign was the Spirit coming down and remaining on Jesus. meno ("remain") is an important word in John, occurring in 33 verses, while it appears in 11 verses in the rest of the gospels. While it is most frequent in John 15 (7 verses), it is found in our text five times. Twice in reference to the Spirit remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33) and twice in reference to where Jesus is "staying" and the first two disciples who "stay" with Jesus that day (vv. 38, 39).

Perhaps we might refer to this word as "staying power". Jesus is not like the ecstatic, charismatic prophets upon whom the spirit comes and goes. The Spirit remains with him. The first disciples have "staying power". They don't come and go (at least on that first day). They remain with Jesus. Although, ironically, later in the gospel Jesus will state that it necessary for him to go away. He will not remain, but he will not leave them/us as orphans, but he will send the Spirit of Truth to stay with the disciples (14:17).


In the second half of our text, John witnesses to his two disciples who then follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, witnesses to his brother Peter. In the following story, Jesus finds Philip without a witness, but then Philip finds Nathanael and witnesses to him about Jesus. Generally, a witness is needed to help others "see" Jesus. In fact, these two events may indicate that one cannot adequately follow Jesus without also extending the invitation to others.

The invitation, "Come and see," is given twice (1:39, 46). The essence of our witness is to state what we have seen and believe and then to invite others to "come and see." For John, faith begins by responding to the invitation to "come and see." The same words (in English, but slightly different in Greek) are uttered by the Samaritan woman to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" (4:29)

The same combination of words is used at the end of the gospel: Mary comes and sees that the stone has been removed from the tomb (20:1). Peter and the other disciple come to the tomb and look in and see. The one sees and believes (20:3-8).

At some church event, I picked up a refrigerator magnet with two pictures on it -- actually it's the same drawing of two people, but presented twice. The first picture is called "Reality Evangelism Part 1". One person says to the other, "Yeah, I go to church." Reality Evangelism Part 2 shows the same person saying, "Wanna come?" What could be more simple than that?

During my high school years, I was involved in Young Life, an ecumenical Christian youth group. We had over 200 kids coming to a meeting every week. The day of the meeting we had ribbons we wore that said, "Young Life Tonight." when people asked, "What's Young Life?" We answered, "Come and see." (Remember hearing those words before?)

What will people "come and see" in our congregations? Will they see that we are Jesus' disciples by the way we love one another (13:35)? Will they see that we have heard Jesus' word so that his joy is in us and our joy is complete (15:11)? Will they see us pointing to ourselves, our own achievements and hard work or will they see us being proper symbols and witnesses, pointing to Christ? Will they see us as sinners who confess our imperfections and unholiness, and receive new life from Christ?

It was Jesus who turned and first spoke to the two disciples of John who were following him (1:38). It is Jesus who speaks first to Simon (1:42). It is Jesus who finds Philip and speaks to him (1:43) -- not like the national "I found it" campaign of a few years ago. Nathanael didn't find Jesus. Jesus found him! It is Jesus whose words draw out Nathanael's good confession (1:47-49). We can never loose sight of the primacy of God's gracious acts that evoke our response. However, Andrew's witness to Simon is, "We have found the Messiah" (more about "finding" later).

I have two fears for the future of the Christian church. One is that we will fail to be witnesses -- people willing to invite others to "come and see". I am becoming more and more convinced that invitational-ness needs to be part of faith. One of the differences that faith should make in our lives is the desire that others -- especially those without a religious faith -- might also share in and benefit from the relationship God offers through Christ. If we are not willing to invite others into this experience, what does that say about our experiences with Christ? If we are not willing to invite others to our congregations -- to worship services and other activities, what does that say about our experiences in our congregations?

I've had people tell me about good restaurants, barbers, optometrists, etc. A member had encouraged me often to go to his Kiwanis Club breakfast meetings. I went a couple times. He then started asking if I would like to join. (I understand that there is a prize for the member who recruits the most new members during the year.) Why isn't there the same fervor over inviting and encouraging people to come and participate in our church activities? Let me suggest that there are three broad areas that are likely to influence our non-inviting-ness.

(1) Our culture which suggests talking about religion is taboo. (Why shouldn't we un-taboo it? We certainly won't be thrown in prison or executed like the earliest believers were.

(2) Our selves -- there may be things about our selves that dampen our enthusiasm for inviting others into the faith. We aren't perfect Christians, but no one is -- that's why we need Christ.

(a) Some may argue that we are shy and don't talk to people, but I bet that if any person, shy or otherwise, would count the number of people they speak to each week, they would be surprised how many opportunities they have to say something about their faith.

(b) Some may feel that religion is a private matter and shouldn't be shared with others. That, to me, is a false understanding of Christianity. It has always been personal, but never private. Salvation is a gift from God that is meant for the whole world. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world. If we don't tell the world that, how will they know?

(c) Some may not feel that they have much of a personal faith to share. Their experiences with God (and the church) are mostly habit, part of their culture, something their families have always done for generations. They just don't ask themselves or try to answer such questions as: "What do I believe?" "Why do I believe?" "Why do I attend worship?" "Why should I invites others to come and see what's happening at our church?" Without having answers to such questions, they don't have much of a personal faith to share.

(3) Our church -- I'm afraid that there are many congregations that offer little or nothing worth inviting others to: worship services that are comfortable for the long-time members, but confusing or boring to guests, I think that planners, when appropriate, need to give more thought to questions like, "How can we organize this program/meeting/activity so that our members will want to and be encouraged to invite other people to attend?" When planning a potluck, is the time set that is most convenient for the members, or a time that would encourage members to invite others to participate in the feast? Do we even think of a potluck as an activity to which we should invite friends, relatives, neighbors, etc.? A neighboring church in town has had free community dinners. The members bring food, but anyone who wants to come and eat is invited -- and it is located where there are a lot of homeless people.

How different would our annual meetings be if we wanted members to invite friends to the event? Certainly the reports about past activities would not be long and boring reports, but perhaps a Power Point presentation showing the faces of people the church had helped over the past year, pictures of happy children in Sunday school classes, a grieving widow surrounded by supporting people, etc. The presentation would proclaim loudly and clearly that God, through our ministries, is making positive differences in people's lives. In addition, annual meetings, however they are conducted, should also spend as much time on future plans as they do on the past. (A congregation that is always looking backwards will have a hard time moving forward.) New people can't be part of a congregation's past. They can jump on the bandwagon that's heading into future plans and ministries.

How often have we received invitations from someone we don't know over the phone, to come and watch a presentation about the wonderful things a new company or venture is planning to do -- and we are given the opportunity to participate, to get in on the "ground floor," to buy into the program -- or into a new time-share condo? While I don't expect many annual meetings to change because of this note, I use that as an example of re-thinking church programs, considering them to be vehicles that motivate members to invite others to "come and see".

My second concern about the future of the church that we will fail to provide the proper "stuff" for the invitees to see. All the gimmicks to get members to invite others are meaningless if there is nothing substantial for them to receive. Whether it is a loveless and joyless gathering of people; or a worship service that is full of life and energy that might attract hundreds each week, but fails to center on and point to Jesus; neither will give the people (whether members or visitors) "what they are seeking" -- namely, the One who is seeking them.


Three times Andrew is doing something in John -- and each time he is bringing someone to Jesus! First, his brother, Simon (1:40). Then, a boy with five barley loaves and two fish (6:8); and finally, "some Greeks" (12:20-22), which signals the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Andrew is never mentioned just by himself. Twice he is called Simon Peter's brother (1:40; 6:8). We are told that Philip came from the city of Andrew and Simon (1:44). Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus about the Greeks (12:22). It may be that being named as the first follower of Jesus (in John) was the first time that he had ever been first in anything. It seems likely to me that he was always living under the shadow of his more flamboyant brother. It also seems to me that our congregations are full of more behind-the-scenes "Andrews" than flamboyant "Peters" who seem to get all the credit. ("Peter" occurs in 32 verses in John -- 8 times as many as Andrew.) One doesn't have to be a "Peter" to be an effective follower and witness to Jesus.


Next week, we will hear Jesus calling the four fishermen (from Matthew). With that call, they give up their work as fishermen to follow Jesus, but in the Fourth Gospel the first disciples give up a previous religious commitment as disciples of John [O'Day, p. 530]. There is a sense in John's gospel the battle is more between two religious commitments -- "the Jews" and "the Christians" -- than a movement from irreligious Jewish (or Gentile) sinners (e.g., fishermen and tax collectors) to Christian forgiven sinners.

I think that in our day, we need to take seriously the other (religious) commitments calling our members. There is religious legalism. There is the cheap grace antinomianism. There are followers of astrology and horoscopes in our congregations. Statistics that I've read indicate that there is a strong religious or spiritual commitment among Americans. In my mind, the great revival that is needed in America is not a conversion to Jesus Christ -- (although there are many who need that) -- but a conversion to the church, the communion of saints, active participation in the "body of Christ". The self-centered, "I can be a Christian by myself," or the "me-and-God" religion needs to be replaced with "I need the body of Christ and the body of Christ needs me for us to live faithfully."


I don't like "finding" language, e.g., "We have found the Messiah," or, as a local pastor wrote in a newspaper article about a certain event, "That's where I found God." Yet, that is present in our text and the following events.

The word heurisko (from where we get "eureka") is used in vv. 41, 43, & 45.

v. 41 Andrew finds Simon and says to him:
"We have found the Messiah," (which is translated "Christ").

v. 43 Jesus finds Philip and says to him: "Follow me."

v. 45 Philip finds Nathanael and says to him:
"The one whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote,
we have found, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."

Francis Moloney (The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina) takes issue with some of these comments:

Andrew has told Simon, "We have found" (heurekamen), and this is not true (v. 41). The Baptist pointed his disciples toward Jesus, and they followed (vv. 36-37). They were invited by Jesus to come and see, and they did what they were told (v. 39). The initiative for their presence with Jesus and their understanding of him does not belong to them. A lie has been told, and this is further reinforced by Jesus' words to Simon. Once Andrew led Simon to Jesus he looked at him and spoke to him. The initiative is entirely with Jesus. [pp. 54-55]

While I wouldn't go as far as Moloney in calling Andrew a liar, I think that part of the problem is that "to find" misses some of the meaning of the word heurisko. This word is used five times in these three verses. Theologically, I'm not sure we can talk about "finding" God. If God were to hide from us, I don't think that we could find God (see John 7:24-26).

The first two (and most common definitions) given by Lowe and Nida for this word are: (1) "to learn the location of something, either by intentional searching or by unexpected discovery;" and (2) "to learn something previously not known, frequently involving an element of surprise"

It is the aspect of "unexpected discovery" or "surprise" that isn't translated well by our word "to find," which, I think, conveys more of the sense of "intentional searching."

According to the legend, the ruler Hiero II asked Archimedes to find a method for determining whether a crown was pure gold or mixed with silver. One day when Archimedes stepped into his bath and noticed that the water rose as he sat down, he ran out of the house naked shouting, "Eureka! Eureka!" (= "I have found [it]! I have found [it]!" -- forms of the same verb).

If you want a sort of scientific explanation of what he "found," you can read the next paragraph. If you're only interested in the significance of this "bathroom" illustration, you can skip the next paragraph.

The way to determine whether or not a crown was pure gold was to compare its weight to its volume. If one had 1 pound of gold and 1 pound of silver (one would be very rich <g>) and submerged them in water. The silver would make the water rise higher than the gold, because it is less dense than gold. Or, if one had two crowns, of the same volume -- that is, each made the water rise the same amount -- a pure gold one would weigh more than one mixed with silver.

Archimedes did not "find" this truth by searching after it -- although he may have spent days thinking about a solution to the problem. His "find" came as an unexpected surprise. It's almost as if the truth found him more than he finding the truth. It was something that was there all the time. He may have noticed the rising bathtub water hundreds of times before, but its significance didn't "click" in his brain until that "eureka" moment.

I'm not sure that Andrew "finding" Simon or Philip "finding" Nathanael should be understood exactly the same way as them "finding" the Messiah. The latter would be more like Archimedes' discovery; it was an unexpected, non-anticipated surprise of Jesus breaking into their minds -- perhaps a metanoia -- a "mind changing" event.

Note also that in both instances where Jesus is the object, the subject is "we" -- "We have found ...." Who are the "we"? Does John intend just a historical understanding of "we" or is this also his own (and his community's) confession about Jesus? They all had had their "eureka" moment with Jesus.


Throughout our text, numerous titles for Jesus are given. First, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29)

The three principal suggestions for the background of this image are:

(1) It could be the apocalyptic lamb. In the context of final judgment there appears in Jewish apocalyptic the figure of a conquering lamb who will destroy evil in the world. This image fits well with John's eschatological preaching. However, this image doesn't fit as well with the "taking away sin of the world" description of the lamb.

(2) It could be the suffering servant who is "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent" and who "bore the sin of many" (Isaiah 53:7, 12).

(3) It could be the paschal lamb, whose blood saved the Israelites from death by the destroyer (Exodus 12:21-23).

Raymond Brown in his commentary on John presents arguments concerning these background images (1) whether or not John the Baptist actually had them in mind; and (2) whether or not the gospel writer actually had them in mind. I think in terms of preaching, we can present these (as well as some others) as our Christian understanding of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Note that "sin" is singular. As Brown suggests, the plural "sins" refers to sinful acts, while the singular refers to a sinful condition. The other instance of airo (take away) being used with sin(s) is 1 John 3:5 where both the plural and singular are used: "You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin."

Mohoney also notes that this Lamb is "of God." He is not our lamb. He is not our offering. Mohoney concludes: "Jesus is not a cultic victim but the one through whom God enters the human story, offering it reconciliation with him. As so often in the fourth Gospel, an old symbol is being used in a new way" [p. 59].


Although not specifically a title, John presents Jesus as the pre-existing one (1:30-31). Perhaps as an apologetic against John the Baptist sectarians -- people who continued to follow John rather than Jesus. It was a problem then and can be today when the "witness" or "sign" is viewed as more important than the one they are pointing to. If ministers or churches or denominations or the Bible or even the Holy Spirit become more important than Jesus, then they have failed to be proper witnesses to the greater One.


John also presents Jesus as the one on whom the Spirit remains (1:32-33). He doesn't give an account of the baptism -- again, perhaps as an apologetic against people who continued to follow John the Baptist after John had tried to point them to Christ. The evangelist does report the same events at the baptism as we read in the other gospels: the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus and a voice declaring him to be the Son of God (1:34). However, in this gospel, it is the voice of the "witness" John the Baptist, rather than a voice from heaven.


The two disciples call Jesus "Rabbi," which John tells us means "teacher" (1:38). Literally, though, "rabbi" means "my great one" or "my lord/master". There is no evidence that this was used as a title prior to 70 AD, thus an indication that the Gospel was written after that date.

Andrew tells Peter, "We have found the Messiah," which is also interpreted in the Gospel as "Christ". Both words mean "Anointed One" (1:41).

In the following paragraph (1:43-51), these titles are given.

A very lengthy sermon or doctorate thesis could be written just on the titles in John 1. A wide range of Christologies is included in these few verses. Yet, do these first disciples fully understand who Jesus is? Do these titles reflect more of their own expectations of Jesus than of the mission to which God is sending his son?

Perhaps in most congregations, it might be more effective to ignore all the different possible christological implications of these titles, and simple tell a story about little Andrew who responded to the invitation to come and see and then did his own small part to spread the knowledge of the Messiah to his brother and throughout his town.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364