Friday, July 1, 2011

Behold, or look? (John 1)

While the introductory statements in John 1:1-13 serve as ambiguously bold claims about Christ Jesus by John the evangelist and author, let us take a moment and reflect further on the importance of the pivot point in this chapter as a whole: vv. 29-34. For the purpose of this interpretative work I will not be using the adjective “look” as is presented in the NIV. Instead, I will look at the first person singular aorist imperative (Biblos, 2011) “behold” as is found in numerous translations (cf. ESV, NASB, KJV). Behold is a:

1. First person: spoken by John the Baptist

2. Singular: speaking only about Jesus

3. Aorist (verb tense): “said to be ‘simple occurrence’ or ‘summary occurrence’, without regard for the amount of time taken to accomplish the action (NT Greek, n.d.).

4. Imperative (verb mood): “The imperative mood is a command or instruction given to the hearer, charging the hearer to carry out or perform a certain action” (NT Greek, n.d.).
Who? What? When? Where? Why? These are still the best questions to ask because they reveal all sides of every story. John uses seemingly non-technical language, but it is masterfully used in a technically brilliant manner. The understanding of the text takes on new dimension when seeing it with the word “behold” rather than “look.” To look at something could infer (in modern understanding) to look, and then to look away. This action could be a glance, or a stare, but none-the-less, it does not always imply a sustained action. Behold on the other hand draws the reader to understand that which is to beholden. While behold may be an adjective with some antiquated feeling, it serves to better-convey the Baptist's mood when the Christ was drawing near. Let us take a peek into the etymological Greek foundations of behold.
The Greek language is very specific compared to the English language. The Bible in English (now) and Greek (then) is akin to viewing the earth’s surface from two vantage points: English is like seeing the topography from 30,000’ while Greek is like seeing the topography from 3,000’. You still get the same general picture from the former, but there is so much more depth the closer you look with the latter.

Both the Baptist and the evangelist are stressing a serious point: the Christ, whom God beheld as the One to save man from the sin that consumed him, was to be beheld by man as the Redeemer from all sin. The crux of this entire passage (chapter one) builds from the introduction of Jesus as the Everlasting Word – there from the start – and finally appearing as promised by God; as announced by John the Baptist.

From this point, when Jesus’ earthly body, as seen by all human eyes in the flesh, is testified to by the Baptist, He begins to call His disciples. We see what little it takes for them to follow but what immense steps they must take once they do. The same is true of us today. We do not follow cleverly crafted words on a page, we follow the fulfillment of God’s Chosen Servant; words that were powerful enough to create everything into existence.

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