My study bible is NRSV and uses firm language: Testified, testimony – John confesses, testifies, declares – at some point before or maybe during when the priests and Levites showed up, John baptized Jesus, the lamb of God. In the Gospel of John this event is off-stage. John is telling – testifying – to the truth of what was experienced:
“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Since the Gospel of John was written later than the others, perhaps the off-stage baptism reflects that, a sort of scrupulousness about what the writer has heard and seen. The testimony of John the Baptist would be very compelling, yes? The writer didn’t invent something he didn’t see, he found the record of someone who was there, the one doing the baptizing no less, and gives us that information. This also goes to the structure of these verses. The news that Jesus is the lamb of God, the Son of God, that the Holy Spirit descended upon him – that’s not where the story starts. It starts with documenting, identifying John the Baptist: not the messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. But he is one who has heard the Voice….and he also heard God regarding the dove and the Holy Spirit. An event of Godself breaking into the world was first announced and then described in this testimony.
I love going into a story and “seeing” it unfold, and feeling it, and wondering about all the players, as you realize by now if you’ve read the other blogs by me. But stepping back and looking at the structure is something a little different for me.
It’s pretty clear that this is written in a structured way, a serious way: (a) Who is telling us about this event, (b) can we trust him, (c) what did he say, testify, confess, declare?
I wish I knew exactly when the priests and Levites came for the testimony: after the baptism? For a span of time that encompassed the baptism of Jesus? The testimony we have is compressed, we don’t know where anyone slept or ate, it is hard to get a picture of what’s going on, yes? Are they actually by the water or in a little village? And none of these details matter to the writer, these sorts of details were not the authorial intention, yes?
In the Message bible the language is quite different: It isn’t a Voice in the Wilderness, it is Thunder. He “tells the plain truth”, he yelled out instead of declaring.
The Text this Week link to the Blue Letter Bible, uses “record” – “And this is the record of John….” And later “He bare record that this is the Son of God”.
It isn’t that any of the meaning in the different translations is different or less or more – it is that the NRSV is very declarative language. I need to remember that other perfectly wonderful translations use record, seen, witness, yell, look. To turn these verses from John 1: 19 – 28 or even to 34 into a Storytelling I have a choice of words, of tone of voice, of volume of voice. What might I do with my hands? How might I move about? How might you? I promise every storyteller will tell this differently.
But we’re all telling the same story and for the glory of God!