Saturday, January 9, 2021

Come and See the One Who Has Already Seen

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding John 1:43-51, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the second Sunday of Epiphany. As usual, your comments are welcomed.

I also would offer you a reflection that I did on this text on the Political Theology site right here. In every way I believe this text challenges one of the deepest economic assumptions that we have, which we also extend into many areas of life. 

Blessings on your work this week. 

43 Τῇ ἐπαύριον ἠθέλησεν ἐξελθεῖν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, καὶ εὑρίσκει Φίλιππον. καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀκολούθει μοι.
The next day [Jesus] wanted to go into Galilee, and found Philip.  And Jesus says to him “Follow Me.” 
ἠθέλησεν: AAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
ἐξελθεῖν: AAInf, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of 
εὑρίσκει: PAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἀκολούθει: PAImpv 2s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him
1. I’m not clear as to what John intends by noting that Jesus wanted/willed (θέλω) to go into Galilee. John uses that verb a lot and it usually points to intention, such as the Spirit/wind blowing where it will (3:8) or the disciples willingly receiving Jesus into their ship (6:21). The translation “decided” (ESV, NIV, NRSV) captures that, I guess, but I think θέλω points more toward willing than thinking.
2. The definitions for εὑρίσκω (“Jesus found Philip”) provide either ‘to find by seeking’ or ‘to run across without seeking.’ If I’m not mistaken, those are two opposite ways of encountering someone – intentionally or unintentionally. At this point, I don’t know if John intends to say that Jesus seeks Philip out or that he just sees him and calls. But, when John re-uses the verb in v. 45, it seems much more intentional. So, I’m going to agree with the translations that say “find” instead of a more neutral terms like “met.” The juxtaposition of Jesus ‘wanting’ to go to Galilee and then ‘finding’ Philip also gives weight to intentionality.
3. Any “call” story that uses the verb ἀκολουθέω is the right occasion to recommend Robert Scharlemann’s book, The Reason of Following, where he posits acolouthetic reason as a different kind of reason than the traditional pure, practical, or aesthetic reason (although it is most akin to aesthetic reasoning.) It is a fascinating book and an argument that I think is sorely underappreciated.

44 ἦν δὲ ὁ Φίλιππος ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδά, ἐκ τῆς πόλεως Ἀνδρέου καὶ Πέτρου.
Yet Philip was from Bethsaida, out of the city of Andrew and Peter. 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. It is hard to figure what kind of connection is intended by the conjunction δὲ here. This sentence does not seem terribly germane to the story or its meaning. If we interpreted the δὲ as “and,” what would that suggest about identifying Philip this way? What if it were “but”? That might even suggest more impact – although the specific meaning of identifying Philip as being from Bethsaida may be something only John’s community would know. Many translations make the δὲ “now,” giving it the feeling of just a tidbit of information. It seems like John is saying something worth saying – whether it is about the location of Bethsaida or the commonality that Philip has with Andrew and Peter via Bethsaida. 

45 εὑρίσκει Φίλιππος τὸν Ναθαναὴλ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ὃν ἔγραψεν Μωϋσῆς ἐν τῷ νόμῳ καὶ οἱ προφῆται εὑρήκαμεν, Ἰησοῦν υἱὸν τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ. 
Philip finds Nathaniel and says to him, “We have found the one of whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets [wrote], Jesus son of Joseph the one from Nazareth.  
εὑρίσκει: PAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔγραψεν: AAI 3s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters 
εὑρήκαμεν: PerfAI 1p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
1. Both ‘Moses’ and ‘the prophets’ are the subjects of the verb ‘wrote.’ It is complicated to translate strictly because of the prepositional phrase ‘in the law,’ which would only apply to Moses. So, like many, I am repeating the verb.
2. Again the verb εὑρίσκω (see v.43, n.1), twice. Philip’s encounter with Nathanael seems unambiguously intentional. To be consistent, his words about finding the one of whom Moses and the prophets speak seems also to be an intentional discovery of one who is seeking.
3. Only here and in John 6:42 does John identify Jesus as the “son of Joseph.”
4. The phrase ‘τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ’ (the one from Nazareth) is in the accusative case, which I think means it modifies “Jesus” and “son” (also accusative), rather than “Joseph” (genitive case).

46 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Ἐκ Ναζαρὲτ δύναταί τι ἀγαθὸν εἶναι; λέγει αὐτῷ [ὁ] Φίλιππος, Ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε.
And Nathaniel said to him, “Out of Nazareth is anything good able to be?” Philip says to him, “Come and see.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δύναταί: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources, or of a state of mind, or through favorable  circumstances, or by permission of law or custom
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἔρχου: PMImpv 2s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἴδε: AAImpv, 2s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 
1. I realize the phrasing of Nathanael’s question is a bit wooden and awkward. I suppose that the verb infinitive εἶναι (to be) along with the preposition Ἐκ (out), is why many translators make it ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ My only concern with that decision is that the verb for “come” (ἔρχομαι) plays a big role in this pericope, so I think it is misleading to interpret εἶναι that way. Young’s Literal Translation is one of the few that doesn’t go there.

47 εἶδεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Ναθαναὴλ ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτὸν καὶ λέγει περὶ αὐτοῦ, Ἴδε ἀληθῶς Ἰσραηλίτης ἐν ᾧ δόλος οὐκ ἔστιν.
Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him and says about him, “Behold truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
εἶδεν: AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
ἐρχόμενον: PMPart asm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἴδε: AAImpv, 2s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The root of the adverb ἀληθῶς is the word for “truth.” Most translations interpret the adverb here as “indeed.” I am trying to show a contrast between ἀληθῶς (truly) and δόλος (deceit).
2. Some commentators have suggested that the legacy of Jacob (“heel grabber” a phrase of deceit and a person known for his deceptions) is in play here. I like that kind of back story echoing through this one, but I wonder if Jesus’ generous description of Nathanael is more connected to Nathanael’s own reticence about Jesus and Nazarenes in general.

48 λέγει αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Πόθεν με γινώσκεις; ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πρὸ τοῦ σε Φίλιππον φωνῆσαι ὄντα ὑπὸ τὴν συκῆν εἶδόν σε.
Nathaniel says to him, “From where do you know me?”  Jesus answered him and said, “Before Philip called you I saw you being under the fig tree.”
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γινώσκεις: PAI 2s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
φωνῆσαι: AAInf, φωνέω, 1) to sound, emit a sound, to speak
ὄντα: PAPart asm, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εἶδόν: AAI 1s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
1. Curiously, Nathanael’s question is “Whence do you know me?” The conjunction Πόθεν speaks of origin. By making it “whence” or “from where” I am continuing the locational references of vv. 43, 44, 45, 46, and perhaps 47. Geography seems incredibly pivotal here, but I can’t quite put a finger on why or how.   
2. Jesus’ response here is the centerpiece of my essay on this text on the Political Theology web site, which you can read here: It is significant that before Nathanael “Comes and sees” Jesus, he is already seen.
3. If Jesus is answering Nathanael’s question of location, then the phrase ‘under the fig tree’ would be the location where Jesus saw Nathanael, not necessarily where Philip called Nathanael.

49 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Ῥαββί, σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, σὺ βασιλεὺς εἶ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ.  
Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are king of Israel.” 
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This is quite the declaration by Nathanael. It is amazing how differently the gospels of John and Mark perceive the disciples’ capacity to make a declaration of faith. Nathanael’s declaration does not go by without some response by Jesus, but the fact that this declaration comes as soon as Nathanael meets Jesus displays a very different approach to discipleship in John than one gets in any of the synoptic gospels.
2. I wonder if the phrases “son of God” and “king of Israel” are intended to be essentially the same here. The history of Christian theology has made the phrase “son of God” into a unique metaphysical declaration, unlike “king of Israel,” which might describe Jesus or Saul or David or Solomon or many of those wretched descendants of Solomon. It could even describe Herod. Or Caesar. I suppose someone might describe Nathaniel’s declaration as touching on both the divine (son of God) and the human (king of Israel) expressions of Jesus. That makes for a great Sunday School lesson, I guess, but the two phrases seem parallel here, almost a way of one restating the other. I wonder if – for this verse, I’m not addressing how we might use this phrase in other contexts – we could hear the phrase “son of God” less as a unique metaphysical declaration about Jesus’ eternal being and more as a designation similar to “king of Israel.” It might be a functional category that identifies Jesus within a particular promise and fulfillment.

50 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οτι εἶπόν σοι ὅτι εἶδόν σε ὑποκάτω τῆς συκῆς πιστεύεις; μείζω τούτων ὄψῃ
Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig tree, you believe?  You will see greater than this.” 
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶπόν: AAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶδόν: AAI 1s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
πιστεύεις: PAI 2s, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in 
ὄψῃ: FMI 2s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
1. The semicolon in the Greek text – usually translated as a question mark in an English translation – is the judgment of a later scribe, not John himself. I think the sentence works quite nicely as a declaration as well as a question. The NIV and YLT make it a declaration while the NRSV, ESV and KJV make it a question.

51 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὄψεσθε τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεῳγότα καὶ τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.
And he says to him, “Truly, truly I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ὄψεσθε: FMI 2p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
ἀναβαίνοντας: PAPart apm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  1b) to rise, mount, be borne up, spring up
καταβαίνοντας: PAPart apm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend

1. This echo of Jacob’s dream sets the earlier conversation into new relief. Jesus is “Israel,” on whom the angels descend and ascend. Nathanael is an “Israelite,” perhaps now meaning a disciple of the one on whom angels descend and ascend. And, geographically, Jesus is the location where the presence of God is fully present. It may also give weight to the suggestion about the name Jacob and its relationship to “truly” and “deceit”  in v.47 (see v.47, n.2 above.)


  1. As always - thank you Mark! In the abscence of Scharlemann's book I'd be keen to hear a bit more about acolouthetic reason...

  2. Scharlemann argues that theology has traditionally followed the philosophical tripartite forms of reason - pure reason or knowledge; practical reason or ethics; and artistic reason or aesthetics. The classic example would be Kant's Critique of Pure reason, Critique of Practical reason, and Critique of Judgment.
    The call stories of the gospels, he argues, shows a 4th kind of reason which he calls acolouthetic reason or 'the reason of following.' This is a kind of unmediated reason. The disciples do not ask Jesus questions like "What is the true?" as pure reason would ask. Or "What is the good?" as practical reason would ask. Or "What is the beautiful?" as aesthetic reason would ask. Instead, they simply drop their nets, etc., and follow. In this sense, it is most akin to what Schleiermacher called "the feeling of absolute dependence," or what Tillich called "heautonomy," where the call from the outside (heteronomy) corresponds with the hunger of the inside (autonomy).
    For Scharlemann, acolouthetic reason is unmediated by human judgment, where the call elicits an unmediated response. They simply follow. Questions arise, to be sure, but they arise along the journey that one has immediately followed. Hence, it is a different kind of response; an immediate response of the heart to the call.
    Something like that.

    1. Hi Mark:
      Kathy Smith here, (from the ancient days of Synod School past). This description "immediately" made me think of your namesake gospel and the urgency that is present in the use of "immediately." I feel a connection between this acolouthetic reason and the "eureka" moment of the finding verb in this story. Thanks!

    2. Hey Kathy!
      This is a nice connection. Whenever I run across the word "immediately," it seems to point to a temporal matter of doing something in a hurry. Sometimes when reading the Gospel of Mark the hurry does not seem to make any sense. Scharlemann has helped me to hear "immediately" more a "unmediated," referring more the the process than the time involved.

      I once saw someone who said that Mark uses "immediately" so often because Mark was in a hurry writing his gospel. He might have said that Mark was trying to escape the destruction of Jerusalem, but can't remember for sure. I do remember thinking, "If he's in such a hurry, wouldn't he leave out unnecessary words rather than insert them?"
      Great to hear from you. Hope you and yours are well.

    3. Thanks! I looked that word up in several dictionaries, including the OED, and couldn't find it. I appreciate the definition.

    4. Nice. "Immediately" used to feel rushed to me, now it feels immediate as in nearby, close to, or as the daughter of a police officer I think, "in the immediate vicinity." For me, the akolouthetic reason, the heurisco seeking/being found and yes, the immediacy of unmediated presence in Jesus' encounters are all working to spark my imagination. They all are wonderful windows on the season of Epiphany. Hope you are well and enjoying life! Peace.

  3. Dear Mark,

    Thas KS for your work. It is always one of favorite starting points in preparing to preach. I also don't have the book you recommend, but am anxious to get ahold of a copy.

    In one of the synopses of the book I read online there was a great image of the I am of the burning bush and the I am in Jesus meeting the I am in me. Who I really "am" is brought to light as I follow the great I am. As I know Jesus, I know me.

    Thanks for the lead

  4. Incredible stuff. I'm fascinated by your transparency, both in your clear and exposed translation of the text and in the way you let us in to see and hear your conversation with it. This is truly a "Come and See" experience. thank you for your generosity.

  5. Tom and Todd,
    Thanks for your generous remarks. I'm glad we can share this journey together.

  6. When I searched 'under fig tree' I got some interesting texts from Micah and Zechariah. Maybe John was intentionally echoing them, and disclosing Nathaniel as one who wasn't afraid? John doesn't always tell the back story behind his images...

    1. I think the gospels echo previous texts often. I'll be interested in seeing how the Micah and Zechariah texts shape this story when I get back to it. Thanks for the input.

  7. Thanks so much for the pain-staking work. I came across your blog like others, in preparation for a sermon on the John 1 text. I appreciate the scholarship but equally the humility to hold back when uncertain about an interpretation or application; would that our world had more of that!

    1. Thanks, Scot. It's really a joy to study these texts and that joy is made even greater by joining others in doing so. I appreciate your words.

  8. Thanks Mark for the hard work you have done for us as we wrestle with this somewhat enigmatic text. After reading the link to Political Theology I again went back to the text and was struck by the word 'found' that you had highlighted in the text. Jesus 'finds' Philip (vs 43) and then in vs 45 Philip 'finds' Nathaniel and says 'we have 'found' him'. How is it that Jesus finds Philip and then Philip declares to Natahniel that 'we have found him'? Am I so blind to Jesus finding me (or very short memory) that I declare that I have found Jesus??? Lots to wrestle with here.

  9. Another note - Bethsaida wasn't a favorite place in Matthew and Luke. Possible that John was pointing out that Philip came from a place not well known for hearing/following?

    1. Hi Bill,
      Yeah, perhaps Bethsaida had a reputation that would have been known to gospel readers but is mostly lost on us. I'm a little uncomfortable crossing from one gospel to another in arguments like that, since the gospels themselves, the remembering/writing communities, and the addressees are so different.
      Good to hear from you.


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive