cheerful young woman screaming into megaphone

John 1:19 — 23

[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning — see top menu for John 1:1-2].

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

19 Καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου ὅτε [d]ἀπέστειλαν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευίτας ἵνα ἐρωτήσωσιν αὐτόν· Σὺ τίς εἶ; 20 καὶ ὡμολόγησεν καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσατο, καὶ ὡμολόγησεν ὅτι [e]Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός. 21 καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτόν· Τί οὖν; [f]σὺ Ἠλίας εἶ; καὶ λέγει· Οὐκ εἰμί. Ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ; καὶ ἀπεκρίθη· Οὔ. 22 εἶπαν οὖν αὐτῷ· Τίς εἶ; ἵνα ἀπόκρισιν δῶμεν τοῖς πέμψασιν ἡμᾶς· τί λέγεις περὶ σεαυτοῦ; 23 ἔφη· Ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ· Εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, καθὼς εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας ὁ προφήτης.

Phonee or Phony?

John’s poetic prologue to his Gospel is now completed and we move into the public ministry of Jesus. It starts right away with drama. “The Jews” ( see my comment about John’s use of term The Jews here) — leaders of the religious establishment in Jerusalem — send a deputation to find out who is this strange Baptizer out on the fringe of things. They could be rough on heretics preaching outside the accepted orthodoxy as evidenced in the trial of Jesus a few years later by the same group.

The Baptizer insists he is not the Christ, and the language is strong. In English, I AM NOT THE MESSIAH!!! “Well then, who are you?” They rattled off some Expected Ones who were supposed to appear on the scene at some point, but the Baptizer denied he is even one of those.

Rather, he quoted Isaiah (40:3): “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” The fact he quoted from this part of Isaiah is huge — our topic for next week — but for today I want to point out the Greek translation of the Hebrew (LXX) of this verse from Isaiah. The Baptizer says he is the voice making straight the way of the Lord. This fits in well with John 1 — the Baptizer is not the Word, he insists, but the voice preparing for it.

Furthermore, the Greek word for voice is phonee which sounds an awful lot like PHONY. John the Baptist is a phony! But not the kind you’re thinkin…

Our English word phony comes from an Irish word fawney, meaning, finger. There was an old Irish con using a fauney ring perported to be gold but actually brass. If you’re a phony then you’re not the real thing.

But the Greek word phonee means voice (e.g. phone, phonetics). John the Baptist was the “phone” declaring the Real Deal was coming!

So, this begs the question: are you a Christian phonee or phony? Or maybe a mixture of the two like me, working on reducing the phony and increasing the phonee!