[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning — see top menu for John 1:1-2].
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
Μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν, καὶ ἐκεῖ διέτριβεν μετ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐβάπτιζεν. 23 ἦν δὲ καὶ ὁ Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων ἐν Αἰνὼν ἐγγὺς τοῦ Σαλείμ, ὅτι ὕδατα πολλὰ ἦν ἐκεῖ, καὶ παρεγίνοντο καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο· 24 οὔπω γὰρ ἦν βεβλημένος εἰς τὴν φυλακὴν ὁ Ἰωάννης.
25 Ἐγένετο οὖν ζήτησις ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν Ἰωάννου μετὰ Ἰουδαίου περὶ καθαρισμοῦ. 26 καὶ ἦλθον πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· Ῥαββί, ὃς ἦν μετὰ σοῦ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, ᾧ σὺ μεμαρτύρηκας, ἴδε οὗτος βαπτίζει καὶ πάντες ἔρχονται πρὸς αὐτόν. 27 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰωάννης καὶ εἶπεν· Οὐ δύναται ἄνθρωπος λαμβάνειν οὐδὲ ἓν ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ δεδομένον αὐτῷ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. 28 αὐτοὶ ὑμεῖς μοι μαρτυρεῖτε ὅτι εἶπον· Οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐγὼ ὁ χριστός, ἀλλ’ ὅτι Ἀπεσταλμένος εἰμὶ ἔμπροσθεν ἐκείνου. 29 ὁ ἔχων τὴν νύμφην νυμφίος ἐστίν· ὁ δὲ φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου ὁ ἑστηκὼς καὶ ἀκούων αὐτοῦ, χαρᾷ χαίρει διὰ τὴν φωνὴν τοῦ νυμφίου. αὕτη οὖν ἡ χαρὰ ἡ ἐμὴ πεπλήρωται. 30 ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν, ἐμὲ δὲ ἐλαττοῦσθαι.
John is a Moonie
First off, it is good to mention that some biblical scholars who do textual criticism believe these verses could be an ancient fragment of authentic Johanine writing that wasn’t originally located here. They argue for a variety of reasons related to the words in the text and the flow of the verses, that it was originally located after John 1:19-34. Frankly, it would flow better there and make better sense. I have to admit, though, that my own writing doesn’t always flow well! But these scholars may be right. Nonetheless, for our purposes (and brevity!), we can look at this redactively; meaning, this is the way the work was constructed as we have it. And I should add that nothing of significance rises or falls on this e.g. the truth of the resurrection!
We find here a brief window of time when both Jesus and John were baptizing people. Of the possible locations of the ancient site of John’s baptism, a place called Ainun eight miles northeast of Salim not far from Shechem in Samaria is most likely, rather than along the Jordan River. Some kind of argument erupted, perhaps about the superiority of baptisms between John and Jesus, or who was greater, which would make sense in context, but the text isn’t clear about it.
The scene sets John the Baptist up for his most famous saying. He says clearly he is not the Messiah (Christ in Greek) but the one who comes before Him. And then he uses wedding imagery familiar to the Jews. The Best Man (literally, Friend of the Bridegroom: a role to supervise the wedding) does not get the bride; rather, the Best Man waits to hear the Good News of the wedding’s completion, and is overjoyed, and his role is now over. John the Baptist here identifies Jesus as the Messianic bridegroom of Israel; imagery furthered by the Johanine school in Rev. 19:7 and 21:2.
Lastly, John the Baptist says it is now time for Jesus to increase and for him to decrease. John accepts his subordinate role and now makes way for the incarnate Logos to shine! The Greek words used for increase and decrease are the same words used to describe the waxing and waning of the light of heavenly bodies.
Biblical scholar Raymond Brown upon whom I have depended so much for my understanding of the Gospel of John quotes Augustine here describing the contrast of Jesus and John:
I listen; he is the one who speaks;
I am enlightened; he is the light;
I am the ear; he is the Word.
You could say all of us are moons who do not generate the Light but reflect its glory!