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A Text-Critical Study of John 1.34

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2009

Tze-Ming Quek
St John's College, Cambridge, CB2 1TP, England


Scholars continue to divide over whether John the Baptist acclaims Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ or ‘the Chosen One of God’ at John 1.34. This article argues that transcriptional and intrinsic probabilities, supported by the testimony of a few early manuscripts, favour the latter reading. However, in adopting this reading, the claims that (a) the variation took place in the course of a battle against adoptionism and (b) ‘the Chosen One of God’ supplies corroboration that the original tradition underlying the Synoptic baptismal accounts was based solely on Isa 42.1, are found to be unnecessary and methodologically problematic respectively.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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1 Admittedly, this ‘title’ is slightly problematic, because the special role he plays in the Gospel is more aptly that of a witness (1.7–8, 15, 19, 32, 34; see also 5.33–35). In my discussion, I continue to use ‘the Baptist’ because of familiar usage, and because he did actually perform the activity in the Fourth Gospel (John 1.25, 28, 31; 3.23).

2 The Committee gives this reading the rating {B}; ‘almost certain’. See Metzger, B. M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2d ed. 1994) 172Google Scholar.

3 In favour of ὁ ἐκλεκτὸς τοῦ θεοῦ: Zahn, T., Das Evangelium des Johannes (Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 4; Leipzig: Deichert, 1908) 124–25Google Scholar; von Harnack, A., ‘Zur Textkritik und Christologie der Schriften Johannes’, Studien zur Geschichte des Neuen Testaments und der alten Kirche, Vol. 1: Zur neutestamentlichen Textkritik (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1931) 105–52, esp. 127–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar; J. Jeremias, ‘παι῀ς θεοῦ’, TDNT 5.701–2; Boismard, M. E., Du Baptème à Cana (Jean, I, 19–2, 11) (LD 18; Paris: Cerf, 1956) 47Google Scholar; Brown, R. E., The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (2 vols.; AB 29–30; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966) 1.58Google Scholar; Schnackenburg, R., The Gospel according to St. John (3 vols.; ET. Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Burns & Oates, 1968) 1.305–6Google Scholar; Barrett, C. K., The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (London: SPCK, 2d ed. 1978) 178Google Scholar; Becker, J., Das Evangelium nach Johannes (2 vols.; OTKNT 4.1,2; Gütersloh: Mohn, 1979–81) 116Google Scholar; Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1991) 152Google Scholar; Ehrman, B. D., The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University, 1993) 6970Google Scholar, Morris, L., The Gospel According to John (rev. ed.; NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 134Google Scholar. Non-committed or unsure: Lindars, B., The Gospel of John (NCB; London: Oliphants, 1972) 111–12Google Scholar; Köstenberger, A. J., John (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) 71Google Scholar. In favour of ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ: Bernard, J. H., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to John (2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928) 1.52Google Scholar; Dodd, C. H., Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1963) 260CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Braun, F.-M., Jean le Théologien II: Les grandes traditions d'Israel, L'accord des Ecritures d'après les Quatrième Evangile (EBib; Paris: Gabalda, 1964) 71–3Google Scholar; Bultmann, R., The Gospel of John: A Commentary (ET. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971) 92–3 n. 6Google Scholar; Haenchen, E., John 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapters 1–6 (ET. Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 154Google Scholar; Metzger, Textual Commentary, 172; Ridderbos, H., The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) 77Google Scholar; Moloney, F. J., The Gospel of John (SP 4; Collegeville: Liturgical, 1998) 59Google Scholar; Beasley-Murray, G. R., John (WBC 36; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2d ed. 1999) 21Google Scholar; Aland, B., ‘Der textkritische und textgeschichtliche Nutzen frühen Papyri, demonstriert am Johannesevangelium’, Recent Developments in Textual Criticism: New Testament, Other Early Christian and Jewish Literature: Papers Read at a NOSTER Conference in Münster, January 4–6, 2001 (ed. Weren, W. and Koch, D.-A.; STAR 8; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2003) 33–4Google Scholar; Keener, C. S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary (2 vols.; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003) 1.463–4Google Scholar; Thyen, H., Das Johannesevangelium (HNT 6; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) 125–6.Google Scholar

4 The classic text-critical study is found in Harnack, ‘Textkritik’, 105–52, originally published in 1915.

5 The Holy Bible, Today's New International Version, Copyright 2001 by International Bible Society.

6 The NET Bible, New English Translation, Copyright 1996 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.

7 The rather full listing in UBS4 is 66,752 A B C L Wsupp Δ Θ Ψ 083 0141 0233vid f1 f13 28 33 157 180 205 565 579 597 700 892 1006 1010 1071 1241 1243 1292 1342 1424 1505 Byz [E F G H N P] Lect itaur, c, f, l, q vg syrp, h, palmss copbo arm eth geo slav Origen Asterius Chrysostom Cyril John-Damascus; Augustine3/4. To this should now be added 120 = P.Oxy. 4804, three fragments containing John 1.25–28, 33–39, 42–44, edited by J. Chapa and very recently published in Hatzilambrou, R., Parsons, P. J., and Chapa, J., eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXXI (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2007) 69Google Scholar. Images of this fourth-century fragment can be accessed online at the P.Oxy: Oxyrhynchus Online website at From the image, YIO and possibly C can be seen at the relevant portion. The editor establishes the reading without any dots below any of the letters.

8 Comm. Jo. 2, 35, 217; 13, 59, 405; Hom. 1 Reg. 7; C. Cels. 1, 48. See Ehrman, B. D., Fee, G. D., and Holmes, M. W., The Text of the Fourth Gospel in the Writings of Origen: Volume One (SBLNTGF 3; Atlanta: Scholars, 1992) 7980.Google Scholar

9 This is the ‘8. korrigierter und um die Papyri 99–116 erweiterter Druck 2001’ of the NA27.

10 Ambrose and Augustine1/4.

11 Harnack, ‘Textkritik’, 127–32; Fee, G. D., ‘Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A Contribution to Methodology in Establishing Textual Relationships’, NTS 15 (1968) 2344CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ehrman, Corruption, 69; Head, P. M., ‘Some Recently Published NT Papyri from Oxyhrynchus: An Overview and Preliminary Assessment’, TynB 51.1 (2000) 116Google Scholar, at 11.

12 Aland, K. et al. , Text und Textwert der Griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments V. Das Johannesevangelium 1. Teststellenkollation der Kapitel 1–10, Band 1,2: Resultate der Kollation und Hauptliste (ANTF 36; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005) 13Google Scholar. Codex 77 is an eleventh-century four-gospel codex (with commentary) from Vienna, with a Byzantine text. The minuscules 187 (XII, Florence), 218 (XIII, Vienna), 228 (XIV, Escorial), and 1784 (XIII/XIV, Sofia) are Byzantine, though Hatch has described Codex 218 as a thirteenth-century whole Bible codex with a ‘Western’ text in the Gospels, Catholic Epistles, and the Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews). See Hatch, W. H. P., Facsimiles and Descriptions of Minuscule Manuscripts of the New Testament (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1951): Plate XXXV, p. 142 for Codex 77; and Plate LXXV, p. 222 for Codex 128Google Scholar.

13 187 and 218 form a group.

14 Found in a ff2csa. UBS4also adds some Vulgate and Palestian Syriac MSS.

15 ‘Die Angabe 5vid aus früheren Auflagen des Novum Testamentum Graece muss als eine zu unsichere Lesung gestrichen werden’. Aland, ‘Nutzen’, 19–38, at 33. See also Elliott, W. J. and Parker, D. C., The New Testament in Greek IV: The Gospel according to St. John. Vol. 1, The Papyri (NTTS 20; Leiden: Brill, 1995) 29Google Scholar.

16 Grenfell, B. P., and Hunt, A. S., eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri II (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1899) 7Google Scholar (5 = P.Oxy. 208 + 1781).

17 Admittedly, the recent publication of 120, which apparently has the reading Ο ΥΙΟC Ο ΤΟΥ Θ̄Ῡ (the article following ‘Son’ is curious and unattested elsewhere), shows that it was possible for ‘Son’ to be written in full and nomen sacrum to be employed for ‘God’ here. Among the majuscules, the full υἱός is found in Α Β Γ Θ 083. The nomen sacrum for ‘Son’ is used by in ℵ2.

18 The papyrus (106 = P.Oxy 4445) was published by W. E. H. Cockle in Haslam, M. W. et al. , eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXV (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1998) 1114Google Scholar, who establishes the reading ο [ε]κλεκ[τος, with dots under all the visible letters except the epsilon. The reading is accepted by most, including Head and Aland. Images are available online at the P.Oxy: Oxyrhynchus Online website at

19 Sinaiticus represents the ‘Western’ tradition in John 1.1–8.38. See Fee, ‘Sinaiticus’, 23–44. D is defective at this point, but it seems reasonable to assume that it probably would have contained the minority reading.

20 Ehrman, Corruption, 69, describes 5 as an ‘Alexandrian papyri’, but in terms of textual tradition it is most commonly described as ‘Western’.

21 So Thyen, Johannesevangelium, 125.

22 ‘Son of God’ is a favoured Johannine term, cf. John 1.49; 3.18; 5.25; 10.36; 11.4, 27; 19.7; 20.31.

23 So Head, ‘NT Papyri’, 11.

24 The substantive adjective ἐκλεκτός is used in the NT to describe those whom God has chosen from the generality of humankind and drawn to himself; and hence of Christians in particular. Apart from Luke 23.35 and the reading under consideration, it is never used directly of Jesus. There is a possible indirect application in the term ἀκρογωνιαῖον ἐκλεκτὸν (‘chosen cornerstone’) in 1 Pet 2.6, which cites Isa 28.16. Even in the Apostolic Fathers, where there is a signficant increase in the use of ἐκλεκτός (see esp. 1 Clem. and Herm. Vis.), the only possible messianic reference is Barn. 6.2, which cites Isa 28.16 in a similar fashion to 1 Pet 2.6 (though 1 Clem. 52.2 describes David as ὁ ἐκλεκτός). The verbal cognate ἐκλέγομαι is never affirmed of Jesus in John's Gospel, though it is used of his disciples (John 6.70; 13.18; 15.16; cf. Mark 13.29; Luke 6.13; Acts 1.2; Barn. 5.9; Pre. Pet 3b; Gos. Eb. 4). It is used to describe God as the one ‘who chose the Lord Jesus Christ, and us through him to be his own special people’ in 1 Clem. 64.1. Cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1.15.3: ‘… the Father of all chose to [obtain] the knowledge of Himself by means of the Word’. The adjectival participle is used of Christians in 1 Clem. 50.7; of the church in Ign. Eph. 1.1.

25 Aland, ‘Nutzen’, 34.

26 And why only Luke's version, if there was such a harmonisation?

27 Haenchen, John 1, 154. See also Bultmann, John, 92–6, n. 6.

28 Matt 12.18: ἰδοὺ ὁ παι῀ς μου ὃν ᾑρέτισα, ὁ ἀγαπητός μου εἰς ὃν εὐδόκησεν ἡ ψυχή μου (‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased’). Admittedly, this is not the only or the necessary link, for the giving of the Spirit ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν (John 1.33) recalls the language and concepts of Isa 42.1 too. But it remains the most obvious link.

29 According to UBS4, this is also supported by some Vulgate and Palestian Syriac MSS. That other Palestian Syriac MSS apparently attest to yet another reading (ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός) speaks of the instability of the text at this point, which may corroborate the existence of a more difficult original reading.

30 Variants for an original ‘You are the Holy One of God’ include: ‘You are the Christ’; ‘You are the Christ, the Holy One of God’; and ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (cf. Matt 16.16). The last version is the majority reading. See Brown, John, 1.59.

31 This is, of course, not the first nor last time that transcriptional and intrinsic probabilities have come out on opposite sides based on the same data. This seems to have been the clinching argument for the UBS4Committee. See Metzger, Textual Commentary, 172. See also Thyen, Johannesevangelium, 125–6, for a developed argument from ‘inneren Textkritik’ (i.e. ‘intrinsic probabilities’). The problem is that Thyen does not really offer a reason why and how the ‘chosen’ reading could have come about.

32 Haenchen, John 1, 154. So also Hirsch, E., Studium zum vierten Evangelium: Text, Literarkritik, Entstehungsgeschichte (BHT 11; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1936) 4Google Scholar, though Haenchen does not cite him. But is ‘the one who comes after me’ (John 1.26) yet another honorific title?

33 Ross, J. M., ‘Two More Titles of Jesus’, ExpTim 85 (1974) 281Google Scholar.

34 The latter title appears to be an explanation of the former one.

35 Lindars, John, 119.

36 I am developing the brief note in Head, ‘NT Papyri’, 11.

37 See esp. VanderKam, J. C., ‘Righteous One, Messiah, Chosen One, and Son of Man in 1Enoch 37–71’, The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (ed. Charlesworth, J. H. et al. ; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) 169–91Google Scholar; Collins, J. J., The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1995) 143Google Scholar; Fitzmyer, J. A., The One who is to Come (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 85Google Scholar.

38 But see Fitzmyer, J. A., ‘The Aramaic Elect of God Text from Qumran Cave 4’, CBQ 27 (1965) 349–72Google Scholar; Grelot, P., ‘Hénoch et ses écritures’, RB 82 (1975) 481500Google Scholar; Martínez, F. García, ‘4QMess Ar and the Book of Noah’, Qumran and Apocalyptic: Studies on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran (STDJ 9; Leiden: Brill, 1992) 144Google Scholar; who argue that the figure is Noah. For the arguments that support the old messianic interpretation, see Abegg, M. G., and Evans, C. A., ‘Messianic Passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls’, Qumran-Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Charlesworth, J. H. et al. ; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998) 191203Google Scholar, here 202. The authors point out parallels between 4Q534 and Ps 89.4; and, more intriguingly, Isa 11.1–6, but admit that the Noah hypothesis appears ‘the more probable’.

39 From the NT itself, we have Luke 23.35, of course, where ‘Christ of God’ and ‘Chosen One’ are found in parallel.

40 So Brown, John, 1.67.

41 See Williams, C. H., ‘Isaiah in John's Gospel’, Isaiah in the New Testament (ed. Moyise, S. and Menken, M. J. J.; London: T.&T. Clark, 2005) 101–16Google Scholar, at 104–5.

42 This does not exclude influence from the Passover lamb imagery at the same time, for the evangelist could have combined both echoes. Cf. Lincoln, A. T., Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000) 62Google Scholar. Isaiah 53.7 is applied to Jesus in Acts 8.32, so this comparison is known to Christians. Furthermore, Isa 53.1 is quoted in John 12.38; Isa 53.4 is present in Matt 8.17; Isa 53.12 in Heb 9.28; with all of them applying the text to Jesus. By the end of the first century, Clement of Rome applied the whole of Isa 53 to Jesus (1 Clem. 16).

43 Among those who distinguish between what the Baptist meant and what the Fourth Evangelist does with the testimony are Brown, John, 1.59; Carson, John, 149–50, who think the Baptist was pointing to the apocalyptic, warrior lamb (1 En. 90.9–12; cf. Rev 5.6, 12; 7.17; 13.8; 17.14; 19.7, 9; 21.22–23; 22.1–3).

44 Carson, John, 152. The ‘elect of God’ is a common term for Christians and/or the Church in the post-apostolic writings.

45 Harnack, ‘Textkritik’, 128; Jeremias, TDNT 5.689 n. 260.

46 Ehrman, Corruption, 108–9 n. 118.

47 Aland, ‘Nutzen’, 34.

48 Marcus, J., The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Studies of the New Testament and its World; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1992) 54Google Scholar; following the assessment of Brown, John, 1.65–6. See also the classic treatment in Dodd, Tradition, 259–61.

49 Bousset, W., Kyrios Christos: A History of the Belief in Christ from the Beginnings of Christianity to Irenaeus (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970) 97 n. 70Google Scholar; Cullman, O., The Christology of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1959) 66–7Google Scholar; Jeremias, TDNT 5.701–2; Maurer, C., ‘Knecht Gottes und Sohn Gottes im Passionsbericht des Markusevangeliums’, ZTK 50 (1953) 138Google Scholar; Lindars, B., New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations (London: SCM, 1961) 139Google Scholar; Fuller, R. H., The Foundations of New Testament Christology (London: Lutterworth, 1965) 169Google Scholar; Hahn, F., The Titles of Jesus in Christology: Their History in Early Christianity (London: Lutterworth, 1969) 338–9Google Scholar; Davies, W. D., and Allison, D. C., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (3 vols.; ICC; London: T. & T. Clark, 1988–1997) 1.338Google Scholar; Marcus, Way, 54.

50 This is a complex issue which cannot be treated adequately here. For a survey of the views, see Neirynck, F., ‘John and the Synoptics’, Évangile de Jean: Sources, Rédaction, Théologie (ed. de Jonge, M.; BETL 44; Gembloux, Belgium: Duculot, 1977) 73106Google Scholar; Neirynck, F., ‘John and the Synoptics: 1975–1990’, John and the Synoptics (ed. Denaux, A.; BETL 101; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1992) 362Google Scholar; Smith, D. Moody, John Among the Gospels: The Relationship in Twentieth-Century Research (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992)Google Scholar; and more recently and succinctly, Keener, John, 1.40–42. It is sufficient to mention that in recent years the Gardner-Smith consensus that viewed John as independent from the Synoptics has been challenged. The more nuanced view is that the Fourth Evangelist used independent traditions that have contacts with the Synoptics. See esp. Smith, Among, 195–241; and Smith, D. Moody, John (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 1999) 19Google ScholarPubMed. For the view that the Fourth Gospel is dependent on the Synoptics, see esp. Neirynck, ‘John 1990’, 3–62 and the references therein. Obviously, if one takes the view that the Fourth Evangelist used one or more of the Synoptics, then the reading ‘the Chosen One of God’ by itself tells us nothing necessarily of pre-Synoptic tradition. For an attempt to read John 1.29–34 with the presupposition that the Fourth Evangelist knew the Synoptics, and was trying to develop the Synoptic traditions in the light of his situation, see Goulder, M. D., ‘John 1.1–2.12 and the Synoptics’, John and the Synoptics (ed. Denaux, A.; BETL 101; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1992) 201–37Google Scholar, at 213–14. Goulder, whose view has not been widely adopted, thinks this situation was the Fourth Evangelist's battle as a Pauline Christian against Jewish Christians (who had a ‘possessionist’ Christology). He accepts the ‘Son of God’ reading in John 1.34.

51 Brown, John, 66.

52 Meier, Marginal 2, 104.

53 Dodd, Tradition, 260.

54 See Cullman, O., Baptism in the New Testament (SBT 1; London: SCM, 1950) 2021Google Scholar.

55 Hidden in this argument are the sometimes unstated presuppositions that a so-called ‘high’ Christology cannot have come from Jesus or the earliest traditions concerning Jesus; and also that ‘Son of God’ (or God's pronouncement that Jesus is ‘my Son’) somehow reflects this ‘high’ Christology and ‘the Chosen One of God’ or ‘the Servant of God’ a lower one. The evidence, I believe, is not so neat.

56 Robinson sums up the argument trenchantly: ‘Why then are we at the Temptation launched, without any preparation, into a discussion of the validity of Jesus being the Son of God, if he has not even been so designated? The inclusion of Jesus’ being designated God's Son by the heavenly voice, or some equivalent, is needed in the narrative preface to Q for it to cohere. It is hardly a sober methodology to eliminate the title by eliminating the Baptism of Jesus and then of necessity to reintroduce it, e.g. into a purely hypothetical incipit which the devil would have had to read for the story to be coherent.' See Robinson, J. M., ‘The Sayings Gospel Q’, The Four Gospels 1992: Festschrift Frans Neirynck (ed. Segbroeck, F. van et al. ; BETL; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1992) 361–88Google Scholar, here 384.

The International Q Project initially included the baptism in Q, but only with the lowest degree of probability {D}: Moreland, M. C. and Robinson, J. M., ‘The International Q Project Work Sessions 31 July–2 August, 20 November 1992’, JBL 112 (1993) 500506Google Scholar, here 502. The grade has subsequently been raised to {C}. See the reconstruction and evaluation of Q 3.[21–22] in Robinson, J. M., Hoffmann, P., and Kloppenborg, J. S., eds., The Critical Edition of Q: Synopsis Including the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark and Thomas with English, German, and French Translations of Q and Thomas (Leuven: Peeters, 2000) 1822Google Scholar.

57 That is not to say that it is a fully developed category in Q.

58 I am grateful to Prof. Graham Stanton and Dr. Peter Head for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.