In order to aid you and your family as you study John 1 this week, here are a few insights from gospel scholars that provide more depth and context to the Gospel of John.
Who was John?
Thomas A. Wayment explains in The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints:
As in the other Gospels, the author of the Gospel of John never mentions himself by name directly. In the stories that are retold in the Fourth Gospel, an unnamed disciple sees and experiences the life of Jesus personally and uniquely. He was a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35–39), and he became a follower of Jesus after hearing John’s testimony. During Jesus’s final week of life, the unnamed disciple grew more prominent in the story, perhaps suggesting that his witness was shaped by the events of the final week. He sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:21–30), he may have watched the trial of Jesus with Peter (John 18:15–18), he visited Jesus during the crucifixion (John 19:26–27), he was among the first to visit the empty tomb (John 20:2–10), and he dined with Jesus after the resurrection (John 21:7–20). The author was reluctant to name himself, although he clearly told of his involvement in the story. Tradition has connected John the son of Zebedee with the author of the Gospel, although some early Christians like Irenaeus (died 202 CE) thought another disciple named John was responsible for writing the Gospel, but for the most part the tradition has been fairly stable that John the early disciple wrote it.
The Greek of the Fourth Gospel and writing style can be described as simple and perhaps the work of a non-native Greek speaker. Beginning with the opening lines, it quickly becomes apparent that John was not writing a historical record of Jesus’s life (John 20:30) but rather a reflection on the meaning of Jesus’s life (John 20:31). Stories and events from Jesus’s life were chosen for a specific purpose and interest.
Why does he call Christ the Word?
In The New Testament Study Guide: Start to Finish, the book’s editor Thomas R. Valletta compiles quotes from prophets and scholars to explain Jesus Christ’s role as the Word:
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “Christ is the Word or Messenger of Salvation. Thus John’s meaning is: ‘In pre-existence was Christ, and Christ was with the Father, and he, the Son, had himself also attained godhood.’ I. V. John 1:1–2; D&C 93:7–8. Further, the gospel itself is the word, and it is because the gospel or word of salvation is in Christ that he, on the principle of personification’ . . . becomes the Word” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:71; see also JST, John 1:1).
“The Gospel of John calls Jesus the Word (see John 1:1; logos in Greek), a complex philosophical term that basically means the divine principle of reason that brings order to the universe and links the human mind with Deity. In basic gospel terms, Jesus is the mediator who was sent to reconcile humanity with God (see D&C 76:69)” (Judd, Essential New Testament Companion, 34–35).
“The Father operated . . . through the Son, who thus became the executive through whom the will, commandment, or word of the Father was put into effect. It is with incisive appropriateness therefore, that the Son, Jesus Christ, is designated by the apostle John as the Word; or as declared by the Father ‘the word of my power’” (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 33).
Thomas A. Wayment in Scripture Study Made Simple: The New Testament further explains:
The opening words of the Gospel of John are formed from an early Christian hymn that extols Christ as the Word of God, as equal to God, and as the Creator. There is a clear allusion to Genesis 1:1, and the message may be to emphasize a new day of creation. By referring to Jesus as the Word, John immediately engages the idea that He is the word of God’s mouth and the divine word that orders the universe (compare to D&C 93:7–8). The Joseph Smith Translation of this verse reads, “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the Word, and the Word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.”
Why does John say, “No man hath seen God at any time”? What does that mean about modern revelation?
Thomas A. Wayment in Scripture Study Made Simple: The New Testament clarifies:
This verse can be troubling to some because it declares that no one has seen God at any time. The immediate response is to note those who have seen God (compare to Joseph Smith—History 1:17). In the context of this verse, the idea of which “God” is an important one. John may have intended to convey the idea that no one has yet seen the Son of God as God, or that no one has fully seen Jesus as God. Even the Resurrection was not a full vision of Jesus as God (see John 20:17). The Joseph Smith Translation reads, “And no man hath seen God at any time; except he hath born record of the Son, for except it is through him no man can be saved.”
What do we know about the place where Jesus was baptized?
Thomas R. Valletta in The New Testament Study Guide: Start to Finish offers insight from other scholars:
“According to John, the place where these events occurred was in ‘Bethabara’ (John 1:28), a place name which is confirmed in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 10:9). Most ancient Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John, however, place the events in Bethany instead of Bethabara. Some critics have seen in this an opportunity to criticize the Book of Mormon for using a less known and attested version of the story. The fallacy with this criticism is that a city or place named Bethany ‘beyond Jordan’ is otherwise unattested, whereas Bethabara, ‘the crossing,’ is mentioned in the Talmud” (Holzapfel and Wayment, Making Sense of the New Testament, 28).
The River Jordan beyond Bethabara (John 1:28) [is] a site on the east side of the River Jordan in the vicinity where Jesus was baptized by John. It is called Bethabara in the Book of Mormon. This location is confirmed on the Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land in Madaba, in Jordan.
(1:28): Biblical scholar Alfred Edersheim pointed out that John the Baptist was absorbed in his mission, his “voice, every where proclaiming the same message, travelled upward, along the winding Jordan which cleft the land of promise. . . . He had now reached what seems to have been the most northern point of his Mission-journey, Beth-Abara (‘the house of passage,’ or ‘of shipping’)—according to the ancient reading, Bethany (‘the house of shipping’)—one of the best known fords across the Jordan into Peraea. Here he baptized (John 1:28)” (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 193).
How is Jesus Christ the light in your life?
Thomas R. Valletta in The New Testament Study Guide: Start to Finish shares:
“The stirring pronouncement that ‘in him was life; and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4) establishes some of the images used powerfully throughout [John’s] Gospel—namely, that Jesus is the light and the life of the world. Nevertheless, the world, by and large, did not recognize the Word through which God had created it” (Holzapfel and Wayment, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, 132–33). When have you recognized the Savior’s light in your life?