Epiphany 2A 2005 John 1:29-41
We live in times in which religion and spirituality are increasingly popular subjects in the media and in daily conversation.
There is even a Spiritual Book Club – a sure sign of the profitability of the subject. That doesn’t necessarily
mean that people are becoming either more religious or more spiritual – just that it is now a more popular subject to
talk about. And it sells,
Of course the Bible holds the record for the all time best selling religious book in English. And a propos of that is a popular
new book about the creation of the King James’ Bible entitled “God’s Secretaries”, by a travel writer
Incidentally, Nicolson was dismissed by Publisher’s Weekly with a sniff because he is a travel writer. Perhaps the
good editors of Publishers Weekly never read the Bible – the Bible is filled with travel by its main characters: Adam
and Eve to a new land out of Eden; Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan, Joseph to Egypt, and his brothers, too, the
Chosen People from Egypt back to Canaan and then later into captivity in Babylon and their later return. Jesus traveled up
and down the dusty hills of the Holy land from Nazareth to Capernaum and to Jerusalem. And Saint Paul made three long missionary
journeys across the eastern Mediterranean world and finally to Rome. So why not a travel writer?
All of which is to say is that this question of who is to interpret the Bible, how it is to be interpreted, and who is to
write its history is a complex and difficult subject.
Take the King James Version, example. I have heard it said that the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and William
Shakespeare did more to shape the cadences and structure of modern English than anything else. And I think that’s probably
And in an age when those who would interpret the Bible literally as the infallible and inerrant Word of God there are two
“There are a good many churches in America who insist that the use of any Bible other than the King James Version is
anathema. The joke goes that one of the members of such a sect declared, "If it was good enough for Saint Paul, it is good
enough for me." (1) Others would say that the King James Bible was dictated directly by God himself beginning with the handing
down of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and ending with John of Patmos and the Book of Revelation. The difficulty, of
course, is that the original Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Aramaic and koine Greek -- not early 18th Century English.
The other story parallels Shakespeare’s plays. No one is really sure which is the real first edition collection of
Shakespeare because he changed them all the time to suit changing situations and audiences. And likewise, in the case of
the King James Bible, apparently the print shop that printed the first edition, did some editing of their own so that no copy
of the 1611 edition KJV Bible is quite the same. (2)
The English language is, in my experience, both more flexible and, at the same time, more limited than the Greek of the New
Testament. The most common example of this is that great biblical word love. The Greeks had seven different words that tried
to express the relationships of love between human beings another humans and objects as well. Such preciseness is limiting
whereas the single English word love seems unlimited in meaning and application and connotation, perhaps because it requires
imagination and insight – interpretation -- as to its meaning in any given context.
Which brings us to today’s gospel lesson in that glorious first chapter of the gospel according to Saint John. As you
recall this was the chapter that talked about Jesus as the Word but also as the Light, the Light which was coming into the
world pushing aside the darkness. That’s in the first part of the chapter The second part, which we address on the
first two Sundays of the Epiphany season, concerns Jesus baptism, and then today’s Gospel.
The Greek and English for the word see are like the Greek and English for the word love. Saint John uses four different Greek
words for the word that is translated into our bibles as see. In biblical Greek, each verb has shaded meaning to convey preciseness.
The connection, of course, is to the Light coming into the world. We cannot see without the light. We cannot see physically
without the light of the sun or candles or electric bulbs. And we cannot see spiritually without the Light that came into
the world in Christ.
In the thought world of the Greek-speaking world of two thousand years ago seeing and hearing were considered the most important
of the senses. And of the two, seeing was by far the most. Greek culture and hence its language reflected that importance.
Greeks and Greek speakers, of whom Jesus may have been one, gave great importance to seeing, of contemplating, with a fine
sense for what was seen in different physical and art forms, and at different spiritual levels. Seeing had a very strong
religious significance in the Greek-speaking world. (3)
In today’s reading, this unfolds from the simple to the profound. John saw Jesus coming toward him, and later saw him
walking by, the word used is bleppo, the simplest act of physical seeing, of simply looking at an object, in this case, Jesus.
“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven,” Theaomai – to gaze upon, to contemplate, to discern with the
eyes, and as a result to become a participant in the action by virtue of witnessing it. The same word in “When Jesus
turned and saw them following.”
The similarity in English is like watching a football game in the stadium and you see your team score a touchdown. Without
thinking or even really knowing you are doing it, as you see the runner cross the goal line you are on your feet cheering.
“What are you looking for?” Zeteo – to seek, to look for, to search after, to be on the watch for, to desire,
to strive for. Jesus is in effect asking the two disciples, “What is your heart’s desire; what is it you really
“Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Behold is more powerful in the King James Version. The word is orao, to behold,
to see in the sense of seeing and understanding what is being seen, the sense of being in the presence of someone or something
important in the religious sense, in the presence of an object that is holy or divine. It appears again in “He on whom
you see the Spirit descending.” (4)
The closest in English is when we finally understand something being explained tous: “Oh! Now I see what you mean.”
Jesus uses the same word when he says to the disciples, “Come and see.” Come and see and understand. It is even
more than that. It is both imperative: Come and see – and conditional: If you will come and see you will understand.
Both immediate present and continuing future – you will now understand once and for all time.
This is the message that Jesus is sending us across the centuries. Come and see. Come and participate with me in the work
we have been given to do in the world. Come and see. Come and see so that you will understand who I am.
Come and join in the glorious vision of this new creation. Come and see Jesus the Messiah. Come and see, come and be an
active part of the never-ending story.
Come and see. Come and see.
1. Amazon.com review by Rob Hardy
2. Review of God’s Secretaries by Mary E Sibley, amazon.com
3. Kittel, TDNT, v, pp 316, 319, et passim.
4. Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, “oraw”, p 291.