"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 2 Witness and Call

Section 2.3: More Follow Jesus (Jn 1.43-51)

GENERAL COMMENTS

We have now reached the fourth day specified in the Evangelist's sequence, marked by Jesus' decision to leave the district of Perean Bethany, where the witness of John the Baptist and the calls of the first disciples took place, and go to Galilee. So he seeks out Philip, apparently another of John's disciples, and who was also from Bethsaida, the same town as Peter and Andrew.

There is some disagreement about the geography of Bethsaida -- Bethsaida Julias, a city under the jurisdiction of the tetrarch Philip, is now usually identified with a site named et-Tell north of the Sea of Galilee, near the point at which the Jordan River flows into the Sea. But some hold that Bethsaida Julias cannot be the Bethsaida from which Philip, Andrew, and Peter come because it is not technically in Galilee but in the district of Gaulanitis. Also it is too far away from Capernaum, where Andrew and Peter appear to be living according to Mark 1.29, where their home is described as only a short walk from the synagogue at Capernaum. This has caused some to argue for two Bethsaidas. It seems possible however to resolve these concerns. In the first instance there's some evidence from Josephus as well of using 'Galilee' to describe places actually in Gaulanitis and the Evangelist may simply be being anachronistic in referring to Bethsaida's territory as 'Galilee'. In the second the text may here be telling us only that the three men had the same hometown, not that they still lived there. See Brown 1966 p 82 for a short discussion.

In any case Philip's reaction after Jesus speaks to him is similar to Andrew's in the previous section. He seeks out someone to tell about Jesus. This is Nathanael who, like the unnamed disciple in v.35, does not seem to have been a member of the Twelve. His reaction to Philip's news is not encouraging -- he initially rejects Jesus based on his origins. Possibly this reflects some sort of regional rivalry between Cana and Nazareth. In any case Philip responds with the same invitation that Jesus himself issued to Andrew and his unnamed companion: 'Come and see'. It seems to be Nathanael's willingness to do so that prompts Jesus to call him a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit, apparently in contrast to Jacob, the first to be called 'Israel', who was considerably gifted in that department, having enough deceitfulness for many, many men.

The meaning of Jesus's statement to Nathanael about the fig tree has prompted many theories, some of which are usefully and briefly set out in Brown 1966 p 83. The most attractive seem to be those that either connect Nathanael's fig tree with rabbinic traditions of Torah study or with the messianic age of peace and prosperity. But the important point is Nathanael's sudden reversal in the face of Jesus' knowledge of a stranger. He caps the ascending series of titles in these stories of the disciples' calls by calling Jesus 'Son of God' and 'King of Israel' -- beginning with a simple 'Teacher' in v.38, we move to 'Messiah' in v.41, the One spoken of in the Law of Moses and also in the Prophets in v.45, and finally the culmination of their realisations here in v.49.

In his final words in this section (v.51), Jesus changed from the singular, addressing Nathanael alone, to the plural, presumably addressing the whole group of his gathered disciples. This allusion to Jacob's ladder continues on from the allusion to Jacob in Jesus' description of Nathanael. And importantly in this verse Jesus implicitly rejects all the titles his new disciples have applied to him (just as John the Baptist rejects all the titles about which he is asked) by adhering to his characteristic self-designation as 'Son of Man'. Bauckham (2007 pp 109-10) has suggested that the double Amen, which first occurs here, designates traditional sayings (or logia, λόγια) of Jesus which the Evangelist want to mark as specially significant, and around which he has sometimes build his discourses or with which he sometimes concludes them (see also the discussion in Brown 1966 pp 83-4). We will have occasion to speak more of these double-Amen sayings in the course of these comments.

[[Make more use of Bauckham 2007 ch 10 in discussing John the Baptist and the call of the disciples?]]

 

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