What does John 1:19 mean?
ESV: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"
NIV: Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
NASB: This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?'
CSB: This was John’s testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, "Who are you?"
NLT: This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, 'Who are you?'
KJV: And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
NKJV: Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
Verse Commentary:
Here begins a conversation between John the Baptist and local religious leaders. As in the rest of his gospel, when John uses the term "the Jews," he generally means the high-level political and religious leaders. The ones involved here are the ultra-legalistic Pharisees (John 1:24). Pharisees were extremely devout but tended to be cold and arrogant. Not all were that way, as shown by Nicodemus (John 3:1–2), a Pharisee who apparently became a believer (John 19:39).

It was fair for the Pharisees to question John the Baptist. In fact, it was exactly what they should have done. Israel's religious leaders were supposed to be the guardians of the truth. Ancient Jerusalem shared many of the same quirks as large cities do today. There were plenty of people spouting spiritual babble. John's ministry must have been quite popular or challenging to attract official investigation. Investigating a strange message was a good step, but their search doesn't seem to be very sincere.
Verse Context:
John 1:19–28 describes a conversation. On one side is John the Baptist, different from the author of this gospel. On the other are local religious leaders. Baptizing converts to Judaism was common, but the Baptist was calling on Jews to repent and be baptized. The Baptist makes it clear that he is not the "Promised One," but equally clear that his mission is to prepare the way for that One.
Chapter Summary:
The first chapter of John introduces Jesus as "the Word," from the Greek logos. This chapter clearly describes Jesus as God. After this prologue, the chapter describes Jesus recruiting the first of His disciples, as well as a conversation between John the Baptist and the Pharisees. There are seven names or titles for Christ in this chapter, including "the Son of God," "the Word," and "the King of Israel."
Chapter Context:
The first chapter of the gospel of John equates Christ with God and introduces John the Baptist. The Baptist specifically points to Jesus as the Promised One. Jesus collects the first five of His disciples. In this chapter, Jesus is given seven descriptive names, including "the Word," "the Son of God," and "the King of Israel." This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the gospel, by giving the reader a sense of who Jesus truly is, and why He has come. The rest of the gospel is an exploration of the claims made in this initial passage.
Book Summary:
The disciple John wrote the gospel of John decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls "signs"— to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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