John’s not like the other gospels or like most stories or novels you read. They start somewhere and sometime.
Even Genesis starts sometime. In the beginning God created.
John starts before the beginning: In the beginning the Word already was (REB). Or it starts at the beginning about somewhere before.
Genesis starts transitive: God created. Its beginning is the settings of settings.
John starts intransitive. Weak verb, teachers say: was.
No setting at all.
The first time John the Baptist appears, he does so outside of time and place.
a man sent from God
whose name was John (1:6, KJV).
There was [or, came into being] (NNAS)
a man named John (REB).
John pivots from John the Baptist to Jesus so fast you have to track the “light” motif to know whom he’s talking about:
He was sent from God, and came as a witness to testify to the light, so that through him all might become believers. He was not himself the light; he came to bear witness to the light. The true light which gives light to everyone was even then coming into the world. (1:6-9 REB)
Outside of time and place, motifs lift more.
Jesus was coming even then!
Even when? When John was born? Jesus was in the womb then, Luke says (elsewhere).
Or even when John was witnessing and testifying?
When John the Baptist appears again, he speaks (1:15). Echoes of the first verse: Before I was born, he already was (REB).
Was even then coming
and already was.
Now (when? verse 19) we learn where we are not: Jerusalem. John is responding to a deputation sent by the Jews of Jerusalem.
Everyone there is sent. Jesus was even then coming and already was is not there, and the Jews in Jerusalem are not there. Just the sent there – John and the deputation – are there. Where?
John concludes, I am [weak verb] a voice, and we believe it. John’s not there because there is [weak verb] no there.
And John pivots to Jesus a second time. The deputation is confused. They take John for the Messiah. But John is not the Messiah. The Messiah stands among you.
When the first discourse ends, place and time begin:
This took place at Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him. (1:28 – 29, REB)
This is the third pivot from John to Jesus. The first pivot was. The second said. And the evening and the morning: the first day: The third happens the first next day. Jesus was even then coming and already was and stands among you is coming towards him.