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In John 1:30, it is written,

30 “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ NKJV, ©1982

Λʹ οὗτός ἐστιν περὶ οὗ ἐγὼ εἶπον Ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεται ἀνὴρ ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν TR, 1550

  1. What is the meaning of the phrase “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me”?
  2. Is that the most accurate translation of the Greek phrase «Ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεται ἀνὴρ ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν»?
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    Also 1:15. – Susan Sep 28 '15 at 2:48
  • I had no idea about that archaic usage of "prefer" which definitely makes sense. Thanks for that insight! merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prefer – Ruminator Mar 29 '18 at 3:33
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    "Before" is impossible in temporal-historical sense, for John was 6 months older than Jesus; but Jesus as eternal Logos of His co-eternal Father was before John, as before Adam created by Him, and any human. – Levan Gigineishvili Jun 3 '18 at 21:43
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You could translate the sentence:

Behind me comes a man who had become in front of me, because he was before me.

The verbs γέγονεν (had become) and ἦν (was) are interesting here considering there are essentially the same verbs in the beginning verses of John. Was translates ἦν and ἐγένετο is translated as made. When referring to John the Baptist in verse 6 ἐγένετο is translated was. Note: ἐγένετο is aorist tense of γίνομαι while γέγονεν is perfect tense of γίνομαι.

Thus, there is some suggestion that John the Apostle, the author, took John the Baptist's statement to refer to Jesus' divinity.

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    I'm not sure whence you are getting a reference to "Jesus' divinity". Did you just mean "preexistence"? – Ruminator Mar 29 '18 at 3:28
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    Maybe he means the Word was θεος—God. – Sola Gratia Oct 2 '18 at 22:56
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In John 1:30, what is the meaning of the phrase “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me”?

For clarity I have quoted below some other translations of the verse , my answer is based on the Holman Christian Standard Bible, because I believe it gives a more accurate translation of the verse and also of John's answer to his disciples, John 3:25-30 .

John 1:30 New International Version .

"This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me."

John 1:30 Holman Christian Standard Bible

"This is the One I told you about: 'After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me."

John 1:30 New American Standard Bible.

"This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."

After me comes a man (Jesus).

From the gospel of Luke 1:24-26 we know that John is six months older than Jesus, and that he started his ministry before Jesus did, so in that sense , Jesus came after John.

Who has surpassed me.

Jesus did far greater works than John, so in that sense he surpassed John. John 3:26,30 reads

John 3:26 (NIV)

"They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

John 3:30 (NIV)

" He must become greater; I must become less.”

Because He existed before me.

John is aware that Jesus existed before him, as spirit being in heaven.

John 8:58 American Standard Version

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I am."

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John 1:30 "This is the one about whom I said: ‘Behind me there comes a man who has advanced in front of me, for he existed before me.’"

John is talking of Jesus as because Jesus (vs. 29) lived in heaven before he came to the earth thus existed befreo me (John).

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Mat 3:11 (NIV) “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire".

John 1:30 (NIV) This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’

John's baptism of repentance chronologically came before Jesus' baptism of Holy Spirit and fire (crucifixion and death of the flesh). But prophetically Jesus stood for an older principle than what John the Baptist stood for. Jesus stood for the fulfillment of the prophecy: "the seed of the woman crushing the head of the snake", while John stood for the keeping of the 'Ten Commandments of Moses'.

Gen 3:14,15 (NIV) So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Luke 16:16 (NIV) “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it".

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The word the KJV (and NKJV) translates as is preferred is the Greek γίνομαι, which simply means "to become", "to happen", or "to take place". It occurs over 670 times in the New Testament. It is only translated as to be "preferred" by the KJV and NKJV in John 1:15,27, and 30.

The NKJV is hanging on to an antiquated meaning of the English word. "Prefer" comes ultimately from the Latin praeferre, which means to carry or bear in front (ferre: "carry", prae-: prefix for "before").

The correct understanding of the Greek word here can be found in John Chrystostom's 4th century homily on the passage (Chrysostom was a 4th century Byzantine Greek):

Seest thou here also how he interprets the word “before”? for having called Him “Lamb,” and that He “taketh away the sin of the world,” then he saith that “He is preferred before me, for He was before me”; declaring that this is the “before,” the taking upon Him the sins of the world, “and the baptizing with the Holy Ghost.” “For my coming had no farther object than to proclaim the common Benefactor of the world, and to afford the baptism of water; but His was to cleanse all men, and to give them the power of the Comforter.” “He is preferred before me,” that is to say, has appeared brighter than I, because “He was before me.”*

The RSV translation is probably less obscure here:

This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’


* Homily XVII on John (tr. from the Greek)

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KJV unless otherwise noted

There seems to be an allusion here to the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh in Genesis 48:20 LXX:

Gen 48:20  And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

Gen 48:20  καὶ εὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺς ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ λέγων Ἐν ὑμῖν εὐλογηθήσεται Ισραηλ λέγοντες Ποιήσαι σε ὁ θεὸς ὡς Εφραιμ καὶ ὡς Μανασση· καὶ ἔθηκεν τὸν Εφραιμ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ Μανασση. --

Manasseh, the elder of the two brothers would be the natural one to be the recipient of the greater blessing but instead Joseph crossed his hands and "set Ephraim before Manasseh". Ephraim, the younger got the greater blessing:

Gen 48:1  And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  Gen 48:2  And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.  Gen 48:3  And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,  Gen 48:4  And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.  Gen 48:5  And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.  Gen 48:6  And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.  Gen 48:7  And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.  Gen 48:8  And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these?  Gen 48:9  And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.  Gen 48:10  Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.  Gen 48:11  And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.  Gen 48:12  And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.  Gen 48:13  And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him.  Gen 48:14  And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.  Gen 48:15  And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,  Gen 48:16  The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.  Gen 48:17  And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head.  Gen 48:18  And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.  Gen 48:19  And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.  Gen 48:20  And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

So John says:

"Coming after me is a man that has been placed before me [by God ("divine passive")] because he existed before me".

In other words, John is saying that though he is doing the baptizing and though he is older and first to appear it is the one who follows John that God is promoting to greater importance because he actually existed before John. We see something similar:

Joh 3:22  After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.  Joh 3:23  And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.  Joh 3:24  For John was not yet cast into prison.  Joh 3:25  Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.  Joh 3:26  And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.  Joh 3:27  John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.  Joh 3:28  Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.  Joh 3:29  He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.  Joh 3:30  He must increase, but I must decrease.  Joh 3:31  He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.  Joh 3:32  And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.  Joh 3:33  He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.  Joh 3:34  For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.  Joh 3:35  The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.  Joh 3:36  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John's notoriety seems to naturally eclipse that of Jesus early on and we are given frequent reminders that despite the apparent emphasis on John it is Jesus who is the star of the show:

Joh 1:6  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  Joh 1:7  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  Joh 1:8  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  Joh 1:9  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Act 13:24  When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.  Act 13:25  And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.

Act 19:1  And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,  Act 19:2  He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.  Act 19:3  And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.  Act 19:4  Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.  Act 19:5  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Act 19:6  And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.  Act 19:7  And all the men were about twelve.

As an indication of John's notoriety, Josephus wrote that many thought that the calamities of 70 AD were divine retribution because Herod had had John the baptizer beheaded:

...[18.116] Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God as a just punishment of what Herod had done against John, who was called the Baptist.

[18.117] For Herod had killed this good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, righteousness towards one another and piety towards God. For only thus, in John's opinion, would the baptism he administered be acceptable to God, namely, if they used it to obtain not pardon for some sins but rather the cleansing of their bodies, inasmuch as it was taken for granted that their souls had already been purified by justice.

[18.118] Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death. In this way, he might prevent any mischief John might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late.

[18.119] Accordingly John was sent as a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I already mentioned, and was put to death. Now the Jews thought that the destruction of his army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure with him...

Josephus has only this to say about Jesus which is embroiled in controversy as to its authenticity:

...About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared... - Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63 (Based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library.)

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John was saying Jesus was coming after him in time, but was before him (not in time) but in rank, position, and authority. It is a stylish play on words I believe that God anointed him to say, a double meaning. John first played off their attempts to give him a title, "are you the messiah? Are you Elijah? etc. He said, no, just a voice of one crying in the wilderness. He was showing that he was not bothered that he must decrease and the one coming after him in time but before him in rank must increase. The double meaning and play on words is not dependent on the Greek, but on the concept.

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    FYI the “play on words” I think you’re referring to in that English is really not in the Greek, which uses two different terms here for the priority of status (ἔμπροσθεν) and the priority of time (πρῶτός). – Susan Sep 28 '15 at 6:16
  • Susan, The second word "Protos" is not limited just to time, though it certainly can refer to that, but can also refer to position, or rank. G4413 πρῶτος protos (pro`-tos) adj. 1. foremost (in time, place, order or importance) [contracted superlative of G4253] KJV: before, beginning, best, chief(-est), first (of all), former Root(s): G4253 – Jamie Hansen Sep 29 '15 at 8:18
  • Here are good examples: Mat 20:27 "chief" Mar 6:21 "chief" Luke 15:22 "best" – Jamie Hansen Sep 29 '15 at 8:31
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    Certainly, he could have used πρῶτος for both and made that play on words. But as it stands, he didn’t. To my reading this actually draws to attention to the fact that he is talking about two different aspects of priority (paired with two different verbal aspects). (I still kind of see how you could see a “play on words” here, but it’s certainly not of the same sort that might be understood based on the English quoted in the question.) – Susan Sep 29 '15 at 8:49