After "In the beginning was the Word..." by which the writer implies the pre-existence of Jesus, they indicate John the Baptist also testifies to this question:

John doth testify concerning him, and hath cried, saying, `This was he of whom I said, He who after me is coming, hath come before me, for he was before me;' (John 1:15 YLT)
Ἰωάννης μαρτυρεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ κέκραγεν λέγων οὗτος ἦν ὃν εἶπον ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν

Since John was both born and began to baptize before Jesus, does the Gospel-writer mean that John the Baptist understood Jesus was in existence before His incarnation?

  • And also, Jesus calls John the greatest of all begotten of women. Yet John says 'he must increase and I must decrease'. John gives precedence to Jesus and also prominence, calling him 'Lamb of God' and 'Son of God'. – Nigel J Feb 22 at 20:43
  • That seems to be why John the author put it here in the prolegomena. – Perry Webb Feb 23 at 1:34
  • Note that John 1:15 is often shown in brackets: it slightly disrupts the flow and the similar John 1:30 is better positioned as part of the John the Baptist section. – Henry Feb 23 at 15:03

The central matter here in John 1:15 is the meaning ascribed to the adjective πρῶτος (protos) which can mean:

  1. of time - first in time, earliest or earlier, eg, Phil 1:5, Acts 20:18
  2. first in a sequence of list, eg, Matt 21:28, 22:25, etc
  3. most prominent, foremost, most important, eg, Matt 22:38, Mark 12:29, etc.

Before answering this question we should observe that Jesus, was chronologically speaking from an earthly point of view, AFTER John the Baptist because (a) Jesus was born six months later than John, and (b) Jesus began preaching AFTER John's preaching.

In fact John makes this very point in this verse of John 1:15 -

John testified concerning Him. He cried out, saying, “This is He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ ”

Notice that John's testimony consists of three points about Jesus as Messiah:

  1. Jesus comes after John - a simply chronological statement of earthly time as noted above
  2. Jesus has surpassed John in importance. John later testified the same point when he said (John 3:30), "He must increase; I must decrease." See also Matt 3:11.
  3. Jesus is "before" John - in time or importance?? This is the question.

Benson, Meyer and Erasmus interpret πρῶτος as first in importance.

Barnes, Matthew Henry, and Gill interpret πρῶτος as first in time, ie, "before".

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary and Matthew Poole understand πρῶτος here means both in time and importance.

All three positions are compatible with the rest of the Scripture, but which is intended here?

The answer is actually simple - John 1:15 is a summary of John's testimony, to be fleshed out later in John's Gospel, of all that John taught about Jesus. If John's intention is only that Jesus is more important, then this only repeats in a tautologous way what the previous phrase has said - "he has surpassed me". However, if John realizes that Jesus existed before John's birth, then John has understood OT passages such as Isa 6:1 and Mal 3:1 as referring to Jesus.

This is reinforced by the the deliberate contrast with the first statement that Jesus came after John ... but was before John.


John 1:15 teaches that Jesus:

  1. was born and preached after John
  2. was more important than John
  3. had a pre-existence well before His incarnation
  • I enjoyed reading this answer and learned something from it. Thank you. +1 – Adam Feb 23 at 10:35
  • When you say "John 1:15 is a summary of John's testimony, to be fleshed out later in John's Gospel, of all that John taught about Jesus" there seems to be some potential confusion between the Gospel writer and the Baptist. – Henry Feb 23 at 15:05
  • @Henry - you are correct. I actually intended both but did not make that clear. John 1:1-18 contains, in summary form, all that both Johns contributed to our understanding of Jesus. – Dottard Feb 23 at 20:24

It depends on what you mean by incarnation. If you mean by incarnation that he existed in the flesh, as a man, then there was a man sent by God, and, a man called Jesus made clay and washed in the pool of Siloam. Also, testimony is not heard by man. Thus, if John was a man sent to come to testify about the existence of Jesus, then he could not have heard his own testimony if he remained as a man. There are numerous references to man in the Gospel, but when he made clay, then he used earth, material, and water, mind or conscious,.to cover his eyes. Thus the Mind of God has been deluded, covered, made blind to the immaterial existence of Whom He is, because he had from the beginning always been but had become blind because,.precisely, there was a purpose for having the truth concealed by our identification with the consciousmaterial existence we call the flesh before we fully awaken to our own innocence. The man, the one who begged, who has been blind from birth (time-based experience), is surely a figurative telling of who our almost lifelong attachment to the flesh since birth has from the beginning been our blindness to knowing our eternal identity.

he saw a man which was blind from his birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? [3] Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. [4] I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. [5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. [6] When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, [7] And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. [8] The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? [9] Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. [10] Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened? [11] He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. [12] Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not


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