, , , , ,

Examines the meaning of dwelt (John 1:14a) to the audience and author of the Gospel of John through literary and historical-cultural contexts.

Jan Paron / September 29, 2012

Understanding Dwelt: Within the Text

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV). 

The author of the Gospel of John provides an eye-witness account of Jesus, the Word, in action. John functions as the fourth book of the Gospels. To understand “dwelt among them” (John 1:14 KJV) through the eyes of the audience and author of John, the essay explores this Gospel’s literary and historical-cultural contours.



Various thoughts exist among Johannine studies about this Gospel’s authorship. The book’s closing identifies the author as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”[1]  (21:20, 24). Jesus commissioned the apostles to bear witness of Him (15:27). This gave the apostles authority in their message. Such was the case of the earliest believers “steadfastly studying the apostle’s doctrine” (Acts 2:42a).


The Gospel of John dates to approximately, AD85-95. Some say earlier than this time. The John Rylands Papyrus (p 52) might hold evidence that the Gospel circulated earlier, perhaps before the temple destruction in AD70. Tradition suggests Ephesus as its place of origin (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.1.2).[2]  The city was located on the west coast of Asia Minor among major trade routes. Ephesus held stature as the capital of province of Asia in Pergamum and largest city in ancient Mediterranean with a population of 250,000. It also had the temple of Artemis. It was an urban area of prestige and wealth.[3]


Theological opinions vary as to the audience. Bernard maintains that Apostle John wrote to “Christians, especially those in Ephesus.”[4] Metzger expands audience membership, maintaining that it was to Jews and Jewish proselytes, as well as second and third-generation believers who had not seen Jesus.[5] The NIV Archeology Bible subscribes to the audience as “non-Jewish believers and questioning unbelievers who struggle with the popular Greek philosophies that claim that Jesus was divine but not truly human.[6] Köstenberger feels that John did not write necessarily “to a church (or communities of believers) in Ephesus or even if this was the author’s primary audience.”[7] In fact, Bauckham contends that John’s audience was any and every Christian community during the time when Greek was spoken.”[8] Last, Neyrey opines that the audience represents a variety of responses to Jesus, placing them on a belief continuum from accepting to rejecting.[9] What one might gather is that the author responds to the human condition about the witness of Jesus as an evangelism tool. [10] Nevertheless, the book states its own purpose with “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:21). The projected audience comprises universal membership.

Within the Text: The Literary Contours

Understanding the Word

Before determining what it meant for the Word to dwell among the author and audience, you need to consider the nature and character of the Word (1:14). With close examination, the Word’s (1:14) attributes emerge.

The Book of John opens with a prologue (1:1-18), through which a staircase parallel structure (1-5, 10-11) describes the Word. [11]

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

The prologue moves from “the Word was God” (1:1c); to “the same was in the beginning with God (v. 2); to “without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3b); “the life was the light of men” (v. 4b); to “the darkness comprehended it not” (v. 5b); to “the world knew him not” (v. 10c), and then to “and his own received him not” (11b). Moreover, through analysis of these descriptors of the Word, ones see meaning emerge through the staircase parallel structure. Look at these passages (1c, 2, 3b, 4b, 5b, 10c, and 11b) expanded with preceding, immediate passages (1c & 2; 2b & 3a; 3b & 4a; 4b & 5a; 10c & 11a):

  1.  “The Word was God” (1:1c): “The same was in the beginning with God” (1:2).
  2.  “In the beginning with God” (1:2b): “All things were made by him” (1:3a).
  3. “Without him, was not anything made” (1:3b): “In him was life” (1:4a).
  4.  “The life was the light of men” (1:4b): “And the light shineth in darkness” (1:5a).
  5. “And the world knew him not” (1:10c): “He came unto his own” (1:11a).

Continuing to study the Word (1:1), one learns of five expanded understandings within the Book of John. First, Apostle John tells who the Word is as the “glory of the only begotten Son” (1:14). Second, the author tells what the Word does after He was made flesh — He “dwelt among us” (1:14). Third, he demonstrates the Word petitioning (17:5) [12] for “the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (17:5) and that “they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me” (17:24a). Fourth, Jesus, who is the only begotten Son (1:14), and the Word, reiterates in His petition from the latter verse that “thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (17:24). Last, the apostle explains the reason why the Word came into the world: “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (3:19) – “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (3:15). Concluding, one learns  Who Jesus is; what He does; derivation of His glory; ordination of His glory and reason for His coming to the world.

Broader Literary Context of Dwelt

Some scholars suggest that the Gospel of John specifically shows an ancient form of biography [13], of Whom the subject is Jesus. Indeed this Gospel chronicles the earthly ministry of the Word, according to the recurrent theme of following (Gr. ἀκολουθέω) Jesus to where He dwelled among the people in fulfillment of the law. Through the Word, Jesus, comes grace and truth” (1:17). John states in the opening verse that “the Word was God” and the “Word was with God. Jesus parallels this statement in John 14:10 with “I am in my Father, and my Father is in me…I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth within me…” So, when the Word was made flesh, He showed a visible manifestation of God’s glory. In Jesus dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, as He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). This fulness is manifested in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Immediate Literary Context of Dwelt

Before the Word could dwell among them, God revealed Himself physically in human form as Jesus — deity (cf. 2:11) — yet flesh. John describes the divine nature of the Word as God Himself (1:1). The author further establishes Jesus’ human nature as the Son of God, the “Word made flesh.” (vv. 11-15). Further, the apostle says that the “Word” came unto His own, or showed Himself to His own creation (v. 11). Then, Jesus alludes to His ministry with the reference to “as many as received Him” (v. 12). During this period of time, to receive the Word was both a spiritual and physical action. I would imagine that in many cases people from this time period knew of Him through what they heard or saw from His earthly ministry (signs, works, and words). This in turn, was part of the spiritual action that led to believing that Jesus is the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth (v. 14). Additionally, John the Baptist bore witness and bare record of Him as the true Light (6-7; 15-17; 31-36). John the Baptist said in Bethabara, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (vv. 29; 34). The Word was made flesh and dwelled or tabernacled [14] among them.  John 1:37 says that after two of John the Baptist’s disciples heard Jesus speak, they followed Jesus. They asked “where dwellest thou?” (v. 38) These disciples were referring to a location, which Jesus showed them (v. 39).

For many, dwelling with Him meant walking after Him, such as in John 6:2, of which the multitudes followed Him. Jesus spoke of following Him with a different intent. Follow meant to serve Him 12:26), know His voice as the Shepherd (10:27); go as a disciple (13:36; 18:15); seek Him in worship (4:24; 18:4, 6) and be an attendant in love by His side (21:20). Jesus looks at dwelt in the sense of abiding with Him as a follower. When the “Word” was glorified after the cross through His subsequent death, resurrection and ascension dwelling took on another connotation. His body (the tabernacle) was taken down and the Glory departed as He died to give us rest. [15] Additionally, when the Word’s Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) to those assembled, as evidenced by speaking in other tongues, “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4), He then dwelt within them.

Part One examined the meaning of dwelt (John 1:14a) to the audience and author of the Gospel of John through a within the text analysis from a literary aspect. Part Two follows with a behind the text analysis of dwelt from the historical-cultural contours of the Gospel of John.



  • How do features like thought flow, semantics, syntax, morphology, tone and grammar impact the meaning dwelt within the text?
  • What is the significance of beginning the prologue with a staircase parallel structure about the Word?


Bauckham, Richard. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: The Narrative, History and Theology of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

Bernard, David. Understanding God’s Word. Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 2005.

Conner, Kevin, J. The Tabernacle of Moses, Portland: CityChristian Publishing, 1976.

Gordon-Cromwell Theology Seminary. NIV Archeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Metzger, Paul Louis. The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2010.

Neyrey, Jerome. The Gospel of John. Cambridge: University Press, 2007.

Segraves, Daniel. Reading between the Lines: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 2008.

Thayer, Joseph H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009.

Witherington, Ben. John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.


[1] John 21:24 adds to a prior verse (20) with the explanation on authorship with, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.”

[2] Clinton E. Arnold, Ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), loc 471.

[3] Clinton E. Arnold, Ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.

[4] David Bernard, Understanding God’s Word, (Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 2005), 136.

[5] Paul Louis Metzger, The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), Loc 169.

[6] Gordon-Cromwell Theology Seminary, NIV Archeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) loc. 99064.

[7] Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective,  (Grand Rapids,: Baker Book House Company, 2006). loc. 404.

[8]Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: The Narrative, History and Theology of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 115.

[9] Jerome H. Neyrey, The Gospel of John, (Cambridge: University Press, 2007), 2.

[10] Ben Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995.

11] Staircase parallelism introduces a concept at the end of one line, taking it up at the beginning of the next.

[12] From Jerome H. Neyrey, The Gospel of John, 277-278. In Neyrey’s book, Bruce Malina classifies prayer types in a taxonomy that includes seven types of prayer “prayers to have an effect on God (petitionary, regulatory, and interactive) and prayers of interaction with God (self-focused, heuristic, imaginative, and informative.)”

[13] Ben Witherington,  John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, 3 and 10. Witherington quotes R. Burridge about common characteristics of ancient biographies: (1) Contain a prologue or introduction; (2) focus on a particular person named in the introduction or immediately afterwards; (3) use of chronological, geographical and topical to arrange the categories; (4) author portrays the character through a record of deed and words that revealed the subject’s character in a certain light; (5) biography is of medium length, approximately one papyrus scroll; and (6) author presents the subject in a positive light by demonstrating respect, seriousness and possibly reverence.  Witherington asserts that the author intended to write a biographical account, “he selected and arranged His source material to that end.”
[14] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), 578.
[15] Kevin J. Conner, The Tabernacle of Moses, (Portland: City Christian Publishing, 1976), 31.