Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth? (John 1:46) by Craig S. Keener

Civic and village rivalries were common in antiquity. When Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46), however, he voices a criticism about Jesus’ humble origins that is also expressed more widely in this Gospel. Members of the Judean elite, in particular, were unimpressed with Jesus’ allegedly rural Galilean origins (see John 7:41-42, John 7:52). Subsequent critics of Jesus’ movement may have criticized his “Nazarene” origins (see also John 18:5-7, John 19:19; Acts 6:14, Acts 24:5), since another Gospel writer, Matthew, also finds a need to justify it (Matt 2:23).

Why does the Fourth Gospel recount this question? If John wrote for an audience outside Galilee, many of his hearers might have known nothing about Nazareth except what they had heard in other stories about Jesus. Given that they would likely be unfamiliar with this negative appraisal of Nazareth, why would John bother to inform them of it? Whatever John’s audience may have known about Galilean villages, however, John can surely take for granted that even those hearing his Gospel for the first time will have heard the verses leading up to this one. If we read John 1:46 in light of what precedes it, this verse becomes rich with irony, a technique that pervades this Gospel.

For John, Jesus is not simply from Nazareth but from God (John 1:1-18, John 1:29-34). This emphasis remains clear in the immediate context. The announcement that provokes Nathanael’s protest about Nazareth is Philip’s claim that he had found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote (John 1:45). John’s audience may understand this claim in light of the Gospel’s announcement in John 1:17, that Jesus revealed God’s faithful love even more fully than did Moses’ law.

Philip answers Nathanael’s protest with a simple, “Come and see” (John 1:46). These words echo Jesus’ own words to prospective disciples in John 1:39. They also resemble a similar invitation offered by a Samaritan woman to her people in John 4:29. It therefore seems likely that, for John, “come and see” is a model invitation. Whether hearers are interested in Jesus (as in John 1:38-39), have heard nothing about him (as in John 4:28-29) or have legitimate objections (as here in John 1:46), the invitation is to come experience Jesus for themselves. The rest of the Fourth Gospel continues to emphasize this appeal to religious experience, initially through Jesus’ physical presence and later through the Spirit (e.g., John 16:7-15). For John, argument has its place, but it is the experience of Jesus and the Spirit that proves most persuasive.

When Nathanael meets Jesus in person, Jesus reveals something about Nathanael to him (John 1:47-48), as Jesus had done with Simon Peter the day before (John 1:41-42). Nathanael’s response is enthusiastic: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Nathanael’s experience of Jesus confirms Philip’s testimony from Scripture and yields one of the many confessions about Jesus in this Gospel (see also John 1:29, John 6:69, John 11:27, John 20:28). Jesus then promises Nathanael greater revelation. He has already called Nathanael an Israelite without “deceit” (John 1:47), probably contrasting him with Jacob (Gen 27:35). Now Jesus builds on that comparison, declaring that Nathanael will witness angels ascending and descending on Jesus (John 1:51). That is, Jesus compares himself with Jacob’s ladder, a bridge between heaven and earth (Gen 28:12).

In this context, Nazareth serves an ironic function, highlighting by way of contrast Jesus’ other origin. Jesus may be from a humble hometown, but far more significantly he is king over all Israel (John 1:49, John 12:13). In John’s theology, the most significant “geographic” context for Jesus is not a Galilean village but that he is from God (John 1:29-34) and is a bridge between heaven and earth (John 1:51).

Craig S. Keener, "Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?", n.p. [cited 24 Aug 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/places/related-articles/can-anything-good-come-out-of-nazareth

Contributors

Craig S. Keener

Craig S. Keener
Professor, Asbury Theological Seminary

Craig S. Keener is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, author of seventeen books (including a two-volume commentary on John’s Gospel), and more than seventy articles for journals and reference works.

The historical period from the beginning of Western civilization to the start of the Middle Ages.

The application of critical models of scholarship to a text.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy, or what later became the larger province of Judah under imperial control. According to the Bible, the area originally received its name as the tribal territory allotted to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.

Writing, speech, or thought about the nature and behavior of God.

John 1:46

46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

John 7:41-42

41Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?42Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is d ... View more

John 7:52

52They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
The Woman Caught in Adultery
... View more

John 18:5-7

5They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped ... View more

John 19:19

19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

Acts 6:14

14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.”

Acts 24:5

5We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Matt 2:23

23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

John 1:46

46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

John 1:1-18

The Word Became Flesh
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God.3All things came into be ... View more

John 1:29-34

The Lamb of God
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!30This is he of whom I ... View more

John 1:45

45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

John 1:17,

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John 1:46

46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

John 1:39

39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.

John 4:29

29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

John 1:38-39

38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are ... View more

John 4:28-29

28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot b ... View more

John 1:46

46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

John 16:7-15

7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send ... View more

John 1:47-48

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get ... View more

John 1:41-42

41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him an ... View more

John 1:49

49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

John 1:29

The Lamb of God
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John 6:69

69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 11:27

27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

John 20:28

28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 1:47

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Gen 27:35

35But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.”

John 1:51

51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Gen 28:12

12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

John 1:49

49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

John 12:13

13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”

John 1:29-34

The Lamb of God
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!30This is he of whom I ... View more

John 1:51

51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

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