I JUST FINISHED the first draft of a paraphrase of the Gospel of John for the Casual English Bible. The idea for the paraphrase started as an experiment in Bible study. I decided to paraphrase Genesis while I worked on A Visual Walk Through Genesis.
Then I got carried away. I enjoyed it so much I kept doing it.
I’m getting awfully close to finishing the New Testament. Once I get the Gospel of John posted, I’ll move on to Revelation.
If you’ve got the interest, please take a look at this first pass at chapter 1 in the Gospel of John. It’s a pretty tough chapter to understand, in any version of the Bible. If you have any suggestions for changes, let me know.
Some folks are hesitant to suggest changes because I write a lot of Bible study books. But go ahead and pretend you’re in my hometown Bible study group, where a prophet gets no special treatment except perhaps the scenic view of a cliff (Luke 4:29).
John 1. God’s Word, delivered in person
Jesus is God’s Word
1:1. When everything started, Jesus was already there. He was the living Word of God. He was with God. He was God.
1:2. The Word was right there with God all along.
1:3. With this Word, God spoke creation into existence. If it’s part of creation, the Word created it.
1:4. He brought everything to life. Then he turned the lights on inside people.
1:5. God’s life-giving light shines in the darkness. Darkness can’t do a rotten thing about it.
John the Baptist wasn’t the Light
1:6. God introduced a man into this story. He sent John.
1:7. John’s mission: Tell people about the Light who’s coming. Do it so that when the Light arrives, everyone might believe in him.
1:8. John wasn’t the Light. John was an advance man who came to get people ready to receive the Light.
1:9. The true Light who would spiritually enlighten everyone would soon step into the world.
1:10. Suddenly, there he was. He was in the world he had created. But the world had no idea who he was.
1:11. He came to this world that belonged to him. But most of the people—his people—wouldn’t have anything to do with him.
1:12. Some welcomed him into their life and believed in him. He gave those people the right to become God’s children.
1:13. People aren’t born into God’s family the way they’re born into human families. This kind of birth has nothing to do with physical desires or with anyone’s decision to have a child. It has everything to do with God.
God’s Word talks
1:14. The Word came to life as a human who lived among us. He was the Father’s only Son and he astonished us. He overwhelmed us with his kindness and honesty.
1:15. John told people about him. John said, “This is who I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming who is more important than me because he was alive before I was.’”
1:16. Because of everything God’s Son has to offer, we’ve been given one kind gift after another.
1:17. Moses brought us the laws. Jesus the Messiah brought us truth and kindness.
1:18. No human has ever seen God. But God’s only Son—who is near and dear to God’s heart—teaches us about him.
John the Baptist talks about Jesus
1:19. Jewish priests and Temple associates called Levites came from Jerusalem to ask John a question: “Who on earth are you?”
1:20. John answered them simply, “I’m not the Messiah.”
1:21. They pressed him, “Who are you, then? Are you Elijah?” “No,” John said.
1:22. They told John, “Well come on, who are you? Tell us. We were sent here to get an answer to this question. We’ve got to take an answer back with us.”
1:23. John said, “I’m the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about:
‘I’m a voice crying out in the barren land,
“Get ready, the LORD is coming. Plow the road.”’”
1:24. Pharisees were among the Jews questioning John.
1:25. They asked John, “If you’re not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what do you think you’re doing by baptizing these people?”
1:26. John said, “I just baptize with water. But there’s someone else coming. In fact, he’s already here, standing among you and the others. You don’t know him yet.
1:27. He’ll be starting his ministry when I’ll be ending mine. I don’t deserve to unstrap his sandals.
1:28. This happened where John was baptizing people at Bethany, across the Jordan River.
Here comes the Lamb
1:29. The next day, John caught sight of Jesus headed toward him. John said, “Look, here comes the Lamb of God. He’s going to get rid of this world’s sin.
1:30. This is who I was talking about when I said, ‘After my work is done, someone is coming who is more important than me because he was alive before I was.’
How John recognized the Messiah
1:31. I didn’t realize who he was earlier. I started baptizing people so we could all find out who he is.”
1:32. Then John said, “I saw the Spirit come down, like a dove descending from the sky. It settled on him.
1:33. I didn’t know who he was until then. But the one who told me to start baptizing people gave me a sign. He said, ‘Watch for the Spirit to descend and settle on someone. That’s the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
1:34. I’m telling you that I saw it with my own eyes. I’m an eyewitness. This man is God’s Chosen One.”
Jesus starts attracting disciples
1:35. A day later, John was standing with two of his disciples.
1:36. He saw Jesus walking around. He watched him intently, then he erupted: “Everyone, look! The Lamb of God!”
1:37. When John’s two disciples heard that, they started following Jesus.
1:38. Jesus turned around and asked the two men, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?”
1:39. Jesus told them, “Come. You’ll see.” So they went with him and spent the night because it was already about four o’clock in the afternoon.
1:40. One of the two disciples of John who started following Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.
1:41. The first chance Andrew got, he tracked down his brother Simon and said, “We found the Messiah!” (which is “Christ” in Greek).
1:42. Andrew took Simon to meet Jesus. Jesus looked hard at Peter and then said, “You’re Simon, John’s son. But now you’re going to be known as Cephas” (which translates as “Peter”).
1:43. The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee, where he met Philip. Jesus invited him to come along, “Follow me.”
1:44. Philip’s hometown was Bethsaida, where Andrew and Peter came from.
1:45. Philip went looking for Nathanael and told him, “Remember the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about? We found him. His name is Jesus. He’s the son of Joseph, and he comes from Nazareth.”
1:46. “Really?” Nathanael said. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said, “Come and see for yourself.”
1:47. Jesus watched as Nathanael approached. Then Jesus said, “Here comes the real deal, a true son of Israel. He doesn’t have a deceitful bone in his body.”
1:48. Nathanael said, “How did you know that about me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you there under the fig tree just before Philip spotted you and called out to you.”
1:49. Nathanael said, “Rabbi, it’s true. You are the Son of God and the king of Israel!”
1:50. Jesus said, “You believe that just because I saw you under the fig tree? Well, we’re going to top that like you wouldn’t believe.”
1:51. Then Jesus said, “I’m telling you the absolute truth. You’re going to see the sky open and God’s angels coming and going for the Son of Humans.
 1:1. The original Greek word is Logos. Greek scholars such as Heraclitus said logos was the wisdom behind all of creation. This all-present wisdom created everything and it guided creation along the way. For many Jewish scholars then and now, God’s Word pulled the trigger on Creation, whether or not that involved pulling the trigger on the Big Bang. “God said, ‘Lights.’ Lights came on…God said, ‘Land, grow a garden.’…The land grew a garden” (Genesis 1:3, 11-12). John doesn’t identify Jesus as the Word until a few paragraphs later, gradually working up to it by describing the Word as the one who “came to this world that belonged to him. But most of the people—his people—wouldn’t have anything to do with him” (1:11). Jesus came to earth as a living, breathing expression of God’s message to humanity, summed up in what is perhaps the most famous Bible verse, John 3:16.
 1:4. This is God at work through Jesus, some Bible scholars explain, since Genesis 1 says God created the universe.
 1:5. John may be pointing back to the Creation story, when God turned on the lights and “put darkness in its place” (Genesis 1:5). But John also seems to be pointing toward Jesus, who is often described as a source of spiritual light. “Gentiles of Galilee…who live in darkness will see the light—a powerful light. For those people who live in this land, under the shadow of death, it’s dawn, for the light has come” (Matthew 4:15-16).
 1:15. John may have been six months older than Jesus. John’s mother was six months pregnant when God sent Gabriel to Nazareth to tell Mary she would soon get pregnant through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26). But John was talking about Jesus alive as the Word, from before the beginning of Creation.
 1:21. Elijah is the prophet who is famous for not dying. He got swept up into heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Some Jews expected Elijah to come back and help prepare the people for the Messiah’s arrival (Malachi 4:5 NLT).
 1:22. Jesus later said John was mistaken about that. Jesus told a crowd in Galilee, “You may or may not believe this, but John is the Elijah that the prophets said would come” (Matthew 11:14).
 1:23. Isaiah 40:3.
 1:24. Pharisees were one of several groups of Jews. It was a bit like Methodists being one of many groups of Christians. Pharisees were known for not only strictly keeping the laws of Moses, but also for keeping hundreds of other laws that were a bit like the rules in church manuals today. For example, Jewish law said Jews should not work on the Sabbath. Pharisees defined what they considered work—such as healing people. Pharisees taught that practicing medicine on the Sabbath was forbidden except when someone was at risk of dying that day.
 1:25. Some Jews expected God to send a prophet of the caliber of Moses, based on a prediction in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18.
 1:29. Bible experts say this refers to his sacrificial death. The Bible says sin is a capital offense in God’s eyes. But God set up a system of animal sacrifice, allowing his people to sacrifice animals to atone for sin, so the people didn’t have to die (Leviticus 17:11). But the Bible says Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all (Hebrews 10:10), rendering animal sacrifice obsolete. Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple about 40 years later, in AD 70, ending the sacrificial system since Jews taught that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place they were allowed to offer sacrifices.
 1:31. John likely knew Jesus because of the connection their mothers had with each other (Luke 1). But he didn’t seem to realize Jesus was the Messiah.
 1:34. A title for the Messiah. “Chosen One” tracks with a prophecy about a leader who receives the Spirit: “He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1 NLT). Some ancient manuscripts substitute the phrase with “Son of God.” Bible experts are divided over which is correct.
 1:42. “Cephas” was a name familiar to people who spoke Aramaic, a common language in what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Among people who spoke Greek, the international language of the day, the name translated as “Peter.” It’s a bit like “Stephen” in English is “Esteban” in Spanish.
 1:48. Jesus may have been referring to Psalm 32:2, “the man…in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (NASB). But he may also have been thinking of the dark side of Jacob, father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob cheated his brother and his father, provoking his brother Esau to say to their father “No wonder you named him Jacob. He has cheated me twice“ (Genesis 27:36). “Jacob” sounds like the Hebrew for “heel” as well as “cheater.” “He grabbed your heel” later became a Hebrew saying that meant someone cheated you.
 1:51. Usually translated “Son of Man.” This is a title Jesus used a lot to describe himself. In the Jewish Bible the phrase contains hints of divinity in some passages and humanity in others—perhaps a perfect phrase for describing someone Christians would say was fully God and fully human. Hint of the divine: the prophet Daniel “saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13 NLT). Hint of the human: God often described Ezekiel as a mere mortal by using the phrase “son of man” (Ezekiel 2:1 NLT).
Copyright 2019 Stephen M. Miller
Hate to say it, Steve. But by literalizing the first chapter of John you’ve removed all its poetic beauty!
How can you improve on:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ?
Stephen M. Miller
You’re absolutely right. The KJV is nothing if not poetic. But it’s not the way we talk. I’m shooting for casual English.
I really like this. I hope you will release the full casual paraphrase in print and audio! The text itself reads like a novel or listening to a sermon. The quotations would be perfect in a film or play.