Monday, September 1, 2014

Nathanael: Guileless Israelite (John 1:47)

Who was the Israelite in whom Jesus said there was no guile? Nathaniel (John 1:47)

At the end of the Gospel of John’s opening chapter Jesus calls his first apostles (John 1:35-51). The disciple whose call receives the most narrative space is Nathanael (John 1:45-51). His friend Philip first encounters Jesus and is convinced he is “Him of whom Moses...and...the Prophets wrote” (John 1:45 NASB). When Philip tells his companion that the long awaited candidate is from Nazareth, Nathanael expresses skepticism, famously asking, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 NASB). In response, Philip invites Nathanael to come and see for himself (John 1:46).

Nathanael’s incredulity does not prevent him from meeting Jesus. But before he can utter a word, upon seeing his future follower for the first time, Jesus inexplicably compliments him (John 1:47).

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47 NASB)
Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) locates:
It is in the final pericope of this section on discipleship and confession [John 1:35-51] that Nathanael appears (John 1:43-51)...The entire sequence of vocation and confession scene culminates in the encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, who appropriately bears an Old Testament name. (Collins, These Things Have Been Written: Studies on the Fourth Gospel, 12)
Nathanel’s divine appointment with Jesus resembles the material which precedes it. (John 1:35-51). Sjef Van Tilborg (1939-2003) links:
Philip becomes active as the one who is called last [John 1:43-45]. The story which is being told is a rehash with new names and new facts of the story-scene between Peter, Andrew and Jesus [John 1:35-42] (cf. Hans-Jürgen Kuhn [b. 1946] 1988, 214ff.). Nathanael represents...another model of calling. He needs to be convinced before he will commit himself [John 1:46-51]. (Van Tilborg, Imaginative Love in John, 115)
The passage also correlates with Jesus’ previous exchange with John the Baptist (John 1:29-34). Marianus Pale Hera (b. 1974) associates:
The similarity with the events of the previous day continues. Just as John sees Jesus walk by and says, “Behold the lamb of God” (ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς του θεου, John 1:36), Jesus sees Nathanael coming to him and says, “Behold a true Israelite” (ἴδε ἀληθως ’Ισραλίτης, John 1:47). (Hera, Christology and Discipleship in John 17, 56)
Beth M. Stovell (b. 1978) supports:
In John 1:47, Jesus’ initial encounter with Nathanael uses an almost identical lexical and syntactical structure to the initial encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist in John 1:29. Just as John the Baptist introduces new information by calling Jesus the Lamb of God [John 1:29], Jesus provides new information through his announcement that Nathanael is a true Israelite [John 1:47]. (Stovell, Mapping Metaphorical Discourse in the Fourth Gospel: John’s Eternal King, 143)
Relatively speaking, John spends a large amount of space detailing Jesus’ conversation with Nathanael (John 1:45-51). David R. Beck (b. 1955) characterizes:
Jesus’ meeting and dialogue with Nathanael is the most extended of the “snapshot” encounters which conclude the first chapter [John 1:47-51]. For an informed reader/critic, much significant symbolism connects his encounter with messianic hopes of ancient Israel. (Beck, The Discipleship Paradigm: Readers and Anonymous Characters in the Fourth Gospel, 48)
Gail R. O’Day (b. 1954) observes:
These verses [John 1:47-50] comprise the longest conversation between Jesus and a disciple in chapter 1 [John 1:1-51]. Jesus reveals the most about himself to the one who expressed skepticism and doubt (cf. the Thomas story, John 20:24-29). (O’Day, Luke, John (New Interpreter’s Bible), 532)
M. J. J. Menken (b. 1944) delineates:
John 1:43-51 is made up of two parts: John 1:43-44 and John 1:45-51. In the first part the call of Philip is related, and in the second part it is narrated how Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus and how Nathanael and Jesus meet. The second part displays, in turn, a bipartition: it begins with a conversation between Philip and Nathanael (John 1:45-46); then follows the conversation between Jesus and Nathanael (John 1:47-51). The dialogue in John 1:45-46 evidently leads up to what follows (cf. John 1:45 with John 1:41 and John 1:46cd with John 1:39ab), and should be considered as an introduction to the dialogue of Jesus and Nathanael, not as the conclusion of the call of Philip. (Menken, Numerical Literary Techniques in John: The Fourth Evangelist’s Use of Numbers of Words and Syllables, 65)
Benny Thettayil (b. 1967) simplifies:
In the instance of Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael...a successful missionary contact is seen [John 1:45-51]. Nathanael listens to the preacher [John 1:47], probes the matter [John 1:47-48], raises objections [John 1:48], and finally comes to Jesus [John 1:49]. (Thettayil, In Spirit and Truth: An Exegetical Study of John 4:19-26 and a Theological Investigation of the Replacement Theme in the Fourth Gospel, 279)
John’s gospel often depicts Jesus engaged in intimate dialogue. C.F.D Moule (1908-2007) documents:
The Fourth Gospel is full of encounters between Jesus alone with an individual or with very small groups: two disciples (John 1:38), Peter (John 1:42), Philip (John 1:43), Nathanael (John 1:47), Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-26), the infirm man (John 5:2-9), the brothers of Jesus (John 7:6), the blind man (John 9:1-12), the Bethany family (John 11:17-46, 12:1-8), the Greeks (John 12:20-26). (David E. Orton, “The Individualism of the Fourth Gospel”, The Composition of John’s Gospel: Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum, 33)
Paul N. Anderson (b. 1956) catalogs:
Quite distinctive are the Johannine presentations of dialogues with Jesus: with John’s disciples (John 1:35); Nathanael (John 1:47-51); the mother of Jesus and the servants (John 2:1-11); Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (John 2:13-23, 5:16-47, 7:15-52, 8:12-59, 10:22-39); Nicodemus (John 3:1-21); the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-26, 28-30, 39-42); Jesus’ disciples (4:31-38, 6:5-13, 60-66, 9:1-7, 11:1-16, 14:1-31, 16:17-33, 21:2-14); the royal official (John 4:46-54); the invalid (John 5:5-15); the Galilean crowd (John 6:25-40); the Ioudaioi (John 6:41-59); Peter (John 6:67-70, 13:1-20, 31-38, 21:15-23); the brothers of Jesus (John 7:1-10); the man born blind an the Judean Pharisees (John 9:35-10:21); Mary and Martha (John 11:17-45); Judas (John 12:4-7); the Hellenists and the Jerusalem crowd (John 12:20-36); the Beloved Disciple and Judas (John 13:21-30); the soldiers (John 18:1-9); the High Priest and the guard (John 18:19-24); Pilate (John 18:18-19:16); Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18); and Thomas (John 20:24-29). (Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, 81)
The conversation between Jesus and Nathanael is rich and contains multiple layers (John 1:45-51). John Killinger (b. 1933) marvels:
On the surface, this is a light-hearted exchange [John 1:47-51]. But John often packs even the simplest scene with great significance. (Killinger, A Devotional Guide to John: Th Gospel of Life Eternal, 24)
Beverly R. Gaventa (b. 1948) concurs:
At one level...the second part of the lection [John 1:43-51] appears to be little more than an amusing anecdote. Nathanael, whose skepticism prompts him to doubt that anything good can come from Nazareth, meets Jesus, who abruptly declares him to be free from deceit [John 1:46-47]. Of course, in the Fourth Gospel stories often take place at more than one level simultaneously, and this story conforms to that pattern. (Walter Brueggeman [b. 1933], Charles B. Cousar [b. 1933], Gaventa and James D. Newsome [b. 1931], Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year B, 112)
Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) acknowledges:
The most difficult interpretative questions in John 1 surround Jesus’ dialogue with Nathanael (John 1:47-51). John 1:47b involves a play on words that requires knowledge of Hebrew to understand. (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary, 83)
Nathanael enters the text with no introduction aside from his name (John 1:45). Named characters are a staple of John’s gospel. George Mlakuzhyil (b. 1942) footnotes:
In a number of pericopes different individual disciples are mentioned by name (e.g. Andrew: John 1:40, 44, 6:8, 12:22; (Simon) Peter: John 1:40, 41, 42, 6:8, 68, 13:6, 9, 24, 36, 18:10, 15, 25, 20:2, 6, 21:2, 3, 7, 11, 15, 16, 17; Philip: John 1:43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 6:5, 7, 12:21, 22, 14:8; Nathanael: John 1:45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 21:2; Judas (Iscariot): John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 26, 29, 18:2, 3, 5; Jude: John 14:22; Thomas: John 11:16, 14:5, 20, 24, 26, 27, 28, 21:2; Joseph of Arimathea: John 19:38). The Beloved Disciple, however, is spoken of without mentioning his name in John 13-21 (John 13:23, 18:15, 16, 19, 26, 26, 20:2, 3, 4, 8, 21:7, 20, 23, 24). (Mlakuzhyil, The Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel, 553)
Nathanael is the first of Jesus’ disciples to be given depth (John 1:45-51). Craig R. Koester (b. 1953) depicts:
The first disciple to be portrayed in some detail is Nathanael [John 1:45-51]. On a primary level, Nathanael is an individual who is dubious about Philip’s claim to have found the one who fulfills Israel’s Scriptures [John 1:45-46]. Instead of responding with a confession of faith, Nathanael asks the disparaging question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). His skepticism sets him apart from the disciples mentioned earlier, and shows that Nathanael is an individual who thinks for himself. Despite his question, however, Nathanael goes to meet Jesus [John 1:47]. (Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community, 63)
Nathanael does not appear in the Synoptic gospels. This is not surprising as Jesus’ disciples are presented differently in John. For instance, “The Twelve” as a collective are scarce in the Fourth Gospel.

Jeffrey A. Trumbower (b. 1960) inspects:

John refers to “the twelve” only twice in John 6:66-71 and again in John 20:24. Unlike Mark 3:14-19, [and its] parallels [Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 6:13-16], John never gives a list of “the twelve,” and if we look through the narrative we can identify only seven members of this group: Andrew [John 1:40, 44, 6:8, 12:22], an unnamed disciple [John 1:37-40] (probably the one later termed “the Beloved Disciple” [John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21]), Peter [John 1:40, 41, 42, 6:8, 68, 13:6, 9, 24, 36, 18:10, 15, 25, 20:2, 6, 21:2, 3, 7, 11, 15, 16, 17], Philip [John 1:43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 6:5, 7, 12:21, 22, 14:8], Nathanael [John 1:45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 21:2], Thomas (the “twin”) [John 11:16, 14:5, 20, 24, 26, 27, 28, 21:2], Judas Iscariot [John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 26, 29, 18:2, 3, 5], and another Judas (cf. Luke 6:16) [John 14:22]. The other five are neither mentioned nor named in John 1-20 [John 1:1-20:31]. Of the seven who are identified, two have no counterparts in the Synoptics: Nathanael and the Beloved Disciple. (Trumbower, Born from Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John, 130)
Attempts have been made to harmonize John’s presentation of Nathanael with figures from the Synoptics (John 1:45-51, 21:2). John Henry Bernard (1860-1927) reconciles:
Nathanael has been identified, e.g. by Ernest Renan [1823-1892] and Theodor Zahn [1838-1933], with Bartholomew because (1) in the Synoptic lists of the apostles, Philip is associated with Batholomew as he is here with Nathanael [Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:45-46], and (2) while the name Nathanael does not occur in the Synoptists, Bartholomew (which is only a patronymic, Bar Tholmai) is not found in John. (Bernard, the Gospel According to St. John, Volume 1 (International Critical Commentary), 62)
Bartholomew is not the only candidate that has been posited as being synonymous with Nathanael. Gerald L. Borchert (b. 1932) informs:
The most frequent linkage is with Bartholomew...The linkage with Simon the Cananean has obviously resulted from the fact that Nathanael was from Cana (John 21:2). The link with Matthew is a clever attempt at relating the meaning of names—Matthew = gift of the Lord, and Nathanael = gift of God. For further discussion see Urban Holzmeister [1877-1953], “Nathanael fuitne idem ac S. Bartholomaeus?” Biblica 21 (1940): 28-39. (Borchert, John 1-11 (New American Commentary), 147)
Nathanael is not a frequently recurring character in the Fourth Gospel (John 1:45-49, 21:2). He reappears noticeably less than the other disciples introduced in the book’s opening chapter (John 1:1-51).

Christopher W. Skinner (b. 1973) counts:

Andrew appears three times (John 1:40-45, 6:8, 12:22), Simon Peter appears six times (John 1:40-44, 6:68, 13:6-37, 18:10-27, 20:2-6, 21:2-21), Philip appears four times (John 1:43-48, 6:5-7, 12:21-22, 14:8-9), and Nathanael appears only twice (John 1:43-49 and John 21:2). (Skinner, John and Thomas — Gospels in Conflict?: Johannine Characterization and the Thomas Question, 43)
Though introduced at roughly the same time as the famed follower Peter (John 1:40-42), Nathanael falls by the wayside. Bradford B. Blaine, Jr. (b. 1960) explains:
Peter is one of two disciples who appear in the opening call narrative and the final resurrection scene (the other being Nathanael), and is therefore a prominent witness to the entire career of Jesus. Peter may be the most prominent witness to the entire career of Jesus, for, as is shown by Margaret Pamment in “The Fourth Gospel’s Beloved Disciple,” Expository Times 94 (1983): 365, John’s Gospel shows “no biographical interest” in Nathanael. (Blaine, Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple, 2)
John F. O’Grady (b. 1939) portrays:
Nathanael appears only in the Johannine tradition. His first appearance occurs in the call of the first disciples (John 1:43-51), and he reappears in the final chapter with the other disciples as they go fishing [John 21:2]. The first appearance can be viewed as a transformative vocation scene. The conversation between Jesus and Nathanael seems somewhat contrived in order to lead to the great testimony by Nathanael: “You are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel” (John 1:49). (O’Grady, According to John: The Witness of the Beloved Disciple, 22)
Marianus Pale Hera (b. 1974) adds:
John portrays Nathanael as a disciple who believes in Jesus even before witnessing the signs (John 2:11). Yet, he plays no further tole in the narrative. He only reappears briefly in John 21:2. (Hera, Christology and Discipleship in John 17, 58)
Jesus’ encounters with his newfound disciples in John’s first chapter accent different facets of his identity (John 1:35-51). R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) exposes:
In John 1...the characters serve the plot function of introducing Jesus by means of confessions and declarations that echo or reference the scriptures and by referring to his role as one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, take away the sins of the world, and serve as the Messiah [John 1:41], King of Israel [John 1:49], and eschatological Son of Man [John 1:51]. While both the Jewish groups and the disciples (with the exception of Nathanael, who is mentioned later only in passing in John 21:2) will reappear in later scenes and receive a higher degree of characterization, it is clear from this chapter that their roles are tightly integrated with the plot development. (Christopher W. Skinner [b.1973], “The Weave of the Tapestry: Character and Theme in John”,Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John, xxi)
Anthony Tyrrell Hanson (1916-1991) praises:
Nathanael is treated as a model disciple. His place is later taken by the beloved disciple [John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21]. (Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel: Study of John and the Old Testament, 40)
Though a minority view, some interpreters have even seen Nathanael as John’s enigmatic “Beloved Disciple” (John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21). Andrew T. Lincoln (b. 1944) reports:
Occasionally Nathanael has been proposed as the Beloved Disciple [John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21] (see David Catchpole [b. 1938] 2000:162-72 for recent advocacy of this). Nathanael is mentioned at the very beginning and end of the narrative (John 1:43-51, 21:2) and is not known to the Synoptics. His confession about Jesus in John 1:49 forms the climax to the responses of the first four disciples to Jesus, matches that in the purpose statement of the Gospel (John 20:31) and shows him to have greater insight than Peter, as will be the case in the later comparisons of the Beloved Disciple and Peter. In addition, Jesus sees him as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit (John 1:47), a representative of the new Israel, making him a candidate for Jesus’ special affection and choice as successor, and he is promised that he will see greater things (John 1:50) and the Beloved Disciple is to be the one who sees the blood and water flowing from the crucified Jesus and sees the empty tomb. Of course, if Nathanael is meant to be the Beloved Disciple, this would rule out the view of many that the other disciple of John 1:37-40 constitutes the first anonymous appearance of the Beloved Disciple in the narrative. More importantly, it does not explain why, having named this disciple at the outset, the evangelist then chooses not to make any explicit link between him and the Beloved Disciple and to hide this identification in the rest of the narrative. (Lincoln, The Gospel according to Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 21)
Regardless of what associations one draws to the disciple, upon hearing Philip’s assessment of Jesus, Nathanael openly questions the candidate’s origins (John 1:46).

Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) follows:

The author draws attention to the encounter between Jesus and Nathanael [John 1:45-51]. It is introduced by a return to the question of origins [John 1:46]. Nathanael’s first words ask whether an unknown and insignificant northern town could be the home of the one who fulfills the scriptures: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). (Moloney, Belief in the Word: Reading the Fourth Gospel: John 1-4, 71)
Anthony J. Kelly (b. 1938 and Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) comment:
Nathanael, in the directness for which he will be commended, seems to sense the self-assertiveness of the disciples and the narrowness of their expectations. He poses his ironic question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Still, a significant contact has been made. (Kelly and Moloney, Experiencing God in the Gospel of John, 68)
Rodney A. Whitacre (b. 1949) evaluates:
Nathanael’s question is usually understood as a negative one [John 1:46], though some of the church fathers took the tone as positive—that something good could come from Nazareth (Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] 1908:1:55). It is probably neither entirely negative nor positive but simply a genuine question, expressing his doubts. (Whitacre, John (IVP New Testament Commentary), 73)
Many have seen the question as evidence of regional prejudice (John 1:46). Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) speculates:
Perhaps Nathanael’s hostility is conditioned by the “prophet from one’s own country” mentality (John 4:44; Matthew 13:54-57; Luke 4:24), but more likely from civic rivalry in the region, which was common more generally in antiquity. (Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 484)
Michael Card (b. 1957) bolsters:
His response, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46] reveals the common attitude toward Nazareth in particular and the area of Galilee in general. The fact that Nathanael himself is from Cana in Galilee (John 21:2) makes the statement all the more remarkable. When we realize that those words were spoken by a fellow Galilean, we understand that they do not represent a scathing comment from Nathanael but rather a sad statement of common opinion. (Card, John: The Gospel of Wisdom (Biblical Imagination Series), 45)
Fred B. Craddock (b. 1928) admits:
The response is a reasonable one: the credentials of Jesus hardly qualify him as the one described by Moses and the Prophets as the people’s deliverer [John 1:45-46]. Those among us who regularly evaluate strangers by place of origin, residence, family, education and station should not find Nathanael’s response out of order. (Craddock, John (Knox Preaching Guides), 20)
The problem of Jesus’ origins is directly related to the incarnation and will plague him throughout his ministry. James L. Resseguie (b. 1945) assesses:
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The irony of mistaken assumption is obvious; but there is more to Nathanael’s judgment than the mere enjoyment of a victimized perception. By overstating his case (“anything good”), he voices cliché that begs for subversion. He wonders how the Messiah can come out of so insignificant a place as Nazareth. The problem could not be stated more clearly—or more poignantly—than the way Nathanael phrases it. Familiar expectations cloud a reality that is new and unfamiliar, and therefore surprising actions (such as something good coming out of Nazareth) appear at best dubious. More to the point, Nathanael questions how God acts in this world and does not recognize that “God’s action is surprising and incredible; and the offence of the Messiah’s coming from Nazareth the offence of the incarnation of the Logos.” Philip’s reply to Nathanael, “come and see,” resolves his “disparaging doubt,” for faith, in this instance, is the only way to see the strange in the ordinary. (Resseguie, The Strange Gospel: Narrative Design and Point of View in John, 30-31)
Tellingly, Philip does not defend Nazareth, but rather Jesus (John 1:46-47). Nathanael’s claim goes uncontested. Michael Card (b. 1957) notices:
Philip knows Nathanael well enough not to argue. Instead he issues the invitation that is at the heart of all true evangelism: “Come and see” [John 1:46]. (Card, The Parable Of Joy: Reflections On The Wisdom Of The Book Of John, 19)
Nathanael takes Philip up on his offer (John 1:46-47). C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) presumes:
Nathanael is willing to put his prejudice to the test of experience (J.N. Sanders [1913-1961] and B.A. Mastin [b. 1938]). (Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 185)
Mary Margaret Pazdan (b. 1942) tracks:
In a typical challenge-riposte style, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46] Philip echoes Jesus’ invitation to Andrew and the other disciple, “Come and see” (John 1:39 [John 1:46])...The narrator does not even give Nathanael time to make a decision. Suddenly, Jesus is coming toward him. He praises him as an Israelite “in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47). (Pazdan, Becoming God’s Beloved in the Company of Friends: A Spirituality of the Fourth Gospel, 33)
Philip and Nathanael receive Jesus differently, each in their own way (John 1:43-51). Thomas H. Olbricht (b. 1929) contrasts:
Nathanael was not readily impressible or easily taken in. He had his opinion of those gullible persons who believed almost everything. Philip, however, was so captivated by Jesus that he could not restrain himself. (Dave Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “Nathanel, a Disciple by Water and the Word,” Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, 94)
There are benefits to doubt. Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) interprets:
Nathanael is sceptical [John 1:46]—like Thomas later [John 20:24-29]. Intelligent scepticism is not condemned, for it is the necessary balance which preserves the distinction between genuine faith and foolish credulity. It is part of what it means to “walk in the light” [John 8:12, 12:35]. There is always tension and conflict between the radical newness of the gospel and the necessary conservatism, by which any human culture maintains its integrity. This is always a central issue in genuine missionary communication. The new is only received if it becomes part of the intellectual and cultural world of those who hear; yet it is not received unless that world is radically questioned. So scepticism is a legitimate starting point...But it cannot have the last word, or nothing new will be learned. (Newbigin, The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel, 21-22)
Noticeably, Jesus does not chastise Nathanael for his remark (John 1:46-47). Charles R. Swindoll (b. 1934) charts:
Jesus didn’t rebuke Nathanael. Instead, He peered into the man’s soul and called Nathanael an honest forthright Israelite [John 1:47]. Then, to help Nathanael overcome his sincere skepticism, Jesus offered a small measure of supernatural evidence [John 1:48]. (Swindoll, John (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary))
Michael Card (b. 1957) juxtaposes:
When Jesus sees them approaching, he who does not need to be told about a person refers to Nathanael as a “true Israelite” in whom there is no deceit [John 1:47] . Jesus’ graceful response to Nathanael is in stark contrast to Nathanael’s original negative opinion of Jesus [John 1:46]. (Card, John: The Gospel of Wisdom (Biblical Imagination Series), 45)
John R. Claypool (1930-2005) preaches:
Notice the sharp contrast between the ways that Jesus and Nathanael encountered each other. Nathanael scoffed at the idea that Jesus could be the Messiah [John 1:46], while Jesus focused on the positive aspects of Nathanael [John 1:47]. We all have a choice as we interact with people around us. We can look for their faults or we can focus on their good qualities. (Claypool, The First to Follow: The Apostles of Jesus, 59)
Jesus proclaims Nathanael to be “an whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47 NASB). Jesus often makes similar critical assessments in the Fourth Gospel.

R. Jackson Painter (b. 1961) surveys:

In chapter one, Jesus declares a new name for Simon—Cephas—which John goes on to translate as “Peter” (Greek petros meaning rock) [John 1:42]. A few verses later Jesus says of Nathaniel, “Look! A true Israelite in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47). These statements of truth about particular individuals occur throughout John: Nicodemus (John 3:10), the Samaritan woman (John 4:17), the royal official (John 4:48—though this instance might be seen as a provocation to faith rather than a witness statement), Judas (John 6:70, 13:21), and Peter (John 13:38, 21:18). John makes a particular comment about Jesus’ perception of people in John 2:24-25: “But Jesus himself did not entrust himself to them because he knew everything, indeed he had no need for anyone to testify about a person, for he knew what was in a person.” (Jackson, The Gospel of John: A Thematic Approach, 64-65)

Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) probes:

Jesus’ revelation of Nathanael’s true identity (John 1:47) parallels his analogous revelation of Peter in John 1:42. Jesus contextualizes his revelation to address the seeker’s personal state. People sometimes expected miracle workers in Greco-Roman and Jewish tradition to be able to lay bare human heats or predict the future, but in the context of the Fourth Gospel Jesus’ insight is divine and not merely human in nature (John 2:24-25). (Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 485)
Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) appraises:
Jesus knows people’s identities, deep down inside, and he wants them to know who they are or are going to be, as well, and to know what he thinks of them...“Nathanael, you are the real thing” [John 1:47]...Perhaps Nathanael will have occasions to doubt his reality, his lack of guile, his authenticity — it should probably not surprise us if the more authentic a person is the more apt he or she might be to doubt one’s own authenticity. But Jesus’ word is Lord. (Bruner,The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 111)
Jesus can accurately represent those whom he encounters because of the static nature of John’s characters. Jeffrey A. Trumbower (b. 1960) explains:
Nathanael, whom Philip finds, is described by Jesus as “truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47). Jesus’ knowledge of what is “in” a human being is a recurring theme of the Fourth Gospel, and is very much tied in with the fixedness of the Johannine characters (John 2:23-25, 5:42, 6:64, 11:9-10). It is not simply the case that Jesus knows what will happen, but rather, he knows (as does our narrator) the fixed characteristics of each person. While misunderstandings and progression of faith do take place, the personalities and types of responses do not change for any character in the gospel, and there are no repentant persons. (Trumbower, Born from Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John, 70)
Philip Yancey (b. 1949) appreciates:
Unlike most men I know, Jesus...loved to praise other people. When he worked a miracle, he often deflected credit back on the recipient: “Your faith has healed you” [Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34, 10:52; Luke 7:50]. He called Nathanael “a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false”. [John 1:47] Of John the Baptist, he said there was none greater born of women [Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28]. Volatile Peter he renamed “the Rock” [Matthew 16:18; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; John 1:42]. When a cringing woman offered him an extravagant act of devotion, Jesus defended her against critics and said the story of her generosity would be told forever [Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9]. (Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 88-89)
In making this claim, Jesus’ seeming clairvoyance is on full display (John 1:47). Herman C. Waetjen (b. 1929) apprises:
Nathanael heeds Philip’s invitation; he comes in order to see. Jesus, however, is already aware of him as he approaches and exclaims, “Look, truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile!” [John 1:47] His seeing, whether purely empirical or an insight engendered by the perspicacity of the soul, appears to be a penetrating discernment that enables him to perceive Nathanael’s integrity as a member of God’s chosen people. This quality of direct perception, of keen insight into human personality, will manifest itself again. In an intrusive remark, a little later, the narrator will comment on his intuitive knowledge of human character [John 2:24-25]...It is with this same insightfulness that Jesus views Nathanael and demonstrates his capacity to look into human hearts. (Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions, 312-313)
Jeffrey A. Trumbower (b. 1960) elaborates:
In John 1:48, Jesus’ knowledge of Nathanael is tied to Nathanael’s “whence” (πόθεν), and...the whence/whither of both Jesus and the disciples plays a vital role in the Fourth Gospel as a whole. Here, πόθεν is explained by reference to Jesus’ having seen Nathanael sitting under the fig tree, but this does not account for the fact that Jesus knows there is no deceit “in” Nathanael [John 1:47]. The elaboration of this theme must wait until John 2:23-25, followed by chapters 3 and 4. (Trumbower, Born from Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John, 70)
Jesus is especially perceptive. Jack W. Stallings (b. 1944) describes:
Again as in John 1:42, “Jesus shows that he is possessed of supernatural knowledge (Rudolf Schnackenburg [1914-2002] 1:316). He is the searcher of hearts (Alfred Plummer [1841-1926]). (Stallings, The Gospel of John (Randall House Bible Commentary), 39)
This ability is featured prominently in the Fourth Gospel. Paul N. Anderson (b. 1956) bolsters:
Jesus is portrayed as having supernatural knowledge. He knows Nathanael from afar (John 1:48ff.); he knows what is in the hearts of humans (John 2:24ff.); the Samaritan woman experiences herself as being known by Jesus (John 4:39); and Jesus knows what will transpire beforehand (John 4:1, 6:64, 13:1, 3, 13). Nowhere in the canonical scriptures is Jesus’ divinity portrayed more graphically than in John. (Anderson, The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, 266)
Jesus’ pronouncement to Nathanael marks the first this characteristic presents itself in John’s gospel (John 1:47). R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) remarks:
His words tell us who Nathanael is, or at least who he can become: “An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47 RSV). This is the first demonstration of Jesus’ divine knowledge. As the incarnate Logos, he “needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone” (John 2:25). (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts), 125)
This feature will recur throughout the book. Paul N. Anderson (b. 1956) compiles:
The divine certainty and sway of Jesus are featured (John 1:47-51, 2:24-25, 4:17-19, 5:41-42, 6:64, 13:1-3): Jesus knows full well what he will do and what is going to happen to him (John 6:6, 13:1, 16:19, 30, 18:4, 19:28); his adversaries cannot arrest him unless his time has arrived (John 7:30, 8:20); and people experience themselves at being “known by the divine” in their encounters with Jesus (John 1:48, 4:19, 39, 5:6, 9:38, 10:4, 14, 27,20:16, 21:7). (Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, 27)
Some have assumed a supernatural component to Christ’s insight. Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) comments:
It appears from the scene with Nathanael that here too Jesus is meant to be seen as the possessor of divine knowledge [John 1:47]. (Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St. John, Volume 1, 311)
John F. O’Grady (b. 1939) studies:
Jesus reveals God and perceives the incipient faith in a man who bears an Old Testament name and engages in activity most characteristic of God’s people. The author actually uses a technical formula for revelation, identifying Nathanael as an “Israelite. There is no guile in him” (John 1:47). (O’Grady, According to John: The Witness of the Beloved Disciple, 22)
Anthony Tyrrell Hanson (1916-1991) classifies:
Robert T. Fortna [b. 1930]...suggests that some of the apparently miraculous elements in the Gospel are the products not of John himself but of his hypothetical signs source. He writes: ‘Jesus’ unexplained knowledge of Nathanael (John 1:47ff.) and the woman at the well (John 4:16ff.) is quasi-miraculous and probably stems from the source...but these episodes have no standing as miracles in their own right’. Since we do not believe in the existence of a signs-source, we must accept these ‘quasi-miraculous’ elements as part of the original Gospel. They do however, impart an atmosphere to the Gospel in which the miraculous is to be expected. (Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel: Study of John and the Old Testament, 283)
Not all have seen a supernatural occurrence. John A. Sanford (1929-2005) rationalizes:
Jesus shows the same penetrating insight into Nathanael’s character that he showed into Simon’s [John 1:42,47]; this faculty in him can be ascribed to his psychological astuteness and intuition. But in the next verse the matter goes farther than that. Nathanael marvels that Jesus could know him so well, never having met him: “How do you know me?” he asks. The Greek word here translated “know” is the special term ginōskō, which refers to knowing something intimately through experience. Nathanael uses this word because he is so amazed that Jesus could know him so deeply in such a short time. (Sanford, Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John, 30)
Jesus’ divine insight tips the scales in his favor (John 1:47-48). Gail R. O’Day (b. 1954) and Susan Hylen (1968) recognize:
Nathanael’s resistance to Jesus is overcome because of Jesus’ ability to recognize who Nathanael truly is (“an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” John 1:47), an ironic counterpart to Nathanael’s inability to recognize who Jesus really a theme that will recur in the Gospel: Jesus has insight that others do not have because of Jesus’ relationship with God (for example, John 6:6, 11:4, 13:1). Nathanael recognizes the source of Jesus’ insight and so hails Jesus as the Son of God (see John 1:18, 34). (O’Day and Hylen, John (Westminster Bible Companion), 33)
Some have seen Old Testament allusions behind the phrase “an whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47 NASB). William Barclay (1907-1978) assumes:
That was a tribute that any devout Israelite would recognize. ‘Happy are those’, said the psalmist, ‘to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit’ (Psalm 32:2). ‘He had done no violence,’ said the prophet of the Servant of the Lord, ‘and there was no deceit in his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:9). (Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume One (New Daily Study Bible), 109)
Severino Pancaro documents:
Marie-Émile Boismard [1916-2004] suggests that John 1:47ff should be considered in the light of Isaiah 44:1-5. Nathanael would be called “Israel” because he is faithful to God, he serves no false gods...In keeping with the interpretation he gives to the passage, ἐν ὡ δόλος οὐκ ἔστιν would mean that there is no falsehood or lie in Nathanael (Israel) in the religious sense of “invoking the names of the false gods” (cf. Zephaniah 3:13, etc.)...The construction of Boismard is suggestive. Its main weakness (and it is a serious one) is that there is little or nothing in the Johannine text to support it. (The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John, 303)
There is debate over the part of speech of the word “true”: adverb or adjective? Both are grammatically possible (John 1:47). Severino Pancaro scrutinizes:
The adverb, in attributive position, can be given adjectival force (Nathanael is a “true” Israelite, as opposed to “false” Israelites) or be left with its adverbial force (Nathanael is “truly” an Israelite, as opposed to those who are unworthy of the name) [John 1:47]. The difference is negligible. (The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John, 293)
C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) determines:
ἀληθως ’Ισραηλίτης...Nathanael is one who truly is an Israelite. ἀληθως always has this meaning in John (John 4:42, 6:14, 55, 7:26, 40, 8:31, 17:8)...We may suppose that the reference to δόλος simply expands ἀληθως: you are truly an Israelite, with no pretence, seeming, dissimulation. (Barrett, The Gospel according to St. John, 184-85)
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) counters:
The rendering “true Israelite” (NIV) probably is incorrect [John 1:47]. Rather, Jesus says, “truly,” here is an Israelite in whom there is nothing false (literally, no “deceit,” δόλος, dolos; see Herman N. Ridderbos [1909-2007] 1997:90; D.A. Carson [b. 1946] 1991:160; C.K. Barrett [1917-2011] 1978:184-85; Adolf Schlatter [1852-1938] 1948:59). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 82)
Herman Ridderbos (1909-2007) strengthens:
The adverb “truly,” “in truth,” goes with the entire statement and must not be taken, as so many interpreters do, as an adjective with “Israelite” (“Behold, a true Israelite”) [John 1:47]...So, e.g., Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976]: “one who is worthy of the name of Israel” (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, p. 104, n.4; cf. also C.K. Barrett [1917-2011], The Gospel according to St. John, p. 184). Such adjectival use of an adverb is very unusual, and if all the emphasis were laid on Nathanael being a true Israelite, then everything would be said, so that the relative clause that follows would be useless. (Ridderbos, The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary, 89)
R.C.H. Lenski (1864-1936) contemplates:
The adverb ἀληθως, “truly” “in truth or verity,” modifies the entire statement, “Behold, here is in truth an Israelite, in whom is no guile” [John 1:47]. Some connect the adverb with the noun, but then an adjective should have been used, “Behold, a true Israelite,” Then, too, the relative clause would merely define the adjective: true because without guile. This would connote that other Israelites were not true because they were full of guile, a contrast that is entirely out of place here where such Israelites are not thought of. Still less can we draw the adverb to the relative clause, “in whom truly is no guile,” which ignores the position of the word and removes the strong emphasis on “an Israelite.” This word of Jesus concerning Nathanael can be understood only in connection with the conversation of Philip and Nathanael [John 1:45-46]. (Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel 1-10, 167)
D.A. Carson (b. 1946) agrees:
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said in his hearing, ‘Truly, an Israelite in whom there is no guile!’ not, as in NIV, ‘Here is a true Israelite...’ [John 1:47]. The adjective ‘true’ (alēthinos) is an important word for John, but he does not use it here...Instead he uses the word ‘truly’ (alēthōs, consistently deployed in the Fourth Gospel as an adverb (John 4:42, 6:14, 55 [variant reading], John 7:26, 40, 8:31, 17:8). Jesus is not saying that Nathanael is a ‘true Israelite’ in terms reminiscent of Paul’s discussion of the new Israel (Romans 2:28-29, 9:6). After all, at this point Nathanael is not a convert in any sense; and if he became a disciple of Jesus after their next exchange, he still had to pass through a lengthy period characterized by considerable misunderstanding. (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 160)
The vocabulary underscores the verse’s emphasis on truth (John 1:47). Marianus Pale Hera (b. 1974) coheres:
The notion of genuineness, which is introduced by the adverb ἀληθως, is reinforced by the negative explanation, “in whom there is no deceit” (ὡ δόλος οὐκ ἔστιν) [John 1:47]. (Hera, Christology and Discipleship in John 17, 56)
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) illumines:
Jacob was known for his deceit (Genesis 27:35). So Jesus highlights a contrast in the absence of deceit from Nathaniel. This absence agrees with the emphasis on truth in this very verse [John 1:47] (note the opposition between “truly” and “deceit” and throughout John, as in John 3:21: “But the one who is doing the truth comes to the light.” Nathaniel is just such a person; so he comes to the light. (Gundry, Commentary on John)
The designation Israelite is striking (John 1:47). Leon Morris (1914-2006) briefs:
“Israelite” is used here only in this Gospel [John 1:47], though “Jew” (especially in the plural) is common...It means here the true son of Israel (cf. Romans 2:29). The most frequent use of the term in the New Testament is an address in the speeches in Acts [Acts 2:22, 3:12, 5:35, 13:16, 21:18]. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 145)
John McHugh (1927-2006) surveys:
’Ισραηλίτης occurs nine times in the New Testament: five times in Acts, as a formal address to assembled Jews (Acts 2:22, 3:12, 5:35, 13:16, 21:28); three times in Paul, when he is stressing his racial and religious credentials (Romans 9:4, 11:1; II Corinthians 11:22); and here (only) in the gospels. ἀληθως ’Ισραηλίτης proclaims the genuineness of Nathanael’s devotion to the God of Israel. The use of the adverb with a noun to mean real, genuine, is both classical and common, and recurs in John 8:31. Here, as elsewhere in John, the Greek meaning of ‘genuine’ is combined with the Hebraic meaning of ‘being faithful to one’s word’ (see E.A. Abbott [1838-1926], 1727g). (McHugh, John 1-4 (International Critical Commentary), 161)
Herman Ridderbos (1909-2007) denotes:
Such pregnant use of “Israel(-ite)” occurs nowhere else in the Gospel (Friedrich Büchsel [1883-1945], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament III, 386: “We do not detect in John any extension of the name to the new people of God. The true Israelite is the man who is bound to the Law, and therewith to God”). See John Painter [b. 1935], “Christ and the Church in John 1:45-51,” in L’Évangile de Jean, p. 360. (Ridderbos, The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary, 89)
D.A. Carson (b. 1946) presumes:
That Jesus refers to him as an ‘Israelite’ is not surprising; Palestinian Jews commonly referred to one another that way (Karl Georg Kuhn [1906-1976], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3.359ff.). (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 160)
It has long been assumed that the designation “Israelite” refers to more than Nathanael’s genealogical lineage (John 1:47). Thomas Whitelaw (1840-1917) writes:
Nathanael [is]...not merely a descendant of Israel according to the flesh, but one whose inner character corresponds to the ideal conception of the name (August Tholuck [1799-1877, Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer [1800-1873], Frédéric Louis Godet [1812-1900], and others), and therefore a true branch or member of the people of God (Wilhelm Hengstenberg [1802-1869]). (Whitelaw, Commentary on John, 43)
The term “Israel” is highly favorable in the Fourth Gospel. Lars Kierspel (b. 1972) gauges:
Jesus praises Nathanael as “a true Israelite” (John 1:47) and addresses Nicodemus as a “teacher of Israel” (John 3:10), thus valuing “Israel” as a name of honor an respect. (Kierspel, The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context, 64)
John A. Dennis (b. 1962) resolves:
Jesus’ messianic ministry to Israel is...emphasized in the account concerning who represents the ideal Israelite, the one who recognizes Jesus as Israel’s king (John 1:47, 49). Nathanael is thus a proleptic fulfillment of the mission statement in John 1:31. It is significant that the term Ioudaios is not used for Nathanael. Rather, “Israelite” is employed because it signifies, throughout the Old Testament, the covenant people of YHWH. Therefore, Jesus sets out from the beginning of his ministry to restore Israel, meaning that the object of Jesus’ ministry is Israelites.(Dennis, Jesus’ Death and the Gathering of True Israel: The Johannine Appropriation of Restoration Theology in the Light of John 11:47-52, 296-97)
The incorporation of the term “Israelite” is an example John’s appealing to the past to reflect on his narrative’s present (John 1:47). Tat-siong Benny Liew (b. 1961) reminds:
We must not lose sight consistently John has Jesus invoke an older authority figure to circumvent his opponents...By resorting to the strategic argument of origins, Jesus is able to deflect criticism about his disregard for the law...In other words, the ‘grandfather complex’—in terms of Jesus’ pre-existence with/as God (John 1:1-4, 17-18), and/or Jesus’ obedience to God—allows John to argue that his community, though late in coming, is ‘consistent with the law but not derived from the law’...The power of this construction lies in its flexibility to invoke and revoke tradition, because it constructs an ‘antitype, the redemptive fulfillment of types, of original ancestors’. It allows John to do so with Moses (John 5:45-47, 6:30-33, 49-51, 58, 10:8), or to consider Nathanael the ‘true Israelite’ who has no deceit over against the first Israelite (Jacob) who was deceitful (John 1:47). (Musa W. Dube [b. 1964] and Jeffrey L. Staley [b. 1951], “Ambiguous Admittance: Consent and Descent in John’s Community of ‘Upward’ Mobility”, John and Postcolonialism: Travel, Space, and Power, 211-212)
Many have read the classification “Israelite” in contrast with the more common identifier “Jew” (John 1:47). Severino Pancaro measures:
John uses ’Ισραήλ and ’Ισραηλίτης very sparingly. ’Ισραήλ is used four times (John 1:39, 49, 3:10, 12:13), ’Ισραηλίτης once (John 1:47). The numerical difference stands out; ’Ιουδαιος is used some 70 times! The terms are obviously not equivalent. (The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John, 296)
D. Moody Smith (b. 1931) compares:
The “Jews” in John’s view are not simply to be equated with Israel. Israel plays a positive role, although the Jews do not. John came baptizing in order to manifest Jesus to Israel (John 1:31). There are obviously people in Israel who accept and believe in Jesus, namely, his disciples, among whom is Nathanael, “truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47; cf. John 21:2). Moreover, Nicodemus, ignorant though he may seem (John 3:1-21), is nevertheless a teacher of Israel (John 3:10) who returns to defend Jesus (John 7:50-52) and finally to help bury him (John 19:13). Being a teacher of Israel is a good thing. (Smith, The Theology of the Gospel of John, 89)
Jerome H. Neyrey (b. 1940) figures:
The “Judeans” are under considerable censure from the point of view of John’s Gospel, and yet “Israel” is a favorable term (see John 1:31, 3:10, 12:13). John seems to reflect the same favorable use of “Israel” as found in Romans 9:4, 11:1, II Corinthians 11:22; Galatians 6:16 (see 1QS 9:6); see Severino Pancaro, “The Relationship of the Church to Israel in the Gospel of St. John,” New Testament Studies 21 (1974-75):396-405, especially pp. 398-401; Robert T. Fortna [b. 1930], “The Theological Use of Locale in the Fourth Gospel,” Gospel Studies in Honor of Sherman Elbridge Johnson [1908-1993] (editors Massey H. Shepherd, Jr. [1913-1990] and Edward C. Hobbs [b. 1926], Anglican Theological Review supplementary series 3; 1974) 89-95. A comparable debate occurs in John 8 over who are the authentic offspring of Abraham — Christians or (unbelieving) Judeans [John 8:31-59]; see Thomas B. Dozeman [b. 1952], “Sperma Abraham in John 8 and Related Literature: Cosmology and Judgement,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980):342-358). (Neyrey, “‘Are You Greater than Our Father Jacob’: Jesus and Jacob in John 1:51 and John 4:4-26”, The Gospel of John in Cultural and Rhetorical Perspective, 89)
The term “Jew” in John’s gospel has elicited much discussion. Severino Pancaro construes:
It has often been remarked that ’Ιουδαιος in John is an equivocal term. It is found as a designation for: 1) the opponents of Jesus; 2) the “common” people or “crowd” (ὁ ὄχλος); 3) the Jewish people as opposed to the Gentiles; 4) the contemporaries of Jesus with their customs and practices; 5) Judeans. (The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John, 293)
Adele Reinhartz (b. 1953) bounds:
The fact that the same word occurs numerous times and in a variety of contexts tends, in my view to blur the fine distinctions and nuances implied by these contexts and to generalize the meaning to its broadest possible referent, that is, the Jews as a nation defined by a set of religious beliefs, cultic and liturgical practices and a sense of peoplehood. As R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946] notes, “Even if the Greek term οἱ ’Ιουδαιοι once denoted Judeans or Jewish authorities, the Gospel of John generalized and stereotyped those who rejected Jesus by its use of this term and elevated the bitterness and hostility of the polemic to a new level.” Given the ubiquity of the term, ’Ιουδαιος, however, it is curious that while it is applied to Jesus (John 4:9), it is never used of a figure who is a believer; this despite the fact that almost all the followers of and believers in Jesus within the Gospel narrative, with the exception of the Samaritan woman [John 4:4-26, 28-30, 39-42], her compatriots [John 4:39-42], and, perhaps, the officer of John 4 [John 4:46-54], are Jewish in the national and ethnic sense. This is true of the primary spokespersons for faith, namely, the first disciples [John 1:35-51], the man born blind [John 9:1-34], the Bethany siblings [John 11:1-46, 12:1-11], Mary Magdalene [John 19:25, 20:1-18], and the beloved disciple [John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21]. The most explicit example is Nathanael, who is praised by Jesus not as a “true Jew” but as a “true Israelite” in whom there is no guile or deceit (John 1:47)—in contrast, perhaps, to the Jews themselves. Some of them, such as the Bethany siblings, the man born blind, and possibly the beloved disciple, and even Judaean in the narrower sense yet are not referred to as ’Ιουδαιοι. (Reimund Bieringer [b. 1957], Didier Pollefeyt [b. 1965] and Frederique Vandecasteele-Vanneuville [b. 1972], “‘Jews’ and Jews in the Fourth Gospel”, Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel, 220-21)
Many contend that “Jew” carries a pejorative tone in the Fourth Gospel. Lars Kierspel (b. 1972) records:
Severino Pancaro insists that...“Jesus is not the King of the Jews, he is the King of Israel.” While ’Ιουδαιι stands here for the “religious-national community” and the title for a “national-political Messiah,” ’Ισραήλ is a honorific title for the theocratic people which refers in the Gospel (in John 1:31, 49, 3:10, 12:13) to Jewish Christians who are “born again of water and spirit” and the “particularly instructive” occurrence in connection with Nathanael, the “genuine Israelite” (John 1:47) shows. (Kierspel, The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context, 71)
Robert Kysar (1934-2013) consents:
While Jesus stresses the continuity between himself and his message and Hebrew Scriptures (John 5:39, 6:45, 8:56, 10:34), Judaism is depicted as a faulty understanding of those scriptures. The “true Israelite in whom is no guile” is one who goes on to become Jesus’ disciple (John 1:47). (Kysar, Voyages with John: Charting the Fourth Gospel, 150)
Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) expatiates:
If Nathanael represents the true Israelite [John 1:47], he stands in sharp contrast to “the Jews.” They search the Scriptures and yet refuse to come to Jesus (John 5:39-40). Their father is the devil in whom there is no truth (John 8:44). They ask the question “Who are you?” (John 8:25), but do not understand what Jesus says (John 8:43). In contrast, Nathanael who had searched the Scriptures under the fig tree [John 1:48] came to Jesus [John 1:46]. He is the one in whom there is no guile [John 1:47]. Like the other disciples, whom he represents in so far as he is the true Israelite, Nathanael [sic] has no need to ask “Who are you?” (cf. John 8:25). He will come to know who Jesus is. Because Jesus has called Nathanael the true Israelite [John 1:47], with a call which constitutes him in this very capacity. Nathanael receives the answer to the unasked “Who are you?” question. Jesus is the Son of Man (John 1:51). The answer is contained in a verse which has been added to the Nathanael pericope at a late stage in the development of the Gospel tradition. Yet it is important, not only by reason of the role which the Son of Man title plays in the Fourth Gospel [John 1:51, 3:13, 14, 5:27,6:27, 53, 62, 8:28, 9:35, 12:23,34, 13:31], but also because the addition of the verse of the earlier tradition makes of Nathanael, the true Israelite, the first hearer of a formula of self-revelation coming from the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel, who is the self-revealing son of God and Son of Man. What the true and believing Israelite perceives is the abiding and permanent union of the earthly Son of Man with the heavenly world. (Collins, These Things Have Been Written: Studies on the Fourth Gospel, 13-14)
Urban C. Von Wahlde (b. 1941) rejects:
Some commentators consider the designation [“Israelite”] to be a mark of approbation and “Jew” one of reproach. This is ambiguous at best. The strongest evidence for this would be the current instance [John 1:47], but the approbation here comes more from the use o the term “true” or in the description of Nathanael as having “no guile.” Moreover, for Nathanael, who plays no major role in the Gospel, to be singled out with such a designation seems unlikely. (Von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 2: The Gospel of John (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 64)
Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) acquaints:
The Johannine Jesus bestows a high encomium on Nathanael by calling him a genuine Israelite [John 1:47]. To explain the alienation from Judaism...Colin J.A. Hickling [1931-2007] and others would appeal to stages in the development of Johannine community history: an earlier period emphasizing that Jesus fits into the expectations of Israel, and a later period where claims are made for Jesus that are hard to reconcile with a Jewish outlook. Be that as it may, the final Gospel gives a picture both of community and discontinuity. (Brown, An Introduction to the Gospel of John, 161)
Paul N. Anderson (b. 1956) expounds:
The Johannine presentation of “the Jews” must be approached from the perspective of the evolving history of the Johannine situation. While the Evangelist and his subject (Jesus) are clearly Jewish in the narrative, a distancing from Judaism can be observed between affirming an Israelite in whom there is nothing false (John 1:47) and salvation being “of the Jews” (John 4:22), and referring to Jewish approaches to Scripture as “your law” (Jesus to the Jerusalem leaders, John 8:17, 10:34—the same way Pilate refers to the Jews in John 18:31) and seeing Jesus’ words as a fulfillment of “their law” (John 15:25). Two main sets of a dialogues with Jewish leaders are here implied: the first involving North-South dialectical tensions with religious leaders of Jerusalem (taking Ioudaioi to mean “Judeans”), and the second involving Jewish-Christian debates within a Diaspora setting over whether Jesus could be regarded as the Messiah/Christ. (Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, 161)
Jeffrey A. Trumbower (b. 1960) illuminates:
One difference between Nazi ideology and that of the Gospel of John is that Jews in John are not barred from having an origin “from God” by virtue of their ethnic identity; Nathanael [John 1:45-51] and Jesus are two obvious examples. (Trumbower, Born from Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John, 14)
Many have seen significance in Nathanael’s Galilean origins, viewing his geographic origins as further indictment against “the Jews” (John 21:2). Paul N. Anderson (b. 1956) asserts:
Ironically, while the Judeans reject the northern prophet, Nathanael is described as an Israelite in whom there is nothing false [John 1:47]—in contrast to the southern leaders, the northerner gets it right (John 1:45-50). (Tom Thatcher [b. 1967] and Stephen D. Moore [b. 1954], “From One Dialogue to Another: Johannine History on the Other Side of Literary Criticism”, Anatomies of Narrative Criticism: The Past, Present, and Futures of the Fourth Gospel as Literature, 104)
John A. Dennis (b. 1962) buttresses:
It is telling that directly after the narrative of John’s baptism and John’s declaration of Jesus’ identity and mission (John 1:29-34), the first faithful responders to Jesus as the Messiah of and to Israel are his disciples who hail not from Judea but from Galilee (John 1:37-44). Furthermore, it is Nathanael, a Galilean, who represents the true Israelite (cf. John 1:47) and as such gives the proper response to the true Messiah and King of Israel (John 1:49)...Similarly, Wayne A. Meeks [b. 1932], “Galilee and Judea in the Fourth Gospel,” 165, states: “Nathanael, who is Galilean and not a ‘Jew,’ is nevertheless the ‘real Israelite’ [John 1:47]; who recognizes Israel’s king (John 1:49).” (Dennis, Jesus’ Death and the Gathering of True Israel: The Johannine Appropriation of Restoration Theology in the Light of John 11:47-52, 41-42)
James D. Purvis (b. 1932) relates:
There have been a conscious attempt in the Fourth Gospel to relate the Galileans to the Samaritans rather than the Judaeans, to whom one might expect them to have been related due to a common faith (“Jewish” rather than “Samaritan”). To John, the Galilean Jews were much closer to the non-Jewish Samaritans than to their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem, as judged in reference to the theme of acceptance/rejection. This may account for the use of the term “Israelite” rather than “Jew” in Jesus’s statement concerning Nathanael (“an Israelite, indeed, in whom is no guile,” John 1:47). “Israelite” was the term used by Samaritans to distinguish themselves from Jews. John’s use of the term for a Galilean suggests that he also wished to make a distinction. Galilean Jews such as Nathanael were not to be confused with Judaean Jews such as Nathaniel were not to be confused with Judean Jews such as those who vilified and rejected Jesus. (David E. Orton, “The Fourth Gospel and the Samaritans”, The Composition of John’s Gospel: Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum, 158)
John A. Dennis (b. 1962) comprehends:
One of the unique features of the Fourth Gospel is that those who respond positively to Jesus originate from the three regions of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, nevertheless, there is a clear emphasis on Galilee (or the region of Galilee) and Samaria as “the places of acceptance and discipleship.” (Dennis, Jesus’ Death and the Gathering of True Israel: The Johannine Appropriation of Restoration Theology in the Light of John 11:47-52, 297)
The epithet bestowed upon Nathanael (John 1:47) reminds the reader of the Jewish roots of the early Christian movement. Ronald J. Allen (b. 1949) and Clark M. Williamson (b. 1935) contend:
Jesus’ disciples’ faith in him is shaped by their Jewish understandings, views that Jesus constantly corrects, as this passage illustrates [John 1:43-51]. This will be a major theme of John—misunderstanding on the part of Jesus’ disciples and, even more, of Jews who are not Jesus’ disciples. John’s Jesus is shaped entirely by John’s Christology. (Allen and Williamson, Preaching the Gospels Without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary, 97)
Some have even taken the use of the term “Israelite” as evidence of a Jewish Christian church (John 1:47). Lars Kierspel (b. 1972) accounts:
From a two-level perspective, E.L. Allen [1863-1961] finds especially in Nathanael (John 1:44-51) and in the blind man who was healed (John 9:1-34) reflections of a “Jewish Christian Church, still faithful to the Law but acknowledging Jesus as Messiah.” Allen, “The Jewish Christian Church in the Fourth Gospel,” 92. (Kierspel, The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context, 27)
This title “Israelite” invites a comparison (John 1:47). Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) concedes:
The identification of Nathanael as a true Israelite [John 1:47] raises the question With whom is he being compared? Isaac accuses Jacob, later renamed Israel, of stealing Esau’s birthright with such a deception (dolou; Genesis 27:35 Septuagint). In the context of the narrative, Jesus may implicitly chastise the disciples. The Baptist has said that his mission is to make Jesus manifest to Israel (John 1:31); therefore Nathanael seems to represent the fulfilment of this objective by virtue of the fact that, unlike the Jerusalem delegation or the first disciples, he has not sought a pretext to determine the Baptist’s or Jesus’s true identity. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 53)
The vast majority of interpreters have seen an allusion to the patriarch Jacob who took the name Israel (Genesis 32:8, 35:10). Mary L. Coloe (b. 1949) understands:
Nathanael is called an Israelite without guile [John 1:47], recalling that Jacob was noted for his “guile” (Genesis 32:28) and is promised a vision of angels ascending and descending [John 1:51], such as the vision Jacob saw at Bethel [Genesis 28:10-17]. Without actually naming the reference to Jacob’s story...the parallels are made. “The evangelist expected readers to catch the allusion to the Jacob story in order to make sense of the narrative.” (Coloe, Dwelling in the Household of God: Johannine Ecclesiology and Spirituality, 150)
This observation is ancient. Anthony Tyrrell Hanson (1916-1991) chronicles:
Origen [184-253] says that Nathanael knew Jesus first as man (the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph) but when he actually met him Nathanael became Jacob, the man who had seen God – and, we must assume, who knew he had seen God. (Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel: Study of John and the Old Testament, 350)
“Guile” is the specific point of comparison (John 1:47). F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) divulges:
To Nathanael’s surprise, Jesus greeted him on his approach as if he knew him quite well [John 1:47]. And what an encomium Jesus gave him! The point of the encomium is best understood from the conversation which follows, with its reference to the narrative of Jacob’s ladder [Genesis 28:10-17]. ‘Here is a true son of Israel,’ Jesus’ words may be paraphrased ‘one who is all Israel and no Jacob.’ Whatever the etymology of the name Jacob may be, it was traditionally associated with deceit. When Isaac said to Esau, ‘Your brother came with deceit (Septuagint dolos, the word used here by John), and he has taken away your blessing’, Esau replied, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob (Hebrew ya‘âqōb? For he has supplanted me (ya‘aqebēnî these two times (Genesis 27:35ff.). (Bruce, The Gospel of John, 60)
John McHugh (1927-2006) adds:
The absence of δόλος, that is, of any deceitfulness, dishonesty or insincerity is a mark of one who is righteous before God: see Psalms 24:4, 32:2, 34:13, 139:4. Jacob has signally lacked this quality: ‘your brother came with guile and took away your blessing’ (ἐλθὼν ὁ ἀδελφός σου μετὰ δόλου ἔλαβεν τὴν εὐλογίαν σου, Genesis 27:35). Not so Nathanael. (McHugh, John 1-4 (International Critical Commentary), 161)
Jack W. Stallings (b. 1944) settles:
Nathanael is a true Israelite in whom there is none of the spirit of Jacob (the deceiver, the one full of guile [John 1:47]. The contrast is not between two stages of Nathanael’s life (as it was with Simon), but between the two stages of the patriarch Jacob’s life and his two names. (Stallings, The Gospel of John (Randall House Bible Commentary), 39)
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) contrasts:
In this, Nathanael differs from the original “Israel” (i.e. Jacob)...who was deceitful (δόλος, cf. Genesis 27:35-36 Septuagint; see D.A. Carson [b. 1946] 1991:161; Leon Morris [1914-2006] 1995:145; Gary M. Burge [b. 1952] 2000:78). Nathanael was free from such duplicity of heart (cf. Psalm 32:2) and thus prepared to consider whether the claims regarding Jesus were true or not. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Look, Israel without a trace of Jacob left in him!” (L. Paul Trudinger [b. 1930] 1982:117). This attitude stood in sharp contrast not only with Jacob of old, but also the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 26:4; Mark 14:1: δόλος), and Nathanael becomes “a symbol of [true] Israel coming to God” (Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1966: 82; cf. Thomas L. Brodie [b. 1940] 1993:170). Nevertheless, this does not yet make him a “true Israelite” (he cannot be described as an actual convert at this point), but rather a “certain kind of Israelite, an Israelite in whom there is no guile” (Carson 1991:160). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 82)
Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean (b. 1963) deliberates:
Since the entirety of John 1:51 and the key conclusion to John 1:47 belong to the level of Johannine redaction, this recurring emphasis on Jacob must reflect the design and theological viewpoint of the fourth evangelist and not his source. In John 1:47 Jesus responds to the initially skeptical Nathanael with a surprisingly optimistic declaration about Nathanael’s character: ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ [John 1:47] ‘Guile’ (δόλος) is the quintessential description of the wily trickster of Genesis: Isaac declares to Esau, who arrived just a bit too late “Your brother came deceitfully [μετὰ δόλου]’ and he has taken away your blessing’ (Septuagint Genesis 27:35). The proximity in John 1:47 of this apt description of Jacob to the designation ‘Israelite’ makes the reference to Jacob clear. Nathanael is a true Israelite, a true member of God’s elect people, whose character has not been tainted by the biblical Jacob’s tricksterism. Nathaniel symbolizes Jesus’ followers as distinct from his enemies who in John are labeled ‘the Jews’. The implication of this initial critique of Jacob is that ‘the Jews’ are Jacob’s true descendants, that is, those who have followed his duplicitous ways and continue to rebel against God. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], “The Divine Trickster: A Tale of Two Weddings in John”, A Feminist Companion to John, Volume 1, 57)
D.A. Carson (b. 1946) unfolds:
The encomium achieves extra depth in the light of the explicit reference to the Jacob story in the following verses [John 1:47-51]. Doubtless Esau despised his birthright, but in Isaac’s view that did not make Jacob innocent. Isaac informs Esau, ‘Your brother came deceitfully (Septuagint ‘with deceit [dolos]’) and took your blessing’, to which Esau replies, ‘Isn’t he rightly named Jacob (Hebrew ya‘aqōb)? He has deceived me (ya‘aqebēnî these two times’ (Genesis 27:35-36). But Jacob came to be called Israel, after receiving a vision of God that transformed his character (Genesis 28:10ff., 32:24-30). Nathanael, then was an Israelite without deceit, an ‘Israel’ and not a ‘Jacob’ (cf. William Temple [1881-1944], p. 30). He was a man worthy of the blessing pronounced in Psalm 32:2: ‘Blessed is the whose spirit is no deceit.’ Since Jesus is about to tell him of greater visions that will be his (John 1:50-51), there may also be an allusion to the popular etymology that related ‘Israel’ is ’iš rō’eh ’ēl, ‘the man who sees God’(cf. Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], Allegorical Interpretation of Genesis iii.186). (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 160-61)
Regarding the potential linguistic connection to the name “Israel” (John 1:47), Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) reckons:
The call of Nathanael (a disciple known only to John) involves an interesting play on words. He is a true Israelite, worthy of the name of Israel (by popular etymology “a man who sees God”), and is told he shall see greater things. As the Jacob or Israel of the Old Testament saw the glory of God in the vision of the ladder, so the Israel of the New Testament will see the glory of the Son of Man at the miracle of Cana (Brown, The Gospel and Epistles of John: A Concise Commentary, 27)
C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) considers:
It may be intentional that the word ’Ισραηλίτης is used in this passage, though, as Adolf Schlatter [1852-1938] notes (59), John, unlike Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], gives no etymological interpretation of the name Israel. Yet Philo’s interpretation of Israel is ὁρων τὸν θεόν (e.g., De Mutatione Nominum, 81), and in the present passage it is promised that Nathanael shall see heavenly sights (John 1:50ff.) (Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 184-85)
Peder Borgen (b. 1928) reveals:
Although there is no explicit etymological interpretation of the word Israel (“he who sees God”) in John, the idea of Israel is tied together with the idea of vision in the interpretation of Jacob’s vision, John 1:47-51. Nathanael, the true Israelite [John 1:47] is to see what his ancestor, Jacob/Israel saw [Genesis 28:10-17]. (Borgen, The Gospel of John: More Light from Philo [20 BCE-50 CE] , Paul and Archaeology: The Scriptures, Tradition, Exposition, Settings, Meaning, 175)
F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) substantiates:
In spite of Nazareth’s unenviable notoriety [John 1:46], Nathanael’s transparent generosity of heart made him willing to come and see this Nazarene whom Philip declared to be the one foretold in the law and the prophets. Jacob, for all the over-reaching deceit associated with his name, received a vision of God which changed his character, and was given the new name Israel to mark the change (Genesis 28:10ff, 32:24-28). While Israel is actually derived from the Hebrew verb śārāh (‘strive’), there was current in the first century (as we may see from Philo of Alexandria [20 BCE-50 CE] a popular etymology which explained...the name by the Hebrew phrase ’ish-rō’eh-’ēl (‘the man who sees God’); and there may be some allusion to this etymology here. For Nathanael, this typical member of the true believing Israel, receives a promise that he and his companions will experience such a vision as was granted to Jacob. (Bruce, The Gospel of John, 60-61)
The innuendo pertaining to Jacob has led to speculation that this is the focus of Nathanael’s attention while he is “under the fig tree” (John 1:48 NASB). Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) conjectures:
The phrase under the fig tree was used in rabbinical literature to describe meditation on the law [John 1:48]. Nathanael had apparently been reading Genesis 28:10-17. Jesus contrasted Jacob’s guile with Nathanael’s integrity. (Gangel, John (Holman New Testament Commentary), 18)
Mark W.G. Stibbe (1960) assents:
Jacob, son of Isaac (who was in turn son of Abraham) became known as “Israel” [Genesis 32:8, 35:10]. He is perhaps best known for two things: for being the man who tricked and deceived his father to give him his brother’s inheritance [Genesis 27:1-46], and for being the man who had a dream about a ladder going up to heaven while he was asleep in a cave [Genesiv 28:10-17]. My guess is that Nathanael was a man who loved the story of Jacob. Jesus knows this because he is operating in the gift of prophecy. When he meets Nathanael Jesus tells him that he is a true Israelite because unlike Jacob there is no trickery or guile in him. Later on, in John 1:51, he will tell Nathanael that he too will see a ladder to heaven, just like Jacob did. (Stibbe, Every Day with the Father: 366 Devotional Readings from John's Gospel, 18)
Perhaps more significant than the moniker “Israelite” is the trait which Nathanael is said to lack (John 1:47). The disciple is without “deceit” (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV), lacks “guile” (ASV, KJV, RSV), is not “deceitful” (CEV), is “a man of complete integrity” (NLT) or there has “not a false bone in his body” (MSG).

D.A. Carson (b. 1946) resolves:

Jesus’ point is not that Nathanael is an Israelite, ‘true’ or otherwise, but that Nathanael is a certain kind of Israelite, an Israelite in whom in whom there is no guile, no deceit (dolos; cf. John Painter [b. 1935], in L’Évangile de Jean: Sources, Rédaction, Théologie, pp. 359-62) [John 1:47]. Nathanael may have been blunt in his criticism of Nazareth, but he was an Israelite without duplicitous motives who was willing to examine for himself the claims being made about Jesus. (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 160)
Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) investigates:
Jesus describes Nathanael as “a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false [dolos: no guile, RSV; no deceit, NRSV]” [John 1:47]. This word occurs eleven times in the New Testament and conveys the meaning of trickery and cunning...Jesus sees in Nathanael a good man, an honest man. (Burge, John (NIV Application Commentary), 78)
Leon Morris (1914-2006) supplements:
As Nathanael approached, Jesus spoke of him as “a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false” [John 1:47]; NRSV has “no deceit!” This last word is used in earlier Greek writers for the “bait” used in catching fish. It comes to signify “any cunning contrivance for deceiving or catching, as the net in which Hephaestus catches Ares...the Trojan horse...Ixion’s bride...the robe of Penelope.” It is used in the Bible of Jacob before his change of heart (Genesis 27:35), which is the point of William Temple [1881-1944]’s translation, “an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob!” (G. Campbell Morgan [1863-1945] also gives this as the sense of the verse.) Jesus salutes Nathanael as a straightforward person. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 145)
Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) augments:
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he [immediately] says concerning him, “Look a true Israelite in whom there is no guile [dolos]” (John 1:47). Homer [800-701 BCE] uses the word dolos to denote traps like the Trojan horse (Iliad 6.187-89; Odyssey 8.494) and Penelope’s robe (Odyssey 19.137). (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 53)
J. Ramsey Michaels (b. 1931) assumes:
Jesus is not so much praising Nathanael’s candor in giving voice to his skepticism (John 1:46) as simply doing what did for Simon [John 1:42]: looking at him and seeing not what he is but what he will become. Nor does Nathanael’s reply (John 1:48a) mean that he immodestly considers himself “a true Israelite.” He merely expresses surprise that Jesus speaks as of they had met before. (Michaels, John (New International Biblical Commentary Series), 40)
John R. Claypool (1930-2005) approves:
Nathanael must have been surprised that, at first glance, Jesus was affirming him as a true son of Abraham, who had no deceit [John 1:47]. Synonyms for the word...deceit are: guile, cunning, slyness, wiliness, craftiness, cleverness, deceptiveness, hypocrisy, and duplicity. Jesus was giving Nathanael a huge compliment by saying that these negative qualities were not part of his character. (Claypool, The First to Follow: The Apostles of Jesus, 59)
Nathanael is a straight shooter. Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) reads:
Jesus calls Nathanael “a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false” [John 1:47]. The RSV renders this “no guile” and the NRSV translates “no deceit.” Jesus sees in Nathanael a good man, an honest man. (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], John, Hebrews-Revelation ( Bible Knowledge Background Commentary), 46)
Richard Gribble (b. 1952) updates:
Nathanael [is]...described by Jesus as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” [John 1:47] Today we would say Nathanael is the “real McCoy” — what you see is what you get. (Gribble, David T. Ball [b. 1950], John T. Ball [b. 1933], George Reed [b. 1948] and Stan Purdum [b. 1945], Sermons on the Gospel Readings: Cycle B, 73)
Elton W. Brown (b. 1944) envisions:
Nathanael is excellent disciple material because he is without guile [John 1:47]. Nathanael would make a terrible poker player but a wonderful friend...This is not one of those cases where God takes a miserable sinner and turns him into a saint. This is one of those equally remarkable cases where God takes a person who is humanly praiseworthy in every way and makes of him something more—a disciple. (David L. Bartlett [b. 1941] and Barbara Brown Taylor [b. 1951], Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 1, Advent through Transfiguration, 262)
Robert L. Deffinbaugh (b. 1943) clarifies:
Jesus does not say, “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no sin.” Nathanael is a sinner, like every other man (except out Lord [II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15]). (Deffinbaugh, That You Might Believe: A Study on the Gospel of John, 57)
Rodney A. Whitacre (b. 1949) adds:
Nathanael is described as one in whom there is nothing false (John 1:47). This does not mean that he has no wrong beliefs, as the word false in the NIV might suggest. Rather, the word dolos suggests a more fundamental internal disposition in which there is no deceit. He is honest and clear-sighted, his eye is single (cf. Luke 11:34 NRSV), he has a clear conscience (cf. II Timothy 1:3). He is the sort who seeks God before all else. No one is without falseness within, but there are those who nevertheless desire truth before anything. Most of us must be pruned for years before we approach such single-hearted desire for God. Mercifully God accepts us before we even begin to desire him, and by his grace he undertakes the purging of all our duplicity and deceitfulness. (Whitacre, John (IVP New Testament Commentary), 74)
The precise meaning of the expression “an whom there is no deceit!” is unclear (John 1:47 NASB). Sjef Van Tilborg (1939-2003) recognizes:
The logic of the argument to convince him [Nathanael] remains rather obscure. The sentence ‘here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him’ [John 1:47], probably refers to John 1:31. Jesus’ manifestation by John (the Baptist) is complete with Nathanael. It not unlikely that there is also a reference to Jacob-Israel, the impostor (Genesis 27:35). That would, then, be a first preparation to John 1:51. It is unclear how this can be combined with Jesus’ mysterious knowledge that he saw Nathanael ‘under the fig tree’ [John 1:48]. This phrase has loosened the imagination of many readers but has not resulted into a univoque signification (cf. Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1966: 83, 87, 89). (Van Tilborg, Imaginative Love in John, 115)
Jaime Clark-Soles (b. 1967) connects:
Nathanael calls him Son of God [John 1:49], reflecting the perspective of the narrator in the Prologue [John 1:1-18]. Nathanael, the first to be called an Israelite [John 1:47], also represents John the Baptist’s contention that Jesus was to be made manifest to Israel [John 1:31]. Jesus will stingingly address Nicodemus as The Teacher of Israel [John 3:10], a nearly unbearable irony for the reader. (Tom Thatcher [b. 1967] and Catrin H. Williams [b. 1964], “Characters Who Count: The Case of Nicodemus”, Engaging with C. H. Dodd [1884-1973] on the Gospel of John: Sixty Years of Tradition and Interpretation, 131)
Alan R. Kerr (b. 1942) posits:
An obvious comparison with Jacob (later named Israel in Genesis 35:10), who deceived his father Isaac (Genesis 27:35: “Your brother came deceitfully [Septuagint has μετὰ δόλου],and he has taken away your blessing’). However, what does it mean to call Nathanael ‘a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit’ [John 1:47]? Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] (John, I, p.87) translates the phrase as ‘a genuine Israelite without guile’, and I think this emphasizes Nathanael’s commitment to the truth as an Israelite. Some scholars focus on the words ἐν ὠ δόλος οὐκ ἔστιν and find there is an allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:9, which speaks of one ‘in whose mouth there was no guile’. Brown’s own suggestion arises from John 1:31: ‘The very reason why I came and baptized with water was that he [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel’. Although Brown is rather enigmatic here, we take it that he considers the Baptist’s word are (at least partly) fulfilled in the revelation that comes to Nathanael, the representative to Israel. My view is that Nathanael is a genuine Israelite, because, according to the Fourth Gospel, he represents the fulfillment of Israelite religion, namely, faith in Jesus, the one ‘whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote’ (John 1:45). The entire focus of Israelite faith is Jesus. And those that are not turned aside by the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44) will follow Jesus, who is the truth. Nathanael is one who does this. He responds to Philip’s call and follows the one to whom the prophets testify, namely, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth (cf. John 5:39-47). (Kerr, The Temple of Jesus' Body: The Temple Theme in the Gospel of John, 141-42)
Jerome H. Neyrey (b. 1940) discusses:
Nathanael was praised as a “true Israelite...without guile” (John 1:47). As Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976] has shown, this need not be anything more than a popular designation of praise. On the level of the story, Nathanael is an Israelite,” a term which contrasts him with Jesus’ enemies, “the Judeans.” His guilelessness, moreover, is to be explained from the pattern of his faith, which is contrasted with the rejection of Jesus by unbelievers. Nathanael knows the preaching about Jesus, especially the claim that Jesus fulfills the Scriptures (John 1:45); but he poses objections to applying the Scriptures to a peasant from Nazareth (John 1:46). Yet these objections do not prevent him from further inquiry, for he “comes and sees” for himself — difficulties notwithstanding (John 1:46b). In this he is sharply contrasted with “Judeans,” who likewise hear the proclamation but object to Jesus’ messiahship using the very Scriptures as arguments (see John 7:27, 41-42, 52) and so fail to come to Jesus. Nathanael, then, typifies both a wisdom process of “searching the Scriptures” for Jesus (see John 5:39, 46-47) and the overcoming of objections that the Scriptures could not possibly refer to the peasant from Nowheresville. Nathanael is like Jacob, moreover, not the devious character who grabbed his brother’s heel at birth [Genesis 25:26] and stole his brother’s birthright [Genesis 25:27-34] and blessing [Genesis 27:1-46], but the perfect Jacob, the man of wisdom. Like Jacob, Nathanael comes “second,” after the founding apostles; he must labor for his reward; and he is clever and enterprising (Genesis 29:1-30:43). There is simply no evidence to suggest at this level of the story that Nathanael is like Jacob as “one who sees God.” (Neyrey, “‘Are You Greater than Our Father Jacob’: Jesus and Jacob in John 1:51 and John 4:4-26”, The Gospel of John in Cultural and Rhetorical Perspective, 89-90)
Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) infers:
As the true Israelite [John 1:47], Nathanael identifies Jesus as the “King of Israel” [John 1:49], a traditional messianic title (cf. Mark 15:26). Thus Nathanael can represent the authentic Israel insofar as he recognizes and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised anointed one [John 1:49]. (Collins, These Things Have Been Written: Studies on the Fourth Gospel, 13)
Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) condenses:
For John the true Israelite is Nathanel (John 1:47) who believes in Jesus. True Israelites are not born of carnal lineage (John 1:13) but begotten of water and Spirit (John 3:5); they are children of God because they are believers (John 1:12). (Brown, An Introduction to the Gospel of John, 227)
R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) projects:
These passages not only show that Jesus’ identification of Nathanael is meant to echo a familiar passage from the Torah, they also set the expectation that those who are true Israelites will come to Jesus, while those who reject him show that they are actually not of Israel. (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts), 126)
Marianus Pale Hera (b. 1974) interjects:
Because of his willingness to come to Jesus, the true (ἀληθινόν) light” (John 1:9), Nathanael is given the title “true (ἀληθως) Israelite” [John 1:47]. “The purity of the true disciple mirrors the purity of the Lamb himself [John 1:29, 36].” Nathanael’s straightforwardness in encountering Jesus and his confession of faith leads to Jesus’ self-disclosure as the Son of Man, who is the revealer of the Father. (Hera, Christology and Discipleship in John 17, 61)
Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) ascertains:
The narrative suggests that Nathanael is a part of the experience of the disciples who have come to Jesus so far. The rhythm of the previous day is repeated [John 1:35-42]. Nathanael does not come to faith by seeing Jesus; Jesus has seen him first [John 1:47]. The initiative lies with Jesus. He is greeted as an Israelite without God [John 1:47]. Jesus describes a man who is honest in his frankness (unlike Jacob in Genesis 27:35-36), without lies (Psalm 32:2; Isaiah 53:9), who does not prostitute himself to false gods (Revelation 14:5). Here is a man worthy to recognize all that has been promised in the Scriptures (see John 1:45). (Moloney, Belief in the Word: Reading the Fourth Gospel: John 1-4, 71)
Whatever its precise connotation, the distinction “an Israelite whom there is no deceit” is highly favorable (John 1:47). Mary B. Spaulding (b. 1952) proclaims:
In John 1:49 ‘king of Israel’ is the parallel title to ‘Son of God’ through the revelation concerning Jesus of Nathanael, who is himself called by Jesus in John 1:47 truly an Israelite in whom there is no δόλος. This is high praise indeed for a human being since throughout the Gospel human beings exhibit great propensity for deceit, cunning and falsehood. The aspect of Nathanael’s character which results in his immediate recognition of and belief in Jesus is being commended with this appellation. Both uses of ’Ισραήλ in John 1:47 and John 1:47 are therefore positive and affirming. (Spaulding, Commemorative Identities: Jewish Social Memory and the Johannine Feast of Booths, 87)
Elmer Towns (b. 1932) upholds:
While most Christians tend to think negatively of Jacob, it is interesting to note he is called a peaceful man (Genesis 25:27). The Hebrew word translated “peaceful” has been variously interpreted as a perfect or upright man, or a man of quiet and simple habits. To be recognized as a true Israelite without guile was among the highest compliments a Jew could receive [John 1:47]. (Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (Twenty-First Century Biblical Commentary), 14)
Nathanael accepts Jesus’ claim (John 1:48) and his actions seem to further validate it. He demonstrates little tact and is depicted as being totally transparent. Marianus Pale Hera (b. 1974) discusses:
The narrator gives no explanation why Jesus makes such a statement concerning Nathanael [John 1:47]. But, at least in the dialogue between Nathanael and Jesus, that follows this statement, the audience finds Nathanael to be someone who is open to receive the revelation of Jesus, about whom Moses and the prophets wrote [John 1:45]. His straightforwardness in confronting Jesus leads to the pronouncement of a deeper truth about Jesus’ identity...Nathanael’s response to Jesus, “How do you know me?” (John 1:48) implies that he agrees with Jesus’ statement that he is a true Israelite. This confirms Jesus’ view of Nathanael’s character as a man without deceit. “A more guileful man would have ‘modestly’ asserted his unworthiness.” (Hera, Christology and Discipleship in John 17, 56-57)
R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) bridges:
Jesus emphasized that Nathanael was a transparent, honest man [John 1:47]. That is probably why Nathanael reacted to Philip’s news by saying, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” [John1:46] He said what he thought. I think that characteristic was confirmed by Nathanael’ reaction to Jesus’ words: “How do you know me?” [John 1:48] Now if Jesus said to me, “Behold, a believer in whom is no guile!” I would probably say, “Me? Not me. But I guess if you say so, maybe I am.” But Nathanael just owned up to it. He was in fact a guileless man [John 1:47]. (Hughes, John: That You May Believe (Preaching the Word), 51)
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) challenges:
The description scarcely refers to the fact the Nathanael...has spoken out openly [John 1:46]—for why then should he have kept anything back from Philip? Rather one would think that Nahanael shows himself to be without δόλος in what follows. But since the statement, which is intended to show the knowledge of men’s hearts, is shown to be correct in Nathanael’s question in John 1:48, it must have referred to a state of affairs already in existence; this is perhaps hinted at in John 1:48. (Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 104)
D. Moody Smith (b. 1931) presses:
Nathanael’s response (John 1:48) confirms Jesus’ judgment about his innocense; his ignorance is not culpable. Those who pretend to know, and do not, are the really guilty (cf. John 9:40-11). (Smith, John (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 76)
Severino Pancaro proposes:
It is a result of such a confession [John 1:48] that Nathanael is designated as a true Israelite, an Israelite worthy of the name [John 1:47]. The fact that Jesus calls him a true Israelite before his confession of faith is irrelevant. It is because he is a true Israelite that he “confesses” Jesus, it is because he “confesses” Jesus that he is a true Israelite...The designation of Nathanael as a true Israelite is related to his confession of faith, but the profession of faith is itself related to John 1:45. Nathanael is called a true Israelite because he recognizes Jesus as the one about whom Moses wrote in the Law [John 1:45]. This aspect is important because it marks the continuity between the members of the Israel of old and the “new” Israel...Because Jesus is the one about whom Moses wrote belief on him does not mean to break with the tradition which goes back to Moses but rather to give it its true value. Those who believe in Jesus are the true heirs of the Mosaic tradition—true Israelites! (The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John, 292-93)
Nathanael is given high praise (John 1:47). And he seems to live up to this billing. More importantly, it will be this commendation that will draw him closer to Jesus (John 1:47-51).

Does Jesus acknowledge Nathanael’s derogatory remark in any way (John 1:46-47)? How do you answer criticism; have you ever responded to it with a compliment? What is the relationship between honesty and skepticism? How does Jesus gain his information about Nathanael (John 1:47); can he tell just by looking? Why does Jesus call Nathanael “an whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47); what else could he have said? Who do you know who resembles this remark? If Nathanael represents the true Israelite, who is the impostor? How would you characterize Nathanael? Is Nathanael the most positively depicted of Jesus’ disciples? When have you been addressed by your character traits? What is the biggest compliment you have ever received? What would you want Jesus to say of you? What traits are good to lack? Are there disadvantages to having no guile? When has someone you did not know addressed you as though they knew you? How does Nathanael receive this remark? How would you have taken it?

Jesus is the prime mover in his encounter with Nathanael (John 1:43-51). Paul L. Metzger (b. 1964) emphasizes:

Jesus finds Philip, and not the other way around [John 1:43]. What would you expect from a God who is alive and loving? He doesn’t wait for us to seek him; he seeks us out! It is Jesus’ declaration to Nathanael [John 1:47], followed by Jesus’ promise to him that Nathanael would meet God [John 1:50], that moves Nathanael beyond cynicism about Jesus of Nazareth to belief in him as the Messiah [John 1:49]. Instead of rejecting Jesus because he views Nazareth as a godforsaken place, Nathanael now looks at Jesus himself as the place where God meets us (John 1:43-51). (Metzger, The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town, 44)
Jesus’ approach cuts Nathanael to the core. Thomas H. Olbricht (b. 1929) presses:
Not only did Jesus address him directly, he also worded a compliment so explicit that no one in his right mind would say this without prior detailed knowledge [John 1:47]. (Dave Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “Nathanel, a Disciple by Water and the Word,” Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, 94)
William E. Hull (1930-2013) audits:
The strategy of Jesus was even more striking than that of Philip [John 1:46]. No sooner did he see Nathanael coming to him than he praised this one who had just belittled his origins: Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile [John 1:47]. The picture of the model pious Jew confronted Nathanael with his deepest sense of identity, with that style which he sought most passionately to emulate. No wonder he exclaimed in the face of such uncanny insight into his inner commitments, How do you know me? (cf. John 2:25). (Clifton J. Allen [1901-1986], Luke–John (Broadman Bible Commentary), 226)
Martin Scott connects:
Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] has...noted a number of parallels between the call to discipleship in the Fourth Gospel and that of Sophia’s method of seeking out her followers. Firstly we may note the way in which the Johannine Jesus calls disciples: he seeks them out in public places, be it the men of chapter 1 [John 1:34-51] or the Samaritan woman of chapter 4 [John 4:7-30]...So it is also with Sophia, who appears in the public places to call out to people to respond and follow her ways (Proverbs 1:20021, 8:1-4; Wisdom of Solomon 6:16). There may even be a direct parallel between the idea of Wisdom of Solomon 6:16 and that of John 1:47, Sophia seeking out those worthy of her, and Jesus sophia seeking out Nathanael, in whom there is no δόλος. Certainly, both Sophia and the Johannine Jesus are very open in their search and appear to know exactly who they want for their disciples. (Scott, Sophia and the Johannine Jesus, 156)
Though Jesus’ affirmation is a relatively small gesture (John 1:47), it is enough to turn the tide in the story and in Nathanael’s life. Initially it prompts him to ask Christ how he knows him (John 1:47-48).

Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) correct:

The NRSV translation here, “Where did you get to know me?” is completely anachronistic [John 1:48]. It implies a modern type of social interaction in which people get personally acquainted. A better translation of the Greek would read, “From where do you know me to come?” That is, Nathanael assumes Jesus would know him if he knows where he is from. If Jesus can identify the place of Nathanael’s origin, he would know all there is to know about him...Note that in John 21:2 we are told that Nathanael is from Cana, a small Galilean village near Nazareth. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 56)
Michael Card (b. 1957) perceives:
Jesus’ compliment appears to make Nathanael somewhat suspicious. He wonders out loud how Jesus can know him (John 1:48). (Card, John: The Gospel of Wisdom (Biblical Imagination Series), 45)
Though Nathanael asks two decidedly different questions, the underlying issue remains constant (John 1:46, 48). Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) traces:
Nathanael, omitting any salutation of honor or respect, asks Jesus directly where he got to known him (pothen me ginōskeis) [John 1:48]. The question of origins is still present: what are the origins of Jesus’ knowledge? (Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina), 56)
Jesus informs Nathanael that he saw him beneath a fig tree which elicits a profound profession of faith: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49 NASB).

Jesus’ tactics are remarkably effective. John R. Claypool (1930-2005) esteems:

Once he [Nathanael] was in the presence of Jesus, he surrendered completely, without reserve. He was wonderfully transparent, without any hidden agenda. His honest, open, and spontaneous temperament led him to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God as quickly as he had doubted him, at first [John 1:49]. (Claypool, The First to Follow: The Apostles of Jesus, 62)
Kenneth H. Maahs (b. 1940) identifies:
Here, in chapter one, he [Nathanael] is the first person in the Gospel said to believe (John 1:50, a powerful word in John’s vocabulary). He is, therefore, the first to model that level of commitment that is accepted as genuine salvation in John’s Gospel. His story highlights the Prologue theme found in John 1:7, 12; it is genuine belief that makes one a child of God. (Maahs, The John You Never Knew: Decoding the Fourth Gospel, 53)
Nathanael draws his conclusion from relatively little data. Fred B. Craddock (b. 1928) muses:
Nathanael’s confession of faith is too enormous, too elaborate, to have been prompted by Jesus’ special knowledge [John 1:49]. It seems now to be the case that Nathanael is voicing the community’s faith, not what a person would say upon meeting Jesus. In fact, as the “true Israelite” [John 1:47], Nathanael, who is never mentioned in the lists of Jesus’ disciples in the other Gospels and Acts [Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13], could be the paradigm of believing Israel, those Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah. (Craddock, John (Knox Preaching Guides), 20)
David A. Redelings (b. 1956) defends:
It is...implausible that characters who come to believe in Jesus would be generally portrayed as believing on grounds that the Evangelist considers unwarranted. Yet their apparent reasons for belief seem the same as for people who were sympathetic to Jesus...Nathanael knows only of Jesus’ prophetic powers and a claim that he is the messiah [John 1:45-51]. The woman of Samaria has a similar knowledge [John 4:7-26, 39-45]. The royal official initially knows only Jesus’ reputation for miracles, and that he was sent from God [John 4:46-54]. The man born blind knows little more [John 9:1-34]. It seems then, that these beliefs about miracles are regarded as sufficient to evoke a genuine belief in Jesus. (Redelings, The Epistemological Basis for Belief according to Johns Gospel: Miracles and Message in Their Essentials As Non-Fictional Grounds for Knowledge of God, 90)
Lee Barrett (b. 1950) discerns:
The application of the titles Son of God and King of Israel [John 1:49] to Jesus is justified by his exercise of divine power and royal authority. Such power and authority are evident in his ability to awaken in people a believing response not based on empirical evidence. Philip simply hears the imperative “Follow” and obediently does exactly that [John 1:43-45]. Even more dramatically, Nathanael, with no verbal command from Jesus, comes, sees, hears, and spontaneously follows [John 1:47-51]...Theologians from John Calvin [1509-1564] to Karl Barth [1886-1968] have noted in this passage the following of Jesus is not the fruit of any individual’s deliberation and choice. Here confessing Jesus seems to follow with a certain necessity from merely seeing or hearing him. Calvin, and generations of Reformed theologians after him, would cite this as evidence of the election of certain individuals to fellowship with Christ. Barth, changing the theological idiom, would describe it as the attractive power of a preexisting bond established by God’s incarnation in Jesus. In any case, the common theme is that the encounter with Christ is the potent force that propels Philip and Nathanael; it is the sheer presence of Christ that draws them. (David L. Bartlett [b. 1941] and Barbara Brown Taylor [b. 1951], Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 1, Advent through Transfiguration, 262)
Anthony J. Kelly (b. 1938 and Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) profess:
The Word can speak despite, and even through, the limitations of human communication. When Jesus now sees the new disciple approaching, he utters words of praise about him [John 1:47]. Nathanael is coming in a way that contrasts with the blinkered approach of the other disciples. Yet he too exhibits limitations. (Kelly and Moloney, Experiencing God in the Gospel of John, 68)
Nathanael’s is just one of many faithful responses to Christ (John 1:45-41). James L. Resseguie (b. 1945) summarizes:
R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, 146-148 identifies seven types of faith responses: 1) rejection; 2) acceptance without open commitment; 3) acceptance of Jesus as a worker of signs and wonders; 4) belief in Jesus’ words; 5) commitment in spite of misunderstandings; 6) pragmatic discipleship; 7) defection. (Resseguie, The Strange Gospel: Narrative Design and Point of View in John, 109)
Though it takes place within a single conversation, Nathanael’s conversion is incremental (John 1:45-51). Ruth A. Meyers (b. 1957) charts:
Nathanael...embodies the movement from doubt to faith. When Philip first introduces Jesus as the “son of Joseph from Nazareth,” Nathanael questions whether anything good can come from Nazareth [John 1:46]. Yet he accepts Philip’s invitation to see for himself [John 1:46], and upon meeting Jesus, affirms his identity as son of God and King of Israel [John 1:49]. (David B. Lott, New Proclamation Commentary on Feasts, Holy Days, and Other Celebrations, 170)
John F. Craghan (b. 1936) opines:
This passage [John 1:43-51] highlights the gradual process of coming to faith in Jesus. What is more important perhaps is that the gift of faith, though incipient, becomes a contagious reality. Faith in Jesus can never be reduced to a purely personal and individualistic gift. Rather, disciples must share this gift with others. In this episode Jesus finds Philip but Philip finds Nathanael [John 1:43-45]. This passage must prompt modern disciples to look beyond themselves to those countless others whom they can evangelize. (Craghan, The Gospels of the Weekday Lectionary: Commentary and Reflections)
In this encounter, both Jesus and Nathanael gain understanding of one another (John 1:47-51). They share a mutual appreciation. They click.

Gail R. O’Day (b. 1954) realizes:

Jesus recognizes Nathanael as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” [John 1:47], simply by virtue of having seen Nathanael under the fig tree [John 1:48]. Jesus’ recognition of him leads to Nathanael to declare Jesus to be the Son of God and the King of Israel [John 1:49]. With both Nathanael [John 1:47-51] and the Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26, 39-45], Jesus’ demonstration of perception and insight leads to increased perception and insight about Jesus’ identity on the part of his conversation partners. (O’Day, The Word Disclosed: Preaching the Gospel of John, 49)
Jesus and Nathanael truly see each other. Lamar Williamson, Jr. (b. 1926) pursues:
In Jesus’ dialogue with Nathanael (John 1:47-51) the theme of finding gives way to that of seeing (John 1:46, 47, 48, 50, 51). Even while Nathanael is on his way to see Jesus, Jesus sees him coming and says (translated literally), “Look! Truly an Israelite in whom is no falsehood (treachery or deceit)” [John 1:47]. Jesus sees more than the figure in the road; he sees Nathanael’s heart and knows him through and through. Nathanael, amazed, asks (paraphrased), “Where did you get to know me?” [John 1:48] Jesus’ answer, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you” [John 1:48], indicates more than clairvoyance. It links seeing and knowing, a recurrent theme in the Fourth Gospel. For Nathanael it is evidence of divine omniscience. Jesus’ answer completes the three-way link of seeing, knowing, and believing. The promise “You will see greater things than these” [John 1:51] is an invitation to Nathanael to keep watching and to the reader to keep reading with a readiness to look and see. (Williamson, Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word, 19)
Steve Motyer (b. 1950) deliberates:
Apocalyptic, visionary language if applied to the seeing of the Word in the flesh [John 1:1]. There is no further need for visionary access to God. The “seeing” of John 1:14 is picked up and recapitulated by the repeated verbs of revelation and of seeing in chapter 1 [John 1:29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 38, 39, 42, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51]... Here there is a mutual “seeing,” of Jesus by the disciples, and of the disciples by Jesus, a seeing which culminates in the dramatic promise of John 1:51. The apocalyptic quality of this “seeing” is underlined by the prophetic insight shown by both Jesus and Nathanael in their encounter in John 1:47-50. Both are able instinctively to “see” things about the other which prompt them to testify about each other. (John Lierman [b. 1965], “Narrative Theology in John 1-5”, Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, 206)
René Kieffer (1930-2013) sees:
Implicitly the readers are invited to join the disciples and understand that Jesus is calling them. If they come to believe they will also see heaven opened. The device used by the evangelist is that of an ‘isotopy.’ He plays on different meanings of the same word: ‘to see’ is normally a physical activity, depending on our eyes. We employ the expression in a figurative sense to designate an intellectual activity: ‘I see, I understand.’ But we can also use metaphorical sight for spiritual activities, a prophetic vision, or a vision of faith. We say: ‘to believe with the eyes of faith’. The evangelist uses different Greek words (ὁραν, ἰδειν, ὄψεσθαι, βλέπειν, θεασθαι, θεωρειν) nearly as synonyms in order to describe three aspects: to see earthly things (e.g. Jesus who is coming), to see in a supernatural way (e.g. Nathanael under the fig tree [John 1:48]), or to see the reality of supernatural things with the eyes of faith (e.g. that heaven is opened). Through this discourse the readers are encouraged, with Nathanael, to look at Jesus not with physical eyes but with faith. (Johannes Nissen [b. 1944] and Sigfred Pedersen [1932-2010], “The Implied Reader in John’s Gospel,” New Readings in John, 55)
Some have even seen the connection between Nathanael and Jesus as possessing the characteristics of a betrothal scene. Mary L. Coloe (b. 1949) correlates:
The meeting with Nathanael...appears to draw on customs of the betrothal ceremony for in this initial encounter a small sign is given, when Jesus reveals surprising knowledge of Nathanael, “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47), and Nathanael responds with a confession of faith (John 1:49). The sign is followed by a promise of even greater things in the future when Nathanael will see what his ancestor Jacob/Israel once saw (Genesis 28:12). Nathanael will experience Bethel, the House of God [Genesis 28:10-17]...At the betrothal, a part of the dowry would be given by the groom with the promise of the rest to follow at the wedding. (Jörg Frey [b. 1962], Jan G. Van der Watt [b. 1952] and Ruben Zimmermann [b. 1968], “Witness and Friend: Symbolism associated with John the Baptiser”, Imagery in the Gospel of John: Terms, Forms, Themes, and Theology of Johannine Figurative Language, 328)
Many have presumed that Nathanael represents an archetype. Kevin Quast (b. 1957) asks:
If the Beloved Disciple [John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21], as an actual person, could indeed assume symbolic significance in this Gospel, is he the only one to do so? John the Baptist, Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the woman, the royal official whose son was healed, the healed lame man, the man born blind, Philip, Lazarus, Judas, Peter, Mary—the mother of Jesus, Mary Madalen and Thomas have all been presented as representative figures in the Gospel of John. (Quast, Peter and the Beloved Disciple: Figures for a Community in Crisis, 21)
Christopher W. Skinner (b. 1973) advises:
William R. Domeris explores the ‘Johannine Drama’, finding a number of parallels between the Gospel and Greek tragedy. Regarding Fourth Gospel characters, Domeris notes: ‘As John introduces each of his main characters, Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Martha, Thomas, and others, we become aware...[that] they serve a representative function. Thus, “Nathanael represents the view of the true Israelite (cf. John 1:47), who recognizes Jesus as the messianic king and the fulfillment of the hope of the Old Testament (cf. John 1:45). (Skinner, Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John, xxi)
Jane S. Webster (b. 1953) distinguishes:
Naming does not necessarily indicate representation of a larger group. For example, Nathanael (John 1:51) and Nicodemus (John 3:7, 11, 12) both represent a larger group (addressed with a plural ‘you’). The mother of Jesus, the blind man and lame man may or may not represent a larger collective. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], “Transcending Alterity: Strange Woman to Samaritan Woman”, A Feminist Companion to John, Volume 1, 131)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) pronounces:
It is hard to miss the hint here that Nathanael is meant to be seen as a type of the skeptical but honest Jewish person who will require some evidence and convincing before believing in Jesus [John 1:45-51]. This should make his witness all the more compelling to listeners who may also have had considerable doubts. As we shall see, Nathanael gains credibility as a witness not only because he is not easily taken in, but also because we are told he is one without guile [John 1:47], an essential trait of a good witness. (Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, 71)
Steve Motyer (b. 1950) diagnoses:
Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan and the βασιλικός...represent types who were all mutually untouchable or at least antagonistic toward one another. Nathanael is best understood as a passionate nationalist – an “Israelite indeed” [John 1:47]! Jesus identifies Nathanael as a mighty champion of Israel’s cause – a Zealot in spirit, if not in action – and in return Nathanael calls Jesus “King of Israel,” that is, identifies him as a political liberator [John 1:49]. This is probably the way in which the narrative would most naturally have been read in the late first century. (John Lierman [b. 1965], “Narrative Theology in John 1-5”, Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, 207-08)
Kenneth H. Maahs (b. 1940) directs:
Thomas L. Brodie [b. 1940] takes the role of Philip [John 1:43-45] in this lineup to be representative of the Gentile world (Philip and the Greeks), even as Nathanael [John 1:45-51] will represent the Jewish destiny (164-67)...See the intriguing discussion, “Nathanael as a Representative Character” in Thomas L. Brodie [b. 1940] 168-70, where he links his call to the eschatological return of the Jews in Romans 9:1-11:36. Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] also calls him “a symbol of Israel coming to God” (I, 82). (Maahs, The John You Never Knew: Decoding the Fourth Gospel, 58)
Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) explores:
Apart from his role as an individual, Nathanael seems also to have a representative character. As Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] (23) indicated, his very name (nathana-El, “God has given”), when taken in the context of the other disciples’ names, suggests that he represents what is Hebrew or Jewish. Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976] (98) notes that the entire Nathanael narrative is Semitic in tone...Furthermore, Philip’s announcement to him emphasizes continuity with the Hebrew Scriptures (“Moses and the prophets” [John 1:45]). He himself is addressed as a “true Israelite” [John 1:47], and he in turn addresses Jesus as “Rabbi” and “King of Israel” [John 1:49]. As Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] concludes, he is a “symbol of Israel coming to God.”...Two further details suggest a connection between Nathanael and the Jews. He is the first person in the gospel who is described as believing (John 1:50)—a distinction which suits someone who represents those who were the first to believe. And he is without guile (dolos, John 1:47)—a word which, apart from a list of vices (Mark 7:21-22), is used in the New Testament only of the Jews (Matthew 26:4; Mark 14:1; Acts 13:10). The Jews acted out of guile and so Nathanael, being without guile, could be a representative of a renewed Judaism. (Brodie, The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 168-69)
Kenneth H. Maahs (b. 1940) ponders:
Jesus’ intriguing statement seems to indicate that there are different types of Israelites, an insight well attested in Romans 9:6. The genuine Israelite or true descendant of Abraham believes in and accepts Jesus as the Messiah. John may mean, then, for this man to stand as a symbolic representative of the “model Israelite” (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], 123), or perhaps the whole church seen as the continuation of spiritual Israel. But he is not a mere ideal figure who has no genuine historical reality; he is mentioned one further time in John 21:2, where his reality is assured. (Maahs, The John You Never Knew: Decoding the Fourth Gospel, 53)
One indicator that Nathanael represents a larger group is a subtle shift to the plural in the pericope’s final verse (John 1:51). George Mlakuzhyil (b. 1942) dissects:
Most Johannine source critics and commentators admit the presence of an aporia at John 1:51 for the following reasons: 1) although Jesus had been talking to Nathanael in...John 1:50, John 1:51 begins with kai legei auto[i]; 2) even though the amên amên saying is addressed to Nathanael (cf. the singular auto[i] in John 1:51a), the plural hymim of John 1:51b and opesthe of John 1:51c suggest that Jesus has a wider audience in mind; 3) after the meizô toutôn opsê[i] of John 1:50 which could be an indirect reference to the Cana miracle that follows in the next pericope [John 2:1-11], John 1:51 with its opesesthe ton ouranon aneô[i]gota ktl which, if taken literally, does not seem to be fulfilled in the Fourth Gospel, seems to interrupt the smooth sequence of John 1:50 and John 2:1-11...The reason why the sentence in John 1:51 is begun with a singular (autô[i]) is to show the continuity with Jesus’ conversation with Nathanael, whereas the plural (hymim and opesthe) indicates the wider applicability of Jesus’ promise to all the disciples who have begun to believe in him. (Mlakuzhyil, The Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel, 49-50)
Kenneth H. Maahs (b. 1940) justifies:
That he is being used by a John as a stand-in to represent all future believers in Jesus (Stephen S. Smalley [b. 1931], 94) is further hinted in John 1:51. Here the phrase, “he said to him,” which in context can only mean Nathanael, is followed by two plural pronouns, i.e., you, plural. Suddenly, Nathanael is treated as if he were a conduit through which a plurality of people is being addressed. Without doubt, the disciples are the immediate reference of the plural but perhaps not the only allusion John intends. This switch, from the singular “him” to the plural “you,” suggests that Nathanael stands not only for true Israel, i.e., the true circumcision (Romans 2:25-29), but also the true people of God known as the Christian Church (Philippians 3:3; I Peter 9-10). Indeed, a much larger circle of believers is being addressed through the person of Nathanael, including all the faithful readers of this Gospel. And like him, true Christians always see Jesus as John 1:51 notes, the place where heaven and earth meet, for they recognize Jesus as Nathanael did in John 1:49, “You are the King of Israel.” This introduction of Nathanael to the Messiah is, in fact, the state mission of the Baptist’s ministry, ie., “...that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31). (Maahs, The John You Never Knew: Decoding the Fourth Gospel, 53)
Adele Reinhartz (b. 1953) applies:
Readers are invited to play a role like that of Peter and Nathanael or the Samaritans or the Greeks: to believe and follow Jesus even though their experience of Jesus is mediated through other, sometimes questionable witnesses. (Tom Thatcher [b. 1967] and Stephen D. Moore [b. 1954], “Building Skycrapers on Toothpicks: The Literary-Critical Challenge to Historical Criticism”, Anatomies of Narrative Criticism: The Past, Present, and Futures of the Fourth Gospel as Literature, 67)
Despite Nathanael’s progression, within John’s framework making a decision about Jesus is mandatory. Beverly R. Gaventa (b. 1948) detects:
The theme of accepting or rejecting Jesus occupies a place of significance in the Gospel of John, where the people Jesus encounters are provoked to make a judgment about him. They must decide for him or against him. John has little tolerance for refusal or unwillingness to make a decision...Nathanael’s move from skeptical rejection to affirmation of faith separates him from those who wish to occupy some nonexistent middle ground. (Walter Brueggeman [b. 1933], Charles B. Cousar [b. 1933], Gaventa and James D. Newsome [b. 1931], Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year B, 113)
Nathanael’s encounter with Christ reminds all who encounter Jesus that they should carefully consider their response. But respond they must.

Why is Jesus’ approach effective; why does it convince Nathanael (John 1:47-51)? What does the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael reveal about Jesus? When have you clicked with someone you only recently met? Should Nathanael be viewed as the model disciple? Why do you believe what you believe; on what evidence do you profess Jesus? How have you responded to Jesus?

“‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile’ [John 1:47], Jesus says to Nathanael before Nathanael has found a tongue to say anything to him; and we picture this Nathanael standing there in all his guilelessness with mud on his shoes and his jaw hanging loose before he finally, whispers it, I suspect, ‘Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ [John 1:49] And I picture you and me standing there too, not guileless by a long shot if you’re anything like me, but full of all that the world has filed us with—and that we have filled the world with—in the way of disillusion and doubt and self-seeking and love and fear and deceit and hope and everything else that makes us, each in our own unrepeatable way, human.” – Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), “Delay”, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, p. 111

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