In recent research, dominated as it has been by the general idea of oral tradition and the more specific idea of the influence of various liturgies, the idea has gained ground that the prologue consists largely of a pre-existing hymn, a hymn which has been edited and to which other more prosaic material has been added. There are good reasons for this view, particularly the fact that at various points the rhythm of the text changes from that of soaring poetry to straightforward prose. The references to John (the haptizer; vv 6-8,15) tend to be seen as especially obtrusive, and they are frequently referred to as patent interpolations (cf. Bultmann, 16-18; Schnackenburg, 1:225; Brown, 3-4; Haenchen, 1:108-9). As a result of this approach, discussion of the structure of the prologue has frequently been overshadowed by the effort to isolate and reconstruct the hypothetical hymn.
But no hymn has emerged, at least not one on which scholars agree. Even parts of vv 1-5 are in dispute. (For opinions, see Brown, 22.) Nor has the church ever used it as a hymn—unlike, say, Mary's canticle (Luke 1:46-55)—even though it has employed it greatly, particularly as a blessing over the sick and over newly baptized children (Brown, 18). It is not surprising, then, that Giblin (1985, 94), having noted a number of important discrepancies between the content of hymns and that of the prologue, concludes that, as it stands, it is not primarily a hymn.
The hypothesis of a half-hidden hymn is not only unworkable, it is unnecessary. There is another way of accounting for the changing style, for this interweaving of soaring poetry with simple prose. The interweaving is a way of expressing, through the very form of the language, one of the prologue's central ideas—the descent of the (soaring, poetic) Word into the (prosaic) reality of human life. In other words, the increasing mixing of Word with flesh is reflected in the increasing mixing of poetry with prose, and the persistent failure of scholars to disentangle the poetry is a reflection of something more basic: God—insofar as God is known—cannot he disentangled from humanity.
As indicated in the introduction (chap. 6), this gradual departure from the (divine) language of poetry is not an isolated phenomenon. Again and again, in diverse ways, John's gospel leaves aside language which suggests divinity and takes on a form which is much simpler, much closer to prosaic humanity.
* Thomas L. Brodie,
The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary
[Το Ευαγγέλιο Κατά τον Ιωάννη: Φιλολογικό και Θεολογικό Σχολιολόγιο],
Oxford University Press, 1993,