This is the abstract of a lecture I will give to a plenary session of the British New Testament Conference this coming Friday.
John 1:1-18 is now nearly universally identified as a sense unit of the text of the Fourth Gospel. Frequently the term 'Prologue' is applied to these verses. This paper examines the way the opening of John's Gospel has been divided through history, considering the evidence of manuscripts, early versions, church fathers, liturgy, printed editions and commentators. It is observed that the earliest division (attested in P66 and P75 and probably deriving from the archetype of the textual tradition) marks a division after 1:5, but no similar division after 1:18. At a slightly later stage significant breaks are found in witnesses after 1:14 and 1:17 (1:1-17 frequently forming a lection). Even with the advent of printing, 1:1-14 and 1:1-17 are initially marked as units. As increasingly 1:1-18 is regarded as the basic unit, the break after 1:5 becomes less prominent and a break after 1:13 tends to take over from the break after 1:14 since 1:14 is no longer a final climax. The earlier ways of dividing the text still present significant advantages in analysing the opening section of John's Gospel. The near-universal adoption of 1:1-18 as the basic unit has allowed various speculative theories as to the origin of these verses to arise. Proponents of these theories usually ignore the hypothetical nature of the textual division which is foundational to their proposals.