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Song of Solomon
John 1 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
Logos whom the writer has just affirmed to have been God himself,
, though it might seem at first reading to be incompatible with the first or third clause of the first verse, nevertheless in the
beginning with God
- "in the beginning," and therefore, as we have seen, eternally in relation with God. The previous statements are thus stringently enforced, and, notwithstanding their tendency to diverge, are once more bound into a new, unified, and emphatic utterance. Thus the
of the following sentences is charged with the sublime fulness of meaning which is involved in the three utterances of ver. 1. The first clause
declared that the Logos preceded the origination of all things, was the eternal ground of the world; the second
asserted his unique personality, so that he stands over against the eternal God, in mutual communion with the Absolute and Eternal One; the third clause
maintains further that the Logos was not a second God, nor merely Divine (
) or God-like, nor is he described as proceeding out of or from God (
), nor is he to be called
, "the God absolute," as opposed to all his manifestations; but the Logos is said to be
in his nature and being. This second verse reasserts the eternal
of such a personality "with God," and prepares the way for the statements of the following verses. The unity of the Logos and Theos might easily be supposed to reduce the distinction between them to subjective relations. The second verse emphasizes the objective validity of the relation.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Verses 3, 4.
The creation of all things through the Logos, as the instrument of the eternal counsel and activity of God.
) taken one by one, rather than all things regarded in their totality - "all things,"
all beings and elements of things visible or invisible, in heaven, earth, and under the earth (see
came into being through him,
through the Logos, who was in the beginning with God, and was God. The Logos is the organ or instrument by which everything, one by one, was made. Two other words are used in the New Testament to denote "creation" -
, used in
, a word indicating the mind and act of the Creator; and
, which, as in
, points generally to the thing made. The parts of the verb
indicate the progress of the work, the process of some creative order, the occurrence of some event in the evolution of Divine providence. This word does not by one solitary expression dogmatically convey the creative act, but the fact of the "becoming," from, it may be, the region of pure thought to that of existence, or from non-observation into prominence, or from an inchoate to a perfect development, or from nothing to something. The context must determine the fulness of its meaning. Occasionally, as in
, it is powerfully contrasted with existence: "Before Abraham was [had come into being] I am." The context here does not allow us to affirm that St. John repudiated the prior existence of the
, stuff, of which
were made. He does not affirm nor deny such a prior existency or condition, but by referring the universe in all its parts and items to the
, he absolutely ignores the Platonic notion of eternal matter. He could scarcely be ignorant of the speculation as it entered into the Philonic interpretation and formed the basis of the Gnostic speculations which were beginning to infest the early Church. By giving, however, a Divine origin and instrument to the "becoming" of
, and strengthening his statement by the negative coassurance, he absolutely excludes the dualism of Philo and of Gnostic tendency. In asserting that the Logos is he or that through whom all things were made, the writer does not lower the dignity of the Logos by regarding him merely as the
of the Father, because the same preposition is used of the relation of the Father to the world or to his servants (
). Elsewhere St. Paul powerfully affirms the same application of
1 Corinthians 8:6
) to Christ's part in the Creation, reserving for the One God, the Father, the preposition
God are all things, still "all things" derive their existence "through" the activity, the will, the thought, of the Logos. "The sphere contracts as the blessing enlarges [query, 'intensifies']: existence for everything; life for vegetable and animal world; light for men" (Plummer). The same idea is made more explicit by the negative form in which it is restated:
and without him -
that is, independently of his cooperation and volition (cf.
one thing came into being.
could hardly be spoken of as "one thing," seeing, according to the theory, it was not a unit as opposed to a multiplicity, but the condition of all things. The
would drive harder against any recognition of the
than would the
. There is not the faintest approach to any supposition on John's part of the existence of such a primeval entity or eternal reality. The
gives the student of the text and of the meaning grave difficulty. From very early times the Alexandrine Fathers and numerous uncial manuscripts, and an immense group of quotations and versions, unquestionably close the sentence we have just considered with
ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
, and consider the
as the subject of the following clause, translating it either,
That which has come into being in him was life
that which has come into being was
life in him
- for one manuscript,
, has rendered the text more grammatical by reading
. This, adopting the supposed early punctuation, Tregelles and Westcott and Hort have introduced into the text; but R.T. has coincided with T.R. Dr. Westcott has an elaborate note affirming the deep thought involved in the "ancient punctuation," to the effect that the
refers, not merely to the original creation,
, but to the continued existence of that which has come into being. Of this, it is said, it derives its life, has its life in the Logos, and that this idea is expressed in a profounder way than by saying
; that it
(before it was called into being, or became)
This profound and mysterious statement is affirmed by Dr. Moulton and Dr. Westcott to find different but clear expression in
, "Thou art worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory, etc.; for thou didst create all things, and for thy pleasure they were [
, the reading preferred by Tisehendorf (8th edit.) and Westcott and Herr, instead of
, 'they are'] and were created." Dr. Westcott thinks that "life" here represents "the Divine element in creation, that in virtue of which things 'are' each according to the fulness of its being." What has been created represents the eternal thought, the life that it had in the Logos before the world was. Unless one were compelled to take this thought by the exigencies of the textual criticism, we should hesitate to affirm that this can be the author's intention. To us the common punctuation is far more satisfactory m meaning:
Apart from him there came into existence not one thing which has come into existence.
This, in its grand comprehensiveness and individualizing of every molecule and every force, brings the mind of the reader down from eternity to time, from the creation to the preservation and providence of the world, and it prepares the way for the great assertion of the following verse.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
, and therefore inclusive of the fact that the Logos always has been and now is
In him was
. "Life" in all its fulness of meaning - that grand addition to things which confers upon them all their significance for men. There is one impassable chasm which neither history, nor science, nor philosophy can span, viz. that between nothing and something. The evangelist has found the only possible method of facing it - by the conception of One who from eternity has within himself the potency of the transition. There is another impassable chasm in thought - that between non-living atoms and living energies and individualities. The assertion now is that life,
, with all its manifestations and in all its regions; that the life of plant, tree, and animal, the life of man, of society, and of worlds as such; that the life of the body, soul, and spirit, the life transitory and the life eternal (
was in the Logos
, "who was God and in the beginning with God." Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus said that "as the Father had life in himself, so he gave to the Son to have life in himself" (
he communicated to the Son his own Divine self-dependence. The Gospel, however, lays the greatest emphasis on the life-giving powers of the Christ as incarnate Logos. The healing of the impotent man (ch. 5.), the raising of the dead Lazarus (ch. 11.), are chosen proofs of his life-giving energy. His claim (ch. 10.) to retake the life that he would voluntarily relinquish, and the august majesty with which, in his resurrection life (ch. 20, 21.), he proclaimed his absolute and final victory over death, constitute the reasons which induced the evangelist to lay down at the very outset that in the Logos was
Life, in all its energies, past, present, and future, is an outcome, an effluence, of the Eternal Word. And the life was (and is) the light of men. Observe, it is not said here that physical life is a consequence or issue of the solar beam, or of the Word which in the beginning called light out of darkness. All the religious systems of the East and all modern sciences agree to extol and all but worship the light force, with all that seems so inseparably associated with it. The evangelist was reaching after something far more momentous even than that dogma of ancient faith and modern science. He is not speaking of "the light of the sun," but of "the light of men." Whatever this illumination may include, John does not refer it directly to the Logos, but to the life which is "in him." "The light of men" has been differently conceived by expositors. Calvin supposed that the "understanding" was intended - "that the life of men was not of an ordinary description, but was united to the light of understanding," and is that by which man is differentiated from animals. Hengstenberg regards it, in consequence of numerous associations of "light" with "salvation" in Holy Scripture, as equivalent to salvation; Luthardt with "holiness;" and many with the "eternal life," which would introduce great tautology. The context is our best guide. This light is said to be the veritable light which lighteth every man, and to be shining into darkness. Consequently, to make it the complex of all the gracious processes which beautify the renewed soul is to hurry on faster than the apostle, and to anticipate the evolution of his thought. "The light of men" seems to be the faculty or condition, the inward and outward means, by which men know God. "The light of men" is the conscience and reason, the eye of the soul by which the human race comes into contact with truth and right and beauty. The perfections of God answering to these functions of the soul are not, and were never, manifested in mere matter or force. Until we survey the operations of God in
we have no hint of either. The lower forms of life in plant or animal may reveal the wisdom and beneficence and 'beauty of the Logos, and so far some light shines upon man; but even these have never been adequately appreciated until the life of man himself comes into view, then the Divine perfections of righteousness and moral loveliness break upon the eye of the soul. In the life of conscience and reason a higher and more revealing light is made to shine upon man, upon his origin, upon his Divine image, upon his destiny. In the spiritual life which has been superinduced upon the life of the conscience and of the flesh, there is the highest light, the brightest and warmest and most potent rays of the whole spectrum of Divine illumination. "The life" which was
the Logos "was," has always been, is now, will ever be, "the light of men." The plural, "of men" (
), justifies this larger and sweeping generalization. The two "imperfects" (
) placing the process in the past do not compel us to limit the operation to the past or ideal sphere. They assert what was "in the beginning," and which can never cease to be; but they partly imply further consequences, which the actual condition of man has introduced.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The antagonism between light and darkness.
The highest manifestation and proof of the following statement will be found in that great entrance of the Eternal Logos into human life which will shed the most complete ray of Divine light upon men; but before that great event, during its occurrence, and ever since,
throughout all times and nations,
the light shineth in the darkness.
Many expositors, like Godet, after long wavering and pondering, resolve this expression into a distinct epitome of the effect of the Incarnation, the highest manifestation of the light in the theanthropic life, and hesitate to see any reference to the shining of the light upon the darkness of humanity or of the heathen world. They do this on the ground that there is no confirmation or illustration of this idea in John's Gospel. However, let the following parallels and expositions of this thought be considered. Our Lord discriminates between those who "hate the light" and "those who do the truth and come to the light" (
). He delights in those whom the Father has given to him, and who come to him (
). He speaks of "other sheep which are not of this fold, who hear his voice" (
). He tells Pilate that "every one who is of the truth heareth my voice "(
). In solitary address to the Father (
), he says, "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me." In all these passages abundant hint is given of a direct treatment of souls antecedent to, or rather irrespective of, the special grace of Christ's earthly manifestation. This passage, so far, in the wide embrace of its meaning, asserts that
here taken as the effluence of the life itself, perpetually, forever, shineth (
) - pours forth its radiance by its own essential necessity into the "darkness." "Darkness" and "light" are metaphors for moral conditions. Though there is a "light of men" which is the result of the meeting of man's capacity with Divine revelation, yet, for the most part, there is a terrible antagonism, a fearful negative, a veritable opposition to the light, a blinding of the eye of the soul to the clearest beam of heavenly wisdom, righteousness, and truth. Light has a battle to fight, both with the circumstances and the faculties of men. The ancient light which broke over the childhood of humanity, the brighter beams which fell on consciences irradiated and educated by a thousand ministries, the light which was focused in the incarnate Logos and diffused in all the "entrance of the Divine Word" into the heart of men, have all and always this solemn contingency to encounter - "The light shineth in the darkness." And the darkness apprehended it not. This word translated "apprehended" (
) has, in New Testament Greek, undoubtedly the sense of "laying hold with evil intent," "overtaking" (
1 Thessalonians 5:4
), "suppressing" (Lunge), "overcoming" (Westcott and Moulton); and a fine sense would arise from this passage if it means that, while the light shone into the darkness, it did not scatter it, but, on the other hand, neither did the darkness suppress or absorb and neutralize the light. Certainly the darkness was disastrous, tragical, prolonged, but
triumphant, even in the gloomiest moments of the pre-Incarnation period, even in the darkest hour and place of savage persecution, even in the time of outrage, superstitious impenetrability, or moral collapse. There are, however, two classes of difficulty in this interpretation.
is in LXX. used for
, and in many places in the New Testament has its ordinary classical sense, "lay hold of," "apprehend," "comprehend," "understand," "come to know,"
), though in this latter sense it is mostly used in the middle voice.
When the apostle, in greater detail and more immediate reference to the individual illustrations he gives of the relation of the darkness to the light, says in vers. 10, 11,
Ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω
ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον
; though slightly different words are used, yet the return upon the thought in these parallel sentences is too obvious to be overlooked. The nonsusceptibility of the darkness, the positive resistance it makes to the action of light, finds its strongest illustration in the more defined regions and narrower sphere of the coming of the Logos to the world, and in his special mission to his own people. In this view Alford, Bengel, Schaff, Godet, Luthardt, Tholuck, Meyer, Ewald, coincide, though the suggestion of Origen and Chrysostom, and in later years of Schulthess, Westcott, etc., has been powerfully urged. The broad, general fact is stated, not excluding the exceptions on which the evangelist himself afterwards enlarges. If the darkness had "apprehended" the light, it would no more be darkness. The melancholy fact is that the corruption in the world has been, for the most part, impervious to the light alike of nature, of life, of conscience, and even of revelation. Hence, says Bengel, "the occasion for the Incarnation." This is exaggeration, because the whole record of the incarnate Word is a continuous story of the resistance of the darkness to the light.
There was a man sent from God, whose name
The general manifestation of the revealing Logos.
The prophetic dispensation.
There was a man, sent from
God, whose name was John.
Observe the contrast between the
of John's appearance and the
of the Logos, between the "man" John sent from God and the (
ΛΟΓΟΣ ΣΑΡΧ ΑΓΑΝΑΤΟ
) "Word became flesh" of ver. 14. At this point the evangelist touches on the temporal mission and effulgence of the true Light in the Incarnation; yet this paragraph deals with far more general characteristics and wider ranges of thought than the earthly ministry of Christ on which he is about to enlarge. First of all, he deals with the testimony of John in its widest sense; afterwards he enlarges upon it in its striking detail. Consequently, we think that "the man," "John," is, when first introduced, referred to in his representative character rather than his historical position. The teaching of the prophets and synoptists shows that "John" was rather the exponent of the old covenant than the harbinger of the new. He was the embodiment of the idea of prophet, priest, and ascetic of the patriarchal, Mosaic, and latest Hebraic revelation. He was "more than a prophet." No one greater than he had ever been born of woman, and his functions in these several particulars are strongly impressed upon that disciple who here loses his own individuality in the strength of his Master's teaching. Through this very "man sent from God" the apostle had been prepared to see and personally receive the Logos incarnate. His personality gathered up for our author all that there was in the past of definite revelation, while Jesus filled up all the present and the future. First of all, he treats the mission of the Baptist as representative of all that wonderful past.
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all
through him might believe.
This man came
for witness, that he might bear witness concerning the Light.
The entire prophetic dispensation is thus characterized. That which the Baptist did, Malachi, Isaiah, Elijah, Hosea, Moses, had done in their day. He came, and by penetrating insight and burning word, by flashes of moral revelation and intense earnestness, "bare witness concerning the Light" which was ever shining into the darkness. His aim and theirs was to prevent the forces of darkness from suppressing or absorbing the light. He came to sting the apathy and disturb the self-complacency of the darkness. He came to interpret the fact of the Light which was shining but not apprehended; and so did all the prophetic ministry of which he was the latest and most illustrious exponent. He came to assert the meaning for man of all God's perfections; to call conscience from its death sleep; to draw distinctions of tremendous significance between moral and ceremonial obedience; to exalt obedience above sacrifice, and works meet for repentance above Abrahamic privilege; to warn by lurid threatenings of a fiery wrath and a terrible curse which would fall on the disobedient, though consecrated, people. In this he was but the last of a goodly fellowship of prophets who bore witness to the Light of life which had its being in the Eternal Logos of God. He came, as they all had come, with a view of producing results far greater than, as a matter of fact, they have actually achieved. He came to bear such testimony
that all through him
by the force of his appeal or by the fierce glow thus cast upon the perils and follies of the hour,
- might realize the full significance of the Light which they had hitherto refused to accept. The greatness of this expectation corresponds with the hope which the ministry of Jesus failed also to realize (
). The splendid ministry of this "burning and shining lamp" might, it would seem, have brought all Israel to acknowledge Christ as the Light of the world; but "the darkness apprehended it not." The entire prophetic dispensation, the testimony which the priestly services and sacrifices bore to the evil of sin and to the awfulness of righteousness, as well as the condemnation of the follies and pleasures of the world, involved in John the Baptist's ascetic profession, might have roused all Israel to believe in the Light. He gathered together all the forces of the Mosaic, prophetic, Levitical, Essenic ministries to bear on the people. Everything that Law could do was done to reveal the Light; but "all" did not believe, for "the darkness apprehended it not."
He was not that Light, but
to bear witness of that Light.
- A solemn warning is given, which forever discriminates the ministry of man from the eternal ministry of the Logos.
(John, and with him all the prophetic, Levitical, ascetic teachers in all ages)
was not the Light, but
that he might bear witness of the Light.
depends upon some unexpressed verbal thought; for even in the passages where it stands alone (
) the reference is not obscure to some pre-existing or involved verb. The distinction here drawn between John and the Light is thought by some expositors to point to the condition of the Ephesian Church, in the neighbourhood of which there still lingered some who placed John in even a higher position than that accorded to Jesus (
Acts 19:3, 4
); but the teaching of the evangelist is far more comprehensive than this.
of men has higher source and wider range of operation than that of any prophetic man. All that he, that any seer whatsoever can do, is to bear witness to it. The prophets, from Moses to John, derived all their power, their sanction, and the corroboration of their message, from the Logos light shining through conscience and blazing through providential events and burning up the stubble of human action with unquenchable fire. The prophets are not the light of God; they are sent to bear witness to it.
was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
The illumination of the archetypal Light before incarnation.
There are at least three grammatical translations of this verse. Either
with Meyer, we may give to
the complete sense of existence, presence, and include in it the full predicate of the sentence; thus: "Existing, present (when John commenced his ministry), was the veritable Light which enlighteneth every man coming into the world." But the clause, "coming into the world," would here not only be superfluous, but moreover, while used elsewhere and often of Christ's incarnation, is never used of ordinary birth in the Scriptures, though it is a rabbinical expression.
Lange, Moulton, Westcott, Godet, applying the
ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον
rather than to
, translate it, "That was the true Light which lighteth every man, by coming into the world, or that cometh into the world." The difficulty of this is that it makes the coming into the world, in some new sense, the occasion of the illumination of every man, although the evangelist has already spoken (ver. 4) of the Life which is the Light of men. A third method is to make the
ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν
the true predicate of the sentence, and translate thus:
The veritable Light which illumines every man was coming
into the world;
and there is a sense and manner of his coming which transcends all others, about which he is to speak at length. This might receive another meaning if
were equivalent to
; then a positive reference would here he made to the historic fact of the Incarnation. But it seems to me the evangelist is drawing a contrast between the continuous coming into the world of the veritable Light and the specific Incarnation of ver. 14. Consequently, the author here travels over and connotes a wider theme, namely, the operation of that archetypal Light, that veritable Light which differs from all mere reflections of it, or imitations of it, or luminous testimonies to it. The difference between
is used in
and John 5:31, and very often to denote the true in opposition to the false, the veracious as distinct from the deceptive.
is used in the Gospel (
John 4:23, 37
), First Epistle (
1 John 5:20
), and Apocalypse (
), and hardly anywhere else (see Introduction), for the real as opposed to the phenomenal, the archetypal as opposed to the various embodiments of it, the veritable as distinct from that which does not answer to its own ideal. Now, about this veritable light, in addition to all that has been said already, two things are declared.
It illumines every man, giveth light to every individual man, in all time. Though the darkness apprehendeth it not, yet man is illumined by it. Various interpretations have been given of the method or conditions of this illumination.
The light of the reason and conscience - the higher reason, which is the real eye for heavenly light, and the sphere for the operation of grace. This would make the highest intellectual faculty of man a direct effulgence of the archetypal Light, and confirm the poet Wordsworth's definition of conscience as "God's most intimate presence in the world."
The inner light of the mystical writers, and the "common grace" of the Remonstrant theology. Or
the Divine instruction bestowed on every man from the universal manifestation of the Logos life. No man is left without some direct communication of light from the Father of lights. That light may be quenched, the eye of the soul may be blinded, the folly of the world may obscure it as a cloud disperses the direct rays of the sun; but a fundamental fact remains - the veritable Light illumines every man. Then
it is further declared that this Light was ever coming into the world. Bengel and Hengstenberg, as Lange and Baumgarten-Crusius, regard it as in the purely historic sense, declaratory of the great fact of the Incarnation. But Ewald, Keim, Westcott, and others decide that it refers to his
into the world. Up to the time of the Incarnation, the great theme of the prophets is (
) the Coming One. Nor can we conceal the numberless assurances of the old covenant that the Lord of men was always "coming," and did come, to them. At one time he came in judgment, and at another time in mercy; now by worldwide convulsions, then by the fall of empires; again by the sense of need, of guilt and peril, by the bow of promise which often broke in beauty on the retreating storm cloud, by the mighty working of conscience, by the sense given to men of their Divine relationships and their dearness to God, - by all these experiences
he has ever been coming
he cometh still.
Ever since the coming in the flesh and the subsequent cessation of that manifestation, he has ever been coming in the grace of the Holy Spirit, in all the mission of the Comforter, in the fall of the theocratic system and city, in the great persecutions and deliverances, the chastisements and reformations, the judgments and revivals of his Church. The eternal, veritable Light which does, by its universal shining, illumine
man, is still coming. The cry, "He is coming," was the language of the noblest of heathen philosophies; "He is coming," is the burden of the Old Testament; "He is coming again," is the great undersong of the Church to the end of time: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
Verses 10, 11.
The twofold effect of the pre-Incarnation activity in the elected nation and individuals.
The highest expression of this truth was seen in the unique "coming" of which the evangelist had been the spectator and witness; but the words cannot be limited to it - they stretch back to the beginning of the creation of the world and on to the final consummation. They explain or divide the solemn theme of the previous announcement into two related proofs of the fact that the Light which illumines every man shineth in darkness, and that the darkness apprehendeth it not.
- Of him who was evermore coming into the world, it is said,
In the world he was, and the world was made
(came into being)
through him, and the world recognized him not
is a term specially used by St. John to denote the ordered whole of the universe, viewed
from God (see Introduction). Sometimes this is emphasized by the pronoun, "
world," when it is contrasted with the higher and heavenly "order" to which the Lord's personality belonged, both before and after this manifestation in the flesh. From being thus the scene of ordered existence apart from God, it rapidly moves into the organized resistance to the will of God, and therefore it often denotes humanity taken as a whole apart from God and grace. It may be the object of the Divine love and compassion (
), while the redemption and deliverance of the world from sin is the great end of the ministry and work of Jesus (ver. 29); but throughout this gospel "the world" is the synonym of the adverse power and order of humanity, until it is illumined, regenerated, by the Spirit of God. The world here signifies humanity and its dwelling place, considered apart from the changes wrought in any part of it by grace. The three assertions concerning the world drop the imagery of light and life, and by their emphatic concatenation, without the assistance of a Greek particle, tell the tragic story of human departure from God. Thus only can the mystery of the previous verses be explained. At the very forefront of the argument of the Gospel is put a statement which concedes the strange perplexity of the rejection of the incarnate Logos. Not only does the entire narrative illustrate the awful fact, strange and inconceivable as such an idea appears when baldly stated, but the author generalizes the antipathy between the Logos and the world into a more comprehensive, damning, and yet undeniable, proposition. From the beginning, though the world came into being through the Logos, though he was in the world, in every atom of matter, in every vibration of force, in every energy of life, yet the world, notwithstanding all its power of recognizing the fact, yet the world, as concentrated in an antagonistic humanity,
come to know him fully (
). This is the lesson we learn from all the melancholy and tragic perversions of his glorious perfections which every heathenism and every cultus, and even every philosophy, has perpetrated. St. Paul says precisely the same thing: "The world by wisdom knew not God" (see also
, which might be taken as an inspired commentary on the whole passage). And the awful statement is still, with reference to the majority of men, true, that "the world knoweth not God, neither the Father, nor the Word, nor the Holy Ghost."
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
- It is not without interest that the ideas contained in these verses did not need a second century to evolve them; they were current in Paul's letters, a hundred years before the date assigned by some to this Gospel. Here the question arises - Has no more direct approach been made to our race than that which is common to
man? Undoubtedly the whole theocratic dispensation would be ignored if this were not the case - and consequently the evangelist continues the recital of the peculiarities and specialties of the approach of the Logos to the human understanding.
He came unto his own possession
εἰς τὰ ἴδια
). Here all expositors agree to see the special manifestation of the Logos to the house of Israel, which is called in numerous passages of the Old Testament, God's own possession (
And his own
received him not
of ver. 4, and
of ver. 10). Here, again, the most astonishing, direct and prominent illustration of such a statement is seen in the historic ministry of the Lord Jesus, in the terrible record of his rejection by his own people, by his own disciples, by the theocratic chiefs, by the assembled Sanhedrin, by the very populace to whom Pilate appealed to save him from murderous fury. But the significance of the prologue is to my mind missed, if the earlier agelong rejection of the ministry, and light of the Logos, nay, the perpetual and awful treatment which he continually receives from "his own possession," be not perceived. There was a Divine and special sense in which the perpetual coming of the Logos to the world was emphasized by his gracious self-manifestations to the people of Israel. The great Name of Jehovah, the Angel of the presence, the manifestations to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Elijah, to Isaiah, and Ezekiel; the Shechinah glories, the whole ministry of grace to the house of Israel, was a
perpetual coming to his own
peculiar possession; but yet the sum total of their history is a continuous repudiation and lapse. They rejected the Lord, they fell in the wilderness, they were turned unto other gods, they went a-whoring after their own inventions. They knew not that God had healed them. The great things of his Law were accounted strange things to them (compare Stephen's apology for an elaborate exposition of this thought). The same kind of treatment has continually been given by the world, and even by those who have boasted of standing in the special lines of his grace. This suggestion cannot he fully expanded here. Chrysostom
calls much attention to the argument of the Epistle to Romans (
Romans 9:30, 32
Romans 10:3, 12
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
to them that believe on his name:
Verses 12, 13.
- But before the apostle advances to the central statement of the entire proem, he stops to show that, though the whole world, though man as an organized mass, though Israel as a favoured and selected theocracy, have refused to know and confess his supreme claims, yet there has always been an election of grace. All have not perished in their unbelief. Some have received him. The twelfth and thirteenth verses do, indeed, in their full meaning, refer unmistakably to the entire ministry of the living Christ to the end of time; but surely every word of it applies
(though not exclusively) to the whole previous pleadings of the Light and Life - to the ministry of the pre-existing and eternal Logos, and to the privileges and possibilities consequent thereupon.
As many as received him
. This phrase is subsequently explained as being identical with "believed in his Name." The simple verb
, is less definite than are its compounds with
, used in the previous verses (5, 11). The acceptance is a positive idea, is broader, more manifold, less restricted as to manner of operation, than the negative rejection which took sharp and decisive form. The construction is irregular. We have a
followed by a clause in the dative; as much as if he had written, "There are, notwithstanding all the rejections, those who received him." To these, the evangelist says, however many or few they may be,
who believe in his Name,
he - the subject of the previous sentence -
gave the authority and capability of becoming children of God
. Believing in his Name is discriminated from believing him. The construction occurs thirty-five times in the Gospel, and three times in the First Epistle - and the Name here especially present to the writer is the Logos, the full revelation of the essence, character, and activity, of God. John, writing in the close of his life, surveys a glorious company of individuals who, by realizing as true the sum of all the perfections of the manifested Word, by believing in his Name, have also received as a gift the sense of such union to the Son of God that they become alive to the fact that they too are the offspring of God. This realization of the Divine fatherhood, which had been so obscure before, is itself the origination within them of filial feeling. Thus a new life is begotten and supervenes upon the old life. This new life is a new humanity within the bosom or womb of the old, and so it corresponds with the Pauline doctrine of new creation and of resurrection.
is more than opportunity, and less than (
) power; it is rightful claim (which is itself the gift of God) to become what they were not before, seeing that a Divine generation has begotten them again. They are born from above. The Spirit of the Son has passed into them, and they cry, "Abba, Father." This Divine begetting is still further explained and differentiated from ordinary human life. The writer distinctly repudiates the idea that the condition he speaks of is a consequence of simple birth into this world. This is done in a very emphatic manner (
here in the masculine, is the well known
constructio ad sensum
, and refers to
Who were begotten from God, not from
. (The plural word
has been variously rendered by expositors: Augustine regarding it as a reference to the blending of the blood of both sexes in ordinary generation; Meyer, as not different from the singular in meaning, giving numerous passages in the classics where this or an equivalent usage of the plural for the singular occurs. The suggestion of Moulton is more satisfactory - that it points to pride of race, common enough in Israel, but not peculiar to Jews.) John repudiates for this "generation" any connection with mere hereditary privilege. No twice-born Brahmin, no dignified race, no descendant of Abraham, can claim it as such, and the writer further discriminates it, as though he would leave no loophole for escape:
Nor yet from the will of the flesh, nor even from the will of the man
). Some, very erroneously, have supposed that "the flesh" here refers to "woman" in contradistinction to "man," and numerous efforts have been made to point out the threefold distinction. The simplest and most obvious interpretation is that "the will of the flesh" here means the human process of generation on its lower side, and "the will of the man" the higher purposes of the nobler side of human nature, which lead to the same end. Special dignity is conferred by being the son of a special father; but however honoured such might be, as in the case of an Abraham, a David, a Zacharias, such paternity has nothing to do with the sonship of which the evangelist is thinking. Doubtless this triumphant new beginning of humanity can only be found in the full revelation of the name of the incarnate Logos; but surely the primary application of the passage is to the fact that, notwithstanding the stiff-necked rejection of the Logos by the peculiar possession and people of his love, there were, from Abraham to Malachi and to John the Baptist, those who did recognize the Light and live in the love of God. The author of
Psalm 16, 17, 23, 25, 103, 119
, and a multitude beyond calculation, discerned and received him, walked in the light of the Lord, were kept in perfect peace, found in the Lord their most exceeding joy. "Like as a father pitieth his chihlren, so the Lord pitied them." He nourished and brought up children, and to the extent to which they appreciated his holy Name they therein received as a gift the capability and claim to call him their Father. This was not a question of human fatherhood or hereditary privilege at all, but of gracious exchanges of affection between these children of his love and the Eternal, who had fashioned them in his image and regenerated them by his Holy Spirit. To restrict any element of this passage to conscious faith in the Christ is to repudiate the activity of the Logos and Spirit before the Incarnation, and almost compels a Sabellian interpretation of the Godhead. Even now the grandeur of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity - a doctrine which treats these relations as eternal and universal - compels us to believe that whenever among the sons of men there is a soul which receives the Logos in this light,
apart from the special revelation of the Logos in the flesh, to such a one he gives the capacity and claim of sonship. John certainly could not mean to imply that there had never been a regenerated soul until he and his fellow disciples accepted their Lord. Up to this point in his argument he has been disclosing the universal and the special operations of the Logos who in the beginning was with God and was God, the Source of all life, the Giver of all light, the veritable Light which shines upon every man, which does more even than that - which made a long continued series of approaches to his own specially instructed and prepared people. Prophecy all through the ages has had a wondrous function to bear witness to the reality of this Light, that all might believe in it, that all might become sons by faith; but, alas darkness, prejudice, depravity, corruption - "darkness" did not apprehend the nature, name, or mystery, of love. And so he proceeds to describe the greatest, the most surprising, supreme energy of the Eternal Logos - that which illustrates, confirms, brings into the most forcible relief, the nature of his personality, and the extent of the obligation under which he has placed the human race; and proves in the most irresistible way, not only the character and nature of God, but the actual condition of humanity. The great extent of the literature and the imposing controversies which have accumulated over the entirely unique sentence that here fellows render any treatment of it difficult. A volume rather than a page or two is required to exhibit the significance of a verse which is probably the most important collocation of words ever made.
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
The incarnation of the Logos.
And the Logos became flesh.
has been variously expanded, some giving it the force of "then" or "therefore," as though John was now resuming the entire argument from the beginning; others the sense of "for," as though the apostle needed to introduce a reason or justification for what had been said in vers. 12, 13. It is enough to regard the
as a simple copula, after the same manner in which it is used in vers. 1, 4, 5, 10, introducing by it a new and suggestive truth or fact which must be added to what has gone before, qualifying, illumining, illustrating, consummating all previous representations of the activity and functions of the Eternal Logos. Meyer, rejecting all the explicative modifications of the copula, nearly approaches the emphasis which Godet would lay upon it, by saying, "John cannot refrain from expressing the how of that appearing which had such blessed results (vers. 12, 13), and which he had himself experienced." The circumstance that in this verse the author goes back to the verbal use of the great term
suggests rather the fact that the fourteenth verse follows directly upon the stupendous definitions of ver. 1, and indicates a powerful antithesis to the several clauses of that opening sentence. The Logos which
in the beginning has now
; the Logos which was
; the Logos that was
set up his tabernacle among us.
If so, the
does suggest a parenthetical treatment of vers. 2-13, every clause of which has been necessary to prepare the reader for the vast announcement which is here made. Various things, relations, and powers have been asserted with reference to the Logos. All things
through him; not a single exception is allowed. Not one thing can be, or can have come into existence, independently of him; yet he is not said in any sense to have "become all things." More than that, the twofold form of the expression stringently repudiates the pantheistic hypothesis. All life is said to be "in him," to have its being in his activity; yet he is
said to have
, as if the life-principle were henceforth the mode of his existence, or a state or condition into which he passed, and so the emanation theories of early Gnostics and of modern pantheistic evolutionists are virtually set aside. "The veritable Light which lighteth every man" is the illumination which the
pours on the understanding and conscience of men, to which all prophecy bears witness; but he is not said to have
that light. Thus the incarnation of the Logos in every man is most certainly foreign to the thought of the apostle. He is said to have been "in the world" which he made, yet in such manifestation and concealment that the world as such did not apprehend the wondrous presence; and he is said also to have been continually coming to his own people "in sundry times" and "divers manners," in prophetic visions and angelic and even the anthropic form or fashion. Elsewhere in this Gospel we hear that Abraham "saw his day," and Isaiah "beheld his glory;" but it is not said that he
entered into permanent and unalterable relations with these theophanic glories. Consequently, the deep self-conscious realization of the glory of his Name, enjoyed by greatest saints and sages of the past, was but a faint adumbration of what John declared he and others had had distinct historical opportunity of seeing, hearing, handling, of that Word of life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us (
1 John 1:1, 2
). The statement of this verse, however, is entirely, absolutely unique. The thought is utterly new. Strauss tells us that the apostolic conception of Jesus can have no historic validity, because it represents a state of things which occurs nowhere else in history.
This is exactly what Christians contend for.
He is in the deepest sense absolutely unique in the history of mankind. Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, Socrates, Buddha, Zoroaster, may have borne witness to the Light; but of not one of them can it be said, and at least it was not said or even imagined by St. John, the Logos became flesh in their humanity. Yet this is what he did think and say was the only explanation of the glory of Jesus; this unspeakable relation to the Eternal Logos was sustained by his well known Friend and Master. And the
Word was made flesh. Flesh
, answering in the LXX. to
) is the term used to denote the whole of humanity, with prominent reference to that part of it which is the region of sensibility and visibility. The word is more comprehensive than (
) "body," which is often used as the antithesis of
; for it is unquestionable that the conventional use of
σάρξ καὶ αῖμα
, includes oftentimes both soul and spirit - includes the whole of human constitution, yet that constitution considered apart from God and grace, answering in this way to
. The flesh is not necessarily connotative of sin, though the conditions, the possibilities, the temptableness of created finite nature are involved in it. It is nearly equivalent to saying
, generic manhood, but it is more explicit than such a dictum would have been. It is not said that the Word became a man, although "
is the solemn and suggestive form in which the great truth is further expressed in the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed. "
The Logos became flesh."
Thus it answers to numerous expressions in the Pauline Epistles, which must have been based in the middle of the first century on the direct and well preserved teachings of our Lord himself (
; Romans 8:3,
Ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας
1 Timothy 3:16
Ὅς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί
; and above all
1 John 4:2
, where Jesus Christ, the centre of whose personality is the Logos, and is there used in the most transcendent sense, is there spoken of (
ἐν σαρκί ἐληλυθότα
) as having come in the flesh). Very early in the Christological discussions, even so far back as Praxeas whom Tertullian sought to refute, and by Apollinaris the younger, in the fourth century, it was said that this passage asserted that, though the Logos took or became flesh, he did not become or take upon himself the human
, the reasonable soul or spirit of man, but that the Logos took the place in Jesus of the mind or spirit. Apollinaris explained, in vindication of his view, that thus Christ was neither God nor man, but a blending of the two natures into a new and third nature, neither one nor the other. This view was stoutly resisted by Athanasius and Basil. It reappeared in the fifth century, in the form of Eutychianism, to do duty against the twofold Christ of Nestorianism. The opponents of Praxeas, Apollinaris, and Eutyches were all fain to show that the Gospel of John calls marked attention to the human soul of Jesus (
) and of his human spirit (
), to say nothing of
, where "he learned obedience," etc. The flesh of Christ is constitutive and inclusive of his entire humanity. Flesh itself is not human flesh without the human
, nor can there be a human soul without human spirit. The two terms are used interchangeably, and their functions are not to be regarded as different factors of humanity so much as different departments of human activity. There is a complete humanity, therefore, included in this term, not a humanity destitute of one of its most characteristic features. But the question arises - What is meant by
, "became, was made"? A considerable number of modern Lutheran divines have laid such emphasis on the
, the "emptying" of his glory on the part of him who was "in the form of God," that nothing short of an absolute depotentiation of the Logos is supposed to have occurred when "he was made flesh" or "man." Gess and Godet have pressed the theory that the
represents a complete transubstantiation and metamorphosis. Thus Logos had been God from eternity, but now, in the greatness of his humiliation, he was no longer Logos at all, nor God, but flesh; so that during the time of the Incarnation the Logos was absolutely concealed, potential only, and that even a consciousness of his eternity and the Divine powers were all in absolute abeyance. This hypothesis, on both its Divine and human side, appears to us hopelessly unthinkable. If the Logos was no longer Logos, and the Godhead thus ineffably truncated, the very argument of the apostle that in him was life and light, etc., must break down. The sources of life and light must have been themselves in eclipse, and God himself was no longer God. Moreover, the hypothetical obliteration of the Logos would deprive the whole argument of the apostle for the Divineness and Godhead of the Lord of its basis in fact. There are many different forms in which this meaning of the
is urged, but they all break to pieces upon the revelation of the self-consciousness of Jesus Christ, the Divine memories and awful centre of his personality, in which the nature of the Godhead and the perfect nature of manhood are blended in one personality. Moreover, the
does not imply annihilation of the
, or transubstantiation of
. When the water was made (
) wine, the water was not obliterated, but it took up by the creative power of Christ other substances into itself, constituting it
So when the
became "flesh," he took up humanity with all its powers and conditions into himself, constituting himself "the Christ." The question arises - Wherein was the humiliation and the
, if the Logos throughout the incarnate life of Christ, as a Person, possessed and exercised all his Divine energies? The answer is, that, in taking human nature in its humbled, suffering, tempted form into eternal, absolute union with himself, and by learning through that human nature all that human nature is and fears and needs, there is an infinite fulness of self-humiliating love and sacrifice. Hypostatic union of humanity with the Logos, involving the Logos in the conditions of a complete man, is an infinite humiliation, and seeing that this involved the bitterest conflict and sorrow, brought with it shame, agony, and death, such a stupendous fact is (we believe) assumed to have taken place once in historic time. It is far more than the manifestation in the flesh of Jesus of the Divine light and life. Such an hypothesis would merely consider Jesus as one supereminent display of "the veritable Light which lighteth every man," whereas what is declared by St. John is that the Word himself, after a new exercise of this infinite potency, became flesh. We are not told
this occurred. The fact of the supernatural birth, as stated by the synoptic writers, is their way of announcing a sublime secret, of which John, who was in the confidence of the mother of Jesus, gave a profounder exposition. In such a fact and event we see what St. Paul meant when he said that in the depths of eternity the infinity of love did not consider the undimmed, unclouded, and unchangeable creative majesty of equality with God to be a prize which must never be relinquished, but emptied himself, was made in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and was found in fashion as a man. There was now and forevermore a part of his being in such organic union with "flesh" that he could be born, could learn, could be tempted, suffer from all human frailties and privations, die the death of the cross. The phrase, moreover, implies that the Incarnation was in its nature distinct from the Docetic, angelic, transitory manifestations of the older revelation. In the "Word" becoming "flesh" both Word and flesh remain side by side, and neither is the first nor the second absorbed by the other, and so Monophysitism is repudiated, while the statement of what the Word thus incarnate did, viz. "dwelt among us," etc., cuts away the support of the Nestorian division of the Divine and human natures; inasmuch as what is said of the one nature can be said of the other. To this we turn: "And the Word was made flesh, and
set up his tabernacle in our midst
." The use of this picturesque word
points to the tabernacle in the wilderness, in which God dwelt (
2 Samuel 7:6
, etc.), and to which reference is made in
. The localization of Deity, the building a house for the Lord whom the heaven of heavens could not contain, was a wondrous adumbration of the ultimate proof to be given, that, though God was infinitely great, he was yet capable of turning his glorious face upon those who seek him; though unspeakably holy, awful, majestic, omnipotent, he was yet accessible and merciful and able to save and sanctify his people. The glory of the Lord was the central significance of the tabernacle and temple worship. It was always assumed to be present, even if invisible. The Targums in a great variety of passages substitute for the "glory of the Lord," which is a continuous element in the history of the old covenant, the word "Shechinah," "dwelling," and use the term in obvious reference to the biblical use of the verb
, he dwelt, when describing the Lord's familiar and accessible sojourn with his people. It is too much to say that John here adopts the Aramaic phrase, or with certainty refers to it. But
recalls the method by which Jehovah impressed his prophets with his nearness, and came veritably to his own possession. "Now," says John, "the Word made flesh took up his tabernacle in our midst." It is not to be forgotten that John subsequently shows that Jesus identified his body with "the temple" of God (
, etc.). The "
represents the ground of a personal experience which makes the hypothesis of an Alexandrine origin for the entire representation perfectly impossible. The reference to the old covenant is made more conspicuous:
And we contemplated his glory.
corresponds with the visible manifestations of the presence of Jehovah under the Old Testament (
). Dazzling light at the burning bush, in the pillar of fire, on Mount Sinai, at the dedication of tabernacle and temple, etc., revealed the awful fact of the Divine nearness. The eye of believing men saw the real glory of the Logos made flesh when he set up the tabernacle of his humanity among us. It does not follow that all eyes must have seen what the eye of faith could see. The darkness has resisted all the light, the world has not known the Logos; the susceptibilities of believing men enabled them to perceive the glory of the Lord in regions and by a mode of presentation to which unregenerate men have not attained. The apostles saw it in the absolute moral perfection of his holiness and of his charity; of his grace and truth. We can scarcely exclude here a reference to the wondrous vision upon which (as we learn from Matthew, Mark, Luke) John himself gazed on the Mountain of Transfiguration, when the venerable symbol of
reappeared from within the person of the Lord, so linking his personal manifestation of "the Word" with the theophanies of the Old Testament; nor can we forget the sublime vision which John undoubtedly records in the beginning of his Apocalypse. Nevertheless, the glory which the apostles beheld must be distinct from the "glory" which he had with the Father before the world was, and to which (
) he prayed that he might return, and the full radiance of which he would ultimately turn upon the eyes of the men whom he had gathered "out of the world." Before that consummation "we," says he, "contemplated his glory
as of an only begotten
implies comparison with the transcendent conception which had entered into his inspired imagining. The word
is used by John to refer to the supreme and unique relation of the Son to the Father (
John 3:16, 18
1 John 4:9
). It is used of human sons in Luke (
is the translation in the Vulgate of the Hebrew
, where the LXX. gives
, well beloved (see
Genesis 22:2, 12, 16
). It corresponds with the
, showing that an analogous thought filled the apostolic mind. By laying stress here on the "glory," and giving historic value and emphasis to the supernatural conception of Jesus, many see in this a reference to the Incarnation wherein he became an only begotten Son of the Father. This would be far more probable if the article had been placed before
. Here the apostle seems to labour to express the glory of One who could thus stand in the eternal relation of the Logos to
, making it correspond with the relation also subsisting between
and the "Father." Great speciality and peculiarity is here bestowed upon the "only begotten," as it stands in close relationship with those to whom he gives power or capability to become "children of God." They are born into the family of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The glory which John says "we beheld" in his earthly flesh was the effulgence of the uncreated beam which broke through the veil of his flesh, and really convinced us that he was "the Word made flesh." The Tubingen critics see a contradiction here with the prayer of Christ (
John 17:5, 24
) for "the glory which he had with the Father." If he shone on earth with such glory as John here describes, why should he desire more? Godet resolves it by insisting on the moral glory of his filial consciousness when he had indeed deprived himself of his Divine perfections. Thus Godet repudiates the two natures of his Person. There is no real contradiction, as we have seen. Some difference of opinion occurs also as to the reference of the
πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας
. Some nave referred
, and some to
, though in both cases a break in the construction would be involved, as the antecedent would have been in the genitive. Others, again (founding on the reading of one uncial manuscript, D, which here has
), refer it to
, and all who thus construe eschew any parenthetical treatment of the previous clause. The latter method is freer from difficulty, as then this clause,
πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας
, is directly and grammatically related with
. The Word was made flesh, and, full of grace and of truth, set up his tabernacle in our midst. Grace and truth are the two methods by which the glory as of "an only begotten" shone upon us, and we beheld it. The combination of these two ideas of grace and truth pervades the Old Testament description of the Lord (cf.
Psalm 40:10, 11
). "Grace," the free and royal communication of unlooked for and of undeserved love, is the keynote of the New Testament. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" is the compendium of all his powers of benediction, and corresponds with the
which is "in him," and all the gift of himself to those who came into contact with him. "Truth" is the expression of the thought of God. Truth
can find no larger definition than the perfect revelation of God's eternal thought concerning himself and his universe, and concerning the relations of all things to each other and to him. That which God thinks about these things must be "truth
Christ claimed to be "the Truth" and "the Life" (
), and John here says that it was in virtue of his being the Logos of God that he was full of these. Grace and truth, love and revelation, were so transcendent in him; in other words, he was so full, so charged, so overflowing with both, that the glory which shone from him gave apostles this conception about it, viz. that it was that of an only begotten (specially and eternally begotten) and with the Father. The
corresponds with the
of ch. 17:5, and does not, therefore, necessarily suggest more than the premundane condition, answering to the
of ver. 1, and
εἰς τὸν κόλπον
of ver. 18. Erasmus, Paulus, and a few others have associated the
, etc., with the following verse. This is eminently unsatisfactory as unsuited to the character of the Baptist. Moreover, the sixteenth verse, by its reference to Christ's "fulness," positively forbids it.
John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
The testimony to this fact by the prophetic spirit.
The evangelist, in support and vindication of the profound impression produced upon himself and others by the Christ, cites the startling and paradoxical testimony of the Baptist, which in John's own hearing the great forerunner had twice uttered, under very extraordinary circumstances (see vers. 26, 30). In the later verses this testimony is put in its proper place. Its repetition deepens the impression which the narrative gives of the vivid reality, and of the fact that the evangelist was trusting to a strongly impressed recollection, and is not romanticizing, as the Tubingen critics suppose. The sharp paradoxical form is thoroughly characteristic of the man who called on scribes and Pharisees to "repent," and spoke of God raising up seed to Abraham from the stones of the ground. From the synoptists we learn that John declared that the Coming One was "mightier" than himself, would deal with the Holy Ghost and with fire as he was able to do with water. He knew not the kind of manifestation which was coming on apace. But an enormous change passed over John the Baptist when he came into contact with our Lord, and at his baptism he sank abashed before the revelations which flashed on his soul. The enigmatical form of the Baptist's utterances was the beginning of the evangelist's faith in the personal pre-existence of the Logos who had become flesh in Christ. The testimony of the Baptist is here brought in, as the last great word of the prophetic ministry of the Old Testament, apart from the historic setting in which it afterwards occurs, as if, moreover, it was an abiding word which was yet sounding in the ears of men. The greatest of the sons of woman, and "more than a prophet," he who gathered up in his immense personality all the functions of prophet, priest, Nazarite, and master and teacher of men, the Elijah of the new revelation - John, the very ideal of Divine and supernatural voice in this world of ours, John, the veritable historic man, moreover, to whose disastrous martyrdom some of the Jews (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18, 5, 2) referred the terrible judgments that befell their nation -
. That was his function, and his testimony still stands, his "voice" is still heard wherever his great career is known or properly appreciated - in Palestine, in Alexandria, in Ephesus or Corinth. And
; and the cry is still heard among men:
This was he of whom I spake
; implying that John uttered words of strange enigmatical significance before he saw Jesus coming to his baptism, and that, as the evangelist subsequently shows, on two memorable occasions, the prophet recalled them and reaffirmed their truthfulness. Before I saw him, I said it:
He that is coming after me hath become
- hath been in mighty activity -
. He came forth in many ways from the Father, and was the central reality of the old covenant;
, he hath come in the voice of the Lord, in the Shechinah glory, in the Angel of the
, chronologically "before me." The English Version has followed the traditionary interpretation from Chrysostom to Lucke, De Wette, Alford, McLellan, and has seen in this
ἐμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν
a reference to the higher rank or dignity of the Logos
, and translated the second clause "is preferred before me," or "hath been made before me," etc. But such a statement would not have conveyed any thought of great importance. A herald is naturally exceeded and superseded by the dignity and rank of him for whom he prepares the way. Moreover, the two adverbs of place are used in metaphorical sense as adverbs of time (derived from the relative position of individuals in a line or procession), and it is scarcely probable that the second should be used in another sense altogether, which would have disturbed the antithesis between them. On the other hand, Hengstenberg, Meyer, Lange, Godet, etc., recognize the perception of the Baptist, and his utterance of belief in the pre-existence of the Christ, and that from such passages as
he knew that he who was coming into the world, and about to baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire, to take the fan in his hand, etc., had been in reality
The difficulty of this interpretation is said to be that the proof which follows -
πρῶτός μου ἤν
he was before me
- would be tautologous in the extreme; the reason given for the Lord having become before him being simply the asseveration of the fact. But the two very remarkable expressions,
ἐμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν
, are not identical. The first may easily refer to the historic precedence of the activity of the Coming One in all the operations of the Logos; the second may refer to the absolute and eternal precedence of the Logos in itself. If so, the whole significance of the previous fourteen verses is gathered up, and shown to have been flashed upon the consciousness of John the Baptist, and uttered with such intensity that the evangelist caught the idea, and saw in it the key to the whole mystery. It would seem, however, that the
did not form part of the original utterance of John. After the baptism, the whole truth had broken upon the Baptist, and he clenched or saw an explanation of the mystery.
And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
The experience of the Writer.
- There can be little doubt that the fifteenth verse is a parenthetical clause, answering to the sixth and seventh verses, and standing to ver. 14 very much in the same kind of relation that vers. 6, 7 do to vers. 1-5. There is a further reason; the verses which follow are clearly not, as Lange suggests, the continuance of the Baptist's
, but the language of the evangelist, and a detail of his personal experience. The entire context would entirely forbid our taking the
of ver. 16 as referring to the Baptist. This is still more evident from the true reading of
in place of
. The "because" points back at once to the statements of ver. 14. Hengstenberg and Godet think there is no need to transform the fifteenth verse into a parenthesis, in order, after the recital of John the Baptist's testimony, to proceed to a further experience of the evangelist; translating "
," Lange makes the whole utterance to be that of the Baptist, which appears to be profoundly inconsistent with the position of the Baptist, either then or subsequently. The grand declaration, that the Logos incarnate was "full of grace and truth," is justified by the author of the prologue, from his conscious experience of the exhaustless plenitude of the manifestation.
Because from his fulness we all received.
He speaks as from the bosom of a society of persons, who have not been dependent on vision or on individual contact with the historic revelation (comp. ch. 20, "Blessed are they [Jesus said] who have not seen [touched or handled], and yet have believed," but have nevertheless discovered a perennial supply of grace and truth in him). We all, my fellow apostles and a multitude which no man can number, received from this source, as from the Divinity itself, all that we have needed. An effort has been made, from the evangelist's use of the word
, to father the "prologue" upon one familiar with the Valentinian metaphysic, and thus to postpone its origin to the middle of the second century; but the Valentinian
is the sum total of the Divine emanations of the thirty pairs of aeons, which have been produced from the eternal "bythos," or abyss, one only of which is supposed, on Valentinian principles, to have assumed a phantasmic form in Jesus Christ. Nothing could be less resembling the position of the author of this Gospel, who clearly regards the Logos incarnate as coincident with the fulness of the Godhead, as containing in himself, in complete self-possession, all the energies and beneficence of the Eternal. With the apostle's doctrine of the Logos as identical with God, as the Creator of everything, as the Life, as the Light of men; and, as becoming the Source of all these energies to men in his incarnation, there is no basis for Valentinianism. Though the phraseology of the Gnostics was borrowed in part from the Gospel, and though Valentinus may have fancied himself justified in his misuse of texts; the ideas of the Gospel and the Gnostic were directly contradictory of one another (see Introduction). Long before John used this word, St. Paul had used it in writing to the Ephesiaus and Colossians, as though, even in his day, the word had acquired a distinct theological meaning, and one that had naturally arisen from its etymology and usage in Greek writers. Bishop Lightfoot has shown in his dissertation ('Epistle to Colossians,' 2nd edit., pp. 257-273) that the form of the word demands a passive sense,
id quod impletur
, and not an active one which some have given to it in certain New Testament passages, as if it had the meaning of
id quod implet.
By his examination of numerous passages, he shows that it always has fundamentally the sense of
the full complement
is the passive verbal from
, to make complete. Thus
, "The Father was pleased that all the fulness, the totality, should dwell in him," explained elsewhere in the same Epistle, "all the completeness, the plenitude of the Godhead" (
). The widespread diffusion of the idea of emanations, the hypostatizing of perfections and attributes, the virtual mythology which was creeping through metaphysical subtleties even into Judaism and Christianity, demanded positive repudiation; and, while the whole Church was united in its recognition of the Divine energy of Christ, it became needful to refer to his Divine-human personality all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. In Ephesians St. Paul speaks, however, of the Church which is his body as identified with him, and as (in
) a bride made one flesh with her husband, without spot or wrinkle, ideally perfect, as the part of one colossal individuality of which Christ is the Head; or, the one building of which he is the Foundation and the Cornerstone. Hence "the fulness of Christ" (
) is that in which every member participates, and "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" is equated with the perfect humanity into which all believers come. Hence in
these individuals are completed in him, and are thus as a whole, by the realization of their union to Christ, participators in the fulness of God. So the difficult expression,
, becomes explained, a passage in which the Church itself, his body, is said to be "the fulness of him who filleth all in all." The Church is the organ and sphere in which all the Divine graces are poured, and is considered as ever struggling to embody the ideal perfection of him in whom all the fulness of God dwells. Both ideas, those of both the Christological Epistles, are involved in this great assertion of St. John.
And grace for grace.
It is said the evangelist might have written
, grace in addition to grace received already; but the use of the preposition
, implies more, "grace interchanging with grace" (Meyer) - not the grace of the old covenant replaced by the grace of the new dispensation (Chrysostom, Lampe, and many others), for, though there was grace underlying all God's self-revelation, yet in the next verse the contrast between "Law" and "grace" is too striking to be ignored. The grace replaced by grace means that every grace received is a capacity for higher blessedness. Thus Christian humility is the condition of Divine uplifting; the knowledge that leads to love is the condition of that higher gnosis that is born of love. The faith that accepts mercy blossoms into the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Reconciliation with God becomes itself transformed into active communion with him; all union to Christ becomes the harbinger of full identification with him, "he in us and we in him." This is the great principle of the Divine kingdom: "To him that hath shall be given."
For the law was given by Moses,
grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος
is sustained by calling attention to the contrast between the two methods of Divine communication.
Because the Law was given through Moses;
"Law," which in Paul's writings had been even looked at by itself as an "antithesis to grace" (
). The Law principle of approach to God fails through the weakness of the flesh. The will is too far enslaved for it to yield spontaneously to the majesty of the Lawgiver, or to feel the attractions of obedience. The Law condemns, - it is incapable of justifying the ungodly: the Law terrifies, - it never reconciles. The Law even provokes to sin and excites the passions which it punishes. Law was
through Moses, pointing to the historic fact of the pomp and splendour of its first delivery, associated therefore with the greatest human name in all past history. Law was a "gift," a Divine bestowment of entirely unspeakable value to those who were ignorant of the mind and will of God. Even the ministration of death was glorious. The knowledge of an ideal perfection is a great advance, even though no power should accompany the ideal to draw the soul towards it. To know what is right, even without help to do it, save in the form of sanction, or penalty appealing to the lower nature, is better and nobler than to sin in utter ignorance. The Law was given "
the mind, voice, conscience, and will of Moses. And alongside of him may be supposed to be ranged all the mighty sages and legislators of the human race - all who have thus been the mouthpiece of the Divine idea, all who have impressed the "ought" and "ought not," the "shall" and "shall not," upon mankind. Moses is not the
of the Law, the "giving" of the Law was not
Grace and truth,
- became, passed into activity in human nature -
through Jesus Christ.
For "grace and truth" (see notes, ver. 14), the highest manifestation and self-communication of Divine love and Divine thought, came into human experience through Jesus Christ. A vast and wonderful contrast is here made between all earlier or other dispensations and that of which the apostle proceeds to speak. Divine favour and help, the life of God himself in the soul of man, awakening love in response to the Divine love; and Divine thought so made known as to bring all the higher faculties of man into direct contact with reality, are an enormous advance upon Lawgiving. The appropriate human response to Law is obedience; the appropriate human response to love is of the same nature with itself - nothing less than love; so the only adequate response to Divine truth is faith; to Divine thought may follow human thought. All this forth streaming of grace and truth originated in the person of
, and became possible through him. This great
, this blending of the human and Divine, of saving grace and Messianic dignity, of ancient expectations and recent realization, is only twice more used in the Gospel (
and John 20:31); but it pervades it throughout, and, though not actually said to be equivalent to the
Word made flesh
, yet no shadow of doubt is left that this was the apostle's meaning. Here the full significance of the prologue really bursts into view to one who reads it for the first time (cf.
1 John 1:1-3
). Difficulty may be felt by some as to the actual Capacity of Jesus Christ to reveal the Divine thought, or
, and so the closing verse of the prologue vindicates the claim of the Saviour of the world to be the truth (cf.
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared
No one hath ever yet seen God.
Many visions, theophanies, appearances, angelic splendours, in the desert, on the mountain, in the temple, by the river of Chebar, had been granted to the prophets of the Lord; but they have all fallen short of the direct intuition of God as God. Abraham, Israel, Moses, Manoah, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, saw visions, local manifestations, anticipations of the Incarnation; but the apostle here takes the Lord's own word for it (
), and he elsewhere repeats it (
1 John 4:12
). These were but forerunners of the ultimate manifestation of the Logos. "The Glory of the Lord," "the Angel of the Lord," "the Word of the Lord," were not so revealed to patriarchs that they saw God as God. They saw him in the form of light, or of spiritual agency, or of human ministries; but in the deepest sense we must still wait for the purity of heart which will reveal to our weakened faculties the beatific vision.
The only begotten Son
- or, (God
who is in
the bosom of the Father, he interpreted
(him); became the satisfying Exposition, the Declarer, drawing forth from the depths of God all that it is possible that we shall see, know, or realize. This lofty assertion is augmented by the sublime intensification of the earlier phrase, "with God (
πρὸς τὸν Θεόν
)," by (
), "in or on the bosom of the Father;"
in most intimate and loving fellowship with the Father as the only begotten. The relations of fatherhood and sonship within the substance of the Godhead give new life, warmth, realization, to the vaster, colder, more metaphysical, metaphenomenal relations of
). Bengel here says, "In lumbis esse dicuntur qui nascentur homines, in sinu sunt qui nati sunt. In sinu Patris erat Filius, quia nunquam non-natus." In view of the contention of Meyer that the language here refers to no age long, eternal indwelling of the Logos with, or of the Son (God only begotten) on the bosom of, the Father, but to the exaltation of the Christ after his ascension, we can only refer to the present tense (
), which from the standpoint of the prologue does not transfer itself to the historical standpoint of the writer at the end of the first century. Lange thinks that the whole of this wonderful utterance is attributed by the evangelist to the Baptist; but the standing of the Baptist, lofty as it is in John's Gospel, after the Baptist came into brief fellowship with the One who was before him, certainly falls short of this insight into his eternal Being. John the beloved disciple could thus speak of the revelation and interpretation of God which was made in the life, words, and death of the Only Begotten, from whose fulness he had received "grace for grace;" but in this verse he is speaking of the timeless condition, the eternal fellowship, of the Only Begotten with the Father, as justifying the fulness of the revelation made in his incarnation. The prologue forms a key to the entire Gospel. It may have been written after the record of the central principles involved in the life work of Jesus had been completed. Every statement in it may be seen to be derived from the recorded words or acts of the Lord, the revelation of the Father in time, the unveiling of the eternal heart of him who made all things, and by one competent to speak of both eternities. The writer of the prologue speaks of himself as one of a group or society who had had ocular evidence of the perfection and glory of the manifestation. This fellowship of men had found themselves children of God, and in the possession of a life, a light, and a hope which were derived entirely from
, who is undoubtedly in a unique sense declared (though not formally defined) to be "the Word made flesh." In the subsequent narrative we find a graduated series of instructions on the powers of Christ and the opposition of the world to his self-manifestation. Thus (ch. 1.) the testimony of the Baptist (made after his contact with Christ) to the Person and work of the Lord attributes to him, on prophetic authority, most stupendous functions - those of baptizing with the Holy Spirit, and taking away the sin of the world. He does himself reveal the way to the Father. He is hailed as the "Christ," the "King of Israel," and as the link between heaven and earth, between the invisible and visible, the Divine and the human (
). In ch. 2, with all its other suggestiveness, Christ displays his creative power, and (cf. ch. 6.) his relation to the world of things, as well as his organic relation to the old covenant. In ch. 2 his "body" is the "temple" of God, where his Father dwelt, thus justifying the
of ver. 14. The pre-existence of Christ as a self-conscious personality in the very substance of Deity is asserted by himself in
John 17:5, 24
. The fact that he is the Source of all
), is involved in the teaching of the Gospel from end to end. Eternal life is ministered through him, to believers (
, etc., John 3:36). He claims to have life in himself (
). He is the "Bread of life" for starving humanity (
John 6:35, 48
). The words that he speaks are spirit and
φῶς τῆς ζωῆς
links the idea of life and light as they are shown to cohere in the prologue. In
he declares himself to be "the Truth and the Life," thus sustaining the great generalization. By raising Lazarus he is portrayed as the Restorer of forfeited life, as well as the original Giver of life to men (
). The ninth chapter records the symbolic event by which he proved himself to be the Sun of the spiritual universe, "the Light of the world" (cf.
with John 8:12; cf.
John 12:36, 46
). The whole history of the conflict with the people whom he came to save, with "his own," with the world power, and the death doom, is the material which is generalized in the solemn statements of
. The prologue says nothing in express words of Christ's supernatural conception, of his death, or of his resurrection and eternal glory; yet these objective facts are woven through, and involved in, the entire context, for the incarnation of the Eternal Word is the historic basis of the apostle's experience of such a life as that which he proceeds to sketch. The absolute antagonism of the darkness to the light, and the rejection of the light and life by the world, never had such exposition as that which the repudiation and crucifixion of the Son of God gave to them; while the eternal nature of the central life and being of him who, when incarnate, was thus resisted by unbelief renders the resurrection and ultimate and eternal glory a necessity of thought even to these who have not yet seen, but yet have believed.
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
The testimony of the Baptist.
- The historic narrative commences with the nineteenth verse of the chapter. The scene is laid after the ministry of John had reached its climax in the baptism of Jesus - an event presupposed and implied, but not described. John's ministry had produced the most amazing excitement among the people. They had flocked to his side and to his baptism, confessing their sins; they had heard his summons to repentance; they had trembled under his threats of judgment; they had received their appropriate message from the inspired seer. His prophetic indignation against their selfishness and greed, their formalism, and their boast of covenanted immunity from the consequences of moral fault, had roused conscience into preternatural activity. The wail of concern and the excitement of alarmed inquiry had as yet only secured from John the promise of another Teacher, of Another, mightier than he, whose fan was in his hand, who would test, divide, save, and punish. When the Christ came himself to this baptism, came confessing the sins of the whole world, came with awful holiness and yet infinite sympathy for the sorrows and perils of the people, to fulfil all righteousness, a new revelation was made to John. The voice from heaven, the symbol of the Holy Spirit which descended and abode upon him, brought John into a new world. He was as one dazed and bewildered by excess of light. The abundance of the revelations became a new test of his own mission, and a new explanation to him of what his purpose in the world had really been. The contrast between the ministry of John as detailed by the synoptists and the Fourth Gospel is explicable so soon as we observe that the latter takes up the career of John where the former had laid it down. Here, consequently, is a chapter in John's history concerning which the synoptists are silent. When the baptism of Jesus was accomplished, and the Spirit had led him away into the wilderness, John stood, much as Elisha might have done (in the very same region) when Elijah went heavenwards in a chariot of fire. But he proceeded to testify new and strange things about his kinsman. The effect of his ministry was, for the time, greatly augmented by the suspense and expectation of some rapidly approaching manifestation. In the midst of the excitement thus produced we learn from this verse:
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent
from Jerusalem priests and Levites, that,
etc. The copula "and" shows how the narrative roots itself in the prologue, and points back to the citation already made from John's words. In ver. 15 they were introduced apart from their historical connection as the summation of the highest and most fruitful mission of the Baptist. Now the precise antecedents which give to them special weight are set forth. "This" is the predicate of the sentence. The occasion referred to is when "the Jews" sent their deputation. The evangelist is accused of always using the term, "the Jews," in a sense that is hostile to them, and thus an argument has been framed against the authenticity of the Gospel. It is true that John uses this term far more frequently than the synoptists (Matthew five times, Mark seven times, Luke five times), for it is found more than seventy times in his Gospel; but it is not exclusively used in a depreciatory sense (see
). For the most part he uses the term (now denotative of the entire people, though formerly confined to the tribe of Judah) for the theocratic nation which had ceased, when he composed his Gospel, to have any political existence. More than this, in a vast number of texts he rises the term for the authoritative powers of the nation rather than of the people. According to the narrative of each of the Gospels, the theocratic people displayed, by its highest representatives and ruling powers, rancorous hatred and calculated antagonism to the Son of God. (See Introduction for proof that, notwithstanding this separation of the evangelist's mind from them, he must have been a Palestinian Jew himself.) The Jews, the ecclesiastical party, sent a deputation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem, which consisted, as we learn from the twenty-third verse, "of the Pharisees." They came to make a legitimate inquiry from the new prophet. There is no trace of malignity or antagonism in this act. They would learn from his own lips who he was, what character or functions he was sustaining. A similar deputation approached our Lord at a later period, when all their jealousy and hatred had been aroused. There was, however, no better way in which they could learn the facts of the case. The
, or great council of seventy-one members, the elders, high priests (including ex-high priests), and scribes, is variously described. There is no early trace anterior to the time of Antipater and Herod of this body as thus constituted, but it was doubtless formed upon the basis of the older institution of the seventy eiders (
),or of the
of the Books of Maccabees (1 Macc. 12:6; 2 Macc. 1:10). It is probable (Hengstenberg) that the Levites here mentioned by John represent those who in the other Gospels are described as "scribes," or students of the Law, belonging to the sacred tribe, though not to the family of Aaron. The absence of any reference to the Levites in Matthew and Mark (
), and the frequent occurrence of "scribes," make it probable that the profession of the Law was specially followed by the remnant of the tribe of Levi (but see Schurer, 'Jewish People in Time of Christ,' §§ 24, 25). The deputation came to receive and convey to those that sent them definite replies to certain questions. In
there is said to have been a widespread impression that John the Baptist was supposed to be the Christ of their popular expectation. Such a portentous claim must be sifted by them without delay. They were
sent that they should put the question to him; Who art thou?
John's profession of a baptizer, and his implied teaching that "Pharisees and Sadducees," the covenanted, sacramental people, needed cleansing and admission by some sacred rite into a fellowship more holy than that of the theocratic nation itself, demanded, immediate examination; and they were justified by the letter of the Law in making the inquiry (
And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
Verses 20, 21.
He deflates his own position, negatively.
And he confessed, and denied not
. Perhaps the double form of statement, or rather the introduction of the clause, "he denied not," before the repetition of the confession with its contents, was adopted to indicate that John might have been tempted to "deny" that he was
the Christ. If he had hesitated at all, he would have denied the real Christ, the Son of God, who had been revealed to him by special means.
I for my part
- very emphatic -
not the Christ.
This implies, not only that the supposition over which they are brooding is unfounded, not only that he is not the Christ, but that he knows more, and that he knows another to be the Christ. If this reading of the text is correct, the Baptist, by his negative reply, gave to the priests more than they asked.
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
And they asked him, What then?
What is the state of the case? The very repudiation of Messiahship in this form seems to imply some association with the Messianic period of which they had so many conflicting ideas. Malachi (
) had predicted the coming again from heaven of Elijah the prophet, and the LXX., by translating the passage "Elijah the Tishbite," had strengthened the common mistake of a metempsychosis, or such an abnormal manifestation before the coming of Messiah. Schottgen ('De Messia,' H.H., vol. 2, pp 226, 490, 533-537) quotes a variety of proofs of this anticipation, and that Elijah was expected "
days before Messiah; that he would come in the mountains of Israel, weeping over the people, saying, 'O land of Israel, how long will you remain arid and desolate!'" (cf. my 'John the Baptist,' 3. § 4). There was a true sense in which (as our Lord informed his disciples) John was the fulfilment of Malachi's prediction and of the language of the angel to Zacharias (
), and that John came veritably in the spirit and power of Elijah. In that sense "Elijah had come already," just as Christ their
had come, in fulfilment of Ezekiel's vision (
), to rule over them. In the physical, superstitious sense, John the son of Zacharias was not the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah, and so he boldly answered the inquiry,
Art thou Elijah?
with a categorical negative: I am not. They press their question once more.
Art thou the Prophet?
It is doubtful whether they here take up another popular expectation of the physical return of one of the old prophets, or whether, with an exegesis afterwards modified by the apostles, they point to
, and reveal the fact that they had not identified the prediction of "the prophet like unto Moses" with their Messiah. If they
identified these representations, they would not, of course, have pressed him with an identical question. It is highly probable that
prophecy had, with the predictions of Malachi and Isaiah, led to numerous expectations more or less identified with the Messianic cycle of coming events. In
, we see the prevalence of the expectation - of a longing for an old prophet. They yearned for no upstart, but for one of the mighty brotherhood of departed men, in veritable flesh and blood. Now John and now Jesus was crudely suspected by some to be such a resuscitation. The Baptist, like the Samaritan woman, and subsequently St. Peter when full of the Holy Ghost, had sharply identified "the Prophet like unto Moses" with the Messiah himself; and therefore, on either hypothesis, he gives a curt reply to this inquiry,
and he answered, No.
Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
Verses 22, 23.
He defines his position, positively.
They said therefore
(note the demonstrative force of
(as a consequence of his repeated threefold negative),
Who art thou?
that we may give an answer to those who sent us
, on the two verbs
What sayest thou concerning thyself?
Our suppositions about thee are all repudiated one by one, hast thou any information to render to the supreme court of judicature?
He said, I
the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
He said, I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet.
This great utterance had been by the synoptists distinctly applied to the Baptist (
); here we have the origin of such application. The Baptist quoted from
two sentences; the synoptists cite the whole passage, as finding abundant realization in the mission of John. The prophet felt that the work he had to perform entirely concealed the importance of his own personality. He lost himself in his office and in his message. Isaiah, when foreseeing the revival of the nation, then wandering in a spiritual "wilderness," along rugged ridges, savage precipices, stony gorges, of a symbolic desert, anticipated the return of the Jehovah to his own sanctuary, and declared that ample prophetic preparation was needed, so that the people, by repentance and reformation, might understand that Israel had received double for all her sins. "Hark!" says he, "a crier, or a voice." The herald has gone forth to break the silence that lay between the land of captivity and the land of promise. "In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord." Israel was to see that there was neither self-righteousness nor moral rebellion to impede the approach of One who was mighty to save. A portion of this very oracle is quoted by Malachi when he exclaims, "Behold, I send my messenger before my face, who shall prepare the way before me." This "messenger before the face of the Lord" is no other than he who should come in the spirit and power of Elijah. John, therefore, gathered up the significance of both prophecies, when he spoke of himself as "a voice crying in the wilderness [actual and symbolical], Make straight the way of the Lord." The Hebrew text, as we have translated it above, associates the words, "in the wilderness," with "make straight." rather than with "the voice crying." The quotation by the evangelist from the LXX. will suffer either arrangement of the words.
And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
had been sent from the Pharisees,
which amounts to the same thing as "they which were sent were of the Pharisees," and it is after the manner of John to introduce explanatory, retrospective comment, which may throw light on what follows (vers. 41, 45;
of the following verse shows that we have still to do with the same deputation. The Pharisees were accustomed to lustral rites, but had legal points to make as to the authority of any man who dared to impose them upon the sacred nation, and especially on their own section, which made its special boast of ceremonial exactitude and purity. They might justify an old prophet, or the Elijah of Malachi, and still more the Christ himself, should he call men to baptismal cleansing. But the dim mysterious "voice in the wilderness," even if John could prove his words, had no such prescriptive claim. The Pharisaic priests and Levites would take strong views on the baptismal question, and even exalt it into a more eminent place in their thoughts than the fundamental question, "Art thou the very Christ?" The same confusion of essential and accidental elements of religious truth and life was not confined to old Pharisees.
And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
And they asked him (put the question), and said to him, Why baptizest thou, then, if thou be
the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet?
It would seem that, judging from such expressions as
Ezekiel 36:25, 26
, the Jews expected some renewal of ceremonial purification on a grand scale at the Messianic appearance, and John's repudiation of every personal rank, which could, according to their view, justify him called for some explanation.
John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
Verses 26, 27.
- The answer is not very explicit.
John answered them and said, I baptize with water;
not as Messiah, or Elijah, or a resuscitated prophet, not as making proselytes to the faith of Abraham's sons, not as an Essene admitting the children of the kingdom to a close spiritual corporation, but because the Messiah has come. Some have laid great emphasis on the limitation which John assigns to his baptism. It is said he thus anticipated the contrast afterwards expressed between it and the Spirit baptism of Jesus. This is. however, reserved for a later utterance. The baptism with water inaugurated the Messianic kingdom, prepared the people to receive the
If, then, Messiah were reasonably expected thus to create a fellowship of those, who, substituted this simple lustration for a cumbrous cycle of ceremonial purifications, John, as the "voice," the "herald," the "crier" in the wilderness, was justified in administering the rite.
I baptize with water, seeing that there
in the midst of
whom you know not
who is coming after me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to loose.
This standing in the very crowd before him of the Mightier than John, now being searched out as it were by the glances of the Baptist, and recognized by him as One over whom the heavens had opened, gave ample support to the Baptist in his baptismal functions. The One coming after John,
"after," because of John's chronological precedence in showing himself to Israel, is yet of such lofty rank and mighty power that John is not fit in his own opinion to be his humblest slave. This solemn assurance justifies to the Sanhedrin the preparatory rite. This closes the first great testimony. Before proceeding to the second, the evangelist supplies a geographical hint, which up to the present day has not been satisfactorily interpreted.
He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was
. The fact that John the Baptist, in the previous verses, recognizes the Messiah, and that in vers. 31-33 he declares that knowledge to have followed the baptism and the sign then given to him, makes it obvious that the baptism and the forty days of the temptation are now in the past. Every day is clearly marked from the day on which the deputation from the Sanhedrin approached him, till we find Jesus at Cana, on his way to Jerusalem. Consequently, the baptism of Christ, which was the occasion of the higher knowledge that John acquired concerning him, as well as the temptation, had been consummated. Of this last it would seem highly probable John had received, in subsequent conversation with the Lord, a full report. The Lord had passed through the fiery ordeal. He had accepted the position of the Servant of the Lord, who, in the way of privation, suffering, fierce antagonism from world, flesh, and devil, would win the crown of victory and prove himself to be the Life and Light of the world. This chronological hint appears to me to explain the sudden and surprising utterance of the next verse.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
On the following day.
Next after the day on which the Sanhedrin had heard from John the vindication of his own right to baptize in virtue of the commencement of the Messiah's ministry, which as yet was concealed from all eyes but his own.
seeth Jesus coming towards him,
within reach of observation (certainly not, as Ewald and others have imagined, to be baptized of him, for, as we have seen, the statements of ver. 33 exclude the possibility of such a purpose. The design of Jesus is not stated. The evangelist is here occupied with the testimony of the Baptist to Christ. Enough is said to provide the opportunity for the most wonderful and mysterious utterances of the forerunner. Behold (
in the singular, although several persons are addressed, is not unusual; see
the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
We should observe, from the later context, that already John had perceived by special signs and Divine inspiration that Jesus was the Son of God, and the veritable Baptizer with the Holy Ghost; that he was before him in dignity, honour, and by pre-existence, although his earthly ministry had been delayed until after John's preparatory work had been done. John had felt that the "confession of sins" made by the guilty multitude, by generations of vipers, was needful, rational, imperative upon
; but that in the case of Jesus this confession was not only superfluous, but a kind of contradiction in terms. The Lord over whom the heavens had opened, and to whom the heavenly name had been given, fulfilling all righteousness by submitting to the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins, was a profound perplexity to the Baptist. Strange was it that he who would have power to deal with the Holy Ghost even as John had been using water should have been called in any real sense to confess the sins of his own nature or life. John believed that Jesus was the Source of a fiery purity and purifying power, and that according to his own showing he had rejected all proposals which might bring Israel to his feet by assuming the
of their conquering Messiah. He had even treated these suggestions as temptations of the devil. Not to save his physical life from starvation would he use his miraculous energies for his own personal ends. Not to bring the whole Sanhedrin, priesthood, and temple guard, nay, even the Roman governor and court, to his feet, will he utter a word or wave a signal which they could misunderstand. His purpose was to identify himself, Son of God though he be, with the world - to "suffer all, that he might succour all." Because John knew that Jesus was so great he was brought to apprehend the veritable fact and central reality of the Lord's person and work. He saw by a Divine inspiration what Jesus was, and what he was about to do. The simple supposition that Jesus had made John the Baptist his confidant, on his return from the wilderness of temptation and victory, and that we owe the story of the temptation to the facts of Christ's experience which had been communicated to John, do more than any other supposition does to expound the standpoint of John's remarkable exclamation. A library of discussion and exposition has been produced by the words which John uttered on this occasion, and different writers have taken opposite views, which in their origin proceed from the same root. The early Greek interpreters were moving in a true direction when they looked to the celebrated oracle of
as the primary signification of the great phrase, "The Lamb of God." The image used to portray the suffering Sin-bearer is the "Lamb brought silently to the slaughter," "a Sheep dumb before his shearers." Doubtless the first implication of this comparison arose from the prophet's conception of the patience, gentleness, and submission of the sublime but suffering "Servant of God;" but the fourth, fifth, sixth, and twelfth verses of that chapter are so charged with the sin bearing of the great Victim, the vicarious and propitiatory virtue of his agony unto death, that we cannot separate the one from the other. He who is led as a Lamb to the slaughter bears our sins and suffers pain for us, is wounded on account of our transgressions: "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all... it pleased the Lord to bruise him," etc. The Servant of God is God's Lamb, appointed and consecrated for the highest work of sacrificial suffering and death. The LXX. has certainly used the verb
, to bear, where John uses
, to take away. Meyer suggests that in the idea of
the previous notion of
is involved and presupposed. The Hebrew formula,
, are variously translated by the LXX., but generally in the sense of bearing the consequences of personal guilt or the sin of another (
it is distinctly used of the priestly expiation for sin to be effected by Eleazar. Here and elsewhere
is translated in the LXX. by
, where God as the subject of the verb is described as lifting off sin from the transgressor and by bearing it himself - bearing it away. In several places the LXX. has gone further, translating the word, when God is the subject, by
, with the idea of forgiveness (
). Hence the Baptist, in using the word
, had doubtless in his mind the large connotation of the Hebrew word
with the fundamental
of the taking away, which the oracle of Isaiah had suggested to him. John knew that the taking away of
involved the twofold process:
the conference of a new spiritual life by the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit; and
such a removal of the consequences and shame and peril of sin as is involved by the bearing of
in his own Divine personality. Thus he not only perceived from the accompaniments of the baptism that Jesus was the Son of God and the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, but that, being these, his meek submission and his triumphant repudiation of the temptations of the devil which were based upon the fact of his Divine sonship proved that he was the Divine sin-bearing Lamb of Isaiah's oracle. Many commentators have, however, seen a special reference to the Paschal lamb, with which Christ's work was, without hesitation, compared in later years (
1 Corinthians 5:7
). There can be no doubt that the Passover lamb was a "sin offering" (Hengstenberg, 'Christ of the Old Testament,' vol. 4:351; Baur, 'Uber die Ursprung und Bedeutung des Passah-Fest,' quoted by Lucke, 1:404). It was God's sacrifice by pre-eminence, and the blood of the lamb was offered to God to make atonement, and it freed Israel from the curse that fell on the firstborn of Egypt. John, the son of a sacrificing priest, the Nazarite, the stern prophet of the wilderness, was familiar with all the ritual and the lessons of that solemn festival; and might look on the Son of God, selected for this sacrifice, as fulfilling in singular and unique fashion the function of the Passover Lamb for the whole world. But John would not be limited by the Paschal associations. Day by day lambs were presented before God as
offerings, as expressions of the desire of the offerers to accept absolutely the supreme will of God. Moreover, the lamb of the trespass offering was slain for atonement (
), either when physical defilement excluded the sufferer from temple worship, or when a Nazarite had lost the advantage of his vow by contact with the dead. Even the ceremonial of the great Day of Atonement, though other animal victims were used, suggested the same great thought of propitiatory suffering and death. These various forms of sacrificial worship must have been in the minds of
both Isaiah and John. They are the key to Isaiah's prophecy, and this in its turn is the basis of the cry of John.
The New Testament apostles and evangelists, whether accurate or not in their exegesis, did repeatedly take this oracle of Isaiah's as descriptive of the work of the Lord, and other early Christian writers treated the chapter as though it were a fragment of their contemporaneous evidence and exposition (
1 Peter 2:22-25
; Clement, '1 Ep. ad Cor.,' 16.). John was standing further back, and on an Old Testament platform, but we have, in his knowledge of Isaiah's prophecies, and his familiarity with the sacrificial system of which that oracle foreshadowed the fulfilment, quite enough to account for the burning words in which he condensed the meaning of the ancient sacrifices, and saw them all transcended in the suffering Son of God. The author of 'Ecce Homo,' by identifying the "Lamb of God" with the imagery of
, supposed that John saw, in the inward repose and spiritual joyfulness of Jesus, the power he would wield to take away the sin of the world. "He (John) was one of the dogs of the flock of Jehovah, Jesus was one of the Lambs of the good Shepherd." There is no hint whatever of these ideas in the psalm. This curiosity of exegesis has not secured any acceptance. Some difficulty has been felt in the fact that John should have made such progress in New Testament thought; but the experience through which John has passed during his contact with Jesus, the sentiment with which he found the Lord whom he sought coming to his baptism, the agony that he foresaw must follow the contact of such a One with the prejudices and sins of the people, above all, the mode in which our Lord was treating the current expectation of Messiah regarding its eagerly desired manifestations as temptations of the devil, flashed the whole of Isaiah's oracle into sudden splendour. He saw the Lamb already led to slaughter, and his blood upon the very door posts of every house; he saw him lifting, bearing, carrying away, the sin of the world, all impurity, transgression, and shame. His atoning sacrifice is already going on. The sins of mankind fall on the Holy One. He sees him pouring out his soul unto death, and making gentle intercession for his murderers; so in a glorious ecstasy he cries, "BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!" (see my 'John the Baptist,' ch. 6. § 2, pp. 369-386).
This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
This is he on behalf
whom I said, After me cometh a man
is used as a term of higher dignity than
, and is made more explicit by the positive appearance of the Holy One whom he had just recognized and pointed out to his disciples) who became before me - in human and other activities under the Old Testament covenant - because he was before me; in the deepest sense, having an eternal self-consciousness, a Divine pre-existence, apart from all his dealings and doings with man (see notes on vers. 15, 26, 27). If the shorter reading of vers. 26, 27 be correct, then the occasion on which this great utterance was first made is not described. If it be not expunged from vers. 26, 27, we may imagine that John is now referring to what he said on the previous day to the Sanhedrim. If internal reasons may help to decide a reading, I should be inclined, with Godet as against Meyer, to say that this is the obvious reference. Here, too, the
ὅτι πρῶτός μου η΅ν
is added as explanation of what was enigmatical in ver. 26. The whole saying has already found place in the prologue. The threefold citation reveals the profound impression which the words of the Baptist had made upon his most susceptible disciple.
And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
purpose of John's
own mission was to introduce to Israel the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost.
And I for my part knew him not.
This is thought by some to be incompatible with the statement of
, where the Baptist displayed sufficient knowledge of Jesus to have exclaimed, "I have need to be baptized of thee." Early commentators,
Ammonius, quoted in 'Catena Patrum,' suggested that John's long residence in the wilderness had prevented his knowing his kinsman; Chrysostom, 'Hom. 16. in Joannem,' urged that he was not familiar with his person; Epiphanius, 'Adv. Haer.,' 30, and Justin Martyr, 'Dial.,' 100, 88, refer to a long passage in the 'Gospel of the Ebionites,' which, notwithstanding numerous perversions, yet suggests a method of conciliation of the two narratives, that the sign of the opening heavens and the voice occasioned the consternation of John, and explains his deprecation of the act which he had already performed (see my 'John the Baptist,' pp. 313, 314; Nicholson, 'Gospel according to the Hebrews,' pp. 38-40). Neander has suggested the true explanation: "In contradistinction to that which John now saw in the Divine light, all his previous knowledge appeared to be a non-knowledge." John knew
, as his kinsman; he knew him as One mightier than himself - One whose coming, as compared with his own, was as the coming of the Lord. When Jesus approached him for baptism, John therefore knew quite enough to make him hesitate to baptize the Christ. He knew more than enough to induce him to say, "I have need to be baptized of thee." Godet imagines that, since baptism was preceded by confession, John found that the confession made by Jesus was of such a lofty, saintly, God-like type of repudiation of sin, as that John himself had never attained to. This representation fails from attributing to John the function of a sacerdotal confessor of later days, and is out of harmony altogether with the meaning and potency of our Lord's confession of the sin of the whole of that human nature which he had taken upon himself. The knowledge which John had of Jesus was as nothing to the blaze of light which burst upon him when he realized the idea that Jesus was the Son of God. The "I knew him not" of this verse was a subsequent reflection of the Baptist when the sublime humility, the dovelike sweetness, and the spiritual might of Jesus were revealed to him. A blind man who had received his sight during the hours of darkness might imagine, when he saw the reflected glory of the moon or morning star in the eye of dawn, that he knew the nature and had felt the glory of light; but amidst the splendours of sunrise or of noon he might justly say, "I knew it not" (compare the language of Paul,
, and of this same evangelist,
. See Archdeacon Farrar's 'Life of Christ,' vol. 1:117; my 'John the Baptist,' p. 315).
But that he should be manifested to Israel, for this cause I came baptizing in
. It was traditionally expected that Elijah should anoint Messiah. John perceives now the transitional nature of his own mission. His baptism retires into the background. He sees that its whole meaning was the introduction of Messiah, the manifestation of the Son of God to Israel. It may be said that the ministry of the wilderness, with the vast impression it produced, is represented by the synoptists as of more essential importance in itself. John's own judgment, however, here recorded, is the true key to the whole representation. The synoptic narrative shows very clearly that, as a matter of fact, the Johannine ministry culminated at the baptism of Jesus, and lost itself in the dawn of the great day which it inaugurated and heralded. The Fourth Gospel does but give the
of such an arrangement, and refer the origin of the idea to John himself. If John did not
the sense of sin which Messiah was to soothe and take away; if John did not, by baptism with water, excite a desire for an infinitely nobler and more precious baptism; if John did not prepare a way for One of vastly more moment to mankind and to the kingdom of God than himself, - his whole work was a failure. In that John saw his own relation to the Christ - he saw his own place in the dispensations of Providence.
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
Verses 32, 33.
And John bore testimony, saying, I have seen
the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it
abode upon him. And I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with
water, he said to me, Upon whomsoever thou mayest see the Holy Spirit descending, and abiding on him, this
is he that baptizeth with
the Holy Spirit.
The preparation by special teaching for a mysterious vision is the key to the vision itself, which John is here said to have described. There can be no reasonable doubt that the evangelist makes reference to the synoptic tradition of the baptism of Jesus by John, although it may suit some uncompromising opponents of the Fourth Gospel to say that the baptism is here omitted. The act of the rite is not
described; but the chief accompaniment and real meaning of the baptism is specially portrayed. All the well known cycles of criticism make their special assault on the narratives at this point. Rationalism finds in a thunderstorm and the casual flight of a pigeon what John magnified into a supernatural portent; Straussianism sees the growth of a legend from prepared sources of Hebrew tradition, and endeavours to aggravate into irreconcilable discrepancy the various accounts; Baur and Hilgenfeld accentuate the objectively supernatural portent, so as the more easily to put it into the region of ignorant superstition; others find the hint or sign of Gnostic handling; and Keim suggests that it is the poetic colouring which a later age unconsciously attributed to the Baptist and the Christ. Let it be noticed:
That the present Gospel does not augment, but diminishes, the miraculous element as compared with the synoptic narrative. The 'Gospel of the Hebrews ' added further embellishments still. Our Gospel compels us to believe that the
mind of the Baptist
was the chief region of the miracle.
The author of this Gospel might, if he had chosen, have selected his own experience on the Mount of Transfiguration in vindication of a Divine attestation of the Sonship; but he preferred to fall back upon the testimony of his revered master. Peter, James, and
for what they saw and heard on that occasion; and Peter knew not what he said, so great was the awful wonder that fell upon him then. Here, however, is recorded a vision for which the mind of the great forerunner
prepared. He expected to see the Spirit of God in some manner blend his energy with that of the individual who would prove to be the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost.
John does not discriminate the methods of the two communications, and from this narrative all that could be inferred positively is that the mind of John, by objective or subjective process, of which we know nothing, received the communication and the sacred impression.
The synoptic narrative,
, differs from this representation. At all events
Luke 3:21, 22
speaks of "opened heavens," "the Holy Spirit in bodily form as a dove," and a voice addressed to the Lord, "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." This account is taken by Strauss as the key to the other three, and he urges that they must all be interpreted in harmony with it. But from the time of Origen, the exegesis of
account no less emphatically states (
if with De Wette, Bleck, Baur, and Keim, we take
as the subject of
) that John
the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and coming upon (Christ) him, and that the voice was addressed to John, "This is my beloved Son," etc. In Mark's account the
are susceptible of the same interpretation. It should be observed that Luke's narrative clearly implies that our Lord's baptism took place at some unspecified opportunity, and simply gives the summing up of the impression produced upon the mind of John. It is more reasonable to interpret Luke in harmony with the main conception of Matthew and John than to press the latter into forced harmony with the former.
The great difficulty is the expression,
. But surely the prophetic mind was accustomed to dwell in the midst of similar visual shapes of spiritual things. There was
enough in the cherubim, olive trees, horses, armies, vials, and cities of the Apocalypse, and there were "voices" heard by Ezekiel, Hosea, Elijah, and by John himself which could be, were, and even must be, described in terms of physical facts, which no interpreters have ever felt compelled to transfer into the region of phenomena. There are still intensely vivid intuitions of spiritual fact which transcend all sensible or logical proof. If John saw and heard these things so far as his own consciousness was concerned, there is enough to account for every peculiarity of the narrative. He saw the Shechinah glory hovering over the Lord Jesus, officially consecrating a human personality. The dove
) form and motion taken by the heavenly light reminded him of the brooding of the Spirit of God upon the primaeval waters. He looked into the face of the Holy One of God - majesty and meekness, Divine glory, human gentleness, a sanctity as of the holy place, a freedom as of the birds of heaven, force like that of the steeds of the rising sun, inward peace like the calm of a brooding dove, transfigured the Lord. This dovelike splendour abode upon him,
passed into him
; and the voice (the invincible conviction, the resistless consciousness that often can find no other expression than "Thus saith the Lord") was heard, "This is my beloved Son," etc. We cannot say what John saw; we know what he said; and it covered the consciousness of the most stupendous reality yet enacted on the earth. That which John had been taught to predict as approaching was now seen to have actually come about, he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost has commenced his wondrous mission.
The whole question as to the relation of the Holy Spirit and the Logos - the relation between the statement of ver. 13 and vers. 31-33 - demands special consideration. A few words here may suffice. Baur, Eichhorn, and others have urged that either the
are identical, and that that which John means (vers. 1-14) by the
he afterwards resolves into the
, or that this scene and these words are incompatible with the prologue. It is true that Philo and Justin ('Apol.,' 1:33) do use the two terms as practically identical. But John has recorded our Lord's own words as to the antithesis of the
(ch. 3.), declaring in his prologue that the Logos is the Source of all the life and light of men, and that the Logos came into the world and became flesh. Now, if John did not abide firmly in this thought, he would have represented incarnate God as undergoing the process of regeneration at his baptism, than which nothing would be more abhorrent to his entire theory of the Christ. The relations of the Logos and the Pneuma to each other and to the Father, metaphysically considered, are profoundly intricate, but the relations of Father, Word, and Holy Spirit to the Person of the Lord Jesus have been several times asserted by the apostles, and cannot be interchanged (see my 'John the Baptist,' lect. 5; Lucke, 'Comm. uber d. Evang. Joh.,' vol. 1. pp. 433-443)
And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
I for my part have seen and have borne testimony that this is the Son of God
. The Old Testament standpoint which John occupied enabled him from the first to identify the Messiah with the "Son of God;" but surely this is the record of the first occasion when the Baptist recognized the token that One who sustained such relation with the Father stood before him. There is much in this Gospel and the synoptic narrative to show that the disciples (
Matthew 16:16, 17
) identified the Christ with the Son of God. The tempter and the demoniacs are familiar with the idea (
). The high priest at the trial and the Roman centurion (
), Nathanael (
), Martha (
), hail him as Son of God. Though the Lord for the most part preferred to speak of himself as "Son of man," yet in this Gospel (
) he frequently claims this lofty designation. Nor is it confined to this Gospel, for in
, we have practically the same confession. Now, the declaration of this verse is in intimate connection with what precedes. Neither the Baptist nor the evangelist implies that, by Christ's baptism, and by that which John saw of the descent and abiding of the Spirit upon the Lord, he was there and then constituted "the Son of God." From this misapprehension of the Gospel arose the Gnostic-Ebionite view of the heavenly
descending on Christ, to depart from him at the Crucifixion. The main significance of the entire paragraph is the special revelation given to John, his consequent illumination and momentous testimony, one that sank into the soul of his most susceptible disciples, and thus made this declaration the "
true birth hour of Christendom"
(Ewald, Meyer). The narrative does not imply that Christ's own consciousness of Divine sonship then commenced. He knew who he was when he spoke, at twelve years of age, of "the business of my Father;" but it would be equally inadequate exegesis to suppose that no communication was then made to the sacred humanity which had been fashioned by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, and by which he became from the first "the Son of God." The Lord's humanity did become alive to the solemn and awful responsibilities of this public recognition. He knew that the hour was come for his Messianic activity, and the distinct admission of this was the basis of each of the diabolic temptations from which he immediately suffered. There was a unique glory in this sonship which differed from all other usage of the same phrase. Many an Oriental mystic and Egyptian pharaoh and even Roman emperor had thus described themselves; but the Baptist did not speak of himself in this or any other sense as "Son of God." There was flashed into his mind the light of a Divine relationship between Jesus and the Father which convinced him of the preexisting life of him who was chronologically coming after him. It was probably this momentous utterance which led to the deputation of the Sanhedrin, and induced them to ask for the explanation of a mystery transcending all that John had said from the day of his showing unto Israel" (see my 'John the Baptist,' lect. 6. § 1). Many commentators here encounter the unquestionable difficulty of John the Baptist's message from the prison. I prefer to discuss it at the close of ch. 3. (see my 'John the Baptist,' lect. 7: "The Ministry of the Prison"). Here it is sufficient to observe that the vivid intuition and revelation which John obtained touching the deep things of God in Christ, and the vast and far-reaching testimonies which he bore to the Son of God, to the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, the pre-existent glory of him that came after him, and to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," were, nevertheless, in
the evangelist's mind historically coincident
with the fact that John never did unite himself to the circle of Christ's immediate followers. The "John" of the Fourth Gospel remained in an independent position - friendly, rejoicing in the Bridegroom's voice, but not one of his followers. The preparatory work with which he began his ministry he continued and pursued to the tragic end.
Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
The first disciples, and their testimony.
John directs his own disciples to Jesus.
On the morrow, again John was standing, and two from his disciples;
implying that there were many others within hearing of his voice, or, at least, under his influence. The imperfect tense of the verb
suggests the idea that he was waiting for some fresh announcement, some providential event, to determine his course. The "again" refers back to ver. 29. Much must be read between the lines as to these disciples, their excited interest in the words already uttered by their master.
And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
And steadfastly regarding
Mark 10:21, 27
) - with eager and penetrating glance, as though something might be learned from his slightest movements -
Jesus as he walked
; "walked," not towards John, as on the previous day, but in some opposite direction. This implies that their relative functions were not identical, and not to be confounded. This is the last time when the Baptist and the Christ were together, and the sublime meekness of John, and his surrender of all primary claims to deference, throw light on the unspeakable and gentle dignity of Jesus.
He saith, Behold the Lamb of God.
The simple phrase, without further exposition, implies that he was recalling to their minds the mighty appellation which he had bestowed upon the Saviour on the previous day, with all the additional interpretation of the term with which it had then been accompanied. The brevity of the cry here marks the emphasis which it bore, and the rich associations it already conveyed. The testimony to the method by which John had, at least in part, arrived at the conclusion is very remarkable. Jesus would not have fulfilled in John's mind the prophetic oracle of the Divine Lamb, or the sacrificial offering for the sin of the world, if steps had not been taken to convince John that he was the veritable Son of God. No mere human nature, but only that humanity which was an incarnation of the Eternal Logos, and filled with the abiding of the Holy Spirit, could be God's Lamb. Cf. here the remarkable fact that it was when the disciples had learned more clearly and grasped more firmly the idea of his Divine sonship that the Lord repeatedly proceeded to explain to them the approach of his sacrificial sufferings and death. As Son of God, he must die for man (
Luke 9:22, 43, 44
And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed
- became followers of -
. This event, if not profoundly symbolic (as Godet says), is typical of the whole process which has gone on in augmenting rapidity from that day to this. If Jesus were what John said, if they were able on his showing to grasp this much concerning the Lord, they would find in him what John could never be to them. John might awaken the sense of sin, peril, shame, and fear; he had no power to allay it. The lonely Christ has as yet not called one disciple into his fellowship, but as Lamb of God he has power to draw all men to himself. The word now spoken was enough. It divided the bond which up to this time had united the disciples to John, and made them conspicuous forever in the group which "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." "Primae origines ecclcsiae Christianae" (Bengel).
Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
Then Jesus turned
- hearing their footfall, he welcomed their sincere approach, attentive as he ever was to the faintest indication of genuine faith and desire for his best gifts -
and beheld them following
is used of intense gaze at that which is august and wonderful, vers. 14, 32;
1 John 1:1
; but used also of special and interested contemplation,
and he saith to them, What seek ye?
The first words of Jesus, as recorded in this Gospel, reveal the incarnate Logos, anointed of the Holy Spirit, beginning to search the heart and anticipate the unuttered questions of humanity. He assumes their desire for that which he alone can supply. They, on seeing their Christ, the Son of God, all humanly before them, do not fall at his feet, but approach him as a human teacher, and give him the ordinary honorific title of a wise, competent instructor.
They said unto him, Rabbi
which is, being interpreted, Teacher
). The parenthetic clause reveals the fact that the Gospel was written for Gentile readers. The title "Rabbi" was a modern one, only dating from the days of Hillel, about
, and therefore needing interpretation.
Where abidest thou?
Renan founds on this phrase "Rabbi" the supposition that, when John and Jesus meet, they are
surrounded by groups of followers. The narrative is written to convey a precisely opposite conception. Christ did not refuse this "courtesy title" (
), and we can gather nothing else from the narrative. The question itself reveals the mind of the evangelist. In the opinion of all writers (favourable and hostile), the writer, according to a deliberate method adopted by him, wished to imply that he was one of the two disciples who first left the Baptist to attach themselves to Jesus. The very form of the question adds to the probability. It is a characteristic longing of the disciple, whom Jesus loved so well, to be near and with his Master. He craved no laconic phrase, no solitary word, but some more prolonged fellowship, some undisturbed communion and instruction. The varied emotions of that day, moreover, were conspicuously reproduced in the solemn title which the son of Zebedee most persistently applied to his glorified Lord in the Apocalypse. More than thirty times he refers to him as "the Lamb."
He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
He saith to them, Come, and ye shall see
. "A parable of the message of faith" (Westcott). Some have compared the expression with
ἔρου καὶ βλέπε
, thrice repeated (T.R.) in
; but it is unnecessary to do so. Faith precedes revelation as well as follows it.
They came, and saw where he was abiding.
We cannot say where; it may have been some cave in the rocks, some humble shelter amid the hills, some chamber in a caravanserai; for he had not where to lay his head. He called no place his home.
And they abode with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
The extreme difficulty of reconciling John's statement as to the time of the Crucifixion with that of Mark (see note on John 19:14) has led very able critics, like Townson, McLellan, Westcott, to argue that all John's notices of time are compatible with his having adopted the Roman method of measuring,
from midnight to noon, and from noon to midnight. On that hypothesis the "tenth hour" would be ten a.m., and the two disciples would have remained with our Lord throughout the day. This is not necessarily involved by our present context, and we are not sure that a like supposition will free us from all difficulty in
. Meyer says that "the
reckoning is involved necessarily in
; and in
John 4:6, 52
it is not excluded." The ordinary New Testament measurement would make the hour four p.m., and on that understanding several hours might still be open for the sacred fellowship. The personal witness shows himself by this delicate hint of exact time, this special note of remembrance concerning the most critical epoch of his life.
One of the two which heard John
, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
The naming and convictions of the disciples.
One of the two who heard from John
that Jesus was the Son of God and the Lamb of God, and who, on that astounding intelligence, and at their teacher's own suggestion,
(became henceforth followers of,
him, was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter
(notice a similar construction at
, where a clause commences with the copula). The other disciple, with the studied reticence ever preserved about his own designation, is left unnamed by the writer. "Simon Peter" is here spoken of as the better-known man. The bestowment of this designation on Andrew shows that the Gospel was written when Peter's greater name was widely recognized, and the reference is made without the faintest touch of depreciation. Simon Peter's reputation gives force and importance to the record of Andrew's faith. The evangelist's intimate friend Andrew is thus lifted out of his comparative obscurity among the apostolate, not by his association with John, but by his relationship with Simon.
He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
findeth his own brother Simon.
Dr. Plummer here observes, "In Church history St. Peter is everything, and St. Andrew nothing: but would there have been an Apostle Peter but for Andrew?" Hengstenberg, De Wette, and others have explained the curious word "first," as though both the unnamed disciple and Andrew had gone together to search out Simon, and that Andrew had been the first of the two to be successful. This would leave the
less satisfactorily accounted for than the simple supposition that each of the disciples started in different directions to find "his own" brother, and that Andrew was more fortunate than his companion. The two pairs of brothers are frequently mentioned as being together. James and John, Andrew and Simon, are partners on the lake of Galilee in their fishing business, and are finally called into full discipleship and apostolate after the visit to Jerusalem (see
Mark 1:19, 11
). The four are specially mentioned as being together (
), so that it is not unreasonable to suggest that when Andrew first sought "his own" brother Simon, John also sought for "his own" brother James. It is worthy of note that the evangelist never mentions his own name, nor that of James, nor that of their mother Salome, although he does imply their presence. Andrew
saith to him
We have found the Messias
- the article is omitted, as
is merely the translation of" Messiah" - (
, adds the evangelist,
is, being interpreted, Christ
). Andrew is described on two additional occasions as bringing others to Jesus (
). Here the rapidity and depth of his convictions are noted. The writer's own impression is implied rather than given. He hides his own faith under the bolder and more explicit utterance of his friend. This was the result upon the mind of two disciples of the first conference with Jesus. Marvellous enough that such a thought should have possessed them, however imperfect their ideas were as yet concerning the Christ! The
implies that they had long been waiting for the Consolation of Israel, looking for his coming, seeking his appearing. "We have sought," they say, "and we have found." A more wonderful
than that of Archimedes. The plural does not necessitate the presence of John, though it does suggest the agreement of Andrew and his friend in the same august conclusion. What sense of Divine things must have come from the words and looks of Jesus! He who produced such impression on the Baptist as that which the four evangelists report, had done even more with the susceptible spirits of his two disciples. The Baptist never actually called Jesus "the Christ." But when he had testified to the pre-existing glory, the heavenly origin, the sublime functions of the great
, and by special revelation on his forewarned spirit had declared that he was the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost and fire: what must not the inference be when his two disciples came into yet closer and more intimate relations with Jesus? The Jewish idea of "Messiah" (
, only occurring here and
), equivalent to
, Aramaized form, the
(Kautzsch, 'Gram. des Bib. Aram.,' p. 10), was the term used among all classes to denote One who should, as anointed by God, fulfil the functions of Prophet, Priest and King, who should realize the splendid visions of the ancient prophecies, and combine in himself a wonderful exhibition of Divine majesty and even of awful suffering. We see that the Baptist understood what was meant by the title, but denied its applicability to himself. The Samaritans believe in a coming Prophet and Saviour (
John 4:25, 29
). The people believe that Messiah will work miracles, that he will be born in Bethlehem, that he will abide forever, that he would prove to be the Son of God. The King Messiah is a pre-existing power and presence in their past history. He will come in the clouds, and reign forever and ever (see
John 7:26, 31
and John 7:42; John 12:34). According to Wünsche ('Neue Beitrage zurerlauterung der Ev., aus Talmud und Midrasch,' pp. 499, 500), the Talmud ('Pesachim,' 54, and 'Nedavim,' 39) declares that Messias, or his Name, was one of the seven things created before the world; and Midrasch ('Schemoth,' par. 19) on
declares that the King Messias was the Firstborn of God. The more spiritual ideas of John the Baptist have prepared the two disciples to see, even in the travel-stained, lowly Man, "the Messiah." Of course, their idea of Messiah and their idea of Jesus would suffer wonderful development, and be harmonized and blended into a sublime unity by later instructions; but they had made this great discovery, and hastened to impart it.
And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
(the past tense)
him to Jesus
; as one entirely sympathetic and as eagerly longing for the Christ, for the Lamb of God, for the King of Israel. Seeing that Simon was found so soon - most probably on the evening of the memorable day - we gather that Simon also must have been among the hearers of John. He too must have left his fishing to listen to the Baptist. The entire group must have been drawn away from their ordinary avocations by the trumpet call of the preacher in the wilderness.
- intently, with penetrating glance -
upon him, and said, Thou art Simon, the Son of
- that is the name by which thou hast been introduced to me; a time is coming for thee to receive a new name -
Thou shalt be called
which is interpreted, Peter
). It is perfectly gratuitous of Baur and Hilgenfeld to imagine this to be a fictitious adaptation of the great scene recorded in
. The solemn assertions made there proceed upon the assumption of the previous conference of the
"Peter." There the Lord said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock," etc. On this earlier occasion Jesus said, "Thou art Simon, thou shalt be called
." The assumption of the Tubingen critics, that a desire to lower Peter from his primacy is conspicuous in this passage, cannot be sustained. Though Andrew and John precede Peter in their earliest relations with Jesus, yet Peter is undoubtedly the most conspicuous character, to whom the Lord from the first gives an honourable cognomen (cf. also
and John 21:15, etc.). (Compare here, for historic changes of name,
.) Weiss ('Life of Christ,' Eng. trans., 1:370) says admirably, "There is no ground for assuming that this is an anticipation of
. Simon was not to bear this name until he was deserving of it. Jesus never called him anything but Simon (
). Paul calls him by the names Peter and Cephas.... The evangelist is right when he beholds in this scene a more than human acumen. ... The history shows he was not deceived in Peter." This narrative cannot be a Johannine setting forth of the first call of the four disciples as given in the synoptists. If it be, it is a fictitious modification. Place, occasion, and immediate result are all profoundly different. The one narrative cannot be twisted into the other. Are the anti-harmonists correct in saying that they are irreconcilable? Certainly not. There is no indication that before John was cast into prison, before Jesus commenced his public ministry in Galilee, he had called disciples away from their ordinary duties to be his apostles. Some of these four may have returned, as Jesus himself did, to his family and domestic surroundings (
). John may have accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem and through Samaria. But there is much to make it probable that Simon, Andrew, and at least, were, during the whole of that period, on the lake pondering the future. Christ's solemn, sudden call to them to become "fishers of men," after a manifestation to them of his supernatural powers, presupposes rather than excludes this earlier interview. Simon, on that occasion, by the exclamation recorded (
), reveals an earlier acquaintance with and reverence for his
(see an admirable vindication of this position in Weiss, 'Life of Jesus,' vol. 1.). The Lord, in this first interview, penetrates and denominates the character of the most illustrious of his followers. His rocklike fortitude, which, though sorely assailed and chafed by the storms of the great sea of opinion and prejudice, formed the central nucleus of that Church against which the gates of hell have not prevailed. Our Lord implied the strength of his nature, even when he predicted his great fall (
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
Verses 43, 44.
On the morrow
on the fourth day after the deputation from the Sanhedrin -
- or was minded -
to go forth into Galilee
, to commence his homeward journey. Whether this implies an actual beginning of his route, or suggests, before any step was taken in that direction, that the following incidents occurred, cannot be determined, though commentators take opposite sides, as though something important depended upon it. The former supposition is, however, in keeping with the considerable distance, on any hypothesis of the site of Bethany, between it and Cana.
(the Lord himself "finds;" the two earliest disciples had sought and found him)
; very probably on the route from the scene of John's baptism to the Bethsaida on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee.
And Jesus saith to him, Follow me;
become one of my
. The arguments, the reasons, which weighed with him are not given at first, but we find that he soon learned the same great lesson as that which the other disciples had acquired, and he clothes them in memorable words.
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.
This is a remark of the evangelist, who did not consider it necessary to say from what city or neighbourhood he had himself issued. This town has utterly perished (
), although some travellers (Robinson, 3:359; Wilson and Warren) believe that indications were found north of
, and others have identified it with
Some writers ('Picturesque Palestine,' vol. 2:74, 81, etc.) discover it in
, where some remains of a fountain reservoir and other buildings are found. It was identified by Thomson with
, on the west of the entrance of Jordan into the lake. The two pairs of brothers must have been familiar with Philip. Some interesting hints of character are attainable from
, in which an incident occurs where Philip revealed a practical wisdom and confident purpose, and again in
John 12:21, 22
, where Andrew and Philip are made the confidants of the Greeks, and Philip is the one who seems able and willing to introduce them to Jesus. In
Philip uttered one of the great longings of the human heart - a passionate desire to solve all mysteries, by the vision of the Father; but he lets out the fact that be had not seen all that he might have seen and known in Jesus himself. Subsequent history shows that Philip was one of the "great lights of Asia," and was held in the highest esteem (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3:31). He must not be confounded with Philip the evangelist, whose daughters prophesied (
Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Further convictions of the disciples.
The theme of the Old Testament.
Philip findeth Nathanael.
He has no sooner accepted the Lord who found him, than he is eager to communicate the Divine secret to others. It seems widely accepted, though without any positive proof, that this Nathanael was identical with the Bartholomew (Bar Tolmai, son of Ptolemy) of the four lists of apostles, on the following grounds:
Nathanael once more appears among the innermost circle of the apostles, and is moreover mentioned there in company with Thomas. In the synoptic Gospels Bartholomew is associated also with Philip, although in Acts, Luke ranks him with Matthew.
It is probable that Nathanael was one of the twelve, and, this being so, it is more probable that he should have been identical with Bartholomew than with any other, he is distinguished from Thomas and the two sons of Zebedee in
, and the whole circumstance of his call suggests no resemblance to that of Matthew.
His well known name is only that of a patronymic, and suggests the existence of another and a personal name. This identification cannot be proved, but there is no other that is more probable. Nathanael (
), as a name in Hebrew, is identical with Theodorus, "God is giver" (
1 Chronicles 2:14
; see also 1 Esdras 1:9 1 Esdras 9:22). Thoma ('Die Genesis des Johannes-Evangeliums,' p. 409, etc.) endeavours to identify Nathanael with Matthew, and to institute a series of ingenious comparisons between the synoptic "Matthew and Zacchaeus" and this Israelite without guile, and to compare the marriage feast at Nathanael's "Cana" with the feast in Matthew's, or Levi's, house. The subtle fancy and dramatic moral which he attributes to every clause of the narrative render the authorship a greater puzzle than ever. Philip
saith unto him, We have found
- we, the group of friends already illumined with the sublime hope -
him of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, wrote.
This reveals the characteristics of the conversation which had passed between the Lord and the favoured three. It corresponds with what occurred on the way to Emmaus. The Lord rested upon the germinant ideas, and prophetic hopes, suggestive types, and positive predictions of the Old Testament, and met, while he refined and elevated, the current expectations of his time. There was to be no break with the old covenant, except by fulfilling it, establishing its reality and its vast place in the revelation of the supreme will of God. The question naturally arises, "Well, but who is he? what is his name? whither has he come? whence does he hail?" The continuation of the sentence is obviously not in apposition with the
, but the direct object of
We have found Jesus
Son of Joseph of Nazareth
. This is the simple utterance of a matter of fact - a current piece of intelligence now circulating in the group of the earliest disciples. The idea of his being Joseph's Son was widely diffused; the fact that the Lord spent the first thirty years of his human life in Nazareth, was a commonplace of the synoptic story. The argument of the Tubingen and Straussian criticism, that the fourth evangelist was ignorant of Christ's Birth from above, is contradicted by the prologue, with all the assertions of the Lord's pre-existence, and especially by ver. 14 with
, and 13. That he was ignorant of the birth in Bethlehem, with the numberless proofs of his knowledge of Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, is absurd. The language put into Philip's lips does not exhaust the knowledge of the evangelist on this subject (cf.
And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
The Son of God and King of Israel.
And Nathanael said to him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?
The ordinary interpretations of the meaning of this question are not satisfactory.
The prejudice against Nazareth as being a Galilean town cannot have weighed with Nathanael of Cana in Galilee (
), even though he may have shared the ignorant opinion that "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (
). He might have known that Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, probably Elijah, Elisha, and Amos, were Galileans.
That Nazareth was a secluded and contemptible village seems disproved by the interesting papers of Dr. Selah Merrill, on "Galilee in the Time of our Lord,"
Amer. Bibl. Sacra.
, January and April, 1874.
That the character of its people should have been jealous, turbulent, capricious, and led to our Lord's subsequent preference for Capernaum, does not explain the force of the inquiry. The "good thing" may, however, be the contrast between the unimportance of the place in the political or religious history of the people, as compared with Jerusalem, Tiberias, Jericho, Bethlehem. It is never mentioned in the Old Testament or in Josephus. Nathanael may have known its mediocrity, and have been startled by the possibility of a carpenter's son, in a spot utterly undistinguished, being the Messiah of whom their sacred writers spoke. "Despised Nazareth" is a phrase rather due to the splendour of the flower that grew upon its barren soil, and became contrasted afterwards with the unlooked for glory and claims of the Nazarene.
Philip saith unto him, Come and see
. This was his strongest argument. To look upon him is to believe. He had much more to learn in after days (
John 14:8, 9
). At this moment he and Nathanael stood on ground consecrated by ancient history, and thrilling with the thunder peals of the Baptist, mazed and wistful from much longing, thinking of the union between heaven and earth which had been revealed in the experience of ancient prophets, dwelling on the careers of Israel, Moses, and Elijah in their rapt transports, musing under fig trees or the like, and longing for the great King. He may naturally have reasoned on this wise: "Can it be true that the Christ, the King of Israel, the Lord of the temple, the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, is indistinguishable from the rest of mankind in this very crowd? Would that I too might see in him, as John has done, some vision of the opened heaven, that I too might hear some unmistakable voice!" If these were the musings of Nathanael - and surely there is not a trace of unreason in such meditations in the breast of a disciple of the Baptist - the conversation which follows is more easy to understand.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him
- for Nathanael at once obeyed the summons of Philip -
and saith of him
- saith in the hearing of the unnamed disciple, who could not leave his Master's side. There are numerous indications in ch. 1 and 2 of a qualification of Jesus which, in
, is described as knowing what was in man. He read the thought and character of Simon and Philip, of Nathanael, and of his mother; and here he makes use of his Divine prerogative and, as on a multitude of other occasions, penetrated the surface to the inner motive and heart.
Behold, an Israelite indeed;
one who fulfils the true idea of Israel, a prince with God, a conqueror of God by prayer, and conqueror of man by submission, penitence, and restitution; one who has renounced the spirit of supplanter and taken that of penitent. "Confident in self-despair," he has relinquished his own strength, and lays hold of the strength of God, and is at peace.
In whom is no guile;
no self-deception, and no disposition to deceive others. The (
Psalm 32:1, 2
) description of the blessedness of "the man whose transgressions are forgiven,... and in whose spirit [LXX., 'mouth'] there is no guile (
)," is the finest key to the significance of this passage. Christ does not say that this man is
, but guileless - free and full in his confession, knowing himself, and sheltering himself under no devices or seeming shows. The publican (it has been well said) was without guile when he cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" The Pharisee was steeped in self-deception and guile when he said, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men." Sincerity, openness of eye, simplicity of speech, no wish to appear other than what he is before God and man, affirms his guilelessness. Alas! the so called Israelite has widely departed from the fundamental idea of such a character, though not more so than Christians have become unlike the ideal disciples of Jesus.
Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?
Without any title of respect, or admission as yet of any claims or right in him of whom Philip had spoken. There is, in this query, an abruptness of blunt sincerity which to some extent justifies the eulogium upon his innermost life.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee
- irrespective altogether of the excitement he has stirred within thee -
when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee
. "The fig tree" was the type of the Israelite home (
1 Kings 4:25
). There, not in the corners of the street, was he accustomed to meditate and pray. The
clause is in apposition with
, and (though another translation is grammatical) suggests that Christ saw him under conditions which had nothing whatever to do with those under which Philip called him.
is used for the most part of simple
, and need not necessarily connote miraculous penetration and recognition of all that was passing in his mind. And yet the obvious intention of the evangelist is to convey more than casual observation. As Weiss says, "What is mentioned is not one isolated glance into the depths of the soul, but past events, along with their outward circumstances, are known to Jesus." "I saw thee" - I have not been ignorant of thee; I watched and thought of thee. The astonishing effect produced by this saying of the Lord has been variously conceived. Some have surmised preternatural optical powers exercised from a distance; others a simple observation without comment at the time when our Lord watched him in one of the places of retirement sacred to solemn meditations and instructions. It seems to me that the occasion to which our Lord referred must have been one of extreme spiritual interest and memorableness to Nathanael; some hour had passed of commanding influence upon his mind - one of those periods of visitation from the living God, when lives are recommenced, when an old world passes away and a new one has been made, of which the lips have never spoken, and which are among the deepest secrets of the soul. It was the conviction that his secret meditation had been surprised, that the unknown Stranger had fathomed the depth of his consciousness, which wrought and wrung the great confession of which we have here a crisp outline.
I saw thee
; and by this implication I can sympathize in all thy longings, [It is interesting to remember that Rabbi Akiba is described as studying the Law under a fig tree; and Augustine heard the voice which ruled his subsequent life "under a fig tree" ('Conf.,' 8:12, 28); and Buddha's most wonderful convictions and resolves occurred under the bo tree.]
Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
was overcome by irresistible conviction that here was the Searcher of hearts, One gifted with strange powers of sympathy, and with right to claim obedience.
- now for the first time with the title of
, or teacher -
Thou art the Son of God.
Nothing is more obvious than that this is the reflection of the testimony of the Baptist. "The Son of God," not "
Son of God," or "a Man of God," but the Personage whose rank and glory my master John had recognized. He may have doubted before whether the Baptist had not gone wild with hallucination, and could have meant what he said. Now the reality has flashed upon his mind from the glance of the Saviour's eye and the tones of his voice (see notes on ver. 34). The great term could not have meant to him what it does now to the Church. Still the truth involved in his words is of priceless significance. Luthardt says, "Nathanael's faith will never possess
than it embraces at this moment." Godet adds, "The gold seeker puts his hand on an ingot; when he has coined it, he has it better, but not more." The idea of the Divine sonship comes from the Old Testament prophecy, has its root in
and 72, and in all the strange wonderful literature which recognized in the ideal King upon Zion and upon David's throne One who forevermore has stood and will stand in personal relations with the Father. The Divine sonship is the basis on which Nathanael rears his further faith that he is
King of Israel.
He is Messiah-King, because he is "Son of God." The true Israelite recognizes his King (cf.
). We are not bound to believe that Nathanael saw all that Peter subsequently confessed to be the unanimous conviction of the twelve (
); but the various symphonies of this great confession encompass the Lord from his cradle to the cross. The synoptic narrative is as expressive and convincing as the Johannine.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
Verses 50, 51.
The Son of man, the link between heaven and earth.
Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said unto thee, that I saw thee underneath the fig tree, thou believest.
There is no need to transform this into a question, as though Jesus smiled a gentle reproof upon the rapidity with which Nathanael espoused his cause (cf.
). The Lord, on the contrary, congratulates him upon the sincerity with which he had at once admitted claims which had never been more explicitly expressed. Thou hast believed because I have made thee feel that I have sounded the depths of thy heart, by means which pass understanding. There are profounder abysses than the human heart. There are powers at my disposal calculated to create a more tender and inspiring faith, one which shall carry thee into other worlds as well as through this.
Thou shalt see greater things than these
. There shall be vouchsafed a fuller, clearer revelation of what I am, which shall pour new and deeper meaning into the confession thou hast made. Hitherto the Lord was speaking to the one man; but now he says what would be applicable, not only to Nathanael, but to all who had found him, and accepted that outline of his functions and claims which had formed the substance of the latest teaching of John the Baptist.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you.
occurs twenty-five times in John's Gospel, and is in this form peculiar to the Gospel, although in its single form it occurs fifty times in the three synoptists. The word is, strictly speaking, an adjective, meaning "firm," "trustworthy," corresponding with the substantive
, truth, and
, confidence, the covenant (
). The repetition of the word in an adverbial sense is found in
"Amen" is the name given to the Faithful Witness. The repetition of the word involves a powerful asseveration, made to overcome a rising doubt and meet a possible objection. The "I say unto you" takes, on the lips of Jesus, the place which "Thus saith the Lord" occupied on those of the ancient prophets. He speaks in the fulness of conscious authority, with the certain knowledge that he is therein making Divine revelation. He knows that he saith true; his word is truth.
Verily, verily, I say unto you,
ye shall see the heaven that has been opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Notwithstanding the formidable superficial difficulty in the common reading, which declares that from the moment when the Lord spake, Nathanael should see what there is no other record that he ever literally saw; yet a deeper pondering of the passage shows the sublime spiritual sense in which those disciples who fully realized that they had been brought into blessed relationship with the "Son of man," saw also - that heaven, the abode of blessedness and righteousness, the throne of God, had been opened behind him and around him. The dream of Jacob is manifestly referred to - the union between heaven and earth, between God and man, which dawned like a vision of a better time upon the old patriarchal life. That which was the dream of a troubled night may now be the constant experience of the disciples of the Lord. The ascension of the angelic ministers is here said to precede their descent. This is due to the original form of the dream of Jacob, but must be supplemented by the Lord's own statement (
), "No one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven." The free access to the heart of the Father, and to the centre of all authority in heaven and earth, is due only to those who have come already thence, who belong to him, "who go and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning." They ascend with the desires of the Son of man; they descend with all the faculty needed for the fulfilment of those desires. He, "the Son of man," is now on earth to commence his ministry of reconciliation, and is thus now equipped with all the powers needed for its realization. The same truth is taught by our Lord, when he said (cf. notes on John 3:13) that "the Son of man is in heaven," even when he walked the earth. The angelic ministry attendant upon our Lord is so inconspicuous that it does not fulfil the notable description of this verse, nor fill out its suggestions. The miraculous energies, the Divine revelations, the consummate heavenliness of his life, the power which his personality supplied to see and believe in heaven - in heaven opened, heaven near, heaven accessible, heaven propitious, heaven lavish of love - answers to the meaning of the mighty words. Thoma ('Die Genesis des Johannes-Evan.') sees the Johannine interpretation of the angels who ministered to Jesus after the conclusion of his temptation. But why does he call himself "the Son of man," in sharp response to, or in comment, on, the ascription by John the Baptist and Nathanael of the greater title "Son of God" (see
The phrase is one that our Lord currently used for himself, as especially descriptive of his position. It has been said that its origin must be looked for in the prophecies of Daniel (
), where angelic powers are seen in loving lowly attendance on "one like to the Son of man," one whose human-hearted force contrasts with the "beast forces," the uncouth, sphynx-like blending of animal faculties which characterizes all the kingdoms and dynasties which the empire of the one like the Son of man would supersede. The term, "Son of man," is used repeatedly by Ezekiel for humanity set over against the Divine voice and power. There it corresponds with the Aramaic "Bar-Enosh," Son of man - a simple paraphrasis for "man" in his weakness, and often in his depression and sin. The 'Book of Henoch,' in numerous places, identifies "Son of man" with the Messiah (ch. 46. and 48.), but it cannot be clearly proved that the term was
current for the Messiah. Christ seems, in one place, to discriminate the two terms in popular expectation (
Matthew 16:13, 16
); and in
he discriminates his earthly ministry as that of Son of man, from the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, though the dispensation of his human life, and of his eternal Spirit, constitute that of the one Christ.
Another very remarkable fact is that, though Jesus calls himself "the Son of man" no fewer than seventy times, the apostles never attribute the favourite expression to him. The only instances of its use by other than the Lord himself, is by the dying Stephen, who thus describes his power and exalted majesty (
), and John in the Apocalypse, who says the vision of the Lord was of one like unto the Son of man - a phrase clearly built upon the passage in
The Saviour did not throughout the Gospel of John proclaim himself openly to the people as the Christ, avoiding a term which was so miserably degraded from his own conception of it; but he used a multitude of expressions to denote the spiritual force and significance of the Messianic dignity. Thus he described himself" as he that came down from heaven;" as the "Bread of heaven;" as the "Light of the world;" as "the good Shepherd; .... I am
;" "that which I said from the beginning," etc.; and therefore, when he adopted the phrase, "the Son of man," he attributed to it very special powers and dignities. The word seems to involve the Man, the perfect Man, the ideal Man, the second Adam, the supreme Flower engrafted on the barren stock of humanity, the Representative of the whole of humankind. Chronologically, this must have been the primary revelation. Through humanity that was archetypal and perfect, answering God's idea of man, the thought of the race has risen to a conception of Divine sonship. But metaphysically, logically, he could only fulfil the functions of Son of man, of
, because he was essentially the Son of God.
The dominant thought of the term has fluctuated between that which connotes his earthly ministry and humiliation, and lays stress on the privations and sufferings of the Son of man, and that which recites his highest claim to reverence and homage. Seeing that he claims to be the link between heaven and earth, Judge of quick and dead, the Head of the kingdom of God, who will come in his glory, with his holy angels, to divide sheep from goats, etc., as
Son of man
; and seeing that, as Son of man, he gave himself for a ransom, and was as one that serveth, and presented his flesh and blood as the spiritual food of all that live; - the synthetic thought that issues from the twofold survey is that his highest glory is based upon his entire and utter sympathy with man. His humanity is that which gives him all his hold upon our heart; his sacrifice is his title to universal sovereignty. "He humbled himself to the death of the cross, wherefore God also has highly exalted him, giving even to him [humanity included] THE NAME that is above every name." Archdeacon Watkins,
, has called attention to the fact that it is not
, "man as man, not Jew as holier than Greek, not freeman as nobler than bondman, not man as distinct from woman, but humanity.... The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth, 'The Word was made flesh.' In that great truth heaven was and has remained open." The cries of earth, the answers of heaven, are like angels evermore ascending and descending on the Word-made-flesh. It is perfectly true, though in a different sense than that which Thorns adopts it, that this prehistory (
) is the
of Christendom, as of each soul becoming Christian, the different eventualities which lead from one revelation to another betoken the several stations on the blessed pilgrimage (
). (Cf. Introduction; the excursuses of Godet; Westcott on 'The Son of Man;' Orme's dissertation on 'Sin against the Holy Ghost;' Schaff's note to Lange, on John,
; Schmidt, 'Bibl. Theol. N.T.,'
107, etc.; Weiss, 'Bibl. Theol. N.T.,' § 144; Liddon, 'Divinity of Our Lord,' lect. 1; Pearson on the Creed, Oxford edit., p. 122; Andrew Jukes, 'The New Man,' lect. 2: "The Openings of Heaven in the Experience of Christ and of Christians.")
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