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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-51


The Divinity and Incarnation of the Word. Witness of John. The First Disciples

1-18. Preface, declaring (1) that the Word was God, (2) that He was made man, (3) that He revealed the Father.

This sublime preface is intended to commend 'the truth as it is in Jesus,' both to Jewish and Gentile minds. It describes our Lord's person and office by a term familiar to both, that of the Logos or Word of God. 'Logos' has two meanings in Greek: (1) reason or intelligence, as it exists inwardly in the mind, and (2) reason or intelligence, as it is expressed outwardly in speech. Both these meanings are to be understood when Christ is called 'the Word of God.' He is the inward Word of God, because He exists from all eternity 'in the bosom of the Father,' as much one with Him as reason is one with the reasoning mind. Nothing is so close to a man as his own thought. It is within him, and is in a very real sense himself. So nothing is so close to God as His own eternal Word. It is within Him, it is one with Him, and it is divine like Him (John 1:1-2, John 1:18). Christ is also God's outward Word. He expresses and explains and reveals to the world what God is. It was He who created the world (John 1:3), making its order and beauty an outward expression of God's hidden nature. In spite of the Fall, He remained in the world, revealing to sinful man, through reason, through conscience, and through prophecy, the nature of the Father. He was the True Light that shineth in darkness, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:4.). In the fulness of time He revealed God still more perfectly, by becoming man, and living a perfect and sinless human life (John 1:14.). So perfectly did Christ's wonderful life reveal the innermost character of God, that though 'no man hath seen God at any time' (John 1:18), those who have seen Christ may be said in a very real sense to have seen the Father also (John 14:9). The human life of Christ not only reveals what God is, it also helps man to become like God. The incarnate Christ is 'full of grace and truth' (John 1:14, John 1:16-17), and gives believers the power to put away their sinful nature, and to be born again as sons of God (John 1:12-13).

(1) The Hebrew-speaking Jews were familiar with the idea that God reveals Himself to the world through His Memra, or Word, which they distinguished from Himself as His organ of revelation. The Targums of the OT. speak, not of Jehovah, but of the Memra of Jehovah, as being manifested to Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, and to Moses at the bush. St. John's preface, therefore, proclaimed to the Hebrew,' That Memra of Jehovah, which appeared to the patriarchs and prophets, was no other than Christ before His Incarnation.' (2) The educated Greek-speaking Jews (Hellenists) were familiar with the writings of the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (cirJohn 15 b.c-50 a.d.). He believed that God does not act upon the world directly, but mediately through his Logos or Reason. To the Hellenist, therefore, St. John's Gospel said, 'That Logos, through which you say God acts upon the world and reveals himself in it, is no other than Christ.' (3) Educated heathens also believed in a divine Logos or Reason, diffused through the world, and disposing all things in a rational order. First Heraclitus, then Plato, and finally the Stoics developed this doctrine, until, in the apostolic age, it was the explanation of the universe commonly accepted by educated persons. To the heathen, therefore, St. John's preface said, 'That divine Logos, which inspired, your philosophers, so far as they have spoken truly, and whose existence is admitted by all educated men, has finally manifested Himself in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Read the account that follows of His wonderful life and sayings, and you will acknowledge that this is true.' St. John's doctrine of the Logos differs from the Jewish and the heathen doctrine mainly in these two points: (1) That the Logos is personal, and (2) that He became flesh.

1. In the beginning] not as in Genesis 1:1, 'in the beginning of creation,' but 'in the beginning of eternity,' i.e. from all eternity: cp. John 8:58; John 17:5. Was the Word] i.e. the Word existed. 'The Word' as a title of our Lord is only found in the Johannine writings (John 1:24; 1 John 1:1; Revelation 19:13). On its meaning, see above. Was with God] lit. 'was directed towards God,' the attitude of loving and intimate intercourse: cp.' in the bosom of the Father' (John 1:18). Was God] i.e. was divine, and is therefore to be worshipped with the same worship as is due to the Father. Jesus is again called God in express terms in John 1:18 (RM) John 20:28; John 5:20; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; (RV) Acts 20:28; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; (RV).

3. Made by Him] i.e. 'through' Him, as the Father's agent. That Christ is the creator of the universe is stated Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 1:10; Revelation 3:14, but not in any Gospel except this.

3, 4. The Word is not only the Creator of the world, but is also its Life; i.e. He sustains it in existence, supplies life to all living organisms, and guides all the operations of nature. To rational beings like men, He is also their Light, or Instructor. He was this even before His Incarnation, instructing them through reason, through conscience, and through prophecy. (For another punctuation see RV.)

5. This instruction by the Word was hindered by the Fall, which involved the world in moral and spiritual darkness. And the darkness comprehended (RV 'apprehended') it not] i.e. the people whose minds were darkened by sin did not understand or obey the instructions of the Word. Prejudice prevented them. Another translation is 'and the darkness overcame it not.'

6-8. Parenthesis: The mission of Christ's forerunner, John the Baptist. Perhaps this section is directed against those followers of the Baptist who maintained that he was the Messiah. The evangelist makes it clear, (1) that the Baptist had a true mission from God, and (2) that he was not the Light. His mission was to bear witness to it, and to reflect it.

9. The preface resumed. The true Light, Christ our Lord, existed even before His Incarnation, and enlightened every man, whether Jew or Gentile, born into the world. This important text teaches us that the light of revelation shines among all races, and that there is some truth, however distorted by error, in all religions. The best translation is, 'Already the true Light existed, which lighteth every man as he cometh into the world.' For other translations see the RV.

10. He was in the world] viz. before His Incarnation.

11. He came, viz. at the Incarnation, unto his own (home), viz. the Holy Land; and his own, i.e. the Jews, received, i.e. believed, Him not.

12. Power] rather, 'the right,' or 'privilege.' Those who 'believed on His name,' i.e. accepted Him as the divine Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, received the privilege of becoming true sons of God.

13. This sonship conferred on men depended not on human descent from Abraham (blood), nor upon the sexual relations of their parents (the will of the flesh), nor could it be had for willing or wishing it, i.e. human effort (the will of man). It was a free and supernatural gift from God, inward and spiritual, implanted by the Holy Ghost, and dependent for its maintenance on union with Christ: see on John 3:3, John 3:5.

14. The Word was made (RV 'became') flesh] a plain statement of the wondrous fact of the Incarnation, the central mystery of our religion. God became man to atone for sin, and to make us partakers of the divine nature. 'Flesh' in St. John means human nature (body, soul, and spirit) without the added idea of sinfulness, which attaches to it in St. Paul (see especially John 6:51.). Our text affirms, therefore, that the Redeemer is 'perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood. Who although He be God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.'

Dwelt among us] lit. 'dwelt in a tabernacle among us, 'the tabernacle being His body (see John 2:19, and cp. 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Peter 1:13-14). The allusion is to the 'Shekinah,' which the rabbis identified with 'the Word of Jehovah.' As the 'Shekinah,' or visible glory of God, dwelt in the tabernacle of old, so, when Christ was born into the world, His divine nature dwelt in His body as in a temple. We beheld his glory] i.e. not merely the visible glory of the Transfiguration and the Ascension, but the moral and spiritual splendour of His unique life, which revealed the nature of the invisible Father. The evangelist here claims to have been an eyewitness, as in John 19:35. The only begotten of (RV 'from') the Father] The glory of Christ's life was not a reflected glory, as would have been the case had He been a mere human saint or prophet, but it was the glory of God's only begotten Son, and therefore God's own glory, for Christ and His Father are one. 'Only begotten' as a title of Christ is peculiar to St. John (John 1:18; John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9). It indicates that no man or even angel is God's son in the sense in which Christ is. A 'son' in the full sense of the word is of the same nature as his father, and hence Christ, being God's Son, is divine. Full of grace and truth] 'grace' is the divine favour and loving-kindness; 'truth,' as often in St. John, is not simply veracity, but holiness in general (cp. John 1:17; John 3:21; John 4:23; John 8:44; 1 John 1:6). Christ was full of grace and holiness, not that He might keep them to Himself, but that He might bestow them upon men.

15. Another parenthesis, introducing further testimony of the Baptist, which the evangelist indicates as of permanent importance ('beareth,' 'crieth,' RV, not bare, cried, AV).

He that cometh after me] i.e. He who begins his work later than myself. Is become (RV) before me] viz. in honour. For he was before me] i.e. He existed before my birth, and even before His own birth, as the eternal Son of God. The Baptist learnt that Christ was God's Son by a special revelation, and by the voice of the Father at Christ's baptism: see John 1:32-34.

16-18. The preface concluded. The 'we' of John 1:16 shows that these vv. are not words of the Baptist, but that they express the spiritual experience of Christ's disciples, in whose name the evangelist speaks.

16. Of his fulness] 'Fulness' (pleroma) was a word much used (and abused) by the Gnostics against whom St. John contended. Here it means, (1) the fulness of the divine attributes which dwelt in Christ (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9), and (2) the fulness of the human virtues which He displayed. Both these 'fulnesses' Christ imparts in some measure to true believers, as the evangelist testifies from personal experience. Grace for grace] i.e. grace succeeding grace, one act of love after another, ever increasing in proportion as we deserve it or require it.

17. Moses set before us mere commands, without changing our nature, or giving us the power to obey them. Jesus Christ came to change our nature. He offers us 'grace,' whereby we are born again as children of God, and become heirs of everlasting life; also 'truth,' i.e. Christian holiness, which becomes possible to those who abide in Christ: cp. Romans 5:21. By Moses.. by Jesus] lit. 'through' Moses, 'through' Jesus.

18. God the Father never reveals Himself to men directly, but always by and through His only-begotten Son. This was the case even before the Incarnation. It was God the Son who manifested Himself to the patriarchs, gave the Law to Moses, inspired the prophets, and enlightened the sages of the Gentiles. But now by His Incarnation He has revealed God more perfectly. So completely does 'the Word made flesh' represent the invisible Father, that 'he that hath seen me hath seen the Father' (John 14:9): cp. John 5:37; John 6:48; Exodus 33:20; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12, 1 John 4:20. The only begotten Son] Many very ancient authorities read, '(the) only begotten God,' a striking statement of our Lord's Deity. In the bosom] i.e. in eternal, intimate, loving union with the Father: cp. the expression 'in Abraham's bosom' (Luke 16:22), and John 13:23. This v. explains how it is that God is love, not only since the creation, when He created objects for His love, but from eternity: cp. John 17:24.

John 1:19 to John 4:42. Preliminary ministry of our Lord. All the events recorded by St. John from John 1:19 to John 4:42; (the testimony of the Baptist; the preliminary call of John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael; the marriage at Cana; the visit to Capernaum; the first cleansing of the Temple; the interview with Nicodemus; the interview with the Samaritan woman) may be regarded as a preliminary ministry, for they took place before the Baptist was cast into prison (see Matthew 4:12). The ministry proper begins with the imprisonment of the Baptist, upon news of which Jesus withdrew into Galilee (Matthew 4:12; John 4:43, John 4:46).

19-28. Public testimony of the Baptist to Jesus in reply to a deputation from the Sanhedrin. The independence and fulness of the account of the Baptist in this Gospel renders it highly probable that the evangelist had once been the Baptist's disciple. He knows, for example, the exact places where John baptised (John 1:28; John 3:23); the exact day and even hour when certain things were said (John 1:29, John 1:35, John 1:39); the contemporary disputes with the Jews about purifying (John 3:25); the relations, not always friendly, between the disciples of John and those of Christ (John 3:26); the exact time when John was cast into prison (John 3:24). His account of the Baptist's testimony agrees with that of the Synoptists, but he adds to it important particulars. He mentions, for instance, that John actually saw the dove descending upon Jesus, and was thus enabled to recognise Him (John 1:32), that he applied to Him the titles Lamb of God (John 1:29, John 1:36) and Son of God (John 1:34; John 3:36), the latter clearly in a superhuman sense, for he declares His preëxistence (John 1:15, John 1:30), and says that to believe in Him is to have eternal life (John 3:36). For the historical difficulties, see on these passages and on Matthew 11:2. The Synoptists record the Baptist's testimony before our Lord's baptism, and St. John his testimony afterwards, when the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, and the voice of the Father, had convinced the Baptist that Jesus was truly the Son of God.

19. The Jews] In this Gospel 'the Jews' has the following special senses: (1) the inhabitants of Judæa, (2) members of the Sanhedrin (the meaning here), and (3) the enemies of Jesus. Sent] One function of the Sanhedrin was to judge false prophets, hence they now desired to judge the claims of John.

Priests and Levites] the proper parties to enquire into a new religious movement. The priests performed the services of the Temple, offered the sacrifices, and burnt the incense. The Levites waited upon the priests in their ministry, and discharged subordinate duties.

20. Not the Christ] Some already believed that he was, Luke 3:15.

21. Elias] i.e. Elijah, whose personal return to prepare the way of the Messiah was expected by many (Malachi 4:5; Mark 6:15 see especially on Matthew 16:14; Matthew 17:10). John denied that he was literally Elijah, though his coming fulfilled Malachi's prophecy (Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12; Luke 1:17). That prophet] RV 'the prophet,' viz. the prophet mentioned Deuteronomy 18:15, and regarded by the deputation not as the Messiah, but as one of his forerunners. John, however, regarded the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 as actually the Messiah (cp. Acts 3:22), and therefore denied that he was 'that prophet.'

23. The words in Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3) refer to the preparation for the return from Babylon of the exiled Jews: the Baptist applies them to himself, as descriptive of his work: see on Matthew 3:3.

24. And they] RV 'and they had been sent from the Pharisees.'

25. Why baptizest thou?] Baptism was ordinarily administered only to proselytes. The meaning of the challenge seems, therefore, to be, 'What right hast thou, who art neither the Messiah, nor his forerunner “that Prophet,” to treat Israelites as if they were proselytes?' It is implied that the Messiah, who came to inaugurate an entirely new covenant, might possibly be expected to baptise even Jews.

26. With water] John's baptism was outward, symbolising repentance and remission of sin: Christ's was inward, conveying the gift of the Spirit, and the power to lead a new life.

28. Bethabara] lit, 'house of passing over,' RV 'Bethany,' RM 'Bethabarah,' or 'Betharabah'; probably the same as the Bethbarah of Judges 7:24. A ford on the Jordan, NE. of Bethshean, is still called 'Abarah,' lit. 'passing over.'

29. The Lamb of God] The reference is perhaps not to the Paschal lamb, but to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, who is 'brought as a lamb to the slaughter,' and whose death atones for sin. Contrast this description of the Messiah with the prevalent idea of a conqueror who would restore the kingdom to Israel. The Jews generally regarded the Messiah not as 'the Lamb of God,' but as 'the Lion of the tribe of Judah.' The sin of the world] The idea of atonement for the sins of Israel is found in Isaiah 53 : the further idea that the Messiah will atone for the sins of the world, follows naturally from the numerous utterances of the OT. prophets which speak of the participation of the Gentiles in the Messianic kingdom (Psalms 87, etc.).

30. See John 1:15.

31. I knew him not] But in Matthew 3:14 he seems to know Him, for he says, 'I have need to be baptized of thee.' The discrepancy, however, is only apparent. John is looking for the promised sign. Jesus presents Himself for Baptism. His majestic appearance strikes John with awe. Through prophetic insight (or perhaps as the result of a personal interview before the Baptism) he surmises that He is the true Messiah ('I have need,' etc.). The sign that follows makes the surmise a certainty.

34. The Son of God] The chief difficulty as to the use of this term by the Baptist is removed by the statement that he first learnt that Jesus was 'the Son of God' at the Baptism. In the OT. it was a title of the Davidic king, and of the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 89:27, etc.), and did not necessarily imply (though see Psalms 2, and cp. Psalms 110) superhuman dignity.

35-51. Preliminary call of five Apostles, Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Bartholomew (peculiar to Jn). This account, so far from conflicting with the (later) call described Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:15; (cp. Luke 5:1), really removes a difficulty, for it shows how the Apostles came to obey the final call to follow Jesus so readily. After their preliminary call, described here, the Apostles loosely attached themselves to Jesus as learners, but did not leave their homes and occupations. Afterwards when further intercourse had strengthened their hope that He was really the Messiah, they left all and followed Him.

35. Two] One was Andrew, the other (who characteristically suppresses his name) was John himself (see John 1:40). The Baptist points out Jesus, thus suggesting that henceforth they should be His disciples.

39. The tenth hour] i.e. by Jewish reckoning, about 4 p.m. But some think that at Ephesus, where this Gospel was written, hours were numbered as with us, in which case the time would be 10 a.m. (see John 4:6; John 19:14).

42. Jona] RV 'John'; see Matthew 16:17. Cephas] At the very first interview our Lord reads Peter's character: see on Matthew 16:18.

43. It would appear that Jesus Himself was acquainted with Philip.

45. Nathanael] is probably an apostle, and is hence to be identified with Bartholomew, whose name also appears coupled with Philip's in Matthew 10:3. 'Bartholomew' means 'son of Tolmai': cp. Barjona, Barabbas, Bartimæus, Barjesus. The son of Joseph] This does not indicate the evangelist's own belief, but what was generally believed at this time.

46. Nazareth] an obscure place not even mentioned in OT., which indicated Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2).

47. No guile] 'guile' or deceitfulness was the special failing of Jacob (Israel) and of Israelites generally. Again our Lord discerns the heart of man.

48. I saw thee] implies supernatural knowledge. Perhaps Jesus alludes to some recent prayer or resolution which Nathanael made under the figtree.

49. The Son of God] A title of the Messiah even in the OT.: see on John 1:34.

51. See Genesis 28:12. As Jacob saw in his dream a vision of angels ascending and descending the ladder, so the disciples would see in Christ the link and connexion between heaven and earth. Through Christ the locked-up heavens were again to be opened, and communion between heaven and earth restored. The title 'Son of man' indicates Christ as completely partaking of human nature, and realising its original ideal: see especially the full note on Matthew 8:20.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on John 1:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/john-1.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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