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The Gospel According to
Chap. 1:1 18. The Prologue or Introduction
That the first eighteen verses are introductory is universally admitted: commentators are not so unanimous as to the main divisions of this introduction. A division into three nearly equal parts has much to commend it:
1. The Word in His own Nature (1 5).
2. His Revelation to men and rejection by them (6 13).
3. His Revelation of the Father (14 18).
Some throw the second and third part into one, thus:
2. The historical manifestation of the Word (6 18).
Others again divide into two parts thus:
1. The Word in His absolute eternal Being ( v . 1).
2. The Word in relation to Creation (2 18).
And there are other schemes besides these. In any scheme the student can scarcely fail to feel that the first verse is unique. Throughout the prologue the three great characteristics of this Gospel, simplicity, subtlety, and sublimity, are specially conspicuous; and the majesty of the first verse surpasses all. The Gospel of the Son of Thunder opens with a peal.
1 5. The Word in His own Nature
1. In the beginning ] The meaning must depend on the context. In Genesis 1:1 it is an act done ‘in the beginning;’ here it is a Being existing ‘in the beginning,’ and therefore prior to all beginning. That was the first moment of time; this is eternity, transcending time. Thus we have an intimation that the later dispensation is the confirmation and infinite extension of the first. ‘In the beginning’ here equals ‘before the world was,’ 17:5. Compare 17:24; Ephesians 1:4 ; and contrast ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,’ Mark 1:1 , which is the historical beginning of the public ministry of the Messiah (John 6:64 ): ‘the beginning’ here is prior to all history. To interpret ‘Beginning’ of God as the Origin of all things is not correct, as the context shews.
was ] Not ‘came into existence,’ but was already in existence before the creation of the world. The generation of the Word or Son of God is thus thrown back into eternity. Thus S. Paul calls Him (Colossians 1:15 ) ‘the firstborn of every creature,’ or (more accurately translated) ‘begotten before all creation,’ like ‘begotten before all worlds’ in the Nicene creed. Comp. Hebrews 1:8 , Hebrews 1:7 :3; Revelation 1:8 . On these passages is based the doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son: see Articles of Religion , i. and ii. The Arians maintained that there was a period when the Son was not: S. John says distinctly that the Son or Word was existing before time began , i.e. from all eternity.
the Word ] As early as the second century Sermo and Verbum were rival translations of the Greek term Logos = Word. Tertullian (fl. a.d. 195 210) gives us both, but seems himself to prefer Ratio. Sermo first became unusual, and finally was disallowed in the Latin Church. The Latin versions all adopted Verbum , and from it comes our translation, ‘the Word.’
None of these translations are at all adequate: but neither Latin nor any modern language supplies anything really satisfactory. Verbum and ‘the Word’ do not give the whole of even one of the two sides of Logos: the other side, which Tertullian tried to express by Ratio , is not touched at all; for ὁ λόγος means not only ‘the spoken word,’ but ‘the thought’ expressed by the spoken word; it is the spoken word as expressive of thought . It is not found in the N.T. in the sense of ‘reason.’
The expression Logos is a remarkable one; all the more so, because S. John assumes that his readers will at once understand it. This shews that his Gospel was written in the first instance for his own disciples, who would be familiar with his teaching and phraseology.
Whence did S. John derive the expression, Logos? It has its origin in the Targums, or paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures, in use in Palestine, rather than in the mixture of Jewish and Greek philosophy prevalent at Alexandria and Ephesus, as is very commonly asserted.
(1). In the Old Testament we find the Word or Wisdom of God personified, generally as an instrument for executing the Divine Will. We have a faint trace of it in the ‘God said’ of Genesis 1:3 , Genesis 1:6 , Genesis 1:9 , Genesis 1:11 , Genesis 1:14 , &c. The personification of the Word of God begins to appear in the Psalms 33:6 , Psalms 107:20 , Psalms 119:89 , Psalms 147:15 . In Proverbs 8:0 and 9 the Wisdom of God is personified in very striking terms. This Wisdom is manifested in the power and mighty works of God; that God is love is a revelation yet to come. (2) In the Apocrypha the personification is more complete than in O.T. In Ecclesiasticus (c. b. c. 150 100) 1:1 20, 24:1 22, and in the Book of Wisdom (c. b. c. 100) 6:22 to 9:18 we have Wisdom strongly personified. In Wisd. 18:15 the ‘Almighty Word’ of God appears as an agent of vengeance. (3) In the Targums , or Aramaic paraphrases of O.T., the development is carried still further. These, though not yet written down, were in common use among the Jews in our Lord’s time; and they were strongly influenced by the growing tendency to separate the Godhead from immediate contact with the material world. Where Scripture speaks of a direct communication from God to man, the Targums substituted the Memra , or ‘Word of God.’ Thus in Genesis 3:8 , Genesis 3:9 , instead of ‘they heard the voice of the Lord God,’ the Targums have ‘they heard the voice of the Word of the Lord God;’ and instead of ‘God called unto Adam,’ they put ‘the Word of the Lord called unto Adam,’ and so on. ‘The Word of the Lord’ is said to occur 150 times in a single Targum of the Pentateuch. In the theosophy of the Alexandrine Jews , which was a compound of theology with philosophy and mysticism, we seem to come nearer to a strictly personal view of the Divine Word or Wisdom, but really move further away from it. Philo, the leading representative of this religious speculation (fl. a.d. 40 50), admitted into his philosophy very various, and not always harmonious elements. Consequently his conception of the Logos is not fixed or clear. On the whole his Logos means some intermediate agency, by means of which God created material things and communicated with them. But whether this Logos is one Being or more, whether it is personal or not, we cannot be sure; and perhaps Philo himself was undecided. Certainly his Logos is very different from that of S. John; for it is scarcely a Person, and it is not the Messiah. And when we note that of the two meanings of Λόγος , Philo dwells most on the side which is less prominent, while the Targums insist on that which is more prominent in the teaching of S. John, we cannot doubt the source of his language. The Logos of Philo is preeminently the Divine Reason . The Memra of the Targums is rather the Divine Word ; i.e. the Will of God manifested in personal action; and this rather than a philosophical abstraction of the Divine Intelligence is the starting point of S. John’s expression.
To sum up: the personification of the Divine Word in O.T. is poetical, in Philo metaphysical, in S. John historical. The Apocrypha and Targums help to fill the chasm between O.T. and Philo; history itself fills the far greater chasm which separates all from S. John. Between Jewish poetry and Alexandrine speculation on the one hand, and the Fourth Gospel on the other, lies the historical fact of the Incarnation of the Logos , the life of Jesus Christ.
The Logos of S. John, therefore, is not a mere attribute of God, but the Son of God, existing from all eternity, and manifested in space and time in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Logos had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man; for the Logos was the living expression of the nature, purposes, and Will of God. (Comp. the impersonal designation of Christ in 1 John 1:1 .) Human thought had been searching in vain for some means of connecting the finite with the Infinite, of making God intelligible to man and leading man up to God. S. John knew that he possessed the key to this enigma. He therefore took the phrase which human reason had lighted on in its gropings, stripped it of its misleading associations, fixed it by identifying it with the Christ, and filled it with that fulness of meaning which he himself had derived from Christ’s own teaching.
with God ] i.e. with the Father. ‘With’ = apud , or the French chez: it expresses the distinct Personality of the Logos. We might render ‘face to face with God,’ or ‘at home with God.’ So, ‘His sisters, are they not all with us?’ Matthew 13:56 ; comp. Mark 6:3 , Mark 6:9 :19, Mark 6:14 :49; 1 Corinthians 16:7 ; Galatians 1:18 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:4 ; Philemon 1:13 ; 1 John 1:2 .
the Word was God ] i.e. the Word partook of the Divine Nature , not was identical with the Divine Person . The verse may be thus paraphrased, ‘the Logos existed from all eternity, distinct from the Father, and equal to the Father.’ Comp. ‘neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.’
2. The same ] More literally, He or This (Word), with emphasis (comp. 7:18). This verse takes up the first two clauses and combines them. Such recapitulations are characteristic of S. John.
3. by him ] Rather, through Him . The universe was created by the Father through the agency of the Son. Comp. 1 Corinthians 8:6 ; Colossians 1:16 (where see Lightfoot’s note); Romans 11:36 ; Hebrews 11:10 . That no inferiority is necessarily implied by ‘through,’ as if the Son were a mere instrument, is shewn by 1 Corinthians 1:9 , where the same construction is used of the Father, ‘ through Whom ye were called, &c.’ Note the climax in what follows; the sphere contracts as the blessing enlarges: existence for everything; life for the vegetable and animal world; light for men.
without him , &c.] Better, apart from Him , &c. Comp. 15:5. Antithetic parallelism; emphatic repetition by contradicting the opposite: frequent in Hebrew: one of the many instances of the Hebrew cast of S. John’s style. Comp. v . 20, 10:28; 1 John 1:5 , 1 John 1:2 :4, 27, 28; Psalms 89:30 , Psalms 89:31 , Psalms 89:48 , &c., &c.
not anything ] No, not one ; not even one : stronger than ‘nothing.’ Every single thing, however great, however small, throughout all the realms of space, came into being through Him. No event takes place without Him, apart from His presence and power. Matthew 10:29 ; Luke 12:6 .
that was made ] Better, that hath been made . The aorist refers to the fact of creation; the perfect to the permanent result of that fact. Contrast ‘was made’ and ‘hath been made’ here with ‘was’ in vv . 1 and 2. ‘Was made’ denotes the springing into life of what was once non-existent; ‘was’ denotes the perpetual pre-existence of the Word.
Some both ancient and modern writers would give the last part of v . 3 to v . 4, thus: That which hath been made in Him was life ; i.e. those who were born again by union with Him felt His influence as life within them. It is very difficult to decide between the two punctuations. Tatian ( Orat. ad Graecos , xix.) has ‘All things [were] by Him and without Him hath been made not even one thing.’ See on v . 5.
4. In him was life ] He was the well-spring from which every form of life physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, eternal flows. See on 5:26.
Observe how frequently S. John’s thoughts overlap and run into one another. Creation leads on to life, and life leads on to light. Without life creation would be unintelligible; without light all but the lowest forms of life would be impossible.
the light ] Not ‘light,’ but ‘ the Light,’ the one true Light; absolute Truth both intellectual and moral, free from all ignorance and all stain. The Source of life is the Source of light.
the light of men ] Man shares life with all organic creatures; light, or Revelation, is for him alone. The communication of Divine truth before the Fall is specially meant.
5. shineth ] Note the present tense; the only one in the section. It brings us down to the Apostle’s own day: now, as of old, the Light shines in reason, in creation, in conscience, and shines in vain. Note also the progress: in vv . 1 and 2 we have the period before Creation; in v . 3, the Creation; v . 4, man before the Fall; v . 5, man after the Fall.
in darkness ] Better, in the darkness . The Fall is presupposed.
and the darkness ] Mark the strong connexion between the two halves of v . 5 as also between v . 4 and v . 5, resulting in both cases from a portion of the predicate of one clause becoming the subject of the next clause. Such strong connexions are frequent in St John. Sometimes the whole of the predicate is taken; sometimes the subject or a portion of the subject is repeated. By ‘the darkness’ is meant all that the Divine Revelation does not reach, whether by God’s decree or their own stubbornness, ignorant Gentile or unbelieving Jew. ‘Darkness’ in a metaphorical sense for spiritual and moral darkness is peculiar to S. John 8:12 , John 8:12 :35, John 8:46 ; 1 John 1:5 , 1 John 1:2 :8, 1 John 1:9 , 11.
comprehended it not ] Or, apprehended it not: very appropriate of that which requires mental and moral effort. Comp. Ephesians 3:18 . The darkness remained apart, unyielding, and unpenetrated. The words ‘the darkness apprehendeth not the light’ are given by Tatian as a quotation ( Orat. ad Graecos , xiii.). He flourished a.d. 150 170: so this is early testimony to the existence of the Gospel. This and the reference to v . 3 (see note) are quite beyond reasonable dispute.
We have here an instance of what has been called the “tragic tone” in S. John. He frequently states a gracious fact, and in immediate connexion with it the very opposite of what might have been expected to result from it. The Light shines in Darkness, and (instead of yielding and dispersing) the darkness shut it out. Comp. vv . 10 and 11, (2:24,) 3:11, 19, 32, 5:39, 40, 6:36, 43, 8:45, &c. The word rendered ‘comprehended’ may also mean ‘ overcame ;’ and this makes good sense. Comp. 12:35.
6 13. The Word revealed to Men and rejected by them
6. There was a man ] Rather, There arose a man , in contrast to the ‘was’ in v . 1. The word was from all eternity; John arose , came into existence, in time. Comp. 10:19. Note once more the noble simplicity of language.
sent from God ] i.e. a Prophet. Comp. ‘I will send my messenger,’ Malachi 3:1 ; ‘I will send you Elijah the Prophet,’ 4:5. From the Greek for ‘send’ ( apostello ) comes our word ‘Apostle.’
whose name was John ] In the Fourth Gospel John is mentioned 20 times, and is never once distinguished as ‘the Baptist.’ The other three Evangelists carefully distinguish the Baptist from the son of Zebedee: to the writer of the Fourth Gospel there is only one John. This in itself is strong incidental evidence that he himself is the other John. See on 11:16.
7. for a witness ] Better, for witness , i.e. to bear witness, not to be a witness: what follows shews the meaning. The word ‘witness’ and ‘to bear witness’ are very frequent in S. John’s writings, and this frequency should be marked by retaining the same translation throughout: testimony to the truth is one of his favourite thoughts.
through him ] i.e. through the Baptist, the Herald of the Truth. Comp. 5:33; Acts 10:37 , Acts 13:24 .
8. not that Light ] Better, not the Light . The Baptist was not the Light, but ‘the lamp that is lighted and shineth’ (see on 5:35). He was lumen illuminatum , not lumen illuminans . At the close of the first century it was still necessary for S. John to insist on this. At Ephesus, where this Gospel was written, S. Paul in his third missionary journey had found disciples still resting in ‘John’s baptism,’ Acts 19:1-6 . ‘By lamp-light we may advance to the day’ (Augustine).
but was sent to ‘was sent’ is not in the Greek. ‘But (in order) that’ is an elliptical phrase occurring several times in this Gospel. It calls attention to the Divine purpose. Comp. 9:3, 13:18, 14:31, 15:25.
9. That was , &c.] This verse is ambiguous in the Greek. Most of the Ancient Versions, Fathers, and Reformers agree with our translators. Many modern commentators translate the true Light, which lighteth every man, was coming into the world : but ‘was’ and ‘coming’ are almost too far apart in the Greek for this. There is yet a third way; there was the true Light, which lighteth every man by coming into the world . ‘Was’ is emphatic: ‘there was the true Light,’ even while the Baptist was preparing the way for Him. The Baptist came once for all; the Light was ever coming.
The word for ‘true’ ( alêthinos ) is remarkable: it means true as opposed to ‘spurious,’ not true as opposed to ‘lying.’ It is in fact the old English ‘very,’ e.g. ‘very God of very God’. Christ then is the true, the genuine, the perfect Light, just as He is ‘the perfect Bread’ (6:32) and ‘the perfect Vine’ (15:1): not that He is the only Light, and Bread, and Vine, but that He is in reality what all others are in figure and imperfectly. All words about truth are very characteristic of S. John.
every man ] not ‘all men:’ the Light illumines each one singly, not all collectively. God deals with men separately as individuals, not in masses. But though every man is illumined, not every man is the better for it: that depends upon himself.
that cometh into the world ] A Jewish phrase for being born, frequent in S. John (9:39, 11:27, 16:28); see on 18:37. ‘The world’ is another of the expressions characteristic of S. John: it occurs nearly 80 times in the Gospel and 22 in the First Epistle. This verse, Hippolytus tells us ( Refut. vii. x.), was used by Basilides in defending his doctrine, and as he began to teach about a.d. 125, this is very early evidence of the use of the Gospel.
10. and the world ] Note three points; (1) the close connexion obtained by repetition, as in vv . 4 and 5; (2) the tragic tone, as in v . 5; (3) the climax. ‘He was in the world’ (therefore the world should have known Him); ‘and the world was His own creature’ (therefore still more it should have known Him); ‘and (yet) the world knew Him not.’ ‘And’ = ‘and yet’ is very frequent in S. John; but it is best not to put in the ‘yet;’ the simple ‘and’ is more forcible. Comp. vv . 5 and 11.
Note that ‘the world’ has not the same meaning in vv . 9 and 10. Throughout N.T. it is most important to distinguish the various meanings of ‘the world.’ It means (1) ‘the universe;’ Romans 1:20 : (2) ‘the earth;’ v . 9; Matthew 4:8 : (3) ‘the inhabitants of the earth;’ v . 29, 4:42: (4) ‘those outside the Church,’ alienated from God; 12:31, 14:17, and frequently. In this verse the meaning slips from (2) to (4).
knew him not ] Did not acquire knowledge of its Creator; did not recognise and acknowledge Him. Comp. Acts 19:15 .
11. unto his own ] In the Greek the first ‘own’ is neuter, the second is masculine, and this difference should be preserved: He came unto His own inheritance ; and His own people received Him not (see on 6:37). In the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matthew 21:33-41 ) the vineyard is ‘His own inheritance,’ the husbandmen are ‘His own people,’ the Jews. Or, for ‘His own inheritance ’ we might say ‘His own home ,’ as in 19:27, where the Greek is the same. The tragic tone is very strong here as in vv . 5 and 10.
received ] A stronger word than ‘knew.’ The exact meaning of the Greek word is ‘to accept what is offered .’ Mankind in general did not recognise the Messiah; the Jews, to whom He was specially sent, did not welcome Him. See on 19:16.
Once more there is a climax; ‘He was’ ( v . 9); ‘He was in the world’ ( v . 10); ‘He came unto His own inheritance’ ( v . 11).
12. received ] Not the same Greek word as before: this denotes the spontaneous acceptance of the Messiah by individuals , whether Jews or Gentiles. He was not specially offered to any individuals as He was to the Jewish nation.
power ] i.e. right, liberty, authority . We are born with a capacity for becoming sons of God; that we have as men. He gives us a right to become such; that we receive as Christians. Comp. 5:27, 10:18.
to become ] Christ is from all eternity the Son of God; men are empowered to become sons of God. Comp. Matthew 5:45 .
the sons of God ] Omit ‘the:’ children of God . Both S. John and S. Paul insist on the fundamental fact that the relation of believers to God is a filial one. S. John gives us this fact on the human side; man ‘must be born again’ (3:3). S. Paul gives us the Divine side; God by ‘adoption’ makes us sons (Romans 8:16 , Romans 8:17 , Romans 8:21 , Romans 8:23 ; Galatians 4:5 ).
even to them that believe ] Explains who are the sons of God. The test of a child of God is no longer descent from Abraham, but belief in God’s Son.
on his name ] The construction ‘to believe on ’ is characteristic of S. John: it occurs about 35 times in the Gospel and 3 times in the First Epistle; elsewhere in N.T. about 10 times. It expresses the very strongest belief; motion to and repose on the object of belief. ‘His Name’ is a frequent phrase in Jewish literature, both O. and N.T. It is not a mere periphrasis. Names were so often significant, given sometimes by God Himself, that a man’s name told not merely who he was, but what he was: it was an index of character. So ‘the Name of the Lord’ is not a mere periphrasis for ‘the Lord;’ it suggests His attributes and His relations to us as Lord. Perhaps the name of Logos is specially meant here; and the meaning would then be to give one’s entire adhesion to Him as the Incarnate Son, the expression of the Will and Nature of God. Comp. 3:18, 20:31.
13. S. John denies thrice most emphatically that human generation has anything to do with Divine regeneration. Man cannot become a child of God in right of human parentage: descent from Abraham confers no such ‘power.’ A bitter word to Jewish exclusiveness.
were born ] Literally, were begotten . Comp. 1 John 5:1 , 1 John 5:4 , 1 John 5:18 .
not of blood ] The blood was regarded as the seat of physical life. Genesis 9:4 ; Leviticus 17:11 , Leviticus 17:14 , &c.
nor of the will of the flesh ] Better, nor yet from will of flesh , i.e. from any fleshly impulse. A second denial of any physical process.
nor of the will of man ] Better, nor yet from will of man , i.e. from the volition of any earthly father: it is the Heavenly Father who wills it. A third denial of any physical process.
There is an interesting false reading here. Tertullian (c. a.d. 200) had ‘ was born’ for ‘ were born,’ making it refer to Christ; and he accused the Valentinians of corrupting the text in reading ‘ were born,’ which is undoubtedly right. This shews that as early as a.d. 200 there were corruptions in the text, the origin of which was already lost. Such things take some time to grow: by comparing them and tracing their roots and branches we arrive at a sure conclusion that this Gospel cannot have been written later than a.d. 85 100. See on v . 18 and 9:35.
14 18. The Incarnate Word’s revelation of the Father
14. And the Word was made flesh ] Or, became flesh . This is the gulf which separates S. John from Philo. Philo would have assented to what precedes; from this he would have shrunk. From v . 9 to 13 we have the subjective side; the inward result of the Word’s coming to those who receive Him. Here we have the objective ; the coming of the Word as a historical fact. The Logos, existing from all eternity with the Father ( vv . 1 and 2), not only manifested His power in Creation ( v . 3) and in influence on the minds of men ( vv . 9, 12, 13), but manifested Himself in the form of a man of flesh. The important point is that the Word became terrestrial and material: and thus the inferior part of man is mentioned, the flesh, to mark His humiliation. He took the whole of man’s nature, including its frailty. “The majestic fulness of this brief sentence,” the Word became flesh , which affirms once for all the union of the Infinite and the finite, “is absolutely unique.” The Word became flesh; did not merely assume a body: and the Incarnate Word is one, not two personalities. Thus various heresies, Gnostic and Eutychian, are refuted by anticipation.
dwelt among us ] Literally, tabernacled among us , dwelt as in a tent. The Tabernacle had been the seat of the Divine Presence in the wilderness: when God became incarnate in order to dwell among the Chosen People, ‘to tabernacle’ was a natural word to use. The word forms a link between this Gospel and the Apocalypse: it occurs here, four times in the Apocalypse, and nowhere else. Our translators render it simply ‘dwell,’ which is inadequate. Revelation 7:15 , Revelation 12:12 , Revelation 13:6 , Revelation 21:3 .
among us ] In the midst of those of us who witnessed His life.
we beheld ] Or, contemplated . Comp. 1 John 1:1 . No need to make a parenthesis.
his glory ] The Shechinah. Comp. 2:11, 11:40, 12:41, 17:5, 24; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 ; Revelation 21:11 . There is probably a special reference to the Transfiguration (Luke 9:32 ; 2 Peter 1:17 ); and possibly to the vision at the beginning of the Apocalypse. In any case it is the Evangelist’s own experience that is indicated. Omit ‘the’ before the second ‘glory.’
as of ] i.e. exactly like. The glory is altogether such as that of an only-begotten son. Comp. Matthew 7:29 . He taught exactly as one having full authority. No article before ‘only-begotten;’ He was an only-begotten Son, whereas Moses and the Prophets were but servants.
only begotten ] Unigenitus . The Greek word is used of the widow’s son (Luke 7:12 ), Jairus’ daughter (8:42), the demoniac boy (9:38), Isaac (Hebrews 11:17 ). As applied to Christ it occurs only in S. John’s writings; here, v . 18, 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9 . It marks off His unique Sonship from that of the ‘sons of God’ ( v . 12).
of the Father ] Literally, from the presence of a father ; an only son sent on a mission from a father: comp. v . 6.
full ] Looks forward to ‘fulness’ in v . 16.
grace ] The original meaning of the Greek word is ‘that which causes pleasure.’ Hence (1) comeliness, winsomeness: ‘the words of grace’ in Luke 4:22 are ‘winning words.’ (2) Kindliness, goodwill: Luke 2:52 ; Acts 2:47 . (3) The favour of God towards sinners. This distinctly theological sense has for its central point the freeness of God’s gifts: they are not earned, He gives them spontaneously through Christ. ‘Grace’ covers all these three meanings. The third at its fullest and deepest is the one here. It is as the Life that the Word is ‘full of grace,’ for it is ‘by grace’ that we come to eternal life. Ephesians 2:5 .
truth ] It is as the Light that the Word is ‘full of truth.’
15. bare witness ] Better, bears witness . At the end of a long life this testimony of the Baptist abides still fresh in the heart of the aged Apostle. Three times in 20 verses (15, 27, 30) he records the cry which was such an epoch in his own life. The testimony remains as a memory for him, a truth for all.
and cried ] Better, and cries . The word indicates strong emotion, characteristic of a prophet. Comp. 7:28, 37, 12:44; Isaiah 40:3 .
of whom I spake ] As if his first utterance under the influence of the Spirit had been scarcely intelligible to himself.
He that cometh after , &c.] The exact meaning seems to be ‘He who is coming after me (in His ministry as in His birth) has become superior to me, for He was in existence from all eternity before me.’ Christ’s pre-existence in eternity a great deal more than cancelled John’s pre-existence in the world; and as soon as He appeared as a teacher He at once eclipsed His forerunner. But this is not quite certain. The words translated ‘is preferred before me,’ or ‘is become superior to me,’ literally mean ‘has come to be before me;’ and this may refer to time and not to dignity . But the perfect tense ‘has come to be, has become’ points to dignity rather than time. Moreover if ‘has become before me’ refers to time, this is almost tautology with ‘for He was before me,’ which must refer to time.
he was before me ] The Greek is peculiar, being the superlative instead of the comparative; not simply ‘ prior to me,’ but ‘ first of me.’ Perhaps it means ‘before me and first of all.’
16. The testimony of the Baptist to the incarnate Word is confirmed by the experience of all believers. The Evangelist is the speaker.
And ] The true reading gives Because .
fullness ] The Greek word, pleroma , is ‘a recognised technical term in theology, denoting the totality of the Divine powers and attributes.’ This fulness of the Divine attributes belonged to Christ ( v . 14), and by Him was imparted to the Church, which is His Body (Ephesians 1:23 ); and through the Church each individual believer in his degree receives a portion of it. See Lightfoot on Colossians 1:19; Colossians 1:19 and 2:9. ‘Of His fulness’ means literally ‘ out of His fulness,’ as from an inexhaustible store.
all we ] shews that the Evangelist and not the Baptist is speaking.
grace for grace ] Literally, grace in the place of grace , one grace succeeding another, and as it were taking its place. There is no reference to the Christian dispensation displacing the Jewish. The Jewish dispensation would have been called ‘the Law,’ not ‘grace;’ see next verse, and comp. 17:22.
17. The mention of ‘grace’ reminds the Evangelist that this was the characteristic of the Gospél and marked its superiority to the Law; for the Law could only condemn transgressors, grace forgives them.
For ] Better, Because .
by Moses ] The preposition translated ‘by’ in vv . 3, 10, 17, and ‘through’ in v . 7, is one and the same in the Greek. The meaning in all five cases is ‘by means of.’ Moses did not give the Law any more than he gave the manna (6:32): he was only the mediate agent by whose hand it was given (Galatians 3:19 ).
truth ] Like grace, truth is opposed to the Law, not as truth to falsehood, but as perfection to imperfection.
came ] Note the change from ‘was given.’ The grace and truth which came through Christ were His own; the Law given through Moses was not his own.
Jesus Christ ] S. John no longer speaks of the Logos: the Logos has become incarnate ( v . 14) and is spoken of henceforth by the names which He has borne in history.
18. The Evangelist solemnly sums up the purpose of the Incarnation of the Logos to be a visible revelation of the invisible God. It was in this way that ‘the truth came through Jesus Christ,’ for the truth cannot be fully known, while God is not fully revealed.
No man ] Not even Moses. Until we see ‘face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12 ) our knowledge is only partial. Symbolical visions, such as Exodus 24:10 , 33:23; 1 Kings 19:13 ; Isaiah 6:1 , do not transcend the limits of partial knowledge.
hath seen ] With his bodily eyes.
at any time ] Better, ever yet ; ‘no one hath ever yet seen God;’ but some shall see Him hereafter.
the only begotten Son ] The question of reading here is very interesting. Most MSS. and versions have ‘the only-begotten Son’ or ‘only-begotten Son.’ But the three oldest and best MSS. and two others of great value have ‘only-begotten God .’ The test of the value of a MS., or group of MSS., on any disputed point, is the extent to which it admits false readings on other points not disputed. Judged by this test the group of MSS. which read ‘only-begotten God’ is very strong; while the far larger group of MSS. which have ‘Son’ for ‘God’ is comparatively weak, for the same group of MSS. might be quoted in defence of a multitude of readings which no one would think of adopting. Again, the revised Syriac, which is among the minority of versions that support ‘God,’ is here of special weight, because it agrees with MSS. from which it usually differs. We conclude, therefore, that the very unusual expression ‘only-begotten God’ is the true reading, which has been changed to the usual ‘only-begotten Son,’ a change which in an old Greek MS. would involve the alteration of only a single letter. Both readings can be traced up to the second century, which again is evidence that the Gospel was written in the first century. Such differences take time to spread themselves widely. See on v . 13 and 9:35.
in the bosom ] Literally, into the bosom , which may mean that the return to glory after the Ascension is meant. Comp. Mark 2:1 , Mark 2:13 :16; Luke 9:61 . On the other hand the Greek for ‘which is’ points to a timeless relation.
hath declared ] Better, declared , acted as His interpreter. The Greek word is used both in the LXX. and in classical authors of interpreting the Divine Will. On the emphatic use of ‘He’ here comp. v . 33 and see on 10:1. In the First Epistle this pronoun ( ekeinos ) is used specially for Christ; 2:6, 3:3, 5, 7, 16, 4:17.
In this prologue we notice what may be called a spiral movement . An idea comes to the front, like the strand of a rope, retires again, and reappears later on for development and further definition. Meanwhile another idea, like another strand, comes before us, and retires to reappear in like manner. Thus the Word is presented to us in v . 1, is withdrawn, and again presented to us in v . 14. The Creation comes next in v . 3, disappears, and returns again in v . 10. Then ‘the Light’ is introduced in v . 5, withdrawn, and reproduced in vv . 10, 11. Next the rejection of the Word is put before us in v . 5, removed, and again put before us in vv . 10, 11. Lastly, the testimony of John is mentioned in vv . 6, 7, repeated in v . 15, taken up again in v . 19, and developed through the next two sections of the chapter.
We now enter upon the first main division of the Gospel, which extends to the end of chap. 12, the subject being Christ’s Ministry, or, His Revelation of Himself to the World, and that in three parts; the Testimony (1:19 2:11), the Work (2:13 11:57), and the Judgment (12). These parts will be subdivided as we reach them. 19 37 The Testimony of the Baptist (1) to the deputation from Jerusalem, (2) to the people, (3) to S. Andrew and S. John: 38 51 The Testimony of the Disciples: 2:1 11 The Testimony of the First Sign .
19 37. The Testimony of the Baptist
19 28. His Testimony to the Deputation from Jerusalem
This section describes a crisis in the Baptist’s ministry. He had already attracted the attention of the Sanhedrin. It was a time of excitement and expectation respecting the Messiah. John evidently spoke with an authority greater than other teachers, and his success was greater than theirs. The miracle attending his birth, connected with the public ministry of Zacharias in the Temple, was probably well known. He had proclaimed that a new dispensation was at hand (Matthew 3:2 ), and this was believed to refer to the Messiah. But what was John’s own position? Was he the Messiah? This uncertainty led the authorities at Jerusalem to send and question John himself as to his mission. No formal deputation from the Sanhedrin seems to have been sent. The Sadducee members, acquiescing in the Roman dominion, would not feel much interest. But to the Pharisee members, who represented the religious and national hopes of their countrymen, the question was vital; and they seem to have sent an informal though influential deputation of ministers of religion ( v . 19) from their own party ( v . 24). S. John was probably among the Baptist’s disciples at this time, and heard his master proclaim himself not the Messiah, but His Herald. It was a crisis for him as well as for his master, and as such he records it.
19. the record ] Better, the witness ; see on v . 7 and comp. 3:11, 5:31.
the Jews ] This term in S. John’s Gospel commonly means the opponents of Christ , a meaning not found in the Synoptists, who seldom use the term. Matthew 28:15 ; Mark 7:3 ; Luke 6:3 , Luke 23:51 , are the only instances excepting the title ‘King of the Jews.’ In them it is the sects and parties (Pharisees, Scribes, Herodians, &c.) that are the typical representatives of hostility to Christ. But S. John, writing later, with a fuller realisation of the national apostasy, and a fuller experience of Jewish malignity in opposing the Gospel, lets the shadow of this knowledge fall back upon his narrative, and ‘the Jews’ are to him not his fellow countrymen, but the persecutors and murderers of the Messiah. ‘The name of a race has become the name of a sect.’ He uses the term about 70 times, almost always with this shade of meaning.
priests ] The Baptist himself was of priestly family (Luke 1:5 ); hence priests were suitable emissaries. The combination ‘priests and Levites’ occurs nowhere else in N.T. Together they represent the hierarchy.
Levites ] Levites were commissioned to teach (2 Chronicles 35:3 ; Nehemiah 8:7-9 ) as well as serve in the Temple; and it is as teachers, similar to the Scribes, that they are sent to the Baptist. The mention of Levites as part of the deputation is the mark of an eyewitness. Excepting in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:32 ), Levites are not mentioned by the Synoptists, nor elsewhere in N.T., excepting Acts 4:36 . Had the Evangelist been constructing a story out of borrowed materials, we should probably have had Scribes or Elders instead of Levites. These indications of eyewitness are among the strong proofs of the authenticity of this Gospel.
Who art thou? ] with a strong emphasis on the ‘thou.’
20. confessed, and denied not ] Antithetic parallelism, as in v . 3.
but confessed ] Rather, and he confessed , to introduce what he confessed.
I am not the Christ ] ‘I’ is emphatic, implying that some one else not far distant is the Christ. Throughout the section (20 34) John contrasts himself with the Christ by an emphasis on ‘I.’
the Christ ] It is to be regretted that our translators have so often omitted the definite article before ‘Christ,’ although it is inserted in the Greek. In the Gospel narratives the article should always be preserved in English as here. Comp. Matthew 16:16 , Matthew 16:26 :63; Mark 8:29 ; and contrast Matthew 24:5 ; Luke 23:35 , Luke 23:39 , &c. To us ‘Christ’ is a proper name, but to the Evangelists it is a title, ‘ the Christ,’ the Messiah so long expected. See Lightfoot, On Revision , p. 100.
21. What then? ] ‘ What then are we to think?’ or, ‘ What then art thou?’
Art thou Elias? ] The Scribes taught that Elijah would come again before the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 17:10 ), and this belief is repeatedly alluded to in the Talmud. Comp. Malachi 4:5 .
I am not ] A forger would scarcely have ventured on this in the face of Matthew 11:14 , where Christ says that John is Elijah. But Christ is there speaking figuratively (comp. Luke 1:17 ); John is here speaking literally. He says he is not Elijah returned to the earth again.
that prophet ] Rather, the Prophet , the well-known Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 , who some thought would be a second Moses, others a second Elijah, others the Messiah. From 7:40, 41 we see that some distinguished ‘the Prophet’ from the Messiah; and from Matthew 16:14 it appears that Jeremiah or other prophets were expected to return. Comp. 2 Esdras 2:18; 1 Macc. 14:41. This verse alone is almost enough to prove that the writer is a Jew. Who but a Jew would know of these expectations? Or if a Gentile chanced to know them, would he not explain them to his readers? In v . 25, 6:14, 48, 69 our translators have repeated the error of translating the definite article by ‘that’ instead of ‘the.’
No ] The Baptist knows that ‘the Prophet’ is the Messiah. His replies grow more and more abrupt; ‘I am not the Christ,’ ‘I am not,’ ‘No.’
22. Who art thou? ] They continue asking as to his person; he replies as to his office. In the presence of the Messiah the personality of His Forerunner is lost.
23. I am the voice , &c.] Or, I am a voice . The Synoptists use these words of the Baptist as fulfilling prophecy. From this verse it would seem as if they were first so used by himself. The quotation is almost exact from the LXX. John was a Voice making known the Word, meaningless without the Word. There is an almost certain reference to this passage (19 23) in Justin Martyr, Trypho, lxxxviii., which is evidence that this Gospel was known before a.d. 150.
24. And they which , &c.] Perhaps the better reading is, and there had been sent some of the Pharisees . S. John mentions neither Sadducees nor Herodians; only the Pharisees, the sect most opposed to Christ, is remembered by the Evangelist who had gone furthest from Judaism.
25. Why baptizest thou then? ] ‘What right have you to treat Jews as if they were proselytes and make them submit to a rite which implies that they are impure?’ Had they forgotten Zechariah 13:1 ; Ezekiel 36:25 ?
be not that Christ , &c.] Better, art not the Christ, nor yet Elijah , nor yet the Prophet . See on v . 21.
26. ‘You ask for my credentials; and all the while He Who is far more than credentials to me is among you. I am not a prophet to foretell His coming, but a herald to proclaim that He has come.’
27. He it is ] These words and ‘is preferred before me’ are wanting in authority: the sentence should run, He that cometh after me, whose shoe’s latchet , &c., is standing in the midst of you, and ye know Him not . ‘Ye’ is emphatic; ‘Whom ye who question me know not, but Whom I, the questioned, know.’
28. Bethabara ] The true reading is Bethany , which was changed to Bethabara owing to the powerful influence of Origen, who could find no Bethany beyond Jordan known in his day. But in 200 years the very name of an obscure place might easily perish. Origen found ‘Bethany’ in almost all the MSS. The site of Bethabara or Bethany is lost now, but it must have been near Galilee: comp. v . 29 with v . 43, and see on the ‘four days,’ 11:17. It is possible to reconcile the two readings. Bethabara has been identified with ’Abârah, one of the main Jordan fords about 14 miles south of the sea of Galilee: and ‘Bethania beyond Jordan’ has been identified with Bashan; Bethania or Batanea being the Aramaic form of the Hebrew Bashan, meaning ‘soft level ground.’ Thus Bethabara is the village or ford; Bethania, the district on the east side of the ford. See Conder, Handbook of the Bible , pp. 315, 320. But see Appendix D.
29 34. The Testimony of the Baptist to the people
29. The next day ] These words prevent us from inserting the Temptation between vv . 28 and 29. The fact of the Baptist knowing who Jesus is shews that the Baptism, and therefore the Temptation, must have preceded the deputation from Jerusalem. The Evangelist assumes that his readers are well acquainted with the history of the Baptism and Temptation.
the Lamb of God ] Evidently some Lamb well known to John’s hearers is meant, viz. the Lamb of Isaiah 53:0 (comp. Acts 8:32 ); but there may be an indirect allusion to the Paschal Lamb. With ‘Behold’ comp. 19:5, 14: with ‘of God’ comp. Genesis 22:8 .
which taketh away , &c.] These words seem to make the reference to Isaiah 53:0 , esp. vv . 4, 5, 10, clear. The marginal reading, beareth , is not right here (1 John 3:5 ).
the sin ] Regarding it as one great burden or plague.
of the world ] Isaiah (53:8) seems to see no further than the redemption of the Jews: ‘for the transgression of my people was he stricken.’ The Baptist knows that the Messiah comes to save the whole human race, even those hostile to Him.
30. of whom ] The best text gives, in behalf of whom .
31. And I knew him not ] Or, I also knew Him not ; I, like you, did not at first know Him to be the Messiah. There is no contradiction between this and Matthew 3:14 . (1) ‘I knew Him not’ need not mean ‘I had no knowledge of Him whatever.’ (2) John’s professing that he needed to be baptized by Jesus does not prove that he had already recognised Jesus as the Messiah, but only as superior to himself.
that he should be made manifest ] This was the Baptist’s second duty. He had (1) to prepare for the Messiah by preaching repentance; (2) to point out the Messiah. The word for ‘manifest’ is one of S. John’s favourite words ( phaneroun ); 2:11, 3:21, 7:4, 9:3, 17:6, 21:1, 14; 1 John 1:2 , 1 John 1:2 :19, 28, 1 John 1:3 :2, 1 John 1:5 , 1 John 1:8 , 1 John 1:9 ; Revelation 3:18 , Revelation 15:4 .
therefore am I come ] Better, for this cause (12:18, 27) came I (comp. 5:16, 18, 7:22, 8:47).
baptizing with water ] In humble contrast to Him Who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost’ ( v . 33). ‘ With water’ is literally ‘ in water ’ here and v . 26.
32. bare record ] Better, bare witness ; comp. vv . 7, 8, 15, 19, 34.
I saw ] Better, I have beheld , or contemplated (1 John 4:12 , 1 John 4:14 ), the perfect of the verb used in vv . 14 and 38.
like a dove ] This was perhaps visible to Christ and the Baptist alone. A real appearance is the natural meaning here and is insisted on by S. Luke (3:22). And if we admit the ‘bodily shape’ at all, there can be no sound reason for rejecting the dove. The marvel is that the Holy Spirit should be visible in any way (comp. ‘the tongues of fire,’ Acts 2:3 ), not that He should assume the form of a dove in particular. Of course this visible descent of the Spirit made no change in the nature of Christ. It served two purposes, (1) to make the Messiah known to the Baptist, and through him to the world; (2) to mark the official commencement of the ministry of the Messiah, like the anointing of a king. The whole incident is very parallel to the Transfiguration. In both Christ is miraculously glorified previous to setting out to suffer; in both a voice from heaven bears witness to Him; at both ‘the goodly fellowship of the Prophets’ is nobly represented.
33. And I knew him not ] Or, as before, I also knew Him not . The Baptist again protests, that but for a special revelation he was as ignorant as others that Jesus was the Messiah.
he that sent me ] The special mission of a Prophet. Comp. v . 6.
the same said unto me ] Better, he said unto me : see on 10:1. When this revelation was made we are not told.
and remaining on him ] Better, and abiding on Him . It is the same word as is used in v . 32, and one of which S. John is very fond; but our translators have obscured this fact by capriciously varying the translation, sometimes in the same verse ( v . 39, 4:40; 1 John 2:24 , 1 John 3:24 ). Thus, though most often rendered ‘abide,’ it is also rendered ‘remain’ (9:41, 15:11, 16), ‘dwell’ (1:39, 6:56, 14:10, 17), ‘continue’ (2:12, 8:31), ‘tarry’ (4:40, 21:22, 23), ‘endure’ (6:27), ‘be present’ (14:25). In 1 John 2:24 it is translated in three different ways. See on 15:9.
which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost ] See on 14:26. This phrase, introduced without explanation or comment, assumes that the readers of this Gospel are well aware of this office of the Messiah, i.e. are well-instructed Christians. The word baptizeth is appropriate, (1) to mark the analogy and contrast between the office of the Baptist and that of the Messiah; (2) because the gift of the Spirit is constantly represented as an out-pouring . ‘With,’ as in vv . 26 and 31, is literally ‘in.’
34. And I saw, and bare record ] Better, And I have seen and have borne witness . ‘I have seen’ is in joyous contrast to ‘I knew Him not,’ vv . 31, 33. ‘Have borne witness’ is the same verb as in vv . 7, 8 and 32: hence ‘witness’ is preferable to ‘record’ both here and in v . 32.
the Son of God ] The Messiah. This declaration of the Baptist agrees with and confirms the account of the voice from heaven (Matthew 3:17 ).
These verses, 32 34, prove that S. John does not, as Philo does, identify the Logos with the Spirit.
35 37. The Testimony of the Baptist to Andrew and John
35. Again ] Referring to v . 29: it should come second; The next day again John was standing .
The difference between this narrative and that of the Synoptists (Matthew 4:18 ; Mark 1:16 ; Luke 5:2 ) is satisfactorily explained by supposing this to refer to an earlier and less formal call of these first four disciples, John and Andrew, Peter and James. Their call to be Apostles was a very gradual one. Two of them, and perhaps all four, began by being disciples of the Baptist, who directs them to the Lamb of God ( v . 36), Who invites them to His abode ( v . 39): they then witness His miracles (2:2, &c.); are next called to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19 ); and are finally enrolled with the rest of the Twelve as Apostles (Mark 3:13 ). See note on Mark 1:20 .
Two of his disciples ] One of these we are told was S. Andrew ( v . 40); the other was no doubt S. John himself. The account is that of an eyewitness; and his habitual reserve with regard to himself fully accounts for his silence, if the other disciple was himself. If it was some one else, it is difficult to see why S. John pointedly omits to mention his name.
There was strong antecedent probability that the first followers of Christ would be disciples of the Baptist. The fact of their being so is one reason of the high honour in which the Baptist has been held from the earliest times by the Church.
36. looking upon ] having looked on with a fixed penetrating gaze. Comp. v . 42; Mark 10:21 , Mark 10:27 ; Luke 20:17 , Luke 22:61 .
Behold the Lamb of God ] This seems to shew that these disciples were present the previous day ( v . 19): hence there was no need to say more than this. This appears to have been the last meeting between the Baptist and Christ.
37. heard him speak ] Although the declaration had not been addressed to them in particular.
they followed Jesus ] The first beginning of the Christian Church. But we are not to understand that they have already determined to become His disciples.
38 51. The Testimony of Disciples
38. saw them ] Same verb as in vv . 14 and 32. The context shews that He saw into their hearts as well. For ‘Then’ read But.
What seek ye? ] i.e. in Me. He does not ask ‘ Whom seek ye?’ It was evident that they sought Him.
Rabbi ] A comparatively modern word when S. John wrote, and therefore all the more requiring explanation to Gentile readers. S. John often interprets between Hebrew and Greek; thrice in this section. (Comp. vv . 41, 42.)
where dwellest thou? ] Better, where abidest Thou? (See on v . 33.) They have more to ask than can be answered on the spot. Perhaps they think Him a travelling Rabbi staying with friends close by; and they intend to visit Him at some future time. He bids them come at once: now is the day of salvation.
39. Come and see ] The more probable reading gives, Come and ye shall see .
they came ] Insert, therefore .
that day ] That memorable day.
it was about the tenth hour ] S. John remembers the very hour of this crisis in his life: all the details of the narrative are very lifelike.
It is sometimes contended that S. John reckons the hours of the day according to the modern method, from midnight to midnight, and not according to the Jewish method, from sunset to sunset, as everywhere else in N.T. and in Josephus. It is antecedently improbable that S. John should in this point vary from the rest of N.T. writers; and we ought to require strong evidence before accepting this theory, which has been adopted mainly in order to escape from the difficulty of 19:14, where see notes. Setting aside 19:14 as the cause of the question, we have four passages in which S. John mentions the hour of the day, this, 4:6, 52 and 11:9. None of them are decisive: but in no single case is the balance of probability strongly in favour of the modern method. See notes in each place. Here either 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. would suit the context: and while the antecedent probability that S. John reckons time like the rest of the Evangelists will incline us to 4 p.m., the fact that a good deal still remains to be done on this day makes 10 a.m. rather more suitable. Origen knows nothing of S. John’s using the modern method of reckoning.
40. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother ] Before the end of the first century, therefore, it was natural to describe Andrew by his relationship to his far better known brother. In Church History S. Peter is everything and S. Andrew nothing: but would there have been an Apostle Peter but for Andrew. In the lists of the Apostles S. Andrew is always in the first group of four, but he is outside the chosen three, in spite of this early call.
41. He first findeth , &c.] The meaning of ‘first’ becomes almost certain when we remember S. John’s characteristic reserve about himself. Both disciples hurry to tell their own brothers the good tidings, that the Messiah has been found: S. Andrew finds his brother first , and afterwards S. John finds his ; but we are left to infer the latter point.
S. Andrew thrice brings others to Christ; Peter, the lad with the loaves (6:8), and certain Greeks (12:22); and excepting Mark 13:3 we know scarcely anything else about him. Thus it would seem as if in these three incidents S. John had given us the key to his character. And here we have another characteristic of this Gospel the lifelike way in which the less prominent figures are sketched. Besides Andrew we have Philip, 1:44, 6:5, 12:21, 14:8; Thomas, 11:16, 14:5; 20:24 29; Nathanael, 1:45 51; Nicodemus, 3:1 12, 7:50 52, 19:39; Martha and Mary, 11, 12:1 3.
We have found ] This does not prove that S. John is still with him, only that they were together when their common desire and expectation were fulfilled.
Messias ] The Hebrew form of this name is used by S. John only, here and 4:25. Elsewhere the LXX. translation, ‘the Christ,’ is used. Here ‘the’ before ‘Christ’ should be omitted.
42. beheld ] Same word as in v . 36, implying a fixed earnest look; what follows shews that Christ’s gaze penetrated to his heart and read his character.
Simon the son of Jona ] The true reading here and 21:15, 16, 17 is Simon the son of John . There is a tradition mat his mother’s name was Johanna. The Greek form Iônâ may represent two distinct Hebrew names, Jonah and Johanan = John. There is no need to make Christ’s knowledge of his name and parentage miraculous; Andrew in bringing Simon would naturally mention them.
A stone ] The margin and text should change places, Peter , being in the text and ‘a stone’ in the margin, like ‘the Anointed’ in v . 41. This new name is given with reference to the new relation into which the person named enters; comp. the cases of Abraham, Sarah, Israel. It points to the future office of Simon rather than to his present character. The form Cephas occurs nowhere else in the Gospels or Acts: but comp. 1 Corinthians 1:12 , 1 Corinthians 1:3 :22, 1 Corinthians 1:9 :5; 1 Corinthians 15:5 , Galatians 1:18 , Galatians 1:2 :9, Galatians 1:11 , Galatians 1:14 .
There is no discrepancy between this and Matthew 16:18 . Here Christ gives the name Peter; there he reminds S. Peter of it. It is quite clear from this that S. Peter was not first called among the Apostles, a point on which the Synoptists leave us in doubt.
43. The day following ] Better, as in vv . 29, 35, The next day: the Greek is the same in all three verses. We thus have four days accurately marked, (1) v . 19; (2) v . 29; (3) v . 35; (4) v . 44. A writer of fiction would not have cared for such minute details; they might entangle him in discrepancies. They are thoroughly natural as coming from an eyewitness. See on 2:1.
Follow me ] In the Gospels these words seem always to be the call to become a disciple. Matthew 8:22 , Matthew 8:9 :9, Matthew 8:19 :21; Mark 2:14 , Mark 2:10 :21; Luke 5:27 , Luke 5:9 :59; John 21:19 . With two exceptions they are always addressed to those who afterwards became Apostles.
44. Philip was of Bethsaida ] In the Synoptists Philip is a mere name in the lists of the Apostles: our knowledge of him comes from S. John. See above on v . 42 and on 14:8. The local knowledge displayed in this verse is very real. S. John would possess it; a writer in the second century would not, and would not care to invent. This is Bethsaida of Galilee on the western shore, not Bethsaida Julias. See note on Matthew 4:13 .
45. Nathanael ] = ‘Gift of God.’ The name occurs Numbers 1:8 ; 1 Chronicles 2:14 ; 1 Chronicles 1:0 Esdras 1:9, 9:22. Nathanael is commonly identified with Bartholomew; (1) Bartholomew is only a patronymic and the bearer would be likely to have another name (comp. Barjona of Simon, Barnabas of Joses); (2) S. John never mentions Bartholomew, the Synoptists never mention Nathanael; (3) the Synoptists in their lists place Bartholomew next to Philip, as James next his probable caller John, and Peter (in Matt. and Luke) next his caller Andrew; (4) all the other disciples mentioned in this chapter become Apostles, and none are so highly commended as Nathanael; (5) All Nathanael’s companions named in 21:2 were Apostles (see note there). But all these reasons do not make the identification more than probable. The framers of our Liturgy do not countenance the identification: this passage appears neither as the Gospel nor as a Lesson for S. Bartholomew’s Day.
We have found him, of whom , &c.] “A most correct representation of the current phraseology, both in regard to the divisions of the O.T., and the application of the Messianic idea.” S. p. 35.
Moses ] viz. in Deuteronomy 18:15 and in all the Messianic types, promises to Adam, Abraham, &c.
Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph ] The words are Philip’s, and express the common belief about Jesus. It was natural to say He was ‘of’ or ‘from Nazareth,’ as His home had been there; still more natural to call him ‘the son of Joseph.’ The conclusion that the Evangelist is ignorant of the birth at Bethlehem, or of the miraculous nature of that birth, cannot be drawn from this passage. Rather, we may conclude that he is a scrupulously honest historian, who records exactly what was said, without making additions of his own.
46. Can there any good thing , &c.] All Galileans were despised for their want of culture, their rude dialect, and contact with Gentiles. They were to the Jews what Bœotians were to the Athenians. But here it is a Galilean who reproaches Nazareth in particular. Apart from the Gospels we know nothing to the discredit of Nazareth; neither in O.T. nor in Josephus is it mentioned; but what we are told of the people by the Evangelists is mostly bad. Christ left them and preferred to dwell at Capernaum (Matthew 4:13 ); He could do very little among them, ‘because of their unbelief’ (13:58), which was such as to make Him marvel (Mark 6:6 ); and once they tried to kill Him (Luke 4:29 ). S. Augustine would omit the question. Nathanael ‘who knew the Scriptures excellently well, when he heard the name Nazareth, was filled with hope, and said, From Nazareth something good can come.’ But this is not probable. Possibly he meant no more than ‘Can any good thing come out of despised Galilee?’ Nazareth being in Galilee.
Come and see ] The best cure for ill-founded prejudice. Philip shews the depth of his own conviction in suggesting this test, which seems to have been in harmony with the practical bent of his own mind. See on 12:21 and 14:8.
47. saw Nathanael coming ] This contradicts the theory that Christ overheard Nathanael’s question. S. John represents Christ’s knowledge of Nathanael as miraculous; as in v . 42 He appears as the searcher of hearts.
an Israelite indeed ] In character as well as by birth: what follows shews what is meant. The ‘guile’ may refer to the ‘subtilty’ of Jacob (Genesis 27:35 ) before he became Israel: ‘Behold a son of Israel, who is in no way a son of Jacob.’ The ‘supplanter’ is gone; the ‘prince’ remains. His guilelessness appears in his making no mock repudiation of the character attributed to him ( v . 48). He is free from ‘the pride that apes humility.’
48. under the fig tree ] This probably means ‘at home,’ in the retirement of his own garden (1 Kings 4:25 ; Micah 4:4 ; Zechariah 3:10 ); the Greek implies motion to under. Nathanael had perhaps been praying or meditating there; he seems to see that Christ knew what his thoughts had been there. It was under a fig tree that S. Augustine heard the famous ‘ Tolle, lege .’
49. thou art the Son of God ] We know from other passages that this was one of the recognised titles of the Messiah; 11:27; Matthew 26:63 ; Mark 3:11 , Mark 3:5 :7; Luke 4:41 . ‘Son of David’ was more common.
the King of Israel ] Omit ‘the.’ This phrase “is especially important, because it breathes those politico-theocratic hopes, which since the taking of Jerusalem, Christians at least, if not Jews, must have entirely laid aside.” S. How could a Christian of the second century have thrown himself back to this?
50. believest thou? ] Or possibly, thou believest . Comp. 16:31, 20:29. The interrogative form is here best: He who marvelled at the unbelief of the people of Nazareth here expresses joyous surprise at the ready belief of the guileless Israelite of Cana.
51. Verily, verily ] The double ‘verily’ occurs 25 times in this Gospel, and nowhere else, always in the mouth of Christ. It introduces a truth of special solemnity and importance. The single ‘verily’ occurs about 30 times in Matthew 14:0 in Mark, and 7 in Luke. The word represents the Hebrew ‘Amen,’ which in the LXX. never means ‘verily.’ In the Gospels it has no other meaning. The ‘Amen’ at the end of sentences (Matthew 6:13 , Matthew 6:28 :20; Mark 16:20 ; Luke 24:53 ; John 21:25 ) is in every case of doubtful authority.
unto you ] Plural; all present are addressed, Andrew, John, Peter (James), and Philip, as well as Nathanael.
Hereafter ] Better, from henceforth ; from this point onwards Christ’s Messianic work of linking earth to heaven, and re-establishing free intercourse between man and God, goes on. But the word is wanting in the best MSS.
heaven open ] Better, the heaven opened ; made open and remaining so.
the angels of God ] Like v . 47, an apparent reference to the life of Jacob, perhaps suggested by the scene, which may have been near to Bethel. This does not refer to the angels which appeared after the Temptation, at the Agony, and at the Ascension: rather to the perpetual intercourse between God and the Messiah during His ministry.
the Son of man ] This phrase in all four Gospels is invariably used by Christ Himself of Himself as the Messiah, upwards of 80 times in all. None of the Evangelists direct our attention to this strict limitation in the use of the expression: their agreement on this striking point is evidently undesigned, and therefore a strong mark of their veracity. See notes on Matthew 8:20 ; Mark 2:10 . In O.T. the phrase ‘Son of Man’ has three distinct uses; (1) in the Psalms, for the ideal man; 8:4 8, 80:17, 144:3, 146:3: (2) in Ezekiel, as the name by which the Prophet is addressed by God; 2:1, 3, 6, 8, 3:1, 3, 4, &c., &c., more than 80 times in all; probably to remind Ezekiel, that in spite of the favour shewn to him, and the wrath denounced against the children of Israel, he, no less than they, had a mortal’s frailty: (3) in the ‘night visions’ of Daniel 7:13 , Daniel 7:14 , where ‘One like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days … and there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him, &c.’ That ‘Son of man henceforth became one of the titles of the looked-for Messiah’ may be doubted. Rather, the title was a new one assumed by Christ, and as yet only dimly understood (comp. Matthew 16:13 ).
This first chapter alone is enough to shew that the Gospel is the work of a Jew of Palestine, well acquainted with the Messianic hopes, and traditions, and phraseology current in Palestine at the time of Christ’s ministry, and able to give a lifelike picture of the Baptist and of Christ’s first disciples.
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"Commentary on John 1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16