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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

John 15

Verses 1-99

Chap. 15

The general subject still continues from 13:31 Christ’s love in keeping His own. This is still further set forth in this chapter in three main aspects: 1. Their union with Him , illustrated by the allegory of the Vine (1 11); 2. Their union with one another in Him (12 17); 3. The hatred of the world to both Him and them (18 25).

1 11. The Union of the Disciples with Christ

The Allegory of the Vine

The allegory of the Vine is similar in kind to that of the Door and of the Good Shepherd in chap. 10 (see introductory note there): this sets forth union from within, the other union from without.

1. I am the true vine ] We have here the same word for ‘true’ as in 1:9, 6:32; Revelation 3:14 . Christ is the true, the genuine, the ideal, the perfect Vine, as He is the perfect Light, the perfect Bread, and the perfect Witness (see on 1:9). “The material creations of God are only inferior examples of that finer spiritual life and organism in which the creature is raised up to partake of the Divine nature” (Alford). Whether the allegory was suggested by anything external, vineyards, or the vine of the Temple visible in the moonlight, a vine creeping in at the window, the ‘fruit of the vine’ (Matthew 26:29 ) on the table which they had just left, it is impossible to say. Of these the last is far the most probable, as referring to the Eucharist just instituted as a special means of union with Him and with one another. But the allegory may easily have been chosen for its own merits and its O.T. associations (Psalms 80:8-19 ; Isaiah 5:1-7 ; Jeremiah 2:21 ; &c.) without any suggestion from without. The vine was a national emblem under the Maccabees and appears on their coins.

the husbandman ] The Owner of the soil Who tends His Vine Himself and establishes the relation between the Vine and the branches. There is therefore a good deal of difference between the form of this allegory and the parable of the Vineyard (Mark 12:1 ) or that of the Fruitless Fig-tree (Luke 13:6 ). The word ‘husbandman’ occurs nowhere else in the Gospels except of the wicked husbandmen in the parable of the Vineyard.

2. Every branch ] The word for ‘branch’ in these six verses occurs here only in N.T., and in classical Greek is specially used of the vine. The word used in the other Gospels (Matthew 13:32 , Matthew 13:21 :8, Matthew 13:24 :32; Mark 4:32 , Mark 4:13 :28; Luke 13:9 ), and in Romans 11:16-21 , is of the same origin (from ‘to break’) but of more general meaning, the smaller branch of any tree. So that the very word used, independently of the context, fixes the meaning of the allegory. It is every vine -branch, i.e. every one who is by origin a Christian . If they continue such by origin only, and give forth no fruit, they are cut off. The allegory takes no account of the branches of other trees: neither Jews nor heathen are included. Christ would not have called them branches ‘in Me.’

he taketh away ] Literally, He taketh it away ; in both clauses we have a nominativus pendens .

he purgeth it ] Better, He cleanseth it , in order to bring out the connexion with ‘ye are clean’ ( v . 3). The Greek words rendered ‘purgeth’ and ‘clean’ are from the same root. There is also a similarity of sound between the Greek words for ‘taketh away’ and ‘cleanseth,’ like ‘bear and forbear’ in English ( airei and kathairei ). This may be intentional, but it cannot be reproduced in translation. By cleansing is meant freeing from excrescences and useless shoots which are a drain on the branch for nothing. The eleven were now to be cleansed by suffering.

bring forth ] Better, as before, bear .

3. Now ye are clean ] Already are ye clean . ‘Ye’ is emphatic; many more will be made clean hereafter.

through the word ] Better, on account of the word . This is a frequent error in our version, διά with the accusative being translated as if it had the genitive. Comp. Matthew 15:3 , Matthew 15:6 , where ‘ by your tradition’ should be ‘ for the sake of your tradition.’ ‘The word’ (16:23) here means the whole teaching of Christ, not any particular utterance; but there may be special reference to the present discourses, through which Peter, Thomas, Philip, and Judas Lebbaeus have been cleansed from self-confidence and ignorance.

4. Abide in me, and I in you ) See on 6:56. ‘And I in you’ may be taken either as a promise (‘and then I will abide in you’) or as the other side of the command (‘take care that I abide in you’); the latter seems to be better.

except ye abide ] There is this mysterious property in the branches of the spiritual Vine, that they can cut themselves off, as Judas had done. Nature does something, and grace does more; but grace may be rejected.

5. ye are the branches ] This has been implied, but not stated yet.

for without me ] Better, because apart from Me , or (as the margin) severed from Me . Comp. 1:3; Ephesians 2:12 .

ye can do nothing ] Christians cannot live as Christians apart from Christ. Nothing is said here about those who are not Christians, although there is a sense in which the words are true of them also.

6. he is cast forth ] The verb is in a past tense; he is already cast forth by the very fact of not abiding in Christ. This consequence follows so inevitably that to state the one is to state the other. The same remark applies to ‘is withered.’ But the cast-out branch may be grafted in again (Romans 11:23 ) and the dead branch may be raised to life again (5:21, 25). The rest of the picture looks forward to the day of judgment. ‘Men gather’ should be quite indefinitely, they gather (see on Luke 12:20 ).

they are burned ] Or, they burn .

7. my words ] Better, My sayings : see on v . 3 and 5:47.

ye shall ask what ye will ] The better reading gives, ask whatsoever ye will , in the imperative. The promise is similar to that in 14:13, 14 both in its comprehensiveness and in its limitation. One who abides in Christ and has His words abiding in him cannot ask amiss.

8. Herein is my Father glorified ] As in v . 6, the verb is the aorist passive; not ‘is being glorified’ but ‘is glorified,’ i.e. whenever the occasion arises. The aorist is used of an act regarded in itself as accomplished at any conceivable moment: comp. 17:26. ‘When ye pray and obtain your prayers through abiding in Me, My Father is glorified already.’ It is best to understand ‘herein’ as referring to what precedes (comp. 4:37 and 16:30), in order to give the proper meaning to ‘that.’

that ye bear ] Literally, in order that ye may bear: it is S. John’s favourite particle once more, expressing the Divine purpose (comp. 8:56, 9:2, 3, 11:15, 50, 12:23, 13:1, 2, &c.). ‘Herein’ cannot refer to ‘in order that’ without awkwardness.

so shall ye be my disciples ] Rather, and may become My disciples . The construction introduced by ‘in order that’ continues to the end of the verse; moreover the difference between ‘to be’ and ‘to become’ should be preserved (see on 10:19, 1:6). The sense of the whole will therefore be; ‘In granting your prayers My Father is glorified, in order that ye may be fruitful and become My disciples.’

9. As the Father , &c.) The Greek construction is ambiguous. It would be quite possible to translate, Even as the Father loved Me and I loved you , abide in My love . But our version is better as keeping in due prominence the main statement, that the love of Christ for His disciples is analogous to that of the Father for the Son. In any case ‘abide’ is better than ‘continue;’ the same Greek word is used throughout these verses (4 16), a fact which our translators obscure by giving three English words, ‘abide,’ ‘continue,’ and ‘remain,’ and that in three consecutive verses (9 11). Throughout the Gospel ‘abide’ should be maintained as the rendering of S. John’s favourite verb μένειν (see on 1:33). The whole should run, Even as the Father loved Me , I also loved you (comp. 17:18, 20:21); abide in My love . The verbs are aorists, not perfects, and Christ’s work is regarded as a completed whole, already perfect in itself. But perhaps this is just one of those cases where the English perfect may be allowed to translate the Greek aorist: see on 8:29.

in my love ] The Greek might mean ‘the love of Me,’ but ‘My love’ for you is more natural and suits the context better, which speaks of His love towards them as similar to the Father’s towards Him. The other, however, need not be altogether excluded. See on 14:27.

10. If ye keep ] See on 14:15, 21, 24. To keep His commandments not only proves our love for Him but secures His love for us.

I have kept my Father’s commandments ] This being in a subordinate sentence the tremendous import of it is liable to pass unnoticed. Looking back over a life of thirty years Jesus says, ‘I have kept the Father’s commandments.’ Would the best man that ever lived, if only a man, dare to make such a statement? See on 14:30.

11. These things have I spoken ] The verse forms a conclusion to the allegory of the Vine. Comp. v . 17, 16:25, 33.

might remain ] Better, may abide : but the reading is doubtful, and perhaps ought to be simply ‘may be;’ that My joy (see on 14:27) may be in you . This does not mean ‘that I may have pleasure in you;’ but that the joy which Christ experienced through consciousness of His fellowship with the Father, and which supported Him in His sufferings, might be in His disciples and support them in theirs. Here first, on the eve of His sufferings, does Christ speak of His joy.

might be full ] Or, may be fulfilled . This expression of joy being fulfilled is peculiar to S. John (comp. 3:29, 16:24, 17:13; 1 John 1:4 ; 2 John 1:12 ). The active occurs Philippians 2:2 ; ‘make my joy full;’ but nowhere else. Human happiness can reach no higher than to share that joy which Christ ever felt in being loved by His Father and doing His will.

12 17. The Union of the Disciples with one another in Christ

12. This is my commandment ] Literally, This is the commandment that is Mine (see on 14:17). In v . 10 He said that to keep His commandments was the way to abide in His love. He now reminds them what His commandment is (see on 13:34). It includes all others. A day or two before this Christ had been teaching that all the Law and the Prophets hang on the two great commands, ‘love God with all thy heart’ and ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matthew 22:37-40 ). S. John teaches us that the second really implies the first (1 John 4:20 ).

That ye love one another ] Literally, in order that ye love one another: this is the purpose of the commandment. See next verse and on v . 8, 6:29, and 17:3.

as I have loved ] Even as I loved ; comp. v . 9. Christ looks back from a point still further.

13. that a man lay down ] Literally, in order that a man lay down: the greatest love is that of which the purpose is dying for those loved. On ‘lay down his life’ see note on 10:11.

for his friends ] Needless difficulty has been made about this, as if it were at variance with Romans 5:6-8 . Christ here says that the greatest love that any one can shew towards his friends is to die for them. S. Paul says that such cases of self-sacrifice for good men occur; but they are very rare. Christ, however, surpassed them, for He died not only for His friends but for His enemies, not only for the good but for sinners. There is no contradiction. Nor is there any emphasis on ‘friends;’ as if to suffer for friends were higher than to suffer for strangers or enemies. The order of the Greek words throws the emphasis on ‘life:’ it is the unique character of the thing sacrificed that proves the love. Christ says ‘for His friends’ because He is addressing His friends.

14. Ye are my friends ] ‘Ye’ is emphatic: ‘and when I say “friends,” I mean you.’ This shews that ‘friends’ was used simply because He was speaking to the Apostles.

whatsoever I command you ] Better, the things which I am commanding you .

15. Henceforth I call you not servants ] Better, No longer do I call you servants (comp. 14:30 and see on 8:34). He had implied that they were servants before (12:26, 13:13 16). Perhaps the gentler word ‘servant’ is better here, although ‘bond-servant’ would bring out the contrast more strongly. Where the Apostles and others use it of themselves the gentler rendering is certainly to be preferred (Romans 1:1 ; Galatians 1:10 ; James 1:1 ; 2 Peter 1:1 ; &c. &c.).

what his lord doeth ] To be taken literally. The slave or servant may see what his master is doing , but does not know the meaning or purpose of it. ‘Doeth’ need not be made equal to a future.

I have called you friends ] Or, you have I called friends ; ‘you’ is emphatic. He who wills to do His will as a servant, shall know of the doctrine as a friend (7:17).

I have made known unto you ] As they were able to bear it (16:12). After Pentecost they would be able to bear much more. Both verbs are aorists; I heard I made known : comp. vv . 9 and 12.

16. Ye have not , &c.] Better, Ye chose Me not, but I chose you: ‘Ye’ and ‘I’ are emphatic; there is no emphasis on ‘Me.’ The reference is to their election to be Apostles, as the very word used seems to imply (comp. 6:70, 13:18; Acts 1:2 ); therefore the aorist as referring to a definite act in the past should be preserved in translation.

ordained you ] Better, appointed you (as 2 Timothy 1:11 and Hebrews 1:2 ), in order to avoid an unreal connexion with ordination in the ecclesiastical sense. The same word used in the same sense as here is rendered ‘set’ in Acts 13:47 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 , ‘ordained’ 1 Timothy 2:7 , and ‘made’ Acts 20:28 .

go and bring forth fruit ] ‘Go’ must not be insisted on too strongly as if it referred to the missionary journeys of the Apostles. On the other hand it is more than a mere auxiliary or expletive: it implies the active carrying out of the idea expressed by the verb with which it is coupled (comp. Luke 10:37 ; Matthew 13:44 , Matthew 18:15 , Matthew 19:21 ), and perhaps also separation from their Master (Matthew 20:4 , Matthew 20:7 ). The missionary work of gathering in souls is not specially indicated here: the ‘fruit’ is rather the holiness of their own lives and good works of all kinds. ‘Bring forth’ should be bear as in v . 5.

should remain ] Better, should abide (see on v . 9). Comp. 4:36.

whatsoever ye shall ask ] See on v . 7 and 14:13.

he may give it ] The Greek may also mean ‘ I may give it’ (comp. 14:13), the first and third persons being alike in this tense; and several ancient commentators take it as the first.

17. These things I command you , &c.] More literally, These things I am commanding you, in order that ye may love one another . ‘These things’ does not refer to ‘that ye love one another,’ but to what has already been said about being one with Him and with each other. Comp. v . 11, 14:25, 16:25, 33.

18 25. The Hatred of the World to both Him and them

In strong contrast to the love and union between Christ and His disciples and among the disciples themselves is the hatred of the world to Him and them. He gives them these thoughts to console them in encountering this hatred of the world. (1) It hated Him first: in this trial also He has shewn them the way. (2) The hatred of the world proves that they are not of the world. (3) They are sharing their Master’s lot, whether the world rejects or accepts their preaching. (4) They will suffer this hatred not only with Him, but for His sake. All this tends to shew that the very hatred of the world intensifies their union with Him.

18. ye know that it hated me ] Better, know that it hath hated me (comp. v . 20). As in 14:1 the principal verb may be either indicative or imperative, and the imperative is preferable: the second verb is the perfect indicative, of that which has been and still is the case.

before it hated you ] ‘It hated’ is an insertion by our translators, and ‘before you’ is literally ‘first of you,’ like ‘before me’ in 1:15 (see note there) and 30; excepting that here we have the adverb and there the adjective.

19. the world would love his own ] In 7:7 He told His brethren, who did not believe on Him, that the world could not hate them. This shews why: in their unbelief it still found something of its own (comp. 1 John 4:5 ). ‘His own,’ or its own , is neuter singular not masculine plural. The selfishness of the world’s love is thus indicated: it loves not so much them, as that in them which is to its own advantage; and hence the lower word for ‘love’ is used ( philein ), not the higher one ( agapân ) as in v . 17. It is mere natural liking. Note the solemn repetition of ‘world’ in this verse. For the construction comp. 5:46, 8:19, 42, 9:41, 18:36 and contrast 4:10, 11:21, 14:28.

I have chosen ] I chose : see on v . 16.

therefore the world hateth you ] Or, for this cause (see on 8:47 and 12:39) &c. Comp. 1 John 3:13 .

20. Remember ] See note on 13:16: of the passages noticed there Matthew 10:24 is similar in meaning to this. Christ may here be alluding to the occasion recorded in Matthew 10:24 . On the blessedness of sharing the lot of Christ comp. 1 Peter 4:12 , 1 Peter 4:13 .

if they have kept my saying, they will keep ] Better, If they kept (comp. 13:14, 18:23) My word , they will keep . ‘Keep’ must not be exchanged for ‘watch, lay wait for,’ in a hostile sense; as if both halves of the verse were alike instead of being opposed. The phrase ‘keep the word (or words)’ of any one is frequent in this Gospel (8:51, 52, 55, 14:23, 24, 17:6); always in the sense of the parallel phrase ‘keep my commandments’ (14:15, 21, 15:10). Both phrases form a link not only between the Gospel and the First Epistle (2:3, 4, 5, 3:22, 24, 5:2, 3), but also between these two and the Apocalypse (3:8, 10, 12:17, 14:12, 22:7, 9). Comp. John 9:16 ; Revelation 1:3 , Revelation 2:26 , Revelation 3:3 . (See on 11:44, 19:37, 20:16). All these passages shew that it is impossible to take ‘keep’ in a hostile sense. The phrase ‘to keep the word’ of any one occurs in S. John’s writings only. ‘To keep the commandments (or commandment)’ occurs elsewhere only Matthew 19:17 (comp. 28:20) and 1 Timothy 6:14 . The meaning of the verse as a whole is that both in failure and in success they will share His lot. For the construction comp. 13:14, 18:23.

21. for my name’s sake ] This thought is to turn their suffering into joy. Comp. Acts 5:41 , Acts 5:21 :13; 2 Corinthians 12:10 ; Galatians 6:14 ; Philippians 2:17 , Philippians 2:18 ; 1 Peter 4:14 .

they know not him that sent me ] Comp. 7:28, 16:3, 17:25. They not merely did not know that God had sent Jesus; they did not know God Himself, for their idea of Him was radically wrong.

22. If I had not come and spoken unto them ] He had spoken as man had never spoken before (7:46), and His words sufficed to tell unprejudiced minds Who He was. Their hatred was a sin against light; if there had been no light, there would have been no sin. ‘To have sin’ is a phrase peculiar to S. John ( v . 24, 9:41, 19:11; 1 John 1:8 ).

no cloke ] Better (with the margin), no excuse : not only have they sin, but they have sin without excuse. The same word is rendered ‘cloke,’ 1 Thessalonians 2:5 . But the notion is not that of hiding, but of excusing what cannot be hid: ‘colour’ (Acts 27:30 ) is a better rendering than ‘cloke.’ Comp. Psalms 140:4 .

for their sin ] Literally, concerning their sin: comp. 16:8.

23. hateth my Father also ] Comp. 5:23, 14:9.

24. the works ] If they did not see that His words were Divine they might at least have seen that His works were such. Comp. 10:38, 14:11, 5:36. Here again their sin was against light; for they admitted the works (11:47).

which none other man did ] Comp. 9:32.

seen … my Father ] Comp. 14:9, 10.

25. in their law ] ‘Law’ is used in the wide sense for the O.T. generally. Comp. 10:34, 12:34, 15:25; Romans 3:19 .

without a cause ] The passage may be from either Psalms 69:4 or 35:19: there are similar passages 109:3 and 119:161. ‘Without a cause,’ gratuitously; so that here again they are without excuse.

26. the Comforter ] Better, the Advocate (see on 14:16).

whom I will send ] ‘I’ is emphatic. Here it is the Son Who sends the Paraclete from the Father. In 14:16 the Father sends in answer to the Son’s prayer. In 14:26 the Father sends in the Son’s name. These are three ways of expressing that the mission of the Paraclete is the act both of the Father and of the Son, Who are one.

from the Father ] See note on ‘from God’ 1:6: the preposition and case are here the same; παρά with the genitive.

the Spirit of truth ] See on 14:17.

which proceedeth from the Father ] It seems best to take this much discussed clause as simply yet another way of expressing the fact of the mission of the Paraclete. If the Paraclete is sent by the Son from the Father, and by the Father in the Son’s name and at the Son’s request, then the Paraclete ‘proceedeth from the Father.’ If this be correct, then this statement refers to the office and not to the Person of the Holy Spirit, and has no bearing either way on the great question between the Eastern and Western Churches, the Filioque added in the West to the Nicene Creed. The word used here for ‘proceed’ is the same as that used in the Creed of Nicea, and the Easterns quote these words of Christ Himself as being against not merely the insertion of the clause ‘and the Son’ into the Creed (which all admit to have been made irregularly), but against the truth of the statement that the Spirit, not only in His temporal mission, but in His Person, from all eternity proceeds from both the Father and the Son. On the whole question see Pearson On the Creed , Art. viii.; Reunion Conference at Bonn , 1875, pp. 9 85, Rivingtons; Pusey On the Clause and the Son ,” a Letter to Dr Liddon, Parker, 1876. The word rendered ‘proceedeth’ occurs in this Gospel only here and 5:29, but is frequent in the other Gospels and in Revelation (Matthew 3:5 , Matthew 3:4 :4, Matthew 3:15 :11, 18; Mark 7:15 , Mark 7:18 , Mark 7:20 , Mark 7:21 , Mark 7:23 ; Luke 4:22 , Luke 4:37 ; Revelation 1:16 , Revelation 1:4 :5, &c.), and there seems to be nothing in the word itself to limit it to the Eternal Procession. On the other hand the preposition used here ( para = ‘from the side of’) is strongly in favour of the reference being to the mission. Comp. 16:27, 17:8.

he shall testify of me ] Better, He shall bear witness . It is the same word as is used in the next verse and is one of the words characteristic of this Gospel (see on 1:7). ‘He’ is emphatic, in opposition to the world which hates and rejects Christ. Christ has the witness of the Spirit of truth, which has the authority of the Father: it is impossible to have higher testimony than this.

27. And ye also shall bear witness ] Better, Nay, ye also bear witness : the verb is present, not future. It is also possible to take the verb as an imperative (comp. v . 18 and 14:1), but the conjunctions used are against this. The testimony of the disciples is partly one and the same with the testimony of the Spirit, partly not. It is partly the same, so far as it depends on the illumination of the Spirit, who was to bring all things to their remembrance and lead them into all truth. This would not be true in its fulness until Pentecost. It is partly not the same, so far as it depends upon the Apostles’ own personal experience of Christ and His work. This is the case at once; the experience is already there; and hence the present tense. Comp. Acts 5:32 , where the Apostles clearly set forth the twofold nature of their testimony, and Acts 15:28 , where there is a parallel distinction of the two factors.

have been with me ] Literally, are with Me ; i.e. have been and still are.

from the beginning ] As usual the context decides the meaning of ‘beginning’ (see on 1:1). Here plainly the meaning is from the beginning of Christ’s ministry. They could bear witness as to what they themselves had seen and heard. Comp. Acts 1:22 ; Luke 1:2 .

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"Commentary on John 15". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.