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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
John 5

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Chaps. 5 11. The Work among mixed multitudes, chiefly Jews

The Work now becomes a conflict between Christ and “the Jews;” for as Christ reveals Himself more fully, the opposition between Him and the ruling party becomes more intense; and the fuller revelation which excites the hatred of His opponents serves also to sift the disciples; some turn back, others are strengthened in their faith by what they see and hear. The Evangelist from time to time points out the opposite results of Christ’s work: comp. 6:60 71, 7:40 52, 9:13 41, 10:19, 21, 39 42, 11:45 57.

Thus far we have had the announcement of the Gospel to the world, and the reception it is destined to meet with, set forth in four typical instances; Nathanael , the guileless Israelite, truly religious according to the light allowed him; Nicodemus , the learned ecclesiastic, skilled in the Scriptures, but ignorant of the first elements of religion; the Samaritan woman , immoral in life and schismatical in religion, but simple in heart and readily convinced; and the royal official , weak in faith, but progressing gradually to a full conviction. But as yet there is little evidence of hostility to Christ, although the Evangelist prepares us for it (1:11, 2:18 20, 3:18, 19, 26, 4:44). Henceforth, however, hostility to Him is manifested in every chapter of this division. Two elements are placed in the sharpest contrast throughout; the Messiah’s clearer manifestation of His Person and Work, and the growing animosity of ‘the Jews’ in consequence of it. Two miracles form the introduction to two great discourses: two miracles illustrate two discourses. The healing at Bethesda and the feeding of the 5000 lead to discourses in which Christ is set forth as the Source and the Support of Life (5, 6). Then He is set forth as the Source of Truth and Light ; and this is illustrated by His giving physical and spiritual sight to the blind (7 9). Finally He is set forth as Love under the figure of the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep; and this is illustrated by the raising of Lazarus, a work of love which costs Him His life (10, 11). Thus, of four typical miracles, two form the introduction and two form the sequel to great discourses. The prevailing idea throughout is truth and love provoking contradiction and enmity.

Chap. 5. Christ the Source of Life

In chaps. 5 and 6 the word ‘life’ occurs 18 times; in the rest of the Gospel 18 times.

This chapter falls into two main divisions; (1) The Sign at the Pool of Bethesda and its Sequel (1 16); (2) The Discourse on the Son as the Source of Life (17 47).

1 9. The Sign at the Pool of Bethesda

1. After this ] Better, After these things , a more indefinite sequence.

a feast of the Jews ] This is the reading of highest authority, although some important MSS. read ‘ the feast of the Jews,’ probably because from very early times this feast was believed to be the Passover. If ‘ a feast’ is the true reading, this alone is almost conclusive against its being the Passover; S. John would not call the Passover ‘a feast of the Jews.’ Moreover in all other cases where he mentions Passovers he lets us know that they are Passovers and not simply feasts, 2:13, 6:4, 11:55, &c. He gives us three Passovers; to make this a fourth would be to put an extra year into our Lord’s ministry for which scarcely any events can be found, and of which there is no trace elsewhere. Almost every other feast, and even the Day of Atonement, have been suggested; but the only one which fits in satisfactorily is Purim. We saw from 4:35 that the two days in Samaria were either in December or January. The next certain date Isaiah 6:4 , the eve of the Passover, i.e. April. Purim, which was celebrated in March (14th and 15th Adar), falls just in the right place in the interval. This feast commemorated the deliverance of the Jews from Haman, and took its name from the lots which he caused to be cast (Esther 3:7 , Esther 3:9 :24, 26, 28). It was a boisterous feast, and some have thought it unlikely that Christ would have anything to do with it. But we are not told that He went to Jerusalem in order to keep the feast ; Purim might be kept anywhere. More probably He went because the multitudes at the feast would afford great opportunities for teaching. Moreover, it does not follow that because some made this feast a scene of unseemly jollity, therefore Christ would discountenance the feast itself.

2. there is at Jerusalem ] This is no evidence whatever that the Gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The pool would still exist, even if the building was destroyed; and such a building, as being of the nature of a hospital, would be likely to be spared. Even if all were destroyed the present tense would be natural here. See on 11:18.

by the sheep market ] There is no ‘market’ in the Greek, and no reason for supposing that it ought to be supplied. The margin is probably right: sheep - gate . We know from Nehemiah 3:1 , Nehemiah 3:32 , Nehemiah 3:12 :39 that there was a sheep-gate; so called probably from sheep for sacrifice being sold there. It was near the Temple. The adjective for ‘sheep-’ occurs nowhere else in N.T. but here, and nowhere in O.T. but in the passages in Nehemiah. But so little is known of this gate, and the ellipsis of ‘gate’ is so unparalleled that we cannot regard this explanation as certain. Another translation is possible, with a change of case in the word for pool; Now there is in Jerusalem, by the sheep-pool, a place called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda .

in the Hebrew tongue ] ‘Hebrew’ means Aramaic, the language spoken at the time, not the old Hebrew of the Scriptures. See on 20:16.

Bethesda ] ‘House of mercy,’ or possibly ‘House of the Portico,’ or again ‘of the Olive.’ The name Bethesda does not occur elsewhere. The traditional identification with Birket Israil is not commonly advocated now. The ‘Fountain of the Virgin’ is an attractive identification, as the water is intermittent to this day. This fountain is connected with the pool of Siloam, and some think that Siloam is Bethesda. That S. John speaks of Bethesda here and Siloam in 9:7, is not conclusive against this: for Bethesda might be the name of the building and Siloam of the pool; and the Greek for ‘called’ here is strictly ‘called in addition ’ or ‘ sur named,’ as if the place had some other name.

five porches ] Or, colonnades . These would be to shelter the sick. The place seems to have been a kind of charitable institution.

3. lay a great multitude ] Better, were lying a multitude .

blind, halt, withered ] These are the special kinds of ‘impotent folk.’

waiting for the moving of the water ] These words and the whole of v . 4 are almost certainly an interpolation, though a very ancient one. They are omitted by the best MSS. Other important MSS. omit v . 4 or mark it as suspicious. Moreover, those MSS. which contain the passage vary very much. The passage is one more likely to be inserted without authority than to be omitted if genuine; and very probably it represents the popular belief with regard to the intermittent bubbling of the healing water, first added as a gloss, and then inserted into the text. The water was probably mineral in its elements, and the people may or may not have been right in supposing that it was most efficacious when the spring was most violent.

5. which had an infirmity , &c.] Literally, who had passed thirty-eight years in his infirmity . Not that he was 38 years old; evidently he was more; but he had had this malady 38 years.

6. knew ] Or, perceived , perhaps supernaturally (see on 16:19), but He might learn it from the bystanders: the fact was very likely notorious.

Wilt thou? ] Or, more strongly, Dost thou will ? Note that the man does not ask first. Here and in the case of the man born blind (9), as also of Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51 ), Christ heals without being asked to do so. Excepting the healing of the royal official’s son all Christ’s miracles in the Fourth Gospel are spontaneous. On no other occasion does Christ ask a question without being addressed first: why does He now ask a question of which the answer was so obvious? Probably in order to rouse the sick man out of his lethargy and despondency. It was the first step towards the man’s having sufficient faith: he must be inspired with some expectation of being cured. The question has nothing to do with religious scruples; ‘Art thou willing to be made whole, although it is the Sabbath?’

7. I have no man ] He is not only sick but friendless.

is troubled ] No doubt this took place at irregular intervals, else there would be no need to wait and watch for it.

to put me into the pool ] Literally, in order to (4:47) throw me into the pool ; perhaps implying that the gush of water did not last long and there was no time to be lost in quiet carrying. But in this late Greek ballein (= throw) has become weakened in meaning. Comp. 13:2, 20:25.

while I am coming ] Unaided, and therefore slowly.

another steppeth down ] This seems to shew that the place where the bubbling appeared was not large. He does not say ‘others step down before me:’ one is hindrance enough.

8. Rise, take up thy bed ] As in the case of the paralytic (Mark 2:9 ), Christ makes no enquiry as to the man’s faith. Christ knew that he had faith; and the man’s attempting to rise and carry his bed after 38 years of impotency was an open confession of faith. His bed would probably be only a mat or rug, still common in the East.

It is scarcely necessary to discuss whether this miracle can be identical with the healing of the paralytic let down through the roof (Matthew 9:0 ; Mark 2:0 ; Luke 5:0 ). Time, place, details and context are all different, especially the important point that this miracle was wrought on the Sabbath.

10 16. The Sequel of the Sign

10. The Jews ] The hostile party, as usual: probably members of the Sanhedrin (see on 1:19). They ignore the cure and notice only what can be attacked. They had the letter of the law very strongly on their side. Comp. Exodus 23:12 , Exodus 23:31 :14, 35:2, Exodus 23:3 ; Numbers 15:32 ; Nehemiah 13:15 ; and especially Jeremiah 17:21 .

11. He that made me whole ] The man’s defiance of them in the first flush of his recovered health is very natural. He means, ‘if He could cure me of a sickness of 38 years He had authority to tell me to take up my bed.’ They will not mention the cure; he flings it in their face. There is a higher law than that of the Sabbath, and higher authority than theirs. Comp. the conduct of the blind man, chap. 9.

the same said unto me ] Better, ‘He said to me ,’ ‘He’ being emphatic: see on 10:1.

12. What man is that which ] Better, Who is the man that , ‘man’ being contemptuous, almost = ‘fellow.’ Once more they ignore the miracle, and attack the command. They ask not, ‘Who cured thee, and therefore must have Divine authority?’ but, ‘Who told thee to break the Sabbath, and therefore could not have it?’ Christ’s command was perhaps aimed at these erroneous views about the Sabbath.

13. had conveyed himself away ] Better, withdrew . Originally the word signified ‘to stoop out of the way of,’ ‘to bend down as if to avoid a blow.’ Here only in N.T. The word might also mean, ‘ swam out of,’ which would be a graphic expression for making one’s way through a crowd.

a multitude being in that place ] This is ambiguous. It may explain either why Jesus withdrew, viz. to avoid the crowd, or how he withdrew, viz. by disappearing among the crowd. Both make good sense.

14. Afterward ] Literally, after these things , as in v . 1. Probably the same day; we may suppose that one of his first acts after his cure would be to offer his thanks in the Temple. On vv . 13 and 14 Augustine writes, ‘It is difficult in a crowd to see Christ; a certain solitude is necessary for our mind; it is by a certain solitude of contemplation that God is seen … He did not see Jesus in the crowd, he saw Him in the Temple. The Lord Jesus indeed saw him both in the crowd and in the Temple. The impotent man, however, does not know Jesus in the crowd; but he knows Him in the Temple.’

sin no more ] Or perhaps, continue no longer in sin . Comp. [8:11,] 20:17. The man’s conscience would tell him what sin. Comp. [8:7]. What follows shews plainly not merely that physical suffering in the aggregate is the result of sin in the aggregate, but that this man’s 38 years of sickness were the result of his own sin. This was known to Christ’s heart-searching eye (2:24, 25), but it is a conclusion which we may not draw without the clearest evidence in any given case. Suffering serves other ends than being a punishment for sin: ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth;’ and comp. 9:3.

a worse thing ] Not necessarily hell: even in this life there might be a worse thing than the sickness which had consumed more than half man’s threescore and ten. So terrible are God’s judgments; so awful is our responsibity. Comp. Matthew 12:45 ; 2 Peter 2:20 .

15. told the Jews ] Not in malice against Jesus, nor in any hope of converting His opponents. Neither of these is probable, nor is there the least evidence of either. Rather, he continues his defiance of them ( v . 11). He had given as his authority for breaking the Sabbath ‘He that made me whole.’ Having found out that it was the famous teacher from Galilee, he returns to give them this additional proof of authority.

16. And therefore ] Better, And on this account , or, and for this cause (12:18, 27). It is not St John’s favourite particle ‘therefore.’ but a preposition and pronoun. Comp. v . 18.

and sought to slay him ] These words are not genuine here, but have been inserted from v . 18. The other two verbs are both in the imperfect tense expressing continued action; ‘used to persecute, continued to persecute;’ ‘used to do, habitually did.’ From which we may infer that some of the unrecorded miracles (2:23, 4:45) were wrought on the Sabbath: unless the Evangelist is speaking from their point of view; ‘because (as they said) He habitually did these things on the Sabbath.’

17 47. The Discourse on the Son as the Source of Life

17. answered them ] This was how He met their constant persecution. The discourse which follows (see introductory note to chap. 3) may be thus analysed. (S. p. 106.) It has two main divisions I. The prerogatives of the Son of God (17 30). II. The unbelief of the Jews (31 47). These two are subdivided as follows: I. 1. Defence of healing on the Sabbath based on the relation of the Son to the Father (17, 18). 2. Intimacy of the Son with the Father further enforced (19, 20). 3. This intimacy proved by the twofold power committed to the Son ( a ) of communicating spiritual life (21 27), ( b ) of raising the dead (28, 29). 4. The Son’s qualification for these high powers is the perfect harmony of His Will with that of the Father (30). II. 1. The Son’s claims rest not on His testimony alone, nor on that of John, but on that of the Father (31 35). 2. The Father’s testimony is evident ( a ) in the works assigned to the Son (36), ( b ) in the revelation which the Jews reject (37 40). 3. Not that the Son needs honour from men, who are too worldly to receive Him (41 44). 4. Their appeal to Moses is vain; his writings condemn them.

17 30. The Prerogatives and Powers of the Son of God

17, 18. Defence of healing on the Sabbath based on the relation of the Son to the Father .

My Father worketh hitherto , &c.] Or, My Father is working even until now; I am working also . From the Creation up to this moment God has been ceaselessly working for man’s salvation. From such activity there is no rest, no Sabbath: for mere cessation from activity is not of the essence of the Sabbath; and to cease to do good is not to keep the Sabbath but to sin. Sabbaths have never hindered the Father’s work; they must not hinder the Son’s. Elsewhere (Mark 2:27 ) Christ says that the Sabbath is a blessing not a burden; it was made for man, not man for it. Here He takes far higher ground for Himself. He is equal to the Father, and does what the Father does. Mark 2:28 helps to connect the two positions. If the Sabbath is subject to man, much more to the Son of Man, who is equal to the Father.

18. Therefore ] Better, For this cause . See on v . 16, 6:65, 7:21, 22, 8:47, 9:23, 10:17, 12:39, 13:11, 15:19, 16:15.

the more ] Shewing that the persecution spoken of in v . 16 included attempts to compass His death. Comp. Mark 3:6 . This ‘seeking to kill’ is the blood-red thread which runs through the whole of this section of the Gospel: comp. 7:1, 19, 25, 8:37, 40, 59, 10:31, 11:53, 12:10.

had broken ] Literally, was loosing or relaxing ; i.e. making less binding. As in v . 15, the A. V. puts pluperfect for imperfect.

making himself equal ] They fully understand the force of the parallel statements, ‘My Father is working; I am working also.’ ‘Behold,’ says Augustine, ‘the Jews understand what the Arians fail to understand.’ If Arian or Unitarian views were right, would not Christ at once have explained that what they imputed to Him as blasphemy was not in His mind at all? But instead of explaining that He by no means claims equality with the Father, He goes on to reaffirm this equality from other points of view: see especially v . 23.

19, 20. Intimacy of the Son with the Father further enforced .

19. can do nothing of himself ] It is impossible for Him to act with individual self-assertion independent of God, because He is the Son: Their Will and working are one. The Jews accuse Him of blasphemy; and blasphemy implies opposition to God: but He and the Father are most intimately united.

but what he seeth , &c.] Better, unless He seeth the Father doing it .

20. For the Father loveth the Son ] Moral necessity for the Son’s doing what the Father does. The Father’s love for the Son compels Him to make known all His works to Him; the Son’s relation to the Father compels Him to do what the Father does. The Son continues on earth what He had seen in heaven before the Incarnation.

he will shew him , &c.] Or, Greater works than these will He shew Him . ‘The Father will give the Son an example of greater works than these healings, the Son will do the like, and ye unbelievers will be shamed into admiration.’ He does not say that they will believe. ‘Works’ is a favourite term with S. John to express the details of Christ’s work of redemption. Comp. v . 36, 9:4, 10:25, 32, 37, 14:11, 12, 15:24.

21 29. The intimacy of the Son with the Father proved by the twofold power committed to the Son (a) of communicating spiritual life , (b) of causing the bodily resurrection of the dead .

21 27. The Father imparts to the Son the power of raising the spiritually dead. It is very important to notice that ‘raising the dead’ in this section is figurative ; raising from moral and spiritual death: whereas the resurrection ( vv . 28, 29) is literal ; the rising of dead bodies from the graves. It is impossible to take both sections in one and the same sense, either figurative or literal. The wording of v . 28 and still more of v . 29 is quite conclusive against spiritual resurrection being meant there: what in that case could ‘the resurrection of damnation’ mean? Verses 24 and 25 are equally conclusive against a bodily resurrection being meant here: what in that case can ‘an hour is coming, and now is ’ mean?

21. raiseth up the dead ] This is one of the ‘greater works’ which the Father sheweth the Son, and which the Son imitates, the raising up those who are spiritually dead. Not all of them: the Son imparts life only to ‘whom He will:’ and He wills not to impart it to those who will not believe. The ‘whom He will’ would be almost unintelligible if actual resurrection from the grave were intended.

22. For the Father judgeth no man ] Rather, For not even doth the Father (to Whom judgment belongs) judge any man . The Son therefore has both powers, to make alive whom He will, and to judge: but the second is only the corollary of first. Those whom He does not will to make alive are by that very fact judged, separated off from the living, and left in the death which they have chosen. He does not make them dead, does not slay them. They are spiritually dead already, and will not be made alive. Here, as in 3:17, 18, the judgment is one of condemnation; but this comes from the context, not from the word.

hath committed ] Or, given ; there is no reason for varying the common rendering.

23. honoureth not the Father ] Because he refuses to honour the Father’s representative.

which hath sent ] Better, which sent . See on 20:21.

24. He that heareth ] We see from this that ‘whom He will’ ( v . 21) implies no arbitrary selection. It is each individual who decides for himself whether he will hear and believe.

believeth on him that sent me ] Omit ‘on;’ there is no preposition in the Greek.

hath everlasting life ] Or, hath eternal life: see on 3:16. Note the tense; he hath it already, it is not a reward to be bestowed hereafter: see on 3:36.

shall not come into condemnation ] Better, cometh not into judgment .

is passed from death into life ] Or, is passed over out of death into life (comp. 13:1; 1 John 3:14 ). This is evidently equivalent to escaping judgment and attaining eternal life, clearly shewing that death is spiritual death, and the resurrection from it spiritual also. This cannot refer to the resurrection of the body.

25. Repetition of v . 24 in a more definite form, with a cheering addition: v . 24 says that whoever hears and believes God has eternal life; v . 25 states that already some are in this happy case.

The hour is coming ] Better, There cometh an hour : comp. 4:21, 23.

and now is ] These words also exclude the meaning of a bodily resurrection; the hour for which had not yet arrived. The few cases in which Christ raised the dead cannot be meant; (1) the statement evidently has a much wider range; (2) the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus were not yet dead, so that even of them ‘and now is ’ would not be true; (3) they died again after their return from death, and ‘they that hear shall live’ clearly refers to eternal life, as a comparison with v . 24 shews. If a spiritual resurrection be understood, ‘and now is’ is perfectly intelligible: Christ’s ministry was already winning souls from spiritual death.

26. so hath he given to the Son ] Better, so gave He also to the Son . Comp. ‘the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father’ (6:57). The Father is the absolutely living One, the Fount of all Life. The Messiah, however, imparts life to all who believe; which He could not do unless He had in Himself a fountain of life; and this the Father gave Him when He sent Him into the world. The Eternal Generation of the Son from the Father is not here in question; it is the Father’s communication of Divine attributes to the Incarnate Word that is meant.

27. Hath given him authority to execute judgment also ] Better, gave Him authority to execute judgment , when He sent Him into the world. ‘Also’ is not genuine. See on 1:12, and comp. 10:18.

because he is the Son of man ] Rather, because He is a son of man ; i.e. not because He is the Messiah, but because He is a human being. In the Greek neither ‘son’ nor ‘man’ has the article. Where ‘the Son of Man,’ i.e. the Messiah, is meant, both words have the article: comp. 1:51, 3:13, 14, 6:27, 53, 62, 8:28, &c. Because the Son emptied Himself of all His glory and became a man, therefore the Father endowed Him with these two powers; to have life in Himself, and to execute judgment.

Before passing on to the last section of this half of the discourse we may remark that “the relation of the Son to the Father is seldom alluded to in the Synoptic Gospels. But a single verse in which it is, seems to contain the essence of the Johannean theology, Matthew 11:27 : ‘All things are delivered unto Me of My Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.’ This passage is one of the best authenticated in the Synoptic Gospels. It is found in exact parallelism both in S. Matthew and S. Luke … And yet once grant the authenticity of this passage, and there is nothing in the Johannean Christology that it does not cover.” S. p. 109. The theory, therefore, that this discourse is the composition of the Evangelist, who puts forward his own theology as the teaching of Christ, has no basis. If the passage in S. Matthew and S. Luke represents the teaching of Christ, what reason have we for doubting that this discourse does so? To invent the substance of it was beyond the reach even of S. John; how far the precise wording is his we cannot tell. This section of it (21 27) bears very strong impress of his style.

28, 29. The intimacy between the Father and the Son further proved by the power committed to the Son of causing the bodily resurrection of the dead.

28. Marvel not ] Comp. 3:7. Marvel not that the Son can grant spiritual life to them that believe, and separate from them those who will not believe. There cometh an hour when He shall cause a general resurrection of men’s bodies, and a final separation of good from bad, a final judgment. He does not add ‘and now is,’ which is in favour of the resurrection being literal .

all that are in the graves ] Not ‘whom He will;’ there are none whom He does not will to come forth from their sepulchres (see on 11:7). All, whether believers or not, must rise. This shews that spiritual resurrection cannot be meant.

29. done evil ] Or, practised worthless things . See on 3:20.

unto the resurrection of damnation ] Better, unto the resurrection of judgment . It is the same Greek word as is used in vv . 22, 27. These words are the strongest proof that spiritual resurrection cannot be meant. Spiritual resurrection must always be a resurrection of life, a passing from spiritual death to spiritual life. A passing from spiritual death to judgment is not spiritual resurrection. This passage, and Acts 24:15 , are the only direct assertions in N.T. of a bodily resurrection of the wicked. It is implied, Matthew 10:28 ; Revelation 20:12 , Revelation 20:13 . A satisfactory translation for the Greek words meaning ‘judge’ and ‘judgment’ cannot be found: they combine the notions of ‘separating’ and ‘judging,’ and from the context often acquire the further notion of ‘condemning.’ See on 3:17, 18.

30. The Son’s qualification for these high powers is the perfect harmony between His will and that of the Father .

I can of mine own self ] Change to the first person. He identifies Himself with the Son. It is because He is the Son that He cannot act independently: it is impossible for Him to will to do anything but what the Father wills.

as I hear ] From the Father: Christ’s judgment is the declaration of that which the Father communicates to Him. And hence Christ’s judgment must be just, for it is in accordance with the Divine Will; and this is the strongest possible guarantee of its justice. Comp. Matthew 26:39 .

31 47. The unbelief of the Jews

31 35. These claims rest not on My testimony alone, nor on that of John, but on that of the Father .

31. my witness is not true ] Nothing is to be understood; the words are to be taken quite literally: ‘If I bear any witness other than that which My Father bears, that witness of Mine is not true.’ In 8:14 we have an apparent contradiction to this, but it is only the other side of the same truth: ‘My witness is true because it is really My Father’s.’

32. There is another ] Not the Baptist, as seems clear from v . 34; but the Father, comp. 7:28, 8:26. It has been already remarked how much there is in this Gospel about ‘witness,’ ‘bearing witness,’ and the like: see on 1:7.

33. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness ] Better, Ye have sent unto John, and he hath borne witness . ‘What ye have heard from him is true; but I do not accept it, for I need not the testimony of man. I mention it for your sakes, not My own. If ye believe John ye will believe Me and be saved.’ ‘Ye’ and ‘I’ in these two verses (33, 34) are in emphatic opposition.

35. He was a burning and a shining light ] A grievous mistranslation, ignoring the Greek article twice over, and also the meaning of the words; and thus obscuring the marked difference between the Baptist and the Messiah: better, he was the lamp which is kindled and (so) shineth . Christ is the Light; John is only the lamp kindled at the Light, and shining only after being so kindled, having no light but what is derived. The word here, and Matthew 6:22 , translated ‘light,’ is translated ‘candle’ Matthew 5:15 ; Mark 4:21 ; Luke 8:16 , Luke 8:11 :33, Luke 8:36 , Luke 8:15 :8; Revelation 18:23 , Revelation 22:5 . ‘Lamp’ would be best in all places. No O.T. prophecy speaks of the Baptist under this figure. David is so called 2 Samuel 21:17 (see margin), and Elijah (Ecclus. 48:1). The imperfects in this verse seem to imply that John’s career is closed; he is in prison, if not dead.

were willing for a season ] Like children, they were glad to disport themselves in the blaze, instead of seriously considering its meaning. And even that only for a season: their pilgrimages to the banks of the Jordan had soon ended; when John began to preach repentance they left him, sated with the novelty and offended at his doctrine. For another charge of frivolity and fickleness against them in reference to John comp. Matthew 11:16-19 .

36 40. The Father’s testimony is evident , (a) in the works assigned to Me , (b) in the revelation which ye do not receive .

36. I have greater witness than that of John ] Better, I have the witness which is greater than John ; or, the witness which I have is greater than John , viz. the works which as the Messiah I have been commissioned to do. Among these works would be raising the spiritually dead to life, judging unbelievers, as well as miracles: certainly not miracles only; 4:48, 10:38.

to finish ] Literally, in order that I may accomplish ; comp. 17:4. This was God’s purpose. See on 4:34, 47, 9:3. S. John is very fond of the construction ‘in order that,’ especially of the Divine purpose.

37 40. The connexion of thought in the next few verses is very difficult to catch, and cannot be affirmed with certainty. This is often the case in S. John’s writings. A number of simple sentences follow one another with an even flow; but it is by no means easy to see how each leads on to the next. Here there is a transition from the indirect testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus given by the works which He is commissioned to do ( v . 36), to the direct testimony to the same given by the words of Scripture (37 40). The Jews were rejecting both.

which hath sent me, hath borne witness ] There is a difference of tense in the Greek which should be retained: the Father which sent Me (once for all at the Incarnation) He hath borne witness (for a long time past, and is still doing so) of Me .

Ye have neither , &c.] These words are a reproach ; therefore there can be no allusion (as suggested in the margin) to the Baptism or the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration had not yet taken place, and very few if any of Christ’s hearers could have heard the voice from heaven at the Baptism. Moreover, if that particular utterance were meant, ‘voice’ in the Greek would have had the article. Nor can there be any reference to the theophanies, or symbolical visions of God, in O.T. It could be no matter of reproach to these Jews that they had never beheld a theophany. A paraphrase will shew the meaning; ‘neither with the ear of the heart have ye ever heard Him, nor with the eye of the heart have ye ever seen Him, in the revelation of Himself given in the Scriptures; and so ye have not the testimony of His word present as an abiding power within you.’ There should be no full stop at ‘shape,’ only a comma or semi-colon. Had they studied Scripture rightly they would have had a less narrow view of the Sabbath ( v . 16), and would have recognised the Messiah.

38. And ye have not his word ] ‘And hence it is that ye have no inner appropriation of the word’ seeing that ye have never received it either by hearing or vision. ‘His word’ is not a fresh testimony different from the ‘voice’ and ‘shape:’ all refer to the same thing, the testimony of Scripture to the Messiah.

for whom he hath sent ] Better, because whom He sent . This is the proof of the previous negation: one who had the word abiding in his heart could not reject Him to whom that word bears witness. Comp. 1 John 2:14 , 1 John 2:24 .

39. Search the Scriptures ] It will never be settled beyond dispute whether the verb here is imperative or indicative . As far as the Greek shews it may be either, ‘search,’ or ‘ye search,’ and both make sense. The question is, which makes the best sense, and this the context must decide. The context seems to be strongly in favour of the indicative, ye search the Scriptures . All the verbs on either side are in the indicative; and more especially the one with which it is so closely connected, ‘and ye will not come.’ Ye search the Scriptures, and (instead of their leading you to Me) ye are not willing to come to Me . The tragic tone once more: see on 1:5. The reproach lies not in their searching, but in their searching to so little purpose. Jewish study of the Scriptures was too often learned trifling and worse; obscuring the text by frivolous interpretations, ‘making it of none effect’ by unholy traditions.

for in them ye think ] ‘Ye’ is emphatic; because ye are the people who think ; it is your own opinion. Not that they were wrong in thinking that eternal life was to be found in the Scriptures; their error was in thinking that they, who rejected the Messiah, had found it. Had they searched aright they would have found both the Messiah and eternal life.

they are they ] See on 10:1.

40. ye will not come to me ] Not the future of ‘to come,’ but the present of ‘to will:’ ye are not willing to come to Me . This is at the root of their failure to read Scripture aright, their hearts are estranged. They have no will to find the truth, and without that no intellectual searching will avail. Note that here again man’s will is shewn to be free; the truth is not forced upon him; he can reject it if he likes. Comp. 3:19.

that ye might have life ] ‘Ye fancy ye find life in your searching of the Scriptures, and ye refuse to come to Me in order to have it in reality.’

41 44. Not that I seek glory from men; had I done so, you would have received Me. Your worldliness prevents you from receiving One whose motives are not worldly .

41. I receive not honour ] It is nothing to Me; I have no need of it, and refuse it: comp. v . 34. Glory would perhaps be better than ‘honour’ both here and in v . 44, and than ‘praise’ in 9:24 and 12:43; see notes there. Christ is anticipating an objection, and at the same time shewing what is the real cause of their unbelief. ‘Glory from men is not what I seek; think not the want of that is the cause of My complaint. The desire of glory from men is what blinds your eyes to the truth.’

42. But I know you ] Once more Christ appears as the searcher of hearts; comp. 1:47, 50, 2:24, 25, 4:17, 18, 48, 5:14.

in you ] Or, in yourselves , in your hearts . ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart’ (Deuteronomy 7:5 ) was written on their broad phylacteries (see note on Matthew 23:5 ), but it had no place in their hearts and no influence on their lives. It is the want of love , the want of will ( v . 40) that makes them reject and persecute the Messiah.

43. and ye receive me not ] The tragic tone as in vv . 39, 40, ‘I come with the highest credentials, as My Father’s representative (comp. 8:42), and ye reject Me.’

come in his own name ] As a false Messiah or as Antichrist. Sixty-four pretended Messiahs have been counted. Comp. Matthew 24:24 .

44. How can ye believe ] The emphasis is on ‘ye.’ How is it possible, for you , who care only for the glory that man bestows, to believe on One who rejects such glory. This is the climax of Christ’s accusation. They have reduced themselves to such a condition that they cannot believe. They must change their whole view and manner of life before they can do so, comp. v . 47.

from God only ] Rather, from the only God , from Him who alone is God; whereas by receiving glory from one another they were making gods of one another; so that it is they who really ‘make themselves equal with God’ ( v . 18). The Greek is not similar to Matthew 17:8 or Luke 5:21 , but to 17:3; 1 Timothy 6:16 . Comp. Romans 16:27 ; 1 Timothy 1:17 ; Jude 1:25 . Note the absence of the article before the first ‘honour’ and its presence before the second: they receive glory, such as it is, from one another, and are indifferent to the glory, which alone deserves the name.

The whole verse should run thus, How can ye believe , seeing that ye receive glory one of another; and the glory which cometh from the only God ye seek not .

45 47. Do not appeal to Moses; his writings condemn you .

Thus the whole basis of their confidence is cut away. Moses on whom they trust as a defender is their accuser.

45. Do not think ] As you might be disposed to do after hearing these reproaches.

that I will accuse you ] If this refers to the day of judgment (and the future tense seems to point to that), there are two reasons why Christ will not act as accuser (1) because it would be needless; there is another accuser ready; (2) because He will be acting as Judge.

there is one ] Your accuser exists already; he is there with his charge. Note the change from future to present: Christ will not be, because Moses is , their accuser.

in whom ye trust ] Literally, on whom ye have set your hope .

46. had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me ] Better, If ye believed Moses, ye would believe Me: the verbs are imperfects, not aorists. See on 8:19 (where we have a similar mistranslation), 42, 9:41, 15:19, 18:36. Contrast the construction in 4:10, 11:21, 32, 14:28. This proves that Moses is their accuser.

for he wrote of me ] Christ here stamps with His authority the authority of the Pentateuch. He accepts, as referring to Himself, the Messianic types and prophecies which it contains. Comp. Luke 24:27 , Luke 24:44 .

47. if ye believe not ] The emphatic words are ‘his’ and ‘My.’ Most readers erroneously emphasize ‘writings’ and ‘words.’ The comparison is between Moses and Christ. It was a simple matter of fact that Moses had written and Christ had not: the contrast between writings and words is no part of the argument. Comp. Luke 16:31 ; ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.’

my words ] Or, My sayings . It is not the plural of ‘word’ ( λόγος ) in v . 38, but another substantive ( ῥήματα ) used by S. John only in the plural. Comp. 6:63, 68, 8:47, 12:47, 15:7; where the separate sayings are meant; whereas in 6:60, 8:43, 51, 12:48, 15:3 it is rather the teaching as a whole that is meant.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 5". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/john-5.html. 1896.
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