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Bible Commentaries
John 6

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Chap. 6

We see more and more as we go on, that this Gospel makes no attempt to be a complete or connected whole. There are large gaps in the chronology. The Evangelist gives us not a biography, but a series of typical scenes, very carefully selected, and painted with great accuracy and minuteness, but not closely connected. As to what guided him in his selection, we know no more than the general purpose stated 20:31, and it is sufficient for us. Those words and works of Jesus, which seemed most calculated to convince men that He ‘is the Christ, the Son of God,’ were recorded by the beloved Apostle. And the fact that they had already been recorded by one or more of the first Evangelists did not deter him from insisting on them again; although he naturally more often chose what they had omitted. In this chapter we have a notable instance of readiness to go over old ground in order to work out his own purpose. The miracle of feeding the Five Thousand is recorded by all four Evangelists, the only miracle that is so. Moreover, it is outside the Judaean ministry; so that for this reason also we might have expected S. John to omit it. But he needs it as a text for the great discourse on the Bread of Life; and this though spoken in Galilee was in a great measure addressed to Jews from Jerusalem; so that both text and discourse fall naturally within the range of S. John’s plan.

As in Chap. 5. Christ is set forth as the Source of Life , so in this chapter He is set forth as the Support of Life .

Chap. 6. Christ the Support of Life

This chapter, like the last, contains a discourse arising out of a miracle. It contains moreover an element wanting in the previous chapter, the results of the discourse. Thus we obtain three divisions; 1. The Sign on the Land, the Sign on the Lake, and the Sequel of the Signs (1 25). 2. The Discourse on the Son as the Support of Life (26 59). 3. The opposite Results (60 71).

1 15. The Sign on the Land; Feeding the Five Thousand

1. After these things ] See on 5:1. How long after we cannot tell; but if the feast in 5:1 is rightly conjectured to be Purim, this would be about a month later in the same year, which is probably a.d. 29. But S. John is not careful to mark the precise interval between the various scenes which he gives us. Comp. the indefinite transitions from the First Passover to Nicodemus, 2:23, 3:1; from Nicodemus to the Baptist’s discourse, 3:22, 25; from that to the scene at Sychar 4:1 4; &c., &c. The chronology is doubtless correct, but it is not clear: chronology is not what S. John cares to give us. The historical connexion with what precedes is not the same in the four accounts. Here it is in connexion with the miracles at Bethesda and probably after the death of the Baptist (see on 5:25): in S. Matthew it is in connexion with the death of the Baptist: in S. Mark and S. Luke it is after the death of the Baptist, but in connexion with the return of the Twelve. The notes on Matthew 14:13-21 ; Mark 6:40-44 , and Luke 9:10-17 should be compared throughout.

went over the sea of Galilee ] To the eastern or north-eastern shore. The scene shifts suddenly from Judaea (5:18) to Galilee; but we are told nothing about the transit.

which is the sea of Tiberias ] (Here, v . 23 and 21:1 only). Added to describe the sea more exactly, especially for the sake of foreign readers. Another slight indication that this Gospel was written outside Palestine: inside Palestine such minute description would be less natural. Perhaps we are to understand that the southern half of the lake is specially intended; for here on the western shore Tiberias was situated. The name Tiberias is not found in the first three Gospels. The town was built during our Lord’s life time by Herod Antipas, who called it Tiberias out of compliment to the reigning Emperor; one of many instances of the Herods paying court to Rome. Comp. Bethsaida Julias, where this miracle took place, called Julias by Herod Philip after the infamous daughter of Augustus. The new town would naturally be much better known and more likely to be mentioned when S. John wrote than when the earlier Evangelists wrote.

2. a great multitude ] All the greater seeing that the Baptist was no longer a counter-attraction, and that the Twelve had returned from their mission, in which they had no doubt excited attention. This multitude went round by land while Christ crossed the water. All the verbs which follow are imperfects and express continued and habitual action; were following Him, because they were beholding the signs which he was doing , &c., i.e. after He landed He kept on working miracles of healing, and these continually attracted fresh crowds.

3. into a mountain ] Rather, into the mountain , or, perhaps the mountainous part of the district. The definite article indicates familiarity with the locality. Comp. v . 15. We have no means of determining the precise eminence.

4. And the Passover ] Better, Now the Passover .

a feast of the Jews ] Rather, the feast of the Jews . Possibly this near approach of the Passover is given merely as a date to mark the time. As already noticed (see on 2:13), S. John groups his narrative round the Jewish festivals. But the statement may also be made as a further explanation of the multitude. Just before the Passover large bands of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem would be passing along the east shore of the lake. But we find that the multitude in this case are quite ready ( v . 24) to cross over to Capernaum, as if they had no intention of going to Jerusalem; so that this interpretation of the verse is uncertain. Still more doubtful is the theory that this verse gives a key of interpretation to the discourse which follows, the eating of Christ’s flesh and blood being the antitype of the Passover. Of this there is no indication whatever. It is safest to regard the verse as a mere note to time. In any case the addition of ‘the feast of the Jews’ again indicates that the author is writing away from Palestine. From 7:1 it would seem that Jesus did not go up to Jerusalem for this Passover

5. When Jesus then , &c.] Better, Jesus therefore having lifted up His eyes and seen that a great multitude cometh .

he saith unto Philip ] Why Philip? Because he was nearest to Him; or because his forward spirit (14:8) needed to be convinced of its own helplessness; or because, as living on the lake (1:44) he would know the neighbourhood. Any or all of these suggestions may be correct. As Judas kept the bag it is not likely that Philip commonly provided food for the party. A more important question remains: “we notice that the impulse to the performance of the miracle comes in the Synoptists from the disciples; in S. John, solely from our Lord Himself.” This is difference, but not contradiction: S. John’s narrative does not preclude the possibility of the disciples having spontaneously applied to Christ for help either before or after this conversation with Philip. “For the rest the superiority in distinctness and precision is all on the side of S. John. He knows to whom the question was put; he knows exactly what Philip answered; and again the remark of Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother … Some memories are essentially pictorial; and the Apostle’s appears to have been one of these. It is wonderful with what precision every stroke is thrown in. Most minds would have become confused in reproducing events which had occurred so long ago; but there is no confusion here. The whole scene could be transferred to canvas without any difficulty.” S. pp. 121 123.

Whence shall we buy ] Or, whence must we buy ; the deliberative subjunctive.

6. to prove him ] This need not mean more than to try whether he could suggest any way out of the difficulty; but the more probable meaning is to test his faith, to try what impression Christ’s words and works have made upon him.

he himself ] without suggestions from others.

would do ] Or, was about to do .

7. Two hundred pennyworth ] Two hundred shillingsworth would more accurately represent the original. The denarius was the ordinary wage for a day’s work (Matthew 20:2 ; comp. Luke 10:35 ); in weight of silver it was less than a shilling; in purchasing power it was more. Two hundred denarii from the one point of view would be about £7, from the other, nearly double that. S. Philip does not solve the difficulty; he merely states it in a practical way; a much larger amount than they can command would still be insufficient. See notes on Mark 8:4 .

8. One of his disciples ] Of course this does not imply that Philip was not a disciple; the meaning rather is, that a disciple had been appealed to without results, and now a disciple makes a communication out of which good results flow. There seems to have been some connexion between S. Andrew and S. Philip (1:44, 12:22). In the lists of the Apostles in Mark 3:0 and Acts 1:0 S. Philip’s name immediately follows Andrew’s. On S. Andrew see notes on 1:40, 41. The particulars about Philip and Andrew here are not found in the Synoptists’ account.

9. a lad ] And therefore able to carry very little. The word is a diminutive in the Greek, a little lad ; it might also mean ‘servant,’ but this is less likely.

barley loaves ] The ordinary coarse food of the lower orders; Judges 7:13 . S. John alone mentions their being of barley, and that they belonged to the lad, who was probably selling them. With homely food from so scanty a store Christ will feed them all. These minute details are the touches of an eyewitness.

two small fishes ] Better, two fishes , although the Greek ( opsaria ) is a diminutive. The word occurs in this Gospel only ( v . 11, 21:9, 10, 13), and literally means a little relish , i.e. anything eaten with bread or other food: and as salt fish was most commonly used for this purpose the word came gradually to mean ‘fish’ in particular. Philip had enlarged on the greatness of the difficulty; Andrew insists rather on the smallness of the resources for meeting it.

10. much grass ] As we might expect early in April ( v . 4). S. Mark (6:39, 40) mentions how they reclined in parterres, by hundreds and by fifties, on the green grass . This arrangement would make it easy to count them.

the men sat down ] The women and children were probably apart by themselves. S. Matthew (14:21) tells us that the 5000 included the men only. Among those going up to the Passover there would not be many women or children.

11. when he had given thanks ] The usual grace before meat said by the head of the house or the host. ‘He that enjoys aught without thanksgiving, is as though he robbed God.’ Talmud. But it seems clear that this giving of thanks or blessing of the food (Luke 9:16 ) was the means of the miracle, because (1) all four narratives notice it; (2) it is pointedly, mentioned again v . 23; (3) it is also mentioned in both accounts of the feeding of the 4000 (Matthew 15:36 ; Mark 8:6 ).

to the disciples, and the disciples ] These words are wanting in authority; the best texts run, He distributed to them that were lying down . It is futile to ask whether the multiplication took place in Christ’s hands only: the manner of the miracle eludes us, as in the turning of the water into wine. That was a change of quality, this of quantity. This is a literal fulfilment of Matthew 6:33 .

12. Gather up the fragments ] S. John alone tells of this command, though the others tell us that the fragments were gathered up. It has been noticed as a strong mark of truth, most unlikely to have been invented by the writer of a fiction. We do not find the owner of Fortunatus’ purse careful against extravagance. How improbable, from a human point of view, that one who could multiply food at will should give directions about saving fragments!

13. baskets ] All four accounts have the same word for basket, cophinus , i.e. the wallet which every Jew carried when on a journey, to keep himself independent of Gentile food, which would be unclean. Comp. Juvenal iii. 14. Each of the Twelve gathered into his own wallet, and filled it full. Moreover in referring to the miracle the word cophinus is used (Matthew 16:9 ). In the feeding of the 4000 (Matthew 15:37 ; Mark 8:8 ), and in referring to it (Matthew 16:10 ), a different word for basket, spuris , is used. Such accuracy is evidence of truth. See note on Mark 8:8 . S. Mark tells us that fragments of fish were gathered also. The remnants far exceed in quantity the original store.

The expedients to evade the obvious meaning of the narrative are worth mentioning, as shewing how some readers are willing to ‘violate all the canons of historical evidence,’ rather than admit the possibility of a miracle: (1) that food had been brought over and concealed in the boat; (2) that some among the multitude were abundantly supplied with food and were induced by Christ’s example to share their supply with others; (3) that the whole is an allegorical illustration of Matthew 6:33 . How could either (1) or (2) excite even a suspicion that He was the Messiah, much less kindle such an enthusiasm as is recorded in v . 15? And if the whole is an illustration of Matthew 6:33 , what meaning in the allegory can be given to this popular enthusiasm? There are “rationalising expedients that are considerably more incredible than miracles.” S. p. 126.

14. Then those men ] Rather, The men therefore.

the miracle that Jesus did ] Better, the sign that He did . The name Jesus has been inserted here, as elsewhere, because this once was the beginning of a lesson read in church. The same thing has been done in our own Prayer Book in the Gospels for Quinquagesima and the 3rd Sunday in Lent: in the Gospel for S. John’s Day the names of both Jesus and Peter have been inserted; and in those for the 5th S. in Lent and 2nd S. after Easter the words ‘Jesus said’ have been inserted. In all cases a desire for clearness has caused the insertion. Comp. 8:21.

that prophet that should come ] Literally, the Prophet that cometh : the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 (see on 1:21). But perhaps the Greek participle here only represents the Hebrew participle, which is properly present, but is often used where a future participle would be used in Latin or Greek. S. John alone tells us the effect of the miracle on those who witnessed it: comp. 2:11, 23. These two verses (14, 15) supply “a decisive proof that the narrative in the fourth Gospel is not constructed out of that of the Synoptists, and we might almost add a decisive proof of the historical character of the Gospel itself … The Synoptists have nothing of this … Yet how exactly it corresponds with the current Messianic expectations! Our Lord had performed a miracle; and at once He is hailed as the Messiah. But it is as the Jewish, not the Christian Messiah. The multitude would take Him by force and make Him king. At last they have found the leader who will lead them victoriously against the Romans and ‘restore the kingdom to Israel.’ And just because He refused to do this we are told a few verses lower down that many of His disciples ‘went back, and walked no more with Him,’ and for the same cause, a year later, they crucified Him. It is this contrast between the popular Messianic belief and the sublimated form of it, as maintained and represented by Christ, that is the clue to all the fluctuations and oscillations to which the belief in Him was subject. This is why He was confessed one day and denied the next … It is almost superfluous to point out how impossible it would have been for a writer wholly ab extra to throw himself into the midst of these hopes and feelings, and to reproduce them, not as if they were something new that he had learned, but as part of an atmosphere that he had himself once breathed. There is no stronger proof both of the genuineness and of the authenticity of the fourth Gospel than the way in which it reflects the current Messianic idea.” S. pp. 123, 124.

15. take him by force ] Carry Him up to Jerusalem and proclaim Him king at the Passover. This again is peculiar to S. John. In his Epic he points out how the enmity of Christ’s foes increases; and nothing increased it so much as popular enthusiasm for Him: comp. 3:26, 4:1 3, 7:40, 41, 46, 8:30, 9:30 38, 10:21, 42, 11:45, 46, 12:9 11.

again ] He had come down to feed them.

into a mountain ] Better, as in v . 3, into the mountain , or the hill country .

himself alone ] S. Matthew and S. Mark tell us that the solitude He sought was for prayer. S. Luke (9:18) mentions both the solitary prayer and also a question which seems to refer to this burst of enthusiasm for Christ; ‘Whom say the people that I am?’ Thus the various accounts supplement one another.

16 21. The Sign on the Lake; Walking on the Water

16. when even was now come ] S. Matthew (14:15, 23) makes two evenings; this was in accordance with Jewish custom. It is the second evening that is here meant, from 6 p.m. to dark.

went down ] From Matthew 14:22 and Mark 6:45 we learn that Christ ‘constrained’ His disciples to embark: this points either to their general unwillingness to leave Him, or to their having shared the wish to make Him a king by force. S. Luke omits the whole incident.

17. toward Capernaum ] S. Mark says ‘unto Bethsaida’ which was close to Capernaum. See notes and map at Matthew 4:13 and Luke 5:1 . For ‘went over the sea’ we should read were coming over the sea , i.e. were on their way home.

was not come ] More accurately, was not yet come .

18. the sea arose ] Literally, was becoming thoroughly agitated , so that their Master’s following them in another boat seemed impossible. For the vivid description comp. Jonah 1:13 .

19. five and twenty or thirty furlongs ] This pretty closely corresponds with ‘in the midst of the sea’ (Matthew 14:24 ). The lake is nearly seven miles across in the widest part.

walking on the sea ] There is no doubt that this means on the surface of the water, although an attempt has been made to shew that the Greek may mean ‘on the sea-shore.’ Even if it can, which is perhaps somewhat doubtful, the context shews plainly what is meant. How could they have been afraid at seeing Jesus walking on the shore? S. Mark tells us that it was about the fourth watch, i.e. between 3.0 and 6.0 a.m. S. Matthew alone gives S. Peter’s walking on the sea.

20. It is I ] Literally, I am (comp. 18:5).

21. they willingly received him ] Rather, they were willing to receive Him . The mistranslation seems to have arisen from a wish to make this account agree with that of S. Matthew and S. Mark, who say that he entered the boat. It is probably due to Beza , who for the Vulgate’s voluerunt recipere substitutes volente animo receperunt . S. John leaves us in doubt whether He entered the boat or not; he is not correcting the other two accounts: this would require ‘but before He could enter it the boat was at the land.’

immediately ] We are probably to understand that this was miraculous; not a mere favourable breeze which brought them to land before they had recovered from their surprise: but the point is uncertain and unimportant.

whither they went ] Better, whither they were going , or intending to go. The imperfect tense helps to bring out the contrast between the difficulty of the first half of the voyage, when they were alone, and the ease of the last half, when He was with them. The word for ‘going’ implies departure, and looks back to the place left.

The Walking on the Sea cannot be used as evidence that the writer held Docetic views about Christ, i.e. believed that His Body was a mere phantom. A Docetist would have made more of the incident, and would hardly have omitted the cry of the disciples ‘It is a spirit ’ (Matthew 14:26 ; comp. Mark 6:49 ). Docetism is absolutely excluded from this Gospel by 1:14, and by the general tone of it throughout. Comp. 19:34, 35, 20:20, 27.

22 25. The Sequel of the two Signs

22 24. We have here a complicated sentence very unusual in S. John (but comp. 13:1 4); it betrays “a certain literary awkwardness, but great historical accuracy … The structure of the sentence is no argument against the truth of the statements which it contains. On the contrary, if these had been fictitious, we may be sure that they would have been much simpler. Indeed a forger would never have thought of relating how the crowd got across the sea at all. We see the natural partiality with which the Evangelist dwells upon scenes with which he is familiar. He had been a fisherman on the sea of Galilee himself. He knew the boats of Tiberias from those of Capernaum and the other cities, and had probably friends or relations in that very crowd.” S. pp. 126, 127.

22. the people ] An instance of the caprice of our translators in creating differences. The same Greek word is translated ‘multitude’ in v . 2, ‘company’ in v . 5, and ‘people’ here, v . 24, &c.; multitude would be best throughout.

on the other side of the sea ] On the eastern side where the miracle took place.

save that one whereinto his disciples were entered ] The only words of this sentence that are of certain authority are save one; the rest is probably an explanatory note.

were gone away ] Better, went away .

23. Howbeit there came ] This awkward parenthesis explains how there came to be boats to transport the people to the western shore after they had given over seeking for Christ on the eastern.

after that the Lord had given thanks ] Unless the giving thanks was the turning-point of the miracle it is difficult to see why it is mentioned again here: see on v . 11.

24. they also took shipping ] More literally, they themselves entered into the boats , i.e. the boats that had come from Tiberias, driven in very possibly by the gale which had delayed the Apostles: ‘also’ is not genuine. Of course there is no reason to suppose that all who had been miraculously fed crossed over; but a sufficient number of them to be called a ‘multitude.’

25. on the other side of the sea ] This now means the western shore; in v . 22 it meant the eastern. From v . 59 we have the locality fixed very distinctly as the synagogue at Capernaum.

when camest thou ] Including how? they suspect something miraculous. Christ does not gratify their curiosity: if the feeding of the 5000, which they had witnessed, taught them nothing, what good would it do them to hear of the crossing of the sea? ‘Camest Thou hither’ is literally ‘hast Thou come to be here:’ comp. 1:15.

26 59. The Discourse on the Son as the Support of Life

God’s revealed word and created world are unhappily alike in this; that the most beautiful places in each are often the scene and subject of strife. This marvellous discourse is a well-known field of controversy, as to whether it does or does not refer to the Eucharist. That it has no reference whatever to the Eucharist seems incredible, when we remember (1) the startling words here used about eating the Flesh of the Son of Man and drinking His Blood; (2) that just a year from this time Christ instituted the Eucharist; (3) that the primitive Church is something like unanimous in interpreting this discourse as referring to the Eucharist. A few words are necessary on each of these points. (1) Probably nowhere in any literature, not even among the luxuriant imagery of the East, can we find an instance of a teacher speaking of the reception of his doctrine under so astounding a metaphor as eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Something more than this must at any rate be meant here. The metaphor ‘eating a man’s flesh’ elsewhere means to injure or destroy him. Psalms 27:2 (14:4); James 5:3 . (2) The founding of new religions, especially of those which have had any great hold on the minds of men, has ever been the result of much thought and deliberation. Let us leave out of the account the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and place Him for the moment on a level with other great teachers. Are we to suppose that just a year before the Eucharist was instituted, the Founder of this, the most distinctive element of Christian worship, had no thought of it in His mind? Surely for long beforehand that institution was in His thoughts; and if so, ‘Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you’ cannot but have some reference to ‘Take eat, this is My Body,’ ‘Drink ye all of it, for this is My Blood.’ The coincidence is too exact to be fortuitous, even if it were probable that a year before it was instituted the Eucharist was still unknown to the Founder of it. That the audience at Capernaum could not thus understand Christ’s words is nothing to the point: He was speaking less to them than to Christians throughout all ages. How often did He utter words which even Apostles could not understand at the time. (3) The interpretations of the primitive Church are not infallible, even when they are almost unanimous: but they carry great weight. And in a case of this kind, where spiritual insight and Apostolic tradition are needed, rather than scholarship and critical power, patristic authority may be allowed the very greatest weight.

But while it is incredible that there is no reference to the Eucharist in this discourse, it is equally incredible that the reference is solely or primarily to the Eucharist. The wording of the larger portion of the discourse is against any such exclusive interpretation; not until v . 51 does the reference to the Eucharist become clear and direct. Rather the discourse refers to all the various channels of grace by means of which Christ imparts Himself to the believing soul: and who will dare to limit these in number or efficacy?

To quote the words of Dr Westcott, the discourse “cannot refer primarily to the Holy Communion; nor again can it be simply prophetic of that Sacrament. The teaching has a full and consistent meaning in connexion with the actual circumstances, and it treats essentially of spiritual realities with which no external act, as such, can be extensive. The well-known words of Augustine, crede et manducasti , ‘believe and thou hast eaten,’ give the sum of the thoughts in a luminous and pregnant sentence.

“But, on the other hand, there can be no doubt that the truth which is presented in its absolute form in these discourses is presented in a specific act and in a concrete form in the Holy Communion; and yet further that the Holy Communion is the divinely appointed means whereby men may realise the truth. Nor can there be any difficulty to any one who acknowledges a divine fitness in the ordinances of the Church, an eternal correspondence in the parts of the one counsel of God, in believing that the Lord, while speaking intelligibly to those who heard Him at the time, gave by anticipation a commentary, so to speak, on the Sacrament which He afterwards instituted.” Speaker’s Commentary , ii. p. 113.

The discourse may be thus divided; i. 26 34, Distinction between the material bread and the Spiritual Bread; ii. 35 50 (with two digressions, 37 40; 43 46), Identification of the Spiritual Bread with Christ; iii. 51 58, Further definition of the identification as consisting in the giving of His Body and outpouring of His Blood. S. p. 128. On the language and style see introductory note to chap. 3.

26 34. Distinction between the material bread and the Spiritual Bread

26. not because ye saw the miracles ] Better, not because ye saw signs . There is no article in the Greek; and the strict meaning of ‘signs’ should be retained. They had seen the miracle , but it had not been a sign to them; it had excited in them nothing better than wonder and greediness. The plural does not necessarily refer to more than the one sign of the Feeding; the generic plural.

27. Labour not for , &c.] Better, Work not for , &c. The translation in the margin is preferable, to keep up the connexion with verses 28, 29, 30. The people keep harping on the word ‘work.’

the meat which perisheth ] Better (to avoid all ambiguity), the food that perisheth: ‘meat’ in the sense of ‘flesh-meat’ is not intended. Comp. (4:13) ‘whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.’ The discourse with the Samaritan woman should be compared throughout: ‘the food which abides’ here corresponds with ‘the living water’ there; ‘the food that perisheth’ with the water of the well. ‘Perisheth’ not merely in its sustaining power, but in itself: it is digested and dispersed (Matthew 15:17 ; 1 Corinthians 6:13 ).

endureth unto everlasting life ] Better, abideth unto eternal life: see on 1:33 and 3:16.

for him hath God the Father sealed ] Better (preserving the emphasis of the Greek order), for Him the Father sealed, even God . ‘Sealed,’ i.e. authenticated (3:33), as the true giver of this food (1) by direct testimony in the Scriptures, (2) by the same in the voice from Heaven at His Baptism, (3) by indirect testimony in His miracles and Messianic work.

28. Then said they ] They said therefore .

What shall we do, that we might work ] Better, what must we do that we may work . They see that His words have a moral meaning; they are to do works pleasing to God. But how to set about this?

29. the work of God ] They probably were thinking of works of the law, tithes, sacrifices, &c. Christ tells them of one work, one moral act, from which all the rest derive their value, belief in Him whom God has sent.

that ye believe ] Literally, that ye may believe . S. John’s favourite form of expression, indicating the Divine purpose. Comp. v . 50 and 5:36.

30. What sign shewest thou then ] ‘Thou’ is emphatic: ‘what dost Thou on Thy part?’ They quite understand that in the words ‘Him whom He hath sent’ Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah; but they want a proof. Their enthusiasm had cooled, their curiosity had increased, during the night. After all, the feeding of the 5000 was less marvellous than the manna, and Moses was not the Messiah. Note that whereas He uses the strong form, ‘believe on Him,’ they use the weak one, ‘believe Thee.’ See last note on 1:12.

what dost thou work ] They purposely choose the very word that He had used in v . 29. The emphasis is on ‘what.’

31. manna ] More exactly, the manna.

He gave them bread from heaven to eat ] A rough quotation of ‘had rained down manna upon them to eat’ (Psalms 78:24 ). They artfully suppress the nominative (which in the Psalm is ‘God’), and leave ‘Moses’ to be understood. Possibly Nehemiah 9:15 is in their thoughts; if so, there is the same artfulness. On ‘it is written’ see on 2:17. ‘From heaven’ is literally ‘out of heaven.’

32. Moses gave you not ] Christ shews them that He quite understands their insinuation: they are comparing Him unfavourably with Moses. He denies both their points; (1) that Moses gave the manna; (2) that the manna was in the truest sense bread from heaven.

giveth you the true bread , &c.] Literally, giveth you the bread out of heaven ( which is ) the true bread ; ‘true’ in the sense of ‘real’ and ‘perfect’ (see on 1:9); the manna was but the type, and therefore imperfect. Note the change of tense from ‘gave’ to ‘giveth:’ God is continually giving the true bread; it is not a thing granted at one time and then no more, like the manna.

33. the bread of God is he which ] Better, the bread of God is that which . Christ has not yet identified Himself with the Bread; it is still impersonal, and hence the present participle in the Greek. Contrast v . 41. There is a clear reference to this passage in the Ignatian Epistles, Romans VII. The whole chapter is impregnated with the Fourth Gospel. See on 4:10.

giveth life unto the world ] Without this Bread mankind is spiritually dead; and this is the point of the argument (the introductory ‘for’ shews that the verse is argumentative): we have proof that it is the Father who gives the really heavenly Bread, for it is His Bread that quickens the whole human race.

34. Then said they ] They said therefore .

Lord, evermore give us this bread ] ‘Lord’ is too strong, and makes the request too much like the prayer of a humble believer. Our translators wisely vary the rendering of Kyrie , using sometimes ‘Lord,’ and sometimes ‘Sir.’ Here, as in the conversation with the Samaritan woman, ‘Sir’ would be better. Not that the request is ironical; it is not the mocking prayer of the sceptic. Rather it is the selfish petition of one whose beliefs and aspirations are low. As the Samaritan woman thought that the living water would at any rate be very useful (4:15), so these Jews think that the true bread is at least worth having. He fed them yesterday, and they are hungry again; He talks to them of food that endureth; it will be well to be evermore supplied with this food, which is perhaps another manna with greater sustaining powers. They do not disbelieve in His power, but in His mission.

35 50. Identification of the Spiritual Bread with Christ

35. I am the bread of life . The pronoun is very emphatic: comp. 4:26. As in 5:30, He passes from the third to the first person. ‘Bread of life’ means ‘bread that giveth life.’ Comp. ‘the tree of life’ (Genesis 2:9 , Genesis 2:3 :22, Genesis 2:24 ), ‘the water of life’ (Revelation 21:6 , Revelation 22:1 ). In the remainder of the verse ‘He that cometh to Me’ = ‘he that believeth on Me,’ and ‘shall never hunger’ = ‘shall never thirst;’ i.e. the believer shall experience the continual satisfaction of his highest spiritual needs. The superiority of Christ to the manna consists in this, that while it satisfied only bodily needs for a time, He satisfies spiritual needs for ever.

36. I said unto you ] When? no such saying is recorded. Ewald thus finds some slight evidence for his theory that a whole sheet of this Gospel has been lost between chapters 5 and 6. But the reference may easily be to one of the countless unrecorded sayings of Christ, or possibly to the general sense of 5:37 44. In the latter case ‘you’ must mean the Jewish nation, for those verses were addressed to Jews at Jerusalem. See on 10:26, where there is a somewhat similar case. That ‘I said’ means ‘I would have you to know,’ and has no reference to any previous utterance, does not seem very probable.

ye also have seen me ] ‘Also’ belongs to ‘have seen,’ not to ‘ye,’ as most English readers would suppose: ye have even seen me (not merely heard of me), and (yet) do not believe . The tragic tone again. See on 1:5, 10, 11.

37 40. Digression on the blessedness of those who come to Christ as believers

37. All that the Father giveth … him that cometh ] There is a significant change of gender in the Greek which is obscured in the English version: ‘all that’ is neuter, all that which ; what is given is treated as impersonal, mankind en masse ; what comes, with free will, is masculine. Men are given to Christ without their wills being consulted; but each individual can, if he likes, refuse to come. There is no coercion. Comp. similar changes of gender in 1:11, 17:2.

shall come to me, and him that cometh … For I came down ] The verb ‘come’ here represents three different Greek verbs, but there is no such great difference between them as to make it worth while to change so familiar a text; yet it would be more literal to translate all that the Father giveth Me, to Me shall come, and him that approacheth Me I will in no wise cast out; for I have descended , &c. The second ‘Me’ is emphatic, the first and third are not.

38. I came down ] Better, I am come down or have descended . Four times in this discourse Christ declares that He is come down from heaven; verses 38, 50, 51, 58. The drift of these three verses (38 40) is; How could I cast them out, seeing that I am come to do my Father’s will, and He wills that they should be received?

39. this is the Father’s will , &c.] The true reading is; this is the will of Him that sent Me .

that of all ] Literally, in order that of all: see on v . 29.

all which he hath given me ] ‘All’ is neuter as in v . 37, and is placed first for emphasis. In the Greek it is a nominativus pendens .

raise it up again at the last day ] This gracious utterance is repeated as a kind of refrain, verses 40, 44, 54. ‘Again’ may be omitted. This is ‘the resurrection of life’ (5:29), ‘the first resurrection,’ the resurrection of the just.

the last day ] This phrase is peculiar to S. John, and occurs seven times in this Gospel. Elsewhere it is called ‘the Day of the Lord,’ ‘the Great Day,’ &c.

40. And this is the will of him that sent me ] The true reading is; For this is the will of My Father . The opening words of verses 39 and 40, being very similar, have become confused in inferior MSS. The best MSS. have ‘Father’ in this verse, where ‘the Son’ is mentioned, not in v . 39, where He is not. Moreover this verse is explanatory of v . 40, and opens with ‘for;’ it shews who are meant by ‘all which He hath given me,’ viz. every one that contemplateth the Son and believeth on Him . ‘Seeth’ is not strong enough for the Greek word here used: the Jews had seen Jesus; they had not contemplated Him so as to believe. ‘Contemplate’ is frequent in S. John and the Acts, elsewhere not. Comp. 12:45, 14:19, 16:10, 16, 19. ‘That’ again = in order that .

I will raise him up ] The Greek construction is ambiguous; possibly ‘raise’ depends upon ‘that’ as in v . 39: and that I should raise him up . ‘I’ is here very emphatic; ‘by My power as Messiah.’

41. The Jews then murmured at him ] Better, The Jews therefore muttered respecting Him , talked in an under tone among themselves about Him: it does not necessarily mean that they found fault, though the context shews that they did (comp. v . 61, 7:12). From the mention of the Jews we are to understand that there were some of the hostile party among the multitude, perhaps some members of the Sanhedrin; but not that the whole multitude were hostile, though carnally-minded and refusing to believe without a further sign. Comp. 1:19, 2:18, 5:10, 7:11, &c.

I am the bread which came down from heaven ] They put together the statements in verses 33, 35, 38.

42. Is not this ] Or, Is not this fellow ; the expression is contemptuous.

whose father and mother we know ] ‘We know all about His parentage; there is nothing supernatural or mysterious about His origin.’ Nothing can be inferred from this as to Joseph’s being alive at this time: the probability is that he was not, as he nowhere appears in the Gospel narrative; but this cannot be proved.

how is it then , &c.] Better, How doth He now say, I am come down .

43 46. Digression on the difficulty of coming to Christ as a believer

43. Murmur not ] Christ does not answer their objection or explain. Even among the first Christians the fact of his miraculous conception seems to have been made known only gradually, so foul were the calumnies which the Jews had spread respecting His Mother. This certainly was not the place to proclaim it. He directs them to something of more vital importance than the way by which He came into the world, viz. the way by which they may come to Him.

44. draw him ] It is the same word as is used 12:32; ‘will draw all men unto Me.’ The word does not necessarily imply force, still less irresistible force, but merely attraction of some kind, some inducement to come. Comp. ‘with loving-kindness have I drawn thee’ (Jeremiah 31:3 ), and Virgil’s trahit sua quemque voluptas .

45. in the prophets ] The direct reference is to Isaiah 54:13 , but there are similar passages Jeremiah 31:33 , Jeremiah 31:34 ; Joel 3:16 , Joel 3:17 . The quotation explains what is meant by the Father’s drawing men, viz., enlightening them. The ‘therefore’ in the second half of the verse is not genuine: ‘therefore’ is very common in the narrative portion of this Gospel, very rare in the discourses. On ‘it is written’ see on 2:17. Here, as in 13:18 and 19:37, the quotation agrees with the Hebrew against the LXX. This is evidence that the writer knew Hebrew and therefore was probably a Jew of Palestine.

Every man therefore that hath heard , &c.] And no others: only those who have been enlightened by the Father can come to the Son.

46. Not that any man hath seen ] To be enlightened and taught by the Father it is not necessary to see Him. “That is a privilege reserved for a later stage in the spiritual life, and is only to be attained mediately through the Son (comp. 1:18).” S. p. 129.

he which is of God ] Or, He which is from God , with whom He was previous to the Incarnation; 1:1, 14, 8:42, 16:27.

47 50. Christ returns from answering the Jews to the main subject

47. hath everlasting life ] Hath eternal life (3:16). Note the tense. Christ solemnly assures them (the double ‘Verily’) that the believer is already in possession of eternal life. See on 3:36 and 5:24.

48. that bread of life ] Better, the Bread of life . Comp. v . 32, 1:21, 25, 6:14, where the same exaggerated translation of the Greek article occurs.

49. Christ answers them out of their own mouths. They had spoken of the manna as superior to the multiplied loaves and fishes; but the manna did not preserve men from death. The same word is used both in v . 49 and v . 50; therefore for ‘are dead’ it will be better to substitute died . Moreover, the point is, not that they are dead now, but that they perished then; the manna did not save them. They ate the manna and died .

50. that a man may eat ] S. John’s favourite form of expression again, indicating the Divine intention: comp. v . 29, 6:34, 8:56, &c. ‘Of this purpose is the Bread which cometh down from heaven; in order that a man may eat thereof and so not die.’ Comp. 1 John 5:3 .

51 58. Further definition of the identification of the Spiritual Bread with Christ as consisting in the giving of His Body and the outpouring of His Blood

In vv . 35 50 Christ in His Person is the Bread of Life: here He is the spiritual food of believers in the Redemptive work of His Death.

51. the living bread ] Not merely the Bread of life ( v . 48), the life-giving Bread, but the living Bread, having life in itself, which life is imparted to those who partake of the Bread.

which came down ] At the Incarnation. Now that the Bread is identified with Christ, we have the past tense of what took place once for all. Previously (verses 33, 50) the present tense is used of what is continually going on. In one sense Christ is perpetually coming down from heaven, in the other He came but once: He is ever imparting Himself to man; He only once became man.

he shall live for ever ] Just as ‘living Bread’ is a stronger expression than ‘Bread of life,’ so ‘live for ever’ is stronger than ‘not die.’

and the bread that I will give ] The precise wording of this sentence is somewhat uncertain, but the best reading seems to be: and the Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world . That in Christ’s mind these words looked onwards to the Eucharist, and that in thus speaking to believers throughout all time He included a reference to the Eucharist has already been stated to be highly probable. (See above, Introduction to 26 58). But that the reference is not exclusively, nor even directly, to the Eucharist is shewn from the use of ‘Flesh’ ( sarx ) and not ‘Body’ ( sôma ). In all places where the Eucharist is mentioned in N.T. we have ‘Body,’ not ‘Flesh;’ Matthew 26:26 ; Mark 14:22 ; Luke 22:19 ; 1 Corinthians 11:24 ff. Moreover the words must have had some meaning for those who heard them at Capernaum. Evidently they have a wider range than any one Sacrament. Christ promises to give His Flesh (by His bloody death soon to come) for the benefit of the whole world. But this benefit can only be appropriated by the faith of each individual; and so that which when offered by Christ is His Flesh appears under the figure of bread when partaken of by the believer. The primary reference, therefore, is to Christ’s propitiatory death; the secondary reference is to all those means by which the death of Christ is appropriated, especially the Eucharist. Not that Christ is here promising that ordinance, but uttering deep truths, which apply, and which He intended to apply, to that ordinance, now that it is instituted.

52. strove among themselves ] Their excitement increases; they have got beyond muttering among themselves ( v . 41).

give us his flesh to eat ] ‘To eat ’ is their own addition; they wish to bring out in full the strangeness of His declaration.

53. Then said Jesus ] Better, Therefore said Jesus: see on v . 45.

and drink his blood ] Christ not only accepts what they have added to His words, but still further startles them by telling them that they must drink His Blood; an amazing statement to a Jew, who was forbidden to taste even the blood of animals (Genesis 9:4 ; Leviticus 17:10-16 ). These words point still more distinctly to His propitiatory death; for ‘the blood is the life’ which He offered up for the sins of the world. The eating and drinking are not faith, but the appropriation of His death; faith leads us to eat and drink and is the means of appropriation. Taken separately, the Flesh represents sacrifice and sustenance, the Blood represents atonement and life.

no life in you ] Literally, no life in yourselves : for the source of life is absent. The next four verses explain more fully how this is.

54. The gracious positive of the previous minatory negative. From the warning as to the disastrous consequences of not partaking He passes to a declaration of the blessed consequences of partaking, viz. eternal life, and that at once, with resurrection among the just hereafter.

55. my flesh is meat indeed , &c.] According to the best reading; My Flesh is true food and My Blood is true drink ; i.e. this is no misleading metaphor, but an actual fact.

56. dwelleth in me, and I in him ] Or, abideth in Me and I in him . This is one of S. John’s very characteristic phrases to express the most intimate mutual fellowship and union. The word ‘abide’ is also characteristic, as we have seen. Comp. 14:10, 20, 15:4, 5, 17:21; 1 John 3:24 , 1 John 4:16 . Christ is at once the centre and circumference of the life of the Christian; the source from which it springs, and the ocean into which it flows; its starting-point and its goal.

57. Not a mere repetition of the previous statement but an enlargement of it. The result of this close union is perfect life, proceeding as from the Father to the Son, so in like manner from the Son to all believers.

the living Father ] The absolutely Living One, the Fount of all life, in whom is no element of death. The expression occurs nowhere else. Comp. Matthew 16:16 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Hebrews 7:25 . For ‘hath sent’ read sent .

By the Father ] Better because of the Father , i.e. because the Father is the Living One. Similarly, ‘by Me’ should be because of Me , i.e. because he thus derives life from Me.

he that eateth me ] Instead of the Flesh and Blood we have Christ Himself; the two modes of partaking are merged in one, the more appropriate of the two being retained.

even he ] Or, he also .

58. This is that bread ] Better, this is the Bread: see on v . 48. The verse is a general summing up of the whole, returning from the imagery of Flesh and Blood to the main expression of the discourse the Bread that came down from heaven and its superiority to all earthly food.

not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead ] Better, not as the Fathers did eat and died (see on v . 49): ‘your’ and ‘manna’ are wanting in the best MSS. It is not in that way that the Bread comes down from heaven, nor is it such food.

eateth of ] Omit ‘of,’ as in vv . 54, 56: ‘of’ is rightly inserted in vv . 26, 50, 51.

59. in the synagogue ] Or, in synagogue , as we say ‘in church:’ there is no article in the Greek. Comp. 18:20. The verse is a mere historical note, stating definitely what was stated vaguely in v . 22 as ‘the other side of the sea.’ ‘These things’ naturally refers to the whole discourse from v . 26; we have no sufficient evidence of a break between v . 40 and v . 41. On the other hand there is strong evidence that from v . 26 to v . 58 forms one connected discourse spoken at one time in the synagogue at Capernaum. The site of Capernaum is not undisputed (see on Matthew 4:13 ); but assuming Tell Hûm to be correct, the ruins of the synagogue there are probably those of the very building in which these words were uttered. On one of the stones a pot of manna is sculptured.

60 71. Opposite Results of the Discourse

60. Many therefore of his disciples ] Including many more than the Apostles.

This is a hard saying ] Or, Hard is this speech . Not hard to understand, but hard to accept. The word for ‘hard’ means originally ‘dry,’ and so ‘rough;’ and then in a moral sense, ‘rough, harsh, offensive.’ Nabal the churl has this epithet, 1 Samuel 25:3 ; and the slothful servant in the parable of the Talents calls his master a ‘ hard man,’ Matthew 25:24 . Here the meaning is: ‘This is a repulsive speech; who can listen to it?’ It was the notion of eating flesh and drinking blood that specially scandalized them. See on 5:47.

61. knew in himself ] Again He appears as the reader of the heart. Comp. 1:42, 47, 2:24, 25, 4:18, 5:14, 42, 6:26, &c. More literally the verse runs: Now Jesus knowing in Himself that His disciples are muttering about it: see on v . 41, 7:12. They talked in a low tone so that He could not hear: but He knew without hearing.

62. What and if , &c.] Literally, If therefore ye should behold the Son of man ascending where He was before? The sentence breaks off ( aposiopesis ) leaving something to be understood: but what is to be understood? The answer to this depends on the meaning assigned to ‘behold the Son of man ascending.’ The most literal and obvious interpretation is of an actual beholding of the Ascension: and in that case we supply; ‘Would ye still take offence then?’ Against this interpretation it is urged (1) That S. John does not record the Ascension. But it is assumed, if not here and 3:13, yet certainly 20:17 as a fact; and in all three cases it is in the words of our Lord that the reference occurs. S. John throughout assumes that the main events of Christ’s life and the fundamental elements of Christianity are well known to his readers. (2) That none but the Twelve witnessed the Ascension, while this is addressed to a multitude of doubting disciples. But some of the Twelve were present: and Christ speaks hypothetically; ‘ if ye should behold,’ not ‘ when ye shall behold.’ (3) That in this case we should expect ‘but’ instead of ‘therefore.’ Possibly, but not necessarily. The alternative interpretation is to make the ‘ascending’ refer to the whole drama which led to Christ’s return to glory, especially the Passion (comp. 7:33, 13:3, 14:12, 28, 16:5, 28, 17:11, 13): and in that case we supply; ‘Will not the sight of a suffering Messiah offend you still more?’

63. that quickeneth ] Literally, that maketh alive or giveth life . The latter would perhaps be better to bring out the connexion with ‘they are life’ at the end of the verse.

the flesh ] Not, ‘ My Flesh,’ which would contradict v . 51. The statement is a general one, but has reference to Himself. ‘My Flesh’ in v . 51 means ‘My death’ to be spiritually appropriated by every Christian, and best appropriated in the Eucharist. ‘The flesh’ here means the flesh without the Spirit , that which can only be appropriated physically , like the manna. Even Christ’s flesh in this sense ‘profiteth nothing.’ (Comp. 3:6.) Probably there is a general reference to their carnal ideas about the Messiah: it is “in our Lord’s refusal to assume the outward insignia of the Messianic dignity, and in His persistent spiritualisation of the Messianic idea” that we must seek “the ultimate cause” of the defection of so many disciples. S. pp. 141, 142.

the words ] Or, the sayings: see on 5:47.

that I speak ] The true reading is; that I have spoken , in the discourse just concluded.

64. some of you that believe not ] There were some of those who followed Him and called themselves His disciples, who still did not believe on Him. The better order is, there are of you some .

knew from the beginning ] It is impossible to fix the exact limits of this; the meaning of ‘the beginning’ must depend on the context (see on 1:1). Here the most natural limit is ‘knew from the beginning of their discipleship,’ when they first became His followers. Comp. 2:24, 25.

who should betray him ] Or, who it was that should betray Him . To ask, ‘Why then did Jesus choose Judas as an Apostle?’ is to ask in a special instance for an answer to the insoluble enigma ‘Why does Omniscience allow wicked persons to be born? Why does Omnipotence allow evil to exist?’ The tares once sown among the wheat, both must ‘grow together till the harvest,’ and share sunshine and rain alike.

65. Therefore ] Better, For this cause (12:18, 27): see on 5:16, 18, 7:22, 8:47.

said I unto you ] v . 44; comp. v . 37, and see notes on both.

were given unto him of my Father ] Have been given unto him of the Father .

66. From that time ] This may be the meaning, but more probably it means in consequence of that . Hereupon has somewhat of the ambiguity of the Greek, combining the notions of time and result. The Greek phrase occurs here and 19:12 only in N.T.

67. the twelve ] The first mention of them; S. John speaks of them familiarly as a well-known body, assuming that his readers are well acquainted with the expression (see on v . 62). This is a mark of truth: all the more so because the expression does not occur in the earlier chapters; for it is probable that down to the end of chap. 4 at any rate ‘the Twelve’ did not yet exist.

Pilate and Mary Magdalene are introduced in the same abrupt way (18:29, 19:25).

Will ye also go away? ] Better, Surely ye also do not wish to go away? ‘Will’ is too weak; it is not the future tense, but a separate verb, ‘to will.’ There is a similar error 7:17 and 8:44. Christ knows not only the unbelief of the many, but the belief and loyalty of the few.

68. Then Simon Peter ] Omit ‘Then.’ S. Peter, as leader, primus inter pares , answers here as elsewhere in the name of the Twelve (see note on Mark 3:17 ), and answers with characteristic impetuosity. The firmness of His conviction shews the appropriateness of the name given to him 1:42. His answer contains three reasons in logical order why they cannot desert their Master: (1) there is no one else to whom they can go; the Baptist is dead. Even if there were (2) Jesus has all that they need; He has ‘sayings of eternal life.’ And if there be other teachers who have them also, yet (3) there is but one Messiah, and Jesus is He. See on v . 47.

69. we believe ] Rather, we have believed : the perfect tense implies that the faith and knowledge which they possess have been theirs for some time past. ‘Are sure’ means literally ‘ have come to know .’

thou art that Christ , &c.] These words seem to have been imported hither from S. Peter’s Confession, Matthew 16:16 . The true reading here is; Thou art the Holy One of God . This is altogether a different occasion from Matthew 16:16 , and probably previous to it. The Confessions are worth comparing. 1. ‘Thou art the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33 ); in this the other Apostles joined. 2. ‘Thou art the Holy One of God’ (John 6:69 ). 3. ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16 ). They increase in fulness, as we might expect.

70. Have I not chosen you twelve ] Or, Did not I choose you the Twelve (comp. 13:18)? Here probably the question ends: and one of you is a devil is best punctuated without an interrogation; it is a single statement in tragic contrast to the preceding question. It would be closer to the Greek to omit the article before ‘devil’ and make it a kind of adjective; and one of you is devil , i.e. devilish in nature: but this is hardly English. The words contain a half-rebuke to S. Peter for his impetuous avowal of loyalty in the name of them all . The passage stands alone in the N.T. (comp. Matthew 16:23 ), but its very singularity is evidence of its truth. S. John is not likely to have forgotten what was said, or in translating to have made any serious change.

71. Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon ] The better reading is; Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot . If, as seems probable, the name Iscariot means ‘man of Kerioth,’ a place in Judah, it would be natural enough for both father and son to have the name. Assuming this to be correct, Judas was the only Apostle who was not a Galilean.

that should betray ] That was to betray ; not the same phrase as in v . 64.

being one of the twelve ] ‘Being’ is of doubtful genuineness. The tragic contrast is stronger without the participle: for he was to betray Him, one of the Twelve .

With regard to the difficulty of understanding Christ’s words in this sixth chapter, Meyer’s concluding remark is to be borne in mind. “The difficulty is partly exaggerated; and partly the fact is overlooked that in all references to His death and the purpose of it Jesus could rely upon the light which the future would throw on these utterances: and sowing, as He generally did, for the future in the bosom of the present, He was compelled to utter much that was mysterious, but which would supply material and support for the further development and purification of faith and knowledge. The wisdom thus displayed in His teaching has been justified by History .”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 6". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/john-6.html. 1896.
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