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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

John 8

Verses 1-99

Chap. 8

1. the mount of Olives ] S. John nowhere mentions the Mount of Olives (comp. 18:1), and when he mentions a new place he commonly adds an explanation: 1:44, 4:5, 5:2, 6:1, 19:13, 17. The phrase for ‘went unto’ is not found in S. John. Both occur in all three Synoptists.

2. And early in the morning , &c.] Comp. Luke 21:37 , Luke 21:38 ; ‘and in the day time He was teaching in the temple, and at night He went out and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to Him in the temple for to hear Him.’ The phrase for ‘all the people’ used by S. Luke is the phrase which occurs here: S. John never uses it. S. John uses the word for ‘people’ only twice; it occurs more than thirty times in S. Luke, and more than twenty times in the Acts. The word for ‘came early’ is a verb derived from the word for ‘early’ which occurs here: S. John uses neither.

sat down ] To teach with authority. Comp. Matthew 5:1 , Matthew 5:23 :2; Mark 9:35 .

3. the scribes and Pharisees ] This phrase is used thrice by S. Luke, once each by S. Matthew and S. Mark. S. John nowhere mentions the scribes: he speaks of the hierarchy as ‘the chief priests’ or ‘rulers’ with or without ‘the Pharisees,’ or else simply as ‘the Jews.’ Here we are probably not to understand an official deputation from the Sanhedrin: there is nothing to shew that the woman had been taken before the Sanhedrin before being brought to Christ.

brought unto him ] Literally, bring unto Him . The bringing her was a wanton outrage both on her and on all generous and modest spectators. She might have been detained while the case was referred to Christ. The statement ‘in the very act’ is another piece of brutal indelicacy; and the Greek verb, hath been taken , adds to this.

5. Moses in the law ] Of the two texts given in the margin of our Bible, Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 , probably neither is correct. It is often assumed that ‘put to death’ in Jewish Law means stoning: such however is not Jewish tradition. The Rabbis taught that it meant strangulation; i.e. the criminal was smothered in mud and then a cord was twisted round his neck. But for the case of a betrothed woman sinning in the city, stoning is specified as the punishment (Deuteronomy 22:23 , Deuteronomy 22:24 ), and this is probably what is indicated here. Such cases would be rare, and therefore all the better suited for a casuistical question.

but what sayest thou? ] Better, What therefore sayest Thou? This is the only place in the whole paragraph where S. John’s favourite particle ‘therefore’ occurs; and that not in the narrative, where S. John makes such frequent use of it, but in the dialogue, where he very rarely employs it. Scarcely anywhere in this Gospel can a dozen verses of narrative be found without a ‘therefore;’ but see 2:1 17, and contrast 4:1 26, 20:1 9.

6. tempting him ] The Greek word for ‘tempting’ is frequent in the Synoptists of trying to place Christ in a difficulty; never so used in S. John, who, however, uses it once of Christ ‘proving’ Philip (6:6).

that they might have to accuse him ] This clause must be borne in mind in determining what the difficulty was in which they wished to place Him. It seems to exclude the supposition that they hoped to undermine His popularity, in case He should decide for the extreme rigour of the law; the people having become accustomed to a lax morality (Matthew 12:39 ; Mark 8:38 ). Probably the case is somewhat parallel to the question about tribute, and they hoped to bring Him into collision either with the Law and Sanhedrin or with the Roman Government. If He said she was not to be stoned, He contradicted Jewish Law; if He said she was to be stoned, He ran counter to Roman Law, for the Romans had deprived the Jews of the right to inflict capital punishment (18:31). The Sanhedrin might of course pronounce sentence of death (Matthew 26:66 ; Mark 14:64 ; comp. John 19:7 ), but it rested with the Roman governor whether he would allow the sentence to be carried out or not (19:16): see on 18:31 and 19:6.

stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground ] It is said that this gesture was a recognised sign of unwillingness to attend to what was being said; a call for a change of subject. McClellan quotes Plut. ii. 532: ‘Without uttering a syllable, by merely raising the eyebrows, or stooping down , or fixing the eyes upon the ground , you may baffle unreasonable importunities.’ ‘Wrote’ should perhaps be ‘kept writing’ (comp. 7:40, 41), or ‘ began to write , made as though He would write’ (comp. Luke 1:59 ). Either rendering would agree with this interpretation, which our translators have insisted on as certain by inserting the gloss (not found in any earlier English Version), ‘as though He heard them not.’ But it is just possible that by writing on the stone pavement of the Temple He wished to remind them of the ‘tables of stone, written with the finger of God’ (Exodus 31:18 ; Deuteronomy 9:10 ). They were hoping that He would explain away the seventh commandment, in order that they themselves might break the sixth.

7. they continued asking ] They will not take the hint, whatever His gesture meant.

without sin ] The Greek word occurs nowhere else in N.T., but it is quite classical: it may mean either ‘free from the possibility of sin, impeccable ;’ or ‘free from actual sin, sinless: ’ if the latter, it may mean either ‘free from sin in general, guiltless ;’ or ‘free from a particular sin, not guilty .’ The context shews that the last is the meaning here, ‘free from the sin of impurity:’ comp. ‘ sin no more,’ v . 11, and ‘sinner,’ Luke 7:37 , Luke 7:39 . The practical maxim involved in Christ’s words is that of Matthew 7:1-5 ; Romans 14:4 . As to its application to them comp. Matthew 12:39 ; Mark 8:38 . He is contending not against punishment being inflicted by human law, but against men taking the law into their own hands.

a stone ] Rather, the stone , according to the Received Text and some MSS.; i.e. the stone required for executing the sentence. Others take it of the first stone, which the witnesses were to throw (Deuteronomy 17:7 ). But Christ does not say ‘let him cast the first stone ,’ but ‘let him be first of you to cast the stone.’

8. again he stooped down ] He again declines to have the office of judge thrust upon Him. The Reader of men’s hearts knew how His challenge must work: no one would respond to it.

and wrote on the ground ] A Venetian MS. ascribed to the tenth century has the remarkable reading ‘wrote on the ground the sins of each one of them.’ The same strange idea appears in Jerome, shewing how soon men began to speculate as to what He wrote. Others suppose that He wrote His answer in v . 7. As has been shewn ( v . 6), it is not certain that He wrote anything.

9. being convicted by their own conscience ] These words are probably a gloss added by some copyist, like ‘as though He heard them not,’ added by our translators ( v . 6).

beginning at the eldest ] Literally, beginning at the elders : but it means the elders in years, not the Elders; so that our translators have done well to avoid a literal rendering which would have been misleading. Meyer suggests that the oldest would be shrewd enough to slip away at once without compromising themselves further; certainly they would have the largest experience of life and its temptations.

was left alone ] Not that there were no witnesses, but that they had withdrawn to a distance. The graphic precision of this verse indicates the account of an eyewitness.

standing in the midst ] Literally, being in the midst , where the brutality of her accusers had placed her ( v . 3).

10. none but the woman ] The word for ‘but’ or ‘except’ occurs nowhere in S. John’s writings excepting Revelation 2:25 ; frequently in S. Luke, five times in S. Matthew, five times in S. Paul’s Epistles, once in S. Mark, and nowhere else.

hath no man condemned thee? ] Literally, Did no man condemn thee? But here the English perfect may idiomatically represent the Greek aorist; see on v . 29. The word for ‘condemn’ is a compound not found anywhere in S. John’s writings, but occurring nine times in the Synoptists. S. John uses the simple verb, which means ‘judge,’ but often acquires the notion of judging unfavourably from the context (see on 3:17 and 5:29).

11. No man, Lord ] We must bear in mind that ‘Lord’ may be too strong a translation of the Greek word, which need not mean more than ‘Sir’ (see on 6:34). But as we have no such ambiguous word in English, ‘Lord’ is best.

Neither do I condemn thee ] He maintains in tenderness towards her the attitude which He had assumed in sternness towards her accusers: He declines the office of judge. He came not to condemn, but to seek and to save. And yet He did condemn, as S. Augustine remarks, not the woman, but the sin. With regard to the woman, though He does not condemn, yet He does not pardon: He does not say ‘thy sins have been forgiven thee’ (Matthew 9:2 ; Luke 7:48 ), or even ‘go in peace’ (Luke 7:50 , Luke 8:48 ). “We must not apply in all cases a sentence, which requires His Divine knowledge to make it a just one” (Alford). He knew whether she was penitent or not.

go, and sin no more ] Or, go and continue no longer in sin . The contrast between the mere negative declaration and the very positive exhortation is striking. See on 5:14.

8:12 9:41. Christ the Source of Truth and Light

In 8:12 46 the word ‘true’ occurs six times, the word ‘truth’ seven times.

12. Then spake Jesus again unto them ] The paragraph 7:53 8:11 being omitted, these words must be connected with 7:52. The officers have made their report to the Sanhedrin, leaving Jesus unmolested. After an interval He continues His discourse: again , therefore , Jesus spake unto them , i.e. because the attempt to interfere with Him had failed. How long the interval was we do not know, but probably the evening of the same day.

I am the light of the world ] Once more we have a possible reference to the ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles, somewhat less probable than the other (see on 7:37), but not improbable. Large candelabra were lighted in the Court of the Women on the evening of the first day of the Feast, and these flung their light over the whole city. Authorities differ as to whether this illumination was repeated, but all are agreed that it did not take place on the last evening. Here, therefore, there was once more a gap, which Christ Himself may have designed to fill; and while the multitude were missing the festal light of the great lamps, He declares, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ In the case of the water we know that it was poured on each of the seven days, and that Christ spoke the probable reference to it on the last day of the Feast. But in this case the illumination took place possibly on the first night only , and Christ certainly did not utter this possible reference to it until the last day of the Feast, or perhaps not until the Feast was all over. But the fact that the words were spoken in the Court of the Women (see on v . 20) makes the reference not improbable.

he that followeth me ] This expression also is in favour of the reference. The illumination in the Court of the Women commemorated the pillar of fire which led the Israelites through the wilderness, as the pouring of the water of Siloam commemorated the water flowing from the Rock. ‘The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud to lead them the way ; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light ’ (Exodus 13:21 ). So Christ here declares that those who follow Him shall in no wise walk in darkness . The negative is very strong. This use of ‘darkness’ for moral evil is peculiar to S. John: see on 1:5, where (as here) we have light and life ( v . 4) closely connected, while darkness is opposed to both.

shall have the light of life ] Not merely with him but in him, so that he also becomes a source of light. See on 7:38, and comp. ‘Ye are the light of the world,’ Matthew 5:14 .

13. Thou bearest record ] Our translators have again been somewhat capricious. The words which in verses 13 and 14 they render ‘record’ and ‘bear record,’ they render in verses 17 and 18 ‘witness’ and ‘bear witness.’ The latter rendering is to be preferred. The Pharisees attempt to cancel the effect of Christ’s impressive declaration by urging against Him a formal objection, the validity of which He had been heard to admit (5:31): Thou bearest witness of Thyself; Thy witness is not true .

14. Though I bear record ] Better, even if I bear witness . God can testify respecting Himself, and there are truths to which He alone can testify. Yet He condescends to conform to the standard of human testimony, and adds to His witness the words and works of His incarnate Son; who in like manner can bear witness of Himself, being supported by the witness of the Father ( v . 16).

and whither I go ] i.e. by Death and Ascension.

but ye cannot tell ] Better, But ye know not . They knew neither of these points respecting themselves; how should they know it respecting Him? Man knows not either the origin or the issue of his life. ‘Ye’ is emphatic.

whence I came, and whither I go ] For ‘and’ read or with the best MSS. Note the change from ‘came,’ which refers to the Incarnation, His having once come from the Father, to ‘come,’ which refers to His perpetual presence with mankind. Note also the balanced parallelism of the verse and comp. vv . 35, 38, 7:6.

15. Ye judge after the flesh ] According to His outward form, the form of a servant: comp. 7:24. From the context ‘judge’ here acquires an adverse sense, and virtually means ‘condemn:’ comp. 3:17, 18, 7:51. Judging Him to be a mere man they had condemned His testimony respecting Himself as invalid. ‘Ye’ and ‘I’ are in emphatic opposition.

I judge no man ] Neither ‘after the flesh,’ nor ‘as ye do,’ nor anything else is to be supplied. No such addition can be made in v . 16, and therefore cannot be made here. The words are best taken quite simply and literally. ‘My mission is not to condemn, but to save and to bless.’ Comp. 12:47.

16. And yet if I judge ] Or, But even if I judge , like ‘even if I bear witness’ ( v . 14). ‘I judge no man; not because I have no authority, but because judging is not what I came to do. Even if I do in exceptional cases judge, My judgment is a genuine and authoritative one (see on 1:9), not the mock sentence of an impostor. It is the sentence not of a mere man, nor even of one with a Divine commission yet acting independently; but of One sent by God acting in union with His Sender.’ Comp. 5:30.

17. It is also written in your law ] Literally, But in the law also, your law, it is written . ‘Your’ is very emphatic; ‘the Law about which you profess to be so jealous.’ Comp. ‘Thou art called a Jew, and restest on the Law’ (Romans 2:17 ).

the testimony of two men is true ] Better, the witness of two , &c. Not so much a quotation as a reference to Deuteronomy 19:15 , Deuteronomy 17:6 . Note that the Law speaks of ‘two or three witnesses: ’ here we have ‘two men .’ The change is not accidental, but introduces an argument à fortiori: if the testimony of two men is true, how much more the testimony of two Divine Witnesses. Comp. ‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son’ (1 John 5:9 ).

18. I am one that bear witness of myself ] Or, It is I who bear witness of Myself (in My words and works), and there beareth witness of Me the Father, who sent Me (in Scripture and the voice from Heaven).

19. Then said they ] They said therefore .

Where is thy Father? ] They do not ask ‘who’ but ‘where;’ they know well enough by this time the meaning of Christ’s frequent reference to ‘Him that sent me:’ 5:23, 24, 30, 37, 38, 6:38, 39, 40, 44, 7:16, 18, 28, 33. They ask, therefore, in mockery, what Philip (14:8) asks with earnest longing, ‘ Shew us the Father: we see one of Thy two witnesses; shew us the other.’

if ye had known me , &c.] Better, If ye knew Me, ye would know , &c. (There is a similar error 5:46). It is in the Son that the Father reveals Himself. Comp. 14:9, 16:3; and for the construction comp. v . 42.

20. in the treasury ] At the treasury is an admissible and in one respect safer translation. It is not certain that there was a separate building called the treasury; and if there was, it is not probable that Christ would be able to address the multitude there. But the thirteen brazen chests, into which people put their offerings for the temple and other charitable objects, stood in the Court of the Women (see on Mark 12:41 ), and these chests seem to have been called ‘the treasury.’ The point seems to be that in so public and frequented a place as this did He say all this, and yet no man laid hands on Him (see on 7:30). Moreover the Hall Gazith, where the Sanhedrin mot, was close to the Court of the Women; so that He was teaching close to His enemies’ head quarters.

21. Then said Jesus again unto them ] The name ‘Jesus’ should be omitted both here and in the preceding verse (see on 6:14), and ‘then’ should be therefore (see on 6:45, 53, 68, 7:15, 30, 33, 35, 45). He said, therefore, again to them . The ‘therefore’ does not compel us to place what follows on the same day with what precedes; ‘therefore’ merely signifies that, as no one laid hands on Him, He was able to address them again. ‘Again’ shews that there is some interval, but whether of minutes, hours, or days, we have no means of determining. There is no distinct mark of time between 7:37 (the close of the Feast of Tabernacles) and 10:22 (the Feast of the Dedication), an interval of two months. See introductory note to chap. 6.

I go my way ] There is no ‘my way’ in the Greek; the word is the same as for ‘I go’ in v . 14 and 7:33; but to avoid abruptness we may render, I go away . Possibly in all three passages there is a side reference to the Jews who were now leaving Jerusalem in great numbers, the Feast of Tabernacles being over.

shall seek me ] See on 7:33, 34. Here Christ is more explicit; He does not say ‘shall not find Me,’ but ‘shall die in your sin.’ So far from finding Him and being delivered by Him, they will perish most miserably. In your sin shall ye die . ‘Sin’ is emphatic, and is singular, not plural, meaning ‘state of sin.’

22. Will he kill himself? ] They see that He speaks of a voluntary departure, and perhaps they suspect that He alludes to His death. So with sarcasm still more bitter than the sneer in 7:35 they exclaim ‘Surely He does not mean to commit suicide? We certainly shall not be able to follow Him if He takes refuge in that!’

23. Ye are from beneath ] At first sight it might seem as if this meant ‘ye are from hell.’ Christ uses strong language later on ( v . 44), and this interpretation would make good sense with what precedes. ‘Ye suggest that I am going to hell by self-destruction: it is ye who come from thence.’ But what follows forbids this. The two halves of the verse are manifestly equivalent, and ‘ye are from beneath’ = ‘ye are of this world.’ The pronouns throughout are emphatically opposed. The whole verse is a good instance of ‘the spirit of parallelism, the informing power of Hebrew poetry,’ which runs more or less through the whole Gospel. Comp. 14:27.

24. ye shall die in your sins ] Here ‘die’ is emphatic, not ‘sin’ as in v . 21. Moreover the plural is here correct; it is no longer the state of sin generally, but the separate sins of each that are spoken of. Before it was ‘in your sin shall ye die;’ here it is ‘ye shall die in your sins.’

for if ye believe not ] This is the only way in which they can be delivered faith in Him. Comp. 1:12, 3:15 18, 6:40.

that I am he ] Better, that I am . It not merely means ‘that I am the Messiah,’ but is the great name, which every Jew at once understood, I AM. Comp. vv . 28, 58, 13:19, 18:5; Exodus 3:14 ; Deuteronomy 32:39 ; Isaiah 43:10 .

25. Then said they ] They said therefore .

Who art thou? ] It is incredible that the Jews can have failed to understand. Christ had just declared that He was from above, and not of this world. Even if the words ‘I am’ were ambiguous in themselves, in this context they are plain enough. As in v . 19, they pretend not to understand, and contemptuously ask, Thou, who art Thou? The pronoun is scornfully emphatic. Comp. Acts 19:15 . Possibly both in v . 19 and here they wish to draw from Him something more definite, more capable of being stated in a formal charge against Him.

Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning ] This is a passage of well-known difficulty, and the meaning will probably always remain uncertain. (1) It is doubtful whether it is a question or not. (2) Of the six or seven Greek words all excepting the word meaning ‘unto you’ can have more than one meaning. (3) There is a doubt whether we have six or seven Greek words. To discuss all the possible renderings would go beyond the scope of this volume. What I from the beginning am also speaking to you of is perhaps as likely as any translation to be right. And it matters little whether it be made interrogative or not. Either, ‘Do you ask that of which I have been speaking to you from the first?’, in which case it is not unlike Christ’s reply to Philip (14:9); or, ‘I am that of which I have been speaking to you all along.’

26. Here again we have a series of simple sentences, the precise meaning of which and their connexion with one another cannot be determined with certainty. See on 7:33. The following seems to be the drift of the verse: ‘I have very much to speak concerning you, very much to blame. But I keep to My immediate task of speaking to the world those truths which before the world was I heard from God that cannot lie, Who sent Me:’ i.e. Christ will not desist from teaching Divine truth in order to blame the Jews. It is as the Truth and the Light that He appears in these discourses.

which I have heard of him ] Better, what I heard from Him, these things I speak unto the world , i.e. precisely these and nothing else. Comp. v . 39.

27. They understood not that he spake ] Better, they perceived not that He was speaking . This statement of the Evangelist has seemed to some so unaccountable after v . 18, that they have attempted to make his words mean something else. But the meaning of the words is quite unambiguous, and is not incredible. We have seen that there is an interval, possibly of days, between v . 20 and v . 21. The audience may have changed very considerably; but if not, experience shews that the ignorance and stupidity of unbelief are sometimes almost unbounded. Still we may admit that the dulness exhibited here is extraordinary; and it is precisely because it is so extraordinary that St John records it.

28. Then said Jesus unto them ] Better, as so often (see on v . 21), Therefore said Jesus , i.e. in consequence of their gross want of perception. ‘Unto them’ is of doubtful authority.

When ye have lifted up ] On the Cross: comp. 3:14 and 12:32. The Crucifixion was the act of the Jews, as Peter tells them in Solomon’s Porch (Acts 3:13-15 ).

then shall ye know ] Better, then shall ye perceive . It is the same verb as is used in v . 27, and evidently refers back to that (comp. v . 43). Had they known the Messiah they would have known His Father also (14:9). But when by crucifying Him they have brought about His glory, then and not till then will their eyes be opened. Then will facts force upon them what no words could teach them. Comp. 12:32.

that I am he ] See on v . 24.

but as my Father hath taught me ] Better, but that as My Father taught Me , i.e. before the Incarnation; aorist, not perfect, like ‘heard’ in v . 26. The construction depending on ‘then shall ye understand’ continues to the end of this verse, and possibly down to ‘is with Me.’

29. the Father hath not left me alone ] Here again we have an aorist, not a perfect; ‘ He left Me not alone ’ (‘the Father’ being omitted in the best MSS.). It will depend on the interpretation whether the aorist or perfect is to be used in English. If it refers to God sending the Messiah into the world, then we must keep the aorist; He left . But if it refers to Christ’s experience in each particular case, the perfect may be substituted: He hath left . In some cases it is the idiom in English to use the perfect where the aorist is used in Greek, and then to translate the Greek aorist by the English aorist would be misleading. See on 16:32.

for I do always ] Or, because the things which are pleasing to Him I always do . ‘I’ and ‘always’ are emphatic; and ‘always’ literally means ‘on every occasion,’ which is somewhat in favour of the second interpretation in the preceding note. ‘He hath never left me alone, because in every case I do what pleaseth Him.’ The emphasis on ‘I’ is perhaps in mournful contrast to the Jews. In any case it is a distinct claim to Divinity. What blasphemous effrontery would such a declaration be in the mouth of any but the Incarnate Deity. The theory that Jesus was the noblest and holiest of teachers, but nothing more, shatters against such words as these. What saint or prophet ever dared to say, ‘The things which are pleasing to God I in every instance do?’ Comp. v . 46. And if it be said, that perhaps Jesus never uttered these words, then it may also be said that perhaps He never uttered any of the words attributed to Him. We have the same authority for what is accepted as His as for what is rejected as not His. History becomes impossible if we are to admit evidence that we like, and refuse evidence that we dislike.

30. many believed on him ] Nothing exasperated His opponents so much as His success; and therefore in leading us on to the final catastrophe, the Evangelist carefully notes the instances in which He won, though often only for a time, adherents and believers. See on 6:15. Among these ‘many’ were some of the hierarchy ( v . 51). Their faith, poor as it proves, is better than that of the many in 2:23; belief that results from teaching is higher than that which results from miracles. Jesus recognises both its worth and its weakness, and applies a test, which might have raised it to something higher, but under which it breaks down.

31. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him ] Better, Jesus said , therefore , to the Jews who had believed Him . There is a change in the expression respecting their belief. In v . 30 S. John uses the strong phrase ‘believed on Him;’ here he uses the much weaker ‘believed Him’ (see on 1:12), as if to prepare us for the collapse of their faith.

If ye continue , &c.] Or, If ye abide in My word (see on 1:33), ye are truly My disciples . Both ‘ye’ and ‘My’ are emphatic: ‘you on your part’ ‘the word that is Mine.’ “The new converts, who come forward with a profession of faith, receive a word of encouragement as well as of warning. They were not to mistake a momentary impulse for a deliberate conviction.” S. p. 155. ‘If ye abide in My word, so that it becomes the permanent condition of your life, then are ye My disciples in truth, and not merely in appearance after being carried away for the moment.’

32. the truth ] Both Divine doctrine (17:17) and Christ Himself (14:6) ‘whose service is perfect freedom.’ See on 18:37.

shall make you free ] Free from the moral slavery of sin. Comp. the Stoics’ dictum ‘The wise man alone is free.’

33. They answered him ] Or, unto Him , according to the best MSS. ‘They’ must mean ‘the Jews who had believed Him’ ( v . 31): it is quite arbitrary to suppose any one else. The severe words which follow ( v . 44) are addressed to them, for turning back, after their momentary belief, as well as to those who had never believed at all.

Abraham’s seed ] Comp. ‘kings of peoples shall be of her’ (Sarah), and ‘thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies’ (Genesis 17:16 , Genesis 22:17 ). On texts like these they build the proud belief that Jews have never yet been in bondage to any man . But passion once more blinds them to historical facts (see on 7:52). The bondage in Egypt, the oppressions in the times of the Judges, the captivity in Babylon, and the Roman yoke, are all forgotten. Some, who think such forgetfulness incredible, interpret ‘we have never been lawfully in bondage.’ ‘The Truth’ would not free them from enforced slavery. It might free them from voluntary slavery, by teaching them that it was unlawful for them to be slaves. ‘But we know that already.’ This, however, is somewhat subtle, and the more literal interpretation is not incredible. The power which the human mind possesses of keeping inconvenient facts out of sight is very considerable. In either case we have another instance of gross inability to perceive the spiritual meaning of Christ’s words. Comp. 3:4, 4:15, 6:34.

34. Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin ] Better, Everyone who continues to commit sin is the bond-servant of sin . ‘Committeth sin’ is too weak for the Greek: Christ does not say that a single act of sin enslaves. ‘To commit ( poiein ) sin’ is the opposite of ‘to do the Truth’ (3:21). Again, ‘servant,’ though often a good translation where nothing degrading is implied, is not strong enough, where, as here, the degradation is the main point. Moreover, the connexion with v . 33 must be kept up. The words for ‘bondage’ and ‘servant’ are cognate; therefore either ‘bondage’ and ‘bond-servant,’ or ‘slavery’ and ‘slave,’ must be our renderings.

Some have thought that we have here an echo of Romans 6:16 , which of course S. John may have seen. But why may not both passages be original? The idea that vice is slavery is common in all literature: frequent in the classics. 2 Peter 2:19 is probably an echo either of this passage or of Romans 6:16 . Comp. Matthew 6:24 .

35. And the servant , &c.] The transition is somewhat abrupt, the mention of ‘bond-servant’ suggesting a fresh thought. Now the bond-servant (not the bond-servant of sin , but any slave) abideth not in the house for ever: the son (not the Son of God, but any son) abideth for ever . “The thought is throughout profound and instructive; and to a Jew, always ready to picture to himself the theocracy or the kingdom of heaven under the form of a household, it would be easily intelligible.” S. p. 157.

36. If the Son therefore , &c.] As before, any son is meant. ‘If the son emancipates you, your freedom is secured; for he is always on the spot to see that his emancipation is carried out.’ The statement is general, but of course with special reference to the Son of God. If they will abide in His word ( v . 31), He will abide in them (6:56), and will take care that the bondage from which His word has freed them is not thrust upon them again.

shall be free indeed ] Not the same word as is translated ‘indeed’ in v . 31. ‘Indeed’ or ‘in reality’ may do here; ‘in truth’ or ‘truly’ in v . 31. Both words are opposed to mere appearance.

37. Christ’s words seem gradually to take a wider range. They are no longer addressed merely to those who for a moment had believed on Him, but to His opponents generally, whose ranks these short-lived believers had joined.

Abraham’s seed ] He admits their claim in their own narrow sense. They are the natural descendants of Abraham: his children in any higher sense they are not ( v . 39). Comp. ‘neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children’ (Romans 9:8 ).

hath no place in you ] Rather, maketh no advance in you . His word had found place in them for a very short time; but it made no progress in their hearts: it did not abide in them and they did not abide in it ( v . 31). They had stifled it and cast it out.

38. I speak , &c.] The text here is a little uncertain, but the following seems to have most authority; I speak the things which I have seen with ( My ) Father: ye also, therefore, do the things which ye heard from ( your ) father . ‘I speak those truths of which I have had direct knowledge from all eternity with the Father; you, therefore, following My relation to the Father, commit those sins which your father suggested to you.’ Christ does not say who their father is; but he means that morally they are the children of the devil. The ‘therefore’ (rare in discourses) is severely ironical. The connexion of v . 38 with v . 37 is not quite obvious. Perhaps it is this: My words make no progress in you, because they are so different in origin and nature from your acts, especially your attempt to kill Me. It is possible to take the latter half of the verse as an imperative; and do ye therefore the things which ye heard from the Father .

39. Abraham is our father ] They see that He means some other father than Abraham; possibly they suspect His full meaning, soon to be expressed ( v . 44).

If ye were Abraham’s children ] The true reading seems to be, if ye are Abraham’s children , which has been altered to ‘if ye were ,’ so as to run more smoothly with the second clause. But the reading of the second verb is also doubtful, and perhaps we should read, do (imper.) the works of Abraham .

40. ‘On the contrary, ye seek to commit murder, and a murder of the most heinous kind. Ye would kill One who hath spoken unto you the truth, truth which He learnt from God.’

a man that hath told you ] This pointed insertion of ‘man’ possibly looks forward to v . 44, where they are called the children of the great man-slayer , lusting like him for blood. The Lord nowhere else uses this term of Himself.

this did not Abraham ] A litotes or understatement of the truth. Abraham’s life was utterly unlike the whole tenour of theirs. What could there be in common between ‘the Friend of God’ (James 2:23 ) and the enemies of God’s Son?

41. Ye do the deeds of your father ] Better, Ye are doing the works of your father . The word here rendered ‘deeds’ is the same as that rendered ‘works’ in v . 39. ‘Ye’ is emphatic, in contrast to Abraham. This shews them plainly that spiritual parentage is what He means. In v . 39 they still cling to Abraham, although He has evidently assigned them some other father. Here they drop literal parentage and adopt His figurative language. ‘You are speaking of spiritual parentage. Well, our spiritual Father is God.’

We be not born of fornication ] The meaning of this is very much disputed. The following are the chief explanations: (1) Thou hast denied that we are the children of Abraham, then we must be the children of some one sinning with Sarah: which is false.’ But this would be adultery, not fornication. (2) ‘We are the children of Sarah, not of Hagar.’ But this was lawful concubinage, not fornication. (3) ‘We are not a mongrel race, like the Samaritans; we are pure Jews.’ This is far-fetched, and does not suit the context. (4) ‘We were not born of fornication, as Thou art .’ But His miraculous birth was not yet commonly known, and this foul Jewish lie, perpetuated from the second century onwards (Origen, c. Celsum i. xxxii.), was not yet in existence. (5) ‘We were not born of spiritual fornication; our sonship has not been polluted with idolatry. If thou art speaking of spiritual parentage, ‘we have one Father, even God.’ This last seems the best. Idolatry is so constantly spoken of as whoredom and fornication throughout the whole of the O.T., that in a discussion about spiritual fatherhood this image would be perfectly natural in the mouth of a Jew. Exodus 34:15 , Exodus 34:16 ; Leviticus 17:7 ; Judges 2:17 ; 2 Kings 9:22 ; Psalms 73:27 ; Isaiah 1:21 ; Jeremiah 3:1 , Jeremiah 3:9 ; Ezekiel 16:15 ; &c. &c. See esp. Hosea 2:4 . There is a proud emphasis on ‘we;’ ‘ we are not idolaters, like Thy friends the Gentiles’ (comp. 7:35).

we have one Father ] Or, one Father we have , with emphasis on the ‘one,’ in contrast to the many gods of the heathen.

42. Moral proof that God is not their father; if they were God’s children they would love His Son. Comp. 15:23, and ‘every one that loveth Him that begat loveth Him also that is begotten of Him’ (1 John 5:1 ). For the construction comp. v . 19, 5:46, 9:41, 15:19, 13:36: in all these cases we have imperfects, not aorists. Contrast 4:10, 11:21, 32, 14:28.

I proceeded forth and came from God ] Rather, I came out (see on 16:28) from God and am here from God among you. Surely then God’s true children would recognise and love Me.

neither came I of myself ] Rather, For not even of Myself have I come . The ‘for’ must on no account be omitted; it introduces a proof that He is come from God. ‘For (not only have I not come from any other than God) I have not even come of My own self-determination.’

43. my speech … my word ] ‘Speech’ is the outward expression , the language used; ‘thy speech bewrayeth thee’ (Matthew 26:73 ; comp. Mark 14:70 ). Besides these two passages the word for ‘speech’ is used only 4:42, where it is rendered ‘saying,’ and here. ‘Word’ is the meaning of the expression, the teaching conveyed in the language used. They perpetually misunderstand His language, because they cannot appreciate His meaning. They are ‘from beneath’ ( v . 23), and He is speaking of ‘things above’ (Colossians 3:1 ); they are ‘of this world,’ and He is telling of ‘heavenly things’ (3:12); they are ‘natural,’ and He is teaching ‘spiritual things’ (1 Corinthians 2:14 ; see note there). They ‘ cannot hear;’ it is amoral impossibility: they have their whole character to change before they can understand spiritual truths.

44. Ye are of your father the devil ] At last Christ says plainly, what He has implied in vv . 38 and 41. ‘Ye’ is emphatic; ‘ye, who boast that ye have Abraham and God as your Father, ye are morally the Devil’s children.’ Comp. 1 John 3:8 , 1 John 3:10 , which is perhaps an echo of Christ’s words.

This passage seems to be conclusive as to the real personal existence of the devil. It can scarcely be an economy, a concession to ordinary modes of thought and language. Would Christ have resorted to a popular delusion in a denunciation of such solemn and awful severity? Comp. ‘the children of the wicked one’ (Matthew 13:38 ); ‘ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves’ (Matthew 23:15 ). With this denunciation generally compare those contained in Matthew 11:20-24 , Matthew 23:13-36 . “It is likely that dialogues of this sort would be of not infrequent occurrence, especially just at this time when the conflict is reaching its climax. It is likely too that they would be of the nature of dialogues broken by impatient interruptions on the part of the Jews, and not always a continuous strain of denunciation as in Matthew 23:0 .” S. p. 159.

A monstrous but grammatically possible translation of these words is adopted by some who attribute a Gnostic origin to this Gospel; ‘ye are descended from the father of the devil.’ This Gnostic demonology, according to which the father of the devil is the God of the Jews, is utterly unscriptural, and does not suit the context here.

and the lusts of your father ye will do ] Rather, ye will to do . See on 6:67, 7:17; and comp. v . 40. ‘Ye love to gratify the lusts which characterize him, especially the lust for blood. Being his children, ye are like him in nature.’

He was a murderer from the beginning ] The word for ‘murderer’ etymologically means ‘man-slayer,’ and seems to connect this passage with v . 40 (see note there). The devil was a murderer by causing the Fall, and thus bringing death into the world. Comp. ‘God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world , and they that do hold of his side shall find it (Wisd. 2:23, 24): and ‘Cain was of that wicked one and slew his brother:’ and ‘whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer’ (1 John 3:12 , 1 John 3:15 ).

and abode not in the truth ] Rather, and standeth not in the truth . The verb is not S. John’s favourite word ‘abide’ (see on 1:33), but (according to the common reading) the same that is used in 1:35, 3:29, 7:37, &c. Though perfect in form it is present in meaning: therefore not ‘hath stood,’ still less ‘stood’ or ‘abode,’ but standeth . The true reading, however , is probably not hestêken , but estêken , the imperfect of stêkein (1:26; Romans 14:4 ), a stronger form of the verb; stood firm . Truth is a region from which the devil has long since departed.

he speaketh of his own ] Literally, he speaketh out of his own ; out of his own resources, out of his own nature: the outcome is what might be expected from him.

for he is a liar, and the father of it ] Better, because he is a liar and the father thereof , i.e. father of the liar, rather than father of the lie (understood in liar). Here again a monstrous misinterpretation is grammatically possible; ‘for he is a liar, and his father also.’ It is not strange that Gnostics of the second and third centuries should have tried to wring a sanction for their fantastic systems out of the writings of S. John. It is strange that any modern critics should have thought demonology so extravagant compatible with the theology of the Fourth Gospel.

45. And because I tell you , &c.] Better, But because I speak the truth, ye do not believe me . ‘Ye will listen to the devil ( v . 38); ye will believe a lie: but the Messiah speaking the truth ye will not believe.’ The tragic tone once more: comp. 1:5, 10, 11, 2:24, 3:10, 19, &c.

46. Which of you convinceth me of sin? ] Or, convicteth Me of sin (see on 3:20). Many rebuked Christ and laid sin to His charge: none brought sin home to His conscience. There is the majesty of Divinity in the challenge. What mortal man would dare to make it? See on v . 29, and comp. 14:30, and 15:10; 1 John 3:5 ; 1 Peter 1:19 , 1 Peter 2:22 . Note the implied connexion between sin generally and falsehood, as between righteousness and truth, 7:18.

And if I say the truth ] Better, If I say truth . No MSS. have the article, and the best MSS. omit the conjunction. ‘If I am free from sin (and none of you can convict Me of sin), I am free from falsehood and speak the truth. Why then do ye on your part refuse to believe Me?’ ‘Ye’ is emphatic.

47. Christ answers His own question and at the same time gives a final disproof of their claim to call God their father ( v . 41).

heareth God’s words ] Christ here assumes, what He elsewhere maintains explicitly, that He speaks the words of God ( v . 26, 3:34, 7:16, 17:8).

ye therefore hear them not ] Better, for this cause (12:18, 27) ye hear not . It is not S. John’s favourite particle ‘therefore,’ but, as in 5:16, 18, 6:65, 7:22 (see notes there), a preposition and pronoun with which he not unfrequently begins a sentence to prepare the way for a ‘because’ afterwards. These characteristics of his language should be preserved in English, and kept distinct, so far as is possible. In the First Epistle he uses the very same test as Christ here applies to the Jews; ‘We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error’ (4:6).

48. Then answered the Jews ] The best MSS. omit the particle, which if it were genuine should be rendered ‘therefore,’ not ‘then:’ The Jews answered . This denial of their national prerogative of being sons of God seems to them malicious frenzy. He must be an enemy of the peculiar people and be possessed.

Say we not well ] i.e. rightly: comp. 4:17, 13:13, 18:23. ‘We’ is emphatic; ‘we at any rate are right.’

that thou art a Samaritan ] “Nowhere else do we find the designation ‘a Samaritan;’ yet it might naturally we might say inevitably be given to one who seemed to attack the exclusive privileges of the Jewish people.” S. pp. 159, 160. It is therefore a striking touch of reality, and another instance of the Evangelist’s complete familiarity with the ideas and expressions current in Palestine at this time. Possibly this term of reproach contains a sneer at His visit to Samaria in chap. 4, and at His having chosen the unusual route through Samaria, as He probably did (see on 7:10), in coming up to the Feast of Tabernacles. The parable of the Good Samaritan was probably not yet spoken.

and hast a devil ] It is unfortunate that we have not two words in our Bible to distinguish diabolos , ‘ the Devil’ ( v . 44, 13:2; Matthew 4:1 ; Luke 8:12 ; &c., &c.), from daimonion or daimôn , ‘ a devil,’ or ‘unclean spirit.’ ‘Fiend,’ which Wiclif sometimes employs (Matthew 12:24 , Matthew 12:28 ; Mark 1:34 , Mark 1:39 , &c.), might have been used, had Tyndale and Cranmer adopted it: demon would have been better still. But here Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva Version make the confusion complete by rendering ‘and hast the devil,’ a mistake which they make also in 7:20 and 10:20. The charge here is more bitter than either 7:20 or 10:20, where it simply means that His conduct is so extraordinary that He must be demented. We have instances more similar to this in the Synoptists; Matthew 9:34 , Matthew 9:12 :24; Mark 3:22 ; Luke 11:15 .

49. I have not a devil ] He does not notice the charge of being a Samaritan. For Him it contained nothing offensive, for He knew that Samaritans might equal or excel Jews (4:39 42; Luke 10:33 , Luke 17:16 ) in faith, benevolence, and gratitude. There is an emphasis on ‘I,’ but the meaning of the emphasis is not ‘ I have not a demon, but ye have .’ Rather it means ‘ I have not a demon, but honour My Father; while you on the contrary dishonour My Father through Me.’

50. And I seek not mine own glory ] Better, But I seek not My glory . ‘It is not because I seek glory for Myself that I speak of your dishonouring Me: My Father seeks that for Me and pronounces judgment on you.’ Comp. v . 54 and 5:41.

51. If a man keep my saying ] Better, if a man keep My word . This is important, to shew the connexion with verses 31 and 43 and also with 5:24. In all these the same Greek word is used, logos . The phrase ‘keep My word’ is one of frequent occurrence in this Gospel: verses 52, 55, 14:23, 15:20, 17:6: as also the kindred phrase ‘keep My commandments:’ 14:15, 21, 15:10: comp. 1 John 2:3 , 1 John 2:4 , 1 John 2:5 , 1 John 2:3 :22, 1 John 2:24 , 1 John 2:5 :2, 1 John 2:3 . ‘Keeping’ means not merely keeping in heart, but obeying and fulfilling. This is the way in which they may escape the judgment just spoken of. So that there is no need to suppose that while verses 49, 50 are addressed to His opponents, v . 51 is addressed after a pause to a more friendly section, a change of which there is no hint.

shall never see death ] Literally, shall certainly not behold death for ever . But ‘for ever’ belongs, like the negative, to the verb, not to ‘death.’ It does not mean ‘he shall see death, but the death shall not be eternal:’ rather ‘he shall certainly never see death,’ i.e. he already has eternal life (5:24) and shall never lose it. This is evident from 4:14, which cannot mean ‘shall thirst, but the thirst shall not be eternal,’ and from 13:8, which cannot mean ‘shalt wash my feet, but the washing shall not be eternal.’ In all three cases the meaning is the same, ‘shall certainly never.’ Comp. 10:28, 11:26.

52. Now we know that thou hast a devil ] ‘It was somewhat of a conjecture before, but now we recognise clear evidence of it.’

Abraham is dead ] Abraham died . Again they shew a gross want of perception and ‘do not understand His speech’ ( v . 43). They cannot discern a spiritual truth, but understand Him to be speaking of physical death. ‘My saying’ should be ‘My word’ as in v . 51.

he shall never taste of death ] In their excitement they exaggerate His language. The metaphor ‘taste of death’ is not taken from a death-cup, but from the general idea of bitterness. It is frequent in the classics.

53. Art thou greater ] Exactly parallel to 4:12. ‘Thou’ is emphatic: ‘Surely Thou art not greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died .’ An anacoluthon, like their exaggeration, very natural. Strictly the sentence should run, ‘and than the prophets, who died?’

54 56. Christ first answers the insinuation that He is vain-glorious, implied in the question ‘whom makest Thou Thyself?’ Then He shews that He really is greater than Abraham.

54. If I honour myself ] Better, If I shall have glorified Myself, My glory is nothing . It is not the same word as is rendered ‘honour’ in v . 49, therefore another English word is desirable. There is My Father who glorifieth Me in miracles and the Messianic work generally. Comp. v . 50.

55. Yet ye have not known him; but I know him ] Once more we have two different Greek words for ‘know’ in close proximity, and the difference is obliterated in our version (comp. 7:15, 17, 26, 27, 13:7, 14:7, and see on 7:26). Here the meaning is, And ye have not recognised Him; but I know Him , the latter clause referring to His immediate essential knowledge of the Father.

a liar like unto you ] Or, Like unto you, a liar . Referring back to v . 44.

keep his saying ] Or, keep His word , as in verses 51, 52. Christ’s whole life was a continual practice of obedience: Hebrews 5:8 ; Romans 5:19 ; Philippians 2:8 .

56. rejoiced to see my day ] Literally, exulted that he might see My day , the object of his joy being represented as the goal to which his heart is directed. This is a remarkable instance of S. John’s preference for the construction expressing a purpose, where other constructions would seem more natural. Comp. 4:34, 47, 6:29, 50, 9:2, 3, 22, 11:50, 16:7. Abraham exulted in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah through implicit belief in the Divine promises.

and he saw it, and was glad ] A very important passage with regard to the intermediate state, shewing that the soul does not, as some maintain, remain unconscious between death and the Day of Judgment. The Old Testament saints in Paradise were allowed to know that the Messiah had come. How this was revealed to them we are not told; but here is a plain statement of the fact. The word for ‘was glad’ expresses a calmer, less emotional joy than the word for ‘rejoiced,’ and therefore both are appropriate: ‘exulted’ while still on earth; ‘was glad’ in Hades. Thus the ‘Communion of Saints’ is assured, not merely in parables (Luke 16:27 , Luke 16:28 ), but in the plainer words of Scripture. Comp. Hebrews 12:1 .

57. Then said the Jews ] Better. Therefore said the Jews .

Thou art not yet fifty years old ] The reading, ‘forty years,’ which Chrysostom and a few authorities give, is no doubt incorrect. It has arisen from a wish to make the number less wide of the mark; for our Lord was probably not yet thirty-five, although Irenaeus preserves a tradition that He taught at a much later age. He says (ii. xxii. 5), a quadrigesimo autem et quinquagesimo anno declinat jam in aetatem seniorem, quam habens Dominus noster docebat, sicut evangelium et omnes seniores testantur qui in Asia apud Joannem discipulum Domini convenerunt . By ‘evangelium’ he probably means this passage. But ‘fifty years’ is a round number, the Jewish traditional age of full manhood (Numbers 4:3 , Numbers 4:39 , Numbers 4:8 :24, Numbers 4:25 ). There is no reason to suppose that Jesus was nearly fifty, or looked nearly fifty. In comparing His age with the 2000 years since Abraham the Jews would not care to be precise so long as they were within the mark.

58. Before Abraham was, I am ] Here our translators have lamentably gone back from earlier translations. Cranmer has, ‘Ere Abraham was born , I am;’ and the Rhemish, ‘Before that Abraham was made , I am,’ following the Vulgate, Antequam Abraham fieret, Ego sum . See notes on ‘was’ in 1:1, 6. ‘I am’ denotes absolute existence, and in this passage clearly involves the pre-existence and Divinity of Christ, as the Jews see. Comp. vv . 24, 28; Revelation 1:4 , Revelation 1:8 ; and see on v . 24.

59. Then took they up stones ] Or, Therefore took they up stones , i.e. in consequence of His last words. They see clearly what He means. He has taken to Himself the Divine Name and they prepare to stone Him for blasphemy. Material lying there for completing and repairing the Temple would supply them with missiles. Comp. 10:31, 33.

but Jesus hid himself ] Probably we are not to understand a miraculous withdrawal as in Luke 4:30 , where the ‘passing through the midst of them’ seems to be miraculous. Here we need not suppose more than that He drew back into the crowd away from those who had taken up stones. The Providence which ordered that as yet the fears of the hierarchy should prevail over their hostility (7:30, 8:20), ruled that the less hostile in this multitude should screen Him from the fury of the more fanatical. It is quite arbitrary to invert the clauses and render, ‘Jesus went out of the Temple and hid Himself.’

going through the midst of them, and so passed by ] These words are apparently an insertion, and probably an adaptation of Luke 4:30 . No English Version previous to the one of 1611 contains the passage.

As a comment on the whole discourse see 1 Peter 2:22 , 1 Peter 2:23 , remembering that S. Peter was very possibly present on the occasion.

“The whole of the Jews’ reasoning is strictly what we should expect from them. These constant appeals to their descent from Abraham, these repeated imputations of diabolic possession, this narrow intelligence bounded by the letter, this jealousy of anything that seemed in the slightest degree to trench on their own rigid monotheism all these, down to the touch in ver. 57, in which the age they fix upon in round numbers is that assigned to completed manhood, give local truth and accuracy to the picture; which in any case, we may say confidently, must have been drawn by a Palestinian Jew, and was in all probability drawn by a Jew who had been himself an early disciple of Christ.” S. p. 160.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 8". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/john-8.html. 1896.