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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
John 7

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Jesus is Truth (John 8:0).


The Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-13).


The teaching of Jesus (John 7:14-39):

His doctrine is from the Father (John 7:15-24).

He is Himself from the Father (verses (25-31);

He will return to the Father (John 7:32-39).


The effect of the teaching. Division among the multitude, and in the Sanhedrin (John 7:40-52).]

Verse 1

(1) After these things . . .—Denoting not immediate sequence, but covering the interval included in this verse—i.e., the Galilean ministry of Matthew 15-18. (Comp. Note on John 21:1.) It would have been natural for Him to have gone up to the Passover of that year (John 6:4), but He did not do so on account of the open hostility of the Jews. He continued his sojourn in Galilee.

Jewry was frequent in the older English translations, but has been preserved in the Authorised version of the New Testament only here and in Luke 23:5. (See Note there, and comp. Daniel 5:13 and the Prayer Book version of Psalms 76:1.)

Verse 2

(2) The Jews’ feast of tabernacles.—This began on “the fifteenth day of the seventh month” (Leviticus 23:34), i.e., the 15th of Tishri, which answers to our September. The interval, then, from Passover to Tabernacles is one of about five months. The feast continued for seven days, during which all true Israelites dwelt in booths, in remembrance of their dwelling in tabernacles when they came out of the land of Egypt. Like the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the Feast of Harvest (Pentecost), this Feast of In-gathering was one of the “three times in the year” when every male Jew was required to appear before the Lord God (Exodus 23:14). Josephus speaks of it as the holiest and greatest of the feasts. It was at once a thankful memorial of the national deliverance, and a yearly rejoicing at the close of each succeeding harvest (Deuteronomy 16:13-16).

Verse 3

(3) His brethren . . .—Comp. Note on Matthew 13:55. They are excluded here by their own words from the band of disciples, as they are by St. John’s from the believers (John 7:5), and inferentially (John 7:7) by the words of Christ Himself from the Twelve. (Comp. John 15:18.)

That thy disciples also may see . . .—The last time the word “disciples” was used, it was to mark the departure of many from Him (John 6:60; John 6:66). The months which have passed since have been a time of comparative retirement. He did not go to the Passover, where many would have expected to see Him (John 7:11), but within the narrowed circle continued His works and words. The prophet hath not honour in His own home, and His brethren, who have seen these works and do not believe, challenge Him to an open demonstration of them. There is another great feast at hand, and His disciples from all parts will be at Jerusalem, where the rulers will test His claims. If He is the Messiah, no conspiracy to kill Him can prevail; and if these works are really divine, let the great body of disciples see them, and amid the joyous feast, and in the royal city, proclaim Him king.

Verse 4

(4) For there is no man.—His course of action seems to them to contradict His personal claim. It is opposed, they think, to the common-sense conduct of mankind.

If thou do these things.—The emphasis is on these things. There is no doubt that He does them; but if the acts themselves are such as they seem to be, and establish the claim which He bases on them, they should be done in Jerusalem, not in the villages of Galilee. They are for the world, and not for the retirement of home.

Verse 5

(5) For neither did his brethren believe.—Comp. Note on John 7:3. The words do not admit of any other meaning than the obvious one that even His brethren did not at this time believe Him to be the Messiah. That they are found in the very first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles joining with the Apostles, and the women, and Mary, with one accord in prayer (John 7:14), is one of the striking instances of the hardened ground of human hearts passing into the fruitful ground receptive of the seed, as the case of Judas at the close of the last chapter is an instance of the opposite. For the immediate cause of the decisive change, see 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Verse 6

(6) My time is not yet come.—Comp. Note on John 2:4. Here, as there, He regards the events of life as marked out by divinely-ordered seasons. There is for Him a time for solemnly entering Jerusalem with a throng of pilgrims going up to a feast, and in a few months it will have come; but it has not come yet. It is at the feast of the Paschal Lamb, already set apart, and not with the joyous shouts of harvest-tide.

Your time is alway ready.—They may go now as then. Of the nation, their thoughts and feelings are in sympathy with the national feasts. They can join in the festive throng keeping holiday, and take their part in the Temple service. For Him present events have another meaning. Desertion of disciples, threatenings of Jews, unbelief of brethren—all this means that the end is approaching, and that His time is at hand.

Verse 7

(7) The world cannot hate you.—Because they were of the world. To have hated them, would have been to have hated itself. (Comp. John 3:19-20.)

But me it hateth, because I testify . . .—He had placed Himself in a position of antagonism to it, and must necessarily do so. His words and acts must be a witness against the evil of its deeds. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. But men who love darkness must also hate light. Its very presence makes the darkness visible; and nothing cuts to the very quick, like that which makes the heart condemn itself.

Verse 8

(8) Go ye up unto this feast.—This should be, rather, Go ye up unto the feast, with the stress on the pronoun “ye,” and the article instead of the demonstrative “this.”

I go not up yet unto this feast.—The “yet” is of doubtful authority, though it is found in some early MSS. and versions, and the more so because it removes an apparent difficulty. Without it, the words do not involve a change of purpose, and Porphyry’s often-repeated charge of fickleness has no real ground. He is not going up unto the feast in the sense in which they intended—openly, with the usual caravan from Galilee. Another going up publicly, as they intended, and with an issue the dark presages of which now crowd upon Him, is present to His mind. “Ye, go ye up to the feast; I go not up to this feast.” The verb is in the present, and its meaning does not exclude a going up afterwards. (See also Note on John 7:10.) They were then going; the caravan was preparing to start. I am not going up (now). The time is coming, but it has not yet fully come. (Comp. Note on Luke 9:51.)

Verse 9

(9) He abode still in Galilee.—We find Him in Jerusalem between the 16th and 20th of Tishri (John 7:14), and He could not therefore have remained behind them more than three or four days. We have no record of any companion with Him until John 9:2; but it is probable that some at least of the Apostolic band remained with Him in Galilee and went with Him to Jerusalem. (Comp. Note on Luke 9:51.) If John returned to Jerusalem after the discourse at Capernaum (comp. Introduction), we have an explanation of the brevity with which he treats the period between Passover and Tabernacles.

Verse 10

(10) But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast.—The words “unto the feast” are misplaced in the Received text, upon which our version is based. The right reading is, But when His brethren were gone up unto the feast, then went He also up; and the difference is not unimportant. We have seen that, even with the ordinary reading, there is no ground for the frequent objection (John 7:8), but it is really nowhere said that He went up to the feast at all. As a matter of fact, the special feast day—the day of Holy Convocation—was on the 15th of Tishri, the 14th being the preparation day. From the 16th to the 20th was what was called “The Lesser Festival,” or “The Middle of the Feast” (John 7:14), and it is at this we find Him present. (Comp. also John 7:37.)

Not openly, but as it were in secret—i.e., not with the usual company. Judging from His practice at another time (John 4:4), He would go through Samaria, while the caravan would go on the Eastern side of the Jordan.

Verse 11

(11) The Jewsi.e., as before, and as in John 7:13; John 7:15, the official representatives of the nation. They kept seeking Him at the feast, where they naturally expected that He would be, and kept asking, without naming Him, Where is He? which is almost equivalent to Where is this fellow? Their question points out that their hostility had gone as far as a definite plot against Him, and that the knowledge of this was widely spread.

Verse 12

(12) And there was much murmuring among the people.—The original word for “people” is here, and here only in St. John, in the plural, and is best rendered by multitudes. It refers to the throngs of people assembled during the various parts of the ritual of the feast, and, perhaps, specially on the one hand to the Galilean multitude, some of whom had been present at the last great work recorded in this Gospel, and some of whom had been present at other works, and influenced by other teaching of Jesus and the Apostles; and on the other hand, to the Judæan multitude, who had been prevented from accepting Him in the same degree by the stronger influence of the hierarchy. Among these multitudes there arose, as before among the Jews and among the disciples (John 6:41; John 6:61), a murmuring; but the subject of this discussion is not His teaching, but His character. Their practical test-question was, Is He a good man, or a deceiver? (Comp. Matthew 27:63.) Some would think of deeds and words which established His goodness beyond all doubt; but if He is a good man, then His claim cannot be false. Others would think of deceivers, who had led away the multitude before (comp. Notes on Acts 5:36-37), and that He was one of them.

Verse 13

(13) No man cannot fairly be limited, as it generally has been, to the multitude who believed in Him. It discloses to us rather a reign of terror, in which opinion was stifled, and men dared not speak openly on either side until authority had determined what they should say.

Verse 14

(14) Now about the midst of the feast.—Better, But now, when it was the middle of the feast. (Comp. John 7:8.) This was the technical Chôl Mô’çd or Mô’çd Katôn, “the Middle of the Feast,” or “the Lesser Feast.” He had taken no part in the greater festival itself, and now He appears in the Temple, as far as we know, for the first time as a public teacher, probably (John 7:19) as an expounder of some Scripture which had been read.

Verse 15

(15) How knoweth this man letters?—Their spirit is seen in that at which they marvel. It is not the substance of His teaching that excites their attention, but the fact that He who has never been technically trained as a Rabbi is acquainted with the literature of the schools. (See Acts 26:24, “much learning,” where “learning” represents the word here rendered “letters.”) He is to them as a layman and unlearned (comp. Note on Acts 4:13), not known in the circles of the professional expounders—a demagogue, who deceived the multitude; and they hear Him speaking with a learning and wisdom that excites their wonder, and unlocking mysteries of which they thought that they only possessed the key.

Verse 16

(16) My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.—The answer carries them once more to the words uttered by Him. (Comp. John 5:19; John 5:30.) Then he had again and again referred to the Father who sent Him (John 7:24; John 7:36-38), and claimed as His own work the doing of the Father’s will (John 7:30). In the Capernaum synagogue, in the hearing of some of these Jews, He had declared that all who were taught of God, and heard and learned the lesson, would come to Him (John 6:45). There is, then, no ground for their present wonder. The teaching which is His in relation to them, is not His of original source. He claims to be in His humanity as a messenger, carrying the message of Him that sent Him. He is the Word by whom the mind of God is spoken.

Doctrine represents a word which is frequently used in the Gospels, of our Lord, but only here and in the next verse by Him. It has acquired a definite and concrete meaning not found in the original, which is better rendered by teaching (comp., e.g., Mark 4:2).

Verse 17

(17) If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.—Better, If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching. The stress is upon “willeth,” which in our version reads as if it were only the auxiliary verb. It is not deed, which is the outcome of faith; but will, which precedes it, that is here spoken of. This human will to do the divine will is the condition of knowing it. The words are unlimited and far-reaching in their meaning. Those who heard them would naturally understand them, as it was intended they should, of the divine will expressed in the Law and the Prophets (John 7:19), but they include the will of God revealed, more or less clearly, to all men and in all times. Our thoughts dwell naturally on representative lives, such as those of Saul the Pharisee, Cornelius the centurion, Justin the philosopher; but the truth holds good for every honest heart in every walk of life. The “any man” of Christ’s own words excludes none from its reach, and the voice of comfort and of hope is spoken alike to all in our ignorance, fears, doubts—that he who in very deed willeth to do God’s will, shall not fail to know, now or in the life to come, of the teaching whether it be of God. (Comp. Notes on John 5:44 et seq., and John 6:29 and John 6:45.)

Verse 18

(18) He that speaketh of himself.—Again the words repeat the thoughts of the earlier discourse. (See Notes on John 5:41-44.) They contrast His position and that of His hearers. Professional teachers, they sought glory one from another, and regarded their teaching as of themselves, the special honour of their caste. In the pride of their own knowledge they willed not the glory of God, and so had not the faculty to know and receive His teaching. He sought the will of Him that sent Him, and therefore was true, in harmony with the eternal will of God. The effect of the submission of His will to the Father’s, and His seeking in word and work the Father’s glory, was that there was no possibility of unrighteousness in Him. This emphasis laid upon truth and righteousness has reference to the charges which they are plotting against Him, and which have already been expressed in the murmuring of the multitude (John 7:12). The words are clearly to be explained with special reference to their position and His, but the general form of the expressions, “He that speaketh of himself . . .” “He that seeketh His glory . . .” show that this is not the exclusive reference. They, too, hold good of every man who speaketh of himself, and of every man who seeketh the glory of Him that sent Him.

Verse 19

(19) Did not Moses . . .?—The note of interrogation should be placed at the end of the first clause. The verse would then read, Did not Moses give you the Law? and none of you doeth the Law. Why seek ye to kill Me? So far from the will to do God’s will, without which they could not know His teaching, they had the Law, which they all professed to accept, and yet no one kept it (John 5:45-47). This thought follows naturally on John 7:17-18, and, like the whole of this teaching, grows out of the truths of John 5:0; but it may be that this reference to Moses and the Law has a special fitness, as suggested by the feast. Moses had commanded that the Law should be read in every Sabbatical year at this very festival (Deuteronomy 31:10); and there is good reason for believing that the current year was a Sabbatical year. The first portion of the Law which it was customary to read was Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 6:3. Within this section (John 5:17) came the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” They were, then, in their persecution of Him (John 5:18), breaking the Law, of which their presence at the feast was a professed obedience.

Verse 20

(20) The people.—They know that the rulers have sought for Him (John 7:11), but are not aware of their intention to kill Him. When this is referred to, it is “by some of them of Jerusalem” (John 7:25). These pilgrims know how far from their own thoughts is any such idea, and they think that its presence in His thoughts must be the work of a demon. (Comp. Note on Matthew 11:18.) They utter this, not in hostility, but in wonder that He can think so.

Verse 21

(21) I have done one worki.e., the one conspicuous work of healing the infirm man on the Sabbath day, which He did at His last visit to Jerusalem. We have already had a reference to other works in John 2:23, and He Himself refers to His many good works in John 10:32.

Ye all marvel.—This answer is addressed to the multitude who said “Thou hast a devil,” when He spoke of the intention to kill Him. This work on the Sabbath day, which provoked the deadly hostility of the hierarchy (John 5:16; John 5:18), was cause of wonder to them all. They, too, though not in the same degree, were led by it to take a hostile position.

Verse 22

(22) Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision.—Some MSS., and many editors, place the “therefore,” or, on this account, at the close of the last verse, reading, “Ye all marvel on this account,” and then the present verse, “Moses gave unto you circumcision . . .” The reading of our version is, however, better supported, and agrees better with the writer’s style. “On this account hath Moses given you circumcision, not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers.” The argument is, “Ye circumcise on the Sabbath day because circumcision is part of the Mosaic law; but Moses gave you circumcision because he had an anterior and higher authority for it, and in practice you recognise this and make it override the Sabbath. But if circumcision is allowed, why not a deed of mercy? This is the practice and precept of your rulers. But if a patriarchal rite is greater than the Mosaic Sabbath, because the fathers were anterior to Moses, how much more an act of love, which is anterior to all time.”

A man.—Used here, and in the next verse, as equivalent to a male child, as in John 16:21.

Verse 23

(23) That the law of Moses should not be broken.—The text here is to be preferred to the marginal reading, though the latter has still the support of considerable authority. In the one case, the law which may not be broken is the law directing circumcision on the eighth day. In the other, “without breaking the law of Moses,” refers to the law of the Sabbath. The rule of circumcision on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12; Genesis 21:4) was adopted in the Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:3), and strictly adhered to—we have examples in the New Testament, in Luke 1:59; Luke 2:21, and Philippians 3:5—and if the eighth day fell on the Sabbath, then, according to Rabbinic precept, “circumcision vacated the Sabbath.” The school of Hillel the Great—and disciples of this school were at the time of our Lord the chief teachers at Jerusalem (comp. Note on John 5:39)—gave as a reason for this that the “Sabbath Law was one of the Negative and the Circumcision Law one of the Positive Precepts, and that the Positive destroys the Negative.” His appeal, then, is an example of His knowledge of their technical law, at which they wondered in John 7:15. Indeed, the argument itself is an example of Hillel’s first great law of interpretation—“that the Major may be inferred from the Minor.” If circumcision be lawful on the Sabbath, much more is it lawful to restore the whole man. For other instances in which our Lord used this famous Canon of Interpretation, comp. Matthew 7:11; Matthew 10:29-31.

Verse 24

(24) Judge not according to the appearance.—He has put the case before them in its true light, I and from their own point of view. There was another Positive Precept of Moses which these judges were forgetting, though it, too, formed part of the first section of the Law read at Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 1:16-17). (Comp. Note on John 7:19.) Let them who profess to judge Him by the Law obey it, and form a just and honest opinion, and not be biased by the appearance of a mere technicality. Even if His work did fall under the condemnation of what they held to be the letter of the Mosaic law (comp. Note on John 5:10), they knew perfectly well—and their own practice as to circumcision proved this—that it did so in appearance only.

Verse 25

(25) Then said some of them of Jerusalem.—These Jerusalemites are distinct from the multitude of John 7:20, and are acquainted with the intention which seemed so impossible to the latter.

Verse 26

(26) But they, too, have reason for wonder. They hear Him speaking openly, and those who sought His death listen to Him without reply. Are they, then, convinced of the truth of His claim?

Do the rulers know indeed . . .?—Read, Have the rulers come to know indeed that this Man is the Christ? The word “very” is omitted by the best MSS. The word “indeed” shows that the questioners think it impossible that the rulers can have recognised Him.

Verse 27

(27) Howbeit we know this man.—They at once supply a corrective answer to their own question. They know this Man whence He is. He is the carpenter’s son, and His mother, and brethren, and sisters, are well known (Matthew 13:55-56). His brothers, indeed, are part of that multitude (John 7:10). They know that the Messiah will be of the seed and town of David (John 7:42); but they have no knowledge of an earthly home and earthly relations, and all their ideas are of a Being who will not be subject to the ordinary conditions of life, and whose immediate origin no man can know. God’s Anointed living among them as a man, with mother, and brothers, and sisters! This cannot be. What meant the coming in the clouds of heaven of Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:13), or the coming suddenly to the Temple of Malachi’s prophecy? (Malachi 3:1.) Why did Isaiah tell of His being “Wonderful, Counsellor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace?” (Isaiah 9:6.) In such thoughts they fulfilled another prophecy of the same Isaiah, which their own Rabbis interpreted of the Messiah, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2).

Verse 28

(28) Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught.—The word rendered “cried,” implies always an elevation of voice answering to the intensity of the speaker’s feeling. (Comp. in this Gospel John 1:15; John 7:37; John 12:44.) Here this feeling has been roused by another instance of their misapprehension, because they think of the outward appearance only, and therefore do not grasp the inner truth. They know whence He is; they had been taught that no man should know the Messiah’s origin, and therefore they think He is not the Christ. And this technical reason, the meaning of which they have never fathomed, is enough to stifle every growing conviction, and to annul the force of all His words and all His works! St. John is impressed with the fact that it was in the very Temple itself, in the presence of the priests and rulers, in the act of public teaching, that He uttered these words, and he again notices this, though he has told us so before (John 7:14; John 7:26).

Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am.—He takes up their objection in order to refute it. There is, indeed, a sense in which it is true. Those features were well known alike to friend and foe. With minds glowing with the fire of love or of hate, they had gazed upon Him as He walked or taught, and His form had fixed itself on the memory. They knew about His earthly home and early life (John 7:27), but all this was far short of the real knowledge of Him. It is but little that the events of the outer life tell of the true life and being even of a brother man. Little does a man know even his bosom friend; how infinitely far were they, with minds which did not even approach the true method of knowledge, from knowing Him whom no mind can fully comprehend!

And I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true.—Once again He asserts that He claims no position of independence. He is the first great Apostle (comp. Hebrews 3:1), but He is not self-commissioned. Had He not been the Christ, their objection that they knew His origin might have had force. But sent by Him who is the really existent One, and whom they knew not, His origin is unknown to them, and their technical test is fulfilled. In the fullest sense, they neither knew Him nor from whence He came.

For the meaning of the word “true,” see Note on John 1:9. It is almost impossible to give the sense of the original except in a paraphrase. We must keep, therefore, the ordinary rendering, but bear in mind that it does not mean, “He that sent Me is truthful,” but “He that sent Me is the ideally true One.” “You talk of person, and of origin, of knowing Me, and from whence I came, but all this is knowledge of the senses, and in the region of the phenomenal world. Being is only truly known in relation to the Eternal Being. He that sent Me to manifest His Being in the world is the truly existent One. In Him is My true origin, and Him ye know not.”

Verse 29

(29) But I know him.—In contrast with their ignorance is His own full knowledge, which belonged to One only. (See Note on John 1:18.) The pronoun “I” here, as “ye” immediately before, is emphatic.

For I am from him, and he hath sent me.—This knowledge is here based upon His oneness of essence, and upon His true mission. He knows God because He is from Him, and in union ever one with Him. He knows God because He is in His human nature the representative of the Divine to mankind.

Verse 30

(30) Then they sought to take him.—The tense is imperfect, marking the continuance of a series of efforts to take Him. The persons who thus sought to take Him are, of course, the members of the Sanhedrin. The people are mentioned in contrast in the next verse. For the present their efforts are confined to plots. No one attempts to use actual force.

His hour was not yet come.—This is the writer’s explanation of the fact that they did not seek to take Him. Jesus had Himself used these words at the first sign at Cana of Galilee (John 2:4), and again before going up to this very festival (John 7:6). The beloved disciple has learnt the religious interpretation of history. That the hour was not yet come, was not the immediate cause which influenced those who desired, but dared not, to lay hands upon Him. The next verse points out that there was a division in the multitude (comp. John 7:43-44), and in the uncertainty of what the consequences may be, no one was bold enough to take the decisive step. But if not the immediate cause, the writer regards it as the primary cause. Looking back on the life of his Lord, from the old age of his own life, so full of eventful issues, he has learnt that every deed of that life, as every deed of every life, had its hour mapped out in the eternal counsels of God.

Verse 31

(31) And many of the people believed on him.—This verse shows an advance in their faith. In John 7:12 we found “some” asserting that “He is a good man.” Now “many” accept Him as the Messiah, for this is the force of the words, “believed in Him.” (Comp. John 7:5, and Note there.)

When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?—They believe that the Christ has come, but express the common thought of Messianic miracles in a question which must have a negative answer. The Messiah who is expected is not expected to do greater miracles than these. The Messianic idea is therefore fulfilled, and He who has fulfilled it must be the very Christ.

Verse 32

(32) The Pharisees heard that the people murmured.—Or, more exactly, the Pharisees heard the multitude murmuring. In the second clause of the verse, the Authorised version follows the order of the Received text, but almost all the better MSS. read, “the chief priests and the Pharisees.” We have to think of the Pharisees as taking the first steps. They see that faith in Him is spreading among the multitude, and that there is no time to be lost. They hastily call together the Sanhedrin, and the chief priests, who were for the most part Sadducees, join with them in an official resolve to take Him by force.

Verse 33

(33) Then said Jesus unto them.—It should rather be, Therefore said Jesus. He said this because they sent to take Him. The better MSS. omit “unto them,” and it is clear, from John 7:35, that the words are addressed to the hierarchy generally.

Yet a little while am I with you.—Their action is the first attempt to take Him by force. It brings to His mind the thought that the end is at hand. But a little while more, and the hour will have come. The manifestation of God’s love to man will then be completed in its crowning sacrifice, and when the work of His mission is completed, He will return to Him that sent Him.

Verse 34

(34) Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me.—These words are to be interpreted in connection with John 8:21, where they are repeated, and with John 13:33, where they are quoted and applied to the disciples. This will exclude any special reference, such as to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the seeking Him in the miseries which should follow, which most expositors have found here. The words refer rather to the more general truth now present to His mind, and applicable to all alike, that the time was at hand when He would return to the Father, and His bodily presence would be unapproachable, alike by those who should seek in hatred, or those who should seek in love.

Verse 35

(35) Whither will he go that we shall not find him?—He had said in John 7:33, “I go unto Him that sent Me,” and in John 7:28. He had declared that they knew not Him that sent Him. There is, then, no contradiction between these verses, and their question, strange as it seems, is but another instance of their total want of power to read any meaning which does not lie upon the surface. He is going away, and they will not be able to find Him, and they can only think of distant lands where other Jews had gone, as of Babylon, or of Egypt, or of Greece. Will He join some distant colony of Jews where they cannot follow Him? They have no thought of His death and return to His Father’s home.

Will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?—Better, Will He go unto the dispersion among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles? The word for “dispersion” (διασπορά, diaspora) occurs again, in the New Testament, only in the opening verses of the Epistle of St. James and of the First Epistle of St. Peter, and is in both these passages represented by the English word “scattered.” The only other instance of its occurrence in the Bible, is in the Greek version (LXX.) of Psalms 146:2. (In Authorised version, Psalms 147:2, “He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.”) It is also found in 2Ma. 1:27, “Gather those together that are scattered from us.” (Comp. Jos. Wars, vii. 3, § 3; Ant. xii. 1-3; 15:3, § 1.) The abstract word is used like “the circumcision,” e.g., as a comprehensive title for the individuals included in it. These were the Jews who did not dwell within the limits of the Holy Land, but spreading from the three chief centres, Babylonia, Egypt, and Syria, were found in every part of the civilised world. The Babylonian Diaspora owed its origin to the vast number of exiles who preferred to remain in the positions they had acquired for themselves in their new homes, and did not return to Palestine after the Captivity. They were by far the greater part of the nation, and were scattered through the whole extent of the Persian empire. Of the origin of the Egyptian Diaspora, we find traces in the Old Testament, as in Jeremiah 41:17; Jeremiah 42:18. Their numbers were greatly increased under Alexander the Great and his successors, so that they extended over the whole country (Jos. Ant. xvi. 7, §2). Much less numerous than their brethren of Babylonia, and regarded as less pure in descent, they have, through their contact with Western thought and the Greek language, left a deeper and wider influence on after ages. To them we owe the LXX. translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the Alexandrian school of Jewish philosophers, two of the most important influences which first prepared the way for, and afterwards moulded the forms of, Christianity. The Syrian Diaspora is traced by Josephus (Ant. vii. 3, § 1) to the conquests of Seleucus Nicator (B.C. 300). Under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, they spread over a wider area, including the whole of Asia Minor, and thence to the islands and mainland of Greece. It was less numerous than either that of Babylonia or that of Egypt, but the synagogues of this Diaspora formed the connecting links between the older and the newer revelation, and were the first buildings in which Jesus was preached as the Messiah.

But though thus scattered abroad, the Jews of the Diaspora regarded Jerusalem as the common religious centre, and maintained a close communion with the spiritual authorities who dwelt there. They sent liberal offerings to the Temple, and were represented by numerous synagogues in the city, and flocked in large numbers to the chief festivals. (Comp. Notes on Acts 2:9-11.) The Diaspora, then, was a network of Judaism, spreading to every place of intellectual or commercial importance, and linking it to Jerusalem, and a means by which the teaching of the Old Testament was made familiarly known, even in the cities of the Gentiles. “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Acts 15:21).

Such was the dispersion among the Gentiles of which these rulers of the Jews speak. They ask the question in evident scorn. “Will this Rabbi, leaving Jerusalem, the centre of light and learning, go to those who dwell among the heathen, and become a teacher of the very heathen themselves?” We feel that there is some fact which gives point to their question, and is not apparent in the narrative. We shall find this, it may be, if we remember that He Himself had before this crossed the limits of the Holy Land, and had given words to teach and power to save, in the case of the Greek woman who was a Syro-Phœnician by nation. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30.) More fully still do the words find their interpretation in the after history. They are, like the words of Caiaphas (John 11:49-51), an unconscious prophecy, and may be taken as summing up in one sentence the method of procedure in the earliest mission-work of the church. The great high-roads of the Diaspora were those which the Apostles followed. Every apostolic church of the Gentiles may be said to have grown out of a synagogue of the Jews. There is a striking instance of the irony of history, in the fact that the very words of these Jews of Palestine are recorded in the Greek language, by a Jew of Palestine, presiding over a Christian church, in a Gentile city.

For “Gentiles,” the margin reads “Greeks,” and this is the more exact translation, but the almost constant New Testament use of the word is in distinction from Jews, and our translators felt rightly that this is better conveyed to the reader by the word “Gentiles.” (Comp. Notes on Mark 7:26 and Acts 11:20.) We must be careful to avoid the not unfrequent mistake of rendering the word as though it were “Hellenist,” which means a Græcised Jew. This is to miss the point of their scorn, which is in the idea of His teaching those outside the pale of Judaism.

Verse 36

(36) What manner of saying is this . . .?—We get a better sense by omitting the words in italics, and reading, “What saying is this . . .?” Their scorn does not solve their difficulty, and gives place to wonder. They feel His words cannot mean what they have said. “What, then, do they mean? What is the force of His saying?”

Verse 37

(37) In the last day, that great day of the feast.—The question whether the seventh or the eighth day of the feast is intended here, is one of antiquarian rather than of practical interest. The words commanding the observance in Deuteronomy 16:13, and Numbers 29:12, mention only seven days; but this latter passage is followed in John 7:35 by a reference to the solemn assembly on the eighth day. With this agree the words in Leviticus 23:35-36; Leviticus 23:39, and Nehemiah 8:18. Later the eight days of the festival are certainly spoken of as in the Talmud, in 2Ma. 10:6, and Jos. Ant. iii. 10, § 4. The best modern authorities are for the most part agreed that it was the eighth day, i.e., the 22nd of Tishri, that is here referred to. It was the “great day” as the octave of the feast, and the day of holy convocation.

Jesus stood and cried.—Comp. Note on John 7:28. Here the vivid remembrance of the writer remembers the attitude as well as the voice.

If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.—These words were almost certainly suggested by part of the ritual of the festival, which consisted in a solemn procession with music, and headed by a priest, which went on each morning from the Temple to the pool of Siloam, where the priest filled a golden vase with water and carried it to the Temple amid the joyful cries of the people. He then poured it out on the western side of the altar of burnt-offering; while another priest poured a drink-offering of wine, at the same time, on the eastern side of the altar, and the people during this act chanted the words of “the Hallel,” Psalms 113-118. If we accept the eighth day as that referred to in this verse, then this ceremony was. not repeated; but its very absence may have suggested the fuller declaration of the reality of which it was the representation. The current Rabbinical interpretation of the symbolism connected it with the gift of the latter rain, which was at this season; and also with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Talmud says expressly, “Therefore is its name called the house of drawing, because from thence is drawn the Holy Spirit,” as it is said, “with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Jer. Succa, v. 1). Thoughts like these would be connected with this ritual by the Jews and by Jesus Himself, and the exact form which His own thought takes is marked by the words, “If any man thirst.” He stands there on the great day of the feast, and around Him are men who for seven successive mornings have witnessed acts and uttered words telling, though they know it not, of the true satisfaction of spiritual thirst, and thinking of the descent of showers on the thirsty ground, and in some vague way of the Holy Spirit’s presence. They are as the woman of Samaria was by the side of the true well. For every one who really knew his need, the source of living water was at hand. (Comp. Notes on John 4:7-15.) That very Feast of Tabernacles, with its dwelling in tents, moreover, brought vividly to their minds the wilderness-life; and as in the past chapter the manna has formed the basis of His teaching about the Bread of Life, so here the striking of the rock and the streams gushing forth in the desert would be present to their minds. In the interpretation of one who was himself a Pharisee, and was taught in the schools of Jerusalem, “that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Verse 38

(38) There can be little doubt that our English version rightly gives the meaning of the original here; though representatives of both the earliest and the latest schools of interpretation have tried so to read the verse as to avoid its difficulties. Some would attach the first clause to the preceding verse, reading, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me; and let him that believeth on Me drink.” Others would have us think that the words, “as the Scripture hath said,” belong to the clause before them, and not to that which follows, making the sense, “He that believeth on Me according to the Scriptures, out of his belly (I say) shall flow rivers of living water.” The reader of the English will, it is believed, feel, and the reader of the Greek will feel still more strongly, that these are attempts to avoid what it is hard to explain, and that while they miss the difficulty they also miss the meaning.

He that believeth on me . . .—We have here an advance on the thought, “If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink.” That represented the satisfaction of the individual mind. This teaches the fuller truth that every one in living communion with Christ becomes himself the centre of spiritual influence. There is in him a power of life which, when quickened by faith, flows forth as a river, carrying life and refreshment to others. No spirit grasps a great truth which satisfies its own yearnings as the waters of the fountain slake physical thirst, without longing to send it forth to others who are seeking what he himself had sought. There is in him a river whose waters no barrier can confine. This is the spirit of the prophet and the evangelist, of the martyr and the missionary. It is the spirit of every great teacher. It is the link which binds men together and makes the life of every Christian approach the life of Christ, for he lives not for himself but for the world.

The exact words “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” are not found in any part of the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament, and yet Christ Himself utters them with the formula of quotation. This will be a difficulty only to those who value letter and syllable above spirit and substance. It may be that the words which our Lord actually uttered in the current language of Jerusalem were nearer to the very words of some passage in the Old Testament than they seem to be in the Greek form in which St. John has preserved them to us. But it is instructive that the thought is that which our Lord Himself, or St. John as representing Him, considers as the essence of the quotation. The thought meets us again and again in the Old Testament. See the following passages: Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11; Psalms 114:8; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 58:11; Joel 2:23; Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:1; Ezekiel 47:12; Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:8.

This frequent reference to the refreshment and life-giving power of water is the more natural in the East, where drought is a fearful evil ever to be guarded against, and a well of water a blessing always sought for as the first necessity of life.
The abundance is suggested by the contrast between the small quantity poured out in the Temple and the streams which flowed from the rock struck in the wilderness. The vessel they carried contained but three logs, or about a quart, of water, brought from the tank of Siloam. This was poured through a perforated silver bowl. In the spiritual interpretation the water shall not be carried to the Temple, for every believer shall be a temple of the Holy Ghost and a source of life; it shall not be a limited quantity in vessels of gold and silver, but shall be as rivers bursting forth in their strength and fulness.

Verse 39

(39) The word “given” is omitted in nearly all MSS. except the Vatican. “Holy” before Ghost is also probably an insertion, though it is found in some of the oldest MSS. and versions. These are additions of copyists who were anxious to preserve from all possibility of misinterpretation the doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is more fully expounded in John 14-16, where see Notes.

Verse 40

(40) Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying . . .—The reading of the best MSS. is, “Some of the people therefore, when they heard these sayings.”

Of a truth this is the prophet—i.e., the Prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. (Comp. Notes on John 1:21; John 6:14.)

Verse 41

(41) Others said this is the Christ.—The Messiah is distinguished from the Prophet in the words of the multitude there, as in the question of the legates of the Sanhedrin, John 1:20-21.

Shall Christ come out of Galilee?—The answer “No” is expected, and the tense is present—Surely the Messiah cometh not out of Galilee?

Verse 42

(42) Hath not the scripture said . . .—Comp. the prophecies in Micah 5:1; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5.

Where David was.—Comp. the history in 1 Samuel 16:0.

It has often been asked, sometimes in the spirit of objection, sometimes in the spirit of inquiry, how the Apostle, if he really knew the history of our Lord’s birth at Bethlehem, could record these questions without a correction. But in these verses he is giving the feelings and opinions of the multitude, and it is a mark of the truthfulness of his narrative that he gives them just as they really occurred. He, remembering the events as they took place, can with perfect historic fitness record the passing thoughts and words, erroneous as they were. A writer of the second century could not possibly have unintentionally made so great a mistake, with the earlier Gospels before him; nor could he have intentionally so thrown himself into the spirit of a Jewish multitude as to invent the question. (Comp. John 7:52, and references in Note there.)

Verse 43

(43) There was a division among the people.—The word for division is our word “schism.” It is found in the earlier Gospels in one instance only, “the rent is made worse” (Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21). This is nearer to the older meaning of the word, which is used, for example, of the hoofs of animals, and the leaves of trees. St. John uses it only to mark this rent into two parties of the Jewish multitude, here and in John 9:16; John 10:19. In St. Paul it is used of the divisions of the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 12:25). The use of the word in its ethical sense may belong in some special way to Ephesus, for only in writings from this city do we find it in Biblical Greek. Later, both the word and the fact denoted by it passed into the history of the Church.

Verse 44

(44) And some of them would have taken himi.e., those who asked “Doth the Christ, then, come out of Galilee?” (John 7:41.) The officers of the Sanhedrin were present all this time (John 7:32), and are immediately mentioned as distinct from the “some” of this verse.

No man laid hands on him.—Comp. John 7:30. The reason is not here repeated. The fact is in part explained by the existence of a section who received Him as the Prophet and as the Christ, and in part by the power of His presence and words which impressed even the officers sent to take Him. (Comp. John 18:6.)

Verse 45

(45) Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees.—(Comp. Note on John 18:3.) They had been sent (John 7:32), not with a definite warrant to bring Him by force, but to watch their opportunity, and seize any pretext for doing so which may arise. “The chief priests and Pharisees” are the Sanhedrin who met (John 7:32), and, though it was a festival, seemed to have continued in session, expecting the return of their servants.

Why have ye not brought him?—Their question shows the object of the mission. It is asked in the bitterness of disappointed craft. In the presence of the multitude they dared not proceed by open force, and the influence they feared was every hour gaining ground. If their officers could have brought Him on some technical charge away from the people and into their own chamber, all would then have been in their own hands.

Verse 46

(46) Never man spake like this man.—Some of the oldest MSS., including the Vatican, have a shorter text, “Never man spake thus”; but the longer reading is to be preferred. The very officers acknowledged His power, and tell the professed teachers, whose opinions and words were the rule of all Jewish life, that never man spake as He whom they sought to take! It is probable that in the section immediately preceding (John 7:32-34), St. John gives us only a résumé of what Jesus had said, and that words which have not come down to us were among those which produced so profound an impression on the officers.

Verse 47

(47) Are ye also deceived?—The emphasis is upon the ye. “Ye whose duty it is simply to obey, who were sent to bring Him captive before us—do ye also yield to His power?” It is the Pharisees who ask this, and their spirit is shown in the matter of their question. They make no inquiry as to what He had said, though it must have struck them as a phenomenon demanding explanation that their own officials had been convinced by His teaching. It is at once assumed that they, too, had been deceived. It is this sect of the Pharisees who speak of Him as “that deceiver” (Matthew 27:63).

Verse 48

(48) The rulers were the Sanhedrin, among whose official duties it was to prevent the introduction of false doctrines. (Comp. Note on Johnm 1:19.) “The Pharisees” were the orthodox party of the day, and they are the persons who ask the question. The matter was to be decided by authority, and not by truth. In the pride of the certainty that no one in a position of power or authority had believed on Jesus, they ask the scornful question, “Hath any one of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed? “They are stung to the very heart at seeing first the multitude, then their own officials, going after Him. They know not that there is one sitting in their midst, both ruler and Pharisee, who long before had listened to the teaching of the Galilean, and was in heart, if not in name, a disciple (John 3:0), and that during this very feast many of the chief Jews will believe on Him (John 8:30-31).

Verse 49

(49) But this people who knoweth not the law . . .—The words express “Those people there, among whom you have been, and with whose opinion you have been coinciding, instead of holding the authoritative opinion which we have declared, and which we alone can declare. We are the interpreters of the Law, and have the key of knowledge. That ignorant rabble uninstructed in the Law are cursed.”

Are cursed.—The writings of the Rabbis are full of scorn and contempt for the untutored multitude, whom they called ‘am hââretz, “people of the earth,” as opposed to those instructed in the Law, whom they called ‘âm kôdesh, “holy people.” These words are an expression of this contempt. Some have supposed that they are meant to express the ban of excommunication, which they use as a weapon of compulsion in John 9:22, but this is quite out of the question as applied here to the multitude.

Verse 50

(50) On the character of Nicodemus, see Notes on John 3:0. His position here is that of a friend of Jesus, who still does not dare to declare himself His open follower.

He that came to Jesus by night.—Comp. Note on John 3:2. The better reading here is, probably, he that came to Him before.

Being one of them contains the answer to their question, “Hath any one (as above) of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” (John 7:48).

Verse 51

(51) Doth our law judge any man?—He identifies Himself with them. He, like they, is an expounder of the Law. The force of the question is in the word “Law,” which they had used but the moment before in their scorn for the people who knew not the Law. “Well, this Law, which we do know and understand, doth it judge without open investigation?” Did they in their blind zeal forget such passages as Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 19:15? They had determined a death, and were seeking to carry their sentence into effect in direct contravention of the Law. This holy people, instructed in the Law—they were the Law-breakers.

Before it hear him.—The better reading is, unless it hear first from him.

And know what he doethi.e., know the deed for which he is tried.

Verse 52

(52) Art thou also of Galilee?—They seek to avoid his question, to which there could have been but one answer, by a counter-question expressing their surprise at the position he is taking: “Surely thou art not also of Galilee?” “Thou art not His countryman, as many of this multitude are?” They imply that Nicodemus could not have asked a question which claimed for Jesus the simple justice of the Law itself, without being, like Him, a Galilean.

Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.—The words mean, “Search the records, examine, scrutinize the authorities.” (Comp. John 5:39.) They seek to pass from the matter of fact immediately before them to the question of authority. Their generalisation includes an historical error which cannot be explained away. Jonah is described in 2 Kings 14:25 as of Gathhepher, which was a town of Zebulun, in Lower Galilee. Possibly Elkosh, the birthplace of Nahum, was also in Galilee, and Hosea was certainly a prophet of the Northern Kingdom, though not necessarily of Galilee. Adverse criticism would lay this error also to the charge of the Evangelist. (Comp. Notes on John 7:42, and John 1:45; John 8:33.) But the obvious explanation is, that the Sanhedrin, in their zeal to press their foregone conclusion that Jesus is not a prophet, are not bound by strict accuracy; and it is not unlikely that, in the general contempt of Judæans for Galilee, this assertion had become a by-word, especially with men with so little of the historical sense as the later Rabbis. As compared with Judæa, it was true that Galilee was not a country of prophets, and by-words of this kind often rest on imperfect generalisations. We have seen that of the great prophets of Christianity all were Galileans. Judas Iscariot alone, of the Twelve Apostles, was probably a Judæan (Note on John 6:71).

Verse 53

(53) The section which follows (John 7:53 to John 8:11) is one of the most striking instances of an undoubted addition to the original text of the Gospel narratives. We shall find reason to believe that it belongs to the Apostolic age, and preserves to us the record of an incident in the life of our Lord, but that it has not come to us from the pen of St. John. (Comp. Excursus B: Some Variations in the Text of St. John’s Gospel.) While, therefore, it is printed in the text here, our text being a reprint of the Authorised version, without addition or alteration, the reader will observe that it is an insertion which breaks the order of the discourse, and in working out the line of thought will bear this in mind.

And every man went unto his own house.—This is not to be taken, then, as marking the close of the discussion in the Sanhedrin. It joins the inserted section with something which has preceded, but we have no means of judging what this was.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 7". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/john-7.html. 1905.
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