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John 8:1. But Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. No mention is made of the Mount of Olives in any other passage of the Fourth Gospel, but it is more than once spoken of in the Gospel of Luke as a place to which Jesus was wont to retire at the close of His daily labours in Jerusalem during the Passion week. He could thus pass from the hurry and confusion of a large city to the solitude of a hillside or of its retiring hollows, where the sense of peace is deepened by the thought of the busy life which is so near at hand. It is probable that our Lord intended to spend the whole night upon the Mount; and it may be that He would spend it as He did before making choice of His twelve apostles, ‘in prayer to God’ (Luke 6:12).
The almost unanimous voice of modem criticism pronounces the narrative before us to be no genuine part of the Gospel of John. The section is wanting in the oldest and most trustworthy MSS. of the Gospel, and in several of the most ancient versions. It is passed by without notice in the commentaries of some of the earliest and most critical fathers of the Church. It is marked by an unusually large number of various readings, a circumstance always highly suspicious. It is full of expressions not found elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, some of the chief of which will be noticed in the comment. It interrupts the flow of the section where it occurs, John 8:12 connecting itself directly with that part of chap. 7 which closes with John 7:52. Finally, MSS. which contain the section introduce it at various places, some at the close of the Gospel; others after chap. John 7:36; while in a third class it has no place in John at all, but is read in the Gospel of Luke, at the close of chap. 21. These considerations are decisive; and the narrative must be set aside as no part of the work in which it occurs. How the section found its way into the place which it now occupies it is impossible to say. Various conjectures, more or less plausible, have been offered on the point, but all of them are destitute of proof. It does not follow, however, that the incident itself is not true. We know that an incident, very similar to this, probably indeed the same, was related in the early Apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews; and this circumstance lends probability to the belief that the events actually happened. But the great argument in favour of the truth of the story is afforded by the character of the narrative itself. It bears t he almost unmistakeable impress of a wisdom which could not have originated with the men of our Lord’s time, and which (as is shown by the objections often made to it) the world even in our own time hardly comprehends. It may be noted in addition that the incident bears in its spirit a striking similarity to that recorded in Mark 12:13-17 (Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26). Bishop Lightfoot adduces strong evidence to show that the story was one of the illustrative anecdotes of Papias ( Contemp. Review, vol. xxvi. p. 847). If so, it must have been in circulation from the very earliest times.
John 8:2. And at dawn he came again into the temple courts, and all the people came unto him, and he sat down and taught them. With the return of day Jesus resumed His teaching of the people; and they, on their part, seem to have been powerfully attracted by His words. According to the custom of the time, He sat with His hearers gathered round Him. The custom may be observed in Turkish mosques at the present day. The sitting of Jesus while teaching is not mentioned elsewhere in this Gospel. (Comp. for it, Matthew 5:1; Mark 9:35)
John 8:3. And the scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman taken. In adultery; and making her stand. In the midst. . . . For the ‘Pharisees,’ comp. on chap. John 1:24: for the ‘scribes,’ on Matthew 7:29. John nowhere else mentions the scribes: they are frequently conjoined with the Pharisees in the earlier Gospels (Matthew 5:20; Mark 7:5; Luke 6:7, etc.). The scene described in the words before us must have been in a high degree impressive and exciting. The people are still gathered around Jesus and listening intently to His words, when suddenly His discourse is interrupted by the religious authorities of the land, who force their way through the crowd dragging the unhappy culprit along with them, their faces bearing all the marks of eager passion to entrap the object of their hatred; their hands (as will appear more clearly from John 8:7) already grasping the stones by which they would at Least indicate their conviction of the woman’s guilt; their words, even before they reach the Saviour, sending a thrill of horror through the multitude, ‘she has been taken in the very act’ Without the slightest feeling of compunction. they compel the woman to stand in the midst of the throng, and then they address themselves to Jesus.
John 8:4. They say unto him, Teacher, this woman hath been taken committing adultery, in the very act. Not only was the sin grievous: the point is that there was no possibility of denying it. No process of proof was necessary: there was no need to summon witnesses. We may even well believe that the very countenance of the woman would betray her own consciousness of her shame.
John 8:5. Now in the law Moses commanded to stone such: what therefore sayest thou concerning her? The words ‘concerning her,’ which do not occur in the Authorised Version, but which the best authorities lead us to accept, throw light upon the scene. It is not a mere abstract contrast between Moses and a new Lawgiver that is before us: it is a special case. By the way in which Jesus deals with this woman shall the end of His enemies be gained. The law of Moses expressly decreed death by stoning only to a betrothed virgin who proved faithless, and to her seducer (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). It has been inferred, therefore, that this woman was only betrothed, not married. The supposition is unnecessary. It is enough to remember that adultery (in the ordinary sense of the word) was punishable with death; and that, in a case of violation of the Sabbath, the Divine command to punish the transgressor with death was interpreted to mean putting him to death by stoning (Numbers 15:35). We need thus have no hesitation in believing that the same mode of punishment would be applied to all sins similar in character to that which alone has the penalty of stoning expressly attached to it.
It is hardly possible to pass by without notice the singular italicised clause of the present Authorised Version at the end of John 8:6, ‘ as though he heard them not.’ The clause is intended for a translation of certain words of the Complutensian text which Stephens adopted in his editions of A. D . 1546 and 1549, but not in that of 1550, which became the Textus Receptus. The words are not found in any early English Version, neither in Wycliffe nor Tyndale, nor Coverdale, nor the Great Bible, nor the two Gene van Versions. They are also absent from the Rheims Version of A.D. 1582. They first occur in the Bishops’ Bible. In the Version of A.D. 1611 they are not printed in italics. Dr. Scrivener says that they were not italicised earlier than A.D. 1769.
John 8:6. But this they said tempting him, that they might have whereof to accuse him. In what, it may be asked, did the ‘tempting’ lie? The common answer is that, if Jesus pronounced for the sparing of the woman, His enemies would raise an outcry against Him as contradicting Moses; that if, on the contrary, He pronounced her worthy of death, they would accuse Him to the Roman Government as usurping powers which belonged to it alone. The explanation thus given is no doubt to a large extent correct. But the supposition is also possible that these scribes and Pharisees were not thinking of a calm judicial sentence which, if it suited their purpose, they might report to the Romans. They may have thought of a sentence to be executed at the moment. There before them was the guilty one; the crowd was round about her, was even pressing upon her in all the excitement which the circumstances could not fail to awaken. Will Jesus reply to their question, No? They will instantly rouse the multitude against Him as contradicting Moses. Will He reply. Yes? They will stone the woman on the spot. Then the Roman Government will itself interpose, and Jesus will be seized as the instigator of the deed of blood.
But Jesus stooped down, and with his linger wrote on the ground. Jesus will not heed them at the first: it will lend more weight to His reply if it be not too quickly given. We are not to imagine that what He wrote was a sentence to be pronounced. He was not thus to assume the office of a judge. What He wrote was probably some text or precept of Divine truth which, had He not been interrupted, He would have proceeded to explain to the people. Such writing on the ground is still to be met with on the part of teachers in the East
John 8:7. But when they continued asking him, he lifted up h imself and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast the stone upon her. The scribes and Pharisees press for an answer. Then Jesus lifted Himself up (as we may well believe) with slow and solemn dignity, and spoke the words recorded of Him with a glance which must have showed His hearers that He read their hearts. They had no official right to condemn the woman; and our Lord’s words embodied the truth, which finds always, as it found now, an answer in the heart of man, that we have no personal right to judge the guilty unless we ourselves are free from blame. There seems no reason to confine the thought of ‘sin’ here to the particular sin with which the woman was chargeable; the expression is quite general. It is from the mention of ‘the stone’ that we may draw the conclusion that the woman’s accusers had stones in their hands.
John 8:8. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. Jesus returned to His writing on the ground, and left His words to sink into the hearts of His hearers.
John 8:9. But they, when they heard it, went out one by one, beginning at the elder. It was a correct comment on their state when the words ‘being convicted by their own conscience’ found their way into the text. They felt how entirely they had misapprehended the relation in which sinners ought to stand to sinners. They were brought to a conception of morality of which they had never dreamed. Then learned that they could only vindicate that law upon which they prided themselves by purity of heart. They who came to condemn Jesus went away self-condemned, because He had opened their eyes to that spirit of the law which is so much greater than the letter.
And Jesus was left alone, and the woman who was in the midst. Nothing has been said of the departure of ‘the people’ (John 8:2). We may therefore suppose that they were still around Jesus and the woman; but they are silent and awe-struck. To all intents Jesus is alone with the woman. He reads her heart, as if His thoughts were concentrated upon her; and she can see none but Him.
John 8:10. And Jesus lifted up himself and said unto her. Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee? The word ‘condemn,’ for which it is not possible to substitute another, conveys most imperfectly the sense of the original Greek. The meaning is rather, ‘Doth no man doom thee to the sentence of which they spoke?’
John 8:11. And she said. No man, Lord. Her answer is a simple statement of the fact. Perhaps the word ‘Lord’ may indicate the deep impression of the greatness of Jesus that had been made upon her mind.
And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from this time sin no more. The word ‘I’ is peculiarly emphatic. The language, it will be observed, is not a sentence of acquittal: it is rather an intimation to the woman that she has still space given her for repentance and faith. Let her use her opportunities, and profit by the tender compassion of Him who drew publicans and sinners to His side, then will still more gracious words be addressed to her. Instead of ‘Go thy way, from this time sin no more,’ she will receive the joyful assurance, ‘Daughter, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.’ We are told nothing of the effect produced upon the woman by the remarkable scene in which she had borne a part. But every reader must feel how worthy of Him who ‘came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them were the words of Jesus upon this occasion. The narrative has lived on through all ages of the Church as an illustration, not less striking than any other recorded in the Gospels, of that Divine wisdom with which Jesus knew how to combine what human wisdom has never been able to unite, condemnation of sin, and free and unrestricted mercy to the sinner.
John 8:12. Again therefore Jesus spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world. The last thirteen verses (chap. John 7:49-52) have been occupied with an account of the impression made by our Lord’s words of promise (chap. John 7:37-38). This verse really follows chap. John 7:38, containing a second manifestation of Jesus, in a form and manner still connected with the feast which had just ended. As the pouring out of the water had furnished occasion for the promise of the living water, so the imagery of this verse was probably suggested by the illumination of the temple-courts on the evenings of the festival. This illumination proceeded from four great candelabra erected in the court of the women, and of its brilliancy the Rabbis speak in the highest strains. It formed indeed so marked a feature of the week’s rejoicings, that no one can be surprised to find a reference to it in our Lord’s words. Like the water poured on the altar, the light may well have had a twofold symbolism, commemorating the mighty guidance of Israel by the pillar of fire, and also prefiguring the light which was to spring up in the times of Messiah (Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 13:6, etc.). What the pillar of fire had been to Israel in the wilderness, that would Messiah be to His people in the latter days.
He that followeth me shall in no wise walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. The words ‘he that followeth me’ are in all probability closely connected with the figure of the first clause of the verse. Around is ‘the darkness’ of night: only where the pillar of fire moves light shines on all that follow its course, on all, not on Israel only, for Jesus is ‘the light of th e world.’ The language of both promises is free from every limitation save that which is expressed in ‘coming to’ Him, ‘believing in’ Him (chap. John 7:37-38), and ‘following’ Him. The special condition mentioned in this verse (when we pass from the associations of the original figure to the practical application of the words) brings out the idea of discipleship and imitation. This includes coming and ‘believing.’ No true disciple shall walk in the darkness, but shall have as his own inward possession (comp. chap. John 7:38) the light of life, the light which life gives. Living in Christ, he shall have the light of Christ (see chap. John 1:4). Darkness bears with it the ideas of ignorance, danger, and sin: light implies knowledge, guidance, safety, and holy purity (chap. Joh 12:35 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 1 John 1:5, etc.).
The feast of Tabernacles is closed, and with it the great illumination of the temple-courts, of which the Jews were wont to boast in lofty terms. Starting from this, and from the fact that He is the true light of the world, Jesus reveals more clearly than He had yet done what He Himself is, and by contrast what His opponents are. Everything that He utters assumes its sharpest, most peremptory, most decisive tone. The rage of His adversaries is roused to its highest intensity. The darkness becomes thickest, while the light shines in the midst of it with its greatest brightness. Nothing more can be done to change the darkness into light; henceforward the children of light can only be withdrawn from it. At the close of the chapter Jesus goes out of the temple, leaving the darkness to itself but not overcome by it. The subordinate parts are ( 1 ) John 8:12-20; ( 2 ) John 8:21-30; ( 3 ) John 8:31-59.
John 8:13. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest witness concerning thyself; thy witness is not true. It seems impossible not to believe that we have here a reminiscence of Christ’s own words (chap. John 5:31), of which His enemies now take hold, that they may turn them against Himself. Since the discourse of chap. 5 , the Pharisees of Jerusalem have never possessed so favourable an opportunity of thus seeking to repel the claims which Jesus asserts. As used by oar Lord (in chap. 5 ), the words signify that, if His testimony concerning Himself stood alone, not only would it (according to all laws of evidence) be invalid, but it would be untrue, as the very thought of such unsupported witness would conflict with the fundamental truth of chap. John 5:19. Here the words, as applied by His foes, are intended to have the same meaning: His solitary testimony has no validity, and, by His own confession, is untrue.
John 8:14. Jesus answered and said unto them, Even if I bear witness concerning myself, my witness is true: because I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye know not whence I come, or whither I go. A little later (John 8:17), Jesus gives an answer similar to the purport of His words in chap. 5 . His Father beareth witness of Him, and His Father’s testimony is ever present. But here He rebukes their judgment of Him. In a sense (John 8:17), their requirement of other testimony is valid; but first He must reject their application to Him of a principle of judgment which is valid in regard to men like themselves. Amongst men of like nature those who are but men such judgment is true: when applied to Jesus it fails. Men who know but in part may be self-deceivers, even if they are true men; hence their word needs support. He who knows with unerring certainty that He comes from the Father and is going to the Father may bear witness of Himself, and His testimony is valid and true. He who thus comes from God cannot but speak with a self-evidencing power, self-evidencing to all who are willing to see and hear. This willingness the Pharisees had not, and hence He adds, ‘Ye know not whence come, or whither I go.’ The change from ‘I came’ to ‘I come’ is remarkable, but is easily explained. The past fact (‘I came’) is not one which the Pharisees could know, except by inference: His present mission from the Father (‘I come’) should have been discerned by all who saw His works and heard His words; and every one who recognised that He cometh from the Father must understand His meaning when He says ‘I go’ to Him that sent me. On ‘I come’ comp. John 7:28.
John 8:15. Ye judge after the flesh. They had judged Him by mere outward appearance, and according to their own merely human thoughts and wishes. Having formed for themselves without patient study of the Scriptures, and thus without the guidance of the Spirit of God, their conception of Messiah and of His kingdom, they rejected Jesus because He did not answer their expectation. But for this, the Divine witness in Him would have reached their hearts.
I judge no one. They judged according to their own nature, standing alone, without the guidance of the Father, not taking the Father along with them in judging, and thus not judging ‘righteous judgment’ (John 7:24). Jesus judgeth no man. The fifth chapter has prepared us for such words as these. Here, as there, they do not exclude all judgment, but all sole judgment (see John 8:16): it is not He that judgeth, but rather the Father who judgeth in Him. Chap. John 5:22 and this verse are not discordant: between the Father, the ultimate source of judgment, and those who are judged is the Son, to whom the Father hath given authority to do judgment, but who doeth nothing save in and with the Father. The ‘I’ is thus emphatic, equivalent to ‘I by myself’ or ‘I without the Father.’
John 8:16. But even if I judge, my judgment is true: because I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. Because in no action is He alone, even if He judges His judgment is true; it is a real judgment, a judgment corresponding, not to outward appearance, but to the eternal reality of things, because according to the Father’s will. The assertion of this verse, that the Father is ever with Him, corresponds to the words, ‘I know whence I came,’ in John 8:14: the link which binds together all these verses is His constant and perfect knowledge that the Father is with Him and in Him. In this lies the validity of His witness: in this is involved the condemnation of His foes.
John 8:17. But in your own law also it is written that the witness of two men is true. In the very law which they magnified, on which they take their stand, as they accuse Him of breaking the law, and declare that all who follow him are ignorant of the law (chap. John 7:49, etc.), this principle is laid down (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). An emphasis is made to rest on ‘men’ to prepare for the next verse. The words ‘your own law’ have been understood as a proof that Jesus feels that He is not a Jew but without reason. The words flow from the fact that it is His purpose to show that the principle upon which He proceeded was founded in the law which they themselves so highly honoured, and the rules of which they were not entitled to neglect. They thus at once magnify the law and are an argumentum ad hominem.
John 8:18. I am he that beareth witness concerning myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness concerning me. In all the Son’s witness concerning Himself, it is the Father that beareth witness concerning Him. This is the teaching of chap. 5 , and it is easy to see that the witness may with equal truth be spoken of as that of Two, or as that borne by One (the Father). In thus speaking to His enemies of a twofold witness, He may mean either ( 1 ) that they should themselves have discerned in Him, over and above that which in a holy human prophet they would have accepted as ‘witness,’ a higher presence which could only be Divine; and that, had they done this, they could never have thought of His word as standing alone: or ( 2 ) that in the witness which He had borne they had dreamed of unsupported words only because they could not attain to that perfect knowledge which He alone possessed. They heard and saw one witness only: to His consciousness there were two. The first of these two views is by much the more probable. Jesus appeals to two facts which they ought to have known, that He was the expression of the Father, and that what He was the Father was. These were two wholly separate and independent things, although the validity of each depended upon that consciousness of the Divine in them which they had silenced. There is thus here no petitio principii as has been thought even by distinguished commentators.
John 8:19. They said therefore unto him, Where is thy Father? If He is to add His witness to Thine, let Him appear and bear His testimony. The words are those of men who will not seek to enter into the meaning of the Speaker. As they judge men ‘according to the flesh,’ they will go no farther than the literal import of the words. But after what they have heard and seen in Jesus, such action cannot consist with sincerity: it is not only to enemies but to hypocrites that He speaks.
Jesus answered, Ye know neither me, nor my Father: if ye knew me, ye would know my Father also. They professed not to know who is His Father. In truth they were without any real knowledge, not of the Father only, but of Jesus Himself. Had they, through receiving and believing His words, attained such knowledge of Him, they would have attained in Him the revelation of the Father also.
John 8:20. These words spake he in the treasury, teaching in the temple-courts: and no man seized him, because his hour was not yet come. Again His adversaries were overawed: though He was teaching within the precincts of the temple, in the very place of their power, no one laid hands on Him. The Treasury was in the court of the women, the very place in which the rejoicings we have described (see chap. John 7:37) took place. This gives some confirmation to the view we have taken of John 8:12, as referring to the illumination in this court.
John 8:21. He said therefore again unto them, I go, and ye shall seek me, and in your sin ye shall die: whither I go, ye cannot come. The conflict of Jesus with His opponents has now passed into a higher stage. It is no longer with the Pharisees merely (John 8:13), but with the Jews (John 8:22). The witness, too, which Jesus now bears regarding Himself has reference to the last things, both for Himself and for them. It is vain however to inquire when the discourse was thus continued: the bond is one rather of thought than of date. The main object of these words is judgment: hence Jesus does not linger on the thought of His own departure, but on that of the fate awaiting them. The time will come when they will seek Him, but in vain. He is not speaking of the seeking of faith or of repentance, but (as before in chap. John 7:34) of the awakening (too late) to need and danger, an awakening not accompanied by the forsaking of sin, for He adds, ‘in your sin’ ( i.e. your state of sin, comp. John 8:24) ‘ye shall die.’
John 8:22. The Jews therefore said, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go ye cannot come. Before (chap. John 7:35) their answer had been, Will He go to Gentiles? The change here shows how much farther the conflict has advanced. Will He go to the realms of the dead, they ask, to that darkest and most dreadful region reserved for those who take their own life, a region where true Israelites cannot come? Their ignorance of themselves is as profound as their ignorance of Jesus. Jesus had made His meaning plain (chap. John 7:33), but they wilfully blind themselves. Hence only one answer is possible now.
John 8:23-24. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins; for if ye shall not believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins. The second of these verses is important as fixing the meaning of the first. The words, ‘I said that ye shall die in your sins,’ are so connected both with what precedes (by means of ‘therefore ’ ) and with what follows (by means of ‘for’), that the ground of this sentence of death is brought under our notice by each of these particles, it is to be found in the unbelief of which the following clause speaks, and in the fact stated in the preceding verse. As then this ground of condemnation is distinctly moral (John 8:24), the expressions in John 8:23 must also have a moral and not a fatalistic meaning. The condemnation results from something in the men themselves, not from any original necessity; should they believe, no longer would Jesus say to them, Ye are from beneath. The origin of their spirit and action, dominated by unbelief, is to be sought, not above, but beneath, not in heaven, but in earth: nay rather (for the thought distinctly expressed in John 8:44 is implicitly present here also), whereas He whom they are in thought consigning to the lowest depths of woe and punishment is of God, they are of the devil. It is at first sight difficult to believe that the sense does not sink but really rises in the second half of John 8:23, and yet the whole structure of this Gospel teaches us that it must be so. If, however, we remember the moral reference of the terms of the verse, an explanation soon suggests itself: for the latter clause expresses much more distinctly than the former the element of deliberate choice. The first might be thought to point to origin only, did not the second show that it implies an evil nature retained by evil choice. From this second clause we see clearly that Jesus speaks of a voluntary association, of the dependence of their spirit on the evil principles belonging to ‘this world.’ Because such is their self-chosen state, Jesus has told them that their sins the sins which manifest the nature of every one who is of this world shall bring them ruin: for nothing but belief in Him who is from above can save them from dying in their sins. His words, it will be seen, grow more and more distinct in their awful import, and yet they are words of mercy: for the meaning is not, Except ye are now believers, the sentence is passed, but, Except ye shall believe (most literally ‘shall have believed ’ ): even now they may receive Him, and the sentence will have no existence for them. But the most striking point in this verse is the mode in which our Lord expresses the object of belief, ‘Except ye shall believe that I am.’ Something apparently like this has occurred before in chap. John 4:26; but the two cases are really widely different. There the word ‘Messiah ’ has just been spoken, and the answer. ‘It is I,’ is perfectly plain in its meaning. Here there is no such word in the context; and to assume an ellipsis, and then supply the very word on which all the emphasis must rest is surely a most dangerous step: to act thus is not to bring out the meaning of the passage, but to bring our own meaning into it. Besides, as we have already seen, our Lord is wont elsewhere to use the expression ‘I am ’ in a very emphatic sense (see chap. John 7:34, etc.), with distinct reference to that continuous, unchanging existence which only He who is Divine can claim. The most remarkable example of these exalted words is found in the 58 th verse of this chapter (comp. also John 8:28). Without forestalling this, however (but referring to the note on that verse for some points connected with the full explanation), we may safely say that it is of His Divine Being that Jesus here speaks. The thought of existence is clearly present in the verse. ‘Ye shall die,’ He says, ‘unless ye shall have been brought to see in me not what the impious words of John 8:22 imply, but One who is, who, belonging to the realms above, possesses life who, being of God, has life as His own and as His own gift.’ So understood, our Lord’s words speak of belief, not directly in His Messiahship, but in that other nature of His, that Divine nature, on His possession of which He makes all His other claims to rest. Observe in John 8:24 as compared with John 8:21 not only the mention of ‘sins’ instead of ‘sin’ (comp. on John 8:21), but also the change of place given to ‘ye shall die’ in John 8:21 what led to their fate, here their fate itself, being the prominent thought.
John 8:25. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? Had they been patient, willing listeners, they would have seen His meaning; but now He seems to them to have left out the one essential word, in thus saying, ‘Except ye shall believe that I am.’ What is that word? ‘Who art thou?’ The tone of the preceding words makes it certain that the question is one of impatience and scorn, not of a spirit eager and ready to learn. This is a point of importance, as throwing light on our Lord’s reply.
Jesus said unto them, How is it that I even speak to you at all? The true nature and meaning of this reply are points on which the greatest difference of opinion has existed and still exists. The question is one of translation, not interpretation merely; and a discussion on a matter or Greek philology would be out of place here. The first words of the sentence are ‘The beginning;’ and many have endeavoured to retain these words in translation, but in very different ways. Some have taken ‘The beginning’ as a name applied by our Lord to Himself; others understand the words adverbially, as meaning ‘in the beginning,’ ‘from the very first,’ ‘before all things.’ But none of these explanations can be obtained without doing violence to the Greek; and we are therefore bound to consider them all untenable. Even if they were possible renderings, they would present a serious difficulty to an attentive student of the words of Jesus, especially as contained in this Gospel. Our Lord is not wont directly to answer a question so presented. His whole treatment of ‘the Jews’ is based on the fact that He had given them abundant evidence regarding Himself and His work. They who will not see must rest in their blindness (chap. John 9:39). No sign from heaven shall be wrought at the bidding of those to whom no former signs have brought instruction (Matthew 16:1-2): certainly no direct answer will be vouchsafed to men who, having heard all that He has said before, have just shown themselves able awfully to pervert His simplest sayings. One line of translation only seems to be allowed by the Greek, that which takes the words as a question (or exclamation), and gives to the first words (‘the beginning’) a meaning which in such sentences they often bear, viz. ‘at all’(as ‘Does he act at all?’ is equivalent to ‘Does he even make a beginning of action?’). This is the interpretation which tire early Greek writers Cyril of Alexandria and Chrysostom gave to the words; and we cannot but lay stress on the fact that such men, who habitually spoke Greek, seem not to have thought of any other meaning. Whether the sentence is an exclamation or a question, the general sense is the same, viz. Why am I even speaking to you at all? Much has He to say concerning them (John 8:26) and to judge; but why does He any longer speak to men who will not understand His word? The words remind us of Matthew 17:17, ‘O faithless and perverse generation! How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?’ And yet those words were said to slow-minded Galileans, not to the hostile ‘Jews.’
John 8:26. I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you. It is unavailing to speak to them, for they will not believe. Many things has He to speak concerning them, and (since every word regarding them in the condition they had chosen must be one of judgment) to judge also.
Nevertheless he that sent me is true; and the things which I heard from him, these I speak unto the world. To all that He says they may turn a deaf ear; ‘Nevertheless,’ Jesus adds, ‘He that sent me is true, and the words which I have heard from Him, these and no others do I speak unto the world, the world, to which you belong’ (John 8:23). The Jews may disbelieve; His judgment may seem severe; but the words are God’s words, and they are true.
This seems the simplest view of this difficult verse; for the prominence which the second clause (‘Nevertheless . . . true’) gives to the thought of truth seems to imply that the contrast is with the preceding thought of unbelief (John 8:24-25). Three other explanations are worthy of consideration (i) I have many things . . . but, many as they are, they are true. ( 2 ) I have many things . . . but I will not keep them back, for I faithfully declare the words which ... ( 3 ) I have many things .... but I will not say them now: the things which I have heard from Him that sent me must be first declared. The first of these seems to miss the sharp emphasis of the ‘Nevertheless;’ the second and third to miss (though in different degrees) the force of the middle clause, ‘Nevertheless He that sent me is true.’
John 8:27. They perceived not that he spake to them of the Father. This statement of the Evangelist is very remarkable; and, as it is so different from anything we might have expected, its importance as a guide and correction is the greater. In this section (beginning at John 8:21) He has not made mention of ‘the Father.’ In the section which precedes, however (John 8:12-20), the word occurs several times. First Jesus speaks of ‘the Father which sent me’(John 8:16; John 8:18): in their answer the Jews show how they had understood His words, by saying, ‘Where is thy Father?’ and in replying to their question Jesus also speaks, not of ‘the Father,’ but of ‘my Father.’ So far as these two sections are concerned, therefore, there is nothing to show that His hearers had understood Him to make distinct mention of ‘ the Father,’ in the absolute sense, a name which, probably, every Israelite would have received as belonging to God alone. (If we look back at earlier chapters, we shall find that the passages have been few in which ‘the Father’ is spoken of. The fifth chapter must be left out of consideration, for the whole discourse is dominated by the thought of personal Sonship. The same may be said of chap. John 3:35. There remain only the words addressed to the woman of Samaria, chap. John 4:21, and the discourses in Galilee related in chap. 6 ) Hence though we might have over-looked the fact but for the Evangelist’s timely words we cannot feel great surprise that these hearers had not yet perceived that Jesus was making mention of ‘the Father.’ The words, ‘I am from above,’ ‘He that sent me,’ must have suggested to those who heard that He claimed a Divine mission; but men familiar with the mission of a prophet might concede so much without understanding that the last words of Jesus (‘the things which I heard from Him I speak unto the world’) implied an infinitely higher and closer relation to Him whom they worshipped, whom Jesus revealed as ‘the Father.’ In this Name and in the words just spoken is contained the whole economy of grace.
John 8:28. Jesus therefore said, When ye have lifted on high the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am, and that of myself I do nothing; but even as the Father taught me, I speak these things. They know not the truth now: when through their own deed the Son of man has been raised on high, their eyes will be opened, they will see what they have done, and will then know that His words were true, that the claims which they resisted the Father Himself has ratified. The ‘lifting on high’ includes both the death and the glorification of Jesus, though the latter meaning only would be understood as yet (see the note on chap. John 3:14). Some prefer to place a stop at the word am, and to take the clauses that follow as independent. This view, however, seems much less natural than the other. The three parallel clauses containing the thoughts of ( 1 ) pure existence (as to what is implied in this, see John 8:24), ( 2 ) continued dependence on the Father in all action (see chap. John 5:19-20), and ( 3 ), as a part of such action, speaking in constant harmony with the Father’s will and teaching (chap. John 5:30, John 8:26) express the claims made by Jesus, the truth of which (of each and of all) will be established when He is ‘lifted up on high.’
John 8:29. And he that sent me is with me: he left me not alone, because I do always the things that are pleasing to him. The words, ‘I heard’ (John 8:26), ‘taught’ (John 8:28), point back to the past, laying stress on the Divine commission received: they must not be so understood as to exclude a present fellowship with the Father, ‘He that sent me is with me.’ When He sent the Son, He sent Him not away from Himself, not for a moment did He leave Him alone. The abiding presence of the Father is the consequence and the sign of the Son’s habitual performance of the Father’s will. In all this Jesus is speaking as the Son of man, as the Sent of the Father. It is most interesting to compare the corresponding words of chap. 5 , where the subject throughout is the Son of God. It will be seen how prominent are two thoughts in this chapter, the association of Jesus with the Father who sent Him (John 8:16; John 8:18; John 8:23; John 8:26; John 8:28-29; John 8:38; John 8:40; John 8:42; John 8:47; John 8:54-55), and the strong moral contrast between Jesus and the Jews (John 8:15; John 8:21; John 8:23-24; John 8:37-38; John 8:40, etc .). The observance of this will make clearer the links connecting the several parts.
John 8:30. As he spake these things, many believed in him. We are not told to what class these belonged. The latter part of the chapter shows how completely ‘the Jews’ had hardened themselves: probably therefore these believers mainly belonged to the general body of the hearers, and not (in any large proportion) to ‘the Jews.’ Once more then we have an illustration of that twofold effect of our Lord’s teaching which John so frequently portrays.
John 8:31. Jesus said therefore to the Jews which had believed him. The word ‘therefore’ closely joins this section with the last. Are we then to regard the Jews of this verse as included in the ‘many’ of the last? Certainly not, because of the essential difference between the expressions used in the two verses, ‘believed in him’ and ‘believed him.’ The former denotes a true faith in Jesus, such an acceptance of Him as includes a surrender of the heart, the ‘self,’ to Him; the latter, an acceptance of His words as true. Those who ‘believed Him’ were in the way towards the higher faith, but yet might be very far from the attainment of that goal. The impression produced by the last words spoken by Jesus appears to have been very great, bringing many to the position of full discipleship, and even convincing some of the hostile Jews themselves that they had been opposing one whose words were true, and whose claims on their obedience were just and right. These men stand between the two companies, the Jews with whom they had been associated, and the believers who had joined themselves to the Lord. Will they draw nearer to Him and ‘ believe in him, ’ or will they return to His enemies? The words which Jesus now speaks, to instruct and to encourage, prove to be the test of their faith.
If ye shall abide in my word, ye are truly my disciples. They believed His word; if they abide in this word of His, clinging to it, continuing under its influence, the word will be to them a revelation of Jesus, and will assert its power. Note the significance ever attached in this Gospel to the word of Jesus. As He, the Word, reveals the Father, and leads to the Father, so His own word reveals Himself, and draws men to Himself through (so teaches the fuller revelation) the power of the Spirit of Truth.
John 8:32. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. If they shall abide in the word of Jesus, it will be shown that they have begun a true discipleship, and the word in which they abide shall make known to them the truth. So far, there is nothing that these imperfect disciples will not gladly hear. But Jesus read in their hearts a false interpretation of His work and their own needs. He came as Saviour (chap. John 3:16; John 3:36, John 4:42, John 5:40), not as Teacher only: in this very chapter He has spoken of faith in Himself as delivering from death in sins (John 8:24). Here the figure is changed from that of future death to that of present and continued bondage: ‘the truth’ shall be the means of giving freedom. There is no difficulty in these words: such appropriation of the truth found in the words of Jesus is but another representation of faith in Him who is the Giver of freedom.
John 8:33. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and have never yet been slaves to any one: how sayest thou, Ye shall become free? The promise ‘shall make you free’ cannot but imply that now they have no freedom, but are slaves. This thought they indignantly repel, for they are Abraham’s seed! What is the true meaning of the next words is a question much disputed. It is hardly possible that they refer directly to national freedom, for the first words of the Decalogue speak of their deliverance from the house of bondage, and this history had often been repeated. Nor can we think that the Jews are simply appealing to the law which made it impossible for an Israelite to be kept in (continued) bondage. The former supposition involves too bold a falsehood; the latter, too prosaic and strained an interpretation in a context which contains no hint of civil rights. And yet there is truth in both. To be of Abraham’s seed and to be a slave were discordant ideas. To Abraham was given the promise that he should be ‘heir of the world’ (Romans 4:13): the Divine nobility of his descendants was only brought out more clearly by their frequent adverse fortune. Theirs was a religious pre-eminence above all nations of the world, a freedom which no external circumstances could affect National independence was natural (though not always enjoyed), because of this Divinely-given honour: in the same gift of God lay the principle of the Israelite’s civil freedom. Least of all (they thought) could they, whose boast was that the truth was theirs, be held in a slavery from which the truth should free them.
John 8:34. Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you. Every one that doeth sin is a slave of sin. Jesus directs them to a slavery of which they have not thought, slavery to sin. Every one who is living a life of sin is a slave; each act of sin is no mere accident of his life, but a token of its nature, a mark of a bondage in which he is continually held. The word ‘doeth’ is not the same as that which is used in chap. John 3:20, John 5:29 in connection with evil: that had reference to the commission of particular acts, this to the general course of life, when sin is chosen, ‘Evil be thou my good.’ The thought is best illustrated by Romans 6:0 and (especially) Romans 7:0.
John 8:35. And the slave abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth for ever. The Jews believed that they were free, the sons of God; and that, as such, they were permanent possessors of His house, and thus permanent recipients of His favour and love, inheritors of eternal life. Not so. In all this they deceive themselves. They are not God’s sons, but slaves of sin. As such they have no more real hold of the house of God, with its present and eternal privileges, than a slave has of the privileges of the house in which he is a slave. A son only can claim a place in the house and the possession of what belongs to the house, as a right permanent, uninterrupted, as long as he is a son. In all this, no doubt, there lies a reference to their own his-tory. As the son of the bondwoman Hagar in the house of Abraham, so were they in the house of God : as Ishmael (though Abraham’s seed) was driven forth, having no place beside the son who was free, so must they who claimed to be Abraham’s seed be cast out, if they are slaves of sin.
John 8:36. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. It is manifestly a special freedom that is here thought of, freedom gained by becoming sons, and thus gaining all that belongs to the position of a son, retaining for ever a connection with the Father’s house. One only can give this freedom, for One only can give this Sonship, He who is the Son (see chap. John 1:12). ‘Free indeed,’ not in appearance only, as a favoured slave might seem for a time to hold the place of a son in the house: ‘free indeed,’ because receiving the freedom and sonship from One who ‘remains in the house for ever,’ and never loses the rights of the Son. John 8:33 speaks of the means (‘the truth’), this verse of the Giver of freedom (‘the Son’). The word here rendered ‘indeed’ is a very remarkable one: it is used nowhere else in the writings of John. Closely connected with the verb ‘I am’ of John 8:28, it is hardly possible to avoid the impression that it is designedly employed in order to bring out that closeness of relation between the sons of God and the Son which is so striking a part of the teaching of this chapter.
John 8:37. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word maketh no way in you. Again our Lord takes up their assertion that they are Abraham’s seed. He has answered it by a parable: He speaks now in plainer words, repeating their familiar boast, that He may place in strongest contrast the spirit they had shown themselves to possess. ‘Ye seek to kill me,’ He says, uniting them with the whole body from which a little before they seemed to be severed; for too clearly did He see that the severance was but partial and altogether transient. His word had entered their hearts, and for a moment they had moved towards Him; but it made no way there, its progress was immediately stayed, and they were numbered again with ‘the Jews,’ His foes. Hence the increasing severity of what is immediately to follow.
John 8:38. I speak the things which I have seen with the Father: do ye also therefore the things which ye heard from the Father. One last exhortation Jesus will offer before entirely giving up these ‘Jews who had believed Him.’ His word had entered their heart but had made no way: let them give it free course now. He, the Son, who alone can give them freedom and sonship by the truth revealed in His word (John 8:32; John 8:36), has in that word spoken to them the things which He saw with the Father (another mode of expressing the same truth as is declared in chap. John 3:13). With design He says ‘ the Father,’ not ‘ my Father;’ for the word has been spoken to them in order that God who is His Father may become their Father, in other words, that the Son may give them sonship. For this very purpose the Father sent Him to declare the word: this He has done, so that what they had heard from Jesus they had heard from the Father. Let them do that which they have heard and the blessing of sonship shall be theirs. (It is interesting to compare the ‘knowing’ which gives freedom (John 8:32) with this command to ‘do’ what they had heard. In effect the same result is promised, so that the knowledge spoken of must be such as involves doing, no barren knowledge, but one that grasps and moulds the life.) But we must not overlook the ‘therefore which binds together the two parts of the verse. In the execution of the design of God, to make men His sons and thus become sons of ‘the Father,’ two things are necessary: the Son (the ‘Word’) declares the truth of God; men receive the word of the Son, know it with that knowledge which implies both faith and action and become the sons of God. The Son has been faithful to His mission, this the first clause declares: let them therefore be faithful to their part, and the blessing will be theirs. The more common view of this verse assumes that in the second clause Jesus speaks of another father. This is very unlikely, as the pronoun your is not inserted until a later verse (John 8:41). There are also two other reasons for preferring the interpretation given above: ( 1 ) It is hard to believe that Jesus, so tender in His dealing with even the germs of true faith, has already passed into His severest condemnation of ‘the Jews who had believed Him.’ No word has been spoken by them since that recorded in John 8:33, and it had shown blindness and self-deception, but not hopeless antagonism. True, He sees that in their hearts they are relapsing into their former state; but may we not well believe that He will make one other effort to instruct and save? ( 2 ) As we have already seen (John 8:27), in our Lord’s words ‘ the Father’ is a Name used with great significance and fulness of meaning, especially in this chapter. This is duly recognised in the explanation we are now seeking to defend, and in that alone. It is remarkable that in this verse Jesus describes Himself as speaking what He has seen with the Father, while He exhorts them to do what they have heard from the Father. But the words are deliberately chosen, and they confirm the interpretation now given. As the Eternal Son, Jesus alone could have the first words spoken of Him. The second appropriately describe the state of those who had not ‘seen,’ who had only ‘heard.’ The difference, in short, flows from that difference between the Son and all other sons which abides even in the midst of similarity of position: the One has an eternal, the others have only a derived, Sonship.
John 8:39. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. This answer shows how their minds are closing against the word of Jesus. Had they been willing to recognise the true meaning of ‘the Father’ in the first clause (of John 8:38), they might have seen what the same Name implied for them in the later words. But whilst He spoke of God and sought to lead them upwards, they, proud of their ancestry and content with Jewish privilege, will think of no other father than Abraham. Yet plainer words therefore must be used to make them understand the truth.
Jesus saith unto them, If ye are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham. There is no true sonship (in the sense in which Jesus is dwelling on the idea) where there is not likeness. Descent from Abraham cannot be a source of present honour and blessing to those who do not Abraham’s works. They are Abraham’s ‘seed’ (John 8:37), not his ‘children’ (comp. John 1:12).
John 8:40. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath spoken to you the truth, which I heard from God: this did not Abraham. The assertions of John 8:37-38 are reiterated, but now with a simple directness that cannot be misunderstood (thus Jesus no longer speaks of ‘the Father’ but of God), and with a distinct expression of the contrast (‘this did not Abraham’) which in John 8:37 has been merely implied. True kindred to Abraham is therefore impossible in their case.
John 8:41. Ye do the works of your father. Yet the principle of John 8:39 cannot but be true: certainly they are doing the works of their father.
They said to him, We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. The words of Jesus have made two things clear: ( 1 ) He is not referring to national origin, but to spiritual descent; and ( 2 ) the father whose sons Jesus declares them to be is not good but evil. In answer to this they indignantly assert that they are sons of God. Their spiritual is as undoubted as their natural descent. ‘Whatever may be the case with others (the word “we” is strongly emphatic), there is no stain on our origin.’ We cannot but think that some antithesis is distinctly present to the thought of the Jews as they use the words ‘we’ and ‘one’ And if we bear in mind the regular meaning which the word ‘fornication’ bears in Old Testament prophecy, when used in such a connection as this, viz. the unholy alliance with idols instead of Jehovah (Jeremiah 3:1, etc.), it will appear very probable that John 8:48 gives the clue to the meaning here. Jesus was called a Samaritan. Samaritans were taunted with their descent from men who ‘feared Jehovah and served their own gods’ (2 Kings 17:33). This thought, not yet plainly expressed, but existing in their minds, explains at once the emphatic ‘we,’ the reference to ‘fornication,’ and the stress laid on ‘ one Father.’
John 8:42. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for from God I came forth, and am here, for also I have not come of myself, but he sent me. Again Jesus applies the same principle to test their claim. Were they true children of God, then they would love whomsoever God loves. But this they do not, for they love not Him who came forth from God and whom God sent. The words in which Jesus speaks of His relation to God are remarkable. Alike in His Incarnation, in His whole manifestation to the world, and in His mission, He sustains the same relation to the Father: all is from and of the Father. This intimate relation implies the love on which the argument is made to rest.
John 8:43. Why do ye not know my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word. There is a subtle difference between ‘word’ and ‘speech,’ the former properly referring to substance, the latter to the form. (Thus in Matthew 26:73, when the same word is used, it is said that Peter’s Galilean ‘speech’ betrayed him.) Did they hear His word, were they really sons of God, they would recognise his speech, and the indications (if we may so speak) contained in it of the speech of that heavenly realm from which He came. But they could not bear to hear His word: what He taught was hateful to them, though it was the truth which He heard from God (John 8:40). This antipathy to the substance of what He said made any recognition of the teaching as bearing on itself manifest tokens of Divine origin impossible.
John 8:44. Ye are of the father who is the devil, and the desires of your father it is your will to do. It seems desirable to preserve in translation the expression ‘the father’ (for ‘your’ is not found in the Greek), because it seems to be our Lord’s design to set this in strongest contrast to the name which He has used with most significant emphasis, ‘the Father’ (see the notes on John 8:27; John 8:38). All the desires of this their father it was their will to do. Their works, deliberately chosen, answered to their parentage: hence their seeking to kill Jesus (John 8:37; John 8:40), and their inability to listen to His word (John 8:43) .
He was a man-killer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth. Well may they seek to kill Jesus, for their father, the devil, was a man-killer from the beginning of his dealings with mankind. His seduction of mankind was itself a murder, severing man from the life of God, and bringing in the evil that has been the cause of every crime. Thus he is the shedder ‘of all the righteous blood shed upon the earth.’ Not only was he a man-killer, but he ‘stood not in the truth.’  It does not seem likely that these words refer to the fall of the angels who kept not their first estate,’ for then surely the order of the clauses would have been reversed . Throughout all past human history the devil shunned ‘the truth,’ took his stand without the borders of ‘the truth,’ because this action alone is suitable to his essential (though not original) nature.
 Not ‘standeth:’ the word is probably an imperfect (of ἔστηκεν ).
Because there is no truth in him. His hatred of ‘the truth’ springs from this, that he is not true; ‘truth’ (now used without the article) is not in him; and his own hatred of the truth is transmitted to his children, who cannot hear the word of Jesus (John 8:43).
Whensoever one speaketh the lie, he speaketh of his own, because his father also is a liar. Whensoever a man who is a child of the devil uttereth falsehood, he is giving forth what by very nature belongs to him, what is his peculiar property by right of kindred and inheritance, because his father also, the devil, is a liar.
John 8:45. But because I say the truth, ye believe me not. They loved the lie, because their father was a liar, and his desires it was their will to do. Such was their love for falsehood (even as their father ‘stood not in the truth’), that, because Jesus said the truth, they believed Him not. The word ‘I’ is emphatic, marking again the contrast between them and Him.
John 8:46. Which of you convicteth me of sin? No charge of sin could any one of them bring home to Him, no responsive consciousness of sin could any one awaken in His breast. These words are implicitly an assertion of His perfect sinlessness; and His enemies are silent.
If I say truth, why do ye not believe me? Their knowledge of His sinless life took from them all pretext for their disbelief. We know that His words brought their own evidence to those who loved the truth. The true answer to this question then must be that they loved falsehood. But this answer they would never give. The tone of this verse clearly shows that what has been said of their father the devil related not to necessity of nature, but to deliberate choice (see note on John 8:23), for such an appeal was intended, and would be understood, to imply condemnation of those who thus wilfully refused to believe. The same thought is present in the following verse.
John 8:47. He that is of God heareth the words of God: for this cause ye hear not, because ye are not of God. As in John 8:43, the word hear has the meaning listen to, so that the thought of receiving and believing is implied. He that is of God, and he alone, thus listens to the words of God: recognising their origin, willing to receive their teaching, he takes them into his heart.
John 8:48. The Jews answered and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon? To say that Jews were children of the devil seemed an insult, not to themselves only, but to God, whose children they believed themselves to be. No one but a Samaritan, filled with jealous hatred of the people of God, or one in whom dwelt a demon, one of the spirits whose sole aim was the subversion of God’s kingdom, could utter such words as these. It is possible that the Jews may have heard something of our Lord’s short sojourn in Samaria, and of the favour which He had then shown to that despised people: such a parable as that of the Good Samaritan (which was spoken at a time not far distant from that to which this chapter relates) may have been so used by enemies as to give colour to an accusation of favouring Samaria and slighting Judea. At all events it is clear that the name ‘Samaritan’ was now frequently given to our Lord as a term of reproach. We must not overlook the fact that those who are now addressing Jesus are ‘the Jews,’ not a part (John 8:31), but the Jews as a body.
John 8:49. Jesus answered, I have not a demon; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. His answer is a simple denial of the graver accusation of the two, and also such an assertion regarding His thought and purpose as was equivalent to a denial of all such charges. He honours His Father, even in the very words which had seemed to them an insult to God Himself. ‘It is ye,’ He adds, ‘that are dishonouring me:’ it is not I who (like Samaritans) dishonour you.
John 8:50. But I seek not my glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. He will not protest against the dishonour they offer Him: His cause is in the Father’s hand. That glory which He seeks not for Himself, the Father seeks to give Him. The Father is deciding, and will decide between His enemies and Himself.
John 8:51. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man have kept my word, he shall never behold death. The solemn introductory words indicate that the discourse is taking a higher strain: once before they have been used in this chapter, in John 8:34 (but to a part only of ‘the Jews’), and once again we shall meet with them (John 8:58). In John 8:34 Jesus is speaking of slavery from which He frees; here of death which He abolishes (2 Timothy 1:10). In the former case the means of deliverance is continuing in the word of Jesus and knowing the truth (see John 8:32); here He gives the promise to him that has ‘kept His word,’ has received it, hidden it in his heart, and observed it in his life (see John 8:37, also chap. John 14:15, etc.). The thought here is substantially the same as in chap. John 6:50 (compare also chap. John 4:14, John 5:24, John 6:51), where we read of the living bread given that a man may eat of it and not die. That passage presents one side of the condition, the close fellowship of the believer with Jesus Himself, of which eating is the symbol; this presents another side, the believing reception of His word (which reveals Himself), and the practical and continued observance of the precepts therein contained. In chap. John 6:50, the words ‘may not die’ do not seem to have been misunderstood, possibly because so near the promise of ‘eternal life,’ which suggested a figurative meaning, possibly because of a difference in the mood and disposition of the hearers. In neither place did Jesus promise that they who are His shall not pass through the grave, but that to them death shall not be death, in death itself they shall live (see chap. John 11:26).
John 8:52-53. The Jews said unto him, Now we know that thou hast a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man have kept my word, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who died? and the prophets died: whom makest thou thyself? The word ‘now’ looks back to John 8:48. ‘Even if we were too hasty then, now we have learnt from thine own words that our charge is true.’ In attributing to His word a power to preserve His followers from that which had come upon the prophets, and even on Abraham himself, He is clearly placing Himself above Abraham and the prophets. Whom then is He making Himself? The Jews do not quote the words of Jesus with exactness. He had said, ‘shall never behold death,’ for ever shall be spared the sight of death; they vary the metaphor a little, passing to a still more familiar phrase, ‘taste death;’ perhaps because it seemed more direct and clear, less susceptible of a figurative meaning.
John 8:54-55 a . Jesus answered, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing: it is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom ye say that he is your God, and have not got knowledge of him. First, Jesus answers the direct question, ‘Whom makest Thou Thyself?’ and the general charge of self-exaltation which those words contain. The specific reference to Abraham He speaks of afterwards (John 8:56). The tenor of His reply resembles that of John 8:50; but, as elsewhere, the second statement has the greater force and clearness. The reality of the glory of Jesus consists in this, that it comes from His Father, whom they called their God, but of whom they had gained no knowledge.
John 8:55 b . But I know him ; and if I should say. I know him not, I shall be like unto you, a liar: but I know him, and keep his word. Jesus can say, ‘I know God,’ by direct, intuitive, perfect knowledge. The word which He uses in reference to Himself (‘I know’) is different from that used in the preceding clause, this latter (‘ye have got knowledge’) referring to the result of experience, to knowledge gained by many acts of perception. Were Jesus to deny His immediate knowledge, He would be as false as they have been in professing to know God. The last words are interesting as bringing out once more the truth which we have seen presented in earlier verses: His own work in the execution of the Father’s will is the model of the work which He requires from man. His people ‘keep His word’ (John 8:51): He Himself keeps the Father’s word. So, in chap. John 20:21, He says to the apostles, ‘As my Father hath sent me, I also send you.’
John 8:56. Tour father Abraham exulted that he should see my day; and he saw it and rejoiced. This translation, though more exact than that of the Authorised Version, does not fully bring out the meaning of the original. All English renderings of the words (unless they are paraphrases) must be more or less ambiguous. ‘Rejoiced to see’ conveys the meaning of ‘rejoiced because (or when) he saw;’ ‘exulted that he should see’ means strictly, ‘exulted in the knowledge that he should see.’ Nor is the difficulty removed if we take the ordinary rendering of the Greek construction, ‘that he might;’ for exulted that he might see is ambiguous still, though not in the same way. Perhaps the Greek words (which are very peculiar) are best represented by the paraphrase, ‘Your father Abraham exulted in desire that he might see my day; and he saw (it) and rejoiced.’ The interpretation, which is as difficult as the translation, turns mainly on the meaning of the words ‘my day.’ The nearest approach to this expression in the New Testament .is found in Luke 17:22, ‘one of the days of the Son of man,’ where the meaning must be ‘one of the days connected with the manifestation of the Son of man upon the earth.’ Here the form is more definite, ‘my day,’ and it seems exceedingly difficult to give any other meaning than either the whole period of the life of Jesus on earth, or, more precisely, the epoch of the Incarnation. In this case the past tense ‘he saw it’ is conclusive for the latter, if actual sight is intended. The patriarch received the promise in which was contained the coming of the day of Christ. By faith he saw this day in the far distance, but more than this exulting in the prospect he longed to see the day itself: in joyful hope he waited for this. In the fulness of time the day dawned; the heavenly host sang praises to God for its advent; and (none who remember the appearance of Moses and Elias on the Mount of Transfiguration can feel any difficulty in the words of this verse) Abraham too saw it and rejoiced. By those who do not accept this explanation it is urged
( 1 ) That Jesus would probably not thus refer the Jews to that which no Scripture records. But the truth spoken of is so general and so simple Abraham’s knowledge of the fulfilment of God’s promises to him that no Jew who believed in Jesus could refuse it credence.
( 2 ) That ‘sees’ and ‘rejoices’ would be more natural than ‘saw’ and ‘rejoiced.’ Not so, if the Incarnation is the event before the mind.
( 3 ) That this view is not in harmony with the reply of the Jews in the next verse. That point will be considered in the note on the verse.
The only other possible interpretation is that which refers the words to two distinct periods in the earthly life of Abraham; one at which, after receiving the promises, he exulted in eager desire for a clearer sight, and another at which this clearer sight was gained. But it is very hard to think of two epochs in the patriarch’s life at which these conditions were satisfied; and it is still more difficult to believe that ‘my day’ is the expression that Jesus would have used had this been the sense designed. Verily, if Abraham thus exulted in the thought of the coming of his son and his Lord, the Jews who are despising and rejecting Him do not Abraham’s works, are no true seed of Abraham.
John 8:57. The Jews therefore said unto him. Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? The Jews understand ‘my day’ to mean the time of His life; and His knowing that Abraham has witnessed this with joy must certainly imply that He has seen Abraham. How can this be, since He is not yet fifty years of age? It seems most probable that ‘fifty’ is chosen as a round number, as a number certainly beyond that of our Lord’s years of life. Some have supposed from this verse that sorrow had given to Him the appearance of premature age.
John 8:58. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I am. The third occurrence of the solemn formula ‘Verily, verily,’ marks the highest point reached by the words of Jesus at this time. The substance of the words is in completest harmony with the form. In the clearest possible manner Jesus declares, not only His existence before Abraham, but also the essential distinction between His being and that of any man. Man is born, man passes through successive periods of time: of Himself, in regard alike to past, present, and future, Jesus says ‘I am.’ He claims for Himself that absolute, unchanging existence which is the attribute of God alone. If any argument be needed to enforce that which the words themselves supply, it is furnished in the conduct of the Jews (John 8:59), who clearly understood them to be a distinct (and in their mind a blasphemous) claim of that which belonged to God alone. The thought is distinctly present in the Old Testament: see Psalms 102:27, but especially Psalms 90:2. The English reader naturally recurs in thought to Exodus 3:14 , but there are two considerations which make it very difficult to assert positively that that verse is necessarily referred to here:
( 1 ) The doubt which rests on the translation. ‘I will be’ is at least as natural as a translation as ‘I am.’
( 2 ) The Greek translation of the Divine Name there used differs materially from the words of this verse, and agrees rather with the original of Revelation 1:4. If our version does really express the meaning of Exodus 3:14, it is impossible not to associate that verse with the one before us.
John 8:59. They took up stones therefore that they might cast them upon him; but Jesus hid himself, and went forth from the temple-courts. The Jews were enraged at what they considered blasphemy, and in their rage they would have stoned Him (compare chap. John 10:31). But His hour was not yet come. He hid Himself (whether miraculously or not we cannot tell) and went forth from the temple.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 8". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29