corner graphic   Hi,    
Facebook image
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
John 5



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. μετὰ ταῦτα] Lücke remark that when John wishes to indicate immediate succession, he uses μετὰ τοῦτο, ch. John 2:12; John 11:7; John 11:11; John 19:28 : when mediate, after an interval, μετὰ ταῦτα, ch. John 3:22; John 5:14; John 6:1; John 7:1; John 19:38. So that apart from other considerations which would lead us to the same conclusion, we may infer that some interval has elapsed since the last verse of ch. 4.

ἑορτὴ τ. ἰουδ.] Few points have been more controverted, than the question, what this feast was. I will give the principal views, and then state my own conclusion. (I have abridged the following statement principally from Lücke’s note, ii. 1–15.) (1) Irenæus understands it (Hær. ii. 22. 3, p. 147) to be the second Passover of our Lord’s ministry. Origen (whose commentary on this chapter is lost) mentions this view (tom. xiii. 39, vol. iv. p. 250), but apparently does not approve it. (MS. (71) reads ην εορτη των αζυμων κ. τ. λ.) This is the view of Luther, Calovius, Scaliger, Grotius, Lightfoot, Lampe, Kuinoel. (2) Cyril Alex(72) and Chrysostom think it to be the Pentecost; similarly Euthym(73) and Theophyl. This opinion prevailed in the Greek Church; and has been defended by Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, &c., and more recently by Bengel in his Harmony. (3) Kepler first suggested the idea that it might be the feast of Purim, (Esther 9:21; Esther 9:26,) almost immediately preceding the Passover (the 14th and 15th of Adar). This was adopted by Petavius, and has been the general view of the modern chronologists. So Lamy (Apparat. Chronol.), Hug, Lücke (1st edn.), Olshausen, Meyer, Wieseler, Stier, Neander, Winer. (4) The feast of Tabernacles has been suggested by Cocceius, and is supported by one ms. (131, which adds ἡ σκηνοπηγία.) (5) Kepler and Petavius thought it also possible that the feast of Dedication (see ch. John 10:22) might be meant.

So that almost every Jewish feast finds some supporters.

I believe with Lücke (3rd edn.), De Wette, and Tholuck, that we cannot with any probability gather what feast it was. Seeing as I do no distinct datum given in ch. John 4:35, nor again in ch. John 6:1, and finding nothing in this chapter to determine the nature of this feast, I cannot attach any weight to most of the elaborate chronological arguments which have been raised on the subject. It can hardly have been a Passover, both on account of the omission of the article before ἑορτή (see ch. John 6:4), and because if so, we should have an interval of a whole year between this chapter and the next, which is not probable. Nor can it have been the Dedication, in the winter; for then the multitude of sick would have hardly been waiting in the porches of Bethesda. The feast of Purim would nearest agree with the subsequent events; and it seems as if our Lord did not go up to Jerusalem at the Passover next following (ch. John 6:4; John 7:1), so that no difficulty would be created by the proximity of the two feasts, unless, with De Wette, we believe that the interval was too little for what is related ch. John 6:1-3 to have happened. But it may be doubted, (1) whether it was a general practice to go up to Jerusalem at the Purim: (2) whether our Lord would be likely to observe it, even if it was.

No reason need be given why John does not name the feast; it is quite in accordance with his practice of mentioning nothing that does not concern his subject-matter. Thus the Passover is mentioned ch. John 2:13, because of the buying and selling in the temple; again, ch. John 6:4, to account for the great multitude, and as eminently suiting (see notes) the subject of His discourse there; the feast of Tabernacles, ch. John 7:2, because of the practice alluded to by our Lord in John 5:37; that of the Dedication, ch. John 10:22, to account for His being in Solomon’s porch because it was winter; but in this chapter, where there is nothing alluding to the time or nature of the feast, it is not specified.

ἰησοῦς—and probably His disciples: for the same expression is used ch. John 2:13, whereas we find, ch. John 3:22, that His disciples were with Him: compare also ch. John 7:10 and ch. John 9:2.

Verses 1-47

1–47.] Healing of a cripple at the pool of Bethesda, during a feast; and the discourse of Jesus occasioned by the persecution of the Jews arising thereupon.

Verse 2

2.] ἔστιν has been thought by Bengel and others to import that John wrote his Gospel before the destruction of Jerusalem. But this must not be pressed. He might have spoken in the present without meaning to be literally accurate at the moment when he was writing (see Prolegg. to John, § iv. 6).

ἐπὶ τῇ προβ., probably near the sheep-gate,—mentioned by Nehemiah, see reff. The situation of this gate is unknown;—it is traditionally supposed to be the same with that now called St. Stephen’s gate; but inaccurately, for no wall existed in that quarter till the time of Agrippa (Robinson, i. 472). Eusebius, Jerome, and the Itinerarium Hieros. speak of a προβατικὴ κολυμβήθρα, so also probatica piscina, Vulg.

The reading λεγομένη would be more usual; perhaps ἐπιλ. implies that it had another name.

βηθεσδά = Syr(74). בֵּית חֶסְדָּא, the house (place) of mercy, or of grace. Its present situation is very uncertain. Robinson established by personal inspection the fact of the subterranean connexion of the pool of Siloam (see ch. John 9:7, note; and the supplementary note at the end of this volume) and that called the Fountain of the Virgin (i. 501 ff.); and has made it probable that the Fountain under the grand Mosk is also connected with them (i. 509 ff.); in fact that all these are but one and the same spring. (See also some interesting particulars respecting an attempt made subsequently to prove this connexion, and mention of a fourth fountain with the same peculiar taste as the water of Siloam, in Williams’s Holy City, pp. 381 ff.) Now this spring, as he himself witnessed, (i. 506,) is an intermittent one, as indeed had been reported before by Jerome (on Isaiah 8:6), Prudentius (in Trench, Mir. p. 247, edn. 2), William of Tyre, and others. There might have been then, it is obvious, some artificially constructed basin in connexion with this spring, the site and memory of which have perished, which would present the phænomenon here described: see below.

The spot now traditionally known as Bethesda is a part of the fosse round the fort or tower Antonia, an immense reservoir or trench, seventy-five feet deep. But, as Robinson observes (i. 489), there is not the slightest evidence that can identify it with the Bethesda of the N.T.

This pool is not mentioned by Josephus.

πέντε στοὰς ἔχ.] Probably these were for the shelter of the sick persons, and were arches or porticos, opening upon and surrounding the reservoir. στοά ἐστιν ἡ παρʼ ἡμῖν λεγομένη καμάρα, ἢ καὶ ὁ θόλος. Euthym(75)

Verse 3

3.] ξηρῶν, those who were afflicted with the loss of vital power in any of their limbs by stiffness or paralysis. Of this kind was the man on whom the miracle was wrought.

[ ἐκδεχ.… κίησιν, and John 5:4. The spuriousness of this controverted passage seems to me more clear than when I prepared my Second Edition. The very reasons which Stier and De Wette allege in its favour, and which then weighed with me, will on more consideration be found to range themselves on the other side. Let us conceive of the matter thus. The facts, of the assemblage of sick persons round the pool, and of the answer of the sick man in John 5:7, were recorded in the sacred text as we now find them, and nothing else. In the background, and explanatory of both, was the popular belief of the Jews, not alleged by the Evangelist. In very early times, this deficiency was supplied by the insertion of the spurious passage. I say, in very early times: for Tertullian refers to it in a way which leaves no doubt that he read it entire. “Piscinam Bethsaidam (cf. digest on John 5:2) angelus interveniens commovebat: observabant qui valetudinem querebantur. Nam si quis prævenerat descendere illuc, queri post lavacrum desinebat.” De Bapt. c. 5, vol. i. p. 1205. So that the fact of so many different kinds of sick persons being mentioned here (Stier), and that of the connexion of the account almost requiring this passage as its explanation (De Wette), points to the reason why it was put in, to clear up a narrative otherwise obscure. I would not lay much stress on the variations in the passage, which are only such as are perpetually meeting us in the undoubted text: but the fact that there are no less than seven words used either here only, or here only in this sense, is strong against its genuineness: as is the concurrence of (76), (77), (78), and (79) in omitting it. Of N.T. critics, Griesb. brackets it, Tischd(80)., Meyer, and Tre(81). omit it,—while Lachm. retains it in his text. De Wette, Lücke, and Luthardt, are undecided, but inclined more or less strongly against it. As a marginal gloss, it certainly does good service, as explaining both the obscure points—the assemblage of sick, and the answer in John 5:7.

κατὰ καιρόν, here, apparently, at intervals: and those irregular ones, or the sick need not have waited there for them.

κατέβαινεν, was in the habit of descending: the imperfects continue throughout.]

Verse 5

5.] There are two ways of taking the construction of ἔχων: (1) to regard ἔχων ἐν τῇ ἀσθ. as = ἀσθενῶς ἔχων, and τριάκοντα ὀκτὼ ἔτη as the accus. of duration; which is objectionable on account of the article τῇ, (not on account of the present participle, as De Wette, for it is often found with duration of time,) and as being alien from John’s usage, which is (2) to place ἔχω in this sense with an accusative of the time: see reff., and John 5:6. So that the construction is ἔχων τριάκ. ὀκτὼ ἔτη ἐν τῇ ἀσθ.

Observe, he had been lame thirty-eight years, not at Bethesda all that time.

Verses 5-12

5–12. Second great division of the Gospel. JESUS IN CONFLICT WITH THE JEWS. 5, 6. JESUS THE LIFE. Beginning of the conflict.

Verse 6

6.] γνούς, i.e. ἐν ἐαυτῷ, as on other similar occasions. Our Lord singled him out, being conscious of the circumstances under which he lay there, by that superhuman knowledge of which we had so striking an example in the case of the woman of Samaria.

θέλεις ὑγ. γεν.] Lightfoot and Semler would supply, “licet sit sabbatum.” But this is very improbable, see John 5:17. Our Lord did not thus appeal to his hearers’ prejudices, and make His grace dependent on them. Besides, the ὑγιὴς γενέσθαι had in the mind of the man no reference to a healing such as there would be any objection to on the Sabbath; but to the cure by means of the water, which he was there to seek.

The question is one of those by which He so frequently testified his compassion, and established (so to speak) a point of connexion between the spirit of the person addressed, and his own gracious purposes. Possibly it may have conveyed to the mind of the poor cripple the idea that at length a compassionate person had come, who might put him in at the next troubling of the water. It certainly is possible that the man’s long and apparently hopeless infirmity may have given him a look of lethargy and despondency, and the question may have arisen from this: but there is no ground for supposing (Schleiermacher) blame conveyed by it, still less that he was an impostor labouring under some trifling complaint (Paulus and others), and wishing to represent it more important than it was.

Verse 7

7.] The man’s answer implies the popular belief which the spurious but useful insertion in John 5:3-4 expresses. Bauer asks why the person who brought him there every day, could not have put him in? But no such person is implied. The same slow motion which he describes here, would suffice for his daily coming and going.

Verse 8

8.] The ἆρον τ. κρ. σου has been treated (Stier, iv. 168, edn. 2: Trench, Mir. 251, edn. 2) as making a difference between the man lame from his birth in Acts 3:8, who walked and leaped and praised God; and this man, who, since sin had been the cause of his disease (John 5:14), is ordered to carry his bed, “a present memento of his past sin.” Possibly; but our Lord must have had in his view what was to follow, and have ordered it also to bring about this his first open controversy with the Jews.

Verse 10

10.] οἱ ἰουδαῖοι, never the multitude, but always those in authority of some kind, whom John ever puts forward as the representatives of the whole people in their rejection of the Lord.

οὐκ ἔξεστιν] The bearing of burdens on the Sabbath was forbidden not only by the glosses of the Pharisees, but by the law itself. See Nehemiah 13:15-19; Exodus 31:13-17; Jeremiah 17:21-22. And our Lord does not, as in another case (Luke 13:15-16), appeal here to the reasonableness of the deed being done on the Sabbath, salvo sabbato, but takes altogether loftier ground, as being One greater than the Sabbath. The whole kernel of this incident and discourse is not, that it is lawful to do works of mercy on the Sabbath: but that the Son of God (here) is Lord of the Sabbath.

Verse 11

11.] The man’s excuse is simple and sufficient; and for us, important, inasmuch as it goes into the depth of the matter, and is by the Jews themselves accepted. He who had power to make him whole, had power to suspend that law which was, like the healing, God’s work. The authority which had overruled one appointment of Providence, could overrule another. I do not mean that this reasoning was present to the man’s mind;—he very likely spoke only from intense feeling of obligation to One who had done so much for him;—but it lay beneath the words, and the Jews recognized it, by transferring their blame, from the man, to Him who healed him.

Verse 12

12.] Not, ‘who is he that healed thee?’ but they carefully bring out the unfavourable side of what had taken place, as malicious persons always do.

Verse 13

13.] Difficulty has been found here from the supposed improbability that some should not have told him, seeing that Jesus was by this time well known in Jerusalem. But this is wholly unnecessary. His fame had not been so spread yet, but that He might during the crowd of strangers at the feast pass unnoticed.

ἐξένευσεν, passed on unobserved: just spoke the healing words, and then went on among the crowd; so that no particular attention was attracted to Himself, either by the sick man or others. The context requires this interpretation: being violated by the ordinary one, that Jesus ‘conveyed himself away, because a multitude was in the place:’ for that would imply that attention had been attracted towards him which He wished to avoid; and in that case he could hardly fail to have been known to the man and to others. Observe, ἐξένευσεν has for its understood object, the man subjectively;—escaped his notice, a crowd being in the place: not referring to any thing which Jesus had done himself.

Verse 14

14.] The knowledge of our Lord extended even to the sin committed thirty-eight years ago, from which this long sickness had resulted, for so it is implied here. The χεῖρόν τι, as Trench observes (Mir. 254, edn. 2), “gives us an awful glimpse of the severity of God’s judgments:”—see Matthew 12:45.

Verse 15

15.] The man appears to have done this partly in obedience to the authorities; partly perhaps to complete his apology for himself (Bengel). We can hardly imagine ingratitude in him to have been the cause; especially as ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὸν ὑγιῆ speaks so plainly of the benefit received: compare John 5:11 and note.

Verse 16

16.] ἐδίωκον is not used in the sense of legal prosecution in the N.T.:—persecuted is the best word for it.

Verse 17

17.] The true keeping of the rest of the Sabbath was not that otiose and unprofitable cessation from even good deeds, which they would enforce: the Sabbath was made for man;—and, in its Jewish form, for man in a mere state of legal discipline (which truth could not yet be brought out to them, but is implied in this verse, because His people are even as He is—in the liberty wherewith He hath made them free); whereas He, the only-begotten of the Father, doing the works of God in the world, stands on higher ground, and hallows, instead of breaking the Sabbath, by thus working on it. “He is no more a breaker of the Sabbath than God is, when He upholds with an energy that knows no pause the work of His creation from hour to hour, and from moment to moment; ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;’ My work is but the reflex of His work. Abstinence from outward work belongs not to the idea of a Sabbath, it is only more or less the necessary condition of it for beings so framed as ever to be in danger of losing the true collection and rest of the spirit in the multiplicity of earthly toil and business. Man indeed must cease from his work if a higher work is to find place in him. He scatters himself in his work, and therefore he must collect himself anew, and have seasons for so doing. But with Him who is one with the Father, it is otherwise. In Him the deepest rest is not excluded by the highest activity.” (Trench, Mir. p. 257, edn. 2.)

Verse 18

18.] The ground of the charge is now shifted; and by these last words (John 5:17), occasion is given for one of our Lord’s most weighty discourses.

The Jews understood His words to mean nothing short of peculiar personal Sonship, and thus equality of nature with God. And that this their understanding was the right one, the discourse testifies. All might in one sense, and the Jews did in a closer sense, call God their, or our, Father; but they at once said that the individual use of ‘MY FATHER’ by Jesus had a totally distinct, and in their view a blasphemous, meaning: this latter especially, because He thus made God a participator in his crime of breaking the sabbath. Thus we obtain from the adversaries of the faith a most important statement of one of its highest and holiest doctrines.

Verse 19

19.] The discourse is a wonderful setting forth of the Person and Office of the Son of God in His Ministrations as the Word of the Father. It still has reference to the charge of working on the Sabbath, and the context takes in our Lord’s answer both to this, John 5:17, and to the Jews’ accusation, John 5:18. In this verse, He states that He cannot work any but the works of God: cannot, by his very relationship to the Father, by the very nature and necessity of the case;—the ἀφʼ ἑαυτοῦ being an impossible supposition, and purposely set here to express one:—the Son cannot work of Himself, because He is the Son: His very Person presupposes the Father’s will and counsel as His will and counsel,—and His perfect knowledge of that will and counsel. And this, because every creature may abuse its freedom, and will contrary to God: but THE SON, standing in essential unity with God, cannot, even when become Man, commit sin,—break the Sabbath; for His whole Being and Working is in and of God.

ἃ γὰρ ἂν] This clause converts the former proposition, and asserts its truth when thus converted. ‘For it is the very nature of the Son to do whatever the Father doeth.’ Also, to do these works ὁμοίως—after the same plan and proceeding, so that there can be no discord, but unity.

Verse 20

20.] For (this last is ensured by the fact, that) the Father loves the Son, and shews to Him (in this the Lord sets forth to us the unfolding of the will and purposes of the Father to (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7) and by Him, in His Mediatorial office) all things which He Himself does (all the purposes of His secret counsel;—for with the Father, doing is willing; it is only the Son who acts in time); and this manifestation will go on increasing in majesty, that the wonder which now is excited in you by these works may be brought out to its full measure (in the acceptation or rejection of the Son of God—wonder leading naturally to the τιμή of John 5:23).

Verse 21

21.] It is very important to observe the distinction here between the working of the Eternal Son (in creation, e.g.) as He is ἐν οὐρανῷ, with God, and His working in the state of His humiliation in which the Father should by degrees advance Him to exaltation and put His enemies under His feet. Of the latter of these mention is made (John 5:20) in the future, of the former in the present. The former belong to the Son as His proper and essential work: the latter are opened out before Him in the process of His passing onward in the humanity which He has taken. And the unfolding of these latter shall all be in the direction of, and in accordance with, the eternal attributes of the Son: see ch. John 17:5 : resulting in His being exalted to the right hand of the Father. So here,—as it is the Father’s essential work to vivify the dead (see Romans 8:11; 1 Samuel 2:6 alli(82).), so the Son vivifies whom He will: this last οὓς θέλει not implying any selection out of mankind, nor said merely to remove the Jewish prejudice that their own nation alone should rise from the dead,—but meaning, that in every instance where His will is to vivify, the result invariably follows.

Observe, this ζωοποιεῖ lays hold of life in its innermost and deepest sense, and thus finds its illustration in the waking both of the outwardly and the spiritually dead.

Verse 22

22.] In the οὐδὲ γάρ is implied that as the Father does not Himself, by His own proper act, vivify any, but commits all quickening power to the Son:—so is it with judgment also. And judgment contains eminently in itself the οὓς θέλει,—when ζωοπ. is understood—as it must be now—of bestowing everlasting life. Again; the raising of the outwardly dead is to be understood as a sign that He who works it is appointed Judge of quick and dead, for it is a part of the office of that Judge;—in the vivifying, the judgment is made: see below, John 5:29, and Psalms 72:1-4.

Verse 23

23.] This being so, the end of all is, the honour of the Father in and by the Son. He (the Son) is the Lord of life, and the Judge of the world;—all must honour Him with equal honour to that which they pay to the Father:—and whosoever does not, however he may imagine that he honours or approaches God, does not honour him at all;—because He can only be known or honoured by us as ‘THE FATHER WHO SENT HIS SON.’

Verse 24

24.] What follows, to John 5:30 incl., is an expansion of the two assertions in John 5:21-22,—the ζωοποιεῖν and the κρίνειν,—intimately bound up as they are together. There is a parallelism in John 5:24-25 which should be noticed for the right understanding of the words. ὁ τὸν λόγον μου ἀκούων in one, answers to οἱ νεκροὶ ἀκούσονται τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ in the other. It is a kind of hearing which awakens to life,—one accompanied by πιστεύειν τῷ πέμψαντί με. And this last is not barely ‘Him who sent Me,’ but Him, the very essence of belief in Whom is in this, THAT HE SENT ME (see ch. John 12:44). And the dative here after πιστεύω expresses that belief in the testimony of God that He hath sent His Son, which is dwelt on so much 1 John 5:9-12, where, John 5:10, we have the same ὁ μὴ πιστεύων τῷ θεῷ.

ἔχει ζ. αἰ.] So 1 John 5:12-13. The πιστεύων and the ἔχει ζ. αἰ. are commensurate:—where the faith is, the possession of eternal life is:—and when the one remits, the other is forfeited. But here the faith is set before us as an enduring faith, and its effects described in their completion (see Ephesians 1:19-20).

εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται,κρίσις being the separation,—the effect of which is to gather out of the Kingdom all that offendeth;—and thus regarding especially the damnatory part of judgment,—he who believes comes not into, has no concern with, κρίσις. Compare Psalms 142:2 LXX. The reckoning which ends with εὖ ἀγαθὲ δοῦλε, is not κρίσις: the reward is of free grace. In this sense, the believers in Christ will not be judged according to their works: they are justified before God by faith, and by Godθεὸς ὁ δικαιῶν, τίς ὁ κατακρίνων; Their ‘passage over’ from death into life has already taken place,—from the state of spiritual death into that ζωὴ αἰώνιος, which in their believing state they ἔχουσι already. It is to be observed that our Lord speaks in very similar terms of the unbelieving being condemned already, in ch. John 3:18.

The perfect sense of μεταβέβηκεν must not be weakened nor explained away,—see ref.

Verse 25

25.] This verse continues to refer to spiritual awakening from the dead. The ἔρχεται ὥρα κ. νῦν ἐστιν is an expression (see ref.) used of those things which are to characterize the spiritual Kingdom of Christ, which was even now begun among men, but not yet brought (until the day of Pentecost, Acts 2) to its completion. Thus it cometh, in its fulness,—and even now is begun.

οἱ νεκροί,—in reference to ἐκ θανάτον of the preceding verse—the spiritually dead:—see below on John 5:28.

τῆς φωνῆς, His call to awake, in its widest and deepest sense;—by His own preaching, by His Apostles, His ministers, &c. &c. In all these He speaks to the spiritually dead.

οἱ ἀκούσ.] Not ἀκούσαντες merely, which would be ‘and having heard it, shall live:’ but οἱ ἀκούσ., and THEY WHO have heard it (or, who hear it) shall live. This determines the verse to be spoken of spiritual, not bodily awakening.

οἱ ἀκούσαντες are the persons to whom the Lord cried so often ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκούειν, ἀκουέτω:—the persons who stand opposed to those addressed in John 5:40, οὐ θέλετε ἐλθεῖν πρός με, ἴνα ζωὴν ἔχητε.

ζήσουσιν is explained in the next verse.

Verse 26-27

26, 27.] We have here again ζωοποιεῖν and κρίνειν bound together as the two great departments of the Son’s working;—the former, as substantiating the ζήσουσιν just uttered; the latter, as leading on to the great announcement of the next verse. But the two departments spring from two distinct sources, united in the Person of the Incarnate Son of God. The Father hath given Him to have life in Himself, as He is THE SON OF GOD. We have none of us life in ourselves: in Him we live and move and have our being. But He, as the Father is, is the source of Life. Then again the Father hath given Him power to pass judgment, because He is THE SON OF MAN man is to be judged by Man,—by that Man whom God hath appointed, who is the inclusive Head of humanity, and to whom mankind, and man’s world, pertain by right of covenant-purchase. This κρίσιν ποιεῖν leads the thought to the great occasion when judgment shall be executed; which accordingly is treated of in the next verse.

Verse 28-29

28, 29.] μὴ θαυμ., as ch. John 3:7, introduces a matter of even greater wonder to them;—the astounding proof which shall be given in the face of the universe that this is so.

ἔρχεται ὥρα, but not καὶ νῦν ἐστιν this time,—because He is now speaking of the great day of the resurrection: when not merely οἱ νεκροί, but πάντες οἱ ἐν τοῖς μνημείοις, shall hear His voice, and οἱ ἀκούσαντες are not specified, because all shall hear in the fullest sense. Observe that here, as elsewhere, when the judgment according to works is spoken of, it is the great general resurrection of Matthew 25:31-46, which (and the notes) compare. So here we have not οἱ πιστεύσαντες and οἱ μὴ πιστεύσαντες, but the categories reach far wider, including indeed in this most general form the first resurrection unto life also—and the two great classes are described as οἱ τὰ ἀγ. ποιήσαντες and οἱ τὰ φαῦλα πράξαντες.

On the difference between ποιεω and πράσσω, see note on ch. John 3:20-21.

Observe, that ζωή and κρίσις stand opposed here, as in John 5:24 :—not that there is no such thing as an ἀνάστασις θανάτου (Schleiermacher, in Stier, iv. 194, edn. 2), but that it is involved in this κρίσις.

Olshausen observes (ii. 153) that this, and Acts 24:15, are the only direct declarations in the N.T. of a bodily resurrection of the unjust as well as of the just. It is implied in some places, e.g. Matthew 10:28, and less plamly in Matthew 25:34 ff.: Revelation 20:5; Revelation 20:12, and directly asserted in the O.T., Daniel 12:2. In 1 Corinthians 15,—as the object was to convince believers in Christ of the truth of the resurrection of their bodies,—no allusion is made to those who are not believers.

Verse 30

30.] Here begins (see Stier, iv. 195, edn. 2) the second part of the discourse,—but bound on most closely to the first (John 5:23),—treating of the testimony by which these things were substantiated, and which they ought to have received. This verse is, however, perhaps rather a point of transition to the next, at which the testimony is first introduced.

As the Son does nothing of Himself,—but His working and His judgment all spring from His deep unity of will and being with the Father,—this His great and last judgment, and all His other ones, will be just and holy (He being not separate from God, but one with Him); and therefore His witness given of Himself John 5:17, and called by them blasphemy, is true and holy also.

Observe, the discourse here passes into the first person, which was understood before, because he had called himself the Son of God,—but is henceforth used expressly.

Verse 31

31.] This assertion is not to be trifled away by an accommodation, or supposed to be introduced by ‘Ye will say to Me:’—see by all means ch. John 8:12-14 and notes. The words are said in all earnestness, and are strictly true. If such a separation, and independent testimony, as is here supposed, could take place, it would be a falsification of the very conditions of the Truth of God as manifested by the Son, Who being the λόγος, speaks, not of himself, but of the Father. And in this sense ch. John 8:14 is eminently true also, the φῶς being the ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης τοῦ πατρός.

Verse 32

32.] ἄλλος can, by the inner coherence of the discourse, be no other than THE FATHER, of Whom so much has been said in the former part, but Who is hinted at rather than mentioned in this ( πατρός in John 5:30 is spurious). It cannot be John,—from whom (John 5:34) our Lord took not his testimony. Similar modes of alluding to the Father occur ch. John 8:50 : see also ch. John 8:18, and Matthew 10:28 and (83). Many interpreters however understand it of John,—Chrysostom, Nonnus, Theophylact, Euthym(84):—and lately De Wette has defended the view with some acuteness. But he has certainly missed the inner coherence of the passage. The reason why our Lord mentions John is not ‘as ascending from the lesser witness to the greater,’ but purposely to remove the idea that He meant him only or principally by these words, and to set his testimony in its right place: then at John 5:36 He returns again to the ἄλλος μαρ. περὶ ἐμοῦ.

καὶ σἶδα.…] This is the Son’s testimony to the Father’s truth: see ch. (John 3:33) John 7:28; John 8:26; John 8:55. It testifies to the full consciousness on the part of the Son, even in the days of his humiliation, of the righteousness of the Father: and (for the testimony of the Father to the Son is contained in the Scriptures) also to His distinct recognition and approval (Psalms 40:6-8) of psalm and type and prophecy, as applied to Himself and His work.

Verse 33

33.] See ch. John 1:19. The connexion is,—another testifies of Me (John 5:32)—‘not John only, although he, when sent to, did certainly testify to the truth; for’ &c.

τῇ ἀληθείᾳ, not merely (Grot.) “modeste dictum;”—but necessarily. ἐμοί would have been asserting what the next verse denies.

Verse 34

34.] ‘I take not my testimony (the testimony to Me of which I have spoken) from man, but I mention John’s testimony that you may make the intended use of it, to be led to Me for salvation.’

Verse 35

35.] This ἦν shews, as Stier rightly observes, that John was now cast into prison, if not executed.

ὁ λύχνος] The article has been taken by some (e.g. Bengel, Lücke, Stier) to point to the prophecies concerning John. But we have no passage in the O.T. which designates Elias in such terms. In ref. Sirach we read of him, ἀνέστη προφήτης ὡς πῦρ, καὶ ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ ὡς λαμπὰς ἐκαίετο, which Stier thinks may be referred to here. We may, as indeed he also suggests, believe that those words represent or gave rise to a common way of speaking of Elias, as certain Rabbis were called ‘The candle of the Law,’ &c. (Lightf.) De Wette takes the article as meaning, ‘the lamp which was to lead you,’ &c.

καιόμενος, not καίων, as it is ὁ λύχνος, not τὸ φῶς: lumen illuminatum, not lumen illuminans: see note on Matthew 5:14.

καὶ φαίνων (lit up), and shining. The description sets forth the derived, and transitory nature of John’s light.

ὑμεῖς δὲ.…] See Ezekiel 33:30; Ezekiel 33:32. ‘But you wished only to disport yourselves in his light for a time—came out to him in crowds at first,—and—like silly children who play with the fire till it burns and hurts them, and then shrink from and loathe it,—when he began to speak of deep repentance as the preparation for God’s Kingdom, and laid the axe to the root of the trees, you left him.’ No one cared, when he was imprisoned and put to death. And even those few who remained true to him, did not follow his direction to Christ. For the mass of the people, and their leaders, his mission was in vain (Lücke, ii. 75).

Verse 36

36. ἔχω τὴν μ. μείζων] Literally, I have my witness greater ( μείζων being probably a solœcism like πλήρης in ch. John 1:14, a nominative in concord with an accusative).… του ἰωάννου, not [perhaps], ‘than that of John;’—but, than John himself. John was a testimony.

τὰ γὰρ ἔργα, not His miracles alone, although those principally; but the whole of His life and course of action, full as it was of holiness, in which, and as forming harmonious parts of which, His miracles were testimonies of His divine mission. His greatest work (ch. John 6:29) was the awakening of faith, the ζωοποιεῖν of which we have heard before, to which the miracles were but as means to an end.

ἃ δέδωκεν.… ἵνα τελ.] See ch. John 17:4 and note.

αὐτὰ τὰ ἔργα ἃ ποιῶ] The repetition is to shew that His life and working was an exact fulfilment of the Father’s will. The works which the Father hath given Me to do, those very works which I am doing, …

Verses 37-39

37–39.] The connexion of these verses has been much disputed. I believe it will be found to be this: ‘The works of which I have spoken, are only indirect testimonies; the Father Himself, who sent Me, has given direct testimony concerning Me. Now that testimony cannot be derived by you, nor any man, by direct communication with Him; for ye have never heard His voice nor seen His shape. (Or perhaps have not heard His voice, as your fathers did from Sinai,—nor seen His visional appearance, as the Prophets did.) Nor (John 5:38), in your case, has it been given by that inward witness (ch. John 3:33 : 1 John 4:13-14) which those have (and had in a measure, even before the gift of the Spirit—see inter alli(85)., Psalms 51:11) in whom His word abides; for ye have not His word abiding in you, not believing on Him whom He hath sent. Yet (John 5:39) there is a form of this direct testimony of the Father, accessible even to you;—‘search the Scriptures,’ &c. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Lampe, Bengel, &c., understand φωνή to refer to the voice at our Lord’s baptism: but, as Lücke observes, πώποτε forbids this. I may also add that the perfect, ἀκηκόατε, excludes it. Had reference been to a distinct event, it must have been ἠκούσατε,—and (Lücke) τὴν φωνήν.

Observe that the testimony in the Scriptures is not the only, nor the chief one, intended in John 5:37, but (as De Wette well maintains) the direct testimony in the heart of the believer;—which, as the Jews have not, they are directed to another form of the Father’s testimony, that in the Scriptures.

ἐραυνᾶτε, either indicative (Cyril, Erasm., Beza, Lampe, Bengel, Kuinoel, Lücke, Tholuck, Olshausen, De Wette), ‘Ye search the Scriptures, for ye believe ye have &c., and they are they that testify of Me, and (yet, John 5:40) ye will not come to Me that ye may have life:’ or imperative (Chrys., Theophyl., Euthym(86), August., Luther, Calvin, Wets(87)., Paulus, Stier), in which case generally a period has been placed after ἐμοῦ, and a fresh sentence begins at καὶ οὐ θέλ.

I believe the imperative sense only will be found to cohere with the previous verses:—see above, where I have given the context. And no other sense will suit the word ἐραυνᾶτε, which cannot be used, as in the indicative it would be, with blame attached to it,—‘ye make nice and frivolous search into the letter of Scripture;’ but, as ἐξερευν. in ref. Ps., implies a thorough search (see also 1 Peter 1:11) into the contents and spirit of Scripture. Besides, the emphatic position of ἐραυνᾶτε before τὰς γραφάς, while it does not absolutely necessitate the imper. sense, makes it much more probable than the indic., which would be conveyed by τὰς γρ. ἐραυνᾶτε. Luthardt (ii. 21) remarks, that the almost unanimous verdict of the Greek Fathers (Cyril however is a remarkable exception) for the imper. decides him in its favour.

ὅτι ὑμ. δοκ.] Ye (emphatic) imagine that in them (emphatic) ye have eternal life (Schöttgen quotes testimonies from the Rabbis: “Qui acquirit sibi verba legis, is acquirit sibi vitam æternam, &c.”);—but they, like all other secondary ordinances, have a spiritual end in view, and that end is to testify, from first to last (it is their office, ἐκεῖναί εἰσιν αἱ μαρτυροῦσαι) of ME.

Verse 40

40.] I would connect these words with the former, and regard them as describing the inconsistency of those who think that they ζωὴν ἔχειν in the Scriptures, and yet will not come to Him of whom they testify, ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν. So that καί will be spoken in a fine irony, And ye will not come to Me!

Observe, this command to the Jews to search their Scriptures, applies à fortiori to Christians; who are yet, like them, in danger of idolizing a mere written book, believing that in the Bible they have eternal life, and missing the personal knowledge of Him of whom the Scriptures testify.

The οὐ θέλετε here sets forth strikingly the freedom of the will, on which the unbeliever’s condemnation rests: see ch. John 3:19.

Verse 41

41.] οὐ λαμβ., not merely, ‘I do not desire,’ ‘non capto;’—but, ‘I do not receive;’—‘no such praise nor testimony accrues to Me, nor has in Me that on which it can lay hold.’ ‘My glory is altogether from another source.’

Verses 41-44

41–44.] The connexion seems to be;—the standing-points of our Lord and of the Jews were not only different, but were inconsistent with and exclusive of one another. He sought not glory from below, from man’s praise or report: the Father testified to Him, in all the ways which have been specified; but this testimony they could not receive, nor discover Him in their Scriptures, because human regards and ambition and intrigue had blinded their eyes, and they had not the love of God (the very first command in their law, Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in their hearts.

Verse 42

42.] ἀλλά draws forcibly the distinction, setting Himself and them in strong contrast.

ἔγνωκα ὑμ.] By long trial and bearing with your manners these many generations; and personally also:—“Hoc radio penetrat corda auditorum.” Bengel.

ἀγάπην] Luthardt remarks, perhaps refining somewhat too much,— τὴν ἀγάπην, because “the love which ye ought to have” is imported: τοῦ θεοῦ—“of (for) your God the God of Israel.” So that the words are spoken, not of an ungodly mind in general, but of an absence of that love which God’s covenant people should have for Him. “They would none of Jesus: for they were not true Israelites.” This love, if they had it, would teach them,—the whole heart, and soul, and mind, and strength being given to God,—to seek honour only from Him,—and thus to appreciate the glory which He hath given to His Son, and His testimony concerning Him.

Verse 43

43.] The first clause is clear. In the latter we have a prophetic declaration regarding the Jews in the latter days. This ἄλλος is in strong contrast with the ἄλλος of John 5:32. ‘The testimony of that Other, who is greater than I, ye will not receive; but if another come in his own name, him ye will receive.’ The words are perhaps spoken primarily of the false or Idol-Messiah, the Antichrist, who shall appear in the latter days (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12); whose appearance shall be κατʼ ἐνέργειαν τοῦ σατανᾶ (their father, ch. John 8:44), ἀποδεικνὺς ἑαυτὸν ὅτι ἐστὶν θεός,, 2 Thessalonians 2:4;—and doubtless, in that their final reference, embrace also all the cases in which the Jews have more or less received those false Messiahs who have been foreshadowers of the great Antichrist, and indeed all the cases in which such a spirit has been shewn by them, even in the absence of false Messiahs.

Verse 44

44.] πῶς δύνασθε (emphatic) is grounded on οὐ θέλετε—is the consequence of the carnal regards in which they lived.

λαμβάνοντες here implies ‘captantes’ also.

παρὰ τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ, not ‘from God only’ (E. V. and De Wette), which is ungrammatical (requiring μόνου to be either after θεοῦ, see Matthew 4:4; Matthew 12:4; Matthew 17:8, or before τοῦ θεοῦ, Luke 5:21; Luke 6:4; Hebrews 9:7. Lücke); but from the only God: in contradistinction to the idolatry of the natural heart, which is ever setting up for itself other sources of honour, worshipping man, or self,—or even, as in the case alluded to in the last verse, Satan,—instead of God. The words τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ are very important, because they form the point of passage to the next verses; in which the Jews are accused of not believing the writings of Moses, the very pith and kernel of which was the unity of God, and the having no other gods but Him.

Verse 45

45.] The work of Christ is not κατηγορεῖν, even as He is Judge;—but κρίνειν, by the appointment of the Father. And therefore—though He has said so much of the unbelief of the Jews, and charged them in the last verse with breach of the central law of God—He will not accuse them; nay, it is not needful;—for Moses, whom they disbelieved, while vainly hoping in him (see above on John 5:39),— ἐπαναπαυόμενοι νόμῳ, Romans 2:17,—already accused them: see Deuteronomy 31:21; Deuteronomy 31:26, and ch. John 7:19.

Verse 46

46.] The former part of this verse should not be rendered as in E. V. ‘had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me;’ but if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me. The imperfects render this necessary: the other rendering would require aorists.

περὶ ἐμοῦ ἔγραψεν—“nusquam non.” Bengel. This is an important testimony by the Lord to the subject of the whole Pentateuch;—it is περὶ ἐμοῦ. It is also a testimony to the fact, of Moses having written those books, which were then, and are still, known by his name.

Verse 47

47.] γράμμασιν here does not, in the sense, = γραφαῖς: for ταῖς ἐκείνου γραφαῖς could not be used;—the γραφή being ἡ θεία γραφή, not ( ἡ τοῦ) ΄ωυσέως γραφή,—but the γράμματα were those of Moses; the outward expression of the γραφή,—the letters, and words, as found on paper:—just as the ῥήματα in the other case are the outward expression of the λόγος. The meaning is: ‘men give greater weight to what is written and published, the letter of a book, than to mere word of mouth;—and ye in particular give greater honour to Moses, than to Me: if then ye believe not what he has written, which comes down to you hallowed by the reverence of ages,—how can you believe the words which are uttered by Me, to whom you are hostile?’ This however is not all:—Moses leads to Christ:—is one of the witnesses by which the Father hath testified of Him: ‘if then ye have rejected the means, how shall ye reach the end?’ ‘If your unbelief has stopped the path, how shall ye arrive at Him to whom it leads?’ Meyer is quite right in maintaining that the opposition does not lie between γράμμασιν and ῥήμασιν, but between ἐκείνου and τοῖς ἐμοῖς.

Those who can, should by all means consult Stier, whose exposition of the above important discourse is very elaborate and valuable:—Reden Jesu, vol. iv. pp. 170–233, 2nd edn.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 5:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology