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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-51

John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word. εν αρχη ο λογος. John begins the new creation with the words of Moses of the old creation, and continues to speak of Christ in the running language of all the ancient rabbinical theology, — that the Word was before Creation was. And the Word was with God. και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον. Here the hypostasis, the word used by St. Paul in Hebrews 1:3, or person of Christ is designated. The Father was always a Father, and never without the Son. Therefore our Saviour prayed, “Oh Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17:5.

And God was the Word. και θεος ην ο λογος: et Deus erat Verbum. Here the divine essence, that Christ is one substance with the Father, is designated. Erasmus notes here, that the Greek article is omitted, because the name, God, truly and naturally includes it. This remark commands assent, and applies with equal force to the Greek text of Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6, and Mark 1:1; about which the unitarians make a mighty ado to beguile the less instructed student. When the sacred writer says, the Word was God, he meant to remove all scruple and doubt as to the divine essence of Christ. The three plain words, declarative of his eternity, his personality, his essence, stand like a tripod unshaken through every age of fluctuating theories. Hebrews 13:8.

John 1:2-3. The same (Word) was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. παντα δῖ αυτου εγενετο: that is, the Word created the heavens and all their hosts; for the evangelist uses the same Greek word as the LXX, in Genesis 1:3. God said, Let there be light, and there was light. The same is Psalms 33:6. By the Word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath [Spirit] of his mouth.

These two ideas, the essence and work of Christ, like the pillars of Jachin and Boaz, stand in front of the living temple, built on the Rock of ages. Her foundation standeth sure: God is in the midst of her, she shall never be moved. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

The elder rabbins gather around the Messiah here with joyful hope, while the modern jews hide their faces from him. The Chaldaic paraphrase reads on Psalms 110:1, “Jehovah said to his Eternal Word, sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Rabbi Jonathan also says on Deuteronomy 5., that “Jehovah could not speak these words to himself.” The same paraphrase on Isaiah 45:12, says, “By my Word I have made the earth, and created man upon it.” So likewise the Word of the Lord came in person to Jonah, grieving for his gourd and angry that Nineveh was spared, and indulgently asked, Dost thou well to be angry? The targum of Jerusalem reads on Genesis 3:9, “The Word of the Lord came to Adam.” In short, it was the current language of the ancient targumists, that every revelation of heaven to man was communicated by the Eternal Word or Wisdom of God, who was always rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, and his delights were with the sons of men.

In our most laborious christian rabbi, Dr. Lightfoot, we read many relevant comments. “Moses brought them out of the camp to meet the Word of the Lord. Exodus 19:17. The Word of the Lord accepted the face of Job 42:9. The Word of the Lord shall laugh them to scorn. Psalms 2:4. They believed in the name of the Word. Psalms 106:12. My Word spared them. Ezekiel 20:17. To add no more, instead of, I will be with thee, as in Genesis 26:3, the targum reads, my Word shall be thy help. So in Genesis 39:2, the Lord was with Joseph; the targum is, the Word of the Lord was Joseph’s helper.” — What a striking parallel is here drawn between JEHOVAH the Angel, and the WORD, which in the beginning spake creation into existence. He not only made the world, but he is the natural and spiritual life of all, and the light of men.

The learned Erasmus says, Christus ideo dicitur λογος quod quiequid loquitur Pater per Filium loquatur. Christ is therefore called the Word, because whatsoever is spoken by the Father is spoken by the Son. This idea applies to the Word by which the heavens and the earth were created. The words of Paul are to the same effect. Colossians 1:15-17. “By him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Tatian and Irenæus, two of the more ancient fathers, quote the words of John, and regard without hesitation the Lord Jesus as the Creator of heaven and earth.

John 1:4. In him was life. Everflowing as water from a fountain, and by which all the living beings of heaven and earth subsist and move. But John speaks chiefly here of that spiritual and eternal “Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” 1 John 1:2. Our Saviour’s words correspond with this. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life abiding in him. I am come that ye might have life, and have it more abundantly.” From these texts it follows, that this life, this commandment, or gospel, is the light of the world. He is then, as the Nicene fathers say, the Lord and giver of life.

What do the unitarians say to this? In an age so rife with heresy, the young christian must not go out into a world of revolt unarmed. Grotius, the father of modern corruptions, contends that Logos signifies Reason. To this we should not object, for Christ is the Wisdom, and Christ is the Arm or Power of God. But this author so turns the word as to divest Christ of all personality, except as Jesus the son of Mary. Anguis in herba.

Dr. George Campbell, in his new translation of the four gospels, with notes, follows Grotius. Of the two words, verbum and sermo, speaking of the beaten track of the versions, he says, “Were I to desert it, I should prefer the word Reason, as suggesting the inward principle or faculty, and not the external emanation which may be called word or speech.” Accordingly, the doctor’s new version reads, “All things were made by it, and without it not a single creature was made. In it was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Our exceptions to these liberties of leaving the beaten path are,

(1) If we allow the unitarians what they very much wish, the liberty of substituting at pleasure the personal pronouns for neuter pronouns, we should have no certainty in the holy scriptures.

(2) We must abandon all the strong bulwarks of the ante-Nicene fathers, who stood like pillars in the temple of God.

(3) We should expose the sacred writers to contempt.

For example: if we strip the above sentence of its complement, and leave only the verb and the two pronouns, the simple reading will be — It — made it. The feeble reason of man thus becomes ridiculous when it attempts to supersede the Reason or Word, whom the Father hath sent into the world. How derogatory of the glory of the great Creator of heaven and earth to say that — it made it! This is a specimen of what the new version of the bible will be, whenever it appears.

John 1:9. The true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. John, in his labours and travels, was but a revolving light, who shone by reflection; but Christ in himself, and by his life and doctrine, was the true light. He is the sun of righteousness, rising with cheering beams to heal the world of error and of crimes. The gospel delivers the mind from the darkness of the present world, and admits us to the wisdom of God in the work of human redemption. He is the light of life, for knowledge and piety must never be separated. — It is probable that St. Paul had these words in view, when he says, “The grace, or the gospel, of God that bringeth salvation to all men, hath appeared, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed Hope. Titus 2:11-13.

John 1:10-11. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not. Laur. Valla, canon of the Vatican at Rome, died in 1465. In literature he appeared as a morning star after the dark ages. Epitaph.

Laurens Valla jacet, Romanæ gloria linguæ: Primus enim docuit quâ decet arte loqui.

His note on these words of John is, To what does [the pronoun eum] him refer? Certainly to Verbum the Word, Logos being of the masculine gender, as in John 1:12, even to them that believe on his name, and in John 2:23. Against the Arians who contend that those phrases import, to believe in God, and to believe God, our venerable author quotes a host of texts which cover this heretical logic with shame and confusion. Many believed in his name when they saw the miracles which he did: John 2:23. Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have eternal life: John 3:15. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved: John 3:17. Now to say that these places are equivalent to, believe in God, and to believe God, is altogether affected; and especially in the words which follow. This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore to him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see and believe thee? What dost thou work? John 6:29-30.

Against the above passages, the words in John 5:24; have been adduced. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my words, and believeth in him who sent me, hath eternal life. It is contended that these expressions are coincident with believing God, or believing in God. They are not indeed coincident, though associated in the same recital; for if I believe Jesus to be God, doubtless I believe him, or in him, as is proved by the words which follow. “But I said unto you, that ye also have seen me, and believe not;” that is, you have not believed me to be the Christ, the Son of God: John 6:36. — VALLA.

John 1:12. To them gave he power to become the sons of God. Our Lord formed the christian church into the new Israel of God. Every believer in his name became a child, according to the promise. He belonged to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. So it is still; these are born, not of the flesh, and the life of sin, but of God, because they have their principle of life emanating from him. They live not in the flesh, but Christ lives in them. Hence they are heirs of God; yes, both of earth and heaven. The word exousia implies their full right and power to all the privileges of adoption; and so it is rendered in Revelation 22:14, that they may have a right to the tree of life. Let us then love God, and his children; let us walk worthy of our vocation, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world.

John 1:14. The WORD was made flesh, and dwelt among us. Here the divine and human nature of Christ is asserted. He is the God-man: his two natures are so united as to become one person, and yet without confusion of substance. His divine nature is not mixed with the human. The humanity of Christ consists of a real body, and a rational soul, gloriously ennobled as the temple of God, and so much so, that in him dwelt all the fulness of the godhead bodily.

JEHOVAH the Angel, is only another term for JEHOVAH the Word, who walked with the patriarchs, resided on the mercyseat, and dwelt among us incarnate for the help of man.

While he dwelt among us in the flesh, he discovered a glory worthy of the only-begotten of the Father. This was apparent from his wisdom, and grace, and miracles; but more especially from the glory of his baptism, his transfiguration and ascension, as explained in Matthew 3:17. Acts 1:9. This shekinah, doxa, or glory which surrounded the person of Christ, was the identical glory seen in the desert by Moses, when he saw the backward parts of the incarnate Messiah. Exodus 33:18-23. It was seen also by the holy prophets. Isaiah 6:5. John 12:41. Habakkuk 3:3. Ezekiel 1:10. This glory decidedly shows that the Lord Jesus, according to the Nicene Creed, is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, being one substance with the Father.

John 1:16. Grace for grace. More abundant grace; for if the ministration of condemnation was glorious, the ministration of righteousness exceeds in glory. Romans 5:15. Christ from his fulness inspired the prophets, and endowed the apostles with power from on high; they received the grace of apostleship for the work of grace in the ministry. These words have indeed many comments, but as the law came by Moses, so grace and truth, or redemption and the ministry of grace came by Jesus Christ. — See an elaborate skeleton on this text in Claude’s composition of a Sermon.

John 1:17. The law was given by Moses, declaring the holiness of God, and making the deformity of sin manifest as in a mirror; and pronouncing condemnation on a guilty race. But grace, the great love of God in the gift of his Son, and all things with him — and truth came by Jesus Christ, the true God, and eternal life. He is the truth of all the prophecies and promises of revelation; the very paschal lamb, the food of the soul, the rock of ages. The shadows of the law vanish away, but Christ in his temple abides for ever.

John 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time. No prophet ever received a communication from the eternal Mind but through the Messiah, the Christ, who has declared his perfect pleasure concerning our redemption. See Proverbs 8:22.

John 1:28. These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. This evangelist is here more accurate and minute than the other evangelists. The fords of Jordan were at this place, which made it the more convenient for assembling the people from both sides of the river.

John 1:29. Behold the Lamb of God. This appellation was given to Christ because his atonement was presignified by the innocent, unblemished, and defenceless lamb offered every evening and morning on the jewish altar, which was without spot or blemish. Christ, like these lambs, was led to the slaughter, Isaiah 53:7, to take away the sin of the world. Leigh, in his Critica Sacra, on the word amartia, peccatum, or sin, gives us eight acceptations.

(1) Sin, properly so called. Romans 7:17. Hebrews 5:15.

(2) A sacrifice for sin. Leviticus 4:34. 2 Corinthians 5:21.

(3) Original sin. Romans 5:12; Romans 6:11-12.

(4) Actual sin. James 1:15.

(5) The punishment of sin. 1 Peter 2:24.

(6) Both guilt and punishment. Matthew 9:2.

(7) False doctrine. John 8:46.

(8) Unbelief. John 16:9. All branches of sin are here expressed in the singular number, as in Romans 5:12. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Hence I know not how language can more correctly express the universality and extent of the atonement. The word world occurs about eighty times in the writings of St. John, and the extent of its import cannot be doubted. See John 3:16. 1 John 2:2. 2 Corinthians 5:19. Leviticus 16.

John 1:34. I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God. Cyril observes that Christ in the law and the prophets is everywhere called the Son of God, or the Son of the Highest, or by words which imply those titles. Psalms 2:7. Proverbs 30:4. Isaiah 9:6.

John 1:51. Verily, verily, I say unto you. John repeats the amen twice, no doubt because he heard the Saviour sometimes do it. In Isaiah 64:16, it is rendered “truly,” which justifies us in saying verily. St. Paul, instead of repeating the word twice, says that all the promises in Christ are yea and amen. The word is also doubled in Numbers 5:22. Nehemiah 8:6.

REFLECTIONS.

This evangelist having laid the foundation of our Saviour’s godhead and glory, and having sketched the questions proposed by the deputation of pharisaical scribes, next exhibits a most amiable view of the formation of the christian family, and apostolate. The two disciples who heard John speak of the atoning Lamb, for that title had more of grace in it to sinners than Messiah or King, followed Jesus, and abode with him that night. Happy society! Mortals talking with their Maker veiled in human flesh. Oh the simplicity, the ease and purity of his conversation. It was the Sire of eternity condescending to talk with his infant sons. Oh how celestial was the union of spirit formed with Jesus from that very hour.

Next day the two became three. Andrew gained his brother Simon Peter, and brought him to Jesus. The day following Philip was added, and Nathanael followed with caution and care. This sincere saint probably thought to spend a day with the preacher of the desert, but would not go without his usual devotion under the figtree. There his soul was so enlarged as to become portentous of a glory on the day he could not decypher; but he little expected to find Messiah, the hope of all the earth. Thus while worldly enjoyments diminish, those of the saints rise above all that we can ask or think. Hence ministers should learn of Jesus to be affable with their hearers in private, and to draw them to christian fellowship with the renovating charms of heavenly love.

We should also tell one another of the good things we have found in communion with Christ, and invite them to come to the Lord. Christians in their first love can often speak to others of divine things, with a most engaging frankness and simplicity of soul.

All men should learn of Nathanael not rashly to reject a work of God, but hear and see for themselves. The word Nazareth did not sound graciously on his ears, for the jews expected a Messiah on the throne of David. And what did Jesus do? He conquered prejudice by omniscience: he called Nathanael an Israelite indeed. Nathanael, unmoved by a soft name, asked, neither with Rabbi, Master, nor Lord, but abruptly, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus by a single word removed all his caution — I saw thee under the figtree. Here the heart of Nathanael yielded to grace, and became one spirit with the Lord. And where is the heart that can refuse assent to Jesus. He is privy to all its motions, and he is present with the saints in their most private retreats.

Those who have believed and seen Christ by faith, shall shortly see greater things in glory. They shall see him as Jacob did on the top of the ladder, and attended by all the angels of heaven. They shall see him as he is, and resemble him in glory; and behold, he cometh with clouds.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 1:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/john-1.html13. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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