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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
John 1



Other Authors
Verses 1-5

John 1:1-18. The Prologue: See Introduction.

John 1:1-5. The Word in Relation to God and Creation.—The references to the language and thought of Genesis 1 are clear. At the time of creation, if the phrase may be allowed, the Word "was," eternally existent, in active communion with God, and Divine. The truth about the Logos shows that the Godhead has within itself such distinctions as make possible the exercise, within itself, of the highest activities which correspond to intercourse and communion among men. The Logos, Himself God, was eternally turned towards God. He was the agent of creation, apart from whom nothing came into being. The words "that was made," if taken with John 1:3, are easy but meaningless. In early times they were interpreted as the beginning of John 1:4. The use made of the passage by Gnostics to support their theories of pairs of æons, and the fact that it seemed to place the Holy Spirit in the class of "that which was made," may have led to the change. If taken with John 1:4 they must mean either (a) Creation "was" (i.e. from God's point of view, was so regarded in the eternal mind) "life in Him"—He sustains the life of all that was made through Him; or (b) As for that which was made, in it was life (so Loisy); for the construction cf. John 1:12; John 10:29; John 17:24. But in any case the general meaning must be that the Logos is the source of life as He is the agent of creation. And in men this life takes the higher form of "light," moral and spiritual life, of which also He is the source. The fight between this light and its opposite, the moral darkness of evil, has always been going on, and the light has never been conquered (this and not "understood" is the probable meaning of the word. Cf. John 12:35 and some authorities in John 6:17). Possibly John 1:5 may refer to the shining of the true light among Christians in the author's own time.

Verses 6-8

John 1:6-8. The Preparation for the Final Manifestation.—The way was prepared for the final revelation by the work of John. The author takes the opportunity of asserting John's true position as against the extravagant claims apparently made for him, either by his own followers, or the Jews in general. His duty was that of the forerunner to herald the approach of the light.

Verses 9-13

John 1:9-13. The Work of the Light before the Incarnation.—But in truth the light, "which lighteth every man," was always coming into the world. Possibly John 1:9 means that when John was "witnessing," the true light was on the point of "coming" and was actually in the world, which He had created, though men knew Him not. But this interpretation is less natural. He was always in the world that He had made, though it was ignorant of its Maker. His coming was to His own possession. But "His own" failed to recognise Him. In speaking of this failure the writer is thinking chiefly but perhaps not exclusively of Jews. But the failure had its exceptions. And those who in all nations received Him, gained the higher life of the spirit, which is entered upon by a birth from God, with which fleshly motives and physical descent have nothing to do. The use made by Gnostics of this verse to support their theories of the "spiritual seed" may have led to the substitution of the singular "who was born," which made the words refer to Christ. The context clearly demands the plural "who were born," so that the words describe the method of the spiritual rebirth of those who "received" the Logos. [In view of the importance of the passage, it ought, perhaps, to be said that there is strong evidence for the singular (Tertullian, Irenæus, the Codex Veronensis of the Old Latin VS, probably Methodius, possibly Justin Martyr). The singular leads up well to John 1:14, and the connexion with what precedes is good, the sonship of Christians rests on His sonship. In particular the very emphatic threefold negative statement of John 1:13 seems to be directed against some who affirmed the contrary, and such a denial was far more likely to be of Christ's supernatural conception than of the Divine begetting of Christians in the spiritual sense. The singular is found, however, in no Gr. MS.; it may have originated in Latin through the ambiguity of the Latin relative pronoun (qui); and it may have been introduced to affirm the supernatural conception. Harnack has recently (July 1915) in a lengthy discussion, Zur Text-kritik und Christologie der Schriften des Johannes, concluded on several grounds that the plural cannot be accepted, and that the passage referred originally to the virgin conception. But he considers that this also is not in place in this context. He thinks that the verse was added in the margin as a comment on the words "And the Word became flesh" at a very early time and in the Johannine circle. It ran "He was begotten, etc.," the relative pronoun being absent as in Codex D, the Vercellensis (Latin), and perhaps in Tertullian. When the words had been taken into the text the relative was inserted by some.—A. S. P.] For the work of the Logos among men before the Incarnation cf. John 12:40 (Isaiah) and perhaps John 8:56 (Abraham). The interpretation which finds in these verses an anticipated account of the work of the Incarnate Logos, which is out of place before the culminating declaration of John 1:14, is less natural.

Verses 14-18

John 1:14-18. The Full and Final Revelation.—The work of the Logos culminated in what alone could give to men a complete and intelligible revelation, so far as man can grasp it, of the nature and being of God. The Divine Logos, who, as God, has the knowledge of God which none else can have, entered into the life of men, under the ordinary conditions of humanity, so that He could speak to men in their own language. His disciples had seen how, when He dwelt in the tent of flesh (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1 fT.), as the "Shechinah" appeared in Israel in the "Tent" (Exodus 25:8 f.), His true character and being shone forth, the "glory" of an only-begotten son, on whom the Father of all had bestowed all that He had to give, full of the attractiveness that God's favour gives, and of truth, so that He could make God known to men. The only natural explanation of John 1:14 is that it refers to bodily and not spiritual vision (cf. 1 John 1:1 f.). It was rendered possible by the Word becoming flesh.

Once more (John 1:15) there is an appeal to John's "witness." He spoke with no uncertain voice (cf. Romans 9:27). It is given in words which are practically a quotation of John 1:30, where the phrase "of whom I spake" is a natural reference to John 1:27. (Here the words are awkward, hence the correction noted in mg.) "He was before me" must imply belief in His pre-existence. The Book of Enoch shows that One who was regarded as Messiah would be so thought of. The difficulty is bound up with that of John's recognition of Jesus as Messiah. John 1:16 and even John 1:17 f. are sometimes attributed to the Baptist. But they clearly take up the thought of John 1:14. "We saw and knew, for we all received from His fullness in ever-increasing supply." The difference between Judaism and Christianity is sharply pointed—legal precepts, powerless to give life, imposed through the agency of a man, and the gift of true life and true knowledge brought into being and implanted in men by the creative energy of "a greater than Moses." No man has seen or can tell of God. "God only begotten," (mg.) the Word who is Divine and possesses the whole power of God, with whom He lives in active communion, has made God known. The sense will be the same if the easier, but less forcible, reading "the only-begotten Son" (cf. John 3:16; John 3:18, 1 John 4:9) is adopted.

Verses 19-27

John 1:19-27. The Baptist's Witness about Himself.—Instead of recounting the work and mission of the Baptist, as the other gospels, the writer selects incidents which show him as the Witness. These incidents are certainly told in terms which reflect later Christian thought. But they contain much that does not obviously contribute to the writer's special purpose, and which suggests real knowledge or at least trustworthy tradition. If several of Jesus' earliest disciples were followers of the Baptist, the prominence assigned to his ministry in the Synoptic account receives a natural explanation. The Jews, the religious party of the nation, strenuous for the Law and tradition, are anxious about the new religious movement, and send a commission, apparently instigated by the Pharisees (John 1:24), though consisting of (?) Sadducean priests and Levites. John declares that he is neither Messiah nor even one of His expected precursors (Malachi 4:5, Deuteronomy 18:15), and describes his own position in the words of Isaiah 40:3. To their surprise that such an one should "baptize" he answers that his baptism is only a purificatory and preliminary rite. A greater than he is among them though they know Him not. The site of this incident (Bethany, according to the true text) is unknown. At a comparatively early date (Origen, and the earliest Syr. Version) the name Bethabara was substituted.

Verses 27-34

John 1:27-34. The Baptists Witness to Himself.—The baptism of Jesus has apparently taken place. John points to Him as the greater one of whom he had spoken. His own work of baptism, which has not been described but is assumed to be known, is, he says, preparatory to the manifestation of Messiah to Israel. Like others John had been ignorant, till the sign of the Spirit descending and abiding on Jesus had revealed to him the true Baptizer, who should give men the true baptism of the Spirit. The section ends with John's "witness" that such an one is the very Son of God. [In John 1:34 there is a variant reading, "the Elect of God" instead of "the Son of God." It has very strong early attestation, and is accepted by Blass, Nestle, and Zahn. In the work already mentioned on John 1:13, Harnack has adopted it and sought to show its importance. It is simply a term for the Messiah, but it forms an addition to the contacts of the Fourth Gospel with the Third (Luke 9:35; Luke 23:35), and it illustrates how deeply the Fourth Evangelist is rooted in Jewish theology, a point which deserves emphasis in view of the present tendency to attribute to him an un-Jewish Hellenism.—A. S. P.] The full recognition of Jesus as Messiah by John and others at the outset is a well-known difficulty. If it is historical it was the act of men who saw in a remarkable man the fulfilment of their expectations, but thought of Him as one who would satisfy their national Messianism. When they found out that He would do nothing of the sort they changed their minds, till He had taught them what to look for in the true Messiah. [John 1:22-24 and John 1:25-28 may be parallel narratives; so also John 1:29-31 and John 1:32-34. See Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Johannis, pp. 9, 11.—A. J. G.]

John 1:29. The "Lamb of God" has been interpreted with reference (a) to the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12) with which the writer, like Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7), identifies Jesus, but which was not a sin offering (see John 1:29); (b) to the lamb of the morning and evening sacrifice; (c) to the lamb of Isaiah 53:4 ff. where the connexion with sin-bearing is certain. The evangelist has probably interpreted, and perhaps modified, in the light of later Christian thought (cf. also Genesis 22) what originally referred to the destruction, not the "bearing," of sin.

Verses 35-51

John 1:35-51. The Baptist's Disciples and Jesus.—On the morrow to two of his disciples John bears similar witness. The account in its details suggests the recollections of one to whom the incident bad been the turning-point of his life. The tenth hour, four o'clock, if true or traditional, may have suggested to the writer "the beginning of a new era." He could hardly have invented it for that purpose. The unnamed disciple (cf. John 1:40) is generally identified with John the son of Zebedee. John 1:41 does not really hint that he also brought his brother James. Jesus reads the character of Simon, and predicts that men will find in him the Rock man, and will so call him (cf. Mark 3:16). It is apparently Peter who (John 1:43) wishes to return to Galilee, and "finds" Philip, as he himself had been found. Philip continues the chain, and finds Nathanael, generally, but not always in early times, identified with Bartholomew, the usual companion of Philip in the Synoptic lists. Jesus reads his character too, a true Israelite (Genesis 32:28) with none of the guile of the race of Jacob, the supplanter (Genesis 27:36). He is convinced by what seems to him at any rate superhuman knowledge and makes his confession. The Lord's answer teaches that the faith which rests on signs and wonders must yield to that which realises the spiritual character of Messiah's work and kingdom. Heaven will be opened and angels ascend and descend upon the Son of Man (Genesis 28:12).


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on John 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

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Sunday, June 16th, 2019
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