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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

John 1:1-2. In the beginning — Namely, of the creation, (for the evangelist evidently refers to the first word of the book of Genesis, בראשׁית, bereshith, rendered by the LXX. εν αρχη, the expression here used,) was the Word — That is, The Word existed at the beginning of the creation, and consequently from eternity. He was when all things began to be; whatsoever had a beginning. And the Word was with God — Namely, before any created being had existed. This is probably spoken in allusion to the well-known passage in Proverbs, (John 8:30, &c.,) where divine wisdom is introduced, saying, The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old: I was set up from everlasting, or ever the earth was, &c. And the Word was God — Was strictly and properly divine. It is observable, “that John’s discourse rises by degrees. He tells us first, that the Word, in the beginning of the world, existed. Next, that he existed with God: and last of all, that he was God, and made all things.” “I know,” says Dr. Doddridge, “how eagerly many have contended, that the word God is used here in an inferior sense; the necessary consequence of which is, as indeed some have expressly avowed, that this clause should be rendered, The Word was a god; that is, a kind of inferior deity, as governors are called gods. See John 10:34; 1 Corinthians 8:5. But it is impossible he should here be so called, merely as a governor, because he is spoken of as existing before the production of any creatures whom he could govern: and it is to me most incredible, that when the Jews were so exceedingly averse to idolatry, and the Gentiles so unhappily prone to it, such a plain writer as this apostle should lay so dangerous a stumbling- block on the very threshold of his work, and represent it as the Christian doctrine, that, in the beginning of all things, there were two Gods, one supreme and the other subordinate: a difficulty which, if possible, would be yet further increased by recollecting what so many ancient writers assert, that this gospel was written with a particular view of opposing the Cerinthians and Ebionites; on which account a greater accuracy of expression must have been necessary.” As to the article ο being wanting before θεος, God, which some have urged as a proof that the word is here to be used in a subordinate sense, it must be observed, that there are so many instances in the writings of this apostle, and even in this chapter, (see John 1:6; John 1:12-13; John 1:18,) where the same word, without the article, is used to signify God, in the highest sense of the word, that it is surprising any stress should be laid on that circumstance. “On the other hand, to conceive of Christ as a distinct and co-ordinate God, would be equally inconsistent with the most express declarations of Scripture, and far more irreconcilable with reason.” The order of the words in the original, θεος ην ο λογος, has induced some to translate the clause, God was the Word. So it was read in the old English translation, authorized by Henry VIII., and thus Luther rendered it in his German translation, Gott war das wort. But there are almost every where, in several of the purest Greek writers, instances of such a construction as our present version supposes; and one of exactly the same kind occurs John 4:24 of this gospel, namely, πνευμα ο θεος, which we properly render, God is a spirit: so that there appears to be no sufficient reason for varying from our translation in this important passage. It may be proper to add here, in the words of Bishop Burnet, (On the Articles, p. 40,) “That had not John, and the other apostles, thought it [Christ’s proper deity] a doctrine of great importance in the gospel scheme, they would rather have waived than asserted and insisted upon it, considering the critical circumstances in which they wrote.” The same was in the beginning with God — The apostle repeats what he had before asserted, because of its great importance; and to signify more fully the personality of the Word, or only-begotten Son, (John 1:14,) as distinct from that of the Father.


Verse 3

John 1:3. All things were made by him — All creatures, whether in heaven or on earth, the whole universe, and every being contained therein, animate or inanimate, intelligent or unintelligent. The Father spoke every thing into being by him, his Eternal Word. Thus, Psalms 33:6, By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, &c. This, however, is not the only reason why the Son of God is termed the Word. “He is not only called so, because God at first created and still governs all things by him; but because, as men discover their minds to one another by the intervention of words, speech, or discourse, so God, by his Son, discovers his gracious designs to men in the fullest and clearest manner. All the various manifestations which he makes of himself, whether in the works of creation, providence, or redemption, all the revelations he has been pleased to give of his will, have been, and still are, conveyed to us through him, and therefore he is, by way of eminence, fitly styled here, the Word, and Revelation 19:13, the Word of God.” — Macknight. Thus also Bishop Horne: (Sermons, vol. 1. pp. 199, 200:) “Should it be asked, why this person is styled the Word? the proper answer seems to be, that as a thought, or conception of the understanding, is brought forth and communicated in speech or discourse, so is the divine will made known by the WORD, who is the offspring and emanation of the eternal mind, an emanation pure and undivided, like that of light, which is the proper issue of the sun, and yet coeval with its parent orb; since the sun cannot be supposed, by the most exact and philosophical imagination, to exist a moment without emitting light; and were the one eternal, the other, though strictly and properly produced by it, would be as strictly and properly co-eternal with it. So true is the assertion of the Nicene fathers; so apt the instance subjoined for its illustration, God of God, light of light: in apostolical language, απαυγασμα της δοξης και χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως, The brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person. And whether we consider our Lord under the idea of the WORD, or that of LIGHT, it will lead us to the same conclusion respecting his office. For, as no man can discover the mind of another, but by the word which proceedeth from him; as no man can see the sun, but by the light which itself emitteth, even so, No man knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him! It may not be improper to observe further here, that “the term λογος, Word, was in use among the ancient philosophers, who sometimes speak of a person under that appellation as the Maker of the universe. So Tertullian informs the Gentiles: ‘Apud vestros quoque sapientes λογον, id est, Sermonem atque Rationem, constat artificem videri universitatis.’ It appears that among your wise men, the λογος, that is, the Word and Reason, was considered as the Former of the universe. And Eusebius, in the eleventh book of his Evangelical Preparation, cites a passage from Amelius, a celebrated admirer and imitator of Plato, in which he speaks of the λογος as being eternal, and the Maker of all things. This, he says, was the opinion of Heraclitus, and then introduces the beginning of the gospel of St. John; concerning whom it seems he was wont to complain, that he had transferred into his book the sentiments of his master Plato. But it is not likely that our evangelist either borrowed from, or intended to copy after Plato. And since not only Plato, but Pythagoras and Zeno likewise, conversed with the Jews, it is not at all wonderful that we meet with something about a θειος λογος, or DIVINE WORD, in their writings. Nor, after all, might the philosopher and the apostle use the same term in the same acceptation. It is customary with the writers of the New Testament to express themselves as much as may be in the language of the Old, to which, therefore, we must have recourse for an explanation of their meaning, as the penmen of both, under the direction of one Spirit, used their terms in the same sense. Now, upon looking into the Old Testament, we find, that the Word of Jehovah is frequently and evidently the style of a person who is said to come, to be revealed, or manifested, and the like, as in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, The word of Jehovah came unto Abraham in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abraham, &c. — Behold, the Word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir, and he brought him forth abroad. Thus again, (1 Samuel 3.,) Jehovah revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh, by the Word of Jehovah. The same person is, at other times, characterized by the title, the Name of Jehovah, שׂם יהוה, as in Isaiah 30:27, Behold, the Name of Jehovah cometh from far, burning with his anger, &c. With regard to the nature of the person thus denominated, whoever shall duly consider the attributes, powers, and actions ascribed to him, will see reason to think of him, not as a created intelligence, but a person of the divine essence, possessed of all its incommunicable properties. And it may be noticed, that the Targums, or Chaldee paraphrasts, continually substitute the Word of Jehovah for Jehovah, ascribing divine characters to the person so named. And the ancient Grecizing Jews speak in the same style. Thus, in that excellent apocryphal book of Wisdom, (ix. 1,) O God, who hast made all things, εν λογω σου, by thy Word; and again in the passage which so wonderfully describes the horrors of that night, never to be forgotten by an Israelite, wherein the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain: While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty WORD ( λογος) leaped down from heaven, out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war, into the midst of a land of destruction, and brought thy unfeigned commandment, as a sharp sword; and standing up filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but stood upon the earth, John 18:14.” Horne’s Discourses, disc. 7. vol. 1. pp. 194-197. And without him was not any thing made ουδε εν, not so much as any single thing having existence, whether among the nobler or the meaner works of God, was made without him. See the same truth attested and enlarged upon by Paul, Colossians 1:16. Now, “if all things were made by him, he cannot be himself of the number of the things that were made. He is superior, therefore, to every created being. Besides, it should be remembered, that in the Old Testament, the creation of the heavens and the earth is often mentioned as the prerogative of the true God, whereby he is distinguished from the heathen idols. The design of the evangelist in establishing so particularly and distinctly the dignity, but especially the divinity of Christ, was to raise in mankind the most profound veneration for him, and for all his instructions and actions. And, without doubt, he who is the Word of God, the interpreter of the divine counsels, and who is himself God, ought to be heard with the deepest attention, and obeyed with the most implicit submission.”


Verse 4-5

John 1:4-5. In him — Or, through him, as Beza understands it; was life — He was the living and powerful Word, which was the source of life to every living creature, as well as of being to all that exists. And the life was the light of men — He, who is essential life, and the author of life to all that live, was also the fountain of wisdom, holiness, and happiness to man in his original state. And the light shineth in darkness — Namely, in the darkness, or amid the ignorance and folly, sinfulness and wretchedness of fallen man. This has been the case from the time of man’s fall, through all ages, and in all nations of the world; the light of reason and conscience, as well as the light issuing from the works of creation and providence, and the various discoveries of God and his will made to and by the patriarchs and prophets, being through and from him: But the darkness comprehended it not — Did not advert to it, so as to understand and profit by it, as it might have done by the instruction thus communicated. It became necessary, therefore, in order to the more full illumination and the salvation of mankind, that God should give a more perfect revelation of his mind and will, than he had given in former ages. Of this the evangelist speaks next.


Verses 6-9

John 1:6-9. There was a man sent from God — The introducer of a new dispensation, the morning star, preceding the rise of the Sun of righteousness; whose name was JOHN — That is, grace; a name fitly given to the Messiah’s forerunner, who was sent to proclaim the immediate accomplishment of God’s gracious intentions toward men, the expectation of which had been raised in them by all his preceding dispensations. The same came for a witness εις μαρτυριαν, for, or, in order to give, a testimony of an infinitely important kind; to bear witness of the light ινα μαρτυρηση περι του φωτος, that he might testify concerning the light: namely, the light mentioned above, Christ, the light of the world; that all men through him — Through his testimony; might believe — In Christ, the light. He — John, though an extraordinary messenger of God, was himself not that light, but was merely sent to bear witness of that light — And thereby to draw men’s attention to it, and induce them to believe in it; namely, in the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world — Both as he is their Maker, who has put into their minds the light of reason and conscience, and as he visits and strives with them by his Spirit, and is the author of that revelation, which was not intended to be confined to the single nation of the Jews, but to be communicated to all mankind.


Verse 10-11

John 1:10-11. He was in the world — From the beginning, frequently appearing, and making known to his servants, the patriarchs and prophets, the divine will, in dreams and visions, and various other ways: and the world was made by him — As has just been shown; and the world, nevertheless, knew him not — Knew not its Maker and Preserver. He came — As the true, the often-predicted, and long-expected Messiah; unto his own εις τα ιδια, to his own things, namely, his own land; termed, Immanuel’s land; his own city, called the holy city; his own temple, mentioned as such by Malachi 3:1 : The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly, or unexpectedly, come to his temple: but, although he answered all the characters given of the Messiah in the Old Testament, οι ιδιοι, his own people, whom he had separated from all the people upon earth, watched over, protected, delivered, and singularly favoured, in a variety of most extraordinary ways, for many ages; received him not — Because he did not countenance and gratify their carnal spirit and worldly views, by coming in that state of wealth, power, and grandeur in which they expected him to come. He came as the prophet like unto Moses, as Moses foretold he should come, (Deuteronomy 18:18, &c.,) and by his holy life, his mighty miracles, extreme sufferings, and glorious resurrection from the dead, proved to a demonstration his divine mission; yet they received him not, because his doctrine contradicted their prejudices, censured their vices, and laid a restraint upon their lusts. He came as the High-priest of their profession, and a Mediator between God and man; but, depending on their being Abraham’s seed, on the ceremony of circumcision, on the Aaronical priesthood and the expiations of their law, and, in general, on their own righteousness, they received him not in these characters. He came as a Redeemer and Saviour; but not feeling, nor even seeing, their want of the redemption and salvation which are through him, and having no desire of any such spiritual blessings, they received him not, in any such relations. He came as the King set upon God’s holy hill of Zion, Psalms 2:6; the righteous branch raised unto David, the king that was to reign and prosper, and to execute justice and judgment in the earth, Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zion’s king, that was to come to her, just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass, Zechariah 9:9 : but, as his kingdom was not of this world, not earthly, but heavenly, not carnal, but spiritual, and they did not desire one of another world, they would not receive him; declaring openly, We will not have this man to reign over us.


Verse 12-13

John 1:12-13. But as many as received him — As the true Messiah, and according to the various offices and characters which he sustains: learning of him, as a teacher, the infinitely important lessons of his grace; relying on him with penitent and believing hearts, as a mediator, that is, on his sacrifice and intercession, for acceptance with God; applying to him, in faith and prayer, as a Redeemer and Saviour, for the redemption and salvation which he has to bestow; as many as are subject to him as their King and Governor, and prepare to meet him as their Judge: to them — Whether Jews or Gentiles; gave he power — Or privilege, as εξουσιαν implies; to become the sons of God — To stand related to him, not merely as subjects to their king, or servants to their master, but as children to their father; being taken under his peculiar protection, direction, and care; being favoured with liberty of access to him, and intercourse with him, and constituted his heirs, and joint heirs with Christ of the heavenly inheritance: even to them that believe on his name — With their hearts unto righteousness, or with a faith working by love. Nor are they constituted his children merely by adoption, but they are made such also and especially by regeneration, being born, not of blood — Not by descent from Abraham; nor by the will of the flesh — By natural generation, or by the power of corrupt nature; nor by the will of man — Circumcising or baptizing them; but of God — By his Spirit creating them anew.


Verse 14

John 1:14. And the Word, &c. — And in order to raise us, sinful creatures, to this dignity and happiness, the Divine and Eternal Word, by a most amazing condescension; was made flesh — That is, united himself to our inferior and miserable nature, with all its innocent infirmities. If it be inquired how he did this, we answer, in the language of the Creed, “Not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God.” Observe, reader, the whole manhood, the complete human nature, consisting of soul and body, and not the body only. Accordingly, we read, (Luke 2:52,) that Jesus increased in wisdom as well as stature, having, as Prayer of Manasseh 1:1 st, A finite understanding, which gradually received information and knowledge. 2d, A will of his own, distinct from, but resigned to, the will of his heavenly Father; in consequence of which he could say, I came not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me: Father, not my will, but thine be done. 3d, All the innocent human passions and affections, such as, desire; with desire have I desired to eat this passover, &c., Luke 22:15 : aversion; Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me, Luke 22:42 : hope; for the felicity set before him, and expected by him, he endured the cross, &c., Hebrews 12:2 : fear; he was heard in that he feared, Hebrews 5:7 : joy; Jesus rejoiced in spirit, Luke 10:21 : sorrow; my soul is exceeding sorrowful, Matthew 26:38 : a peculiar human love; the disciple whom Jesus loved, John 21:20 : all which faculties belonged not to his body, but to his soul. When we read, therefore, that he was made flesh, partook of flesh and blood, (Hebrews 2:14,) came in the flesh, (1 John 4:2,) was manifest in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16,) had a body prepared for him, (Hebrews 10:5,) we must remember, that the whole human nature is intended to be signified by such expressions, and not the body only. It is, however, justly observed by Bishop Horne on this point, that “As the Divinity is an object by no means within the grasp of the human understanding, it were absurd to expect an adequate idea of the mode of its union with flesh, expressed in the text by the word made; ( εγενετο;) The word was made flesh. It sufficeth, in this case, to maintain the general truth of the proposition against those, who, in different ways, by subtlety and sophistry, have laboured to oppugn and destroy. We must not, with Arius, deny the Saviour to be truly God, because he became man; nor assert, with Apollinaris, that he was not really man, because he was also God. We must not, with Nestorius, rend Christ asunder, and divide him into two persons; nor, after the example of Eutyches, confound in his person those natures which should be distinguished. These were the four capital errors, which, in the earlier ages, harassed and distracted the Christian church, on the point of the incarnation; and in opposition to which, the four most famous ancient general councils of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon were called. Whatever was by them decreed, either in declaration of Christian belief, or refutation of heresy, may all be comprised, as judicious Hooker well noteth, in four words, αληθως, τελεως, αδιαιρετως, ασυνχυτως, ‘truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctly; truly God, perfectly man, indivisibly one person, distinctly two natures.’ ‘Within the compass of which,’ said he, ‘I may truly affirm, that all heresies which touch the person of Jesus Christ, (whether they have risen in these latter days, or in any age heretofore,) may be with great facility brought to confine themselves.’ Book 5. sect. 54. The apostle to the Hebrews, writing on the subject of the incarnation, thus expresseth himself: ου γαρ δηπου αγγελων επιλαμβανεται, αλλα σπερματος αβρααμ επιλαμβανεται, He taketh not hold of angels, but he taketh hold of the seed of Abraham; he took, or assumed, the manhood into God. As the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ. The soul is not turned into, nor compounded with, the body; yet they two, though distinct in nature, form one man. The natures are preserved, without confusion; the person is entire, without division. ‘Sic factum est Caro, ut maneret verbum; non immutando quod erat, sed assumendo quod non erat; nostra auxit, sua non minuit; nec sacramentum pietatis detrimentum Deitatis.’ Concil. Chalced.” — Horne’s Sermons, vol. 1. pp. 203-205.

And dwelt among us — Not making us a transient visit for an hour, or a day, or appearing occasionally, as he did formerly, but making his abode with us for a considerable time. The original expression, εσκηνωσεν εν ημιν, properly signifies, he tabernacled among us, alluding, as some think, to his dwelling, in ancient times, first in the tabernacle, and afterward in the temple, where he manifested his presence and glory. His human nature was the true tabernacle, or temple of his Deity, and therein resided the fulness of the Godhead bodily, Colossians 2:9. Hence he says, Destroy this temple, meaning his body, and I will build it up in three days. Beza renders the word, Commoratus est, he sojourned, or tarried for a while. Doddridge reads, he pitched his tabernacle: Wesley, he tabernacled. Any of which readings give the primitive signification of the verb σκηνοω, from σκηνη, a tent or tabernacle. But words often come insensibly to deviate from their first signification, and this has evidently happened to the verb now spoken of, which frequently signifies to dwell, or inhabit, in the largest sense, without any limitation from the nature or duration of the dwelling. Hence it is applied, (Revelation 12:12; and, Revelation 13:6) to the inhabitants of heaven, and is made use of to express God’s abode with his people after the resurrection, which is always represented as eternal, Revelation 21:3. And the noun σκηνη, itself, from which the verb is derived, is used (Luke 16:9) for a permanent habitation, and joined with the epithet, αιωνιος, eternal. As the term, however, admits of both interpretations, and may be either rendered, to dwell, or to sojourn, and as our Lord’s life on earth, and especially his ministry, was of short duration, he may much more properly be said to have sojourned, than to have dwelt among us. And we — Who are now recording these things, we his disciples, beheld — Greek, εθεασαμεθα, (the word used 1 John 1:1,) contemplated his glory; and that with so strict an attention, that, from our own personal knowledge, we can testify it was, in every respect, such a glory as became the only begotten of the Father — For it shone forth, not only in his transfiguration, and in his continual miracles, but in all his tempers, ministrations, and conduct, through the whole course of his life. In all he appeared full of truth and grace — He was in himself most benevolent and upright: made those ample discoveries of pardon to sinners, which the Mosaic dispensation could not do; and exhibited the most substantial blessings, whereas that was but a shadow of good things to come. Observe, reader, we are all by nature false, depraved, and children of wrath, to whom both truth and grace are unknown; but we are made partakers of them, through him, when we believe in him with our hearts unto righteousness.


Verse 15

John 1:15. John bare witness of him, saying, This is he, &c. — “This might probably happen at the time when Jesus made his first appearance among those that came to be baptized by John; when, at his offering to receive his baptism, though John before had been a stranger to him, and knew him not by any personal acquaintance with him, yet, by some powerful impression on his mind, he presently discerned that this was He whom he before had taught the people to expect, and of whose person he had given them so high a character. For it was plainly from his knowledge of him, that John at first would have declined baptizing him as an honour of which he looked upon himself to be unworthy. Nor is it to be doubted, that when first he knew the person, of whose appearance he had raised such expectations by his preaching, he would immediately be ready to acquaint his hearers, that this was he who was intended by him; which they themselves might have been ready to conclude from the uncommon veneration and respect with which the Baptist treated him, who had been always used to treat men with the greatest plainness.” He that cometh after me is preferred before me — Namely, by God. “Erasmus supposes, that John here refers to the honours which he knew had been paid to Jesus in his infancy, by the angel who announced his birth to the shepherds; by the shepherds themselves; by the eastern sages; by Simeon and Anna; honours which could not be paralleled by any thing which had happened to him. But the words seem to have a more extensive meaning, comprehending the superior dignity of Christ’s nature, office, commission, and exaltation, as Mediator. See Matthew 3:11, the passage here referred to. For he was before me — It is fit that Jesus should be raised above me, because he is a person superior in nature to me. For though he was born after me, he existed before me.” “This must undoubtedly refer to the state of glory in which Christ existed before his incarnation, of which the Baptist speaks so plainly, John 3:31.” See Doddridge and Macknight.


Verse 16

John 1:16. And of his fulness have all we received — These are not the words of the Baptist, as the expression, we all, shows; for those to whom he addressed himself do not appear to have received grace from Christ. But here the evangelist confirms the Baptist’s words, spoken in the preceding verse; as if he had said, He is indeed preferred before thee: so we have experienced: for we all, that is, I, John, the apostle, and my brethren, the other apostles, and all that truly believe in him, have received from his fulness, from the plenitude of truth and grace which are in him, all the blessings we enjoy, whether as men, as Christians, or as apostles. “But what,” says Dr. Campbell, “is the import of the clause, grace for grace? Is it that we receive grace in return for the grace we give? So says Le Clerc, availing himself of an ambiguity in the Greek word χαρις, which (like grace in French) signifies not only a favour bestowed, but thanks returned: and maintaining that the sense is, that God gives more grace to those who are thankful for that formerly received; a position which, however just, it requires an extraordinary turn of imagination to discover in this passage. Is it, as many render it, grace upon grace, that is, grace added to grace? I should not dislike this interpretation, if this meaning of the preposition, αντι, in Scripture, were well supported. It always there denotes, if I mistake not, instead of, answering to, or in return for. Is it a mere pleonasm? Does it mean (as Grotius would have it) grace gratuitous? I do not say that such pleonastic expressions are unexampled in Sacred Writ; but I do say, that this sense given to the idiom is unexampled. The word in such cases is δωρεαν, as Romans 3:24, διακαιουμενοι δωρεαν τη αυτου χαριτι, justified freely by his grace. If, instead of giving scope to fancy, we attend to the context, and the construction of the words, we shall not need to wander so far in quest of the meaning. In John 1:14 we are informed that the word became incarnate, and sojourned among us, full of grace and truth. It is plain that the 15th verse, containing the Baptist’s declaration, must be understood as a parenthesis. And it actually is understood so by all expositors; inasmuch as they make αυτου [his] here refer to λογος [the Word] in John 1:14. The evangelist, resuming the subject which (for the sake of inserting John’s testimony) he had interrupted, tells us, that all we his disciples, particularly his apostles, have received of his fulness. But of what was he full? It had been said expressly, that he was full of grace. When, therefore, the historian brings this additional clause concerning grace in explanation of the former, is it not manifestly his intention to inform us, that of every grace wherewith he was filled, his disciples received a share? The Word incarnate, he says, resided among us, full of grace and truth; and of his fulness all we have received, even grace for his grace; that is, of every grace, or celestial gift, conferred above measure upon him, his disciples have received a portion according to their measure. If there should remain a doubt whether this were the sense of the passage, the words immediately following seem calculated to remove it. For the law was given by Moses, the grace and the truth came by Jesus Christ. Here the evangelist intimates, that Jesus Christ was as truly the channel of divine grace to his disciples, as Moses had been of the knowledge of God’s law to the Israelites.” If, however, the reader prefer adhering to the common translation, it seems it may be supported by the frequent use of the preposition αντι. Thus Romans 12:17, Recompense to no man ( κακον αντι κακου) evil for evil, or, in return for evil. According to this translation, the meaning of the passage will be, that under the gospel dispensation, all men receive grace for grace, that is, privileges and advantages, in proportion to the improvement which they make of those already bestowed on them.


Verse 17

John 1:17. For the law — Working wrath, and containing shadows; was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ — Grace, opposed to the condemnation and wrath by the law, and truth, opposed to the ceremonies thereof. Further, in the gospel we have a discovery of the most important truths to be received by the understanding, as well as of the richest grace to be embraced by the will and affections. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation; that is, it is truth and grace. The offers of grace are sincere, and what we may venture our souls upon. The gospel is grace and truth, with reference to the law; for, 1st, It is the performance of all the Old Testament promises. 2d, It is the substance of all the Old Testament types and shadows. There was a measure of grace, both in the ordinances that were instituted for Israel, and the providences that were concerning Israel; but they were only shadows of good things to come, even of that grace which is brought to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the true paschal lamb, the true scape-goat, the true manna. They had grace in the sign and picture, we have it in the thing signified and the reality. Because, in this passage, the apostle, speaking of the law, says, εδοθη, it was given by Moses; but that grace and truth, εγενετο, was, or came by Jesus Christ, Erasmus supposes, that the expressions were meant to imply, that whereas Moses was only the messenger of the law, Christ was the original of the grace and truth he brought into the world by the gospel. But it must be observed, that the preposition δια, through, is here used of Christ as well as of Moses, so that, in this passage, both of them seem to be represented as messengers, though of very different dispensations, and the former of infinitely greater dignity than the latter.


Verse 18

John 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time — Nor, indeed, can see him as he is, an incorporeal, and, therefore, an invisible Being: but the only- begotten Son, &c. — John, having spoken of the incarnation, now calls Christ by this name, and no more terms him the Word, in all his book; who is in the bosom of the Father — And ever favoured with the most endearing and intimate converse with him. The expression denotes the highest unity, and the most perfect knowledge. He hath declared him — Hath revealed him in a much clearer and fuller manner than he was made known before, and that by such discoveries of his nature, attributes, and will, as have the most powerful tendency to render us holy and happy. The following particulars are evidently implied in this passage: 1st, That, as the nature of God is spiritual, he is invisible to our bodily eyes. He is a Being whose essence no man hath seen or can see, (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16,) though Moses and others frequently heard his voice, and saw the bright cloud and external glory, that was a symbol of his presence. 2d, That the revelation, which God made of himself under the Old Testament dispensation, was very inferior to that which he has made by Christ; and what was seen and known of him before Christ’s incarnation was little, in comparison with what may now be seen and known; life and immortality being now brought to light in a far higher degree than they were then. And, 3d, That neither Moses, nor any of the Old Testament prophets, were so well qualified to make God and his will known to mankind, as our Lord Jesus Christ was. They never saw, nor perfectly knew the Divine Being, and his eternal counsels, and therefore could not make a full discovery thereof to men. The only person who ever enjoyed this privilege was the only-begotten Son of God, the Word, which was in the beginning with him, or, as it is here expressed, was, and is, in the bosom of the Father: that is, always was, and is the object of his tenderest, yea, of his infinite affection, complacency, and delight, and the intimate partner of his counsels. And this circumstance recommends Christ’s holy religion to us unspeakably before any others; that it was founded by one that had seen God, or that had clear and perfect knowledge of him, and of his mind and will, which no other person ever had, or could have.


Verses 19-23

John 1:19-23. And this is the record of John — This is the testimony which he bare publicly to Jesus; when the Jews — Namely, the senate, or great council of the nation; sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem — Persons of the first consideration for learning and office; to ask him, Who art thou — What character dost thou assume to thyself? It is probable, that the reason why the sanhedrim sent these persons, was their having been informed that the Baptist’s extraordinary sanctity, zeal, and powerful preaching, together with the solemnity of his baptizing, had made such an impression on the people, that they were beginning to think he might be the Messiah. These rulers therefore judged it proper to send persons thus to examine him, because it belonged to them to take cognizance of all matters relating to religion, and especially to judge who were true prophets. And as they were evidently jealous of his increasing popularity, they probably hoped to find in his answers to their questions some pretence for taking measures to silence him, especially as they understood his ministry neither agreed with the Mosaic dispensation which they had been long under, nor with the notions they had formed of the Messiah’s kingdom. And he confessed, and denied not, &c. — John, according to the natural plainness of his temper, presently replied to their inquiry; I am not the Christ — As if he had said, I know that the people begin to look on me as their long- expected deliverer, but I tell you plainly, they are mistaken: nor do I in the least pretend to arrogate to myself the honours which are due to none but him. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias — Art thou the Prophet Elijah, who, as the Scriptures tell us, is to arise from the dead, and to appear before the coming of the Messiah? And he saith, I am not — There was here an apparent contradiction to the words of our Lord concerning John, (Matthew 11:14,) This is Elias which was to come. But Jesus, in these words, evidently refers to the prophecy of Malachi 4:5; his purpose being to inform his disciples that John was Elijah in the sense of that prophet, and that his prediction was accomplished in the Baptist, inasmuch as he came in the spirit and power of Elijah. But when the question was here proposed to John, the laws of truth required that he should answer it as he did, namely, according to the sense wherein the words were used by the proposers, who expected that the very Prophet Elijah would come in person before the Messiah should appear: a notion which they entertained very early, as is evident from the Septuagint translation of the passage just referred to in Malachi, ιδου εγω αποστελλω υμιν ηλιαν τον θεσβιτην, literally, Behold, I send you Elias the Tishbite before the day of the Lord come. Therefore the Baptist, on being asked if he was Elias, could not answer otherwise than in the negative, without rendering himself liable to the charge of equivocating. For though the name of Elias did truly belong to the forerunner of the Messiah, Malachi having called him so, John was not the person whom the people expected, and the priests meant, when they asked him, Art thou Elias? He was not that individual prophet returned from heaven to sojourn again upon the earth. It is justly observed by Grotius here, that the persons who made this inquiry show that they were ignorant of the parentage of John the Baptist, or that they were in doubt concerning it; Art thou that prophet — Whom Moses has assured us God will raise up, and of whom we are daily in expectation? (John 6:14 :) or their meaning may have been, Art thou Jeremiah, or any other of the old prophets raised from the dead? for it appears from Matthew 16:14, that they thought the Messiah would be preceded by some such extraordinary personage. And he answered, No — He was a prophet, but not one of the old prophets raised from the dead, nor had he his revelations by dreams and visions, as the Old Testament prophets had theirs; his commission and work were of another nature, and belonged to another dispensation. Then said they, Who art thou? that we may give an answer, &c. — We are sent by the supreme council, who have a right to judge persons pretending a commission from God, as thou seemest to do by baptizing and gathering disciples. It becomes thee, therefore, to give an account of thyself to us, that we may lay it before them who have sent us. And he said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness — John, instead of giving a description of his own character and office, refers those who questioned him to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, in which they would find it; and what he here says of himself, is to be understood no otherwise than we understand what Matthew says of him, (Matthew 3:3,) where see the note. He says, in effect, I am that forerunner of Christ of whom Isaiah speaks, Isaiah 40:3. Archbishop Fenelon beautifully illustrates the humility of this reply: as if this illustrious prophet had said, “Far from being the Messiah, or Elias, or one of the old prophets, I am nothing but a voice; a sound, that as soon as it has expressed the thought, of which it is the sign, dies into air, and is known no more.” Dr. Campbell renders the clause, I am he whose voice proclaimeth in the wilderness, &c.; observing that, in such declarations, the general purport is alone regarded by the speaker, and that the words, therefore, ought not to be interpreted too grammatically; interpretations to be formed from the manifest scope, and not from the syntactic structure of sentences, being not unfrequent in Scripture. Thus, Revelation 1:12, επεστραψα βλεπειν την φωνην, literally, I turned to see the voice.


Verses 24-28

John 1:24-28. They which were sent were of the Pharisees — Who were peculiarly tenacious of old customs, and jealous of any innovations, (except those brought in by their own scribes,) unless the innovator had unquestionable proofs of divine authority. Add to this, the decisions of the Pharisees were held by the common people as infallible. And, as their sect had declared that only proselytes were to be baptized, on this account also they found fault with John for baptizing; saying, Why baptizest thou then — Without any commission from the sanhedrim; and not only heathen, (who were always baptized before they were admitted to circumcision,) but Jews also? if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, &c. — The Jews, it seems, had conceived an opinion that they were all to be baptized when the Messiah came, either by himself, or by some of his retinue, because it was said, (Zechariah 13:1,) In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, &c., for sin and for uncleanness. They thought that John’s altering, in this manner, their institutions, was an exercise of authority which, by his own confession, did not belong to him. John answered, I baptize you with water — To prepare you for the Messiah; I call you to repentance and amendment of life, and admit the penitent to my baptism, to represent to you that reformation of conduct and purity of heart which are requisite, in order to the reception of him. Hereby also John showed, that Jews as well as Gentiles must be proselytes to Christ; and that the former, as well as the latter, stood in need of being washed from their sins. I baptize you: but observe, it is with water only, which cannot cleanse you from your sins, as the washing predicted by Zechariah will do. But there standeth one among you, &c. — That more efficacious baptism will be dispensed unto you by the Messiah, who is at present among you, though you do not know him, because he has not manifested himself. He coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoes, &c. — Besides, in dignity the Messiah is infinitely my superior, for I am not worthy to be his servant, or to do him the meanest offices. These things were done in Bethabara, where John was baptizing — Consequently, in the presence of a great multitude of people. The word, Bethabara, signifies, the house of passage. It lay near that part of the river which was miraculously dried up, that the Israelites, under the command of Joshua, might pass over into Canaan. See Joshua 3:6, and 12:6.


Verse 29

John 1:29. The next day — Namely, the day after John had returned the answer mentioned John 1:26-27, to the priests and Levites sent to inquire into his character and mission; John seeth Jesus coming unto him — Having now returned from the desert, in which he had been tempted; and saith, Behold the Lamb of God — That innocent and holy person, who is to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of mankind; prophesied of by Isaiah, (Isaiah 53:7,) and typified by the paschal lamb, and by the daily sacrifice; which, taketh away the sin of the world — Which so atones for and expiates the guilt of mankind, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles, that through his mediation, whosoever, being truly penitent, and bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance, believeth in him, may receive remission of sins. Grotius, indeed, understands this of Christ’s reforming men’s lives; but it plainly refers to his being slain as a piacular victim, (1 Peter 1:19,) to redeem us to God by his blood, (Revelation 5:9,) or to procure for us that redemption which ensures to the penitent, that believe in him with a true and living faith, remission of sins, (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14,) and an exemption from the punishment deserved thereby. To understand this doctrine more fully, the reader must observe that, when a sacrifice was to be offered for sin, he that brought it laid his hand upon the head of the victim, according to the command of God, Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 4:4; (where see the notes;) and by that rite was supposed to transfer his sins upon the victim, which is said to take them upon itself and to carry them away. Accordingly, in the daily sacrifice of the lamb, the stationary men, says Dr. Lightfoot, who were the representatives of the people, laid their hands upon the lambs thus offered for them; and these two lambs offered for the daily sacrifice were bought with that half shekel which all the Jews yearly paid, εις λυτρον της ψυχης αυτων, εξιλασασθαι περι των ψυξων αυτων, as the price of redemption of their souls, to make atonement for them, Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:14; Exodus 12:16. This lamb was therefore offered to take away the guilt of their sin, as this phrase signifies when it relates to sacrifices. Since, therefore, the Baptist had said, he baptized them for the remission of their sins, he here shows them by what means that remission was to be obtained. See Whitby.


Verses 30-34

John 1:30-34. This is he, &c. — I now point out to you the very person of whom I formerly said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me — Being incomparably greater and more excellent than I for he was — That is, he existed; before me — Dr. Hammond abundantly vindicates this interpretation. Had πρωτος, rendered before, signified chief here, as in some other places, εστι, is, not ην, was, would have been joined with it, and John would have said he is, and not he was, my chief, which would have been a very flat tautology instead of a reason; whereas Christ’s having existed before John, though he was born after him, was a most convincing proof that he was a very extraordinary person, and was the strongest reason that could well have been assigned, to show that he was worthy of their superior regard. And I knew him not — When I testified concerning the Messiah that he was soon to appear, and was a much greater person than I was, I did not know that this was he: I only knew in the general, that my mission and baptism were designed by God as the means of making the Messiah known to the Israelites. See the note on Matthew 3:14. The Baptist made this declaration, lest the surrounding multitude should have imagined that Jesus assumed, and that he gave him, the title of Messiah, by private concert between themselves. But how surprising is this that John here asserts, considering how nearly they were related, and how remarkable the conception and birth of them both had been. But through the peculiar providence of God, it was ordered that our Saviour should live from his infancy to his baptism at Nazareth, while John lived all that time the life of a hermit, in the deserts of Judea, ninety or more miles from Nazareth. Hereby that acquaintance was prevented which might have made John’s testimony of Christ suspected. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit — From the time that the Baptist had the Messiah discovered to him by supernatural revelation, and the appearance of the sign which God had told him of, he openly pointed him out to the Jews, declaring, at the same time, the ground on which he proceeded in this matter, namely, the descent of the Spirit, which was the sign mentioned by God himself.


Verses 35-39

John 1:35-39. The next day, John stood, and two of his disciples — John happening the next day to be with two of his disciples on the banks of Jordan, he saw Jesus passing by a second time, and repeated what he had said to the multitude the day before. Probably he pointed out Jesus to these two disciples because they had been absent when the Spirit descended upon him, and the voice from heaven declared him to be the Son of God. But having now had an account of these things from their master, they desired to become acquainted with Jesus, and for that purpose followed him. Then Jesus turned, &c. — Jesus, knowing their intentions, turned about; and saith, What seek ye? — Thus he spake, not to discountenance and turn them back, but to encourage and invite them to a free converse with him. They said unto him — With the greatest reverence and respect; Rabbi — Which, being interpreted from the Syriac, the language then spoken by the Jews, signifies, Master; where dwellest thou που μενεις, where dost thou lodge? For Jesus had no fixed abode at Jordan, being come thither only to be baptized. By making this reply, John’s disciples intimated that they had a great inclination to converse with Jesus. He gave them, therefore, an invitation to his lodging, which they readily accepted; and abode with him that day — The remainder of it; for it was about the tenth hour — Or, four in the afternoon; so that they had an opportunity of spending the rest of the evening with him, doubtless, much to their satisfaction and delight.


Verses 40-42

John 1:40-42. One of the two who heard John speak — In the manner above related; was Andrew — And probably this evangelist, John, was the other, it being his custom to conceal his own name in his writings. He — Andrew; first findeth his own brother Simon — Simon may perhaps be here called Andrew’s own brother, to distinguish him from some other person that belonged to the family, who possibly might be his brother-in-law, or related to him only in half-blood. Peter was so remarkable a person, that it was proper to mention who was the first means of bringing him acquainted with Christ; and if John was the other disciple that is here referred to, he might intend this as an humble intimation that Andrew’s zeal was, in this respect, greater than his own. We see here, that Peter was not the first of Christ’s disciples, but that another was the means of bringing him to an acquaintance with him. In that respect, therefore, the Papists have no room for glorying. And saith unto him, We have found the Messiah — It seems the Baptist’s testimony, joined with the proofs offered by Christ himself, in the long conversation which the two disciples had with him, fully convinced Andrew. And he brought him to Jesus — That by conversing with him he might be satisfied of the truth of what he had told him. And when Jesus beheld him εμβλεψας αυτω, looking steadfastly upon him, as if he had read in his countenance the traces of his character, and of his future service in the church; he said, Thou art Simon — Though Jesus had never seen Simon before, and no one had told him his name or his parentage, immediately on his coming in Jesus saluted him by his own and his father’s name, which could not but greatly strike Peter. He added, Thou shalt be called Cephas, which — Says the evangelist, (for they are his, and not Christ’s words,) is by interpretation, a stone — Or rock, that is, it signifies the same in the Syriac which the word Peter does in Greek. It must be observed, to account for the insertion of this explanatory clause, that John “wrote his gospel in Greek, and in a Grecian city of Asia Minor; and therefore was the more careful to translate into Greek the Hebrew, Chaldee, or Syriac names, given for a special purpose, whereof they were expressive. And there was the greater reason for doing so in the two cases occurring in this and the preceding verse, as the Greek names were become familiar to the Asiatic converts, who were unacquainted with the oriental names. The sacred writer had a two-fold view in it: 1st, To explain the import of the name; 2d, To prevent his readers from mistaking the persons spoken of. They all knew who, as well as what, was meant by χριστος, Christ, but not by the Hebrew word, Messiah. In like manner, they knew who was called Peter, but might very readily have mistaken Cephas for some other person.” — Campbell.


Verse 43-44

John 1:43-44. The day following — The next to that last mentioned, on which he met with Peter; Jesus would go forth into Galilee — And there enter on his public ministry; and findeth Philip — Whom he intended to choose to be one of his apostles; and saith to him, Follow me — Which he accordingly did, being secretly influenced by Christ’s grace. When we consider how suddenly some of Christ’s disciples left their stated employments to follow him, it seems reasonable to allow some singular kind of impression on their minds, as there was in the calling of Elisha, (1 Kings 19:19-21,) which, though for the present it superseded the necessity of arguments, yet it did not exclude their attending to that afterward, which might be necessary to defend their conduct to others. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew — “As it appears from the subsequent part of the history, Philip was already acquainted with our Lord’s character, and believed on him, this observation is made by the evangelist, to show by what means he was brought to Jesus; his townsmen, Andrew and Peter, had done him this favour.”


Verse 45-46

John 1:45-46. Philip findeth Nathanael — Nathanael is supposed by many to have been the person, who, in the catalogue of the apostles, is called Bartholomew, that is, as the word signifies, the son of Tholomew, for Matthew joins Bartholomew with Philip, chap. John 10:3; and John places Nathanael in the midst of the apostles, immediately after Thomas, (chap. John 21:2,) just as Bartholomew is placed, Acts 1:13. And saith, We have found him of whom Moses did write — “It seems Peter and Andrew, in their conversation with Philip, had induced him to believe on Jesus, by showing him how the predictions of the law and the prophets were fulfilled in him, a method which, perhaps, Jesus himself had taken to confirm Peter and Andrew, Philip’s instructers, in the good opinion they had conceived of him, by means of the testimony which their master, John the Baptist, had given concerning him.” Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? — A proverb, by which the rest of the Israelites ridiculed the Nazarenes. Nathanael, on this occasion, applied it the rather, because the Messiah’s nativity had been determined by the Prophet Micah to Bethlehem. As if he had said, Have we ground from Scripture to expect the Messiah, or any eminent prophet, from Nazareth? As Nathanael was a native of Galilee, it appears from hence that the Galileans themselves had but an ill opinion of Nazareth, as worse than the rest of that country; and, indeed, by the figure its inhabitants make in the evangelists, they seem to have deserved it. Philip saith, Come and see — Come talk with him thyself, and thou wilt soon be convinced that he is the Messiah. How cautiously should we guard against popular prejudices! When these had once possessed so honest a heart as even that of Nathanael, they led him to suspect the blessed Jesus himself for an impostor, because he had been brought up at Nazareth. But his integrity prevailed over that foolish bias, and laid him open to the force of evidence, which a candid inquirer will always be glad to admit, even when it brings the most unexpected discoveries.


Verses 47-51

John 1:47-51. Jesus saw Nathanael coming — “Nathanael, being a man of a candid disposition, resolved to go and converse with Jesus, that he might judge with the more certainty concerning his pretensions. He was coming therefore with Philip on this errand, when Jesus, who knew his thoughts, honoured him with the amiable character of a true Israelite, in whom there was no guile — A plain, upright, honest man, one free from hypocrisy, and open to conviction; one who not only derived his pedigree from Abraham, but who inherited his virtues.” — Macknight. Nathanael saith, Whence knowest thou me — I am a perfect stranger to thee; how then canst thou know my character? Jesus answered — I am not so entire a stranger to thy character as thou art ready to suppose; nor do I take it from uncertain report. Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast alone under the fig- tree, I saw thee — As if he had said, I was present in spirit to observe what passed in that secret retirement. I know how well thou deservest the testimony which I have now borne to thine integrity. Nathanael was so struck with this express reference to what he was certain none could know but God and his own conscience, that all his prejudices were at once removed; and he immediately replied, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, &c. — So he acknowledges more than he had heard from Philip: he makes a confession both of the person and office of Christ. Happy they that are thus ready to believe, swift to receive the truth and grace of God! Just thus the woman of Samaria argued, (John 4:29,) Come see a man who told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? — Which plainly intimates, that they supposed the Messiah would be endowed with the most perfect knowledge, and have the gift of prophecy in the highest degree. Because I said, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou — Dost thou believe me to be the Messiah, because of the supernatural knowledge of thy character and secret actions which I have now discovered? Thou shalt see greater things than these — Greater instances of my power and knowledge, consequently more remarkable proofs of my mission. Verily, verily, I say unto you — “There is no doubt that these words are to be taken for a solemn affirmation, in which it was observable that John has constantly repeated the αμην, verily, while it is only mentioned once by the other evangelists; and this we may suppose him to have done, either to excite the greater attention, or in a more emphatical and stronger manner to assert the truth, not only of the thing affirmed, but of the person who affirms it. For as amen in the Hebrew signifies truth, (Isaiah 65:16,) so Christ, as being the true and faithful witness, is called the Amen, Revelation 3:14. This repeated asserveration, therefore, may be considered as an intimation to us, not only that the saying, unto which it is prefixed is true, but that we must regard it as proceeding from the true and faithful witness.” — Doddridge. Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending, &c. — Ye shall see the whole frame of nature subject to my commands, and such a surprising train of miracles wrought by me, in the whole course of my succeeding ministry, with such remarkable interpositions of Providence in my behalf, as will not only leave you no room to doubt of my mission from God, but will make it appear as if heaven was opened, and all the angels of God were continually, (as they appeared in a vision to Jacob, Genesis 28:12,) ascending and descending to wait upon the Son of man, and to receive and execute his orders. Or, if we understand the prediction more literally, we may, with Dr. Hammond, refer it to Christ’s ascension, when the heaven was opened to receive him, and the angels came down from thence to wait on him, and ascended after him. The appearance of an angel in his agony might also be referred to, and of those who waited on him at his resurrection, and so he may be considered as referring his disciples to the greatest of his miracles, his resurrection from the dead, by which the truth of his mission was put beyond all doubt. And even his second and glorious coming may be included, or, as some think, may be principally intended; as if he had said, “All who believe on me now, in my state of humiliation, shall hereafter see me come in my glory, and all the angels of God with me.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 1:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/john-1.html12. 1857.

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