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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
John 8

 

 

Verse 1-2

John 8:1-2. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives — Went to lodge there, that he might be out of the reach of his enemies, and that in retirement he might, by secret converse with his heavenly Father, be animated to all the labours and dangers before him. And early in the morning — In order that his retirement might not break in upon the opportunity of public service, which the present concourse of people at Jerusalem afforded him; he came again into the temple — With a view to teach the people, great numbers of whom coming to worship there, before they returned to their respective habitations in the country; (the feast being now ended;) came unto him — Flocked around him, to receive his instructions; and, notwithstanding the late conspiracy which had been formed against him, he sat down and taught them — As freely and as boldly as he had ever done. Such was his compassion for them, and his zeal for the glory of his heavenly Father!


Verse 3-4

John 8:3-4. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman, &c. — While he was thus employed, the scribes and Pharisees set a woman before him, that had been taken in the act of adultery; and standing round him, desired his opinion of the affair, which, it appears from John 8:6, they did with an insidious intention. “Probably,” says Dr. Macknight, “the Romans had modelled the laws of Judea according to the jurisprudence of Rome, and in particular had mitigated the severity of the punishment of the adulteress. Wherefore, if Jesus should say that the law of Moses ought to be executed upon this adulteress, the Pharisees hoped the people would stone her immediately, which would afford them an opportunity of accusing him before the governor, as a mover of sedition. But, if he should determine that the innovations practised by the Romans in such cases should take place, they resolved to represent him to the people as one who made void the law out of complaisance to their heathen masters. This their craft and wickedness Jesus fully knew, and regulated his conduct towards these depraved hypocrites accordingly, for he made them no answer.”


Verse 5-6

John 8:5-6. Now Moses commanded that such should be stoned — If they spoke accurately, this must have been a woman who, having been betrothed to a husband, had been guilty of this crime before the marriage was completed, for such only Moses commanded to be stoned. He commanded, indeed, that other adulteresses should be put to death; but the manner of death was not specified. It may be inferred, however, from Ezekiel 16:38-40, that though the law of Moses did not expressly enjoin it, the Jews considered stoning as being the proper punishment of all kinds of adultery, for there the prophet represents God as saying, concerning Jerusalem, I will judge thee as women that break wedlock are judged; they shall stone thee with stones. Add to this, we find Philo and the ancient Christian fathers using the phrases, “those that were stoned,” and “those that were punished for adultery,” as synonymous terms. This they said, tempting him, that they might accuse him — Either of usurping the office of a judge, if he condemned her, or of being an enemy to the law, if he acquitted her. But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground — Perhaps there were in this woman’s case some circumstances tending to alleviate her guilt, such as her past innocence, known to Jesus, her present repentance, which he could easily discern, and the strength of the temptations by which she had been hurried into sin. There may have been something likewise in her accusers’ characters well known to him, which made it proper for them to desist from the prosecution. Also, Jesus might now, as on other occasions, decline assuming the character and office of a civil magistrate. Lastly, the persons who demanded his opinion were by no means the judges to whom the execution of the law was committed; but Pharisees, who at the bottom were gross hypocrites, notwithstanding they professed the greatest concern for the honour of the divine law. Whatever was the reason, Jesus did not encourage this prosecution; but with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not — Or had not been attending to what they said: for, to write on the ground is the action of one who, being wholly wrapped up in his own thoughts, does not take notice of any thing that passes without.


Verses 7-9

John 8:7-9. When they continued asking him — That is, pressed him with great importunity to give an answer, thinking, no doubt, that they had him at a great advantage; he lifted up himself, and, without replying directly to their demand, said, He that is without sin among you — He that is not guilty (his own conscience being the judge) either of the same sin or of some nearly resembling it; let him — As a witness; first cast a stone at her — He alludes to the law, (Deuteronomy 17:7,) which ordered, that the hands of the witnesses, by whose testimony an idolater was convicted, should be first upon him, and afterward the hands of all the people. Our Lord’s meaning was, Persons exceedingly zealous in getting punishment executed on others, ought to be free themselves at least from gross sins; for which cause, as you are all guilty of equal, or greater, or, it may be, the like offences, and deserve the wrath of God, you should show mercy to this sinner, who may have fallen through the strength of temptation, rather than of evil inclination, and who is now truly sorry for her offence. Our Lord’s words made such an impression on the minds of these hypocrites, and raised in them such strong convictions of sin, as soon put their zeal to shame; and made them afraid to stay, lest Jesus should have made their particular sins public. And he again stooped down and wrote on the ground — Giving them an opportunity to withdraw, which they embraced; and being convicted by their own consciences — That is, their consciences smiting them with remorse, because, at some time or other of their lives, they had been guilty, either of the very sin for which they proposed to have this woman stoned, or of some crime or crimes equally great: they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last αρξαμενοι απο των πρεσβυτερων εως των εσχατων. This, Keuchenius interprets, beginning at the most honourable, even unto the lowest of them, and this they did, although, when they first came, they had been exceedingly incensed against her. And Jesus was left alone — By all those scribes and Pharisees who proposed the question. But many others remained, to whom our Lord directed his discourse presently after.


Verse 10-11

John 8:10-11. When Jesus saw none but the woman — None of those who had been soliciting his judgment, but only the woman they had brought before him; he said, Where are those thine accusers? — Is there no one remaining to bear witness against thee? hath no man condemned thee — Hath no judicial sentence been passed upon thee? She said, No man, Lord: Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee — Neither do I take upon me to pass any such sentence, nor to order thee to be punished at this time: but thou must not therefore think that I approve thy conduct. Thou hast committed a great sin, and I charge thee to beware of committing it any more. Let this deliverance lead thee to repentance. “The English word condemn,” says Dr. Campbell, “is used with so great a latitude of signification, for blaming, disapproving, as well as passing sentence against, that I thought it better, in order to avoid occasion of mistaking, to use a periphrasis, which hits exactly the meaning of the Greek word κατακρινω, in these two verses.” He therefore renders the expression in the former verse, Hath no man passed sentence upon thee? and in the latter, Neither do I pass sentence on thee. “In this transaction Jesus appears unspeakably great, having displayed on the occasion a degree of wisdom and knowledge, power and goodness, vastly more than human. His wisdom he showed in defending himself against the malicious attacks of his enemies; his knowledge, in discovering the invisible state of their minds; his power, in making use of their own secret thoughts and convictions, to disappoint their crafty intentions; and his goodness, in pitying, and not punishing instantly, one who had been guilty of an atrocious act of wickedness.” — Macknight.


Verse 12

John 8:12. Then spake Jesus again — Addressing himself to his disciples and the multitude; I am the light of the world — It was with singular propriety that our Lord spake thus, after the wonderful display which he had just made, by the above-mentioned remarkable decision, of his wisdom and knowledge, as well as of his power and goodness. He probably alluded to Malachi 4:2, where the Messiah is foretold under the name of the Sun of righteousness; or to the bright shining of the sun that morning. As if he had said, I am the spiritual Sun, that dispels the darkness of ignorance and superstition, with which the minds of men are overcast; for by my doctrine and example I show clearly everywhere the will of God and the way of salvation: and I never leave those in darkness who walk by my light, as the sun leaves travellers when he sets, and occasions the darkness of the night. For he that followeth me — That adheres to, and continues to learn of me; that imitates my example, and governs himself by the dictates of my word and Spirit; shall not walk in darkness — In ignorance or error, sin or misery; but shall have the light of life — He that closely, humbly, steadily follows me, shall have the divine light continually shining upon him, diffusing over his soul knowledge, holiness, and joy, till he is guided by it to life everlasting.


Verse 13-14

John 8:13-14. The Pharisees, therefore — Namely, some of them who were then present, but different persons from those who had brought in the woman, being enraged at the late disappointment of their brethren; said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself — And therefore, by thine own confession, thy record — Or testimony, rather, as μαρτυρια signifies; is not to be admitted as true — But may rather be suspected of vain glory. They retort upon our Lord his own words, (John 5:31,) If I testify of myself, my testimony is not true. He then added, There is another who testifieth of me. To the same effect he replies here, (John 8:14,) Though I testify of myself, yet my testimony is true — For I am inseparably united to the Father. I know — And from firm and certain knowledge proceeds the most unexceptionable testimony; whence I came, and whither I go — To these two heads may be referred all the doctrine concerning Christ. The former is treated of, John 8:16, &c.; the latter, John 8:21, &c. For I know whence I came — That is, for I came from God, both as God and as man. And I know it, though ye do not.


Verses 15-19

John 8:15-19. Ye judge after the flesh — As the flesh, that is, corrupt nature, dictates. The same carnal prejudices still prevail in the minds of the Jews, and prevent their reception of Christ; they laying it down as a first principle, that he is to be a great temporal prince and deliverer. And the admission of false principles, which are constantly taken for granted, and never examined, will, it is to be feared, be attended with fatal consequences to thousands more. I judge no man — Not thus; not now; not at my first coming. Dr. Macknight paraphrases the verse thus: “Ye judge of me according to outward appearances, and condemn me for this, among other things, that I judge no man. You think that I cannot be the Messiah, because I do not destroy those who oppose me, as you imagine the Messiah will do; but in this you are altogether mistaken, for the design of the Messiah’s coming is not to destroy, but to save mankind.” And yet if I judge, my judgment is true — That is, just, equitable: for I am not alone, &c. — If I should condemn any person for disbelieving my divine mission and rejecting me, the condemnation of such a one would be just, because my mission is true, being confirmed, not by my own testimony only, but by the Father’s also; and because every sentence of that kind, which I should pass, would be pronounced by the authority, and agreeable to the will of my Father. The Son is not alone in judging, any more than in testifying; for the Father is in him, and he in the Father, John 14:10-11. It is written in your law — For which you profess to have so great and sacred a regard; that the testimony of two men is true — That is, to be admitted as true; and that matters of the greatest consequence are, without scruple, to be determined by it. See the margin. As if he said, You could not justly complain if I should punish you for your unbelief in such a case as this, since your own law directs you to believe every matter that is confirmed by the concurring testimony of two witnesses, as my mission evidently is. For I am one that bear witness of myself — Not by words only, but by all the actions of my life, which are agreeable to the character of a messenger from heaven; and the Father, that sent me, beareth witness of me — By the miracles which he enables me to perform, (see John 5:32; John 5:36,) so that you are altogether culpable in rejecting me. Then said they, Where is thy Father — The other witness to whom thou so frequently appealest? Mention him plainly, that we may know how far he is to be regarded, and produce him as a witness. Jesus answered — Showing the perverseness of their question; Ye neither know me nor my Father — As plainly appears by your conduct. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also — If ye had properly understood who I am, and had formed a right judgment of my person, character, and mission, and regarded me as you ought to have done, you would also, long before this time, have known who and what my Father is, in another manner than you now do; for I bear his complete resemblance, and it is my great business to reveal him to those who submit to my instructions. Our Lord here plainly intimates, that the Father and he were distinct persons, as they were two witnesses; and yet one in essence, as the knowledge of him includes the knowledge of the Father.


Verse 20

John 8:20. These words spake Jesus in the treasury — Which was a certain part of the women’s court, where the chests were placed for receiving the offerings of those who came to worship; and consequently was a place of great concourse. And no man laid hands on him — Though he so plainly intimated that God was his Father, and charged the Jews with being ignorant of him, while they boasted that he was in a peculiar sense their God; yet, their spirits were kept under such a powerful, though secret restraint, that no one seized him; which was the more wonderful, as it was a place much frequented by his greatest enemies, and from which it would not have been easy for him to have escaped without a miracle; for his hour was not yet come — In which he was, by divine permission, to be delivered into the hands of these wicked men.


Verse 21

John 8:21. Then said Jesus again — Probably in the same place where the preceding discourse was pronounced; and still confiding in the protection of Divine Providence; I go my way — That is, I shall speedily go away from among you; and ye shall seek me — Shall inquire after the Messiah; and shall die in your sins — Impenitent and unbelieving, and therefore unpardoned. Or, ye shall die, suffering the punishment of your sins: you shall perish for your unbelief and rejection of me, by a singular stroke of divine vengeance. The threatening, thus explained, conveys a prediction of the destruction of their city and state, in which probably some, that were now our Lord’s hearers, afterward perished. Whither I go ye cannot come — Either to molest me, or to secure yourselves. Though you should be ever so desirous of being admitted into my presence, the favour will not be granted you. He repeats what he had said to them in a former discourse, (see on John 7:33-34,) that it might make the deeper impression upon them. “He meant, that after his ascension into heaven, when the Roman armies were spreading desolation and death in every corner of the land, they would earnestly desire the coming of the Messiah, in expectation of deliverance, but should perish for their sins, and under the guilt of them, without any Saviour whatsoever, and be excluded for ever from heaven.” Some think, that in saying this, our Lord opposed a common error of the Jews, who imagined, that by death they made atonement for all their sins.


Verses 22-24

John 8:22-24. Then said the Jews — Showing at once the great perverseness of their disposition, and their contempt of his declaration; will he kill himself? &c. — Thus they made a jest of his threatening, and instead of trembling at his word, turned it into ridicule. He said, Ye are from beneath — The slaves of earth, and the heirs of hell; I am from above — I am from heaven, and shall quickly return thither; ye are of this world — And your treasure and hearts are here; I am not of this world — My thoughts and affections are set upon that celestial state and place from whence I came, and I incessantly labour to conduct men thither. But, as to you, I labour in vain. I said, therefore, that ye shall die in your sins

And it is really a great and awful truth, and deserves another kind of regard than you give it; for if ye believe not that I am he — Greek, οτι εγω ειμι, that I am, that is, the person whom I have represented myself to be, namely, the bread of life, the heavenly manna, the light of the world, the Messiah. For there is evidently an ellipsis in the words, to be supplied by comparing them with John 8:12. See John 13:19; Mark 13:6; Acts 13:25, where exactly the same phrase occurs. Ye shall die in your sins — And therefore will be, in effect, the murderers of your own souls. What follows shows this to have been our Lord’s meaning; though he did not express himself fully, having handled these matters before at great length, in this and other discourses. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge here, that “the repetition of the threatening from John 8:21 is a very awful rebuke to the folly of their answer, John 8:22 : as if our Lord had said, It very ill becomes you to trifle and amuse yourselves with such silly and spiteful turns, when your life, even the life of your souls, is at stake; and to talk of my killing myself, when, by your unbelief and impenitency, you are plunging yourselves into eternal death! Thus do those passages in our Lord’s discourses, which to a careless reader might seem flat tautologies, appear, on an attentive review, to be animated with the most penetrating spirit, and to be full of divine dignity.”


Verses 25-27

John 8:25-27. Then said they, Who art thou? — This question they ask in derision, and not with any desire to be instructed. And Jesus saith, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning — Namely, of my public ministry, or from the time I first spake to you. Or, as Whitby renders it, I am what I before told you I was; a sense of the expression, την αρχην, (here rendered, from the beginning,) which he justifies by several passages of the Septuagint, particularly Genesis 13:4; Genesis 41:21; Genesis 42:18; Genesis 42:20; that is, I am one sent of God to reveal his will to you. I have many things to say and to judge of you — That is, you say and judge many things of me, which from my words and deeds will appear to be false; but I have many things to say of you, what you are as to your spirit and conduct, and what you will be through the just judgment of God, which, though you will not believe, will be found true; for he that sent me to say them is true, and I speak those things which I have heard of him — I deliver truly what he hath given me in charge, and he will finally verify my words. They understood not — So exceeding stupid were they, and so blinded by the prejudices of their minds; that he spake to them of the Father — Of God, as the person who sent him.


Verse 28-29

John 8:28-29. Then said Jesus, When ye have lifted up the Son of man — From the earth on the cross; and have proceeded so far as to put him to a violent death, then, instead of seeing his cause and interest overborne by that outrageous attempt, shall ye know — By some new and convincing tokens; that I am he — This, doubtless, refers to the prodigies attending his death, his resurrection, and ascension, the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, the amazing miracles wrought by the apostles in his name, and the wonderful success which he should give to the gospel through their ministry; and that I do nothing of myself — Nothing by my own authority, separate from that of my Father; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak — I teach such doctrines only as he has commissioned me to declare; and he that sent me is with me — Besides, my Father is always with me to bear his testimony to the truth of what I say, and to support and vindicate me. The Father hath not left me alone — Never from the moment I came into the world, nor will he ever leave me; for I do always those things that please him — I always act agreeably to his will, and faithfully and constantly pursue the important work which he has committed to my trust.


Verses 30-32

John 8:30-32. As he spake these words, many believed on him — Believed that he was the Messiah, and were strongly inclined to follow him as such. Some have supposed that the ambiguity of the expression, in John 8:28, (When you have lifted up the Son of man,) induced those here spoken of to believe him to be the Messiah; supposing that it intimated an exaltation to some temporal authority and power. “Hearing him speak,” says Dr. Macknight, “of a temporal kingdom, as they supposed, they began now to think that he entertained some sentiments worthy of the Messiah; and on that account acknowledged him as such.” But surely it is much more reasonable to suppose, from the evangelist’s affirming that they believed on him, without giving any intimation that their faith was in any respect erroneous, and especially from what Jesus says to them in the next verse, that they really had felt their hearts impressed with what they heard from him in the preceding discourse, and were induced to believe on him with a true and saving faith, by the dignity and force attending his words on this occasion. Then Jesus — Knowing the weakness of human nature, the deceitfulness of the human heart, and the difficulties which they would meet with, if they attempted to act according to their present inclinations and purposes; said to those which believed on him — And were now ready to profess their faith; If ye continue in my word — Continue to attend on my instructions, and believe and obey them; then are ye my disciples indeed — And I will finally own you as such; and ye shall know the truth — The whole truth comprehended in my gospel, as far as is necessary or conducive to your salvation, or to your holiness, usefulness, or comfort; and the truth shall make you free — Shall put you in possession of that state of glorious liberty which it is the privilege of my disciples to enjoy. Our Lord meant, that the instructions of his word, accompanied with the illumination of his Spirit, would remove their prejudices, correct their errors, enlarge their views, and by giving them the full assurance of understanding in the doctrine of the gospel, would scatter their doubts, bring satisfaction, peace, and serenity to their minds; and also that it would free them from the slavery of sin and Satan, the love of the world, and the lusts of the flesh, and all the consequences thereof; and even from the yoke of the ceremonial law, under which they at present groaned, from the spirit of bondage, and the tormenting fear of death.


Verses 33-36

John 8:33-36. They answered him — Namely, the other Jews that were present, not those that believed, as appears by the whole tenor of the conversation; We be Abraham’s seed — A person always free, and a peculiar favourite of Heaven; and were never in bondage to any man — A bold, notorious untruth. At that very time they were in bondage to the Romans, and their ancestors had been slaves, first in Egypt, and afterward in Assyria and Babylon. How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free — Upon becoming thy disciples? Jesus answered, Whosoever committeth sin — Greek, ποιων αμαρτιαν, worketh, or acteth known sin; is the servant — δουλος, the slave; of sin — Namely, as far as he knowingly commits it. And the servant — Or slave; abideth not in the house for ever — That is, as a person who is only a slave in a family, does not abide always in the house of his master, but is liable to be dismissed at his lord’s pleasure, or transferred to another; much less can you, who are the servants, not of God, but of sin, promise yourselves, that ye shall still, on account of your descent from Abraham, continue in the possession of those privileges, which, by undeserved mercy, you hitherto enjoy; but the Son abideth ever — The eldest son and heir of the family continually abides in his Father’s house: and his power and influence there are always increasing. The casting out of Ishmael, though a son of Abraham by the bond-woman, beautifully illustrates this exposition of the passage, and the connection. Dr. Macknight paraphrases the verse thus: “As a slave cannot be so assured of his master’s favour as to depend upon it, that he shall never be turned out of the family, since it is always his master’s right, and in his power, to sell or keep him, as he shall think fit, so my Father can, when he pleases, turn you, who are habitual sinners, out of his family, and deprive you of the outward economy of religion, in which you glory, because through sin you have made yourselves bondmen to his justice. Whereas, if you will become God’s children, you shall be sure of remaining in his family for ever. And the only way to arrive at the blessed relation, is to submit to the authority of his Son, in which case the Son will adopt you as co-heirs with himself.” If, therefore, I, who am the only-begotten Son of God, and the heir of all things, and who have power of receiving whom I will into the family, shall make you free — You, claiming in virtue of my right and authority, will be free indeed — Free from the slavery of sin, the tyranny of Satan, and the bondage of corruption; free to do good, free in respect of your right to the inheritance, and free in your possession of present privileges, remaining in the house of God without danger of being ever thrust out. Archbishop Tillotson is of opinion, that this alludes to a custom in some of the cities of Greece, and elsewhere, whereby the son and heir had the liberty to adopt brethren, and give them the privileges of the family. “But I rather imagine,” says Dr. Macknight, “that the allusion is to something more generally known. For, as in all countries the sons succeed their fathers in the possession of their estates, such slaves as gained the good-will of the son by their obliging behaviour during his minority, were sure to be well treated by him when he came to his estate; perhaps might in time obtain their freedom, and even some small share of the inheritance itself.”


Verses 37-40

John 8:37-40. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed — That ye are descended from Abraham, as Ishmael and Esau, and their posterity also were, I know; but what can that avail you, while you are so unlike Abraham, in your spirit and conduct, as it is plain you are? For you seek to kill me — Who am not only an innocent person, but the Lord of life and glory, invested with an extraordinary commission from God to instruct and save you: a crime this, the heinousness of which no words can describe. Thus having answered their objection concerning freedom, (John 8:34-36,) he here answers the other branch of it, concerning their being Abraham’s offspring. Because my word hath no place in you — In your minds and hearts, and has not any weight with, or influence upon you, but is of a tenor directly contrary to your prejudices and lusts. I speak that which I have seen with my Father — And which I know to be agreeable to his mind and will; but with which it is impossible to reconcile your practice. For ye do that which you have seen with your father — To whom you manifest a visible conformity, in your dispositions and actions. By which he intimated, that their devices, designs, and works were as truly diabolical, as his doctrine was divine. They answered, Abraham is our father — As if they had said, Observe on whom thy reflection falls. Thou reproachest that holy patriarch, who was peculiarly dear to God. Jesus saith, If ye were Abraham’s children — His true and genuine progeny, his spiritual seed; ye would do the works of Abraham — Ye would resemble that great and good man in faith and holiness; and therefore, “instead of seeking to take the life of one who is come to you from God, with a revelation of his will, ye would believe on him; in imitation of Abraham, who, for his faith in all the divine revelations, and his obedience to all the divine commands, however hard they were to flesh and blood, was ennobled with the grand titles of the father of the faithful, and the friend of God.” But now ye seek to kill me — And that for no other reason but because I have told you the truth, clearly, fully, and faithfully, which I have heard of God — Received in commission from him. This did not Abraham — He did nothing like this; but was famous for his humanity, justice, and piety, giving the readiest credit, and the most joyful welcome, to all the messages which God sent him. Some render the clause, Abraham would not have done this; that is, he would not have acted thus, if he had lived now.


Verses 41-43

John 8:41-43. Ye do the deeds of your father — By your deeds ye show whose children ye are. They said, We be not born of fornication — We are not bastard Jews, a mixed, spurious blood, descended from Gentile idolaters or apostate Israelites; nor are we ourselves worshippers of idols: but have one Father, even God — Whose true children we are, by virtue of our descent from his people, and our profession of his religion. It seems that they perceived, at length, that Jesus spake not so much of natural as of spiritual lineage; and that they alluded to the marriage-covenant, which, in Scripture, is said to have subsisted between God and the Jewish nation, and by which their obligation to reverence, love, and obey him, was represented as fidelity to their heavenly husband, and their violation of that obligation, as spiritual whoredom. Jesus said, If God were your Father — And you were his genuine children, as you profess to be; you would love me — And therefore would be far from forming designs to take away my life; for I proceeded forth and came from God — Greek, εξηλθον και ηκω, I proceeded, namely, originally, and do come from God, and appear among you as his messenger. Neither came I of myself — As the false prophets did, who had neither their mission nor message from God; but he sent me — As is evident from the many proofs of my mission, which I am daily giving you. Observe, reader, all that really have God for their Father, have a true love to the Lord Jesus, an esteem for his person, a grateful sense of his love, a sincere regard for his cause and interest, a complacency in the salvation effected by him, and in the method and terms of it, and a care to keep his commandments, which is the surest evidence of our love to him. We are here in a state of probation: and God is trying, so to speak, how we will conduct ourselves toward him; and we shall be treated accordingly in a state of retribution. God has taken various methods to prove mankind, and this was one: he sent his Son into the world with sufficient proofs both of his Sonship and mission, concluding that all, who called him Father, would kiss his Son, and bid him welcome, who was firstborn among many brethren. By this our adoption will be proved or disproved, namely, by our loving, or not loving Christ. Why do ye not understand my speech — What is the reason that you do not comprehend the true meaning of the things which I have spoken to you? Even because — Or, interrogatively, Is it not because ye cannot hear my word — Cannot give obedience thereto, it being contrary to your lusts? Not being desirous to do my will, you cannot understand my doctrine, chap. John 7:17. Or, as Dr. Campbell renders the clause, Ye cannot bear my doctrine. For, “the verb, ακουειν, denotes frequently in Scripture, and even in profane authors, not barely to hear, but to hear patiently; consequently, not to hear, often means not to bear. The English verb, to hear, has also sometimes the same meaning.”


Verses 44-47

John 8:44-47. Ye are of your father the devil — Ye are the genuine children of Satan; and the lusts τας επιθυμιας, the desires; of your father ye will do — Namely, resolutely and obstinately, as the words, θελετε ποιειν, evidently imply. The account which Josephus gives of the wickedness of the Jews, about this time, abundantly vindicates this assertion of our Lord from any appearance of undue severity. He was a murderer — Greek, ανθρωποκτονος, man-slayer, or man-killer; from the beginning — The common term for murderer, in the New Testament, is φονευς. And it seems “not without intention, that the devil, a being not of earthly extraction, is rather called a manslayer than a murderer, as marking with greater precision his enmity to the human race.” — Campbell. Satan was a manslayer in inclination, from the beginning of his becoming a devil, and actually such from the beginning of the world: for, from the beginning of the creation, he contrived and designed the ruin of mankind. And he has ever since endeavoured to work their ruin; sometimes by seducing them into sin by his lies, (for as he abode not in the truth, there is no truth in him,) and sometimes by instigating them to kill those whom God sends to reclaim them; as well as in various other ways. Withal, having early departed from holiness and truth, a habit of lying has become perfectly natural to him; and when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own — Speaketh what is proper to himself, he being the proper parent, and, as it were, creator of lying. Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not — Ye, his children, disbelieve me, because, instead of soothing you in your sins, and flattering you with lies, I tell you the truth, to which, like your father, you are utterly averse. Which of you convinceth me of sin? — Greek, ελεγχει με περι αμαρτιας, which of you convicteth me of sin. The word convinceth is not the proper term in this place; for it relates only to the opinion of the person himself, about whom the question is. But our Lord here, in order to show that the unbelief of his hearers had no reasonable excuse, challenges them openly to convict him, if they could, in any instance, of a deviation from truth or righteousness. As if he had said, Bring evidence of such a deviation, evince it to the world: prove that I have not received my commission from God; or that I have done something to render me unworthy of credit. Show, if you can, that I have taught false doctrine, reproved you unjustly for your actions, or committed sin myself. If you cannot, but must acknowledge that my life is as unreprovable as my doctrine; that the latter is confirmed by the former, and that both are such as become a messenger of God; what is the reason that ye do not believe me? He that is of God, heareth God’s words — He that is a child of God, humbly receiveth the revelations which God makes of himself by his messengers, hears his words, and obeys his commands, with joy and reverence. Ye, therefore, hear them not — Ye reject the revelations, doctrines, commandments, promises, and threatenings, and his word in general, declared by me, his Messenger, and my servants, for no other reason but because you are not his children.


Verses 48-53

John 8:48-53. Then answered the Jews, Say we not well — Have we not just cause to say; Thou art a Samaritan — An enemy to our church and nation; and hast a devil? — Art possessed by a proud and lying spirit? The Jews and Samaritans bearing a mortal hatred to one another on account of religion, it happened, that in common language, Couthi, or Samaritan, was used to signify, not merely a Samaritan by country, but one by principle and disposition; and so denoted oft-times an inveterate enemy to the Jewish nation and religion, and a man of wicked morals. Thus, in our own language, a Turk signifies one of a barbarous disposition; and a Jew, one who is covetous and rich. Jesus to this insolent charge answered with great meekness, I have not a devil — As the whole series of my discourses and actions shows; nor can any of you produce any thing, in all that I have said or done, which looks like lunacy or impiety: but, the truth is, I honour my Father — By bearing a steady and consistent testimony to the doctrine he hath sent me to reveal to the world: and because this doctrine is contrary to your corrupt prejudices and passions, you dishonour me — By these and such like opprobrious reflections, in hope of discrediting my message. But as to what personally relates to me, I am little affected with it; for I seek not my own glory: there is one, however, that seeketh — And will secure it; and who now judgeth — Of all that passes, and will at length evidently show the exact notice he has taken of it, to my honour and to your confusion. For God will not only finally glorify me, but will confer the highest honours and rewards on all my faithful servants: and therefore, Verily, I say unto you — I assert it as an indisputable truth; If a man — εαν τις, if any one; keep my saying — Firmly believe, and steadily obey my word; he shall never see death — He shall never see spiritual and eternal death; and temporal death, the dissolution of his mortal nature, shall, with respect to him, hardly deserve the name of death; his soul, the real and true man, not dying at all, but passing into the paradise of God, and his body only falling asleep for a short season. Hereby our Lord proves that he was not a Samaritan, for the Samaritans, in general, were Sadducees. Then the Jews — Understanding him as asserting that his disciples should be exempted from the common lot of mortality; said, Now we know that thou hast a devil — Now we have full proof that thou art possessed by a demon, which hurries thee on to this madness and pride, otherwise thou couldest never talk at this extravagant rate. Abraham, the great friend of God, and the founder of our nation, is dead, and the prophets, holy and divinely inspired as they were, whom God raised up in succeeding ages, were so far from being able to bestow immortality on their followers, that even they themselves are long since dead; and thou sayest — In great presumption and pride; If a man, if any one, keep my saying, (see on John 8:51,) he shall never taste of death — Not only he shall not die eternally, (in which sense the Jews did not understand our Lord’s words,) but he shall not die at all. See on John 6:50. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, &c. — Art thou more in favour with God than Abraham and the prophets were? who, though strict observers of all the divine precepts, were not able to procure an immunity from death for themselves, far less for their followers.


Verse 54-55

John 8:54-55. Jesus answered, If I honour myself, (referring to their words, Whom makest thou thyself?) my honour is nothing — If I should speak in praise of myself, you would call it vain and foolish; and say to me as the Pharisees did lately, (John 8:13,) Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true, nor to be regarded. Wherefore, instead of giving a description of my dignity, I shall only tell you, it is my Father that honoureth me, which he does in a remarkable manner, by the miracles which he enables me to perform, by the descent of his Spirit upon me at my baptism, and by his voice uttered from heaven, declaring me to be his beloved Son. This I think may be sufficient to convince you that I am able to do for my disciples what I said, especially when I tell you further, that my Father is he of whom ye say, that he is your God — And whom you pretend to worship as such. Yet ye have not known him — Yet you are ignorant of him. You neither form right conceptions of his attributes, nor acknowledge him in the manner you ought to do; so that you give the lie to your profession. But I know him — Perfectly and intimately; and if I should say, I know him not — If I should retract my pretensions to that peculiar and intimate knowledge of him, which I have so often professed; I should be a liar like unto you — And you would have reason to doubt my testimony as to other things. But I know him, and keep his saying τον λογον, his word. I have both a perfect acquaintance with him, and obey his laws. This clause plainly shows that Christ is not speaking here of a speculative, but of a practical knowledge of God.


Verses 56-59

John 8:56-59. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day ηγαλλιασατο ινα ιδη την ημεραν, exulted with desire, to see my day. “The words ινα ιδη, that he might see, immediately following the verb, show,” as Dr. Campbell observes, “that it cannot mean here, rejoiced, but rather signifies, desired earnestly, wished, longed.” Indeed, the expression may with the strictest propriety signify, “leaping forward with joy to meet the object of our wishes, as well as exulting in the possession of it.” By his day, our Lord seems to mean, the time when the promised seed should come, in whom all nations were to be blessed by being converted from idolatry to the knowledge and worship of the true God; and put in possession of all the blessings attendant on true religion. He earnestly desired, as if our Lord said, to see the great transactions of my life, by which these blessings were to be procured for all nations, and to take a view of the happy state into which the world would be brought, when they were bestowed upon them. And he saw it, and was glad — His faith was equivalent to seeing. By the favour of a particular revelation, Abraham had a distinct foresight of these things, and was exceedingly transported with the prospect. If then you want to know my person and character, you may form some notion of both from the disposition with which Abraham regarded me. Our Lord, therefore, plainly enough assumed the character of the Messiah on this occasion. Then said the Jews, Thou art not yet fifty years old, &c. — Understanding what he said in a natural sense, they thought he affirmed that he had lived in the days of Abraham; which they took to be ridiculous nonsense, as he was not arrived at the age of fifty; for they had no conception of his divinity, notwithstanding he had told them several times that he was the Son of God. Jesus saith, Verily, &c., before Abraham was, I am — Greek, πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι, “before Abraham was born, I am, that is, I had a glorious existence with the Father, and am still invariably the same, and one with him.” So Doddridge. Thus also Dr. Campbell, who observes, “I have followed here the version of Erasmus, which is close, both to the sense and to the letter: Antequam Abraham nasceretur ego sum. Diodati renders the words in the same way in Italian. Heylin and Wynne translate in English in the same manner. εγω ειμι, (which we translate I am,) may indeed be rendered I was. The present for the imperfect, or even for the preterperfect, is no unusual figure with this writer. However, as an uninterrupted duration, from the time spoken of to the time then present, seems to have been suggested, I thought it better to follow the common method.” Our Lord here, in the strongest terms, appears to assert his proper divinity, declaring himself to be, what St. John more largely expresses, (Revelation 1:8,) the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, was, and is to come, the Almighty. See also Exodus 3:14; Hebrews 1:12.

As to rendering this clause, Before Abraham was born, I was: notwithstanding the nicest critical distinctions, it must at least be acknowledged that this is a very unusual sense of εγω ειμι, and the less necessary, as the proper and common translation affords us a just and important sense, and one to which none but the enemies of our Lord’s divinity can object. It is indeed striking to observe the unnatural construction to which they have recourse who stumble at this text. The Socinians, with the most perverse impropriety, render the passage thus: “Before Abraham was made Abraham,” that is, the father of many nations, in the spiritual sense of the promise, “I am the Messiah.” Grotius and others, of too much learning not to discern the proper force of the words, are of opinion that our Lord only affirms of himself that he was before Abraham in the divine decree. But 1st, Christ says this in answer to the objection of the Jews, which had no respect to the priority of these two persons in the decree of God, but as to actual existence. 2d, This sense of the passage is trifling indeed, if our Lord was no more than a man, it being certain that all creatures, of whatsoever order, existed equally soon in the divine decree. Besides, that our Lord did really exist at the time mentioned in the text, is plain likewise from John 17:5. Nor is it to be imagined that, if our Lord had been a mere creature, he would have ventured to express himself in a manner so nearly bordering on blasphemy, or have permitted his beloved disciple so dangerously to disguise his meaning; a meaning indisputably clear to every plain and unprejudiced reader; a full proof whereof is the manner in which his hearers now received it: for, filled with rage, upon the blasphemy, as they thought it, of his claiming divinity to himself, they immediately prepare to inflict the punishment of a blasphemer upon him, by stoning him. But Jesus hid himself — Greek, εκρυβη, was hidden, or concealed, probably suddenly be came invisible; and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, unobserved, and so passed by — Or passed on, with the same ease as if none had been there.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 8:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/john-8.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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