1.In the beginning was the Speech. In this introduction he asserts the eternal Divinity of Christ, in order to inform us that he is the eternal God, who was manifested in the flesh, (1Ti_3:16.) The design is, to show it to have been necessary that the restoration of mankind should be accomplished by the Son of God, since by his power all things were created, since he alone breathes into all the creatures life and energy, so that they remain in their condition; and since in man himself he has given a remarkable display both of his power and of his grace, and even subsequently to the fall of man has not ceased to show liberality and kindness towards his posterity. And this doctrine is highly necessary to be known; for since apart from God we ought not at all to seek life and salvation, how could our faith rest on Christ, if we did not know with certainty what is here taught? By these words, therefore, the Evangelist assures us that we do not withdraw from the only and eternal God, when we believe in Christ, and likewise that life is now restored to the dead through the kindness of him who was the source and cause of life, when the nature of man was still uncorrupted.
As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the Speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because he is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because he is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals himself to us by his Speech. The other significations of the Greek word λόγος (Logos) do not apply so well. It means, no doubt, definition, and reasoning, and calculation; but I am unwilling to carry the abstruseness of philosophy beyond the measure of my faith. And we perceive that the Spirit of God is so far from approving of such subtleties that, in prattling with us, by his very silence he cries aloud with what sobriety we ought to handle such lofty mysteries.
Now as God, in creating the world, revealed himself by that Speech, so he formerly had him concealed with himself, so that there is a twofold relation; the former to God, and the latter to men. Servetus, a haughty scoundrel belonging to the Spanish nation, invents the statement, that this eternal Speech began to exist at that time when he was displayed in the creation of the world, as if he did not exist before his power was made known by external operation. Very differently does the Evangelist teach in this passage; for he does not ascribe to the Speech a beginning of time, but says that he was from the beginning, and thus rises beyond all ages. I am fully aware how this dog barks against us, and what cavils were formerly raised by the Arians, namely, that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,(Gen_1:1) which nevertheless are not eternal, because the word beginning refers to order, instead of denoting eternity. But the Evangelist meets this calumny when he says,
And the Speech was with God. If the Speech began to be at some time, they must find out some succession of time in God; and undoubtedly by this clause John intended to distinguish him from all created things. For many questions might arise, Where was this Speech ? How did he exert his power? What was his nature? How might he be known? The Evangelist, therefore, declares that we must not confine our views to the world and to created things; for he was always united to God, before the world existed. Now when men date the beginning from the origin of heaven and earth, do they not reduce Christ to the common order of the world, from which he is excluded in express terms by this passage? By this proceeding they offer an egregious insult not only to the Son of God, but to his eternal Father, whom they deprive of his wisdom. If we are not at liberty to conceive of God without his wisdom, it must be acknowledged that we ought not to seek the origin of the Speech any where else than in the Eternal Wisdom of God.
Servetus objects that the Speech cannot be admitted to have existed any earlier than when Moses introduces God as speaking. As if he did not subsist in God, because he was not publicly made known: that is, as if he did not exist within, until he began to appear without. But every pretense for outrageously absurd fancies of this description is cut off by the Evangelist, when he affirms without reservation, that the Speech was with God; for he expressly withdraws us from every moment of time.
Those who infer from the imperfect tense of the verb which is here used, that it denotes continued existence, have little strength of argument to support them. Was, they say, is a word more fitted to express the idea of uninterrupted succession, than if John had said, Has been. But on matters so weighty we ought to employ more solid arguments; and, indeed, the argument which I have brought forward ought to be reckoned by us sufficient; namely, that the Evangelist sends us to the eternal secrets of God, that we may there learn that the Speech was, as it were hidden, before he revealed himself in the external structure of the world. Justly, therefore, does Augustine remark, that this beginning, which is now mentioned, has no beginning; for though, in the order of nature, the Father came before his Wisdom, yet those who conceive of any point of time when he went before his Wisdom, deprive Him of his glory. And this is the eternal generation, which, during a period of infinite extent before the foundation of the world, lay hid in God, so to speak — which, for a long succession of years, was obscurely shadowed out to the Fathers under the Law, and at length was more fully manifested in flesh.
I wonder what induced the Latins to render ὁ λόγος by Verbum, (the Word;) for that would rather have been the translation of τὸ ῥη̑μα. But granting that they had some plausible reason, still it cannot be denied that Sermo (the Speech) would have been far more appropriate. Hence it is evident, what barbarous tyranny was exercised by the theologians of the Sorbonne, who teased and stormed at Erasmus in such a manner, because he had changed a single word for the better.
And the Speech was with God. We have already said that the Son of God is thus placed above the world and above all the creatures, and is declared to have existed before all ages. But at the same time this mode of expression attributes to him a distinct personality from the Father; for it would have been absurd in the Evangelist to say that the Speech was always with God, if he had not some kind of subsistence peculiar to himself in God. This passage serves, therefore, to refute the error of Sabellius; for it shows that the Son is distinct from the Father. I have already remarked that we ought to be sober in thinking, and modest in speaking, about such high mysteries. And yet the ancient writers of the Church were excusable, when, finding that they could not in any other way maintain sound and pure doctrine in opposition to the perplexed and ambiguous phraseology of the heretics, they were compelled to invent some words, which after all had no other meaning than what is taught in the Scriptures. They said that there are three Hypostases, or Subsistences, or Persons, in the one and simple essence of God. The word; ὑπόστασις (Hypostasis) occurs in this sense in Heb_1:3, to which corresponds the Latin word Substaatia, (substance) as it is employed by Hilary. The Persons (τὰ πρόσωπα) were called by them distinct properties in God, which present themselves to the view of our minds; as Gregory Nazianzen says, “I cannot think of the One (God) without having the Three (Persons) shining around me.
And the Speech was God. That there may be no remaining doubt as to Christ’s divine essence, the Evangelist distinctly asserts that he is God. Now since there is but one God, it follows that Christ is of the same essence with the Father, and yet that, in some respect, he is distinct from the Father. But of the second clause we have already spoken. As to the unity of the divine essence, Arius showed prodigious wickedness, when, to avoid being compelled to acknowledge the eternal Divinity of Christ, he prattled about I know not what imaginary Deity; (12) but for our part, when we are informed that the Speech was God, what right have we any longer to call in question his eternal essence?
Cambridge Bible Plummer
1–5. The Word in His own Nature
1. In the beginning] The meaning must depend on the context. In Gen_1:1 it is an act done ‘in the beginning;’ here it is a Being existing ‘in the beginning,’ and therefore prior to all beginning. That was the first moment of time; this is eternity, transcending time. Thus we have an intimation that the later dispensation is the confirmation and infinite extension of the first. ‘In the beginning’ here equals ‘before the world was,’ Joh_17:5. Compare Joh_17:24; Eph_1:4; and contrast ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,’ Mar_1:1, which is the historical beginning of the public ministry of the Messiah (Joh_6:64): ‘the beginning’ here is prior to all history. To interpret ‘Beginning’ of God as the Origin of all things is not correct, as the context shews.
was] Not ‘came into existence,’ but was already in existence before the creation of the world. The generation of the Word or Son of God is thus thrown back into eternity. Thus S. Paul calls Him (Col_1:15) ‘the firstborn of every creature,’ or (more accurately translated) ‘begotten before all creation,’ like ‘begotten before all worlds’ in the Nicene creed. Comp. Heb_1:8; Heb_7:3; Rev_1:8. On these passages is based the doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son: see Articles of Religion, i. and ii. The Arians maintained that there was a period when the Son was not: S. John says distinctly that the Son or Word was existing before time began, i.e. from all eternity.
the Word] As early as the second century Sermo and Verbum were rival translations of the Greek term Logos = Word. Tertullian (fl. a.d. 195–210) gives us both, but seems himself to prefer Ratio. Sermo first became unusual, and finally was disallowed in the Latin Church. The Latin versions all adopted Verbum, and from it comes our translation, ‘the Word.’
None of these translations are at all adequate: but neither Latin nor any modern language supplies anything really satisfactory. Verbum and ‘the Word’ do not give the whole of even one of the two sides of Logos: the other side, which Tertullian tried to express by Ratio, is not touched at all; for ὁ λόγος means not only ‘the spoken word,’ but ‘the thought’ expressed by the spoken word; it is the spoken word as expressive of thought. It is not found in the N.T. in the sense of ‘reason.’
The expression Logos is a remarkable one; all the more so, because S. John assumes that his readers will at once understand it. This shews that his Gospel was written in the first instance for his own disciples, who would be familiar with his teaching and phraseology.
Whence did S. John derive the expression, Logos? It has its origin in the Targums, or paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures, in use in Palestine, rather than in the mixture of Jewish and Greek philosophy prevalent at Alexandria and Ephesus, as is very commonly asserted.
(1). In the Old Testament we find the Word or Wisdom of God personified, generally as an instrument for executing the Divine Will. We have a faint trace of it in the ‘God said’ of Gen_1:3; Gen_1:6; Gen_1:9; Gen_1:11; Gen_1:14, &c. The personification of the Word of God begins to appear in the Psa_33:6; Psa_107:20; Psa_119:89; Psa_147:15. In Proverbs 8, 9 the Wisdom of God is personified in very striking terms. This Wisdom is manifested in the power and mighty works of God; that God is love is a revelation yet to come. (2) In the Apocrypha the personification is more complete than in O.T. In Ecclesiasticus (c. b. c. 150–100) Sir_1:1-20, Sir_24:1-22, and in the Book of Wisdom (c. b. c. 100) Wis_6:22 to Wis_9:18 we have Wisdom strongly personified. In Wis_18:15 the ‘Almighty Word’ of God appears as an agent of vengeance. (3) In the Targums, or Aramaic paraphrases of O.T., the development is carried still further. These, though not yet written down, were in common use among the Jews in our Lord’s time; and they were strongly influenced by the growing tendency to separate the Godhead from immediate contact with the material world. Where Scripture speaks of a direct communication from God to man, the Targums substituted the Memra, or ‘Word of God.’ Thus in Gen_3:8-9, instead of ‘they heard the voice of the Lord God,’ the Targums have ‘they heard the voice of the Word of the Lord God;’ and instead of ‘God called unto Adam,’ they put ‘the Word of the Lord called unto Adam,’ and so on. ‘The Word of the Lord’ is said to occur 150 times in a single Targum of the Pentateuch. In the theosophy of the Alexandrine Jews, which was a compound of theology with philosophy and mysticism, we seem to come nearer to a strictly personal view of the Divine Word or Wisdom, but really move further away from it. Philo, the leading representative of this religious speculation (fl. a.d. 40–50), admitted into his philosophy very various, and not always harmonious elements. Consequently his conception of the Logos is not fixed or clear. On the whole his Logos means some intermediate agency, by means of which God created material things and communicated with them. But whether this Logos is one Being or more, whether it is personal or not, we cannot be sure; and perhaps Philo himself was undecided. Certainly his Logos is very different from that of S. John; for it is scarcely a Person, and it is not the Messiah. And when we note that of the two meanings of Λόγος, Philo dwells most on the side which is less prominent, while the Targums insist on that which is more prominent in the teaching of S. John, we cannot doubt the source of his language. The Logos of Philo is preeminently the Divine Reason. The Memra of the Targums is rather the Divine Word; i.e. the Will of God manifested in personal action; and this rather than a philosophical abstraction of the Divine Intelligence is the starting point of S. John’s expression.
To sum up:—the personification of the Divine Word in O.T. is poetical, in Philo metaphysical, in S. John historical. The Apocrypha and Targums help to fill the chasm between O.T. and Philo; history itself fills the far greater chasm which separates all from S. John. Between Jewish poetry and Alexandrine speculation on the one hand, and the Fourth Gospel on the other, lies the historical fact of the Incarnation of the Logos, the life of Jesus Christ.
The Logos of S. John, therefore, is not a mere attribute of God, but the Son of God, existing from all eternity, and manifested in space and time in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Logos had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man; for the Logos was the living expression of the nature, purposes, and Will of God. (Comp. the impersonal designation of Christ in 1Jn_1:1.) Human thought had been searching in vain for some means of connecting the finite with the Infinite, of making God intelligible to man and leading man up to God. S. John knew that he possessed the key to this enigma. He therefore took the phrase which human reason had lighted on in its gropings, stripped it of its misleading associations, fixed it by identifying it with the Christ, and filled it with that fulness of meaning which he himself had derived from Christ’s own teaching.
with God] i.e. with the Father. ‘With’ = apud, or the French chez: it expresses the distinct Personality of the Logos. We might render ‘face to face with God,’ or ‘at home with God.’ So, ‘His sisters, are they not all with us?’ Mat_13:56; comp. Mar_6:3; Mar_9:19; Mar_14:49; 1Co_16:7; Gal_1:18; 1Th_3:4; Phm_1:13; 1Jn_1:2.
the Word was God] i.e. the Word partook of the Divine Nature, not was identical with the Divine Person. The verse may be thus paraphrased, ‘the Logos existed from all eternity, distinct from the Father, and equal to the Father.’ Comp. ‘neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.’
In the beginning was (ἐν ἀρχη ͂ͅ ἦν)
With evident allusion to the first word of Genesis. But John elevates the phrase from its reference to a point of time, the beginning of creation, to the time of absolute pre-existence before any creation, which is not mentioned until Joh_1:3. This beginning had no beginning (compare Joh_1:3; Joh_17:5; 1Jo_1:1; Eph_1:4; Pro_8:23; Psa_90:2). This heightening of the conception, however, appears not so much in ἀρχη ́, beginning, which simply leaves room for it, as in the use of ἦν, was, denoting absolute existence (compare εἰμί, I am, Joh_8:58) instead of ἐγένετο, came into being, or began to be, which is used in Joh_1:3, Joh_1:14, of the coming into being of creation and of the Word becoming flesh. Note also the contrast between ἀρχη ́, in the beginning, and the expression ἀπ’ ἀρχη ͂ς, from the beginning, which is common in John’s writings (Joh_8:44; 1Jo_2:7, 1Jo_2:24; 1Jo_3:8) and which leaves no room for the idea of eternal pre-existence. “In Gen_1:1, the sacred historian starts from the beginning and comes downward, thus keeping us in the course of time. Here he starts from the same point, but goes upward, thus taking us into the eternity preceding time” (Milligan and Moulton). See on Col_1:15. This notion of “beginning” is still further heightened by the subsequent statement of the relation of the Logos to the eternal God. The ἀρχη ́ must refer to the creation – the primal beginning of things; but if, in this beginning, the Logos already was, then he belonged to the order of eternity. “The Logos was not merely existent, however, in the beginning, but was also the efficient principle, the beginning of the beginning. The ἀρχη ́ (beginning), in itself and in its operation dark, chaotic, was, in its idea and its principle, comprised in one single luminous word, which was the Logos. And when it is said the Logos was in this beginning, His eternal existence is already expressed, and His eternal position in the Godhead already indicated thereby” (Lange). “Eight times in the narrative of creation (in Genesis) there occur, like the refrain of a hymn, the words, And God said. John gathers up all those sayings of God into a single saying, living and endowed with activity and intelligence, from which all divine orders emanate: he finds as the basis of all spoken words, the speaking Word” (Godet).
The Word (ὁ λόγος)
Logos. This expression is the keynote and theme of the entire gospel. Λόγος is from the root λεγ, appearing in λέγω, the primitive meaning of which is to lay: then, to pick out, gather, pick up: hence to gather or put words together, and so, to speak. Hence λόγος is, first of all, a collecting or collection both of things in the mind, and of words by which they are expressed. It therefore signifies both the outward form by which the inward thought is expressed, and the inward thought itself, the Latin oratio and ratio: compare the Italian ragionare, “to think” and “to speak.”
As signifying the outward form it is never used in the merely grammatical sense, as simply the name of a thing or act (ἔπος, ὄνομα, ῥῆμα), but means a word as the thing referred to: the material, not the formal part: a word as embodying a conception or idea. See, for instance, Mat_22:46; 1Co_14:9, 1Co_14:19. Hence it signifies a saying, of God, or of man (Mat_19:21, Mat_19:22; Mar_5:35, Mar_5:36): a decree, a precept (Rom_9:28; Mar_7:13). The ten commandments are called in the Septuagint, οἱ δέκα λόγοι, “the ten words” (Exo_34:28), and hence the familiar term decalogue. It is further used of discourse: either of the act of speaking (Act_14:12), of skill and practice in speaking (Act_18:15; 2Ti_4:15), specifically the doctrine of salvation through Christ (Mat_13:20-23; Phi_1:14); of narrative, both the relation and the thing related (Act_1:1; Joh_21:23; Mar_1:45); of matter under discussion, an affair, a case in law (Act_15:6; Act_19:38).
As signifying the inward thought, it denotes the faculty of thinking and reasoning (Heb_4:12); regard or consideration (Act_20:24); reckoning, account (Phi_4:15, Phi_4:17; Heb_4:13); cause or reason (Act_10:29).
John uses the word in a peculiar sense, here, and in Joh_1:14; and, in this sense, in these two passages only. The nearest approach to it is in Rev_19:13, where the conqueror is called the Word of God; and it is recalled in the phrases Word of Life, and the Life was manifested (1Jo_1:1, 1Jo_1:2). Compare Heb_4:12. It was a familiar and current theological term when John wrote, and therefore he uses it without explanation.
Old Testament Usage of the Term
The word here points directly to Genesis 1, where the act of creation is effected by God speaking (compare Psa_33:6). The idea of God, who is in his own nature hidden, revealing himself in creation, is the root of the Logos-idea, in contrast with all materialistic or pantheistic conceptions of creation. This idea develops itself in the Old Testament on three lines. (1) The Word, as embodying the divine will, is personified in Hebrew poetry. Consequently divine attributes are predicated of it as being the continuous revelation of God in law and prophecy (Psa_3:4; Isa_40:8; Psa_119:105). The Word is a healer in Psa_107:20; a messenger in Psa_147:15; the agent of the divine decrees in Isa_55:11.
(2) The personified wisdom (Job_28:12 sq.; Proverbs 8, 9). Here also is the idea of the revelation of that which is hidden. For wisdom is concealed from man: “he knoweth not the price thereof, neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth saith, It is not in me; and the sea saith, It is not with me. It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air” (Job 28). Even Death, which unlocks so many secrets, and the underworld, know it only as a rumor (Job_28:22). It is only God who knows its way and its place (Job_28:23). He made the world, made the winds and the waters, made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder (Job_28:25, Job_28:26). He who possessed wisdom in the beginning of his way, before His works of old, before the earth with its depths and springs and mountains, with whom was wisdom as one brought up with Him (Pro_8:26-31), declared it. “It became, as it were, objective, so that He beheld it” (Job_28:27) and embodied it in His creative work. This personification, therefore, is based on the thought that wisdom is not shut up at rest in God, but is active and manifest in the world. “She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors” (Pro_8:2, Pro_8:3). She builds a palace and prepares a banquet, and issues a general invitation to the simple and to him that wanteth understanding (Pro_9:1-6). It is viewed as the one guide to salvation, comprehending all revelations of God, and as an attribute embracing and combining all His other attributes.
(3) The Angel of Jehovah. The messenger of God who serves as His agent in the world of sense, and is sometimes distinguished from Jehovah and sometimes identical with him (Gen_16:7-13; Gen_32:24-28; Hos_12:4, Hos_12:5; Exo_23:20, Exo_23:21; Mal_3:1).
In the Apocryphal writings this mediative element is more distinctly apprehended, but with a tendency to pantheism. In the Wisdom of Solomon (at least 100 b.c.), where wisdom seems to be viewed as another name for the whole divine nature, while nowhere connected with the Messiah, it is described as a being of light, proceeding essentially from God; a true image of God, co-occupant of the divine throne; a real and independent principle, revealing God in the world and mediating between it and Him, after having created it as his organ – in association with a spirit which is called μονογενές, only begotten (7:22). “She is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness” (see chapter 7, throughout). Again: “Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily, and sweetly doth she order all things. In that she is conversant with God, she magnifieth her nobility: yea, the Lord of all things Himself loved her. For she is privy to the mysteries of the knowledge of God, and a lover of His works. Moreover, by the means of her I shall obtain immortality, and leave behind me an everlasting memorial to them that come after me” (chapter 9). In 16:12, it is said, “Thy word, O Lord, healeth all things” (compare Psa_107:20); and in 18:15, 16, “Thine almighty word leaped from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and, standing up, filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth.” See also Wisdom of Sirach, chapters 1, 24, and Baruch 3, 4:1-4.
Later Jewish Usage
After the Babylonish captivity the Jewish doctors combined into one view the theophanies, prophetic revelations and manifestations of Jehovah generally, and united them in one single conception, that of a permanent agent of Jehovah in the sensible world, whom they designated by the name Memra (word, λόγος) of Jehovah. The learned Jews introduced the idea into the Targurns, or Aramaean paraphrases of the Old Testament, which were publicly read in the synagogues, substituting the name the word of Jehovah for that of Jehovah, each time that God manifested himself. Thus in Gen_39:21, they paraphrase, “The Memra was with Joseph in prison.” In Psa_110:1-7 Jehovah addresses the first verse to the Memra. The Memra is the angel that destroyed the first-born of Egypt, and it was the Memra that led the Israelites in the cloudy pillar.
Usage in the Judaeo-Alexandrine Philosophy
From the time of Ptolemy I: (323-285 b.c.), there were Jews in great numbers in Egypt. Philo (a.d. 50) estimates them at a million in his time. Alexandria was their headquarters. They had their own senate and magistrates, and possessed the same privileges as the Greeks. The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (b.c. 280-150) was the beginning of a literary movement among them, the key-note of which was the reconciliation of Western culture and Judaism, the establishment of a connection between the Old Testament faith and the Greek philosophy. Hence they interpreted the facts of sacred history allegorically, and made them symbols of certain speculative principles, alleging that the Greek philosophers had borrowed their wisdom from Moses. Aristobulus (about 150 b.c.) asserted the existence of a previous and much older translation of the law, and dedicated to Ptolemy VI an allegorical exposition of the Pentateuch, in which he tried to show that the doctrines of the Peripatetic or Aristotelian school were derived from the Old Testament. Most of the schools of Greek philosophy were represented among the Alexandrian Jews, but the favorite one was the Platonic. The effort at reconciliation culminated in Philo, a contemporary of Christ. Philo was intimately acquainted with the Platonic philosophy, and made it the fundamental feature of his own doctrines, while availing himself likewise of ideas belonging to the Peripatetic and Stoic schools. Unable to discern the difference in the points of view from which these different doctrines severally proceeded, he jumbled together not merely discordant doctrines of the Greek schools, but also those of the East, regarding the wisdom of the Greeks as having originated in the legislation and writings of Moses. He gathered together from East and West every element that could help to shape his conception of a vicegerent of God, “a mediator between the eternal and the ephemeral. His Logos reflects light from countless facets.”
According to Philo, God is the absolute Being. He calls God “that which is:” “the One and the All.” God alone exists for himself, without multiplicity and without mixture. No name can properly be ascribed to Him: He simply is. Hence, in His nature, He is unknowable.
Outside of God there exists eternal matter, without form and void, and essentially evil; but the perfect Being could not come into direct contact with the senseless and corruptible; so that the world could not have been created by His direct agency. Hence the doctrine of a mediating principle between God and matter – the divine Reason, the Logos, in whom are comprised all the ideas of finite things, and who created the sensible world by causing these ideas to penetrate into matter.
The absolute God is surrounded by his powers (δυνάμεις) as a king by his servants. These powers are, in Platonic language, ideas; in Jewish, angels; but all are essentially one, and their unity, as they exist in God, as they emanate from him, as they are disseminated in the world, is expressed by Logos. Hence the Logos appears under a twofold aspect: (1) As the immanent reason of God, containing within itself the world-ideal, which, while not outwardly existing, is like the immanent reason in man. This is styled Λόγος ἐνδι άθετος, i.e., the Logos conceived and residing in the mind. This was the aspect emphasized by the Alexandrians, and which tended to the recognition of a twofold personality in the divine essence. (2) As the outspoken word, proceeding from God and manifest in the world. This, when it has issued from God in creating the world, is the Λόγος προφορικός, i.e., the Logos uttered, even as in man the spoken word is the manifestation of thought. This aspect prevailed in Palestine, where the Word appears like the angel of the Pentateuch, as the medium of the outward communication of God with men, and tends toward the recognition of a divine person subordinate to God. Under the former aspect, the Logos is, really, one with God’s hidden being: the latter comprehends all the workings and revelations of God in the world; affords from itself the ideas and energies by which the world was framed and is upheld; and, filling all things with divine light and life, rules them in wisdom, love, and righteousness. It is the beginning of creation, not inaugurated, like God, nor made, like the world; but the eldest son of the eternal Father (the world being the younger); God’s image; the mediator between God and the world; the highest angel; the second God.
Philo’s conception of the Logos, therefore, is: the sum-total and free exercise of the divine energies; so that God, so far as he reveals himself, is called Logos; while the Logos, so far as he reveals God, is called God.
John’s doctrine and terms are colored by these preceding influences. During his residence at Ephesus he must have become familiar with the forms and terms of the Alexandrian theology. Nor is it improbable that he used the term Logos with an intent to facilitate the passage from the current theories of his time to the pure gospel which he proclaimed. “To those Hellenists and Hellenistic Jews, on the one hand, who were vainly philosophizing on the relations of the finite and infinite; to those investigators of the letter of the Scriptures, on the other, who speculated about the theocratic revelations, John said, by giving this name Logos to Jesus: ‘The unknown Mediator between God and the world, the knowledge of whom you are striving after, we have seen, heard, and touched. Your philosophical speculations and your scriptural subtleties will never raise you to Him. Believe as we do in Jesus, and you will possess in Him that divine Revealer who engages your thoughts’” (Godet).
But John’s doctrine is not Philo’s, and does not depend upon it. The differences between the two are pronounced. Though both use the term Logos, they use it with utterly different meanings. In John it signifies word, as in Holy Scripture generally; in Philo, reason; and that so distinctly that when Philo wishes to give it the meaning of word, he adds to it by way of explanation, the term ῥῆμα, word.
The nature of the being described by Logos is conceived by each in an entirely different spirit. John’s Logos is a person, with a consciousness of personal distinction; Philo’s is impersonal. His notion is indeterminate and fluctuating, shaped by the influence which happens to be operating at the time. Under the influence of Jewish documents he styles the Logos an “archangel;” under the influence of Plato, “the Idea of Ideas;” of the Stoics, “the impersonal Reason.” It is doubtful whether Philo ever meant to represent the Logos formally as a person. All the titles he gives it may be explained by supposing it to mean the ideal world on which the actual is modeled.
In Philo, moreover, the function of the Logos is confined to the creation and preservation of the universe. He does not identify or connect him with the Messiah. His doctrine was, to a great degree, a philosophical substitute for Messianic hopes. He may have conceived of the Word as acting through the Messiah, but not as one with him. He is a universal principle. In John the Messiah is the Logos himself, uniting himself with humanity, and clothing himself with a body in order to save the world.
The two notions differ as to origin. The impersonal God of Philo cannot pass to the finite creation without contamination of his divine essence. Hence an inferior agent must be interposed. John’s God, on the other hand, is personal, and a loving personality. He is a Father (Joh_1:18); His essence is love (Joh_3:16; 1Jo_4:8, 1Jo_4:16). He is in direct relation with the world which He desires to save, and the Logos is He Himself, manifest in the flesh. According to Philo, the Logos is not coexistent with the eternal God. Eternal matter is before him in time. According to John, the Logos is essentially with the Father from all eternity (Joh_1:2), and it is He who creates all things, matter included (Joh_1:3).
Philo misses the moral energy of the Hebrew religion as expressed in its emphasis upon the holiness of Jehovah, and therefore fails to perceive the necessity of a divine teacher and Savior. He forgets the wide distinction between God and the world, and declares that, were the universe to end, God would die of loneliness and inactivity.
The Meaning of Logos in John
As Logos has the double meaning of thought and speech, so Christ is related to God as the word to the idea, the word being not merely a name for the idea, but the idea itself expressed. The thought is the inward word (Dr. Schaff compares the Hebrew expression “I speak in my heart” for “I think”).
The Logos of John is the real, personal God (Joh_1:1), the Word, who was originally before the creation with God. and was God, one in essence and nature, yet personally distinct (Joh_1:1, Joh_1:18); the revealer and interpreter of the hidden being of God; the reflection and visible image of God, and the organ of all His manifestations to the world. Compare Heb_1:3. He made all things, proceeding personally from God for the accomplishment of the act of creation (Heb_1:3), and became man in the person of Jesus Christ, accomplishing the redemption of the world. Compare Phi_2:6.
The following is from William Austin, “Meditation for Christmas Day,” cited by Ford on John:
“The name Word is most excellently given to our Savior; for it expresses His nature in one, more than in any others. Therefore St. John, when he names the Person in the Trinity (1Jo_5:7), chooses rather to call Him Word than Son; for word is a phrase more communicable than son. Son hath only reference to the Father that begot Him; but word may refer to him that conceives it; to him that speaks it; to that which is spoken by it; to the voice that it is clad in; and to the effects it raises in him that hears it. So Christ, as He is the Word, not only refers to His Father that begot Him, and from whom He comes forth, but to all the creatures that were made by Him; to the flesh that He took to clothe Him; and to the doctrine He brought and taught, and, which lives yet in the hearts of all them that obediently do hear it. He it is that is this Word; and any other, prophet or preacher, he is but a voice (Luk_3:4). Word is an inward conception of the mind; and voice is but a sign of intention. St. John was but a sign, a voice; not worthy to untie the shoe-latchet of this Word. Christ is the inner conception ‘in the bosom of His Father;’ and that is properly the Word. And yet the Word is the intention uttered forth, as well as conceived within; for Christ was no less the Word in the womb of the Virgin, or in the cradle of the manger, or on the altar of the cross, than he was in the beginning, ‘in the bosom of his Father.’ For as the intention departs not from the mind when the word is uttered, so Christ, proceeding from the Father by eternal generation, and after here by birth and incarnation, remains still in Him and with Him in essence; as the intention, which is conceived and born in the mind, remains still with it and in it, though the word be spoken. He is therefore rightly called the Word, both by His coming from, and yet remaining still in, the Father.”
And the Word
A repetition of the great subject, with solemn emphasis.
Was with God (ἦν πὸς τὸν Θεὸν)
Anglo-Saxon vers., mid Gode. Wyc., at God. With (πρός) does not convey the full meaning, that there is no single English word which will give it better. The preposition πρός, which, with the accusative case, denotes motion towards, or direction, is also often used in the New Testament in the sense of with; and that not merely as being near or beside, but as a living union and communion; implying the active notion of intercourse. Thus: “Are not his sisters here with us” (πρὸς ἡμᾶς), i.e., in social relations with us (Mar_6:3; Mat_13:56). “How long shall I be with you” (πρὸς ὑμᾶς, Mar_9:16). “I sat daily with you” (Mat_26:55). “To be present with the Lord” (πρὸς τὸν Κύριον, 2Co_5:8). “Abide and winter with you” (1Co_16:6). “The eternal life which was with the Father” (πρὸς τὸν πατέρα, 1Jo_1:2). Thus John’s statement is that the divine Word not only abode with the Father from all eternity, but was in the living, active relation of communion with Him.
And the Word was God (καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος)
In the Greek order, and God was the Word, which is followed by Anglo-Saxon, Wyc., and Tynd. But θεὸς, God, is the predicate and not the subject of the proposition. The subject must be the Word; for John is not trying to show who is God, but who is the Word. Notice that Θεὸς is without the article, which could not have been omitted if he had meant to designate the word as God; because, in that event, Θεὸς would have been ambiguous; perhaps a God. Moreover, if he had said God was the Word, he would have contradicted his previous statement by which he had distinguished (hypostatically) God from the word, and λόγος (Logos) would, further, have signified only an attribute of God. The predicate is emphatically placed in the proposition before the subject, because of the progress of the thought; this being the third and highest statement respecting the Word – the climax of the two preceding propositions. The word God, used attributively, maintains the personal distinction between God and the Word, but makes the unity of essence and nature to follow the distinction of person, and ascribes to the Word all the attributes of the divine essence. “There is something majestic in the way in which the description of the Logos, in the three brief but great propositions of Joh_1:1, is unfolded with increasing fullness” (Meyer).
…Was God – In the previous phrase John had said that the Word was “with God.” Lest it should be supposed that he was a different and inferior being, here John states that “he was God.” There is no more unequivocal declaration in the Bible than this, and there could be no stronger proof that the sacred writer meant to affirm that the Son of God was equal with the Father; because:
1. There is no doubt that by the λόγος Logos is meant Jesus Christ.
2. This is not an “attribute” or quality of God, but is a real subsistence, for it is said that the λόγος Logos was made flesh σάρξ sarx – that is, became a human being.
3. There is no variation here in the manuscripts, and critics have observed that the Greek will bear no other construction than what is expressed in our translation – that the Word “was God.”
4. There is no evidence that John intended to use the word “God” in an inferior sense. It is not “the Word was a god,” or “the Word was ‘like God,’” but the Word “was God.” He had just used the word “God” as evidently applicable to Yahweh, the true God; and it is absurd to suppose that he would in the same verse, and without any indication that he was using the word in an inferior sense, employ it to denote a being altogether inferior to the true God.
5. The name “God” is elsewhere given to him, showing that he is the supreme God. See Rom_9:5; Heb_1:8, Heb_1:10, Heb_1:12; 1Jo_5:20; Joh_20:28.
The meaning of this important verse may then be thus summed up:
1. The name λόγος Logos, or Word, is given to Christ in reference to his becoming the Teacher or Instructor of mankind; the medium of communication between God and man.
2. The name was in use at the time of John, and it was his design to state the correct doctrine respecting the λόγος Logos.
3. The “Word,” or λόγος Logos, existed “before creation” – of course was not a “creature,” and must have been, therefore, from eternity.
4. He was “with God” – that is, he was united to him in a most intimate and close union before the creation; and, as it could not be said that God was “with himself,” it follows that the λόγος Logos was in some sense distinct from God, or that there was a distinction between the Father and the Son. When we say that one is “with another,” we imply that there is some sort of distinction between them.
5. Yet, lest it should be supposed that he was a “different” and “inferior” being – a creature – he affirms that he was God – that is, was equal with the Father.
This is the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity:
1. That the second person is in some sense “distinct” from the first.
2. That he is intimately united with the first person in essence, so that there are not two or more Gods.
3. That the second person may be called by the same name; has the same attributes; performs the same works; and is entitled to the same honors with the first, and that therefore he is “the same in substance, and equal in power and glory,” with God.
The same Logos whom the writer has just affirmed to have been God himself, was, though it might seem at first reading to be incompatible with the first or third clause of the first verse, nevertheless in the beginning with God—”in the beginning,” and therefore, as we have seen, eternally in relation with God. The previous statements are thus stringently enforced, and, notwithstanding their tendency to diverge, are once more bound into a new, unified, and emphatic utterance. Thus the αὐτός of the following sentences is charged with the sublime fulness of meaning which is involved in the three utterances of Joh_1:1. The first clause
(1) declared that the Logos preceded the origination of all things, was the eternal ground of the world; the second
(2) asserted his unique personality, so that he stands over against the eternal God, in mutual communion with the Absolute and Eternal One; the third clause
(3) maintains further that the Logos was not a second God, nor merely Divine (Θεῖος) or God-like, nor is he described as proceeding out of or from God (ἐκ Θεοῦ or ἀπὸ Θε οῦ), nor is he to be called ὁ Θε ός, “the God absolute,” as opposed to all his manifestations; but the Logos is said to be Θεός, i.e. “God”—God in his nature and being. This second verse reasserts the eternal relation of such a personality “with God,” and prepares the way for the statements of the following verses. The unity of the Logos and Theos might easily be supposed to reduce the distinction between them to subjective relations. The second verse emphasizes the objective validity of the relation.
3.All things were made by him. Having affirmed that the Speech is God, and having asserted his eternal essence, he now proves his Divinity from his works. And this is the practical knowledge, to which we ought to be chiefly accustomed; for the mere name of God attributed to Christ will affect us little, if our faith do not feel it to be such by experience. In reference to the Son of God, he makes an assertion which strictly and properly applies to his person. Sometimes, indeed, Paul simply declares that all things are by God, (Rom_11:36) but whenever the Son is compared with the Father, he is usually distinguished by this mark. Accordingly, the ordinary mode of expression is here employed, that the Father made all things by the Son, and that all things are by God through the Son. Now the design of the Evangelist is, as I have already said, to show that no sooner was the world created than the Speech of God came forth into external operation; for having formerly been incomprehensible in his essence, he then became publicly known by the effect of his power. There are some, indeed, even among philosophers, who make God to be the Master-builder of the world in such a manner as to ascribe to him intelligence in framing this work. So far they are in the right, for they agree with Scripture; but as they immediately fly off into frivolous speculations, there is no reason why we should eagerly desire to have their testimonies; but, on the contrary, we ought to be satisfied with this inspired declaration, well knowing that it conveys far more than our mind is able to comprehend.
And without him was not any thing made that was made. Though there is a variety of readings in this passage, yet for my own part, I have no hesitation in taking it continuously thus: not any thing was made that was made; and in this almost all the Greek manuscripts, or at least those of them which are most approved, are found to agree; besides, the sense requires it. Those who separate the words, which was made, from the preceding clause, so as to connect them with the following one, bring out a forced sense: what was made was in him life; that is, lived, or was sustained in life. But they will never show that this mode of expression is, in any instance, applied to creatures. Augustine, who is excessively addicted to the philosophy of Plato, is carried along, according to custom, to the doctrine of ideas; that before God made the world, he had the form of the whole building conceived in his mind; and so the life of those things which did not yet exist was in Christ, because the creation of the world was appointed in him. But how widely different this is From the intention of the Evangelist we shall immediately see.
I now return to the former clause. This is not a faulty redundancy, (περιττολογία) as it appears to be; for as Satan endeavors, by every possible method, to take any thing from Christ, the Evangelist intended to declare expressly, that of those things which have been made there is no exception whatever.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
3. by him] Rather, through Him. The universe was created by the Father through the agency of the Son. Comp. 1Co_8:6; Col_1:16 (where see Lightfoot’s note); Rom_11:36; Heb_11:10. That no inferiority is necessarily implied by ‘through,’ as if the Son were a mere instrument, is shewn by 1Co_1:9, where the same construction is used of the Father, ‘through Whom ye were called, &c.’ Note the climax in what follows; the sphere contracts as the blessing enlarges: existence for everything; life for the vegetable and animal world; light for men.
without him, &c.] Better, apart from Him, &c. Comp. Joh_15:5. Antithetic parallelism; emphatic repetition by contradicting the opposite: frequent in Hebrew: one of the many instances of the Hebrew cast of S. John’s style. Comp. Joh_1:20, Joh_10:28; 1Jn_1:5; 1Jn_2:4; 1Jn_2:27-28; Psa_89:30-31; Psa_89:48, &c., &c.
not anything] No, not one; not even one: stronger than ‘nothing.’ Every single thing, however great, however small, throughout all the realms of space, came into being through Him. No event takes place without Him,—apart from His presence and power. Mat_10:29; Luk_12:6.
that was made] Better, that hath been made. The aorist refers to the fact of creation; the perfect to the permanent result of that fact. Contrast ‘was made’ and ‘hath been made’ here with ‘was’ in Joh_1:1-2. ‘Was made’ denotes the springing into life of what was once non-existent; ‘was’ denotes the perpetual pre-existence of the Word.
Some both ancient and modern writers would give the last part of Joh_1:3 to Joh_1:4, thus: That which hath been made in Him was life; i.e. those who were born again by union with Him felt His influence as life within them. It is very difficult to decide between the two punctuations. Tatian (Orat. ad Graecos, xix.) has ‘All things [were] by Him and without Him hath been made not even one thing.’ See on Joh_1:5.
All things (Πάντα, not τὰ πάντα) taken one by one, rather than all things regarded in their totality—”all things,” i.e. all beings and elements of things visible or invisible, in heaven, earth, and under the earth (see Col_1:16, etc.), came into being through him, through the Logos, who was in the beginning with God, and was God. The Logos is the organ or instrument by which everything, one by one, was made. Two other words are used in the New Testament to denote “creation”—κτίζειν, used in Rev_4:11 and Col_1:16, a word indicating the mind and act of the Creator; and ποιεῖν, which, as in Mar_10:6, points generally to the thing made. The parts of the verb γίγνεσθαι indicate the progress of the work, the process of some creative order, the occurrence of some event in the evolution of Divine providence. This word does not by one solitary expression dogmatically convey the creative act, but the fact of the “becoming,” from, it may be, the region of pure thought to that of existence, or from non-observation into prominence, or from an inchoate to a perfect development, or from nothing to something. The context must determine the fulness of its meaning. Occasionally, as in Joh_8:58, it is powerfully contrasted with existence: “Before Abraham was [had come into being] I am.” The context here does not allow us to affirm that St. John repudiated the prior existence of the ὒλη, stuff, of which πάντα were made. He does not affirm nor deny such a prior existency or condition, but by referring the universe in all its parts and items to the Logos, he absolutely ignores the Platonic notion of eternal matter. He could scarcely be ignorant of the speculation as it entered into the Philonic interpretation and formed the basis of the Gnostic speculations which were beginning to infest the early Church. By giving, however, a Divine origin and instrument to the “becoming” of πάντα, and strengthening his statement by the negative coassurance, he absolutely excludes the dualism of Philo and of Gnostic tendency. In asserting that the Logos is he or that through whom all things were made, the writer does not lower the dignity of the Logos by regarding him merely as the ὄργανον of the Father, because the same preposition is used of the relation of the Father to the world or to his servants (Rom_11:36; Gal_1:1; Heb_2:10). Elsewhere St. Paul powerfully affirms the same application of διά (1Co_8:6) to Christ’s part in the Creation, reserving for the One God, the Father, the preposition ἐκ. From God and by or through God are all things, still “all things” derive their existence “through” the activity, the will, the thought, of the Logos. “The sphere contracts as the blessing enlarges [query, 'intensifies']: existence for everything; life for vegetable and animal world; light for men” (Plummer). The same idea is made more explicit by the negative form in which it is restated: and without him—that is, independently of his cooperation and volition (cf. Joh_15:5)—not even one thing came into being. The ὕλη could hardly be spoken of as “one thing,” seeing, according to the theory, it was not a unit as opposed to a multiplicity, but the condition of all things. The ἐγένετο would drive harder against any recognition of the ὕλη than would the ἕν. There is not the faintest approach to any supposition on John’s part of the existence of such a primeval entity or eternal reality. The γέγονεν gives the student of the text and of the meaning grave difficulty. From very early times the Alexandrine Fathers and numerous uncial manuscripts, and an immense group of quotations and versions, unquestionably close the sentence we have just considered with ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν, and consider the ὅγέγονεν as the subject of the following clause, translating it either, That which has come into being in him was life; or, that which has come into being was (or is) life in him—for one manuscript, א, has rendered the text more grammatical by reading ἔστι instead of ἦν. This, adopting the supposed early punctuation, Tregelles and Westcott and Hort have introduced into the text; but R.T. has coincided with T.R. Dr. Westcott has an elaborate note affirming the deep thought involved in the “ancient punctuation,” to the effect that the ὅγέγονεν refers, not merely to the original creation, ἐγένετο, but to the continued existence of that which has come into being. Of this, it is said, it derives its life, has its life in the Logos, and that this idea is expressed in a profounder way than by saying ἔχει ζωὴν; that it was life (before it was called into being, or became) in him. This profound and mysterious statement is affirmed by Dr. Moulton and Dr. Westcott to find different but clear expression in Rev_4:11, “Thou art worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory, etc.; for thou didst create all things, and for thy pleasure they were [ἦσαν, the reading preferred by Tisehendorf (8th edit.) and Westcott and Herr, instead of εἶσι, 'they are'] and were created.” Dr. Westcott thinks that “life” here represents “the Divine element in creation, that in virtue of which things ‘are’ each according to the fulness of its being.” What has been created represents the eternal thought, the life that it had in the Logos before the world was. Unless one were compelled to take this thought by the exigencies of the textual criticism, we should hesitate to affirm that this can be the author’s intention. To us the common punctuation is far more satisfactory m meaning: Apart from him there came into existence not one thing which has come into existence. This, in its grand comprehensiveness and individualizing of every molecule and every force, brings the mind of the reader down from eternity to time, from the creation to the preservation and providence of the world, and it prepares the way for the great assertion of the following verse.
4.In him was life. Hitherto he has taught us, that by the Speech of God all things were created. He now attributes to him, in the same manner, the preservation of those things which had been created, as if he had said, that in the creation of the world there was not merely displayed a sudden exercise of his power, which soon passed away, but that it is manifested in the steady and regular order of nature, as he is said to uphold all things by the word or will of his power, (Heb_1:3). This life may be extended either to inanimate creatures, (which live after their own manner, though they are devoid of feeling,) or may be explained in reference to living creatures alone. It is of little consequence which you choose; for the simple meaning is, that the Speech of God was not only the source of life to all the creatures, so that those which were not began to be, but that his life -giving power causes them to remain in their condition; for were it not that his continued inspiration gives vigor to the world, every thing that lives would immediately decay, or be reduced to nothing. In a word, what Paul ascribes to God, that in him we are, and move, and live, (Act_17:28,) John declares to be accomplished by the gracious agency ofthe Speech; so that it is God who gives us life, but it is by the eternal Speech
The life was the light of men. The other interpretations, which do not accord with the meaning of the Evangelist, I intentionally pass by. He speaks here, in my opinion, of that part of life in which men excel other animals; and informs us that the life which was bestowed on men was not of an ordinary description, but was united to the light of understanding. He separates man from the rank of other creatures; because we perceive more readily the power of God by feeling it in us than by beholding it at a distance. Thus Paul charges us not to seek God at a distance, because he makes himself to be felt within us, (Act_17:27.) After having presented a general exhibition of the kindness of Christ, in order to induce men to take a nearer view of it, he points out what has been bestowed peculiarly on themselves; namely, that they were not created like the beasts, but having been endued with reason, they had obtained a higher rank. As it is not in vain that God imparts his light to their minds, it follows that the purpose for which they were created was, that they might acknowledge Him who is the Author of so excellent a blessing. And since this light, of which the Speech was the source, has been conveyed from him to us, it ought to serve as a mirror, in which we may clearly behold the divine power of the Speech
In Him was life (ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν)
He was the fountain of life – physical, moral, and eternal – its principle and source. Two words for life are employed in the New Testament: βίος and ζωὴ. The primary distinction is that ζωὴ means existence as contrasted with death, and βίος, the period, means, or manner of existence. Hence βίος is originally the higher word, being used of men, while ζωὴ is used of animals (ζῶα). We speak therefore of the discussion of the life and habits of animals as zoology; and of accounts of men’s lives as biography. Animals have the vital principle in common with men, but men lead lives controlled by intellect and will, and directed to moral and intellectual ends. In the New Testament, βίος means either living, i.e., means of subsistence (Mar_12:44; Luk_8:43), or course of life, life regarded as an economy (Luk_8:14; 1Ti_2:2; 2Ti_2:4). Ζωὴ occurs in the lower sense of life, considered principally or wholly as existence (1Pe_3:10; Act_8:33; Act_17:25; Heb_7:3). There seems to be a significance in the use of the word in Luk_16:25 : “Thou in thy lifetime (ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου) receivedst thy good things;” the intimation being that the rich man’s life had been little better than mere existence, and not life at all in the true sense. But throughout the New Testament ζωὴ is the nobler word, seeming to have changed places with βίος. It expresses the sum of mortal and eternal blessedness (Mat_25:46; Luk_18:30; Joh_11:25; Act_2:28; Rom_5:17; Rom_6:4), and that not only in respect of men, but also of God and Christ. So here. Compare Joh_5:26; Joh_14:6; 1Jo_1:2. This change is due to the gospel revelation of the essential connection of sin with death, and consequently, of life with holiness. “Whatever truly lives, does so because sin has never found place in it, or, having found place for a time, has since been overcome and expelled” (Trench).
Ζωὴ is a favorite word with John. See Joh_11:25; Joh_14:6; Joh_8:12; 1Jo_1:2; 1Jo_5:20; Joh_6:35, Joh_6:48; Joh_6:63; Rev_21:6; Rev_22:1, Rev_22:17; Rev_7:17; Joh_4:14; Rev_2:7; Rev_22:2, Rev_22:14, Rev_22:19; Joh_12:50; Joh_17:3; Joh_20:31; Joh_5:26; Joh_6:53, Joh_6:54; Joh_5:40; Joh_3:15, Joh_3:16, Joh_3:36; Joh_10:10; Joh_5:24; Joh_12:25; Joh_6:27; Joh_4:36; 1Jo_5:12, 1Jo_5:16; Joh_6:51.
Was the Light of men (ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων)
Passing from the thought of creation in general to that of mankind, who, in the whole range of created things, had a special capacity for receiving the divine. The Light – the peculiar mode of the divine operation upon men, conformably to their rational and moral nature which alone was fitted to receive the light of divine truth. It is not said that the Word was light, but that the life was the light. The Word becomes light through the medium of life, of spiritual life, just as sight is a function of physical life. Compare Joh_14:6, where Christ becomes the life through being the truth; and Mat_5:8, where the pure heart is the medium through which God is beheld. In whatever mode of manifestation the Word is in the world, He is the light of the world; in His works, in the dawn of creation; in the happy conditions of Eden; in the Patriarchs, in the Law and the Prophets, in His incarnation, and in the subsequent history of the Church. Compare Joh_9:5. Of men, as a class, and not of individuals only.
5.And the light shineth in darkness. It might be objected, that the passages of Scripture in which men are called blind are so numerous and that the blindness for which they are condemned is but too well known. For in all their reasoning faculties they miserably fail. How comes it that there are so many labyrinths of errors in the world, but because men, by their own guidance, are led only to vanity and lies? But if no light appears in men, that testimony of the divinity of Christ, which the Evangelist lately mentioned, is destroyed; for that is the third step, as I have said, that in the life of men there is something more excellent than motion and breathing. The Evangelist anticipates this question, and first of all lays down this caution, that the light which was originally bestowed on men must not be estimated by their present condition; because in this corrupted and degenerate nature light has been turned into darkness. And yet he affirms that the light of understanding is not wholly extinguished; for, amidst the thick darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine.
My readers now understand that this sentence contains two clauses; for he says that men are now widely distant from that perfectly holy nature with which they were originally endued; because their understanding, which ought to have shed light in every direction, has been plunged in darkness, and is wretchedly blinded; and that thus the glory of Christ may be said to be darkened amidst this corruption of nature. But, on the other hand, the Evangelist maintains that, in the midst of the darkness: , there are still some remains of light, which show in some degree the divine power of Christ. The Evangelist admits, therefore, that the mind of man is blinded; so that it may justly be pronounced to be covered with darkness. For he might have used a milder term, and might have said that the light is dark or cloudy; but he chose to state more distinctly how wretched our condition has become since the fall of the first man. The statement that the light shineth in darkness is not at all intended for the commendation of depraved nature, but rather for taking away every excuse for ignorance.
And the darkness did not comprehend it. Although by that small measure of light which still remains in us, the Son of God has always invited men to himself, yet the Evangelist says that this was attended by no advantage, because seeing, they did not see, (Mat_13:13.) For since man lost the favor of God, his mind is so completely overwhelmed by the thralldom of ignorance, that any portion of light which remains in it is quenched and useless. This is daily proved by experience; for all who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God possess some reason, and this is an undeniable proof that man was made not only to breathe, but to have understanding. But by that guidance of their reason they do not come to God, and do not even approach to him; so that all their understanding is nothing else than mere vanity. Hence it follows that there is no hope of the salvation of men, unless God grant new aid; for though the Son of God sheds his light upon them, they are so dull that they do not comprehend whence that light proceeds, but are carried away by foolish and wicked imaginations to absolute madness.
The light which still dwells in corrupt nature consists chiefly of two parts; for, first, all men naturally possess some seed of religion; and, secondly, the distinction between good and evil is engraven on their consciences. But what are the fruits that ultimately spring from it, except that religion degenerates into a thousand monsters of superstition, and conscience perverts every decision, so as to confound vice with virtue? In short, natural reason never will direct men to Christ; and as to their being endued with prudence for regulating their lives, or born to cultivate the liberal arts and sciences, all this passes away without yielding any advantage.
It ought to be understood that the Evangelist speaks of natural gifts only, and does not as yet say any thing about the grace of regeneration. For there are two distinct powers which belong to the Son of God: the first, which is manifested in the structure of the world and the order of nature; and the second, by which he renews and restores fallen nature. As he is the eternal Speech of God, by him the world was made; by his power all things continue to possess the life which they once received; man especially was endued with an extraordinary gift of understanding; and though by his revolt he lost the light of understanding, yet he still sees and understands, so that what he naturally possesses from the grace of the Son of God is not entirely destroyed. But since by his stupidity and perverseness he darkens the light which still dwells in him, it remains that a new office be undertaken by the Son of God, the office of Mediator, to renew, by the Spirit of regeneration, man who had been ruined. Those persons, therefore, reason absurdly and inconclusively, who refer this light, which the Evangelist mentions, to the gospel and the doctrine of salvation.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
5. shineth] Note the present tense; the only one in the section. It brings us down to the Apostle’s own day: now, as of old, the Light shines—in reason, in creation, in conscience,—and shines in vain. Note also the progress: in Joh_1:1-2 we have the period before Creation; in Joh_1:3, the Creation; Joh_1:4, man before the Fall; Joh_1:5, man after the Fall.
in darkness] Better, in the darkness. The Fall is presupposed.
and the darkness] Mark the strong connexion between the two halves of Joh_1:5 as also between Joh_1:4 and Joh_1:5, resulting in both cases from a portion of the predicate of one clause becoming the subject of the next clause. Such strong connexions are frequent in St John. Sometimes the whole of the predicate is taken; sometimes the subject or a portion of the subject is repeated.—By ‘the darkness’ is meant all that the Divine Revelation does not reach, whether by God’s decree or their own stubbornness, ignorant Gentile or unbelieving Jew. ‘Darkness’ in a metaphorical sense for spiritual and moral darkness is peculiar to S. Joh_8:12; Joh_12:35; Joh_12:46; 1Jn_1:5; 1Jn_2:8-9; 1Jn_2:11.
comprehended it not] Or, apprehended it not: very appropriate of that which requires mental and moral effort. Comp. Eph_3:18. The darkness remained apart, unyielding, and unpenetrated. The words ‘the darkness apprehendeth not the light’ are given by Tatian as a quotation (Orat. ad Graecos, xiii.). He flourished a.d. 150–170: so this is early testimony to the existence of the Gospel. This and the reference to Joh_1:3 (see note) are quite beyond reasonable dispute.
We have here an instance of what has been called the “tragic tone” in S. John. He frequently states a gracious fact, and in immediate connexion with it the very opposite of what might have been expected to result from it. The Light shines in Darkness, and (instead of yielding and dispersing) the darkness shut it out. Comp. Joh_1:10-11, (Joh_2:24,) Joh_3:11; Joh_3:19; Joh_3:32, Joh_5:39-40, Joh_6:36; Joh_6:43, Joh_8:45, &c. The word rendered ‘comprehended’ may also mean ‘overcame;’ and this makes good sense. Comp. Joh_12:35.
Note the present tense, indicating not merely the present point of time, but that the light has gone forth continuously and without interruption from the beginning until now, and is still shining. Hence φαίνει, shineth, denoting the peculiar property of light under all circumstances, and not φωτίζει, lighteneth or illuminateth, as in Joh_1:9. The shining does not always illuminate. Compare 1Jo_2:8.
In the darkness (ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ)
Σκοτία, darkness, is a word peculiar to later Greek, and used in the New Testament almost exclusively by John. It occurs once in Mat_10:27, and once in Luk_12:3. The more common New Testament word is σκότος, from the same root, which appears in σκιά, shadow, and σκηνή, tent. Another word for darkness, ζόφος, occurs only in Peter and Jude (2Pe_2:4, 2Pe_2:17; Jud_1:6, Jud_1:13). See on 2Pe_2:4. The two words are combined in the phrase blackness of darkness (2Pe_2:17; Jud_1:13). In classical Greek σκότος, as distinguished from ζόφος, is the stronger term, denoting the condition of darkness as opposed to light in nature. Hence of death, of the condition before birth; of night. Ζόφος, which is mainly a poetical term, signifies gloom, half-darkness, nebulousness. Here the stronger word is used. The darkness of sin is deep. The moral condition which opposes itself to divine light is utterly dark. The very light that is in it is darkness. Its condition is the opposite of that happy state of humanity indicated in Joh_1:4, when the life was the light of men; it is a condition in which mankind has become the prey of falsehood, folly and sin. Compare 1Jo_1:9-10. Rom_1:21, Rom_1:22.
Rev., apprehended. Wyc., took not it. See on Mar_9:18; see on Act_4:13. Comprehended, in the sense of the A.V., understood, is inadmissible. This meaning would require the middle voice of the verb (see Act_4:13; Act_10:34; Act_25:25). The Rev., apprehended, i.e., grasped or seized, gives the correct idea, which appears in Joh_12:35, “lest darkness come upon you,” i.e., overtake and seize. The word is used in the sense of laying hold of so as to make one’s own; hence, to take possession of. Used of obtaining the prize in the games (1Co_9:24); of attaining righteousness (Rom_9:30); of a demon taking possession of a man (Mar_9:18); of the day of the Lord overtaking one as a thief (1Th_5:4). Applied to darkness, this idea includes that of eclipsing or overwhelming. Hence some render overcame (Westcott, Moulton). John’s thought is, that in the struggle between light and darkness, light was victorious. The darkness did not appropriate the light and eclipse it. “The whole phrase is indeed a startling paradox. The light does not banish the darkness; the darkness does not overpower the light. Light and darkness coexist in the world side by side” (Westcott).
6.There was a man. The Evangelist now begins to discourse about the manner in which the Son of God was manifested in flesh; and that none may doubt that Christ is the eternal Son of God, he relates that Christ was announced by John the Baptist, as his herald. For not only did Christ exhibit himself to be seen by men, but he chose also to be made known by the testimony and doctrine of John; or rather, God the Father sent this witness before his Christ, that they might more willingly receive the salvation offered by him.
But it might at first sight appear ridiculous that Christ should receive testimony from another, as if he needed it; while, on the contrary, he declares that he does not seek testimony from man, (Joh_5:34.) The answer is easy and obvious, that this witness was appointed, not for the sake of Christ, but for our sake. If it be objected that the testimony of man is too weak to prove that Christ is the Son of God, it is likewise easy to reply, that the Baptist is not adduced as a private witness, but as one who, having received authority from God, sustained the character rather of an angel than of a man. Accordingly, he receives commendation not for his own virtues, but for this single circumstance, that he was the ambassador of God. Nor is this at variance with the fact, that the preaching of the gospel was committed to Christ, that he might be a witness to himself; for the design contemplated by the preaching of John was, that men might attend to the doctrine and miracles of Christ.
Sent by God. He does not say so for the purpose of confirming the baptism of John, but only mentions it in passing. This circumstance is not sufficient to produce certainty, since many run of their own accord, and boast that God has sent them; but the Evangelist, intending afterwards to speak more fully about this witness, reckoned it enough, for the present, to say in a single word, that John did not come but by the command of God. We shall afterwards see how he himself affirms that God is the Author of his ministry. We must now recollect — what I formerly noticed — that what is asserted about John is required in all the teachers of the Church, that they be called by God; so that the authority of teaching may not be founded on any other than on God alone.
Whose name was John. He states the name, not only for the purpose of pointing out the man, but because it was given to him in accordance with what he really was. There is no room to doubt that the Lord had reference to the office to which he appointed John, when he commanded by the angel that he should be so called, that by means of it all might acknowledge him to be the herald of divine grace. For though the name יהוחנן (Jehohannan) may be taken in a passive signification, and may thus be referred to the person, as denoting that John was acceptable to God; yet for my own part, I willingly extend it to the benefit which others ought to derive from him.
There was a man, sent from (παρά Θεοῦ) God, whose name was John. Observe the contrast between the ἐγένετο of John’s appearance and the ἦν of the Logos, between the “man” John sent from God and the (ΛΟΓΟΣ ΣΑΡΞ ΕΓΕΝΕΤΟ) “Word became flesh” of verse 14. At this point the evangelist touches on the temporal mission and effulgence of the true Light in the Incarnation; yet this paragraph deals with far more general characteristics and wider ranges of thought than the earthly ministry of Christ on which he is about to enlarge. First of all, he deals with the testimony of John in its widest sense; afterwards he enlarges upon it in its striking detail. Consequently, we think that “the man,” “John,” is, when first introduced, referred to in his representative character rather than his historical position. The teaching of the prophets and synoptists shows that “John” was rather the exponent of the old covenant than the harbinger of the new. He was the embodiment of the idea of prophet, priest, and ascetic of the patriarchal, Mosaic, and latest Hebraic revelation. He was “more than a prophet.” No one greater than he had ever been born of woman, and his functions in these several particulars are strongly impressed upon that disciple who here loses his own individuality in the strength of his Master’s teaching. Through this very “man sent from God” the apostle had been prepared to see and personally receive the Logos incarnate. His personality gathered up for our author all that there was in the past of definite revelation, while Jesus filled up all the present and the future. First of all, he treats the mission of the Baptist as representative of all that wonderful past.
A man sent from God – See Matt. 3. The evangelist proceeds now to show that John the Baptist was not the Messiah and to state the true nature of his office. Many had supposed that he was the Christ, but this opinion he corrects; yet he admits that he was “sent from God” – that he was divinely commissioned. Though he denied that he was “the Messiah,” yet he did not deny that he was sent from or by heaven on an important errand to human beings. Some have supposed that the sole design of this gospel was to show that John the Baptist was not the Messiah. Though there is no foundation for this opinion, yet there is no doubt that one object was to show this. The main design was to show that “Jesus was the Christ,” Joh_20:31. To do this, it was proper, in the beginning, to prove that “John” was not the Messiah; and this might have been at that time an important object. John made many disciples, Mat_3:5. Many persons supposed that he might be the Messiah, Luk_3:15; Joh_1:19. “Many of these disciples of John remained” at Ephesus, “the very place where John is supposed to have written this gospel, long after the ascension of Jesus,” Act_19:1-3. It is not improbable that there might have been many others who adhered to John, and perhaps many who supposed that he was the Messiah. On these accounts it was important for the evangelist to show that John “was not the Christ,” and to show, also, that he, who was extensively admitted to be a prophet, was an important “witness” to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. The evangelist in the first four verses stated that “the Word” was divine; he now proceeds to state the proof that he was a “man,” and was the Messiah. The first evidence adduced is the testimony of John the Baptist.
This man came (historic, ἦλθε) for witness, that he might bear witness concerning the Light. The entire prophetic dispensation is thus characterized. That which the Baptist did, Malachi, Isaiah, Elijah, Hosea, Moses, had done in their day. He came, and by penetrating insight and burning word, by flashes of moral revelation and intense earnestness, “bare witness concerning the Light” which was ever shining into the darkness. His aim and theirs was to prevent the forces of darkness from suppressing or absorbing the light. He came to sting the apathy and disturb the self-complacency of the darkness. He came to interpret the fact of the Light which was shining but not apprehended; and so did all the prophetic ministry of which he was the latest and most illustrious exponent. He came to assert the meaning for man of all God’s perfections; to call conscience from its death sleep; to draw distinctions of tremendous significance between moral and ceremonial obedience; to exalt obedience above sacrifice, and works meet for repentance above Abrahamic privilege; to warn by lurid threatenings of a fiery wrath and a terrible curse which would fall on the disobedient, though consecrated, people. In this he was but the last of a goodly fellowship of prophets who bore witness to the Light of life which had its being in the Eternal Logos of God. He came, as they all had come, with a view of producing results far greater than, as a matter of fact, they have actually achieved. He came to bear such testimony that all through him, i.e. by the force of his appeal or by the fierce glow thus cast upon the perils and follies of the hour, might believe—might realize the full significance of the Light which they had hitherto refused to accept. The greatness of this expectation corresponds with the hope which the ministry of Jesus failed also to realize (Mat_11:9-14). The splendid ministry of this “burning and shining lamp” might, it would seem, have brought all Israel to acknowledge Christ as the Light of the world; but “the darkness apprehended it not.” The entire prophetic dispensation, the testimony which the priestly services and sacrifices bore to the evil of sin and to the awfulness of righteousness, as well as the condemnation of the follies and pleasures of the world, involved in John the Baptist’s ascetic profession, might have roused all Israel to believe in the Light. He gathered together all the forces of the Mosaic, prophetic, Levitical, Essenic ministries to bear on the people. Everything that Law could do was done to reveal the Light; but “all” did not believe, for “the darkness apprehended it not.”
A solemn warning is given, which forever discriminates the ministry of man from the eternal ministry of the Logos. He (John, and with him all the prophetic, Levitical, ascetic teachers in all ages) was not the Light, but [he was or came] that he might bear witness of the Light. The ἵνα depends upon some unexpressed verbal thought; for even in the passages where it stands alone (Joh_9:3; Joh_13:18; Joh_14:31; Joh_15:25) the reference is not obscure to some pre-existing or involved verb. The distinction here drawn between John and the Light is thought by some expositors to point to the condition of the Ephesian Church, in the neighbourhood of which there still lingered some who placed John in even a higher position than that accorded to Jesus (Act_19:3, Act_19:4); but the teaching of the evangelist is far more comprehensive than this. The Light of men has higher source and wider range of operation than that of any prophetic man. All that he, that any seer whatsoever can do, is to bear witness to it. The prophets, from Moses to John, derived all their power, their sanction, and the corroboration of their message, from the Logos light shining through conscience and blazing through providential events and burning up the stubble of human action with unquenchable fire. The prophets are not the light of God; they are sent to bear witness to it.
For a witness – To give testimony. He came to prepare the minds of the people to receive him Matt. 3; Luke 3; to lead them by repentance to God; and to point out the Messiah to Israel when he came, Joh_1:31.
Of the Light – That is, of the Messiah. Compare Isa_60:1.
That all men … – It was the object of John’s testimony that all people might believe. He designed to prepare them for it; to announce that the Messiah was about to come, to direct the minds of men to him, and thus to prepare them to believe on him when he came. Thus, he baptized them, saying “That they should believe on him who should come after him” Act_19:4, and thus he produced a very general expectation that the Messiah was about to come. The testimony of John was especially valuable on the following accounts:
1. It was made when he had no personal acquaintance with Jesus of Nazareth, and of course there could have been no collusion or agreement to deceive them, Joh_1:31.
2. It was sufficiently long before he came to excite general attention, and to fix the mind on it.
3. It was that of a man acknowledged by all to be a prophet of God – “for all men held John to be a prophet,” Mat_21:26.
4. It was “for the express purpose” of declaring beforehand that he was about to appear.
5. It was “disinterested.”
He was himself extremely popular. Many were disposed to receive him as the Messiah. It was evidently in his “power” to form a large party, and to be regarded extensively as the Christ. This was the highest honor to which a Jew could aspire; and it shows the value of John’s testimony, that he was willing to lay all his honors at the feet of Jesus, and to acknowledge that he was unworthy to perform for him the office of the humblest servant, Mat_3:11.
Through him – Through John, or by means of his testimony.
Was not that Light – Was not “the Messiah.” This is an explicit declaration designed to satisfy the disciples of John. The evidence that he was not the Messiah he states in the following verses.
From the conduct of John here we may learn,
1. The duty of laying all our honors at the feet of Jesus.
2. As John came that all might believe, so it is no less true of the ministry of Jesus himself. He came for a similar purpose, and we may all, therefore, trust in him for salvation.
3. We should not rely too much on ministers of the gospel. They cannot save us any more than John could; and their office, as his was, is simply to direct people “to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
9.The true light was. The Evangelist did not intend to contrast the true light with the false, but to distinguish Christ from all others, that none might imagine that what is called light belongs to him in common with angels or men. The distinction is, that whatever is luminous in heaven and in earth borrows its splendor from some other object; but Christ is the light, shining from itself and by itself, and enlightening the whole world by its radiance; so that no other source or cause of splendor is anywhere to be found. He gave the name of the true light, therefore, to that which has by nature the power of giving light
Which enlighteneth every man. The Evangelist insists chiefly on this point, in order to show, from the effect which every one of us perceives in him, that Christ is the light. He might have reasoned more ingeniously, that Christ, as the eternal light, has a splendor which is natural, and not brought from any other quarter; but instead of doing so, he sends us back to the experience which we all possess. For as Christ makes us all partakers of his brightness, it must be acknowledged that to him alone belongs strictly this honor of being called light
This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace. But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind, as I have already said. For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.
But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
9. That was, &c.] This verse is ambiguous in the Greek. Most of the Ancient Versions, Fathers, and Reformers agree with our translators. Many modern commentators translate—the true Light, which lighteth every man, was coming into the world: but ‘was’ and ‘coming’ are almost too far apart in the Greek for this. There is yet a third way;—there was the true Light, which lighteth every man by coming into the world. ‘Was’ is emphatic: ‘there was the true Light,’ even while the Baptist was preparing the way for Him. The Baptist came once for all; the Light was ever coming.
The word for ‘true’ (alêthinos) is remarkable: it means true as opposed to ‘spurious,’ not true as opposed to ‘lying.’ It is in fact the old English ‘very,’ e.g. ‘very God of very God’. Christ then is the true, the genuine, the perfect Light, just as He is ‘the perfect Bread’ (Joh_6:32) and ‘the perfect Vine’ (Joh_15:1): not that He is the only Light, and Bread, and Vine, but that He is in reality what all others are in figure and imperfectly. All words about truth are very characteristic of S. John.
every man] not ‘all men:’ the Light illumines each one singly, not all collectively. God deals with men separately as individuals, not in masses. But though every man is illumined, not every man is the better for it: that depends upon himself.
that cometh into the world] A Jewish phrase for being born, frequent in S. John (Joh_9:39, Joh_11:27, Joh_16:28); see on Joh_18:37. ‘The world’ is another of the expressions characteristic of S. John: it occurs nearly 80 times in the Gospel and 22 in the First Epistle. This verse, Hippolytus tells us (Refut. vii. x.), was used by Basilides in defending his doctrine, and as he began to teach about a.d. 125, this is very early evidence of the use of the Gospel.
(b) The illumination of the archetypal Light before incarnation. There are at least three grammatical translations of this verse. Either
(1) with Meyer, we may give to ἦν the complete sense of existence, presence, and include in it the full predicate of the sentence; thus: “Existing, present (when John commenced his ministry), was the veritable Light which enlighteneth every man coming into the world.” But the clause, “coming into the world,” would here not only be superfluous, but moreover, while used elsewhere and often of Christ’s incarnation, is never used of ordinary birth in the Scriptures, though it is a rabbinical expression.
(2) Lange, Moulton, Westcott, Godet, applying the ἐρχό μενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον to the light rather than to man, translate it, “That was the true Light which lighteth every man, by coming into the world, or that cometh into the world.” The difficulty of this is that it makes the coming into the world, in some new sense, the occasion of the illumination of every man, although the evangelist has already spoken (Joh_1:4) of the Life which is the Light of men. A third method is to make the ἐρχό μενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον the true predicate of the sentence, and translate thus: The veritable Light which illumines every man was coming (ever coming) into the world;£ and there is a sense and manner of his coming which transcends all others, about which he is to speak at length. This might receive another meaning if ἦν ἐρχο ́μενον were equivalent to ἦλθε; then a positive reference would here he made to the historic fact of the Incarnation. But it seems to me the evangelist is drawing a contrast between the continuous coming into the world of the veritable Light and the specific Incarnation of Joh_1:14. Consequently, the author here travels over and connotes a wider theme, namely, the operation of that archetypal Light, that veritable Light which differs from all mere reflections of it, or imitations of it, or luminous testimonies to it. The difference between ἀληθη ́ς and ἀληθι νός is important. Ἀληθη ́ς is used in Joh_3:33 and Joh_5:31, and very often to denote the true in opposition to the false, the veracious as distinct from the deceptive. Ἀληθινο ́ς is used in the Gospel (Joh_4:23, Joh_4:37; Joh_6:32; Joh_7:28; Joh_15:1; Joh_17:3), First Epistle (1Jn_5:20), and Apocalypse (Rev_3:7), and hardly anywhere else (see Introduction), for the real as opposed to the phenomenal, the archetypal as opposed to the various embodiments of it, the veritable as distinct from that which does not answer to its own ideal. Now, about this veritable light, in addition to all that has been said already, two things are declared.
(1) It illumines every man, giveth light to every individual man, in all time. Though the darkness apprehendeth it not, yet man is illumined by it. Various interpretations have been given of the method or conditions of this illumination.
(a) The light of the reason and conscience—the higher reason, which is the real eye for heavenly light, and the sphere for the operation of grace. This would make the highest intellectual faculty of man a direct effulgence of the archetypal Light, and confirm the poet Wordsworth’s definition of conscience as “God’s most intimate presence in the world.”
(b) The inner light of the mystical writers, and the “common grace” of the Remonstrant theology. Or
(c) the Divine instruction bestowed on every man from the universal manifestation of the Logos life. No man is left without some direct communication of light from the Father of lights. That light may be quenched, the eye of the soul may be blinded, the folly of the world may obscure it as a cloud disperses the direct rays of the sun; but a fundamental fact remains—the veritable Light illumines every man. Then
(2) it is further declared that this Light was ever coming into the world. Bengel and Hengstenberg, as Lange and Baumgarten-Crusius, regard it as in the purely historic sense, declaratory of the great fact of the Incarnation. But Ewald, Keim, Westcott, and others decide that it refers to his continual coming into the world. Up to the time of the Incarnation, the great theme of the prophets is (ὁ ἐρχό μενος) the Coming One. Nor can we conceal the numberless assurances of the old covenant that the Lord of men was always “coming,” and did come, to them. At one time he came in judgment, and at another time in mercy; now by worldwide convulsions, then by the fall of empires; again by the sense of need, of guilt and peril, by the bow of promise which often broke in beauty on the retreating storm cloud, by the mighty working of conscience, by the sense given to men of their Divine relationships and their dearness to God,—by all these experiences he has ever been coming, and he cometh still. Ever since the coming in the flesh and the subsequent cessation of that manifestation, he has ever been coming in the grace of the Holy Spirit, in all the mission of the Comforter, in the fall of the theocratic system and city, in the great persecutions and deliverances, the chastisements and reformations, the judgments and revivals of his Church. The eternal, veritable Light which does, by its universal shining, illumine every man, is still coming. The cry, “He is coming,” was the language of the noblest of heathen philosophies; “He is coming,” is the burden of the Old Testament; “He is coming again,” is the great undersong of the Church to the end of time: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
That was the true Light – Not John, but the Messiah. He was not a false, uncertain, dangerous guide, but was one that was true, real, steady, and worthy of confidence. A false light is one that leads to danger or error, as a false beacon on the shores of the ocean may lead ships to quicksands or rocks; or an “ignis fatuus” to fens, and precipices, and death. A true light is one that does not deceive us, as the true beacon may guide us into port or warn us of danger. Christ does not lead astray. All false teachers do.
That lighteth – That enlightens. He removes darkness, error, ignorance, from the mind.
Every man – This is an expression denoting, in general, the whole human race – Jews and Gentiles. John preached to the Jews. Jesus came “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles,” as well as to be the “glory of the people of Israel,” Luk_2:32.
That cometh into the world – The phrase in the original is ambiguous. The word translated “that cometh” may either refer to the “light,” or to the word “man;” so that it may mean either “this ‘true light that cometh’ into the world enlightens all,” or “it enlightens every ‘man that cometh’ into the world.” Many critics, and, among the fathers, Cyril and Augustine, have preferred the former, and translated it, “The true light was he who, coming into the world, enlightened every man.” The principal reasons for this are:
1. That the Messiah is often spoken of as he that cometh into the world. See Joh_6:14; Joh_18:37.
2. He is often distinguished as “the light that cometh into the world.” Joh_3:19; “this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world.” Joh_12:46; “I am come a light into the world.”
Christ may be said to do what is accomplished by his command or appointment. This passage means, therefore, that by his own personal ministry, and by his Spirit and apostles, light or teaching is afforded to all. It does not mean that every individual of the human family is enlightened with the knowledge “of the gospel,” for this never yet has been; but it means:
1. That this light is not confined to the “Jews,” but is extended to all – Jews and Gentiles.
2. That it is provided for all and offered to all.
3. It is not affirmed that at the time that John wrote all “were actually enlightened,” but the word “lighteth” has the form of the “future.” “This is that light so long expected and predicted, which as the result of its coming into the world, will ultimately enlighten all nations.”