10.He was in the world. He accuses men of ingratitude, because of their own accord, as it were, they were so blinded, that the cause of the light which they enjoyed was unknown to them. This extends to every age of the world; for before Christ was manifested in the flesh, his power was everywhere displayed; and therefore those daily effects ought to correct the stupidity of men. What can be more unreasonable than to draw water from a running stream, and never to think of the fountain from which that stream flows? It follows that no proper excuse can be found for the ignorance of the world in not knowing Christ, before he was manifested in the flesh; for it arose from the indolence and wicked stupidity of those who had opportunities of seeing Him always present by his power. The whole may be summed up by saying, that never was Christ in such a manner absent from the world, but that men, aroused by his rays, ought to have raised their eyes towards him. Hence it follows, that the blame must be imputed to themselves.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
10. and the world] Note three points; (1) the close connexion obtained by repetition, as in Joh_1:4-5; (2) the tragic tone, as in Joh_1:5; (3) the climax. ‘He was in the world’ (therefore the world should have known Him); ‘and the world was His own creature’ (therefore still more it should have known Him); ‘and (yet) the world knew Him not.’ ‘And’ = ‘and yet’ is very frequent in S. John; but it is best not to put in the ‘yet;’ the simple ‘and’ is more forcible. Comp. Joh_1:5; Joh_1:11.
Note that ‘the world’ has not the same meaning in Joh_1:9-10. Throughout N.T. it is most important to distinguish the various meanings of ‘the world.’ It means (1) ‘the universe;’ Rom_1:20 : (2) ‘the earth;’ Joh_1:9; Mat_4:8 : (3) ‘the inhabitants of the earth;’ Joh_1:29, Joh_4:42 : (4) ‘those outside the Church,’ alienated from God; Joh_12:31, Joh_14:17, and frequently. In this verse the meaning slips from (2) to (4).
knew him not] Did not acquire knowledge of its Creator; did not recognise and acknowledge Him. Comp. Act_19:15.
He was in the world – This refers, probably, not to his pre-existence, but to the fact that he became incarnate; that he dwelt among human beings.
And the world was made by him – This is a repetition of what is said in Joh_1:3. Not only “men,” but all material things, were made by him. These facts are mentioned here to make what is said immediately after more striking, to wit, that men did not receive him. The proofs which he furnished that they ought to receive him were:
1. Those given while he was “in the world” – the miracles that he performed and his instructions; and,
2. The fact that the “world was made by him.” It was remarkable that the world did not know or approve its own Maker.
The world knew him not – The word “knew” is sometimes used in the sense of “approving” or “loving,” Psa_1:6; Mat_7:23. In this sense it may be used here. The world did not love or approve him, but rejected him and put him to death. Or it may mean that they did not understand or know that he was the Messiah; for had the Jews known and believed that he was the Messiah, they would not have put him to death, 1Co_2:8; “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Yet they might have known it, and therefore they were not the less to blame.
11.He came into his own. Here is displayed the absolutely desperate wickedness and malice of men; here is displayed their execrable impiety, that when the Son of God was manifested in flesh to the Jews, whom God had separated to himself from the other nations to be His own heritage, he was not acknowledged or received. This passage also has received various explanations. For some think that the Evangelist speaks of the whole world indiscriminately; and certainly there is no part of the world which the Son of God may not lawfully claim as his own property. According to them, the meaning is: “When Christ came down into the world, he did not enter into another person’s territories, for the whole human race was his own inheritance.” But I approve more highly of the opinion of those who refer it to the Jews alone; for there is an implied comparison, by which the Evangelist represents the heinous ingratitude of men. The Son of God had solicited an abode for himself in one nation; when he appeared there, he was rejected; and this shows clearly the awfully wicked blindness of men. In making this statement, the sole object of the Evangelist must have been to remove the offense which many would be apt to take in consequence of the unbelief of the Jews. For when he was despised and rejected by that nation to which he had been especially promised, who would reckon him to be the Redeemer of the whole world? We see what extraordinary pains the Apostle Paul takes in handling this subject.
Here both the Verb and the Noun are highly emphatic. He came. The Evangelist says that the Son of God came to that place where he formerly was; and by this expression he must mean a new and extraordinary kind of presence, by which the Son of God was manifested, so that men might have a nearer view of him. Into his own. By this phrase the Evangelist compares the Jews with other nations; because by an extraordinary privilege they had been adopted into the family of God. Christ therefore was first offered to them as his own household, and as belonging to his empire by a peculiar right. To the same purpose is that complaint of God by Isaiah:
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel knoweth me not, (Isa_1:3;)
for though he has dominion over the whole world, yet he represents himself to be, in peculiar manner, the Lord of Israel, whom he had collected, as it were, into a sacred fold.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
11. unto his own] In the Greek the first ‘own’ is neuter, the second is masculine, and this difference should be preserved: He came unto His own inheritance; and His own people received Him not (see on Joh_6:37). In the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Mat_21:33-41) the vineyard is ‘His own inheritance,’ the husbandmen are ‘His own people,’ the Jews. Or, for ‘His own inheritance’ we might say ‘His own home,’ as in Joh_19:27, where the Greek is the same. The tragic tone is very strong here as in Joh_1:5; Joh_1:10.
received] A stronger word than ‘knew.’ The exact meaning of the Greek word is ‘to accept what is offered.’ Mankind in general did not recognise the Messiah; the Jews, to whom He was specially sent, did not welcome Him. See on Joh_19:16.
Once more there is a climax;—‘He was’ (Joh_1:9); ‘He was in the world’ (Joh_1:10); ‘He came unto His own inheritance’ (Joh_1:11).
It is not without interest that the ideas contained in these verses did not need a second century to evolve them; they were current in Paul’s letters, a hundred years before the date assigned by some to this Gospel. Here the question arises—Has no more direct approach been made to our race than that which is common to every man? Undoubtedly the whole theocratic dispensation would be ignored if this were not the case—and consequently the evangelist continues the recital of the peculiarities and specialties of the approach of the Logos to the human understanding. He came unto his own possession (εἰς τὰ ἴδια). Here all expositors agree to see the special manifestation of the Logos to the house of Israel, which is called in numerous passages of the Old Testament, God’s own possession (Exo_19:5; Deu_7:6; Psa_135:4; Isa_31:9). And his own (people) received him not (παρέλαβον; cf. κατέλαβεν of Joh_1:4, and ἔγνω of Joh_1:10). Here, again, the most astonishing, direct and prominent illustration of such a statement is seen in the historic ministry of the Lord Jesus, in the terrible record of his rejection by his own people, by his own disciples, by the theocratic chiefs, by the assembled Sanhedrin, by the very populace to whom Pilate appealed to save him from murderous fury. But the significance of the prologue is to my mind missed, if the earlier agelong rejection of the ministry, and light of the Logos, nay, the perpetual and awful treatment which he continually receives from “his own possession,” be not perceived. There was a Divine and special sense in which the perpetual coming of the Logos to the world was emphasized by his gracious self-manifestations to the people of Israel. The great Name of Jehovah, the Angel of the presence, the manifestations to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Elijah, to Isaiah, and Ezekiel; the Shechinah glories, the whole ministry of grace to the house of Israel, was a perpetual coming to his own peculiar possession; but yet the sum total of their history is a continuous repudiation and lapse. They rejected the Lord, they fell in the wilderness, they were turned unto other gods, they went a-whoring after their own inventions. They knew not that God had healed them. The great things of his Law were accounted strange things to them (compare Stephen’s apology for an elaborate exposition of this thought). The same kind of treatment has continually been given by the world, and even by those who have boasted of standing in the special lines of his grace. This suggestion cannot he fully expanded here. Chrysostom in loco calls much attention to the argument of the Epistle to Romans (Rom_2:12; Rom_9:30, Rom_9:32; Rom_10:3, Rom_10:12).
He came (ἦλθεν)
The narrative now passes from the general to the special action of the Word as the Light. The verb came, in the aorist tense, denotes a definite act – the Incarnation. In Joh_1:10 the Word is described as in the world invisibly. Now He appears.
Unto His own (εἰς τὰ ἴδια)
Literally, his own things: see on Act_1:7. The Rev. follows the A.V. Wyc., into his own things. Render his own home, and compare Joh_16:32; Joh_19:27; Act_21:6. The reference is to the land of Israel, which is recognized as God’s own in a peculiar sense. See Jer_2:7; Hos_9:3; Zec_2:12; Deu_7:6. Not a repetition of Joh_1:10. There is a progress in the narrative. He was in the world at large: then he came unto His own home.
His own (οἱ ἴδια)
The masculine gender, as the preceding was neuter. That signified His own home or possessions, this His own people. Rev., they that were His own.
Most commonly in the New Testament of taking one along with another. See on Mat_4:5; see on Mat_17:1; see on Act_16:33. But also of accepting or acknowledging one to be what he professes to be, and of receiving something transmitted, as 1Co_11:23; Gal_1:12, etc. Westcott thinks this latter sense is implied here; Christ having been offered by the teachers of Israel through John. Alford adopts the former sense; “expressing the personal assumption to one’s self as a friend or companion.” De Wette explains to receive into the house. Godet strains a point by explaining as welcomed. De Wette’s explanation seems to agree best with his own home. Here again compare the nice choice of verbs: apprehended (κατέλαβεν) the Light as a principle, and received (παρέλαβον) the Light as a person and the Master of the house.
He came unto his own – His own “land” or “country.” It was called his land because it was the place of his birth, and also because it was the chosen land where God delighted to dwell and to manifest his favor. See Isa_5:1-7. Over that land the laws of God had been extended, and that land had been regarded as especially his, Psa_147:19-20.
His own – His own “people.” There is a distinction here in the original words which is not preserved in the translation. It may be thus expressed: “He came to his own land, and his own people received him not.” They were his people, because God had chosen them to be his above all other nations; had given to them his laws; and had signally protected and favored them, Deu_7:6; Deu_14:2.
Received him not – Did not acknowledge him to be the Messiah. They rejected him and put him to death, agreeably to the prophecy, Isa_53:3-4. From this we learn,
1. That it is reasonable to expect that those who have been especially favored should welcome the message of God. God had a right to expect, after all that had been done for the Jews, that they would receive the message of eternal life. So he has a right to expect that we should embrace him and be saved.
2. Yet, it is not the abundance of mercies that incline men to seek God. The Jews had been signally favored, but they rejected him. So, many in Christian lands live and die rejecting the Lord Jesus.
3. People are alike in every age. All would reject the Saviour if left to themselves. All people are by nature wicked. There is no more certain and universal proof of this than the universal rejection of the Lord Jesus.
12.But to as many as received him. That none may be retarded by this stumbling-block, that the Jews despised and rejected Christ, the Evangelist exalts above heaven the godly who believe in him; for he says that by faith they obtain this glory of being reckoned the sons of God. The universal term, as many, contains an implied contrast; for the Jews were carried away by a blind vaunting, as if they exclusively had God bound to themselves. The Evangelist declares that their condition is changed, because the Jews have been rejected, and their place, which had been left empty, is occupied by the Jews; for it is as if he transferred the right of adoption to strangers. This is what Paul says, that the destruction of one nation was the life of the whole world, (Rom_11:12;) for the Gospel, which might be said to have been banished from them, began to be spread far and wide throughout the whole world. They were thus deprived of the privilege which they enjoyed above others. But their impiety was no obstruction to Christ; for he erected elsewhere the throne of his kingdom, and called indiscriminately to the hope of salvation all nations which formerly appeared to have been rejected by God.
He gave them power. The word ἐξουσία here appears to me to mean a right, or claim; and it would be better to translate it so, in order to refute the false opinions of the Papists; for they wickedly pervert this passage by understanding it to mean, that nothing more than a choice is allowed to us, if we think fit to avail ourselves of this privilege. In this way they extract free-will from this phrase; but as well might they extract fire from water. There is some plausibility in this at first sight; for the Evangelist does not say that Christ makes them sons of God, but that he gives them power to become such. Hence they infer that it is this grace only that is offered to us, and that the liberty to enjoy or to reject it is placed at our disposal. But this frivolous attempt to catch at a single word is set aside by what immediately follows; for the Evangelist adds, that they become the sons of God, not by the will which belongs to the flesh, but when they are born of God. But if faith regenerates us, so that we are the sons of God, and if God breathes faith into us from heaven, it plainly appears that not by possibility only, but actually — as we say — is the grace of adoption offered to us by Christ. And, indeed, the Greek word, ἐξουσία is sometimes put for ἀξίωσις, (a claim,) a meaning which falls in admirably with this passage.
The circumlocution which the Evangelist has employed tends more to magnify the excellence of grace, than if he had said in a single word, that all who believe in Christ are made by him sons of God. For he speaks here of the unclean and profane, who, having been condemned to perpetual ignominy, lay in the darkness of death. Christ exhibited an astonishing instance of his grace in conferring this honor on such persons, so that they began, all at once, to be sons of God; and the greatness of this privilege is justly extolled by the Evangelist, as also by Paul, when he ascribes it to God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, (Eph_2:4.)
But if any person shall prefer to take the word power in its ordinary acceptation, still the Evangelist does not mean by it any intermediate faculty, or one which does not include the full and complete effect; but, on the contrary, means that Christ gave to the unclean and the uncircumcised what appeared to be impossible; for an incredible change took place when out of stones Christ raised up children to God, (Mat_3:9.) The power, therefore, is that fitness (ἱκανότης) which Paul mentions, when he
gives thanks to God, who hath made us fit (or meet) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints, (Col_1:12.)
Who believe in his name. He expresses briefly the manner of receiving Christ, that is, believing in him. Having been engrafted into Christ by faith, we obtain the right of adoption, so as to be the sons of God. And, indeed, as he is the only-begotten Son of God, it is only so far as we are members of him that this honor at all belongs to us. Here again the notion of the Papists about the word power is refuted. The Evangelist declares that this power is given to those who already believe. Now it is certain that such persons are in reality the sons of God. They detract too much from the value of faith who say that, by believing, a man obtains nothing more than that he may become a son of God, if he chooses; for instead of present effect they put a power which is held in uncertainty and suspense.
The contradiction appears still more glaring from what immediately follows. The Evangelist says that those who believe are already born of God It is not therefore, a mere liberty of choice that is offered, since they obtain the privilege itself that is in question. Although the Hebrew word, שם (Name) is sometimes used to denote power, yet here it denotes a relation to the doctrine of the Gospel; for when Christ is preached to us, then it is that we believe in him. I speak of the ordinary method by which the Lord leads us to faith; and this ought to be carefully observed, for there are many who foolishly contrive for themselves a confused faith, without any understanding of doctrine, as nothing is more common among the Papists than the word believe, though there is not among them any knowledge of Christ from hearing the Gospel. Christ, therefore, offers himself to us by the Gospel, and we receive him by faith.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
12. received] Not the same Greek word as before: this denotes the spontaneous acceptance of the Messiah by individuals, whether Jews or Gentiles. He was not specially offered to any individuals as He was to the Jewish nation.
power] i.e. right, liberty, authority. We are born with a capacity for becoming sons of God; that we have as men. He gives us a right to become such; that we receive as Christians. Comp. Joh_5:27, Joh_10:18.
to become] Christ is from all eternity the Son of God; men are empowered to become sons of God. Comp. Mat_5:45.
the sons of God] Omit ‘the:’ children of God. Both S. John and S. Paul insist on the fundamental fact that the relation of believers to God is a filial one. S. John gives us this fact on the human side; man ‘must be born again’ (Joh_3:3). S. Paul gives us the Divine side; God by ‘adoption’ makes us sons (Rom_8:16-17; Rom_8:21; Rom_8:23; Gal_4:5).
even to them that believe] Explains who are the sons of God. The test of a child of God is no longer descent from Abraham, but belief in God’s Son.
on his name] The construction ‘to believe on’ is characteristic of S. John: it occurs about 35 times in the Gospel and 3 times in the First Epistle; elsewhere in N.T. about 10 times. It expresses the very strongest belief; motion to and repose on the object of belief. ‘His Name’ is a frequent phrase in Jewish literature, both O. and N.T. It is not a mere periphrasis. Names were so often significant, given sometimes by God Himself, that a man’s name told not merely who he was, but what he was: it was an index of character. So ‘the Name of the Lord’ is not a mere periphrasis for ‘the Lord;’ it suggests His attributes and His relations to us as Lord. Perhaps the name of Logos is specially meant here; and the meaning would then be to give one’s entire adhesion to Him as the Incarnate Son, the expression of the Will and Nature of God. Comp. Joh_3:18, Joh_20:31.
As many as (ὅσοι)
Denoting individuals, as οἱ ἴδιοι (Joh_1:11) signified the nation at large.
The simple verb of the compound παρέλαβον in Joh_1:11. The meaning of the two verbs is substantially the same (so Alford, De Wette, and apparently Meyer), though some recognize a difference, as Milligan and Moulton, who render παρέλαβον accepted, and ἔλαβον received, and say that “the former lays emphasis upon the will that consented (or refused) to receive, while the latter brings before us the possession gained: so that the full meaning is, As many as by accepting Him, received Him.” For the use of the simple verb, see Joh_5:43; Joh_13:20; Joh_19:6.
Rev., the right. Six words are used for power in the:New Testament: βία, force, often oppressive, exhibiting itself in violence (Act_5:26; Act_27:41. Compare the kindred verb βιάζεται, Mat_11:12; “the kingdom of heaven is taken by violence): δύναμις, natural ability (see on 2Pe_2:11): ἐνέργεια, energy, power in exercise; only of superhuman power, good or evil. Used by Paul only, and chiefly in the Epistles of the Imprisonment (Eph_1:19; Eph_3:7; Col_2:12. Compare the kindred verb ἐνεργέω, to put forth power, and see on Mar_6:14; see on Jam_5:16): ἰσχύς, strength (see on 2Pe_2:11. Compare the kindred verb ἰσχύω, to be strong, and see on Luk_14:30; see on Luk_16:3): κράτος, might, only of God, relative and manifested power, dominion (Eph_1:19; Eph_6:10; 1Ti_6:16; 1Pe_4:11. Compare the kindred verb κρατέω, to have power, to be master of, and see on Mar_7:3; see on Act_3:11): ἐξουσία, liberty of action (ἔξεστι, it is lawful), authority, delegated or arbitrary (Joh_5:27; Joh_10:18; Joh_17:2; Joh_19:10, Joh_19:11. See on Mar_2:10; see on Luk_20:20). Here, therefore, ἐξουσία is not merely possibility or ability, but legitimate right derived from a competent source – the Word.
To become (γενέσθαι)
As those who are born (Joh_1:13. Compare Joh_3:3, and Mat_5:45).
Rev., more correctly, children. Son is υἱός. Τέκνον, child (τίκτω, to bring forth), denotes a relation based on community of nature, while υἱός, Son, may indicate only adoption and heirship. See Gal_4:7. Except in Rev_21:7, which is a quotation, John never uses υἱός to describe the relation of Christians to God, since he regards their position not as a result of adoption, but of a new life. Paul, on the other hand, regards the relation from the legal standpoint, as adoption, imparting a new dignity and relation (Rom_8:15; Gal_4:5, Gal_4:6). See also Jam_1:18; 1Pe_1:3, 1Pe_1:23, where the point of view is John’s rather than Paul’s. Τέκνον, indicating the relationship of man to God, occurs in Joh_1:12; Joh_11:52; 1Jo_3:1, 1Jo_3:2, 1Jo_3:10; 1Jo_5:2, and always in the plural.
Believe on (πιστευούσιν εἰς)
The present participle, believing, indicates the present and continuous activity of faith. The word is used by John, sometimes with the dative case simply meaning to believe a person or thing; i.e., to believe that they are true or speak the truth. Thus, to believe the Scripture (Joh_2:22); believe me (Joh_4:21); believe Moses, his writings, my words (Joh_4:46). At other times with a preposition, εἰς, into, which is rendered believe in, or believe on. So here, Joh_6:29; Joh_8:30; 1Jo_5:10. See the two contrasted in Joh_6:29, Joh_6:30; Joh_8:30, Joh_8:31; 1Jo_5:10. To believe in, or on, is more than mere acceptance of a statement. It is so to accept a statement or a person as to rest upon them, to trust them practically; to draw upon and avail one’s self of all that is offered to him in them. Hence to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is not merely to believe the facts of His historic life or of His saving energy as facts, but to accept Him as Savior, Teacher, Sympathizer, Judge; to rest the soul upon Him for present and future salvation, and to accept and adopt His precepts and example as binding upon the life.
See on Mat_28:19. Expressing the sum of the qualities which mark the nature or character of a person. To believe in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God, is to accept as true the revelation contained in that title. Compare Joh_20:31.
To as many as received him – The great mass; the people; the scribes and Pharisees rejected him. A few in his lifetime received him, and many more after his death. “To receive him,” here, means to “believe” on him. This is expressed at the end of the verse.
Gave he power – This is more appropriately rendered in the margin by the word “right” or “privilege.” Compare Act_1:7; Act_5:4; Rom_9:21; 1Co_7:37; 1Co_8:9; 1Co_9:4-5.
Sons of God – Children of God by adoption. See the notes at Mat_1:1. Christians are called sons of God:
1. Because they are “adopted” by Him, 1Jo_3:1.
2. Because they are “like Him;” they resemble Him and have His spirit.
3. They are united to the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, are regarded by Him as his brethren Mat_25:40, and are therefore regarded as the children of the Most High.
On his name – This is another way of saying believeth in “him.” The “name” of a person is often put for the person himself, Joh_2:23; Joh_3:18; 1Jo_5:13. From this verse we learn:
1. That to be a child of God is a privilege – far more so than to be the child of any human being, though in the highest degree rich, or learned, or honored. Christians are therefore more honored than any other persons.
2. God gave them this privilege. It is not by their own works or deserts; it is because God chose to impart this blessing to them, Eph_2:8; Joh_15:16.
3. This favor is given only to those who believe on him. All others are the children of the wicked one, and no one who has not “confidence in God” can be regarded as his child. No parent would acknowledge one for his child, or approve of him, who had no confidence in him, who doubted or denied all he said, and who despised his character. Yet the sinner constantly does this toward God, and he cannot, therefore, be called his Son.
Joh 1:13.Who were born not of blood Some think that an indirect reference is here made to the preposterous confidence of the Jews, and I willingly adopt that opinion. They had continually in their mouth the nobleness of their lineage, as if, because they were descended from a holy stock, they were naturally holy. And justly might they have gloried in their descent from Abraham, if they had been lawful sons, and not bastards; but the glowing of faith ascribes nothing whatever to carnal generation, but acknowledges its obligation to the grace of God alone for all that is good. John, therefore, says, that those among the formerly unclean Gentiles who believe in Christ are not born the sons of God from the womb, but are renewed by God, that they may begin to be his sons. The reason why he uses the word blood in the plural number appears to have been, that he might express more fully a long succession of lineage; for this was a part of the boasting among the Jews, that they could trace their descent, by an uninterrupted line, upwards to the patriarchs.
The will of the flesh and the will of man appear to me to mean the same thing; for I see no reason why flesh should be supposed to signify woman, as Augustine and many others explain it. On the contrary, the Evangelist repeats the same thing in a variety of words, in order to explain it more fully, and impress it more deeply on the minds of men. Though he refers directly to the Jews, who gloried in the flesh, yet from this passage a general doctrine may be obtained: that our being reckoned the sons of God does not belong to our nature, and does not proceed from us, but because God begat us willingly, (Jas_1:18,) that is, from undeserved love. Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God.
It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1Pe_1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption.
Another solution, still more plain and easy, may be offered; for when the Lord breathes faith into us, he regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. For since faith, as we have said, receives Christ, it puts us in possession, so to speak, of all his blessings. Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed — that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
13. S. John denies thrice most emphatically that human generation has anything to do with Divine regeneration. Man cannot become a child of God in right of human parentage: descent from Abraham confers no such ‘power.’ A bitter word to Jewish exclusiveness.
were born] Literally, were begotten. Comp. 1Jn_5:1; 1Jn_5:4; 1Jn_5:18.
not of blood] The blood was regarded as the seat of physical life. Gen_9:4; Lev_17:11; Lev_17:14, &c.
nor of the will of the flesh] Better, nor yet from will of flesh, i.e. from any fleshly impulse. A second denial of any physical process.
nor of the will of man] Better, nor yet from will of man, i.e. from the volition of any earthly father: it is the Heavenly Father who wills it. A third denial of any physical process.
There is an interesting false reading here. Tertullian (c. a.d. 200) had ‘was born’ for ‘were born,’ making it refer to Christ; and he accused the Valentinians of corrupting the text in reading ‘were born,’ which is undoubtedly right. This shews that as early as a.d. 200 there were corruptions in the text, the origin of which was already lost. Such things take some time to grow: by comparing them and tracing their roots and branches we arrive at a sure conclusion that this Gospel cannot have been written later than a.d. 85–100. See on Joh_1:18 and Joh_9:35.
But before the apostle advances to the central statement of the entire proem, he stops to show that, though the whole world, though man as an organized mass, though Israel as a favoured and selected theocracy, have refused to know and confess his supreme claims, yet there has always been an election of grace. All have not perished in their unbelief. Some have received him. The twelfth and thirteenth verses do, indeed, in their full meaning, refer unmistakably to the entire ministry of the living Christ to the end of time; but surely every word of it applies primarily (though not exclusively) to the whole previous pleadings of the Light and Life—to the ministry of the pre-existing and eternal Logos, and to the privileges and possibilities consequent thereupon. As many as received him.£ This phrase is subsequently explained as being identical with “believed in his Name.” The simple verb ἔλαβον, is less definite than are its compounds with κάτα and παρά, used in the previous verses (5, 11). The acceptance is a positive idea, is broader, more manifold, less restricted as to manner of operation, than the negative rejection which took sharp and decisive form. The construction is irregular. We have a nominativus pendens followed by a clause in the dative; as much as if he had written, “There are, notwithstanding all the rejections, those who received him.” To these, the evangelist says, however many or few they may be, who believe in his Name, he—the subject of the previous sentence—gave the authority and capability of becoming children of God. Believing in his Name is discriminated from believing him. The construction occurs thirty-five times in the Gospel, and three times in the First Epistle—and the Name here especially present to the writer is the Logos, the full revelation of the essence, character, and activity, of God. John, writing in the close of his life, surveys a glorious company of individuals who, by realizing as true the sum of all the perfections of the manifested Word, by believing in his Name, have also received as a gift the sense of such union to the Son of God that they become alive to the fact that they too are the offspring of God. This realization of the Divine fatherhood, which had been so obscure before, is itself the origination within them of filial feeling. Thus a new life is begotten and supervenes upon the old life. This new life is a new humanity within the bosom or womb of the old, and so it corresponds with the Pauline doctrine of new creation and of resurrection. Ἐξοσία is more than opportunity, and less than (δύναμις) power; it is rightful claim (which is itself the gift of God) to become what they were not before, seeing that a Divine generation has begotten them again. They are born from above. The Spirit of the Son has passed into them, and they cry, “Abba, Father.” This Divine begetting is still further explained and differentiated from ordinary human life. The writer distinctly repudiates the idea that the condition he speaks of is a consequence of simple birth into this world. This is done in a very emphatic manner (οἵ here in the masculine, is the well known constructio ad sensum, and refers to τέκνα Θεοῦ). Who were begotten from God, not from (or, of) blood. John repudiates for this “generation” any connection with mere hereditary privilege. No twice-born Brahmin, no dignified race, no descendant of Abraham, can claim it as such, and the writer further discriminates it, as though he would leave no loophole for escape: Nor yet from the will of the flesh, nor even from the will of the man (ἀνδρὸς not ἀνθρώπου). Some, very erroneously, have supposed that “the flesh” here refers to “woman” in contradistinction to “man,” and numerous efforts have been made to point out the threefold distinction. The simplest and most obvious interpretation is that “the will of the flesh” here means the human process of generation on its lower side, and “the will of the man” the higher purposes of the nobler side of human nature, which lead to the same end. Special dignity is conferred by being the son of a special father; but however honoured such might be, as in the case of an Abraham, a David, a Zacharias, such paternity has nothing to do with the sonship of which the evangelist is thinking. Doubtless this triumphant new beginning of humanity can only be found in the full revelation of the name of the incarnate Logos; but surely the primary application of the passage is to the fact that, notwithstanding the stiff-necked rejection of the Logos by the peculiar possession and people of his love, there were, from Abraham to Malachi and to John the Baptist, those who did recognize the Light and live in the love of God. The author of Psa_16:1-11., 17., 23., 25., 103., 119., and a multitude beyond calculation, discerned and received him, walked in the light of the Lord, were kept in perfect peace, found in the Lord their most exceeding joy. “Like as a father pitieth his chihlren, so the Lord pitied them.” He nourished and brought up children, and to the extent to which they appreciated his holy Name they therein received as a gift the capability and claim to call him their Father. This was not a question of human fatherhood or hereditary privilege at all, but of gracious exchanges of affection between these children of his love and the Eternal, who had fashioned them in his image and regenerated them by his Holy Spirit. To restrict any element of this passage to conscious faith in the Christ is to repudiate the activity of the Logos and Spirit before the Incarnation, and almost compels a Sabellian interpretation of the Godhead. Even now the grandeur of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity—a doctrine which treats these relations as eternal and universal—compels us to believe that whenever among the sons of men there is a soul which receives the Logos in this light, i.e. apart from the special revelation of the Logos in the flesh, to such a one he gives the capacity and claim of sonship. John certainly could not mean to imply that there had never been a regenerated soul until he and his fellow disciples accepted their Lord. Up to this point in his argument he has been disclosing the universal and the special operations of the Logos who in the beginning was with God and was God, the Source of all life, the Giver of all light, the veritable Light which shines upon every man, which does more even than that—which made a long continued series of approaches to his own specially instructed and prepared people. Prophecy all through the ages has had a wondrous function to bear witness to the reality of this Light, that all might believe in it, that all might become sons by faith; but, alas[darkness, prejudice, depravity, corruption—”darkness” did not apprehend the nature, name, or mystery, of love. And so he proceeds to describe the greatest, the most surprising, supreme energy of the Eternal Logos—that which illustrates, confirms, brings into the most forcible relief, the nature of his personality, and the extent of the obligation under which he has placed the human race; and proves in the most irresistible way, not only the character and nature of God, but the actual condition of humanity. The great extent of the literature and the imposing controversies which have accumulated over the entirely unique sentence that here fellows render any treatment of it difficult. A volume rather than a page or two is required to exhibit the significance of a verse which is probably the most important collocation, of words ever made.
Which were born – This doubtless refers to the “new birth,” or to the great change in the sinner’s mind called regeneration or conversion. It means that they did not become the children of God in virtue of their natural birth, or because they were the children of “Jews,” or because they were descended from pious parents. The term “to be born” is often used to denote this change. Compare Joh_3:3-8; 1Jo_2:29. It illustrates clearly and beautifully this great change. The natural birth introduces us to life. The new birth is the beginning of spiritual life. Before, the sinner is “dead” in sins Eph_2:1; now he begins truly to live. And as the natural birth is the beginning of life, so to be born of God is to be introduced to real life, to light, to happiness, and to the favor of God. The term expresses at once the “greatness” and the “nature” of the change.
Not of blood – The Greek word is plural; not of “bloods” – that is, not of “man.” Compare Mat_27:4. The Jews prided themselves on being the descendants of Abraham, Mat_3:9. They supposed that it was proof of the favor of God to be descended from such an illustrious ancestry. In this passage this notion is corrected. It is not because men are descended from an illustrious or pious parentage that they are entitled to the favor of God; or perhaps the meaning may be, not because there is a union of illustrious lines of ancestry or “bloods” in them. The law of Christ’s kingdom is different from what the Jews supposed. Compare 1Pe_1:23. It was necessary to be “born of God” by regeneration. Possibly, however, it may mean that they did not become children of God by the bloody rite of “circumcision,” as many of the Jews supposed they did. This is agreeable to the declaration of Paul in Rom_2:28-29.Nor of the will of the flesh – Not by natural generation.
Nor of the will of man – This may refer, perhaps, to the will of man in adopting a child, as the former phrases do to the natural birth; and the design of using these three phrases may have been to say that they became the children of God neither in virtue of their descent from illustrious parents like Abraham, nor by their natural birth, nor by being “adopted” by a pious man. None of the ways by which we become entitled to the privileges of “children” among people can give us a title to be called the sons of God. It is not by human power or agency that men become children of the Most High.
But of God – That is, God produces the change, and confers the privilege of being cawed his children. The heart is changed by his power. No unaided effort of man, no works of ours, can produce this change. At the same time, it is true that no man is renewed who does not himself “desire” and “will” to be a believer; for the effect of the change is on his “will” Psa_110:3, and no one is changed who does not strive to enter in at the strait gate, Phi_2:12. This important verse, therefore, teaches us:
1. That if men are saved they must be born again.
2. That their salvation is not the result of their birth, or of any honorable or pious parentage.
3. That the children of the rich and the noble, as well as of the poor, must be born of God if they will be saved.
4. That the children of pious parents must be born again; or they cannot be saved. None will go to heaven simply because their “parents” are Christians.
5. That this work is the work of God, and “no man” can do it for us.
6. That we should forsake all human dependence, east off all confidence in the flesh, and go at once to the throne of grace, and beseech of God to adopt us into his family and save our souls from death.
14.And the Speech was made flesh. The Evangelist shows what was that coming of Christ which he had mentioned; namely, that having been clothed with our flesh, he showed himself openly to the world. Although the Evangelist touches briefly the unutterable mystery, that the Son of God was clothed with human nature, yet this brevity is wonderfully perspicuous. Here some madmen amuse themselves with foolish and trivial subtleties of this sort: that the Speech is said to have been made flesh, because God sent his Son into the world, according to the conception which he had formed in his mind; as if the Speech were I know not what shadowy image. But we have demonstrated that that word denotes a real hypostasis, or subsistence, in the essence of God.
The word Flesh expresses the meaning of the Evangelist more forcibly than if he had said that he was made man. He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory. When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh. Now, though there be so wide a distance between the spiritual glory of the Speech of God and the abominable filth of our flesh, yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh, subject to so many miseries. The word flesh is not taken here for corrupt nature, (as it is often used by Paul,) but for mortal man; though it marks disdainfully his frail and perishing nature, as in these and similar passages, for he remembered that they were flesh, (Psa_78:39;) all flesh is grass, (Isa_40:6.) We must at the same time observe, however, that this is a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole; for the lower part includes the whole man. It was therefore highly foolish in Apollinaris to imagine that Christ was merely clothed with a human body without a soul; for it may easily be proved from innumerable passages, that he had a soul as well as a body; and when Scripture calls men flesh, it does not therefore deprive them of a soul.
The plain meaning therefore is, that the Speech begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man. On this article there are two things chiefly to be observed. The first is, that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. The second is, that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it. And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons. Thus Nestorius expressly acknowledged both natures, but imagined two Christs, one who was God, and another who was man. Eutyches, on the other hand, while he acknowledged that the one Christ is the Son of God and the Son of man, left him neither of the two natures, but imagined that they were mingled together. And in the present day, Servetus and the Anabaptists invent a Christ who is confusedly compounded of two natures, as if he were a Divine man. In words, indeed, he acknowledges that Christ is God; but if you admit his raving imaginations, the Divinity is at one time changed into human nature, and at another time, the nature of man is swallowed up by the Divinity.
The Evangelist says what is well adapted to refute both of these blasphemies. When he tells us that the Speech was made flesh, we clearly infer from this the unity of his Person; for it is impossible that he who is now a man could be any other than he who was always the true God, since it is said that God was made man. On the other hand, since he distinctly gives to the man Christ the name of the Speech, it follows that Christ, when he became man, did not cease to be what he formerly was, and that no change took place in that eternal essence of God which was clothed with flesh. In short, the Son of God began to be man in such a manner that he still continues to be that eternal Speech who had no beginning of time.
And dwelt. Those who explain that the flesh served, as it were, for an abode to Christ, do not perceive the meaning of the Evangelist; for he does not ascribe to Christ a permanent residence amongst us, but says that he remained in it as a guest, for a short time. For the word which he employs (ἐσκήνωσεν) is taken from tabernacles He means nothing else than that Christ discharged on the earth the office which had been appointed to him; or, that he did not merely appear for a single moment, but that he conversed among men until he completed the course of his office.
Among us. It is doubtful whether he speaks of men in general, or only of himself and the rest of the disciples who were eye-witnesses of what he says. For my own part, I approve more highly of the second view for the Evangelist immediately adds:
And we beheld his glory. for though all men might have beheld the glory of Christ, yet it was unknown to the greater part on account of their blindness. It was only a few, whose eyes the Holy Spirit opened, that saw this manifestation of glory. In a word, Christ was known to be man in such a manner that he exhibited in his Person something far more noble and excellent. Hence it follows that the majesty of God was not annihilated, though it was surrounded by flesh; it was indeed concealed under the low condition of the flesh, but so as to cause its splendor to be seen.
As of the only-begotten of the Father. The word as does not, in this passage, denote an inappropriate comparison, but rather expresses true and hearty approbation; as when Paul says, Walk as children of light, he bids us actually demonstrate by our works that we are the children of light. The Evangelist therefore means, that in Christ was beheld a glory which was worthy of the Son of God, and which was a sure proof of his Divinity. He calls him the Only-begotten, because he is the only Son of God by nature; as if he would place him above men and angels, and would claim for him alone what belongs to no creature.
Full of grace. There were, indeed, other things in which the majesty of Christ appeared, but the Evangelist selected this instance in preference to others, in order to train us to the speculative rather than the practical knowledge of it; and this ought to be carefully observed. Certainly when Christ walked with dry feet upon the waters, (Mat_14:26; Mar_6:48; Joh_6:19,) when he cast out devils, and when he displayed his power in other miracles, he might be known to be the only-begotten Son of God; but the Evangelist brings forward a part of the approbation, from which faith obtains delightful advantage, because Christ demonstrated that he actually is an inexhaustible fountain of grace and truth. Stephen, too, is said to have been full of grace, but in a different sense; for the fullness of grace in Christ is the fountain from which all of us must draw, as we shall have occasion shortly afterwards to explain more fully.
Grace and truth. This might be taken, by a figure of speech, for true grace, or the latter term might be explanatory, thus: that he was full of grace, which is truth or perfection; but as we shall find that he immediately afterwards repeats the same mode of expression, I think that the meaning is the same in both passages. This grace and truth he afterwards contrasts with the Law; and therefore I interpret it as simply meaning, that the apostles acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God, because he had in himself the fulfillment of things which belong to the spiritual kingdom of God; and, in short, that in all things he showed himself to be the Redeemer and Messiah; which is the most striking mark by which he ought to be distinguished from all others.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
14. And the Word was made flesh] Or, became flesh. This is the gulf which separates S. John from Philo. Philo would have assented to what precedes; from this he would have shrunk. From Joh_1:9-13 we have the subjective side; the inward result of the Word’s coming to those who receive Him. Here we have the objective; the coming of the Word as a historical fact. The Logos, existing from all eternity with the Father (Joh_1:1-2), not only manifested His power in Creation (Joh_1:3) and in influence on the minds of men (Joh_1:9; Joh_1:12-13), but manifested Himself in the form of a man of flesh. The important point is that the Word became terrestrial and material: and thus the inferior part of man is mentioned, the flesh, to mark His humiliation. He took the whole of man’s nature, including its frailty. “The majestic fulness of this brief sentence,” the Word became flesh, which affirms once for all the union of the Infinite and the finite, “is absolutely unique.” The Word became flesh; did not merely assume a body: and the Incarnate Word is one, not two personalities. Thus various heresies, Gnostic and Eutychian, are refuted by anticipation.
dwelt among us] Literally, tabernacled among us, dwelt as in a tent. The Tabernacle had been the seat of the Divine Presence in the wilderness: when God became incarnate in order to dwell among the Chosen People, ‘to tabernacle’ was a natural word to use. The word forms a link between this Gospel and the Apocalypse: it occurs here, four times in the Apocalypse, and nowhere else. Our translators render it simply ‘dwell,’ which is inadequate. Rev_7:15; Rev_12:12; Rev_13:6; Rev_21:3.
among us] In the midst of those of us who witnessed His life.
we beheld] Or, contemplated. Comp. 1Jn_1:1. No need to make a parenthesis.
his glory] The Shechinah. Comp. Joh_2:11, Joh_11:40, Joh_12:41, Joh_17:5; Joh_17:24; 2Co_3:7-18; Rev_21:11. There is probably a special reference to the Transfiguration (Luk_9:32; 2Pe_1:17); and possibly to the vision at the beginning of the Apocalypse. In any case it is the Evangelist’s own experience that is indicated. Omit ‘the’ before the second ‘glory.’
as of] i.e. exactly like. The glory is altogether such as that of an only-begotten son. Comp. Mat_7:29. He taught exactly as one having full authority. No article before ‘only-begotten;’ He was an only-begotten Son, whereas Moses and the Prophets were but servants.
only begotten] Unigenitus. The Greek word is used of the widow’s son (Luk_7:12), Jairus’ daughter (Joh_8:42), the demoniac boy (Joh_9:38), Isaac (Heb_11:17). As applied to Christ it occurs only in S. John’s writings; here, Joh_1:18, Joh_3:16; Joh_3:18; 1Jn_4:9. It marks off His unique Sonship from that of the ‘sons of God’ (Joh_1:12).
of the Father] Literally, from the presence of a father; an only son sent on a mission from a father: comp. Joh_1:6.
full] Looks forward to ‘fulness’ in Joh_1:16.
grace] The original meaning of the Greek word is ‘that which causes pleasure.’ Hence (1) comeliness, winsomeness: ‘the words of grace’ in Luk_4:22 are ‘winning words.’ (2) Kindliness, goodwill: Luk_2:52; Act_2:47. (3) The favour of God towards sinners. This distinctly theological sense has for its central point the freeness of God’s gifts: they are not earned, He gives them spontaneously through Christ. ‘Grace’ covers all these three meanings. The third at its fullest and deepest is the one here. It is as the Life that the Word is ‘full of grace,’ for it is ‘by grace’ that we come to eternal life. Eph_2:5.
truth] It is as the Light that the Word is ‘full of truth.’
(5) The incarnation of the Logos. And the Logos became flesh. The καὶ has been variously expanded, some giving it the force of “then” or “therefore,” as though John was now resuming the entire argument from the beginning; others the sense of “for,” as though the apostle needed to introduce a reason or justification for what had been said in verses 12, 13. It is enough to regard the καὶ as a simple copula, after the same manner in which it is used in verses 1, 4, 5, 10, introducing by it a new and suggestive truth or fact which must be added to what has gone before, qualifying, illumining, illustrating, consummating all previous representations of the activity and functions of the Eternal Logos. Meyer, rejecting all the explicative modifications of the copula, nearly approaches the emphasis which Godet would lay upon it, by saying, “John cannot refrain from expressing the how of that appearing which had such blessed results (verses 12, 13), and which he had himself experienced.” The circumstance that in this verse the author goes back to the verbal use of the great term ὁ Λο ́γος suggests rather the fact that the fourteenth verse follows directly upon the stupendous definitions of verse 1, and indicates a powerful antithesis to the several clauses of that opening sentence. The Logos which was in the beginning has now become; the Logos which was God became flesh; the Logos that was with God has set up his tabernacle among us. If so, the καὶ does suggest a parenthetical treatment of verses 2-13, every clause of which has been necessary to prepare the reader for the vast announcement which is here made. Various things, relations, and powers have been asserted with reference to the Logos. All things became through him; not a single exception is allowed. Not one thing can be, or can have come into existence, independently of him; yet he is not said in any sense to have “become all things.” More than that, the twofold form of the expression stringently repudiates the pantheistic hypothesis. All life is said to be “in him,” to have its being in his activity; yet he is not said to have become life, as if the life-principle were henceforth the mode of his existence, or a state or condition into which he passed, and so the emanation theories of early Gnostics and of modern pantheistic evolutionists are virtually set aside. “The veritable Light which lighteth every man” is the illumination which the Life pours on the understanding and conscience of men, to which all prophecy bears witness; but he is not said to have become that light. Thus the incarnation of the Logos in every man is most certainly foreign to the thought of the apostle. He is said to have been “in the world” which he made, yet in such manifestation and concealment that the world as such did not apprehend the wondrous presence; and he is said also to have been continually coming to his own people “in sundry times” and “divers manners,” in prophetic visions and angelic and even the anthropic form or fashion. Elsewhere in this Gospel we hear that Abraham “saw his day,” and Isaiah “beheld his glory;” but it is not said that he became, i.e. entered into permanent and unalterable relations with these theophanic glories. Consequently, the deep self-conscious realization of the glory of his Name, enjoyed by greatest saints and sages of the past, was but a faint adumbration of what John declared he and others had bad distinct historical opportunity of seeing, hearing, handling, of that Word of life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us (1Jn_1:1, 1Jn_1:2). The statement of this verse, however, is entirely, absolutely unique. The thought is utterly new. Strauss tells us that the apostolic conception of Jesus can have no historic validity, because it represents a state of things which occurs nowhere else in history. This is exactly what Christians contend for. He is in the deepest sense absolutely unique in the history of mankind. Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, Socrates, Buddha, Zoroaster, may have borne witness to the Light; but of not one of them can it be said, and at least it was not said or even imagined by St. John, the Logos became flesh in their humanity. Yet this is what he did think and say was the only explanation of the glory of Jesus; this unspeakable relation to the Eternal Logos was sustained by his well known Friend and Master. And the Word was made flesh. Flesh (σάρξ, answering in the LXX. to רשָׂבָּ) is the term used to denote the whole of humanity, with prominent reference to that part of it which is the region of sensibility and visibility. The word is more comprehensive than (σῶμα) “body,” which is often used as the antithesis of vows, ψυχή, and πνεῦμα; for it is unquestionable that the conventional use of σάρξ, and σάρξ καὶ αἷμα, includes oftentimes both soul and spirit—includes the whole of human constitution, yet that constitution considered apart from God and grace, answering in this way to κόσμος. The flesh is not necessarily connotative of sin, though the conditions, the possibilities, the temptableness of created finite nature are involved in it. It is nearly equivalent to saying ἄνθρωπος, generic manhood, but it is more explicit than such a dictum would have been. It is not said that the Word became a man, although “became man” is the solemn and suggestive form in which the great truth is further expressed in the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed. “The Logos became flesh.” Thus it answers to numerous expressions in the Pauline Epistles, which must have been based in the middle of the first century on the direct and well preserved teachings of our Lord himself (Rom_1:3, Γενόμενος κατὰ σάρκα; Rom_8:3, Ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτ ί ας; 1Ti_3:16, Ὅς ἐφανερω ́ θη ἐν σαρκί; cf. Php_2:7; Heb_2:14; and above all 1Jn_4:2, where Jesus Christ, the centre of whose personality is the Logos, and is there used in the most transcendent sense, is there spoken of (ἐν σαρκί ἐληλυθότα) as having come in the flesh). Very early in the Christological discussions, even so far back as Praxeas whom Tertullian sought to refute, and by Apollinaris the younger, in the fourth century, it was said that this passage asserted that. though the Logos took or became flesh, he did not become or take upon himself the human νοῦς or πνεῦμα, the reasonable soul or spirit of man, but that the Logos took the place in Jesus of the mind or spirit. Apollinaris explained, in vindication of his view, that thus Christ was neither God nor man, but a blending of the two natures into a new and third nature, neither one nor the other. This view was stoutly resisted by Athanasius and Basil. It reappeared in the fifth century, in the form of Eutychianism, to do duty against the twofold Christ of Nestorianism. The opponents of Praxeas, Apollinaris, and Eutyches were all fain to show that the Gospel of John calls marked attention to the human soul of Jesus (Joh_12:27) and of his human spirit (Joh_11:33; Joh_13:21; Joh_19:30), to say nothing of Heb_5:8, where “he learned obedience,” etc. The flesh of Christ is constitutive and inclusive of his entire humanity. Flesh itself is not human flesh without the human ψυχή, nor can there be a human soul without human spirit. The two terms are used interchangeably, and their functions are not to be regarded as different factors of humanity so much as different departments of human activity. There is a complete humanity, therefore, included in this term, not a humanity destitute of one of its most charac teristic features. But the question arises—What is meant by ἐγένετο, “became, was made”? A considerable number of modern Lutheran divines have laid such emphasis on the κένωσις, the “emptying” of his glory on the part of him who was “in the form of God,” that nothing short of an absolute depotentiation of the Logos is supposed to have occurred when “he was made flesh” or “man.” Gess and Godet have pressed the theory that the ἐγένετο represents a complete transubstantiation and metamorphosis. Thus Logos had been God from eternity, but now, in the greatness of his humiliation, he was no longer Logos at all, nor God, but flesh; so that during the time of the Incarnation the Logos was absolutely concealed, potential only, and that even a consciousness of his eternity and the Divine powers were all in absolute abeyance. This hypothesis, on both its Divine and human side, appears to us hopelessly unthinkable. If the Logos was no longer Logos, and the Godhead thus ineffably truncated, the very argument of the apostle that in him was life and light, etc., must break down. The sources of life and light must have been themselves in eclipse, and God himself was no longer God. Moreover, the hypothetical obliteration of the Logos would deprive the whole argument of the apostle for the Divineness and Godhead of the Lord of its basis in fact. There are many different forms in which this meaning of the ἐγένετο is urged, but they all break to pieces upon the revelation of the self-consciousness of Jesus Christ, the Divine memories and awful centre of his personality, in which the nature of the Godhead and the perfect nature of manhood are blended in one personality. Moreover, the ἐγένετο does not imply annihilation of the Λόγος, or transubstantiation of Λόγος into σάρξ. When the water was made (γεγεννημένον) wine, the water was not obliterated, but it took up by the creative power of Christ other substances into itself, constituting it wine. So when the Λόγος became “flesh,” he took up humanity with all its powers and conditions into himself, constituting himself “the Christ.” The question arises—Wherein was the humiliation and the kenosis, if the Logos throughout the incarnate life of Christ, as a Person, possessed and exercised all his Divine energies? The answer is, that, in taking human nature in its humbled, suffering, tempted form into eternal, absolute union with himself, and by learning through that human nature all that human nature is and fears and needs, there is an infinite fulness of self-humiliating love and sacrifice. Hypostatic union of humanity with the Logos, involving the Logos in the conditions of a
complete man, is an infinite humiliation, and seeing that this involved the bitterest conflict and sorrow, brought with it shame, agony, and death, such a stupendous fact is (we believe) assumed to have taken place once in historic time. It is far more than the manifestation in the flesh of Jesus of the Divine light and life. Such an hypothesis would merely consider Jesus as one supereminent display of “the veritable Light which lighteth every man,” whereas what is declared by St. John is that the Word himself, after a new exercise of this infinite potency, became flesh. We are not told how this occurred. The fact of the supernatural birth, as stated by the synoptic writers, is their way of announcing a sublime secret, of which John, who was in the confidence of the mother of Jesus, gave a profounder exposition. In such a fact and event we see what St. Paul meant when he said that in the depths of eternity the infinity of love did not consider the undimmed, unclouded, and unchangeable creative majesty of equality with God to be a prize which must never be relinquished, but emptied himself, was made in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and was found in fashion as a man. There was now and forevermore a part of his being in such organic union with “flesh” that he could be born, could team, could be tempted, suffer from all human frailties and privations, die the death of the cross. The phrase, moreover, implies that the Incarnation was in its nature distinct from the Docetic, angelic, transitory manifestations of the older revelation. In the “Word” becoming “flesh” both Word and flesh remain side by side, and neither is the first nor the second absorbed by the other, and so Monophysitism is repudiated, while the statement of what the Word thus incarnate did, viz. “dwelt among us,” etc., cuts away the support of the Nestorian division of the Divine and human natures; inasmuch as what is said of the one nature can be said of the other. To this we turn: “And the Word was made flesh, and set up his tabernacle in our midst.” The use of this picturesque word ἐσκη ́νωσεν points to the tabernacle in the wilderness, in which God dwelt (2Sa_7:6; Psa_78:67, etc.), and to which reference is made in Le 26:11 and Eze_37:28. The localization of Deity, the building a house for the Lord whom the heaven of heavens could not contain, was a wondrous adumbration of the ultimate proof to be given, that, though God was infinitely great, he was yet capable of turning his glorious face upon those who seek him; though unspeakably holy, awful, majestic, omnipotent, he was yet accessible and merciful and able to save and sanctify his people. The glory of the Lord was the central significance of the tabernacle and temple worship. It was always assumed to be present, even if invisible. The Targums in a great variety of passages substitute for the “glory of the Lord,” which is a continuous element in the history of the old covenant, the word “Shechinah,” “dwelling,” and use the term in obvious reference to the biblical use of the verb נכַשָ, he dwelt, when describing the Lord’s familiar and accessible sojourn with his people. It is too much to say that John here adopts the Aramaic phrase, or with certainty refers to it. But ἐσκη ́νωσε recalls the method by which Jehovah impressed his prophets with his nearness, and came veritably to his own possession. “Now,” says John, “the Word made flesh took up his tabernacle in our midst.” It is not to be forgotten that John subsequently shows that Jesus identified his body with “the temple” of God (Joh_2:19, etc.). The “us” represents the ground of a personal experience which makes the hypothesis of an Alexandrine origin for the entire representation perfectly impossible. The reference to the old covenant is made more conspicuous: And we contemplated his glory. The δόξα corresponds with the visible manifestations of the presence of Jehovah under the Old Testament (Exo_24:17; Exo_40:34; Act_7:2; Isa_6:3; Eze_1:28). Dazzling light at the burning bush, in the pillar of fire, on Mount Sinai, at the dedication of tabernacle and temple, etc., revealed the awful fact of the Divine nearness. The eye of believing men saw the real glory of the Logos made flesh when he set up the tabernacle of his humanity among us. It does not follow that all eyes must have seen what the eye of faith could see. The darkness has resisted all the light, the world has not known the Logos; the susceptibilities of believing men enabled them to perceive the glory of the Lord in regions and by a mode of presentation to which unregenerate men have not attained. The apostles saw it in the absolute moral perfection of his holiness and of his charity; of his grace and truth. We can scarcely exclude here a reference to the wondrous vision upon which John himself gazed on the Mountain of Transfiguration, when the venerable symbol of Light reappeared from within the person of the Lord, so linking his personal manifestation of “the Word” with the theophanies of the Old Testament; nor can we forget the sublime vision which John undoubtedly records in the beginning of his Apocalypse. Nevertheless, the glory which the apostles beheld must be distinct from the “glory” which he had with the Father before the world was, and to which (Joh_17:24) he prayed that he might return, and the full radiance of which he would ultimately turn upon the eyes of the men whom he had gathered “out of the world.” Before that consummation” we,” says he, “contemplated his glory as of an only begotten.” The ὡς implies comparison with the transcendent conception which had entered into his inspired imagining. The word μονογενής is used by John to refer to the supreme and unique relation of the Son to the Father (Joh_3:16, Joh_3:18, and 1Jn_4:9). It is used of human sons in Luke (Luk_7:12; Luk_8:42; Luk_9:38), and unigenitus is the translation in the vulgate of the Hebrew דיחִיָּהַ, where the LXX. gives ἀγαπητ ός, well beloved (see כָדְיחוְGen_22:2, Gen_22:12, Gen_22:16). It corresponds with the πρωτότοκος of Col_1:15 and Heb_1:6, showing that an analogous thought filled the apostolic mind. By laying stress here on the “glory,” and giving historic value and emphasis to the supernatural conception of Jesus, many see m this a reference to the Incarnation wherein he became an only begotten Son of the Father. This would be far more probable if the article had been placed before μονογενοῦς. Here the apostle seems to labour to express the glory of One who could thus stand in the eternal relation of the Logos to Θεός, making it correspond with the relation also subsisting between μονογενής and the “Father.” Great speciality and peculiarity is here bestowed upon the “only begotten,” as it stands in close relationship with those to whom he gives power or capability to become “children of God.” They are born into the family of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The glory which John says “we beheld” in his earthly flesh was the effulgence of the uncreated beam which broke through the veil of his flesh, and really convinced us that he was “the Word made flesh.” The Tubingen critics see a contradiction here with the prayer of Christ (Joh_17:5, Joh_17:24) for “the glory which he had with the Father.” If he shone on earth with such glory as John here describes, why should he desire more? Godet resolves it by insisting on the moral glory of his filial consciousness when he had indeed deprived himself of his Divine perfections. Thus Godet repudiates the two natures of his Person. There is no real contradiction, as we have seen. Some difference of opinion occurs also as to the reference of the πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας. Some nave referred πλήρης to the Father, and some to αὐτοῖ, though in both cases a break in the construction would be involved, as the antecedent would have been in the genitive. Others, again (founding on the reading of one uncial manuscript, D, which here has πληρῆ), refer it to δόξαν, and all who thus construe eschew any parenthetical treatment of the previous clause. The latter method is freer from difficulty, as then this clause, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας, is directly and grammatically related with Λόγος. The Word was made flesh, and, full of grace and of truth, set up his tabernacle in our midst. Grace and truth are the two methods by which the glory as of “an only begotten” shone upon us, and we beheld it. The combination of these two ideas of grace and truth pervades the Old Testament description of the Lord (cf. Exo_34:6; Psa_40:10, Psa_40:11; Psa_61:7; Psa_25:10). “Grace,” the free and royal communication of unlooked for and of undeserved love, is the keynote of the New Testament. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the compendium of all his powers of benediction, and corresponds with the life which is “in him,” and all the gift of himself to those who came into contact with him. “Truth” is the expression of the thought of God. Truth per se can find no larger definition than the perfect revelation of God’s eternal thought concerning himself and his universe, and concerning the relations of all things to each other and to him. That which God thinks about these things must be “truth per se.” Christ claimed to be “the Truth” and “the Life” (Joh_14:6), and John here says that it was in virtue of his being the Logos of God that he was full of these. Grace and truth, love and revelation, were so transcendent in him; in other words, he was so full, so charged, so overflowing with both, that the glory which shone from him gave apostles this conception about it, viz. that it was that of an only begotten (specially and eternally begotten) and with the Father. The παρὰ Πατρός corresponds with the παρὰ σοῦ rather than παρὰ σοί of Joh_17:5, and does not, therefore, necessarily suggest more than the premundane condition, answering to the πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν of Joh_17:1, and εἰς τὸν κόλπον of Joh_17:18. Erasmus, Paulus, and a few others have associated the πλήρης, etc., with the following verse. This is eminently unsatisfactory as unsuited to the character of the Baptist. Moreover, the sixteenth verse, by its reference to Christ’s “fulness,” positively forbids it.
And the Word (καὶ)
The simple copula as before; not yea, or namely, or therefore, but passing to a new statement concerning the Word.
Was made flesh (σὰρξ ἐγένετο)
Rev., “became flesh.” The same verb as in Joh_1:3. All things became through Him; He in turn became flesh. “He became that which first became through Him.” In becoming, He did not cease to be the Eternal Word. His divine nature was not laid aside. In becoming flesh He did not part with the rational soul of man. Retaining all the essential properties of the Word, He entered into a new mode of being, not a new being.
The word σὰρξ, flesh, describes this new mode of being. It signifies human nature in and according to its corporal manifestation. Here, as opposed to the purely divine, and to the purely immaterial nature of the Word. He did not first become a personality on becoming flesh. The prologue throughout conceives Him as a personality from the very beginning – from eternal ages. The phrase became flesh, means more than that He assumed a human body. He assumed human nature entire, identifying Himself with the race of man, having a human body, a human soul, and a human spirit. See Joh_12:27; Joh_11:33; Joh_13:21; Joh_19:30. He did not assume, for a time merely, humanity as something foreign to Himself The incarnation was not a mere accident of His substantial being. “He became flesh, and did not clothe Himself in flesh.” Compare, on the whole passage, 1Jo_4:2; 2Jo_1:7.
Literally, tabernacled, fixed, or had His tabernacle: from σκηνή, a tent or tabernacle. The verb is used only by John: in the Gospel only here, and in Rev_7:15; Rev_12:12; Rev_13:6; Rev_21:3. It occurs in classical writings, as in Xenophon, ἐν τῷ πεδίῳ ἐσκήνου, he pitched his tent in the plain (“Anabasis,” vii., 4, 11). So Plato, arguing against the proposition that the unjust die by the inherent destructive power of evil, says that “injustice which murders others keeps the murderer alive – aye, and unsleeping too; οὕτω πόῤῥω του ὡς ἔοικεν ἐσκήνωται τοῦ θανάσιμος εἶναι, i.e., literally, so far has her tent been spread from being a house of death” (“Republic,” 610). The figure here is from the Old Testament (Lev_27:11; 2Sa_7:6; Psa_78:67 sqq.; Eze_37:27). The tabernacle was the dwelling-place of Jehovah; the meeting-place of God and Israel. So the Word came to men in the person of Jesus. As Jehovah adopted for His habitation a dwelling like that of the people in the wilderness, so the Word assumed a community of nature with mankind, an embodiment like that of humanity at large, and became flesh. “That which was from the beginning, we heard, we saw, we beheld, we handled. Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1Jo_1:1-3. Compare Phi_2:7, Phi_2:8).
Some find in the word tabernacle, a temporary structure (see the contrast between σκῆνος, tabernacle, and οἰκοδομή, building, in 2Co_5:1), a suggestion of the transitoriness of our Lord’s stay upon earth; which may well be, although the word does not necessarily imply this; for in Rev_21:3, it is said of the heavenly Jerusalem “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will set up His tabernacle (σκηνώσει) with them.”
Dante alludes to the incarnation in the seventh canto of the “Paradiso:”
- “the human species down below
Lay sick for many centuries in great error,
Till to descend it pleased the Word of God
To where the nature, which from its own Maker
Estranged itself, He joined to Him in person
By the sole act of His eternal love.”
Among us (ἐν ἡμῖν)
In the midst of us. Compare Gen_24:3, Sept., “the Canaanites, with whom I dwell (μεθ’ ὧν ἐγὼ οἰκῶ ἐν αὐτοῖς).” The reference is to the eyewitnesses of our Lord’s life. “According as the spectacle presents itself to the mind of the Evangelist, and in the words among us takes the character of the most personal recollection, it becomes in him the object of a delightful contemplation” (Godet).
The following words, as far as and including Father, are parenthetical. The unbroken sentence is: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
We beheld (ἐθεασάμεθα)
Compare Luk_9:32; 2Pe_2:16; 1Jo_1:1; 1Jo_4:14. See on Mat_11:7; see on Mat_23:5. The word denotes calm, continuous contemplation of an object which remains before the spectator.
Not the absolute glory of the Eternal Word, which could belong only to His pre-existent state, and to the conditions subsequent to his exaltation; but His glory revealed under human limitations both in Himself and in those who beheld Him. The reference is again to the Old Testament manifestations of the divine glory, in the wilderness (Exo_16:10; Exo_24:16, etc.); in the temple (1Ki_8:11); to the prophets (Isa_6:3; Eze_1:28). The divine glory flashed out in Christ from time to time, in His transfiguration (Luk_9:31; compare 2Pe_1:16, 2Pe_1:17) and His miracles (Joh_2:11; Joh_11:4, Joh_11:40), but appeared also in His perfect life and character, in His fulfillment of the absolute idea of manhood.
Without the article. This repetition of the word is explanatory. The nature of the glory is defined by what follows.
A particle of comparison. Compare Rev_5:6, “a lamb as though it had been slain;” also Rev_13:3.
Of the only begotten of the Father (μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρὸς)
Rev., “from the Father.” The glory was like, corresponds in nature to, the glory of an only Son sent from a Father. It was the glory of one who partook of His divine Father’s essence; on whom the Father’s love was visibly lavished, and who represented the Father as His ambassador. The word μονογενής, only begotten (De Wette and Westcott, “only born”) is used in the New Testament of a human relationship (Luk_7:12; Luk_8:42; Luk_9:38). In the Septuagint it answers to darling, Hebrew, only one, in Psalms 21:20, A.V. Psa_22:20; and to desolate in Psalms 24:16, A.V. Psa_25:16. With the exception of the passages cited above, and Heb_11:17, it occurs in the New Testament only in the writings of John, and is used only of Christ. With this word should be compared Paul’s πρωτότοκος, first born (Rom_8:29; Col_1:15, Col_1:18), which occurs but once in John (Rev_1:5), and in Heb_1:6; Heb_11:28; Heb_12:23. John’s word marks the relation to the Father as unique, stating the fact in itself. Paul’s word places the eternal Son in relation to the universe. Paul’s word emphasizes His existence before created things; John’s His distinctness from created things. Μονογενής distinguishes between Christ as the only Son, and the many children (τέκνα) of God; and further, in that the only Son did not become (γενέσθαι) such by receiving power, by adoption, or by moral generation, but was (ἦν) such in the beginning with God. The fact set forth does not belong to the sphere of His incarnation, but of His eternal being. The statement is anthropomorphic, and therefore cannot fully express the metaphysical relation.
Of the Father is properly rendered by Rev., “from the Father,” thus giving the force of παρά (see on from God, Joh_1:6). The preposition does not express the idea of generation, which would be given by ἐκ or by the simple genitive, but of mission – sent from the Father, as John from God (see Joh_6:46; Joh_7:29; Joh_16:27; Joh_17:8). The correlative of this is Joh_1:18, “who is in the bosom (εἰς τὸν κόλπον) of the Father;” literally, “into the bosom,” the preposition εἰς signifying who has gone into and is there; thus viewing the Son as having returned to the Father (but see on Joh_1:18).
Full of grace and truth (πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας)
This is connected with the main subject of the sentence: “The Word – full of grace and truth.” A common combination in the Old Testament (see Gen_24:27, Gen_24:49; Gen_32:10; Exo_34:6; Psa_40:10, Psa_40:11; Psa_61:7). In these two words the character of the divine revelation is summed up. “Grace corresponds with the idea of the revelation of God as Love (1Jo_4:8, 1Jo_4:16) by Him who is Life; and Truth with that of the revelation of God as Light (1Jo_1:5) by Him who is Himself Light” (Westcott). Compare Joh_1:17. On Grace, see on Luk_1:30.
15.John testifieth. He now relates what was the preaching of John. By using the verb testifieth (μαρτυρεῖ) in the present tense, he denotes a continued act, and certainly this doctrine must be continually in force, as if the voice of John were continually resounding in the ears of men. In the same manner he afterwards uses the word cry, to intimate that the doctrine of John was in no degree obscure or ambiguous, and that he did not mutter among a few men, but openly, and with a loud voice, preached Christ. The first sentence is intended to convey the statement, that he was sent for the sake of Christ, and therefore that it would have been unreasonable that he should be exalted, while Christ was lying low.
This is he of whom I spoke. By these words he means that his intention was, from the beginning, to make Christ known, and that this was the design of his public discourses; as, indeed, there was no other way in which he could discharge his office as ambassador than by calling his disciples to Christ.
Who, coming after me. Though John the Baptist was older than Christ by a few months, yet he does not now speak of age; but as he had discharged the office of prophet for a short period before Christ appeared in public, so he makes himself the predecessor with respect to time. With respect, therefore, to public manifestation, Christ came after John the Baptist. The words which follow might be literally rendered, he was made before me, for he was before me; but the meaning is, that Christ was justly preferred to John, because he was more excellent. He therefore surrenders his office to Christ and — as the proverb runs — “delivers to him the torch,” or gives way to him as his successor. But as he arose later in the order of time, John reminds his hearers that this is no reason why he should not be preferred to himself, as his rank deserved. Thus, all who are superior to others, either in the gifts of God or in any degree of honor, must remain in their own rank, so as to be placed below Christ.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
15. bare witness] Better, bears witness. At the end of a long life this testimony of the Baptist abides still fresh in the heart of the aged Apostle. Three times in 20 verses (15, 27, 30) he records the cry which was such an epoch in his own life. The testimony remains as a memory for him, a truth for all.
and cried] Better, and cries. The word indicates strong emotion, characteristic of a prophet. Comp. Joh_7:28; Joh_7:37, Joh_12:44; Isa_40:3.
of whom I spake] As if his first utterance under the influence of the Spirit had been scarcely intelligible to himself.
He that cometh after, &c.] The exact meaning seems to be—‘He who is coming after me (in His ministry as in His birth) has become superior to me, for He was in existence from all eternity before me.’ Christ’s pre-existence in eternity a great deal more than cancelled John’s pre-existence in the world; and as soon as He appeared as a teacher He at once eclipsed His forerunner. But this is not quite certain. The words translated ‘is preferred before me,’ or ‘is become superior to me,’ literally mean ‘has come to be before me;’ and this may refer to time and not to dignity. But the perfect tense ‘has come to be, has become’ points to dignity rather than time. Moreover if ‘has become before me’ refers to time, this is almost tautology with ‘for He was before me,’ which must refer to time.
he was before me] The Greek is peculiar, being the superlative instead of the comparative; not simply ‘prior to me,’ but ‘first of me.’ Perhaps it means ‘before me and first of all.’
(6) The testimony to this fact by the prophetic spirit. The evangelist, in support and vindication of the profound impression produced upon himself and others by the Christ, cites the startling and paradoxical testimony of the Baptist, which in John’s own hearing the great forerunner had twice uttered, under very extraordinary circumstances (see verses 26, 30). In the later verses this testimony is put in its proper place. Its repetition deepens the impression which the narrative gives of the vivid reality, and of the fact that the evangelist was trusting to a strongly impressed recollection, and is not romanticizing, as the Tubingen critics suppose. The sharp paradoxical form is thoroughly characteristic of the man who called on scribes and Pharisees to “repent,” and spoke of God raising up seed to Abraham from the stones of the ground. From the synoptists we learn that John declared that the Coming One was “mightier” than himself, would deal with the Holy Ghost and with fire as he was able to do with water. He knew not the kind of manifestation which was coming on apace. But an enormous change passed over John the Baptist when he came into contact with our Lord, and at his baptism he sank abashed before the revelations which flashed on his soul. The enigmatical form of the Baptist’s utterances was the beginning of the evangelist’s faith in the personal pre-existence of the Logos who had become flesh in Christ. The testimony of the Baptist is here brought in, as the last great word of the prophetic ministry of the Old Testament, apart from the historic setting in which it afterwards occurs, as if, moreover, it was an abiding word which was yet sounding in the ears of men. The greatest of the sons of woman, and “more than a prophet,” he who gathered up in his immense personality all the functions of prophet, priest, Nazarite, and master and teacher of men, the Elijah of the new revelation—John, the very ideal of Divine and supernatural voice in this world of ours, John, the veritable historic man, moreover, to whose disastrous martyrdom some of the Jews (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 18, 5, 2) referred the terrible judgments that befell their nation—John beareth witness. That was his function, and his testimony still stands, his “voice” is still heard wherever his great career is known or properly appreciated—in Palestine, in Alexandria, in Ephesus or Corinth. And he crieth (κέκραγεν); or, hath cried; and the cry is still heard among men: This was he of whom I spake; implying that John uttered words of strange enigmatical significance before he saw Jesus coming to his baptism, and that, as the evangelist subsequently shows, on two memorable occasions, the prophet recalled them and reaffirmed their truthfulness. Before I saw him, I said it: He that is coming after me hath become—hath been in mighty activity—before me. He came forth in many ways from the Father, and was the central reality of the old covenant; γέγονεν, he hath come in the voice of the Lord, in the Shechinah glory, in the Angel of the presence, chronologically “before me.” The English version has followed the traditionary interpretation from Chrysostom to Lucke, De Wette, Alford, McLellan, and has seen in this ἐμπροσθε ́ν μου γέγονεν a reference to the higher rank or dignity of the Logos incarnate, and translated the second clause “is preferred before me,” or “hath been made before me,” etc. But such a statement would not have conveyed any thought of great importance. A herald is naturally exceeded and superseded by the dignity and rank of him for whom he prepares the way. Moreover, the two adverbs of place are used in metaphorical sense as adverbs of time (derived from the relative position of individuals in a line or procession), and it is scarcely probable that the second should be used in another sense altogether, which would. have disturbed the antithesis between them. On the other hand, Hengstenberg, Meyer, Lange, Godet, etc., recognize the perception of the Baptist, and his utterance of belief in the pre-existence of the Christ, and that from such passages as Isa_6:1 and Mal_3:1 he knew that he who was coming into the world, and about to baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire, to take the fan in his hand, etc., had been in reality before him. The difficulty of this interpretation is said to be that the proof which follows—because, or for (πρῶτός μου ἤν), he was before me—would be tautologous in the extreme; the reason given for the Lord having become before him being simply the asseveration of the fact. But the two very remarkable expressions, ἐμπροσθε ́ν μου γέγονεν and πρῶτός νου ἤν, are not identical. The first may easily refer to the historic precedence of the activity of the Coming One in all the operations of the Logos; the second may refer to the absolute and eternal precedence of the Logos in itself. If so, the whole significance of the previous fourteen verses is gathered up, and shown to have been flashed upon the consciousness of John the Baptist, and uttered with such intensity that the evangelist caught the idea, and saw in it the key to the whole mystery. It would seem, however, that the ὅτι πρῶτός did not form part of the original utterance of John. After the baptism, the whole truth had broken upon the Baptist, and he clenched or saw an explanation of the mystery.
16.And out of his fullness. He begins now to preach about the office of Christ, that it contains within itself an abundance of all blessings, so that no part of salvation must be sought anywhere else. True, indeed, the fountain of life, righteousness, virtue, and wisdom, is with God, but to us it is a hidden and inaccessible fountain. But an abundance of those things is exhibited to us in Christ, that we may be permitted to have recourse to him; for he is ready to flow to us, provided that we open up a channel by faith. He declares in general, that out of Christ we ought not to seek any thing good, though this sentence consists of several clauses. First, he shows that we are all utterly destitute and empty of spiritual blessings; for the abundance which exists in Christ is intended to supply our deficiency, to relieve our poverty, to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Secondly, he warns us that, as soon as we have departed from Christ, it is ill vain for us to seek a single drop of happiness, because God hath determined that whatever is good shall reside in him alone. Accordingly, we shall find angels and men to be dry, heaven to be empty, the earth to be unproductive, and, in short, all things to be of no value, if we wish to be partakers of the gifts of God in any other way than through Christ. Thirdly, he assures us that we shall have no reason to fear the want of any thing, provided that we draw from the fullness of Christ, which is in every respect; so complete, that we shall experience it to be a truly inexhaustible fountain; and John classes himself with the rest, not for the sake of modesty, but to make it more evident that no man whatever is excepted.
It is indeed uncertain whether he speaks generally of the whole human race, or means only those who, subsequently to the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, have been made more fully partakers of his blessings. All the godly, no doubt, who lived under the law, drew out of the same fullness; but as John immediately afterwards distinguishes between different periods, it is more probable that here he especially recommends that rich abundance of blessings which Christ displayed at his coming. For we know that under the Law the gifts of God were more sparingly tasted, but that when Christ was manifested in flesh, they were poured out, as it were, with a full hand, even to satiety. Not that any of us has obtained a greater abundance of the grace of the Spirit than Abraham did, but I speak of God’s ordinary dispensation, and of the way and manner of dispensing. John the Baptist, that he may the more freely invite his disciples to come to Christ, declares that in him is laid up for all an abundance of the blessings of which they are destitute. And yet if any one choose to extend the meaning farther, there will be no absurdity in doing so; or rather, it will agree well with the strain of the discourse, that all the fathers, from the beginning of the world, drew from Christ all the gifts which they possessed; for though the law was given by Moses, yet they did not obtain grace by it. But I have already stated what appears to me to be the preferable view; namely, that John here compares us with the fathers, so as to magnify, by means of that comparison, what has been given to us.
And, grace for grace. In what manner Augustine explains this passage is well known – that all the blessings which God bestows upon us from time to time, and at length life everlasting, are not granted as the reward due to our merits, but that it proceeds from pure liberality that God thus rewards former grace, and crowns his own gifts in us. This is piously and judiciously said, but has nothing to do with the present passage. The meaning would be more simple if you were to take the word for (ἀντὶ) comparatively, as meaning, that whatever graces God bestows on us, proceed equally from the same source. It might also be taken as pointing out the final cause, that we now receive grace, that God may one day fulfill the work of our salvation, which will be the fulfillment of grace. For my own part, I agree with the opinion of those who say that we are watered with the graces which were poured out on Christ; for what we receive from Christ he does not bestow upon us as being God, but the Father communicated to him what would flow to us as through a channel. This is the anointing with which he was anointed, that he might anoint us all along with him. Hence, too, he is called Christ, (the Anointed,) and we are called Christians.
There can be little doubt that the fifteenth verse is a parenthetical clause, answering to the sixth and seventh verses, and standing to Joh_1:14 very much in the same kind of relation that Joh_1:6, Joh_1:7 do to Joh_1:1-5. There is a further reason; the verses which follow are clearly not, as Lange suggests, the continuance of the Baptist’s μαρτυρία, but the language of the evangelist, and a detail of his personal experience. The entire context would entirely forbid our taking the αὐτοῦ of Joh_1:16 as referring to the Baptist. This is still more evident from the true reading of ὅτι in place of καὶ. The “because” points back at once to the statements of Joh_1:14. Hengstenberg and Godet think there is no need to transform the fifteenth verse into a parenthesis, in order, after the recital of John the Baptist’s testimony, to proceed to a further experience of the evangelist; translating “and even,” Lange makes the whole utterance to be that of the Baptist, which appears to be profoundly inconsistent with the position of the Baptist, either then or subsequently. The grand declaration, that the Logos incarnate was “full of grace and truth,” is justified by the author of the prologue, from his conscious experience of the exhaustless plenitude of the manifestation. Because from his fulness we all received. He speaks as from the bosom of a society of persons, who have not been dependent on vision or on individual contact with the historic revelation (comp. Joh_20:1-31., “Blessed are they [Jesus said] who have not seen [touched or handled], and yet have believed,” but have nevertheless discovered a perennial supply of grace and truth in him). We all, my fellow apostles and a multitude which no man can number, received from this source, as from the Divinity itself, all that we have needed. An effort has been made, from the evangelist’s use of the word plēroma, to father the “prologue” upon one familiar with the valentinian metaphysic, and thus to postpone its orion to the middle of the second century; but the valentinian plēroma is the sum total of the Divine emanations of the thirty pairs of aeons, which have been produced from the eternal “bythos,” or abyss, one only of which is supposed, on valentinian principles, to have assumed a phantasmic form in Jesus Christ. Nothing could be less resembling the position of the author of this Gospel, who clearly regards the Logos incarnate as coincident with the fulness of the Godhead, as containing in himself, in complete self-possession, all the energies and beneficence of the Eternal. With the apostle’s doctrine of the Logos as identical with God, as the Creator of everything, as the Life, as the Light of men; and, as becoming the Source of all these energies to men in his incarnation, there is no basis for valentinianism. Though the phraseology of the Gnostics was borrowed in part from the Gospel, and though valentinus may have fancied himself justified in his misuse of texts; the ideas of the Gospel and the Gnostic were directly contradictory of one another (see Introduction). Long before John used this word, St. Paul had used it in writing to the Ephesiaus and Colossians, as though, even in his day, the word had acquired a distinct theological meaning, and one that had naturally arisen from its etymology and usage in Greek writers. Bishop Lightfoot has shown in his dissertation that the form of the word demands a passive sense, id quod impletur, and not an active one which some have given to it in certain New Testament passages, as if it had the meaning of id quod implet. By his examination of numerous passages, he shows that it always has fundamentally the sense of completeness, “the full complement,” the plenitude. Πληρώμα is the passive verbal from πληροῦν, to make complete. Thus Col_1:19, “The Father was pleased that all the fulness, the totality, should dwell in him,” explained elsewhere in the same Epistle, “all the completeness, the plenitude of the Godhead” (Col_2:9). The widespread diffusion of the idea of emanations, the hypostatizing of perfections and attributes, the virtual mythology which was creeping through metaphysical subtleties even into Judaism and Christianity, demanded positive repudiation; and, while the whole Church was united in its recognition of the Divine energy of Christ, it became needful to refer to his Divine-human personality all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. In Ephesians St. Paul speaks, however, of the Church which is his body as identified with him, and as (in Eph_5:27) a bride made one flesh with her husband, without spot or wrinkle, ideally perfect, as the part of one colossal individuality of which Christ is the Head; or, the one building of which he is the Foundation and the Cornerstone, Hence “the fulness of Christ” (Eph_4:13) is that in which every member participates, and “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” is equated with the perfect humanity into which all believers come. Hence in Ephesians fit. 19 these individuals are completed in him, and are thus as a whole, by the realization of their union to Christ, participators in the fulness of God. So the difficult expression, Eph_1:23, becomes explained, a passage in which the Church itself, his body, is said to be “the fulness of him who filleth all in all.” The Church is the organ and sphere in which all the Divine graces are poured, and is considered as ever struggling to embody the ideal perfection of him in whom all the fulness of God dwells. Both ideas, those of both the Christological Epistles, are involved in this great assertion of St. John. And grace for grace. It is said the evangelist might have written χάριν ἐπὶ χάριτι, or ἐπὶ χα ́ριν, grace in addition to grace received already; but the use of the preposition ἀντ ί, implies more, “grace interchanging with grace” (Meyer)—not the grace of the old covenant replaced by the grace of the new dispensation (Chrysostom, Lampe, and many others), for, though there was grace underlying all God’s self-revelation, yet in the next verse the contrast between “Law” and “grace” is too striking to be ignored. The grace replaced by grace means that every grace received is a capacity for higher blessedness. Thus Christian humility is the condition of Divine uplifting; the knowledge that leads to love is the condition of that higher gnosis that is born of love. The faith that accepts mercy blossoms into the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Reconciliation with God becomes itself transformed into active communion with him; all union to Christ becomes the harbinger of full identification with him, “he in us and we in him.” This is the great principle of the Divine kingdom: “To him that hath shall be given.”
But the correct reading is ὅτι, because, thus connecting the following sentence with “full of grace and truth” in Joh_1:14. We know Him as full of grace and truth, because we have received of His fullness.
Of His fulness (ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ)
These and the succeeding words are the Evangelist’s, not the Baptist’s. The word fullness (πλήρωμα) is found here only in John, but frequently occurs in the writings of Paul, whose use of it in Ephesians and Colossians illustrates the sense in John; these being Asiatic churches which fell, later, within the sphere of John’s influence. The word is akin to πλήρης, full (Joh_1:14), and to πληροῦν, to fill or complete; and means that which is complete in itself, plenitude, entire number or quantity. Thus the crew of a ship is called πλήρωμα, its complement. Aristophanes (“Wasps,” 660), “τούτων πλήρωμα, the sum-total of these, is nearly two thousand talents.” Herodotus (iii., 22) says that the full term of man’s life among the Persians is eighty years; and Aristotle (“Polities,” iv., 4) refers to Socrates as saying that the eight classes, representing different industries in the state, constitute the pleroma of the state (see Plato, “Republic,” 371). In Eph_1:23, Paul says that the church is the pleroma of Christ: i.e., the plenitude of the divine graces in Christ is communicated to the Church as His body, making all the body, supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, to increase with the increase of God (Col_2:19; compare Eph_4:16). Similarly he prays (Eph_3:19) that the brethren may be filled unto all the pleroma of God: i.e., that they may be filled with the fullness which God imparts. More closely related to John’s use of the term here are Col_1:19, “It pleased the Father that in Him (Christ) should all the fullness (τὸ πλήρωμα, note the article) dwell;” and Col_2:9, Col_2:10, “In Him dwelleth all the pleroma of the Godhead bodily (i.e., corporally, becoming incarnate), and in Him ye are fulfilled (πεπληρωμένοι).” This declares that the whole aggregate of the divine powers and graces appeared in the incarnate Word, and corresponds with John’s statement that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among men, full of grace and truth;” while “ye are fulfilled” answers to John’s “of His fullness we all received.” Hence John’s meaning here is that Christians receive from the divine completeness whatever each requires for the perfection of his character and for the accomplishment of his work (compare Joh_15:15; Joh_17:22).
Have – received (ἐλάβομεν)
Rev., we received: rendering the aorist tense more literally.
Grace for grace (χάριν ἀν τὶ χάριτος)
The preposition ἀντί originally means over against; opposite; before (in a local sense). Through the idea of placing one thing over against another is developed that of exchange. Thus Herodotus (iii., 59), “They bought the island, ἀν τὶ χρημάτων, for money.” So Mat_5:38, “An eye for (ἀντ ὶ) an eye,” etc. This idea is at the root of the peculiar sense in which the preposition is used here. We received, not New Testament grace instead of Old Testament grace; nor simply, grace added to grace; but new grace imparted as the former measure of grace has been received and improved. “To have realized and used one measure of grace, was to have gained a larger measure (as it were) in exchange for it.” Consequently, continuous, unintermitted grace. The idea of the development of one grace from another is elaborated by Peter (2Pe_1:5), on which see notes. Winer cites a most interesting parallel from Philo. “Wherefore, having provided and dispensed the first graces (χάριτας), before their recipients have waxed wanton through satiety, he subsequently bestows different graces in exchange for (ἀν τὶ) those, and a third supply for the second, and ever new ones in exchange for the older.”
Of his fulness – In Joh_1:14 the evangelist has said that Christ was “full of grace and truth.” Of that “fullness” he now says that all the disciples had received; that is, they derived from his abundant truth and mercy grace to understand the plan of salvation, to preach the gospel, to live lives of holiness; they “partook” of the numerous blessings which he came to impart by his instructions and his death. These are undoubtedly not the words of John the Baptist, but of the evangelist John, the writer of this gospel. They are a continuation of what he was saying in Joh_1:14, Joh_1:15 being evidently thrown in as a parenthesis. The declaration had not exclusive reference, probably, to the apostles, but it is extended to all Christians, for all believers have received of the “fulness of grace and truth” that is in Christ. Compare Eph_1:23; Eph_3:19; Col_1:19; Col_2:9. In all these places our Saviour is represented as the fulness of God – as “abounding” in mercy, as exhibiting the divine attributes, and as possessing in himself all that is necessary to fill his people with truth, and grace, and love.
Grace for grace – Many interpretations of this phrase have been proposed. The chief are briefly the following:
1. “We have received under the gospel, grace or favor, ‘instead of’ those granted under the law; and God has added by the gospel important favors to those which he gave under the law.” This was first proposed by Chrysostom.
2. “We, Christians, have received grace ‘answering to,’ or corresponding to that which is in Jesus Christ. We are ‘like’ him in meekness, humility,” etc.
3. “We have received grace ‘as grace’ – that is, freely. We have not purchased it nor deserved it, but God has conferred it on us ‘freely’” (Grotius).
4. The meaning is, probably, simply that we have received through him “abundance” of grace or favor. The Hebrews, in expressing the superlative degree of comparison, used simply to repeat the word – thus, “pits, pits,” meaning many pits (Hebrew in Gen_14:10). So here grace for grace may mean “much” grace; superlative favors bestowed on man; favors superior to all that had been under the law – superior to all other things that God can confer on men. These favors consist in pardon, redemption, protection, sanctification, peace here, and heaven hereafter.
17.For the Law was given by Moses. This is an anticipation, by which he meets an objection that was likely to arise; for so highly was Moses esteemed by the Jews that they could hardly receive anything that differed from him. The Evangelist therefore shows how far inferior the ministry of Moses was to the power of Christ. At the same time, this comparison sheds no small luster on the power of Christ; for while the utmost possible deference was rendered to Moses by the Jews, the Evangelist reminds them that what he brought was exceedingly small, when compared with the grace of Christ. It would otherwise have been a great hindrance, that they expected to receive from the Law what we can only obtain through Christ.
But we must attend to the antithesis, when he contrasts the law with grace and truth; for his meaning is, that the law wanted both of them. The word Truth denotes, in my opinion, a fixed and permanent state of things. By the word Grace I understand the spiritual fulfillment of those things, the bare letter of which was contained in the Law. And those two words may be supposed to refer to the same thing, by a well-known figure of speech, (hypallage;) as if he had said, that grace, in which the truth of the Law consists, was at length exhibited in Christ. But as the meaning will be in no degree affected, it is of no importance whether you view them as united or as distinguished. This at least is certain, that the Evangelist means, that in the Law there was nothing more than a shadowy image of spiritual blessings, but that they are actually found in Christ; whence it follows, that if you separate the Law from Christ, there remains nothing in it but empty figures. For this reason Paul says that
the shadows were in the law, but the body is in Christ, (Col_2:17.)
And yet it must not be supposed that anything was exhibited by the Law in a manner fitted to deceive; for Christ is the soul which gives life to that which would otherwise have been dead under the law. But here a totally different question meets us, namely, what the law could do by itself and without Christ; and the Evangelist maintains that nothing permanently valuable is found in it until we come to Christ. This truth consists in our obtaining through Christ that grace which the law could not at all bestow; and therefore I take the word grace in a general sense, as denoting both the unconditional forgiveness of sins, and the renewal of the heart. For while the Evangelist points out briefly the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, (which is more fully described in Jer_31:31,) he includes in this word all that relates to spiritual righteousness. Now this righteousness consists of two parts; first, that God is reconciled to us by free grace, in not imputing to us our sins; and, secondly, that he has engraven his law in our hearts, and, by his Spirit, renews men within to obedience to it; from which it is evident that the Law is incorrectly and falsely expounded, if there are any whose attention it fixes on itself, or whom it hinders from coming to Christ
Cambridge Bible Plummer
17. The mention of ‘grace’ reminds the Evangelist that this was the characteristic of the Gospél and marked its superiority to the Law; for the Law could only condemn transgressors, grace forgives them.
For] Better, Because.
by Moses] The preposition translated ‘by’ in Joh_1:3; Joh_1:10; Joh_1:17, and ‘through’ in Joh_1:7, is one and the same in the Greek. The meaning in all five cases is ‘by means of.’ Moses did not give the Law any more than he gave the manna (Joh_6:32): he was only the mediate agent by whose hand it was given (Gal_3:19).
truth] Like grace, truth is opposed to the Law, not as truth to falsehood, but as perfection to imperfection.
came] Note the change from ‘was given.’ The grace and truth which came through Christ were His own; the Law given through Moses was not his own.
Jesus Christ] S. John no longer speaks of the Logos: the Logos has become incarnate (Joh_1:14) and is spoken of henceforth by the names which He has borne in history.
The χάριν ἀντὶ χα ́ριτος is sustained by calling attention to the contrast between the two methods of Divine communication. Because the Law was given through Moses; “Law,” which in Paul’s writings had been even looked at by itself as an “antithesis to grace” (Rom_4:15; Rom_6:14; Rom_7:3; Rom_10:4; Gal_3:10; Gal_4:4). The Law principle of approach to God fails through the weakness of the flesh. The will is too far enslaved for it to yield spontaneously to the majesty of the Lawgiver, or to feel the attractions of obedience. The Law condemns,—it is incapable of justifying the ungodly: the Law terrifies,—it never reconciles. The Law even provokes to sin and excites the passions which it punishes. Law was given through Moses, pointing to the historic fact of the pomp and splendour of its first delivery, associated therefore with the greatest human name in all past history. Law was a “gift,” a Divine bestowment of entirely unspeakable value to those who were ignorant of the mind and will of God. Even the ministration of death was glorious. The knowledge of an ideal perfection is a great advance, even though no power should accompany the ideal to draw the soul towards it. To know what is right, even without help to do it, save in the form of sanction, or penalty appealing to the lower nature, is better and nobler than to sin in utter ignorance. The Law was given “through” the mind, voice, conscience, and will of Moses. And alongside of him may be supposed to be ranged all the mighty sages and legislators of the human race—all who have thus been the mouthpiece of the Divine idea, all who have impressed the “ought” and “ought not,” the “shall” and “shall not,” upon mankind. Moses is not the author of the Law, the “giving” of the Law was not by Moses, but through his instrumentality. Grace and truth, however, came—became, passed into activity in human nature—through Jesus Christ. For “grace and truth” (see notes, Joh_1:14), the highest manifestation and self-communication of Divine love and Divine thought, came into human experience through Jesus Christ. A vast and wonderful contrast is here made between all earlier or other dispensations and that of which the apostle proceeds to speak. Divine favour and help, the life of God himself in the soul of man, awakening love in response to the Divine love; and Divine thought so made known as to bring all the higher faculties of man into direct contact with reality, are an enormous advance upon Lawgiving. The appropriate human response to Law is obedience; the appropriate human response to love is of the same nature with itself—nothing less than love; so the only adequate response to Divine truth is faith; to Divine thought may follow human thought. All this forth streaming of grace and truth originated in the person of Jesus Christ, and became possible through him. This great Name, this blending of the human and Divine, of saving grace and Messianic dignity, of ancient expectations and recent realization, is only twice more used in the Gospel (Joh_17:3 and Joh_20:31); but it pervades it throughout, and, though not actually said to be equivalent to the Word made flesh, yet no shadow of doubt is left that this was the apostle’s meaning. Here the full significance of the prologue really bursts into view to one who reads it for the first time (cf. 1Jn_1:1-3). Difficulty may be felt by some as to the actual Capacity of Jesus Christ to reveal the Divine thought, or the truth, and so the closing verse of the prologue vindicates the claim of the Saviour of the world to be the truth (cf. Joh_14:6).
18.No man hath ever seen God. Most appropriately is this added to confirm the preceding statement; for the knowledge of God is the door by which we enter into the enjoyment of all blessings; and as it is by Christ alone that God makes himself known to us, hence too it follows that we ought to seek all things from Christ. This order of doctrine ought to be carefully observed. No remark appears to be more common than this, that each of us receives, according to the measure of his faith, what God offers to us; but there are few who think that we must bring the vessel of faith and of the knowledge of God with which we draw.
When he says that no man hath seen God, we must not understand him to refer to the outward perception of the bodily eye; for he means generally, that as God dwells in inaccessible light, (1Ti_6:16,) he cannot be known but in Christ, who is his lively image. This passage is usually explained thus that as the naked majesty of God is concealed within himself, he never could be comprehended, except so far as he revealed himself in Christ; and therefore that it was only in Christ that God was formerly known to the fathers. But I rather think that the Evangelist here abides by the comparison already stated, namely, how much better our condition is than that of the fathers, because God, who was formerly concealed in his secret glory, may now be said to have rendered himself visible; for certainly when Christ is called the lively image of God, (Heb_1:3,) this refers to the peculiar privilege of the New Testament. In like manner, the Evangelist describes, in this passage, something new and uncommon, when he says that the only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, hath made known to us what was formerly concealed. He therefore magnifies the manifestation of God, which has been brought to us by the gospel, in which he distinguishes us from the fathers, and shows that we are superior to them; as also Paul explains more fully in the Third and Fourth chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. For he maintains that there is now no longer any vail, such as existed under the Law, but that God is openly beheld in the face of Christ.
If it be thought unreasonable that the fathers are deprived of the knowledge of God, who have the prophets daily going before them and holding out the torch, I reply, that what is ascribed to us is not simply or absolutely denied to them, but that a comparison is made between the less and the greater, as we say; because they had nothing more than little sparks of the true light, the full brightness of which daily shines around us. If it be objected, that at that time also God was seen face to face, (Gen_32:30; Deu_34:10,) I maintain that that sight is not at all to be compared with ours; but as God was accustomed at that time to exhibit himself obscurely, and, as it were, from a distance, those to whom he was more clearly revealed say that they saw him face to face. They say so with reference to their own time; but they did not see God in any other way than wrapped up in many folds of figures and ceremonies. That vision which Moses obtained on the mountain was remarkable and more excellent than almost all the rest; and yet God expressly declares,
thou shalt not be able to see my face, only thou shalt see my back, (Exo_33:23;)
by which metaphor he shows that the time for a full and clear revelation had not yet come. It must also be observed that, when the fathers wished to behold God, they always turned their eyes towards Christ. I do not only mean that they beheld God in his eternal Speech, but also that they attended, with their whole mind and with their whole heart, to the promised manifestation of Christ. For this reason we shall find that Christ afterwards said, Abraham saw my day, (Joh_8:56;) and that which is subordinate is not contradictory. It is therefore a fixed principle, that God, who was formerly invisible, hath now made himself visible in Christ.
When he says that the Son was in the bosom of the Father, the metaphor is borrowed from men, who are said to receive into their bosom those to whom they communicate all their secrets. The breast is the seat of counsel. He therefore shows that the Son was acquainted with the most hidden secrets of his Father, in order to inform us that we have the breast of God, as it were, laid open to us in the Gospel.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
18. The Evangelist solemnly sums up the purpose of the Incarnation of the Logos—to be a visible revelation of the invisible God. It was in this way that ‘the truth came through Jesus Christ,’ for the truth cannot be fully known, while God is not fully revealed.
No man] Not even Moses. Until we see ‘face to face’ (1Co_13:12) our knowledge is only partial. Symbolical visions, such as Exo_24:10; Exo_33:23; 1Ki_19:13; Isa_6:1, do not transcend the limits of partial knowledge.
hath seen] With his bodily eyes.
at any time] Better, ever yet; ‘no one hath ever yet seen God;’ but some shall see Him hereafter.
the only begotten Son] The question of reading here is very interesting. Most MSS. and versions have ‘the only-begotten Son’ or ‘only-begotten Son.’ But the three oldest and best MSS. and two others of great value have ‘only-begotten God.’ The test of the value of a MS., or group of MSS., on any disputed point, is the extent to which it admits false readings on other points not disputed. Judged by this test the group of MSS. which read ‘only-begotten God’ is very strong; while the far larger group of MSS. which have ‘Son’ for ‘God’ is comparatively weak, for the same group of MSS. might be quoted in defence of a multitude of readings which no one would think of adopting. Again, the revised Syriac, which is among the minority of versions that support ‘God,’ is here of special weight, because it agrees with MSS. from which it usually differs. We conclude, therefore, that the very unusual expression ‘only-begotten God’ is the true reading, which has been changed to the usual ‘only-begotten Son,’ a change which in an old Greek MS. would involve the alteration of only a single letter. Both readings can be traced up to the second century, which again is evidence that the Gospel was written in the first century. Such differences take time to spread themselves widely. See on Joh_1:13 and Joh_9:35.
in the bosom] Literally, into the bosom, which may mean that the return to glory after the Ascension is meant. Comp. Mar_2:1; Mar_13:16; Luk_9:61. On the other hand the Greek for ‘which is’ points to a timeless relation.
hath declared] Better, declared, acted as His interpreter. The Greek word is used both in the LXX. and in classical authors of interpreting the Divine Will. On the emphatic use of ‘He’ here comp. Joh_1:33 and see on Joh_10:1. In the First Epistle this pronoun (ekeinos) is used specially for Christ; Joh_2:6, Joh_3:3; Joh_3:5; Joh_3:7; Joh_3:16, Joh_4:17.
In this prologue we notice what may be called a spiral movement. An idea comes to the front, like the strand of a rope, retires again, and reappears later on for development and further definition. Meanwhile another idea, like another strand, comes before us, and retires to reappear in like manner. Thus the Word is presented to us in Joh_1:1, is withdrawn, and again presented to us in Joh_1:14. The Creation comes next in Joh_1:3, disappears, and returns again in Joh_1:10. Then ‘the Light’ is introduced in Joh_1:5, withdrawn, and reproduced in Joh_1:10-11. Next the rejection of the Word is put before us in Joh_1:5, removed, and again put before us in Joh_1:10-11. Lastly, the testimony of John is mentioned in Joh_1:6-7, repeated in Joh_1:15, taken up again in Joh_1:19, and developed through the next two sections of the chapter.
We now enter upon the first main division of the Gospel, which extends to the end of chap. 12, the subject being Christ’s Ministry, or, His Revelation of Himself to the World, and that in three parts; the Testimony (Joh_1:19 to Joh_2:11), the Work (Joh_2:13 to Joh_11:57), and the Judgment (12). These parts will be subdivided as we reach them. 19–37 The Testimony of the Baptist (1) to the deputation from Jerusalem, (2) to the people, (3) to S. Andrew and S. John: 38–51 The Testimony of the Disciples: Joh_2:1-11 The Testimony of the First Sign.
No one hath ever yet seen God. Many visions, theophanies, appearances, angelic splendours, in the desert, on the mountain, in the temple, by the river of Chebar, had been granted to the prophets of the Lord; but they have all fallen short of the direct intuition of God as God. Abraham, Israel, Moses, Manoah, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, saw visions, local manifestations, anticipations of the Incarnation; but the apostle here takes the Lord’s own word for it (Joh_5:37), and he elsewhere repeats it (1Jn_4:12). These were but forerunners of the ultimate manifestation of the Logos. “The Glory of the Lord,” “the Angel of the Lord,” “the Word of the Lord,” were not so revealed to patriarchs that they saw God as God. They saw him in the form of light, or of spiritual agency, or of human ministries; but in the deepest sense we must still wait for the purity of heart which will reveal to our weakened faculties the beatific vision. The only begotten Son—or, (God only begotten)—who is in (or, on) the bosom of the Father, he interpreted (him); became the satisfying Exposition, the Declarer, drawing forth from the depths of God all that it is possible that we shall see, know, or realize. This lofty assertion is augmented by the sublime intensification of the earlier phrase, “with God (πρὸς τὸν Θεόν),” by (εἰς τὸν κόλπον), “in or on the bosom of the Father;” i.e. in most intimate and loving fellowship with the Father as the only begotten. The relations of fatherhood and sonship within the substance of the Godhead give new life, warmth, realization, to the vaster, colder, more metaphysical, metaphenomenal relations of Θεός and Λογός (cf. here Pro_8:30). Bengel here says, “In lumbis esse dicuntur qui nascentur homines, in sinu sunt qui nati sunt. In sinu Patris erat Filius, quia nunquam non-natus.” In view of the contention of Meyer that the language here refers to no age long, eternal indwelling of the Logos with, or of the Son (God only begotten) on the bosom of, the Father, but to the exaltation of the Christ after his ascension, we can only refer to the present tense (ὁ ὢν), which from the standpoint of the prologue does not transfer itself to the historical standpoint of the writer at the end of the first century. Lange thinks that the whole of this wonderful utterance is attributed by the evangelist to the Baptist; but the standing of the Baptist, lofty as it is in John’s Gospel, after the Baptist came into brief fellowship with the One who was before him, certainly falls short of this insight into his eternal Being. John the beloved disciple could thus speak of the revelation and interpretation of God which was made in the life, words, and death of the Only Begotten, from whose fulness he had received “grace for grace;” but in this verse he is speaking of the timeless condition, the eternal fellowship, of the Only Begotten with the Father, as justifying the fulness of the revelation made in his incarnation.
The prologue forms a key to the entire Gospel. It may have been written after the record of the central principles involved in the life work of Jesus had been completed. Every statement in it may be seen to be derived from the recorded words or acts of the Lord, the revelation of the Father in time, the unveiling of the eternal heart of him who made all things, and by one competent to speak of both eternities. The writer of the prologue speaks of himself as one of a group or society who had had ocular evidence of the perfection and glory of the manifestation. This fellowship of men had found themselves children of God, and in the possession of a life, a light, and a hope which were derived entirely from Jesus Christ, who is undoubtedly in a unique sense declared (though not formally defined) to be “the Word made flesh.” In the subsequent narrative we find a graduated series of instructions on the powers of Christ and the opposition of the world to his self-manifestation. Thus (Joh_1:1-51.) the testimony of the Baptist (made after his contact with Christ) to the Person and work of the Lord attributes to him, on prophetic authority, most stupendous functions—those of baptizing with the Holy Spirit, and taking away the sin of the world. He does himself reveal the way to the Father. He is hailed as the “Christ,” the “King of Israel,” and as the link between heaven and earth, between the invisible and visible, the Divine and the human (Joh_1:51). In Joh_2:1-25, with all its other suggestiveness, Christ displays his creative power, and (cf. Joh_6:1-71.) his relation to the world of things, as well as his organic relation to the old covenant. In Joh_2:1-25 his “body” is the “temple” of God, where his Father dwelt, thus justifying the ἐσκη ́νωσεν of verse. 14. The pre-existence of Christ as a self-conscious personality in the very substance of Deity is asserted by himself in Joh_6:62; Joh_8:58; Joh_17:5, Joh_17:24. The fact that he is the Source of all life (Joh_1:3), is involved in the teaching of the Gospel from end to end. Eternal life is ministered through him, to believers (Joh_3:16, etc., 36). He claims to have life in himself (Joh_5:26). He is the “Bread of life” for starving humanity (Joh_6:35, Joh_6:48). The words that he speaks are spirit and life (Joh_6:63). In Joh_8:12 the φῶς τῆς ζωῆς links the idea of life and light as they are shown to cohere in the prologue. In Joh_14:6 he declares himself to be “the Truth and the Life,” thus sustaining the great generalization. By raising Lazarus he is portrayed as the Restorer of forfeited life, as well as the original Giver of life to men (Joh_11:25). The ninth chapter records the symbolic event by which he proved himself to be the Sun of the spiritual universe, “the Light of the world” (cf. Joh_1:4 with Joh_8:12; cf. Joh_12:36, Joh_12:46). The whole history of the conflict with the people whom he came to save, with “his own,” with the world power, and the death doom, is the material which is generalized in the solemn statements of Joh_1:5-10.
The prologue says nothing in express words of Christ’s supernatural conception, of his death, or of his resurrection and eternal glory; yet these objective facts are woven through, and involved in, the entire context, for the incarnation of the Eternal Word is the historic basis of the apostle’s experience of such a life as that which he proceeds to sketch. The absolute antagonism of the darkness to the light, and the rejection of the light and life by the world, never had such exposition as that which the repudiation and crucifixion of the Son of God gave to them; while the eternal nature of the central life and being of him who, when incarnate, was thus resisted by unbelief renders the resurrection and ultimate and eternal glory a necessity of thought even to these who have not yet seen, but yet have believed.
No man hath seen God at any time (Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε)
God is first in the Greek order, as emphatic: “God hath no man ever seen.” As to the substance of the statement, compare Joh_3:11; Exo_33:20; 1Jo_4:12. Manifestations of God to Old Testament saints were only partial and approximate (Exo_33:23). The seeing intended here is seeing of the divine essence rather than of the divine person, which also is indicated by the absence of the article from Θεὸν, God. In this sense even Christ was not seen as God. The verb ὁράω, to see, denotes a physical act, but emphasizes the mental discernment accompanying it, and points to the result rather than to the act of vision. In 1Jo_1:1; 1Jo_4:12, 1Jo_4:14, θεάομαι is used, denoting calm and deliberate contemplation (see on Joh_1:14). In Joh_12:45, we have θεωρέω, to behold (see on Mar_5:15; see on Luk_10:18). Both θεάομαι and θεωρέω imply deliberate contemplation, but the former is gazing with a view to satisfy the eye, while the latter is beholding more critically, with an inward spiritual or mental interest in the thing beheld, and with a view to acquire knowledge about it. “Θεωρεῖν would be used of a general officially reviewing or inspecting an army; θεᾶσθαι of a lay spectator looking at the parade” (Thayer).
The only begotten son (ὁ μονογενη ̀ς υἱὸς)
Several of the principal manuscripts and a great mass of ancient evidence support the reading μονογενὴς Θεὸς, “God only begotten.”
Another and minor difference in reading relates to the article, which is omitted from μονογενὴς by most of the authorities which favor Θεὸς. Whether we read the only begotten Son, or God only begotten, the sense of the passage is not affected. The latter reading merely combines in one phrase the two attributes of the word already indicated – God (Joh_1:1), only begotten (Joh_1:14); the sense being one who was both God and only begotten.
Who is in the bosom (ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον)
The expression ὁ ὢν, who is, or the one being, is explained in two ways: 1. As a timeless present, expressing the inherent and eternal relation of the Son to the Father. 2. As interpreted by the preposition. εἰς, in, literally, into, and expressing the fact of Christ’s return to the Father’s glory after His incarnation: “The Son who has entered into the Father’s bosom and is there.” In the former case it is an absolute description of the nature of the Son: in the latter, the emphasis is on the historic fact of the ascension, though with a reference to his eternal abiding with the Father from thenceforth.
While the fact of Christ’s return to the Father’s glory may have been present to the writer’s mind, and have helped to determine the form of the statement, to emphasize that fact in this connection would seem less consistent with the course of thought in the Prologue than the other interpretation: since John is declaring in this sentence the competency of the incarnate Son to manifest God to mankind. The ascension of Christ is indeed bound up with that truth, but is not, in the light of the previous course of thought, its primary factor. That is rather the eternal oneness of the Word with God; which, though passing through the phase of incarnation, nevertheless remains unbroken (Joh_3:13). Thus Godet, aptly: “The quality attributed to Jesus, of being the perfect revealer of the divine Being, is founded on His intimate and perfect relation to God Himself.”
The phrase, in the bosom of the Father, depicts this eternal relation as essentially a relation of love; the figure being used of the relation of husband and wife (Deu_13:6); of a father to an infant child (Num_11:12), and of the affectionate protection and rest afforded to Lazarus in Paradise (Luk_16:23). The force of the preposition εἰς, into, according to the first interpretation of who is, is akin to that of “with God” (see on Joh_1:1); denoting an ever active relation, an eternal going forth and returning to the Father’s bosom by the Son in His eternal work of love. He ever goes forth from that element of grace and love and returns to it. That element is His life. He is there “because He plunges into it by His unceasing action” (Godet).
He (ἐκει ͂ νος)
Strongly emphatic, and pointing to the eternal Son. This pronoun is used by John more frequently than by any other writer. It occurs seventy-two times, and not only as denoting the more distant subject, but as denoting and laying special stress on the person or thing immediately at hand, or possessing pre-eminently the quality which is immediately in question. Thus Jesus applies it to Himself as the person for whom the healed blind man is inquiring: “It is He (ἐκει ͂νος) that talketh with thee” (Joh_9:37). So here, “the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father – He hath declared Him.”
Hath declared (ἐξηγη ́σατο)
Or, rendering the aorist strictly, He declared. From ἐκ, forth, and ἡγέομαι, to lead the way. Originally, to lead or govern. Hence, like the Latin praeire verbis, to go before with words, to prescribe or dictate a form of words. To draw out in narrative, to recount or rehearse (see Act_15:14, and on Luk_24:35). To relate in full; to interpret, or translate. Therefore ἐξήγησις, exegesis, is interpretation or explanation. The word ἐξηγητη ́ς was used by the Greeks of an expounder of oracles, dreams, omens, or sacred rites. Thus Croesus, finding the suburbs of Sardis alive with serpents, sent to the soothsayers (ἐξηγητα ̀ς) of Telmessus (Herodotus, i. 78). The word thus comes to mean a spiritual director. Plato calls Apollo the tutelary director (πατρῷος ἐξηγητη ́ς) of religion (“Republic,” 427), and says, “Let the priests be interpreters for life” (“Laws,” 759). In the Septuagint the word is used of the magicians of Pharaoh’s court (Gen_41:8, Gen_41:24), and the kindred verb of teaching or interpreting concerning leprosy (Lev_14:57). John’s meaning is that the Word revealed or manifested and interpreted the Father to men. The word occurs only here in John’s writings. Wyc. renders, He hath told out. These words conclude the Prologue.