Gospel of John Chapter 1:29-36,40-42,45-51 Antique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin

John 1:29

29.The next day. There can be no doubt that John had already spoken about the manifestation of the Messiah; but when Christ began to appear, he wished that his announcement of him should quickly become known, and the time was now at hand when Christ would put an end to John’s ministry, as, when the sun is risen, the dawn suddenly disappears. After having testified to the priests who were sent to him, that he from whom they ought to seek the truth and power of baptism was already present, and was conversing in the midst of the people, the next day he pointed him out to the view of all. For these two acts, following each other in close succession, must have powerfully affected their minds. This too is the reason why Christ appeared in the presence of John.

Behold the Lamb of God. The principal office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that hetakes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciles men to God. There are other favors, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from this source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favor. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him.

By the word Lamb he alludes to the ancient sacrifices of the Law. He had to do with Jews who, having been accustomed to sacrifices, could not be instructed about atonement for sins in any other way than by holding out to them a sacrifice. As there were various kinds of them, he makes one, by a figure of speech, to stand for the whole; and it is probable that John alluded to the paschal lamb. It must be observed, in general, that John employed this mode of expression, which was better adapted to instruct the Jews, and possessed greater force; as in our own day, in consequence of baptism being generally practiced, we understand better what is meant by obtaining forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, when we are told that we are washed and cleansed by it from our pollutions. At the same time, as the Jews commonly held superstitious notions about sacrifices, he corrects this fault in passing, by reminding them of the object to which all the sacrifices were directed. It was a very wicked abuse of the institution of sacrifice, that they had their confidence fixed on the outward signs; and therefore John, holding out Christ, testifies that he is the Lamb of God; by which he means that all the sacrifices, which the Jews were accustomed to offer under the Law, had no power whatever to atone for sins, but that they were only figures, the truth of which was manifested in Christ himself.

Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, the sin Of The World, he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him. John the Baptist, therefore, by speaking generally of the sin of the world, intended to impress upon us the conviction of our own misery, and to exhort us to seek the remedy. Now our duty is, to embrace the benefit which is offered to all, that each of us may be convinced that there is nothing to hinder him from obtaining reconciliation in Christ, provided that he comes to him by the guidance of faith.

Besides, he lays down but one method of taking away sins We know that from the beginning of the world, when their own consciences held them convinced, men labored anxiously to procure forgiveness. Hence the vast number of propitiatory offerings, by which they falsely imagined that they appeased God. I own, indeed, that all the spurious rites of a propitiatory nature drew their existence from a holy origin, which was, that God had appointed the sacrifices which directed men to Christ; but yet every man contrived for himself his own method of appeasing God. But John leads us back to Christ alone, and informs us that there is no other way in which God is reconciled to us than through his agency, because he alone takes away sin. He therefore leaves no other refuge for sinners than to flee to Christ; by which he overturns all satisfactions, and purifications, and redemptions, that are invented by men; as, indeed, they are nothing else than base inventions framed by the subtlety of the devil.

The verb αἴρειν (to take away) may be explained in two ways; either that Christ took upon himself the load which weighed us down, as it is said that he carried our sins on the tree, (1Pe_2:24;) and Isaiah says that

the chastisement of our peace was laid on him, (Isa_53:5;)

or that he blots out sins. But as the latter statement depends on the former, I gladly embrace both; namely, that Christ, by bearing our sins, takes them away. Although, therefore, sin continually dwells in us, yet there is none in the judgment of God, because when it has been annulled by the grace of Christ, it is not imputed to us. Nor do I dislike the remark of Chrysostom, that the verb in the present tense — ὁ αἴρων, who taketh away, denotes a continued act; for the satisfaction which Christ once made is always in full vigor. But he does not merely teach us that Christ takes away sin, but points out also the method, namely, that he hath reconciled the Father to us by means of his death; for this is what he means by the word Lamb. Let us therefore learn that we become reconciled to God by the grace of Christ, if we go straight to his death, and when we believe that he who was nailed to the cross is the only propitiatory sacrifice, by which all our guilt is removed.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

Joh 1:29. The next day] These words prevent us from inserting the Temptation between Joh_1:28-29. The fact of the Baptist knowing who Jesus is shews that the Baptism, and therefore the Temptation, must have preceded the deputation from Jerusalem. The Evangelist assumes that his readers are well acquainted with the history of the Baptism and Temptation.

the Lamb of God] Evidently some Lamb well known to John’s hearers is meant, viz. the Lamb of Isaiah 53 (comp. Act_8:32); but there may be an indirect allusion to the Paschal Lamb. With ‘Behold’ comp. Joh_19:5; Joh_19:14 : with ‘of God’ comp. Gen_22:8.

which taketh away, &c.] These words seem to make the reference to Isaiah 53, esp. Joh_1:4-5; Joh_1:10, clear. The marginal reading, beareth, is not right here (1Jn_3:5).

the sin] Regarding it as one great burden or plague.

of the world] Isaiah (Isa_53:8) seems to see no further than the redemption of the Jews: ‘for the transgression of my people was he stricken.’ The Baptist knows that the Messiah comes to save the whole human race, even those hostile to Him.

Pulpit Commentary


On the following day. Next after the day on which the Sanhedrin had heard from John the vindication of his own right to baptize in virtue of the commencement of the Messiah’s ministry, which as yet was concealed from all eyes but his own. He [John £] seeth Jesus coming towards him, within reach of observation the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. We should observe, from the later context, that already John had perceived by special signs and Divine inspiration that Jesus was the Son of God, and the veritable Baptizer with the Holy Ghost; that he was before him in dignity, honour, and by pre-existence, although his earthly ministry had been delayed until after John’s preparatory work had been done. John had felt that the “confession of sins” made by the guilty multitude, by generations of vipers, was needful, rational, imperative upon them; but that in the case of Jesus this confession was not only superfluous, but a kind of contradiction in terms. The Lord over whom the heavens had opened, and to whom the heavenly name had been given, fulfilling all righteousness by submitting to the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins, was a profound perplexity to the Baptist. Strange was it that he who would have power to deal with the Holy Ghost even as John had been using water should have been called in any real sense to confess the sins of his own nature or life. John believed that Jesus was the Source of a fiery purity and purifying power, and that according to his own showing he had rejected all proposals which might bring Israel to his feet by assuming the role of their conquering Messiah. He had even treated these suggestions as temptations of the devil. Not to save his physical life from starvation would he use his miraculous energies for his own personal ends. Not to bring the whole Sanhedrin, priesthood, and temple guard, nay, even the Roman governor and court, to his feet, will he utter a word or wave a signal which they could misunderstand. His purpose was to identify himself, Son of God though he be, with the world—to “suffer all, that he might succour all.” Because John knew that Jesus was so great he was brought to apprehend the veritable fact and central reality of the Lord’s person and work. He saw by a Divine inspiration what Jesus was, and what he was about to do. The simple supposition that Jesus had made John the Baptist his confidant, on his return from the wilderness of temptation and victory, and that we owe the story of the temptation to the facts of Christ’s experience which had been communicated to John, do more than any other supposition does to expound the standpoint of John’s remarkable exclamation. A library of discussion and exposition has been produced by the words which John uttered on this occasion, and different writers have taken opposite views, which in their origin proceed from the same root. The early Greek interpreters were moving in a true direction when they looked to the celebrated oracle of Isaiah lift. as the primary signification of the great phrase, “The Lamb of God.” The image used to portray the suffering Sin-bearer is the “Lamb brought silently to the slaughter,” “a Sheep dumb before his shearers.” Doubtless the first implication of this comparison arose from the prophet’s conception of the patience, gentleness, and submission of the sublime but suffering “Servant of God;” but the fourth, fifth, sixth, and twelfth verses of that chapter are so charged with the sin bearing of the great victim, the vicarious and propitiatory virtue of his agony unto death, that we cannot separate the one from the other. He who is led as a Lamb to the slaughter bears our sins and suffers pain for us, is wounded on account of our transgressions: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all … it pleased the Lord to bruise him,” etc. The Servant of God is God’s Lamb, appointed and consecrated for the highest work of sacrificial suffering and death. The LXX. has certainly used the verb φέρειν, to bear, where John uses αἴρειν, to take away. Meyer suggests that in the idea of αἄρειν the previous notion of φέρειν is involved and presupposed. The Hebrew formula, אטְחֵאשָׂןָ and נוֹעָאשָׂןָ, are variously translated by the LXX., but generally in the sense of bearing the consequences of personal guilt or the sin of another (Num_14:34; Le Num_5:17; Num_20:17; Eze_18:19). In Le Joh_10:17 it is distinctly used of the priestly expiation for sin to be effected by Eleazar. Here and elsewhere אשָׂןָ is translated in the LXX. by ἀφαιρεῖν, where God as the subject of the verb is described as lifting off sin from the transgressor and by bearing it himself—bearing it away. In several places the LXX. has gone further, translating the word, when God is the subject, by ἀφιεναί, with the idea of forgiveness (Psa_32:5; Psa_85:3; Gen_50:17; Isa_33:24). Hence the Baptist, in using the word αἴρειν, had doubtless in his mind the large connotation of the Hebrew word אשָׂןָ with the fundamental prerequisite of the taking away, which the oracle of Isaiah had suggested to him. John knew that the taking away of sin involved the twofold process:

(1) the conference of a new spiritual life by the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit; and

(2) such a removal of the consequences and shame and peril of sin as is involved by the bearing of sins in his own Divine personality. Thus he not only perceived from the accompaniments of the baptism that Jesus was the Son of God and the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, but that, being these, his meek submission and his triumphant repudiation of the temptations of the devil which were based upon the fact of his Divine sonship proved that he was the Divine sin-bearing Lamb of Isaiah’s oracle. Many commentators have, however, seen a special reference to the Paschal lamb, with which Christ’s work was, without hesitation, compared in later years (1Co_5:7). There can be no doubt that the Passover lamb was a “sin offering” (Hengstenberg, ‘Christ of the Old Testament,’ vol. 4:351; Baur, ‘Uber die Ursprung und Bedeutung des Passah-Fest,’ quoted by Lucke, 1:404). It was God’s sacrifice by pre-eminence, and the blood of the lamb was offered to God to make atonement, and it freed Israel from the curse that fell on the firstborn of Egypt. John, the son of a sacrificing priest, the Nazarite, the stern prophet of the wilderness, was familiar with all the ritual and the lessons of that solemn festival; and might look on the Son of God, selected for this sacrifice, as fulfilling in singular and unique fashion the function of the Passover Lamb for the whole world. But John would not be limited by the Paschal associations. Day by day lambs were presented before God as burnt offerings, as expressions of the desire of the offerers to accept absolutely the supreme will of God. Moreover, the lamb of the trespass offering was slain for atonement (Le Joh_4:35; Joh_14:11; Num_6:12), either when physical defilement excluded the sufferer from temple worship, or when a Nazarite had lost the advantage of his vow by contact with the dead. Even the ceremonial of the great Day of Atonement, though other animal victims were used, suggested the same great thought of propitiatory suffering and death. These various forms of sacrificial worship must have been in the minds of both Isaiah and John. They are the key to Isaiah’s prophecy, and this in its turn is the basis of the cry of John. The New Testament apostles and evangelists, whether accurate or not in their exegesis, did repeatedly take this oracle of Isaiah’s as descriptive of the work of the Lord, and other early Christian writers treated the chapter as though it were a fragment of their contemporaneous evidence and exposition (Mat_8:17; 1Pe_2:22-25; Act_8:28; Luk_22:37; Rev_5:6; Rev_13:8; Rom_10:16; Clement, ‘1 Eph. ad Cor.,’ 16.). John was standing further back, and on an Old Testament platform, but we have, in his knowledge of Isaiah’s prophecies, and his familiarity with the sacrificial system of which that oracle foreshadowed the fulfilment, quite enough to account for the burning words in which he condensed the meaning of the ancient sacrifices, and saw them all transcended in the suffering Son of God. The author of ‘Ecce Homo,’ by identifying the “Lamb of God” with the imagery of Psa_23:1-6., supposed that John saw, in the inward repose and spiritual joyfulness of Jesus, the power he would wield to take away the sin of the world. “He (John) was one of the dogs of the flock of Jehovah, Jesus was one of the Lambs of the good Shepherd.” There is no hint whatever of these ideas in the psalm. This curiosity of exegesis has not secured any acceptance. Some difficulty has been felt in the fact that John should have made such progress in New Testament thought; but the experience through which John has passed during his contact with Jesus, the sentiment with which he found the Lord whom he sought coming to his baptism, the agony that he foresaw must follow the contact of such a One with the prejudices and sins of the people, above all, the mode in which our Lord was treating the current expectation of Messiah regarding its eagerly desired manifestations as temptations of the devil, flashed the whole of Isaiah’s oracle into sudden splendour. He saw the Lamb already led to slaughter, and his blood upon the very door posts of every house; he saw him lifting, bearing, carrying away, the sin of the world, all impurity, transgression, and shame. His atoning sacrifice is already going on. The sins of mankind fall on the Holy One. He sees him pouring out his soul unto death, and making gentle intercession for his murderers; so in a glorious ecstasy he cries, “BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!”.

John Calvin

John 1:30

30.This is he of whom I said. He comprehends every thing in a few words, when he declares that Christ is the person who, he said, was to be preferred to him; for hence it follows that John is nothing more than a herald sent on his account; and hence again it is evident that Christ is the Messiah. Three things are here stated; for when he says that a man cometh after him, he means that he himself was before him in the order of time, to prepare the way for Christ, according to the testimony of Malachi, Behold, I send my messenger before my face, (Mal_3:1.)

Again, when he says that he was preferred to himself, this relates to the glory with which God adorned his Son, when he came into the world to fulfill the office of a Redeemer. At last, the reason is added, which is, that Christ is far superior in dignity to John the Baptist. That honor, therefore, which the Father bestowed upon him was not accidental, but was due to his eternal majesty. But of this expression, he was preferred to me, because he was before me, I have already Spoken.

Pulpit Commentary


This is he on behalf of whom I said, After me cometh a man (ἀνήρ is used as a term of higher dignity than ἄνθρωπος, and is made more explicit by the positive appearance of the Holy One whom he had just recognized and pointed out to his disciples) who became before me—in human and other activities under the Old Testament covenant—because he was before me; in the deepest sense, having an eternal self-consciousness, a Divine pre-existence, apart from all his dealings and doings with man (see notes on Joh_1:15, Joh_1:26, Joh_1:27). If the shorter reading of Joh_1:26, Joh_1:27 be correct, then the occasion on which this great utterance was first made is not described. If it be not expunged from Joh_1:26, Joh_1:27, we may imagine that John is now referring to what he said on the previous day to the Sanhedrim. If internal reasons may help to decide a reading, I should be inclined, with Godet as against Meyer, to say that this is the obvious reference. Here, too, the ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν is added as explanation of what was enigmatical in verse 26. The whole saying has already found place in the prologue. The threefold citation reveals the profound impression which the words of the Baptist had made upon his most susceptible disciple.

John Calvin

John 1:31

31.And I knew him not. That his testimony may not be suspected of having been given either from friendship or favor, he anticipates such a doubt, by affirming that he had no other knowledge of Christ than what he had obtained by divine inspiration. The meaning, therefore, amounts to this, that John does not speak at his own suggestion, nor for the favor of man, but by the inspiration of the Spirit and the command of God.

I came baptizing with water; that is, I was called and appointed to this office,that I might manifest him to Israel; which the Evangelist afterwards explains more fully, and confirms, when he introduces John the Baptist, testifying that he had no knowledge of Christ but what he had obtained by oracle; that is, by information or revelation from God. Instead of what we find here, I came to baptize, he there states expressly (verse 33) that he was sent; for it is only the calling of God that makes lawful ministers, because every person who of his own accord, thrusts himself forward, whatever learning or eloquence he may possess, is not entitled to any authority, and the reason is, that he is not authorized by God. Now since it was necessary that John, in order that he might lawfully baptize, should be sent by God, let it be inferred from this, that it is not in the power of any man whatever to institute sacraments, but that this right belongs to God alone, as Christ, on another occasion, in order to prove the baptism of John, asks if it was from heaven, or from men, (Mat_21:25.)

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:31

31. And I knew him not] Or, I also knew Him not; I, like you, did not at first know Him to be the Messiah. There is no contradiction between this and Mat_3:14. (1) ‘I knew Him not’ need not mean ‘I had no knowledge of Him whatever.’ (2) John’s professing that he needed to be baptized by Jesus does not prove that he had already recognised Jesus as the Messiah, but only as superior to himself.

that he should be made manifest] This was the Baptist’s second duty. He had (1) to prepare for the Messiah by preaching repentance; (2) to point out the Messiah. The word for ‘manifest’ is one of S. John’s favourite words (phaneroun); Joh_2:11, Joh_3:21, Joh_7:4, Joh_9:3, Joh_17:6, Joh_21:1; Joh_21:14; 1Jn_1:2; 1Jn_2:19; 1Jn_2:28; 1Jn_3:2; 1Jn_3:5; 1Jn_3:8-9; Rev_3:18; Rev_15:4.

therefore am I come] Better, for this cause (Joh_12:18; Joh_12:27) came I (comp. Joh_5:16; Joh_5:18, Joh_7:22, Joh_8:47).

baptizing with water] In humble contrast to Him Who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost’ (Joh_1:33). ‘With water’ is literally ‘in water’ here and Joh_1:26.

Pulpit Commentary


And I for my part knew him not. This is thought by some to be incompatible with the statement of Mat_3:14, where the Baptist displayed sufficient knowledge of Jesus to have exclaimed, “I have need to be baptized of thee.” Early commentators, e.g. Ammonius, quoted in ‘Catena Patrum,’ suggested that John’s long residence in the wilderness had prevented his knowing his kinsman; Chrysostom, ‘Hom. 16. in Joannem,’ urged that he was not familiar with his person; Epiphanius, ‘Adv. Haer.,’ 30., and Justin Martyr, ‘Dial.,’ 100, 88, refer to a long passage in the ‘Gospel of the Ebionites,’ which, notwithstanding numerous perversions, yet suggests a method of conciliation of the two narratives, that the sign of the opening heavens and the voice occasioned the consternation of John, and explains his deprecation of the act which he had already performed. Neander has suggested the true explanation: “In contradistinction to that which John now saw in the Divine light, all his previous knowledge appeared to be a non-knowledge.” John knew of Jesus, as his kinsman; he knew him as One mightier than himself—One whose coming, as compared with his own, was as the coming of the Lord. When Jesus approached him for baptism, John therefore knew quite enough to make him hesitate to baptize the Christ. He knew more than enough to induce him to say, “I have need to be baptized of thee.” Godet imagines that, since baptism was preceded by confession, John found that the confession made by Jesus was of such a lofty, saintly, God-like type of repudiation of sin, as that John himself had never attained to. This representation fails from attributing to John the function of a sacerdotal confessor of later days, and is out of harmony altogether with the meaning and potency of our Lord’s confession of the sin of the whole of that human nature which he had taken upon himself. The knowledge which John had of Jesus was as nothing to the blaze of light which burst upon him when he realized the idea that Jesus was the Son of God. The “I knew him not” of this verse was a subsequent reflection of the Baptist when the sublime humility, the dovelike sweetness, and the spiritual might of Jesus were revealed to him. A blind man who had received his sight during the hours of darkness might imagine, when he saw the reflected glory of the moon or morning star in the eye of dawn, that he knew the nature and had felt the glory of light; but amidst the splendours of sunrise or of noon he might justly say, “I knew it not”. But that he should be manifested to Israel, for this cause I came baptizing in (with) water. It was traditionally expected that Elijah should anoint Messiah. John perceives now the transitional nature of his own mission. His baptism retires into the background. He sees that its whole meaning was the introduction of Messiah, the manifestation of the Son of God to Israel. It may be said that the ministry of the wilderness, with the vast impression it produced, is represented by the synoptists as of more essential importance in itself. John’s own judgment, however, here recorded, is the true key to the whole representation. The synoptic narrative shows very clearly that, as a matter of fact, the Johannine ministry culminated at the baptism of Jesus, and lost itself in the dawn of the great day which it inaugurated and heralded. The Fourth Gospel does but give the rationale of such an arrangement, and refer the origin of the idea to John himself. If John did not intensify the sense of sin which Messiah was to soothe and take away; if John did not, by baptism with water, excite a desire for an infinitely nobler and more precious baptism; if John did not prepare a way for One of vastly more moment to mankind and to the kingdom of God than himself,—his whole work was a failure. In that John saw his own relation to the Christ—he saw his own place in the dispensations of Providence.

John Calvin

John 1:32

32.I saw the Spirit, descending like a dove. This is not a literal but a figurative mode of expression; for with what eyes could he see the Spirit ? But as the dove was a certain and infallible sign of the presence of the Spirit, it is called the Spirit, by a figure of speech in which one name is substituted for another; not that he is in reality the Spirit, but that he points him out, as far as human capacity can admit. And this metaphorical language is frequently employed in the sacraments; for why does Christ call the bread his body, but because the name of the thing is properly transferred to the sign? especially when the sign is, at the same time, a true and efficacious pledge, by which we are made certain that the thing itself which is signified is bestowed on us. Yet it must not be understood that the dove contained the Spirit who fills heaven and earth, (Jer_23:24,) but that he was present by his power, so that John knew that such an exhibition was not presented to his eyes in vain. In like manner, we know that the body of Christ is not connected with the bread, and yet we are partakers of his body.

A question now arises, why didthe Spirit at that time appear in the form of a dove ? We must always hold that there is a correspondence between the sign and the reality. When the Spirit was given to the apostles, they saw cloven tongues of fire, (Act_2:3,) because the preaching of the gospel was to be spread through all tongues, and was to possess the power of fire. But in this passage God intended to make a public representation of that mildness of Christ of which Isaiah speaks in lofty terms,

The smoking flax he will not quench, and the bruised reed he will not break, (Isa_42:3.)

It was then, for the first time, that the Spirit was seen descending on him; not that he had formerly been destitute of him, but because he might be said to be then consecrated by a solemn rite. For we know that he remained in concealment, during thirty years, like a private individual, because the time for his manifestation was not yet come; but when he intended to make himself known to the world, he began with his baptism. At that time, therefore, he received the Spirit not only for himself, but for his people; and on that account his descent was visible, that we may know that there dwells in him an abundance of all gifts of which we are empty and destitute. This may easily be inferred from the words of the Baptist; for when he says, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, it is he who baptizeth with the Spirit, his meaning is, that the reason why the Spirit was beheld in a visible form, and remained on Christ, was, that he might water all his people with his fullness. What it is to baptize with the Spirit I have already noticed in a few words; namely, that he imparts its efficacy to baptism, that it may not be vain or useless, and this he accomplishes by the power of his Spirit.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:32

32. bare record] Better, bare witness; comp. Joh_1:7-8; Joh_1:15; Joh_1:19; Joh_1:34.

I saw] Better, I have beheld, or contemplated (1Jn_4:12; 1Jn_4:14), the perfect of the verb used in Joh_1:14; Joh_1:38.

like a dove] This was perhaps visible to Christ and the Baptist alone. A real appearance is the natural meaning here and is insisted on by S. Luke (Luk_3:22). And if we admit the ‘bodily shape’ at all, there can be no sound reason for rejecting the dove. The marvel is that the Holy Spirit should be visible in any way (comp. ‘the tongues of fire,’ Act_2:3), not that He should assume the form of a dove in particular. Of course this visible descent of the Spirit made no change in the nature of Christ. It served two purposes, (1) to make the Messiah known to the Baptist, and through him to the world; (2) to mark the official commencement of the ministry of the Messiah, like the anointing of a king. The whole incident is very parallel to the Transfiguration. In both Christ is miraculously glorified previous to setting out to suffer; in both a voice from heaven bears witness to Him; at both ‘the goodly fellowship of the Prophets’ is nobly represented.

Pulpit Commentary

Joh_1:32, Joh_1:33

And John bore testimony, saying, I have seen (perfect) the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it (he) abode upon him. And I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with (in) water, he said to me, Upon whomsoever thou mayest see the Holy Spirit descending, and abiding on him, this (one) is he that baptizeth with (in) the Holy Spirit. The preparation by special teaching for a mysterious vision is the key to the vision itself, which John is here said to have described. There can be no reasonable doubt that the evangelist makes reference to the synoptic tradition of the baptism of Jesus by John, although it may suit some uncompromising opponents of the Fourth Gospel to say that the baptism is here omitted. The act of the rite is not totidem verbis described; but the chief accompaniment and real meaning of the baptism is specially portrayed. All the well known cycles of criticism make their special assault on the narratives at this point. Rationalism finds in a thunderstorm and the casual flight of a pigeon what John magnified into a supernatural portent; Straussianism sees the growth of a legend from prepared sources of Hebrew tradition, and endeavours to aggravate into irreconcilable discrepancy the various accounts; Baur and Hilgenfeld accentuate the objectively supernatural portent, so as the more easily to put it into the region of ignorant superstition; others find the hint or sign of Gnostic handling; and Keim suggests that it is the poetic colouring which a later age unconsciously attributed to the Baptist and the Christ. Let it be noticed:

(1) That the present Gospel does not augment, but diminishes, the miraculous element as compared with the synoptic narrative. The ‘Gospel of the Hebrews ‘ added further embellishments still. Our Gospel compels us to believe that the mind of the Baptist was the chief region of the miracle.

(2) The author of this Gospel might, if he had chosen, have selected his own experience on the Mount of Transfiguration in vindication of a Divine attestation of the Sonship; but he preferred to fall back upon the testimony of his revered master. Peter, James, and John were unprepared for what they saw and heard on that occasion; and Peter knew not what he said, so great was the awful wonder that fell upon him then. Here, however, is recorded a vision for which the mind of the great forerunner was prepared. He expected to see the Spirit of God in some manner blend his energy with that of the individual who would prove to be the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost.

(3) John does not discriminate the methods of the two communications, and from this narrative all that could be inferred positively is that the mind of John, by objective or subjective process, of which we know nothing, received the communication and the sacred impression.

(4) The synoptic narrative, prima facie, differs from this representation. At all events Luk_3:21, Luk_3:22 speaks of “opened heavens,” “the Holy Spirit in bodily form as a dove,” and a voice addressed to the Lord, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” This account is taken by Strauss as the key to the other three, and he urges that they must all be interpreted in harmony with it. But from the time of Origen, the exegesis of Matthew’s account no less emphatically states (i.e. if with De Wette, Bleck, Baur, and Keim, we take ὁ Ιωα ́ννης as the subject of εἶδεν) that John saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and coming upon (Christ) him, and that the voice was addressed to John, “This is my beloved Son,” etc. In Mark’s account the εἶδεν and αὐτόν are susceptible of the same interpretation. It should be observed that Luke’s narrative clearly implies that our Lord’s baptism took place at some unspecified opportunity, and simply gives the summing up of the impression produced upon the mind of John. It is more reasonable to interpret Luke in harmony with the main conception of Matthew and John than to press the latter into forced harmony with the former.

(5) The great difficulty is the expression, σωματικῷ εἴδει. But surely the prophetic mind was accustomed to dwell in the midst of similar visual shapes of spiritual things. There was σωματικὸν εἴδος enough in the cherubim, olive trees, horses, armies, vials, and cities of the Apocalypse, and there were “voices” heard by Ezekiel, Hosea, Elijah, and by John himself which could be, were, and even must be, described in terms of physical facts, which no interpreters have ever felt compelled to transfer into the region of phenomena. There are still intensely vivid intuitions of spiritual fact which transcend all sensible or logical proof. If John saw and heard these things so far as his own consciousness was concerned, there is enough to account forevery peculiarity of the narrative. He saw the Shechinah glory hovering over the Lord Jesus, officially consecrating a human personality. The dove-like (ὡς περιστερὰν) form and motion taken by the heavenly light reminded him of the brooding of the Spirit of God upon the primaeval waters. He looked into the face of the Holy One of God—majesty and meekness, Divine glory, human gentleness, a sanctity as of the holy place, a freedom as of the birds of heaven, force like that of the steeds of the rising sun, inward peace like the calm of a brooding dove, transfigured the Lord. This dovelike splendour abode upon him, passed into him; and the voice (the invincible conviction, the resistless consciousness that often can find no other expression than “Thus saith the Lord”) was heard, “This is my beloved Son,” etc. We cannot say what John saw; we know what he said; and it covered the consciousness of the most stupendous reality yet enacted on the earth. That which John had been taught to predict as approaching was now seen to have actually come about, he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost has commenced his wondrous mission.

(6) The whole question as to the relation of the Holy Spirit and the Logos—the relation between the statement of verse 13 and verses 31-33—demands special consideration. A few words here may suffice. Baur, Eichhorn, and others have urged that either the Λόγος and Πνεῦμα are identical, and that that which John means (verses 1-14) by the Logos he afterwards resolves into the pneuma, or that this scene and these words are incompatible with the prologue. It is true that Philo and Justin (‘Apol.,’ Joh_1:33) do use the two terms as practically identical. But John has recorded our Lord’s own words as to the antithesis of the πνεῦμα and σάρξ (Joh_3:1-36.), declaring in his prologue that the Logos is the Source of all the life and light of men, and that the Logos came into the world and became flesh. Now, if John did not abide firmly in this thought, he would have represented incarnate God as undergoing the process of regeneration at his baptism, than which nothing would be more abhorrent to his entire theory of the Christ. The relations of the Logos and the Pneuma to each other and to the Father, metaphysically considered, are profoundly intricate, but the relations of Father, Word, and Holy Spirit to the Person of the Lord Jesus have been several times asserted by the apostles, and cannot be interchanged

John Lange

Joh_1:32. And John bare witness, saying.—We might expect the mark of the Messiah given to John to come before his testimony, i.e., Joh_1:33 before Joh_1:32. Hence Lücke and others read this verse as a parenthesis. But this exhibition of the testimony of John is in two parts. The Evangelist distinguishes the first exclamation of John respecting Christ as the Lamb of God from the then following testimony of the way in which he came to know Him. Thus we have to make a new paragraph at Joh_1:32. John bears witness of the way in which he came to know Jesus in His baptism as the Messiah.

I saw the Spirit descending.—Here we must (1) assert against Baur, that the Baptist is speaking of the actual event of the baptism; this is clear from the connection of Joh_1:32 with Joh_1:31; (2) dispute [Theodore of Mops.], Tholuck, [Alford] and others in the idea that the Baptist had the manifestation alone, and that it was an inward transaction, excluding externality (though not excluding all objective element). “Even the αωματικῷ εἴδει in Luk_3:22, cannot prove the outwardness of the phenomenon; for it rather expresses only the unusual fact that the dove served as the symbol of the Spirit.” Tholuck. Against this are (1) the fact that the event was given by an inward voice to the Baptist as the token. On the supposition of mere inwardness the inward voice alone would have sufficed; at all events it must have come at the same time with the token. (2) The mention of the appearance of the Spirit, ὡς περιστερά, as a dove. Merely inwardly seen, this would be only an apparition, not a token. (3) θεάομαι is used, as in Joh_1:14, of a seeing which is neither merely outward, nor yet merely inward. (4) The participation of Christ; according to the Synoptists, in the seeing of the phenomenon; to which must be added the voice: “Thou art my beloved Son!”—showing that Christ was the centre of the whole appearance. (5) The analogy of the signs (rushing wind and tongues of fire) at the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. See this Comm. on Mat_3:13-17; p. 77. Tholuck: “The point of comparison between the symbol (symbolical phenomenon, we should say) and the Spirit, Theodore of Mopsuestia takes to be the affectionate tenderness and attachment of the dove to men; Calvin, its gentleness; Neander, its tranquil flying; Baumgarten-Crusius, a motherly, brooding virtue, consecrating the water (Gen_1:1); most, from Mat_10:16, purity and innocence. This last is certainly to be taken as the main point, yet it is connected with the gentle, noiseless flight of this particular bird. In the Targum on Son_2:12, the dove is regarded as the symbol of the Spirit of God.” We suppose that the phenomenon and the symbol are to be distinguished; the phenomenon we take to have been a soft, hovering brightness, resembling the flashes from a dove floating down in the sunlight (Psa_68:13 : “Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold;” see Act_2:3); and the symbol, no one virtue of the dove, but her virtues, as a of spiritual life, which, as such, never consists in a single virtue (see Mat_10:16); hence purity, loveliness, gentleness, friendliness towards men, and vital warmth. On the reference of the dove to the church see the Comm. on Mat_3:13-17; p. 78. Hence the “abiding upon him” [καὶ ἔμεινεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν, ὲπί, with the accusative signifies the direction to—] is part of the sign; in the continuance of the radiance the Baptist received assurance that the Spirit abode upon Christ.

Misinterpretations of this event: (a) The Ebionitic: An impartation of the Spirit, beginning with the baptism, (b) The Gnostic: The Logos uniting Himself with the Man Jesus;—a view dragged in again by Hilgenfeld. (c) Baur: The λόγος and the πνεῦμα ἅγιον are, according to John’s representation, identical.144Attempted interpretations: (1) Frommann: The preparation of the Logos for coming forth out of his immanent union with God: (2) Lücke, Neander, etc.: The awakening of the divine-human consciousness. (3) Hofmann, Luthardt: The impartation of official powers. (4) Baumgarten-Crusius, Tholuck: The impartation of the Spirit for transmission to mankind. (5) Meyer: Not an impartation to Jesus, but only an objective sign (σημεῖον) divinely granted to the spiritual intuition of the Baptist.

We find in this occurrence not merely the full development of Christ’s consciousness of Himself personally as the God-Man, but also of the accompanying consciousness of His Messianic mission, as a calling, in particular, to self-humiliation in order to exaltation;—a development produced by a corresponding communication of the Holy Ghost without measure, which should make Him, in the course of His humiliation towards exaltation, the Baptist of the Spirit (Geistestäufer) for the whole world (see Isaiah 11; Joel 3; Matthew 28) This consciousness is (1) that of being the Son of God, and (2) that of the divine good pleasure blessing the path of humiliation upon which in His baptism He entered.

John Calvin

John 1:33

33.Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending. Here a difficult question arises; for if John did not know Christ, why does he refuse to admit him to baptism? To a person whom he did not know he would not say, I ought rather to be baptized by thee, (Mat_3:14.) Some reply, that he knew him to such an extent as to regard him with the reverence due to a distinguished Prophet, but was not aware that he wasthe Son of God. But this is a poor solution of the difficulty, for every man ought to obey the calling of God without any respect of persons. No rank or excellence of man ought to prevent us from doing our duty, and therefore John would have shown disrespect to God and to his baptism, if he had spoken in this manner to any other person than the Son of God. it follows that he must have previously known Christ.

In the first place, it ought to be observed, that the knowledge here mentioned is that which arises from personal and long acquaintance. Although he recognizes Christ whenever he sees him, still it does not cease to be true that they were not known to each other according to the ordinary custom of men, for the commencement of his knowledge proceeded from God. But the question is not yet fully answered; for he says that the sight of the Holy Spirit was the mark by which he was pointed out to him. Now he had not yet seen the Spirit, when he had addressed Christ as the Son of God. For my own part, I willingly embrace the opinion of those who think that this sign was added for confirmation, and that it was not so much for the sake of John as for the sake of us all. John indeed saw it, but it was rather for others than for himself. Bucer appropriately quotes that saying of Moses,

This shall be a sign to you, that after three days journey, you shall sacrifice to me on the mountain, (Exo_3:12.)

Undoubtedly, when they were going out, they already knew that God would conduct and watch over their deliverance; but this was a confirmation a posteriori, as the phrase is; that is, from the event, after it had taken place. In like manner, this came as an addition to the former revelation which had been given to John.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:33

33. And I knew him not] Or, as before, I also knew Him not. The Baptist again protests, that but for a special revelation he was as ignorant as others that Jesus was the Messiah.

he that sent me] The special mission of a Prophet. Comp. Joh_1:6.

the same said unto me] Better, he said unto me: see on Joh_10:1. When this revelation was made we are not told.

and remaining on him] Better, and abiding on Him. It is the same word as is used in Joh_1:32, and one of which S. John is very fond; but our translators have obscured this fact by capriciously varying the translation, sometimes in the same verse (Joh_1:39, Joh_4:40; 1Jn_2:24; 1Jn_3:24). Thus, though most often rendered ‘abide,’ it is also rendered ‘remain’ (Joh_9:41, Joh_15:11; Joh_15:16), ‘dwell’ (Joh_1:39, Joh_6:56, Joh_14:10; Joh_14:17), ‘continue’ (Joh_2:12, Joh_8:31), ‘tarry’ (Joh_4:40, Joh_21:22-23), ‘endure’ (Joh_6:27), ‘be present’ (Joh_14:25). In 1Jn_2:24 it is translated in three different ways. See on Joh_15:9.

which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost] See on Joh_14:26. This phrase, introduced without explanation or comment, assumes that the readers of this Gospel are well aware of this office of the Messiah, i.e. are well-instructed Christians. The word baptizeth is appropriate, (1) to mark the analogy and contrast between the office of the Baptist and that of the Messiah; (2) because the gift of the Spirit is constantly represented as an out-pouring. ‘With,’ as in Joh_1:26; Joh_1:31, is literally ‘in.’

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:34

34. And I saw, and bare record] Better, And I have seen and have borne witness. ‘I have seen’ is in joyous contrast to ‘I knew Him not,’ Joh_1:31; Joh_1:33. ‘Have borne witness’ is the same verb as in Joh_1:7-8; Joh_1:32 : hence ‘witness’ is preferable to ‘record’ both here and in Joh_1:32.

the Son of God] The Messiah. This declaration of the Baptist agrees with and confirms the account of the voice from heaven (Mat_3:17).

These verses, 32–34, prove that S. John does not, as Philo does, identify the Logos with the Spirit.

Pulpit Commentary


I for my part have seen and have borne testimony that this is the Son of God. The Old Testament standpoint which John occupied enabled him from the first to identify the Messiah with the “Son of God;” but surely this is the record of the first occasion when the Baptist recognized the token that One who sustained such relation with the Father stood before him. There is much in this Gospel and the synoptic narrative to show that the disciples (Mat_16:16, Mat_16:17) identified the Christ with the Son of God. The tempter and the demoniacs are familiar with the idea. The high priest at the trial and the Roman centurion, Nathanael (Joh_1:49), Martha (Joh_11:27), hail him as Son of God. Though the Lord for the most part preferred to speak of himself as “Son of man,” yet in this Gospel (Joh_5:19-23; Joh_6:40; Joh_10:36) he frequently claims this lofty designation, Nor is it confined to this Gospel, for in Mat_11:25-27, we have practically the same confession. Now, the declaration of this verse is in intimate connection with what precedes. Neither the Baptist nor the evangelist implies that, by Christ’s baptism, and by that which John saw of the descent and abiding of the Spirit upon the Lord, he was there and then constituted “the Son of God.” From this misapprehension of the Gospel arose the Gnostic-Ebionite view of the heavenly Soter descending on Christ, to depart from him at the Crucifixion. The main significance of the entire paragraph is the special revelation given to John, his consequent illumination and momentous testimony, one that sank into the soul of his most susceptible disciples, and thus made this declaration the “true birth hour of Christendom” (Ewald, Meyer). The narrative does not imply that Christ’s own consciousness of Divine sonship then commenced. He knew who he was when he spoke, at twelve years of age, of “the business of my Father;” but it would be equally inadequate exegesis to suppose that no communication was titan made to the sacred humanity which had been fashioned by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, and by which he became from the first “the Son of God.” The Lord’s humanity did become alive to the solemn and awful responsibilities of this public recognition. He knew that the hour was come for his Messianic activity, and the distinct admission of this was the basis of each of the diabolic temptations from which he immediately suffered. There was a unique glory in this sonship which differed from all other usage of the same phrase. Many an Oriental mystic and Egyptian pharaoh and even Roman emperor had thus described themselves; but the Baptist did not speak of himself in this or any other sense as “Son of God.” There was flashed into his mind the light of a Divine relationship between Jesus and the Father which convinced him of the preexisting life of him who was chronologically coming after him. It was probably this momentous utterance which led to the deputation of the Sanhedrin, and induced them to ask for the explanation of a mystery transcending all that John had stud from the day of his showing unto Israel” (see my ‘John the Baptist,’ lect. 6. § 1). Many commentators here encounter the unquestionable difficulty of John the Baptist’s message from the prison. I prefer to discuss it at the close of Joh_3:1-36. (see my ‘John the Baptist,’ lect. 7: “The Ministry of the Prison”). Here it is sufficient to observe that the vivid intuition and revelation which John obtained touching the deep things of God in Christ, and the vast and far-reaching testimonies which he bore to the Son of God, to the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, the pre-existent glory of him that came after him, and to “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” were, nevertheless, in the evangelist’s mind historically coincident with the fact that John never did unite himself to the circle of Christ’s immediate followers. The “John” of the Fourth Gospel remained in an independent position—friendly, rejoicing in the Bridegroom’s voice, but not one of his followers. The preparatory work with which he began his ministry he continued and pursued to the tragic end.

NET Bible

John 1:34 What did John the Baptist declare about Jesus on this occasion? Did he say, “This is the Son of God” (οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, houtos estin ho huios tou theou), or “This is the Chosen One of God” (οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἐκλεκτὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, outos estin ho eklektos tou theou)? The majority of the witnesses, impressive because of their diversity in age and locales, read “This is the Son of God” (so {P66, 75 A B C L Θ Ψ 0233vid f1, 13 33 1241 aur c f l g bo as well as the majority of Byzantine minuscules and many others}). Most scholars take this to be sufficient evidence to regard the issue as settled without much of a need to reflect on internal evidence. On the other hand, one of the earliest mss for this verse, {P5} (3rd century), evidently read οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἐκλεκτὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. (There is a gap in the ms at the point of the disputed words; it is too large for υἱός especially if written, as it surely would have been, as a nomen sacrum [ΥΣ]. The term ἐκλεκτός was not a nomen sacrum and would have therefore taken up much more space [ΕΚΛΕΚΤΟΣ]. Given these two variants, there is hardly any question as to what P5 read.) This papyrus has many affinities with א*, which here also has ὁ ἐκλεκτός. In addition to their combined testimony P106vid b e ff2* sys,c also support this reading. P106 is particularly impressive, for it is a second third-century papyrus in support of ὁ ἐκλεκτός. A third reading combines these two: “the elect Son” (electus filius in ff2c sa and a [with slight variation]). Although the evidence for ἐκλεκτός is not as impressive as that for υἱός, the reading is found in early Alexandrian and Western witnesses. Turning to the internal evidence, “the Chosen One” clearly comes out ahead. “Son of God” is a favorite expression of the author (cf. 1:49; 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 19:7; 20:31); further, there are several other references to “his Son,” “the Son,” etc. Scribes would be naturally motivated to change ἐκλεκτός to υἱός since the latter is both a Johannine expression and is, on the surface, richer theologically in 1:34. On the other hand, there is not a sufficient reason for scribes to change υἱός to ἐκλεκτός. The term never occurs in John; even its verbal cognate (ἐκλέγω, eklegō) is never affirmed of Jesus in this Gospel. ἐκλεκτός clearly best explains the rise of υἱός. Further, the third reading (“Chosen Son of God”) is patently a conflation of the other two. It has all the earmarks of adding υἱός to ἐκλεκτός. Thus, ὁ υἱός τοῦ θεοῦ is almost certainly a motivated reading. As R. E. Brown notes (John [AB], 1:57), “On the basis of theological tendency…it is difficult to imagine that Christian scribes would change ‘the Son of God’ to ‘God’s chosen one,’ while a change in the opposite direction would be quite plausible. Harmonization with the Synoptic accounts of the baptism (‘You are [This is] my beloved Son’) would also explain the introduction of ‘the Son of God’ into John; the same phenomenon occurs in vi 69. Despite the weaker textual evidence, therefore, it seems best – with Lagrange, Barrett, Boismard, and others – to accept ‘God’s chosen one’ as original.”

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:35

35–37. The Testimony of the Baptist to Andrew and John

35. Again] Referring to Joh_1:29 : it should come second; The next day again John was standing.

The difference between this narrative and that of the Synoptists (Mat_4:18; Mar_1:16; Luk_5:2) is satisfactorily explained by supposing this to refer to an earlier and less formal call of these first four disciples, John and Andrew, Peter and James. Their call to be Apostles was a very gradual one. Two of them, and perhaps all four, began by being disciples of the Baptist, who directs them to the Lamb of God (Joh_1:36), Who invites them to His abode (Joh_1:39): they then witness His miracles (Joh_2:2, &c.); are next called to be ‘fishers of men’ (Mat_4:19); and are finally enrolled with the rest of the Twelve as Apostles (Mar_3:13). See note on Mar_1:20.

Two of his disciples] One of these we are told was S. Andrew (Joh_1:40); the other was no doubt S. John himself. The account is that of an eyewitness; and his habitual reserve with regard to himself fully accounts for his silence, if the other disciple was himself. If it was some one else, it is difficult to see why S. John pointedly omits to mention his name.

There was strong antecedent probability that the first followers of Christ would be disciples of the Baptist. The fact of their being so is one reason of the high honour in which the Baptist has been held from the earliest times by the Church.

Marvin Vincent

John 1:35

Stood (εἱστήκει)

Rev., more correctly, was standing, since the imperfect tense denotes something in progress. Here, therefore, with the idea of waiting; was standing in expectation. Compare Joh_7:37; Joh_18:5, Joh_18:6, Joh_18:18.

Two of his disciples

The one was Andrew (Joh_1:41), the other the Evangelist himself, who studiously refrains from mentioning his own name throughout the narrative. The name of James the elder also does not appear, nor that of Salome, the Evangelist’s mother, who is mentioned by name in Mark’s Gospel (Mar_15:40; Mar_16:1). The omission of his own name is the more significant from the fact that he is habitually exact in defining the names in his narrative. Compare the simple designation Simon (Joh_1:42) with subsequent occurrences of his name after his call, as Joh_1:42; Joh_13:6; Joh_21:15, etc. Also Thomas (Joh_11:16; Joh_20:24; Joh_21:2); Judas Iscariot (Joh_6:71; Joh_12:4; Joh_13:2, Joh_13:26); the other Judas (Joh_14:22). Note also that he never speaks of the Baptist as John the Baptist, like the other three Evangelists, but always as John.

John Calvin

John 1:36

36.Behold the Lamb of God! Hence appears more clearly what I have already stated, that when John perceived that he was approaching the end of his course, he labored incessantly to resign his office to Christ. His firmness too gives greater credit to his testimony. But by insisting so earnestly, during many successive days, in repeating the commendation of Christ, he shows that his own course was nearly finished. Here we see also how small and low the beginning of the Church was. John, indeed, prepared disciples for Christ, but it is only now that Christ begins to collect a Church. He has no more than two men who are mean and unknown, but this even contributes to illustrate his glory, that within a short period, without human aid, and without a strong hand, he spreads his kingdom in a wonderful and incredible manner. We ought also to observe what is the chief object to which John directs the attention of men; it is, to find in Christ the forgiveness of sins. And as Christ had presented himself to the disciples for the express purpose that they might come to him, so no when they come, he gently encourages and exhorts them; for he does not wait until they first address him, but asks, What do you seek? This kind and gracious invitation, which was once made to two persons, now belongs to all. We ought not therefore to fear that Christ will withdraw from us or refuse to us easy access, provided that he sees us desirous to come to him; but, on the contrary, he will stretch out his hand to assist our endeavors. And how will not he meet those who come to him, who seeks at a distance those who are wandering and astray, that he may bring them back to the right road?

Frederick Godet

John 1:37

Ver. 37. “And the two disciples heard him speak thus, and they followed Jesus.”

John’s word, which was an exclamation, was understood. It is very evident that, in the thought of the evangelist, these words: “And they followed Jesus,” conceal, under their literal sense, a richer meaning. This first step in following Jesus decided their whole life; the bond, apparently accidental, which was formed at that hour, was, in reality, an eternal bond.

The Testimonies of the Forerunner.

We have still to examine three questions which criticism has raised in regard to these testimonies.

I.Baur and Keim maintain that the narrative of the fourth Gospel denies, by its silence, the fact of the Baptism of Jesus by John; and this for the dogmatic reason, that it would have been contrary to the dignity of the Logos to receive the Holy Spirit.— Hilgenfeld himself rejects this view (Einl. pp. 702 and 719): “The baptism of Jesus,” he says, “is supposed, not related.” The second testimony of John Joh_1:31 f., mentions it as an accomplished fact, and Joh_1:32-33 imply it, since their meaning can only be this: “Among the Israelites who shall come to thy baptism, there shall be found one on whom, when thou shalt baptize him, thou shalt see the Spirit descend….” Holtzmann has recognized the indisputable bearing of this passage. But if the fact is not related, it is simply, because, as we have discovered, the starting point of the narrative is chosen subsequently to the baptism. If the Logos-theory in our Gospel were to play the part which, in this case, Baur and Keim attribute to it, it would exclude from the history of Jesus many other facts which are related at full length by our evangelist.

II. It has been regarded as inconceivable, that, after such a sign and such declarations, the Baptist could have addressed to Jesus, from the depths of his prison, this question: “Art thou he that should come, or are we to look for another” (Mat_11:3)? Strauss has derived from this proceeding of John, a ground for denying the whole scene of the baptism. Some of the Fathers supposed that the forerunner wished thereby only to strengthen the faith of his disciples by calling forth a positive declaration, on Jesus’ part, respecting His Messianic character. But the terms of the Synoptical account do not allow this meaning. Two circumstances may be alleged which must have exercised an unfavorable influence upon John’s faith; first, his imprisonment (Meyer), then the malevolent disposition of his disciples with regard to Jesus (Joh_3:26), which might have reacted at length on the already depressed spirit of their master.

These two circumstances undoubtedly prepared the way for the shaking of faith produced in John; but they cannot suffice to explain it; we must add, withBaumlein, the fact that there was in John, besides the prophet, the natural man who was by no means secure from falling. This is what Jesus gives us to understand when, in His reply, He said, evidently thinking of John: “Blessed is he who is not offended in me” (Mat_11:6 comp. with Joh_1:11). Lucke has explained this fall by the striking contrast between the expectation, which John had expressed, of a powerful and judicial activity of the Messiah in order to purify the theocracy, and the humble and patient labor of Jesus. A comparison of the reply of the latter to the messengers of John (Mat_11:4-6) with the proclamations of John (Mat_3:10; Mat_3:12) is enough to convince us of the justice of this observation. But to all this we must still add a last and more decisive fact. It is this: John did not for an instant doubt concerning the divine mission of Jesus and concerning this mission as higher than his own. This follows, first, from the fact that it is to Jesus Himself that he addresses himself in order to be enlightened, and then, from the very meaning of his question: “Art thou he that should come or are we to look for another (literally, a second)?” We must recall to mind here the prevailing doubt, at that time, in relation to the prophet, like to Moses, whose coming was to prepare the way for that of the Messiah (according to Deu_18:18). Some identified him with the Messiah himself; comp. Joh_6:14-15 : “It is of a truth the prophet….They were going to take him by force, tomake him king.” Others, on the contrary, distinguished this prophet par excellence, from the Messiah properly so-called; comp. Joh_7:40-41.

They attributed, probably, to the first of these personages the spiritual side of the expected transformation, and to the Messiah, as King descended from David, the political side of this renovation. John the Baptist had, at first, united these two offices in the single person of Jesus. But learning in his prison that the work of Jesus limited itself to working miracles of healing, to giving forth the preachings of a purely prophetic character, he asks himself whether this anointed one of the Holy Spirit would not have as His part in the Messianic work only the spiritual office, and whether the political restoration and the outward judgment announced by him would not be devolved upon a subsequent messenger; to the divine prophet, the work of pardon and regeneration; to the King of a Davidic race, the acts of power which were destined to realize the external triumph of the Kingdom of God.

This is precisely what the form of the question in Matthew expresses: ἕτερον, not ἄλλον : a second (Messiah); not: another(as Messiah): this expression really ascribes to Jesus the Messianic character, only not exclusively. At the foundation, this distinction which was floating before the eyes of the Baptist had in it nothing erroneous. It answers quite simply to the two offices of Jesus, at His first and second coming. At the first coming, pardon and the Spirit; at the second, judgment and royalty. The Jewish learned men were led by the apparently contradictory prophecies of the Old Testament, to an analogous distinction. Buxtorf (Lexic. Chaldaic. p. 1273) and Eisenmenger (Entdeckt, Judenth. pp. 744f.) cite a mass of rabbinical passages which distinguish two Messiahs,—the one, whom they call the son of Joseph, or of Ephraim, to whom they ascribe the humiliations foretold respecting the Messiah; the other, whom they name the son of David, to whom they apply the prophecies of glory. The first will make war, and will perish; for him the sufferings; the second will raise the first to life again and will live eternally. “Those who shall escape from the sword of the first, will fall under that of the second.” “The one shall not bear envy against the other, juxta fidem nostram,” says Jarchi (ad. Jes. 11.13). These last words attest the high antiquity of this idea.

III.Renan (Vie de Jesus, pp. 108f.) draws a poetic picture of the relation between “these two young enthusiasts, full of the same hopes and the same hates, who were able to make common cause and mutually to support each other.” He describes Jesus arriving from Galilee with “a little school already formed,” and John fully welcoming “this swarm of young Galileans,” even though they do not attach themselves to him but form a separate band around Jesus. “We have not many examples, it is true,” observes Renan, “of the head of a school eagerly welcoming the one who is to succeed him;” but is not youth capable of all self-abnegations? Behold the romance: the history shows us Jesus arriving alone and receiving from John himself these young Galileans who are for the future to accompany Him. We can understand how there is in this story a troublesome fact for those who are unwilling to explain the history except by natural causes.

The manner in which John the Baptist, at the height of his ascendant and his glory, throws himself immediately and voluntarily into the shade that he may leave the field free for one younger than himself, who until then was completely obscure, cannot be explained by the natural generosity of youth. Conscious, as he was, of the divinity of his mission, John could not thus retire into the shade except before a divine demonstration of the higher mission of Jesus. The conduct of John the Baptist, as attested by our four evangelists, remains for the historian, who does not recognize here the work of God, an insoluble problem. Before closing, one word more on a fancy of Keim. This scholar alleges (I., p 525) that, in opposition to the Synoptical account (comp. especially Luk_3:21), our Gospel makes Jesus the first of all the people to come to the baptism of John. Where do we find in John’s narrative a word which justifies this assertion? But: sic volo, sic jubeo!

IV. We are now able to embrace the Messianic testimony of the Baptist in its totality. First, the calling of the people to repentance and baptism, with the vague announcement of the nearness of the Messiah. He comes! (See the Synoptics.) Then, the three days which form the beginning of the narrative of John: He is present! Behold Him! Follow Him! Finally, the last summons: Woe unto you, if you refuse to follow Him! (Joh_3:28-36.) This totality is so much the more remarkable as the particular elements of it are scattered in several writings and different narratives.

John Calvin

John 1:40

40.Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The design of the Evangelist, down to the end of the chapter, is to inform us how gradually the disciples were brought to Christ. Here he relates about Peter, and afterwards he will mention Philip and Nathanael. The circumstance of Andrew immediately bringing his brother expresses the nature of faith, which does not conceal or quench the light, but rather spreads it in every direction. Andrew has scarcely a spark, and yet, by means of it, he enlightens his brother. Woe to our indolence, therefore, if we do not, after having been fully enlightened, endeavor to make others partakers of the same grace. We may observe in Andrew two things which Isaiah requires from the children of God; namely, that each should take his neighbor by the hand, and next, that he should say, Come, let us go up into the mountain of the Lord, and he will teach us, (Isa_2:3.)

For Andrew stretches out the hand to his brother, but at the same time he has this object in view, that he may become a fellow-disciple with him in the school of Christ. We ought also to observe the purpose of God, which determined that Peter, who was to be far more eminent, was brought to the knowledge of Christ by the agency and ministry of Andrew; that none of us, however excellent, may refuse to be taught by an inferior; for that man will be severely punished for his peevishness, or rather for his pride, who, through his contempt of a man, will not deign to come to Christ.

A.T. Robertson

John 1:40

Andrew (Andreas). Explained by John as one of the two disciples of the Baptist and identified as the brother of the famous Simon Peter (cf. also Joh_6:8; Joh_12:22). The more formal call of Andrew and Simon, James and John, comes later (Mar_1:16.; Mat_4:18.; Luk_3:1-11).

That heard John speak (tōn akousantōn para Iōanou). “That heard from John,” a classical idiom (para with ablative after akouō) seen also in Joh_6:45; Joh_7:51; Joh_8:26, Joh_8:40; Joh_15:15.

John Calvin

John 1:41

41.We have found the Messiah. The Evangelist has interpreted the Hebrew word Messiah (Anointed) by the Greek word Christ, in order to publish to the whole world what was secretly known to the Jews. It was the ordinary designation of kings, as anointing was observed by them as a solemn rite. But still they were aware that one King would be anointed by God, under whom they might hope to obtain perfect and eternal happiness; especially when they should learn that the earthly kingdom of David would not be permanent. And as God raised their minds, when subdued and weighed down by various calamities, to the expectation of the Messiah, so he more clearly revealed to them that his coming was at hand. The prediction of Daniel is more clear and forcible than all the rest, so far as relates to the name of Christ; for he does not, like the earlier Prophets, ascribe it to kings, but appropriates it exclusively to the Redeemer, (Dan_9:25.) Hence this mode of expression became prevalent, so that when the Messiah orChrist was mentioned, it was understood that no other than the Redeemer was meant. Thus we shall find the woman of Samaria saying, the Messiah will come, (Joh_4:25;) which makes it the more wonderful that he who was so eagerly desired by all, and whom they had constantly in their mouths, should be received by so small a number of persons.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:41

41. He first findeth, &c.] The meaning of ‘first’ becomes almost certain when we remember S. John’s characteristic reserve about himself. Both disciples hurry to tell their own brothers the good tidings, that the Messiah has been found: S. Andrew finds his brother first, and afterwards S. John finds his; but we are left to infer the latter point.

S. Andrew thrice brings others to Christ; Peter, the lad with the loaves (Joh_6:8), and certain Greeks (Joh_12:22); and excepting Mar_13:3 we know scarcely anything else about him. Thus it would seem as if in these three incidents S. John had given us the key to his character. And here we have another characteristic of this Gospel—the lifelike way in which the less prominent figures are sketched. Besides Andrew we have Philip, Joh_1:44, Joh_6:5, Joh_12:21, Joh_14:8; Thomas, Joh_11:16, Joh_14:5; Joh_20:24-29; Nathanael, Joh_1:45-51; Nicodemus, Joh_3:1-12, Joh_7:50-52, Joh_19:39; Martha and Mary, 11, Joh_12:1-3.

We have found] This does not prove that S. John is still with him, only that they were together when their common desire and expectation were fulfilled.

Messias] The Hebrew form of this name is used by S. John only, here and Joh_4:25. Elsewhere the LXX. translation, ‘the Christ,’ is used. Here ‘the’ before ‘Christ’ should be omitted.

Pulpit Commentary


(a) The Messiah. He (Andrew) first findeth his own brother Simon. Dr. Plummer here observes, “In Church history St. Peter is everything, and St. Andrew nothing: but would there have been an Apostle Peter but for Andrew?” Hengstenberg, De Wette, and others have explained the curious word “first,” as though both the unnamed disciple and Andrew had gone together to search out Simon, and that Andrew had been the first of the two to be successful. This would leave the ἴδιον less satisfactorily accounted for than the simple supposition that each of the disciples started in different directions to find “his own” brother, and that Andrew was more fortunate than his companion. The two pairs of brothers are frequently mentioned as being together. James and John, Andrew and Simon, are partners on the lake of Galilee in their fishing business, and are finally called into full discipleship and apostolate after the visit to Jerusalem. The four are specially mentioned as being together (Mar_13:3), so that it is not unreasonable to suggest that when Andrew first sought “his own” brother Simon, John also sought for “his own” brother James. It is worthy of note that the evangelist never mentions his own name, nor that of James, nor that of their mother Salome, although he does imply their presence. Andrew saith to him (Simon), We have found the Messias—the article is omitted, as Χριστός is merely the translation of” Messiah”—(which, adds the evangelist, is, being interpreted, Christ). Andrew is described on two additional occasions as bringing others to Jesus (Joh_6:8; Joh_12:22). Here the rapidity and depth of his convictions are noted. The writer’s own impression is implied rather than given. He hides his own faith under the bolder and more explicit utterance of his friend. This was the result upon the mind of two disciples of the first conference with Jesus. Marvellous enough that such a thought should have possessed them, however imperfect their ideas were as yet concerning the Christ! The εὑρήκαμεν implies that they had long been waiting for the Consolation of Israel, looking for his coming, seeking his appearing. “We have sought,” they say, “and we have found.” A more wonderful Εὔρηκα than that of Archimedes. The plural does not necessitate the presence of John, though it does suggest the agreement of Andrew and his friend in the same august conclusion. What sense of Divine things must have come from the words and looks of Jesus! He who produced such impression on the Baptist as that which the four evangelists report, had done even more with the susceptible spirits of his two disciples. The Baptist never actually called Jesus “the Christ.” But when he had testified to the pre-existing glory, the heavenly origin, the sublime functions of the great ἐρχόμενος, and by special revelation on his forewarned spirit had declared that he was the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost and fire: what must not the inference be when his two disciples came into yet closer and more intimate relations with Jesus? The Jewish idea of “Messiah” (Μεσσίας, only occurring here and Joh_4:25), equivalent to אחָישִׁםְ, Aramaized form, the stat. emphat, of חַישִׁםְ (Hebrew חַישִׁםָ); cf. Ἰεσσαί for ישַׁיִ, was the term used among all classes to denote One who should, as anointed by God, fulfil the functions of Prophet, Priest and King, who should realize the splendid visions of the ancient prophecies, and combine in himself a wonderful exhibition of Divine majesty and even of awful suffering. We see that the Baptist understood what was meant by the title, but denied its applicability to himself. The Samaritans believe in a coming Prophet and Saviour (Joh_4:25, Joh_4:29). The people believe that Messiah will work miracles, that he will be born in Bethlehem, that he will abide forever, that he would prove to be the Son of God. The King Messiah is a pre-existing power and presence in their past history. He will come in the clouds, and reign forever and ever (see Joh_7:26, Joh_7:31 and Joh_7:42; Joh_12:34). According to Wiinsche, the Talmud (‘Pesachim,’ 54, and ‘Nedavim,’ 39) declares that Messias, or his Name, was one of the seven things created before the world; and Midrasch (‘Schemoth,’ par. 19) on Exo_4:22 declares that the King Messias was the Firstborn of God. The more spiritual ideas of John the Baptist have prepared the two disciples to see, even in the travel-stained, lowly Man, “the Messiah.” Of course, their idea of Messiah and their idea of Jesus would suffer wonderful development, and be harmonized and blended into a sublime unity by later instructions; but they had made this great discovery, and hastened to impart it.

John Calvin

John 1:42

42.Thou art Simon. Christ gives a name to Simon, not as men commonly do, from some past event, or from what is now perceived in them, but because he was to make him Peter, (a stone.) First, he says, Thou art Simon, the son of Jonah. He repeats the name of his father in an abridged form; which is common enough when names are translated into other languages; for it will plainly appear from the last chapter that he was the son of Johanna or John. But all this amounts to nothing more than that he will be a very different person from what he now is. For it is not For the sake of honor that he mentions his father; but as he was descended from a family which was obscure, and which was held in no estimation among men, Christ declares that this will not prevent him from making Simon a man of unshaken courage. The Evangelist, therefore, mentions this as a prediction, that Simon received a new name. I look upon it as a prediction, not only because Christ foresaw the future steadfastness of faith in Peter, but because he foretold what he would give to him. He now magnifies the grace which he determined afterwards to bestow upon him; and therefore he does not say that this is now his name, but delays it till a future time.

Thou shalt be called Cephas. All the godly, indeed, may justly be called Peters (stones,) which, having been Sounded on Christ, are fitted for building the temple of God; but he alone is so called on account of his singular excellence. Yet the Papists act a ridiculous part, when they substitute him in the place of Christ; so as to be the foundation of the Church, as if he too were not founded on Christ along with the rest of the disciples; and they are doubly ridiculous when out of a stone they make him a head. For among the rhapsodies of Gratian there is a foolish canon under the name of Anacletus, who, exchanging a Hebrew word for a Greek one, and not distinguishing the Greek word κεφαλὴ (kephale) from the Hebrew word Cephas, thinks that by this name Peter was appointed to be Head of the Church. Cephas is rather a Chaldaic than a Hebrew word; but that was the customary pronunciation of it after the Babylonish captivity. There is, then, no ambiguity in the words of Christ; for he promises what Peter had not at all expected, and thus magnifies his own grace to all ages, that his former condition may not lead us to think less highly of him, since this remarkable appellation informs us that he was made a new man.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:42

42. beheld] Same word as in Joh_1:36, implying a fixed earnest look; what follows shews that Christ’s gaze penetrated to his heart and read his character.

Simon the son of Jona] The true reading here and Joh_21:15-17 is Simon the son of John. There is a tradition mat his mother’s name was Johanna. The Greek form Iônâ may represent two distinct Hebrew names, Jonah and Johanan = John. There is no need to make Christ’s knowledge of his name and parentage miraculous; Andrew in bringing Simon would naturally mention them.

A stone] The margin and text should change places, Peter, being in the text and ‘a stone’ in the margin, like ‘the Anointed’ in Joh_1:41. This new name is given with reference to the new relation into which the person named enters; comp. the cases of Abraham, Sarah, Israel. It points to the future office of Simon rather than to his present character. The form Cephas occurs nowhere else in the Gospels or Acts: but comp. 1Co_1:12; 1Co_3:22; 1Co_9:5; 1Co_15:5, Gal_1:18; Gal_2:9; Gal_2:11; Gal_2:14.

There is no discrepancy between this and Mat_16:18. Here Christ gives the name Peter; there he reminds S. Peter of it. It is quite clear from this that S. Peter was not first called among the Apostles, a point on which the Synoptists leave us in doubt.

Frederick Godet

John 1:41-42

Vv. 41, 42. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John’s words and followed Jesus. 42. As the first, he findeth his own brother Simon, and saith to him: We have found the Messiah (which means: the Christ).”

At this point of the narrative, the author names his companion Andrew. It is because the moment has come to point out his relationship to Simon Peter, a relationship which exercised so decisive an influence on the latter and on the work which is beginning. The designation of Andrew as Simon Peter’s brother, is so much the more remarkable, since Simon Peter has not as yet figured in the narrative, and since the surname Peter did not as yet belong to him. This future apostle, is, therefore, treated from the first as the most important personage of this history. Let us remark, also, that this manner of designating Andrew assumes a full acquaintance already on the part of the readers with the Gospel history. Did Peter’s visit to Jesus take place on the same evening? Weiss and Keil declare that this is impossible, because of the expression that day (Joh_1:40), which leaves no place for this new visit.Westcott, on the contrary says: “All this evidently happened on the same day.” This second view, which is that ofMeyer and Bruckner, seems to me the only admissible one. It follows, by a kind of necessity, from the exact enumeration of the days in this passage. See: the next day, Joh_1:29; Joh_1:35; Joh_1:44, and also Joh_2:1. Towards evening, the two disciples left Jesus for some moments, and Peter was brought by Andrew to Him while it was not yet night.

How are we to explain the expressions “first” (or in the first-place) and “his own brother”? These words have always presented a difficulty to interpreters. They contain, in fact, one of those small mysteries with which John’s narrative, at once so subtle and so simple, is full. The Mjj. which read the adverb or the accusative πρῶτον, are six in number, among them the Vatican: “He finds his own brother first (or in the first-place).” But with what brother would he be contrasted by this first? With the disciples who were found later, Philip and Nathanael? But it was not Andrew who found these; Jesus found Philip, and Philip Nathanael. And yet this would be the only possible sense of the accusative or the adverb πρῶτον . The nominative πρῶτος, therefore, must necessarily be read, with the Sinaitic MS. and the majority of the Mjj.: “As the first, Andrew finds his own brother.” This might strictly mean that they both set about seeking for Simon, and that Andrew was the first to find him, because, Simon being his brother, he knew better where to seek him; this would in a manner explain the τὸν ἴδιον, his own, but in a manner very far-fetched. As it is impossible to make this very emphatic expression a mere periphrasis of the possessive pronoun his, the author’s thought must be acknowledged to have been as follows: “On leaving, each one of them seeks his own brother: Andrew seeks Simon, and John his brother James; and it is Andrew who first succeeds in finding his own.” The πρῶτον may have been substituted for πρῶτος under the influence of the four following words in ον .

The term Messiah, that is, the Anointed, from maschach, to anoint, was very popular; it was used even in Samaria (Joh_4:25). The Greek translation of this title, Χριστός, again implies Greek readers. John had twice employed the Greek term in the preceding narrative (Joh_1:20; Joh_1:25); but here, in this scene of so personal a character, he likes to reproduce the Hebrew title (as he had done at Joh_1:39, as he is to do again in Joh_4:25), in order to preserve for his narrative its dramatic character. If we have properly explained this verse, we must conclude from it that James, the brother of John, was also among the young Galilean disciples of John the Baptist, and that John is not willing to name him any more than he is to name himself, or afterwards to name his mother, Joh_19:25.

Pulpit Commentary


He brought (the past tense) him to Jesus; as one entirely sympathetic and as eagerly longing for the Christ, for the Lamb of God, for the King of Israel. Seeing that Simon was found so soon—most probably on the evening of the memorable day—we gather that Simon also must have been among the hearers of John. He too must have left his fishing to listen to the Baptist. The entire group must have been drawn away from their ordinary avocations by the trumpet call of the preacher in the wilderness. Jesus looked—intently, with penetrating glance—upon him, and said, Thou art Simon, the Son of John —that is the name by which thou hast been introduced to me; a time is coming for thee to receive a new name—Thou shalt be called Cephas (which is interpreted, Peter). It is perfectly gratuitous of Baur and Hilgenfeld to imagine this to be a fictitious adaptation of the great scene recorded in Mat_16:1-28. The solemn assertions made there proceed upon the assumption of the previous conference of the name “Peter.” There the Lord said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock,” etc. On this earlier occasion Jesus said, “Thou art Simon, thou shalt be called Κηφᾶς.” The assumption of the Tubingen critics, that a desire to lower Peter from his primacy is conspicuous in this passage, cannot be sustained. Though Andrew and John precede Peter in their earliest relations with Jesus, yet Peter is undoubtedly the most conspicuous character, to whom the Lord from the first gives an honourable cognomen (cf. also Joh_6:67-69 and Joh_21:15, etc.). (Compare here, for historic changes of name, Gen_17:5; Gen_32:28.) Weiss (‘Life of Christ,’ Eng. trans., 1:370) says admirably, “There is no ground for assuming that this is an anticipation of Mat_16:18. Simon was not to bear this name until he was deserving of it. Jesus never called him anything but Simon (Mar_14:37; Mat_17:25; Luk_22:31; Joh_21:15-17). Paul calls him by the names Peter and Cephas …The evangelist is right when he beholds in this scene a more than human acumen. .. The history shows he was not deceived in Peter.” This narrative cannot be a Johannine setting forth of the first call of the four disciples as given in the synoptists. If it be, it is a fictitious modification. Place, occasion, and immediate result are all profoundly different. The one narrative cannot be twisted into the ether. Are the anti-harmonists correct in saying that they are irreconcilable? Certainly not. There is no indication that before John was cast into prison, before Jesus commenced his public ministry in Galilee, he had called disciples away from their ordinary duties to be his apostles. Some of these four may have returned, as Jesus himself did, to his family and domestic surroundings (Joh_2:12). John may have accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem and through Samaria. But there is much to make it probable that Simon, Andrew, and at least, were, during the whole of that period, on the lake pondering the future. Christ’s solemn, sudden call to them to become “fishers of men,” after a manifestation to them of his supernatural powers, presupposes rather than excludes this earlier interview. Simon, on that occasion, by the exclamation recorded (Luk_5:5), reveals an earlier acquaintance with and reverence for his ἐπιστα ́της (see an admirable vindication of this position in Weiss, ‘Life of Jesus,’ vol. 1.). The Lord, in this first interview, penetrates and denominates the character of the most illustrious of his followers. His rocklike fortitude, which, though sorely assailed and chafed by the storms of the great sea of opinion and prejudice, formed the central nucleus of that Church against which the gates of hell have not prevailed. Our Lord implied the strength of his nature, even when he predicted his great fall (Luk_22:32).

John Calvin

John 1:45

45.Philip findeth Nathanael. Though proud men despise these feeble beginnings of the Church, yet we ought to perceive in them a brighter display of the divine glory, than if the condition of the Kingdom of Christ had been in every respect, from the outset, splendid and magnificent; for we know to how rich a harvest this small seed afterwards grew. Again, we see in Philip the same desire of building which formerly appeared in Andrew. His modesty, too, is remarkable, in desiring and seeking nothing else than to have others to learn along with him, from Him who is a Teacher common to all.

We have found Jesus. How small was the measure of Philip’s faith appears from this circumstance, that he cannot utter a few words about Christ without mingling with them two gross errors. He calls him the son of Joseph, and says, that Nazareth was his native town, both of which statements were false; and yet, because he is sincerely desirous to do good to his brother, and to make Christ known, God approves of this instance of his diligence, and even crowns it with good success. Each of us ought, no doubt, to endeavor to keep soberly within his own limits; and, certainly, the Evangelist does not mention it as worthy of commendation in Philip, that he twice disgraces Christ, but relates that his doctrine, though faulty and involved in error, was useful, because it nevertheless had this for its object, that Christ might be truly known. He foolishly says that he was the son of Joseph, and ignorantly calls him a native of Nazareth, but yet he leads Nathanael to no other than the Son of God who was born in Bethlehem, (Mat_2:1,) and does not contrive a false Christ, but only wishes that they should know him as he was exhibited by Moses and the Prophets. We see, then, that the chief design of doctrine is, that those who hear us should come to Christ in some way or other.

There are many who engage in abstruse inquiries about Christ, but who throw such darkness and intricacy around him by their subtleties that they can never find him. The Papists, for example, will not say that Christ is the son of Joseph, for they distinctly know what is his name; but yet they annihilate his power, so as to hold out a phantom in the room of Christ. Would it not be better to stammer ridiculously, like Philip, and to hold by the true Christ, than by eloquent and ingenious language to introduce a false Christ? On the other hand, there are many poor dunces in the present day, who, though ignorant and unskilled in the use of language, make known Christ more faithfully than all the theologians of the Pope with their lofty speculations. This passage, therefore, warns us that, if any unsuitable language has been employed concerning Christ by ignorant and unlearned men, we ought not to reject such persons with disdain, provided they direct us to Christ; but that we may not be withdrawn from Christ by the false imaginations of men, let us always have this remedy at hand, to seek the pure knowledge of him from the Law and the Prophets.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:45

45. Nathanael] = ‘Gift of God.’ The name occurs Num_1:8; 1Ch_2:14; 1Es_1:9; 1Es_9:22. Nathanael is commonly identified with Bartholomew; (1) Bartholomew is only a patronymic and the bearer would be likely to have another name (comp. Barjona of Simon, Barnabas of Joses); (2) S. John never mentions Bartholomew, the Synoptists never mention Nathanael; (3) the Synoptists in their lists place Bartholomew next to Philip, as James next his probable caller John, and Peter (in Matt. and Luke) next his caller Andrew; (4) all the other disciples mentioned in this chapter become Apostles, and none are so highly commended as Nathanael; (5) All Nathanael’s companions named in Joh_21:2 were Apostles (see note there). But all these reasons do not make the identification more than probable. The framers of our Liturgy do not countenance the identification: this passage appears neither as the Gospel nor as a Lesson for S. Bartholomew’s Day.

We have found him, of whom, &c.] “A most correct representation of the current phraseology, both in regard to the divisions of the O.T., and the application of the Messianic idea.” S. p. 35.

Moses] viz. in Deu_18:15 and in all the Messianic types, promises to Adam, Abraham, &c.

Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph] The words are Philip’s, and express the common belief about Jesus. It was natural to say He was ‘of’ or ‘from Nazareth,’ as His home had been there; still more natural to call him ‘the son of Joseph.’ The conclusion that the Evangelist is ignorant of the birth at Bethlehem, or of the miraculous nature of that birth, cannot be drawn from this passage. Rather, we may conclude that he is a scrupulously honest historian, who records exactly what was said, without making additions of his own.

A.T. Robertson

John 1:45

Philip findeth (heuriskei Philippos). Dramatic present again. Philip carries on the work. One wins one. If that glorious beginning had only kept on! Now it takes a hundred to win one.

Nathaniel (ton Nathanaēl). It is a Hebrew name meaning “God has given” like the Greek Theodore (Gift of God). He was from Cana of Galilee (Joh_21:2), not far from Bethsaida and so known to Philip. His name does not occur in the Synoptics while Bartholomew (a patronymic, Bar Tholmai) does not appear in John. They are almost certainly two names of the same man. Philip uses heurēkamen (Joh_1:41) also to Nathanael and so unites himself with the circle of believers, but instead of Messian describes him “of whom (hon accusative with egrapsen) Moses in the law (Deu_18:15) and the prophets (so the whole O.T. as in Luk_24:27, Luk_24:44) did write.”

Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph (Iēsoun huion tou Iōsēph ton apo Nazaret). More exactly, “Jesus, son of Joseph, the one from Nazareth.” Jesus passed as son (no article in the Greek) of Joseph, though John has just described him as “God-only Begotten” in Joh_1:18, but certainly Philip could not know this. Bernard terms this part “the irony of St. John” for he is sure that his readers will agree with him as to the real deity of Jesus Christ. These details were probably meant to interest Nathanael.

Albert Barnes

John 1:45

Moses, in the law – Moses, in that part of the Old Testament which he wrote, called by the Jews “the law.” See Deu_18:15, Deu_18:18; Gen_49:10; Gen_3:15.

And the prophets – Isa_53:1-12; Isa_9:6-7; Dan_9:24-27; Jer_23:5-6; etc.

Jesus of Nazareth … – They spoke according to common apprehension. They spoke of him as the son of Joseph because he was commonly supposed to be. They spoke of him as dwelling at Nazareth, though they might not have been ignorant that he was born at Bethlehem.

John Calvin

John 1:46

46.Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? At first, Nathanael refuses, the place of Christ’s nativity (as described by Philip) having given him offense. But, first of all, he is deceived by the inconsiderate discourse of Philip; for what Philip foolishly believed Nathanael receives as certain. Next, there is added a foolish judgment arising from hatred or contempt of the place. Both of these points ought to be carefully observed by us. This holy man was not far from shutting out against himself all approach to Christ. Why was this? Because he rashly believes what Philip spoke incorrectly about Christ; and next, because his mind was under the influence of a preconceived opinion that no good thing could come out of Nazareth. If then we are not carefully on our guard, we shall be liable to the same danger; and Satan labors every day, by similar obstacles, to hinder us from coming to Christ; for he has the dexterity to spread many falsehoods, the tendency of which is to excite our hatred or suspicion against the Gospel, that we may not venture to taste it. And next, he ceases not to try another method, namely, to make us look on Christ with contempt; for we see how many there are who take offense at the degradation of the cross, which appears both in Christ the head and in his members. But as we can hardly be so cautious as not to be tempted by those stratagems of Satan, let us at least remember immediately this caution:

Come and see. Nathanael allowed his twofold error to be corrected by this expression which Philip uttered. Following his example, let us first show ourselves to be submissive and obedient; and next, let us not shrink from inquiry, when Christ himself is ready to remove the doubts which harass us. Those who read these words not as a question, but as an affirmation, Some good thing may come out of Nazareth, are greatly mistaken. For, in the first place, how trivial would such an observation be? And next, we know that the city Nazareth was not at that time held in estimation; and Philip’s reply shows plainly enough that it was expressive of hesitation and distrust.

Cambridge Bible

John 1:46

46. Can there any good thing, &c.] All Galileans were despised for their want of culture, their rude dialect, and contact with Gentiles. They were to the Jews what Bœotians were to the Athenians. But here it is a Galilean who reproaches Nazareth in particular. Apart from the Gospels we know nothing to the discredit of Nazareth; neither in O.T. nor in Josephus is it mentioned; but what we are told of the people by the Evangelists is mostly bad. Christ left them and preferred to dwell at Capernaum (Mat_4:13); He could do very little among them, ‘because of their unbelief’ (Mat_13:58), which was such as to make Him marvel (Mar_6:6); and once they tried to kill Him (Luk_4:29). S. Augustine would omit the question. Nathanael ‘who knew the Scriptures excellently well, when he heard the name Nazareth, was filled with hope, and said, From Nazareth something good can come.’ But this is not probable. Possibly he meant no more than ‘Can any good thing come out of despised Galilee?’ Nazareth being in Galilee.

Come and see] The best cure for ill-founded prejudice. Philip shews the depth of his own conviction in suggesting this test, which seems to have been in harmony with the practical bent of his own mind. See on Joh_12:21 and Joh_14:8.

Pulpit Commentary


And Nathanael said to him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? The ordinary interpretations of the meaning of this question are not satisfactory.

(1) The prejudice against Nazareth as being a Galilean town cannot have weighed with Nathanael of Cane in Galilee (Joh_21:2), even though he may have shared the ignorant opinion that “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (Joh_7:52). He might have known that Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, probably Elijah, Elisha, and Amos, were Galileans.

(2) That Nazareth was a secluded and contemptible village seems disproved by the interesting papers of Dr. Selah Merrill, on “Galilee in the Time of our Lord,” Amer. Bibl. Sacra., January and April, 1874.

(3) That the character of its people should have been jealous, turbulent, capricious, and led to our Lord’s subsequent preference for Capernaum, does not explain the force of the inquiry. The “good thing” may, however, be the contrast between the unimportance of the place in the political or religious history of the people, as compared with Jerusalem, Tiberias, Jericho, Bethlehem. It is never mentioned in the Old Testament or in Josephus. Nathanael may have known its mediocrity, and have been startled by the possibility of a carpenter’s son, in a spot utterly undistinguished, being the Messiah of whom their sacred writers spoke. “Despised Nazareth” is a phrase rather due to the splendour of the flower that grew upon its barren soil, and became contrasted afterwards with the unlooked for glory and claims of the Nazarene. Philip saith unto him, Come and see. This was his strongest argument. To look upon him is to believe. He had much more to learn in after days (Joh_14:8, Joh_14:9). At this moment he and Nathanael stood on ground consecrated by ancient history, and thrilling with the thunder peals of the Baptist, mazed and wistful from much longing, thinking of the union between heaven and earth which had been revealed in the experience of ancient prophets, dwelling on the careers of Israel, Moses, and Elijah in their rapt transports, musing under fig trees or the like, and longing for the great King. He may naturally have reasoned on this wise: “Can it be true that the Christ, the King of Israel, the Lord of the temple, the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, is indistinguishable from the rest of mankind in this very crowd? Would that I too might see in him, as John has done, some vision of the opened heaven, that I too might hear some unmistakable voice!” If these were the musings of Nathanael—and surely there is not a trace of unreason in such meditations in the breast of a disciple of the Baptist—the conversation which follows is more easy to understand.

John Calvin

John 1:47

47.Behold, one truly an Israelite. It is not on Nathanael’s own account that Christ bestows on him this commendation, but under his person he holds out a general doctrine. For, since many who boast of being believers are very far from being actually believers, it is of great importance that some mark should be found for distinguishing the true and genuine from the false. We know how haughtily the Jews gloried in their father Abraham, and how presumptuously they boasted of the holiness of their descent; and yet there was scarcely one in a hundred among them who was not utterly degenerate and alienated from the faith of the Fathers. For this reason, Christ, in order to tear the mask from hypocrites, gives a short definition of a true Israelite, and, at the same time, removes the offense which would afterwards arise from the wicked obstinacy of the nation. For those who wished to be accounted the children of Abraham, and the holy people of God, were shortly afterwards to become the deadly enemies of the Gospel. That none may be discouraged or alarmed by the impiety which was generally found in almost all ranks, he gives a timely warning, that of those by whom the name of Israelites is assumed there are few who are true Israelites.

Again, as this passage contains a definition of Christianity, we must not pass by it slightly. To sum up the meaning of Christ in a few words, it ought to be observed that deceit is contrasted with uprightness and sincerity; so that he calls those persons sly and deceitful who are called in other parts of Scripture double in heart, (Psa_12:2.) Nor is it only that gross hypocrisy by which those who are conscious of their wickedness pretend to be good men, but likewise another inward hypocrisy, when men are so blinded by their vices that they not only deceive others but themselves. So then it is integrity of heart before God, and uprightness before men, that makes a Christian; but Christ points out chiefly that kind of deceit which is mentioned in Psa_32:2. In this passage ἀληθῶς (truly) means something more than certainly. The Greek word, no doubt, is often used as a simple affirmation; but as we must here supply a contrast between the fact and the mere name, he is said to be truly, who is in reality what he is supposed to be.

Pulpit Commentary


Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him—for Nathanael at once obeyed the summons of Philip—and saith of him; not, to him—saith in the hearing of the unnamed disciple, who could not leave his Master’s side. There are numerous indications in Joh_1:1-51 and Joh_2:1-25 of a qualification of Jesus which, in Joh_2:25, is described as knowing what was in man. He read the thought and character of Simon and Philip, of Nathanael, and of his mother; and here he makes use of his Divine prerogative and, as on a multitude of other occasions, penetrated the surface to the inner motive and heart. Behold, an Israelite indeed; one who fulfils the true idea of Israel, a prince with God, a conqueror of God by prayer, and conqueror of man by submission, penitence, and restitution; one who has renounced the spirit of supplanter and taken that of penitent. “Confident in self-despair,” he has relinquished his own strength, and lays hold of the strength of God, and is at peace. In whom is no guile; i.e. no self-deception, and no disposition to deceive others. The (Psa_32:1, Psa_32:2) description of the blessedness of “the man whose transgressions are forgiven,… and in whose spirit [LXX., ‘mouth’] there is no guile (δόλος),” is the finest key to the significance of this passage. Christ does not say that this man is sinless, but guileless—free and full in his confession, knowing himself, and sheltering himself under no devices or seeming shows. The publican (it has been well said) was without guile when he cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” The Pharisee was steeped in self-deception and guile when he said, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men.” Sincerity, openness of eye, simplicity of speech, no wish to appear other than what he is before God and man, affirms his guilelessness. Alas! the so called Israelite has widely departed from the fundamental idea of such a character, though not more so than Christians have become unlike the ideal disciples of Jesus.

John Calvin

John 1:48

48.Whence knowest thou? Though Christ did not intend to flatter him, yet he wished to be heard by him, in order to draw forth a new question, by the reply to which he would prove himself to be the Son of God. Nor is it without a good reason that Nathanael asks whence Christ knew him; for to meet with a man of such uprightness as to be free from all deceit is an uncommon case, and to know such purity of heart belongs to God alone. The reply of Christ, however, appears to be inappropriate; for though he saw Nathanael under the fig-tree, it does not follow from this that he could penetrate into the deep secrets of the heart. But there is another reason; for as it belongs to God to know men when they are not seen, so also does it belong to Him to see what is not visible to the eyes. As Nathanael knew that Christ did not see him after the manner of men, but by a look truly divine, this might lead him to conclude that Christ did not now speak as a man. The proof, therefore, is taken from things which are of the same class; for not less does it belong to God to see what lies beyond our view than to judge concerning purity of heart. We ought also to gather from this passage a useful doctrine, that when we are not thinking of Christ, we are observed by him; and it is necessary that it should be so, that he may bring us back, when we have wandered from the right path.

John Lange

Joh_1:48 (49). The question of Nathanael: Whence knowest thou me? [Πόθεν με γινώσκεις] is a new feature of the straightforward, clear character. He does not hypocritically decline the commendation; he does not proudly accept it; but he wishes to know whereon it is founded. He expresses himself evidently as surprised, but not as overcome; hence as yet without the title Rabbi. According to Jewish etiquette, no doubt, uncivil.

When thou wast under the fig-tree.—According to Meyer, Philip cannot have found him under the fig-tree (as the Greek fathers and Baumgarten-Crusius suppose), but in another place; neither the πρὸ τοῦ φωνῆσαι, nor the ὄντα ὑπό, etc., would have force. But if the mood of Nathanael under the fig-tree was the characteristic thing, Philip might have oven found him still there, without the significant element of the Lord’s expression being invalidated thereby. Again, according to De Wette and Meyer, the word of Jesus is intended to indicate only a miraculous vision of the person of Nathanael (beyond the range of natural sight), not a look into the depth of his soul. But in this case Jesus would not have answered the question of Nathanael at all. Jesus must have seen something in the spiritual posture of Nathanael under the fig-tree, which marked the person as the Israelite without guile. “As the Talmud often speaks of Rabbins who pursued the study of the law in the shade of fig-trees, most persons think of a similar occupation here.” Tholuck. According to Chrysostom and Luther, Nathanael was probably occupied with the very hope of the Messiah.

[Trench also remarks that our Lord must refer here to earnest prayer, some great mental struggle, or strong temptation which took place in Nathanael’s soul while sitting under the fig-tree; for this of itself was a common occurrence among Israelites (1Ki_4:25; Mic_4:4; Zec_3:10). Wordsworth and Alford find in ὑπό with the accusative (ὅντα ὑπὸ τῆν συκὴν instead of ὑπὸ τῇ συκῇ) an indication of retirement to the fig-tree as well as concealment there,—probably for purposes of meditation and prayer. It implies: when thou wentest under the fig-tree and while thou wert there.—P. S.]

John Calvin

John 1:49

49.Thou art the Son of God. That he acknowledges him to be the Son of God from his divine power is not wonderful; but on what ground does he call himKing of Israel ? for the two things do not appear to be necessarily connected. But Nathanael takes a loftier view. He had already heard that he is the Messiah, and to this doctrine he adds the confirmation which had been given him. He holds also another principle, that the Son of God will not come without exercising the office of King over the people of God. Justly, therefore, does he acknowledge that he who is the Son of God is also King of Israel And, indeed, faith ought not to be fixed on the essence of Christ alone, (so to speak,) but ought to attend to his power and office; for it would be of little advantage to know who Christ is, if this second point were not added, what he wishes to be towards us, and for what purpose the Father sent him. The reason why the Papists have nothing more than a shadow of Christ is, that they have been careful to look at his mere essence, but have disregarded his kingdom, which consists in the power to save.

Again, when Nathanael calls him King of Israel, though his kingdom extends to the remotest bounds of the earth, the confession is limited to the measure of faith. For he had not yet advanced so far as to know that Christ was appointed to be King over the whole world, or rather, that from every quarter would be collected the children of Abraham, so that the whole world would be the Israel of God. We to whom the wide extent of Christ’s kingdom has been revealed ought to go beyond those narrow limits. Yet following the example of Nathanael, let us exercise our faith in hearing the word, and let us strengthen it by all the means that are in our power; and let it not remain buried, but break out into confession.

Pulpit Commentary


Nathanael was overcome by irresistible conviction that here was the Searcher of hearts, One gifted with strange powers of sympathy, and with right to claim obedience. Answered him £—now for the first time with the title of Rabbi, or teacher—Thou art the Son of God. Nothing is more obvious than that this is the reflection of the testimony of the Baptist. “The Son of God,” not “a Son of God,” or “a Man of God,” but the Personage whose rank and glory my master John had recognized. He may have doubted before whether the Baptist had not gone wild with hallucination, and could have meant what he said. Now the reality has flashed upon his mind from the glance of the Saviour’s eye and the tones of his voice (see notes on verse 34). The great term could not have meant to him what it does now to the Church. Still the truth involved in his words is of priceless significance. Luthardt says, “Nathanael’s faith will never possess more than it embraces at this moment.” Godet adds, “The gold seeker puts his hand on an ingot; when he has coined it, he has it better, but not more.” The idea of the Divine sonship comes from the Old Testament prophecy, has its root in Psa_2:1-12 and Psa_72:1-20, and in all the strange wonderful literature which recognized in the ideal King upon Zion and upon David’s throne One who forevermore has stood and will stand in personal relations with the Father. The Divine sonship is the basis on which Nathanael rears his further faith that he is the King of Israel. He is Messiah-King, because he is “Son of God.” The true Israelite recognizes his King (cf. Luk_1:32; Mat_2:2; Joh_12:13). We are not bound to believe that Nathanael saw all that Peter subsequently confessed to be the unanimous conviction of the twelve (Joh_6:69; Mat_16:16); but the various symphonies of this great confession encompass the Lord from his cradle to the cross. The synoptic narrative is as expressive and convincing as the Johannine.

Pulpit Commentary


Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said unto thee, that I saw thee underneath the fig tree, thou believest. There is no need to transform this into a question, as though Jesus smiled a gentle reproof upon the rapidity with which Nathanael espoused his cause (cf. Joh_16:31; Joh_20:29). The Lord, on the contrary, congratulates him upon the sincerity with which he had at once admitted claims which had never been more explicitly expressed. Thou hast believed because I have made thee feel that I have sounded the depths of thy heart, by means which pass understanding. There are profounder abysses than the human heart. There are powers at my disposal calculated to create a more tender and inspiring faith, one which shall carry thee into other worlds as well as through this. Thou shalt see greater things than these. There shall be vouchsafed a fuller, clearer revelation of what I am, which shall pour new and deeper meaning into the confession thou hast made. Hitherto the Lord was speaking to the one man; but now he says what would be applicable, not only to Nathanael, but to all who had found him, and accepted that outline of his functions and claims which had formed the substance of the latest teaching of John the Baptist.

John Calvin

John 1:51

51.You shall see heaven opened. They are greatly mistaken, in my opinion, who anxiously inquire into the place where, and the time when, Nathanael and others saw heaven opened; for he rather points out something perpetual which was always to exist in his kingdom. I acknowledge indeed, that the disciples sometimes saw angels, who are not seen in the present day; and I acknowledge also that the manifestation of the heavenly glory, when Christ ascended to heaven, was different from what we now behold. But if we duly consider what took place at that time, it is of perpetual duration; for the kingdom of God, which was formerly closed against us, is actually opened in Christ. A visible instance of this was shown to Stephen, (Act_7:55,) to the three disciples on the mountain, (Mat_17:5,) and to the other disciples at Christ’s ascension, (Luk_24:51; Act_1:9.) But all the signs by which God shows himself present with us depend on this opening of heaven, more especially when God communicates himself to us to be our life.

Ascending and descending on the Son of man. This second clause refers to angels. They are said to ascend and descend, so as to be ministers of God’s kindness towards us; and therefore this mode of expression points out the mutual intercourse which exists between God and men. Now we must acknowledge that this benefit was received through Christ, because without him the angels have rather a deadly enmity against us than a friendly care to help us. They are said to ascend and descend on the son of man, not because they minister to him, but because — in reference to him, and for his honor — they include the whole body of the Church in their kindly regard. Nor have I any doubt that he alludes to the ladder which was exhibited to the patriarch Jacob in a dream, (Gen_28:12;) for what was prefigured by that vision is actually fulfilled in Christ. In short, this passage teaches us, that though the whole human race was banished from the kingdom of God, the gate of heaven is now opened to us, so that we are fellow-citizens of the saints, and companions of the angels, (Eph_2:19;) and that they, having been appointed to be guardians of our salvation, descend from the blessed rest of the heavenly glory to relieve our distresses.

Cambridge Bible Plummer

John 1:51

51. Verily, verily] The double ‘verily’ occurs 25 times in this Gospel, and nowhere else, always in the mouth of Christ. It introduces a truth of special solemnity and importance. The single ‘verily’ occurs about 30 times in Matthew 14 in Mark , , 7 in Luke. The word represents the Hebrew ‘Amen,’ which in the LXX. never means ‘verily.’ In the Gospels it has no other meaning. The ‘Amen’ at the end of sentences (Mat_6:13; Mat_28:20; Mar_16:20; Luk_24:53; Joh_21:25) is in every case of doubtful authority.

unto you] Plural; all present are addressed, Andrew, John, Peter (James), and Philip, as well as Nathanael.

Hereafter] Better, from henceforth; from this point onwards Christ’s Messianic work of linking earth to heaven, and re-establishing free intercourse between man and God, goes on. But the word is wanting in the best MSS.

heaven open] Better, the heaven opened; made open and remaining so.

the angels of God] Like Joh_1:47, an apparent reference to the life of Jacob, perhaps suggested by the scene, which may have been near to Bethel. This does not refer to the angels which appeared after the Temptation, at the Agony, and at the Ascension: rather to the perpetual intercourse between God and the Messiah during His ministry.

the Son of man] This phrase in all four Gospels is invariably used by Christ Himself of Himself as the Messiah, upwards of 80 times in all. None of the Evangelists direct our attention to this strict limitation in the use of the expression: their agreement on this striking point is evidently undesigned, and therefore a strong mark of their veracity. See notes on Mat_8:20; Mar_2:10. In O.T. the phrase ‘Son of Man’ has three distinct uses; (1) in the Psalms, for the ideal man; Psa_8:4-8; Psa_80:17; Psa_144:3; Psa_146:3 : (2) in Ezekiel, as the name by which the Prophet is addressed by God; Eze_2:1; Eze_2:3; Eze_2:6; Eze_2:8; Eze_3:1; Eze_3:3-4, &c., &c., more than 80 times in all; probably to remind Ezekiel, that in spite of the favour shewn to him, and the wrath denounced against the children of Israel, he, no less than they, had a mortal’s frailty: (3) in the ‘night visions’ of Dan_7:13-14, where ‘One like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days … and there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him, &c.’ That ‘Son of man henceforth became one of the titles of the looked-for Messiah’ may be doubted. Rather, the title was a new one assumed by Christ, and as yet only dimly understood (comp. Mat_16:13).

This first chapter alone is enough to shew that the Gospel is the work of a Jew of Palestine, well acquainted with the Messianic hopes, and traditions, and phraseology current in Palestine at the time of Christ’s ministry, and able to give a lifelike picture of the Baptist and of Christ’s first disciples.

Pulpit Commentary


And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you. The reduplicated Ἀμὴν occurs twenty-five times in John’s Gospel, and is in this form peculiar to the Gospel, although in its single form it occurs fifty times in the three synoptists. The word is, strictly speaking, an adjective, meaning “firm,” “trustworthy,” corresponding with the substantive נםֶ), truth, and הנָמְאָ and הנָמָאֲ, confidence, the covenant (Neh_10:1). The repetition of the word in an adverbial sense is found in Num_5:22 and Neh_8:6. In Rev_3:14 “Amen” is the name given to the Faithful Witness. The repetition of the word involves a powerful asseveration, made to overcome a rising doubt and meet a possible objection. The “I say unto you” takes, on the lips of Jesus, the place which “Thus saith the Lord” occupied on those of the ancient prophets. He speaks in the fulness of conscious authority, with the certain knowledge that he is therein making Divine revelation. He knows that he saith true; his word is truth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, [From henceforth] ye shall see the heaven that has been opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Notwithstanding the formidable superficial difficulty in the common reading, which declares that from the moment when the Lord spake, Nathanael should see what there is no other record that he ever literally saw; yet a deeper pondering of the passage shows the sublime spiritual sense in which those disciples who fully realized that they had been brought into blessed relationship with the “Son of man,” saw also—that heaven, the abode of blessedness and righteousness, the throne of God, had been opened behind him and around him. The dream of Jacob is manifestly referred to—the union between heaven and earth, between God and man, which dawned like a vision of a better time upon the old patriarchal life. That which was the dream of a troubled night may now be the constant experience of the disciples of the Lord. The ascension of the angelic ministers is here said to precede their descent. This is due to the original form of the dream of Jacob, but must be supplemented by the Lord’s own statement (Joh_3:13), “No one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven.” The free access to the heart of the Father, and to the centre of all authority in heaven and earth, is due only to those who have come already thence, who belong to him, “who go and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning.” They ascend with the desires of the Son of man; they descend with all the faculty needed for the fulfilment of those desires. He, “the Son of man,” is now on earth to commence his ministry of reconciliation, and is thus now equipped with all the powers needed for its realization. The same truth is taught by our Lord, when he said (cf. notes on Joh_3:13) that “the Son of man is in heaven,” even when he walked the earth. The angelic ministry attendant upon our Lord is so inconspicuous that it does not fulfil the notable description of this verse, nor fill out its suggestions. The miraculous energies, the Divine revelations, the consummate heavenliness of his life, the power which his personality supplied to see and believe in heaven—in heaven opened, heaven near, heaven accessible, heaven propitious, heaven lavish of love—answers to the meaning of the mighty words. Thoma (‘Die Genesis des Johannes-Evan.’) sees the Johannine interpretation of the angels who ministered to Jesus after the conclusion of his temptation. But why does he call himself “the Son of man,” in sharp response to, or in comment, on, the ascription by John the Baptist and Nathanael of the greater title “Son of God”?

(1) The phrase is one that our Lord currently used for himself, as especially descriptive of his position. It has been said that its origin must be looked for in the prophecies of Daniel (Dan_7:13), where angelic powers are seen in loving lowly attendance on “one like to the Son of man,” one whose human-hearted force contrasts with the “beast forces,” the uncouth, sphynx-like blending of animal faculties which characterizes all the kingdoms and dynasties which the empire of the one like the Son of man would supersede. The term, “Son of man,” is used repeatedly by Ezekiel for humanity set over against the Divine voice and power. There it corresponds with the Aramaic “Bar-Enosh,” Son of man—a simple paraphrasis for “man” in his weakness, and often in his depression and sin. The ‘Book of Henoch,’ in numerous places, identifies “Son of man” with the Messiah (Eze_46:1-24. and 48.), but it cannot be clearly proved that the term was popularly current for the Messiah. Christ seems, in one place, to discriminate the two terms in popular expectation (Mat_16:13, Mat_16:16); and in Mat_8:20 he discriminates his earthly ministry as that of Son of man, from the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, though the dispensation of his human life, and of his eternal Spirit, constitute that of the erie Christ.

(2) Another very remarkable fact is that, though Jesus calls himself “the Son of man” no fewer than seventy times, the apostles never attribute the favourite expression to him. The only instances of its use by other than the Lord himself, is by the dying Stephen, who thus describes his power and exalted majesty (Act_7:56), and John in the Apocalypse, who says the vision of the Lord was of one like unto the Son of man—a phrase clearly built upon the passage in Dan_7:1-28.

(3) The Saviour did not throughout the Gospel of John proclaim himself openly to the people as the Christ, avoiding a term which was so miserably degraded from his own conception of it; but he used a multitude of expressions to denote the spiritual force and significance of the Messianic dignity. Thus he described himself” as he that came down from heaven;” as the “Bread of heaven;” as the “Light of the world;” as “the good Shepherd; … I am he;” “that which I said from the beginning,” etc.; and therefore, when he adopted the phrase, “the Son of man,” he attributed to it very special powers and dignities. The word seems to involve the Man, the perfect Man, the ideal Man, the second Adam, the supreme Flower engrafted on the barren stock of humanity, the Representative of the whole of humankind. Chronologically, this must have been the primary revelation. Through humanity that was archetypal and perfect, answering God’s idea of man, the thought of the race has risen to a conception of Divine sonship. But metaphysically, logically, he could only fulfil the functions of Son of man, of the Man, because he was essentially the Son of God.

(4) The dominant thought of the term has fluctuated between that which connotes his earthly ministry and humiliation, and lays stress on the privations and sufferings of the Son of man, and that which recites his highest claim to reverence and homage. Seeing that he claims to be the link between heaven and earth, Judge of quick and dead, the Head of the kingdom of God, who will come in his glory, with his holy angels, to divide sheep from goats, etc., as Son of man; and seeing that, as Son of man, he gave himself for a ransom, and was as one that serveth, and presented his flesh and blood as the spiritual food of all that live;—the synthetic thought that issues from the twofold survey is that his highest glory is based upon his entire and utter sympathy with man. His humanity is that which gives him all his hold upon our heart; his sacrifice is his title to universal sovereignty. “He humbled himself to the death of the cross, wherefore God also has highly exalted him, giving even to him [humanity included] THE NAME that is above every name.” Archdeacon Watkins, in loco, has called attention to the fact that it is not ἀνήρ, but ἄνθρωπος, “man as man, not Jew as holier than Greek, not freeman as nobler than bondman, not man as distinct from woman, but humanity …The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth, ‘The Word was made flesh.’ In that great truth heaven was and has remained open.” The cries of earth, the answers of heaven, are like angels evermore ascending and descending on the Word-made-flesh. It is perfectly true, though in a different sense than that which Thorns adopts it, that this prehistory (vorgeschichte) is the vorgeschichte of Christendom, as of each soul becoming Christian, the different eventualities which lead from one revelation to another betoken the several stations on the blessed pilgrimage (heilsweg).

Marvin Vincent

John 1:51

Verily, verily (ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν)

The word is transcribed into our Amen. John never, like the other Evangelists, uses the single verily, and, like the single word in the Synoptists, it is used only by Christ.

Hereafter (ἀπ’ ἄρτι)

The best texts omit. The words literally mean, from henceforth; and therefore, as Canon Westcott aptly remarks, “if genuine, would describe the communion between earth and heaven as established from the time when the Lord entered upon His public ministry.”

Heaven (τὸν οὐρανὸν)

Rev., giving the article, the heaven.

Open (ἀνεῳγότα)

The perfect participle. Hence Rev., rightly, opened. The participle signifies standing open, and is used in the story of Stephen’s martyrdom, Act_7:56. Compare Isa_64:1. The image presented to the true Israelite is drawn from the history of his ancestor Jacob (Gen_28:12).


With the exception of Joh_12:29 and Joh_20:12, John does not use the word “angel” elsewhere in the Gospel or in the Epistles, and does not refer to their being or ministry. Trench (“Studies in the Gospels”) cites a beautiful passage of Plato as suggestive of our Lord’s words. Plato is speaking of Love. “He is a great spirit, and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal. He interprets between gods and men, conveying to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and in him all is bound together, and through him the acts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation find their way. For God mingles not with man, but through Love all the intercourse and speech of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on” (“Symposium,” 203).

Son of man

See on Luk_6:22. Notice the titles successively applied to our Lord in this chapter: the greater Successor of the Baptist, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel. These were all given by others. The title Son of man He applies to Himself.

In John’s Gospel, as in the Synoptists, this phrase is used only by Christ in speaking of Himself; and elsewhere only in Act_7:56, where the name is applied to Him by Stephen. It occurs less frequently in John than in the Synoptists, being found in Matthew thirty times, in Mark thirteen, and in John twelve.

Jesus’ use of the term here is explained in two ways.

I. That He borrows the title from the Old Testament to designate Himself either: (a) as a prophet, as in Eze_2:1-3; Eze_3:1, etc.; or (b) as the Messiah, as prefigured in Dan_7:13. This prophecy of Daniel had obtained such wide currency that the Messiah was called Anani, or the man of the clouds.

(a.) This is untenable, because in Ezekiel, as everywhere in the Old Testament, the phrase Son of man, or Sons of men, is used to describe man under his human limitations, as weak, fallible, and incompetent by himself to be a divine agent.

(b.) The allusion to Daniel’s prophecy is admitted; but Jesus does not mean to say, “I am the Messiah who is prefigured by Daniel.” A political meaning attached in popular conception to the term Messiah; and it is noticeable throughout John’s Gospel that Jesus carefully avoids using that term before the people, but expresses the thing itself by circumlocution, in order to avoid the complication which the popular understanding would have introduced into his work. See Joh_8:24, Joh_8:25; Joh_10:24, Joh_10:25.

Moreover, the phrase Son of man was not generally applied to the Messiah. On the contrary, Joh_5:27 and Joh_12:34 show that it was set off against that term. Compare Mat_16:13, Mat_16:15. Son of God is the Messianic title, which, with one exception, appears in confessions (Joh_1:34, Joh_1:49; Joh_11:27; Joh_20:31).

In Daniel the reference is exclusively to the final stage of human affairs. The point is the final establishment of the divine kingdom. Moreover, Daniel does not say “the Son of man,” but “one like a Son of man.” Compare Rev_1:13; Rev_14:14, where also the article is omitted.

II. The second, and correct explanation is that the phrase Son of man is the expression of Christ’s self-consciousness as being related to humanity as a whole: denoting His real participation in human nature, and designating Himself as the representative man. It thus corresponds with the passage in Daniel, where the earthly kingdoms are represented by beasts, but the divine kingdom by a Son of man. Hence, too, the word ἄνθρωπος is purposely used (see on a man, Joh_1:30, and compare Joh_8:40).

While the human element was thus emphasized in the phrase, the consciousness of Jesus, as thus expressed, did not exclude His divine nature and claims, but rather regarded these through the medium of His humanity. He showed Himself divine in being thus profoundly human. Hence two aspects of the phrase appear in John, as in the Synoptists. The one regards His earthly life and work, and involves His being despised; His accommodation to the conditions of human life; the partial veiling of His divine nature; the loving character of His mission; His liability to misinterpretation; and His outlook upon a consummation of agony. On the other hand, He is possessed of supreme authority; He is about His Father’s work; He reveals glimpses of His divine nature through His humanity; His presence and mission entail serious responsibility upon those to whom He appeals; and He foresees a consummation of glory no less than of agony. See Mat_8:20; Mat_11:19; Mat_12:8, Mat_12:32; Mat_13:37; Mat_16:13; Mat_20:18; Mat_26:64; Mar_8:31, Mar_8:38; Mar_14:21; Luk_9:26, Luk_9:58; Luk_12:8; Luk_17:22; Luk_19:10; Luk_22:69.

The other aspect is related to the future. He has visions of another life of glory and dominion; though present in the flesh, His coming is still future, and will be followed by a judgment which is committed to Him, and by the final glory of His redeemed in His heavenly kingdom. See Mat_10:23; Mat_13:40 sqq.; Mat_16:27 sqq.; Mat_19:28; Mat_24:27, Mat_24:37, Mat_24:44; Mat_25:31 sqq.; Mar_13:26; Luk_6:22; Luk_17:24, Luk_17:30; Luk_18:8; Luk_21:27.


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