12.I am the light of the world. Those who leave out the former narrative, which relates to the adulteress, connect this discourse of Christ with the sermon which he delivered on the last day of the assembly. It is a beautiful commendation of Christ, when he is called the light of the world; for, since we are all blind by nature, a remedy is offered, by which we may be freed and rescued from darkness and made partakers of the truelight Nor is it only to one person or to another that this benefit is offered, for Christ declares that he is the light of the whole world; for by this universal statement he intended to remove the distinction, not only between Jews and Gentiles, but between the learned and ignorant, between persons of distinction and the common people.
But we must first ascertain what necessity there is for seeking this light; for men will never present themselves to Christ to be illuminated, until they have known both that this world is darkness, and that they themselves are altogether blind. Let us therefore know that, when the manner of obtaining this light is pointed out to us in Christ, we are all condemned for blindness, and everything else which we consider to be light is compared to darkness, and to a very dark night. For Christ does not speak of it as what belongs to him in common with others, but claims it as being peculiarly his own. Hence it follows, that out of Christ there is not even a spark of true light There may be some appearance of brightness, but it resembles lightning, which only dazzles the eyes. It must also be observed, that the power and office of illuminating is not confined to the personal presence of Christ; for though he is far removed from us with respect to his body, yet he daily sheds his light upon us, by the doctrine of the Gospel, and by the secret power of his Spirit. Yet we have not a full definition of this light, unless we learn that we are illuminated by the Gospel and by the Spirit of Christ, that we may know that the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom is hidden in him.
He who followeth me. To the doctrine he adds an exhortation, which he immediately afterwards confirms by a promise. For when we learn that all who allow themselves to be governed by Christ are out of danger of going astray, we ought to be excited to follow him, and, indeed, by stretching out his hand — as it were — he draws us to him. We ought also to be powerfully affected by so large and magnificent a promise, that they who shall direct their eyes to Christ are certain that, even in the midst of darkness, they will be preserved from going astray; and that not only for a short period, but until they have finished their course. For that is the meaning of the words used in the future tense, he shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life Such is also the import of this latter clause, in which the perpetuity of life is stated in express terms. We ought not to fear, therefore, lest it leave us in the middle of the journey, for it conducts us even to life The genitive of life, in accordance with the Hebrew idiom, is employed, instead of the adjective, to denote the effect; as if he had said, the life-giving light We need not wonder that such gross darkness of errors and superstitions prevails in the world, in which there are so few that have their eyes fixed on Christ.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
12. Then spake Jesus again unto them] The paragraph Joh_7:53 to Joh_8:11 being omitted, these words must be connected with Joh_7:52. The officers have made their report to the Sanhedrin, leaving Jesus unmolested. After an interval He continues His discourse: again, therefore, Jesus spake unto them, i.e. because the attempt to interfere with Him had failed. How long the interval was we do not know, but probably the evening of the same day.
I am the light of the world] Once more we have a possible reference to the ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles, somewhat less probable than the other (see on Joh_7:37), but not improbable. Large candelabra were lighted in the Court of the Women on the evening of the first day of the Feast, and these flung their light over the whole city. Authorities differ as to whether this illumination was repeated, but all are agreed that it did not take place on the last evening. Here, therefore, there was once more a gap, which Christ Himself may have designed to fill; and while the multitude were missing the festal light of the great lamps, He declares, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ In the case of the water we know that it was poured on each of the seven days, and that Christ spoke the probable reference to it on the last day of the Feast. But in this case the illumination took place possibly on the first night only, and Christ certainly did not utter this possible reference to it until the last day of the Feast, or perhaps not until the Feast was all over. But the fact that the words were spoken in the Court of the Women (see on Joh_8:20) makes the reference not improbable.
he that followeth me] This expression also is in favour of the reference. The illumination in the Court of the Women commemorated the pillar of fire which led the Israelites through the wilderness, as the pouring of the water of Siloam commemorated the water flowing from the Rock. ‘The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light’ (Exo_13:21). So Christ here declares that those who follow Him shall in no wise walk in darkness. The negative is very strong. This use of ‘darkness’ for moral evil is peculiar to S. John: see on Joh_1:5, where (as here) we have light and life (Joh_8:4) closely connected, while darkness is opposed to both.
shall have the light of life] Not merely with him but in him, so that he also becomes a source of light. See on Joh_7:38, and comp. ‘Ye are the light of the world,’ Mat_5:14.
(1) The solemn and formal assertion. If the passage we have just reviewed were an integral portion of the Gospel, and in its right place, the reference to the breaking of the morning, the first eye of the sun over the purple hills suddenly transforming their dark outline into the aspect of semitransparent jewellery, and their misty hollows into luminous folds of light, would be the obvious meaning or reason of the new imagery which he adopted: “I am the Light of the world.” If, however, the entire pericope is not in its correct place, we must link Joh_8:12-20 with the discourses of the previous chapter. On the great day of the feast, in obvious allusion to the mystic drawing of water in Siloam, and transference of it to the temple court, Jesus had said, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.” Many critics imagine that now he refers to the habit, on the first evening of the Feast of Tabernacles, and probably, though not surely, on the other evenings, of kindling the golden candelabra in the court of the women, giving the signal for a brilliant illumination which was visible over the city and surrounding hills. As the water was a symbolic memorial of the smiting of the rock, so the sudden blaze in the temple court was a similar reminder of the fiery pillar in the wilderness, and commentators have found in such ceremonial and memories an occasion for our Lord’s words. Surely they go much deeper, and have a wider signification. The creation of light by the Word of the Lord, and St. John’s own statement in the prologue that in the Logos was life, and the Life was the light, and the Light shone into the darkness before the Incarnation, is a more adequate interpretation. “The Word was made flesh,” and this was the grand occasion for the revelation of the glory of God. “We beheld his glory,” says the apostle, “that of an only begotten Son of the Father.” The gospel narrative supplies the material which induced the evangelist to preface it with imposing words. The life of men produced by him who is Life lightens the world with its glory. He is the Light of the world, because he is the Source of its life. This inversion of the sequences belonging to modern science and even to Mosaic cosmogony, partly shows what is meant by “Light,” and the Light of life. Life in the Johannine thought is Divine blessedness, the very essence of Divine activity and essential being. The Father hath it in himself, and he has given to the Son to be similarly self-complete. He can confer this life on others, communicating his own perfection to some of the creatures of his hand, even bestowing upon them some of the essential elements of his own being. There are varied emanations and forth-puttings of this life—vegetable, animal, psychical, spiritual—and in each ease the life becomes a luminous source of direction, a self-revelatory force, a light. The highest Life of all is the brightest Light—the true Lamp of all our seeing (see Joh_1:9 and Joh_11:9, Joh_11:10). Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” illuminating its darkness far more impressively than temple fireworks, or even pillars of radiant cloud, nay, more than the sunbeams themselves; and that because he was the Holder and Giver of life. Again therefore Jesus spake to them, saying, I am the Light of the world. The “again” may point back to the discourses of the previous chapter, or to the disturbance of the audience and the teaching of that early morning. If it were the morning of the departure of thousands from the holy city, peculiar appropriateness is felt in the continuation: He that followeth me shall not (by any means) walk in the darkness—shall not start off along the defiles of his pilgrimage in the murk of the night and the heavy hiding mists, but he shall, in my companionship, have the light of life. My follower will see his way. Those who have entered into living fellowship with the living One awake from all death slumber and darkness, “walk in the light, as he is in the light;” “become light in the Lord;” “being made manifest are light;” being with the Lord become φωστήρες, torch bearers to the rest; and, more than all (Mat_5:14), are themselves “the light of the world.” The Messiah had been anticipated as “Light,” as the Light of Gentiles as well as Jews (Isa_42:6; Isa_49:6; Mal_4:2; cf. Luk_2:32, where Simeon had caught the spirit of the ancient prophets). Edersheim (quoting ‘Bemidb. R.,’ 3 and 15, and ‘Yalkut on Isa_60:1-22’): “The rabbis speak of the original light in which God had wrapped himself as in a garment, which was so brilliant that it could not shine by day because it would have dimmed the light of the sun. From this light that of sun, moon, and stars had been kindled. It was now reserved under the throne of God for the Messiah, in whose days it would shine once more.” (The Logos was, in the language of Philo, the Archetype and the Outflow of the light.) But the entire meaning of the manifestation of the Divine life in the Messiah is the diffusion of it in others. All Christ’s teaching about himself has this practical and ethical bearing. The ἕξει—”will have,” “will be in possession of,” light—harmonizes with all the wonderful teaching which blends the Christ and his followers in one entity, “I in them, they in me,” of Joh_15:1-27., 17.; and Paul’s “Christ formed in you,” “Christ liveth in me” (Col_1:27; Gal_1:20). “Light,” says Augustine, “reveals other things and its own very self, opens healthy eyes, and is its own witness.”
The light of the world (τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου)
Not λύχνος, a lamp, as John the Baptist (Joh_8:35). Light is another of John’s characteristic terms and ideas, playing a most important part in his writings, as related to the manifestation of Jesus and His work upon men. He comes from God, who is light (1Jo_1:5). “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Joh_1:4). The Word was among men as light before the incarnation (Joh_1:9; Joh_9:5), and light came with the incarnation (Joh_3:19-21; Joh_8:12; Joh_12:46). Christ is light through the illuminating energy of the Spirit (Joh_14:21, Joh_14:26; Joh_16:13; 1Jo_2:20, 1Jo_2:27), which is received through love (Joh_14:22, Joh_14:23). The object of Christ’s work is to make men sons of light (Joh_12:36, Joh_12:46), and to endow them with the light of life (Joh_8:12).
In Joh_8:20, we are told that Jesus spake these words in the Treasury. This was in the Court of the Women, the most public part of the temple. Four golden candelabra stood there, each with four golden bowls, each one filled from a pitcher of oil by a youth of priestly descent. These were lighted on the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is not unlikely that they may have suggested our Lord’s figure, but the figure itself was familiar both from prophecy and from tradition. According to tradition, Light was one of the names of the Messiah. See Isa_9:1; Isa_42:6; Isa_49:6; Isa_60:1-3; Mal_4:2; Luk_2:32.
Walk in darkness (περιπετήσει ἐν τῇ σκοτία)
This phrase is peculiar to the Gospel and First Epistle.
Shall have (ἕξει)
Not only shall see it, but shall possess it. Hence Christ’s disciples are the light of the world (Mat_5:14). Compare lights, or, properly, luminaries (φωστῆρες) a name, applied to believers in Phi_2:15.
15.You judge according to the flesh. This may be explained in two ways; either that theyjudge according to the wicked views of the flesh, or that they judge according to the appearance of the person. For the flesh sometimes denotes the outward appearance of a man; and both meanings agree well with this passage, since wherever either the feelings of the flesh prevail, or a regard to the person regulates the judgment, neither truth nor justice dwells. But I think that the meaning will be more certain, if you contrast the flesh with the Spirit, understanding his meaning to be, that they are not lawful and competent judges, because they have not the Spirit for their guide.
I judge no man. Here, too, commentators differ. Some distinguish it thus, that he does not judge as man. Others refer it to the time, that while he was on earth, he did not undertake the office of a Judge Augustine gives both expositions, but does not decide between them. But the former distinction cannot at all apply. For this sentence contains two clauses, that Christ does not judge, and that if he judge, his judgment is solid and just, because it is divine. As to the former clause, therefore, in which he says that he does not judge, I confine it to what belongs peculiarly to this passage. For in order the more fully to convict his enemies of pride, he employs this comparison, that they unjustly assume the liberty to judge, and yet cannot condemn him, while he merely teaches and abstains from performing the office of a judge.
You judge—i.e. you condemn me, you repudiate my claim to be the “Living Water” and the “Light of the world”—after the flesh (κατὰ τὴν σάρκα), according to the outward appearance; you look at my mere humanity. Our Lord did not accuse them of the fleshly, blinded, unjust judgments of unregenerate men. The article τὴν, and not the well known formula κατὰ σάρκα, prevents such an interpretation. He rather reasons and pleads with them. He suggests that they might, if they would, look below the surface of his flesh. Tim evangelist, who reports the substance of this discussion, has written. “The Word was made flesh.” So if the incarnate Word had always been judged “after the flesh,” we should never have seen his glory, nor recognized the nobler part of his Personality. I judge no man. Numerous efforts have been made to find the underlying modification of this assertion. Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyril, and many moderns add, “after the flesh,” or “as you do” (the latter is the suggestion of Lucke, which, as Meyer says, comes to the same thing), or “now,” pointing on to the actual assumption of his judiciary powers at the consummation of all things, and contrasting his earthly ministry of mercy with the ultimate majesty of his judgment throne (Westcott). Storr, Moulton, Godet. suggest “I by myself”—I alone, independently of the Father, judge no man. Meyer rejects all these attempts to add to the text, and maintains that our Lord is claiming the lofty position of Saviour rather than Judge. He came with that as his primary aim, purpose, intent; to heal, not to wound; to save, not to destroy; to give time for repentance, not to hurry sinners to their doom; to illumine, not to cover with darkness. Yet even Meyer admits a practical exception of great importance to be involved in the next clause, which does not differ from Westcott’s interpretation.
16.And if I judge, He adds this correction, that he may not appear entirely to surrender his right.If I judge, says he,my judgment is true, that is, it is entitled to authority. Now the authority arises from this consideration, that he does nothing but according to the commandment of the Father.
For I am not alone. This phrase amounts to an affirmative, that he is not one of the ordinary rank of men, but that he must be considered along with the office which was assigned to him by the Father. But why does he not rather make an open assertion of his Divinity, as he might truly and justly have done? The reason is, that as his Divinity was concealed under the veil of the flesh, he brings forward his Father, in whom it was more manifest. Still, the object of the discourse is, to show that all that he does and teaches ought to be accounted Divine.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
16. And yet if I judge] Or, But even if I judge, like ‘even if I bear witness’ (Joh_8:14). ‘I judge no man; not because I have no authority, but because judging is not what I came to do. Even if I do in exceptional cases judge, My judgment is a genuine and authoritative one (see on Joh_1:9), not the mock sentence of an impostor. It is the sentence not of a mere man, nor even of one with a Divine commission yet acting independently; but of One sent by God acting in union with His Sender.’ Comp. Joh_5:30.
17.Even in your law it is written. The argument might, at first sight, appear to be weak, because no man is received as a witness in his own cause. But we ought to remember what I have already said, that the Son of God ought to be excluded from the ordinary number of other men, because he neither is a private individual, nor transacts his own private business. As to his distinguishing himself from his Father, by doing so he accommodates himself to the capacity of his hearers, and that on account of his office, because he was at that time a servant of the Father, from whom, therefore, he asserts that all his doctrine has proceeded.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
17. It is also written in your law] Literally, But in the law also, your law, it is written. ‘Your’ is very emphatic; ‘the Law about which you profess to be so jealous.’ Comp. ‘Thou art called a Jew, and restest on the Law’ (Rom_2:17).
the testimony of two men is true] Better, the witness of two, &c. Not so much a quotation as a reference to Deu_19:15; Deu_17:6. Note that the Law speaks of ‘two or three witnesses:’ here we have ‘two men.’ The change is not accidental, but introduces an argument à fortiori: if the testimony of two men is true, how much more the testimony of two Divine Witnesses. Comp. ‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son’ (1Jn_5:9).
Having laid down the principle on which he was justified in maintaining the truthfulness of the assumption which the Pharisees impugned, he proceeded to vindicate, for these Jewish legalists, its agreement with the very letter of the Law. He adopted here the identical ground which was taken by him when first of all he claimed this fellowship with the Father. Yea, and in your Law it has been written, that the witness of two men is true. Many have said that here Jesus puts himself on one side as in hostility to the Law; Baur and some others plead, from the very phrase “your Law,” that Jesus could not have used such an expression, and that John could not have recorded it; and Reuss urges that this expression agrees with the “standpoint of the gospel,which aims at lowering and degrading the old dispensation.” Nothing could be less in harmony with the facts (see Introduction, § VII. 2). Even Meyer says, “The words are anti-Judaic … though not antinomian.” Surely our Lord was simply appealing to his bitter enemies to recognize the application of the principle found in their own Law, of which they were continually making a proud boast. He simply goes to common ground of argument, and is ready to show that even the letter of the Law sustains his claim for the sufficient reason that he is not alone, but the Father is manifestly with him. Just as he never said “our Father” when addressing his disciples, but either “my Father” or “your Father” (Joh_20:17), because God is not the Father of men in the full sense in which he was Father to the only begotten Son; so he could not say “our Law” or “Moses gave us the Law” without derogating from the unique relation he sustained to the Law (compare Paul’s language, Rom_2:17, Rom_2:21, Rom_2:23). The quotation from Deuteronomy is not verbally exact; it even carries the statement of Scripture to a broader generalization, and is so worded that it applies to the case in point, by carrying the position to a legitimate consequence—”the witness of two men is true.” By using the word “men,” Christ suggests the contrast between two men on one side and the God-Man and the Father on the other. Lightfoot (‘Horae Hebraicae’) quotes ‘Rosh-Shanah,’ 1.2, 3, “that two persons well known must testify to the supreme court that they had seen the new moon! If these were unknown persons, they must bring proof that they were credible witnesses.” Upon these common principles of jurisprudence the Lord was willing, in purely Jewish fashion, to rest his claim.
I am the (one) that bears witness concerning myself—I have said it, and abide by it, and I know what I say and how fully I am fulfilling these words—and the Father that sent me heareth witness concerning me. His words reflected his own Divine self-consciousness. They bore one witness to his unique position. They brought out the inner thoughts of Christ, and revealed the life that was light. The word, the speech, of Christ was a fire kindled which would never be extinguished—it was the formal utterance of the eternal reality but it did not stand alone. The Father that sent him, by a long chain of events and revelations, by miracles and mighty energies, by the conference of the spirit of conviction upon the minds that gave candid attention to his verbal testimony, by the providential concurrence of facts with prophetic anticipation, was bearing witness concerning him. The argument is sufficient, so soon as we admit the terms used by Jesus, so soon as we recognize the ideas of the Son of God and of the Father, both alike revealed in the Person of Christ. We can understand, and to some extent sympathize with, the perplexity of the Pharisees. Later experiences have made it easier for us to understand the testimony of the Father, the presence and witness of God over and above the testimony of men and coincident with it (cf. Joh_15:27; Heb_2:4). All great spiritual revivals have given ample proof of the twofold testimony (see 1Th_2:13; Rom_8:17, where Paul, the writer of the Epistle, shows himself familiar with this “Johannine” thought; cf. Heb_2:4).
I am one that bear witness of myself – In human courts a man is not allowed to bear witness of himself, because he has a personal interest in the case, and the court could have no proof of the impartiality of the evidence; but in the case of Jesus it was otherwise. When one has no party ends to serve; when he is willing to deny himself; when he makes great sacrifices; and when, by his life, he gives every evidence of sincerity, his own testimony may be admitted in evidence of his motives and designs. This was the case with Jesus and his apostles. And though in a legal or criminal case such testimony would not be admitted, yet, in an argument on moral subjects, about the will and purpose of him who sent him, it would not be right to reject the testimony of one who gave so many proofs that he came from God.
The Father …beareth witness of me – By the voice from heaven at his baptism Mat_3:17, and by the miracles which Jesus performed, as well as by the prophecies of the Old Testament. We may here remark:
1. That there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. They are both represented as bearing testimony; yet,
2. They are not divided. They are not different beings. They bear testimony to the same thing, and are one in counsel, in plan, in essence, and in glory.
23.You are from beneath, I am from above. As they did not deserve that he should teach them, he wished only to strike them with reproofs conveyed in few words, as in this passage he declares that they do not receive his doctrine, because they have an utter dislike of the kingdom of God. Under the words, world and beneath, he includes all that men naturally possess, and thus points out the disagreement which exists between his Gospel and the ingenuity and sagacity of the human mind; for the Gospel is heavenly wisdom, but our mind grovels on the earth. No man, therefore, will ever be qualified to become a disciple of Christ, till Christ has formed him by his Spirit. And hence it arises that faith is so seldom found in the world, because all mankind are naturally opposed and averse to Christ, except those whom he elevates by the special grace of his Holy Spirit.
Yet this essential divergence is not based on fatalistic grounds, but on moral ones. The argument of the twenty-fourth verse explains the description of vers 23. The ground of this utter alienation is the lack of belief, which will leave them in their sins to die. He said to them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above. You spring from the lower as opposed to the higher world; you are influenced by considerations drawn from the earthly, sensual, superficial, and transitory. It is not necessary to suppose that our Lord is clenching the Jews’ harsh speech about the underworld with a tu-quoque, as though they verily belonged to the Gehenna to which they were consigning him; for the next pair of clauses are in parallel apposition with the former. In the words, Ye are of this world; I am not of this world, “This world” corresponds with the τῶν κάτω of the previous clause, and the “not of this world” corresponds with the τὰ ἄνω, the heavenly regions from which he has continually declared, in many varieties of phrase, that he had come, or descended, or been sent. Certainly and broadly speaking, this is true, as a contrast between Christ and all other men before their regeneration. Our Lord especially charges home upon these earth-bound souls, on these purely human, selfish, unspiritual, unrenewed, unbelieving men, this antagonism to himself, this refusal to walk in his light or receive his life. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Joh_3:6). They are flesh. He does not exclude them forever from such participation in his own heavenly life as would reverse the descriptive and characteristic features of their being. The reason why they have not seen the kingdom or the King is that they are not born of the Spirit.
24.You shall die in your sins. Having formerly employed the singular number, in your sin, he now resorts to the plural number,in your sins; but the meaning is the same, except that in the former passage he intended to point out that unbelief is the source and cause of all evils. Not that there are no other sins but unbelief, or that it is unbelief alone which subjects us to the condemnation of eternal death before God, as some men too extravagantly talk; but because it drives us away from Christ, and deprives us of his grace, from which we ought to expect deliverance from all our sins. That the Jews reject the medicine with obstinate malice, is their mortal disease; and hence it arises that the slaves of Satan do not cease to heap up sins on sins, and continually to bring down upon themselves fresh condemnations. And, therefore, he immediately adds, —
If you do not believe that I am. For there is no other way for lost men to recover salvation, but to betake themselves to Christ. The phrase, that I am, is emphatic; for, in order to make the meaning complete, we must supply all that the Scripture ascribes to the Messiah, and all that it bids us expect from him. But the sum and substance is — the restoration of the Church, the commencement of which is the light of faith, from which proceed righteousness and a new life. Some of the ancient writers have deduced from this passage the Divine essence of Christ; but that is a mistake, for he speaks of his office towards us. This statement is worthy of observation; for men never consider sufficiently the evils in which they are plunged; and though they are constrained to acknowledge their destruction, yet they neglect Christ, and look around them, in every direction, for useless remedies. Wherefore we ought to believe that, until the grace of Christ be manifested to deliver us, nothing but a boundless mass of all evils reigns perpetually in us.
For except ye believe (ean gar mē pisteusēte). Negative condition of third class with ean mē and ingressive aorist active subjunctive of pisteuō, “For unless ye come to believe.”
That I am he (hoti egō eimi). Indirect discourse, but with no word in the predicate after the copula eimi. Jesus can mean either “that I am from above” (Joh_8:23), “that I am the one sent from the Father or the Messiah” (Joh_7:18, Joh_7:28), “that I am the Light of the World” (Joh_8:12), “that I am the Deliverer from the bondage of sin” (Joh_8:28, Joh_8:31., and Joh_8:36), “that I am” without supplying a predicate in the absolute sense as the Jews (Deu_32:39) used the language of Jehovah (cf. Isa_43:10 where the very words occur hina pisteusēte-hoti egō eimi). The phrase egō eimi occurs three times here (Joh_8:24, Joh_8:28, Joh_8:58) and also in Joh_13:19. Jesus seems to claim absolute divine being as in Joh_8:58.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_8:23-24. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins; for if ye shall not believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins. The second of these verses is important as fixing the meaning of the first. The words, ‘I said that ye shall die in your sins,’ are so connected both with what precedes (by means of ‘therefore’) and with what follows (by means of ‘for’), that the ground of this sentence of death is brought under our notice by each of these particles,—it is to be found in the unbelief of which the following clause speaks, and in the fact stated in the preceding verse. As then this ground of condemnation is distinctly moral (Joh_8:24), the expressions in Joh_8:23 must also have a moral and not a fatalistic meaning. The condemnation results from something in the men themselves, not from any original necessity; should they believe, no longer would Jesus say to them, Ye are from beneath. The origin of their spirit and action, dominated by unbelief, is to be sought, not above, but beneath,—not in heaven, but in earth: nay rather (for the thought distinctly expressed in Joh_8:44 is implicitly present here also), whereas He whom they are in thought consigning to the lowest depths of woe and punishment is of God, they are of the devil. It is at first sight difficult to believe that the sense does not sink but really rises in the second half of Joh_8:23, and yet the whole structure of this Gospel teaches us that it must be so. If, however, we remember the moral reference of the terms of the verse, an explanation soon suggests itself: for the latter clause expresses much more distinctly than the former the element of deliberate choice. The first might be thought to point to origin only, did not the second show that it implies an evil nature retained by evil choice. From this second clause we see clearly that Jesus speaks of a voluntary association,—of the dependence of their spirit on the evil principles belonging to ‘this world.’ Because such is their self-chosen state, Jesus has told them that their sins—the sins which manifest the nature of every one who is of this world—shall bring them ruin: for nothing but belief in Him who is from above can save them from dying in their sins. His words, it will be seen, grow more and more distinct in their awful import, and yet they are words of mercy: for the meaning is not, Except ye are now believers, the sentence is passed,—but, Except ye shall believe (most literally ‘shall have believed’): even now they may receive Him, and the sentence will have no existence for them.—But the most striking point in this verse is the mode in which our Lord expresses the object of belief,—‘Except ye shall believe that I am.’ Something apparently like this has occurred before in chap. Joh_4:26; but the two cases are really widely different. There the word ‘Messiah’ has just been spoken, and the answer. ‘It is I,’ is perfectly plain in its meaning. Here there is no such word in the context; and to assume an ellipsis, and then supply the very word on which all the emphasis must rest is surely a most dangerous step: to act thus is not to bring out the meaning of the passage, but to bring our own meaning into it. Besides, as we have already seen, our Lord is wont elsewhere to use the expression ‘I am’ in a very emphatic sense (see chap. Joh_7:34, etc.), with distinct reference to that continuous, unchanging existence which only He who is Divine can claim. The most remarkable example of these exalted words is found in the 58th verse of this chapter (comp. also Joh_8:28). Without forestalling this, however (but referring to the note on that verse for some points connected with the full explanation), we may safely say that it is of His Divine Being that Jesus here speaks. The thought of existence is clearly present in the verse. ‘Ye shall die,’ He says, ‘unless ye shall have been brought to see in me—not what the impious words of Joh_8:22 imply, but—One who is,—who, belonging to the realms above, possesses life—who, being of God, has life as His own and as His own gift.’ So understood, our Lord’s words speak of belief, not directly in His Messiahship, but in that other nature of His, that Divine nature, on His possession of which He makes all His other claims to rest. Observe in Joh_8:24 as compared with Joh_8:21 not only the mention of ‘sins’ instead of ‘sin’ (comp. on Joh_8:21), but also the change of place given to ‘ye shall die’ in Joh_8:21 what led to their fate, here their fate itself, being the prominent thought.
25.From the beginning. They who translate the words τὴν ἀρχὴν, as if they had been in the nominative case, I am the beginning, and as if Christ were here asserting his eternal Divinity, are greatly mistaken. There is no ambiguity of this sort in the Greek, but still the Greek commentators also differ as to the meaning. All of them, indeed, are agreed that a preposition must be understood; but many give to it the force of an adverb, as if Christ had said, “This ought first (τὴν ἀρχὴν) to be observed.” Some too — among whom is Chrysostom — render it continuously thus: The beginning, who also speak to you, I have many things to say and judge of you This meaning has been put into verse by Nonnus. But a different reading is more generally adopted, and appears to be the true one. I interpret τὴν ἀρχὴν, from the beginning; so that the meaning, in my opinion, is this: “I did not arise suddenly, but as I was formerly promised, so now I come forth publicly.” He adds,
Because I also speak to you; by which he means that he testifies plainly enough who he is, provided that they had ears. This word, ὄτι because, is not employed merely to assign a reason, as if Christ intended to prove that he was from the beginning, because he now speaks; but he asserts that there is such an agreement between his doctrine and the eternity which he has spoken of, that it ought to be reckoned an undoubted confirmation of it. It may be explained thus: “According to the beginning, that is, what I have formerly said, I now, as it were, confirm anew;” or, “And truly what I now also speak, is in accordance with the conditions made in all ages, so as to be a strong confirmation of it.”
In short, this reply consists of two clauses; for, under the word beginning, he includes an uninterrupted succession of ages, during which God had made a covenant with their fathers. When he says that he also speaks, he joins his doctrine with the ancient predictions, and shows that it depends on them. Hence it follows that the Jews had no other reason for their ignorance, than that they did not believe either the Prophets or the Gospel; for it is the same Christ that is exhibited in all of them. They pretended to be disciples of the Prophets, and to look to the eternal covenant of God; but still they rejected Christ, who had been promisedfrom the beginning, and presented himself before them.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
25. Then said they] They said therefore.
Who art thou?] It is incredible that the Jews can have failed to understand. Christ had just declared that He was from above, and not of this world. Even if the words ‘I am’ were ambiguous in themselves, in this context they are plain enough. As in Joh_8:19, they pretend not to understand, and contemptuously ask, Thou, who art Thou? The pronoun is scornfully emphatic. Comp. Act_19:15. Possibly both in Joh_8:19 and here they wish to draw from Him something more definite, more capable of being stated in a formal charge against Him.
Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning] This is a passage of well-known difficulty, and the meaning will probably always remain uncertain. (1) It is doubtful whether it is a question or not. (2) Of the six or seven Greek words all excepting the word meaning ‘unto you’ can have more than one meaning. (3) There is a doubt whether we have six or seven Greek words. To discuss all the possible renderings would go beyond the scope of this volume. What I from the beginning am also speaking to you of is perhaps as likely as any translation to be right. And it matters little whether it be made interrogative or not. Either, ‘Do you ask that of which I have been speaking to you from the first?’, in which case it is not unlike Christ’s reply to Philip (Joh_14:9); or, ‘I am that of which I have been speaking to you all along.’
Then said they to him—the hostile Jerusalem party—in scornful mockery, Σὺ τίς εἶ; Who art thou? “Define thyself more closely; make thy claims clear and categorical. Give now a direct answer to a plain question.” It is very remarkable that the Lord often refuses to respond in the precise form in which his interlocutors demand an answer. He sees the multitudinous sides of every truth, and frequently gives to his questioners the means of answering their question from the ground of deep spiritual conviction, rather than furnishes them with a formula which might easily be abused. Who art thou? How profoundly pathetic! How confirmatory of his own words, “Ye have not known me, nor my Father”! The reply which our Lord gave to the question has occasioned greater variety of interpretation than, perhaps, any other sentence in the Gospel: Τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν ὅτι (or ὅτι,) καὶ λαλῶὑμῖν. The meaning of the words taken separately is disputable; the relation to the context has been very variously understood.
(1) The sentence may be taken interrogatively: τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν regarded adverbially in the sense of “at all,” and ὅτι in the sense of “why?” which is perhaps justified by Mar_9:11, Mar_9:28. So that it might mean, Why do I even speak with you at all? This is the interpretation of the ancient Greek Fathers, Cyril and Chrysostom; is preferred by Lucke (‘Comm.,’ 2:301-313); and with slight modifications is adopted by Ewald, Matthai, and others. Meyer has differed somewhat in successive editions, but (4th edit.) translates, “What I from the beginning am also speaking to you (do ye ask)?” Can you still be asking concerning that which I have been from the beginning saying to you, viz. “Who I am”? This interpretation is singularly obscure. It turns on the fact that, except in some virtually negative sentences, ἀρχη ̀ν cannot have the force of “at all,” and falls back on the conclusion that it must, when used adverbially, have the force of “from the first.” Lucke devotes great space to the proof from classical Greek that ἀρχη ̀ν never means ὅλως, or omnino, except in association with a negative sentence, and he discusses the four exceptions to this supposed rule which some grammarians have discovered in secular Greek, and thereupon, in a different way from Meyer, endeavours to supply the negative conception. In reply to Meyer, it is fair to say that Christ had not been constantly announcing in categorical terms who he was and is; and further, that the rendering practically introduces a clause, “do ye ask,” which is not in the text; moreover, its rendering transforms λαλῶ into λελαλήκα.
(2) Many have advocated an affirmative rendering. Augustine (with Lampe and Fritzsche) takes τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν as the Ἀρχη ́ of the universe, the principium (as Rev_21:6), and translates,” Believe that I am the Principium (the Logos), because I am also speaking with you (because, humbled on your account, I have descended to such words as these).” Chrysostom and Nonnus (who turned the Gospel into Greek hexameters) associate the sentence with what follows; thus: “I, the Ἀρχη ́, who also speak to you, have many things to say and judge of you.” The accusative form is thus set at nought. Calvin takes τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν as equal to ἐξ ἀρχη ͂ς, “from the beginning” (so that the meaning would be, “I did not arise suddenly, but as I was formerly promised, so now I come forth publicly”), “because I also speak with you.” In other words, “What I now speak is in accordance with the conditions made in all ages ‘from the beginning.’ So Delitzsch, Hebrew version of New Testament. Luthardt seems to approach this view, which he makes more difficult by insisting that τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν does not mean “from” but “at the beginning.” The view of Winer, Grimm, Alford, Stier, Godet, Thoma, and Plummer, is substantially the same, giving to τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν the sense of omnino. Essentially, wholly, altogether (I am) that which even I am saying to you. The grammatical objection that this use of τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν demands a negative sentence in classic Greek, is not conclusive. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word is used adverbially, and it is in reply to a mocking question which has much virtual negative in it. Green (‘Critical Notes’) urges that the sense of “altogether” (omnino) was preserved in all kinds of sentences without distinction. He does not prove it, but it is entirely probable that it might have this force in New Testament Greek. The great advantage of the rendering is that it brings the answer into relation with the entire previous discourse, in which Christ’s testimony to himself had been disputed because (in the opinion of those who were debating with him) that testimony had not been adequately supported. “I am the Revelation of the Father, the Messenger from heaven, the Bread of God, the Light of the world—essentially that which I am saying to you.” Believe my own testimony thus far, and that will answer the query, “Who art thou?” There is no great distinction between this view and that of De Wette: “Von vorne herein (vor allen Dingen) bin ich was ich auch zu euch rede,” as Bruckner put it—”From the beginning, from the first, (I am) what I am also saying to you.” Winer’s view seems to me the best. Grimm thus translates: “Omnino, hoc est sine ulla exceptione sum, quod etiam vobis eloquor, non solum sum, sed etiam vobis, praedico id quod sum.”
Who art thou? (Su tis ei). Proleptic use of su before tis, “Thou, who art thou?” Cf. Joh_1:19. He had virtually claimed to be the Messiah and on a par with God as in Joh_5:15. They wish to pin him down and to charge him with blasphemy.
Even that which I have also spoken unto you from the beginning (tēn archēn hoti kai lalō humin). A difficult sentence. It is not clear whether it is an affirmation or a question. The Latin and Syriac versions treat it as affirmative. Westcott and Hort follow Meyer and take it as interrogative. The Greek fathers take it as an exclamation. It seems clear that the adverbial accusative tēn archēn cannot mean “from the beginning” like ap’ archēs (Joh_15:27) or ex archēs (Joh_16:4). The lxx has tēn archēn for “at the beginning” or “at the first” (Gen 43:20). There are examples in Greek, chiefly negative, where tēn archēn means “at all,” “essentially,” “primarily.” Vincent and Bernard so take it here, “Primarily what I am telling you.” Jesus avoids the term Messiah with its political connotations. He stands by his high claims already made.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_8:25.They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? Had they been patient, willing listeners, they would have seen His meaning; but now He seemsto them to have left out the one essential word,in thus saying, ‘Except ye shall believe that I am.’ What is that word? ‘Who art thou?’ The tone of the preceding words makes it certain that the question is one of impatience and scorn, not of a spirit eager and ready to learn. This is a point of importance, as throwing light on our Lord’s reply.
Jesus said untothem, How is it that Ieven speak to you at all? The true nature and meaning of this reply are points on which the greatest difference of opinion has existed and still exists. The question is one of translation, not interpretation merely; and a discussion on a matter or Greek philology would be out of place here. The first words of the sentence are ‘The beginning;’ and many have endeavoured to retain these words in translation, but in very different ways. Some have taken ‘The beginning’ as a name applied by our Lord to Himself; others understand the words adverbially, as meaning ‘in the beginning,’ ‘from the very first,’ ‘before all things.’ But none of these explanations can be obtained without doing violence to the Greek; and we are therefore bound to consider them all untenable. Even if they were possible renderings, they would present a serious difficulty to an attentive student of the words of Jesus, especially as contained in this Gospel. Our Lord is not wont directly to answer a question so presented. His whole treatment of ‘the Jews’ is based on the fact that He had given them abundant evidence regarding Himself and His work. They who will not see must rest in their blindness (chap. Joh_9:39). No sign from heaven shall be wrought at the bidding of those to whom no former signs have brought instruction (Mat_16:1-2): certainly no direct answer will be vouchsafed to men who, having heard all that He has said before, have just shown themselves able awfully to pervert His simplest sayings. One line of translation only seems to be allowed by the Greek,—that which takes the words as a question (or exclamation), and gives to the first words (‘the beginning’) a meaning which in such sentences they often bear, viz. ‘at all’(as ‘Does he act at all?’ is equivalent to ‘Does he even make a beginning of action?’). This is the interpretation which the early Greek writers Cyril of Alexandria and Chrysostom gave to the words; and we cannot but lay stress on the fact that such men, who habitually spoke Greek, seem not to have thought of any other meaning. Whether the sentence is an exclamation or a question, the general sense is the same, viz. Why am I even speaking to you at all?Much has He to say concerningthem (Joh_8:26) and to judge; but why does He any longer speakto men who will not understand His word? The words remind us of Mat_17:17, ‘O faithless and perverse generation! How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?’ And yet those words were said to slow-minded Galileans, not to the hostile ‘Jews.’
Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning (τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν ὅ τι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν)
A very difficult passage, on which the commentators are almost hopelessly divided. There are two main classes of interpretations, according to one of which it is to be read interrogatively, and according to the other, affirmatively. The two principal representatives of the former class are Meyer, who renders “Do you ask that which all along (τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν) I am even saying to you?” and Westcott, “How is it that I even speak to you at all (τὴν ἀρχη ̀ν)”? So also Milligan and Moulton. This latter rendering requires the change of ὅ τι, the relative, that which, into the conjunction ὅτι, that.
The second class of interpreters, who construe the passage affirmatively, vary in their explanations of τὴν ἄρχην, which they render severally, altogether, essentially, first of all, in the beginning. There is also a third class, who take τὴν ἄρχην as a noun, and explain according to Rev_21:6, “I am the beginning, that which I am even saying unto you.” This view is represented mostly by the older commentators, Augustine, Bede, Lampe, and later by Wordsworth.
I adopt the view of Alford, who renders essentially, explaining by generally, or traced up to its principle (ἀρχη ̀). Shading off from this are Godet, absolutely; Winer, throughout; Thayer, wholly or precisely. I render, I am essentially that which I even speak to you. If we accept the explanation of I am, in Joh_8:24, as a declaration of Jesus’ absolute divine being, that thought prepares the way for this interpretation of His answer to the question, Who art thou? His words are the revelation of Himself. “He appeals to His own testimony as the adequate expression of His nature. They have only to fathom the series of statements He has made concerning Himself, and they will find therein a complete analysis of His mission and essence” (Godet).
26.I have many things to say and judge of you. Perceiving that he is in the position of one who sings to the deaf, he pursues his discourse no farther, but only declares that God will defend that doctrine, which they despise, because he is the Author of it. “If I wished to accuse you,” says he, “your malice and wickedness supply me with ample materials; but I leave you for the present. But my Father, who committed to me the office of a teacher, will not fail to fulfill his promise; for he will always vindicate his word against the wicked and sacrilegious contempt of men.” This saying of Christ is of the same import with that of Paul,
If we deny him, he remaineth faithful, he cannot deny himself, (2Ti_2:13.)
In short, he threatens the judgment of God against unbelievers, who refuse to give credit to his word; and he does so on this ground, that God must inevitably defend his truth. Now this is the true firmness of faith, when we believe that God is alone sufficient to establish the authority of his doctrine, though the world should reject it. All who, relying on this doctrine, serve Christ faithfully, may fearlessly accuse the whole world of falsehood.
And I speak to the world those things which I have heard from him. He says that he utters nothing which he has not received from the Father; and this is the only confirmation of a doctrine, when the minister shows that what he speaks has proceeded from the Father. Now we know that Christ sustained, at that time, the office of a minister; and, therefore, we need not wonder, if he demands that men listen to him, because he brings to them the commandments of God. Besides, by his example he lays down a general law for the whole Church, that no man ought to be heard, unless he speak from the mouth of God. But while he lays low the wicked arrogance of those men who take upon themselves to speak without the word of God, faithful teachers, who know well the nature of their calling, are fortified and armed by him with unshaken firmness, that, under the guidance of God, they may boldly bid defiance to all mortals.
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you. Hitherto, when the Lord uttered his great words of self-revelation, which always had an ethical end and were meant for the advantage of his hearers, they interrupted his speech and disputed his claims. They refused these testimonies to himself which, if true, would necessitate their instantaneous submission. He seems to have gathered all his self-witness together in the word, “I am,” verify altogether, absolutely, from the beginning onwards, just what my words convey; but I have much more to say concerning you, even if I should have nothing more to say concerning myself. The testimonies and the judgments may be profoundly distasteful to you, but I dare not therefore withhold them. I am come to deliver them at any cost to myself or you. But he that sent me is true, whether you hear or forbear; and I am his Mouthpiece, so the truth has to be told. The thought of God, if we can only approach it, is the absolute truth about every thing and about every man. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, and the Utterer of irreversible judgment. The things which I heard from him, these speak I into the world. Εἰς τὸν κόσμον, is a remarkable expression. “Speak into, so that the words may reach as far as and spread through the world” (Westcott). The expression seems to have left him above or outside the world, so that he appears as “the Mediator between two worlds.”
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_8:26.Ihave many things to speak and to judge concerning you.It is unavailing to speak to them, for they will not believe. Many things has He to speak concerning them, and (since every word regarding them in the condition they had chosen must be one of judgment) to judge also.
Nevertheless he that sent me is true; and the things which I heard from him, these I speak unto the world.To all that He says they may turn a deaf ear; ‘Nevertheless,’ Jesus adds, ‘He that sent me is true, and the words which I have heard from Him, these and no others do Ispeak unto the world,—the world, to which you belong’ (Joh_8:23). The Jews may disbelieve; His judgment may seem severe; but the words are God’s words, and they are true.
This seems the simplest view of this difficult verse; for the prominence which the second clause (‘Nevertheless . . . true’) gives to the thought of truthseems to imply that the contrast is with the preceding thought of unbelief (Joh_8:24-25). Three other explanations are worthy of consideration—(i) I have many things . . . but, many as they are, they are true. (2) I have many things . . . but I will not keep them back, for I faithfully declare the words which … (3) I have many things …. but I will not say them now: the things which I have heard from Him that sent me must be first declared. The first of these seems to miss the sharp emphasis of the ‘Nevertheless;’ the second and third to miss (though in different degrees) the force of the middle clause, ‘Nevertheless He that sent me is true.’
27.They did not know that he spoke to them about the Father. Hence we see how stupid those men are whose understandings are possessed by Satan. Nothing could be more plain than that they were summoned to the judgment-seat of God. But what then? They are altogether blind. This happens daily to other enemies of the Gospel; and such blindness ought to instruct us to walk with fear.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
27. They understood not that he spake] Better, they perceived not that He was speaking. This statement of the Evangelist has seemed to some so unaccountable after Joh_8:18, that they have attempted to make his words mean something else. But the meaning of the words is quite unambiguous, and is not incredible. We have seen that there is an interval, possibly of days, between Joh_8:20 and Joh_8:21. The audience may have changed very considerably; but if not, experience shews that the ignorance and stupidity of unbelief are sometimes almost unbounded. Still we may admit that the dulness exhibited here is extraordinary; and it is precisely because it is so extraordinary that St John records it.
They understood (perceived) not that he spake to them of the Father. This difficult parenthesis of the evangelist calls attention to the fact that, during the immediately preceding discourse and controversy, Jesus had dropped his references to the Father, and had used the periphrasis, “he that sent me,” probably suggesting to this strangely excited populace, fed with weird fancies and wild expectations, that the mysterious Being with whom they were conversing was but the Delegate of One mightier than he, who was hidden in the secret place of God’s providence until the hour of his own manifestation should appear to have struck. They might have remembered the utter deference which the great prophet John had displayed before a Messiah whom as yet they knew not. They may have heard that even John himself, at a later date, sent from the prison two of his disciples to propound the query, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” in other words, “Art thou the final Manifestation of all that I have predicted and believed? or is another to make his appearance with fire and axe and available force to compel obedience and to secure universal homage?” It is more than probable that the evangelist, being personally alive to the cross currents of passion, enthusiasm, and hostility which were at work in the hearts of the populace, saw by the very blankness and confusion on their faces, and the “asides” of the multitude, that they had not perceived that Jesus was throughout in these references speaking of the Father of all—the supreme Source of all power, the Lord of hosts. Even when he had said, “Ye have not known me, nor my Father,” they had not risen to such a conception of the Lord’s meaning as to suppose that the supreme Father himself was being suggested to them and cited as the corroborative Witness, as the supernatural Aid and Divine Presence which was giving validity to all that Christ has said about himself. Their ignorance and lack of perception need not astonish us when we reflect upon the obscurity and non-receptivity of the apostles themselves, and the like obtuseness of theologians and cultivated men of the world in every age from that day to this. The remark is, moreover, added doubtless to interpret the following verses, in which the ideas of verse 26 are repeated, with the difference that, whereas he had already spoken of him that sent him, and who had authorized his words and judgments, Jesus now gives to him the beloved name of “the Father.”
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_8:27.They perceived not that he spake to them of the Father.This statement of the Evangelist is very remarkable; and, as it is so different from anything we might have expected, its importance as a guide and correction is the greater. In this section (beginning at Joh_8:21) He has not made mention of ‘the Father.’ In the section which precedes, however (Joh_8:12-20), the word occurs several times. First Jesus speaks of ‘the Father which sent me’(Joh_8:16; Joh_8:18): in their answer the Jews show how they had understood His words, by saying, ‘Where is thy Father?’and in replying to their question Jesus also speaks, not of ‘the Father,’ but of ‘my Father.’ So far as these two sections are concerned, therefore, there is nothing to show that His hearers had understood Him to make distinct mention of ‘the Father,’ in the absolute sense,—a name which, probably, every Israelite would have received as belonging to God alone. (If we look back at earlier chapters, we shall find that the passages have been few in which ‘the Father’ is spoken of. The fifth chapter must be left out of consideration, for the whole discourse is dominated by the thought of personal Sonship. The same may be said of chap. Joh_3:35. There remain only the words addressed to the woman of Samaria, chap. Joh_4:21, and the discourses in Galilee related in chap. 6) Hence—though we might have over-looked the fact but for the Evangelist’s timely words—we cannot feel great surprise that these hearers had not yet perceived that Jesus was making mention of ‘the Father.’ The words, ‘Iam from above,’ ‘He that sent me,’ must have suggested to those who heard that He claimed a Divine mission; but men familiar with the mission of a prophet might concede so much without understanding that the last words of Jesus (‘the things which I heard from Him I speak unto the world’) implied an infinitely higher and closer relation to Him whom they worshipped, whom Jesus revealed as ‘the Father.’ In this Name and in the words just spoken is contained the whole economy of grace.
42.If God were your Father, you would love me. Christ’s argument is this: “Whoever is a child of God will acknowledge his first-born Son; but you hate me, and therefore you have no reason to boast, that you are God’s children.” We ought carefully to observe this passage, that there is no piety and no fear of God where Christ is rejected. Hypocritical religion, indeed, presumptuously shelters itself under the name of God; but how can they agree with the Father who disagree with his only Son? What kind of knowledge of God is that in which his lively image is rejected? And this is what Christ means, when he testifies that he came from the Father.
For I proceeded and came from God. He means that all that he has is divine; and therefore it is most inconsistent that the true worshippers of God should fly from his truth and righteousness. “I did not come,” says he, “of myself. You cannot show that anything about me is contrary to God. In short, you will find nothing that is either earthly or human in my doctrine, or in the whole of my ministry.” For he does not speak of his essence, but of his office.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
42. Moral proof that God is not their father; if they were God’s children they would love His Son. Comp. Joh_15:23, and ‘every one that loveth Him that begat loveth Him also that is begotten of Him’ (1Jn_5:1). For the construction comp. Joh_8:19, Joh_5:46, Joh_9:41, Joh_15:19, Joh_13:36 : in all these cases we have imperfects, not aorists. Contrast Joh_4:10, Joh_11:21; Joh_11:32, Joh_14:28.
I proceeded forth and came from God] Rather, I came out (see on Joh_16:28) from God and am here from God among you. Surely then God’s true children would recognise and love Me.
neither came I of myself] Rather, For not even of Myself have I come. The ‘for’ must on no account be omitted; it introduces a proof that He is come from God. ‘For (not only have I not come from any other than God) I have not even come of My own self-determination.’
But Jesus will not allow them to claim the full privilege of sons of God. Said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would be loving me, not seeking to slay me. Seeing that you do not love me, God is not your Father in the sense in which you are boasting such relation to him. The reason is: For I came forth out (ἐκ) of God. This expression only occurs in one other passage (Joh_16:28), and there the texts vary between ἐκ ἀπὸ, and παρά. It points to the momentous and unique fact of his incarnation, as the projection from the very essence of God involved in the essence of his being. The Father is the eternal Source of Christ’s Divine nature. There are two ether forms of expression used by our Lord. In Joh_13:3 and Joh_16:30 ἐξελθεῖν ἀπό is adopted, which describes rather the act of the incarnated One; and in Joh_16:27 and Joh_17:8 ἐξελθεῖν παρά, whereby is suggested the procession of Christ into the condition of fellowship with the eternal Father or that of being πρὸς τὸν Θεόν or εἰς τὸν κόλπον. By ἐξελθεῖν ἐκ he implies an even sublimer conception of the prenatal glory, and that, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it, “he was the Effulgence of his glory, and the express Image of his substance.” And I am come. I am hero face to face with you. Meyer and others would make both verbs depend on ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ: but if we are right in the special meaning of the preposition, the force of it would be lost in the second clause. The ἐξῆλθον refers to his eternal procession from the very nature of God, and special indication of it when he took our human nature up into his own; and the ἤκω refers to his presence and appearance in their midst as a “Man who told them the truth.” For neither have I come. The perfect tense here is used in contrast to the present ἥκω, to show that he has the whole past of his career as a divinely sent Messenger present in his consciousness. And he establishes the fact that he has proceeded from God by the dismission of every other alternative. I have not come from myself, as an act of self-determination; I have not come to do my own will, but the Father’s. I have not come on any self-chosen, self-honouring path, with motives of self-interest; but in strict obedience to the Father’s injunction—he sent me. You would have loved me, not hated me, you would have trusted me and rejoiced in me, and not sought to kill me, if God were your Father; for you would then have felt all through my career that that One Father, of whom you boast an intimate knowledge, was revealing himself as One near to you, close to you, in the bare fact of my presence among you.
43.Why do you not understand my language? In this passage, he reproaches the Jews with their obstinacy, which was so great, that they could not even endure to hear him speak Hence he infers, that they are actuated and hurried away by diabolical rage. Some make a distinction here between language and speech, as if speech had a more extensive meaning; but I do not see it; and besides, it would not be appropriate that the word which means less should be placed first. Many point this verse in such a manner as to make the question close with the word language; as if the question consisted only of these words, Why do you not understand my language ? So that the reason is immediately assigned, Because you cannot hear my word. But I think that it ought rather to be read in immediate connection, as if he had said, “What is the reason why my speech appears to you barbarous and unknown, so that I gain nothing by speaking to you, and so that you do not even deign to open your ears to receive what I say?” In the former clause, therefore, he reproves their stupidity; in the latter, he reproves their obstinate and ungovernable hatred of his doctrine; and he afterwards assigns a reason for both, when he says, that they are sprung from the devil For by putting the question, he intended to take out of their hands what was the subject of their continual boasting, that they are led by reason and judgment to oppose him.
Ver. 43. Why then does all this escape them? How does it happen, in particular, that they do not distinguish the tone, and, so to speak, the heavenly timbre of his speech? Λαλία, speech, differs from λόγος, word, as the form differs from the contents, the discourse from the doctrine. “You do not know my speech; you do not distinguish it from an ordinary human word. Why? Because you are unable to lay hold of and receive my doctrine.” There was wanting to them that internal organ by means of which the teaching of Christ would become in them a light perceived. ᾿Ακούειν, to hear, signifies here to understand; to listen with that calmness, that seriousness, that good will which enables one to apprehend. This inability was not a fact of creation; it results from their previous moral life; compare Joh_5:44-47. Jesus now develops in full the idea of the first cause of their moral incapacity. This cause He had already declared in Joh_8:38. It is the dependence in which they are inwardly on an enemy of the truth, who fills their hearts with tumultuous and hateful passions, and thus renders them deaf to the voice of God which speaks to them through Jesus.
44.You are of your father the devil. What he had twice said more obscurely, he now expresses more fully, that they are the devil ’s children But we must supply the contrast, that they could not cherish such intense hatred to the Son of God, were it not that they had for their father the perpetual enemy of God. He calls them children of the devil, not only because they imitate him, but because they are led by his instigation to fight against Christ. For as we are called the children of God, not only because we resemble him, but because he governs us by his Spirit, because Christ lives and is vigorous in us, so as to conform us to the image of his Father; so, on the other hand, the devil is said to be thefather or those whose understandings he blinds, whose hearts he moves to commit all unrighteousness, and on whom, in short, he acts powerfully and exercises his tyranny; as in 2Co_4:4; Eph_2:2, and in other passages.
The Manicheans foolishly and ineffectually abused this passage to prove their absurd tenets. For since, when Scripture calls us the children of God, this does not refer to the transmission or origin of the substance, but to the grace of the Spirit, which regenerates us to newness of life; so this swing of Christ does not relate to the transmission of substance, but to the corruption of nature, of which man’s revolt was the cause and origin. When men, therefore, are born children of the devil, it must not be imputed to creation, but to the blame of sin. Now Christ proves this from the effect, because they willingly, and of their own accord, are disposed to follow the devil.
He was a murderer from the beginning. He explains what are those desires, and mentions two instances, cruelty and falsehood; in which the Jews too much resembled Satan. When he says that the devil was a murderer, he means that he contrived the destruction of man; for as soon as man was created, Satan, impelled by a wicked desire of doing injury, bent his strength to destroy him. Christ does not mean the beginning of the creation, as if God implanted in him the disposition to do injury; but he condemns in Satan the corruption of nature, which he brought upon himself. This appears more clearly from the second clause, in which he says,
He did not remain in the truth. For though those who imagine that the devil was wicked by nature, endeavor to make evasions, yet these words plainly state that there was a change for the worse, and that the reason why Satan was a liar was, that he revolted from the truth That he is a liar, arises not from his nature having been always contrary to truth, but because he fell from it by a voluntary fall. This description of Satan is highly useful to us, that every person for himself may endeavor to beware of his snares, and, at the same time, to repel his violence and fury; for
he goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, (1Pe_5:8,)
and has a thousand stratagems at his command for deceiving. So much the more ought believers to be supplied with spiritual arms for fighting, and so much the more earnestly ought they to keep watch with vigilance and sobriety. Now, if Satan cannot lay aside this disposition, we ought not to be alarmed at it, as if it were a new and uncommon occurrence, when errors exceedingly numerous and varied spring up; for Satan stirs up his followers like bellows, to deceive the world by their impostures. And we need not wonder that Satan puts forth such strenuous efforts to extinguish the light of truth; for it is the only life of the soul. So, then, the most important and most deadly wound for killing the soul isfalsehood. As all who have eyes to see perceive, in the present day, such a picture of Satan in Popery, they ought, first, to consider with what enemy they carry on war, and, next, to betake themselves to the protection of Christ their Captain, under whose banner they fight.
Because the truth is not in him. This statement, which immediately follows the other, is a confirmation a posteriori, as the phrase is; that is, it is drawn from the effect. For Satan hates the truth, and therefore cannot endure it, but, on the contrary, is entirely covered with falsehoods. Hence Christ infers, that he is entirely fallen from the truth, and entirely turned away from it. Let us not wonder, therefore, if he daily exhibits the fruits of his apostacy.
When he speaketh falsehood. These words are generally explained as if Christ affirmed that the blame of falsehood does not belong to God, who is the Author of nature, but, on the contrary, proceeds from corruption. But I explain it more simply, that it is customary with the devil to speak falsehood, and that he knows nothing but to contrive corruptions, frauds, and delusions. And yet we justly infer from these words, that the devil has this vice from himself, and that, while it is peculiar to him, it may likewise be said to be accidental; for, while Christ makes the devil to be the contriver of lying, he evidently separates him from God, and even declares him to be contrary to God. For he is a liar, and the father of it The wordfather has the same object as the preceding statement; for the reason why Satan is said to be the father of falsehood is, because he is estranged from God, in whom alone truth dwells, and from whom it flows as from the only fountain.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
44. Ye are of your father the devil] At last Christ says plainly, what He has implied in Joh_8:38; Joh_8:41. ‘Ye’ is emphatic; ‘ye, who boast that ye have Abraham and God as your Father, ye are morally the Devil’s children.’ Comp. 1Jn_3:8; 1Jn_3:10, which is perhaps an echo of Christ’s words.
This passage seems to be conclusive as to the real personal existence of the devil. It can scarcely be an economy, a concession to ordinary modes of thought and language. Would Christ have resorted to a popular delusion in a denunciation of such solemn and awful severity? Comp. ‘the children of the wicked one’ (Mat_13:38); ‘ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves’ (Mat_23:15). With this denunciation generally compare those contained in Mat_11:20-24; Mat_23:13-36. “It is likely that dialogues of this sort would be of not infrequent occurrence, especially just at this time when the conflict is reaching its climax. It is likely too that they would be of the nature of dialogues broken by impatient interruptions on the part of the Jews, and not always a continuous strain of denunciation as in Matthew 23.” S. p. 159.
A monstrous but grammatically possible translation of these words is adopted by some who attribute a Gnostic origin to this Gospel;—‘ye are descended from the father of the devil.’ This Gnostic demonology, according to which the father of the devil is the God of the Jews, is utterly unscriptural, and does not suit the context here.
and the lusts of your father ye will do] Rather, ye will to do. See on Joh_6:67, Joh_7:17; and comp. Joh_8:40. ‘Ye love to gratify the lusts which characterize him, especially the lust for blood. Being his children, ye are like him in nature.’
He was a murderer from the beginning] The word for ‘murderer’ etymologically means ‘man-slayer,’ and seems to connect this passage with Joh_8:40 (see note there). The devil was a murderer by causing the Fall, and thus bringing death into the world. Comp. ‘God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world, and they that do hold of his side shall find it (Wis_2:23-24): and ‘Cain was of that wicked one and slew his brother:’ and ‘whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer’ (1Jn_3:12; 1Jn_3:15).
and abode not in the truth] Rather, and standeth not in the truth. The verb is not S. John’s favourite word ‘abide’ (see on Joh_1:33), but (according to the common reading) the same that is used in Joh_1:35, Joh_3:29, Joh_7:37, &c. Though perfect in form it is present in meaning: therefore not ‘hath stood,’ still less ‘stood’ or ‘abode,’ but standeth. The true reading, however, is probably not hestêken, but estêken, the imperfect of stêkein (Joh_1:26; Rom_14:4), a stronger form of the verb; stood firm. Truth is a region from which the devil has long since departed.
he speaketh of his own] Literally, he speaketh out of his own; out of his own resources, out of his own nature: the outcome is what might be expected from him.
for he is a liar, and the father of it] Better, because he is a liar and the father thereof, i.e. father of the liar, rather than father of the lie (understood in liar). Here again a monstrous misinterpretation is grammatically possible;—‘for he is a liar, and his father also.’ It is not strange that Gnostics of the second and third centuries should have tried to wring a sanction for their fantastic systems out of the writings of S. John. It is strange that any modern critics should have thought demonology so extravagant compatible with the theology of the Fourth Gospel.
Ye are of the father who is the devil. In this way the great bulk of the best commentators translate this difficult clause, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, and Davidson translate, “You are of the father of the devil;” and suggest that here the evangelist betrays his fierce Gnostic (Ophite) antagonism to the Jews, and adopts the view that the God of the Old Testament, the “Creator,” was the Father of the serpent. This is surely untenable. The Creator of all things, in the prologue, is none other than the Father acting through the Logos. In the third, fourth, and fifth chapters, the greatest honours are ascribed to the God of the Jewish people, and not the faintest hint given of such radical divergence from the standpoint of Judaism. In this very passage the father of the faithful Jews is spoken of with profound reverence. “The second-century Gnostic” must have so cleverly concealed his sentiments, and have refuted his position so frequently, that it is inexcusably inept for him to have shown his cloven foot on this occasion. Thoma ignores the wild conjecture of Hilgenfeld. Our Lord was not dealing with the parentage of the devil, but with the moral and religious parentage of those Jews who were manifesting the most bitter antagonism to himself and plotting his destruction. For them to claim spiritual kinship and childlike feeling to the Father whose holy nature and whose love to them he was revealing, was a strange contradiction in terms. Our Lord repudiated it in this terrible language. He had worsted the seductive suggestions of the devil, and when he saw and heard them repeated and set forth as Divine proposals, he gave them their true name. “You disclaim the faintest sympathy with other gods; you resent the bar sinister on your escutcheon; you say that religiously as well as historically you are not born of any fornication—there is no taint in your theological position; but I tell you plainly that you are from, you are manifesting the very essence and substance of, the father who is the prime enemy of God and man. The phrase is in perfect keeping with many synoptic phrases (Mat_13:38; Mat_23:15; cf. John the Baptist’s language, Mat_3:7). And the lusts of your father—those of falsehood and murder, lying and slaughter, being the top and chief of all his evil passions—ye are willing, desirous to do. He has engendered these very lusts within you. The paternity of your angry passions, your incapacity to see and accept my word, are both alike explained. There is no more terrible rebuke in the whole compass of revelation. The disciple whom Jesus loved, in preserving these words, shows very decidedly that he was a “Son of Thunder,” and calls down fire from heaven (a very storm) which has been ever since descending upon the heads of these and all other bitter antagonists of the Son of man. He was a murderer (literally, a manslayer) from the beginning. This has often been referred to the spirit which animated Cain in the slaughter of his brother Abel. There is some corroboration of such a reference in 1Jn_3:12, “Cain was ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ of that wicked one, and slew his brother;” and in the language of 1Jn_3:15, “Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer.” (So Lucke, Reuss, De Wette, and others.) But the narrative of the death of Abel makes no reference to the agency of the devil, but rather indicates that the sin of Cain was originated by his having been begotten in the image of the fallen Adam. The better interpretation and reference of the words may be seen in 1Jn_3:8, “He that doeth sin is from the devil (ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου), for the devil sinneth from the beginning (ἀπ ἀρχη ͂ς).” And sin entered into the world through the seduction and false statements of the devil, by which the first man was veritably slain, his moral nature killed outright. Grace was not shut out, but Adam died. In the day that he ate of the forbidden tree, man most surely and in the deepest sense died. “God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of its side do find it” (Wis. 2:23, 24; Rev_12:9); “Sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom_5:12). The work of destruction at the beginning of humanity upon earth has never been exhausted. In murderous propensity, in lying and seductive words and ways, the children of wrath are ever showing their parentage. To this statement our Lord added what has by many been regarded as a distinct revelation of the fall of Satan himself from the condition of rectitude (cf. Jud_1:6; 2Pe_2:4). He stands not; continues not—in the truth. Jesus presupposes the fall of this mighty and murderous spirit from a previous condition of rectitude, and the dictum of our Lord ought never to have been charged with the admission of an eternal principle of evil. The fall of the lost angels is not explicitly stated. Because there is no truth in him. The absence of the article before “truth” shows that in the previous clause the objective truth is meant, that the reality of things as known by him is referred to. The truth was that region or sphere of action in which he elected not to stand, and, as a matter of fact, does not stand nor find place. By “truth” is meant subjective truth or “truthfulness,” the spirit which repudiates falsehood in all its forms and manifestations. There is no consistency with himself, no inward harmony with reality. This is given as reason why the devil stands not in the truth. Whensoever he speaketh a lie, he speaketh (λαλεῖ) from (ἐκ, out of) his own resources—from what is most entirely his own, revealing the depth of his truthless, loveless, fatal, godless nature. Schaff quotes from Gothe’s ‘Faust’ the account which Mephistopheles gives of his own being. Here it is in Kegan Paul’s translation—
“I am the spirit, who aye deny!
And rightly so; for everything
Is only good for perishing;
So better ’twere that nought had been,
And, therefore, all that you call sin
Ruin, whate’er with evil’s rife
Is my true element of life.”
Gothe exactly expressed the ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων by “mein eigentliches element.” Because he is a liar, and the father of the liar. This translation makes the αὐτοῦ refer to τεύστης, which is the most natural antecedent (so Bengel, Meyer, Lange, Godet, etc.), notwithstanding the difficulty of the construction. This language asserts not only the agelong proof which history gives of the falsehood of this terrible personality, but declares that he exerts an evil paternity in the life of every liar. “Brood of vipers” is a phrase used by John Baptist and Christ himself when addressing Pharisees. The well known imagery of the first promise, “I will put enmity between her seed and thy seed,” etc., suggests the same thought. There is an awful significance in this power of the devil to sow his deadly seed in human life, and to produce thus, on the soil of human nature, “children of the wicked one” (cf. Paul’s language, Act_13:10, addressed to Elymas, υἱὲ διαβόλου, “son of the devil”). Another translation makes αὐτοῦ refer to ψεῦδος: He is a liar, and the father of falsehood, or thereof (Revised version); thus drawing an abstract out of the concrete ψεύστης, or possibly referring to the first he which slew the spiritual life of men—to the “Ye shall not surely die” of Gen_3:4. It is against this view that our Lord is here dealing with persons rather than with abstractions. Westcott and Moulton and Revised version in margin have given indefiniteness to the subject of the verb λαλῇ, and translate, “Whensoever one [or, ‘a man’] speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for his father also is a liar;” the idea being that the evil inheritance from the father of lies has even made falsehood the essential element, the proprium, of the liar. This, however, appears to involve a very complicated thought. The ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων, if strictly spoken, contradicts the idea of the liar’s peculiarities being the result of inheritance. Still less satisfactory is the vain endeavour of the Gnostics, who found here a second reference to the father of the devil. They discovered in some Italic versions, and in the usage of some of the Fathers, καθὼς καί, in place of καὶ, and so took it to mean, “he is a liar, as also his father.” Higenfeld and volkmar have fastened upon this text also, and thus found further proof of Gnostic (Ophite) heresy in the Gospel. Riggenbach and Godet have remarked that, if the father of the devil was spoken of in the previous clause, “his father” would mean “the father of the father of the devil”! We have already seen how groundless such a charge against the Gospel is, and how such a rendering would throw the entire context into confusion. If we accept the first translation, we find that our Lord announces a doctrine concerning the devil, and conveys more information than can be obtained from any other source. This is not mere accommodation to the consciousness of a daemoniac or the prejudices of the Jews, as some have interpreted Christ’s language in the synoptic Gospels, but it is distinct dogmatic teaching about the personality, character, and method of the devil.
Emphatic, in contrast with ἡμεῖς, we, of Joh_8:41.
Of your father (ἐκ)
Very suggestive, implying community of nature, as in Joh_8:42. Compare 1Jo_3:8, 1Jo_3:10.
See on Mat_4:1. John uses Satan only once in the Gospel (Joh_13:27), frequently in Revelation, and nowhere in the Epistles. A few critics have adopted the very singular rendering, which the Greek will bear, ye are of the father of the devil. This is explained by charging John with Gnosticism, and making him refer to the Demiurge, a mysterious and inferior being descended from God, by whom God, according to the Gnostics, created the universe, and who had rebelled against God, and was the father of Satan. It is only necessary to remark with Meyer that such a view is both unbiblical and un-Johannine.
See on Mar_4:19.
Ye will do (θέλετε ποιεῖν)
Wrong. Properly, ye will to do. Rev., it is your will to do. See on Joh_7:17.
Only here and 1Jo_3:15. Literally, a manslayer; from ἄνθρωπος, man, and κτείνω, to kill. The epithet is applied to Satan, not with reference to the murder of Abel, but to the fact of his being the author of death to the race. Compare Rom_7:8, Rom_7:11; Heb_2:14.
From the beginning
Of the human race.
Stood not (οὐκ ἕστηκεν)
This may be explained in two ways. The verb may be taken as the perfect tense of ἵστημι, which is the form for the English present tense, I stand. In that case it would describe Satan’s present standing in the element of falsehood: he standeth not in the truth. Or it may be taken as the imperfect tense of στήκω, I keep my standing, or simply, I stand, in which case the form will be ἔστηκεν, and it will mean that even before his fall he was not true, or that he did not remain true to God, but fell. Meyer, who takes it in the former sense, observes: “Truth is the domain in which he has not his footing; to him it is a foreign, heterogeneous sphere of life…. The lie is the sphere in which he holds his place.” So Mephistopheles in Goethe’s “Faust”:
“I am the spirit that denies!
And justly so; for all things from the void
Called forth, deserve to be destroyed;
‘Twere better, then, were naught created.
Thus, all which you as sin have rated, –
Destruction, – aught with evil blent, –
That is my proper element.”
When he speaketh a lie (ὅταν λαλῇ τὸ ψεῦδος)
More strictly, whenever – the lie, as opposed to the truth, regarded as a whole. Two interpretations are given. According to one, the Devil is the subject of speaketh: according to the other, the subject is indefinite; “when one speaketh;” stating a general proposition.
Of his own (ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων)
Literally, out of the things which are his own. “That which is most peculiarly his ethical nature” (Meyer).
For he is a liar, and the father of it (ὅτι ψεύστης ἐστὶ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ)
Three interpretations are given. 1. That of the A.V. and Rev. “He is a liar, and the father of the lie.” 2. “He is a liar, and the father of the liar (since of it may also be rendered of him).” 3. Making ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ, his father, the subject of the sentence, and referring his to one, the indefinite subject of speaketh (“when one speaketh a lie”). Thus the rendering will be, Because his father is a liar.As to Jesus’ course of thought – if we accept either of the first two renderings, it turns on the character of Satan. After stating that the Jews are children of the Devil, He goes on to describe the Devil as a murderer and a liar, and enlarges on the latter characteristic by saying that falsehood is his natural and peculiar element. Whenever he lies he speaks out of his own false nature, for he is a liar, and the father of the lie or of the liar. If we accept the third rendering, the thought turns rather on the character of the Jews as children of Satan. He utters first, the general charge, ye are the children of the Devil, and as such will do his works. Hence you will be both murderers and liars. He was a murderer, and ye are seeking to kill me. He stood not in the truth, neither do ye; for, when one speaketh a lie, he speaketh out of his own false nature, by a birthright of falsehood, since his father also is a liar.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
45. And because I tell you, &c.] Better, But because I speak the truth, ye do not believe me. ‘Ye will listen to the devil (Joh_8:38); ye will believe a lie: but the Messiah speaking the truth ye will not believe.’ The tragic tone once more: comp. Joh_1:5; Joh_1:10-11, Joh_2:24, Joh_3:10; Joh_3:19, &c.
46.Which of you? This question proceeds from perfect confidence; for, knowing that they could not justly bring any reproach against him, he glories over his enemies, as having obtained a victory. And yet he does not say that he is free from their slanders; for, though they had no reason for reproaching, still they did not cease to pour out slanders on Christ; but he means that no crime dwells in him. And such is the import of the Greek word ἐλέγχειν, as the Latins use coarguere, (to convict,) when a person is held convicted of the fact. Which of you Convicteth me of sin? Yet those who think that Christ here asserts his complete innocence, because he alone surpassed all men, so far as he was the Son of God, are mistaken. For this defense must be restricted to what belongs to the passage, as if he had asserted that nothing could be brought forward to show that he was not a faithful servant of God. In like manner Paul also glories that he is not conscious of any crime (1Co_4:4;) for that does not extend to the whole life, but is only a defense of his doctrine and apostleship. It is away from the subject, therefore, to speculate, as some do, about the perfection of righteousness which belongs to the Son of God alone; since the only object which he has in view is, to give authority to his ministry, as appears more clearly from what follows; for he again adds immediately afterwards, If I speak truth, why do you not believe me? From which we infer that Christ is rather defending his doctrine than his person.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
46. Which of you convinceth me of sin?] Or, convicteth Me of sin (see on Joh_3:20). Many rebuked Christ and laid sin to His charge: none brought sin home to His conscience. There is the majesty of Divinity in the challenge. What mortal man would dare to make it? See on Joh_8:29, and comp. Joh_14:30, and Joh_15:10; 1Jn_3:5; 1Pe_1:19; 1Pe_2:22. Note the implied connexion between sin generally and falsehood, as between righteousness and truth, Joh_7:18.
And if I say the truth] Better, If I say truth. No MSS. have the article, and the best MSS. omit the conjunction. ‘If I am free from sin (and none of you can convict Me of sin), I am free from falsehood and speak the truth. Why then do ye on your part refuse to believe Me?’ ‘Ye’ is emphatic.
Which of you convinceth me of sin? – Do you pretend to reject the truths which I announce, because my life does not correspond to the doctrines I have taught? But can any of you prove me guilty of any fault? You have maliciously watched all my steps; have you seen the smallest matter to reprove, in any part of my conduct?
But it is probable that ἁμαρτια, sin, is put here in opposition to αληθεια, truth, in the same verse, and then it should be rendered falsehood. The very best Greek writers use the word in the same sense: this, Kypke proves by quotations from Polybius, Lucian, Dionysius Halicarnassensis, Plutarch, Thucydides, and Hippocrates. Raphelius adds a pertinent quotation from Herodotus, and shows that the purest Latin writers have used the word peccatum, sin, in the sense of error or falsehood. See the note on Gen_13:13.
Which of you convieteth me of sin? Ἐλέγχω is used in the sense of Joh_16:6-8 (see note)—Which of you can justify a charge of sin against me? can bring it home to me or others? Sin (ἁμαρτ ία) is not mere “error,” as Erasmus and some others have urged, because the word throughout the New Testament (and in the classics when not accompanied by some explanatory term) always means “contrariety to the will of God,” moral offence not intellectual defect (so Meyer, Luthardt, Godet, Westcott). Nor is it sound exegesis to limit ἁμαρτ ία to one particular form of sin (such as “false doctrine,” Calvin, Melancthon, Tholuck). There is no need to limit its reference; and in the unanswered query, while we cannot say that by itself this passage is sufficient to demonstrate the sinlessness of Christ, it reveals a sublime depth in his translucent consciousness that places him—unless he were the most deluded or self-sufficient of human teachers—on a different position from all other Divine messengers. In proportion as other great moral prophets have set their own standard high, they have become conscious of their own defects; and from Moses to St. Paul, from Augustine to St. Francis, the saintliest men have been the most alive to their own departures from their ideas of right. The standard of Jesus is higher than that of any other, and he appears nevertheless absolutely without need of repentance, above the power of temptation, beyond the range of conviction. True, the Jews brought a charge of madness and folly upon him immediately; but, so far from convincing him or mankind, they stand forever covered with the shame of their own incompetence to apprehend his message or himself. He being, then, without sin, and assuming that he stands in the eternal truth, and is the absolute Truth of things, and that he cannot from his moral purity deceive or misinform them, and that his testimony to himself is final, sufficient, and trustworthy, asks, If I say the truth—without your having convicted me of sin or brought any moral obliquity or offence against me—if I say (the) truth, why do ye not believe me? The reason is in them rather than in him. Their non-belief discloses no flaw in his revelation, but makes it evident that they and he are on different planes of being, with a discrepant, opposed, moral paternity. “Why do ye not believe me?” He marvelled at their unbelief! He is from God; they are from God’s great enemy. The moral perfection of Jesus as the God-Man is absolutely necessary to his character as “God’s Lamb,” as “the Only Begotten,” “the Son,” and as “the Judge,” of the human race. As he subsequently said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing fit me.” To account for this sinless, perfect humanity, the entire conception of the Divine nature blended in indissoluble union with his own is found imperative at every epoch of Christ’s life. At every development of his official character, in every new combination of circumstance, in conflict and sorrow, when smarting from treachery and dying alone upon the cross, he is “perfect,” he fulfils the perfect norm, he reaches the standard of Divine humanity. There is no discrepance here with even Mark’s account of his language to the young ruler (Mar_10:18), for he does not there say that he is not good, nor does he do other than suggest that he is identified with the One who is good.
47.He who is of God. As he has a full right to take this for granted, that he is the ambassador of the heavenly Father, and that he discharges faithfully the office which has been committed to him, he kindles into greater indignation against them; for their impiety was no longer concealed, since they were so obstinate in rejecting the word of God. He had showed that they could not bring forward any thing which he had not taught as from the mouth of God. He concludes, therefore, that they have nothing in common with God, for they do not hear the words of God; and, without saying any thing about himself, he charges them with being at war with God. Besides, we are taught by this passage, that there is not a more evident sign of a reprobate mind, than when one cannot endure the doctrine of Christ, even though, in other respects, it shone with angelic sanctity; as, on the contrary, if we embrace that doctrine cheerfully, we have what may be called a visible seal of our election. For he who has the word enjoys God himself; but he who rejects it excludes himself from righteousness and life. Wherefore, there is nothing which we ought to fear so much as to fall under that dreadful sentence.
There was some pause after this searching inquiry. Silence showed that, if they could not convince him of sin, they were ready with no answer to his question. He assumes that his word is unanswerable; he is what he says he is, and is able to set men free from sin and to give them eternal life. Their position is still further explained by a distinct syllogism, of which the major premiss is: He that is of God heareth the words of God; words which it is obviously taken for granted he is freely, surely uttering. Who are the persons referred to? Some, like Hilgenfeld, discover here a Manichaean, Gnostic sense—”those who are essentially of a Divine origin and spiritual nature,” are absolutely different from those who are of the psychic or hylic nature. Thus they cut away all force from the moral reproof which follows. Others insist that here Jesus speaks of the regenerated man, the true child of God, who has power to believe, who has come to the Father, being predestinated unto eternal life. Even this interpretation does not leave sufficiently ample play to the human freedom, and the personal self-responsibility, which pervades the teaching of the gospel. Elsewhere he speaks of these who are “of the truth” and “hear his voice,” of “those whom the Father draws” to him by the very love and grace which he, the Son, lavishes upon them (see notes, Joh_6:37, Joh_6:44; Joh_18:37; Joh_17:6, Joh_17:9, Joh_17:11). He also speaks of those who come to him being given to him. He is here contemplating this wide class, who are scattered through all time and places, with susceptible minds capable of hearing freely, and believing when they hear, the words of God. For this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God; i.e. seeing that ye do not hear the words of God, it is evident that ye are not of God. They are not excluded from becoming so by any irreversible fate, but their present obtuseness of spiritual perception, their refusal to accept truth on its clearest exposition, shows that they are not born of God; they are not being drawn to him by inworking of the Father’s grace. The very form of the expression was once more meant to touch their conscience.