John 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

WE pause on the threshold that leads from the Three Gospels to the Fourth, as from the Holy Place to the Holy of Holies; and I feel that there can be no better introduction to that innermost sanctuary than the hymn of which it has been truly said, that “sacred Latin poetry scarcely possesses, if indeed it possess,” anything grander or loftier. (Archbishop Trench, Sacred Latin Poetry, p. 72.) Many readers of this Volume will, I believe, thank me for giving them the opportunity of reading that hymn in the unapproachable majesty of the original. Others will, I hope, appreciate it in some measure, even in the weaker medium of a translation. The writer is unknown, but he was clearly one who had been trained in the school of Adam of St. Victor, whose hymn on the Cherubic Emblems of the Gospels has been already given (p. xliv.), and the disciple was not inferior to his master.

E. H. P.

Verbum Dei, Deo Natum,

Quod nec factum, nec creatum,

Venit de cœlestibus;

Hoc vidit, hoc attrectavit,

Hoc de cœlo reseravit,

Joannes hominibus.

Inter illos primitivos

Veros veri fontis rivos

Joannes exiliit;

Toti mundo propinare

Nectar illud salutare,

Quod de throno prodiit.

Cœlum transit, veri rotam

Solis vidit. ibi totam

Mentis figens aciem;

Speculator spiritalis,

Quasi Seraphim sub alis,

Dei vidit faciem.

Audiit in gyro sedis

Quid psallant cum citharædis,

Quater seni proceres:

De sigillo Trinitatis

Nostræ nummo civitatis

Impressit characteres.

Volat avis sine meta

Quo nec vates nec propheta

Evolavit altius:

Tam implenda quam impleta,

Nunquam vidit tot secreta

Purus homo purius.

Sponsus, rubra veste tectus,

Visus, sed non intellectus,

Redit ad palatium:

Aquilam Ezechielis

Sponsæ misit, quæ de cœlis

Referret mysterium.

Dic, dilecte, de Dilecto,

Qualis, adsit, et de lecto

Sponsi Sponsæ nuncia;

Dic quis cibus angelorum,

Quæ sint festa superorum

De Sponsi præsentia.

Veri panem intellectus,

Cænam Christi super pectus,

Christi sumptam resera:

Ut cantemus de Patrono,

Coram Agno, coram Throno,

Laudes super æthera.

The Word of God, the Eternal Son,

With God, the Uncreated, One,

Came down to earth from Heaven;

To see Him, handle Him, and show

His heavenly life to men below,

To holy John was given.

Among those four primeval streams

Whose living fount in Eden gleams,

John’s record true is known;

To all the world he poureth forth

The nectar pure of priceless worth

That flows from out the Throne.

Beyond the Heavens he soared, nor failed,

With all the spirit’s gaze unveiled,

To see our true Sun’s grace;

Not as through mists and visions dim,

Beneath the wings of Seraphim

He looked, and saw God s face.

He heard where songs and harps resound

And four and twenty elders round

Sing hymns of praise and joy:

The impress of the One in Three,

With print so clear that all may see,

He stamped on earth’s alloy.

As eagle winging loftiest flight

Where never seer’s or prophet’s sight

Had pierced the ethereal vast,

Pure beyond human purity,

He scanned, with still undazzled eye,

The future and the past.

The bridegroom, clad in garments red,

Seen, yet with might unfathomed,

Home to his palace hies;

Ezekiel’s eagle to His bride

He sends, and will no longer hide

Heaven’s deepest mysteries.

O loved one, bear, if thou can’st tell

Of Him whom thou did’st love so well,

Glad tidings to the Bride;

Tell of the angels’ food they taste,

Who with the Bridegroom’s presence graced,

Are resting at His side.

Tell of the soul’s true bread unpriced,

Christ’s supper, on the breast of Christ

In wondrous rapture ta’en;

That we may sing before the Throne

His praises, whom as Lord we own,

The Lamb we worship slain.





Professor of Logic and Moral Philosophy at King’s College, London.

Quarti euangeliorum Iohannis ex decipolis

cohortantibus condescipulis et eps suis

dixit conieiunate mihi odie triduo et quid

cuique fuerit reuelatum alterutrum

nobis ennarremus eadem nocte reue

latum andreae ex apostolis ut recognis

centibus cuntis Iohannis suo nomine

cuncta discriberet et ideo licit uaria sin

culis euangeliorum libris principia

doceantur Nihil tamen differt creden

tium feidei cum uno ac principali s̄pū de

clarata sint in omnibus omnia de natidi

tate de passione de resurrectione

de conuersatione cum decipulis suis

ac de gemino eius aduentu

Primo In humilitate dispectus quod fo

tu secundum potestate regali pre

clarum quod foturum est. quid ergo

mirum si Iohannes tam constanter

sincula etiā In epistulis suis proferat

dicens In semeipsu Quæ uidimus oculis

nostris et auribus audiuimus et manus

nostrae palpauerunt haec scripsimus



See Introduction, page 377.]










I. Life of the Apostle John.—Our sources of information for the life of the Apostle John are, (1) the Four Gospels themselves; (2) the Acts of the Apostles, with references in the Epistles; (3) the traditions which have come to us in the history of the early Church.

(1) From the Gospels we know that St. John was the son of Zebedee and Salome.

The father is mentioned only once in the narrative (Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20), but the name occurs frequently as distinguishing the sons. He had “hired servants” (Mark 1:20); and John’s own connection with the family of the high priest (John 18:15; but see Note here), and the committal of Mary to his care (John 19:27), may also point to a position removed at least from the necessity, but not from the practice, of labour, which was customary among Jews of all classes (Matthew 4:21).

Of Salome we know little more. It has been assumed above that she was the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of St. John; and the assumption is based upon a comparison of Matthew 20:20; Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1. (Comp. Notes on these passages.) It has also been frequently assumed that she was the sister of Mary, the mother of our Lord, mentioned in John 19:25 (comp. Note there); and although this cannot be regarded as proved, it is the most probable interpretation. It would follow from this that St. John was the cousin-german of our Lord. Salome was also one of the band of women who ministered unto the Lord of their substance (Matthew 27:56; Luke 8:3); and this falls in with the general impression which the narrative gives of the position of the family. She was present at the Crucifixion (Mark 15:40), and was one of those who brought spices for the embalmment (Mark 16:1). In one other passage she is mentioned, and there she appears as asking for her two sons the position of honour in the Messianic kingdom (Matthew 20:20 et seq.). Her prominence as compared with her husband, and the title “mother of Zebedee’s children,” makes it probable that she outlived him, and that the influence of the mother, whose zeal and love for her sons are illustrated in her ambitious request for them, was that which chiefly moulded the Apostle’s earlier years.

Another member of the household is known to us—James, who is usually mentioned first, and was presumably the elder of the pair of brothers. At the time of his death he was, however, known to St. Luke as “James the brother of John” (Acts 12:2), and the same writer inverts the order of the names in the same chapter (Luke 9:28 [? reading], Luke 9:52). In Acts 1:13, too, the better reading is Peter and John and James. The home of the family was on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, at Bethsaida, according to the usual conclusion from Luke 5:9 and John 1:44; or, perhaps, at Capernaum, which was not far from Bethsaida (Mark 1:29).

The sons of Jonas were companions of the sons of Zebedee when they are first mentioned, and had probably been friends in boyhood and youth. Whether the home was at Bethsaida or Capernaum, the Apostle was by birth a Galilean, as were all the Twelve, with the exception, perhaps, of Judas Iscariot. (Comp. Notes on John 6:71, and Acts 2:7.) He belonged, then, to the free, industrious, and warlike people of the North, who were despised by the more cultured inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon whom the yoke of Judaism pressed less heavily than it did upon the dwellers in Judæa. Removed from the influence of scribes and Pharisees on the one hand, he would on the other hand grow up in contact with men of alien races and creeds, who were found in large numbers in the populous cities of Galilee. The union of Jewish and Greek characteristics which mark the man would be thus formed insensibly in the boy.

We know too little of the family life in Galilee eighteen centuries ago to be able to realise with any fulness and certainty how the years of the Apostle’s boyhood and youth were spent; and yet there are certain bold lines which can be distinctly traced. Up to the age of six he, like other Jewish children, would be taught by his parents at home, and then sent to one of the public schools, which, in the period after the Captivity, had been established in every town and important village in Judæa and Galilee. We know that after the fall of Jerusalem Tiberias became the seat of the most famous rabbinic school, and it is probable that there were already established on the shores of the Sea of Galilee the seminaries of doctors who had been themselves trained at Jerusalem. The lad would have gone to one of these higher seminaries at the age of sixteen, and would thus have been fitted for the work which, in the providence of God, lay before him, though he was not technically trained at the feet of a rabbi, and was therefore classed among the “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13).

At the age of twelve or thirteen, John would have been taken up, as we know that Jesus was, to keep the feasts at Jerusalem. The holy city, bound up with prophecy and psalm; the temple, the centre of every highest hope and thought which, at mother’s knee or at the feet of the teacher, had been instilled into his mind, now burst in all the glory of its reality upon this Galilean boy. What Oxford and Cambridge are to English schoolboys, or Rome to the pilgrim from distant lands, all this, and a thousand times more than all this, was the city of Zion to the Jewish pilgrim. Well may it be that the gorgeous ritual of the temple so impressed itself upon the receptive youthful mind as to furnish the imagery in which the Visions of the Apocalypse were afterwards to be clothed.

These visits would be repeated three times each year, and form the great events in the year’s course. The caravans, the pilgrim-songs, the discourses of rabbis and teachers, the ritual of the feasts themselves, would all leave their mark upon the opening mind, and lead to question and answer as to what these things meant.

In the intervals between the feasts, there would be the regular synagogue services and instructions, the converse with teachers and friends, the daily task in his father’s trade, the growth and development of character in and through all these outer circumstances.

The most prominent thought of the times, the subject on which men were ever musing and speaking of, was the expectation of the Messiah. Probably every well-trained Jewish boy expected that the Messiah would come before his own life would end. Together with this expectation of the Messiah there were hopes of freedom from the oppression of Rome; and the deep feeling of the masses frequently found vent in open insurrection. One remarkable attempt to throw off the hated yoke, which was for a time successful—when Judas the Gaulonite, and Sadoc the Pharisee, ruled the whole country—must have occurred when John was yet a boy, and his spirit must have been fired by the cry of their watchword, “God only is our Lord and Master.” (Comp. Jos. Ant. xviii. 1.)

And so the years went on. Boyhood passed into youth, and youth into manhood. The study of the law and the prophets, the singing of psalms, the utterance of prayers, the feelings and hopes of his countrymen, must, with successive years, have brought a new meaning. The dreams of childhood and visions of youth grew into the deeper thoughts and fuller hopes of manhood.

Such was the relation of John’s mind to the preparation of the past and to the hopes of the future, when the Baptist appeared as the herald of the coming King, and passing from Judæa northwards through the Jordan Valley, cried with a voice which, like a trumpet-blast, awoke men from their spiritual slumber, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Among those who flocked to this new teacher were the sons of Zebedee and the sons of Jonas. The first chapter of this Gospel leads to the thought that they were prominent among the Forerunner’s disciples; and to the heart of no one, it may be, of all who heard him did his burning words come with greater power than to that of the young follower whose name was in the after-history to eclipse his own. For days, or weeks, or months, perhaps, the spirit of John the Baptist was leading the spirit of John the son of Zebedee onward from Old Testament prophecy to Him in whom Old Testament prophecy was to be fulfilled. Neither knew, indeed, that the fulfilment was so near at hand until the Baptist saw the Messiah coming to be baptised, and the disciple heard the cry, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” On the following day the words so full of meaning were again spoken, and a pair of disciples. of whom Andrew was one, and John almost certainly the other, passed from the discipleship of the Baptist to that of the Messiah Himself. They “remained with Him that day,” the crisis of the life, in which its whole current was changed. (See Notes on chap John 1:35-42.)

The next period of the life is one with which we are familiar from the Gospels themselves, and one which, therefore, needs but a brief treatment here. John seems at once to have followed Jesus; to have been present, and, perhaps, even to have been a central figure, at the marriage at Cana (John 2, Note on John 2:5); to have gone thence with Him to Capernaum and Jerusalem (John 2:12; John 2:22); to have been with Him on the return to Samaria; and then probably for a time to have gone back to his ordinary life, learning in the calmness of its retirement the meaning of the lessons which the words and deeds of Jesus had taught him.

From that retirement he is again called, and perhaps the call was repeated (comp. Notes on Matthew 4:18 and Luke 5:1-11), to be a fisher of men and an Apostle of the Church of Christ. With James his brother, with Simon and Andrew his friends, he is always named in the first group of the Apostles; and with James and Simon he forms the band of three who are the nearest friends and companions of the earthly life of Christ. They alone are with Him in the presence of death (Mark 5:37); in the Mount of Transfiguration; in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter and John follow Him within the high priest’s house at the trial (John 18); John at least was present at the Crucifixion; and both ran together to the sepulchre. From the call to the Apostleship to the close of the human life of Christ, the story of the life of St. John is bound up with the outer events of the life of his Master. Following in His steps; hearing, and, with greater receptive power than any other hearer, grasping the truths that Christ taught; seeing, and, with greater spiritual intuition than any other witness, reading the signs that Christ did; loving with fuller love, and therefore more fully loved; he was preparing to be prominent among witnesses to, as he had been prominent among those who were witnesses of, the works and teaching and love of Christ.

But his character is not represented as simply receptive. He who gave to Simon the name of Peter to mark him out as the rock-man of the Church, gave to James and John, as marking out some characteristics in them, the title “Boanerges” or “Thunder-sons.” (Comp. Note on Mark 3:17.) If “Son of Perdition” was the name of him in whom there was the special characteristic marked by “perdition” (comp. Note on John 17:12), and “Son of Exhortation” that of him who had this special gift (comp. Note on Acts 4:36), then “Sons of Thunder” marks out some force of character—sudden, impulsive, vehement, as the thunder’s roll. Of this we find traces in the earlier Gospels. These sons of Zebedee, seeking with their mother the chief places in the Messianic kingdom, declare that they are ready to face all the dangers and difficulties before them; to drink of His cup; to be baptised with His baptism (Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-41). They forbad those who cast out devils in Christ’s name, and would call fire from heaven to consume those who received not their Lord (Luke 9:49-54). Of the spirit of the Elijah of the Old Testament they had learnt in the school of the Elijah of the New Testament, and had carried, perhaps, something of the Baptist’s stern denunciation of sin, and of his hardness of life and manner, into the work of Christ.

But if this is the character of John as drawn in the earlier Gospels, it is not that which is drawn in the Fourth Gospel itself. There he is the son of love, gentleness, receptivity, rather than the son of thunder; and these are the aspects of his character which have for the most part impressed themselves on Christian art and thought. The difference has often been noted, and for the most part noted by those who have drawn from it the inference that the two pictures cannot represent the same man, and that the later is the ideal of an after age. But the picture of the natural man, taken in the fire and vigour of youth, may furnish but few points of resemblance with that which represents him in the mellow ripeness of age. Great minds are wholly changed by half a century of expansion and growth; and experience would seem to show that the earnest, forceful, impulsive character is that which ripens into calm and gentle love. If the youth represents love bursting forth in active strength, the old age represents love passively resting in being loved. The pictures, it should be remembered also, are drawn from different stand-points. The former is from without, representing the character in youth, as seen in its manifestations by others; the latter is from within, representing the character at the close of life, as the writer knew himself, and knew himself to be receptive of the love of Christ.

(2) For the next period of the life of St. John our only authorities are the Acts of the Apostles and their letters. Here, as in the Gospels, he is closely connected with St. Peter. They are named together among those who were “in the upper room” (John 1:13); they go up to the Temple together (John 3:1), and are together before the Sanhedrin (John 4:13; John 4:19); they are sent together on the mission to Samaria (John 8:14). Both are in Jerusalem after the Herodian persecution, in which James was killed with the sword (John 12:2), and are at the first great council (John 15:6; comp. Galatians 2:9). These scanty notices give all that we know of a period which must have extended over some twenty years. While James was the first bishop of the Jerusalem Church, and Peter was the leader of Christianity among the Jews, it can hardly be that St. John was living a life of retirement. Other missions, like that to the Samaritans, may in part have occupied this interval; or he may have carried on a work less prominent, but not less useful, than that of St. Peter and St. James in Jerusalem itself; or he may have returned to Galilee to do a like work there. Wherever he dwelt he doubtless regarded the solemn committal of the Virgin Mary to his care (John 19:26) as binding while she lived. If we may accept the traditions which place her death in the year A.D. 48 as approximately true, it may account for the fact that St. John is not mentioned with St. Peter and St. James as in Jerusalem during St. Paul’s first visit after his conversion, about A.D. 38 (Galatians 1:18-19); but he is so mentioned, and is regarded as one of the “pillars of the Church,” at the visit to the council in A.D. 51 (Galatians 2:4).

In connection with this residence at Jerusalem, extending, it may be, over many years, we have to bear in mind that while Galilee is the scene of the narrative of the earlier Gospels, Jerusalem is specially that of the Fourth. It assumes a minute acquaintance with persons and places which could be possessed only by one who had resided in the city. (Comp. p. 374.)

(3) Passing to the later period of the Apostolic life, we are left without any certain guide. He is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament after the Jerusalem council in A.D. 51. It would seem probable that he was not there during St. Paul’s visit of Acts 21, but the argument from silence ought never to be pressed, nor should it be forgotten that St. Luke records the visit only in so far as it concerned St. Paul. We may with greater reason infer that he was not at Ephesus when St. Paul bade farewell to the elders of that city (Acts 20), nor yet when he wrote the Ephesian epistle and the later pastoral letters. It may be, indeed, that he had left Jerusalem, but had not yet arrived at Ephesus. A work of which we have no record is suggested by some MSS. of the First Epistle, which assert that it was written to the Parthians, and a tradition of such work seems to have been known to Augustine. It is, however, more probable that the Apostle continued in Jerusalem until the destruction of the city, and that he was then borne on the westward-flowing current of Christianity to the city of Ephesus, which, from the middle of the first to the middle of the second century, was its most important centre. (Comp. § III. p. 376.)

Ephesus was the link between the east and the west, between the mystic philosophies of Asia and the schools of Greece. More than any other city it had a charm for St. Paul, who had preached in it and the surrounding towns during three years, and had planted there Churches, which he saw flourish under his care, but in the midst of which he saw also seeds of future error. (Acts 20:29-30. Comp. Notes on Acts 19, and Introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians.) From the Book of Revelation (Notes on Revelation 1:9 to Revelation 2:29) we may infer that, in addition to Ephesus, the surrounding Churches of Smyrna, and Pergamos, and Thyatira, and Sardis, and Philadelphia, and Laodicea were the special objects of the Apostle’s care, and that in one of the persecutions which fell upon the early Church he was banished to the island of Patmos. (Comp. Introduction to the Book of Revelation.) Returning from Patmos to Ephesus after the accession of Nerva, if we may accept the early tradition, he continued there to an extreme old age, combating heresies, and teaching the truth.

The old age of St. John became the centre of legends, partly based upon fact, and partly ideal, which the early Christians loved to tell, and many of which have come down to our own day. They thought of his life as charmed, so that poison could not affect it, nor any form of death destroy it; they told—and it was not, Clement of Alexandria says, a story, but a true account—how the old man pursued a lost convert, whom he had committed to the charge of a bishop in Asia Minor, and regained him in the robber’s den; how, like the Jewish high priest, he wore upon his head the plate of gold inscribed with “Holiness to the Lord;” how he, with something of the spirit of earlier days, flew from the bath in which the heretic Cerinthus was, lest it should fall upon him; how he was borne into the church when all power to move was gone, and, as if echoing the farewell words of Christ, which he himself had heard, said, “Little children, love one another, little children, love one another;” and how, when asked why he always said this one thing, the old man replied, “Because this is the Lord’s command, and if this is done, all is done.”

Cassian (Collat. xxiv. c. 2) relates an anecdote, which may be given as an illustration of the impression of the Asiatic Church with regard to the character of the Apostle. “The blessed Evangelist was one day gently stroking a partridge, when a young man, returning from hunting, asked in astonishment how a man so illustrious could spend his time in such a manner? What have you got in your hand?’ replied the Apostle. ‘A bow,’ said the young man. ‘Why is it not strung?’ ‘Because if I carried it strung always it would lose the elasticity which I shall want in it when I draw the arrow.’ ‘Do not be angry, then, my young friend, if I sometimes in this way unstring my spirit, which may otherwise lose its spring, and fail at the very moment when I shall need its power.’”

But space would fail to enter on a field so tempting and so full of beauty as the traditional history of the old age of St. John. Uncertain as we have found the history to be, we cannot expect to have any exact knowledge of the time of his death. Irenæus speaks of him as alive after the accession of Trajan (A.D. 98); Jerome places the death at sixty-eight years after the Crucifixion. He lived, then, until near the close of the first century, or, it may be, that he lived on into the second century; and if we accept the tradition that he was some years younger than our Lord, we have to think of him—the martyr in will, but not in deed—as sinking peacefully to the grave, beneath the weight of more than fourscore years and ten.

[For the matter of this section, comp. Godet, Introduction, Historique et Critique, 1876, pp. 35-75 (translated in Clark’s Library); Lücke, Commentary, 1840, vol. i., pp. 6-40; Neander, Planting of Christianity (Bohn’s Library); Stanley, Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age; Macdonald, Life and Writings of St. John, 1876; Trench (Francis), Life and Character of St. John, 1850; Plumptre, Article “John the Apostle,” in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. i., pp. 1103 et seq.; Archbishop Tait, “St. John’s Connection with Christian History and Evidence,” Good Words, July, 1868; Miss Yonge, The Pupils of St. John the Divine.]

II. Authorship of the Gospel.—The evidence for the authorship of any writing consists of two distinct branches, of which one (1) traces the external history of the writing, and the other (2) is based upon the contents of the writing itself.

(1) The writing which everybody now understands by “The Gospel according to St. John” has borne this title through the whole history of the Church, and during by far the greater part of that history has borne it without question. From the last quarter of the second century to the last quarter of the eighteenth century the writing was received with almost one consent, as the authentic witness of the Apostle John; but this period of clear and unbroken reception was preceded by one of twilight, in which it is difficult to trace the lines of evidence, and has been followed by one of destructive criticism, extending to our own day. It is believed that to every new investigator who unites competence with candour, the light of the second century becomes more and more clear in the evidence it supplies of the reception of the Gospel as St. John’s; and that the chief result of the criticism which would destroy, has been to bring out a criticism of defence which has made the external evidence of the Johannine authorship more conclusive than it has ever been before.

The evidence adduced for the reception of the Gospel as by St. John, at the close of the second century, comes from every quarter of the Church. Irenæus at Lyons, himself a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John; Tertullian at Carthage, writing against the heretic Marcion; Clement at Alexandria; the Muratorian Fragment at Rome (comp. General Introduction, page XIII., and § IV., p. 377); the Peshito version from Syria; the Old Latin from Africa—all are witnesses, speaking with a voice the meaning of which cannot be doubted, and the authority of which cannot be impeached.

Following the line of evidence backwards through the earlier decades of the century, we meet with a fragmentary literature; and the value of the evidence depends upon considerations such as how far we have a rational ground to expect that in Apologies, Letters, Homilies, Apocalyptic Visions, there would be references to a writing like the Fourth Gospel; how far such references are actually found; how far the literary habits of the age justify us in saying that a reference is or is not a quotation; how far it is likely that a Gospel which is confessedly much later than the others, and was possibly (see p. 377) for years known only to a limited circle, should, in comparison with these, have influenced the scanty literature of the next age.

To discuss this question is, obviously, far beyond the limits of the present sketch, and requires an acquaintance with languages and a literature, which can hardly be within the reach of those for whom the present pages are meant. The result to which the opinions of the most competent scholars seems to be tending is, that we have in the literature of the earlier part of the second century fully as much reference to the Fourth Gospel as we could reasonably expect it to furnish; and that a full and fair examination of that literature, even as it has come down to us, must pronounce it to be in support of the Johannine authorship. Upon this point, those of us who are ordinary readers must be content to accept the witness of experts; and there are few students of English Divinity who will doubt that the writer of the following words speaks with an authority shared by no living author.

“If the same amount of written matter—occupying a very few pages in all—were extracted accidentally from the current theological literature of our day, the chance, unless I am mistaken, would be strongly against our finding so many indications of the use of this Gospel. In every one of the writers, from Polycarp and Papias to Polycrates, we have observed phenomena which bear witness, directly or indirectly, and with different degrees of distinctness, to its recognition. It is quite possible for critical ingenuity to find a reason for discrediting each instance in turn. An objector may urge in one case that the writing itself is a forgery; in a second, that the particular passage is an interpolation; in a third, that the supposed quotation is the original, and the language of the Evangelist the copy; in a fourth, that the incident or saying was not deduced from this Gospel, but from some apocryphal work containing a parallel narrative. By a sufficient number of assumptions, which lie beyond the range of verification, the evidence may be set aside. But the early existence and recognition of the Fourth Gospel is the one simple postulate which explains all the facts. The law of gravitation accounts for the various phenomena of motion, the falling of a stone, the jet of a fountain, the orbits of the planets, and so forth. It is quite possible for any one who is so disposed to reject this explanation of nature. Provided that he is allowed to postulate a new force for every new fact with which he is confronted, he has nothing to fear. He will then—

‘Gird the sphere

With centric and eccentric scribbled o’er

Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb,’

happy in his immunity. But the other theory will prevail, nevertheless, by reason of its simplicity.” (Prof. Lightfoot, in Contemporary Review, Feb., 1876.)

Important as these results of modern scholarship are, the results attained by the greatest thinkers and scholars at the close of the second century itself are of still greater importance. We have seen above that there was a general consensus of independent testimony to the acceptance of the Gospel by St. John. The evidential value of this fact cannot be over-estimated. Men like Irenæus, and Tertullian, and Clement, were neither morally dishonest nor intellectually incapable. They had to deal, moreover, with opponents who would quickly have exposed deceit and detected error. They and their opponents were intellectually, as well as physically, the children of the second century; their own lives went back far into it; they were removed by one generation only from the probable date of St. John’s death; they had means of inquiry which we have not, and evidence upon which to base their judgment which has been for the most part lost; and it is scarcely too much to say that, had it been wholly lost, the convictions based upon this evidence would have remained irresistible. The evidence of the Versions is of the same nature, showing that the translators accepted this Gospel as an undoubted portion of the sacred canon. We find that the moment the historic mists which hang over the second century pass away, the reception of the Gospel stands out in the clear light as an undoubted fact. The light did not create this reception, but made visible that which was there before.

The Gospel continued to be received, not without here and there an objection, but without any of historic importance, until the close of the eighteenth century, when Edward Evanson published The Dissonance of the Four generally received Evangelists, and the Evidence of their Authenticity Examined (Ipswich, 1792. 8vo). The object was to show that the Fourth Gospel was from a Platonist of the second century. Evanson was answered in the following year by Dr. Priestley and David Simpson, and for a time the scene of the controversy was shifted from English ground. The seed sown took root on the Continent, where it brought forth a host of smaller works, and notably the Von Gottes Sohn der Welt Heiland of Herder (Riga, 1797), in which the author seeks to show that St. John described an ideal not an historic Christ. The well-known Introductions of Hug (1st ed., 1808) and Eichorn (1st ed., 1810) seem to have produced a strong reaction, and during the next decade the older opinion was again triumphant in Germany. In 1820 there appeared at Leipzig Bretschneider’s famous Probabilia, in which he endeavoured to show the inconsistencies between the Fourth Gospel and the earlier three, and to prove that the writer was not an eye-witness, nor a native of Palestine, nor a Jew, and therefore not St. John. The work was more thorough than any of its precursors, and sent a shock through the whole theological world. There were, of course, many replies, and in the following year Bretschneider himself seems to have departed from his positions, and stated that his object was to promote the truth by discussing the subject. Once again came the reaction; and now, indeed, German thought, led by Schleiermacher, and sending forth Lucke’s Commentary (1st ed., 1820; 2nd ed., 1833; 3rd ed., first part, 1840), which is still a classical work on the subject, was in danger of the other extreme of exalting the Fourth Gospel at the expense of the earlier three. This school maintained its ascendency until 1835, when another shock was sent through Europe by the “Life of Jesus,” of David Friedrich Strauss (Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet, Tübingen, 1835-6). The position of Strauss himself with regard to the Fourth Gospel was simply negative. He denied that the Gospel was by St. John, but did not venture upon the harder task of finding another author. But disciples are bolder than their master, and the Tübingen school did not long shrink from a positive hypothesis. Differing on other points, Baur, 1844, Zeller, 1845, and Schwegler, 1846, agreed that the Fourth Gospel belonged to the second half of the second century. Later investigations have again led to a reaction, and the Gospel is now confidently asserted to be the product of the first half of the century. To take but two representative names—Hilgenfeld (Einleitung, Leipzig, 1875) does not now doubt that the Gospel was written between A.D. 132 and 140, and Keim (Jesu von Nazara, 1875) would now, with equal confidence, give about A.D. 130 as its date. The last phase of the history again leads us to English ground, and must be fresh in the memory of English readers. The author of Supernatural-Religion (London, 1st ed., 1874; 6th ed., 1875) could not pass over the question of the Fourth Gospel, and concluded that “there is the strongest reason for believing that it was not written by the son of Zebedee.” English scholars have been no longer able to look at the question from without; it has been brought home to them, and has demanded an answer at their hands. That answer has been, and is being given, and the apparent result is that to the author of no English work published during the present generation will the seekers of truth have more cause to be thankful than to the anonymous author of Supernatural Religion, who has led to inquiry upon this subject.

(2) Passing to the writing itself, we have to ask what answer the Fourth Gospel gives to the honest inquirer about its authorship. The inquiry is a wide one, and depends upon the careful study of the whole Gospel. Many points in the inquiry are indicated in the Notes of this Commentary, and others will suggest themselves to the attentive reader. This section can only hope to point out the method in which he should pursue the inquiry. (Comp. especially Sanday’s Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, John 19)

The chief centres round which modern criticism has grouped her questions respecting the internal evidence, are the following:—

(a) Was the author a Jew?—The line between the Hebrew and Greek languages—between Hebrew and Gentile modes of thought—is so definitely and clearly drawn that there ought to be to this question an undoubted answer. The Gospel deals with the ministry of our Lord among the Jews, and it ought not to be difficult to say, with an approach to certainty, whether or not the many Jewish questions which necessarily arise are treated as a Jew naturally would treat them, and as no one but a Jew possibly could treat them. This, like every question related to the authorship of the Fourth Gospel, has met with answers diametrically opposed to each other; and yet the evidence for an affirmative answer seems irresistible.

1. The evidence of style can carry no weight with one unacquainted with the Hebrew and Greek languages, but the best Hebraists do not doubt that the style of the Fourth Gospel, while much more Greek than that of the Apocalypse, is still essentially Hebrew. Even Keim admits this (Jesu von Nazara, vol. i. p. 116); and Ewald regards it as beyond question that the writer is a “genuine Hebrew, who carries in himself the spirit of his mother tongue” (Johanneischen Schriften, vol. i. p. 44). (Comp. e.g. Notes on John 1:3; John 1:19; John 1:38; John 1:51; John 13:1.) It is not, however, simply that individual expressions are Hebraic, but that the Hebrew spirit comes out in the whole tone and structure of the writing.

2. Still more important than the evidence of style is that which comes from the exact acquaintance with the current Hebrew thoughts, into which a Gentile could not possibly have thrown himself. (Comp., as a few instances out of many, the thoughts about the Messiah in John 1:19-28; John 4:25; John 6:14-15, et al.; about baptism, John 1:25; John 3:22; John 4:2; about purification, John 2:6; John 3:25; John 11:55, et al.; about the Samaritans, John 4:9; John 4:22; about the Sabbath, John 5:1 et seq.; John 9:14 et seq.; about circumcision, John 7:22; about the notion that a Rabbi may not speak with a woman, John 4:27; about the Jew’s manner of burying, John 11:44, and John 19:40.) These thoughts meet us in every chapter. They flow naturally from the Jewish mind, and could flow from no other.

3. Not less striking than the acquaintance with current Jewish ideas is the knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures. The Fourth Gospel is, in this respect, almost as Hebrew as the first. There can be no need to quote passages, but there are some of special interest because they show that the writer did not know the Old Testament through the Greek version (LXX.)only; but that he translated for his Greek readers from the original Hebrew text. (Comp. Notes on John 1:29; John 12:13; John 12:15; John 12:38; John 12:40; John 13:18; John 19:37.)

4. The prominence given to the Jewish feasts, and the way in which the writer makes them centres, and groups events and discourses around them, is one of the striking features of the Gospel. We have Passover (John 2:13; John 2:23; John 6:4; John 13:1; John 18:28); Tabernacles (John 7:2); Dedication (John 10:22); “A feast of the Jews” (? Purim, John 5:1). The writer does not simply name these feasts, but knows their history, and significance, and ritual. He is familiar with “the last day, the great day,” of Tabernacles (John 7:37), and with the technical “Lesser Festival” (Note on John 7:14); with the fact that Dedication was in winter (John 10:42); and with the “preparation” of the Passover (John 19:31).

(b) Was the author a native of Palestine?—Attention is frequently directed in the Notes to the minute knowledge of places. It will be sufficient here to refer to John 1:28 (Bethany beyond Jordan), John 1:44 (Bethsaida), John 1:46 (Nazareth); John 2:1 (Cana); John 3:23 (Ænon); John 4:5[18] (Sychar); John 5:2 (Bethesda); John 8:20 (The Treasury); John 9:7 (Siloam); John 10:23. (Solomon’s Porch), John 10:40 (Bethany, comp. John 1:28); John 11:54 (Ephraim); John 18:1 (Kedron), John 18:15 (the high priest’s palace); John 19:13 (Gabbatha), John 19:17 (Golgotha); John 20:18 (Bethany near Jerusalem).

[18] The writer takes this opportunity of remarking that the suggestion made in the Note on this word in chap. 4:5, that Askar=’A-Sychar, has been already made by Prof. Lightfoot in the Contemporary Review for May, 1875. When the Note was being printed he sought, without success, for any confirmation of the suggestion, which probably arose from a latent remembrance of Prof. Lightfoot’s article.

There is constantly some explanation added to a name. It is translated for Greek readers; or the moment it is mentioned some incident connected with it occurs to the writer’s mind. Many of these examples show an exact acquaintance with the topography of Jerusalem, which must have been acquired before its destruction. The customs of the Temple are familiarly known (John 2:13-17); and not less so are the haunts and habits of the fishermen on the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:17-24; John 21:6-11), or the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:17).

The argument from these details is cumulative, and, taken as a whole, must be acknowledged to be of very great weight. Let the reader carefully note the incidental way in which all this accuracy comes out, and he will feel that it is not acquired, and that the one simple explanation is that it belongs to a writer who was born and had lived among the places he is writing of, and now dwells upon them with loving memory.

(c) Did the author live at the time of our Lord’s ministry?—The remarks upon Jerusalem immediately above have their bearing upon this question also, but that which is here specially important is to estimate the evidence which comes from the circle of thoughts in the midst of which the Gospel was written. How difficult it is at any period to realise the ideas of an earlier period every dramatist and writer of fiction knows. He may clothe his characters in the dress of their day, and surround them with the manners and customs of the past, but unless they are in a consummate master’s hands they will think and speak in the present. The question then is, does the writer of the Fourth Gospel think and speak the thoughts and words of the first century or not? Now the fall of Jerusalem was a great gulf across which the ideas of the Jews about the Messiah could not pass. With it disappeared from the minds of that generation all hope for a temporal Messianic reign in Jerusalem. And yet this expectation runs like a thread through the whole texture of this Gospel. The inference is that the writer grew up amidst this expectation—lived through the conflict between Jesus, who taught the spiritual nature of Messiah’s kingdom, and the Jews, who could grasp only the temporal—and narrated at the close of the century that in which he himself had taken part, and which with him survived the destruction of Jerusalem.

Other instances of this knowledge of the thoughts of the period are of frequent occurrence. Comp., e.g., John 4:20-21 (Jerusalem, the place of worship); John 7:1-13 (murmuring among the people about Jesus); John 9:8 (the neighbours’ remark about the blind beggar); John 10:19-21 (division among the Jews); John 11:47-53 (consultation of the Sanhedrin); John 19 (the various phases of thought during the trial).

(d) Was the author an Apostle?—The Fourth Gospel tells us more of what passed in the Apostolic circle than we can gather from the whole of the three earlier Gospels. The writer is as familiar with the thoughts which were suggested at the time to the Apostles as he is with the thoughts of the Jews exemplified in the last section. Take, e.g., John 2:20-22, where the writer records the saying of our Lord regarding the Temple, and how the disciples understood this after the resurrection. There are instances of the same kind of knowledge in John 4:27; John 7:39; John 12:6; John 13:28-29; John 20:9; John 20:20; and the reader may without difficulty note others.

The minute knowledge of incidents in the relation between the Apostles and the Lord would seem to point exclusively to one of the Twelve as the writer. Comp. John 1:38; John 1:50 (Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathaniel, and the unnamed disciple); John 6:5-7 (the question to Philip); John 6:8 (Andrew’s remark); John 6:68 (Peter’s question); John 6:70 (the explanatory remark about Judas); John 9:2 (the question about the man born blind); John 11:16 (the character of Thomas and the name Didymus, comp. John 14:5; John 20:24; John 20:28; John 21:2); John 12:21-22 (visit of the Greeks); John 13 (the Last Supper); John 18:16 (the exact position of Peter and the other disciples and the porteress); John 20:3-8 (the visit to the sepulchre).

The Notes point out in several instances the agreement between the character of Peter as drawn in the Fourth Gospel and that which is found in the Synoptists. More striking still, because inconceivable, except by one who drew it from the life, is the character of our Lord Himself. As we try and think out the writer’s representation of the human life of Christ, we feel that we are being guided by one who is not picturing to us an ideal, but is declaring to us that which was from the beginning, which he had heard, which he had seen with his eyes, which he had looked upon, and his hands had handled of the Word of Life. (Comp. 1John 1:3.)

(e) Was the author an eye-witness?—This question has in part been answered above; but it will add strength to the opinion which is probably fixing itself in the candid reader’s mind if some of the instances of vivid picturing which Renan and others have noticed in this Gospel are collected here.

1. With regard to persons, all that has been said of individual Apostles applies. Add to them Nicodemus (John 3, Note); Martha and Mary (John 11); Malchus (John 18:10); Annas, and Caiaphas, and Pilate (John 18); the women at the cross (John 19:25); the Magdalene (John 21:1).

2. The indication of places and of feasts given above apply also in answer to this question.

3. The writer knows the days and the hours when events occurred. He was there, and is writing from memory, and knows that it was about the tenth (John 1:39), or seventh (John 4:52), or sixth hour (John 4:6; John 19:14). (Comp. John 1:29-35; John 1:43; John 2:1; John 2:13; John 4:40; John 11:6; John 11:39; John 12:1.)

4. We find running all through the Gospel an exactness of description, a representation of the whole scene photographed, as it were, upon the writer’s memory, which is of greater weight than any number of individual quotations. Let any one read, e.g., John 1:38-51, or John 2:13-17, or John 20:8-10—and these are only instances chosen by way of illustration—and he will, as he thinks of them, see the whole picture before his mind’s eye. The only explanation is, that the writer was what he claims to be—a witness whose record is true (John 19:35). (Comp. John 1:14; John 1:16; John 21:24.) In this respect the Fourth Gospel reminds us of that by St. Mark.

(f) Was the author one of the sons of Zebedee?—Assuming that he was an eye-witness and an Apostle, we are sure that he was not Andrew, who is named in the Gospel four times, nor Peter (thirty-three times), nor Philip (twice), nor Nathanael (five times), nor Thomas (five times), nor Judas Iscariot (eight times), nor Judas, not Iscariot (once). Of the five other Apostles, Matthew is necessarily excluded, and James the son of Alphæus, and Simon the Canaanite occupy too unimportant a position in the Synoptic narrative to bring them within the limits of our hypothesis.

The sons of Zebedee remain. Now, what is the relation of the Fourth Gospel to them? While they are prominent among the members of the first Apostolic group in the Synoptists, and in the Acts of the Apostles, they are not even mentioned in this Gospel. In John 1:41 (see Note there), it is probable that both are referred to, but neither are named. In John 21:2, they are, on any interpretation, placed in an inferiority of order unknown to the earlier or later history, and are probably named last of those who were Apostles. This omission of names is not confined to the sons. It was so with the mother also. All we know of her comes from the earlier Gospels. We gather, indeed, from John 19:25 that she was one of the women at the cross; but we have to turn to the parallel passages before we read of Salome or the mother of Zebedee’s children.

Such are the facts; but if one of these brothers is the writer of this Gospel, then, and as far as we now know, thus only are the facts explained and the conditions met. But if the author was one of the sons of Zebedee, we can go a step further and assert that he was St. John, for St. James was a martyr in the Herodian persecution (Acts 12:1; A.D. 44).

(g) Was the author the “disciple whom Jesus loved?”—(John 13:23; John 19:26; John 20:2; John 21:7; John 21:20. Comp. John 18:15; John 20:2-4; John 20:8.) The concluding words of the Gospel (John 21:24), as compared with Luke 24:7; Luke 24:20, formally assert this identification. It may be granted that these words are not those of the writer, but an attestation on the part of the Ephesian Church. Still they are part of the Gospel as it was first published, and are the words of one who claims to speak from personal knowledge.

But admitting that the writer was the disciple whom Jesus loved, then we have the key to what seems an impossible omission of the sons of Zebedee in this Gospel. The writer deliberately omits all mention of his own family, but his writing is the record of events in which he had himself taken part, and in this lies its value. His own personality cannot therefore be suppressed. He is present in all he writes, and yet the presence is felt, not seen. A veil rests over it—a name given to him, it may be, by his brethren, and cherished by him as the most honoured name that man could bear; but beneath the veil lives the person of John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the Apostle of the Lord.

We have now found in the Gospel answers to the questions which have been so often asked, and very variously answered, during the last half-century. If the answers are taken as but small parts of a great whole, and the Gospel itself is carefully read and studied, the evidence will in all its fulness be such as cannot be gainsaid. In the spirit of the striking words which we have quoted above (p. 372), it may be said that while here minute criticism thinks it may trace an error, or there some part of the evidence may be explained away—while various separate hypotheses may be invented to account for the various separate facts—the one postulate which accounts for the whole of the phenomena, and does violence to none, is that the Fourth Gospel is the work of the Apostle whose name it bears.

Here the two lines of external and internal evidence meet, and if each points only with a high degree of probability, then both together must approximate to certainty.

The indirect line of argument may fairly be used as evidence which leads to the same results. The Fourth Gospel existed as a matter of fact, and was accepted as by St. John, in the last quarter of the second century. If it is asserted that the author was not St. John, we have a right to demand of the assertor that he should account for the fact of its existence, and for the fact of its reception at that time, as the work of the Apostle. This demand has never been met with evidence which would for a moment stand the test of examination.

From one point of view the arguments we have now followed will to most readers seem satisfactory; from another point of view they are painful enough. The fact must be apparent to all that many men have followed out these same arguments to a wholly different result. Among them are men of the highest intellectual culture, and with special knowledge of these special subjects; men whose ability no one has a right to question, and whose honesty no one has a right to impeach. And yet contradictory results cannot both be true. If Lightfoot and Westcott, Ewald and Luthardt are right, then Strauss and Baur, Keim and Hilgen-feld are wrong. Assertions like the following cannot be reconciled:—

“The elaborate explanations, however, by which the phenomena of the Fourth Gospel are reconciled with the assumption that it was composed by the Apostle John are in vain, and there is not a single item of evidence within the first century and a half which does not agree with internal testimony in opposing the supposition.”[19]

[19] Supernatural Religion, Ed. 6, vol. ii., p. 470.

“We have seen that whilst there is not one particle of evidence during a century and a half after the events recorded in the Fourth Gospel that it was composed by the son of Zebedee, there is, on the contrary, the strongest reason for believing that he did not write it.”[20]

[20] Ibid. p. 474.

“That John is really the author of the Gospel, and that no other planned or interpreted it than he who at all times is named as its author, cannot be doubted or denied, however often in our own times critics have been pleased to doubt and deny it on grounds which are wholly foreign to the subject; on the contrary, every argument, from every quarter to which we can look, every trace and record, combine together to render any serious doubt upon the question absolutely impossible.” (Heinrich Ewald, quoted by Professor Westcott as “calm and decisive words,” which “are simply true.”[21])

[21] Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, Ed. 3. p. 10. The quotation and comment are repeated in Ed. 4, 1872.

“Those who since the first discussion of this question have been really conversant with it, never could have had, and never have had, a moment’s doubt. As the attack on St. John has become fiercer and fiercer, the truth during the last ten or twelve years has been more and more solidly established, error has been pursued into its last hiding-place, and at this moment the facts before us are such that no man who does not will knowingly to choose error and reject truth can dare to say that the Fourth Gospel is not the work of the Apostle John.”[22]

[22] Ewald, in Göttingen Gel. Anz., Aug. 5, 1863, reviewing Renan’s Vie de Jésus. Quoted by Gratry, Jésus-Christ, p. 119, and by Professor Liddon, Bampton Lectures for 1866, Ed. 7, p. 218.

In one case or the other the human intellect, honestly inquiring for the true, has been convinced of the false. Plain men may well ask, Which are we to believe, or how can we be certain that either is true? The negative criticism has not shrunk from poisoning its arrows with the assertion that bigotry in favour of received opinions has closed the eyes of its opponents to the light of truth. It may sometimes be so; but unless much of the criticism of the present day is strangely misread, there is a blinding bigotry which prevents men from seeing the truth of received opinions simply because they have been received. There are minds to which the “semper, ubique, et ab omnibus” marks out an opinion for rejection, or at least for cavil. And yet the world is wiser than any one man in it, and truth has been written in other languages than German, and seventeen centuries of a belief which has borne the noblest results and commanded the assent of the noblest intellects, will hold its ground against the changing moods of the last fifty years. The “higher criticism” must not wonder if humbler minds withhold their assent to its dicta until it has agreed upon some common ground of faith which is not always shifting, and individual disciples have proved the depth of their own convictions by adhering to them. These combatants in the battle between error and truth are men of war armed in the armour of their schools, but plain men will feel that they have .not essayed this armour and cannot wear it; and will go down to the battle with the moral Philistines who threaten Israel, trusting in the simple pebble of the old faith, and in the arm nerved by a firm trust in the presence of God.

The Fourth Gospel foreshadows its own history. It tells of Light, Truth, Life, Love, rejected by the mere intellect, but accepted by the whole man; and it has been with the historical as with the personal Christ represented in its pages. “Men learned to know Him, and to trust Him before they fully understood what He was and what He did. The faith which in the Gospel stories we see asked for and given, secured, and educated, is a faith which fastens itself on a living Saviour, though it can but little comprehend the method or even the nature of the salvation . . . As it was with the disciples, so also it is with ourselves. The evidential works have their own most important, most necessary office; but the Lord Himself is His own evidence, and secures our confidence, love, and adoration by what He is, more than by what He does.”[23]

[23] Bernard, “Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament,” The Bampton Lectures for 1864, pp. 43, 44.

For the many to whom the evidences as to the authorship of the Fourth Gospel must come as the testimony of others, and to whom the conflict of testimony must oftentimes bring perplexity, the ultimate test must lie in the appeal of the Gospel to the whole man. If the heart studies the Christ as portrayed in this writing, it will need no other proof of His divinity, but will bow before Him with the confession, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Yes; and it will feel also that the penman was one who, more deeply than any other of the sons of men, drank of the Spirit of Christ—that he was a disciple who loved the Lord, a disciple whom Jesus loved; and it will feel that the voice of the Church is the voice of the heart of humanity, feeling as itself feels and speaking as itself speaks, that this writing is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that it is the “Gospel according to St. John.”

[For the matter of this section the student may conveniently refer to Lücke, Godet, and Liddon, as before; Luthardt, St. John the Author of the First Gospel, English translation, Clark, 1875, in which the Appendix on the Literature, revised and enlarged by Gregory, is a valuable and distinctive feature; Hutton, Essays Theological and Literary, vol. i. pp. 144-276, 1871; Sanday, Authorship and Historical Character of the Fourth Gospel, 1872; The Gospels in the Second Century, 1876; Westcott’s Introduction, Ed. 4, 1872, and Canon of the New Testament, Ed. 3, 1870; or in an easier form, Bible in the Church, Ed. 2, 1866; Leathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ, 1870, The Religion of the Christ, 1874: Lightfoot, Articles in the Contemporary Review, beginning in December, 1874; Article, “The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel,” in Edinburgh Review, January, 1877; Articles on “St. John, and Modern Criticism,” by Beyschlag, in Contemporary Review, October and November, 1877: and on the other side, Supernatural Religion, Ed. 6, 1875, vol. ii. pp. 251-476; Davidson, Introduction to the New Testament, 1868, vol. ii. pp. 323-468; Tayler, The Fourth Gospel, Ed. 2, 1870.]

III. Time when and Place where the Fourth Gospel was written.—(1) If the Gospel was written by St. John, its date must be placed within the limits of the first century. There is good reason for thinking that the last chapter (see Notes upon it) is an appendix, coming chiefly from the hand of the Apostle himself, but that the closing verses (John 21:24-25) give the corroborative testimony of others. The fact of an appendix, and the difference of its style from that of the earlier writing, points to an interval of some years, during which, it may be, the original Gospel was known to a limited circle before it was openly published. This appendix is, however, incorporated with the earlier writing in all the oldest copies and versions, and was probably, therefore, thus incorporated during the lifetime of the Apostle. The beginning of the last decade of the first century is a limit, then, after which the Gospel could not have been written by St. John. In fixing a limit before which it could not have been written, there is greater difficulty, but the following considerations point to a date certainly not earlier than A.D. 70, and probably not earlier than A.D. 80.

(a) The absence of all reference to St. John in the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul.

(b) The style, though strongly Hebraic, is much less so than the Book of Revelation. It is Hebrew partly clothed in Greek, and for this development of thought and language we may assign a period of ten or twenty years. The relation of the Epistles and the Apocalypse to the Gospel belongs to the Introductions to those books; but it will be found that the Gospel probably occupies a middle place, being considerably later than the Apocalypse, and somewhat earlier than the Epistles.

(c) The subject-matter of the Gospel, while representing a later development of theology than that of the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians, points to a much earlier development than that which we find in the earliest of the Gnostic systems at the beginning of the second century. (Comp. Excursus A, p. 552.)

(d) The references to the Jews, their customs, places, &c., are as to things at a distance and in the past, and needing explanation in the present. See, e.g., John 4:9; John 5:1-2 (comp. John 11:18); John 5:16; John 5:18; John 7:13, and the instances given above (pp. 373-5).

The earliest historical evidence we have is that of Irenæus, who places the Gospel according to St. John after the other three, i.e., as he places the Gospels according to St. Mark and St. Luke after the deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul, not earlier than A.D. 70, and probably some years later. (See Eusebius, Eccles. Hist., v. 8.)

The general voice of antiquity gave A.D. 85 or 86 as the exact year, and while we cannot regard this as authoritative, it falls in with the probabilities of the case. Without fixing the year thus definitely, we may regard the date as one which could not be much earlier than A.D. 80, or much later than A.D. 90, and conclude that the Gospel in its present form approximates to the later, rather than to the earlier date.

(2) The passage of Irenæus above referred to gives us also a definite statement that the place from which the Gospel was written was Ephesus. “Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast—he again put forth his Gospel while he abode in Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies, iii. 1, Oxford Trans., p. 204; also Eusebius, Eccles. Hist., v. 8). This statement is confirmed by the whole tenor of tradition from the second century downwards, and was never, seemingly, questioned until the commencement of the nineteenth century. It falls in with the other scanty hints of facts in St. John’s life, and is in entire harmony with the stand-point of the Gospel. It will be unnecessary to weary the reader with proofs of that which hardly needs to be proved. The facts may be found in a convenient form in Luthardt, St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel, Eng. Trans., pp. 115, 166, but even Davidson admits that “Lützelberger and Keim push their scepticism too far in denying John’s residence in Asia Minor.”

Again, the indirect argument holds good. If Ephesus is not the place from which the Gospel was written, what other place can be named with any show of probability? The only city besides Ephesus in which we might have expected the thoughts of the Prologue is Alexandria (comp. Excursus A: Doctrine of the Word, p. 552), but there is not the shadow of a reason for connecting St. John with this city.

IV. The Purpose which the Writer had in View.—Here, again, there are two lines of evidence which may guide our inquiries: (1) the statements of early writers, which may represent a tradition coming from the time of publication when the purpose was well known; and (2) the indications which may be gathered from the writing itself.

(1) The earliest statement we possess is that of the Muratorian Fragment (see p. 368, and comp. Tregelles, Canon Muratorianus, 1867, pp. 1-21, and 32-35), which tells us that “The author of the fourth Gospel was John, one of the disciples. He said to his fellow disciples and bishops who entreated him, ‘Fast with me for three days from to-day, and whatever shall be made known to each of us, let us relate it to each other.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the Apostles, that John should relate all things in his own name with the recognition of them all. And, therefore, though various elements are taught in the several books of the Gospels, this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since all things are set forth in all of them in one supreme spirit, about the birth, the passion, the resurrection, the conversation with the disciples, and His double advent, the first in the lowliness of humiliation which (? has been accomplished), the second in the glory of royal power, which is to come. What wonder, therefore, is it if John so constantly brings forward, even in his Epistle, particular (? phrases), saying in his own person, ‘What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, these things have we written unto you.’ For he thus professes that he was not only an eye-witness, but also a hearer, and more than this, a writer in order, of all the wonderful works of the Lord.”

On this question the testimony of Irenæus has a special value, from the fact that he was separated from the time of St. John by one generation only, and was directly connected, through Polycarp, with the circle in which the Gospel was first circulated. It may be well, therefore, to quote his words at some length:—“In course of preaching this faith, John, the disciple of the Lord, desirous by preaching of the Gospel to remove the error which Cerinthus had been sowing among men; and long before him those who are called Nicolaitans, who are an offshoot of the knowledge [Gnosis] falsely so called; to confound them and persuade men that there is but one God, who made all things by His word, and not, as they affirm, that the Creator is one person, the Father of the Lord another, and that there is a difference of persons between the Son of the Creator and the Christ from the higher Æons, who both remained impassible, descending on Jesus, the Son of the Creator, and glided back again to his own Pleroma; and that the Beginning is the Only Begotten, but the Word the true Son of the Only Begotten; and that the created system to which we belong was not made by the First Deity, but by some Power brought very far down below it and cut off from communion in the things which are beyond sight and name. All such things,, I say, the Lord’s disciple desiring to cut off, and to establish in the Church the rule of truth, viz., that there is one God Almighty, who by His Word hath made all things visible and invisible; indicating, also, that by the Word whereby God wrought Creation, in the same also He provided salvation for the men who are part of Creation;—thus did he begin in that instruction which the Gospel contains [then follows John 1:1-5].” In the next section he quotes John 1:10-11; John 1:14 against Marcion and Valentinus and other Gnostics who held the Creation by angels or demi-gods. (Adv. Hœr., lib. iii., John 11, Oxford Trans., pp. 229 et seq.)

In an earlier passage Irenæus gives the following account of the heresy of Cerinthus: “And a certain Cerinthus too, in Asia, taught that the world was not made by the First God, but by a certain Power far separated and distant from the Royalty which is above all, and which knows not the God who is over all. And he added that Jesus was not born of a virgin (for that seemed to him impossible), but was the son of Joseph and Mary like all other men, and had more power than men in justice, prudence, and wisdom. And that after His baptism there descended on Him from that Royalty which is above all, Christ in the figure of a dove, and that He then declared the unknown Father and did mighty works; but that in the end Christ again soared back from Jesus, and that Jesus suffered and rose again, but Christ remained impassible as being spiritual” (lib. 1, cap. xxvi., Oxford Trans., p. 77).

In lib. 3, cap. iii., Oxford Trans., p. 208, Irenæus relates the story of the Apostle flying from Cerinthus in the bath. This is repeated in Eusebius, iii. 28, Bagster’s Trans., p. 131.

Tertullian, Epiphanius, and Jerome agree in the statement that the Gospel was written to meet the heresy of Cerinthus, but speak of the Ebionites instead of the Nicolaitans.

Clement of Alexandria is quoted by Eusebius, as saying, “John, last of all, perceiving that what had reference to the body in the gospel of our Saviour was sufficiently detailed; and being encouraged by his familiar friends and urged by the Spirit, he wrote a spiritual gospel (Eccles. Hist., lib. vi., cap. xv., Bagster’s Trans., pp. 247-8), and Eusebius himself says, “The three Gospels previously written having been distributed among all, and also handed to him, they say that he admitted them, giving his testimony to their truth; but that there was only wanting in the narrative the account of the things done by Christ among the first of his deeds and at the commencement of the Gospel. . . . For these reasons the Apostle John, it is said, being entreated to undertake it, wrote the account of the time not recorded by the former Evangelists, and the deeds done by our Saviour which they have passed by . . .” (lib. iii., cap. xxiv., Bagster’s Trans., pp. 126, 127).

We have in these extracts three points of view, distinct but not different, from which it was conceived that the writer undertook his work. His aim was didactic, to teach that which was revealed to him; or it was polemic, to meet the development of Gnosticism in Asia Minor, of which we find traces in the later Pauline epistles; or it was historic, to fill up by way of supplement those portions of the life of our Lord which earlier evangelists had not recorded. In the later fathers and commentators, now one, now another, of these views is prominent. They do not exclude each other: to teach the truth was the sure way to make war against error; to teach the truth historically was to represent it as it was revealed in the life of Him who was the Truth.

We have to think of the Apostle as living on to the close of the first century, learning in the thoughts and experience of fifty years what the manifestation of Christ’s life really was, and quickened by the presence of the promised Paraclete, who was to bring all things to his mind and guide him into all truth (comp. John 16). He lives among the speculations of men who have tried in their own wisdom to cross the gulf between God and man, and have in Ephesus developed a Gnosticism out of Christianity which is represented by Cerinthus, who was himself trained in Alexandria: just as in this latter city there had been a Gnosticism developed from Judaism, which is represented by Philo. He feels that he has learnt how that gulf was bridged in the person of Jesus Christ; he remembers His acts and words; he knows that in Him, and Him only, does the Divine and human meet; and he writes his own witness at once, in the deeper fulness of its truth, instructing the Church and refuting heresy, and supplying the spiritual Gospel which was as a complement to the existing three.

If we turn to the fourth Gospel itself we find that each line of this three-fold purpose may be distinctly traced. The didactic element is apparent throughout. That the writer had before him, not only the instruction of the Church, but also the refutation of the errors of Gnosticism—and that not only in the special features connected with Cerinthus—is clear from the Prologue. We have seen how Irenæus applies this to Cerinthus, but the very term λόγος (comp. Excursus A: Doctrine of the Word, p. 552 [Electronic version note: Excurses A follows the John book comments below.]) shows that the writer did not contemplate his school only. There was an easy connection between Ephesus and Alexandria at the time, and we have an example of it in the teaching of Apollos in Acts 18:24. Now the distinctive tenets of all Gnosticism were that the Creator was not the Supreme God, and that matter was the source of all evil. In “all things were created by Him,” we have the answer to one; in “The Word was made flesh,” the answer to the other.

The writer gives in John 20:21, a formal statement of his own purpose: “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” It is usual to refer to these words as though nothing was further from the writer’s thoughts than any polemic purpose. But in the passage quoted from Irenæus, on the heresy of Cerinthus, it will be seen that the separation of the divine Christ from the human Jesus was a prominent tenet. This verse declares that the purpose of the Gospel was to establish the identity of the human Jesus and the Christ who is the Son of God, as an article of faith, that in that faith they might have life through His name.

Eusebius gives no authority beyond “they say” for the statement that St. John had seen the earlier Gospels, and it does not follow that he had seen them in their present form. That he could have done so is, à priori, improbable, and there is no evidence of any such circulation of them as would be implied. It is further improbable from the relation between the subject-matter of the fourth Gospel as compared with the three; it contains too much that is common to all to be regarded as a mere supplement; it differs too much in arrangement, and even in details, to have been based upon a study of the others. Moreover it is in itself a complete work, and nowhere gives any indication that it was intended to be simply an appendix to other works.

The origin of the Gospels has been dealt with in the General Introduction (see p. xxvii. [Electronic version note: The General Introduction is in the Matthew book comments.]). There would be, probably, in the first generation after the life of Christ an oral Gospel, in which all the chief events of His life and the chief discourses were preserved. In different Churches different parts would be committed to writing, and carefully preserved, and compared with similar writings elsewhere. Such documents would form the basis of the Synoptic Gospels. Such documents doubtless existed at Ephesus, and John had access to them; but it is to his personal remembrance of Christ’s life and work, and his residence in Jerusalem, and his close union with the Virgin Mary, that we are to trace his special information. Mary, and his own mother Salome, and Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus, and the family of Bethany, and the Church at Jerusalem, are the sources from which he would have learnt of events beyond his personal knowledge.

[For the matter of this section comp., in addition to the books quoted, Lücke and Godet as before (this part of Lücke’s Einleitung is of great value, and may be read in the Prolegomena of Alford, who adopts it. and in that of Wordsworth, who rejects it); Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries, 1875; Neander, Church History, § 4, Clark’s Eng. Trans., vol. i., pp. 67-93; Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, Eng. Trans., 1874, § 77; Wood’s Discoveries at Ephesus, Lond., 1877; Introductions, in this Commentary, to the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians.]

V. Contents and Characteristics of the Gospel.—The Gospel is divided into two main sections at the close of John 12. The great subject of the first of these sections is the manifestation of Christ; and that of the second is the result of this manifestation. The first represents the life; the second, the passion, death, and resurrection. Subdividing these main sections, we have the following outline of the general contents of the Gospel:—

(1) Prologue. The link with the eternity of the past (John 1:1-18).

(2) Manifestation of Jesus. Varying degrees of acceptance (John 1:19 to John 4:54).

(3) The fuller revelation and growth of unbelief among the Jews (John 5:1 to John 12:50).

(4) The fuller revelation and growth of faith among the disciples (John 13:1 to John 17:26).

(5) The climax of unbelief. Voluntary surrender and crucifixion of Jesus (John 18:1 to John 19:42).

(6) The climax of faith. Resurrection and appearances of Jesus (John 20).

(7) Epilogue. The link with the eternity of the. future (John 21).

The reader will find a detailed analysis of these sections inserted for the sake of convenient reference in the following notes. It has been attempted by a consecutive enumeration to indicate the lines of thought running through the whole Gospel; but these are many, and a brief sketch may be helpful to those who attempt to trace them.

(1) The Prologue (John 1:1-18) strikes, in a few words, the key-note of the whole. The Word with God, and God, revealed to men, made flesh—this is the central thought. The effect of the revelation, received not, received; light not comprehended in darkness, but ever shining; this, which runs like a thread through the whole Gospel, is as a subsidiary thought present here.

(2) The manifestation of Jesus (John 1:19 to John 4:54) is introduced by the witness of the Baptist, and one of the characteristic words of the Gospel, which has already occurred in Luke 24:8 (see Note on it), is made prominent in the very first sentence of the narrative portion. This witness of John is uttered to messengers from the Sanhedrin, is repeated when Jesus is seen coming unto him, and spoken yet again on the following day.

The witness of John is followed by the witness of Christ Himself. At first He manifests Himself in private to the disciples, when their hearts respond to His witness, and at the marriage feast, when the voice of nature joins itself with that of man; and then publicly, beginning in His Father’s house, and proceeding in a widening circle, from the Temple at Jerusalem to the city, and then to Judæa, and then Samaria, and then Galilee. Typical characters represent this manifestation and its effects—Nicodemus, the Master in Israel; the despised woman of despised Samaria, herself steeped in sin; the courtier of alien race, led to faith through suffering and love. This period is one of acceptance in Jerusalem (John 2:23); Judæa (John 3:29); Samaria (John 4:39-42); Galilee (John 4:45; John 4:49); and yet its brightness is crossed by dark lines (John 2:24-25), and the struggle between light and darkness is not absent (John 3:18; John 3:21).

(3) Following this public manifestation, we have in the third section (John 5:1 to John 12:50) the fuller revelation of Christ; and, side by side with it, the progressive stages of unbelief among the Jews.

He is Life, and shows this in the energy given to the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda; but they persecute Him because He did these things on the Sabbath day. He shows that His work is one with the Father’s, but they seek to kill Him as a blasphemer. Thus early is the issue of the struggle foreshadowed; and thus early does He point out that the final issue is not in physical death, and trace to the absence of moral preparation the true reason of His rejection (John 5).

He is Life, and shows this in blessing the food which gives sustenance to thousands, and in declaring Himself to be “the bread of life,” but they think of manna in the desert, and murmur at one whom they knew to be Jesus-bar-Joseph claiming to have come down from heaven; and again the line between reception and rejection is drawn. Many go back, but some rise to a higher faith; yet even the light which shines in this inner circle is crossed by the presence of one who is a devil (John 6).

He is Truth, and declares at the Feasts of Tabernacles that His teaching is from heaven, and that He Himself is from heaven, whither He will return. The perception of truth is in the will to obey it. He that willeth to do His will shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God. The effect of this teaching is that many believe, but that the Pharisees send officers to take Him. He is Life, and declares that in Him is the living water which the ritual of the great day of the Feast represented, and this is followed by a division among the people, and even in the Sanhedrin itself (John 7).

He is Light, and declares Himself to be the true Light of the World, of which the illumination of the Feast was but a type. They murmur at successive points in His teaching, and in answer He declares to them what the true witness is, what His own return to the Father is, what are true discipleship and true freedom and true life, by the word of the Son, who was before Abraham. Their hatred passes from words to acts, and they take up stones to cast at Him (John 8:12-59). [The paragraph from John 7:53 to John 8:11 does not belong to this place. See Note upon it.]

He is Light, and shows this by giving physical sight to the man born blind. The Pharisees seek to disprove, and then to discredit, the miracle, and again there is a division. Some say that this man is not of God because He keepeth not the Sabbath. Others ask how a man that is a sinner can do such miracles. Jesus Himself declares the separation which His coming makes between those who are spiritually blind and those who spiritually see (John 9).

He is Love, and declares this in the allegory of the Good Shepherd. Again a division is made prominent between those who are willing to accept and those who have willed to reject Him. Then comes Dedication, and the request to declare plainly whether He is the Christ. The answer brings again to them the earlier teaching of moral preparedness, and they take up stones to stone Him. They justify their act by the charge of blasphemy, which He proves from the Scriptures to be without foundation. But their determination has gone beyond the reach of reason, and they seek again to take Him. Rejected by His own, and in His own city, He withdraws from it to Bethany beyond Jordan. The darkness comprehends not the light, but still it shineth, and “many believed on Him there” (John 10).

He is Life, and Truth, and Love, and shows this in going again to Judæa to conquer death, and reveal the fuller truth of the Resurrection and Life, and sympathise with the sorrowing home. The attributes of divinity are so fully manifested that many of the Jews believe, but with the clearer light the darkness is also made more fully visible, and the Sanhedrin formally decree His death. When this decree is passed He again withdraws to the wilderness, but disciples are still with Him (John 11).

As the Passover draws near He is again at Bethany. Love to Him is shown in the devotion of Mary; the selfishness and hatred which shut out love, in the murmur of Judas and the consultation of the chief priests to destroy the life of Lazarus which Jesus had restored. But conviction has seized the masses of the people, and the King is received into the royal city with shouts of “Hosanna!” Even the Pharisees feel that the “world is gone after Him,” and there is present the earnest of a wider world than that of which they thought. Men came from the West to the cross, as men had come from the East to the cradle, and are the firstfruits of the moral power which is to draw all men. Life conquering in death is the thought suggested by the presence of the Greeks; light and darkness is again the form in which the thought of His rejection by the Jews is clothed. But the struggle is drawing to a close, and the writer adds his own thoughts and gathers up earlier words of Jesus on those who rejected Light and Truth and Life and Love (John 12).

(4) With the next section (John 13:1 to John 17:26) we pass from the revelation to the Jews to the fuller revelation to the disciples. It is the passing from hatred to love, from darkness to light; but as in the deepest darkness of rejection rays of light are ever present, so the fullest light of acceptance is never free from shadows.

His Love is shown by the significant act of washing the disciples’ feet, and this is spiritually interpreted. His words of love cannot, however, apply to all, for the dark presence of the betrayer is still with them. When Hatred withdraws from the presence of Love, and Judas goes out into the night, then the deeper thoughts of Jesus (which are as the revelation of heaven to earth) are spoken without reserve. This discourse continues from John 13:31 to John 16:33, when it passes into the prayer of the seventeenth chapter.

It tells them of His glory because He is going to the Father; of the Father’s house where He will welcome them; that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; that being absent, He will still be present, answering their prayers, sending to them the Paraclete, abiding in them; that His peace shall remain with them. It tells, in the allegory of the Vine, that there is an unseen spiritual union between Him and the Church, and every individual member of it; that there is, therefore, to be union between themselves; that the world will necessarily hate them because they are not of it; but that the Paraclete in them, and they themselves, of their own knowledge, should be the witness to the world.

It tells them the truth so hard to learn—that His own departure is expedient; declares the coming and the office of the Paraclete, and His own spiritual power with them, and comforts them with the thought of the full revelation of the Father, and the final victory over the world which He has overcome. Their faith rises to the sure conviction that He is from God. But even this full acceptance is not unclouded; He knows they will all be scattered, and leave Him alone.

And then having in fulness of love taught them, He lifts His eyes to heaven and prays for Himself, for the disciples, and for all believers, that in Him, as believers, they may have the communion with the Godhead which comes from the revelation of the Father through the Son.

(5) But here again in the narrative Darkness alternates with Light, and Hatred with Love. From the sacred calm of this inner circle we pass (John 18:1 to John 19:42) to the betrayal and apprehension, the trials before the Jewish and Roman authorities, the committal and crucifixion, the death and burial. Unbelief has reached its climax, and hatred gazes upon Him whom it has crucified.

(6) But love is greater than hatred, and light than darkness, and life than death. From the climax of unbelief we pass to the climax of faith. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, and Joseph of Arimathæa, join with the band of women in the last office of love. The appearance to Mary Magdalene, to the ten Apostles, to the eleven now including Thomas, has carried conviction to all, and drawn from Him who is last to believe the fullest expression of faith, “My Lord and my God” (John 20).

The writer has traced the struggle between acceptance and rejection through its successive stages, and now that the victory is won the purpose of His work is fulfilled. There is a faith more blessed than sight, and these things are written that we may believe.

(7) The things which the writer has told are but a few of those with which his memory was stored. There were many signs not written in this book. He afterwards (comp. Notes on John 21) adds one of those which serves as a link with the future, in part, perhaps, to prevent a misconception which had sprung up about his own life. Other disciples, too, give to his writing the stamp of their own knowledge of its certain truth.

Such are the characteristics of this Gospel. We feel as we read them that we are in a region of thoughts widely different from those of the earlier Gospels. The characteristic thoughts naturally express themselves in characteristic words, and many of these are dwelt upon in the following Notes. The reader will not need to be reminded, as he again and again comes upon the words “light” (which occurs twenty-three times), “life” (fifty-two times), “love” (seven times; 1 John seventeen times), “truth” (twenty-five times), “true” (ideally, nine times), “witness” (substantive and verb, forty-seven times), “believe” (ninety-eight times), “world” (seventy-eight times), “sign” (seventeen times), that he has in such words the special forms which express the special thoughts which have come to us through St. John. Some characteristics in style have been pointed out in § II. as bearing upon the authorship of the Gospel.

VI. Sketch of the Literature of the Subject.—References have already been given, under the earlier sections of this Introduction, to works where the reader may find fuller information upon the different topics dealt with. Here it is intended to note such works as the ordinary reader may without difficulty have access to, and which bear upon the subject-matter of the Gospel itself.

Of the older commentaries, Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, and the Tractatus 124 in Joannem of Augustine, may be read in the Oxford Library of the Fathers. The Commentary of Cyril of Alexandria has lately been translated by Mr. P. E. Pusey, Oxford, 1875. The Aurea Catena of Thomas Aquinas is accessible in the Oxford translation of 1841-45.

Of more modern Commentaries, Lampe’s three quarto volumes in Latin (Basileœ, 1725-27), take the first place, and are a storehouse from which almost all his successors have freely borrowed. The century and a half which has passed since his book appeared has been fruitful in works on St. John. A selection of exegetical works prefixed to the second volume of Meyer’s Commentary, Eng. Trans., 1875, contains more than forty published during this period, and the number may be largely increased. The Appendix to the English translation of Luthardt’s St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel, contains a list of some 500 works and articles upon the authenticity and genuineness alone, which has been published since the year 1790.

In our own day the best results of New Testament criticism, as applied to this Gospel, have been presented to the English reader in the Commentaries of Tholuck, Ed. 7, 1857, Eng. Trans., 1860; Olshausen, edited by Ebrard and Wiesinger, 1862, Eng. Trans., 1855; Bengel, Eng. Trans., 1874; Luthardt, Ed. 2, 1875-6, Eng. Trans., 1877; Godet, Ed. 2, with critical Introduction, 1877, Eng. Trans., 1877; Meyer, Ed. 5, 1869, Eng. Trans., 1875, all published by Messrs. Clark, of Edinburgh.

In our own country the Commentaries of Wordsworth, 1868, and Alford, Ed. 7, 1874, are known to all students of the New Testament, and the latter work has been also arranged specially for English readers (1868). Two works, which are less known than they deserve to be, may be specially noted as furnishing in a convenient form the patristic interpretation: Commentary on the Authorised English Version of the Gospel according to St. John, by the Rev. F. H. Dunwell, London, 1872; and The Gospel of John, illustrated from Ancient and Modern Authors, by Rev. J. Ford, London, 1852. Two other English books on this Gospel deal specially with its subject-matter: the well-known Discourses at Lincoln’s Inn of the late Frederick Denison Maurice, a work marked by his spiritual insight and earnest devotion, and containing a striking criticism on Baur’s mythical theory, Camb. 1857; and The Doctrinal System of St. John, by Professor Lias, London, 1875.

For all questions of geography, chronology, and Jewish antiquities, the English reader has the latest results of scholarship in the Biblical Dictionaries edited by Dr. William Smith and by Dr. Kitto, Ed. 3, 1866; in Dean Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine; in the Reports of the “Palestine Exploration Fund;” in the Synopsis of Dr. Karl Wieseler, Eng. Trans., 1864; in the Chronological and Geographical Introduction of Dr. Ch. Ed. Caspari, Eng. Trans., 1876. Special reference may be made to the articles on Jewish subjects by Dr. Ginsburg in Kitto’s Cyclopœdia. See, e.g., in connection with this Gospel the articles on “Education,” “Dispersion,” “Dedication” “Purim,” “Passover,” and “Tabernacles.”

On questions of the text, and the translation of the text, a very valuable help has been furnished in The Holy Bible, with Various Renderings and Readings from the Best Authorities, London, 1876; this Gospel has also been revised by “Five Clergymen,” London, 1857, and the results have been incorporated in The New Testament, Authorised Version Revised, London, 1876, of the late Dean Alford, who was one of them.

The aim of the present writer has been to help the English reader to understand the Gospel according to St. John. Within the brief limits of time and space at his command, he has tried to think out and express the writer’s meaning; and in the many difficulties which beset his path, has not consciously neglected any important guide. He is not unaware that some subjects are dwelt upon but briefly, and that others are entirely passed over, upon which the reader may seek information; but the pages of a Commentary are not those of a Theological Encyclopædia, and his own pages are but part of a greater whole. He trusts that no part of any text has been passed over without an honest attempt to ascertain and give its true meaning. The attempt will not be in vain if it helps any who have not access to works of greater learning and scholarship, to study and learn for themselves the meaning of words which, without such study, no one can teach.

It remains for the writer to express his obligations to the works which he has above mentioned, and to many others from which, directly and indirectly, thoughts have been suggested. To Lücke, Luthardt (especially in the Analysis), Godet, and Alford (both Commentary and Translation), he is conscious of owing a constant debt; but the work which has influenced his own thoughts most in the study of the New Testament, and without which the following Notes, though entirely differing from it in purpose and character, could not have been written, is the Kritisch Exegetisches Handbuch of Dr. Heinrich Meyer.



“Geschrieben steht: ‘Im Anfang war das Wort!’

Hier stock’ ich schon! Wer hilft mir weiter fort?

Ich kann das Wort so hoch unmöglich schätzen

Ich muss es anders übersetzen

Wenn ich vom Geiste recht erleuchtet bin.

Geschrieben steht: ‘Im Anfang war der Sinn’

Bedenke wohl die erste Zeile

Dass Deine Feder sich nicht übereile.

Ist es der Sinn, der Alles wirkt und schafft?

Es sollte stehn: ‘Im Anfang war die Kraft!’

Doch, auch indem ich dieses niederschreibe

Schon warnt mich was, dass ich dabei nicht bleibe,

Mir hilft der Geist! Auf ein mal seh’ich Rath

Und schreibe getrost: ‘Im Anfang war die That!’”

—Faust von Goethe.

“’Tis written: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’

Here am I balked: who now can help afford?

The Word?—impossible so high to rate it;

And otherwise must I translate it,

If by the Spirit I am truly taught.

Then thus: ‘In the beginning was the Thought,’

This first line let me weigh completely,

Lest my impatient pen proceed too fleetly.

Is it the Thought which works, creates, indeed?

‘In the beginning was the Power,’ I read.

Yet, as I write, a warning is suggested

That I the sense may not have fairly tested.

The Spirit aids me; now I see the light!

‘In the Beginning was the Act,’ I write.”

—Bayard Taylor’s Translation.

THESE well-known lines are quoted here because they forcibly express the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of fully knowing and fully conveying the sense of the term λόγος (Logos), which in our version is rendered “Word.” To understand the meaning of Logos is to understand the Gospel according to St. John; and one of the greatest difficulties which the English reader of St. John has to encounter is that it cannot be translated. Our own English term “Word” was chosen as representing Verbum, which is found in all the Latin versions, though in the second century both Sermo (discourse) and Ratio (reason) seem to have been in use as renderings. In a Latin translation of Athanasius de Incarnatione (1612) the rendering of Logos is Verbum et Ratio, and this presents the double meaning of the term, which it is of the utmost importance to bear in mind. The nearest English derivative is “Logic,” which is from an adjective derived from logos; and we understand by it, not an art or science which has to do with words, but one which has to do with thought and reason. The Greeks used logos in both senses, and Aristotle (Poster. Anal. i. 10) found it necessary to distinguish between the “logos within” (thought) and the “logos without” (speech). The Stoics introduced the phrase logos endiathetos (verbum mentis) for “thought,” and logos prophorikos (verbum oris) for “speech”; and these phrases were made prominent in the language of theology by Philo Judæus. The term, then, is two-sided, and the English term “Word” not only fails altogether to approach the meaning of the “logos within” (verbum mentis), but it also fails to represent the most important part of that side of the meaning which it does approach; for the “logos without” (verbum oris) is speech or discourse, rather than the detached “word.”

The term logos occurs frequently in the New Testament in the sense of utterance; but when used in this sense it differs from the kindred words (rhema and epos) in that it always has to do with the living voice. It may mean that which any one said—sc., discourse, argument, doctrine, narrative, matter (about which speech was made); so, on the other hand, it is often used for reason (the faculty), account (to take and to give), reckoning, cause. St. John himself uses the term in this Gospel some thirty-six times in the more general meaning. In the Prologue it is used four times, and in each instance with reference to the person of our Lord. In 1John 1:1 (see, Note there) the phrase “Word of Life” occurs; and in 1John 5:7 the term “Word” is found absolutely, but this verse is not in any MS. older than the fifteenth century. In Revelation 19:13 the term “Word of God” is found, and in Hebrews 4:12-13 (see Note), the Greek term is found in the sense “word of God,” and “account” (“with whom we have to do”). But the absolute use of the term Logos in a personal sense is confined to the four instances in the Prologue of this Gospel, and it is this special meaning which we have to investigate.

The answers to our inquiry must be sought in the sense attached to the term at the time when, and by the persons among whom, the Gospel was written. In the opening verses of St. John we are at once in the midst of thoughts and terms quite distinct from any with which we are familiar from the earlier Gospels; but they are clearly quite familiar to both the writer and his readers. He uses them without note or comment, and assumes that they convey a known and definite meaning. Now, there are three circles in which we find these thoughts and terms then current:—

(1) We meet with the term Logos, expressing a person or personified attribute, in the Gnostic systems which flourished at the commencement of the second century. In Basilides (became prominent about A.D. 125) the Logos is the second of the intelligences which were evolved from the Supreme God—“Mind first is born of the unborn Father, from it again Reason (Logos) is born; then from Reason, Prudence; and from Prudence, Wisdom and Power; and from Wisdom and Power, the Virtues and Princes and Angels—those whom they call ‘the first.’” (Irenæus, i., xxiv. 3; Oxford Trans, p. 72.)

In Valentinus, who seems to have been a Christian in earlier life (prominent A.D. 140-160), we meet with a more complicated development. The first principle is Proarche, or First Beginning; Propator, or First Father; Bythos, or the Deep. He is eternal and unbegotten, and existed in repose through boundless ages. With Him there existed the Thought (Ennoia) of His mind who is also called Grace and Silence. When Bythos willed to put forth from Himself the beginning of all things, Thought conceived and brought forth Understanding (Nous) and Truth. Understanding was also called Only-begotten and Father, and was the principle of the whole Pleroma. The Understanding produced Reason (Logos) and Life, and from this pair was produced the Man and the Church. These four pairs—Deep (Bythos) and Thought (Ennoia), Understanding (Nous) and Truth (Aletheia), Reason (Logos) and Life (Zoe), Man (Anthropos) and Church (Ecclesia), form the first octave or ogdoad. From Logos and Zoe, proceeded five pairs, which made the decad; and from Anthropos and Ecclesia six pairs, which made the dodecad. These together constituted the thirty aeons. There was also an unwedded æon called Horos (Boundary), or Stauros (Cross), who proceeded from Bythos and Ennoia, and whose office it was to keep every existence in its proper place (Irenæus, 1:1; Oxford Trans. p. 3 et sea.). In all this, and in the names of other æons, as Comforter, Faith, Hope, Love, we have, so far as terms and expressions go, much that may remind us of the teaching of St. John. But it is the product of a mind acquainted with Christianity, and blending it with other systems.

(2) We meet with the doctrine of the Word also in the circle of Jewish thoughts. Traces of it are found, indeed, in the poetry of the Old Testament itself. (Comp. Psalm 33:4; Psalm 33:6; Psalm 119:89; Psalm 119:105; Psalm 107:20; Psalm 147:15; Psalm 147:18; Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 55:10-11; Jeremiah 23:29.) We find also that the Wisdom of God is personified as in Job 28:12 et seq. and Proverbs 8, 9. In the Apocryphal Books, Ecclesiasticus and The Wisdom of Solomon this personification becomes more definite. See Ecclesiasticus 1:1; Ecclesiasticus 1:4; Ecclesiasticus 24:9-21, and Wisdom Of Solomon 6:22 to Wisdom Of Solomon 9:18, and note especially, Wisdom Of Solomon 9:1-2, where “Thy word” and “Thy wisdom” are parallels; Wisdom Of Solomon 9:4, “wisdom, that sitteth by Thy throne;” Wisdom Of Solomon 16:12, “Thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things;” Wisdom Of Solomon 18:15, “Thine almighty word leaped down from heaven out of Thy royal throne.” Any inference which we draw from these books must, however, be checked by the fact that they belong to the border-land between Hebrew and Greek thought, and that while the Book of Wisdom cannot belong to an earlier date than the middle of the second century B.C., it may belong to the first century A.D., and was even ascribed to Philo himself, as we know from St. Jerome.

We have foreshadowings of the personal Word which are more distinctly Jewish in the Targums,[24] where the Memra da-Yeya (Word of the Lord) becomes almost a synonym of the divine name. “‘By Myself have I sworn” (Genesis 22:16) becomes “By My Word have I sworn.” In Genesis 16 Hagar sees the “Word of the Lord” and afterwards identifies Him with the “Shekinah.” So we read that the Word of the Lord was with Ishmael, with Abraham, with Isaac, with Joseph. Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20) is thus read in the Targum of Oukelos, “If the Memra da-Yeya will be my help, and will keep me in that way in which I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to wear, and bring me again in peace to my father’s house, then Memra da-Yeya shall be my God.” The Jerusalem Targum reads Memra da-Yeya for the Angel-Jehovah in the revelation to Moses (Exodus 3:14). In Isaiah 63:7-10, the Targum of Jonathan reads the Memra for the Angel, the Redeemer, and Jehovah; and in Malachi 3 identifies the Coming One with the Angel of the Covenant, and the Memra of the Lord. Dr. Etheridge noted in the Targum of Oukelos, in the Pentateuch only, more than 150 places in which the Memra da-Yeya is spoken of. In the later Targums it is still more frequent.

[24] Targum means translation or interpretation. The word was technically given to the Chaldee paraphrases of the Old Testament, which sprung up after the Captivity, when the mass of the people had lost the knowledge of the older Hebrew. At first these Targums were oral, and writing them was prohibited. When written Targums first came into existence is unknown. Zunz and others think there were written Targums on several books of the Old Testament as early as the time of the Maccabees. (Comp. Article “Targum,” in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopœdia, vol. iii., p. 948 et seq.)

(3) Another region of thought in which we find analogies to the doctrine of the Word, is the Judæo-Alexandrine philosophy, which is represented by Philo. A Jew by birth, and descended from a priestly family, Philo was some thirty years old at the commencement of the Christian era. From the study of the Old Testament he passed to that of Plato and Pythagoras, and with such devotion that there was a common proverb, “Either Plato philonises, or Philo platonises.,, He drank not less deeply of the spirit of other teachers and in the allegorical interpretation of the Essenes, the Cabbalists, and the Therapeutæ, he found the mean between the Hebrew tradition of his youth and the Greek freedom of thought with which he became familiar in later years. The dualism of the Greek philosophers and the Biblical account of creation were both rejected for the Eastern theory of emanation. He thought of God as Eternal Light, from Whom all light comes; whose radiance cannot be gazed upon by human eyes, but which was reflected in the Word, or, as the Scripture calls it, Divine Wisdom. This he conceived to be not a mere abstraction. but an emanation, a real existence, and a person. He calls Him, for example, the “first begotten of God,” “the Archangel,” and, adopting the language of the Stoics (comp. p. 552), the Logos Endiathetos. From this proceeded a second emanation, the Logos Prophorikos, which manifests the Logos Endiathetos, and is Himself manifested by the Universe. The Logos is, then, in the conception of Philo, the link between the Universe and God, between objective matter and the spiritual Light which man cannot approach. On the spiritual side, the Logos is spoken of in terms which make it not seldom doubtful whether the thought is of a person or of an idea; on the material side, the Logos is the active reason and energy, and sometimes seems to be almost identified with the Universe itself. The bridge passes imperceptibly into the territory on either side.

Such are, in a few words, the systems of thought, which stand in relation more or less appreciable to the Johannine doctrine of the Word. The question is, from which, if indeed from any one of these, was the form of St. John’s teaching derived?

The Gnostic systems are excluded if our conclusion as to the authorship and date of the Gospel is valid. (Comp. Introduction, pp. 372, 376 et seq.). They are also excluded by independent comparison with the Gospel, and thus they afford a confirmation of that conclusion. They are in the relation of the complex to the simple, the development to the germ. Any one who will carefully read the extract from Irenæus which is given above will find good reason for believing that he is describing a system which may naturally enough have been developed from St. John; but from which the doctrine of St. John could not have been developed. The one is as the stream flowing in all its clearness from the fountain; the other is as the same stream lower in its course, made turbid by the admixture of human thoughts.

There remains the Judæo-Alexandrine philosophy, of which Philo is the leading representative, and the Hebrew thoughts expressed in the Old Testament paraphrases, and in the developments of later Judaism. We are to bear in mind, however, that the line between these cannot be drawn with such clearness and certainty as men generally seem to suppose. The Chaldæan paraphrases contain an Eastern element with which the nation was imbued during its long captivity, and Philo himself borrowed much from Oriental modes of thought. He was, moreover, a Jew, and the Jewish Scriptures and these very Targums were the foundation of his mental training. His philosophy is avowedly based upon the Old Testament. We are to bear in mind also when we speak of the philosophy of Philo that no philosopher arises without a cause, or lives without an effect. Philo represents a great current of thought which influenced himself and his generation, and which he deepened and widened. Of that current Alexandria and Ephesus were the two great centres, the former specially representing Judaism in contact with the freer thought of Greece, and the latter specially representing Judaism in contact with the theosophies of Asia, but both meeting and permeating each other in these great cities. (Comp. Introduction, p. 376.)

We have to think, then, of St. John as trained in the knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture and the paraphrases which explained them, and accustomed from childhood to hear of the Memra da-Yeya, the Word of the Lord, as the representative of God to man. Through the teaching of the Baptist he is led to the Christ, and during the whole of Christ’s ministry learns the truth that He only had seen the Father, and was the Apostle of God to the world. After Christ’s death the Resurrection strengthens every conviction and removes every doubt. The presence of the Spirit at Pentecost brings back the words He had given them as a revelation from God, and quickens the soul with the inspiration which gives the power to understand them. Then the Apostle goes forth to his work as a witness of what he had seen and heard, and for half a century fulfils this work. Then he writes what he so many times had told of Christ’s words and Christ’s works. He is living in the midst of men round whom and in whom that current of Judæo-Alexandrine thought has been flowing for two generations. He hears men talking of the Beginning, of Logos, of Life, of Light, of Pleroma, of Shekinah, of Only-Begotten, of Grace, of Truth, and he prefixes to his Gospel a short preface which declares to them that all these thoughts of theirs were but shadows of the true. There was a Being from all eternity face to face with God, and that Being was the true Logos, and He was not only with God, but was God. By Him did the universe come into existence. In Him was Life and the Light of men—the true ideal Light which lighteth every man. And not only was that Logos truly God, but He was truly man; the Incarnation was the answer to the problem which their systems of thought had vainly tried to fathom. The Logos, on the spiritual side, from eternity God; on the material side, in time, become flesh: this was the answer which Philo had dimly forecast. He was the Shekinah tabernacled among men, manifesting the glory of the Only-Begotten. In Him was the Pleroma. By Jesus Christ came Grace and Truth. No man had ever seen the brightness of the glory of the presence of God, but the Only-Begotten was the true Interpreter, declaring the Fatherhood of God to man.

Such is the Johannine doctrine of the Word. Shaping itself, as it must have done, if it was to be understood at Ephesus at the close of the first century, in the then current forms of thought, and in the then current terms, it expresses in all its fulness the great truth of the Incarnation. It has bridged for ever the gulf between God and man in the person of One who is both God and man; and this union was possible because there is in man a “logos within”—reason, thought, conscience;—because there is in the spiritual nature of man that which is capable of communion with God.

[This subject is dealt with in the works mentioned in the Introduction, and in a very convenient form in Liddon’s Bampton Lectures and Westcott’s Introduction. Lücke’s treatment of it (Ed. 3, vol. i., p. 249 et seq.) is one of the most valuable parts of his invaluable Commentary. See also Dorner, Doctrine of the Person of Christ, vol. i., especially Mr. Simon’s Appendix, p. 327 et seq., Eng. Trans.; Mansel’s article “Philosophy,” in Kitto’s Biblical Encyclopædia, vol. iii., p. 520 et seq.; Etheridge, Translations of the Targums on the Pentateuch, p. 14 et seq.]


It has often been found necessary in the preceding Notes to refer to readings differing from the Received text, on which our Authorised version is based. To justify or discuss these in any degree of fulness would be beyond the scope of the present volume; but it may be of interest, as well as of importance, to give, in two or three typical cases, an outline of the method by which the results are obtained.

John 1:18.—The Authorised version reads here, “the only begotten Son” and the Received text, upon which it is based, has ὁ μονογενὴς υἱος. But soon after the middle of the second century we find the reading μονογενὴς θεὸς—“only begotten God”—which has at least an equal, if not a superior, claim to be considered the original text.

The external evidence, judged by the testimony of MSS., of versions, and of quotations in extant works, must be admitted to be in favour of the reading, “only begotten God.”

The external evidence, judged by the testimony of MSS., of versions, and of quotations in extant works, must be admitted to be in favour of the reading, “only begotten God.”

Of the chief uncial MSS. (comp. p. xvi.), the Sinaitic, the Vatican, and the Codex Ephraem at Paris, support it; while against it are the Alexandrian MS. now in the British Museum, and a reading of Codex Ephraem from the hand of a later scribe. The preponderance in weight is, however, much greater than it seems to be numerically.

Of the Versions the Revised Syriac (Peshito), the margin of the Philoxenian Syriac, the Æthiopic (?), read “only begotten God.” All the Latin versions, the Curetonian, Philoxenian (not the margin) and Jerusalem Syriac, the Georgian, Sclavonic, Armenian, Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon read “the only begotten Son.” The Revised Syriac must here be regarded as having special weight from the fact that its evidence agrees with that of MSS. from which it usually differs.

Of the Fathers “only begotten’ God” is read certainly by Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Epiphanius, Didymus de Trinitate, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria. “The only begotten Son” is read by Eusebius, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and by the Latin writers from Tertullian downwards. The uncertain text of many of the Fathers makes their witness doubtful; but this at least seems clear, that the decided weight of Patristic evidence is in favour of “only begotten God.” Tregelles lays stress upon the fact that Arius adopted this reading, but it must be observed that Arius very likely considered “God,” as here used, in a secondary sense, and so might have regarded the passage as latently, though not on the surface, favouring his own views.

The external evidence being thus in favour of “only begotten God,” we have to inquire whether there is any sufficient ground on which it can be set aside. We are at once met by the fact that the term is unique, and therefore, it is often said, not likely to occur; whereas “the only begotten Son” is perfectly, natural, and occurs in St. John in John 3:16; John 3:18, and 1John 4:19. But we are to remember that what is unnatural to us would have been so to copyists and translators; and the fact that we have an unusual term strongly supported by external evidence is of weight just in proportion as the term is unusual. Nor need a unique term be a matter of suspicion in this Prologue, where we have found so much that is not paralleled in other parts of the New Testament. (Comp. Excursus A.)

It has been sometimes thought that “only begotten Son” may have been changed into “only begotten God” from a dogmatic bias. We have seen that Only Begotten (Monogenes) was one of the æons in the Ogdoad of Valentinus (p. 553); but there was the greatest care to separate the æons from the original Bythos, and no copyist in the Valentinian interest would have applied the term “God” to the Only Begotten.” Unique as the term was, and unknown to Christian orthodoxy, no copyist, on the other hand, would have ventured to adopt it in the interests of Christianity.

A priori reasons would seem, then, to unite with external evidence in favour of the unfamiliar reading, “only begotten God.” We find it beyond all question soon after the middle of the second century. It is almost impossible to believe that it was of set purpose, and quite impossible to believe that it was by accident, read instead of “only begotten Son,” and the only alternative is that it is part of the original Gospel. The doubtful word was probably written, with the usual contraction, in the uncial characters, ΘC (ΘEOC), and this was read by copyists as the more familiar ΥC (ΥIOC); and thus by the change of a single letter and the addition of the article, “only begotten God” passed into “the only begotten Son” and the original text passed into an oblivion, from which it has never been rescued.

But although the term “only begotten God” is unfamiliar to us, it is not foreign to the thought of the Prologue, the very central idea of which is that the Logos was with God, and was God. The eternal Sonship of the Logos is expressed in the parallel sentence “in the bosom of the Father,” and in this term “only begotten God” the Prologue repeats emphatically at its conclusion the text with which it opened: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” The omission of the article gives the sentence a meaning which it is difficult to express in translation, but which in Greek makes the term “only begotten God” an assertion—“No man hath seen God at any time; only begotten God as He is, He who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”

[Comp. for fuller information on this important reading Professor Abbot’s articles in the Andover Bibliotheca Sacra (Oct. 1861), and Unitarian Review (June, 1875), and Professor Drummond in Theological Review (Oct. 1871). There is an elaborate and careful note based on Professor Abbot’s article in Alford’s Commentary, in loco. He decides for the Received text, which is followed also by Wordsworth (but without any note on the reading), Tischendorf, and Scrivener. Tregelles, on the other hand, reads “only begotten God,” which is also adopted by Westcott and Hort. The remarkable Dissertation upon it, read before the University of Cambridge by Dr. Hort in 1876, will perhaps turn the current of thoughtful opinion in favour of the reading he advocates.]

John 7:53 to John 8:12.—This section illustrates a critical question of a wholly different nature. We have in the Received text no less than twelve verses which, by the admission of all competent authorities, have no valid claim to be considered part of the Gospel according to St. John. They are found in no Greek MS. earlier than the sixth century; they are not an original part of any of the oldest versions; they are not quoted as by St. John before the last half of the fourth century.

The external evidence leaves, therefore, no room for doubt that they are an interpolation, and as we have seen in the Notes upon the passages, this is entirely borne out by the matter and style of the verses themselves, and by the break which they cause in the narrative. At the same time they leave the impression, which becomes more vivid on every fresh study of the section, that they are a genuine record of an incident in the life and teaching of Christ. It would have been impossible for any writer in the early Church to have risen so far above the ordinary feeling upon such a question; and their whole tone is that of the words of Christ, and not of the words of man.

The external evidence leaves, therefore, no room for doubt that they are an interpolation, and as we have seen in the Notes upon the passages, this is entirely borne out by the matter and style of the verses themselves, and by the break which they cause in the narrative. At the same time they leave the impression, which becomes more vivid on every fresh study of the section, that they are a genuine record of an incident in the life and teaching of Christ. It would have been impossible for any writer in the early Church to have risen so far above the ordinary feeling upon such a question; and their whole tone is that of the words of Christ, and not of the words of man.

But if they are the words of Christ, and yet not part of the Fourth Gospel, how did they come to be inserted in this place? We must remember, as this Gospel itself reminds us, that we have no complete record of the works and words of Christ, and that there must have been many incidents treasured in the memory of the first disciples which have not come down to us. (Comp. Acts 20:35, and Note there.) We know from Eusebius that many such incidents were narrated in the five books of Papias, who thus gives his own purpose and plan:—“I shall not regret to subjoin to my interpretations also, for your benefit, whatsoever I have at any time accurately ascertained and treasured up in my memory, as I have received it from the elders, and have recorded it in order to give additional confirmation to the truth by my testimony. For I have never, like many, delighted to hear those that tell many things, but those that teach the truth; neither those that record foreign precepts, but those that are given from the Lord to our faith, and that came from the truth itself. But if I met with any one who had been a follower of the elders anywhere, I made it a point to inquire what were the declarations of the elders; what was said by Andrew, Peter, or Philip; what by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the disciples of our Lord; what was said by Aristion and by the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord; for I do not think that I derived so much benefit from books as from the living voice of those that are still surviving” (Euseb. Eccles. Hist. iii., xxxix.; Bagster’s Trans., p. 142). At the end of the same chapter Eusebius says, “He also gives another history, of a woman who had been accused of many sins before the Lord.” The reference is almost certainly to the incident in the present paragraph, and in it we have the probable key to the insertion here. A copyist would write the section from Papias in the margin of his MS., perhaps, as Ewald suggests, to illustrate the statement, “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man” (John 8:14); and from the margin it found its way, as other such passages did, into the Cambridge and other MSS. Adopted from the margin, it would be placed in the text where there was space for it on the page of the MS., and this would account for the fact that it is found in different positions; for it is placed by one MS. after John 7:36; by several at the end of the Gospel; by four important cursives at the end of Luke 21. The copyists felt, then, that it was an incident which should have a place in their MSS., but they felt free to decide chat place at their own discretion.

Augustine held that the passage had been omitted on the ground of the supposed encouragement it gave to lax views, and this position has been maintained by others in ancient and modern times. It does not, however, account (1) for the fact that John 7:53 is part of the doubtful passage; (2) the great variations of place and of readings in the MSS. where it is found; (3) the internal differences of matter and style.

[Comp. Scrivener’s New Testament Criticism, Ed. 2, p. 530 et seq.; Alford’s note in loco, in which he incorporates the results of Lucke’s full discussion; Lightfoot, in Contemporary Review, Oct. 1875.]

John 18:1.—This is a variation of another kind, and one of little practical importance, except that the Received text has furnished ground for one of the instances quoted in proof of the position that the writer was not a Jew of Palestine. It is of interest as illustrating the way in which various-readings have arisen.

Our Authorised version has “the brook Cedron,,, departing from the Received text, which has the article in the plural,, and must be rendered “the brook (or, more exactly, the winter-torrent) of the cedars.” The article is, however, in the singular in the Alexandrian MS., which supports the Authorised version, and this reading is adopted by Griesbach, Scholz, Lachmann, and Meyer. The Sinaitic and Cambridge MSS. have both the article and the substantive in the singular—“the brook Cedrus,” or “the brook of the cedar”—and this is the reading adopted by Tischendorf (Ed. 8). The Vatican MS., and a later correction of the Sinaitic MS., read with the Received text “the brook of the cedars,” and this is the reading adopted by Alford, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort.

Our Authorised version has “the brook Cedron,,, departing from the Received text, which has the article in the plural,, and must be rendered “the brook (or, more exactly, the winterIt must be allowed that this reading, “the brook of the cedars,” has most external support. But against it is the fact that both the other texts agree in reading the singular article. The probable explanation is that the original text was του κεδρών (the Kedron)—i.e., the Hebrew name of the torrent (Kidrôn), meaning “black” or “dark,” was written in Greek letters. But this termination of the substantive would seem to a Greek copyist like a genitive plural (κέδρων), for the uncial MSS. would have no accents, and he would make the article agree with it, reading τῶν κέδρων (“of the cedars”). Another copyist would do just the opposite, changing the number of the substantive to agree with the article, and reading του κέδρον (“of the Cedrus,” or “of the cedar”). In this way the reading of the Alexandrian MS., which is adopted in the Authorised version, explains, on the one hand, how that of the Sinaitic and Cambridge MSS., and, on the other hand, how that of the Vatican MS., would arise; and being the only one of the three which explains the others, it probably represents the original text.

There is in any case no foundation for the argument that the writer was unacquainted with Hebrew, for even if the true reading be “of the cedars” (τῶν κέδρων) a Jew may have chosen it to represent the Hebrew word from its similarity in sound. It is remarkable that in the LXX. translation of 2Samuel 15:23 the word occurs twice (once in the Hebrew and English), i.e., as an appellative and as a proper name. Comp. 1Kings 15:13 (LXX.).


The Fourth Gospel contains no record of the institution of Holy Baptism or of the Eucharist. This will not surprise us if we remember that it belonged to a generation later than the journeys and letters of St. Paul, in which we find that both sacraments had become part of the regular life of the Church. That which was constant and undoubted, and was part of the gospel wherever it was proclaimed, and in the formularies of which the very words of institution were preserved, needed not to be told again. But that which is not told is assumed. Like the Transfiguration, the Agony in Gethsemane, the Ascension, both sacraments are more than recorded; they are interwoven in the very texture of the Gospel. The discourse with Nicodemus in John 3. and the discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum in John 6. could not have been written at the close of the first century without being understood by the writer, and without being intended to be understood by the readers, as discourses on Holy Baptism and the Eucharist. In the Notes on these chapters an attempt has been made to bring out their true meaning in detail, and to these the reader is referred. Nor are we concerned here with the controversies which in after ages have gathered round these centres. All that can be attempted is to point out that the differences of opinion with regard to the general interpretation of the chapters as a whole have arisen from reading them with preconceived convictions as to their meaning, and from confounding things which ought to be distinguished. It may be granted that no one who heard the discourse at Capernaum could understand it of the solemn institution, which was still in the future, and then wholly outside any possibility of current thought; but it does not follow that the discourse was not intended to teach the doctrine of the Eucharist, and to be interpreted in the events and words of the Last Supper. It takes its place among the many things which the disciples afterwards remembered that He had said unto them, and believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (Comp. Note on John 2:22.) The conclusion that the words have no reference to the Eucharist would require the statement, not that the disciples could not understand them at the time, but that Jesus Himself did not; and no one who is prepared to admit that to Him the future was as the present, and that when He said, “I am the Bread of Life,” “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you,” He knew that He would also take bread and break it, and say, “This is My body, which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me;” and would take the cup, and say, “This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you,” can doubt that He taught in word at the one Passover that which He taught in act and word at the other. It may be granted, again, that when St. John heard, with or from Nicodemus, of the new birth which was of water and of the Spirit, he may have asked, as the teacher of Israel did, “How can these things be?” but the statement that the discourse does not apply to the sacrament of Baptism is inconsistent with the commission to the Apostles to baptise all nations, and the fact that the day of Pentecost and the history of the Apostolic Church must have brought to the writer’s mind in all its fulness what the meaning of the spiritual birth was. It may be granted that these truths, as they were revealed by Jesus Christ, were beyond the comprehension of any who heard them, and that the teaching of these chapters is inconsistent with the degree of faith and spiritual receptivity which even at the end of our Lord’s ministry is found in the circle of the Apostles; but we are to remember once more that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is in this very Gospel itself promised to guide them into all truth, and that in the person of him who records the promise there is the evidence that it had been fulfilled.

“We have seen in John 20:22-23, how the Apostle thinks of the act of breathing on the disciples, with which Jesus accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost and the power to remit sins, as itself a sacramental sign; and throughout the Gospel we have seen how he regards every work of Jesus as a sign of a spiritual reality beyond. The whole Gospel is, so to speak, sacramental. The Word became flesh, and the whole life in the flesh was a manifestation which the physical eye could look upon and the physical ear could hear, that by means of these senses the human spirit may perceive the nature of the Eternal Spirit in whose image it was made. The spiritual was manifested in material form, that in it the spiritual nature of man embodied in material form may have communion with God. Every word and work was “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” and at the time when the Apostle wrote two of these signs were specially regarded by the Church as those “ordained by Christ Himself as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” (Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:26-29; Matthew 28:19; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 11)


No difficulty with regard to this Gospel has been more strongly felt by those who accept the authenticity, or more cogently urged by those who reject it, than the way in which the discourses of our Lord as they are recorded in the Fourth Gospel differ from the shorter detached sayings and parables with which we are familiar in the Synoptists. “Il faut faire un choix” says M. Renan, “si Jésus parlait comme le veut Matthieu, il n’a pu parler comme le veut Jean.” This is not all; for not only are these discourses of Jesus unlike those of the earlier Gospels, but the Fourth Gospel preserves unity of style, whether Jesus is speaking, or John the Baptist, or the writer himself. Further, while this style widely differs from that of the earlier Gospels, it very clearly resembles that of the First Epistle of St. John.

This difference must, to a large extent, be at once admitted by every candid inquirer; but M. Renan’s inference will not follow unless the difference is so great that it cannot be accounted for. It may be assumed here that the arguments of the Introduction have led the reader to think that the Johannine Authorship of the Gospel, is, at least, in the highest degree probable. The writer claims, as we have seen (p. 374), to be an eye-witness and to have seen and heard that which he records, and others give their sanction to the claim. It follows, therefore, even if all that has been said about these discourses and their difference from those of the Synoptists can be established, that we have nothing more than a difficulty which our ignorance cannot explain; but this cannot weigh against the position which, on so many other grounds, has been established. But is the difference—great as it undoubtedly is—wholly inexplicable, or, indeed, greater than under all the circumstances we have a right to expect?

(1) It must be remembered, in the first place, that the ground common to the Fourth Gospel and the earlier three is much greater than it is often supposed to be. The following parallels are given that the reader may conveniently estimate it. The texts may be found quoted in parallel columns in Godet and Luthardt; and the weight of their cumulative testimony can be felt only by one who will carefully compare them.

John 2:19;

Matthew 26:61; Matthew 27:40; Mark 14:58.

John 3:18;

Mark 16:16.

John 4:44;

Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4.

John 5:8;

Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:9; Luke 5:24.

John 6:20;

Matthew 14:27.

John 6:35;

Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21.

John 6:37;

Matthew 11:28-29.

John 6:46;

Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22.

John 12:7;

Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:8.

John 12:8;

Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7.

John 12:25;

Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:14.

John 12:27;

Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:24.

John 13:3;

Matthew 11:27.

John 13:16; John 15:20;

Matthew 10:24; Luke 6:40.

John 13:20;

Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16.

John 13:21;

Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18.

John 13:38;

Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30; Luke 22:34.

John 14:18;

Matthew 28:20.

John 14:28;

Mark 13:32.

John 14:31;

Matthew 26:46.

John 15:21;

Matthew 10:22.

John 16:32;

Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27.

John 17:2;

Matthew 28:18.

John 18:11;

Matthew 26:55.

John 18:17;

Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3.

John 20:23;

Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18.

The passages in Matthew 11:25-27; Matthew 15:13 and Luke 10:22 should be specially noticed, as containing thoughts like those which meet us in St. John.

(2) If we accept the common belief that our Lord spoke in the current Syro-Chaldaic, then the discourses of the Greek Gospels are translations, and a translator’s own style naturally impresses itself upon his work.

(3) The scene of the Fourth Gospel is, for the most part, Jerusalem; that of the Synoptists is Galilee. In the one case our Lord is chiefly addressing scribes and Pharisees, Rabbis and elders; in the other case He is chiefly addressing the multitudes of Galilee, peasants and fishermen, who flocked to hear Him. It is true that one of the most striking of the discourses of the Fourth Gospel was delivered in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:59), but in this discourse it is the hierarchical party (“the Jews,” see Note on John 1:19) who murmur at Him, and it is to them that the discourse is chiefly addressed. Is the difference in the discourses greater than that between a University sermon of a distinguished teacher, and the address delivered in a village church or in the open air by the same man?

(4) We possess no part of the teaching of Christ in full. The Fourth Gospel does not profess to be more than an historical résumé, a fragment of a great whole, which could not possibly be produced (John 20:30-31; John 21:24-25). We read it in detached portions, and think of it as representing the teaching of the ministerial life of Christ; but we seldom realise that the whole of the teaching which we have would have occupied but a few hours in delivery, whilst it is set in an historical framework which extends over months and years. Now, in making a summary of the discourses of Christ, nothing is more natural than that each writer should have chosen such portions as fell in with the bent of his own mind, the depth of his own perception, and the special object in writing which he himself had in view. And as nothing is more natural, so nothing can be more providential than that the teaching of Christ should be thus preserved as it presented itself to minds of widely-differing types, who are representatives of the differing thoughts and culture of every age. From this it results that the peasant and the fisherman, the scribe and the scholar, in all places and in all times, alike find in the doctrine of Christ the truth that satisfies the soul.

(5) The unity of style in the whole of the Fourth Gospel, and the similarity between that of the Gospel and that of the First Epistle, must be evident to every thoughtful reader. It does not follow that this style is wholly St. John’s. Surely we may believe rather that the loving and beloved disciple, who in closest intimacy drank of his Master’s spirit and listened to His words, caught in some degree the very form in which that Master spoke. The difficulty felt as to the unity of style is in truth an argument of no small weight in favour of the authenticity. No criticism has been able to dismember this Gospel, and assign part to one writer and part to another. It stands or falls as a whole, and the conviction which comes from the study of individual parts applies therefore to every part. The unity of style with that of the Epistle enables us to add the independent testimony which we have for the Epistle (comp. Introduction to it) to the general testimony in favour of the Gospel.

(6) Still it is impossible to deny that there is a subjective element in the discourses recorded in the Fourth Gospel: they cannot have been stored in the mind of the beloved disciple for fifty years without bearing the impress of that mind. He cannot have written in Ephesus at the close of the first century without being influenced by the current of thought in the midst of which he lived; and the purpose with which the Gospel was written (see Introduction, p. 377) must have moulded the form which it took. But is it therefore the less authentic? Does it the less produce the exact teaching of Christ? To answer these questions in the affirmative is to forget that the author, like other holy men of old, was inspired of God; to forget that the man was inspired, not the form or the word; to forget that presence of the Paraclete which was, as this very Gospel emphatically declares, “to teach all things, and bring all things to remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you,” and “to guide into all truth.”

It is not, then, necessary to make our choice between St. Matthew and St. John, or to believe that the Gospel is not the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” because it is “the Gospel according to St. John.” Rather, it is necessary to study the works and words of Christ as each Evangelist, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has recorded them, and in each part to seek to catch something of the fulness of that life which no record can convey; and as the experience of men in all ages has proved, there is no part in which that life is so fully presented as in the discourses related by St. John.

[Comp. Westcott, Introduction, p. 281 et seq.; Sanday, Authorship and Historical Character of the Fourth Gospel, p. 69 et seq.; Godet, Introduction, pp. 163-205; Luthardt, St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel, pp. 224-244; and especially the comparison between the Sermon on the Mount and the Teaching in the Fourth Gospel, appended to Professor Maurice’s Discourses, pp. 488-492.]


This omission has so often been made a difficulty, and to many minds is perhaps so real a difficulty, that a few words may be added upon it, though the Notes have already indicated what is probably the true solution. (Comp. especially Notes on John 11:8-16.) If, as there is every reason to believe, the Gospel according to St. Mark represents the original document on which the Synoptic Gospels are founded; and if St. Mark is also the interpreter of St. Peter, who wrote whatsoever he recorded with great accuracy (Euseb. Eccles. Hist. iii. 39; comp. Introduction to St. Mark), then the absence of St. Peter from the body of disciples who journeyed to Bethany with our Lord would be a sufficient reason why this miracle was not included in the Synoptic tradition, and why it is therefore not recorded in any one of the earlier Gospels.

No stress can be laid upon the common explanation that silence was imposed upon the Evangelists who wrote during the lifetime of the sisters or of Lazarus himself. There is no such reticence in the case of the young man at Nain, or of the daughter of Jairus; and the feeling forces itself upon the mind that such an explanation owes its existence to the necessity which has been felt to explain the difficulty somehow. This necessity has been felt, perhaps, too strongly. To us the miracle seems to stand alone as an exercise of power which every one who knew of it must have regarded as we regard it, and which no record of the life and works of Christ could omit. But the miracle differs essentially from others only in the fulness of our knowledge of it, and the circumstances which attended it. Each Evangelist does record a miracle of raising from the dead, and St. Luke records two. They are not dwelt upon as in any way beyond the limits of the miraculous power of Christ, which every Evangelist fully sets forth. All Jews, indeed, had expected such power to accompany the Messianic reign; they knew from their Scriptures that it had been vouchsafed to Elijah; they record (Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22), without any comment, the answer to the Baptist, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them;” and St. Luke records also in the Acts that the power of life and death was committed to the Apostles. The common feeling is shown in this very narrative, where the Jews ask, “Could not this Man which opened the eyes of the blind have caused that even this man should not have died?” (John 11:37.)

Stress may with greater confidence be laid upon the fact that the miracle at Bethany does not fall in the local sphere of the Synoptic narratives, but that it does naturally fall in with the Jerusalem ministry, which is specially related by St. John. His connection with the city, and residence in it, would certainly bring him into contact with the family at Bethany, and supply him with details which no other Evangelist would know. Knowing this incident himself, and knowing that the Synoptists had not recorded it, knowing too that it explained much that they did record, and was indeed the key without which the events of the last week could not be accounted for, he here, as elsewhere, adds to their narrative that which was lacking in it. It is one of the many instances in which the exact fitting of independent portions of the history prove that they are parts of one great whole.

The question of the authenticity of this record is, of course, implied in the often-asked question, “Why is it found only in St. John?” and behind this lies the wider question of the credibility of miracles. All that has been said in the Introduction on the Authenticity of the Gospel as a whole applies to this part of it; and there is no part of it which bears the impress of historical truth more fully than this does. The characters of Martha and Mary, the dialogues, the feelings of the Jews, the whole picture, are drawn to the life.

The silence of the record is itself significant. It is an inspired historian, and not a forger of the miraculous, in whose narrative Lazarus himself utters no word.

“Where wert thou, brother, those four days?”

There lives no record of reply,

Which telling what it is to die

Had surely added praise to praise.

Behold a man raised up by Christ!

The rest remaineth unreveal’d;

He told it not; or something seal’d

The lips of that Evangelist.”


[For this Excursus, which deals with a difficulty belonging to the Four Gospels rather than to the Fourth Gospel, Professor Plumptre has been kind enough to make himself responsible.]

(1) The narratives of the first Three Gospels, and that of the Fourth, agree in the statement that on the night that immediately preceded the betrayal or the crucifixion of our Lord, He and His disciples met together at a supper. As to what that supper was they seem at first to differ. The first Three agree in speaking of it as the first day (Matthew and Mark), or the day (Luke), of the feast known as that of unleavened bread, the day when “the Passover must be slain” (Mark, Luke). The disciples ask where they are to prepare the Passover. They are sent to the owner of the upper room, where they are met with the message that their Lord purposes to eat the Passover there. When they arrived they “made ready the Passover” (Matthew, Mark, Luke). As they begin He tells them that He has eagerly desired to eat that Passover with them before He suffered (Luke 22:15). At a certain stage of the meal, which corresponded with the later ritual of the Paschal Supper, He commands them to see in the bread and the cup which He then blessed the memorial feasts of the New Covenant. The impression, primâ facie, left by all the Three, is that our Lord and His disciples partook, at the usual time, of the Paschal Supper. In St. John, on the other hand, there is no record of the institution of this memorial feast. The supper is introduced as “before the feast of the Passover” (John 13:1). When Judas leaves the room the other disciples think that he is sent to buy what was needed for the feast (John 13:29). When the priests are before Pilate they shrink from entering into the Prætorium, lest they should be defiled, and so be unable to eat the Passover (John 18:28). The impression, primâ facie, left by St. John’s Gospel is that our Lord’s death coincided with the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb; that left by the Three is that the Paschal lamb had been sacrificed the previous evening.

(2) The difference has been regarded by many critics as altogether irreconcilable, and conclusions have been drawn from it unfavourable to the authority of one or both the narratives. Those who look on the Gospel of St. John as the work of a writer of the second century, see in this discrepancy a desire to give a sanction to the local usage of the Church of Ephesus, or to force upon his readers, as in his relation of “a bone of Him shall not be broken” (John 19:36), the correspondence between the Passover and the death of Christ. Those who accept the Gospel as St. John’s, wholly or in part, see in his narrative a correction, designed or undesigned, of the narrative of the Three, and look on that narrative accordingly as more or less untrustworthy. Some even of those who shrink from these conclusions have been content to rest in the conviction that we have no adequate data for the solution of the problem.

Some minor difficulties gather round the main question. It was not likely, it has been urged, that on the very night of the Passover the high priests should have taken the counsel and the action that led to the capture in Gethsemane; nor that on the day that followed, “a day of holy convocation” (Exodus 12:16), they should have sat in judgment, and appeared as accusers before Pilate and Herod; nor that Simon of Cyrene should have come from the country (Mark 15:21); nor that Judas should be supposed to have been sent, if it were the Paschal Supper, to make purchases of any kind—as if the shops in Jerusalem would on such a night be open (John 13:29).

The day of the Crucifixion is described by all four Evangelists as “the preparation,” which it is assumed must mean “the preparation for the Passover.” In St. John (John 19:14) it is definitely spoken of as “the preparation of the Passover.”

(3) Some solutions of the problem, which rest on insufficient evidence, may be briefly noticed and dismissed. (a) It has been supposed that our Lord purposely anticipated the legal Paschal Supper, and that the words “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15), were an intimation of that purpose. Against this, however, there is the fact that the disciples, who could have no such anticipatory purpose, ask the question where they are to prepare, and then actually prepare the Passover as a thing of course, and that the Three Gospels, as we have seen, all speak of the Last Supper as being actually on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, which is the Passover. (b) It has been conjectured that the Galilean usage as to the Passover may have varied from that of Judæa; but of this there is not the shadow of evidence, nor is it likely that the priests who had to take part in the slaying of the Paschal lambs would have acquiesced in what would seem to them a glaring violation of their ritual. (c) Stress has been laid on the fact that in the later ritual of the Passover week a solemn meal was eaten on the day that followed the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which was known as the Chagigah (= festivity, or festive meal). This also was a feast upon flesh that had been offered in sacrifice, and it has been thought by some who seek to reconcile the four narratives, that this was the feast for which Judas was supposed to be ordered to make provision, that this was “the Passover,” the prospect of which led the high priests to keep clear of entering under the roof of the Prætorium. In many ways this seems, at first, an adequate solution of the difficulty, but there is no evidence that the term “the Passover,” which had such a strictly definite significance, was ever extended to include this subordinate festivity.

(4) It remains to examine the narratives somewhat more closely, and with an effort to realise, as well as we can, the progress of the events which they narrate. As a preliminary stage in the inquiry, we may note two or three facts which cannot well be excluded from consideration. (a) The narrative of the first Three Gospels, probably independent of each other, represents, on any assumption, the wide-spread tradition of the churches of Judæa, of Syria, and of Asia, of St. Matthew, St. Peter, and St. Paul. It is antecedently improbable that that tradition could have been wrong in so material a fact. (b) The Fourth Gospel, whether by St. John or a later writer, must, on any assumption, have been written when that tradition had obtained possession of well-nigh all the churches. It is antecedently improbable either that such a writer should contradict the tradition without knowing that he did so, or that, if he knew it, he should do so silently and without stating that his version of the facts was more accurate than that commonly received. It is at least a probable explanation of his omitting to narrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper that the record of that institution was recited whenever the disciples met to break bread at Ephesus as elsewhere (1Corinthians 11:23-26), and that he felt, therefore, that it was better to record what others had left untold than to repeat that with which men were already familiar. If he was not conscious of any contradiction, then his mode of narrating, simply and without emphasis noting facts as they occurred, was natural enough.

(5) It remains to be seen whether there is, after all, any real discrepancy. Let us picture to ourselves, assuming for a time that the Last Supper was the Paschal meal, what was passing in Jerusalem on the afternoon of that 14th of Nisan. The Passover lamb was, according to the law (Exodus 12:6; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:3; Numbers 9:5), to be slain “between the two evenings.” The meaning of the formula is not certain. If, as some have supposed, it meant between the evening of the 14th and that of the 15th of Nisan, it gives a space of twenty-four hours within which the lamb might be slain and eaten, and then the whole apparent contradiction between the two narratives disappears. It was open to the disciples to eat their Passover on the 14th of Nisan, to the priests to eat theirs on the 15th. The occurrence, however, of the same expression in the rules as to the daily evening sacrifice (Exodus 29:39; Exodus 29:41; Numbers 28:4) excludes this interpretation, and it seems more probable that it covered the period that preceded and followed the setting of the sun. (Comp. Deuteronomy 6:2.) Looking to the prominence given to the ninth hour (3 P.M.), by the connection with the evening sacrifice and prayer (Acts 3:1), it would be probable enough that the slaughter of the Paschal lambs would begin at that hour, and this conclusion is expressly confirmed by Josephus, who states that they were slain from the ninth to the eleventh hour, i.e., from 3 to 5 P.M. (Wars, vi. 9, §3). It is clear, however, that the process would take up the whole of that time, and would tend to stretch beyond it. Josephus (ut supra) reckons the number of lambs that had to be sacrificed at 270,000. Some were certain to begin their Paschal meal two hours before the others.

(6) Everything indicates that the disciples were among the earliest applicants for the priests’ assistance. The Galileans abstained from work, as a rule, on the feastday, more rigidly than the dwellers in Judæa, and this would naturally lead to their making their preparations early. Peter and John are, accordingly, sent to prepare “when the day came.” They get the room ready. They hasten, we may believe, to the Court of the Temple with the lamb. They sit down to their meal “at evening,” i.e., about sunset, or 6 P.M. (Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:27; Luke 22:14). It was in the nature of the case certain that the priests would be the last to leave the courts of the Temple, where they had to wait till the last lamb was offered, to burn the fat and offer incense, and cleanse the Temple, and purify themselves by immersion from the blood of the sacrifices, and that their Paschal meal would, therefore, be the latest at Jerusalem. They could scarcely expect in any case to eat their Passover before 9 or 10 P.M.

Now let us turn to the upper room, in which our Lord and the disciples were assembled. At a comparatively early stage of the meal, before the fourth, or possibly before the third of the four cups of wine which belonged to the ritual of the feast, Judas leaves to do his traitor’s work. He has reason to believe that his Master will go out that evening, as was His wont, to Gethsemane. He goes at once to the priests, say about 8 or 9 P.M., with the welcome tidings. The urgency of the case, the sacred duty of checking the false and blasphemous Prophet who called Himself the Son of God, the urgency of the policy which sought to prevent the tumult which might have been caused by an arrest in the day-time, are all reasons for immediate action. The Paschal meal is postponed. They will be able, by-and-by, to comply with the rule that it must be consumed before the morning (Exodus 12:10). The guards are summoned and sent on their errand, as they had been once before on the “great day” of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-45). Messages are despatched to call the members of the Sanhedrin (or, at least, a sufficient number for the purpose) to the hurried meeting, which was held before dawn. Assume these facts, and all runs smoothly. When Judas leaves, the disciples, looking forward to the usual festive Chagigah on the following day, the feast as distinct from the Passover, suppose that he is gone to prepare for that, and there is no ground for thinking that at that hour the markets would be shut, or that lambs, and bread, and wine might not be purchased, or, at least, ordered for the following day. When the priests, on the other hand, refused to enter into the Prætorium, “lest they should be defiled,” it was because they, and they alone, perhaps, in all Jerusalem, had still to eat the Passover which others had eaten on the previous evening. Had their meal been due on the evening that followed the Crucifixion, their scruples would have been needless. They had but to wash and wait till sunset, and they would have been purified from all defilement. With them the case was more urgent. Probably even the pressure of hunger made them anxious to finish the untasted meal of the previous evening. It was then “early,” say about 4 or 5 A.M. When Pilate gave his sentence it was “about the sixth hour,” i.e., assuming St. John to use the Roman reckoning of the hours, 6 A.M. (But see Notes on John 4:6; John 19:14.) Then their work was done. As soon as they had left the matter in Pilate’s hands they could eat their Passover, turning the supper into a breakfast. This they had time for while their Victim was being mocked by the Roman soldiers and led out to Calvary. When it was over, they were able to reappear between 9 A.M. and noon, and to bear their part in the mockings and blasphemies of the multitude (Matthew 27:41; Mark 15:31). The disciples, on the other hand, who had eaten their Passover, found nothing to hinder them (this is obviously true, at least, of the writer of the Fourth Gospel) from going into the Prætorium, hearing what passed between Pilate and his prisoner (John 18:33-40), and witnessing, it may be, the scourgings and the mockings. Joseph of Arimathæa was not deterred by any fear of defilement from going to Pilate, for he too had, we must believe, eaten his Passover at the proper time (Matthew 27:57).

(7) So far, then, on this view all is natural and consistent. St. John omits the fact of the meal being the Passover, as he omits the institution of the Lord’s Supper, because these were things that were familiar to every catechumen, and confines himself to points of detail or of teaching which the current tradition passed over. He is not conscious that he differs from that tradition at all, and therefore neither emphasises his difference, nor is careful to avoid the appearance of it. On the other hand, the assumption that the Passover followed the Crucifixion involves the almost incredible supposition that the chief priests could remain by the cross till 3 P.M., and then go to Pilate (John 19:31) regardless of their previous scruples; that nearly the whole population of Jerusalem, men and women, instead of cleansing their houses from leaven and preparing for the Passover, were crowding to the scene of the Crucifixion; that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa and the Maries were burying the body of Jesus, and so incurring, at the very hour of the Passover, or immediately before it, a ceremonial defilement which would have compelled them to postpone their Passover for another month (Numbers 9:10). They go, the first at least of them, to Pilate, and both the visits are, it will be noted, recorded by the same Evangelist who recorded the scruples of the priests, without any explanation of what, on the other theory, is the apparent inconsistency.

(8) There remains only a few minor points above noticed. And (a) as to the Preparation. Here the answer lies on the surface. That name (Paraskeüè) was given to the day of the week, our Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and had absolutely nothing to do with any preparation for the Passover. The Gospels show this beyond the shadow of a doubt (Mark 15:42; Matthew 27:62; Luke 23:54). If any confirmation were wanted, it may be found in the fact that the name is applied in a Græco-Roman decree quoted by Josephus (Ant. xvi. 6, § 2) to the week-day which answers to our Friday. Even the phrase which seems most to suggest a different view, the “preparation of the Passover” in John 19:14, does not mean more, on any strict interpretation, than the “Passover Friday,” the Friday in the Passover week, and coming, therefore, before a Sabbath more solemn than others (John 19:31). It may be noted further that the term Paraskeüè was adopted by the Church, Western as well as Eastern, as a synonym for the Dies Veneris, or Friday, (b) The supposed difficulty as to Simon of Cyrene is of the slightest possible character. There is nothing to indicate that he was coming from field-labour. And if he had eaten his Passover on the previous day, either in Jerusalem or its immediate neighbourhood, there was nothing either in law or custom to prevent his entering the city on the following morning. (c) The questions connected with the action of the priests, and the thoughts of the disciples as to the meaning of our Lord’s command to Judas, have been already dealt with.

It remains, in submitting this explanation to the judgment of the thoughtful reader, that I should acknowledge my obligations to the exhaustive article on PASSOVER by the late Rev. S. Clark, M.A., in the Dictionary of the Bible, and to two articles on THE LAST SUPPER OF THE LORD in vols. 8 and 9 of the Contemporary Review by the Rev. Professor Milligan, D.D., of Aberdeen.


“A Paraclete, then, in the notion of the Scriptures is an Intercessor.”—Bp. PEARSON.

In the Notes on John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7, the word Paraclete (παράκλητος) has been rendered Advocate in preference to “Comforter,” which is the translation in the Authorised version. The object of this Excursus is to explain and justify this preference, for although the change is accepted by the majority of competent scholars, and the older rendering is probably destined to become obsolete, it, for the present, holds a place in the memory and feelings of English readers, from which it will not be removed unless a sufficient reason be shown.

The facts of the case are briefly as follows:—

(1) The word παράκλητος is a verbal adjective of passive signification, the simple meaning of which is “a person called to the side or another.” It acquired the sense of an agent, and the constant meaning in the classical writers is “Advocate,” in the technical forensic sense. This latter word is of exactly the same formation, and expresses in Latin just what Paraclete expresses in Greek. No instance can be quoted in which παράκλητος is used by any classical writer in the sense of “Comforter.” It is quite beside the question to quote passages in which derivatives of the same root are used in this sense; the point is that παράκλητος acquired a definite technical meaning, and neither has nor can have any other meaning.

(2) The classical usage being thus undoubted, we have next to examine its meaning in Biblical Greek. It nowhere occurs in the LXX. translation of the Old Testament, though other derivatives of the same root are common. In Job 16:2 (“miserable comforters are ye all”) the active form, παρακλήτωρ, is used, not the passive, παράκλητος. In the Greek of the New Testament it occurs only in this Gospel and in 1John 2:1, where it is rendered “Advocate.” The phrase, “another Paraclete,” in John 14:16, implies that Christ thought of Himself, as St. John in the Epistle speaks of Him, as a Paraclete; and no one can doubt that in these five passages the word has one and the same meaning. It can hardly be doubted, further, that the necessary meaning in the Epistle is “Advocate,” and it will follow that the meaning of the word in the Greek of St. John is the same as that in the Greek of the classical authors.

(3) That the meaning of “Advocate” was attached to the word in the Greek of the first and second Christian centuries may be seen from the following passages:—

“For it was indispensable that the man who was consecrated to the Father of the world should have as a paraclete His Son, the being most perfect in all virtue, to procure forgiveness of sins and a supply of unlimited blessings” (Philo, Vit. Mos. iii. 14; Bohn’s Trans., vol. iii., p. 102.) The student of Philo will find the word used in the same sense in de Josepho, § 40, and in Flaccum, §§ 3 and 5. These references are of special value from the fact that Philo was, like St. John, a Jew by birth and culture, who became later in life a student of the Greek language and literature. (Comp. Excursus A, p. 552.)

“Who will be our advocate if our deeds are found not to be holy and upright?” (Clem. Rom., cap. 6.)

“Advocates of the rich, unjust judges of the poor, sinners in all things.” (Ep. of Barnabas, cap. xx., speaking of those who walk in “the path of darkness;” Hoole’s Trans., p. 101.)

(4) It is true that many Greek Fathers take παράκλητος, both in the Gospel and the Epistle, in the active sense. “He is called Paraclete,” says Cyril of Jerusalem, “because He comforts, and consoles, and helps our weakness.” (Catech. xvi. 20.) How this error arose—for that an error it is all analogy of words of like form goes to show—it is not difficult to see. The word παράκλητος occurs only five times in the New, and nowhere in the Old Testament. The cognate active forms, meaning comfort, exhort, con sole, occur frequently in the LXX. And considerably more than 100 times in the New Testament. Read, e.g., 2Corinthians 1:1-7. The ordinary sense, then, overrode the technical meaning of one form of the word, and the idea of advocacy was lost in that of comfort.

(5) The Vulgate reads in the Gospel Paracletus, or Paraclitus, and Advocatus in the Epistle; but the old Latin originally had Advocatus throughout. (Comp. Tertullian, adv. Prax. Cap. ix; De Monog. cap. iii.)

(6) These facts taken together have convinced most scholars who have investigated the question, that “Comforter” cannot be regarded as a tenable rendering of the Greek word παράκλητος, and the conviction is one which seems to be extending among English scholars. But here, as in other cases which we have met in the study of St. John, the attention of scholars has been directed too exclusively to the meaning of the Greek word. It is important to bear in mind that the author is, like Philo, a Jew writing Greek, and in this fact we shall, it is believed, find the true key to the sense in which he used the word. The Hebrews had, in their contact with other nations, borrowed many words from them, and it necessarily followed from the conquests of Greece and Rome that the Greek and Latin military and legal terms were well known to them. Now παράκλητος was, as we have seen above, a technical legal term, and it was literally taken over into the later Hebrew and written Peraklit, or, in the definite form, Peraklita. It means, when thus taken over, “Advocate,” and a careful examination of the Talmudic passages, quoted in Buxtorf and Levy, leaves the impression that it has no other meaning. The opposite Greek word, κατήγορος (Katēgoros, accuser), was adopted in the same way. Like παράκλητος, it was clipped of its termination, and was written Kattēgor, or Kattegor a. That this word κατήγορο was used in Palestine in the first century we know from Acts 23:30; Acts 23:35; Acts 24:8; Acts 24:16; Acts 24:18; and from the interpolated passage, John 8:10. In all these cases the full Greek word is used. But St. John himself has occasion to speak of an “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10), and what word does he use? He actually writes in Greek the clipped Hebrew form Kattēgor, a word which is wholly unknown to the Greek language, and which was so strange to copyists that they altered it, and wrote the fuller form. The Gospel and the Epistle tell us then of a Paraclete ever present with the believer, and of a Paraclete who is with the Father; the Apocalypse tells of the “Kattēgor of the brethren.” With this contrast in his mind, let the reader turn to such a passage as the following, taken from the Mishna, “Rabbi Elias ben Jacob saith, ‘He that keepeth one commandment obtains for himself one Peraklit, but he who committeth one sin obtains for himself one Kattēgor’” (Pirke Aboth, iv. 11); or the following, “If a man have distinguished Peraklits he is snatched from death” (Schab. fol. 32, 1); and it will be hardly necessary to produce further proof that Advocate is the true meaning of the word Paraclete. Two other important facts bearing upon the meaning of this word in the later Hebrew and Syriac languages, may, however, be noted:—

(a) The word Peraklita is twice used in the Targum on Job, viz., in Job 16:20, where the Targum reads, “My Peraklits are my friends” (Hebr., “My mockers are my friends;” or, “My friends scorn me,” Auth. vers.), and in Job 33:23, where it reads, “An angel as Paraclete,” where the Hebrew is probably, “An angel as mediator;” Auth. vers., “A messenger with him, an interpreter.” It is significant that Peraklita is not used in the Targum of Job 16:2 (see above, § 2), though it almost certainly would have been had it meant “Comforter,” for it was at hand, and occurs in the very same chapter.

(b) The word Peraklita is used in each of the passages in this Gospel, and also in the passage in the Epistle in the Peshito-Syriac translation. This fact means that the word was in the second century incorporated in the cognate Syriac language, and that if it be taken to mean Advocate in the Epistle it must be so taken in the Gospel also. The same version also renders Katēgor in Revelation 12:10 by a derivative of the Greek word.

(7) It is believed that enough has now been said to justify the rendering in the Notes, and to show that “Comforter” cannot be retained as a translation of παράκλητος, at any rate in the modern sense of the word. It may be questioned, however, whether our translators did not include the sense of “Advocate” in the word “Comforter” (Low Lat., Confortare; Old Fr., Conforter), which originally meant “strengthener,” “supporter.” The older meaning of the word will be at once seen in the following passages from Wiclif’s version:—

“And he coumfortide hym with nailes that it shulde not be moued” (Isaiah 41:7;—A.V., “fastened”).

“And an aungel apperide to him fro hevene and coumfortide him” (Luke 22:43;—A.V., “strengthening him”).

“And whanne he hadde take mete he was coumfortid” (Acts 9:19;—A.V., “he was strengthened”).

“Do ghe manli and be ghe coumfortid in the Lord” (1Corinthians 16:13;—A.V., “Quit you like men, be strong”).

“I mai alle thingis in him that coumfortith me” (Philippians 4:13;—A.V., “that strengthened me”).

This sense is not uncommon in Elizabethan English. Thus Hooker, e.g., says, “The evidence of God’s own testimony, added unto the natural assent of reason, concerning the certainty of them, doth not a little comfort and confirm the same” (Eccles. Pol., Book i.); and again,—

“The very prayer of Christ obtained angels to be sent Him as comforters in His agony” (Ibid., Bk. v. § 48).

The truth that the Holy Ghost is the Comforter is independent of this translation, and is, indeed, more fully established by the rendering Advocate. The comfort which comes from His presence is not simply that of consolation in sorrow, but that of counsel, guidance, pleading with God, conviction of the world. He is to abide in the disciples for ever, and teach them all things (John 14:16-17; John 14:26); to witness with them of Christ (John 15:26); to convict the world of sin, righteousness, judgment; to guide the disciples into all truth (John 16:7-13); to make intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26), as Christ Himself had done (John 17), and as the great High Priest ever liveth to do (Hebrews 7:25). He is “another Advocate,” to be to believers in all time what Christ was to the first disciples, to be in men an Advocate on earth as Christ is for men an Advocate with the Father (1John 2:1).

[Comp. Lightfoot On a Fresh Revision of the New Testament, pp. 50-55; Trench On the Authorised Version, p. 23; and especially Hare, Mission of the Comforter, Note K, p. 309, Ed. 3; and Pearson On the Creed, p. 329, Note. The student will find references to the Rabbinical writings and Targums in Schottgen, vol. i., p. 1119, and Buxtorf’s and Levy’s lexicons under the words Peraklît(a), Kattēgor(a), and Sannîgor.]

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(1) In the beginning.—The reference to the opening words of the Old Testament is obvious, and is the more striking when we remember that a Jew would constantly speak of and quote from the book of Genesis as Berēshîth (“in the beginning”). It is quite in harmony with the Hebrew tone of this Gospel to do so, and it can hardly be that St. John wrote his Berēshîth without having that of Moses present to his mind, and without being guided by its meaning. We have then, in the earlier words, a law of interpretation for the later, and this law excludes every such sense as “the Everlasting Father” or “the divine wisdom,” which is before all things, though both these have been supported by here and there a name of weight; much more does this law, strengthened as it is by the whole context, exclude any such sense as “the commencement of Christ’s work on earth,” which owes its existence to the foregone conclusion of a theory, and is marked by the absence of any support of weight. Our law seems equally to exclude from these words the idea of “anteriority to time,” which is expressed, not in them, but in the substantive verb which immediately follows. The Mosaic conception of “beginning” is marked by the first creative act. St. John places himself at the same starting point of time, but before he speaks of any creation he asserts the pre-existence of the Creator. In this “beginning” there already “was” the Word. (See expressions of this thought in John 17:5; Proverbs 8:23; 1John 1:1; Revelation 3:14.)

Was the Word.—See Excursus A: Doctrine of the Word.

With God.—These words express the co-existence, but at the same time the distinction of person. They imply relation with, intercourse with. (Comp. the “in the bosom of the Father” of John 1:18, and “Let us make man” of Genesis 1:26.) “Throned face to face with God,” “the gaze ever directed towards God,” have been given as paraphrases, and the full sense cannot be expressed in fewer words. The “with” represents “motion towards.” The Being whose existence is asserted in the “was” is regarded as distinct, but not alone, as ever going forth in communion with God. (Comp. the use of the same word “with” in Matthew 13:56; Matthew 26:11; Mark 6:3; Mark 9:19; 1Corinthians 16:6-7; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 4:18.)

Was God.—This is the completion of the graduated statement. It maintains the distinction of person, but at the same time asserts the oneness of essence.

The same was in the beginning with God.
(2) The same was.—This is a summary in one clause of the three assertions made in the first verse.

The same, that is, the Word who was God, existed before any act of creation, and in that existence was a person distinct from God. Yet it is more than a re-statement. We have arrived at the thought that the Word was one in nature with God. From this higher point of view, the steps below us are more clearly seen. The Word was God; the eternal pre-existence and personality are included in the thought.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(3) From the person of the Word we are guided to think of His creative work. The first chapter of Genesis is still present to the mind, but a fuller meaning can now be given to its words. All things came into existence by means of the pre-existent Word, and of all the things that now exist none came into being apart from Him.

All things.—The words express in the grandeur of an unthinkable array of units what is expressed in totality by “the world” in John 1:10. The completion of the thought by the negative statement of the opposite brings sharply before us the infinitely little in contrast with the infinitely great. Of all these units not one is by its vastness beyond, or by its insignificance beneath His creative will. For the relation of the Word to the Father in the work of creation, comp. Note on Colossians 1:15-16.

For the form of this verse, which is technically known as antithetic parallelism, comp. John 5:20; John 5:23; John 8:23; John 10:27-28; 1John 2:4; 1John 2:27, et al. It is found not unfrequently in other parts of the New Testament, but it is a characteristic of St. John’s Hebrew style. Its occurrence in the poetry of the Old Testament, e.g., in the Psalms (Psalm 89:30-31, et al.) will be familiar to all.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
(4) In him was life.—The creation, the calling into existence life in its varied forms, leads up to the source of this life. It is in the Word by original being, while of the highest creature made “in the image of God” we are told that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

“Life” has here no limitation, and is to be understood in its widest sense; the life of the body, even of organisms which we commonly think of as inanimate, the life of the soul, the life of the spirit; life in the present, so far as there is communion with the eternal source of life; life in the future, when the idea shall be realised and the communion be complete.

Was.—This is in the Greek the same verb of existence that we have had in John 1:1-2, and is different from the word in John 1:3. Comp. Notes on John 1:6, and John 8:58. It places us, then, at the same starting point of time. The Word was ever life, and from the first existence of any creature became a source of life to others. But the “was” of the first clause of this verse should not be pressed, for we are not quite certain that the original text contained it. Two of our oldest MSS. have “is,” which is supported by other evidence, and is not in itself an improbable reading. The meaning in this case would be “in the Word there ever is life.” Creation is not merely a definite act. There is a constant development of the germs implanted in all the varied forms of being, and these find their sustaining power in the one central source of life. The thought will meet us again in John 1:17; but see especially the expression, “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3, Note).

And the life was the light of men.—We are led from the relation of the Word to the universe to His relation to mankind. That which to lower beings in the scale of creation was more or less fully life, as the nature of each was more or less receptive of its power, is to the being endowed with a moral nature and made in the divine image the satisfaction of every moral need, and the revelation of the divine Being. The “was” still carries us back to the first days of time, when creation in all the beauty of its youth was unstained by sin, when no night had fallen on the moral world, but when there was the brightness of an ever-constant noon-tide in the presence of God. But here, too, the “was” passes in sense into the “is.” “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” In every man there are rays of light, stronger or feebler, in greater or lesser darkness. In every man there is a power to see the light, and open his soul to it, and the more he has it still to crave for more. This going forth of the soul to God, is the seeking for life. The Word is the going forth of God to the soul. He is life. In the feeling after, there is finding. The moral struggle is the moral strength. The eye that seeks for light cannot seek in vain. The life was and is the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
(5) And the light shineth in darkness.—The vision of brightness is present but for a moment, and passes away before the black reality of the history of mankind. The description of Paradise occupies but a few verses of the Old Testament. The outer darkness casts its gloom on every page. But in the moral chaos, too, God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” The first struggle of light into and through darkness until the darkness received it, rolled back before it, passed away into it—the repeated comprehension of light by darkness, as in the dawn of every morning the night passes into day, and the earth now shrouded in blackness is now bathed in the clear white light of an Eastern sun—this has its counterpart in the moral world. There, too, the Sun of Righteousness has shone, is ever shining; but as the Apostle looks back on the history of the pre-Christian world, or, it may be, looks back on the earthly ministry of Christ Himself, he seeks in vain for the victory of truth, for the hearts of nations, or of men, penetrated through and through with heaven’s light, and he sums up the whole in one sad negation, “The darkness comprehended it not.” Yet in this very sadness there is firm and hopeful faith. The emphatic present declares that the light still, always, “shineth in darkness.” True are those words of patriarch, lawgiver, prophet, as they followed the voice which called, or received God’s law for men, or told forth the word which came to them from Him; true are they of every poet, thinker, statesman, who has grasped some higher truth, or chased some lurking doubt, or taught a nation noble deeds; true are they of every evangelist, martyr, philanthropist, who has carried the light of the gospel to the heart of men, who has in life or death witnessed to its truth, who has shown its power in deeds of mercy and of love; true are they of the humblest Christian who seeks to walk in the light, and from the sick-chamber of the lowliest home may be letting a light shine before men which leads them to glorify the Father which is in heaven. The Light is ever shining, ofttimes, indeed, coloured as it passes through the differing minds of different men, and meeting us across the space that separates continents, and the time that separates ages, in widely varying hues; but these shades pass into each other, and in the harmony of all is the pure light of truth.

Comprehended it not.—The meaning of this word differs from that rendered “knew not” in John 1:10. The thought here is that the darkness did not lay hold of, did not appropriate the light, so as itself to become light; the thought there is that individuals did not recognise it. Comp. Notes on Romans 9:30; 1Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:12-13, where the same Greek word occurs. See also Ephesians 3:18, which is the only passage in the New Testament, besides the present one, where the word is rendered by “comprehend.”

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
(6) There was a man, or, There appeared a man. The word is the same as that which is used in John 1:3, “were made,” “was made,” and, as contrasted with the verb “was” in John 1:1-2; John 1:4, signifies the coming into being, as contrasted with original existence. In the same way “man” is emphatically opposed to “the Word,” who is the subject of the previous verses. “The Word was God:” the man was “sent from God.”

On the mission of John, see Notes on Matthew 3. The name was not uncommon, but it is striking that it is given here without the usual distinctive “Baptist.” The writer stood to him in the relation of disciple to teacher. To him he was the John. A greater teacher had not then appeared, but when He did appear, former teacher and disciple alike bear witness to Him. Great as was the forerunner, the least in the kingdom of heaven became greater than he was, and to after ages the disciple became the John, and his earlier master is given the title “Baptist,” which distinguishes the man and commemorates the work.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
(7) For a Witness.—Stress is laid upon the work of John as “witness.” This was generally the object of his coming. It was specially to “bear witness of the Light.” The purpose of testimony is conviction “that all men through him might believe,” i.e., through John, through his witness. Compare with this purpose of the Baptist’s work the purpose of the Apostle’s writing, as he himself expresses it in the closing words of John 20; and also the condition and work of the Apostleship, as laid down by St. Peter at the first meeting after the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). The word “witness,” with its cognate forms, is one of the key-notes of the Johannine writings recurring alike in the Gospel the Epistles, and the Apocalypse. This is partly concealed from the general reader by the various renderings “record,” “testimony,” “witness,” for the one Greek root; but he may see by consulting any English concordance under these words, how frequently the thought was in the Apostle’s mind. See especially Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9, Notes.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
(8) He was not that Light, but was sent.—It is necessary to repeat the statement of John’s position and work in an emphatic form. Now first for 400 years a great teacher had appeared in Israel. The events of his birth and life had excited the attention of the masses; his bold message, like the cry of another Elias, found its way in burning words to the slumbering hearts of men; and even from the least likely classes, from Pharisee and Sadducee, from publican and soldier, there came the heart’s question, “What shall we do?” The extent of the religious revival does not impress us, because it passed into the greater which followed, but the statement of a publican living at the time is that “Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, went out to Him, and were baptized of Him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). But what was this power in their midst? Who could be the person uttering these more than human words? A comparison of John 1:19-20 in this chapter with Luke 3:15 shows a widespread opinion that he was at least possibly the Messiah. He himself with true greatness recognised the greater, but as in many a like case in after days, the followers had not all the leader’s nobility of soul. We shall meet signs of this in John 3:26; John 4:1. We find traces of it in Matthew 9:14, &c. (see Note at this place), and even in Ephesus, as late as St. Paul’s third missionary journey, we find “certain disciples” knowing nothing more than “John’s baptism” (Acts 19:1-6). It was at Ephesus that this Gospel was written and the existence of a body of such “disciples” may have led to the full statement in this verse made by one who had himself been among the Baptist’s earliest followers.

It was otherwise with the disciple who wrote these words. He is content to claim for his master as for himself the noblest human work, “to bear witness of that Light.” No one may add to it; all may, in word and life, bear witness to it. Every discovery in science and advance in truth is a removal of some cloud which hides it from men; every noble character is bearing it about; every conquest of sin is extending it. It has been stored in mines of deepest thought in all ages. The heedless pass over the surface unconscious of it. The world’s benefactors are they who bring it forth to men as the light and warmth of the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. (Comp. John 5:35, and Note there.)

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
(9) That was the true Light.—The right rendering of this verse is uncertain. It would, probably, give a better sense to translate it, The true Light which lighteth every man was coming into the world, i.e., was manifesting itself at the time when John was bearing witness and men were mistaking the lamp for the light. (Comp. John 5:35, Note.)

The true Light was not “true” as opposed to “false,” but “true” as answering to the perfect ideal, and as opposed to all more or less imperfect representations. The meaning of the Greek is quite clear. The difficulty arises from the fact that in English there is but one word to represent the two ideas. The word for the fuller meaning of “ideally true” is not confined to St. John, but is naturally of very frequent recurrence in his writings. The adjective is used nine times in this Gospel, and not at all in the other three. A comparison of the passages will show how important it is to get a right conception of what the word means, and will help to give it. (See John 4:23; John 4:37; John 6:32; John 7:28; John 8:16; John 15:1; John 17:3; John 19:35.) But, as ideally true, the Light was not subject to the changing conditions of time and space, but was and is true for all humanity, and “lighteth every man.”

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
(10) In the world.—This manifestation in the flesh recalls the pre-incarnate existence during the whole history of the world, and the creative act itself. (Comp. John 1:2-3, Note). The two facts are the constant presence of the true Light, and the creation of the world by Him. The world, then, in its highest creature man, with spiritual power for seeing the true Light, ought to have recognised Him. Spirit ought to have felt and known His presence. In this would have been the exercise of its true power and its highest good. But the world was sense-bound, and lost its spiritual perception, and “knew Him not.” This verse brings back again the thought of John 1:3-5, to prepare for the deeper gloom which follows.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
(11) He came, as distinct from the “was” of the previous verse, passes on to the historic advent; but as that was but the more distinct act of which there had been foreshadowings in every appearance and revelation of God, these Advents of the Old Testament are not excluded.

His own is neuter, and the same word which is used in John 19:27, where it is rendered “his own home.” (Comp. John 16:32, margin, and Acts 21:6.) What then was the “home?” It is distinguished from the “world” of John 1:10, and it cannot but be that the home of Jewish thought was the land, the city, the temple bound up with every Messianic hope. Traces of this abound in the Jewish Scriptures. Comp. especially Malachi 3:1, “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple.” (See also Luke 2:49, Note.)

His own in the second clause is masculine—the dwellers in His own home, who were His own people, the special objects of His love and care. (See Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4; Isaiah 41:9, and Notes on Ephesians 2:19 and Titus 2:14.) We turn from the coldness of a strange world to the warmth and welcome of a loving home. The world knew Him not, and He came to His own, and they despised Him!

Received him not is stronger than “knew him not” of John 1:10. It is the rejection of those for whom no plea of ignorance can be urged, of those “who see, and therefore their sin remaineth” (John 9:41).

There has been an increasing depth in the tone of sadness which cannot now grow deeper. As the revelation has become clearer, as the moral power and responsibility of acceptance has been stronger, the rejection has passed into wilful refusal. The darkness comprehended not; the world knew not; His own received not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
(12) Yet the light ever shineth, and the better things lie hidden.

As many as received him.—The words are less wide and yet more wide than “His own.” The nation as such rejected Him; individuals in it accepted Him; but not individuals of that nation only. All who according to their light and means accept Him, receive from Him an authority and in Him a moral power, which constitutes them members of the true none to which He came, and the true children of God. They receive in acceptance the right which others lost in rejection. (Comp. Romans 9-11) The word rendered “received” is not quite the same as the word so rendered in John 1:11. The latter is the welcome which may be expected as due from His own home. This is the reception given without a claim.

To them that believe on his name repeats the width of the condition, and at the same time explains what receiving Him means. It seems natural to understand the “name” of the only name which meets us in this context, that is, of the Logos or Word, the representation of the will, character, nature of God. (See on John 1:18.) To “believe on” is one of St. John’s characteristic words of fuller meaning. To believe is to accept as true; “devils believe and tremble” (James 2:19). To believe in is to trust in, confide in. To believe on, has the idea of motion to and rest upon: it is here the going forth of the soul upon, and its rest upon, the firm basis of the eternal love of the eternal Spirit revealed in the Word. (Comp. Pearson On the Creed, Art. 1, p. 16.)

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
(13) Which were born.—The result of receiving Him remains to be explained. How could they become “sons of God?” The word which has been used (John 1:12) excludes the idea of adoption, and asserts the natural relation of child to father. The nation claimed this through its descent from Abraham. But they are Abraham’s children who are of Abraham’s faith. There is a higher generation, which is spiritual, while they thought only of the lower, which is physical. The condition is the submissive receptivity of the human spirit. The origin of life is “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
(14) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt.—The reality of the moral power and change wrought in those that believed recalls and is itself evidence of the reality of that in which they believed. Man came to be a son of God, because the Son of God became man. They were not, as the Docetæ of that time said, believers in an appearance. “The Word was made flesh.” The term “flesh” expresses human nature as opposed to the divine, and material nature as opposed to the spiritual, and is for this reason used rather than “body,” for there may be a purely spiritual body (see Note on 1Corinthians 15:40-44); and rather than “man,” which is used in John 5:27; John 8:40, for of man the spiritual is the highest part. It is not the approach of the divine and human nature in the region of the spiritual which is common to both that strikes the writer with wonder, but that men should have power to become sons of God, and that the Word, of whose glory he has spoken in the earlier verses, should become flesh. (Comp. Philippians 2:6-8; 2Corinthians 8:9, Notes.)

Dwelt among us.—The Greek word means “tabernacled.” “sojourned” among us. It was, probably, suggested by the similarity of sound with “Shekhînah,” a term frequently applied in the Targums or Chaldee Paraphrases, though the substantive nowhere occurs in the Old Testament itself, to the visible symbol of the divine Presence which appeared in the Tabernacle and the Temple. The Targums, moreover, frequently identify the Shekhînah with the “Memra” or Word. (Comp. Excursus A.) The thought, then, of this Presence brings back to the writer’s mind the days and weeks and months they had spent with the Word who had pitched His tent among them. He had been among the first to follow Him, and of the last with Him. He had been of those who had seen the glory of the Transfiguration, who had entered with their Master into the chamber of death, who had been with Him in the garden of Gethsemane. His eye, more than that of any other, had pierced the veil and gazed upon the Presence within. And now the old man, looking forward to the unveiled Presence of the future, loves to think and tell of the past, that the Presence may be to others all it had been to him. He is conscious that the statement of this verse needs evidence of no common order; but this is present in the words and lives of men whose whole moral being declared it true, and the test is within the power of all. (Comp. especially 1 John 1)

The glory.—Comp. John 2:11; John 11:4. There is probably a special reference here to the Transfiguration. (See Note on Matthew 17:2, and comp. the testimony of another eye-witness in 2Peter 1:17.)

As of the only begotten.—Better, as of an only begotteni.e., glory such as is the attribute of an only begotten Son. The term as applied to the person of our Lord, is found only in St. John, John 1:18; John 3:16; John 3:18; 1John 4:9. It is used four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and always of the only child. (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38; Hebrews 11:17.) The close connection here with the word Father, and the contrast with the sonship by moral generation in John 1:12, fixes the sense as the eternal generation of the Word, “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds.”

Of the Father.—The English does not fully express the meaning. It would be better to read, from with the Father. (Comp. John 6:46; John 7:29; John 16:27.) The thought is of the glory witnessed on earth of the only begotten Son who had come from God.

Full of grace and truth.—These words do not refer to the “Father,” or to “the glory,” but to “the Word.” The structure of the English sentence is ambiguous, but the meaning of the Greek words is quite clear. They represent a Hebrew formula, expressing a divine attribute, and the passage which is almost certainly present to the thought here is the revelation of the divine nature to Moses (Exodus 34:6. Comp. 2Samuel 2:6; Psalm 25:10; Psalm 57:10; Psalm 89:15). These witnesses, too, had seen God, not indeed in the mountain only, but as dwelling among them. Every word a ray of truth, and every act a beam of love, they thought of that life “as one with the divine Essence; of that glory” as of the only begotten of the Father. (Comp. John 1:17.)

John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
(15) John bare witness of him, and cried.—Better, John beareth witness of him, and crieth. The latter verb is past in tense, but present in meaning. For the sense comp. Note on John 7:37. The writer thinks of the testimony as ever present, ever forceful. Twice on successive days had he heard them from the lips of the Baptist; three times within a few verses does he himself record them. (Comp. John 1:27; John 1:30.) They are among the words stamped on the heart in the crisis of life, and as fresh in the aged Apostle as they had been in the youthful inquirer. He remembers how he heard them, and from whom they came. That wondrous spiritual power in their midst which all men felt, whose witness men would have accepted had he declared that he was himself the Christ, uttered his witness then, and it holds good now. It is quoted here as closely bound up with the personal reminiscence of John 1:14, and with the thought of John 1:6-7.

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
(16) And of his fulness.—Not a continuance of the witness of John, but the words of the evangelist, and closely connected with John 1:14. This is seen in the “all we,” and in “fulness” (“full”) and “grace,” which are key-words of both verses.

Fulness is a technical theological term, meeting us again in this sense in the Epistles to, as here in the Gospel from, the Asiatic Churches. (Comp. especially Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13.) The exposition belongs to the Notes on these passages. Here it means the plenitude of divine attributes, the “glory . . . full of grace and truth.” “Of,” or better, out of this fulness does each individual receive, and thus the ideal church becomes “his body, the fulness of him that filleth all things in all.”

Have all we received.—Better, we all received. The point of time is the same as in John 1:12, and the “we all” is co-extensive with “as many as.” The power to become children of God was part of the divine fulness which they received in receiving him.

And grace for grace.—Perhaps, even grace for grace gives the meaning less doubtfully. The thought is, We all received of His fulness, and that which we received was grace for grace. The original faculty of reception was itself a free gift, and in the use of this grace there was given the greater power. The words mean “grace in exchange for, instead of, grace.” The fulness of the supply is constant; the power to receive increases with the use, or diminishes with the neglect, of that which we already have. “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matthew 13:12). No truth is in precept or in parable of the Great Teacher more constant than this; no lesson is more brightly or more sadly illustrated in the lives of those who heard Him. What instances of its meaning must have crowded on the writer’s mind in the nation, in the disciples, in the Twelve, and even in the differing power of perception in the inner circle of the Three! “We all received,” but with what difference of degree!

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
(17) The word “for” connects this verse by way of explanation with what has gone before. The Old Testament thought of grace and truth has been already present in John 1:14. The fulness of these divine attributes has been beheld in the glory of the Word. The revelation of them, that is, the removing of the veil which hides the knowable, has been made dependent on the use of the already known. But this is the essence of Christianity as distinct from Judaism; of a spiritual religion developed from within as distinct from a formal religion imposed from without; of a religion of principles, and therefore true for all time and for all men, as distinct from a religion of works, based, indeed, on an eternal truth (the oneness and the righteousness of God) but still specially designed for a chosen people and for a period of preparation. The law was given (from without) by the human agency of Moses. The true grace and truth came into being by means of Jesus Christ. Therefore it is that we receive grace for grace, there being in Him an ever constant fulness of grace, and for the man who uses the grace thus given an ever constant realisation of deeper truth. Note that here, when the divinity and humanity have both been dwelt upon, and in contrast to the historic Moses, the name Jesus Christ first appears. Is there, too, in this union of the human and divine names a reference to the union in Him of the faculty to receive and the truth to fulfil? St. Luke speaks of Him as “increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour (grace) with God and man” (Luke 2:52; see Note there).

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
(18) No man hath seen God at any time.—The full knowledge of truth is one with the revelation of God, but no man has ever had this full knowledge. The primary reference is still to Moses (comp. Exodus 33:20; Exodus 33:23), but the words hold good of every attempt to bridge from the human stand-point the gulf between man and God. “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1Corinthians 1:21), and systems which have resulted from attempts of the finite to grasp the Infinite are but as the vision of a dream or the wild fancy of a wandering mind.

The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.—The oneness of essence and of existence is made prominent by a natural figure, as necessary in Him who is to reveal the nature of God. The “is in” is probably to be explained of the return to, and presence with the Father after the Ascension.

Some of the oldest MSS. and other authorities read here, “Only begotten God, which is in the bosom of the Father.” It will be convenient to group together the passages of this Gospel, where there are important various readings in one Note. See Excursus

B. Some Variations in the Text of St. John’s Gospel.

He hath declared him.—“He,” emphatically as distinct from all others, this being the chief office of the Word; declared, rather than “hath declared;” “Him” is not found in the original text, which means “He was interpreter,” “He was expositor.” The word was used technically of the interpretation of sacred rites and laws handed down by tradition. Plato, e.g., uses it of the Delphian Apollo, who is the “national expositor” (Rep. iv. 427). The verse is connected, by a likeness of Greek words too striking to be accidental, with the question of Jesus the son of Sirach asked some three centuries before, “Who hath seen Him that he might tell us?” (Ecclesiasticus 43:31). The answer to every such question, dimly thought or clearly asked, is that no man hath ever so known God as to be His interpreter; that the human conception of God as “terrible” and “great” and “marvellous” (Ecclesiasticus 43:29) is not that of His essential character; that the true conception is that of the loving Father in whose bosom is the only Son, and that this Son is the only true Word uttering to man the will and character and being of God.

And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
(19) The narrative is connected with the prologue by the record of John, which is common to both (John 1:15), and opens therefore with “And.”

The Jews.—This term, originally applied to the members of the tribe of Judah, was extended after the Captivity to the whole nation of which that tribe was the chief part. Used by St. John more than seventy times, it is to be understood generally of the representatives of the nation, and of the inhabitants of Judæa, and of these as opposed to the teaching and work of Christ. He was himself a Jew, but the true idea of Judaism had led him to the Messiah, and the old name is to him but as the husk that had been burst in the growth of life. It remains for them to whom the name was all, and who, trying to cramp life within rigid forms, had crushed out its power.

Priests and Levites.—The word “Levite” occurs only twice elsewhere in the New Testament—in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:32), and in the description of Joses (Acts 4:36). It is clear from such passages as 2Chronicles 17:7-9; 2Chronicles 35:3; Nehemiah 8:7, that part of the function of the Levites was to give instruction in the Law, and it is probable that the “scribes” were often identical with them. We have, then, here two divisions of the Sanhedrin, as we have two in the frequent phrase of the other Evangelists, “scribes,” and “elders,” the scribes (Levites) being common to both, and the three divisions being priests, Levites (scribes), and elders (notables). (Comp. John 1:24, and Note on Matthew 5:20.)

From Jerusalem is to be taken with “sent,” not with “priests and Levites.” Emphasis is laid upon the fact that the work of John had excited so much attention that the Sanhedrin sent from Jerusalem to make an official inquiry. The judgment of the case of a false prophet is specially named in the Mishna as belonging to the Council of the Seventy One. (Comp. Luke 13:33)

And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
(20) Confessed, and denied not; but confessed.—Comp. for the style, Note on John 1:3.

I am not.—The better reading places the pronoun in the most emphatic position: “It is not I who am the Messiah.” He understands their question, then, “Who art thou?” as expressing the general expectation, “Is it thou who art the Messiah?”

And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
(21) What then?—Not “What art thou then?” but expressing surprise at the answer, and passing on with impatience to the alternative, “Art thou Elias?” (Comp. on this and the following question, Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 40 ff.; Malachi 4:5; 2 Maccabees 2:1-8; and Note on Matthew 16:14). The angel had announced that “he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias.” The Lord declared “Elias is come already” (Matthew 18:12-13), and yet the Forerunner can assert that, in the literal sense in which they ask the question and would understand the answer, he is not Elias, still less “the prophet,” by which, whether thinking of the words of Moses or the fuller vision of Isaiah from which he immediately quotes, he would understand the Messiah himself,

Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
(22) That we may give an answer.—He has given the “No” to all the ideas they had formed of him. There is nothing left to them but to draw the definite statement from himself, or to return to their senders empty handed.

He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
(23) But he still gives the “No.” They think of his person and his work. He thinks of neither. His eye is fixed on the coming One. In this presence his own personality has no existence. He is as a voice, not to be inquired about but heard. They are acting as men who ask questions about the messenger of a great king who is coming to them and is at hand, instead of hastening with every effort to make ready for him. (Comp. Note on Matthew 3:3.)

And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
(24) They which were sent.—The best MSS. omit the relative, and the verse thus becomes, “And they had been sent from the Pharisees.” (For account of the Pharisees, see Note on Matthew 3:7.) The statement is made to explain the question which follows, but it should be observed that in this Gospel, where the Sadducees are nowhere mentioned, the term “Pharisees” seems to be used almost in the sense of “Sanhedrin.” (Comp. John 4:1; John 8:3; John 11:46; John 11:57.)

And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
(25) Why baptizest thou then?—Baptism, which was certainly one of the initiatory rites of proselytes in the second or third century A.D., was probably so before the work of the Baptist. It is not baptism, therefore, which is strange to the questioners, but the fact that he places Jews and even Pharisees (Matthew 3:7) in an analogous position to that of proselytes, and makes them to pass through a rite which marks them out as impure, and needing to be cleansed before they enter “the kingdom of heaven.” By what authority does he these things? They had interpreted such passages as Ezekiel 36:25 ff. to mean that Baptism should be one of the marks of Messiah’s work. None less than the Christ, or Elias, or “the prophet” could enact a rite like this. John is assuming their power, and yet is not one of them.

John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
(26) I baptize with water.—The passage of Ezekiel is probably present to the mind, with its contrast between water and spirit.

He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
(27) He it is . . . is preferred before me.—Insertions made to harmonise the verse with John 1:15; John 1:30. Omitting them we have, “He who cometh after me” as the subject of the verb “standeth,” and the whole sentence, is “He who cometh after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to unloose, standeth among you and ye know Him not.” This is the authority for baptism, the outer sign of the Messiah’s Advent, for He is already standing in their midst. Here is the answer to their question. John’s work is simply ministerial. The baptism of the Spirit is at hand. The coming One has come. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 3:11 and Mark 1:7.)

These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
(28) Bethabara beyond Jordan should be, Bethany beyond Jordan. Origen found “Bethany” in “almost all the copies,” but not being able to find the place, he came to the conclusion that it must be Bethabara which he heard of, with a local tradition that John had baptised there; and in this he is followed by the Fathers generally. In support of this the etymology of Bethabara (= “ford-house”) is compared with a possible meaning of Bethany (= “ship-house”), and the two are regarded as popular names of some well-known ford, one of which gradually ceased to be known as the name of this place, because it became appropriated as a name of the Bethany made prominent in the closing scenes of our Lord’s life. On the other hand, it is believed that this argument from etymology is at least precarious; that ignorance of the place after three hundred years—and these years of war and unsettlement—is not unnatural; that the tradition in favour of Bethabara, which was then a favourite place for baptism, is one likely to have grown with this fact; and that we are not justified in adopting the critical decision of Origen, who rejected the almost unanimous evidence of MSS. in favour of this tradition at second hand. We are, moreover, ignorant of the site of Bethabara, and the identification with either Beth-barah (Judges 7:24), or Beth-nimrah (Numbers 32:36; Joshua 13:27), which in some readings of the LXX. had taken the forms Bethabra and Betharaba, gives a position much too far to the south, for the writer is clearly speaking of a place within easy approach of Galilee (John 1:43 and John 2:1), and he is careful to note the succession of days and even hours. It is not inconsistent with this that the narrative in Matthew 3:5 and Mark 1:5 seems to require a place of easy access from Jerusalem, for the positions are not necessarily the same, and the account there is of a general impression, while here we have the minute details of an eye-witness. Himself a disciple of John, he remembers the place where he was then dwelling and baptising, and he knows that this Bethany is “beyond Jordan,” just as he knows that the other is “the town of Mary and her sister Martha” (John 11:1), and that it “was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off (John 11:18). Dr. Caspari believes that a “Bethany” answering the demands of the context is to be found in the village Tellanîje or Tellanihje, which is in the Iolan to the north of the Sea of Galilee (comp. John 10:40). It is near a ford of the Jordan, with several brooks intervening. The identity of name depends upon the frequent substitution by the Arabs of “Tell” (= “hill”) for “Beth” (=“house”), so that the present word represents Beth-anîje, or Bethany. Dr. Caspari’s statement is now accessible to the English reader. Few, perhaps, will fully accept the author’s opinion, “With regard to the accuracy of our conclusion respecting the site, there can, therefore, be no doubt” (Chron. and Geogr., Introd., p. 93), but it is based upon a reading of which there can be no doubt, and is, at least, a probable interpretation.

We have in these verses also a note of time. John now knows the Messiah, though others do not. This inquiry of the legates from Jerusalem was, therefore,, after the baptism of our Lord (John 1:31; John 1:33), and if so, after the Temptation also. (See Note on Matthew 4:1.)

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
(29) The next day.—We pass on to the witness of John on the second day, when he sees Jesus coming unto him, probably on the return from the Temptation. Forty days had passed since they met before, and since John knew at the baptism that Jesus was the Messiah. These days were for the One a period of loneliness, temptation, and victory. They must have been for the other a time of quickened energy, wondering thought, and earnest study of what the prophets foretold the Messianic advent should be. Prominent among those prophecies which every Rabbi of that day interpreted of the Messiah, was Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:12. We know that on the previous day the fortieth chapter is quoted (John 1:23), and that this prophet is therefore in the speaker’s thoughts. Side by side with these thoughts was the daily continuing tale of grief and sorrow and sin from those who came to be baptised. How often must there have came to the mind such words as, “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” “He was wounded for our transgressions,” “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,” “He bare the sin of many”! The Messiah, then, was the servant of Jehovah, the true Paschal Lamb of Isaiah’s thought. While the heart burns with this living truth that all men needed, and that one heart only knew, that same Form is seen advancing. It bears indeed no halo of glory, but it bears marks of the agonising contest and yet the calm of accomplished victory. “He hath no form nor comeliness,” “no beauty that we should desire Him.” John looks at Him as He is coming, sees there living, walking in their midst, the bearer of the world’s sin and sorrow; and utters words than which in depth and width of meaning none more full have ever come from human lips, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”

The margin gives “beareth” as an alternative rendering for “taketh away,” and this union exactly expresses the force of the original. He is ever taking away sin, but this He does by bearing the burden Himself. (Comp. 1John 3:5.) A reference to the words of Isaiah 53:4, above, fully establishes this. The Baptist probably used the very word of the prophet; but the Evangelist does not, in recording this for Greek readers, use the word of the LXX. as St. Peter does (1Peter 2:24, “bare our sin in His own body”), but are-translates, and chooses the wider word which includes both meanings.

This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
(30) This is he.—These words meet us here for the third time. They come in John 1:15, and in part in John 1:27. Here, as before, they are a quotation of an earlier and unrecorded statement of the Baptist, uttered in proverbial form, and to be understood in their fulfilment. (Comp. John 3:30.)

And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
(31) And I knew him not.—Better, and I also knew Him not; so again in John 1:33. The reference is to “whom ye know not” of John 1:26, and the assertion is not, therefore, inconsistent with the fact that John did know Him on His approach to baptism (Matthew 3:13, see Note). In the sense that they did not know Him standing among them, he did not know Him, though with the incidents of His birth and earlier years and even features he must have been familiar. It cannot be that the Son of Mary was unknown to the son of Elizabeth, though One had dwelt in Nazareth and the other “was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel” (Luke 1:80; Luke 2:51). He knew not all, but there must have been many wondering thoughts of that wondrous life. Could it be the life that all looked for? but no; there was little of the Jewish idea of the Messiah in the carpenter of a country village (comp. Mark 6:3). What he did know was, that his own work as herald declared “that He should be made manifest to Israel,” and in that conviction he proclaimed the coming King, and began the Messianic baptism. The Person would be His own witness. Heaven would give its own sign to those who could spiritually read it. The Baptiser with the Spirit would Himself be so fully baptised with the Spirit coming upon and dwelling in Him, that to the spiritual eye it would take visual form and be seen “as a dove descending from heaven.”

Am I come.—Better, came.

And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
(32, 33) In these verses the Evangelist again makes prominent the solemn witness of John, giving the process by which conviction had come to his own mind.

(32) I saw.—Better, I have seen, or beheld. The vision is in its result ever present, and is all-conclusive evidence. (Comp. the words in their historic setting, Matthew 3:16, Note.)

And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
(34) And I saw and bare record.—Better, and I have seen and have borne witness, as in John 1:32. The result of personal conviction was, that he forthwith testified to others, and continued to do so until the present. One of the sayings taught to his scholars was, “He was (existed) before me.” The revelation of the baptism and the voice heard from heaven (Matthew 3:17) has given to this its true meaning. Teacher has now learnt, and learner is now taught, that Jesus is this pre-existent Being, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
(35) Again the next day after John stood.—Better, The next day again John was standing. The description is of a scene present to the mind, and by one of the two disciples (John 1:40). The “again” refers to John 1:29.

Two of his disciples.—There is no reason for thinking that these were absent on the previous day, and that the testimony is specially repeated for them. Rather it is that, in that band of disciples too, there is an inner circle of those who, because they can receive more, are taught more. They had heard the words before, it may be had talked together about them, at least in individual thought had tried to follow them, and now they have come to the Teacher again. Can we doubt what questions fill the heart or shape themselves in word? He had passed through their struggle from darkness into light. There is a Presence with them which he now knows, and before which his own work must cease. The passing voice is no longer needed now that the abiding Word has come. Can we doubt what his answer is?

And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
(36) And looking upon.—Better, and he looked upon Jesus as He was walking, and saith. The word “looked upon” expresses a fixed, earnest gaze. (Comp. John 1:42; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:21; Mark 10:27; &c.) At this look, all the old thoughts in their fulness come crowding back. Yes. It is He. “Behold the Lamb of God!”

And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
(37) The disciples understand the words as the teacher meant them. There is no word cutting the link between himself and them; that would have been hard to speak, hard to hear. There is no word bidding them follow Jesus; that cannot be needed.

Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
(38) Jesus turned, and saw them following.—They follow wishing, and yet not daring, to question Him. He sees this, and seeks to draw them forth by Himself asking the first question. They are not prepared for this question, and wish for more than a passing interview. They inquire, “Where dost thou sojourn?” “Where are you staying for the night?” They will visit Him and ask the many things they seek. They address Him as “Rabbi,” placing themselves in the position of His scholars; but they have not yet learnt all that John had taught them of His office. The title is natural from them, for it was the then current title of a revered teacher, and one that John’s disciples applied to him (John 3:26); but the writer remembers it was a modern word (comp. Matthew 23:7-8), known to Jews only since the days of Hillel (president of the Sanhedrin about B.C. 30), not likely to be known to Greeks at all, and he therefore translates it, as he does Messias and Cephas in this same section.

He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
(39) Come and see.—They think of a visit later, it may be, on the following day. He bids them come at once. We know not where. We have no hint of any words spoken. It was the sacred turning-point of the writer’s own life, and its incidents are fixed in a depth of thought and feeling that no human eye may penetrate. But he remembers the very hour. It was as we should say four o’clock in the afternoon (see marg.), for there is no sufficient reason for thinking that the Babylonian method of counting the hours, usual at Ephesus as at Jerusalem, is departed from in this Gospel.

One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
(40) One of the two.—The Evangelist will even here draw the veil over his own identity (see Introduction). The one is Andrew, even now marked out as brother of the better-known Simon Peter. On these names comp. Note on Matthew 10:2-4; but it should be observed here, that on this first day, as the earnest of the harvest to come, we have the two pairs of brothers, the sons of Zebedee (comp. next verse), and sons of Jonas, who are ever leaders in the apostolic band.

He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
[(2) JESUS MANIFESTS HIMSELF TO INDIVIDUALS (John John 1:41 to John 2:11):

(a)To the first disciplesthe witness of man (John 1:41-51);

(b)At Cana of Galileethe witness of nature (John 1:1-11).]

(41) He first findeth his own brother.—The probable explanation of this verse, and the only one which gives an adequate meaning to “first” and “his own,” is that each of the two disciples in the fulness of his fresh joy went to seek his own brother, that Andrew found Peter first, and that John records this, and by the form in which he does so implies, but does not state, that he himself found James. To have stated this would have been to break through the personal reserve which he imposed upon himself. (Comp. Matthew 4:18-21; Mark 1:16-19; Luke 5:1-10.)

We have found.—Implying a previous seeking, and that both were under the impulse of the general movement leading men to expect the Messiah. It is implied, too, that Simon was near, and therefore probably a hearer of the Baptist.

Messias.—The Hebrew form of the name occurs in the New Testament only here and in John 4:25, in both cases in a vivid picture of events fixed in the memory. Elsewhere, John, as the other sacred writers, uses the LXX. translation, “Christ,” and even here he adds it (comp., e.g., in this John John 1:20; John 1:25). Both words mean “anointed” (see margin, and comp. Psalm 45:8).

And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
(42) Beheld.—See Note on John 1:29.

A Stone.—Better, Peter, as in margin. The word means a stone, but the writer translated for Greek, not for English readers. The rule of the previous verse, which places the Greek word in the text and the English word in the margin, should be followed here.

Cephas.—The word occurs only in this place in the Gospels, elsewhere in the New Testament only in St. Paul (1 Cor. and Gal.). Remembering the general significance of Hebrew names, the changes in the Old Testament as of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob, and among these first disciples as of James and John (Mark 3:16; Mark 3:18), all these names of Peter seem meant to characterise the man,—“Thou art now Hearer, the Son of Jehovah’s Grace; thou shalt be called and be a Rock-man.” (Comp. Note on Matthew 16:17.)

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
(43) The day following, that is, the fourth day from the inquiry by the Sanhedrin (see John 1:29; John 1:35; John 1:43).

Findeth Philip.—Just as he was going forth from his lodging of the previous night (John 1:39). Philip is mentioned in the other Gospels only in the lists of the Twelve. The touches of character are all found in St. John. (Comp. John 6:5; John 12:21; John 14:8.)

Follow me.—This command, so full of meaning, is never used in the Gospels except as spoken by our Lord Himself, and is addressed to but one outside the circle of the Apostles, the rich young man whom Jesus loved (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21). In other parts of the New Testament it is used but once, in the words of the angel to Peter (Acts 12:8). We cannot, therefore, limit the words to an invitation to accompany Him on that day’s walk, though this is included, and in that walk from Bethania to Bethsaida there came the revelation which made the “Follow Me” a power binding for the whole of life. (Comp. Matthew 8:22.)

Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
(44) Of (or rather, from) Bethsaida, is added as one of the minute touches of local knowledge which give to this Gospel the colour and vividness that an eye-witness only could impart. It explains the meeting. Philip was going home, and Bethsaida was on the way which Jesus would naturally take from Bethania to Cana (John 2:1-2). It explains, too, the process by which Philip passed from Messianic hope to a full belief in the Christ. He was a fellow townsman of Andrew and Peter. These two had talked together of ancient prophecy and future expectation. One had announced to the other in striking language, “We have found the Messias,” and it is with the same word that Philip tells the good news to Nathanael. This “Bethsaida of Galilee,” as it is called in describing Philip in John 12:21, is thus distinguished from the Bethsaida Julias, which was on the eastern side of the lake. (See Jos. Ant. xviii. 2, § 1, and comp. Note on Luke 9:10.)

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
(45) Philip findeth Nathanael.—See John 1:41; John 1:44. Nathanael is the Hebrew of the Greek word Theodorus, God’s gift. The former is found in Numbers 1:8; 1Chronicles 2:14. The latter is preserved in the names Theodore and Dorothea. He belonged to the town to which Jesus was going (Cana of, Galilee, John 21:2). Philip then probably went with Jesus and found Nathanael at or near Cana (John 1:48). He is, perhaps, the same person as Bartholomew; but on this, see John 21:2, and Note on Matthew 10:3. The more formal statement of the proof in this case, as compared with that of the two brothers (John 1:41), agrees with the general character of Philip and with the less close relationship.

Of Nazareth.—Better, from Nazareth. Nothing can be argued from these words, or those which follow, as to ignorance of the fact of, or the events attending, the birth at Bethlehem. It is to be noted that the words are Philip’s, not the writer’s. Very possibly, one who had been in the company of Jesus for a few hours only was then unacquainted with these incidents. In any case he expresses the common belief of the neighbourhood and the time, and it is an instance of St. John’s dramatic accuracy that he gives the words as they were spoken, and does not attempt to interpret them by later events or by his own knowledge. (Comp. John 7:42; John 7:52; John 8:53, et al.)

And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
(46) The question is not, “Can the Messiah come out of Nazareth,” but “Can there any good thing come?” The question is asked by an inhabitant of a neighbouring village who looks upon the familiar town with something of local jealousy and scorn; but the form of the question would seem to point to an ill repute in reference to its people. The place is unknown to earlier history, and is not mentioned even in Josephus; but what we find in Mark 6:6 and Luke 4:29 agrees with Nathanael’s opinion. (For account of the town, comp. Note on Luke 1:26.)

Come and see expresses the fulness of his own conviction. An interview had brought certainty to his own mind. It would do so likewise to that of his friend.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
(47) Jesus saw Nathanael coming.—Nathanael is at once willing that his prejudice should give way before the force of truth. He is coming, when the look directed towards others rests also upon him. It finds the character which it tests earnest and honest. What gave rise to the form in which this is expressed is not stated. There is clearly some unexpressed link with the history of Jacob. The word for “guile” is the same word as the LXX. word for “subtlety” in Genesis 27:35. The thought then is, “Behold one who is true to the name of Israel, and in whom there is nothing of the Jacob (Genesis 27:36). There is something in the words which comes as a revelation to Nathanael. Were they a proof that the Presence before whom he stood read to the very depths of his own thought? Under the shade of a tree, where Jews were accustomed to retire for meditation and prayer, had the Old Testament history of Jacob been present to his mind? Was he too “left alone,” and did he “prevail with God?” And does he now hear the inmost thought expressed in words, carrying certainty to his soul, and giving him too the victory of seeing God “face to face with life preserved?” (Genesis 32:24).

Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
(48) The natural explanation of the verse seems to be that Nathanael was at his own house when Philip called him to hear the glad news of the Messiah. The words rendered “under the fig-tree” include the going there and being there. It was the fig-tree of his own garden (1Kings 4:25; Micah 4; Zechariah 3:10) where, and not at the corners of the streets, or to be seen of men, he was in the honesty of his heart praying to God. Unseen as he thought by any eye, he was seen by Him to whose coming every true Israelite looked, and the answer to the true thought and prayer was then as ever close at hand; but at hand, in the human form in which men find it so hard to read the Divine, and in the ordinary events in which men find it hard to realise God. A travelling Rabbi! He is the Messiah. From Nazareth the All Good cometh! This meeting, then, was not the first. There was an actual Messianic Presence in Nathanael’s inmost thought. He is now startled, and asks, “Whence knowest Thou me?” We have never seen each other before. But in the deepest sense, the Messiah was there; “when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.”

Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
(49) Thou art the Son of God.—The recognition begets recognition. That strange Presence he had felt as a spiritual power quickening hope and thought, making prophets’ words living truths, filling with a true meaning the current beliefs about the Messiah;—yes; it goes through and through him again now. It is there before him. “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.” (For these titles as existing in the Messianic expectation of the day, comp. John 11:27; John 12:13; John 12:15; Matthew 26:63; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7. See also Note on the quotation from Zech. in Matthew 21:5.)

Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
(50) Believest thou.—This is not necessarily a question, and a fuller sense is obtained by taking it as an assertion. (Comp. the same word in John 16:31; John 20:29.) On this evidence thou believest; the use of the faith-faculty strengthens it. Thou shalt see greater things than these.

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
(51) Verily, verily.—This is the first use of this formula of doubled words, which is not found in the New Testament outside St. John’s Gospel. They are always spoken by our Lord, and connected with some deeper truth, to which they direct attention. They represent, in a reduplicated form, the Hebrew “Amen,” which is common in the Old Testament as an adverb, and twice occurs doubled (Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 8:6). In the Hebraic style of the Apocalypse the word is a proper name of “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14).,

I say unto you . . . ye shall see.—The earlier words have been addressed to Nathanael. The truth expressed in these holds for all disciples, and is spoken to all who were then present—to Andrew and John and Peter and James (John 1:41) and Philip, as well as to Nathanael.

Hereafter is omitted by several ancient authorities, including the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS., but there is early evidence for the insertion, and as the omission removes a difficulty in the interpretation, it is probably to be traced to this source. If retained, the better rendering is, henceforth, from this time onwards.

Heaven opened.—More exactly, the heaven opened, made and continuing open. The thought was familiar, for Psalmist and Prophet had uttered it to God in the prayers, “Bow Thy heavens, O Lord, and come down” (Psalm 144:5); “O that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down” (Isaiah 64:1). The Presence then before Nathanael was the answer to these longings of the soul.

The angels of God ascending and descending.—Referring again to the history of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-13).

The Son of man.—This is probably the first time that this phrase, which became the ordinary title used by our Lord of Himself, fell from His lips; but it meets us more than seventy times in the earlier Gospels, and has been explained in the Note on Matthew 8:20. It will be enough to observe here that it is suggested by, and is in part opposed to and in part the complement of, the titles used by Nathanael. He could clothe the Messianic idea only in Jewish titles, “Son of God,” “King of Israel.” The true expression of the idea was not Hebrew, but human, “the Son of Man,” “the Word made flesh;” the Son, the true representative of the race, the Second Adam, in whom all are made alive; the Son of Man. The word is ἄνθρωπος, not ἀνήρ; homo, not vir. It is man as man; not Jew as holier than Greek; not free-man as nobler than bond-man; not man as distinct from woman: but humanity in all space and time and circumstance; in its weakness as in its strength; in its sorrows as in its joys; in its death as in its life. And here lies the explanation of the whole verse. The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth “The Word was made flesh.” In that great truth heaven was, and has remained, opened. From that time onwards messengers were ever going backward and forward between humanity and its God. The cry of every erring and helpless child to its Father for guidance and strength; the silent appeal of the wronged and down-trodden to the All-Just Avenger; the fears and hopes of the soul burdened by the unbearable weight of sin, and casting itself on the mercy of the Eternal Love—all these are borne by messengers who always behold the face of God (Matthew 18:10). And every light that falls upon the path, and strength that nerves the moral frame; every comfort to the heart smarting beneath its wrong; every sense of forgiveness, atonement, peace—all these like angels descend that ladder coming from heaven to earth. Ascending precedes descending, as in the vision of old, Heaven’s messengers are ever ready to descend when earth’s will bid them come. The revelation of the fullest truth of God is never wanting to the heart that is open to receive it. The ladder is set up upon the earth, but it reaches to heaven, and the Lord stands above it. It goes down to the very depths of man’s weakness, wretchedness, and sin; and he may lay hold of it, and step by step ascend it. In the Incarnation, Divinity took human form on earth; in the Ascension, Humanity was raised to heaven.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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