John 1:17
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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).

John

GRACE AND TRUTH

John 1:17
.

There are scarcely any traces, in the writings of the Apostle John, of that great controversy as to the relation of the Law and the Gospel which occupied and embittered so much of the work of the Apostle Paul. We have floated into an entirely different region in John’s writings. The old controversies are dead-settled, I suppose, mainly by Paul’s own words, and also to a large extent by the logic of events. This verse is almost the only one in which John touches upon that extinct controversy, and here the Law is introduced simply as a foil to set off the brightness of the Gospel. All artists know the value of contrast in giving prominence. A dark background flashes up brighter colours into brilliancy. White is never so white as when it is relieved against black. And so here the special preciousness and distinctive peculiarities of what we receive in Christ are made more vivid and more distinct by contrast with what in old days ‘was given by Moses.’

Every word in this verse is significant. ‘Law’ is set against ‘grace and truth.’ It was ‘given’; they ‘came.’ Moses is contrasted with Christ. So we have a threefold antithesis as between Law and Gospel: in reference to their respective contents; in reference to the manner of their communication; and in reference to the person of their Founders. And I think, if we look at these three points, we shall get some clear apprehension of the glories of that Gospel which the Apostle would thereby commend to our affection and to our faith.

I. First of all, then, we have here the special glory of the contents of the Gospel heightened by the contrast with Law.

Law has no tenderness, no pity, no feeling. Tables of stone and a pen of iron are its fitting vehicles. Flashing lightnings and rolling thunders symbolise the fierce light which it casts upon men’s duty and the terrors of its retribution. Inflexible, and with no compassion for human weakness, it tells us what we ought to be, but it does not help us to be it. It ‘binds heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne,’ upon men’s consciences, but puts not forth ‘the tip of a finger’ to enable men to bear them. And this is true about law in all forms, whether it be the Mosaic Law, or whether it be the law of our own country, or whether it be the laws written upon men’s consciences. These all partake of the one characteristic, that they help nothing to the fulfilment of their own behests, and that they are barbed with threatenings of retribution. Like some avenging goddess, law comes down amongst men, terrible in her purity, awful in her beauty, with a hard light in her clear grey eyes-in the one hand the tables of stone, bearing the commandments which we have broken, and in the other a sharp two-edged sword.

And this is the opposite of all that comes to us in the Gospel. The contrast divides into two portions. The ‘Law’ is set against ‘grace and truth.’ Let us look at these two in order.

What we have in Christ is not law, but grace. Law, as I said, has no heart; the meaning of the Gospel is the unveiling of the heart of God. Law commands and demands; it says: ‘This shalt thou do, or else-’; and it has nothing more that it can say. What is the use of standing beside a lame man, and pointing to a shining summit, and saying to him, ‘Get up there, and you will breathe a purer atmosphere’? He is lying lame at the foot of it. There is no help for any soul in law. Men are not perishing because they do not know what they ought to do. Men are not bad because they doubt as to what their duty is. The worst man in the world knows a great deal more of what he ought to do than the best man in the world practises. So it is not for want of precepts that so many of us are going to destruction, but it is for want of power to fulfil the precepts.

Grace is love giving. Law demands, grace bestows. Law comes saying ‘Do this,’ and our consciences respond to the imperativeness of the obligation. But grace comes and says, ‘I will help thee to do it.’ Law is God requiring; grace is God bestowing. ‘Give what Thou commandest, and then command what Thou wilt.’

Oh, brethren! we have all of us written upon the fleshly tablets of our hearts solemn commandments which we know are binding upon us; and which we sometimes would fain keep, but cannot. Is this not a message of hope and blessedness that comes to us? Grace has drawn near in Jesus Christ, and a giving God, who bestows upon us a life that will unfold itself in accordance with the highest law, holds out the fulness of His gift in that Incarnate Word. Law has no heart; the Gospel is the unveiling of the heart of God. Law commands; grace is God bestowing Himself.

And still further, law condemns. Grace is love that bends down to an evildoer, and deals not on the footing of strict retribution with the infirmities and the sins of us poor weaklings. And so, seeing that no man that lives but hears in his heart an accusing voice, and that every one of us knows what it is to gaze upon lofty duties that we have shrunk from, upon plain obligations from the yoke of which we have selfishly and cowardly withdrawn our necks; seeing that every man, woman, and child listening to me now has, lurking in some corner of their hearts, a memory that only needs to be quickened to be a torture, and deeds that only need to have the veil drawn away from them to terrify and shame them-oh! surely it ought to be a word of gladness for every one of us that, in front of any law that condemns us, stands forth the gentle, gracious form of the Christ that brings pardon, and ‘the grace of God that bringeth salvation unto all men.’ Thank God! law needed to be ‘given,’ but it was only the foundation on which was to be reared a better thing. ‘The law was given By Moses’-’a schoolmaster,’ as conscience is to-day, ‘to bring us to Christ’ by whom comes the grace that loves, that stoops, that gives, and that pardons.

Still further, there is another antithesis here. The Gospel which comes by Christ is not law, but truth. The object of law is to regulate conduct, and only subordinately to inform the mind or to enlighten the understanding. The Mosaic Law had for its foundation, of course, a revelation of God. But that revelation of God was less prominent, proportionately, than the prescription for man’s conduct. The Gospel is the opposite of this. It has for its object the regulation of conduct; but that object is less prominent, proportionately, than the other, the manifestation and the revelation of God. The Old Testament says ‘Thou shalt’; the New Testament says ‘God is.’ The Old was Law; the New is Truth.

And so we may draw the inference, on which I do not need to dwell, how miserably inadequate and shallow a conception of Christianity that is which sets it forth as being mainly a means of regulating conduct, and how false and foolish that loose talk is that we hear many a time.-’Never mind about theological subtleties; conduct is the main thing.’ Not so. The Gospel is not law; the Gospel is truth. It is a revelation of God to the understanding and to the heart, in order that thereby the will may be subdued, and that then the conduct may be shaped and moulded. But let us begin where it begins, and let us remember that the morality of the New Testament has never long been held up high and pure, where the theology of the New Testament has been neglected and despised. ‘The law came by Moses; truth came by Jesus Christ.’

But, still further, let me remind you that, in the revelation of a God who is gracious, giving to our emptiness and forgiving our sins-that is to say, in the revelation of grace-we have a far deeper, nobler, more blessed conception of the divine nature than in law. It is great to think of a righteous God, it is great and ennobling to think of One whose pure eyes cannot look upon sin, and who wills that men should live pure and noble and Godlike lives. But it is far more and more blessed, transcending all the old teaching, when we sit at the feet of the Christ who gives, and who pardons, and look up into His deep eyes, with the tears of compassion shining in them, and say: ‘Lo! This is our God! We have waited for Him and He will save us.’ That is a better truth, a deeper truth than prophets and righteous men of old possessed; and to us there has come, borne on the wings of the mighty angel of His grace, the precious revelation of the Father-God whose heart is love. ‘The law was given by Moses,’ but brighter than the gleam of the presence between the Cherubim is the lambent light of gentle tenderness that shines from the face of Jesus Christ. Grace, and therefore truth, a deeper truth, came by Him.

And, still further, let me remind you of how this contrast is borne out by the fact that all that previous system was an adumbration, a shadow and a premonition of the perfect revelation that was to come. Temple, priest, sacrifice, law, the whole body of the Mosaic constitution of things was, as it were, a shadow thrown along the road in advance by the swiftly coming King. The shadow fell before Him, but when He came the shadow disappeared. The former was a system of types, symbols, pictures. Here is the reality that antiquates and fulfils and transcends them all. ‘The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’

II. Now, secondly, look at the other contrast that is here, between giving and coming.

I do not know that I have quite succeeded in making clear to my own mind the precise force of this antithesis. Certainly there is a profound meaning if one can fathom it; perhaps one might put it best in something like the following fashion.

The word rendered ‘came’ might be more correctly translated ‘became,’ or ‘came into being.’ The law was given; grace and truth came to be.

Now, what do we mean when we talk about a law being given? We simply mean, I suppose, that it is promulgated, either in oral or in written words. It is, after all, no more than so many words. It is given when it is spoken or published. It is a verbal communication at the best. ‘But grace and truth came to be.’ They are realities; they are not words. They are not communicated by sentences, they are actual existences; and they spring into being as far as man’s historical possession and experience of them are concerned-they spring into being in Jesus Christ, and through Him they belong to us all. Not that there was no grace, no manifest lore of God, in the world, nor any true knowledge of Him before the Incarnation, but the earlier portions of this chapter remind us that all of grace, however restrained and partial, that all of truth, however imperfect and shadowy it may have been, which were in the world before Christ came, were owing to the operation of that Eternal Word ‘Who became flesh and dwelt among us,’ and that these, in comparison with the affluence and the fulness and the nearness of grace and truth after Christ’s coming, were so small and remote that it is not an exaggeration to say that, as far as man’s possession and experience of them are concerned, the giving love of God and the clear and true knowledge of His deep heart of tenderness and grace, sprang into being with the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ the Lord.

He comes to reveal by no words. His gift is not like the gift that Moses brought down from the mountain, merely a writing upon tables; His gift is not the letter of an outward commandment, nor the letter of an outward revelation. It is the thing itself which He reveals by being it. He does not speak about grace, He brings it; He does not show us God by His words, He shows us God by His acts. He does not preach about Him, but He lives Him, He manifests Him. His gentleness, His compassion, His miracles, His wisdom, His patience, His tears, His promises; all these are the very Deity in action before our eyes; and instead of a mere verbal revelation, which is so imperfect and so worthless, grace and truth, the living realities, are flashed upon a darkened world in the face of Jesus Christ. How cold, how hard, how superficial, in comparison with that fleshly table of the heart of Christ on which grace and truth were written, are the stony tables of law, which bore after all, for all their majesty, only words which are breath and nothing besides.

III. And so, lastly, look at the contrast that is drawn here between the persons of the Founders.

I do not suppose that we are to take into consideration the difference between the limitations of the one and the completeness of the other. I do not suppose that the Apostle was thinking about the difference between the reluctant service of the Lawgiver and the glad obedience of the Son; or between the passion and the pride that sometimes marred Moses’ work, and the continual calmness and patient meekness that perfected the sacrifice of Jesus. Nor do I suppose that there flashed before his memory the difference between that strange tomb where God buried the prophet, unknown of men, in the stern solitude of the desert, true symbol of the solemn mystery and awful solitude with which the law which we have broken invests death, to our trembling consciences, and the grave in the garden with the spring flowers bursting round it, and visited by white-robed angels, who spoke comfort to weeping friends, true picture of what His death makes the grave for all His followers.

But I suppose he was mainly thinking of the contrast between the relation of Moses to his law, and of Christ to His Gospel. Moses was but a medium. His personality had nothing to do with his message. You may take away Moses, and the law stands all the same. But Christ is so interwoven with Christ’s message that you cannot rend the two apart; you cannot have the figure of Christ melt away, and the gift that Christ brought remain. If you extinguish the sun you cannot keep the sunlight; if you put away Christ in the fulness of His manhood and of His divinity, in the power of His Incarnation and the omnipotence of His cross-if you put away Christ from Christianity, it collapses into dust and nothingness.

So, dear brethren, do not let any of us try that perilous experiment. You cannot melt away Jesus and keep grace and truth. You cannot tamper with His character, with His nature, with the mystery of His passion, with the atoning power of His cross, and preserve the blessings that He has brought to the world. If you want the grace which is the unveiling of the heart of God, the gift of a giving God and the pardon of a forgiving Judge; or if you want the truth, the reality of the knowledge of Him, you can only get them by accepting Christ. ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’ There is a ‘law given which gives life,’ and ‘righteousness is by that law.’ There is a Person who is the Truth, and our knowledge of the truth is through that Person, and through Him alone. By humble faith receive Him into your hearts, and He will come bringing to you the fulness of grace and truth.John 1:17. For the law — Working wrath, and containing shadows; was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ — Grace, opposed to the condemnation and wrath by the law, and truth, opposed to the ceremonies thereof. Further, in the gospel we have a discovery of the most important truths to be received by the understanding, as well as of the richest grace to be embraced by the will and affections. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation; that is, it is truth and grace. The offers of grace are sincere, and what we may venture our souls upon. The gospel is grace and truth, with reference to the law; for, 1st, It is the performance of all the Old Testament promises. 2d, It is the substance of all the Old Testament types and shadows. There was a measure of grace, both in the ordinances that were instituted for Israel, and the providences that were concerning Israel; but they were only shadows of good things to come, even of that grace which is brought to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the true paschal lamb, the true scape-goat, the true manna. They had grace in the sign and picture, we have it in the thing signified and the reality. Because, in this passage, the apostle, speaking of the law, says, εδοθη, it was given by Moses; but that grace and truth, εγενετο, was, or came by Jesus Christ, Erasmus supposes, that the expressions were meant to imply, that whereas Moses was only the messenger of the law, Christ was the original of the grace and truth he brought into the world by the gospel. But it must be observed, that the preposition δια, through, is here used of Christ as well as of Moses, so that, in this passage, both of them seem to be represented as messengers, though of very different dispensations, and the former of infinitely greater dignity than the latter.1:15-18 As to the order of time and entrance on his work, Christ came after John, but in every other way he was before him. The expression clearly shows that Jesus had existence before he appeared on earth as man. All fulness dwells in him, from which alone fallen sinners have, and shall receive, by faith, all that renders them wise, strong, holy, useful, and happy. Our receivings by Christ are all summed up in this one word, grace; we have received even grace, a gift so great, so rich, so invaluable; the good will of God towards us, and the good work of God in us. The law of God is holy, just, and good; and we should make the proper use of it. But we cannot derive from it pardon, righteousness, or strength. It teaches us to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, but it cannot supply the place of that doctrine. As no mercy comes from God to sinners but through Jesus Christ, no man can come to the Father but by him; no man can know God, except as he is made known in the only begotten and beloved Son.The law was given - The Old Testament economy. The institutions under which the Jews lived.

By Moses - By Moses, as the servant of God. He was the great legislator of the Jews, by whom, under God, their polity was formed. The law worketh wrath Romans 4:15; it was attended with many burdensome rites and ceremonies Acts 15:10; it was preparatory to another state of things. The gospel succeeded that and took its place, and thus showed the greatness of the gospel economy, as well as its grace and truth.

Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ - A system of religion full of favors, and the "true" system, was revealed by him. The old system was one of "law," and "shadows," and "burdensome rites;" "this" was full of mercy to mankind, and was true in all things. We may learn from these verses:

1. that all our mercies come from Jesus Christ.

2. "All true believers receive from Christ's fulness; the best and greatest saints cannot live without him, the meanest and weakest may live by him. This excludes proud boasting that we have nothing but 'we have received it,' and silenceth perplexing fears that we want nothing but 'we may receive it.'"

17. For, &c.—The Law elicits the consciousness of sin and the need of redemption; it only typifies the reality. The Gospel, on the contrary, actually communicates reality and power from above (compare Ro 6:14). Hence Paul terms the Old Testament "shadow," while he calls the New Testament "substance" (Col 2:17) [Olshausen]. For the law was given by Moses; the law, moral and ceremonial, came not by Moses, but was given by Moses as God’s minister and servant; that law by which no man can be justified, Romans 3:28. In this was Moses’s honour, of whom you glory, John 5:45. God indeed made an eminent use of him, as his minister, by whom he revealed his will to you; both in matters of his worship, according to that dispensation; and in matters which concern you in your whole conversation; but yet there is an eminent difference between him and Jesus Christ. The law is no where called grace, neither doth it discover any thing but duty and wrath; it showeth no remission, in case that duty be not done, nor affordeth strength for the doing of it.

But grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; all that is from Christ; all the favour of God for the remission and pardon of sin, and for strength and assistance to the performance of duty, is (not given from God by Christ, as the law by Moses, but) from Christ as the fountain of grace; and not grace only, but truth, whether taken for solid and real mercy, or with respect to the law; the fulfilling of all the types and prophecies in it was by and in Christ. For the law was given by Moses,.... Both moral and ceremonial. The moral law was given to Adam, in innocence, which having been broken, and almost lost out of the minds, and memories of men, was given by Moses, in a new edition of it in writing; and points out what is man's duty both to God and men; discovers sin, accuses of it, convicts of it, and condemns for it; nor could it give strength to perform its demands; nor does it give the least hint of forgiveness; nor will it admit of repentance: and hence is opposed to grace; though it was a benefit to men, being in its own nature good and useful in its effects. The ceremonial law pointed out the pollution of human nature, the guilt and punishment of sin; was a type and shadow of deliverance by Christ, but could not give the grace it shadowed, and therefore is opposed both to grace and truth. Now both these were given by Moses to the people of the Jews, not as the maker, but the minister of them: it was God who appointed each of these laws, and ordained them in the hand of the mediator Moses, who received them from him, by the disposition of angels, and delivered them to the people of Israel; and a very high office this was he was put into, and a very great honour was conferred upon him; but Jesus Christ is a far greater person, and in an higher office:

but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ: by grace and truth, is meant the Gospel, in opposition to the law; which is called grace, because it is a declaration of the love, and grace, of God to men; it ascribes salvation, in all the parts of it, to the free grace and favour of God; and is the means of implanting and increasing grace in the hearts of men. And "truth", not only because it contains truth, and nothing but truth, it coming from the God of truth; and the substance of it being Christ, who is the truth; and being revealed, applied, and led into by the Spirit of truth; but because it is the truth of the types, and the substance of the shadows of the law: or these two may mean distinct things; grace may design all the blessings of grace which are in Christ, and come by him; and truth, the promises, and the fulfilment of them, which are all yea, and amen, in Christ: and when these are said to be by him, the meaning is, not that they are by him, as an instrument, but as the author of them; for Christ is the author of the Gospel, and the fulfiller of the promises, and the giver of all grace; which shows the superior excellency of Christ to Moses, and to all men, and even to angels also.

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 1:17. Antithetical confirmation of χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος; “for how high above what was formerly given by Moses, does that stand which came through Jesus Christ!” Comp. Romans 4:15; Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10 ff., al. The former is the law, viewed by Paul as the antithesis of grace (Romans 6:14; Romans 7:3; Galatians 4:4, and many other passages), in so far as it only lays us under obligation, condemns us, and in fact arouses and intensifies the need of grace, but does not bestow peace, which latter gift has been realized for us through Christ. The antithesis without μὲν

δέ has rhetorical force (John 4:22, John 6:63); Buttm. N. T. Gk. p. 344 [E. T. p. 364].

ἡ χάρις] in the definite and formal sense of redemption, saving grace, i.e. the grace of the Father in the Son. Hence also καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια is added with a pragmatical reference to John 1:14; this, like all Christ’s gifts of grace, was regarded as included in the universal χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος of John 1:16. Moreover, the ἀλήθεια was not given in the law, in so far as its substance, which was not indeed untrue, but an outflow of the divine will for salvation (Romans 7:10 sqq.; Acts 7:38), was yet related only as type and preparation to the absolute revelation of truth in Christ; and hence through its very fulfilment (Matthew 5:17) it had come to be done away (Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 10:1 ff; Hebrews 7:18). Comp. Galatians 3:24. Grace was still wanting to the law, and with it truth also in the full meaning of the word. See also 2 Corinthians 3:13 ff.

ἐγένετο] The non-repetition of ἐδόθη is not to point out the independent work of the Logos (Clemens, Paedag. i. 7), to which διὰ would be opposed, or of God (Origen), whose work the law also was; but the change of thought, though not recognised by Lücke, lies in this, that each clause sets forth the historical phenomenon as it actually occurred. In the case of the law, this took place in the historical form of being given, whereas grace and truth originated, came into being, not absolutely, but in relation to mankind, for whom they had not before existed as a matter of experience, but which now, in the manifestation and work of Christ, unfolded their historical origin. Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:30.

Observe how appropriately, in harmony with the creative skilful plan of the Prologue, after the incarnation of the Logos, and the revelation of His glory which was therewith connected, have been already set forth with glowing animation, there is now announced for the first time the great historical NAME, Jesus Christ, which designates the incarnate Logos as the complete concrete embodiment of His manifestation. Comp. 1 John 1:1-3. Only now is the Prologue so fully developed, that Jesus Christ, the historical person of the λόγος ἔνσαρκος (who therefore is all the less to be understood throughout, with Hofmann and Luthardt, under the title λόγος), comes before the eye of the reader, who now, however, knows how to gather up in this name the full glory of the God-man.John 1:17. ὅτι ὁ νόμοςἐγένετο. What is the connection? His statement that the Incarnate Logos was the inexhaustible supply of grace might seem to disparage Moses and the previous manifestations of God. He therefore explains. And he seems to have in view the same distinction between the old and the new that is so frequently emerging in the Pauline writings. Through Moses, here taken as representing the pre-Christian dispensation, was given the law, which made great demands but gave nothing, which was a true revelation of God’s will, and so far was good, but brought men no ability to become liker God. But through Jesus Christ (here for the first time named in the Gospel, because we are now fully on the ground of history) came grace and truth. In contrast to the inexorable demands of a law that brought no spiritual life. Jesus Christ brought “grace,” the unearned favour of God. The Law said: Do this and live; Christ says: God gives you life, accept it. “Truth” also was brought by Christ.—ἀλήθεια here means “reality” as opposed to the symbolism of the Law (cf. John 4:23). In the Law was a shadow of good things to come: in Christ we have the good things themselves. Several good critics find a contrast between ἐδόθη and ἐγένετο; the law being “given” for a special purpose, “grace and truth” “coming” in the natural course and as the issue of all that had gone before.17. The mention of ‘grace’ reminds the Evangelist that this was the characteristic of the Gospél and marked its superiority to the Law; for the Law could only condemn transgressors, grace forgives them.

For] Better, Because.

by Moses] The preposition translated ‘by’ in John 1:3; John 1:10; John 1:17, and ‘through’ in John 1:7, is one and the same in the Greek. The meaning in all five cases is ‘by means of.’ Moses did not give the Law any more than he gave the manna (John 6:32): he was only the mediate agent by whose hand it was given (Galatians 3:19).

truth] Like grace, truth is opposed to the Law, not as truth to falsehood, but as perfection to imperfection.

came] Note the change from ‘was given.’ The grace and truth which came through Christ were His own; the Law given through Moses was not his own.

Jesus Christ] S. John no longer speaks of the Logos: the Logos has become incarnate (John 1:14) and is spoken of henceforth by the names which He has borne in history.John 1:17. Ὃ νόμος, the law) producing wrath [Romans 4:15], and having a shadow [Hebrews 10:1]: the moral and ceremonial law.—ἐδόθη, was given) No philosopher so accurately employs words, and observes their distinctions, as John, and especially in this chapter: afterwards he says, ἐγένετο [Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; for]. The law is not Moses’ own: [but] grace and truth are Christ’s own.—ἡ χάρις, grace) The conjunction is elegantly omitted; for both an adversative and copulative, had place [“locum habebat;” a ‘but’ was to be looked for here]. To grace and truth the law gives way, ch. John 4:23 [The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him]. Concerning grace, an explanation was given at John 1:16 : concerning truth, see below, John 1:18 [Comp. 2 John 1:3, Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love].—Ιἠσοῦ, Jesus) John when once he had made mention of the incarnation, John 1:14, never afterwards puts the noun λόγος, the word, in this signification, throughout this whole book: comp. 1 John 1:1 with 3 [That—which we have heard, which we have seen,—of the word of life. That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ] where also he begins with the name λόγος; but as he goes onward, he names Him Jesus Christ.—ἐγένετο, were made [came into being]) Previously the world had neither known, nor had had grace.Verse 17. - The χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος is sustained by calling attention to the contrast between the two methods of Divine communication. Because the Law was given through Moses; "Law," which in Paul's writings had been even looked at by itself as an "antithesis to grace" (Romans 4:15; Romans 6:14; Romans 7:3; Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 4:4). The Law principle of approach to God fails through the weakness of the flesh. The will is too far enslaved for it to yield spontaneously to the majesty of the Lawgiver, or to feel the attractions of obedience. The Law condemns, - it is incapable of justifying the ungodly: the Law terrifies, - it never reconciles. The Law even provokes to sin and excites the passions which it punishes. Law was given through Moses, pointing to the historic fact of the pomp and splendour of its first delivery, associated therefore with the greatest human name in all past history. Law was a "gift," a Divine bestowment of entirely unspeakable value to those who were ignorant of the mind and will of God. Even the ministration of death was glorious. The knowledge of an ideal perfection is a great advance, even though no power should accompany the ideal to draw the soul towards it. To know what is right, even without help to do it, save in the form of sanction, or penalty appealing to the lower nature, is better and nobler than to sin in utter ignorance. The Law was given "through" the mind, voice, conscience, and will of Moses. And alongside of him may be supposed to be ranged all the mighty sages and legislators of the human race - all who have thus been the mouthpiece of the Divine idea, all who have impressed the "ought" and "ought not," the "shall" and "shall not," upon mankind. Moses is not the author of the Law, the "giving" of the Law was not by Moses, but through his instrumentality. Grace and truth, however, came - became, passed into activity in human nature - through Jesus Christ. For "grace and truth" (see notes, ver. 14), the highest manifestation and self-communication of Divine love and Divine thought, came into human experience through Jesus Christ. A vast and wonderful contrast is here made between all earlier or other dispensations and that of which the apostle proceeds to speak. Divine favour and help, the life of God himself in the soul of man, awakening love in response to the Divine love; and Divine thought so made known as to bring all the higher faculties of man into direct contact with reality, are an enormous advance upon Lawgiving. The appropriate human response to Law is obedience; the appropriate human response to love is of the same nature with itself - nothing less than love; so the only adequate response to Divine truth is faith; to Divine thought may follow human thought. All this forth streaming of grace and truth originated in the person of Jesus Christ, and became possible through him. This great Name, this blending of the human and Divine, of saving grace and Messianic dignity, of ancient expectations and recent realization, is only twice more used in the Gospel (John 17:3 and John 20:31); but it pervades it throughout, and, though not actually said to be equivalent to the Word made flesh, yet no shadow of doubt is left that this was the apostle's meaning. Here the full significance of the prologue really bursts into view to one who reads it for the first time (cf. 1 John 1:1-3). Difficulty may be felt by some as to the actual Capacity of Jesus Christ to reveal the Divine thought, or the truth, and so the closing verse of the prologue vindicates the claim of the Saviour of the world to be the truth (cf. John 14:6). For (ὅτι)

Because. Giving the ground of the statement that Christians received new and richer gifts of grace: the ground being that the law of Moses was a limited and narrow enactment, while Jesus Christ imparted the fullness of grace and truth which was in Him (John 1:14). Compare Romans 4:15; Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10.

Was given (ἐδόθη)

A special gift serving a special and preparatory purpose with reference to the Gospel: the word being appropriate to "an external and positive institution."

By Moses (διά)

Literally, through. See on by Him, John 1:3.

Grace and truth came (ἐγένετο)

Came into being as the development of the divine plan inaugurated in the law, and unfolding the significance of the gift of the law. They came into being not absolutely, but in relation to mankind. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30, where it is said of Christ, He was made (properly, became, εγενήθη) unto us wisdom and righteousness, etc. Note the article with grace and truth; the grace and the truth; that which in the full sense is grace and truth. Grace occurs nowhere else in John, except in salutations (2 John 1:3; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 22:21).

Jesus Christ

The Being who has been present in the Evangelist's mind from the opening of the Gospel is now first named. The two clauses, "the law was given," "grace and truth came," without the copula or qualifying particles, illustrate the parallelism which is characteristic of John's style (see on John 1:10).

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