|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:1-5 The plainest reason why the Son of God is called the Word, seems to be, that as our words explain our minds to others, so was the Son of God sent in order to reveal his Father's mind to the world. What the evangelist says of Christ proves that he is God. He asserts, His existence in the beginning; His coexistence with the Father. The Word was with God. All things were made by him, and not as an instrument. Without him was not any thing made that was made, from the highest angel to the meanest worm. This shows how well qualified he was for the work of our redemption and salvation. The light of reason, as well as the life of sense, is derived from him, and depends upon him. This eternal Word, this true Light shines, but the darkness comprehends it not. Let us pray without ceasing, that our eyes may be opened to behold this Light, that we may walk in it; and thus be made wise unto salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
In the beginning was the word,.... That this is said not of the written word, but of the essential word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is clear, from all that is said from hence, to John 1:14 as that this word was in the beginning, was with God, and is God; from the creation of all things being ascribed to him, and his being said to be the life and light of men; from his coming into the world, and usage in it; from his bestowing the privilege of adoption on believers; and from his incarnation; and also there is a particular application of all this to Christ, John 1:15. And likewise from what this evangelist elsewhere says of him, when he calls him the word of life, and places him between the Father and the Holy Ghost; and speaks of the record of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus, as the same thing; and represents him as a warrior and conqueror, 1 John 1:1. Moreover this appears to be spoken of Christ, from what other inspired writers have said of him, under the same character; as the Evangelist Luke, Luke 1:2, the Apostle Paul, Acts 20:32 and the Apostle Peter, 2 Peter 3:5. And who is called the word, not as man; for as man he was not in the beginning with God, but became so in the fulness of time; nor is the man God; besides, as such, he is a creature, and not the Creator, nor is he the life and light of men; moreover, he was the word, before he was man, and therefore not as such: nor can any part of the human nature be so called; not the flesh, for the word was made flesh; nor his human soul, for self-subsistence, deity, eternity, and the creation of all things, can never be ascribed to that; but he is the word as the Son of God, as is evident from what is here attributed to him, and from the word being said to be so, as in John 1:14 and from those places, where the word is explained by the Son, compare 1 John 5:5. And is so called from his nature, being begotten of the Father; for as the word, whether silent or expressed, is the birth of the mind, the image of it, equal to it, and distinct from it; so Christ is the only begotten of the Father, the express image of his person, in all things equal to him, and a distinct person from him: and he may be so called, from some action, or actions, said of him, or ascribed to him; as that he spoke for, and on the behalf of the elect of God, in the eternal council and covenant of grace and peace; and spoke all things out of nothing, in creation; for with regard to those words so often mentioned in the history of the creation, and God said, may Jehovah the Son be called the word; also he was spoken of as the promised Messiah, throughout the whole Old Testament dispensation; and is the interpreter of his Father's mind, as he was in Eden's garden, as well as in the days of his flesh; and now speaks in heaven for the saints. The phrase, , "the word of the Lord", so frequently used by the Targumists, is well known: and it is to be observed, that the same things which John here says of the word, they say likewise, as will be observed on the several clauses; from whence it is more likely, that John should take this phrase, since the paraphrases of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel were written before his time, than that he should borrow it from the writings of Plato, or his followers, as some have thought; with whose philosophy, Ebion and Cerinthus are said to be acquainted; wherefore John, the more easily to gain upon them, uses this phrase, when that of the Son of God would have been disagreeable to them: that there is some likeness between the Evangelist John and Plato in their sentiments concerning the word, will not be denied. Amelius (f), a Platonic philosopher, who lived after the times of John, manifestly refers to these words of his, in agreement with his master's doctrine: his words are these,
"and this was truly "Logos", or the word, by whom always existing, the things that are made, were made, as also Heraclitus thought; and who, likewise that Barbarian (meaning the Evangelist John) reckons was in the order and dignity of the beginning, constituted with God, and was God, by whom all things are entirely made; in whom, whatsoever is made, lives, and has life, and being; and who entered into bodies, and was clothed with flesh, and appeared a man; so notwithstanding, that he showed forth the majesty of his nature; and after his dissolution, he was again deified, and was God, as he was before he descended into a body, flesh and man.
In which words it is easy to observe plain traces of what the evangelist says in the first four verses, and in the fourteenth verse of this chapter; yet it is much more probable, that Plato had his notion of the Logos, or word, out of the writings of the Old Testament, than that John should take this phrase, or what he says concerning the word, from him; since it is a matter of fact not disputed, that Plato went into Egypt to get knowledge: not only Clemens Alexandrinus a Christian writer says, that he was a philosopher of the Hebrews (g), and understood prophecy (h), and stirred up the fire of the Hebrew philosophy (i); but it is affirmed by Heathen writers, that he went into Egypt to learn of the priests (k), and to understand the rites of the prophets (l); and Aristobulus, a Jew, affirms (m), he studied their law; and Numenius, a Pythagoric philosopher (n), charges him with stealing what he wrote, concerning God and the world, out of the books of Moses; and used to say to him, what is Plato, but Moses "Atticising?" or Moses speaking Greek: and Eusebius (o), an ancient Christian writer, points at the very places, from whence Plato took his hints: wherefore it is more probable, that the evangelist received this phrase of the word, as a divine person, from the Targums, where there is such frequent mention made of it; or however, there is a very great agreement between what he and these ancient writings of the Jews say of the word, as will be hereafter shown. Moreover, the phrase is frequently used in like manner, in the writings of Philo the Jew; from whence it is manifest, that the name was well known to the Jews, and may be the reason of the evangelist's using it. This word, he says, was in the beginning; by which is meant, not the Father of Christ; for he is never called the beginning, but the Son only; and was he, he must be such a beginning as is without one; nor can he be said to be so, with respect to the Son or Spirit, who are as eternal as himself; only with respect to the creatures, of whom he is the author and efficient cause: Christ is indeed in the Father, and the Father in him, but this cannot be meant here; nor is the beginning of the Gospel of Christ, by the preaching of John the Baptist, intended here: John's ministry was an evangelical one, and the Gospel was more clearly preached by him, and after him, by Christ and his apostles, than before; but it did not then begin; it was preached before by the angel to the shepherds, at the birth of Christ; and before that, by the prophets under the former dispensation, as by Isaiah, and others; it was preached before unto Abraham, and to our first parents, in the garden of Eden: nor did Christ begin to be, when John began to preach; for John's preaching and baptism were for the manifestation of him: yea, Christ existed as man, before John began to preach; and though he was born after him as man, yet as the Word and Son of God, he existed before John was born; he was in being in the times of the prophets, which were before John; and in the times of Moses, and before Abraham, and in the days of Noah: but by the beginning is here meant, the beginning of the world, or the creation of all things; and which is expressive of the eternity of Christ, he was in the beginning, as the Maker of all creatures, and therefore must be before them all: and it is to be observed, that it is said of him, that in the beginning he was; not made, as the heavens and earth, and the things in them were; nor was he merely in the purpose and predestination of God, but really existed as a divine person, as he did from all eternity; as appears from his being set up in office from everlasting; from all the elect being chosen in him, and given to him before the foundation of the world; from the covenant of grace, which is from eternity, being made with him; and from the blessings and promises of grace, being as early put into his hands; and from his nature as God, and his relation to his Father: so Philo the Jew often calls the Logos, or word, the eternal word, the most ancient word, and more ancient than any thing that is made (p). The eternity of the Messiah is acknowledged by the ancient Jews: Micah 5:2 is a full proof of it; which by them (q) is thus paraphrased,
"out of thee, before me, shall come forth the Messiah, that he may exercise dominion over Israel; whose name is said from eternity, from the days of old.
Jarchi upon it only mentions Psalm 72:17 which is rendered by the Targum on the place, before the sun his name was prepared; it may be translated, "before the sun his name was Yinnon"; that is, the Son, namely the Son of God; and Aben Ezra interprets it, , "he shall be called the son"; and to this agrees what the Talmudisis say (r), that the name of the Messiah was before the world was created; in proof of which they produce the same passage,
And the word was with God; not with men or angels; for he was before either of these; but with God, not essentially, but personally considered; with God his Father: not in the Socinian sense, that he was only known to him, and to no other before the ministry of John the Baptist; for he was known and spoken of by the angel Gabriel before; and was known to Mary and to Joseph; and to Zacharias and Elisabeth; to the shepherds, and to the wise men; to Simeon and Anna, who saw him in the temple; and to the prophets and patriarchs in all ages, from the beginning of the world: but this phrase denotes the existence of the word with the Father, his relation and nearness to him, his equality with him, and particularly the distinction of his person from him, as well as his eternal being with him; for he was always with him, and is, and ever will be; he was with him in the council and covenant of grace, and in the creation of the universe, and is with him in the providential government of the world; he was with him as the word and Son of God in heaven, whilst he as man, was here on earth; and he is now with him, and ever will be: and as John here speaks of the word, as a distinct person from God the Father, so do the Targums, or Chaldee paraphrases; Psalm 110:1 "the Lord said to my Lord", is rendered, "the Lord said to his word"; where he is manifestly distinguished from Jehovah, that speaks to him; and in Hosea 1:7 the Lord promises to "have mercy on the house of Judah", and "save them by the Lord their God". The Targum is, "I will redeem them by the word of the Lord their God"; where the word of the Lord, who is spoken of as a Redeemer and Saviour, is distinguished from the Lord, who promises to save by him. This distinction of Jehovah and his word, may be observed in multitudes of places, in the Chaldee paraphrases, and in the writings of Philo the Jew; and this phrase, of "the word" being "with God", is in the Targums expressed by, , "the word from before the Lord", or "which is before the Lord": being always in his presence, and the angel of it; so Onkelos paraphrases Genesis 31:22 "and the word from before the Lord, came to Laban", &c. and Exodus 20:19 thus, "and let not the word from before the Lord speak with us, lest we die"; for so it is read in the King of Spain's Bible; and wisdom, which is the same with the word of God, is said to be by him, or with him, in Proverbs 8:1 agreeably to which John here speaks. John makes use of the word God, rather than Father, because the word is commonly called the word of God, and because of what follows,
and the word was God; not made a God, as he is said here after to be made flesh; nor constituted or appointed a God, or a God by office; but truly and properly God, in the highest sense of the word, as appears from the names by which he is called; as Jehovah, God, our, your, their, and my God, God with us, the mighty God, God over all, the great God, the living God, the true God, and eternal life; and from his perfections, and the whole fulness of the Godhead that dwells in him, as independence, eternity, immutability, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence; and from his works of creation and providence, his miracles, the work of redemption, his forgiving sins, the resurrection of himself and others from the dead, and the administration of the last judgment; and from the worship given him, as prayer to him, faith in him, and the performance of baptism in his name: nor is it any objection to the proper deity of Christ, that the article is here wanting; since when the word is applied to the Father, it is not always used, and even in this chapter, John 1:6 and which shows, that the word "God", is not the subject, but the predicate of this proposition, as we render it: so the Jews often use the word of the Lord for Jehovah, and call him God. Thus the words in Genesis 28:20 are paraphrased by Onkelos,
"if "the word of the Lord" will be my help, and will keep me, &c. then "the word of the Lord" shall be, , "my God":
again, Leviticus 26:12 is paraphrased, by the Targum ascribed to Jonathan Ben Uzziel, thus,
"I will cause the glory of my Shekinah to dwell among you, and my word shall "be your God", the Redeemer;
once more, Deuteronomy 26:17 is rendered by the Jerusalem Targum after this manner,
"ye have made "the word of the Lord" king over you this day, that he may be your God:
and this is frequent with Philo the Jew, who says, the name of God is his word, and calls him, my Lord, the divine word; and affirms, that the most ancient word is God (s),
(f) Apud Euseb. Prepar. Evangel. l. 11. c. 19. (g) Stromat. l. 1. p. 274. (h) Ib. p. 303. (i) Ib. Paedagog. l. 2. c. 1. p. 150. (k) Valer. Maxim. l. 8. c. 7. (l) Apuleius de dogmate Platonis, l. 1. in principio. (m) Apud. Euseb. Prepar. Evangel. l. 13. c. 12. (n) Hesych. Miles. de Philosophis. p. 50. (o) Prepar. Evangel. l. 11. c. 9. (p) De Leg. Alleg. l. 2. p. 93. de Plant. Noe, p. 217. de Migrat. Abraham, p. 389. de Profugis, p. 466. quis. rer. divin. Haeres. p. 509. (q) Targum Jon. in loc. (r) T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 54. 1. & Nedarim, fol. 39. 2. Pirke Eliezer, c. 3.((s) De Allegor. l. 2. p. 99, 101. & de Somniis, p. 599.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN Commentary by David Brown
The author of the Fourth Gospel was the younger of the two sons of Zebedee, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, who resided at Bethsaida, where were born Peter and Andrew his brother, and Philip also. His mother's name was Salome, who, though not without her imperfections (Mt 20:20-28), was one of those dear and honored women who accompanied the Lord on one of His preaching circuits through Galilee, ministering to His bodily wants; who followed Him to the cross, and bought sweet spices to anoint Him after His burial, but, on bringing them to the grave, on the morning of the First Day of the week, found their loving services gloriously superseded by His resurrection ere they arrived. His father, Zebedee, appears to have been in good circumstances, owning a vessel of his own and having hired servants (Mr 1:20). Our Evangelist, whose occupation was that of a fisherman with his father, was beyond doubt a disciple of the Baptist, and one of the two who had the first interview with Jesus. He was called while engaged at his secular occupation (Mt 4:21, 22), and again on a memorable occasion (Lu 5:1-11), and finally chosen as one of the Twelve Apostles (Mt 10:2). He was the youngest of the Twelve—the "Benjamin," as Da Costa calls him—and he and James his brother were named in the native tongue by Him who knew the heart, "Boanerges," which the Evangelist Mark (Mr 3:17) explains to mean "Sons of thunder"; no doubt from their natural vehemence of character. They and Peter constituted that select triumvirate of whom see on Lu 9:28. But the highest honor bestowed on this disciple was his being admitted to the bosom place with his Lord at the table, as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (Joh 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20:24), and to have committed to him by the dying Redeemer the care of His mother (Joh 19:26, 27). There can be no reasonable doubt that this distinction was due to a sympathy with His own spirit and mind on the part of John which the all-penetrating Eye of their common Master beheld in none of the rest; and although this was probably never seen either in his life or in his ministry by his fellow apostles, it is brought out wonderfully in his writings, which, in Christ-like spirituality, heavenliness, and love, surpass, we may freely say, all the other inspired writings.
After the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we find him in constant but silent company with Peter, the great spokesman and actor in the infant Church until the accession of Paul. While his love to the Lord Jesus drew him spontaneously to the side of His eminent servant, and his chastened vehemence made him ready to stand courageously by him, and suffer with him, in all that his testimony to Jesus might cost him, his modest humility, as the youngest of all the apostles, made him an admiring listener and faithful supporter of his brother apostle rather than a speaker or separate actor. Ecclesiastical history is uniform in testifying that John went to Asia Minor; but it is next to certain that this could not have been till after the death both of Peter and Paul; that he resided at Ephesus, whence, as from a center, he superintended the churches of that region, paying them occasional visits; and that he long survived the other apostles. Whether the mother of Jesus died before this, or went with John to Ephesus, where she died and was buried, is not agreed. One or two anecdotes of his later days have been handed down by tradition, one at least bearing marks of reasonable probability. But it is not necessary to give them here. In the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) he was banished to "the isle that is called Patmos" (a small rocky and then almost uninhabited island in the Ægean Sea), "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Re 1:9). Irenæus and Eusebius say that this took place about the end of Domitian's reign. That he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, and miraculously delivered, is one of those legends which, though reported by Tertullian and Jerome, is entitled to no credit. His return from exile took place during the brief but tolerant reign of Nerva; he died at Ephesus in the reign of Trajan [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.23], at an age above ninety, according to some; according to others, one hundred; and even one hundred twenty, according to others still. The intermediate number is generally regarded as probably the nearest to the truth.
As to the date of this Gospel, the arguments for its having been composed before the destruction of Jerusalem (though relied on by some superior critics) are of the slenderest nature; such as the expression in Joh 5:2, "there is at Jerusalem, by the sheep-gate, a pool," &c.; there being no allusion to Peter's martyrdom as having occurred according to the prediction in Joh 21:18—a thing too well known to require mention. That it was composed long after the destruction of Jerusalem, and after the decease of all the other apostles, is next to certain, though the precise time cannot be determined. Probably it was before his banishment, however; and if we date it between the years 90 and 94, we shall probably be close to the truth.
As to the readers for whom it was more immediately designed, that they were Gentiles we might naturally presume from the lateness of the date; but the multitude of explanations of things familiar to every Jew puts this beyond all question.
No doubt was ever thrown upon the genuineness and authenticity of this Gospel till about the close of the eighteenth century; nor were these embodied in any formal attack upon it till Bretschneider, in 1820, issued his famous treatise [Probabilia], the conclusions of which he afterwards was candid enough to admit had been satisfactorily disproved. To advert to these would be as painful as unnecessary; consisting as they mostly do of assertions regarding the Discourses of our Lord recorded in this Gospel which are revolting to every spiritual mind. The Tubingen school did their best, on their peculiar mode of reasoning, to galvanize into fresh life this theory of the post-Joannean date of the Fourth Gospel; and some Unitarian critics still cling to it. But to use the striking language of Van Oosterzee regarding similar speculations on the Third Gospel, "Behold, the feet of them that shall carry it out dead are already at the door" (Ac 5:9). Is there one mind of the least elevation of spiritual discernment that does not see in this Gospel marks of historical truth and a surpassing glory such as none of the other Gospels possess, brightly as they too attest their own verity; and who will not be ready to say that if not historically true, and true just as it stands, it never could have been by mortal man composed or conceived?
Of the peculiarities of this Gospel, we note here only two. The one is its reflective character. While the others are purely narrative, the Fourth Evangelist, "pauses, as it were, at every turn," as Da Costa says [Four Witnesses, p. 234], "at one time to give a reason, at another to fix the attention, to deduce consequences, or make applications, or to give utterance to the language of praise." See Joh 2:20, 21, 23-25; 4:1, 2; 7:37-39; 11:12, 13, 49-52; 21:18, 19, 22, 23. The other peculiarity of this Gospel is its supplementary character. By this, in the present instance, we mean something more than the studiousness with which he omits many most important particulars in our Lord's history, for no conceivable reason but that they were already familiar as household words to all his readers, through the three preceding Gospels, and his substituting in place of these an immense quantity of the richest matter not found in the other Gospels. We refer here more particularly to the nature of the additions which distinguish this Gospel; particularly the notices of the different Passovers which occurred during our Lord's public ministry, and the record of His teaching at Jerusalem, without which it is not too much to say that we could have had but a most imperfect conception either of the duration of His ministry or of the plan of it. But another feature of these additions is quite as noticeable and not less important. "We find," to use again the words of Da Costa [Four Witnesses, pp. 238, 239], slightly abridged, "only six of our Lord's miracles recorded in this Gospel, but these are all of the most remarkable kind, and surpass the rest in depth, specialty of application, and fulness of meaning. Of these six we find only one in the other three Gospels—the multiplication of the loaves. That miracle chiefly, it would seem, on account of the important instructions of which it furnished the occasion (Joh 6:1-71), is here recorded anew. The five other tokens of divine power are distinguished from among the many recorded in the three other Gospels by their furnishing a still higher display of power and command over the ordinary laws and course of nature. Thus we find recorded here the first of all the miracles that Jesus wrought—the changing of water into wine (Joh 2:1-11), the cure of the nobleman's son at a distance (Joh 4:43-54); of the numerous cures of the lame and the paralytic by the word of Jesus, only one—of the man impotent for thirty and eight years (Joh 5:1-9); of the many cures of the blind, one only—of the man born blind (Joh 9:1-12); the restoration of Lazarus, not from a deathbed, like Jairus' daughter, nor from a bier, like the widow of Nain's son, but from the grave, and after lying there four days, and there sinking into corruption (Joh 11:1-44); and lastly, after His resurrection, the miraculous draught of fishes on the Sea of Tiberias (Joh 21:5-11). But these are all recorded chiefly to give occasion for the record of those astonishing discourses and conversations, alike with friends and with foes, with His disciples and with the multitude which they drew forth."
Other illustrations of the peculiarities of this Gospel will occur, and other points connected with it be adverted to, in the course of the Commentary.
Joh 1:1-14. The Word Made Flesh.
1. In the beginning—of all time and created existence, for this Word gave it being (Joh 1:3, 10); therefore, "before the world was" (Joh 17:5, 24); or, from all eternity.
was the Word—He who is to God what man's word is to himself, the manifestation or expression of himself to those without him. (See on Joh 1:18). On the origin of this most lofty and now for ever consecrated title of Christ, this is not the place to speak. It occurs only in the writings of this seraphic apostle.
was with God—having a conscious personal existence distinct from God (as one is from the person he is "with"), but inseparable from Him and associated with Him (Joh 1:18; Joh 17:5; 1Jo 1:2), where "THE Father" is used in the same sense as "God" here.
was God—in substance and essence God; or was possessed of essential or proper divinity. Thus, each of these brief but pregnant statements is the complement of the other, correcting any misapprehensions which the others might occasion. Was the Word eternal? It was not the eternity of "the Father," but of a conscious personal existence distinct from Him and associated with Him. Was the Word thus "with God?" It was not the distinctness and the fellowship of another being, as if there were more Gods than one, but of One who was Himself God—in such sense that the absolute unity of the God head, the great principle of all religion, is only transferred from the region of shadowy abstraction to the region of essential life and love. But why all this definition? Not to give us any abstract information about certain mysterious distinctions in the Godhead, but solely to let the reader know who it was that in the fulness of time "was made flesh." After each verse, then, the reader must say, "It was He who is thus, and thus, and thus described, who was made flesh."
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