|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.
Verse 5. -
(3) The antagonism between light and darkness. The highest manifestation and proof of the following statement will be found in that great entrance of the Eternal Logos into human life which will shed the most complete ray of Divine light upon men; but before that great event, during its occurrence, and ever since, i.e. throughout all times and nations, the light shineth in the darkness. Many expositors, like Godet, after long wavering and pondering, resolve this expression into a distinct epitome of the effect of the Incarnation, the highest manifestation of the light in the theanthropic life, and hesitate to see any reference to the shining of the light upon the darkness of humanity or of the heathen world. They do this on the ground that there is no confirmation or illustration of this idea in John's Gospel. However, let the following parallels and expositions of this thought be considered. Our Lord discriminates between those who "hate the light" and "those who do the truth and come to the light" (John 3:21). He delights in those whom the Father has given to him, and who come to him (John 6:37). He speaks of "other sheep which are not of this fold, who hear his voice" (John 10:16). He tells Pilate that "every one who is of the truth heareth my voice "(John 18:37). In solitary address to the Father (John 17:6), he says, "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me." In all these passages abundant hint is given of a direct treatment of souls antecedent to, or rather irrespective of, the special grace of Christ's earthly manifestation. This passage, so far, in the wide embrace of its meaning, asserts that the light here taken as the effluence of the life itself, perpetually, forever, shineth (φαίνει, not; φωτίζει) - pours forth its radiance by its own essential necessity into the "darkness." "Darkness" and "light" are metaphors for moral conditions. Though there is a "light of men" which is the result of the meeting of man's capacity with Divine revelation, yet, for the most part, there is a terrible antagonism, a fearful negative, a veritable opposition to the light, a blinding of the eye of the soul to the clearest beam of heavenly wisdom, righteousness, and truth. Light has a battle to fight, both with the circumstances and the faculties of men. The ancient light which broke over the childhood of humanity, the brighter beams which fell on consciences irradiated and educated by a thousand ministries, the light which was focused in the incarnate Logos and diffused in all the "entrance of the Divine Word" into the heart of men, have all and always this solemn contingency to encounter - "The light shineth in the darkness." And the darkness apprehended it not. This word translated "apprehended" (κατέλαβε) has, in New Testament Greek, undoubtedly the sense of "laying hold with evil intent," "overtaking" (John 12:35; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Mark 9:18), "suppressing" (Lunge), "overcoming" (Westcott and Moulton); and a fine sense would arise from this passage if it means that, while the light shone into the darkness, it did not scatter it, but, on the other hand, neither did the darkness suppress or absorb and neutralize the light. Certainly the darkness was disastrous, tragical, prolonged, but not triumphant, even in the gloomiest moments of the pre-Incarnation period, even in the darkest hour and place of savage persecution, even in the time of outrage, superstitious impenetrability, or moral collapse. There are, however, two classes of difficulty in this interpretation.
(1) Καταλαμβάνω is in LXX. used for תִִשיב, לָכַר, and מָצָא, and in many places in the New Testament has its ordinary classical sense, "lay hold of," "apprehend," "comprehend," "understand," "come to know," intelligo, and cognosco (Ephesians 3:18), though in this latter sense it is mostly used in the middle voice.
(2) When the apostle, in greater detail and more immediate reference to the individual illustrations he gives of the relation of the darkness to the light, says in vers. 10, 11, Ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω, and Οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον; though slightly different words are used, yet the return upon the thought in these parallel sentences is too obvious to be overlooked. The nonsusceptibility of the darkness, the positive resistance it makes to the action of light, finds its strongest illustration in the more defined regions and narrower sphere of the coming of the Logos to the world, and in his special mission to his own people. In this view Alford, Bengel, Schaff, Godet, Luthardt, Tholuck, Meyer, Ewald, coincide, though the suggestion of Origen and Chrysostom, and in later years of Schulthess, Westcott, etc., has been powerfully urged. The broad, general fact is stated, not excluding the exceptions on which the evangelist himself afterwards enlarges. If the darkness had "apprehended" the light, it would no more be darkness. The melancholy fact is that the corruption in the world has been, for the most part, impervious to the light alike of nature, of life, of conscience, and even of revelation. Hence, says Bengel, "the occasion for the Incarnation." This is exaggeration, because the whole record of the incarnate Word is a continuous story of the resistance of the darkness to the light.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And the light shineth in darkness,.... Which, through sin, came upon the minds of men; who are naturally in the dark about the nature and perfections of God; about sin, and the consequences of it; about Christ, and salvation by him; about the Spirit of God, and his work upon the soul; and about the Scriptures of truth, and the doctrines of the Gospel. Man was created a knowing creature, but, not content with his knowledge, sins, and is banished from the presence of God, the fountain of light; which brought a darkness on him, and his posterity, and which is increased in them by personal iniquity, and in which Satan, the god of this world, has an hand; and sometimes they are left to judicial blindness, and which issues in worse darkness, if grace prevents not: now amidst this darkness there were some remains of the light of nature: with respect to the being of God, which shines in the works of creation and providence and to the worship of God, though very dimly; and to the knowledge of moral good and evil:
and the darkness comprehended it not; or "perceived it not"; as the Syriac version renders it. By the light of nature, and the remains of it, men could not come to any clear and distinct knowledge of the above things; and much less to any knowledge of the true way of salvation: unless, rather by the light should be meant, the light of the Messiah, or of the Gospel shining in the figures, types, and shadows of the law, and in the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament: and yet, such was the darkness upon the minds of men, that they could not very distinctly apprehend it, and much less fully comprehend it, so that there was need of a fresh and fuller revelation; an account of which follows;
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. shineth in darkness, &c.—in this dark, fallen world, or in mankind "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death," with no ability to find the way either of truth or of holiness. In this thick darkness, and consequent intellectual and moral obliquity, "the light of the Word" shineth—by all the rays whether of natural or revealed teaching which men (apart from the Incarnation of the Word) are favored with.
the darkness comprehended it not—did not take it in, a brief summary of the effect of all the strivings of this unincarnate Word throughout this wide world from the beginning, and a hint of the necessity of His putting on flesh, if any recovery of men was to be effected (1Co 1:21).
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