|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:6-14 John the Baptist came to bear witness concerning Jesus. Nothing more fully shows the darkness of men's minds, than that when the Light had appeared, there needed a witness to call attention to it. Christ was the true Light; that great Light which deserves to be called so. By his Spirit and grace he enlightens all that are enlightened to salvation; and those that are not enlightened by him, perish in darkness. Christ was in the world when he took our nature upon him, and dwelt among us. The Son of the Highest was here in this lower world. He was in the world, but not of it. He came to save a lost world, because it was a world of his own making. Yet the world knew him not. When he comes as a Judge, the world shall know him. Many say that they are Christ's own, yet do not receive him, because they will not part with their sins, nor have him to reign over them. All the children of God are born again. This new birth is through the word of God as the means, 1Pe 1:23, and by the Spirit of God as the Author. By his Divine presence Christ always was in the world. But now that the fulness of time was come, he was, after another manner, God manifested in the flesh. But observe the beams of his Divine glory, which darted through this veil of flesh. Men discover their weaknesses to those most familiar with them, but it was not so with Christ; those most intimate with him saw most of his glory. Although he was in the form of a servant, as to outward circumstances, yet, in respect of graces, his form was like the Son of God His Divine glory appeared in the holiness of his doctrine, and in his miracles. He was full of grace, fully acceptable to his Father, therefore qualified to plead for us; and full of truth, fully aware of the things he was to reveal.
Verse 9. -
(b) The illumination of the archetypal Light before incarnation. There are at least three grammatical translations of this verse. Either
(1) with Meyer, we may give to η΅ν the complete sense of existence, presence, and include in it the full predicate of the sentence; thus: "Existing, present (when John commenced his ministry), was the veritable Light which enlighteneth every man coming into the world." But the clause, "coming into the world," would here not only be superfluous, but moreover, while used elsewhere and often of Christ's incarnation, is never used of ordinary birth in the Scriptures, though it is a rabbinical expression.
(2) Lange, Moulton, Westcott, Godet, applying the ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον to the light rather than to man, translate it, "That was the true Light which lighteth every man, by coming into the world, or that cometh into the world." The difficulty of this is that it makes the coming into the world, in some new sense, the occasion of the illumination of every man, although the evangelist has already spoken (ver. 4) of the Life which is the Light of men. A third method is to make the ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον the true predicate of the sentence, and translate thus: The veritable Light which illumines every man was coming (ever coming) into the world; and there is a sense and manner of his coming which transcends all others, about which he is to speak at length. This might receive another meaning if η΅ν ἐρχόμενον were equivalent to η΅λθε; then a positive reference would here he made to the historic fact of the Incarnation. But it seems to me the evangelist is drawing a contrast between the continuous coming into the world of the veritable Light and the specific Incarnation of ver. 14. Consequently, the author here travels over and connotes a wider theme, namely, the operation of that archetypal Light, that veritable Light which differs from all mere reflections of it, or imitations of it, or luminous testimonies to it. The difference between ἀληθής and ἀληθινός is important. Ἀληθής is used in John 3:33 and John 5:31, and very often to denote the true in opposition to the false, the veracious as distinct from the deceptive. Ἀληθινός is used in the Gospel (John 4:23, 37; John 6:32; John 7:28; John 15:1; John 17:3), First Epistle (1 John 5:20), and Apocalypse (Revelation 3:7), and hardly anywhere else (see Introduction), for the real as opposed to the phenomenal, the archetypal as opposed to the various embodiments of it, the veritable as distinct from that which does not answer to its own ideal. Now, about this veritable light, in addition to all that has been said already, two things are declared.
(1) It illumines every man, giveth light to every individual man, in all time. Though the darkness apprehendeth it not, yet man is illumined by it. Various interpretations have been given of the method or conditions of this illumination.
(a) The light of the reason and conscience - the higher reason, which is the real eye for heavenly light, and the sphere for the operation of grace. This would make the highest intellectual faculty of man a direct effulgence of the archetypal Light, and confirm the poet Wordsworth's definition of conscience as "God's most intimate presence in the world."
(b) The inner light of the mystical writers, and the "common grace" of the Remonstrant theology. Or
(c) the Divine instruction bestowed on every man from the universal manifestation of the Logos life. No man is left without some direct communication of light from the Father of lights. That light may be quenched, the eye of the soul may be blinded, the folly of the world may obscure it as a cloud disperses the direct rays of the sun; but a fundamental fact remains - the veritable Light illumines every man. Then
(2) it is further declared that this Light was ever coming into the world. Bengel and Hengstenberg, as Lange and Baumgarten-Crusius, regard it as in the purely historic sense, declaratory of the great fact of the Incarnation. But Ewald, Keim, Westcott, and others decide that it refers to his continual coming into the world. Up to the time of the Incarnation, the great theme of the prophets is (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) the Coming One. Nor can we conceal the numberless assurances of the old covenant that the Lord of men was always "coming," and did come, to them. At one time he came in judgment, and at another time in mercy; now by worldwide convulsions, then by the fall of empires; again by the sense of need, of guilt and peril, by the bow of promise which often broke in beauty on the retreating storm cloud, by the mighty working of conscience, by the sense given to men of their Divine relationships and their dearness to God, - by all these experiences he has ever been coming, and he cometh still. Ever since the coming in the flesh and the subsequent cessation of that manifestation, he has ever been coming in the grace of the Holy Spirit, in all the mission of the Comforter, in the fall of the theocratic system and city, in the great persecutions and deliverances, the chastisements and reformations, the judgments and revivals of his Church. The eternal, veritable Light which does, by its universal shining, illumine every man, is still coming. The cry, "He is coming," was the language of the noblest of heathen philosophies; "He is coming," is the burden of the Old Testament; "He is coming again," is the great undersong of the Church to the end of time: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
That was the true light,.... Christ is that light, that famous and excellent light, the fountain of all light to all creatures; that gave light to the dark earth at first, and spoke light out of darkness; that light of all men in the earth, and of all the angels in heaven, and of all the saints below, and of all the glorified ones above: he is the true light, in distinction from typical lights; the "Urim" of the former dispensation; the candlestick, with the lamps of it; the pillar of fire which directed the Israelites by night in the wilderness; and from all the typical light there was in the institutions and sacrifices of the law; and in opposition to the law itself, which the Jews (z) magnify, and cry up as the light, saying, there is no light but the law; and in opposition to all false lights, as priests, diviners, and soothsayers among the Gentiles, Scribes, and Pharisees, and the learned Rabbins among the Jews, so much boasted of as the lights of the world; and to all false Christs and prophets that have risen, or shall rise, in the world,
Which lighteth every man that cometh into the world: the sense is, either that every man that is enlightened in a spiritual manner, is enlightened by him, which is true of Christ, as the Son of God, existing from the beginning; but not in the Socinian sense, as if they were enlightened by his human ministry and example; for the Old Testament saints were not enlightened by his preaching; and many were enlightened by the ministry of John the Baptist; and multitudes afterwards, through the ministry of the apostles; and very few, comparatively, were enlightened under the ministry of Christ; and none we read of, in this sense, enlightened by him, when, and as soon as they came into, the world: or, the meaning is, that he is that light which lighteth all sorts of men; which is true in, a spiritual sense: some connect the phrase, "that cometh into the world", not with "every man", but with the "true light"; and the Arabic version so reads, and joins it to the following verse; but this reading is not so natural and the order of the words requires the common reading; nor is the difficulty removed hereby; for still it is every man that is enlightened: it is best therefore to understand these words of the light of nature, and reason, which Christ, as the word, and Creator and light of men, gives to every man that is born into the world; and which serves to detect the Quakers' notion of the light within, which every man has, and is no other than the light of a natural conscience; and shows how much men, even natural men, are obliged to Christ, and how great a person he is, and how deserving of praise, honour, and glory. The phrase, "every man that cometh into the world", is Jewish, and often to be met with in Rabbinical writings, and signifies all men that are born into the world; the instances are almost innumerable; take one or two: on those words in Job 25:3 on whom doth not his light arise? it is asked (a), who is he that cometh,
, "of all that come into the world"; and says, the sun hath not lightened me by day, nor hath the moon lightened me by night! thou enlightenest those above, and those below, and "all that come into the world".
Again, God is introduced thus speaking (b):
"I am the God, , "of all that come into the world"; and I have not united my name, but to the people of Israel.
Once more (c),
"Moses, our master, from the mouth of power, (i.e. God; see Matthew 26:64.) commanded to oblige, , "all that come into the world", to receive the commandments which were commanded the sons of Noah.
(z) T. Bava Bathra, fol. 4. 1.((a) Vajikra Rabba, sect. 31. fol. 171. 4. (b) Midrash Ruth, c. l. v. 1. fol. 27. 3.((c) Maimon. Hilch. Melakim. c. 8. sect. 10. Vid. Misn. Roshhashana, c. l. sect. 2. T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 25. 4. & 26. 3. Sepher Bahir apud Zohar in Gen. fol. 30. 3. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 21. 2. & 22. 3. & 24. 3. & 27. 2. Caphter, fol. 56. 1. Jarchi in Exodus 15. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
9. lighteth every man, &c.—rather, "which, coming into the world, enlighteneth every man"; or, is "the Light of the world" (Joh 9:5). "Coming into the world" is a superfluous and quite unusual description of "every man"; but it is of all descriptions of Christ amongst the most familiar, especially in the writings of this Evangelist (Joh 12:46; 16:28; 18:37; 1Jo 4:9; 1Ti 1:15, &c.).
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