John 1:38
Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, What seek you? They said to him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwell you?
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(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.

1:37-42 The strongest and most prevailing argument with an awakened soul to follow Christ, is, that it is he only who takes away sin. Whatever communion there is between our souls and Christ, it is he who begins the discourse. He asked, What seek ye? The question Jesus put to them, we should all put to ourselves when we begin to follow Him, What do we design and desire? In following Christ, do we seek the favour of God and eternal life? He invites them to come without delay. Now is the accepted time, 2Co 6:2. It is good for us to be where Christ is, wherever it be. We ought to labour for the spiritual welfare of those related to us, and seek to bring them to Him. Those who come to Christ, must come with a fixed resolution to be firm and constant to him, like a stone, solid and stedfast; and it is by his grace that they are so.What seek ye? - This was not asked to obtain "information." Compare John 1:48. It was not a harsh reproof, forbidding them to follow him. Compare Matthew 11:28-30. It was a kind inquiry respecting their desires; an invitation to lay open their minds, to state their wishes, and to express all their feelings respecting the Messiah and their own salvation. We may learn:

1. That Jesus regards the first inclinations of the soul to follow him. He "turned" toward these disciples, and he will incline his ear to all who begin to approach him for salvation.

2. Jesus is ready to hear their requests and to answer them.

3. Ministers of the gospel, and all other Christians, should be accessible, kind, and tender toward all who are inquiring the way to life. In conformity with their Master, they should be willing to aid all those who look to them for guidance and help in the great work of their salvation.

Rabbi - This was a Jewish title conferred somewhat as literary degrees now are, and meaning literally "a great one," and was applied to a teacher or master in the Jewish schools. It corresponded with the title "Doctor." Our Saviour solemnly forbade his disciples to wear that title. See the notes at Matthew 23:8. The fact that John "interpreted" this word shows that he wrote his gospel not for the Jews only, but for those who did not understand the Hebrew language. It is supposed to have been written at Ephesus.

Where dwellest thou? - This question they probably asked him in order to signify their wish to be with him and to be instructed by him. They desired more fully to listen to him than they could now by the wayside. They were unwilling to interrupt him in his traveling. Religion teaches people true politeness, or a disposition to consult the convenience of others, and not improperly to molest them, or to break in upon them when engaged. It also teaches us to "desire to be with Christ;" to seek every opportunity of communion with him, and chiefly to desire "to be with him where he is" when we leave this world. Compare Philippians 1:23.

38. What seek ye—gentle, winning question, remarkable as the Redeemer's first public utterance. (See on [1761]Mt 12:18-20.)

where dwellest thou—that is, "That is a question we cannot answer in a moment; but had we Thy company for a calm hour in private, gladly should we open our burden."

Christ, as he walked, turning him, and seeing two men following him, inquires of their end, what they sought; to teach us, in all our religious motions and actions, to do the like; for the end will contribute much to specify the action, and to make it good or bad. They gave him that honourable title which was then in fashion, by and under which they were wont to speak to those upon whom they relied for instruction, whose doctrine they desired to know, and with whom they desired to converse, and to learn of him. They asked him where he abode, or where he lodged. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following,.... That is, "him", as the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions add: he saw by their walk, and by their countenances, that they were following him; and which he knew before he turned himself: he knew what John had said, and what an effect it had upon these disciples, and what was working in their hearts, and how desirous they were of coming up to him, and conversing with him; and therefore he turned himself, that they might have an opportunity of speaking to him; or rather, in order to speak to them first, as he did:

and saith unto them, what seek ye? This he said, not as ignorant of whom, and what they were seeking, and desirous; but to encourage them to speak to him, which, through fear and bashfulness, they might be backward to do; and therefore, he who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but cherishes and encourages the first motions of grace, begins first with them, and treats them in a free and familiar manner; thereby to animate and engage them to use freedom with him, and which end was answered:

they said unto him, Rabbi; a title which now began to be in much use with the Jews, and which they gave to their celebrated doctors; and these disciples of John, observing how magnificently their master spoke of Jesus, in great reverence to him, addressed him under this character; See Gill on Matthew 23:7,

which is to say, being interpreted, master. These are the words of the evangelist, interpreting the word "Rabbi", and not of the disciples, and are left out in the Syriac and Persic versions, who, for "Rabbi", read "our master", or our "Rabbi"; being said by both the disciples, or by one in the name of both, putting the following question:

where dwellest thou? signifying, that that was not a proper place, in the public way, to enter into a conversation with him, and acquaint him with what they were desirous of; but should be glad to know where he lodged, that they might wait upon him there, either then, or on the morrow, or at any convenient time.

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,) {s} where dwellest thou?

(s) Where is your lodging?

John 1:38. στραφεὶς δὲτί ζητεῖτε; Jesus, hearing their steps behind Him, turns. To all who follow He gives their opportunity. Having turned and perceived that they were following Him, He asks τί ζητεῖτε; the obvious first inquiry, but perhaps with a breath in it of that Fan which the Baptist had warned them to expect in the Messiah; as if, Are you seeking what I can give? They reply Ῥαββείμένεις; Lightfoot (Hor. Heb.) tells us that “Rabbi” was a new title which had not been used long before the Christian era, and possibly arose during the rivalries of the schools of Hillel and Shammai. “The word means “my greatness”. Cf. His Majesty, etc., and for the absorption of the pronoun cf. monsieur or madame. See Lampe. As it occurs here for the first time John translates it, and renders by διδάσκαλε, Teacher; so that as yet they were scarcely prepared to give Him the greater title Lord, or Messiah. Unready with are answer to His question they put another which may stand for an answer, ποῦ μένεις; where are you staying, where are you dwelling? So used in N.T., Luke 19:5, and in later Greek, Polybius, 30, 4, 10, and 34, 9, 9, of dwelling for a short time in a place; not so much implying, as Holtzmann suggests, that they wished to go to His lodging that they might have more uninterrupted talk with Him; for that scarcely fits Oriental habits; but rather implying that they were shy of prolonging intercourse and wished to know where they might find Him another time. From this unsatisfactory issue they are saved by His frank invitation (John 1:40) ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε. “Come and ye shall see.” Use the opportunity you now have. Christ’s door is ever on the latch: He is always accessible.—ἦλθαν οὖνὡς δεκάτη. The two men remained in conversation with Jesus during the remainder of the day [but Grotius gives the sense as “ibidem pernoctarunt, quia jam serum erat”], a day so memorable to John that he recalls the very hour when they first approached Jesus, four o’clock in the afternoon. It seems that at this time throughout the Græco-Roman world one system of reckoning the hours prevailed. There is indisputable evidence that while the Romans calculated their civil day, by which leases and contracts were dated, as extending from midnight to midnight, the hours of each day were reckoned from sunrise to sunset. Thus on the Roman sun-dials noon is marked VI. (see Becker’s Gallus, p. 319). Martial’s description of the manner in which each hour was spent (Ep., iv., 8) leads to the same couclusion; and for proof that no different method was followed in the provinces, see Prof. Ramsay’s paper “On the Sixth Hour” in the Expositor, 1893. Cf. also paper by Mr. Cross in Classical Review, June, 1891.38–51. The Testimony of Disciples

38. saw them] Same verb as in John 1:14; John 1:32. The context shews that He saw into their hearts as well. For ‘Then’ read But.

What seek ye?] i.e. in Me. He does not ask ‘Whom seek ye?’ It was evident that they sought Him.

Rabbi] A comparatively modern word when S. John wrote, and therefore all the more requiring explanation to Gentile readers. S. John often interprets between Hebrew and Greek; thrice in this section. (Comp. John 1:41-42.)

where dwellest thou?] Better, where abidest Thou? (See on John 1:33.) They have more to ask than can be answered on the spot. Perhaps they think Him a travelling Rabbi staying with friends close by; and they intend to visit Him at some future time. He bids them come at once: now is the day of salvation.John 1:38. Τὶ ζητεῖτε, what seek ye?) He was aware it was Himself they sought. He means therefore. What seek ye with Me? not, Whom seek ye? By this question He touched their heart. He showed that He knew that they were seeking something; and He gives them the opportunity of begging [from Him] what they would.—Ῥαββί, Rabbi) Seasonably they give this title to Jesus; John 1:49.[39] Also the interpretation being added, shows that the disciples assigned it to Him in the restricted signification.—ποῦ μένεις) we ask, where thou art stopping, where thou hast thy μονή [mansion, residence]. They are desirous of His intimacy.

[39] i.e. as ver. 40. Nathanael there addressed Jesus, in consequence of learning His omniscience in having seen Him under the fig-tree, Rabbi, etc.: so here, ver. 38, the disciples give Him the same title for the same reason, viz. their learning His omniscience, as extending to the knowledge of their thoughts and what they were seeking.—E. and T.Verse 38. - Then Jesus turned - hearing their footfall, he welcomed their sincere approach, attentive as he ever was to the faintest indication of genuine faith and desire for his best gifts - and beheld them following (θεαόμαι is used of intense gaze at that which is august and wonderful, vers. 14, 32; 1 John 1:1; but used also of special and interested contemplation, Matthew 6:1; John 6:5), and he saith to them, What seek ye? The first words of Jesus, as recorded in this Gospel, reveal the incarnate Logos, anointed of the Holy Spirit, beginning to search the heart and anticipate the unuttered questions of humanity. He assumes their desire for that which he alone can supply. They, on seeing their Christ, the Son of God, all humanly before them, do not fall at his feet, but approach him as a human teacher, and give him the ordinary honorific title of a wise, competent instructor. They said unto him, Rabbi (which is, being interpreted, Teacher). The parenthetic clause reveals the fact that the Gospel was written for Gentile readers. The title "Rabbi" was a modern one, only dating from the days of Hillel, about B.C. 30, and therefore needing interpretation. Where abidest thou? Renan founds on this phrase "Rabbi" the supposition that, when John and Jesus meet, they are both surrounded by groups of followers. The narrative is written to convey a precisely opposite conception. Christ did not refuse this "courtesy title" (Matthew 23:8; John 13:13), and we can gather nothing else from the narrative. The question itself reveals the mind of the evangelist. In the opinion of all writers (favourable and hostile), the writer, according to a deliberate method adopted by him, wished to imply that he was one of the two disciples who first left the Baptist to attach themselves to Jesus. The very form of the question adds to the probability. It is a characteristic longing of the disciple, whom Jesus loved so well, to be near and with his Master. He craved no laconic phrase, no solitary word, but some more prolonged fellowship, some undisturbed communion and instruction. The varied emotions of that day, moreover, were conspicuously reproduced in the solemn title which the son of Zebedee most persistently applied to his glorified Lord in the Apocalypse. More than thirty times he refers to him as "the Lamb." Saw (θεασάμενος)

Better, as Rev., beheld: looked steadfastly upon them as if studying them.

What seek ye?

The first words of Christ as recorded by John. Compare Matthew 3:15; Mark 1:15; Luke 2:49.


My great one; my honorable sir. Explained by Jesus himself as διδάσκαλος, teacher (Matthew 23:8, where the proper reading is διδάσκαλος, instead of καθηγητὴς, guide, master, found in Matthew 23:10). Used by the Jews in addressing their teachers, and formed from a Hebrew root meaning great. It occurs commonly in John, and is found in Matthew and Mark, but not in Luke, who uses ἐπιστατής. See on Luke 5:5.

Being interpreted

John frequently adds explanatory remarks. See John 1:42, John 1:43; John 9:7.

Dwellest thou (μένεις)

Rev., abidest. Jesus had asked "What seek ye?" not whom. They reply, "Where dost thou abide?"

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