John 1:5
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
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(5) And the light shineth in darkness.—The vision of brightness is present but for a moment, and passes away before the black reality of the history of mankind. The description of Paradise occupies but a few verses of the Old Testament. The outer darkness casts its gloom on every page. But in the moral chaos, too, God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” The first struggle of light into and through darkness until the darkness received it, rolled back before it, passed away into it—the repeated comprehension of light by darkness, as in the dawn of every morning the night passes into day, and the earth now shrouded in blackness is now bathed in the clear white light of an Eastern sun—this has its counterpart in the moral world. There, too, the Sun of Righteousness has shone, is ever shining; but as the Apostle looks back on the history of the pre-Christian world, or, it may be, looks back on the earthly ministry of Christ Himself, he seeks in vain for the victory of truth, for the hearts of nations, or of men, penetrated through and through with heaven’s light, and he sums up the whole in one sad negation, “The darkness comprehended it not.” Yet in this very sadness there is firm and hopeful faith. The emphatic present declares that the light still, always, “shineth in darkness.” True are those words of patriarch, lawgiver, prophet, as they followed the voice which called, or received God’s law for men, or told forth the word which came to them from Him; true are they of every poet, thinker, statesman, who has grasped some higher truth, or chased some lurking doubt, or taught a nation noble deeds; true are they of every evangelist, martyr, philanthropist, who has carried the light of the gospel to the heart of men, who has in life or death witnessed to its truth, who has shown its power in deeds of mercy and of love; true are they of the humblest Christian who seeks to walk in the light, and from the sick-chamber of the lowliest home may be letting a light shine before men which leads them to glorify the Father which is in heaven. The Light is ever shining, ofttimes, indeed, coloured as it passes through the differing minds of different men, and meeting us across the space that separates continents, and the time that separates ages, in widely varying hues; but these shades pass into each other, and in the harmony of all is the pure light of truth.

Comprehended it not.—The meaning of this word differs from that rendered “knew not” in John 1:10. The thought here is that the darkness did not lay hold of, did not appropriate the light, so as itself to become light; the thought there is that individuals did not recognise it. Comp. Notes on Romans 9:30; 1Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:12-13, where the same Greek word occurs. See also Ephesians 3:18, which is the only passage in the New Testament, besides the present one, where the word is rendered by “comprehend.”

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.The light shineth in darkness - Darkness, in the Bible, commonly denotes ignorance, guilt, or misery. See Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:16; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8, Ephesians 5:11; Romans 13:12. It refers here to a wicked and ignorant people. When it is said that "the light shineth in darkness," it is meant that the Lord Jesus came to teach an ignorant, benighted, and wicked world. This has always been the case. It was so when he sent his prophets; so during his own ministry; and so in every age since. His efforts to enlighten and save men have been like light struggling to penetrate a thick, dense cloud; and though a few rays may pierce the gloom, yet the great mass is still an impenetrable shade.

Comprehended it not - This word means "admitted" it not, or "received" it not. The word "comprehend," with us, means to "understand." This is not the meaning of the original. The darkness did not "receive" or "admit" the rays of light; the shades were so thick that the light could not penetrate them; or, to drop the figure, men were so ignorant, so guilty, so debased, that they did not appreciate the value of his instructions; they despised and rejected him. And so it is still. The great mass of men, sunk in sin, will not receive his teachings, and be enlightened and saved by him. Sin always blinds the mind to the beauty and excellency of the character of the Lord Jesus. It indisposes the mind to receive his instructions, just as "darkness" has no affinity for "light;" and if the one exists, the other must be displaced.

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).

The light shineth in darkness: he had said before, that life was in Christ, in him as in the fountain; and the life in him was the light of men, giving light to men. Now this light which was in him had its emanations (as light in the sun); and the darkness, that is, men of dark minds, (the abstract being put for the concrete),

comprehended (that is, received) it not. This was true concerning the Jews in former times, upon whom Christ the true Light had shined in many types and prophecies; it was also true concerning the Jews of that present age, to whom, through the favour of him who had undertaken the redemption of man, the means of grace were continued; through the blindness of their minds and hardness of their hearts, they wilfully rejected those means of illumination which God granted to them.

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;

{3} And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness {m} comprehended it not.

(3) The light of men is turned into darkness, but yet there is enough clearness so that they are without excuse.

(m) They could not perceive nor reach it to receive any light from it, no, they did not so much as acknowledge him.

John 1:5. Relation of the light to the darkness.

καὶ τὸ φῶς] and the light shineth;[78] not “and thus, as the light, the Logos shineth” (Lücke). The discourse steadily progresses link by link, so that the preceding predicate becomes the subject.

φαίνει] Present, i.e. uninterruptedly from the beginning until now; it embraces, therefore, the illuminating activity of the λόγος ἄσαρκος[79] and ἔνσαρκος. As it is arbitrary to supply the idea of “still present” (Weiss), so also is its limitation to the revelations by the prophets of the O. T., which would make φαίνει merely the descriptive praesens historicum (De Wette). For the assumption of this, however, in connection with pure preterites there is no warrant; comp. rather φωτίζωι, John 1:9. According to Ewald, Jahrb. V. 194 (see his Johann. Schr. I. 121), φαίνει represents as present the time in which the Light, which since the creation had enlightened men only from afar, had now suddenly come down into the world, which without it is darkness, and was shining in the midst of this darkness. An antithetic relation is thus assumed (“only from afar,—but now suddenly in the midst”) which has no support in the present tense alone, without some more distinct intimation in the text. The stress, moreover, is not on φαίνει, but the (tragic) emphasis is laid on the ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, which with this object precedes it. It is the continuation of the discourse, John 1:7 ff., which first leads specially to the action of the Incarnate One (this also against Hengstenb.).

The σκοτία is the negation and opposite of the φῶς, the condition and order of things in which man does not possess the divine ἀλήθεια, but has become the prey of folly, falsehood, and sin, as a godless ruling power, with all its misery. Here the abstract term “darkness,” as the element in which the light shines, denotes not the individual subject of darkness (Ephesians 5:8), but, as the context requires, that same totality which had been previously described by τῶν ἀνθρώπων, consequently mankind in general, in so far as in and for themselves they have since the fall been destitute of divine truth, and have become corrupt in understanding and will. Melancthon well says, “genus humanum oppressum peccato vocat tenebras.” Frommann is altogether mistaken in holding that σκοτία differs in the two clauses, and means (1) humanity so far as it yet lay beyond the influence of the light, and (2) humanity so far as it was opposed thereto. But Hilgenfeld is likewise in error, when, out of a different circle of ideas, he imports the notion that “light and darkness are primeval opposites, which did not first originate with the fall;” see on John 8:44.

οὐ κατέλαβεν] apprehended it not, look not possession of it; it was not appropriated by the darkness, so that thereby the latter might have become light, but remained aloof and alien to it. Comp. Php 3:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:24, and especially Romans 9:30; also expressions like καταλαμβ. σοφίαν, Sir 15:1; Sir 15:7. The explanation apprehended, i.e. ἔγνω, John 1:10 (Ephesians 3:18; Acts 10:34; Acts 4:13; Plato, Phaedr. p. 250 D; Phil. p. 16 D; Polyb. viii. 4. 6), is on one side arbitrarily narrowing, on another anticipatory, since it foists in the individual subjects of the σκοτία, which is conceived of as a realm. It is erroneous to interpret, as Origen, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus, Bos., Schulthess, Hoelemann, p. 60, also Lange: “The darkness did not hem it in, oppress it; it was invincible before it.” Linguistically this is allowable (see Schweighaüser, Lex. Herod. II. p. 18), but it nowhere so occurs in the N. T., and is here opposed to the parallels, John 1:10-11.

Observe that οὐ κατέλαβεν, which presupposes no Gnostic absolutism, but freedom of moral self-determination (comp. John 1:11-12), reflects the phenomenon as a whole, and indeed as it presented itself to John in history and experience; hence the aorist. Comp. John 3:19.

[78] φαίνει, lucet, not interchangeable with φαίνεται, which means apparet. See on Php 2:15. Godet’s criticism of the distinction is erroneous.

[79] Godet thinks that the law written in the heart, the light of conscience, is meant (Romans 2:14), which the Logos makes use of; and this His relation to all mankind is essential and permanent. But this would be utterly inadequate to the fulness of meaning expressed by φῶς, especially in its antithesis to σκοτία. The φῶς shines as divine light before Christ (by revelation and prophecy), and after Him. It is supernatural, heavenly. Comp. 1 John 2:8. There is no mention here of the λόγος σπερματικός.

John 1:5. καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, “and the light shineth in the darkness”. Three interpretations are possible. The words may refer to the incarnate, or to the pre-incarnate experience of the Logos, or to both. Holtzmann and Weiss both consider the clause refers to the incarnate condition (cf. 1 John 2:8). De Wette refers it to the pre-incarnate operation of the Logos in the O. T. prophets. Meyer and others interpret φαίνει as meaning “present, i.e., uninterruptedly from the beginning until now”. The use of the aorist κατέλαβεν seems to make the first interpretation impossible; while the second is obviously too restricted. What “shining” is meant? This also must not be limited to O. T. prophecy or revelation but to the light of conscience and reason (cf. John 1:4).—ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, in the darkness which existed wherever the light of the Logos was not admitted. Darkness, σκότος or σκοτία, was the expression naturally used by secular Greek writers to describe the world’s condition. Thus Lucian: ἐν σκότῳ πλανωμένοις πάντες ἐοίκαμεν. Cf. Lucretius:

“Qualibus in tenebris vitae, quantisque periclis,

Degitur hoc aevi quodcunque est”.

καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν. The A. V[23] renders this “and the darkness comprehended it not”; the R. V[24] has “apprehended” and in the margin “overcame”. The Greek interpreters understood the clause to mean that the darkness did not conquer the light. Thus Theophylact says: ἡ σκοτίαἐδίωξε τὸ φῶς, ἀλλʼ εὗρεν ἀκαταμάχητον καὶ ἀήττητον. Some modern interpreters, and especially Westcott, adopt this rendering. “The whole phrase is indeed a startling paradox. The light does not banish the darkness: the darkness does not overpower the light.” This rendering is supposed to find support in chap. John 12:35, where Christ says, “Walk while ye have the light,” ζνα μὴ σκοτία ὑμᾶς καταλὰβῃ; and καταλαμβάνειν is the word commonly used to denote day or night overtaking any one (see Wetstein). But the radical meaning is “to seize,” “to take possession of,” “to lay hold of”; so in Romans 9:30, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Php 3:12. It is also used of mental perception, as in the Phaedrus, p. 250, D. See also Polybius, iii. 32, 4, and viii. 4, 6, δυσχερὲς καταλαβεῖν, difficult to understand. This sense is more congruous in this passage; especially when we compare John 1:10 (ὁ κάσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω) and John 1:11 (οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον).

[23] Authorised Version.

[24] Revised Version.

5. shineth] Note the present tense; the only one in the section. It brings us down to the Apostle’s own day: now, as of old, the Light shines—in reason, in creation, in conscience,—and shines in vain. Note also the progress: in John 1:1-2 we have the period before Creation; in John 1:3, the Creation; John 1:4, man before the Fall; John 1:5, man after the Fall.

in darkness] Better, in the darkness. The Fall is presupposed.

and the darkness] Mark the strong connexion between the two halves of John 1:5 as also between John 1:4 and John 1:5, resulting in both cases from a portion of the predicate of one clause becoming the subject of the next clause. Such strong connexions are frequent in St John. Sometimes the whole of the predicate is taken; sometimes the subject or a portion of the subject is repeated.—By ‘the darkness’ is meant all that the Divine Revelation does not reach, whether by God’s decree or their own stubbornness, ignorant Gentile or unbelieving Jew. ‘Darkness’ in a metaphorical sense for spiritual and moral darkness is peculiar to S. John 8:12; John 12:35; John 12:46; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:8-9; 1 John 2:11.

comprehended it not] Or, apprehended it not: very appropriate of that which requires mental and moral effort. Comp. Ephesians 3:18. The darkness remained apart, unyielding, and unpenetrated. The words ‘the darkness apprehendeth not the light’ are given by Tatian as a quotation (Orat. ad Graecos, xiii.). He flourished a.d. 150–170: so this is early testimony to the existence of the Gospel. This and the reference to John 1:3 (see note) are quite beyond reasonable dispute.

We have here an instance of what has been called the “tragic tone” in S. John. He frequently states a gracious fact, and in immediate connexion with it the very opposite of what might have been expected to result from it. The Light shines in Darkness, and (instead of yielding and dispersing) the darkness shut it out. Comp. John 1:10-11, (John 2:24,) John 3:11; John 3:19; John 3:32, John 5:39-40, John 6:36; John 6:43, John 8:45, &c. The word rendered ‘comprehended’ may also mean ‘overcame;’ and this makes good sense. Comp. John 12:35.

John 1:5. Καὶ, and) From this verse the doctrine of evil and its rise, receives much light.—ἐ τῇ σκοτίᾳ, in darkness) This darkness is not said to be made. For it is a privation, which men have incurred [To wit, that state of the human race is expressed by this word, which has prevailed since Adams transgression down to the appearance of the true Light.—V. g.] It is in the darkness that the glory of the Light is the more conspicuously seen.—φαίνει, shines) The present time has the same force as in φωτίζει, John 1:9. It always φαίνει, shineth. The Light was always nigh at hand, even in the Old Testament, ready to apply a remedy to darkness and sin. The same word φαίνει, shineth, as regards the New Testament, 1 John 2:8, “The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.”—καὶοὐ, and—not) Similarly and—not, John 1:10-11.—ἡ σκοτία, the darkness) i.e. men wrapt in darkness.—αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν, [comprehended it not] did not attain to it) Men, it seems, were too much averse from the Light, as well as too deeply sunk in darkness. When they did not comprehend the λόγον ἄσαρκον, The Word unclothed in flesh, “He was made flesh,” John 1:14.

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. John 1:5Shineth (φαίσει)

Note the present tense, indicating not merely the present point of time, but that the light has gone forth continuously and without interruption from the beginning until now, and is still shining. Hence φαίνει, shineth, denoting the peculiar property of light under all circumstances, and not φωτίζει, lighteneth or illuminateth, as in John 1:9. The shining does not always illuminate. Compare 1 John 2:8.

In the darkness (ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ)

Σκοτία, darkness, is a word peculiar to later Greek, and used in the New Testament almost exclusively by John. It occurs once in Matthew 10:27, and once in Luke 12:3. The more common New Testament word is σκότος, from the same root, which appears in σκιά, shadow, and σκηνή, tent. Another word for darkness, ζόφος, occurs only in Peter and Jude (2 Peter 2:4, 2 Peter 2:17; Jde 1:6, Jde 1:13). See on 2 Peter 2:4. The two words are combined in the phrase blackness of darkness (2 Peter 2:17; Jde 1:13). In classical Greek σκότος, as distinguished from ζόφος, is the stronger term, denoting the condition of darkness as opposed to light in nature. Hence of death, of the condition before birth; of night. Ζόφος, which is mainly a poetical term, signifies gloom, half-darkness, nebulousness. Here the stronger word is used. The darkness of sin is deep. The moral condition which opposes itself to divine light is utterly dark. The very light that is in it is darkness. Its condition is the opposite of that happy state of humanity indicated in John 1:4, when the life was the light of men; it is a condition in which mankind has become the prey of falsehood, folly and sin. Compare 1 John 1:9-10. Romans 1:21, Romans 1:22.

Comprehended (κατέλαβεν)

Rev., apprehended. Wyc., took not it. See on Mark 9:18; see on Acts 4:13. Comprehended, in the sense of the A.V., understood, is inadmissible. This meaning would require the middle voice of the verb (see Acts 4:13; Acts 10:34; Acts 25:25). The Rev., apprehended, i.e., grasped or seized, gives the correct idea, which appears in John 12:35, "lest darkness come upon you," i.e., overtake and seize. The word is used in the sense of laying hold of so as to make one's own; hence, to take possession of. Used of obtaining the prize in the games (1 Corinthians 9:24); of attaining righteousness (Romans 9:30); of a demon taking possession of a man (Mark 9:18); of the day of the Lord overtaking one as a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:4). Applied to darkness, this idea includes that of eclipsing or overwhelming. Hence some render overcame (Westcott, Moulton). John's thought is, that in the struggle between light and darkness, light was victorious. The darkness did not appropriate the light and eclipse it. "The whole phrase is indeed a startling paradox. The light does not banish the darkness; the darkness does not overpower the light. Light and darkness coexist in the world side by side" (Westcott).

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