John 1:9
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
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(9) That was the true Light.—The right rendering of this verse is uncertain. It would, probably, give a better sense to translate it, The true Light which lighteth every man was coming into the world, i.e., was manifesting itself at the time when John was bearing witness and men were mistaking the lamp for the light. (Comp. John 5:35, Note.)

The true Light was not “true” as opposed to “false,” but “true” as answering to the perfect ideal, and as opposed to all more or less imperfect representations. The meaning of the Greek is quite clear. The difficulty arises from the fact that in English there is but one word to represent the two ideas. The word for the fuller meaning of “ideally true” is not confined to St. John, but is naturally of very frequent recurrence in his writings. The adjective is used nine times in this Gospel, and not at all in the other three. A comparison of the passages will show how important it is to get a right conception of what the word means, and will help to give it. (See John 4:23; John 4:37; John 6:32; John 7:28; John 8:16; John 15:1; John 17:3; John 19:35.) But, as ideally true, the Light was not subject to the changing conditions of time and space, but was and is true for all humanity, and “lighteth every man.”



John 1:1 - John 1:14

The other Gospels begin with Bethlehem; John begins with ‘the bosom of the Father.’ Luke dates his narrative by Roman emperors and Jewish high-priests; John dates his ‘in the beginning.’ To attempt adequate exposition of these verses in our narrow limits is absurd; we can only note the salient points of this, the profoundest page in the New Testament.

The threefold utterance in John 1:1 carries us into the depths of eternity, before time or creatures were. Genesis and John both start from ‘the beginning,’ but, while Genesis works downwards from that point and tells what followed, John works upwards and tells what preceded-if we may use that term in speaking of what lies beyond time. Time and creatures came into being, and, when they began, the Word ‘was.’ Surely no form of speech could more emphatically declare absolute, uncreated being, outside the limits of time. Clearly, too, no interpretation of these words fathoms their depth, or makes worthy sense, which does not recognise that the Word is a person. The second clause of John 1:1 asserts the eternal communion of the Word with God. The preposition employed means accurately ‘towards,’ and expresses the thought that in the Word there was motion or tendency towards, and not merely association with, God. It points to reciprocal, conscious communion, and the active going out of love in the direction of God. The last clause asserts the community of essence, which is not inconsistent with distinction of persons, and makes the communion of active Love possible; for none could, in the depths of eternity, dwell with and perfectly love and be loved by God, except one who Himself was God.

John 1:1 stands apart as revealing the pretemporal and essential nature of the Word. In it the deep ocean of the divine nature is partially disclosed, though no created eye can either plunge to discern its depths or travel beyond our horizon to its boundless, shoreless extent. The remainder of the passage deals with the majestic march of the self-revealing Word through creation, and illumination of humanity, up to the climax in the Incarnation.

John repeats the substance of John 1:1 - John 1:2, apparently in order to identify the Agent of creation with the august person whom he has disclosed as filling eternity. By Him creation was effected, and, because He was what John 1:1 has declared Him to be, therefore was it effected by Him. Observe the three steps marked in three consecutive verses. ‘All things were made by Him’; literally ‘became,’ where the emergence into existence of created things is strongly contrasted with the divine ‘was’ of John 1:1. ‘Through Him’ declares that the Word is the agent of creation; ‘without Him’ {literally, ‘apart from Him’} declares that created things continue in existence because He communicates it to them. Man is the highest of these ‘all things,’ and John 1:4 sets forth the relation of the Word to Him, declaring that ‘life,’ in all the width and height of its possible meanings, inheres in Him, and is communicated by Him, with its distinguishing accompaniment, in human nature, of light, whether of reason or of conscience.

So far, John has been speaking as from the upper or divine side, but in John 1:5 he speaks from the under or human, and shows us how the self-revelation of the Word has, by some mysterious necessity, been conflict. The ‘darkness’ was not made by Him, but it is there, and the beams of the light have to contend with it. Something alien must have come in, some catastrophe have happened, that the light should have to stream into a region of darkness.

John takes ‘the Fall’ for granted, and in John 1:5 describes the whole condition of things, both within and beyond the region of special revelation. The shining of the light is continuous, but the darkness is obstinate. It is the tragedy and crime of the world that the darkness will not have the light. It is the long-suffering mercy of God that the light repelled is not extinguished, but shines meekly on.

John 1:6 - John 1:13 deal with the historical appearance of the Word. The Forerunner is introduced, as in the other Gospels; and, significantly enough, this Evangelist calls him only ‘John,’-omitting ‘the Baptist,’ as was very natural to him, the other John, who would feel less need for distinguishing the two than others did. The subordinate office of a witness to the light is declared positively and negatively, and the dignity of such a function is implied. To witness to the light, and to be the means of leading men to believe, was honour for any man.

The limited office of the Forerunner serves as contrast to the transcendent lustre of the true Light. The meaning of John 1:9 may be doubtful, but John 1:10 - John 1:11 clearly refer to the historical manifestation of the Word, and probably John 1:9 does so too. Possibly, however, it rather points to the inner revelation by the Word, which is the ‘light of men.’ In that case the phrase ‘that cometh into the world’ would refer to ‘every man,’ whereas it is more natural in this context to refer it to ‘the light,’ and to see in the verse a reference to the illumination of humanity consequent on the appearance of Jesus Christ. The use of ‘world’ and ‘came’ in John 1:10 - John 1:11 points in that direction. John 1:9 represents the Word as ‘coming’; John 1:10 regards Him as come-’He was in the world.’

Note the three clauses, so like, and yet so unlike the august three in John 1:1. Note the sad issue of the coming-’The world knew Him not.’ In that ‘world’ there was one place where He might have looked for recognition, one set of people who might have been expected to hail Him; but not only the wide world was blind {‘knew not’} , but the narrower circle of ‘His own’ fought against what they knew to be light {‘received not’} .

But the rejection was not universal, and John proceeds to develop the blessed consequences of receiving the light. For the first time he speaks the great word ‘believe.’ The act of faith is the condition or means of ‘receiving.’ It is the opening of the mental eye for the light to pour in. We possess Jesus in the measure of our faith. The object of faith is ‘His name,’ which means, not this or that collocation of letters by which He is designated, but His whole self-revelation. The result of such faith is ‘the right to become children of God,’ for through faith in the only-begotten Son we receive the communication of a divine life which makes us, too, sons. That new life, with its consequence of sonship, does not belong to human nature as received from parents, but is a gift of God mediated through faith in the Light who is the Word.

John 1:14 is not mere repetition of the preceding, but advances beyond it in that it declares the wonder of the way by which that divine Word did enter into the world. John here, as it were, draws back the curtain, and shows us the transcendent miracle of divine love, for which he has been preparing in all the preceding. Note that he has not named ‘the Word’ since John 1:1, but here he again uses the majestic expression to bring out strongly the contrast between the ante-temporal glory and the historical lowliness. These four words, ‘The Word became flesh,’ are the foundation of all our knowledge of God, of man, of the relations between them, the foundation of all our hopes, the guarantee of all our peace, the pledge of all blessedness. ‘He tabernacled among us.’ As the divine glory of old dwelt between the cherubim, so Jesus is among men the true Temple, wherein we see a truer glory than that radiant light which filled the closed chamber of the holy of holies. Rapturous remembrances rose before the Apostle as he wrote, ‘We beheld His glory’; and he has told us what he has beheld and seen with his eyes, that we also may have fellowship with him in beholding. The glory that shone from the Incarnate Word was no menacing or dazzling light. He and it were ‘full of grace and truth,’ perfect Love bending to inferiors and sinners, with hands full of gifts and a heart full of tenderness and the revelation of reality, both as regards God and man. His grace bestows all that our lowness needs, His truth teaches all that our ignorance requires. All our gifts and all our knowledge come from the Incarnate Word, in whom believing we are the children of God.

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.That was the true Light - Not John, but the Messiah. He was not a false, uncertain, dangerous guide, but was one that was true, real, steady, and worthy of confidence. A false light is one that leads to danger or error, as a false beacon on the shores of the ocean may lead ships to quicksands or rocks; or an "ignis fatuus" to fens, and precipices, and death. A true light is one that does not deceive us, as the true beacon may guide us into port or warn us of danger. Christ does not lead astray. All false teachers do.

That lighteth - That enlightens. He removes darkness, error, ignorance, from the mind.

Every man - This is an expression denoting, in general, the whole human race - Jews and Gentiles. John preached to the Jews. Jesus came "to be a light to lighten the Gentiles," as well as to be the "glory of the people of Israel," Luke 2:32.

That cometh into the world - The phrase in the original is ambiguous. The word translated "that cometh" may either refer to the "light," or to the word "man;" so that it may mean either "this 'true light that cometh' into the world enlightens all," or "it enlightens every 'man that cometh' into the world." Many critics, and, among the fathers, Cyril and Augustine, have preferred the former, and translated it, "The true light was he who, coming into the world, enlightened every man." The principal reasons for this are:

1. That the Messiah is often spoken of as he that cometh into the world. See John 6:14; John 18:37.

2. He is often distinguished as "the light that cometh into the world." John 3:19; "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world." John 12:46; "I am come a light into the world."

Christ may be said to do what is accomplished by his command or appointment. This passage means, therefore, that by his own personal ministry, and by his Spirit and apostles, light or teaching is afforded to all. It does not mean that every individual of the human family is enlightened with the knowledge "of the gospel," for this never yet has been; but it means:

1. That this light is not confined to the "Jews," but is extended to all - Jews and Gentiles.

2. That it is provided for all and offered to all.

3. It is not affirmed that at the time that John wrote all "were actually enlightened," but the word "lighteth" has the form of the "future." "This is that light so long expected and predicted, which as the result of its coming into the world, will ultimately enlighten all nations."

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.). That was the true Light: true is sometimes opposed to what is false, Ephesians 4:25; sometimes to what is typical and figurative, John 1:17; sometimes to what is not original, and of itself: in opposition to all these Christ is the true Light; he who alone deserved the name of light, having light in himself, and from himself, 1Jo 2:8, and shining more gloriously than the prophets or apostles.

Which lighteth every man that cometh into the world; he lighteth not the Jews only, (as the prophets of old), but both the Jews and Gentiles. Some understand this of the light of reason; but besides that reason is no where in holy writ called light, neither did this illumination agree to Christ as Mediator. It is rather therefore to be understood of the light of gospel revelation, which Christ caused to be made to all the world, Matthew 28:19 Mark 16:15. Those who interpret it of the more internal illumination by the Holy Spirit of God, by which Christ is not revealed to us only, but in us, say, that Christ hath done what lay in him (as a Minister of the gospel) so to enlighten all that came into the world; and that Christ is said to enlighten every man, because none is enlightened but by him, and that some of all sorts are by him enlightened; in one of which two latter senses the terms all and every man must be interpreted in a multitude of texts in the Gospel. The words in the Greek are so, as they may either be translated as we read them, or thus, who coming into the world, enlightened every man: a more universal spiritual light, or means to come to the knowledge of God, overspreading the world after Christ’s coming, than before. So John 7:46, I am come a light into the world. And it is by some observed, that the phrase cometh into the world, doth not barely signify a being born, but being sent into the world by the Father, being sanctified, as in John 10:36 17:18.

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.

{5} That was {p} the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

(5) When the Son of God saw that men did not acknowledge him by his works, although they were endued with understanding

(which he had given to all of them), he exhibited himself unto his people to be seen by them with their physical eyes: yet not even then did they acknowledge him or receive him.

(p) Who alone and properly deserves to be called the light, for he shines by his own accord and borrows light from no one.

John 1:9. For the correct apprehension of this verse, we must observe, (1) that ἦν has the main emphasis, and therefore is placed at the beginning: (2) that τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθ. cannot be the predicate, but must be the subject, because in John 1:8 another was the subject; consequently without a τοῦτο, or some such word, there are no grounds for supposing a subject not expressed: (3) that ἐρχόμ. εἰς τὸν κόσμον (with Origen, Syr., Copt., Euseb., Chrys., Cyril., Epiph., Nonnus, Theophyl., Euth. Zig., It., Vulg., Augustine, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, Calvin, Aret., and most of the early expositors[81]) can only be connected with πάντα ἄνθρωπον, not with ἦν; because when John was bearing witness the Logos was already in the world (John 1:26), not simply then came into the world, or was about to come, or had to come. We should thus be obliged arbitrarily to restrict ἐρχ. εἰς τ. κόσμ. to His entrance upon His public ministry, as Grotius already did (from whom Calovius differs), and because the order of the words does not suggest the connecting of ἦν with ἐρχόμ.; rather would the prominence given to ἦν, and its wide separation from ἐρχόμ., be without any reason. Hence the connection by the early church of ἐρχόμ. with π. ἄνθρ. is by no means to be regarded, with Hilgenfeld, as obsolete, but is to be retained,—to be explained, however, thus: “The true Light was existing, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world”. This, together with the following ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν onwards to ἐγένετο, serves, by preparing the way, to strengthen the portentous and melancholy antithesis, καὶ ὁ κόσμ. αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω. The usual objection that ἐρχόμ. εἰς τ. κ., when referred to πάντα ἄνθρ., is a superfluous by-clause, is inept. There is such a thing as a solemn redundance, and that we have here, an epic fulness of words. Hence we must reject (1) the usual interpretation by the older writers (before Grotius), with whom even Kaeuffer sides: “He (or even that, namely to τὸ φῶς) was the true Light which lighteth all men who come into this world” (Luther), against which we have already remarked under (1) and (2) above; again, (2) the construction which connects ἐρχόμ. with φῶς as an accompanying definition (so probably Theod. Mopsu.; some in Augustine, de pecc. mer. et rem. i. 25; Castalio, Vatablus, Grotius; Schott, Opusc. I. p. 14; Maier): “He was the true Light, which was at that time to come into the world;”[82] also, (3) the connecting of ἦν with ἐρχόμενον, so as to interpret it either in a purely historical sense (Bleek, Köstlin, B. Crusius, Lange, Hengstenberg: “He came”, with reference to Malachi 3:1; and so already Bengel); or relatively, as De Wette, Lücke: “when John had appeared to bear witness of Him, even then came the true Light into the world,” comp. Hauff in the Stud. u. Krit. 1846, p. 575; or as future, of Him who was soon to appear: venturum erat (Rinck, Tholuck), according to Luthardt (comp. Baeuml.): “it had been determined of God that He should come;” or more exactly, of an unfulfilled state of things, still present at that present time: “It was coming” (Hilgenfeld, Lehrbegr. p. 51[83]); and according to Ewald, who attaches it to John 1:4-5 : “It was at that time always coming into the world, so that every human being, if he had so wished, might have let himself be guided by Him;” comp. Keim: “He was continually coming into the world.” As to details, we have further to remark: ἦν] aderat, as in John 7:39 and often; its more minute definition follows in John 1:10 : ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν. The Light was already there (in Jesus) when John bore witness of Him, John 1:26. The reference of John 1:9-13 to the working of the Logos before His incarnation (Tholuck, Olshausen, Baur, also Lange, Leben J. III. p. 1806 ff.) entirely breaks down before John 1:11-13, as well as before the comparison of the Baptist with the Logos, which presupposes the personal manifestation of the latter (comp. also John 1:15); and therefore Baur erroneously denies that there is any distinction made in the Prologue between the working of the Logos before Christ and in Christ. Comp. Bleek in the Stud u. Krit. 1833, p. 414 ff.

τὸ ἀληθινόν] Because it was neither John nor any other, but the true, genuine, archetypal Light, which corresponds to the idea—the idea of the light realized.[84] Comp. John 4:23; John 4:37, John 6:32, John 7:28, John 15:1. See, generally, Schott, Opusc. I. p. 7 ff.; Frommann, Lehrbegr. p. 130 ff.; Kluge in the Jahrb. f. D. Th. 1866, p. 333 ff.; also Hoelemann, l.c., p. 63, who, however, supposes an antithesis, which is without any support from the connection, to the cosmic light (Genesis 1).

ὁ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρ.] a characteristic of the true light; it illumines every one. This remains true, even though, as a matter of fact, the illumination is not received by many (see on Romans 2:4), so that every one does not really become what he could become, a child of light, φῶς ἐν κυρίῳ, Ephesians 5:8. The relation, as a matter of experience, resolves itself into this: “quisquis illuminatur, ab hac luce illuminatur,” Bengel; comp. Luthardt. It is not this, however, that is expressed, but the essential relation as it exists on the part of the Logos.[85] Bengel well says: “numerus singularis magnam hic vim habet.” Comp. Colossians 1:15; Romans 3:4.

ἐρχόμενον εἰς τ. κόσμον] every man coming into the world; rightly without the article; comp. 2 John 1:7. The addition of the predicative clause gives emphatic prominence to the conception of πάντα. There is no need to compare it with the Rabbinic בּוֹא בְעוֹלָם (see Lightfoot and Schoettgen). Comp. John 16:21, and see on John 18:37.

[81] So of late Paulus also, and Klee, Kaeuffer in the Sächs. Stud. 1844, p. 116, Hoelemann, and Godet.

[82] The interpretation of Schoettgen, Semler, Morus, Rosenmüller, as if instead of ἐρχόμ. we had ἦλθεν, is quite erroneous. Luther’s explanation down to 1527 was better: “through His advent into this world.”

[83] That is, during the time before His baptism; the man Jesus (according to the Valentinian Gnosis) did not become the organ of the Logos until His baptism, and accordingly through that rite the Logos first came into the world. The birth of Jesus was only introductory to that coming. Brückner, while rejecting this importation of Gnosticism, agrees in other respects with Hilgenfeld.—Philippi (der Eingang d. Joh. Ev. p. 89): “He was to come, according to the promises of the O. T.;” and ver. 10 : “These promises had now received their fulfilment.”

[84] In the classics, see Plato, Pol. i. p. 347 D (τῷ ὄντι ἀληθινός), vi. p. 499 C; Xen. Anab. i. 9. 17; Oec. x. 3; Dem. 113. 27, 1248. 22; Theocrit. 16 (Anthol.); Pindar, Ol. ii. 201; Polyb. i. 6. 6, et al. Rück., Abendm. p. 266, erroneously says, “the word seldom occurs in the classics.” It is especially common in Plato, and among later writers in Polybius.

[85] Luther: “Of what avail is it that the clear sun shines and lightens, if I shut my eyes and will not see his light, or creep away from it beneath the earth?” Comp. also Delitzsch, Psychol. p. 348 [E. T. p. 410].

John 1:9. ἦν τὸ φῶςεἰς τὸν κόσμον. ἦν stands first in contrast to the οὐκ ἦν of John 1:8. The light was not …: the light was … In this verse the light is also further contrasted with John. The Baptist was himself a light (John 1:35) but not to τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν. This designation occurs nine times in John, never in the Synoptists. It means that which corresponds to the ideal; true not as opposed to false, but to symbolical or imperfect. The light is further characterised as ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον. This is the text on which the Quakers found for their doctrine that every man has a day of visitation and that to every man God gives sufficient grace. Barclay in his Apology says: “This place doth so clearly favour us that by some it is called ‘the Quakers’ text,’ for it doth evidently demonstrate our assertion”. It was also much used by the Greek Fathers, who believed that the Logos guided the heathen in their philosophical researches (see Justin’s Dial., ii., etc., and Clement, passim).—ἐρχόμενον has been variously construed, with ἄνθρωπον, with τὸ φῶς, or with ἦν. (1) The first construction is favoured by Chrysostom, Euthymius, the Vulgate, and A. V[25], “that was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world”; or with Meyer, “the true light which lightens every man coming into the world was present” (ἦν = aderat). To the objection that ἐρχόμ.… κόσμον is thus redundant, Meyer replies that there is such a thing as a solemn redundance, and that we have here an “epic fulness of words”. But the “epic fulness” is here out of place, emphasising πάντα ἄνθρωπον. Besides, in this Gospel, “coming into the world” is not used of human birth, but of appearance in one’s place among men. And still further ἐρχόμενον of this verse is obviously in contrast with the ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν of the next, and the subject of both clauses must be the same. (2) The second construction, with τὸ φῶς, was advocated by Grotius (“valde mihi se probat expositio quae apud Cyrillum et Augustinum exstat, ut hoc ἐρχόμενον referatur ad τὸ φῶς,” cf. John 3:19, John 12:46, John 18:37), and has been adopted by Godet, who renders thus: “(That light) was the true light which lighteth every man, by coming (itself) into the world”. If this were John’s meaning, it is difficult to see why he did not insert οὗτος as in the second verse or τοῦτο. (3) The third construction, with ἦν, has much to recommend it, and has been adopted by Westcott, Holtzmann, and others. The R. V[26] margin renders as if ἧν ἐρχόμενον were the periphrastic imperfect commonly used in N. T., “the true light which enlighteneth every man was coming into the world,” i.e., at the time when the Baptist was witnessing, the true light was dawning on the world. Westcott, however, thinks it best to take it “more literally and yet more generally as describing a coming which was progressive, slowly accomplished, combined with a permanent being, so that both the verb (was) and the participle (coming) have their full force and do not form a periphrasis for an imperfect”. And he translates: “There was the light, the true light which lighteth every man; that light was, and yet more, that light was coming into the world”.

[25] Authorised Version.

[26] Revised Version.

9. That was, &c.] This verse is ambiguous in the Greek. Most of the Ancient Versions, Fathers, and Reformers agree with our translators. Many modern commentators translate—the true Light, which lighteth every man, was coming into the world: but ‘was’ and ‘coming’ are almost too far apart in the Greek for this. There is yet a third way;—there was the true Light, which lighteth every man by coming into the world. ‘Was’ is emphatic: ‘there was the true Light,’ even while the Baptist was preparing the way for Him. The Baptist came once for all; the Light was ever coming.

The word for ‘true’ (alêthinos) is remarkable: it means true as opposed to ‘spurious,’ not true as opposed to ‘lying.’ It is in fact the old English ‘very,’ e.g. ‘very God of very God’. Christ then is the true, the genuine, the perfect Light, just as He is ‘the perfect Bread’ (John 6:32) and ‘the perfect Vine’ (John 15:1): not that He is the only Light, and Bread, and Vine, but that He is in reality what all others are in figure and imperfectly. All words about truth are very characteristic of S. John.

every man] not ‘all men:’ the Light illumines each one singly, not all collectively. God deals with men separately as individuals, not in masses. But though every man is illumined, not every man is the better for it: that depends upon himself.

that cometh into the world] A Jewish phrase for being born, frequent in S. John (John 9:39, John 11:27, John 16:28); see on John 18:37. ‘The world’ is another of the expressions characteristic of S. John: it occurs nearly 80 times in the Gospel and 22 in the First Epistle. This verse, Hippolytus tells us (Refut. vii. x.), was used by Basilides in defending his doctrine, and as he began to teach about a.d. 125, this is very early evidence of the use of the Gospel.

John 1:9. Ἦν, was) The Light itself, moreover, was that true light, which enlighteneth. The Effect shows the Subject, to whom the name of Light is most applicable [whose attributes entitle Him best to the name.]—τὸ ἀληθινόν, the true) There follows immediately the declaration, which enlighteneth, etc. This forms an antithesis to John, [who was only] a lamp, a witness. Comp. concerning the Truth, John 1:14; John 1:17.—ὃ φωτίζει, which enlighteneth) It is proved by the effect, that this is the true light. It enlightens, the Present, in relation to the time, in which He came, as opposed to the former time, John 1:5.—πάντα, every one) every one, and wholly, so far as a man doth not withdraw himself from His influence: whosoever is enlightened at all, is enlightened by this Light. The singular number here has great force. Comp. Colossians 1:28 [Warning every man and teaching every man, and that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus] Romans 3:4 [Let God be true, but every man a liar]. Not even one is excluded.—ἄνθρωπον, man) Who by himself [when left to himself] is in darkness: every man has a more august sound, than all men, John 1:7. John was but a man, John 1:6. The Light, so far as it is light, is contradistinguished from man.—ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον, coming into the world) ἐρχόμενον, coming is nominative, and depends on ἦν, was. A striking antithesis is thus presented: [ἐγενέτο] was made, [ἀπεσταλμένος] sent, John 1:6, and [ἦν] was, [ἐρχόμενον] coming [in this verse]: in which last word the Participle present, as often, has the force of an imperfect. Comp. ὤν, ch. John 9:25 [τυφλὸς ὢν, ἄρτι βλέπω, whereas I was blind, now I see] Notes: and elsewhere. Among the Hebrews it is a frequent periphrasis for a man. הבא בעולם, coming [a comer] into the world: but in the New Testament, and especially in this book, this phrase is used of Christ alone, and in an exalted sense. For He was, even before that He came. Thus evidently the phrase is applied ch. John 3:19, Light is come into the world: ch. John 12:46, I am come a light into the world. Presently after this John 1:9, succeeds the mention of the world and of His coming, repeated, John 1:10-11. The Son is also said to be sent by the Father, but not in the same way, as John is said to have been sent. Moreover the Son came, being sent and given, Matthew 21:37 “Last of all He sent unto them His Son;” John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son;” ch. John 11:27, Martha, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world;” Romans 8:3; Romans 8:32, “God sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh—He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all;” 1 John 3:8, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested;” John 4:9, “God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” Therefore it was not at last after His mission [it was not then first], that He was made Son, but evidently before His being born of a woman; Galatians 4:4, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”

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." John 1:9That was the true light, etc.

This passage is differently interpreted. Some join coming (ἐρχόμενον) with man (ἄνθρωπον), and render every man that cometh, as A.V. Others join coming with light, and render, as Rev., the true light - coming into the world. The latter is the preferable rendering, and is justified by John's frequent use of the phrase coming into the world, with reference to our Lord. See John 3:19; John 6:14; John 9:39; John 11:27; John 12:46; John 16:28; John 18:37. In John 3:19 and John 12:46, it is used as here, in connection with light. Note especially the latter, where Jesus himself says, "I am come a light into the world." Was (ἦν) is to be taken independently, there was, and not united in a single conception with coming (ἐρχόμενον), so as to mean was coming. The light was, existed, when the Baptist appeared as a witness. Up to the time of his appearance it was all along coming: its permanent being conjoined with a slow, progressive coming, a revelation "at sundry times and in diverse manners" (Hebrews 1:1). "From the first He was on His way to the world, advancing toward the incarnation by preparatory revelations" (Westcott). Render therefore as Rev., "There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world."

True (ἀληθινὸν)

Wyc., very light (compare the Nicene creed, "very God of very God"). This epithet is applied to light only here and 1 John 2:8, and is almost confined to the writings of John. A different word, ἀληθής, also rendered true, occurs at John 3:33; John 5:31; John 8:13, and elsewhere. The difference is that ἀληθινόζ signifies true, as contrasted with false; while ἀληθινός signifies what is real, perfect, and substantial, as contrasted with what is fanciful, shadowy, counterfeit, or merely symbolic. Thus God is ἀληθής (John 3:33) in that He cannot lie. He is ἀληθινός (1 Thessalonians 1:9), as distinguished from idols. In Hebrews 8:2, the heavenly tabernacle is called ἀληθινή, as distinguished from the Mosaic tabernacle, which was a figure of the heavenly reality (Hebrews 9:24). Thus the expression true light denotes the realization of the original divine idea of the Light - the archetypal Light, as contrasted with all imperfect manifestations: "the Light which fulfilled all that had been promised by the preparatory, partial, even fictitious lights which had existed in the world before."

"Our little systems have their day;

They have their day and cease to be:

They are but broken lights of Thee,

And Thou, O Lord, art more than they."

Tennyson, In Memoriam.

Lighteth (φωτίζει)

See on shineth, John 1:5, and compare Luke 11:35, Luke 11:36.

Every man (πάντα ἄνθρωπον)

Not collectively, as in John 1:7, but individually and personally.

The world (τὸν κόσμον)


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