The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spoke to him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The people . . . . said that it thundered.—Better, the multitude. Nothing could be stronger testimony to the fact that this narrative was written by one who was present at the events of which he tells, than the way in which these thoughts of the people at the time are preserved to us. Their insertion by a later hand is all but impossible; and they are, moreover, opposed to what must be assumed as the object of a later writer. In a treatise to prove the divinity of Christ there could be no place for them. In a Gospel which assumes the truth that He is divine, and does not seek to prove it, but to bear witness to the life which carries its own proof (comp. Notes on John 1:7; John 20:30-31), they are evidence that the witness is true. The fact that St. John clearly means us to understand (John 12:28) that a distinct voice spake from heaven does not forbid our understanding also that this voice was heard more or less distinctly, or was as a voice not heard at all, in proportion as the hearts of the hearers were or were not receptive of the voice of God. To some it seemed but as natural thunder, but their own Scripture had taught again and again “God thundereth marvellously with His voice: great things doeth He which we cannot comprehend,” and the religious interpretation of nature hears everywhere the voice of God. Others, and these must have been Pharisees (comp. Acts 23:8-9), recognise a voice which is more than that of nature or of man, and think that an angel hath spoken. (Comp. Note on John 5:4.)
It thundered - The unexpected sound of the voice would confound and amaze them; and though there is no reason to doubt that the words were spoken distinctly Matthew 3:17, yet some of the people, either from amazement or envy, would suppose that this was a mere natural phenomenon.
An angel spake - It was the opinion of many of the Jews that God did not speak to men except by the ministry of angels, Hebrews 2:2; "The word spoken by angels;" Galatians 3:19; "It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator."The people said that it thundered; nor, it may be, were they mistaken, saving only in this, that they thought it was nothing else but thunder (being possibly at such a distance, as they could not distinctly hear the voice); for it was God’s way, when he spake unto his people by a voice, to have that voice, for the greater declaration of the Divine majesty, attended with thunderings and lightnings: thus it was at the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai; thus we read in John’s visions, Revelation 4:5 8:5, of lightnings, and thunderings, and voices, which proceeded from God’s throne.
Others said, An angel spake to him: it was the general opinion of the Jews, that God always, when by voice he revealed his mind to his people, made use of an angel to do it by; hence, probably, as those who were at such a distance that they heard no voice, thought it was nothing but thunder; so those who are so nigh as, besides the thunder, to hear a voice, said, It was an angel that spake with him.
said that it thundered; as it used to do when "Bath Kol" was heard, which, as the Jews say (a),
"is a voice that comes out of heaven proceeding from the midst of another voice,''
as thunder; wherefore some took this for thunder, and others for the voice of an angel out of the thunder:
others said, an angel spoke to him; these being nearer, perceived it was an articulate voice, which expressed certain distinct words, which they thought were delivered by an angel; for the Jews had a mighty notion of the discourse and conversation of angels with men, which their doctors pretended to understand; particularly R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, a Rabbi, who was living at this time, had learned their speech, and was well versed in it (b).The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 12:29. Ὁ οὖν ὄχλος … λελάληκεν. The mass of the people which was standing by and heard the voice did not recognise it as a voice, but said it thundered. Others caught, if not the words, yet enough to perceive it was articulate speech, and said that an angel had spoken to Him.29. The people … thundered … spake] Better, The multitude … had thundered … hath spoken.John 12:29. Ἀκούσας, having heard it) They had heard the sound, not the words. In the greatest revelations there remains something whereby faith may be exercised.—βροντήν, thunder) It was spring.
 When thunder is frequent.—E. and T.
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