John 13:23
Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom.—Leonardo’s picture is in one respect misleading, and, like most paintings of the Lord’s Supper, has not represented the method in which the guests reclined rather than sat at table. Each leaned on his left arm, leaving the right arm free. The feet were stretched out behind the guest on his right hand, and the back of the head reached near to the bosom of the guest on the left. (Comp. Note on John 13:25.) The Jews followed this Persian method of reclining on couches at meals from the time of the Captivity, and this method of eating the Passover had the special significance of security and possession of the Promised Land, as opposed to the attitude of one undertaking a journey, which was part of the original institution (Exodus 12:11).

One of his disciples, whom Jesus lovedi.e., John himself. (Comp. John 21:2; John 21:7; John 21:20-23, and Introduction, p. 375.) The same designation occurs also in John 19:26.

John 13:23-26. There was leaning on Jesus’s bosom — That is, sitting next to him at table. This phrase only expresses the then customary posture at meals, where the guests all leaned sideways on couches, and each was said to lie in the bosom of him who was placed next above him; one of the disciples whom Jesus loved — This was John, the memory of whose sweet disposition, and other amiable qualities, is perpetuated in the peculiar love which Jesus bare to him. He always avoids with great care the expressly naming himself. Perhaps our Lord now gave him the first proof of his peculiar love, by disclosing this secret to him. Simon Peter, therefore — Not daring to ask Jesus himself; beckoned to him — The word νευει, thus rendered, might be more exactly translated, nodded, namely, he intimated his desire by a motion of his head; that he should ask him privately who it should be — Peter was probably desirous to know, not only that he might be sure it was not himself, but that, knowing who it was, he and the other disciples might withdraw from him, and guard against him, as also, if possible, prevent his design. It may appear to us a desirable thing to know who, in the church, will deceive us, yet let this suffice: Christ knows, though we do not. He then, lying on Jesus’s breast — That is, leaning backward, and secretly whispering; saith, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered — In his ear: so careful was he not to offend (if it had been possible) even Judas himself; He it is to whom I shall give a sop Το ψωμιον, the sop, which he took up while he was speaking; and when he had dipped the sop — In a thick kind of sauce made of dates, raisins, and other ingredients beaten together and properly diluted; he gave it to Judas Iscariot — Who took it readily enough, not suspecting the design of Christ’s giving it to him. See note on Matthew 26:20-25. The Jews still retain the use of such a sauce, which they call haroseth, made of such kind of ingredients, about the consistence of mortar, to represent the clay in which their forefathers wrought while they were under bondage to the Egyptians.13:18-30 Our Lord had often spoken of his own sufferings and death, without such trouble of spirit as he now discovered when he spake of Judas. The sins of Christians are the grief of Christ. We are not to confine our attention to Judas. The prophecy of his treachery may apply to all who partake of God's mercies, and meet them with ingratitude. See the infidel, who only looks at the Scriptures with a desire to do away their authority and destroy their influence; the hypocrite, who professes to believe the Scriptures, but will not govern himself by them; and the apostate, who turns aside from Christ for a thing of naught. Thus mankind, supported by God's providence, after eating bread with Him, lift up the heel against Him! Judas went out as one weary of Jesus and his apostles. Those whose deeds are evil, love darkness rather than light.Leaning on Jesus' bosom - This does not mean that he was at that time actually lying on his bosom, but that he occupied a situation next to him at the table, so that his head naturally fell back on his bosom when he spoke to him. See the notes at Matthew 23:6.

Whom Jesus loved - This was doubtless John himself. The evangelists are not accustomed to mention their own names when any mark of favor or any good deed is recorded. They did not seek publicity or notoriety. In this case the appellation is more tender and honorable than any mere name. John was admitted to special friendship, perhaps, because the natural disposition of our Saviour was more nearly like the amiableness and mildness of John than any of the other disciples (Robert Hall). The highest honor that can be conferred on any man is to say that Jesus loved him. Yet this is an honor which all may possess, but which none can inherit without his spirit and without loving him. It is an honor which cannot be won by wealth or learning, by beauty or accomplishments, by rank or earthly honors, but only by the possession of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, 1 Peter 3:4; compare Romans 8:9.

23-26. there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved—Thus modestly does our Evangelist denote himself, as reclining next to Jesus at the table.

Peter … beckoned to him to ask who it should be of whom he spake—reclining probably at the corresponding place on the other side of Jesus.

This leaning on Jesus’ bosom, and the laying on Jesus’ breast, mentioned John 13:25, cannot be understood without the understanding of the usual posture the Jews used at their meals, and particularly at the paschal supper; of which we have spoken largely; See Poole on "Matthew 26:20": see the annotations there. Their posture seemeth to have been kneeling, and resting their bodies back upon their legs, with a leaning upon their left elbow; and this seemeth not to have been so close, but that he that so sat might use his other hand to take his meat; hence he who sat before any, sat with his back towards him, but leaning towards the bosom of the other, which is here called a leaning on (that is, towards) his bosom, and laying on his breast; for it cannot be understood of such a sitting, or leaning, as to touch the other’s breast or bosom, for that would have hindered him upon whom the person so leaned from any use of his right hand to take his meat or drink. It is apparent from hence, first, that at this supper there was none but Christ and his disciples. Secondly, that they sat in this posture of leaning. These two things make it very probable, if not certain, that the supper here mentioned was either the paschal supper, or a common supper, which immediately went before, or followed after, the passover supper. For,

1. We have no record of any other supper, at which were only Christ and the twelve disciples; and:

2. If we may believe the Jewish writers, though their ordinary posture at their common meals was discumbency, that is a kneeling on their knees, with a resting their bodies backward upon their legs; yet this posture of leaning was constantly added only upon the passover night, as a further testimony of their liberty, that they were not now servants, as in the land of Egypt. The person who sat next to our Saviour, with his back next our Saviour’s bosom, was John, often in Scripture dignified with the title of the beloved disciple, and him whom Jesus loved, John 19:26 John 20:2 21:7,20. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom,.... Not pressing upon that part of Christ's body, which would have been irreverent in John, and troublesome to Christ; but leaning at table upon his bed or couch, on which he lay; and which was next to, and just before Christ; so that he was very near unto, and seemed to lie in the bosom of Christ; as such are said to do, who sit next at table to another. The posture of the Jews at table, was either "sitting" or "lying", and a difference they make between these two;

"if, say they (d), , "they sat" to eat everyone asked a blessing for himself; but if "they lay down", one asked a blessing for them all.''

This lying down was not on their backs, nor on their right side, but on their left; for they say (e), that

"lying down on the back, is not called "lying down"; and lying on the right side, is not called lying down.''

And the reason given is (f), because they have need of the right hand to eat with; but as they elsewhere (g) observe,

"they used to eat lying along, leaning on the left side, their feet to the ground, and every man on a single couch.''

Would you know the order in which they, lay, take the account as they have given it (h);

"when there were but two couches, the principal person lay first, and the second to him above him; and when there were three, the principal person lay in the middle, the second to him above him, and the third below him; and if he would talk with him, he raised himself upright, and sitting upright he talked with him; that is, as the gloss explains it, if the principal person was desirous to talk with him that was second to him, he must raise himself up from his lying down, and sit upright; for all the white he is leaning, he cannot talk with him, because he that is second to him, is behind the head of the principal person, and the face of the principal person is turned to the other side; and it is better for the second to sit below him, that he may hear his words, whilst he is leaning.''

The form in which Christ and his disciples sat or lay at table, we may conceive was this (i); a table was placed in the middle and as many beds or couches round it, as there were persons; Christ the principal and most worthy person lay first, with his head toward the table, his face somewhat turned from it, leaning on his left elbow upon the couch; in this posture lay Jesus, upon the first couch; in the same posture lay John, in the next to him, and just before him; the hinder part of his head being towards, and near the breast and bosom of Jesus; whence he is said to lean upon it: now to lie next to the principal person, was a very great honour, as well as a mark of great affection; and for John to lie next to Jesus, and as it were to lean on his bosom, showed how much he was respected and honoured by him; and therefore John modestly conceals his name, and only says,

one of his disciples whom Jesus loved; Christ, as the Son of God, and surety of his people, loved his true disciples, as he does all his elect, alike; not one more than the other; but as man, he had a particular affection for this disciple, and therefore admitted him near his person, and was very familiar with him.

(d) Misn. Beracot, c. 6. sect. 6. (e) T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 108. 1.((f) Gloss in ib. (g) Gloss in T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 46. 2. & Bartenora in Misn. Beracot, c. 6. sect. 6. (h) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 46. 2.((i) Vid. Alstorphium delectis veterum, p. 109, 110.

Now there was {f} leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

(f) John's leaning was such that sitting down on his mat his head was toward the head of Jesus: for it is certain that in ancient times men used to not sit at the table, but to lie down on one of their sides.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 13:23-24. There was, however, reclining at table, one of the disciples, etc., so that ἦν belongs to ἐν τῷ κόλπῳ (Luke 16:23). The custom was to lie with the left arm supported on the cushion, and the feet stretched out behind, so that the right hand remained free for eating. The one who lay next reached, with the back of his head, to the sinus of the girdle (κόλπος, Luke 6:38; Plin. ep. iv. 22) of the first, and had the feet of the first at his back; in like manner, the third in the κόλπος of the second. See Lightfoot, p. 1095 f.

ὃν ἠγαπ. ὁ Ἰ.] κατʼ ἐξοχήν. Comp. John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7; John 21:20. It serves to explain the fact that he was Jesus’ nearest table-companion. And here, out of the recollection of that sacred, and by him never to be forgotten moment, there first breaks from his lips this nameless, and yet so expressive designation of himself. It is very arbitrary, however, to take this as a circumlocution for his name (Gotthold, Bengel, Hengstenberg, Godet); such a view should have been precluded already by the circumstance that ὃν ἠγ. ὁ κύριος is never employed (but always ὁ Ἰησοῦς).

According to the reading κ. λέγει αὐτῷ· εἰπὲ τίς ἐστιν (see critical notes), Peter supposes, with the hasty temperament which marked him, that John, as the confidant of Jesus, would know whom the latter meant.[130] The λέγει is to be imagined as spoken in a whisper, to which also the νεύει, depicting the occurrence in a lively manner, points. Should εἰπέ be taken as: “say to Jesus” (Ewald), either περὶ οὗ λέγει would be omitted, or instead of λέγει, λέγεις would be expressed.

[130] In this and other individual traits (John 18:15-16, John 19:26-27, John 20:2-3, John 21:3-4, John 18:10, John 13:8, John 21:15-16) the design has been discovered to make Peter appear in a less advantageous light than John, or to make him appear so generally,—which would be in keeping with the anti-Judaic tendency of the author. See especially Baur, p. 320 ff. Comp. Hilgenfeld, Evang. p. 335; Spaeth in Hilgenf. ZeitsChr. 1868, p. 182 f. But if the author had actually entertained this design, it would have been an easy thing for him—since he is said to have disposed of the historical material in so altogether free a manner—to have satisfied it in dogmatic points (which would be principally concerned), and yet more easy, at least in John 1:43, and John 6:68-69, to have remained silent. Comp. on vv. 10, 11.John 13:23. ἦνἸησοῦς, the disciple whom Jesus loved lay next Him, ἐν τῷ κόλπῳ. Two arrangements of guests at a table were in vogue. They either lay at right angles to the table and parallel to one another, each resting on his left elbow and having his right hand free (see Rich’s Dict., s. v. Trielinium, Lectus, Accubo); or they lay obliquely, the second reaching with his head to “the sinus of the girdle (κόλπος)” of the first, and with the feet of the first at his back; while the third occupied the same posture relatively to the second (see the engraving in Becker’s Charicles, 327, and Lightfoot, p. 1095, who says that this second arrangement prevailed in Palestine in the time of Christ). John was lying, then, next to Jesus, his position being inside that of Jesus. To him Peter νεύει, “beckons” (cf. νεύσω μέν τοι ἐγὼ κεφαλῇ, Od., xvi. 283), taking the initiative as usual, but not himself asking, perhaps because he had made so many mistakes that evening already, perhaps because a private matter might better be transacted in a whisper from John.23. there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom] Better, there was reclining on Jesus’ lap. It is important to mark the distinction between this and the words rendered ‘lying on Jesus’ breast’ in John 13:25. The Jews had adopted the Persian, Greek, and Roman custom of reclining at meals, and had long since exchanged the original practice of standing at the Passover first for sitting and then for reclining. They reclined on the left arm and ate with the right. This is the posture of the beloved disciple indicated here, which continued throughout the meal: in John 13:25 we have a momentary change of posture.

whom Jesus loved] This explains how S. John came to be nearest (see Introduction ii. iii. 3 b), and “out of the recollection of that sacred, never-to-be-forgotten moment, there breaks from him for the first time this nameless, yet so expressive designation of himself” (Meyer). Comp. John 19:26, John 21:7; John 21:20; not John 20:2. S. John was on our Lord’s right. Who was next to Him on the left? Some think Judas, who must have been very close for Christ to answer him without the others hearing.John 13:23. Ὃν ἠγάπα, whom He loved) [So also ch. John 19:26, John 21:7; John 21:20.—V. g.] John avoids with great care express mention of himself It is more an object to be desired, to be loved by Jesus, than to be distinguished by a proper name. There is, however, in this passage, a designation [intimation by description] of the proper name itself (as in Luke 2:11, notes; the name Jesus not being given, but its equivalent force being represented by the term Saviour; Revelation 1:4, “Him which is, and which was, and which is to come,” a periphrasis for the Tetragram of Jehovah, יהוה; add, if you please, the observations I have made in Paneg. Gregorii Thaum. p. 181); for John is designated as the one especially favoured by the grace of the Lord.[333] Accordingly this appellation is put, even where the accompanying context did not much require it: for instance, in ch. John 20:2, in connection with Peter, whose name is given. Moreover here, when Jesus’ passion was at hand, the first remarkable intimation of His love was given to John, through the revelation to him of the secret [John 13:20]; previously he seems not to have known that he was so dear to Him.

[333] This is the meaning of the Hebrew name John.—E. and T.Was leaning on Jesus' bosom (ἦν ἀνακείμενος ἐν τῷ κόλπῳ τοῦ Ἱησοῦ)

The Rev. renders, "there was at the table reclining," etc. At the table is added because the verb is the general term equivalent to sitting at table. "In Jesus' bosom," defines John's position relatively to the other guests. As the guests reclined upon the left arm, the feet being stretched out behind, the head of each would be near the breast of his companion on the left. Supposing that Jesus, Peter, and John were together, Jesus would occupy the central place, the place of honor, and John, being in front of Him, could readily lean back and speak to Him. Peter would be behind him.

Bosom

See on Luke 6:38. The Synoptists do not give this incident.

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