John 21:23
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
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(23) Then (better, therefore) went this saying abroad among the brethren.—For the word “brethren” comp. Notes on Matthew 23:8 and Acts 9:30. As a general name for the disciples, it is not elsewhere found in the Gospels, but we have the key to it in our Lord’s own words to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17).

Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If. . . .—The mistake of the brethren arose from their not attending to the force of the conditional particle. They took as a statement what had been said as a supposition, and understood it in the then current belief that the Second Advent would come in their own generation. (Comp. 1Corinthians 15:51-52; 1Thessalonians 4:17.)

The mistake and its correction are both interesting in their bearing upon the date of the Gospel, and they furnish that kind of evidence which is perfectly natural as a growth, but which cannot possibly be made.

21:20-24 Sufferings, pains, and death, will appear formidable even to the experienced Christian; but in the hope to glorify God, to leave a sinful world, and to be present with his Lord, he becomes ready to obey the Redeemer's call, and to follow Him through death to glory. It is the will of Christ that his disciples should mind their own duty, and not be curious about future events, either as to themselves or others. Many things we are apt to be anxious about, which are nothing to us. Other people's affairs are nothing to us, to intermeddle in; we must quietly work, and mind our own business. Many curious questions are put about the counsels of God, and the state of the unseen world, as to which we may say, What is this to us? And if we attend to the duty of following Christ, we shall find neither heart nor time to meddle with that which does not belong to us. How little are any unwritten traditions to be relied upon! Let the Scripture be its own interpreter, and explain itself; as it is, in a great measure, its own evidence, and proves itself, for it is light. See the easy setting right such mistakes by the word of Christ. Scripture language is the safest channel for Scripture truth; the words which the Holy Ghost teaches, 1Co 2:13. Those who cannot agree in the same terms of art, and the application of them, may yet agree in the same Scripture terms, and to love one another.Then went this saying ... - This mistake arose very naturally:

1. From the words of Jesus, which might be easily misunderstood to mean that he should not die; and,

2. It was probably confirmed when it was seen that John survived all the other apostles, had escaped all the dangers of persecution, and was leading a peaceful life at Ephesus. This mistake John deemed it proper to correct before he died, and has thus left on record what Jesus said and what he meant.

23. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die—into which they the more easily fell from the prevalent expectation that Christ's second coming was then near at hand.

yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die—The Evangelist is jealous for His Master's honor, which his death might be thought to compromise if such a misunderstanding should not be corrected.

But the disciples, knowing the particular kindness our Saviour had for John, upon these words, not duly attended to, concluded John should abide upon the earth to the second coming of Christ.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren,.... It not being rightly understood by some one or more of the disciples present: it was divulged with a wrong sense annexed to it among other persons; who, though not of the eleven, yet were followers of Christ, children of God, that belonged to the same family, and were, in a spiritual relation, brethren to each other, and to the apostles:

that that disciple should not die; but should remain till the second coming of Christ, and be found among them that shall be then alive, and be changed. And such a notion not only was among the ancients; but Beza, in his notes on this text, tells us of a strolling wicked fellow, that gave out that he was the Apostle John; and was encouraged by some, particularly Postellus, a Sorbonic doctor, but was afterwards burnt at Tholouse.

Yet Jesus said not unto him he shall not die, but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? These are the words of John himself, the disciple spoken of, who gives a true and just account of Christ's words, freeing them from the false sense that was put upon them; which shows his ingenuous disposition, his integrity and love of truth; being unwilling that such an error should obtain among the disciples, and pass in the world for truth.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
John 21:23. Hence there went forth (comp. Matthew 9:26), in consequence of this answer of Jesus, the following legend[291] among the brethren (Christians): that disciple dies not (but remains in life until the Parousia, whereupon he experiences, not death, but change, 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

The legend, which correctly took ἔρχομαι in the solemn sense of Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22), would with reason have inferred its οὐκ ἀποθνήσκει from the word of Christ, had the latter run categorically: ΘΈΛΩ ΑὐΤῸΝ ΜΈΝΕΙΝ ἝΩς ἜΡΧ. From the manner, however, in which Jesus expressed Himself, a categorical judgment was derived from the conditional sentence, and consequently the case supposed by Jesus, the occurrence of which is to be left to the judgment of experience (ἐάν, not ΕἸ), was proclaimed as an actually existing relation. This John exposes as an overstepping of the words of Jesus, and hence his observation intimates, that it was straightway asserted, but without reason, on the ground of that saying: this disciple dies not,—that rather the possible occurrence of the case supposed by ἘᾺΝ ΘΈΛΩ must be left over to the experience of the future, without asserting by way of anticipation either the ΟὐΚ ἈΠΟΘΝΉΣΚΕΙ or the opposite. Considering the expected nearness of the Parousia, it is conceivable enough how John himself does not in a general way declare the saying, which was in circulation about him, to be incorrect, and does not refute it (it might in truth be verified through the impending Parousia), but only refers to its conditional character (“leaves it therefore to hang in doubt,” Luther), and places it merely in its historical light, with verbally exact repetition of its source. According to others (see especially Heumann, B. Crusius, Hengstenberg), John would indicate that there is yet another coming of Jesus than that which is to take place at the close of history. But this other the expositors have here first invented, see on John 21:22.

After the death of the apostle, the legend was further expanded, to the effect that he slumbered in the grave, and by his breath moved the earth. See Introd. § 1, and generally Ittig, sel. capita hist. eccl. sec. I. p. 441 ff.

[291] Which therefore did not originate from the Apocalypse (Baur, Hilgenfeld).

John 21:23. Ἐξῆλθενπρός σε; “There went forth this saying among the brethren, that that disciple should not die”. John himself, however, has no such belief, because he remembers with exactness the hypothetical form of the Lord’s words, Ἐὰν αὐτὸν θέλω μένειν … Another instance of the precision with which John recalled some, at least, of the words of Jesus.

In John 21:24, the writer of the gospel is identified with the disciple whom Jesus loved, and a certificate of his truth is added. The whole verse has a strong resemblance to John 19:35, and it seems impossible to say with certainty whether they were or were not written by the evangelist himself. The οἴδαμεν might seem to imply that several united in this certificate. But who in John’s old age were there, who could so certify the truth of the gospel? They could have no personal, direct knowledge of the facts; and could merely affirm the habitual truthfulness of John. Cf. too the οἶμαι of John 21:25 where a return to the singular is made; but this may be because in the former clause the writer speaks in the name of several others, while in the latter he speaks in his own name. Who these others were, disciples, Ephesian presbyters, friends, Apostles, it is vain to conjecture. τούτων and ταῦτα refer to the whole gospel, including chap. 21. Besides the things narrated ἔστι δὲἈμήν. The verse re-affirms the statement of John 20:30, adding a hyperbolical estimate of the space required to recount all that Jesus did, if each detail were separately told, ἐὰν γράφηται καθʼ ἕν.

23. Then went this saying] This saying therefore went.

abroad among] Literally, forth unto: comp. Matthew 9:26; Mark 1:28; Romans 10:8.

the brethren] This phrase, common in the Acts (John 9:30, John 11:1; John 11:29, John 15:1; John 15:3; John 15:22-23, &c.), is not used elsewhere in the Gospels for believers generally; but we see the way prepared for it in the Lord’s words to the disciples (Matthew 23:8), to S. Peter (Luke 22:32), and to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17).

should not die] Literally, doth not die; so also ‘shall not die’ in the next clause. The mistake points to a time when Christians generally expected that the Second Advent would take place in their own time; and the correction of the mistake points to a time when the Apostle was still living. If this chapter was added by another hand after the Apostle’s death it would have been natural to mention his death, as the simplest and most complete answer to the misunderstanding. The cautious character of the answer given, merely pointing out the hypothetical form of Christ’s language, without pretending to explain it, shews that the question had not yet been solved in fact. Thus we are once more forced back within the limits of the first century for the date of this Gospel.

John 21:23. Ὁ λόγος, the saying) See how much more trustworthy is the written letter than a saying. The saying, even among the brethren, was without any fraudulent intention, interpolated: the hand (writing) of the apostles, applies the remedy, and the benefit of it is preserved to us even to the present day. The patrons of traditions are themselves at war both with the ancient and new books of Scripture.—ἀδελφοὺς, brethren) viz. those Seven mentioned in John 21:2, and the remaining brethren of that age, or rather those who were living when John wrote. Otherwise there would have been no need to refute the error at so late a period [as when the apostle wrote this Gospel]: the error seems to be confirmed by the fact of the apostle’s continuing to live so long. They learned the appellation, Brethren, from ch. John 20:17.—ἐκεῖνος, that disciple) This pronoun has the effect of amplifying (giving distinction or eminence to one).—οὐκ ἀποθνήσκει, doth not die) They substitute this for different words, omitting ἐὰν, ἓως, if—until, and extending (straining) too much the antithesis between the following (‘Follow’) and the remaining (‘tarry’). However they recognised the fact, that at the actual coming of the Lord, all mortality shall be abolished. This affords a specimen of the weakness of understanding which remained in the disciples before the coming of the Paraclete; nay more, a specimen of the universal want of dexterity, on the part of men, in understanding the words of Christ, especially those in the Apocalypse, of which there is given in this place a contraction.—καὶ οὐκ, and not) John carefully obviates the explanation, as foreign to the purpose and erroneous, lest an utterance should be attributed to Christ, which was not really His. For when John was dead, one thing might seem to have been foretold to him by the Lord, and a different thing to have come to pass. In the Divine words, all the points are to be precisely held fast; and we must especially guard against making any addition to them: Revelation 22:18. [For by a very slight change of the words, and such a change as may seem to be of no consequence, the genuine sense may be wrested.—V. g.] Such care did John and the other Evangelists employ in reporting the words of Christ, They have not reported all things in just so many and identically the same words; but yet altogether according to the mind (sentiment) of the Lord, so that they may be and ought to be regarded exactly the same as if they had employed just so many and identically the same words.

Verse 23. - We need not be surprised that the sublime meaning of these words, "Wait while I am ever coming to him," should have been misunderstood. Therefore this word went forth to the brethren. The designation, "brethren," only occurs in John 20:17 and Luke 22:32. The more familiar names of "disciples" and "children," "servants" and "apostles," are used in the Gospels. The Acts and Epistles introduce a new group of titles, e.g. "believers" as well as "brethren," "saints" as well as "disciples," "Christians," "slaves and soldiers of Christ," "sons of God," "priests and kings," and "little children;" but now, acting on the Divine hint of the Lord's own words, John speaks of his fellow-disciples who are called into the sacred fellowship as "brethren." The word went forth that that disciple dieth not (ἐκεῖνος, equivalent to "the disciple whom Jesus loved"). This was not an unnatural supposition, as his age advanced, and he was regarded as the "great light of Asia," the depositary of the latest traditions, as the link between the days of our Lord's ministry and two succeeding generations of believers, the seer of mighty visions, the enemy of all unrighteousness, and the apostle of love to the lost. In virtue of this very tradition, three hundred years later it was said that the holy apostle was still sleeping in his tomb at Ephesus, and that the dust moved lightly on his heaving breast (Augustine, 'Tr. on John,' 124:2). Here was the beginning of a genuine myth, which, having no real root in fact, failed to establish itself. "John the Baptist is risen from the dead," exclaimed Herod Antipas, "and therefore mighty powers energize in him." But there was no life and no truth in the story, and even among the disciples of St. John Baptist it did not take any place as a supposed fact. It is interesting to see that here a myth was started without positively bad faith, and based itself upon a recorded saying of the Lord; but it perished! The aged apostle strikes the folly dead with one stroke of his pen. The language is remarkable, as helping to prove that John wrote this chapter as well as the rest of the Gospel. Yet Jesus said not unto him, that he dieth not; but, If I will that he abide while I am ever coming, what is that to thee? Meyer, who always insists on the apostolic idea of the nearness of the παρουσία, thinks that John does not decide here whether the rumor was true or false, and simply says it must, when he wrote, have been left still uncertain and unsettled (so Luther). The tradition is not authoritatively condemned; but it is shown to be a mere inference, one inference out of many, from words partially understood. The Epistles of John show how deeply John pondered the idea, and how much he crowded into the words, "abide in him," until the coming, and before and during and after the various comings of the Lord to him. Mr. Browning, in 'A Death in the Desert,' makes St. John say in his last hours -

"If I live yet, it is for good, more love
Through me to men: be naught but ashes here
That keep awhile my semblance, who was John -
Still when they scatter, there is left on earth."

No one alive who knew (consider this!) -
Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first, the Word of life.
How will it be when none more saith, 'I saw '?
Such ever was love's way: to rise, it stoops.
Since I, whom Christ's mouth taught, was bidden teach,
I went, for many years, about the world,
Saying, 'It was so; so I heard and saw,'?
Speaking as the ease asked: and men believed.
* * *

"To me that story - ay, that Life and Death
Of which I wrote 'it was' - to me it is; -
Is, here and now: I apprehend naught else.
Yea, and the Resurrection and Uprise
To the right hand of the throne -...
I saw the Power; I see the Love, once weak,
Resume the Power; and in this word 'I see'
Lo, there is recognized the Spirit of both
That moving o'er the spirit of man, unblinds
His eye and bids him look....
Then stand before that fact, that Life and Death,
Stay there at gaze, till it dispart, dispread,
As though a star should open out, all sides,
Grow the world on you, as it is my world."
In ver. 23 we find the significant close of the Fourth Gospel, and there is much to make it highly probable that the two remaining verses were added by the Ephesian elders, as their certificate of its authorship, and their identification of the beloved disciple with the author of the Gospel. It differs from the similar passage, John 19:35, where the writer himself gives his own autoptic testimony to the great miracle of the spear-thrust; and where that testimony is declared by himself to be ἀληθινή, "veritable," i.e. answering to the very idea of testimony. Here the person and verb are plural. John 21:23Should not die (οὐκ ἀποθνήσκει)

Literally, dieth not.

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