John 3:31
He that comes from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: he that comes from heaven is above all.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(31) He that cometh from above.—Comp. Note on John 3:13, and John 8:23. It is expressed in another form in the last clause of the verse.

Is above alli.e., above all persons, and, as the context limits the sense, specially above all teachers.

He that is of the earth is earthly.—This is the right sense, but the force of the words is lessened by not preserving the three-fold “of the earth” which is in the Greek. “He who is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh.” The first marks out the Baptist’s origin, as opposed to Him that cometh from above; the second asserts that the nature is, in accord with this origin, human and limited in faculty, as opposed to that of Him who is above all; the third declares that his teaching is from the standpoint of human nature and limited faculty, embracing indeed divine subjects and receiving divine revelation (John 1:33), but having this treasure in earthen vessels, imperfectly realising it, and imperfectly teaching it (John 3:33). Then the contrast carries him away from this thought of self, in all its weakness, to dwell on the fulness of the teaching of the perfect Teacher, and he emphatically repeats, with the change of words suggested by “of the earth,” what he has before said of it, “He that cometh from heaven is above all.”

This repetition is the answer to the jealousy of his disciples, who wished to place him in a position of rivalry with Jesus. It is the answer to all self-assertion on the part of human teachers.

3:22-36 John was fully satisfied with the place and work assigned him; but Jesus came on a more important work. He also knew that Jesus would increase in honour and influence, for of his government and peace there would be no end, while he himself would be less followed. John knew that Jesus came from heaven as the Son of God, while he was a sinful, mortal man, who could only speak about the more plain subjects of religion. The words of Jesus were the words of God; he had the Spirit, not by measure, as the prophets, but in all fulness. Everlasting life could only be had by faith in Him, and might be thus obtained; whereas all those, who believe not in the Son of God, cannot partake of salvation, but the wrath of God for ever rests upon them.He that cometh from above - The Messiah, represented as coming down from heaven. See John 3:13; John 6:33; John 8:23. It has been doubted whether the remainder of this chapter contains the words of "John the Baptist" or of "the evangelist." The former is the more probable opinion, but it is difficult to decide it, and it is of very little consequence.

Is above all - In nature, rank, and authority. "Is superior to all prophets" Hebrews 1:1-2; "to all angels" Hebrews 1:4-14, "and is over all the universe as its sovereign Lord," Romans 9:5; Ephesians 1:21-22; Colossians 1:15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:25.

He that is of the earth - He who has no higher nature than the human nature. The prophets, apostles, and John were men like others, born in the same way, and sinking, like others, to the dust. See Acts 14:15. Jesus had a nature superior to man, and "ought," therefore, to be exalted above all.

Is earthly - Is human. Is inferior to him who comes from heaven. Partakes of his origin, which is inferior and corrupt.

Speaketh of the earth - His teaching is inferior to that of him who comes from heaven. It is comparatively obscure and imperfect, not full and clear, like the teaching of him who is from above. This was the case with all the prophets; and even with John the Baptist, as compared with the teaching of Christ.

31-34. He that, &c.—Here is the reason why He must increase while all human teachers must decrease. The Master "cometh from above"—descending from His proper element, the region of those "heavenly things" which He came to reveal, and so, although mingling with men and things on the earth, is not "of the earth," either in Person or Word. The servants, on the contrary, springing of earth, are of the earth, and their testimony, even though divine in authority, partakes necessarily of their own earthiness. (So strongly did the Baptist feel this contrast that the last clause just repeats the first). It is impossible for a sharper line of distinction to be drawn between Christ and all human teachers, even when divinely commissioned and speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost. And who does not perceive it? The words of prophets and apostles are undeniable and most precious truth; but in the words of Christ we hear a voice as from the excellent Glory, the Eternal Word making Himself heard in our own flesh. He that cometh from heaven, (for it appeareth by the latter part of the verse, that is the sense of from above), as Christ did, not only in respect of his Divine nature, but being (as to his whole person) clothed with majesty and authority from above, infinitely excelleth any one who is a mere creature: he that is of an earthly original,

speaketh of the earth. Such as is a man’s original, such is his nature, such is his discourse. Though I be sent of God, as John 16:27, and my baptism be from heaven, (so our Saviour himself testifieth, Matthew 21:25), yet my original is of the earth, and my relations and expressions are suitable to a mere man: but he that is from heaven excels all, as in the dignity of his person, so in the sublimity of his knowledge. He that cometh from above,.... Meaning Christ; not that he brought his human nature with him from heaven, or that that is of a celestial nature; but he came from heaven in his divine person, not by change of place, he being God immense and infinite, but by assumption of human nature; which he took upon him, in order to do in it his Father's will, and the work of our salvation.

Is above all; above John, before whom he was preferred, for he was before him; above the prophets of the Old Testament, and even above Moses, the chief of them; yea, above all the angels in heaven, being God over all, blessed for ever: wherefore all glory is to be given him; no honour is to be envied him, or detracted from him.

He that is of the earth; as John was, and all mankind are, being descended from Adam, who was, made of the dust of the earth; and who dwell in houses of clay, and in earthly tabernacles, which are at last resolved into their original dust:

is earthly; of an earthly nature, frame, temper, and disposition; see John 3:6. Men naturally mind earthly things; and it is owing to the Spirit and grace of God, if they mind and savour spiritual things, or have their affections set on things above, or their conversation in heaven; and even such, at times, find that their souls cleave unto the dust, and are hankering after the things of the earth:

and speaketh of the earth; of earthly things, as in John 3:12; and indeed of heavenly things, in an earthly manner, in a low way, and by similes and comparisons taken from the things of the earth; not being able to speak of celestial things, as in their own nature, and in that sublime way the subject requires: but

he that cometh from heaven is above all; men and angels, in the dignity of his person; and all prophets and teachers, in the excellency of his doctrine, and manner of delivering it: and therefore it is not to be wondered at, that he should be followed as he is; but rather it should seem marvellous, that he has no more followers than he has; in the Apocrypha:

"For like as the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea to his floods: even so they that dwell upon the earth may understand nothing but that which is upon the earth: and he that dwelleth above the heavens may only understand the things that are above the height of the heavens.'' (2 Esdras 4:21)

He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is {x} earthly, and {y} speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

(x) Is nothing else but man, a piece of work made of the slime of the earth.

(y) Is characterized by nothing but corruption, ignorance, dulness, etc.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 3:31-32, down to John 3:35, is not the comment of the evangelist (so Wetstein, Bengel, Kuinoel, Paulus, Olshausen, Tholuck, Klee, Maier, Bäumlein). John 3:32, comp. with John 3:29-30, seems to sanction the notion that it is; but as no intimation to this effect is given in the text, and as the thread of discourse proceeds uninterruptedly, and nothing in the subject-matter is opposed to it, we may regard it as the continued discourse of the Baptist, though elaborated in its whole style and colouring by John,—not, however, to such an extent that the evangelist’s record passes almost entirely into a comment of his own (Lücke, De Wette, comp. also Ewald). We perceive how the Baptist, as if with the mind of Jesus Himself, unveils before his disciples, in the narrower circle of whom he speaks, with the growing inspiration of the last prophet, the full majesty of Jesus; and therewith, as if with his swanlike song, completes his testimony before he vanishes from the history.[174] Even the subsequent momentary perplexity (Matthew 11) is psychologically not irreconcilable with this (see on John 1:29), simply because John was ἘΚ Τῆς Γῆς. But the Baptist, notwithstanding his witness concerning Jesus, has not gone over to Him, because the calling of forerunner had been once divinely committed to him, and he felt that he must continue to fulfil it so long as the Messianic kingdom was not yet established. These remarks tell, at the same time, against the use which is made of this passage to prove that the entire scene is unhistorical (Strauss, Weisse, Reuss, Scholten, following Bretschneider).

ὁ ἄνωθεν ἐρχόμ.] He who cometh from, above, i.e. Christ (comp. John 3:13; John 8:23), whose coming, i.e. whose coming forth from the divine glory in human form as Messiah, is here regarded as still in the course of its actual self-manifestation (cf. John 8:14), and consequently as a present phenomenon, and as not ended until it has been consummated in the establishment of the kingdom.

πάντων] Masc. John means the category as a whole to which Jesus belonged—all interpreters of God, as is clear from what follows, John 3:31-32.

ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῆς γῆς] i.e. the Baptist, who, as an ordinary man, springs from earth, not heaven.

ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστι] as predicate denotes the nature conditioned by such an origin. He is of no other kind or nature than that of one who springs from earth; though withal his divine mission (John 1:6), in common with all prophets, and specially his divinely conferred baptismal vocation (Matthew 21:25-26), remain intact.

καὶ ἐκ τ. γῆς λαλεῖ] and he speaketh of the earth. His speech has not heaven as its point of departure, like that of the Messiah, who declares what He has seen in heaven (see John 3:32); but it proceeds from the earth, so that he utters what has come to his knowledge upon earth, and therefore under the limitation of earthly conditions,—a limitation, however, which as little excluded the reception of a revelation (John 1:33; Luke 3:2), as it did in the case of the saints of the O. T., who likewise were of earthly origin, nature, and speech, and afterwards e.g. in that of the Apostle Paul.[175] The contents of the discourse need not therefore relate merely to τὰ ἐπίγεια (John 3:12), as Weisse thinks, but may also have reference to ἐπουράνια, the knowledge and promulgation of which, however, do not get beyond the ἐκ μέρους (1 Corinthians 13:9 ff.). The expression ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλ. must not be confounded with ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλεῖν, 1 John 4:5.

ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρ. ἐρχ., κ.τ.λ.] A solemn repetition of the first clause, linking on what follows, viz. the antithesis still to be brought out, of the ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλεῖ.

ὁ ἑώρακε, καὶ ἤκουσε] i.e. during His pre-existence with God, John 1:15; John 1:18, John 3:11. From it He possesses immediate knowledge of divine truth,[176] whose witness (μαρτυρεῖ) He accordingly is. Note the interchange of tenses (Kühner, II. p. 75).

τοῦτο] this and nothing else.

Κ. Τ. ΜΑΡΤ. ΑὐΤΟῦ ΟὐΔΕῚς ΛΑΜΒ.] tragically related to what preceded, and introduced all the more strikingly by the bare ΚΑΊ. Comp. John 1:10, John 3:11. The expression ΟὐΔΕῚς ΛΑΜΒ. is the hyperbole of deep sorrow on account of the small number of those—small in comparison of the vast multitude of unbelievers—who receive His witness, and whose fellowship accordingly constitutes the bride of the marriage. John himself limits the οὐδείς by the following Ὁ ΛΑΒῺΝ, Κ.Τ.Λ. Comp. John 1:10-12. The concourse of hearers who came to Jesus (John 3:26), and the Baptist’s joy on account of His progress (John 3:29-30), could not dim his deep insight into the world’s unbelief. Accordingly, his joy (John 3:29) and grief (John 3:32) both forming a noble contrast to the jealousy of his disciples (John 3:26).

[174] It is self-evident, that all that is said in ver. 31 f. was intended to incite the disciples of John to believe in Jesus, and to scare them from unbelief.

[175] The Fathers rightly perceived the relative character of this self-assertion. Euthymius Zigabenus: πρὸς σύγκρισιν τῶν ὑπερφυῶν λόγων τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Hofmarnn Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 14, misapprehends this, supposing that this ver. 31 has no reference to the Baptist.

[176] Decisive against Beyschlag, p. 96, who understands the words only of a prophetic sight and hearing through the Spirit, is the antithesis with the Baptist (who was yet himself a prophet), running through the whole context, as also the ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν, which ranks Jesus above the prophets. Comp. also Hebrews 12:25.31. that cometh from above] i.e. Christ. Comp. John 3:13, John 8:23, He ‘is above all,’ John included. No one, however exalted a Prophet, can rival Him.

is earthly] There is loss instead of gain in obliterating the emphatic repetition of the words ‘of the earth’ as they appear in the Greek. He that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh. This was John’s case: he spoke of ‘earthly things’ (see on John 3:12), Divine Truth as manifested in the world, and as revealed to him. He could not, like Christ, speak from immediate knowledge of ‘heavenly things.’ Note that ‘speaking of the earth’ is a very different thing from ‘speaking of the world’ (1 John 4:5). The one is to speak of God’s work on earth; the other of what opposes, or at least is other than, God’s work.

he that cometh from heaven] A repetition with further development, very characteristic of S. John’s style.

31–36. A question is raised with regard to this section similar to that raised about John 3:16-21. Some regard what follows not as a continuation of the Baptist’s speech, but as the Evangelist’s comment upon it. But, as in the former case, seeing that the Evangelist gives us no intimation that he is taking the place of the speaker, and that there is nothing in what follows to compel us to suppose that there is such a transition, it is best to regard the Baptist as still speaking. It is, however, quite possible that this latter part of the discourse is more strongly coloured with the Evangelist’s own style and phraseology, while the substance still remains the Baptist’s. Indeed a change of style may be noticed. The sentences become less abrupt and more connected; the stream of thought is continuous.

“The Baptist, with the growing inspiration of the prophet, unveils before his narrowing circle of disciples the full majesty of Jesus; and then, as with a swan-like song, completes his testimony before vanishing from history.” Meyer, in loco.

There is no contradiction between this passage and Matthew 11:2-6, whatever construction we put on the latter (see notes there). John was ‘of the earth,’ and therefore there is nothing improbable in his here impressing on his disciples the peril of not believing on the Messiah, and yet in prison feeling impatience, or despondency, or even doubt about the position and career of Jesus.John 3:31. Ὁ ἄνωθεν, He who is from above) These words, and on to the end of the chapter, the Evangelist seems to have appended, as in congruity with the feeling of the Baptist: comp. notes, ch. John 1:7. Moreover this proposition, He who comes from above is above all, [already] evident by means of those conjugate terms, ἄνωθεν, ἐπάνω, from above, above, is presently made [still more] clear by means of the opposite, he who is of the earth.—ἐπάνω πάντων, above all) in dignity, excellence, and speech. Therefore [He is] also above John. John answers to that expression, all [men come to Him], John 3:26.—ὁ ὢκ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστί, who is of the earth is earthly) There is a Ploce [a word used first literally, then to express an attribute of it]: the former being understood according to natural birth, the latter according to disposition and state; which latter is followed by a corresponding style of speech. The antithetic proposition forthwith corresponds, consisting also of three members. It is not said, He that cometh from the earth: because He was also on the earth; but it is said, He who cometh from above, who cometh from heaven, to wit, to the earth: for previously He was in heaven.—ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστί, is of the earth) The antithesis to this is, is above all.—ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλεῖ, speaketh of the earth) for which reason the inhabitants of the earth the more readily hear him. The spiritual excellence of a teacher is not to be measured by the pleasure of the audience.Verses 31-36. - A large number of commentators of all schools hold that the remaining verses of this chapter give us the reflections of the evangelist rather than a continuous discourse of the Baptist. Strauss, Weisse, Reuss, and Bretschneider, who make the supposed proof of this Johannine appendix to the Baptist's words an evidence of inhistoricity throughout the Gospel, and the school of Baur, which finds in the entire representation simply an artistic endeavour on the part of a second century falsarius to show that John's disciples were absorbed into the Catholic Church, are joined here by Bengel, De Wette, Westcott, Moulton, and Edersheim, who see no difficulty in the introduction of these sentiments, which correspond with those of the Epistles of John, as an appendix of the evangelist, and not a reminiscence of the teaching of the Baptist. The reasons in favour of this view are that the ideas and phraseology are said to be far in advance of John the Baptist's theological position, and certainly reflect the later teaching of the Master. We will consider some of these seriatim, but cannot accept the argument as final. Hengstenberg, Meyer, Godet, Alford, Lange, even Renan, do not yield to the positions thus assumed, nor will they admit any word of the Baptist here uttered to be inconsistent with the known doctrine of the forerunner; whereas they urge that the simple communication to John of the substance of our Lord's discourse to Nicodemus is adequate explanation of the similarities between the two. It may be admitted that some subjective colouring from the apostle's own mind may have been transfused by him into his report of both discourses, which we cannot doubt (whatever may be said about the Galilaean ministry) were conducted in the Aramaic tongue. Weiss makes the pertinent suggestion that we cannot think that John the son of Zebedee beard the final testimony of the Baptist. It may easily have been communicated to the circle around Jesus by Andrew and some other disciple of the two masters. This may account for the appearance throughout the discourse of more Johannine language than usual. If we cannot, or may not, make these simple hypotheses, then we too should be disposed to think that the subjective element had so predominated as almost to hide the historic quality of the whole of this swanlike song of the Old Testament dispensation. But the hypotheses seem to be highly probable and extremely natural, and the coherence of the passage with what has gone before to be obvious and complete. The discourse contrasts the entire prophetic ministry with that of the Son of God (vers. 31, 32), which then sets forth the menus of appropriating the Divine gift of the Son of God (vers. 33-35), and predicts the awful issues of rejecting the supreme claims of the Divine Lord (ver. 36). The teaching is in accord with Old Testament doctrine, illumined, as we learn that John's was, by special visions, and by communications to him of the significance of the Lord's uttered words. It is quite irrelevant, if not absurd, to say that such a testimony of the forerunner makes the cotinuance or spread of John's teaching and baptism impossible; for

(1) the words were obviously addressed to a small group only of the many thousands who heard John preach, and

(2) it does not follow that all those who heard these memorable words should have deserted their first master, even in deference to his own advice. The words that follow, whether a simple record of John's discourse or one deeply coloured by the subjectivity of the evangelist, are as follows: - Verse 31. - He that is coming from above is above all. Now, it is obvious that Jesus had spoken of the Son of man as having come down from heaven (ver. 13), and of his own power to speak of heavenly things (i.e. of causes and measures of Divine operations); and he contrasts these with the "earthly things" of which he too had spoken - "earthly" they were because they dealt with experiences felt and witnessed and realized on earth. Now, John is represented, on the occasion of the baptism of our Lord, as being convinced that Jesus was "the Son of God," and that his existence was prior to his own, and that his rank in the universe was one utterly transcending his own. These statements have been already put into the lips of John by the fourth evangelist, and are scarcely exceeded, if at all, by the utterance before us. We find a bold contrast between the Logos himself and the witness to the manifested Logos. He who cometh from above, being before John, and being, therefore, in his essential dignity, superior to him, is above all, and therefore above him. He that is, in his origin and the entire self-realization of his life, from the earth, and not incarnate Logos, is of the earth in quality, and speaketh of the earth (observe, not κόσμος, but γῆ is here used). The experiences to which he refers are enacted on the earth, and he has no power to go back and heavenwards for the full explanation of them. Higher than heaven are the thoughts and revelations of the Son of God. He can unveil the heart of the eternal Father. Christ can link his own work with the ministry of the mightiest of the Heaven-sent messengers; but John starts from the consciousness, the perils, the self-deceptions and contrition of man. He that cometh out of heaven is above all. This great utterance is repeated, and it involves little more than what John had implied to the Sanhedrin (John 1:30-34). He that cometh (ὁ ἐρχόμενος)

The present participle. The coming regarded as still in process of manifestation. Compare John 6:33.

From above (ἄνωθεν)

See on John 3:2.

Above (ἐπάνω)

Supreme.

Of the earth (ἐκ τῆς γῆς)

Literally, out of the earth; of earthly origin.

Is earthly

The same phrase, out of the earth, is repeated, signifying of earthly nature. On the characteristic phrase εἶναι ἐκ, to be of, see on John 1:46.

Speaketh of the earth

Out of the earth. His words have an earthly source. On λαλεΐ́, speaketh, see on Matthew 28:18.

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