John 7:49
But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
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(49) But this people who knoweth not the law . . .—The words express “Those people there, among whom you have been, and with whose opinion you have been coinciding, instead of holding the authoritative opinion which we have declared, and which we alone can declare. We are the interpreters of the Law, and have the key of knowledge. That ignorant rabble uninstructed in the Law are cursed.”

Are cursed.—The writings of the Rabbis are full of scorn and contempt for the untutored multitude, whom they called ‘am hāāretz, “people of the earth,” as opposed to those instructed in the Law, whom they called ‘ām kōdesh, “holy people.” These words are an expression of this contempt. Some have supposed that they are meant to express the ban of excommunication, which they use as a weapon of compulsion in John 9:22, but this is quite out of the question as applied here to the multitude.

7:40-53 The malice of Christ's enemies is always against reason, and sometimes the staying of it cannot be accounted for. Never any man spake with that wisdom, and power, and grace, that convincing clearness, and that sweetness, wherewith Christ spake. Alas, that many, who are for a time restrained, and who speak highly of the word of Jesus, speedily lose their convictions, and go on in their sins! People are foolishly swayed by outward motives in matters of eternal moment, are willing even to be damned for fashion's sake. As the wisdom of God often chooses things which men despise, so the folly of men commonly despises those whom God has chosen. The Lord brings forward his weak and timid disciples, and sometimes uses them to defeat the designs of his enemies.This people - The word here translated "people" is the one commonly rendered "the multitude." It is a word expressive of contempt, or, as we would say, the rabble. It denotes the scorn which they felt that the people should presume to judge for themselves in a case pertaining to their own salvation.

Who knoweth not the law - Who have not been instructed in the schools of the Pharisees, and been taught to interpret the Old Testament as they had. They supposed that any who believed on the humble and despised Jesus must be, of course, ignorant of the true doctrines of the Old Testament, as they held that a very different Messiah from him was foretold. Many instances are preserved in the writings of the Jews of the great contempt in which the Pharisees held the common people. It may here be remarked that Christianity is the only system of religion ever presented to man that in a proper manner regards the poor, the ignorant, and the needy. Philosophers and Pharisees, in all ages, have looked on them with contempt.

Are cursed - Are execrable; are of no account; are worthy only of contempt and perdition. Some suppose that there is reference here to their being worthy to be cut off from the people for believing on him, or worthy to be put out of the synagogue (see John 9:22); but it seems to be an expression only of contempt; a declaration that they were a rabble, ignorant, unworthy of notice, and going to ruin. Observe, however:

1. That of this despised people were chosen most of those who became Christians.

2. That if the people were ignorant, it was the fault of the Pharisees and rulers. It was their business to see that they were taught.

3. There is no way so common of attempting to oppose Christianity as by ridiculing its friends as poor, and ignorant, and weak, and credulous. As well might food, and raiment, and friendship, and patriotism be held in contempt because the poor need the one or possess the other.

49. But this people—literally, "multitude," meaning the ignorant rabble. (Pity these important distinctions, so marked in the original of this Gospel, should not be also in our version.)

knoweth not the law—that is, by school learning, which only subverted it by human traditions.

are cursed—a cursed set (a kind of swearing at them, out of mingled rage and scorn).

Out of the great pride of their hearts they vilify the people, as not learned in the law, and so were cursed, contemptible, and not to be regarded, as to their judgment and sentiments.

But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. With great contempt they style the followers of Jesus "this people"; the common people, the dregs of them, the refuse of the earth; and whom they call, , "the people of the earth", in distinction from the wise men, and their disciples: and when they speak the best of them, their account is this (p);

"one of the people of the earth is one that has moral excellencies, but not intellectual ones; that is, there is in him common civility, but the law is not in him;''

as here, "who knoweth not the law": they always reckon them very ignorant. Says one (q) of their writers,

"they that are without knowledge are the multitude.''

And elsewhere it is said (r),

"the old men of the people of the earth, when they grow old their knowledge is disturbed (or is lost), as it is said, Job 12:20, but so it is not with the old men of the law, when they grow old, their knowledge rests upon them, as it is said, Job 12:12, "with the ancient is wisdom".''

Upon which one of the commentators (s) has this gloss;

"these are the disciples of the wise men; for the people of the earth, what wisdom is there in them?''

By the "law" here, is meant either the written law of Moses, which the Pharisees boasted of, and of their knowledge of it, as having the key of knowledge to open it; as understanding the true sense, and capable of giving a right interpretation of it, to the people; though they themselves were wretchedly ignorant of it, as appears by their false glosses on it, refuted by our Lord in Matthew 5:17; or else the oral law is here intended, which they pretended was given by word of mouth to Moses, and handed down to posterity from one to another; and this lay among the doctors: they tell us (t), that Moses received it at Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the great synagogue (Ezra's), the last of which was Simeon the just: Antigonus, a man of Socho, received it from him; and Jose ben Joezer, and Jose ben Jochanan, received it from him; and Joshua ben Perachia, (whom they sometimes say was the master of Jesus of Nazareth,) and Nittai the Arbelite, received it from them; by whom it was delivered to Judah ben Tabia, and Simeon ben Shetach; and from them it was received by Shemaiah, and Abtalion, who delivered it to Hillell, and Shammai; who, or whose scholars, were, at this time, when these words were spoken, the present possessors of it, and taught it their disciples in their schools: and thus it was handed down from one to another, until the times of R. Judah, who collected the whole of the traditions of the elders together, and published it under the title of the Misna; and then, as Maimonides says (u), it was revealed to all Israel; whereas before it was but in a few hands, who instructed others in it; but as for the common people, they knew little of it, especially of the nice distinctions and decisions of it; and these people were always had in great contempt by the wise men: they would not receive a testimony from them, nor give one for them, nor deliver a secret to them, nor proclaim anything of theirs that was lost, nor walk with them in the way, nor make a guardian of any of them (w). The people of the earth were not reckoned holy or religious (x), but generally profane and wicked; that they were abandoned to sin, rejected of God, and to be cast off by men; yea, they will not allow that they shall rise again at the last day, unless it be for the sake of some wise men they are allied unto, or have done some service for. They say (y).

"whoever ministers in the light of the law, the light of the law will quicken him; but whoever does not minister in the light of the law, the light of the law will not quicken him--though it is possible for such an one to cleave to the Shekinah--for everyone that marries his daughter to a scholar of a wise man, or makes merchandise for the disciples of the wise men, and they receive any advantage from his goods, this brings on him what is written, as if he cleaved to the Shekinah.''

Thus we see in what contempt the common people were with the learned doctors, and what an opinion these men had of the followers of Christ; though, in truth, they were not so ignorant of the law as themselves: they knew the spirituality of it, that it reached to the thoughts of the heart, as well as to external actions; they knew what it required, and their own impotence to answer its demands; they knew the wrath, terror, and curses of it, and that Christ only was the fulfilling end of it, for righteousness to those that believed in him: and they were far from being cursed persons: they were blessed with all spiritual blessings: with the pardon of their sins, and the justification of their persons; with grace and peace in their souls, and would be introduced as the blessed of the Father into his kingdom and glory.

(p) Maimon. in Pirke Abot, c. 2. sect. 5. & c. 5. sect. 7. (q) Abarbinel in proph. post. fol. 473. (r) Misn. Kenim, c. 3. sect. 6. Vid. T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 152. 1.((s) Bartenora in Misn. ib. (t) Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 1-12. (u) Praefat. ad Yad Hazaka. (w) Buxtorf. Lex. Talmud. col. 1626. (x) Ib. Florileg. Heb. p. 276. (y) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 111. 2.

But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
49. this people] Very contemptuous; this multitude of yours (comp. 35, 36), whose ignorant fancies you prefer to our deliberate decisions.

who knoweth not the law] The form of negative used implies censure; knoweth not when it ought to know. They ought to know that a sabbath-breaker cannot be the Messiah.

are cursed] A mere outburst of theological fury. A formal excommunication of the whole multitude by the Sanhedrin (comp. John 9:22) would be impossible. How could such a sentence be executed on the right individuals? It was reserved for a Christian hierarchy to invent the interdict. Excommunication en masse was unknown to the Jews.

John 7:49. Οὗτος, this) This word is employed to express contempt.—τὸν νόμον, the law) Often the law denotes among the Hebrews what we express by the Bible; 1 Corinthians 9:8, “Say I these things as a man? Saith not the law the same also?”—ἐπικατάρατοι, accursed) The blustering on the part of these wretched men was great: whence arises the Metonymy of antecedent and consequent [substituting the former, when they mean the latter: and vice versâ]: i.e. they are accursed; [therefore it results that] they believe in Him, [and so] they remain accursed.

Verse 49. - But this multitude, which knoweth not the Law, are accursed. This is a most contemptuous expression - am-ha-'arez, equivalent to "this scum of the earth," "the unlettered rabble." The Pharisees were accustomed to show sovereign contempt for those who had no admission to their own culture and methods of knowledge. Edersheim and Wunsche quote 'Pes.,' 49, b; 'Baba,' B. 8, b; and 'Chetub.,' 3:6 in proof of the utter inhumanity of their judgments. This language did not endorse a formal excommunication of the multitude - a supposition in its own nature impossible and absurd - but it expressed the brusque and harsh contempt with which the Pharisees then present wished to correct the weak compliance of their own servants. Lange presses the utterance too far. We cannot see in it more than the bitter outburst of their pent-up spite. John 7:49This people (ὁ ὄχλος οὗτος)

Better, multitude, as contrasted with the orthodox Jews. See on John 1:19.


As specimens of Rabbinical utterances concerning this class may be cited the expressions vermin, people of the earth, and the saying, "the ignorant is impious; only the learned shall have part in the resurrection." Even more abusive and abominable is this: "He shall not take a daughter of the people of the earth, because they are an abomination, and their wives are an abomination, and concerning their daughters it is said, Deuteronomy 27:21" - !

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