John 8:33
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
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(33) They answered himi.e., the Jews who had believed in Him (John 8:31). There is no indication that this answer was made by others standing near, nor would this supposition have been made but for the difficulty of applying some of the words which follow (John 8:40; John 8:44) to those who had ever professedly been believers; but the explanation is to be found in our Lord’s own warning words in John 8:31. He has tested their faith, and they fail in the first steps of discipleship.

We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man.—Their pride misinterprets His words, and expresses itself in a boast which passes the limits of historical truth. It had been promised to Abraham, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17). This seed they were. This promise they interpret of national prosperity. Abraham’s seed in bondage! the thought is impossible. As in other cases (comp. John 7:52), they forget part of the facts of history, for they have never learned their lessons. The Egyptian slavery and Babylonian captivity are passed over. That very generation witnessed around them the insignia of Rome, paid taxes to Rome, used the coin of Rome, but it was the policy of the empire to leave to the subject provinces a nominal freedom; and it may be that stress is laid on the words “been in bondage,” which occur nowhere else in the Gospels. Those then living may have said with truth that they had never been in actual bondage, and the current expectation of the Messiah at that time may have led them to interpret the promise to Abraham specially of themselves.



John 8:33

‘Never in bondage to any man’? Then what about Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Syria? Was there not a Roman garrison looking down from the castle into the very Temple courts where this boastful falsehood was uttered? It required some hardihood to say, ‘Never in bondage to any man,’ in the face of such a history, and such a present. But was it not just an instance of the strange power which we all have and exercise, of ignoring disagreeable facts, and by ingenious manipulation taking the wrinkles out of the photograph? The Jews were perhaps not misunderstanding Jesus Christ quite so much as these words may suggest. If He had been promising, as they chose to assume, political and external liberty, I fancy they would have risen to the bait a little more eagerly than they did to His words.

But be that as it may, this strange answer of theirs suggests that power of ignoring what we do not want to see, not only in the way in which I have suggested, but also in another. For if they had any inkling of what Jesus meant by slavery and freedom, they, by such words as these, put away from themselves the thought that they were, in any deep and inward sense, bondsmen, and that a message of liberty had any application to them. Ah, dear friends! there was a great deal of human nature in these men, who thus put up a screen between them and the penetrating words of our Lord. Were they not doing just what many of us-all of us to some extent-do: ignoring the facts of their own necessities, of their own spiritual condition, denying the plain lessons of experience? Like them, are not we too often refusing to look in the face the fact that we all, apart from Him, are really in bondage? Because we do not realise the slavery, are we not indifferent to the offer of freedom? ‘We were never in bondage’; consequently we add, ‘How sayest Thou, Ye shall be made free?’ So then, my text brings us to think of three things: our bondage, our ignorance of our bondage, our consequent indifference to Christ’s offer of liberty. Let me say a word or two about each of these.

First as to-

I. Our bondage.

Christ follows the vain boast in the text, with the calm, grave, profound explanation of what He meant: ‘Whoso committeth sin is the slave of sin.’ That is true in two ways. By the act of sinning a man shows that he is the slave of an alien power that has captured him; and in the act of sinning, he rivets the chains and increases the tyranny. He is a slave, or he would not obey sin. He is more a slave because he has again obeyed it. Now, do not let us run away with the idea that when Jesus speaks of sin and its bondage, He is thinking only, or mainly, of gross outrages and contradictions of the plain law of morality and decency, that He is thinking only of external acts which all men brand as being wrong, or of those which law qualifies as crimes. We have to go far deeper than that, and into a far more inward region of life than that, before we come to apprehend the inwardness and the depth of the Christian conception of what sin is. We have to bring our whole life close up against God, and then to judge its deeds thereby. Therefore, though I know I am speaking to a mass of respectable, law-abiding people, very few of you having any knowledge of the grosser and uglier forms of transgression, and I dare say none of you having any experience of what it is to sin against human law, though I do not charge you-God forbid!-with vices, and still less with crimes, I bring to each man’s conscience a far more searching word than either of these two, when I say, ‘We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ This declaration of the universality and reality of the bondage of sin is only the turning into plain words of a fact which is of universal experience, though it may be of a very much less universal consciousness. We may not be aware of the fact, because, as I have to show you, we do not direct our attention to it. But there it is; and the truth is that every man, however noble his aspirations sometimes, however pure and high his convictions, and however honest in the main may be his attempts to do what is right, when he deals honestly with himself, becomes more or less conscious of just that experience which a great expert in soul analysis and self-examination made: ‘I find a law’-an influence working upon my heart with the inevitableness and certainty of law-’that when I would do good, evil is present with me.’

We all know that, whether we regard it as we ought or no. We all say Amen to that, when it is forced upon our attention. There is something in us that thwarts aspiration towards good, and inclines to evil.

‘What will but felt the fleshly screen?’

And it is not only a screen. It not only prevents us from rising as high as we would, but it sinks us so low as to do deeds that something within us recoils from and brands as evil. Jesus teaches us that he who commits sin is the slave of sin; that is to say, that an alien power has captured and is coercing the wrongdoer. That teaching does not destroy responsibility, but it kindles hope. A foreign foe, who has invaded the land, may be driven out of the land, and all his prisoners set free, if a stronger than he comes against him. Christianity is called gloomy and stern, because it preaches the corruption of man’s heart. Is it not a gospel to draw a distinction between the evil that a man does, and the self that a man may be? Is it not better, more hopeful, more of a true evangel, to say to a man, ‘Sin dwelleth in you,’ than to say, ‘What is called sin is only the necessary action of human nature’? To believe that their present condition is not slavery makes men hopeless of ever gaining freedom, and the true gospel of the emancipation of humanity rests on the Christian doctrine of the bondage of sin.

Let me remind you that freedom consists not in the absence of external constraints, but in the animal in us being governed by the will, for when the flesh is free the man is a slave. And it means that the will should be governed by the conscience; and it means that the conscience should be governed by God. These are the stages. Men are built in three stories, so to speak. Down at the bottom, and to be kept there, are inclinations, passions, lust, desires, all which are but blind aimings after their appropriate satisfaction, without any question as to whether the satisfaction is right or wrong; and above that a dominant will which is meant to control, and above that a conscience. That is the public men are more and more abasing themselves to the degradation of ministering to the supposed wishes instead of cutting dead against the grain of the wishes, if necessary, in order to meet the true wants, of the people. Wherever some one strong man stands up to oppose the wild current of popular desires, he may make up his mind that the charge of being ‘a bad citizen, unpatriotic, a lover of the enemies of the people,’ will be flung at him. You Christian men and women have to face the same calumnies as your Master had. The rotten eggs flung at the objects of popular execration-if I might use a somewhat violent figure-turn to roses in their flight. The praises of good men and the scoffs of loose-living and godless ones are equally valuable certificates of character. The Church which does not earn the same sort of opprobrium which attended its Master has probably failed of its duty. It is good to be called ‘gloomy’ and ‘sour-visaged’ by those whose only notion of pleasure is effervescent immorality; and it is good to be called intolerant by the crowd that desires us to be tolerant of vice. So, my friends, I want you to understand that you, too, have to tread in the Master’s steps. The ‘imitation of Jesus’ does not consist merely in the sanctities and secrecies of communion, and the blessings of a meek and quiet heart, but includes standing where He stood, in avowed and active opposition to widespread evils, and, if need be, in the protesting opposition to popular error. And if you are called nicknames, never mind! Remember what the Master said, ‘They shall bring you before kings and magistrates’-the tribunal of the many-headed is a more formidable judgment-bench than that of any king-’and it shall turn to a testimony for you.’

II. Now, secondly, this name is the witness to what I venture to call, for want of a better term, the originality of Jesus Christ.

It bears witness to the dim feeling which onlookers had that in Him was a new phenomenon, not to be accounted for by birth and descent, by training and education, or by the whole of what people nowadays call environment. He did not come out of these circumstances. This is not a regulation pattern type of Jew. He is ‘a Samaritan.’ That is to say, He is unlike the people among whom He dwells; and betrays that other influences than those which shaped them have gone to the making of Him.

That is one of the most marked, outstanding, and important features in the teaching and in the character of Jesus Christ, that it is absolutely independent of, and incapable of being accounted for by, anything that He derived from the circumstances in which He lived. He was a Jew, and yet He was not a Jew. He was not a Samaritan, and yet He was a Samaritan. He was not a Greek, and yet He was one. He was not a Roman, nor an Englishman, nor a Hindoo, nor an Asiatic, nor an African; and yet He had all the characteristics of these races within Himself, and held them all in the ample sweep of His perfect Manhood.

If we turn to His teaching we find that, whilst no doubt to some extent it is influenced in its forms by the necessities of its adaptation to the first listeners, there is a certain element in it far beyond anything that came from Rabbis, or even from prophets and psalmists. Modern Christian scholarship has busied itself very much in these days with studying Jewish literature, so far as it is available, in order to ascertain how far it formed the teaching, or mind, of Jesus the Carpenter of Nazareth. There is a likeness, but the likeness only serves to make the unlikeness more conspicuous. And I, for my part, venture to assert that, whilst the form of our Lord’s teaching may largely be traced to the influences under which He was brought up, and whilst the substance of some parts of it may have been anticipated by earlier Rabbis of His nation, the crowd that listened to Him on the mountain top had laid their fingers upon the more important fact when they ‘wondered at His teaching,’ and found the characteristic difference between it, and that of the men to whom they had listened, in the note of authority with which He spoke. Jesus never argues, He asserts; He claims; and in lieu of all arguments He gives you His own ‘Verily! verily! I say unto you.’

Thus not only in its form, but in its substance, in its lofty morality, in its spiritual religion, in its revelation of the Father and the Fatherhood for all men, Christ’s teaching as teaching stands absolutely alone.

If we turn to His character, the one thing that strikes us is that about it there is nothing of the limitations of time or race which stamp all other men. He is not good after the fashion of His age, or of any other age; He is simply embodied and perfect Goodness. This Tree has shot up high above the fences that enclose the grove in which it grows, and its leaf lasts for ever.

Run over, in your mind, other great names of heroes, saints, thinkers, poets; they all bear the stamp of their age and circumstances, and the type of goodness or the manner of thought which belonged to these. Jesus Christ alone stands before men absolutely free from any of the limitations which are essential in the case of every human excellence and teacher. And so He comes to us with a strange freshness, with a strange closeness; and nineteen centuries have not made Him fit less accurately to our needs than He did to those of the generation amidst which He condescended to live. Thickening mists of oblivion wrap all other great names as they recede into the past; and about the loftiest of them we have to say, ‘This man, having served his generation, fell on sleep, and saw corruption.’ But Jesus Christ lasts, because there is nothing local or temporary about His teaching or His character.

Now this peculiar originality, as I venture to call it, of Christ’s character is a very strong argument for the truthful accuracy of the picture drawn of Him in these four Gospels. Where did these four men get their Christ? Was it from imagination? Was it from myth? Was it from the accidental confluence of a multitude of traditions? There is an old story about a painter who, in despair of producing a certain effect of storm upon the sea, at last flung his wet sponge at the canvas, and to his astonishment found that it had done the very thing he wanted. But wet sponges cannot draw likenesses; and to allege that these four men drew such a picture, in such compass, without anybody sitting for it, seems to me about the most desperate hypothesis that ever was invented. If there were no Christ, or if the Christ that was, was not like what the Gospels paint Him as being, then the authors of these little booklets are consummate geniuses, and their works stand at the very top of the imaginative literature of the world. It is more difficult to account for the Gospels, if they are not histories, than it is to account for the Christ whom they tell us of if they are.

And then, further, there is only one key to the mystery of this originality. Christ is perfect man, high above limitations, and owing nothing to environment, because He is the Son of God. I would as soon believe that grass roots, which for years, in some meadow, had brought forth, season after season, nothing but humble green blades, shot up suddenly into a palm tree, as I would believe that simple natural descent brought all at once into the middle of the dull succession of commonplace and sinful men this radiant and unique Figure. Account for Christ, all you unbelievers! The question of to-day, round which all the battle is being fought, is the person of Jesus Christ. If He be what the Gospels tell us that He is, there is nothing left for the unbeliever worth a struggle. ‘What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?’ The Jews said, ‘Thou art a Samaritan!’ We say, ‘Thou art the Christ; the Son of the living God!’

III. Lastly, the name bears witness to Christ’s universality.

I presume that, in addition to what seemed His hostility to what was taken to be true Judaism, another set of facts underlay the name-viz. those which indicated His kindly relations with the people whom it was every good Jew’s pleasant duty to hate with all his heart. The story of the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel, the parable of the good Samaritan, the incident of the grateful leper, who was a Samaritan, the refusal to allow the eager Apostles to bring down fire from heaven to consume inhospitable churls in a Samaritan village, were but outstanding specimens of what must have been a characteristic of His whole career not unknown to His enemies. So they argued, ‘If you love our enemies you must hate us; and you must be one of them,’ thereby distorting, but yet presenting, what is the great glory of Christ’s Gospel, and of Christ Himself, that He belongs to the world; and that His salvation, the sweep of His love, and the power of His Cross, are meant for all mankind.

That universality largely arises from the absence of the limitations of which I have already spoken sufficiently. Because He belongs to no one period as regards His character, He is available for all periods as regards His efficacy. Because His teaching is not dyed in the hues of any school or of any age or of any cast of thought, it suits for all mankind. This water comes clear from the eternal rock, and has no taint of any soil through which it has flowed. Therefore the thirsty lips of a world may be glued to it, and drink and be satisfied. His one sacrifice avails for the whole world.

But let me remind you that universality means also individuality, and that Jesus Christ is the Christ for all men because He is each man’s Christ. The tree of life stands in the middle of the garden that all may have equal access to it. Is this universal Christ yours; thine? That is the question. Make Him so by putting out your hand and claiming your share in Him, by casting your soul upon Him, by trusting your all to Him, by listening to His word, by obeying His commands, by drinking in the fulness of His blessing. You can do so if you will. If you do not, the universal Christ is nothing to you. Make Him thine, and be sure that the sweep of His love and the efficacy of His sacrifice embrace and include thee. He is the universal Christ; therefore He is the only Christ; ‘neither is there salvation in any other.’ Through Him all men, each man, thou, must be saved. Without Him all men, every man, thou, can not be saved. Take Him for yours, and you will find that each who possesses Him, possesses Him altogether, and none hinders the other in his full enjoyment of ‘the bread of God which came down from heaven.’

John 8:33-36. They answered him — Namely, the other Jews that were present, not those that believed, as appears by the whole tenor of the conversation; We be Abraham’s seed — A person always free, and a peculiar favourite of Heaven; and were never in bondage to any man — A bold, notorious untruth. At that very time they were in bondage to the Romans, and their ancestors had been slaves, first in Egypt, and afterward in Assyria and Babylon. How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free — Upon becoming thy disciples? Jesus answered, Whosoever committeth sin — Greek, ποιων αμαρτιαν, worketh, or acteth known sin; is the servant — Δουλος, the slave; of sin — Namely, as far as he knowingly commits it. And the servant — Or slave; abideth not in the house for ever — That is, as a person who is only a slave in a family, does not abide always in the house of his master, but is liable to be dismissed at his lord’s pleasure, or transferred to another; much less can you, who are the servants, not of God, but of sin, promise yourselves, that ye shall still, on account of your descent from Abraham, continue in the possession of those privileges, which, by undeserved mercy, you hitherto enjoy; but the Son abideth ever — The eldest son and heir of the family continually abides in his Father’s house: and his power and influence there are always increasing. The casting out of Ishmael, though a son of Abraham by the bond-woman, beautifully illustrates this exposition of the passage, and the connection. Dr. Macknight paraphrases the verse thus: “As a slave cannot be so assured of his master’s favour as to depend upon it, that he shall never be turned out of the family, since it is always his master’s right, and in his power, to sell or keep him, as he shall think fit, so my Father can, when he pleases, turn you, who are habitual sinners, out of his family, and deprive you of the outward economy of religion, in which you glory, because through sin you have made yourselves bondmen to his justice. Whereas, if you will become God’s children, you shall be sure of remaining in his family for ever. And the only way to arrive at the blessed relation, is to submit to the authority of his Son, in which case the Son will adopt you as co-heirs with himself.” If, therefore, I, who am the only-begotten Song of Solomon of God, and the heir of all things, and who have power of receiving whom I will into the family, shall make you free — You, claiming in virtue of my right and authority, will be free indeed — Free from the slavery of sin, the tyranny of Satan, and the bondage of corruption; free to do good, free in respect of your right to the inheritance, and free in your possession of present privileges, remaining in the house of God without danger of being ever thrust out. Archbishop Tillotson is of opinion, that this alludes to a custom in some of the cities of Greece, and elsewhere, whereby the son and heir had the liberty to adopt brethren, and give them the privileges of the family. “But I rather imagine,” says Dr. Macknight, “that the allusion is to something more generally known. For, as in all countries the sons succeed their fathers in the possession of their estates, such slaves as gained the good-will of the son by their obliging behaviour during his minority, were sure to be well treated by him when he came to his estate; perhaps might in time obtain their freedom, and even some small share of the inheritance itself.”

8:30-36 Such power attended our Lord's words, that many were convinced, and professed to believe in him. He encouraged them to attend his teaching, rely on his promises, and obey his commands, notwithstanding all temptations to evil. Thus doing, they would be his disciples truly; and by the teaching of his word and Spirit, they would learn where their hope and strength lay. Christ spoke of spiritual liberty; but carnal hearts feel no other grievances than those that molest the body, and distress their worldly affairs. Talk to them of their liberty and property, tell them of waste committed upon their lands, or damage done to their houses, and they understand you very well; but speak of the bondage of sin, captivity to Satan, and liberty by Christ; tell of wrong done to their precious souls, and the hazard of their eternal welfare, then you bring strange things to their ears. Jesus plainly reminded them, that the man who practised any sin, was, in fact, a slave to that sin, which was the case with most of them. Christ in the gospel offers us freedom, he has power to do this, and those whom Christ makes free are really so. But often we see persons disputing about liberty of every kind, while they are slaves to some sinful lust.They answered him - Not those who believed on him, but some who stood by and heard him.

We be Abraham's seed - We are the children or descendants of Abraham. Abraham was not a slave, and they pretended that they were his real descendants, inheriting his freedom as well as his spirit. They meant that they were the direct descendants of Abraham by Isaac, his heir. Ishmael, also Abraham's son, was the son of a bondwoman Galatians 4:21-23, but they were descended in a direct line from the acknowledged heir of Abraham.

Were never in bondage to any, man - This is a most remarkable declaration, and one evidently false. Their fathers had been slaves in Egypt; their nation had been enslaved in Babylon; it had repeatedly been subject to the Assyrians; it was enslaved by Herod the Great; and was, at the very time they spoke, groaning under the grievous and insupportable bondage of the Romans. But we see here:

1. That Jesus was right when he said John 8:44, "Ye are of your father the devil; he is a liar, and the father of it."

2. People will say anything, however false or ridiculous, to avoid and oppose the truth.

3. People groaning under the most oppressive bondage are often unwilling to acknowledge it in any manner, and are indignant at being charged with it. This is the case with all sinners.

4. Sin, and the bondage to sin, produces passion, irritation, and a troubled soul; and a person under the influence of passion regards little what he says, and is often a liar.

5. There is need of the gospel. That only can make people free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and since every person is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.

33. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man, &c.—Who said this? Not surely the very class just spoken of as won over by His divine words, and exhorted to continue in them. Most interpreters seem to think so; but it is hard to ascribe such a petulant speech to the newly gained disciples, even in the lowest sense, much less persons so gained as they were. It came, probably, from persons mixed up with them in the same part of the crowd, but of a very different spirit. The pride of the Jewish nation, even now after centuries of humiliation, is the most striking feature of their character. "Talk of freedom to us? Pray when or to whom were we ever in bondage?" This bluster sounds almost ludicrous from such a nation. Had they forgotten their long and bitter bondage in Egypt? their dreary captivity in Babylon? their present bondage to the Roman yoke, and their restless eagerness to throw it off? But probably they saw that our Lord pointed to something else—freedom, perhaps, from the leaders of sects or parties—and were not willing to allow their subjection even to these. Our Lord, therefore, though He knew what slaves they were in this sense, drives the ploughshare somewhat deeper than this, to a bondage they little dreamt of. How carnally doth a carnal heart understand spiritual mysteries! Thus Nicodemus, hearing of being born again, grossly dreamed of entering into his mother’s womb, and being born again. The woman of Samaria, hearing of living water, dreamed of water that should so satisfy her thirst, as that she should never come again to the well to draw. The Jews here hearing of being made free, dream of a freedom from human bondage and slavery. To what our Saviour had said, that if they knew the truth, the truth should make them free; they reply,

We are Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any. Admitting that they were Abraham’s seed, that is, Jews, were not the Jews in bondage, first to Pharaoh, king of Egypt; then to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon? They were now in bondage to the Romans. They must either understand it of their own persons, though they were tributaries they were no slaves; or else concerning their right, they had a right to liberty though they were under an extrinsic servitude to their conquerors. This made them angry, that Christ should speak of their being

made free; for those that are free are not in a capacity to be made free. The Jews were a people very tenacious of their liberty, and gloried much in the right they had to it.

They answered him,.... Not the believing Jews, whom he peculiarly addressed, but the unbelieving Jews, who were present, and heard these things:

we be Abraham's seed; this the Jews always valued themselves upon, and reckoned themselves, on this account, upon a level with the nobles and the princes of the earth.

"Says R. Akiba (c), even the poor of Israel are to be considered as if they were , "noblemen", that are fallen from their substance, because they are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;''

and were never in bondage to any man; which is a very great falsehood, for it was declared to Abraham himself, that his seed should serve in a land not theirs, and be afflicted four hundred years, as they were; and as the preface to the law which the Jews gloried in shows, which says, that the Lord their God brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; and they were frequently overcome by their neighbours, the Moabites, Ammonites, and Philistines, and reduced to servitude under them, until delivered by one judge, or another: and not to take notice of their seventy years' captivity in Babylon, they were at this very time under the Roman yoke, and paid tribute to Caesar; and yet such was the pride of their hearts, they would not be thought to be in bondage; and therefore, with an haughty air, add,

how sayest thou, ye shall be made free? when they thought themselves, and would fain have been thought by others, to have been free already, and so to stand in no need of being made free.

(c) Misn. Bava Kama, c. 8. sect. 6. & T. Bab. Bava Kama, fol. 86. 1. & 91. 1.

{h} They answered him, We be {i} Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?

(h) Some of the multitude, not they that believed: for this is not the speech of men that agree with him, but of men that are against him.

(i) Born and begotten of Abraham.

John 8:33. Ἀπεκρίθησαν] No others can be the subject, but the πεπιστενκότες αὐτῷ Ἰουδαῖοι, John 8:31. So correctly, Melancthon (“offensi resiliunt”), Maldonatus, Bengel, Olshausen, Kling, B. Crusius, Hilgenfeld, Lange, Ewald, and several others, after the example of Chrysostom, who aptly observes: κατέπεσεν εὐθέως αὐτῶν ἡ διάνοια· τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἀπὸ τοῦ πρὸς τὸ κοσμικὰ ἐπτοῆσθαι. John himself has precluded us from supposing any other to be intended, by expressly referring (John 8:31) to those Jews among the πολλοί (John 8:30) who had believed, and emphatically marking them as the persons who conduct the following conversation. To them the last word of Jesus proved at once a stone of stumbling. Hence we must not suppose that Jews are referred to who had remained unbelieving and hostile (as do Augustine, Calvin, Lampe, Kuinoel, De Wette, Tholuck, Lücke, Maier, Hengstenberg), and different from those who were mentioned in John 8:31 (ἀπεκρ. they, indef.); nor do the words ζητεῖτέ με ἀποκτ. in John 8:37 necessitate this supposition, inasmuch as those πεπιστευκότες might have at once veered round and returned again to the ranks of the opposition, owing to the offence given to their national pride by the words in John 8:32. Accordingly, there is no warrant for saying with Luthardt that the reply came primarily from opponents, but that some of those who believed also chimed in from want of understanding. The text speaks exclusively of πεπιστευκότες.

σπέρμα Ἀβρ. ἐσμ.] to which, as being destined to become a blessing to, and to have dominion over, the world (comp. Genesis 22:17 f., John 17:16), a state of bondage is something completely foreign. As every Hebrew servant was a son of Abraham, this major premiss of their argument shows that they had in view, not their individual or civil (Grotius, Lücke, Godet), but their national liberty. At the same time, in their passion they leave out of consideration the Egyptian and Babylonian history of their nation, and look solely at the present generation, which the Romans had, in accordance with their prudent policy, left in possession of the semblance of political independence (Joseph. Bell. vi. 6. 2). This, according to circumstances, as in the present case, they were able to class at all events in the category of non-bondage. Hence there is no need even for the distinction between dominion de facto and de jure, the latter of which the Jews deny (Lange, Tholuck). Selden had already distinguished between servitus extrinseca and intrinseca (the latter of which would be denied by the Jews). On the passionate pride taken by the Jews in their freedom, and the ruinous consequences it brought upon them, sea Lightfoot, p. 1045. According to Luthardt, they protest against spiritual dependence, not indeed as regards the disposition (B. Crusius), but as regards their religions position, in virtue of which all other nations are dependent on them, the privileged people of God, for their attainment of redemption. But the coarser misunderstanding of national freedom is more in keeping with other misapprehensions of the more spiritual meaning of Jesus found in John (comp. Nicodemus, the Woman of Samaria, the discourse about the Bread of Life); and what was likely to be more readily suggested to the proud minds of these sons of Abraham than the thought of the κληρονομία τοῦ κόσμου (comp. Romans 4:13), which in their imaginations excluded every sort of national bondage? Because they were Abraham’s seed, they felt themselves as αἷμα φέροντες ἀδέσποτον (Nonnus).

John 8:33. But this announcement, instead of seeming to the Jews the culmination of all bliss, provokes even in the πεπιστευκότες (John 8:31) a blind, carping criticism: Σπέρμαγενήσεσθε; we are the seed of Abraham, called by God to rule all peoples, and to none have we ever been slaves. “The episodes of Egyptian, Babylonian, Syrian, and Roman conquests were treated as mere transitory accidents, not touching the real life of the people, who had never accepted the dominion of their conquerors of coalesced with them,” Westcott. Sayings such as “All Israel are the children of kings” were current among the people. How then could emancipation be spoken of as yet to be given them?

33. They answered him] Or, unto Him, according to the best MSS. ‘They’ must mean ‘the Jews who had believed Him’ (John 8:31): it is quite arbitrary to suppose any one else. The severe words which follow (John 8:44) are addressed to them, for turning back, after their momentary belief, as well as to those who had never believed at all.

Abraham’s seed] Comp. ‘kings of peoples shall be of her’ (Sarah), and ‘thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies’ (Genesis 17:16; Genesis 22:17). On texts like these they build the proud belief that Jews have never yet been in bondage to any man. But passion once more blinds them to historical facts (see on John 7:52). The bondage in Egypt, the oppressions in the times of the Judges, the captivity in Babylon, and the Roman yoke, are all forgotten. Some, who think such forgetfulness incredible, interpret ‘we have never been lawfully in bondage.’ ‘The Truth’ would not free them from enforced slavery. It might free them from voluntary slavery, by teaching them that it was unlawful for them to be slaves. ‘But we know that already.’ This, however, is somewhat subtle, and the more literal interpretation is not incredible. The power which the human mind possesses of keeping inconvenient facts out of sight is very considerable. In either case we have another instance of gross inability to perceive the spiritual meaning of Christ’s words. Comp. John 3:4, John 4:15, John 6:34.

John 8:33. Αβραάμ, of Abraham) They appeal to Him afresh at John 8:52, “Abraham is dead and the prophets; and Thou sayest,” etc.—οὐδενὶ δεδουλέυκαμεν, we were in bondage to no man) They speak of their own age and generation; for their forefathers had been in bondage to the kings of Egypt, and of Babylon.—ἐλευθεροί, free) They lay hold of this one expression: they make no objection as to the truth making free. So also at John 8:22, they mutilated the preceding words of Jesus [taking no notice of the rest of His words, “Ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins;” they fastened only on, “Whither I go, ye cannot come.” It was a mixed crowd. Some of them were of a mind inclined towards Jesus; others were of an inimical feeling. Some of them, moved by His preceding words concerning faith, had begun to aspire after faith, but at this turning point drew back.

Verses 33-46. -

(5) The offer of spiritual freedom to the seed of Abraham provoked bitter hostility and misapprehension. Verse 33. - They answered him, We be Abraham's seed - taking the highest position of national grandeur and racial pride. Vast were the pretensions which the Jews often assumed from this lofty ancestry. "They were all children of kings;" "Solomon's feast was not too good for them;" "He was heir of the world;" "They were the inheritors in him of all the nations." They had rung this cry into the ears of John the Baptist, when this last prophet had called upon them for repentance. Their following boast is difficult to understand: We have never yet been enslaved to anyone; and great difference of opinion has prevailed over the meaning cf. these words. It is incredible that John should represent: the Jews as ignorant of their national political history. The first word of their Decalogue included a reference to the "house of bondage" from which Jehovah had delivered the seed of Abraham. Moreover, their political humiliation at the hand of the border kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, and Syria was the perpetual theme of prophet and psalmist. The terrible reverses that they had subsequently experienced at the hand of Antiochus and of the Roman power, and the galling submission to Rome which at the moment was rousing their fiercest passion, would render any such boast simply preposterous. Godet's suggestion, that they were making a boast of their personal civil freedom, that Abraham's seed were not sold into positive slavery, however mortifying their political servitude had proved, is far fetched and too far away from the facts of the case; neither does it harmonize with the character of this angry retort. Probably a reference is made to the ideal freedom from slavery and from dependence which they had, in their hour of deepest depression from all and every form of tyranny whatsoever, religiously maintained. They did, as their wonderful psalter shows, cherish a conviction that David's throne and Abraham's inheritance ideally stood through all the ages, lustrous and magnificent to the eye of faith. When the holy and beautiful house was burned with fire, when their exile was complete, they still saw all visible things, even "heaven and earth," departing or rolled up like a scroll, while their Creator and redeeming King was seated still on his eternal throne. From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, they clearly held that the mere possession of the Law, whether they kept it or not, was their much-prized pledge of independence from all other authority or servitude. If so, they may have been on this occasion boasting of their ideal freedom in virtue of their he reditary privileges, and forgetful of the lessons even of the agelong story of Ishmael and Esau, and the deportation and abolition of Israel as a nation. One can scarcely refrain a momentary thrill of admiration at the hardihood of their eager faith, and the overwhelming strength of confidence they manifested in their destiny as a people. All the spiritual salvation and ideal freedom which they desired they possessed as children of Abraham. How sayest thou - "Upon what possible principle dost thou promise to us that which we already are proud of possessing, viz. glorious liberty?" Is it from the emancipating power of truth? We have the truth; we are the depositaries of infallible truth. We already possess as our birthright what thou art offering to us as the full result of discipleship. How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? John 8:33Were never in bondage (δεδουλεύκαμεν πώποτε)

Rev., better, have never yet been in bondage; thus giving the force of the perfect tense, never up to this time, and of the πώ, yet. In the light of the promises given to Abraham, Genesis 17:16; Genesis 22:17, Genesis 22:18, the Jews claimed not only freedom, but dominion over the nations. In their reply to Jesus they ignore alike the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Syrian bondage, through which the nation had successively passed, as well as their present subjection to Rome, treating these merely as bondage which, though a fact, was not bondage by right, or bondage to which they had ever willingly submitted, and, therefore, not bondage in any real sense. Beside the fact that their words were the utterance of strong passion, it is to be remembered that the Romans, from motives of policy, had left them the semblance of political independence. As in so many other cases, they overlook the higher significance of Jesus' words, and base their reply on a technicality. These are the very Jews who believed Him (John 8:31). Stier remarks: "These poor believers soon come to the end of their faith." The hint of the possible inconstancy of their faith, conveyed in the Lord's words if ye abide in my word, is thus justified.

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