They answered and said to him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said to them, If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father.—They feel the meaning which has not yet been expressed (comp. John 8:44), and claim the descent from Abraham which He has already allowed (John 8:37).
If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.—Almost all the better MSS. read, “If ye are,” for “If ye were.” This must mean, “If ye are Abraham’s children—but the supposition is excluded, for ye would do the works of Abraham, and this is opposed to fact.” They are the physical seed of the patriarch, but they are not the ethical children, for the true child would bear the moral impress of the father which would be seen in his works. The thought of the previous verse is again present here.
The distinction between “seed” and “children” is another instance of an idea which meets us in this section, and was developed in the writings of St. Paul. (Comp. Romans 9:7 et seq.)Matthew 3:9. As Jesus did not expressly say who he meant John 8:38 when he said they did the works of their father, they obstinately persisted in pretending not to understand him, as if they had said, "We acknowledge no other father but Abraham, and to charge us with being the offspring of another is slander and calumny."
If ye were Abraham's children - The words "sons" and "children" are often used to denote those who imitate another or who have his spirit. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. Here it means, "if you were worthy to be called the children of Abraham, or if you had his spirit."Abraham is our Father; this was their continual boast, as may be learned from Matthew 3:9; glorying in their birth privilege, Abraham being the father of the whole Jewish nation; and in their church privilege, Abraham being the head of the Jewish church, and he to whom the promises were made. But Christ taketh them off this glorying, by reminding them, that the blood of Abraham running in their veins would be of little significance to them, so long as they did not walk in Abraham’s steps. Men are truly to be accounted the children of those, not from whom they are naturally descended, but whose steps they walk in, and whom they imitate in their conversations.
Abraham is our father; meaning their only one, nor had they any other:
Jesus saith unto them, if ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham; for who should children imitate but their parents? Abraham was a merciful, charitable, and hospitable man, as well as a man of strict justice and integrity; he feared God, believed in him, and was ready to receive every message and revelation which came from him; and they are his genuine children and offspring, who walk in the steps of his faith, charity, justice, and piety: and this is a rule which the Jews themselves give (m), whereby the seed of Abraham may be known:
"whoever is merciful to the creature (man), it is evident that he is of the seed of Abraham, our father; but whoever has not mercy on the creature, it is a clear case that he is not of the seed of Abraham our father.''
And if this is a sure rule of judging, these men could not be the seed of Abraham, who were a merciless, barbarous, and cruel generation. Another of their writers (n) has this observation, agreeably to the way of reasoning Christ uses;
"a disciple is to be judged of according to his manners; he that walks in the ways of the Lord, he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father, seeing he is used to his manners, and learns of his works; but the disciple who is corrupt in his manners, though he is of the children of Israel, lo, he is not of the "disciples of Abraham", seeing he is not accustomed to his manners.''
Whence it appears, that they say these things not to distinguish themselves from other people who claimed a descent from Abraham, as the Ishmaelites or Saracens did; as did also the Spartans or Lacedemonians; for so writes Areus their king, to Onias the high priest of the Jews,
"it is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham,'' (1 Maccab. 12:20,21)
But to distinguish those who were religious and virtuous among the Jews themselves, from those that were not; and so our Lord means not to deny, that the Jews, though they were evil men, were the seed of Abraham, according to the flesh; but that they were not so in a spiritual sense, they did not tread in his steps, or do the works he did. The Persic version reads in the singular number, "ye would do the work of Abraham"; and if any particular work is designed, it is most likely to be the work of faith, since it was that which Abraham was famous for; and the doing of which denominated men, even Gentiles, the children of Abraham, and which the Jews were wanting in, they disbelieving and rejecting the Messiah.They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 8:39-40. The Jews observe that He means another father than Abraham.
Jesus proves to them from their non-Abrahamic mode of action that they are no children of Abraham.
τέκνα and ἔργα are correlates; the former is used in an ethical sense, so that here (comp. John 8:37) a distinction is drawn, as in Romans 9:8, between the fleshly σπέρμα and the moral τέκνα.
In the reading ἐστε (see the critical notes) there is a change in the view of the relationship, as in Luke 17:5 f. See remarks on the passage. On the non-employment of ἄν, see Buttmann in Studien u. Kritiken for 1858, p. 485, and his Neutest. Gramm. p. 195 [E. T. p. 224].
νῦν δέ] but under such circumstances, nunc autem.
ἄνθρωπον in reference to παρὰ τ. θεοῦ. The λελάληκα following in the first person is regular; see Buttm. Neut. Gramm. p. 241 [E. T. p. 396].
τοῦτο] seek to take the life of a man who speaks the truth which he has heard of God—that Abraham did not do! The words are far from referring to Abraham’s conduct towards the angel of the Lord, Genesis 18 (Hengstenberg, after Lampe); nor is such a reference involved in John 8:56.
παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ] when I was in my pre-human state, ΠΑΡᾺ Τῷ ΠΑΤΡΊ ΜΟΥ, John 8:38. To this view ἌΝΘΡΩΠΟΝ is not opposed (Beyschlag), for Jesus must needs describe Himself in this general human manner, if there were to be congruity between the category of His self-description and the example of Abraham.
 The expression is a Litotes (“From the like of this the God-fearing spirit of the patriarch was far removed”), but all the more fitted to put them to shame.John 8:39. To this ambiguous but ominous utterance the Jews reply: Ὁ πατὴρ ἡμῶν Ἀβραάμ ἐστι, thereby meaning to clear themselves of the suspicion of having learned anything evil from their father. To which Jesus retorts: Εἰ τέκνα … ἐποιεῖτε ἄν. “If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the works of Abraham”; according to the law of John 8:38. If their origin could be wholly traced to Abraham, then their conduct would resemble his.—νῦν δὲ … ἐποίησεν. “But now—as the fact really is—you seek to kill me; and this has not only the guilt of an ordinary murder, but your hostility is roused against me because I have spoken to you the truth I heard from God. It is murder based upon hostility to God. This is very different from the conduct of Abraham.”—ἄνθρωπον seems to be used simply as we might use “person”—a person who: certainly, as Lampe says, it is used “sine praejudicio deitatis”. Bengel thinks it anticipates ἀνθρωπόκτονος in John 8:44, and Westcott says it “stands in contrast with of God … and at the same time suggests the idea of human sympathy, which He might claim from them (a man), as opposed to the murderous spirit of the power of evil”.39. Abraham is our father] They see that He means some other father than Abraham; possibly they suspect His full meaning, soon to be expressed (John 8:44).
If ye were Abraham’s children] The true reading seems to be, if ye are Abraham’s children, which has been altered to ‘if ye were,’ so as to run more smoothly with the second clause. But the reading of the second verb is also doubtful, and perhaps we should read, do (imper.) the works of Abraham.John 8:39. Ἀβραάμ, Abraham) They attempt to defend what they had said, John 8:33, “We be Abraham’s seed.” They feel that Jesus is speaking concerning another father of theirs.—ἐποιεῖτε) ἄν is understood, as at John 9:33 [εἰ μὴ ἦν οὗτος παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ, οὐκ ἠδύνατο ποιεῖν οὐδέν.]Verse 39. - They answered and said. If the second interpretation be accepted, then, irritated by the suggestion that "the Father" whose properties and claims he saw and revealed to them was different from "the father" whose nature and ways they "heard" and practised, and counting, moreover, on the concession of the fact that they were Abraham's "seed," they cried, Our father is Abraham; we are spiritually, ethically, related to him, and if we are doing that which we have heard from our father, then we can claim that all we are doing is along the lines of our Abrahamic dignity. But if ver. 38 be regarded as a final expostulation, according to the first of the interpretations of ποιεῖτε, then the Jews merely disclosed their determination to misapprehend the plain words of the Divine Lord, and when he was reminding them of the Father, of their Father, they at once stood back upon their hereditary pride, and declared that they were doing the works of their great ancestor. Jesus saith to them, If ye are Abraham's children, as you say - for the position of "children" is involved in the idea and claim of spiritual Fatherhood which ye boast - then, with such spiritual and ethical relations as these, ye would do the works of Abraham - works of faith; you would be open to the access of spiritual revelations with childlike simplicity; you would have accepted the heavenly voice; you would have known whence it came; you would have resembled him in his moral sensitiveness, in his gentle loving kindness, in his victorious faith; but -
See on John 1:12.
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