Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. In the beginning--of all time and created existence, for this
Word gave it being
(Joh 1:3, 10);
therefore, "before the world was"
(Joh 17:5, 24);
or, from all eternity.
was the Word--He who is to God what man's word is to himself,
the manifestation or expression of himself to those without him.
On the origin of this most lofty and now for ever consecrated
title of Christ, this is not the place to speak. It occurs only in the
writings of this seraphic apostle.
was with God--having a conscious personal existence
distinct from God (as one is from the person he is "with"), but
inseparable from Him and associated with Him
where "THE FATHER" is used in
the same sense as "GOD" here.
was God--in substance and essence GOD;
or was possessed of essential
or proper divinity. Thus, each of these brief but pregnant statements is
the complement of the other, correcting any misapprehensions which the
others might occasion. Was the Word eternal? It was not the
eternity of "the Father," but of a conscious personal existence
distinct from Him and associated with Him. Was the Word thus "with
God?" It was not the distinctness and the fellowship of
another being, as if there were more Gods than one, but of One
who was Himself God--in such sense that the absolute unity of
the God head, the great principle of all religion, is only transferred
from the region of shadowy abstraction to the region of essential life
and love. But why all this definition? Not to give us any
abstract information about certain mysterious distinctions in the
Godhead, but solely to let the reader know who it was that in the
fulness of time "was made flesh." After each verse, then, the reader
must say, "It was He who is thus, and thus, and thus described, who was
2. The same, &c.--See what property of the Word the stress is laid
upon--His eternal distinctness, in unity, from God--the Father
3. All things, &c.--all things absolutely (as is evident from
Col 1:16, 17;
but put beyond question by what follows).
without Him was not any thing--not one thing.
made--brought into being.
that was made--This is a denial of the eternity and
non-creation of matter, which was held by the whole thinking world
outside of Judaism and Christianity: or rather, its proper
creation was never so much as dreamt of save by the children of
4. In Him was life--essentially and originally, as the
previous verses show to be the meaning. Thus He is the Living Word,
or, as He is called in
1Jo 1:1, 2,
"the Word of Life."
the life . . . the light of men--All that in men which is
true light--knowledge, integrity, intelligent, willing subjection to
God, love to Him and to their fellow creatures, wisdom, purity, holy
joy, rational happiness--all this "light of men" has its fountain in the
essential original "life" of "the Word"
5. shineth in darkness, &c.--in this dark, fallen world, or in
mankind "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death,"
with no ability to find the way either of truth or of holiness. In
this thick darkness, and consequent intellectual and moral obliquity,
"the light of the Word" shineth--by all the rays whether of natural or
revealed teaching which men (apart from the Incarnation of the Word)
are favored with.
the darkness comprehended it not--did not take it in, a brief
summary of the effect of all the strivings of this unincarnate Word
throughout this wide world from the beginning, and a hint of the
necessity of His putting on flesh, if any recovery of men was to be
6-9. The Evangelist here approaches his grand thesis, so paving
his way for the full statement of it in
that we may be able to bear the bright light of it, and take in its
length and breadth and depth and height.
7. through him--John.
8. not that Light--(See on
What a testimony to John to have to explain that "he was not
that Light!" Yet was he but a foil to set it off, his night-taper
dwindling before the Dayspring from on high
9. lighteth every man, &c.--rather, "which, coming into the world,
enlighteneth every man"; or, is "the Light of the world"
"Coming into the world" is a superfluous and quite unusual description
of "every man"; but it is of all descriptions of Christ amongst the most
familiar, especially in the writings of this Evangelist
(Joh 12:46; 16:28; 18:37;
10-13. He was in the world, &c.--The language here is nearly as
wonderful as the thought. Observe its compact simplicity, its
sonorousness--"the world" resounding in each of its three members--and
the enigmatic form in which it is couched, startling the reader and
setting his ingenuity a-working to solve the stupendous enigma of
Christ ignored in His own world. "The world," in the first two
clauses, plainly means the created world, into which He
"in it He was," says this verse. By His Incarnation, He became
an inhabitant of it, and bound up with it. Yet it "was made by
Here, then, it is merely alluded to, in contrast partly with His being
in it, but still more with the reception He met with from it.
"The world that knew Him not"
is of course the intelligent world of mankind. (See on
Taking the first two clauses as one statement,
we try to apprehend it by thinking of the infant Christ conceived in the
womb and born in the arms of His own creature, and of the Man Christ
Jesus breathing His own air, treading His own ground, supported by
substances to which He Himself gave being, and the Creator of the very
men whom He came to save. But the most vivid commentary on this entire
verse will be got by tracing (in His matchless history) Him of whom it
speaks walking amidst all the elements of nature, the diseases of men
and death itself, the secrets of the human heart, and "the rulers of the
darkness of this world" in all their number, subtlety, and malignity,
not only with absolute ease, as their conscious Lord, but, as we might
say, with full consciousness on their part of the presence of their
Maker, whose will to one and all of them was law. And this is He of whom
it is added, "the world knew Him not!"
11. his own--"His own" (property or possession), for the word is in
the neuter gender. It means His own land, city, temple, Messianic
rights and possessions.
and his own--"His own (people)"; for now the word is masculine. It means the Jews, as the "peculiar people." Both
they and their
land, with all that this included, were "HIS OWN,"
not so much as
part of "the world which was made by Him," but as "THE HEIR" of the
see also on
received him not--nationally, as God's chosen witnesses.
12. But as many--individuals, of the "disobedient and gainsaying
gave he power--The word signifies both authority and ability, and both are certainly meant here.
to become--Mark these words: Jesus is the Son of God; He is never
said to have become such.
the sons--or more simply, "sons of God," in name and in
believe on his name--a phrase never used in Scripture of any mere creature, to express
the credit given to human testimony, even of prophets or apostles,
inasmuch it carries with it the idea of trust proper only towards
GOD. In this sense of supreme faith, as due to Him who "gives those
that believe in Himself power to become sons of God," it is
manifestly used here.
13. Which were born--a sonship therefore not of mere title and
privilege, but of nature, the soul being made conscious of the vital
capacities, perceptions, and emotions of a child of God, before
not of blood, &c.--not of superior human descent, not of human
generation at all, not of man in any manner of way. By this elaborate
threefold denial of the human source of this sonship, immense force
is given to what follows,
but of God--Right royal gift, and He who confers must be absolutely
divine. For who would not worship Him who can bring him into the
family, and evoke within him the very life, of the sons of God?
14. And the Word, &c.--To raise the reader to the altitude of this
climax were the thirteen foregoing verses written.
was made flesh--BECAME MAN,
in man's present frail, mortal condition,
denoted by the word "flesh"
It is directed probably against the Docetæ, who held that
Christ was not really but only apparently man; against whom this
gentle spirit is vehement in his Epistles
2Jo 7, 10, 11),
[LUCKE, &c.]. Nor could He be too much so, for
with the verity of the Incarnation all substantial Christianity
vanishes. But now, married to our nature, henceforth He is as
personally conscious of all that is strictly human as of all that is
properly divine; and our nature is in His Person redeemed and
quickened, ennobled and transfigured.
and dwelt--tabernacled or pitched his tent; a word peculiar to John,
who uses it four times, all in the sense of a permanent stay
(Re 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3).
For ever wedded to our "flesh," He has entered this tabernacle
to "go no more out." The allusion is to that tabernacle where dwelt the
Shekinah (see on
Mt 23:38, 39),
"GLORY OF THE
and with reference to God's permanent dwelling among His people
Ps 68:18; 132:13, 14;
This is put almost beyond doubt by what immediately follows, "And we
beheld his glory"
which last critic, rising higher than usual, says that thus were
perfected all former partial manifestations of God in an essentially
Personal and historically Human manifestation].
full of grace and truth--So it should read: "He dwelt among us full
of grace and truth"; or, in Old Testament phrase, "Mercy and truth,"
denoting the whole fruit of God's purposes of love towards sinners of
mankind, which until now existed only in promise, and the
fulfilment at length of that promise in Christ; in one great word,
"the SURE MERCIES of David"
In His Person all that Grace and Truth which had been floating so long
in shadowy forms, and darting into the souls of the poor and needy its
broken beams, took everlasting possession of human flesh and filled it
full. By this Incarnation of Grace and Truth, the teaching of thousands
of years was at once transcended and beggared, and the family of God
sprang into Manhood.
and we beheld his glory--not by the eye of sense, which saw in
Him only "the carpenter." His glory was "spiritually discerned"
2Co 3:18; 4:4, 6; 5:16)
--the glory of surpassing grace, love, tenderness, wisdom, purity,
spirituality; majesty and meekness, richness and poverty, power and
weakness, meeting together in unique contrast; ever attracting and at
times ravishing the "babes" that followed and forsook all for Him.
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father--(See on
not like, but "such as (belongs to)," such as became or
was befitting the only begotten of the Father [CHRYSOSTOM in LUCKE, CALVIN, &c.], according to a well-known use of the word
SAYING OF THE
15. after me--in official manifestation.
before me--in rank and dignity.
for he was before me--in existence; "His goings forth being from
of old, from everlasting"
(Anything lower than this His words cannot mean); that is, "My
Successor is my Superior, for He was my Predecessor." This enigmatic
play upon the different senses of the words "before" and "after" was
doubtless employed by the Baptist to arrest attention, and rivet the
thought; and the Evangelist introduces it just to clinch his own
16. of his fulness--of "grace and truth," resuming the thread of
grace for grace--that is, grace upon grace (so all the best
interpreters), in successive communications and larger measures, as each
was able to take it in. Observe, the word "truth" is here dropped.
"Grace" being the chosen New Testament word for the whole fulness of the
new covenant, all that dwells in Christ for men.
17. For, &c.--The Law elicits the consciousness of sin and the need
of redemption; it only typifies the reality. The Gospel, on the
contrary, actually communicates reality and power from above (compare
Hence Paul terms the Old Testament "shadow," while he calls the New
18. No man--"No one," in the widest sense.
hath seen God--by immediate gaze, or direct intuition.
in the bosom of the Father--A remarkable expression, used only here,
presupposing the Son's conscious existence distinct from the Father,
and expressing His immediate and most endeared access to, and
absolute acquaintance with, Him.
he--emphatic; As if he should say, "He and He only hath declared Him,"
because He only can.
the Jews--that is, the heads of the nation, the members of the
In this peculiar sense our Evangelist seems always to use the term.
20. confessed, &c.--that is, While many were ready to hail him as the
Christ, he neither gave the slightest ground for such views, nor the
least entertainment to them.
21. Elias--in His own proper person.
that prophet--announced in
&c., about whom they seem not to have been agreed whether he were the
same with the Messiah or no.
25. Why baptizest thou, if not, &c.--Thinking he disclaimed any
special connection with Messiah's kingdom, they demand his right to
gather disciples by baptism.
26. there standeth--This must have been spoken after the baptism
of Christ, and possibly just after His temptation (see on
28. Bethabara--Rather, "Bethany" (according to nearly all the best
and most ancient manuscripts); not the Bethany of Lazarus, but another
of the same name, and distinguished from it as lying "beyond Jordan," on
29. seeth Jesus--fresh, probably, from the scene of the temptation.
coming unto him--as to congenial company
and to receive from him His first greeting.
and saith--catching a sublime inspiration at the sight of Him
the Lamb of God--the one God-ordained, God-gifted sacrificial
that taketh away--taketh up and taketh away. The word
signifies both, as does the corresponding Hebrew word. Applied to
sin, it means to be chargeable with the guilt of it
and to bear it away (as often). In the Levitical victims both
ideas met, as they do in Christ, the people's guilt being viewed as
transferred to them, avenged in their death, and so
borne away by them
(Le 4:15; 16:15, 21, 22;
the sin--The singular number being used to mark the
collective burden and all-embracing efficacy.
of the world--not of Israel only, for whom the typical victims were
exclusively offered. Wherever there shall live a sinner throughout the
wide world, sinking under that burden too heavy for him to bear, he
shall find in this "Lamb of God," a shoulder equal to the weight. The
right note was struck at the first--balm, doubtless, to Christ's own
spirit; nor was ever after, or ever will be, a more glorious utterance.
31-34. knew him not--Living mostly apart, the one at Nazareth, the
other in the Judean desert--to prevent all appearance of collusion, John
only knew that at a definite time after his own call, his Master would
show Himself. As He drew near for baptism one day, the last of all the
crowd, the spirit of the Baptist heaving under a divine presentiment
that the moment had at length arrived, and an air of unwonted serenity
and dignity, not without traits, probably, of the family features,
appearing in this Stranger, the Spirit said to him as to Samuel of his
youthful type, "Arise, anoint Him, for this is He!"
But the sign which he was told to expect was the visible descent
of the Spirit upon Him as He emerged out of the baptismal water.
Then, catching up the voice from heaven, "he saw and bare record
that this is the Son of God."
35. John stood--"was standing," at his accustomed place.
36. looking--having fixed his eyes, with significant gaze, on Jesus.
as he walked--but not now to him. To have done this once
was humility enough [BENGEL].
Behold, &c.--The repetition of that wonderful proclamation, in
identical terms and without another word, could only have been meant as
a gentle hint to go after Him--as they did.
38. What seek ye--gentle, winning question, remarkable as the
Redeemer's first public utterance. (See on
where dwellest thou--that is, "That is a question we cannot answer in a
moment; but had we Thy company for a calm hour in private, gladly should
we open our burden."
39. Come and see--His second utterance, more winning still.
tenth hour--not ten A.M. (as some), according to Roman, but four
P.M., according to Jewish reckoning, which John follows. The hour is
mentioned to show why they stayed out the day with him--because little
of it remained.
40. One . . . was Andrew--The other was doubtless our Evangelist
himself. His great sensitiveness is touchingly shown in his
representation of this first contact with the Lord; the circumstances
are present to him in the minutest details; he still remembers the Very
hour. But "he reports no particulars of those discourses of the Lord by
which he was bound to Him for the whole of His life; he allows
everything personal to retire" [OLSHAUSEN].
Peter's brother--and the elder of the two.
41. have found the Messias--The previous preparation of their simple
hearts under the Baptist's ministry, made quick work of this blessed
conviction, while others hesitated till doubt settled into obduracy.
So it is still.
42. brought him to Jesus--Happy brothers that thus do to each other!
beheld him--fixed his eyes on him, with significant gaze (as
Cephas . . . stone--(See on
43. would go . . . into Galilee--for from His baptism
He had sojourned in Judea (showing that the calling at the Sea
was a subsequent one, see on
Follow me--the first express call given, the former three having come
to Him spontaneously.
44. the city of Andrew and Peter--of their birth probably, for
they seem to have lived at Capernaum
45. Nathanael--(See on
son of Joseph--the current way of speaking. (See
46. any good out of Nazareth--remembering Bethlehem, perhaps, as
Messiah's predicted birthplace, and Nazareth having no express prophetic
place at all, besides being in no repute. The question sprang
from mere dread of mistake in a matter so vital.
Come and see--Noble remedy against preconceived opinions [BENGEL]. Philip, though he could not perhaps solve his
difficulty, could show him how to get rid of it. (See on
47. an Israelite indeed . . . no guile--not only no
hypocrite, but with a guileless simplicity not always found even in
God's own people, ready to follow wherever truth might lead him,
saying, Samuel-like, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth"
48. Whence knowest thou me--conscious that his very heart had been
read, and at this critical moment more than ever before.
Before Philip called thee--showing He knew all that passed between
Philip and him at a distance.
when . . . under the fig tree, &c.--where retirement
for meditation and prayer was not uncommon [LIGHTFOOT]. Thither, probably--hearing that his master's
Master had at length appeared, and heaving with mingled eagerness to
behold Him and dread of deception--he had retired to pour out his
guileless heart for light and guidance, ending with such a prayer as
this, "Show me a token for good!" (See on
Now he has it, "Thou guileless one, that fig tree scene, with all its
heaving anxieties, deep pleadings and tremulous hopes--I saw it all."
The first words of Jesus had astonished, but this quite overpowered and
49. Son of God . . . King of Israel--the one denoting
His person, the other His office. How much loftier this than anything
Philip had said to him! But just as the earth's vital powers, the
longer they are frost-bound, take the greater spring when at length set
free, so souls, like Nathanael and Thomas (see on
the outgoings of whose faith are hindered for a time, take the start of
their more easy-going brethren when loosed and let go.
50, 51. Because I said, &c.--"So quickly convinced, and on this
evidence only?"--an expression of admiration.
51. Hereafter, &c.--The key to this great saying is Jacob's vision
to which the allusion plainly is. To show the patriarch that though
alone and friendless on earth his interests were busying all heaven, he
was made to see "heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and
descending upon a" mystic "ladder reaching from heaven to
earth." "By and by," says Jesus here, "ye shall see this communication
between heaven and earth thrown wide open, and the Son of man the
real Ladder of this intercourse."