By M. Stuart, late Prof. of Sac. Lit. in the Theol. Sem. at Andover
In the preceding number of this Miscellany, a somewhat extended view was given of what may be said in the way of illustrating the first verse, in this portion of the Gospel of John. The importance and difficulty of the subject required, in order to accomplish my design, a much more copious discussion than is necessary in regard to any particular portion of the remainder of the prologue. The exegetical demands of the text will now be the leading object of our attention; although I do not, in the present case, prescribe to myself the limits which a mere exegesis would impose.
The demonstrative οὗτος here refers, of course, to the subject immediately preceding, viz. ὁ λόγος. It was perhaps for the sake of such a reference, that the writer put ὁ λόγος at the close of the preceding verse, and not before ἦν. The reason why John adopted the demonstrative pronoun here rather than to repeat the noun which it represents, seems to have been to save the too frequent repetition of ὁ λόγος. As the text stands, οὗτος represents the λόγος who was θεος, and so, in this way, it virtually comprises a repetition of the last clause of v. 1. As to the reason of the repetition itself which is contained in v. 2, I have already stated my views, p. 38 seq. of the preceding Number. The manifest intensity which is indicated by the repetition, denotes earnest opposition to false sentiment. A progress in the development of facts or truths by the addition of new matter, is not made in v. 2. But the intensity of the writer’s convictions is represented with additional impetus, in consequence of this verse; and on this account, the declaration which it makes cannot well be viewed as useless, nor as mere tautology.
Πάντα, all things, i.e. the universe. Paul employs the word with the article, τὰ πάντα. The usual philosophic expression is τὸ πᾶν. But πάτα (without the article) is sometimes employed, as here, by the heathen writers; e. g. Anton, ad se ipsum, 4. 23. What is here designated by πάντα, is named ὁ κόσμος in v. 10 below. Τὰ πάντα has more the aspect of designating the universe, as made up of various constituent parts; while πάντα has the aspect of unity as a generic whole. It is no wonder that John exchanges it for ὁ κόσμος below. The Hebrews often made ָהאָרֶחּ(the earth) the representative of the universe, because in their view, it was the grand constituent of the whole. Thus we have such expressions as “the God of the whole earth;” “the Creator of the ends of the earth,” etc. So John, in repeating the sentiment of this verse (in v. 10), says, in accordance with this idiom, that ‘the world (ὁ κόσμος) was made by the Logos.’ Not, as the Socinians explain it, the spiritual world, i.e. the Christian church; for the world which the Logos made, and in which he was, was a world that knew him not, (v. 10). This of course excludes the idea of its being the new spiritual world, whose characteristic is, to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
Δἰ αὐτοῦ, by him. The allegation that δία before the Gen. designates only an instrumental cause, is not correct. That this is its most frequent usage, is readily conceded. But in Rom. 11:36, δἰ αὐτοῦ refers to God himself; and the like in 1 Cor. 1:9. So in Xen. Mem. I. 2. 14. Cyrop. 1.4, διά stands before the principal cause. — ᾿Εγένετο, were made; more literally, came into existence, which has the same meaning. For the same sense of ἐγένετο, comp. 1 Cor. 15:45. Heb. 4:3. 11:3. No other meaning is admissible here. The verb singular with the neuter ‘plural, is the usual construction in Greek.
In like manner as John has repeated v. 1 in the next following verse, so here the second clause of v. 3 repeats the sentiment of the first clause in a negative form, and in such a way as to give much intensity to the expression. Χωρὶς αὐτοῦ, without him, lit. separately or apart from him,—᾿Εγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν, lit. (as translated above) no one thing. Some copies read οὐδὲν, nothing; but the better reading is οὐδὲ ἕν. This has a sense more specific and emphatic. With this, some authorities conclude the verse, and join ὅ γέγονεν with what follows. But what tolerable sense would there be in saying: “That which was in him was life?” The internal evidence in favor of the present division of the verse, is sufficiently strong to vouch for its correctness.
With John, the repetition of a sentiment in a negative form is of frequent occurrence, see v. 20 below, 1 John 1:5–8. 2:4–11, al. In the present case, the force of the repetition is so manifest, that every considerate reader is spontaneously inclined to ask: ‘To whom does the writer oppose himself?’ That he has a polemical design, in part, one can hardly refrain from believing. And if so, whose sentiments were in view? A portion of the Gnostics of that time, it is well known, maintained the eternity of ὕλη, matter, as being an original chaotic substance. If now we suppose that John’s no one thing refers to this exception or limitation which the Gnostics made to the extent of creation, then is the earnestness of the writer’s expression natural and easily accounted for. John had before denied the Gnostic views respecting the nature of the Logos, and now he stands again in opposition to them, in respect to what the Logos had done or accomplished. Has not Paul a like reference, in what he says of the creation by Christ in Col. 1:16? His method of expression certainly appears to favor this supposition.
Such are the generic views which John has given us respecting the condition and nature of the Logos, and of the manner in which he first developed himself. He is eternal; he was with God; he was God; and he created all things without the exception of even one thing in the creation.
In him, ἐν αὐτῷ, not through him or by him. As has already been remarked, this expression designates the Logos as the source, the immanent fountain, of life. More fully is this same idea explained, in 5:26, and 1 John 5:11. —Ζωή, life, without the article and generic. The writer means to designate a life-giving power, which extends to the production of all life whether physical or spiritual. The reader should note the progress of thought. First, we are told what the Logos is; next the highest exhibition of his power, in the creation of the universe, is brought to view. Then follows the mention of some particular, special, and notable developments of his attributes. All life or animation, the highest and noblest quality of created things, is the gift of the Logos. Such is also the course of thought in Gen. 1:1 seq., where the chaotic material is the result of the first creation, and the forming of living creatures comes in the sequel. Doubtless John had his eye upon this. The interpretation which assigns to ζων́ here the meaning of happiness, or author of happiness or of spiritual life, does not reach the full force of the author’s meaning. He does indeed comprehend these in his view, but he also comprehends much more. Hence ζωή without the article. Had merely the specific idea of happiness or spiritual life been designated, we should of course have expected ἡ ζωή.
Before the second clause, however, we have ζωή with the article prefixed. But this is merely the normal construction, which demands the article when a noun is immediately repeated. In this form the word is equivalent in meaning to this life, viz. the one just mentioned. — Was the light of men. There is some difficulty here which does not arise, when Christ says that he himself is the light of the world, 8:12. 9:5. The meaning of this is plain. But in the present case, the life is said to be the light of men. The design of the writer seems plainly to be, further to characterize or unfold the nature of the life that was in the Logos. Not only was it the source of all life in general, whether physical or moral, but one of its special attributes was, that it was the source of all spiritual light. In calling this light the light of men, the writer gives us sufficient intimation, that he does not mean to have φε͂ς taken as designating the natural light, as in 11:9. But as natural light is essential to all natural life and well-being, so, in like manner, spiritual light is essential to the existence and well-being of spiritual life. John means to say, that the life which was in the Logos, was the source of all divine and spiritual light, of all real wisdom and saving truth. Such is the view which our text presents. From the general idea expressed by ζωή, he descends to a special but deeply interesting particular fact, viz. that life, in its highest and best sense, is bestowed through the medium of light, i.e. of truth. This accords well with views elsewhere disclosed by him: “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” “Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.” “The truth shall make you free.” In other words, all that is truly wise and excellent and good in the world, is to be traced to the light-giving source of life, the Logos who became incarnate.
That the writer still employs the Imperf. tense (ἦν) in this verse, must be attributed to the fact, that he is still speaking of the Logos as he was before the incarnation. It is in v. 6, that he is first brought upon the visible scene of action or of historical development. The Imperfect is therefore appropriately used; for what the Logos was in himself and before the incarnation, is still the subject-matter of the discourse. From this he partially digresses, when he proceeds, in v. 5, to show how the light, which the life-giving source diffused in ancient times, was exhibited, and how it was received by the darkened world into which it then came. I regard it as clear, that v. 5 is to be understood of the world of mankind previous to the incarnation of the Logos; for it is in v. 6 that the first intimations are given of the preparation for the coming of the Logos among men, and of development in his earthly stage of action.
That the light of men designates divine instruction or truth imparted to them, i.e. that the word light has here a moral or spiritual sense, is clear and plain. Of course the word σκοτια, darkness, being the opposite of this, indicates a darkened, sinful, and miserable condition. It is men in such a state, that the abstract word darkness characterizes. It should be noted here, that light not only designates truth or knowledge, but also things or beings which are of a spiritual and holy nature. Thus 1 John 1:5, “God is light, and in him is no darkness.” Christians are called “sons of light,” both from their knowledge and holiness. In like manner Eph. 5:8, “ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” John 3:19, “Men have loved darkness rather than light.” Rom. 13:12, “To turn from darkness unto light.” When God is said to clothe himself with light as with a garment, and to dwell in light inaccessible and full of glory,’ it is the moral splendor of his perfections which is designated by these figurative expressions. In the case before us, it is plain that truth and holiness, or holy truth, is presented as struggling with culpable ignorance and sin. — ᾿Εντῆ σκοτια φαίνει, shineth in or among the darkness. The use of the present tense, in this case, deserves some note. This tense is employed in propositions which are universal, and always true; as “the sun cpaivsi, shineth” i.e. has shone, shineth, and will shine. But this case does not fully reach our present difficulty, for the proposition or assertion before us is a limited one, having reference to the past, as the subsequent Aor. κατέλαβρν clearly indicates. We must refer it then to the historic Present, which is employed when a writer brings before his mind the past, and speaks of it as now present before him. This often takes place, as here, even where it is preceded or followed by Praeterite tenses; as any one may see in a New Testament Grammar. Even classical usage frequently adopts the historic Present, in like cases.
The light of divine truth, then, shone on the world before the incarnation of the Logos; and shone in and through himself, for his life-giving power was also a light-giving power. All then in the works of creation or of Providence, all that had been given to patriarchs and prophets and holy men of old by inspiration — in a word, all that taught men their relation to God, their duty, and the way of holiness and happiness — was a part of that light which came from the life-giving Logos. The tenor of the text before us clearly evinces this. It was not then without some good reason, that the Christian Fathers taught the doctrine, that all the communications spoken of or made in the Old Testament, were through the medium of the Logos. Does not John authorize us to make the like conclusion? And has he not authorized us to do thus, in respect to many Old Testament narrations, where God or Jehovah simply seems to be brought to view? In John 12:38–40, he represents the words of Isaiah (in chapter vi.) as applicable to the Jews of his time, and then adds: “These things said Isaiah, when he beheld his [Christ’s] glory, and spake concerning him,” v. 41. Now of all the sublime and awe-inspiring representations of the Godhead, which are made in the Old Testament, the one in the passage of Isaiah just named is entitled to the preeminence. Jehovah is seated on his lofty throne of glory. Adoring Seraphim stand before him, veiling their faces, and crying aloud in holy response: “Holy! holy! holy! Lord God of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory!” Yet John tells us that the glory of this magnificent and awful scene was the glory of Christ. If so, who then is Christ? And if such glory belonged to him, in the revelation of himself in ancient times, what praise should those render to him, who have been redeemed out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation by his leaving the bosom of the Father, becoming incarnate, and pouring out his precious blood for them? Nor can the passage in Heb. 1:1, be fairly adduced in order to gainsay the view that has now been taken. It is not the object of Paul to deny, in that passage, that the Logos had ever made communications to men before he appeared incarnate. His object is to show, that God, in ancient times, spake to his people in various ways by the prophets, but that of late he had spoken to them specially and peculiarly by his Son. He intends to compare this recent messenger, who had appeared among them and addressed them, with all who had done the like before, and to show his high preeminence above them all. What had been done by the Logos before the incarnation, was not the subject of contemplation before the writer’s mind, when Heb. 1:1 was written. The writer had respect, in his comparison, only to visible and commissioned messengers.
I do not say, that the affirmation of John, in regard to the theophany in Isaiah vi. viz. that it was the glory of Christ which was then displayed, will authorize us to extend the like conclusion to all the other exhibitions of the Godhead which are related in the Old Testament. But this can be truly said, that none of them can be fairly made to exclude the idea of the intervention of the Logos, any more than Isa. 6. can be made to exclude it. It is only such disclosures of the Godhead as the Logos made after his incarnation, which could enable and authorize us to apply such passages as that in Isaiah to the higher nature of Christ. The simple text of the prophet does not seem to suggest such an application. And yet this application is so plainly and palpably made by John, that it may serve as a key to other passages in the Old Testament of a similar nature. I am not partial, indeed, to the extension of this method of reasoning, beyond specific cases that are brought to view in the New Testament. There may be danger in a partiality for mystic interpretation; and in fact experience shows how greatly such a method of interpreting and reasoning has been abused. But still, after what John has said, it is plain that we cannot disprove the intervention of the Logos, in any, or in all, of the cases where God is represented in the Old Testament as having revealed himself. All that there was of light among the Hebrews of old, all which unfolded their duty, and pointed to the way of acceptance with God, and of peace and final happiness — all this came from light imparted by the life-giving Logos.
Nor need we confine this to the Jews. The apostle Paul assures us, that “τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, i.e. that which was knowable respecting God, was manifest to them, for God had made it manifest,” Rom. 1:19. He does not mean that God was in all respects fully revealed to them; for he proceeds to declare, that from or by the creation of the world, the eternal power and Godhead of the supreme Being were disclosed to the heathen. Hence he argues their guilt, because that “when they knew God (γνότες τὸν θεόν) they did not glorify him as God,” v. 20–21. Afterwards he declares, that the demands of the law were written in the hearts of the heathen, so that alternately their consciences accuse and excuse them, Rom. 2:15. It follows, then, if I have rightly comprehended the generic meaning of our text, that all disclosures of the nature of God and of duty, which were made among the heathen world, are the consequences of that light which shines amid the darkness, and which proceeds from the great Luminary of the world, the Logos. So John expressly asserts, in the sequel: “That true Light which enlighteneth every man (i.e. all men), came into the world,” v. 9. Plainly therefore the tenor of the verse before us is an assertion that all which is morally or spiritually true and right and holy, has for its source the creating and life-giving Logos.
The extent of exoria has been, and still is, a question with many. Does it embrace all men without exception? or only all, when considered as being in their natural condition? Or does it mean, that only a part or portion of them, in this state, are darkness? We must resort to the sequel, in order to answer these questions. V. 12 seq. speak of such as have received Christ, and believe on his name, and therefore have the privileges of children. These, moreover, are described as being born of God, and in consequence of this, as sustaining a new and endearing relation to him. These of course belong not to the darkness; for they receive Christ, and believe on him, and walk in the light, while the darkness persists in excluding the Light of the world.
But what of all those who are not born of God, The inference of course is, that they belong to the darkness. Again and again has John intimated and fully declared this. He speaks of the world, i.e. the mass of mankind, as not knowing the Light of the world when he came among them, v. 10. When the Saviour is represented as conversing with Nicodemus, John tells us that he declared the absolute necessity of being born again, born of the Spirit; and that the reason which he gave for this was, that “whatever is born of the flesh is flesh,” i.e. is carnal, while that “which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” i.e. is spiritual. In John 3:19, men are said “to love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” Christ, in his last supplications, declares that his disciples are not of the world, that the world hates them, and also that the world has not known the Father , John 17:14, 25. John when speaking of true Christians, says, that “they are of God, and that the whole world lieth in wickedness,” 1 John 5:19. How entirely these, and many more of the like declarations in John, accord with the views of other New Testament writers, is very plain. Paul says, that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23. He declares, that the “carnal [i.e. fleshly, natural] mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to his law, nor indeed can be,” Rom. 8:7; and again, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The same apostle says of the regenerate, that “they were once dead in trespasses and sins” Eph. 2:1. He adds, moreover, that “by nature they were formerly the children of wrath, even as others,” v. 3. Like John he describes the natural state of man as being darkness: “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord,” Eph. 5:8.
Such then is the nature of the case before us. The darkness, which did not receive or comprehend the light, are the benighted and sinful men of all classes and all conditions, of all times and ages, who are not born of God (comp. v. 13), and who have not been endowed with a filial spirit, nor sustained the relation of spiritual children. The special reference indeed of the text is, to those who preceded the coming of Christ; but the declarations made in it are applicable to other and subsequent periods, as is evident from vs. 10–11.
Only one thing more needs remark. What is meant by κατέλαβον? This word sometimes means to grasp hold of suddenly, or in the way of assault. Hence some interpreters of ancient and modern times have given the meaning thus: ‘The light shineth in the darkness with such power, that the darkness cannot overcome it.’ But to overcome or suppress is never a meaning of καταλαμβάνω. To interpret κατέλαβον here in such a way as to preserve the shade of meaning in question, would be to make the sentence speak what is plainly incorrect; for how could it be said, that darkness has made no assault upon light, when these words are understood in a moral sense, which is their only true meaning here? We must resort of course to the tropical sense, viz. to seize, or take hold of, by the mind, i.e. to comprehend, as we express it, to perceive and understand the true nature or condition of a thing. So in Acts 4:13. 10:34. 25:25. Eph. 3:18. It is equivalent here to ἔγνω in v. 10, “The world knew him not;” and also to παρέλαβον in v. 11, “His own received him not.” In our text, οὐκατέλαβον expresses the idea that the darkness, i.e. benighted and sinful men, did not admit the light into their minds, so as to comprehend and appropriate it to their own benefit. It designates not a physiological inability to comprehend the truth, but a moral disinclination and inability, which, instead of excusing them, rendered them criminal.
Thus much respecting the nature of the Logos, and the manifestation of his attributes during the period which preceded the incarnation. The writer now brings to our view the formal and solemn preparation which was made for the entrance of the Logos into the world, by taking upon him the nature of man, and appearing among men for the sake of manifesting to them his light and his love. John, the Baptist, was the herald of his approach — “the messenger that was sent before his face.”
Chrysostom joins ἐγένετο with ἀπεστάλμενος, so that both =ἀπεστάλη. It is better to take it here as absolute = our English there was. So in Luke 1:5, ἐγένετο…ἱερεύς τις. In case we take it so, we have ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ as a qualification of ἄνθρωπος, which of course distinguishes the personage in question from common men. —παρὰ θεοῦ, from God, as we translate it, hardly expresses the full and exact meaning of the phrase. In designating a space-relation, παρά means from the nearness of any thing or person, like the French de chez quelqu ‘un. Its secondary meaning is that of causal relation. Sent by God would give substantially the meaning, inasmuch as God was the efficient cause of his being sent. Our word from may imply this, but this is not its ordinary meaning. In respect to being sent by God, we should compare Mal. 3:1 and 4:4–6. John, the Baptist, was the Elijah of Malachi, see Matt. 11:14. 17:12.
῎Ονομα αὐτῷ the Dat., αὐτῷ, is the usual one of appurtenance. The more common construction is ῷ ὄνομα, Luke 1:27. 2:25. Still other forms of expression in such cases are employed, e. g. ὄνομα αὐτοῦ or like ὀνόματι ᾿Λωάννης, Luke 1:5.
The word ἦλθεν here means more than simple coming, in relation to arrival by passing from one place to another. It is very well expressed by the German auftreten, i.e. to come forth or come out to public view, to make an entrance on the stage of action. It is to John’s appearance in public, as the herald of the Messiah, to which the writer has respect.
Εἰς μαρτυρίαν, lit for testimony, for the purpose of witness-bearing, I have rendered it (with our common version) a witness; thus substituting the concrete for the abstract, the person for his action. No serious error arises from this; and the old version has become so familiar, that it is hardly expedient to exchange it for testimony. The meaning is equivalent to μαρτυρεῖν, or to εἰς τὸ μαρτυρῆσαι. Such an idiom is very frequent in John, i.e. the abstract noun with εἰς is substituted for the Inf. mode.
̔́Λνα μαρτυρήση περὶ τοῦ φωτός is epexegetical of the preceding clause, the latter clause defining the object respecting which testimony was to be given. The word ἦλθεν is to be mentally repeated before this clause. Μαρτυρήση denotes not merely the giving of public and and solemn testimony, but the bearing witness to that which one knows to be true, or which he firmly believes to be true, in consequence of his own observation and experience; comp. v. 33 below.
̔́Ἳνα πάντες πιστεύσωσι δἰ αὐτοῦ. Here ἵνα, so that, in order that, is connected with the preceding clause, in order to indicate the purpose for which the testimony was given. The word πιστεύσωσι is left without a complement to designate what is to be believed. But the reader spontaneously supplies it, viz. εἰς τὸ φῶς, i.e. believe on or in that Light concerning which John had testified. —Δἰ αὐτοῦ means through John. The sentiment of the verse is, that John bore testimony respecting the Messiah, in order that through his annunciation men might be led to give heed to him and to believe on him.
The construction of the last clause here is elliptical. Before ἵνα we must supply either ἦλθεν from the preceding verse, or ἦν from the preceding clause in v. 8. Constructions of the like kind are not un-frequent in John.
But what is the object of the verse? When the writer had said, that John came to bear testimony respecting him who was the Light of the world, is it not sufficiently evident, that John himself was not the Light concerning which he was to give testimony? So it would seem to an ordinary reader. I cannot but believe, therefore, that the apostle, in repeating as it were the idea in v. 7, must have had in view such persons as held John himself to be the Light in question. That such a party existed, seems to be intimated in Matt, xi., where it is related, that John sent some of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, whether he were the ὁ ἐχόμενος i.e. the Messiah that was to come. I do not understand this narrative as intimating that John himself doubted, but that some of his disciples were in a doubting state, and that he sent them on a mission which would solve their doubts. In Acts 19:1—5, we find a society of men described, who were organized under the baptism of John. And down to the present day, the Sabians or Mendaites of the East form a separate and somewhat numerous sect, professing to be the disciples of John the Baptist. Their history we know but little about; but that our text was aimed at an opinion like theirs, seems to be not at all improbable. Viewed in this light, v. 8 acquires a special significancy, like the repetitions in vs. 2, 3 above. The next verse gives still more emphasis to the one now before us.
The true Light distinguishes the φῶς in question, respecting which John testified, from all false and all imperfect lights. John himself was a light, John 5:35; but not one in the preeminent sense here meant. John did not enlighten every man or all men. Christ only was the Light of the world. His life-giving power was a light-giving power; and it was therefore very different from anything that could be predicated of John, or of any other man. John often employs ἀληθινός in the sense of genuine; see 4:23. 6:32. 15:1. But something more than simply this is meant by ἀληθινόν in the passage before us. A preëminence is designated; a luminary that scatters its beams over all the benighted earth, is designated as pure, clear, and an unfailing source of radiance.
In respect to the enlightening of all men, the reader may be referred to what has already been said under v. 5 above. It is not to be understood, that φωτίζει, designates the effect of φως, namely, the being enlightened, i.e. it does not express the idea here, that men actually receive and cherish the light proffered. We have seen, under v. 5, that the shining of the light designates its own action, and not the reception which men give it. It is the same here. The light is proffered to all; in a certain sense it actually comes to all; but the darkness does not comprehend it. The present tense of φωτίζει here, indicates what is constant and habitual, like ὁἥλιος φαίνει. The light that came into the world, was designed for all the world; and hence the repeated declarations of Jesus, that he is the Light of the world.
In my translation above, I have joined ἦν with ἐρχόμενον. as a helping verb united to a participle, and thus (in accordance with a somewhat frequent usage in Greek) an equivalent for a definite verb in some of the praeterite tenses. In this case, we are to construe τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν as the Nom. to the verb. If the reader doubts whether the helping verb and the participle can be separated, in such cases, let him consult Mark 2:18. 10:32. 5:11 (a striking example of more interposed matter than in the case before us, yet quite a clear one), 1:4. 2:6. Luke 2:8. 24:53. John 1:28, al. That ἦν… ἐρχόμενον here designates the relative Imperf. (and not the Aor. as Lücke holds), seems plain from the consideration, that what the verse designated took place in the past, while John was giving his testimony. See an example of the same nature in Luke 24:32. The course of thought I understand to be this: From the general action of the Logos as the light of men, before his incarnation (v. 5), the writer proceeds to the appearance of the Messiah on the stage of human action. John prepares the way by antecedent proclamation of his approach. While John was doing this, Jesus came into the world. The meaning is not, of course, that he was born during this period; but that he made his entrance upon the stage of action, (like ἦλθεν in v. 7). That v. 9 has no connecting particle of transition, by which its relation to v. 8 might be pointed out, results from the aphoristic style of John, and is, as has already been remarked, an idiom that is frequent in this writer; see vs. 3, 4, 6, above.
The common method, in ancient and even in modern times, has been to join ἐρχόμενον with ἄνθρωπον, and to interpret coming into the world as = being born. In this case, the verse merely affirms, that Christ was the true light and the universal one. As I have construed it, it designates not only these ideas, but makes also an affirmation, that Christ entered upon his official course of action during the time when John was proclaiming his approach. As to the making of ἐρχόμενον κ.τ.λ. an appendage to ἄνθρωπον, it seems to have originated from the Rabbinical usage of the phrase כָּל בּיֹ עוֹלָס, lit. all world-enterers, equivalent to all men. In the case before us, however, the phraseology is different. We have in our text the word ἄνθρωπον. which is wanting in the Hebrew phrase. An exact Greek imitation of the Hebrew would be, πάντα ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον. Το justify the junction of ἄνθρωπον with ἐρχόμενον appeal is made also to John 18:37, where Jesus says: “For this was I born, and for this I have come into the world” But even here the latter clause is not a mere synonymous parallelism of the former, but a definite expression by itself which designates Christ’s appearance in the world of action. If any doubt remains as to this interpretation, the reader may remove it, by comparing John 3:19. 6:14. 9:39. 11:27. 12:46. 16:28. In all these cases, entrance on the stage of public action is designated, and not birth. The usus loquendi, then, is wanting, to justify the application of ἐρχόμενον κ.τ.λ. to ἄνθρωπον In 16:21, εἰς τὸν κόσμον is applied to men in common; but here it is preceded by ἐγεννήθη, which entirely changes the complexion of the case.
But besides all this, what significant addition is made to the sentiment, in case we join coming into the world with every man? Does the writer design to tell us, that men, in order to be men and to have light shine upon them, must be born into the world? This, although true, would hardly claim to be a truth weighty and apposite enough to demand insertion in this prologue. At most it would be an unprogressive and quite unimportant element of the verse, if indeed we must view the verse in this light. Or if any one says that it cannot mean what has just now been suggested, then what does it mean? These considerations and questions may well lead us to doubt, whether the common method of translating and interpreting this verse is correct.
On the other hand, when translated as above, it makes progress in the narrative. In v. 7 we are told that John ἦλθεν, came, in order to bear testimony. Here we are assured, that he who was proclaimed by this testimony did actually come, and enter upon the stage of public action. He came, who enlightens all men, or who is the light of the world. The beginning of v. 10 renders this meaning nearly certain, viz. “He was in the world,” etc. All is natural, when interpreted in this way. First his coming is announced; then his continuance or abiding in the world is declared, and lastly the treatment which he received is described. The world in general rejected him; even his own peculiar family and people did not receive him, with the exception of those who were born of God.
There is then, in case we refer ἐρχόμενον to φῶς, no need of giving it a future sense. As a name of Christ (ὁ ἐρχόμενος ),it always means he who is to come. But it must have the article, in order to distinguish this personage from other comers. If φῶς be (as it is) a symbol of the Messiah, and ἐρχόμενον κ.τ.λ.be only an attributive addition to it, or explication, then the article would be quite necessary; and with this the meaning would be, ‘that light which was expected or promised to come' But there is nothing in the context, which leads us to suppose, that the promises respecting the Messiah are here the particular subject of contemplation or discussion. We must conclude, therefore, that ἐρχόμενον constitutes a part of the compound verb, which is made by a union of the participle with ἦν; and that the Imperf. tense, thus designated, retains its proper significancy, i.e. the designation of action that took place, while other action was going on. It is in this way, and in this only, that all the demands of grammar and of continuous narrative can be answered. In that which satisfies both these, we may safely acquiesce.
Most interpreters, and among them even Lücke and De Wette, represent ἦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ as meaning simply: ‘He made his appearance in the world.’ Yet Lücke acknowledges that κόσμος, both here and in the third clause, means the world of men. If so, then ἐν means among; a meaning which it conveys in cases too numerous to need confirmation here, as the Lexicon will show. He was among men seems, then, to be the sentiment of the clause. I have retained the common version, because among the world sounds as unusual to our ears. Understanding this clause in the way just proposed, we have an advance upon the preceding verse. That designates the general fact of Christ’s entrance on the stage of action. This goes on to show more specially in what sphere he acted. That world, in the clause the world knew him not, means the mass of sinful men, there can be no room to doubt. That world has the same meaning here, in the first clause, seems altogether probable; for in this case there is an advance in the writer’s assertions, and there is a good reason assigned for the criminality (which is implied) of the men who did not acknowledge him. He was conversant with them, was among them, so that they might have known him and acknowledged him.
That this verse has no particle connecting it with the preceding, is to be attributed to the Hebraizing and aphoristic style of John, as has been above remarked.
The world was made by him is a virtual repetition of v. 3, and κόσμος here means the same as πάντα there. The reason for adopting this extended sense of the word κόσμος here, may be found in the wider extent which it gives to the idea, that men were bound to receive the Messiah. He was not only the Creator of men, but of the world and all which it contains. If the reader has any difficulty about the employing of the same word in different senses, when in such close connection, let him compare such phrases as “Let the dead bury their dead,” and many others of a similar tenor. In all such instances, the nature of the case and of the context indicates the true meaning. So here; a comparison with v. 3, gives us the meaning of the clause before us.
In the use of δἰ αὐτοῦ and of αὐτόν in the next clause, where the Logos is referred to by the masculine pronoun, may be found a reason for the translation of ἦν by HE was, instead of IT was. The latter would refer to φῶς.
No time need be spent on the exegesis, which makes world in this clause mean the moral reformed world of Christians. In what sense can it be true, that this world did not know Christ? And above all we may urge this consideration, since it is the distinguishing trait of Christians, that they “know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent,” John 17:3.
And yet the world knew him not. Here I have ventured to translate καὶ by and yet. That the sense is adversative, or at least that the last clause has such a relation to the preceding one, is plain, as nearly all acknowledge. If indeed we were to clothe the sentiment of the verse altogether in an English costume, we should construct it thus: He was among the world of mankind, and although the world was made by him, yet the world knew him not. John in fact omits although and yet, because he writes in his simple, Hebraic, aphoristic way. We may imitate his manner; yet our usual idiom would seem to demand the particles, that indicate the relations of the different parts of the verse. In supplying these particles, we do not change the meaning of John; we merely clothe the whole in our own costume.
Οὐκ ἔψνω, knew not It is not a mere knowledge of the intellect which is here spoken of. The word ἔγνω is used after the manner of the Hebrew יָדַע, i.e. to know and approve of; much like our word acknowledge. This meaning is not unfrequent in the New Testament; see John 10:14. 15:29. 2 Tim. 2:19, and also Hebrew examples in the lexicon. The meaning is, that the world did not take knowledge of Christ in his proper character, so as duly to receive him and regard him.
He came to his own, in Greek εἰς τὰ ἴδια, neuter plural. Many interpreters, and even Kuinoel and Tholuck, refer this to the earth, because the earth is the Lord’s; and then they make ἴδιοι, in the next clause, to designate mankind. But so interpreted, this verse would be nearly a downright tautology. Verse 10 has already asserted the same thing. Why repeat it again here? Verse 3 also implies the like idea. Instead of this, it seems to me that we here have plainly a progress in the course of thought. Verse 5 exhibits the action of the Logos before his incarnation. Verses 6—9 present the forerunner of Christ in his real character, as distinguished from the true light of the world. Verse 10 announces the appearance of the Messiah among men, in general terms. Verse 11 particularizes a part of what is comprehended under this general idea; a method of writing which is very common with John, and not unusual elsewhere. The particular in question is, that the Messiah came to his own peculiar heritage or home, and that the members of his own household refused to receive him. In such a sense, very plainly, does John employ ἴδια in his Gospel; see 16:32 and 19:27, where it designates the private home of an individual. In the same way have the Sept. (Esth. 5:10) translated the Hebrew אֶל יתוֹ, lit. to his house. Of course, from the nature of the case before us, the word home is used in the more extensive sense. As the land of Judea was the dwelling place of God’s peculiar people, who were selected from all the nations of the earth as the family with whom he would in a special manner dwell; and moreover, since his temple was in the midst of them, and his presence there (in a certain sense) visibly manifested in the glory over the mercy seat; John might well speak of Judea as the home of the Logos, who, according to this Apostle’s views (v. 5) made such manifestations. In its appropriate sense, ἴδια means all which belongs to any one as properly his own. The plural number and neuter gender indicates a generic and comprehensive sense, and this is appropriate to the meaning required. The verb ἦλθεν here, as in v. 7, signifies making a public appearance, coming upon the stage of action.
Οι ἴδιοι, his own [family], viz. those who dwelt in the house, the Jews. In other words, the Jews in general, or as a people, rejected him. —Oὐπαρέλαβον did not receive; differing in shade from οὐ κατελαβον (v. 5), but substantially the same in sense. It is usually stronger than ἔλαβον, by reason of the prefix preposition. Yet here it seems equivalent to ἔλαβον in the next verse. In English, we might give nearly the shade of it, if taken in its augmented sense, by translating, did not heartily receive.
It appears then, that while the writer descends in his course of thought from generals to particulars, his meaning becomes more intense. In v. 5 we have a view of the treatment of the Logos, in respect to his influences, before his appearance on earth. In v. 11 is a general statement of his reception, after his coming in the flesh. But the consummation of wickedness in those who reject him, is made apparent by the treatment which he received from the Jews, among whom and of whom he was born and educated, and with whom the whole period of his ministry was spent. One needs but to compare the sentiment of John 15:22 with the verse before us, in order to see what design the apostle had in view, by thus particularizing the case of the Jews in v. 11. There Jesus says: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but now, they have no cloak for their sin.”
The declaration that his own received him not seems, at first view, to be a universal one. And so indeed it must be deemed to be, did not the context come to our aid in the interpretation of it. Vs. 12–13 disclose to us, that a portion of the Jews did receive the Messiah, and believe on his name. The language in which this declaration is couched, is that which belongs to the New Testament dispensation, and not to that of the Old. From the manner in which v. 12 is connected with v. 11 (byδέ), it becomes plain, that v. 11 is to be regarded as pertaining to the new dispensation, and not to ancient times, as many have interpreted it.
By ἐξουσίαν in this case is not meant privilege or dignity, as some maintain, but an ability external and internal of sustaining a filial relation. By the interposition of Christ, the anger of God against sin is appeased, the curse of the law is removed, and the fact that the τέκ́αθεοῦ have once been sinners, no longer debars them from claiming the relation of children. Then, moreover, a new spiritual life is given to them, through him who has a life-giving power (v. 4); new light is imparted to them by him who has a light-giving power (ib.); and they have the spirit of filiation (́ἱοθεσιας) bestowed upon them, com p. Rom. 8:15. For all these reasons, they may claim to be the children of God, and may approach him, saying: “Abba! Father!” (ib.) Hence we may say, that ἐξουσίαν implies an external and internal ability; the external hinderances are all removed, and the internal temper of the mind has become filial and obedient.
᾿Λενέσθαι is rendered to become, and rightly so here, for in passing from a state of enmity to God to that of loving him, from darkness unto light, they become what they were not before. Lücke refers γενέσθαι, however, to the gradual transformation of Christians into conformity with Christ. I must doubt of this shade of meaning here. Believing on his name and being born of God constitute them sons; and these are both predicated of them in this place. As children they may be more or less dutiful; but there is no point where filiation begins, except the one described in v. 13. The writer is not treating of gradual sanctification, but of the commencement of it, and the power or ability which is conferred upon believers from that period. I say conferred on them, for ἐξουσίαν implies this. A native power or faculty would be designated by δύναμις.
What is meant by receiving (ἔλαβον), he next proceeds specifically to designate. It implies two things of essential importance; (1) That the sons of God believe on the Messiah, or (as it is here expressed) on his name. (2) That, in order to become such children of God as receive the Messiah, they must be born again, that is, be the subjects of a new and spiritual birth, here expressed by born of God, In the clause before us, viz. τοῖς πιστεύοσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, which brings to our view the first of these two things, what is the meaning of his name? Does it differ from believing on him? And if so, how?
We must go back to the Hebrew idiom in order to get a satisfactory view of the expression before us. In cases too numerous to mention, name is employed to designate God himself, or rather, that Being who has the exclusive and incommunicable name, or who is what that awful name imports. So “the name of the God of Jacob defend thee! The name of the Lord is a strong tower. To praise — bless — exalt — honor — love — speak of — extol — spread abroad — the name of God,” are phrases that often occur. “His name is glorious — holy — reverend — enduring forever— excellent,” and the like. Name thus employed, has reference, as it seems to me, in all cases to יְהוָֹה, that most sacred and significant of all names, and being thus employed it becomes intensive in its meaning. When applied to Christ, as in the case before us, it retains a like significance. John frequently employs it in this way; e.g. 2:23. 3:18. 1 John 5:13. 3:23, al. It often occurs throughout most of the N. Test., in connection with some of the appellations of the Messiah; as ‘the name of Christ, the name of Jesus, the name of Jesus Christ, the name of the Lord Jesus,’ etc. In our text, to believe on his name indicates the idea of receiving Christ with a confiding and affectionate temper of mind, and heartily acknowledging him to be all which his name imports, viz. the Lord’s Anointed and the Saviour of sinners. It is a stronger mode of expression, than the simple πιστεύειν εἰς τὸν Χριστόν. That at least this would appear to a Hebrew to be so, seems to be plain from the manner in which name is employed in the Old Testament. The great mass of mere English readers cannot well understand the true and full import of this idiomatic Hebraistic phraseology.
That believing (πιστεύουσιν) is something more than a mere intellectual conviction that Jesus is the Christ, is quite plain. “He that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Intellectual conviction or belief may exist, where the affections of the heart are not regulated by it, and where, of course, the subject of it is not prepared to be saved. To be acknowledged as a child of God implies, from the very nature of the case, love, confidence, and obedience, in respect to him “whose name is the only one under heaven, given among men, whereby we can be saved.” If we truly believe on the name of Christ, we must believe that he is the only and all-sufficient Saviour of sinners. We must come to him as such, feeling our need of him. We must look to him as “the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. We must believe that “his blood cleanseth from all sin;” that he is “the propitiation for our sins;” that “he hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us;” that “he himself, in his own body, bore our sins upon the tree;” that “we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ;” that “he was offered to bear the sins of many;” that “his blood purifies the conscience from dead works;” that “he gave his life as a ransom for many;” that “he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities;” that “by his stripes we are healed;” that when “he was made an offering for sin, the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and that by such offering, “he has procured eternal redemption for us.” It is in this way, and in this only, that we can believe in all that his name imports, and with affectionate confidence receive him. We must go to him with the spirit of that apostle, who, in reference to his preaching the Gospel to the Corinthians, says: “I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified? 1 Cor. 2:2; and who, when addressing the Galatians, from his inmost soul exclaimed: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ!” The sequel of John’s Gospel, and his Epistles and Apocalypse, abundantly illustrate and confirm all this. In heaven the redeemed sing: “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood!
The second particular above mentioned, viz. spiritual birth, is here brought to view, and described, first by negatives declaring what the birth in question is not; and then by the positive declaration, that this same birth is of divine origin. It was common among the heathen to ascribe the generation of distinguished men to some of the gods. But still there was nothing spiritual in this, but all took place, in their view, more humano. It is not probable, however, that John had them directly in his mind, in writing the verse before us. The Jews of his day had a rooted belief, that because they were descended from Abraham, they were the children of God in such a sense as to be entitled to the benefit of all the promises made to the father of the faithful. Both John the Baptist and Christ bring this false notion into view, and condemn it; see Matt. 3:9. John 8:33, 41, and comp. Rom. 2:28–29. Gal. 3:8–14, 29. The apostle means to deny that such an opinion as the Jews held, viz. that natural descent from Abraham constituted them the children of God, had any foundation in truth. The sum of the negative part of the verse before us is, that no filiation of mere natural and human origin could constitute the relation of which he speaks, or entitle them to its privileges. All this lies on the face of the verse. The explanation of its particular and peculiar phraseology, however, is a task of a difficult nature, and one that has hardly been performed, as yet, to the entire satisfaction of critical inquirers.
Not of blood, in Greek οὐκ ἐξ αιμάτων, lit. not of bloods, which however our idiom will not well bear. But why the plural? Probably, it is said, because both parents are referred to as contributing to the conception of an infant. It is plain that the blood was considered by the Hebrews as the essential principle of natural life; “Thou shalt not eat flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, Gen. 9:4. The same in Lev. 17:14. Deut. 12:23. In Acts 17:26 Paul declares, that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men.” In other words, the material, whence springs the living principle of animal life, is the same in all, and this is blood. Lücke adduces a passage from Euripides (Ion. 605), which exhibits the like view among the Greeks: ὁ παῖς…ἄλλων τραφεὶς ἀφ̓ αἱμάτων, a child … nourished from different bloods. But in the Wisdom of Solomon, there is a passage more to our purpose, still, which I have not seen adduced. The writer is speaking of his own formation in the womb, and says: παγεὶς αἵματι ἐκ σπέρματος ἀνδρίς, i.e. formed by blood of the seed of man. All this shows what the Heb. idiom was, in relation to the seminal or formative vital principle. As both parents were regarded as contributors, so the plural (in our text) may have sprung from this. Or it may be, that in speaking of the Jewish world en masse, the apostle may have employed the plural in relation to the multitude of parents. If John’s view of the case was like that in the book of Wisdom, where only the male parent seems to be regarded, then this latter solution of the plural is the more probable one. Or the plural bloods, may perhaps have relation to a series of successive ancestors. In either case, the meaning is substantially the same.
But what of the two particulars which follow? Are they mere subdivisions under the general idea of οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων, i.e. subordinate to it, or are they coördinate, designating different things although connected, each of which may stand by the side of the first clause, and be of the like rank, while at the same time they help to explain and to limit it? In pursuing this inquiry, the use of the particles must be consulted. John here employs οὐκ… οὐδὲ…οὐδὲ, … and not οὐκ … οὔτε …οὔτε. Now δέ, even in composition (as here), still retains its meaning of separation or diversity; while τε in such cases also retains its usual meaning, viz. that of connection. The first case is strikingly illustrated by Matt. 6:26. 12:19; the latter, by Matt. 12:32. 6:20. Acts 24:12. 25:8, specially in Rom. 8:38 seq. Particulars under a genus take ovrs … ovrs; particulars standing each by itself take οὐδὲ…οὐδὲ. See Win. Gramm. § 59. 6. Of course we must consider the second and third clauses here (which haveοὐδέ)?as standing in a measure by themselves, although connected in sense with the first clause, and serving the purpose of unfolding or defining the general idea, viz. birth, physical or natural, in opposition to, or in distinction from, a spiritual birth.
The succession of particles, then, in the present case, bids us to reject that exegesis, which makes ἐξ αἱμάτων generic, and the other two clauses to designate species under this, i.e. parts which comprise or constitute the genus. That interpretation which refers ἐκ θελήματος σαρκός to the female, and ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρός to the male, as specific and constituent agents in the act of generation, must on this ground be rejected. But not merely on this ground; for that σάρξ anywhere designates woman, in reference to her sex, cannot be shown. The word flesh often means (like to the generic word man) frail, physical human beings, and so comprehends woman. But as a distinctive appellation of the female sex, it nowhere occurs. Equally remote from any philological probability is the distinction, which has sometimes been made, between θέλημα in the first case and the second, by supposing the first to mean unconscious sexual desire, and the second that which is conscious. What unconscious desire means, it would be difficult to say. At any rate, the distinction has no foundation in the language here.
I have sometimes been inclined to believe, that the passage refers to the three modes of filiation among the Jews, viz. by lawful marriage, by concubinage, and by adoption. All three were common. Then, moreover, οὐδὲ… οὐδὲ may retain its ordinary meaning, for here would be three separate and coordinate particulars. But this would make θέλημα, in the last case, so different in sense from that in the preceding case, and so unlike to it, that probability seems to be against this solution, although the sense which this mode of interpreting would give, would be altogether apposite. The whole, thus regarded, would be as much as to say: No human method of filiation can constitute any one a child of God.
What then, if we lay this aside, is the meaning of the second and third clauses? That θέλημα may mean the same as ἐπιθυμια, i.e. sexual desire, seems to be certain here, from the nature of the case and from the connection. Elsewhere in the N. Test., in such a sense, I take it θέλημα cannot be found. But supposing it to mean sexual will or desire, then how are the two clauses to be distinguished? The answer to this question is not easy. In the first case, will of the flesh is, according to the Heb. idiom, a generic expression designating sexual desire; comp. Eph. 2:3. What is here designated, differs from what is expressed by ἐξ αἱμάτων, and refers to the agent in the γέννησις, and not to the material source of the embryo. I have called this phrase an idiom of the Hebrews, as plainly it is, in both the O. Test, and the New. The Greeks did not express the idea in question by the employment of such phraseology. How then is the next phrase to be regarded? Does οὐδε ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρός mean anything diverse from this? It seems plain, here, that ἀνδρός is not designed to distinguish the male from the female, but is to be taken in a sense in which it is contradistinguished from θεός which immediately follows; as in the Greek: πατήρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε. Like the Hebrew אדָס, it is generic. What else then can we make of it, than that it is a repetition in the proper Greek idiom of what was said, in the preceding clause, after the manner of the Hebrews? Nor is analogy wanting here. Thus Rom. 8:15, ἀββᾶ, ὁ πατν́ρ! Many repetitions in the New Testament, at least many that are apparently repetitions, are made in this way, viz. by explaining in the Greek idiom what had already been said in the Hebrew one. The consideration that both Greeks and Hebrews are almost everywhere addressed in the N. Test, may easily serve to explain this. If this view, however, be not admitted in the present case, then I should, on the whole, prefer the solution last presented above, notwithstanding an apparent philological difficulty as to the diverse use of θέλημα.
Were born … of God, ἐκ θεοῦ. That ἐκ often designates the efficient cause, is plain; see Rom. 9:12. Gal. 5:8. 1 Cor. 8:6. Matt. 1:18, 20, al. — ᾿Εγεννήθησαν, lit. were begotten; but as born agrees somewhat better with the first clause in the verse, I have retained it in the version above, inasmuch as the sense is not obscured by it. De Wette says, that this last clause “is tautologous, because it is impossible to define that which is divine.” If tautologous, it must be because τέκνα θεοῦ. in the preceding verse, had already expressed the same idea. Here, however, contrast between what is divine and human moved the writer to repeat that idea, by the words ἐκ θεοῦ. If these were omitted, it would detract much from the strength of the verse. But that it is tautologous “because it is impossible to define what is divine,” is a ground or reason which I do not understand, and which at least seems to me unmeaning and inapposite.
But what is the meaning of being born of God, or being begotten of God? All that is fleshy, physical, or carnal is out of question here. It is so from the nature of the agent concerned, and from the contrast with natural birth. Whatever is designated by the phrase must be of a spiritual or moral nature. Happily we are not left in the dark, on this great subject, notwithstanding the doubt and uncertainty of De Wette and many others. We will resort, first of all, to John himself for further explanation.
The most explicit and important disclosure, that is made in the writings of John, is that in the third chapter of his Gospel. Our Lord declares to Nicodemus, that “a man must be born again, in order to see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3. In v. 5 this is explained by the declaration, that “a man must be born of water and of the spirit, in order to enter into the kingdom of God.” To see that kingdom (v. 3), and to enter into it (v. 5), are for substance one and the same thing, and both words designate the idea we should express, by saying to become a partaker of that kingdom, or to enjoy its privileges and blessings. Dismissing the clause in v. 5 which respects being born of water, it is plain that to be born of the Spirit is the same as being born again. Here we learn, moreover, that the Holy Spirit of God is the special divine agent in the new birth. That the change here insisted upon is altogether of a spiritual nature, and entirely distinct from all that is conferred upon men by natural birth, lies upon the very face of the whole conversation with Nicodemus. In all the Scriptures there is not a declaration so express, so significant, so intense and all-comprising, in regard to the corruption of the natural man and the necessity of his regeneration, as the Saviour uttered on this occasion. Nicodemus is told that he need not wonder when it is said, that the natural man must be born of the Spirit, in order to be admitted into Christ’s spiritual kingdom. “That,” says the Saviour, “which is born of the flesh, is flesh,” i.e. is carnal or carnality; “and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit,” i.e. is spiritual or spirituality. In other words, all that is produced by, or is the result of, natural birth, the entire natural man with all his powers and faculties, is still nothing more than a carnal man; and to be “carnally minded is death.” The Saviour excepts none of the human race. All partake of the same vicious and depraved nature, for that which is born of the flesh, viz. whatever or all that is naturally born, is flesh. All are without his spiritual kingdom; and to enter it, they must pass through a great and most important change.
How deeply these declarations were engraved on the mind of John, is evident from the frequency with which he recurs to them in his first epistle. “Every one that doeth righteousness is born of him,” i.e. of God, 1 John 2:29. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin,” 3:9. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” 5:1. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world,” 5:4. “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not,” 5:18. “Everyone that loveth is born of God.” 4:7. Many other passages, with a different phraseology, have their basis in the idea here conveyed.
There is then, according to the view of John, a great spiritual change, which is essential to the future welfare and happiness of mankind — of all men without exception. Natural birth fits us for action in the world of nature only; a spiritual change must come over us, before we are fitted to be agents and to be happy in a spiritual world. I have said that this change is a great one. This might easily be illustrated and confirmed here; but as this topic will again come up in the sequel, I shall refrain from further remarks on it at present.
In consideration of the importance of the main subject before us, viz. regeneration, and inasmuch as I have reserved to myself the liberty of sometimes theologizing, let us, for a few moments, turn our attention to the modes in which other New Testament writers have presented this deeply interesting and important matter.
John almost alone has described the great change in question, by calling it regeneration, i.e. the being born again, or born of God. Two other apostles speak indeed of God as begetting his spiritual children; but both of them in connection with the instrumentality of his word or gospel. In James 1:18 it is said: “He [God] hath begotten us by the word of truth.” In 1 Pet. 1:23, Christians are described as “begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible—by the word of the living and eternal God.” All this harmonizes with the declarations of John; with the exception that an efficient instrumentality is indicated, which serves to distinguish the new birth from the natural one.
Paul has adopted quite a different phraseology, but not less expressive. By him the change in question is named a creation. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” καινὴ κτισις, lit. a new creation, 2 Cor. 5:17. “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but a new creation” (κτίσις), Gal. 6:15. “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” Eph. 2:10. “After God, created in righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. 4:24. Many other passages, more or less expressly, recognize the same idea, and have their basis in this mode of expression.
Again, Paul calls it a resurrection, i.e. a communication of new spiritual life to those who were dead in sin. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins,” Eph. 2:1. “When we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us together with Christ… and hath raised us up together,” Eph. 2:5–6. “And you being dead in your sins … hath he quickened together with him,” Col. 2:13. “Reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ,” Rom. 6:11.
I abstain purposely from any effort to adduce all the texts which are substantially of the same import. From those adduced, however, the subject is now fairly before us; and in respect to it as now presented, I must crave the liberty of making a few remarks.
(1) According to all the New Testament writers, (with whom however the Old Testament substantially agrees), the change in question must be a very great one. To be born, to be created, to be quickened, i.e. made alive from the dead, are the three highest natural changes that occur, or can take place, in the present world. When this language, then, is transferred to the designation of a moral or spiritual change, it cannot reasonably be supposed to express less than a very great change, A mere reformation of the outward conduct, a mere persuasion that a virtuous life is our duty and would be our happiness, does not reach the point in question. Paul seems to have foreclosed all attempts to reduce and weaken the strength of such declarations as those before us. “That ye may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him on his own right hand,” Eph. 1:18–20. In substance this is repeated in Eph. 4:16. Col. 1:29, and elsewhere. Now if there be any propriety in the language chosen by John and his fellow-laborers, to designate the spiritual change which Christianity demands, that change must be a great one; and if Paul is in the right, in saying that this change is wrought by a mighty power, such as that exerted when Christ was raised from the dead, how can we escape the conclusion, that the change is very great?
(2) The change is moral or spiritual, not material or physical. So the contrast in which John places the new birth decides. So the nature of the case. If a new physical or physiological change takes place, then which of the three changes is it? Is it the new birth, or the new creation, or a resurrection from literal death? It is neither; for if we assume that either of these three is to be literally understood, we are altogether unable to tell which to choose; and either of them, so understood, would indicate something contrary to experience and to the tenor of the Scriptures. Paul has told us what the nature of the change is, by saying: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind? Eph. 4:23. And again: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind? Rom. 12:2. The faculties of man are not substantially new modelled; no new faculty or power is created; but his mind is renewed, i.e. it is brought to a state in which it exercises new affections. ,. It loves what God loves, and hates what God hates. Before this change it was enmity against God, now it is love and obedience,
(3) The author and efficient cause of regeneration is God, i.e. specially considered, the Spirit of God. So all the texts cited virtually declare. Whatever secondary causes or instrumentalities there may be, (and often and usually there are many), yet the causa causans, the source from which all these come is God; for the appointment and adaptation of them to certain ends is of him, and it is to him that we are ultimately to ascribe the influence of divine truth, or of divine providences, yea, all the powers and faculties of man himself.
It would be out of place for me to enter into any controversial and protracted view of the subject last named, viz. the regenerating influences of the Spirit of God. I can only express, in the briefest manner, a few things in order to prevent my being misunderstood.
Does the Holy Spirit operate by giving special power to the word of his truth, or to the influence of his providential discipline? Or does he operate directly on the heart and mind, and thus prepare them to be duly impressed? Questions still and always disputed, and not likely to be fully settled to the satisfaction of all. From anxiously seeking after a specific answer to these and the like questions, it seems to me the Saviour has intentionally excluded us, by the declaration, that as we cannot tell whence the wind cometh, nor whither it goeth, although we hear the sound thereof, so we cannot describe the modus in quo of the new birth. Its effects are palpable and certain; but of the manner in which these are brought about in the soul of man, we can give no certain account. The fact of a spiritual change is certain and cognoscible; but how the mysterious and transforming power of the Spirit is exerted, none of the sacred writers have definitely told us.
At all events, however, experience and the nature of the case assure us, that the free agency of man is not infringed upon, in the production of such a change. He is as much a voluntary agent, in the exercise of his first holy affection, as he ever was in the commission of any sin. God makes his children willing, in the day of his power. It is God that worketh in them both to will and to do. But still, they are not mere passive recipients; they are active free agents. Nor is there anything in this position which is more incredible, than in the declaration, that “in God we live, and move, and have our being/’ while we are still free and accountable agents. Is it incredible, that he, who created the soul of man, and endowed it with all its powers and faculties, can move and mould it as he will, without destroying its freedom, or reducing it to such a state that it is merely a passive subject of impressions made by an irresistible omnipotence? Whatever the influences of the Holy Spirit are, they are not irresistible. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost,” said Stephen to his murderers, “as your fathers did, so do ye,” Acts 7:51. And Paul says to Christians: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” Eph. 4:30; and again: “Quench not the Spirit,” 1 Thess. 5:19. The Spirit of God, then, may be resisted. Whether he can eventually be overcome, i.e. in other words, whether he is invincible, is another and very different question, and one which those who believe in the doctrine of election must, I think, unitedly answer in the negative. When God works, who shall, in the end, defeat his design? When he makes willing, who can abide steadfast in his unwillingness?
My limits absolutely forbid me to say but one thing more; which however is of importance to my design. This is, that we cannot truly say of the natural man, that he has not powers and faculties which are sufficient, if he were properly disposed, to produce the change in question. Every such man has reason, a conscience, or moral sense of right and wrong, a power to feel obligation and the pressure of duty upon him; for without these he would not be an accountable being. Every such man is sinning by his delay to repent; which he would not be, if he had no powers or faculties adequate to perform the duty of repentance. To sum up all in a word; “God commands all men, everywhere, to repent,” Acts 17:30; God commands all men, moreover, “to make to themselves a new heart and a new spirit” lest they should die, Ezek. 18:31. Now it is not compatible with any view that we can take of divine justice or compassion, to “command all men to repent, and to make to themselves a new heart and a new spirit,” if they have no power, no faculty, no ability, adequate to do this. It is impossible to vindicate the dealings of God with men, if we give up the position, that they have powers and faculties to repent and make a new heart. And great as the work of God is, (as we have already seen above), in bringing men to a state of filial love and obedience, yet that power is not strictly speaking of a miraculous nature. If we say it is so, then we come at once to the position, that God has commanded all sinners to repent and make a new heart, on pain of everlasting death, while this work at the same time is nothing less than a miracle wrought only by omnipotence. In other words, we should maintain, that God has commanded sinners to do what his omnipotence only can do. How can we reconcile such a view of this subject, either with his justice or his mercy? Allowing, on the other hand, that sinners have power or ability to repent, then they are the proper subjects of command, and may be justly blamed for disobedience. The fact that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and enmity deeply rooted, is the reason why his interposition becomes absolutely necessary to bring about the new birth. It is the strength of that enmity, and its deeply rooted nature, which sufficiently account for it, that the working of his mighty power must supervene, in order that the enemies of God may become his friends and children. There may be a mighty moral or spiritual working, as well and as truly as a mighty exertion of physiological omnipotence; and it is to the first of these that the declarations above quoted have respect, and not to the last. When God is said to have wrought in the regenerate, “according to the working of his mighty power, when Christ was raised from the dead,” the meaning is not that the former act is the same in kind as the latter. The latter raised Christ from the death of his body; the former quickens those who are in a state of moral death, “dead in sins.” The comparison, then, does not respect the kind of power displayed; it has respect only to the greatness or degree of power.
It is then quite clear, that whatever may be the powers and faculties of the natural man, whatever efficacy may be attributed to instrumentalities, however numerous these may be, and however well adapted, — it is clear that the Scriptures assert the necessity of divine interposition, in an extraordinary degree, when any one is born of God. It is equally clear, that all men without exception are by nature children of wrath and disobedience, that “whatever is born of the flesh is flesh,” and that the enmity of the carnal mind is such, that God alone can be looked to as the adequate source of deliverance from such a state. With all this fully conceded and maintained, we must not deny the free agency of men, even in the change of heart itself; we must not regard them as destitute of powers and faculties to repent, nor in any way exempt them from accountability for impenitence. The great truth in respect to the whole matter of regeneration is, that the natural man needs a change of disposition or heart to fit him for the happiness of heaven. The nature of the case when viewed in the light where Christ has placed it in his colloquy with Nicodemus, the present state of man, the holiness and purity of heaven, unitedly compel reason and sound philosophy to acknowledge, as well as the Scriptures, that except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. No man can enjoy a happiness for which he is not fitted.
Became flesh, i.e. assumed a human nature. We are not for a moment to suppose the meaning to be, that the essential nature itself of the Logos was changed into flesh, i.e. into a human nature, but that, as expressed above, a human nature was assumed in conjunction with his higher nature. We may adduce other declarations of Scripture respecting this, in the way of explanation and confirmation. Thus 1 John 4:2, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh;” Tim. 3:16, “He was manifested in the flesh;” Rom. 1:3, “Born of the seed of David, according to the flesh;” Phil. 2:7, 8, “Born [or made] in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as man;” Heb. 2:14, “He became partaker of flesh and blood.” The meaning in all these passages is the same in substance. The idiom is purely Hebrew; for in cases almost numberless we find flesh (בָּשָׂר) used in the Heb. Scriptures as an appellative of man. The adsignification of a frail and perishable body is doubtless coupled with this word, and is to be taken into the account. Σῶμα, body, would indicate something very different here from σάρξ; for σῶμα means a corporeal organism, in which many parts are compacted into a unity of system. The simple idea is plainly, that the Logos appeared in human form, with human attributes, and a human personality. Unnumbered passages of the N. Test, speak of the incarnate Logos as having all the qualities of a perfect human, although sinless, nature.
How this incarnation was accomplished; whether it was by the mere indwelling of the higher nature with the man Jesus; or whether it was by some principle of union between the divine and human, utterly beyond our power of discovery or even comprehension; are questions that we cannot definitely answer, and need not attempt to answer, since the whole matter is beyond the present circle of human knowledge. “Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh” remains enstamped upon the whole of this sacred and awful subject. We should not even attempt to lift up the veil which hangs before this most holy place, in the temple of divine truth, unless the sacred writers have led the way. Have they so done?
I know of but two or three passages, which wear the appearance of approach to any explanation of the matter before us. The first of these is in Col. 2:9, “In him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily, σωματικῶς “This seems to import for substance nearly the same as our text, “became flesh,” only that the mode of expression and shade of meaning varies. ‘That the fulness of the Godhead dwells in the human, corporeal, physical body of Christ is the sentiment. The word dwells (κατοικεῖ), in the present tense, designates the permanent habitual dwelling of divine fulness in the man Jesus. The whole expression looks like a designed opposition to the Gnostic notion, that only an Aeon dwelt in the apparent (not real) body of Christ, and that this immanence was only from his baptism down to his crucifixion. Paul asserts that the fulness of Godhead dwelt habitually and permanently in a real and proper body. But how? Not a word in answer to this last question.
Again, in Phil 2:6–7, Paul, after adverting to the fact that Christ did not tenaciously retain his τὸ εἶναι ἶσα θεῷ, i.e. his equality with God, or (in other words) his glorious majesty and divine honors, goes on to say, that “ὡαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, lit. he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,” etc. I must regard the three particulars that follow ἑαυτόν ἐκένωσε, as showing the consequences of the κένωσις, or the way and manner in which it exhibited itself, and not as descriptive of the nature itself of the κένωσις. This, so far as any disclosure is made respecting it, can be discovered only by looking at the contrast between being in a state of equality with God, and being in that condition which was assumed as necessary to the incarnation. Christ did not tenaciously retain the first, but ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, i.e. he divested himself of his divine honors and majesty, in order that he might become incarnate, and humble himself by becoming a servant, and being obedient even unto the death of the cross. But when we express his κένωσις by saying that he divested himself of divine honors and majesty, we of course cannot rationally mean, that he put off, or freed himself from, his proper, essential, divine, and immutable attributes; for such he must have possessed if he were equal with God. All we can suppose is, that the manifestation of his majesty and glory were suspended in their development or exhibition. So much the nature of the case seems to demand, and so much we may interpret the text as meaning. But how? This question again meets us, and meets us in a position of utter inability to answer it. But there is one text in John 17:5, which may aid us in confirming the views here given. The Saviour there prays for the restoration, after his death and resurrection, of that “glory which he had with the Father before the world was,” i.e. from eternity. This presupposes that he had laid aside, in some important sense, his original glory, during the period when he became flesh and dwelt among us. In his glorification, then near at hand, he was to receive again what he had for a time relinquished, when ἑαυτὸν ἐκέωσε.
These are all the texts which seem to have any direct bearing on the subject before us. But these at most lift up only the border of the veil which covers the “great mystery.” We must wait until we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face, for a full and satisfactory disclosure.
Καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, and dwelt or tabernacled among us. The word (σκηνή) appears to be designedly chosen, for the sake of special significance. In the tabernacle (σκηνή) God of old dwelt, ἐσκήνωσε. Hence the later Heb. idiom employed the word שְׁכִינָה (from שָׁכַן to dwell) Shechinah, as significant of the abiding divine glory over the mercy seat, a symbol of God’s presence among his people. But now, “God was manifest in the flesh,” “his fulness dwelt in Christ σωματικῶς“bodily, for the body of Jesus was the tabernacle of the Logos. In this he appeared among men, and became, so to speak, the Shechinah of the new dispensation. Viewed in this light, the language of John is very expressive.
What follows, moreover, shows that there is good reason to suppose his language to have the special reference and significancy that has been attributed to it. And we beheld his glory, τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ. The Hebrews called the “light inaccessible” which surrounds Jehovah, his Tins, i.e. splendor, glory. It was, with them, the symbol and emblem of his awful majesty and excellence. What the Logos incarnate exhibited, while he tabernacled among men, is, in allusion to this, called his δόξα, i.e. his כָּבוֹד. The glory of which John here speaks, is different, in some important respects, from that glory which originally belonged to him simply as Logos. Of this John 12:41 says, that Isaiah beheld it, viz. in the theophany described in Isa. 6. Again Christ speaks of it as what” he possessed with the Father before the world was,” John 17:5. But in John 2:11, the working of a miracle, i.e. changing water to wine, is ascribed to Christ as a manifestation of his glory; and in John 17:22, Christ speaks of a glory given to him, which he also gave to his disciples; and this glory was probably like that mentioned in the preceding passage, viz. miraculous power. In 17:24 there appears to be a different shade of meaning or rather an enlarged sense of the word glory, when viewed as belonging to the risen and glorified Saviour. Christ prays that his disciples may be with him in the heavenly world, that they may behold the glory there, which the Father will give him, viz. as the mediator, and give it to him in all the excellency and plenitude of what belongs to that high character and office. This glory is what belongs to Christ as “being highly exalted by God, and having a name given to him above every name,” Phil. 2:9. These texts may serve to give us the lead, in our exegesis of the verse before us. The context goes to show that Christ, the incarnate Logos, was “full of grace and truth.” He was still “life-giving and light-giving.” And the manifestation of these attributes constituted the glory which the disciples beheld, and of which Jesus speaks. It was such as became the only begotten of the Father.
In the clause δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, occurs an appellation of Christ which is peculiar to John. He alone names him only begotten. The full phrase is ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός; and so it occurs in v. 18 below, and also in 3:16–18. 1 John 4:9. The original and proper meaning of the word is an only child, sole progeny, (see Luke 7:12. 8:42. 9:38), as its etymology indicates. Applied to the Logos incarnate, (for it was his glory which the apostles saw), of course it cannot be taken in a literal sense, for this would imply a natural physical generation. The word cannot mean begotten in a spiritual sense, as believers (for example) are said to be begotten or regenerated. Lücke and De Wette understand it as contrasted with the τέκνα θεοῦ of v. 12» Ordinary men, they say, become children of God by believing on Christ, and obtaining ἐξουσίαν from him to be sons; but Christ has his filiation, in its highest sense and with all its privileges and preeminence, by nature, i.e. by the constitution of his being. It is in this sense that they believe he is the only begotten, i.e. because no others have a like filiation. With this exposition, however, I am not satisfied. I concede fully, that only begotten is not, as some have understood it, a mere appellation of endearment, like ἀγαπητός. Nor does it designate simply what is peculiar in its kind. This does not reach the deep meaning of the appellation. The true source of explanation, as I apprehend it, may be found in Luke 1:35, “A holy spirit [not the Holy Spirit] shall come upon thee, and a power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, therefore the holy progeny shall be called the Son of God.” That πνεῦμα ἃγιον lacks the article, is sufficient indication here of the meaning I have given to it. Besides, if the Holy Ghost as the third person in the Trinity is supposed to produce this Son, in what special sense is the first person of the Godhead to be called Father? Here then we have an express reason given for the appellation Son of God. This is the basis. There are other reasons why Christ is called Son; but this lies at the foundation. And a birth, a filiation, thus produced, is without a parallel. Sarah bore her son Isaac, and Elizabeth bore her son John the Baptist, after the power of conception had ceased in the course of nature. They were supernaturally aided in their maternity; but all else was in the natural course of things. In the case before us (Luke 1:35), no natural father intervenes. Divine influence, and that alone, causes the conception. No other conception was ever like it; and therefore “the holy Progeny is not only Son of God,” but the only begotten Son.
I am aware that many have believed and maintained, that Christ is Son in his divine nature; and of course, that the Logos before the incarnation was Son. That he was the person in the Godhead whom we now designate Son, I am fully persuaded, and have already maintained. But of eternal generation I can form no definite conception. Be it that the manner of this is mysterious, and beyond our comprehension. I readily concede that it may be so, and if the thing is true it must be so. But this does not relieve the difficulty. Generation imports at least derivation. If not, then it has no assignable meaning. Let it be as is affirmed, that it is eternal. The difficulty is not at all met. Derivation, whether commencing in time or not, implies of necessity dependence. Derivation stands opposed to self-existence. To say that the Logos is begotten, i.e. derived from the Father, in time or from eternity, is saying, if language has any definite meaning, that he is dependent, and is not self existent. How then can he be God, as John asserts? Of all the attributes of proper Godhead, independence and self-existence are the most essential and the most conspicuous. They are indispensable to our idea of true divinity. If any being has not these attributes, and still is called God, he must be a δεὸς δέυτερος, and nothing more. The pneumatology of the present day puts us beyond the reach of supposing supreme and proper Godhead to exist, where there is neither self-existence nor independence.
Not so the Nicene Fathers. “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” is their creed in respect to the Son. In other words, he is a God derived, and not self-existent. Very God they assert him to be, and so they meant to show that they believed in his true divinity. Doubtless they did believe it. But how difficult it was for them, surrounded by and mixed with the Greeks and Romans, to attain to the highest and most accurate pneumatic conceptions, must be evident. The heathen of the West in general believed in the boundless propagation of gods or an endless theogony. In the East, the emanation-system spread over a boundless extent of country. All the Aeons of the Gnostics were emanations, like to those of Zoroaster. Between the emanation-thepsophy on the one hand, and the theogony of the western heathen on the other, there was no little difficulty in divesting one’s self at the period of the Nicene Council, of tendencies toward a grosser system of pneumatology. Spirit, with most of the church fathers, was but sublimated transcendental matter. No wonder, then, that when the Nicene Creed was formed, it was not regarded by its authors as being inconsistent with true Godhead, that the Son was begotten or derived in his higher nature. Their Creed was in substance right; their pneumatic philosophy plainly inadmissible.
A very common defence of eternal generation has been made by an appeal to the natural sun. “Light,” say its advocates, “proceeds from the sun. There has been no moment since the sun existed, when light did not exist. So of the Father and the Son.” Such is the argument, or illustration; and that light is coetaneous with the sun, I would readily grant. But is it not dependent on the sun? Does it exist in, of, and by itself? These questions are sufficient to show, that nothing of this kind can remove the difficulty in question.
Let the reader note well, that John never calls the Logos Son, when he speaks of him in his separate nature. It is only after he becomes flesh, that he is named the only begotten.
The main reason, probably, why so many distinguished men in the church have concurred in the doctrine of eternal generation, is grounded in the circumstance, that the Son is spoken of in Scripture as having created the worlds, Heb. 1:2; and the like in regard to other things attributed to him, or (with variation of phraseology) to Jesus Christ, before the incarnation. But this mode of speaking when well examined, will hardly authorize us to maintain that the Logos is, in his essential nature, a derived being. Christ is sometimes called Son in the way of anticipative prediction, e. g. in Ps. 2. When he is called Son in the N. Test., while he is represented as the Creator of the world, it is because the appellation Son had then obtained all the force of a proper name, and as such designated the entire person in all stages of his being. In like manner we speak of what Abraham did, before he obtained this name (which was given when he was ninety-nine years old, Gen. 17:1–5), and do not stop to distinguish between Abram and Abraham. In like manner, the most familiar name is preferred to other names, in our every day’s conversation. We speak of what the Emperor of France did, long before he was emperor. And so in the case before us. Son is the incarnate Logos; and it is he who is the life and centre and soul of all that is called gospel. We easily and naturally extend the name Son, therefore, to him in all stages of his being and development. But this by no means shows, that John applied the epithet only begotten to his divine nature, as a word ontologically descriptive of it. A high and holy sense the appellation has, when viewed in the light which Luke 1:35 casts upon it. I cannot satisfy my own mind with reasons for this appellation such as Lücke and De Wette have proffered. Nor can I possibly bring my mind to see, how the language of the Nicene Creed can be fairly reconciled with the position, that “Christ is the true God, the great God, and God over all.” Such a Being cannot be dependent; he must be self-existent. That the Nicene fathers acknowledged the Son as true God in their own hearts and minds, I have already conceded. But in their spiritual metaphysics, is plainly discernible a spice of that emanation-philosophy, which from remote antiquity had overspread the East, and which still continues dominant there.
Δόξαν, without the article in the second instance, might be translated a glory without prejudice to the sense here. It is one of those cases in which the omission of the article is indifferent. It might be inserted, and would be normal. But it is not necessary. Μονογενοῦς is also without the article. The very nature of the word, in its connection, is so specific and definite, that it comes within the general principle which permits omission of the article, in cases where no obscurity can arise from the absence of it.
The ὡς before μονογενοῦς has made some difficulty for the critics. Clearly the clause does not mean, that the glory of the incarnate Logos was merely like that of the Only Begotten; for the glory of both was one and the same. Chrysostom seems to have expounded cog rightly; “A glory such as was becoming and proper to the Only Begotten.” In this case, we refer the comparison implied by cog to the ideal, i.e. to the perfect model, of glory. In other words, the glory was such as properly belonged to the Only Begotten; and this could be only of the highest and purest kind. —Παρὰ πατρός, of the Father, says our English version — perhaps ad sensum, although this is not quite certain. Παρά means with, from with, and so is not unfrequently employed to designate the original cause or author of anything. If we translate from the Father, the shade of meaning would be somewhat diverse. In John 16:27–28, Christ says twice of himself, that” he came out from God,” παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ. But this refers to his official mission into the world. In our text, the same turn might be given to the expression, since the incarnation of the Logos, or his coming in the flesh, is the topic of discourse. It is only by conjunction with μονογενῦς that παρά seems to be here modified, so that it may express the relation between the Son and the Father. Thus viewed, the words of our version, of the Father, may be permitted to stand. As to the omission of the article before πατρός, see Win. Gramm. § 18. p. 139. It is one of those nouns (and so μήτηρ), which sometimes dispense with the article where it would normally be inserted.
Full of grace and truth. So our version, but hardly in accordance, perhaps, with the exact meaning here. Grace has come to mean special favor, and in religious matters pardon, or the bestowment of the influences of the Holy Spirit. The Greek πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας is plainly modelled after the Hebrew חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת, which means kindness and faithfulness. The word kindness, χάρις, designates the love and goodness displayed by the author of all the privileges and blessings of the gospel dispensation. The word ἀλήθεια is not to be restricted here to the Heb. אֱמֶת, faithfulness, but to be extended to all the disclosures made by the gospel, respecting God and his will and also our duty. In other words, Christ was filled with that kindness or love which procures all spiritual blessings for man; and Christ was also the Light of men — the Light of the world — the source of all saving truth. That πλήρης refers to the Logos incarnate, is beyond a doubt. The clause, however, is constructed in John’s aphoristic manner. There is also an ellipsis of ἦν. If we were to fill out the construction, we should say: καὶ πλήρης κ. τ. λ.
The καὶ at the beginning of the verse is merely a continuative of the narration, being connected in sense with the preceding v. 9; like the וְ] continuative of the Hebrew. We might translate it moreover.
But why this apparent interruption of the discourse, which is again resumed in the next verse? If the reader will turn back to vs. 5, 6, he will see the like. V. 5 represents the Logos as shedding light on the benighted world. John’s testimony respecting him as the Light of men is then appealed to — apparently, in the way of confirming the statement of the Evangelist; really, not for this purpose only, but also as an argumentum ad hominem addressed to the disciples of John, and to all those Jews (and they were many), who admitted John to be “a burning and a shining light,” John 5:35. Vs. 5—8, then, present a course of thought like the present. Here the evangelist has just said, that the Logos became incarnate, in order to display the fulness of his grace and truth, or (in other words) his lifegiving and light-giving attributes. This is a new and most extraordinary circumstance, one which, to a carnal mind, would appear the most mysterious and incredible of all the facts that are related. The writer, therefore, again appeals to the testimony of John, and for purposes of the same nature as before. In strictness of grammatical speaking, v. 15 is parenthetic.
This parenthesis, however, is introduced in John’s usual aphoristic way; i.e. it has no particle designating either connection or dependence. The present tense, μαρτυρεῖ is an example of the historic present. The writer speaks, as though the events of the past were taking place before his eyes; a method of narration peculiarly frequent in John. The same is true of κέκραγε. It is indeed a Perfect in point of form, but it is one of those Perfects which are employed as the Present. Of these there is a considerable number; see my N. Test. Gramm. § 136. 3. c. Win. Gramm. § 41. n. 4. The earnestness of John’s declaration is designated by employing the verb κέκραγε, to cry out, openly to cry aloud. —Δέγων is subjoined as introductory to the quotation of the words of the Baptist.
Οὗτος ἦν ὅν I have translated, he was the same of whom I said. I take οὗτος to be the predicate after ἦν. in point of meaning; and ἦν may either imply the pronoun he, or be used in a kind of absolute way and be translated it was, — ὅν εἶπον is not a usual construction in the N. Test., and the verb εἶπον is not properly transitive. According, however, to classic Greek usage, words of speaking may take the Ace. of the person spoken of, as well as of the things said concerning him in the way of praise or blame; Kühner Ausfuhr. Gramm. §551. 2. The whole clause that followsεἶπον, is of course of the nature of an Ace. after this verb, although the verb is not properly transitive. In the Greek language, constructions of this kind are of a wide extent; as any one may see in Kühner on the Syntax of the Accusative. Or the Ace. of ὅν may be solved in another way, viz. as the Ace. of a thing or person in respect to whom anything is said or done.
The tenor of the verse shows, that the evangelist here introduces the Baptist as repeating, on some public and solemn occasion, the testimony which he had formerly given to Jesus. So ὅν εἶπονof whom I spake, naturally indicates. In the later testimony, the Baptist declares that what he had formerly said of Jesus, he still adheres to. To this implied continuation of the testimony, it is probable that the use of the Present tense in the first two verbs is in part to be attributed; for the Present often denotes continued or habitual action. We may also account without any difficulty for the Imperf. ἦν, instead of ἔστι(as it is in v. 30); for the speaker is represented as describing occurrences in the past time, and also the person of Jesus as it then was.
He who cometh after me is before me. Both the words, ὀπισω and ἔμπροσθεν may refer to place or to time, I take them both to have reference here to place, Jesus came after the Baptist, indeed, as to time; but if we affix to ὀπίσω this sense, then we must regard ἔμπροσθεν as having relation to time also. I take the meaning of the passage to be founded on the usual fact, that the superior precedes as to place, and the inferior follows. Here, however, the reverse of what is common is declared to have happened. Although Jesus followed John, yet he was the superior. That ἔμπροσθεν has reference here to superiority of place or rank, there can be no good reason to doubt. The transition from before in a local sense to before in an official one or m point of rank, is easy and natural. So Sept., Gen. 48:20, “He [Jacob] put Ephraim ἔμπροσθεν, before Manasseh? i.e. be gave him the first rank. If now (as some have done) we make ὀπίσω to refer merely to time, then it would be difficult to make out the antithesis here with ἔμπροσθεν. As I understand it, the sentiment is: ‘My follower has become my leader.’ Hence the word γέγόε, has. become. It was after Jesus had entered on his public office, that John said this; and it was then, and not before, that he took the lead of John. He had repaired to the baptism of John, among the multitude who flocked to Enon in order to become his disciples. He was baptized by John. The word ὀπίσω is the common word, in the Gospels, to denote following after a master, as a disciple; see Lex. When the Baptist speaks then of Jesus as coming after him, he seems plainly to advert to his having come to him in the attitude of a disciple. But he who thus at first came after him, from the time when he was baptized and thus initiated into office, became John’s master = ἰσχυρότερός μου ἐστίν, Matt. 3:11. All is plain when viewed in this light. The verb γέγνε, has become, is also explained. Jesus, who was a follower, has now become a leader. In other words: He is now what he was not before, viz. the leader; and so γέγονε is employed. Ὁ ἐρχόμενος, lit. he who cometh is = a comer, at least so far so, that the adsignification of time is dropped.
For he was before me —πρῶτός, by Greek usage is often equivalent to πρότερος, and so we may translate before me. But is reference made to time, or rank? Πρῶτος may refer to either, and the sense will be good. In either way, the reason is given in this clause (to which ὅτι is prefixed), why the disciple has become the leader or master. If then the meaning be made out by reference to rank, it would stand thus; ‘My disciple has become my master, because he was aforetime of higher rank than myself’ Observe that ἦν is here employed, viz. he was of this rank in time past. So ἦν ὁ λόγος… θεὸ: ς. ..ἦν τὸ φῶς. De Wette thinks that John the Baptist did not know enough of Christ, to enable him to utter such a sentiment, and that the writer must have imparted to the alleged words of the Baptist somewhat of his own more extended views. But if the Baptist were a commissioned and inspired messenger and herald of the Messiah, and knew him to be “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” is it probable that he did not know something of his preëxistence? — On the other hand; if we refer πρῶτος to time, the meaning is obvious, viz. he has preeminence now, because he existed before me; in other and familiar language: Seniority gives him the preference, or, as senior he is entitled to a higher place. I incline to this last mode of interpretation for two reasons; (1) Because the Evangelist elsewhere employs such a form as πρῶτος, i e. πρῶτος with a Gen. after it, to designate before in point of time, John 15:18, πρῶτον, [the world hated me] before you. As to πρῶτος in the adverbial sense, viz. as signifying first in point of time, see John 1:42. 5:4. 8; 7. 19:32. 20:4. (2) The evangelist had already said in the preceding context, that the Logos was in the beginning — was God—was Life and Light; and by now employing ἦν, he means it shall refer to the past period as there designated by ἦν. He was πρῶτος, i.e. existed before he became a follower of the Baptist; and from being a follower he became the leader or master, because he was in the beginning.
The form of speech here is what the rhetoricians call ὀξύμωρον (oxymoron), viz. one in which contrary things are so joined, that if literally taken they would be contradictory or absurd, but which have a pointed sententious significance, when apprehended according to their true meaning. This applies well to the case before us. The literal sense would be no sense. But when understood as explained above, the words of the Baptist must have appeared very significant to his hearers. The oxymoron is extended even to the πρῶτος, which is employed in contrast with ὀπίσω.
The substitution here of ὅτι for καί, at the beginning of the verse, which Lachmann, Griesbach, and several Codices have made, and which Lücke approves, is unnecessary. V. 16 connects, beyond all doubt, with v. 14 above. Many have supposed vs. 16—18 to be the words of the Baptist. But the case seems clear, that ἡμεῖς πὰντες ἐλάβμεν κ. τ. λ., viz. we [the disciples of Christ] have received etc., naturally, if not even necessarily, refers to the apostle and his fellow Christians. But the evangelist connects his own commentary (as it were) on vs. 14, 15, by employing καί(in v. 16.) in a continuative sense, equivalent to our moreover. The connection of sentiment seems to be thus: ‘The glory of the Logos incarnate was seen by us, even his fulness of grace and truth; the Baptist bore witness to his exalted rank; moreover, [i.e. in addition to all this testimony], we have actually experienced his abundant goodness.’ In this way all is plain.
The word πληρώματος is at once explained, by πλρης κ. τ. λ. in v. 14. — We all have received means, of course, all who are the children of God by being born of God, vs. 12, 13. John the Baptist cannot appropriately be supposed to have said this, because Christ had not exhibited his glory (v. 14) when he spake of him as related in v. 15. — Grace for grace is hardly intelligible, in a specific definite sense, to an English reader. Even the Greek χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος was misunderstood by most of the Christian fathers, and has been by many in modern times. The substance of their exegesis is: “The New Testament for the Old.” But the very next verses show, that the Old Testament is not put in competition here with the New, or placed by the side of it. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, not by Moses. Of course the evangelist could not call the Old Testament χάρις, in a passage which ascribes χάρις to the Messiah. The true meaning of the phrase is somewhat obscure, perhaps, so far as mere idiom is concerned, for ἀντί usually means in the room of, instead of. But this meaning does not fit well here. This particle, however, in the later Greek writers, is sometimes used to denote an unbroken succession or continuance of a thing. Not exactly (as some paraphrase it) “grace upon grace,” but one grace after another in constant succession. So Chrysostom, ἑτέραν ἀντ̓ ἑτέρας φροντίδα De Sacerdot. 6. 13. So Theognis ἀντ̓ ἀνιῶν ἀνίας, v. 344. It should be noted, also, that grace has here the same sense as in v. 14, i.e. kindness, goodness; such as bestows favours gratuitously and in abundance. The generic idea of the word rendered it unnecessary, in the view of the writer, to repeat the ἀληθείας of v. 14. Grace exhibited itself in the way of communicating light or truth, for this was an exercise of love or kindness. — The καί before this last clause is the so named καί epexegetical, i.e. καί placed before a clause which is of an epexegetical nature; a meaning of וְ, in the Hebrew which is very common, and also of καί in the New Testament which is not uncommon. I have translated it even, which corresponds well with its meaning here.
Here it becomes clear that χάρις does not mean the Old Testament, in the preceding verse. Christ alone gave grace, in the sense here intended. Moses did indeed give the Law, or rather, it was given by him as the leading instrument. But the law is a dispensation very different from the gospel. The language of the first is: “Obey perfectly, and live; the soul that sinneth shall die.” The second declares, that the penitent shall be forgiven, and all needed grace and glory bestowed. John assumes here, in regard to the law of Moses, the like position with Paul, who says that” the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” by the law, Eom. 1:18; that it denounces a curse on all who fail of perfect obedience, Gal. 3:10; that the law could not give life, Gal. 3:21; that it is the ministration of condemnation and of death, and has no glory in comparison with gospel, 2 Cor. 3:6 —11; that it is only the shadow of good things to come, Heb. 10:1; that it was not faultless, Heb. 8:7; that it was a wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, Eph. 2:14; that by its commandments and ordinances it was the occasion of enmity, ib. vs. 15, 16, comp. Rom. 7:7–10; that, compared with the gospel, it contains weak and beggarly elements, Gal. 4:9; and many things are said in his epistles of the like tenor. It is in vs. 17, 18, of our text, that John virtually assumes the same ground. Hence he declares that grace and truth, in the high sense which he assigns to them, came or were introduced (ἐγένετο) only by Jesus Christ. The whole tenor of his gospel manifests how deeply this sentiment was engraven upon his heart.
But why should the evangelist here introduce such a sentiment? Plainly in order that he might exalt the glory of the only begotten, full of grace and truth, and might show the Jews what abundant reason they had, to lay hold upon the hope set before them in and through him. He does not indeed bring any direct accusations against the law; but by the force of comparison he points out the great deficiency and inability of the law, as a remedy for our present maladies. All men are sinners; and it is only the grace and truth that Christ has exhibited, which can save them from the curse of the law. The ὅτι, at the beginning of the verse, indicates that some proof is to be given, or ground alleged, for the assertion which precedes. The matter stands thus. We have received of his fulness, for he only has such a fulness, i.e. he only is the true source of gospel grace and truth. No other source was adequate to bestow upon us a constant succession of favors. — The verb ἐγένετο is here in the singular, in conformity with its next preceding subject, ἀλήθεια a principle of syntax common in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and even English.
Although this verse assigns a fundamental reason, why grace and truth could be exhibited only by the incarnate Logos, yet it has neither a γάο nor a ὅτι to introduce it. This, as before remarked, is altogether in conformity with the prevailing aphoristic style of John, and specially of this Prologue. — Οὐδεις, no one, is designed to extend the denial to all other Old Testament prophets or writers, as well as to Moses. — ῾Εώρακε, hath seen, expresses with intensity the action of seeing. It doubtless has a tropical sense here; for merely to say, that no one had seen God corporeally or physically, would amount to very little. The impossibility of this was fully believed by the Jews; for Ex. 33:20 asserts it, as also do Deut. 5:24. Judg. 13:22. 1 Tim. 6:16, al. The theophanies of the Old Testament, or of the New, are no contradiction of this; for in all these cases, only the כְּבוֹד יְהוָֹה, the Shechinah, or δόξα Κυρίου. is exhibited. Besides, mere corporeal vision would not confer the power of revealing divine truth or mysteries. The vision, in the case before us. is a mental perception of God in the highest sense, so as to comprehend and understand his designs and purposes. It implies an intuitive knowledge. The Logos alone possessed this. He was with God, and in him was life and light. He therefore understood the divine will and counsel, in a manner entirely discrepant from, and superior to, the perception of any merely human being, whether Moses himself or his successors.
Ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός is here employed, in the way of contrast with any son who is born of the flesh in a natural way. The incarnate Logos enjoys privileges and advantages to which no merely human being can possibly lay claim; comp. John 6:46. 14:7. — Ὁ ὤν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός, who is in (or on?) the bosom of the Father. Is the phrase here, εἰς τὸν κόλπον, equivalent to ἐν τῷ͂ κόλπῳ? Somewhat numerous are the cases in which εἰς with the Ace. is employed to designate resting or dwelling in a place, even where the Dative with ἐν is more usual; see Rob. Lex. Εἰς, 4. But conceding this, what is the meaning of being in his bosom? Among the Latins, the phrases in gremio patris positum esse — in sinu getari — in gremio matris sedens — in sinu esse, and the like, designate the most internal and hearty friendship and community of feeling. This sense is appropriate in the case before us. By such a union (πρὸς τὸν θεόν), the Son becomes entirely cognisant of all that (so to speak) passes in the Father’s mind, and therefore able to make all his revelations of grace and truth. But perhaps there lies at the basis of the form of expression, the idea of leaning on the bosom of another, in the way of affectionate friendship and confidence, as John leaned on the bosom of Jesus at supper, John 21:20. Our English expressions, bosom-friend, bosom-confident, well express the substance of what is intended in our text. — As to the 6 c5V, in the Pres. tense, it is plainly intended to designate what is habitual, constant, and unlimited — a very common meaning of this tense. Some have referred the Participle to the Imperfect; and this, no doubt, the form of the Pres. participle is capable of expressing; see my N. Test. Gramm. § 173. 2. If so rendered here, the meaning would be, that before the Logos became flesh he was in the Father’s bosom, i.e. πρὸς τὸν θεον. The sense would be sufficiently appropriate, but not near so energetic and expressive as the Pres. tense makes it In 3:13, Jesus speaks of himself in like manner, as ὁ ὤν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, i.e. as dwelling habitually in heaven, and knowing all that is disclosed or determined there. His omnipresence is hardly deducible from either of these texts, because a local presence (so to speak) is not the direct object of assertion in either. But still, he who is in the bosom of the Father and is in heaven, at the same time that he is the incarnate Logos dwelling among men, must at least be a wonderful being (Isa. 9:6), and cognisant of all things, John 17:30.
The word ἐξηγήσαρο was used by the Greeks to designate the explaining and unfolding of holy things. This is altogether appropriate here. But what is it that the Son reveals or declares? The verb has no Ace. after it, which is expressed. But the context seems plainly to imply τὸν θεόν; not God as to his mere metaphysical nature, but God as the author of grace and truth. It is the Son, and he only, who has placed the character and designs of God in the light that the gospel affords. God was indeed revealed in many respects, in the O. Test.; but God as Father, and Christ as Son and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, were, to say the most, only foreshadowed in the Jewish Scriptures. It is Christ, who has “brought life and immortality to light;” Christ who has revealed the new and living way of access to the throne of mercy; and Christ, who has given the clearest views of God, of the way of duty, and of the way of happiness. It is sometimes the case, no doubt, that preachers and theologians inculcate views of the 0. Test, revelations, which are quite incompatible with the sentiment of our text, and of other kindred passages in the New Testament. Since all Scripture is of God, they seem to conclude that all is, even now, equally profitable and instructive; a conclusion which full surely neither Paul nor John admits. Grace and truth came, in the highest and most holy sense, only by Jesus Christ This is the sheet-anchor of all who are embarked on a Christian voyage. The glory of the Mosaic dispensation was indeed true and real. But it was only as the day-star to the rising sun. If then it be only a star, and nothing more, we should not regard it as rivalling the true Sun in all its majesty and glory.
So much room has been occupied already, with the explanation of the text and with remarks on some of the doctrines which it inculcates, that dilation on several topics of interest which the prologue suggests, is precluded. I shall, therefore, close the present part of my undertaking, by a summary or synoptical view of the course of thought or connection of sentiment, in the prologue through which our examination has been extended.
The original state or condition of the Logos, and his essential nature, are first described. He is eternal; was with God; was God. As such, he was the Creator of all things without exception. In particular, he was the source of all life; and as the author of spiritual life, he was the source also of all true spiritual light. His light shone on the darkness of all the ages which preceded his coming; but this darkness was so gross, that little impression was made upon it. To prepare the way for the coming of the Logos to act personally and visibly among men, in order to save the world from its ruinous state, his herald or forerunner, John, was sent from God, in order that he might bear such testimony concerning the Messiah, as would persuade men to believe. Those greatly mistake the real character of John, who suppose him to be the Light of the world. The true light, the only personage entitled to this high character, was he who made the world, and who came into it, although the world in general rejected him. He came in a special manner to his own peculiar heritage and people, yet even they did not receive him. In this last case, however, there were exceptions. Some did receive him, and believe on his name. On them he bestowed the power of claiming and enjoying all the rights and privileges of the children of God, — his children, not in any way of mere natural generation, but by a regeneration spiritual and divine. In the accomplishment of his last great work among his people, the Logos became flesh, i.e. took on him the human form and nature, and thus dwelt among men, and manifested his glory, which was truly that of the Only Begotten of God. John himself bore witness also to this wonderful truth — the consummation of the great plan of salvation. Nor does the account of this mysterious transaction depend, for its confirmation, on the testimony of John only; for of the fulness of grace and truth, which abounded in the incarnate Logos, did all his true disciples abundantly partake. He only could dispense such blessings. The law was given by Moses; but through the perversity of men, it became the occasion of their condemnation and ruin. Neither Moses, nor any other prophet, ever understood and disclosed the character and designs of God, in such a way as was adequate to accomplish the plan of our redemption. He only, who is in the bosom of the Father, and knows all the secrets of that bosom, could show grace and reveal truth in such a way as fully to satisfy our wants and alleviate our woes. This he has done; and therefore he is deserving of our highest confidence, love, and obedience.
Such is the course of thought in this remarkable proem to the gospel of John. The composition is singular in its kind, there being nothing elsewhere in all the N. Test, that resembles it. It brings before us the Logos first in his simple original nature; and then in the developments of himself which had been made, either in the way of creation or of redemption. His incarnation, his dwelling among men, and the reception which he met with from them, are also constituent parts of the picture. Twice does the evangelist refer to the rejection of him who was the light of the world; in the first instance, by the ungodly world before the incarnation, when Christ spake to them by patriarchs and prophets, by the voice of conscience and the works of nature; in the second, by the ungodly in general, but specially by his own peculiar people whom he addressed in person. The design of this repetition plainly is, to give an intensity of coloring to the picture which the evangelist draws of the aggravated guilt of the Jews in rejecting him.,
The touches of John are very brief and few; but still, they are exceedingly significant. The nature of the Logos, the creative displays of his power, his moral and spiritual operations on the minds of men, and the reception which they gave him, and his exclusive competence and claim to be their Saviour — are all presented within the compass of one short paragraph. We might naturally expect that such brevity would be the occasion of some obscurity. And so it is. But a diligent and patient enucleation of all the particulars, and then a comparison of them with each other, will enable any one to perceive the true order, the method, and the intimate relation and connection of the whole discourse. It is very far from being a mere succession of apothegmatic sentences. The bands which unite the whole in one compact unity, are some of them indeed of so fine a texture, that they require careful inspection in order to perceive and appreciate them. But when once developed, the reader is struck with the relation and the harmony of the whole. Well might John suppose, that such an introduction to his Gospel would excite in the reader a strong curiosity to proceed in the perusal of his work, and see what had been the developments of that mysterious and wonderful personage, who is thus introduced and commended to his notice.
One question however remains, and it is one of rather serious import. How comes it that the sufferings and death of Christ, the all atoning sacrifice for sin, which throughout the New Testament, with the exception of the historical narratives, is everywhere the predominating theme — how comes it, that no account of these is introduced into John’s prologue? The first view that is taken of this matter, probably awakens in most persons some degree of surprise. Very naturally will it produce such an effect, whenever the course of further development, on the part of the evangelist, is not examined with care. A close scrutiny, however, of the prologue and of the succeeding contents of the book, will lead the inquirer to see, that John has not attempted the completion of his whole picture, in the sketch that he has drawn at the beginning. It is merely an introductory sketch. In this, he gives us only what took place antecedent to the close of the ministry of Jesus. But of all the writers in the N. Test., John is one of the last who can be charged with having overlooked, or given only a secondary place to, the value of the sufferings and death of Christ. In the sequel to his prologue, and without delay, he introduces this theme. He commences so far back as the anticipative testimony of the Baptist. That personage, immediately after baptizing Jesus, directed the attention of the multitudes around him, to his acknowledged Lord and Master, and exclaimed: “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world!” 1:27. This declaration he repeats on another occasion, 1:36. At the outset of the Saviour’s public ministry, Jesus declared to Nicodemus, that “the Son of man must be lifted up, in order that they who believe in him may not perish,” John 3:14–15. And again, “God so loved the world that he gave up (ἔδωκε) his only begotten Son, (i.e. gave him up to death), that believers might be saved,” 3:16. To the Jews, who disputed against him, Jesus declared, that “they must eat the flesh, and drink the blood of the Son of man, that they might have life,” John 6:53. Again he declares, that “he lays down his life for the sheep,” John 10:11. The high priest Caiaphas is represented by John as declaring, under a constraining divine influence, that “Jesus should die for that nation [the Jews], and for all the people of God scattered abroad,” John 11:51–52. John’s epistles are replete with the doctrine, that “the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin,” 1 John 1:7. 2:2. 3:16. 4:10. 5:6, al. The Apocalypse above all other books places the blood of Christ on the highest ground of preeminence. To quote is unnecessary. The fact alleged lies on the face of the whole production.
It is not then because John overlooked or under-estimated the great, the all important subject of the atonement, that he has not introduced it into his preface. It was because his plan of writing remitted the consideration of this subject to what follows the preface; for in the sequel he makes it occupy the highest place in the testimony of John the Baptist. It is indeed very natural to raise a question respecting the omission of any mention of atonement in the preface to John’s Gospel. But the answer to this question may, with good reason, be regarded as sufficient and satisfactory. John’s prologue was not designed to include an account of the end of Christ’s work on earth, but only to touch on what preceded the incarnation, and what took place afterwards in the most general sense, while the Saviour was employed in the execution of his mission to our world. That which respects the close of his great mediatorial and saving work, is related elsewhere in John’s Gospel (chap. 8–21.); and related more fully than by any other Evangelist.