The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







Jesus the light of the world in contrast with the lights of the temple

(Joh 8:12-20)

The passage respecting the adulteress (Joh 8:2-11), including the two verses immediately preceding it (Joh 7:53; Joh 8:1) which form the link of transition, is shown by the testimony of the most authoritative diplomatic evidence not to belong to this place. In several distinguished manuscripts and versions, and especially in many eminent fathers, the passage is wanting: in some manuscripts it is marked as of doubtful authenticity, in others it forms an appendix to the Gospel of John, or is inserted elsewhere, as after Joh 7:36, or after Luk 21:38. To which is to be added, that the text of the passage itself has a much larger number of various readings than is the case usually. The more particular discussion of this point would not be in place here: we refer the reader to Lücke, Tholuck, and Hitzig.1

It appears, however, to be also decidedly made out, that we are to recognize in the section a fragment of genuine apostolic tradition; and that the grounds of suspicion, by which it has been attempted to prove that the substance of the passage is in itself apocryphal, are without any weight.2

We can readily understand the motives which have led to the introduction of this passage in this particular place. But it is easily shown that the narration does not belong here; nay, that it cannot be regarded as a fact belonging to the history of Christ’s appearance at the feast of Tabernacles at all; that we have rather grounds for supposing that the circumstance took place after the last public entry of Christ into Jerusalem. It has been already observed that in some manuscripts the Section Is found in Luke’s Gospel following the twenty-first chapter. At any rate, it seems in point of time to suit that connection.3

There may have been several reasons for supposing that this narration, viewed in the connection of its subject-matter, belonged to the place in which we find it in this Gospel. For, in the first place, it might seem that no fitter occasion could have been found for the circumstance here recorded than the feast of Tabernacles, when the assembled people, for a succession of days, abandoned itself to the merriest excitement. Their living in booths would not only furnish occasions for scandals, but also favour their detection. And if such a discovery had taken place, the mood of the season would most easily prompt men, in the fanaticism of religious zeal, or even with the concurrent impulse of comic feeling, to go about the execution of the criminal by the summary process of the ancient law, in place of the judicial usages which were now in vogue.4 Moreover, the words also which, according to John (8:12, 15, 16), Jesus was about this time speaking in the temple, might have seemed to admit of being referred to some such occurrence. The introduction, therefore, of the Section In this place, rests upon a delicate perception of the relations of things. But nevertheless the reasons against it appear to be decisive. We can hardly, indeed, assert that the section would, strictly speaking, break the connection; for the story admits of being regarded as a basis for Christ’s announcement, that He is the Light of the world. But yet it is to be observed, that the story itself is not qualified by the connection in this place; nay, that substantially it quite breaks through the finer relations of the connection, which without it already exists in absolute completeness, however well it may at first seem externally to suit it. For with respect to the discourse of Christ which follows this narration, it may just as readily be supposed, that according to a well-known conjecture, Christ delivered it in the temple, with an indirect reference to the gigantic lights of the feast, which had now for some time been extinguished, as that in the announcement, that He would make believers to be fountains of waters, He had reference to the drawing of water practised in the feast. But He could only do this if the feast was still going on; so that the golden light-stands were still displayed. Here, however, the circumstance is especially to be considered, that the feast closed with the eighth day. Next, it is not very probable that Jesus again resumed the topics of the preceding day with all the people, as our narrative certainly supposes.5 And yet less supposable does it seem that the pharisaic party would now, though it were only in pretence, constitute Him a theocratical arbiter, whilst it just now was holding a session to seize Him, and in every way was endeavouring to lessen His estimation among the people. It was quite different after Jesus had publicly made His last entry into Jerusalem, and had been greeted by the people with cries of Hosanna as the Messias. Then the crafty hierarchs felt themselves bound to change their policy. Whilst, therefore, they were in secret labouring for His ruin, they publicly, with malicious and sly irony, threw themselves into the supposition that He was the theocratical arbiter of the country. They came and propounded to Him difficult questions of right, as, e.g., the question relative to the tribute-money, and sought to lay hold of Him in that way. Now, the bringing the adulteress before Him is an especial and pre-eminent example of those ironical acts of homage with which they were tempting Him, and therefore with great probability belongs to the decisive days of the Hosanna. We shall therefore, on that occasion, come back to this occurrence, without laying any decisive weight upon the conjecture that it belongs to the cycle of Luke’s Gospel narratives.

The Evangelist brings us back from the discomfited session of the high council into the temple, in which Jesus on the same day went on with His ministerial work by uttering His second great word: ‘I am the light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’

The streamings of the festal waters had ceased to flow, and with them had ceased the joy of the feast: therefore had Jesus stood in the midst of the unsatisfied, longing spirits which were there assembled, and cried out aloud, that He would give to drink to those who believed on Him, nay, transform their own selves into fountains of waters.

And as the burnt-out lights in a banqueting hall awaken in the mind a painful sense of the fleeting nature of all festal joys of earth, so, we may suppose, did those great candelabra in the court of the temple stand as melancholy tokens of the now vanished festal illumination; so that the Jews could not fail to feel the deep impressiveness of the word which Jesus spoke, when, in the vicinity of those tokens of departed lustre, perhaps with His finger pointing to them, He declared that He was the Light of the world.6 Certainly there lay in His declaration at the same time a reference to those passages in the prophets which extol the Messias as the Light of the Gentiles.7 John, we may suppose, mentions only the text or main topic upon which Christ probably made an extended address, as was also most probably the case also with the word respecting the streams of living water.

In contrast with the light of the festal nights of Zion, Christ sets before His hearers the Light of the world; with the torchlight dancers and night-strollers in the magical splendour of the temple-lamps, His followers; with that outward illumination of the courts of the temple and of the streets of Jerusalem, that enlightenment of believers which does away with the darkness of the sinful heart; with the external lustre of lamps, nay, even with the sunlight of day, the Light of life. In His life is given to the world that clear spiritual principle, in the operation of which all forms, relations, and conditions of the world come forth into clear view. The spiritual words and workings which issue forth from His life enlighten the whole world of men, nay, the entire universe. They throw light upon the world of sinners; they penetrate with light the natural world; they make to shine with light the believing followers of Jesus. All who do not follow Him walk in darkness—in endless confusion of thoughts, of desires, of ebullitions of passion and impulses of will, of aims and of means, nay, even of lights and intuitions themselves, which, as a thousand dazzlings working together,8 produce a night of endless unhappiness and corruption. But the followers of Jesus walk not in this darkness, but in the light; nay, they have the light of life, that essential light which is one with an essential life, which comes forth from life and goes into life: they enter ever more and more into that relation held by all things (both in their actual subsistence and in their ideal) to Christ, in which all life becomes thought, and all thoughts become life.

This time the Pharisees sought to overthrow the effect of His word on the spot. ‘Thou bearest witness in Thine own case’ (they said), ‘for Thine own self; Thy witness therefore is not true.’ They would fain have branded Him at once as a false witness and a false prophet. Jesus answered: ‘Though I bear witness of Myself, yet My witness is true; for I know whence I am come and whither I go, but ye know not whence I come and whither I go.’9

The point here in question was a fact of His consciousness—a fact of which He alone could testify, and of which He was constrained all the more decidedly to testify, not only because it was hidden from them all, but because they also sought in every way to suppress, and even annihilate all manifestation of it.10

Jesus knew perfectly whence He came—that He issued forth from the Father, and was clearly ascertained in His being to be the Son; and whither He went—that His life was being made a pure sacrifice of self-devotion to the Father through the Holy Ghost. He had perfect clearness of knowledge respecting Himself. And just because His consciousness had this sunlight clearness, was He the Light of the world. This consciousness He could not but speak out. And because He testified of His divine consciousness, therefore was His testimony in and by itself sufficient. For in pure divine consciousness that twofold character is present which makes the utterance to be adequate testimony: the consciousness testifies for God, and God testifies for the consciousness, and both testify for the living unity wherein they subsist united. But as soon as He began to speak of His official mission, He appealed to the witness of the Father for Him as it lay in His works; and in this connection He could utter the contrasted word: ‘If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true’ (Joh 5:31).

After saying this, He declares to His gainsayers why it was that they know nothing of His inner life, neither whence He came nor whither He went;11 namely, because they judge a man after the flesh, according to the circumstances of his outward appearing, whether, e.g., he is a Rabbi or not. Nay, they even dared to judge Him by such criteria, and to reject Him. He, on the contrary (He goes on to state), ‘judges no manʼ—does not hold judgment over any man. And this is of course true ; since He never can regard the substantial being of man as reprobate, but only the caricature which a man has made of his being in evil.12 ʻBut if He really do  judge’ (He adds), ‘ His judgment is true, ‘real’ (κρίσις ἀληθινή), i.e., is the announcement of the divine judgment as subsisting in the real conduct and condition of a man; for therein He is ‘not alone,’ but the Father who sent Him is also there.13 He therefore never, with the untimeons zeal for judging which men so often display, forestalls the real judgment which God is carrying out in actual tact by means of men’s ripening guilt and desert of punishment. He leaves the world to carry out its self-judgment, under the control of the righteousness of God, as God’s judgment. As the real judgment is matured, He gives it its expression, gives it its name, and therewith its completion. Therefore also it is only at the end of the world that He solemnly steps forth as the world’s Judge. As in His miracles of healing the Father, who works with Him, occasions and gives effect to His health-bringing utterances, and thereby accredits His calling as Saviour, so also the judgment of God displays itself in actual fact in the blindness of His enemies, when He sees Himself compelled, as is just now the case, to reproach them with such blindness. The Father draws them not: hereby are they in their present conduct judged.

The contrast between the judging of Jesus and that of His enemies is therefore threefold. ‘They judge according to outward appearance ; He, only according to real evidence: they hold judgment upon the inner essential being of a man; He judges in man his caricature: they, lastly, judge man in precipitate haste, and at their own instance; He waits for the Father's disposals as Judge, and brings only what is ripe for the sentence to the utterance of the sentence.

This position, that the Father evermore accredits His words, He now holds fast, in order to show that His witnessings are valid testimony. He refers them to ‘their law.’ According to the implied meaning of that law (Deut. xvii. 6), the concurring ‘ testimony of two men’ forms evidence in court which legally holds good. The one of such concurring witnesses accredits the other, though they are both sinful men. On this ground Jesus is in His words of testimony infinitely more accredited, since the Father confirms His depositions by the most palpable realities. Jesus delineates the matters of the spiritual world in their objective character with perfect clearness and truthfulness, and brings to effect the will of the Father, as that will is indicated to Him in the clearness of infallible contemplation through that fashion of the world which is confronting Him; He testifies, therefore, wholly for the Father. ‘Therefore also the Father, through His ordering of things in the objective world, testifies for Him, by confirming all His words by objective realities.

This appeal of Jesus to the testimony of the Father is of the highest truth, but at the same time it was so delicate and elevated in its character that His opponents could only obscurely apprehend it; so they fancied that they would be able at once to annihilate it by abruptly turning upon Him a rude repartee. Suddenly they blurt out the question, ‘Where is Thy Father?’ as if they would say, Let us only see this witness of Thine! herewith they would fain throw Him into perplexity; but they did not observe, that by this clever stroke, as they deemed it, they, as soon as He took it seriously and not as a jeering demand that He should produce a human father, were forsaking their monotheistic position, and therefore denying their Old Testament faith,—faith in the invisibleness and omnipresence of God. Nay, there lay in this rejoinder of theirs the first beginnings of that mockery of His religious feelings and of His God, which later came out more strongly in their derision of His invocation of His God on the cross; as, in point of fact, this kind of blasphemy often escapes the lips of hypocritical fanatics (see Matt. xxvii. 43). Thereupon Jesus, with good reason, met them with the reproach that ‘they not only knew not Him, but also knew not the Father;’ adding, ‘if they had known Him, they would have known His Father also.’ He who cannot estimate God in His highest revelation through a holy human heart, how should he be able to estimate God apart from this revelation, nay, in opposition to it? He who misapprehends and follows with enmity the image of God while directly confronted by its appearance, how should such an one be acquainted with His hidden heavenly being?

John remarks, with much significance, that Jesus thus rebuked the Pharisees in the very spot where they were used to celebrate their highest triumphs, that is, in the court of the temple-treasury, and consequently near the treasure-box, for which they, under the notion that they were the most eminent among the friends of God, were wont to provide their gifts. Just there it was that He told them plainly that they did not know God. Now it might have been fully thought that they would lay hands on Him; but this third season14 of utmost danger also went happily by, and again for the highest of all reasons, ‘because His hour was not yet come.’



On the different treasure-repositories of the temple, see Lücke, 291. In the court of the women there were thirteen trumpet-shaped boxes for offerings, bearing different inscriptions, giving notice of the special destination of each. Probably the porch where these boxes were placed bore the name of γαζοφυλάκιον.



1) See Lücke, ii, pp. 263 seqq. ; Tholuck, p. 213; Hitzig, Ueber Joh. Mark, p, 205. The remarkable phenomenon, that the ancient witnesses are so strangely divided in reference to this passage, is by some explained as follows:—The passage was originally a part of the Gospel ; but a doubt arose whether (through a misunderstanding of the gentleness shown by Christ to the adulteress) it might not work prejudicially to morals, and therefore it was left out ; but later men took courage to restore it to its original position. See Lücke, p. 249. [The difficulty about this passage is to discover where it has come from ; and for the solution of this difficulty the conjecture, that John has here incorporated ‘a portion of the current oral tradition’ in his narrative, is as feasible as any. Yet this does not account for the immense variety of readings in the MSS. where the passage occurs, nor for its omission from so many of the best MSS. (On this latter point, however, see Tholuck, p. 213.) Whatever be the origin and history of this passage, ‘it cannot be too strongly impressed on the general reader that no reasonable critic throws doubt on the incident, but only on its present place in the sacred narrative.’—Ellicott, p. 253, note —ED.]

2) See the striking observations of Hitzig in defenee of the canonical authority of the section, made with especial reference to De Wette’s objections, pp. 208 seqq. Comp. Tholuck, p. 215.

3) Hitzig, with keen tact, places the section between the similar accounts of Christ being ʻtemptedʼ by His enemies in Mark xii. 13-17 and vers. 18-27. This connection has much to recommend it. For then, the first temptation would come from the political party of the Pharisees and Herodians, the second from the hierarchical party of the Pharisees and scribes, the third from the Sadducean party. But even if in respect to its substance it is best arranged to come in here, yet in respect to its occurrence as a matter of fact it might have had a somewhat different position ; and if we consider the characteristics of the historian, we see that it has such an affinity with the Gospel-fragments collected by Luke, that we may very well feel disposed to find it a place in that Evangelist.—By the way, we may observe, that the history of this section shows that the combinations due to the higher principles of textual criticism were not unknown to the ancient Church.

4) We would only remind our readers of the excitement of feeling attendant upon the merry-makings of the Roman Catholic Carnival.

5) On this account the story would admit of being much more suitably introduced after John vii. 36, as some manuscripts have it, if it were necessary to regard it as an occurrence which took place at the feast of Tabernacles.

6) The great lights of the feast stood in the court of the women, and consequently in the same court where also the box for the temple-offerings (the γαζοφυλάκιον) stood, and where the Evangelist expressly tells us (ver. 20) Jesus held His discourse. It follows that He must have held it quite in the vicinity of the lights of the feast ; and if we reflect on the analogy of the relation between the drawing of water and Christ s discourse concerning the water of life, as well as on the essential relation which subsisted in general between the symbols of the temple and the essential blessing of the Spirit which Christ confers, the relation of His word now before us to the tokens of the festal illumination comes out with great distinctness. But in this case also, as in that of the drawing of water, the occasion of Christ s speaking this word lay most properly in the fact, that the particular circumstance of symbolical celebration referred to was now past, and that the sense of unsatisfieduess began to make itself felt; and it seems to be without just ground, that in this case, as well as in that other, Lücke assumes that Jesus could only then have made these allusions when the corresponding symbolical ceremony was in the act of being performed.

7) See Isa. xlii. 6, xlix. 6-9. Comp. Lücke, p. 282

8) Even in nature this spiritual condition finds its typical counterpart, not only through the effect produced by dazzling lustres [Blendlichter], but also by interfering beams of light [Interfereuzstrahlen].

9) [Augustin shows the point of this answer thus: ‘Testimonium sibi perhibet lux : asserit sanos oculos, et sibi ipsa testis est, ut cognoseatur lux. . . . Ergo veram est testimonium luminis, sive se ostendit, sive alia; quia sine lumine non potes videx lumen, et sine lumine non potes videre quodlibet aliud quod non est lumen,’—Tract. in Joan, 35, 4-6.—ED.]

10) See Neander and Lücke on the passage,

11) The reading ἣ ποῦ at the end of ver. 14, which Lücke is inclined to prefer to the common reading, καί ποῦ, commends itself much through the delicate touch which it gives to the sense: it adds keenness to the reproach.

12) It is thus that I feel constrained to understand this difficult passage. As Jesus had here to do with judges who, misapprehending His original being, were judging Him after the flesh (after the circumstances of his mean appearance in the world), so the thought would readily occur to His mind, that even in sinful men we should not be for condemning the proper man himself, as God has made him, and that a man can only be condemned in his caricature, For the different interpretations which have been propounded, see Lücke, 286 seqq.

13) Lücke: ʻJesus judges in communion with the Father;ʼ and indeed we may add: giving the Father the prominent place as the Judge.

14) See chap. vii. 30, 44, viii. 20.