1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[In the beginning was the Word.] In the beginning; in the same sense with Bereshith, In the beginning, in the history of the creation, Genesis 1:1. For the evangelist proposeth this to himself, viz. to shew how that, by the Word, by which the creation was perfected, the redemption was perfected also: That the second person in the holy Trinity, in the fulness of time, became our Redeemer, as in the beginning of time he had been our Maker. Compare this with verse 14:
In the beginning was the Word.
Was with God.
The Word was God.
The Word was made flesh.
Dwelt among us.
Was made flesh, and we beheld, &c.
[Was the Word.] There is no great necessity for us to make any very curious inquiry, whence our evangelist should borrow this title, when in the history of the creation we find it so often repeated, And God said. It is observed almost by all that have of late undertaken a commentary upon this evangelist, that the Word of the Lord, doth very frequently occur amongst the Targumists, which may something enlighten the matter now before us. "And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the Word of the Lord." "And the Word of the Lord accepted the face of Job." And the Word of the Lord shall laugh them to scorn. "They believed in the name of his Word." And my Word spared them. To add no more, Genesis 26:3, instead of "I will be with thee," the Targum hath it And my Word shall be thine help. So Genesis 39:2, "And the Lord was with Joseph": Targ. And the Word of the Lord was Joseph's helper. And so, all along, that kind of phrase is most familiar amongst them...
4. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
[In him was life.] The evangelist proceeds from the creation by the Word, to the redemption of the world by the same Word. He had declared how this Word had given to all creatures their first being, verse 3; "All things were made by him": and he now sheweth how he restored life to man when he lay dead in trespasses and sins. "Adam called his wife's name Hevah, life," [Eve, AV Chavah, margin] Genesis 3:20: the Greek reads Adam called his wife's name, 'Life.' He called her Life who had brought in death; because he had now tasted a better life in the promise of the woman's seed. To which it is very probable our evangelist had some reference in this place.
[And the life was the light of men.] Life through Christ was light arising in the darkness of man's fall and sin; a light by which all believers were to walk. St. John seems in this clause to oppose the life and light exhibited in the gospel, to that life and light which the Jews boasted of in their law. They expected life from the works of the law, and they knew no greater light than that of the law; which therefore they extol with infinite boasts and praises which they give it. Take one instance for all: "God said, Let there be light. R. Simeon saith, Light is written there five times, according to the five parts of the law [i.e. the Pentateuch], and God said, Let there be light; according to the book of Genesis, wherein God, busying himself, made the world. And there was light; according to the book of Exodus, wherein the Israelites came out of darkness into light. And God saw the light that it was good; according to the Book of Leviticus, which is filled with rites and ceremonies. And God divided betwixt the light and the darkness; according to the Book of Numbers, which divided betwixt those that went out of Egypt, and those that entered into the land. And God called the light, day; according to the Book of Deuteronomy, which is replenished with manifold traditions." A gloss this is upon light, full of darkness indeed!
5. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
[And the light shineth in darkness.] This light of promise and life by Christ shined in the darkness of all the cloudy types and shadows under the law and obscurity of the prophets. And those dark things 'comprehended it not,' i.e. did not so cloud and suppress it but it would break out; nor yet so comprehended it, but that there was an absolute necessity there should a greater light appear. I do so much the rather incline to such a paraphrase upon this place, because I observe the evangelist here treateth of the ways and means by which Christ made himself known to the world before his great manifestation in the flesh; first, in the promise of life, verse 4; next, by types and prophecies; and lastly, by John Baptist.
9. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
[Which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.] All the men that are in the world. "Doth not the sun rise upon all that come into the world?" "All that come into the word are not able to make one fly." "In the beginning of the year, all that come into the world present themselves before the Lord." There are numberless examples of this kind. The sense of the place is, that Christ, shining forth in the light of the gospel, is a light that lightens all the world. The light of the law shone only upon the Jews; but this light spreads wider, even over the face of the whole earth.
12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
[He gave them power.] He empowered them, so Ecclesiastes 5:19, and 6:2. He gave them the privilege, the liberty, the dignity, of being called and becoming the sons of God. Israel was once the son and the first-born, Exodus 4:22: but now the adoption of sons to God was open and free to all nations whatever.
13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
[Which were born, not of blood.] It may be a question here, whether the evangelist in this place opposeth regeneration to natural generation, or only to those ways by which the Jews fancied men were made the sons of God. Expositors treat largely of the former: let us a little consider the latter.
I. Not of bloods. Observe the plural number: "Our Rabbins say, That all Israel had thrown off circumcision in Egypt--but at length they were circumcised, and the blood of the passover was mingled with the blood of the circumcised, and God accepted every one of them and kissed them." "I said, while thou wert in thy bloods, Live: i.e. in the twofold blood, that of the passover, and that of the circumcision." The Israelites were brought into covenant by three things; by circumcision, by washing, and by offering of sacrifices. In the same manner, a heathen, if he would be admitted into covenant, he must of necessity be circumcised, baptized, and offer sacrifice. We see how of bloods of the passover and circumcision, they say the Israelites were recovered from the degeneracy: and how of the bloods of circumcision and sacrifices (with the addition only of washing), they supposed the Gentiles might become the sons of God, being by their proselytism made Israelites, and the children of the covenant: for they knew of no other adoption or sonship.
II. Of the will of the flesh. In the same sense wherein the patriarchs and other Jews were ambitious by many wives to multiply children of themselves, as being of the seed of Israel and children of the covenant.
III. Of the will of man, in that sense wherein they coveted so many proselytes, to admit them into the religion of the Jews, and so into covenant and sonship with God.
These were the ways by which the Jews thought any became the sons of God, that is, by being made Israelites. But it is far otherwise in the adoption and sonship that accrues to us by the gospel.
14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.
[The glory as of the only begotten.] This glory in this place imports the same thing as worthy. We saw his glory as what was worthy or became the only-begotten Son of God. He did not glister in any worldly pomp or grandeur according to what the Jewish nation fondly dreamed their Messiah would do; but he was decked with the glory, holiness, grace, truth, and the power of miracles.
16. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
[And grace for grace.] He appeared amongst us full of grace and truth; and all we who conversed with him, and saw his glory, "of his fulness did receive" grace and truth. Nay farther, we received grace towards the propagation of grace, i.e. the grace of apostleship, that we might dispense and propagate the grace of the gospel towards others.
21. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
[Art thou that prophet?] That is, Luke 9:8,19, one of the old prophets that was risen again.
I. The Masters of Traditions were wont to say that "the spirit of prophecy departed from Israel after the death of Zechariah and Malachi." So that we do not find they expected any prophet till the days of the Messiah; nor indeed that any, in that interim of time, did pretend to that character.
II. They believed that at the coming of the Messiah the prophets were to rise again.
"'Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice, with the voice together shall they sing,' Isaiah 52:8. R. Chaia Bar Abba and R. Jochanan say, All the prophets shall put forth a song with one voice."
"All the just whom God shall raise from the dead shall not return again into the dust." Gloss, "Those whom he shall raise in the days of the Messiah."
To this resurrection of the saints they apply that of Micah 5:5: "We shall raise against him seven shepherds; David in the middle, Adam, Seth, Methuselah on his right hand; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses on his left. And eight principal men: but who are these? Jesse, Saul, Samuel, Amos, Zephaniah, Zedekiah [or rather Hezekiah, as Kimch. in loc.], Messiah and Elijah. But indeed [saith R. Solomon] I do not well know whence they had these things." Nor indeed do I.
The Greek interpreters, instead of eight principal men have eight bitings of men, a very foreign sense.
Hence by how much nearer still the 'kingdom of heaven,' or the expected time of Messiah's coming, drew on, by so much the more did they dream of the resurrection of the prophets. And when any person of more remarkable gravity, piety, and holiness appeared amongst them, they were ready to conceive of him as a prophet raised from the dead, Matthew 16:14. That therefore is the meaning of this question, "Art thou one of the prophets raised from the dead?"
25. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
[Why then baptizest thou?] The Jews likewise expected that the world should be renewed at the coming of the Messiah. "In those years wherein God will renew his world." Aruch, quoting these words, adds, "In those thousand years." So also the Gloss upon the place.
Amongst other things, they expected the purifying of the unclean. R. Solomon upon Ezekiel 36:26; "I will expiate you, and remove your uncleanness, by the sprinkling of the water of purification." Kimchi upon Zechariah 9:6; "The Rabbins of blessed memory have a tradition that Elias will purify the bastards and restore them to the congregation." You have the like in Kiddushin, Elias comes to distinguish the unclean and purify them, &c.
When therefore they saw the Baptist bring in such an unusual rite, by which he admitted the Israelites into a new rule of religion, they ask him by what authority he doth these things if he himself were not either the Messiah or Elias, or one of the prophets raised from the dead.
It is very well known that they expected the coming of Elias, and that, from the words of Malachi 4:5, not rightly understood. Which mistake the Greek version seems to patronise; I will send you Elias the Tishbite; which word the Tishbite, they add of themselves in favour of their own tradition; which indeed is too frequent a usage in that version to look so far asquint towards the Jewish traditions as to do injury to the sacred text.
29. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
[The Lamb of God.] St. John alludes plainly to the lamb of the daily sacrifice. Which in shadow took away the sins of Israel.
I. It was commanded in the law that he that offered the sacrifice should lay his hand upon the head of the sacrifice, Leviticus 1:4, 3:2, 4:4, &c.
II. The reason of which usage was, that he might, as it were, transfer his sins and guilt upon the head of the offering, which is more especially evident in the scapegoat, Leviticus 16:22.
Hence Christ is said "himself to have borne our sins in his own body on the tree," 1 Peter 2:24, as the offering upon the altar was wont to do. He was made by God a "sin for us," 2 Corinthians 5:21; that is, a sacrifice for sin.
III. The same rite was used about the lamb of the daily sacrifice that was offered for all Israel; "The stationary men [as they were called], or the substitutes of the people, laying their hands upon the head of the lamb."
To this therefore the words of the Baptist refer: "The lamb of God, that is, the daily sacrifice, taketh away the sins of the world, as the sacrifice did for all Israel. But behold here the true Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world."
38. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master), where dwellest thou?
[Where dwellest thou?] The proper and most immediate sense of this is, Where dwellest, or, Where lodgest thou? But I could willingly render it as if it had been said, 'Where dost thou keep thy sabbath?' and from thence conjecture that day was the evening of the sabbath. For whereas it is said, "and they abode with him that day," it would be a little hard to understand it of the day that was now almost gone; and therefore we may suppose it meant of the following day, for it is added it was now the tenth hour. It was about the middle of our November when these things fell out in Bethabara, as will easily appear to any one that will be accurate in calculating the times, and that little that was left of that day was then the tenth hour. It was then about sunset, and, as it were, the entrance of a new day: so that it might more properly have been said, "They abode with him that night," rather than that day; only the evangelist seems to point out that they remained with him the next day; which that it was the sabbath I will not so much contend, as (not without some reason) suppose.
"Caesar, for two reasons, would not fight that day; partly because he had no soldiers in the ships, and partly because it was after the tenth hour of the day."
41. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
[He findeth his brother.] So "Rab Nachman Bar Isaac found him with Rab Houna": and many such-like expressions, in the Talmudic authors, as also We have found!
42. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
[The son of Jona.] I do not see any reason why the word Joannes, or Joannas, should be here put for Jona; or why any should contend (as many do) that it should be the same with Joannas.
I. In the third chapter of St. Luke the name of Jochanan is sounded three ways in the Greek pronunciation of it, Janna, verse 24; Joanna, verse 27; and Jonan, verse 30: but never Jona.
II. Jona was a name amongst the Jews very commonly used, and we meet with it frequently in the Talmudic authors written Jonah: why, therefore, should not Peter's father be allowed the name of Jonah as well as that of John?
III. Especially when this son of Jonah imitated the great prophet of that name in this, that both preached to the Gentiles, and both began their journey from Joppa.
[Which is by interpretation, A stone.] So Acts 9:26, "Tabitha, which, being interpreted, is Dorcas": Beza, Caprea, a goat. But what! do the holy penmen of the Scriptures make lexicons, or play the schoolmasters, that they should only teach that the Syriac word Cepha signifies in the Greek language a stone; and Tabitha, Dorcas, that is, a goat? No; they rather teach what Greek proper names answer to those Syriac proper names: for the Syriac proper name is here rendered into the Greek proper name, and not an appellative into an appellative, nor a proper name into an appellative.
But let the Vulgar have what it desires, and be it so, "Thou shalt be called a rock"; yet you will scarce grant that our blessed Saviour should call Simon a rock in the direct and most ordinary sense; "There is no rock save our God," 2 Samuel 22:32: where the Greek interpreters, instead of a rock, have the Creator. Which word St. Peter himself makes use of, 1 Peter 4:19, showing who is that rock indeed.
There is a rock, or 'stone of stumbling,' indeed, as well as a 'foundation-stone'; and this stone of stumbling hath St. Peter been made, to the fall of many thousands; not by any fault of his, but theirs, who, through ignorance or frowardness, or both, will esteem him as a rock upon which the church is built.
If, therefore, they will so pertinaciously adhere to that version, Et tu vocaberis Petra, let it be rendered into English thus, Thou wilt be called a rock: and let us apprehend our blessed Lord speaking prophetically, and foretelling that grand error that should spring up in the church, viz., that Peter is a rock, than which the Christian world hath not known any thing more sad and destructive.
46. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
[Come and see.] Nothing more common in the Talmudic authors than Come and behold, come and see.
47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
[An Israelite indeed.] Compare it with Isaiah 63:8. "I saw thee (saith Christ) when thou wert under the fig tree." What doing there? Doubtless not sleeping, or idling away his time, much less doing any ill thing. This would not have deserved so remarkable an encomium as Christ gave him. We may therefore suppose him, in that recess under the fig tree, as having sequestered himself from the view of men, either for prayer, meditation, reading, or some such religious performance; and so indeed from the view of men, that he must needs acknowledge Jesus for the Messiah for that very reason, that, when no mortal eye could see, he saw and knew that he was there. Our Saviour, therefore, calls him an "Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile," because he sought out that retirement to pray, so different from the usual craft and hypocrisy of that nation, that were wont to pray publicly, and in the streets, that they might be seen of men.
And here Christ gathered to himself five disciples, viz., Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael (who seems to be the same with Bartholomew), and another, whose name is not mentioned, verse 35, 40; whom, by comparing John 21:2, we may conjecture to have been Thomas.
51. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
[Verily, verily.] If Christ doubled his affirmation, as we here find it, why is it not so doubled in the other evangelists? If he did not double it, why is it so here?
I. Perhaps the asseveration he useth in this place may not be to the same things and upon the same occasion to which he useth the single Amen in other evangelists.
II. Perhaps, also, St. John, being to write for the use of the Hellenists, might write the word in the same Hebrew letters wherein Christ used it, and in the same letters also wherein the Greeks used it, retaining still the same Hebrew idiom.
III. But, however, it may be observed, that, whereas by all others the word Amen was generally used in the latter end of a speech or sentence, our Lord only useth it in the beginning, as being himself the Amen, Revelation 3:14; and Isaiah 65:16, the God of truth.
So that that single Amen which he used in the other evangelists contained in it the germination, Amen, Amen. I, the Amen, the true and faithful witness, Amen, i.e. "of a truth do say unto you," &c. Nor did it become any mortal man to speak Amen in the beginning of a sentence in the same manner as our Saviour did. Indeed, the very Masters of Traditions, who seemed to be the oracles of that nation, were wont to say, I speak in truth; but not "Amen, I say unto you."
IV. Amen contains in it Yea and Amen; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Revelation 1:7; i.e. truth and stability, Isaiah 25:1. Interlin. faithfulness and truth. The other evangelists express the word which our Saviour useth: St. John doubles it, to intimate the full sense of it.
I have been at some question with myself, whether I should insert in this place the blasphemous things which the Talmudic authors belch out against the holy Jesus, in allusion (shall I say?) or derision of this word Amen, to which name he entitled himself, and by which asseveration he confirmed his doctrines. But that thou mightest, reader, both know, and with equal indignation abhor, the snarlings and virulency of these men, take it in their own words, although I cannot without infinite reluctancy allege what they with all audaciousness have uttered.
They have a tradition, that Imma Shalom, the wife of R. Eliezer, and her brother Rabban Gamaliel, went to a certain philosopher (the Gloss hath it 'a certain heretic') of very great note for his integrity in giving judgment in matters, and taking no bribes. The woman brings him a golden candlestick, and prayeth him that the inheritance might be divided in part to her. Rabban Gamaliel objects, "It is written amongst us, that the daughter shall not inherit instead of the son. But the philosopher answered, 'Since the time that you were removed from your land, the law of Moses was made void: and Aven was given' [he means the Gospel, but marks it with a scurrilous title]; and in that it is written, The son and the daughter shall inherit together. The next day Rabban Gamaliel brought him, a Libyan ass. Then saith he unto them, 'I have found at the end of Aven [i.e. the Gospel] that it is written there, I, Aven, came not to diminish, but to add to the law of Moses'": where he abuseth both the name of our Saviour and his words too, Matthew 5:17.
And now, after our just detestation of this execrable blasphemy, let us think what kind of judge this must be, to whose judgment Rabban Gamaliel, the president of the Sanhedrim, and his sister, wife to the great Eliezer, should betake themselves. A Christian, as it should seem by the whole contexture of the story; but, alas! what kind of Christian, that should make so light of Christ and his gospel! However, were he a Christian of what kind soever, yet if there be any truth in this passage, it is not unworthy our taking notice of it, both as to the history of those times, and also as to that question, Whether there were any Christian judges at that time?
[Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God, &c.] There are those that in this place observe an allusion to Jacob's ladder. The meaning of this passage seems to be no other than this: "Because I said, 'I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou?' Did this seem to thee a matter of such wonder? 'Thou shalt see greater things than these.' For you shall in me observe such plenty, both of revelation and miracle, that it shall seem to you as if the heavens were opened and the angels were ascending and descending, to bring with them all manner of revelation, authority, and power from God, to be imparted to the Son of man." Where this also is included, viz., that angels must in a more peculiar manner administer unto him, as in the vision of Jacob the whole host of angels had been showed and promised to him in the first setting out of his pilgrimage.
Of this ladder the Rabbins dream very pleasantly: "The ladder is the ascent of the altar and the altar itself. The angels are princes or monarchs. The king of Babylon ascended seventy steps; the king of the Medes fifty-and-two; the king of Greece one hundred and eighty; the king of Edom, it is uncertain how many," &c. They reckon the breadth of the ladder to have been about eight thousand parasangae, i.e. about two-and-thirty thousand miles; and that the bulk of each angel was about eight thousand English miles in compass. Admirable mathematicians these indeed!