Then Jesus turned, and saw them following
That is, "him", as the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions add: he saw by their walk, and by their countenances, that they were following him; and which he knew before he turned himself: he knew what John had said, and what an effect it had upon these disciples, and what was working in their hearts, and how desirous they were of coming up to him, and conversing with him; and therefore he turned himself, that they might have an opportunity of speaking to him; or rather, in order to speak to them first, as he did:
and saith unto them, what seek ye?
This he said, not as ignorant of whom, and what they were seeking, and desirous; but to encourage them to speak to him, which, through fear and bashfulness, they might be backward to do; and therefore, he who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but cherishes and encourages the first motions of grace, begins first with them, and treats them in a free and familiar manner; thereby to animate and engage them to use freedom with him, and which end was answered:
they said unto him, Rabbi;
a title which now began to be in much use with the Jews, and which they gave to their celebrated doctors; and these disciples of John, observing how magnificently their master spoke of Jesus, in great reverence to him, addressed him under this character; (See Gill on Matthew 23:7);
which is to say, being interpreted, master.
These are the words of the evangelist, interpreting the word "Rabbi", and not of the disciples, and are left out in the Syriac and Persic versions, who, for "Rabbi", read "our master", or our "Rabbi"; being said by both the disciples, or by one in the name of both, putting the following question:
where dwellest thou?
signifying, that that was not a proper place, in the public way, to enter into a conversation with him, and acquaint him with what they were desirous of; but should be glad to know where he lodged, that they might wait upon him there, either then, or on the morrow, or at any convenient time.