John 8:39

39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did,

John 8:39 Meaning and Commentary

John 8:39

They answered and said unto him
On account of his making mention of a father, whose works they did, and whom they imitated:

Abraham is our father;
meaning their only one, nor had they any other:

Jesus saith unto them, if ye were Abraham's children, ye would do
the works of Abraham;
for who should children imitate but their parents? Abraham was a merciful, charitable, and hospitable man, as well as a man of strict justice and integrity; he feared God, believed in him, and was ready to receive every message and revelation which came from him; and they are his genuine children and offspring, who walk in the steps of his faith, charity, justice, and piety: and this is a rule which the Jews themselves give F13, whereby the seed of Abraham may be known:

``whoever is merciful to the creature (man), it is evident that he is of the seed of Abraham, our father; but whoever has not mercy on the creature, it is a clear case that he is not of the seed of Abraham our father.''

And if this is a sure rule of judging, these men could not be the seed of Abraham, who were a merciless, barbarous, and cruel generation. Another of their writers F14 has this observation, agreeably to the way of reasoning Christ uses;

``a disciple is to be judged of according to his manners; he that walks in the ways of the Lord, he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father, seeing he is used to his manners, and learns of his works; but the disciple who is corrupt in his manners, though he is of the children of Israel, lo, he is not of the "disciples of Abraham", seeing he is not accustomed to his manners.''

Whence it appears, that they say these things not to distinguish themselves from other people who claimed a descent from Abraham, as the Ishmaelites or Saracens did; as did also the Spartans or Lacedemonians; for so writes Areus their king, to Onias the high priest of the Jews,

``it is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham,'' (1 Maccab. 12:20,21)

But to distinguish those who were religious and virtuous among the Jews themselves, from those that were not; and so our Lord means not to deny, that the Jews, though they were evil men, were the seed of Abraham, according to the flesh; but that they were not so in a spiritual sense, they did not tread in his steps, or do the works he did. The Persic version reads in the singular number, "ye would do the work of Abraham"; and if any particular work is designed, it is most likely to be the work of faith, since it was that which Abraham was famous for; and the doing of which denominated men, even Gentiles, the children of Abraham, and which the Jews were wanting in, they disbelieving and rejecting the Messiah.


F13 T. Bab. Betza, fol. 82. 2.
F14 Abarbinel Naehaleth Abot, fol. 183. 1.

John 8:39 In-Context

37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.
38 I declare what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father."
39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did,
40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
41 You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself."

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Other ancient authorities read [If you are Abraham's children, then do]
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.