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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN - Chapter 1 - Verse 1
TO THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN.
John, the writer of this Gospel, was the son of Zebedee and Salome; compare Mt 27:56 with Mr 15:40,41. His father was a fisherman of Galilee, though it would appear that he was not destitute of property, and was not in the lowest condition of life. He had hired men in his employ, Mr 1:20. Salome is described as one who attended our Saviour in his travels, and ministered to his wants, Mt 27:55; Mr 15:41. Jesus commended his own mother Mary, on the cross, to John, and he took her to his own home (Joh 19:26,27), with whom, history informs us, she lived until her death, about fifteen years after the crucifixion of Christ; and John was known to Caiaphas, the high-priest, Joh 18:15. From all this it would seem not improbable that John had some property, and was better known than any of the other apostles.
He was the youngest of the apostles when called, and lived to the greatest age, and is the only one who is supposed to have died a peaceful death. He was called to be a follower of Jesus while engaged with his father and his elder brother James mending their nets at the Sea of Tiberias, Mt 4:21; Mr 1:19; Lu 5:10.
John was admitted by our Saviour to peculiar favour and friendship. One of the ancient fathers (Theophylact) says that he was related to him.
"Joseph," he says, "had seven children by a former
wife, four sons and three daughters, Martha, Esther,
and Salome, whose son John was; therefore Salome was
reckoned our Lord's sister, and John was his nephew."
If this was the case it may explain the reason why James and John sought and expected the first places in his kingdom, Mt 20:20,21. These may also possibly be the persons who were called our Lord's "brethren" and "sisters," Mt 13:55,56. This may also explain the reason why our Saviour committed his mother to the care of John on the cross, Joh 19:27. The two brothers, James and John, with Peter, were several times admitted to peculiar favours by our Lord. They were the only disciples that were permitted to be present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Mr 5:37; Lu 8:51; they only were permitted to attend the Saviour to the mount where he was transfigured, Mt 17:1; Mr 9:2. The same three were permitted to be present at his sufferings in the garden of Gethsemane, Mt 26:36-45; Mr 14:32-42. And it was to these disciples, together with Andrew, to whom the Saviour specially addressed himself when he made known the desolations that were coming upon Jerusalem and Judea; compare Mt 24:12; Mr 13:3,4.
John was also admitted to peculiar friendship with the Lord Jesus. Hence he is mentioned as "that disciple whom Jesus loved" (Joh 19:26), and he is represented (Joh 13:23) as leaning on his bosom at the institution of the Lord's Supper-an evidence of peculiar friendship. See Barnes "Joh 13:23".
Though the Redeemer was attached to all his disciples, yet there is no improbability in supposing that his disposition was congenial with that of the meek and amiable John—thus authorizing and setting the example of special friendships among Christians.
John is also mentioned as having been sent down to Samaria to preach the gospel there with Peter (Ac 8:14-25); and from Acts chapter 15 it appears that he was present at the council at Jerusalem, A.D. 49 or 50. All this agrees with what is said by Eusebius, that he lived at Jerusalem till the death of Mary, fifteen years after the crucifixion of Christ. Till this time it is probable that he had not been engaged in preaching the gospel among the Gentiles.
At what time he went first among the Gentiles to preach the gospel is not certainly known. It has commonly been supposed that he resided in Judea and the neighbourhood until the war broke out with the Romans, and that he came into Asia Minor about the year 69 or 70. It is clear that he was not at Ephesus at the time that Paul visited those regions, as in all the travels of Paul and Luke there is no mention made of John.
Ecclesiastical history informs us that he spent the latter part of his life in Asia Minor, and that he resided chiefly at Ephesus, the chief city of that country. Of his residence there little is certainly known. In the latter part of his life he was banished to Patmos, a small desolate island in the AEgean Sea, about twenty miles in circumference. This is commonly supposed to have been during the persecution of Domitian, i.n the latter part of his reign. Domitian died A.D. 96. It is probable that he returned soon after that, in the reign of the Emperor Trajan. In that island he wrote the book of Revelation. See Barnes "Re 1:9".
After his return from Patmos he lived peaceably at Ephesus until his death, which is supposed to have occurred not long after. He was buried at Ephesus; and it has been commonly thought that he was the only one of the apostles who did not suffer martyrdom. It is evident that he lived to a very advanced period of life. We know not his age, indeed, when Christ called him to follow him, but we cannot suppose it was less than twenty-five or thirty. If so, he must have been not far from one hundred years old when he died.
Many anecdotes are related of him while he remained at Ephesus, but there is no sufficient evidence of their truth. Some have said that he was taken to Rome in a time of persecution and thrown into a caldron of boiling oil, and came out uninjured. It has been said also that, going into a bath one day at Ephesus, he perceived Cerinthus, who denied the divinity of the Saviour, and that he fled from him hastily, to express his disapprobation of his doctrine. It is also said, and of this there can be no doubt, that during his latter years he was not able to make a long discourse. He was carried to the church, and was accustomed to say nothing but this, "Little children, love one another." At length his disciples asked him why he always dwelt upon the same thing. He replied, "Because it is the Lord's command; and if this be done, it is sufficient."
Learned men have been much divided about the time when this Gospel was written. Wetstein supposed it was written just after our Saviour's ascension; Mill and Le Clerc, that it was written in 97; Dr. Lardner, that it was about the year 68, just before the destruction of Jerusalem. The common opinion is that it was written at Ephesus after his return from Patmos, and of course as late as the year 97 or 98. Nothing can be determined with certainty on the subject, and it is a matter of very little consequence.
There is no doubt that it was written by John. This is abundantly confirmed by the ancient fathers, and was not questioned by Celsus, Porphyry, or Julian, the acutest enemies of revelation in the early ages. It has never been extensively questioned to have been the work of John, and is one of the books of the New Testament whose canonical authority was never disputed. See Lardner, or Paley's Evidences.
The design of writing it John himself states, Joh 20:31. It was to show that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that those who believed might have life through his name. This design is kept in view through the whole Gospel, and should be remembered in our attempts to explain it. Various attempts have been made to show that he wrote it to confute the followers of Cerinthus and the Gnostics, but no satisfactory evidence of such a design has been furnished.
As he wrote after the other evangelists, he has recorded many things which they omitted. He dwells much more fully than they do on the divine character of Jesus; relates many things pertaining to the early part of his ministry which they had omitted; records many more of his discourses than they have done, and particularly the interesting discourse at the institution of the Supper. See chapters 14-17.
It has been remarked that there are evidences in this Gospel that it was not written for the Jews. The author explains words and customs which to a Jew would have needed no explanation. See Joh 1:38,41 Joh 5:1,2; 7:2; 4:9.
The style in the Greek indicates that he was an unlearned man. It is simple, plain, unpolished, such as we should suppose would be used by one in his circumstances. At the same time it is dignified, containing pure and profound sentiments, and is on many accounts the most difficult of all the books of the New Testament to interpret. It contains more about Christ, his person, design, and work, than any of the other Gospels. The other evangelists were employed more in recording the miracles, and giving external evidence of the divine mission of Jesus. John is employed chiefly in telling us what he was, and what was his peculiar doctrine. His aim was to show,
1st. That Jesus was the Messiah.
2nd. To show, from the words of Jesus himself, what the Messiah was. The other evangelists record his parables, his miracles, his debates with the Scribes and Pharisees; John records chiefly his discourses about himself. If anyone wishes to learn the true doctrine respecting the Messiah, the Son of God, expressed in simple language, but with most sublime conceptions; to learn the true nature and character of God, and the way of approach to his mercy-seat; to see the true nature of Christian piety, or the source and character of religious consolation; to have perpetually before him the purest model of character the world has seen, and to contemplate the purest precepts that have ever been delivered to man, he cannot better do it than by a prayerful study of the Gospel by John. It may be added that this Gospel is of itself proof that cannot be overthrown of the truth of revelation. John was a fisherman, unhonoured and unlearned, Ac 4:13. What man in that rank of life now could compose a book like this? Can it be conceived that any man of that rank, unless under the influence of inspiration, could conceive so sublime notions of God, could present so pure views of morals, and could draw a character so inimitably lovely and pure as that of Jesus Christ? To ask these questions is to answer them. And this Gospel will stand to the end of time as an unanswerable demonstration that the fisherman who wrote it was under a more than human guidance, and was, according to the promise that he has recorded (Joh 16:13 comp. Joh 14:26), guided into all truth. It will also remain as an unanswerable proof that the character which he has described—the character of the Lord Jesus—was real. It is a perfect character. It has not a flaw. How has this happened? The attempt has often been made to draw a perfect character—and as often, in every other instance, failed. How is it, when Homer and Virgil, and the ancient historians, have all failed to describe a perfect character, with the purest models before them, and with all the aid of imagination, that in every instance they have failed? How is it that this has at last been accomplished only by a Jewish fisherman? The difficulty is vastly increased if another idea is borne in mind. John describes one who he believed had a divine nature, Joh 1:1. It is an attempt to describe God in human nature, or to show how the Divine Being acts when united with man, or when appearing in human form. And the description is complete. There is not a word expressed by the Lord Jesus, or an emotion ascribed to him, inconsistent with such a supposition. But this same attempt was often made, and as often failed. Homer and Virgil, and all the ancient poets, have undertaken to show what the gods would be if they came down and conversed with man. And what were they? What were Jupiter, and Juno, and Venus, and Mars, and Vulcan? Beings of lust, and envy, and contention, and blood. How has it happened that the only successful account which has been given of the divine nature united with the human, and of living and acting as became such a union, has been given by a Jewish fisherman? How, unless the character was real, and the writer under a guidance far superior to the genius of Homer and the imagination of Virgil—the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN.
Verse 1. In the beginning. This expression is used also in Ge 1:1. To that place John evidently has allusion here, and means to apply to "the Word" an expression which is there applied to God. In both places it clearly means "before creation," "before the world was made," "when as yet there was nothing." The meaning is, that the Word had an existence before the world was created. This is not spoken of the man Jesus, but of that which became a man, or was incarnate, Joh 1:14. The Hebrews, by expressions like this, commonly denoted eternity. Thus the eternity of God is described (Ps 90:2): Before the mountains were brought forth, &c.; and eternity is commonly expressed by the phrase, before the foundation of the world. Whatever is meant by the term "Word," it is clear that it had an existence before creations. It is not, then, a creature or created being, and must be, therefore, uncreated and eternal. There is but one Being that is uncreated, and Jesus must be therefore divine. Compare the Saviour's own declarations respecting himself in the following places: Joh 8:58; 17:5; 6:62; 3:13; 6:46; 8:14; 16:28.
Was the Word. Greek, "was the Logos." This name is given to him who afterward became flesh, or was incarnate (Joh 1:14)—that is, to the Messiah. Whatever is meant by it, therefore, is applicable to the Lord Jesus Christ. There have been many opinions about the reason why this name was given to the Son of God. Those opinions it is unnecessary to repeat. The opinion which seems most plausible may be expressed as follows:
1st. A word is that by which we communicate our will; by which we convey our thoughts;
2nd. The Son of God may be called "the Word," because he is the medium by which God promulgates his will and issues his commandments. See Heb 1:1-3.
3rd. This term was in use before the time of John.
(a) It was used in the Chaldee translation of the Old Testament, as, e.g., Is 45:12: "I have made the earth, and created man upon it." In the Chaldee it is, "I, by my word, have made," &c. Isa 48:13: "Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth." In the Chaldee, "By my word I have founded the earth." And so in many other places.
(b) This term was used by the Jews as applicable to the Messiah. In their writings he was commonly known by the term "Mimra "—that is, "Word;" and no small part of the interpositions of God in defence of the Jewish nation were declared to be by "the Word of God." Thus, in their Targum on De 26:17,18, it is said, "Ye have appointed THE WORD OF GOD a king over you this day, that he may be your God."
(c) The term was used by the Jews who were scattered among the Gentiles, and especially those who were conversant with the Greek philosophy.
(d) The term was used by the followers of Plato among the Greeks, to denote the second person of the Trinity. The term nous, or mind, was commonly given to this second person, but it was said that this nous was the word or reason of the first person. The term was therefore extensively in use among the Jews and Gentiles before John wrote his Gospel, and it was certain that it would be applied to the second person of the Trinity by Christians, whether converted from Judaism or Paganism. It was important, therefore, that the meaning of the term should be settled by an inspired man, and accordingly John, in the commencement of his Gospel, is at much pains to state clearly what is the true doctrine respecting the Logos, or Word. It is possible, also, that the doctrines of the Gnostics had begun to spread in the time of John. They were an Oriental sect, and held that the Logos or Word was one of the AEons that had been created, and that this one had been united to the man Jesus. If that doctrine had begun then to prevail, it was of the more importance for John to settle the truth in regard to the rank of the Logos or Word. This he has done in such a way that there need be no doubt about its meaning.
Was with God. This expression denotes friendship or intimacy. Comp. Mr 9:19. John affirms that he was with God in the beginning— that is, before the world was made. It implies, therefore, that he was partaker of the divine glory; that he was blessed and happy with God. It proves that he was intimately united with the Father, so as to partake of his glory and to be appropriately called by the name God. He has himself explained it. See Joh 17:5: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. See also Joh 1:18: No man hath seen God at any time, the only-begotten Son, which IS IN THE BOSOM OF THE FATHER, he hath declared him. See also Joh 3:13: The Son of man, which is in heaven. Comp. Php 2:6,7.
Was God. In the previous phrase John had said that the Word was with God. Lest it should be supposed that he was a different and inferior being, he here states that he was God. There is no more unequivocal declaration in the Bible than this, and there could be no stronger proof that the sacred writer meant to affirm that the Son of God was equal with the Father; for,
1st. There is no doubt that by the Logos is meant Jesus Christ.
2nd. This is not an attribute or quality of God, but is a real subsistence, for it is said that the Logos was made flesh—that is, became a man.
3rd. There is no variation here in the manuscripts, and critics have observed that the Greek will bear no other construction than what is expressed in our translation-that the Word was God.
4th. There is no evidence that John intended to use the word God in an inferior sense. It is not "the Word was a god," or "the Word was like God," but the Word was God. He had just used the word God as evidently applicable to Jehovah, the true God; and it is absurd to suppose that the would in the same verse, and without any indication that he was using the word in an inferior sense, employ it to denote a being altogether inferior to the true God.
The meaning of this important verse may then be thus summed up:
1st. The name Logos, or Word, is given to Christ in reference to his becoming the Teacher or Instructor of mankind; the medium of communication between God and man.
2nd. The name was in use at the time of John, and it was his design to state the correct doctrine respecting the Logos.
3rd. The Word, or Logos, existed before creation—of course was not a creature, and must have been, therefore, from eternity.
4th. He was with God—that is, he was united to him in a most intimate and close union before the creation; and, as it could not be said that God was with himself, it follows that the Logos was in some sense distinct from God, or that there was a distinction between the Father and the Son. When we say that one is with another, we imply that there is some sort of distinction between them.
5th. Yet, lest it should be supposed that he was a different and inferior being—a creature—he affirms that he was God—that is, was equal with the Father. This is the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity:
1. That the second person is in some sense distinct from the first.
2. That he is intimately united with the first person in essence, so that there are not two or more Gods.
3. That the second person may be called by the same name; has the same attributes; performs the same works; and is entitled to the same honours with the first, and that therefore he is "the same in substance, and equal in power and glory," with God.
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