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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on John 8

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The Gospel According to John

Commentary by DAVID BROWN



      1, 2. Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives--This should have formed the last verse of the foregoing chapter. "The return of the people to the inert quiet and security of their dwellings ( Jhn 7:53 ), at the close of the feast, is designedly contrasted with our Lord's homeless way, so to speak, of spending the short night, who is early in the morning on the scene again. One cannot well see why what is recorded in Luk 21:37, 38 may not even thus early have taken place; it might have been the Lord's ordinary custom from the beginning to leave the brilliant misery of the city every night, that so He might compose His sorrowful and interceding heart, and collect His energies for new labors of love; preferring for His resting-place Bethany, and the Mount of Olives, the scene thus consecrated by many preparatory prayers for His final humiliation and exaltation" [STIER].

      3-6. scribes and Pharisees--foiled in their yesterday's attempt, and hoping to succeed better in this.

      4, 5. woman. . . in adultery. . . Moses. . . commanded. . . should be stoned--simply put to death ( Deu 22:22 ), but in aggravated cases, at least in later times, this was probably by stoning ( Eze 16:40 ).
      but what sayest thou--hoping, whatever He might answer, to put Him in the wrong:--if He said, Stone her, that would seem a stepping out of His province; if He forbade it, that would hold Him up as a relaxer of the public morals. But these cunning hypocrites were overmatched.

      6. stooped down--It will be observed He was sitting when they came to Him.
      with his finger wrote on the ground--The words of our translators in italics ("as though He heard them not") have hardly improved the sense, for it is scarcely probable He could wish that to be thought. Rather He wished to show them His aversion to enter on the subject. But as this did not suit them, they "continue asking Him," pressing for an answer. At last, raising Himself He said.

      7. He that is without sin--not meaning sinless altogether; nor yet, guiltless of a literal breach of the Seventh Commandment; but probably, he whose conscience acquits him of any such sin.
      cast a stone--"the stone," meaning the first one ( Deu 17:7 ).

      8. again he stooped down and wrote--The design of this second stooping and writing on the ground was evidently to give her accusers an opportunity to slink away unobserved by Him, and so avoid an exposure to His eye which they could ill have stood. Accordingly it is added.

      9. they. . . convicted. . . went out one by one. . . Jesus was left alone--that is, without one of her accusers remaining; for it is added.
      the woman in the midst--that is, of the remaining audience. While the trap failed to catch Him for whom it was laid, it caught those who laid it. Stunned by the unexpected home thrust, they immediately made off--which makes the impudence of those impure hypocrites in dragging such a case before the public eye the more disgusting.

      10. Woman, &c.--What inimitable tenderness and grace! Conscious of her own guilt, and till now in the hands of men who had talked of stoning her, wondering at the skill with which her accusers had been dispersed, and the grace of the few words addressed to herself, she would be disposed to listen, with a reverence and teachableness before unknown, to our Lord's admonition. "And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." He pronounces no pardon upon the woman (such as, "Thy sins are forgiven thee" [compare Luk 5:28 7:48 ] --"Go in peace" [compare Mar 5:34 Luk 7:50 8:48 ]), much less does He say that she had done nothing condemnable; He simply leaves the matter where it was. He meddles not with the magistrate's office, nor acts the Judge in any sense ( Jhn 12:47 ). But in saying, "Go and sin no more," which had been before said to one who undoubtedly believed ( Jhn 5:14 ), more is probably implied than expressed. If brought suddenly to conviction of sin, admiration of her Deliverer, and a willingness to be admonished and guided by Him, this call to begin a new life may have carried with it what would ensure and naturally bring about a permanent change. (This whole narrative is wanting in some of the earliest and most valuable manuscripts, and those which have it vary to some extent. The internal evidence in its favor is almost overpowering. It is easy to account for its omission, though genuine; but if not so, it is next to impossible to account for its insertion).


      12. I am the light of the world--As the former references to water ( Jhn 4:13, 14 7:37-39 ) and to bread ( Jhn 6:35 ) were occasioned by outward occurrences, so this one to light. In "the treasury" where it was spoken (see on JF & B for Joh 8:20) stood two colossal golden lamp-stands, on which hung a multitude of lamps, lighted after the evening sacrifice (probably every evening during the feast of tabernacles), diffusing their brilliancy, it is said, over all the city. Around these the people danced with great rejoicing. Now, as amidst the festivities of the water from Siloam Jesus cried, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink," so now amidst the blaze and the joyousness of this illumination, He proclaims, "I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD"--plainly in the most absolute sense. For though He gives His disciples the same title, they are only "light in the Lord" ( Eph 5:8 ); and though He calls the Baptist "the burning and shining light" (or "lamp" of his day, Jhn 5:35 ), yet "he was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light: that was THE TRUE LIGHT which, coming into the world, lighteth every man" ( Jhn 1:8, 9 ). Under this magnificent title Messiah was promised of old ( Isa 42:6 Mal 4:2, &c.).
      he that followeth me--as one does a light going before him, and as the Israelites did the pillar of bright cloud in the wilderness.
      but shall have the light of life--the light, as of a new world, a newly awakened spiritual and eternal life.

      13-19. bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true--How does He meet this specious cavil? Not by disputing the wholesome human maxim that "self-praise is no praise," but by affirming that He was an exception to the rule, or rather, that it had no application to Him.

      14. for I know whence I came, and whither I go, &c.--(See on JF & B for Joh 7:28).

      15. Ye judge after the flesh--with no spiritual apprehension.
      I judge no man.

      16. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true, &c.--Ye not only form your carnal and warped judgments of Me, but are bent on carrying them into effect; I, though I form and utter My judgment of you, am not here to carry this into execution--that is reserved to a future day; yet the judgment I now pronounce and the witness I now bear is not Mine only as ye suppose, but His also that sent Me. (See on JF & B for Joh 5:31, 32). And these are the two witnesses to any fact which your law requires.

      20. These words spake Jesus in the treasury--a division, so called, of the fore court of the temple, part of the court of the women [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 19.6.2, &c.], which may confirm the genuineness of Jhn 8:2-11, as the place where the woman was brought.
      no man laid hands on him, &c.--(See on JF & B for Joh 7:30). In the dialogue that follows, the conflict waxes sharper on both sides, till rising to its climax, they take up stones to stone him.

      21-25. Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, &c.--(See on JF & B for Joh 7:33).

      22. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself?--seeing something more in His words than before ( Jhn 7:35 ), but their question more malignant and scornful.

      23. Ye are from beneath; I am from above--contrasting Himself, not as in Jhn 3:31, simply with earthborn messengers of God, but with men sprung from and breathing an opposite element from His, which rendered it impossible that He and they should have any present fellowship, or dwell eternally together. (Again see on JF & B for Joh 7:33; also see on JF & B for Joh 8:44).

      24. if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins--They knew well enough what He meant ( Mar 13:6, Greek; compare Mat 24:5 ). But He would not, by speaking it out, give them the materials for a charge for which they were watching. At the same time, one is irresistibly reminded by such language, so far transcending what is becoming in men, of those ancient declarations of the God of Israel, "I AM HE" ( Deu 32:39 Isa 43:10, 13 46:4 48:12 ). See on JF & B for Joh 6:20.

      25. Who art thou?--hoping thus to extort an explicit answer; but they are disappointed.

      26, 27. I have many things to say and to judge of you; but he that sent me is true, &c.--that is, I could, and at the fitting time, will say and judge many things of you (referring perhaps to the work of the Spirit which is for judgment as well as salvation, Jhn 16:8 ), but what I do say is just the message My Father hath given Me to deliver.

      28-30. When ye have lifted up the Son of man--The plainest intimation He had yet given in public of the manner and the authors of His death.
      then shall ye know that I am he, &c.--that is, find out, or have sufficient evidence, how true was all He said, though they would be far from owning it.

      29. the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him, &c.--that is, To you, who gnash upon Me with your teeth, and frown down all open appearance for Me, I seem to stand uncountenanced and alone; but I have a sympathy and support transcending all human applause; I came hither to do My Father's will, and in the doing of it have not ceased to please Him; therefore is He ever by Me with His approving smile, His cheering words, His supporting arm.

      30. As he spake these words, many believed on him--Instead of wondering at this, the wonder would be if words of such unearthly, surpassing grandeur could be uttered without captivating some that heard them. And just as "all that sat in the council" to try Stephen "saw his face"--though expecting nothing but death--"as it had been the face of an angel" ( Act 6:15 ), so may we suppose that, full of the sweet supporting sense of His Father's presence, amidst the rage and scorn of the rulers, a divine benignity beamed from His countenance, irradiated the words that fell from Him, and won over the candid "many" of His audience.

      31-33. Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, &c.--The impression produced by the last words of our Lord may have become visible by some decisive movement, and here He takes advantage of it to press on them "continuance" in the faith, since then only were they His real disciples (compare Jhn 15:3-8 ), and then should they experimentally "know the truth," and "by the truth be made (spiritually) free."

      33. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man, &c.--Who said this? Not surely the very class just spoken of as won over by His divine words, and exhorted to continue in them. Most interpreters seem to think so; but it is hard to ascribe such a petulant speech to the newly gained disciples, even in the lowest sense, much less persons so gained as they were. It came, probably, from persons mixed up with them in the same part of the crowd, but of a very different spirit. The pride of the Jewish nation, even now after centuries of humiliation, is the most striking feature of their character. "Talk of freedom to us? Pray when or to whom were we ever in bondage?" This bluster sounds almost ludicrous from such a nation. Had they forgotten their long and bitter bondage in Egypt? their dreary captivity in Babylon? their present bondage to the Roman yoke, and their restless eagerness to throw it off? But probably they saw that our Lord pointed to something else--freedom, perhaps, from the leaders of sects or parties--and were not willing to allow their subjection even to these. Our Lord, therefore, though He knew what slaves they were in this sense, drives the ploughshare somewhat deeper than this, to a bondage they little dreamt of.

      34, 35. Whosoever committeth sin--that is, liveth in the commission of it--(Compare 1Jo 3:8 Mat 7:23 ).
      is the servant of sin--that is, the bond-servant, or slave of it; for the question is not about free service, but who are in bondage. (Compare 2Pe 2:19 Rev 6:16 ). The great truth here expressed was not unknown to heathen moralists; but it was applied only to vice, for they were total strangers to what in revealed religion is called sin. The thought of slaves and freemen in the house suggests to our Lord a wider idea.

      35. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the Son abideth ever--that is, "And if your connection with the family of God be that of BOND-SERVANTS, ye have no natural tie to the house; your tie is essentially uncertain and precarious. But the SON'S relationship to the FATHER is a natural and essential one; it is an indefeasible tie; His abode in it is perpetual and of right: That is My relationship, My tie: If, then, ye would have your connection with God's family made real, rightful, permanent, ye must by the Son be manumitted and adopted as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty." In this sublime statement there is no doubt a subordinate allusion to Gen 21:10, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac." (Compare Gal 4:22-30 ).

      37-41. ye seek to kill me--He had said this to their face before: He now repeats it, and they do not deny it; yet are they held back, as by some marvellous spell--it was the awe which His combined dignity, courage, and benignity struck into them.
      because my word hath no place in you--When did ever human prophet so speak of His words? They tell us of "the word of the Lord" coming to them. But here is One who holds up "His word" as that which ought to find entrance and abiding room for itself in the souls of all who hear it.

      38. my Father. . . your father--(See on JF & B for Joh 8:23).

      39. If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham--He had just said He "knew they were Abraham's children," that is, according to the flesh; but the children of his faith and holiness they were not, but the reverse.

      40. this did not Abraham--In so doing ye act in direct opposition to him.

      41. We be not born of fornication. . . we have one Father, God--meaning, as is generally allowed, that they were not an illegitimate race in point of religion, pretending only to be God's people, but were descended from His own chosen Abraham.

      42, 43. If God were your Father, ye would love me--"If ye had anything of His moral image, as children have their father's likeness, ye would love Me, for I am immediately of Him and directly from Him." But "My speech" (meaning His peculiar style of expressing Himself on these subjects) is unintelligible to you because ye cannot take in the truth which it conveys.

      44. Ye are of your father the devil--"This is one of the most decisive testimonies to the objective (outward) personality of the devil. It is quite impossible to suppose an accommodation to Jewish views, or a metaphorical form of speech, in so solemn an assertion as this" [ALFORD].
      the lusts of your father--his impure, malignant, ungodly propensities, inclinations, desires.
      ye will do--are willing to do; not of any blind necessity of nature, but of pure natural inclination.
      He was a murderer from the beginning--The reference is not to Cain (as LOCKE, DE WETTE, ALFORD, &c.), but to Adam [GROTIUS, CALVIN, MEYER, LUTHARDT, &c.]. The death of the human race, in its widest sense, is ascribed to the murderous seducer of our race.
      and abode not in the truth--As, strictly speaking, the word means "abideth," it has been denied that the fall of Satan from a former holy state is here expressed [LOCKE, &c.], and some superior interpreters think it only implied [OLSHAUSEN, &c.]. But though the form of the thought is present--not past--this is to express the important idea, that his whole character and activity are just a continual aberration from his own original truth or rectitude; and thus his fall is not only the implied basis of the thought, but part of the statement itself, properly interpreted and brought out.
      no truth in him--void of all that holy, transparent rectitude which, as His creature, he originally possessed.
      When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own--perhaps his own resources, treasures ( Mat 12:35 ) [ALFORD]. (The word is plural). It means that he has no temptation to it from without; it is purely self-begotten, springing from a nature which is nothing but obliquity.
      the father of it--that is, of lying: all the falsehood in the world owes its existence to him. What a verse is this! It holds up the devil (1) as the murderer of the human race; but as this is meant here in the more profound sense of spiritual death, it holds him up, (2) as the spiritual parent of this fallen human family, communicating to his offspring his own evil passions and universal obliquity, and stimulating these into active exercise. But as there is "a stronger than he," who comes upon him and overcomes him ( Luk 11:21, 22 ), it is only such as "love the darkness," who are addressed as children of the devil ( Mat 13:38 1Jo 3:8-10 ).

      45-47. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not--not although, but just because He did so, for the reason given in the former verse. Had He been less true they would have hailed Him more readily.

      46. Which of you convinceth me of sin--"Convicteth," bringeth home a charge of sin. Glorious dilemma! "Convict Me of sin, and reject Me: If not, why stand ye out against My claims?" Of course, they could only be supposed to impeach His life; but in One who had already passed through unparalleled complications, and had continually to deal with friends and foes of every sort and degree, such a challenge thrown wide among His bitterest enemies, can amount to nothing short of a claim to absolute sinlessness.

      48-51. Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?--What intense and virulent scorn! (See Hbr 12:3 ). The "say we not well" refers to Jhn 7:20. "A Samaritan" means more than "no Israelite at all"; it means one who pretended, but had no manner of claim to the title--retorting perhaps, this denial of their true descent from Abraham.

      49. Jesus answered, I have not a devil--What calm dignity is here! Verily, "when reviled, He reviled not again" ( 1Pe 2:23 ). Compare Paul ( Act 26:25 ), "I am not mad," &c. He adds not, "Nor am I a Samaritan," that He might not even seem to partake of their contempt for a race that had already welcomed Him as the Christ, and began to be blessed by Him.
      I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me--the language of wounded feeling. But the interior of His soul at such moments is only to be seen in such prophetic utterances as these, "For thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face; I am become a stranger unto my brethren, an alien unto my mother's children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me" ( Psa 69:7-9 ).

      50. I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh--that is, evidently, "that seeketh My glory"; requiring "all men to honor the Son even as they honor the Father"; judicially treating him "who honoreth not the Son as honoring not the Father that hath sent Him" ( Jhn 5:23; and compare Mat 17:5 ); but giving to Him ( Jhn 6:37 ) such as will yet cast their crowns before His throne, in whom He "shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied" ( Isa 53:11 ).

      51. If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death--Partly thus vindicating His lofty claims as Lord of the kingdom of life everlasting, and, at the same time, holding out even to His revilers the scepter of grace. The word "keep" is in harmony with Jhn 8:31, "If ye continue in My word," expressing the permanency, as a living and paramount principle, of that faith to which He referred: "never see death," though virtually uttered before ( Jhn 5:24 6:40, 47, 51 ), is the strongest and most naked statement of a very glorious truth yet given. (In Jhn 11:26 it is repeated in nearly identical terms).

      52, 53. Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil, &c.--"Thou art now self-convicted; only a demoniac could speak so; the most illustrious of our fathers are dead, and Thou promisest exemption from death to anyone who will keep Thy saying! pray, who art Thou?"

      54-56. If I honour myself, my honour is nothing, &c.--(See on JF & B for Joh 5:31, &c.).

      55. I shall be a liar like unto you--now rising to the summit of holy, naked severity, thereby to draw this long dialogue to a head.

      56. Abraham rejoiced to see my day, &c.--exulted, or exceedingly rejoiced that he should see, he exulted to see it, that is, by anticipation. Nay,
      he saw it, and was glad--he actually beheld it, to his joy. If this mean no more than that he had a prophetic foresight of the gospel-day--the second clause just repeating the first--how could the Jews understand our Lord to mean that He "had seen Abraham?" And if it mean that Abraham was then beholding, in his disembodied spirit, the incarnate Messiah [STIER, ALFORD, &c.], the words seem very unsuitable to express it. It expresses something past--"he saw My day, and was glad," that is, surely while he lived. He seems to refer to the familiar intercourse which Abraham had with God, who is once and again in the history called "the Angel of the Lord," and whom Christ here identifies with Himself. On those occasions, Abraham "saw ME" (OLSHAUSEN, though he thinks the reference is to some unrecorded scene). If this be the meaning, all that follows is quite natural.

      57-59. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old--"No inference can be drawn from this as to the age of our Lord at the time as man. Fifty years was with the Jews the completion of manhood" [ALFORD].
      and hast thou seen Abraham?--He had said Abraham saw Him, as being his peculiar privilege. They give the opposite turn to it--"Hast Thou seen Abraham?" as an honor too great for Him to pretend to.

      58. Before Abraham was, I am--The words rendered "was" and "am" are quite different. The one clause means, "Abraham was brought into being"; the other, "I exist." The statement therefore is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did (as Arians affirm is the meaning), but that He never came into being at all, but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally (as Jhn 1:1 ). In that sense the Jews plainly understood Him, since "then took they up stones to cast at Him," just as they had before done when they saw that He made Himself equal with God ( Jhn 5:18 ).
      hid himself--(See on JF & B for Lu 4:30).

Introduction to Luke ← Prior Book
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