Father s Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 1:1-18

Sorry, I did not have much time to edit this post.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word Was God.

in principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum.

In the beginning.  these words most probably mean here, as in Gen 1:1, at the beginning of all created things; in other words, when time began.  Their meaning must always be determined by the context.  Thus we know from the context in Acts 11:15, that St Peter there uses them in reference to the beginning of the Gospel.  Similarly, the context here determines the reference to be to the beginning of creation; for He who is here said to have been in the beginning, is declared in verse 3 to be the creator of all things, and must therefore have already been in existence at their beginning.

Others, however, have interpreted the words differently.  Many of the fathers understood them to mean: in the Father, and took this first clause of vs 1 as a declaration that the w=Word was in the Father.  But, though it is quite true to say that the Word was and is in the Father (10:38), both being consubstantial, still such does not seem to be the sense of the phrase before us.  Had St John meant to state this, surely he would have written: In God, or in the Father, was the Word.  He names God in the next two clauses: And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Why then should he at the risk of being misunderstood, refer to Him in this first clause under another name?  Besides, if this first clause state the Word’s consubstantiality with the Father, the third clause: And the Word was God, would then be tautological.

Many of the commentators also urge against this view, that if the first clause meant in God (or, in the Father) was the Word, the second clause would be merely a repetition.  But we cannot assent to this, since we shall see, the second clause would add the important statement of the Word’s distinct personality.  However, the view seems to us improbable for the other reasons already stated.

Other take “beginning” here to mean eternity, so that we should have in this first clause a direct statement of the Word’s eternity.  But against this is the fact that arche (beginning) nowhere else bears this meaning, and can be satisfactorily explained in a different sense here.  Hence, as already explained, “in the beginning” means: when time began.

was.  (Greek: en) I.e., was already in existence.  Had St John meant to declare that at the dawn of creation the Word began to exist, he would have used engeneto as he does in verse 3 regarding the beginning of the world, and again in verse 6 regarding the coming of the Baptist.  This cannot fail to be clear to anyone who contrasts verses 1, 2, 3, and 9 of this chapter with verses 3, 6, and 14.  In the former en is used throughout in reference to the eternal existence of the Word; in the latter egeneto, when there is a question of the beginning of created things (3), or of the coming of the Baptist (6), or of the asumption by the Word of human nature at the incarnation (14).  At the beginning of creation, then, the Word was already in existence; and hence it follows that He must be uncreated, and therefore eternal.  St John’s statement here that the Word was already in existence in the beginning, is accordingly, equivalent to our Lord’s claim to have existed before the world was (17:5), and in both instances the Word’s eternity, though not directly stated, follows immediately.  Hence we find that the Council of Nice and the fathers generally inferred, against the Arians, the eternity of the Son of God from this first clause of verse 1.  “If He was in the beginning,” says St Basil, “when was He not?”

The Word.  (ho logos).  St John here, as well as in his First Epistle 1:1, and in the Apocalypse 19:13, designates by this term the Second Divine Person.  That he speaks of no mere abstraction, or attribute of God, but of a Being who is a distinct Divine Person, is clear.  For this “Word was with God, was God, was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us,” and in the person of Jesus Christ was witnessed to by the Baptist (1:1, 14, 15, 29, 30).  Outside the writings of St John there is no clear instance in either the Old or New Testaments of this use of the term logos.  Throughout the rest of the Scriptures its usual meaning is speech or word.

What, then, we may ask, led our Evangelist, in the beginning of his Gospel, to apply this term rather than Son, or Son of God, to the Second Divine Person?  Why did he not say: In the beginning was the Son?

Apart from inspiration, which, of course, may have extended to the suggestion of an important word like the present, apart also from the appropriateness of the term, of which we shall speak in a moment, it seems very probable that St John was impelled to use the term logos because it had been already used by the heretics of the time in the expression of their errors.  Endowed, too, as St John was, like the other Apostles, with a special understanding of the Sacred Scriptures (Lk 24:46), and privileged as he had been on many occasions to listen to the commentaries of Christ Himself on the Old Testament, he may have been able, where we are not, to see clearly in the Old Testament instances in which logos refers to the Son of God; e.g., Ps 32:6.

One thing, at all events, is quite plain, that, whatever may be said regarding his reason for the application of this term to the Son of God, St John did not borrow his doctrine regarding the logos from Plato or Philo or the Alexandrian School.  For though the term is frequently met with in the writings of both Plato and Philo, yet Plato never speaks of it as a person, but only as an attribute of God; and Philo, though in our opinion, he held the distinct personality of the Word, yet denied that he was God, or the creator of amtter, which latter Philo held to be eternal.  As to the Alexandrian School, to which Philo belonged, and of whose doctrines he is the earliest witness, there is not a shadow of foundation for saying that any of its doctors held the same doctrine as St John regarding the Divine Word.

From the teaching of Christ, then, or by inspiration, or in both ways, our Evangelist received the sublime doctrine regarding the logos with which his Gospel opens.

Having now inquired into the origin of the term logos as applied to the Son of God, and having learned the source whence St John derived his doctrine regarding this Divine Word, let us try to understand how it is that the Son of God could be appropriately referred to as the Word (ho logos).  Many answers have been given, but we will confine ourselves to the one that seems to us most satisfactory.

We believe, and profess in the Athanasian Creed (Filius a Patre solo est non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus), that the Son is begotten by the Father; and it is the common teaching that He is begotten through the Divine intellect.  Now, this mysterious procession of the Son from the Father through the intellect, is implied here in His being called the Word.  For, as our word follows, without passion or carnal feeling, from our thought, as it is the reflex of our thought, from which it detracts nothing, and which it faithfully represents; so, only in an infinitely more perfect way, the Son of God proceeded, without passion or any carnal imperfection, through the intellect of the Father, detracting nothing from Him who begot Him, being   the image of the Father, “the figure of His substance” (Heb 1:3). “‘Augustine says (De Trin. vi, 11): “By Word we understand the Son alone.’  Word,” said of God in its proper sense, is used personally, and is the proper name of the person of the Son. For it signifies an emanation of the intellect: and the person Who proceeds in God, by way of emanation of the intellect, is called the Son; and this procession is called generation, as we have shown above (Question 27, Article 2). Hence it follows that the Son alone is properly called Word in God. (ST 1.34, art. 2)

And the Word was with God (pros ton Theon).  pros here signifies not motion towards, but a living union with, God.  God refers not to the Divine Nature, but to the Divine Person of the Father (see 1 Jn 1:2); otherwise the Word would be unnecessarily and absurdly said here to be with Himself, since He is the Divine Nature terminated in the Second Person.  Many commentators are of the opinion that  the use of pros (with), and not en (in) proves that the Word is not a mere attribute of the Father, but s distinct Person.  So St John Chrysostom, St Cyril, Theophylact, Cornelius a Lapide, Patrizi, M’Evilly.

And the Word was God.  As our English version indicates, Word is the subject of this clause, God the predicate, for in the Greek logos has the article, Theos (God) wants it; and besides, as appears from the whole context, St John is declaring what the Word is, not what God is.  A desire to begin this clause with the last word of the preceding clause-a favorite construction with St John (see vss 4 and 5)-may have led to the inversion of the original.  Or the inversion may have been intended  to throw the Divinity of the Word into greater prominence by placing the predicate before the verb.

Some, like Corluy, refer God, in this third clause, to the Divine Nature, which is common to the three Divine Persons; others, as Patrizi, to the Divine Nature as terminated in the Second Divine Person.  We prefer the latter view, but in either interpretation we have in this clause a declaration of the Divinity of the Word, a proof that cannot be gainsaid of His essential unity with the Father.  Nor does the absence of the Greek article before “God” in this third clause, when taken in conjunction with its presence in the second, imply, as the Arians held, that the Word is inferior to the Father.  For our Evangelist certainly refers sometimes to the Supreme Deity without the article (1:6, 12, 18); and the absence of the article is sufficiently accounted for in the present case by the fact that Theos (God) is a predicate standing before the copula.

1:2  The same was in the beginning with God.
Hoc erat in principio apud Deum.

To emphasize the three great truths contained in verse 1: namely, the Word’s eternity, His distinct personality, and essential unity with the Father, they are repeated in verse 2.  The same, that is, this Word who is God, was in the beginning, and was with God.

Various attempts have been made by the Unitarians to escape the invincible argument for a Second Divine Person which these opening verses of our Gospel contain.  Thus, they put a full stop after the last “erat” of verse 1; and taking the words in the order in which they occur in the Greek and Latin, make the sense of the third clause: And God was.  Then they join “verbum,” the last word of verse 1, with verse 2: This Word was in the beginning with God.  But even if we granted to the Unitarians this punctuation of the verses, the sense of the third clause would still be that the Word was God, and not that God existed.  For “Deus” (Greek: Theos=God, without the article), in the beginning of the third clause ought still to be regarded as the predicate, with “verbum” (Word) of the preceding clauses as the subject.  This follows not merely from the absence of the Greek article already alluded to, but also from the absurdity of the Unitarian view, which supposes that St John thought it necessary, after telling us that the Word was with God, to tell us that God exists!

Others have tried to explain away the text thus: At the beginning of the Christian dispensation the Word existed, and the Word was most intimately united to God by love.  But, (1) they have still to explain how this Wrod is declared Creator in verses 3 and 10; (2) The statement in verse 14: “And the Word was made flesh,” implies transition of the Word to a state different from that in which He existed “in the beginning;” but the time of the transition is just the commencement of the Christian dispensation, which cannot, therefore, be the time referred to in verse 1 as “the beginning.”

1:3  All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.

Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est,

St John passes on to the relations of the Word with creatures.  all things (παντα= τα παντα in 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16).  The passages indicated, as well as verse 10 of this chapter: the world was made by Him, make it clear that the Son of God created all things.  Nor could this doctrine be more plainly stated than in the words before us: All things were made by Him, &c. How absurd, then, is the Socinian view, according to which St John merely tells us here that all Christian virtues were introduced, and the whole moral world established by Christ!

Were made γίνομαι (ginomai), i.e., got their whole being from Him, and not merely were fashioned by Him from pre-existing matter.  The Cerinthian theory, that the world was made by an inferior being, is here rejected.  By Him δι αυτου (dia autos).  We are not to suppose that the Word was an instrument in the hands of the Father, or inferior to the Father, as the Arians held.  The preposition dia (Lat.: per; Eng.: by) is often used in reference to a principal efficient cause.  Thus, St Paul says of the Father: “God is faithful, by whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9.  See also 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 4:27; Heb 2:10).  And since our Evangelist has just declared in verse 1 the Word’s divinity, and knew Him to be one with the Father (10:30), it cannot be implied here that the Word is inferior to the Father.  Some commentators hold that there is no special significance in the use here of the preposition dia, while others see in ti an allusion to the fact that the Son proceeds from the Father, and derives from Him His creative power, together with His essence, from the Father, and is not, therefore, like the Father, “Principium sine principio.”

Others think that since all things were created according to the Divine idea, i.e., according to the Divine and eternal wisdom, and since the Word is that wisdom, therefore all things are rightly said to have been created through the Word.  So St Thomas on this verse:-”Sic ergo Deus nihil facit nisi per conceptum sui intellectus, qui est sapientia ab aeterno concepta, scilicet Dei Verbum, et Dei Filius; et ideo impossible est quod alquid faciat nisi per Filium.”  In this view, which seems to us the most probable, though like all the Divine works that are “ad extra,” i.e., do not terminate in God Himself, creation is common to the three Divine Persons, yet, for the reason indicated, it is rightly said to be through the Son.

And without him was made nothing (εν  ουδε = not anything.  Emphatic for ονδεν = nothing) that was made (Gr.: hath been made).  By a Hebrew parallelism the same truth is repeated negatively: all things were made by Him, and nothing was made without Him.  To this negative statement, however, there is added, according to the method of pointing the passage common at present, an additional clause which gives us the meaning: nothing was made without Him, of all the things that have been made.  This restrictive clause may then be understood to imply that, together with the Word, there was something else uncreated, that is to say (besides the Father, whose uncreated existence would be admitted by all) the Holy Ghost also.

In this way, after the Macedonian heresy arose in the middle of the fourth century, and blasphemously held that the Word had made the Holy Ghost, because without Him was made nothing, many of the Fathers replied : Nothing was made without the Word, of the things that were made; but the Holy Ghost was not made at all, and is therefore not included among the things made by the Word. However, this restriction is not necessary to defend the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. Even though we understand it to be stated absolutely that nothing was made without the Son, no difficulty can follow; for the Holy Ghost was not made (egeneto), but was (en) from all eternity, as is clearly implied elsewhere. John xvi. 13, 14. On dogmatic grounds, therefore, there is no necessity for connecting: Quod factum, est in the end of verse 3, with the preceding. And, as a matter of fact, all the writers of the first three centuries seem to have connected these words with verse 4, and it appears to us very likely, that it was because of the Macedonian heresy they began to be connected with verse 3. St. Chrysostom certainly is very strong in connecting them with verse 3, but the reason is because the heretics of the time were abusing the other connection to support their errors.  “neither will we,”; he says, “put a full stop after that nothing, as the heretics” (Chrysostom on John, Hom. v). We must not, however, conclude, from this remark of St. Chrysostom that it was the heretics alone who did so; for, as we have said already, such was the ordinary way of connecting the clauses during the first three centuries ; and it is supported not only by the Fathers, but by the oldest Latin MSS., and by some of the oldest Greek MSS. And that the usage of his time was against him, and that it waseven after the Macedonian heretics had abused this passage to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, the old pointing, or to speak more correctly the old method of connecting the clauses, remained the more common.! Not only did Cyril of Alexandria, and Augustine, and Venerable Bede, and St. Thomas, and a host of others read in this way, but Maldonatus, who himself prefers the connection in our English version: “Without Him was made nothing that was made”, admits then the practice to put a full stop after “nothing”: “Without Him was made nothing.”
Nor can the Sixtine or Clementine edition of the Vulgate be appealed to in favour of our present pointing. As a matter of fact, the Sixtine edition rejected it, printing thus : “Et sine ipso factum est nihil: quod factum est in ipso vita erat;” while the Clementine Bible left the matter undecided by printing thus: “Et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est, in ipso vita erat,” &c. We cannot, therefore, understand to what Roman Bibles A Lapide refers when he says that the Bibles corrected at Rome connect thus: “And without Him was made nothing that was made.”

We think it extremely probable, then, that the words: Quod factum est (that was made, or, as we shall render in our interpretation; what was made), standing at present in the end of verse 3, are to be connected with verse 4 Some may be inclined to blame us for departing from what is at present the received connection of the words in such a well-known passage as this. Let usj therefore, sum up briefly the evidence that has forced us, we may say reluctantly, to connect the words with verse 4.  Verse 4 reads: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (1). Though Maldonatus tries to throw doubt upon the fact, this is the connection adopted by practically all, if not all, the Fathers and other writers of the first three centuries, and by the majority of writers afterwards down to the sixteenth century.  (2). It is supported by the oldest MSS. of the Vulgate, and, what is more remarkable, by some of the oldest Greek MSS., notwithstanding the fact that St. Chrysostom was against it.  (3). The parallelism in the verse is better brought out: All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing.
(4).  If Quod factum est were intended to be connected with the preceding, the clause would be certainlyunnecessary, and apparently useless, because it is plain without it that the Evangelist is speaking of what was made, and not including any uncreated Being, like the Father or the Holy Ghost.

We prefer, then, to connect: Quod factum est, with what follows. But it still remains for us to inquire in what way precisely the connection is to be made, for various views have been held upon the subject.

A. Some connect thus: What was made in (i.e. by) Him, was life, and the life was the light of men. B. Others thus : What was made was life in Him, and the life was the light of men. C. Others again, adopting the same punctuation as in the preceding-, but understanding differently: What was made , in it was the Life, and the Life was the Light of men.

The last seems to us the correct view. For A is improbable, inasmuch as it either declares all things to have life, or implies that though what was made by the Word had life, yet there were other things wanting life, which proceeded, as the Manichaeans held, from the evil principle. Nor can we accept B, even as explained by St. Augustine in the sense that all created things are in the mind of God, as the house before building is in the mind of the architect; and that being in the mind of God they are God Himself, and “life in Him.”  For though this is in a certain sense true, yet it seems to us unnatural to suppose that St. John here, in this sublime exordium, thinks it necessary or useful to tell us that the archetypes of created things lived in the Divine Mind. C then appears to us to be the more probable view regarding the passage: “What was made, in it was the Life ;” or, more plainly: “In that which was made was the Life;” forhere,as elsewhere, St. John begins with the relative (see i. 45, i John i. i); so that, in this view, the Evangelist after telling us the relations of the Word to all things at their beginning: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing,” now goes on to point out His relations to them after their creation: first, His relations with things generally: “In that which was made was the Life,” then his relations with man in the supernatural order: “And the Life was the Light of men.”

1:4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
in ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum

Adopting this view as to the connection between verses 3 and 4, St. Cyril of Alexandria thus explains: “The Life, that is to say, the Only-begotten Son of God, was in all things that were made. For He, being by nature life itself, imparts being, and life, and motion to the things that are … In all things that were made was the Life, that is, the Word which was in the beginning. The Word, being essential life, was mingling Himself by participation with all existing things.”

If it be objected to this interpretation that the first zoe (life) of verse 4, not having the article, cannot mean the Eternal Life, i.e. the Divine Word, we reply that St. Cyril, one of the greatest of the Greek Fathers, thought differently; and moreover, that very many of the commentators who are against us in the interpretation of this passage, are yet with us in referring zoe here to the uncreated life of the Divine Word.

But if we follow what is at present the common punctuation, and read: “In Him was life,” this is commonly interpreted to mean thatthe Word is the source of supernatural life  toman. (Thus S.Amb., S.Ath., Tol.,Maid., A Lap., Patr., Beel).

But this view is not without difficulty. For, first, if it be merely meant that life comes to man through the Word, we might rather expect that the preposition dia of the preceding verse would have been retained. Secondly, if there be question here of the Word as the life of man, how is it that it is only in the next clause that man is first mentioned? Surely, if the opinion we are considering were correct, we should rather expect St. John to have written: “In Him was the life of man, and the life was the light.” For these reasons, and because of what we have stated already in favour of connecting Quod factum est” with what follows, we prefer to understand this passage, with St. Cyril, as a statement that the Word, the Essential Life, was present in all things, conserving them in existence.

And the Life was the Light of men. In our view the meaning is that the Word, the Life, who conserved all things in existence, was, more over, in the case of men, their Light the source and author of their faith. Hence, we suppose St. John, after referring to the creation of all things, in verse 3, and the conservation of all things, in the beginning of verse 4, to pass on now in the end of verse 4 to speak of that new creation that is effected in man by means of a spiritual illumination: “All things were made by (or through) Him, and without Him was made nothing.  In that which was made was the Life, and the Life was the Light of men.” Those who interpret the beginning of the verse to mean that the spiritual life of man comes through the Word, take the present clause as explaining how that was so, how the Word was the Life ; namely, inasmuch as He was the Light.  He was the source of our life of grace here and glory hereafter, inasmuch as He was the source of our light, that is to say, our faith.   And some of them, as Patrizi, hold that the order of the terms in this clause is inverted, and that we should read: “the light of men was the life,” “light of men” being the subject.

Maldonatus tells us that almost all writers before his time understood “light of men” in reference to the light of reason. However, this view is now generally abandoned, and rightly, for that man owed his reason to the Word has been already implied in verse 3: “All things were made by Him.”  Besides, the “light” of this fourth verse is doubtless the same as that of verse 5, which men did not receive, and of verse 7, to which the Baptist was to bear witness.  But in neither of the latter verses can there be question of the light of reason; hence, neither is there in verse 4. The meaning, then, is that He who was the preserver of all things was moreover the source of the spiritual light of men.

1:5. And the light shineth.  The meaning is, that the Word, as the source and author of faith, was always, as far as in Him lay, enlightening men. Shineth-the present tense is used, though the latter part of the verse shows that the past also is meant: “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”  Probably the Evangelist avoids using the past tense, lest it might be inferred that the Word had ceased to shine. Besides, the present is more appropriate, seeing that, in the sense explained, the Word shines throughout all time.  From the beginning the Word shone, as far as in Him lay.  If men generally were not enlightened, it was their own fault. But all who were saved from the beginning, were saved through faith, and no one ever received the gift of faith except in view of the merits of the Word Incarnate.  “Nulli unquam contigit vita nisi per lucem fidei, nulli lux fidei nisi intuitu Christi” (St. August.)

The darkness is man shrouded in unbelief. See Luke 1:79, Eph 5:8.

And the darkness did not comprehend it.  As we have just said, the meaning is, that unbelieving men refused to be enlightened. Ordinarily, indeed, light cannot shine in darkness without dispelling it; but in this case the darkness was man, a free agent, capable of rejecting the light of faith through which the Eternal Word was shining. In telling us that men refused to be enlightened, the Evangelist is stating what was the general rule, to which at all times there were noble exceptions.

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Johannes.

The correct reading is: There came () a man, sent by God, whose name was John.  This reference to the Baptist in the middle of this sublime exordium is surprisng, and has ben variously accounted for.  Some think that our Evangelist, after having treated of the Divinity of the Word, merely wishes, before going on to speak of the incarnation, to refer to the precursor.  But it seems most probable that the Evangelist wished to remove at once the error of those who, impressed by the austerity and sanctity of the Baptist’s life, had looked upon him as the Messiah.  If any of them still remained at the time when St John wrote, or should arise afterward, they are here told that the Baptist, though having his mission from Heaven, was only a man intended to bear witness to Christ.  Thus the superior excellence of Christ is thrown into relief from the fact that a great saint like the Baptist was specially sent by Heaven to be His herald.  The reference in this verse to the Baptist’s coming into the world, at his concenption, rather than to the beginning of his preaching, for at the moment of his conception, he came, sent by God to be the herald of Christ (see Lk 1:13-17).

John is the same as jochanan, which is itself a shortened form of Jehochanan = “God hath had mercy.”  This name was appointed for the Baptist, before his conception, by the Archangel Gabriel (Lk 1:13).

1:7  This man came fof a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him.
Hic venit in testimonium, ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine, ut omnes crederent per illum:

This man came for witness, namely, in order that he might bear witness of the light, that is to say, the Incarnate Word, to the end that through him all might believe in the Word.

1:8  He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light.
Non erat ille lux, sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine.

He was not the light (του φωτος = ho photos = the light), that is, he was not the great uncreated light which enlighteneth all men; though, in his own way, the Baptist too was a light, nay, as Christ Himself testified “the lamp that burneth and shineth” (5:35). ινα (hina) depends on (ἔρχομαι =erchmai=he came), which is to be understood from the preceding verse.

1:9  That was the true light, which enlightenes every man that cometh into this world.
Erat lux vera, quae illuminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum.

“That was the true light” (or, there was the true light), “whhich enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.”  The Greek of this verse may be construed and translated in three different ways:-1. By connecting εἰμί (ἦν = was) with ἔρχομαι (erchomai =coming): “The true light, which enlighteneth every man, was coming into the world.  2. By taking ἔρχομαι (erchomai =coming) as a nominative agreeing with φῶς  (phos=light): There was the true light which at its coming into the world enlighteneth every man (see 3:19).  3. By connecting ἔρχομαι (erchomai =coming), as in the Vulgate and our English version.  This is far the most probable view.  In favor of it we have all the Latin Fathers, all the Greek Fathers except one, and all ancient versions.  Besides erchomai is thus connected with the nearest substantive with which it agrees in form.  Add to this that the second opinion, the more probable of the other two, would seem to signify that the Word was not a light to all men before His coming, but only at His coming; and this, as we have explained above on verse 5, is false.  The meaning then is that the Word was the true, i.e., the perfect light, and as far as in Him lies, enlighteneth at all times every man that cometh into this world, be he Jew or Gentile.  That cometh into this world, is in our view a Hebrew form of expression equivalent to: that is born.  It is used only here in the New Testament, but “to be born” was commonly expressed by the Jewis Rabbins ****(to come into the world).  Note: I am unable to reproduce the Hebrew letters, hence the ****.

1:10  he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
In mundo erat et mundus per ipsum factus est, et mundus eum non cognovit.

The Word, not the light, is the subject here, as is proved by the masculine pronoun autos towards the end of the verse.  It is disputed to what presence of the Word in the world there is reference here.  Almost all the Fathers understood the reference to be to the presence of the Word in the world before the incarnation.  According to this view, which is held also by Lapide, the Word was in the world, in the universe, conserving what He had created, “sustaining all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3).  God is everywhere present by His essence, by His knowledge, and by His power; but it is of the latter presence, which could be known, that the view we are considering understands the clause.

Maldonatus, though he admits the Fathers are against him, holds that the reference is to the mortal life of the Word Incarnate.  He argues from the fact that the world is blamed, in the next clause, for not having known the Word; bu knowledge of the Word was impossible before the Incarnation.  It was possible indeed to know there was a God, but impossible to know the Second Divine Person, the Word.  Whatever may be thought of the probability of this second view, the arguments ordinarily adduced against it, from the use of the imperfect erat (Latin, en in Greek), and from the alleged fact that all the preceding verses refer to the Word before His Incarnation, have no weight.  For the imperfect may be used not in reference to Christ’s existence before His incarnation, but to show that He not merely appeared among men, but continued to dwell for a time among them; and the statement that everything before this verse refers to the Word before His incarnation, cannot be sustained.  For the “Light” to which the Baptist came to bear witness (vs 7) was not the Word before His incarnation, but the Word Incarnate, as is evident.  According to this second opinion, verse 11 “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” merely emphasizes the ingratitude of the world towards the incarnate Word by declaring that He was rejected even by His own chosen people.

And the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  Those who interpret the first clause of this verse of the existence of the Word in the world before the incarnation, understand the world to be blamed, in the remainder of the verse, for its ignorance of its Creator.  The world is not blamed, they say, for not knowing the Word as the Second Divine Person, for such knowledge it could not have gathered from the works of creation, but for not knowing God (Rom 1:20), who is one in nature with the Word.

Those who interpret the first part of the verse of the presence of Christ on earth during His mortal life, hold that in the remainder the world is blamed for not recognizing the Word Incarnate as the Son of God, and the Second Divine Person.  The meaning of the whole verse then, in this view, is: That though the Son of God, who created the world, deigned to live among men, yet they refused to recognize Him as God.

1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
In propria venit, et sui eum non receperunt.

It is clear from what we have said on the preceding verse, that some take this to be the first reference to the presence on earth of the Word Incarnate; while others regard it as merely repeating the idea of the preceding verse, with the additional circumstance that even His own refused to recognize Christ.  Some few have held that the reference here is to the transient coming of the Word in the apparitions of the Old Testament.  But all the Fathers understood the verse of the coming of the Word as man, and the verses that follow prove their view to be correct.  His own is understood by many of His own world, which He had created; but we prefer to take it as referring to His own chosen people, the Jews.

And his own received him not.  That is to say, believed not in Him, but rejected Him.  This was the general rule, to which, of course, there were exceptions, as the following verse shows.  These words together with the two following verses, we take to be a parenthetic reflexion on the reception of Christ met with, and the happy consequences to some.

12. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.
Quotquot autem receperunt eum, dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri, his qui credunt in nomine eius.

There were some, how ever, who believed in Him, or, according to the Hebraism, in His name, and to these, whether Jews or Gentiles, He gave power to become adopted children of God.  That is to say, after they had co-operated with His grace and believed, He mercifully gave them further grace whereby they could be justified, and thus be God s adopted children.  The last words of this verse: To them that believe in His name, explain what is meant in the beginning of the verse by receiving Him.

13. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Qui non ex sanguinibus, neque ex voluntate carnis, neque ex voluntate viri, sed ex Deo nati sunt.

Some commentators have found great difficulty in this verse, because they supposed that those who in the preceding verse are said to have got the power to become children of God are here said to have been already born of God.  But the difficulty vanishes, it seems to us, if verse 13 be taken as explaining not what those who believed were before they became sons of God, but the nature of the filiation, to which those who believed got power to raise themselves.  It is not faith that makes them sons of God, but through faith (not as a meritorious cause, but as a condition) they attained to charity, which made them children of God. This too is all that is meant in 1 Jn 5:1.  It is not meant that by believing they are eo ipso, through faith alone, sons of God.  Faith, as the Council of Trent lays down, is the root of justification, but it is not the formal nor even the meritorious cause of justification; it is a condition “sine qua non.”  And just as St. Paul attributes justification to faith without meaning that it is of itself sufficient, so St. John (1 Jn 5:1) attributes to faith Divine sonship without meaning that it comes from faith alone. See Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sess. VI. Chaps, VI. and VIII. The meaning of the two verses, according to this view, is, that as many as received Christ by believing in Him, got power to become children of God, children who were born, not of bloods nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  Thus verse 13 explains that these sons of God were born not in a carnal but in a spiritual manner.  Tria hie de generatione humana sic exponit St Thomas: ex sanguinibus, ut ex causa materiali; ex voluntate Garnish ut ex causa efficiente quantum ad concupiscentiam (in qua est voluntas sensitiva) ; ex voluntate viri, ut ex causa efHciente intellectuali (libere actum conjugalem perficiente).”

To be “born of God,” implies that we are transferred into a new life wherein we become in some sense partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. i. 4).  Some early authorities make Christ the subject of this verse; so commonly in the second century.

1:14  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.
Et Verbum caro fctum est, et habitavit in nobis: et vidimus gloriam eius, gloriam quasi Unigeniti a Patre, plenum gratiae et veritatis.

After the reflexion in verses 12 and 13 on the way Christ was received by men, the Evangelist now states the manner in which He came; namely, by taking human nature. According to some, the first “and” is equivalent to “for.”  “After He had said that those who received Him are born of God and sons of God, He adds the cause of this unspeakable honour, namely, that the Word was made flesh” (St John Chrysostom).  Others, however, think that “and” has merely its ordinary conjunctive force.  Note that ho logos (the Word), not mentioned since verse 1, is again named, for emphasis, and to put it beyond doubt or cavil that it is the same Eternal God of verse 1 who is declared in verse 14 to have become man.

Flesh is a Hebraism for rnan. See also Gen 6:12; Isa 40:5; Ps 55:5; John 17:2. Probably it is used here specially against the Docetae, heretics who denied that Christ had really taken flesh, which they contended was essentially polluted and corrupt.

And dwelt. Many think, with St Chrysostom and St Cyril, that the Greek verb used is employed specially to indicate that the Word did not cease to be God when He became man, but dwelt in His humanity as in a tent among men.

And we saw. The Greek verb signifies to behold with attention.  St John here claims to have been an eyewitness of Christ s glory (doxa, the solemn
scriptural term for the glorious majesty of God), to have beheld it, not in mental vision, but literally and historically. θεάομαι (Theoamai = beheld) is not used in the New Testament of mental vision.  It is used only of bodily vision.

The glory as it were
(Greek: ὡς; Latin: quasi =”as it were”) of the only begotten; i.e., glory such as was becoming the only-begotten, &c.  Beware of taking the meaning to be: a glory like that of the Son of God, but not His.  As St Chrys. points out, the ὡς here expresses not similitude, but the most real identity: “As if he said: We have seen His glory such as it was becoming and right that the only begotten and true Son of God should have.”  Of the Father should be from the Father, and may be joined either with “glory” or with “only begotten”.

Full of grace and truth
.  ( πλήρης = Latin: Plenum = “full”,  in the nominative, is the correct reading).   This is to be connected closely with the beginning of the verse: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,” and the other clause, And we saw His glory, &c. , is parenthetic, thrown in to prove the preceding statement.

Christ is said to have been full of grace and truth, not merely in Himself, but also, as the following verses prove, in reference to men with whom He freely shared them.  Kuinoel, followed by Patrizi, understands by “grace and truth” true grace or true benefits. But it is more natural to take grace and truth as two distinct things, seeing that they are again mentioned separately (η χαρις και η αληθεια) in verse 17.  Grace may be understood in its widest sense; for not only had Christ the “gratia unionis,” as it is called, whereby His humanity was hypostatically united to the Divinity; but, moreover, His human soul was replenished to its utmost capacity with created grace, which not only sanctified Him, but was also through Him a source of sanctification to us.  See St Thomas, p. 2, sec. 7, 8.  Christ is said to be “full of truth,” not only because “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him” (Col 2:3), but also because, as verse 17 states, He gave us the knowledge of the true faith and true way of salvation.

1:15  John beareth witness of him, and crieth out, saying: This was he of whom I spoke: He that shall come after me, is preferred before me : because, he was before me.
loannes testimonium perhibet de ipso, et clamat, dicens: Hie erat quem dixi: Qui post me venturus est, ante me factus est:quia prior me erat.

John. The Baptist (for it is he who is meant:comp. with John 1:27; Mark 1:4, 7; Luke 3:2, 16) is now referred to parenthetically, as confirming what our Evangelist has said, namely, that the eternal Word dwelt among men.

Crieth out. (The Greek construction implies the giving of solemn, public testimony).

This was he of whom I spoke (rather, said). Some, like Patrizi, think that the testimony of the Baptist here referred to is a distinct testimony not mentioned elsewhere.  Others, and with more probability, hold that the Evangelist mentions here by anticipation the same testimony whose circumstances he describes in verses 29 and 30.

He that shall come after me, in His public ministry, is preferred before me, because he was before me. Some commentators, as Kuinoel and Patrizi, understand “before” in both cases of “time”: is before Me, because He is eternal; others, as St Chrysostom and Toletus, in both cases of dignity: is preferred before Me, because really preferable; and others, as our English version, with St Augustine, St Thomas, Beelen, Alford, in the former case of dignity in the latter of time is preferred before Me, because He is eternal. The last seems the correct interpretation, and in it the past tense “is preferred” (ante me factus est) is used prophetically for the future, or may be explained as a past: has been preferred in the designs of God.

1:16 And of his fulness we all have received, and grace for grace.
Et de plenitudine eius nos omnes accepimus, et gratiam pro gratia.

After the parenthetic clause contained in verse 15, the Evangelist, not the Baptist, continues regarding the Word.  And of his fulness (see verse 14) we have all received, and grace for grace. The second “and” is explanatory. Grace for grace; i.e. (1) the grace of eternal life following on the grace of justification here; or (2) abundant grace, according as the grace given to Christ was abundant: gratia nobis pro gratia Christi (Rom 5:155); or (3) the more perfect grace of the New Law, instead of that given under the Old Law (Chrysostom, Cyril, Patrizi); or (4), and best, by a Hebraism, abundant grace.  “αντι dicitur de successione, gratiam unam post aliam (gratiam cumulatam).”(Beel., Gr. Gram., 5 1A.) So also Kuinoel.

1:17 For the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Quia lex per Moysen data est, gratia et veritas per lesum Christum facta est.

The Evangelist confirms what is stated in verse 16, and at the same time takes occasion to prefer Christ to Moses, as he has already preferred Him to the Baptist. Moses, was but the medium of communicating to the Jews the Mosaic Law, which only pointed out man s duty, without enabling him to fulfil it (Rom 7:7, 8); but Christ was the source and author of grace and truth to us; of all the graces whereby we are to merit heaven, and of the perfect knowledge of the true faith. This is, doubtless, directed against some of the Judaizers, who held that sanctification through the Mosaic Law was at all times possible, even after the Christian religion was established.

1:18  No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
Deum nemo vidit unquam : unigenitus Filius, qui est in sinu Patris, ipse enarravit.

There is considerable difference of opinion as to the drift or bearing of this verse. Some think that a reason is given why only Christ could give the truth, because only He saw God in His essence.  Others, that a reason is given why the gifts of Christ mentioned in the preceding verse, are superior to the Law given by Moses, namely, because Moses never saw God in His essence. Others, that the evangelist explains how he and his fellow Apostles received of Christ s fulness, not only through what Christ did (17), but through what He taught (18); and the necessity for such a Divine teacher is shown by the fact that no one but He ever saw God.   So St. Thomas.

Others as Maldonatus and Patrizi, hold that the Evangelist is here adding to his own testimony, and that of the Baptist, the testimony of our Lord Himself, in favor of all that he has said regarding our Lord in this sublime prologue; the meaning being: What I have said regarding the eternity, personality, and Divinity of the Word, regarding His power as creator and regenerator, and regarding His incarnation, I have neither seen with my own eyes, nor learned from anyone who saw, for “no man hath seen God at any time,” but Jesus Christ Himself explained these things to me.

No man hath seen God at any time. If understood of the vision of comprehension this is universally true of every creature, man or angel; if of seeing God in His essence without comprehending Him, it is true of all while they are here below.  The latter is the sense here, for the Evangelist wishes to signify that he could not have learned from any mere mortal the foregoing doctrine.  The saints in heaven see God in His essence, for as our Evangelist tells us in his First Epistle: “We shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2. See also John 17:3).

The only- begotten Son
.  Instead of: “The only-be gotten Son,” the reading: “God only-begotten” is found in very many ancient authorities, and is almost equally probable.  Were it certain, it would be an additional proof of Christ s Divinity.  Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, because while He is the natural Son of God, all others are but adopted sons.

Who is in the bosom of the Father (εις τον κολπον του πατρο). This means that the Son is consubstantial with the Father: “In illo ergo sinu, id est in occultissimo paternae naturae et essentiae, quae excedit omnem virtutem creaturae,est unigenitus Filius, et ideo consubstantialis est Patri” (St Thomas).

He hath declared him.  “Him” is not represented in the original; and if our view of the verse is the correct one, the object of the verb “hath declared” is not so much the Word as the doctrine contained in this prologue concerning Him.

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One Response to Father s Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 1:1-18

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