Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The man who had been diseased thirty-eight years healed on the Sabbath day, Joh 5:1-9. The Jews cavil, persecute Christ, and seek to kill him, because he had done this cure on the Sabbath, Joh 5:10-16. Our Lord vindicates his conduct, and shows, from the testimony of the Father, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, and his own works, that he came from God, to be the light and salvation of the world, vv. 17-39. He reproves the Jews for their obstinacy, Joh 5:40; hatred to God, Joh 5:41, Joh 5:42; pride, Joh 5:43, Joh 5:44; and disbelief of their own law, Joh 5:45-47.
A feast - This is generally supposed, by the best critics, to have been the feast of the passover, which was the most eminent feast among the Jews. In several excellent MSS. the article is added, ἡ ἑορτη, The feast, the grand, the principal festival. Petavius supposes that the feast of Purim, or lots, is here meant; and one MS. reads ἡ σκηνοπηγια, the feast of Tabernacles. Several of the primitive fathers believe Pentecost to be intended; and they are followed by many of the moderns, because, in Joh 7:2, mention is made of the feast of Tabernacles, which followed Pentecost, and was about the latter end of our September; and, in Joh 10:22, mention is made of the feast of Dedication, which was held about the latter end of November. See Bp. Pearce. See Joh 10:22.
Calmet, however, argues that there is no other feast with which all the circumstances marked here so well agree as with the passover; and Bp. Newcome, who is of Calmet's opinion, thinks Bp. Pearce's argument concerning the succession of the feasts to be inconclusive; because it is assumed, not proved, that the three feasts which he mentions above must have happened in the same year. See much on the same subject in Bp. Newcome's notes to his Harmony, p. 15, etc.
Lightfoot has observed, that the other evangelists speak very sparingly of our Lord's acts in Judea. They mention nothing of the passovers, from our Lord's baptism till his death, excepting the very last: but John points at them all. The first he speaks of, Joh 2:13; the third, Joh 6:4; the fourth, Joh 13:1; and the second in this place: for although he does not call it the passover, but a feast in general, yet the circumstances agree best with this feast; and our Lord's words, Joh 4:35, seem to cast light on this subject. See the note there.
There Is - This is thought by some to be a proof that John wrote his Gospel before the destruction of Jerusalem; and that the pool and its porticoes were still remaining. Though there can be little doubt that Jerusalem was destroyed many years before John wrote, yet this does not necessarily imply that the pool and its porticoes must have been destroyed too. It, or something in its place, is shown to travelers to the present day. See Maundrell's Jour. p. 108. But instead of εϚι, Is, both the Syriac, all the Arabic, Persic, Armenian, and Nonnus, read ην, Was; which is to me some proof that it did not exist when these versions were made, and that the pool which is shown now is not the original.
By the sheep market - Rather, gate: see Neh 3:1, Neh 3:32; Neh 12:39. This was in all probability the gate through which the sheep were brought which were offered in sacrifice in the temple.
A pool - Bp. Pearce thinks the word κολυμβηθρα should be translated bath, and that this place was built for the purpose of bathing and swimming in. He observes that κολυμβᾳν signifies to swim, in Act 27:43. In proof of this, he cites three of the old Itala, which have natatoria, a bathing or swimming place.
Bethesda - This word is variously written in the MSS. and versions: Bezatha - Bethzatha - Betzetha - Belzetha - Belzatha - Berzeta; and many have Bethsaida. But the former reading is the genuine one. Bethesda, or according to the Hebrew ביתחסדה Bethchasdah, signifies literally, the house of mercy. It got this name probably from the cures which God mercifully performed there. It is likely the porticoes were built for the more convenient reception of the poor and distressed, who came hither to be healed. It does not appear that any person was obliged to pay man for what the mercy of God freely gave. Wicked as the Jewish people were, they never thought of levying a tax on the poor and afflicted, for the cures they received in these healing waters. How is it that a well-regulated state, such as that of Great Britain, can ever permit individuals or corporations to enrich themselves at the expense of God's mercy, manifested in the sanative waters of Bristol, Bath, Buxton, etc.? Should not the accommodations be raised at the expense of the public, that the poor might enjoy without cost, which they are incapable of defraying, the great blessing which the God of nature has bestowed on such waters? In most of those places there is a profession that the poor may drink and bathe gratis; but it is little better than a pretense, and the regulations relative to this point render the whole nearly inefficient. However, some good is done.
Blind, halt, withered - To these the Codex Bezae, three copies of the Itala, and both the Persic, add παραλυτικων, paralytic; but they are probably included among the withered.
Waiting for the moving of the water - This clause, with the whole of the fourth verse, is wanting in some MSS. and versions; but I think there is no sufficient evidence against their authenticity. Griesbach seems to be of the same opinion; for though he has marked the whole passage with the notes of doubtfulness, yet he has left it in the text. Some have imagined that the sanative virtue was communicated to the waters by washing in them the entrails of the beasts which were offered in sacrifice; and that the angel meant no more than merely a man sent to stir up from the bottom this corrupt sediment, which, being distributed through the water, the pores of the person who bathed in it were penetrated by this matter, and his disorder repelled! But this is a miserable shift to get rid of the power and goodness of God, built on the merest conjectures, self-contradictory, and every way as unlikely as it is insupportable. It has never yet been satisfactorily proved that the sacrifices were ever washed; and, could even this be proved, who can show that they were washed in the pool of Bethesda? These waters healed a man in a moment of whatsoever disease he had. Now, there is no one cause under heaven that can do this. Had only one kind of disorders been cured here, there might have been some countenance for this deistical conjecture - but this is not the case; and we are obliged to believe the relation just as it stands, and thus acknowledge the sovereign power and mercy of God, or take the desperate flight of an infidel, and thus get rid of the passage altogether.
Angel - "Of the Lord," is added by AKL, about 20 others, the Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, Vulgate, Anglo-Saxon, and six copies of the Itala: Cyril and Ambrose have also this reading. If this reading be genuine, and the authorities which support it are both ancient and respectable, it destroys Dr. Hammond's conjecture, that, by the angel, a messenger only, sent from the Sanhedrin, is meant, and that these cures were all performed in a natural way.
Those who feel little or none of the work of God in their own hearts are not willing to allow that he works in others. Many deny the influences of God's Spirit, merely because they never felt them. This is to make any man's experience the rule by which the whole word of God is to be interpreted; and consequently to leave no more divinity in the Bible than is found in the heart of him who professes to explain it.
Went down - Κατεβαινεν, descended. The word seems to imply that the angel had ceased to descend when John wrote. In the second verse, he spoke of the pool as being still in existence; and in this verse he intimates that the Divine influence ceased from these waters. When it began, we know not; but it is likely that it continued no longer than till the crucifixion of our Lord. Some think that this never took place before nor after this time. Neither Josephus, Philo, nor any of the Jewish authors mention this pool; so that it is very likely that it had not been long celebrated for its healing virtue, and that nothing of it remained when those authors wrote.
Certain season - This probably refers to the time of the feast, during which only this miraculous virtue lasted. It is not likely that the angel appeared to the people - his descent might be only known by the ebullition caused in the waters. Was not the whole a type Of Christ? See Zac 13:1. He is the true Bethesda, or house of mercy, the fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness; unto which all the diseased may come, and find health and life eternal.
Had an infirmity thirty and eight years - St. Chrysostom conjectured that blindness was the infirmity of this person: what it was, the inspired writer does not say - probably it was a palsy: his case was deplorable - he was not able to go into the pool himself, and he had no one to help him; so that poverty and disease were here connected. The length of the time he had been afflicted makes the miracle of his cure the greater. There could have been no collusion in this case: as his affliction had lasted thirty-eight years, it must have been known to multitudes; therefore he could not be a person prepared for the occasion. All Christ's miracles have been wrought in such a way, and on such persons and occasions, as absolutely to preclude all possibility of the suspicion of imposture.
Wilt thou be made whole? - Christ, by asking this question, designed to excite in this person faith, hope, and a greater desire of being healed. He wished him to reflect on his miserable state, that he might be the better prepared to receive a cure, and to value it when it came. Addresses of this kind are always proper from the preachers of the Gospel, that the hearts, as well of hardened as of desponding sinners, may be stirred up to desire and expect salvation. Do you wish to be healed? Do you know that you are under the power of a most inveterate and dangerous disease? If so, there is a remedy - have immediate recourse to the physician. Questions of this kind are frequently asked in the secret of our souls, by the inspirations of God's Spirit. Happy those who pay attention to them, and give right answers.
Sir, I have no man - Ναι, Κυριε - "Yes, sir; but I have no man:" - this is the reading of C*GH, fourteen others, both the Syriac, later Persic, Arabic, and Chrysostom. Reader, be thankful to God for health and outward comforts. When long affliction has been allied to deep poverty, how deplorable is the state!
Rise, take up thy bed, and walk - Jesus speaks here as God. He speaks in no name but his own, and with an authority which belongs to God alone. And what is the consequence? The man became whole immediately; and this sudden restoration to health and strength was an incontestable proof of the omnipotence of Christ. It has been remarked, that our Lord, after having performed a miracle, was accustomed to connect some circumstance with it, which attested its truth. After the miracle of the five loaves, he ordered the fragments to be collected, which were more in quantity than the loaves themselves, though several thousands had been fed. When he changed the water into wine, he ordered some to be taken first to the steward of the feast, that he might taste and bear testimony to its genuineness and excellency. When he cured the lepers, he commanded them to show themselves to the priests, whose business it was to judge of the cure. So here, he judged it necessary, after having cured this infirm man, to order him not only to arise, but to take up his bed, and walk, which sufficiently attested the miracle which he had wrought. God's work is ever known by its excellence and good effects.
The bed of a poor Hindoo is seldom any thing besides a single mat, or a cloth as thick as a bed-quilt. Men carrying such beds may be seen daily on the highways.
The same day was the sabbath - Mr. Toynard supposes that this miracle was wrought on the 11th of Nisan, the sabbath before the passover, which was celebrated the 14th of Nisan, or 28th of March. But why did our Lord command this man to carry his bed on the sabbath, as the law prohibited all servile work, and especially the carrying of burthens? See Exo 20:8; Jer 17:21; Neh 13:15. To this it may be answered,
1. The man was a poor man, and if he had left his bed he might have lost it; and he could not have conveniently watched it till the next morning.
2. Christ showed by this that he was Lord of the sabbath: see Mat 12:8.
3. This was not contrary to the spirit of the law: the sabbath was made to honor God in, and this was a public monument of his power and goodness.
4. It was consistent with the wisdom of Christ to do his miracles so that they might be seen and known by a multitude of people, and especially in Jerusalem, which was the capital of the country, and the center of the Jewish religion; and this very circumstance of the healed man carrying his bed on the sabbath day must call the attention of many to this matter, and cause the miracle to be more generally known.
He that made me whole, etc. - The poor man reasoned conclusively: - He who could work such a miracle must be at least the best of men: now a good man will neither do evil himself, nor command others to do it: but he who cured me ordered me to carry my bed; therefore, there can be no evil in it.
Jesus had conveyed himself away - Or, had withdrawn himself. And this he might easily do, as there was a crowd in the place. Some think the words indicate, that Jesus withdrew on seeing a multitude in the place, i.e. raising a tumult, because of the man's carrying his bed (margin: Or, from the multitude that was). He had not yet finished his work, and would not expose himself to the envy and malice of the Jewish rulers.
Jesus findeth him in the temple - The man being conscious that it was through the mercy of God that he was restored, (though he did not as yet know distinctly who Christ was), went to the temple to return thanks to God for his cure. Whether this was on the same day, or some other, does not distinctly appear: it was probably the same day, after he had carried home his couch. How many, when they are made well, forget the hand that has healed them, and, instead of gratitude and obedience to God, use their renewed health and strength in the service of sin! Those who make this use of God's mercies may consider their restoration as a respite only from perdition.
Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee - Our Lord, intending to discover to this man who he was, gave him two proofs of the perfection of his knowledge.
1. He showed him that he knew the secret of the past - sin no more: thereby intimating that his former sins were the cause of his long affliction.
2. He showed him that he knew the future - lest a worse thing come unto thee: if thy iniquity be repeated, thy punishment will be increased.
The man departed, and told the Jews - He did not say it was Jesus who had ordered him to carry his bed, but it was Jesus who had cured him; and he left them to draw the inference, viz. That this Jesus must be the miraculous power of God.
And sought to slay him - This clause is omitted by BCDL, some others, and several ancient versions. Griesbach has left it out of the text; and Professor White says, certissime delenda: but it does not appear to me that it should be omitted. However, it was true of the Jews, whether the words were originally in the evangelist or not. For what cause did these persons seek to destroy our Lord? Because he had healed a poor man, who had been diseased thirty-eight years, and ordered him to carry home the couch on which he lay! How implacable must their malice have been! The spirit of religious persecution has always been the most fell and dangerous of all on this side perdition. Every other disposition appears to have its moderator; but this is wholly abandoned to the guidance of Satan, and has for its objects the men who know the truth, and who live to the glory of their God, and for the benefit of mankind. How strange that such should ever be objects of malice and hatred! But the Satanic nature in fallen man is ever opposed to whatever comes from God.
My Father worked hitherto, and I work - Or, As my Father worketh until now, etc., καθως being understood. God created the world in six days: on the seventh he rested from all creating acts, and set it apart to be an everlasting memorial of his work. But, though he rested from creating, he never ceased from preserving and governing that which he had formed: in this respect he can keep no sabbaths; for nothing can continue to exist, or answer the end proposed by the Divine wisdom and goodness, without the continual energy of God. So I work - I am constantly employed in the same way, governing and supporting all things, comforting the wretched, and saving the lost; and to me, in this respect, there is no sabbath.
Making himself equal with God - This the Jews understood from the preceding verse: nor did they take a wrong meaning out of our Lord's words; for he plainly stated that, whatever was the Father's work, his was the same; thus showing that He and the Father were One. They had now found out two pretenses to take away his life: one was that he had broken the Sabbath - ελυε, dissolved, as they pretended, the obligation of keeping it holy. The other was that he was guilty of blasphemy, in making himself equal to God: for both which crimes, a man, according to the law, must suffer death. See Num 15:32; Lev 24:11, Lev 24:14, Lev 24:16.
The Son can do nothing of himself - Because of his inseparable union with the Father: nor can the Father do any thing of himself, because of his infinite unity with the Son.
What things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son - God does nothing but what Christ does. What God does is the work of God, and proper to no creature - Jesus does whatsoever God does, and therefore is no created being. The Son can do nothing but what he sees the Father do: now, any intelligent creature may do what God cannot do: he may err - he may sin. If Jesus can do nothing but what God does, then he is no creature - he can neither sin nor err, nor act imperfectly. The conclusion from our Lord's argument is: If I have broken the Sabbath, so has God also; for I can do nothing but what I see him doing. He is ever governing and preserving; I am ever employed in saving.
Greater works than these - Two of these he immediately mentions: Raising the dead, Joh 5:21. And judging the world, Joh 5:22.
That ye may marvel - Or, So as to make you wonder. Our Lord sometimes speaks of himself as God, and sometimes as the ambassador of God. As he had a human and Divine nature, this distinction was essentially necessary. Many errors have originated from want of attention to this circumstance.
As the Father raised up the dead - This he did in the case of the widow's son at Sarepta, Kg1 17:22, by the ministry of the Prophet Elijah. And again, in the case of the Shunamite's son, Kg2 4:32-35, by the ministry of the Prophet Elisha.
The Son quickeneth whom he will - He raiseth from death to life whomsoever he pleases. So he did, for he raised the ruler's daughter, Mar 5:35-42; the widow's son at Nain, Luk 7:11-15; and Lazarus, at Bethany, John 11:14-44.
Whom he will. Here our Lord points out his sovereign power and independence; he gives life according to his own will - not being obliged to supplicate for the power by which it was done, as the prophets did; his own will being absolute and sufficient in every case.
The Father judgeth no man - This confirms what he had said before, Joh 5:17, Joh 5:19, that the Father acts not without the Son, nor the Son without the Father; their acts are common, their power equal.
That all men should honor the Son, etc. - If then the Son is to be honored, Even As the Father is honored, then the Son must be God, as receiving that worship which belongs to God alone. To worship any creature is idolatry: Christ is to be honored even as the Father is honored; therefore Christ is not a creature; and, if not a creature, consequently the Creator. See Joh 1:3.
He that honoureth not the Son - God will not receive that man's adoration who refuses to honor Jesus, even as he honors him. The Jews expected the Messiah as a great and powerful Prince; but they never thought of a person coming in that character enrobed with all the attributes of Godhead. To lead them off from this error, our Lord spoke the words recorded in these verses.
He that heareth my word - My doctrine - and believeth on him that sent me - he who credits my Divine mission, that I am come to give light and life to the world by my doctrine and death - hath eternal life - the seed of this life is sown in his heart the moment he believes - and shall not come into condemnation, εις κρισιν, into judgment - that which will speedily come on this unbelieving race; and that which shall overwhelm the wicked in the great day.
But is passed from death unto life - Μεταβεβηκεν, Has changed his country, or place of abode. Death is the country where every Christless soul lives. The man who knows not God lives a dying life, or a living death; but he who believes in the Son of God passes over from the empire of death, to the empire of life. Reader! thou wast born in death: hast thou yet changed the place of thy natural residence? Remember that to live in sin is to live in death; and those who live and die thus shall die eternally.
The dead shall hear the voice - Three kinds of death are mentioned in the Scriptures: natural, spiritual, and eternal.
The first consists in the separation of the body and soul. The second in the separation of God and the soul. The third in the separation of body and soul from God in the other world. Answerable to these three kinds of death, there is a threefold life: Natural life, which consists in the union of the soul and body. Spiritual life, which consists in the union of God and the soul, by faith and love. Eternal life, which consist in the communion of the body and soul with God, by holiness, in the realms of bliss.
Of the dead, our Lord says, the hour is coming, and now is, when they shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and live. The hour is coming, when all that sleep in the dust shall awake at the voice of the Son of man, and come to judgment: for he giveth life to the dead, Joh 5:21, Joh 5:28, Joh 5:29. Again, the hour is coming, when some of those who have died a natural death shall hear the voice of the Son of God and live again here. It is likely that our Lord had not as yet raised any from the dead; and he refers to those whom he intended to raise: see on Joh 5:21 (note). Lastly, the hour now is, when many who are dead in trespasses and sins, shall hear the voice (the word) of the Son of God, believe, and receive spiritual life through him.
Hath he given to the Son to have life, etc. - Here our Lord speaks of himself in his character of Messiah, or envoy of God.
Because he is the Son of man - Because he is the Messiah; for in this sense the phrase, Son of man, is often to be understood. But some join this to the next verse thus: - Marvel not at this, because he is the Son of man.
Marvel not at this - I think it quite necessary to follow here, as noted above, the punctuation of both the Syriac, the Armenian, Chrysostom, Damascenus, Theophylact, Euthymius, and others; which is found also in some very good MSS. Theophylact says that the common method of reading this, which he highly objects to, was the invention of Paul of Samosata. In Joh 5:26, Joh 5:27, our Lord, speaking of himself as envoy of God, said, the Father had given him to have life in himself, so that, like any of the ancient prophets, he could vivify others; and that he had given him authority to execute judgment, probably referring to that judgment which he was shortly to execute on this unbelieving nation, and apparently in direct reference to Dan 7:13, Behold one like the Son of man came with the clouds, etc., a place which the Jews expound of the promised Messiah. In this verse he anticipates an objection, as if they had said: "This cannot be: thou art a man - thou wast born among us." Our Lord answers: Don't marvel at this, Because I am a man - for greater things than these shall be done by me: he who now addresses you, though disguised under the form of a man, shall appear in the great day to be the Judge of quick and dead: by his almighty power, he shall raise all the dead; and, by his unerring wisdom and justice, shall adjudge the wicked to hell, and the righteous to heaven. The first sense, however, of this passage, appears to some the most probable; though they both amount nearly to the same meaning.
I can of mine own self do nothing - Because of my intimate union with God. See on Joh 5:19 (note).
I week not mine own will - I do not, I cannot attempt to do any thing without God. This, that is, the Son of man, the human nature which is the temple of my Divinity, Joh 1:14, is perfectly subject to the Deity that dwells in it. In this respect our blessed Lord is the perfect pattern of all his followers. In every thing their wills should submit to the will of their heavenly Father. Nothing is more common than to hear people say, I will do it because I choose. He who has no better reason to give for his conduct than his own will shall in the end have the same reason to give for his eternal destruction. "I followed my own will, in opposition to the will of God, and now I am plunged in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." Reader, God hath sent thee also to do his will: his will is that thou shouldst abandon thy sins, and believe in the Lord Jesus. Hast thou yet done it?
If I bear witness - If I had no proof to bring of my being the Messiah, and equal to God, common sense would direct you to reject my testimony; but the mighty power of God, by which I work my miracles, sufficiently attests that my pretensions are well founded.
Bishop Pearce gives a different turn to this verse, by translating it interrogatively, thus: "If I only bear witness of myself, is not my witness true? i.e. is it, on that account, not true? In Joh 8:14, he says, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true. And in Joh 8:18, he says, I am one that bear witness of myself."
There is another - God the Father, who, by his Spirit in your prophets, described my person, office, and miracles. You read these scriptures, and you cannot help seeing that they testify of me: - no person ever did answer the description there given, but myself; and I answer to that description in the fullest sense of the word. See Joh 5:39.
And I know - Instead of οιδα, I know, οιδατε, ye know, is the reading of the Codex Bezae, Armenian, and two of the Itala. Ye believe the Scriptures to be of God, and that he cannot lie; and yet ye will not believe in me, though these Scriptures have so clearly foretold and described me! It is not one of the least evils attending unbelief, that it acts not only in opposition to God, but it also acts inconsistently with itself. It receives the Scriptures in bulk, and acknowledges them to have come through Divine inspiration; and yet believes no part separately. With it the whole is true, but no part is true! The very unreasonableness of this conduct shows the principle to have come from beneath, were there no other evidences against it.
Ye sent unto John - I am not without human testimony of the most respectable kind: - Ye sent to John, and he bare witness. There are several circumstances in John's character which render his testimony unexceptionable.
1. He is consulted by the very enemies of Christ, as a very holy and extraordinary man.
2. He is perfectly free from all self-interest, having declined making the least advantage by his own reputation.
3. He is sincere, undaunted, and so averse from all kinds of flattery that he reproves Herod at the hazard of his liberty and life.
4. He was so far from being solicited by Christ to give his testimony that he had not even seen him when he gave it. See Joh 1:19-28.
But I receive not testimony from man [only] - I have no need of John's testimony: the works that I do bear sufficient testimony to me, Joh 5:36.
But these things I say, etc. - You believed John to be a prophet - a prophet cannot lie: he bore testimony that I am the Lamb of God, that beareth away the sin of the world, Joh 1:29; therefore, that ye may be saved by believing in me as such, I have appealed to John's testimony.
He was a burning and a shining light - Ην ὁ λυχνος ὁ καιομενος και φαινων, should be translated, He was a burning and a shining Lamp. He was not το φως του κοσμου, the light of the world, i.e. the sun; but he was ὁ λυχνος, a lamp, to give a clear and steady light till the sun should arise. It is supposed that John had been cast into prison about four months before this time. See the note on Joh 4:35. As his light continued no longer to shine, our Lord says he Was.
The expression of lamp our Lord took from the ordinary custom of the Jews, who termed their eminent doctors the lamps of Israel. A lighted candle is a proper emblem of a minister of God; and, Alteri serviens consumor - "In serving others, I myself destroy:" - a proper motto. There are few who preach the Gospel faithfully that do not lose their lives by it. Burning may refer to the zeal with which John executed his message; and shining may refer to the clearness of the testimony which he bore concerning Christ. Only to shine is but vanity; and to burn without shining will never edify the Church of God. Some shine, and some burn, but few both shine and burn; and many there are who are denominated pastors, who neither shine nor burn. He who wishes to save souls must both burn and shine: the clear light of the knowledge of the sacred records must fill his understanding; and the holy flame of loving zeal must occupy his heart. Zeal without knowledge is continually blundering; and knowledge without zeal makes no converts to Christ.
For a season - The time between his beginning to preach and his being cast into prison.
To rejoice - Αγαλλιασθηναι, To jump for joy, as we would express it. They were exceedingly rejoiced to hear that the Messiah was come, because they expected him to deliver them out of the hands of the Romans; but when a spiritual deliverance, of infinitely greater moment was preached to them, they rejected both it and the light which made it manifest.
But I have greater witness - However decisive the judgment of such a man as John may be, who was the lamp of Israel, a miracle of grace, filled with the spirit of Elijah, and more than any prophet, because he pointed out, not the Messiah who was to come, but the Messiah who was already come: nevertheless, I am not obliged to depend on his testimony alone; for I have a greater one, that of Him whom you acknowledge to be your God. And how do I prove that this God bears testimony to me? By my works: these miracles, which attest my mission, and prove by themselves that nothing less than unlimited power and boundless love could ever produce them. By my word only, I have perfectly and instantly healed a man who was diseased thirty and eight years. Ye see the miracle - the man is before you whole and sound. Why then do ye not believe in my mission, that ye may embrace my doctrine, and be saved?
The Father himself - hath borne witness - That is, by his prophets.
Ye have neither heard his voice - I make these words, with Bp. Pearce, a parenthesis: the sense is - "Not that my Father ever appeared visibly or spake audibly to any of you; but he did it by the mouths of his prophets." Lately, however, he had added to their testimony his own voice from heaven, on the day of Christ's baptism. See Mat 3:17.
Ye have not his word abiding in you - Though ye believe the Scriptures to be of God, yet ye do not let them take hold of your hearts - his word is in your mouth, but not in your mind. What a miserable lot! to read the Scriptures as the true sayings of God, and yet to get no salvation from them! Thy word, says David, (Psa 119:11), have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. This, these Jews had not done. Reader, hast thou?
Search the Scriptures - Ερευνατε τας γραφας. This should be translated, not in the imperative, but in the indicative mood - thus, Ye search the Scriptures diligently. That these words are commonly read in the imperative mood is sufficiently known; but this reading can never accord well with the following verse, nor can the force and energy of the words be perceived by this version.
The rabbins strongly recommend the study of the Scriptures. The Talmud, Tract. Shabbath, fol. 30, brings in God thus addressing David: "I am better pleased with one day in which thou sittest and studiest the law, than I shall be with a thousand sacrifices which thy son Solomon shall offer upon my altar."
Perhaps the Scriptures were never more diligently searched than at that very time: first, because they were in expectation of the immediate appearing of the Messiah; secondly, because they wished to find out allegories in them; (see Philo); and, thirdly, because they found these scriptures to contain the promise of an eternal life. He, said they, who studies daily in the law, is worthy to have a portion in the world to come, Sohar. Genes. fol. 31. Hence we may infer:
1st. That the Jews had the knowledge of a future state before the coming of Christ; and
2ndly. That they got that knowledge from the Old Testament Scriptures.
The word ερευνατε, which might be translated, Ye search diligently, is very expressive. Homer, Il. xviii. l. 321, applies it to a lion deprived of his whelps, who "scours the plains, and traces the footsteps of the man." And in Odyss. xix. l. 436, to dogs tracing their game by the scent of the foot.
In the Septuagint, the verb ερευναω answers to the Hebrew חפש chapash, to search by uncovering; to חקר chakar, to search minutely, to explore; to חשף chashaph, to strip, make bare; and to משש mashash, to feel, search by feeling. It is compounded of ερεω, I seek, and ευνη, a bed; "and is," says St. Chrysostom, "a metaphor taken from those who dig deep, and search for metals in the bowels of the earth. They look for the bed where the metal lies, and break every clod, and sift and examine the whole, in order to discover the ore." Those who read the verse in the imperative mood consider it an exhortation to the diligent study of the Sacred Writings. Search; that is, shake and sift them, as the word also signifies: search narrowly, till the true force and meaning of every sentence, yea, of every word and syllable, nay, of every letter and yod therein, be known and understood. Confer place with place; the scope of one place with that of another; things going before with things coming after: compare word with word, letter with letter, and search the whole thoroughly. See Parkhurst, Mintert, and Leigh.
Leaving every translation of the present passage out of the question, this is the proper method of reading and examining the Scriptures, so as to become wise unto salvation through them.
And ye will not come to me - Though ye thus search the Scriptures, in hopes of finding the Messiah and eternal life in them, yet ye will not come unto me, believe in me, and be my disciples, though so clearly pointed out by them, that ye may have that eternal life which can only come through me.
I receive not honor from men - I do not stand in need of you or your testimony. I act neither through self-interest nor vanity. Your salvation can add nothing to me, nor can your destruction injure me: I speak only through my love for your souls, that ye may be saved.
But I know you, that ye have not, etc. - Don't say that you oppose me through zeal for God's honor, and love for his name, because I make myself equal to him: no, this is not the case. I know the dispositions of your souls; and I know ye have neither love for his name, nor zeal for his glory. Incorrigible ignorance, and malicious jealousy, actuate your hearts. Ye read the Scriptures, but ye do not enter into their meaning. Had you been as diligent to find out the truth, as you have been to find out allegories, false glosses, and something to countenance you in your crimes, you would have known that the Messiah, who is equal with God, must be the Son of man also, and the inheritor of David's throne; and that the very works which I do are those which the prophets have foretold the Messiah should perform. See Dan 7:13, Dan 7:14; Isa 9:6, Isa 9:7; Isa 11:1-5, Isa 11:10; Isa 35:4-6.
I am come in my Father's name - With all his influence and authority. Among the rabbins, it was essential to a teacher's credit that he should be able to support his doctrine by the authority of some eminent persons who had gone before. Hence the form, Coming in the name of another.
If another shall come in his own name - Having no Divine influence, and no other authority than his own, him ye will receive. That this was notoriously the case may appear from Josephus, Antiq. b. xviii. c. 14; Act 5:36, Act 5:37; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. b. iv. c. 6. It is by the just judgment of God, that those who will not believe the truth of God shall be so given up as to believe the most absurd of lies. For an account of these false Christs, see the notes on Mat 24:5.
How can ye believe, which receive honor, etc. - The grand obstacle to the salvation of the scribes and Pharisees was their pride, vanity, and self-love. They lived on each other's praise. If they had acknowledged Christ as the only teacher, they must have given up the good opinion of the multitude; and they chose rather to lose their souls than to forfeit their reputation among men! This is the ruin of millions. They would be religious, if religion and worldly honor were connected; but as the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and their hearts and souls are wedded to the earth, they will not accept the salvation which is offered to them on these terms - Deny thyself: take up thy cross, and follow Me. It is no wonder that we never find persons making any progress in religion who mix with the world, and in any respect regulate their conduct by its anti-Christian customs, maxims, and fashions.
From God only? - Or, from the only God - Παρα του μονου Θεου. Two of the ancient Slavonic versions read, From the only begotten Son of God.
Do not think that I will accuse you - You have accused me with a breach of the Sabbath, which accusation I have demonstrated to be false: I could, in return, accuse you, and substantiate the accusation, with the breach of the whole law; but this I need not do, for Moses, in whom ye trust, accuses you. You read his law, acknowledge you should obey it, and yet break it both in the letter and in the spirit. This law, therefore, accuses and condemns you. It was a maxim among the Jews that none could accuse them but Moses: the spirit of which seems to be, that only so pure and enlightened a legislator could find fault with such a noble and excellent people! For, notwithstanding their abominations, they supposed themselves the most excellent of mankind!
He wrote of me - For instance, in reciting the prophecy of Jacob, Gen 49:10. The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. And in Deu 18:18 : I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, etc. Confer this with Act 3:22, and Act 7:37. Besides, Moses pointed out the Messiah in a multitude of symbols and figures, which are found in the history of the patriarchs, the ceremonial laws, and especially in the whole sacrificial system. All these were well-defined, though shadowy representations of the birth, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Savior of the world. Add to this, Moses has given you certain marks to distinguish the false from the true prophet, Deu 13:1-3; Deu 18:22, which, if you apply to me, you will find that I am not a false but a true prophet of the Most High God.
But if ye believe not his writings, etc. - If you lay them not to heart - if you draw not those conclusions from them which their very letter, as well as their spirit, authorizes you to draw, how shall ye believe my words, against which ye have taken up the most ungrounded prejudice? It is no wonder that we find the Jews still in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity: as they believe not Moses and the prophets, in reference to the Messiah, it is no marvel that they reject Christ and the apostles. Till they see and acknowledge, from the law and the prophets, that Christ must have come, they will never believe the Gospel. St. Paul says, Co2 3:15, that even until this day, when Moses (i.e. the law) is read, the Veil is upon their hearts: - so that they see not to the end of that which is abolished: Co2 3:13. Nor will this veil be taken away, till they turn from worldly gain and atheism (which appears to be their general system) to the Lord, Co2 3:16; and then the light of the glory of God shall shine on them in the face (through the mediation and merits) of Jesus Christ.
It appears that this discourse of our Lord had effectually confounded these Jews, for they went away without replying - a manifest proof they had nothing to say.
1. In all periods of their history, the Jews were both an incredulous and disobedient people: perhaps it was on this ground that God first chose them to be keepers of his testimonies; for had they not had the most incontrovertible proofs that God did speak, they would neither have credited nor preserved his oracles.
Their incredulity is, therefore, no mean proof of the Divine authority of the law and the prophets. The apostles, who were all Jews, partook deeply of the same spirit, as various places in the Gospel prove; and, had not they had the fullest evidence of the divinity of their Master, they would not have believed, much less have sealed the truth with their blood. Thus their incredulity is a strong proof of the authenticity of the Gospel.
2. When a man, through prejudice, bigotry, or malevolence, is determined to disbelieve, both evidence and demonstration are lost upon him: he is incapable of conviction, because he is determined not to yield. This was, this is, the case with the Jews - there are facts before their eyes sufficient to convince and confound them; but they have made a covenant with unbelief, and therefore they continue blind, ignorant, and wicked; obstinately closing their eyes against the light; and thus the wrath of God is coming upon them to the very uttermost. But shall not a rebellious and wicked Christian be judged worthy of more punishment? Certainly: for he professes to believe that truth which is able to make him wise unto salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ. Reader, it is an awful thing to trifle with the Gospel! - the God of it is pure, jealous, and holy. Come unto him and implore forgiveness of thy past sins, that thou mayest have eternal life.