Exegetical Commentary on John 8

OUTLINE:

    [3 A The Book of the Seven Signs (2:1 -12:50)]

      [2 B Selected Highlights from the Later Part of Jesus’ Public Ministry: Conflict and Controversy (chapters 5-10)]

        [5 C Jesus teaches openly in the presence of his opponents in Jerusalem (7:1-8:59)]

          3 D Jesus remains in Jerusalem after the Feast (8:1-59)

            1 E Jesus and the Adulteress: Interpretation of the Mosaic law (8:1-11)

            2 E Jesus as the Light of the world (8:12-20)

            3 E Response of the Jewish leaders: Who is Jesus? (8:21-30)

            4 E Jesus and Abraham (8:31-59)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Coleman, B. W., “The Woman Taken in Adultery. Studies in Texts: John 7:53-8:11,” Theology 73 (1970): 409-10.

Derrett, J. D. M., “Law in the New Testament: The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery,” New Testament Studies 10 (1963/64): 1-26.

Hodges, Z. C., “The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): The Text,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136 (1979): 318-32.

Hodges, Z. C., “The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): Exposition,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980): 41-53.

Johnson, A. F., “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 9 (1966): 91-96.

Lategan, B. C., “The truth that sets man free: John 8:31-36,” Neotestamentica 2 (1968): 70-80.

Salvoni, F., “Textual Authority for Jn 7:53-8:11,” Restoration Quarterly 4 (1960): 11-15.

Schilling, F. A., “The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress,” Anglican Theological Review 37 (1955): 91-106.

Trites, A. A., “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” Bibliotheca Sacra 131 (1974): 137-46.

DETAILED EXEGETICAL NOTES:

          3 D Jesus remains in Jerusalem after the Feast (8:1-59)

            1 E Jesus and the Adulteress: Interpretation of the Mosaic law (8:1-11)

8:1-11 The Textual Problem: Should 7:53-8:11 be regarded as genuine, and if so, should it be included in the Fourth Gospel following 7:52? Among modern commentators and textual critics, it is a foregone conclusion that the section is not original but represents a later addition to the text of the Gospel. B. M. Metzger summarizes: “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.”86

External evidence:

Omit 7:53-8:11: 66, 75, a, B, L, N, T, W, X, Y, D, Q, Y, 053, 0141, 0211, 22, 33, 124, 157, 209, 565, 788, 828, 1230, 1241, 1242, 1253, 2193, etc. In addition codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it appears that neither contained the pericope, because careful measurement shows that there would not have been enough space on the missing pages to include the pericope 7:53-8:11 along with the rest of the text.

Include 7:53-8:11: D, F, G, H, K, M, U, G, 28, 700, 892, 1009, 1010, 1071, 1079, 1195, 1216, 1344, 1365, 1546, 1646, 2148, 2174, , etc. In addition E, S, L, and P include part or all of the passage with asterisks or obeli, 225 places the pericope after John 7:36, 1 places it after John 21:24 or 25, and 13 after Luke 21:38 (!).

In evaluating this manuscript evidence, it should be remembered that in the Gospels A is usually considered to be of Byzantine text-type (unlike in the Pauline epistles, where it is Alexandrian), as are E, F, and G (which are of Western text-type in the Pauline epistles). This leaves D as the only major Western uncial witness in the Gospels.

Therefore we could summarize the evidence by saying that almost all early manuscripts of Alexandrian text-type omit the pericope, while most manuscripts of Western and Byzantine text-type include it. But we must remember that “Western manuscripts” here refers only to D, a single witness.

Thus it can be seen that practically all of the earliest and best manuscripts we possess omit the pericope; it is found only in manuscripts of secondary importance. But before we conclude that the passage was not originally part of the Gospel of John, internal evidence needs to be considered as well.

Internal evidence in favor of the inclusion of 8:1-11 (7:53-8:11):

(1) 7:53 fits in the context. If the “last great day of the feast” (7:37) refers to the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles, then the statement refers to the pilgrims and worshippers going home after living in “booths” for the week while visiting Jerusalem.

(2) The chief priests and Pharisees had just mocked Nicodemus for suggesting that Jesus’ claims might possibly be true. In particular they heaped scorn on Jesus’ Galilean origins (7:52). But far more than a prophet was to come from Galilee, according to Isa 9:1-2 (NASB):

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.

In view of John’s observed fondness for Isaiah, it seems impossible that he was unaware of this prophecy. But if he was aware of it, we might expect him to work it into the background of the narrative, as he has often done before. And that is exactly what we find: 8:12 is the point when Jesus describes himself as the Light of the world. But the section in question mentions that Jesus returned to the temple at “early dawn” (“Orqrou, 8:2). This is the dawning of the Light of the world (8:12) mentioned by Isa 9:2.

(3) Furthermore, note the relationship to what follows: just prior to presenting Jesus’ statement that he is the Light of the world, John presents us with an example that shows Jesus as the light. Once again, this calls to mind one of the major themes of the Gospel: light and darkness (compare especially 3:19-21). Here the woman “came to the light” (although not at first willingly!) while her accusers shrank away into the shadows, because their deeds were evil. This could be seen as an appropriate setting for Jesus to follow with the statement of 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”

Internal evidence against the inclusion of 8:1-11 (7:53-8:11):

  • In reply to the claim that the introduction to the pericope, 7:53, fits the context, it should also be noted that the narrative reads well without the pericope, so that Jesus’ reply in 8:12 is directed against the charge of the Pharisees in 7:52 that no prophet comes from Galilee.
  • The assumption that the Evangelist “must” somehow work Isa 9:12 into the narrative is simply that—an assumption. The statement by the Pharisees in 7:52 about Jesus’ Galilean origins is allowed to stand without correction by the Evangelist, although we might have expected him to mention that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem. And 8:12 does directly mention Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world. The Evangelist may well have presumed familiarity with Isa 9:12 on the part of his readers because of its widespread association with Jesus among early Christians.
  • The fact that the pericope deals with the light/darkness motif does not inherently strengthen its claim to authenticity, because the motif is so prominent in the Fourth Gospel that it may well have been the reason why someone felt that the pericope, circulating as an independent tradition, fit so well here.
  • In general the style of the pericope is not Johannine either in vocabulary or grammar. According to R. Brown it is closer stylistically to Lukan material.87 Interestingly one important family of manuscripts, 13, places the pericope after Luke 21:38.

Conclusion: In the final analysis, the weight of evidence in this case must go with the external evidence. The earliest and best manuscripts do not contain the pericope. It is true with regard to internal evidence that an attractive case can be made for inclusion, but this is by nature subjective. In terms of internal factors like vocabulary and style, the pericope does not stand up very well.

We may go on to ask the question whether this incident, although not an original part of the Gospel of John, should be regarded as an authentic tradition about Jesus. It could well be that it is ancient and may indeed represent an unusual instance where such a tradition survived outside of the bounds of the canonical literature.

Notes on the content of the Pericope Adulterae:

8:3-5 What was the real motivation for the action of the scribes and Pharisees here? A real concern for the Mosaic Law? Probably not, since the statement is made (8:6) that they said this “testing” him, in order that they might have grounds to accuse him.

It is easy to figure out what these grounds would have been. The scribes and Pharisees must have thought they had Jesus in the classic “double bind” situation—they could get him no matter what he did or said. If he upheld the Law and commanded that the woman be stoned, they could bring accusation before Pilate (since the death penalty was not permitted to the Jewish authorities), and this could be combined with the popular acclamations of him as King. If, on the other hand, he overturned the Law, he would be discredited with the people.

8:5 It is interesting in light of this to note that the accusers themselves misrepresented the Law. The Law states that in the case of adultery, both the man and woman must be put to death (Lev 20:10, Deut 22:22). But the Law as quoted by the scribes and Pharisees said, “Moses commanded us to stone such women” (toiauvta", feminine pronoun). Why was reference to the adulterer omitted? Perhaps because one of their own number had agreed to trap the woman so that the controversy with Jesus could be provoked (how else could they have caught this woman so conveniently?)

8:6 Certainly Jesus’ response took the accusers by surprise—this was something extremely unanticipated. What did he write with his finger? I have no speculation to offer. But then, why mention that he wrote at all? Probably because the act of writing itself was regarded as a symbolic act. In Exod 31:19, the first set of tablets were inscribed by the finger of God. The first time Jesus stooped to write, it is specifically mentioned that he wrote with his finger (8:6). This may well constitute a symbolic allusion to the person of Messiah: he writes with the same authority as God, because he is God.

            2 E Jesus as the Light of the world (8:12-20)

Setting and Place of the Discourse in the Narrative

The theory proposed by F. J. A. Hort that the backdrop of 8:12 is the lighting of the candelabra in the Court of Women, may offer a plausible setting to the proclamation by Jesus that he is the Light of the world (8:12).88 The last time that Jesus spoke in the narrative (if the pericope 7:53-8:11 is not part of the original, as the textual evidence suggests) is in 7:38, where he was speaking to a crowd of pilgrims in the Temple area. This is where we find him in the present verse, and he may be addressing the crowd again. It is more probable, however, that aujtoi'" refers to the Pharisees since they are mentioned in the following verse. Jesus’ statement to them would then be a sort of rejoinder to the charge the Pharisees made to Nicodemus in 7:52 that no prophet comes from Galilee.

Jesus’ remark has to be seen in view of both the Prologue (1:4, 5) and the end of the discourse with Nicodemus (3:19-21). The coming of Jesus into the world provokes judgment: a choosing up of sides becomes necessary. The one who comes to the light, that is, who follows Jesus, will not walk in the darkness. The one who refuses to come, will walk in the darkness. In this contrast, there are only two alternatives. So it is with a person’s decision about Jesus.

Furthermore, this serves as in implicit indictment of Jesus’ opponents, who still walk in the darkness, because they refuse to come to him. This sets up the contrast in chapter 9 between the man born blind, who receives both physical and spiritual sight, and the Pharisees (9:13, 15, 16) who have physical sight but remain in spiritual darkness.

8:12 Note that ejgwv eijmi occurs twice in this section (8:12, 18). On Jesus’ lips in the context it does not appear that this amounts to an explicit claim to identification with Yahweh of the Old Testament at these points; it is just the emphatic way of making the assertion.

But this would be suggestive to the Greek reader of the Gospel, who has encountered the phrase before, as a reminder of who it is who speaks. And it foreshadows the ejgwv eijmi of 8:24 and 8:58, where in context a claim to deity is expressed by these words (and so understood—note the response of Jesus’ opponents in 8:59). The remainder of chapter 8 shifts from the light/darkness imagery in this verse (resumed in chapter 9) to questions over Jesus’ authority.

toV fw'" th'" zwh'" The “life” Jesus refers to in this phrase is surely a reference to “eternal life” (zwhv aijwvnio"), cf. 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2, 3.

8:13 The credibility of Jesus is questioned immediately after his claim to be the Light of the world (compare 1:9 of the Prologue with 1:10-11). Because he testifies concerning himself, his testimony cannot be true.

8:14 Jesus’ response to this is that even if he does testify concerning himself, his testimony is true, because of where he came from and where he is going (this recalls the discussion of 7:32-36). (Also compare 3:13—no one has ascended to heaven except the one who descended, the Son of Man; and 6:38, 6:41.) he has come down from heaven, and to the Father who sent him he will return.

This should be enough to confirm his claims. he does not speak on his own initiative, but with the authority of the one who sent him.

8:14b uJmei'" deV oujk oi[date povqen e[rcomai h] pou' uJpavgw But Jesus’ opponents still do not acknowledge his heavenly origin, nor do they know where he is headed (first to the cross and then back to the Father).

8:15 The Pharisees judge according to appearances (cf. 7:24). Jesus does not judge anything. What was the meaning of Jesus’ statement? It is clear that Jesus does judge (even in the next verse). The point is that he doesn’t practice the same kind of judgment that the Pharisees do. Their kind of judgment is condemnatory. They seek to condemn people. Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it (3:17).

Nevertheless, and not contradictory to this, the coming of Jesus does bring judgment, because it forces people to make a choice. Will they accept Jesus or reject him? Will they come to the light or shrink back into the darkness? As they respond, so are they judged—just as 3:19-21 previously stated. One’s response to Jesus determines one’s eternal destiny.

8:16 But even if Jesus does judge, his judgment is true, because he does not make it alone. His judgment would be in perfect accord with the Father who sent him.

8:17 ejn tw'/ novmw/ The reference is to Deut 17:6, 19:15.

8:19 Here we have another example of misunderstanding in the Gospel of John: the Pharisees are still taking all this on the wrong level—they understood it as a reference to Jesus’ earthly father, while he was speaking of his Father in heaven. If they had known who Jesus really was, they would have known his Father also. The Son, for the Evangelist, is the only way to know the Father (as mentioned previously in 1:18; later again in 14:6).

8:20 ejn tw'/ gazofulakivw/ This was in the Temple treasury, adjoining the Court of the Women. See the following note on the setting of these sections for a description of the treasury. No one was able to seize Jesus because his hour had not yet come.

            3 E Response of the Jewish leaders: Who is Jesus? (8:21-30)

Setting of the Discourse:

The previous section closed with the note: “These words he spoke in the treasury, while he was teaching in the Temple.” The word does not refer to the storage room, but to the part of the Court of the Women where people came to cast offerings. Thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes were located here, each with an inscription denoting the use to which those offerings placed in it would be put.

This is significant in view of the statement in 20b: “No one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” This part of the Temple was quite close to the hall where the Sanhedrin met. Yet even here no one dared to touch him, because the hour appointed for his glorification and return to the Father had not yet arrived.

8:21 ou pavlin This expression indicates some sort of break in the sequence of events, but we cannot say how long. We are not told the interval between 8:12-20 and this next recorded dialogue. We know the Feast of Tabernacles is past, and next reference to time is 10:22, where the Feast of the Dedication is mentioned. The interval is 2 months, and these discussions could have taken place at any time within that interval, as long as one assumes something of a loose chronological framework. However, if the material in the Fourth Gospel is arranged theologically or thematically, such an assumption would not apply.

This section recalls 7:33-36, where Jesus also talked about his departure to a place where he could not be found.

The words were a mystery to the Jews who heard them (note verse 22); but the reader of the Gospel will realize that Jesus is referring to his forthcoming departure to be with the Father once more.

The expression ejn th'/ aJmartiva/ uJmw'n ajpoqanei'sqe is found in the LXX at Ezek 3:18 and Prov 24:9. Note the singular of aJmartiva/ (the plural occurs later in v. 24). To die with one’s sin unrepented and unatoned would be the ultimate disaster to befall a man. Jesus’ warning is stern but to the point.

The Place of This Discourse in the Narrative:

Now we can see the crucial position in the theme of the entire Gospel which this section occupies: Once more Jesus challenges his hearers to a decision before it is too late. He has identified himself as the Light of the world (8:12), and the coming of the light forces people to take the option of seeing, by coming to that light, or of becoming blind by turning away and remaining in the darkness (3:19-21 again). But now there is a note of urgency: for the Jews, there is but a short time to see Jesus, to look for him and find him. A unique opportunity is being given to them and it will not be given again.

Jesus has offered living water (7:38) and the light of life (8:12). If people refuse this gift of eternal life, they will die in their sin. In John’s thought there is only one radical sin (what we might call unforgivable sin). This is the one sin of which one’s many sins (note the plural in verse 24) are merely reflections. This radical sin is to refuse to believe in Jesus and thus to refuse life itself, the free gift of eternal life which God offers.

A Note on Johannine Theology:

From John’s perspective, a person does not go to hell because he/she is a sinner. The death of Christ has changed all of that (1 John 2:2). All sin is atoned for except the one (unforgiveable) sin of unbelief. A person goes to hell because he/she does not possess the life of heaven—eternal life. And this person does not possess it because he/she has rejected it as God’s free gift. To reject Jesus is to reject this gift of eternal life, which is (in other words) to commit the (unforgiveable) sin of unbelief.

8:23 kavtwa[nw Jesus is the one who has come down from above, from heaven, to enable men to be born from above, and thus to enable them to possess eternal life. The contrast here is between heaven, where Jesus is from, and earth, where his opponents are from.

8:24-30 These verses explain the urgency of Jesus’ insistence that, when he goes away, there will be no other possibility of delivering them from sin. When Jesus is lifted up (8:28) in crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, he will draw all people to himself (cf. 12:32), and in that moment it will be clear to those who have eyes to see that he truly bears the divine Name, I AM, and that he has the power of raising people to the Father. But if they refuse to believe—refuse to see—then there is no other way (cf. 14:6) that leads to the Father above, and people will go to their graves permanently separated from the gift and Giver of eternal life.

8:27 oujk e[gnwsan Note again the Evangelist’s comment that they didn’t understand that he was speaking about the Father to them. This type of comment, intended for the benefit of the reader, is typical of the “omniscient author” convention adopted by the Evangelist, who is writing with a post-resurrection point of view.

8:30 polloiV ejpivsteusan eij" aujtovn The section concludes with the summary statement that “when he had spoken these things many believed (pisteuvw + eij") in him.”

            4 E Jesus and Abraham (8:31-59)

8:31 There is a major problem with the context of verse 31: Jesus apparently speaks to those who trusted him in 8:30, yet it becomes apparent that these are not genuine believers in the Johannine sense. They seek to kill Jesus (8:37, 59); Jesus even says their father is Satan (8:44). There is no obvious change in subject: oiJ =Ioudai'oi appears in 8:22, 8:31, 8:48. How can this apparent contradiction be reconciled?

This is one passage that is sometimes used to support the view that the pisteuvw + eij" construction in the Fourth Gospel does not always refer to genuine faith (along with 2:23ff).

However, we need not be forced to this interpretation. Note that “many” (polloiv) trusted in him (pisteuvw + eij") in 8:30.

8:30 does not state that these are the same individuals as oiJ =Ioudai'oi of 8:22. Certainly whenever Jesus confronted the Jewish authorities it is virtually certain that it did not take place in private. Thus we might expect a large number of bystanders heard his words, and many trusted in him as a result of what they overheard (8:30).

But some of the Jewish authorities also “professed” to trust in him. Note that the Evangelist is careful at this point to avoid the pisteuvw + eij" construction (8:31). The phrase is pisteuvw + dative. While we might draw the superficial conclusion that the group addressed by Jesus in 8:31 is coextensive with the people who trusted Jesus in 8:30, this is not necessarily so.

Sometimes the Evangelist’s use of the two phrases overlap, but not necessarily always. This does not affect conclusions regarding the use of pisteuvw + eij".

In what sense did the Jewish leaders trust Jesus? It is perhaps better to translate this “believe” than “trust”. They had believed his messianic claims (8:25) which he had spoken to them from the beginning. But they had insisted on believing Jesus to be the type of Messiah they had anticipated—chiefly political. This is suggested by their refusal to admit that anyone had ever enslaved them (8:33) in spite of the Roman occupation (not to mention the Babylonian captivity).

8:32 gnwvsesqe thVn ajlhvqeian But what did Jesus mean by the statement in 8:32, “you shall know the truth”? This is often taken as referring to truth in the philosophical (or absolute) sense, or in the intellectual sense, or even (as the Jews apparently took it) in the political sense. In the context of John’s Gospel (particularly in light of the Prologue) this must refer to truth about the person and work of Jesus. It is saving truth. As L. Morris says, “it is the truth which saves men from the darkness of sin, not that which saves them from the darkness of error (though there is a sense in which men in Christ are delivered from gross error).”89

Note: For the Evangelist, the contrast between light and darkness is not epistemological, it is moral—the moral choice between good and evil (cf. 3:19-21 again).

8:33 spevrma =Abraavm ejsmen The Jewish leaders claimed kinship with Abraham as the basis for their privileged position. Note the irony of spevrma =Abraavm on the lips of the Jewish authorities, who happen to be addressing the True Seed of Abraham!

8:34 pa'" oJ poiw'n thVn aJmartivan… “Everyone who practices (present participle) sin is a slave of sin.” Here repeated, continuous action is in view. The one whose lifestyle is characterized by repeated, continuous sin is a slave to sin. That one is not free; sin has enslaved him. To break free from this bondage requires outside (divine) intervention. Although the statement is true at the general level (the person who continually practices a lifestyle of sin is enslaved to sin) the particular sin of the Jewish authorities, repeatedly emphasized in the Fourth Gospel, is the sin of unbelief. The present tense in this instance looks at the continuing refusal on the part of the Jewish leaders to acknowledge who Jesus is, in spite of mounting evidence.

8:35-37 spevrma =Abraavm ejste: Compare the discussion in verses 33 ff. of the seed (descendant[s]) of Abraham. This is picked up in verses 37, 39, 40 and 48-59. Given this context we might look for an Old Testament allusion here, and the one that most readily comes to mind is that of Ishmael and Isaac (Gen 21:9) (Compare Gal 4:30 for the similar Pauline thought). The free son, Isaac, remains in the household; while the slave-born son, Ishmael, is driven out. The Jews now claim to be the free sons of Abraham, but in truth they are not, being slaves (not of Abraham but of sin). Hence their status is lost, forfeit.

8:35 oJ uiJoV" mevnei eij" toVn aijw'na Who then is the son who remains forever? Jesus, the true spevrma =Abraavm and the Son of God.

8:38 But Jesus does not stop here with the analogy of the son and the slave. Here and in 39-47 Jesus brings out the end of the contrast between himself and the Jews in their lines of descent:

(1) To say that the Jews are descendants of Abraham (spiritually) is false; they are seeking to kill a man, Jesus, who has spoken to them the truth he heard from God (40). This Abraham would not have done. Their father is the devil (44).

(2) To say that Jesus is the descendant of Abraham is true; but it is inadequate; he is more: his Father is God (42, 47).

(3) As J. N. Sanders (The Fourth Gospel in the Early Church) well said, “Conduct is the clue to paternity.” Compare Rom 9:6-9 for similar ideas.

8:41b Although the Jewish authorities have not yet caught on to what Jesus is saying about their true father, they realize he is saying it was someone other than God. In effect, they reply: “who are you to talk about paternity? We (emphatic hmei'") were not born of fornication! This implies, of course, that Jesus was. Interestingly the Evangelist allows this charge concerning Jesus’ paternity to stand uncorrected—obviously he assumes that the reader knows Jesus’ true geneology; thus the statement by the Jewish authorities becomes highly ironic.

The Jewish authorities now trace their own ancestry to God.

8:42 Jesus’ reply to the authorities is: “If you were truly children of God, you would love his Son”.

Note the forcefulness of the word order: ejxh'lqon, the departure of Jesus from the presence of God (ejk tou' Qeou'); h{kw, the arrival of Jesus in the world (cf. Eph 2:17).

oujdeV gavr, k.t.l. Again, we have a reference to Jesus’ mission. Note the absence of any self-seeking or self-will on the part of Jesus. It is the Father who sent him, and it is the Father’s will he seeks to do.

8:43 thVn laliaVntoVn lovgon Jesus asks his opponents, “Why do you not understand my words (laliavn,”speech”)? Because you are not able to hear my message (lovgon)”. In this chapter alone note misunderstandings at verses 19, 22, 25, 33, etc. Of course there is irony here; the Jewish authorities cannot understand the message (lovgon) of the incarnate Word (Lovgo").

8:44 uJmei'" ejk tou' patroV" tou' diabovlou ejsteV Note the contrast: the Father of Jesus is God; the father of these Jews is the devil, who

(1) destroys the life God creates (ajnqrwpoktovno") and

(2) denies the truth God reveals (yeuvsth"). In particular here the articular toV yeuvdo" and the singular pronoun aujtou' could be a reference to a denial of the person and work of Christ, ultimately propounded by Antichrist himself—compare 1 John 2:21-23.

8:46 ejlevgcei This term may mean either “convict” or “expose”; the context involves confrontation and thus strongly supports the meaning “convict” here.

8:47 Only the one who is from God hears (= “obeys”) the words of God. These Jews are not able to hear the words of God that Jesus speaks because they are not from God but from the devil.

8:48 Samarivth" ei suV kaiV daimovnion e[cei" It is not clear what is meant by the charge. The meaning could be “you are a heretic and are possessed by a demon.” Note that the dual charge gets one reply (8:49). Perhaps the phrases were interchangeable: Simon Magus (Acts 8:14-24) and in later traditions Dositheus, the two Samaritans who claimed to be sons of God, were regarded as mad, that is, possessed by demons.

The charge of being demon-possessed is levelled at Jesus in 7:20, 8:48 (here), 8:52, and 10:20.

8:49 Jesus’ reply to the charge is this: the claims Jesus makes for himself are not demented, but mere obedience to his Father. “You fail to give me, as the Son of the Father, the honor due him.”

8:51 Those who keep Jesus’ words will not see death because they have already passed from death to life (compare 5:24). In Johannine theology eternal life begins in the present rather than in the world to come.

8:52 Again the Jews take Jesus’ words literally rather than figuratively (i.e., spiritually) and are convinced that he is demon-possessed. This is a further occurrence of the misunderstood statement in the Fourth Gospel.

8:53 mhV suV meivzwn ei tou' patroV" hJmw'n =Abraavm This question expects a negative answer, like the question of the Samaritan woman (4:12). It is ironic, because John’s readers know that the true answer is the reverse of the answer presumed by the Jewish authorities.

8:54 ejaVn ejgwV doxavsw ejmautovn… In answer to the last question of 8:53 (tivna seautoVn poiei'"…), once more Jesus’ opponents invert the truth: Jesus does not make himself someone, he empties himself of all personal dignity and emphasizes his obedience to the Father and dependence on him.

8:56 =AbraaVm oJ pathVr uJmw'n hjgalliavsato i{na i[dh/ thVn hJmevran thVn ejmgvn What is the meaning of Jesus’ statement that the patriarch Abraham ‘saw’ his day and rejoiced? The use of past tenses would seem to refer to something that occurred during the patriarch’s lifetime. Genesis Rabbah 44:25ff, (cf. 59:6) states that Rabbi Akiba, in a debate with Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, held that Abraham had been shown not this world only but the world to come (this would include the days of the Messiah). More realistically, I would suggest Gen 22:13-15 lies behind Jesus’ words. This passage, known to rabbis as the Akedah (“Binding”), tells of Abraham finding the ram which will replace his son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice—an occasion of certain rejoicing. Especially note the reference to the hwhy Jalm in Gen 22:15.

8:57 =AbraaVm eJwvraka"… This is an instance of misunderstanding again.

8:58 priVn =AbraaVm genevsqai ejgwV eijmiv The meaning of Jesus’ statement is: “Before Abraham came into existence I, the “I AM,” eternally was, am now, and shall be.” Here is an explicit claim to deity, consistent with the Johannine force of ejgwV eijmiv in its fullest (non-predicated) sense. Although each occurrence of the phrase in the Fourth Gospel needs to be examined individually in context to see if an association with Exod 3:14 is present, it seems clear that such is the case at this point—note the response of the Jewish authorities in the following verse.

8:59 The significance of Jesus’ words finally comes home to the Jewish authorities, and they undertake to stone him. This clearly shows that they understood Jesus’ words as a claim to deity, although they did not accept the claim. They were not able to stone Jesus, of course, since no one could touch him before his hour had come.


86 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971), 219.

87 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 336.

88 F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol. 2, Introduction; Appendix (Cambridge & London: Macmillan, 1881), 87-88.

89 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 457.

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