Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part I: Grace after Grace—John 1:16 -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 135:537 (Jan 1978)
Article: Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part I: Grace after Grace—John 1:16
Author: Zane C. Hodges


Problem Passages in the Gospel of John
Part I:
Grace after Grace—John 1:16

Zane C. Hodges

[Zane C. Hodges, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

At first glance, it might not appear to the casual reader of the Fourth Gospel that the sixteenth verse of its first chapter contains a major problem of interpretation. Of course, the precise meaning of the phrase “grace for grace” (AV) might seem to call for some consideration, but beyond this no difficulty immediately presents itself.

In fact, however, two interrelated problems combine to raise major exegetical questions about the real meaning of John 1:16. The first of these—and no doubt the most crucial—is the question of who is speaking, the Evangelist himself or John the Baptist? The resolution of this issue powerfully influences the solution of the second question, namely, What exactly did it mean to the speaker that “we all have received grace for grace”? Both problems are important enough to be given a fresh hearing.

The Speaker in John 1:16

The first impression left by a reading of the text is that the words were uttered by John the Baptist, whose testimony is introduced in verse 15. This impression goes back to very early times as Origen’s commentary on John shows.1 On the other hand, the close connection of the concepts of verse 16 with those of verse 14 has seemed to suggest that John the Evangelist is speaking, since verse 14 certainly proceeds from him. Moreover, if verse 16 were assigned to the Baptist, verses 17 and 18 would most naturally be

ascribed to him as well. But to many readers verses 16–18 sound much more like the author of the Gospel.

Not surprisingly, therefore, modern commentators have in general favored the conclusion that verse 16 is to be credited directly to the Evangelist, along with the two verses that follow.2 Westcott, for example, wrote quite some time ago, “These words [‘and of his fulness…’] and those which follow are certainly words of the Evangelist and not of the Baptist. This is shewn not only by their gene...

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