John 8:31-51 and Waldenström's Commentary

Unabridged text for Reformation Day, October 28, 1990

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Tommy Carlson

Verse 31 — Then Jesus said to the Jews1 who had become believers in him: If you2 remain in my word3 you are my disciples in truth.4

  1. Among those who had become believers there were some Jews, that is to say, members of that Jewish party which was strongly hostile toward Jesus. It is to these believers that Jesus speaks the following. He knew how impure and unreliable their faith was. His words to them caused their minds to turn against him again quickly (v. 33).
  2. There is a strong emphasis in the original text on the word you.
  3. Now they had certainly, in one way, accepted the word, but their faith was not correct. If they wanted to be his disciples in truth, they must remain in his word, so that his word was like the element in which their inner and outer lives moved. In some way this goes along with another expression that the Savior also uses when he talks about THE WORD REMAINING IN THE PERSON (Chapter 5:38;15:7). When the word remains in the person as a deciding power in his or her life, it becomes that element in which the whole life moves.
  4. In truth and reality, not merely for appearance and for the moment.

Verse 32 — And you shall understand the truth1 and the truth shall set you free.2 (Romans 6:18)

  1. The divine truth represents the content of Christ's word. To learn to know the same can only happen when one in faith receives and remains in the word. In addition it must be noted that there (as elsewhere in John) the knowledge of truth refers not only to the intellect's knowledge but also to the heart's living experience. It is through this first that the truth becomes a person's real property.
  2. Namely from the slavery of sin (v. 34). Where a person in his or her heart acquires the truth, there the truth becomes the deciding power in the person's life. Thereby, every other dominion is abolished. This is true freedom.

Verse 33 — They1 answered him: Abraham's seed are we2 and have never been a slave to anyone.3 How is it then that you say: You shall be free?

  1. The Jews whom he talked to according to verse 31.
  2. It was the pride of the Jews that they were Abraham's seed. By Abraham's seed world dominion was decided (see Gen. 17:6; 22:17f). And Now the Lord talks to them as if they were slaves who had to be freed. This was offensive to them.
  3. That their forefathers had been slaves in Egypt and Babylon was true, but, here, these Jews are talking about themselves and not the people of Israel in general, just as the Lord was talking to them personally. And they had never been anybody's slave. That the Romans were temporarily lords of the land did not completely abolish the Jews' freedom. The illusion of freedom was still there. The council, which was made up completely of Jews, was the highest authority as far as the people's internal affairs were concerned.

Verse 34 — Jesus answered them; Truly, truly I say to you: Each and every one1 who sins is a slave to sin. (Romans 6:12; II Peter 2:19)

  1. Without distinction. You do not represent any exception, regardless of how proud you are of your freedom and being descended from Abraham.

Verse 35 — But the slave does not remain in the house forever;1 the son remains forever.2

  1. Verbatim; to the age. See comments to Matt, 25:46. A slave can be sold, traded, expelled (Gen. 21:10; Gal. 4:30). He does not have a permanent place in the house.
  2. The son, in contrast to the slave, has a place in the house forever. This verse constitutes a general thesis derived from the then current social (civil) conditions.

Verse 36 — If therefore1 the son makes you free,2 you shall really be free.3

  1. In the previous verse, the general thesis was expressed about the slave's and the son's different standings, The Lord applies this to himself and to those to whom he is speaking. He is the son who will remain in God's house forever. They are slaves even if they, for the moment, belong to God's house (God's people). Like slaves, when God's house is completed in the coming Messianic Kingdom, they shall be expelled from there (compare Matt. 8:12) unless they have been set free by the son.
  2. The power to set slaves free belongs to the son, as the only begotten son and, by the Father installed, as Lord over everything (Chapter 17:2; I Cor. 8:6).
  3. All other freedom is only pretense. See Rom. 8:35f; I Cor. 3:22; II Cor. 6:4f. If you are truly free, then you belong and have your right and eternal place as a child in God's house and kingdom.

Verse 37 — I know that you are Abraham's seed,l but you seek to kill me,2 while my word has no success among you.3

  1. In this and the following verses, the Lord renounces their right to be called Abraham's children in truth, on which they, with certainty, always insisted. Thereby, he begins, nevertheless, to acknowledge that in a certain way they were Abraham's children.
  2. In this frame of mind, your right to be called Abraham's true children is taken away from you because Abraham never had such a frame of mind. Note how the mindset of these Jews toward Jesus had already so completely turned around that they, from newly becoming believers, could now be counted among those who are after his life.
  3. In your hearts. His words had been received by them in a way and made them believe, if only temporarily, but with no success. Therefore they fell back to their old hostility. It remained quite different with the true disciples. When the Lord asked them if they wanted to leave him, they answered: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the word of eternal life (Chapter 6:67f), So completely had this word captured their hearts and committed them to him.

Verse 38 — What I have seen1 at my father's that I speak, and you also, what you have heard2 from your father, that you do.3

  1. The Lord alludes here again to this prior existence with the father (compare 6:46).
  2. What you have been commanded.
  3. What the Lord, especially here, alludes to as a deed, that he expresses in v. 40. For all his words are valid in all their everyday relationship to him.

Verse 39 — They answered and said to him: Our father is Abraham. Jesus said to them: If you are Abraham's children, so then you would do Abraham's deeds.l (Matt. 3:9)

  1. Or: If you are Abraham's children, do Abraham deeds. The Jews were surely Abraham's children in a bodily sense, but true children of Abraham they were not because they were not at all like Abraham. About this, see Romans 9:7f where Paul makes a distinction between the seed of Abraham (in a natural sense) and Abraham's children (in a spiritual meaning).

Verse 40 — But now you seek to kill me, a person who has spoken the truth to you, which I have heard from God;1 this Abraham did not do.2

  1. Even these words allude to his prior existence (see v. 38).
  2. Abraham never tried to silence anyone who told him God's truth. Therefore, you are not true children to him because you have such a different mind.

Verse 41 — You do your father's deeds. They said to him: We1 are not born out of wedlock,2 we only have one father,3 namely God.4

  1. In the original text there is a strong emphasis on the word WE.
  2. If they were not truly children of Abraham, they had to be illegitimate children of Sarah, who was the ancestress of the people of Israel. But we were not born illegitimately, they say.
  3. When the Savior talked about "your father" as someone other than Abraham, it sounded as though he wanted to allege that they had more than one father. However, now they say: We have only one father. The person who is born illegitimately to a married woman has in a way two fathers, namely the real father and also the mother's husband.
  4. When the Savior denies that they are Abraham's children, they commend themselves that they have a higher fatherhood, namely God, and this is a fatherhood that eliminates any thought of illegitimate birth. With this distinction, that God is their father, they sec not only that God chose Israel as his own people (Is. 63:16; 64:8), but also that their ancestor Isaac was born through a special wonder by God, They also, in a way, feel as the Lord implies, that someone other than Abraham is their father, and, in that case it is God, and descendance from him cannot be an illegitimate birth.

Verse 42 — Jesus said to them: If God were your father, then you should love me, because from God have I1 gone out2 and come,3 because I have neither come by myself4 without him5 who sent me out. (John 16:27f)

  1. In the original text there is a strong emphasis on the word I.
  2. This alludes to his becoming human. Christ had, in eternity, been with God like the word (chapter 1:1, 2) but went out from God and became a man (chapter 1:13; 13:3; 16:27f; 17:8).
  3. In the world.
  4. This coming alludes to his duties. Compare chapter 1:9. He had neither his going out nor his duties from himself. As he had gone out from God, so was he, even in his duties, sent by God.
  5. Verbatim: that one, as if he is pointing toward heaven when he said these words.

Verse 43 — For what reason do you not understand my speech.1 Because you could not2 hear3 my word.4

  1. Their whole dispute with him had shown that they did not understand his speech.
  2. Your mind (heart) is such that you could not.
  3. That is to say, because you do not have the ear for, nor can endure (see 6:60).
  4. With THE WORD the Lord means the content of his speech. Because they were hostile toward the content in his speech, so the speech itself became incomprehensible for them.

Verse 44 — You are of that father devil, and your father's desire1 which you do;2 this one was a murderer from the beginning,3 and in truth he does not stand4 because there is no truth in him.5 When he speaks lies, he speaks from his own6 because he is a liar and their7 father. (I John 3:8)

  1. That is to say, everything that your father (the devil) desires. In the original text the word is plural.
  2. This refers to their relations in general but with special reference to their murder plot against the Lord.
  3. While through seduction the devil gave cause to the Fall of humans, the result was that death came into the world.
  4. He stands outside the truth. Not the truth but in lies is his area of activity.
  5. That there is no truth in him and that his inner being is empty of truth are the reasons that truth cannot be the area in which he has his activity.
  6. Out of that which constitutes the content of his being.
  7. That is to say, every liar's father. When the Jews also hated truth so that they sought to kill Jesus, they showed themselves as children of the big liar and murderer, the devil. (See Acts 13:10)

Verse 45 — But I1 — while I speak the truth, you do not believe me.2

  1. In the original text there is a strong emphasis on the word I — I as opposed to the devil.
  2. Just because he spoke the truth, they did not believe. Had he spoken lies, they would have believed. The lies were in complete agreement with their devilish nature; truth was once again in conflict with the same. And their unbelief had its foundation in their evil desires.

Verse 46 — Which one of you can convict me of sin?1 If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?2 (I John 3:5)

  1. That Jesus was without sin was a guarantee that he did not speak lies, for to speak lies is a sin (compare 7:18). Could no one now convict him of sin, they ought to believe his word. Note how the Lord himself not only expresses that he is without sin, but even appeals to the enemies, convinced that none of them shall convict him of any sin.
  2. The reason for your unbelief can only be that you do not WANT the truth — just like your father the devil.

Verse 47 — The one who is of God,1 he hears God's word;2 for that reason you do not hear because you are not of God.3 (John 18:37; I John 4:6)

  1. When the Lord says that one must be of God in order to hear God's word and become a believer, so "to be of God" cannot mean the same as to be born of God. Because to be born of God one must be a believer. The connection is: One who is of God, hears God's word and is drawn to Christ through that word, believes in him, and is born of God, To "be of God" in this context is the opposite of "to be of the devil." As this latter does not mean that one is born of the devil but only that one in one's spirit and one's behavior allows oneself to be ruled by the devil, so one hates the truth; so, implied is that "to be of God" one in spirit and behavior allows oneself to be ruled by God. So, such an one WANTS the truth.
  2. That is to say, he has an ear for God's word, he receives it with a willing obedient heart (compare v. 43). God's word meant the word which Jesus speaks. As illustrations of whom the Lord here speaks can be cited the apostle, the Samaritans in the city of Sykar, and all others who from their hearts WANT the truth and who as a result of this disposition immediately knew that what Jesus spoke was the truth. Before they yet were believers, they were of God this far because this mind originates from God and was the work of the anticipated grace.
  3. That is to say, because you have not such a mind created by God so you want the truth. Jesus knew this immediately because he saw through their hearts. Note how in these words peoples' different relationships to Jesus and his teaching are dependent, on the one side, of God and, the other side, of the devil, everything according to how they let themselves be ruled by one or the other, which again depends on their own freedom.

Verse 48 — The Jews answered and said to him; Do we not say correctly that you are a Samaritan1 and have an evil spirit?2 (John 7:20, 10:20; Matt. 10:25)

  1. A Samaritan was the worst that Jewish speaker knew. To call a Jew a Samaritan, was an extreme insul land of the whereby one declared him to be unworthy to be a member of God's people.
  2. That is to say, possessed. So insane seemed Jesus' word to them that only an evil spirit could have instilled it in him. See chapter 7:10.

Verse 49 — Jesus answered: I1 have not an evil spirit, but I honor my father2 and you dishonor me.3

  1. Once again in the original there is a strong emphasis on the word I.
  2. In everything that Jesus preached and did — even in that which he talked to them — he honored his father.
  3. Through your hostile and lying accusations. But to dishonor him so, when he in everything honored God, that was the biggest injustice.

Verse 50 — But I do not seek my prize;1 I there is one who seeks that and who judges.2

  1. Compared to their defamatory accusations, he could have had reason to seek his own honor but he did not do that. He left that to the father.
  2. Judges between me and you. To God, the Lord submitted this matter.

Verse 51 — Verily, verily,1 I say to you: If anyone keeps2 my3 word, he shall not see death4 for eternity. (John 5:24; 11:25)

  1. Against all their scorn and defiance, the Lord again explains that life and death depend on how a one conducts oneself regarding his word.
  2. That is to say, obey and do. The Greek word which is used in the original text occurs very often. See, for example, verse 55, chapter 14:15, 21, 23f; 15:20; 17:6. It means actually to spy on something, watch, guard (Matt. 27:36), keep, hide (John 2:10; 12:7). In particular, it is used to signify obedience to the Lord's word and commandment. Foremost to this obedience belongs belief in Jesus. (Compare chapter 3:36; Romans 1:5)
  3. There is a strong emphasis in the original text on the word MY.
  4. That is to say, he shall live forever. About the word "see," compare 3:3, also Ps. 89:49; Luke 2:26. The corporeal death the believer shall die. But the eternal life, that one owns through belief and is one's true real life, shall therefore not be touched and then the corporeal death for him has lost all meaning (compare 6:50). But, if life now depends on obedience to his word, then, on the other side, it is clear that the one who does not obey, in the same way remains in death. In this, God's judgment is the glorification of the Son, who thereby is brought foreward as the true Messiah, the mediator on whom humankind's life and death for eternity depends. No more crushing answer to their accusations that he was a Samaritan and had an evil spirit, could he give them. This answer had the effect on them that they became more hardened.