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John 8:31-44

Context
Abraham’s Children and the Devil’s Children

8:31 Then Jesus said to those Judeans 1  who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, 2  you are really 3  my disciples 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 4  8:33 “We are descendants 5  of Abraham,” they replied, 6  “and have never been anyone’s slaves! How can you say, 7  ‘You will become free’?” 8:34 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, 8  everyone who practices 9  sin is a slave 10  of sin. 8:35 The slave does not remain in the family 11  forever, but the son remains forever. 12  8:36 So if the son 13  sets you free, you will be really free. 8:37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. 14  But you want 15  to kill me, because my teaching 16  makes no progress among you. 17  8:38 I am telling you the things I have seen while with the 18  Father; 19  as for you, 20  practice the things you have heard from the 21  Father!”

8:39 They answered him, 22  “Abraham is our father!” 23  Jesus replied, 24  “If you are 25  Abraham’s children, you would be doing 26  the deeds of Abraham. 8:40 But now you are trying 27  to kill me, a man who has told you 28  the truth I heard from God. Abraham did not do this! 29  8:41 You people 30  are doing the deeds of your father.”

Then 31  they said to Jesus, 32  “We were not born as a result of immorality! 33  We have only one Father, God himself.” 8:42 Jesus replied, 34  “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. 35  I 36  have not come on my own initiative, 37  but he 38  sent me. 8:43 Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept 39  my teaching. 40  8:44 You people 41  are from 42  your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. 43  He 44  was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, 45  because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, 46  he speaks according to his own nature, 47  because he is a liar and the father of lies. 48 

1 tn Grk “to the Jews.” In NT usage the term ᾿Ιουδαῖοι (Ioudaioi) may refer to the entire Jewish people, the residents of Jerusalem and surrounding territory (i.e., “Judeans”), the authorities in Jerusalem, or merely those who were hostile to Jesus. (For further information see R. G. Bratcher, “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John,” BT 26 [1975]: 401-9; also BDAG 479 s.v. ᾿Ιουδαῖος 2.e.) Here the phrase refers to the Jewish people in Jerusalem who had been listening to Jesus’ teaching in the temple and had believed his claim to be the Messiah, hence, “those Judeans who had believed him.” The term “Judeans” is preferred here to the more general “people” because the debate concerns descent from Abraham (v. 33).

2 tn Grk “If you continue in my word.”

3 tn Or “truly.”

4 tn Or “the truth will release you.” The translation “set you free” or “release you” (unlike the more traditional “make you free”) conveys more the idea that the hearers were currently in a state of slavery from which they needed to be freed. The following context supports precisely this idea.

sn The statement the truth will set you free 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)” (John [NICNT], 457).

5 tn Grk “We are the seed” (an idiom).

6 tn Grk “They answered to him.”

7 tn Or “How is it that you say.”

8 tn Grk “Truly, truly, I say to you.”

9 tn Or “who commits.” This could simply be translated, “everyone who sins,” but the Greek is more emphatic, using the participle ποιῶν (poiwn) in a construction with πᾶς (pas), a typical Johannine construction. 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.

10 tn See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51.

11 tn Or “household.” The Greek work οἰκία (oikia) can denote the family as consisting of relatives by both descent and marriage, as well as slaves and servants, living in the same house (more the concept of an “extended family”).

12 sn Jesus’ point is that while a slave may be part of a family or household, the slave is not guaranteed a permanent place there, while a son, as a descendant or blood relative, will always be guaranteed a place in the family (remains forever).

13 tn Or “Son.” The question is whether “son” is to be understood as a direct reference to Jesus himself, or as an indirect reference (a continuation of the generic illustration begun in the previous verse).

14 tn Grk “seed” (an idiom).

15 tn Grk “you are seeking.”

16 tn Grk “my word.”

17 tn Or “finds no place in you.” The basic idea seems to be something (in this case Jesus’ teaching) making headway or progress where resistance is involved. See BDAG 1094 s.v. χωρέω 2.

18 tc The first person pronoun μου (mou, “my”) may be implied, especially if ὑμῶν (Jumwn, “your”) follows the second mention of “father” in this verse (as it does in the majority of mss); no doubt this implication gave rise to the reading μου found in most witnesses (א D Θ Ψ 0250 Ë1,13 33 Ï it sy). No pronoun here is read by Ì66,75 B C L 070 pc. This problem cannot be isolated from the second in the verse, however. See that discussion below.

19 tn Grk “The things which I have seen with the Father I speak about.”

20 tn Grk “and you.”

21 tc A few significant witnesses lack ὑμῶν (Jumwn, “your”) here (Ì66,75 B L W 070 pc), while the majority have the pronoun (א C D Θ Ψ 0250 Ë1,13 33 565 892 Ï al lat sy). However, these mss do not agree on the placement of the pronoun: τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν ποιεῖτε (tou patro" Jumwn poieite), τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν (tw patri Jumwn), and τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν ταῦτα (tw patri Jumwn tauta) all occur. If the pronoun is read, then the devil is in view and the text should be translated as “you are practicing the things you have heard from your father.” If it is not read, then the same Father mentioned in the first part of the verse is in view. In this case, ποιεῖτε should be taken as an imperative: “you [must] practice the things you have heard from the Father.” The omission is decidedly the harder reading, both because the contrast between God and the devil is now delayed until v. 41, and because ποιεῖτε could be read as an indicative, especially since the two clauses are joined by καί (kai, “and”). Thus, the pronoun looks to be a motivated reading. In light of the better external and internal evidence the omission is preferred.

22 tn Grk “They answered and said to him.”

23 tn Or “Our father is Abraham.”

24 tn Grk “Jesus said to them.”

25 tc Although most mss (C W Θ Ψ 0250 Ë1,13 33 Ï) have the imperfect ἦτε (hte, “you were”) here, making this sentence a proper second class condition, the harder reading, ἐστε (este, “you are”), is found in the better witnesses (Ì66,75 א B D L 070 pc lat).

26 tc Some important mss (Ì66 B* [700]) have the present imperative ποιεῖτε (poieite) here: “If you are Abraham’s children, then do,” while many others (א2 C K L N Δ Ψ Ë1,13 33 565 579 892 pm) add the contingent particle ἄν (an) to ἐποιεῖτε (epoieite) making it a more proper second class condition by Attic standards. The simple ἐποιεῖτε without the ἄν is the hardest reading, and is found in some excellent witnesses (Ì75 א* B2 D W Γ Θ 070 0250 1424 pm).

tn Or “you would do.”

27 tn Grk “seeking.”

28 tn Grk “has spoken to you.”

29 tn The Greek word order is emphatic: “This Abraham did not do.” The emphasis is indicated in the translation by an exclamation point.

30 tn The word “people” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied in English to clarify the plural Greek pronoun and verb.

31 tc ‡ Important and early witnesses (א B L W 070 it sys,p co) lack the conjunction here, while the earliest witnesses along with many others read οὖν (oun, “therefore”; Ì66,75 C D Θ Ψ 0250 Ë13 33 Ï). This conjunction occurs in John some 200 times, far more than in any other NT book. Even though the combined testimony of two early papyri for the conjunction is impressive, the reading seems to be a predictable scribal emendation. In particular, οὖν is frequently used with the plural of εἶπον (eipon, “they said”) in John (in this chapter alone, note vv. 13, 39, 48, 57, and possibly 52). On balance, it is probably best to consider the shorter reading as authentic, even though “Then” is virtually required in translation for English stylistic reasons. NA27 has the conjunction in brackets, indicating some doubt as to its authenticity.

32 tn Grk “him”; the referent (Jesus) is specified in the translation for clarity.

33 sn We were not born as a result of immorality! is ironic, because Jesus’ opponents implied that it was not themselves but Jesus who had been born as a result of immoral behavior. This shows they did not know Jesus’ true origin and were not aware of the supernatural events surrounding his birth. The author does not even bother to refute the opponents’ suggestion but lets it stand, assuming his readers will know the true story.

34 tn Grk “Jesus said to them.”

35 tn Or “I came from God and have arrived.”

36 tn Grk “For I.” Here γάρ (gar) has not been translated.

37 tn Grk “from myself.”

38 tn Grk “that one” (referring to God).

39 tn Grk “you cannot hear,” but this is not a reference to deafness, but rather hearing in the sense of listening to something and responding to it.

40 tn Grk “my word.”

41 tn The word “people” is supplied in the translation to clarify that the Greek pronoun and verb are plural.

42 tn Many translations read “You are of your father the devil” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB) or “You belong to your father, the devil” (NIV), but the Greek preposition ἐκ (ek) emphasizes the idea of source or origin. Jesus said his opponents were the devil’s very offspring (a statement which would certainly infuriate them).

43 tn Grk “the desires of your father you want to do.”

44 tn Grk “That one” (referring to the devil).

45 tn Grk “he does not stand in the truth” (in the sense of maintaining, upholding, or accepting the validity of it).

46 tn Grk “Whenever he speaks the lie.”

47 tn Grk “he speaks from his own.”

48 tn Grk “because he is a liar and the father of it.”



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