Luther’s Notes on the Gospel: Christmas Day 2 – Nativity of Our Lord

John 1:1-14
New King James Version

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. Here John calls this child, lying on the bosom of the mother, a “Word,”‘ which was from the beginning of creation with God; therefore this child was so great, that heaven and earth and all that is therein, was made by none other than this child.

But first we must see why John calls him a “Word,” which, in our ears, is a very lowly name, attributed to his high, eternal majesty. We also have a word, especially “the word of the heart,” as the holy fathers call it; as when a man considers something by himself and searches diligently; then he has a word or conversation with himself, of which nobody knows anything, but he himself, until this “word of the heart” is expressed in an oral word or address; then only it is heard and understood by others; otherwise not. (1 Corinthians 2:11) Such word, I may say, is nothing else than an image or mirror of my heart. Matthew 12:34, 37.

Now, just as a man has a word in his heart, so also God in his eternal majesty and divine being has a word, speech, or thought in his divine heart with himself. This Word, which God the Father has with himself, and speaks, is so entirely one with him, that there is nothing in God which belongs not also to the Word; so that when we see the Word, we shall also behold the perfect being of the Father. The same has been from eternity in his inmost fatherly heart, by which he resolved to create heaven and earth. But of such will of God no man ever knew, until this same Word became flesh and was declared unto us, as follows according to verse 18.

But there is also a great difference between the thoughts, disputations and words of the human heart and those of God. No one imparted to him his word, speech or conversation. But all that we are we have received from him.

But why did St. John use this comparison of the word and no other one, as for instance that of the brightness of the sun or express image of his person, as in Hebrews 1:3? In the first place, to point us back to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, Genesis 1:3ff. For the Evangelist has taken this from Moses. Through the whole six days of the creation Moses purposely repeats the words, “God said, and it was so.” By this he shows most powerfully that before all creatures there was a Word.

Secondly, John used this comparison of the “Word,” because he wished thereby to point out the power of the oral preaching of the gospel.

Now, says John, when in the beginning God created all things, then the Word was there already and had its being. He does not say, God made the Word, or the Word was made; but the Word was already essentially in existence. By this St. John points out most powerfully that the Son of God was not created or made.

This Word has been in the Father’s heart from eternity. For if it existed at the beginning, but was not before the beginning, then it must have begun to be before the beginning; then the beginning would have been before the beginning, which would be contradictory, and as much as to say the beginning was not the beginning.

John insists hard on the little word “with,” for he repeats it here again; thus clearly distinguishing the Word from the person of the Father.

The Word was God. This sounds, speaking according to reason, as though the Word were something different from God. Therefore he comes back again, closes the circle and says, “The Word was God.” The meaning is this: Since there is no other God than this one only, therefore this same God is very essentially the same Word, and there is nothing in the divine nature which is not also in the Word.


2 The same was in the beginning with God.

The same was in the beginning with God. As if he would say: I say it again, that we do not make one person out of the two; but understand one God and two persons, coeternal; but so that we know that the eternal Father is neither made, created nor born of any one.

We have to use the little word “person,” for we have no other one, and it means nothing else than a being or substance, which exists of itself and is God; that there are, indeed, three different persons, but only one God, or one only Godhead. But eternity cannot be comprehended better than thus, that it was before the beginning and before time. Reason, however, will always measure time before the beginning.


3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.

All things were made by him. Here with John meets or anticipates the future error of Arius, in order that no one might think, as Arius after wards fancied, that Christ was the supremest, most powerful, noble and wisest creature, by whom all the others were created, but nevertheless he was in the beginning before all.

Further, he also points out here with that God created the world and all creatures by the Word, his only begotten Son and divine Wisdom, and not only created, but also by him he has ever and ever, unto the end of the world, governed and upheld it. For if all things were not upheld in their being by this Word, they would not long remain created.


4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

In him was life. The Evangelist now passes by all the irrational creatures which have not sinned, and confines himself to the human nature, for whose sake every thing else was created, and says: “In him was life.” He is, therefore, the fountain and source of life; so that everything that lives, lives of him, and by him and in him, and without him there is no life, as he himself says, John 14:6; 11:25.

The natural life is a part of the eternal life (of which John especially speaks here) and is a beginning, but it comes to an end in death, because it does not know him from whom it proceeds; the same sin cuts it off, so that it must die eternally. Again, those who believe on him and know him from whom they have life, shall never die.

It seems strange that the Evangelist can speak of these high and important things in such simple, plain words. The life, Christ, is not only a light in itself, but it also enlightens men by its light, so that all reason, understanding and apprehension, that is not false and devilish, flows from this light, which is the eternal Father’s wisdom.

But besides this light, which is common to all men, both the pious and the evil, there is yet a special light, which God gives to his own people, with whom everything remains, of which John afterwards writes of the Word; namely, that the Word manifests itself to his elect people by the Holy Ghost and the oral word, and will be the light of his people. John here speaks especially of this light. For the light, or the glory of all kinds of virtues, wisdom and arts or ingenuity is given, not only to the believers, but also to the children of the world. Indeed, all the light of reason is enkindled by the divine light, and is a part and beginning of the true light, when it recognizes and honors him by whom it is enkindled. Only it does this not of itself, but remains in itself, and is perverted, and also perverts with itself all things.


5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The light shineth in the darkness. John’s language is very simple, like that of a child, and his words appear to the worldly wise, very childish. But there is such a majesty hidden in them, which no man, however highly he may be enlightened, can search out or express. Now, when he says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men,” these words are thunder-claps against the light of reason, free will and human strength, etc. As if he would say: All men who are out of Christ come short of the life in God, and are dead and condemned.

Where the light does not shine there is total darkness. Moreover, where it does shine, the darkness comprehendeth it not, but continues to be darkness. The light hath shined from the beginning, but the great multitude have remained in darkness.


6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

John bare witness of the Light. And now the Evangelist begins the New Testament with the preaching of the gospel of Christ, upon whom John the Baptist shall point with his finger. It was also highly necessary that he should testify of the Light; for since it was so hidden and came in such a strange form, that it was impossible to recognize it in such a poor, despised appearance, there must be some one to preach about it and point to it; but he must have been sent of God, or he could not have done it. Thus also the gospel or preaching of this Light can not come of itself, or from the reason of men, but God must send it.


8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

He was not that Light. The Evangelist is very careful to set all his words so considerately, that every one may have something special to depend upon. He intended to point out and distinguish the man Christ, who is the true light and life, and also true God and man.


9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Lighteth every man, etc. That is, what is to be enlightened must be enlightened only through him. The gospel has been proclaimed in the world; but the light does not lose its name and honor, because all have not accepted the blessed light, and do not now receive it. What fault is it of the dear sun, when he lights and shines, that I close my eyes and will not see the light?


10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

The world knew him not. How could one reprove the world more severely, than by charging it with ignorance of its Creator? How many evil vices and bad names result from this one thing!


11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

His own received him not. Here the Evangelist speaks of another coming of Christ. He speaks of his true advent, when he entered upon his office.

As Moses calls the Jews God’s own, so also the Evangelist here calls them our Lord Christ’s own, in order to show that Christ is true God, equal with the Father.

Here the presumption and pride of the Jews, who boast so arrogantly of knowing and honoring the true God, is also cast down.


12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

Power to become the sons of God. Here stands recorded both our shame and our honor, which he has bestowed upon us. The shame is great; namely, that we have hitherto been the children of the devil; but the honor is much greater; namely that we are now the children of God. Here you learh what a great and mighty glory, and unspeakable, eternal treasure it is, which has been prepared by the Son of God through his advent! You learn here, also, in plain words, that we can not attain to this high honor, glorious liberty and power of becoming the children of God, by any other way or means, than alone through the knowledge and faith in Christ.


13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Here you must leave out of consideration everything that is high, great and glorious before the world, and be forgetful of all creatures.

Born not of blood, (Genesis 1:27) With this word John refers especially to the Jews, who were the descendants of Abraham, and boasted that the promised Messiah belonged only to themselves, which was, indeed, a great advantage, (See Romans 9:4-5) but it refers also to the whole world and all nature.

Nor of the will of the flesh. This refers to those who are children, not on account of their birth, but whom some one voluntarily has adopted as his children, and heirs of his possessions. But these children according to the law and will, whom men have chosen upon earth, are also not the ones; they do not become the children of God by this arbitrary choice.

Nor of the will of man. This sonship is, as when I wish to honor any one by calling him father, as when one calls his pastor, instructor or teacher, father. But if I had even been a disciple of John the Baptist; yea, of the Lord Christ himself, had heard him preach and seen him perform miracles, even this would not make me a child of God.

But born of God. This is an entirely new birth. And this divine. birth is nothing else than faith. How does this come to pass? When a man gives up his own light and selfconceit, and is willing to be called a fool by the world, and to be taught and enlightened, then behold, he is changed in his main part, that is, in his natural light he is changed. His old light is extinguished, and a new faith is enkindled; this light he follows through life and death, clings only to the testimony of John or the gospel, even if he should have to forsake all that he has or can do for the sake of it. Behold, thus he is now born of God through the gospel, which he holds fast, and gives up his own light and self-conceit. (1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18; 1 Peter 2:2) See, when his own light, reason, the old conceit, is dead and dark, and has been changed into a new light, then must also follow and be changed the whole life and power of the man.


14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, ) full of grace and truth.

Flesh. The word “flesh” in the Scripture means the whole man, body and soul, as in John 3:6; Genesis 2:24. The Evangelist might have said, The word was made man; but according to the manner of the Scriptures, he said it was made flesh, to indicate weakness and mortality. For Christ has assumed human nature, which is mortal, and exposed to the terrible wrath and judgment of God on account of the sin of the human race; which wrath this weak and mortal flesh hath felt and suffered in Christ. (Compare Luke 22:43-44) The angels are much holier than we poor sinners; yet he takes our nature upon himself.

The Word was made flesh. That is, the Son of God became a human Son. No one of the Evangelists emphasizes so strongly the article, that Christ was true God and man, as John does.

In saying, “the Word was made flesh,” he excludes the Father and the Holy Ghost, and retains only the Son. Reason takes offense at this doctrine, and thinks: In the God head there is only one undivided essence; how then can the middle person only become man and not all the three? I should be as wise as any heretic, if I should undertake to master these words according to my inclination. But here it is written: Believed, not seen, measured or comprehended .

And dwelt among us. This does not mean a spiritual abode, as in John 14:23, but a neighborly, civil abode; as much as to say, He had a dwelling just like any other man, he went in and out, so that we could see him walk, sit, and speak with the people on the streets. He did not hide himself in a corner, but showed himself openly, so that all could hear and touch him. (1 John 1:1) Just as fire mixes itself with the whole (glowing) iron, so also the eternal Word has filled the human nature entirely with the divine light and life.

We beheld his glory. He says, We have not only seen that he is a true man, but we have certainly observed that he is true God; for he has performed so many miracles, which it was impossible for a mere man to do. But the “seeing of his glory,” however, we must refer to the bodily sight; for the Jews also saw his glory, but did not regard it as the “glory of the only begotten Son of God;” but the disciples saw it and believed it in their hearts.

Men become sons through this only begotten Son, who is our Lord and God, and we are called many born sons; but he alone is the only begotten Son, whom he has begotten in the Godhead from eternity. He says, “We have seen his glory,” which was not a part of the grace and truth as in the other children of God, but full, or entire grace and truth, as the only begotten Son of the Father.

Grace and truth. Grace signifies, that all he is and does is acceptable to God; Truth means, that every thing that he is and does is very good and right in himself. There is, therefore, nothing in him which is not accept able and right, while on the contrary, in us is pure disgrace and falsehood. He is full of grace and truth; that is, in short, everything in Christ is well pleasing to God, what he speaks and what he does, not only out of grace, but there is also in himself perfect goodness. God exception to make therein. John 5:19.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 270-275.

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