Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 5:31-47
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 5, 2016
Joh 5:31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
31. “My testimony is not true.” If I am alone in bearing witness regarding myself as the Eternal Son of God, as having received judiciary power to judge the world, etc., my testimony, from a human point of view, or according to the rules of human evidence (since no one would be admitted without other evidence as witness in his own cause), “is not true,” worthy of acceptance; nor, from a human point of view, legitimate or beyond suspicion. However, granting this in general for a moment, without admitting it, in My particular case, it does not hold.
Joh 5:32 There is another that beareth witness of me: and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
32. I can appeal to other witnesses both on earth and in Heaven. On earth, to Moses and the Prophets; in heaven, to my Father, who is “another that beareth testimony of Me.” This he did at my baptism, declaring Me to be His well-beloved Son.
“And I know,” from the infinite knowledge and science imparted to me from eternity, that the testimony rendered by Him “is true,” undoubted and beyond suspicion. Some Expositors understand, “another,” of the Baptist (next verse).
Joh 5:33 You sent to John: and he gave testimony to the truth.
“And he bore testimony to the truth,” both in regard to himself, as a “mere voice,” etc., and Me, as “the Lamb of God,” also: “This is the Son of God” (1:34), thus proclaiming Me to be the promised Messiah.
Joh 5:34 But I receive not testimony from man: but I say these things, that you may be saved.
34. When I appeal to the testimony of John, I do not mean that I require testimony from any man living. I have not done so on my own account, who am the Eternal Son of God, who received glory from my Father, before the world began; by whom John and the Prophets were taught; and from whom they derive all their holiness. It is solely on your account, I adduce his testimony, “that you may be saved,” by receiving his testimony regarding Me, “saved,” by believing in Me.
Joh 5:35 He was a burning and a shining light: and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.
35. Lest it might be imagined, that in the foregoing He undervalued John, he adds, “He (John) was a burning and shining light,” “a light,” or rather lamp, enlightened by the true light, Christ. He was not himself the true light; but he borrowed all his brightness and lustre from the source of all light, Christ He was “burning” with charity, zeal and sanctity of life. “Shining” with the light of true faith and doctrine. A Prophet who, after a long silence on the part of other Prophets, closed the old Dispensation and ushered in the new, holding, as it were, a middle place between both.
“You rejoiced in his light.” Showed singular pleasure and exultation in seeing and hearing him, but it was only “for a time,” until he began fearlessly to upbraid you with your vices, to summon you, to do penance, denouncing you, as a “brood of vipers,” calling on you to “fly from the wrath to come,” to point Me out, in My humility, as your long-expected Messiah. Then it was the “Pharisees and lawyers despised the counsels of God against themselves, not being baptized by him” (Luke 7:30), and charged him with having a devil” (7:33). In the words, “for a time,” He taxes the inconstancy and perversity of the chief men among the Jews.
Joh 5:36 But I have a greater testimony than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to perfect, the works themselves which I do, give testimony of me, that the Father hath sent me.
36. “I have a greater testimony than that of John.” “Greater,” less liable to cavil or exception, less liable to be ascribed to human friendship or earthly consideration, than the testimony of John, which you rejected, after he had boldly spoken the truth.
“The works which the Father hath given Me to perfect.” The miracles of every description performed without number, at every time and at every place; performed, also in proof of my Divine Sonship, performed also by my own Divine power, foretold of me by the Prophets, the revelation of the most hidden thoughts of the human heart, the prediction of future events,—all these are the works, which I received the essential power of performing from My Father, in My eternal generation, and the limited faculty of performing, conferred on My human nature, at My Incarnation.
“The works themselves” (I say) “which I do, give testimony that My Father hath sent Me.” For, they were performed in proof of His having done this, and they sealed this truth with the Divine seal, which cannot be counterfeited or falsified, God’s own veracity being pledged to it (see c. 10:37, 38).
Joh 5:37 And the Father himself who hath sent me hath given testimony of me: neither have you heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
37. And not only has My Father borne testimony to me through the medium of works; but, He has borne testimony immediately Himself, when at my baptism, He loudly and openly declared Me to be His well-beloved Son. Besides this direct testimony of the Father; others say, there is also reference made to the testimony rendered by the Father in former times, through the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets, as in next verse.
“Nor have you heard His voice,” etc. The connection of this with the preceding is not easily seen. It seems to be allusive to the occurrences that took place on the occasion of the people receiving the Law in Sinai (Exod. 20:19–21; Deut. 4:12; 5:22–27; 18:15). The people, terrified at all the dreadful appearances there exhibited, earnestly prayed that God would discontinue these frightful and terrifying phenomena, and appoint a mediator, Moses, who would communicate to them his commands (Exodus 20:19; Deut. 5:27). “Let me (the people) not hear any more the voice of the Lord my God neither let me see any more this exceeding great fire, lest I die” (Deut. 18:16). The Lord yielding to their earnest prayer, of which He approved, “they have spoken all things well” (v. 17), withheld the terrifying sound of His voice, and withdrew His appearance, manifested in the burning fire, thunders and lightning. He entered into a solemn covenant with them, that He would send them a Prophet, whose voice they should hear; at the same time, threatening His Divine vengeance against such as would disregard His voice (Deut. 18:19). The Lord had observed His part of the covenant, while they did not keep theirs.
Joh 5:38 And you have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him you believe not.
38. “His word,” or command, about hearing the Prophet, “you have not abiding in you.” They refused to obey. “For whom He hath sent, you believe not.” Far from believing, they rather despised and scornfully rejected Himself, the Prophet referred to “whom God hath sent.”
The words of preceding verse, “you have not heard his voice,” etc., are clearly allusive to the passage, “we will not hear His voice nor see His shape.” What you formerly prayed for through fear, from your Father, He granted you. You have not heard the terrible voice of God, nor seen His frightful shape; His word, however, or covenant by which you bound yourselves, you have not kept, viz., to hear the Prophet of your own nation, whom He was to send you. What you have engaged to do, you have not done, viz., to believe in Me, the Prophet whom He promised to send. Hence, “His word,” does not abide in you.
Joh 5:39 Search the scriptures: for you think in them to have life everlasting. And the same are they that give testimony of me.
39. “Search the Scriptures.” Both in the Greek and Latin versions, these words are of doubtful construction. They may be understood, either in the Indicative or Imperative mood. Some, with St. Cyril, understand them Indicatively. “You search the Scriptures; for, in them you think to have life everlasting.” You think, that by observing what is prescribed or commanded in them, as well in regard to faith as to morals, you have in them the means of salvation. This could not be, unless you found Christ in them. “They bear testimony of me.” This construction derives great probability from the entire context, in which all the words are in the Indicative; also from the words, “For in them you think,” etc., a reason, why they read them; also from the words, “and you will not come to Me,” etc. (v. 40), as if He said, although you are in the habit of searching the Scriptures, and find in them undoubted evidence in favour of Me; still, owing to your obstinate and perverse wills, you will not come to me. Others, with St. Chrysostom, understand these words, Imperatively, as conveying an exhortation to them to “search the Scriptures” of the Old Testament; and that thus, they will find in them new evidence. By this appeal to Scripture, He adduces a new argument in His own favour.
“And the same are they,” etc. “And,” signifies, for. They bear testimony of our Lord in every part, both in the Law and in the Prophets. For, “the end of the Law is Christ” (Rom. 10:4). “To Him all the Pophets bear testimony” (Acts 10:43).
In what sense soever understood, whether indicatively or imperatively, this passage furnishes no ground for argument in favour of the indiscriminate reading of Scripture by all classes of people; nor do they convey any precept to that effect.
Taken indicatively, as they are understood by several Protestant Commentators, it is evident they convey no precept to read the Scripture. They only convey a reproach, to the Jews, who derived such little profit from the reading of the Sacred Scriptures.
If read in the imperative mood, they have reference to the Scribes and Pharisees, those learned in the Law, whom alone our Lord here addresses. Any precept they might possibly be construed to convey, is addressed, not to the followers of our Lord, but to the Jews, and not to the Jews generally; not to the multitude; but, to the Scribes and Pharisees, as is clear from the attempt of this latter class to persecute our Lord (v. 16), and from their receiving glory from one another (v. 44). Now, this is true only of the Priests, the Scribes, etc.; but, not of the people, who always glorified God, on witnessing the wonderful works of our Lord. Far from denying that the Priests, the pastors and teachers of the people, are bound to read and search the Scriptures, as is mentioned here, we rather affirm it, as “the lips of the Priest should keep knowledge, and the Law they should require at his mouth” (Malachias 2:7).
As regards the great body of the Jewish people, it was not from their own private reading of the Scriptures, they were, ordinarily, to derive a knowledge of the Law; but, from the teachers legitimately constituted, viz., the Priests, Scribes, Levites, appointed for this purpose (Matthew 23:2, 3). On this account, the Levites and Priests dwelt among the several tribes. (Josue 21) In case of doubt, they should have recourse to the proper authority. (Deuter. 17:8, etc.) It was necessary that the Priests should teach the Law to the people. It was impossible for the people, generally, to read the Scripture. For, in the interval between the captivity and our Lord’s time, the Jews of Palestine, who spoke the Syro-Chaldaic, had no version in that language. Moreover, it was impossible to multiply a sufficient number of copies. We know that, even in the kingdom of Judea, the pious King Josephat sent teachers among the people, carrying with them, for that purpose, “the Book of the Law of the Lord” (2 Paralip. 17:7–9). Hence, the copies were not in indiscriminate use among the people.
The Catholic Church does not interdict the reading of the Sacred Scripture, in the original languages. It is not forbidden to the Priests, in any language, nor to the people generally, save with some salutary restrictions, which experience and common sense would dictate, as necessary against the profane and injurious use of the Bible. The people are allowed to read them in the vulgar tongue, if they do so with proper dispositions, the chief among which is, a due feeling of respect and subordination in regard to the teaching of the Church, and to the interpretation of the Holy Fathers.
Without meaning to disparage the reading of the SS. Scripture by the laity, when done in accordance with the wise prescriptions of the Church and the proper dispositions, it may not be undeserving of remark, as showing the evil of reading the SS. Scripture without the proper dispositions, that among even the Jews, it was the rulers who read them, that rejected our Lord; whereas, it was the people who were charged with being ignorant of the Law, that received Him. “Hath any of the rulers believed in Him, or of the Pharisees? But this mutitude that knoweth not the Law are iccursed” (John 7:48, 49).
The discipline of the Church in interdicting the indiscriminate reading of the SS. Scriptures in the vulgar tongue can be easily justified:—
1. From the declaration of St. Peter regarding the difficulties of certain passages of Scripture, which “the unstable and unlearned” even in his day, “wrested and distorted to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
2. From the practice of the Apostles, in withholding certain doctrines, from that description of men, who were incapable of comprehending them, for whom such doctrines, however true and indisputable, were utterly unsuited, nay, noxious. Just as strong food would injure those, who were only fit to receive the milk of babes.
3. From a consideration of the different subjects contained in the Bible, relating to history, obscure doctrinal teachings, morals, passages apparently contradictory, literal and figurative language, legislation, precepts, some of passing; others, of permanent obligation; some, dispensable; others, unchangeable, admitting of no dispensation, under any circumstances. Do not all these subjects require a master mind, to elucidate and explain their meaning and import? Into what confusion would not the indiscriminate consideration of these various subjects throw the mind of an untutored peasant; or of a doubting, unstable Christian, be he ever so learned? Common sense itself justifies the wise economy of the Church, on this all-important subject.
4. From sad experience of the disastrous results of this indiscriminate reading, as testified by the history and the shocking conduct of modern heretics; all, directly traceable to this abuse of the SS. Scriptures, to this “giving holy things to dogs, this casting of pearls before swine.”
Joh 5:40 And you will not come to me that you may have life.
40. “And you will not come to Me,” notwithstanding that the Scriptures of the Old Testament—the only books of Scripture then extant—by clearly attesting my Divine mission, sent you to Me, as the only source of eternal life “For, I am the way, the truth and the life.” Still, owing to your perversity and malice, you refuse to embrace the only means of salvation pointed out to you, in your own inspired Scriptures, of which you boast, and in which you glory so much.
Joh 5:41 I receive not glory from men.
41. Having adduced several testimonies in His own favour, He now upbraids the Jews with their stubborn incredulity. If you charge Me with proclaiming Myself as the Son of God, the divinely sent teacher, in order that I might reap glory from man, and exalt Myself unduly, you are guilty of injustice. You do Me a wrong.
“I receive not glory from man.” I undervalue it. In thus proclaiming My own Divine mission, I have only in view your salvation, which can be secured only through faith in Me.
Joh 5:42 But I know you, that you have not the love of God in you.
42. “But I know,” etc. In virtue of that Divine insight into the secrets of hearts, “I know that you have not the love of God in you,” that you are full of pride and ambition, which are the cause of your rejecting the clear testimonies adduced in My favour, and of your refusal to believe in Me.
Some make verse 41 parenthetical, as if He said, think not that I reproach you thus, because, I receive glory from men. Then, in verse 42, He upbraids them with incredulity, which proceeded not from the obscurity of Scripture, bearing testimony of Him; but, from their want of the love of God, owing to which they cannot comprehend the things of God.
Joh 5:43 I am come in the name of my Father, and you receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive.
43. In proof of your not having the love of God in your hearts, “I am come in the name of My Father,” performing all My works by His authority and for His glory, proving My Divine mission beyond all doubt, by My works, and by fulfilling all the Prophecies that regarded Me.
“And you receive Me not,” as sent by My Father, having the same Divine nature, and doing all My works in union with Him. Such is your perversity, that, “if another shall come in his own name,” self sent, on his own authority, “him you will receive.” Our Lord here tacitly predicts the coming of false prophets, who were soon to make their appearance before the final destruction of Jerusalem. (Matt. 24) Among them was Barchochebas, or Son of the Star, who arose in the days of Adrian. Likely, Antichrist, who is to precede the final end of all things, is also included.
Joh 5:44 How can you believe, who receive glory one from another: and the glory which is from God alone, you do not seek?
44. “How can you believe,” etc. They placed an insuperable obstacle to their embracing the faith, on account of their hypocrisy and vain glory, with which our Lord taxes them here, as He did elsewhere. He gently makes a retort on them, in regard to His supposed love of human applause. The Pharisees were hypocrites, who performed all their actions to please men and gain human applause. This was their damning fault. (Matt. 23) They preferred to be honoured by men, rather than that they themselves would honour God.
“And the glory which is from God,” etc., the true glory which God bestows on the humble, who perform good actions to please Him they undervalue and despise.
Pride is one of the chief obstacles to embracing the faith, as well in the case of individuals, as of entire nations. It is simply folly to expect that a nation, that has lost the faith will ever return, till first they are humbled by God, and made to feel their own misery and dependence on Him. Pride, and an insatiable desire to indulge in sensuality are leading obstacles to the conversion of a country as well as of individuals. While addicted to these two kindred vices—one being inflicted in punishment of the other—we can never hope for the conversion of a people or of individuals.
Joh 5:45 Think not that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one that accuseth you, Moses, in whom you trust.
45. The Pharisees would have justified themselves for rejecting our Lord, on the ground, that they did so out of love of God and zeal for His honour. Our Lord convicts them of the contrary feelings, in the foregoing. He convicts them, viz., of having been influenced by ambition, personal jealousy, and vain glory. He now deprives them of another plea of justification, viz., that they rejected Him, on account of their adhering to the teachings of Moses (John 9:28). He says, that He Himself need not be the first to accuse them, that Moses, in whom they believed and so much confided, as their advocate; in turn, accuses, and would be the first to accuse them before the Father, of disbelief in his teachings and of the injury done him by such disbelief. The accusation by Moses simply means, that their sin of incredulity against the testimony of Moses, will render them deserving of condemnation before God.
Joh 5:46 For if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also: for he wrote of me.
46. “For, if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe in Me.” The Greek word for “perhaps” (αν) is generally rendered, surely. Its meaning of “perhaps,” would indicate the liberty of action on the part of the believer, under the influence of Divine grace; but, certainty, as regards the effect or event. “For he wrote of Me.” Moses proclaimed our Lord as the Messiah, whom they should, if they believed in Moses’ words, receive as such. Special reference is made to Deut. 18:18, “I will raise them up a Prophet out of the midst of their brethren,” etc.; also, to the prophecy of Jacob (Genesis 49) and the several passages in the Pentateuch, referring to our Lord. The end, the scope of the Law and the Prophets, was Christ.
Joh 5:47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
47. “If you believe not his writings,” in My favour, which you receive as authoritative. If you believe not Him whom you place far above Me, “how will you believe My words?” not, My writings. Our Lord had not written anything, save the few words (John 8:6). Our Lord, here has recourse to an argumentum ad hominem, in which He makes a comparison between Himself and Moses, between words and writing. The Jews could easily have seen, that our Lord was referred to by Moses, had they approached this solemn subject, with the proper dispositions; or, had they not been blinded by jealousy and pride. Hence, their gross, affected ignorance was grievously culpable.