Grace after Grace
“Because from His fullness we’ve all received, and grace after grace.
Because the Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.”
John 1:16, 17
A few comments on translation:
· The word translated “fullness” (Greek – pleroma) here probably has the same meaning as it does in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:19; 2:9), the completeness of Christ’s Deity.
· The word I translated “after” is usually translated “upon.” It is the Greek word anti, which usually means “instead of.” It is used in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) of a king succeeding his father. (So and so reigned anti his father so and so.) In other words we receive a succession of graces.
· The word I translated “came about” is a form of the Greek word ginomai. It doesn’t simply mean “came” in the sense of “arrived,” but often has the idea of “come into being,” which I believe is the sense here.
John has been talking about the preexistence and deity of “the Word” (1:1, 2), as well as His incarnation (1:14). In verse 17, he tells his readers who the Word is known as in His human form: Jesus Christ (Messiah). In verse 16, he says that Jesus is the source of graces which come on us in succession.
But in verse 17, he makes a radical claim. He draws an analogy between Moses and Jesus and their accomplishments. Moses was the giver of the Law. And certainly those who have read the first five books of the Bible know the accounts of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Of course, there was law before Moses, but he is the one through whom God delivered His covenant Law to Israel.
In similar fashion, though God had always been characterized by grace and truth, it is the Word, Jesus Christ through whom God brought His grace into being.
Of course, we know, from reading the Gospels, as well as from our own experience, that Jesus is the embodiment of grace and truth. But it seems that John is speaking of even more than the New Testament experience. It was through the Word, the One who is referred to by Christians as the Second Person of the Trinity, that God exercised His grace in the Old Testament.
The next verse adds to this claim: “No one has seen God at any time; the unique God (some manuscripts have “Son” here) who is in the Father’s bosom, He has explained Him” (1:18).
From this, it would seem that we could conclude that in those instances where God appeared in the Old Testament, it was the Word, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity that was seen. So then, God’s appearances and His works of grace in the Old Testament period were actually the appearances and works of the Son.