16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
JOHN 1:16 ESV
16 ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν, καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος·
JOHN 1:16 SBLGNT
From the early witnessing of John the Baptist, here we see the author provides his views which acts as a transition from the Baptist to the author was not intended to misplace verse 15 as a misplaced insertion but as the author talks about the ‘unseen’, provides a parallel representation from an apostolic and prophetic witness. John the Baptist finds himself in a demarcation between the cosmological and historical strands of the author plot, and his witness is foundational to the Gospel’s witness, as described in Karl Barth book, Witness to the World.
“Verses 16 to 18 are expositions of the basic statement of verse 15, acting as part of the prologue, which in this final section serves to exhibit the uniqueness of the Logos.“
The author declares “ For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”, “16 ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν, καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος· The word ‘fullness’ , πληρώματος, occurs only once in the Gospel of John and refers directly back to verse 14 who is the reference who is “full of grace and truth,” and ‘we all’ are the recipient of this ‘fullness’ that now accepted not only for the ‘we’ of verse 14 but for all True Christians.
The narrative reveals that all Christians have gathered in the fullness of Christ, and therefore look towards the arrival of the Spirit. (verse 14:15-18)
“15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
The everlasting fullness from delivered by God is eternal and will never diminish as the ‘his’, αὐτοῦ binds the ‘fullness’ to the Logos and the entire introduction given by the author.
“Grace upon grace”, καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος, received is a verse that has had various interpretation challenges, which we will avoid and understand the abundant grace of God from the Old Testament, that is summed up in the revelation of the divinity of the Logos.
David Brown, A. R. Fausset, and Robert Jamieson, in their commentary in “A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments: Matthew–John, vol. V”, write,
have all we received, and grace for grace [χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος]—that is, as we say, ‘grace upon grace;’ in successive communications and larger measures, as each was able to take it in. So the best critics understand the clause: other and older interpretations are less natural, and not more accordant with the Greek. The word “truth,” it will be observed, is dropt here; and “GRACE” stands alone, as the chosen New Testament word for “all spiritual blessings” with which believers are enriched out of the fullness of Christ.
And grace for grace. Augustine’s exposition of this verse is well known. He says that the continued blessings of God, and finally life eternal itself, are not rewards due us because of our merits, but acts of divine generosity with which by grace God rewards what we do and crowns his gifts to us.
Joseph Haroutunian and Louise Pettibone Smith, Calvin: Commentaries, offers this commentary,
“But I myself agree with those who believe that it refers to the graces which are poured out in Christ, and over us like water upon a dry land. But, even while we receive these graces from Christ, he does not act as God (who is the source) but rather as the channel through which the bountiful Father pours them upon us. So it is that he was anointed for our sake, to anoint us all with him: wherefore, he was called Christ and we, Christians.”
The way to abound in grace is to seek grace for ourselves and give it to others. We will never lack for grace this way, for Christ abounds in grace.
“From his fullness, we have all received,” John writes, “grace upon grace.” Martin Luther said, in Luther’s Works, vol. 22, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 1–4, “This fountain is inexhaustible; it is full of grace and Truth before God; it never fails no matter how much we draw from it.… It remains a perennial fount of all grace and Truth, an unfathomable well, an eternal fountain. The more we draw from it, the more it gives.”
The question arises now, as Christians today, we stand as witnesses to the evidential Truth of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no subjective assumption or an ‘a priori’ derivative in assuming the Truth. We are living in the reality of this reality as the author spoke about seeing the glory of the incarnate Word, a glory that was ‘full of grace and truth’ and in 1:16, he speaks not about seeing that grace but of receiving it: From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. Using the first-person plural, ‘we’, the evangelist identifies himself with others, so we hear the testimony of the first witnesses coming down to us across the centuries. They experienced ‘the fullness of his grace’ as ‘one blessing after another (charis anti charitos), which translated, would read ‘one blessing instead of another, or ‘one blessing replacing another’.
The Light has revealed the Truth, and we are without excuse.