“He was the true Light, that which gives light (to) all men, coming into the world.”
The opinion of critical commentators is divided as to whether verse 9 of the Prologue should be considered as part of the excursus in vv. 6-8 (discussed in the previous note), or as an integral part of the underlying hymn. In my view, the former it to be preferred. I would include v. 9 as the climactic point of the statement in vv. 6ff, perhaps best rendered as an epexegetical clause rather than an independent sentence:
“There came to be a man, having been se(n)t forth from alongside God, (and the) name (given) to him (was) Yohanan. This (one) came unto [i.e. to be] a witness, (so) that he should give witness about the Light, (so) that all might trust through him. That (one) was not the Light, but (came so) that he might give witness about the Light—(he who) was the true Light, which gives light (to) every man, coming into the world.”
It is possible to read to\ fw=$ (“the light”) in v. 9 as the true subject, but I think it preferable to treat it as a nominative predicate (which still functions as the subject = the Logos). There are three component phrases to the statement in verse 9, and each of these should be examined.
1. h@n to\ fw=$ to\ a)lhqino/n (“[he who] was the true light”)
As I interpret this phrase, the subject is implicit, related to the clause in v. 8 and its final words to\ fw=$ (“the light”). As part of the comparison between John the Baptist and Jesus, built into vv. 6-9, it is clearly stated that John was not (ou)k h@n) the Light—which means that Jesus was (h@n) the Light. This continues the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue, where it is reserved for God. By definition, a human being (“man”) like John the Baptist cannot be in the way that God (or the Logos) is. Here, of course, the Prologue assumes the Gospel narrative, regarding the way that John the Baptist gave witness to Jesus (1:19ff, 29-34, 35ff; 3:22-30[ff]). Early Christians would understand vv. 6-8 as alluding to this, and so the rather abrupt syntactical transition, between verse 8 and 9, causes no real problem for the development of the thought. John gave witness to Jesus, the light, who was, indeed, the true Light (of God).
The adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”) is very much a Johannine keyword, along with the related adjective a)lhqh/$ and noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”). The noun a)lh/qeia occurs 25 times in the Gospel and another 20 in the Letters of John; the adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel and 3 in the Letters, while a)lhqino/$ is used 9 times in the Gospel and 4 in the Letters. Taken together, these three words occur 85 times in the Gospel and Letters (more than half of all NT occurrences ). The adjective a)lhqino/$ is even more distinctively Johannine; apart from the 23 occurrences in the Gospel and Letters, it occurs 10 times in the book of Revelation (often considered a Johannine writing), and just 5 times elsewhere in the New Testament.
As an adjective, a)lhqino/$ is used as a divine characteristic, as the statements in 17:3 and 1 Jn 5:20 make clear. Thus, when used in an illustrative context—e.g., “true light”, “true bread” (6:32), “true vine” (15:1)—the illustrations are meant to convey a sense of the divine substance that underlies the metaphor. Such an expository purpose is central to the form and function of the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, whereby Jesus, through the discourse process, explains the true/deeper meaning of his words. The specific light-metaphor occurs several more times in the Gospel, at key points in the narrative—3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5ff; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46—including at least one “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement by Jesus (8:12; 9:5). In all of these passages, Jesus clearly identifies himself as the “true light”, the Light of God. The expression “the true light” occurs again in 1 John 2:8, echoing the language and thought of the Prologue: “…the darkness leads (the way) along [i.e. passes by], and the true Light now shines”.
2. o^ fwti/zei pa/nta a&qrwpon (“which gives light [to] every man”)
This phrase essentially restates the thought expressed in verse 4b, where it was declared that the life (i.e., the Divine Life) in the Logos also “was the Light of men” (h@n to\ fw=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn). The only real difference here is that humankind is treated individually (“every man”) rather than collectively (“[all] men”). As previously discussed, this “light” is not the natural light of reason or intelligence, but the Light of God Himself. The pre-existent Logos possesses this same Divine Light, and it is through the Logos that God gives this Light to human beings. The verb fwti/zw is an active (transitive) verb derived from the root word fw=$ (“light”); the principal meaning is thus “give light”. Both noun and verb are fundamental to the Johannine theological vocabulary, and so their introduction here in the Prologue, as I indicated previously, is of some significance.
3. e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“coming into the world”)
It is not entirely clear whether the participle e)rxo/menon (“coming”) refers to the effective subject fw=$ (“light” = the Logos) or the object in the preceding phrase (“man”). Grammatically, the participle could be parsed as either nominative or accusative. If it modifies the object “man”, then the verse would read “…every man coming into the world”. However, in my view, the context overwhelmingly favors reading e)rxo/menon in the nominative case, referring back to “the true light”. It is thus the Light, represented by the Logos of God, that is “coming into the world”. This statement foreshadows what follows in verses 10-11ff, which we will begin discussing in the next daily note.
As a concluding thought, it is worth pointing out the traditional Messianic association with light. In particular, there are several passages in the book of Isaiah, which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense, where the motif of light is prominent—cf. especially, 9:2ff; 42:6; and 60:1-2ff. The Deutero-Isaian passages seem to have influenced the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:78-79; 2:32), where the light-motif is applied to Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew similarly cites Isa 9:2 to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:14-16).