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MOSES & JESUS:

Friends or Foes?

A Look at John 1.17

By Mark Horne

Copyright © 2002

For the law was given through Moses,
but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The above quotation is John 1.17 and comes from the New King James Version of the Bible. It is quite similar to the original translation in the old King James Version.

It is also entirely misleading.

The word “but” is an addition to the text. John’s Gospel does not contrast the Law of Moses with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. The New American Standard Bible is more accurate on this point:

For the Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

Is there an implied contrast between “Law” and “grace and truth” in this verse? Quite certainly there is. John is describing the difference between Moses and Jesus. Moses was the giver of the Law; Jesus was the mediator of grace and truth (i.e. he did not “give” them as Moses did but they were somehow manifested “through” him).

However, the nature of this contrast is not that of complete opposites. It is not the same as the difference between condemnation and vindication, for example, nor as the difference between guilt and forgiveness. On the contrary the difference between Law and grace and truth is the different between good and best.

To see this, let’s look at the broader context:

And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is become before me, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1.14-18; NASB with margin readings).

From verse 15 through 17 John gives us several different sorts of relationships between Jesus and John the Baptist and Jesus and Moses. A diagram might help us understand what John is saying:

John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying,

A. “This was He of whom

B. I said,

A. ‘He who comes

B. after me is become

B. before me,

A. for He existed

B. before me.’”

A. For of His fullness we have all received,

A. and grace

B. for grace [or “in place of grace”].

A. For the Law was given through Moses;

B. grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist comes as the last and greatest of the prophets in the line of Moses, but Jesus surpasses Moses and thus must surpass John. In John’s Gospel, this transition is summed up in verse 17b as “grace for grace” or “grace instead of grace.” Perhaps “grace in place of grace” would be clearer.

What John is teaching is that God was fundamentally gracious and loving in giving the Law through Moses but that Jesus manifests more grace and truth than what was in the Law. We have received greater grace through Jesus. Moses was good, but Jesus was better!

John is saying even more in this preface to his Gospel. Verse 14 has an allusion to an incident in the life of Moses. John writes “And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Then Moses said, “I pray you, show me [literally: “cause me to behold”] Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see my face, for no man can see me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take my hand away and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

…And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth… (Exodus 33.17-23, 34.5-7).

That last verse (34.7) could easily and accurately be translated from the original Hebrew as “…full of grace and truth.” John is saying in no uncertain terms that it was Jesus who met Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses gave the law because Jesus gave it to him first. It is no accident that John used the word for dwelling that the common Greek translation of the Old Testament in the first century used to describe God’s presence in the Tabernacle (v. 14). The Angel of the LORD who led Israel out of Egypt was Jesus before his incarnation.

Moses and Jesus are not enemies but friends. Their revelations of God are different because Jesus’ gives us greater grace.

To go back to Moses would be an unthinkable affront to God who has given us something better. Paul wrote the entire letter of Galatians to make sure people understood that simple point. But to portray Moses’ revelation as the antithesis of what Jesus revealed is also an unthinkable affront.

It is no accident, that John’s Gospel, having given us this prologue in favor of Moses also records Jesus’ accusation against the Jewish leaders:

Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (John 5.45-47)

The Law of Moses and the grace and truth of Jesus are not in contrast, but in a continuum.

Copyright © 2002



9 Comments »

  1. they were friends and and are friends
    amarjeet

    Comment by amarjeet singh — May 24, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  2. Absolutely, you must not imply that the law gives grace. you are implying when you say that the grace gives greater grace than the law. I am sorry to tell you this, emphatically the law as you know the scriptures will not lift a finger to help. So there is no more grace in law. If you think
    that the righteousnes of the law will save you or to do and believe that following the law in thers of what I do and what I avoid doing in light of the law will save you you are in error and therfore
    teaching false doctrine. I want you to take your opinion and your theology out of the internet since you do not know what the verse in clearly stating. tell me when did the Law gives grace since you say that grace is greater grace. Your implication that the law has some grace is erroneous and false teaching. God will hold you accountable to you erroneous teaching.

    Comment by Alex — July 22, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

  3. Me and Jesus are not friends
    it is actually impossible as he, nor i, never existed

    Comment by Moses — February 10, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  4. With respect, why do you assume the quote means one was “better” than the other? Maybe one came to concentrate His teachings on Law, one on Grace. Is air better than water? Both are essential. Do you see you are making an interpretation here that is irrelevant? Just a heads up.

    What if God is NOT in competition with “Himself” but sends guidance for us from time to time through Manifestations we call Prophets that can be compared with teachers in school? The teachers have all been to University, they are not better than each other, they just come at different points in the child’s maturity to teach her what she needs to know for that part of her life, right?

    In ANY Holy Books do ANY Prophets EVER put each other down? No. They all praise the ones before. And they ALL foretell of another coming. Check it out. If you look at the big picture, it is the only thing that makes real sense. Seriously….this “My Daddy is bigger than your Daddy” stuff is just getting old. And it’s not helping. If you want to do good in the world….look for what unites us, my friend, not what separates us. Anything else just gets us back to the sorry state we are in right now. Peace.

    Comment by Deborah — January 2, 2010 @ 3:37 am

  5. Alex – With all due respect. You’ve apparently been seminary trained (woefully antisemitic and narrow) and that’s all you know and still essentially Catholic. The Torah = His instructions in righteousness. There is plenty of grace in the Torah. It’s the dictionary of all YHWH’s terms – that’s why the Berean’s measured everything against it. It’s the only Scriptures that Jesus and the disciples knew. Grace is all over the Torah. Jesus was the mediator and atonement though which grace applied to our redemption and salvation. But Jesus was at the creation, at Mt Sinai, and was our atoning sacrifice. As Deborah says, the Father and the Son were in alignment and could not say different things. All one faith, one covenantal message, one Atonement, one instruction in righteousness, one God. The “New” covenant in Jer 31 was the more accurately in the Hebrew “renewed” covenant (as with the cycle of the moon) the Torah is not done away with – it is written on our hearts. The fulfillment of the Torah was Jesus as the perfect (kept the Torah perfectly) sacrificial lamb. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be obedient. As Paul says, we are bond servants
    and slaves to righteousness. We redeemed and atoned for disciples, doing what the Master did = Keep the commands of God His Father. We can’t keep it perfectly for salvation, but as Paul says “Should we sin all the more that grace may abound? May it never be.” He was talking about keeping the Torah = the only definition of sin that Jesus and the disciples knew. I John 3, Romans 5:14.

    Comment by Steve — January 28, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

  6. Alex – With all due respect. You’ve apparently been seminary or “church” trained and are just speaking what you’ve been taught. The Torah = His instructions in righteousness. There is plenty of grace in the Torah. It’s the dictionary of all YHWH’s terms – that’s why the Berean’s measured everything against it. It’s the only Scriptures that Jesus and the disciples knew. Grace is all over the Torah. Jesus was the mediator and atonement though which grace applied to our redemption and salvation. But Jesus was at the creation, at Mt Sinai, and was our atoning sacrifice. As Deborah says, the Father and the Son were in alignment and could not say different things. All one faith, one covenantal message, one Atonement, one instruction in righteousness, one God. The “New” covenant in Jer 31 was the more accurately in the Hebrew “renewed” covenant (as with the cycle of the moon) the Torah is not done away with – it is written on our hearts. The fulfillment of the Torah was Jesus as the perfect (kept the Torah perfectly) sacrificial lamb. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be obedient. As Paul says, we are bond servants
    and slaves to righteousness. We are redeemed and atoned for disciples, doing what the Master did = Keep the commands of God His Father. We can’t keep it perfectly for salvation, but as Paul says “Should we sin all the more that grace may abound? May it never be.” He was talking about keeping the Torah = the only definition of sin that Jesus and the disciples knew. I John 3, Romans 5:14.

    Comment by Steve — January 28, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

  7. Why is it that John says “No man has seen God at any time.” In the old testament God used to walk on earth and talk to people all the time. I may be incorrect, someone help me.

    Comment by Scott K — March 25, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

  8. Scott, you are taking the bible to literally . . . yes, God walked on earth, but He did so in Spirit.

    Comment by Cody N — November 17, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

  9. Now brethens lets reason together as one. Moses spoke about jesus and jesus spoke also about him. Why did moses ordered the people of israel that if they keep all thats in the law that it shall be counted to them as righteousness. Why did jesus say if u teach the least of the law u shall be called the least in heaven…. I believe we all understood the word “least” its not a good statement at all. Christianity as hated the laws of God since centuaries now. Always having it in their heart that its abolished or nailed to the cross. Now if u should trace back u will see that the law differenciated God’s people and other nations. Note: God’s people are those who are obedient to his command. What does the bible say or calls sin; its the trangression of the law. Why is it the laws. Paul who tries hard to strengthen the faith of the people concerning the commandment of God. Also spoke that do we make void the law. QUESTION; what would make u perfect in life. To be guided by a law or being lawless. Note: a lawless person is an uncontrolled person. One who is always found guilty and confused. What did john 1:1 says u not that. If u remember the most high instructed the people of israel to teach their children the law at sleep infact always day and night lecturing themselves. Can jesus who gave the law to moses trash his father’s commandments….

    Comment by nathaniel — February 28, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

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