In John 6:36-40 Jesus makes a statement about the nature of salvation as it relates to man’s inability in his falleness to come to and believe in Christ, and as it relates to God’s gracious and efficacious sovereignty through the work of Jesus. Because of fallen man’s state of being dead in sin, he will not and cannot come to or believe in Christ for salvation because it is utterly unappealing to his sinful nature. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the Father to elect those whom he would graciously save. He must efficaciously cause them to come to Christ in faith so that Jesus might secure for them salvation which is culminated when he raises them up at the last day. And, this salvation through the work of Christ is completely certain and trustworthy because it is a cooperative act between the Father and the Son. This co-operation between the Father and Son not only authenticates Christ’s work but shows that he himself is divine. In short, the thesis of this paper is that in John 6:36-40 Jesus highlights man’s unbelief toward Christ, and that therefore his only hope of salvation is for God to sovereignly and efficaciously cause him to come to Christ in whom he has a sure salvation on the basis of Christ’s divine status as the Father’s co-worker.
As we look at the text we will unpack this by looking at it from its broader contexts to its more narrow contexts. We will begin by looking at the overall purpose of the book as a whole in light of redemptive history and canonical development. Next we will look at the overarching structure of the book to find the place of the pericope in the overall flow. Finally, we will look at the particular role that our text plays in its place and how our passage executes that purpose by carefully analyzing each of its points.
John’s Gospel in Redemptive Historical and Canonical Development
Most basically, the purpose of John’s Gospel in redemptive history is to proclaim the coming of the Messiah in whom all of the Old Testament (OT) promises and types are fulfilled, thus completing the work necessary for the salvation of God’s people in the establishment of his kingdom. Jesus fulfills the promise of a savior to undo the fall of man into judgment and separation from God recorded in the first proclamation of the Gospel (Genesis 3:15; cf. John 12:27-31). Jesus is the fulfillment of the type of Christ pictured in Moses whom God used to deliver His people from bondage and bring them through the trial of the wilderness into the promise land where they would experience the Sabbath rest of God (Deuteronomy 18:15; cf. John 6:14, 49-51; Acts 3:19-22; 7:34-37; Hebrews 3-4). Jesus is also the fulfillment of the Israelite theocratic offices of prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15; Hebrews 1:1; cf. John 1:18), priest – and the ceremonial laws administered by the priests – (Hebrews 9:11-26; cf. John 1:29), and king (Ezekiel 37:24;
Jeremiah 30:9; cf. John 6:15; 18:36-37; Ephesians 4:8-10). So, it is in Christ that the purposes of God testified of in the OT types and promises find their ultimate fulfillment and it is only through faith in Christ that we can be included in the realization of the true Kingdom of God which the entire OT anticipated. This is what John encourages his readers toward (John 20:31; cf. 19:35).
This content of John’s Gospel seems to clearly assume the biblical literacy of its readership. In their New Testament (NT) Introduction, Carson and Moo even go so far as to say that John’s Gospel “…aims in particular to evangelize Diaspora Jews and Jewish proselytes” (as apposed to the Gospel of Mark, for instance, which they see as written to Roman Gentiles). This would explain the strong allusion to OT Messianic themes in John.
The purpose of John’s Gospel also seems to be shaped by its place in the development of the canon; particularly considering the late date of its writing relative to the synoptic Gospels. Based on references by the early church fathers, an arguably developed theology, and certain internal and external evidences, we can be fairly confident of dating John anywhere from 80 to 90 A.D. Whatever, the precise date of John’s Gospel is, it is relatively certain that it was written after the other Gospels. This can help shed significant light on the purpose of the Gospel.
Much has been written on whether or not John drew from synoptics and their sources or not. While that goes beyond the bounds of our purposes, it seems that John’s Gospel was written as a supplement to the content of the earlier Gospels. This explains why there is so much unique content in John. In his Survey of the New Testament, Benware notes: “The fact that 92 percent of John’s material is not found in the synoptics reveals that John consciously avoided repeating their material.” While this would mean that John was familiar with the other Gospels, it would not necessarily mean that he depended on them for his own content except to communicate information and themes in the life of Christ that was not utilized by the other evangelists.
While Matthew seems to have been written to proclaim Jesus as the promised Messianic King of the Jews, Mark that Jesus is the Suffering Servant Savior, and Luke that Jesus is the perfect human Son of Man; John seems to have been written with a notably more developed Christology, supplementing the content of the synoptics and proclaiming Christ as the Son of God. This more developed Christology seems to play a significant role in John, not only in the identity of Christ, but also in the stereological theme of his authority and power to save because of his oneness with the Father.
Thus, the general purpose of the book is to bear witness that in Christ the purposes of God testified of in the OT types and promises find their ultimate fulfillment and that because of his divinity seen in his oneness with the Father, our inclusion in this realization, through faith in him, certain. John sums this up in the words “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
The Structure of John’s Gospel
Now we can look at the structure of the book to see how it communicates these truths, and specifically the role that our text plays in that structure. Once we have broken down the work into its major sections, we will be able to clearly see the unique focus and meaning of John 6:36-40.
There is a notable amount of agreement on the basic structure of the Gospel of John. When one looks at the text, it becomes obvious why. Carson puts it well when he writes, “On the face of it, the Fourth Gospel offers a prologue (1:1-18) and an epilogue or appendix (21:1-25), between which are two central sections, 1:19-12:50 and 13:1-20:31.”
There are several clear discourse markers that give this Gospel a discernable structure. In 1:1-18 we clearly see what serves as a prologue to the work. This is demonstrated by the fact that the content of these verses lays out the major themes of the Gospel. There is also what seems to be a clear inclusio in verses 1 and 18 which bookends a chiastic structure, thus presenting 1:1-18 as an important unified section.
Next, the first major section in the body of the book is 1:19-12:50. The purpose of this section is to unfold the narratives and discourses of Jesus’ ministry which reveal him as the coming Messiah but are characterized by mounting unbelief and ultimate rejection of Jesus by his own (the themes of verses 1-11 in the prologue).
There is a clear thematic shift in 13:1-20:31 where John transitions to the theme of Christ accomplishing his work through his suffering and glorification, thus perfectly providing salvation for his own despite the utter helplessness of man: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
The last section of John’s Gospel is the epilogue. The purpose of this unit is summed up well by Carson and Moo: “The epilogue (21:1-25) not only ties up several loose ends (e.g., Peter’s restoration to service) but, in symbolic ways, it points to the growth of the church and the diversity of gifts and callings within the church.”
When exegetes begin to delve into the substructure of John’s Gospel there arises a greater difference of opinion. However, for our purposes, the above basic outline is sufficient to understand the role of chapter six in the Gospel.
Chapter six is one self contained unit in the first main section of the body of the Gospel (1:19-12:50). While several commentators do not explicitly set John 6 apart as a unified section, there are no significant arguments against seeing it as such. Furthermore, there are several indications that clearly show this. The temporal and geographical discourse markers “Meta. tau/ta avph/lqen o` VIhsou/j pe,ran th/j qala,sshj th/j Galilai,aj th/j Tiberia,doj” (John 6:1) and “meta. tau/ta periepa,tei o` VIhsou/j evn th/| Galilai,a|” (John 7:1) show chapter six as one unit. Also, the theme of Christ as the bread of life unifies the chapter.
Finally, we come to the issue of the particular function of chapter six in the first major section of the body of the Gospel. As we noted above, the purpose of 1:19-12:50 is to unfold the narratives and discourses of Jesus’ ministry which reveal him as the coming Messiah but are characterized by mounting unbelief and ultimate rejection of Jesus by his own. In this section John selects seven signs to demonstrate this, the fifth of which is the feeding of the five thousand. Thus, chapter six serves to drive forward the revelation of Christ as the promised Messiah by highlighting him as the ultimate prophet-king prefigured in Moses under whose ministry God fed Israel in the wilderness. And this is done in the bread of life narrative and discourse sections.
At the same time, it also serves to show the utter helplessness of man to contribute anything to his salvation by showing that even this seemingly promising crowd had unbelieving hearts that were deeply apposed to Christ. Therefore, man’s only hope of salvation is dependant on the sovereign, gracious, and efficacious election of the Father in the Son.
The Purpose of 6:36-40 in Chapter Six
Before we jump into the function of this text in the immediate context, it will be helpful to briefly discuss the delineation of the pericope. There have been several suggestions with reference to this issue. The United Bible Society Greek New Testament 4th Edition delineates verses 34-40, the ESV delineates 35-40, while The Nestle-Aland 27th Edition delineates 36-40, to name a few.
The reason for choosing the 6:36-40 delineation is supported by several features in the text. Perhaps the first thing one might notice is that “The present verses constitute a break in Jesus’ discussion of the living ‘bread.’ Before returning to this topic, he addresses the Jews persistent unbelief.” In other words, there is a clear departure from the focus on Jesus as the bread of life. In these verses we see Jesus focusing specifically on the reaction of the crowd to the truths of this chapter as well as man’s only hope for salvation in light of his unbelief. This is seen in the use of the very strong disjunctive particle VAllV (John 6:36) which serves as a clear transition from the preceding verse.
This is further demonstrated when it is noted that the phrase evgw, eivmi o` a;rtoj th/j zwh/j (John 6:35) is basically repeated in evgw, eivmi o` a;rtoj o` kataba.j evk tou/ ouvranou (Joh 6:41), thus showing that the departure from the focus on Jesus as the bread of life is now being resumed in verses 41 and following.
Now we focus on our text to ask the question of how it fits into the purpose of chapter 6. First of all, we can see a clear division of chapter six into two basic sections: (1) Verses 1-24 describe the narrative events that show Jesus to be the bread of life; (2) verses 25-71 give the discourse that explains the significance of those narrative events as well as the responses of those present.
Our text falls with in the second section of the chapter and thus is concerned primarily with discourse. The basic break down of this section is as follows: 21-25 describes a temporal and geographical change in the chapter which serves as a transitional marker in the chapter from narrative to discourse. Jesus uses this event of the crowd crossing the Sea of Galilee to find him as a spring board to point out that even this act of what seems to be genuine seeking and belief is actually characterized by spiritual blindness and is ultimately just another form of unbelief (cf. verse 26).
The next segment consists of verses 26-35. This contains the conversation between the crowd and Jesus in which the misunderstanding of the crowed is demonstrated by their words and pointed out and corrected by Jesus’ words.
The verses that make up our text, 36-40, then focus on man’s unbelieving response to Christ as the bread of life and to explain that rejection by highlighting man’s utter need for God’s sovereign and efficacious gift of salvation through the divine Son of God. This is the first and most extensive of three similar statements in the chapter (cf. vs. 44, 65). Therefore this section, serves to explicitly point out and explain man’s unbelief which culminates with the crowd in verses 41-42 and culminates even with many of his disciples in verses 60-66. It also anticipates the sovereign and efficacious work of grace in those who have been given to Christ by the Father (67-71).
The truths highlighted by Jesus’ discourse in our text also serve to anticipate the outworking of those truths which unfold in the rest of the Gospel. It anticipates the final and ultimate rejection of Christ by his people (John 19:15-16; cf. 19:6). It also anticipates the faithfulness of Christ to secure salvation for those who are his (John 17:12; cf. 18:9).
Thus we see the full context that has served to shape the meaning and purpose of John 6:36-40 which builds on what precedes and anticipates what follows. Now let us look at exactly how our passage executes that purpose by carefully analyzing each of its points which have been stated in the thesis of this paper: In John 6:36-40 Jesus highlights (1) man’s unbelief toward Christ, and that therefore (2) his only hope of salvation is for God to sovereignly and efficaciously cause him to come to Christ (3) in whom he has a sure salvation on the basis of Christ’s divine status as the Father’s co-worker.
Man’s Unbelief toward Christ
Of all the crowds that an evangelist would hope for, it doesn’t seem to get better than this (at least from a human perspective). They were intrigued by Jesus’ signs of healing (v. 2), they called him Rabbi (v. 25), they crossed the Sea of Galilee looking for him (v. 24), they even saw him as the fulfillment of the prophet promised through Moses (v. 14)! Jesus, however, sees this as the perfect opportunity to highlight the fact that even the most promising indications of faith, when they are not based in God’s sovereign grace, turn out to be nothing more than utter unbelief disguised as faith.
The words ei=pon u`mi/n o[ti kai. e`wra,kate, ÎmeÐ kai. ouv pisteu,ete (John 6:36) raises the question: When did Jesus say this? It seems that much of the question can be answered by dealing with the text critical issue regarding me. The omission or inclusion of the word does not significantly affect the meaning of the text. This variant is only a difficulty if we insist on finding a direct quotation that Jesus is referring back to. Kostenberger falls into this error when he suggests “The precise referent of ‘I told you’ in 6:36 is unclear; it is possible that the original occasion is not recorded in this Gospel.”
It is clear that Jesus is here referring back to v. 26 in which Jesus discerns the true motive behind the crowd’s seeking of him. In other words, Jesus’ statement in verse 26 was more than just an observation about the crowds desire to eat food. He was implicitly denouncing them for unbelief which manifested itself in a completely inappropriate response to the sign of the feeding of the five thousand. This is referent of ei=pon u`mi/n.
The crowd had severe misconceptions about Christ that ultimately amounted to unbelief. The essence of their unbelief was to think that Jesus as the Messiah was merely another Moses who would give them physical deliverance from human tormentors, physical, perishing sustenance, and an earthy, temporal kingdom.
The crowd was drawing a parallel between Moses and Christ which they based primarily on the similarity of Jesus’ sign of miraculously feeding them on the countryside to the manna which God miraculously provided for Israel in the wilderness under Moses’ ministry. They were attracted by the signs of healing which Jesus had been doing earlier (6:2), but 6:14 says that it was the feeding of the five thousand that caused them to see Jesus as the Messianic fulfillment of Deut 18:15 where God told the Israelites through Moses that he would raise up another prophet like him.
6:15 goes on to make it clear that the crowd was seeing him as a parallel to Moses not only in the feeding of the five thousand, but also in the military conquest that Moses was leading the people of Israel toward. They wanted Jesus to lead them in the military overthrow of the Romans and to restore the Israelite theocracy.
This anti-Roman attitude had been festering ever since Rome took control of Israel. The Psalms of Solomon was a Jewish writing from around 63 BC (the time of the Roman conquest of Israel) which is “the first Jewish writing to express complete hostility toward Rome. The author expresses the ardent expectation of a righteous Davidic king-messiah who would deliver the holy land from unholy enemies.” This sentiment was so strong that many of the Jews continued to zealously hold to it well into the first century which is clearly seen in the later Jewish revolts against Roman rule.
Carson sums up Jesus words well when he writes, “This crowd has witnessed the divine revealer at work, but only their curiosity, appetites, and political ambitions have been aroused, not their faith.”
Christ is here focusing on the unbelief of this specific crowd based on their reaction to the sign they saw. However, this anticipates Jesus’ statement on the universality of man’s helpless state of unbelief in the words ouvdei.j du,natai evlqei/n pro,j me eva.n mh. o` path.r o` pe,myaj me e`lku,sh| auvto,n (John 6:44).
Man’s Only Hope
It is this dismal fact concerning the universal inability of man to come to and believe in Christ that leads to the next point in our text. Jesus now turns this sad realization on its head by asserting that God’s purposes to save are not thwarted by man’s unbelieving disposition. Rather, man’s miserable situation only serves to highlight that his only hope is in God’s sovereign and efficacious drawing to Christ. “Whatever Jesus’ hearers may think of him, there are others who will ‘come to him,’ namely those whom God will bring to him as his own.”
Jesus here lays out a clear line of thought that begins with the will of the father which efficaciously produces its intended result and is lasting and sure. The phrase pa/n o] di,dwsi,n moi o` path.r (John 6:37) clearly assumes the reality of the fact that there is a particular group of people whom the Father has given to the Son. It is on this basis alone that the problem of man’s unbelief can be solved. And, those whom the Father has given to the Son will most certainly believe and be saved. Jesus communicates this by using the future indicative h[xei (John 6:37). This tense is most commonly used “indicate that something will take place or come to pass.”
The lexeme h[kw here is being used parallel to pisteu,ete from verse 36 (cf. v. 35). There is a clear irony expressed here in the fact that, while this crowd of people has gone so far as to cross the Sea of Galilee in search of Jesus, they have not truly come to him at all. This is because the Father has not given them to the Son and effected this transformation in them. If he had, they would believe. This shows the error in the comments of some to say that this verse communicates the Father’s “intention for all humanity,” for if it were, then all humanity would necessarily be saved.
The surety of the Father’s will regarding those whom he has given to the Son is clearly expressed in several notable features. The first is the phrase to.n evrco,menon pro.j evme. ouv mh. evkba,lw e;xw (John 6:37). Carson describes this as “a ‘litotes’, a figure of speech in which something is affirmed by negating its contrary,” the affirmation thus being, “whoever comes to me I will certainly keep in, preserve.”
In addition to this is the use of the emphatic negation subjunctive ouv mh. evkba,lw e;xw. The construction of this is ouv mh. plus the aorist subjunctive. Wallace points out that this construction “rules out even the idea as being a possibility” and notes that “a soteriological theme is frequently found in such statements, especially in John: what is negatived is the possibility of the loss of salvation.”
Furthermore, Carson notes that the certainty of salvation for those who are given to the Son by the Father is further accented by the use of evkba,lw which “In almost all of its parallel occurrences, it is presupposed that what is driven out or cast out is already ‘in.’ ‘I will never drive away’ therefore means ‘I will certainly keep in.’”
Carson summarizes this second point made by Jesus very well when he writes, “However many people do not believe, God’s saving purposes cannot be thought to be frustrated. Jesus’ confidence does not rest in the potential for positive response amongst well-meaning people. Far from it: his confidence is in his Father to bring to pass the Father’s redemptive purposes.”
The Certainty of Salvation in Christ
While the certainty of salvation for those whom the Father has given to Christ has already been emphatically stated, Jesus now goes on to explain why that is the case. Jesus substantiates the certainty of salvation through himself on the basis of his own divinity seen in his having “come down from heaven” (v. 38) and in his co-operation with the Father in the work of salvation. Lastly, Christ shows this certainty of the salvation of his own by stating that it is characterized by none being lost, but being raised up th/| evsca,th| h`me,ra| (John 6:39).
The o[ti at the beginning of verse 38 is a clear marker telling us that Jesus is going to explain the preceding. Jesus explains “katabe,bhka avpo. tou/ ouvranou/” (John 6:38). This phrase is a clear claim to deity. First of all, katabai,nw was used with ouvrano,j in ANE cosmology in reference to deity. In the LXX it is used of God (e.g. Exodus 3:8; cf. Acts 7:34). Finally, “In John it is primarily the Son of Man himself who has come down from heaven… [and] is also emphasized repeatedly in the ‘bread speech’ of 6:22-59.” Thus, Jesus here is clearly drawing attention to himself as the divine and therefore utterly competent to save.
He continues this substantiation of his ability to save based on his divinity by pointing to his co-operation with the Father in the fact that he is doing the will of the Father who sent him. This is seen in the phrase ouvc i[na poiw/ to. qe,lhma to. evmo.n avlla. to. qe,lhma tou/ pe,myanto,j me (John 6:38).
The most obvious implication of Christ coming to do the will of the Father is that, because of the omnipotence of the Father, it will most certainly be accomplished. Beyond that, however, Jesus actually shows himself to have the same authority as the Father in the fact that the Father sent him. H. Ritt notes that pe,mpw can express the same idea as avposte,llw which J.A. Buhner describes as used by John as “the basis for Christological legitimation… the sending discloses the unique manner in which the Son is bound to the Father.”
Furthermore, this oneness of the Father and Son expressed by their co-operation in salvation also signifies that the Son himself has the authority of the Father (cf. John 5:17-18) attests to his deity (John 10:30-33). In fact, the co-operation of Christ with the Father in the plan of salvation necessitates Jesus’ deity, especially in light of the whole purpose of this passage: namely that man is unable to attain salvation and that it is only in God alone that he can find hope.
Lastly, Jesus demonstrates the certainty of his work of Salvation for those whom the Father has given to him by pointing out that this salvation is characterized by none being lost, but being raised up in the last day. Verse 39 contains both of these statements and elaborates on “to. qe,lhma tou/ pe,myanto,j me” from verse 38. And, finally, verse 40 reiterates Christ raising up those who see and believe in him. Thus, “John 6:40 brings closure to the unit started with 6:35 by summarizing 6:35-39.”
In verse 39 to. qe,lhma is functioning as the predicate nominative in relation to the subject tou/to, of which the clear antecedent is the second to. qe,lhma in 38, thus clearly demonstrating that verse 39 is an elaboration on 38 for the purpose of further elucidating the certainty of salvation in Christ. John then uses the content clause, “i[na pa/n o] de,dwke,n moi mh. avpole,sw evx auvtou…” (39), to modify to. qe,lhma by apposition. Thus, we can clearly see Jesus next point in demonstrating the efficacious salvation that he gives: those who receive it will not be lost. Verse 37 describes salvation in Christ as state in which God’s loving disposition toward the saved will never change. The Son, to whom the Father has committed judgment (John 5:22, 27), will never cast them out. Thus, while the statement in 37 makes clear that there is no possible way that salvation in Christ can be undone for reasons internal to God, this statement shows that neither is it possible for any external reasons. This serves to emphatically proclaim the utter security of those who are in Christ which absolutely nothing can undo (cf. Romans 8:35-39).
The thing that will certainly not happen to one who has salvation in Christ (Christ will lose none) is now rounded out by what certainly will happen: Christ will raise them up at the last day. This clear reference to the last day spoken of in Daniel 12:2-3 which describes an eternal eschatological state. This language forms the final declaration of Jesus’ demonstration of the insurmountably certain salvation that is found in him. The phrase evn th/| evsca,th| h`me,ra has clear allusion to the OT usages of hw"+hy> ~Ayæ. While this indicates judgment for those who are not in right relationship with Yahweh, it indicates eternal consummate rest for those who are (e.g. Obadiah 1:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5; cf. Isaiah 13:6-14:7; Jeremiah 46:10).
Now, having thoroughly demonstrated the certainty of the salvation Christ provides, Jesus now transitions to an emphatic close by reiterating the argument in verse 40 with one obvious difference. Carson notes that “the one whom the Son will not lose, whom he raises up at the last day, is here described, not in terms of the gift of the Father to the Son (as in vv. 37, 39), but in terms of personal faith.” The new description here o` qewrw/n (A’) to.n ui`o.n kai. pisteu,wn (B’) (John 6:40) seems to serve as an A,B/A’,B’ inclusio with e`wra,kate, (A) ÎmeÐ kai. ouv pisteu,ete (B) (John 6:36). It is also noted that “The relationship between ‘seeing’ and ‘believing’ in 6:40 is both positive (in contrast to 6:36) and close (Bultman goes so far as to identify it as hendiadys).”
So, we have surveyed the supporting context, near to far. We have seen John 6:36-40 in its immediate context. We found it in the self contained unit of the feeding of the five thousand narrative and bread of life discourse in John 6 which it served to explain.
We looked at John 6 in the overall context of the Gospel. In this context it served to provide a lucid discourse by Jesus, describing the mounting unbelief being exemplified in the preceding material as well as to anticipate the ultimate rejection of Christ by his people in the crucifixion. It also served as a discourse to show how this utter unbelief necessitates a salvation that can only be given and secured by the God-man Jesus which was proclaimed in the prologue and realized in the resurrection.
Thus, we have come full circle. We are now left with the resounding theme of our passage: in John 6:36-40 Jesus highlights man’s unbelief toward Christ, and that therefore his only hope of salvation is for God to sovereignly and efficaciously cause him to come to Christ in whom he has a sure salvation on the basis of Christ’s divine status as the Father’s co-worker.
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