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In John 1:16, it is written,

And we all received from his fullness, and grace in place of grace.

καὶ ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος

What is "the fullness" (τὸ πλήρωμα) of our Lord Jesus Christ from which the author and his companions received?

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  • I'm reading Nestle-Aland 28 and I see a ὅτι in place of your initial καὶ. I wonder what explains the difference in word choice between the Textus Receptus and the NA28. – ktm5124 Aug 26 '17 at 0:49
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Most English Bible translations see this as "from his fullness' or something similar. In other words, it is not not fullness that is received, but grace from the Lord. I think the Bible in Basic English expresses this best (John 1:16):

From his full measure we have all been given grace on grace.

On translations such as this, 'fullness' is a quantification of God's unlimited grace, from which we receive our share.

MacLaren's Exposition comes independently to the same interpretation:

The ‘fulness’ here seems to mean that of which the Incarnate Word was full, the ‘grace and truth’ which dwelt without measure in Him; the unlimited and absolute completeness and abundance of divine powers and glories which ‘tabernacled’ in Him.

At the same link, Ellicott's commentary gives essentially the same meaning, but using somewhat different words.

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  • You're so right. Can't believe I missed the ἐκ. I need some coffee. :( Let me edit the original post. – user862 Jan 10 '15 at 21:24
  • Can you elaborate how you came to the concusion that "'fullness' is a quantification of God's unlimited grace"? – user862 Jan 10 '15 at 21:27
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 On your first comment - you're welcome. We all make these mistakes, me as much as anyone. (I was actually wondering what version of the Bible you were quoting, since I was unfamiliar with John 1:16 in this format.) – Dick Harfield Jan 10 '15 at 22:51
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 Your second - The various translations hopefully tell me what expert linguists take from the verse. Other, equally relevant translations might be capable of different interpretations, but the Bible in Basic English, written in a very comprehensible but not artificial way, made sense of the verse and its context in terms that probably also reflected the intention of the other translations. To me, that says fullness is "God's unlimited grace, from which we receive our share." – Dick Harfield Jan 10 '15 at 22:56
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    I would like to award you a best answer. But, I need to you somehow someway connect "God's unlimited grace" to "his fullness." I understand the commentary in your Bible is making that claim, but they too must have a basis on which they make the claim. I'd like to know the basis. If they cannot connect the dots, then I have to question their interpretation. The best answer will show the work. – user862 Jan 10 '15 at 23:16
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In John 1:16, it is written,

And we all received from his fullness, and grace in place of grace.

καὶ ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος

Literary Context

Of primary importance is the meaning of the Greek word τοῦ πληρώματος (lemma: τὸ πλήρωμα) in this context. The Greek word τὸ πλήρωμα occurs a total of 17 times in the Textus Receptus, but it only occurs once in the Gospel of John and Johannine epistles, here in John 1:16. Therefore, we're not able to deduce any further meaning from its own use elsewhere in the same book.

Lexical Analysis

Thayer (p. 518) defines the Greek word πλήρωμα as follows:

πλήρωμα, -τος, τό, (πληρόω), Sept. for מְלֹא;

  1. etymologically it has a passive sense, that which is (or has been) filled; very rarely so in class. Grk.: a ship, inasmuch as it is filled (i. e. manned) with sailors, rowers, and soldiers; ἀπὸ δύο πληρωμάτων ἐμάχοντο, Lcian. ver. hist. 2, 37; πέντε εἶχον πληρώματα, ibid. 38. In the N. T. the body of believers, as that which is filled with the presence, power, agency, riches of God and of Christ: τοῦ Χριστοῦ, Eph. 4:13 (see ἡλικία, 1 c. [cf. W. § 30, 3 N. 1; B. 155 (136)]); 1:23; εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ θεοῦ, that ye may become a body wholly filled and flooded by God, Eph. 3:19 [but WH mrg. reads πληρωθῇ πᾶν τὸ πλ.].

  2. that which fills or with which a thing is filled: so very frequently in class. Grk. fr. Hdt. down; esp. of those things with which ships are filled, freight and merchandise, sailors, oarsmen, soldiers, [cf. our ‘complement’ (yet cf. Bp. Lghtft. as below p. 258 sq.)], (of the animals filling Noah’s ark, Philo de vit. Moys. ii. §12); πλήρωμα πόλεως, the inhabitants or population filling a city, Plat. de rep. 2 p. 371 e.; Aristot. polit. 3, 13 p. 1284a, 5; 4, 4 p. 1291a, 17; al. So in the N. T. ἡ γῆ καὶ τὸ πλήρωμα αὐτῆς, whatever fills the earth or is contained in it, 1 Co. 10:26, 28 Rec. (Ps. 23 (24):1; 49 (50):12; Jer. 8:16; Ezek. 12:19, etc.; τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θαλάσσης, Ps. 95 (96):11; 1 Chr. 16:32); κοφίνων πληρώματα, those things with which the baskets were filled, [basketfuls], Mk. 6:43 T Tr WH [on this pass. cf. Bp. Lghtft. as below p. 260]; also σπυρίδων πληρώματα, Mk. 8:20; the filling (Lat. complementum) by which a gap is filled up, Mt. 9:16; Mk. 2:21; that by which a loss is repaired, spoken of the reception of all the Jews into the kingdom of God (see ἥττημα, 1), Ro. 11:12. Of time (see πληρόω, 2 b. α.), that portion of time by which a longer antecedent period is completed; hence completeness, fulness, of time: τοῦ χρόνου, Gal. 4:4; τῶν καιρῶν, Eph. 1:10 (on which see οἰκονομία).

  3. fulness, abundance: Jn. 1:16; Col. 1:19; 2:9; full number, Ro. 11:25.

  4. i. q. πλήρωσις (see καύχημα, 2), i. e. a fulfilling, keeping: τοῦ νόμου (see πληρόω, 2 c. α.), Ro. 13:10. For a full discussion of this word see Fritzsche, Ep. ad Rom. 2. p. 469 sqq.; [esp. Bp. Lghtft. Com. on Col. p. 257 sqq.].*

Bauer and Danker (p. 830) define the word as follows:

πλήρωμα, ατος, τό (πληρόω; Eur., Hdt. et al.; ins, pap, LXX, Philo; Mel., P. 40, 279).

  1. that which fills

(a) that which fills (up) (Eur., Ion 1051 κρατήρων πληρώματα; Hippocr., Aër. 7 τὸ πλ. τῆς γαστρός. Esp. oft. of a crew or cargo of ships since Thu. 7, 12, 3; 14, 1) ἡ γῆ καὶ τὸ πλ. αὐτῆς the earth and everything that is in it 1 Cor 10:26; 1 Cl 54:3 (both Ps 23:1, as also Did., Gen. 74, 8). ἦραν κλάσματα δώδεκα κοφίνων πληρώματα they gathered (enough) pieces to fill twelve baskets, twelve basketfuls of pieces Mk 6:43; cp. 8:20 (s. Eccl 4:6; EBishop, ET 60, ’48, 192f).

(b) that which makes someth. full/complete, supplement, complement (Appian, Mithr. 47 §185 τὰ τῶν γυναικῶν πάντα ἐς τὸ πλήρωμα τῶν δισχιλίων ταλάντων συνέφερον) lit. of the patch on a garment Mt 9:16; Mk 2:21 (FSynge, ET 56, ’44/45, 26f).—Fig., perh., of the church which, as the body, is τὸ πλ., the complement of Christ, who is the head Eph 1:23 (so Chrysostom. The word could be understood in a similar sense Pla., Rep. 2, 371e πλ. πόλεώς εἰσι καὶ μισθωτοί). Much more probably the Eph passage belongs under

  1. that which is full of someth. (Lucian, Ver. Hist. 2, 37; 38 and Polyaenus 3, 9, 55 the manned and loaded ship itself [s. 1a above]; Philo, Praem. 65 γενομένη πλ. ἀρετῶν ἡ ψυχὴ … οὐδὲν ἐν ἑαυτῇ καταλιποῦσα κενόν; Herm. Wr. 12, 15 God is called πλήρωμα τῆς ζωῆς; 6, 4 ὁ κόσμος πλήρωμά ἐστι τῆς κακίας, ὁ δὲ θεὸς τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; 16, 3 τ. πάντων τὸ πλ. ἔν ἐστι.—Rtzst., Poim. 25, 1) (that) which is full of him who etc. (so as early as Severian of Gabala [KStaab, Pls-Kommentare ’33, 307] and Theodoret, who consider that it is God who fills the church.—Cp. CMitton, ET 59, ’47/48, 325; 60, ’48/49, 320f; CMoule, ibid. 53 and Col and Phil ’57, 164–69).

  2. that which is brought to fullness or completion

(a) full number (Hdt. 8, 43; 45 of ships; Aristot., Pol. 2, 7, 22 of citizens; Iren. 1, 1, 3 [Harv. I 11, 11] and Hippol., Ref. 6, 38, 4 as Gnostic t.t.) τὸ πλ. τῶν ἐθνῶν Ro 11:25 (cp. Ael. Aristid. 13 p. 262 D.: πλήρωμα ἔθνους). For 11:12, which is also classed here by many, s. 4 below.

(b) sum total, fullness, even (super)abundance (Diod S 2, 12, 2 καθάπερ ἔκ τινος πηγῆς μεγάλης ἀκέραιον διαμένει τὸ πλήρωμα=as if from a great source the abundance [of bitumen] remains undiminished. As gnostic t.t. Iren. 1, 8, 4 [Harv. I, 73, 3]; Hippol., Ref. 8, 10, 3—s. also a) τινός of someth. πλ. εὐλογίας Χριστοῦ the fullness of Christ’s blessing Ro 15:29. πᾶν τὸ πλ. τῆς θεότητος the full measure of deity (s. θεότης) Col 2:9; without the gen., but in the same sense 1:19.—W. gen. to denote the one who possesses the fullness: θεοῦ πατρὸς πλ. IEph ins (s. Hdb. ad loc.). εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλ. τοῦ θεοῦ that you may be filled with all the fullness of God Eph 3:19 (s. πληρόω 1b). Of Christ: ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ J 1:16 (s. Bultmann 51, 7).—Abs. ἀσπάζομαι ἐν τῷ πληρώματι I greet in the fullness of the Christian spirit ITr ins.—On εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ Eph 4:13 s. μέτρον 2b.

  1. act of fulfilling specifications, fulfilling, fulfillment (=πλήρωσις, as Eur., Tro. 824; Philo, Abr. 268 π. ἐλπίδων) τὸ πλήρωμα αὐτῶν their (the people of Israel) fulfilling (the divine demand) Ro 11:12 (opp. παράπτωμα and ἥττημα). But this pass. is considered by many to belong under 3a above. πλ. νόμου ἡ ἀγάπη 13:10 (on the semantic field relating to love s. TSöding, ETL 68, ’92, 284–330, and Das Liebesgebot bei Paulus ’95).

  2. the state of being full, fullness of time (πληρόω 2) τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου Gal 4:4 (s. ASP VI, 587, 34 [24/25 a.d.] τοῦ δὲ χρόνου πληροθέντος). τὸ πλ. τῶν καιρῶν Eph 1:10.—Lghtf., Col and Phlm 255–71; ARobinson, Eph 1904, 255ff; HMaVallisoleto, Christi ‘Pleroma’ iuxta Pli conceptionem: Verbum Domini 14, ’34, 49–55; FMontgomery-Hitchcock, The Pleroma of Christ: CQR 125, ’37, 1–18; JGewiess: MMeinertz Festschr. ’51, 128–41; PBenoit, RB 63, ’56, 5–44 (prison epp.); AFeuillet, Nouvelle Revue Theol. (Tournai) 88, ’56, 449–72; 593–610 (Eph 1:23); GMünderlein NTS 8, ’62, 264–76 (Col 1:19); HSchlier, D. Brief an die Epheser4, ’63, 96–99; POverfield, NTS 25, ’79, 384–96; CEvans, Biblica 65 ’84, 259–65 (Nag Hammadi).—DELG s.v. πίμπλημι. M-M. EDNT. TW.

Both Thayer and Bauer/Danker assert that it is used in John 1:16 in the sense of fullness, sum total, or (super)abundance.

The Greek noun πλήρωμα is also related to the verb πληρόω (plēroō) (Bauer/Danker, 828; Thayer, 517) as well as the adjective πλήρης (plērēs) (Bauer/Danker, 827; Thayer, 517). We may be able to understanding the meaning of πλήρωμα if either of these two words occur in Johannine literature. The Greek adjective πλήρης occurs twice,(1) notably in John 1:14. The Greek verb πληρόω occurs 15 times in the Gospel of John,(2), and twice in the Johannine epistles.(3) However none of these occurences seem related to its use in John 1:16.

Therefore, we shall proceed to examine the occurrence of the Greek adjective πλήρης in John 1:14.

In John 1:14, it is written,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of [the] only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας

The author writes that the incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, was full of grace and truth (πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας). There is no doubt that the author had this very phrase in mind when he, two verses later, wrote,

And we all received from his fullness, and grace upon grace.

The Lord Jesus Christ was full (πλήρης) of grace and truth. Therefore, his fullness (πλήρωμα), that which he was full of, was grace and truth. It is, then, of this grace and truth which the author and his companions received.

(As for the last clause, χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος, or "grace in place of grace," I'll likely ask another question pertaining to that.)


Footnotes

(1) John 1:14, 2 John 1:8

(2) John 3:29, 7:8, 12:3, 12:38, 13:18, 15:11, 15:25, 16:6, 16:24, 17:12-13, 18:9, 18:32, 19:24, 19:36

(3) 1 John 1:4; 2 John 1:12

References

Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University Press, 2001.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: American Book, 1889.

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