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John 1:9

"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world". ESV. My emphasis.

"Everyone" might be everyone that ever was or will be, but Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary says:

"By his Spirit and grace he enlightens all that are enlightened to salvation, and those that are not enlightened by him perish in darkness".

Who is everyone?

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This is one of the few times I must beg to differ with the great Matthew Henry. If his interpretation of John 1:9, it then says:

  • the light enlightens everyone whom it enlightens _ a totally meaningless and redundant statement
  • "everyone" does not mean everyone.

The simplest is to understand this in light of Paul's statements on the same subject as expressed in places like Rom 1:18-20 -

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.

Here we clearly see that God's eternal power and divine nature is revealed in some sense to all people, even the wicked and those, "who suppress the truth by their wickedness". Paul continues in the next V21-23 with -

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Even in modern times, famous atheists know about God but refuse to acknowledge His love but usually create a "straw-man" argument by painting God in an unrealistic way to demolish the non-existent-evil-God's character.

Paul is even more specific in the next chapter of Rom 2:14-16 -

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. So they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Christ Jesus,b as proclaimed by my gospel.

C. S. Lewis in his book, "Mere Christianity" devotes several chapters to this topic which I highly recommend.

Thus, it appears that the Bible in John 1:9 is correct that all people receive some kind of revelation from and about God which presumably varies from person to person. However, it remains true that Jesus Christ is the true light that enlightens all people.

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  • +1 a good answer, although different than how I answered. Note the same conclusion.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 22, 2022 at 1:38
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Light is one of the main themes in the Gospel of John.

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:4-9, ESV)

Key to the question is the meaning of φωτίζει - present active indicative 3rd person singular of φωτίζω. As with the rest of the passage the dual meaning of both physical light and knowledge (truth in particular) fit its meaning. Note also the dual meaning of κατέλαβεν (overcome/comprehend), which also fits these meanings.

Figure 1. Senses of φωτίζω in the New Testament (generated with Logos Bible Software). enter image description here

Light shows up again in:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19–21, ESV)

Thus, the basic theme in John is God's light shines on all people, even those in darkness. The difference is how people respond to the light. This light has to some extent changed our world (as Dottard mentioned C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). While Christians are and have been far from perfect, a changed world is testimony to:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV)

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5, ESV)

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35–36, ESV)

Thus, Christians are to continue to shine the light in the world that Jesus brought into the world, and the intent is for everyone to mean everyone.

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  • Yours is a good answer too - good use of John 3:19-21. +1.
    – Dottard
    Feb 22, 2022 at 2:56

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