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John 1:9 ESV

"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world". [photizei/enlightens]

[If sunlight falls on a house but the occupants do not open the curtains and let the light in then the occupants remain in darkness.]

John 1:11

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him".

Does "enlightens" guarantee that that which is given is received?

Hebrews 10:32

"But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,". [photisthentes/enlightened].

Here, to me, "enlightened" does imply that the light given is received. "You" being brothers who have entered the holy place by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:19.

But maybe the writer of Hebrews is using photizo in a different way than that in which it is used in John 1:9.

What does "enlightens" mean in John 1:9?

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5 Answers 5

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I would suggest that 'illuminate' is a better word than 'enlighten'.

a. properly, to enlighten, light up, illumine: Thayer

Usage: (a) I light up, illumine, Strong

The source is the Light. Which is the Life (John 1:3).

This is not the knowledge of good and evil. This is the tree of Life.

Light falls upon an object. But the light, itself, is invisible. In a mystery, light encapsulates all the colours of the rainbow, yet it itself cannot be seen.

What is seen is what is illuminated.

His is the Life which illuminates every man, coming into the world.

ην το φως το αληθινον ο φωτιζει παντα ανθρωπον ερχομενον εις τον κοσμον

was the light the true which lighteth every man coming into the world

This is ambiguous and I suggest it was intentionally written so. The statement covers the situation before the manifestation of Christ (every man coming into the world is illuminated) and also after his manifestation (his coming into the world illuminates every man, thereafter).

He is the Light (for his is the Life) which illuminates. What is illuminated is men.

All things were made by him, who is God. For God was the word, John 1:1.

One's own inward capabilities of thought, of spiritual apprehension, of moral awareness, of faculties that are more than mere animal instincts : faculties that combine together to make one's own humanity capable of worship, of adoration.

All this, within, is illuminated.

It shines in one's own apprehension. And shines before other men, who can see what humanity is and what humanity is capable of.

God who made it, shines forth in the humanity he made.

Every man. Even the worst of men. The capacities are still there, however latent.

This is what is illuminated. And that illumination ought to inform one of the source of the light which enlightens.

But men loved darkness.

They preferred another kind of light. A dark light. Because their deeds were evil. So the lesser light ruled the night. And men stumbled in darkness.

Until a witness came to give witness to the light.

He was not that light but came to give witness to the light.

Only a new birth would open the eyes of men to see the Light which was already blazing intensely. To them that believe on his name, is given to become the sons of God.


For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light. [Psalm 36:9 KJV]

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Perhaps what is meant by Jesus being the true light that came into the world, "that lighteth every man that comes into the world", is shown in Jesus' own words about light.

First, the Greek word for light in John 1:9 is 'phos' which means 'radiance'. It is the same word Jesus used when speaking about light in Luke 11:33-36, which may give us the clue as to how the word is to be used.

Jesus said that people who light a candle do it so that its light can be beneficial and be seen by those in the dark. Then he gives a strange saying:

"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light." Luke 11:34-36 A.V.

Here, natural light, and the eye seeing that light, is used to move into a deeper, spiritual truth about receiving (or, seeing) spiritual light. "A single eye" is needed to have the radiance of spiritual light fill a person's whole being. Jesus is that spiritual light that needs to cast out the spiritual darkness within sinful humans.

The "single eye" is a way of saying total fixation, not being detracted by other things. Sadly, in this sin-darkened world, those who love the darkness will not open their eyes to the light of Christ in, for that exposes their evil deeds. They remain spiritually blind. Yet that does not excuse them, for Christ lightens every man that comes into the world. His light shines on them, but if they shun it, then whatever light that radiates from Christ does nothing to dispel the darkness they love. It is not the light of Christ that they want. They want the artificial light that fills this sinful world.

Yet those who "sigh and cry for the abominations" going on in this world hate the darkness, so when the gospel of Christ comes to them, they see it as light indeed. They are enabled to open "a single eye" to let only that enter within, and so they become transformed by that gracious provision. As stated in Ephesians 5:8, before becoming Christians we were darkness. But now we are light in the Lord, and so we must - and can - walk as children of light. The light of Christ illuminates us from within, to show us the light of life and its source. I hope this way of explaining the matter is helpful.

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The operative verb here is φωτίζω (phótizó) = to illuminate, enlighten, shines. It occurs 11 times in the NT. In classical and Koine Greek, it is used in two senses:

  1. literally to enlighten using a literal lamp
  2. To cognitively reveal (ie, explain) something and thus render understanding either in everyday matters, or, most commonly in the NT, illuminate spiritually with saving grace about Jesus Christ. This is explained explicitly in the first instance below.

It is this latter meaning that occurs almost everywhere in the NT:

  • Luke 11:36 - If therefore, your body is full of light, not having any part in darkness, it will be all light as when the shining lamp enlightens you
  • John 1:9 - The true Light [ie, Jesus] who enlightens every man was coming into the world.
  • 1 Cor 4:5 - Therefore do not judge anything before the time, until the Lord shall have come, who both will enlighten the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the motives of the hearts; and then the praise will come to each from God.
  • Eph 1:18 - the eyes your of heart being enlightened, in order for you to know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints
  • Eph 3:9 - and to enlighten all what is the administration of the mystery having been hidden from the ages in God, the One having created all things
  • 2 Tim 1:10 - and now having been made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, having abolished death and having enlightened life and immortality through the gospel,
  • Heb 6:4 - For it is impossible for those once having been enlightened, and having tasted of the heavenly gift, and having become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
  • Heb 10:32 - But remember the former days in which, having been enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,
  • Rev 18:1 - After these things I saw another angel descending out of heaven, having great authority; and the earth was enlightened from his glory.
  • Rev 21:23 - And the city has no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they should shine in it; for the glory of God enlightened it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
  • Rev 22:5 - And there will be no night there, and they have no need of the light of a lamp and of the light of the sun, because the Lord God will enlighten upon them, and they will reign to the ages of the ages.

The cognate noun, φῶς, φωτός (phos, photos) = "light" shows the same ideas - Jesus famously declared:

John 8:12 - Therefore Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. The one following Me shall not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life."

Indeed, the same idea is declared in the prologue of John 1:1-18:

  • V4 - In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
  • V5 - The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
  • V7, 8 - He [John] came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through him everyone might believe. He himself was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.
  • V9 - The true Light who enlightens every man was coming into the world.

Thus, Jesus was the Light that enlightens - He reveals the truth of the Gospel of grace - see the instances of "enlighten" above for more details.

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The text of John 1:9 is ambiguous and allows for a number of different interpretations. The meaning depends both on how one understands the word “enlightens” (φωτίζω Strong’s 5461 meaning to illumine or reveal) as well as on how one interprets the subject of the participle “coming” (ἔρχομαι Strong’s 2064 meaning to come, go).

Vincent’s Commentary

This passage is differently interpreted. Some join coming (ἐρχόμενον) with man (ἄνθρωπον), and render every man that cometh, as A.V. Others join coming with light, and render, as Rev., the true light - coming into the world.

When every man is considered the subject of the participle “coming”, Jn 1:9 can be understood as saying that every man coming into the world has been enlightened by the Light.

John 1:9 KJV

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

According to Gill’s commentary, “The phrase, ‘every man that cometh into the world’, is Jewish, and often to be met with in Rabbinical writings, and signifies all men that are born into the world.” When we apply this meaning to Jn 1:9, it can be interpreted in a literal and general sense, referring to the birth of every man born into the world (Jn 1:3). But it can also be understood in a narrower sense, referring to the spiritual rebirth of every man as the children of God (Jn 1:12-13).

Alternatively, if the Light is considered the subject of the participle “coming”, Jn 1:9 can be understood as saying that it is the Light that, in coming into the world, enlightens every man.

John 1:9 NASB

This was the true Light that, coming into the world, enlightens every person.

Such an interpretation can again be applied in a general sense, as a reference to how the coming of the Light enlightens men to know God (Jn 1:18) while revealing their darkness/sins (cf Jn 3:20). But it can also be understood in a narrower sense, as a reference to the coming of the Light in the life of every person who is reborn of the Spirit. The participle “coming” is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing process. In other words, the spiritual rebirth of every man is properly understood as the process of the Light coming into the world.

Returning to the OP’s question, Jn 1:9 captures all the ways in which the Light gives light to man. While I cannot unpack all the shades of meaning held in the verb “enlightens”, based on the above discussion and the context of the passage, one thing it can be said to stand for is the giving of life in both a literal as well as a spiritual sense.

John 1:4

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind.

The OP asks, “Does ‘enlightens’ guarantee that that which is given is received?” When “enlightens” pertains to the giving of life in a purely spiritual sense, it is not guaranteed that the light that is given is received (Jn 1:11-12).

John 1:10-13

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

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This being the fifth answer, others have covered most of what I think can be said about "enlightens", except possibly its relationship to "everyone".

1 John 2:2 ESV

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world".

If "everyone" [John 1:9] includes the whole world, saved and unsaved, then what these groups have in common is that Jesus is their propitiation.

If we say "enlightens" means that "He reveals the truth of the Gospel of grace", [see Dottard's concluding remarks], and if we also say that "everyone" means "everyone in the whole world", then "everyone" in the world knows the truth of the Gospel.

If "everyone" knows not merely about the Gospel but actually knows the truth of the Gospel, enjoys its power, then all are saved. ie: universal salvation.

However in Matthew 3:12 we read:

"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire".

I understand that as the chaff are burnt with unquenchable fire, the chaff are not saved. And universal salvation does not work.

Christ is the propitiation for all sins, those of the saved and the unsaved. They have this in common. In this sense Christ "enlightens", or, projects light towards everyone.

Ephesians 2:8

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God".

Grace to have faith makes the wheat, wheat, and different from the chaff.

Everyone has light coming towards them in that Jesus is the propitiation for their sins, but not all are given the grace to have faith in that light.

God "enlightens" all but not all are "enlightened". [They do not open their eyes to the light falling on them].

In John 1:9 "enlightens" does not guarantee that the "enlightened" state of Hebrews 10:32 will ensue.

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