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. The latter is the preferable rendering, and is justified by John's frequent use of the phrase coming into the world, with reference to our Lord. See Joh 3:19; Joh 6:14; Joh 9:39; Joh 11:27; Joh 12:46; Joh 16:28; Joh 18:37. In Joh 3:19 and Joh 12:46, it is used as here, in connection with light. Note especially the latter, where Jesus himself says, “I am come a light into the world.” Was (ἦν) is to be taken independently, there was, and not united in a single conception with coming (ἐρχόμενον), so as to mean was coming. The light was, existed, when the Baptist appeared as a witness. Up to the time of his appearance it was all along coming: its permanent being conjoined with a slow, progressive coming, a revelation “at sundry times and in diverse manners” (Heb 1:1). “From the first He was on His way to the world, advancing toward the incarnation by preparatory revelations” (Westcott). Render therefore as Rev., “There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world.”
Wyc., very light (compare the Nicene creed, “very God of very God”). This epithet is applied to light only here and 1Jo 2:8, and is almost confined to the writings of John. A different word, ἀληθής, also rendered true, occurs at Joh 3:33; Joh 5:31; Joh 8:13, and elsewhere. The difference is that ἀληθινόζ signifies true, as contrasted with false; while ἀληθινός signifies what is real, perfect, and substantial, as contrasted with what is fanciful, shadowy, counterfeit, or merely symbolic. Thus God is ἀληθής (Joh 3:33) in that He cannot lie. He is ἀληθινός (1Th 1:9), as distinguished from idols. In Heb 8:2, the heavenly tabernacle is called ἀληθινή, as distinguished from the Mosaic tabernacle, which was a figure of the heavenly reality (Heb 9:24). Thus the expression true light denotes the realization of the original divine idea of the Light - the archetypal Light, as contrasted with all imperfect manifestations: “the Light which fulfilled all that had been promised by the preparatory, partial, even fictitious lights which had existed in the world before.”
“Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they.”
Tennyson, In Memoriam.
See on shineth, Joh 1:5, and compare Luk 11:35, Luk 11:36.
Every man (πάντα ἄνθρωπον)
Not collectively, as in Joh 1:7, but individually and personally.
The world (τὸν κόσμον)
As in Joh 1:3, the creation was designated in its several details by πάντα, all things, so here, creation is regarded in its totality, as an ordered whole. See on Act 17:24; see on Jam 3:6. Four words are used in the New Testament for world:
(1) γῇ, land, ground, territory, the earth, as distinguished from the heavens. The sense is purely physical.
(2) οἰκουμένη, which is a participle, meaning inhabited, with γῆ, earth, understood, and signifies the earth as the abode of men; the whole inhabited world. See on Mat 24:14; see on Luk 2:1. Also in a physical sense, though used once of “the world to come” (Heb 2:5).
(3) αἰών, essentially time, as the condition under which all created things exist, and the measure of their existence: a period of existence; a lifetime; a generation; hence, a long space of time; an age, era, epoch, period of a dispensation. On this primary, physical sense there arises a secondary sense, viz., all that exists in the world under the conditions of time. From this again develops a more distinctly ethical sense, the course and current of this world's affairs (compare the expression, the times), and this course as corrupted by sin; hence the evil world. So Gal 1:4; 2Co 4:4.
(4) κόσμος, which follows a similar line of development from the physical to the ethical sense; meaning (a) ornament, arrangement, order (1Pe 3:3); (b) the sum-total of the material universe considered as a system (Mat 13:35; Joh 17:5; Act 17:24; Phi 2:15). Compare Plato. “He who is incapable of communion is also incapable of friendship. And philosophers tell us, Callicles, that communion and friendship and orderliness and temperance and justice bind together heaven and earth and gods and men, and that this universe is therefore called Cosmos, or order, not disorder or misrule” (“Gorgias,” 508). (c) That universe as the abode of man (Joh 16:21; 1Jo 3:17). (d) The sum-total of humanity in the world; the human race (Joh 1:29; Joh 4:42). (e) In the ethical sense, the sum-total of human life in the ordered world, considered apart from, alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God (Joh 7:7; Joh 15:18; Joh 17:9, Joh 17:14; 1Co 1:20, 1Co 1:21; 2Co 7:10; Jam 4:4).
This word is characteristic of John, and pre-eminently in this last, ethical sense, in which it is rarely used by the Synoptists; while John nowhere uses αἰών of the moral order. In this latter sense the word is wholly strange to heathen literature, since the heathen world had no perception of the opposition between God and sinful man; between the divine order and the moral disorder introduced and maintained by sin.