What Does “Grace Upon Grace” Mean?

First of all, is it in the Bible? It almost sounds like a catch-phrase of some sort. Why, yes, yes it is in the Bible. You can find it in John 1:16:

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
John 1:16 NASB

That’s the wording I’m familiar with for some reason. KJV has “grace for grace.”

This is according to D.A. Carson (quoting the TNIV). This is consistent with what he wrote in his commentary on John, published almost 20 years earlier. Is there another interpretation that you or another scholar prefer?


John adds, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” (1:16). That is exactly what the text says—but what does it mean? It does not mean “grace on top of grace” or “one grace after another,” like Christmas presents piled up under a Christmas tree, one blessing after another. It means we have all received a grace in place of a grace already given. What does that mean? The next verse tells us: “For the law was given through Moses [which takes us back to Exod. 32—34]; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17). In other words, the gift of the law was a gracious thing, a good and wonderful gift from God. But grace and truth par excellence came through Jesus Christ, not in the display of glory to Moses in a cave but in the display of Jesus and the bloody sacrifice on the cross. The law covenant was a gracious gift from God, but now Jesus is going to introduce a new covenant, the ultimate grace and truth. This is a grace that replaces that old grace. It is bound up with a new covenant.

The God Who Is There, pg 116, Chapter 7 — The God Who Becomes a Human Being, published in 2010

2 Responses to “What Does “Grace Upon Grace” Mean?”

  1. 1 Eric

    Great insights. I always saw them as Christmas presents piled up under the tree. I like the way the NET has vs. 16 “one gracious gift after another” – to me that makes it clear that both the law and grace from Christ are “gifts.” When they’re both called “graces” it’s not quite as clear. Looks like the NIV really takes pains to clarify this verse. It’s like how the NIV translated Phil: 4:13 – I can do all “this” (versus “all things”).

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    One of my favorite changes in the TNIV that I knew about was Phil 4:13. Also Philemon :6.

    I forgot to write that Carson goes into this much deeper in his commentary on John from 1991, explaining various interpretations, and then his, where he said the same thing, that it’s grace in place of another. I also forgot to ask if anyone had any other interpretations, which I’m going to add right now.

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