Repost: What Does “Grace Upon Grace” Mean?

I just noticed that this has become the most popular post on the blog, most likely because of search engine activity. It has surpassed Complete List of Paul's Prayers. So I thought I’d post it again after three years.

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), which is consistent with what he wrote in his commentary on John, published almost 20 years earlier. 

GRACE AND LAW

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

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