Light of the World

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Detail on stained glass depicting Jesus: I am the light of the world, Bantry, Ireland

Light of the World (Greek: φώς τοῦ κόσμου Phṓs tou kósmou) is a phrase Jesus used to describe himself and his disciples in the New Testament.[1] The phrase is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (5:14–16) and John (8:12). It is closely related to the parables of Salt and Light and Lamp under a bushel, which also appear in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

Gospel accounts[edit]

Christ as the True Light by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1526

Referring to himself[edit]

In John 8:12 Jesus applies the title to himself while debating with the Jews and states:[1]

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Jesus again claims to be Light of the World in John 9:5, during the miracle of healing the blind at birth, saying: [2]

When I am in the world, I am the Light of the World.

This episode leads into John 9:39 where Jesus metaphorically explains that he came to this world, so that the blind may see.[2]

In the Christological context, the use of the title Light of the World is similar to the Bread of Life title in John 6:35 where Jesus states: "I am the bread of life: he who comes to me shall not hunger."[3] These assertions build on the Christological theme of John 5:26 where Jesus claims to possess life just as the Father does and provide it to those who follow him.[3][4] The term "Life of the World" is applied in the same sense by Jesus to himself in John 6:51.[2]

Light is defined as life, as seen in John 1:4, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men". Those who have faith through him will have eternal life. In John's Gospel, "darkness is present in the absence of light; the absence of eternal life," and darkness referring to death, spiritually.[5]

Referring to his disciples[edit]

Jesus also used that term to refer to his disciples in Matthew 5:14:[1]

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.[6]

This application of "light compared with darkness" also appears in 1 John 1:5 which applies it to God and states: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all".[7]

Johannine Dualism[edit]

Light and darkness in John's Gospel is an antithesis that has symbolic meaning and is essential to understanding the author of John. The fourth gospel expresses certain ideas using the antithesis more frequently than any other writings in the New Testament. The Johannine community may have borrowed the symbolic use of the antithesis Light–Darkness from Essene literature, "which considered History as a permanent conflict between Good and Evil, using Light as a symbol of Truth and Righteousness and Darkness as that of Falsehood and Evil".[8]

Examples of dualistic concepts in the Gospel of John:

Light Darkness
Known Unknown
Jesus Christ Moses
Heavenly Earthly
Above Not Above
Spirit Flesh
Sight Blindness
Insiders World
Day Night

Extra-biblical sources[edit]

In the extra-canonical Gospel of Thomas, a used similar phrase appears, "There is light within a man of light, and he lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness".[9]

Light is also a recurring theme in Gnostic religions such as Manichaeism[10] and Mandaeism.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Names and Titles of the Lord Jesus Christ by Charles Spear 2003 ISBN 0-7661-7467-0 page 226
  2. ^ a b c New Testament christology by Frank J. Matera 1999 ISBN 0-664-25694-5 page 235
  3. ^ a b Christology in Context by Marinus de Jonge 1988 ISBN 978-0-664-25010-2 page 147
  4. ^ The person of Christ by Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer 1954 ISBN 0-8028-4816-8 page 163
  5. ^ Baylis, Charles P., "The Meaning of Walking "In the Darkness" (1 John 1:6)." Bibliotheca Sacra 149, no. 594 (1992). 219
  6. ^ Matthew 5:1416, New International Version
  7. ^ John by H. A. Ironside 2006 ISBN 0-8254-2915-3 pages 199-202
  8. ^ Trocmé, E. (1995). Light and Darkness in the Fourth Gospel. Disdaskalia (Otterburne, Man.), 6(2), 3-13
  9. ^ Gospel of Thomas, 24
  10. ^ Tardieu, Michel (2008). Manichaeism. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03278-3.
  11. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443.

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