“For from [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16, ESV). The NASB translates the verse the same way. The NIV translates the verse “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.”
Christ (the Word) has been the focus of John chapter 1. In verse 14 we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The fact that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” is the key concept addressed in verses 16–17. Verse 15 is a parenthetical aside. To get a better understanding of the force of John’s argument, we can read verses 14 and 16–17 together, without verse 15:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is full of grace, and John says that, from that fullness, we (John, his original readers, and the rest of us who have trusted in Christ) have received grace and more grace. One hallmark of any interaction with Jesus is grace. Christians receive grace and then more grace—grace served on top of grace—grace and then, in place of that, more grace. The point is that Christ is full of grace, and those who know Him get showered with grace.
The Amplified Bible translates John 1:16 this way: “Out of His fullness [the superabundance of His grace and truth] we have all received grace upon grace [spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, favor upon favor, and gift heaped upon gift].” What’s abundantly clear is that, when we come to Christ, He dishes out grace in heaping, huge servings.
In John 1:17 Christ is contrasted with Moses and the law. Of course, the law and God’s dealings with Israel did involve grace and truth, but the emphasis was more on obedience and punishment. In the New Testament, law is often contrasted with grace. The law emphasized God’s divine standards and the inability of fallen mankind to meet them, while grace rescues fallen humanity from deserved punishment. The law pinpoints the problem, and grace fixes the problem.
Romans 5:20–21 says the same thing in a slightly different way: “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”