A Study of 1 John
Explanation of This Study Guide
This study guide represents only some notes I have taken in preparation to lead a study of 1 John. It is not a commentary. I have borrowed from commentaries and standard linguistic resources. I have not tried to cover every possible difficulty presented in 1 John. Please look at what is written as the finding of a fallible teacher. My intention was to supply the student with some extra materials that might help all of us to profit from this wonderful letter.
No originality is claimed. You won’t find anything earth shaking or profound. The questions are designed to stimulate thinking as together we ponder the content of the letter. The lessons are five in number corresponding to the chapters of the book.
Your help is requested that as you read the study guide, if you find errors either in fact or appearance, you will make them known to me.
Dudley Ross Spears, 5611 Pleasure Ct., Louisville, Kentucky, May, 2005
1. Only one of the disciples is singled out and called “the beloved disciple” (John 20:2). His name was John and he deserved the honor.
2. Yet, this man with whom the term “love” so naturally is associated was a man of fire and fight. When Jesus called the disciples, Mark says that Jesus named James and John, “Boanerges” or “sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). Everything indicates that the name was given them some time later.
3. Some indication of John’s temperament is revealed in these features of his relationship to Christ. A. T. Robertson provides some good insights based on these facts.1
4. We are blessed with five works this great individual was divinely guided to produce: The Gospel of John, I John, II John, 3 John, and Revelation. The first letter is one of the most unique works in the Bible, written in plain, easy to understand language, and comforting and challenging to the thoughtful reader of John.
Notes on the Epistle of I John
1. Authorship and Evidence for it:
a. Polycarp, one of those called “church father” almost verbally reproduced I John 4:2-3.2 This section of I John is possibly the most oft quoted verse found in the writings of the “Apostolic Fathers.”
b. Irenaeus, one of the more prominent early writers, described one named Papias as “a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp” and Eusebius, noted historian, said Papias “used some testimonies from John’s former Epistles.”3
c. Clement of Alexandria said, “John . . . in his larger Epistle” taught in these words, and then Clement gave a near verbatim quote from I John 5:16,17.4
d. The author is an eyewitness of Christ from the very beginning. The “we” of chapter 1, verse 1-5 is restricted to those special followers of Christ, the apostles and early disciples.
e. From the nature of the writing, the content, and the near universal agreement of men from the second century on that John is the author and that the book is authentic, one safely understands the book to be genuine and that John is the author.
2. The Background of the Letter
a. At the time John wrote, false doctrines, false teachers, and immoral behavior among Christians was wide spread. In the same tone as I and II Peter and Jude, John writes of the dangers and perils these men, doctrines, and practices will present to Christians.
b. John was most probably living in Ephesus when these problems became so intense. John’s influence among all these Asian churches was considerable. The absence of references to the Old Testament, any hint that Jewish Christians would profit in a special way from the letter, both indicate that it was written to Christians in an area much like Asia was at that time.
c. With such a backdrop of unrest, false teaching, and misconduct, John writes a letter to be circulated among God’s people to try and allay these pressing difficulties.
3. The Occasion and Date of the Letter:
a. Error always must be met and defeated--else the cause of Christ will not survive. A reference to John and what he wrote that weighs much is found in the writings of Irenaeus.5
b. In the book of Revelation, John refers to the problems caused by the “Nicolatians” (Rev. 2:15). The practices spawned by this doctrine were adultery, eating things that had been sacrificed to idols, and living a generally unrestrained life.
c. Of special interest to history students is a man called Cerinthus. Some of the stories that were circulated this person still exist. Irenaeus tells of the famous “bath house” incident.6 This might give you some bit of insight as to the nature of difficulties we have been mentioning.
d. Internally, one will see that a number of those who taught and practiced error had either withdrawn themselves or had been withdrawn from (chap. 2:18,19).
e. John came to Ephesus certainly after A. D. 66 or 67. The most probable time of his arrival there is after the fall of Jerusalem, A. D. 70. Christians were desperately fleeing from any physical peril then, and the last mention we have of John is that he returned from Samaria back to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25).
f. The letter must have been written late because the conditions that brought false teaching to such a head required time. Irenaeus claimed that John lived until the time of Trajan (A. D. 98-117).
g. From the nature of the letter and the conditions it presumes to exist, it was probably written about the same time Jude and Peter’s two letters were written, cir. A. D. 69 or a little earlier. Some of the finest scholars put it as late as A. D. 85.
4. Purpose and Plan of the Letter:
a. There were some specific needs Christians had and John intended to meet them. The needs fell into both doctrinal and practical.
1). There is assurance of being right with God stamped on nearly every page of the letter. You will find the expression “that we may know . . . that ye may know . . . . ye know” and similar expressions used repeatedly. (chap. 5:13; cf. 2:12)
2). To provide a basis of fellowship between humanity and Deity, John gives the basis of such a holy and magnificent relationship. (chap. 1:1-7).
3). To urge his readers to be pure and sinless, he not only warns of consequences of sin, he gives the divine remedy for it when sin occurs. (chap. 2:1).
b. There are warnings against doctrinal defection.
1). It is nearly impossible to lose sight of what a false teacher says when writing a letter dealing with topics related to his theories.
2). This seems to have been the case of John and the doctrine known as Gnosticism.7
3). The most specific warning is in chap. 4:1-6. There the contrast is between true and false, them and us.
c. A brief notice of John’s methods may help us know a little more about his purpose. He meets error by stressing what Christians already knew and emphasizing that they knew it--not that they were ignorant of certain matters.
d. The Gnostics (see note 7, page 77) denied that any true happiness toward Deity could exist unless new light and new knowledge were achieved. John affirms that God is the Light (I John 1:7).
e. The Gnostics taught that sin was not serious and avoiding it had no effect on one’s righteous life. John affirms that God is righteous and all who do His will are righteous (I John 2:29).
f. In times of peril to the soul, those who want the fellowship and help from on High must love one another. John insists on the need for love as the cement binding Christians together and to God, he also demonstrates the nature and quality of love (I John 3:1-17) and says, “God is Love” (I John 8).
1. A. T. Robertson, Epochs in the Life of the Apostle John, p. 43.
2. Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians, chap. vii.
3. Cited by Henry Thiessen, An Introduction to the New Testament page 306.
4. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata II, xv.
5. “John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith, and seeks by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans, who are an offset of that “knowledge” falsely so called, that he might confound them.” (Quoted by Thiessen, p. 309).
6. “Irenaeus says that Polycarp states, “that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bathhouse without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest the bathhouse fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within. “Do you know who I am?” said Cerinthus. “I know thee for the first-born of the devil,” was the reply of the Son of Thunder.” (A. T. Robertson, p.,. 306).
7. “Two views prevailed among these Gnostics about sin. One view, asceticism, taught that the body must be kept under control by severe discipline. This led to separation and monasticism. The other view advocated licentiousness, on the plea that the sin of the flesh did not affect the soul, which is all that counts. We see that this peril in 1:6,8, 10; 2:4f. Dionysius of Alexandria says that, as Cerinthus was a voluptuary and wholly sensual, he conjectured that Christ’s kingdom would consist in those things which he so eagerly desired, in the gratification of his sensual appetites, and eating and drinking and marrying.” (Robert Law). The person of Christ presented a grave problem to these Gnostics, which they met in two ways. “The Docetics denied the actual humanity of Jesus and held that he had only a phantom body and was in reality all aeon. This error, plainly combated by Ignatius, John opposes in 1:1-3 when he appeals to the evidence of the senses (hearing, sight, touch) in proof of the actual humanity of the Word of Life. We see his opposition to it, also, in his insistence on the witness of the blood of Jesus (1:7;3:16; 5:6-8) and His “walk” (2:6) and His “coming in the flesh” (4:2). The Cerinthian Gnostics distinguished between the man Jesus and the *aeon* Christ and John insists on the oneness and identity of Jesus Christ the Son of God (1:3;2:1f.; 2:22f. ; 3:23;4:1,9,14;5:6-11,13,20). The Epistle becomes much more intelligible when we perceive the vital contest with error that threatened the very life of Christianity and had already brought an inevitable cleavage (2:19). John uses plain terms for the leaders (liars, anti-christs) in his effort to save the loyal followers of Christ from these plausible and perilous purveyors of speculative philosophy that sapped its victims of all spiritual life and energy.” (Ibid. p. 113-114).
Studies in 1 John
Questions on Chapter 1
1. What “beginning” is meant in verse 1? How is “that which” applied?
2. Compare John 1:3 with verse 2. Define the “life that was manifested and tell the meaning of ‘eternal’ Life.”
3. What does “fellowship” mean? How is our fellowship with the Father and with his son, Jesus Christ?
4. What does John say was his purpose in writing this letter?
5. Verse 5 says God is light and has no darkness at all in him. What do light and darkness represent? What is implicit in the fact that no darkness at all is in God?
6. Verse 6 is directed to Christians. What is said that makes them guilty of lying?
7. What is it to walk in darkness? Discuss the meaning of walking.
8. How does one walk in the light and what blessings come from it?
9. What sins will never be cleansed by the blood of Christ, if there are any?
10. In what ways do Christians: (1) deceive themselves, and (2) make God a liar?
11. Verse 9 mentions confession of sins. Must one confess every single specific sin in order to be cleansed?
12. What, if any, is the difference in being “cleansed from all sin,” and “from all unrighteousness”?
Studies in 1 John
Questions on Chapter 2
1. John said he was writing the letter so his brethren “may not sin.” He said in 1:5 his purpose was that our joy may be full. How do these two work together? What eliminates or hinders one’s joy in the Lord?
2. Why does John mention “if any man sin”? Is it possible to never commit even one sin throughout all of life?
3. Jesus Christ is the ________________________, in him we have an __________________________ with the Father, and he is the ____________________________ for our sins.
4. What does “propitiation” mean?
5. On what grounds can one truly know Christ and how can he/she prove the claim of knowing Christ?
6. Verse 7 tells us no new command is being given. Verse 8 says a new command is given. Harmonize the two statements.
7. From the text, show the difference in loving a brother and hating a brother.
8. What did John write specially to “fathers”? To “young men”? What are the differences in what was written to each?
9. If anyone loves the world, the of the Father is not in him. Is this the love we have for the Father, or the love the Father has for us?
10. All that is in the world: the (1) ____________________ ________________________ the (2) ______________________ ____________________ and the (3) ______________________ ___________________ is not of the Father, but is of the world.
11. The destiny of the world is ___________________
12. The destiny of one doing God’s will is _______________ _______________________________ .
13. What or who is the “Anti-Christ”?
14. Who were those who went out from the church? What is meant by “they were not all of us”?
15. What is the anointing from the “Holy One”?
16. Describe what this anointing does (see verse 27) for those receiving it.
17. If ye know that he is _________________________, ye know that every one also that _________________ righteousness is __________________ of him.
Studies in 1 John
Questions on Chapter 3
1. What is the effect of God’s love shown to us? Why is it the world doesn’t know us?
2. What lies in the future for us, based on verse 2?
3. What effect is this supposed to have on us?
4. How is sin defined in verse 4?
5. Compare verse 5, “in him is no sin,” with what was said in chapter 1, verse 5 “in him is no darkness at all.” Does this refer to Jesus while he was on earth?
6. What is the difference between those abiding in Christ and those who have neither seen the Lord nor know him? In what sense have they not seen the Lord?
7. He that ___________________________ righteousness is _______________________ even as ___________ is righteous.
8. Explain how one who is begotten of God “doeth (present tense) no sin.”
9. What message has been heard from the beginning? (verse 10).
10. What motive prompted Cain to kill his brother? What application is in this for Christians today?
11. How and why would the world hate Christians?
12. What is the evidence that we love our brethren? How does John say this is proved?
13. How does one’s heart give the assurance of being right with the Lord?
14. On what grounds can one be sure God will grant favors to those who ask for them?
15. By keeping his word John tells us we know by the Spirit he gave us that “he abideth in us.” How does this happen?
Studies in 1 John
Questions on Chapter 4
1. How does one “prove the spirits”? Why does John say this is so necessary?
2. How is the “______________ of the _____________” known?
3. Is the “anti-Christ” a person now living somewhere in the world?
4. What makes us able to overcome those of the “anti-Christ”?
5. Explain verse 6 -- Who are those who hear us?
6. “He that ________________ not, __________________ not God for God is love. How is God love?
7. Verse 12 is similar to a statement made in the first chapter of the gospel of John. What is it? On what basis does the text tell us that God abides in us?
8. What is meant by “the only begotten son”?
9. What should our response be to God sending his only begotten son into the world?
10. How is God’s divine love “perfected” in us?
11. How does God give us “of his spirit”?
12. How is love made perfect, per verse 17?
13. What is not in love? How does perfect love cast it out?
14. What makes one a liar who says he loves God? Explain why this is true.
Studies in 1 John
Questions on Chapter 5
1. How does one show that he really loves God, based on the first two verses of this chapter?
2. What is meant by the commands of God not being “grievous”?
3. What is the cause of one’s victory over the world and who is it John says overcomes the world?
4. Who (and how) is the one that came by water and blood? Explain how this happened.
5. There are _________________ who bear witness, the _______________, and the _________________, and the __________________ and these three ________________ in one.
6. What is the greatest witness to the Son of God on what basis does one have that witness “in him”?
7. What is the “eternal life” that God gives us and where does John say it is?
8. What boldness may Christians have in making requests of God?
9. What is the condition on which God grants our requests?
10. What is the sin unto death? What are Christians not to do for one committing such a sin?
11. What is the sin “not unto death”?
12. How can one keep the “evil one” from touching him?
13. What is meant by “the whole world lieth in the evil one”?
14. What understanding has the Son of God given to us?
15. John warns us to “guard yourselves from idols.” What idols are there today we must guard against?
Comments and note on Chapter One
The word “grace” is not found in the letter of 1 John. However, the word for “love” appears 33 times in 1 John alone and 39 times in all three of John’s epistles. Grace appears but once in 2 John 3. This sets before us the predominant theme of John’s writings -- the magnificence of God who is love. John’s words about God show us that:
God is Spirit (John 4:24).
God is Light (1 John 1:5).
God is Love (1 John 4:8).
His essential character and nature is comprehended fully in the latter -- God is love. Henry Alford commented, “Love is the very essence, not merely an attribute, of God. It is co-essential with Him. He is all love, love is all of Him; he who has not love has not God.” (Commentary, page 489).
W.E. Vine defines agaph (agapao - love) as “the characteristic word of Christianity.” The Greek term expresses a concept unknown to the world into which Christianity came. The only love known to the world at that time was based only on natural inclinations. The love introduced to the world through the coming of Jesus Christ is different. It is not based on natural inclinations.
The Jews had heard all their lives that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy” (Matt. 5:43). Their interpretation of this was simple -- love those who are neighbors (friends) but such was not extended to enemies. They took the command to love their friends to imply hatred toward enemies.
The difference is expressed by Paul. “For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
First John has much in common with the Gospel of John. Both begin with an introduction of Jesus Christ as God who coming into the world from heaven. In both he is given a designation that also changed the meaning of an ordinary word. He is called “The Word (o logos ).” He is the “Word of Life.”
A. Plummer calls o logos (logos, “word”) a “remarkable word.” It means not only “the spoken word” but the spoken word as expressive of the thought it conveys.
Plummer comments, “The Logos of S. John, therefore, is not ‘the thing uttered’ (rhema); nor ‘the One spoken of’ or promised (o legomenos); nor ‘He who speaks the word’ (holegwn); nor a mere attribute of God (as swfhia or nous). But the Logos is the Son of God, existing from all eternity and manifested in space and time in the Person of Jesus Christ, in whom had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man and who was the living expression of the Nature and Will of God.” (A. Plummer, Cambridge Greek New Testament for Schools and Colleges.)
In John’s Gospel, the prologue ends with an inspired definition of o logos. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
And: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (Verse 18). (For a further study please read note 2 at the end of this writing.)
The Reality of “the Word”: As if presuming his readers, not having actually seen Jesus Christ, possibly have some doubts, John sets forth the reality of the Christ as God’s divine Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
Much of what we study in this letter deals with heretical notions that troubled the early church. Heresy denotes a sect or party, usually in a bad sense. It implies an obstinate spirit, as well as error in faith and practice. In current thought it has come to mean rank error in teaching. The particular heresy in John’s day is thought to have been “Gnosticism”.
The name by which this heresy is known comes from the Greek term for “to know.” The Gnostics considered themselves of higher intellect than ordinary people. They boasted of their knowledge, which they claimed ordinary people were never capable of achieving. “This knowledge of which the Gnostic boasted, related to the subjects ordinarily treated of in religious philosophy; Gnosticism was a species of religious philosophy.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.)
The words of Solomon aptly describe their attitude. “O ye simple, understand prudence; And, ye fools, be of an understanding heart. Hear, for I will speak excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things” (Prov. 8:5-6).
One group of Gnostics, under the heavy influence of Alexandrian philosophy, attempted to draw a sharp line between God and the world. They contended that God could only exert influence on the world through agency, angels and/or demons, etc. The “Logos” to the Gnostic was God’s power and as such, was impersonal and simply reasoning power. This false heresy seems to have had its adverse effect from within the church (1 John 2:19).
Plummer remarks on the first three verses are:
“The Apostle would have us know that ‘see,’ is no figure of speech, but the expression of a literal fact. With all the language at his command he insists on the reality of the Incarnation, of which he can speak from personal knowledge based on the combined evidence of all the senses. The Docetic heresy of supposing that the Lord’s body was unreal, and the Cerinthian heresy of supposing that He who ‘was from the beginning’ was different from Him whom they heard and saw and handled, is authoritatively condemned by implication at the outset.” (Cambridge Greek New Testament).
To John, the Logos is the living word, the infallible interpreter of God (John 1:18). To the Gnostic the Logos was distant. To John the Logos was God manifest in the flesh. To the Gnostic the Logos was not. To John, the Logos came from God in the person of Jesus, of Nazareth. The Gnostics denied any real humanity to the Logos. The field of conflict between truth and heresy is set in the first chapter of this letter.
Walking in the Light: The psalmist viewed God’s Word as a lamp that throws light upon the pathway of life (Ps. 119:105). The way of life before him was illuminated; it was made plain. He obeyed the precepts of God’s Word. Holy Scripture provides direction in a dark world for every sincere follower of righteous living.
Life is filled with pitfalls. There are dangers on every hand. Man does not possess the ability to chart his own course (Jer. 10:23). God’s divine revelation provides the only means of safe passage through life. The Psalmist reflected, “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
God wants His children to walk in the light. “For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8). Darkness in Scripture portrays a life of sin and disobedience. Light speaks of truth and holiness. Jesus said he is the very “light of the world” (John 8:12). He also told his own that they were “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).
The purpose of a light is to dispel darkness and illuminate. When a light is extinguished, it has lost its usefulness. So it is with the child of God who no longer reflects God’s light in this dark world.
Light shines on everything that is not intentionally shaded from it. When Jesus came into this world as the light from above, John described his reception by those who loved tradition and error more than truth and right. “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved” (John 3:19-20).
God is light (1 John 1:5). Up to this point John has demonstrated both the true humanity and the true deity of Christ. False teachers denied both. John immediately set forth the fundamental truth that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Darkness (skoti/a) here is moral darkness, sin and error. John lays down the grounds of Christian Ethics. The very first principle is, there is a diviner Being who intellectually, morally, and spiritually is light.
It is essential to understand that God, as used by John, embraces both the Father and the Son. Thus, in both the Father and the Son, there is no darkness. The absence of any darkness at all is an affirmation of the purity of God. It is impossible for God to lie or sin in any way (Heb. 6:18).
The liability of Jesus to sin is answered in his own words: “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (John 14:30). Jesus affirmed of himself, “I do always the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). Also James affirmed: “. . . God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (Jas. 1:13). God has often been tempted; so also Jesus (Matt. 4) but never “with evil.” The affirmation that in him was no darkness at all argues against Jesus ever doing anything evil.
Cleansing from sin (1 John 1:6-7). Sin is the barrier between God and man. For the unbeliever, it separates him from God (Isa. 59:1-2). For the believer, it is what places him out of a right relationship with God. Sin and fellowship with God cannot be carried on at the same time. He who says he is having fellowship with God while he walks in darkness does not tell the truth. The two are mutually exclusive.
The words “if we say” introduce hypothetical cases (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). To be in a right relationship with God and have fellowship with God’s people one must walk in the light. To walk in darkness is to traffic in sin.
Profession with mere words is often in conflict with practice. Anyone professing to be walking harmoniously with God cannot be living in sin at the same time. Constantly we must beware lest we say one thing with our lips and another with our lives. The one must not tell a lie about the other.
In the Greek, “walk” (peripatwmen) is in the present tense and in the subjunctive mood (1 John 1:6). This describes a continuous or habitual action. The one John has in mind is the one who is sinning continuously. For him, sin dominates his life; no righteousness is evident. Any claim to righteousness in Christ, is obviated when conduct fails to verify that claim.
John’s words are terse. They call believers to be on guard against temptation by evil. Christians sin occasionally -- it is not, however, their general lifestyle. Sinning occasionally and living a life given over to sin are two different things.
In chapter 1, verse 7 John leaves from the hypothetical to the practical. It is no longer “if we say” (1 John 1:6), but “if we walk” (vs. 7). In verse 7, John writes about those who have a right relationship and God’s people. Those in verse 6 were not right with God and have no fellowship in Christ, despite claims to the contrary. The contrastive “but” (vs. 7) distinguishes those described in verse 6 from those described in verse 7.
When we walk in the light, as he is in the light, “we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7). What is meant by this positive statement? To answer this question, we must first determine the ones to whom the pronoun “we” refers.
Consider the following comments from the Cambridge Greek New Testament for Schools and Colleges.
It is quite clear from 3:23; 4:7, 12; 2 John 5 that this refers to the mutual fellowship of Christians among themselves, and not to fellowship between God and man, as Augustine, Calvin, and others (desiring to make this verse parallel to verse 6), have interpreted. But such barren repetitions are not in John’s manner: he repeats in order to progress. Moreover he would scarcely have expressed the relation between God and man by a phrase which seems to imply equality between those united in fellowship. Contrast ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’ (John xx. 17). He would rather have said ‘We have fellowship with Him, and He with us.’ The communion of Christians with one another is a consequence of their walking in the light. In that ‘thick darkness’ which prevailed ‘in all the land of Egypt three days, they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days’ (Exo. 11:22, 23): i.e. there was an absolute cessation of fellowship. Society could not continue in the dark: but when the light returned, society was restored. So also in the spiritual world; when the light comes, individuals have that communion one with another which in darkness is impossible.
Henry Alford explained,
“We have communion with one another, these words are to be taken in their plain literal sense, and refer, not to our communion with God which is assumed in our walking in the light as He is in the light, but to our mutual communion with one another by all having the same ground element of life, viz., the light of the Lord.” (Commentary).
Continual cleansing from sin is also the result of walking in the light. “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (verse 7). Christ’s precious blood cleanses those who meet the conditions God requires for cleansing from sin. Walking describes the manner of one’s life. To walk in the light is to comply with the word God revealed. The reference to his precious blood implies his life was given; he died for our sins. In the death of our Lord the cleansing agent for sin, his blood, is applied by obedience to God’s will.
Some have been reluctant to use the expression “continual cleansing.” To some it connotes “automatic” forgiveness of sin with no conditions attached. That cleansing is continual is established by the tense of the verb, kaqarizei. The verb form is present tense. Present tense in the original language means that which is on going. It is not sporadic or periodic -- it always happens.
The late Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was certainly no Calvinist. Nor did brother Wallace ever give aid and comfort to unconditional salvation. However he wrote of continual cleansing as follows:
“But there is a present salvation, continuous, co-extensive with Christian living. John says ‘if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin’ — Jno. 1:7-9. By baptism ‘into death’ we obtain the benefits of Christ’s blood, and are cleansed from past sins. But by fellowship with the body — in Christ — his blood continually cleanses us from sin. This continuous cleansing is conditioned upon ‘walking in the light’ as stated in verse 7, and in verse 9, ‘if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ —- that is, to keep us cleansed, as we obey these -divine instructions. - Bulwarks of the Faith, Vol. 2, page 114.
Cleansing of sins covers sins of which the believer is not aware, sins committed through ignorance in the past or sins that escape one’s conscious recollection. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
R.L. Whiteside, another who was no Calvinist, wrote:
“But ‘if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.’ Here is the true basis of fellowship. When fellowship is had on any other grounds, it is not worth the having. When two have the same aims and walk by the same rule, they have fellowship; and two people who have fellowship with God, have fellowship with one another. There could be no fellowship between John and the false teachers, for they walked in the darkness; but there was fellowship between him and all others who walked in the gospel light. And when people walk in the light, not only is there fellowship between them, but they also have the cleansing blood of Christ. This blood cleanses such people from all sin. This would include all those sins of which we may not be conscious. God graciously blots out such sins, as well as those of which we are conscious and of which we repent; and the next three verses of the chapter show that we all sin, whether consciously or unconsciously, and that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, if we confess our sins. And that is a blessing for which every sincere disciple of Christ is profoundly thankful.” (R.L. Whiteside, Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary, 1937
If, while walking in the light, one should think he has no sin he is deluded and no truth is in him. This is written to those whose past sins were forgiven. The message is to those who do not live a totally sinless life. The possibility of falling away is ever present in our day-to-day lives (1 Cor 10:12). We are not left hopeless, however. We may confess our sins and be forgiven, not only those of which we have conscious recollection, but, as brother Whiteside so eloquently put it, “This would include all those sins of which we may not be conscious. God graciously blots out such sins, as well as those of which we are conscious and of which we repent.”
The word translated “confess” (omologwmen) means “to say the same thing,” or “to agree with another.” When the believer confesses sin, he views his sin as God does, and he accepts God’s estimate of it. This means he does not excuse himself or blame circumstances or others for it; he accepts the responsibility himself. Since the word rendered “confess” is in the present tense in Greek, the indication is that the believer’s constant attitude toward sin should be the attitude God has toward it.
He is Faithful: Because our God is altogether righteous, he is always faithful. He will never fail to remove our sins as we turn from them and confess them. In First John, the message is that sin is not the norm for a child of God. Sin is an aberration rather than normal in a Christian’s life. B.F. Westcott wrote,
“The ideas of divine sonship and sin are mutually exclusive. As long as the relationship with God is real sinful acts are but accidents.” (The Epistles of John, B.F. Westcott, p. 105).
God is always faithful and just to forgive and cleanse. This is his very nature (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 10:23; 1 Pet. 4:19). The word translated “just” in 1 John 1:9 comes from the Greek word meaning “righteous.”
Another possibility is introduced in verse 10. Verse 8 dealt with the impossibility of being right with God and living in sin at the same time (1 John 1:6). Verse 10 says it is a lie lived by a believer who says he has not sinned (1 John 1:8). If we say we do not commit acts of sin, we make God a liar (verse 10). Through his Holy Spirit, God uses the word to convict and convince his own of sin (John 16:7-8; Psa. 119:11; Rom. 7:7). To deny that we sin is, therefore, not only to make him a liar, but also to give evidence that “his word is not in us” (John 5:38; 8:31, 37). God declares that all sin (Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:9; 23).Chapter Two
Chapter two urges Christians to avoid a life of sin. Sin is against God and destroys a right relation to the Lord. John’s purpose in writing this letter is not only “that our joy may be made full.” It shows us how joy is achieved by avoiding a sinful life. There are five references to his purpose in writing in this chapter (verses 1, 7, 8, 12, 13). John continues teaching that our conduct is determined by walking in the light. There is no break between the two chapters. Having shown us that Christians sin, he points to the remedy for sin.
My little children is an endearing reference. Paul wrote to the Galatians using this warm description (Gal. 4:19). Outside of that reference by Paul, reference to God’s people as “little children” is found only in this epistle and once in John’s gospel record (John 13:33). John considered the Church his family. All children of God are one family. There is a sense in which also some who are elders stand in a parental relation to the younger brethren.
Our Advocate: Christians who are aware that the spirit of man may be willing, but his flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41) have help. The helper is called an Advocate. The original term is paraklhton.
An advocate is one that pleads the cause of another. In its technical sense, the office was unknown to the Jews till they became subject to the Romans. It is applied to Christ as our intercessor (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:23). He is the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
Our helper is the Lord Jesus Christ whose cleansing blood was shed for the remission of our sins (Matt. 28:28; Acts 2:38; Rev. 1:5).
Our Propitiation. A propitiation (ilasmos) is an offering which appeases the wrath of one against whom an offence has been committed. Christ is “the propitiation for our sins,” (Rom. 3:25), inasmuch as his sacrifice alone removes all obstacles standing in the way of God’s mercy in saving sinners. It appeases the just wrath of the God (1 John 2:2; 4:10). The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint to denote an “atonement” (Num. 5:8) or a “sin-offering” (Ezek. 44:27). It was also used for the covering of the Ark of the Covenant (Lev. 16:14; Heb 9:5).
A “New” but “Old” Command: “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:7-8). A command is an order or a mandate from one with authority. W.E. Vine observed that the word for command, (e)ntolhn), is the most common way of expressing moral and religious precepts. He also added, “It is frequent in the Gospels, especially that of John, and in his Epistles.”
Every rational being needs to recognize that there is only one source of such authority. Only God has the right to issue religious precepts. And those who will please God must certainly submit in humility to his decree.
Old and New. The command that is both old and new is one command. It has both old and new aspects. Later in this epistle, John again addressed this point. He wrote, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). John heard Jesus say, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Furthermore, he heard Jesus say, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Also, “These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:12,17).
Love is an integral part of Christianity. John refers to this command in the singular. Without it as the catalyst all else in Christianity has no genuine and lasting meaning. Paul wrote to a group of churches at a time when controversy raged over circumcision. Converted Jews hotly contended it was essential in the conversion of Gentiles to Christianity. Others thought it was senseless to submit to human ordinances. Paul settled it quickly by saying, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:1-2). He explained his conclusion adding, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (verse 6).
The love that is commanded is as old as God, for John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is as new as today for it is a constant challenge to every accountable person who ever lives on this planet. The kind of love commanded is based upon a realization that God is love.
God’s Child Cannot Sin. R.L. Whiteside wrote,
“I John 3:9: “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.” The Child of God, the Christian, “doeth no sin” — does not live that sort of life, because the seed abideth in him” has the force of a qualifying clause, giving the reason why he does not sin; he does not sin so long as he cherishes the word in his heart. But suppose he turns away from the word — puts it out of his heart, so to speak? “It were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” (II Pet. 2:21.) “He cannot sin.” The Bible was written in human language for human beings. If it had not used language as we use it, we would never be able to know what it meant. God’s cannot is like our cannot. A little attention to the common use of cannot, both in the Bible and out, will remove any seeming difficulty in the statement. It is frequently used when no idea of impossibility is meant, or even implied. Take your concordance and follow the use of cannot, and you will see that it does not always express impossibility. Take its first appearance in the Bible. Sodom was to be destroyed. Lot was told to take his family and flee to the mountains. He pled that he might be allowed to go to Zoar, and said: “I cannot escape to the mountain, lest evil overtake me, and I die.” No one thinks Lot meant that it was impossible for him to go to the mountain, but that it was not for the best. Then the angel said: “Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou come hither.” God did not mean that it was impossible for him to destroy the city before Lot left it.” (Reflections, Miss Inys Whiteside, Denton, Texas, 1965, pages 174-175.)
Testing The Spirits -- 1 John 4:1
The need (1 John 4:1). Before one can walk in the light of God’s Word, he must know the word. Also, he needs to test the teachings of men by the Word of God. Not every “spirit” is to be believed. The teaching of the Holy Spirit of God must always be distinguished from the teaching of men (Acts 5:29). Men do not always follow the teaching of the Spirit. This is why we need to “try the spirits.” The recipients of the letter were called “beloved” (1 John 4:1). This is a most tender and affectionate designation.
These dear ones were told to do two things -- “believe not” and “try” (1 John 4:1). Why was it necessary for them to do these two things? It was necessary because “many false prophets are gone out into the world.” This further explains what John meant by “spirits.” As used here, the word “spirits” refers to humans who are used by Satan and his demons to promote false doctrine (Read 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). These false teachers had already gone out and had established themselves among the saints and were propagating their false doctrines.
The method (1 John 4:2-3). The task was clear enough, but how was it to be done? The beloved were given specific instructions. Actually a two-fold test was to be used.
On the positive side, the test is: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2). There were those in John’s day who denied the true humanity of Christ. They taught that he only appeared to be a man. The saints were told to test teachers according to the teacher’s view of Jesus Christ. According to the scripture, the God of the Old Testament, in the person of his son, became man to die for man’s sin. Thus to deny his true humanity is tantamount to denying his deity as well.
The negative side of the test is stated next (1 John 4:3). Those who deny the true humanity and absolute deity of Christ are “not of God.” Instead, they are against Christ. They embrace the “spirit of Antichrist” (1 John 4:3; cf. 2:18-23). Already in John’s day false prophets and anti-christs were in the world.
The promise (1 John 4:4-5). Only because the beloved ones are of God are they able to test the spirits. The one in them, namely the Holy Spirit, is far greater than all the false prophets and antichrists. While believers are “of God,” in direct contrast, the false teachers are “of the world.” That is why they speak “of the world, and the world heareth them.”
The promise, then, is not that the saints can by their intellectual superiority overcome false teaching. Rather, it is because saints are on the side of God, who has revealed the word that will put to silence those who oppose the Lord (Psa. 119:105; Titus 1:9).
The assurance (1 John 4:6). There was no reason for the believer to whom John wrote to be led into and overcome by the spirit of error. A proper understanding of the sources from which truth and error come and of the reception that attends the true message by believers shows that believers can avoid being deceived. This is the basis of their assurance. Those addressed by John had. received the truth because they had heard and received the message of the apostles. Those who were not of God did not hear. They did not receive the message.
Faith, the Source of Love and Victory - 5:1-12: To know the love of God one must be “begotten of God.” The begettal is of God; he is the begetter of all true believers. The word beget is synonymous with conceive, be born, or bring forth. Begetting a child is giving life to it. God is the source of all life (Psalm 36:9), but in a special sense gives life to his own children (John 10:10).
It is noteworthy that here that in the nine times believe occurs in the entire epistle, six of them occur in the first thirteen verses of this chapter. Also the key word “love” is not used after verse 3.
To believe Jesus is the Christ is to believe that he is the one whom God sent on the divine commission to rescue sinful humanity fro their sins. It is to accept him for all he claims to be. Believing he is the Christ means one believes the Old Testament prophecies as well as the New Testament fulfillment.
Albert Barnes wrote, “It cannot be supposed that a mere intellectual acknowledgment of the proposition that Jesus is the Messiah is all that is meant, for that is not the proper meaning of the word believe in the Scriptures. That word, in its just sense, implies that the truth which is believed should make its fair and legitimate impression on the mind, or that we should feel and act as if it were true.” (Barnes’ Notes)
This is the Love of God. The expression tells us what the love of God has come to, what it is, and how it is known. (Read John 15:14, 21, 23; 15:10; 2 John 6.) The commands God expects his children to obey are not “grievous (KJV).” Nearly all the other translations translate the word bareiai as “burdensome.”
This is the Victory of God. Obeying even difficult commands are not burdensome because God’s children are to love others rather than themselves. The world in which we live tend to make obedience to anything God requires a burden. But being begotten of God, born anew, gives victory over the world. The world may regard obedience to God as grievous, but never can any declare them to be unreasonable.
The believer in Christ is the victor in life. Jesus is the true victor. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus was the victor over Satan before the cross. “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).
He Came by Blood and Water. The subject of faith in Christ calls out a statement concerning some of the constantly testifying witnesses of Christ. The water and the blood refer primarily to the baptism that revealed him at the beginning of his earthly ministry and the blood which he shed at its close. It was while in the waters of the Jordan that Christ was manifested and anointed. On the cross flowed the water and the blood (John 19:34).
It was “not by water only.” Matthew Henry noted, “By the blood, we are justified, reconciled, and presented righteous to God. By the blood, the curse of the law being satisfied, the purifying Spirit is obtained for the internal cleansing of our natures. The water, as well as the blood, came out of the side of the sacrificed Redeemer. He loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church.”
The Heavenly Witness. There is a textual problem with verses 7 and 8.
James has, “For there are three that bear record
in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
and these three are one. And there are three that
bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water,
and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
American Standard, and other, have, “And it is the
Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is
the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the
Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three
agree in one.”
It is very doubtful whether the Trinity
is even remotely symbolized. Perhaps S. John wishes to
give the full complement of evidence recognized by law,
“that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word
may be established” (Matt. 18:16). Please read the
“Added Notes 1” at the end.
Suffice it to say here that at least
three facts should not be forgotten. One of them singly
would be decisive; combined they are irresistible. They
1. Not a single Greek Codex earlier
than the fourteenth century contains the passage.
2. Not one of the Greek or Latin
Fathers ever quotes the passage in conducting the
controversies about the Trinity in the first four and a
3. No Version earlier than the fifth
century contains the passage, and, excepting the Latin,
none earlier than the fourteenth.
Believers may be sure that Jesus Christ is truly the Son
of God who came to earth in the flesh. For the first time
in John’s letter he uses an expression, “belief unto (eis)”
which he used about forty times in his Gospel. Elsewhere
in N.T. it occurs only about 10 times. It expresses the
strongest confidence and trust ; faith moves towards and
reposes on its object. Whereas “to believe a person”
need mean no more than to believe what he says (1 John
4:1), To “believe on or in a person” means to have
full trust in his character.
The assurance is God’s promise of eternal life to his children. This is the witness is given by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Truth and has the designation, “the Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13). The ultimate proof of Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God is the testimony given by the Holy Spirit. “Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). It is possible to say “Jesus is Lord” because of the basic witness given by the Holy Spirit revealing it to the world (1 Cor. 2:9-13).
John adds, “the witness is this, that God has given us
eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (verse 11).
All that accept the witness of the Holy Spirit, divine
revelation, are given “eternal life.” A.T. Robertson
says the adjective “eternal” emphasizes quality, that
is a life best described as eternal in its value or worth.
Jesus promised, “I am come that they may have life and
may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). God promises
“eternal life” through his divine son, Jesus (See 1
John 2:25; 4:9).
the Son is to have the life.
“He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not
the Son of God hath not the life” (verse 12). Having the
son is conditioned upon abiding in his divine teaching.
“Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching
of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching,
the same hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
The opposite is true, the one who does not have the son
“hath not the life.”
Those who have the son in their lives may come boldly
before God’s great throne of grace in prayer and may
expect to be heard (verse 14). The proviso is that asking
God for blessings must be “according to his will.”
Read from Albert Barnes:
“This is the proper and the necessary
limitation in all prayer. God has not promised to grant
anything that shall be contrary to his will, and it could
not be right that he should do it. We ought not to wish to
receive anything that should be contrary to what he judges
to be best. No man could hope for good who should esteem
his own wishes to be a better guide than the will of God;
and it is one of the most desirable of all arrangements
that the promise of any blessing to be obtained by prayer
should be limited and bounded by the will of God.”
The Prayer for Others. The prayers offered to God with requests will be heard, if they are according to his will. That is a general rule. Now John mentions a specific request that involves a brother who is in sin. The sin of which the brother is guilty is a sin “not unto death.” For this one prayers may be offered to God on his/her behalf. The preposition “unto” is from the Greek term pros qanaton. The preposition is one of direction and has the idea of reaching an ultimate goal. In this case it is death. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) which is also separation from God due to personal sin (Isa. 59:2).
The sin of which one is guilty has forgiveness only when repentance is possible. James wrote, “My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). Death looms in the near future for everyone who is guilty of sin. However, complete separation from God is not realized until death overtakes a sinner. As long as thee is life there is hope and there is the possibility of repentance. When repentance is not possible in a person who has gone so far into sin, there is no reason to pray that God will help him (Heb. 6:4-4).
Sin Defined: “All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death” (verse 17). This is a broad definition of sin. Everything that is not right in view of God’s word is sin. All ungodliness and unrighteousness is the target of God’s divine wrath (Rom. 1:18). The vile and degenerate sinners of the world are described, “being filled with all unrighteousness [and] wickedness” (Rom. 1:29).
God’s Child Doesn’t Sin. Those begotten of God do not sin because (a very important “because”) keeps himself and the evil one doesn’t touch him. One who will escape the snares of the Devil must keep himesrlf in God’s love and care. “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20-21). The power of the word of God, laid up in a child of God’s heart is a safeguard against sin. “Thy word have I laid up in my heart, That I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:11).
The evil one cannot take hold on those who keep themselves aloof from his temptations. “Toucheth him not” is understood to mean “to lay hold of.” One can touch what may not be taken hold of. Here the meaning is that the evil one may assault, but he gets no hold. Jesus said of his own, “No one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). “The ruler of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in Me’ (John 14:30). Therefore whoever keeps himself in Christ is safe.
The Sure Knowledge. Verse 19 -- “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one.” The unbelieving world likes under the control of the evil one, Satan. There must always be an ever widening gulf between the church and the world. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, there comes the sure knowledge and assurance of his divine help in overcoming the world. He declared, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The sure knowledge is based on the fact that the Lord Jesus came “in the flesh,” lived a perfect life on this earth, rose from the dead the third day after he was crucified exactly as he promised (Matt. 16:21). We know him that is true, who also is “the true God.” This leads to the admonition in the last verse of the book. “My little children, guard yourselves from idols.” Idol comes from the Greek word, eidwlwn. W.E. Vine defines it as, “a phantom or likeness” from eidos, “an appearance,” lit., “that which is seen”, or “an idea, fancy,” denotes in the NT (a) “an idol,” an image to represent a false god.” (W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament.)
Idolatry is alive and well in every age of man. Whatever men worship becomes their god. We may not have some of the idolatry prevalent in the first century, but we have idolatry aplenty. The ancients worshipped the idol “Plutus.” Athenaeus, an ancient Greek writer wrote
“The prosperous should live ostentatiously, and so make plain the god’s bounty. For the god who has bestowed these blessings thinks that a man should feel grateful to him for what he has done.”
Many in today’s world worship at the shrine of plenty and great wealth.
Micha F. Lindemans wrote,
“The ancients worshipped the god Bacchus. This was a Roman god of wine and intoxication, equated with the Greek Dionysus. His festival was celebrated on March 16 and 17. The Bacchanalia, orgies in honor of Dionysus, were introduced in Rome around 200 BCE. These infamous celebrations, notorious for their sexual and criminal character, got so out of hand that they were forbidden by the Roman Senate in 186 BCE. Bacchus is also identified with the old-Italian god Liber.” (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/bacchus.html)
Every “watering hole,” every bar or lounge looks much like a modern day shrine to this ancient Roman deity. Christians are to keep away from idolatry in any form. This means to avoid, shun, stay far from anything resembling idols.
I borrow from Albert Barnes a very fitting conclusion to the study of 1 John.
“It may be added, in the conclusion of the exposition of this epistle, that the same caution is as needful for us as it was for those to whom John wrote. We are not in danger, indeed, of bowing down to idols, or of engaging in the grossest forms of idol-worship. But we may be in no less danger than they to whom John wrote were, of substituting other things in our affections in the place of the true God, and of devoting to them the time and the affection which are due to him. Our children it is possible to love with such an attachment as shall effectually exclude the true God from the heart. The world --its wealth, and pleasures, and honours--we may love with a degree of attachment such as even an idolater would hardly show to his idol-gods; and all the time which he would take in performing his devotions in an idol-temple, we may devote with equal fervour to the service of the world. There is practical idolatry all over the world; in nominally Christian lands as well as among the heathen; in families that acknowledge no God but wealth and fashion; in the hearts of multitudes of individuals who would scorn the thought of worshipping at a pagan altar; and it is even to be found in the heart of many a one who professes to be acquainted with the true God, and to be an heir of heaven. God should have the supreme place in our affections. The love of everything else should be held in strict subordination to the love of him. He should reign in our hearts; be acknowledged in our closets, our families, and in the place of public worship; be submitted to at all times as having a right to command and control us; be obeyed in all the expressions of his will, by his word, by his providence, and by his Spirit; be so loved that we shall be willing to part without a murmur with the dearest object of affection when he takes it from us; and so that, with joy and triumph, we shall welcome his messenger, the angel of death, when he shall come to summon us into his presence. To all who may read these illustrations of the epistle of the “beloved disciple,” may God grant this inestimable blessing and honour. Amen.”
Added Notes 1
Barnes on 1 John 5:7-8
Verse 7. For there are three that bear record in heaven, etc. There are three that witness, or that bear witness--the same Greek word which, in 1Jo 5:8, is rendered bear witness --marturountev. There is no passage of the New Testament which has given rise to so much discussion in regard to its genuineness as this. The supposed importance of the verse in its bearing on the doctrine of the Trinity has contributed to this, and has given to the discussion a degree of consequence which has pertained to the examination of the genuineness of no other passage of the New: Testament. On the one hand, the clear testimony which it seems to bear to the doctrine of the Trinity, has made that portion of the Christian church which holds the doctrine reluctant in the highest degree to abandon it; and on the other hand, the same clearness of the testimony to that doctrine, has made those who deny it not less reluctant to admit the genuineness of the passage. It is not consistent with the design of these Notes to go into a full investigation of a question of this sort. And all that can be done is to state, in a brief way, the results which have been reached, in an examination of the question. Those who are disposed to pursue the investigation further, can find all that is to be said in the works referred to at the bottom of the page.* The portion of the passage, in 1Jo 5:7,8, whose genuineness is disputed, is included in brackets in the following quotation, as it stands in the common editions of the New Testament: “For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.” If the disputed passage, therefore, be omitted as spurious, the whole passage will read, “For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.” The reasons which seem to me to prove that the passage included in brackets is spurious, and should not be regarded as a part of the inspired writings, are briefly the following:
I. It is wanting in all the earlier Greek manuscripts, for it is found in no Greek Ms. written before the sixteenth century. Indeed, it is found in only two Greek manuscripts of any age--one the Codex Montfortianus, or Britannicus, written in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the other the Codex Ravianus, which is a mere transcript of the text, taken partly from the third edition of Stephen’s New Testament, and partly from the Complutensian Polyglott. But it is incredible that a genuine passage of the New Testament should be wanting in all the early Greek manuscripts.
II. It is wanting in the earliest versions, and, indeed, in a large part of the versions of the New Testament which have been made in all former times. It is wanting in both the Syriac versions--one of which was made probably in the first century; in the Coptic, Armenian, Sclavonic, Ehiopic, and Arabic.
III. It is never quoted by the Greek fathers in their controversies on the doctrine of the Trinity--a passage which would be so much in point, and which could not have failed to be quoted if it were genuine; and it is not referred to by the Latin fathers until the time of Vigilius, at the end of the fifth century. If the passage were believed to be genuine--nay, if it were known at all to be in existence, and to have any probability in its favour--it is incredible that in all the controversies which occurred in regard to the Divine nature, and in all the efforts to define the doctrine of the Trinity, this passage should never have been referred to. But it never was; for it must be plain to any one who examines the subject with an unbiased mind, that the passages which are relied on to prove that it was quoted by Athanasius, Cyprian, Augustin, etc., (Wetstein, II., p. 725,) are not taken from this place, and are not such as they would have made if they had been acquainted with this passage, and had designed to quote it.
IV. The argument against the passage from the external proof is confirmed by internal evidence, which makes it morally certain that it cannot be genuine.
(a.) The connexion does not demand it. It does not contribute to advance what the apostle is saying, but breaks the thread of his argument entirely. He is speaking of certain things which bear “witness” to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah; certain things were well known to those to whom he was writing--the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. How does it contribute to strengthen the force of this to say that in heaven there are “three that bear witness”--three not before referred to, and having no connexion with the matter under consideration?
(b.) The language is not such as John would use. He does, indeed, elsewhere use the term Logos, or Word, o logon Joh 1:1,14 1Jo 1:1, but it is never in this form, “The Father, and the Word;” that is, the terms “Father” and “Word” are never used by him, or by any of the other sacred writers, as correlative. The word Son--o uion--is the term which is correlative to the Father in every other place as used by John, as well as by the other sacred writers. See 1Jo 1:3; 2:22-24; 4:14; 3:9; and the Gospel of John, passim. Besides, the correlative of the term Logos, or Word, with John, is not Father, but God. See Joh 1:1. Comp. Re 19:13.
(c) Without this passage, the sense of the argument is clear and appropriate. There are three, says John, which bear witness that Jesus is the Messiah. These are referred to in 1Jo 5:6; and in immediate connexion with this, in the argument, (1Jo 5:8,) it is affirmed that their testimony goes to one point, and is harmonious. To say that there are other witnesses elsewhere, to say that they are one, contributes nothing to illustrate the nature of the testimony of these three--the water, and the blood, and the Spirit; and the internal sense of the passage, therefore, furnishes as little evidence of its genuineness as the external proof. It is easy to imagine how the passage found a place in the New Testament. It was at first written, perhaps, in the margin of some Latin manuscript, as expressing the belief of the writer of what was true in heaven, as well as on earth, and with no more intention to deceive than we have when we make a marginal note in a book. Some transcriber copied it into the body of the text, perhaps with a sincere belief that it was a genuine passage, omitted by accident; and then it became too important a passage in the argument for the Trinity, ever to be displaced but by the most clear critical evidence. It was rendered into Greek, and inserted in one Greek manuscript of the 16th century, while it was wanting in all the earlier manuscripts.
VI. The passage is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament, and regarded as spurious by the ablest critics. See Griesbach and Hahn. On the whole, therefore, the evidence seems to me to be clear that this passage is not a genuine portion of the inspired writings, and should not be appealed to in proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. One or two remarks may be made, in addition, in regard to its use.
(1.) Even on the supposition that it is genuine, as Bengel believed it was, and as he believed that some Greek manuscript would yet be found which would contain it **; yet it is not wise to adduce it as a proof-text. It would be much easier to prove the doctrine of the Trinity from other texts, than to demonstrate the genuineness of this.
(2.) It is not necessary as a proof-text. The doctrine which it contains can be abundantly established from other parts of the New Testament, by passages about which there can be no doubt.
(3.) The removal of this text does nothing to weaken the evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, or to modify that doctrine. As it was never used to shape the early belief of the Christian world on the subject, so its rejection, and its removal from the New Testament, will do nothing to modify that doctrine. The doctrine was embraced, and held, and successfully defended without it, and it can and will be so still.
Additional Note 2:
The noun “God” has no article in
the Greek text, which indicates that the author is
presenting God in his nature of being rather than as a
person. “Deity” might be a more accurate rendering.
The meaning is that no human has ever seen the essence of
deity. God is invisible, not because he is unreal, but
because physical eyes are incapable of detecting him.
Deity as a being is known only through spiritual means
that are able to receive its (his) communications. “God
the one and only” is as strong an affirmation of the
deity of Christ as is v. 1.
Father’s side” is substantially the same expression as
that used in 13:23
concerning “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who “was
reclining next to him.” It shows intimate association,
which presupposes close fellowship. As the confidant of
the Father, Jesus is uniquely qualified to act as the
intermediary who can carry the knowledge of God to humans.
The phrase “has made him known” means to “explain” or “interpret.” The being and nature of God, which cannot be perceived directly by ordinary senses, have been adequately presented to us by the Incarnation. The life and words of Jesus are more than an announcement; they are an explanation of God’s attitude toward humans and of his purpose for them.
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