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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 John 1



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. The similarity to the opening of the Gospel is manifest: but the thought is not the same. There it is that the Λόγος existed before the Creation, here that the Λόγος existed before the Incarnation. With the neuter comp. John 4:22; John 6:37; John 17:2; Acts 17:23 (R.V.). The verbs ἑωράκαμεν, ἐθεασάμεθα, and ἐψηλάφησαν are fatal to the Socinian interpretation, that means the doctrine of Jesus. S. John employs the neuter as the most comprehensive expression to cover the attributes, words, and works of the Word and the Life manifested in the flesh.

ἦν. Not ‘came into existence,’ but ‘was in existence’ already. The difference between εἶναι (1 John 1:1-2) and γίνεσθαι (1 John 2:18) must be carefully noted. Christ the Word was from all eternity; antichrists have arisen, have come into existence in time. Comp. John 1:1; John 1:6. The clause is an instance of what is so characteristic of S. John—profound and almost unsearchable meaning expressed in very simple and apparently transparent language. ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς. The meaning of ἀρχή always depends upon the context. Here ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα (1 John 1:2) determines the meaning, shewing that it points to a beginning prior even to Creation, and is therefore a stronger expression than ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; and even than πρὸ καταβολῆς κός. (John 17:24). It contains a denial of the Arian position (ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν), that there was a time when the Word was not. Comp. οὐχὶ σὺ ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς, Κύριε ὁ Θεός μου, ὁ ἅγιός μου; (Habakkuk 1:12). Of idols it is said οὔτε γὰρ ἦν ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς (Wisdom of Solomon 14:13). The Gospel is no new-fangled mystery: its subject is as old as eternity. Ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς without the article is idiomatic (Hes., Pind., Hdt., Trag.): so also ἐξ ἀρχῆς (John 6:64; John 16:4; Hom., Soph., Plat., Xen.).

ὅ ἀκηκόαμεν. As in 1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:3, the perfect indicates permanent result of past action. We here pass from eternity into time. The first clause tells of the Word prior to Creation: the second of all that the Prophets and the Christ have said respecting Him. No need to make in each clause refer to different things; the words, miracles, glory, and body of Christ. Each indicates that collective whole of Divine and human attributes which is the Incarnate Word of Life.

ἑωράκ. τ. ὀφθ. ἡμῶν. A climax: seeing is more than hearing and beholding (which requires time) is more than seeing (which may be momentary); while handling is more than all. ‘With our eyes’ is added for emphasis. 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. In the Introduction to the Gospel there is a similar assertion; ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us—and we beheld His glory’ (John 1:14). Comp. 2 Peter 1:16. Of ὁρᾶν S. John uses no tense but the perfect (1 John 1:2-3; 1 John 3:6; 1 John 4:20; 3 John 1:11). Maxime illi qui eum in monte clarificatum viderunt, e quibus unus erat ipse Johannes (Bede).

ὅ ἐθεασάμεθαἐψηλάφησαν. That which we beheld and our hands handled. After the imperfect ἦν we had a pair of perfects, and now a pair of aorists. Θεᾶσθαι implies deliberate and perhaps pleasurable sight (John 1:14; John 1:34; Acts 1:11). We can hear and see without intending to do so; but we can scarcely behold and handle unintentionally. The aorists probably refer to definite occasions on which the beholding and handling took place. Ἐψηλάφησαν seems to be a direct reference to the test demanded by S. Thomas (John 20:27) and offered to the other disciples (Luke 24:39, where the same verb is used as here). “The clear reference to the Risen Christ in ‘handled’ makes it probable that the special manifestation indicated by the two aorists is that given to the Apostles by the Lord after the Resurrection, which is in fact the revelation of Himself as He remains with His Church … The tacit reference is the more worthy of notice because S. John does not mention the fact of the Resurrection in his Epistle” (Westcott). Tertullian is very fond of insisting on the fact that the Lord was ‘handled’: Adv. Prax. xv. twice; De Animâ XVII.; De Pat. III.; comp. Ad Uxorem IV. So also Ignatius (Smyr. III.); “I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the resurrection: and when He came to Peter and his company, He said to them, Take, handle Me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon.” Bede points out that the argument has special force as coming from the disciple who had lain on the Lord’s breast. No greater proof of the reality of His Body before and after the Resurrection could be given.

περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς. Concerning the Word of Life. The interpretation of both λόγος and ζωή in this clause is disputed. Is either of them personal? Does ὁ λόγος mean the Revelation, the Gospel; or Him who revealed the Father by being revealed in the Gospel, viz. the Word? Does ἡ ζωή mean life; or Him who is ‘the Way and the Truth and the Life’? In favour of the impersonal rendering of τοῦ λόγου is ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ (John 10:35; comp. Matthew 13:19; Acts 6:7; Acts 13:26; Acts 20:32; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15). Against this is ὁ Λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ (Revelation 19:13) and the probability that λόγος in this Introduction has the same meaning as in the Introduction to the Gospel. Περί confirms this: comp. 1 John 5:9-10; John 1:15; John 1:22; John 1:30; John 1:48; John 2:25; John 5:31-32; John 5:36-37; John 5:39; John 5:46, &c. &c., where περί is used of testimony concerning persons. Out of about twenty instances in the Fourth Gospel all but two (John 18:23 and John 21:24) are of witness about persons. And in John 21:24 the τούτων may very likely be masculine: to take it so avoids tautology. Τοῦ λόγου, therefore, probably means the Son of God, 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. See on John 1:1 for the history of the term, which is peculiar to the phraseology of S. John. But of the two terms, Word and Life, the latter is here the emphatic one as is shewn by 1 John 1:2 and by the fact that ‘the Life’ is one of the main topics of the Epistle (1 John 2:25, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 5:11-12; 1 John 5:20), whereas ‘the Word’ is not mentioned again. As to τῆς ζωῆς, the expression may be analogous to ὁ ἄρτος τ. ζ. (John 6:35), τὸ φῶς τ. ζ. (John 8:12), τὸ ξύλον τ. ζ. (Revelation 2:7), τὸ ὕδωρ τ. ζ. (John 21:6) where ‘of life’ seems to mean ‘life-giving.’ More probably the genitive is one of apposition, as in περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ (John 2:21); περὶ τῆς κοιμήσεως τοῦ ὕπνου (John 11:13); πρὸ τῆς ἑορτῆς τοῦ πάσχα (1n 13:1). Winer, 666. ‘The Word which is the Life’ is the meaning. Christ is at once the Word of God and the Life of man. This is confirmed by 1 John 1:2, where ἡ ζωή is certainly personal. But the transition from an impersonal to a personal signification is easily made, as in the use of κόσμος in John 1:10. Tertullian (De An. XVII.) quotes the verse as Joannis testationem thus: Quod vidimus quod audivimus, oculis nostris vidimus, et manus nostrae contrectaverunt, de sermone vitae: and again (Adv. Prax. xv.), adding Sermo enim vitae caro factus et auditus et visus et contrectatus, shewing that he took Sermo personally. He renders ὁ Λόγος by Sermo, Verbum, and Oratio. Clement of Alexandria and Didymus considered ὁ λόγος here to be the personal Word. See p. 53.

Verses 1-4

1–4. A prolonged and somewhat involved construction. Such complicated sentences are not common in S. John: but comp. John 6:22-24; John 13:2-4. Some make ἐστίν understood to be the main verb: ‘That which was from the beginning is that which we have heard, &c.’ Others take ἐψηλάφησαν: ‘That which was from the beginning, which …, which …, our hands also touched.’ But almost certainly the main verb is ἀπαγγέλλομεν, and in each case introduces the thing declared. 1 John 1:2 being parenthetical, part of 1 John 1:1 is repeated for clearness and emphasis (Winer, 709 note 4). The crowding of profound thoughts has proved almost too much for the Apostle’s command of Greek. In the plurals, ἀκηκόαμεν, ἑωράκαμεν, &c., we have the testimony of the last survivor of those who had heard and seen the Lord, the sole representative of His disciples, speaking in their name.

Verse 2

2. καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἐφανερώθη. Trebly characteristic of S. John 1. The connexion by means of the simple conjunction. 2. The repetition of ζωή from 1 John 1:1, carrying on part of one sentence into the next for further elucidation and development, without the use of relatives. 3. The verb φανεροῦν, frequent in Gospel and Epistle and occurring twice in Revelation. Points which connect the Epistle with the Gospel, or either of these with the Apocalypse, should be carefully noted. The verbs are in logical order: the manifestation must precede the seeing, which must precede witness and announcement. Ἡ ζωὴ ἐφανερώθη is a less definite expression than ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο (John 1:14), but refers to the same fact. For ‘the Life’ as a name for the Christ comp. John 11:25; John 14:6. ΄αρτυρεῖν is another word which, by its frequency in all three, connects together Gospel, Epistle, and Revelation. Witness to the truth, to produce faith in the Truth, on which eternal life depends, is a favourite thought with S. John. But the frequency of μαρτυρεῖν in his writings is obscured in A.V. by rendering it, ‘bear record’ (1 John 5:7), ‘give record’ (1 John 5:10), and ‘testify’ (1 John 4:14, 1 John 5:9), as well as ‘bear witness’; and so also in Gospel and Revelation. Similarly μαρτυρία is translated ‘record’ (1 John 5:10-11) and ‘testimony’ (Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 6:9, &c.), as well as ‘witness.’ The R.V. has made great improvements in this respect. Comp. Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32.

ἀπαγγέλλομεν. We declare, as in 1 John 1:3. The verb is frequent in S. Luke, but rare in S. John (John 16:25, but not John 4:51 or John 20:18). As in 1 John 1:1; 1 John 1:3 the Apostle emphatically states that what he has to declare is guaranteed by full personal experience. Comp. John 19:35; John 20:30-31; John 21:24. “Let us firmly hold that which we see not; because those tell us who have seen” (Augustine). Note the sequence here and in 1 John 1 :1 John 3:1. the evidence which produced conviction in them, ἑωράκαμεν; 2. their declaration of their conviction as Apostles, μαρτυροῦμεν; 3. their declaration of it as Evangelists, ἀπαγγέλλομεν. τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰωνιον. The life, the eternal life. The repetition of the article in this phrase occurs only here and 1 John 2:25. Its effect is to present life and eternity as two distinct ideas: comp. 1 John 2:7-8. The more general expression, ζωὴ αἰώνιος, is the common form. It is another of S. John’s phrases; but its frequency is blurred in A.V., which rings the changes on ‘eternal life,’ ‘life eternal,’ ‘everlasting life,’ and ‘life everlasting.’ ‘Eternal’ is preferable to ‘everlasting,’ although in popular usage the words are nearly synonymous. And it is worth remembering that ‘eternal’ is etymologically identical with αἰώνιος. Aeternus through aeviternus comes from aevum, which is the same word as αἰών with the digamma. The phrase ζωὴ αἰώνιος occurs first Daniel 12:2. S. John’s ζωὴ αἰώνιος has nothing to do with time, but depends on our relation to Jesus Christ. He tells us repeatedly that eternal life can be possessed in this world (1 John 5:11; 1 John 5:13; 1 John 5:20; 1 John 3:15 : see on John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47). Excepting in Revelation 14:6, where he speaks of a εὐαγγέλιον αἰώνιον, he never applies αἰώνιος to anything but ζωή. With the subject of eternal life this Epistle begins and ends (1 John 5:20). It is remarkable that S. Paul in the same sentence (Romans 16:25-26) applies the epithet αἰώνιος to two such different subjects as χρόνοι and Θεός. In N.T. αἰώνιος is generally of two terminations; but αἰωνίαν occurs 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Hebrews 9:12. In Plato (Timaeus 37) we have αἰώνιος φύσις, and this is perhaps the earliest appearance of the word. For a full discussion of it see Plumptre’s Spirits in Prison 356–371.

ἥτις ἦν πρὸς τ. πατέρα. The compound qualitative relative denotes that what follows is a special attribute: ‘which was such as to be with the Father.’ Comp. ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα, ‘which class of things contain an allegory; ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἄγαρ, ‘inasmuch as she is Hagar’ (Galatians 4:24); ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρεία, ‘inasmuch as it is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:5). In N.T. ὅστις occurs only in nom., neut. acc., and contracted gen. (ἕως ὅτου). For the ἦν see on 1 John 1:1. Πρὸς τ. πατέρα is exactly parallel to πρὸς τ. Θεόν (John 1:1-2). It indicates the distinct Personality of ἡ ζωή. Had S. John written ἥτις ἦν ἐν τῷ π., we might have taken ‘the Life’ to mean a mere attribute of God. Πρὸς τ. π. is apud Patrem, ‘face to face’ or ‘at home with the Father.’ Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:7; Galatians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; Philemon 1:13. “The simple title ὁ πατήρ occurs rarely in the Synoptic Gospels, and always with reference to ‘the Son’ … In the Acts only Acts 1:4; Acts 1:7; Acts 2:33. In S. Paul only Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 2:18; and not at all in the Epistles of S. Peter, S. James or S. Jude, or in the Apocalypse. In S. John’s Gospel on the contrary, and in his Epistles, the term is very frequent” (Westcott). In ἐ φ α ν. ἡμῖν the statement with which the parenthesis began is repeated. But S. John’s repetitions generally carry us a stage further. The manifestation was not only made, but made to us. Note the contrast between the imperfect of the continuous pre-existence of Christ and the aorist of the temporary manifestation. He who was from everlasting with the Father has been made known, and made known to men, as the source of all life, physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual.

Verse 3

3. In returning to his main sentence he repeats part of it, but from a different point of view and with a change of thought. In 1 John 1:1 he is leading up to the Incarnation and thinking mainly of what he has to declare, viz. One existing from all eternity and intimately known to himself. In 1 John 1:3 he is starting from the Incarnation and thinking mainly of why he declares this, viz. to promote mutual fellowship.

ἀπαγγ. καὶ ὑμῖν. Declare we to you also. It may seem a trifle, but it is worth while to distinguish between πρὸς ὑμᾶς κ.τ.λ. after verbs of speaking, ‘unto you’ and ὑμῖνto you’; all the more so as the former construction is a characteristic of S. Luke’s writings. The ‘also’ may mean either ‘the declaration is made by us to you as well as by others to us,’ or (more simply) ‘to you as well as to others whom we have already told.’ Comp. “We cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard” (Acts 4:20). Where does S. John declare Him who was from the beginning and was so well known to him and to others? Not in this Epistle, for no such declaration is found in it; but in the Gospel, which consists of such a declaration. Some persons, however, make these opening verses the declaration. We shall miss the purport of the Epistle if we do not bear constantly in mind that it was written as a companion to the Gospel. “See whether his Epistle does not bear witness to his Gospel” (Augustine). Parallels between the two abound: in what follows we have a striking one. ‘That ye also may have fellowship with us’ is the counterpart of ‘that they may be one, even as We are’ (John 17:11). The Apostle’s purpose is identical with his Master’s prayer. See on 1 John 1:4. ‘Ye also, who have not seen, or heard, or handled, may have a blessing at least equal to ours, who have’ (John 20:29). Just as it is possible for every Christian to share the blessedness of Christ’s mother by obedience (Matthew 12:49-50); so it is possible for them to share the blessedness of His Apostles by faith. In N.T. κοινωνία is rare, excepting in this chapter and in S. Paul’s writings. It is almost always used of fellowship with persons (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 2:9; Philippians 2:1) or with things personified (2 Corinthians 6:14). It “generally denotes the fellowship of persons with persons in one and the same object, always common to all and sometimes whole to each” (T. S. Evans in Speaker’s Comm. on 1 Corinthians 10:16). In 2 Corinthians 9:13 and Romans 15:26 it has the special sense of almsgiving as an expression of fellowship. In S. John’s idea of the Church each member of it possesses the Son, and through Him the Father: and in this common possession each has communion with all other members. Κοινωνίαν ἔχειν (1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:6-7) is stronger than κοινωνεῖν (2 John 1:11), and is still further strengthened by the μετά instead of the simple genitive (Philippians 3:10; Philemon 1:6).

καὶ ἡ κοιν. δὲ ἡ ἡμετέρα. Yea and our fellowship. For καὶδὲ … comp. John 6:51; John 8:16-17; John 15:27. Grammarians are not agreed as to which of the two conjunctions connects the clauses and which adds emphasis to the substantive: Winer, 553; Ellicott on 1 Timothy 3:10. Anyhow we have here a double emphasis, first through the double conjunctions and secondly through the double article: see on τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰών. (1 John 1:2). ‘Yea and the fellowship which I mean, the fellowship which is ours’ is the full force. S. John in the intense earnestness of his style is very fond of the double article: ἡ ἐντολὴ ἡ παλαιά, τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν, ὁ υἱὸς ὁ μονογενής (John 2:7-8; John 4:9), τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ τοῖς πονηροῖς, τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς (2 John 1:11; 2 John 1:13): comp. John 4:9; John 5:30; John 6:38; John 6:42; John 6:44; John 6:50-51; John 6:58, &c., &c. This is specially the case with ἐμός in Christ’s discourses; ὁ λογὸς ὁ ἐμός (John 8:31; John 8:43; John 8:51), ἡ χαρἀ ἡ ἐμή (John 15:11; John 17:13): comp. John 5:30; John 6:38; John 7:6; John 7:8; John 14:15; John 14:27, &c. The Vulgate rendering, et societas nostra sit cum Patre, accepted by Beza, is excluded by the δέ which shews that καὶ ἡ κοιν, κ.τ.λ. cannot be dependent upon ἵνα, but is a separate statement. In N.T. the indicative ἐστί is frequently omitted, the subjunctive very rarely—even in S. Paul, who at times leaves so much to be understood: 2 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 4:16.

μετὰ τοῦ π. καὶ μετὰ τ. υἱ. He shews what the fellowship that is ours really means: not merely communion with us, but with the Father and the Son. The title of the Son is given with solemn fulness, as in 1 John 3:23 and 2 John 1:3; perhaps to indicate that the Christian Church is a family in which all in their relation to God share in the Sonship of Christ. S. Paul uses a similar fulness of expression in stating the same fact: πιστὸς ὁ Θεὸς δι ̓ οὗ ἐκλήθητε εἰς κοινωνίαν τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰ. Χρ. τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (1 Corinthians 1:9 : comp. 2 Corinthians 1:19). S. Paul also teaches our fellowship with the Father through the Son (Romans 8:17). The repetition of the μετά and of the τοῦ marks emphatically the distinction and equality between the Son and the Father. Thus two fundamental truths, which the philosophical heresies of the age were apt to obscure or deny, are here clearly laid down at the outset; [1] the distinctness of personality and equality of dignity between the Father and the Son; [2] the identity of the eternal Son of God with the historical person Jesus Christ. The verse forms another parallel with the Gospel: comp. John 17:20-23, esp. John 17:21, to the two halves of which the two halves of this verse fit, each to each.

ἵνα πάντες ἒν ὦσιν,

ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς κοινωνίαν

καθὼς σὺ, πάτερ, ἐν ἐμοὶ

ἔχητε μεθ ̓ ἡμῶν·

κἀγὼ ἐν σοί,

ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐν ἡμῖν

καὶ ἡ κ. δὲ ἡ ἡμετ.


μετὰ τ. π. κ. μ. τ. υἱ.

Verse 4

4. καὶ ταῦτα γράφ. ἡμεῖς. He here refers to the Epistle as a whole in contrast to the Gospel, which is referred to in ἀπαγγέλλομεν (1 John 1:2-3). The purpose of his writing is stated in the Epistle at the outset, in the Gospel at the close (John 20:31). Both γράφομεν and ἡμεῖς are emphatic: it is a permanent message that is sent, and it is sent by Apostolic authority. Scriptio valde confirmat (Bengel). Only in this solemn Introduction does the Apostle use the first person plural: in the body of the Epistle he uses the singular, γράφω or ἔγραψα. The frequent use of this verb shews that in spite of its unusual form the document is rightly called an Epistle. The ‘to you’ of the A.V. and earlier Versions and vobis of the Vulgate must be omitted.

ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν ᾖ πεπλ. That our joy may be fulfilled. Tyndale in his first edition [1525] has ‘your’; in his second [1534] and third [1535] ‘our.’ “The confusion of ἡμ. and ὑμ. in the best authorities is so constant that a positive decision on the reading here is impossible” (Westcott). The Latin varies between nostrum and vestrum. Some copies insert gaudeatis et, and are followed doubtfully by Cranmer (who prints ‘ye may rejoyce, and that’ in italics within brackets), and without any marks of doubt by Wiclif and the Rhemish Version. Bede evidently read nostrum. He remarks, doubtless as the result of his own experience, that the joy of teachers is made full when by their preaching many are brought to the communion of the Church and of Him through whom the Church is strengthened and increased. Πεπληρωμένη must not be rendered as if it were πλήρης, all the less so as ‘joy fulfilled’ or ‘made full’ is one of S. John’s characteristic phrases. The active, πληρώσατέ μου τὴν χαράν occurs Philippians 1:11, but the passive with χαρά is peculiar to S. John (John 3:29; John 15:11; John 16:24; John 17:13; 2 John 1:12). Comp. especially ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἵναἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν πληρωθῇ, and ταῦτα λαλῶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἵνα ἔχωσιν τὴν χαρὰν τὴν ἐμὴν πεπληρωμένην ἐν ἑαυτοῖς (John 15:11; John 17:13). Once more, as in 1 John 1:3. the Master’s prayer and the Apostle’s purpose are one and the same. ‘Our joy’ may mean either the Apostolic joy at the good results of Apostolic teaching; or the joy in which the recipients of the teaching share—‘yours as well as ours.’ In either case the joy is that serene happiness, which is the result of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious possession of eternal life (see on 1 John 5:13), and which raises us above pain and sorrow and remorse. The concluding words of the Introduction to the Epistle of Barnabas are striking both in their resemblance and difference: “Now I, not as a teacher, but as one of you, will set forth a few things, by means of which in your present case ye may be gladdened.”

The following profound thoughts struggle for expression in these four opening verses. ‘There is a Being who has existed with God the Father from all eternity: He is the Father’s Son: He is also the expression of the Father’s Nature and Will. He has been manifested in space and time; and of that manifestation I and others have had personal knowledge: by the united evidence of our senses we have been convinced of its reality. In revealing to us the Divine Nature He becomes to us life, eternal life. With the declaration of all this in our hands as the Gospel, we come to you in this Epistle, that you may unite with us in our great possession, and that our joy in the Lord may be made complete.’

We now enter upon the first main division of the Epistle, which extends to 1 John 2:28; the chief subject of which (with much digression) is the theme GOD IS LIGHT, and that in two parts: i. the Positive Side—WHAT WALKING IN THE LIGHT INVOLVES THE CONDITION AND CONDUCT OF THE BELIEVER (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11): ii. the Negative Side—WHAT WALKING IN THE LIGHT EXCLUDES THE THINGS AND PERSONS TO BE AVOIDED (1 John 2:12-28). These parts will be subdivided as we reach them.

Verse 5

5. καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγ. And the message which we have heard from Him is this: αὕτη is the predicate, as so often in S. John, and means ‘This is the sum and substance of it, This is what it consists in.’ Usually αὕτη precedes ἐστίν, as in 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:3; 1 John 5:11; 1 John 5:14; 2 John 1:6; and hence some texts place αὕτη first here. Comp. αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ κρίσις (John 3:19), αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἐντολή (John 15:12), αὔτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰών. ζωή (John 17:3). As in the Gospel (John 1:19), the main portion of the writing is connected with the Introduction by a simple καί. It does not introduce an inference, and the ‘And’ of Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Rhemish is rightly restored in R.V. The ‘then’ of A.V. comes, like so many errors, from Geneva, probably under the influence of Beza’s igitur. The connexion of thought, as so often in S. John, is not plain, but seems to be this. He desires that we should have fellowship with God (1 John 1:3): and in order to have this we must know α. what God is (1 John 1:5), and β. what we are consequently bound to be (1 John 1:6-10). Ἀγγελία (frequent in LXX., 2 Samuel 4:4; Proverbs 12:26; Proverbs 25:26; Proverbs 26:16; &c.) occurs nowhere else in N.T. but here and 1 John 3:11; in each case with ἐπαγγελία, as v. l. Ἀγγέλλειν occurs only John 20:18; with v. l. ἀπαγγέλλειν. Neither in his Gospel nor in his Epistles does S. John ever use εὐαγγέλιον, εὐαγγελίζειν, or εὐαγγελί ζεσθαι. The Gospel with him is ὁ λόγος or ἡ ἀλήθεια.

Once more we have a striking parallel between Gospel and Epistle. Each opens with the same kind of statement.

καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν

καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη

ἡ μαρτυρία

ἡ ἀγγελία

All these similarities strengthen the belief that the two were written about the same time, and were intended to accompany one another.

ἀπ ̓ αὐτοῦ means from Christ, as the context shews: comp. 1 John 2:12. Christ was the last mentioned (1 John 2:3) and has been the main subject of the Introduction. It was from Christ, and not immediately from the Father, that the Apostles received their mission. Ἀκούειν ἀπό is not common in N.T. S. John generally writes ἀκούειν παρά (John 6:45; Joh_7:51; John 8:26; John 8:38; John 8:40; John 15:15).

ἀναγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν. We announce to you. The amount of difference between ἀπαγγέλλειν (1 John 1:2-3) and ἀναγγέλλειν is not great, yet for the sake of distinction one may be rendered ‘declare’ and the other ‘announce’. The Vulgate renders both by adnuntiare; but ἀναγγ is rather renuntiare. Both have the meanings ‘report, announce, proclaim.’ Both also may have the meaning of making known again to others what has been received elsewhere: yet this is more commonly the force of ἀναγγ. And this is the meaning here. The Apostles hand on to all men what they have received from Christ. It is no invention for their own benefit. It is a message and not a discovery. So also the Spirit reveals to us truths which proceed from the Father and the Son (John 16:13-15): and the Messiah ἀναγγελεῖ ἡμῖν πάντα (John 4:25 based on Deuteronomy 18:18). Of the Evangelists S. John alone uses ἀναγγ. Comp. 2 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Peter 1:2. The ἀπό in ἀπαγγ. is ‘from’ rather than ‘back’: ἀπαγγ. = ἀγγ. ἀπό τινος. Hence, while the destination of the message (ἀνά) is prominent in ἀναγγ., the origin of it (ἀπό) is prominent in ἀπαγγ. The latter word is rare in S. John (only 1 John 1:2-3 and John 4:51), but very frequent in S. Luke’s writings. Although ἀγγέλλειν occurs only once in N.T. (John 20:18), its compounds abound: διαγγέλλειν, ἐπαγγέλλεσθαι, ἐξαγγέλλειν, καταγγέλλειν, παραγγέλλειν, προεπαγγ., προκαταγγ.

ὁ Θεὸς φῶς ἐστίν. God is Light. This is on the whole the main theme of the first great division of the Epistle, as God is Love of the second. This verse stands in much the same relation to the first main division as 1 John 1:1-4 to the whole Epistle.

No one tells us so much about the Nature of God as S. John. The name given to him by the Greek Church, ὁ θεολόγος, ‘the Theologian,’ is amply justified. It is from him that we learn most of the Divinity of the Word and of the meaning of ‘Divine.’ Other writers tell us what God does, and what attributes He possesses; S. John tells us what He is. There are three statements in the Bible which stand alone as revelations of the Nature of God, and they are all in the writings of S. John: ‘God is spirit’ (John 4:24); ‘God is light,’ and ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). In all these momentous statements the predicate has no article, either definite or indefinite: πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός: ὁ Θεὸς φῶς ἐστίν: ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. We are not told that God is the Spirit, or the Light, or the Love: nor that He is a Spirit, or a light. Luther is certainly wrong in translating, “dass Gott ein Licht ist.” But ‘God is spirit, is light, is love’: spirit, light, love are His very Nature. They are not mere attributes, like mercy and justice: they are Himself. They are probably the nearest approach to a definition of God that the human mind could frame or comprehend: and in the history of thought and religion they are unique. The more we consider them, the more they satisfy us. The simplest intellect can understand their meaning; the subtlest cannot exhaust it. No philosophy, no religion, not even the Jewish, had risen to the truth that God is light. ‘The Lord shall be to thee an everlasting light’ (Isaiah 60:19-20) is far short of it. But S. John knows it: and lest the great message which he conveys to us in his Gospel, ‘God is spirit,’ should seem somewhat bare and empty in its indefiniteness, he adds this other message in his Epistle, ‘God is light, God is love.’ No figure borrowed from the material world could give the idea of perfection so clearly and fully as light. It suggests ubiquity, brightness, happiness, intelligence, truth, purity, holiness. It suggests excellence without limit and without taint; an excellence whose nature it is to communicate itself and to pervade everything from which it is not of set purpose shut out. ‘Let there be light’ was the first fiat of the Creator; and on it all the rest depends. Light is the condition of beauty, and life, and growth, and activity: and this is as true in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual spheres as in the material universe.

Yet we must not suppose that S. John means this as a mere figure borrowed from the material world, as if sunlight were the reality and the Godhead something like it. Rather, the similarity exists, because light and its properties are reflexions of attributes which are Divine. In Platonic language, God is the ἰδέα or archetype of which light is the noblest earthly expression. Thus Philo says, ὁ Θεὸς φῶς ἐστί, … καὶ οὐ μόνον φῶς ἀλλὰ καὶ παντὸς ἑτέρου φωτὸς ἀρχέτυπον. S. James seems to have a similar thought in calling God ὁ πατὴρ τῶν φώτων (James 1:17): comp. Revelation 22:5.

Of the many beautiful and true ideas which the utterance ‘God is light’ suggests to us, three are specially prominent in this Epistle; intelligence, holiness, and communicativeness. The Christian, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and in communion with God in Christ, possesses [1] knowledge, [2] righteousness, and [3] necessarily communicates to others the truth which he knows and the righteousness which he practises. [1] ‘Ye know Him which is from the beginning’ (1 John 2:13-14); ‘I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it’ (1 John 2:21); ‘Ye need not that any one teach you’ (1 John 2:27); &c. &c. [2] ‘Every one that hath this hope on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure’ (1 John 3:3); ‘Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because His seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God’; &c. &c. [3] ‘We have fellowship one with another’ (1 John 1:7); ‘We love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14); and the whole tone of the Epistle.

καὶ σκοτία οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ οὐδεμία. This is the order of the words in [451], Thebaic, and Memphitic, and it is very forcible: and darkness there is not in Him, no, not any at all. Gnostic systems which taught, that a series of Aeons ending in an evil one could emanate from the Supreme Being, are here condemned by anticipation. Out of Light no darkness can come. This ‘antithetic parallelism’ is a mark of S. John’s style. He frequently emphasizes a statement by following it up with a denial of its opposite. Thus, in the very next verse, ‘We lie and do not the truth’: comp. 1 John 1:8, 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:10; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 5:12. So also in the Gospel: John 1:3; John 1:20; John 3:15; John 10:5; John 10:18; John 18:20; John 20:27. And in Revelation 2:13; Revelation 3:9. It is one of many instances of the Hebrew cast of S. John’s language. Parallelism is the very form of Hebrew poetry and is frequent in the Psalms (Psalms 89:30-31; Psalms 89:38).

Another point of similarity between the Gospel and the Epistle must here be noticed. In the Prologue to the Gospel we have these four ideas in succession; ὁ λόγος (1 John 1:1-2), ἡ ζωή (1 John 1:4), τὸ φῶς (1 John 1:4-5), ἡ σκοτία (1 John 1:5). The same four follow in the same order here: περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς, ἡ ζωὴ ἐφανερώθη, ὁ Θεὸς φῶς ἐστίν, καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία. Has not the sequence of thought in the one case been influenced by the sequence of thought in the other? Such close correspondence between the ideas with which each writing opens cannot be accidental.

The figurative use of σκοτία for moral darkness, i.e. error and sin (peccata, haereses, et odia nominat, says Bede), is very frequent in S. John (John 2:8-9; John 2:11; John 1:5; John 8:12; John 12:35; John 12:46): he only twice uses the form σκότος (1 John 1:6; John 3:9), which (excepting Matthew 10:27; Luke 12:3) is the invariable form elsewhere in N.T. The passages just quoted shew that S. John’s meaning here cannot be, ‘God has now been revealed, and is no longer a God that hideth Himself’ (Isaiah 45:15). The point is not that God can be known, but what kind of God He is. The Apostle is laying the foundation of Christian. Ethics, of which the very first principle is that there is a God who intellectually, morally, and spiritually is light.

“In speaking of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ it is probable that S. John had before him the Zoroastrian speculations on the two opposing spiritual powers which influenced Christian thought at a very early date” (Westcott).

Verses 5-7


Verses 5-10


This section is largely directed against the Gnostic doctrine that to the man of enlightenment all conduct is morally indifferent. Against every form of this doctrine, which sapped the very foundations of Christian Ethics, the Apostle never wearies of inveighing. So far from its being true that all conduct is alike to the enlightened man, it is the character of his conduct that will shew whether he is enlightened or not. If he is walking in the light his condition and conduct will exhibit these things; 1. Fellowship with God and with the Brethren (5–7); 2. Consciousness and Confession of Sin (8–10); 3. Obedience to God by Imitation of Christ (1 John 2:1-6); 4. Love of the Brethren (1 John 2:7-11).

Verse 6

6. An inference from the first principle just laid down. God is light, utterly removed from all darkness: therefore to be in darkness is to be cut off from Him. If God is light, then those who have communion with Him must [1] walk in light, [2] be conscious of sin, [3] confess their sin (1 John 1:6-10).

ἐὰν εἴπῳμεν. With great gentleness he states the case hypothetically, and with great delicacy he includes himself in the hypothesis. As in his Gospel, he has in view only professing Christians, and he warns them against three false professions, each introduced in the same way (1 John 1:6; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10). In between these three possible forms of false doctrine is stated by way of antithesis the right course of action and profession (7, 9). The symmetrical arrangement of clauses is very marked throughout. Further on in the Epistle S. John varies the form of expression from ἐὰν εἴπωμεν to ὁ λέγων (1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:9) and ἐάν τις εἴπῃ (1 John 4:20). The conditional particles ἐὰν and εἰ, especially the former, are very frequent in this Epistle.

ἐν τῷ σκότει περιπατῶμεν. Comp. ὁ λαὸς ὁ πορευόμενος ἐν σκότει (Isaiah 9:1). Darkness is the sphere of the κόσμος, and the κόσμος is in antagonism to God. Περιπατεῖν is the Latin versari and signifies the ordinary course of life. The word in this sense is frequent only in S. Paul and in S. John. Comp. 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:11; 2 John 1:4; 2 John 1:6; 3 John 1:3-4; Revelation 21:24; John 8:12; Ephesians 5:1; Ephesians 5:9-15, &c. It expresses not merely action, but habitual action. A life in moral darkness can no more have communion with God, than a life in a coal-pit can have communion with the sun. For ‘what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2 Corinthians 6:4). Light can be shut out, but it cannot be shut in. Some Gnostics taught, not merely that to the illuminated all conduct was alike, but that to reach the highest form of illumination men must experience every kind of action, however abominable, in order to work themselves free from the powers that rule the world (Eus. H. E. IV. vii. 9). Ἐν τῷ σκότει should probably be rendered in the darkness: in 1 John 1:6-7, as in 1 John 2:8-9; 1 John 2:11, both ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ have the article, which is not merely generic but emphatic; that which is light indeed is opposed to that which is darkness indeed. In ‘What communion hath light with darkness?’, neither word has the article: τίς κοινωνία φωτὶ πρὸς σκότος; (2 Corinthians 6:14).

ψευδόμεθα καὶ οὐ ποιοῦμεν τὴν ἀλ. As in 1 John 1:5, the affirmation is enforced by denying its opposite. But here the negative clause carries us further than the positive one: it includes conduct as well as speech. In John 3:21 ποιεῖν τ. ἀλήθειαν is opposed to φαῦλα πράσσειν, to do what has true moral worth as opposed to practising what is morally good-for-nothing. Ethical rather than intellectual truth is here meant by ἀλήθεια. With ποιεῖν τὴν ἀλ. should be contrasted ποιεῖν ψεῦδος (Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15). In LXX. ποιεῖν ἐλεημοσύνην (or ἔλεος) καὶ ἀλήθ. occurs (Genesis 47:29; 2 Samuel 2:6; &c.); but there the ἔλεος renders ποιεῖν less startling. In Nehemiah 9:33 the very phrase occurs; ἀλήθειαν ἐποίησας. S. Paul comes near to it when he opposes ἀλήθεια to ἀδικία (1 Corinthians 13:6); shewing that with him also truth is not confined to speech. In this Epistle we find many striking harmonies in thought and language between S. John and S. Paul, quite fatal to the view that there is a fundamental difference in teaching between the two. See on 1 John 2:16.

Note the exact correspondence between the two halves of the verse: ψευδόμεθα balances εἴπωμεν (speech); ποιοῦμεν balances περιπατῶμεν (action). Profession without conduct is a lie: Nequaquam ergo sola fidei confessio sufficit ad salutem, cui bonorum operum attestatio deest (Bede).

Verse 7

7. A further inference from the first principle laid down in 1 John 1:5 : walking in the light involves not only fellowship with God but fellowship with the brethren. This verse takes the opposite hypothesis to that just considered and expands it. We often find (comp. 1 John 1:9) that S. John while seeming to go back or repeat, really progresses and gives us something fresh. It would have enforced 1 John 1:6, but it would have told us nothing fresh, to say ‘if we walk in the light, and say that we have fellowship with Him, we speak the truth, and do not lie.’ And it is interesting to find that the craving to make this verse the exact antithesis of the preceding one has generated another reading, ‘we have fellowship with Him,’ instead of ‘with one another.’ This reading is as old as the second century, for Tertullian (De Pud. XIX.) quotes, ‘si vero,’ inquit, ‘in lumine incedamus, communionem cum eo habebimus, et sanguis &c.’ Clement of Alexandria also seems to have known of this reading. Another ancient corruption is ‘with God’ (Harl.). This is evidence of the early date of our Epistle; for by the end of the second century important differences of reading had already arisen and become widely diffused.

περιπατῶμεν, ὡς αὐτὸς ἔστιν. We walk; God is. We move through space and time; He is in eternity. We progress from grace to grace, becoming sons of light by believing on the Light (John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8-9). Of Him who is absolute Perfection, and knows no progress or change, we can only say ‘He is.’ That which is light must ever be in the light: comp. ἀναβαλλόμενος φῶς ὡς ἱμάτιον (Psalms 104:2), and φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον (1 Timothy 6:16), which embodies the same thought. Αὐτός, as commonly, but not invariably (see on 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 2:12), in this Epistle, means God, not Christ. Imitatio Dei, criterium communionis cum illo (Bengel).

It is very possibly from this antithesis of walking in light and walking in darkness that the figure of “The Two Ways,” called in the Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα Ἀποστόλων (i–vi) ὁδὸς τῆς ζωῆς and ὁδὸς τοῦ θανάτου, and in the Epistle of Barnabas (xviii–xxi) ὀδὸς τοῦ φωτός and ὁδὸς τοῦ σκότους, took its rise.

κοινωνίαν ἔχ. μετʼ ἀλλήλων. It is quite clear from 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:12; 2 John 1:5 that this refers to the mutual fellowship of Christians among themselves, and not to fellowship between God and man, as S. Augustine, Calvin, and others (desiring to make this verse parallel to 1 John 1:6), have interpreted. But such barren repetitions are not in S. 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 20:17). 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 (Exodus 10:22-23): 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. In a similar spirit Cicero declares that real friendship is impossible without virtue (De Amic. vi. 20).

καὶ τὸ αἶμα Ἰησοῦ. Comp. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11. The καί indicates that this is a further consequence of walking in the light. One who is walking in spiritual darkness cannot appropriate that cleansing from sin, which is wrought by the blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross and offered to God as a propitiation for sin. It is by His death that we participate in His life, and the sphere in which life is found is light. The addition of τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ is not at all redundant: [1] it is a passing contradiction of Cerinthus, who taught that Jesus was a mere man when His blood was shed, for the Divine element in His nature left Him when He was arrested in the garden; and of the Ebionites, who taught that He was a mere man from His birth to His death; [2] it explains how this blood can have such virtue: it is the blood of One who is the Son of God. Early Christian writers used very extreme language in expressing this truth. Clement of Rome (II) speaks of the παθήματα of God; Ignatius (Eph. i) of αἶμα Θεοῦ, (Rom. VI) of τὸ πάθος τοῦ Θεοῦ. Tatian (ad Graec. XIII.) has τοῦ πεπονθότος Θεοῦ, Tertullian (de Carn. Christi, v.) passiones Dei, and (ad Uxor. II. iii) sanguine Dei. See Lightfoot, Appendix to Clement, p. 402.

καθαρίζει. Note the present tense of what goes on continually, that constant cleansing which even the holiest Christians need (see on John 13:10). One who lives in the light knows his own frailty and is continually availing himself of the purifying power of Christ’s sacrificial death. ‘This passage shews that the gratuitous pardon of sins is given us not once only, but that it is a benefit perpetually residing in the Church, and daily offered to the faithful’ (Calvin). Note also the ‘all’; there is no limit to its cleansing power: even grievous sinners can be restored to the likeness of God, in whom is no darkness at all. This refutes by anticipation the error of the Novatians, who denied pardon to mortal sins after baptism. Comp. ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ … cleanse your conscience’ (Hebrews 9:14), and ‘These are they which come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:14). And ‘apart from shedding of blood there is no remission’ (Hebrews 9:25). For ἁμαρτία in the singular, sin regarded as one great plague, comp. 1 John 3:4; John 8:21; John 16:8; and especially John 1:29. But the addition of πάσης without the article shews us that this plague has many forms: ‘from every (kind of) sin.’ Winer, 137. Comp. Matthew 12:31. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. III. iv.) quotes 1 John 1:6-7 (with the formula φησὶν ὁ Ἰωάννης ἐν τῇ ἐπιστολῇ) and omits πάσης.

Verse 8

8. ἐὰν εἴπωμεν. The second of the false professions: see on 1 John 1:6. Some probably did say so, and others thought so: εἴπωμεν need not mean more than ‘say in our hearts.’ Portions of S. John’s own teaching (1 John 3:9-10) might easily be misunderstood as countenancing this error, if taken without his qualifications. Ἁμαρτίαν ἔχειν is a phrase peculiar to S. John in N.T. It differs from ἀμαρτάνειν much as ἁμαρτία or ἡ ἁμαρτία, sin as a whole, from ἁμαρτίαι or αἱ ἁμαρτίαι, the separate sinful acts. Comp. John 9:41; John 15:22; John 15:24; John 19:11. We need not enquire whether original or actual sin is meant: the expression covers sin of every kind. Only one human being has been able to say ‘The things pleasing to God I always do’; ‘Which of you convicteth Me of sin?’; ‘The ruler of the world hath nothing in Me’ (John 8:29; John 8:46; John 14:30). The more a man knows of the meaning of ‘God is light’, i.e. the more he realises the absolute purity and holiness of God, the more conscious he will become of his own impurity and sinfulness: comp. Job 9:2; Job 14:4; Job 15:14; Job 25:4; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20.

ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν. Not the middle, nor the passive, but a form of expression which makes it quite clear that the erring is all our own doing. Not ‘we err,’ or ‘we are deceived,’ but we lead ourselves astray, with an emphasis on ‘ourselves.’ Ipsi nos seducimus. We do for ourselves what the archdeceiver Satan (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:10) endeavours to do for us. Πλανᾶν in the active is frequent in S. John (1 John 2:26; 1 John 3:7; John 7:12; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:3; Revelation 20:8; Revelation 20:10). These passages indicate that the verb is a strong one and implies serious departure from the truth. For ἑαυτούς with the first person comp. ἀνεθεματίσαμεν ἑαυτούς (Acts 23:14), ἑαυτοὺς διεκρίνομεν (1 Corinthians 11:31). It occurs with the second person 1 John 5:21; 2 John 1:8 (see note), John 5:42; and frequently in S. Paul’s writings. Winer 178, 179, 321, 322. ‘To deceive’ would be rather ἀπατᾶν (James 1:26), ἐξαπατᾶν (1 Corinthians 3:18), φρεναπατᾶν (Galatians 6:3), ἡ ἀλήθ. ἐν ἡμῖν οὐκ ἔστιν. Once more the positive statement is enforced by a negative one (1 John 1:5-6). We are in an atmosphere of self-made darkness which shuts the truth out. It may be all round us, as sunlight round a closed house; but it does not enter into us, still less has a permanent place in us. All words about truth are characteristic of S. John’s writings; ἀλήθεια, Gospel and all three Epistles; ἀληθής, Gospel, and 1 and 3 John; ἀληθινός, Gospel, 1 John, and Revelation; ἀληθῶς, Gospel and 1 John. ‘The truth’ is the correlative of ‘witness’, which, as shewn above (1 John 1:2), is also characteristic of the Apostle.

Verses 8-10

8–10. Walking in the light involves the great blessings just stated,—fellowship with God and with our brethren, and a share in the purifying blood of Jesus. But it also involves something on our part. It intensifies our consciousness of sin, and therefore our desire to get rid of it by confessing it. No one can live in the light without being abundantly convinced that he himself is not light.

Verse 9

9. ἐὰν ὁμολ. τὰς ἁμαρτ. ἡμῶν. The opposite case is now taken and developed, as in 1 John 1:7 : see note there. But here we have no δέ, and the asyndeton is telling. Greek has such a wealth of connecting particles, that in that language asyndeton is specially remarkable. Here there is expansion and progress, not only in the second half of the verse where ‘He is faithful and righteous’ takes the place of ‘we are true’; but in the first half also; where ‘confess our sins’ takes the place of ‘say we have sin.’ The latter admission costs us little: the confession of the particular sins which we have committed costs a good deal, and is a guarantee of sincerity. He who refuses to confess, may perhaps desire, but certainly does not seek forgiveness. ‘He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13). Obviously confession to Him who is ‘faithful and righteous,’ and to those ‘selves’ whom we should otherwise ‘lead astray,’ is all that is meant. The passage has nothing to do with the question of confession to our fellowmen. Elsewhere S. John uses ὁμολογεῖν only of confessing Christ (1 John 2:23; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 4:15; 2 John 1:7; John 1:20; John 9:22; John 12:42; Revelation 3:5).

πιστός ἐστιν κ. δίκαιος. He is faithful and righteous, to bring out the contrast with πάσης ἀδικίας here and the connexion with Ἰησ. Χρ. δίκαιον (1 John 2:1). God is πιστός because He keeps His word, and δίκαιος because in doing so He gives to each his due. Comp. πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος (Hebrews 10:23); πιστὸν ἡγήσατο τὸν ἐπαγγειλάμενον (Hebrews 11:11). Δίκαιος εἶ ὁ ὢνὅτι ταῦτα ἔκριναςἀληθιναὶ καὶ δίκαιαι αἱ κρίσεις σου (Revelation 16:5-7). Beware of watering down δίκαιος into a vague expression for ‘kind, gentle, merciful.’ ‘The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us’ (Jeremiah 42:5) in LXX. is Ἔστω κύριος ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς μάρτυρα δίκαιον καὶ πιστόν.

ἵνα ἀφῇ. In spite of what some eminent scholars have said to the contrary, it is perhaps true that the Greek for these words includes to some extent the idea of intention and aim. Comp. 1 John 3:1; John 4:34; John 6:29; John 6:40; John 12:23; John 13:1. Thus the Vulgate and Beza, fidelis est et justus, ut remittat nobis peccata nostra; and Wiclif, ‘He is feithful and just that He forgeve to us oure synnes’; and the Rhemish, ‘He is faithful and just, for to forgive us our sinnes.’ In S. John we find the conviction deeply rooted that all things happen in accordance with the decrees of God: events are the results of His purposes. And this conviction influences his language: so that constructions (ἵνα) which originally indicated a purpose, and which even in late Greek do not lose this meaning entirely, are specially frequent in his writings: see on John 5:36. It is God’s decree and aim that His faithfulness and righteousness should appear in His forgiving us and cleansing us from sin. “Forgiveness and cleansing are ends to which God, being what He is, has regard” (Westcott). See Haupt’s note and Winer, 577. Those particular acts of which we are conscious and which we have confessed are indicated by τὰς ἁμαρτίας: ἁμαρτία in the singular may be either sin in the abstract (John 16:9) or a single act of sin (1 John 5:16); ἁμαρτίαι in the plural must mean particular sinful acts (1 John 2:2; 1 John 2:12; 1 John 3:5; 1 John 5:10). Comp. Psalms 32:5; Proverbs 28:13, where the doctrine, that confession of sins (not admission of sinfulness) leads to forgiveness, is plainly stated.

καθαρίσῃ ἡμ. ἀπὸ π. ἀδικίας. Not a repetition in other words of ἀφῇ τὰς ἁμ. It is a second and distinct result of our confession: 1. We are absolved from sin’s punishment; 2. We are freed from sin’s pollution. The reference to the phraseology of the Temple is obvious (Hebrews 9:23; John 2:6; John 3:25). The one affects our peace, the other our character. The forgiveness is the averting of God’s wrath; the cleansing is the beginning of holiness. “He takes from thee an evil security, and puts in a useful fear” (Augustine). Possibly, as in 1 John 1:6, there is exact correspondence between the two clauses. There, ψευδόμεθα evidently refers to εἴπωμεν, ποιοῦμεν to περιπατῶμεν. Here, ἀφῇ may look back to πιατός, καθαρίσῃ to δίκαιος. God is ‘faithful’ in forgiving our sins, because He has promised to do so, ‘righteous’ in cleansing us from unrighteousness, because reunion with Him banishes what is contrary to Him. Light must expel darkness.

Verse 10

10. οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν. This is the third false profession. It is not equivalent to ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν (1 John 1:8), which refers to the sinful state, the inward principle: whereas this indicates the result of that state, viz. the commission of sinful Acts 1. We may ignore the difference between right and wrong and thereby deny that sin exists (1 John 1:6). 2. We may deny that our own nature is sinful (1 John 1:8). 3. Or, admitting the reality of sin and the sinful tendency of our nature, we may deny that we, as a matter of fact, have sinned. Of course sins committed before baptism are not meant: no Christian would have denied these. Both in Gospel and in Epistles S. John has in mind adult Christians, not catechumens. The Greek perfect here again (1 John 1:1; 1 John 1:3) has its full force; present result of past action: ‘We are in the condition of having avoided sin.’

ψεύστην ποιοῦμεν αὐτόν. At first sight this third false profession seems less serious than the others: but to avoid the other two and yet adopt this is more conspicuously a sin against light. There is a marked gradation of guilt. ‘To lead ourselves astray’ (1 John 1:8) is worse than ‘to lie’ (1 John 1:6): but ‘to make God a liar’ is worst of all. This use of ποιεῖν for ‘to assert that one is’ is another of S. John’s characteristics: τίνα σεαυτὸν ποιεῖς; (John 8:53); ποιεῖς σεαυτὸν θεόν (John 10:33). Comp. John 5:18, John 19:7; John 19:12. The O. T. proclaims the universality of sin. Moreover, God’s whole scheme of salvation assumes that every human being sins and has need of redemption, the Redeemer only excepted. Therefore those who profess that they have never sinned, and have no need of a Redeemer, charge God with having deliberately framed a libel against themselves, and having misstated the possibilities of human nature. It has been acutely remarked of Renan’s Life of Jesus that “sin does not appear in it at all. Now if there is anything which explains the success of the Good News among men, it is that it offered deliverance from sin—salvation” (Amiel).

ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν. God’s revelation of Himself has no home in our hearts: it remains outside us, as the light remains outside and separate from those who shut themselves up in darkness. Obviously ὁ λόγος here is not personal: nothing has been said about the indwelling of Christ. ‘His word’ means the whole of God’s Revelation in both O. and N.T., especially in the Gospel (John 10:35; John 17:6; John 17:14; John 17:17). Ὁ λόγος is more definite than ἡ ἀλήθεια (1 John 1:8), and also more personal: it implies that the truth has been uttered. Utterance there must be in word or deed to make truth of any worth to mankind. The expressions εἶναι ἐν and μένειν ἐν, to express intimate relationship, are very characteristic of S. John: and either of the things related can be said to be in the other. Thus, either ‘His word is not in us’ (comp. 1 John 2:14) or ‘If ye abide in My Word’ (John 8:31): either ‘The truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8) or ‘He standeth not in the truth’ (John 8:44). Sometimes the two modes of expression are combined; ‘Abide in Me, and I in you’ (John 15:4).

Note that the contrary hypothesis to the first and second false professions is given (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9) but not to the third. That to the second (1 John 1:9) covers the third also. The mere confession of sinfulness, which would be the exact contrary to the second false profession, is omitted as being of no moral value.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 John 1:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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