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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 John 3

 

 

Verse 1

1. ποταπήν. The same word occurs Matthew 8:27; Mark 13:1; Luke 1:29; Luke 7:39; 2 Peter 3:11 : it always implies astonishment, and generally admiration. The radical signification is ‘of what country,’ the Latin cujas; which, however, is never used as its equivalent in the Vulgate, because in N.T. the word has entirely lost the notion of place. It has become qualis rather than cujas: ‘what amazing love’. In LXX. the word does not occur.

ἀγάπην. This is the key-word of this whole division of the Epistle (1 John 2:29 to 1 John 5:12), in which it occurs 16 times as a substantive, 25 as a verb, and 5 times in the verbal adjective ἀγαπητοί. Here it is represented almost as something concrete, a gift which could be actually seen. S. John does not use his favourite interjection (ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τ. Θεοῦ, ἴδε ὁ ἄνθρωπος, κ.τ.λ.), but the plural of the imperative, ἴδετε. Ἀγάπην δίδοναι occurs nowhere else in N.T.

ἡμῖν ὁ πατήρ. The words are in emphatic proximity: on us sinners the Father hath bestowed this boon. Quid majus quam Deus? quae propior necessitudo quam filialis? (Bengel.) Comp. ἔσομαι αὐτῷ Θεός, καὶ αὐτὸς ἔσται μοι υἱός (Revelation 21:7). Ὁ Πατήρ rather than ὁ Θεός because of what follows. [691] reads ὑμῖν for ἡμῖν and has some support in inferior authorities, but it can hardly be right. The confusion between ὑμ. and ἡμ. is easily made and is very frequent even in the best MSS.

ἵνα τ. Θεοῦ κληθ. S. John’s characteristic construction, as in 1 John 1:9. “The final particle has its full force” (Westcott). This was the purpose of His love, its tendency and direction. Winer, 575. Comp. 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:21; John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17. Καλεῖσθαι “is especially used of titles of honour, which indicate the possession of a certain dignity: see Matthew 5:9; Luke 1:76; 1 John 3:1” (Winer, 769). With R.V. we must render τέκνα Θεοῦ children of God, not with A.V. and earlier Versions, ‘the sons of God’. There is no article; and we must not confuse S. Paul’s υἱοὶ Θεοῦ with S. John’s τέκνα Θεοῦ. Both Apostles tell us that the fundamental relation of Christians to God is a filial one: but while S. Paul gives us the legal side (adoption), S. John gives us the natural side (generation). To us the latter is the closer relationship of the two. But we must remember that in the Roman Law, under which S. Paul lived, adoption was considered as absolutely equivalent to actual parentage. In this ‘unique apostrophe’ in the centre of the Epistle two of its central leading ideas meet, Divine love and Divine sonship; a love which has as its end and aim that men should be called children of God. Note that Θεοῦ, as Θεόν in 1 John 4:12, has no article. This shews that it is the idea of Divinity that is prominent rather than the relation to ourselves. The meaning is that we are children of One who is not human but Divine, rather that we are related to One who is our God. See on 1 John 4:12.

After ‘children of God’ we must insert on overwhelming authority ([692][693][694][695] and Versions), and we are: God has allowed us to be called children, and we are children. The simus of the Vulgate and S. Augustine and the ‘and be’ of the Rhemish are probably wrong. Tyndale, Beza, and the Genevan omit. The present indicative after ἵνα is not impossible (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 4:17 : Winer, 362): but would S. John have put κληθῶμεν in the subjunctive and ἐσμέν in the indicative, if both were dependent upon ἵνα? With καὶ ἐσμέν here comp. καὶ ἔσται in 2 John 1:2. It is in this passage with the true reading that we have something like proof that Justin Martyr knew this Epistle. In the Dial. c. Try. (CXXIII.) he has καὶ Θεοῦ τέκνα ἀληθινὰ καλούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν.

διὰ τοῦτο. For this cause, as R.V., reserving ‘therefore’ as the rendering of οὖν, a particle which is very frequent in the narrative portions of the Gospel, but which does not occur anywhere in this Epistle. In 1 John 2:24 and 1 John 4:19 οὖν is a false reading. Tyndale, Cranmer, the Genevan and the Rhemish all have ‘for this cause’: the A.V., as not unfrequently, has altered for the worse. It may be doubted whether the R.V. has not here altered the punctuation for the worse, in putting a full stop at ‘we are.’ Διὰ τοῦτο in S. John does not merely anticipate the ὅτι which follows; it refers to what precedes. ‘We are children of God; and for this cause the world knows us not: because the world knew Him not.’ The third sentence explains how the second sentence follows from the first. In logical phraseology we might say that the conclusion is placed between the two premises. Comp. John 5:16; John 5:18; John 7:22; John 8:47; John 10:17; John 12:18; John 12:27; John 12:39. For ‘the world’ see on 1 John 2:2. S. Augustine compares the attitude of the world towards God to that of sick men in delirium who would do violence to their physician. After the experiences of the persecutions under Nero and Domitian this statement of the Apostle would come home with full force to his readers. The persecution under Domitian was possibly just beginning at the very time that this First Epistle was written. Comp. John 15:19. All spiritual forces are unintelligible and offensive to ‘the world.’ For οὐκ ἔγνω see on 1 John 4:8.


Verses 1-12

1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:12. THE CHILDREN OF GOD AND THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL


Verses 1-24

1 John 2:29 to 1 John 5:12. GOD IS LOVE

There seems to be no serious break in the Epistle from this point onwards until we reach the concluding verses which form a sort of summary (1 John 5:13-21). The key-word ‘love’ is distributed, and not very unevenly, over the whole, from 1 John 3:1 to 1 John 5:3. Subdivisions, however, exist and will be pointed out as they occur. The next two subdivisions may be marked thus; The Children of God and the Children of the Devil (1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:12); Love and Hate (1 John 3:13-24). The two, as we shall find, are closely linked together, and might be placed under one heading, thus; The Righteousness of the Children of God in their relation to the Hate of the World (1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:24).


Verse 2

2. ἀγαπητοί. Vulgate, as usual: Jerome (Con. Pelag. 13) dilectissimi. In the first part of the Epistle this form of address occurs only once (1 John 2:7), just where the subject of love appears for a few verses. In this second part it becomes the more common form of address (1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:21; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11), for here the main subject is love. Similarly, in 1 John 3:13, where brotherly love is the special subject, ἀδελφοί is the form of address. Νῦν and οὕπω each stand first in their respective clauses in emphatic contrast, and καί, as so often in S. John, introduces an antithesis. Our privileges in this world are certain; and yet our glories in the world to come are still veiled. But they will be connected with our blessings here (καί), not something quite different (ἀλλά). With this τέκνα Θεοῦ agrees: ‘child’ implies a future development; ‘son’ does not. Φανεροῦσθαι in both places should be rendered, as in R.V., be made manifest or be manifested, in order to preserve the passive voice and uniformity of rendering with 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:19; 1 John 2:28. It is one of S. John’s characteristic expressions. ‘Appear’ comes from the Vulgate: Augustine uses both apparere and manifestari, Tertullian revelari.

ἐὰν φανερωθῇ. If it shall be manifested, or if He shall be manifested. Here there is no difference of reading, as there is in 1 John 2:28, between ὅταν and ἐάν; but earlier English Versions, under the influence of the Vulgate (cum apparuerit) have ‘when’ in both passages. Ambrose and Augustine have cum also; Tertullian has si. In both cases ‘if’ is right; but it has been either changed in the Greek, or shirked in translation, as appearing to imply a doubt respecting the manifestation. It implies no doubt as to the fact, but shews that the results of the fact are more important than the time: comp. ‘If I be lifted up from the earth,’ and ‘If I go and prepare a place for you’ (John 12:32; John 14:3).

It is less easy to determine between ‘if it shall be manifested’ and ‘if He shall be manifested;’ ‘it’ meaning what we shall be hereafter, and ‘He’ meaning Christ. No nominative is expressed in the Greek, and it is rather violent to supply a new nominative, differing from that of the very same verb in the previous sentence: therefore ‘it’ seems preferable. ‘We know that if our future state is made manifest we, who are children of God, shall be found like our Father.’ On the other hand, 1 John 2:28 favours ‘if He shall be manifested.’ Note the οἴδαμεν and comp. 1 John 2:20-21. No progress in knowledge is implied; no additional experience. Our future resemblance to our Father is a fact of which as Christians we are aware. Contrast γινώσκομεν (1 John 2:3; 1 John 2:18; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:6; 1 John 4:13; 1 John 5:2). The ‘but’ of A.V. from δέ of T. R. introduces a false antithesis. But yet another way is possible. We may read here, as R.V. in 1 John 3:20, ὅ τι ἐάν, and translate, We knowwhatever may be manifested—that we shall be like Him. But this does not seem probable: it is unlike S. John, and (perhaps we may say) unlike Scripture generally.

ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ. We are once more in doubt as to the meaning of αὐτῷ. If ἐὰν φαν. be rendered ‘if He shall be manifested,’ this will naturally mean that we shall be like Christ; which, however true in itself, is not the point. The point is that children are found to be like their Father. This is an additional reason for preferring ‘it’ with Tyndale and Cranmer to ‘He’ with Wiclif, Purvey, Genevan, and Rhemish. The precise nature of the ὁμοιότης (not ἰσότης) is left undetermined. Similes, quia beati, says Bede. Man was created κατʼ εἰκονα καὶ καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν τοῦ θεοῦ (Genesis 1:26-27), and this likeness, marred at the Fall, is renewed here by Christ’s Blood and perfected hereafter. ὅτι ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν καθώς ἐστιν. Because we shall see Him even as He is: ‘because’ as in 1 John 3:9; 1 John 3:20; 1 John 3:22; 1 John 2:13-14, &c., and ‘even as’ as in 1 John 3:3; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:27, &c. ‘Because’ or ‘for’ may give the cause either [1] of our knowing that we shall be like Him, or [2] of our being like Him. Both make good sense; but, in spite of ‘we know’ being the principal sentence grammatically, the statement which most needs explanation is the subordinate one, that we shall be like God. ‘We shall be like Him,’ says the Apostle, ‘because, as you know, we shall see Him.’ Comp. ‘But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18); the sight of God will glorify us. This also is in harmony with the prayer of the great High Priest; ‘And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given unto them’ (John 17:22). Comp. ‘And they shall see His face’ (Revelation 22:4). The ‘even as’ emphasizes the reality of the sight: no longer ‘in a mirror, darkly,’ but ‘face to face.’


Verse 3

3. πᾶς ὁ ἔχων. Once more, as in 1 John 2:23; 1 John 2:29, the Apostle explicitly states that there is no exception to the principle laid down. It is not only a general rule that he who has this hope of becoming like God purifies himself, but it is a rule without any exceptions; πᾶς ὁ ἔχων. There is absolutely no room for the Gnostic belief that to the enlightened man sin brings no pollution. Ἐπʼ αὐτῷ of course does not mean ‘in Him,’ but ‘on Him’: in eo sitam, as Beza. Every man who has the hope, based upon God, of one day being like Him, purifies himself. Comp. ἐπʼ αὐτῷ ἔθνη ἐλπιοῦσιν (Romans 15:12): ἠλπίκαμεν ἐπὶ θεῷ ζῶντι (1 Timothy 4:10).

ἁγνίζει. In LXX. this verb (ἁγνίζειν) is used chiefly in a technical sense of ceremonial purifications, e.g. of the priests for divine service: and so also even in N.T. (John 11:55; Acts 21:24; Acts 21:26; Acts 24:18). But we need not infer that, because the outward cleansing is the dominant idea in these passages, it is therefore the only one. Here, James 4:8, and 1 Peter 2:22, the inward purification and dedication become the dominant idea, though perhaps not to the entire exclusion of the other.

ἁγν. ἑαυτόν. See on 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 5:21. S. John once more boldly gives us an apparent contradiction, in order to bring out a real truth. In 1 John 1:7 it is ‘the blood of Jesus’ which ‘cleanseth us from all sin:’ here the Christian ‘purifieth himself.’ Both are true, and neither cleansing will avail to salvation without the other. Christ cannot save us if we withhold our efforts: we cannot save ourselves without His merits and grace.

καθὼς ἐκεῖνος ἁγνός ἐστιν. As in 1 John 3:2, the ‘even as’ brings out the reality of the comparison: similarly in John 17:11; John 17:22 we have ‘that they may be one, even as we are.’ It is not easy to determine with certainty whether ‘He’ means the Father or Christ. The change of pronoun in the Greek from ‘on Him’ (ἐπʼ αὐτῷ) to ‘He’ (ἐκεῖνος) favours, though it does not prove, a change of meaning. Probably throughout this Epistle ἐκεῖνος means Christ (1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 4:17). He who, relying on God, hopes to be like God hereafter, purifies himself now after the example of Christ. Christ conformed Himself to the Father; we do the like by conforming ourselves to Christ. This interpretation brings us once more in contact with Christ’s great prayer. ‘For their sakes I consecrate Myself, that they themselves may be consecrated in truth’ (John 17:19). Moreover, would S. John speak of God as ‘pure’? God is ‘holy’ (ἅγιος); Christ in His perfect sinlessness as man is ‘pure’ (ἁγνός). The Vulgate here renders ἁγνός sanctus, as the Corbey MS. in James 3:17, where the Vulgate has pudicus. The usual Vulgate rendering is castus. Note that S. John does not say ‘even as He purified Himself:’ that grace which the Christian has to seek diligently is the inherent attribute of Christ. The consecration of Christ for the work of redemption is very different from the purification of the Christian in order to be like Him and the Father. Comp. Hebrews 12:14.


Verse 4

4. As so often, the Apostle emphasizes his statement by giving the opposite case, and not the simple opposite, but an expansion of it. Instead of saying ‘every one that hath not this hope’ he says every one that doeth sin. The A.V. not only obscures this antithesis by changing ‘every man’ to ‘whosoever,’ but also the contrast between ‘doing righteousness’ (1 John 2:29) and ‘doing sin’ by changing from ‘do’ to ‘commit.’ This contrast is all the more marked in the Greek because both words have the article; ‘doeth the righteousness,’ ‘doeth the sin.’ Equally unfortunate is the A.V. rendering of καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ, ‘transgresseth also the law:’ which destroys the parallel between ποιῶν τ. ἁμαρτ. and τ. ἀνομ. ποιεῖ. Note the chiasmus, and render with R.V.; Every one that doeth sin, doeth also lawlessness. To bring out the contrast and parallel it is imperative to have the same verb in both clauses and also in 1 John 2:29 : to do sin is to do lawlessness, and this is the opposite of to do righteousness. The one marks the children of God, the other the children of the devil. ‘Lawlessness’ both in English and Greek (ἀνομία) means not the privation of law, but the disregard of it: not the having no law, but the acting as if one had none. (Comp. the Hebrew pesha and the LXX. rendering of it, Isaiah 43:27; Amos 4:4 : it implies faithless disregard of a covenant. This was precisely the case with some of the Gnostic teachers: they declared that their superior enlightenment placed them above the moral law; they were neither the better for keeping it nor the worse for breaking it. Sin and lawlessness, says the Apostle, are convertible terms: they are merely different aspects of the same state. (Hence the predicate as well as the subject has the article: see below.) And it is in its aspect of disregard of God’s law that sin is seen to be quite irreconcilable with being a child of God and having fellowship with God. See on 1 John 3:17.

The ‘for’ of A.V. is sanctioned by no reading or ancient Version: it comes from Tyndale, Beza, and the Genevan. The Vulgate preserves the chiasmus as well as the καί: Omnis qui facit peccatum, et iniquitatem facit; et peccatum est iniquitas. So also Tertullian, but with the African rendering delictum in each case for peccatum. So also, quite naturally, Luther: Wer Sünde thut, der thut auch Unrecht, und die Sünde ist das Unrecht. For instances in which both terms in a proposition that can be converted simply have the article comp. ἡ ἐντολὴ ἡ παλαιά ἐστιν ὁ λόγος ὂν ἡκούσατε (1 John 2:7): ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων (John 1:4): ἡ πέτρα ἦν ὁ Χριστός (1 Corinthians 10:4; comp. 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 15:56). Winer, 142, note. Green, 35, 36.


Verse 5

5. That sin is incompatible with Divine birth is further enforced by two facts respecting the highest instance of Divine birth. The Son of God [1] entered the world of sense in order to put away sin; and therefore those who sin thwart His work: [2] was Himself absolutely free from sin; and therefore those who sin disregard His example.

οἴδατε. [696] and the Thebaic read οἴδαμεν. As in 1 John 3:2 and 1 John 2:21, the Apostle appeals to that knowledge which as Christians they must possess. The translation of ἐφανερώθη here must govern the translation in 1 John 3:2 and 1 John 2:28, where see note. Here, as in 1 John 3:8 and 1 John 1:2, the manifestation of the Λόγος in becoming visible to human eyes is meant,—the Incarnation. The expression necessarily implies that He existed previous to being made manifest.

ἵνα τὰς ἁμαρτ. ἄρῃ. Literally, that He might take away the sins, i.e. all the sins that there are. If ‘our sins’ means ‘the sins of us men’ and not ‘the sins of us Christians,’ the rendering is admissible, even if the addition ἡμῶν ([697][698] Thebaic) is not genuine. As already stated, the article is often used in Greek where in English we use a possessive pronoun. ‘To take away’ is the safest rendering; for this is all that the Greek word necessarily means (see on John 1:29). Vulgate, tolleret; Augustine, auferat. Yet it is not improbable that the meaning of ‘to bear’ is included: He took the sins away by bearing them Himself (1 Peter 2:24). This, however, is not S. John’s point. His argument is that the Son’s having become incarnate in order to abolish sin shews that sin is inconsistent with sonship: the way in which He abolished it is not in question.

καὶ ἁμ.… οὐκ ἔστιν. This is an independent proposition and must not be connected with οἴδατε ὅτι. The order of the Greek is impressive; sin in Him does not exist. And the tense is significant. Christ not merely was on earth, but is in heaven, the eternally sinless One. He is the perfect pattern of what a son of God should be. This, therefore, is yet another proof that sin and sonship are incompatible. Comp. John 7:18. Nemo tollit peccata, quae nec lex quamvis sancta et justa et bona potuit aujerre, nisi ille in quo peccatum non est (Bede).


Verse 6

6. πᾶς ὁ μένων. Every one that abideth. Here, as in 1 John 2:23; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:3-4; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 3:15; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18, it is well to bring out in translation the full sweep of the Apostle’s declaration. He insists that there are no exceptions to these principles.

οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει. The Christian sometimes sins (1 John 1:8-10). The Christian abides in Christ (1 John 2:27). He who abides in Christ does not sin (1 John 3:6). By these apparently contradictory statements put forth one after another S. John expresses that internal contradiction of which every one who is endeavouring to do right is conscious. What S. John delivers as a series of aphorisms, which mutually qualify and explain one another, S. Paul puts forth dialectically as an argument. ‘If what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me’ (Romans 7:20). And on the other hand, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20).

πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτ.… αὐτον. Every one that sinneth, hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him. For ἑώρακεν see on 1 John 1:1, for ἔγνωκεν on 1 John 2:3. It is possible that S. John alludes to some who had claimed authority because they had seen Christ in the flesh. No one who sins, has seen Christ or attained to a knowledge of Him. What does S. John mean by this strong statement? It will be observed that it is the antithesis of the preceding statement; but, as usual, instead of giving us the simple antithesis, ‘Every one that sinneth abideth not in Him,’ he expands and strengthens it into ‘Every one that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither come to know Him.’ S. John does not say this of every one who commits a sin (ὁ ἁμαρτήσας), but of the habitual sinner (ὁ ἁμαρτάνων). Although the believer sometimes sins, yet not sin, but opposition to sin, is the ruling principle of his life; for whenever he sins he confesses it, and wins forgiveness, and perseveres with his self-purification.

But the habitual sinner does none of these things: sin is his ruling principle. And this could not be the case if he had ever really known Christ. Just as apostates by leaving the Church prove that they have never really belonged to it (1 John 2:19), so the sinner by continuing in sin proves that he has never really known Christ.—Seeing and knowing are not two names for the same fact: to see Christ is to be spiritually conscious of His presence; to know Him is to recognise His character and His relation to ourselves. For a collection of varying interpretations of this passage see Farrar’s Early Days of Christianity II. p. 434, note.


Verse 7

7. τεκνία. The renewed address adds solemnity and tenderness to the warning. From the point of view of the present subject, viz. the Divine parentage, he again warns them against the ruinous doctrine that religion and conduct are separable; that to the spiritual man no action is defiling, but all conduct is alike. The language implies that the error set before them is of a very grave kind: let no man lead you astray: see on 1 John 1:8.

ὁ ποιῶν. Not ὁ ποιήσας, any more than ὁ ἁμαρτήσας (1 John 3:6). It is he who habitually does righteousness, not he who simply does a righteous act. If faith without works is dead (James 2:17; James 2:20), much more is knowledge without works dead. There is only one way of proving our enlightenment, of proving our parentage from Him who is Light; and that is by doing the righteousness which is characteristic of Him and His Son. This is the sure test, the test which Gnostic self-exaltation pretended to despise. Anyone can say that he possesses a superior knowledge of Divine truth; but does he act accordingly? Does he do divine things, after the example of the Divine Son? S. John speaks of both the Father (1 John 1:9) and the Son (1 John 2:2) as δίκαιος; but here as elsewhere in this Epistle, it is best to take ἐκεῖνος as meaning Christ: see on 1 John 2:6 and 1 John 3:3.


Verse 8

8. ὁ ποιῶν τ. ἁμαρτ. He that doeth sin, as in 1 John 3:4, to bring out the contrast with ‘he that doeth righteousness.’ Qui facit peccatum. The first half of this verse is closely parallel to the second half of 1 John 3:7. The habitual doer of sin has the devil as the source (ἐκ), not of his existence, but of the evil which rules his existence and is the main element in it. “The devil made no man, begat no man, created no man: but whoso imitates the devil, becomes a child of the devil, as if begotten of him. In what sense art thou a child of Abraham? Not that Abraham begat thee. In the same sense as that in which the Jews, the children of Abraham, by not imitating the faith of Abraham, are become children of the devil” (S. Augustine). Jerome (Hom. in Jerem. vi.) quotes this passage thus; Omnis qui facit peccatum, ex zabulo natus est. Neither the omnis nor the natus is in the Vulgate or in the Greek. The form zabulus occurs in MSS. of Cyprian and Lactantius, and also in Hilary and Ambrose: it is not found in the Vulgate. (With zabulus for διάβολος comp. ζάχολος, ζαπληθής, ζάπυρος, ζάπλουτος, ζάχρυσος: and zeta for δίαιτα.) Jerome continues; Toties ex zabulo nascimur, quoties peccamus. Infelix iste qui semper generatur a zabulo. Rursumque multum beatus qui semper ex Deo nascitur. It is one of the characteristics of these closing words of N.T. that they mark with singular precision the personality of Satan, and his relation to sin, sinners, and redemption from sin.

ὄτι ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ὁ δ. ἁμ. Because from the beginning the devil sinneth. Ab initio diabolus peccat (Vulgate): a primordio delinquit (Tertullian). ‘From the beginning’ stands first for emphasis. What does it mean? Various explanations have been suggested. [1] From the beginning of sin. The devil was the first to sin and has never ceased to sin. [2] From the beginning of the devil. This comes very near to asserting the Gnostic and Manichaean error of two co-eternal principles or Creators, one good and one evil. The very notion of sin involves departure from what is good. The good therefore must have existed first. To avoid this, [3] from the beginning of the devil as such, i.e. from the time of his becoming the devil, or [4] from the beginning of his activity; which is not very different from [3] if one believes that he is a fallen angel, or from [2] if one does not. [5] From the beginning of the world. [6] From the beginning of the human race. The first or last seems best. “The phrase ‘From the beginning’ intimates that there has been no period of the existence of human beings in which they have not been liable to the assaults of this Tempter; that accusations against God, reasons for doubting and distrusting Him, have been offered to one man after another, to one generation after another. This is just what the Scripture affirms; just the assumption which goes through the book from Genesis to the Apocalypse.” (Maurice.) Note the present tense: not he has sinned, but he is sinning; his whole existence is sin.

ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ. In special contrast to those habitual sinners who are morally the children of the devil. Origen here gives the reading γεγέννηται, which is probably a mere slip of memory. There seems to be no trace of it elsewhere. The metaphor in ἵνα λύσῃ has probably nothing to do with loosening bonds or snares. All destruction is dissolution. The word in a figurative sense is a favourite one with the Apostle: comp. John 2:19; John 5:18; John 7:23; John 10:35, where either notion, loosening or dissolving, is appropriate. Comp. χρῄζω οὖν πραότητος, ἐν ἧ καταλύεται ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου (Ign. Trall. IV). The ἔργα of the devil are the sins which he causes men to commit. Christ came to undo these sins, to ‘take away’ both them and their consequences. They are the opposite of τὰ ἔργα τοῦ Θεοῦ (John 9:3), the same as τὰ ἔργα τοῦ σκότους (Romans 13:12).

The recognition of the personality of the devil in this passage is express and clear, as in John 8:44, where we have Christ’s declaration on the subject. It is there implied that he is a fallen being; for he ‘did not stand firm in the truth’ (οὐκ ἔστηκεν). He is here the great opponent of the Son of God manifest in the flesh and the author of men’s sins. In both passages he appears as morally the parent of those who deliberately prefer evil to good. Nothing is said either as to his origin, or the origin of moral evil.


Verse 9

9. This is the opposite of 1 John 3:8, as 1 John 3:8 of 1 John 3:7; but, as usual, not the plain opposite, but something deduced from it, is stated.

πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τ. Θ. Every one that (see on 1 John 3:6) is begotten of God. Note the perfect tense; ‘every one that has been made and that remains a child of God.’ The expression is very frequent throughout the Epistle (1 John 2:29; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18) and the rendering should be uniform; all the more so, because the phrase is characteristic. The A.V. wavers between ‘born’ and ‘begotten,’ even in the same verse (1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:18). The R.V. rightly prefers ‘begotten’ throughout: ‘born’ throughout is impossible, for in 1 John 5:1 we have the active, ‘begat.’ The expression ‘to be begotten of God’ is found only in S. John; once in the Gospel (John 1:13) and eight or nine times in the Epistle: comp. John 3:3; John 3:5-8.

ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ. As R.V. doeth no sin (see on 1 John 3:4): the opposition between ‘doing sin’ and ‘doing righteousness’ must be carefully marked. The strong statement is exactly parallel to 1 John 3:6 and is to be understood in a similar sense. It is literally true of the Divine nature imparted to the believer. That does not sin and cannot sin. A child of the God who is Light can have nothing to do with sin which is darkness: the two are morally incompatible.

ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐ. μ. As R.V., because his seed abideth in him: see on 1 John 2:24. This may mean either [1] ‘His seed,’ the new birth given by God, ‘abideth in him;’ or [2] ‘his seed,’ the new birth received by him, ‘abideth in him;’ or [3] ‘His seed,’ God’s child, ‘abideth in Him.’ The first is probably right. The third is possible, but improbable: σπέρμα is sometimes used for ‘child’ or ‘descendant;’ but would not S. John have written τέκνον as in 1 John 3:1-2; 1 John 3:10, 1 John 5:2? To resort to the parable of the sower for an explanation, and to interpret ‘seed’ as ‘the word of God’ is scarcely legitimate. The whole analogy refers to human generation, not to the germination of plants; but comp. 1 Peter 1:23. John 3:5-8 would lead us to interpret seed as meaning the Holy Spirit. Justin Martyr may have had this verse in his mind when he wrote οἱ πιστεύοντες αὐτῷ εἰσιν ἄνθρωποι ἐν οἶς οἰκεῖ τὸ παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ σπέρμα ὁ λόγος (Apol. I. xxxii).

οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτ. It is a moral impossibility for a child of God to sin. It is because of the imperfection of our sonship that sin is possible, an imperfection to be remedied and gradually reduced by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7) and self-purification (1 John 3:3). In quantum in eo manet, in tantum non peccat (Bede). Οὐ δύναται of what is morally impossible is frequent in S. John’s Gospel (1n 5:30; John 6:44; John 6:65; John 7:7; John 8:43; John 12:39; John 14:17). Comp. 1 John 4:20. Augustine, followed by Bede, limits the impossibility in this case to the violation of the principle of love. That is the sin which is impossible to the true child of God.


Verse 10

10. ἐν τούτῳ. This phrase, like διὰ τοῦτο (1 John 3:1) commonly looks back at what has just been stated. In doing or not doing sin lies the test. A man’s principles are invisible, but their results are visible: ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:16-20).

τὰ τέκνα τ. διαβόλου. The expression occurs nowhere else in N.T. Acts 13:10 we have υἱὲ διαβόλου, and Matthew 13:38 οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ πονηροῦ. Comp. ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστέ (John 8:44). All mankind are God’s children by creation: as regards this a creature can have no choice. But a creature endowed with free will can choose his own parent in the moral world. The Father offers him the ‘right to become a child of God’ (John 1:12); but he can refuse this and become a child of the devil instead. There is no third alternative.

It was for pressing the doctrine that a tree is known by its fruits to an extreme, and maintaining that a world in which evil exists cannot be the work of a good God, that the heretic Marcion was rebuked by S. John’s disciple Polycarp, in words which read like an adaptation of this passage, Ἐπιγιγνώσκω τὸν πρωτότοκον τοῦ Σατανᾶ (Iren. Haer. III. iii. 4). And Polycarp in his Epistle (vii. 1) writes, ὂς ἂν μὴ ὁμολογῇ τὸ μαρτύριον τοῦ σταυροῦ, ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν.

καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν. The καί is almost epexegetic: ‘not to love’ is only a special form of ‘not to do righteousness.’ As in 1 John 2:4 (ὁ λέγων καὶ μὴ τηρῶν), S. John does not say that there is any such person (οὐκ ἀγαπῶν); but if there be such, this is his condition. Comp. 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:20; 1 John 5:12; 2 John 1:7; 2 John 1:9. Here also we may again note the manner in which S. John’s divisions shade off into one another (see on 1 John 2:28-29). Doing righteousness, the mark of God’s children, suggests the thought of brotherly love, for love is righteousness in relation to others; ‘For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Galatians 5:14). Love suggests its opposite, hate; and these two form the subject of the next paragraph. Some editors would make the new section begin here in the middle of 1 John 3:10. It is perhaps better to draw the line between 1 John 3:12-13, considering 1 John 3:11-12 as transitional.

‘He that loveth not his brother is not of God,’ for a child of God will love all whom God loves. This prepares us for the statements in 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:20-21.


Verse 11

11. ὅτι αὕτη ἐστίν. Because the message is this; this is what it consists in (see on 1 John 1:5). For ἵνα see on 1 John 1:9. “Here the notion of purpose is still perceptible” (Winer, 425). The first ἀγγελία told us the nature of God (1 John 1:5); the second tells us our duty towards one another. Ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς as in 1 John 2:7 : it was one of the very first things conveyed to them in their instruction in Christianity and had been ceaselessly repeated, notably by the Apostle himself. Jerome tells us that during S. John’s last years ‘Little children, love one another’ was the one exhortation which, after he had become too infirm to preach, he still insisted upon as sufficient and never obsolete. “It is the Lord’s command,” he said; “and if this is done, it is enough.” ‘Love one another’ addressed to Christians must primarily mean the love of Christians to fellow-Christians; and this shews what ‘loving his brother’ must mean. But the love of Christians to non-Christians must certainly not be excluded: the arguments for enforcing brotherly love cover the case of love to all mankind.


Verse 12

12. A brother’s love suggests its opposite, a brother’s hate, and that in the typical instance of it, the fratricide Cain.

οὐ καθὼς Κάϊν. As R.V., Not as Cain was of the evil one. In A.V. the definite article has been exaggerated into a demonstrative pronoun, ‘that wicked one.’ The same fault occurs John 1:21; John 1:25; John 6:14; John 6:48; John 6:69; John 7:40. For ὁ πονηρός see on 1 John 2:13. In ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ἁμαρτάνει (1 John 3:8) S. John took us back to the earliest point in the history of sin. The instance of Cain shewed how very soon sin took the form of hate, and fratricidal hate. It is better not to supply any verb with ‘not’; although the sentence is grammatically incomplete, it is quite intelligible. ‘We are not, and ought not to be, of the evil one, as Cain was.’ Commentators quote the “strange Rabbinical view” that while Abel was the son of Adam, Cain was the son of the tempter. Of course S. John is not thinking of such wild imaginations: Cain is only morally ‘of the evil one.’ Here, as elsewhere in the Epistle (1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 5:18-19), S. John uses ‘the evil one’ as a term with which his readers are quite familiar. He gives no explanation. To render τοῦ πονηροῦ ‘that wicked one’ while πονηρὰ is translated ‘evil,’ mars the Apostle’s point. Cain’s πονηρὰ ἔργα prove that he is ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

καὶ ἔσφαξεν τ. ἀδελφόν. This is special proof of his devilish nature. The devil ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς (John 8:44). Σφάζειν is a link between this Epistle and the Apocalypse: it occurs nowhere else in N.T. Its original meaning was ‘to cut the throat’ (σφαγή), especially of a victim for sacrifice. In later Greek it means simply to slay, especially with violence. But perhaps something of the notion of slaying a victim clings to it here, as in most passages in Revelation (1 John 5:6; 1 John 5:9; 1 John 5:12; John 6:9; John 13:3; John 13:8; John 18:24).

καὶ χάριν τίνος. S. John puts this question to bring out still more strongly the diabolical nature of the act and the agent. Was Abel at all to blame? On the contrary, it was his righteousness which excited the murderous hate of Cain. Cain was jealous of the acceptance which Abel’s righteous offering found, and which his own evil offering did not find: and ‘who is able to stand before envy?’ (Proverbs 27:4). Cain’s offering was evil, [1] because it ‘cost him nothing’ (2 Samuel 24:24); [2] because of the spirit in which it was offered. The καί emphasizes the question. Comp. καὶ τίς ἐστιν, κύριε; (John 9:36): καί τίς ἐστί μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29): καὶ τίς δύναται σωθῆναι; (Luke 18:26). Winer, 545. Elsewhere in N.T. χάριν follows its case, as commonly in classical Greek. The exceptional arrangement seems to emphasize the χάριν: ‘And because of what?’

δίκαια. This is the last mention of the subject of δικαιοσύνη, with which the section opened in 1 John 2:29 : comp. 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:10. Neither δικαιοσύνη nor δίκαιος occurs again in the Epistle, righteousness being merged in the warmer and more definite aspect of it, love. This is a reason for including from 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:12 in one section, treating of the righteousness of the children of God. Comp. ‘By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous’ (Hebrews 11:4).


Verse 13

13. After ἀδελφοί omit μου with [617][618][619][620] against [621][622].


Verses 13-24

13–24. LOVE AND HATE: LIFE AND DEATH

μὴ θαυμάζετε. Comp. John 5:28, and contrast 1 John 3:7. The antagonism between the light and the darkness, between God and the evil one, between righteousness and unrighteousness, has never ceased from the time of the first sin (1 John 3:8) and of the first murder (1 John 3:12). The moral descendants of Cain and of Abel are still in the world, and the wicked still hate the righteous. Therefore Christians need not be perplexed, if the world (as it does) hates them.

Both in Jewish (Philo, De sacr. Abelis et Caini) and in early Christian (Clem. Hom. III. XXV., xxvi.) literature Abel is taken as the prototype of the good and Cain as the prototype of the wicked. For the wild sect of the Cainites, who took exactly the opposite view, see Appendix C. It is possible that some germs of this monstrous heresy are aimed at in 1 John 3:12.

ἀδελφοί. The form of address is in harmony with the subject of brotherly love. It occurs nowhere else in the Epistle. In 1 John 2:7 ἀδελφοί is a false reading. εἰ μισεῖ ὑμᾶς ὁ κ. As R.V., if the world hateth you: the fact is stated gently, but without uncertainty. The construction θαυμάζειν εἰ is the more common in Attic. The hypothetical εἰ is gentler and more considerate than the blunt matter-of-fact ὅτι. Both constructions occur in N.T.: with εἰ, Mark 15:44; with ὅτι, Luke 11:38; John 3:7; Galatians 1:6. In Galatians 1:6 the bluntness is quite in keeping with the passage. This verse is another echo of Christ’s last discourses as recorded in the Gospel: εἰ ὁ κόσμος ὑμᾶς μισεῖ (pres. indicative with εἰ, as here), γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐμὲ πρῶτον ὑμῶν μεμίσηκεν. Comp. μεγέθους ἐστὶν ὁ Χριστιανισμός, ὅταν μισῆται ὑπὸ ὑπὸ τοῦ κόσμου (Ign. Rom. III.).


Verse 14

14. Love means life and hate means death.

ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν. The pronoun is very emphatic: ‘the dark world which is full of devilish hate may think and do what it pleases about us; we know that we have left the atmosphere of death for one of life.’ This knowledge is part of our consciousness (οἴδαμεν) as Christians: comp. 1 John 2:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:5. Cain hated and slew his brother: the world hates and would slay us. But for all that, it was Cain who passed from life into death, while his brother passed to eternal life, and through his sacrifice ‘he being dead yet speaketh’ (Hebrews 11:4). The same is the case between the world and Christians. Philo in a similar spirit points out that Cain really slew, not his brother, but himself.

μεταβεβ. ἐκ τ. θ. εἰς τ. ζ. Have passed over out of death into life, have left an abode in the one region for an abode in the other: another reminiscence of the Gospel (John 5:24). The Greek perfect here has the common meaning of permanent result of past action: ‘we have passed into a new home and abide there.’ The metaphor is perhaps taken from the Passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:16), or of the Jordan.

ὅτι ἀγαπῶμεν. This depends upon οἴδαμεν; our love is the infallible sign that we have made the passage. The natural state of man is selfishness, which involves enmity to others, whose claims clash with those of self: to love others is proof that this natural state has been abandoned. Life and love in the moral world correspond to life and growth in the physical: in each case the two are but different aspects of the same fact. The one marks the state, the other the activity. Comp. συνέφερεν δὲ αὐτοῖς ἀγαπᾶν, ἵνα καὶ ἀναστῶσιν (Ign. Smyr. vii.).

μένει ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ. The μένει shews that death is the original condition of all, out of which we pass by becoming children of God. But each child of God loves God’s children. Therefore he who does not love is still in the old state of death. Comp. ὁ δὲ ἀπειθῶν τῷ υἱῷ οὐκ ὄψεται ζωήν, ἀλλʼ ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ μένει ἐπʼ αὐτόν (John 3:36). Note that both θάνατος and ζωή, like σκοτία and φῶς in the earlier part of the Epistle, have the article. That which in the fullest sense is death, life, darkness, and light, is meant in each case.


Verse 15

15. πᾶς ὁ μισῶν. Every one that hateth. There is no exception. A man may call himself an enlightened believer, but if he has no love, οὐθέν ἐστι. See on 1 John 3:4. Quite as a matter of course S. John passes from not loving to hating. The crisis caused in the world by the coming of the light leaves no neutral ground: all is either light or darkness, of God or of the evil one, of the Church or of the world, in love or in hate. A Christian cannot be neither loving nor hating, any more than a plant can be neither growing nor dying.

ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἐστίν. Most of the earlier Versions render is a man-slayer. The word occurs only here and John 8:44. The mention of Cain just before renders it certain that ‘murderer’ is not to be understood figuratively as ‘soul-destroyer.’ Human law considers overt acts; God considers motives. The motives of the hater and of the murderer are the same: the fact that one is, and the other is not, deterred by laziness or fear from carrying out his hatred into homicidal action, makes no difference in the moral character of the men, though it makes all the difference in the eyes of the law. This is only applying to the sixth commandment the principle which the Lord Himself applies to the seventh (Matthew 5:28).

οἴδατε. Once more (1 John 3:14) the Apostle appeals to their consciousness as Christians: it is not a matter of experience gradually acquired (γινώσκετε), but of knowledge once for all possessed. He who is a murderer at heart cannot along with the deadly spirit which he cherishes have eternal life as a sure possession. Comp. ‘Ye have not His word abiding in you,’ John 5:38. S. John of course does not mean that hatred or murder is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. But ‘the soul that sinneth, it shall die’; and the sin of which the special tendency is destruction of life is absolutely incompatible with the possession of eternal life. ‘But for … murderers … their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death’ (Revelation 21:8). Here, as elsewhere, S. John speaks of eternal life as something which the Christian already has, not which he hopes to win: comp. 1 John 5:13; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 6:54, &c. Eternal life has nothing to do with time, and is neither lost nor gained by physical death: see on John 11:25—The form of expression in this verse is similar to 1 John 2:19, being literally, every murderer hath not, instead of ‘no murderer hath.’ Omnis homicida non habet.


Verse 16

16. ἐν τούτῳ ἐγνώκαμεν τ. ἀγ. The A.V. here collects the errors of previous Versions. Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘perceave we.’ Wiclif, Purvey, and the Rhemish insert ‘of God’ from the Vulgate without any support from Gk. MSS. The Genevan is right on both points; ‘Hereby have we perceaved love.’ Better, as R.V., Hereby know we love. Why not ‘Herein’? In the concrete example of Christ’s vicarious death we have obtained the knowledge of what love is. Christ is the archetype of self-sacrificing love, as Cain is of brother-sacrificing hate. Love and hate are known by their works. The article has its full force; τὴν ἀγάπην, love in its very essence: comp. 1 John 4:10. The Vulgate here, as in 1 John 4:16, inserts Dei after caritas: Western interpolation.

ὄτιἔθηκεν. For ἐν τούτῳ followed by ὅτι see on 1 John 2:3. Τιθέναι may mean ‘to pay down’ in the way of ransom or propitiation, or simply ‘to lay aside.’ Classical usage sanctions the former interpretation: Demosthenes uses the verb of paying interest, tribute, taxes. And this is supported by ‘for us’ (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν), i.e. ‘on our behalf.’ But ‘I lay down My life that I may take it again’ (John 10:17-18), and ‘layeth aside His garments’ (John 13:4; comp. John 13:12), are in favour of the latter: they are quite against the rendering ‘He pledged His life.’ The phrase τιθέναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὑτοῦ is peculiar to S. John (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17; John 13:37-38; John 15:13). In Greek the pronoun (ἐκεῖνος as in 1 John 2:6 and 1 John 3:7) marks more plainly than in English who laid down His life: but S. John’s readers had no need to be told. Ἐκεῖνος and ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν are in emphatic juxtaposition: ‘He for us His life laid down.’

καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν. The ἡμεῖς is emphatic: this on our side is a Christian’s duty; he ‘ought himself also to walk even as He walked’ (1 John 2:6). The argument seems to shew that though ‘the brethren’ specially means believers, yet heathen are not to be excluded. Christ laid down His life not for Christians only, ‘but also for the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). Christians must imitate Him in this: their love must be [1] practical, [2] absolutely self-sacrificing, [3] all-embracing. ‘God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Tertullian quotes this dictum of the Apostle in urging the duty of martyrdom: “If he teaches that we must die for the brethren, how much more for the Lord” (Scorp. xii.). Comp. Proverbs 24:11. See on 1 John 4:18. Ὀφείλειν occurs four times in these Epistles (1 John 2:6; 1 John 4:11; 3 John 1:8), twice in the Gospel (John 13:14; John 19:7), and not at all in Revelation. In the Gospel and Revelation we commonly have δεῖ. Bengel on 1 Corinthians 11:10 thus distinguishes the two: “ὀφείλει notat obligationem, δεῖ necessitatem; illud morale est, hoc quasi physicum; ut in vernaculâ, wir sollen und müssen.”


Verse 17

17. ὃς δ ̓ ἂν ἔχη. The phrase is as wide in its sweep as πᾶς ὁ ἔχων: comp. 1 John 2:5. The δέ is full of meaning. ‘Not many of us are ever called upon to die for others: but smaller sacrifices are often demanded of us; and what if we fail to respond?’ Si nondum es idoneus mori pro fratre, jam idoneus esto dare de tuis facultatibus fratri (Bede). τὸν βίον τ. κόσμου is to be rendered, as in R.V., the world’s goods: βίος, as in 1 John 2:16 (see note), signifies ‘means of life, subsistence,’ including all resources of wealth and ability. Τὸν βίον τ. κ., therefore, means all that supports and enriches the life of this world (1 John 2:15) in contrast to ζωὴ αἰώνιος (1 John 3:15).

θεωρῇ τ. ἀδ. αὐτ. χρείαν ἔχοντα. Beholdeth his brother having need. He not only sees him (ἰδεῖν), but looks at him and considers him (θεωρεῖν). It is a word of which the contemplative Apostle is very fond (John 2:23; John 7:3; John 12:45; John 14:19; John 16:16; &c.), and outside the Gospels and Acts it is found only in S. John’s writings and Hebrews 7:4. It is a pity to spoil the simple irony of the original by weakening χρείαν ἔχοντα into ‘in need’ (R.V.). So also Luther; siehet seinen Bruder darben. This misses the contrast between ἔχῃ τ. βίον and χρείαν ἔχοντα. The one has as his possession wealth, the other has as his possession-need. The New Vulgate has necessitatem habere, which is far better than necesse habere, as in 1 John 2:27 : the Old Vulgate has necesse habere in both places. Cyprian has desiderantem here twice.

κλείσῃ τ. σπλάγχνα αὐτ. ἀπ ̓ αὐτ. The ancients believed the bowels to be the seat of the affections (Genesis 43:30; 1 Kings 3:26; Jeremiah 31:20; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20) as well as the heart, whereas we take the latter only. Coverdale (here, as often, following Luther) alters Tyndale’s ‘shutteth up his compassion’ into ‘shutteth up his heart.’ And in fact, ‘shutteth up his bowels from him’ is the same as ‘closeth his heart against him.’ The phrase occurs nowhere else in N.T., but comp. 2 Corinthians 6:12. The ‘from him’ is picturesque, as in 1 John 2:28 it expresses the moving away and turning his back on his brother. Comp. οὐκ ἀποστρέψεις τὴν καρδίαν σου οὐδὲ μὴ συσφίγξεις τὴν χεῖρά σου ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου (Deuteronomy 15:7).

πῶς. For the abrupt argumentative interrogation comp. πῶς τοῖς ἐμοῖς. ῥήμασιν πιστεύσετε; (John 5:47). See also 1 Corinthians 14:7; 1 Corinthians 14:9; 1 Corinthians 14:16; 1 Corinthians 15:12. The order of the Greek is worth keeping, as in R.V., how doth the love of God abide in him? For μένειν ἐν, ‘to have a home in,’ see on 1 John 2:24. For ἡ ἀγάπη τ. Θ., which again means man’s love to God, see on 1 John 2:5. The idea that God is the source of that love which man feels towards Him may be included here. The question here (πῶς) is equivalent to the statement in 1 John 4:20 (οὐ), that to love God and hate one’s brother is morally impossible.


Verse 18

18. τεκνία, μὴ ἀγ. λόγῳ. The Apostle, as in 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:13; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7, hastens on to a practical application of what he has been stating as the principles of Christian Ethics; and in each case he prefaces his gentle exhortation with a word of tender address. ‘Dear children, do not think that I am giving you a series of philosophical truisms; I am telling of the principles which must govern your conduct and mine, if we are children of the God who is Light and Love.’ Note the present subjunctive after μή, indicating a continuous feeling, somewhere in existence, which is to be discontinued or avoided: ‘Do not let us go on loving in word, as some people do.’ In N.T. when μή prohibitive is joined with the third person, the verb is always in the imperative (Matthew 6:3; Matthew 24:17-18; Romans 6:12; Romans 14:16; &c.): when it is joined with the first person, as here, the verb is in the subjunctive (John 19:24; 1 Corinthians 10:8; Galatians 5:26; Galatians 6:9; &c). Winer, 629. The above examples shew that both present and aorist are used frequently in both moods.

μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ. As R.V. (emended reading), neither with the tongue; “the tongue as the particular member for the expression of the word” (Huther). Perhaps ‘with word’ would be better than ‘in word,’ if ‘in word’ were not the usual idiom. The simple datives, λόγῳ and τῇ γλώσσῃ, seem to indicate the instruments with which the false love is shewn, the preposition, ἐν. λ. καὶ ἀλ., the sphere in which it is shewn. For the contrast between λόγος and ἔργον, so common in Thucydides, comp. Luke 24:19; Acts 7:22; Romans 15:18; 2 Corinthians 10:11; Colossians 3:17. Is there any difference between loving in word and loving with the tongue? And is there any difference between loving in deed and loving in truth? The answer must be the same to both questions. The oppositions between ‘word’ and ‘deed’ and between ‘tongue’ and ‘truth’ are so exact as to lead us to believe that there is a difference. To love in word is to have that affection which is genuine as far as it goes, but which is so weak that it never gets further than affectionate words: such love is opposed, not to truth, but to loving acts. To love with the tongue is to profess an affection which one does not feel, which is sheer hypocrisy: it is opposed, not to deeds, but to truth. It may shew itself also in hypocritical acts, done (as Bede points out) not with the wish to do good, but to win praise, or to injure others. Tyndale and the Rhemish Version have no second ‘in’ before ‘truth’: it should of course be omitted, as in R.V. Comp. James 2:15; Romans 12:9.

What follows, though intimately connected with the first part of the section (see next note), almost amounts to a fresh departure. The subject of love and its opposite is transformed into the security and serenity of conscience which genuine and active love is able to produce.


Verse 19

19. ἐν τούτῳ γνωσ. Herein we shall know. The omission of καί by [699][700], Syriac, and Vulgate, is probably right. Ἐν τούτῳ sometimes refers to what follows (1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:2; 1 John 4:9), sometimes to what precedes (1 John 2:5). Here to what precedes: by loving in deed and truth we shall attain to the knowledge that we are morally the children of the Truth. Ἡ ἀληθεία here is almost equivalent to ὁ Θεός. Ἐκ τῆς ἀληθ. εἶναι is to have the Truth as the source whence the guiding and formative influences of thought and conduct flow. Comp. 1 John 2:21; John 3:31; John 8:47; and especially John 18:37.

The construction and punctuation of what follows is doubtful; also the reading in the first and second clauses of 1 John 3:20. Certainty is not attainable, and to give all possible variations of reading and rendering would take up too much space. The conclusions adopted here are given as good and tenable, but not as demonstrably right.

ἔμπρ. αὐτοῦ. First for emphasis. It is in His presence that the truth is realised. The self-deceiver, who walks in darkness, hating his brother (1 John 2:11), can quiet his heart, ‘because the darkness has blinded his eyes’: but this is not done ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ Θεοῦ.

πείσομεν τὰς καρδίας ἡμ. As the Rhemish, shall persuade our hearts. This clause is probably coordinate with γνωσόμεθα, not dependent on it. The meaning is not ‘we shall know that we shall persuade,’ but ‘we shall know and we shall persuade.’ The powerful combination of [701], Peschito, and Thebaic, coupled with the fact that everywhere else in both Gospel and Epistle S. John uses the singular and not the plural, inclines one to prefer τὴν καρδίαν to τὰς καρδίας. “The singular fixes the thought upon the personal trial in each case” (Westcott). Obviously it means, not the affections (2 Corinthians 7:3; Philippians 1:7), but the conscience (Acts 2:37; Acts 7:54). S. Paul’s word, συνείδησις, emphasizes the knowledge of what the man recognizes in himself. S. John’s word, καρδία, emphasizes the feeling with which what is recognized is regarded. ‘Shall persuade our heart’ of what? That it need not condemn us: and hence the rendering in A.V. and R.V., ‘assure.’ But this is interpretation rather than translation; for πείθειν in itself does not mean ‘assure.’ Tyndale and the Genevan have ‘quiet’; Beza secura reddemus. And if the context in the Greek shews that πείθειν means this here, then let the context speak for itself in the English. Comp. ἡμεῖς πείσομεν αὐτὸν καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους ποιήσομεν (Matthew 28:14): and πείσαντες Βλάστον (Acts 12:20).


Verse 20

20. ὅτι ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν. The Revisers follow Lachmann in reading ὅ τι ἐάν, a construction found Acts 3:23 and Galatians 5:10, and possibly Colossians 3:17. The clause is then attached to what precedes: shall persuade our heart before Him, whereinsoever our heart condemn us. But this is not probable (see next note). “A Christian’s heart burdened with a sense of its own unworthiness forms an unfavourable opinion of the state of the soul, pronounces against its salvation. If we are conscious of practically loving the brethren, we can adduce this as evidence of the contrary, and give the heart ground to change its opinion, and to reassure itself. Anyone who has had experience of the doubts and fears which spring up in a believer’s heart from time to time, of whether he is or is not in a state of condemnation, will feel the need and the efficacy of this test of faith and means of assurance” (Jelf).

ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ Θεός. Either, because God is greater, or that God is greater. If the R.V. is right as regards what precedes, ‘because God is greater’ will make good sense. Because God is superior to our consciences in being omniscient, we may (when our love is sincere and fruitful) persuade our consciences before Him to acquit us. Our consciences through imperfect knowledge may be either too strict or too easy with us: God cannot be either, for He knows and weighs all.

But it seems almost certain that ‘if our heart condemn us’ must be right, as the natural correlative of ‘if our heart condemn us not,’ which is indisputably right. This progress by means of opposites stated side by side has been S. John’s method all through: ‘if we confess our sins’ and ‘if we say that we have not sinned’ (1 John 1:9-10); ‘he that loveth his brother’ and ‘he that hateth his brother’ (1 John 2:10-11); ‘he that doeth righteousness’ and ‘he that doeth sin’ (1 John 3:7-8); ‘every spirit that confesseth’ and ‘every spirit that confesseth not’ (1 John 4:2-3). But, if this is accepted, what is to be done with the apparently redundant ὅτι? Two plans are suggested: 1. to supply ‘it is’ before ὄτι = ‘because’; 2. to supply ‘it is plain’ (δῆλον) before ὅτι = ‘that.’ The latter seems preferable: for what can be the meaning of ‘if our heart condemn us, (it is) because God is greater than our heart’? Whereas, ‘if our heart condemn us, (it is plain) that God is greater than our heart’ makes excellent sense. There is perhaps a similar ellipse of ‘it is plain’ (ὅτι = δῆλον ὅτι) 1 Timothy 6:7; ‘We brought nothing into the world, and (it is plain) that we can carry nothing out’; where [702]3[703]3[704][705] insert δῆλον before ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐξενεγκεῖν τι δυνάμεθα. Field (Otium Norvicense III. 127) quotes other instances from S. Chrysostom of the ellipse of δῆλον.

We must not give ‘God is greater’ a one-sided interpretation, either ‘God is more merciful’ or ‘God is more strict.’ It means that He is a more perfect judge than our heart can be. It is the difference between conscience and Omniscience.

καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. The καί is epexegetic; it explains the special character of God’s superiority when the soul stands before the judgment-seat of conscience. He knows all things; on the one hand the light and grace against which we have sinned, on the other the reality of our repentance and our love. It was to this infallible omniscience that S. Peter appealed, in humble distrust of his own feeling and judgment; ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee’ (John 21:17). It is the reality and activity of our love (1 John 3:18-19) which gives us assurance under the accusations of conscience. Comp. ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses,’ having genuine love for them, ‘your heavenly Father will also forgive you,’ and ye will be able to persuade your hearts before Him (Matthew 6:14).

The force of 1 John 3:19-20 may be thus summed up: ‘By loving our brethren in deed and truth we come to know that we are God’s children and have His presence within us, and are enabled to meet the disquieting charges of conscience. For, if conscience condemns us, its verdict is not infallible nor final. We may still appeal to the omniscient God, whose love implanted within us is a sign that we are not condemned and rejected by Him.


Verse 21

21. ἀγαπητοί. See on 1 John 3:2.

ἐὰν ἡ καρδία μὴ καταγ. An argument à fortiori: if before God we can persuade conscience to acquit us, when it upbraids us, much more may we have assurance before Him, when it does not do so. It is not quite evident whether ‘condemn us not’ means ‘ceases to condemn us,’ because we have persuaded it, or ‘does not condemn us from the first,’ because it had no misgivings about us. Either makes good sense. Καταγινώσκειν occurs elsewhere in N.T. Galatians 2:11 only, ὅτι κατεγνωσμένος ἦν. Comp. Sirach 14:2, ‘Blessed is he whose conscience hath not condemned him’ (οὐ κατέγνω).

παρρ. ἔχομεν. We have boldness: see on 1 John 2:28. The ‘then’ of A.V. is not needed. With πρὸς τὸν Θεόν here comp. ἀπρόσκοπον συνείδησιν ἔχειν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν καὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους (Acts 24:16). We approach Him boldly as children, not fearfully as criminals. Comp. 1 John 5:14. This is not the same as ‘persuading our heart before Him,’ but is a natural result of it. Comp. Romans 5:1.


Verse 22

22. This verse is so closely connected with the preceding one, that not more than a comma or semicolon should be placed between them. When a good conscience gives us boldness towards God our prayers are granted, for children in such relations to their heavenly Father cannot ask anything which He will refuse.

καὶ ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν. The καί is probably epexegetic, as in 1 John 3:20, and explains the special character of our boldness. See on 1 John 5:15.

λαμβάνομεν. The present is to be taken quite literally; not as the present for the future. It may be a long time before we see the results of our prayer; but it is granted at once. As S. Augustine says, “He who gave us love cannot close His ears against the groans and prayers of love.” For λαμβάνειν ἀπό see on 1 John 2:27.

τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτ. τ. This should certainly be plural, commandments: previous English Versions have the plural, and there seems to be no trace of a various reading, so that one suspects a misprint in the edition of 1611. Ὅτι depends upon λαμβάνομεν, not upon παῤῥησίαν ἔχομεν: we receive because we are loyal. This is in harmony with the Gospel and with Scripture generally: ‘We know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do His will, him He heareth’ (John 9:31); ‘The Lord is far from the wicked, but He heareth the prayer of the righteous’ (Proverbs 15:29; comp. Psalms 66:18-19; Job 27:8-9; Isaiah 1:11-15). For τὰς ἐντολὰς τηρεῖν see on 1 John 2:3.

τὰ ἀρεστὰποιοῦμεν. Not the same as τὰς ἐντολὰς τηρεῖν: the one is obedience, and may be slavish; the other is love, and is free. We seem to have here another reminiscence of the Gospel: ὄτι ἐγὼ τὰ ἀρεστὰ αὐτῷ ποιῶ πάντοτε (John 8:29). Excepting Acts 6:2; Acts 12:3, ἀρεστός occurs nowhere else in N.T. The different phrases ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ (1 John 3:19) and ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ suit their respective contexts. Both indicate the Divine Presence: but ἔμπροσθεν brings out the man’s regard to God, ἐνώπιον God’s regard to him.


Verse 23

23. καὶ αὕτηαὐτοῦ. And His commandment is this: see on 1 John 1:5. For ἵνα after ἐντολή comp. John 13:34; John 15:12 : after ἐντέλλομαι, John 15:17. In such cases ἵνα perhaps merely “gives the nature and contents of the commandment, not the aim” (Jelf): but see on 1 John 1:9. This verse is the answer to those who would argue from the preceding verses that all that is required of us is to do what is right; it does not much matter what we believe. Not so says the Apostle. In order to do what is right it is necessary to believe: this is the first step in our obedience to God’s commands.

πιστεύωμεν τῷ ὀνόματι. Believe the Name. Beza rightly substitutes credamus nomini for the Vulgate’s credamus in nomine. A.V. has ‘believe on’: R.V. has ‘believe in’; which would be πιστ. εἰς or ἐπί or ἐν. ‘To believe the Name’ means to believe all that His Name implies; His Divinity, His Sonship, and His office as Mediator, Advocate, and Saviour. Hence the solemn fulness with which the Name is given, His Son Jesus Christ. The reading τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ Ἰ. Χριστῷ is an obvious correction of an unusual phrase. A copyist would argue, ‘One can believe a person (John 4:21; John 5:24; John 5:38; John 5:46), and one can believe a statement (John 4:50; John 5:47), but how can one believe a name?’ The phrase πιστεύειν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα is frequent in S. John’s writings (1 John 5:13; John 1:12; John 2:23; John 3:18).

καὶ ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλ. Here καί is not epexegetic: it adds something fresh, giving active love as the necessary effect of living faith. ‘Faith if it have not works is dead’ (James 2:17). καθώς. Even as Christ (just mentioned) gave us commandment; in reference to the ἐντολὴ καινή (John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17). There must be exact correspondence (καθώς) between His command and our love: i.e. we must love one another ‘in deed and truth.’ In N.T. the phrase ἐντολὴν δίδοναι is peculiar to S. John (John 11:57; John 12:49; John 13:34): it occurs in Demosthenes (250, 14).


Verse 24

24. καὶ ὁ τηρῶν τ. ἐντ. This looks back to the same phrase in 1 John 3:22, not to καθὼς ἔδωκεν ἐντ. in 1 John 3:23, which is parenthetical. Therefore αὐτοῦ means God’s, not Christ’s. A.V. again spoils S. John’s telling repetition of a favourite word by translating μένει first ‘dwelleth’ and then ‘abideth’: see on 1 John 2:24. “Let God be a home to thee, and be thou a home of God” (Bede). Comp. ‘Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations’ (Psalms 90:1). This mutual abiding expresses union of the strongest and closest kind: comp. 1 John 4:13; 1 John 4:16; John 6:56; John 15:4-5. S. John once more insists on what may be regarded as the main theme of this exposition of Christian Ethics; that conduct is not only not a matter of indifference, but is all-important. We may possess many kinds of enlightenment, intellectual and spiritual; but there is no union with God, and indeed no true knowledge of Him, without obedience: comp. 1 John 1:6, 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:6-7; 1 John 3:9. ‘He that willeth to do His will shall know’ (John 7:17).

καὶ ἐν τούτῳ. And herein, as in 1 John 3:16; 1 John 3:19; 1 John 2:3; 1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:9-10; 1 John 4:13; 1 John 4:17; 1 John 5:2. This probably refers to what follows; but the change of preposition in the Greek, a change obliterated in both A.V. and R.V., renders this not quite certain. S. John writes, not ἐν τούτῳ γινἐν τῷ πνεύματι, nor ἐκ τούτου γινἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος, either of which would have made the connexion certain, but ἐνἐκ, which leaves us in doubt: comp. 1 John 4:12-13. The Vulgate preserves the change of preposition: in hoc … de Spiritu. The indwelling of God is a matter of Christian experience (γινώσκομεν not οἴδαμεν), and the source (ἐκ) whence the knowledge of it springs is the Spirit. This is the first express mention of the Spirit in the Epistle; but in 1 John 2:20 He is plainly indicated. It was at Ephesus that S. Paul found disciples who had not so much as heard whether the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 19:2). There was perhaps still need of explicit teaching on this point.

οὗ ἡμῖν ἕδωκεν. Which He gave us. Although this is a case where the English perfect might represent the Greek aorist, yet as the Apostle probably refers to the definite occasion when the Spirit was given, the aorist seems better. This occasion in S. John’s case would be Pentecost, in that of his readers, their baptism. Thus in our Baptismal Service we are exhorted to pray that the child “may be baptized with water and the Holy Ghost”; and in what follows we pray, “wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost”; and again, “give Thy Holy Spirit to this infant, that he may be born again”: after which follows the baptism.

It would be possible to translate ‘by the Spirit of which He has given us,’ a partitive genitive, meaning ‘some of which’ as in Macbeth, I. iii. 80,

“The earth hath bubbles as the water has,

And these are of them.”

And in Bacon’s Essays, Of Atheisme, “You shall have of them, that will suffer for Atheisme, and not recant.” But the Greek genitive here is probably not partitive but the result of attraction. S. John commonly inserts a preposition (ἐκ) with the partitive genitive (2 John 1:4; John 1:24; John 7:40; John 16:17; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 11:9; comp. John 21:10). Tyndale here translates ‘Therby we knowe that ther abydeth in us of the sprete which He gave us,’ making ‘of the Spirit’ (= a portion of the Spirit) the nominative to ‘abideth’; which is grammatically possible, but scarcely in harmony with what precedes. The change from Tyndale’s rendering to the one adopted in A.V., and (with change of ‘hath given’ to ‘gave’) in R.V. also, is due to Coverdale.

Once more (see notes between 1 John 2:28-29 and on 1 John 3:10) we are led to a fresh section almost without knowing it. In the last six verses of this chapter (19–24) the transition from verse to verse is perfectly smooth and natural; so also in the previous six verses (13–18). Nor is the transition from 1 John 3:18 to 1 John 3:19 at all violent or abrupt. By a very gradual movement we have been brought from the contrast between love and hate to the gift of the Spirit. And this prepares the way for a new subject; or rather for an old subject treated from a new point of view. Like the doublings of the Maeander near which he lived, the progress of the Apostle at times looks more like retrogression than advance: but the progress is unmistakable when the whole field is surveyed. Here we seem to be simply going back to the subject of the antichrists (1 John 2:18-28); but whereas there the opposition between the Holy Spirit in true believers and the lying spirit in the antichrists is only suggested (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 2:27), here it is the dominant idea.

“The Apostle speaks first of the Spirit by which we know that God dwells in us; then of other spirits that were in the world which might or might not be of God … They require to be tried. And he intimates very distinctly that there were men in his day who were turning the faith in spiritual influence to an immoral account” (Maurice).

 


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 John 3:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/1-john-3.html. 1896.

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