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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

1 John 5

 

 

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Verse 1-2

1 John 5:1-2. A reiteration of the doctrine that love for God = love for the brethren. Where either is, the other is also. Love for God is the inner principle, love for the brethren its outward manifestation. The argument is “an irregular Sorites” (Plummer):—

Every one that hath faith in the Incarnation is a child of God;

Every child of God loves the Father;

...every one that hath faith in the Incarnation loves God.

Every one that hath faith in the Incarnation loves God;

Every one that loves God loves the children of God;

...every one that hath faith in the Incarnation loves the children of God.

These are the two commandments of God, the fundamental and all-embracing Christian duties—love God and love the brotherhood. And faith in the Incarnation ( ὅτι ἰησοῦς ἐστιν χριστός) is an inspiration for both.

πιστεύων corresponds to πίστις (1 John 5:4). The lack of a similar correspondence in English is felt here as in many other passages (e.g., Matthew 8:10; Matthew 8:13; Matthew 9:28-29). Latin is similarly defective: “omnis qui credit,” “fides nostra”.


Verses 1-5

1 John 5:1-5. What makes the Commandments of God easy. “Every one that hath faith that Jesus is the Christ hath been begotten of God; and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him that hath been begotten of Him. Herein we get to know that we love the children of God, whenever we love God, and do His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we should observe His commandments; and His commandments are not heavy, because everything that hath been begotten of God conquereth the world. And this is the conquest that conquered the world—our faith. Who is he that conquereth the world but he that hath faith that Jesus is the Son of God?”


Verse 3

1 John 5:3. ἀγ. τ. θεοῦ, here objective genitive; contrast 1 John 2:5. ἴνα ecbatic (see Moulton’s Gram. of N.T. Gk., i. pp. 206–9), where the classical idiom would require τὸ ἡμᾶς τηρεῖν. Cf. John 17:3; Luke 1:43. τὰς ἐντ., the two commandments—“love God” and “love one another” (cf. 1 John 3:23, where see note; 1 John 4:21). καὶ αἱ ἐντ., κ. τ. λ.: cf. Herm. Past. M. 12:4, §4: οἱ δὲ ἐπὶ τοῖς χείλεσιν ἔχοντες τὸν κύριον, τὴν δὲ καρδίαν αὐτῶν πεπωρωμένην, καὶ μακρὰν ὄντες ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου, ἐκείνοις αἱ ἐντολαὶ αὗται σκληραί εἰσι καὶ δύσβατοι. Aug. In Joan. Ev. Tract, 48:1: “Nostis enim qui amat non laborat. Omnis enim labor non amantibus gravis est.”


Verse 4

1 John 5:4. The reason why “His commandments are not heavy”. Punctuate οὐκ εἰσίν, ὅτι πᾶν, κ. τ. λ. The neut. ( πᾶν τὸ γεγ.) expresses the universality of the principle, “drückt die unbedingte Allgemeinheit noch stärker aus als ‘Jeder, der aus Gott geboren ist’ ” (Rothe). Cf. John 3:6. τὸν κόσμον, the sum of all the forces antagonistic to the spiritual life. “Our faith” conquers the world by clinging to the eternal realities. “Every common day, he who would be a live child of the living has to fight the God-denying look of things, to believe that, in spite of their look, they are God’s, and God is in them, and working his saving will in them” (Geo. MacDonald, Castle Warlock, xli.). St. John says first “is conquering” ( νικᾷ) because the fight is in progress, then “that conquered” ( νικήσασα) because the triumph is assured.


Verse 5

1 John 5:5. St. John says: “Everything that hath been begotten of God conquereth the world”. But he has already said: “Every one that hath faith that Jesus is the Christ hath been begotten of God” (1 John 5:1). So now he asks: “Who is he that conquereth the world but he that hath faith that Jesus is the Son of God?” (“Son of God” being synonymous with “Christ,” i.e., “Messiah”. Cf. John 11:27; John 20:31). His doctrine therefore is that faith in the Incarnation, believing apprehension of the wonder and glory of it, makes easy the commandments of God, i.e., love to God and love to one another. The remembrance and contemplation of that amazing manifestation drive out the affection of the world and inflame the heart with heavenly love. “What else can the consideration of a compassion so great and undeserved, of a love so free and in such wise proved, of a condescension so unexpected, of a gentleness so unconquerable, of a sweetness so amazing—what, I say, can the diligent consideration of these things do but deliver utterly from every evil passion the soul of him that considers them and hale it unto them in sorrow, exceedingly affect it, and make it despise in comparison with them whatsoever can be desired only in their despite?” (Bern. De Dilig. Deo). “There is no book so efficacious towards the instructing of a man in all all virtue and in abhorrence of all sin as the Passion of the Son of God” (Juan de Avila). “Fix your eyes on your Crucified Lord, and everything will seem easy to you” (Santa Teresa).


Verse 6

1 John 5:6. οὗτος, i.e., this Jesus who is the Son of God, the Messiah whom the prophets foretold and who “came” in the fulness of the time. ἐλθών, not ἐρχόμενος. His Advent no longer an unfulfilled hope but an historic event. διά, of the pathway or vehicle of His Advent. ἰησοῦς χριστός, “Jesus Christ,” one person in opposition to the Cerinthian “dissolution” ( λύσις) of Jesus and Christ (see note on 1 John 4:3). ἐν. He not only “came through” but continued “in the water and in the blood,” i.e., His ministry comprehended both the Baptism of the Spirit and the Sacrifice for sin. Perhaps, however, the prepositions are interchangeable; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-8; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:25. ἀλήθ.: Jesus called Himself “the Truth” (John 14:6), and the Spirit came in His room, His alter ego (1 John 5:16-18).


Verses 6-8

1 John 5:6-8. The Threefold Testimony to the Incarnation. “This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood. And it is the Spirit that testifieth, because the Spirit is the Truth. Because three are they that testify—the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are for the one end.”

St. John has said that faith in the Incarnation makes the commandments easy, and now the question arises: How can we be assured that the Incarnation is a fact? He adduces a threefold attestation: the Spirit, the water and the blood. His meaning is clear when it is understood that he has the Cerinthian heresy (see Introd. pp. 156 f.) in view and states his doctrine in opposition to it. Cerinthus distinguished between Jesus and the Christ. The divine Christ descended upon the human Jesus at the Baptism, i.e., He “came through water,” and left him at the Crucifixion, i.e., He did not “come through blood”. Thus redemption was excluded; all that was needed was spiritual illumination. In opposition to this St. John declares that the Eternal God was incarnate in Jesus and was manifested in the entire course of His human life, not only at His Baptism, which was His consecration to His ministry of redemption, but at His Death, which was the consummation of His infinite Sacrifice: “through water and blood, not in the water only but in the water and in the blood”.


Verse 7-8

1 John 5:7-8. The Water (the Lord’s consecrated Life) and the Blood (His sacrificial Death) are testimonies to the Incarnation, but they are insufficient. A third testimony, that of the Spirit, is needed to reveal their significance to us and bring it home to our hearts. Without His enlightenment the wonder and glory of that amazing manifestation will be hidden from us. It will be as unintelligible to us as “mathematics to a Scythian boor, and music to a camel”. τρεῖς οἱ μαρτυροῦντες, masculine though πνεῦμα, ὕδωρ, and αἷμα are all neuter, because agreeing κατὰ σύνεσιν with τὸ πνεῦμα—a testimony, the more striking because involuntary, to the personality of the Spirit. εἰς τὸ ἕν, “for the one end,” i.e. to bring us to faith in the Incarnation ( ὅτι ἰησοῦς ἐστιν υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ). This was the end for which St. John wrote his Gospel (John 20:31). There is no reference in the Water and the Blood either to the effusion of blood and water from the Lord’s pierced side (John 19:34) or to the two Sacraments.


Verse 9

1 John 5:9. According to the Jewish law threefold testimony was valid (Deuteronomy 19:15; cf. Matthew 18:16; John 8:17-18). Read (as in 1 John 3:20) , τι μεμαρτύηκεν, “what He hath testified concerning His Son,” i.e. the testimony of His miracles and especially His Resurrection (Romans 1:4). The variant ἥν is a marginal gloss indicating the relative ( , τι), not the conjunction ( ὄτι). The latter is incapable of satisfactory explanation. The alternatives are: (1) “Because the testimony of God is this—the fact that He hath testified,” which is meaningless and involves an abrupt variation in the use of ὄτι. (2) “Because this is the testimony of God, because, I say, He hath testified,” which is intolerable. The Apostle appeals here to his readers to be as reasonable with God as with their fellow men. Cf. Pascal: “Would the heir to an estate on finding the title-deeds say, ‘Perhaps they are false’? and would he neglect to examine them?”


Verses 9-12

1 John 5:9-12. Our attitude to the Threefold Testimony. “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God—what He hath testified concerning His Son. He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony in himself. He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed in the testimony which God hath testified concerning His Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us life eternal; and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God the life hath not.”


Verse 10

1 John 5:10. A subtle and profound analysis of the exercise of soul which issues in assured faith. Three stages: (1) “Believe God” ( πιστεύειν τῷ θεῷ, credere Deo), accept His testimony concerning His Son, i.e., not simply His testimony at the Baptism (Matthew 3:17) but the historic manifestation of God in Christ, the Incarnation. God speaks not by words but by acts, and to set aside His supreme act, and all the forces which it has set in operation is to “make Him a liar” by treating His historic testimony as unworthy of credit. (2) “Believe in the Son of God” ( πιστεύειν εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, credere in Filium Dei), make the believing sell-surrender which is the reasonable and inevitable consequence of contemplating the Incarnation and recognising the wonder of it. (3) The Inward Testimony ( τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἐν αὐτῷ, testimonium in seipso). “Fecisti nos ad te, et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te” (Aug.). The love of Jesus satisfies the deepest need of our nature. When He is welcomed, the soul rises up and greets Him as “all its salvation and all its desire,” and the testimony is no longer external in history but an inward experience (cf. note on 1 John 4:9 : ἐν ἡμῖν), and therefore indubitable. These three stages are, according to the metaphor of Revelation 3:20, (1) hearing the Saviour’s voice, (2) opening the door, (3) communion.


Verse 11

1 John 5:11. The Testimony of the Incarnation. cf. 1 John 1:2. ἔδωκεν, “gave,” aorist referring to a definite historic act, the Incarnation.


Verse 12

1 John 5:12. μή with the participle does not necessarily make the case hypothetical (cf. note on 1 John 2:4). St. John would have only too many actual instances before him in those days of doctrinal unsettlement.


Verse 13

1 John 5:13. The purpose for which St. John wrote his Gospel was that we might believe in the Incarnation, and so have Eternal Life (John 20:31); the purpose of the Epistle is not merely that we may have Eternal Life by believing but that we may know that we have it. The Gospel exhibits the Son of God, the Epistle commends Him. It is a supplement to the Gospel, a personal application and appeal. ἔγραψα, “I wrote,” looking back on the accomplished risk. εἰδῆτε, “know,” not γινώσκητε, “get to know”. Full and present assurance.


Verses 13-21

1 John 5:13-21. The Epistle is finished, and the Apostle now speaks his closing words. “These things I wrote to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even to you that believe in the name of the Son of God. And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we request anything according to His will, He hearkenetn to us. And if we know that He hearkeneth to us whatever we request, we know that we have the requests which we have made from Him. If any one see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall make request, and he will give to him life, even to them that are sinning not unto death. There is a sin unto death; not concerning that do I say that he should ask. Every sort of unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death. We know that every one that hath been begotten of God doth not keep sinning, but the Begotten of God observeth him, and the Evil One doth not lay hold on him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the Evil One. And we know that the Son of God hath come, and hath given us understanding that we may get to know the True One; and we are in the True One, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the True God and Life Eternal. Little children, guard yourselves from the idols.”


Verse 14

1 John 5:14. παρρησία, see note on 1 John 2:28. As distinguished from αἰτεῖν the middle αἰτεῖσθαι is to pray earnestly as with a personal interest (see Mayor’s note on James 4:3). The distinction does not appear here, since αἰτεῖν αἰτήματα (cognate accusitive) is a colourless periphrasis for αἰτεῖσθαι. A large assurance: our prayers always heard, never unanswered. Observe two limitations: (1) κατὰ τὸ θὲλημα αὐτοῦ, which does not mean that we should first ascertain His will and then pray, but that we should pray with the proviso, express or implicit, “If it be Thy will”. Matthew 26:39 is the model prayer. (2) The promise is not “He granteth it” but “He hearkeneth to us”. He answers in His own way.


Verse 15

1 John 5:15. An amplification of the second limitation. “We have our requests” not always as we pray but as we would pray were we wiser. God gives not what we ask but what we really need. cf. Shak., Ant. and Cleop. i. ii.:—

“We, ignorant of ourselves,

Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers

Deny us for our good; so find we profit,

By losing of our prayers”.

Prayer is not dictation to God but ἀνάβασις νοῦ πρὸς θεὸν καὶ αἴτησις τῶν προσηκόντων παρὰ θεοῦ (Joan. Damasc. De. Fid. Orthod., iii. 24). Clem. Alex.: “Non absolute dixit quod petierimus sed quod oportet petere’.


Verse 16

1 John 5:16. After the grand assurance that prayer is always heard, never unanswered, the Apostle specifies one kind of prayer, viz., Intercession, in the particular case of a “brother,” i.e. a fellow-believer, who has sinned. Prayer will avail for his restoration, with one reservation—that his sin be “not unto death”. The reference is to those who had been led astray by the heresy, moral and intellectual, which had invaded the churches of Asia Minor (see Introd. pp. 156 f.) They had closed their ears to the voice of Conscience and their eyes to the light of the Truth, and they were exposed to the operation of that law of Degeneration which obtains in the physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual domains. E.g., a bodily faculty, if neglected, atrophis (cf. note on 1 John 2:11). So in the moral domain disregard of truth destroys veracity. Acts make habits, habits character. So also in the intellectual domain. Cf. Darwin to Sir J. D. Hooker, June 17, 1868: “I am glad you were at the Messiah, it is the one thing that I should like to hear again, but I daresay I should find my soul too dried up to appreciate it as in old days; and then I should feel very flat, for it is a horrid bore to feel as I constantly do, that I am a withered leaf for every subject except Science”. And so in the spiritual domain. There are two ways of killing the soul: (1) The benumbing and hardening practice of disregarding spiritual appeals and stifling spiritual impulses. Cf. Reliq. Baxter, I. i. 29 “Bridgnorth had made me resolve that I would never go among a People that had been hardened in unprofitableness under an awakening Ministry; but either to such as had never had any convincing Preacher, or to such as had profited by him”. (2) A decisive apostasy, a deliberate rejection. This was the case of those heretics. They had abcured Christ and followed Antichrist. This is what Jesus calls τοῦ πνεύματος βλασφημία (Matthew 12:31-32 = Mark 3:28-30). It inflicts a mortal wound on the man’s spiritual nature. He can never be forgiven because he can never repent. He is “in the grip of an eternal sin ( ἔνοχος αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος)”. Cf. Hebrews 4:4-6. This is “sin unto death”. Observe how tenderly St. John speaks: There is a fearful possibility of a man putting himself beyond the hope of restoration; but we can never tell when he has crossed the boundary. If we were sure that it was a case of “sin unto death,” then we should forbear praying; but, since we can never be sure, we should always keep on praying. So long as a man is capable of repentance, he has not sinned unto death. “Quamdiu enim veniæ relinquitur locus, mors prorsus imperium nondum occupat” (Calv.). δώσει, either (1) “he (the intercessor) will give to him (the brother),” τοῖς ἁμαρτ. being in apposition to αὐτῷ, “to him, i.e. to them that, etc.”; or (2) “He (God) will give to him (the intercessor) life for them that, etc.” The former avoids an abrupt change of subject, and the attribution to the intercessor of what God does through him is paralleled by James 5:20.


Verse 17

1 John 5:17. A gentle warning. “Principiis obsta.” Also a reassurance. “You have sinned, but not necessarily ‘unto death’.”


Verse 18

1 John 5:18. Our Security through the Guardianship of Christ. οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει, see note on 1 John 3:6. The child of God may fall into sin, but he does not continue in it; he is not under its dominion. Why? Because, though he has a malignant foe, he has also a vigilant Guardian. γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, i.e., Christ. Cf. Symb. Nic.: κύριον ἰησοῦν χριστὸν, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς. As distinguished from γεγεννημένος the aor. γεννήθεις refers to the “Eternal Generation”. The rendering “he that is begotten of God (the regenerate man) keepeth himself ( ἑαυτὸν), qui genitus est ex Deo, servat seipsum (Calv.), is doubly objectionable: (1) It ignores the distinction between perf. and aor.; (2) there is no comfort in the thought that we are in our own keeping; our security is not our grip on Christ but His grip on us. Calvin feels this: “Quod Dei proprium est, ad nos transfert. Nam si quisque nostrum salutis suæ sit custos, miserum erit præsidium”. Vulg. has generatio Dei, perhaps representing a variant γέννησις τοῦ θεοῦ. τηρεῖ, see note on 1 John 2:3. ἅπτεται, stronger than “toucheth,” rather “graspeth,” “layeth hold of”. A reference to Psalms 105(LXX 104):15: μὴ ἅψησθε τῶν χριστῶν μου, Nolite tangere christos meos (Vulg.).


Verses 18-20

1 John 5:18-20. The Certainties of Christian Faith. St. John has been speaking of a dark mystery, and now he turns from it: “Do not brood over it. Think rather of the splendid certainties and rejoice in them.”


Verse 19

1 John 5:19. Our Security in God’s Embrace. κόσμος: “Non creatura sed seculares nomines et secundum concupiscentias viventes” (Clem. Alex.). See note on 1 John 2:15. τῷ πονηρῷ, masc. as in previous verse κεῖται, in antithesis to οὐχ ἅπτεται. On the child of God the Evil One does not so much as lay his hand, the world lies in his arms. On the other hand, the child of God lies in God’s arms. Cf. Deut. 23:27. Penn, Fruits of Solitude: “If our Hairs fall not to the Ground, less do we or our Substance without God’s Providence. Nor can we fall below the arms of God, how low soever it be we fall.”


Verse 20

1 John 5:20. The Assurance and Guarantee of it all—the fact of the Incarnation ( ὅτι υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἥκει), an overwhelming demonstration of God’s interest in us and His concern for our highest good. Not simply a historic fact but an abiding operation—not “came ( ἦλθε),“but” hath come and hath given us”. Our faith is not a matter of intellectual theory but of personal and growing acquaintance with God through the enlightenment of Christ’s Spirit, τὸν ἀληθινόν, “the real” as opposed to the false God of the heretics. See note on 1 John 2:8. ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ, as the world is ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ.


Verse 21

1 John 5:21. Filioli, custodite vos a simulacris (Vulg.). The exhortation arises naturally. “This”—this God revealed and made near and sure in Christ—“is the True God and Life Eternal. Cleave to Him, and do not take to do with false Gods: guard yourselves from the idols.” St. John is thinking, not of the heathen worship of Ephesus—Artemis and her Temple, but of the heretical substitutes for the Christian conception of God. τεκνία gives a tone of tenderness to the exhortation. φυλάσσειν is used of “guarding” a flock (Luke 2:8), a deposit or trust (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:14), a prisoner (Acts 12:4). φυλάσσειν “watch from within”; τηρεῖν (see note on 1 John 2:3), “watch from without”. Thus, when a city is besieged, the garrison φυλάσσουσι, the besiegers τηροῦσιν. The heart is a citadel, and it must be guarded against insidious assailants from without. Not φυλάσσετε, “be on your guard,” but φυλάξατε, aor. marking a crisis. The Cerinthian heresy was a desperate assault demanding a decisive repulse.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/1-john-5.html. 1897-1910.

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